California Donuts, a Hollywood treasure

Donut

Yup, I just wanted to include a glorious photo of a donut to make you drool.

California Donuts, a little gem of a shop hidden in a strip mall in Hollywood, offers a large and classic variety of donuts – glazed, maple glazed, sprinkles, apple fritters, chocolate, cherry-filled, chocolate coconut (oh my!). It’s a mom and pop shop with great service and high-quality desserts (and apparently killer sandwiches, which I plan on trying on my next visit). Biting into one of their donuts and feeling the glaze crack and the sweet maple dissolve in your mouth will make you want to sing in falsetto.

The faded “California Donuts” sign in front of the store is in a surfer font – something you’d expect to see in the opening credits of the 1950s TV show “Gidget.” The parking lot always has one or two police cars; the donuts must be good if police officers are frequently visiting it! The store inside is tiny and nothing to rave home about, but a store is always worth visiting when you’re greeted by a smiling store owner who will you an extra free donut with your $8 dozen.

California Donuts:

5753 Hollywood Blvd.

Los Angeles, CA 90028

(323) 871-0778

Hours:

Monday to Fridays, 4:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Saturdays, 4:00 am to 5:30 p.m.

Sundays, 4:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

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Shrimp and pork wontons

wontons

Forget about meatloaf or warm apple pie; when I think of comfort food, wontons are among the first things that come to mind. Nothing makes me feel better after a long day out in the cold like a hot bowl of chicken broth soup with little packages of joy floating on top, adorned with ribbons of bok-choy or gai-lan (also known as Chinese broccoli). After all, directly translated from Cantonese to English, wonton means “swallowing clouds”, and if made correctly, these heavenly little meat-filled pillows will taste just like that.

A traditional Chinese staple stemming over 1,000 years, wonton styles vary from region to region, all with different fillings from pork to shrimp to vegetables. The versatility of how they’re prepared as well as how they’re eaten is expansive. I usually make a large batch of wontons, freeze them, and then take them out whenever I want to boil them in some soup, boil them without soup to dip in soy sauce, or even just deep fry them.

When I was growing up, it was sort of a family tradition for all of us to sit together, chat and laugh, and wrap wontons. My parents would usually comment on how we were wrapping them incorrectly or putting too much filling in them – giving us perennial adjustments. At the time, I thought they were being overly critical, but now looking back, I think they were just trying to teach us how to do it right, so that the filling wouldn’t explode out of the wrapper when we boiled them. Fair enough. What better way to learn how to do something right than to get told you’re making a mistake?

***

My recipe comes from my father, who makes it seem like making wontons is as easy as riding a bicycle. The marriage of shrimp and pork for this dish is sealed together by a dash of sesame oil and soy sauce with a handful of chopped green onions. Once you get the hang of wrapping them, you’ll find yourself making these wontons quickly.

I find wrapping wontons rather therapeutic (a weird side of me where I enjoy assembly-line sort of work), but the one thing I don’t enjoy very much is deveining shrimp, which should be done. I have to admit that although it’s gotten easier the more times I do it, it still takes me awhile. Don’t be discouraged though and read this tutorial or watch this one (if you need to…because you could be a professional deveiner for all I know!) on how to devein shrimp.

Ingredients:

1  16 oz. package of square wonton wrappers (can be found in your local Asian grocery store) – yields about 45-50 wrappers

1 egg

1/2 lb. of ground pork

1/2 lb. of shrimp, peeled, deveined and chopped

2 – 3 stalks of scallions, thinly chopped

1/2 tbsp of soy sauce

3 tsp of rice vinegar

1 tsp of sesame oil

1 tsp of granulated sugar

pinch of salt

pinch of black pepper

Directions:

1. In a small bowl, lightly beat the egg and set aside.

2. Preparing the filling: In a medium mixing bowl, add the pork, shrimp, scallions, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, sugar, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly using one hand.

3. Wrapping the wontons: There are a few different ways to wrap wontons, but I prefer wrapping them like triangles (the easy way) or wrapping them as the boat style (just one extra step!).

Triangle shape: Put one wonton wrapper in the palm of your hand positioned as a diamond pointing upwards. Put half a tablespoon of filling in the center. (Do not overfill the wonton because they will fall apart when you cook them.) Using a spoon, add a thin layer of egg wash alongside the two top edges of the wrapper. Fold the bottom to the top, forming a triangle, pushing out as much air as possible, and then pressing the edges together to seal it.

Boat style: Perform the steps of the triangle shape. Add egg wash to one of the two side tips and overlap one side over the other. The shape will look like a little boat with a pillow of filling in the center.

Boat style wrapping

Boat style wrapping

4. Repeat folding instructions until all the wrappers have been used. Put wontons in a single layer on a baking sheet until finished.

