Black bean and olive couscous

cous

I have to admit–I have a routine whenever I go to Trader Joe’s. I usually go a little before lunch, lurk around the food sample section (the more cooking involved, the better! I could care less about chopped-up squares of banana bread), chat it up with the person serving the samples, walk away, get a coffee sample with soy milk, and then discreetly go back to get a second helping–hoping that nobody notices. To rationalize this, I think to myself that the sample server and I are homies by this point, so they won’t mind.

This is just how I roll.

Over the weekend, I ran across a Traders Joe’s dish that was so delicious, healthy, and well-balanced in flavor that I bought all the ingredients they placed in front of the sample stand–something I rarely do. The dish blended savory couscous with hearty black beans, black olives, crumbled feta, and Goddess dressing, into a slightly tangy and light meal that took me less than half an hour to make tonight for dinner. I served it with a side salad dressed with a garlicky balsamic vinaigrette…and poured lots of red wine for drinking.

Yields 6-7 servings

Ingredients:

3 cups chicken broth

2 tbsp of olive oil

2 tsp salt

12 oz box of couscous

3.8 oz can of sliced black olives, drained

15 oz can of black beans, drained and rinsed

1/2 bottle of 8 fl. oz Goddess dressing

2 oz. feta crumbles (Mediterranean style preferred, but regular feta works too)

Directions:

1. In a medium-sized pot, combine chicken broth, olive oil, and salt. Heat until boiling.

2. Add couscous to the pot. Remove from heat and cover with lid.

3. Let stand for five minutes.

4. Lift lid and fluff couscous with a fork.

5. Add to pot olives, beans, feta, and Goddess dressing. Mix well and serve.

Advertisements

Rosemary, bacon, and cheddar biscuits

biscuits

Some of the things I love about my local Silver Lake Intelligentsia coffee shop are the rich roasts, froth art, and the black-vested and curly-mustached baristas who look like they just stepped out of a 19th-century-era steam punk graphic novel.

Whenever I step into my favorite shop, I usually pick up a rosemary and bacon biscuit to go along with my morning coffee. So,  you could imagine my disappointment when my buddy offered to grab me one on the way to work, but showed up with a chive biscuit instead. A…CHIVE…biscuit (which, by the way is also pretty delicious and probably in the cards for my next baking adventure, but I’m being whiny for dramatic effect). It’s no rosemary and bacon biscuit though.

What’s a girl to do when she has a craving for a baked good that her coffee shop no longer carries? She makes it herself and satiates her hunger whenever she damn well pleases! (Well, maybe not whenever; biscuits are usually listed in the “Paula Deen” category.)

This is a quick and simple recipe that you would be able to make in time for any breakfast before you hear the first pair of footsteps coming down the stairs. Impress your family; entertain your guests. These flaky biscuits are balanced between the sweetness of the batter and the sharpness of the cheese, with herbs and smoky crisp bacon bits mixed in. Although baking biscuits may seem daunting at times and the worries that might run through your head are, “What if I make them too dense or too dry?” don’t fret because if you follow these instructions to the T, everything will be fine and you’ll look like a pro-cook. The best part about these “rustic” biscuits is that you don’t have to roll them into a perfect log and cut them–the magic is in the home-baked “rustic” look.

Adapted from Running to the Kitchen recipe.

Yields 13 biscuits

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tbsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

1 tbsp white sugar

2/3 stick of cold butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

1 tbsp fresh rosemary, minced

3 slices of bacon, cooked until crispy, then finely chopped

1/2 cup of shredded cheddar cheese, plus extra for topping

3/4 cup of milk

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. Do not grease the sheet.

2. In a large mixing bowl, combine all the dry ingredients–flour, salt, baking powder and sugar–and then mix.

3. Add the cubed butter into the dry mixture and use a fork to mash together until it’s well-combined and looks like coarse meal or a crumbly mixture.

4. Add the rosemary, bacon and cheddar cheese in mixture and mix.

5. Pour in milk. Mix ingredients together (I prefer to mix with my hands and pat it together), but be careful to not overmix or else the biscuits will become too dense. Don’t knead the dough. The batter will look slightly dry, but don’t worry – it’s supposed to look that way.

