Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Happy Birthday Ray at Izakaya Fu-Ga in Little Tokyo


Izakaya Fu-Ga
111 So. San Pedro Street
Los Angeles, CA 
(213) 625-1722

In search of somewhere fun for a small group to celebrate Ray's birthday we landed at Fu-Ga in Little Tokyo, a newish izakaya D and stumbled upon during one of our strolls about DTLA awhile back. Above, the mesh enclosed semi-private booths in the back reminded me quite authentically (atmosphere wise anyway) of a couple izakaya I visited in Tokyo a few years back. An ideal spot for some romance or simply for salarymen to talk shop while swilling quality booze and nibbling dry aged rib eye or bacon wrapped scallops in private.


See above a brief November specials menu. We didn't order anything from this small menu, but that doesn't mean we didn't order much. We ordered a lot.


Roseanne did the back stroke in her pretty pink cocktail. A vodka/lemon/berry concoction Yelpers are yelping about.  They have a full bar, a good beer selection that includes Kirin, Duvel, Ommegang Abbey, Sapporo, Yebisu, with Ayinger Dopelbock, Drifter and La Chouffe on draft (and then some).  Nothing impressive on their nevertheless drinkable wine list and a handful of decent sakes.


Shiitake, enoki & brown mushrooms in a cream sauce with little garlic toasts. Overly rich for me, this was nevertheless inhaled by everyone else at the table.


Although this was the stand out dish of the night, I cannot seem to find it on the menu.  It's clearly not udon.

Some kind of gyoza dumpling in a clear mushroom broth with lots of green onions. This was delicious.


The rolls we sampled...Kamikaze roll. Spicy tuna covered with avocado and sweet kabayaki here.


Avocado covered in spicy on the other half of the kamikaze roll.


I requested the sashimi salad and was pleased with the lightly dressed lettuce and the freshness of the sashimi:  hamachi, hotate, sake, and maguro. Nicely done in an unsurprising but delicious ginger dressing.


Miso broiled cod. Not on the menu, but very good. I didn't think it needed the addition of the kabayaki sauce which was more or less decorative, it was a nice rendition of Chef Nobu's infamous miso marinated black cod.


Surprisingly yummy, chicken meatballs with a nice char on a stick in a light sweet broth. Meat on a stick. Two are served on the plate, one was ingested in about 10 seconds flat. These are not small.


And as a table we went through a few orders of the now ubiquitous crispy rice with spicy tuna. The rice was a little overcooked in spots, on the dark brown side. But still, I ate more than my share of these. I cannot resist them at Katsuya either.

All in all, we had a beautiful time first at Fu-Ga then later chilling out to some lovely jazz at Blue Whale.  Fu-Ga is not necessarily a foodie paradise (what is, really?), but it is nightclub festive, good for large parties with friendly service and a varied menu that should please an easy going palate. 

Happy Birthday, friend.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Not Everything I Cook Tastes Good: Recent Successes at Mediocrity

In the past week or so I have been focusing on vegetarian and vegan recipes in general and recipes that focus on using up the last of the fall produce in our fridge before the Thanksgiving is upon us.  Unfortunately, not everything turns out irresistibly delicious or even really very good.

I tried a baked butternut squash dish.  Foolishly, I purchased pre-cut butternut squash without looking at the price in Gelson's when I was there picking up some pears for a road trip. What was I thinking? $7 for a small bag. Well, there's no way that was going to waste for $28!!!!!  Parmesan Roasted Butternut Squash from Gourmet 2008. Despite rave reviews, it was markedly so-so. Vegetarian, not vegan. A little casserole with Parmesan cheese (the flavor highlight of the dish) and a little milk (recipe called for cream, I substituted).

Later that same evening, while the squash was in the oven, I attempted a crumble desert with some quickly softening persimmon.  Someone on Twitter suggested I try with persimmon anything that works with peaches. OK. No.  I tried this recipe from Cooks.com using whatever kind of fruit you have in the house and a common combination of oatmeal, brown sugar, cinnamon and so on and so forth. Working in my favor was a small bottle of Vietnamese cinnamon from Penzey's I have around as a gift from a dear friend. Vietnamese cinnamon is sweeter and more pungent than any old kind of cinnamon you can buy at Vons or Safeway. The second you open it the scent will fill your kitchen. In theory, it's a winning combo, I also tossed some Granny Smith apples finely diced into the crumble. Not vegan either because the crumble crust had butter. Vegetarian. Meh.