5. Cook the wontons as desired:

To eat wontons alone without soup: Bring a large pot of water to a boil over low-medium heat. Add the wontons in the water (making sure there is enough room for them to move about freely) and gently stir every couple of minutes (to ensure the wontons don’t stick to the bottom of the pot) for about 5 to 8 minutes. You will know when they’re done when they float to the top. Check the wontons for doneness. When the wontons are done cooking, drain the pot and then and put the wontons in a bowl. Serve with soy sauce for dipping.

To eat wontons in soup: Bring a large pot of water to a boil over low-medium heat. Add the wontons in the water (making sure there is enough room for them to move about freely) and gently stir every couple of minutes (to ensure the wontons don’t stick to the bottom of the pot) for about 5 to 8 minutes. You will know when they’re done when they float to the top. Check the wontons for doneness. When the wontons are done cooking, drain the pot and then and put the wontons in a bowl.

While the wontons are cooking, boil chicken broth with some salt and pepper to taste in another pot over medium heat. Add in some sliced bok-choy or gai-lan in the boiling soup for a few minutes until tender. Ladle the soup and vegetables in a large bowl and then add five or six wontons to each bowl. Garnish with some chopped scallions.

To eat the wontons deep-fried: Heat oil in a deep frying pan to 360 degrees F and add wontons in small batches to the oil. Deep fry until they turn a golden brown, about 2 minutes. Remove the wontons with a slotted spoon and drain the oil on paper towels on a plate.

Notes: 

How to freeze wontons: Wrap a baking sheet with saran wrap. Put each wonton in a single layer on the baking sheet (without overcrowding them so they don’t get stuck together). Leave the baking sheet in the freezer overnight. In the morning, remove the wontons and put them in a bag and keep them in the freezer. Do not defrost the wontons if you want to boil them, but do defrost them if you want to deep fry them.

What to do with excess filling: If you end up with any extra filling, a good way to use it up is to roll about a tablespoon of filling into a ball – sort of like a mini-meatball, and repeat until all the filling is used. You can boil these meatballs in soup or freeze them the same way as you’d freeze wontons to use later.

Happy National Cupcake Day!

cupcake

In observance of National Cupcake Day, I made sure to wear my t-shirt that says “Cupcakes…I’z Eatin’ Them” as I headed over to Los Feliz for a lazy Saturday afternoon of drinking and eating. I had gone to a few bakeries in search for the most delectable cupcake, but a number of them were out of cupcakes by the time I had finally left my house in the late afternoon. (Sadly, I can only blame myself for this.) So, I headed over to Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf for a little red velvet cupcake with cream cheese fix and it did the trick.

The real prize of the day was that I rolled into 1739 Public House – one of my favorite local pubs – for one of the best happy hour deals out there. Every day of the week, including weekends, patrons who order a beer at full price at $6.75 get a free personal cheese pizza. The pizza is surprisingly larger than expected for being free; the marinara sauce is sweet and the thin crust has a cheddar/mozzarella blend so stringy that every time you take a bite, you feel like a magician pulling a string of handkerchiefs out of a hat.

Their list of beers on tap is extensive – over 60 domestic and imported. Your senses will probably never be bored as there is every sport imaginable playing on the dozen or so large flat-screen TVs. (Since I’m not a particularly huge sports fan, it was a nice change of pace to see “Forbidden Planet” playing on one of their TVs today and Leslie Nielsen at age 30!)

Summer is the best time to visit this place, as there is an outdoor patio out front on the sidewalk (great for people watching and groups) and the large windows and doors open up for natural light to fill the bar.

Here is a full list of deals Public House offers:

-Mondays and Tuesdays, any meal on the menu is $7 or less

-Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., $9 brunch meals; $3 Bloody Mary or Mimosa with meal

-Mondays through Saturdays from 3 p.m. – 7 p.m. and Sundays from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., free cheese pizza with any full priced beer (or cocktails over $6.75)

1739 Public House

1739 N. Vermont Blvd.

Los Angeles, CA 90027

http://www.1739PublicHouse.com/

Tinga – muy bueno restaurante

Los Angeles is the hub for all sorts of Mexican food, from my favorite taco stand, Cactus, in Hollywood, to the famous little taco truck, Taco Arizas, in Echo Park. If there are so many Mexican restaurants in the area, then what makes another taco shop stand out in Los Angeles? And for a narrower focus in this post – what vegetarian options are out there besides a bean and cheese burrito?

tingacorn

Tinga is a restaurant that luckily is able to stand out in a different category – the gourmet Mexican taco for foodies. Tinga opened up a couple of years ago on La Brea Ave. as a small, casual sit-down Mexican restaurant with dishes that were inspired by Julia Child’s favorite restaurant in Santa Barbara – La Super Rica.  Soft homemade tortillas and fresh and local ingredients make noticeable differences for the dishes.  Although a little more costly than your average taco, there is something to be said about the quality of the food that makes it worth it.

People have been willing to shell out the extra dollars for Tinga’s food, as the restaurant has grown in popularity, expanding in the past year and taking over the space next door.  The design of the restaurant has improved as well, with the exposed ceiling with lights draped like a wired chandelier.  A large wooden communal table sits at the entrance of the room with potted plants on it. The newly expanded area has a Mod style with wood paneling and circular mirrors adorning the walls. Dark and intimate, yet good for groups, there is always a healthy dose of indie music filling the room.

