Girl + Fire = Food



Monday, August 30, 2010

Food Truck Madness at the OC Foodie Fest 2010

The LA food trucks are now as ubiquitous as the palm trees and fake-tanned celebrities. A quick check on Twitter will give you the details for any given lunch or happy hour (or just follow @FoodTruckLA for all the updates). Being the food lover that I am, I've been on a mission to try as many of them as possible.

Food trucks have even spawned their own food festivals. In the last month both Los Angeles and Long Beach have hosted their own, and this weekend it was Orange County's turn.

I'd had to miss the two local events, so when the chance came up to volunteer for OC Foodie Fest, I jumped at it. In the process I was able to hit two separate goals of trying at least one new truck and FINALLY meeting the crazily talented OakMonster of Hmm...Food...Good.

Oakley and I have "known" each other for the better part of a year. We have several real-life friends in common, follow each other on Twitter, and are connected on Facebook. We also worked less than half a mile apart and yet had NEVER been able to meet up. Until this past Saturday when we were paired together at check-in, where for four hours we helped scan very hungry and very enthusiastic food truck fans (like the boy above).

After our shift we got to roam around the event. It had been difficult to stand at check-in and watch the lines grow exponentially, knowing that we'd have slim to no chance of getting to experience some of the favorites. Most of the well-known trucks were there, including some of the crew from The Great Food Truck Race: Nom Nom Truck, Crepes Bonaparte and Nana Queen's Puddin' & Wings. The lines for these trucks in particular were beyond all limits of patience. Imagine Disneyland on the busiest day without a fast pass.

We decided to divide and conquer, setting our sights on two trucks we'd never tried and that had relatively short lines. Oakley took the OC-based Barcelona on the Go and I opted for LA's recently introduced Yatta Truck. How can you resist deep-fried cheeseburger rolls?

From the BOTG truck we ordered a fig and manchego salad (no picture) the chicken empanada (right) and a Spanish quesadilla (below).

The salad was absolutely forgettable. So much so that I forgot to take a picture of it. The empanada was not unlike ones my mom and I have made at home. Though not fried to a crisp like Argentinian turnovers, the filling was a bit greasy and under-seasoned. Disappointing. And since it was undoubtedly made of some sort of wheat based flour, I wasn't going to risk a reaction on it.

The quesadilla was interesting. Instead of just being filled with cheese, it was accompanied by a thick layer of potato and onion, and topped with a chipotle aioli. It wasn't bad. Different from the Mexican version I eat on a near-daily basis, but not bad.

The Yatta Truck was a bit more exciting. There are five standard rolls to choose from, all inexpensive: $3.50 to $3.75 for four pieces, $6.50 to $7 for the super-sized eight pieces. You can also create your own roll by choosing up to four of twelve ingredients. I opted for the Poki ([right] tuna over a standard California rollwhich I usually despise, but the tuna made it delicious), the Sweet Aloha (deep fried teriyaki beef and pineapple) and the aforementioned All-American cheeseburger roll (a deep fried cheeseburger).

The All-American (left) is on top next to the ketchup, Sweet Aloha is covered in yummy sauces. Oakley and I agreed that the fried cheeseburger needed to be paired with beer. But we were too worn out to walk to the beer garden and stand in a long line. In fact, after gorging ourselves on all those carbs, the food coma started to set in.

There were so many other trucks I wanted to try, especially those that never go beyond the Orange Curtain into LA like Louk's To Go. But the lines were either much too long or, as in LudoBites' case, they closed up early. Plus, after standing in the sun checking in over 3,000 people over the course of four hours, we were positively drained. 

(My pictures were taken with my iPhone, but Oakley busted out her Nikon DSLR and shot what I'm sure are much more beautiful pictures. Follow her blog for more details.)

The organizers did a fantastic job of creating buzz about the event. I was getting multiple updates daily via both Facebook and Twitter as new sponsors and trucks signed up. On the day of, all 8500 tickets had already been sold. Though there were plenty of first run mishaps, I applaud them for putting together a wonderful fundraising campaign, gathering great sponsors and entertainment, and best of all, highlighting gluten-free options! The map we handed out at the entrance had all this info listed. Brilliant.

Good job OC Foodie Fest!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Purple Potato Hash

Anything your potato can do, my purple potato can do better. And by "better" I mean "more colorfully." Take hash browns for example (or hash purples, if you will).

Hash browns are the cornerstone of any good diner across this country. They're perfectly crispy on the outside and wonderfully tender on the inside. How does the line cook produce such alchemy? Magic, obviously. Also, dried potatoes.

Elise Bauer breaks the process down (with a funny story about her parents arguing about hash browns) and pictures over at Simply Recipes. The trick to perfectly cooked homemade hash browns: a potato ricer! I've always used mine to wring the water out of defrosted spinach, but this is even better.

Working with purple potatoes can be a bit messy. They have purple juice. And if you're not careful when pressing it out of the little grated suckers, it will get everywhere and stain everything. Wear a dark purple shirt when making these.

