muir woods & curry noodles

Back from a hiatus to bring you something important.

Soup.

Savory curry broth, chewy egg noodles, crunchy toppings, and a squeeze of lime.

Hot Soup! A very important part of any February.

I’m not experiencing real cold like my friends in New York but on Saturday, I was dragged out to Muir Woods instead of being allowed to vegetate in front of my telly binge watching House of CardsApparently, that’s not a cool way to spend your weekend when you’re in your mid-twenties.

It was nice and foggy in typical San Francisco fashion up in Muir Woods National Park. Cold, but not too cold. Any other Saturday that looked like this, you’d find me in bed with a cup of tea and a grilled cheese sandwich.

Hello Karl the Fog. It’s nice to see you again.

After doing the four mile loop, our entire group was RAVENOUS and delirious from fog-chill and post-hangover exercise. We ran to our cars and madly searched for something to eat.

We ended up at Mandalay, a Burmese restaurant in the Richmond District of San Francisco. If you’ve never had Burmese food, it’s incredible and probably impossible to find outside of San Francisco or Myanmar. The combination of how hungry & cold we were and how satisfying the spicy, sour soups and curry noodles were just made it the best meal I’ve had in a long time. Burma Superstar is the resident Burmese food darling in SF, but if the line’s too long, I’d recommend Mandalay as an alternative.

Now this is comfort food. I love any sort of curry noodle. Laksa from Singapore, khao soi from Thailand, nan gyi dok from Burma. Eating this while sitting on my couch really made me miss Southeast Asia.

And because I like to torture myself, I looked through my old Asia trip photos.

When will it be summer?????!!!!! WHEN?!

Chicken Khao Soi
Adapted from Bon Appetit & The Kitchn
Serves 6-8

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 shallot, chopped
4 tablespoons Thai red curry paste
2 14-oz. cans unsweetened coconut milk
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1½ lb skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 lb Chinese egg noodles
3 tablespoons (or more) fish sauce (such as nam pla or nuoc nam)
1 tablespoon (packed) palm sugar or light brown sugar
Kosher salt

Garnishes:
Sliced red onion, bean sprouts, cilantro sprigs, crispy fried onions or shallots, chili oil, and lime wedges (for serving)

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and chopped shallot and cook for about 30 seconds. Add the curry paste and curry powder and cook for another 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add the coconut milk, chicken broth, chicken thighs, fish sauce, and sugar. Stir everything together, scraping up any curry paste that has stuck to the bottom of the pan. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer uncovered for about 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook noodles according to package directions, timing it so that the noodles will be cooked when the curry is done simmering. Drain and divide between bowls. Top with curry and the garnishes of your choice. Serve immediately.

away we go: belgium & amsterdam

Shameless self-promoting, ego-stroking link here: “How Readers Cooked Our Shoyu Ramen”. This is exciting. PSL season exciting. Electric blanket ready when you come home exciting. Huge mugs of tea exciting. Fluffy socks exciting. Have I made my point yet?

Clearly, I’m digging this autumn thing happening.

But back to the point of this post. Bonjour from Bruxelles! Hallo from Amsterdam!

I seem to be trending towards traveling to cold, rainy destinations lately. Japan – rain. Russia – rain. Belgium – rain. Amsterdam – rain. I even moved to a cold, rainy city. What’s happening here? Back from Northern Europe with another hacking cough. But also stroopwafels, Belgian chocolates, and a newly developed spare tire from eating frites on the daily. Nyquil and salads are my best friends this week.

Next year, I’m going to Hawaii or the Mediterranean.

But focusing on the present – Brussels + Bruges + Amsterdam!

Getting around:
Brussels had an easy to use underground Metro/Tram system. There are really only a few routes to get around to the Grand Place/Grote Markt so if you stay centrally located, you’re probably just a few subway stops away from where you want to be going.
Bruges is highly walkable. We took an Intercity train from Bruxelles-Midi station straight into Bruges and back – getting to the city center is easy by bus or even walking.
Amsterdam – most people say biking but seeing as how I missed that part of my childhood – I say walking! We walked EVERYWHERE. Literally everywhere and it was great (although my travel partner might say otherwise). Comfortable shoes and sturdy legs are all you need.

Be prepared for climate change:
Umbrella! Raincoat! Rainboots! Regular boots! Thick socks! Scarf! Gloves! Wool sweaters! Layers! Unless you’re from Canada or Ireland or the like. In which case, ignore the above. But definitely come prepared as the weather forecast seemed to change on us everyday. Bruges is notoriously crap weather and always raining and October can be quite chilly in Northern Europe with temps dropping into the 40s (in California, that might as well be freezing.)

