Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Restaurant Nocturnes X - VIDEO

The Frugal Fotog once again delves into nighttime noshing throughout L.A.in his new video, Restaurant Nocturnes X -- just a click away at the end of this post.

Via 13 carefully curated culinary stops, you'll be given a magic window into what happens every night in L.A. when night falls and the denizens come out to eat.  From au courant to old school, eateries from all over town are presented in short (15-second to 1-minute) video clips; while the restaurant folks themselves describe some of their preferred menu selects. But beware -- these intriguing descriptions may have you calling for a reservation before the video ends.

First up is Chez Jay, a T-Bone toss  from the beach in Santa Monica. For more than 50 years, this classic steak and seafood dive has invited locals to rub elbows with the elite. Everyone from Rat Packer Frank Sinatra and Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, to Sean Penn and Drew Barrymore, have whet their whistles here. Just squint your eyes in the late-night ambiance, and there's no telling who you may spy.

Next up is the latest from the Umami hamburger empire, Umamicatessan. A temple to bovine, poultry and swine, this downtown eatery serves everything from slices of ham imported from Italy and Spain to good old-fashioned Kentucky hams, along with their lauded hamburgers. They've come up with some of the most unusual uses of offal, too - how about Crispy Pig Ears with Brainaise? Yep - you read right, Brainaise is an aoli made with blended pig brains. In the mood for a luscious jelly doughnut filled with foie gras called a FG & J? You only have a few more days to try it, as California's ban on the selling and production of foie gras kicks in this Sunday.

If you're not in the market for a tossed brain salad, check out my clip of the classic burger joint Tommy's Hamburgers. There are many imitators (Tammy's, Tom's, Tomi's, et al.) but none hold a patty to the original. This was a royal pain in the arse to shoot, as the perfect angle is right in the middle of their parking lot -- and I was shooed away a half-dozen times before I got enough footage to make a decent video clip. Not much fun playing cat-and-mouse with security, but the reward is their $2.32 burger with chili, onion, mustard and the biggest, fattest tomato slice of any burger.

To keep you current with the latest in happening dining destinations, I present some opened in recent months: Mo-Chica is now downtown on 7th Street serving Peruvian comfort food by Chef Ricardo Zarate; and in Silver Lake on Sunset Boulevard, Black Hogg serves a "buttery" lamb burger to the local hipsterati.

I also include a few of the tried-and-true local favorites. When I'm downtown checking out the art at the Geffen Contemporary Museum on Central Avenue and 1st Street, I always make it a point to go across the street to get a couple of hot-off-the-griddle $1.25 Red Bean Cakes from the Mitsuru Cafe in the Little Tokyo Japanese Village Plaza. The bean cakes (called Imagawayaki) are hockey puck size pancakes filled with sweet bean jam -- best eaten when first served, hot and scrumptious.

And Langer's Delicatessen, which serves the best pastrami anywhere (James Beard America's Classic awarded,) closes down at 4pm every day. That leaves them out of my Restaurant Nocturnes series -- but wait, they had a 65th Anniversary a couple of weeks ago and stayed open until 9pm. So I shot them open at night! This is footage you'll want to see, as you are more likely to see a total eclipse of the sun than to witness Langer's open after dark any time soon.

I saved the best for last: Soul Burgers, located right across from the Hollywood Park Racetrack in an Inglewood strip mall. These really are some of the best burgers in town. So unusual too -- who would believe you could dress a burger with cooked collard greens, pureed yams and turkey dressing, and it would be so dang good. But tasting is believing. When you bite into a James Brown Soul Burger your taste buds will shout and do the splits! Just listen in as chef Toni testifies (she's the owner and a former Barry White backup singer) -- you'll become a turkey burger believer.

So, savor the ride through my latest compilation, Restaurant Nocturnes X -- and don't forget that after the video, I provide a website link for each restaurant in order of appearance; to learn more, just click on any name.

Restaurant Nocturnes X - VIDEO

Play it here. Video runs 6 minutes, 58 seconds.

To view or embed from YouTube, click here.

