Thursday, December 27, 2012

Chewy Molasses Cookies

As I was cleaning through my baking supplies, I found an opened bottle of molasses and decided to use it up by making some Christmas season cookies.  I love this molasses cookie recipe!  The cookies spread out into a thin layer and they really are very soft and chewy.  I threw some dark chocolate chips into half the batch and it added a nice contrast to the sweet cookie.  These are the perfect cookies for ice cream sandwiches - thin and chewy, yet firm enough not to crumble apart when you take a bite.  I can't remember if I made any adjustments to this recipe, so I'll just direct you to the source.  Enjoy!

Chewy Molasses-Spice Cookies
from Everyday Food, Martha Stewart

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Prime Rib and Oven Baked Risotto

We had a blast on our first Christmas together, with both of us spending time together and doing things we both loved.  I spent the day baking and cooking new recipes.  John spent the day rooting my phone and cooking up a mean prime rib.  Sprouts had bone-in prime rib on sale and though most of the pre-packaged portions were far too big for the two of us, John asked for a cut with just one bone.  How clever!  We used a pre-made steak rub from Costco to season the prime rib.  I'm not sure what else he did, but John did a great job cooking the meat to a perfect medium rare.

Meanwhile, I made an oven baked butternut squash risotto and stir-fried chard.  Paired with a bottle of Three Philosophers beer, we had a wonderful meal celebrating the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Merry Christmas!  

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Peter's Gourmade Grill - new location!

Many of you will remember this amazing burger I raved about in my first post on Peter's Gourmade Grill.  Since then, Peter's has grown in popularity and long ago graduated from their first location and moved up the street to a new establishment.  Although still small, the new place does have indoor seating and the food is still cooked to order and delicious.  I miss the charm and novelty of its original gas station location, but it's good to see them grow.  Orders sometimes take a while to prepare so I suggest texting in your order.  

Peter's Gourmade Grill
14311 Newport Ave, Suite A
TustinCA 92780

Friday, June 8, 2012

Mapo Tofu

As I prepared to make Mapo Tofu, I realized I had some Sichuan peppercorns in the pantry and decided to add them to this recipe as called for.  The peppercorns really added a huge step of spiciness, such that I could only eat a small bowl of this before my mouth and tongue were burning and starting to feel numb.  Make sure to have plenty of rice to eat with this to calm the heat.  This also went well over a bowl of noodles.

Mapo Tofu
serves 4-6

1 lb soft tofu, drained and cut into 1 inch cubes
3 Tbsp vegetable oil
6 oz ground turkey
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 green onions, sliced with white and green parts separated
1 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup dried Shitake mushrooms, rehydrated and diced
2 1/2 Tbsp chili garlic sauce
2 teaspoons toasted Sichuan peppercorns, ground
1 cup chicken stock
2 tsp white sugar
2 tsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp cornstarch mixed with 3 Tbsp cold water

  1. Place Sichuan peppercorns in a dry skillet on medium-high heat.  Stir and toast peppercorns for about 2-3 minutes until fragrant.  Remove from heat and grind.
  2. Pour oil into a large wok or frying pan over high heat.  Add ground turkey and stir fry until the meat is no longer pink.  Turn heat to medium and add bell pepper, Shitake mushrooms, garlic, and the white portions of the sliced green onions.  Cook while stirring for 3-4 minutes.  Add chili garlic sauce and ground Sichuan peppercorns.  Stir well.  Add chicken stock, sugar, and soy sauce and continue stirring until well mixed.  
  3. Carefully add the cut tofu into the pan.  Stir carefully so that tofu will keep its shape.  Cook for another 3-4 minutes until tofu is heated through and sauce boils and thickens.  Pour cornstarch mixture over tofu, stir thoroughly, and remove pan from heat.  Serve with rice or noodles.  Garnish with the green portions of the sliced green onions.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Strawberry Coconut Mojito Sorbet

Inspired by this delicious flavor at Coolhaus, I gave it a try this past weekend using a basic strawberry sorbet recipe.  The sorbet uses coconut milk, making it slightly creamy yet dairy free.  The mint flavor is subtle and adds a nice refreshing factor.  Shredded coconut was swirled within the sorbet, adding a great chewy texture.  Right out of the ice cream maker, the sorbet was the perfect smooth consistency for eating.  After freezing, it does become a little more icy.  I'd definitely make this again!

Strawberry Coconut Mojito Sorbet
makes about 1 pint

1 cup coconut milk
3 Tbsp sugar
1/4 cup chopped mint leaves
1 lb fresh or frozen strawberries, chopped
1 Tbsp coconut rum
1 lime, juiced
1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut

  1. Combine coconut milk, sugar, and chopped mint leaves in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Once boiling, remove from heat, cover, and set aside for 1 hour to allow the mint to steep.
  2. Add coconut milk mixture (no need to strain out the mint leaves), strawberries, lime juice, and rum to a blender.  Puree until smooth.  Chill mixture in the refrigerator overnight.
  3. Following your ice cream maker's instructions, place puree mixture into the ice cream maker and churn until thick and creamy.  About 5 minutes before the ice cream maker is done, add the sweetened shredded coconut to the sorbet.  Serve immediately when done or transfer to an airtight container to store in the freezer.  

