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Friday, October 31, 2008

Pumpkin Ravioli with Browned Butter Sage Sauce

I cheat and use wonton wrappers to make ravioli. But perhaps after seeing these results, you'll find that acceptable?

Pumpkin Ravioli 1

Yummy pumpkin filling.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Baked Kabocha (Japanese Pumpkin) with Brown Sugar and Butter

Baked Kabocha Squash with Brown Sugar and Butter 1

This one's a quick and easy recipe that's always been one of my favorites. You can use kabocha (Japanese pumpkin), sugar pumpkins, or butternut squash. Kabocha have extremely thick rinds. My trick is to microwave the squash for about 5 to 10 minutes to soften it enough to cut into.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Tuong Ot Toi (Vietnamese Chili Garlic Sauce)

After last month's coughing and crying fit from chili pepper fumes, I needed to explore other Vietnamese chili sauce options.

Tuong Ot Toi (Vietnamese Chili Garlic Sauce) 1

I decided to make Tuong Ot Toi (Vietnamese Chili Garlic Sauce). I came across some habanero peppers that were on sale, and remembering the bright orange color of Chuck of Sunday Nite Dinner's batch, figured it'd be appropriate to make for October.

The usual chili peppers that I use are a variety of red ones harvested from my youngest uncle's garden.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Butrint and Saranda - Albania

Since Corfu, Greece is only 1.8 kilometers from the coast of Albania, it was easy enough to add another stamp to my passport. A ferry ride from Corfu to Saranda is about 90 minutes, then an hour's drive to Butrint.

Butrint and Saranda - Albania 1

Butrint, in modern day Albania, is located about an hour's drive from the port city of Saranda. According to Wikipedia, it is an ancient Greek city that dates back to the 10th or eighth centuries B.C. Its founder was Helenus, one of the sons of King Priam, who married Andromache and fled here after the fall of Troy. During the 1st century B.C., Julius Caesar used Butrint as a provisions depot for his troops. It has through the years been under Roman, Byzantine, and Venetian rule and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The ruins lie on the edge of a hill with a watch tower high above.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Paleokastritsa, Corfu - Greece

My last Greek post and it's not even a full one. Just some shots of Paleokastritsa, where the bus stopped on the way to picking up more people before heading off to our day trip to the ruins of Butrint and Saranda - Albania.

Paleokastritsa, Corfu - Greece 1

Paleokastritsa is supposedly one of three possible locations where Odysseus' boat was petrified. He washed ashore and was found by Princess Nausicaa and her handmaidens, who were washing clothes at a nearby stream. She asked her father to build him a boat so Odysseus could return to Ithaca, but Poseidon was so angered that he turned the ship to stone.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Pita Fresh Grill - Fountain Valley and Live on the Go III

My series of Greek posts made me crave what else?

Greek food! I wanted some souvlaki, tzatziki, hummus, pita bread, gyros...

Pita Fresh Grill - Fountain Valley 1

And so it was that when I found myself in Orange County last week, I decided to try out Pita Fresh Grill in Fountain Valley. If you'll remember, the second time I used Live on the Go for The Cravery in Tustin, the website's wrong address meant lil' sis drove around in circles. The Live on the Go folks nicely apologized for the error and offered me a $25 credit. This time, I chose a restaurant that was right off the freeway, in an area that I knew well since I used to work nearby.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Vegetarian Lasagna with Feta Cheese, Spinach, and Tofu

Yes, I said tofu.

Lasagna with Feta Cheese, Spinach, and Tofu 1

I know I have a few vegetarian readers. And while lasagna with meat and tomato sauce is my preferred method, every once in a while I feel like playing around with my food. I often add spinach to my lasagna anyway, and adding feta cheese seemed natural. I mixed the feta cheese with cottage cheese, and lightened both cheeses by crumbling a block of drained tofu. Actually, I made this a little over a year ago. But the Greek-inspired flavors of spinach and feta cheese made it a good time as any to finally post the recipe. :)

If you don't want to use tofu, then you can just keep the feta and cottage cheese combo,or replace with ricotta cheese or bechamel sauce. Obviously, the tofu makes this less creamy, but the result is way, way lower in calories and much healthier.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Bo Xao La Lot (Vietnamese Sauteed Beef with Wild Betel Leaves)

La Lot (Vietnamese Wild Betel Leaf)

Now we go to the other end of the spectrum. What to do when you have an abundance of la lot (Vietnamese wild betel leaves)? Of course, you could make a whole bunch of Bo Nuong La Lot (Vietnamese Grilled Beef with Wild Betel Leaves). But what if you still have leaves left over?

