Monday, October 25, 2010

Autumn Has Arrived

With the cold weather and rain, one can't help but to admit that summer is finally over. It was confusing for a while, what with temperatures over 110 degrees in October, but now it's cold and raining. I'm pretty sure it'll just get colder from here on out. I think it's only natural that we simple humans would crave a rich, hearty soup to warm the soul.

I signed up for an organic produce delivery service ( at a food tasting event I went to. They sent me a box full of fresh veggies and in it were these beautiful leeks and russet potatoes. They inspired to make a potato and leek soup.

There's a few cooking terms that I should talk about before we get to the recipe.

First is a bouquet garni. A bouquet garni is a bundle of spices tied together. You add a bouquet garni into soup, stock or some sort of liquid so that the spices can be easily fished out of the soup while still allowing the flavors infuse into the liquid. In this case, I tuck the spices between 2 leek leaves, then tie the 2 leaves together.

I don't like using twine, because I think it's a bit of a waste. Instead, i just grab some fibers from the leeks (from either the leaves or the slim core) and use them to tie the leek leaves together.

The next is deglazing. Deglazing is when a liquid is poured into a hot cooking vessel to remove the browned bits that are stuck on the bottom. Pouring a small amount of liquid and scraping with a wooden spoon would clean the bits off the bottom to prevent them from burning and to infuse the carmelized flavors into the dish. Contrary to popular belief, you don't HAVE to deglaze using alcohol. It's just an effective and flavorful liquid that cooks prefer to use. In this dish, I deglaze with chicken broth instead of alcohol because I don't feel like it adds to the flavors I hope to achieve.  Also, I don't feel like opening up a bottle of wine to use just a quarter cup of it in this dish.

I researched some recipes online and just created my own recipe from what I saw.

2 large leeks, diced
1.5 lbs russet potatoes, diced
1 qt chicken stock
2 slices applewood smoked bacon, cut into pieces
2 cups whole milk
3 bay leaves
3 sprigs thyme
1 tsp black peppercorns
white pepper

1) Make a bouquet garni out of 2 leek leaves, thyme, bay leaves and peppercorns.
2) Heat a heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until the fat has rendered and the bacon is crispy.
3) Add the leeks and as much cooking oil as necessary to cook them until they are soft.

4) Deglaze the pot with a little chicken stock, then add the rest of the chicken stock, bouquet garni and potatoes.

5) Close the lid and simmer on medium low heat until the potatoes are completely soft. Turn off the heat, then add the milk.

6) Blend the soup in a blender or food processor until you achieve your desired consistency. If you have an immersion blender, now is the time to take it out for a spin! *tee hee*
7) Return the soup to the pot and season to taste with salt and white pepper.

8) Chop up some dill to sprinkle on top of your soup for garnish and a little added flavor.

This soup is tasty, but I felt like the texture was a bit too thick. I think next time, I'll use more broth to thin out the soup. For anyone who would like to use my recipe, I'd suggest using 1.5 quarts of chicken broth. Aside from that, I'm very happy with the soup. Not much else hits the spot on a rainy day than a good bowl of warm soup. =)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Trifecta: Meat, Potatoes and Football

Unless there's something cool or important to do on a fall Saturday, I prefer to stay in and watch some good 'ol American football. I used to watch football while doing my nails. It's my way of making football girly. :º) But these days, I've been feeling the urge to cook and am getting inspired to make new dishes. When a feeling like this hits, you've just gotta go with it. So now, instead of doing my nails, I cook while watching football.

A week ago, I was cooking while watching football again and attempted some new dishes. Unfortunately, the pork spareribs I made were overcarmelized (burned). It just came down to my inexperience with a charcoal grill. I ate it anyway, but discarded the overcarmelized parts. I just felt so sad because I didn't do the pig whose ribs were bestowed upon me justice. It's such a shame to waste good food.

