Friday, October 30, 2009

Pizza Amore

I have tried numerous times to make pizza dough from scratch--those times ended with results that no one would want to see much less eat. While reading Pinch My Salt one night, I came across a post about making pizza dough with The Daring Bakers (by the way, as soon as I have my own kitchen, I am joining Daring Bakers!). Her post inspired me to give pizza making one more try. The recipe and direction for making the dough can be found here.

The biggest difference between this attempt and previous attempts was letting the dough rest in the fridge overnight. Also, I pulled out our heavy pizza stone...or at least I think it's a pizza stone--I was too young to care about culinary instruments when my parents purchased this device. Anyways, heating the stone before putting the raw dough on it helped to make the bottom of the crust nice and crispy. So with these minor adjustments, I was able to produce delicious pizza combinations with a wonderfully chewy yet crunchy thing crust. Voila! Success!


Pizza Margherita sitting on a pizza stone about to get warm and crusty in the oven
pretty soon that mozzarella cheese will be bubbly and the crust a golden brown

Homemade Roasted Tomato Sauce, Fresh Mozzarella Cheese, Fresh Basil
simple yet incredibly delicious with fresh, bright flavors


Red Sauce, Grated Mozzarella Cheese, Pepperoni, Fresh Cremini Mushrooms
nothing innovative but comfortingly familiar


Roasted Garlic White Sauce, Fontina Cheese, Parmesan Cheese, Red and Yellow Fingerling Potatoes, Fresh Thyme
my only little foray into a less common combination of pizza topping, however, it ended up being my favorite--the colors were beautiful and the flavor was amazing

I see many more pizzas in my future :)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Pumpkin Patch, Pumpkin Spice

What is the best thing to carve on a pumpkin?

A pumpkin of course!

Visiting the pumpkin patch, picking out the "perfect pumpkin" and carving it in the backyard while breathing in the crisp fall air inspired me to bake some fall goodies. I have dreamed of sitting in weather cool enough for a light jacket while sipping hot apple cider and enjoying a moist spiced muffin for weeks now. I searched the internet for pumpkin recipes and in the end, I decided upon pumpkin chocolate chip muffins. I tweaked the recipes I found and ended up with the following recipe for delicious pumpkin muffins...

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins
makes about 18 regular-sized muffins

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup of white sugar
1/2 cup of brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt

4 large eggs
1 (15 ounce) can solid pack pumpkin
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons plain yogurt

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
* 1 cup walnuts

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
2. In a mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt
3. In a separate bowl--the bowl of the stand mixer if using--mix together the eggs, pumpkin, applesauce, vegetable oil, and plain yogurt
4. Combine the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients--with the mixer on low--until just incorporated
5. Stir in chocolate chips and walnuts (*if using)
6. Fill muffin tins with batter and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes


These muffins not only tasted like fall, but also filled the entire house with a lovely, warm, spiced aroma as they baked. I was very pleased with the results. They came out incredibly moist--probably as a result of the substitution of applesauce AND yogurt for oil--and they only got better the next day! I had to restrain myself from grabbing one muffin after another. They're so tasty and perfect for fall!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

UCLA Dining Hall Creation #1

So I've spent a decent amount of time the past few days reading food blogs and I've come to one conclusion--there's an INSANE amount of food blogs out there. The ever growing list of "blogs I read" on the side bar of my blog is testament to that.

A lot of the blogs made me drool and want to head over to a certain restaurant right then and there. A lot of them made me jealous of their gorgeous pictures. A lot of them made me want to just jump in a kitchen and start cooking or baking. All in all, they inspired and reinforced the foodie in me. However, even through the myriad of food photos, recipes and restaurant reviews, I realized there was one thing that I could offer that not many other food bloggers can--an insight into the culinary world of UCLA dining services.

University dining halls are often known to have disgusting if not inedible food. I'm not going to lie. UCLA has GOOD food. For someone like me, with such a sometimes-inconvenient discerning taste when it comes to food, it's quite a statement to say I enjoy the food in our dining halls.

Our dining hall offers an incredibly fresh salad bar. There are no soggy pieces of wilted lettuce, only crisp dry (sometimes even organic) mounds of green goodness. There are toppings galore to allow for thousands of different salad combinations. In addition, the dining hall offers grilled chicken breast that are usually juicy and flavorful. Even "high-end" restaurants can sometimes be guilty of topping salads with dry boring chicken breast. Below is a picture of a salad that I created for lunch from the dining hall salad bar and grill. I have yet to sneak a camera into the dining hall and this picture was taken on my iPhone.

