Friday, December 27, 2013

MTO Café - Downtown Las Vegas, NV

It's time for Christmas in Vegas again, and as you might already know, I have long fatigued of the general noise, chaos and clusterfuckiness of The Strip.

Lucky for us, the Downtown area is getting some much needed TLC and provides us with opportunities for food and entertainment a little more in line with our generally relaxed and groovy approach to things.

BTW, say what you want about the people the rest of us think smell like hipsters, but they're often responsible for seeing the potential in neglected real estate and turning it into something that's a lot more creative, fun, interesting, and generally palatable for this non-hipster to partake in than some nightmarish Stepford upscale chain hell.

MTO Café is one of those places done really well.

FOOD: Great preparations with respect for high quality ingredients without being stuffy or pretentious. We LOVED The Hangover Burger - every last element of it was perfectly delicious and indulgent without being a gutbomb. And they pour Lavazza here, which is always a good thing in my book. 

The Avocado Omelette

The Hangover Burger

AMBIENCE: Chill, funky, minimal decor with a hip background soundtrack kept at a conversation friendly volume. All the booths have outlets so you're well connected. 

French Onion Soup

Donkeys With Headphones

SERVICE: Friendly, attentive and unobtrusive. Oh, and they also have entertainment for the kids. :P

An easy recommendation in Downtown Vegas. We will definitely be back!

MTO Café - Downtown Vegas


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Repurposing Experiment: Wine & Beer Bottle Garden Pavers

As some of y'all know, there isn't much going on in our back yard except four small garden planters, a couple of wisteria vines, and a whole lotta dirt.

The plan is to add to the garden little by little - with both edible and decorative additions. And to do it as sustainably, efficiently and creatively as possible.

We've already repurposed a gate as a vine trellisand I've made these Wine Cork & Bamboo Skewer Plant Markers.

The next experiment is to see if we can use all our used beer and wine bottles to create a meandering walkway of pavers (and possibly also more planter beds).

Today, we buried these beer bottles upside down, packed them super tight with moist dirt, and hosed them down to pack them even more and stepped on them to feel if they give solid footing.

So far, so good.

If it holds up, we'll create our little meandering path of beer and wine bottle pavers a paver or two at a time when we have opportunity. I think the green bottles will look specially neato.

I also have this theory that the condensation from them will help keep the ground moist for the plants we eventually plan to plant around them. That'll take a little white longer to observe accurately methinks... ^-

Will report back with developments. :)


Saturday, December 21, 2013

After-Rain Backyard Foraging: Dandelion Greens

I love rain for so many reasons, one of them being that after a good bout of rain, I get a bounty of tender, delicious and totally FREE organically grown dandelion greens out of it.

If you've never had them before, when young and tender, dandelion greens have a green, earthy flavor to them and this deliciously slightly medicinal quality to them that just feels healthful to eat.

In addition to being super high in Vitamins A and K, dandelion greens have been used homeopathically the world over to cleanse the blood and treat digestive disorders, among other things.

My favorite way to eat them? Raw as part of a Korean style lettuce wrap called sangchu ssam, bundled with other greens and herbs, a slice of pork belly, a little rice, and a schmear of seasoned hot soybean and/or chili paste. YUMS. :)


Quick & Easy Bibim Bap (aka Bibimbap)

*I was feeling specially explain-y today, so this post provides a lot of background and information. But don't let the length of this post discourage you from making the dish. It really is fairly easy to make, and it's such a deliciously balanced dish that has such broad flavor appeal that I'm pretty sure you won't regret trying it. And if you're not feeling specially read-y today, just scroll down for the recipe. ;)*

I think it was August of last year when I hosted a Bulgogi, Banchan & Bibim Bap Cookalong on G+, and I remember being pleasantly surprised by how many of us love this dish.

And I also remember several people telling me they just don't have time to make it.

Which is understandable because if made in the traditional way, it is a little bit of a PITA.

You have to slice the beef and marinate it for the bulgogi component, then you have to chop the veg and blanch it and then season it - at least three kinds of it, and each one separately - to make the banchan. Then you have to steam the rice. Then you have to season the gochujang (if you like it seasoned, as I do). And then you have to cook the bulgogi. And then you have to fry the eggs. And then you have to assemble the dish - rice first, then a colorful and neatly arranged array of banchan, then a modest serving of bulgogi, and lastly the egg...