I must admit that I have a slight arrogance when it comes to food. I don't believe that there's anything that I can't do. It just takes time and practice. If I don't get it right the first time, I make it over and over again until I make it right. Naturally, I had no choice but to redo the spareribs. I applied my lessons learned from the first run to this one:

1) Hardwood briquettes take longer to light than charcoal
2) Hardwood briquettes burn hotter than charcoal
3) Filling the chimney starter with briquettes 3 layers deep is enough to cover half my Weber kettle grill in a single layer of briquettes
4) Subtle manipulation of the grill cover, cover vent and lower vent make a difference in the "oven" temperature of the grill. It just takes some vigilance to get the temperature right.
5) Don't trust the directions to "grill for 2 minutes, then turn the meat 90 degrees and grill for another 2 minutes". During this searing step, always stand by the grill and monitor the meat. DO NOT MULTITASK!!! (This was what caused my spareribs to be overcarmelized)

Armed with the lessons from my previous attempt, I set out to make my spareribs "right". First, I woke up in the morning, cut my spareribs into 3 rib pieces, made the rub (brown sugar, garlic powder, salt, red chili flakes, cayenne pepper, paprika and allspice), coated the spareribs, placed them on a lined cookie sheet, covered them and threw them into the refrigerator for the flavor to seep in.

After 6 hours, I took them out of the refrigerator and started to play with my grill. Admittedly, it was just incredibly difficult to get it started. I don't think I like these hardwood briquettes. I bought them because they burned longer and were all-natural. Charcoal has all sorts of chemicals mixed into it that aren't good for your body. These hardwood briquettes are so natural that the ashes could be used for compost, which is really cool for me too! It just took forever to get the briquettes started, but when I did, I stood around while the spareribs seared. This made a huge difference. Then I moved them over to the indirect heat portion of the grill and set my thermometer next to the meat, covered the lid and adjusted the vents until I got the temperature to 250 degrees and I maintained it for 2 hours.

The results? DELICIOUS! This time I nailed it. I got the sear and the oven temperature right. It took some work, but I think I've got it down now. The flavor was magnificent. The meat was tender and the rub had a sweet smokey flavor to it with an incredibly subtle hit of spice that's more for an awakening effect rather than for any significant source of heat. In fact, the only thing I wasn't pleased with was the fact that there wasn't enough of the flavor! Next time, I might turn the rub into a dipping sauce.

While my spareribs were marinating, I was working on my potato pavé. I got this recipe from Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home. It was one of those things where you take a look at a picture and it's love at first sight. The moment I saw the picture of this dish, I knew I had to make it. It's essentially a scalloped potatoes dish that has been placed in the refrigerator to harden, then cut into square pieces and pan fried with oil, garlic and thyme until golden brown on either side. The results were stellar!

These are by far the best potatoes I have ever made in my life. The best thing is that they're really rather simple to make, but as with all of Keller's dishes, they take forever to make. It took all day to complete all the steps. I think these potatoes are exceptional thanks to my japanese ceramic mandoline. This heavenly device is ridiculously sharp and can cut super thin slices. When you eat it, the potato pavé flakes and my roommate said to me "Is this potato? It's almost like fish the way it flakes apart!" I really think the genius behind this dish is the uniform thin layers achieved by using the mandoline and frying the pavé.

After I baked the potatoes for about 2 hours, I let it cool for a little before I put some cans on top of it to weigh the potatoes down. I then put it in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours. This forms a more even surface and compresses the potato which will help in the later steps when the potato is cut and then fried. Yes, I'm so Asian. This picture reminds me that I haven't had grass jelly in forever. Time to open these cans up and make some chinese desserts. =)

After the eternal wait, I pulled the potatoes out, cut through the layers, formed even slices and pan fried them in oil with a lightly crushed garlic clove and a sprig of thyme. The end result? The potatoes were so delicious that my roommate and I had to stop ourselves before we ate the entire pan's worth of potatoes at 10pm. We wouldn't have done ourselves any favors by overeating this stuff. Even though I didn't finish it, I would think about it periodically throughout the next few days and how it's conveniently sitting in my refrigerator waiting to be fried and eaten.

