Sunday, February 25, 2007
Huh? You say, applesauce? Aren't you a modern girl living in a big city -- why on earth are you making applesauce? Isn't is hard? Don't you have better things to do?
Answers: Yes, applesauce. Yes, I live in LA, though my modernity is still up for debate (note that I bake bread, wash dishes by hand, and have a collection of aprons). No, it isn't hard. And, clearly, no I don't have better things to do (at least not tonight).
Let me tell you about making applesauce. It is easy. Really easy. And, your result will be better than what you can buy in the store. The first time I ever participated in applesauce making, I was about ten years old. We were visiting my Aunt's farm in the Pennsylvania Dutch Country one summer, and I was eager to help around the farm. I picked peas, helped make pie, weeded the garden, and ate a whole lot of fabulous food. One day, my Aunt asked me if I wanted to help make applesauce. Clearly, my answer was yes. It turned out that my primary job was to taste the sauce as it progressed and determine if it needed more sugar or cinnamon. I had quite the sweet tooth at the time, and I kept insisting that she add more sugar. My poor Aunt never protested, but I'm sure that the applesauce was too sweet for anyone but a child to enjoy.
Fast forward about 15 years to tonight. We had about eight Pink Lady apples getting a little soft and unsavory looking sitting on the shelf. We also had another ten apples (newly purchased from the farmer's market today) to replace them. The choices were either to throw the old Pink Lady apples away (For shame! Did I mention my father was raised on a farm? Under no uncertain terms, other than mold and actual rotting, do we ever through any food away) or make something with them. I thought about making pie for about two seconds, but decided that that was too ambitious to make while also watching the Oscars. Applesauce it was.
To emphasize how crazy easy this dish is, I'm not going to give you an official recipe. If you do something approximately like what I'm about to tell you, you'll get great applesauce. I promise.
Peel, core, and dice about eight apples -- any kind, mix and match if you want. Put them in a big pot with about an inch or two of water in the bottom. Bring to a boil. Add about 1/4 - 1/2 cup sugar to taste. Add a few dashes of cinnamon and a bit of nutmeg. Squeeze in the juice of half a lemon (beware of seeds). Stir. Boil until apples are soft, stirring occasionally. When almost all of the liquid has been cooked off, turn off the heat. If you like chunky applesauce, like I do, mash with a potato masher until they are the consistency that you like. If you like smooth applesauce, let mixture cool and then blend in a blender (carefully).
It is that simple. And, believe me, oh so delicious. Plus, a serving might keep the doctor away... (Which reminds me, I should go eat a bowlful. I have laryngitis and maybe the medicinal qualities of the apples will bring my voice back). I'll let you know how it goes. :)
It is funny, I have only been blogging for a few months, but I already feel naked without my camera. There is a strange sense of something missing if I make a dish now and don't photograph it. For example, I wanted to save a bag of oddly shaped noodles to use when my camera is fixed -- I thought to myself, what is the point of making something if I can't take its picture? (I ended up slapping myself straight and using them anyway in the pasta primavera.)
In such a short amount of time I've fallen prey to Food Blogger Syndrome -- mentally writing blog posts as I cook, examining shelves and stalls at the grocery store and farmer's market looking for something odd to display for you all, or throwing a pity party for myself because I can't take a picture of the pretty dish I just made.
How silly - right? I mean, what is the point of cooking? -- nourishment, of course, bonding with your loved ones, socializing...and something more. The pleasure of it. The joy of watching a pile of raw ingredients turn into something you want to enjoy and share. And, you know what? I can do all of those things without my camera. And, honestly, if I really thing about it, there was only one dish I made this week that I really regret not being able to photograph: A magical salad of king crab, avocado, mandarin oranges, cucumbers, arugula, red onions, black sesame seeds, and homemade dressing.
It isn't that the other dishes were not delicious or pretty, but this one just had something special. The colors are astounding (green, white-pink, orange, black, and purple) and the flavors/textures stunningly well matched (salty, sweet, crunchy, rich, and spicy). Try it and see: it is hard not to love this salad. Each bite is different -- in one you'll get a salty piece of crab with some creamy avocado, in another a crunchy bit of cucumber with a sweet segment of orange, and another with all four of those, plus some spicy arugula. I (and hopefully you will) love it.
Crab, Avocado, and Citrus Salad (serves 3 to 4)
--2 large king crab legs, cooked, meat removed, and then diced into bite size pieces (or substitute grilled shrimp or tuna if crab isn't your style)
--2 ripe avocados, flesh cubed
--1/2 red onion, sliced as thin as possible, and then roughly diced
--2/3 cucumber, cut into bite size chunks
-- 6 to 8 seedless mandarin oranges, peeled and segments separated
--1/2 pound mixed greens, including quite a bit of arugula
--splash of sesame oil
--3 tablespoons rice vinegar
--1/2 teaspoon rooster sauce
--teaspoon finely diced fresh ginger root
--1 clove of garlic, finely chopped or one cube of Trader Joe's frozen garlic
-- splash of soy sauce (if needed) (we didn't because our crab was particularly salty)
--1/4 cup corn or safflower oil OR 1/4 cup chicken or vegetable stock (for a lighter dressing)
-- black sesame seeds
1) Combine first six ingredients, and toss well
2) Whisk the remaining seven ingredients together in a small bowl
3) Pour the dressing over the salad, and mix well
4) Sprinkle black (or white) sesame seeds over top
Plate salad in a deep flat bowl. Offer a side of fresh bread. Enjoy.
