Sunday, November 30, 2008

Great Success

I'm happy to report that my Thanksgiving Brussels sprouts were a great success. I've made it my mission the past few years to contribute a green to the turkey day table -- something to cut through the heavy, goopy starchfest that dominates (not that I don't love the heavy, goopy starches!). Last year, I did Brussels sprouts, in an attempt to convert the people who still give the cute little guys dirty looks as the words "vile green slimeballs" run through their heads. But I failed -- they were undercooked and just not that good.

But this year was a win! I took inspiration from a couple recipes, then simplified and added my own twists. I knew the key was to brown the little guys, bringing out the sweetness in their outer leaves, but for the technical details of making this happen, I consulted a recipe from David Chang, of the crazy popular Momofuku restaurants in New York (in fact, that whole recipe, while not very evocative of Thanksgiving, looks amazing. I'll have to try it another time). He didn't let me down: 45 minutes at 450 degrees may sound extreme, but it's perfect. And from this Smitten Kitchen recipe, I passed on the goopy veloute sauce, but took the brown butter: after all, it's one of the most delicious flavors in the world. I added hazelnuts and sage -- I love them both with brown butter -- and there we have it. As promised, here's the recipe.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Brown Butter and Sage

You can make this ahead, then reheat it in a warm oven, uncovered, for about fifteen minutes. Next time, I'm going to try pecans instead of hazelnuts.

3 lb Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed, halved lengthwise
olive oil
salt and pepper
1-1/2 sticks ( 3/4 cup) butter
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
about 10 sage leaves, thinly sliced
3/4 cup roasted hazelnuts

Preheat oven to 450F. In a large baking pan, toss Brussels sprouts with olive oil, salt, pepper, and a light sprinkling of sugar. Arrange them cut side down, and roast until outer leaves are well browned and sprouts are fork-tender throughout, around 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until it has a medium-brown color and smells toasted. Stir in shallots and sage and cook for one more minute. Add hazelnuts, cook one minute more, then remove from heat.

Toss roasted sprouts with brown butter mixture in a large bowl. Adjust seasoning.

Makes about 10 servings.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Brussels Sprouts: A Public Service Announcement

I've been having a really hard time finding Brussels sprouts, but I found them! The Hollywood Farmers' Market was slim pickings on Sunday -- in fact, all that typical fall stuff, like sweet potatoes and squashes was sort of slim, and the abundance of corn, strawberries, tomatoes in the middle of November was just depressing. Whole Foods had some, but not that many, and of course they were crazy expensive, and not that pretty. At Golden Farms, my local (to work) Armenian cheap produce market in Glendale, they were amazingly cheap at 89 cents a pound, but they were giant and haggard.

But in the nick of time, I've found the promised land of Brussels sprouts, and it's not even in Belgium (nar nar). The FarmBoy stand at the Fairfax Farmers' Market has a huge thing of Brussels sprouts, 1.99 a pound, and they are wee, and green, and the leaves are tightly wrapped. So, go get some!

And if mine turn out delicious tomorrow, I'll share the recipe. I'm kind of making it up, so we'll see how it goes.. but it involves brown butter, so how can it really be bad?

[thanks to flickrich for the photo]

Sunday, November 23, 2008

maybe if i put it here, i'll actually read them

books to read:

about alice -- you read calvin trillin and you think to yourself, man, this guy is just so lovable. his love affair with his wife alice is legendary.
bowl of cherries -- mcsweeneys. the first novel of a ninety-year-old man. supposed to be awesome
consider the lobster -- i never read anything by david foster wallace. this one has an essay about a grammar dictionary. clearly he was a man after my own heart.
temple grandin -- she's the foremost expert on humane slaughter, and she has autism. i want more information.
the new pinker one -- a new language one!
the new oliver sacks book -- 'tales of music and the brain'. um, hello?

Monday, November 17, 2008

11 in 11: CHINA!

Picture it: on the eleventh day of the eleventh month*, for eleven hours, starting at eleven AM, you go to 11 eateries that, according to the rules of 11 in 11 are "either emblematic of a nation's cuisine OR significant to Los Angeles". Crazy? Maybe. Amazing? Absolutely.

My dear friend Jason Bernstein, occasional AKOY contributor and soon-to-be restaurateur, has been holding down 11 in 11 for the past 5 years along with his meticulously organized cousin Mark Flaisher, the brains behind Jason's formidable brawn. I've been doing this madness with them for the last 3 years, and it's always awesome. This year, they joined forces with another mighty eater, our boy Noah of Man Bites World. Noah's been doing a different country's food every day for the last 2 months, so in a synergy not seen since someone put chocolate in my peanut butter, yesterday was 11chINa11, an epic day of Chinese eating.

how to become a folk hero, lesson one: shades indoors

This also marks the year when 11 in 11 became a media darling: among the 30 or so random people that came in and out of our crew throughout the day were Lesley Balla, editor of Eater LA, and Jeff Miller, editor of Thrillist LA, chilling and chowing until the last bite and sip. Considering I spend way too much time every day reading their writing, (hitting the refresh button 70 times a day in Lesley's case), it was quite exciting to put real live people to the words, especially people as warm and down to earth as these two. In fact, the entire crew was great, and when we weren't stuffing our faces, we were laughing giddily much of the day.

