Category Archives: cheap eats

A local’s guide to LA

I hosted my friend/travel buddy from San Diego during the weekend between Christmas and New Years. As a fellow foodie, she was game for exploring some of my fave eats and ways to appreciate this city. Here’s where we ate/did over a weekend.

We enjoyed a late lunch (30 min wait) at Shin-Sen-Gumi in Little Tokyo for their delicious Hakata ramen ($6.95) which always hits the spot without leaving a dent in my wallet.

ramenPhoto credit: Ed K. (via yelp)

We headed over to Urth Caffe in the arts district just a couple miles away to indulge our sweet tooth cravings. We ordered Spanish lattes ($4.00) and split an Earl Grey tiramisu ($6.95) which was creamy and a little sweet. I hear what makes their Spanish lattes so wonderfully addicting is they use condensed milk (what doesn’t taste better with condensed milk?).

urth

After our cafe experience, we took a little break and enjoyed a rooftop view of the city at Perch near Pershing Square in downtown. It was challenging to find parking on a Friday night but after circling the area for about 20 minutes, I scored the last spot in a parking lot for $5 a block over. A staff member at Perch was telling us that Sunday and Thursday nights are pretty slow. On busy nights like Fridays, there’s a wait to access the rooftop lounge (but well worth it). Cocktails will run about $12-$15 which seems standard in downtown.

perchOverlooking Pershing Square and the ice skating rink

Although my friend hadn’t been to the LACMA, I had a feeling it would be a bit crowded given that it was a Saturday and between holidays. My favorite LA museum is actually the Annenberg Space for Photography in Century City. Their current exhibit are the best photographs from 125 years of National Geographic. Using various mediums of LCD screens, large screen video presentations, and printed shots, it’s an engaging experience across decades, genres, and styles. Photojournalists were sharing their motivation for at times risking their lives to capture images that reach a mass audience in order to bring awareness to issues whether it’s about war/conflict in Afghanistan or seeing the curious face of an endangered species. This is a must-see exhibit featured until April 27, 2014. Free admission and $1 validated parking (on weekends).

annen2

Although it was a bit out of the way, I wanted to take my friend to Venice since it’s a cool beach neighborhood and home to Gjelina and Gjelina Take Away GTA (to-go place next door). I had been to Gjelina last year and fell in love with their squash blossom pizza. Unfortunately, since squash blossoms aren’t in season, we shared the rustic and simple (yet satisfying) pomodoro burrata pizza ($15) and salami pizza ($15). They use the freshest ingredients and the woodfire oven results in a chewy crust. For $15, it’s a pricey pizza for a single serving but an occasional luxury. Given that it’s take-out, we sat in a makeshift alley adjacent to GTA to enjoy our oven-fresh pizzas. So good!

GTA2

What trip to LA would be complete without a taco run? We enjoyed some late night eats at El Flamin’ Taco in Ktown. This truck has a well-stocked salsa bar, juicy al pastor ($1.35) on handmade tortillas, what more could I ask for? It’s a cash only place (one minor inconvenience); closed on Mondays.

taco

Salty, sweet, tangy, and spicy.

Not pictured, a nutella cronut ($3.75) which is a croissant donut from SK Donuts. Deliciously rich and crispy. Recommend sharing with a friend or two.

All in all, we had a great time catching up over good eats and talking about our future travel destinations. I’m thankful for close friends to spend quality time and it gives me more reason to explore new places to take visitors to taste and experience the rich diversity that LA has to offer.

Until we meet again friend! Here’s a shot of my friend on one of our trips to Vegas.

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thai green curry: a weeknight meal

photo 2

Earlier in the month, I was wandering through the farmers market on a rainy Saturday morning and came across stalks of lemongrass. That got me thinking about making green curry which one of the key ingredients is lemongrass. Since I have easy access to Asian supermarkets like Ranch 99, I was able to pick up items like coconut milk and an authentic green curry paste (see note after recipe).

This is an easy and economical weeknight dinner that takes about 30 minutes and is great the next day. If you like curry, check out my yellow curry recipe (my first blog post). It’s another easy weeknight dish.

