I worked at a Mexican restaurant for a couple of days once. I hated the experience, and I didn’t shed any tears when they closed down. The one good thing I learned there was how they made what they called ranch style pinto beans. I play with the recipe every time I make it, and tonight I substituted the usual jalapeno with chipotle. I loved how the smokiness played off the bacon; so I decided to document it for posterity. This makes a great side for carne asada or grilled chicken.
2 cans pinto beans*
1 tsp olive oil
1 slice bacon, small dice
1/4 cup yellow onion, small dice
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp chipotle with adobe sauce, chopped (adjust according to how spicy you want the beans)
1/2 tsp caldo de pollo powder**
1/4 tsp ground cumin
salt and pepper, to taste
1. In a small pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add diced bacon and stir for a minute or two. Then add the onion and cook until slightly translucent. Add the garlic and chipotle and cook for about a minute more.
2. Discard the liquid from one of the cans of beans and add both cans to the pot. Stir in the bullion powder and cumin. Lower heat to medium-low and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
Garnish with chopped cilantro if you have any on hand.
*Yes, I use canned pinto beans. It’s a great convenience product and it allows you to make a pretty killer dish in 10-15 minutes instead of a few hours. Feel free to substitute homemade beans for even better results.
**You can find Knorr Caldo de Pollo in many markets in the ethnic food aisle, or with other brands of chicken bullion. This is a family staple for seasoning lots of dishes. If you want to class up the dish a little, replace the liquid from the beans with chicken stock.
So the other day a tri-tip roast was thrust upon me to cook for dinner. Now, normally I would use one of my favorite marinades and grill that bad boy, but I did not have necessary 4-8 hours of warning. So what to do? Well I remembered a recipe I stumbled across years ago that consisted of a wet rub that only needed about half an hour of sitting time. I gave it another look, and what do you know? It held up pretty well!
grill or broiler
coffee/spice grinder or mortar and pestle
1 tsp espresso ground coffee
1/4 cup fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tbsp fennel seeds, toasted
2 tsp peppercorns
1 tsp kosher or sea salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1 2 – 2 1/2 lb tri tip roast, trimmed
1. Pat the roast dry with paper towels. If the fatty side has a lot of excess fat, trim the fat to your preference. The meat should sit at room temp for about 30 minutes to an hour so it’s not cold inside. This allows it to cook more evenly.
2. Prepare the rub ingredients. To toast the fennel seeds, put a skillet or pan on a medium burner and toast the seeds until they turn golden brown. Gently swirl the skillet while toasting to prevent scorching. As for the coffee grounds, if you have regular coffee grounds and not the fine espresso, pulverize the grounds in the grinder or mortar until it is a finer powder.
3. Place the chopped rosemary, fennel seeds, salt, and pepper corns into the grinder or mortar and grind until course. Pour the contents into a small bowl and add the coffee (if you didn’t leave it in the grinder) and olive oil. Stir until the whole rub is moistened.
4. Smear the rub on both sides of the roast, and sit on a plate fat side down for 30 minutes. During the last 10 minutes or so, preheat the grill to medium heat.
5. Place the meat on the prepared grill, fat side up. Cook about 10-12 minutes on each side for medium doneness. I prefer tri-tip closer to medium rare, but lots of people like it cooked more, so take as much time as you need. While grilling, keep your eye on the flames especially when the fat side is down. The fat will cause flare ups and you don’t want to scorch the rub!
6. After both sides are done, remove from the grill and let the roast sit about 10-15 minutes. You can loosely cover the meat with foil if you wish. This resting period is important because the meat will continue to cook for a few minutes, and the resting allows the juices to redistribute evenly. If you get impatient and slice too soon, you’ll lose a lot of juices. After resting, slice against the grain and serve.
I always go to Westwood Boulevard thinking that I’ll try something new, but I always inevitably end up at Sunnin Lebanese Cafe. The food is absolutely fabulous, even if served on paper plates with the drinks in those red solo cups that cheap beer is served in at frat parties in undergrad. But the fact is, it doesn’t matter what it’s served on. I’ll eat it.
Sunnin is very vegetarian friendly. I usually stick to their appetizer menu, even though I’ve tried the falafel sandwich and the entrees. Likely because I am desperately in love with their tangy spicy potatoes. Their rekakat (parsley and cheese in a filo dough pastry shell), fatayer (empanada-esque dough stuffed with spinach, pine nuts, and onions) and dolmeh are also delicious (although their dolmeh is a bit on the tart and cold side, if you’re expecting something warm). I also really like the baba ghanouj, being an eggplant fan (the texture is just lovely and smooth, instead of stringy and chunky like some places I’ve been to), and their hummus is really nice and comes topped with olive oil and a dash of red chili pepper. The falafel, the vegetarian’s usual resort in Mediterranean/Middle Eastern places, is seasoned and cooked just right (compared to some of the places I’ve been where it just tastes like deep-fried chickpea/lentil mush). I’ve also really enjoyed their cucumber/yogurt salad. And everything comes with a side of warm, fresh pita.