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Mochi Egg Custard Tart @ 85C Bakery Cafe - Irvine, CA

Those from Southern California are probably well acquainted with 85C Bakery Cafe, a Taiwanese bakery chain known for its sea salt coffee, countless varieties of fresh bread, and unending long lines and crowds.  I live 5 minutes away from the bakery yet almost never go unless it's with out-of-town visitors.  The bread is indeed delicious, but the crowds keep me away.  This past weekend, some friends brought over a dozen mochi egg custard tarts fresh out of the oven.  They even called ahead to ensure they'd get a fresh tray.  I've had egg tarts from 85C plenty of times, but never had I had one that was so fresh that it was still warm when I received it.  The crust was flaky and crisp, its sweetness fully evident.  The egg custard was warm and the layer of mochi on the bottom of the tart was soft and chewy.  The ones I've had before always had limp crusts lacking that sweet crisp and a mochi layer that was more tough and stiff.  What a difference!  This certainly renewed my desire for 85C Bakery pastries.  :)

85C Bakery Cafe
Diamond Jamboree Shopping Center
2700 Alton Pkwy, Ste 123

Irvine, CA 92606

Monday, May 28, 2012

Snow Princess Dessert House - Hacienda Heights, CA

Shaved snow may just well be the next dessert craze to hit Southern California, following the spread of frozen yogurt a few years ago.  I first had it in Taiwan, where its unique texture captured my interests.  Fruit juice or other flavors are typically mixed with condensed milk and then frozen into a block of ice.  Upon ordering, the ice block is shaved by a special machine that produces ribbons of flavored milk ice.  It's light yet creamy, melting like snowflakes on your tongue.

The shaved snow at Snow Princess uses fresh fruit and no dairy.  It was certainly flavorful but I prefer the sweet creaminess from places that use condensed milk in their snow (like Class 302).    

--- Food/Drinks ---

The snow is probably the most unique part about this dessert house - it has a soft ribboned look that ends up creamy and melty in your mouth. All of the snow flavors I tried were good including lychee, green apple, strawberry and yogurt.  Portion size is a plus.  The orders were piled about 6-8 inches high with the toppings decorating the bottom edges.  Definitely enough to be shared between two people.

I didn't think the toppings were very good.  Fresh fruit would've been a big plus.  The popping boba is a little on the sweet side making chewing a little strange.  I think the primary purpose of the rainbow jelly is for adding color, I didn't think it added very much to the snow in terms of taste.

---  Service ---

Average service.  There is a $3 per person minimum when sitting down.  This means that if splitting a snow dish three ways, you'll be asked to order fries or something else.  Typically I would expect this minimum from a super busy place, but since the place was nearly empty, I would've liked them to be a little more lenient in this area.

--- Environment ---

I visited with friends on a Saturday night, it was very empty.  The tables, chairs and room decorations were appealing and colorful, typical of what you might expect from a shaved ice cafe.

--- Parking---

Located within a plaza, the nearby stores and restaurants can be very popular requiring a short walk from your car.  Parking spaces are on the smaller end but other no problems finding parking.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Playground - Santa Ana, CA

The food truck craze has come a long way.  Being first a fan of The Lime Truck, we were excited to hear that chef Jason Quinn started his own B&M restaurant.  Complete with daily changing menus using fresh ingredients of the season, the restaurant has garnered many rave reviews and now we can finally contribute to that. 
-- Food ---

The Playground Burger - This burger was not on the menu but ask your server and he/she will know.  After the first bite I immediately knew - this is one of the best burgers I've ever had. The patty is medium to medium-rare, extremely tender with an incredibly rich and juicy meat flavor.  Mustard by itself is not something I have typically seen in my recent burger adventures, but in my opinion I thought the mustard sauce paired very well with the burger.   This burger is a must have if it's your first time.

Dragon Roasted Broccoli - A roasted broccoli dish that wasn't very interesting. I would pass on re-ordering this dish next time.

Roasted Sunchokes - Sliced sunchokes browned in olive oil and a unique blend of seasonings.  It's not bad. 

Modernist Fried "Brick" 1/2 Jidori Chicken with San Marzano Tomato & Peas - Although the dish is listed as a half chicken, it is not your typical rotisserie sized "half-chicken" - it's a lot smaller.  The plate holds about three pieces of chicken with a rolled blend of white and dark meats together.  The chicken is amazing and the skin is wonderfully crispy.  The chicken and the off-menu burger were the standout favorites for me. 

---  Service ---

The service was prompt and friendly.  Our server's recommendation for the half brick chicken was spot-on.  I also really like restaurants that leave the carafe water bottle at the table to serve ourselves.  When we emptied the bottle, another bottle was placed on our table - like.  

On the menu they list a "Fun Fact".  A 3% gratuity is added to all food orders to thank the chefs who work hard in cooking and preparing the food.  Not too bad, but also not really that "fun" for the customer.

--- Environment ---

The red painted walls, eccentric paintings and art pieces give a unique feel to the place.  The large board of beer and wide selection of beer taps behind the bar is also a plus.  No TV's for watching sports, just a pretty cool open seating area to hang out and enjoy your food.

--- Parking---

Metered parking wasn't a problem for Saturday dinner around 5pm.  One quarter will give you 20 minutes in the meter..  There seems to also be some free street parking in the back streets behind the restaurant.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Fudge Brownies with Almonds

These quick and easy fudge brownies take after Mark Bittman's recipe in How To Cook Everything, The Basics.  I followed the tweaks to make nutty brownies by adding toasted almonds and subbing 1/4 cup of almond flour for 1/4 cup regular flour.  These came out more fudge-like than I expected.  The almonds were a nice addition and the almond flour contributed to the moist, fudge consistency.  For lack of a square baking pan, I baked them in the cast iron skillet which resulted in thinner brownies as well.  Definitely an easy recipe, but I prefer my brownies to be chewier and I like using regular dark chocolate more than unsweetened chocolate.

