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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Cooking with Jose Andres: Beef Sirloin with a confit of Piquillo Peppers

Jose Andres owns one of my favorite restaurants in LA, the Bazaar. But long before he landed here, I'd already been enamored of his DC restaurants, Cafe Atlantico and Zaytinya, with a little less love for Jaleo. I've wanted to try Minibar for some time but it's on my list for a future visit.

The man knows how to cook good, creative and beautiful food. And I confess I've probably watched most if not all of his PBS Made in Spain travel and cooking shows. Astonishing (to quote the man himself)! Heck, I've even downloaded music from the Spanish bands featured on the show!

Anyway, I have his tapas cookbook, which I cherish and have used many times to great results. It is, however, a bit weak on the meat side, so I enlisted the help of his online recipes from the show. This beef dish was simple and delicious, particularly the piquillo peppers. I know I say this a lot, but truly, it's hard to go wrong with these babies. Add a bit of garlic and olive oil and you've got a great combination of meat and smoky, garlicky peppers softened by long hours in the oven under low heat. I also used leftover peppers to great effect in my turkey sandwiches to give them a flavor boost.

Flat iron steaks weren't as easy to find as I would have thought so I substituted with skirt steak, which was good but a bit fatty. I used a heavy cast iron grill over the stove that worked very well to grill the meat (fantastic grill marks). I could go on and on about the virtues of this tool, but that's another post. Enjoy.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Tacos in Riverside: Good to Great, and then Inedible

The strangest thing happened on my way back from Riverside. I stopped by a very promising looking fish taco joint called Tacos Los Compadres (don't ask why I went for fish tacos in an inland city) and for like two bucks, I got the best and crispiest fish taco I've had in a long time. The fish was just out of the fryer, piping hot, whose temperature was tempered by the cold tomatoes, crunchy lettuce and white sauce on top.

I relished that taco so much I returned a few months later and ordered two fish tacos. The first one was just as good as I remembered it. But then it happened. As I bit enthusiastically into the second taco, I had a serious case of cognitive dissonance. Naturally, I first rationalized the seemingly inedible fish that tasted like lead and not at all fresh and fleshy like the one I had had exactly one second ago was just a bad first bite.

But then the second bite was just as bad. The fish tasted so bad I had to spit it out and couldn't eat the rest. So sad. I told the friendly guy at the counter but not sure I'll ever return. There are simply too many taquerias to be lax in quality control.

On another trip to Riverside, I went to Mr. Taco after some message boards raved about its namesake goodies. I had the carne asada and al pastor tacos with rice and refried beans. The carne asada was nothing special and the al pastor was definitely better than average but not mind-blowing.
I liked that the pork pieces were nicely charred and flavorful. Did you know that al pastor came from shawarma that Lebanese immigrants brought to Mexico? Cool random factoid of the day.

The salsas were also deep in flavor and spice, which I liked.

The rice was far too dry but the refried beans were fine. It's hard to go wrong with refried beans with a gooey layer of cheese on top, after all. 

I probably won't return since Riverside is so vast and I'd prefer to try other new places in search of that perfect taco, whether it'd be one filled with fish, carne asada or al pastor.

I was disappointed that Mr. Taco didn't have any jamaica, which is usually my drink of choice when I down tacos. It did have a watermelon agua fresca that was refreshing and probably a bit better for me, but I love me a tall glass of bright red jamaica any day.

I dedicate this post to my dear friends who are living in places where getting decent Mexican food is like a hunt for the Holy Grail. Believe me, as someone who's been there, I feel your pain. This is incentive for you to come visit!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Cooking: What's Not to Like About This Chorizo Appetizer?

These parsnip, chorizo and manchego cheese bites are super easy to make and taste like a million dollars. My dinner party guests couldn't get enough of them. If you have leftovers, they could be like breakfast on a stick. You could easily serve these for brunch as a side to a sunny side-up although I didn't get there because there were none left! Parsnips look like carrots but are beige in color and have a nuttier taste than potatoes. Shout-out to Martha Stewart for this recipe. Buen provecho!

Roasted Parsnip and Chorizo Bites

* 2 parsnips
* 2 tsp olive oil
* Pinch of coarse salt and ground pepper
* 8 slices (1/4-inch thick) spicy chorizo (Spanish kind, not the raw Mexican kind)
* 1 oz Manchego cheese

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Peel parsnips and cut into 1/4-inch thick slices on the diagonal; toss slices with oil and season with salt and pepper.

Roast until lightly browned (12-13 minutes) in a single layer on a baking sheet; flip slices halfway through.

