Saturday, January 22, 2011

Ramen on a Small Island in Northridge

Small Island
9545 Reseda Blvd Ste 16
Northridge, CA 91324
(818) 341-1884

I spent my entire Saturday afternoon sitting in the hot sun watching my husband lose a rivetingly close tennis match at CSUN.  There's a reason I don't go to every tournament he plays in nowadays. My time at home is limited; things like laundry, pedicures, unpacking and repacking all need to be done before I leave again. None of it got done today. Tennis match and all.


As a reward to myself after three hours in the gorgeous Southern California winter sunshine, I yelped Japanese in Northridge and came across Small Island. Small Island is a family owned authentic little Japanese diner, walk up counter style. And as is obvious from the blog, whenever I get the chance these days it is all about ramen, ramen, ramen.  I had fun with the variety offered at the neat and tidy Small Island.


As I am still learning about ramen styles, of one thing I am sure. The creamy white tonkatsu is my favorite style. (For now).  But I am enjoying ramen experimentation.


I started D with a nice little sunomono.  Perfect with just a trace of sesame, not overly seaweeded like you sometimes see. And sometimes sunomono is really watery. The above was not so saucy, just really good flavors balanced between some seaweed, cukes and carrots.


One yelper waxed positively about the simple green salad.  Nice portion, great dressing.  Not the typical ginger dressing, this one.  I definitely tasted the standard ginger, but it was balanced with something nicely acidic.


D ordered the miso ramen, as usual.  Small Island was so busy at lunch today that they ran out of eggs!  The owner generously offered to split the last egg in half and give us both more chashu.  Very generous, pork meat is more expensive than eggs.


And this pork was gorgeous. Sliced more thinly than chashu at some other ramnyas near us, and less fatty. I know for some people the fat is the point. And this was certainly fatty enough to assist the beautiful flavors in the bowl. But again, as with other items in this meal, there was a nice balance.  The bowl above is my chashu miso ramen. Lots of bamboo shoots but I would have liked more green onions and greens. God, I think I have typed that exact sentence before in another review. But I was very pleased, because ultimately it's always about the broth and this one was perfect. Nowhere near as rich as the tonkatsu at Rokuan and just as tasty as the broth at Daikokuya.  (I have decided my problem with Daikokuya is that their broth is inconsistent).


Wanting to try something else on the menu for kicks, I asked what the house specialities are at Small Island.  What is really popular? The ramen, curries and California Rolls. California rolls? zzzzzzzzzzzz.  So I ordered the beef curry. We both ate a couple bites and brought the rest home. The portions were very hearty, the beef was nicely lean and the curry was not too pushy.


In the curry, as I rooted around investigatively, I found sauteed onions and I don't know what else. Lots of little vegetal chunks of yumminess. Lunch tomorrow.  I would definitely hit Small Island again, were I in the neighborhood.

Monday, January 17, 2011

I Want a Goat: Goat's Milk Butter Hollandaise


Sunday morning with K on the couch and odd ends in the fridge, I threw down a surprisingly delicious Eggs Benedict using goat's milk butter in my hollandaise sauce. Major wow effect.

goat's milk butter hollandaise1

Cornmeal Drop Biscuits
1 1/3 c. all-purpose flour
1/3 c. yellow cornmeal
1 tbsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. plus 2 tbsp. milk
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 egg, beaten
1 c uncased chicken apple sausage
1c grated Parmesan reggiano
Vegetable cooking spray
Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl. Combine milk, oil, egg, sausage and cheese Add to dry ingredients, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened. Drop batter by heaping tablespoons onto a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake at 400 degrees for 12 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack. Yield: 1 dozen biscuits.


Adapted from My changes are in red. I wasn't actually thrilled with the biscuits, they ended up a little too dense. I looked specifically for a recipe with no baking soda as I refused to leave the house.  Next time I'll try a different one. They weren't bad, they were more than edible. Maybe I should be thinking of them more as a scone, with that scone-like density and less a biscuit.


