Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Sharp Knives and Chinese Markets

I have been living out here for about 3 weeks now, and I have been cooking with a butter knife. I kid you not.

Additionally, my craving for real Chinese food was acting up - I've barely had ANY Chinese food out here since I moved out - WHAAA?

After I practically ransack the grocery store for all my Chinese staples at my local 99 Ranch Market, which is located in Van Nuys, I battled traffic all the way down to get me some knives. Because nothing is more frustrating than having food and not knowing how you're going to prepare any of it cause the butter knife ain't gonna cut through that galbi.

So I dropped by my neighborhood Williams Sonoma. I've been staring at these Shun Kaji knives for some time now. For me, they're just the best grip and weight. The Shun collection is also probably one of the top rated knives available at Williams Sonoma (on that note, WS started carrying Kikuchi knives, which felt great in my hand. However, they don't have any sets yet, so I went with my easier option of chef's knife, serrated knife, and paring knife).

Ooo shiny knives...image from Williams Sonoma.
Love love love.

Now. Time to cook. I haven't eaten alllll morning, except for these delicious little pumpkin spice cupcake samples at WS.

Fresh egg noodles + stir-fried beansprouts & green onion + pre-marinated galbi, all from 99 Ranch.

Meat takes the longest time to cook, so I heated up some canola oil in my pan and threw a piece of the galbi on the fire. While that's cooking, time to prep the other goods.

So my take on fresh egg noodles. If you follow at the recommended preparation, you'd boil water, throw the noodles in for 10 seconds, and then rinse it with cold water right after. Seems a bit much for 10 seconds of boiling.

My electric kettle from Target is probably the best $20 I've ever spent. In a few minutes, I get boiling water with no mess and no stress. So for my egg noodles, I placed them in a bowl, turned on the kettle and started chopping up my green onions. After the water boils, I poured just enough hot water to cover the egg noodles in the bowl, stirred the noodles for about 10-15 seconds, and then drained the noodles. Then tossed it back in the bowl. Tada!

I cut the galbi up with scissors and piled it on top of the egg noodles. I used the drippings from the meat to stir-fry the bean sprouts and the green onions.

Tada. Lunch is served. :)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Very Happy Birthday

Indulgence at its best...

Call it hype, call it a fad, call it what you will, but if you ask me, hands down, Sweet Lady Jane makes the best triple berry cake you ever will taste in Los Angeles. The original location opened on Melrose in Beverly Hills 24 years ago, and the store recently opened a new branch on Montana in Santa Monica. The great part about these cakes is that they are buttery-sweet and light, a thing that is hard to find in most American bakeries around. Personally, I love the Asian-style cakes at most Asian (Korean, Japanese, and Chinese) bakeries around Los Angeles - they're light, they're moist, they're not very sweet

So why would I pay a premium of $20 at SLJ? Well, SLJ employs the same concept, but with more buttery goodness. The frosting is just creamier and indulgent, where you can't help but take another bite. Or two. Or five. Luckily, they make all sizes of cakes, so the best solution for me was to just buy the smaller one so the three of us couldn't gorge on more than just that.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Catching Fire: How I Started to Cook

A quick note: The namesake of the post is dedicated to Richard Wrangham's Book Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, not the Hunger Games one.

I've been here a week, and I haven't turned on the stove once. Until now. Up until now, I've been surviving off of checking out nearby places around me (check out my Yelp page) and making salads. I managed to miss the farmer's market on Saturday and another one on Sunday, but luckily, Whole Foods has an entire section dedicated to Local Producers.

All I knew was I wasn't getting enough protein. I typically rely on seeing what's in season and what's for sale in stores now to decide what I want for dinner. After staring at the counter for a good 5 minutes, I finally decided I'd rather work with the beef round than the ground beef.

Shopping Haul:

  • **Beef bottom round (1.65 lbs) - on sale
  • Saladini baby Italian lettuce
  • Coarse sea salt
  • Organic ground pepper
  • Canola oil
  • Organic figs (all gone by the time I started even thinking about dinner)
A great thing about Whole Foods is that they tell you what measures were taken to ensure your health. The beef I got was classified as Step 1 in the 5-Step (TM) Welfare Rating Standards.

If you're interested in the remaining steps, it's all listed on the Whole Foods website.

To me, beef rounds scream pot roast or a boeuf bourguignon or some sort of let-me-throw-it-on-the-stove-on-low-heat-and-forget-about-it-for-a-few-hours stew.

I had an open bottle of the 2007 Clos de l'Oratoire Ch√Ęteauneuf-du-Pape. In retrospect, I probably should not have thrown a good 1/4 of the bottle into cooking, but I also didn't think I would finish the entire bottle within the next 2-3 days. And then it'd be even a bigger waste of good wine.

Had I a fuller pantry, I would've thrown in some onions, carrots, even beef broth and what have you. But no. All the spices I have are...salt and pepper. But hey, it works.

To add a bit of flavor, I seared the round in a pan, greased with some unsalted Smjor butter from Iceland, which I had purchased previously from Whole Foods. After patting some coarse sea salt and pepper onto the sides and getting a good sear, I placed the 1.65 lbs cut of beef into the crock pot. I poured in equal amounts of water and wine to cover the round, threw in about two tablespoons of sea salt, and turned the dial to "Low."

Within two hours, my place smelled AMAZING.

Eight hours later (at midnight), I turned off the slow cooker and removed the beef from the pot. I pulled the meat apart with a fork, tasted a bit, and stored the rest in the fridge overnight. As for the drippings, I kept them in a container, also tossed into the fridge.

