Sunday, August 30, 2009

Ch-ch-ch-chia what?

I've been lazy these days and haven't been cooking much. I've just been devouring mounds and mounds of soba noodles these days because it's so hot, it's easy to make and it's healthy. I just grate up some radish, chop up some green onion and add the garnishes to my store bought bottle of soba dipping sauce and I have a simple and quick meal all under 10 minutes. I've been going through bottles of the soba dipping sauce like diet coke in my hay day so I may have to start making my own sauce at home. That might be worthy of a upcoming post.

So anyways, since I haven't been cooking much, I will take this time to introduce two new staples in my kitchen.

One is chia seeds. I know, what you are thinking, do you mean a chia pet? Well, they are definitely related. Remember those clay figurines that you would water and in time sprouts would grow making it look like fur. Well, those sprouts are in fact from chia seeds and it turns out those seeds are quite healthy for you. Who knew? According to the package, chia is native to Central America and has been used for over 3000 years. Chia has a high fiber content, making it absorb more than 10 times its weight in water. Chia contains a rich source of pure omega 3 fatty acids and contains other antioxidants. Chia's soluble fiber forms a gel that slows the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, binding it to toxins in the digestive system and helps eliminate waste.

My friend J is the one who first told me about chia seeds (along with flax seeds, goji berries, kombucha, basically anything health related, I hear from J first). She went on and on about how delicious they were in pudding and how they tasted like tapioca, so I thought it was worth a shot. Here's what I found when I opened the jar.
It looks like miniature black and white sesame seeds. The only qualm I have about them is the smell. It's what I imagine a chia pet to smell like, if in fact they were real. So as you can see, I'm not the biggest fan of the smell and my goal these days is to try to incorporate it into foods that mask the smell.

The first concoction I made was to make the pudding J raved about. J suggested putting the seeds in soy milk or almond milk and making a pudding out of it. All you do is get a cup of soy milk or almond milk and stir in a scoop of these seeds. I suggest putting it in the refrigerator and stirring it from time to time because it will clump up. It's pretty neat to see it absorb the liquid and form into this gel-like substance. It definitely has an easier time absorbing the almond milk than the soy milk, I'm not sure why. I've tried eating it after it's absorbed the milk with some sweetener, like agave nectar, but again the smell kind of gets to me.

While J, who genuinely loves the taste of kombucha and raw kale smoothies, thinks chia seeds taste like tapioca, I will provide the soomeenshee review of this pudding. Although it does have the look of tapioca, the seeds don't get completely soft, so it still has a bite and a weird smell. So while some may be convinced that it tastes like tapioca, I prefer to add some other texture to it so the bite isn't as noticeable. I prefer to leave it in soy milk or almond milk overnight and then in the morning, I add some more milk, crunchy cereal and blueberries to it. It makes for an interesting bowl of cereal/pudding that is far more appetizing than eating it plain with milk.

Another way to enjoy chia seeds is to put them in aqua fresca. You can make any variation you like, but I add scoops of chia seeds to a jar of lemonade. Refrigerate the lemonade and let the chia seeds get bloated and happy. When you gulp it down, you might mistake the chia seeds for lemon segments, but you've just fooled yourself into consuming a spoonful of dietary fiber and omega-3's. Now if you're curious where to get these seeds, I think there are cheaper sources online, but I bought my jar of chia seeds from whole foods for $20.
Last but not least, next to the bottle of chia seeds, you will see a package of Good Earth "Sweet & Spicy Herbal Tea." A friend introduced this tea to me awhile ago and it tastes exactly like Korean cinnamon tea (sujeonggwa) that you usually get at Korean restaurants as dessert. It's so good. I would never in a million years attempt to make sujeonggwa, which apparently is made from dried persimmons, cinnamon and ginger mostly because I don't want to know how much sugar goes into the drink, but who knew the good people at Good Earth, made a sugar free version in easy to brew tea bags. The great thing about this tea is that it is naturally sweet. Yes, you heard me, no sugar. I'll list the ingredients here for you.

Ingredients: Red Rooibos, Chicory Root, Artificial Flavor, Rosehips, Cinnamon, Peppermint, Lemongrass, Papaya, Chamomile, Panax Ginseng Leaves, Anise Seed, Ginger Root, Dandelion Root, Orange Peel and Orange Oil.