Debbie vs. the elements

Food & Beverage:
Yes, some of the cliches are true – waffles and fries and meat and potatoes and beer…. Okay, maybe all of the cliches are true. I don’t remember eating much else during my entire trip. Explains my new sexy potbelly.

Language:
Belgium is 80% French, 20% Flemish but I think most people speak French. It wasn’t very difficult finding someone who spoke some English to ask for help with navigating, etc. But don’t take directions from that one dude at McDonald’s. That’s how you end up lost after a liter of Delirium and straight up delirious.
It seemed English was widely spoken in Amsterdam along with Dutch. All buildings, street signs, and restaurant menus were in English. Lucky me and lucky you.

I feel now that I’ve seen Belgium, I don’t feel a strong inclination to go back but Amsterdam. AMSTERDAM. I could see myself living there. The people are friendly, the food is delicious, they have a great outdoor market with a ton of fresh vegetables, seafood, cheese vendors, and fruit juices. I’m in love. The cityscape is beautiful everywhere you look (except the Red Light District – no thanks). The atmosphere reminded me quite a bit of St. Petersburg – probably the canals and the scenic views… Who knows. Maybe I’ll uproot myself again.

Onto an obscene amount of photos.

Part one – Brussels, Belgium

The physical act of traveling was quite an ordeal on this trip. When it came to flying in and flying out – nothing went smoothly. We ran into a three hour delay at SFO but arrived early in Copenhagen with 30 minutes to make our connecting flight to Brussels. Ran to the gate five minutes before take-off only to be told by the wonderful Scandinavian Airlines rep that she knew we were coming but she wasn’t going to let us on the flight. Rerouted to Frankfurt. Arrived in Brussels five hours past schedule. And then on our way home, we had another 3 hour delay which lead to a 24 hour trek through Chicago. So… Don’t take Scandinavian Airlines just because it’s cheap.

how to kill time in Copenhagen

Luckily, our Airbnb host recommended a little Belgian cafe around the corner from our flat (if you’ve never used Airbnb, I highly recommend it). We dumped all of our luggage and practically ran there for sustenance. Our waiter recommended several great Belgian golden ales I’d never tried before like Moinette Blond! So creamy and delicious.

excited to grub!

new favorite beer – Moinette + Cuvee de Trolls at L’Ultime Atome in Brussels

To Grote Markt/Grand Place.

mitraillette + belgian fries with andalouse sauce.

A serving of frites a day keeps the doctor… nice and close.

liege gaufre at maison dandoy.

If you’ve never had a Liege Waffle, it’s a thicker Brioche style waffle with pearl sugar in the batter so that when it’s fried up, the sugar crystallizes and caramelizes on the the crust.

Basically, it’s freaking delicious.

Another mitraillette from Fritland – this time with the frites inside the sandwich along with fried sausages and veggies. Intensely filling and only 5 euros. If you were planning on eating healthy on this trip, dream on. Belgium is all about carbs and beer.

Gaw-jus!

Another Liege waffle. This time covered in Speculoos or cookie butter for any Trader Joe’s fans. The real stuff is better. So. Much. Better. I stood in line inside of a packed grocery store and risked exhaustion to buy a huge jar to cram into my luggage.

Gratuitous waffle close-up. Seriously, how many waffles did I eat on this trip? I lost count after the first five or so.

Belgian chocolates at Neuhaus.

The Brussels Stock Exchange – with a Da Vinci exhibition! Oh me, oh my.

Part 2 – Bruges, Belgium

Dear friend, have you seen In Bruges? Because you should. It is hilarious. Utter hilarosity. Do you like black comedies about Irish hitmen in a medieval tourist town with plot twists involving an American midget, drugs, and an extremely profane Ralph Fiennes? Yes? Good. Me, too.

Colin Farrell’s character in In Bruges hates Bruges. Watch it. And then, visit Bruges.

The Belfry – this thing has been around since 1240 and is 366 steps to the top and by the time we made it, my pathetic lungs were dying. I must be an elephant.

But what a view, ey? The tower of the Belfry used to be used as a lookout post for fires and oncoming danger.

I’m obsessed with these. Obsessed.

Real hot chocolate. None of that powder crap.

A rare find – African food in Belgium at Baobab. Maybe due to the Belgian colonization of the Congo?

Basilica of Holy Blood

Moules frites. One of four food options you get in Bruges.

house ales at Cambrinus Cafe

La Corne and Belgian fries. I love how Belgians take their beer as seriously as wine with the proper glassware for each specific beer.

Kriek cherry beer for the lady. Delirium Tremens for me.

‘t brugs beertjes

More beer.