Be sure to adjust amounts of ingredients to suit your tastes. If you have a small cucumber, use two. If you don't have mandarin oranges, substitute blood oranges. If you love Mexican flavors, omit the sesame seeds and the dressing, and substitute them with cilantro and a spicy south of the border dressing instead. Make this salad your own. And, be sure to let me know how it goes.
Thursday, February 22, 2007
We continued our cat and mouse flirtation for the next few miles.
I soon had to get off the freeway, so I smiled a final time and changed lanes. As I exited, I looked up at Handsome Truck Guy and waved. My goal was to convey, "Hi, thanks for brightening my morning. I happen to be without a Valentine and I know that there are no flowers waiting for me on my desk and I appreciate the attention from such a cute guy. Hope you have a great day."
He crossed over four lanes of traffic and exited after me.
Let me repeat that. He. crossed. over. four. lanes. of. traffic. and. exited. after. me.
In my mind, he suddenly turned from Handsome Truck Guy into Creepy Truck Guy. My innocent wave had apparently been interpreted as "Hey sexy, please follow me. I want to take you home." He hovered behind me in my lane, until I managed to lose him (by running a yellow light). I pulled into my building's garage and heaved a sigh of relief. I was convinced that I had narrowly missed being stabbed in the eye by a psychopath. (Why the eye? I have no idea -- it just sounds particularly painful and frightening.)
Later, D and M informed me that I was crazy. Apparently this is normal in Los Angeles -- in fact, there was once a radio station that had a show called "freeway love" all about this very type of situation. D and M explained that it was part of the "car culture" of LA . If you see someone in traffic you think you may like, it is completely normal to follow them off of the freeway, pull off into a parking lot near a busy place (like Starbucks), and meet the person.
Regardless of whether I'm crazy and totally missed the man of my dreams *or* Los Angeles is more bizarre than I even imagined, a new phrase has entered my vocabulary. "I'd cross four lanes of traffic and exit the freeway for ______" -- meaning that whatever it is, it is something that I am enamored with...perhaps dangerously so.
This long introduction has been the build up to this line: I'd cross four lanes of traffic and exit the freeway for Gangadin Indian Cuisine.
D, M, and I were hungry, tired, and lacking inspiration in the kitchen last Saturday night. We had a craving for Indian food and a vague memory of a menu we had once seen and liked from a restaurant nearby.
A few minutes later we had figured out the address and were parked in front of Gangadin Indian Cuisine.
A cozy room, an extremely friendly waiter, and intriguing menu greeted us. One of the best lines of the entire menu, for me at least, was this one: "All dishes cooked without MSG, butter/ghee, sugar or animal fat." Usually I can't have most Indian food because of the prolific use of butter/ghee (and the propensity for marinating meats in yogurt) -- dairy is everywhere in Indian food. However, a menu free of ghee meant a menu full of things I could have -- I just had to avoid the tandoori dishes (yogurt).
D, M, and I found so many things on the menu that looked delicious that we decided to over-order with the belief that we'd have tons of leftovers. We had the following:
Bread Bonanza -("Combination of 3 breads -Garlic Naan, Peshwari Naan and spinach parantha.") (Sweet mother of all things holy, good, and pure in the world, this was the best naan bread I've ever hand. The garlic naan was pungent and savory, the Peshwari naan lightly sweet with nuts and fruit, and the spinach naan earthy and rich. )
Lamb Korma-("Tender pieces of marinated lamb meat, spiced mildly and cooked with onions, yogurt, and assorted nuts") ( D and M said it was the best lamb they'd ever had. Apparently, the sauce was from God -- I couldn't have any because of the yogurt. Clearly, my loss.)
Chicken Curry -("Chicken cooked in a sauce of fresh onions, tomatoes garlic and ginger.") (Unlike any curry I'd ever tasted, yet oddly comforting, complex, and fragrant.)
Mixed Grill - ("Two piece of seekh kabab, two of chicken tikka, and one piece of Tandoori chicken.") (D and M said it was wonderful. I couldn't have it because it was full of yogurt, but they really enjoyed it. They said the meat was tender, delicately flavored, and charred just right.)
Saag Paneer -("Cubes of homemade cheese and spinach cooked in mouth-watering sauce. ") (We didn't realized until after we had ordered that we could replace the paneer in any dish with tofu. Next time we are going to order that in that style so I can enjoy saag panner for the first time. Again, D and M said it was fabulous.)
Aloo Gobhi- ("Cauliflower and potatoes sautéed with tomatoes, ginger and special ground spice.") (Fabulously delicious. Yum. The cauliflower was crunchy, the potatoes nicely soft, and the sauce perfectly spiced.)
