Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Recipe: Date Night Made Easy - Crockpot Beef Stroganoff & Roasted Broccoli

I'm sure many of you are like me - work full days and rarely have time to cook up a weeknight dinner. To make it more impossible, I travel every week for work too. So whenever I get the rare chance of working from home, I like to take advantage of the opportunity to whip up a homecooked meal for my fiance.

One of his favorite dishes is Beef Stroganoff, and with the help of a crockpot, it takes 15 minutes to prepare this dish and your date will be thoroughly impressed. Make him think you slaved in the kitchen :) I found a recipe on Cooking Light so the meal was more guilt-free. To balance out the heavy dish, I served the stroganoff with a side of roasted garlic broccoli. It was the perfect accompaniment with its slightly charred tips and bits of garlic chips.

To start, throw all your ingredients into the crockpot.

Mix in the wet and dry ingredients and turn on the slow cooker. That's it. You can go back to working or watching TV.

For the side, preheat the oven to 450 degrees, then combine the cut-up broccoli crown with 6 cloves of smashed garlic and 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil into a mixing bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Spread the broccoli on a baking sheet (there is no need to grease the sheet as the oil from the broccoli mixture will suffice) and bake for 20 minutes, or until brown. It's that simple, the texture of the broccoli changes (it's ends are crispy), it tastes great and it's good for you too.

Beef Stroganoff
Recipe adapted from Cooking Light
1 (1-pound) top round steak (1 inch thick), trimmed (I used beef chuck)
1 cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried dill
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 (8-ounce) package sliced mushrooms (about 2 cups)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup all-purpose flour or 2 tbspn
1 cup beef broth
1 (8-ounce) container low-fat sour cream
2 cups hot cooked medium egg noodles (about 4 ounces uncooked)

1. Cut steak diagonally across grain into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Place steak and next 8 ingredients (though garlic) in a 3-quart electric slow cooker; stir well.

2. Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Place flour in a small bowl; gradually add broth, stirring with a whisk until blended. Add broth mixture to slow cooker; stir well. Cover with lid; cook on high-heat setting 1 hour. Reduce to low-heat setting, and cook 7 to 8 hours or until steak is tender. Turn slow cooker off; remove lid. Let stroganoff stand 10 minutes. Stir in sour cream. Serve stroganoff over noodles.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

An Day in Pasadena: Haven Gastropub and 2012 Breeder's Cup

The Breeder's Cup (horse racing) is held annually, with the venue changing almost every year. In the last two years, it was held at Churchill Downs, home to the Kentucky Derby, but this year and next, it is held in Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California. Since it is somewhat in our backyard, we made the trek to the San Gabriel area for the race.

The race park sits at the foothill of the San Gabriel mountains, providing a beautiful backdrop.

You can get seats in the Grandstand (where there were attendees wearing dresses and fine hats) or you can get General Admission tickets for only $20 in the Infield (or the cheap seats as they are called). There is beer, wine, liquor and food sold in the infield but the booze quickly sold out. Pretty poor management on the organizers part, I must say.

I am not much of a gambler, but it seemed low risk as you can make bets for as little as $1. The fiance really did the betting for me but out of 6 races that I bet exacta on (based on "cute" horse names), I won half of them, essentially winning around $150 from a total of $36 in bets. Pretty fun stuff.

Before the race started, we stopped by our friend's place in Pasadena for some light snacks.

A selection of cured meat from a Pasadena neighborhood gem, Roma Italian Deli. Beef brescola, prosciutto, Italian salumi and coppa. Also served with gorgonzola, brie, Italian parmigiano and olives. The cured meat was outstanding, fresh. Apparently Roma Deli has been owned by the same Italian gentleman for over half a century, and he is great at giving recommendations if you need any.

My (Bulgarian) friend also introduced us to a interesting combination of Greek-styled caviar spread (caviar and cream) and a spicy Harissa spread. Loved the combination of cream, salty fish roe and the kick from the harissa spread which tasted like a slight relative of sambal chili.

After the races (and finally able to catch a cab after 2 hours), we met up with friends at Haven Gastropub in Old Town Pasadena. The gastropub first opened in Orange County and made its way to Pasadena late last year.

Haven has over 40 craft beers and tap and many in bottle.