I got lazy and decided to make a quick and easy stir fry. I love la lot so much, I could have easily eaten this with just the leaves sauteed in a bit of soy sauce. Lil' sis picked out the beef. So between the two us, we finished the pan.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Bo Nuong La Tia To Dai Han (Vietnamese Grilled Beef with Korean Perilla Leaves)

To continue with leaf-wrapped goodness, even though this might look like the other dishes, the filling and leaf are completely different. Hence, a totally different taste.

Bo Nuong La Tia To Dai Han (Vietnamese Grilled Beef with Korean Perilla Leaves) 1

Another substitute for wild betel leaves or grape leaves is tia to (Vietnamese purple perilla). But instead of using tia to, I decided to use gaennip (Korean shiso/perilla leaves). They're sometimes called sesame leaves, but that's a misnomer; they're not related to the sesame family at all. For lack of any other word, my youngest uncle says he just calls them la Dai Han (Vietnamese for Korean leaves). Anyone got a proper translation? Otherwise, I'm calling these la tia to Dai Han (Vietnamese for Korean perilla leaves).

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bo Nuong La Nho (Vietnamese Grilled Beef with Grape Leaves)

The first Vietnamese cookbook I could remember was "The Foods of Vietnam" by Nicole Routhier, which was published in 1989 and won several cookbook awards. I found it at my public library. It was in English with lots of colorful pictures. I imagine that my reaction to discovering Routhier's book was the same as the Vietnamese readers who stumble upon my blog, the ones who later tell me that they never learned to cook from their mothers.

Bo Nuong La Nho (Vietnamese Grilled Beef-Stuffed Grape Leaves) 1

Routhier's book is out of print now, but I managed to find a copy years ago of "The Best of Nicole Routhier," which included many of the same recipes. One of the recipes was for bo nuong la nho (Vietnamese grilled beef-stuffed grape leaves). Actually, the book misspelled grape as gno instead of nho, one of many Vietnamese spelling errors. I wonder if the use of grape leaves was Routhier's invention, probably based upon Dolmades (Greek Stuffed Grape Leaves), as I can't think of any other Vietnamese recipes with grape leaves. Or maybe not, since my mom often says Vietnamese people don't waste anything, and I know my youngest uncle sautes the young grape leaf tendrils. At the time the book was published, many of the ingredients, that seem commonplace now, weren't readily available. Grape leaves seemed a natural substitution for wild betel leaves in the recipe for Bo Nuong La Lot (Vietnamese Grilled Beef with Wild Betel Leaves).

I remembered liking the recipe when I made it long ago. That was before I actually tasted grilled betel leaves though. In revisiting the recipe, while the grilled grape leaves were good, they really couldn't compare to the wonderfully fragrant perfume that gets emitted when la lot is cooked. If you've never tasted grilled wild betel leaves, it's impossible to describe. If I were to compare the disappointment of grape leaves after having eaten la lot, it would be as if someone suggested substituting lettuce for basil. Yeah, that kind of disappointment.

But if you can't obtain wild betel leaves (piper sarmentosum), not to be confused to non-wild betel leaves (piper betle), which is chewed with betel nuts and lime, then you don't know what you're missing. In which case, grilled grape leaves stuffed with beef is still pretty good.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Vegetarian Dolmades (Greek Grape Leaves Stuffed with Rice, Tomatoes, and Onions)

Dolmades with Rice, Tomatoes, and Onions 1

Earlier this year when my youngest uncle's grape vine was filled with leaves, I wanted to revisit a recipe for Bo Nuong La Nho (Vietnamese Grilled Beef with Grape Leaves). When most people think of grape leaves, they think of the Greek appetizer dolmades. Dolma comes from the Turkish word for stuffed. I could have done the beef and rice version, but since I had already earmarked the ground beef for the Vietnamese recipe, plus a Korean fusion variation, I decided to do a vegetarian Greek version instead.

I checked the blog of my trusty Greek food guru Peter of Kalofagas to see if his version had something I hadn't tried before. He made the traditional beef and rice dolmades, but added dill and mint. Oooh, I love dill, and if I had any on hand, I surely would have added that to mine. I had plenty of mint in the garden though, and it added a nice zing. I normally like to eat these with tzatziki (Greek cucumber yogurt sauce), but decided to follow Peter's suggestion of serving them with avgolemeno (Greek egg and lemon) sauce. Mmm. Just typing that makes me want to make a pot of chicken and rice avgolemeno soup, but that'll have to wait for another day.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Measuring Success: Cheerleader or Nerd?

