Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Pie Hole and the Griffith Observatory

As I've mentioned before, I have a legitimate Los Angeles bucket list on my phone. I add to it every time I see something that I want to do before I leave California after college... while that is in two years' time, I still try and take advantage of the fact that I currently live in one of the most vibrant cities in America.

One such entry on my bucket list was a place called The Pie Hole, a restaurant in the Arts District of Downtown LA that serves, you guessed it, all sorts of pie. My boyfriend and I drove there on a Saturday night in the early evening, ordered dessert for dinner (even though Pie Hole has savory pies), and found a table outside where the breeze (and drinks) found us.

In the spirit of adventure, I ordered a house-made Arnold Palmer, which is half tea and half lemonade. I was never a huge Arnold Palmer fan in my youth, but it sounded really refreshing... and it was! The drink wasn't too bitter nor too sweet, and had a really nice balance between the tea and lemonade. My only gripe was that it was gone to soon!

B ordered an espresso. He is an avid coffee drinker and savors his espressos, and he really enjoyed this one. Pie Hole takes great pride in their coffee, even selling their own roast in the store, and this pride is apparently deserved. B thought that this espresso was somehow lighter than other espressos that he's consumed, but in a nice way. I didn't try it, but he felt that it was just a very solid and delicious espresso.

Fun fact: one major reason that I wanted to go to Pie Hole was because my boyfriend had never had pie before. Yes. Never had pie. It was a big deal. So, being adults, we ordered pie for dinner... because we can! He went with the classic American double-crust pie a la mode. While I don't think he quite knew what to expect, he really enjoyed it! The apples were spiced wonderfully with cinnamon, and had softened while cooking yet maintained a substantial mouthfeel and bite. The top crust absolutely deserved an honorable mention--while it may be hard to tell from the angle of the photo, you can sort of see the caramelization on top. It seemed to be burnt/caramelized sugar, like the crust of crème brulée!

I went with the cherry almond pie, which also had a double crust. The filling was thick, but I couldn't really taste much almond. I think the crust may have been made with almond flour, which is the only explanation I can really think of. The crust in this pie was also delicious--it was covered in sugar, so how could it not be? The ice cream (just plain vanilla bean) really added a lot to the pie, though. While the pie by itself was good, the addition of the ice cream gave it more depth and made the tartness of the filling a little less pronounced.

From our table, we watched everyone at Wurstküche line up around the block to wait for their gourmet bratwursts. It's yet another delicious restaurant in the Arts District that I highly recommend! Next time I go, I'll make sure to bring my camera along.

Now, after Pie Hole, we tried to head up to the Griffith Observatory. We couldn't figure out why it took us almost a half hour to get to the top of the hill... and then we looked at the calendar and realized that the Observatory was holding a summer solstice celebration. D'oh! Having lost our spirit of adventure, we turned around and went back home...

However, all was not lost! A week later, we grabbed a quick bite to eat, checked the calendar, and ventured back up to the Observatory. We nabbed a parking spot in the main lot, and had about forty-five minutes before the park closed to wander around.

The Griffith Observatory and the views of LA were even more beautiful and breathtaking than I had imagined--I'll let the above pictures do the talking. B let me drag him around and stop at random places to just look, and it was really wonderful.

The inside of the Observatory also hosts some cool displays and exhibits; I only wish we had more time to explore! I'm hoping to return and thoroughly soak up all of the information inside the building, as well as seeing the show at the planetarium.

This room compared and contrasted the various planets in our solar system, explaining everything from size to temperature to gravitational force! Also of note--I fell up those stairs in the bottom/bottom left of that picture. With one hand on my camera and the other holding my boyfriend's hand, it was a bit of a scary moment, but I cradled my camera and let my shin take the force of the impact. My priorities are definitely in a weird place.

After a few laughably bad selfie attempts in front of the Observatory, B and I called it a night and headed to the car to drive back home.

With all this free time in the summer, I've been loving exploring LA. Do you have any suggestions for cool things to do? Let me know in the comments below! And, as always, you can find me on Instagram at @__katherinew

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Monday, June 23, 2014

Bottega Louie Lunch and MOCA

As some of you may know, I went to boarding school in New Hampshire for high school and made some truly incredible friends during my time in the most boring state capital in the country. Naturally, it's hard to keep in touch with some of them, being in California, but I'm lucky that Cara goes to school with me still. We somehow became friends in my freshman year, when she was a junior, and have stayed friends until now. She is just about to start her fifth year at USC for her second degree and she and I try to get together every month or so to just catch up.

Now that it's summer, she and I both had a totally free Friday to do with as we wished. We concurred that we should try and get cultured, so we took the Metro downtown and started the day at Bottega Louie for an early lunch. I started with an iced tea, which was accompanied by lemon, mint, and orange on the side. 

