CinnaSpin Cookies

This is a recipe I found on the Betty Crocker website. They look like little cinnabon rolls in a cookie. Here are the ingredients for the cookie dough:

  • 1 batch of sugar cookie pre-mix (1 lb.)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup butter or margarine
  • 1 egg

Mix all ingredients into a soft dough. I then put the bowl in the freezer for around 10 min. so rolling it is easier. At room temperature, the dough is too soft and won’t roll right.
Roll a ball of dough out into a 4-5″ roll. I just do it between my palms like I’m rolling some clay. Then take the rolled out dough and place it on to a bed of cinnamon (just one edge only). The heat from your palms will actually soften the dough pretty quick so do it fast or it will get too soft to coil. You can try to roll it out on a waxed paper surface but I think between your palms is faster and easier.
Now, coil the roll with the cinnamon edge on the inside. When done, press the end to the roll so it does not roll apart. Then place on an ungreased cookie sheet about an inch or two apart. Bake about 10 minutes in a 350 degree oven until light golden. I think these cookies are better on the soft side so don’t over-bake. Remove from oven and cool for a minute before removing from pan to cooling rack. Don’t forget to put the unused dough into the freezer in-between batches to keep it hard.

Make a glaze with 1 cup powdered sugar with 1 tablespoon milk and 1/4 teaspoon vanilla. Mix until smooth and put into a baggie. Snip a corner of the baggie so you can squeeze the glaze out onto the cooled cookies. Let the glaze harden (if you can wait) then enjoy!

Steak n’Bean Chili

Here is a chili recipe that cooks in a slow cooker that has steak, ground sirloin and sausage with 4 kinds of beans (white, brown, black, red) which makes for a colorful dish. Here are the ingredients:

1 lb. ground sirloin (low fat content)

1 lb. steak cut into 1/2″ or smaller cubes

1 lb. smoked sausage cut into slices

1 large onion diced

1 yellow bell pepper diced

1 stalk celery diced

1 serrano pepper diced small (add another if you want hotter)

1 can each (15 oz) of white beans, pinto beans, black beans and kidney beans

1 can (15 oz) tomato paste

1 can (15 oz) diced stewed tomatoes

1 tablespoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon cumin powder

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1-1/2 teaspoon salt and dusting of black pepper

Brown the ground meat and drain. Add to the crock pot. Then brown the steak and sausage and add to pot. Saute the onion until translucent then the bell pepper and celery and continue to saute until soft. Add to the pot. Add all the seasonings. Drain and rinse the beans and add with tomatoes and paste to the pot. Stir and put the crockpot on low for around 4 hours.

I like to serve it on a bed of rice. That’s it – really easy for a hearty dish that satisfies a crowd. Some people like sour cream, grated cheese, chopped onion as condiments but for me it’s not needed. You can use green bell pepper or jalapeno peppers if desired but I prefer the yellow and serrano flavors. Enjoy!

Steamed Artichokes

Eating artichokes is sort of like eating sunflower seeds… it takes a bit of work pulling off the petals and nibbling off the tiny bit of flavorful morsel at the end. However, you are rewarded by a nice artichoke heart at the end! Yes they are petals since an artichoke is technically a flower bud from a thistle family. If left on the plant, it will bloom into a nice purple thistle flower. We are fortunate to live in Southern California where artichokes grow quite easily. We started with one seedling 4 years ago. After that plant produced around a dozen or more artichokes, I just cut the plant down at ground level. A month or so later a half dozen shoots sprouted from the old stem. I just dug the small plants out and transplanted them. Each in turn produced another dozen or so artichokes and produce new plants again. So each year new sprouts emerge where the old plant was. They grow like weeds and need lots of sun and water and a little fertilizer at the beginning. We end up with lots of artichokes and our neighbors are quite happy when we share them.

The most tender artichokes are the ones that are harvested first. Ones from later in the season tend to be harder with drier petals. I was told that the plants will keep producing for 4-5 years so I may have to start new plants soon. Not sure if shoots after that will grow into producing plants or not.

This one in the pot is the first of the season and as you see is really big!

