Sunday, July 31, 2011

I Survived the Big Dog


I'm lucky to have quite a few Texas friends who have relocated to the West Coast to be closer to me. What, that's not why you moved here? Ok, perhaps I had nothing to do with their decisions, but I'll bet most of them came to Cali searching for the same things I was searching for - mild weather, new experiences, larger job market, etc. And just as I did, when they explore their new city they quickly realize that chain restaurants are few and far between in this land and you could try a new neighborhood joint every night and never run out of choices. The thing I hadn't expected to be searching for has actually become one of the largest pursuits that makes my time here worthwhile. Los Angeles is no New York City or San Francisco when it comes to innovative cuisine, but it has been a foodie wonderland for little ol' me.

So when our Texas transplant fellow foodie friends (that's a mouthful) told us they had found a favorite dining spot, we made plans to meet the newlyweds this weekend. Most of you know the newlyweds I speak of, but I'll just refer to them as such to respect their privacy.



Blue Plate Oysterette in Santa Monica is a cozy little spot along Ocean Avenue specializing in fresh seafood and raw oysters. Now as I've mentioned before, me and seafood don't mesh well, but I'm always excited to try a new spot, especially one that's received great reviews and ratings from friends as well as famous food critic Jonathan Gold. The crowd waiting outside for tables was also a good indication. While the rest of the group slurped down oysters and nibbled on crab cakes to start, I browsed the menu for something that doesn't swim in the ocean.



I had a bite or two of the crab cake to appease Justin and it was actually pretty tasty. I know, who am I? But then something on the menu called to me. Because it was one of three or four non-seafood items, and because of my love for Kobe beef, I decided on an all natural Kobe beef hot dog called "The Big Dog." The waitress laughed when I placed my order, which I thought was one of those "this girl comes to a seafood restaurant and orders a hot dog" kind of smirks but turned out to be a "this is a really big hot dog and she has no idea" kind of smirks.


The dog was overflowing out of the bun and I had to make a few cuts and adjustments before even attempting to take a bite, but it was actually really tasty and had a snap to its bite as a good dog should. Justin got the lobster roll, which he looooved. I think he would have loved anything since he was allowed to go to a seafood restaurant for probably the first time since he started dating me. Just call me the seafood dreams killer.


As if the largest hot dog I've ever eaten wasn't enough, the newlyweds insisted that we just had to try the key lime pie for dessert. Let's be honest, I wasn't really going to fight them on that one. So we had the key lime pie and oh.em.gee. I forgot every other key lime pie I had before it.


The key (forgive the pun) to a great key lime pie for me is a great graham cracker crust. When I'm served a slice I'm always left wanting for more crust action. An individual pie like at Blue Plate solves that pesky problem. Genius. Thanks for the great recommendation, newlyweds!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Dining Al Fresco

Remember when I said that there are many things about living in Los Angeles that make everyday life harder? One of those things is the fact that there are like a millionbajillion people everywhere you go.  So when you go somewhere that is known to attract crowds, say... an amusement park, it's crowded times a million over here in LA land. This Saturday I waited in line with a crowd of people to buy a ticket into the amusement park, then I waited in line for security (if line can also mean large clump of people waiting to be squeezed through one of five metal detectors), then I waited in line to enter the water park section at Six Flags Magic Mountain, then I waited in line for a locker, then I waited in line for the rides and food. Once I was in the park I figured nothing could be as bad as what I had just endured to get there so I promptly boarded the steepest, scariest slide they had - the Venom Drop (not without waiting in line, of course. I sure do miss Schlitterbahn). This YouTube video shows just how steep (almost 90 degrees) the plunge is. 


Even though I was ex.haus.ted after my water park adventure on Saturday, I couldn't sleep past 8 a.m. on Sunday (maybe due to nightmares about the Venom Drop). But I was ok with that because Sunday mornings in Los Angeles mean farmers markets! I really must take my camera next time to show you all the glorious produce, flowers, meat and cheese. Our visit to the farmers market ended up providing the perfect opportunity to cook a meal to enjoy on our new outdoor patio table. Justin picked it out while I was in Hawaii, with assistance from his mom, so we now have the perfect setup for an al fresco meal for two.

These baby red potatoes, green beans and dill became one of my favorite recipes from the Earth to Table: Seasonal Recipes from an Organic Farm cookbook for potato salad with green beans.


I guess I would call it potato salad-ish because instead of the typical celery/hard boiled egg/mayo mixture, you add tons of bright flavor to the potatoes and green beans with a mixture of freshly squeezed lemon juice, Dijon, sour cream, shallots and lots of chopped dill.