Cara went for a soy milk latte, and found it fantastic. I regarded the foam with great interest, since it was particularly thick and delicious-looking! 

She and I split the bruschetta for a starter, and it was truly delicious. The bread was crunchy, the tomatoes fresh, and there was a great garlic flavor. The garlic still had a pretty raw flavor, but it was tempered with the tomato and bread, and didn't overpower the rest of the dish. It was a little messy to eat, but so good!

I ordered the Louie salad without shrimp. It consisted of iceberg lettuce, hearts of palm, avocado, sweet onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, and dijon vinaigrette. I was impressed with this salad! The avocado gave a great deal of creaminess to the salad, even though all the ingredients remained very crisp and fresh. The hearts of palm were also a fantastic addition--I rarely encounter them and have actually never cooked with them, so it was nice to be reminded of an ingredient that I'd like to add to my homemade meals.

Cara chose the Ceppo Gamber, which was made of jumbo shrimp, ceppo pasta, broccolini, cherry tomatoes, and garlic, with a fleur de sel and pepper topping and an olive oil broth. She really enjoyed it! It looked very fresh, and while an indulgence, not too heavy.

We sat in the restaurant eating and talking for well over an hour, until we finally decided to mobilize and walk over to the Museum of Contemporary Art, or MOCA. I understand very little regarding contemporary art, and Cara's the same, but since it is an important museum in Downtown Los Angeles, we figured it would be good to experience it. Also, tickets are only seven dollars with a student ID!

This painting here was created by Andy Warhol--while he's obviously famous for other more psychedelic works, it was fascinating to see a more technical and simple painting of his.

Cara and I both stopped to admire this wall of photos, and in particular, their arrangement. We almost simultaneously said that we'd decorate our future houses like this--birds of a feather, perhaps? The photos displayed were all black and white subject photography pieces, ranging from a gas mask to a grandfather clock.

These little carved dogs were created by Jeff Koons, the artist most famous for his giant balloon dogs. I looked at this piece for a few minutes--they were intricately carved and their expressions, minutely different in person, give each of the dogs such a genuine and real personality. 

This is why I don't understand contemporary art--it's pretty and I love string lights, but I find it hard to discover more meaning behind lights hanging from the ceiling and pooling on the floor. Folks, that's why I stick to science!

This is simply a painting of Jane Fonda with the feminist logo coming from her eye. She has been known as an active supporter of feminism for a long time, so this was an interesting conceptualization of her opinion.

After we wandered through the gallery, we headed on foot to their other gallery downtown, the Geffen Contemporary, which currently houses an the largest exhibition of artist Mike Kelley's work to date. No photos were allowed in the exhibit, but trust me when I say that this is worth a visit. It's weird, unsettling, and thought-provoking, which I truly believe is its point. Both weird and cool at the same time, I enjoyed walking through and experiencing the mixed-media art, but Cara and I agreed that returning to the quiet sunshine was certainly welcome after such an immersive experience.

Since the Geffen Contemporary is right in Little Tokyo, Cara and I decided to grab an afternoon coffee and people-watch at Café Dulcé, which specializes in various coffees and pastries. We decided against their crazy doughnuts, which range in flavors from fruit to Cinnamon Toast Crunch to bacon!

However, I got a delicious (if not overpriced) Vietnamese Iced Coffee... after I ordered, I immediately turned to Cara to explain that I had no idea what I just bought. Luckily, it was delicious. Vietnamese Iced Coffee consists simply of a dark roast coffee with sweetened condensed milk, and it's addicting. It's quite sweet and rich, but the depth of the coffee makes it extremely pleasurable.

Cara went for an iced soy milk latte, which she really enjoyed as well! Café Dulcé had a lot of very good reviews on Yelp (my best friend) and I think its main strength was in its well-executed coffees and creative, unique combinations. If you factor in its location in a bustling square in Little Tokyo, it's very easy to see why it's so popular!

After we finished our coffees and people-watched to our hearts' content, we walked back to the Metro and parted ways. According to my FitBit, she and I walked 15,000 steps and about seven miles together! I always enjoy spending time with Cara, and the added culture and delicious food really made it fantastic. However, she and I have had great nights alone and with takeout, so maybe it's just the company!

She's actually moving downtown soon, so we're planning on exploring more of what Downtown LA has to offer. Stay posted for some more delicious eats and cool sights!

