Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Friday Night Feasts

Roasted tomato, mozzarella, pesto crostinis
We made quite the meal on Friday night, thanks to our family friend from the Bay Area who is a professional chef.  It was an eclectic yet incredibly delicious meal.  We ate outside by the pool, so unfortunately no photos of the latter courses as it was too dark.  I'll be re-making these dishes in the future and posting recipes as I make the dishes, but here's what we had on Friday night:
  • Blue cheese served on top of fig cake and quince paste (all purchased from Whole Foods).  This is a great, no cook appetizer for guests, paired with a nice cocktail in the living room, as you put the finishing touches on the food in the kitchen.  I love the contrast of the salty, unctuous blue cheese, with the sweet smooth quince and the nutty rich fig cake.  It went perfectly with our pomegranate cosmos made with pomegranate juice, vodka, triple sec and freshly squeezed lime juice
  • Next was a crab salad with peppers served in Little Gem lettuce cups and a black bean, corn salad, also served in Little Gem lettuce cups (for most courses, we served a vegetarian option along side a regular option)
  • Then, we served two types of crostini: the vegetarian option was  simple oven roasted tomatoes on top of fresh mozzarella, cilantro / parsley pesto, topped with a little micro greens.  We also made a skirt steak crostini served on an olive tapenade, also topped with micro greens.  I loved the skirt steak; it had been marinated overnight in a soy / garlic marinade, so it had a nice, salty, flavorful crust on the outside, and K. grilled it a beautifully tender medium rare
  • Next, she made a rich and indulgent three mushroom risotto made with shiitake, oyster and white mushrooms, finished with a little marscapone cheese
  • We finished the main courses with a taste of split pea soup.  I will definitely be making this split pea soup soon; I normally don't even have much of an opinion on split pea soup, but this soup is wonderfully creamy (without any cream), slightly smoky and full of great vegetable flavor.
  • For dessert, we had grilled peaches with raspberry, drizzle with a little marscapone / agave sauce.  So sweet and delicious; the peach caramelized on the grill and the marscapone / agave sauce just heightened the sweetness with a little richness
Cheese plate, from upper left clockwise: fig cake, blue cheese, quince paste
Little Gem cups with crab salad and black bean and corn salad
It was a very memorable meal; it's always nice to eat at home at your own leisure over several hours with good company and conversation.  We had several really nice bottles of wine too, including a Zacherle sparkling rose of syrah that I bought at 750 wines in Napa, a sangiovese, cabernet, merlot blend that a guest brought that was perfect with the skirt steak, and a great bottle of 2007 Rideau Riesling with dessert.  The Riesling was sweet, but not cloying so, with a rather dry finish, and the peach and honeydew flavors went perfectly with the grilled peaches.  After dinner, we went out to meet a couple of friends at Angel's on Wilshire, followed by a couple of places on Main Street, for what turned out to be quite a late night out; an unusually eventful Friday night for us!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Proscuitto and Melon

Super sweet, height of summer season melons with thinly sliced salty proscuitto. I could make a meal out of this.  I'm actually not sure what kind of melon this is; it looks like a cantaloupe on the outside with some netted bumpy ridges, but it was green on the inside like honeydew.  It doesn't taste like honeydew though, much more juicy and sweet.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Beer Tasting

After a gorgeous wedding at the Montage in Beverly Hills, Rich and Amy came over and we sampled a bunch of really interesting and different craft beers.  I thought the Pliny the Elder was really special (first time I've tried it) and I also really liked Rogue's Hazelnut beer.  The Smashed Pumpkin beer was also really nice and pumpkin-y.  I am still working on acquiring a taste for bourbon / whiskey, although I'm not quite there yet, so the Santa's Little Helper and Deliverance Ale was a little strong for me; you could definitely taste the bourbon / whiskey taste from the oak barrels that they were aged in.  I find it really cool how complex beer can be; just like wine.  Just the different noses, tastes, flavors, textures, finish, etc.  I love how Rich just travels all the time with a trunk full of craft beers; each time we finished a bottle, he'd pull another one from his car. Nothing better than catching up with old friends over some special beers...all the way until 5:30am (for second night in a row!)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Nanbankan: Meat on a Stick

