Posts in the ‘Dining & Drinks’ Category

The Secret to Getting Nooks and Crannies in English Muffins

The nooks and crannies in my fork-split whole wheat english muffin

The nooks and crannies in my fork-split whole wheat english muffin

The first two times I made english muffins, I thought they were delicious but I missed the nooks and crannies that you get with fork-split muffins that toast up nice and crispy and catch lots of butter and jam.

I also missed the little crunch of cornmeal that most store-bought english muffins had, so I decided to modify the recipe a bit to get what I wanted. So instead of dusting with flour before the muffins rise between two baking sheets, I dusted with corn meal. That was easy enough.

And for the nooks and cranies, I decided to try fork splitting. After much Googling, it seemed that the way to do it was to just poke the english muffin all around with a fork as soon as it came off the stove. I tested it out — it wasn’t too hard since the muffins don’t get too hot and can be handled by hand right off the stove. It worked perfectly. They’re now easy to separate by hand, and they have a great texture from pulling them apart.

The fork split might not look quite as nice as leaving them whole, but it's worth it

The fork split might not look quite as nice as leaving them whole, but it's worth it

They didn’t look quite as pretty with the sides mangled from the fork, but I could have probably been gentler. I just wasn’t sure what sort of pressure I needed to make sure they split easily.

So that’s it! The secret of how to make nooks and crannies revealed!

Also, to make whole wheat english muffins, just use the same recipe for regular english muffins and use 2 cups of whole wheat flour and 2 cups of regular bread flour. Maybe next time I’ll try honey wheat ones…

More Cooking Fun: Baguettes, Brownies and Homemade Pizza

I’ve still been on my cooking kick, baking bread and trying out new recipes. Last week, I decided to bake baguettes again, and this time they came out looking perfect, though slightly undercooked for my taste — they were cooked all the way through, but I would have liked a thicker crust.

4 perfect looking baguettes

4 perfect looking baguettes

As for dinner with the baguettes, I decided to try out some recipes from my new Chez Panisse Vegetables cookbook. I made a very tasty grapefruit, avocado and endive salad, as well as a summer squash and corn pasta, which tasted sweet and fresh (unfortunately I didn’t take photos). I really enjoyed both recipes and would make them both again. They were really simple but had a lot of flavor, and I love that the cookbook gives really free-form instructions in the recipes, which makes it hard to go wrong.

These are the brownies Maryn made, but mine looked pretty similar!

These are the brownies Maryn made, but mine looked pretty similar!

For dessert, I made the Tartine brownies that we first tried when Maryn and Brian came over for dinner. I found the recipe on the No Special Effects blog, and they turned out really tasty and rich, though somehow not exactly like the ones Maryn baked (maybe I baked them a little longer than I should?), though I don’t think anyone was complaining. They were really decadent and rich, and had a flaky top and moist, soft interior.

Putting the pizzas into the oven

Putting the pizzas into the oven

This week, I decided my dough of the week — I have been making some sort of bread at least once a week for a little while now — would be pizza dough, and I had a few people over for an impromptu pizza-making party. I found a recipe for whole wheat dough in The New Basics Cookbook (I would have likely referred to How to Cook Everything again, but I didn’t have it handy because we’re housesitting), and made up a batch with enough to make four individual-size pizzas. The dough was easy enough, and I just pressed it out by hand. I made a simple tomato sauce by doctoring up a canned sauce (also a recipe froms The New Basics Cookbook), shredded up some mozzarella cheese, and sliced mushrooms, tomatoes and red peppers. We also had garlic, olives, basil and carmelized onions to put on the pizzas. All the combinations were delicious — especially the ones with the caramelized onions. I only wish we had more leftovers… I’ll definitely be making pizzas again soon, and trying out some different crust recipes. The whole wheat crust was good, but it doesn’t have that classic pizza taste.

Our pizza leftovers -- boy were they delicious the next day

Our pizza leftovers -- caramelized onion and mushroom, and red pepper, tomato and basil -- boy were they delicious the next day

What should be on the menu for next week?

Playing a Little Catchup: News and Reviews

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, so I figured I should do a quick catch-up for anyone who feels they’re missing out. Things have been busy over here in the past few weeks, so there’s plenty to catch up on.

One of Evan's first pictures of Pittsburgh

One of Evan's first pictures of Pittsburgh

The biggest change is that Evan took a job that will bring him to Pittsburgh for 3 months. This pales in comparison to leaving for Budapest nearly two years ago, back in the time when I didn’t even know exactly how long we’d be apart, but it’s still a bit sad for me and it will be an adjustment. He just left this morning — on a 6 a.m. flight — and I’m going to be heading out for my first visit April 22.