Homemade potato chips ~  A nice starter. I really enjoyed the garlic aioli dipping sauce. The chips were supposedly soaked in beer but they didn't taste any different. Not a big deal as they still tasted good as they were not too oily and had just the right amount of seasoning.

Hand twisted pretzel ~ I am a huge pretzel fiend and always have to order it when it's on the menu. Unfortunately, this pretzel did not impress me. Yes it looked very promising, but it was a bit on the doughy side and a bit dense. The bacon fontina cheese had nice chunks of bacon to it but probably needed just a sprinkle of salt. The beer mustard sauce however was the favorite at the table. Sweet, tangy with a spice.

French onion soup ~  we really enjoyed this soup from the flavorful yet on overbearingly salty broth, to the melted gruyere atop a crostini. It just really hit the spot.

Beef tongue poutine ~ I really enjoyed this dish. What's there not to like? French fries (which still had a bit of a crunch under the topping), braised beef tongue which didn't really even taste like tongue or had the tough texture of tongue. In fact, the shredded meat was tender and had good salty flavors to it. The fries and meat were topped with round pieces of port salut which is a mild goat cheese. I liked that it wasn't completely melted and overly gooey, and had a nice caramelization on top.

Homemamde donuts ~ The donuts here were pretty good (fresh, soft and large in size). The nutella sauce was a favorite, however the Jameson caramel sauce was a bit too strong for everyone.

I really enjoyed my meal at Haven. Sometimes it's hard to find a place that satisfies the fiance (BEER, and casual setting) and mine (good food and blogworthy) so I thought Haven did a good job of balancing that out. Unfortunately we were not too hunger and as such, only ordered a couple appetizers to share. However based on what we tried, I can only imagine good things about the other dishes. Some that caught my eye were the porchetta, pork rillette and the whole roasted suckling pig dinner with 3 sides for only $45/person. Sounds like a delicious pork feast.

Haven Gastropub
42 South De Lacey Ave,
Pasadena, CA 91104
(626) 768-9555

Roma Italian Deli
918 N. Lake,
Pasadena, CA 91104
(626) 979-7748

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Bottomless Mimosa Brunch at The Six Restaurant

Saturday Mimosa brunch is the thing that I look forward to most each week. More so if the mimosas are bottomless and reasonably priced. I had been to The Six restaurant on Pico Blvd by the Westside Pavillion when it first opened in 2010 and enjoyed my dinner thoroughly. The restaurant has been doing well since and even opened up another location in Studio City last year.

$10 bottomless mimosas, or you can opt for blood mary or Great White Brew (from Lost Coast Brewery in Eureka, CA). What a great deal, and we got quite a hefty pour.

Waffle Sliders ~ This seemed to be a crowd favorite, in fact I saw a table of 4 ladies who each ordered this dish. I liked that the waffles were not huge (making it easier to eat) and that you got two. The fluffy-in-the- center waffles with a crunchy exterior sandwiched in a fried egg, cheddar and bacon. I liked the sprinkling of powdered sugar on the cutting board. Great presentation too.

The Six burrito ~ The burrito was stuffed with egg, potato, caramelized onions, bell pepper and bacon. Pretty simple but made with good quality, fresh ingredients. It was served with a side of lightly dressed spring salad.

The rest of the menu looks great including the lunch options such as fried chicken & waffles and beets with burrata. If you are starving, the Hay Stack (pile of fries, patty, fried egg) would do the trick. The only issue I saw was that our waitress didn't smile and looked annoyed to be there. Hungover perhaps? In any case, The Six has a solid menu and a great mimosa special.

The Six Restaurant
10668 West Pico Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90064
the sixrestaurant.com

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Chicago: The Purple Pig

To round up my Chicago trip, we had just enough time to squeeze in dinner at the wildly popular Purple Pig on Michigan Avenue. The restaurant serves up food that I would categorize as gastro-restaurant with lots of shareable dishes, served with a Mediterranean flavor. Unfortunately the restaurant does not take reservations so there was a large crowd waiting outside for a table at 6pm.

The restaurant has seating inside with communal tables, a bar area and the coveted outdoor patio area. Since it was just a friend and myself for dinner, we knew our chances of getting a seat was higher if we chose to sit at the bar. The hostess was nice enough to let us know when a party was closing out, so we really only waited for 10-15 minutes.

There are quite a number of pork dishes on the menu, but The Purple Pig also has a nice selection of cheeses, vegetables and other meats (clams, veal, lamb).