Overall, I was pleased by my meal and I had a wonderful time eating and watching football. The teams I wanted to win won and I had an entertaining day doing the things I love. =)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

My Babies ^_^

One of the greatest pleasures in my life is food. I love all things food - cooking, eating, going out to restaurants and reviewing. This spring, I decided to extend my love of food and start growing my own. I prepared a little plot in my back yard and made myself a small organic vegetable garden. I grew heirloom tomatoes, strawberries, squash, bell peppers and herbs. It was a lot of fun, but make no mistake - I was obsessed about my garden. I would check up on them every morning and every night. You know, because something might have visibly changed during that time frame. =/ I got worried when I saw anything remotely unhealthy, pruned like a japanese banzai artist and hunted for slugs at 1am. Yeah, I really do love my garden.

Alas, the time has come for us to part. My summer plants will die in the cool of autumn. Sadly, I harvested my last few fruits. Here's the last strawberry. It didn't last long on the counter either - yum! =)

I started preparing my plot for my fall garden. I pulled out most of the barren looking plants and kept the ones with the last straggling bits of fruit on them. I also started planting some pot-friendly seeds for the fall garden. I'm happy to report that surprisingly, 1 week later, some tiny little sprouts were sighted in the pots! Look at my new babies!! =D

I should be expecting some beautiful organic veggies this fall: beets, swiss chard, leeks, kohlrabi and more - stay tuned! ^_^

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Bazaar by Jose Andres at the SLS Hotel

LOVE IT! LOVE IT! LOVE IT!!! It's now one of my favorite restaurants in LA - top 5!

I first heard about molecular gastronomy back in 2006 on a Discovery Channel special. They went into the kitchen of a restaurant in Chicago that specializes in molecular gastronomy and showcased what they can do. I was amazed! They were cooking with liquid nitrogen (LN2), special chemicals, cold griddles, etc. Now, for those of you who don't know, I'm a nerd girl. So when I got to watch people combine 2 of my major interests, science and food, I was giddy like a schoolgirl.

Ever since that day, I've noticed chefs have started cooking with LN2, sodium alginate, foams and high tech gadgets. Every so often I get to taste one dish at a fancy restaurant that uses molecular gastronomy techniques, but it's never frequent and always a treat. I really wanted to go to WD-50, Alinea or Moto to get a serious molecular gastronomy meal, all the while sad that Los Angeles has not kept up with the food trend! Enter The Bazaar.

The Bazaar is a funky restaurant that takes over the first floor of the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills. The decor is...well...funky. Take a look at these trippy, random things on display in the lobby.

Somehow, all that combined with contemporary furniture and colored lights make for an incredibly trendy hot spot in LA that is appropriate for the craziness that you'll experience on your plate. I've since been to this restaurant twice. Once was late on a Tuesday night and it was filled with people in both the white and red rooms and at the bar. It's insane how many people were there ON A TUESDAY NIGHT!

The menu at The Bazaar is split into "traditional tapas" and "modern tapas". Though the traditional tapas are great, I am really there to try the "modern tapas". Because it's tapas, I figure I get free reign to order a bunch of dishes and try it all. I certainly did - 15 courses + dessert. Since that's just too much for me to write about, I'm just going to go over the highlights. Start the reel!

LN2 Caiphrina

I was having an AWFUL day when I went to The Bazaar. Work was insane, nothing was going right and I was just bitched at by service people at a store. By the time I got to the SLS hotel, the waitress asked me how I was doing was and I said "Honestly, I'm having an awful day. I need a drink. What can you recommend?" She then recommended a magic mojito, a mojito poured into a cotton candy-filled martini glass. Ooooh...tell me more! Then she told me about the LN2 capihrina that they serve tableside. I've never had a capihrina before, so I figured now is the time to try and come on, TABLESIDE! How could I say no? That's when my day started getting better. ^_^

The LN2 capihrina was really tasty, but boy was it strong. I guess when you chill using LN2, the alcohol concentration is higher because you don't have the water from the ice to dilute it. I have a really low alcohol tolerance, so this was about all I could handle for the night. The drink was well-made and the touch of lime zest just really brought it all together for me. It's like the drink went straight into my system and kicked the crap out of my headache and broke ground for me to enjoy the rest of my meal. Thank you LN2 capihrina. You were just what I needed.