Thai green curry (adapted from simply recipes)
serves 4
1 TB vegetable oil (canola or olive oil works too)
½ red bell pepper sliced
1 carrot, ¼ inch slices
1 small onion (or ½ medium onion) sliced
½ cup frozen peas
1 cup cooked chicken, shredded
2 TB green curry paste (see description and pic below)
1 14 oz can of coconut milk
¾ cup chicken broth
1 TB fish sauce
1 TB brown sugar
¼ cup Thai basil leaves (or regular basil is ok too)
1 lime, sliced in 8 wedges to garnish (optional)

1. In a medium pot or wok on medium-low heat, add 1 tablespoon of oil. To that, add 2 tablespoons of curry paste. Saute until fragrant, which will be about 20-30 seconds. Pour in about half the can of coconut milk and stir. Let the mixture simmer for about 3 minutes.
2. Add fish sauce, brown sugar, chicken broth, and remaining coconut milk and bring to a boil. Add all the veggies and cook for about 4 minutes or until they are softened. Lastly, add the shredded chicken to heat up.
3. Turn off the heat and add fresh basil to serve. Enjoy with rice or rice noodles.

photo 1

Note on green curry paste: I recommend the Maesri brand of curry paste (amazon sells it) from Ranch 99 for about $1.59 for a 4 oz can. It’s the real deal. The ingredients are legit (like green chiles, kaffir lime, galangal, and a whole bunch of spices) and it saves you the time/hassle of buying at least 8 more ingredients to create the curry paste). Also, it’s free of MSG and other preservatives (and a product of Thailand).  Some recipes that I found have you actually make your own curry paste but I don’t think it’s necessary unless you lack access to quality Asian products.
Veggies: You can easily swap out the veggies listed above for whatever you have at home. I would recommend keeping the peas, so good! Traditionally, Thai eggplant is the main veggie in this dish but add what you like.
Also to note: some recipes call for sliced Thai chili to garnish the soup. Personally, I thought the curry had enough of a peppery kick but if you want to turn the heat up, by all means add some Thai chili but proceed with caution; the smaller the peppers, the spicier they are.

boston: part 1 (good eats)

I was in Boston for about a week earlier this month for a work conference and came the weekend prior to explore/play. My friends (and talented colleagues) and I hung out and had some amazing food. I have so many pictures to share that I’ll devote another post to the sights of Boston. It was actually my second time here but first time really experiencing it on foot. Here are some food highlights:

Our first night in Boston, we took a short bus ride to this Asian fusion restaurant, Myers+Chang. I’m a bit weary when I hear fusion but it was a much needed pick-me-up after a 5+ hour plane ride. Our favorites were the papaya salad, Indonesian fried rice (below, top right, bottom left), and their dan dan cold noodles in a peanut sauce. Despite being a busy Friday night for the restaurant, we had ice waters (noticeably sweating from the humidity we’re not accustomed to) and seated at the window within 10 minutes.

The highlight was meeting Chef Joanne Chang as she came by and asked us how the food was!!! She even liked MY Instagram pic! I’ve been a big fan ever since she beat Bobby Flay on the Food Network’s  Throwdown with her signature sticky buns (keep reading).

We went to Cafe Luna for Saturday brunch in Cambridge (top left, bottom right). I ordered their lemon ricotta stuffed mascarpone pancakes with lemon curd. Probably one of the best brunch dishes I’ve ever had. These were so light and fluffy, perfect for the hot day with my iced chai latte. Julie had the lobster eggs benedict (bottom right). Doesn’t it look savory and decadent? She was saying how fresh the lobster was in her dish. We were very impressed by this small sidewalk cafe (which was packed on a Saturday morning, as good ones should be). The owner was so friendly and kind to us as we learned he’s originally from OC.

brunch and meyers

Day 2 continued: Flour Bakery in Cambridge. A few blocks from Cafe Luna is one of 3 Flour Bakery locations. The first one opened in 2000 and has become an integral part of the city. Chef Joanne Chang has not only the bakeries, her restaurant, and also 2 cookbooks to her empire :). Despite our stuffed bellies, we HAD to sample their desserts. They’re famous for their sticky sticky buns (below). OMG! Very gooey and a generous amount of pecans. I also had a chunky lola cookie (choco chip oatmeal cookie w/coconut and pecans), which was even better! I found the cookie recipe online and baked them last weekend (foolproof!).