I just put about an inch of water in the pot with a pinch of salt and place the artichoke in the pot with a lid and let it steam for 20-25 minutes. When ready just put on a plate and start pulling off the petals from the bottom petals and work your way inward. We just use melted butter to dip the end in before biting the end and using your teeth to pull off the meaty part. You can also put some garlic salt in the butter for a little more flavor if you prefer.

When you finish all the petals, you are left with the base or heart of the artichoke. There is a fuzzy, bristly part that you need to scrape off the top of the heart.






Now your are left with the heart that you can slice into pieces and enjoy! All that hard work comes to fruition! Actually though, sharing an artichoke is one of life’s simple pleasures! So head to the market and get some artichokes now that they are in season and get some seeds or plants to grow in your backyard.

House Special Chow Mein

This is a great recipe to make for a potluck or large gathering. It has a little bit of everything, hence the House Special name. Use the recipe as a guide but get creative and use other vegetables like celery, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, bean sprouts, etc. and/or chicken if you prefer. I also like the Canton noodles which is a thick, wheat/egg noodle but you can use other types instead. Also, I like to pre-cook the meats separately, so I can drain excess oil and to control the cooking of the various ingredients.

(shown in this photo is baby bok choy, shitake mushrooms, green onion, sliced and fried lup cheong, and pork strips already fried)

Here is my ingredients list:
Large package (16 oz) Canton noodles
1.5 lbs shrimp, shelled, deveined (butterflied from back)
1 lb. pork strips
4-5 links lup cheong (Chinese-style sausage)
1 medium onion
1 bunch green onions
3-4 shitake mushrooms
2-3 bunches baby bok choy
1 can baby corn
1 can sliced water chestnuts
1 can sliced bamboo shoots
4 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
salt and pepper

First thing I do is pre-cook the meats. I shell and butterfly cut the shrimp from the back and devein. Then saute quickly for a few minutes until shrimp turn opaque then remove from wok. At this time, also take a large pot of water and heat to a boil to cook the noodles later.

Then I slice the lup cheong at a slight diagonal and fry. Lup cheong is a dense, pork sausage that has a slightly sweet flavor. The sausage can be quite oily so I like to fry, remove from wok and drain the oil out. Then fry the pork strips and remove from the wok. Luckily at the Asian market I shop at, I can find the pork already sliced in thin strips (in the freezer section).
With a clean wok, I add vegetable oil and saute the round onion. Then add the sliced mushrooms and saute. Add salt, pepper and garlic powder. While cooking, I take the canned ingredients (baby corn, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots) and wash well, draining the water a few times to get rid of the canned taste.
I then add these to the wok and saute. Add soy sauce and fish sauce.

While this is cooking, take the noodles and cook in the pot of water. The noodles only take a couple of minutes to soften so check often and don’t overcook or the noodles will get soggy. When done, drain in a colander and add to the wok. Add the meats, shrimp and sliced green onions and mix. Cook just for a couple more minutes while tossing the ingredients together to mix well. Add more salt and pepper to taste if you like.
Transfer to a large platter or pan for your table and enjoy!

Cauliflower & Potato Curry

This is Linda and Lisa’s favorite so it is made pretty often and at is on the stove at every gathering. This is sort of a mix of Indian and Asian flavors with the type of curry and coconut milk being the key. Here is the recipe list:

  • 1 medium head of cauliflower
  • 2-3 medium size potatoes
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 can garbanzo beans
  • 1/2 cup frozen green peas
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons curry powder
  • 1 tablespoon tumeric
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • salt and pepper

Chop onion and saute with vegetable oil in a large pot or wok. While cooking, I cut the cauliflower into flowerettes. I thinly slice larger stem areas and split larger flowerettes into halves or quarters and add. Peel the potatoes and cut into small 1/2 inch pieces. Add to the pot with the coconut milk and stir. I then add the curry powder to an area I clear with a lot of liquid and stir to dissolve the powder before mixing the entire pot. The curry I use is an Asian curry that has star anise, cloves, ginger, cinnamon and other spices in the ingredients besides the main ones of coriander, tumeric and cumin. The brand I usually use is S&B although other Japanese or Korean curry powders are good too.