Modern Caprese Salad

The special thing about this caprese salad is the mozzarella cheese. These cute little rounds look like regular mini mozzarella cheese balls, but that's where the magic happens. By magic, I mean the science. When you bite into these little cheese balls, they BURST with liquid mozzarella in a feeling of surprise that I can only describe as similar to that surprise feeling you get with Pop Rocks (though not the same at all). They use a process called spherification that utilizes a chemical called sodium alginate that they add to liquefied mozzarella. The solution is then dropped into a calcium bath. The sodium alginate reacts to the calcium, creating a gelatinous shell that holds the liquefied mozzarella inside. Ta da!! I feel like a magician revealing my (their) secrets. ^_~

Lest you think that science makes for not-so-yummy treats, this was very well made. The ingredients are fresh and flavorful, which is the most important thing for something as simple as a caprese salad. I was both amused and satisfied.

Fresh Baby Peach and Burrata Salad

The fresh baby peach with burrata cheese salad was also really good. In fact, this was one of my favorite dishes. I am a sucker for burrata cheese - mozzarella encapsulated ricotta. I was introduced to this cheese when I was working in a fine dining restaurant a few years back. Ever since, I have been compelled to order it every time I see it.

Wagyu Beef Cheeks

I love beef cheeks. I love how tender and flavorful they are. The slightly gelatinous texture created by braising the connective tissue in the meat is heavenly. Again, when I see beef cheeks, I'm compelled to order it. This was even better - WAGYU beef cheeks! Unfortunately, this was probably the biggest disappointment of the night. I just didn't feel like it had enough flavor and it was too salty for my taste. The over-salting is a common theme throughout the meal. I wondered why that was the case. Then my thoughts wandered to my visit to Spain and I realized that the Spanish people tend to use more salt than we do here in the US. Perhaps it's a cultural thing? I don't think the chefs look Spanish though. Maybe I'm just giving them the benefit of the doubt, because I can't understand why so many dishes were over-salted unless it was intentional. Either way, the beef cheeks... =(

Hangar Steak

In contrast, I wasn't really looking forward to the hangar steak, but it was the most surprisingly good dish of the night. This was my introduction to piquillo peppers. Yes...these amazing little peppers that directly translated mean "little beak" peppers because they look like - you guessed it - little beaks! They're slightly smoky, slightly sweet and have a fantastic, rounded flavor. The hangar steak was cooked perfectly and well-seasoned. The combination of the hangar steak, the piquillo peppers and the sauce was just divine! The heartiness of the meat, the sweetness of the piquillo peppers and the flavor of the sauce just melted together, creating a fantastic feeling that just pushed out any remants of my aforementioned headache and replaced it with bliss. Ahh...

Philly Cheesesteak

This is definitely not your typical cheesesteak. They serve an "air bread" that is basically a crispy little loaf that's completely hollow on the inside. It's been filled with "cheese foam" and topped with thin slices of seared wagyu beef finished off with some maldon salt. OMG, this was SO GOOD! The foam was really fun and added a light taste to cheddar that you would never experience otherwise and the wagyu was just so tender and flavorful. Again, this dish was over-salted. I would have preferred for it to have less salt, but oh well. I couldn't stop myself from finishing the entire thing. That's how good it was.

Foie Gras

Did you think that I'd leave The Bazaar without ordering foie gras? Yeah, not a chance. I had all the foie gras items on their menu.

The cotton candy foie gras was pretty good, but I favor seared foie gras over foie gras terrine. Unfortunately for me, this was a piece of foie gras terrine. The delicate sweetness of the cotton candy mixed nicely with the creamy foie gras. It's good, but I don't think it was worth the price tag to have a small piece of foie gras covered with cotton candy. I appreciate the innovation, but I don't think it was worth raving about.