The modernity of the restaurant reflects the style of the food, which although is centered on tacos, features an array of other traditional, yet contemporary dishes.  One of the best side dishes Tinga serves up is the Elote Especial – a roasted corn dish reminiscent of the Mexican corn on the cob covered in mayonnaise and spices that are sold off of carts pushed on the streets in the summer.  The sweet corn in this dish, however, it cut off the cob and mixed with a kick of lime, poblano puree, chili, and crema.  Highly addictive and the taste is haunting. Try scooping it up with some housemade chips.

Tinga’s quesadillas are all inspired and innovative, yet keep with the  familiar old-fashioned style. The Mushroom Quesadilla is full of Monterey jack cheese and has a spread of wild mushroom pate. The dish doesn’t lack in hearty servings of avocado, salsa and the housemade crema, complimenting the dish and binding it together full of flavor.

tingaqueso

The restaurant excels in another side dish – Arroz Con Crema – a creamy risotto, that although is a little less complex in flavor from the other dishes, is delicious due to its simplicity. There is a comfort food quality to the rice dish, which is topped with salsa verde, pickled onion, and crumbled cojita cheese.

At a first glance, Tinga’s menu may look like a carnivore’s dream-come-true, but there are a variety of vegetarian items that are all creative and full of flavor.  Grab a Mexican coke or a Dirty Horchata– an horchata with two shots of espresso – to compliment the meals.

Tinga

142 S. La Brea Ave.

Los Angeles, CA 90036

Hours:

Mon. – Thu., Sun. – 12 pm – 9 pm

Fri. – 12 pm – 10 pm

Sat. – 11 am – 10 pm

Price range:

$4.50 – $13.50

Website:

http://www.tingabuena.com/

Apple, sausage and herb stuffing

stuffing

Ahh the holidays – a time for the warm scent of cinnamon and mulled wine to waft through the house and tickle our noses, the sweet smokiness of honey-baked ham lingering on our lips, and let us not forget the rolling hills of garlicky mashed potatoes (enough to send any blood-suckers or lovers away) filling our already-stuffed bellies.

All this comfort food makes us quickly forget about any hardships faced throughout the year and brings the year to a delicious close of complete and utter drop-down-to-our-knees acceptance that our diets are on hold until the new year.

For my family, Thanksgiving and Christmas have always been the two holidays of the year where we stop cooking Chinese food for once (albeit as delicious as it is – you can only eat so much). My mother always prepares a 19 to 23-pound perfectly moist and browned crispy-skinned turkey (regardless of how small the guest turnout is) – always basted and never brined. My father prepares a glorious potato salad chock full of honey ham and sliced eggs, leaving the job of making the stuffing up to me.

A few years ago, we stopped stuffing the turkey with bread crumbs after we heard about health concerns involved with doing so. I thought nothing could replace the savory, glistening stuffing that came from a turkey’s cavity, and fought against the idea. But I later found the joys of making stuffing in a 9×12-inch baking dish – complete with a myriad of flavors and ingredients that I normally wouldn’t have added inside a turkey.

I stumbled upon Ina Garten’s recipe for stuffing that combined sweet, spicy and tartness – even bringing in the use of sourdough bread as a welcoming alternative to white bread. The mixture of cranberries, Granny Smith apples and spicy Italian sausage was just what I needed to kick up an old recipe…with a colorful presentation as well!

(Adapted from Ina Garten)

Ingredients:

10 cups 1-inch bread cubes of day-old sourdough bread (1-lb loaf)

8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter

2 cups medium-diced yellow onion (1 large onion)

2 cups medium-dice celery (4 stalks)

2 Granny Smith apples, unpeeled, cored and large-diced

2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

2 tablespoons chopped rosemary

2 tablespoons chopped sage

1 tbsp kosher salt

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 lb spicy Italian sausage, casings removed

2 cups chicken stock

1 cup dried cranberries

*Note: I bought a sliced loaf of sourdough bread, let that sit out for a day, and cut that into cubes. It was definitely a time-saver having pre-sliced bread and didn’t affect the texture at all.

Directions:

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.

Place the bread cubes in a single layer on a sheet pan and bake for 7-10 minutes. Raise the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Remove the bread cubes to a very large bowl.

Meanwhile, in a large saute pan, melt the butter and add the onions, celery, apples, herbs, salt and pepper. Saute over medium heat for 10 minutes, until the vegetables are softened. Add to the bread cubes.

In the same saute pan, cook the sausage over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until browned and cooked through, breaking up the sausage with a fork while cooking. Add to the bread cubes and vegetables.

Add the chicken stock and cranberries to the mixture, mix well, and pour into a 9 by 12-inch baking dish. Bake for 30 minutes, until browned on top and hot in the middle. Serve warm.

Note: The stuffing can be made up to a day in advance and left in the refrigerator until ready to be baked.