White rice - (self explanatory.)
3 complimentary sauces -- mint, spicy, and sweet. All fantastic -- particularly spread on the naan bread.
We only had a bit of the tandoori chicken and some rice leftover at the end of the meal (which M enjoyed thoroughly for lunch the next day). Everything was wonderful, from the naan, to the meats, to the veggies, to the wine, and we devoured it all. The price was right and the meal essentially perfect. We already have plans to return, there are literally another 20 or so dishes that was are dying to try.
Let me repeat myself: I'd cross over four lanes of traffic and get off the freeway for Gangadin Indian Cuisine.
5 of 5 stars. Eat here. Soon.
Gangadin Indian Cuisine
12067 Ventura Place
Studio City Ca 91604
Lunch: Monday-Friday from 12:00 to 2 p.m.
Dinner: Monday-Sunday from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Here is the deal, Claire seems nice enough. I liked her in Romeo and Juliet. I enjoyed the few episodes of My So Called Life that my parent's let me see. But, something is a little off about her. Maybe it is the wonky eyes. Likely it is because she stole Billy Crudup from the very pregnant Mary- Louise Parker. Regardless, I don't particularly care for her. I'll never say, "Hey now, friend, lets go see that new Clarie Danes movie -- I've been dying to see it." However, if you rent a movie that happens to have Claire Danes in it, I won't protest. I'll watch it, I'll daydream of her ethereal angel costume in Romeo and Juliet -- wishing I could scrape up that outfit for Halloween next year, and enjoy my bag of Skittles.
Ca' Del Sole is the restaurant equivilant of Claire Danes for me. A few hits, a whole lot of misses, and not much to write home about.
Tonno e Salmone ("fresh chopped tuna and salmon separately mixed with shallots, capers, olives, anchovies, lemon, mustard and chives garnished with organic micro greens and toast"--super fresh and tangy), and the
Granchio ("crab cakes with stewed white kidney beans, tomatoes, arugula and extra virgin olive oil "-- though they were a bit on the heavy and greasy side).
Venison Carpaccio (with mushrooms -- boring and bland),
Mezzelune ("half-moon shaped pasta stuffed with pumpkin; sautéed with a light sauce of butter, sage, and parmesan cheese" -- M said it was tedious, mediocre, and unremarkable),
Coniglio ("free range rabbit leg, wrapped in house cured pancetta, braised in Vin Santo and served with mashed potatoes and “Weiser Farms” organically grown baby carrots" -- how anything with this list of ingredients can be *so* vanilla is beyond me. It was dry, flavorless, and completely without any taste worth reporting)
Ossobuco ("grain fed veal shank braised in white wine and fresh herbs; served with gremolada and saffron risotto" --D says it was nondescript, flat, and "boring." I told him I couldn't use the word "boring" again, but he was too bored to come up with another adjective.)
Limone ("lemon-rosemary tart with caramelized sugar and balsamic reduction" -- bland, too sweet, not rosemary-y enough)
See what I mean? Nothing was really bad -- nothing was improperly raw, burnt, or salty. All of it scraped by as "acceptable." However, only two dishes were worth even recommending. Oh, and the tapanade that was complimentary on the table...that was good. So I guess there were three things worth trying.
Two final points:
1) The patio in the back is beautiful, nearly enough to make up for the mediocre food. You dine in a cozy, tree lined, softly lit, and beautifully decorated little slice of Italy right here in Los Angeles. It might be worth returning to -- if only to enjoy a cocktail while sitting in the warm, breezy air.
2) Don't bother with the wine list, unless you are a wine master already. If you aren't quite a wine genius, beware. You'll be impressed with the length and depth of the list but, you won't have anyone knowledgable to ask any questions. If your experience mirrors ours, your waiter won't know merlot from chardonnay, the manager will pretend to know something, but her education in wine is clearly limited to what she can read off the back of the bottle, and you'll be assured that the general manager, who isn't there, does happen to know a lot about wine, but he is off tonight.
In sum, 2.5 out of 5 stars. A clear Claire Danes.
Ca' Del Sole
4100 Cahuenga Blvd
Toluca Lake, CA 91602
The result? Meh.
It wasn't bad, per se, it just was lacking something texturally. It was soft, like scrambled eggs....and we all I know how I feel about eggs.
I used extra firm silken tofu ... perhaps another, harder, tofu would be better. Or maybe seiten is the way to go. Have any of you made Tofu Larb? If so, was it good, and how did you do it?
The other issue we noticed was that it needed almost double the amount of fish sauce, rice powder, and lime juice originally called for to taste even close to right. The tofu absorbed our seasonings like a giant, bland sponge.
If it isn't broken, I'm not fixing it again. Ground turkey larb from here on out (Unless, of course, I get some really good, fresh shrimp -- then, I may not be able to resist giving it a try.)
If you've had adventures in larb, please leave a note in the comments. I'd love to hear how you all out there in the blogesphere prefer your larby goodness.