Restaurants in order of appearance - click on name to see link:
1. Chez Jay    2. Umamicatessen    3. Leaf    4. L & E Oyster Bar
11. Black Hogg    12. Mohawk Bend     13. Soul Burgers

To see more Restaurant Nocturnes, just click on a name:
Restaurant Nocturnes I, Restaurant Nocturnes II, Restaurant Nocturnes III, Restaurant Nocturnes IV, Restaurant Nocturnes V, Restaurant Nocturnes VI, Restaurant Nocturnes VII, Restaurant Nocturnes VIII, Restaurant Nocturnes IX.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Fried Egg on Breadcrumbs with Asparagus

Morning, noon or night, the latest 99 Cent Chef entree can be served anytime. And it's so quick to crank out. As a few spears of asparagus steam, you give a 1/2 slice of bread a few pulses in the blender, then add it to a pan with a tablespoon of oil, finally topping it with an egg. Fry it up and watch as the breadcrumbs crisp and the egg firms up -- but don't cook the egg all the way through, as the asparagus are for spearing and coating with luscious egg yolk.

My local newspaper, the Los Angeles Time has a great food website called Daily Dish (click here.) It features culinary news, restaurant reviews and, of course, recipes. I got this recipe from Russ Parsons, their food editor. It looked so good on the website, and it seemed really easy to do -- although I had to tweak the recipe just a little bit.

I did the recipe twice, once Russ's way, then my way. Russ called for browning the fresh made breadcrumbs for 2 to 3 minutes. The problem with this is that the breadcrumbs almost burn by the time the egg cooks and firms up -- and burnt toast is what you normally want to scrape off.

So the second time I added the breadcrumbs to the heating oil, gave them a stir to coat, then went right to adding the egg. This seems a better way -- the egg cooks just right and the breadcrumbs brown perfectly on the bottom of the egg. Maybe next time I'll spit the difference and let the breadcrumbs cook for a minute. That's the thing about recipes, you should make them your own.

Ingredients (1 serving)
  • 1 to 2 eggs
  • 1/3 bunch of asparagus - or, as many spears of asparagus as you like.
  • 1/2 slice of bread - chop fine or blender to desired size. Okay to use prepackaged breadcrumbs - about 3 to 4 tablespoons.
  • 1 tablespoon oil - to coat breadcrumbs.
  • 1/4 cup of water - for steaming asparagus
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
Directions for Breadcrumbs
Crumble 1/2 slice of bread and fine chop it, or add to a blender and pulse chop it to fine, or desired size. I normally use white sourdough for flavor, but it's okay to use whole grain, wheat or any favorite.

Directions for Asparagus
Trim off an inch or so of the tough asparagus stems. In a pan or pot add water over a medium heat. Steam asparagus covered or uncovered to desired tenderness, about 3-5 minutes. Remove from water and set aside.

Directions and Final Assembly
Add a tablespoon of oil to your favorite egg frying pan. Over a medium heat add bread crumbs to pan and stir to coat them. You can toast the crumbs for 30 seconds to a minute, or just go right to adding an egg or two.

Open the egg and pour it onto the breadcrumbs. The egg yoke should not break --  if you want a creamy runny yoke for the asparagus. Salt and pepper to taste.

Cover the pan and let it cook over a medium/low heat until white of egg gets solid, about 3-5 minutes. Check after 3 minutes to make sure it's not cooking too fast. You want the yoke to still be runny. This may take a few tries to time it just right, but with experience you will be deliciously rewarded.

Assemble steamed asparagus spears on your plate* and scoop on the breadcrumbs with cooked egg.

*You can slice up the asparagus spears into bite sizes after steaming.

Asparagus doesn't come on sale all the time, so a tasty substitution is cooked spinach, broccoli or any favorite steamed veggies.

When I buy a bunch of asparagus I will steam it as soon as possible -- that way it doesn't toughen up by sitting in the refrigerator as I work my way through the bunch. Cooked asparagus will last longer in the refrigerator than uncooked. When ready to use just microwave a few spears until warm, or just heat in a pan for a minute with a tablespoon of water.

You can add as little or as much breadcrumbs as you like. I haven't decided if I like to toast the crumbs a minute before adding the egg -- let me know what works best for you!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Pico de Gallo - Chunky Salsa

With every taco truck meal I get, it's always the same internal monologue: "Which one of these salsas do I pile onto a pair of tacos?"

I like all types of salsas, from traditional soupy tomato sauce to a roasted green tomatillo Salsa Verde; and a dried chile, smokey Roja, to this one -- a chunky Pico de Gallo, which I think is one of the best.