Evan also just launched a new site about assistant editing and Avid tips and tricks. It looks really professional and clean and already has tons of useful information.

Though this week was busy workwise and I’ve also started a design class at UCLA Extension, there were some fun events leading up to Evan’s departure, like playing with his cousin’s new King Charles Cavalier puppies (so adorable!), seeing a movie and going out to eat. Here are some of the highlights.

villageidiotWe went to The Village Idiot twice. Once to check it out before deciding to have Evan’ going away shindig there (I’d been there, he hadn’t), and the second time was for his party. This gastropub, which is unusual for LA, offers interesting dishes — I had a beet and horseradish greens salad, acorn squash risotto and ginger bread budding with Guinness gelato (amazingly delicious and different) — a nice wine and beer list, and a fun atmosphere. The wallpaper in the back rooms is covered in stags, and as we found out, it gets quite crowded on a Friday night, so if you want to enjoy your food, have dinner there earlier in the week.

The goodbye party was a nice gathering of lots of friends. It was tough to get to talk to everyone and the room was realy bustling, but we were there until closing time, enjoying the company and the beer.

We also went to eat at the Gardens of Taxco, which we’ve been meaning to try out for months. This Mexican restaurant is quite the experience. With no menus — just a choice of meats and veggies for your five-course meal read off by an animated, showboaty waiter — you’re surprised at every step along the way of your dinner. And it just makes ordering that much easier. We had quesadillas with delicious quacamole, soup, tacos and enchiladas, and Evan had carne asada while I had a chile relleno and a zucchini taco, along with rice and beans, of course. There were also the requisite chips and salsa, as well as some pickled vegetables. I was also serenaded by the guitar player, singing a very sweet song Evan requested.

We were surprised to find that the restaurant doesn’t serve hard alcohol, which meant no margaritas, but they make their own guava-wine margaritas. It wasn’t a perfect replacement, but they were pretty tasty — and they come by the liter! (We shared, of course).

For Evan’s last day in town, we went to the park and played some frisbee. I have very little talent when it comes to throwing or catching things, or sports in general, but I’ve been improving. Then we ran some errands and went to dinner. Evan didn’t want anything too stuffy, so we headed over to the Panini Cafe. As we were walking toward the restaurant, I had the strangest sense of deja vu, and then it hit me — this is the last place we ate before he left for Budapest. Strange that it was completely unintentional. When he was leaving for Budapest, we went for lunch with his grandparents; this time we went for dinner on our own. We like the place, with its relatively quick service and tasty sandwiches, salads and kabobs. I just couldn’t believe we were really back there again, in nearly the same situation.

I’ll try to post a bit more regularly, and I’m sure I’ll have plenty to talk about after my first trip to Pittsburgh and to Syracuse (we should be heading up there the weekend I’m in town). After 2 and a half years, I’ll finally see Evan’s hometown. I think it’s about time for that. And I’ll finally get to check out the ever-mysterious Wegman’s.

If you have any recommendations for things to do or places to eat in Pittsburgh, we’d love to hear them.

MLK Weekend in Mammoth

Last weekend, Evan and I went to Mammoth with two of our friends. We drove up early on Friday so we beat all of the traffic and had a super easy drive because it had been warm for a while and hadn’t snowed, so no ice, no snow and no chains.

Saturday, we had a great, full day of skiing and snowboarding. Evan and I went all over the mountain in the morning, then stopped for lunch — where we coincidentally sat RIGHT next to my uncle and cousins — and met up with our friends in the afternoon to get some more runs in.

That night we had a delicious dinner at one of my favorite Mammoth restaurants, Petra’s Bistro. The four of us had a table by the fire, and Evan and I shared a roasted beet salad and some Navarro Chardonnay, and then he had a salmon dish while I had some gnocchi with butternut squash. Our friends had venison and pork and loved their dishes as well. For dessert we headed back to the condo since Evan and I had baked a chocolate almond cake from a recipe his parents often use, and though it turned out a little flatter than theirs — we folded the egg whites in a little too much — it was delicious with its raspberry jam topping. I’ll definitely be making it again.

Sunday was another great ski day. The snow was pretty fast and quite hard-packed in some places, but we stayed under control and I don’t think either Evan or I fell the whole time. We spent more time up at the top and on the back side of the mountain, which I had never even explored. It was beautiful and sunny, too, and we met up with my uncle and cousins again for lunch.

We didn’t make it a full day — we headed in around 3 instead of 4 — since our legs (especially mine) were really exhausted from spending so much time on both steep and overly flat runs, which both make my muscles exhausted. I do much better on a normal intermediate/easier advanced grade. Still, it was good to challenge myself, and though Evan is a much better skier than I am a border, I was able to stick with him all day — provided that he’d wait for me a bit.