Monday, February 19, 2007
So, faithful reader, of there are, I'm sure, at least two, I must warn you --this week is likely to be full of brilliant passages of prose, and devoid of pictures entirely. Unless, of course, M digs up her camera and I can use it as a pinch-hitter because I can't dance with the one who brought me or keep my metaphors straight. Or something.
Tonight, being too sad to post about food without being able to take a picture, I choose to fill you in on why you know that is is Kristel writing this blog *and* you know what Kristel looks like. (Why I am writing in third person, even I don't know).
I thought long and hard before choosing to make TheBestSoupEver not anonymous. Many of my favorite blogs' authors are hidden -- either going by a pseudonym or an initial, or by choosing not to include a picture. I debated with myself, hence the two Kristels in the title, and the nicer Kristel was victorious. Here is an excerpt of the argument:
Mean Kristel (MK): Ooo, remember our previous blog? Man that was awesome. We could do the same sort of thing here. You know, make fun of other people's food instead of their dating habits.
Nice Kristel (NK): No, no, no... we can't do that. I felt too guilty, remember? I was putting bad karma into the world. I had to stop.
MK: Karma, shmarma. It was soooo entertaining. Remember how it all began? We were so fed up with getting cheesy, awful emails from LAME guys on Myspace and Friendster that we began sending excerpts to our friends. They cracked up at all of the "U R hott, wanna cum C me 1 day?" type of messages we got.
NK: Yeah, but we went one step further, remember? We created a blog, posted the emails (with identifying details removed), and mocked everything they said. That was why the blog had to be anonymous -- I couldn't let the world know who it was who was being so mean.
MK: They deserved it! They couldn't even spell -- they drove us bonkers. Ooo, and I get chills thinking about how the blog progressed. How we eventually ran out of emails to our Friendster and Myspace accounts and so we began signing up for Match.com in various cities. We would post our real picture and likes/dislikes and wait for the emails. Invariably they would be full of sappy poetry, lines like "I thik we shud date. U a fine ass." or "You seem smart, I am looking for a wife, R U her?", or pictures of penises. And then we would post their emails and tear their grammar, spelling, and humanity to pieces. I. Loved. It.
NK: Yeah, it was funny for awhile. But then I began to feel bad for these guys. I mean, yes, they were idiots, that couldn't read or spell, but they mostly seemed like sincere idiots. Besides, we do have a fine ass.
MK: Ah, and then we compared each city to the other cities and ranked them on a loser scale. We were hysterical. And brilliant. Imagine this -- we make other people's recipes or visit their restaurants and then we make fun of their paltry culinary skill! Mwah ah ah ah ah!!!!
NK: NO. NO. NO. I am done with this petty, internet meanness. Not to say of course, that I won't give a bad rating to a restaurant that was truly awful, or that I won't be snarky occasionally, but hiding behind a fake name and making fun of people is no longer part of my plan. Instead, I will win over the internets with wry comments, delicious food, and entertaining prose. We'll be a hit!
So, there you have it folks. Nice Kristel won. I wanted to be able to honestly read, write, and review food -- no tricks or gimmicks. If I really don't like something, I'll let you know. And if something is great, I'll share that too. I've got nothing to hide behind -- you know my name and my face. This blog is essentially Kristel, Unplugged.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Sunday, February 11, 2007
Here is my recipe for both the chicken and the resulting stock. I love to make roasted chicken on Sunday nights. Honestly, I'm a bit of 1950s housewife. Minus the house, husband, and children, of course. I *literally* put on an apron, tie up my hair, get dirty, and make a full Sunday dinner most weeks. I consider my ability (and desire) to do this as part of my dowery. :)
I encourage you give it a try, at least once and awhile. There is some kind of therapy in chopping, rubbing, sauteing, and stirring...I promise.
Roasted Chicken, done right -- serves 5 or 6, or less with lots of leftovers
--1 chicken, about 4 lbs (try to get organic and/or free range for better flavor and more peace of mind)
--5 stalks carrots, roughly chopped
--5 stalks celery, roughly chopped
--2 onions (or 5 shallots) roughly chopped
--2 Meyer lemons, thinly sliced
--4 sprigs fresh rosemary
--salt, freshly ground, to taste (at least 1 teaspoon)
--pepper, freshly ground, to taste (at least 1 teaspoon)
--garlic, fresh or ground, to taste (at least 1 teaspoon)
1) preheat oven to 400 degrees
2) place carrots, celery, onions into bottom of large roasting pan
3) separate skin from flesh of chicken,
4) rub, with your bare hands, under the skin of the chicken and into the meat, a slurry of olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic (a kitchen assistant is useful here to pour the seasonings into your hands)
5) place Meyer lemon slices and rosemary sprigs evenly under the skin, all around the chicken
6) rub the outside of the chicken with oil, salt, and pepper
7) place on top of veggies in the pan
8) pour 1 cup of water into the pan
9) bake, at 400 degrees, for 1:40 in convection oven or 2:15 in normal oven (or until done -- when you can cut into the meat at the bone without seeing blood or pinkness. Don't eat raw chicken, you ninny)
Carve and serve the chicken. Yum. For this particular dinner we served it with blanched broccoli doused with lemon juice and olive oil and oven-fried baby potatoes.