For non-veggies, my friends claim the chicken shawarma is really fantastic. And the garlic sauce is out of this world. I dream happy dreams of that sauce when I go to sleep at night.
Intelligentsia Coffee in Silverlake has been my frequent spot as of late. The outdoor seating is nice and sunny in the day and opens onto the sidewalk, which makes for a constantly changing crowd that pops in and out as the hours pass and keeps things constantly interesting. Perfect place to have a chat with a friend or read a book over a cup. I prefer it on Fridays and Saturdays when it’s open ’til 11 p.m. A huge drawback is that it closes at 8 p.m. on Sunday through Thursday, for those who want to squeeze in a few hours at the end of the workday. Also, the lighting in the seating area is a bit dim in the evenings, if you get out from the seating area under the awning. Makes the reading, writing aspect of things a bit difficult when you’re off in the periphery.
Their coffee and tea is genuinely amazing. I’m a bit of a chai elitist. I prefer old school, the way my grandmother makes it with all the spices coarsely ground in a mortar and pestle, simmered with milk, tea and sugar on the stove. That said, after being severely disappointed in cinnamon tea posing as chai in coffee shops all over, this has been thus far the best chai I’ve had in Los Angeles. Their Moroccan Mint Iced Tea is also one of my favorites. Crisp and doesn’t taste like watered down Starbucks brew. Instant happiness. I’ve also had a sip of their Mocha and Iced Mocha from friends’ drinks, which were also delicious and strong.
That said, their service is a little wanting. They can claim a barista champion, and all, you know. I remember I had a friend with me (recently moved here from abroad), who made the mistake of asking for a bit of cream on her mocha. She got a bit of a scowl and was ultimately ignored. I think a “We don’t do that here,” or a simple “No,” would have been a better response. Other times, they have not been impolite, but certainly not welcoming. Sometimes, they say nothing and just stand there. Just completely awkward silence, until you’re forced to say something equally awkward like, “So um, er, uh can I have a [insert name of drink here].” And even then, they don’t quite respond. They step off to make your drink, and you walk to the left, hand them your form of payment, usually met with similar silence after one of the baristas calls the name of a drink (unless there is some kind of confusion, in which case, more scowls and perhaps a slightly condescending form of seeking clarification like, “Ok, look, what I’m saying is, do you want it separate or together?”). Oh yes, forgot to mention, they don’t take your name during any part of the process. So if ten people order Moroccan Mint Iced Teas, you just walk up like one of them is yours. Either it’s some incredible honor system based on a serious and profound hipster code of trust, or they just don’t care who you are. You pick. For kinder service and a warmer atmosphere, Casbah up the street far surpasses.
Today I felt like having a burger of some kind, but I didn’t want anything heavy. After rummaging through the freezer, I found a bag of frozen salmon fillets, and I knew what to do. I remembered a tasty recipe from the Gourmet Cookbook that I tried several years ago, and used what I had in the kitchen. The original recipe calls for scallions, which I didn’t have on hand. Instead I used about 5 very large chives that I picked from my garden. The taste is very similar, so you can use either one depending on what you have in your fridge, or if you prefer the smaller doses of oniony goodness that chives provide.
Serves: 2 – 4
1 lb salmon fillets
2 cups baby spinach
3 green onions (or an equivalent handful of chives)
1 tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 egg white
1 tbsp soy sauce
Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste (or 1/4 tsp if you don’t trust yourself)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1. Cut the salmon fillets into small dice, approximately 1/4″ cubes. This is the most time consuming part of this recipe, but your patience will be rewarded with a nice texture for the patties. If you try to mince it quickly or run it through a food processor, you’ll get something resembling a paste, instead of the lightly bound patties that will result. If you are unsure of how to do this, all you need to do is cut the fillets in half lengthwise, then cut into thin strips (like the size of french fries). From there, cut the strips into small cubes.
2. Next, cut the veggies. The spinach will be mixed in the patties, so a rough chop will do. If you’re not sure how small to go, I suggest treating it like cilantro (about nickel sized). Dice the onions (both white and green parts) into pieces around the same size as the salmon.
3. The final prep work will be grating the ginger (easy enough) and to beat the egg white with the soy sauce. You’ll probably want to heat your favorite 12″ non-stick skillet over medium heat about now. On to the show!
4. In a bowl, combine the salmon, spinach, onion, ginger, salt and pepper. Then mix in the egg white until it’s nice and sticky.
