Tuesday, February 28, 2006

PhotoRecipe: Curried Chicken & Red Pepper Kebabs

This flavorful dish takes only about 10 minutes to prepare. Great for BBQ-ing, which means you can usually trick your man into doing the actual "cooking" part.



  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 2 red bell peppers, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons Madras curry powder
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 cup soy sauce

1. Thread the red peppers and chicken on skewers. Transfer to a baking dish.

2. Whisk the soy sauce with the olive oil and curry powder. Pour the marinade over the kebabs and marinate at room temperature for 15 minutes up to 1 hour. The longer you marinate, the richer the flavor (I usually marinate for at least 45 minutes). Turn the kebabs every 10 minutes to ensure even marinating on all sides.

3. Light a grill or pre-heat a grill pan. Grill the kebabs over high heat until slightly charred and cooked through.

4. Remove from the grill and serve over brown rice.

5. Eat.

PhotoRecipe: Snickerdoodles

I decided it was time to start cooking with my spices from Penzeys. I started off easy with the always-yummy Snickerdoodles. Turns out, they taste great with the Penzeys Extra-Fancy Vietnamese Cassia Cinnamon.

Now I know what you're thinking when you look at the ingredients, butter-flavored Crisco... you're freaking out, right? (I did too, at first) Relax, it's not like you're going to eat the entire batch of cookies (hopefully). Your arteries will survive, I promise, and your cookies will be fluffy and rich. You can substitute regular butter if you like, but the cookies will come out flatter.

SNICKERDOODLES: Makes approx 4 dozen cookies


  • 1 cup butter-flavored shortening (e.g. Crisco)
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon


1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (350 degrees if using an industrial steel baking sheet)

2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt. Set aside.

3. In a small bowl, mix the 3 tablespoons sugar with the cinnamon. Set aside.

4. In a standing mixer, cream together the shortening and 1 1/2 cups sugar. Stir in the eggs.

5. Gradually stir in the flour mixture and mix until well blended (this is the part where I always get really dusty with flour).

6. Scoop dough in 1-inch sized balls using a small cookie scoop or melon baller. Roll balls in cinnamon sugar and place on an ungreased cookie sheet, two inches apart.

7. Bake for 8-12 minutes. Edges should be slightly brown. Remove from sheets to cool on wire racks.

Store in an airtight container for up to 2 days.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Penzeys Spices in Torrance

Amidst much anticipation and excitement, Penzeys has finally arrived in Los Angeles! The new Torrance store is their first in California, and has been open just about 4 weeks.

Penzeys started in Wisconsin in 1987 and now has 28 retail stores, mostly in the midwest. I was vaguely familiar with their catalogue, but had never actually ordered anything from them. So I had no idea what to expect when I went to their store.

First of all, this place is HUGE. I mean, for a store that specializes just in spices, I was shocked at how big it was. Probably about 5,000 square feet, with really high ceilings. I was expecting it to be much busier, but there was only one other person in the store, and no one came in during my entire half hour there. Let's hope it gets busier for them soon!

If you like the Penzeys catalogue, the store is an explosion for the visual and olfactory senses. All the spices are categorized by name and beautifully arranged on cedar shelves, with descriptions, multiple bottle and package sizes, and even recipes for some. According to the staff, all 250+ items in their catalogue are there in the store. Most of them are accompanied by a jar of loose spices, so you can smell and even taste if you so desire.

The store is conveniently arranged by cooking needs, so there is a general section, plus sections for baking, chilies, peppers, salts, seasonings, etc. The prices really can't be beat - most of them were about half the price I normally expect to pay in the grocery store, plus the spices are extremely high quality and fresh.

The Penzeys staff are knowledgable and helpful too. It's definitely worth a trip, even if just for the experience of being able to smell before you buy.