The next day, seriously in the mood for Thanksgiving sides dishes and with an afternoon to kill while my husband played 5+ hours of tennis in the cold wind and near rain, I made vegan mashed potatoes.  Inspired by the mysteriously frequent Reader's Choice winner in the Project Food Blog competition, Oh She Glows, I made high protein garlic mashed potatoes. They were good. Not great. It's amazing what a little real butter and milk will do for you, never mind the fact that I prefer the garlic in my mashed potatoes roasted before mashed. I also learned, watching the Food network on cable at the gym that the best potatoes for mashing are Russet or Yukon Gold. Thought I'd share.

My husband loves a mooshy stuffing (as opposed to more crumbly textured stuffings with sausage, cranberries and the works which I personally prefer).   So, stopping in at Trader Joe's for my Russet potatoes, I picked up a box of Cornbread Stuffing mix and cooked to mooshy specifications. Good, but very very salty. I woke up really puffy the next morning.

Also, while perusing the aisles of Trader Joe's I picked up already chopped sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts to throw in the oven for roasting as usual. The conclusion I come to after using precut sweet potatoes and butternut squash is that precut is not as good as when you cut it yourself. Both times. Granted you might harakiri yourself while carving a butternut squash. But the sweetness of a freshly cut butternut squash > precut butternut squash every time.

I took some snaps of all the recent home cooking, but didn't feel anything was worthy of sharing in the aftermath of such aggressive mediocrity. However, I will share a positive outcome of this year's healthier eating and more vigorous home cooking. My migraines seem to have hit the road.  About a year and a half ago I was in the middle of a veritable tide of migraines. This year they have vanished, seemingly into thin air. As a reader of this blog, you may or may not know about a little blog called 64 Weeks, 64 Food Rules. That blog was a project based on Pollan's Food Rules, and it petered out at about week 23, damn almost halfway there. What it did accomplish was a more heightened awareness of the quality of what I put in my body. I am pretty convinced that exiting chemicals and processed food almost entirely from my diet has helped heal me of my migraines.

That's all.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Vons Grocery Delivery and Goin's Spiced Pork Stew with Polenta

Vons Grocery Delivery
Sunday Supper at Lucques


This month Vons/Safeway via FoodBuzz offered me the treat of a $100 stipend to order groceries on delivery and write a blog post about it.  FoodBuzz is awesome. They offer some really amazing contests and blogportunities that have really rocked my world.  One example was Project Food Blog, which I was kicked out of after my fifth post (very little bitterness here, it really helped me stretch myself, I said very little, not none). Also, their 24x24 monthly interactive thing-a-majigger. Myself and friends executed ours last holiday season and it was ridiculously fun. I will surely apply for another go- round this spring.  


This time the job was simple. Receive a $100 stipend to order groceries via Safeway/Vons delivery and post about the service.  Naturally, I am using the groceries to cook up something good around which to post.  The groceries arrived at the top of the stairs chez moi right on time delivered by a smiling deliveryman very patient with my need for a photo opp.


Bags are hauled up in a sturdy plastic box so as not to challenge the structural integrity of thin plastic bags climbing up the steep tile stairway.


Loves: Could not love more the timeliness of delivery. I scheduled between 5 and 7 in the evening. Around 3PM guy calls me and asks what time I will be home. Well, just before 5, natch and there he was at 4:59 alerting the shepherd by climbing the front steps. Sweet.

Doesn't love: The main ingredient in my recipe was not delivered. Three pounds of pork loin, out of stock. During the phone conversation I was not alerted to the out of stock item. If I had been I could have stopped off at the grocery store on the way home to pick up the protein. Luckily, I have a husband who actually likes to run errands on the way home from tennis, no lie. "Sweetie, three pounds of pork loin chops please?"


Suzanne Goin's Sunday Supper at Lucques was an excellent birthday present a few years back at an extremely significant birthday.  Please note the signed front page. *preens* This fall night I chose to tackle spiced pork stew with polenta, root vegetables and gremolata. Seasonal with fairly simple ingredients.


Loves: Fresh produce from Vons delivery. I was a little skeptical that Vons would deliver nice produce without my hand picking. The produce was fine and dandy. Every single piece. Nothing exotic, just fine examples of late fall staples. There's a bottle of wine in the back corner up there. They deliver a small selection of name brand grocery store wine. This was La Crema Pinot Noir.


A nice assortment of herbs bottled and fresh organic, the standard array of dairy and dry goods.

Let's get down to the cooking.


Pan roasted root vegetables with gremolata. I always roast veggies in the oven. This was actually a little faster and the flavor was immense.  From top left corner moving clockwise: carrots, turnips and a sweet potato pan roasting simply in olive oil and a little salt, stir stir stir, as veggies begin to caramelize add a tablespoon of butter to each pan (it took two similar size heavy bottom pans to do all veg) and continue to pan roast, carrots, remove from heat and cool slightly, toss with gremolata.  I love gremolata. Mom uses it in a couple of her recipes.  It's simply lemon zest, garlic and flat leaf parsely. I roughly chopped all of it by hand and feeling it wasn't finely chopped enough I ran it through my food processor very briefly.


