Monday, April 30, 2012

Philippines-Style Fish Feast in the Desert

My friend Leslie spent some time in the Philippines with the Peace Corps when she was younger and while there she learned a lot about the area’s cuisine. Luckily, she has shared many of these dishes with me over the last few years, many of which involve fresh fish and other gems from the sea. One dish in particular, kinilaw, is made with raw ahi like a ceviche, and has become a special craving of mine. So this past weekend while staying at her house, we cooked a fabulous meal around this particular dish, perfect and fresh for a dinner with loved ones under the beautiful desert sky at sundown.

We had four cooks in the kitchen including myself, Leslie, the Cute Gardener and little Elle- all of us fervent foodies. It was extra endearing to cook a meal with those I love that involved glasses of white wine and bottles of Asahi, great music on the iPod, sharp knives, mess-making and laughter. These are the moments I look forward to most in life – the creation and sharing of food amongst friends.

We produced a fabulous pairing of kinilaw, sticky rice, squid adobo, sashimi and grilled milk fish to eat under the burgeoning moon.

Kinilaw na Tuna

1 kilo fresh ahi tuna, cut into cubes
1 cup vinegar
½ cup calamansi juice
I head of garlic, minced
1 big red onion minced
2 tablespoons ginger 
3 small chili peppers, minced
Pinch of salt and pepper
½ cup chicharon, ground (optional)

Wash the tuna and drain well.

In a bowl, mix all the ingredients except for the chicaron. (We used two bowls for this as some people wanted the addition of the chili peppers and others didn’t.)

The acids in the marinade will cook the ahi slightly and it will turn white.
Transfer to a serving container and top with chicharon.
Chill and serve.

Squid Adobo (Adobong Pusit)

1 kilo squid
½ cup water
1 cup white vinegar
1 teaspoon peppercorn
1 pinch of salt
1 head of garlic roughly chopped
1 medium red onion
3 small tomatoes roughly chopped
½ tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons oil

Wash and clean squid well, making sure the black tint does not burst as it will give a bitter taste.

In a deep pan, bring water to a boil along with the squid, vinegar, pepper and salt until squid is cooked.
Take out the squid and set aside.
Strain the sauce and set aside.
In another pan, sauté garlic, onion and tomatoes.
Add the squid and pour in the rest of the sauce.
Add sugar if desired and allow it to thicken.
Serve hot.


Freshly cut slices of albacore and chill till serving.

Milk Fish

Buy a whole milk fish from an Asian market and cover and stuff with chopped tomatoes, onion, garlic, lemon juice.

Grill over a fire 15-20 minutes until flakes easily.

Sticky rice should be made as a side. The whole meal is then served together. Kinilaw can be put in small serving bowls and the rice can be picked up with the fingers and used as a sponge for the kinilaw sauce and also to scoop up the kinilaw. The adobo is put on the plates as well. The milk fish is served whole and guests can pick at it all together with their chopsticks!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Girlie Goddess Lunch with Fried Egg

 My friend Jacquelyn, Demeter-personified

I haven't been a "lady who lunches" since shucking my PR company a year ago and moving to the beach to enjoy a more downsized (and less financially-plush) form of quality living. Back then, I had to dine with clients everyday, and was thrilled to not have to punctuate my days with this ritual anymore once I started enjoying a slower-paced life. But recently, I stepped back into those shoes for a moment to meet my friend for an afternoon meal to discuss her upcoming wedding as well as catch up from not seeing each other for a while.

There is something special about a random and unexpected proper lunch with a girlfriend, especially when it involves a glass of wine, really good food, a bustling scene and conversations about love, life, food, success and creativity. We chose Gjelina's, which I had tried once already with the Cute Gardener for an Easter brunch. Unlike the first time, we were seated this time immediately at noon before the restaurant quickly filled up.

We opted for both a carafe of mint iced tea and a glass of Topanga Vineyards, Granache Blanc, Arroyo Seco, Ca ‘09.

The best way to have a ladies lunch is to each get a salad of your choosing and then find an indulgent entree to share. I chose the smoked trout salad with grapefruit, avocado, red onion and lemon, which provided the perfect smoky-tinged tang with each bite to complement the white wine. She chose the Bloomsdale spinach salad with feta, tomato, olive, cherry tomato, pine nut and crouton.