I also add more tumeric and red chile powder to kick up the heat a bit – add more if you like it hot! Add the garlic powder and salt and pepper to taste. I give a gentle sprinkling across the entire surface as my measure. Mix well then add the garbanzo beans. I always rinse the beans well before adding to get rid of the canned taste. Turn the heat to low and simmer with a lid on for around 30-40 minutes until the potatoes and cauliflower become soft.

I like the mixture very thick and more thick stew-like than soupy so watch and stir often so it does not dry out and start burning. You can add some water if it starts to get too thick as the potatoes break down. I also gently mash some of the larger chunks of potatoes and cauliflower to get a thick mixture.

When it is done, I add the green peas and mix. I don’t like to overcook the peas so they stay bright green. Serve over a bed of rice and enjoy!

Gardena Ramen

Jade introduced us to Gardena Ramen and it has also become one of our favorite places. This night that we came, it was a one man operation – waiter, cook and cashier all into one. Ramen is a Japanese wheat noodle soup served with a few simple toppings. There is no menu here except for what is written on the walls. You can order 2 types – either shoyu or miso ramen. Both are very good! They come with sliced green scallions, bamboo shoots, pork, and half of a hard-boiled egg on top. The shoyu version is very flavorful – rich tasting but not heavy. The miso is very high quality – tangy, bright flavor and not heavy. Miso done at other places are sometimes over-cooked reducing the flavor and beneficial properties. The noodles are al dente and absolutely perfect. Perfectly flavored soup and perfectly textured noodles – can’t ask for more! Maybe this is why that is all they serve…

You can also order fried gyoza (potstickers) as an appetizer for $3.50. The ramen is $6.50 and for $1 more a large bowl. We have never ordered large or have seen other diners with the large size and we always leave full! They also serve Asahi beer and soft drinks.

Gardena Ramen is on the SW corner of Western Ave. and 182nd St. in Torrance just north of the 405 freeway – same shopping center as the 99 Cent Store.

Kalua Pork

In Hawaii, we would call this kalua pig – a main course in Hawaiian food. Traditionally, this would be a whole pig cooked in an underground pit or imu. Basically, smooth beach rocks would be heated in a pit fire. The rocks would line the pit and be inserted into the pig cavity. Banana tree stalks would be placed around and on top. Burlap would go over with dirt covering the entire mound. It would take all day to cook. The meat would just fall off the bone and be infused with a smoky aroma. As you can imagine, this is quite a production so here is an easier way to do it with a crock pot. Although if you ever get a chance to eat authentic kalua pig done in an imu, you’ll be in for a treat indeed!

You can use a pork butt or shoulder roast around 4-6 lbs. Don’t trim the fat since after cooking, most of it liquifies – can be separated and when served can be quite lean. You can use banana leaves which can be found in the frozen food section of asian markets. I have a ti leaf plant growing in the backyard that works great. This plant came from a small stalk from the kind that you find in the tourist shops in Hawaii. It comes in handy for this recipe by separating from the pot bottom and adds to the flavor. You will also need rock salt and liquid smoke.

I use Alàea rock salt from Hawaii. Traditionally, the sea water is put into red dirt impressions. The iron and other minerals in the dirt infuses with the salt as it dries. So this salt has a lot of minerals and being sea salt has a milder flavor than regular salt. Rub a handfull of the salt all over the roast and place it into the crock pot over a banana leaf or couple of ti leaves. Add a tablespoon or two of water to the bottom of the pot.

Take one tablespoon of liquid smoke and drip over the roast. Place another leaf or two on top and close the pot. Put on low heat for 8-10 hours.

After cooking, the meat will be quite tender. Take out and cool until you can handle the meat. I like to have the kalua lean so will separate any fat away. Some people will leave more in and will also put some of the drippings back into the pulled meat to keep it moist. This is up to you…

I take a chunk of meat and squeeze it between my fingers as I pull it apart into strips. This is similar to Southern pulled pork and also carnitas. As kalua pork, you can serve as is. You can also sprinkle a little more rock salt if desired.

