Gastronomy 101, a blog about food and Los Angeles restaurants

RECIPE: Soy Jalapeno and Apple-Cucumber Pickles

Previously, I've written about the type of simple meals I enjoy, in particular, bread and cheese, cured meats, pickles and fruit. Well, my love of simple meals not only encompasses the west, but the east as well. Some nights, instead of themore European bread and cheese based meals, I prefer a more Japanese-inspired meal of rice, vegetable and soup, or something similar.

So when I saw these recipes for pickles, inspired by Korean bahn chan--which are the little dishes of pickles that come out with your rice when you are eating Korean food--I immediately thought of how good they would be with a bowl of rice as a small and simple dinner.

The two pickles I chose, soy jalapenos, and apple-cucumber, were a good complement to each other. One was spicy and salty and tangy while the other was light and sweet and vinegary. I would definitely make the apple cucumber ones repeatedly, as they make a nice warm weather snack, and the flavor is delicate, but the ginger adds a bit of a kick.

I was afraid the soy jalapenos might be too hot to eat more than a few at a time, but the soy sauce really mellowed the heat so thatit was easy to just keep crunching away at these and it went really well with the sticky rice.

Balancing out the jalapenos, were the cool, vinegary cucumbers and apples with ginger. These were a good contrast to the spicy, and you could do worse than keep a jar of these around during the hot months.

Apple Cucumber Pickles
Soy-Pickled Jalapeños

NEWS: Riva Wine Class Dinner Series - RESCHEDULED

NOTE: I have received word that this first wine dinner has to be rescheduled. I will post an update once I have the proper date. For now, it will not be starting this Sunday.

If you love wine, and have some dollars to spare (lucky you!) and are looking for something fun to do this weekend, I offer for your consideration Riva's wine class dinner this weekend featuring "Tre Bicchiere" wines.

Chef Jason Travi will create a five course meal, each thoughtfully paired with a Tre Bicchiere wine to match. As you eat, you will get a tutorial for each wine presented, so you'll get a little learnin' along with your fine meal.

Riva is an Italian-inspired restaurant cheffed by a husband and wife team with impressive credentials. Jason and Miho Travi are most recently known for the restaurant Fraiche in Culver City. Riva is a slightly more casual counterpart to Fraiche with more of a focus on dishes inspired by the food of rustic Italian coastal villages.

I have no problem shilling this event for them, because Riva has my seal of approval. I've only had the opportunity to eat there once, but it got a big thumbs up from me. Everything I had was fresh, seasonal, and beautifully presented without being too stuffy or snooty. The service was nice, friendly and helpful and we had a great time.

The first wine class dinner will take place on Sunday, May 31 at 6:30 pm. Riva is located at 312 Wilshire Blvd. in Santa Monica. Call (310) 451-RIVA for information and reservations.

Click on the photo below for the menu:

INFO: Skeptical Eating

Recently, I had a comment on one of my past posts that made me think it was time to step away from the pretty pictures and the recipes for a minute and get on my soapbox. The comment was from a "J-Bone" and was appended to my post about a local root beer. The comment read as follows, in response to my opinion on liking Virgil's Root Beer, another local root beer besides the one I was reviewing:

"Wow how can you choose Virgil's crap with all those chemicals in it???? Dr. Tima is all natural and as NO CORN SYRUP!! It's the best hands down in natural soda!! All the other stuff tastes like mouthwash"
Reading this made me think that maybe now is a good time to do a post on skeptical eating. The classical definition of a skeptic is: "One who instinctively or habitually doubts, questions, or disagrees with assertions or generally accepted conclusions." In other words, don't believe everything you read or see, investigate for yourself to find the truth. And most especially, do not make assumptions about what you believe to be the truth, without bothering to actually find out.

Virgil's Root Beer does not contain "chemicals," nor does it contain corn syrup. Virgil's is made of natural ingredients, just as the root beer it is being compared to is. The person who made this comment obviously chose to think Virgil's contains "chemicals" and corn syrup because it is a more well-known brand, but never stopped to read the actual ingredient label. (Or perhaps they are a root beer company rep slagging off another brand anonymously, based on the e-mail I received from the company at suspiciously the same time, but ... it could just be a coincidence.)