Above, starting the pork. Again moving clockwise.  Chop the loin in one inch cubes, more or less.  Yes, I was drinking, AGAIN (I'm drinking right now, truth be told).  In Goin's recipe, she asks you to separately toast cumin, fennel and coriander seeds in a pan then grind with a mortar and pestle. I roasted just the fennel seeds until their perfume filled the kitchen. Vons didn't offer coriander nor cumin seeds and I do not offer a mortar and pestle. No bother, I used pre-ground cumin and added the fennel, cayenne, garlic, fresh oregano, and fresh thyme the recipe called for, processing it in my Braun.  I then tossed the meat in the spice/herb mixture and set aside for about an hour.


After an hour, above left I spread the pork out on my bamboo cutting board to ensure even coating. I then browned the pork on all sides. You must brown a small batch at a time in a heavy bottomed Dutch oven so as not to crowd the pork thus steaming it instead of nicely browning the cubes. Bottom right, after deglazing the Dutch oven with white wine and reducing add all pork, chicken broth, sprigs of cilantro, wide strips of lemon peel, crumbled chile de arbol, and bay leaves.

This dish needs to braise in the oven for 2.5 hours. I'm a dummy. I read the recipe, but not all the way through. I thought I could finish it in one evening but by the time this beautiful dish went into the hot oven it was already 8 o'clock. I took it back out and stuck it in the fridge overnight. D cooked a giant bowl of rigatoni in canned spaghetti sauce, we both drank more and put our feet up.

The following evening just as D got home from tennis I pulled the finished dish out of the oven and plated. 


First I lay the long beautiful gremolata covered carrots across our bowls, and added turnips. No sweet potato?  Umm....I might have kinda eaten them for lunch straight from the tupperware container. I left carrots and turnips and D didn't even notice.


The starch is the polenta. I typically use yellow cornmeal which I think is prettier, I didn't even realize I had white until I opened the box. It tasted the same.


Spoon spiced pork stew over the polenta and veg and eat. Next time I will make this for a party larger than two. We nibbled, snacked and nommed on leftovers all weekend long.

As Suzanne says in her inscription, don't wait til Sunday.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Wine Tasting in Paso Robles & Dinner at Artisan


1401 Park St
Paso RoblesCA 93446

(805) 237-8084

Ecluse Syrah "Lock Vineyard" '06

This fall I have been spending a lot of time in Paso Robles for work, with no end in sight.  I found Artisan by cross referencing Yelp and Trip Advisor for top restaurants in town. Can't always believe either source reliably on their own. The cross section of people who rate restaurants on Trip Advisor is extremely varied, I find many below par recs rated highly based solely on price. With regard to Yelp, well if you haven't heard the controversy you must be living under a rock. Nevertheless, when in an unknown city, I find this technique to be pretty flawless for restaurants. Chowhounds helps too, but I tend to rely on them most in more urban areas.

Lamb Shank

I have been into Artisan twice now, once on my own Halloween night and once after wine tasting with Mom. On the night pictured, Mom and I stopped in after visiting Justin, Opolo, and Tablas Creek tasting rooms west of town off the 46.  The focus area for our tasting is called the Far Out Vineyards because they are a pretty good drive outside of town. We drove in on a rainy Sunday and just enjoyed putzing slowly through the damp foothills accompanied by navigation and conversation, looking at deer and doe and the occasional bunny.

Hearst Ranch Flatiron Steak, Cauliflower, Broccoli

Of the tasting rooms we visited that day, Tablas Creek is my favorite. I liked the homeyness of the room and the wine making philosophy.  Tablas farms organically, dry-farms when possible. They use primarily Rhone varietals for their blends, with 13 of their vines approved for wine making in Chateuneuf du Pape and the other 8 approved for the Cotes du Rhone region.  I have a lovely bottle of Esprit du Beaucastel from their Chateuneuf du Pape grapes I bought specifically with D in mind. We have an anniversary coming right up, you know.

macaroni & cheese

That trip I also visited Peachy Canyon. Oddly, the wine I tasted that afternoon on my way home to LA after work tasted fantastic. When I got home 6 hours later I wasn't as happy with the bottle. I attribute the differential to how wonderful wine tastes immediately after finishing work. I'm pretty sure Night Train would have had an amazing bouquet and a lovely finish at about 3:15 on the day in question. The bottle was certainly not bad, per se. Just not as stunning as I originally thought.

aligot potatoes

One of my favorite tasting rooms to stop by on the way out of Paso is the Tobin James vineyard. It's a little maligned on Chowhounds, but I like their brand of fairly jammy syrahs.  I like their wines and appreciate that some of the wines are priced a little more competitively. One in particular, Chateau le Cacheflo is $11.50 and a fine wine for swilling with food and just whilst sitting on the front porch watching the sun set.