Push parsnips to one side of the sheet and add chorizo; roast just enough to heat chorizo through (about two minutes); let cool five minutes.

Break cheese into 1/2-inch chunks.

Layer parsnip, chorizo, Manchego, and parsnip; spear with a toothpick and serve warm.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Open Sesame: Get the Juicy Chicken Kebab, Skip the Fried Potatoes

I had been convinced for the longest time that Sunnin in West LA with an outpost in Long Beach (turns out the LBC one was the OG Sunnin, I later learned) had the best Lebanese food in LA. When I went to Open Sesame in Long Beach (there are two locations right next to each other on Second Street and one other in South Bay), I didn't expect it to be on par with Sunnin but it was.

The chicken kebab (called chicken tawook) was ridiculously juicy, just like at Sunnin, which itself had expanded from a tiny hole-in-the-wall to a larger nicer restaurant across the street on Westwood Blvd.
The romaine lettuce salad with a refreshing lemony dressing and some dill weed? Check, although it went a bit heavy on the feta cheese that I could do without. Baba ghannouj that tastes like garlicky, smoky eggplant that's so creamy that you have to have a dollop of it at every bite? Check. This chicken kabob plate also came with these mild pickled peppers.

The chicken was also perfectly charred despite its uber juiciness on the inside.

I must say, however, that there were things that still made Sunnin better for me. On another visit, I tried the fried potatoes that are deep fried and then smothered in cilantro, garlic, roasted chili and lemon juice. These potatoes were uninspiring. I missed Sunnin's fried potatoes, that are seriously more flavorful than this version.

I also tried kabssa, a lamb rice dish recommended by our server, but this one also disappointed. The lamb was bland and didn't taste that fresh. The rice had a lot going on with green bell peppers, onions, carrots, raisins, spices, as well as sprinkled with pine nuts and almonds. I liked the varied textures of crunchy and soft, but ultimately the flavors didn't blend well together for me.

Next time, I'll stick to the chicken tawook. I haven't tried kafta, ground meat patties mixed with herbs and spices that is one of favorite dishes at Sunnin. I'm a bit apprehensive to go outside of the chicken zone here but I'll give it a shot.

It's definitely healthier eating although it also seemed a bit pricier than I remembered Sunnin to be. Ah, time to pay good ol' Sunnin a visit.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Cooking: Enoki Mushrooms A-La DK

Of all the different mushrooms out there, enoki mushrooms don't get a lot of love. They're rarely the protagonist of a meal, often relegated to garnish or topping for miso soup. So I wanted to share a very quick and easy recipe that requires a package of enoki mushrooms (the thin, white mushrooms with a tiny bulb on top), a teaspoon or so of soy sauce, some green onions and, gasp, mayonnaise.

Before you get grossed out and change the channel, just try a small dollop of mayo into the mix and see how you're surprised by the marriage of soy sauce and mayo. It's actually pretty good.

I can't take credit for the recipe. It's from an old friend, DK, who made it for me a long time ago. You can sprinkle some sesame seeds for some nuttiness.

Here's the easy as pie recipe:
  1. Cut the roots off the mushroom, wash and separate them.
  2. Sautee the mushrooms in a pan with some vegetable oil.
  3. Add the soy sauce and mayo, sauteing for another minute.
  4. Sprinkle diced green onions and sesame seeds and then it's itadakimas! Bon appetit!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Banh Mi Cho Cu: Finally Found a Good One

I admit I'm no connoisseur of Little Saigon. It's far and I don't speak or read Vietnamese so my knowledge is limited by the rants and raves of message boards and personal referrals. But when I had a meeting down there recently, I duly put in my diligence to work so we could make a pit stop to treat ourselves. I am severely deprived of good banh mi up in LA and South Bay, so it was such a pleasant surprise when the one I chose from a list of like 10 turned out to be quite good.

Banh Mi Cho Cu is in a mini-mall in Westminster that I wouldn't have noticed if not for my scribbled address and directions from the previous evening's research. I purposely chose one that was less commercial, more mom-and-pop, hole in the wall, you get the idea.

And I wasn't disappointed. We got a total of 15 sandwiches with some BBQ pork, chicken and vegetarian ones. The display of pastries was so irresistible that I got myself a pate chaud, which was like baked puff pastry with some ground pork. It hardly tasted like pate that I'm familiar with and I also wasn't able to heat it up, (chaud is hot in French) so maybe flavor was lost there too. I wouldn't get it again. But that BBQ pork was delicious. It was perfectly seasoned and charred. The works were fresh, spicy, crunchy all at once.
I love it when I find a new place that's this good and such good value to boot. If you get the mid-sized bread, which is big enough for one, you can get one free for every two you get. So the final bill was ridiculous to say the least.

