Saturday, December 02, 2006

Cupcakey Awesomeness

You know you want it.

yummy nummy in my tummy

Ingrid's Full-Fat Version of A Sissy Low-Fat Chocolate Cupcake Recipe She Found Online

2 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 c. + 1/2 c. sugar
1/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 t. baking soda
1/2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
7 oz. Greek yogurt (*see note at the bottom)
1/2 c. mashed up fruit. I used homemade cranberry sauce, but really ripe bananas are always excellent
1/3 c. canola or vegetable oil
1/2 c. milk
2 t. vanilla
3 egg whites
Lemon Vanilla Sugar Glaze (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease 20 muffin pan cups w/ butter or cooking spray. Or be awesome and get these. Sift dry ingredients (using only 1/4 c. sugar) with a big strainer into a large bowl; set aside. In another bowl, mix everything else except egg whites.

Beat egg whites in a deep bowl at medium speed with an electric mixer until foamy. Turn mixer to high and gradually add remaining 1/2 cup sugar, until glossy, stiff peaks form. Stir yogurt mixture into flour mixture just until dry ingredients are moistened. Gently fold in 1/3 of egg whites until blended; fold in remaining egg whites. Spoon batter into muffin cups, filling 2/3 full.

Bake 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted into centers comes out clean. Transfer cupcakes from pans to wire racks; cool completely. Meanwhile, make the Sugar Glaze; drizzle over cupcakes. Eat at least two or three while the glaze is still runny and let the rest set.

Lemon Vanilla Sugar Glaze:
1/2 c. Greek yogurt
1/4 t. vanilla
zest of 2 lemons
juice of 1 lemon**
1 cup or more of confectioner's sugar

Mix yogurt, vanilla, lemon zest and juice in a medium bowl. Add confectioner's sugar and blend with an electric mixer, adding more sugar until it reaches drizzle consistency. I got a little crazy here and started shaking in the sugar straight out of the package while the mixer was running until it was drizzle consistency. And instead of "drizzling", I kind of dumped it on by the spoonful so it was all running down the sides. Total awesomeness.

*Yogurty Note: Fage "Total" Greek yogurt is so f-ing excellent. You'll should add it to everything. You should also eat some of it straight out of the container with a spoon, maybe with some honey. But t's so beautiful, it doesn't really need anything. Can be found @ Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, etc.

**Waste Not, Want Not: Use the the lemon juice from the remaining lemon for something else... like a basic lemon vinaigrette: Pour lemon juice, a little salt and a grind of pepper into a small bowl. Whisk in 1/3 cup olive oil in a slow stream. Your salads and veggies will be very happy.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Moving requires upcoming experimentation

In the past month, my family and I moved out of the house I grew up in and into a new place in the same city, new neighborhood. In fact, I'm convinced it's a better neighborhood as the house feels tucked-away, yet much closer to good food, grocery stores and general shopping. I never knew exactly how handy Target could be until we started (and still continue) moving. It's not two minutes away, they really do have loads of stuff, and it's not painful like Bed Bath & Beyond.

I digress.

As long as I've lived here and come back for holidays (and extended stays, like now), my favorite grocery store has been and remains The Fresh Market, a self-tagged "fine neighborhood specialty store". It's a pretentious title, but it ain't no lie. Plus the "neighborhood" part is now more real than ever. Three, four minute drive tops.The produce and prepackaged items are generally more expensive than at the mass chain grocer, also nearby. However, they carry a number of imported and/or scarcely-found food items not easily found elsewhere. And you can't find Asian pears, pomegranites and an endless variety of tomatoes as good as the ones at TFM, unless you trek out to Greensboro's real farmers' market in Sandy Ridge.

(That shit's the truth, but I'll save it for another day. Besides, the farmer's market has an entire category to itself.)

The other day I treated myself to a good visit to TFM, grabbing whatever looked good, including a couple of cod fillets that I plan to do country-simple: dredged in seasoned flour and pan-fried til tender and crispy. I also managed to find some good quality butter, clean winter squash and a variety of pastas. There's a spinach lasagna in the works.