5. Once the oil is sufficiently hot in the pan (it should spread quickly on the bottom but not yet smoke), form a patty in your hand about a half inch thick and gently place (or plop) it into the pan. You’ll notice that it’s pretty loose, but that’s okay! This isn’t ground meat, so you just treat it delicately and pat it together with the spatula if some pieces fall away. I suggest cooking only 2 patties at a time because you want room to move around in the pan, plus you don’t want the oil to cool too much. Flip the patty over once, and cook a total of 6-7 minutes.
6. Place the cooked patties on a paper towel cook the next batch. These burgers are pretty flavorful on their own. I opted for a whole wheat bun and sliced roma tomatoes for garnish. You can also use pickled ginger as a condiment. Or maybe wasabi mayo would be good too?? Hmm I think I’ll try that next time!
While I was in New York city, the land of the cupcake shop, I stopped by Magnolia Bakery. Ever since the “Lazy Sunday” digital short aired on SNL a few years ago, I was desperately curious. What was so good about these cupcakes that they inspired song lyrics? I had to know. So while I didn’t see the Statue of Liberty, I did eat a Magnolia Bakery cupcake.
I hiked over to the Magnolia Bakery shop on Bleecker Street with a childhood friend after a day of examining odd exhibits at the Guggenheim (apparently, there’s a couple). There was already a line when we got there. It was pretty cold that day. My fingers froze a bit. But the line moved pretty quickly. The nice thing about Magnolia is they keep the cupcakes on the side near the window on baker’s sheets lined in cute little doilies, and let you fill the boxes yourself. Before you know it, you’re inside. The funny part is that while you’re waiting, Magnolia feels a bit like a private sweet-tooth club, with a cupcake bouncer at the door – a really sweet, cheerful lady that keeps watch over the window and controls the flow of people with access to cupcakes.
Inside, Magnolia is just a really warm, feel-good establishment, where everything feels and tastes very home-made. It’s a little shop with friendly bakers. The cupcakes are a normal, manageable size, and mostly vanilla and chocolate with swirly pastel vanilla buttercream frosting with colorful sprinkles, that really took me back to my elementary school days. There are some with chocolate buttercream frosting, which I wholeheartedly recommend. I’m not usually a big fan of frosting, but this was absolutely delicious. Not too sweet, not too bitter. One minor complaint that I have about Magnolia Bakery’s cupcakes, is the same one that I had with Sprinkles cupcakes. Their frosting is disproportionately sweeter than their cupcakes. Again, not a place for someone like me, who eventually sheds frosting in favor of just the cake portion. But the frosting is, in and of itself, just yummy, even by the standards of a self-proclaimed frosting-hater. So if you’re a frosting fan, this really is the place to be. The old school sprinkles provide just that touch of texture that makes for frosting heaven.
Another plus point about the Magnolia Bakery on Bleecker Street is that there’s a little park nearby with chess tables. So even though the bakery is small with no place to sit down and triumphantly eat the cupcakes you stood in line for for so long, you can skip on over right across the street, pop open your box over one of the granite chess boards, and indulge in fresh-baked happiness. Maybe, just maybe, it’ll even improve your game. Or at least soothe the pain when you lose miserably to one of the octogenarian park regulars.
This is no ordinary mac ‘n cheese, which usually isn’t very cheesy. Most recipes will have you make a cheese sauce, which is basically a bechamel sauce (a thickened milk sauce) with cheese added to it. Not the most exciting stuff in the world, even with toasted breadcrumbs on top. This version has a 2:1 ratio of cheese to macaroni, and is very rich (eggs bind it, for crying out loud). It might not be the most healthy dish, but it’s guaranteed to make your cheese lovin’ friends happy!
I found a version of this recipe years ago on the web. The original calls for all sharp cheddar cheese, which is very good. I’ve tried many variations of cheese blends, but the most popular by far is this one with pepper jack and cheddar.
Serves: 4 – 6
1/2 lb. elbow macaroni or large shell macaroni
1/2 stick butter
1 can evaporated milk (or 1 cup cream mixed with 1/2 cup milk. You can adjust the cream/milk amounts according to how ‘healthy’ you want to dish to be.)
1 tsp. dry mustard, dissolved in a little water
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 lb. sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 lb. pepper jack cheese, grated
kosher salt and white pepper, to taste
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cook the macaroni in salted water until it is not quite done, around 7 minutes. The pasta should be a little undercooked, but don’t worry, it will finish cooking later in the oven. Drain the pasta and transfer into a large, oven-proof bowl.
3. Cut the butter into small pieces and mix into the macaroni.
4. Add the milk, keeping about 1/3 reserved.
5. Add the mustard, eggs, and 3/4 of the cheeses. Season with salt and pepper. Mix well.
6. Place the bowl in the oven for 5 minutes, then remove and stir well. Add a handful of cheese and some milk while doing this. Bake another 5 minutes and repeat this process until the sauce is smooth and creamy, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately.