Thursday, April 30, 2009

Recettes Secrètes: Quick Chipotle Taqueria Style Salsa

The beauty of this last minute quick and easy salsa is that there is no hard and fast rule.. Tailor to your taste buds. I like my salsas smooth and spicy, but also a little sweet and salty! I made this one based off of a smokey salsa negra my friend Nicolette made for a dinner party a couple of months ago. *Of course roasting your own chilis would make it even more special, this is merely a quick alternative for those times you're SO bogged down frying your handmade chips and stuffing masa into cornhusks with guests on the way that you just CAN'T begin fire-roasting so late in the game! ;)

In a food processor (or blender) combine:
• 1 onion, coarsely chopped
• 1-2 cloves of garlic
• lime juice
• cilantro
• fresh jalepenos
• green chilies (canned)
• can of tomatoes (I use a new TJ's product of fire-roasted tomatoes and green chilis, canned together)
• 2-3 chipotle peppers (in adobo sauce, canned; in Mexican grocery aisle)

Season with salt, pepper, and paprika.
Add chili powder to desired spiciness...

Buvare: The First Craft Beer Fest LA

On May 9, Los Angeles gets its first festival devoted to California's craft beer culture. Call it the next wave in the craft beer revolution brewing here in Southern California.
A dozen of the state’s best brewers will showcase 26 handcrafted beers while L.A. chefs sling FREE pub grub (gourmet bar nuts and artisan cheese pairings from Hot Knives and vegan snacks by Pure Luck). Attendees can try beer treats like ale cupcakes and stout ice cream from the gelato geniuses at Scoops. And a slew of local bands will share the stage with renowned brewers giving tips, and cheese experts lecturing on how to pair beers with food. The $30 entrance fee covers beer, food, brewery roundtables and live music. Tickets are available online and at the door, but space is limited. Proceeds benefit one of my favorite organizations 826LA, the nonprofit tutor program and children’s writing workshop founded by author Dave Eggers and the McSweeney's fam. Craft Beer Fest LA is a new annual tradition brought to you by LA CABAL.
Sorry kiddies, must be 21 or older to attend.

At the Echoplex
1154, Glendale Blvd, Los Angeles, 90026

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Croquer: Brunch Alfresco at Little Dom's

When Little Dom's opened in Los Feliz proper last year on Hillhurst, I was very excited. It was exactly the breath of fresh air that corridor needed - not intrusive, but complimentary. Very much a "neighborhood joint", Little Dom's also offers a level of class most of the other establishments in the area don't strive for. So when I heard they were starting to offer breakfast and brunch, up pricked my ears. Coming from Portland, OR, where brunch is a ART FORM, I have at times fallen out of the habit here in LA. With a few exceptions, the brunch scene has done little to titillate, rather rehash the same ol' offerings in a lukewarm bath of cheap champers. After months of longing, I finally made it to Little Doms' brunch. None of this was the case here.
I was running a tad late. Passing the busy corner of Hillhurst and Avocado still scoping for parking, I saw my date idly waiting among a small crowd outside. Shoot! I hadn't anticipated a wait here. I jogged up to the corner to find we actually already had a table waiting, everyone was all smiles (this was no queue at Fred 62!) and we were led to our lovely little sidewalk table. Our glowing waitress took our drink order and let us know about a lovely sounding special of roasted asparagus, poached egg, grilled bread and fennel pollen hollandaise. The menu didn't make deciding any easier. The Italian twists are subtle, but enough to rub the breakfast diner clichés right out with a firm rustic hand. I had read good things about the sweets (ricotta blueberry pancakes; french toast soufflé), but the idea of fennel pollen hollandaise made me swoon. My date set his sights on the Eggs Funghi (Poached eggs w/ Roasted Mushrooms, Grilled Bread, Fennel Pollen Hollandaise), so I was satisfied to try something different. I ordered the Oven Roasted French Toast Soufflé w/ Crème Fraîche Whipped Cream & Maple Syrup and a side of Grilled Wild Boar Bacon. We got a side of Fried Potatoes for the table.
My cappucino was just as I like it, and the first word out of my date's mouth tasting the orange juice was "w-wow!" - tart and juicy fresh-squeezed, nothing else but the fruit. Though we opted for a virgin morning, the table beside us ordered a bloody and mimosa, which defined perfection coming out: chili-salt-rolled lemon wedge and bright red pepper clinging alongside the 13" celery stalk on the handsome bloody; an elegant crystal flute holding an almost rose-hued mimosa put the dinky cheap glass OJ shots elsewhere to shame. Note for return trip! Realizing we were salivating at the cocktails' reflection in the window beside us, we turned our attention back to our own table as the food arrived.The soufflé sat snugly in an earthenware ramekin, coated in powdered sugar. It was crispy on the surface, but steaming and custardy in the center, like a perfect union of bread pudding and funnel cake. The wild boar bacon was a challenge even for me (a meat and bacon lover), it was possibly the thickest, most fragrant and beasty bacon I've ever tasted. Closer to skirt steak or deer jerky than bacon, the slightly gamey plate of meat tendrils wasn't quite the compliment to the soufflé I anticipated, rather a staggering flavor to be reckoned with. Still, it was deliciously prepared (and yes, my brain was already planning uses for it after I took it home).The Eggs Funghi on the other hand, was big on flavor - but delightfully light and far from overwhelming. The idea of a heavy hollandaise was one main reasons I wavered on the menu, but this is not your commoner's "benedict". No, the fennel pollen hollandaise is light, in flavor and texture, and popping with tart, complex flavors. An instant favorite. The simple sounding fried potatoes (note: I tend to HATE breakfast potatoes) were also completely delectable, caramelized from cast iron and benefiting largely from a generous squeeze of lemon and fresh herbs. We were impressed.
Like every good server should, ours was at our side the second the first bite hit our lips.
Yes, we had everything we needed.