With the new kitchen, bringing groceries home no longer seems like a chore. I may be crazy, but it's fun, like hide and seek, except I know exactly where everything is and should be for maximum convenience and longest storage life. Besides the storage space, the new kitchen is, generally speaking, splurgy-vacation-house excellent. Professional six-burner stovetop, massive fridge, double ovens, endless counter space and a mean, mean Viking grill in the backyard. Frankly I'm a little intimidated, more by the grill than anything else, but I'm getting to know the kitchen as the days go on.

I'm sorry to stop here, but speaking of new kitchens, I have some cod to fry and biscuits to bake. Haven't made biscuits in a while but I have a feeling they'll turn out OK. More as the world turns.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Ever seen a fresh fig?

From a tree in our backyard:

figs from the backyard

We picked a few yesterday, and there are lots more ripening on the branches. If you've never had a fresh fig before, I highly suggest it. It's the most damned delicious fruit I've ever tasted... ever

Mom and I also took a trip to the farmer's market yesterday, and along with some corn, okra, green beans, peaches and a disc of fresh Crottin cheese from the local Goat Lady Dairy Farm, we scored some gorgeous heirloom tomatoes:

farmer's market heirloom tomatoes

A bunch of German Johnson and a couple of the same in a black variety (the one on top). You haven't had a tomato until you've had a black German Johnson.

Holy shit. I'm in fresh fruit heaven.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

What's for (TV) dinner?

A homemade TV dinner: Butternut squash, carrot and cauliflower soup; red bean veggie chili; and mixed greens in blood orange olive oil with heirloom tomatoes, sliced kiwi and fresh basil picked from the garden. Kiwi in salad is, I must say, pretty damn delicious.

...All on a tray on my lap with a ginger ale as a treat.

Now for some Sleepless in Seattle, and maybe later some sleep for me.

Monday, June 19, 2006

A thousand words

I was sifting through some old photos, and I found this from a visit to Din Tai Fung with Ryan, Patty, Ben and Ruth last year:

Our waiter happened to place a basket of freshly steamed dumplings on the table just as this photo was being snapped. Note that Ryan stays properly posed for the camera while I dive straight for the dumplings, teeth bared. I'm surprised I don't have spittle running down my chin.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

What's for dinner?

Broiled Alaskan king salmon with toasted rosemary on mixed baby greens with chevre, manchego and previously mentioned tomatoes in a homemade lemon/garlic/olive oil/fresh basil dressing.

The two cheeses were almost too much, but I still maintain that everything is awesome with more cheese. I went a little crazy at Earth Fare the other day when I decided I don't eat enough goat cheese. Now the chevre needs eatin' and I've been slowly cutting away at the big chunk of manchego in my fridge. It makes me think of Cobras and Matadors every time I cut into it.

My mom made some roasted asparagus, shiitake mushrooms in garlic and olive oil and some quinoa in sesame oil. Dinner, I must say, was a treat.

Now we're off to veg in front of the TV for a while and watch Two Brothers, a movie about tigers separated as cubs, starring real tiger cubs. It's so ridiculously cute, it'll make you pee your pants.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

At Home Again

I have to say...

One awesome thing about being home is having a proper kitchen in which to play. Instead of a foot and a half of counter space on which to push veg and crap around, I have arm room, leg room and a whole kitchen island with a sink when space on the kitchen mainland gets tight.

It's also nice to have normal-sized appliances. The appliances in my old apartment in LA looked like regular appliances, except literally shrunken down to about 3/4ths the size of regular appliances. It was awkward to say the least.

And most importantly, I have toys, mainly this one:

I find every excuse to use it: Slicing 1/2 cm of skin off a salmon fillet, julienne-ing lime peel, whatever I can do to get my hands on this thing.

Today was legitimate. I made salsa: tomatoes, onions, fat garlic, handfuls of cilantro, red pepper flakes, cayenne, and a nice dash of rice vinegar. I mixed it all in the one piece of pottery I threw in college ceramics 1 that didn't turn out like a third-grader's ashtray.

It's a tricky time of year for tomatoes, but the ones my mom found at the co-op are so pretty, you want to bite into them like apples:

I'm also excited because my mom gave me a tour of the backyard my first day I was back, and we have "guest" tomato plants growing in the garden. She didn't plant them, but they popped up nonetheless and we're happy to have them around.

I'm sitting at the kitchen table right now, munching away at the salsa. There are windows to the front yard and the back yard, which is nice now that it's gorgeous and green and the weather has cooled down a bit. I wish I you could see how green everything is here. I forgot about seasons.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Sushi Destroyers!

