Gift-Giving Through Food

My friend Linda is finally catching up in age with me with her late October birthday. Instead of getting her a gift this year I decided to invite her over for lunch. Have you ever gotten a gift you appreciated but never put to use? Or something that sits on your shelf or drawer and you forget you even have it for years? But food, everyone loves food. Especially when you take the time to make everything at home for that special person. Sure you can take them out to a restaurant but home is more comfortable and also you can indulge a bit more.


I made Goat Cheese Tart (Barefoot Contessa) to start off. There was a lot of butter, cream and cheese involved in this rich recipe. However, the tart did not taste heavy at all. The tanginess of the goat cheese and the cream balanced each other out. Originally I didn't plan on making the dough (bc I suck at doughs) but I couldn't find any folded up pie dough at stupid Ralph's and I didn't feel like making a separate trip to Dupar's at the Farmer's Market. I definitely need practice and a huge silpat I can work on. Wow, I made dough.


I served the Goat Cheese Tart with some baby greens with dijon dressing (dijon, red wine vinegar, olive oil, black pepper and salt). Then we moved onto the Butternut Squash Soup which I cheated a lil bit and bought from Trader Joe's. But I made my own croutons with some La Brea Bakery baguette, pasta seasoning, herbs de provence, black pepper, salt & olive oil. I sprinkled some chiffonaded basil but next time I will dollop the soup with some pistou.


And of equal importance, what beverage did we drink to round out this girls' luncheon affair? A bottle of Basa Rueda Blanco from the D.O. Rueda region in Spain. So good! It went perfectly with the Goat Cheese Tart and the Butternut Squash Soup. Another great value wine at only $8-$10! Check out a review here bc as you know my wine descriptive skills are rudimentary. We drank the whole bottle without a blink so let that speak for itself.


Bounty of Pomegranate



From our family friends in Merced... two big beautiful bagfuls.


Sunday Walk to the Larchmont Farmer's Market


I absolutely hate going to the gym. But I still have a membership. Bleh. I hate that, the thought that "I might want to go sometime so I'll keep paying $36 a month." I'm trying to ween myself off that and integrate more walking into my daily doings. Like parking as far as I can from my department door, or always taking the stairs when I am home and the past weekend, walking to the Larchmont Farmer's Market.

Larchmont Village is super close to my place. The Farmer's Market is 1.1 miles to be exact. I got my ipod all ready, *click*Pavement *click*HOLD. Got my flippy flops on and headed off for a healthy Sunday walk. On my way I saw the evidence of the fall coming in, or at least as much evidence LA can show (i.e. the pathetically changing leaves above).


The Larchmont Village Farmer's Market has a lot more non-food items than the Santa Monica one, such as orchids, handmade soaps, bath salts and jewelery. But the produce definitely is not as good. The market is held between 10 and 2, which means by the time I went (1:45... I procrastinate), the veges and fruits have been exposed to the fairly warm heat during the prime sun hours.


I got a small bag of lettuce which looked a bit wilted but I thought it would do well in the fridge with a damp paper towel. The vendor was kind enough to give it to me for free with a simple "Enjoy!" It was very nice of him but I did not indeed enjoy my wilted salad the next day. I did get my first batch of corn for this and last season and it was delicious steamed, cut off the cob & eaten with a knob of butter.


Gourmet Tamales' pork tamale (that was all they had left) was soo frickin good. I'm not a big tamale eater bc most time I think it's bland and needs a bucket of hot sauce. This one was so full of flavor, large enough to fill me up for lunch and the pork super moist.

But my failed buy was the very small 1/2 ciabatta from Rockenwagner. It was $2! I should have just walked away when the man told me the crazy ass price for a small chunk of bread. But my unwillingness to make a separate trip for bread got the best of me. I got ripped off bc the bread wasn't even as good the Il Fornaio ones at Trader Joe's. =P

Total spending=$6

The Gourmet Tamale Factory
119 N Maclay Ave
San Fernando, CA 91340


Childhood Mortar & Pestle


My friend C gave me this (my first) adorable mortar & pestle. When she was wee with the wee mortar & pestle, she helped her mom smash up cumin seeds. Now I use it to smash up coriander seeds.