2128 Hillhurst Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90027 (323)661.0055
Apologies for my subpar mobile photos!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Recettes Secrètes: Ginger Crème Brûlée

For my friend Ashley's lightly Asian-themed dinner party last week I decided (surprise, surprise) to make a dessert. Passion fruit crème brûlée immediately came to mind, but after 5 markets (from high-end grocery to Mexican produce marts to the dregs of Thai Town) and still no fresh passion fruit, I grabbed a big knob of ginger and called it a night. Arriving at Ashley's the following evening, she was a hummingbird above a stove top filled with sizzling woks while a rice cooker peufed steam from the full counter nearby. On top of that, she said she had various Japanese jellies she found at her neighborhood Asian market chilling in the fridge. A visual treat as much as palatable, the creamy-sweet grey and dark graphite layered black sesame jelly was the clear exotic winner. In the end, all of our Eastern-inspired dishes and desserts tasted wonderful together, especially paired with Nicolette's delicious Kobai Plum Martinis (one part Kobai plum wine, one part vodka, shaken with ice and strained - floated with an orchid blossom!)

Ginger Crème Brûlée

3 cups whipping cream
2 tablespoons (packed) coarsely grated peeled fresh ginger
10 large egg yolks
1 cup plus 4 teaspoons sugar

Preheat oven to 325°F. Combine cream and ginger in heavy medium saucepan. Bring to simmer over medium heat. Remove from heat; let stand 20 minutes. Strain cream into small bowl, pressing on ginger solids in sieve. Seperate eggs. Whisk yolks and 1 cup sugar in medium bowl to blend. Gradually whisk in warm cream. Divide custard among eight 3/4-cup ramekins or custard cups. Place ramekins in large roasting pan. Pour enough warm water into pan to come halfway up sides of ramekins.Bake custards just until set in center when pan is gently shaken, about 45 minutes. Remove custards from water bath; chill uncovered until cold, at least 3 hours. Cover and chill overnight.Sprinkle each custard with 1/2 teaspoon of remaining sugar. If you have a butane kitchen torch, use per manufacturer's instructions. Use a flame-retardant glove or oven mitt to hold the ramekin (or else set on a fire/heat proof surface). Caramelize sugar working tip of the flame from the outside in towards the middle keeping the torch in constant circular motion. Sugar should be golden brown. If burnt, let the sugar layer cool a few minutes than peel it away with a paring knife and begin again. May take a bit of practice, but WARNING: Torch is addictive! Torchless? No matter. Preheat broiler and place custards on baking sheet. Broil until sugar melts and caramelizes, turning sheet for even browning. Serve immediately, or refrigerate custards until topping is cold and brittle, about 1 hour and up to 2 hours. Enjoy!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Voyager Bien: 1.5 days in LA

A friend told me this week that I should probably get paid to introduce people to LA as a personal tour guide. It is one of my favorite things to do - driving from neighborhood to neighborhood, pointing out the best hidden strip mall treasures, James Beard award-winning taco shacks, legendary rock n roll monuments, haunted hotels, gorgeous apartments I tried to rent, best city views, secret beaches, design boutiques, specialty food markets, treat shops, and margarita cantinas. I sure exercised my guide muscle this past weekend, with a new challenge. Two of my best friends who reside in Portland came down for a grad school visit/whirlwind "get to know you, LA" trip - A 36 hour kinda whirlwind. The clock was ticking and I was set on doing my best to traverse common misconceptions of the City of Angels and thoroughly impress them!
Here's a rundown of some top hits from the schedule:

• In lieu of a pricey cab, I had them take the $6 FlyAway Bus from LAX to historic Union Station downtown and chill on Olvera Street until I could get out of the office and down to meet them. I was greeted with smiles and a bag of candied whole limes stuffed with coconut and fragrant chili dusted tamarind balls.

• After freshening up we hit Mexico City in Los Feliz for a satisfying dinner of sopes, carne asada, delicious mole poblano and of course margaritas. We walked down Hillhurst to Alcove to pick up dessert to go, selecting a molten chocolate souffle and pb&j cupcake. Grabbed a 75 cl Chimay Grande Réserve (Blue) on the way back home and enjoyed our indulgent gatherings.

• An early rise called for hand-shaken Iced Angelenos at Intelligentsia pronto!

• After leaving campus, our leisurely lunch hunt landed us at M Cafe de Chaya for winning salad The M Chopped (organic hearts of romaine, mixed greens, avocado, cucumber, chickpeas, herb-baked tofu, scallions, ume-pickled radishes, carrots, beets, tamari-roasted almonds, crumbled tempeh “bacon” and tofu-peppercorn ranch) and a celeb sighting or two. Followed by a Laurel Canyon/Mullholland drive and brisk walk partway down Runyon Canyon.

• A serene drive out Sunset Blvd to the PCH and north along the Malibu coast to Point Dume for a late afternoon seagazing landed us at the Malibu Pier Club on the way back down for cocktail hour. Our Royal Hawaiians (Mai Tais) and Canyon Margaritas were accompanied by tasty french fries sprinkled with ground dried Japanese seaweed and a creamy sriracha dipping sauce. Yum!

