Friday, August 30, 2013

Recipe: Stir-Fried Pepper Corn

I know nothing beats shucking kernels off a freshly steamed/boiled/grilled cob, but this stir-fried pepper corn is excellent too, especially when fresh corn is out of season (you can swap in frozen corn!) And no matter what time of year, its sunny hues, sweet crunch & fiery heat (from a chili-infused oil) make for an instant, delicious throwback to warmer, brighter summer days.

Pepper Corn
This recipe is adapted from Grace Young's Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge, my go-to reference for all things wok-related. On top of easy-to-follow recipes and useful ingredient & preparation tips, the book also includes numerous tales of how this simple cooking technique & instrument followed the Chinese population where-ever they traveled, sometimes merging with other cultures and cuisines to create dishes like Chinese-Jamaican Jerk Chicken Fried Rice and Stir-Fried Bagels (which I've tried and actually enjoyed), other times being the only means to get a taste of home no matter where they go.

Of course, there's a plethora of familiar & authentic recipes too, such as yang chow fried rice, kung pao chicken and stir-fried ginger beef (last of which she gave a video demo on.) But her summer pepper corn is one of my reliables for a party, it's a cinch to make and is a great vegetable side that easily complements many main dishes.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Tips for The Taste

Since the 2013 The Taste is coming up this weekend, I figured it's time to do a repost from my old blog, which has some observations & tips based on last year's series of events.  

Personally, I'll only be able to make it opening night this year, but the rest of the lineup sounds promising too. So snag a ticket while you can, there were some that sold out ahead of time last year -- to the disappointment of quite a few who expected to buy at the door. 

It's been three weeks out and I still can't get over the sheer gluttony & indulgence at The Taste LA, the three-day, five-event L.A.Times-organized extravaganza highlighting the amazing bites & sips this city has to offer.
Taking place over Labor Day weekend, The Taste was a series of events structured around different themes, from the family-friendly Labor Day Picnic on Monday to the more spirited Cocktail Confidential to profiling SoCal's signature eats with Flavors of L.A.

Overall, I had a fun time, from . . .
Huckleberry Sweets 
. . . tasting dishes from some of my favorites around town, from Huckleberry's baked goods to the mini lamb burgers at Haven Gastropub to the Autumn Maple beer from The Bruery.

FigOly Crab Gazpacho 
. . . to trying new fare, like FigOly's crab-topped gazpacho, lobster rolls from the Terranea resort and beer cocktails made with Hangar 24's Orange Wheat by the Golden Gopher.

Beer Cocktails Demo 
. . . to attending the demonstrations & presentations, such as this one on beer cocktails with LA Times' Betty Hallock and The Beer Chicks.
Zahra Bates   
. . . to, of course, meeting the chefs, bartenders, proprietors and fellow bloggers & writers in-person and upfront (which, frankly, is too many to list unless I want to turn this blogpost into a NaNoWriMo production!)
The Taste 
That being said, like most other food events in town, there are always room for improvement--while The Taste was held on the lovely Paramount Studios set, it had a dearth of devices to deal with the crazy heatwave that weekend; fans, misters, or an A/Ced room would've been much appreciated. (I was, however, plenty thankful that Icelandic Glacial provided plenty of cold bottled water to the hot & parched masses.)

Then there are mishaps typical at most food fests, oppressively long lines at some stalls, vendors running out of foods/drinks way early into the event, not enough seating for demos/discussions and some tables turning into a precarious garbage Jenga (the trash cans aren't that far away, people!) 

And in anticipation of The Taste's comeback next year, here's some handy tips to keep in mind to maximize your fun at this event:

1. Buy tickets early. A no-brainer, but especially worth mentioning here - the price from it's initial pre-sale to day-of purchase went from $50 to $75 a person, a 50% hike! Also, Flavors of L.A. completely sold out ahead of time.

2. Strategize & prioritize. Study the map and note which restaurant/bar/vendor are must-trys and hit those up first to minimize the chance of them running out by the time you get there.

3. Buddy up. While one of you wait in that uber-popular (and ultra-long) line, the other(s) can go hit up the shorter lines in adjacent stalls, making that wait a lot less grueling (and a lot more tasty.) 

4. Share your plates (at least for the first run.) The small sampler portions are deceptive, but they add up and before you know it, you're beyond full and not even halfway through the venue. Divvy up that first plate with your line buddy, and if you really like it, go back for your own seconds. It also helps cut down on the food waste.

5. Swaps and subs are a no-no. Generally, what you see is what you get, so don't break the cadence of the production line (who are already swamped enough as is churning out hundreds, if not thousands, of dishes & drinks) with special requests.