I have no clue what makes this tea sweet and delicious but you really have to go out and put some in your cupboard for when I come to visit. It's caffeine free and sugar free, what more could you ask for? I bought mine at Trader Joe's, but if there isn't one near you, tell me and I will mail you some.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Pad Thai, Patbingsoo and the Change Machine

My cousin D and I have craving some thai food so we decided to hit up Thai Town. I haven't been back in LA for a few years now so I wasn't sure where to go. I feel like there is such high turnover of restaurants in LA, what was popular a year ago, might not even be around anymore. We decided to check out Pailin Thai on Hollywood Blvd., between Wilshire and Western. It's a tiny place, easy to miss if you're not paying attention. When we got there around 8:30 pm, all the tables were full. I think there were about 4 booths on one side of the table and a few makeshift tables on the other side. I think it's always a good sign when the place is packed. Once we were seated, the most adorable kid (owner's 11 year old son) came and took our drink order. Throughout the meal, I saw him refilling other patron's water cups and even clearing up some of the tables. It was nice to see a family-runned business, especially when the kids are helping out too. It was endearing to see.

After taking a peek at their menu, we decided on the pad thai and duck curry. We were debating between the pad kee mao or the pad thai and opted for the pad thai instead since we thought the curry might be quite spicy. It turned out that the curry wasn't spicy at all, but I'm glad we tried the pad thai anyway. I think a thai restaurant's barometer of authenticity is often the pad thai. So many places make pad thai doused in ketchup or make it way too sweet, but Pailin's was pretty spot on. There were several pieces of large shrimp in the dish, with the peels taken off for easier consumption. I usually have to ask for chili paste if the dish is a bit bland, but none was required yesterday.
We also ordered the duck curry. I've only tasted two duck curries in my life, the other one being at Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas, which was superb. This one was alright, not very memorable. I wasn't a big fan of the pineapple in the curry, but the duck, which was thinly sliced, with bamboo shoots were good. I had wished the curry had chunks of duck rather than thin slices of it.
D also ordered a thai ice tea for $1. Yes, $1. All of the dishes in fact were reasonably priced. I think our order of two entrees and a drink, with tip came out to less than $20. What a bargain! That's pretty hard to come by these days. I would definitely come back and check out the other items on their menu. I spied some fried rice that looked pretty good and also heard that their shrimp balls were pretty delish.

After our tasty meal, we headed to ktown to get some patbingsoo. Patbingsoo is korean shaved ice with red bean paste and condensed milk. I had an awesome fruit patbingsoo on a hot, balmy day at Haus Dessert Boutique a few weeks ago, so we opted to go there. The unique thing about their patbingsoo is that it comes in a frozen ice bowl that is filled to the brim with shaved ice, milk, red bean paste, fruit and mochi.

Last time I was there, it was really hot so the ice melted pretty fast and the shaved ice was quite soft, but last night, it looks as though the shaved ice was sitting out for awhile b/c the ice flakes froze together and was harder to eat. D commented that she didn't taste any condensed milk and it seemed like they added milk with some sort of sweetener. It was, however, filled with strawberries, bananas, mangoes, pineapples and kiwis. The fruit was fresh and ripe and D really liked the mochi (the thing that looks like uni in the picture), which tasted like it had roasted grain powder in it. I think it's a genius idea to have a frozen ice bowl to keep the shaved ice from melting. It wasn't quite as necessary last night, but it's a pretty display nevertheless. We eyed another table next to us who ordered soft serve ice cream and it was piled at least a foot high in its dense, glorious icy wonder. I'll have to try it next time.

Now for the change machine... my cousin D, while we were passing OMC, one of the huge korean churches in ktown, reminisced about how our parents enrolled us in Vacation Bible School one summer not knowing it was a religious program. I think they just thought it was free child care. We laughed about how confused we were that we were studying the bible and how everyone else seemed to know all these biblical stories except for us. We laughed about how walking to KFC back then was like going to Canaan, but how we always needed an escort to cross the street. D told me a story about how she needed change for a dollar, so one of her friends takes her to where one is. Two little girls stare up at a tall machine that has just swallowed their dollar bill. Meanwhile, a group of kids who had been staring at them for awhile, came by, pressed a button and snatched the can of coke that tumbled down. Poor D and her friend. They had no idea that their change machine was in fact a soda vending machine. They got their first taste of getting swindled at the tender age of seven. Ahh, to be a kid again. =)

Pailin Thai Cuisine
5621 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90028

Haus Dessert Boutique
3826 W 6th St.
Los Angeles, CA 90020

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Two Delicious Suggestions for Leftover Buttermilk

I made some red velvet cupcakes this weekend for a friend's party and I had all the ingredients on hand, except for red food coloring and buttermilk. The recipe only required a half a cup of buttermilk, but it's not like anyone happens to have buttermilk lying around the house. So I had to go buy some - a half gallon of it, to be precise. After the half cup of buttermilk was used, I was left with a pretty full container of buttermilk occupying my freezer door. Normally, it would have probably sat in my fridge for the next month, happily fermenting and turning green, but I was determined not to let that happen this time around. So I researched some simple recipes that included buttermilk. I turned to my trusty companion, the food network.