Now the foie gras soup was ordered after I felt like I could stuff more food into my tummy. I'm so glad I ordered it. I've never had a foie gras soup and it was so good. It tastes like a cream soup with a nice foie gras flavor. Surprisingly enough, the flavor wasn't overpowering, because foie gras can very quickly overwhelm the senses in anything more than a small tasting portion. Jose Andres definitely took this into account when creating this soup. I have a feeling that they used a foaming technique for this soup, because that would explain how an entire cup of foie gras could be satisfying and not overwhelming - the foaming technique allows for flavor without that pesky dense feeling that coats your tongue and tire out your taste buds.

And then there's the foie gras burgers on brioche buns. Have you any idea what goes into brioche?? I've made brioche and I can tell you that it's just a ton of butter and eggs - until the dough simply can't hold any more. It's definitely not diet food. Neither is foie gras. Throw one on top of the other and it's like fat on fat. Yes, I ate that! It was good, but again, nothing to rave about. It would have been better if they used seared foie gras - just sayin'. Seared foie gras has a meatier taste to it and that seared crust would have been a great texture contrast to the soft brioche bun. Creamy on soft isn't nearly as amazing as crispy on soft. Oh yeah, and if they threw a sauce on it, it would have helped meld the flavors together

Uni Buns

Uni (sea urchin) is one of my favorite foods in the world. Any time I'm at a good sushi restaurant, I just won't feel satisfied until I have a good piece of uni. Little pieces of uni are tucked into mantou buns with a thin slice of avocado and a paper-thin round of jalapeno. Unfortunately, I like describing it more than tasting it. Again, we run into the same problem with creamy on soft. I think it needed something slightly crunchy in it or perhaps a savory/sweet contrast. I won't complain about uni though. It may not have been up to my high expectations, but it certainly was good food and it didn't stop me from polishing it off! Yeah, I know, I'm such a pig. Oink Oink! =P


The wonderful waitress suggested that I move to the Patisserie area to view the sweets on the counter and enjoy a slightly different environment. Great idea! Again, my eyes were bigger than my stomach and I again, ordered everything. Check out my desserts! Upper left plate (clockwise from upper left: saffron chocolate bon bon, volcano cookie, red peppercorn white chocolate mini-tablette, maldon salt dark chocolate mini-tablette, chocolate covered rice crispy, passion fruit marshmallow, madagascar vanilla pate de fruit), upper right plate (same as upper left plate but with a passion fruit pate de fruit instead of a madagascar vanilla pate de fruit), lower right plate (green tea cookies), lower left plate (from left: passion fruit pate de fruit, saffron pate de fruit with edible paper)

From the left plate (creamy chocolate heart, greek yogurt panna cotta, chocolate covered crispy raspberries)

The desserts were good and fun. I felt like the bon bons were high quality, but nothing really popped out at me. This could be because I was incredibly full by this point and my taste buds probably feel like they've gone through a culinary marathon. The saffron pate de fruit with edible paper reminded me of the chinese rabbit candies I used to eat as a child, so it brought back some fond memories.

The panna cotta is thicker and creamier than I'm used to, which is probably attributed to the use of greek yogurt instead of cream. The chocolate heart was just a chocolate lava cake. I didn't think it was that special. The chocolate covered crispy raspberries were probably raspberries dried with liquid nitrogen and covered with chocolate. The first few were fun to eat, but the raspberries were a bit too tart for the chocolate to compensate for it.

The Damage

I did not blog about every single dish that I had. Yes, it is possible to stuff more food into my seemingly bottomless stomach. However, I felt like an exhaustive review of every single food item would simply be too much and would get boring. I just wanted to mention the highlights and the fun stuff that I found at this amazing restaurant. I wasn't sure what the damage would be from my night of gluttony. When the bill came, I just didn't think it was that bad. Considering all the things I ate and the new experiences, the entertainment of the tableside LN2 service and the general strangeness of the restaurant, I felt like the bill wasn't that bad. Have I just been eating at too many fine dining places recently?