We purchased a pound of organic, grass-fed beef at the farmers market as well and combined it with veggies we already had on hand for yummy kabobs.


And the Homeboy Bakery baguette we purchased became something Justin actually taught me to make when we cooked our first meal together about two and a half years ago. It's something his mom has made for his family for years and it's so easy yet so freaking good that you don't even think about what's in it.


See that fluffy, pillowy white topping on the bread? That's a mixture of equal parts cream cheese and mayo. I never said it was the healthiest dish! Spread the mixture on top of sliced bread and pop them in the oven for 8-10 minutes until the cheesy mixture starts to turn golden brown.



Perfection.
 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Road Trip

One of the nice things about the time I've spent in Los Angeles is the amount of amazing road trips I've been able to take. I love me a road trip! Having an abundance of trip-worthy spots just a few hours in either direction, I've explored Joshua Tree, Laguna Beach, Lake Arrowhead, Santa Barbara, Pismo Beach, Big Sur, San Francisco and Napa, to name a few, without having to board a plane. This isn't an endorsement to move to Los Angeles, however, because for every good thing that comes along with living here, there is something that makes your everyday life harder (like income tax). You have been warned.

Recently I had the opportunity to take a one-day road trip to San Diego to visit my older brother, Chris, who was in town for an international GIS convention. People always ask me what GIS is and what exactly my brother does for a living. I wish I could tell you. Here is what I know - GIS stands for Geographic Information Systems. Chris works for the state of Texas. He somehow uses geographic information to help areas that are affected by natural disasters and also helps the state lease out government owned property. That is the extent of my knowledge about his career. Does this remind any one of Friends and how no one could explain what Chandler did for a living?

I spent the two-hour drive from LA to San Diego explaining GIS to Justin (not really) and as soon as we had Chris in tow, we headed twenty minutes North to beautiful La Jolla. Since moving to Los Angeles I've visited San Diego a handful of times, but I haven't been back to La Jolla since my first visit there with my family in college. It was just as scenic as I remembered, only this time I was able to partake in the local brewery scene.



We visited the Karl Strauss Brewing Company for a flight of tasty microbrews. And since you shouldn't drink on an empty stomach, we tried some appetizers too. You know, for responsibility's sake.



The bartender may or may not have been bored since we were the only ones beer tasting at 11:30 a.m. on a Sunday, but that worked to our benefit because he gave us each an extra tasting of a draft that he added raspberry to to compliment the flavors. Delish!

With our bellies full of local beer, we took in the beautiful La Jolla views.


Had to visit the seals, of course.


It was a fun day with two very important men in my life. Yes ladies I know my brother is handsome but he's taken so you'll have to get in line ;)


Update: Justin was offended that he didn't get a photo in this post too so we took his photo last night to include here. This is the one he deemed blog-worthy.  Chula's face says she sure hopes he doesn't hold babies that way.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Wrap it Up

It's time to finally close the books on my Hawaii trip. Though recapping my time there does seem to extend my vacation, I've been back for three weeks now so I should probably get over it, huh? Would you be able to get over running wild on horseback up the mountains of Maui? Because that happened.

To be fair, the rest of the two-hour (guided) horseback ride I took with my dad and aunt Anna consisted of slowly tromping down the mountain to the ocean while red Hawaiian dirt showered my face/entered my nostrils/filled my mouth and eyes. However, there were one or two redeeming qualities of our ride. One - the beautiful ocean-side at the bottom of the mountain, and two - that we were allowed to let our horses run part of the way back to the ranch. I can't recall anything as exhilarating and yet slightly terrifying as sitting atop a horse galloping at its full capacity. That thing fleeeeeeeeeeew! I was simultaneously giddy with excitement and envisioning myself flying off the horse to my death. I determined that pictures of me on a horse aren't flattering, so here's a picture of my horse, Star.


The ocean-side that greeted us at the bottom of the mountain.


We had many more awesome home-cooked meals at the vacation rental.



 And this amazing macadamia nut crusted chicken sandwich with basil mayo while out one day.


But I think the best thing by far was when my mom got the crazy idea to eat Bananas Foster for breakfast. We served it with banana macadamia nut pancakes and it changed my life. I told her that if I ever open a restaurant I'm going to put this dish on the menu and name it after her.



I miss my family already!


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Roasted Shrimp and Orzo (minus the shrimp)

Remember that time I went to Hawaii? Boy, that was a good time. I still have a couple of things to post regarding my trip recap, but first I want to share this recipe makeover with you because the inspiration for it actually began back in that grand kitchen in Maui. You may recall that I raved about an orzo dish my talented mom made for Anna's birthday dinner our second night in Hawaii. Everyone loved it and gobbled it up and there were absolutely no leftovers. Upon further investigation, I learned that the recipe was of course from kitchen goddess, Ina Garten.The original recipe can be found here.