{Thanks C. I feel very special} ;)


Slow Food LA: A Taste of Jerez (Sherry)

A bit on the Slow Food organization...
Founded by Carlo Petrini in Italy in 1986, Slow Food is an international association that promotes food and wine culture, but also defends food and agricultural biodiversity worldwide.

It opposes the standardisation of taste, defends the need for consumer information, protects cultural identities tied to food and gastronomic traditions, safeguards foods and cultivation and processing techniques inherited from tradition and defend domestic and wild animal and vegetable species.

Slow Food LA, a local chapter of Slow Food U.S.A., organizes and holds events in and around LA that promotes their philosophy of enjoying and appreciating quality food and wine. A Taste of Jerez (Sherry): The Styles and Traditions of a Neglected Classic Wine, my first Slow Food event, was held at the beautiful Grace restaurant.

Not only was the event thoroughly enjoyable but motivating to hear dedicated individuals speak about the Slow Food philosophy, which I want to integrate more into my life. I was the youngest attendee at 24 years with most attendees being around 40-60 years.

There was one obnoxious lady who was acting like a middle school girl, making oinking noises! Wtf? I didn't appreciate her juvenile behavior but understood why she would do such a tasteless thing. Prosciutto, duck prosciutto, lomo, Spanish almonds, baked figs and 8 different cheese to go with the 8 different sherries.

I don't think I've ever had sherry before this tasting. Sherry has always been a mystery to me. I use sherry vinegar sometimes but what the hell is sherry? Sherry is a fortified wine from the Jerez de la Frontera region of Spain. I read somewhere that back in the days sweet sherry was the proper ladies' drink. Seems very misunderstood considering that sherry is a big part of Spain's culinary culture. I won't try to transfer any of my messy notes onto this post. I don't want to confuse anyone with my super limited knowledge of sherry.

Here are the sherry and cheese pairings (cheese is from Beverly Hills Cheese Store):

San Pantaleo (Italy, Goat)

"La Tradicion Manchego" (Spain, Sheep)

I enjoyed the Fino very much, considering that it was the lightest sherry there. My palate is definitely not trained for the intense fortified flavor.

20 yr Amontillado
Mandarine Provolone (Italy, Cow)

30yr Oloroso
Salers (France, Cow)

This was my favorite cheese that I tried. All I was thinking was "oh my fricking god"-- amazing. It was soft, creamy, nutty and tangy. At this point I was in heaven.

San Jorge (Portugal, Sheep)

Parmagiano "Vaca Rosso" (Italy, Cow

Le Vieux Berger Roquefort (France, Sheep)

The sherries progressed from lightest to richest, with appropriate cheeses to match. The Cream and the Roquefort went so well together. The pairing was pretty amazing. The tang of the blue cheese complemented the creaminess of the sherry very well.

Pedro Ximenez
Le Delice de Bourgogne (France, Cow)

The Pedro Ximenez was very rich and dark and pretty much opaque even when I held my glass up to the light. The texture was syrupy and clung to my tongue. It was delicious. With the triple creme Le Delice de Bourgogne the pairing really blew my mind. This combinations made the most commotion with a lot of "mmm"s and "amazing"s.

My Saturday afternoon was well spent I believe, tasting interesting sherries, eating delicious cheese, wrapping figs with prosciutto, and learning something new in a beautiful setting.

Slow Food
Slow Food LA

Grace Restaurant
7360 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90036


Curried Eggplant and Chickpeas


My first attempt at an Indian dish was completed without a specific recipe and just a few spices and ingredients out of my pantry. The beautiful Indian eggplants I got last weekend was finally put to use before their last hurrah into their decline. I sauteed 1/2 onion and 2 garlic cloves with curry powder, cumin and bashed up coriander seeds (no ginger). I added the diced eggplant and sauteed them for few minutes then added the chickpeas. I added about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of vegetable stock at this point to simmer the ingredients together a lil bit. The eggplant was particularly tough when I was cutting it so I wanted to make sure it absorbed some water and cooked down somewhat. I didn't have any cilantro so I added a stalk of green onion.

