Paella

This week was the first in years that my whole immediate family has spent more than 1 or 2 days together. It has been great, lots of laughs, lots of catching up, and lots of great food. One of the things that really brings us all together is eating and cooking. For as long as I can remember we have been spending the majority of our time in the kitchen sharing recipes and tips, and creating wonderful dishes.

One thing that my mom really instilled in us was to make everything (or at least try) from scratch. This has been a wonderful skill and hobby to have because it made us appreciate the fruits of our labor so much more than just going out to eat.

This weekend we decided to make Paella, one of my all time favorite dishes. There is something so comforting about the creamy saffron rice coupled with juicy sweet shrimp and spicy sausages. I have yet to find a restaurant in Los Angeles that can replicate what we can make at home. I gave it an honest try at Artisan House in Downtown LA, but was greatly disappointed by the lackluster amount of seafood and the bland rice. The closest I have come is in a great restaurant in Portland, Oregon called El Toro Bravo. Here the seafood is extremely fresh and there is plenty of it to satisfy at least two people. The rice is nicely seasoned with just the right amount of saffron.

The thing I love about Paella is that you can really add whatever protein you want. You can play around with different types of fish and shellfish, different types of sausages, you can add chicken; the combinations are really endless. For our Paella we chose to use spicy pork sausages, browned chicken legs, and big juicy prawns. We also used homemade chicken broth that made the flavors of the dish much more complicated and rich.

You can also play around with the types of vegetables that you add; you can add bell peppers, onions, peas, and so on. We chose to use roasted red bell peppers and summer peas.

Paella is also a great dish that pairs beautifully with a variety of different wines. Based on which protein you use, you can try it with pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc, vino verde and other dry white wines or Rose. We chose to pair it with a grenache rose that we bought from margerum winery in Santa Barbara, very light and crisp, and went great with the dish. Overall a great meal spent with my favorite people; I couldn’t ask for anything better.

Paella (4-6 generous servings)

2 cups arborio rice

4 cups chicken broth

2 generous tablespoons garlic

1 1/2 tsp organic saffron. I suggest you not skimp on this ingredient and splurge on the good stuff.

2 tablespoons sambal

1tbs  salt

2 tsp pepper

1 lb shrimp

1/2 lb chicken, browned but not cooked all the way

2 spicy pork sausages, sliced and browned

1 cup summer peas

1/2 cup roasted bell pepper, sliced

Preheat the oven to 350 F. In a large skillet cook the rice with the garlic and saffron over medium heat for about 5 minutes to help the rice cook faster and the saffron to start developing its flavor. Brown the chicken and the sausages just enough to get some color but not to cook all the way. Place the rice in a large paella pan, or large round pan, and pour the chicken broth over it. Place the chicken, shrimp, sausages, peas, and bell pepper over the rice. Spoon sambal over rice/seafood mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Using your hands or a spatula mix everything together evenly. Cover with aluminum foil and place in the oven for about 70 minutes, check if the rice is cooked all the way (it should be soft like risotto). If it is not, pop it in the oven for another 5-10 minutes.

Summer Bounty

One of the reasons I love summer is all of the beautiful and delicious produce that is available. Watermelons, peaches, tomatoes, plums, etc. There is so much flavor and color that brings food alive that makes cooking fun and enjoyable.

Tonight we decided to make a lovely watermelon and Farro salad, heirloom tomato and mozzarella caprese, and to finish it off fresh strawberry juice. Even though I am not vegetarian by any means, Korean BBQ is one of my all time favorites, I enjoy a good healthy, veggie friendly meal every once in a while.

Farro is perfect for a hearty vegetarian salad because it has tons of protein, a pleasant  nutty flavor and pairs wonderfully with fruits and vegetables. I decided to try it with fresh watermelon, summer peas, cilantro, chives from the garden and parmesan cheese. The result: a delectable and satisfying salad that I would definitely try again.

The caprese is easy to make and is great with heirloom tomatoes. Top it off with a nice grassy olive oil, a sweet balsamic, a little sea salt and pepper and voila! You have a luscious salad that pairs nicely with a glass of grenache rose.

