Tuesday, January 29, 2008

O'Brien's Kioki

In addition to your usual Irish Coffee, O'Brien's in Santa Monica serves five other fun alcoholic coffee drinks. The Nutty Irishman, made with Frangelico, was beckoning (why are nutty Irishmen in bars always beckoning? Must be my red hair. And their beer goggles).

I wanted something unusual, so I went for the kioki - coffee mixed with Kahlua and brandy. It would never have occured to me to mix those liquers, but it really worked. The bartender made a fresh pot of coffee, and the float of heavy cream on top helped to make this my favorite drink of the night.

The benches were comfortable, and the decor was just Irish enough without being overwhelming. Some pubs can really overdo it with the wallhangings. The restaurant was clean and friendly. I immediately thought it would be a nice place to take my mother for lunch. My husband immediately thought it reminded him of TGI Fridays.

It wasn't overcrowded, and there were plenty of seats. Everyone seemed to be in a good mood. There were burly, laughing guys with Irish accents working the door. The barstools were occupied by 20-something blondes in short skirts. So if you're not in the mood for a coffee drink, you still might find something to keep you warm.

O'Brien's 310-829-5303
2226 Wilshire Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90403

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

dineLA Restaurant Week

Click here for my report

Mmmmm - Vegan Thai Curry

Thai food can be an issue for vegans. Everything has hidden fish sauce or oyster sauce in it. Luckily, here in LA there is always Bulan Thai, California Vegan, Vegan Glory, and Vegan House. Some Thai Town restaurants will prepare the food vegan upon request. But depending upon where you live, you still might not have a convenient corner takeout. So why not make it at home?

I've made authentic Thai curries from scratch, and it can be an all-day thing - grinding, pounding, making three different "mother" sauces, so I really don't mind buying prepared curry paste. Thai Kitchen makes a delicious red and a green vegan curry paste.


1 (12-oz package) extra-firm tofu
3 cups chopped fresh veggies (carrots, red bell pepper, zucchini, green beans, etc.)
3 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 (13 ½-oz) can straw mushrooms, drained
1 1/2 Tablespoons Thai Kitchen green curry
3 (13 ½-oz) cans coconut milk
½ cup vegetable broth
1 (8-oz) can sliced bamboo shoots, drained
1 cup frozen peas
Cooked jasmine rice

Put a large pot of water on to boil.

Slice tofu lengthwise into ½” slices. Lay flat on a baking sheet. In oven or toaster oven, cook at 275 for 20 minutes to remove excess liquid. Remove from oven and slice into 1” to 2” pieces.

Meanwhile, pour straw mushrooms into a medium bowl filled with water. Swish the mushrooms around and replace water occasionally to remove any grit.

Add fresh veggies, including potatoes to boiling water. Cook until just al dente (about 8 minutes). Strain and set veggies aside.

Do not shake or disturb cans of coconut milk. Open and carefully spoon off the thickened milk from the top, leaving the clear liquid in the can. Reserve both clear and thick coconut milk.

In a large wok or deep frying pan, combine 1 can of the clear coconut liquid and vegetable broth. Over a medium heat, cook tofu and vegetables in broth mixture until just cooked through (about 30 minutes). If the liquid does not cover the vegetables and tofu, add more broth and/or clear coconut broth.

Add mushrooms, bamboo shoots and peas.

Gradually stir in the thick coconut milk until the curry is the right consistency.

Add salt to taste. Cook until heated through and serve over jasmine rice.

With the red curry I would probably add peanuts. Throw in anything else that strikes your fancy. This is a mix-and-match kind of dish

*Thai Kitchen brand green curry is found in little jars in the Asian section of the supermarket. I am not sure if other brands of curry pastes are vegan.

(Not everyone separates the coconut milk, but a Thai gourmet taught me this method to get the richest curries. If you don't want to be wasteful, you can add the leftover coconut liquid to soups, boiling vegetables, casseroles - get creative!)

California Vegan
7300 W Sunset Blvd.
at N Fuller Ave.

Vegan Glory
8393 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90048

Vegan House
2703 W. Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90189
(213) 483-2105

Bulan Thai
7168 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90046
(323) 857-1882
(323) 653-4900

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Hotta Hotta Chocolata

Every once in awhile something is so surprisingly good that you never forget the first time you tried it.

I was standing around a giant campfire freezing my ass off somewhere near the Ortega Highway when a fellow camper handed me a big, warm thermos of cocoa. Mmmm, chocolate - and mint - and alcohol.

Alcohol! How was it possible that it never occurred to me to put alcohol in cocoa? She had spiked the thermos with peppermint schnapps. Chocolate and mint - it was so obvious. It was a revelation along the lines of, "Hey, you got yer chocolate in my peanut butter! Hey..."

Try it out the next time you are hankering for something warm and sweet, but with a kick.

Cocoa for Big Kids

1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup cocoa powder
4 cups milk
5 Tbsp (2 1/2 ounces) peppermint schnapps

In a medium saucepan, combine sugar and cocoa.

