Thursday, January 27, 2011

Restaurant Nocturnes V

Night falls, the sun sinks into the ocean, and the neon glows above a thousand eateries all across Los Angeles. It's time once again for Restaurant Nocturnes! For just over a year, The 99 Cent Chef has been wearing down his rubber soles all over town, setting up his tripod on countless sidewalks to bring faithful readers of his blog a fifth installment in this one-of-a-kind video and photo series.

The clamorous sounds, comings and goings, and menu specialities are all captured in this unique peek at the secret life of L.A. eaters as it's played out nightly at establishments from the haute to the humble.  What's good on the menu? This chintzy chef is not afraid to ask, opening up a world for you to watch and hear from a unique, fine arts-infused vantage point.

Listen in as a bartender at Firenze Osteria in Studio City describes a party atmosphere of free appetizers during the regular drop-in appearances by owner Fabio Viviani for Wednesday night screenings of  Bravo cable tv's "Top Chef All Stars," in which he's currently competing.

 If slabs of sizzling meat are your thing, come with The 99 Cent Chef as he culinarily cavorts from Salt's Cure, the latest brick and mortar butcher shop, to old school Taylors Steak House, a 1950's classic.

Or if your wallet is light, hit Hollywood Boulevard and fill up on the cheap at the venerable Snow White Cafe, which offers a beer and burger special for ten bucks, or at Stefano's Two Guys From Italy, where $2 gets you a tasty NYC- style pizza slice.

Your trip around the city will feel like a trip around the world, loaded with short succulent descriptions of the treats at Con Sabor Pupuseria, ranging from Salvadoran shrimp to veggie-filled tortilla pupusas, to the Polish pork-stuffed Pierogi dumplings at Warszawa, Ethiopian- style whole fried fish at Merkato, and Korean BBQ Pork Belly at Honey Pig.

So pull up a chair, tuck in your napkin, and be a sidewalk voyeur as you check out the action at a gallery of L.A. eateries curated and recorded by The 99 Cent Chef.

Restaurant Nocturnes V - Video

Play it here. The video runs 5 minutes, 30 seconds.

Restaurants in order of appearance - click on text to see their website (or review), and my original twitpic link.

1. Formosa - twitpic,  2. BOA - twitpic,  3. Salt's Cure - twitpic 
4. Bludso's BBQ - twitpic, 5. Norms - twitpic,  6. Mac & Cheeza - twitpic
7. Bouchon - twitpic,  8. Tito's Tacos - twitpic 9. Honey Pig Korean BBQ - twitpic
10. Firenze Osteria - twitpic, 11. Fresh & Meaty Burgers - twitpic 
12. Locali Deli/Market - twitpic, 13. Merkato Ethiopian - twitpic 
14. Warszawa - twitpic, 15. Con Sabor Pupuseria - twitpic 
16. Red Lion Tavern - twitpic, 17. Rustic Canyon - twitpic
18. Howard's Famous Bacon & Avocado Burgers - twitpic
19. Snow White Cafe - twitpic,  20. Stefano's Two Guys From Italy - twitpic
21. Taylor's Steak House - twitpic,  22. Dupar's - twitpic
23. Tinga - twitpic,  24. Tom Bergin - twitpic
25. Colori Kitchen - twitpic

To see more Restaurant Nocturnes, just click on the name:
Restaurant Nocturnes I, Restaurant Nocturnes II, Restaurant Nocturnes III, Restaurant Nocturnes IV.

To view or embed from youtube, click here.
99 thanks to the restaurant owners, managers, hosts, chefs, waiters, bartenders, busboys and patrons.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Albondigas - Mexican Meatball Soup

Austria and Sweden fry theirs; the Chinese like theirs steamed; while Poland covers them in gravy and Japan coats in Panko crumbs. In Vietnam, they float in brothy Pho; in Brazil, they are served over rice; in Iran, they are stuffed with a boiled egg, and in Greece -- mint leaves. In this week's recipe, The 99 Cent Chef does his meatballs the Latin way -- studded with rice and seasoned with cumin, and floating in a tomato broth loaded with vegetables.

I like meatballs. You can see for yourself by clicking on my past recipes: Ingmar Bergman Swedish Meatballs, a Meatball Sub, and my Lighter Than Air Meatballs & Spaghetti. Now you can add Albondigas Soup to the chalkboard menu.

