Friday, January 29, 2010

Peru, Mucho Gusto!

Translation: Peru, nice to meet you!

Thursday night I met chef Ricardo Zarate. He introduced me to Peruvian food for the first time, and it was a very nice meeting indeed.

This meeting took place at the BreadBar in Century City during one of their Hatchi events. "Hatchi" which translates to the number eight in Japanese, refers to the six savory dishes and two sweet creations in an original, one-night only suite of plates that a different guest chef prepares at the BreadBar every month. Usually serving "good-enough-to-be-gourmet" Peruvian dishes at his restaurant Mo-Chica in downtown L.A., this was his night at the BreadBar. I'm so glad I got to experience it.


After getting the last 10PM reservation on the day of and after finding a willing dinner companion to eat dinner at 10PM, we made my way down to the BreadBar in Century City to experience Ricardo Zarate's creations. The restaurant itself is located inside a nice mall, which at 10 pm is completely dead. We had no idea where exactly the BreadBar was located so we just followed our ears towards the only sound in the entire complex. We made our way there and realized that the place was still packed, with live music and lively chatter. The ambiance was lovely and I realized I was almost giddy with excitement. I think I vainly tried to conceal this giddiness since my dining companion was nowhere near the level of obsessed foodie that I am. I couldn't conceal it.

We sat down and were handed menus and cute keepsake Mo-Chica keychains. I hungrily read the menu (even though I admit I had already read it numerous times online beforehand) and we decided to share all 8 courses between the two of us. I then saw the chef in his white and red-striped track jacket, emblazoned with Peru on the back, chattering with his happy customers. He stopped by and talk to us for a few minutes, inviting us to visit his restaurant in downtown LA. Chef Zarate was completely unpretentious and incredibly warm and welcoming as he wished us a nice dinner.

Ricardo Zarate of Mo-Chica
@ the BreadBar Hatchi Series
10250 Santa Monica Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90067


cauliflower soup, crispy pancetta, croutons, feta cheese dressing

This soup was a beautiful purple color, warm, thick, and rich, but slightly too salty for my tastes. The feta cheese dressing was nice and tangy but I feel like the salty bits of prosciutto would've been better appreciated if the soup itself was less salty. I also felt like I wanted something other than the crunchy croutons to dip in the soup but I couldn't tell you what...


trio of peruvian potato salad: (from left to right) spicy blue fin tuna, rocoto aioli; blue crab, mayo, huancaina sauce; scallops, menatiko sauce

Easily my favorite dish of the night, and not just because of how pretty it looks. My favorite within my favorite was the middle salad. The deliciously creamy yellow potatoes contrasted so well with the sweet blue crab meat. YUM. I wish I could have more without having to go all the way downtown!


tairagai, uni, sea bass, aji amarillo leche de tigre sauce

There could not have been a more perfect ceviche for me. I love anything that comes in a shell, I love sea bass, and I LOVE uni. All three together was just perfection. The uni coated the tairagai and sea bass pieces in a lovely dressing of the sea and I even found a few surprise pieces of whole uni. Even my dining companion--who does not like uni--liked this dish. Chef Zarate came by and told us that he had found these clams at the last minute that morning. They were freshly flown in from Japan. Simply delicious. Last but not least, the presentation was beautiful--with the ceviche served in the shell of the tairagai.


yellow tail tiradito, sundried tomato yuzu dressing

This dish was light and refreshing. I loved the dressing. He said lemons. I said limes. Turns out it was yuzu! Figures. The yellowtail, sliced sashimi-style reflects Japanese influences on the tradition ceviche.


peruvian sun dried potatoes, pancetta, roasted black cod, chimichurri sauce

This dish was also perfect. We both love black cod. In fact, I don't think I would ever be able to resist black cod. The fish was perfection--not overcooked so it was still moist. The slightly fatty cod went so well with the intensely savory potatoes underneath and fresh chimichurri sauce on top. I have no idea how Chef Zarate cooked those potatoes but they were amazing.


stew lamb shoulder in black beer and cilantro sauce, canario beans, red onion salsa

This was the filling, warm, dish we had been waiting for. The beautiful wooden bowl it was served in added to the earthiness of the lamb dish. It was rich and flavorful with nice creamy beans.


flourless chocolate cake, lucuma ice cream, tamarillo sauce

This dessert course was okay. The cake was a little dry--nothing spectacular. However, I loved the ice cream. Lucuma is a flavor that I have never encountered because so it was interesting trying to figure out what it tasted like. We came to the conclusion that, despite being a fruit, the lucuma ice cream almost had a maple syrup-like flavor. I could've eaten another bowl of just the ice cream.


kiwicha coconut pudding, purple corn essence, mixed nuts

I'm always a little nervous when I invite people to eat out with me. I always worry that they won't enjoy the food. However, when my friend took his first bite of this dessert and I saw the delight on his face, I knew this dinner was successful. Neither of us knew what to expect when we took our first bites, but after that first bite, our spoons kept going back for more. I loved this dessert mainly because it was not overly sweet. The texture of the mini quinoa-like grains of kiwicha in the subtly sweet coconut milk was perfect. It was a great way to end the meal.