• Back in Hollywood, our original plan of making a taco dinner after such a long day sounded daunting, so we pulled over at La Brea and Wilshire and settled into Luna Park for a casual supper of sausage pizza, spinach salad and beers. Recalling a previous mention, my guests requested one last stop at Scoops where we savored their signature ice cream flavor, Brown Bread. I quite enjoyed the Goat cheese Fig and Coffee Molasses flavors as well.

We fell into our beds Saturday night deep in sun and comfort food comas. I could only imagine my friends' flight at dawn continuing in the same fashion (and judging from the photos, I was right).

Friday, April 24, 2009

Super Bon!: زعتر‎ (Za'atar)

I've definitely mentioned my sister Megan's culinary prowess before, most recently the menu/recipes for her elaborate Southeastern Asian party spread. Here she guest-writes about her new favorite condiment (which I can't wait to try).

Last season on Top Chef, I remember a specific episode when one of the chefs had to re-create a fish dish that involved a piece of fish “blackened in za’atar”. I had never heard of the spice before (even the chef was not familiar cooking with the spice), but it looked great.
Then, this past weekend I was at the Canelo Hills Wine and Farm Festival in Sonoita, Arizona, where there was a woman selling spice blends that she put together herself. As I browsed of the little baggies of spices, one in particular caught my eye… Za’atar!
After the woman explained to me, all about this Middle Eastern blend and how to use it…I was sold! The next day I started doing some research about it and tried it in simple recipes.
As it turns out, za'atar is a very cool, exotic blend with a great history, that tastes great on just about everything! Here is some more information on what exactly it is, how you can make your own, and most importantly what to eat it on… Enjoy!

Za'atar (Arabic: زعتر‎), also spelled satar, zahatar, zahtar, or zatr, is a condiment made from a mixture of herbs and spices with Middle Eastern origins. Based on Syrian Hyssop which grows wild in the region (likely the hyssop referenced in the Bible; reminiscent of marjoram, thyme or oregano), za'atar has been used along with other spiced salts as a staple in Arab cuisine since medieval times.
Za’atar is also often known for increasing mental acuity! In Lebanon, there is a belief that this particular spice mixture makes the mind alert and the body strong. For this reason, children are encouraged to eat a za'atar sandwich for breakfast or before an exam. Maimonides (Rambam), a medieval rabbi and physician who lived in North Africa and Egypt, also prescribed za'atar for its health advancing properties.
The most common preparation involves using ground dried thyme, oregano, marjoram, or some combination thereof, mixed with toasted sesame seeds, and salt. Some varieties may add savory, cumin, coriander, fennel seed or sumac. Each Middle Eastern country has their signature spice added to the core recipe; for example: Lebanese Za'atar adds orange zest, Syrian Za'atar adds cumin and paprika, North African Za'atar adds marjoram, Jordanian Za'atar has spearmint and Israeli Za'atar adds dill weed. Due to these slight differences in recipe, the taste of a za'atar mixture can be tangy, herbal, lemony, nutty, or toasty.
Za'atar is a spice blend that is incredibly versatile. It is used as a seasoning for meats and vegetables as well as rice and breads. It can be mixed with olive oil to make a spread called za'atar-wu-zayt as a dip for the sesame bread rings known as ka'ak. Za'atar can also be spread on a dough base and baked as a bread, in which case it is called manaeesh bi zaatar. It can be sprinkled on labneh (yogurt that has been drained until it becomes a tangy, creamy cheese). In Israel, it is often used on pizza, and is commonly distributed in packets along with a delivered pizza.
So far my favorite use is to make a slurry of Chef’s Choice salted butter, good olive oil and the za’atar. I then slather it on a piece of Mediterranean flat bread or pita bread, and toast in toaster oven. It comes out hot, bubbly, lightly toasted and oh so good. It is a great way to really taste the za’atar flavors.A few more cooking suggestions include: Blacken chicken with a layer of za’atar and coarse salt; Sprinkle it on salty white cheeses such as feta or Balkan and drizzle with olive oil, add some olives, tomatoes, and eat with a pita; Season fresh salads; Add to bread dough before baking; Rub salmon or halibut with it before grilling; Mix into your bagel’s cream cheese or even your scrambled eggs.

• 1/4 cup sumac
• 2 tablespoons thyme
• 1 tablespoon roasted sesame seeds
• 2 tablespoons marjoram
• 2 tablespoons oregano
• 1 teaspoon coarse salt

Grind the sesame seeds in food processor or with mortar and pestle. Add remaining ingredients and mix well.
Store za'atar in a cool, dark place in a plastic zip bag or an airtight container. Usually keeps 3-6 months. Many recommend keeping it in the freezer to increase shelf-life, as many seeds (like nuts) can spoil quickly.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Croquer: Rick's Giant Cinnamon Rolls