Here's a look at the chili section:

Here are some of the various cloves:

Three different types of star anise (which smells SOOOO good, by the way):

Dozens of varieties of pepper:

And here's what I took home:

  • Vanilla beans from Madagascar (3 whole beans) - $6.29
  • Fleur de Sel (3.5 oz)- $7.49
  • Black sesame seeds from India (2.7 oz) - $2.39
  • Anise seeds from Spain (whole, 2.2 oz) - $2.89
  • Vietnamese cinnamon (0.8 oz) - $2.59
  • Horseradish powder (0.9 oz) - $1.99
  • Lemon pepper seasoning (1.4 oz) - $2.39
  • Cloves from Madagascar (0.8 oz) - $1.79
Total: $27.82

I haven't cooked anything with these spices yet, but already some magical things are happening:
1) I put the vanilla beans in a cabinet by themselves, next to my wine glasses. Despite being corked and sealed in a glass bottle, when I opened the cabinet this evening, the most delicious and delicate vanilla scent wafted out. Amazing. I'm thinking about buying a bunch of these and just putting them in all the drawers in my house!
2) The Fleur de Sel is delicious just by itself. On my way home from Penzeys, I opened it and tasted a few granules. So much better than the Fleur de Sel I usually buy at Whole Foods. It sounds weird, but a little pinch of Fleur de Sel makes a great "snack" when there's no food around. I'll be using this a lot!

Penzeys Spices (Torrance, CA)
21301 Hawthorne Blvd.
Torrance, CA
Hours: Mon-Fri 9:30AM-5:30PM, Sat 9:30AM-5:00PM
Closed Sundays

Penzeys Online

The Little Door

Friday Night Dinner

Brian surprised me tonight with dinner reservations at The Little Door. Gentlemen, if you want to make your wife or girlfriend feel special, this is the place! We had been here once before and had a lovely time. Tonight was even better.

If you've never been before, take note of the address, because The Little Door doesn't have a sign. It's to the right of the bar El Carmen, and has two big wooden doors surrounded by plants and vines.

You walk through the doors into a magical paradise... a twinkling indoor-outdoor candlelit garden that is oh-so-romantic. Our dinner reservation was for 9:30 and we arrived about 10 minutes early. I don't know if Brian had requested a particular table or not, but we were promptly seated at a lovely table right in the middle of the front patio area. This is the table we sat at, but that's not us, it's a photo I found online.

The place was completely packed and buzzing... every time I've been there it has a pulsing, palpable electricity. Only a few restaurants in LA manage to maintain that for more than a few years: Spago is one, The Little Door (which has been open almost 10 years now) is another. So while the ambiance by itself is romantic, the energy of the place makes it downright seductive.

On to dinner...
First, the photos here were shot by candlelight with no flash, so they're a little dark (I was thinking about using the flash, but the Little Door is not exactly a place that smiles on flash photography throughout a meal!) But if you ever go, this is pretty much how the food looks in person anyways.

The dinner menu stays fairly consistent, with a few specials that change daily. The cuisine is Mediterranean, with a heavy Moroccan influence (many people were ordering the tagines, which I've heard are excellent). It's beer and wine only, and they have a nice wine list, with a huge selection of reasonably priced bottles and many wines by the glass.

We started with a bottle of Tattinger champange. Champagne is my favorite wine, and even though we weren't celebrating anything in particular, champagne definitely puts you in a celebratory mood. The sommelier was very gracious and chatted with us for a bit. Both he and our waitress were French, and were very pleasant, knowledgable and efficient.

First there was a bread basket with sourdough bread and some type of olive/anise seed bread. Nothing spectacular, but we were starving, so it hit the spot!

Then we had two appetizers: crab cakes and oysters.
The oysters were perfectly fresh and sweet - one of my favorite foods.

The crab cakes were delicious. They were spiced with cumin, which I wasn't expecting, but really enjoyed. Very tasty, crisp on the outside and moist and flavorful inside. They came with a lobster sauce that complemented the crab cakes nicely.

For dinner, Brian had Filet Mignon and I had the Rack of Lamb.
I ordered the lamb medium rare and it came out perfectly pink and juicy. It was a very rich and fatty cut... so decadent! It came with Yukon mashed potatoes and green lentils, which were harmless and filling. But the lamb was so good I thought about chewing on the bones afterwards (I didn't).

Brian and I like our steak at different temperatures, so I didn't have much of his (it wasn't nearly pink or bloody enough for my taste!). But I did have one bite and it was very tender.

After dinner, we were full and relaxed.
They allow smoking on the front patio, since it has an open roof.
When in Rome...

We ordered a pack and they came in this cute little labeled box, already unwrapped and laid out as you see above. There is something so European about a cigarette after dinner, and while I don't normally smoke, this felt rather charming and appropriate.
[By the way, if you don't like smoking, don't be alarmed: the place is very well ventilated. A couple was smoking right next to us and we couldn't even smell it. You can also sit in one of three other rooms which are no smoking.]