The main spice is cumin, which is from the Middle East, but this dish actually originated in Spain. (Albondigas is Spanish for meatball.) When I don't have curry powder on hand, cumin gets me most of the way there. Cumin gives bland ground poultry a pungent and aromatic kick. And for stuffing meatballs, rice is a tasty change of pace.

My Albondigas is economical. Normally it's made with ground beef, but that is too expensive for this Chintzy Chef. I prefer to use deli case frozen ground turkey or chicken, which I normally get for about $1 per pound. And ground turkey is low in fat, so your soup will not be oily, like it would be at a regular Mexican restaurant.

Rice, potatoes, celery, onions and carrots can be bought cheaply anywhere. I also added Mexican squash, but zucchini or yellow squash is a tasty substitute. This dish is adaptable with whatever veggies you have on hand. I used cilantro because my neighborhood Latin market always has it on sale, but don't worry if you don't have it locally; this soup will be delish without it.  I like to change up my recipes by adding or dropping ingredients -- it will not be lacking, just different.

So give my Albondigas Soup a try. It is easy to do and tastes even better the next day.

Ingredients for Soup (about 4 servings)
  • 8 cups of water - or combo of favorite broth and water.
  • 8 ounce can of tomato sauce - okay to use any type of canned or fresh chopped tomatoes.
  • 1 large potato - I used 2 small potatoes, cubed
  • 1 large carrot - sliced
  • 1 celery rib - sliced
  • 1 whole onion - chopped
  • 1 Mexican squash - okay to use zucchini or yellow squash, cubed.
  • 1 tablespoon garlic - chopped fresh or from jar.
  • 1 bunch cilantro - optional. Use half the bunch, and save some for plating.
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Ingredients for Rice Meatball
  • 1 pound or ground turkey or chicken - okay to use more expensive ground meat.
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano - optional
  • 1 whole egg
  • 1/2 cup of uncooked rice - I used brown but you can use white as well - For cooked rice use one cup, and reduce cooking time by going right to Final Cooking Directions.
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions for Meatballs
Start heating 8 cups of water in a large soup pot. In a large bowl add ground turkey (or chicken), egg, rice, dried oregano and ground cumin. Mix well.

The messy part is forming small meatballs - about 1 to 1.5 inch diameter each (and fits into a tablespoon). I made about 14 meatballs. If water is boiling, turn to low and carefully add each meatball to pot as you form them.

When all the meatballs are in the water, add chopped onion, celery, garlic and 1/2 of the chopped cilantro. Add a pinch of salt and pepper. Turn up heat and bring to a boil, cover pot and reduce heat to low. (If you used cooked rice in meatballs then go right to next paragraph). Cook 1/2 hour for white rice or 45 minutes for brown rice. Turn meatballs a couple of times during cooking to make sure rice cooks through.

Final Cooking Directions
Add can of tomato sauce, and chopped potatoes, carrots and more cilantro (set aside a few sprigs for presentation) to soup. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and cook 1/2 hour. Lastly, add zucchini or Mexican squash (or any quick cooking veggies you like), then cover and cook another 10 minutes, or until desired tenderness is reached. Serve hot with a few sprigs of fresh cilantro.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Loxaco, a Jewish Taco - Video Recipe

Wolfgang Puck built his food empire off his signature Italian/Jewish pizza made with Lox and cream cheese. And now The 99 Cent Chef has the chutzpah to come up with his own dish worthy of inclusion into the Entrees Hall of Fame - a Jewish/Mexican culinary mashup called the Loxaco!

 Los Angeles is known for fusion food (the collision of disparate ethnic cuisines), epitomized by Roy Choi's Kogi Truck taco, which features Korean spiced short ribs and sour slaw on a corn tortilla (click here to see my video documentary) -- so good! So why not a new taco twist featuring typical ingredients from your local Jewish deli?

I first had a Jewish breakfast sandwich that featured a bagel, cream cheese, and Lox, on a film commercial shoot, and have been addicted ever since. Usually laid out by craft services on a folding table, it seems an unusual first meal, especially with garnishes of sliced tomato and red onion -- Oy Vey! But, mild cured salmon and sweet cream cheese smooth out the pungent raw crunchy red onion.

With all my Los Angeles edible influences, it was only a matter of time before the Chintzy Chef came up with his latest outre entree.

And a lot of the credit goes to a Latino neighborhood (Boyle Heights) bookstore, Libros Schmibros. Thanks to my wife, whose bread and butter is earned through journalism, I've had the pleasure to meet many scribblers, including David Kipen, the proprietor of this lending library/used Bibliotheque in East L.A.