I bought home some goodies from this bakery including coffee beans and their signature granola, both taste so good I wish I bought more. My parents really liked their coffee beans for a smooth taste (says a hint of chocolate, but I can’t tell). What’s interesting about Chef Joanne’s background is she graduated from Harvard w/a dual Bachelors in economics and mathematics to work as a management consultant only to realize her true passion was becoming pastry chef. If you’ve ever baked, you understand the art and science of baking. How cool is that?

flour bakery

We also explored the South Boston as our conference was a short walking distance to this up-and-coming area (NPR just did a story on this area). We found this gem of a restaurant, Sportello, one of Chef Barbara Lynch’s restaurants (she has 8 or 9 eateries and mentored the last Top Chef winner). The concept of the eatery is casual Italian diner with countertops covering most the restaurant and an open kitchen + bakery. It’s so cute and inviting. Most notable was their handmade gnocchi and tagliatelle with bolognese sauce. The simplest dishes are the hardest to pull off and they make it look effortless. Shout out to our server Ethan who was amazing.

sportello

I love exploring new cities because you stumble upon places that locals frequent like Barrington Coffee Roasting Company, a few doors down from Sportello. A simple cafe with high quality coffee. Their iced coffee hit the spot on those hot summer days. We also made room for cannolis at Mike’s Pastry in the North End after a full meal. $3.50 for a pistachio cannoli in a small, always crowded Italian pastry shop (cash only).

mike's pastry

Hope this gives you a little taste (no pun intended) of good eats in Boston. Stay tuned for Boston part 2 later this week. Too much good content to cram into one post.

thinking outside the cubicle: hiking!

For those of us who sit at a desk 40+ hours a week, it takes a toll, both on the mind and body. By Thursday, I get this urge to get a change of scenery and get as far away from a desk/computer as possible. For the past month, I’ve been enjoying new hiking adventures including:

Runyon Canyon Park in the Hollywood area. Great workout, close to the city, finding parking was difficult (but not impossible).

runyon

Holy Jim Falls trail in Trabuco Canyon. Beautiful, lush scenery but expect a jumpy ride getting to the dirt road (think Indiana Jones’ ride) to reach the trailhead.

holy jim

You know what’s the best part of a hike, eating good food afterwards sans guilt! A few places in OC I recommend:

Fukada in Irvine. Their fried squid legs were awesome! Try their seafood salad w/seared tuna and salmon combo w/spicy tuna don (get the brown rice). Their ingredients are very high quality at an affordable price (combos are about 11 bucks and with generous portions. well worth the wait time).

squid

Capriotti’s in Tustin. Try their pastrami (has coleslaw in it) or the Bobbie.

pastrami

What do you do to recharge on the weekends? I’ve been itching to hit the beach with the warm weather we’ve been having here in SoCal. It’s starting to feel like summer in April (yay!).

Have an awesome week and thanks for checking out my blog.

citrus arugula salad and crostini w/fig butter, brie, and prosciutto

I made this awhile ago and thought you might like to see… citrus arugula salad
serves 3-4 (as starter)
4 cups of arugula
1 orange, slices into half moons
1 ripe avocado, sliced
1/4 cups toasted walnuts
1/4 cup of olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
1 TB honey
1/4 tsp salt and pinch of pepper
Throw all ingredients up until the olive oil into a salad bowl. Make the salad dressing and individually dress each portion. Enjoy! crostini-pic3 crostini with fig butter, brie, and prosciutto
serves 4
1 bagette, 1/2 inch slices, on the diagonal
fig butter
brie cheese, 1/4 inch slices
1 package of prosciutto (about 10-12 oz)
1/4 cups olive oil
Preheat oven to 450F. Rub one side of bread slices with oil. Place oil-side down, touching the baking sheets. Spread fig butter on each slice, top with brie, then prosciutto. Bake for about 8-10 minutes or until the cheese is melted. Mmm… Perfect with a glass of riesling. Enjoy!

Seattle

Last November, I booked a flight to Seattle after seeing a great deal on JetBlue ($49 each way from LBC to SEA/TAC) and easily convinced my sister since it was MLK weekend that we both wanted an excuse to see the Emerald City. I hadn’t been to Seattle in a decade and she had never been, what the heck, let’s go! Check out some highlights from our trip.

The Seattle Public Library. Sigh. If only all public libraries were this cool. No wonder they’re voted one of the most book loving cities. I wasn’t thrilled with the exterior but the interior was so modern and inviting. Interestingly, an entire floor is completely painted in red. We also found this cool used bookstore in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Imagine a B&N-like bookstore where all the book are half off (and in great condition).