The item of our decadent lust became the fried egg sandwich we shared. A porous and crusty artisan bread was laid with the exquisite runny egg (of which the Gjelina cooks are experts at getting right), soft and pliant roasted red peppers, fluffy mozarella, thin layers of prosciutto, arugula and a creamy, harissa aioli. I will seek out this sandwich again now that I know the best days to go to the restaurant are weekdays for early lunches.

Around glass two of the wine, we decided to plot our world domination and had many giggling, revelatory moments about life and how important it is to stick true to your passions and mushroom your efforts on solitary focuses within these passions until they gain quick fire momentum in an unconventional way in the conventional world. Fired up from the sisterhood exchange and the belly warming food I walked home and spent the rest of the day painting, putting our joint credo to work in the most zesty way.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Sausage and Schnitzel at Bier Beisl

I love restaurants where the kitchens are exposed to diners just like the innards of a watch where you get the insider’s glimpse into how all the parts work together in unison from the chopping block to the frying pan. I especially love watching the spectacle when the kitchen contains only one serious chef and a sous chef commandeering an entire dining room. When that chef turns out to be a rising star, like 27-year-old maestro Bernhard Mairinger, who was named one of Zagat’s 30 Under 30 hottest up and coming chefs this year, it’s even more exciting because you know you will get an earnest attention to detail that someone starting out and eager to please can only deliver.

The Cute Gardener and I have had Mairinger’s Bier Beisl, an authentic Austrian food and sausage joint, on our “to try” list for quite some time and decided to try it out last Saturday after a trip to Miracle Mile to patronize museum row. Mairinger not only stayed in the kitchen cooking the entire time, but I hardly once saw him even mutter a word to his sous chef or any of the guests. He was concentrated and focused the entire time and I knew it probably had something to do with the packed house thanks to an L.A. Times article that came out that same day. As a matter of fact, actor and writer Carl Reiner clutched the article and ordered from it directly at the table right behind us.

We arrived pre-sundown to the nondescript Beverly Hills location with a delightful, intimate and square, high-ceilinged dining room that filled up with serious eaters while we ate. On each wooden table sat a small red lantern just like in European bistros with a tiny white flickering candle. The home cured char appetizer was yummy and rich with dill and accentuated by tiny shards of luscious, tangy heirloom beets. A hunk of pretzel was brought out to eat with our second starter.

The second starter was the Weisswurst sausage pair. I had been hankering for this dish since reading about it and the fact that it was slow simmered in milk. Two fat links came plainly adorned with only sliced white onion, soft-enough-to-eat, spicy peppercorns and grainy mustard on the side. The sausages were very finely dense and the most mellow-flavored I’ve tried and really delicious. I was surprised at how big the portion was per price.

The restaurant actually offers an entirely separate sausage menu that offers links in ones or duos for anywhere from 5-10 bucks per dish. You could enjoy a sausage and beer tasting alone and be perfectly satisfied.

I wasn’t planning on eating schnitzel but once I sat down and saw the golden brown fried bits of bliss on other diner plates, I was taken back to the taste of the kinds I had enjoyed in Austria and decided I would be remiss not to try the traditional dish. I did opt for the veal version rather than pork to try something new. The schnitzel was light, perfectly fried with a nice ratio of breading to actual meat, and the veal was cooked very tender with a delightful dipping sauce of lingon berries. The potato salad was a gourmet version of the typical, tangy German version and I liked that the potatoes were thinly sliced coins dressed in yellow with herbs. My boyfriend reminded me that it was hard to screw up fried meat and then went on to really enjoy his own entrée.

A nice medium sized bowl of crispy pork belly and braised pork cheek on a pile of champagne cabbage, fat noodles, tiny, moist and unique vanilla carrots and whole grain mustard infused pork jus was the happy dish of the night.

We also ordered another sausage after seeing how great the first one was. The Kasekrainer came as one fat link, blistered beautifully on the outside and infused with Swiss cheese. Absolutely delicious alongside a pile of the fluffiest horseradish, although it obviously didn’t stay on the plate long enough for me to even snap a picture.

The Sachertorte and Apfelstrudel desserts were good but not spectacular, although I did think the way the strudel was thinly stacked with strata of apple, dough and sauce was architecturally appealing.