Paula Deen's recipe for Buttermilk Pie immediately caught my eye. It only required a few ingredients and looked really simple to make. I have never tasted buttermilk pie before, so I had no clue if I'd like it or not, but from the comments, it seemed like it was a crust-less pie with a creme brulee-like filling. I'm not the biggest fan of pie crust and I love creme brulee, so I gave it a go. I love Paula Deen but I've noticed the woman loves her butter and sugar, so I adjusted the recipe a bit to reduce the sugar and butter and they were not sorely missed.

Olivia's Buttermilk Pie
as adapted from Paula Deen

2/3 cups sugar
1 cup of buttermilk
1/2 cup biscuit mix (such as Bisquick)
4 tablespoons of melted butter
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 eggs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 inch pie pan. Put all the ingredients in a bowl and mix together. Pour mixture into the pie pan. Here's a picture of it before it went into the oven.

Bake for about 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. The original recipe calls for 50 minutes, but mine started turning brown at the edges at around 40 minutes so I took the pie out immediately.

After you take it out of the oven, let it cool. Some people have commented on the food network that you should chill it first and eat it cold and I couldn't agree more. I wasn't too found of it when it was still warm, but when I tried it the following day, it tasted like the little egg custards you get in Chinatown, minus the pie crust, of course. It's decadent and creamy. It's like eating a giant, hearty creme brulee. You could definitely put some sugar on top and caramelize it under the broiler for a real creme brulee look, but I didn't go there. There are so many variations to this that you could do.
Now that I've successfully used all of a cup and half of buttermilk, what's a girl to do. Make ice cream of course!! I found a lovely buttermilk ice cream recipe on Smitten Kitchen but that required me going out and buying some heavy cream, which I didn't have at home, and well... you can see where that would get me - a whole other post on what to do with leftover heavy cream. So I did some searching for other buttermilk ice cream recipes online and most of them required a bit of heavy cream and/or milk, neither of which were residing in my fridge at the moment. In the end, I came across this recipe from Emeril Lagasse for Buttermilk Ice Milk. I thought it was worth a shot and believe me, it was a pleasant surprise. Might I dare draw a comparison to the P word. It tastes a lot like Pinkberry frozen yogurt.

After doing some more searching, I came across David Lebovitz's recipe for Lemon-Buttermilk Sherbet from his book, The Perfect Scoop. I may have to try his recipe after this batch and do a taste test. Emeril's Buttermilk Ice Milk is a definite keeper for now.

Buttermilk Ice Milk or Frozen Yogurt
adapted from Emeril Lagasse

3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
pinch of salt
3 cups of buttermilk

In a large non-reactive bowl or container, combine the sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt and buttermilk and stir well until the sugar has dissolved. Cover the bowl or container and transfer to the refrigerator until it's been chilled, at least an hour. Freeze according to your ice cream maker's instructions.

Here's a picture of my Cuisinart churning away.

After it's been running for about 20 minutes, pour into a sealable container and place in the freezer. Here's what mine looked like after a few hours in the freezer. The fro-yo is velvety, tart and not too sweet, a winning combination if you ask me. I recall several years ago trying to make a Pinkberry-esque frozen yogurt with my ice cream maker using greek yogurt, which wasn't quite so successful, but this one comes mighty close. I may have to start buying buttermilk on a regular basis now.

BTW, I also tried substituting milk for buttermilk in my scrambled eggs and it was pretty good. The tartness can be mistaken for cheese, but it's very subtle. It was a welcomed change from the standard scrambled eggs. Now, I've offered you THREE delicious suggestions for leftover buttermilk. Now if only, I can find ways to get rid of the other things occupying my fridge...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Eggplants: Mushy and Flavorless, No More!