I really wouldn't call myself a Cinnamon Roll kinda guy.
The cloying smell of Cinnabon in the Tucson Mall growing up made me sick to my stomach. If not the rare guilty pleasure from a cardboard tube, I generally waive every opportunity to indulge in rich gooey cinnalust.
But the moment I saw these giant-sized hunks of glaze-blanketed dough in the bakery case at Rick's Restaurant in Palm Springs last weekend, even I swooned.
I already could tell this place was special, modestly nestled North of the tourist scene on Palm Canyon, a simple sign proclaiming "Quality Food You Can Taste!" Inside, the packed diner tables of both locals and weekenders alike let us know our Innkeeper was in the know (think Vegas' Peppermill). A menu of breakfast and brunch standbys was spiced up with Cuban specialties and a little Mexican flare (tamales and eggs!). Plus, any diner where I can order a café con leche in lieu of burnt drip coffee gets a gold star in my book. I was slightly disappointed that the special of Tostones stuffed with Ropa Vieja, black beans, and plantains(!) was not yet available.. Yet was incredibly impressed with my plan B of Machaca (shredded beef in a Creole sauce scrambled with eggs), served with Caribbean rice, black beans and tortillas. But it was the cinnamon roll the table shared, warmed with a glob of butter that made the meal. So large that it comes with its own steak knife, the most important characteristic we all agreed on about Rick's rolls is that they aren't too sweet. In fact, the moist bread itself is not sweet at all - fluffy and buttery, with ribbons of savory cinnamon spread - it's only the creamy glaze that provides the complimentary zing of sweetness, offset again by the additional melted butter.
Sure, it may not help you keep your poolside desert physique, but it is the perfect post-jacuzzi midnight snack (I know, we got a couple to go)...

Rick's Restaurant
1973 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, CA 92262 (760)416-0090

Thursday, April 16, 2009

En Vitesse: Babycakes LA Update!

Still my favorite NYC (or anywhere) cupcakery to date Babycakes - which I've definitely mentioned before - has been promising LA its very own organic and delicious wheat, gluten, dairy, casein and egg-free YUM factory for quite some time now. After several lease swaps and multiple delays, finally, some bittersweet but promising news!
L.A. people: this is going to hurt, but only for a second, ok? We all know that the economy has taken a turn for the worse and is affecting millions of people's lives. In lieu of these challenging times, Earnest Sewn has decided to abandon the project on Beverly Blvd. I know, I know. We are right there with you, we had a good group cry for almost the whole week.
But don't freak, there is excellent news: we have signed a lease on a location in the historic bank district of Downtown Los Angeles! The new BabyCakes NYC will be nestled on one of our favorite blocks and we are so excited to be there. We've got a great team of people working overtime to get this opened super fast, so please don't worry. We know it has been a bumpy ride so far, and are so grateful for your patience. We will have more news soon, compete with a grand opening date, so just hang in there for a tiny bit longer.
Another score for my favorite neighborhood these days..!
You GO, Downtown!

Also, check out this incredibly charming video preview for the Babycakes Cookbook coming out May 2009! (Ladies, if you don't want Babycakes brainchild Erin McKenna's hair after watching this video, there's something wrong with you).
BabyCakes, the Book of Recipes: It's Here (Almost)! from BabyCakes NYC on Vimeo

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Recettes Secrètes: Beet Cake!

I wanted to bake my best friend a special and unique cake for his birthday. When I heard about curious beet cake, I thought "I have no idea how that will turn out but YES that's IT!" I was not disappointed! For lovers of carrot cake and zuccini bread - but slightly more sublime, and accessible for straight cake-lovers and well. The beets add moisture and depth of flavor (though not the expected red hue - that bakes out into a mellow gold color). Beware: the orange zest flecked cream cheese frosting is good enough to eat with a spoon!

Beet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

1 pound beets (or 2 boxes of peeled baby beets from TJs)
Cooking spray
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup 1% low-fat milk
2 teaspoons grated orange rind
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 (8-ounce) block 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, chilled
3 cups sifted powdered sugar
2 tablespoons finely chopped walnuts, toasted (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°.
To prepare cake, peel beets using a vegetable peeler. Grate beets, using the large holes of a grater (I used my food processor with grate blade), to measure 2 cups.
Coat 2 (9-inch) round cake pans with cooking spray; line bottoms with wax paper. Coat wax paper with cooking spray.Combine the granulated sugar, brown sugar, oil, and eggs in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well-blended. Add beets; beat well. Lightly spoon the flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 5 ingredients (flour through salt) in a large bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Add flour mixture to sugar mixture alternately with milk, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Pour batter into prepared pans; sharply tap pans once on counter to remove air bubbles.
Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes on wire racks; remove from pans. Carefully peel off wax paper, and cool cake completely on wire racks.To prepare frosting, beat orange rind, vanilla, and cream cheese with a mixer at high speed until fluffy. Add the powdered sugar; beat at low speed just until blended (do not overbeat).Place 1 cake layer on a plate; spread with 1/2 cup frosting; top with remaining cake layer. Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake. Sprinkle nuts over top of cake if desired. Store cake loosely covered in refrigerator.

Beet Icing
(I whipped up a small batch of this for decorating)

1 cup powdered white sugar
1/4 cup butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1-2 tablespoons beet juice (reserve from package, or grate one medium raw beet into coarse shreds and then squeeze out juice with your fist.)

Mix together the sugar, butter, and salt. Add the vanilla. Then beat in the beet juice, adding a little at a time, until desired color and consistency is reached.

Decorate, display and serve proudly!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Recettes Secrètes: Grandma Blanche's Houska

"No, it's not braids of burnt flesh, it's Grandma Blanche's houska, which I made for Easter. Lemony, nutmeggy, awesome warm with a glob of cold butter. Still can't make it as glossy and puffy as hers, but it's good!"
My cousin Beth is pretty modest for how outgoing and wisecracking she is. No stranger to my blog (her Thanksgiving dinner mastery and corn pudding recipe were featured last November), I was shocked when she didn't seem to think she had anything to offer the blog upon my request recently. Then I randomly get this image and description in an email with mention of her pralined yams.. Um, yeah, exactly. Yum.
Consider this the first of many of our family's delicious traditional Bohemian recipes. True Recettes Secrètes!

