Friday, November 26, 2010

A California Thanksgiving

I hope everyone had a happy and food-filled holiday, however you celebrate it! So far I've heard everything from traditional turkey to Indian buffet..

For me, Thanksgiving in California has come to mean one thing: first-of-the-season crab! Originally we thought about doing cedar-plank salmon this year, but with Dungeness crab at $6 a pound, that seemed like the obvious choice. The sides were more traditional: pumpkin bread, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce. All of which go surprisingly well with crab!

Pumpkin bread

Crab meat, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green bean casserole, pumpkin bread,
cranberry sauce, and Firestone 14
Somehow the cooking process this year was unusually easy and short, but we also don't have a lot of leftovers. I guess that's the trade-off.

I made the green bean casserole from scratch, really just meaning using a roux and broth instead of canned mushroom soup. I haven't had this dish a lot, so I don't have much to compare it to, but it was pretty well received. I used this recipe at For the Love of Cooking.
The cranberry sauce is one of my favourite Thanksgiving foods, and I love making it. It's so simple, so variable, and makes the kitchen smell awesome.

Fresh Cranberry Sauce
  • 1 cup sugar (I used half brown sugar and half turbinado)
  • 1 cup water
  • 12 oz cranberries (1 package, usually)
  • the fun part: orange zest or peel, chopped walnuts or pecans, chopped dried apricots or other fruit, cinammon, nutmeg, etc.
  • Dissolve sugar into boiling water
  • Add cranberries, bring to a boil; reduce heat, stir occasionally 
  • When cranberries begin to pop, stir in additional ingredients
  • Continue to simmer until it is no longer 'soupy'
  • Remove from heat, cool at room temperature, then chill in fridge before serving

The beer was Firestone 14, a special annual blend from Firestone Walker. It's a tasty beer but the alcohol taste comes on a little strong. Mark is aging a second bottle, we'll see if it mellows out.
All in all, a relatively low-stress, high-carb Thanksgiving-- as it should be! Happy holidays!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Kale and Pecorino Salad

I found this recipe in Heidi Swanson's 101 Cookbooks blog, and it reminded me of a wonderful kale salad I had a while ago at Animal (that's right, they serve kale). I love kale. I love its curly leaves and bright green color. I love its earthy but not dirt-y flavor. I'm a big fan of kale chips, despite the meticulous cleaning, drying, and dipping required.

Garlic, olive oil, red wine vinegar, red pepper flakes, lemon juice, salt, pepper

This salad is a great use of fresh raw or lightly steamed kale. Very simply, it's shredded kale, cannellini beans, shaved pecorino romano, and a lemony dressing. I steamed my kale for a couple minutes since it wasn't a particularly tender variety, then tossed it with the other ingredients. It's nothing spectacular to look at, but the flavors of the kale, pecorino, and lemon come together perfectly. Try it, I promise you'll be pleasantly surprised!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Camarones con Ajo

I'm tearing myself away from watching Daria episodes to post tonight's super easy and delicious meal.

Somehow the lighting in my kitchen doesn't lend itself to good food photography. It frustrates me every time. I even tried to use a lamp for extra light, but I still get a weird yellowish hue. I'm trying my best though.

After much thought and consideration of my dangerously low bank account, I decided to forgo my initial idea of trying to make steamed buns/bao tonight (which I needed a few ingredients for) and came up with a Cuban-ish garlicky shrimp with black beans and rice instead. I substituted the traditional sour orange juice in mojo with grapefruit since that's what was in the fridge, and sautéed the shrimp instead of serving them swimming in garlic oil like so many Cuban restaurants do (not that it isn't delicious, but I'd like to live past 40).


  • 4 large shrimp (this was just for myself)
  • 1 head garlic
  • olive oil
  • 1 tbsp grapefruit juice (in lieu of sour orange mojo)
  • 1 can black beans, drained
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 cup rice
  • 3 cups water
  • cumin
  • bay leaf
  • salt
  • pepper


  • In a heavy pot, combine rice and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer. 
  • Slice the garlic thinly. Reserve some for use in the black beans.
  • Combine shrimp, garlic, olive oil, grapefruit juice, salt, and pepper in a plastic bag or container. Mix so that the ingredients coat the shrimp evenly. Refrigerate.
  • Heat another pot, add olive oil. When hot, add onions; sweat for a few minutes, then add garlic. Add beans and one cup water or stock, as well as cumin and bay leaf. Let simmer.
  • Heat a heavy skillet. Add shrimp and garlic mixture. Cook briefly on each side (1-2 minutes), or to taste - always be wary of overcooking shrimp. 
  • Serve shrimp on top of rice and beans. Garnish with fresh cilantro.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


I'm trying to flex my writing muscle - admittedly in part due to a somewhat disappointing performance on the AW section of the GRE - and since I never properly blogged my Central America trip, I'd like to start posting bits and pieces.