Balsamic Chicken Salad

chicken salad

Grilled Chicken Breast, Roasted Red and Yellow Peppers, Grilled Mushrooms, Cherry Tomatoes, and Cucumbers over a bed of Romaine Lettuce and a Balsamic Vinaigrette

It looks delicious for an iPhone picture of college dining hall food, doesn't it?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

XIV Sunset

XIV by Michael Mina
8117 Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90024

After waiting a good 30 minutes AFTER our reservation time of 9:15, my friends D, A, and I were getting impatient and ready to sit down and begin our meal. We were given a table that had a very clear view of the kitchen--it was perfect--and we all forgot about the 30 min wait. We had such a great time watching the chefs in the kitchen carefully prepare dishes as the suspender-clad waiters rushed them to tables in the busy restaurant.

Given the dark, mood-setting lighting, these pictures were the best I can do. They really don't do the food justice. Every dish was delicious and pristine--not like these blurry pictures.

Tataki of American Wagyu Skirt
Moroccan Spiced Vegetables

The skirt steak was tender and at a perfect doneness. It wasn't anything spectacularly different but it just tasted like a good piece of meat! Luckily, the vegetables on the side were nicely acidic to balance the red meat.

Sweet Corn Soup
Pork Belly, Apple Cider, Cilantro, Sea Salt

The sweet corn soup was a creamy bowl of happiness that I wish I had to my own! This was A's appetizer and they poured the soup into the bowl, on top of the pork belly and corn, after bringing it to your table--nice presentation.

Alaskan Halibut
Cantaloupe Melon, Mustard, Cherry Tomato

This was what I had for my entree. I don't usually go for white fish dishes but the melon component seemed very interesting. Overall a nicely done piece of halibut--not overcook thank goodness! I loved the light broth at the bottom and the little spheres of cantaloupe.

Jidori Chicken "Tajine"
Vadouvan, Red Kuri Squash, Baby Carrots, Cilantro, Side of Jasmine Rice

This was definitely, in my opinion, the best dish of the night. The tender jidori chicken came under a tajine lid with a lovely spiced broth and side of flavorful jasmine rice. This, again, was A's entree and I had to actively restrain myself from taking too many bites from his dish!

Asparagus Risotto
Squash Blossom, Chervil, Castelmagno Cheese

This risotto dish was amazingly light for being risotto. The asparagus pieces were perfectly cooked and tender and the whole dish just smelled of that wonderful cheese.

Dark Chocolate Cake
Coffee Cream, Coconut Sorbet, Crunchy Peanut, Basil Syrup

The plating of this dessert was spectacular--so creative and beautiful. This was also A's dessert! I swear he picked the best combination tonight. The coconut sorbet was delicious, as was the mysterious peanut crunch. The texture is hard to describe--almost like a butterfinger but chewier. I LOVED it.

Michael's Classic Rootbeer Float
Warm Chocolate Chip Cookies

Nutella Custard
Popcorn Ice Cream, Toast Streusel, Passion Fruit

This was my dessert--nothing to look at, but the flavor and texture combination was amazing. The foam at the top was interesting and mixed with the cold passion fruit ice cream, creamy nutella custard, spongy toast, and crispy streusel topping, I couldn't stop digging my spoon into the cup. It was so good.

Great dinner at XIV with my lovely D and A!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

FIG Santa Monica

FIG Restaurant
101 Wilshire Boulevard
Santa Monica CA, 90401
(310) 319-3111

Today, I got my first chance to experience L.A Restaurant Week. My friends D, W, J and I decided on FIG for lunch in Santa Monica. I was super excited as we were driving there in a toasty car with the rain fogging up the windows. The three-course meal was priced at a very reasonable $22 and it was the highlight of an otherwise stormy, overcast day.

FIG takes advantage of the freshness of seasonal produce and they develop their menu around those fresh ingredients. Located in the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows in Santa Monica, the decor of the restaurant was pleasantly eclectic and welcoming. We had a wonderful table near the window with a view of the hotel pool. The restaurant also had an impressive round table for a private dining room.

Our meal started with a cute little baguette in its own paper bag. While the presentation was creative, the baguette was nothing special if not boring. It was nothing compared to any baguette one could find in Paris. There was no chewy interior or crunchy crust! I suppose I've been spoiled.

However, my chicken liver parfait appetizer exceeded all my expectations. The restaurant redeemed itself when the appetizer came with perfectly toasted slices of baguette with wonderful grill marks. I snuck a slice of bread into my friend J's bowl of roasted tomato soup and got a taste of the best tomato soup I've had in a while. Next time I'm at FIG, I just want a nice big bowl of that amazing soup!

Roasted Tomato Soup
Mascarpone, Basil

Chicken Liver Parfait
Fig Marmalade, Grilled Baguette

Young Beets with Pistachios

Entrees came out and they were hearty portions! My chopped salad was perfectly balanced. I loved the crunchy hazelnuts, sweet GRILLED corn kernels, and tangy cranberries. The meatloaf that J and W had was wonderfully moist and savory while D's torta had tender slices of tongue.