Too lazy to make basmati rice, I packed my lunch with white rice. The eggplants were still tough! My mom said their toughness is a result of my leaving them out of the fridge (bc they dry out). Is this correct? I dunno. The skin was so resistant to my knife, I just thought the type of eggplant was to blame. Anyhow, the chickpeas were delicious. With the addition of a few shakes of Congo hot sauce, I nearly put my mouth on fire. Yay.


Surfas: Chef's Paradise


LA streets pretty much go north, south, east and west. Until you get on National Blvd. National has to be my least favorite street bc I get lost on this non-conforming road everytime I exit off it from the 10W. Many trips to Surfas, a restaurant supply store, has ended up with a tour of Culver City which ends with a call to Boy to look up the map on the web. Now if I was smart I would have seen that on their website it tells you to exit off Robertson from the 10W. Durr.

Anyhow I love Surfas. I wouldn't even mind a weekly trip there, although I don't know if I'll be able to keep my wallet closed. I like to walk down the aisles and pick up all sorts of pans, feeling the weight of each one. Carefully look at imported bottles of spices, olive oil, mustard and other gourmet goods. There's an eyeful there. I can spend a whole afternoon there just eye-shopping and making a mental wish list.

Surfas, a family-owned operation, had its humble beginning in 1937 out of an abandoned LA garage. But since then Surfas has become an important source for culinary professionals. They carry commercial equipment, cookware, tools and etc. A few years ago they opened their doors to the public. Lucky us!


It's a place you definitely have to check out. So many great products. Well it's where restaurants shop so it better be good. Once I made the mistake of looking for a food processor there. Of course it was for commercial use and cost over $700! Whoa. But pans, pots and non-commercial items are at good prices. They also sell a lot of white (restauranty) tableware.

Here is my last Surfas loot:

I love the patented Microplane graters. They work so well but you gotta be careful not to nick your finger and fingernails. HP sauce is so good on many things, especially "chips." Also on a soft roll sandwich with bread fish fillet (the frozen kind - I like Whole Foods one), arugula, red onion and mayo - homemade fast food.

I'm not much of a sweets person but I'm down for chocolate anytime. The Vosges' Oaxaca Bar is a Tanzanie bittersweet chocolate with pasilla and guajillo chilies. The chilies hit your tastebuds once the chocolate melts a little bit. It's a good combination with the bittersweet chocolate. At $5 a bar, I had to limit myself to just one. Their website is filled with all sorts of tantalizing chocolate products. It's kind of hard to look at all of em knowing I can only have a few. After all, they are Haut Chocolat.

8825 National Blvd (between Venice and Washington)
Culver City, CA 90232



Mitsuwa Treats: Natural Yeast Bread


I absolutely love going to Japanese markets bc everything is so clean and perfectly stacked. I don't know why I'm so obsessed with perfectly neat things bc I was so messy growing up. I used to get in trouble all the time by my mom to whom I would say "then don't look into my room!" Well, these days I've grown up a little and also lived in really ghetto, dirty apartments with super dirty, messy people. I've mostly reformed thanks to my disgust at other people's dirtiness.

Anyhow, everyone knows how cutely and perfectly adorable all the Japanese crackers, candies, cookies and special breads are packaged. I am a total whore for that. I rarely ever buy any of those things (except for baguettes and whole wheat stuff) but when I goto Mitsuwa or Nijiya I get excited and grab an assortment of stuff. Only to play process of elimination and put most of it back very slowly after deep contemplation.

Last week I had an extended lunch and took off to Mitsuwa to eat and kill some time. After finishing a bento box of Donkatsu for only $4.99, I began to peruse the aisles for anything that might fancy me. That's when I saw the "Natural Yeast Bread". I saw the perfectly shaped fluffy pillow of bread before I even read the super unsexy name. The Chocolate flavor with thin, dark brown lines cutting parallel through it was my first choice. Then the Melon. Melon? Yip, I didn't even know melon was a flavor of bread!

Both were as I expected, fluffy with a refined texture and not too sweet. The very slight presence of the chocolate added just enough sweetness and flavor but the bread still remained the star. The melon was interesting and so much better than I thought it would be. Sweet melon flavor and also a slight melon color in the bread. It didn't taste artificial or too fruity. It seemed as though the chocolate and melon flavors were there just to make you reminisce about that last time you had a good chocolate or bit into a sweet, juicy honeydew. Definitely going back for more of these next time.