Some salsas go through a cooking stage, but not this one. But it does take more chopping than the others. That all the ingredients are fresh is a big plus. Pico de Gallo is made from tomato, onion, garlic, cilantro, jalapeno and lime juice.

You control the spiciness -- a little jalapeno or a lot, it's up to you. Do you like extra cool cilantro or the sweet heat of extra chopped onion? I do. This is the type of dish where there is no wrong way to do it. It's a perfect party appetizer that goes with tortilla chips or your favorite crackers -- make one bowl mild and the other extra spicy. It's also a fresh condiment for almost any entree.

Last summer I did a month of hot dog videos that included footage of a L.A. Street Dog (click here,) which is a grilled wiener wrapped in bacon. And the kicker is how it's served on the street -- yep, topped with Pico de Gallo!

If you have a Latin grocery in the neighborhood then all the ingredients will be way below 99 cents per pound. I've noticed most ethnic grocery stores have tomatoes and chiles cheaper than typical chain markets.

Just in time for sweltering summer days and nights, The 99 Cent Chef's cool Pico de Gallo salsa recipe is just a few chops away.

Ingredients (2 - 3 servings)
  • 2 cups diced tomato - I used about 5 roma tomatoes. Okay to use even more.
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion - about 1/2 regular onion
  • Handful of cilantro leaves - about 1/4 cup chopped. Okay to use more or less to taste.
  • 1/4 chopped jalapeno - to taste. Discard stem and seeds. You may want more or less depending on your heat tolerance.
  • 1 teaspoon chopped garlic - fresh or from jar
  • Juice of 1 lime - or about 2 tablespoons of juice . Okay to substitute with lemon juice.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
*A great lush addition is one chopped avocado, optional.

Chop all ingredients except lime. You could let a food processor roughly chop ingredients, but do each ingredient separately. I like to finely chop the onion, garlic, jalapeno and cilantro.

I hand chop the tomatoes, seeds and all, to a small size, but larger than the onion pieces. Add all the chopped veggies into a large enough bowl.

Squeeze in juice of one lime and mix well. Finally season with salt and pepper to taste. Optional to add chopped avocado - lastly, so you don't overmix it to mushiness.

Serve cold or at room temperature. Pico de Gallo served the same day is the best -- but even over a few days the flavors meld well and intensify deliciously.

This is a great topping for burgers (Mexi-Burger recipe,) hot dogs (LA Street dog recipe,) fish (Coconut Crusted Fish recipe,) your favorite salad (2 Minute Salad recipe,) or as a fresh tasting side dish. And of course it's a dip for all occasions and types of chips (not just tortilla chips.) I especially like Pico de Gallo sprinkled over my decadent Billionaires Crab Omelet (recipe here.)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Notebook on Cities and Culture - Audio Interview

Play the audio interview here.

From Seattle to Santa Barbara and finally landing in Los Angeles, interviewer and podcaster Colin Marshall has traveled far to finally end up eating greasy fried chicken and chugging brews at the glass kitchen table in the Chintzy Chateau. I received an interview request by email from Colin a few months ago and after checking out his list of aural contributors so far, needless to say, I was quick to respond "when and where?"

I like to ask how media movers find me -- Colin said his girlfriend turned him on to my blog. He especially enjoys when I get out the the kitchen to explore and document Los Angeles's culinary city scene, quote: "Your combination of food enthusiasm, creative buying, cinephilia, and urban exploration (especially by rail, which I use all the time) has certainly kept me interested." 

His website is called Notebook on Cities and Culture (click here) and he's interviewed all manner of local cultural creators including literary, music, design, film and comedy mavins. It's an amazing roster he's compiled since the first  listed podcasts from 2007. I guess I fit in there somewhere. The screen-grab above (from his website) are his musings about our chat. Of special note are a bunch of links to click on as the audio plays!

(If you want to see the writeup clearer than my frame-grab above with access to all the links, click here; where there is a "Pod" audio button link as well -- just under the date and next to the interview heading.)

Colin peddled over from the Westside (where he now resides) to here in Baldwin Hills on his bike at around sunset. Our plan was to do a "walk and talk" in the aisles of my local 99c only Store on La Tijera Boulevard, followed by my typical Tuesday constitutional of a two piece Popeye's Fried Chicken Special for 99 cents, and finally retiring to the Chintzy Chateau's kitchen to chat, dine and sip on Evil Eye 24 ouncer Ice beers.

