Thursday, March 19, 2015

Food fun ventures part 2

MOH and I just celebrated our 9 year anniversary - 9 years. Time flies.

Whenever an anniversary rolls around, MOH and I like to reminisce about how we used to be. You think back and realize just how far you've come on a physical, mental, or in this instance, foodie standpoint. We remember back when we first met - our go-to surviving college student meals consisted of packing sandwiches with all the fixings (wheat bread with cheese slices, romaine or cabbage, and ham) and dinners with either ramen or baked goods (fish sticks, pizza rolls, chicken nuggets). A "healthy" meal to us was stir frying green cabbage with eggs and topping off this healthy mix with thai chili sauce. Serve over white rice, and dinner was served! Now, we're making better attempts to eat healthier and have sworn off using the thai chili sauce on all occasions except as a dipping sauce for samosas or eggrolls.

As a throw back to our younger days, MOH and I decided to venture into the Anaheim Packing House, a collection of more than 20 old school meets modern food vendors and restaurants all located conveniently inside a giant warehouse. Many of these restaurants take food classics and put a twist on the favorites. Each restaurant has its own autonomy with decor and range from old parlor feel to the up scale bar scene.

Inside decor of the packing house - beautifully lit, lots of spaces to eat and hang out

Little vendors strewn throughout the district including this "springtime stand" featuring easter eggs, bath towels, and specialty floral soaps
Of the 20+ restaurants located in this food district, where do MOH and I beeline to? Perhaps the gourmet dark chocolate shop? Or the tea vendor with the monkey picked oolong sampler? Nah, neither of those places catch our eye this time.

The restaurants all vary with some specializing in just ice cream bars, or dark chocolate mixes, or Japanese hot-pot
We decide to keep stay true to our classy selves and head straight to the grilled cheese bar of course.


The Black Sheep Grilled Cheese Bar (GBC) is this cute little mini-diner that specializes exclusively in grilled cheese delights. The menu lists about 10 items, everything grilled dairy.

MOH and I tried their signature #1, which consisted of fromage blanc cheese (super creamy and nutty), caramelized onions, roasted tomatoes and pesto. 


This place will creep up on you. We ordered one sandwich to share and wished that we ordered two. The sandwich is surprisingly creamy but not heavy. The cheese proportion was perfect with the bread. I normally don't like cheese too creamy (sharp cheddar is my favorite), but this cheese was so soft against the crunchy bread that it just worked. The onions and pesto were really good contrasts to the otherwise nutty bread as well.

As if our arteries weren't already shot from eating cheesy goodness, we decided to do more damage by ordering a side of fish and chips from good 'ol Chippy's.




For some reason, ordering fish and chips is something that I'm always drawn to whenever I see it on a menu. I didn't eat it much as a kid but the fried flaky, white fish and tartar sauce combo is one of my favorite things to eat. I think it's the guilty pleasure of eating deep-fried goodness because I have a similar love-hate relationship with french fries (something I always order, even if it's at a fancy restaurant where it goes by the name "pommes frites").

We ordered their sampler of fish, calamari and fries and the size was pretty decent for the price.


I sometimes encounter fish 'n chips having too much batter compared to fish, but the fish to fried dough ratio was really good. The fish was a good size and the calamari had a good bite to it (not too soft or chewy). The fries were sadly, just fries, but the fish was really delicious.

We tried to sample more places, but our tummies just couldn't handle it (although we were seriously considering getting more grilled cheese). Instead of getting dessert, MOH and I opted to just save dessert for next time. There's a cute little popsicle bar that does creamy/fruity variations of ice cream bars that I think we'll try for next time.

The trip to the Packing House was a great success - MOH even walked out with a cute little friend and we spent our special day happily eating grilled cheesy goodness. Fried fish didn't hurt either.

Until next time, happy eating all!



Sunday, March 8, 2015

Fun food ventures part I

Every so often, you just need to take a few breaths and just relax. And having good food doesn't hurt.

Restaurant week rolled around last week for Costa Mesa, and MOH and I went with a friend to try a great little tavern called the Wild Goose.

This little hole in the wall serves up delicious bar food for a great price. You can relax with your favorite starters with a twist, against the backdrop of sports blaring in a western, hunting background (picture staff in flannel, animal headmounts with hanging decorations). The place can get super cramped, so get comfy and be cool with the friendly, not-so-occasional human contact. This bar is a no-fuss, get in, get comfy, and eat good kind of place. And the food is FANTASTIC.

