Friday, April 29, 2016

Macaroni & Krab Salad with Avocado

This recipe is Wife Approved and she actually makes it herself. I just kicked back and took a few photos so you can see how she does a Macaroni & Krab Salad with Avocado.

I like Macaroni Salad anytime and this one couldn't be easier to do. Once you cook the macaroni, just cool it down then get to chopping a few veggies.

Juicy tomato and creamy avocado always go well together, and with the addition of fake crab you have a real winner of a cold salad for a hot day.

I can find tomatoes for less than a dollar per pound, especially smaller Roma and cherry tomatoes. Avocados are frequently on sale at my local Latin market.

Fake crab, or krab, is carried by my local 99c only Stores, but since you only need half a pound for this recipe even regular markets often sell it for $2 to $3 dollars per pound - so it's still a cheap$kate seafood deal.

And pasta is a deal at any grocery store.

So there is no excuse not to make my latest recipe, Macaroni & Krab Salad with Avocado, especially when it's Wife Approved! It travels well, so make plenty to bring to your next pot luck or get-together.

  • 12 to 16 ounces of elbow macaroni - small or large elbow.
  • 1 cup chopped tomtoes - about 2 to 4 tomatoes, depending on size. You can use any type of tomato even smaller and cheaper Roma or cherry tomatoes.
  • 1 cup chopped avocado - about 2 avocados, depending on size. Okay to add less according to your budget.
  • 8 ounces fake crab - okay to use more or less to your taste.
  • 1 and 1/2 cups of mayo - I used light, but okay to use regular or any type you like. Add as much mayo as you like. May need to add more mayo for larger 16 ounce package of macaroni.
  • 1 teaspoon of vinegar - optional. Use white or rice vinegar. Okay to substitute with lemon or lime juice to keep avocado fresh looking, if you are picnic or pot luck bound.
  • Salt and Pepper to taste.
  • Water - enough to cover and boil dry macaroni.

Add water to a large pot and bring to a boil. Add dried elbow macaroni and cook until desired tenderness, about 7 to 10 minutes. Okay to follow macaroni package directions.

After macaroni is tender, drain it and cool macaroni down with cold water -- so the cooking stops before macaroni becomes to mushy.

Add macaroni to a large bowl. Add a teaspoon of vinegar to macaroni.

Add mayo. Mix and taste to see if it's creamy enough for you. Add more mayo if necessary.

Shred and mix in fake krab.

Add chopped tomatoes and avocados. Lightly mix all ingredients. Be careful when mixing, if avocado is very soft. Okay to add avocado last, so you don't smash it up.

Serve right away, or refrigerate for a few hours to chill. Avocado will start to brown the next day, so best to try and finish Macaroni & Krab Salad with Avocado in a couple of days; or just add fresh cubed avocado before each serving.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

California Roll Video - Wife Approved Recipe

A favorite of my wife, the California Roll, has all the right ingredients. She gives me the thumbs up every time I order one at a sushi restaurant. And she has extra sticky fingers as the sushi slices quickly disappear,  if I turn my back for even a second! That's why I prefer to make California Rolls at home, where I can keep an eye on them and make as many as I like, plus it's one of the cheapest and easiest sushi rolls to make.

I've been California Roll dreaming lately. This sushi roll is made with budget fake crab (krab,) and is a tasty inexpensive ingredient for getting your sushi rolling skills up to speed.

A California Roll is simply constructed of crab (or krab,) thin slices of cucumber, creamy avocado, and sushi rice, wrapped in a sheet of dried seaweed (called Nori). I think it's the addition of avocado that makes it the most popular of sushi rolls.

Sushi is notoriously expensive, but don't worry I've got your back, and have a couple of workarounds for you in my latest chea$kate recipe. Number one, I use fake crab (krab,) listed as surimi in sushi restaurants. Secondly, cucumber is cheap, and while avocado is sometimes expensive, you'll only use one avocado to make 4 large California Rolls.

The California Roll first made it's appearance in Los Angeles in the 1970's. Avocado was introduced into a roll as a substitution for more expensive tuna. And, too keep it cheap, fake krab was soon added. If you want to break the bank with real steamed crab (or, if you are lucky enough to have a fisherman friend,) by all means use it.

A lot of people freak when offered raw fish, so a California Roll with cooked crab is a perfect way to introduce anyone to sushi.

I use krab all the time, like in my delicious Mexican Black Bean and Krab Ceviche recipe - just click here to see it. And with this recipe you can make 3 to 4 large California Rolls (and when sliced, that's about 32 pieces!)

My local 99c only Store almost always stocks half pound frozen packages of krab for 99.99 cents. You can get krab from your favorite fresh seafood section in larger markets. For real crab, I've used it from a can - just add a little mayo if it is too crumbly or mealy, to moisten and flavor. Use real crab to impress a date and for special occasions. In the meantime get some sushi rolling skills using cheap krab.

