Saturday, August 29, 2009

Spoon House [[Gardena]]

So I have been to Spoon House in Gardena a few times now but never thought to write about it for Awkward Eats. However, writing it now gives us (me and you, dear reader) sort of an advantage as now I've tried more than one dish, and can talk with more ~experience.~

Spoon House is a little bistro on a street corner, flanked with an open kitchen and wall to wall windows, framed a primary blue. Basically, a great open and clean area. What's so special about this place is the fusion of Italian (spaghetti) and unconventional Japanese flair. Think, cod roe spaghetti, garnished with squid and seaweed (one of their most popular dishes and if you like your pasta dish to be a bit drier, I recommend it). In addition, their spaghetti is made al dente, which is the best as I feel al dente pasta clings to sauce better.

So whether you come in for lunch or dinner, the waitress will serve you and your guests a fresh quarter loaf of French bread, made inhouse (and also sold by the loaf for only $3!):

It's tempting to just eat this and get full because it's so fluffy and flavorful. I wish I had this every day so I can eat it with some Brie or Camembert cheese...or make the best sandwiches...but alas, great pasta awaits!

A famous dish is actually the salad not only because it's a delicious treat, but because it's only $1. It was and always is $1. Topped with tomatoes and sliced cucumbers, it really hits the spot when it's hot outside (like it has been this entire week). The sauce is Japanese style--a little salty but definitely tasty.

My brother Tim got the Spaghetti Omelette, which was a cheese-based red sauce spaghetti, topped with a thinly fried egg. The spaghetti is mixed with cut bell peppers, mushroom, and chicken (although you can exchange the chicken for bacon).

While the idea of an egg on top of a pasta dish may raise a few eyebrows, it actually tasted great, almost like "Yeah, why WOULDN'T you put an egg on top of this?" If you're not looking for too much sauce, this is for you.

As for me, I ordered the Chicken, Tomato Cream sauce spaghetti, which is exactly what it is...but with the addition of a few broccoli and mushrooms. If you like cream of anything (like me), this is definitely the dish for you. Tender cuts of chicken (mostly from the thigh), sweet tomatoes, and fragrant broccoli, this dish is as hearty as you can get.

What I love about Spoon House, besides the innovative dishes, is how HUGE the servings are. I didn't even finish mine before I was already full (I rarely finish a dish here...but it may be because I eat so much bread beforehand...can't help it!). And again, the pasta made al dente really just grabs that sauce.

So if you're looking for a hearty memorable pasta dish for under $9, go to Spoon House. It's a small place so there may be a wait, but boy is it worth it.

Spoon House Bakery & Restaurant
1601 W Redondo Beach Blvd

Gardena, CA 90247
(310) 538-0376
Mon-Sun.: 11:00 AM - 9:00 PM

Friday, August 28, 2009

in which even cupcakes are awkward

I'm starting grad school next week, and living off my stipend means the focus of my posts will shift from eating out to cooking. It should be apparent from this post, though, that you shouldn't expect expert creations captured by some fancy SLR. I mean, just look at these cupcakes.

If those aren't the saddest, most awkward looking cupcakes you have ever seen, then you are lying.

Luckily, they tasted alright. I made them pretty soon after finding them over on Proceed with Caution, because, are you kidding me? S'mores cupcakes? How is that not the greatest idea on the planet?

I did halve the recipe and did all of the math in my head, because as we all know baking and imprecision go hand in hand. I believe this is why they turned out good, but not as epic as I had hoped. The icing, awesomely made of marshmallow creme, butter, and sugar, didn't hold too well but tasted great. If I make these again, I will add more (dark?) chocolate chips to the graham crust and be more precise with the batter measurements.

S'mores Cupcakes

Yields 30 cupcakes

For the graham crust:
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (from about 20 squares)
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/2 - 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

For the cupcakes:
2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup Hershey's cocoa
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water

1. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease muffin cups or line with paper liners.
2. Combine 1/4 cup sugar,graham cracker crumbs and melted butter in a small bowl. Spoon 1 tablespoon of graham cracker mix into the bottom of each muffin cup. Press crumbs firmly, using the bottom of a small glass. Save the remaining mixture for topping. Top graham cracker mix with several bittersweet chocolate chips.
3. Bake graham mixture for about five minutes, or until the edges are golden brown. Remove from oven and set aside.
4. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in medium bowl.
5. In a large bowl, combine eggs, milk, oil and vanilla. Stir until well blended.
6. Add flour mixture to large bowl and beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans. Fill prepared muffin cups 3/4 full with batter (about 1/4 cup). Sprinkle batter with small amount of remaining graham cracker mixture.
7. Bake 22 to 25 minutes. Cool completely, then frost.

Marshmallow Buttercream Frosting
Hello, Cupcake! via Heather Drive / Proceed with Caution

- 1 container (16 oz.) Marshmallow Fluff
(I used Jet Puffed Marshmallow Creme instead since Fluff wasn't available)
- 3 sticks unsalted butter, softened and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar, plus additional sugar, if necessary

1. Spoon the Marshmallow Fluff into a large bowl. Beat with an electric mixer on low.

2. Gradually add the butter pieces, beating well after each addition, until smooth.

3. Add the vanilla extract and the confectioner's sugar. Scrape the bowl well to incorporate. Add more confectioner's sugar, if necessary, to adjust the texture.

ice cream cake is the way to my heart

It's been deathly hot here in Southern California and I've been tempted to make ice cream. However, I don't have an ice cream maker and the heat has made me too lazy to actually get all SCIENCE (ice + salt, anyone?) to make it that way.