That night, we cooked dinner — nice and easy rancher’s pasta (pasta with sun dried tomatoes, olives and goat cheese) and salad. We also had some more cake and started a bit of a board game marathon, playing Pictionary, Trivial Pursuit and Catch Phrase.

Monday we debated whether or not to ski and ultimately decided to go for brunch at The Stove where we had enormous omelets, waffles and pieces of french toast, which were all really delicious. Then Evan and I took a short hike at Hot Creek, which was delightfully empty — every time I’ve been there it’s been super crowded. And then we drove home, thankfully without any traffic again.

Evan should be posting some more photos soon, including some of Hot Creek.

The Dark Knight in IMAX and Drinks at Comme Ça

Monday night, Evan and I went out to Universal CityWalk to a special IMAX screening of The Dark Knight and an interview with the sound designer, Richard King. It was great to see the movie again — when we saw it during the summer, it was at a theater in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and we were dealing with a major foot odor issue (ours) that was a bit distracting.

The movie was incredible in IMAX, on the gigantic screen, though I felt the ferry scene lacked all the suspense it had on the first viewing and also brought down the feeling of suspense and urgency during the concurrent scenes. I also didn’t find it nearly as scary, probably because I knew what was coming around each corner. I did get to appreciate the performances and the story more.

The interview afterward was interesting. We learned about some of the different sounds used in the movie and about putting together the sounds for some of the long scenes without music, like the truck chase in the underpass. We also learned about how Richard sometimes finds sounds by accident — like by running his shoe over the end of a treadmill — then starts playing around with the sound to build it into the film.

After the movie, we stopped by Comme Ça, a new restaurant and bar on Melrose, for a drink. Evan had been there before, but it was my first time at the beautiful place decorated with lots of dark wood bookcases, small quirky mirrors, and white chairs and benches. We took a seat at the bar, and looked through the drink specials. The place specializes in prohibition-era cocktails, and there’s a nice selection of alcohols from smaller distilleries, and a very inventive drink mix. I tried out a gin-based drink called The Last Word, and Evan was going to have a Sloe Gin Fizz, but since they were out of Sloe Gin, he had a variation on the drink made with Apple Jack Brandy.

Watching the bartender — really, mixologist — mix the drinks is a treat in itself. He pours out measurements from beaker-like flasks, hand-chips ice, and shakes everything up in a martini shaker before pouring it into a frosted glass. Our bartender, Eugene, also spent a lot of time talking to us about the different drinks on hand, and he even let us sample and compare a few different whiskeys, brandies and bourbons. We also learned about his favorite tequilas (4 Copas is high on his list) and gins (for peppery, he likes Miller’s, for fruity, Junipero).

Since we arrived toward the end of the night — and on a Monday — the bar and restaurant were pretty quiet. I’ve read that it can get pretty busy and noisy in Comme Ça, but for us it was quite a quiet and calm experience. And since the bartender wasn’t overwhelmed, we got a lot of individual attention and really got to see how our drinks were being made.

For round two, we let Eugene pick our drinks. Evan got an Old Fashioned, which was a bit too bourbon-heavy for me, but he liked it; I got one of Eugene’s specialties, a drink with lemon, basil, honey and whiskey. It was delicious. He said another bartender calls it the Melrose Smash, but he’s working on a new name.

We’ll definitely be back to Comme Ça soon. Next time we’ll have to try some of the food — it’s supposed to be delicious, though unfortunately it doesn’t look very veggie friendly.

Sorry I don’t have any photos to share — the movie was supposedly high security (it wasn’t) and they asked us to leave our phones/cameras/etc in the car. I left mine at home.

Madame Chocolat: The Most Delicious Interview

Most of the interviews I do for the articles I’m writing are over the phone, so it’s a real treat to get to meet the person I’m writing about face to face. Over the last few weeks, I did not one, but two interviews — for two publications, SpoiledinLA and Hitched magazine — with Hasty Torres at her Beverly Hills chocolate boutique Madame Chocolat. I also took plenty of pictures.

Now, hanging out in a chocolate shop — and getting to indulge in some of the sweets — is never something I’d turn down. I even have a tag devoted to chocolate on the blog. And Hasty’s shop didn’t disappoint. We chatted over lattes mixed with chocolate spoons, and I checked out the incredible holiday chocolates and got a tour of all the goodies in the store, from truffles and bonbons to chocolate covered cheerios. I must say, my favorite chocolate so far was the white chocolate citron, a pretty and creamy bonbon made with lime juice and decorated with delicate teal branches and leaves (second chocolates back on the right in the picture below). The caramel hearts were also delicious, as were the rich and enormous chocolate chip cookies. (OK, I promise to stop drooling now.)

