Friday, June 24, 2011

Another hiatus

I won't be blogging during the coming week, though I should have some good posts once I'm back.  In the meantime, here is a picture of my mom's pan-fried buns (shen jian bao) and green onion pancakes (cong you bing).

Until next time, happy end-of-June and beginning-of-July!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Lemon-ginger cake with Medjool dates

As a Father's Day gift, on Friday night I decided to bake my dad a cake involving Medjool dates, since he likes dates (he's actually planted date trees in the backyard at home) and since Medjools are fantastic.  I went back to Ina Garten's always-trusty lemon cake because I had several lemons in the fridge, and I also tossed in some ginger powder to add a spice dimension and further complement the dates.

I pitted and roughly chopped seven or eight dates and spread them in a layer over half of the batter, with the rest of the batter on top.  After baking, I poured on a lemon juice / ginger / sugar syrup.

In its lidded Pyrex baking dish, the cake did make it through security at LAX on Saturday afternoon, after two trips through the X-ray machine, a swab test, and a brief coaching session wherein the TSA supervisor taught another officer how to recognize a cake through the scanner.  At home in Davis, my parents and I enjoyed slices with green tea and a gorgeous array of peaches, cherries, and blackberries, all from the backyard.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Weekday dinner: salmon and bell pepper

I'd rather not freeze fish or chicken if possible, and with Whole Foods so close, it's easy enough to procure fresh fish or chicken.  Also, living alone means I get the amusement of picking out single fillets or chicken breasts.  Whole Foods may be ridiculously overpriced or unhelpful for many items, but it's hard to argue with the quality of their meat and seafood counter.

Anyway, my most recent salmon purchase was simply sauteed and then served on a bed of sliced red bell pepper, which had been cooked in a reduction of balsamic vinegar (no, I have not been feeling creative) with shallots browned in a little butter.  Steamed broccoli and spaghetti on the side.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Tidbits from the past few weeks

1. I'm not sure whether I'm more amused or disapproving of this establishment, which I passed on my way to Jack n' Jills during my first Saturday in LA:

2. My second cousin Mia and her family kindly invited me over for dinner last weekend, and it was awesome.  I brought the same reliable apple tart that I also made for that BBQ back in March.

3. The Westwood Whole Foods is not as good (nor as large) as the Palo Alto Whole Foods.  One reason for this judgment: in Palo Alto the curry chicken salad is made with cubes of chicken breast, whereas in Westwood the same dish uses pieces of miscellaneous red meat, including some random bits of gristle, and is also overdressed.

4. Doughnuts from Stan's Doughnuts, where I treated myself after performing my first somewhat-successful cranial window surgery in lab.  These doughnut holes (three for $1) were good in that doughnuts are generally good, but they weren't revelatory and might even have been a little stale.  A week later I bought a chocolate cake doughnut relatively early in the morning, and it was great; not surprisingly, freshness (i.e. time of purchase) makes a huge difference.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Weekday dinner: broccoli, zucchini, and beef stir fry

While organizing my kitchen on Tuesday evening, I found an unopened jar of satay sauce.  Deciding to use some, I defrosted and sliced up a piece of beef (unfortunately I didn't buy it, so have no idea what its cut was) and marinated it for about 20 minutes in a two-to-one mixture of satay sauce and water.  The beef was then sauteed, followed by some broccoli and zucchini (with warmed, minced garlic), and then everything was combined and served over jasmine rice. 

The result tasted good, since I liked the satay sauce's peanut flavor.  But perhaps due to an excess amount or duration of marinade, the sauce flavor definitely overpowered the beef; I'll keep that in mind for next time.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A sweet Sunday in Santa Monica

This was Sunday's theme.

On Sunday afternoon, I took the Big Blue Bus' Line 2 (just $0.35/ride with my student ID), to Santa Monica.  On Arizona Ave I saw Angelato, which is quite impressive for having over 100 flavors arranged in an attractive serpentine counter.  They do not allow pictures inside but do allow three samples per person, and I tried the German chocolate, spumone, and bacio (dark chocolate hazelnut).  The German chocolate was unremarkably good, the spumone was boring, and the bacio was kind of grainy, so instead I decided to pay tribute to summer and general palm-tree-containing environments with a scoop ($3.50) of the pina colada.