And let's not even talk about all the dirty dishes and cooking vessels left in the wake.

This explains a lot of why Korean food out might cost more than you expect it to. It is extremely labor intensive.

But admittedly, all that work does result in a quite delicious and uniquely Korean creation that provides such a wonderful variety of flavors and textures in one bowl, it's no wonder so many of us love it as much as we do.

In many Korean households, the quickest and easiest way to make bibim bap at home is to take out several containers of storebought or mom-made banchan, maybe even including bulgogi, and the steamed rice that's a staple in the fridge, put that all together in a bowl and zap it while you fry up an egg, put the egg on top and then mix it up with some drizzled toasted sesame oil and some gochujang that may or may not be seasoned, depending on whether you had some seasoned gochujang left over from another day sitting in the fridge.

!Voila! 10 minute bibim bap.

And seriously - if going to the Korean market and buying some banchan is an option for you, I highly recommend it. Because there is a special chewycrunchy texture achieved by that long hand technique of blanching and squeezing the veg that isn't quite replicated by any other method, and which is also part of the charm of a proper bowl of bibim bap. Not to mention all the work you'll save yourself.

But if that isn't an option for you, and you get that bibim bap urge from time to time when you don't feel like driving to a restaurant and dropping at least ten bucks for a bowl of it, I would recommend this option. You'll get 4 to 6 servings out of roughly 45 to 60 minutes of work at a cost of roughly 3 to 4 dollars per serving at the most.

Lest I should lose my half-Korean card, I will tell you straight up that this is not going to exactly replicate a proper bowl of bibim bap made the long hand way, but I will tell you that it'll hit all the flavor notes and most of the texture ones and that lots of Koreans eat it just this way in a pinch.

Quick & Easy Bibim Bap
Makes 4 to 6 servings
Time: 45 to 60 minutes

A few notes:

I chose carrots, zucchini and cabbage for a widely accessible and good variety of flavors and textures as well as a relatively low water content that can all be cooked at the same time, and without releasing too much liquid, which would make the dish soggy. Spinach and sprouts are typical veg in many a bowl of bibim bap, but neither of them would work that well in this quick and easy preparation.

You might also try very finely julienning the veg and using it raw for extra crunch and chew, leaving it to the ground beef or mushrooms and gochujang to lend seasoning to the dish. I actually enjoy it that way quite often, and it's so good and cleansing for your insides, too. (Not to mention it shaves a little time off your prep.)

If you're opting to go all veg, I think brown mushrooms like shiitake or crimini are ideal for the extra earthy umami depth they bring, but really whatever mushrooms you like or have handy will work just fine.

Calrose rice is typical in Korean cooking and would most closely replicate a typical bibim bap, but you don't need to go out and buy Calrose if you don't have it. I just use whatever rice I have on hand - these days, the default in our house is Jasmine. That said, if your default rice is brown rice, then, as you know, unless you have a pressure cooker, you're going to add a significant amount of waiting time while the rice cooks if you're cooking everything in one session. You might opt to make your rice on another day and just have it handy when you're ready to make the rest of the dish components.

If you don't have gochujang on hand, or just aren't that into spicy stuff, you can just add a drizzle of soy sauce and toasted sesame oil in lieu of gochujang before mixing up the rice. If you do like spicy stuff and don't have gochujang, try a drizzle of soy sauce plus a srizzle (of sriracha).

Lastly, as always in cooking, the order in which you do things can greatly increase efficiency, so I'm prescribing a specific order in which to make the components that's designed for the greatest speed.


Ok. :)

- 2 cups rice + water for cooking

- seasoned gochujang

- 2 Tablespoons minced garlic (about 4 large cloves)

- 1.5 Tablespoons vegetable or regular olive oil
- 1/4 medium head of cabbage sliced into 1/8" strips
- 1 large carrot, julienned
- 1 medium zucchini, julienned
- 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 Tablespoon toasted sesame oil

(My related knife skills video HERE.)