You really can't go wrong with grilled meats on sticks.  One of my family's favorite restaurants is Nanbankan, in West LA.  It's been around for over 30 years in a constantly under renovation office building next to the 405 freeway, and we've been regulars for at least the last 25+ years.  Nanbankan specializes in yakitori, or chicken on skewers grilled over charcoal, although they grill plenty of other meats and vegetables as well.
Okra wrapped in bacon
Chicken wings, one of my favorites
Chicken tail and gingko nuts
Lamb chops
Crispy chicken skin
Grilled corn and garlic
Chicken meatballs, another favorite
Roasted garlic
We also ordered the grilled squid, grilled pork belly and grilled rice balls; everything was perfectly seasoned, perfectly grilled and delicious.  Other favorites which they were out of yesterday include chicken neck, chicken knee bone, and ayu, a type of Japanese grilled fish.  Nanbankan is great for groups, relatively reasonably priced (it was about $30 - $40 per person for food, no drinks but corkage for two bottles of wine).  The owner and host, Tony-san, who hasn't aged a bit in the last 25 years, is always there with a smile and always takes great care of us and all the other customers.  It's pretty much the closest thing we have to a neighborhood haunt.

11330 Santa Monica Boulevard
Los Angeles CA 90025
(310) 478-1591

Preparing for the Feast

Yesterday, we went to the Santa Monica farmer's market to pick up some fruits and veggies for our Friday night cooking extravaganza.  Our chef friend is in town from the Bay Area and is kind enough to share some of her secrets and help us prepare a fabulous meal.  We bought the most food we've bought in awhile from the Farmer's market, including: mushrooms, little gem lettuce, peppers, pluots, cantaloupe, heirloom cherry tomatoes, salad greens, tarragon, parsley, basil, frisee, chives, red flame grapes and much more that I'm forgetting now.  She was pretty impressed by the variety and size of our farmer's market, I guess we're pretty lucky! Market is pretty much the same as its been for the last few weeks, with more and more peppers, grapes and eggplants, but slightly less heirloom tomatoes.
These signs and descriptions are helpful! I grilled a couple different varieties last week and they definitely cooked / tasted differently

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Bazaar

Tuesday night, we took a friend from out-of-town to The Bazaar in the SLS Hotel for dinner.  I think the Bazaar is the perfect place to take out-of-towners who enjoy food; Jose Andres' spanish tapas combined with molecular gastronomy can't be found anywhere else in the U.S., with the exception of maybe his D.C. area bar within a restaurant, minibar.  The decor and layout of the Bazaar, with the bar area, two dining rooms and patisserie, is whimsical and fun, and it's a great place for people-watching as it draws a very typical LA / Hollywood crowd.  I had been once before, almost two years ago, close to when the restaurant first opened.  It is still one of the most popular reservations in town, so reservations should definitely be made in advance.

We started with drinks in Bar Centro and ordered cocktails off their "New Classics" list:
"New Way" Dirty Martini with olive spherification (at the bottom) and olive brine air
"Salt air" margarita
"Magic" mojito strained over cotton candy
Next, we moved into the Rojo room, where I had dined previously, for dinner.  The menu is divided into "Traditional" and "Modern Tapas."  The Rojo room is probably the warmest and most traditional of the rooms, bathed in red lighting with black accents and with lots of chalkboard walls and a charcuterie counter.
Tortilla de patatas "New Way" with potato foam, 63 degree egg, and chives (Modern)
Papas Canarias: salty wrinkled potatoes with a mojo verde (Traditional)
Chipirones en su tinta: baby squid with its own ink (Traditional)
Melon with Jamon Iberico (Modern)
King Crab Steamed Buns with pickled cucumber (Modern)
Watermelon "nigiri" with yellowtail, fresh wasabi, red wine, soy, jalapeño (Modern)
Japanese taco with grilled eel, shiso, cucumber, wasabi, chicharron (Modern)
Sautéed shrimp, garlic, guindilla pepper (Traditional)
Lamb loin (Traditional)
Butifarra Senator Moynihan: Catalan pork sausage, white beans, mushrooms (Traditional)
Philly cheesteak: air bread, cheddar, Wagyu beef (Modern)
Burrata with Japanese peach and croutons (Modern)
Cotton candy foie gras (Modern)
Making something with liquid nitrogen
2007 L'argata: Shiraz, Garnacha, Cabernet (a little too dry and tannic for my tastes)
We enjoyed trying many different things; it was definitely a new experience for most of the people we were with.  I like the modern side of the menu more as it is more unique.  However, the meal didn't seem as innovative as when I first visited Bazaar almost two years ago.  I think it's partially because we've had similar modern cooking a few times over the last year, with three trips to Ludobites and our recent trip to Red Medicine at Test Kitchen.  The ambiance is cool, but the service is pretty bad; we had to wait forever to finally get someone's attention to get more water and we poured all the wine ourselves.  There didn't seem to be anyone taking care of our table.  After dinner, we moved to the patisserie for dessert.
I love that melting chandelier
Chocolate mousse with pear sorbet
Rice crispy treats
The Patisserie is my favorite room; it's the most fun, cheerful and pretty room, with tables and chairs of all different heights and styles.  I love the display of all the candies and chocolates in the front; everything is so pretty!  The chocolate mousse dessert was nothing special however, just a watery chocolate mousse, tasted just like how it looks.  Overall, we had a good time and tasted some fun and innovative food.  I do like how they are able to transfer your bill from the bar, to the restaurant, to the patisserie for one seamless meal in three totally different ambiances.  It makes for a little dining adventure, keeping it always interesing!