6. Get to demos/discussions early. Like, by 10 to 15 minutes -- even if they are running behind schedule. Those seats fill up fast!

7. And, if they are not in a rush cranking out orders, chat up the vendors. These people are definitely passionate about the places they work or the products they represent, and you might even get the scoop on an insider tip and be the cool cat who knows about the off-menu dish or upcoming changes. Or even a gift card/coupon for a future visit.
Bricia & Fernando Lopez 
Just a few things to keep in mind for next year's Taste, which I look forward to checking out again!

Disclaimer: My admission to the Taste events was hosted.

Additional photos on flickr set here

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Pantry Perennials: Trader Joe's Garlic Flavored Oil

While I do collect flavored salts & sugars without abandon, I do draw the line at flavored oils -- primarily because I so sparingly use them that they'll likely go rancid before I can finish the bottle.

The single exception I make to that rule is garlic-flavored oil, particularly Trader Joe's Organic Garlic Flavored Extra Virgin Olive Oil. I know, it's not that hard to freshly mince/grate a clove or two into a neutral oil while it's heating up, and there are plenty of times when I've done just that, but there are also moments when I'm too lazy for it but still crave an instant hit of allium (usually when I'm trying to cook breakfast without having had that glorious, life-breathing first cup of coffee beforehand.) 

And it's also great for adding a hint of garlic fragrance & flavor without having to worry about getting a big ole punch of pungency, like when I'm making a salad dressing or just a finishing spoonful in a soupy noodle dish. Or making melted garlic butter on the fly for this past weekend's clambake

Of course, I can always go the DIY route and batch up my own garlic oil, but at $3.99 for 250mL -- I'm perfectly fine with the TJ route and save myself some greasy cookware, and smelly fingers, to clean up too.

Photo courtesy of Trader Joe's.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Recipe: Stove-Top Clambake

I know this is far from the ideal clambake, which I'd imagine would take place at a beach, with a sand pit, gathering of seaweeds and rocks, and a nice little idyllic relaxing over a bonfire, sipping some cold beers while delicious seafood cooks away from the seawater's steam.

Then again, I can also picture us getting sand into where the sun don't shine, sweating like crazy trying to gather enough ingredients under the hot summer sun, and possibly getting arrested for illegally having open containers of alcohol or digging a pit and setting on fire.

Thus, I'm more than content with my one pot, stove top version; it turned out to be a great party dish this past weekend that is full of flavor and surprisingly easy to make.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Noodling Around @ Tsujita LA Annex

I've heard plenty about Tsujita's "artisan noodles" for a while, but until a few months ago, it was a lunch-only offering. That pretty much trimmed my chances of checking it out to near nil, since I neither live nor work near the "Little Osaka" strip of Sawtelle and rarely do I crave a hot bowl of ramen for lunch—especially in this weather!

So, I'm glad that they finally opened their Annex in April at the former GR/eats spot (a place that I remembered being decent, though a bit lackluster compared to the other dining hotspots in the area,) and that they are serving up noodles thru midnight every day.

Which makes it a natural choice for post-drinking grub after nearby Plan Check and/or Freddy Smalls -- *ahem*

Tsujita LA Annex Though having said that, I think my eyes got the better of my appetite -- their tsukemen with extra char siu is gianormous, and between the rich 60-hours-in-the-making tonkotsu broth, uber thick slices of char siu and smooth-yolked egg -- I think that was my week's allowance of cholesterol in a single bowl. And it was worth it.

Also noteworthy are the tsukemen noodles, which are thicker and more al dente than the ones offered in their ramen, I enjoyed every springy, tonkotsu-dipped mouthful.

Per the tableside instructions, I added generous spoonfuls of freshly minced garlic and onikasu ("devil's scum" per the Ramen Shaman's translation), the latter isn't as spicy as it sounds, but it does add a pleasant extra layer of aroma & flavor to the broth.

Having finally tasted it, I get the raves this place has been getting, but I'm not necessarily sure I'd consider it the definitive best myself. Or even make this a destination restaurant. But if I ever need of some post bar-hopping revival or just some luscious soupy comfort (calories be damned!) on the Westside, this place is definitely on my A-list for that. Though I might opt for an extra egg instead of all that pork next time.

Others' thoughts on Tsujita LA Annex:
Midtown Lunch LA
LA Weekly
Food GPS
O Hei There
The 5-Footer
Eat It Like You Mean It

Tsujita L.A. Artisan Noodle Annex
2050 Sawtelle Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025
(310) 231-0222