Fudge Brownies with Almonds
makes 9-12 slices

8 Tbsp butter, plus a little more to grease the pan
3 oz. unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup almond flour
1/2 cup toasted, slivered almonds
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 350F.  Grease a an 8x8 square baking pan with butter, or line with parchment paper.
  2. Combine butter and chocolate in a small saucepan over low heat.  Stir constantly until chocolate is melted.  Remove from heat and continue stirring until smooth.
  3. Transfer mixture to a large mixing bowl and stir in the sugar until well combined.  Add eggs, one at a time, and mix until combined.  Gently stir in flour, almond flour, salt, and vanilla.  Carefully fold in the toasted almonds.
  4. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking pan.  Bake for 20-25 minutes until brownies are just set in the middle.  Cool until set, cut, and serve. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Oven Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Roasted brussels sprouts have become quite a popular item on many menus lately.  Seeing as how we really enjoy roasting other vegetables, we decided to give this a try this week.  The last time I had brussels sprouts was when I was a kid.  They didn't leave much of an impression on me, though books and movies certainly left a negative impression of them in my memory. After this trial, I can say for sure that I enjoy brussels sprouts.  At least when they are roasted.  Even more so when individual leaflets are roasted to a nice crunchy brown - brussels sprout chips!  We made these two days in a row.  The second time we actually peeled off the leaflets of each brussels sprout so that we could have a whole tray full of these delicious veggie chips.  The brussels sprouts taste great reheated, but the chips do lose their crispiness within a couple hours. 

Roasted Brussels Sprouts
serves 2

1/2 lb brussels sprouts
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1/8 tsp smoked paprika (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 400F.  This amount of brussels sprouts should also fit well in the toaster oven.
  2. Cut off the browned ends of each brussels sprout.  Slice in half lengthwise.  Save any leaves that fall off, or peel off more leaves if desired.
  3. Place cut brussels sprouts and leaves, olive oil, salt, pepper and smoked paprika in a medium bowl.  Toss until the brussels sprouts are well coated.
  4. Spread brussels sprouts in a single layer on a baking pan.  Roast in the oven for about 40 minutes, stirring the contents halfway through to ensure more even cooking.  Brussels sprouts are done when individual leaves are browned and crispy and intact halves are softened and cooked through.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Iron Press - Costa Mesa, CA

Recently opened at the OC Mix Mart, we stopped by the Iron Press last weekend to check it out.  We really enjoy the waffle sandwiches at Bruxie and wondered how these measured up.  Overall, my wife prefers the waffles at Bruxie for their light, fluffy texture.  The waffles here didn't have any standout flavors on their own, but the meat choices were pretty good, especially the Bratwurst that's locally sourced from Mattern Sausages & Meats.  The Iron Press also has 30 local beers on tap and the counter-style seating makes for a casual and social setting.  

--- Food/Drinks ---
Fried Chicken Waffle - Not bad.  I haven't been a huge fan of fried chicken and waffles, but overall a tasty dish.  The jalapeno maple syrup tasted a little watered down - I would've liked it to be a little thicker.  
Bratwurst Waffle (Hot Link) - Wow, I liked this one a lot.  The Mattern brat had a nice little kick to it.  Paired with the onions and the mustard, this was my favorite compared to the fried chicken. 
Waffle Fries (garlic and parmesan tossed) - The texture and the crunch were very good.  The garlic and parmesan cheese were just okay - nothing special and not really worth the extra $1.50.

The waffles are okay, I wasn't able to spot anything particularly unique about it.  The condiments come in a very tiny metal sauce container.  Despite being served in such a small container, the sauces that came with the waffles and fries were only half full!  The small container also made dipping your food difficult.  It seems they might have been running short on sauce that day or they just didn't take the time to fill it up all the way - dislike. 

---  Service --- 
Came to eat with a few friends during lunch.  Apparently we had come at a very busy time.  It took over 30 minutes to get our food after ordering.  There was a couple nearby that sat down after us and got so angry about the wait time that they stormed out of the restaurant before the food was served. 

The waitress that took our order was pleasant and accommodating.  The owner came by and chatted with us afterwards - nice guy.  He apologized for the wait on our orders and made up for it before we left - extra star for the service. 

--- Environment --- 
Very cool layout.  Sitting at the bar and watching the staff cook the food is very fun to watch.  Although I'm sure working in the open kitchen must be pretty stressful knowing that almost everyone in the restaurant is watching you. 

--- Parking--- 
Located on the edge of the OC Mix Mart, parking is plentiful and very close to the restaurant.  No problems finding parking during lunch on the weekends.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Skillet Blondie Cookie

I was really excited to finally own a cast iron skillet.  Such basic cookware and so cheap too!!  I really should have gotten one earlier!  This recipe was a quick fix for my cookie craving.  Even though it's officially called a blondie, it tasted like a giant cookie and went well with a scoop of ice cream.  It was moist and chewy on the inside with a slight crisp on the edges.  There are a lot of mix-ins in this recipe so the stuff-to-dough ratio is quite high.  It's possible to swap out mix-ins for other items to your liking.  I've tried craisins with walnuts and almonds with shredded coconut - both were delicious!