Lastly to make the strawberry juice, cook about 1 pound of strawberries with a cup of sugar on low heat for a couple of hours until the juice starts to separate from the fruit. Strain the juice and serve chilled (or with a shot of tequilla to make strawberry margaritas). Tomorrow I am tackling the final phase of the croissants, I’ll be sure to keep you posted!

Farro Salad:

1 cup watermelon cubed

1 cup cooked Farro

1/4 c cilantro finely diced

1 c cooked summer peas

1 tbsp chives

2 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

juice from 1 lime

1/4 parmesan cheese

Mix all ingredients in medium bowl, serve and enjoy.

 

Caprese Salad:

1 pound heirloom tomatoes, sliced

1 large ball mozzarella, sliced

2 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp balsamic vinaigrette

1 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

2 tbs basil, fine chiffonade

1 tsp chives, very finely cut

Place tomatoes and mozzarella evenly onto plate. Pour oil and balsamic over them. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle basil and chives.

 

Alegrias

This week I have been on a little baking spree. After I made the brownies I was inspired and motivated to start baking again for fun. I wanted to do something that I have never done before so that I could challenge myself and learn something new.

I have tons and tons of baking books and hundreds of recipes, but there is one that has been calling at me for a while, it’s called “My Sweet Mexico” by Fany Gerson. What I like about this book is that it has really authentic recipes for all of my favorite childhood treats. It has beautiful pictures and very detailed instructions. It also gives you lots of information about the different ingredients and where to find them.

I chose to make what are called Alegrias, which are Amaranth “Happiness” Candies (although I would classify them more as a cookie). I remember being young in Mexico and eating these straight from the markets in Downtown Mexico City. They are wonderfully sweet, full of nuts and dried fruit, and have a nice crunchy yet chewy texture.

They are also really easy to make. They only hard part is puffing the amaranth, which is an ancient seed from the Pre-Hispanic times. Make sure you use a hot skillet and do not put oil in the pan, I made this mistake and it was disastrous. Use a wooden spoon to move the seeds around in the skillet and allow them to pop like pop corn. Be careful not to burn your eyes! Also do them in small batches because they tend to burn quite easily.

I adapted the recipe by changing the types of nuts and dried fruit. I would also suggest adding chocolate chips for a nice flavor combination. I used cranberries, roasted almonds that are roasted with Bragg liquid amino, toasted pumpkin seeds and hazelnuts. It had a nice sweet and savory combination that went really well with the sweetened amaranth. Here is the recipe:

1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts

1/2 cup toasted pumpkin seeds

1/2 cup roasted almonds

1/2 cup cranberries

8 ounces brown sugar

1/2 cup honey

1/2 tsp lemon juice

4 ounces puffed amaranth seeds.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread the nuts and fruit onto the prepared pan. Cook the brown sugar, honey and lemon juice in a medium pot over medium heat. Cook until the sugar dissolves and the mixture has thickened a bit. Take off the heat and add the puffed amaranth seeds. Stir well to make sure that everything is evenly mixed. Pour over the nuts and fruits and using your hands (I suggest using gloves) press firmly down to spread evenly. Make sure that the amaranth mixture is very well compacted. You can moisten your hands if it is getting too sticky. Allow to cool completely, at least 40 minutes, and invert onto a cutting board. Using a sharp knife cut into desired shapes and sizes. Wrap whatever you are not going to eat in a tightly sealed container.

Sushi Gen

Ah glorious Sushi Gen.

When I first moved to Los Angeles to pursue my career in food, Cameron would take me to another great Sushi spot in little Tokyo called Hama. This was when I discovered the wonders of real authentic Sushi, not deep-fried and filled with imitation crab, which is what I was used to. One night, when Hama was completely booked we decided to check out Sushi Gen, which thankfully had room for two at the bar. Little did we know, it would soon become one of our favorite spots.