Seriously. More beer.

Yeah, another beer. If you’re asking yourself, Jean, did you do anything besides drink beer and eat waffles, the answer is… no.

Prearis quadrupel – hazy caramely ale – not a dubble, not a tripel, but a quadrupel. This did me in and lead to me waving at strangers and running through the cobbled streets of Bruges like a crazy person.

Bruges was fun for a day and a half. To drink beer, wander along the canals, and visit the medieval churches. Any longer, and I think you’d go crazy from lack of things to do.

It’s funny. I thought Colin Farrell was exaggerating when he said, “Maybe that’s what hell is. The entire rest of eternity spent in effing Bruges.”

He may be onto something. Thank God Amsterdam came next.

Part 3 – Amsterdam, Netherlands

Traditional Dutch stewed beef with steamed vegetables and boiled potatoes at Hap Hmm Cafe. It tastes better than it sounds and looks.

Vondelpark

Venice of the North! Did you know Amsterdam gets its name because Hollanders dammed the Amstel river so the entire city wouldn’t flood? Also, it’s the Netherlands because most of the country is at or below sea level due to artificial land reclamation.

So, if there were ever a chance of a hurricane in Northern Europe… Goodbye, Amsterdam.

Albert Cuyp Market  - a street market in De Pijp reminiscent of MongKok in Hong Kong or Namdaemun in Seoul. THE place to find and devour Dutch street food.

Fresh poffertjes – mini Dutch pancakes.

Smothered in powdered sugar and sitting on top of a fat wad of butter. I love butter.

GOUDA. JONG. KAAS. CHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEESE.

You can find fresh stroopwafels at Albert Cuyp market. I’d only had the packaged mini ones my friend brought back with her from Europe but the fresh ones are something else.

They’re freshly griddled stiff waffles that are then cut in half and filled with stroop or a cinnamon caramely syrup which melts inside the hot waffle.

Fresh berries in freezing October? Insanity.

Raw herring is a Dutch delicacy and apparently the national dish of the Netherlands. Broodje haring is raw herring on a soft roll with raw onions and a vinegary pickle. It can be a bit soft, squishy, and strange but the fresh bite of the onions and the pickle actually make it very refreshing.

This shop has been selling herring since 1916 at Albert Cuyp and is the first one on the left if you’re entering the market from Ferdinand Bolstraat.

I was skeptical when I first saw it but I’d say this is a must try as long as you’re not opposed to raw fish (sushi anyone?) 

Montelbaansoren – the time on this tower is always wrong so his nickname is Silly Jack.

Rijksmuseum

We really liked walking around the “9 streets” or Negen Straatjes in the artsy neighborhood of Jordaan. They consist of nine streets filled with boutiques, specialty shops, and some adorable cafes with outdoor seating perfect for people watching.

On our way to the Anne Frank house (which some girl in our hostel had the gall to deem “overrated”! Not so. Definitely a must visit. Also, how one refers to anything regarding the Holocaust as “overrated” is beyond me…), we stopped by the Pancake Bakery a few blocks away.

Dutch pea soup – also tastes better than it looks. Hearty winter soup of peas, potatoes, carrots, Dutch smoked sausage served with rye bread. I’ve been frantically searching for recipes on how to make this. I may need to take a trip down to Solvang and harass some Dutch cooks down there.

Pannenkoek or pancake – a large thin Dutch pancake similar to a crepe. Definitely more like a French crepe than an American pancake – you can get it filled with savory or sweet fillings but I got a traditional apple one with powdered sugar.

One of my favorite things in Amsterdam was the Van Gogh Museum. There’s a great audio tour for 5 euros that walks you through his main works in stages – the first floor showing his development as an artist in academies and up to the third floor to his later darker artwork before he committed suicide.

Incroyable! It was probably the best part of my trip. Other than stuffing myself with breakfast pastries.

Irises, 1890

Skull of a Skeleton with a Burning Cigarette, 1885

Van Gogh added the cig as a joke on his teacher at the Royal Academy.

The Yellow House mural

Wheatfield with Crows, 1890 – last painting.

Chausson aux pommes!

Vermeer’s Milkmaid

Cheese tasting time! Pesto gouda = money.

Sick of canal pictures yet?

How about now?

Too bad.

Dutch apple pie.

One last canal picture. Just beautiful. I was so sad to leave Amsterdam – something about the atmosphere of the city really draws you in. It’s easy to get swept up in the romanticism of sweater weather, the beautiful canals, and the charming architecture.

I’m considering moving there in a few years.
Haha, kidding.
No, but seriously.

Oh, also, minor news that I found out in the wee hours of the morning while I was in Belgium….