Goat's Milk Butter Hollandaise Sauce
      4 egg yolks
      1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
      1/2 cup goat's milk butter, melted (1 stick)
      Pinch paprika
      Pinch  sea salt

Vigorously whisk the egg yolks and lemon juice together in a stainless steel bowl and until the mixture is thickened and doubled in volume. Place the bowl over a saucepan containing barely simmering water (or use a double boiler,) the water should not touch the bottom of the bowl. Continue to whisk rapidly. Be careful not to let the eggs get too hot or they will scramble. Slowly drizzlein the melted butter and continue to whisk until the sauce is thickened and doubled in volume. Remove from heat, whisk in cayenne and salt. Cover and place in a warm spot until ready to use for the Eggs Benedict. If the sauce gets too thick, whisk in a few drops of warm water before serving.


This recipe was adapted from Tyler Florence from the Food Network. Again, my changes are in red. The recipe calls for one stick of butter, which I know is half a cup.  I also know that in measures of volume half a cup equals 8 ounces, but I wasn't sure exactly what this would translate into in terms of mass. Instead of guessing I pulled out one of my handy food scales. No, I did not buy this for weighing drugs, I am drug free.  I was happy to discover that despite my nipping away at the goat's milk butter now and again to spread on crackers I had exactly 8 ounces left. Ta da!

goat's milk butter hollandaise4

The changes in both recipes were simple, tailored only with regard to what was currently hanging around in my fridge.  The change from regular butter to goat's milk butter is simple enough and really elevated that hollandaise sauce from something standard to something sublime.

goat's milk butter hollandaise5
Clockwise from upper left: whisking the yolks over a pan of simmering water, see the textural changes as the liquid thickens, you can see the mixture start to get chunky as the eggs started cooking too quickly so we took it off the heat, to get the texture I wanted I added a couple tablespoons of hot water and continued to whisk.  

goat's milk butter hollandaise

Counter clockwise from upper left: cornmeal drop biscuits, perfectly poached eggs, hollandaise with an edible nasturtium and mint to garnish. I have now mastered one of the important mother sauces of France. First time perfection is unusual in my kitchen, I am ending my weekend incredibly self satisfied.
Taking personalization a step further, my husband is one who doesn't care to eat several tablespoon fulls of butter first thing in the morning. I topped his eggs with a cup of errant tomato sauce I found in the front of the fridge from throwing together a plate of pasta here the other evening.  This too was delicious, healthier although not as special tasting. And I don't garnish someone else's cooking! ;-p

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Best Of: 2010

I was not going to do a "best of" this year. I never have before. Many of my favorite bloggers do "best of" or "top ten 2010" type posts. Even though I am ultimately an unrepentant band wagoner I had decided I couldn't be bothered. Typical FST holiday malaise bullshit. However, I find myself up early after suffering a week with a head cold in boredom (despite having recently installed Netflix Instant, or maybe because of) up early with energy and time to spare.


Earliest best bite in 2010 was from a meal at Shiro in Pasadena, comped through a friend for PR and snaps. This course was foie atop sea scallop in a red wine reduction. Magically delicious, a destination dish if there ever was one.


Later that same month at Petrossian during DineLA with our favorite fine dining cohorts, truffled mac and cheese made for us by Ben Bailly, now at Fraiche in Culver City (which has me lemming a trip to Fraiche, finally again). Truffled mac and cheese can be found on menus all over the place. This was special.  Incredibly creamy, generously truffled and we are not talking truffle oil here, people.


Fried artichokes at Da Vinci in Beverly Hills from the hand and mind of Jason Fullilove.  My favorite dish in a long menu of deliciousness, crispy on the outside, succulent on the inside and not overly oily. Happily, he offered these again the night he cooked at Test Kitchen. Recent reports have Jason cooking now at Desert Rose in Los Feliz.