 Fake crab is sold frozen in seafood section of a deli case. The quality can vary when defrosted: from tender and moist, to dry and stringy. An easy fix for dry krab is to drizzle the defrosted krab with water then microwave it for about 30 seconds. It's surprising how well the krab reconstitutes and becomes tender and moist again.

So give it a shot;  what have you got to lose but a few bucks - it's heck of a lot cheaper than dining at a sushi joint. Plus, you'll trip-out your friends once you get a little practice. This is my cheap$kate go-to sushi recipe. It's colorful with a creamy and crunchy texture and the price is right. If  you are new to the sushi experience, here is a cool video about how to eat sushi.

Everyone likes a California Roll, but if you haven't tried one, now is the time to do it yourself -- especially when you see how easy and cheap it is to do, by checking out my Sushi Video and illustrated directions below.

California Roll - VIDEO

Play it here, video runs 2 minutes, 20 seconds.

My YouTube video link for viewing or embedding, just click here.

Ingredients (about 4 rolls - about 32 slices)
  • 4 sheets dried seaweed
  • 6 to 8 ounces krab - fake crab. Okay to use fresh crab or from a can.
  • 1 large avocado - cut the flesh into cubes or slices. You may need an extra avocado or two, depending on the size.
  • 1/2 cucumber - scoop out seed with a spoon and slice. Okay to peel or leave on some skin.
  • 2 cups of cooked rice - about half a cup per sushi roll. See my Japanese Sushi Rice recipe by clicking here.
  • Small bowl of water - for moistening your fingers and knife blade to handle sticky rice.
  • Soy sauce for dipping - dissolve in a pinch of wasabi or horseradish for spicy heat.

If you are using fake krab allow it to get to room temperature. If the krab has been sitting in the freezer it can dry out and become stringy. I've found rinsing krab in water then zapping it in the microwave for about 30 seconds tenderizes it.You don't want to cook it, just warm it up. As you know, microwaving is uneven and you get hot spots, so check krab every 15 seconds and take out pieces as they soften. Keep microwaving pieces in 10 second increments, if they are still cold and tough to the touch.

Shred or roughly chop krab. You can also leave krab in larger pieces -- as long as they fit on seaweed and rice.

Prepare veggies. Slice cucumber in half lengthwise and spoon out seeds. Slice cucumber halves into thin strips. You can leave on skin or remove some of it.

For avocado, slice in half and remove seed. I like to make slices into avocado with the skin on; then take a spoon and scoop out each sliced half. Fan out avocado slices. I use about a 1/4 of avocado per roll (depending on avocado size.) For cucumber I use enough to cover a about a third of the roll. After you've made a few rolls you'll figure out how much krab-to-veggie balance suits you.

Finally get out 4 sheets of dried seaweed and a couple cups of cooked sushi rice. (You may need only a cup of cooked rice, depending how thick or thin you make the California Rolls.)

Now time to assemble the California Roll. It's easiest to use a sushi bamboo mat (or a flexible placemat.) The mat is slightly larger than a sheet of seaweed. You could also just place a sheet of plastic Saran wrap, or a large gallon Ziplock bag, on your cutting board or counter. The plastic should be larger than a sheet of seaweed. In my video I just did it by hand. You want to make sure your hand is dry when handing dried seaweed, because it gets sticky when wet.

Lay one sheet of dried seaweed on a clean dry surface, a bamboo mat, or sheet of plastic wrap. Dip your fingers in bowl of water and dampen you hands. Grab a handful of rice and spread it on the seaweed sheet. You can do a small amounts of rice at a time until you get used to handling it.

Gently spread out the rice over the seaweed in an even layer. You may need to moisten fingertips a few times. Don't press to much or the rice will get mushy. The rice layer doesn't need to be too thick, maybe a 1/4 inch or so - you will be adding the veggies and krab, too. (Of course experiment and add as much rice as you like - I use about half a cup per sushi roll.)

Make sure to cover all the seaweed except along the one edge - leave at least 1/2 inch of that end uncovered with rice. (When all the ingredients are added you will roll and dampen that end to seal the California Roll.)

Now add the cucumber sticks and sliced avocado over slightly less than half of the rice and seaweed -- just left of center. Finally add a layer of krab. This is when you can experiment with how much krab and veggies to add. Maybe you like more avocado than fake crab?

Now comes the trickiest part, but it's not too hard to do. You just grab the seaweed and lift the end and fold it over the krab and veggies -- completely to just cover the stuffing. Now with both hands press the roll -- your fingers should press inward like you are making a tighter fist. Just move your fingers up and down the roll to evenly press the roll into a long log-cube shape.