Skillet Blondie Cookie
adapted from the kitchn
serves 8

1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon espresso powder
1 large egg
3/4 cup dark chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and baking powder.
  3. Heat the butter in the 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat. Once the butter has completely melted, add the brown sugar and whisk together until it dissolves, about 1 minute. This can also be done in a small saucepan and you can brown the butter while you're at it.  Note that the butter sugar mixture may not mix uniformly and may separate out into layers.
  4. Slowly pour the butter mixture into the flour mixture. Add the egg, vanilla, and espresso powder. Mix with a wooden spoon until combined.
  5. Fold the chopped chocolate, walnuts, and dried cranberries into the dough. Transfer the dough back to the buttery skillet, and bake for 20-25 minutes or until the blondie is golden brown on top and set in the middle. A toothpick should come out of the center clean.
  6. Cool the blondies for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Slice in wedges like a pie and serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream (optional).
  7. Blondies will keep for three days in an airtight container at room temperature.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Furikake Chex Mix

Furikake is a Japanese condiment of sorts, comprised of bits of dry roasted seaweed and sesame seeds.  Sometime it'll also contain dried fish and bonito flakes.  It's salty, umami-packed flavor make a delicious meal when sprinkled atop plain rice.  In this snack, it's sprinkled on crunchy Chex or Crispix cereal that's coated in a savory sweet syrup.  The combination of savory, sweet, and crunchy make this a dangerously addictive snack.  Before we knew it, we had eaten the entire batch within 48 hours!  Some people like to add pretzel sticks, popcorn, Bugles, or other items, but I like to keep my Furikake "Chex Mix" pure and simple.

Furikake Chex Mix
serves 6-8 

1 box Crispix or Chex cereal (I prefer Crispix.  It's more 3D shape gives a greater crunch!)
1/2 stick butter
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup light corn syrup or honey
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 bottle Nori Fumi Furikake
  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. Line two sheet pans with foil or parchment paper.
  2. Heat butter and sugar in a saucepan over medium-low heat until butter melts and sugars dissolve.  Add oil, corn syrup or honey, and soy sauce and continue stirring.  TIP: Measure the oil out first.  Then when you go measure the corn syrup or honey, the measuring cup will be lightly coated with oil and the corn syrup or honey won't stick to the cup.  When everything is well mixed, remove from heat.
  3. Place the cereal in a large mixing bowl, working in two batches if necessary.  Drizzle some of the syrup over the cereal and carefully mix with a wooden spoon. Sprinkle some Furikake over the cereal and mix carefully.  Continue drizzling syrup, sprinkling Furikake, and mixing until the cereal is well coated.
  4. Spread cereal in a single layer on the two baking sheets.  Bake for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.
  5. Let cereal cool before eating.  Can be stored in an airtight container for 3-4 days, but it may be all gone well before then!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Braised Guinness Lamb Shank Stew

This week's lamb stew was half inspired by the recent Hunger Games movie release (The books are so much fun! And addictive.) and half inspired by lamb shanks on sale at the supermarket.  The lamb flavor was incredibly rich in the cooked down stew and the lamb shank was falling-off-the-bone tender.  I didn't like the added sweetness from the dried plums since the stew already had a sweet overtone from the lamb, onions, and carrots.  I would leave out the dried plums next time.  We ate this with plain rice though it would be good with pasta or bread as well.  Another great use for my Dutch oven! :)

Looking for another Guinness recipe?  Try out this tasty bread!

Braised Guinness Lamb Shank Stew
Adapted from bon appetit
serves 2 (with plenty of leftover stew)

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 lamb shanks (about 2 pounds total, one lamb shank per person)
1/4 cup all purpose flour
2 cups chopped onions
2 cups beef stock or canned broth
1 12-ounce bottles Guinness stout
4 carrots, peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup pitted prunes
  1. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in heavy large Dutch oven over high heat. Season lamb shanks with salt and pepper. Lightly dredge lamb shanks in flour; shake off excess. Reserve excess flour. 
  2. Add lamb to Dutch oven and brown well on all sides. Using tongs, transfer lamb to bowl. Reduce heat to medium. Add chopped onions to Dutch oven and sauté until transluscent, scraping up any browned bits, about 5 minutes. Add reserved flour and stir 1 minute.
  3. Return lamb shanks and any accumulated juices to Dutch oven. Add beef stock and Guinness. Cover and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until meat is almost tender, about 1 hour.
  4. Add carrots to Dutch oven and simmer uncovered until meat and vegetables are tender and stew thickens slightly, about 40 minutes. Spoon fat from surface of stew. Add prunes and simmer 20 minutes.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Baked Shirred Eggs

Shirred eggs are basically baked eggs with a little cream, herbs, and cheese.  There are endless variations and it's easy to toss in whatever you find in your pantry.  We happened to have some sun-dried tomatoes, shredded mozzarella, and italian herbs. You can add onions or fresh herbs or even some smoked meat if you like.  The yolks came out soft like an over easy egg, making it perfect to sop up with a toasted slice of crusty bread.  This is a relatively quick and easy breakfast.  You can give each person their own ramekin with one egg or bake multiple eggs in a larger ramekin as we did.

Baked Shirred Eggs
serves 2

4 eggs
4 tablespoons heavy cream (milk works too)
2 tablespoons shredded mozzarella cheese
1 tablespoon chopped sun-dried tomatoes
Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Lightly grease a 6 inch ramekin. You can use a smaller size and adjust your cooking time for desired egg consistency.
  2. Crack the eggs into the ramekin and pour the milk onto the eggs. Sprinkle the sun-dried tomatoes and cheese into the ramekin.  Season with Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper as desired. 
  3. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes (12 for a very runny yolk, 15 for a firmer yolk), until the egg is 'set' to your preference. Serve immediately with toasted bread. Eggs will continue to set up as you eat, so get them to the table as soon as possible.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Techniques for cooking Fried Rice

Fried rice is one of my go-to meals for a quick dinner that uses up whatever leftovers there may be in the fridge.  It's versatile and fairly easy, though there are a few key techniques to follow to get that fluffy, individual-grain restaurant-style texture instead of a coagulated mess of clumpy rice grains.