I'll begin with this piece on Granada, Nicaragua - our fourth stop, about two weeks into our six month journey. I'll go back to Costa Rica and my first impressions soon, especially since I kept the most rigorous notes, as usual, at the beginning. However, aside from the incomparable Guatemala, Granada is where I spent the most time and became most comfortable. I haven't finished this entry, but wanted to post the first part to motivate myself.

Monday, August 2, 2010

How does my garden grow..

I finally have a minute for a post.. or at least a hastily constructed photo post. Presenting the fruits of my labor- literally.

Peas! These grew incredibly fast. Definitely a keeper.

This cute little guy is currently about an inch long. Probably headed for a pickle jar. Yum.

Cilantro flowers- you're supposed to trim back the flowers to encourage leaf growth, but they're so pretty!

So.. I decided to let them grow and harvest the seeds for coriander.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Ballona Wetlands and the Beach

On a whim, I visited the Ballona Freshwater Marsh today.. I've driven by, but never stopped and walked around the little trail they've set up. For as close as it is to Lincoln Boulevard and awful Playa del Rey, it looks pretty nice! And I saw a lot of wildlife. It's going to look even nicer in a few years, once the little trees that are supposed to shield it from the street grow bigger.

The beach just south of Marina del Rey.  Free parking!

On the way home, I noticed the new Sprouts Farmers Market in Culver City! Apparently it was the last day of their grand opening sale, so I picked up a few things and generally wandered around to get a feel for the store. It's pretty cool- kind of a mix of Whole Foods and Trader Joe's in size and style of products; lots of awesome bulk products (dried fruit, nuts, beans, rice, grains, etc), great-smelling coffee (lots of Fair Trade, organic, shade grown), produce (some local, some not), pretty much every category of grocery. The seafood selection was not great sustainability-wise, or very big. They did have lots of tasty cheeses- I'm enjoying a smoked Gouda right now. 

As much as I love Trader Joe's, it's nice to have an alternative, and this place is a lot bigger and can serve more needs. I can't really speak for the prices yet because their opening sale obviously made things significantly cheaper than normal. We'll see. It's probably no further from me than the nearest Whole Foods, so I'll definitely be shopping here on occasion.

Friday, June 25, 2010

75%(ish) Farmers' Market Meal

Grilled snapper with mango salsa, black beans, squash and bell peppers

Last Tuesday I stopped at the Culver City Farmers' Market on my way home, with no list or specific items in mind. I love how ingredients sometimes come together perfectly of their own accord. On days like this I usually weave a path through the market, eyeing what new produce is available this week and munching on free samples. I take a look at the seafood board, scanning the list for good deals. The fish guy is one of my favorite market people- New York accent, really friendly and helpful, always joking around with the French cheese guy(whose wares unfortunately I can rarely afford). Having decided on the snapper, I stroll around and pick up other stuff- Rainier cherries, onions and garlic, Yukon Gold potatoes, some salad greens. It turns out the greens people are getting pretty tired of the guy who plays kids' reggae right in front of their booth every week. Fair enough, but it does seem to keep the kids occupied and in one spot so I don't have to trip over them.

For the above-pictured meal, this is what I picked up at the market:

Fresh snapper: $7/pound; I spent $5.50 on enough for 2 people
Squash and bell peppers: one bag of each for $3 total
Onions, garlic, cilantro: a couple dollars
Mandarin oranges: 5lb sack for ~$5

Non-market additions: black beans(canned, ~$1) and mango(from our little local Latin market, ~$1).

No real recipe, as usual, but here's a quick breakdown, in order of how things were prepared:

Grilled Snapper with Mango Salsa and Veggies

-Mango salsa: chop mango, onions, garlic, cilantro, chile if desired; mix together, add salt and pepper, let it marinate in the fridge while you prepare everything else.
-Black beans: sautee onions, peppers, and garlic; add beans(I used canned) and broth or water and seasonings(cumin, bay leaves, etc), simmer indefinitely; just make sure to check the water level so they don't dry out.
-Squash and peppers: slice, add salt and pepper(and chili powder if desired), sautee in olive oil for a few minutes. I like to keep veggies crunchy, for flavor and nutrition.
-Snapper: remove bones if you can, rub with chili powder, grill on a hot cast iron skillet to taste, no more than 8 or so minutes. Taste a little piece to check done-ness. With fish, you never want to overcook it! Undercook ALWAYS. Raw fish isn't just for sushi, don't fear it!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

"smells like freshly ground heaven"

Home coffee roasting. My newest passion and frustration.
Until I scrape together the couple hundred bucks to buy a roasting machine, which will vastly improve the quality of my roast, I've been using a stovetop popcorn popper. At first I attempted to use the popper's hand crank, but today I just gave up on it and decided to hand-stir it like I saw it done in Nicaragua. I felt like I got a much more even roast that way.

The insanely high temperatures required.
My very simple setup.

During roasting.
Finished product!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sprout Evolution

My little lettuce sprouts coming in! (mid-left)

Same lettuce, later.

The squirrel who occasionally disturbs my plants.