You can read Noah's detailed account here, but I'll give my short-attention-span version. Oh, and it turns out my attention span is so short that I didn't start the day until stop number 5. Here we go...

UPDATE: Here's Lesley's post on Eater. Now, here we go really...

  1. China Islamic
Or, "I'm not sure what it is, but I know it's not pork." I've been wanting to go to this place for years, as I've been fascinated by the Muslim-Chinese mashup that is Western China cuisine since a friend described their "big, slurpy noodles, tiny spicy kebabs, salty breads, and a dish that is only known as 'Big Plate Chicken'". Much of what we ended up ordering, rushed as the kitchen was about to close, was typical 'fortune-cookie' Chinese dishes, though without a piggie in sight. But the knife-cut noodles were just as big and slurpy as I'd hope, and an entire lamb section on the menu is intriguing enough to pull me back to the place.

knife cut noodles: they're slurpy

Geeky culture note: Islamic calligraphy on Chinese scrolls. Rad, and also beautiful.
  1. Yung Ho King Tou Chiang
no really, they're crullers.

This place was touted to us as doughnuts and soy milk. I was thinking sweet fried dough and maybe some delicious beverage like the roasted sesame soy milk I've had at Viet's. Silly me. While the tiny bakery was totally sweet and accommodating to our raucous takeover despite a near-hopeless language barrier, their offerings left us, well, hungry.

Forest likes soy milk.

Soy milk came in bowls (are we supposed to lap like a little kitten?), and tasted like the liquid surrounding packaged tofu. Crullers were greasy dowels of fried dough, not sweet, not savory, just extremely fried. Cruller omelet? Take two of those dowels and wrap them in a fried egg. Salted cruller roll? Heavily salt the dowel, smush on some sticky rice, saran wrap the sucker. The one redeeming item was warm silken tofu in a sweet ginger broth with boiled peanuts -- a big bowl of cozy.

No. Like, reeeeelly likes.

  1. Banh Mi and Che Cali
hi, i'm blob

It's not Chinese, but it was across the street from the cruller place and delicious, so we stopped in. Aside from shockingly cheap Vietnamese sandwiches, freshly made summer rolls, and much more, they had baby 'tacos' made from sweet rice and coconut -- just precious --, and mung bean black sesame mochi: slimey black blobs that reminded me of the slop at the dinner table that burbles right off the plate in Better Off Dead, but were oddly delicious -- to me, anyway.

cutest tacos ever

  1. Lu Din Gee Cafe
Peking duck. Duck feet (No, really. And I ate some. And it was good.). Duck soup. Blurry picture.

Peking pancakes in tortilla container. I love Los Angeles
  1. Half & Half Tea House
Witness the glory of the brick!

I think this was my favorite stop. I wish it was walking distance from my apartment. Tucked in a supermarket shopping center, it's a cozy teashop with super-friendly young servers, funky glassware, and the miracle that is Brick Toast. Take a thick square of white bread (the "brick"), spread both sides with butter, top it with something delicious like almond cream or caramel (or tuna, if you prefer), toast it in the oven until the it's browned on top, soft in the middle, has the sweet aroma of buttered popcorn, and is utterly delicious.

A mountain of brown sugar shave ice with sweetened condensed milk, boba, egg custard, and more was another highlight, and all the milk teas, hot and cold, were also nice. None of these can compare, though, to the culinary paradox that is honey, plum, and tomato juice. What does it taste like? Confusion.

tomato-honey-plum juice will Scramble Your Face.

  1. Yunnan Garden
perfectly cooked snow pea tendrils in the back there

Not sure what the cultural significance of this one was, but we managed to get our waiter to do one of those, "Are you sure you want to order that, gringo?" double takes, so I was pleased. The dish in question was fish cubes with corn and pine nuts. Random, but turned out to have a pretty simple flavor profile that appealed to the five-year-old in all of us. Good thing too, as everything else on the table was way too spicy for Baby Tannaz. But I ate it all anyway and didn't even cry.

  1. Jay Dee Cafe
The tradition of 11 in 11 is to end the night at a bar. When we got to Cotton Candy, our original plan for the end of the line, we realized the sleepy wine-and-beer-only hotpot joint wasn't nearly jovial enough to contain our growing spazziness. Thankfully, our new SGV friend Tony came to the rescue and sent us to Jay Dee Cafe. When we walked in, the jukebox was playing honky-tonk and a surly woman at the bar told us we looked like we just rolled off a film set. Also, there was a moose head on the wall and drinks were $3.50. Jackpot.