- 1 Tablespoon oil
- 1 pound 80/20 ground beef OR 1 8 oz basket of mushrooms if you're going vegetarian (sliced)
- 2.5 Tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 Tablespoon sugar
- 1 Tablespoon toasted sesame oil
- 1 green onion, chopped (whites included)

- eggs for topping

- optional: julienned cucumber for garnish and a little extra refreshing crunch (I didn't have any on hand yesterday when I made this)

1) Put your rice on to cook per your usual method, whether that be stovetop or rice cooker.

2) Make your seasoned gochujang. (Or, if you like it plain, don't season it and save yourself yet more time! :D)

3) Do the knifework on your veg.

4) In a large saute pan or wok, bring 1.5 Tablespoons of oil up to high heat, then put in your cabbage, carrots, zucchini, salt, 1 Tablespoon minced garlic, and 1 Tablespoon toasted sesame oil and toss just to evenly distribute the seasoning and oil throughout the veg and no longer. You want the veg to retain a lot of crunch. (Or, as I suggested earlier, just chop it up slightly finer and go raw with it.)

Set the veg aside on a platter, spreading it out in a thin single layer so the residual heat won't continue to cook it.

5) In the same pan or wok, add a Tablespoon of oil, bring it back up to temp, and put your ground beef in, breaking it up with a spoon or spatula as you go. When you've thoroughly broken up the ground beef, add in 1 Tablespoon minced garlic, 2.5 Tablespoons soy sauce, 1 Tablespoon sugar, 1 Tablespoon toasted sesame oil, and the green onions and toss all ingredients until the seasoning is evenly distributed. Let the beef continue to cook and soak up the seasoning for another 2 or 3 minutes.

If you're using mushrooms, saute them until they begin to brown and then add the same seasonings as with the ground beef.

That combination of ingredients, BTW, is your most basic beef bulgogi seasoning.

Set aside.

At this point, your rice is probably cooked through and should be fluffed so it doesn't get sticky.

6) In a separate well oiled pan, fry up as many sunny side up eggs as bowls of bibim bap you're planning to serve. I find that starting off with a not quite fully preheated medium heat and not higher greatly increases your chance of thoroughly cooked whites without cooking the yolk, which you don't want for this dish. Unless you're runny yolk averse, in which case, cook the yolk as much as you need not to gross yourself out.

7) While your eggs are cooking, begin to assemble your bibim bap. Layering 1 to 1.5 cups cooked rice (depending on your appetite), followed by 1/6 to 1/4 of the veg that you've cooked, followed by 1/6 to 1/4 of the meat or mushrooms you've cooked, followed by a fried egg, and then followed by a gently placed big pinch of julienned cucumber if you like right on top.

Drizzle with a little bit of toasted sesame oil and serve with the gochujang on the side so each diner can season their bibim bap to taste.

If you're new to gochujang, I recommend starting off with a teaspoon or so. I usually find about a Tablespoon or so to my liking - hot enough without making the dish too salty.

And then, because the name of the dish requires it, MIX everything together - as you would gently toss a salad - so you get some of each component of the dish in every bite.

Some Koreans will make a big fuss about how you have to do this mixing bit with your chopsticks so as to allow each grain of rice to maintain its shape and integrity. My take on that? If you've cooked your rice properly, you don't have to worry about breaking up the grains in the mixing process so much that it's going to affect your experience of the dish. On the other hand, if you've added too much water to your rice that a spoon mixing is going to make it too mushy to enjoy, your chopsticks aren't going to save you.

And finally, dig in and ENJOY your quick and easy balanced, healthful, and delicious bowl of bibim bap! ^^


P.S. If you didn't make all 4 to 6 servings, then guess what? You have all the components left to make yourself an even quicker and easier 10 minute bibim bap tomorrow! :D

Friday, December 20, 2013

So Last Week: December 9th - December 15th, 2013

This supposed to be Monday recap just keeps getting pushed further and further back.

But sometimes life pushes these inessential kinds of things onto the back burner a little longer than we'd like. Also 18 month olds. They generally have a way of resetting priorities moment to moment.

My job is to remember that it is all good...