6. Lightly coat hands with flour. Spoon out about 1/4 cup of the dough, shape it together into a ball (it doesn’t need too look like a perfect ball so it’ll have that rustic look), and then put it on the baking sheet. Repeat until you’ve used up all the dough. Lay each ball about an inch away from each other.

7. Sprinkle extra cheddar cheese on top of the balls.

8. Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes until cheese is lightly browned. Serve immediately.

Slow-roasted pork shoulder with coffee and brown sugar rub

porkshoulder

This is basically a gratuitous photo of a seven-hour, slow-roasted pork shoulder that was slathered in mustard, and then covered in a dry rub consisting of coffee grinds, brown sugar, cayenne, red pepper flakes, garlic, onion, and love… My boyfriend made this for dinner tonight, and I can’t get over how smoky and sweet, and perfectly tender this pork roast turned out. It reminded me a bit of Chinese BBQ pork (a.k.a char siu). Oh yea, and garlicky mashed potatoes were included, but not pictured here.

You can’t curry love…a CoCo Ichiban experience

Left: CoCo Ichiban experience in Japan in 2005. Right: CoCo Ichiban in USA in 2012.

Left: CoCo Ichiban experience in Japan in 2005. Right: CoCo Ichiban in USA in 2012.

Seven years ago, my best friend and I hopped on a plane to begin a year-long adventure on the other side of the world in Japan. At that point, we hadn’t had much more culinary experience besides the chicken marsala at Cheesecake factory or the carne asada burritos at Alberto’s. To be honest, our palates were as advanced as it could get for poor college kids.

We figured we already knew about sushi, and thought that was sufficient enough. Little did we know what was in store for our taste buds as we spent every day walking from Japanese/French patisseries to udon noodle soup shops in train station stops. We were introduced to the yakitori stand hidden in a dark alley by our office, where we would wait in line with dozens of other people (rain or shine) eating skewered chicken livers, tail, hearts and gizzards covered in a sweet and savory soy sauce-based marinade and charred to perfection. There were the holiday festivals (boy, were there many!) that were held at local parks where we would get taiyaki – pastries with a pancake softness filled with mashed red bean paste in the shape of fish.

However, some of my fondest memories were spent at CoCo Ichiban – a curry rice restaurant chain that you could find all over Japan. This was my first introduction to Japanese curry – a thick curry roux served over rice with a variety of meat and vegetable toppings. Definitely not a fancy place, but known for fast service and delicious food, CoCo Ichiban specialized in the warmest of comfort foods. They allowed for customized curry dishes – from choosing between potato croquettes, fried chicken, pork katsu, among numerous other items, to selecting the spice levels, rice portions and extra add-ons. My personal favorite combination was fried chicken with level 2 spice and a potato croquette and shredded cheese as add-ons (trust me, always add the cheese even if it sounds strange).

Another specialty of CoCo Ichiban’s that separated itself from the other curry houses was their jar of pickled radishes on each table. I would mix in spoonfuls of the radishes in the curry every time, sometimes even sheepishly asking the waiter to refill the jar. To be honest, I haven’t found any other curry house with anything remotely similar to the amazing pickled radish recipe this restaurant has.

All that being said, I was ecstatic to find that CoCo Ichiban was spreading its wings and opened a location in Torrance, CA a few years ago, tucked away in a little strip mall. Although the menu is a little overwhelming to look at because of the plethora of options to mix and match plates, it felt no different from when I first looked at the menu in Japan. The ambiance is casual and perfect for a quick lunch or dinner date. The quality of the food is just the same, and most importantly, sitting on each table is a jar of pickled radishes!

CoCo Ichibanya

2455 Sepulveda Blvd, Ste C

Torrance, CA 90501

Hours:

Mon. – Sun. – 11 am – 10 pm

Price Range:

$3 – $12.50 (+ any additional toppings you choose will cost extra)

Website:

http://www.ichibanyausa.com/

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.

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.