Now for dessert! They bring the dessert menu by on a big chalkboard, since the desserts change frequently. The first item on the list was Tarte Tatin... which means I had already made my decision! I did notice they had some others: flourless chocolate cake (yawn), a selection of sorbets, creme brulee, and a few other things. But I LOVE tarte tatin so we ordered that to share.

It was delicious! The apples were sweet and almost crispy on the outside, soft but still firm inside. It came with whipped creme and a sweet vanilla sauce. Very yummy.

We also ordered two glasses of dessert wine: a Muscat and a Sauternes. The Muscat was overly sweet, but the Sauternes was perfect. I don't remember where it was from or what year, but it was very good.

All in all, a lovely and very romantic meal!

A few tips: definitely make reservations, especially if you go on a weekend. You can specify where you want to sit, but it's not guaranteed. They have four areas that are described in depth on their site:
1) The Garden Patio (where we sat): this is where most of the action is, it's right across from the wine bar. Open roof, smoking is allowed only in this area.
2) The Winter Garden: right off the main garden area, with a closed roof.
3) The Piano Room: a smaller room with a piano.
4) The Blue Room: lit by a fireplace, this is the quietest area of the restaurant.

Also, dress nice. L.A. is a pretty casual place, and there were plenty of people here in jeans, but I noticed that people who were more dressed up were seated faster and at better tables. Think hip, going-out-partying type clothes.

The Little Door

8164 W 3rd Street (near Crescent Heights)
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Serving dinner 6PM until 12:00AM Thur-Sat, 6PM-11PM Sun-Wed
Reservations strongly recommended

Pinkberry Frozen Yogurt

All-Natural Frozen Yogurt

I have this little Friday afternoon ritual: Manicure at Planet Nails (great nail salon, by the way), followed by frozen yogurt at Pinkberry just across the street.

The day Pinkberry opened was a magical day for me. I had seen it in construction for a few months, and the architecture looked really cool and cute. But the yogurt. OOHhhhh, the yogurt!!

Check online and you'll see people describe Pinkberry as "crackberry," "frozen heroin juice," etc. It's an addictive substance, I'm warning you!

Why? Well first of all, Pinkberry's frozen yogurt is made from REAL yogurt.
Which means we need to backtrack a second and define what REAL yogurt is, since most of America has never tasted it. Real, unadulterated yogurt is not Dannon, Yoplait, or Go-Gurt (the horror!). Real yogurt is made from fermented milk... and that's it. Think brands like Fage and Pavel's. It's sour and tangy, creamy and delicious.

Note - If you're really into yogurt, this is a great article that sums it all up: Yogurt Article. And of course, there's always Wikipedia for an in-depth description.

So Pinkberry starts with REAL yogurt, which is mixed with a little sugar and frozen into soft serve. The texture is firmer than soft serve, almost a bit icy, and creamy. The taste is sour, tangy, and just sweet enough to feel like a dessert. I remember my first bite of Pinkberry felt distinctly sour (I guess I was expecting the usual cloying sweetness of fro-yo). But the sweetness creeps up on you by the second or third bite and it starts to taste, well… simply amazing.

They have two flavors of frozen yogurt, plain and green tea. I like the plain much better than the green tea, but they’ll give you samples of both and you can decide for yourself. They also have a shaved ice and fruit concoction that I’ve never tried.

Once you choose your yogurt, they have a selection of toppings and fresh fruits. Fruit toppings include: strawberry, mango, pineapple, blueberries, kiwi, raspberry, pomegranate, blackberry, and sometimes others depending on the season. Dry toppings include: granola, yogurt chips, chocolate chips, captain crunch, fruity pebbles, cocoa pebbles, coconut, almonds, walnuts. I’d advise you to stay away from the sweeter toppings (they sort of clash with the sourness) and choose among the fruit, nuts and granola.

Normally, I just get a small size plain for $2.50. But today I was feeling a little bolder, so I went for Blueberries and Granola (toppings are $0.95 each, so the total was $4.40).

It was deliciously crunchy and fruity, but it also reminded me that my favorite still is: plain, no toppings.