Ca Phe Sua Da 12
Ca Phe Sua Da (Vietnamese Iced Milk Coffee).

Technorati recently released their "State of the Blogosphere" report, analyzing the trends and themes of blogging. Part of the report also included the fact that several of the top bloggers make six digits a year. And, of course, there are the bloggers who've gotten book deals such as Adam of The Amateur Gourmet, Clothilde of Chocolate and Zucchini, and Molly of Orangette.

Any agents or publishers reading this? I'd like a book deal too please. Pretty please? :)

The reality is that most bloggers don't make that kind of money, nor do we all have book deals, but that doesn't mean your blog can't be successful. Success is relative right? Do you judge it based upon how many comments you get? Or do you judge it based upon how many hits you get?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

My Other Dahlia

Hard to believe that something that looks like this, will eventually become as beautiful as this.

Does anyone know what kind of dahlia this is? Thanks to Passionate Eater's help, I think this may be a Wine and Roses dahlia, but I'm not completely sure since the petals are too rounded. Thanks to more reader help, I think we've found it. Jonathan of Days of the Dragon pointed me to a picture of a Match dahlia, which has more pointed ends like this bloom. Yay! Mystery solved!

My Other Dahlia 1

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Mignon Dahlia Bulbs From Perennial Passion

Look what came in the mail for me the other day!

Mignon Dahlia Bulbs from Perennial Passion

They're mignon dahlia bulbs.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Mam Ruoc (Vietnamese Fermented Shrimp Paste)

Mam Ruoc (Vietnamese Fermented Shrimp Paste) 2

Most people think of the more well-known Nuoc Mam (Vietnamese Fish Sauce) when it comes to flavoring and dipping Vietnamese food. Mam ruoc (Vietnamese fermented shrimp paste) is its much more pungent cousin. It's more popular in North and Central Vietnam, while Mam Nem (Vietnamese Fermented Anchovy Sauce) is more popular in the South. And if you're South-Central like me, you grow up eating both!

According to Vietscape, ruoc are small shrimp caught during the rainy season. They are dried in the sun for three months, then mixed with salt, ground into a powder, and placed in a jar to pickle in the sun for another month-and-a-half. Sugar is then added to that mixture and left to ferment for another month. The mixture is then dried again in the sun for 10 days.

These dried blocks are how I typically see belacan, the Malaysian version of shrimp paste sold in Asian grocery stores. Different versions of shrimp paste exist in many other Southeast Asian cuisines as well.

Vietnamese mam ruoc tends to be light pinkish-gray and is a thick paste rather than a block. All that drying and pickling and drying and pickling again results in a very thick, very concentrated, very salty, shrimp flavor. In some recipes such as Bun Bo Hue (Vietnamese Hue-Style Beef Noodle Soup), there really is no other substitute. It's also the "secret ingredient" in my recipe for baechu kimchi (Korean pickled napa cabbage).

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Rau Den Luoc (Vietnamese Boiled Amaranth Greens)

Rau Den (Vietnamese Amaranth) 1

What I've learned the most from blogging is how food is universal. I've mentioned before that rau den (Vietnamese amaranth) was a weed that my ba noi (Vietnamese paternal grandmother) picked during times of famine to feed her family. It grew everywhere, matured quickly, and was packed with nutrients. What I didn't know until I started blogging, and participating in Weekend Herb Blogging, was that Greeks ate it too! From Peter of Kalofagas, I found out that Greeks call amaranth greens vlita.

According to Wikipedia, amaranth has been called the "crop of the future" because it is easily harvested, is very fruitful, withstands arid conditions, and provides large amounts of protein and amino acids. There are more than 60 species of amaranth ranging from ornamental varieties such as the flowering "love lies bleeding" to edible varieties where the leaves, stems, and seeds can be eaten.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Macaroni and Cheese

So what else can you make with bechamel sauce? Homemade mac and cheese!

Macaroni and Cheese

I checked my cell phone and saw a missed call from lil' sis. That's strange. She almost never calls me, preferring instead to text message. She's sick. Been feeling sick for the past three days. Tried to go grocery shopping but all the food made her nauseous. She ate all the food I had made and froze for her. And how come I'm not there to take care of her? If she were home, she'd crawl into bed with me, but since she's not, she just wanted to whine on the phone.

