Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Restaurants Nocturnes XII

The Alley Cat Chef has picked the lock of his kitchen cage with a car key and is cruising Los Angeles streets again -- for Restaurant Nocturnes XII. This Chef does not live for recipes alone, and when the moonlit street beckons, I set aside my whisk and pick up a camera. 

My newest video compilation lets you in on the menu specials and nightly comings and goings at a tasty dozen restaurants, from  the Brite Spot in Echo Park, to the 1950s Googie architecture treasure Pann's, to the neo-Latin cuisine at innovator John Sedar's Playa in West Hollywood, to the beloved but endangered Henry's, a classic old school Mex/American taco joint in the Valley.

It's a fascinating tour of LA's dining scene after dark, shot with a digital still camera and turned into a time-lapse video clip suitable for framing, and after the video, the Considerate Chef gives you links to read all about the featured restaurants.

Looking to hang with hipsters on Harleys? Check out the recently refurbished Brite Spot coffee shop on Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park. I liked it when it was cheap, with coffee-stained carpets. Now there are Brussels sprouts in the breakfast potato hash, and eggs scrambles go for 10+ bucks. But the food is good, and if you've just spilled out of the nearby  Echoplex alt.music club at 2 a.m., the revamped Brite Spot is a much more appealing place to to take a date to rather than a taco truck down the street.

Heading west toward Silverlake, you'll find the new Cortez restaurant just off Sunset at Allison Boulevard. Opened in October by Marta Teegan and Robert Stelzner, the owners of Cookbook, Echo Park's sustainable market , Cortez serves seasonal farmer's market-sourced cuisine. (Click here to read a recent review in L.A. Weekly.)  I dropped by on a weeknight at 6:30 p.m. to find three diners at the two communal tables, but customers began to arrive as I was shooting -- and by the time I folded up my tripod, half an hour later, the place was packed. Listen in as the honey-voiced hostess gives the Frugal Fotog a rundown of the enticing entrees, and you'll know why it's become a local favorite.

Another notable Nocturne is the L.A. classic Henry's Tacos, a Mex/American fast food joint on Moorpark Street in the Valley.  It may be over for them -- after 51 years, a landlord dispute led to this month's final closing announcement. But supporters have rallied for a brief stay of execution. Will Henry's survive -- maybe a new location down the street? The suspense is killing me, like their lauded and loaded Taco Burger!

The Googie-style coffee shop Pann's, on La Tijera Boulevard in South L.A, , with its glass walls and Space Age arrow roof, has been flipping pancakes for locals and architecture fanatics since 1958. It was recently named as one of the "10 Best Fried Chicken in Los Angeles" by the L.A. Weekly, and the food is as good as it ever was.

The San Francisco transplant Cafe Gratitude fits right in with the diet- and health-conscious crowd in thespian-centric Hollywood. The menu items at its Larchmont Boulevard location are all affirmations, as in: I AM DAZZLING, a Caesar Salad with romaine lettuce, avocado, Brazil nut parmesan and capers tossed with Caesar dressing; or I AM LIBERATED, a creamy hemp seed pesto pasta with kelp noodles, heirloom cherry tomatoes, green and Kalamata olives and  spinach topped with Brazil nut parmesan and fresh basil. Whew, I feel way better already, and all I did was photograph the place.

I finish up this 12th edition of Restaurant Nocturnes with the soothing wash of ocean waves at  Tony's, a classic  joint that has served seafood grilled, steamed or fried since the 1950s. Sure, it's located on the tourist-crowded Redondo Beach Pier, but it's not outrageously expensive, just in the $20 - $25 range for dinner, and you couldn't have a better seat to watch the sun go down while dining. For a cheaper time, belly up to the bar for nightly live music and a Happy Hour cocktail with an appetizer or one of  Tony's "Basket Items." I'll let the waitress fill you in on some tasty sounding aquatic entrees.

So, click on the play button below to take in the neon-lit eateries of Los Angeles with the Cruising Cuisiner as your guide. Best of all, you won't have to spend a cent for gas money.
Restaurant Nocturnes XII - VIDEO

Play it here. Video runs 7 minutes, 11 seconds.

To view or embed from YouTube, click here.

