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A Breakfast Burrito in LA + Berkeley Eats

I feel like I need to come up with more creative titles for my blog posts. But then how would anyone know what the post is about without reading it? Or maybe that’s the point.

Um. I have no idea what I’m rambling about.

This is more of a catch-up post than anything, because we are now back in Oxford. *gloom* On a happier note, before we drove up to Norcal, we stopped by at Andy’s Coffee Shop in Pasadena for a breakfast burrito. We chose to split this baby, and hooo boy, were we glad we did. It doesn’t look that huge in the picture, but in real life it was about as wide as my bicep. (Which is really big, btw. Like, Stallone-big.)

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Filled with egg, cheese, sausage, bacon, and hash, this burrito was pretty friggin’ delicious. Halfway through my share, I moaned about being done. I set the burrito down and sipped my coffee (which was excellent, btw). Then I picked it back up. Snuck a nibble. Mmm, gooey cheese. Put it back down. Poked at it. Picked it back up and took a bigger nibble. And so on and so forth, until, for shame, I finished it. That one burrito was enough to fill us up for the duration of our drive to Norcal, which is somewhat scary, come to think about it.

Mike’s always yammered on and on about wanting to do “American stuff”, which is kind of a broad term. So far, I’ve managed to fulfill just one American dream: stuff our faces with ridiculously large portions of everything. But this time, I went all out. I got a friend to take us to a shooting range…

Yay, pretty targets!

Yay, pretty targets!

Me loading the revolver like a pro. Okay, not really. My hands were somewhat trembly and I was convinced the bullets would spontaneously combust and blow my hands off.

Me loading the revolver like a pro. Okay, not really. My hands were somewhat trembly and I was convinced the bullets would spontaneously combust and blow my hands off.

And as though that wasn’t American enough, I got us tickets to see a Cal Bears game. The morning after we arrived at Norcal, four of us headed for Berkeley.

Berkeley’s where I did my undergrad. Sometimes I miss those times so much I could choke a bear. It’s also the place where I gained like 20 lbs. (You’ll soon see why.)

First stop: Cheeseboard Pizza.

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Cheeseboard is pretty much an institution. Whenever anyone slams vegetarian food, I prove them wrong by stuffing a slice of Cheeseboard pizza in their mouths. I love that CP only serves one type of pizza per day, depending on what veg are in season. It forces me to try combinations I would otherwise never bother trying. Some combos I prefer more than others, but I’ve never had a bad pizza from CP.

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After Cheeseboard, we headed closer to campus, where we stopped by at Smart Alec’s for sandwiches and fries. Smart Alec’s is a pretty basic college student eatery. Its portions are large enough so most of their dishes can be spread over three meals. Their chowders are thick enough to withstand the standing-spoon test, but what I missed most from Smart Alec’s are the garlic fries. They’re “air-baked”, which I guess means they’re a teensy bit healthier than their deep-fried counterparts, but they’re also really soft and garlicky. Like my meats and my friends, I like my fries submissive and slightly soggy.

After that, we had enough food for a while, so we went around campus reminiscing and blowing money on Cal paraphernalia. Then we went to every Cal student’s favorite midnight snack haunt: Asian Ghetto. The beauty of Asian Ghetto is the free seating in the central space, which means everyone can get food from wherever the hell they want before congregating at one table. I went for an old favorite: Kimchi fried noodles with shrimp from Bear’s Ramen House.

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Spicy, gooey, slightly sweet. . . with a perfectly-fried egg on top. . .there is nothing better than this at 2 a.m. after a hard night of partying studying.

Then it was off to the game. . .

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Where we lost miserably, so the end. >:-[

*cries into pillow at the memory*

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LA Eats Part One: Yahaira’s Cafe, Porto’s Bakery, and Savoy Kitchen

*Note: Please excuse the crappy pictures. I took my small digital camera with me because the thought of lugging my heavy-ass 5d mkii makes my poor back twinge with phantom pain.

We’re in California, aka our favoritest place in the world! *does ten happy jumping jacks in a row*

I did my undergrad in Berkeley and lived in Pasadena for a few of the sunniest, most delicious years of my life. My best friends are all in Cali, and so are my favorite foods, and I’ve managed to infect Mike with enough love for the state that over the past couple of years, we’ve visited twice a year.

The only bad thing about Cali is: there are too many delicious things to eat. Do we go back to our old favorites or look up new places on Yelp? Mike isn’t really a breakfast person, but I’ve been dragging him out to breakfast as often as I can, because that just means it’s one more place we get to tick off our list.