By the end of the night, we all knew each other's life stories, new food adventures had been plotted, and there was just about enough goodwill bouncing off of us that, if used wisely, might have brought world peace. Love is in the air, friends, and so I offer you, a portrait collage of some of the lovely 11 in 11 kids that made it through the home stretch.

* OK I know it was actually the 15th. But, like, branding, OK?
** Thanks to Mark Flaisher for his smooth photographic stylings on a few of these pics.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Puerto Vallarta: Fish Tacos in Paradise

Oh friends, when I started writing this post early this morning, I felt a little longing to go back to the paradise dreamworld that is Puerto Vallarta, if only to escape my life here for a little bit longer. But now, back from a coffee then brunch with a steady stream of awesome laughter over stupid/amazing jokes on a perfect sunny-in-November LA day where all the friends seemed especially ebullient, I feel completely satisfied where I am (more on that later).

But that doesn't take away from the deliciousness of the trip. You see, whenever I'm asked the question "if you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose?" I always have the same response: somewhere beachy and Spanish-speaking.

I think I found it.

In the depths of crazy overtime and 6-day work weeks, I sneaked away for five days, with some of my favorite cousins, to Mexico. Our hotel pool was 4 steps away from its own beach, the water was turqoise and clear, warm like a bathtub, with mellow waves that might rock you to sleep. I indulged on my own airy and bright room, and lying in that crisp white bed, lulled to sleep by waves hitting the shore outside my window, was more relaxation that I could have asked for.

Our food choices on the trip were fairly simple. We spent the majority of our trip splayed out by the pool, so we ate many 'meals' at the bar, sitting on the tile stools inside the pool. Big fresh tortilla chips and ample mounds of creamy guacamole (simple and perfect: avocado, sweet onion, lime, salt. the end.) were our daily bread. I had my share of margaritas -- really the drink that makes me happiest in the world -- but I mixed it up now and then with a michelada, a Mexican specialty that makes beer into what I can only describe as a savory beer-garita.

To make a michelada, they salt the rim of a beer stein, then squeeze in lime juice, and add Worcestershire and Maggi seasoning. Add ice, pour in beer, stick in a straw. A little odd, but cool and satisfying in a somewhat bloody-mary sort of way.

Hmm, what else can I tell you about the food? Well, breakfast was amazing: mild, delicious coffee with cream that's actually cream-colored, a plate of fresh cut fruit, granola, luscious yogurt, and on good days, a basket filled with a variety of pan dulce. The first day I was there, a Sunday, I got a special treat: a sweet bread specked with whole cloves, baked special for the Day of the Dead, the Mexican holiday when people celebrate the lives of loved ones they've lost.

I was in Mexico, and I was on the coast, so of course there were fish tacos and ceviche. Both were made with what Guillermo, the bar guy, called 'blanco de basa', which he translated as mahi-mahi (though I have my doubts). Both were delicious. The tacos weren't the deep-fried, cabbagy baja monstrosities we see here, but rather big cubes of fish lightly sauteed with onions and peppers over corn tortillas, served of course, with copious amounts of guacamole. The ceviche tasted fresh and citrusy -- which is to say, just right.

We did manage to venture into town for a short stint: my cousin Sam and I left the others to bronze all day and hopped on the bright green Mismaloya bus. Between admiring the awesome public art every few steps down the malecon -- Puerto Vallarta's beach boardwalk -- and freaking out over extremely perilous street performances involving swinging upside-down on a rope hanging from a spinning pole hundreds of feet high and precariously close to a stone wall, while playing a tiny flute and drum at the same time, we encountered marvels like the McDonald's 'pay de queso': take your familiar apple pie and swap out the filling with sweet creamy cheese. Globalization-licious! We also stopped at a street cart for some heavily-pierced kid to sell us a giant coconut macaroon. He had two varieties: one was the the pale color we're used to here, but we opted for the one that a much darker brown, I'm guessing due either to caramelizing the sugar, or using piloncillo, or something along those lines. It had a deep burnt-sugar flavor, and as soon as we inhaled the thing, we regretted not getting two.

There was probably much more of the city we could have explored, foodwise and otherwise, but this particular trip was all about blissful vegetating. And besides, knowing how much more there is to see just means I'll have revisit Puerto Vallarta, my own little 'somewhere beachy and Spanish-speaking'. Sadly, said revisit can not happen tomorrow. Que lástima.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Prop 2 Update

hi guys, i'm on vacation so i'll make this short, but i wanted to say that i did make a decision on prop 2, i voted yes on it, i think you should too. here's a post from a blog on that really swayed me. that's it, happy monday, catch ya later!

(the original indecision)

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Greetings from....

Puerto Vallarta! (well, technically Mismaloya.) Taking a minivacation, can't find the punctuation I want on the keyboard, only been here a few hours and already had fish tacos (while staring directly at the beach). So far, so good. Back next week!