Folding some 100+ homemade bowties.. an oddly meditative task.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Quick Tangent..

Predictions for next year's NBC shows:
  • Community: Jeff and Annie will date secretly over the summer, then awkwardly have to figure out how to deal with him being 15 years older than her. The Britta/Slater thing(which by the way was out of character for both of them and sort of embarrassing to watch) can't be resolved in real time.. who would wait 3 months to sort that out? I still think Modern Warfare would've been a better season finale. 
  • Parks & Rec: They'll drag out Andy/April for a few episodes..why is Rashida Jones always the other woman?? I hope it's resolved quickly, but I wouldn't bet on it. Rob Lowe won't be around long, Leslie and the new guy will hook up. Mark will make an appearance later in the season, hopefully his company will be building the park or something like that.
  • The Office: Holly!! I missed Amy Ryan. Not much else to predict, I guess..
  • 30 Rock: Matt Damon won't stay around long, even though I thought it was a brilliant performance and thoroughly enjoyable to watch (so was Michael Sheen). Elizabeth Banks already had a pregnancy plot in Scrubs.. she's either lying about it or something else will happen to break up her and Jack. I'm still hoping for the Liz/Jack hookup but I think it's a long way away.

Modern Family wrapped up pretty neatly.. it's following a much more "everything reverts to normal by the end of the episode" pattern. So, no predictions for that..
I'll revisit this in the fall!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Growing My Own

After months of allowing assorted plants to languish in too-small containers and fall prey to aphids and mischievous squirrels, I'm finally putting together my home garden.

Above, the materials for my self-watering planter, per the instructions in Fresh Food From Small Spaces. A plastic container and its top, a plastic basket, and a small length of pipe was pretty much the extent of the planter itself. Also pictured: organic fertilizer(mm, chicken manure!), spade, seed packets.

I put it together about a week ago and recently introduced it to some plants. Transferred my strawberry and squash plants, and planted some carrot and lettuce seeds. However, I did end up overwatering a bit and need to make some modifications to my planter. I'll be working on that this weekend.

I'm really excited about the prospect of growing my own food, even though realistically it won't replace a significant percentage of our consumption anytime soon. My grandparents always grew a lot of fruits and vegetables and no matter how fresh things are at the farmers' market, there's just something about a fruit truly just off the vine. Plus, I'll be gaining at least some knowledge for possible future WWOOFing.. and the plants will create a nice layer between our small balcony and the building's driveway.

Strawberries in their seedling pot

And now some pictures of food!

20-Minute(ish) Veggie Shepherd's Pie
Improvised this a few days ago when I was hungry and tired, and it turned out better than some things I've spent way more time and effort on: mashed potatoes + sauteed mushrooms, peas, carrots + veggieburger. Maya Ik hot sauce. Done.

Tonight: fish and chips!
I can't take credit for cooking this one- thanks Trader Joe's frozen section!

Thursday, April 15, 2010


I love spring, for all the reasons anyone likes spring. In Los Angeles, the effect is not nearly as strong as somewhere with, say, actual seasons. But nonetheless, I enjoy the colorful burst of new fruits and veggies popping up at the farmers' markets after several months of mostly leafy greens and root vegetables. At left, today's haul: tomatoes, asparagus($2), artichokes($2), spinach, strawberries($5 for 3 baskets!), pita bread, oranges($6 for the 10 lb bag), and rum and carrot cakes. Not pictured: feta cheese & sundried tomato dip, tabbouleh, and trout($5/lb). Pretty awesome deals.

In other recent news from my culinary world: I harvested the first strawberry from my little strawberry plant! It was delicious. For some reason it grew and ripened much faster than the other three, but they're all coming along nicely.

Quick meal idea: Thai noodle salad

I made this salad the other night because we had Thai noodles lying around. I added shredded cabbage and carrots, bell peppers, cashews, cilantro, shallots, sesame seeds, and for Mark, sesame marinated chicken.

For dressing, I mixed soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, fish sauce, Marie Sharp's grapefruit habanero hot sauce, lime juice, garlic, and sesame seeds.

Quick, easy, and filling- a perfect weeknight meal. I love food that is colorful, and this certainly fits that bill. If you like Thai food, I highly recommend stocking up on the basic ingredients like fish sauce and curry paste- the recipes are super easy once you've got those staples in your pantry.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Baked Brie Night

Easy to make, incredibly versatile, and deliciously filling-- I can't believe I've never tried baked brie before!
I used chopped dates and walnuts, simmered with brown sugar and barleywine. I've seen recipes with other fruits as well as savory ingredients. I used five sheets of phyllo dough and had some leakage-- possibly due to the brie I chose being too soft, although someone at Wally's recommended it, so that's on them.

The end result was a melange of textures and flavors- crunchy phyllo, creamy cheese; the sweetness of the date mixture balanced by the mild taste of the cheese, served on sourdough toasts and pita chips. The leftovers were surprisingly good cold! It was then possible to cut it into neat little slices and eat it that way.