Finally make one more half-roll (if needed,) to the end of the uncovered seaweed edge. Give the roll one more tuck with your fingers pressing inward, like making a fist - go from one end of the roll to the other to tighten and make the roll even looking. Now you will seal the roll. Just drizzle on some water with your fingertips along the uncovered seaweed. Give the California Roll one final roll to seal it closed.

Using a sushi rolling mat instead of your fingers is easier, and makes the roll more even-looking. With a little practice you'll get better at rolling - with or without a sushi mat.

Now you are ready to slice it, then serve. Put the California Roll on a cutting board with the sealed seaweed seam against the board. Get out your sharpest knife and moisten the blade edge. Seaweed is very sticky against the rice, so you must have a damp blade or the seaweed will tear and make uneven edges.

First slice the roll in half. Now you can slice each half-roll in half again, and one more time to get eight pieces of California Roll. The object is to make each piece edible in one bite.

Arrange on a plate. Repeat rolling steps with other 3 sheet of seaweed. (You could do all the rolling at once and slice it all, so everyone gets their roll at the same time.)

Make a dipping sauce with soy sauce. I like to stir in a pinch of wasabi or horseradish for heat.

 Of course, this recipe is easy to double. My 99.99 cent, 8 ounce package of krab is enough to easily make half a dozen California Rolls. Just make twice as much sushi rice (it's cheap enough,) and get one more avocado.

You can start by making a hand roll version, just to get your feet wet. They are the easiest rolls to make, just click here to see how to make a hand roll.

Making a sushi roll takes a little more practice. Sometimes the sushi roll is thin, or too fat. But it's easy enough to open the roll and add or subtract filling before you seal it. Here's my GIF of rolling with a bamboo sushi mat.

It took me half a dozen rolls to start to get the hang of it. But that's no problem, because I got to eat the tasty lopsided mistakes. Usually a package of seaweed has 30 sheets, so you can get plenty of practice.

And using krab is a cut-rate way to go. You could even use crunchy thin sliced carrot (or any favorite steamed veggie) as a filling to practice on - vegetarian sushi rolls are the cheapest way to get your rolling skills up to speed.

Make sure to have a bowl of water to keep your fingers moistened when handling sticky Sushi Rice. Also have a hand towel nearby. And your hands and fingers should be dry when rolling with dried seaweed.

If you use crab from a can, it can be a too shredded and a bit dried out. But it is fine if you mix it with a tablespoon of mayo. Stir in 1/2 a teaspoon of Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce (or your favorite Mexican hot sauce) for a Spicy Crab Roll.

You could even finely chop some krab for a Spicy Krab Roll. Just add mayo and hot sauce as listed above. You want a creamy texture, like a macaroni or potato salad. After it's made, store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

LocoL, Revolutionary Fast Food - Video, Part 1

Los Angeles Chef Roy Choi wears his heart on his spatula. This time he combines forces with, San Franciscan and Michelin Star awarded restaurateur, Chef Daniel Patterson to bring healthier fast food to the hood - that is, on 103rd Street in Watts, South Los Angeles. This eatery is their culinary love child. They call it LocoL, "Revolutionary Fast Food." The name of the joint is a play on loco and local - you gotta be a little crazy to try and change the fast food industrial complex.

I've been a food fan of Chef Roy Choi from day one. His cooking skillz jump-started the food truck craze in Los Angeles (and the country) when he combined Korean and Mexican flavors on the humble corn tortilla, and hit the street in a roach coach in need of a tune-up. The Kogi BBQ Lunch Truck is as popular as it ever was and will probably outlast all the food truck wannbes that have followed.

Just check out all the delicious details in my video below, that I made just a few months after the Kogi Truck debuted in 2008. And click here to see all my yummy photos and text.

Chef Roy knows LA by heart, after all he's been all over town in his fleet of Kogi Trucks. But have he and partner in taste Chef Daniel Patterson bitten off more than they can chew? By starting a fast food revolution in the underserved neighborhood of Watts, in South LA, they are rolling the dice -- but I would not bet against Chef Roy Choi.

Watts is a 2 mile square area near the intersection of the 110 and 105 freeways (about 8 miles South of Downtown LA.) Half a mile away from LocoL is Watts most well know landmark, the historical designated Watts Towers build by an Italian immigrant construction worker Sabato Rodia and completed in 1954. It's a wild series of metal rebar structures that stand over 100 feet tall, and are covered in pieces of colorful tile and broken bottles.

 Watts Towers and 99 Cent Chef with Fried Chicken Burg

The area has been trying to live down the notorious 1965 Watts Riots, too. While not in the best shape economically and plagued with a gang problem, Watts has potential to do better, with a little help from entrepreneurs like Chefs Roy and Daniel, who really give a damn. And most importantly they are creating jobs for the locals.