If you want to know what is in something, look at the ingredients, don't make assumptions or listen to what other people say about "chemicals." If you want to know if something is good or bad for you, study the information out there to find out the truth as best you can.

Also, don't distrust something solely based on meaningless labels. The comment above falls under the logical fallacy known as the "appeal to nature" or the "naturalistic fallacy." The naturalistic fallacy is the premise that natural = good, while man-made or non-natural = bad. This is simply not so. There are plenty of poisons and toxic substances found in nature, and plenty of man-made substances that are beneficial and even save people from dying.

Make no mistake, ANY drink that is composed of a sweetener, flavors, and water, whether it be cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup, honey, or any other caloric sweetener is not in any sense healthy for you. It is empty calories, no matter how natural or unnatural the sweetener used is. The key is not whether you drink a natural root beer, or a coke, or a Mountain Dew, but that if you drink any one of those, you drink them in moderation, as a treat and not a regular beverage.

In the case of foods, natural is often healthier, but that doesn't mean you can take that as a rule. Ingredients that you don't understand or recognize aren't always bad for you. They may be natural, and if they are not, they may not be harmful. For example, xanthan gum is an additive that people often fear. It would be easy to look at this and think it is some kind of "chemical" or potentially harmful additive, when in fact it is perfectly natural--a fermented corn sugar. Xanthan gum is often used in vegan and gluten-free products, to improve texture or to substitute for gluten. Similarly, baking soda is something no one seems to have a problem putting into their baked goods and eating happily. Perhaps if we called it by its other name of "sodium bicarbonate," people would fear this common food additive, which is in fact, a chemical compound.

The best way for you to make sense of it is to take charge by learning what everything is, and whether it could be harmful or unhealthy to you by reading up in reliable, unbiased sources. Don't listen to random e-mails, websites that are trying to sell you something, or your friend who's been going to yoga class. Read authoritative sources and weigh the evidence and don't fall prey to fearmongering, which is most often perpetrated by people who are trying to sell you something. Most of the time it won't be harmful to anything but your pocketbook, but it has the potential to be harmful to your health, and living in fear isn't good for anyone.

RECIPE: Irish Soda Bread

I love to eat like a peasant. Or perhaps not like a peasant, but like a fake pastoral fairy tale peasant. Culinary education nowadays tells that me that peasants ate beer, beans, peas and "pottage" which was basically a soup made of everything you have. While I have been known to eat these things, particularly that last thing, from time to time, that's NOT what I mean.

What I mean is when you read a story about a young farmboy or girl heading off into the forest to make their fortune or meet the witch or save the princess or whatever, at some point they seem to stop and eat a simple meal of bread and cheese and fruit or meat. That's what I'm talking about. That mythical fairy tale traveling food or what the lady in the cottage where you stop to rest gives you.

I love to eat like that. One of my favorite meals is just bread, cheese, cured meats, fruit and/or perhaps: nuts, crackers, wine, pickles, or other small bites. And the best way to start is by making a rustic peasanty homemade bread.

I'm not sure how much more rustic you can get than Irish. I saw this recipe for Irish soda bread and I knew I had to make it. My original plan was to be tradtional and have it with some corned beef and some sort of cabbage slaw or something, but when I got to the market, I don't really know what happened, but next thing I knew the guy was handing me salami and cheese and then there was this wine in my basket!

It totally wasn't my fault, it was those evil French people who hate the Irish and want me to eat their meats and cheeses instead.

This bread is made in a baguette shape so you can eat it in small pieces. It's a slightly sweet bread, that could go equally well at breakfast or dinner, and is really good with butter or a creamy cheese.

But I recommend it with some cured meats, cheese, pickles, and a nice glass of rosé. Preferably while on your way to slay the dragon, or perhaps you can make it to serve to wayward princes or youngest daughters on a mission to find their fate.

RECIPE: Downey's Soda Bread adapted from Downey's in Santa Barbara, CA

RECIPE: Dark and White Chocolate Chunk Cookies

May is the month of many birthdays, and that means .... cookies! These cookies are like brownies in cookie form with a bit of ginger flavor and chunks of white chocolate. That's really all there is to say about them, so let me tell you a bit about the people they were meant for instead, because they are special people, who I'll call by their code names, TFS and Carrot.