I told her I just made a big batch of mac and cheese.

Ooooh, can I save some for her because she's coming home this weekend?

I told her I made such a big batch that I divided it and froze it into packets for her to bring back to school.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Pastitsio (Greek "Lasagna")

Pastitsio is a Greek layered baked pasta dish, based upon the Italian pasticcio, which means hodge podge. Pasticcio is also called lasagna al forno, hence why pastitsio is sometimes called Greek "lasagna." Pastitsio is similar to lasagna but made with tubular pasta such as bucatini or penne, has less tomato sauce, and includes a bechamel sauce.

Pastitsio (Greek Lasagna) 1

Monday, October 13, 2008

How to Make Bechamel Sauce

A bechamel sauce is a basic white sauce of milk, flour, and butter. It serves as the basis or topping for such dishes as lasagna, moussaka, or Pastitsio (Greek "Lasagna").

How to Make Bechamel Sauce 1

Obviously, you'll want to make adjustments according to how thick you want your sauce to be. I usually just start it on the stove while I'm making the rest of the recipe and let it cool down before I layer it with my pastas.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Parga - Greece

After our brief trip to Gaios, Paxos, we headed 8 miles east toward the mainland town of Parga.

A Venetian fortress high above the harbor.

Parga - Greece 1

Another Venetian fortress, built in 1624.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Gaios, Paxos Island - Greece

Legend has it that the island of Paxos was created when Poseidon struck off the southern tip of Corfu with his trident to make a retreat for himself and his mistress, Amphitrite. Circe, the siren in Homer's Odyssey, who detained Ulysses and turned his men into pigs, also hailed from Paxos.

Gaios, Paxos Island - Greece 1

Located 10 miles south of Corfu, Paxos and the mainland city of Parga, can be easily combined into a one-day trip. Paxos, at 7 miles long and 3 miles wide, is the smallest of the Ionian Islands. The island is known for the quality of its olive oil, with fruity and honey notes. The sweetest, most glorious olive oil I've ever tasted. There are only 2,438 residents, but more than 300,000 olive trees.

It's a 1 1/2 hour boat trip from Corfu, which dropped us off in the town of Gaios.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Glass Bottom Boat, Corfu - Greece

That's Vidos Island you see above the water. I know, it's cheesy, but my cousin had never been in a glass bottom boat. We took the Calypso Star Undersea Cruise from the old port of Corfu, which went around Vidos Island. I think these photos are self-explanatory.

Glass Bottom Boat, Corfu - Greece 1

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Agios Georgios, Corfu Town, and Vidos Island, Corfu - Greece

I was going to hold off on finishing this series for a while. Then Darlene of Blazing Hot Wok chose to spotlight Greece to launch her blogging event -- Regional Recipes, in which we explore a different region and its cuisine each month. Well, since she's been enjoying this series, it seemed as good a time as any to finish up and to share my brief visit to Greece.

When I last left off, I was drinking wine in caves in Sirens Valley, Hungary with Norwegian girl cousin. She booked a week-long flight and hotel package for us to Corfu, an island in the Ionian Sea near the coast of Albania.

Agios Georgios, Corfu Town, and Vidos Island, Corfu  - Greece 1

In Greek mythology, Poseidon, the god of the sea, fell in love with a beautiful nymph named Korkyra and abducted her to an unnamed island. He named the island after her and Korkyra evolved to Kerkyra, in Ancient Greek, and Corfu, in English.

Corfu is shaped like a scythe. It is about 40 miles long, and ranges from 2.5 miles to 20 miles wide. A little over 100,000 people live on the island. We stayed in self-serve villas with small kitchenettes in Agio Georgios, on the northern half of the island. No ATMs. No internet. No shops. Or if there was, we didn't find it and had to trek to Corfu Town for those amenities. There were a few restaurants and grocery stores, and they were mostly cash only.

What we got were long stretches of beach and lots of sun.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Ko Hyang Tofu House - San Gabriel

When Nubi Yogurt had opened earlier this year, I noticed that there was a Korean tofu house right upstairs. So, of course, on another lazy night when I didn't feel like driving, lil' sis, her best friend, the oldest '88, and I decided to check it out. We were very pleasantly surprised. A good quality Korean tofu house in the San Gabriel Valley. With good panchan (Korean side dishes) too! So if you're not in the mood for tabletop grilling or all-you-can-eat Korean barbecue, I definitely recommend Ko Hyang Tofu House.