Chef Daniel Patterson main focus is on the food at LocoL. The tricky part is keeping the prices in the $1-$6 range, and making each bite or sip flavorful and satisfying. As an example, ingredients like chicken and beef are cut with grains, without sacrificing flavor. LocaL even developed it's own fermented bun, partially made with lighter rice flour, by renowned San Francisco baker Chad Robertson of Tartine.

(Chef Daniel also has returned to the street offering free classes with his nonprofit The Cooking Project, which teaches young people how to cook. Click here to read all about it.) 

Their bromance began in 2013 when Chef Roy riffed on the theme of "guts" during a speech in Copenhagen, Denmark for the food-themed MAD Symposium. He challenged the international audience of influential and high-end food purveyors, and chefs, to bring healthy affordable food to the hood. Chef Daniel Patterson saw the light and joined Chef Roy Choi on his mission. Now, these guys have real guts. You can check out Chef Roy's rap by clicking here and scrolling to the video at the end of that post.

For my latest video below, it's back to street photography. I've done my share of it, keeping my feet on the pavement moving and with an eye on the action. I recorded the scene at LocoL as a bystander - no backstage pass.

First off I wanted to show some of the neighborhood and the locals who showed up, along with the LA foodie fans of Chefs Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson. It's an impressionistic view that I think you will enjoy. So scroll on to see my GIFs, photos, slideshows and video.
Night & Day

 LocoL opened in January (on Martin Luther King Day) and I had to be there on day one. It was a crazy fun scene. I parked down the street in front of the 700 unit Jordon Downs Housing Project and trekked there with my tripod and a couple of cameras. The line of customers went around the building and down the block. The street scene was a party, with music blaring from the LocoL back patio, providing a soundtrack for those in line.

Throwing a Watts sign.

A lot of the Watts neighborhood turned out: tykes on scooters, teens, old folks in motorized wheelchairs, and cruisers slowly driving by to take in the scene. The energy of that day was infectious and I tried to catch a little lightening in my cameras.
Photo Slideshow
They had the requisite speechifying by Mayor Gil Garcetti, and the roped off patio filled with movie glitterati, like Lena Dunham,  Jim Brown (action star of the movie The Dirty Dozen,) director/actor Jon Favreau, plus a bunch of chefs and LA culinary bloggers. But the food got top billing that day. Just check out my video below to take in the scene of Grand Opening Day at LocoL.

LocoL Restaurant Opening Day - Video

Play it here. Video runs 5 minutes.

I returned in the evening just before closing time, when the line was shorter. Once inside, while I waited for my order (which wa ready quicker than you think it would normally be, for such a jam-packed scene,) I watched Chef Roy work the room.

He goes from the front counter calling out ready order-numbers on the loudspeaker, to grabbing someones receipt to follow through. Wearing his ever-present baseball cap and t-shirt, Chef Roy greeted customers and posed for selfies, then tweets on his Iphone while bobbing to a soundtrack of old-school hip hop and classic Prince.

Chef Roy went behind the counter to finesse the cooking - showing the cooks how to grill and press the dressed Cheeseburg until it resembles a Panini or Cuban Sandwich. And when the ordering line slows down he reminds the crew to replenish ingredients and prep their work stations. This is a well organized and smooth operation, under skilled guidance.

The lay of the place is practical and playful. When you enter, go to a counter just to the left to order and pay for food. Or, you can place and pay for your order at a touchscreen computer workstation on either side of the entrance.

Grab a spot on any of the oversized building blocks that serve as chairs and tables and listen for your order number while jamming out to piped-in thumping tunes. You can also hang out in the patio out back.

Let's get down to the food. I could write a lot more words, but will save more detailed descriptions for future blog posts and videos, so do check back. Put simply, this joint is loaded with flavor, from $1 fresh juice Agua Frescas and Messy Greens, to $4 Beef (with grains) Cheeseburg and Fried Chicken Burg, to Brekkie (breakfast) $4 Egg in the Hole and $6 Noddleman Bowls.

Food Slideshow

As you can see by some of the entree names Chefs Roy and Daniel are punsters at play. Burgers are "burgs," chicken and veggie nuggets are "nugs,"  and a quesadilla is a "foldie."  If you are on the social media treadmill then follow Chef Roy Choi on Twitter, to see his pun-play in action.

Click on any image to see larger.

There is a cool comic book design sensibility here, just check out the cartoon cuisine characters on the menu and  restaurant walls.

So do check back soon, when I take a bite out of the menu and give you all the juicy details, including a couple of Cheap$kate Dining Review videos of the Fried Chicken Burg with coleslaw, and the Cheeseburg with Jack cheese and scallion relish.

And 99 thanks to Chefs Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson, LocoL cooks and work staff, visiting patrons, and the neighborhood of Watts. And click here to see my video on youtube.

1950 E. 103rd Street
Watts, Ca. 90002

Chefs signing LocoL t-shirt.

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