Techniques for Cooking Fried Rice:
  1. Use day-old cold rice.  The rice needs to be a bit dried out otherwise the grains will stick to each other.
  2. Cook your eggs separately from your other ingredients, otherwise you'll get a thin coating of egg over everything else.  Some people do like that though.  There's even a Chinese dish called Golden Fried Rice because each grain is ideally coated with a thin layer of egg.
  3. After you add rice to your pan or wok, turn the heat to high.  A really hot cooking surface helps meld the flavors and evaporate off any excess moisture there may be.  
  4. Don't over-stir your fried rice.  Let it sit for a while between stirring.  This creates a nice golden brown color in the rice and you'll even get some crispy grains from the rice that's in direct contact with the pan.  Those crispy parts are the best!
Ideas for fried rice ingredients:
Sauce/flavor - soy sauce, sesame oil, fish sauce, Chinese BBQ sauce, ketchup
Protein - egg, Chinese sausage, firm tofu, leftover chicken/pork/beef, dried shrimp
Veggie - frozen mixed vegetables, corn, cabbage, any other diced vegetables

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Umami Burger - Costa Mesa, CA

This past weekend marked the beginning of Umami Burger's venture into Orange County. It's long-awaited arrival was met with mediocre opening day lines as a short 10 minute wait was enough to get us in at 1pm. The food did not disappoint!

Umami Burger - First bite caused the the whole burger to drip with a wonderful medium cooked beef juice. The unique parmesan cheese crisp added a textural crunch but its flavor remained subtle compared to the overall sweetness of the shitake mushrooms, caramelized onions, and roasted tomato Bun cam with a seared Umami logo across the top, buttered, and perfectly toasted. Definitely recommended.

Tempura Onion Rings - Salty with a good batter taste. A little on the oily side.

Truffled Beet Salad - Strong truffle flavor and delicious. Beets were sweet, ricotta cheese added heft, and the arugula spiciness paired well with it all.  Comes on a small roughly 5x8 rectangular plate.

Truffle Cheese Skinny Fries - If you love truffle, this is a great side to order. Cheese melted on top and deliciously salty. Eat quickly as the melted cheese causes the fries to lose their crunchiness.

Service was attentive and prompt for opening day. Finding parking in the small parking lot of The Camp actually proved to be the greatest challenge of the day and I expect this to be the norm especially during peak hours.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

40 Clove Garlic Chicken

I've had this recipe bookmarked for years and finally got the chance to make it.  My one hesitation has always been that I didn't want to peel 40 cloves of garlic!  Alas, on a recent trip to Costco we decided to buy the huge bag of peeled garlic cloves and it's been a treat using garlic in everything and not having to deal with the stickiness of peeling it.  This recipe turned out great in the dutch oven - the chicken was nicely browned and even the white meat retained its juiciness.  The gravy really took on the herby flavor of thyme and went great over rice.  One great surprise was that although the dish looked very garlicky, it did not taste or smell overwhelmingly of garlic.  The garlic cloves when eaten individually boasted a lovely roasted garlic flavor, but the rest of the dish didn't resonate that flavor.  I'm not sure if I just got too used to the garlic smell and flavor or if this rings true for others who've done this recipe. 

40 Clove Garlic Chicken
Serves 4-6
Adapted from smittenkitchen

1 whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces, at room temperature
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
40 large garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock or canned broth
10 sprigs fresh thyme 
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
  1. Season chicken with salt and pepper.  Place a deep skillet or Dutch oven on high heat and add oil and butter.  When butter has melted and oil is hot, add chicken pieces skin side down and brown until golden brown.  Flip chicken pieces over and brown the other side, about 5 minutes on each side.  Work in batches if necessary so pan does not get overcrowded.  Remove chicken from the pan and set aside.
  2. Reduce heat to medium.  Add garlic cloves to the pan and saute for about 10 minutes.  Add white wine and stock, scraping up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan.
  3. Return chicken to the pan.  Add thyme.  Cover and continue cooking about 30 minutes until juices run clear when chicken thigh is pierced. 
  4. Remove chicken from the pan and place on a serving plate.  Cover with foil.  Ladle out about 1/2 cup of the sauce that remains in the pan.  Stir cornstarch into the reserved sauce until no more clumps are seen.  While stirring the sauce in the pan, slowly pour the cornstarch mixture into the pan.  Remove from heat and continue stirring until sauce thickens.  Pour sauce, garlic cloves and all, over the plated chicken.  Serve with rice and veggies.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Pumpkin Steel Cut Oatmeal

I've recently re-established my love for steel-cut oatmeal.  Its heartiness, creaminess, and chewy texture makes it hard for me to imagine going back to eating the mush of regular oatmeal.  With great versatility, the possibility of add-ins is endless and makes this an easy staple to whip up for breakfast using whatever I can find the kitchen.  This weekend I happened upon some frozen canned pumpkin I stored away in the freezer.  The pumpkin and spices in this recipe conjured up memories of Fall amidst the recent chilly mornings of Spring.  Baking the oatmeal was a great change since I didn't have to babysit and stir the pot the entire time.  The oatmeal is amazingly creamy right when it's finished.  Leftovers can be saved in the fridge or freezer and reheated with a splash of milk (or even coffee creamer for lack of milk) to bring back its wonderful texture.