Grandma Blanche's Houska
This was our grandmother's favorite dough to work with, most likely for its versatility. You can roll the dough, cut it into strips and criss cross across fresh sliced, sugared fruit, like strawberries, peaches and plums, and bake into a coffee cake. Or you can braid it into beautiful browned loaves, best served warm with cool butter and grape jelly. She always studded the bread with raisins and nuts, like walnuts or pecans. They are entirely optional. However, I do think a sprinkle of cranberries might do wonders during the holidays, especially with the hint of lemon and nutmeg in the dough!
I still have yet to learn how to avoid a rather thick browned crust due to the egg glaze. You may wish to experiment with the timing of the beaten egg, adding it later rather than before it hits the oven. I adore the crust, however.
By the way, leftovers make divine french toast, Bohemian style!

Houska or Coffee Cake

Mix the following together and let rise in a warm place, out of draft, for 45 minutes:
2 packets yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
4 tablespoons flour
1 cup warm milk

Then add:
2 sticks softened butter or margarine
3/4 cup sugar
4 eggs
4 to 5 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 lemon rind grated
1 teaspoon salt
Raisins and nuts are optional

Mix all together well, chill dough overnight.
Grandma said to separate the dough into six pieces and braid. I split the dough in half, then into three to make two loaves. Place on a cookie sheet, brush with a well-beaten egg yolk, and bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes. Keep an eye out towards the end so as to not overbake.
Follow Beth's hilarious misadventures and poignant ponderings at theorbitalhousewife

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Humble Taste of Fresh Tortillas

I recently put a call out to all of my foodie friends. As much as I relish in musing over relishes, this is my moonlighting, and I sure don't get to dine about or travel nearly as much as I'd like to. So I've asked for their stories. Meals that have made them swoon, delectable creations they couldn't resist photographing, secret treasures uncovered, and their seasoned travel savoir-faire. I am very excited to introduce this new realm of ChocoMeatdom!

Followers of my blog already know that I have a soft spot for fresh, warm tortillas. So when I asked my good friend Catherine of aflyonthewall to share some of her journey to Zihuatanejo, Mexico with ChocoMeat, I was all to pleased to get an entry about fresh Mexican tortillas in my inbox! Below is only an excerpt from her larger travel essay Travelouge: Zihuatanejo. Enjoy!

Our hopes of finding this “Supermercado” were high. My girlfriend Casey and I had been in Zihuatanejo, Mexico just a few days and we were eager to get bottled water, eggs and fresh tortillas all in one place. We knew the Supermercado would be the answer to all our vacation grocery needs.
We had spent the whole day on the beach and were on our way back to town. Once we walked up the hill from the shore, there was a bus waiting on the road — and by bus, I mean a vehicle that’s a little bigger than a mini van. So sure, we got on, not knowing where or when we’d get off or how much it’d cost. Oh, it’s five pesos? Great. That’s like a dime in US.
Soon after the bus started driving forward an old woman started shouting something in Spanish and the bus stopped. Perfect, that’s how it stops — got it.
We got off in our town and started asking how to get to the Supermercado. Many long blocks later walking alongside the decrepit canal we found it: the WalMart of our little village. It was huge. They sold everything from mattresses to mangos. I went a little crazy in the bakery department. Casey got her yogurt. But we couldn’t find one of the things we were sure they had: tortillas. I had walked up and down the aisles and checked their chilled section — where the hell did they keep them?
“Excuse, senorita?” I stopped the next uniformed employee I saw.
“Donde las tortillas?”
“Con maize?” She asked.
She led us to the gargantuan section in the back of the store under the giant sign that read: Tortillas. Whoops, how’d I miss that big clue? There were some women behind the counter working around a machine. They appeared to be making tortillas — but I didn’t see any. The counter had a festive cloth, but nope, no tortillas. Ok, whatever, I’ll just chill here until they make the next batch. They must be out or something. Shouldn’t they stock more tortillas? I guess we’re not in a hurry. That’s weird though. I mean, we’re in the Mexican WalMart; they should have tortillas…
“Just one package?” the woman asked.
She lifts up the cloth the reveal rows upon rows of freshly made tortillas wrapped in paper. She hands us the closest package. My face breaks into a smile. “Oh my God, they’re so warm! Gracias!” Oh my God, I’m so lame.
After the woman walked away, I realized something else. Her uniform didn’t even match anyone else’s who was working in the store. The fact that she was buying a Coke in front of us in the checkout line was another clue that she didn’t even work there. I hoped she didn’t see me. I was too embarrassed. I clutched the tortillas closer to my chest and wished they’d stay warm forever.

Friday, April 10, 2009

En Vitesse: Behind the Burner

Hot webspot Behind The Burner may just be the Justic League of the culinary world; a site where the World's top chefs and visionaries join forces, sharing their secrets and techniques via video tutorials, recipes and articles.
I'm excited to try my hand at John DeLucie's notorious Truffled Macaroni & Cheese. (I may have to skimp on the freshly grated truffle 'garnish' - what lands this dish at the $100 mark on the Waverly Inn's menu!)
"At the time we started it, most restaurants that were doing truffles were charging considerably more than us, but they were calling their dish “Pasta con Tartufi Bianco.” We called ours “mac and cheese with white truffles,” and the press went berserk."

