Friday, May 22, 2015

Friday Nights & Caramelized Onions . . .

Whereas my friends and colleagues are planning dates, get-togethers or a headstart on a roadtrip (especially for this long weekend,) Friday nights for me mean busywork in the kitchen. Sometimes it could be batching up flavored syrups for cocktails & sodas. Or eke out a weekend dish from whatever leftovers I've stashed up throughout the week.

Or, more likely, spend the better part of an hour caramelizing onions to jar up & have on the ready for the next week or so.
I agree with Tom Scocca that there are simply no legit cooking shortcuts around caramelizing onions. It simply takes time and patience. (Yes, there's the "set it and forget it" slow cooker method too - but I always found the flavor & texture results subpar to the pan version, plus there's the room full of acrid rawish onion smell during the early stages of this method.)

However, one preparation shortcut I will take is buying pre-diced onions at the market, given my affinity for crying out a river whenever I have to cut them myself. I agree it doesn't have visual or tactile appeal of the long curls, but it's a compromise I can live with. And hey, these remind me of the grilled onions at In 'n Out!

Also — caramelized onions purists will balk at this — I do add a splash of maple syrup at the end of the process too. Not that the onions needed any additional sweetening after all that time caramelizing, but the syrup does give it a welcoming warm & woodsy depth. Oh, and a splash of balsamic or sherry vinegar to balance out the extra sugar.

But rather than lament about the time wasted on caramelizing onions, I make the best of those 45 minutes. I put on a lengthy podcast, pour a glass of wine or beer and flip through some magazines, with the occasional stir to reassure the onions that, "Yes, I'm here until you turn into burnished, brown morsels of deliciousness."

And that's more satisfying than any Friday night outing in a chaotic & crowded restaurant/bar/club can ever do.

Maple-Balsamic Caramelized Onions
Makes 12 oz of caramelized onions
Prep Time: Approx. 45 minutes

24 oz. diced white onions (or approximately 3 medium onions diced)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon maple syrup
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

1. Pour oil in a large skillet over medium heat, once it gets hot enough (the oil starts getting runny), add onions and salt. Stir until the onions and thoroughly coated in oil. Lower heat to medium.
2. Stir the onions occasionally (once ever 3-5 minutes) to distribute heat and prevent bottom layer from burning. If it looks too dry, add a splash or two of water.
3. In the meantime, relax! Enjoy a glass of beer/wine. Put on some music or a podcast. Get some leisure reading on.
4. About 40 minutes in, the onions should be a medium to dark brown. Stir in the maple syrup and balsamic vinegar. Taste and adjust as needed (more syrup/balsamic/salt).
5. Use immediately or store for up to two weeks in a fridge (if it lasts that long!)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Eating & Drinking Options Along the Great LA Walk

Almost sunset @ Pier 
No ocean views at the end of this year's walk, but that's OK.

I can't believe it's time for the Great LA Walk again this Saturday, my favorite of the organized urbanhikes in the area. This time, walkers will be tackling "the Valley" with the fearless Franklin Avenue leading a 17+ mile hike down Ventura Blvd from Woodland Hills to Universal City, then an upward swing to NoHo via Lankershim Blvd.

Of course, equally exciting is the prospect of checking out some of the eats/drinks in the area, since I don't find myself in this area all that often...

...and this quickly turned into a behemoth list of a to-trys & to-revisits, so figured I might as well share this map with fellow Great LA Walkers too.
Hopefully, this will disprove any notion of the Valley being devoid of good food & drinks. Whether you want something casual but tasty (Mendocino Farms, BatterFish), more exotically ethnic eats (e.g. Apey Kade, DarbinZ), a refreshing glug of potent potables (Boneyard Bistro, Murph'sThe Local Peasant) or a guilt-free, healthy bite (LYFE Kitchen, SunCafe), there's something on the map that should fit the bill. And failing all else, I also put in a few markets for stocking up on hiking provisions.

Now the hard part is figuring out where I will be stopping along the way... (asides from the official afterparty @ District Pub, obviously.)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Seven favorite bites & sips in San Diego

Even though SD is only two hours away (less... if you drive like a speed demon), with so many going ons in the rest of SoCal I'm lucky to make it down there twice a year. So when I do have the occasion to go, I try to make every moment, bite and sip worthwhile.

This most recent expedition (where I was helping out at a friend's wedding, then took a few extra days to explore on my own) was no exception. 

Of course, this made the task of narrowing down my favorites even harder, but I manage to eke out a top seven from the area . . .

7) Rye So Serious from Groundswell Brewing (Grantville)
Groundswell Brewing
While I'm no stranger to the burgeoning craft beer scene down here (and I did visit my longtime favorites of Ballast Point & Lost Abbey this time around), I'm always on the lookout for new and interesting breweries to try. Thanks to @VisitSanDiego's pointer to check out Grantville area breweries, including recently opened Groundswell Brewery.

Although the tasting room is pretty bare bones, they more than make for it with their whimsically named, creatively-flavored beers. My favorite of the four I tasted is definitely the pumpkin-infused Rye So Serious, where the typical spicy-bitterness of the rye ale is nicely balanced with the earthy-sweetness of the pumpkin. Alas, since this is a seasonal beer I don't expect it to stay on the menu long, but at least my runner-up (the Ginger Saison) is in their standard year-round lineup!

6) "Garden & Grains" from Juniper and Ivy (Little Italy)
Garden & Grains @ Juniper and Ivy
From a quick search for popular SD restaurants, this seems to be the *it* spot of the moment so I made a timely reservation to check it out (and it wasn't until later that I learned it was headed by Top Chef All Stars winner Richard Blais.)

Given my overindulgence earlier that day, I opted for a lighter meal . . . and super thankful that I did. Their simply named "Garden & Grains" was a vegetarian (perhaps even vegan) delight that even omnivores could enjoy. Crisp, fresh vegetables played nicely with the toothsome mix of ancient grains (incl. amaranth, wheatberries & quinoa) and sweet swirls of red and golden beet purees. As an added bonus, this dish saves fantastically well, from the half I boxed up and chowed down on the morning after.

Another practically a must try (from all the orders I've seen sent out from the kitchen), the decadently beefy and tender carne cruda asada with quail egg on toast.