When we were invited there to a book launch party for the travelogue "Waiting For Foreign", edited by Veronique de Turenne and J. Michael Walker, I wanted to come up with a unique dish to commemorate the occasion, thus the Loxaco was born - my version of a Jewish Taco.

In my video, you can spot some noshing local literati in attendance, including Pulitzer Prize-winning food writer Jonathan Gold with wife Laurie Ochoa (co-editor of Slake), Kevin Roderick (LA Observed), and noir scribe Gary Phillips -- who gives my homemade lox a rave review, on camera!

Cold-cured salmon, or lox, is so simple to make that it seems like gouging to charge $2 an ounce (that's $32 per pound!) by your local deli and supermarket. All it takes is a coating of cheap salt and sugar, followed by a two-day wait for curing in the refrigerator. Cured salmon does lose half of its water weight, so maybe that's why it's worth so much gelt?

I bought a $5 salmon steak on sale for $7.99 per pound and cut it into 3 pieces for my video shoot: two for curing and one piece was kept raw. For one, two-ounce fillet, I went over my 99 cent price point, but not by much; and anyway, I am saving you mucho dinero! And my other Loxaco ingredients, red onion, tomato, cream cheese, and taco shells (or corn tortillas), are always a bargain. Plus all the ingredients are Kosher, including taco shells.

Lox makes for a versatile party canape for your next Bat Mitzvah or Quinceanera. I schlepped a package of tortilla chips to Libros Schmibros to stretch my homemade Lox. Stacking my Loxaco recipe on some chips, I was surprised how quickly they disappeared. A cured four-ounce piece of salmon will easily make a few dozen appetizers, depending on how thin you can slice it. And if you want to keep the party theme Jewish, just use bagel chips.

So pull up a chair and watch the haimisher mensch Chef show you how easy it is to make homemade Lox. And as a bonus, I take you to Boyle Heights to visit a great neighborhood bookstore, Libros Schmibros.  
The Loxaco  - Video
Play it here. The video runs 7 minutes, 42 seconds. 

Ingredients for Lox (about 8 Loxacos, or a few dozen canapes)
  • 4 ounces of fresh Salmon
  • 1/4 cup of Salt
  • 1/4 cup of Sugar
  • A pinch of dried or fresh Herbs makes a tasty flavor addition, including dill, parsley, oregano, etc.
  • If you want a smoked flavor, then lightly brush on a teaspoon of Liquid Smoke before sugar/salting.

Taco Ingredients
  • 8 Taco Shells - okay to use heated soft Corn Tortillas. Hey, go crazy and wrap Loxaco ingredients in a Flour Tortilla for a Jewish burrito!
  • 1/2 onion - typically Red Onion, sliced.
  • 1 large Tomato - or a couple of small, sliced.
  • A small tub or block of Cream Cheese.
  • A few sprigs of Cilantro - optional.

I removed the skin from the salmon fillet (also remove any bones). Mix 1/4 cup of salt and sugar and pour onto a small plate. Coat all sides of the salmon with salt and sugar. 

Wrap salmon in plastic and store on a plate, or small bowl, in the refrigerator for 2 days. If you leave the skin on you may need an extra day of curing.

Every 12 hours or so, open plastic-wrapped salmon and drain off the liquid. I re-coated salmon with leftover salt and sugar after one day. 

The salmon fillet will shrink and turn a deeper orange as it cold cures. It is done when firm to the touch and the center is no longer raw.

After 2 days (very thick fillets may need an extra day or two) rinse off lox with water to remove the extra salty taste. After the rinsing, you can also soak lox for five minutes in a bowl of water to dissolve away even more salt. Pat dry with a paper towel when done. 

Slice lox thinly. Store any leftover lox (highly unlikely) in the refrigerator in a Ziplock bag or airtight container.

To assemble Loxaco, smear taco shell (or soft warm corn tortilla) with cream cheese; add a slice of tomato, onion, and lox, finally topping with a few sprigs of cilantro.

My Loxaco is easily turned into canapes for a party food tray. Just assemble the same way with your favorite chips, including tortilla chips, bagel chips, and fried pork skins -- obviously, the last chip is not Kosher!