You can hear it all by just clicking on the play button below (also, at top of post.)  It's a fun listen, especially as Colin's conversational chops smooth the way. 99 thanks to Colin Marshall for including me in his entertaining podcasts.

Play the audio interview here.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Steamed Artichoke with Garlic Mayo Dip - VIDEO

With a smooth buttery texture, the tender flesh of an artichoke heart is close to the flavor and feel of a ripe, creamy avocado. Who would think the veggie world's version of a scaly armadillo could disguise such deliciousness? And if you've ever wondered how to cook and eat one, you will travel to the tasty heart of the matter in The 99 Cent Chef's latest stop-motion animated video tutorial.

You may have tasted the marinated artichoke hearts found in cans and jars. Those are fine in a salad or pasta sauce -- but to experience the subtle essence of this garden treat, simply steaming it fresh is the way to go.

The canned and jarred versions are easily found for a dollar at 99c only Stores, but it is always a special treat to find the fresh scaly heads on sale. Here in California, where most of the U.S. crop is cultivated, it is often cheaper in price.

And an artichoke couldn't be simpler to cook: add an inch of water, cover the pot, and steam for about half an hour. Some recipes call for trimming the artichoke petals of their small barb tips, but if you are careful enough, even that is unnecessary.

You will want to make a dipping sauce though. Traditionally you just sop melted butter with the steamed petals, but I like a light Garlic Mayo Dip for variety and fewer calories -- which is just a mix of garlic powder with lite regular or vegan mayo. (When sour cream is on sale, I'll use that with garlic powder.)

Eating a whole artichoke can be tricky, especially the last part. It's easy to peel off the petals and scrape off the inner tender flesh with your teeth. (The wide end closest to the artichoke interior is the edible part.) As you reach the center, more of the base of each petal becomes edible. But just when the whole petal is tender, it becomes stringy and inedible. You have now reached the fuzzy "choke."

Don't stop there, just scoop out that fuzzy topping with a spoon or butter knife and behold the most tender and tasty artichoke heart. You are now within reach of savory nirvana. Relish this tender destination -- you went through a lot of small teasing morsels to reach it.

And if you need more goading to try your hand at making Steamed Artichoke with Garlic Mayo Dip, then just check out The 99 Cent Chef's cleverly concise stop-motion animated recipe video below!

The directions I've written out below may seem overly detailed, but they're for the benefit of my readers who are new to the pleasures of the artichoke.

Steamed Artichoke with Garlic Mayo Dip - VIDEO

Play it here. Video runs 2 minutes 16 seconds.

To view or embed from YouTube, click here.

99 thanks to Amy -- my number one taste tester!

3-D without glasses
Ingredients (One serving)
  • 1 artichoke - the larger the better.
  • 1 cup of water for steaming - depending on the size of the pot. Just enough to cover the bottom of the pot about an inch deep. Add more water as needed during steaming.
Garlic Mayo (or Sour Cream) Dip
  • 1 teaspoon of powdered garlic - okay to add more to taste. Can use raw crushed garlic fresh or from a jar.
  • 2 heaping tablespoons of mayo - light, regular or vegan. Depending on the size of the artichoke may need to double the recipe. Sour cream is a great substitution for mayo.
Directions for Garlic Mayo Dip
In a small bowl add dried powdered garlic to mayo (or sour cream.) Mix well and set aside in the refrigerator for at least half an hour as the artichoke steams.

Directions for Steaming Artichoke
 You want an artichoke with green (or light olive-colored) leaves. Sometimes there is a slight scarlet color in the petal tips. The petals on an older artichoke turn brown and become stringy, but the inner petals and the artichoke heart are still tasty. 

Trim off the stem of the artichoke. You can just cut off half an inch of a longer stem. (I've peeled and steamed the stem and chewed on it when done -- sometimes a little stringy like uncooked sugar cane, but still tasty.)

In a pot large enough to hold and cover the artichoke, add water, artichoke, and steam. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to low. Cover the pot and steam/simmer for about 20 - 30 minutes. Check on water every 10 minutes to make sure it doesn't boil out -- add a 1/4 cup at a time if needed. Done when base of the artichoke is tender and pierces easily with a knife.

Now it's time to chow down. Place the artichoke on a plate and allow it to cool for 5 minutes. Get out the Garlic Mayo Dip.