Thank you Ricardo Zarate! I love Peru! I can't wait to visit Mo-Chica soon!

Sunday, January 24, 2010


It's DineLA restaurant week again and I'm super excited! I have a two reservations already (Petrossian and Luna Park) and I'm hoping to plan for a few more.

Since Tengu is participating in DineLA, I figured it was time I finally wrote something about my visit there. It was completely unintentional. My parents were visiting me during my birthday weekend and I had made reservations to go to Pizzeria Mozza for lunch. There were taxi complications and we ended up being stuck in Westwood with not enough time to make it to our reservation. We started wandering around Westwood to find somewhere to eat for lunch. Palomino was full. Napa Valley Grill had some private event going on. I remember seeing Tengu's menu during the previous restaurant week. I figured it was worth a try. (I still have not been to Pizzeria Mozza and I really really want to!)

The location itself is on the edge of Westwood village and therefore a little quiet and secluded. From the outside, it did not look busy at all, but once you enter the restaurant you realize that is it in fact, almost completely full. I enjoyed the interior design of the restaurant and its ambiance. However, the food was mediocre--nothing offensive but nothing fantastic.


The sushi was so-so. The rice was a little undercooked and too al-dente. However, everything was fresh and presented nicely so there really isn't much to complain about.

I had a salad instead of the lunch sushi set menus that my parents picked. The salad I enjoyed a lot. The meat was perfectly seared and thinly sliced over a bed of lettuce dressed in a tangy vinaigrette. However, again, it wasn't anything too spectacular. Just a salad done well, but at $15, you would hope that it'd be done well.

10853 Lindbrook Dr
Los Angeles, CA 90024
(310) 209-0071

restaurant visited: 11/16/08


seaweed and octopus "amuse-bouche"


nigri and sushi from the lunch set menus


Seared New York Sashimi Salad
mixed micro greens, tomato, red onion, meyer-lemon dressing, white truffle oil

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

The pursuit of the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe is something that many bakers undergo at one point in time. I am lucky in that I did not have to search very long or hard for my perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe. First, I tried one of Alton Brown's chocolate chip cookie recipes--"The Chewy." It wasn't bad, but it wasn't mind-blowing either. The recipe called for melting the butter instead of creaming it. This was supposed to make the cookie chewy. I wasn't very impressed by the result.

A few weeks ago, I came across a chocolate chip recipe on the New York Times website by Jacque Torres, a renowned chocolatier. The man is French. He makes his own chocolate from raw cocoa at his shop in New York. I didn't need to read the recipe twice to know that I had to try it.

The most interesting thing about this recipe is its use of cake flour (a low gluten flour) AND bread flour (a high gluten flour). Why not just use all-purpose flour whose gluten level is in between the two? Don't use all-purpose flour. I believe the ingenious use of cake and bread flour made all the difference in this recipe. It made for a chewy, not-overly-cakey, thick cookie.


Also, this recipe called for the sprinkling of coarse sea salt on the cookies before baking in addition to a significant amount of salt in the dough itself. Again, ingenious! The saltiness made the flavor chocolate even more intense. I couldn't stop myself from taking bite after bite even while consciously thinking about the amount of butter in the recipe and my growing waistline. It's that good.


Lastly, the recipe called for chocolate "disks" or Valrhona feves instead of simple chocolate chips. This allowed the cookies to have layers of chocolate instead of random chunks of chocolate here and there. I found milk chocolate Valrhona feves at Whole Foods but they were pretty expensive and I had actually wanted to use bittersweet chocolate. I bought 1/3 of a pound. Valrhona is my favorite brand of chocolate. For the rest of the chocolate, I used Ghirardelli chocolate bars in semisweet and 60% bittersweet--roughly chopped. When forming the balls of cookie dough, I took my time to arrange the chocolate pieces so that they not only came out pleasant looking, but also had those layers of chocolate.


with Valrhona feves

I made 2 ounce balls of dough which resulted in a 3-inch cookie rather than the huge cookies proposed in this recipe. I followed all the weighted measurements. I no longer trust cup measure. Measuring by weight ensures a consistent product.


with Ghirardelli chunks

Chocolate Chip Cookies
adapted from Jacque Torres

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons

(8 1/2 ounces) cake flour

1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour

1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt

2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter

1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract

1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves, at least 60 percent cacao content (see note)

Sea salt.

1. Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.

2. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.