First up is Yahaira’s Cafe.

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We share as many of our meals as we can, since portions in Cali are bigger than our tummies. We opted for the Lomitos Scrambled: Tender pork stewed in tomato, garlic, and scrambled into eggs. Served with guac, home fried potatoes, and tortilla. It doesn’t look pretty, I know, but it’s actually pretty frikkin’ good, especially when you take the time to lovingly shmear guac evenly onto the tortilla before piling the pork, egg, and potatoes to make the perfect bite.

For lunch, we went to my absolute favorite bakery: Porto’s. Porto’s is a must for anyone visiting LA. No arguments about it. The pastries are always freshly-baked and they keep their prices low.

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This is what I literally dream about when I’m not in LA. Seriously, I’ve dreamt of their cheese rolls and woken up with drool all over my pillow. These babies are amazing little pillows of perfection. Creamy ricotta cheese hugged in an airy roll of puff pastry and topped with sugar before being baked to a crunchy caramelized state.

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They are so deceptively light that I used to inhale three of them in one go. At 70 cents per roll, this won’t hurt your wallet either. But now that my metabolism isn’t what it used to be, I have to limit myself to just one roll at a time. One roll that’s always gone too soon. :-(

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Since cheese rolls aren’t like, a sound source of nutrition or whatever, we also ordered a pan con bistek. Marinated steak, potato sticks, grilled onions, tomatoes, and mojo (Cuban garlic sauce) on Cuban bread. Maybe it’s because their pastries are so amazing, but I always find Porto’s sandwiches a bit lacking. Don’t get me wrong, they’re good, but . . . not mind-blowing. They need more sauce, for one. And they’d be better if they were warmer.

Next time, I’m just gonna gorge myself on the cheese rolls and the flan bread pudding.

For dinner, we headed over to yet another old favorite: Savoy Kitchen.

Everyone says the best Hainanese chicken rice is in Singapore, but I sooo disagree. And I’ve eaten chicken rice at more than a dozen locally-acclaimed spots in Singapore, so I know what I’m talking about, dammit. Anthony Bourdain once said that Hainanese chicken rice is regarded with almost religous fervor in Singapore. Ask a group of friends where the best one is to be found and it won’t be long before they devolve into a loud (friendly-ish) argument over the answer. Everyone has their own favorite place and feels equally strongly about it. This is absolutely true. Savoy Kitchen is mine. And if you disagree, I will sit on you.

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The chicken is always perfectly cooked so the meat is fork-tender but not so soft that it has no bite to it. Same with the rice. Richly-infused with garlic, chicken, and ginger, the rice is fluffy, flavorful, and dangerously easy to shovel into your mouth. It comes with dark soy sauce, homemade chili sauce, and homemade garlic/ginger oil mix. I ignore the soy sauce and chili and go straight for the garlic/ginger. This garlic/ginger oil thing is, for me, what pushes Savoy Kitchen into the lead. It’s fresh, savory, and so lip-smackingly good I always find myself picking at it, licking it like Nutella even after all the rice and chicken is gone.

And I wonder why my jeans are always tighter after a visit to Cali . . .

Whatever, it’s so worth it.

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Slow Roasted Butternut Squash and Bell Pepper Soup

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That’s right, a vegetarian recipe, courtesy of a friend who shall remain nameless for now because she is super sekritive like that. Anyway, I’d just bought bell peppers and fresh basil at the farmers market that week and was wondering what to do with them, when she said, “Roast ‘em and turn them into soup!” I usually ignore this friend because she likes to link me things like My Imaginary Well-Dressed Toddler, but this time, I chose to listen. . . and boy, was I glad I did! Even Mike, he who is an omnomnivore (see below), was won over.

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It tastes great warm, hot, or at room temperature, and is perfect for any season.

Roast Butternut Squash and Bell Pepper Soup Recipe

Ingredients

- 1/2 a butternut squash, cut into chunks

- 2 to 3 bell peppers, depending on their sizes, chunked

- 1 sprig rosemary

- 2 cloves garlic, smashed

- salt and pepper

- whatever sort of milk you happen to like (I used semi-skimmed goat’s milk)

For the topping

- Greek yogurt or sour cream

- whatever sort of cheese you like (we always have mature cheddar lying around, so I used that) (Also, I’m starting to feel like this is such a hippie recipe. Whatever you want, dude. . .)

- basil leaves, chopped

Directions

1. Toss all of the soup ingredients except the milk in a pan. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and season well. Put into a 150 deg C / 300 F oven for about 40 to 45 min or until the veg is soft.