My friend, Eunice, got engaged last week! You STUPID HO(rmone)! Even though she’s still  a baby, it’s very exciting news. I’m also mildly terrified of bridesmaid responsibilities but we can just go with the flow, right? It’s not like planning a wedding is hard or anything. >:)

around the world: japan

It’s funny how sometimes the places you miss the most can be the ones you don’t have any friends in. They could be places you never lived, places where you really only spent moments.

I’ve been missing Japan recently. Maybe I just miss travel in general. Stay in one place for too long and body creates an urgency – my mind gets restless, I get impatient, and the inevitable Internet flight trolling begins – visiting Kayak explore on the daily.

And God forbid I see anyone else’s travel photos on Facebook. GAME. OVER.

I spent ten days in Japan two years ago while I was studying abroad and grew incredibly attached. I love Japanese food, I took two years of Japanese in college, and one of my biggest regrets was not studying abroad in Tokyo (sorry Hong Kong but the only reason I picked you was because my program didn’t offer Tokyo as an option). Saying I LOVE Japan is a massive understatement.

Everything is clean. Gentle. Serene. What could I possibly say about Japan that hasn’t already been said and is a crazy cliche? You can’t possibly sum it up in a sentence. I always feel strange describing my travels to people who ask – how can I put into words the outpouring of LOVE that I feel when I’m wandering around and a stranger helps me find my way? The immense relief that I feel when my hesitant navigating leads me to a small, local treasure? The pride swelling in my heart when I can use the few words that I know to order something delicious to eat? The feeling of gratitude that I have a friend with me who knows more Japanese than I do? The hospitality of her family to let me stay with them in a small sleepy town that I would never visit otherwise? The joy of meeting strangers at a bar down the street from your hostel (or in my case, my capsule hotel), and laughing over a few beers even though your crazy broken Japanese is making the people around you ridiculously delirious? The fortuitousness of the barkeeper being Korean and being so happy to see another Korean in Osaka that she gives you free yakisoba?

I usually settle with “It was amazing – the weather was nice. The food was great.”

And the food is always great.

Two of my favorite things are okonomiyaki and ramen. They’re comforting, full of umami, and good for before, during, and after some heavy drinking. They both remind me of being a poor student wandering around a very expensive city, only able to indulge in noodles and  curious fried street food.

Oh, Japan. I’ll be back for you one day! For now, the memories and pictures will do.

I saw this Shoyu Ramen project in the September issue of Bon Appetit magazine and could not resist. It was a weekend of work and a little love project – it was a lot of fun and thankfully, I don’t think I screwed it up too badly. I adjusted some of the toppings to what I usually like to have in my ramen and the broth was a little overly salty for me so I toned back the amount of soy sauce and added some more kombu dashi in the end.

The okonomiyaki was more of a Japanese vegetable fritter – I couldn’t find daikon so I improvised to get it as close as possible using smittenkitchen’s recipe as a reference.

I feel satisfied after this meal – back to a happy place. :)

Shoyu Ramen
6 servings
Adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine Sep 2013

INGREDIENTS
KOMBU DASHI AND TARE
2 pieces dried kombu
½ cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 Tbsp. dry sake
1 Tbsp. mirin

PORK AND STOCK
1½ lb. boneless pork shoulder
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 lb. chicken necks, backs, and/or wings
1 lb. pork spareribs
2 bunches scallions, chopped
2 carrots, peeled, cut into pieces
1 head of garlic, halved horizontally
1 1” piece ginger, peeled, sliced
¼ cup bonito flakes

RAMEN AND GARNISHES
3 large eggs
6 5-oz. packages fresh thin and wavy ramen noodles (or six 3-oz. packages dried)
3 cups bean sprouts
6 scallions, thinly sliced
a couple tablespoons Japanese pickled ginger (for serving)
Chili oil, toasted sesame oil, and shichimi togarashi (for serving)

INGREDIENT INFO:
You can find all the Asian ingredients listed here at Asian markets, in the Asian foods section of some supermarkets, and online. Look in the refrigerated section of Asian markets for fresh noodles. Ask your butcher for chicken necks and backs.

KOMBU DASHI AND TARE
Two days ahead: For the dashi, combine kombu and 4 quarts cold water in a large bowl. Cover and let sit at room temperature at least 8 hours and up to 12 hours. For the tare, combine soy sauce, sake, and mirin in a small bowl; cover and chill.