Baked Pumpkin Steel Cut Oatmeal
Adapted from theKitchn 
Serves 4-6

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 1/2 cups steel cut oats
1/2 cup pumpkin or squash puree
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups milk
2 1/2 cups warm water
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup dried cranberries
  1. Preheat oven to 375F. In a Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon of butter on medium-high heat.  When butter begins to foam, add oats and stir for about 3 minutes until toasted.
  2. Push toasted oats up against one side of the pot.  In the clear space, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter.  Add pumpkin puree into the melted butter and let sit for 1 minute before stirring, leaving the oats on the side.  Add sugar and spices and stir together with the pumpkin for 3-4 minutes until the color darkens slightly.
  3. Pour in the milk and whisk the oats, pumpkin mixture, and milk all together.  Whisk in water, vanilla, and salt.
  4. Place the lid on the pan and bake in the oven for 35 minutes.  Remove from oven and lift lid, being careful of the rising steam.  Stir oatmeal and it will continue to thicken as it cools.  Sprinkle oatmeal with dried cranberries.  Serve immediately or let it cool to store in the fridge or freezer for later. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Guinness Cheddar Beer Bread

A pack of Guinness beer inevitably found its way into my pantry the week before St. Patrick's Day.  I'm not a great fan of drinking Guinness, but I do enjoy the novelty of baking and cooking with it.  With a few hours of notice beforehand, I made cheddar beer bread to bring to a St. Patrick's Day dinner.  The recipe is quick and easy, unique, and unusually dense.  The loaf felt like a brick and had the moist, dense, chewy texture of banana bread.  The Guinness flavor was evident but still subtle.  The cheese gave it a great saltiness and crispiness at its edges. 

Another great use for Guinness is in this lamb stew. :)

Guinness Cheddar Beer Bread
Adapted from theKitchn
Makes one 8 1/2-inch loaf

2 3/4 cups sifted all purpose flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 (12-ounce) bottle Guinness beer
1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese (about 6 ounces)
2 tablespoons dried dill
2 tablespoons butter, melted
  1. Preheat oven to 375F. Line 8 1/2- x 4 1/2-inch loaf pan with parchment paper, or coat with butter.
  2. In a mixing bowl, thoroughly whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Pour in the beer and mix until the dry ingredients are evenly moistened. Fold in 1 cup of the cheese and dill.
  3. Transfer the batter to prepared pan. Pour the melted butter evenly over top of the dough. Bake about 30 minutes then scatter the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese over the top. Return the loaf to the oven and bake 15 to 20 minutes longer or until a tester inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes.
  4. Turn out, slice, and serve warm.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Ramen Yamadaya - Costa Mesa, CA

Ramen Yamadaya, with their original stores in LA, recently opened their first Orange County shop in the Costa Mesa area.  Known for their 20-hour tonkotsu ramen, Yamadaya may prove to be some good competition for surrounding ramen spots like Santouka, Kohryu and Mentatsu.  Tonkotsu broth is made from boiling pork bones for many hours and then simmering for many more hours to draw out its deep, rich flavor.  Indeed, the broth itself has a milky color and you can see the small clusters of marrow that result from such a long cooking process.

I ordered the Tonkotsu Kotteri ramen, which comes with an extra "fatty" dose of the broth and fragrant black garlic oil.  The broth was incredibly flavorful and clusters of fatty goodness clung to the spoon after each sip.  The ramen included the typical soft-boiled egg, slices of chasu, bamboo strips, and green onions.  The black garlic oil was good but even better was asking for fresh garlic cloves.  Several peeled garlic cloves came on a small plate together with a garlic press for us to put directly into our soups.  We could put as much garlic as we liked to our hearts' content!  We ordered a combo meal to try out some of the sides.

The chicken karage was nicely seasoned and the dark meat was incredibly juicy and tender.  The croquette bowl came with two potato croquettes over white rice, topped with katsu sauce, Japanese mayo and bonito flakes.  The combination of flavors reminded me of okonomiyaki and we devoured it all.  This is definitely a spot to add into our ramen rotation.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Roasted Asparagus

One of my favorite methods for cooking vegetables is oven-roasting.  It's quick, simple, easy to clean up, and requires minimal ingredients.  Vegetables tossed in olive oil, salt, and pepper come out of the oven with intensified flavors and even a light nuttiness.  The asparagus turned out great here, though the grape tomatoes could have used some slow, lower-temperature roasting to really bring out their sweetness.   

Roasted Asparagus
Serves 4

1 bunch of asparagus (about 1 lb)
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 400F.  Rinse the asparagus to clean.  Cut off the tough ends of the asparagus and discard.  (If you take a single asparagus and snap the end, typically it will snap off right where the tough/dry portion starts.  Use this snapped asparagus as your length guide to cut off the ends of the rest of the bunch.)
  2. Place the asparagus in a single layer on a baking sheet or foil-covered baking pan.  Drizzle with the olive oil and roll the spears around to make sure they are evenly coated.  Rearrange the spears into a single layer and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  3. Place pan in the oven and roast for about 10 minutes until tender enough to pierce with a fork but still slightly crisp. 

Friday, March 9, 2012

Beef Bourguignon

After getting my new dutch oven, I soon decided that the first recipe I wanted to make was Beef Bourguignon, in honor of the first official date my husband and I went on where he took me to a Braising cooking class.  I used the recipe we followed in class and it came out delicious, perhaps even better than the first time we made it.  The gravy-sauce was delicious on brown rice and would be great on noodles or even sopped up with a piece of crusty bread.  We enjoyed the leftovers for lunch during the week and even froze some of the sauce to savor later.   My first use of the dutch oven has convinced me that it is my favorite piece of cookware in our entire kitchen.  The pot heats up quickly, meat browns so nicely, and cleanup is so much easier than anticipated! 