MONDAY 12.09

I made a simple Thai-inspired Roast Chicken dinner with a Green Apple Slaw designed to get rid of some super tart green apples I could not sell to my family any other way.

The Man and I ended up loving the slaw, and I'm sure this recipe will be a repeat on our rotation.


Mads had a school choir concert on Tuesday night, so we headed up there to watch her and then took the big monsters for Vietnamese Food at Pho Bac Co in Irvine.

Bun Thit Nuong - Vietnamese Vermicelli with Grilled Pork

I love that Mads loves to sing. Yet another thing that connects us as we enter a phase of her life in which I'm sure we'll find a few other things to disconnect us for the time being. 

I love me some Mads. <3
P.S. Fluorescent multi-purpose room lighting, mang...


As is usually the case the day after we attend a function with lots of new things and strange faces, Izz was a velcro baby, and we didn't get much done.

But I did make some of this Spaghetti with Anchovies & Fresh Tomatoes for dinner, which is one of my favorite quick and easy pasta dishes.

Again - all good. Just breathe and enjoy, Shinae...


I shared my Easy & Accessible Kimchi recipe.

And then we met up with our friend Daryn to bid him Bon Voyage on his return to Oz at Panca Peruvian Cuisine in Oceanside. 

Nice, chill vibe, great food and staff. We will definitely be back!

FRIDAY 12.13

I don't remember what I was working on that day, but I vaguely remember wanting to eat everything without having to cook anything. Hence these Ham & Avocado Wraps for a snack.

And then I was eventually motivated by our dwindling December budget to cook something for dinner, which, with y'alls' help in deciding, was Vietnamese Caramelized Pork.


The first of two 13th birthday celebrations for Mads, we went out for bowling and pizza, per her request.

Killer Pizza From Mars - The kids' local fave...

The people at Surfside Bowl in Oceanside are just so nice and friendly. I don't bowl that often, but I like bowling there when I do.

SUNDAY 12.15

At long last - The Beef Wellington Cookalong!

I'm still trying to find the best way to conduct these Cookalongs given the tools I have available to me. Admittedly, it's been logistically challenging to get as involved with video production and the other value-added features I'd love to be able to offer more of with Izz being the age she is right now as well as us wanting to maximize our limited time with our big monsters.

I appreciate your patience and understanding as I navigate my way through it all. :)

The meal, by the way, was a real holiday treat that I haven't enjoyed in ages, and I'm glad our community selected this menu.

This week has been more challenging than most, and I'm looking forward to some downtime with my fam this weekend.

Hope you're getting some time to breathe this holiday season, too. :)


Thursday, December 12, 2013

How To Make Kimchi (It's Probably Not As Hard As You Think)

Printable Version (Recipe Only)

So you think you wanna try your hand at making kimchi...

Well let me start by saying that, as with so many popular ethnic foods, there are A LOT of recipes out there. And let me further say that a lot of them are not to be trusted.

Not because they're not mine. Because there are lots of great kimchi recipes out there that are not only not mine, but are more typical and authentic, if that's your concern.

But because they attempt to recreate the flavor of kimchi while sidestepping a crucial and necessary element of kimchi making: FERMENTATION.

And so they kind of piece together what the writer understandably thinks are the requisite elements of cabbage kimchi: cabbage, salt, some kind of chili element, and some kind of souring agent (kimchi is not supposed to get its sour from vinegar or other acids added in at the beginning of the process), without the understanding that your kimchi is not kimchi if it isn't designed to ferment.

It's some kind of pickle, but it's not kimchi.

Before I start sounding too terribly pedantic, let me assure you that I am not the Authenticity Police. As a cook who pulls from all kinds of food cultures to produce what I think are tasty results that still fall reasonably within the parameters of the dish in question, and as you will see from my kimchi recipe, I am not about demanding authenticity simply for the sake of it.

But you simply can't produce that je ne sais quois that distinguishes kimchi from any ol' hot and spicy cabbage pickle without fermentation.

And you also can't encourage fermentation if you use too much salt, which is another common issue I've seen in many kimchi recipes. Too little is a problem because it allows growth of the kinds of bacteria you don't want, but that's not nearly as common an error as too much, which inhibits the growth of the kind of bacteria you DO want: Lactobacillus kimchiiamong others. (No joke. It's a thing.)