My favorite starter? Sweet potato and goat cheese fritters atop a cilantro glaze. It's like the perfect marriage between sweet potato fries and fried goat cheese. I'm super biased because I'm a sucker for any fried starch, but these little fritters were little bites of heaven. Creamy, savory, spicy pieces of heaven.

Photo courtesy of Mai N. from Yelp
And what trip to a cavern would be complete without a mouth-watering, perfectly mouth-proportioned burger? 

Photo courtesy of Jeff K from Yelp
I'm always on the look-out for good tuna burgers, and this one did not disappoint. For me, a really good burger has just the right amount of toppings that doesn't sacrifice in size. Another thing that really gets to me is if a burger is too large to fit in the average mouth (I mean, no one likes to cut their burger into pieces, or eat it in half-bites). This burger had a great flavor, with a great asian cole-slaw and sweet hot mustard sauce. So delicious and no need for extra condiments.

By the time we were done eating, our bellies were stuffed. No room needed for dessert (although MOH and I did come across a great dessert place later in the week - more on this in the next post: quick eats and sweets).

Until next time, happy eating all!



Sunday, February 15, 2015

Roll with the punches, but let's go light on the coconut dear... Vietnamese rice rolls and Thai custard fun

This weekend was a quadruple threat for MOH and I. It was a three-day weekend, Valentine's day, our anniversary (for the month), and my birthday weekend, so we had to do something special. What better way to spend a great weekend than staying in, cleaning cages, and making some good home-cooked meals?



MOH and I have been on this quest to find pandan leaves. Pandan leaves originate from Asia and are often a flavoring component in many desserts (ever had Pandan waffles?). Every one of my dad's birthdays has featured a beautiful, tasty Pandan cake full of young coconut stuffing. It's the same cake every year, from the same bakery, but my tummy never complains.

Pandan is a popular flavor for many cakes (especially paired with coconut)
While you can put Pandan in several cakes and other types of baked desserts, MOH was craving a Thai custard, sangkhaya, that is often flavored with pandan. So when we finally found Pandan in a grocery store (our fourth effort), we were super excited to try to recreate a Thai favorite that is near and dear to MOH's heart.



The results were delicious, but a bit high on the coconut side. If you like a subtle coconut flavor, I would suggest doing a half-half mixture of coconut milk and almond milk (I'm going to definitely try it next time). If you LOVE coconut milk though, you're in luck - this recipe has the flavor of vanilla and pandan with a kick of coconut. Super creamy, and great to dip with any type of bread.

And with the weather being hot lately (at least for Southern California), I decided to make something light and simple - Vietnamese rice rolls, or banh cuon.  Banh cuon is a type of rice roll that has different types of fillings (meat, vegetable, seafood), and is often eaten over a bed of hearty greens, with steamed meat and fish sauce. Banh cuon is one of my favorite dishes that my mother would make. She would make everything from scratch, even the rice rolls. This was a staple in our house and often was served for brunch during the weekend. It's also a fun dish to eat because you can customize how you want to eat it. If you're more into the rice rolls, you'd stuff your dish full of these little rolls. If you're more into the vegetables, then you could skimp back on the rolls and pack on the greens. For me, I'm super lazy and decided to just buy the rice rolls from the grocery store. If you choose this easy cheat route (totally fine, no shame), preparing the dish can take as little as 10 minutes... seriously.



Super simple, and really healthy (depending on how you make your plate). Either way, a great way for MOH and I to end our Sunday night.

Happy Valentine's to all! And happy eating, please!

Pandan sangkhaya recipe (modified from this awesome recipe):
Ingredients:
- 2 egg yolks
- 1/4 cup sugar
-1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 4 pandan leaves, washed and wiped
- 1 1/2 cups coconut milk (although to get lighter coconut flavor, do half mixture with almond milk)
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
- 1/8 tsp salt

Protocol:
1. Blend pandan leaves with 1 cup of coconut milk until pandan leaves blended thoroughly- strain the mixture and set aside
2. Mix yolks, sugar, cornstarch, vanilla extract, and salt until mixed thoroughly - then add in pandan milk mixture
3. Over low heat, stir the mix (from #2) until thick - you are aiming for a consistency that's like yogurt. Don't overmix - as soon as it thickens, turn off heat and set mixture aside in bowl
4. Once cool - enjoy with bread, dipped!