You don't have to roast the chicken on a bed of veggies -- you can bake the chicken on a rack in an empty pan if you like. However, you are going to add carrots, celery, and onion to your stock later, so you might as well toss them into the roasting pan under the chicken. Besides, I'm convinced that the veggies add more flavor if they have been roasted before being added to your stock.
Delicious bed of carrots, celery, and onions, pre-chicken
Bed of veggies, with chicken as a welcome guest, just before entering the oven. If you look closely, you can see the Meyer lemon slices and rosemary sprigs under the skin. I don't have a picture of the final Roasted Chicken for a reason. I accidently poured my martini (very dirty, vodka) onto my camera. Seriously. (Wish me luck in rehabilitaing the camera... and myself).
Basic Chicken Stock
--1 chicken carcass, stripped of most of its meat
--organs and other gross things from the bag inside the chicken (but not the bag itself!)
--leftover carrots, celery, onions, and juice from roasting pan (see above)
1) Add about 3 cups of water and then boil all ingredients together for a long time... 7 -8 hours is best, 2 at minimum. The longer you boil, the more flavor and nutrition is extracted from the bones.
2) strain all solids out, refrigerate liquid overnight, or at least 8 hours
3) scrape off fat from top of jelled stock
4) use in everything from soup, to sauce, to rice dishes (watch for our stock to reappear in risotto this week)
Use the leftover meat in chicken salad, sandwiches, stir fry, soup, etc. This dinner can turn into 3 or 4 meals very easily.
On an entirely differenly note, here is the fruit for the week. Bananas, Mango, Kiwi, Apples (both Pink Lady and Fuji), oranges (navel and mandarin), and lemons. Mmmmm, fruity goodness.
Saturday, February 10, 2007
Answer: Turning on an old favorite, watching for a few minutes, and then realizing that it is now awful. How sad is it to find a show that you once loved, discover that it is coasting on its previous fame, and note that it is currently producing pure drivel? (I'm looking at you, Saved By the Bell: The College Years).
Lucy's El Adobe Cafe is the restaurant equivalent of a TV show waaaayyyyy past its prime. Lucy's is an LA establishment -- it was hugely popular in the 70s. The governer at the time, Jerry Brown, and his girlfriend Linda Ronstadt, were regulars and were responsible for putting Lucy's on the map. In fact, their names still pepper the menu. It has been a traditional star hang-out for ages ... clearly aided by being across the street from Paramount Studios. Now, however? Perhaps the worst Mexican food in Los Angeles.
One restaurant has to hold the title of worst, and seriously, folks, I think Lucy's is currently the owner of the dubious honor.
I didn't bring my camera, so I have no pictures. But even if I had, I wouldn't have been able to take pictures because the damn restaurant is so dark that we couldn't see our food (we think, perhaps, to disguise the disgustingness).
The refried beans? Salty. The rice? Soggy. The chips? Greasy. The tortillas? Stale. The salsa? Watery. The Chile Verde? With your eyes closed, completely unidentifiable as pork. The chili rellano? As, M put it, "tasteless cheese shoved into a slimy, canned pepper, and wrapped in an oil-soaked sponge." The mole? Hershey's Syrup covered nuggets of chewy chicken. The Arroz con Pollo (the "Jerry Brown")? The bell peppers were raw, the rice greasy, and the chicken tough.
Essentially, each plate was less appetizing than the previous one.
Lucy's may have once been a must-visit. It is now a must-avoid.
And, let me mention, it was the priciest bad mexican food I have ever had. We each one drink and one entree. The table split 2 guacamoles. Our bill? $30 per person. Honestly, if you are going to serve awful food, at least make it cheap.
0.5 of 5 stars. Not worth walking across the street for. (Why the 0.5? Because the chicken in the Arroz con Pollo was identifiable as chicken and if, starving, could provide enough calories to live on)
Lucy's El Adobe Cafe
5536 Melrose Avenue
Wednesday, February 7, 2007
Laap is the unofficial National Dish of Laos and is also very popular in Thailand.There is also a variant from Northern Thailand which does not use lime or fish sauce, but rather other local condiments for flavor and seasoning. (Thanks Wikipedia!)
(v) : To Larb. To turn into Larb. e.g. "Let's try Larbing some shrimp." Or "We Larbed for dinner tonight." (erm, Thanks Me!)
I have a confession to make.
I tend to be obsessive -- I'll decide that I love something and immerse myself in it completely. I'm willing to repeat eating, listening to, using, or reading that thing for days, weeks, or months. For example, right now I am completely enamored with the acoustic version of One by U2. I play it on repeat 9 or 10 times in a row sometimes. I also am entirely addicted to LOST. I read message boards, gossip about the show to friends, and even *flew* to Hawaii for the weekend with D and M to see the red carpet Season 3 premiere before the episode was shown in the US.
My newest infatuation? Larb.