So if you're not going to make this recipe, I would encourage you to find a recipe that has, among other things:

- a reasonable amount of salt

- the use of chili flakes and not some other kind of chili based condiment for the heat element

- some sugar, to round out the flavor

- some rice product like rice flour, rice powder, or in the case of my recipe, plain ol' steamed rice, which boosts the level of fermentable sugars and also helps the seasoning paste adhere to the cabbage.

The selling points of my recipe as opposed to the more authentic Korean ones? Well, not because I'm trying to sell you anything but because I understand that people are just generally intimidated by the thought of making their own kimchi and would probably like some extraordinary assurance that their trouble will be well rewarded...

My recipe is exact, reliable, small enough, and probably tasty enough that you won't regret making it, even if you decide you want to go more hard core the next time.

AND it uses what are likely more accessible ingredients 

- fish sauce, 

- crushed chili flakes (like the kind you put on your pizza or pasta), and 
- steamed white rice 

in lieu of the more traditional/typical

- brined microshrimp (saewoo juht),

- gochugaru (Korean red chili flakes), and
- sweet rice flour (chapssal garu)

that might be harder for you to get your hands on if you don't live a reasonable distance from a Korean market or don't feel like ordering those ingredients online, entire packages of which would probably take a long time for you to use up otherwise.

Easy, Accessible Kimchi
Makes roughly 2 quarts (a half gallon). 

Time: About 30 minutes active time. 90 minutes inactive time dry brining the cabbage with salt.
Printable Version

- 4 to 5 pounds Napa cabbage, cut into roughly 1"x 2" pieces (should be about 30 cups of chopped raw cabbage)

*Choose heads that are dense and heavy for their size, which means the leaves are fresher. The best way to know if a head is heavy for its size is to pick up a few that are about the same size and feel their weight in your hands. If you, like my kids, hate the leafy green parts, look for the heads that have more stem than leaf, and a lighter yellowish green color to the leafy part rather than a darker green color.

- 1 bunch green onions, washed, roots trimmed, and cut into 2 inch segments (it's not pictured here because I forgot them when I took these pics, but you can just add them with the cabbage at the beginning)

- 5 Tablespoons kosher salt (about 10% less if you're using regular table salt)

Paste Ingredients

- 1/4 cup minced garlic (about 5 or 6 large cloves)

- 1/4 cup minced fresh ginger root (about a 2" segment)

- 1/3 cup crushed red chili flakes (like the kind you get with your pizza - you can find 13 to 16 oz. pouches of this in the Mexican spice section at most any grocery store) 1/4 cup for mild, 1/2 cup for extra spicy - I used 1/2 cup.

If you have gochugaru and would like to use it, I'd start with about 1/3 cup, give it a taste and add more before packing if you'd like. The kimchi pictured up top is using a blend of crushed red chili flakes and gochugaru - about 1/4 cup of each.

- 1/4 cup steamed white rice, lightly packed. Short or long grain is fine - I used jasmine because it was handy. If your rice is stale at all, microwave it in a bowl with 2 Tablespoons of water for 60 seconds first)

- 1/4 cup fish sauce (like Tiparos or Three Crabs)

- 1/4 cup sugar

- 1/4 cup water for blending

- 1/3 cup of water for getting the remaining seasoning off the bowl and making additional brine

1) In a large stainless steel or mixing bowl, toss the raw cabbage and the salt together to pre-brine the cabbage. Make sure to thoroughly incorporate the salt throughout the cabbage. In 10 to 15 minutes, you should start to see the cabbage leach liquid and wilt.

Let the cabbage sit for about 1.5 hours, tossing and redistributing every 30 minutes to ensure even brining. 

2) After at least 90 minutes of pre-brining, rinse the cabbage with enough water to cover the cabbage by 4 or 5 inches by swishing the cabbage in the water 7 or 8 times. Remove the cabbage into a strainer and let the excess water drain while you prepare the paste.

just tossed in salt
2 hours later
after rinse and drain

3) Make the paste by putting all the paste ingredients into a blender and blend until you can't see the individual grains of rice. Pour the paste over the cabbage.