Libros Schmibros hours are noon - 6pm. Thursday - Sunday
103 N. Boyle Avenue (new location)
Los Angeles, CA 90033
phone: (323) 604-9991

99 thanks to Bob McGinness for his tasty kitchen camerawork.
Extra thanks to David Kipen of Libros Schmibros, plus all the customers and the volunteers.
*Click on orange type for links to Mexican or Yiddish phrase translations.
To embed, or to just link the video from YouTube, click here.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Portabella Mushroom & Bell Pepper Cheeseburger

Lately my favorite fungi are Portabella mushrooms. Easier to cook than a hamburger patty,  I am trying out different methods of preparation, and various savory combinations with this woodsy delicacy. I like to fill up the grill so I added sweet red bell pepper to my latest tight-wad treat.

My last mushroom recipe was a baked Portabella Crab Rockefeller, and this time it's a large, meaty, grilled Portabella & Bell Pepper Cheeseburger. To keep it strictly vegan you can leave off the cheese. The final burger dressing is up to you -- just add you favorite burger toppings including spinach, tomato and pickles.

We just had a couple of days of sunshine in Los Angeles and Portabellas are at my local 99c only Store, so I quickly uncovered the barbecue grill to take full advantage. Of course an indoor stove top grill, or even a large frying pan, will give you tasty cooking results. The mushroom shrinks about 25 percent when grilled, so keep that in mind when pairing with large or small hamburger buns. 

And as long as my local 99c only Store stocks them I'll keep coming up with recipes to share with you.

  • 1 large portabella mushroom - may want to remove stem, sometimes it's too woody.
  • 1/2 bell pepper - red, yellow or green, sliced.
  • 1 slice of cheese - your favorite.
  • 1 hamburger bun
  • Also add any favorite burger toppings - mayo, mustard, spinach, tomato, etc.

Marinade for mushroom and bell peppers
  • 2 tablespoons of oil
  • 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar - okay to use regular vinegar or lemon/lime juice.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

Heat grill. Mix marinade and brush portabella mushroom and sliced bell pepper. Salt and pepper veggies to taste. If you have an Italian dressing to use up, then use it instead. The grilled veggies are also delicious seasoned with salt and pepper only.

For a more meaty, and less watery, mushroom - carefully scrape off the gills (feathery part underneath mushroom cap) with a spoon.

Give bell peppers a 5 minute head start on the grill. Add mushroom and grill each side about 5 minutes each - mushroom is done when damp and soft like a wet sponge. Mushroom will sweat water into gills so drain just before adding to the buns.

I like my hamburger buns toasted. Stack cooked bell pepper onto done mushroom and top with your favorite cheese. Cook until cheese starts to melt.

Assemble with your favorite extra toppings. You can leave off cheese for a vegan burger, it will be just as tasty.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Pasta with Salmon & Cream

Canned cooked salmon often shows up in my recipes. This is a good change of pace from canned tuna. Pre-cooked salmon may not make a great "tuna" type salad, but it's milder in flavor and I think it goes better with pasta. And cream is good in anything.

I picked up some fat free half & half recently because it was on sale at my local 99c only Store, and was surprised how good it tasted. Canned or packaged salmon is almost always stocked.

This entree is quick and easy to assemble. Just boil water for the pasta and by the time the pasta is al dente, the cream and salmon sauce is ready.

The advantage of sometimes cooking with only canned or packaged ingredients is the convenience - my Pasta with Salmon & Cream is the kind of dish you can make at the last minute, almost anytime.

Ingredients (serves 1-2)
  • Small can or packet of cooked salmon - 4 to 7 ounces.
  • 1 cup (half pint) of cream, half & half or whole milk.
  • 1/2 package (about 8 ounces) of pasta - any favorite.
  • 1 teaspoon of chopped garlic - fresh or from jar.
  • 1 tablespoon of grated parmesan cheese - fresh or dried.
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon of oil

Add chopped garlic to hot oil in large saute pan. Stir and cook for a minute, and be careful not to burn. Pour in cream or milk. Add dried parmesan and mix well. Heat to a low simmer for about 5 - 7 minutes, continue stirring.

Add canned or packaged salmon. Break apart salmon but leave chunky. In some canned salmon there is often a center bone you may want to pick out and remove. 

Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions. I usually begin boiling water in a large pot at the beginning of this recipe; and add pasta to water during the simmering of the cream sauce. When pasta is done, drain and add directly to cream and salmon sauce. Mix well and serve.