However, looking at other people making their own ice treats has motivated me.

Here are two ways to beat the heat:
The first comes from CRAFT blog, via √Člena Nazzaro:
The second comes from the blog Posie Gets Cozy, on how to make your own homemade mint ice cream, for that extra burst of coolness:

2 cups half-and-half
1 cup heavy cream
2 cups fresh mint leaves, washed and bruised
1 14-oz. can sweetened, condensed milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
About 1 1/2 oz. of chopped dark chocolate

In large saucepan, stir half-and-half together with heavy cream. Add mint leaves and bring just to a simmer. Let simmer for three minutes, then remove from heat. Let mint leaves sit in cream mixture for fifteen or twenty minutes, depending on how minty you like things and how strong your mint is. Strain mixture into a bowl, discarding mint leaves. Stir sweetened, condensed milk into cream mixture until it is dissolved. Add vanilla and chill mixture for at least an hour (most recipes tell you to chill your cream mixture for several hours, but we didn't have that kind of time and it still worked out fine — but if you have the time, do it, since you want this mixture to be very cold).
Freeze ice cream in your ice-cream maker according to manufacturer's directions. When the ice cream is thickened and frozen, add chopped chocolate and stir well. Transfer the soft ice cream to a freezer-safe container and freeze for several hours, until hardened.

Mouthwatering! Tell us your favorite ice cream treats!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Ramen California (Torrance)

There has been much hype about this little ramen shop in the Torrance Crossroads Plaza. My friend Shazia and I decided to try it out to see, firsthand, if it lived up to its glorious-ness. For fun, I also brought my brother because three dishes is always better than two.

Ramen California boasts an all-organic, all local fare. Their menu tells us that they visit the Torrance farmer's market twice a week for their groceries, which is pretty admirable.

Unfortunately, there were only a handful of different ramen dishes to choose from, as all the fancy small dishes and appetizers were only served during dinner (lobster ravioli, Parmesan bread sticks, etc.). However, I was a little confused as to why a ramen place would serve un-ramen like things...Granted, it is a California "fusion" restaurant...but still. The decor was what you imagined a "California" bougie place to look like: ambient lights, large windows, and wood furniture.

Anyway, each ramen comes in three sizes: a small (which I think only a child could eat and be full: 15 ounce), a regular (20 ounce), and a large (40 ounce). When our waitress showed us the bowls ("A small is really really small. Maybe you should look at the bowl sizes..."), a regular looked like it'd be perfect. However, after a few minutes of finishing, we were still pretty hungry.

We started off with a fresh salad of spinach, garnished with a little flower. The flower was a nice touch and the salad quite refreshing. I did wish they put just a liiiiitttle more salad dressing as I could barely taste it after a few bites. From what I could discern, though, it was a subtly sweet vinaigrette--always welcome.

My brother, Tim, decided to get the restaurant's signature dish, the "Californian." The menu boasted that this dish had more than twenty different "garden fresh" vegetables, no doubt all from the Farmer's market nearby.

Apperance-wise, it looked to be a bounty of vegetables. Each vegetable tasted great, carefully cooked before being placed on a giant spoon on top of the ramen.

I loved the way that the beets and and cauliflower pop out and stain the broth.
Shazia chose the heirloom tomato ramen. The menu described this dish as topped with a "tomato salsa" although it was less salsa and more...tomato. What I mean is, they were whole tomatoes, which actually may be better. The tomatoes were cooked really well, with a hint of spice.

Shazia with her salad and Heirloom tomato ramen.
As for me, I got the Grilled Chicken ramen, supposedly sprinkled with garden vegetables (at least that's what the menu said).

And by vegetables, they really mean mint and spinach.

All ramen dishes have the option of adding chicken for a few dollars more, and I would really recommend it if you're a meat-lover (as this is the only meat least during lunch). The chicken was quite tender and flavorful but I really wish there was more chicken in my ramen.

All three dishes used the same broth and noodles. Although the noodles were quite good (cooked al dente), the soup left MUCH to be desired. I will be honest and admit that I was expecting a tonkotsu (pork) broth instead of a chicken broth. The chicken broth, when tasted by itself, was a bit jarring as it really just tasted like chicken noodle soup...but with ramen. In addition, the more I ate, the saltier the broth tasted until it was almost like I was just eating salt with hot water.

I will give Ramen California props for being innovative (they had a "Masala" ramen, topped with curry, and Reggiano Cheese Tofu ramen, made in house) and for using locally grown vegetables. Overall, it was an OK experience. Next time I have a hankering for ramen though, I'll just pop over to Hakata Ramen over in Gardena. However, if I do go to Ramen California again, I'd go during dinner time to sample the different innovative dishes.

Ramen California
24231 Crenshaw Blvd. #C
Torrance, CA 90505
(310) 530-2749