Just as we were leaving, a woman behind the counter brought out these fresh-out-of -the-fryer dessert rolls with bananas in them. She talked us into getting four, at a discount, of course. These were the highlight for me. I had these before I even bit into my sandwich because they were piping hot and I knew temperature could make or break this dessert, especially since it was deep fried.

Crunchy, then soft, then sweet and creamy -- in short, everything you want in a dessert. And I don't even have a sweet tooth! It was a great dessert-cum-appetizer to my main meal of banh mi. Must try the chicken one next time. My only beef with the baguettes, which were fresh and good (although not like Bouchon good), was that they smelled too much like butter. I wouldn't normally consider that a liability but I do when the bread smells not like quality butter but cheaper butter. Like I wouldn't go there to pick my weekly dose of baguettes, but I would go to get my banh mi and deep-fried banana rolls fix any day.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Cooking: Got Homemade BBQ Ribs? Try This.

Not having grown up in the South, I've always been intimidated by the sheer thought of trying to duplicate the whole Southern BBQ thing. I also don't own a state-of-the-art barbecue grill that lets me smoke or slow cook massive slabs of ribs.

But I finally tried a Tyler Florence recipe, which I knew would be reliable, and I must say, it came out pretty incredible. Ok, BBQ aficionados may say it's not the real deal, but slow cooking it in my oven with those sauces really transformed those baby back ribs, my favorite BBQ pick. The ribs were juicy, perfectly seasoned and totally (excuse the cliche but can't help it if it's true) fall-off-the-bone. It was a proud moment.

So go ahead and try it if you've never made American-style BBQ at the comfort of your own home. That barbecue sauce is also pretty darn addictive. My Southern friends will cringe when I say this, but y'all gotta try this!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Burger Kitchen Revisisted: No Go -- We Miss You Pat LaFrieda!

Remember when I was so stoked that the famous purveyors of meat in New York, Pat LaFrieda, which supplies to big wigs like Minetta Tavern and such, would now be available right here in LA by way of Burger Kitchen?

Well, I didn't bother linking the name of this joint in the last paragraph because I returned recently only to learn that it no longer served Pat LaFrieda burgers. This when I went there fully expecting to shell out $26 (yes, $26) for one of the best burgers in LA? I got a cheeseburger that claimed to have been made from a local butcher that's just as good. Alas -- not even close. I'm guessing the burger didn't sell as well and it was making it hard to turn a profit for the joint but what a monumental loss.

I'm sorry but this place needs to up its burger game, especially in the wake of yummy burger joints galore popping up every week. Come back, Patty!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Cooking: Skirt Steak With Spicy Green Salsa

I guess I'm the eternal carnivore. When I'm not going around sampling new burgers, I'm at home cooking up some skirt steak.

I wanted to share this recipe from one of my fave cookbooks, Great Food Fast. The recipe in the book recommends pairing it with potato salad, but I wanted something healthier so I made a salad with grilled peaches instead. Stay tuned for the salad in next week's entry!

This skirt steak was so tender and when cut at a bias and with the sauce on top, it looked and tasted fantastic. And it was very easy and quick. The vinegar and jalapenos in the sauce gave it a kick and tanginess that complemented the meatiness of the steaks extremely well.

I mean, it was no chimichurri sauce but it was another good option to the Argentine classic. If you're a red wine lover like me, this will go perfectly with some full-bodied Pinot Noir or Syrah (or heck, some Zinfandel too). Enjoy!

Skirt Steak with Spicy Green Salsa
by Martha Stewart from Everyday Food: Great Fast Food

5 teaspoons chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
Coarse salt and fresh ground pepper
1 1/2 pounds skirt steak
2 teaspoons of olive oil, plus more for grates

1. In a small bowl, combine the chili powder, cumin, oregano, 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Sprinkle the mixture over the steak; drizzle with oil. Let stand, turning to coat evenly with the oil halfway through, for 10 minutes.

2. Heat a grill to high, lightly oil the grates. Place the steak on the grill (fold thin end over so steak is an even thickness); cover. Cook turning once, until the meat has reached desired doneness, 4-6 minutes for medium rare.

Spicy Green Salsa

1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon minced pickled jalapeƱos
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon red-wine vinegar
1/8 teaspoon course salt

Combine all ingredients with 1 tablespoon water in a small bowl. The salsa can be refrigerated for 3-4 days; cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly on the surface to prevent discoloration. Makes 1/3 cup.