Now you really can't go wrong with Ina, but if you know me in real life then you know that I don't really eat seafood of any kind. I find it mostly strange texturally and hello, it smells funny. This has been a source of shame for me and my family for many, many years. How can I call myself a foodie and just pass on all seafood? I don't have the answer for you but I will say that I've tried seafood from the finest chefs and meh, it just doesn't do it for me. So when I say that I loved the Roasted Shrimp and Orzo dish, I of course mean that I ate it sans shrimp. When I recreated it at home last night, it was still sans shrimp, so I decided to keep it vegetarian completely and bulk it up with the addition of mini heirloom tomatoes and avocado.


I'm sort of obsessed with these mini heirlooms from Trader Joe's.


They add so much vibrant color to any dish. I wonder if I still get my lycopene from the yellow ones...


This happened when I chopped the red onions. Blerg.


The final fresh and easy product contained orzo, cucumbers, red onion, mini heirlooms, feta, dill, olive oil with lemon, salt and pepper and big slices of California avocado. Serve as a main dish with salad and olive bread on the side or as the perfect picnic side dish. It tastes great warm, chilled or at room temp so it's very versatile.


PS, Justin said he'd never had orzo in his life before last night but I have a feeling this is like the time he said he'd never seen white kitchen cabinets and then his mom told me they had white kitchen cabinets in their house that he spent ummmm almost his whole life in.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Sit, Shake...Good Girl!

Big news over here! I don't have any children so that means you won't be reading about how long baby slept or how much baby ate on this blog. But what I do have is an equally interesting and adorable dog-child that I've already introduced you to. (Disclaimer: I don't hate babies, I just love love love doggies.) As I mentioned in that introductory post, Chula has ever only been capable of doing two tricks, (if you can even call them tricks) which are "sit" and "lie down". Recently, Justin has been determined to teach her to "shake" for no reason other than it would be extra cute to see her lift her little paw on command. Welp, now I can finally say that Chula's cuteness has in fact been taken to another level by the mastery of this trick! Just when we had almost given up hope that she could learn anything new, she proved us wrong.

And now the video proof...


video

Good job, Justin! It only took a few months...

Friday, July 8, 2011

Independence Day

We interrupt your regularly scheduled Hawaii updates to bring you the following announcement. It is time to reveal what I was up to in the kitchen this 4th of July. It's already July 8, after all, and I know you've been sitting on the edge of your seat waiting for me to share what came of that box of Nilla Wafers and bushel of bananas. The answer is Old Fashioned Banana Pudding!


You see, while I was off gallivanting on the beaches of Maui,  Justin was home in LA under the supervision of his mom, who kindly flew out from Michigan to help him with the pups and drive him to doctors appointments while he recovered from his back injury. She's a great cook and spoiled him with all sorts of requested dishes during her stay. She had every intention of making him banana pudding too, but when I got home from my trip the fruit bowl was overflowing with bananas and there was an accompanying box of Nilla Wafers. She never got around to the banana pudding :( But wait, we just got invited to a 4th of July BBQ and banana pudding would be the perfect dessert :) Also inspiration for Chula glamour shots apparently.


There was only one problem - I've never made banana pudding. And no I'm not talking Jell-O Instant Pudding, I'm talking made.from.scratch. Now everyone knows it's generally not a good idea to try a recipe or technique for the first time when baking for other people. If I ruined the pudding, then there might not be dessert for the BBQ. The horror! But I forged on and whisked and whisked over low-medium heat a combination of sugar, flour, egg yolks, half and half and vanilla until a thick custard formed. It took a good eight minutes or so of whisking but the recipe I based mine on warned me to take it low and slow or the pudding would burn. I heeded Jenna's advice and my custard turned out pretty darn perfect. I kept trying to snag a taste fresh off the stove but hot custard on the finger is quite pain-inducing. You have been warned.

I wanted a lot of banana throughout my pudding so once the custard was cooled I folded my banana slices into it and began construction. Nilla Wafers on bottom, layer of banana pudding, another layer of Nilla Wafers, another of pudding and then top it all off with Cool Whip and Nilla Wafer crumbles. It looked great, but did it taste great? I think we can safely infer that yes, it went over quite well at the BBQ, especially with the fellow Southerners.


While we're on the subject of banana pudding, my favorite banana pudding in the whole world is from Rudy's Bar-B-Q. 