I baked off some of the dough after 24 hours, 48 hours, and 72 hours. The 72 hour batch tasted the best by far. For some reason, the dough develops an almost toffee-like flavor after sitting in the fridge for a long period of time. It makes for a cookie with more depth and complex flavor.

3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Set aside.

4. Scoop 6 3 1/2-ounce mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day. Eat warm, with a big napkin.

My 2 ounce mounds of dough needed about 15 minutes to bake in the oven.

Try these now!

Chilean Sea Bass with Pea Tendrils


I had leftover broth from the mussels I made the day before. The broth was too delicious to just pour down the drain. I had just enough to cover a beautiful fillet of chilean sea bass. Into a saute pan it went. After bringing the broth up to a simmer, I placed the 7 oz piece of fish in the pan and let it cook for 7 minutes--one minute per ounce. Simply poaching the sea bass in such a delicate broth resulted in a pure, untainted piece of gorgeous fish. There was nothing to mask its fresh sweetness.


I paired it with some young, tender pea tendrils that were simply sauteed with some garlic and salt. Simple perfection.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Green-Lipped Mussels

On this rainy day, I have nothing to do but contemplate the female sexuality. I am trapped in a room with no kitchen and only Sleeping Beauty and Prince Tristan and a collection of lusty poems from my English class.

Yet in the end, my thoughts return to food.
The stiff, proud stalk of an asparagus,
the erotically-shaped, briny muscle hidden inside the hard shell of an oyster,
the creamy texture of an avocado coating the tongue.

Food is sensual.


This deliciously inviting mussel resembles another

Lemongrass Green Mussels


2 pounds green-lipped mussels

1 can fish stock or clam stock
2 cups water
1 stalk lemongrass
1 shallot
1 lime (zest and juice)
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar (or piece of rock sugar)
1 teaspoon salt
1 inch nub of fresh ginger

1 tablespoon of sesame oil
2 clove garlic
3 stalks green onion (only green part)
1 serrano pepper
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

I love green-lipped mussels. They're so much meatier and tastier than the smaller P.E.I. mussels. Every time I see them at Whole Foods, I buy every last green-lipped mussel they have. This is my favorite way of preparing them. The Thai-inspired broth is deliciously lemony and fresh with a spicy heat from the serrano pepper.

1. Cut the stalk of lemongrass into pieces, dice the shallot, zest and juice the lime, and cut ginger into large slices. Combine with fish stock, water, rice wine vinegar, salt, and sugar. Bring to boil and reduce by a third.

2. While the broth is reducing, clean and de-beard the mussels.

3. Strain the reduce broth through a sieve and reserve.

4. In a large pot, saute minced garlic, sliced serrano pepper, and grated ginger in the sesame oil. Add the mussels to the pot with some salt. Transfer some of the broth to the pot with the mussels. Add enough to cover the mussels only halfway. Cover and let the mussels cook until they open.

5. Plate in a shallow bowl along with some broth and enjoy with someone you love.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Roasted Butternut Squash Salad

Butternut squash are a real pain-in-the-ass to peel.

They look innocent enough--with their pale orange skin and cute oblong shape. But damn, that skin is thick! However, once you manage to fight your way through the skin, I have learned that you will be rewarded with a beautiful, bright, orange flesh that becomes so tender and sweet once you cook it.

This was my first time cooking butternut squash, and I decided to just cube the flesh and roast it in the oven with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper. Sprinkle over a nice bed of romaine--or even better, peppery, spicy arugula--and you have yourself a colorful, filling salad.


Roasted Butternut Squash Salad
with balsamic vinaigrette , candied walnuts, applewood smoked bacon, and fresh raspberries

I don't have exact measures for the ingredients. It all kind of depends on how much salad you're making and the amount of toppings you prefer. I just came up with this combination based on what I had on hand. I lightly roasted the walnuts in a small non-stick skillet with a sprinkling of sugar. This resulted in a warm toasty nut that wasn't coated with an obscene amount of sugar. However, the salty, crunchy bacon made all the difference! It provided a really nice contrast to the sweet, soft butternut squash.


My beautiful toppings, waiting to be scattered across a bed of lettuce. The balsamic dressing I used was also very simple--just a quick whisking of balsamic vinegar and olive oil.


Definitely try this salad with arugula. It is the perfect combination!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Hazelnut Pistachio Nougat

I think I've mentioned before my weakness for sweets involving the whipping of egg whites and sugar. This includes: meringues, macarons, and nougats. Three of my biggest loves.

Meringues were the first thing I attempted to make when I got an electric hand mixer. After that, macarons became my obsession. Recently, the gastronomic world has also become macaron-obsessed. Nougats...not so much.