Beef Bourguignon
serves 6-8

2.5 lbs beef chuck, cut into 2" cubes
1/4 cup olive oil
4 tablespoons butter
12 mushrooms, trimmed and quartered
3 garlic cloves, peeled
2 leeks, trimmed, washed and sliced
salt and pepper
2 cups beef stock
1 1/2 cup red wine
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs thyme
2 tablespoons cornstarch, more if needed
  1. Coat beef chuck pieces lightly with flour.  Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add olive oil and 2 tablespoons of butter.  Working in batches, sear the beef pieces so each side is nicely browned.  Remove from pan and set aside.  Discard oil.
  2. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in the same Dutch oven.  Add mushrooms, garlic, and leeks and saute lightly. 
  3. Return beef to the pot and season well with salt and pepper.  Add stock, wine, bay leaf, and thyme.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover pot and simmer for 1 to 1.5 hours.  Taste meat for tenderness. 
  4. After the meat reaches desired tenderness, skim off excess fat from the sauce.  Transfer beef to a platter and cover with foil to keep warm.  Remove about 1 cup of the sauce and mix well with cornstarch.  Pour cornstarch-sauce mixture back into the Dutch oven to thicken the sauce.  Taste and correct seasonings as desired. 
  5. Serve with noodles or rice.  Place a few pieces of beef on noddles or rice and spoon sauce over the plate.  This dish can be prepared beforehand and reheated or frozen for another meal. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Spinach and Roasted Bell Pepper Strata

Last week, we decided to make a strata for Saturday brunch.  The ingredients were easily compiled on Friday night and left overnight to sit in the fridge.  On Saturday morning, we simply preheated the oven, popped the dish in, and an hour later we had a delicious morning meal.  With only two of us, the delicious leftovers served us for breakfast for several days after. Yay for easy-to-prep meals with leftovers!

Spinach and Roasted Bell Pepper Strata
Adapted from smittenkitchen
Serves 6-8

10 ounces fresh spinach (or frozen spinach that's been drained and chopped)
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion (1 large)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
8 cups cubed French or Italian bread in 1-inch cubes (1/2 lb)
8 ounces coarsely grated mozzarella (3 cups)
6 ounces roasted red bell peppers, diced (from a can or jar)
2 3/4 cups milk
9 large eggs
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  1. Saute onions in butter in a skillet over medium heat until soft, about 5 minutes.  Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper and nutmeg and continue cooking for 1 minutes.  Add spinach and stir until spinach is fully cooked down.
  2. Lightly grease a 9x13 glass baking dish with butter.   Spread half the bread cubes into the bottom of the dish.  Top with half the spinach mixture and half the shredded cheese.  Repeat with the second half of the bread cubes, spinach and cheese.  On the top layer, evenly spread the diced roasted red bell peppers.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs, mustard, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper.  Pour mixture evenly over the strata.  Cover the baking dish with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 8 hours or up to one day.
  4. When you are ready to bake the strata, remove it from the fridge and let stand in room temperature for 30 minutes while preheating the oven to 350F.  Bake uncovered for 45-55 minutes, until strata is puffed up and golden brown.  Remove from oven and let stand for 5 minutes before serving.  Any leftovers can be stored in the fridge and reheated in the microwave. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Garlic Chips

Garlic chips add a wonderful flavor as a topping to sauteed vegetables, pasta, mac and cheese, and other side dishes.   They can be a bit tedious to make as you have to watch them carefully so they don't burn, but the results are definitely worth it.  The cooking method is a bit different in that you add your olive oil and garlic slices to the pan before turning on the heat.  This way, the oil and garlic gradually heat up together, preventing the garlic from getting burned quickly as it would if you added it directly to hot oil.  We used garlic chips to top sauteed spinach, adding flavor as well as some crunchiness.

The next day we took leftovers of spinach, garlic chips, Costco rotisserie chicken, grape tomatoes, and pesto to make a quick pasta for dinner.

For those hardcore garlic lovers, it's hard to resist eating the garlic chips straight on their own.  My husband actually loved the garlic chips so much that he asked to make his own batch as a snack to bring to work.  Be forewarned that these will definitely give you garlic breath!   

Garlic Chips
Recipe from Pioneer Woman

5 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced very thin
3 Tablespoons olive oil
  1. Pour olive oil in a large skillet and add garlic slices in a single layer.  Turn the stove on medium heat and let the oil and garlic heat up together. 
  2. As the garlic starts to bubble, stir the garlic to cook on both sides.  (Or if you're meticulous like my husband, flip each slice individually to cook the other side.)  
  3. Remove garlic from the oil with a slotted spoon when it reaches a golden brown color.  Place on a paper-towel lined plate to drain the oil. 
  4. At this point, you have fragrant garlic-infused oil left in the skillet.  This would be great for sauteing vegetables, pouring over pasta, or mixing with balsamic vinegar as a dipping sauce for bread.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Baking Sheet Macaroni and Cheese

 My favorite part of homemade macaroni and cheese is always the top layer.  You know what I'm talking about, right?  That top layer where the cheese and noodles get broiled to a nice dual texture of crispiness and chewiness.  That top layer "crust" that houses all the crispy breadcrumbs and lacks the typical creamy texture of mac and cheese.  This recipe gives you just that.  The baking sheet cooking method allows for a 50/50 ratio of "crust" to innards.  That means I get to enjoy my favorite part in each and every bite!  It's a bit unusual that this mac and cheese recipe did not include a roux, but I guess you may not need it if you're not going for the creamy factor.  We added some leftover lamb shoulder bits before the final cheese layer. Any other precooked mix-in (bacon, sausage, salmon, etc.) could also be added for some variation.  I really enjoyed the outcome of this cooking method and next time I will probably try some different cheeses.