Chopped Salad
Chicken, Avocado, Bacon, Corn, Cranberries, Hazelnuts, Crispy Carrots, Lemon-Oregano Dressing

Torta de Lengua
Braised Tongue, Tomatillo, Breakfast Radish

Short Rib and Pancetta Meat Loaf
Mashed Potatoes, Carrots, Broccoli

Desserts were delicious. The fig dessert was beautifully plated with amazing greek yogurt ice cream. Chocolate pot au creme was too rich to finish. My favorite were the sorbets--they were the perfect consistency of creamy yet icy and the peach flavor was phenomenal. I just want a bowl with a scoop of greek yogurt ice cream and a scoop of peach sorbet!

Chocolate Pot au Creme

Seasonal Sorbet
Raspberry, Peach, Mango

FIG Bars
Greek Yogurt Ice Cream

Saturday, October 10, 2009


Mama's Lu
153 E. Garvey Avenue
Monterey Park, CA 91755
(626) 307-5700

Upon hearing the name "Mama's Lu" one might wonder if someone's mother was named "Mama Lu." However, I have come to the conclusion that that is not the case. I believe the name makes reference to the Chinese word for stove (lu) therefore suggesting the food you order at the restaurant will be as good as that from your mama's stove.

And, this small inconspicuous restaurant lives up to its name. When my friends D and A invited me to go along with them and introduce A to some good Chinese food, I was more than delighted. In addition, the taste and value of the dishes we ordered at Mama's Lu were well worth the hour long drive from UCLA to Monterey Park. Not only did we leave with our bellies full and content for $10 per person, I also left with a nice little box of leftovers that are just as delicious the next day. I know because I just ate that lovely box of food. :) You know a restaurant cooks with quality ingredients when the food is still delicious after a day in the fridge.

Shanghai-style Rice Cakes
delicious glutinous rice cakes stir-fried with napa cabbage, red onions, shiitake mushrooms, carrots, and pork

The Shanghai-style rice cakes were the best I've had ANYWHERE although this might just be a matter of taste. The rice cakes were perfectly chewy while not being overly hard and they were infused with the wonderful flavor of the rest of the dish. I might have enjoyed the crunchy pieces of napa cabbage and juicy pieces of pork a little too much.

Shrimp, Chive, and Pork Dumplings
Wonderful freshly made skin that was chewy and tender filled with a juicy center of ground pork and a whole baby shrimp

Pork Fried Dumplings
The meat was just as tasty as any potsicker or gyoza I've ever had but the skin was a tad doughy

Juicy Pork Dumplings (Xiao Long Bao)
Well-made but with a center that was just a hint too sweet too me, however, at $4.99 for 10, who can complain? Although, I have to say it does not even begin to compare to those at Din Tai Fung in Taiwan! Those are my true loves!

Beef Wrap
with scallions, leaks, cilantro, and hoisin sauce

Scallion Oil Pancakes
Fried Green Onion Pancakes
Delightfully crispy and sinfully greasy! Delicious!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Tiramisu Love

at The Inn at Spanish Bay
2700 17-Mile Drive
Pebble Beach, CA 93953

On our last night in Pebble Beach, my mom and I drove along the beautiful 17-mile drive at sunset and arrived at The Inn at Spanish Bay for dinner. We had to choose between dinner at Roy's--which served Hawaiian fusion cuisine--or at Peppoli--a rustic italian restaurant named after a vineyard in Naples. The choice was easy.

Unfortunately, the lighting in the restaurant was really dark so my pictures did not turn out very well. Fortunately, the food was amazing and the ambiance in the restaurant only added to the experience. My mom and I both had wonderful glasses of the house Chianti to start off with.

Vongole e Cozze alla Calabrese
Mussels and clams steamed in a spicy shallot-saffron broth
Our appetizer of mussels and clams left us speechless. The spicy broth was so complex and savory that we soaked it all up with some bread.

Rigatoni di Aragosta
Australian lobster tail, zucchini in a rich lobster sauce
Tomato coulis, fried fresh mozzarella
Our pasta dishes of rigatoni with lobster and gnocci with tomatoes weren't exceptionally different but were definitely perfectly executed.

Our final dish of assorted meats from the grill was SENSATIONAL. The dish included grilled flank steak, a rack of lamb, and house-made italian sausage. I had the most amazingly perfect grilled piece of flank steak that night. It was life-changing. Sadly, the picture that I took did not do it justice.

Finally, it was time for dessert. Not being a lover of tiramisu, I was hesitant when my mom insisted on getting that for dessert. However, it was probably the best dessert I have ever had. The tiramisu was prepared table side and served in martini glasses. Layers of airy whipped marscapone and aromatic espresso-soaked ladyfingers produced heaven in a martini glass.