Therefore, when I stumbled across a nougat recipe a few week ago, I became determined to give it a try. Halfway through the process I wasn't sure if I would end up with actually nougats. I was staring at a messy, sticky, sickly honey-scented glob in a bowl. In the end, with patience and constant stirring over a double broiler, I was rewarded with pillowy, chewy, pieces of nutty satisfaction. YUM.

However, word of caution: only attempt to make these if you truly love nougats. It is well worth the process but the sticky mess was a bit of a hassle to clean up!


Hazelnut Pistachio Nougat

2 egg whites
1 pinch of salt
150 ml of water
120 ml (175 g) honey
2 1/2 cups (500 g) sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup (150 g) pistachios and hazelnuts, roasted

1. Line a 9 x 13 brownie pan with plastic wrap. Let the plastic wrap overflow on each side.

2. In a saucepan, heat honey, sugar, and water until it reaches 289 degrees F or 143 degrees C on a candy thermometer.

3. Meanwhile, beat egg whites with salt until frothy. Gradually add a tablespoon of sugar taken from the original quantity to help the egg whites become stiff.

4. With the mixer on medium, slowly pour in the syrup once it has reached the correct temperature.

5. Add vanilla extract and continue beating on high for about a minute.

6. Transfer the mixture into a double broiler and "dry" the mixture on low heat while stirring with a wooden spoon. Once the mixture comes off the bottom of the bowl, it is "dry" enough and the ideal temperature has been reached. Remove from heat.

7. Stir in pistachios and hazelnuts.

8. Transfer the mixture into the plastic wrap lined pan and spread into an even layer. Fold the extra plastic wrap over the top of the mixture.

9. Use a heavy textbook to weigh down the nougat as it cools to room temperature.

10. Cut into pieces with an oiled knife. The nougat will keep for 3 months.


Voila! Delicious fresh homemade nougat!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Freshly Extruded Pasta with Ragu Bolognese

For my 18th birthday two years ago, I received a beautiful shiny red Kitchen Aid stand mixer. That stand mixer symbolizes the start of my culinary obsession.

For my 20th birthday this year, my mom surprised me with the new (and expensive) Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer Pasta Press Attachment. Anyone who knows what that is is probably incredibly jealous right now. Heck, I was jealous of myself. I had only dreamed about having the standard pasta attachment. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would be the owner of one of Kitchen Aid's newest attachment.

This attachment extrudes pasta. The excitement of watching the pasta dough squeeze out in cute little shapes is indescribable. Even after having already extruded fresh pasta a good five times, it was still just as exciting to watch as the first time.

The extruded fresh pasta is not only fun to make but also has an amazing texture. Cooked al dente, the pasta is doughy and pleasantly toothsome. Being extruded means that the pasta has little ridges (see in picture below) and a rough texture. This texture helps the pasta hold onto the sauce. It's absolutely amazing and perfect. Fresh pasta is amazing!


Dough for Extruded Pasta

5 oz all purpose flour
5 oz semolina flour
4 fluid ounces warm water

I weighed out flour and placed it in the bowl of my stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. I turned the mixer on low and slowly dribbled in the water. Don't add the water all at once. The goal is for the dough to remain only slightly wet and crumbly. If it comes together into a ball, it will be too wet and become difficult to extrude.

Feed the dough piece by piece into the attachment and watch in wonder as it extrudes out in cute little shapes!

I wish I had taken a picture of the process and of the attachment itself. It really is a beautiful attachment and the pasta is so much fun to make.

Let the pieces of pasta dry for at least 30 minutes or until the pasta feels hard. To cook, boil in water with salt and olive oil as you would with boxed pasta. The amount of time it takes to cook depends on the shape and size and dryness of the fresh pasta.

I then figured that the best sauce for the freshly extruded rigatoni I had just made would be a nice bolognese. So...I made some :)

Ragu Bolognese
recipe adapted from Mario Batali

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 medium onion diced
1 rib of celery
1 clove of garlic
red pepper flakes

1 pound lean ground beef
1 pound ground pork
1/4 pound chopped bacon
1/2 pound spicy italian sausage

1 small can of tomato paste
1 cup of milk
1 cup of dry white wine
sea salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil over medium heat. Place vegetables in a food processor and process until very finely chopped but not pureed. Add to saucepan and sweat over medium heat until vegetables are soft and translucent but not browned--about 10-15 minutes.

Add the beef, pork, bacon, and sausage over high heat. Keep stirring until the meat is cooked through but not browned. This helps give the sauce a creamy texture later on. Add the tomato paste, milk and white wine. Simmer over medium-low heat for 1 to 2 hours. Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and remove from heat.

When ready to use, cooked pasta should be added to a saucepan with the appropriate amount of hot ragu bolognese. This is an important step. It gives the pasta a chance to absorb some of the sauce and become evenly coated by the bolognese.

Garnish with chopped parsley and Parmigiano-Reggiano.