Artichoke petals should easily peel off the choke. The inside of the petal closest to the wide end is the edible part (the pointy ends do not soften.) Just dip or scoop some Garlic Mayo Dip onto the inside petal end and scrape off the leaf flesh with your teeth. There won't be much on the outer petals, but as you work your way to the inner petals, they become more fleshy.

You are now close to the best part. But when you get close to the middle of the artichoke, you'll reach the inedible 'choke' - when the leaves become stringy, you'll know.

If you look at the profile of the vegetable that remains, you'll see the seam line where the choke is. Take a spoon, or butter knife, and scoop out the fuzzy choke. Dig out a little at a time, careful not to scoop away the fleshy edible center. You will have a bowl-shaped 'heart' left. This is the tasty, meaty finale. Dip and eat the whole thing!

Instead of garlic and mayo, try other ingredients added to mayo, like dried ginger or a favorite fresh chopped herb. Plain melted warm butter is a great decadent dipping sauce. Lately, I've been using sour cream with garlic powder as a dipping sauce.

The heart of nirvana

To keep the artichoke from turning brown while cooking, some directions call for adding a tablespoon of lemon juice (or a lemon slice) to simmering water -- I don't mind a color change so I left that step out. You can add lemon if you want to, but I find these acidic flavors permeate the artichoke heart.

Once you've steamed a few artichokes you will know when you get to the inedible inner choke -- I have munched a few stringy, fuzzy, and bitter choke petals, blech! The outer petal may not have much tender flesh to scrape off, but once you get deeper, it gets better.

Some artichoke petals have sharp barbed tips. You can trim them off with kitchen scissors if you are feeding a youngster. For my video, I left them on.

You can also dig out the fuzzy choke before you steam it. It takes a bit of work though.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Snow Peas, Tofu & Ramen Stir Fry

Light and economical the latest recipe from the 99 Cent Cuisiner is a delicious vegetarian stir fry.

Snow peas have been showing up lately on sale. You could substitute with regular frozen peas as well. And tofu is one cheap protein. I lightly browned the tofu in a little oil for extra flavor, but you could skip it if you are in a rush.

Snow peas are tender enough to be stir fried whole in the shell -- unlike regular peas. I saute them for only 3 minutes, so there is still a slight crunch. Snow peas are even sweeter than regular peas, and more subtle in taste.

I wanted to serve my Snow Peas and Tofu Stir Fry over ramen noodles this time, instead of rice. It turned out perfect. This is a yummy dish any college dorm room dweller or paycheck-to-paycheck living proletariat can do!

  • Snow peas - small 5 ounce package (about 1 cup.) Okay to use frozen or fresh. Regular frozen peas are cheap substitution.
  • 1 teaspoon of chopped garlic - fresh or from jar.
  • 1 package tofu - firm or regular drained. About 12 ounces.
  • 1 pack of dried ramen noodles - I used lighter baked ramen noodles.
  • Water to boil ramen - enough to cover.
  • 1 tablespoon of oil - veggie, sesame or olive oil.

Stir Fry Sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of Oyster Sauce - Okay to substitute with favorite premixed stir fry sauce, or even a teriyaki sauce.
  • 1 teaspoon of Soy Sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of honey - or any favorite sweetener.

Add one tablespoon of oil to a frying pan over a medium heat and coat bottom of pan. Drain tofu and cut into 1 to 2 inch cubes. Carefully add the tofu cubes - they may cause the oil to splatter.

Lightly brown tofu on at least 2 sides, about 4 minutes each side. Don't move tofu around as it browns as it may crumble apart, although some brown pieces will separate. Remove and set aside when light brown. (If you are really in a hurry, just go from draining the tofu to adding it directly to your stir frying snow peas.)

Start water to boil for ramen noodles. Add dried ramen noodles to boiling water. Remove and drain when soft, according to directions, about 3-4 minutes (or follow package directions.) Add a serving amount of ramen to your plate. Should be done about the time when stir fry is done.

Remove any long stringy snow pea stems. Pour stir fry sauce ingredients into frying pan, over a medium heat. Add snow peas (or regular peas) and chopped garlic. Mix well. Cook peas until desired tenderness, about 3 minutes.

Finally add browned tofu to stir fry. Carefully mix together. Heat tofu for a couple more minutes. Scoop snow peas and tofu with sauce onto plate of noodles. Okay to substitute ramen with brown or white rice -- also tasty on it's own.

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