Seattle Public Library (the red floor)

We enjoyed some wine at Purple Cafe and Wine Bar in walking distance from the library. A beautiful, hip, yet intimate restaurant. Check out that winding staircase wine rack!

Purple Wine Bar and Cafe (loved their wine and spiral wine case)

fish market

What Seattle trip would be complete without a visit to Pike Place Market? So cool! I love the fish throwing dudes and the street performers but what I love most is the food! Hands down my favorite was Le Panier’s almond croissant and coffee (Seattle knows good coffee). Ah… the simple joys in life. It was so good, we went back the next day. I also really enjoyed Russian meat pastries and creamy mac & cheese at this place. I’m warning you; this place is carb heaven. We didn’t even have room for the donuts or other foods on a stick. I wanted to try fresh oysters but it was way too cold for this SoCal girl! I even bought wool hiking socks, yeah that cold.

honey

mac and cheese seattle

Beecher’s mac and cheese (taken by alice)

Seattle coffee is bar none! Latte from Panier.

$4 croissant was worth every penny.

We also enjoyed brunch at Portage Bay Cafe with their delicious whole wheat pancakes and toppings bar. What a cool idea!!!

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During brunch, it started snowing! I felt like a little kid mesmerized by snow in the city! For real!!! We just happened to be in Seattle during the first snowstorm of the winter. NICE 🙂 Except that all the buses, taxis were out of commission. We were standing out in the street, waiting for a bus to arrive as it’s snowing. Only 30 minutes later did we realize that the buses had stopped. Seattle is a bit hilly and so they fear driving in snowing conditions (and they take issue with using salt; well, at least prior due to environmental reasons).

snow!

We also enjoyed pizzas at Serious Pie and sushi at Umi Sake House in downtown. These folks know how to eat!!! Next time, I’ll visit Bainbridge island and tour the Theo Chocolate Factory. The Pacific Northwest is without a doubt breathtakingly beautiful and has some of the nicest people. Seriously, even the bus drivers were super nice and hospitable.

Adieu Seattle! Until we meet again.

on friendships and beets and carrots

I love catching up with an old friend after a lapse of contact. It’s like picking up where you left off and surprisingly, a lot can occur in one month. It didn’t dawn on me until we were chatting it up for an hour (for someone who doesn’t like talking on the phone).

Apparently, ingredients have conversations too, at least according to Chef Jose Andres. How so? He explains how the ingredients are talking to each other as he’s cooking up a delicious Spanish dish on his show, Made in Spain (did you catch the Iron Chef episode when he was juding the truffle dishes?). It’s quite endearing actually. So in my dish, the beets and carrots are good friends having a conversation in the frying pan, as one gets crispy and the other tender. Enjoy!

glazed baby beet and carrot salad with cumin dressing (adapted from F&W, July 2010)
serves 4
1 TB unsalted butter
2 TB olive oil
8 baby golden and chioggia beets, peeled and quartered
12 baby carrots
salt and pepper
2 tsp honey
3 TB white vinegar
½ tsp ground cumin
8 cups of baby spinach
½ cup of goat cheese, pea size pieces
4 TB of sliced almonds

1.    In a medium skillet on medium low heat, melt the butter with the olive oil. Add the beets and carrots and season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook over moderate heat, stirring once or twice, until the beets are crisp-tender, about 5 minutes.
2.    Add the honey and 2 TB of vinegar and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until tender and lightly glazed, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the veggies to a bowl. Whisk the remaining 1 TB of vinegar with the cumin, then pour over veggies. Let cool slightly.
3.    Add the spinach and goat cheese to the veggies and toss. Sprinkle with almonds and serve right away.

fyi: I didn’t have goat cheese on hand, but in my past beet eating experience, the creamy/saltiness of the cheese balanced well with the sweetness of the beets. Don’t be like me and forget it as it makes a difference.

 

 

 

 

I found this in the freezer– a sweet corn ice cream bar. Chock it up to Korean food producers to make an ice cream bar made of corn. Koreans LOOOOOVVEE corn. They put it in Koreanized American dishes like coleslaw, potato salad, pizza… and I can’t think of any other examples. I’m sure it finds it’s way in other dishes. It’s sneaky that way.