If you are in Paso Robles, stop in for dinner at Artisan. It's just as delicious as its peers here in Los Angeles (think: Jar, Simon, Lucques, Blair's). Caveat: When wine tasting before hitting the road back to Los Angeles, I pre-inform the pourer that I will be driving and can only taste 2-3 wines. Then together we decide what is the best bang for the small tasting I will do. A little luxury at the end of a long work day is a joyous thing.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Buttermilk Poached Chicken with Mashed Sweet Potatoes


On Halloween night after very last minute scrambling for a vintage dress on Melrose to complete our Mad Men couple ensemble, we squeaked into a couple seats at Hatfield's bar to line our tummies with some grub.  I ordered simply, Buttermilk Steamed Chicken. My dish was served with a little sweet potato, some mashed and some in tiny cubes with a few Brussels sprouts. It was delicious and I was still thinking about it when grocery shopping yesterday afternoon.  Obviously not being a chef, I wanted to use some of the same ingredients to recreate flavor profiles even if I couldn't recreate the recipe. The meal was easy and it was delicious.


Roasted fingerling potatoes and Brussels sprouts. When roasting veg together, try and keep the size uniform for even cooking. The neighborhood supermarket had baby Brussels sprouts and medium sized bags of fingerlings.


First trim the sprouts and prep herbs and whatnot. Rosemary, pepper flakes, garlic, sea salt and fresh ground pepper.


Toss all ingredients by hand in an open baking dish. 450F for 40 minutes. Check regularly, smaller cuts of veg cook faster. I feel like I left this one in about 7 minutes too long, but the boys assured me it was yummy nevertheless.


Organic sweet potatoes. I am not a whoreganic, but I buy organic when I can.


Sweet potatoes can be used a gazillion different ways, including all those that are familiar uses for the lowly potato.  For mashed, peel first.


Do not put potato peels (sweet or otherwise) down the drain. The disposal cannot handle the thick peels. I learned this little kitchen garbage trick from Jennifer of the Pink Sparrows.  I now keep a bowl handy in the sink or on counter to handle kitchen garbage instead of walking across my (microscopic) kitchen repeatedly to the garbage can. Makes the peeling really worry free. I mean, I am not staying up at night wondering how many errant peels made it down the drain....despite my current bout of insomnia.


From the top: boil until the flesh gives nicely, mash with open weave hand masher, whisk in ancillary ingredients like sea salt and any dairy. I used about one tablespoon butter for all three potatoes and a quarter cup milk just for smoothness.


One of my favorite salads in the world comes out of the kitchen at Hungry Cat. I think it is the grated hard boiled egg that I love the most, and this is easy to do at home. Boil your eggs, grate them like very soft cheese on the small grate of your cheese grater. Voila.


Salad. Hatfield's salad was a gorgeous frisee tower stacked high with smoked trout and fingerling potatoes underneath. No frisee in the quickly gentrifying ghetto, folks. Arugula is ubiquitous, so.  Underneath the lettuce I lay fingerling potato slices, artichoke hearts (non-marinated) and sauteed crimini mushrooms. Next, arugula tossed in champagne vinaigrette. Top with bacon bits and grated egg.


I couldn't find a recipe online for buttermilk steamed chicken, but this one for buttermilk poached chicken worked perfectly. Poaching the breasts in one quart of buttermilk helps the sometimes slightly dry breast meat retain a lot of moisture. I poured half into the pan with some sea salt and quite a few sprigs of fresh thyme. Four skinless breasts go next followed by the remainder of the buttermilk and a few more sprigs of thyme. Cook on medium heat until breasts are cooked through, no longer pink. I turned the breasts maybe three times.


Pull the breasts out of the buttermilk/thyme bath and let rest for 5 minutes on a cutting board. Prep the plates with mashed sweet potato.


Slice the breasts slightly diagonally and place atop potatoes. I also added the last of the leek confit to the bottom of the dish and the roast vegetables. Herbaceous, hearty, autumnal. We watched the Lakers win, argued about politics even though we're all on the same team and drank just the right amount of red wine.


I am dedicating this dinner and post to Stella, maybe the world's best kitchen dog in a long history of dogs who love to hang out in the kitchen while their human cooks. From the time she was just a few weeks old, she loved to hold down the fort with me while I cooked. Back then she would lie on my feet, literally on, while I tried to stand still and cook. (Microscopic, my beautiful kitchen is). I have been missing her very much the last couple of weeks. RIP, beautiful girl.