I think choosing an ice cream or gelato flavor may be similar to choosing a PhD lab: rotations (samples) in individual labs are advisable, no matter how reputable or impressive the institution as a whole may be.  If you choose a lab/flavor you haven't sampled it could certainly make you happy, but it could also leave you [surprisingly] disappointed.  Unfortunately, in this case the latter resulted; the pina colada gelato was somewhat watery/icy and also one-dimensionally sweet.  Oh well, foodie fails happen.  I shrugged it off, walked to the Pier, rented a bike and cruised along the beach for an hour.  Then I walked to Santa Monica Place and headed to its top level, which is all restaurants and includes a gourmet food court called The Market.

Right inside the entrance was a small stand for Gotta Have S'More.  Founder/proprietress Carmen described to me the various flavors of s'muffins, which are essentially a small muffin-shaped graham cracker crust enveloping and topped with chocolate, marshmallow, and sometimes caramel or peanut butter.  Single s'muffins are $2.95, and Carmen carefully packaged a chocolate caramel for me to take home.

Next, I found the stand for Aurelie: The Cookie Guru, who sells chocolate chip cookies and not much else.  This cookie is spectacular, especially when eaten warm (right after purchase): an evenly crisp edge, a luscious chewy interior with a near-perfect layer of chocolate throughout, and a large, flat, gooey chip on top.  Aurelie charges $3 for each cookie, which is also spectacularly expensive (and makes this the priciest cookie I've ever purchased).  I was far from pleased with that, as someone on a student budget, but at least a single one of these cookies provides a very satisfactory indulgence given their quality.  So if they all are consistently this good, then at least the pricing is arguably commensurate with much of Santa Monica....

At L'Artisan du Chocolat, which is not to be confused with the London-based Artisan du Chocolat, I perused the lovely array of truffles, macarons, and chocolate-dipped madeleines, sampled the coconut truffle, but didn't buy anything.

My last stop was N'ice Cream, which has a much smaller inventory than Angelato but, based on my taste test, is also much more consistent.  I tried the lemon champagne sorbet, hazelnut gelato, and coconut gelato, and had a hard time deciding before getting a single scoop ($3.50) of the refreshingly effervescent lemon champagne.  The friendly ladies behind the counter were quick to mention that the sorbets are 65 calories per scoop.

Later, after returning home, I followed Carmen's advice to warm up the s'muffin in the microwave.  Once warmed it was really fantastic: indeed, a richer and sultrier incarnation of a familiar dessert.

And with that, I wrapped up an excellently productive afternoon of sand, sun and sugar!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Weekday dinner: baked asparagus with tofu

Melissa Clark of the NYTimes recently wrote about cooking asparagus and eggs, and I remembered the article after buying a bunch of asparagus at Whole Foods.  On Friday night, wanting something fast, healthy, and reasonably flavorful, I decided to try roasting asparagus according to her recipe.

I really like eggs and would have done the hard-cooked egg component as well, except that I wanted to use the tofu and the leftover marinara sauce in my fridge.  Thus, the accompaniment was firm tofu quickly cooked (more like heated) with mushroom marinara sauce.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Westwood: Barney's Beanery (x2)

My summer rotation lab bid farewell to one of its members with a group lunch at Barney's Beanery on Thursday.  The Beanery, as it's called, seems to be distinctive for its crazy profusion of flat-screen TVs.  I really should have taken a picture of the interior.  Flat-screens are essentially used as additional and ever-changing wallpaper on top of the heavily collaged walls and glass-topped bar and tables.

The menu is dauntingly long; it's kind of like the Cheesecake Factory's menu, except on newsprint instead of bound laminate.  Like several other lab members, I ordered the barbecue chicken sandwich, which is a piece of broiled chicken breast with barbeque sauce and a fat onion ring, served on a bun and with two kinds of fries (seasoned and sweet potato, but you can also get just one or the other, or choose another side).  Straight down the middle and tasty, since it's definitely not the kind of thing I cook or otherwise eat with much frequency.

That same evening, I met up with some of my fellow M1s, plus some M2s (first-years and second-years, respectively) at BrewCo, but since that bar doesn't serve pitchers, we soon decided to move to the Beanery.  Not surprisingly, the place becomes incredibly loud at night.  It turns out that the Beanery doesn't serve pitchers, either, but we stayed anyway.  I had a glass of pear cider, which is cheerily fizzy and innocuously fruity in a wow-this-could-totally-pass-for-carbonated-juice kind of way.  After about an hour of introductions and chatter, I started getting sleepy and made the short walk home.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Beverly Hills: Jack n' Jills

Well before I moved here, E (a.k.a. the PNBC) had given me a recommendation for the pancakes at Jack n' Jill's.  Last Saturday morning found me ready for my first expedition into LA, with a desire for both pancakes and some new glassware, so around 8:15am Annabelle (my car) and I headed to Beverly Hills.  Jack n' Jill's opens at 8:00am but was still very quiet when I arrived, with the only other customers being a family of four.  The restaurant's interior is quite charming, with a quaint arrangement of antique-looking plates, cutting boards, and frames on one wall.