Add about 1/2 cup milk and whisk together until thoroughly mixed.

Stir over a medium flame, gradually adding milk. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Do not allow to boil.

Add schnapps and enjoy the magic.

Incredible homemade marshmallow courtesy of Julianna

Monday, January 21, 2008

La Luz del Dia's Champurrado

There is a common misconception that we don't have seasons in Los Angeles. We know when the seasons are changing. There are two distinct events that herald the coming winter: the Christmas displays replace the Halloween merchandise, and the lunch trucks start selling champurrado.

Champurrado is a type of atole, which is a hot drink popular in the winter. There are a variety of atoles, but chapurrado is probably the most popular. It is made with chocolate, milk, masa harina, and piloncillo (those cone-shaped pressed sugars you see in bins in the the market). It is sometimes made with water instead of milk, but that produces an unpleasantly thin and runny drink.

My favorite champurrado can be found at La Luz del Dia on Olvera Street. This little corner restaurant near the square is often overlooked by visitors who are drawn to the mega-margarita patios in the center of Olvera Street. But locals know to hit La Luz for killer tamales and their rich, flavorful beef picadillo, as well as for the champurrado. La Luz's version is infused with chocolate and just a touch of vanilla and cinnamon. It is so thick that as it cools, it develops an almost pudding-like consistency. Let its chocolately goodness warm your insides while you watch the ladies pat away at homemade tortillas and you will never even make it to the margaritas.

La Luz del Dia (213) 628-7495
W-1 Olvera Street LA CA 90012

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Nate n Al's Mish Mash Soup

The weather outside is frightful, but here inside Nate 'n Al it's toasty and warm. The waitress treats you like she's your mom, chiding you if you don't eat enough soup. Nothing takes the chill off like a big, hot bowl of Mish Mash soup (pronounced by most people as "mish mosh"). Matzoh ball soup is usually considered to be the ultimate comfort food, but in this soup you get the best of everything - a big, fluffy, perfectly cooked matzoh ball, a soft Kreplach dumpling with a bland filling that yields easily to the bite, plus kasha, rice and barley. Mish Mosh was made for those winter days when you are under the weather. Nothing too spicy, nothing too challenging, and the soft carbohydrates require hardly any chewing. After all, we wouldn't want you to strain yourself, would we? Now eat!

Nate 'n Al
414 North Beverly Drive
Beverly Hills 90210

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Bistro Provence's Beef Bourguignon

Sometimes when the weather or the world is a little too harsh, I get a craving for something I call "Mom food". Most people call it comfort food. Stew is the quintissential mom food, and Bistro Provence in Burbank serves a beef bourguignon just like mom would make, if mom were an award-winning French chef.

Executive chef Miki Zivkovic, formerly of Pinot Bistro, uses the most tender of celery and fresh carrots. We are all so used to supermarket baby carrots that it is easy to forget the intensity of a real, fresh-out-of-the-ground sweet carrot. Only the best, meaty parts of short ribs are used, so they are almost unidentifiable. But the way the meat flakes apart at the touch of a fork, it is clear this is not the top round my mother used.

The bourguignon is not served in the usual bowl. Instead a circle of piped mashed potatoes with horseradish keeps the stew and its rich juices in place. It is that kind of little spin that sets a dish apart and lets you know the chef really put some thought into it.

The room is small and comfortable, decorated in late uber-bistro. The handwritten menu on the requisite mirror behind the bar is a cute touch. But it always messes with my head because it is part of an ever-changing menu that sometimes includes only one of the written selections. Psyche!

Bistro Provence's corner tables have banquettes that are practically couches, and after a few glasses of a nice brut, you will be lounging as if you have always been there. Start with the ahi tuna, make yourself at home, and I promise not to tell your mother.

BONUS: Overheard conversation

Sommelier: You see, the white wine is the same grape, but with the skins removed...
Drunk girl: "Wow, you know a lot about wine."
Sommelier: Well, yes, I am a sommelier.
Drunk girl: You're from SOMALIA???

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Tam O' Shanter's Hot Toddy

A feeling of familiarity always comes over me when I escape from the cold and the rain into the warmth and comfort of the Tam O'Shanter. Maybe it's because I grew up in Scottish pubs. Maybe it's because my mother's house is decorated exactly like the interior of the Tam O' Shanter, as is my brother's house, as is my own den (I have managed to contain all of the Scottishness in one room of the house by sheer willpower). Oh, sorry, am I babbling? Have I mentioned how strong the drinks are?

Grab a seat by the fire, and let Ricky fix you up a nice hot toddy. The Tam first mulls cinnamon, cloves, lemon peel, sugar and bitters to form the base of their hot toddy. If you don't declare a preference, the default liquor is Christian Brothers brandy. But if you like, they will mix it with any whisky you choose (or even rum).

Stay for a nice hot meal as long as you are there. It is always disappointing to arrive at a restaurant in the afternoon only to to discover that the kitchen closes for a few hours between lunch and dinner. But like any good pub, the Tam doesn't want you drinking on an empty stomach. They offer a hot sandwich bar to fill the gap between seatings, and to accomodate people who don't want full service. You can watch as the cook carves off moist slices of turkey, pastrami, brisket, and yes, even their famous prime rib to order.