Baking Sheet Macaroni and Cheese
Adapted from food52
Serves 6

3 Tablespoons butter
12 oz extra-sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
12 oz sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated (or gruyere, fontina, bleu, etc.)
1 pound fusilli pasta (or any other small pasta shape)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried mustard
salt and pepper
2/3 cup whole milk
1.5 cups panko or breadcrumbs
  1. Heat oven to 475 degrees. Use one tablespoon butter to grease a 11-by-17-inch rimmed baking sheet (or use parchment paper for easier cleanup and grease the parchment paper). Combine the grated cheeses and set aside 2 cups for topping.  Combine the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a small bowl with the panko or breadcrumbs.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook for 6 minutes. Drain. 
  3. In a large bowl, toss together the pasta, cheeses, cayenne, and mustard.  Salt and pepper to taste. 
  4. Spread the mixture in the baking sheet and evenly pour the milk over the surface. Sprinkle the reserved cheese on top.  Evenly sprinkle the panko crumbs on top.  Bake uncovered, until golden and crisp, for about 15-20 minutes. 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Asian Crock Pot Pork Loin Roast

I'm still learning the ropes of what it means to cook for two.  My previous routine of cooking once and having enough leftovers to pack lunch for an entire week are now out the window!  I knew that my husband ate twice as much as I do, but I didn't realize that now means my cooking may only last us one dinner and one lunch meal.  What a difference an extra mouth makes!

This week I came home with a center cut pork loin from the grocery store and no ideas on how to cook it.  I decided to use the crock pot since that seemed to offer the most convenience and food quantity.  This recipe for asian style pork yielded an intensely flavored meat that was delicious atop plain noodles or rice.  Due to the cut of pork, some portions of the meat were a tad dry but the salty, vinegary, sugary sauce more than made up for it.  I could eat a whole bowl of rice with just the sauce drizzled over it.  Saute some bok choy and you'll have yourself a well-rounded meal or two...or more.  This actually lasted us a good 3-4 meals! 

Asian Crock Pot Pork Loin Roast
Adapted from Skinnytaste
Serves 6-8

2.5 lb lean boneless pork roast (I used a center cut pork loin roast)
Salt and fresh cracked pepper
Olive oil
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Pinch of red chili pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon Chinese five spice (or use 2 star anise and 1/4 teaspoon each of cinnamon and cloves )
3 cloves crushed garlic
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger root
8 oz sliced shitake mushrooms
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  1. Rinse pork with water and pat dry.  Season on all sides with salt and pepper.  Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and add some olive oil when skillet is hot.  Brown the pork on all sides for about 8-9 minutes.
  2. Combine the following in the crock pot:  chicken broth, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, sesame oil, chili pepper flakes, Chinese five spice, garlic and grated ginger.  Stir to mix the contents.  Hint: Peel ginger by scraping off the skin with the edge of a spoon.  Place ginger in the freezer for 15 minutes before grating.  I've found it's much easier to grate frozen ginger and it doesn't get into a big mushy mess.
  3. Place browned pork inside the crock pot and cook on low for 8 hours.
  4. After about 7.5 hours of cooking, remove the pork from the crock pot and set aside for 5 minutes.  Add the sliced mushrooms to the crock pot and cover to let cook for the remaining 30 minutes.  Shred the pork with two forks, place back into the crock pot, and stir to make sure everything is covered by the delicious broth.  
  5. Serve pork and mushrooms over dry noodles or rice, being sure to drizzle a few spoonfuls of the sauce.  Sprinkle with chopped cilantro.  Enjoy!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Costco dinner...

After a week plus of honeymooning bliss in Costa Rica, we returned home to an empty fridge filled only with leftover libations and random condiments.  Off we went to our favorite store, Costco, to stock up on some edibles and other unintended purchases.  Our first formal meal (aka not packaged ramen and candy) in our new home was made possible entirely thanks to Costco.  Sun-dried tomato panko breaded tilapia filets, sauteed french green beans and carrots, and a Mediterranean couscous blend.  The tilapia filets came pre-breaded from the fresh fish section and developed a nice crispy crust with simple pan frying.  We sauteed the veggies with just garlic and olive oil.  For the couscous, we used chicken stock in lieu of water to impart more flavor and also mixed in some sauteed garlic.  It's nice to be home. :)

Friday, February 10, 2012

New beginnings!

Something very exciting and thrilling happened to me lately.  I've been waiting and longing for it for over a decade.   I almost can't believe it's happened and it continues to feel surreal.  After 10+ years of constantly housing with 3+ girls, I finally own kitchen. 

My own fridge with its entire capacity free for me to use at my disposal.   Is there such a problem as too much empty fridge space?  I'm sure that will be easy to remedy.  My own sink, free from unclaimed dirty dishes and wide open for washing veggies and filling stockpots.  My own counter space with ample open surfaces for food preparation and ready to be adorned with my own appliances.  My own cookware and tools, freely purchased and used without fear of unintentional mistreatment or negligence.  It's all for me and mine, mine, mine!!  I's all ours. :)

You see, even more exciting than my new kitchen is my new marriage.  My boyfriend, turned fiance, turned newly-married husband and I are incredibly thrilled that God's graciously brought us together in marriage.  As we start this new season of life together, it's been fun setting up our new home and every time I think about our own kitchen I cannot help but thank God for how we even got to this point.  From the generous hearts of our family and friends, we are excitedly stocking our kitchen from new tongs to a new toaster oven.  Plus a long-coveted KitchenAid stand mixer!!  I'm looking forward to the many food adventures to come!