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Friday, June 13, 2014

Crispy and Chewy Garlic Knots

I’m going to start this one off with a bit of an explanation–I made these knots over a week ago and was happily writing the post below when my computer froze. I turned it off, tried to restart… and waited for seven hours. After a long day in stores and driving around LA, I discovered that my hard drive was completely shot. I lost everything on the drive, and had to replace it with a new one. Somehow, luckily, I had uploaded all these photos onto WordPress before The Incident, so here we go. Probably the most stressful post I’ve written to date, but here it is!
There is nothing I love more in life than starch. It’s a fact. If I could eat pastries and bread and pasta for every meal, I would be so happy… but sadly, that’s not really the way life works. Why do I have to be a responsible adult sometimes?
garlic knot closeupLuckily, I believe in balance in my life. There is a wonderful time and place for gluten, and when it involves butter and garlic? Count me in. I made these on a lazy afternoon in my apartment and shared with friends–they were greatly appreciated by all. My garlic knots, from this recipe, are easy to make and even easier to eat. They made your house smell lovely and are such a wonderful treat.
garlic knot ingredientsYou will need:
  • 1 and 3/4 cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 packet of instant yeast (you can use regular yeast, but instant yeast will eliminate the first rise)
  • 3/4 cup of warm water (110˚-130˚ F)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 5 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup parsley, minced
  • 1/2 tsp salt
garlic knot dry ingredients
Start by combining the flour, salt, sugar, and instant yeast in a large bowl.
garlic knot pre rise
Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients, and then pour the water and oil into that well. Use a fork to loosely stir the mixture around, until it’s shaggy and starting to stick together. Once it holds together loosely, take it out of the bowl and put it on a lightly floured surface. Knead for about five minutes, until the dough forms a smooth, springy ball. It should bounce back when poked. Place it in a lightly oiled bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let it rise for ten to twenty minutes in a warm place.
garlic knot post riseAfter this time, the dough should have about doubled in size. Using a sharp knife, cut in half. Work with one half at a time for simplicity’s sake!
garlic knot rectangleTake one half of the dough and place it on a lightly floured surface. Using your hands, push the dough into a rectangle. Knife is for scale–it should be about six inches long and maybe three inches wide.
Using your sharp knife, cut the dough into 1/2″ to 1″ wide strips. The edges will be very sticky, but use a little flour as you see fit.
DSC_0020 Take one strip at a time and stretch it out a bit until it’s maybe eight inches long. Then, cross the ends over each other, and pull one end through the hole in the middle. Place the knot on a lightly greased baking sheet, and continue with your remaining strips.
DSC_0021 When they’re all knotted, cover with plastic wrap and leave somewhere warm until they’ve doubled in size. This is their second rise, and it’s crucial! I preheated my oven to the lowest setting, turned it off, then opened the door for a few minutes. I then put the dough inside, and left the door cracked so that it wouldn’t be too hot in there.
After this rise, take the rolls out of the oven, and preheat that oven to 400˚F. When the oven is hot, take the saran wrap off your sheet, brush your rolls with a bit of olive oil, and place them in the oven. Bake the knots for 13-16 minutes, or until golden brown on top. Remove from the oven and brush your garlic butter over the top.
I recommend making your garlic butter while the rolls are in the oven. Start by melting your butter in a small/medium saucepan over medium heat. When it’s melted, add your garlic, and cook for a minute or two, until the garlic is fragrant. This is just to take that raw garlicky bite out of the butter. Finally, add the salt and parsley, and stir to combine it all. Turn off the heat, cover, and wait until the knots are out of the oven.
DSC_0026Spoon or brush your garlic butter over each knot, then dig in. They’re crispy yet chewy, deliciously starchy, with a nice depth of flavor due to the garlic butter. I inhaled two, then gave the rest away to coworkers and friends… the knots are simply addictive! While the two rises of the dough do take up a bit of time, they’re dead simple to make and absolutely worth the effort. You could also cut down on time by using pre-made pizza dough–it will still need the second rise though! Also, if you do manage to ration these and have leftovers, I would recommend maybe ten seconds in the microwave. These knots, when warm, are absolutely amazing.
I’ve finally moved into my new place, and I’m thrilled to say that there is a ton of natural light and a well-appointed kitchen. Also, I just bought an awesome new cookbook, so prepare for some creative recipes! If you’re looking to see more regular, delicious updates, follow me on Instagram @__katherinew.

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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Homemade Almond Butter

So I really, really love any kind of nut butter. I will eat peanut butter with a spoon and look for reasons to slather Nutella on anything tasty. Naturally, I'm in a bit of a dilemma for a few reasons. Most big brands put who-knows-what in their nut butters to help "shelf life" and "color preservation". And while they are delicious, I don't love eating such processed food. Here's the kicker--brands that don't use all these gross ingredients are really expensive. As a result of this, I've been living a nut-butter-free life for a little while. Sad, right?

Well, not anymore. My awesome cousin gave me her old food processor and it's rapidly changing my life. Homemade almond butter is the first thing I made--literally the only ingredient is almonds. It's super easy to make, and unbelievably delicious. Also, almonds are cheaper than almond butter, so I can (sort of) justify this as saving money. Right? Let's pretend that that's how money management works.