The Purple Pig has a nice selection of charcuterie and spreads.
Pork Neck Bone Rillette and Mostarda ~ I liked that the rillette was spreadable. It was rich and salty, and paired with a tangy-sweet fruit preserve. The only disappointing factor was that the bread was burnt. Even when we asked for more, they came out burnt too. Must be something wrong with the kitchen timer.

Roasted Corn ~ A nice side dish to help balance out all the meat dishes that we ordered. I liked the texture of the roasted corn which had a slight char to it and a bit of caramelization. The corn kernels were mixed with mushrooms, nuts and fried rosemary. I liked the sweet- salty combination, and how fresh this dish was.

Pig's Ear with Crispy Kale ~ Seems to be a one more their more popular dishes. The thinly sliced pigs ear were lightly breaded and crispy on the outside with a crunch from the cartilage. I just love the texture of pigs ear. Also loved the combination of fried kale and pickled cherry peppers. I thought the fried egg did a good job of holding everything together. Once you broke the yolk and mixed everything together, what seemed like a salad quickly because a warm creamy dish.

Octopus with Green Beans ~ The texture of the octopus was firm, but tender, and its flavors were not too oceanic. In fact, when you cut up the octopus to pieces, they could pass off as a firm calamari steak. The octopus was served with fingerling potatoes and a acidic and zesty salsa verde. I was glad to have ordered some lighter dishes to compliment the heavier pork dishes.

Pig's Tails Braised in Balsamic with Grated Egg and Parsley ~ I really enjoyed this dish. The meat from the pig's tail was very tender and fell off the bone. There was also lots of bones to the tail, which made it fun to slurp up all the meat and sauce around the bone. I've had pig's tail before but only in Asian preparation so I found the flavors interesting in the use of the sweet/tangy balsamic vinegar.

Milk Braised Pork Shoulder with Mashed Potatoes ~ Probably the only dish that I was not impressed with as the pork shoulder was not tender. It was tough to cut through and was rather stiff. Also, it was topped with an unsightly yellow mashed potatoes.

The Purple Pig is a fun place to grab a bite if you are relatively new to the city. It's loud and vibrant, and the dishes are unique and fun to share. Granted there were many tourists (you could tell, they were wearing sneakers and toting cameras) but I found the dishes interesting and the food good.

The Purple Pig
500 N. Michigan Ave.,
Chicago, Illinois 60611
(312) 464-1744

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Chicago: Tavernita (River North) - the corn pudding to die for!

While in Chicago, my friend and I ventured to River North to meet up with friends for a drinks. Even though we bar hopped and nibbled on dishes all night, I was hoping to check out at least one of the recommendations from my colleague. Tavernita was one of them - it is a Latin/Spanish restaurant from the same owners of trendy Mercadito.

They have a great wraparound patio seating area which has kind of a trendy yet casual gastrobar feel to it. The noise level was high and the patio was rather happening. Unfortunately every seat was taken.

We ended up grabbing seats inside, which had a completely different feel to it - it was more sophisticated and uber swank, with modern lightning and flooring. Clientele seemed older compared to the patio outside.

The menu at Tavernita is Spanish inspired, with a variety of small plates for sharing. The dishes are not entirely Spanish flavored, you can find the typical croquettes, patatas and gambas, but also hamachi crudo and lamb sausage.

I ordered a quartino of the refreshing Albarino. I was surprised that the serving was quite large (it felt more than a glass and a half) but it only cost $10.

Because I live in the no-foie state of California, I was so excited to order anything foie. 
Foie gras mousse with cherry compote really hit the spot. Thick and smooth with intense livery flavor. Gosh, I really miss the rich and decadent foie gras. It was paired well with freshly grilled baguette.

Corn pudding with shrimp was such a wonderful surprise. I wasn't expecting a large skillet of baked corned pudding that was soft in the center with zing from poblano, and topped with a nice crust. The corn pudding was topped with large pieces of succulent shrimp and a fresh herb salad. Such a unique dish that I was glad to have ordered.

I was quite pleased with what we ordered. If we weren't so full, I would have loved to order more from their menu such as pork belly bocadillo and braised short ribs with crispy potato puree. But the foie mousse and corn pudding was enough to whet my appetite. It's definitely a place that I would recommend for a fun night out with some good food.