I've noticed that when you store Pasta with Salmon & Cream leftovers, the pasta soaks up all of the sauce. So if you microwave it later, just add a tablespoon of milk or cream.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Tea Party Chicken Soup

"Let them eat chicken soup!" The phrase "let them eat cake" (attributed to a callous Marie Antoinette upon learning the peasants were complaining of not having any bread) is credited with launching the French Revolution. Now The 99 Cent Chef has given this 18th Century rallying cry a 21st Century twist!

Since Republicans, Blue Dog Democrats, and especially the Tea Party, are against ObamaCare, I offer them my freshly coined slogan to use against the complaining uninsured and uninsurable during the next election cycle. Plus, this affordable and easy recipe is perfect for printing on the backside of any campaign posters!

So, "Let them eat Chicken Soup!" And meanwhile, let's throw a Tea Party Chicken Soup soiree!

Fortunately, The 99 Cent Chef's delicious and healthy recipe is affordable to everyone. Now it may not cure breast cancer, or treat your coughing infant, but my Tea Party Chicken Soup will go down easy and tide you over until our National Health Care Act goes into effect in 2014. And just in case the newly elected House Majority manages to dismantle (and make the law as unpalatable as possible with expensive add-ons), or block the bill, or the Supreme Court strikes it down -- no need to fret, my chicken soup freezes fine and can be thawed out for future use!

At present there are millions of American citizens without health care insurance, either because they're deemed ineligible by insurance companies and HMO's, or can no longer afford to buy it. Now that's a lot of 99 Cent Chef home-remedy Chicken Soup to consume.

So if you are still looking for work, or if your COBRA Continuation Health Coverage is about to expire, don't fret. Anyone who cannot afford a doctors visit can make my nourishing cheap dish. And you are not disqualified because of a pre-existing medical condition from partaking in my healthy chicken-in-every-pot meal.

I always find chicken for way less than a dollar a pound; and this is the perfect recipe for using up all those leftover veggies in the fridge. I purchased chicken leg quarters from my local Latin market for 69 cents a pound; and I've bought chicken breast for 99 cents a pound, on sale, at regular chain grocery stores. The main veggies I use are also the cheapest -- onions, carrots and celery.

So until one of the most prosperous democracies in the world decides to join Canada and most of Europe in providing universal heath care, be sure to eat plenty of my Tea Party Chicken Soup -- a sure cure for what ails you!

Go ahead and dig in, and sorry I don't do house calls. Now, while some of my readers will disagree with my heath care stance, you cannot repeal the delicious flavor of my latest entree!

Ingredients (serves 4 to 6)
  • 3 chicken leg quarters - okay to use chicken breasts (about 3) or any poultry parts you prefer. I removed the skin from half of the pieces. And I leave the chicken on the bone for a more flavorful broth.
  • 2 ribs of celery - sliced.
  • 2 carrots - chopped.
  • 1 whole onion - chopped.
  • 1 teaspoon garlic - from jar or fresh chopped.
  • 1 bay leaf - you can use any favorite herb (dried or fresh) for extra flavor. I grow sage and basil.
  • 8 cups of water - or water plus your favorite stock. Or you can throw in a couple of chicken bouillon cubes for an extra intense chicken flavor.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

*Optional additions when soup is almost done (adding 2 extra cups of water): 1/2 package of pasta (about 7 ounces). I got "Melon Seed", but any small elbow, bowtie or orzo, will do -- or add 1/2 cup of brown or white rice.

In a large soup pot add 1 teaspoon of oil to coat the bottom. Over a medium/ high heat cook chopped onion until soft, about 5 minutes. (Photo shows chicken browning with onions -optional.)

Next add chopped garlic, and cook for a minute, stirring frequently. Finally add carrot, celery, herbs, chicken, and eight cups of water and/or stock (make that 10 cups if you are adding pasta or rice later). Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Cover and cook for 45 minutes to an hour, until chicken is cooked through.

Remove chicken from soup and allow to cool on a plate. Peel off  the cooling meat from the bones. Chop or shred meat into bite sized pieces. Add chicken back to soup and heat through. Ready to serve when hot.

* My Tea Party Chicken Soup is adaptable. You can add potatoes to chopped veggies. Cauliflower or broccoli is a nice addition, during the last 15 minutes of cooking. I am growing nutritious collard greens this winter so I added a chopped handful.

* Add 1/2 package of pasta (about 7 ounces) -- or you can use 1/2 cup of white or brown rice. Add rice or pasta during the last stage during chicken shredding. Cook according to package directions (be sure make soup with 10 cups of liquid instead of 8, because pasta or rice sucks up broth like a sponge).
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