Pinkberry is getting a lot of press these days, so the lines tend to be longer, but the wait is worth it. And if you go on Friday's around 3:45PM, I'll see you there!

868 Huntley Dr (right off Santa Monica Blvd.)
West Hollywood, CA 90069
(310) 659-8285
Hours: 12PM-11PM daily

Read my other posts on Pinkberry and the L.A. Frozen Yogurt scene here:
Pinkberry Koreatown Opens
Pinkberry Open at La Brea/Melrose
Sprinkles Bites Pinkberry's Dust
Pinkberry vs. Fiore vs. Kiwiberri
Fiore Frozen Yogurt

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

PhotoRecipe: Brownie Mini Cupcakes

Makes about 72 mini-cupcakes
Active time: 20 minutes

This is a great, no-fail recipe for made-from-scratch brownie cupcakes. The cupcakes are quick and easy to make, moist, chocolate-y and delicious... a perfect party or office treat. Tonight, I realized I only had 24 mini muffin liners, so I cut the recipe in third (which required quite a bit of fraction work, I might say). You can easily double the recipe, but be sure to use a bigger pan if you do.


  • Baker's Joy cooking spray (or other vegetable oil cooking spray)
  • 4 sticks unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 8 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped (I like Scharffen Berger)
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process, such as Droste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 8 large eggs
  • Confectioners sugar (optional)

Special equipment: mini–muffin tins and about 72 (1- by 1-inch) waxed paper liners


1. Preheat oven to 350°F and line mini–muffin tins with liners. Spray liners with cooking spray.
[Note: I had never used Baker's Joy before, and now I love it! It's a non-stick cooking spray with flour, which is great for baking because it keeps your baked goods from sticking to the pan or parchment paper, and it doesn't leave a weird oily aftertaste. You can also use it wherever a recipe calls for "buttering/oiling then flouring a pan" - so easy!]

2. Whisk together flour, cocoa, and salt. Set aside. Melt butter and chocolate in a 4-quart heavy pot over moderately low heat, stirring until smooth. Remove pan from heat and whisk in granulated sugar.

3. Add eggs, 1 at a time, whisking after each addition until incorporated, then stir in flour mixture just until blended.

4. Spoon batter into muffin liners, filling cups to top.

5. Bake in middle of oven 20 to 25 minutes, or until a tester comes out with crumbs adhering.

6. Cool 5 minutes in tins and turn out onto racks. Repeat with remaining batter. Dust with confectioners sugar if desired.

Make Ahead:
Cupcakes may be made 2 days ahead and kept in an airtight container at room temperature.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Digital Big Gulp

Be warned: the future of the Super Big Gulp is upon us.

When was the last time YOU were drinking a 44 oz cola only to think, "Man, I sure wish this cup had a CD ROM on the bottom!" Well, now they do.

PhotoRecipe: Chicken Larb

Chicken Larb
is one of my favorite dishes to cook. It's really easy, fast (about 30 min), and super savory. Plus, it has two can't-go-wrong ingredients: fish sauce and lime juice. Put fish sauce and lime juice on anything and it tastes soooo good.



  • 1/2 pound Vermicelli rice stick pasta (about half a package)
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons Asian sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeds and ribs removed, minced
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground chicken
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup Asian fish sauce (nam pla or nuoc mam)
  • 4 scallions including green tops, chopped
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped fresh mint
  • 1/4 cup lime juice (from about 3 limes), plus 1 lime, cut into wedges, for serving


1. Preheat oven to 350°. Spread almonds on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes, until fragrant and golden brown. Remove the nuts from the pan, let cool, then chop.

2. In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the pasta until just done, about 4 minutes. Drain, rinse with cold water, and drain thoroughly. Blot dry with paper towels. Toss the pasta with 1 tablespoon of the sesame oil.

3. In a large frying pan, heat the vegetable or canola oil over moderately high heat. Add half the jalapeño, the ginger, chicken, and salt. Cook the meat, stirring frequently, until brown and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the remaining tablespoon sesame oil, the fish sauce, scallions, mint, and lime juice.

4. Put the pasta on plates and top with the chicken salad. Sprinkle with the remaining minced jalapeño and the chopped almonds and serve with the lime wedges.