151 W. Erie
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 274-1111

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Chicago: Brunch at The Bongo Room (Bucktown)

Bongo Room in Wicker Park is a very popular and beloved brunch place in Chicago since opening almost two decades ago. When my friend mentioned that we would have to get there before it opened at 9am on a Saturday, I was deterred a bit. I hate waiting in lines. Thankfully, we managed to get up and out the door in time, and when we arrived at 8.45am, a line was quickly forming. You could tell that they were all locals from the neighborhood in line. That's a good sign. 

When the door finally opened at 9am (not a minute earlier), we were seated in a cheerful dining room with Tiffany blue walls and moose heads (not real) mounted on the wall.

The menu comprises of typical brunch fare such as eggs, pancakes and croissant sandwich. They also have a Specials menu that changes seasonally. I do like that they have some interesting dishes such as red velvet hotcakes and vanilla bean brioche french toast

Bloody Mary and Black Raspberry and Grapefruit Mimosa. The mimosas weren't cheap at over $8 a piece (ouch) but I did like some of the flavors such as Orange Mango and Raspberry and Pear.

White chocolate and caramel pretzel pancakes was on the Specials menu so I had to try it. When it came out, I was a bit nervous. It looked uber sweet but thankfully, the caramel and white chocolate sauce was milder than one would expect. The sauce was outstanding - the right amount of creaminess and milkiness. They also did a great job of balancing the flavors with the saltiness from the crunchy crushed pretzels that were embedded in the fluffy pancakes. It was like a little surprise in every bite. The portions are quite large, with three pancakes in each plate. I don't normally order sweet pancakes but was very very glad that I did. A+!

We ordered a side of Thai chicken sausage with ginger which I was hoping would taste like Issan sausage. Not so much. It was a bit dry, and did not have the strong, sour and fragrant Thai flavors that I was hoping for. Definitely more American in flavor than Asian.

Chorizo, potato and avocado omelet was also very tasty. Large portions here as well, with a hearty omelet with spicy and intense chorizo crumbles. The side of potatoes were nicely seasoned.

I can see why Chicagoans flock over to The Bongo Room. I think the sweet dishes are more unique than the savory ones. I really enjoyed the delicious white chocolate and caramel pretzel pancake, although I am not sure if I would be willing to wait in line for it.

The Bongo Room
1470 North Milwaukee Avenue
Chicago, IL
(773) 489-0690

Chicago: Neighborhood Italian dining at Ripasso (Bucktown)

On the first night I was in Chicago visiting my friend, it was almost 9pm when I arrived at her place - late for a weeknight. So we decided to walk down the street in her neighborhood of Bucktown/Wicker Park to grab a bite. Ripasso is a neighborhood favored Italian restaurant owned by Theo Gilbert, who opened the beloved but now shuttered Terragusto. Gilbert is known for his authentic Italian cuisine, especially his hand-cut pastas. And that was exactly what I was craving after being on the road for 3 hours.

The restaurant was rather empty when we got there, but I attributed it to being late on a weeknight.

The menu is seasonal and comprised of some antipasti, pastas and a few entrees.

The bread wasn't anything special, just regular. Usually I want to devour a whole basket but I did not feel the urge here. I know it's only bread, but I feel that it really just starts an Italian meal off on the right foot if the bread is well seasoned or fresh.

Prosciutto with arugula, crimini and fennel. The prosciutto was soft and buttery, with a lightly salted flavor. Very nice combination of the sharp flavors from the arugula and fennel. The dish was topped with a fragrant black truffle vinaigrette.

Crispy potato and cheese puff was unique and not what I had expected. It had a nice crunchy breading, soft in the center. The puffs were topped with basil pesto and parmigiano cheese.

The pappardelle with creamy four-meat sauce was mouth-watering. I can see how this could be a very addictive dish. The wide flat pasta was fresh and tender. Every strand was covered with a very rich and decadent creamy meat sauce comprising of veal, beef, lamb, pork. I just wanted to slurp up every last drop of the sauce. It was well seasoned and the icing on the top was the white truffle essence and sharp parmigiano cheese.

Overall, the pasta was the winner, everything else was tasty but not memorable. But then, pasta is what Ripasso is known for. I wish we were hungry enough to order more pasta dishes so that we could sample more. There was a squid ink pasta with seafood in tarragon sauce that caught my eye.

1619 N Damen Ave
Chicago, IL 60622
(773) 342-8799