I also learned that you can have a chocolate party at Madame Chocolat, for kids or adults, where you can make chocolates of your own. Ahem — anyone planning a party?

The SpoiledinLA reviews aren’t online yet, but the Hitched Candid 7 article where I talk to Hasty about her relationship with her husband, celebrity chef Jacques Torres is up now. The interview was fantastic, but of course I couldn’t use it all. Here’s my favorite outtake, about how Hasty and Jacques make their relationship work when they both have their own chocolate shops on opposite sides of the country — and how they hope to work together one day:

It works because of our love of chocolate and the love of what we do. It’s so helpful to have a partner who understands what you do and works in your industry. Jacques is still my mentor, and he’s still my chef. There are so many people who say they could never work with their spouse, but since that’s how we met, we really do well together. We’re like yin and yang in the kitchen—we can anticipate each other’s needs, and we know how to help each other out.

Check out the Hitched article to learn how Jacques proposed in the chocolate shop, what their favorite chocolates are, and how being on “The Girls Next Door” has brought in a flood of new requests for “body parts” chocolates.

A Peaceful Day in Santa Monica

Evan and I have been back in LA for about two weeks now, and we’re working on getting back into the swing of things. I’m working on some freelance projects, Evan is looking for editing work, and we’ll start figuring out where we’ll live soon. Evan also just bought a car — a used Audi A4 he found on Craigslist. He’s only had it since the weekend, so we were surprised to see that it was leaking oil yesterday, after it had already been checked out. We took it to his mechanic in Santa Monica today and it needed some work done — nothing major, but enough to leave us without a car (mine was at my parents house) for the day.

We started by walking down to the Lazy Daisy, one of our regular breakfast spots before we left. We grabbed a small, blue mosaic table in its closed-in patio, which does a decent job of making the restaurant feel removed from busy Pico, and perused the breakfast selections. I settled on an omelet and Evan chose a breakfast sandwich. We got our waters in big, thick plastic cups (the only thing that really bugs me about this restaurant — I don’t really like using plastic dinnerware — thankfully it’s only the cups, not the plates, too), then relaxed in the cool LA morning while enjoying our leisurely breakfast.

When we were done at the Lazy Daisy, we needed to brainstorm what to do next. It was still early — not even 9 a.m., so we had some pretty limited options. We thought we could find a matinee for 10ish, or maybe go down to the beach or the public library. We thought about getting a cab or a ride from the mechanics (they’d offered earlier), but then we realized something pretty revolutionary for us car-centric LA folk — we could take the bus.

We started walking down Pico, which has plenty of bus stops, and realized that though there were stops, there weren’t any route maps. Finally, after passing a few stops and making it to Santa Monica College, we found a route map, made sure we were headed to the right place, and hopped on the Big Blue Bus. It cost 75 cents for each of us, and we were at the 3rd Street Promenade in about 10 minutes. We also found out that SMC students can ride the bus for free — and plenty seemed to be taking advantage of the deal.

We walked to the library, but we were a bit early for its 10 a.m. opening time, so we checked out the movies — not much we wanted to see and nothing that started before 11:20 — and wandered around until we could head back to the big public library, a bright, airy, two-story building built around a courtyard with an arid garden, shallow and sparky fake stream, and a cafe.

At the library, we started by getting new cards, then went to use the free internet. There was a rather creepy guy sitting next to Evan who was staring at a picture of a girl in a low-cut shirt for at least 30 minutes. We mostly just read the news and checked our email.

Then we went down to the sunny downstairs reading room (the sun finally burned off the haze by 11), where we read and relaxed on a comfy bench. What a nice and peaceful way to spend the morning! And a lot of other people had the same idea — the library was full of people working, reading, researching and eating.

We headed back to the mechanic’s because we were told the car would be ready, but alas, it wasn’t, so we decided our next excursion would be a walk to a cafe by Evan’s old apartment called Bolivar. We walked down the tree-lined streets, past a corner where a small accident took place — everyone was calm and just waiting for the police — and a high school field getting covered with astroturf.

At the cafe, we ordered arepas — little Venezuelan sandwiches in hot cornmeal pouches. Yum! We each had one with mango and cheese, called the Pacifico, and one with black beans. They were delicious, especially when we added the extra cilantro-flavored sauce they added on the side. I’d only had salads and sandwichs here before, so this was quite a treat.

We walked back to the mechanic’s and still had a bit of a wait for the car, but being without the car for the day actually ended up being a lot of fun. We didn’t spend much money, we weren’t stressed by traffic and we had a good time rediscovering Evan’s old neighborhood.