Mid-year, D and Dad and I stopped in for an early pre-graduation dinner at Izakaya Gaku on Oahu before my youngest brother graduated from Punahou.  Gaku is my favorite izakaya in the world (that I have met so far, I am open to new introductions).  The karaage was my top dish that night. Japanese fried chicken.  Very crispy, slightly peppery and not overly breaded, the meat was clearly and identifiably the main ingredient.


Probably the favorite developmental stage in the life of this blog happened in 2010. Changes started occurring right after the 2009 holidays when I was gifted more high quality cookware than I can shake a stick at along with a veritable library of contemporary cook books mostly written by chefs that I love and admire.  I started cooking more. Cauliflower steak, browned in the oven in a Le Creuset cast iron braising pan. This was amazing. Satisfying umami flavors from the caramelization on both sides of the steak, and a creaminess imparted on top from the cauliflower puree. Non dairy, ya'll.


I am not gonna lie, I ate food in Detroit. Some good, some bad and one stellar meal.  The above was a best bite at Atlas Global Bistro with two of my favorite colleagues.  Malaysian Glazed Kurobuta Pork Loin, Pickled Pineapple.  The pineapple tasted strongly of ginger and stood up beautifully to the savory flavors of the pork loin. I can taste it right now as I reminisce.


Best poke in my life. And I am a poke eater.  D and I spent four days in 2009 eating poke in a comparison/contrast fiesta all the way from one end of Oahu to the other.  However, beating them all is the albacore poke served daily at Chaya Brasserie's Happy Hour in downtown L. fricking A. I even copied this albacore poke (without a recipe despite several emails and phone calls to the management at Chaya DTLA) for one round of Food Buzz's Project Food Blog 2010. Mine was good, but not this good.


For the same round of Food Buzz's Project Food Blog in which I copied Chaya's albacore poke, I also copied Alan Wong's Mini Loco Moco.  Alan Wong is a chef famous for both his James Beards and Bon Appetit awards and being one of 12 co-founders of the Hawaiian Regional Cuisine movement in the early 90's.  I have eaten at both Alan Wongs (his h/e offering) and The Pineapple Room (love love love) several times.  The above was my attempt at recreating Wong's elegant version of a loco moco for his higher end restaurant.  Unagi wrapped in mochi fried then topped with a quail egg and sauced with wasabi kabayaki.  I say this with all the modesty I can muster: THIS IS MOUTH HEAVEN.  If you are ever at my house, ask me to make it.


Ludobites 5.0, last summer. Fancy Frenchified food is not my husband's favorite, but at least one dish Ludo does at every opening sends him into a tail spin. Poached egg, potato mousseline, chorizo.  We dug into this and before it was half empty D had ordered a second one. This was good. Very good.


Rokuan, Chino Hills. I am still learning about ramen, I am a relative ramen newb.  However. As is typical with me (I am a fervent starter and a horrible finisher, skillful at procrastination beyond your wildest dreams) I dove into my passion for ramen head first hoping the diving board was at the deep end of the pool.  This was maybe my 10th version of ramen, not including instant packs but including two experimentations at home one being Momofuku from scratch in August generating a 9 hour cooking marathon when it was about 110 outside. I've eaten at several more ramenya since. Rokuan, still. The ramen world has yet to top this.


Scallops, Sweet & Sour Foam, Pepitas.  At a 10th wedding anniversary dinner at Eleven Madison Park. The interplay of the raw scallop against the sweet tart of the form, with the strong nuttiness of the roasted pepita makes this tiny hors d'oeuvres course stand out in my mind with clarity.

salted chocolate ice cream

An the last best taste of 2010? The salted chocolate ice cream I made with Carrie in her kitchen on New Year's Eve 2010. 