There is a sense of convivialty in the Tam not often found in Los Angeles. The servers are friendly, the bartender is my best friend, and even perfect strangers smile when you catch their eye. So shake off the cold and cozy up in a corner where Walt Disney, Mary Pickford and John Wayne once did the same.

The Tam O' Shanter (323) 664-0228
2980 Los Feliz Boulevard, Los Angeles, California 90039

Ale and Sandwich Bar:
Sun - Fri: 11:00 am - 9:00 pm
Saturday: 11:00 am - 4:00 pm

Party Food: Mushroom Tartlets

Wild Mushroom Filo Cups

These tartlets are a great appetizer for a holiday party. They can be prepared ahead of time and keep well. They are popular, elegant, vegetarian, and best served at room temperature. Helpful friends don't need any cooking know-how to help you assemble them. You may need to adjust amounts slightly as the spirit moves you. I usually just wing it.

Leftover goat cheese filling can be combined with pesto and used as a dip or to stuff into some other tiny food item.

4 boxes frozen Athens (or homemade, or another brand) filo cups
6-oz goat cheese
3-oz cream cheese
1 small sprig fresh rosemary
Olive oil
1 box shiitake mushrooms or 4 large fresh shiitake, finely diced
1 box or 10 fresh crimini (or white) mushrooms, finely diced
Splash white wine (optional)

Defrost filo cups. If they taste "raw", toast them for a few minutes in a medium oven, then let cool. Combine softened goat cheese and cream cheese and set aside.

Remove "needles" from rosemary and finely chop them until you have about 1/2 teaspoon.

In a saucepan, melt about 2 Tablespoons of butter, and add 2 teaspoons olive oil.

Add mushrooms and rosemary to pan. Add a little butter as it is absorbed by the mushrooms, approximately 1 more Tablespoon. Add a small splash of white wine if you like.

As soon as the shiitakes change color from white to tan and opaque, remove from stove and let cool.

To assemble, fill each filo cup half-way to the top with goat cheese mixture. Fill to top with mushroom mixture. Set aside and repeat until all cups are filled. Refrigerate up to one day before serving.

Photo by Tamaki via Flickr

Party Food: White Trash meatballs

This is the recipe that will bar me forever from the Cordon Bleu, that will cause Anthony Bourdain to look upon me with scorn; it is cooking's dirty little secret. I first discovered these meatballs at a raging 4th of July party. I couldn't believe what they put in the sauce! It's just so awful! Then I tried it myself and now all of my friends are addicted. They stand around at my parties arguing, "No, it's sweet and sour" "It's got to be some kind of Jezebel sauce" "Well it's not BBQ." But I have no shame. I am willing to hold my head up high and tell the world the secret of the...

White Trash Meatballs

1 package Costco frozen meatballs (go ahead and laugh)
2 bottles Chili sauce (It''s near the cocktail sauce in the market)
2 cups Grape jelly (You heard me. Grape jelly. Trip on that)

Mix it all together in a Crockpot, and get the party started!!!

Don't scoff until you have tried them. I would never steer you wrong. For reals.

By the way, you would not believe how many people have uploaded pictures of IKEA Meatballs on Flickr.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Monastery of the Angels Pumpkin Bread

Last month a friend showed up with a lovely wrapped pumpkin bread for us. I immediately asked, "Is that a Monastery of the Angels pumpkin bread???" No one was impressed with my psychic abilities, but I was impressed with that bread! Not just because there is a cloistered monastery in Hollywood. I was amazed because I have been baking that pumpkin bread for 20 years, ever since the LA Times published the recipe. In all of those years, this is the first time anyone actually gave me one. The first time I was going to try the real thing. And I have to say, it kicked my homemade version's ass. How do they make the loaf so big, yet achieve the perfect crumb? How do they keep it so moist, even a week after I opened the package?

I suppose if you live in a cloistered order of Dominican nuns, you have plenty of time to perfect your baking skills. Or perhaps you need chaste hands and a chaste heart, which means I will never make pumpkin bread that good. If you would like to try for yourself, the recipe is after the jump. If you are unsure of your chasteness, the monastery and its gift shop is located conveniently off the 101 Freeway.


3 1/2 cups sifted flour
3 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 eggs, beaten
1 cup cooking oil
2/3 cup water
2 cups mashed, cooked pumpkin
Walnut halves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Sift together flour, sugar, soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.

Combine eggs with oil, water and pumpkin and mix well. Stir into dry ingredients.

Turn into three greased 8 x 4-inch loaf pans and top with walnut halves. Bake 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool before slicing.

Recipe originally printed in the LA Times. Photo by Elise Thompson.

For more on the monastery, check out Santos' blog, Meet Me at Third and Fairfax

For more exciting Catholic food, check out Holy Orders Monastery Mustard, Monastery of the Mississippi Caramels, or how about some Monkbeans?