Restaurants in order of appearance - click on name to see website or review:
1.Brite Spot     2.Cortez     3.Henry's Tacos
4.Steingarten LA    5.Pann's     6.Papilles Bistro
7. Mexicali     8.Dae Bok Korean Restaurant
9. Cafe Gratitude     10.Master Burger
11. Playa     12.Tony's

To see more Restaurant Nocturnes, just click on any name:

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Borscht - Beet and Cabbage Soup

Call me a lazy cheapskate, go ahead. I've peeled and cooked messy beats and stained my shirt and hands in the process, but I like the convenience and cost of a can of beets. For about a buck you get almost a dozen small whole beets -- now that's a great deal. And the beet liquid is perfect for a Eastern European winter soup called Borscht. (But I do have a farmers market Beet Roasting Recipe, just click here, or type "beets" into search window located on the upper right side of this blog to see more recipes.)

I made my Borscht vegetarian friendly by leaving out the meat and adding cabbage (although I used chicken flavored granules, but you can use vegetable stock or plain water.) And I added a kitchen sink full of aromatics like celery, carrots, onions, garlic, bay leaf and fresh herbs. Of course you can make this recipe your own and add or subtract from my ingredient list.

Looking up a few Borscht recipes online, I learned that cubes of beef or sausage is often used. You can do it that way, but you do need to cook the beef until it's tender, about 2 hours - while my vegetarian version only takes an hour.

And make sure to serve The 99 Cent Chef's steaming bowl of Borscht with a few dollops of cheap sour cream on top!

  • One 15 ounce can of beets - including liquid. Sliced or whole beets. Okay to use a 2-3 fresh beets. Just peel and boil until almost tender, about 30 minutes. Reserve liquid for recipe.
  • 1/2 cabbage - roughly chopped.
  • 1 medium onion - chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of garlic - fresh or from jar.
  • Extra chopped veggies - including: a rib of celery, a couple of potatoes, and 1 cup of chopped carrots.
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar - optional
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 8 cups water and/or favorite vegetable broth - Okay to use a beef or chicken stock (or one bouillon cube.)
  • Fresh herbs or favorite dried herb blend - optional.
  • 1 tablespoon oil for sauteing veggies.
  • Pepper to taste - I left out salt because the chicken granules I used have plenty.

In a large stock pot, over medium heat, add tablespoon of oil. Add all chopped veggies except cabbage and beets. Saute and stir about 5-8 minutes until soft.

Add the chopped cabbage and beets with their juice after veggies are cooked. If the beets are whole you may want to cut them in half, close to bite sized.

Add broth, vinegar, and/or water. Sprinkle on herbs and the bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper. You may not need salt, as canned beets and broth are salty enough for me.

Bring Borscht to a boil, then reduce heat to low simmer. I cook with the lid off so a cup or two of liquid will cook out, thus making an intense broth. Low simmer for about an hour.

If you are in a hurry, add less broth or water (about 6 cups total) and cook until cabbage is tender, about 20 minutes.

Serve Borscht hot with a couple dollops of sour cream.

Since this a an old recipe, there are many variations. Some recipes called for adding potatoes instead of cabbage. Of course you can add both for more heft.

There are also meaty versions of Borscht. Most recipes call for sliced or cubed beef steak. You will need to cook longer (covered) to tenderize meat, for about 2 hours. If you have a favorite sausage then you can use it, and cook it until done or heated through. Almost any meat including chicken and pork can be added.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Deal of the Day - Beef Kabob

This is the most unappealing Deal of the Day I've oggled, but it's also one of the most delicious! It looks like something you would not want to step in. However, Culture Classics Beef Kabob is a delicious dynamite stick full of Middle Eastern spices.

The beef log is larger than a hot dog with a nice ground texture that stayed moist when I microwaved it. There is an intense and pleasing tumeric and sumac spice flavor with just a hint of pepper heat.  The beef kabob is nestled in a fat slab of pita bread sprinkled with rice, chopped bell pepper and onions.

frozen & thawed

The one drawback is that the pita gets soggy when micowaved. (Next time I would microwave the beef stick and pita bread until warm, then keep zapping the beef stick, and finish the pita in a frying pan.) A sprinkling of  chopped veggies, while small, gave the plain rice extra flavor. The package advertized a secret sauce, which will remain secret as there was little of it try and analyse. (I'll have to get another kabob and make notes on the secret sauce.)