After settling into my booth with a pleasantly hot and foamy latte, served with a little Russian tea cake, I glanced at the menu and ordered the famed "Savannah Strawberry Oatmeal Cakes."  They took around 20 minutes to arrive, with the couple that sat down and ordered after me being served their egg entree first; the server told me that the pancakes take a little longer to prepare.

As far as pancakes go, these are indeed very good.  They lack lacy edges, but the menu's descriptor of "fluffy" is completely true, and the presence of oatmeal in the batter makes the texture more interesting than ordinary buttermilk pancakes.  That said, there weren't many strawberries on top, and the pancakes struck me as being kind of one-dimensional (easily rectified with some light dabs of butter and a drizzle of syrup).  Since my favorite breakfasts include a balance of sweet and savory preparations, I'd be happy to return to Jack n' Jill's and order these pancakes again, but as a complement to one of the egg dishes.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Westwood: Komodo truck

After leaving a lab safety course on Friday morning, I walked in what I thought was the direction of the student union.  Instead, I ended up walking right into the plaza area where every day, two of LA's famed food trucks cater to hungry students.  Between the Border Grill truck and the Komodo truck I had heard of the latter, and so I decided to give it a try.

Komodo's "entree" options can be served in taco or burrito form; I ordered an Asian marinated chicken taco and a so-called Java taco, which has an Indonesian pork curry.  The chicken taco (on the right side) was a pretty straightforward teriyaki preparation, but the pork taco actually impressed me with its rich Rendang curry flavor.

This being my first LA food truck experience, it was a fun novelty.  That said, I didn't realize how small these tacos are - they are each palm-sized -, and while two (plus an apple I had brought) were enough as a light lunch, I'm not sure they would be worth paying $6 for on a regular basis.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Getting to know my new kitchen

This past Wednesday I officially moved into my new apartment.  Mostly thanks to my mom's unpacking skills, all five boxes' worth of kitchen items which I insisted on bringing were soon sitting in cabinets and drawers (with the exception of my cookbooks and wine glasses, which are on a bookshelf in my bedroom).  Pictured below is the new-to-me kitchen.  Compared with my previous kitchen in Palo Alto, this kitchen is slightly smaller and has a 3/4-size fridge and stove/oven instead of full-size versions, but there is still adequate counter space and even a double sink.

The first thing I cooked here, on Thursday evening, was pan-seared tilapia with a simple balsamic reduction; I also steamed some broccoli and toasted some Whole Foods ciabatta.

On Sunday evening, I sauteed some chicken breast (from the Puritan Poultry stand at the permanent Farmer's Market) and served it with green beans, whole wheat pasta, and mushroom marinara.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Westwood: Mr. Noodle

Last Tuesday evening, after a long day of driving, a blitz-like scavenger hunt through the IKEA Burbank warehouse, and an hour or two of box unloading at my new building, my parents and I walked to Mr. Noodle on nearby Broxton Ave.  Mr. Noodle's interior is reasonably comfortable in a clean-cut way (I think the high ceiling really helps), with a funny spiral staircase going up to some sort of loft.  After perusing the surprisingly extensive menu, which is pan-Asian with an emphasis on Thai, we ordered thusly: Pad Thai with chicken for my mom, Thai boat noodle for my dad, green curry chicken with brown rice for me, and milk green tea with tapioca for all three of us.  Water was brought after the milk teas, along with a little paper tray of crispy noodles.  The milk teas weren't overly sweet, but were also more slushy-like with lots of ice shards.

Milk green tea with tapioca

The Pad Thai was on the sweet side, but otherwise satisfying, and my dad similarly enjoyed the noodle soup (beef-based, and I think quite pho-like even though the menu advertises pho separately).  I would have liked some more vegetables in the green curry beyond the pieces of eggplant and red bell pepper, but there was certainly a generous amount of chicken, and the curry's spiciness was pretty bracing.

Pad Thai

Thai boat noodle

Green curry chicken

Based on all I've heard and read, Westwood has few restaurants that could really be considered excellent, but I think Mr. Noodle is among the wide array of perfectly decent and very student-budget-friendly places to grab a bite (and/or satisfy a noodle craving).