Other serving options is to make kalua pork sliders by taking King’s Hawaiian Bread rolls and cutting in half. Stack the roll with the pork and coleslaw (a pineapple slaw works great) or cilantro (as I like it) with some barbecue sauce on top. I have also used this as carnitas for soft tacos. Popular in Hawaii is to take the leftovers and saute with onions and cabbage and to serve over rice. So next time you’re in Hawaii, go to a luau – but also ask ahead of time if you can watch the preparation and unloading of the imu – you may get to sample some right out of the pit!

Rosemary & Onion Focaccia

I learned to make focaccia from Marco Casentini and learned about really getting the feel for dough and not being hung up on measuring. I used to watch Jamie Oliver on TV (Naked Chef days) and he really didn’t measure when making dough either. I think this is important so that you understand what is going on with the process and can get success everytime. So this recipe will not have precise measuring although I’ll give some as a starting point.

Start with getting a glass of warm water. I take it right out of the tap – should be on the hotter side but comfortable when your hand is under the water. You want it warm enough for the yeast to be active but not too hot where you kill it.

Add 1 tablespoon of sugar to the water then 1 tablespoon of dry active yeast. The sugar acts as food for the yeast and will get it going. Then start with around 2-1/2 cups of flour and add the liquid. I then use a spoon the mix it together. You can tell if you need more flour. Just keep sprinkling it in until the consistency starts to become in-between of being too wet but don’t go too dry.

Get your hands into it and start to really work it. I use my thumbs to push the dough in the center and then use my fingers to roll it up. I also keep turning the dough at the same time by continuously folding and turning and pushing the dough into itself. Add more flour as needed. The dough should start getting very elastic and not stick to your fingers. If it is still too wet it will stick to the bowl and fingers. Just keep sprinkling in flour and keep working it for around 10 minutes.

When the dough feels right it won’t stick to your fingers and won’t flake from being too dry.  You can then take it out of the bowl and continue to work with it. Form a ball and keep patting it around and around. It should feel very elastic. It reminds me of working with clay… but this yeast ball is alive! It is not sticky but very smooth and almost hollow sounding when you pat it. This is the best part. It really feels good to get a nice lively ball of dough.

Sprinkle some flour on the bottom of the bowl and put the ball of dough back in. Put a cloth over it and put into a dark warm place. I usually use the cupboard or the unheated oven. Let it sit for around an hour to rise. After an hour, take the ball out of the bowl and squeeze it all around again to compress back into a round ball. Pre-heat the oven on to 350 degrees.

Coat the bottom of a baking sheet with olive oil. Put the dough on top and with oiled hands, press the dough flat across the sheet. It will be elastic but keep working it out towards the corners.

Some people use their fingers but I just take the end of a wooden spoon and press holes into the dough across the entire dough. This will give a nice texture and allow areas for the salt and olive oil to go into (which will be added next).

This is where you can get creative. I use fresh rosemary and sprinkle it across the entire area. I also generously sprinkle coarse rock sea salt and thinly sliced onion followed by drizzling olive oil across everything.

Put into a pre-heated oven at 350 degrees for around 8-10 minutes. The focaccia will rise up and get brown on the bottom. I then switch the oven to broil and put it close to the coils on top. You have to really watch it at this point as it will quickly get brown. You don’t want to burn it. I also rotate the pan around to evenly brown the entire face.

Take it out when done and transfer to a wooden cutting board. I use a pizza rotary cutter to cut into squares. Serve and enjoy immediatly. The aroma of the rosemary and baked focaccia is just great! Put extras (if you have any) into an airtight container. Cold focaccia like cold pizza is also yummy! Speaking of pizza, I use this same dough but roll it out flatter and use a pizza stone in the oven for great pizza!