Almost two years ago now, I met a dude on the internet. Up until really recently, I wasn't in the habit of meeting people that way, but when you work from home, suddenly you discover that you mostly don't talk to other people in the course of a normal day, like you do in an office. So you find yourself reaching out for social interaction in whatever way you can.

The first thing I remember about TFS is discovering we were the same age (always a relief on the internet) and exchanging mutual and virtual high fives over being age buddies. But that was about the extent of our interaction, until he dragged his wife to the place where we hung out on the internets and I suddenly started to notice that she was super cool. She liked cool things, and she said funny things and other people I talked to would tell me stories of how fun and great she was to talk to.

So I admit at this point I started to kiss her butt a little. But hey it worked! Gradually, we started responding to each other in this public forum more, and then we started adding each other to things like Facebook and and all those obligatory connection points, and suddenly almost without even realizing how, we had gone from complete strangers to talking almost every day. The completely unexpected had happened, which is that I made a real life friend from the internet. It's hard to imagine working at my computer now without my little chatting partner to help the tediousness go by more quickly.

So when J and I decided to take a trip to our nation's capital this spring, they made the extremely generous gesture of offering their home as a place for us to stay. We were a little nervous about staying with people we hadn't yet met in person, since we're both shy and slightly anti-social, but we gratefully took the offer and I'm so glad we did.

TFS and Carrot were generous and fun and they not only let us stay with them, but cooked us fabulous meals and played games with us and took us out to eat and were just excellent hosts. And we found that our friendship was just a great in real life as it is over a chat box and coming home I realized how lucky I am. Great friends are hard to come by, but with each new activity I involve myself in, whether it be school, a hobby, or just an internet website, I've managed to come away with some great friends and I now have a group of people I really love and admire.

Perhaps the only way I can show my affection is with cookies, but I hope all of the people in my life realize how much I really really appreciate you. My friends are worth more than a zillion dollars or a Nobel prize or even my dream job, and if you stick around, I will shower you with cookies forever!

If you have a special person out there that you haven't appreciated enough lately, perhaps some cookies are a good way to start. The recipe is from the March issue of Bon Appetit and can be found here: Dark and White Chocolate Chunk Cookies.

TRAVEL: Minibar

Knowing that we were going to be in Washington DC for our vacation this year, J and I definitely want to try to get a reservation at Minibar. Minibar is a restaurant within a restaurant, the creation of world-famous chef Jose Andres.

Minibar is tucked away in the back of Andres's Cafe Atlantico. It's just a small bar with only six seats. Each night, they do two seatings only, which means only 12 people can dine there per night. The lucky diners are served 25-30 courses of inventive dishes that are about the size of an amuse bouche. I was really nervous about that number ... I have a fairly small appetite, but I found that the portions and pacing were well done and I didn't get too full. In fact, I have had three course meals where I felt more stuffed than that, so I was relieved that I could easily eat everything.

In order to get a reservation, we had to call the restaurant exactly one month in advance on the dot of when they opened for calls in the morning. It was like a little lottery, and luckily we got lucky on our second day of trying.

As we walked in, we were seated at the regular bar first and assigned a personal waitress. We had to wait a few minutes for the first seating to be concluded and cleaned up, and we learned that our other four diners were a group of women who were just about to graduate from law school. Good luck, ladies! You definitely deserved a nice meal with what you are about to go through.

Below is a slide show containing the pictures of each course and some of the area behind the bar. They are arranged in order of courses or you can click here to see them as a Flicker set. It was an immensely long meal, so I'm going to just do a quick description/blurb about each dish.