Other memorable Top Tens of 2010:
Kitten With a Whisk
Teenage Glutster (whose dessert posting inspired me to get off me arse blogwise)
Diana Takes a Bite
Anthony Bourdain
Carrots & Cake
Deep End Dining
Gourmet Pigs
Kung Food Panda
Squid Ink
Street Gourmet LA

Here's to many good tastes in 2011.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

I Ate a Duck and I Liked It at Phoenix Inn

Phoenix Inn
301 Ord St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 629-2812

Under duress, my friend and Chinese food expert Tony (Sinosoul) rec'd Phoenix Inn for some local Peking duck. His Peking duck preferences run much further east from my neighborhood, in the SGV. However, after downing a couple Friday night martinis we wanted to neither drive nor taxi far afield and so I pressed Tony for something closer.  Phoenix Inn is literally 1.5 miles from my front door.


Phoenix Inn is dry so we started with some hot black tea and perused the menu.  Not one to dick around about ordering, D was ready in about one minute flat. And by ready, I mean he pretended to be ready and when the server came to take our order D pointed at a bunch of pictures of a set menu for a family style dinner and gesticulated wildly.  He wasn't really ready, but he was hungry, ergo....


Honestly, I know nothing about Chinese food except that apparently I am under the misapprehension that I do not like Chinese food. Which means simply that I have only eaten the wrong Chinese food and therefore avoid it like the plague. If 2010 was the year of my ramen summer school, then 2011 will be the year I enroll in Chinese food 101a. This will make my New York Jew Chinese food loving husband very happy indeed. We started with the small bowl of some kind of noodle soup. It wasn't small, it was big, IMO.


Springy noodles, ever so slightly al dente, lots of bok choy (?) and slippery delicious dumplings with pork & shrimp in a slightly salty broth. What's not to like here? Good that chilly Friday night, even better later in the weekend after a cold set up camp en mi cabeza. Look, I am pretty sure that's bok choy in there. My step- mom used to cook with it a lot. However. Maybe it isn't, maybe it's some other Asian green in baby whole head form. There are seemingly hundreds of different Asian greens to play with. This one tasted good, bok choy-ish and the center stayed slightly crunchy.


What's the deal with a seaweed salad? What's its country of origin?  I recognize it and have loved its sesame/seaweed goodness from hundreds of Japanese food experiences high and low, near and far. I was really trying to order the orange marmalade kabocha squash, which shows just how big a communication gap can be between people who don't speak the same language. Our kind server underlined the kabocha squash dish with his finger and I nodded yes enthusiastically. But he was really running his finger over the seaweed salad listing, clearly indicating I wanted the dish he was running his finger over. Doesn't matter, I love this dish. It is a nice complement to almost anything, even though it always sticks in my teeth.


Fried rice arrived prior to my duck.  Who doesn't love fried rice? And this was a good one. Way lighter and less greasy than the Thai fried rices I eat on a somewhat regular basis from Rambutan or Chan Darae. Shrimp, good. Sweet little pork nuggets, good. Lots of green onion and egg, all lightly fried? Good.


Peking duck.  On two plates.  The first plate with steamed buns and crispy sweet duck skin.


Second plate with lots of duck meat accompanied by a hoisin sauce (I know what this is, Mom cooks with it) and a sweet and sour sauce thingy (?).  I was instructed in a non-verbal manner to put a small swoosh of hoisin sauce on the bun (not too much, too salty), then a piece of crispy skin, then add some duck meat (rid of bones) & scallions. Close and eat with your hands.

phoenix inn


This made my mouth so happy. Even the next day, eating crispy skin and duck meat from the styrofoam box (because again, the small size is huge) my mouth was singing with joy.  I penned the words to this song, sung to the tune of the infamous Katy Perry ballad

I ate a duck, and I liked it
The taste of its salty skin
I ate a duck, just to try it
I hope Donald Duck don't mind it
Satisfied my appetite
It felt so wrong
It felt so right
I ate a duck and
I liked it

Now, as soon as I am done with this infernal head cold I am ready for my next duck. Ready to travel further east to see what can top this yummy experience.