Red Velvet Cookies

A few months ago I never even heard of red velvet. Friends talk about it – you even hear about it on TV shows. Everywhere are red velvet cakes, and cupcakes even at 7eleven. Then a recipe on Betty Crocker’s website caught my eye… red velvet cookies! It was a prize winning recipe for 2010. Alana and I made a batch for her girl scout cookie exchange. My thought was that they looked festive and the ingredients looked easy enough. So we made them and couldn’t believe how good they tasted! They look really good too and were great for the exchange. The problem was she needed 3 dozen for the exchange so we only had a few leftovers which were gone in no time!  So we definitely had to make them again. A week or so later we made them again this time with Chiara and Alana doing the decorating. We gave some to neighbors for the holidays. The rest were again gone in no time! So we’ll have to make another batch soon.

Here’s the recipe from Betty Crocker’s website:

1 bag sugar cookie mix (1 lb, 1.5 oz)

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa

1/4 cup butter or margarine (we used margarine)

1/4 cup sour cream

1 tablespoon red food coloring

1 egg (we used egg beaters equivalent)

white cream cheese frosting

chopped nuts (we used pecans) also used red cinnamon sprinkles

Mix the sugar cookie mix with cocoa, margarine, sour cream, egg and red food coloring. I just used a wooden spoon. It seems too dry at first but as you keep working the mix absorbs all the wet ingredients and it does come out to a perfect consistency.

I then used a spoon to spoon out a lump and shaped it into a slightly flattened cookie ball. Rolled it in my palms until round then placed on ungreased cookie sheet and pressed down to slightly flatten. It  tends not to flatten out like a really soft cookie dough so I helped start it.

Bake in 375 degree F oven for about 9 minutes. Our oven runs hot so I turned it down about 25 degrees and actually baked for around 10 minutes. I had to check to make sure it did not burn on the bottom. I think it is better to take out slightly earlier so 9 minutes may have been good enough – softer is better than harder for these. We’ll have to experiment a little more.

I use 2 cookie sheets so when one is cooling the other is ready to go and popped into the oven. Once cooled I move them to a cooling rack. Cookies have to be cool enought before frosting or the frosting will melt. Spread a generous amount of frosting on top and sprinkle with nuts and sprinkles if you like. We slightly pressed the nuts in so they stay in. The frosting will harden after an hour or so then store in an air-tight container (if it lasts that long!)

We like these because of the rich flavor but it is not overly sweet. Try it – we know you’ll love ’em.

Phở Consommé

Gardena has a lot of noodle restaurants and so trying to decide which one to go to is difficult. We first tried to go to Pho Hong Long down the street but it was packed and decided not to wait. We saw Pho Consomme right on Redondo Beach Blvd. and decided to give it a try. It is a free-standing restaurant so has lots of parking and lots of seating inside unlike Pho Hong Long which is in a small shopping/strip mall and not much seating. First impression is that it is very modern – computer touchscreens for the waiters, big screen tvs with the games on, and very clean looking. The menu is huge with so many items to choose from but we had a craving for pho so stuck with that page.

Here’s a disclaimer that this blog is not about restaurant reviews but just our general impressions on what we like. We are fairly new diners to pho so don’t have a ton to compare from. I love ramen but something about the beansprouts, basil and jalapeno that just creates a craving for me. Plus the rice noodles are just awesome!

Alana had the rare beef version and I had the #1 which had everything – rare beef, meatball, tripe, tendon, flank and also brisket. Small bowls are $5.50 and the large is $6.25 so these photos you’re seeing are large bowls. There is a lot of meat for sure! The only thing I would notice is that the rare beef is not a thinly sliced as other places. Something about the broth was also not as good as other places… maybe tasted more of star anise and lacked a flavor that I just can’t place… a little flat. I usually like to start eating as they serve it to get a sense of the soup base then add everything else in after. Since all we had was pho we would rate it only for the pho at 3 stars out of 5. Alana was a bit disappointed that they were out of boba and fruit smoothies even though they were advertised on the outside and on the menu… and this was 12:15 on Saturday. We discussed it and may not come back for the pho but maybe for the other items on the menu. We noticed the food our neighbors were also getting and it all looked really good. Also of note was that the waiters were very attentive and service was very fast.

Pho #1 on the menu – with rare beef, meatball, flank, brisket, tripe and tendon.