  • Olive Oil "Bon Bon": This was olive oil that had been made into a candy-like form and then rested on top of a powdered balsamic vinegar. It was really visually stunning and it was a neat little thing to taste, basically just olive oil and vinegar with different textures than you are used to.
  • Beet "Tumbleweed": This was beet that had been cut into thin strips and then dried and formed into a ball and dried and made crunchy. It tasted similar to a potato chip and was really beautiful to look at.
  • "Mojito": The "mojito" was a sort of jelly that had the flavors of a mojito - mint, lime and sugar, and was kind of effervescent and liquidy in the center. It was tasty and really fun to eat. People make fun of molecular gastronomy, but this is the kind of thing they're really miss out on. Experiencing unexpected textures and aspects of food is really fun as a special experience.
  • "Bagels and Lox": This was a play on bagels and lox using a suggestion of the ingredients. The "bagel" was represented by a crunchy cone, the "lox" by the big juicy salmon roe on top, and the cream cheese by the cream inside the cone.
  • "Dragon's Breath" Popcorn: This won the prize for the most fun dish of the evening. We were given a small popcorn cake that looked kind of like a mini rice cake and told to eat it right away while looking at each other. (That's why my picture was so bad, I was trying to take it quickly). The cake was frozen with nitrogen and when you ate it, the "smoke" from it would come out of your nose when you breathed out, making you look like a dragon. I really wish I could try this one again, just because it was so fun and cool to breathe smoke like a dragon.
  • Boneless Chicken Wing: This was a pretty straightfoward dish. It was exactly what it says, a boneless chicken wing, with thai flavors. Despite the fact that it was one of the most mundane dishes, quite a few people remembered it as a favorite at the end of the night.
  • Steamed Brioche Bun with Caviar: This was one of my all-around favorites for the night, because in both execution, presentation, and taste it was really successful. First of all, I love the presentation, the dumpling came out perfectly round and smooth and putting it in the tiny steamer was so cute! It also was a really luxurious dish - brioche and caviar, and it tasted great - rich, but not too much so.
  • Blue Cheese and Almond: This was sort of like a little tart, with the blue cheese part within a shell that was made of almond somehow. The shell was rather soft and the flavor of the cheese was fairly mild. I found this dish okay, but not very memorable.
  • Cotton Candy Eel: I really can't believe I'm saying this, but this was my very favorite dish of the evening. This was probably the most difficult concept, because it looked just absolutely gross. The cotton candy looked like some massive growth of mold, and it was dusted with some spice so it looked like something that they found under the bed when they moved out of their apartment. But flavorwise, it was amazing. The flavor profile was Japanese, and the eel was juicy and delicious and wrapped in shiso leaf. I absolutely loved this and would definitely eat it again and again.
Flavors & Textures
  • "Sun Dried" Tomato Salad: The "sun dried" tomatoes were a kind of gelee of sun-dried tomato. It tasted exactly right but there wasn't much to this dish. It was kind of like the suggestion of a caprese or something. Even with a meal of this type, I like a little something more - this was too much of a "hint" of the real thing.
  • Zucchini in Textures: This was an amazing dish, and unfortunately it was designed to be not my thing. I have a slight aversion to zucchini, although I still eat them, but mostly for me it was the texture here. This dish is a work of art, and very painstakingly done and I do appreciate it on that level. The seeds are picked one by one from the zucchini, and then they are surrounded by a zucchini gel which is all layered on top of a zucchini puree.
  • Green Almonds and "Raisins": The "raisins" here were actually spherified (and wrinklified) portions of a 1979 port. The green almonds were coated in a marcona almond paste, so that they were almond to the max. I loved the fake raisins, but found the almonds a little bland. This was one of those molecular gastronomy moments where the "fake" thing made you want the real thing more than what you were eating. I would have rather just had the "raisins" with some actual marcona almonds, I think.
  • Parmesan "Egg" with Migas: This dish was up at the top of my list for favorites of the meal. It was clever, tasty, and satisfying and I liked it a lot. It appeared to be an egg with a pile of crunchy panko-like bread crumbs, but the egg white was actually made of parmesan and contained a real yolk, that bust out when you put your fork in it like a real egg does. I would definitely have this for breakfast any day.
  • Smoked Oysters with Apples and Juniper: I'm an oyster lover, but I think even those who shy away from oysters could deal with this dish. The smoked flavor makes the oyster meat really appealing in a non-fishy way. The apples and juniper were hints of flavor within the foam, really subtle and nice.