Last night was another visit to Midori Sushi (formerly called Maeda) in Studio City on Ventura Blvd. Michael introduced me a couple of months ago. I admit I was wary at first: All-you-can-eat sushi for $23.95... sounded like the makings of a mediocre fish and slow service disaster to me. I imagined a Todai-like atmosphere with screaming children and hot pink platters with bits of fish haphazardly tossed onto globs of rice, and messy, deconstructed rolls. But I generally trust Michael's taste, and was elated to find that quality was just as important as quantity to these folks. In fact, it's some of the freshest fish I've had in LA so far. Last night's visit was my third.

It was a packed house (on a Tuesday night!) so the sushi came out two rolls and four nigiri at a time rather than our normal 10 or 12 rolls and 8-10 orders of nigiri all at once. We've gotten into the habit of writing down on the paper placemats what we want for our first round, crossing out the rolls and nigiri as they come, and as we eat work on putting together the second round. They have rules, you see, that go something like this:

1. One hour limit for all you can eat. (You're on the clock! Go! Go! Go!)
2. No sharing unless everyone at the table is doing all you can eat.
3. You can't order more until you've finished eating your previous order.
(And these last two we love...)
4. No take out boxes for any leftovers
5. Any pieces left over are subject to additional charge.

Wai, wait... so, we can't take home what we don't finish, but you'll make us pay for it anyway? Huh wha?

Whatever. We love the sushi. We just do what we're told... which means eating and ordering and eating and ordering. We were starting to lose track a little of what had already come out, and slowing down and getting relaxed. We had 2 pieces left to go on the table, and we were feeling good. Suddenly...

Two rolls, plus another roll with mounds of baked scallop and sauce on top, and four pieces of albacore magically appeared on the table. My stomach sank, my eyes bulged, and we all looked at each other, laughing, with nausea and disbelief swimming in our eyes. It was a dollar a piece that we didn't finish, and we had 22 freshly arrived pieces on the table.

We tried... oh, did we try. I we finished the albacore, and got 8 or 9 pieces of rolls down, but it just stopped. We couldn't continue. We were trapped. Our heads hung in shame. Then...

Ryan started it. He took a piece off the platter and said, "Well, look, if you do like this," and ripped it apart, mashing the rice and shredding the nori, "and then you put some of it here on your plate and some on her plate and some in the soy sauce, it doesn't look like a roll at all! Come on, try it! *mashmashmash*"

We spent the last 15 minutes of our dinner at Midori destroying sushi.

Demolished nori into soy sauce dishes. Mashed rice on placemats and plates. Scallop bits into empty beer bottles. I couldn't eat even if I wanted to because my stomach hurt so bad from laughing. Michael, Ryan and I even flushed a few pieces of sushi. We flushed sushi! Who ever thought of flushing sushi to save a few bucks but these ridiculous people?

We are officially the sushi destroyers. But we have learned our lesson, Midori, and we will be back soon enough to eat all we can.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

My love for Orochon Ramen, confirmed

The adventures of Level 2 "Blast Off" Spicy by Dave Bullock of

I'm in awe. One day, m'dears... one day...

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The whole chicken and kaboodle

I made something yummy last week. I'm still thinking about it today.


Ever since I taught myself how to cut up a whole poultry (Joy of Cooking, page 422, 1975 edit.), I've rarely gone back to buying individually packaged portions. What I do is more "hacking" than careful carving, but the chicken still turns out into solidly equal portions: two breasts, two thighs, two wings, and neck and back pieces from which to boil broth.

Not for vegetarians, this.

Besides being a good stress reliever (and I find it great fun), hacking up whole chickens is a lot less expensive than buying individually packaged portions of chickens (breasts, thighs, wings, etc). It may be the easy route, but if you have a freezer and the space, I'd say go for the whole chicken the next time you're in the poultry section.

(I think a tutorial for cutting up a whole chicken is in the works for the next blog.)

This dish took inspiration from a chicken and dumplings recipe I gathered during my Craigslist Food Forum posting days. I used to make the C&Ds weekly in Portland, especially during the rainy winter. That's when my whole chicken choppin' skillz really came into effect, as that recipe calls for an three pounds of chicken, bones and all.