PORK AND STOCK
One day ahead: Season pork shoulder with salt and pepper. Roll up and tie with kitchen twine at 2” intervals. (This helps keep the meat intact while cooking and makes for round, compact slices.)
Heat oil in a large heavy pot (at least 8 quarts) over medium-high heat Cook pork shoulder, turning, until brown all over, 10–12 minutes. Add chicken, spareribs, scallions, carrots, garlic, ginger, and bonito flakes. Remove kombu from dashi; discard. Add as much kombu dashi as will fit in pot once liquid is boiling (reserve remaining dashi). Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, skimming the surface occasionally and adding remaining dashi as liquid reduces, until pork shoulder is tender and stock has reduced to about 2 quarts, 2½–3 hours.
Remove pork shoulder from stock and let cool. Wrap tightly in plastic and chill until ready to use. (Chilling pork will make meat easier to slice.) Strain stock through a fine-mesh sieve into another large pot or a large bowl or container; discard solids (including ribs and chicken). Cover and chill.

RAMEN AND GARNISHES
Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Carefully add eggs one at a time and boil gently for 7 minutes. (Egg yolks should be shiny yellow and almost jammy; egg white should be just set.) Drain eggs and transfer to a bowl of ice water to stop cooking; let cool. Peel; set aside.
Remove string and thinly slice pork; cover and set aside.
When ready to serve, bring stock to a simmer; it should be very hot. At the same time, cook noodles in a large pot of boiling water according to package directions until al dente; drain (no need to salt the water, as ramen noodles contain more salt than pasta).
Just before serving, divide noodles among 6 deep bowls. Top with sliced pork, placing it off to one side. Add tare to hot stock and ladle over pork to warm through (stock should come up just to the level of the noodles).
Place a small pile of menma next to pork. Halve eggs and place next to menma. Place a small pile of sliced scallions next to egg. Tuck half a sheet of nori between side of bowl and noodles so it’s just poking out.
Serve ramen with chili oil, sesame oil,
and shichimi togarashi.

DO AHEAD: Eggs can be cooked 1 day ahead. Keep unpeeled eggs covered in cool water. Cover and chill.

Okonomiyaki or Japanese vegetable fritters
Pancakes
1/2 small head cabbage, very thinly sliced (1 pound or 5 to 6 cups shreds) which will be easiest on a mandoline if you have one
4 medium carrots, peeled into ribbons with a vegetable peeler
2 medium zucchini/squash, shredded
4 scallions, thinly sliced on an angle
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
6 large eggs, lightly beaten
Canola, safflower or peanut oil for frying
Okonomiyaki sauce

Make the pancakes: Toss cabbage, carrot, zucchini, scallions and salt together in a large bowl. Toss mixture with flour so it coats all of the vegetables. Stir in the eggs. Heat a large heavy skillet on medium-high heat. Coat the bottom with oil and heat that too.

To make a large pancake, add 1/4 of the vegetable mixture to the skillet, pressing it out into a 1/2- to 3/4-inch pancake. Gently press the pancake down flat. Cook until the edges beging to brown, about 3 minutes. 30 seconds to 1 minute later, flip the pancake with a large spatula. (If this is terrifying, you can first slide the pancake onto a plate, and, using potholders, reverse it back into the hot skillet.) Cook on the other side until the edges brown, and then again up to a minute more (you can peek to make sure the color is right underneath).

To make small pancakes, form little cakes a few inches in diameter on the hot skillet. Press down gently with a spatula to they flatten slightly, but no need to spread them much. Cook for 3 minutes, or until the edges brown. Flip the pancakes and cook them again until brown underneath.

Regardless of pancake size, you can keep them warm on a tray in the oven at 200 to 250 degrees until needed.

Serve pancakes with sauce and any of the other fixings listed above, from Japanese mayo to scallions and toasted sesame seeds. I didn’t have kewpie mayo (blasphemy, I know) but used okonomiyaki sauce, scallions, and sesame seeds to top mine.

Do ahead: Extra pancakes will keep in the fridge for a couple days, or can be spread on a tray in the freezer until frozen, then combined in a freezer bag to be stored until needed. Reheat on a baking sheet in a hot oven until crisp again.

san francisco summer: berry bars, lemon pancakes, italian sammies

OKAY. I have been neglecting my blog for a very long time. Whoops.

So, stating the obvious for those who know me personally: I moved.

A few months ago, I quit my job, packed up all my stuff, and moved up to San Francisco for a new opportunity and a new city.

It’s been stressful to say the least. And amazing to say the very most. I haven’t lived in a different city since studying abroad and whereas I don’t have to deal with culture shock this time around, the sense of permanence is more intimidating. There is no clear-cut expiration date to the discomfort and awkwardness – it’s just a free-for-all dive into the unknown. Which is supposed to be good, right? Who wants to be comfortable in their 20′s anyway.