Elise's recipe calls for one large frisbee-disc size hash brown, but I prefer mine in smaller single-serving size petite discs. One medium potato yields about two to three 3-inch hash browns. 3 hash browns are about how much fried food my body can handle before it goes on strike. Your mileage may vary.

Grapes added as a digestive aid. Rah-rah raw fruit!
Hash Purples
serves 4

1 lb purple potatoes
3 tablespoons pomace oil

1. Grate the potatoes using the large holes on your grater.

2. Heat one tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan on medium high heat.

3. While the pan is heating, squeeze out as much moisture as you can from the grated potatoes using a potato ricer. (If you don't have a ricer, use paper towels to squeeze out as much moisture as you can from the grated potatoes.) Wear dark clothing and do this over your sink. Purple potato juice is unforgiving.

4. Form the now-dry grated potatoes into small mounds. Press to flatten them out so they are about 3 inches long and a half-inch thick. Make sure they're about the same thickness all the way around for even cooking.

5. Working in batches, wait for the oil to start shimmering, but not smoking. Add the flattened potato discs, spreading them out along the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle some salt and pepper on the potatoes. After a few minutes, lift up one edge of the potatoes and see how done they are. If they have fried to a golden brown they are ready to flip. Continue to cook until they are golden brown on the bottom.

6. Repeat, adding oil as necessary to the pan, until all the discs are cooked through. Enjoy.
Many thanks to Elise for demystifying the ancient diner art of perfectly cooked hash browns! These are a colorful addition to any breakfast, and taste just as good asif not "better" thanregular russet potatoes.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Homemade Flower Tortillas

I love zucchini flowers. They're simply beautiful. And thankfully, easy to find if you go to the right farmers' market at the right time. (These are courtesy of the Friday morning Market near the Venice Library.)

Typically you will find these pretty flowers stuffed with cheese and fried. Or cooked inside cheesy quesadillas. Very yum. But I wanted something slightly different. Last year I had a party at Rivera, a modern Latin cuisine restaurant in downtown LA. One of their signature dishes is the tortillas florales: tortillas with flowers pressed into them. And that's where the inspiration for these was born.

Corn tortillas are very easy to make, even if you're making them from scratch. I bought the pre-made masa at a local store, cutting out one step entirely. A tortilla press cuts down on the elbow grease too (though a rolling pin will do just fine). It's important to line the press with wax paper or plastic wrap to keep the tortillas from sticking. They'll peel off the quite easily this way.

A comal is handy for tortillas too, but you can use a skillet instead.

If you've ever pressed flowers in a book, you are already a tortilla making expert. That is exactly how these tortillas were made, right down to the pressed flowers!

A tip if you buy the blossoms but aren't going to use them immediately: put them in water, just like any other flowers. Store them in the fridge. They'll keep for a couple of days, instead of shriveling up within hours.

Flower Tortillas
Yields 10 tortillas, about 5-6 inches in diameter

1 lb prepared masa (tortilla dough)
10 zucchini flowers or other squash blossoms

1. Divide the dough into about 10 equal pieces and roll into balls.

2. Place a ball dough into the center of the tortilla press, and press down.

3. Open the press and place a flower in the center of the now flattened dough. Gently—the flowers are fragile—arrange so the leaves spread out slightly.

4. Press down again, but with only minimal force. You don't want to crush the flower, just embed it into the tortilla.

5. Cook the flattened dough in a hot skillet or comal over low heat for a few minutes on each side. The dough will become crispy and slightly golden. (You can also add a bit of cooking oil to the skillet and fry them instead. Your tastebuds will thank you but your arteries will not.) 

6. Put the tortillas in a plastic bag or wrapped in a tea towel to keep them pliable. Serve warm.
The tortillas will keep in the refrigerator for a few days. Put in a plastic ziplock bag and press out as much as the air as possible. To reheat, simply throw back on the skillet. Or, if you want to do it the way we always have in my house, throw on top of the burner over medium heat and flip with your bare fingers every few seconds until they are pliable again. Take care not to burn your fingers. G+F cannot be held responsible if you hurt yourself in the process.

The possibilities here are endless. You can press just about anything edible into a tortilla, or between two tortillas and create something closer to the Salvadorean pupusa. I personally like mine stuffed with cheese.

Now excuse me while I stuff my face with more flower tortillas. Mmm.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Pan-Fried Bacon-Wrapped Enoki

I had a hankering for spring rolls the other day so I visited my local Japanese market for supplies. And that is where I spied these very interesting little mushrooms. Enoki mushrooms are delicate, long white mushrooms with tiny little caps for heads, and are packaged in bundles. They're great raw. Throw them in a salad. They're an wonderful alternative to sprouts, which always taste like dirt to me (enoki do not taste like dirt).