Unfortunately, the big, crappy dutch oven pot that I used for the C&Ds is sitting in a box waiting to be shipped to me somewhere, so a smaller dish had to suffice. I do have a decent Cuisinart 3.5-quart saute pan which I like to use as much as I can. It makes me feel country-kitchen-y.

Once I started on the chicken, it was a "grab this, grab that" process in the kitchen--whatever looked good, I threw it in. Conveniently I had just gone to the grocery the night before, so I had some crisp celery and leeks in the veg drawer. Celery will stick around for a week or two, and if it's on the older side, just cut down on the cooking time. Leeks also stay pretty fresh, and carrots and onions will last you forever if you store them right.

Stewed Chicken Thighs
-2 spoonfuls of butter
-olive oil
-2 chicken thighs (I added wings too), washed and patted dry
-2 carrots, peeled and sliced
-1 medium yellow onion, chopped
-3 stalks celery, chopped
-1 leek, thinly sliced
-2 cloves garlic (more if you prefer), sliced
-1 bay leaf
-1/2 t. each: oregano, thyme, marjoram, parsley
-pinch or more cayenne if you want spicy
-salt + pepper
-chicken broth if you have it, water if you don't

Melt the butter in a large saute pan with olive oil to cover the pan. Salt and pepper the chicken thighs and wings and saute the pieces in the pan.

Turn the pieces occassionally and saute until golden brown all over. Remove chicken pieces and put them on a plate. They won't be cooked all the way through, just browned and pretty and crispy on the outside. Keeping the heat on medium low, and saute the veggies, garlic and herbs in the same pan until just soft. I usually add the garlic after the onions start to sweat, in order to keep the garlic from burning.

Put the chicken pieces back in the pan with the veggies, and add about 2 cups broth or water; enough to simmer everything and make a nice steam bath when the pan is covered, but not enough to drown the chicken and veg.

Cover the pan, turning the heat to a nice simmer, but making sure not to let the dish get dry. Add more liquid if necessary. Watch an episode of the Simpsons, or catch Patton Oswalt on "King of Queens." The dish is done when the chicken is cooked all the way through, about 30-45 mins.

I served ours over some rice, but you can serve it with potatoes, gnocchi, dumplings, couscous or whatever else strikes your fancy. On an effort scale of 1 to 10, I'd give it a 3 - not something I'd make every day, given the chicken-hacking and elbow grease part, but got-damn, that's some deeee-licious chicken!!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Ramen ain't for sissies

I eat a lot of packaged ramen; probably as much ramen as college batchelors do.

Fortunately, I really, really like ramen.

My favorite is the goooood shit: Homemade noodles, bamboo slices, extras here and there in a secret recipe broth simmered overnight. Take me to Orochon in Little Tokyo for that level 5 spicy with the freaking half-inch-thick, saucer-size-wide slice of fatty pork and I'm putty in your hands... except I probably won't be paying attention to anything you have to say.

Of course Orochon doesn't come around every day, so I keep a healthy stock of el cheapo, crappy, 10-for-a-dollar packaged ramen in my cupboard. It's still fast, cheap, salty and satisfying enough.

Back in the day, my mom would chop up a little veggie here and throw in an egg there and *voila!* something pretty would come out, like the picture on the package.

Unlike my mom, however, I generally don't have the capacity to buy veggies and keep 'em fresh before they're done. The last head of spinach turned into a bag of liquid maroon slop in my vegetable drawer. No, really. It was during one of these moments of wasteful frustration last year when I discovered this: Frozen vegetables are your friends!

Dressed-up Ramen
-One package ramen
-Handful of frozen peas (Trader Joe's are cheap and good)
-One celery stalk with leaves, chopped
-Good handful of spinach (fresh or frozen)
-One egg

Add frozen peas into a pot with water to boil. When boiling, toss in celery and follow the ramen instructions. Right before the noodles are done, tear up the spinach (you can use frozen), throw it on in the pot, crack in an egg if you like, season with salt and pepper and serve yourself a steaming bowl of wowed ramen. If you have some leftover pork or steak or other meat or veg in the fridge, by all means slice it up and add it to your broth.

A good friend reminded me the other day the importance of getting my vegetables, and I feel pretty good about it now.

Ramen doesn't have to be all starch, all salt, all MSG and all broth, ya'll...

In the beginning...

I figured I'd get the first entry over with.
So there.