I was introduced to Larb during the first week of January. I was on a date with The-Man-Who-Hates-Children-So-Much-He-Wants-To-Get-A-Vasectomy (it was our last date, never fear) and we were at a Thai restaurant. We had just gone to the Thai foot massage parlor across the street and had incredibly relaxing foot massages and were starving. We chose a few favorites from the menu, and I decided to try something new -- Larb. I had heard of it before, but never eaten it. This version was made with ground chicken and served with amazing sticky rice and crunchy cabbage. I was hooked from the first bite. The date, however, didn't have such power. The Larb? Perfect.
I made it for the first time a few weeks ago -- D and M's first taste of the addictive power of the Larb. Since then, I've made it a least 5 more times. D, M, and I can't get enough. This dish is like crack -- or what I assume crack addiction is like. Every time we eat it we exclaim over its freshness, its complexity, its healthiness, and how easy it is too make. Hence the opening of the post -- we have turned it into a verb. "Larbing" and variations thereof, now pepper our conversation. So far we have only Larbed ground turkey--- we keep meaning to try to make it with shrimp or tofu, but the turkey is just so delicious. Larb can be made with any protein that crumbles -- I promise to eventually make a variation and tell you all about it. For now, though, I'll just focus on the current version of my obsession.
This recipe is not entirely authentic. I use rooster sauce instead of traditional Thai chilies and I use three different herbs instead of the usual two. I also use lean ground turkey to make the Larb and often replace the accompanying rice with rice noodles. The basic taste composition is still there though: hot, tangy, spicy, sour, and fragrant.
Oh, and Larb has got to be just about the least photogenic food ever. Believe me when I tell you it tastes a million times better than it looks.
Larb -- serves 3 or 4
--1 lb (approximately) ground extra lean turkey
--2 tablespoons fish sauce
--2 shallots, finely diced
--3 stalks green onions, diced
--1/4 cup lime juice
--1/2 tablespoon rooster sauce (or freshly diced Thai chilies)
--1/2 cup total (combined) Thai purple basil, cilantro, and mint leaves, finely chopped
--2 to 3 tablespoons ground, toasted rice powder*
--raw Napa cabbage leaves, separated. (I recommend Napa cabbage, other cabbages seem to impart too strong of flavor)
--sticky rice (cooked) or rice noodles (cooked) (2 cups worth)
1) In large bowl, combine turkey, shallots, green onions, lime juice, and rooster sauce. Toss to combine.
2) Heat frying pan to medium heat, add turkey mixture and bring to simmer. Do not fry -- just allow meat mixture to poach until cooked through (about 6 minutes).
3) turn off heat, stir in herb mixture and toasted rice powder. Can be served warm, at room temperature, or cold. I tend to eat it warm (mostly because I have no willpower and I can't wait until it cools down)
Build wraps out of cabbage leaves by layering the starch (either rice or rice noodles) and Larb into the leaf. Add more rooster sauce if desired.
Eat, with uncontrollable joy. If you're anything like me, you won't be able to stop until you are completely full or you run out Larb. (and you may be forced to make another batch within the week).
As much as I am usually a proponent of drastically changing recipes, this one benefits from sticking the the plan. From experience I warn you, do not add soy sauce or ginger to this. Both completely throw off the balance of flavors.
* Toasted Rice Powder: Heat a frying pan over medium heat. Add a handful of Thai long-grain sticky rice (also known as glutinous rice or sweet rice). I used a black Thai sweet rice -- hence the purple hint to my Larb. Toast until dark and fragrant, 5 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently, being careful not to burn it. Transfer to a plate and let cool. Use a spice grinder or food processor to grind the cooled, toasted rice to a fine powder. Keeps for weeks in an airtight container at room temperature. Thanks roots and grubs for the info.
Food porn -- isn't this pile of cabbage leaves pretty? (Note, however, that this isn't Napa. We didn't like this as much--attractive, thought it is. Next time, back to Napa cabbage)
Half eaten wrap, with lots of extra rooster sauce.
Monday, February 5, 2007
As I stumbled in the front door a few minutes ago, I was greeted by a cold, empty kitchen. M had just gotten home, and D was busy with work. No stove was lit, no pots were out, no food was prepped. We were all exhausted, hungry, and wishing it was Sunday.
Alas, the wishing did not work. It was Monday and food needed to be prepared, and fast.
Enter stage left: soft taco bar. Quick, healthy, full of flavor -- and all of the ingredients were on hand.
I'm almost embarrassed to give these recipes ... they are so simple they are more like instructions to follow the dotted line. However, sometimes when you are really tired, you need a directions for even the easiest meal. Here you go:
Set the table with condiments -- salsa, guacamole, pico de gallo, sliced olives, chopped cilantro, quartered limes, etc.
My favorite condiments. One can never go wrong with a frosty Corona with lime and I can't even explain to you how much I *love* the green Tabasco sauce.
Then make the refried beans, then the chicken, and then warm the corn tortillas (either in the microwave wrapped in a damp paper towel or over the flame of a gas burner on your stove). Build a soft taco. Eat. Smile.