Banh cuon recipe (this doesn't need a recipe, but ingredients are just listed)
Ingredients:
- Package of banh cuon
- 3 cups beansprouts, blanched
- 1/2 head lettuce, shredded
- Herbs (mint or Vietnamese perilla), chopped
- Steamed fish cake (or Vietnamese ham, cha lua)
- Fish sauce (can be made using this recipe)

To make your banh cuon, customize your dish with as much greens or meat as you like - top off with some fish sauce and enjoy!!!


Sunday, February 8, 2015

Sunday brunch spotlight - Green Tomato Grill

It's been awhile since MOH and I have gone out to eat, but we finally visited a restaurant on our list that has a great brunch menu and it did not disappoint! We spent our Sunday having a great meal in Orange at a tiny place called Green Tomato Grill, a little mecca for meat-lovers, vegans, and vegetarians alike. It's a cute restaurant with a cafe type setting that feels like a mash up between a Veggie Grill and Peet's Coffee.

Green Tomato Grill has a wide menu of breakfast items such as burritos, breakfast bowls, and egg scrambles, in addition to a huge variety of healthy lunch options (grilled bowls, salads, and wraps). There's also room for customizing your dish if you want that little extra kick or sauce to top your dishes - just simply grab a blank menu and circle your choice toppings.


Let me just say that everything we had tasted amazing. The food is super healthy, We started our meal with one of their most highly rated sides, chili lime popcorn.


The popcorn had a great lightness to it - not at all buttery, but full of a great tangy kick. I just kept popping these little kernels into my mouth until my actual meal arrived. Poor MOH, I ate more than half our shared bag.

Everything here is delicious and fresh. I ordered the BBQ Tofu bowl, one of their most popular items (at least through Yelp). Crispy lemongrass tofu is served atop brown rice with a great heap of stir fried vegetables that consists of cabbage, snap peas, tomatoes and onions. And to top it all off? Green Tomato's signature chipotle sauce with sliced avocado. The bowl combination was so delicious. The crispy tofu was so well seasoned and stayed crispy despite being mixed through all the sauteed vegetables. The dish was extremely filling.



Definitely a great welcome back to trying new foods. I'm not a fan of bowls when I go to restaurants, but the great sauce combination with vegetable stir fry was too delicious to pass up. And who can say no to fried tofu???

Until next time, happy eating all!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Half-marathon success!!!

One of the things on my bucket list is to run a half-marathon or even better, full marathon. I've entertained the idea whenever I see cool running events, but never follow through with signing up. Of all the events available through California, Surf City definitely looked like "the one" to try. With a relatively flat route and beautiful backdrop (who can say no to running alongside the wonderful ocean view?), Surf City is hard to say no to. So when early registration rolled up last year, I finally signed up, scheduled in my training schedule runs, monitored my "healthy food" intake, and started counting down the months.

Today, everything came together despite battling a fever and nasal congestion the night before. 


It was such an amazing experience and big accomplishment for me. For the past few years, running has been a great outlet for me to de-compress and just relax. I'm not a fast runner by any means, but running allows me to have a few moments every day to just be with my own thoughts and it's something that I have control over in life. Life is full of so much unpredictability, with so many things out of our hands (no matter how much we try to handle it). Life is so short that you need to do everything in your power to just find more bubbles of happiness.

Like finding an awesome person to share big moments in your life.

What do I find when I arrive home? My own special medal that MOH handcrafted with felt.


More happy moments to end this weekend! 

Super Bowl just ended, and hopefully you enjoyed your weekend, no matter what the outcome.

What was on the menu tonight? Easy-grilled cheese sandwiches complete with sliced onions and mushrooms... yum. Happy eating all!




Monday, January 26, 2015

Burger night! Sloppy 'fus (sloppy tofus)

MOH just got over being sick and the first thing to come to mind was BURGERS. A good juicy burger with fries. We had some leftover shredded chicken breast that I was using for MOH's pasta noodle soup, so MOH creatively whipped up a mesquite mix and created a riff off "pulled chicken" to top his burger bun. It smelled so deliciously sweet and tangy (my favorite kind of BBQ flavor) that I thought about just having a little bite o' meat. Times like this channel my inner fried-chicken fatty.