4) Get into the bowl with your hands and mix that paste into the cabbage until all the pieces are evenly and thoroughly coated. Here's MY KIMCHI COOKALONG VIDEO if you'd like to see how it's made. Disregard the squeezing part of the process - I have since discovered it's totally unnecessary if you drain the cabbage into a colander and let most of the excess water drip out.)

This one is with crushed red chili flakes only.

5) Pack your kimchi into a bottle or other tight-lidded container (This time I repurposed a half gallon kimchi jar) and use the last 1/3 cup of water to swish around the mixing bowl, pick up all the remaining paste, and pour that liquid on top of your kimchi. Remember to leave 2 inches of headspace at the top to allow for expansion as fermentation takes place.

Your batch of kimchi is now ready for fermentation in a dark but not cold place like the inside of your cupboard. Or, if you can find a warmish spot in your garage, you can put it there. (I know that's not always possible for cold climate people in the middle of winter.)

As it ripens, it's a good idea keep the lid unscrewed to relieve the pressurization caused by fermentation. (Your jar can literally explode from the pressure on a specially active fermentation day.)

A common question: 


You can eat the kimchi whenever you want. Fresh, just after it's been made, all the way up to when it's so incredibly old, ripe and stinky you could choke out a subway system by placing an open jar in one of the vents. It remains safe for human consumption for A VERY LONG TIME.

But as to when to refrigerate, just go out once a day every day to taste a piece, and when it gets to the ripeness you like, stick it in the fridge. It'll continue to ripen, but slowly.

When it gets really, REALLY ripe, we typically make things like kimchi jjigae (stew) or kimchi bokkeum bap (fried rice) with it.

And there you have it.

How to make your first batch of kimchi.

Not as hard as you might think, and, IMO, totally worth the not as much effort as you thought it was going to take. ^^


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Spaghetti With Anchovies & Fresh Tomatoes For 2

I'm a little fatigued of the kitchen this afternoon, and I have our Beef Wellington for December's Cookalong to make this weekend, so I'm taking it easy for dinner tonight and making this quick and easy pasta for two with some super sweet yellow tomatoes I got on clearance at the market as well as the rest of the Roma tomatoes in the house.

For those who've never tasted anchovies in this form, they are salty and yes, a little fishy. But when you cook them in olive oil with some garlic, they melt right into the oil, leaving this wonderfully complex, earthy, and pungent base for a pasta sauce that complements the sweet-tart flavor of the fresh tomatoes, and that lovely green, herbaceous, and slightly peppery bite of parsley.

I think it'll pair nicely with the Buscado 2011 Garnacha we got at BevMo's 5 Cent Wine Sale.

Izzy's been a velcro baby today, and I think I will most thoroughly enjoy a glass or two of wine with dinner tonight... :)

Spaghetti With Anchovies & Fresh Tomatoes For 2
Time: About 30 minutes

This dish comes together so quickly and easily. If you start your pasta in cold, shallow water before you prep the rest of the ingredients, it should be ready just about the time your sauce is.

If you only have Roma tomatoes, use 5 medium ones. If you only have grape tomatoes, use about 3 dozen of them.

If you don't have any fresh tomatoes at all, you can use a 15 oz. can of tomatoes, slightly drained.

- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- a 2 oz. can of anchovies in oil
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- about 20 stems of parsley, chopped
- 3 medium Roma tomatoes, chopped
- about a dozen grape tomatoes
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 8 ounces of spaghetti, boiled just under al dente

1) Preheat a large saute pan with 2 Tablespoons olive oil in it to medium. Add anchovies, garlic, and parsley and saute until the garlic starts to become translucent and the anchovies begin to melt.

2) Turn the heat up to medium high, add the tomatoes and chili flakes, and saute them until about hald of the cherry tomatoes have popped (or more if you prefer - I like the mixed texture of the different stages of doneness).

3) Toss in your pasta, stir to coat it with the sauce, and there you have it! 

A quick, easy, delicious pasta with the delicious tang of tomatoes and the deep, complex umami of anchovies.

Enjoy. :)