Fast, Healthy Refried Black Beans:
--2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
--1 tablespoon olive oil
-- salt to taste
--hot sauce to taste
1) Mash all ingredients together in a frying pan over medium temperature until medium smooth -- e.g. still a few whole black beans in the mash. About 8 minutes. (Use a fork or a potato masher --also, note that if you continue to add oil, lard, or butter, and keep mashing for an extended period of time you will make much more authentic --though much less waistline friendly-- refried beans.)
2) Turn off heat. Place into bowl.
These refried beans are just as delicious on chips. :)
Chicken with Cumin and Lime
--2 whole cooked chicken breasts (boiled, baked, grilled,..whatever. If I'm in a big hurry I'll just boil frozen pieces in plain, salted water ... I'm not even kidding)
--2 garlic cloves mashed with pinch of salt into a paste (or 2 cubes of frozen garlic from Trader Joe's)
--dash(es) chili powder
--salt to taste
--hot sauce to taste
--juice of one lime
1) cube or shred the chicken
2) over low heat, mix chicken with all other ingredients until combined
3) turn off heat, pile on a plate
Put the refried beans and chicken on the table with the condiments. As mentioned above, build a soft taco. Eat. Smile. Be happy that tomorrow is not another Monday.
Sunday, February 4, 2007
Noodles are another prime example. I make them from scratch a few times a year, but the rest of the time I rely on ones from a box. However, the knowledge that the homemade noodles are practically on another plane of tasty existence compared to boxed ones drives me to seek out handmade noodles at least once every few months. Hence our trip to China Islamic...
As part of an ongoing quest to find the ultimate in Chinese handmade noodles, some friends and I embarked upon a journey through the San Gabriel Valley to China Islamic.
China Islamic is a restaurant specializing in the Chinese food of the Xing Jing (north west) province of China (mostly populated by the Uyghurs and often called East Turkestan) -- e.g. Halal Chinese food. Adherence to Muslim dietary laws means that this restaurant, unlike most Chinese restaurants, does not serve pork. However, they more than make up for this fact by serving some of the best lamb this side of Greece. This restaurant also happens to specialize in homemade noodles.
Six friends and I wandered into this sparsely-decorated, fluorescently-lit, Chinese restaurant early Saturday night, starving and without a reservation. Luckily, they could seat the seven of us quickly, and we soon were settled around a round table with a large lazy susan in the middle. The dining room was filled with the most ethnically diverse mix of customers I have seen in quite awhile -- many clearly Muslim and obviously enjoying familiar food. I'm a firm believer that it is always a good sign when the people of a culture are enthusiastically eating at a restaurant that purports to serve authentic food of that culture. The seven of us exchanged happy glances at our good fortune.
As we immersed ourselves in the menu, hot tea was immediately delivered and ice water poured. Much debate and discussion ensued as we tried to come up with the best foods to order to highlight the lamb dishes, the noodle dishes, and personal preferences. The menu was littered with traditional suburban Chinese restaurant dishes mixed with a slew of unique (at least to us) foods. The discussion lasted for at least 15 minutes....
This is what the seven of us ended up deciding on: 2 orders of kimchee, 1 order of sliced chilled ox tendon, 1 order spiced chilled ox tripe, 1 order sesame flat bread with green onions, 1 order thick sesame bread with green onions, 1 order spicy green beans with dried shrimp, 1 order vegetable chow mein, 1 order bok choy with mushrooms, 1 order lamb warm pot, 1 order beef noodle soup, 1 order lamb buckwheat noodle soup.
We ordered enough to feed an army.
In our defense, we had originally only ordered one plate of kimchee, but it was so good we had to order a second. :)
In sum, we *loved* everything (except the lamb warm pot). The kimchee, as mentioned, was crispy and just sour enough. The ox tripe and tendon (I was told) was wonderful. The sesame breads with green onions are a must eat -- rather bland on their own, but the perfect starch to dip into the broth of the soups. The spicy green beans were some of the best I'd ever had. The vegetable chow mein was complex and crunchy. The bok choy with mushrooms were perfectly done. The beef noodle soup earned rave reviews and the lamb buckwheat noodle soup was so delicious I wanted to bathe in it. (The lamb warm pot? It was just too lamby -- and we like lamb. Plus, it had too much cabbage in it -- somehow the soup managed to be both too lamby and too cabbagey. Not a good combo. )
The noodles themselves were wonderful -- chewy, toothsome, and dense...yet also light and full of flavor. Oh, and, be sure to order the "dough slice" noodles to ensure getting the fresh, homemade ones.
Take a look at all of the deliciousness:
Thick sesame bread filled with green onions. Doughy, fragrant, and dairy free! (Doesn't that look oddly like chicken in the middle?)
Sesame flat bread with green onions. See above, just flatter and crunchier. Yum.
The beef tripe and tendons -- I have to rely on my friend's opinions on this one. They said it was crackly, rich, and soft. I couldn't bring my self to try it -- too beefy and odd for me. Sorry kids.