A Few Minutes Walk...Marouch


Boy lives only a 2-minute walk from Marouch but we always seem to forget about it when contemplating lunch or dinner destinations. After more than a year of living next to this Lebanese (Armenian & Middle Eastern) restaurant, we walked over there the past weekend expecting very delicious food which I've read many others rave about.


And it was soo good! We got Baba Ghanouge (Mtabal) and Kabab Combination (Lamb, Beef and Chicken) to share for a light dinner before heading out for the night. The nice smokey baba ghanouge and the pita bread went down pretty quickly. We are very susceptible to such addicting appetizer items and cannot stop our hands from reaching for "one more."

From the Kabab Combination I liked the lamb the best. The beef seemed a little dry but the whole dish was great. Stuffing little pockets of pita with bits of meat, rice, onion, yogurt and tahini was... mmmmm. Couldn't stop that either.

And to wash all this down we got a glass of Jallab (raisin & grape juice, honey, rose water, served with pine nuts and raisan). The rosewater really came through and it was refreshing to drink between each stuffed pocket. Although I do not like raisins and pine nuts, they did not impede the pleasure of the other ingredients. I see myself frequenting Marouch a lot more now that they got me hooked.

4905 Santa Monica Blvd

Pantry Raid: Trader Joe's Jalapeno Blue Cornbread Mix


It's much easier to eat healthy when I can afford to go produce shopping at few times a week at Whole Foods. Instead I'm eating whatever I have, which are eggs, rice, freezables and other storable/stored items. This budget crisis has thwarted my get skinny plan, which was already in decline anyways. Don't get me wrong, the food has been delicious and mostly unprocessed, but I miss the freedom of shopping. Like finding a type of cheese I want to try, a bottle of chilled white that would be so refreshing after dinner tonight and delicious impulse items. But I've realized that so many delicious things are very inexpensive to make and that I can really cut down on my unnecessary expenses and save some money.

But for today I am still satisfied because Trader Joe's Jalapeno Blue Cornbread has turned out delicious. The only ingredient I bought was the mix. I used soy milk bc that's what I had at home, 1 egg and some vegetable oil. I was a lil worried bc the mix called for whole milk but it came out great. The jalapenos really come through so you get a nice spiciness with each bite. I baked them in a muffin pan instead of a rectangular baking dish. Much cuter and mobile this way. Love the blue corn color with the browned bits.

I will serve them for a Hollywood Bowl dinner tonight with mango chutney and parmagiano chunks. Boy is responsible for red wine... $0 for me. Yay.

Total cost of non-pantry items=$3 [dinner for two].


Pantry Raid: Curry-Flavored Potato Croquettes


I recently got my car repaired for a whopping two and a half paychecks worth of a bill. So in order to budget I will be eating out of my pantry with the additions of a few affordable groceries. I usually spend around $200-$250 a month on groceries for myself even though living at home. I am trying to cute down to about $150 for this month. And of course my mom buys the Korean food so I will be taking a greater part in eating that. So the first Pantry Raid entree is Curry-Flavored Potato Croquettes.

The only thing I bought for this dish was the potatoes which cost $1.50. For the meat I used my mom's Kirkland Canned Chicken. I was so grossed out when my mom first bought these (which she doesn't cook with anyways) but in the croquette it works fine. The recipe said that canned tuna or salmon will work well too, so why not canned chicken. To go with the croquettes I made cabbage salad with thousand island dressing. The cabbage cost $1.60 and I only used a fourth of it, so 40 cents to be exact. The Boy made some jasmine rice so $0 for me. :)

The croquettes turned out okay. I used regular bread crumbs because I didn't have any panko and shallow fried it bc, well deep-frying uses so much oil. The thought of having to clean, drain or store a large amount of oil seems like too much of a hassle. They look a little bit burned but they tasted fine but panko would definitely be an improvement.

Total cost of non-pantry items=$2.00 [dinner for 2 and bento lunch for 2].