Not that San Francisco requires much assimilation – I’m sure non-Californians think the two cities are pretty similar… Take out all the West-side LA blonde wanna-be actors and you have two coastal cities filled with craft-beer guzzling coffee-snob foodie hipsters who wear Martin Scorcese glasses and ironic shoes.

But SF has other things to offer – no traffic (yay for living in a real city with real transportation options!), very casual dress pretty much everywhere, food markets every other day, friendly people – seriously very friendly, and great Italian food.

Typical July morning. 67 degrees with fog rolling in.

Another perk: there’s always something happening in SF. Sometimes the options get overwhelming – people here love being active and they really love their weekend festivals. Festivals for everything! Street food, jazz, chocolate, gay pride, everything.

And the stereotypes are true. Everyone here works in finance or tech or a combination of the two. Half the city is employed by Google and Facebook. Everyone is a “foodie.” San Franciscans think they live in the best city in the world (I’m not going to argue – the place is pretty awesome. Other than the fact that there are no good tacos. I give up on trying to explain to San Franciscans why taco trucks are better in the Southland).

And all the hip, new craft cocktail bars and coffee shops employ only hipsters who wear plaid, suspenders, and have luxurious mustaches. This is not new for me, however, as this phenomenon seems to have taken over Los Angeles, Seattle, and Portland, as well. Cue Portlandia reference.

The best thing about the bay area in my opinion though is the dedication to farmers and pioneering great food. I’ve had some better things in LA and to be fair, I haven’t had a mid-priced restaurant in SF that I thought was AMAZING yet (LA owns SF in this – Baco, Animal, Son of a Gun, Parish, etc.) but SF dominates in terms of experimental chefs and people who are dedicated to molecular gastronomy and do things with the best, freshest ingredients that you’re just not going to see anywhere else. Maybe New York, but whatever. The luxury of the “tasting menu.” People here love tasting menus

I’ve been lucky to have moved up here in the heyday of Spring and Summer because all the best California fruits and vegetables are out to play. Key words like: “locally sourced,” “organic,” and “farm to table.” I’ve been getting my fill on berries, zucchini, plums, peaches. Followers of my instagram have mentioned that all I do is eat… This may or may not be accurate.

Organic butter lettuce. Only in SF is this available on a casual Saturday grocery run.

I’ve been cooking a lot of summer-y things in the past couple of weeks so I’ll post them all here – a breakfast, lunch, and dessert. All featuring items bought at the farmer’s market this month. Hopefully, you’re lucky enough to have a farmer’s market nearby but if not, nothing here is overly exotic that you can’t find a grocery store. The vegetable sandwich especially though tastes best with local, organic, summer produce. Shut up.

Breakfast: Lemon Ricotta Pancakes

I really enjoy making pancakes. A squirt of lemon juice, some zest, and fluffy ricotta. Perfect for a Saturday brunch. The lemon brightens up the cakes and I just enjoy mine with a lot of Kerrygold grass-fed butter. At the risk of sounding pretentious, I’m going to say grass-fed butter really does taste better.

Italian Vegetable Sandwich

I like layering up the vegetables with a 5-minute basil vinaigrette. Everything is fresh and simple. High quality mozzarella and using the best vegetables is key to this sammy. Crunchy and bright and herby. Great for summer. If you hold everything together with a toothpick and wrap it up, it’ll travel well for picnics, too.

“All right, Mr. Demille. I’m ready for my close-up.”

Blueberry Crumb Bars

I’ve made these bars a million times before. And I thought they’d be a safe pick for a group lunch – it was my first time using the oven in my new apartment and I wanted to use a simple recipe that was reliable and didn’t involve much rising or temperature sensitivity.

Let me just say: this building was constructed in the 1920′s. The oven looks like it’s from the 1950′s. I don’t know how women back then baked anything but I think it’s going to take me a few more tries to figure out exactly how this oven works because I don’t think the temperature stated is all too accurate.

Anyway, CIAO!

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes

Serving size: 12-14 pancakes
from williams-sonoma

1 cup ricotta cheese
1 cup milk
3 eggs, separated
1/4 cup sugar
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 Tbs. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt

In a large bowl, whisk together the ricotta, milk, egg yolks, sugar, lemon zest and juice until smooth. Sift together the flour, baking powder and 1/8 tsp. of the salt over the ricotta mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until just combined.

In another large bowl, using a whisk, beat the egg whites until frothy. Add the remaining 1/8 tsp. salt and continue beating until soft peaks form. Using a rubber spatula, fold one-third of the egg whites into the ricotta mixture, then gently fold in the remaining whites.