Sushi Gen offers what I think to be the best Sushi . We have been to Nobu in New York, and Sushi Nozawa in LA, both very highly regarded Sushi restaurants, and both agreed that Sushi Gen takes the prize. The fish is extraordinarily fresh and the rice is flawlessly prepared.

The standouts are: the Spanish and Japanese mackerel, both unique in their own flavors and are served with a dash of ponzu sauce and a little sprinkle of scallions. The sweet shrimp, which is raw and takes some time getting used to the texture, is served plain on top of the rice and comes with either the fried head, or a miso soup with the head. The sardine,which has a beautiful phosphorescent color and a mild saltness. The scallop, which literally melts in your mouth and has a unique sweetness to it. The snapper, which is served with a little sliver of lemon and a hint of salt. The salmon skin hand-roll, picture salmon jerky wrapped with warm rice and pickled vegetables, one of my personal favorites. The salmon roe, which pop in your mouth and pair excellently with the rice. The list could go on and on; there are so many different types of sushi and requires that you go in with an open mind.

The service is extraordinary. Once you become a regular, the guys working at the bar will greet you as if you were one of them. They really take care of you and have some of the most skilled hands I have ever seen. I highly, highly recommend you check out Sushi Gen, and if you have to wait for a seat, go have a beer at Bar C, which is just a couple doors down.

Eat, Drink, Americano.

Yes folks, this is the name of the restaurant. Downtown LA has had a huge infestation of “urban-chic” restaurants, Industriel, Urbano, Towne, the list goes on.  As I have mentioned before, I am so happy that downtown is getting more “user-friendly”, honestly I am just sick and tired of the same shit over and over again.

My initial thoughts of Eat, Drink, Americano were that it was going to be the same as all the other mediocre restaurants that claim to be serving “urban farm food”.  However, I was somewhat pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t a huge, pretentious restaurant catering to the hipsters. Instead, it is a small restaurant that has cool drawings on the walls and unique family-style picnic tables. It has a great ambiance that is friendly and welcoming and doesn’t make you feel self-conscious about your outfit choice (which might be just a me problem).

The menu is really small and the staff is quite friendly and knowledgeable about the wine selection. One thing that was pretty disappointing was the portion size of the chop board, which we paid  5 for $25. There is literally just enough of each for each person to have one bite and pass it on. This is fine if money is not an issue or if you are not really starving and this is all you order. But for $25 I was expecting  generous amount of meats and cheeses, and boy was I disappointed.

The ceviche is quite good, which says something as you know I am a ceviche connoisseur. The fish is fresh, the marinade is refreshing, and the portion size is perfect.

We also tried the mushroom and egg, which was served warm in a skillet  The egg was a little too underdone for my personal taste, creating an overwhelming eggy flavor that took over the delicacy mushrooms.

Next, we had the halibut tempura and romescu sauce, a nice take on fish and chips. The fish was nicely fried, not too greasy, flavorful batter. The romescu sauce, which is a nut based sauce, reminded me of hummus in consistency and had a pleasant tomato flavor that did not overwhelm the seasoning of the fish.

Lastly, we tried the provolone, mango chutney and arugula flatbread. This was the winner for me. The flatbread was nice and chewy, not thick and dense. The flavor combination of the provolone, mango and arugula made perfect sense; salty,sweet and bitter all balanced with the texture of the flatbread.

Overall, it was a pleasant meal. What I mostly enjoyed was the ambience, a nice place to come have a light meal with a nice glass of wine. I will definitely return to Eat, Drink, Americano to try the rest of the menu and to drink more wine.

Renaud’s Patisserie

After working at Bottega Louie in Los Angeles, which serves classic French pastries and has extraordinarily high standards for perfection, I can truly appreciate the mastership of pastries that Chef Renaud displays in his beautiful yet unassuming patisserie located in Santa Barbara.

For those of you who have gone to Bottega Louie, you know that it is a very typical LA establishment; really loud music, attractive waiters, over-priced cocktails, and so-so food. However, their pastry program is outstanding. The amount of production is overwhelming and quite impressive. They have a full bread program, a massive amount of French Macarons (they make 40,000 a week, I know this because this is what I did while I was there), croissants and other breakfast pastries, and a full case of absolutely stunning dessert pastries.

Renaud’s patisserie is quite different from Bottega in so much as the main clientele are significantly older, the music is calming and french, and the food is simple, yet elegant. The pastries are ornate, and artfully presented. With skillfully cut strawberries placed at just the right angle and raspberries organized in absolute symmetry, Renaud clearly knows and understands French Pastries and the demand for perfection, while also catering to the Santa Barbara crowd.

The best part about Renaud’s, which I can honestly say trumps Bottega Louie, is in the laminated doughs, aka. croissants, pain au chocolate, etc. The croissants have just the right amount of butter; you can taste the quality of the butter in your mouth, and doesn’t feel dense or chewy. There are beautiful pockets of air on the inside, indicating that the dough and the butter were properly mixed together to create that nice crispy and light texture. The chocolate that they use is not too sweet, and not too bitter and melts wonderfully in your mouth. I have tried to find the perfect croissant for awhile and can truthfully say that Renaud’s croissant is a top contender. This week my goal is to recreate the croissants and pain au chocolate; stay tuned for that!

I highly recommend checking out Renaud’s if you are ever in the Santa Barbara area and make sure you get there early because the croissants sell out pretty quickly!

Tcho: So Hot Right Now

I don’t know if any of you have had the pleasure of tasting Tcho Chocolate. Whatever you are doing, stop right now, go to the Tcho website, and do yourself a favor by ordering some chocolate.

Tcho is an American owned company located in San Fransisco who produce some of the most innovative chocolate products today. They are really focused on providing a clean and pure chocolate flavor by doing extensive research and development.

According to the website, “Extraordinary is re-imagining what it means to taste chocolate, as represented by our dark and milk Flavor Wheels. Because chocolate isn’t just one flavor, savoring chocolate is a journey for your intellect and emotions, as well as your senses.” (Tcho.Com)

One of the things I love about their chocolate is that you can taste the richness and the “terroir” of the cocoa beans that they use (all fair-trade of course). In the “fruity”, which is 68% chocolate, you can taste hints of cherries, or cranberries, without them adding flavorings to any of their chocolate. Similarly the “citrus”, which is 67%, has hints of lemon and orange, without being really in your face (again because the flavor comes from the bean itself) The milk chocolate , 39 %, melts in your mouth in such a glorious, delicate way that it almost makes you want to take a nap and dream about it.

The only down side is, if you want to bake with it, you have to make sure that it is a predominantly chocolate dessert, eg. flourless chocolate cake. Because this chocolate is so exquisite, it would be a shame for it to get lost in a dessert or pastry in which chocolate is hardly a side note, rather than the star.

Trendy Coffee

For those of you who are into artisan foods  have surely noticed an increase in goods that are being locally handcrafted and marketed to fashionably hip and socially aware consumers. For example, intelligentsia  or stumptown coffee company were the pioneers in revolutionizing the way we consume coffee. While I believe their intentions were to produce a much more sustainable product, it  seemed to have also turned coffee drinking into somewhat of a fashion statement. If you step into any one of these hip, local coffee shops you will see hipsters drinking coffee using the “pour over” method or the vacuum coffee makers, which claim to produce a cleaner, crisper cup o’ joe.

I decided to give it a go at the Republic of Pie, located in North Hollywood, which serves some pretty damn good pies and actually a very good cup of coffee. I ordered a soy latte and Cameron ordered a large “pour-over” coffee. It was hard to tell if the coffee itself was really good (they serve intelligentsia) or if it was in fact the pour-over method that made a big difference. I got distracted by the guy who was preparing our coffee, who was acted as if he was a “coffeeologist” (and yes he had a mustache), and gave us a huge lecture about why this method was the best.

All in all, I do prefer coffees like intelligentsia or stumptown over huge corporate companies like Starbucks or Peet’s. I just hope that like many fashion/food trends which seem to come and go, we continue to be more aware of our social and environmental impacts when it comes to consuming food, rather than move on to the next hot thing.