And for 99 cents it's an incredible flavorful deal I picked up at my new favorite local market, Superior Grocers. I saw it while shopping for a Thanksgiving turkey, it was in the frozen food section (there are also Pork and Chicken Kabobs to try out.) I'm not sure how long these will be sold at this price so I'm getting a stack of them for office lunches.

For a cheap frozen meal I was surprised at the  short list of ingredients. Most frozen fare this inexpensive has a laundry list of additives that takes a Consumer's Dictionary of Food Additives to translate.

So, On The 99 Cent Chef's Deal of the Day rating system of 1 to 9, 9 being best, I could take off a point for a slightly soggy pita, but this was such a delicious change of office lunch pace, I'm giving Cultural Classics Beef Kabob a perfect 9 !

For any of you lucky enough to live near a Superior Grocers do pick one up and try it yourself, just be prepared for your office mates to rib you with a few popper scooper jokes.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Baked Chicken with Grapes

My roasted chicken entree is simply delicious -- both savory and sweet. For a single serving you only need a handful of grapes, so along with inexpensive chicken, this is one chintzy meal.

I roasted a chicken leg and thigh. The sweet grapes cooked beautifully and flavored the chicken juices. I also added half an airline bottle of white wine for extra flavor. Any fruit juice, like orange or apple, is a tasty alcohol substitution - also, okay to go with broth or plain water.

This entree has all the hallmarks for heavy rotation in this chintzy kitchen -- it's delish and so quick and easy to do: just season the bird, add liquid and grapes, then bake it. I even used grapes past their prime, some were soggy or had blemishes, kind of like using a brown banana in oatmeal, they may not look perfect but still taste sweet.

I always find chicken for way less than a dollar per pound, and while grapes cost more than chicken, you only need a dozen grapes for this recipe.

This is a budget entree I'll be baking often, now that it's cold enough to comfortably use the oven again. Make sure to double my recipe, because serving anything sweet for dinner will have the kids coming back for seconds!

Ingredients ( one serving)
  • 1 chicken leg quarter - okay to use any chicken pieces you like or find on sale.
  • 8 - 12 grapes - any type of grape, red or white. I cooked with seedless red grapes. You can add or subtract the amount of grapes to suit your taste.
  • 1/4 cup of white or red wine - I used white wine. Okay to use a favorite broth, apple or orange juice, or just add water.
  • Herbs - optional. I have a herb garden, so I used a mix of basil, oregano, parsley and sage. You can also use a pinch (1/4 teaspoon) of a favorite cheap dried herb, or mix of herbs like an Italian Mix.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

Heat oven to 375 degrees. In a roasting pan just big enough to hold the chicken, salt and pepper it. Sprinkle on the grapes.

Add wine (broth or water) and herbs. A little bit of liquid helps steam the grapes. It will cook away but will be replaced by chicken juices. If you are cooking breast meat then you may want a 1/2 cup of liquid to help keep the breast from drying out.

Roast chicken uncovered, until done, about 45 minutes to an hour. Depending how large the chicken pieces are, especially breast meat, you will want to check for doneness. Just pierce or slice into the thickest part of chicken with a knife. Juices will run clear when cooked through.

This recipe is easy to double or triple. You can cut up a whole chicken and add the pieces to a large roasting pan. Just add a cup of liquid and plenty of grapes.

You can even bake a whole chicken your favorite way, just add a bunch of grapes all around the chicken and in the cavity. Make sure the grapes come in contact with chicken juices some time during baking. Use your fav chicken recipe. I usually bake whole chicken about 1 1/2 hours at 350 degrees. Again, check for doneness by slicing into thigh meat where it connects to the bird and seeing if the juices run clear (or that there is no raw redness in the cut.) I cover the breast with foil the first hour, to keep it from drying out.

You can use any type of wine. Tasty substitutions are a favorite broth, apple or orange juice.

You can also just braise the chicken and grapes on the stove top if you like. Brown the chicken first for a few minutes, then add liquid and grapes. Will take about same amount of time, over a low/medium heat.
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