Rudy's locations are mostly in Texas so I don't get to have it nearly as often as I'd like, that and their brisket, which is also my absolute fave. This homemade pudding might just hold me over until my next Texas visit, but brisket on the other hand, is not even worth eating if it's not Rudy's extra moist.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Black Rock

I knew my internal clock was off when I woke up unassisted at 6 a.m. on my first full day in Maui. Normally, Becky does not do 6 a.m. However, the sun was shining and the killer views were calling so I followed a trail of evidence in the kitchen that led me to believe that my dad was up early as well. A fresh pot of Kona Coffee was brewed and the bagels and cream cheese were dipped into. I poured myself a cup of the Vanilla Macadamia Nut goodness and sipped it slowly as I looked out over the ocean and waited for others to wake.


Once Jennifer was up she offered to lead a morning yoga session so we did our sun salutations and downward dogs with the view in front of us. Practicing yoga in the open air with an ocean breeze sure beats a studio class, let me tell ya.

After yoga we hit the road to a beach called Black Rock. Everyone else on the island must have read about this spot too because it was packed. I didn't expect there to be any decent snorkeling at such a crowded beach but we started to hear rumor of two or three sea turtles being spotted in the shallow water. I threw on my snorkel and jumped in, hoping to see a turtle for myself. Sure enough, after I swam only ten feet from the shore, I spotted a mammoth sea turtle swimming slowly in the ocean. A few other swimmers and I were sooooo close to it and he didn't pay any mind. This guy must have been at least 100 years old, judging by his size, and I'm still so thankful and giddy that I got to see him in his natural habitat. Such a memorable experience!


After saying goodbye to my turtle friend, we grabbed some cocktails by the beach. I opted for the Lava Flow, of course. I could go for one of those right now...


The entire purpose of our Maui vacation was to celebrate my aunt Anna's 50th birthday, so that night my mom prepared a really delicious dinner and knocked out a tablescape fitting of our location. Unfortunately I didn't get any photos of the meal but it contained an orzo dish with shrimp, cucumbers, red onion and feta dressed with olive oil and lemon juice with caprese salad and olive bread. I'm hoping to get the orzo recipe from mom and recreate the dish very soon, minus the shrimp of course :)



After dinner Anna opened gifts (including a Kindle!) and then we had birthday s'mores made in the fire pit. This time, I made sure to get a photo for you.


 Take me back to Maui please!

Monday, July 4, 2011

LAX to OGG

My Hawaiian adventure didn't exactly start off all sand, sunsets and Lava Flows. I arrived to LAX about an hour and a half early for my flight to Maui, which was the same United Airlines flight the rest of the travelers in my group were on. The group included my aunt Anna, me, my parents, my sister Jennifer and her boyfriend Cody and my brother Chris and his girlfriend Kati. They had all flown from Dallas so they were already at the gate for our Los Angeles flight when I arrived to the airport. The check-in line was slow but I wasn't worried since I had provided myself with some extra time. My care-free attitude quickly went out the window when I hit the security line and realized it wasn't so much a line as it was a holding area. The LAX employees were only putting people through security whose flights were in the next 15-20 minutes. In the end, I wasn't put through to security until my flight had already started boarding.

This was highly annoying for many reasons. The first being the principle, that people who planned accordingly and allowed themselves time to grab breakfast, coffee, a magazine, etc. were instead forced to stand in a non-moving line until the last possible moment that they could make their flights while people who arrived to security late were escorted through immediately. The second reason is that I hadn't yet been assigned a seat on my flight, so when I finally arrived to my gate (reminder, plane is boarding now) there was already a long line of people waiting to be assigned seats on the oversold plane. I still don't know how or why I ended up with a seat number. Maybe the universe knew I'd had enough upset for one day having to leave Justin behind and then facing the cattle corral security line with no caffeine in my system. As I spoke with the ticket agent and pleaded with her to allow me on the flight with the rest of my family, I could hear the couple next to me being told there were no more seats on the plane and they would have to take the next flight. I didn't question it when I was handed a boarding pass with a seat number on it, and I consciously tried not to appear happy or relieved, for fear that others who had been turned down for the flight would see my boarding pass and jump on it like a pack of wild dogs.

After the morning that seemed to last forever and has me scowling whenever I hear the words "United" and "LAX," I was happy to arrive to Majestic Maui, the most beautiful vacation rental I could have imagined, perched on the hills above Lahaina.





Our first day in Maui was spent surveying our temporary digs and breaking in the gourmet kitchen with a yummy and healthy dinner by Kati.


We're all still perplexed by the design of this outdoor shower.


But alas, today is the 4th of July, so I'm off to celebrate. I spent today cooking up some holiday treats that I'll share soon. One of them involves these items. Can you guess what it is?