The Bazaar by Jose Andres
465 South La Cienega Boulevard
Beverly Hills, CA
(310) 246-5545end_of_the_skype_highlighting

Indian Food - Attempt #2

Since I followed the recipe exactly earlier this month and developed a sense of the balance and taste of the new spices and key ingredients, I decided to improvise a little with last night's Indian chicken masala, with mixed results.  I wanted to incorporate tomatoes into the dish, to add more vegetables and also to use up tomatoes in the fridge, but I also liked the tangy creamy taste that yogurt added to last time's dish, and also wanted to use up extra yogurt I had leftover from making tzaziki.  The resulting dish tasted good with lots of flavor, better than last time, but the texture was a bit off; I think that the acid from the tomatoes caused the yogurt to separate a bit.  Or perhaps I just added too much water and that caused the yogurt to separate.  The chemistry of cooking is a funny thing that I'm still learning about, mostly through trial and error, so lesson learned.  I'll just have to keep working on it.  I made a simple salad topped with some chopped avocados and leftover Mexican corn and caramelized onions from the bbq, and just tossed it with some freshly squeezed lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.  It was really good and refreshing next to the hot curry and rice. Here's my recipe so you know what not to do :):
  • Marinate 1.5 lbs of chicken breasts cut into cubes in a mixture of: 1 cup of non-fat greek Fage yogurt, 1 TB of garam masala, 1 minced garlic, 1 tsp of brown sugar, 2 TB of tomato paste for an hour or more
  • Saute over medium high heat: 1 thinly sliced onion, 2 TB of minced ginger, 2 TB of minced garlic for about five minutes
  • Add 1 tsp of turmeric, 1 tsp of garam masala, 1 tsp of coriander, 1/2 tsp of cumin seeds and toast in the pan with the onion, ginger and garlic for a few seconds and then add 1 more TB of tomato paste
  • Add the marinated chicken to the pan and mix everything together
  • Add tomato, handful of chopped cilantro, 1 cup of water (I would use less, more like half a cup), 1/4 cup of yogurt and bring to a simmer and turn to low and cook until the chicken is cooked through.  Salt to taste and sprinkle with more chopped cilantro
For dessert, we had a special treat: mint chip ice cream from Sweet Rose Creamery.  It tasted as good as I remembered; super fresh minty creamy ice cream with crunchy bittersweet slivers of chocolate.  Perfect indulgence on a hot summer day!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Embracing the Inner Hippie

Who am I kidding, I am no hippie, but I did stop by Co-opportunity in Santa Monica for the first time yesterday to checkout their goods.  Co-op has been around in Santa Monica longer than me (opened in 1974) and my mom used to be a member primarily for their vitamins, but for some reason, I had never been.  It's not a total co-op in the sense that the members don't operate the stores as well, but you can purchase a membership for $25 per year for 8 years for a total of $200, which buys you a lifetime membership of the co-op.  As a member, you get special discounts and dividends at the end of the year (who knows how its actually calculated) but I hear that you easily recoup the membership fee.  It's similar to REI from what I understand.