But to make sure his little chef wasn't feeling left out, MOH surprised me with tofu sloppy joes (or sloppy 'fus).

These bad boys are so delicious and come with great flavoring. I usually make a quinoa burger but MOH's little creations had a great kick and smoky flavor to them - great for a casual Sunday dinner. These darlings are super easy to make - the key to cooking with Tofu is to make sure you pull out as much water as possible (my favorite tofu is firm or extra firm - I only use silken or soft for soups) and let the tofu simmer in your sauce of choice.

For these sloppy 'fus, MOH made a rub of his favorite BBQ sauce, honey, maple syrup and spices. I'm not going to showcase too much measurements because MOH just threw stuff together, so when you make your rub of choice, just follow the bare bone recipe below!

Ingredients:
- 1 packet of tofu, drained
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- Spice rub: your favorite BBQ sauce (1 cup), 2 tablespoons maple syrup, 2 tablespoons honey, and your favorite spices (onion powder, paprika, garlic salt, fresh ground pepper)

Protocol:
- Mash tofu in a bowl into little pieces (this also helps take out some water)
- Marinate tofu pieces with rub
- In a small saucepan, add tofu marinated mixture
- Let tofu and sauce simmer until thickened (be sure to mix and cook down the tofu until the tofu is firmed and has a consistency of ground beef, or close to that)
- When cooked, let cool - then put on bun of your choice with all the "burger" fixings!

This sloppy joe mixture doubles over as a great snack and is jam packed with protein (tofu contains all the essential amino acids we need). Perfect munchies to prepare me for my half-marathon, which is next weekend!

Until next time, happy eating all!


Sunday, January 18, 2015

Tackling mortality at the genetic level

Ever care for someone while they're sick?

MOH has been extremely sick for the past couple days (and counting) and has been putting the whole "in sickness and health" vow to good use. Aside from walking around like a zombie, coughing sporadically, and taking in tons of tea/soup, he's been moping around requesting that even if he dies, I stay unmarried.

MOH's constant death remarks got me to thinking about a question that we normally don't think about until we get much older... What determines our mortality? Is there a such thing as an elixir of life that can keep us our youthful selves, free of disease, free of aging? 

Immortality in art: "Four immortals saluting longevity" by Shang Xi
While life expectancy has gradually increased with the advent of technology and better health care, our life span has remained pretty constant (the maximum life span is currently ~120 years old). While this life span is quite long, other animals, even mammals, have been known to live longer. For instance, a large whale called the bowhead whale can live up to 200 years. In addition to a long lifespan, this whale species also has low prevalence of many diseases associated with aging. 

Bowhead whales can reach up to 20 meters in length and weigh up to 100 tons (photo courtesy of Olga Shpak)
Why so old and healthy? And is it possible that with today's technological advances, can we tap into some of those genes and maybe get clues as to why we don't live as long?

In a recent article published in Cell Reports, scientists have uncovered the genetic makeup behind why long-living mammals like the bowhead whales are able to live so long, disease free.

Scientists were able to map the genetic map (or genome) of this whale species and compared the bowhead gene map to another whale species that does not live as long (Minke whale which lives for about 50 years) and identified several genes that may be the reason for why these whales live so long. 

Not surprisingly, many age, cancer, pro-growth, and DNA repair genes were found in the bowhead whale. Some interesting genes that turned up were the gene called histone deacetylase 1 (HDAC), a gene that is important for packaging DNA, and excision repair cross-complementing rodent repair deficiency (ERCC1), which when mutated, affects the lifespan of rodents and accelerates the aging process.

It's an experiment taken right out of what seems like a mad scientist's brain, but how do you apply these genetic findings to humans? Finding natural ways that animals are able to live so long, disease free, offers us new ways to study how these same genes may be changed in humans. If we could understand how these genes work naturally (to ward off age-related disease), we can potentially figure out how to fight these same genes when they get funky and altered. Though it's a long stretch to believe that we can take a cocktail of assorted genes that are "anti-aging/anti-disease," it's definitely a possibility in the future (realistic or not, it's possible!).

Hope everyone's enjoying their weekend. In between caring for MOH, I've been making peanut butter energy bars that when frozen taste like frozen yogurt.... so good.

Until next time, happy eating all!


References:
Keane, M et al., 2015. Insights into the evolution of longevity from the bowhead whale genome. Cell Reports. 10: 112-122.