Our verdict? 4.5 out of 5 stars and worth a drive in LA traffic.
Friday, February 2, 2007
Yes, I am 25, single, and living in Los Angeles.
Yes, I am at home posting about what I made for dinner.
Honestly, I do have an excuse...it has to do with lack of sleep, a overwhelming workload, and a desire to stand and stir something over the stove.
This week has been nuts --Monday night I was in the office until 2 am, Tuesday night I was there until after 8pm, Wednesday night I met a friend for dinner and didn't get home until after 10pm, and Thursday night I had a cocktail party to attend and didn't get home until after 9pm. Plus, I got up on Monday, Wednesday, and today at 5am to go to the gym before work. Essentially, this week has been low on sleep, high on stress, and full of intense assignments. Plus, because of all this, I haven't cooked until last Sunday. For shame! What kind of food blogger am I?!
And, to add insult to injury, tomorrow I have to attend training at work from 9 - 5 (on Saturday!). After that, dinner with a group of friends. Sunday is the Superbowl and I'm going to another friend's house for the game. The craziness shows no signs of stopping...Tonight was literally the only night of this entire week for me to sit, relax, and cook something yummy.
It may seem a foreign concept to some, but the kitchen is my place to find peace. Brainstorming a recipe and chopping up ingredients are wonderful stress relievers for me. All I wanted to do tonight was get back into my kitchen, grab a knife, forget about work, and get started on something delicious for dinner. Seriously, the stove is my happy place -- If I were in Neverland, I think cooking would the thought that would help me fly. :)
Tonight I just wanted something tasty, simple, and light. After a week of late-night meals, heavy on carbs and oil, I was craving something that made me feel healthy.
First, I settled on turkey burgers...ground turkey, mixed with chopped fresh sage and rosemary, garlic, apple cider vinegar, salt, and pepper and shaped into patties and grilled until just done.
Mmmm...fresh off the grill.
Then, a small side of sweet potato gnocchi, tossed with walnut oil, a tiny bit of nutmeg, and salt.
But the vegetable of the night was eluding me. Finally, I decided on a wilted, winter salad. I wanted something that would highlight the flavors of the season, yet still be light and delicious. I knew I had some beautiful blood oranges in my fruit basket left over from my last trip to the farmer's market -- I love the gorgeous deep color and rich acid of blood oranges. Plus, I remembered that I had some fresh spring garlic shoots and a new bottle of walnut oil. I also knew that I didn't want just a plain tossed salad -- something a little warmer and complex was clearly in order. The salad below was the lucky result of these ideas.
This side dish ended up being the best part of the meal -- and that reallly is saying something. The turkey burgers were tangy and savory, the gnocchi were gently spiced and pleasantly earthy, but the salad tied together the herbs in the burgers with the background nutty taste of the gnocchi in a crunchy, balanced perfect end to this crazy week -- I hope you like it.
Wilted Mixed Greens, with Walnuts, Spring Garlic, and Blood Oranges -- Serves 3 or 4
--1 teaspoon olive oil
--1 teaspoon walnut oil
--1/2 cup diced spring garlic shoots, white and green parts (substitute green onions, if necessary, but try and find the spring garlic shoots - they are deliciously delicate and fragrant)
--1/2 sweet onion, diced
--1 clove garlic, finely chopped
--2 teaspoons orange muscat vinegar (I usually find it at Trader Joe's)
--1 teaspoon blood orange juice (squeeze from a few slices of blood orange, then toss the pulp in also)
--tiny splash of apple cider vinegar
--1/3 cup water
--1 teaspoon fresh sage leaves, finely diced
--1/2 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves, finely diced
--salt and pepper to taste
-- 1/2 lb mixed greens (as many different leaves as possible. My mix was self-created at our farmer's market and included arugula, spinach, pea shoots, spring mix, radicchio, and many other salad greens)
-- 3 small blood oranges, separated into segments, and then diced (if you are feeling fancy, peel the membrane from the flesh. I was feeling lazy, and neglected to do so)
--1/3 cup finely chopped walnuts
1) Simmer the olive and walnut oils with the spring garlic shoots, the onions, the garlic, the vinegars, the blood orange juice, and the water for about 5 minutes.
2) Add the sage, rosemary, salt, and pepper. Simmer for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste, adjust seasonings, and then take off the heat.
3) Toss the mixed greens with the blood orange segments, walnuts, and warm vinaigrette.
Eat immediately. If you let the greens sit with the warm vinaigrette for too long you'll end up with salad soup. And, honestly, nobody likes salad soup.
Hazelnuts and hazelnut oil would be wonderful substitutions for the walnut(s). Also, I think a bit of honey might be a tasty addition to the dressing. Finally, I have a notion that some sort of cheese might be good in here, but since I'm allergic, I really can't opine on the topic. If you give it a try, let me know what changes you made and how it turned out.
Sauteing vinaigrette -- I know it looks rather like unappetising slop, but I promise, it is fabulous.
Dinner as served -- turkey burger, sweet potato gnocchi, and wilted salad. Friday. Night. Light. (and delicious).