Phoenix Inn in Los Angeles on Fooddigger

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Salted Chocolate Ice Cream

Upon arriving at The House in Lake Havasu, I immediately noted a  new appliance on The Counter.  A Cuisinart ice cream machine.

hello, lover

I don't have an ice cream machine for several reasons. Among them include my ambivalence toward dessert and my husband's general intolerance toward dairy. When we crave ice cream, we head toward Scoops. I don't think I've ever seen a bigger smile on D's face than when he was halfway into a scoop of salty chocolate ice cream from the infamous little shop on Hyperion.

salted chocolate ice cream1
whisking yolks & sugar, scalding cream & cocoa, 
tempering egg mixture with hot chocolate cream (a tiny bit at a time)

With three days in the desert and not a lot to do (except cook, drink, stay up late together to argue about how to solve the world's problems, repeat), the Cuisinart was calling my name loud and clear.  I toyed with a few flavor choices.  Lake Havasu City is not a sophisticated place, and ethnically it's fairly homogeneous. Asian and Latin sections in the grocery store are very small and there's not really a health food grocery store in town (although there's a great independent little health food/vitamin store). So thoughts of lychee, passionfruit, Thai iced tea, and other exotic flavors were pretty much out of the running.  Twitter friend Chef Szu suggested:

 @ something with bacon.... ooooo... maple bacon ice cream with chunks of waffle.... hahaha

salted chocolate ice cream2
combining two liquids, slowly cooking mixture until thick enough to coat back of wooden spoon, 
cooling to room temperature

I seriously considered maple ice cream/bacon/waffle chunks. Then reconsidered when I considered my audience. If I was only going to make the one batch, let's go with a universally pleasing flavor. Salted chocolate it was. I followed this recipe from Chaos in the Kitchen with a high degree of fidelity.  When never having made something, especially something involving sweets and candy making, it's important to understand the chemistry before playing with the technique.  My changes are highlighted in brown.

adding to Cuisinart

Chocolate Ice Cream

makes 2 quarts, prep 2 min, cook 10 min, adapted from Chaos in the Kitchen
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 3 cups half and half
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2-4 tsp Himayan salt, finely ground
  1. In a large sauce pan combine cocoa and one cup of half and half.  Stir to combine then add rest of half and half and cream.
  2. Scald the cream mixture (heat it just until you see bubbles forming at the edges), remove from heat.
  3. In a mixing bowl, whisk egg yolks and sugar to combine.
  4. Temper the egg yolks by slowly adding the hot cream, a few drops at a time, stirring constantly.  This is a slow process, don’t rush it or you will get eggy ice cream.
  5. Once you have whisked in about 1/3 cup of hot cream into egg mixture, add all of the egg back into the sauce pan.
  6. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until thermometer reads 170°-175° or mixture is thick and coats the back of a wooden spoon.
  7. Pour custard into a container and allow to cool at room temperature. Stir in the vanilla and continue cooling. 
  8. Once room temperature, place covered into the fridge and chill several hours or overnight.
  9. After cooled, add salt to taste. Add 1/4 teaspoon at a time, folding thoroughly. Continue to add small amounts til mixture is salted to taste preference.
  10. Process in your ice cream maker according to the instructions.
  11. Freeze soft serve ice cream for several hours until hard.
The only step that gave me pause was #6.  I twittered that thickening the base without a meat or candy thermometer was like spelunking without a flashlight. I stirred and watched closely. At one crucial point, I thought my base was separating and started to freak out. My Host assured me if I simply took it off the heat quickly and continued to stir slowly as it cooled toward room temperature I would be ok. He was right.

After it cooled to room temp, into the fridge it went for a few hours. When cooled to fridge temp, I pulled it out and started adding the salt very slowly, very patiently.  One can always add more salt. One cannot take salt away.  After much adding, folding and tasting, C and I agreed I had achieved salty/chocolatey perfection. Into the Cuisinart it went.

salted chocolate ice cream
moving through stages of frozenness 

Honestly, it was delicious. I have never had better ice cream, not even at Scoops. Or maybe it was just as good as Scoops, or maybe it just tasted good because of the fun of the group cooking adventure. I know we all enjoyed it all weekend long and I am kind of craving a bowl right now. But just a small one.