Death and Brownies

One of my mother’s dearest friends recently lost her husband  to a very aggressive form of cancer. I had the opportunity to meet him and am saddened that he is no longer with us. Grief in my opinion, is the worst kind of emotion. It is painful, it is frustrating, it is ugly. I have sadly lost a few people in my life, but cannot imagine the pain she must be feeling.

She is one of the kindest, strongest, and most generous people I have had the pleasure to meet and was happy/nervous to find out she was coming to have dinner at my parents house. She is the type of woman who bakes dozens of cookies for you for the holidays, makes beautiful jewelry, and has not a single bad bone in her body.

I have to be real and admit that I have not baked for pleasure in a very long time. Baking at home after 8-10 hours of doing it for a living is the last thing I want to do. But as soon as I found out she was coming over, my first instinct was: brownies. This is one of the few ways I know how to express my emotions, whether it’s for dealing with the death of a loved one or the birth of a baby. Baking is how I share my love, and tonight, she needs all the love she can get. I decided to bake the brownies out of my favorite baking book, Baking Illustrated, and was surprised at how much better it made me feel. I hope that she will enjoy these brownies as much as I enjoyed making them.

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My Obssession with Ceviche

Besides sushi, ceviche is one of my all time favorite foods; I have a strange affinity for very acidic food and a true love for all things seafood.  My weakness for ceviche probably comes from my years spent in the coast of Mexico; Ixtapa, Puerto Vallarta, Cabo San Lucas, where I was able to sample some of the best of the best, with the freshest fish and the perfect balance of lime juice, onions, cilantro, and tomatoes . It wasn’t until a few years ago where I had the opportunity to sample Peruvian ceviche, which to my understanding is where it originated from, at one of Portland’s best restaurants, Andina. Peruvian ceviche differs from Mexican ceviche in that they usually add potatoes to balance out the heat as well as some kind of lettuce, usually butter lettuce.

After I had tried this version, I was instantly hooked and on a mission to find something like that here in LA. Thanks to a random night of being driven by a Peruvian cab driver, we were sent to Mario‘s Peruvian. It is a very unassuming place that really has no sense of style whatsoever but that’s not why you go, you go because the food is incredible and extremely satisfying. After waiting about an hour for a table, totally worth it, we sat down and started stuffing our faces with the fluffy and warm white bread that you smother with a tangy green sauce called huacatay, made with; aji, huacatay (a Peruvian plant), oil, rocoto perper and salt. Truly addicting. We decided to order the ceviche mixto, which came with fish, shrimp, squid, and octopus. It is cooked in the lemon juice with onions and spices and served with boiled potatoes. The spices brought me straight to a little village in Peru, I just couldn’t get enough. It was absolutely balanced with just the right amount of acidity that was complemented with the sweetness of the seafood. The seafood had a nice soft texture, not chewy like in other ceviches I have tried. I didn’t feel that it was too spicy for my personal taste, but I can see why the potatoes might be necessary for those who can’t handle heat.

Once we got home I was determined to make my own version of ceviche to see how it could even begin to compare to Mario’s. I added a little twist by adding some fresh peach that we had just gotten from our vegetable box of the week. Considering we finished the whole thing in one sitting, I think it was pretty damn good! Here is the recipe:

1 pound Shrimp, peeled,  cut into small pieces

Juice of 8 limes (more or less depending on how acidic you want it)

1 tomato, cut into small cubes

1/4 c cilantro, finely cut

1/2 onion, cut into small cubes

2 tsp salt

1tsp pepper

1 peach, not ripe, cut into small cubes

2 tsp jalapeno, cut into very small pieces

Place all ingredients into a large bowl, mix well (make sure you wash your hands after or else the jalapeno will most likely get in your eye) and let sit for at least 4 hours in the refrigerator.If you have time, give it a good stir everyone in a while to make sure the flavors are distributed evenly Serve with your favorite chips and a margarita or two!

   This is a Mexican ceviche from another great place called Picante. I told you I am obssessed!