Town and Country {cafe.bakery}


Few months ago I called in to see if Town and Country had any gift certificates available, which they didn't. When I stopped by an hour later the chef immediately got on top of things and made one by hand for me. Although it was a piece of paper xeroxed with their heading and value written by hand, I thought it was very sweet of her to take time to make their very first gift certificate by my request. She was very flattered that I would want to refer my friend to her bakery. While I was waiting I was given refreshing ice water (it was a very hot hot day) and soo delicious crunchy-around-the-edges-but-soft-in-the-middle chocolate chip cookies. Good customer service is very rare so I highly appreciate their efforts to accomodate.


I initially thought that Town and Country was a bread bakery. Although I couldn't get a crusty baguette on my first trip there, I left with a box full of goodies. The Cream Puffs were divine and I love getting an ooze of the cold cream center. I finished two of these before I even left the parking lot.

I tried the Coconut Banana Lime bread upon one of the staff's recommendation and I'm glad I did. The cake was moist and dense from the bananas but lightened by specks of coconut and citrusy lime. Paired with a cold glass of whole milk, this made a delicious snack. The Bran Muffin had a great toasted flavor and served as a perfect breakfast item the next morning.

So four out of four (including the free chocolate chip cookies) plus awesome service... pretty good I think. I need to go back soon for the Cream Puffs especially. They also serve variety of sandwiches, salads and casual food items perfect for dine-in at their cute location or take-out for a comfortable meal at home.

3823 West Sunset Blvd


Farmer's Market Goodies for Oct. 1


It's been a while since I've shopped at the Santa Monica Farmer's Market but Saturday I was diligent and got myself over there around 11. The area was already bustling and busy with drivers and pedestrians and parking as usual at that time took a few loops around the block. It was a beautiful foggy day when I first got there but quickly cleared up within 30 minutes and the sun began to shine through.

I have to be pretty frugal for the next month and a half due to a huge expense item so I tried hard to stick to my list of buys which consisted of potatoes, cabbage and tomato. From the left, I got Russian Butterball Potatoes, Ox Heart Tomato, Indian Eggplant and Pineapple Guava. I couldn't resist the eggplants because they were so beautiful and the pineapple guava intriguing and delicious.

What will I make? First, Curry Potato Croquettes and Cabbage Salad... coming soon.

Din Tai Fung... Finally

shrimp & pork shiaomai

I finally went to Din Tai Fung which has been on my "To Eat" list for so long. Arcadia is pretty far from Mid-Wilshire LA and admittedly I do not get up early enough on the weekends to try to get the earlier, shorter than 1 hour wait that is a common characteristic of the dumpling house. But today I did. Set my alarm at 10 and tried very hard to avoid my "five more minutes...five more minutes" habit that frequently causes my late departure for work. I just kept telling myself "dumplings, get up, dumplings."

Sleepy, hungry and hot, we endured the 40 minute wait with a few iced green teas from next door. As soon as we were seated a metal steamer was plopped on our table full of Juicy Pork Dumplings. Little, bite-sized parcels filled with delicious, moist pork filling. The wait was definitely worth it. I got so busy with those bundles, dipping them in soy sauce and vinegar with ginger, I forgot to take any pictures til the end of the meal.

Next came the Juicy Pork/Crab Dumplings. This was my favorite. Simply delicious. I liked the additional layer of flavor from the crab and thought it went very well with the pork. The Shrimp & Pork Shiaomai were delicious but I thought the shrimp on top of the bundle were little bit overcooked. I liked the presentation however with the pink shrimps on top of a flowering mouth.

Sour & Spicy Soup

By the time we were seated (around 1230) they were already out of the Pork Buns and Small Dumplings with Soup. :( Next time I must wake up even earlier. I read somewhere that the dumplings in soup were delicious. The Sour and Spicy Soup was just okay. It wasn't as sour as I usually have it and it definitely was not spicy. The Shanghai Rice Cake was delicious. The oval shape of the rice cakes is exactly like sliced Korean rice cakes. It was stir-fried with a soy sauce mixture and some greens.

We left very satisfied. I guess now it's time to try the few other top dumpling places and compare, right?

1108 S Baldwin Ave
Arcadia, CA 91007
Din Tai Fung USA