And while the raw preparation is fine, fried isn't half bad. At all. I learned that when I put them in the spring rolls (which promptly explodedapparently I didn't wrap them tightly enough). And then, of course, there's the no brainer: wrapped in bacon.

Do a search for bacon-wrapped enoki and you'll mostly find oven baked recipes. And while I'm sure that's fine and dandy, I had no desire to a) turn on the oven in the middle of the summer (despite the very cool temps we've been enjoying in LA), or b) wait the requisite 15-20 minutes for my food to be ready. So I pan-fried instead.

I rushed the cooking because, quite simply, I was hungry. And I had 30 minutes before a conference call, so the quicker the bacon fried up, the better. That's why everything looks a bit over-charred in this picture. But it still tasted like bacon heaven, so I cannot complain.

Pan-Fried Bacon-Wrapped Enoki
Yields 8 pieces

1 package enoki mushrooms
4 pieces of bacon, cut in half

1. Cut the dirty tail end of the mushrooms off. Separate into 8 smaller bundles.
2. Wrap a half-piece of bacon around each bundle. Secure with toothpicks.
3. Place in a skillet on medium heat. Cook until bacon is crispy all the way around.
4. Drain on paper towels until cool. Serve immediately.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Collaborative Jamming with Fallen Fruit & Eat LACMA

I'm not what you call a "canner." I've never canned or preserved fruits for fear of catching botulism from improper sterilization. It just always seemed much too complicated. But when the dudes behind Fallen Fruit and Eat LACMA made it sound so easy, my mom and I decided to join in on the fun.

I had determined early on that I would make fig jam. My dad created the most delicious rack of lamb with fig sauce last week, and I'd been craving it ever since, so figs were high on my list. We headed out to the Eagle Rock & Roll Farmers Market (simply because we had never been to it) and found doughnut peaches, dinosaur egg pluots, blueberries (and even these very interesting artichoke flowers), but no figs. Nor were they at Henry's or Trader Joe's. I heaved a sigh of relief and decided to carry on.

Arriving at the museum, we made friends with strangers in line, and ended up sharing our offerings. There was also a communal table where, lo and behold, someone had donated figs! And poblano peppers! And herbs aplenty! All of these went into the chopped yummy goodness. After we filled a bowl, it was time to cook up some magic.

(As an aside, have you ever had figs and lavender together? Oh WOW...)

The Public Fruit Jam was a family-friendly affair, so I as I stood in line for a pot, I watched a little boy create his magical jam while standing on two huge sacks of sugar. I even videotaped him and his father spooning it into jars, which was super cute because the little boy was awestruck by what he had created (8 1/2 jars worth!). The whole afternoon had a super-friendly community-coming-together vibe, which I'm pretty sure is what the event designers had in mind.

Finally it was my turn. We threw my chopped concoction in with some pectin and water, brought it to a boil, tossed in LOTS of sugar, tried to mash up the peaches (they were a bit hard and didn't break down very easily), added some basil, and voila! Jam!

We were encouraged to take up to 3 jars home. My jam recipe yielded 6 1/2 jars, and there were plenty others to choose from on the community table, but I opted for 3 of my own jam. I hope the other 3 1/2 jars were enjoyed by others.

The jars were provided by Fallen Fruit. Home cooks who choose to can at home should follow good sterilization techniques! The recipe that follows is exactly how we made the jam in the park, over hot plates and in communal pots. Your mileage may vary.

G+F Community-Produced Jam
Yields approximately 6-7 jars

2 doughnut peaches
2 figs
1 dinosaur egg pluot
1/2 poblano pepper
1/4 teaspoon each lemon and orange peel, chopped very fine
1 cup pectin
1 cup water
5 cups sugar
5-6 leaves of basil chiffonade

1. Chop all the fruits and vegetables into small pieces, approximately the same size. Note that the citrus peels should be chopped as finely as possible, as they don't break down very well when boiled.

2. Put all ingredients, except sugar and basil, in a large pot over high heat and bring to boil. Stir to incorporate all the pectin. Cook until fruits are desired softness. Harder fruits, like my peaches, may take a little longer to soften. Use a masher if necessary.

3. Add sugar and bring to boil for approximately another minute. Liquid should have a thickened considerably.

4. Turn off heat and add basil. Stir to distribute throughout.

5. Ladle jam into jars. The very patient and cheery volunteer cooks told us that holding the jars at an angle allows the air to escape as the food goes in, and also facilitates easier filling. Leave about 1/4 inch of head space, cap and immediately invert the jar. This allows for vacuum sealing without pressure cooking.

6. Allow jars to sit upside down for at least 5 minutes, though you're best off not touching them at all for at least an hour.

7. Refrigerate after opening. They should last about a week once opened, if they don't make it into your tummy before then.

The Public Fruit Jam was amazing. We spent a beautiful afternoon outside enjoying the sun and fresh air, learned a new skill, and met some very nice people. Thanks to the guys at Fallen Fruit for creating such a great event. We're looking forward to the finale Let them Eat LACMA in November!