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2. When the peppers and squash are all soft and easily pokable, take them out and put them in a blender. Blend, adding enough milk to make it as thick or thin as you want.

3. Serve with a plop of Greek yogurt and a sprinkling of cheese and basil.

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SO a keeper. The rosemary and garlic really come through, in a non-obnoxious way. I can’t wait to try this with other veg.

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Cheater’s Chicken Curry

Wow, it’s been a while since I blogged! I received some very exciting news about my writing over a week ago, and since then, everything else has taken a back seat while I fluctuated between floating in a daze and scurrying about while squealing. Kinda like a hamster alternating between weed and crack.

On second thought, a hamster alternating between weed and crack would probably be a dead hamster, so nevermind. Fingers crossed I will soon have official good news to share!

On to the food. I’m probably going to sound like Sandra Lee saying this, but I rarely make curries from scratch. Especially in Oxford, where it’s a challenge getting fresh galangal and tamarind. So I cheat. But before you take out the stakes, I only KINDA cheat. I know, I know, it’s like saying “I only embezzle 50% of what I could have embezzled. . .” but the end result is SO worth the guilt.

Don't hate me, I am only semi-homemade.

Don’t hate me, I am only semi-homemade.

Every time I go back to Indo, I make sure to buy a bunch of spice packs like these:

006You could probably find similar stuff at your local Asian supermarket. Anyway, the key to a good Cheater’s Curry is to only use these spice packets as a base to kickstart your curry. You still need to add a ton of fresh spices to your paste, otherwise it’ll come out tasting really bland, like an Anglicized version of curry.

Cheater’s Curry Recipe

Ingredients:

- About 500 to 600 g of chicken, beef, or tofu, cut into bite-size cubes

- A crapload of veggies of your choice. I love cauliflower in curries because they absorb flavor so well, but zuchinni works just as well, and so do green beans, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, and butternut squash. Mike likes bell pepper, but sometimes I think they’re a bit over-powering. Whatever works for you.

- 4 kaffir lime leaves

- 1 cup thick coconut milk

- 2 cloves

- 2 star anise

- 2 cardamom pods

- 1 cup water

- If you think the pre-made spice mix isn’t spicy enough, you can add fresh chilies

For the spice paste:

- 1 packet pre-made spice mix of your choice.

- 4 cloves garlic

- 1 onion

- 4 shallots

- 2 stalks lemongrass

- 1 inch ginger

- 1 tsp sugar

- Salt to taste

Directions:

1. Put all of the spice paste ingredients in a blender and blend the bejesus out of them. When all of the ingredients have been blended into a smooth paste, fry them with the cloves, star aniseeds, and cardamom until they’re fragrant.

2. Put the chicken into the pan.

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3. Sear the chicken until the outside is cooked, then add your veg.

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4. Add the water, coconut milk, chilies, and kaffir lime leaves. Cover and simmer on low heat for 30 min, stirring once in a while and salting to taste.

5. Serve hot with rice (since we’re on a low-carb thing, I just ate it on its own. And I didn’t miss the rice at all.)

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004Aw yea! You know you wanna be a dirty cheater too.

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Braised Coconut Lemon Curry Pork, plus Mike’s Pork Loin Sandwich!

Mkay, before we get to the food, I just have to share this link.

Because Stephen Colbert is the ideal human being. It’s actually unfair that one person could be THIS PERFECT. After Daft Punk cancelled their interview at the last minute due to an MTV contract, Colbert replaced Daft Punk with something 2165318712 times better. Talk about an amazeballs recovery.

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Aaanywho, back to the food. When the same friend who linked me the carnitas recipe linked me this other pork recipe, I knew I had to try it. Problem was, I didn’t have a slow cooker. Also, Mike hates ginger (root, not people). So of course I had to bastardize the recipe. What fun are recipes you can’t play around with? This is pretty much the reason why I rarely bake. Whenever I bake, I can’t resist adding this and that, and before I know it, my muffin has turned into a rock-hard bread thing. But in this particular instance, messing around with the original recipe yielded amazing results.

Braised Coconut Lemon Curry Pork

Ingredients

- 600 g pork shoulder (you can also use belly, but I wouldn’t use a leaner cut than shoulder)

- 2 stalks lemongrass, crushed

- About a thumb-size chunk of ginger root, sliced thinly

- 4 cloves garlic, smashed

- 1 onion, sliced (actually, the onion turned out sooo delicious and soft next time I would put two in)

- 1 tbsp Thai green curry paste

- 1 can coconut milk (I used half a can here, but that turned out to be too little)

- 1 cup water (I didn’t add water here and there wasn’t as much broth/sauce as I would’ve liked)

- 1/2 a lemon, sliced into two

- Salt and pepper

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 160 deg C (320 F). Put all of the ingredients except the coconut milk and pork into a pan.