  • "Guacamole": This was a fun contrast with the rustic guacamole being made by hand at the tables behind us. This "guacamole" was a frozen tomato wrapped around with thin slices of avocado like a sushi roll. It was sprinkled with cilantro and crumbs of tortilla chips. It was pretty delicious and I loved the contrast of textures with the icy tomato, the soft avocado and the crunchy chips.
  • Sea Urchin Ceviche with Hibiscus: This was a fresh sea urchin flown in directly from Catalina, with a hibiscus foam. The dish was visually stunning, but I couldn't take the texture. I have unfortunately, a problem with certain textures and this was one of them. I ate about half of this and then had to give the rest to J. He loved it though.
  • Salmon-Pineapple "Ravioli" with Crispy Quinoa: This was J's least favorite dish of the night (and when I say that, I mean, least awesome). It was a nice dish, but compared to some of the others it just wasn't a standout at all.
  • New England Clam Chowder: This was yet another highlight. Kind of like a chowder deconstructed, with whole clam pieces nestled in a bed of bacon foam and crispy potato bits. Bacon. Foam. You guys. Bacon foam! It was really good. I'm a big fan of bacon foam. Maybe not as crispy-chewy-satisfying as real bacon but yummy nonetheless and I loved how none of the parts was what you would expect.
  • Breaded Cigala with Sea Salad: A cigala is kind of like a langoustine. The chefs suggested that it was some miracle shellfish that was richer than a lobster but I can find no information to back that up. My research suggests that it's basically the Portuguese version of a langoustine and is served by non-rich people at holidays. So basically a poor man's lobster. It was delicious anyway, as all such shellfish are if they are not deadly to you, and I liked the crispy chip thing it came with.
  • "Philly Cheesesteak": Right before this was served, we were talking to our chef about The Bazaar in Beverly Hills and touting this dish as one of our favorite. Shortly thereafter we came to suspect he was preparing it even as we talked about it. He was. This take on a cheesesteak was actually created by the chefs of Minibar and exported out to The Bazaar. Our chef claimed theirs was better and I have to say he was right. The Bazaar one was very good, but it reminded me very strongly in flavor of one of those "chicken and biscuits" flavored crackers they had in the '70s. This cheesesteak had much more beef on the top which transformed it a lot into something of a much richer flavor.
  • Kumquats and Pumpkin Seed Oil: This was probably the most eye-popping of the dishes. The fuschia and yellow swirl with the bright orange kumquat really popped, it looked very cool. It was also a nice palate cleanser, as the kumquat was cold and the citrus helped make the way for dessert.
  • Thai Dessert: The thai dessert was called so because it used thai flavors. It was a coconut ice cream with basil and peanut flavors as well, and some kind of curry or spice flavor as well. It was very good, but quickly got upstaged by the next dessert.
  • Frozen Yogurt and Honey: This was so much better than Pinkberry. It was a Greek yogurt flash-frozen with nitrogen so it became a cold powder, and then it was piled on a thick honey. It was incredibly delicious and kind of fun to eat in the powdery form.
Sweet Endings
  • Chocolate Covered Corn Nuts, Mango Box, Saffron Gumdrop with Edible Wrapper: This was a finale--a slab of little treats to finish everything off. The corn nuts were homemade and then coated with good chocolate. A little box of mango cream and saffron candies. Everything was edible (except the slab). The candies with edible wrapper were a play on the Japanese candies wrapped in edible rice paper.

JAPANESE COOKING: Fish in Clear Dashi Broth

Since it's spring, I've been picking out the springtime-looking soups in the soup section of my Japanese cookbook. This fish soup in a clear broth with watercress and lemon looked very springlike and reminded me of some soups I had when I was in Japan in the springtime.

The original recipe is made with a fish head, but the one in the books uses a more attractive fish filet with skin on. The fish used in Japan is porgy, or sea bream. That's not available at my fishmonger, which mostly sells local fish and only a few special fish shipped from overseas. The recipe gave sole as an acceptable substitute and sole is locally available.

I chose a rex sole because it still had the skin on, as opposed to the petrale sole. The only problem I ran into with it is that it is cooked with the bone on, and then taken off the bone. That added some extra steps to this preparation and because the bones are delicate, I ended up with one or two bones in my soup. Next time I would probably just choose the other and forget the skin.

The end result was not as pretty as the picture in the book, but I still think it looked nice and springy. The broth was good and the watercress and lemon zest added a bit of zing to the flavor.

I felt that it was a good choice for spring for sure, as the soup was very light and the clear broth and bright colors just looked right for the season.

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