Preheat a griddle over medium heat. Spray the griddle with nonstick cooking spray. Ladle 1/3 cup batter onto the griddle for each pancake. Cook until bubbles form on top and the pancakes are golden underneath, 1 to 2 minutes. Flip the pancakes and cook for 1 minute more. Transfer to a warmed plate. Repeat with the remaining batter.

Italian Vegetable Sandwich

2 servings

A quarter sheet of herb focaccia or enough to make 2 sandwiches
1 Italian eggplant, sliced into disks
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 red onion, sliced thinly
1 roma tomato*, sliced
4 oz fresh mozzarella, room temperature
1 head butter lettuce
A few leaves of basil
basil vinaigrette (see recipe below)
* I like using roma in my sandwiches because they have less juices and seeds pouring out = less soggy.

Sprinkle sliced eggplant with salt and let sit for five minutes to draw out any bitter juices. Place red onion in a bowl of cold water to take the edge off – this little step is good for raw onions as it makes them less spicy and pungent. I leave mine in for about 10-20 minutes and then dry them off.

Once you see some water drawn out of the eggplant, wipe them down, and heat up a skillet over medium-high heat. Lightly oil skillet and fry the eggplant in a single layer. Season with salt and pepper to taste. A few minutes for each side or until lightly browned. Remove from skillet and let rest on a plate.

Slice focaccia in half and layer with a few leaves of butter lettuce on the bottom. Layer on top fresh mozzarella, tomato slices, red onion, cooked eggplant, red bell pepper, and some basil leaves. Smear basil vinaigrette generously on the top half of the focaccia and then pin everything together with a toothpick. This sandwich is a tall stack! Hearty, vegetarian, and delicious!

Basil Vinaigrette
1 garlic clove (or two if you really like garlic. I really like garlic)
1 cup packed basil leaves, roughly chopped
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
pinch crushed red pepper
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In a food processor, pulse the garlic until chopped. Add the basil and pulse until finely chopped. Add the oil, vinegar and crushed red pepper and process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.
You’ll have leftover basil vinaigrette – save it in the fridge and it goes great on caprese salad or any other salad, grilled fish, steak, heirloom tomatoes, pasta, seriously everything.

Blueberry Crumb Bars
I used an old recipe here: the strawberry crumb bars of old times past – but replaced it with blueberry preserves.
I’m still learning how to use the old, fidgety oven in my apartment though… the temperature indicator doesn’t seem to be accurate so far and these bars ended up having to stay in the oven for an extra fifteen minutes. The crumb topping didn’t get the proper caramelization as an end result.

More experimentation to come later.

tofu and roasted brussel sprouts

I sit in front of a computer for 10-12 hours a day. Sometimes more.

I spend one to two hours a day commuting in LA traffic.

From January through April, I eat so much junk while I work – Thai food, Chipotle, greasy paninis… putting in my order for Eggplant Parm from Bay Cities as I’m typing this.

I tried to do the healthy breakfast oatmeal thing but have you tasted oatmeal? It’s DISGUSTING.

I’m tired of eating out. What a first world problem.

When did cooking for myself become a luxury?

This is me whining.

I’m done now.

Brussel sprouts and tofu and shiitake mushrooms!

My New Year’s Resolution like everyone else’s New Year’s resolutions is being a better version of myself.

And by better, I mean hotter. I want nice legs and maybe a hint of abs by summer. DIET TIME LET’S GO.

Tofu and Brussel Sprouts
From Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

150g firm tofu
2 tbsp chilli sauce
1½ tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp sesame oil
1 tsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp maple syrup
500g brussels sprouts
180ml sunflower oil
Salt
100g spring onion, sliced
½ small chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
120g shiitake mushrooms, halved
15g picked coriander (chilantro) leaves
1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds

First, marinate the tofu. In a bowl, whisk together the chilli sauce, soy, two tablespoons of sesame oil, vinegar and syrup. Cut the tofu block into 0.5cm thick slices and then each slice into two squarish pieces. Gently lay in the marinade and set aside.

Trim the bases off the sprouts and cut each lengthways into three thick slices. Take a large, nonstick pan, and in it heat up four tablespoons of sunflower oil. Add half the sprouts and a little salt, and cook on high heat for two minutes. Don’t stir much – you want them almost to burn in a few places and cook through but remain crunchy. Transfer to a bowl and repeat with the rest of the sprouts.

Add two more tablespoons of oil to the pan, heat up and sauté the onion, chilli and mushrooms for a minute or two. Transfer to the sprout bowl.

Leave the pan on high heat and, using a pair of tongs, lift half the tofu from the marinade and gently lay in the pan (be careful: the oil may spit), spaced apart and in one layer. Lower the heat to medium and cook for two minutes on each side until nicely caramelised. Transfer to the sprout bowl and repeat with the rest of the tofu.