For lunch, I did contemplate just reheating the beef and chomping away. But I decided to go with a bit more creativity.

Andrew's Cheese Shop is an amazing place just down the street. I managed to be the most confused customer they may have ever had, but I walked out with a good chunk of some delicious Cabot Clothbound Cheddar. With each purchase, the shop provides you a cheese card which describes the origins of the cheese and pairing suggestions.

"Cabot is very much a cooperative creamery. It is a union of 330 family farmers in Vermont that has existed since 1919. This quintessentially American product won the 2004 World Cheese Award for “Best Cheddar in the World.” Then in 2006, they won Best in Show at the American Cheese Championship. Taste this and tell me there are no great American cheeses, I dare you. This stuff is so good with beer, the richer and darker, the better. I also love this cheese with a nice, jammy California Zinfandel like Brown Family from Napa."

The sad part is that the only reason I was inspired to go is because my company's training website went down for an hour for routine maintenance. And I could not think of anything better to do than to go buy cheese.

Anyhow, with all my ingredients collected...this is how to make the most awesome beef salad ever.

  1. Wash and dry baby lettuce in a bowl. Place to the side.
  2. Place a few chunks of the torn pot roast in a microwave-safe bowl. Pour 2-3 tablespoons of leftover drippings on top.
  3. Microwave the pot roast on high for 10-15 seconds, until warm.
  4. Crumble a handful of cheddar on top of the pot roast. Pour in more drippings if desired. Return bowl into microwave for 10 seconds.
  5. Place the warmed pot roast and cheese on top of the lettuce. Dress with almonds, cranberries, and anything else your stomach desires.
Eat away. :)

Decisions, Decisions: Where to Buy Groceries

The cookware has ARRIVED! Sound the fanfare - I can cook!

Because nothing hurts more than spending $12-15 on a meal that I know I can make for $1, especially when your Mint.com trend looks like mine.

Yah, that "Home" category is a bit painful right now.

The difficult part about setting up a kitchen is figuring out the essentials. I would not want to go out and spend $80 on all the different types of spices and oils in one go, especially since I may not need, say for example, nutmeg until Thanksgiving.

I live down the street from a Pavilions, but I've already had some sketchy moments in that store (i.e. molding beef jerky, strawberries were starting to turn).

So I'm making the slightly further trek over to Whole Foods, which is convenient located right across the street from my new yoga studio, Yoga Works.

I'll never have to worry about buying too much at once because I'll be too paranoid I wouldn't be able to carry it all back. Fool-proof plan. Sort of.

Yes, Whole Foods is pricier, and for good reason: the quality controls and selection criteria to even make shelf space is high. And it gives me peace of mind to know that no matter what I end up choosing, it'll always be a good decision.

The Empty Kitchen

My kitchen is completely empty. Completely.

Except for an unwelcome guest in my fridge.


Apparently, while we were in escrow and the power was disconnected, mold decided to move in. Very fun.

After a period of "OMGWHATISTHATSMELL OMGTHISISDISGUSTING OMGOMGOMG" and a lot of anti-bacterial cleaner (I used method), the fridge was ready for use again.

Not that I had any food that needed to be refrigerated since I had no cookware and had not gone grocery shopping.

I had, however, spotted my new breakfast pastry spot.

Every time I drive from my parent's home to my place, I always drop by this Danish bakery that opened earlier this summer in Culver City, called Copenhagen Pastry. It's a locally-owned business that makes heavenly light and buttery pastries. They don't make it difficult to want to support this place.

These'll keep me going for a while.

A Blank Slate

The entire condo is empty, except for one king-sized bed for my 5'1" self on the first of September.

September 1st, 2012
Official move-in day!
Those that live in West LA understand that once settled in that region, it's hard to get out. In a literal sense.  Between the constant traffic, the angry drivers, and the cost of gas-guzzling cars, it's hard to get out. Yes, gas prices are controlled and nowhere as bad as the rest of the world...but most of those cities encourage and support alternative modes of transportation. Not LA.

Luckily, the area is nowhere devoid of interesting furniture shops.

What I learned, about myself and furniture shopping, after a few weeks of roaming through endless showrooms and aisles of furniture:
  • What I defined as my taste is not my taste at all. My mid-century modern/shabby chic concept got bulldozed over by urban Danish design.
    • My mother is in no way surprised. She saw the catalogs and knew which pieces I would go for before I even knew it.
  • When it comes to furniture, budget goes out the window (more on that later).
    • There are elements of a home that should be splurged on.
      • For me, it's the dining set-up, the bed, and the couch (for entertaining).
        • I'm planning on FINDING patio furniture. How's that for budgeting?
  • Do not rush. Furnishing a home should be a gradual process.
    • Patience is a virtue I do not have.
  • Convenience wins.
    • BAR NONE.
  • Indecisiveness hits mostly when I try to compromise price for taste.
    • I will, however, dream about the furniture continuously (sign for: I NEED).
      • Compromise is thrown out the door, and hygge wins.
        • And I get the furniture. WIN.
Hygge: n. Danish term implying coziness
For a more elaborate definition, I love Alex Beauchamp's explanation: hyggehouse.com

Defeating Inertia

Inertia. The force that made me too lazy to piece together my own life. Until now.

Two years after graduating from college, my solo life finally begins. A new home, a new space, a chance to set things up anew. No more excuses about waiting for this or that.

Why? Because I've been handed a blank slate. My new place is completely empty. Completely. And I've been so dependent on all the luxuries at home that I'm not quite sure how capable I am of surviving alone.

Life must go on. So it's time to set up.

Life starts with Lamill Tea and some Danish pastries.