Makes 2 servings

1 pound elbow macaroni or cavatappi
1 tablespoon table salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons powdered mustard or dijon
5 cups milk
8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (2 cups)
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (2 cups)
1 teaspoon table salt
White truffle oil to taste
1 fresh truffle

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat broiler. Bring 4 quarts water to boil in Dutch oven over high heat. Add macaroni and 1 tablespoon salt; cook until pasta is tender. Drain pasta and set aside in colander.
In now-empty Dutch oven, heat butter over medium-high heat until foaming. Add flour, mustard, and cayenne (if using) and whisk well to combine. Continue whisking until mixture becomes fragrant and deepens in color, about 1 minute. Gradually whisk in milk; bring mixture to boil, whisking constantly (mixture must reach full boil to fully thicken). Reduce heat to medium and simmer, whisking occasionally, until thickened to consistency of heavy cream, about 5 minutes. Off heat, whisk in cheeses and 1 teaspoon salt until cheeses are fully melted. Add pasta and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is steaming and heated through, about 6 minutes.
Transfer mixture to broiler-safe 9-by 13-inch baking dish and broil until crumbs are deep golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes, rotating pan if necessary for even browning. Cool about 5 minutes, then serve.
Shave seasonal truffles over each serving.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Gala Parfait: Southeastern Asian.. Baby Shower!

For my sister's baby shower, she decided to make the menu all of the food she's been craving. It happens to be Southeastern Asian pu pu platter type fare, fresh vietnamese and boba tea.
And of course red wine and Dr. Pepper!

The Menu:
BBQ Chicken Satay
Shrimp Toasts
Summer Rolls
Peanut sauce
Pineapple Fried Rice
Thai 3 Cabbage Slaw
Orange Cup Cakes
Boba Thai Iced Tea

Here are the recipes the chefs (my mother, sister and her friend Abbey) shared with me:

BBQ Chicken Satay

8 skinless/boneless chicken breasts , cut into small pieces or strips
1 package wooden skewers
2-3 stalks lemongrass, fresh or frozen (approx ¼ Cup minced)
1 small onion, quartered
2 cloves garlic
1 thumb-size piece galangal or ginger, peeled and sliced
1 ½ tsp. dried turmeric
1 Tbsp. ground coriander
2 tsp. cumin
4 Tbsp. dark soy sauce
4 Tbsp. fish sauce
5 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
For complete instructions on how to buy and cook fresh lemongrass, go here. If using wooden skewers, soak them in water while you prepare the meat. This will prevent them from burning (I find the kitchen sink works well for this).
Cut chicken or beef into thin pieces or strips (small enough to easily skewer). Place in a bowl.
Combine all marinade ingredients in a food processor (discard the upper stalk of lemongrass, if using fresh). Process well.
Taste-test the marinade - you will taste sweet, spicy, and salty. The strongest tastes should be SWEET and SALTY in order for the finished satay to taste its best. If necessary, add more sugar or more fish sauce (instead of salt) to adjust the taste.
Add the marinade to the meat and stir well to combine. Allow to marinate for at least 1 hour, or longer (up to 24 hours).
When ready to cook, slide the pieces of meat onto the wooden skewers. TIP: Fill only the upper half of the skewer, leaving the lower half empty so that the person barbecuing has a "handle" to work with. This makes it easier to turn the satay during cooking.
Barbecue the satay, OR grill on an indoor grill, OR broil it in the oven on a broiling pan or baking sheet with the oven set to "broil" (Place satay close beneath the heating element and turn the meat every 5 minutes until cooked). Depending on how thin your meat is, the satay will cook in 10 to 20 minutes.
Serve with rice and peanut sauce for dipping.Shrimp Toasts

16 ounces cooked shrimp, peeled and tails removed
2 large egg whites
1 scallion, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh ginger root, sliced thin
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
12 slices day-old white bread, crusts removed
Optional: cilantro leaves for garnish
Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.
In a food processor, pulse shrimp till finely chopped. Add egg whites, scallion, ginger, garlic, cornstarch, salt, sugar; process until mixture forms a smooth paste.
Spray baking tray with cooking spray (vegetable or peanut oil). Spray each piece of bread (top side). Spread an even layer of shrimp paste on each slice. Cut each slice of bread diagonally to make four triangles; you should end up with 48 triangles all together.
Bake 10-12 minutes until golden brown. Garnish with cilantro and serve with peanut dipping sauce.Vietnamese-Style Summer Rolls
Makes 8 rolls
Give yourself plenty of time (and counter space) to make these. And be sure to have a few extra rice paper wrappers on hand—it may take a few tries before you’re rolling like a pro.
Look for medium-size shrimp. Rice sticks and rice paper wrappers can be found in most Asian grocery stores.

12 medium shrimp in their shells
2 ounces dried rice sticks or rice vermicelli (I used bean threads)
8 (8-1/4-inch) round rice paper wrappers
1/2 cup mung bean sprouts, rinsed
24 small mint leaves
Pickled ginger
16 basil or Thai basil leaves
8 small sprigs cilantro
Julienned carrots
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/4" x 1/4" x 2" sticks
2 large scallions, trimmed, halved, and sliced into 3" lengths
4 Boston lettuce leaves, cut in half

Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil over high heat. Add shrimp and cook for about 1 1/2 minutes, or until they are bright orange and just cooked. Drain shrimp in a colander and run cold water over them until they are cool. Peel shrimp and halve them lengthwise down the center. Cover and refrigerate.
Cook the rice sticks according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
Clear a work surface, such as a large wooden cutting board, for rolling the summer rolls and prepare a pan that is roomy enough to hold the finished rolls in a single layer. Place all filling ingredients in separate containers, and arrange them in the following order around the board: rice paper wrappers, shrimp, rice noodles, bean sprouts, mint, basil, cilantro, hot pepper, cucumber, scallions, and lettuce. Put shrimps down, then leaf of lettuce and placed everything else in the lettuce, to enable tighter wrapping with no rips
Fill a wide, shallow dish, large enough to hold the rice paper wrappers, with hot water. Evenly submerge one rice paper in the water for about 30 seconds, or until it is soft and pliable. Remove from the water and place on the work surface.
Working quickly, lay three shrimp halves in a row, cut side up, just above the center of the wrapper. Layer a scant 1/4 cup of noodles over the shrimp, followed by a few bean sprouts, 3 mint leaves, 2 basil leaves, 1 sprig of cilantro, and 2 pieces of the hot pepper (if using). Place 3 to 4 cucumber sticks and 3 to 4 scallion pieces on either side of the noodle pile. Roll one piece of lettuce into a cigar shape, and place it on top of the noodle pile. Fold the bottom half of the rice paper wrapper over the filling. Holding it firmly in place, fold the sides of the wrapper in. Then, pressing firmly down to hold the folds in place, roll the entire pile up to close the top. (Don’t despair, this takes some practice!)
Turn each roll so that the rice paper seam faces downward and the row of shrimp faces up.
Serve summer rolls with Peanut Sauce.

Peanut Sauce
You can make this sauce a day ahead. Just keep it refrigerated in a covered container. Let it sit for a bit at room temperature before serving.

1/2 cup natural-style creamy peanut butter
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 small garlic clove, mashed to a paste
1 teaspoon chile-garlic paste
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup water
Combine all ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. Stir until well combined, adding more water to thin the sauce if necessary.

Thai 3 Cabbage Slaw
with spicy red curry vinaigrette
From the Rebar Modern Food Cookbook

½ small head sui choy (or napa cabbage)
½ small head green cabbage
½ small head purple cabbage
2 carrots
2 peppers, red and yellow
1 small red onion
½ bunch cilantro or Thai basil (or cilantro)
2-3 scallions
roasted peanuts and fresh lime wedges for garnish
Core and finely shred the cabbages. Peel carrots, thinly slice diagonal coins and then julienne each coin into thin, long matchsticks (or just shred them!). Finely julienne the red onion and the sweet pe ppers. Mince scallions on the bias. Stem cilantro and roughly chop the leaves.
Toss together all of the vegetables with enough dressing to coat. Garnish with roasted peanuts and serve fresh lime wedges on the side.

Dressing (yields 2 1/3 cups):
¼ cup chopped shallots
2 tbsp chopped ginger
1 serrano chile, seeded
2 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup fresh lime juice
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp honey
¾ tsp Thai red curry paste (Thai Kitchen brand)
1 tbsp sesame oil
½ cup peanut oil
¼ tsp salt
Pulse shallots, ginger, garlic and chiles in the bowl of a food processor. Add the next seven ingredients and blend until smooth. Season to taste, but not that the chile heat will continue to develop as it sits.

Pineapple Fried Rice
Cook Jasmine rice a day or two before, the rest can be made entirely the night before or morning of and then reheated in a fry pan.

1 pineapple, fruit removed and cut into chunks - to prepare pineapple and use as “boats” for serving go here.
4 cups of cooked Jasmine rice
2 chicken breasts – trimmed and cut in thin strips
1 lb uncooked shrimps – cleaned, peeled and cut in half
1 small onion – diced
3 cloves of garlic – minced
2 scallions– thinly sliced (reserve 1 Tbsp for garnish)
1/3 cup raisins
1/3 cup raw, unsalted cashews
2 teaspoons of curry powder
2 Tbsp of fish sauce
2 Tbsp of soy sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
3-4 Tbsp oil
In a small bowl, mix together curry powder, soy sauce and fish sauce. Set aside. In a wok or a large pan, heat up about 3 tbsp of oil over high heat. Add in onions and garlic and stir-fry until lightly brown and fragrant. Add in chicken, stir-fry just until it changes color, add in shrimps. Stir fry for another minute or two. Add cashews, raisins and pineapple and stir fry another 30 sec to 1 minute and add sauce mixture. Add in rice. Stir-fry until everything is well combined and hot. Check seasoning and add salt if necessary. Add in spring onions and stir.
Serve rice in pineapple boat or serving dish and garnish with reserved scallions.

This site has several recipes for making your own boba (or bubble) tea at home.


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

En Vitesse: Banh Mi and the City

This is like the perfect example of why I love the NYTimes. This incredible diagram supplemented an article on the Banh Mi revolution happening in New York, and even this recipe for making your own daikon and radish pickle. Love!...