Once all the tofu is cooked, remove the pan from the heat and return all the cooked ingredients to it. Add the tofu marinade and half the coriander. Toss together and allow to cool slightly in the pan. Taste and add salt if needed. Stir in the remaining sesame oil (extra, if you like) and serve warm, not hot, garnished with sesame seeds and the rest of the coriander.

a new year

The holidays are offiically over! A year ago, I spent December alone – studying for the CPA exam, avoiding all social outings, I was getting ready for my first busy season. I would never have imagined that 2012 would turn out the way it did – the people I met, the experiences I had, the relationships that got stronger, the ones that fell apart, the stupid things that I did, the lessons learned from such dumb mistakes. 2012 was an interesting 366 days.

I had an amazing 23rd birthday that made me realize that I can’t hang like I used to in college (these are dark times, friends.)

I never would have thought I’d make it halfway across the world to Russia.

I found a city that I think I like better than LA. Ruh roh. Time to move.

San Francisco playdate!

And somehow 12 months flew by and here we are at the end of December… I don’t know where time goes anymore. As you get older, each year get shorter. Terrifying.

Ugly Christmas Sweater Exchange

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Party goodies

Christmas in Los Cabos!

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Where I ate a lot of tacos.

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Like. A lot of freakin tacos.

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Ziplining over a canyon at 40 mph! Absolutely thrilling.

Parasailing over Cabo!

Parasailing over Cabo!

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Got some new goodies from my new favorite boutique – Social Butterflies LA

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More goodies!

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Spin Bar at the Standard – ping pong while drinking! Weird. Yet entertaining.

Spent an evening deep frying beer battered halibut and potatoes.

Morning bake sessions – lemon matcha pound cake.

That was pretty much my December. A lot of eating, a lot of drinking, and a lot of relaxing to recharge myself for 2013. This is the year where things get crazy. Crazier than 2012 – can’t imagine how that’s possible but I have a good feeling about what’s to come. Other than work busy season. That’s going to be the black hole of my year. New Year’s Eve just isn’t fun when you know your life is going to suck for the next four months of the year.

The only way to alleviate this feeling of FML is to plan an epic trip somewhere. Someone travel with me in 2013, please. I don’t want to be in LA.

Beer-Battered Halibut
vegetable oil for frying
8 halibut filets
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup frying tempura batter mix (or more to get the right consistency)
1 (12 fluid ounce) can or bottle beer

Heat oil in a deep fryer to 365 degrees F (185 degrees C). Rinse fish, pat dry, and season with salt and pepper.
Combine the tempura mix and gradually mix in beer until a thin batter is formed – you can adjust with more tempura mix or beer to get the right consistency. You should be able to see the fish through the batter after it has been dipped.
Dip fish fillets into the batter, then drop one at a time into hot oil. Fry fish, turning once, until both sides are golden brown. Drain on paper towels, and serve warm.

Lemon Matcha Pound Cake (from Joy the Baker)
makes one 9x5x4-inch pound cake, plus 12 mini muffins

2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/3 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 eggs
2/3 cup sour cream
zest of one lemon and juice of half a lemon
1 Tablespoon matcha powder
1 stick plus 7 Tablespoons (15 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the loaf pan, dust the insides with flour and tap out the excess. Also butter a mini muffin pan or line a regular muffin tin with cupcakes papers for the small amount of excess batter. Set aside.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.

Whisk the eggs into the sugar. You can use a large bowl with a whisk for this. You don’t really need a big mixer for this recipe. Beat until the eggs and sugar are thoroughly incorporated. Whisk in the extract, then whisk in the sour cream. Continuing with the whisk, or switching to a large rubber spatula, gently stir in the dry ingredients in 3 or 4 additions; the batter will be smooth and thick. Finish by folding in the melted butter in 2 or 3 additions.

Divide the batter in half (just eyeball it) into two separate bowls. In one bowl add the zest and lemon juice. In the other bowl, fold in the matcha tea powder.

Pour some of the lemon batter into the pan. Top it with a portion of the green tea batter. Add more lemon and top with more green tea batter. Fill the loaf pan, leaving at least 1-inch of room at the top of the pan for the cake to rise. Swirl gently and minimally with a butter knife to get a good swirl effect. With the remaining batter, make mini muffins or cupcakes.

Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean. The mini muffins will take about 15 minutes and the cupcakes will take about 18-20 minutes.

Once removed from the oven, allow the loaf to rest in the pan for 20 minutes before running a knife along the edges of the pan and inverting the cake onto a cooling rack.