Austrian wines were a pleasant surprise for us over the course of the evening. I had enjoyed discovering Austrian wine country while roaming the Linz and Melk countrysides along with Vienna last year and was happy to try them again in Los Angeles. We enjoyed and shared a Malat 2010 Gruner Veltliner; a Wieninger Estate, Gemischter Satz (white), 2009 from Vienna, Austria; a Umathum Estate, Zweigelt Classic (red), 2009 from Neusiedlersee, Austria; a Markowitsch Estate, Blaufraenkisch (red), 2009 from Carnuntum, Austria and for dessert, a Hiedler Estate, Reisling Urgestein, 2009 from Kamptal, Austria.

I would totally go back for a sausage tasting experience, seated at the bar with a bunch of friends looking for something interesting to do and I hope others do too because the restaurant deserves the support. I hope people don’t try it once for the signature schnitzel novelty and then fail to come back again, although in this fickle town that’s going to be a hard-pressed feat.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Unorthodox Meals: Cassis Dijon Zucchini Pockets

I tend to eat out a lot on the weekends. I’m usually with the Cute Gardener, trying a new restaurant, from a never-ending list perpetually compiled throughout a life spent reading newsletters like Eater LA and magazines like Food & Wine for fun. Because of this, I have to watch what I eat during the week in order to make sure that my physical body’s health is balanced and consistently restored.

During the week, I make sure I stick to a relatively simple diet, absent of meat and filled with yogurt and greens, maybe some fish here and there, and plenty of antioxidant-rich probiotics and superfoods like berries, nuts, chia seeds and cacao nibs sprinkled over everything. My main meal of the day comes once only and is typically accentuated by small bites throughout the rest of the day, keeping it under 1,500 calories on the whole. This keeps me fueled and burning fat and allows me to turn into a complete glutton on the weekend and eat whatever the heck I want.

So while at home during the week I need to get creative with my green foods and enjoy creating special recipes that are vegetarian, unique and tailored to my specific palette. There is certainly a lot of trial and error that goes into this because in my quest to create new things, I am typically just pulling ideas out of my head for whatever is currently in the fridge. Sometimes, my experiments work and sometimes they dismally fail but that’s part of the fun of cooking and learning and fine-tuning the flavor-prediction skills.

My recent foray into creating a new kind of veggie wrap turned out surprisingly savory and all with the help of a slightly sweet yet hearty gourmet cassis dijon mustard and some zucchini squash.


½ small white onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small tomato, chopped
5 medium zucchini, skin on, sliced into ¾ inch. coins
¾ c. water
½ c. shredded, organic white cheddar
Salt and pepper to season

Saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil, salt and pepper on medium heat till onions are limp and garlic is browned.

Place the sliced zucchini into the pan in one layer and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Pour in the water. Put a lid on the pan and steam on medium-low heat for 15 minutes.


Take off lid, turn heat down, season all with plenty of salt and pepper, mix around the zucchinis and then sprinkle the cheese over the top.

Cut a whole pita into two halves and spread the mustard on the inside. Stuff with zucchini mixture and enjoy! You will have enough for two whole pitas (four halves).

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Coachella Carb-A-Thon

This is the camping version of my blog where I road test the lower brow forms of my foodie landscape looking for the gems in a weekend spent at Coachella where I finally gave up on the food and looked forward instead to the pre-fest morning breakfast runs to get much needed fuel for the daily seven hours of dancing and walking.

We started innocently enough with subs from town before heading in. Turkey, provolone and tons of peppers to carb load for the dancing that was sure to follow.

This seriously scared me. I had the bite of one end before deciding to abort the whole meal further. But they were scarfed down rather quickly by the lot of my friends who were ooohing and aaaahing over the mess of it.


See “scared” comment above. Although I can pretty much justify eating ANY kind of pizza, and this one had that spice of outdoor festival special seasoning that made the tomato sauce good, I stuck with my one bite rule again.

Town Center Café in Palm Desert has been serving this classic hybrid greek scramble for a while now and it’s famous for it. Where else can you get perfect, fluffy scramble eggs mixed with the most tender gyro meat and fresh tomatoes in a world of otherwise traditional breakfast restaurants? The unassuming place has a heavy local following and I can see why in this dish alone. Tabasco added woke me up for Day Two of dancing and walking. 