Monday, April 6, 2009

Croquer: Butter Tart

What better way to start a sunny carefree Sunday than with strong coffee, good company and a sweet/savory treat? My friend was dogsitting this past weekend in Eagle Rock and called me about a new opening down the street at Verdugo and York called Butter Tart (4126 Verdugo Road; 323.258.TART). I hadn't heard about this sumptuous-sounding café, and since I love being early on the scene (and any kind of "tart") was quick to accept the date!
Butter Tart is an unassuming storefront on Verdugo just up the block from Polka, and almost missable save for the white umbrellas and two tables out on the sidewalk. Inside is equally spare; clean wood veneer and earthy tones, brushed aluminum chairs and cardboard moose heads. We opted to sit outside (not that we had a choice, pug in tow).
The operation inside was a little tricky to maneuver, the hand-held menu lacked prices, the super-inviting website I recalled having some different offerings, and honestly I wasn't even sure where to stand in line. The sociable cashier called me over though, I asked my questions and ordered. They were almost out of the trademark Butter Tarts ("an irresistible Canadian treat of a soft pastry shell filled with a savory butter and sugar filling"). But there was a Bacon Butter Tart, so no contest there. The tarts are relatively small (3") and I was feeling the need for more than a sweet treat, so also ordered the Breakfast Tart (egg, bacon, parmesan) and an iced Vietnamese coffee. And of course a hazelnut macaron to go (I craved pistachio - which were out due to the recall - so opted for "Nutella"). Everything was small, so that seemed about right. The cashier said "WOW. You ARE sampling, aren'tcha!" Which might not have bothered me, but it did. By the time my second friend ordered, they had run out of Butter Tarts (someone apparently ordered a box to go between us). And they couldn't make more. On Sunday morning. So she ordered a sandwich...
The orders were put together and brought to us outside several minutes later. What I found interesting is that nothing was warmed or changed from how it sat in the case. But I was hungry and curious so dug in. The breakfast tart was tasty, the shell was indeed rich and buttery, a hint of mustard with the egg yolk a nice touch. One bite of the Bacon Butter Tart opened every tastebud on my tongue - and helped me realize why the cashier may have "hinted" this was a lot to order. I wrapped my macaron in a napkin, tucking it away certainly for much later. Despite the tea party size of these tarts, they are of the richest mofos I've tastest in quite some time. A Butter tart tastes something like pecan pie, minus the pecans, just lots of the gooey butter stuff, on a very buttery crust, and in my case, with cubes of bacon. I began to take one bite every couple of minutes, gulping down my water and [perfect] vietnamese iced coffee inbetween. The slogan "delicious not nutritious" taunted me from the business card on the table next to my plate. And I began to fantasize about exercise...
After some conversation and digestion, I did leave Butter Tart pleasantly full on life, but lightly reminded of my bittersweet experience at another pastry fad pop-up Xooro in Santa Monica.
And the question on my mind - Beyond making a splash, can the operation pull its weight?

Friday, April 3, 2009

En Vitesse: Disco Food Pyramid

This isn't exactly a food post per se.. I just really enjoy all of the food animations in this video!

(better quality version here)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Carnish Culture: The Jelly Mongers

From a scale jelly airport model (with jelly planes) to glow-in-the-dark jellies to an entire Christmas feast made from jelly, and with clients the likes of Gordon Ramsey, the young Mr. Bompas and Mr. Parr, students of Eton and University College, London are well beyond revolutionizing common Jell-O molds, they're elevating it to Art.
"We know from history that jellies were once considered to be the pinnacle of sophistication,” Mr. Parr said. “They were used as very lavish centerpieces, the way marzipan and sugar were used, but then jelly became corrupted by children’s parties.”
This New York Times article and slide show showcase Bompas & Parr's quick rise to culinary/Art stardom, while their website just plain makes me jellous I didn't think of this stuff sooner! They design three-dimensional models on a computer, eventually producing the custom molds in high-impact polystyrene plastic. But concocting tasty flavor profiles and gorgeous pigments are a bulk of the work, not to mention engineering and chemistry (after successfully making jelly glow blue with quinine, the boys are on to experiments like growing crystals inside the jelly).You may recall my post last year on the rise of chewable cocktails, and Bompas & Parr are no rookies there, since taking private commissions they've made Courvoisier jellies for their Future 500 party and layered Campari and orange jellies for Filippo Tommaso Marinetti’s “Manifesto of Futurism” 100th Anniverasary celebration. The Jelly Boys were gracious to share these Campari and Orange jelly recipes with the NYTimes, which you may layer or simply serve together for wobbly alchoholic delight.But their current project really knocks my socks off, taking the evolving cocktail to a WHOLE new level.. If you find yourself in London this month, be sure to check out Alcoholic Architecture, Bompas & Parr’s walk-in cloud of breathable cocktail ("Step inside a cocktail with gin and tonic mist, giant limes, and massive straws"). Intrigued? You should be!
Have a jelly good time at

In other Jelly news, Image posted an article on "Art Salad: A Retrospective" about an artist (who as you read, must be an April Fool's joke, but OH were she real...):
"Ernestine Heink-Crupsenpeltier's (1913–2001) decades-long exploration of the art salad established her as a progenitor and chief exponent of covered dish minimalism... Featuring over four hundred works, both sacred and secular, the exhibition represents a broad cross-section of twentieth-century Jell-O salad art. The show will include the artist's early series, Icons, as well as her shocking and still powerful Lime Jell-O with Baloney Strips and Roman Soldier... After exhausting the themes introduced in her early works, such as her pained, exulting, and deeply personal interrogation of motherhood, Angel in the House (apricot Jell-O, banana slices, baby teeth, and iron filings), Heink-Crupsenpeltier entered a more purely formal period, one that made her an art-world household name and brought Jell-O works out of the realm of Outsider Art and into the mainstream. Prominent among these mid-career works is the cerebral but quietly devotional Shape #4 (black Jell-O and hard-boiled eggs)... Her late masterpiece, a performance salad entitled Jell-O-rod-E-o, (featuring strawberry Jell-O, cranberry Jell-O, tapioca, gold-leaf see-saw, Cyndi Lauper, and military band) will be presented at the exhibition opening on Saturday, May 2, at 8:00 p.m."
Thanks Mom, for all the Jelly tips!
Photos via the New York Times

Carnish Culture: Scanwiches!

Um. This is awesome.

Thanks Rachel and Josh!