Co-op is Santa Monica's only certified green grocer and specializes in natural, healthy goods.  I was impressed by their large selection of organic produce, almost as large as Whole Foods and definitely much better than Trader Joes.  They are also well known for their bulk goods, from an even wider variety of spices than Whole Foods, to nuts, grains, tea and coffee.  I picked up Nancy's lowfat organic raspberry kefir which I like better than both Whole Food's Lifeway kefir and Trader Joe's kefir (actually tastes like real fruit), and some organic onions, avocados and serrano peppers.  I tried everything last night and it was great!  Co-op has also an interesting selection of vegetarian and vegan items (more than Whole Foods) that I'm looking forward to trying out.  You don't need to have a membership to shop there, but I think I will buy one.  Hopefully it will be that nice bridge between Trader Joes and Whole Foods.  I don't like Trader Joe's produce; they don't have a large selection, the produce doesn't really seem to be seasonal nor local, their organic selection is small, and they prepackage a lot of the produce, which inherently makes it less fresh.  I rely on a lot of Trader Joe's pantry items, but I think the bulk bins at Co-op will have even higher quality items at good prices.  Whole Foods is just too expensive at times and occasionally has a "mass-market" feel to it.  I have to do more price comparisons, but it seems that Co-op is cheaper and puts a lot of care and attention into selecting every single item on their shelves, since they are only one store, plus their members have input.  We'll see though!  Hopefully it saves me some running around; I'm tired of needing to go to both Whole Foods and Trader Joes every other day.

1525 Broadway
Santa Monica, CA 90404

(310) 451-8902

Monday, August 23, 2010

Grilling and Leftovers

Yesterday, Z and I made the best scrambled eggs with leftovers from the previous evening's bbq.  We sauteed some chopped beefsteak tomatoes, grilled eggplants, caramelized onions, Mexican corn in one pan with a little butter and salt and pepper, and made semi-slow cooked eggs in another pan (medium-low heat as opposed to low heat), combined the two together, added some cheddar cheese and sprinkled on some cilantro.  It was delicious, the best scramble that I've ever made!  We served it with some leftover arugula salad with dried rosemary cranberries and pecans and some freshly squeezed orange juice and ate brunch by the pool.  Perfect Sunday morning.

Saturday night, we had a simple bbq at my place.  We started with pita chips and homemade tzaziki with cucumbers from the backyard based on Ina's recipe (with the addition of a lot more dill), sliced some heirloom tomatoes with burrata, grilled portobello mushroom burgers again (topped with slices of Castello blue cheese, caramelized onions, arugula and beefsteak tomatoes), a new favorite for everyone, grilled some very pretty eggplants (I just halved the eggplants lengthwise, and drizzled with a little salt, pepper and olive oil and grilled them directly on the grill), and grilled Mexican corn (elote).  A nice healthy (vegetarian) bbq with plenty of fresh seasonal vegetables from the farmer's market.  We had several nice bottles of wine thanks to Alfio including a nice German riesling, Californian Sauvignon Blanc and Beckman Grenache.  I particularly love Mexican corn in the summer: spicy, smoky, and cheesy; recipe (as inspired by my favorite corn from Cafe Habana in NYC) as follows:
  • Wash and remove the silks from 5 ears of corn (but leave the husks on) and soak the corn in a large pot of water.  Grill the corn first husk side down, rotating occasionally until corn is cooked through
  • Mix together 1/3 cup of low fat mayo, juice from 1/2 a lime, 1/4 tsp of cayenne, 1 minced chipotle and 1 tsp of adobo sauce, 2/3 cups of cotija cheese (so excited to see that Trader Joe's now carries cotija cheese, besides Whole Foods), minced handful of cilantro, salt to taste
  • After the corn is cooked, I shave it off the cob and mix it together with the above mixture.  It's a little easier to serve a large group this way and you don't necessarily need to have the exact number of cobs for the exact number of people.  You can serve it on the cob too, just brush the mayo, lime, cayenne, chipotle and adobo, onto the cob, roll it in the cotija cheese and sprinkle on cilantro

Zebras and camels and hares, oh my

It's not every day that I stumble upon a veritable menagerie of camels, zebras, alpacas, ram, sheep, miniature ponies, tortoises, cockatoos, rabbits, horses, geese, chickens, ducks and dogs, while walking the dogs in our usual route around the residential neighborhoods around my house. My favorites were the alpaca, which was really pretty and gentle, the zebra and its cool stripes, and the baby camel who made funny snorting noises.  It was really random and kind of cool actually! I think they were brought in as part of a block party.  Only in Santa Monica!  Someone needs to clean their blackberry lens:
Camel, miniature horse, zebra
Alpaca, rabbit, geese, chickens, sheep, dogs
Tortoise, ram, sheep


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