SUBSITITIONS: This dish also tastes great with ground lamb or ground beef

LEFTOVERS: I like to boil a few rice stick papers, then roll up spring rolls using the rice noodles, larb, fresh mint leaves, and shredded carrots. Tastes great dipped in peanut sauce or hoisin sauce.

Soot Bull Jeep

Friday, 2/17/06, 10:00PM

I have one statement for vegetarians: if we weren't supposed to eat meat, then cows wouldn't have evolved to taste so good. Right cows? Right...

For resolute NON-vegetarians, like myself, Soot Bull Jeep is a temple to all things charred and delicious.

Soot Bull Jeep (SBJ from here on) is my favorite Korean BBQ house. Why? Because you cook the meat over real charcoal, which gives it a smoky, charred flavor that you just can't get on a electric grill. That also means that you yourself become smoky and charred-smelling, just like your meat. So when the occasion calls for something less smoky and more elegant (a first date, perhaps), I usually send people to the outdoor patio at Chosun Galbee. Also very good Korean BBQ, and with an ambience that can't be beat.

Back to SBJ.
Like most Korean restaurants, a meal at SBJ begins with banchan, an assortment of various salads and pickles such as steamed spinach (served cold) and kimchi. I love the steamed spinach dish and the pickled radishes at SBJ. But what banchan really makes me feel is pity for the dishwasher: so many tiny plates, so little time. Here's a site that gives you recipes to make your own banchan... I'll have to try the spinach one of these days to see if it's as good as SBJ's.

Along with the banchan comes a delicious salad comprised of lettuce, shredded onions, and a soy type dressing. Brian loves to dip the meat in the salad dressing, so you may want to save the bowl after you down the salad. You also get a bowl of rice and a clear hot soup that has cubes of either boiled radishes or potato or something else entirely. If you know what's in the soup, please enlighten me!

The star of the show is the beef. Without fail, we always order the same two dishes:
Galbee/Bulgalbi (marinated short ribs): $19.99
Bulgogi (marinated steak): $17.99

Sometimes, if we bring a friend or if we're really hungry, we also get the marinated rib eye ($17.99), which comes with a tasty rock salt dipping sauce.

I have not tried any of the chicken or pork or seafood dishes, or any of the noodles or hotpots for that matter. I'm sure they're all delicious, but you will have a hard time convincing me to give up a beef dish for something else.

The empty grill: Inspiration, Anticipation

The beef arrives raw on a big plate, and one of the waitresses usually heaps it onto the grill for you. From there, it's wait and turn. Wait for the meat to cook (patience!), turn the meat to char on the other side.

Sometimes, you might be turning the meat and the waitress comes over, takes the tongs out of your hands and does it for you.

Is this:
a) a sign of good service
b) an opportunity to be mentored on your technique by the experts, or
c) a friendly suggestion that, hey, you suck at grilling meat, don't let us catch you trying to do it by yourself again

I'm still wavering between b and c.

Once the meat is charred and ready, you have many options. Eat it by itself, eat it with rice, wrap it in lettuce, create an elaborate meat/rice/lettuce/veggie wrap, etc. Me, I like to put each piece on the rice, add some of the bean paste dressing, and scoop up the rice and meat in one bite. Mmmm, mmmm, mmm. Carnivorous heaven.

A few tips:
  1. Wear washable clothing. Jeans and a t-shirt are totally acceptable, and you will be thankful when you get home.
  2. Wash your hair before you go to bed. Seriously. It will save you from having to wash all your bedding the next day.
  3. If you go on the weekends, go in the late afternoon (2-5PM) or in the late evening (after 9:30PM). Otherwise you may have to wait up to a half hour for a table. And believe me, you will be staring people down because you're hungry and their food looks and smells so delicious.
  4. Parking: much easier during off hours (see above), when the parking lot may actually have spaces available. Otherwise, you'll probably have to park in the neighborhood and walk.
  5. Cooking your meat: use the tongs, not your chopsticks. Raw meat juice to the mouth, not a good idea (and it's tacky). Feel free to use your chopsticks once the meat is moved to the side of the grill or to your bowl.
  6. Melon gum: they give it to you when you pay your bill. Not only is it delicious (melon-y goodness!), but it will do amazing things to your breath given all the meat and garlic you just ate.
Soot Bull Jeep
3136 W Eighth St (between Normandie and Vermont)
Los Angeles, CA 90005
(213) 387-3865
11AM-11PM Daily