Most people have a strong aversion to eggplants. Mushy and gross are the responses I get when I ask why they don't like to eat eggplants. And I don't blame them. I've had many a mushy and flavorless Eggplant Parmesans in my lifetime. I love a good Baba Ganoush, but that too does nothing to rehabilitate eggplants' reputation for mushiness. But when it comes to Korean food, gaji moochim (thanks D for the Korean tutorial) (steamed and seasoned eggplant) is one of my favorite side dishes. This is a recipe I've learned from my mom and grandmother. I noticed that compared to other recipes, this includes rice wine vinegar. It adds a kick to the dish that I personally like, but I guess it's a matter of personal taste.

I saw some great Japanese eggplants at the market the other day, so I thought I'd make some gaji moochim for dinner. Here's the recipe.

Steamed and Seasoned Eggplant (Korean Side Dish)

9 small eggplants
2 stalks of green onion, chopped
2 teaspoons of soy sauce
2 teaspoons of rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon of minced garlic
3/4 teaspoon of salt (I use Kosher salt)
1 teaspoon of sesame seed oil
1 teaspoon of toasted sesame seeds (optional)

Rinse and remove the caps of the eggplants. My eggplants were pretty small so I didn't need to cut all of them into several pieces, but you don't want the pieces to be too long, so you can cut them once or twice, depending on how long your eggplant is. Go ahead and cut the pieces of eggplant in half lengthwise.

Next, you put about 2 cups of water into a steamer and place the pieces in the steamer bowl. Bring the water to a boil and cook the eggplants in several batches for about 10-15 mins each. It's pretty difficult to get the eggplants to steam evenly if you cram all of them into one batch. Keep an eye on them because you don't want them to overcook and turn brown. You want them to still retain their purple coloring but still be cooked throughout. One way to test them is to poke them with a chopstick to see if they are done. You should have no problem piercing a hole through it if it's fully cooked.
Take out the steamed eggplants from the steamer and set them aside to cool. Once it's cool enough to touch, take a chopstick and poke a hole in the middle of each piece and drag the chopstick down to the end, tearing the pieces into two. Do this several times to make long thin strips. Once you've gone through all of the eggplants, take a bunch in your palm and squeeze out the excess water. It's actually surprising how much water comes out of the eggplants. It's a tedious exercise, but it really enhances the texture of the final dish.

Now you're ready to add your seasonings. Chop 2 stalks of green onion and add, along with 1 teaspoon of minced garlic, 2 teaspoons of soy sauce, 1 teaspoon of sesame seed oil, 1 teaspoon of toasted sesame seeds, 2 teaspoons of rice wine vinegar and 3/4 teaspoon of kosher salt. At this point, I grab a pair of disposable gloves and mix all the ingredients together. Taste and season more to your liking. I try to refrain from adding too much soy sauce, because it masks the bright purple color of the eggplant, so try to use more salt if it's not salty enough.

Here's the final product. You can add some red pepper flakes if you like a little heat. The eggplant soaks up the seasonings and really takes on a texture of its own. It's a tasty and healthy way to add more eggplants into your diet. I hope you will include it in your cooking repertoire from now on. Enjoy!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Hello There!

I'll save the introductions for later, but just wanted to share a picture of my cilantro plant that I planted for my balcony a week ago. I was shocked to see how much it's grown. I was watering it today and saw a little round object so I automatically thought it was a snail ready to obliterate the herbs, but I took a closer peek and lo and behold, it's a little mushroom! Isn't that the cutest thing you've ever seen? I have no clue how it got there, but it was a pleasant surprise and I can't wait to see how big it'll get.

Here's a close up for your viewing pleasure.

I have a few other plants on my balcony, which I will blog about later, but it's great to be able to just go outside, pick a few herbs or jalapeno peppers instead of running off to the market for them. I highly recommend it! I'm a total novice when it comes to gardening and especially pruning. I am ashamed to admit that I once stripped my tomato plant of all of its leaves because I wasn't sure what to do with the worms that were infesting my plant. It probably wasn't the smartest idea but I'm squeamish when it comes to worms. Oddly enough it did the trick that time and I later learned that you just need to spray your plant with some diluted dish washing soap. Poor plant ... it's the equivalent of a surgeon cutting off your arms because you have fleas on them. Thank goodness I'm not in the medical field.

So hopefully I can share these little tips with you as I learn by trial and error. I'm happy to report, my tomato plant is doing well. It suffered a bout of drought when my dad neglected to water my plants while I was on vacation, but it's recuperating. That's what's amazing about plants, how resilient they are. A little water, sun and some tender care and we all should be able to bounce back, no?