Ko Hyang Tofu House - San Gabriel 1

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

VeryBerry/Coo Coo Chicken - San Gabriel (Closed)

After my second visit to Hwa Ro Korean BBQ and Tofu -San Gabriel with lil' sis and her best friend, we decided to stop by next door at VeryBerry.

VeryBerry/Coo Coo Chicken - San Gabriel 1

This was last December when it had just opened. Remember when I said last year when PinGo Yogurt opened in Alhambra that all these Pinkberry copycats will have to lower their prices drastically in order to compete? Similar bright coloring. Similar prices. Similar fresh fruit toppings.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Hwa Ro Korean BBQ and Tofu - San Gabriel

Since breakfast and lunch was chocolate and more chocolate, by dinner time, I definitely needed some meat and vegetables! So I text messaged the oldest '87. She's my Korean barbecue buddy. We used to wait until lil' sis was in town, but our cravings sometimes come upon us more often than she comes home. And if it seems like I'm always eating Korean barbecue with the two of them, that's because no one else in the family loves it as much as we do.

Hwa Ro Korean BBQ & Tofu - San Gabriel 1

Located in the left corner of the San Gabriel Hilton strip mall, I didn't notice Hwa Ro Korean BBQ and Tofu until I had dined a few doors over at Pa Pa Walk.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

2nd Annual Los Angeles Luxury Chocolate Salon - Pasadena

How much chocolate can a food blogger eat if she could eat as much as she wanted?

Not as much as you'd think...

Last week I received an email about the 2nd Annual Los Angeles Luxury Chocolate Salon. How's that for a mouthful? $17.50 advance tickets, $20 at the door, for all the chocolate I could eat from about 30 gourmet chocolatiers. Let me in for free please? And so they did. My love of "free" and "chocolate" has no bearing on the outcome of this post...

...or does it? ;)

The event was held at the Pasadena Center. This was the left side of the room half an hour after doors opened.

2nd Annual Los Angeles Luxury Chocolate Salon - Pasadena 1

And the right side of the room. I decided to start right in the middle, by the pillar, with the chocolatier who was giving out full-sized samples. What can I say? Oink! Oink!

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Indo Kitchen - Alhambra

Literally around the corner from Silver Spoon is Indo Kitchen.

Earlier this summer when I grabbed food from their stall at Alhambra's Summer Jubilee, and after much urging from Elmo Monster and Mochachocolata-Rita, I decided I really needed to dine here soon.

Indo Kitchen - Alhambra 1

So a few months back, I convinced my brother to try Indonesian food with me. A long, long time ago, this location used to be a Chinese restaurant. According to their website, Indo Kitchen opened in March 2003 and serves Indonesian cuisine with a Javanese influence. It's a very small location, with only a handful of tables. This was in the late afternoon, so there were only a few other diners.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Silver Spoon - Alhambra

As I was saying, there's something about eating so much meat in one sitting that always inspires us to cleanse our palates with frozen yogurt. Last week after lunch at Tahoe Galbi Restaurant, the oldest '87 and I decided to try Silver Spoon, which had recently opened in Alhambra. It's literally just around the corner from Indo Kitchen.

Silver Spoon - Alhambra 1

Thursday, October 02, 2008

CeFiore - Monterey Park (Closed)

There's something about eating so much meat in one sitting that always inspires us to cleanse our palates with frozen yogurt. After that first visit to Tahoe Galbi Restaurant, we followed it up with frozen yogurt at CeFiore, the oldest '87's favorite because she likes the acaiberry flavor.

Cefiore - Monterey Park 1

CeFiore is owned by Todai, the sushi buffet chain. Sleek contemporary decor and flat screen televisions.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Tahoe Galbi Restaurant - Los Angeles (Koreatown) (Closed)

Tahoe Galbi Restaurant - Los Angeles (Koreatown) 1

"Your blogging series is so boring," said the oldest '87 during lunch at Tahoe Galbi Restaurant in Koreatown last week. "When are you going to post about food again?"

So this one's for her and lil' sis because it's our favorite all-you-can-eat Korean barbecue restaurant.

Tahoe's not the cheapest. It doesn't have the largest selection of meats. The panchan is good enough, although not terribly exciting. And yet, when we're really craving Korean barbecue, Tahoe usually hits the spot.