This was my downfall. A simple grilled cheese sandwich with good cheddar thinly sliced with the addition of three fried mozzarella sticks in the middle. How can you not want to bite into a melty, salty chunk of hot mozzarella in the middle of all this? The bread was brioche like, soft and thick. It came from the Manglers Meltdown truck, which looked like one of those old carnival rides at a fair where heavy metal is played at blast speed throughout the ride. 

My favorite almond croissant at my old haunt Il Sogno on El Paseo. We scored the last three from the plate on the counter, thankfully. Yes, this was to be another day of dancing that needed an energy boost…


Il Sogno lured a friend with this apple tart, made of sweet, consistently plump, non-sweetened apples poached in something deep and mysterious on a simple, thin and dense crust.

Poached eggs and green pepper egg sandwiches are other usual choices amongst our bunch.

Sometimes during weekends outside your norm, you need to eat things you normally wouldn’t but secretly crave. Like chipwiches and different exclamation points at the beginning and end of the day. 

On day three, we sent our friend into the VIP area. She had been slumming with us this whole time and then we discovered that the Coolhaus ice cream sandwich truck was inside her area. So she went on a mission to bring us back samples of the reputed items. We tried snickerdoodle with mint ice cream, strawberry ice cream on oatmeal, and bacon ice cream on a dark cookie. A bite of each was pretty yummy but the bacon one just tasted a little gross. I am getting over that taste combination of bacon in juxtaposed textured foods and flavors.

I tried to support my inner missions about food by trying the Green Truck’s grass fed burger. But it wasn’t good and didn’t last in my possession very long. The bun was dry as was the burger and the shredded pile of cheddar was skimpy. I had expected more. A burger was already ten bucks, but with each addition of cheese and anything else you had to pay another three dollars per item. Price didn’t mesh with taste at all.

We survived the in between hours with snuck-in candy sticks.

The last morning called for a trip back to Town Center for more greek scrambles and a few bites of a waffle to get us through another day.

I woke up this morning heavily craving yogurt, water and a whole legion of greens…which I will be partaking in heavily for the remainder of this week.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Unorthodox Meals: Heartstring Melty Mac and Cheese

A big problem of mine, being a foodie and a lover of cooking, is that I live alone and although I love cooking for others, especially those I love, I am usually hard pressed to want to cook a meal for myself. Part of it is that I come from a family that on my mom’s side was from Iowa, the land of huge one crock meals, and my grandmother needed to feed ten kids on a daily three meal basis. This means I have some strange in-bred peasant casserole mentality when it comes to cooking and I tend to make enough food to feed an army of snot nosed kids every time I turn on the stove. I always pre-think that the recipe amounts look paltry until I have a finished meal that could feed my neighbors, for weeks.

So I am a little boring when it comes to cooking for and feeding myself, only have mastered a slim repertoire of meals for one that actually only really do feed one.

One of them is my Heartstring Melty Mac and Cheese, something so heart-attack inducing that I don’t cook it often, but that I instantly run to when it rains really hard, which it did for about three days last week in Venice Beach. Pouring rain, a pile of newspapers to catch up on, and a cheesy bowl of noodles became sweet elixir to the hermit side of my heart.

Heartstring Melty Mac and Cheese

1 cup of whole-wheat corkscrew pasta (the corkscrews work best at catching various textures of cheese in its squirrely nooks and crannies)
2 cups shredded organic, sharp white cheddar
1 tablespoon organic 1% milk
1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper
1 tablespoon fresh lemon thyme
2 tablespoons butter

Boil water with a dash of olive oil and some salt. Cook the pasta till done. Strain the water from the pasta and return to the pan and place heat on medium low. Add the milk and butter and stir till butter is melted. Add the cheese and fold in till melted and mixed well. Season with salt and pepper and mix in the thyme. Put into a broiler safe bowl dish and put under the flame for half a minute till top browns.

Serve and enjoy!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Unorthodox Meals: An Affair With Fava

I am currently embroiled in a love affair with fava beans. The interesting thing is that I never tried them until meeting the Cute Gardener and being the recipient of his lovely, homegrown variety interspersed in a perfect bowl of pasta. I remember the scene in Silence of the Lambs when I eat them now, where cannibal Hannibal Lecter was remarking upon eating them with chianti and flesh. I can see why he'd choose them, they are rich, meaty and sensual in a land of otherwise nubby legumes and I just can't get enough of them. 

I got a special big bag bounty of them last week and crafted an original savory meal from them that informed my lunches for three blissful days. This made a batch big enough for three or four meals.

First step requires de-podding the beans. It's simple with favas. You snap off one crisp end and pull the string down one whole side which creates a seam to split apart of pop them out of.  I came out with four cups worth.

Next, I sauteed a pound of ground turkey in a pan started with two tablespoons of olive oil, a teaspoon each of salt and pepper,  half a tablespoon of cumin, one tablespoon of curry powder and one squirt from a tube of harissa chili sauce till browned.

I made a pool in the middle of the pot and added some more olive oil and sauteed the favas till they crinkled up with translucent shells. Note: some people, okay, maybe most, take these skins off the beans first but I am too damn lazy for all that work and don't mind the taste and the texture of the skins staying on, so choose your battles...

The result was a nice, warm and spicy bowl with a side of cold, snap peas. A lovely hearty and healthy meal for one!

The beauty of this recipe is that I ate a simple bowl of the concoction on day one followed by the addition of the mix to an omelet and then to a cold salad on pursuant occasions. This would be good thrown into many things.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Non-Conformist's Oyster Easter Brunch at Gjelina

Sancerre for him and a bitter “Visionary” made with sherry and champagne for me. Even typical red girls know that oysters call for whites.

I am not a big believer in organized religion. Maybe it’s because I was traumatized in Catholic School when I would get in trouble for being different or arguing with the priests in the confessional about why I needed to be a good “Catholic” rather than a good “human,” a point they incessantly spoke of during sermons. The nuns didn’t appreciate my attempts at non-conformity either, like the ear piercing and hair cutting stations I would set up in the mornings in the bathroom, tantalizing my peer girlfriends to come in and spice up their identities in the otherwise non-descript world of blue plaid uniforms. I don’t need a sectarian group title or a church habit to know that I believe in good and bad and which one I should toe the line with in order to have an enlightened life. I know there’s something bigger than me out there that runs the natural order of things and that when one is walking with righteous action, one tends to have a simpler, more drama free and soulfully fulfilling life. So when it comes to holidays like Easter, I tend to use the occasions to do things like sleep in later or ignore the rest of the world in my hermit hole of a house while they carry on with their colored egg and candy hunts and other consumerist displays of celebration.

But this Easter something got into my system. I woke up with a craving for a proper Easter brunch, well maybe not proper exactly, but something along those lines nonetheless. So I rallied the Cute Gardener to walk with me to Gjelina, a place that’s been on our "to visit" list forever, with the bait of fresh oysters and an offer to treat.

After a fifteen-minute wait we got a table for two. I have never been able to get into Gjelina at night, there’s always a forty-five minute to an hour wait, so I didn’t consider this time so bad. We started with a burrata plate that came with braised artichokes adorned with orange zest and pistachio pesto. Could have done without the artichokes that didn’t taste like much and would have savored the rest of the textures and flavors in the dish.

Great combination of fresh and yummy kumamotos, kushi and shigoku oysters with the usual toppings although this mignonette had a real pepper kick, which surprised me pleasantly.

I had high hopes for the pizza but they fizzled upon sight (and charred taste) of the burnt crust. I did manage to keep my hopes up and enjoy the non-burnt bites I could get that were filled with gruyere, caramelized onion, fromage blanc, arugula and two exquisitely cooked sunny eggs.

Now that’s an Easter-worthy way to eat an egg. A few weeks ago on Iron Chef, the ingredient was eggs and I loved one of the female judges remarking that a softly boiled egg that runs all over the plate was just about the sexiest thing in the world. I couldn’t agree more and both my boyfriend and I agreed that even though we would not come back to Gjelina for lunch, dinner or pizza anytime soon, we might stop in for breakfast or dessert. The breakfast menu boasted some very creative egg-y concoctions that would be worth trying like Moroccan baked eggs with merguez, chili, tomato sauce, cilantro and spiced yogurt or the simple poached eggs with snap peas, faro, lemon and mint pesto.

And the desserts were fantastic including a bitter chocolate beet cake and fun pink, beet gelato and a melt-in-your-mouth, simply orgasmic butterscotch pot de crème.