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2. Season the pork with salt and pepper and slap ‘em into the pot. I used sliced pork shoulder here because that was what we got at the market, but you could use a hunkachunk of shoulder instead.

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3. Pour the coconut milk and water over it. Cover and slide into oven for about 3 to 4 hours. Check on it every 45 min or so, basting the pork.

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004The pork is done when it becomes a challenge to lift it up without it breaking into little glops of deliciousness.

005I know this looks pale and super lame, but trust me when I say the flavor’s to die for. Also, I ate it with a spoon. It yielded to my spoon like the sweet, soft buttcheek of fat angel babies.

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SO tender. This is so totally a keeper. I can’t wait to make this for my family in Indo, actually!

Anyway, the other night, I was completely pooped after a wedding and the thought of cooking made me shrivel up like a sad, salted slug. So I sat back and let Mike putter about in the kitchen, and this was what he came up with:

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Erm, I have no idea what was in it other than. . . pork loin, cheddar, red cabbage, and shrooms. I finished that in under a minute and whined about there being so little of it. I’ll have to ask him for the recipe. It’s funny, he used to cook a lot more often, before I wedged myself between him and the stove and shoved him out of the kitchen. . . I guess I’m just a control freak like that. Who cooks in your house? Do you cook well with others, or do you prefer to have full control of the kitchen?

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This-is-not-a-Tian Tian

Over the weekend, a cousin of mine was in London on her honeymoon, so of course Mike and I had to crash their honeymoon and spent the whole of Saturday with them. At their request to have an afternoon tea, we ate at Fortnum and Mason’s, where I spotted a “Tian of Langoustin and Devonshire Crab” on the menu. I’m kinda ehh about langoustine, which I find a lot more troublesome than its worth, but I couldn’t shake off this mysterious Tian. When we got home, I immediately googled it, and came across a recipe for Vegetable Tian by Ina Garten. French Tian it is! Plus bacon, of course, just because.

So not a Tian.

So not a Tian.

I can never follow a recipe to the letter, so um. . . what I ended up with was probably more of a. . . casserole thing than a Tian, but whatevs. It was still pretty damned amazing.

This is Not a Tian Tian Recipe

Ingredients:

- Half a butternut squash, sliced thinly

- 1 onion, sliced

- 2 zucchinis, sliced to about the same thickness of the squash

- 1 can crushed tomatoes

- 250 g cherry tomatoes

- 1 and 1/2 cups ricotta cheese (Mike liked the ricotta, but I found it kinda ehh. Next time I think I’ll try using mozzarella.)

- 1 cup cheddar, grated

- 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

- 275 g Canadian bacon slices, cut into bite-size pieces

- Thyme

- Salt and pepper

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 180 deg C (356 F). Pan-fry the onions until they’re somewhat soft. Layer them on the bottom of your roasting pan. (Yet another reason this isn’t a Tian, because a Tian’s supposed to be cooked in a. . . Tian.) Pour a bit of the crushed tomatoes onto the onions.

2. Pan-fry the squash until they’re somewhat dry-ish, then layer them on top of the onions. Salt and pepper the squash.

Wow this looks pretty unappetizing...

Wow this looks pretty unappetizing…

3. Layer the bacon on top of the squash, followed by the zucchini. Salt and pepper the zucchini.

0024. Cover the zucchini with the cheeses and sprinkle with thyme. Dot the cheese layer with the cherry tomatoes (this helps keep the cheese from burning). Salt and pepper. Slide into oven and roast for 45 min, or until the squash is tender.

Lil plops of cheese!

Lil plops of cheese!

Ooey cheesy goodness

Ooey cheesy goodness

Sooo. . . this was really good, but it took quite a while to make. There was SO much slicing and dicing and pre-cooking and assembling involved, I was pooped about halfway through. Mike and I dug in, and he said, “Mmm, yum. So what’s the main dish?” >_<” I was about to argue when I recalled reading that most Tian recipes said, “Serve as appetizer or side dish.”

I am a side dish that requires 90 min to make. >:-[

I am a side dish that requires 90 min to make. >:-[

So yea. . . I probably won’t be making this again anytime soon. No side dish is good enough to warrant a 45-min prep time, dammit.

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