You will need:
 -Food processor
 -Neutral-tasting oil, ex. canola oil. (optional)

To get about one cup of almond butter, start by dumping two cups of almonds (with the skins) into your food processor. Lock the lid in place, and process!

Stop and scrape the sides down occasionally. Make sure you get that little crease where the sides meet the bottom! Also, don't let your fingers go anywhere near the blade. It's incredibly sharp and I'm sort of afraid of it.

Keep processing! It will get lumpy--at one point, it will probably clump up into a giant ball and you'll think that you've completely ruined it, but never fear. Scrape the sides down and continue processing, it will become smooth, I promise!

After about four minutes of processing, you will be left with wonderfully smooth almond butter. I wanted mine to be a little less sticky, so while the processor was doing its thing, I drizzled about half a teaspoon of canola oil through the safety tube. This just gives it a little extra smoothness.

If you want crunchy butter, you'll do this process slightly differently; you'll start by pulsing about half a cup of almonds four or five times. Then, place those to the side, and make the almond butter as shown above. When it's reached the desired consistency, throw those chopped almonds back into the processor and pulse two or three times. Boom! Now you have chunky almond butter.

This stuff is absolutely incredible. Flavorful, sticky, and nutty, this is better than any store brand that I've tried. And the best part? It only takes a few minutes and a few dollars to make in my own home. Store yours in a sealed container in the refrigerator--it should keep for a while, if it doesn't all disappear within a few days! I'm so delighted that this almond butter turned out so beautifully, and I'm really excited to experiment with other nut butters, as well as other food processor goodies.

You can make any kind of nut butter with this method. Buy your own peanuts, macadamias, or hazelnuts, and process away! You may surprise yourself with how delicious and simple it is to make your own high-quality nut butters.

My kitchen is starting to become more and more legitimate as the time progresses--I no longer have to use a fork to cream butter and sugar, for example! I can't wait to continue sharing more recipes as I utilize my awesome gadgets.

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Monday, May 12, 2014

Not So Authentic Huevos Rancheros

Well, two finals down and two to go! This past week has been a whirlwind of studying--I commandeered the kitchen table on Monday and parked myself there for maybe ten hours a day, culminating in an all-nighter on Thursday night to prepare for my two morning Chemistry finals. Needless to say, I'm a little sick of the kitchen. Though, really, we've reached that point where I don't want to cook or buy groceries, so I've had to be a bit creative in my cooking to try and find healthy, easy, and quick meals.

One of my roommates had these jalapeño and cilantro tortillas that she hated, so she offered them up to me. Her loss! I ate one by itself as a snack and was pleasantly surprised by the flavor and mild heat from a store-bought flour tortilla. This then inspired me--why not use them in a meal? Naturally I thought of breakfast. It's my favorite meal of the day--I like it so much that I will generally have cereal for breakfast and oatmeal for lunch! However, to power my countless hours of studying, I needed something filling and hearty. Huevos Rancheros perfectly fit the bill--while they may be my cheap, not-very-legitimate college version, they're still dang good.

Dead simple to make, these require few ingredients and take a grand total of ten minutes to prepare.

You will need:
 -1 tortilla (corn is traditional, but I used Jalapeño and Cilantro flour tortillas)
 -1 egg
 -1/4 cup refried beans
 -2 tbsp pico de gallo (or salsa!)
 -1/3 bell pepper, chopped
 -1/2 avocado, diced

First of all, heat up 1/2 tbsp oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. While you're waiting for that to get hot, nuke your refried beans until they're warm.

When that pan's nice and hot, place your tortilla in it. Let it cook for about thirty seconds, then flip it over. There will be nice big air bubbles--yum! When both sides are golden-brown, remove the tortilla from the pan and place it on a plate. Then, adding more oil if you need to, crack an egg into the pan. While that's frying, spread your refried beans over the tortilla.

I personally love runny yolks, so I left my egg sunny-side up. However, feel free to cook however you'd like. When your egg is fried to your satisfaction, turn the heat off and slide it on top of the refried beans.

Finally, add toppings to taste! I went with some mild pico de gallo for some brightness and a bit of a kick, the bell pepper for some greens and great crunch, and avocado, since everything's better with avocado, right?

Feel free to top with whatever you'd like, including jalapeños, cheese, hot sauce, or more veggies! You can make these whatever you'd like. However, huevos rancheros will always be a fast and incredibly filling meal. I was stuffed until dinner! This meal also presents a nice balance of protein, carbs, and fats--you gotta fuel that brain!

Serve for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. You can't go wrong! They're quickly becoming a staple in my rotating menu, because of their awesome versatility and nutritive benefits. Give them a try when you need a quick and hearty meal to power you through the day--I promise they won't disappoint!

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