Sunday, December 31, 2006

Countdown to 2007!!!!

Osechi ryori photo(c) Torigoe Yuko, 2003

In this last post of 2006, I just wanted to say "thank you" to all of the people who have read Tuna Toast in the past year. I've enjoyed creating this blog, but even more so, communicating with the people who have stopped by or reached out to me through TT. I truly appreciate the international food loving community- without you, there'd be no Tuna Toast!

So here's to lots of great food and hopefully more cooking in 2007!

See you then!


Friday, December 29, 2006

Chige-nabe Dinner

Continuing on our lighter-fare kick, we had chige-nabe (or kimchi nabe) for dinner the other night. Believe it or not, we've had this Japanese electric nabe set for FIVE years.....we got it for our wedding....and have never used it. Yes, I bow my head in shame. It was shoved way back into a kitchen cabinet, left to sit there for so long, all alone. Every time I'd open that cabinet, I'd feel so guilty about not using it, and would often think about making nabe but never got around to it. Thank goodness we finally put it to use. I can safely say that we will be having nabe more often!

The star of the chige-nabe show.....

There are many different kinds of nabe, but I chose chige-nabe because I love kimchi and it's been pretty darn cold outside. Nothing makes you sweat better than a hot pot of spicy broth. J had never had nabe but is also a fan of spicy food. For the broth, I combined water, dashi-konbu, tobanjan (I had purchased this chili pasted at the airport in South Korea during a layover there last month), kochujan (chili/soy paste), minced garlic, minced ginger, a bit of katsuo dashi (bonito stock), red miso paste and lots of chopped kimchi. This was all put into the electric nabe and heated.

The vegetables I chose for the chige-nabe were hakusai (Chinese cabbage), tamanegi (white onions), chrysanthemum leaves and bean sprouts. I also bought a nice, firm chunk of yakidoufu (grilled tofu) to add to the veggie platter.


For the meat side, I chose thinly sliced pork and some lovely hunks of black cod.

Pork- the other white meat.

After setting up shop on our table, we simply put what we wanted to eat into the pot, waited the few minutes it took to cook, then started pulling out the slightly fatty strips of pork, melt-in-your-mouth cod, wilted cabbage and tender onions into our own bowls. J loves any interactive eating, so this was definitely perfect for him. I love that it's all very healthy, but between cooking the food, fishing it out, putting more food into the nabe and sipping the spicy broth, it's extremely satisfying. It's also a great way to get a ton of veggies into your meal (and your tummy).

Steaming, spicy nabe.....

The leftover stock is rich from all of the ingredients that were once in the pot, so you put leftover rice or udon noodles into the stock, drizzle a bit of egg and enjoy the second part of the meal. Unfortunately we were too stuffed from polishing off all of the meat and veggies, so I saved the broth so that we can have some zousui (soupy rice) later on this week. It's one of my all-time favorite comfort foods!

Would you like a bite??

I'm hoping to post at least once more before the New Year....what food-related events do you all have for the New Year's Eve or Day? Would love to hear your stories!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Restaurant Review: Punch Grill, Santa Monica

I was recently (well, over a month ago!) invited to try Punch Grill, a new "casual yet elegant" restaurant in Santa Monica. I don't often dine out on the Westside since I live so far East, so I thought of it as a great chance to break out of the norm and try something new. I reviewed the website, then J and I set off on our merry way!

We arrived promptly for our 7:30 PM reservation and were warmly greeted by two hostesses, one of whom walked us to our large booth. The place is divided into a bar/lounge area, complete with flat screen TVs, and the restaurant, which may have been a Sizzler in its former life. Don't get me wrong- the room is elegant, but on one side of the restaurant is one of those large, garden windows that you normally see at a chain place. I must admit it does take something away from the nicely set tables for four that make up the middle of the dining room.

Our waitress quickly came and took our wine order, and the manager told us about Punch Grill's specialties. The Spinach Artichoke Fondue was a favorite, she said, as was their Filet Mignon With Garlic Cheese appetizer. Also, their Chocolate Soufflé was very popular but we'd need to place the order for it now since it took 20 minutes. We checked out the menu and decided to go for the soufflé, although we skipped the other two recs since I had remembered seeing both reviewed on other blogs. I wanted to try something different.

J decided to start with the Grilled Artichoke and I with the Tuna Tartare. The waitress informed us that the artichoke was now steamed, not grilled, and J said that was fine. When I told our waitress that I'd have the filet mignon for my main course, she suggested I try the flat iron steak instead, saying it was her favorite cut. I obliged, and asked for onion rings instead of french fries (I'm a sucker for a good onion ring!). J knew exactly what he was having when he heard the day's special of Sautéed Whole Crab (he's a sucker for a good crab!). We sat back, sipped our champagne, attacked the hot sourdough rolls in the bread basket and waited for the goodies to arrive.

Yummy tuna tartare....

My tuna tartare came mound in a perfect circle, surrounded by crunchy toast slices. You're probably wondering why I ordered the ubiquitous dish, but I can't help it- I just love the cool, soft tuna against the crunchy counterpoint that usually accompanies it. Punch Grill's version was a winner- well seasoned, mixed with the right amount of creamy avocado and very fresh. I was a happy camper. Unfortunately, J wasn't as content - the steamed artichoke was, well....a steamed artichoke, nothing more. The Italian vinaigrette that came for dipping just didn't have enough oomph to give much life to a steamed veggie. I think a nice, strong, garlicky aioli would work much better with such a plain dish. Either way, J finished it all and helped me with my tuna.

Our main dishes arrived and I think we both knew we had winners. J's whole crab was gleaming in it's garlic sauce and my steak looked perfect. The crab came with 1/2 sweet potato and 1/2 regular fries (half and half at our request) and both were perfect for sopping up the tasty juices of the crab, which was cooked to perfection. The aiolis that came with the fries weren't too shabby either, particularly with the sweet potato version. The flat-iron steak delivered on its promise and was so tender and juicy- I was so glad the waitress recommended it. And the onion rings? Golden, crispy circles of pleasure. What's better than a good onion ring? Not much.

The crab eyes J as he prepares to dig in....

One potato, sweet potato........

The chocolate soufflé, unfortunately, didn't really live up to the hype. When doused with the chocolate sauce it came with, it was rich and hearty, but alone it was more like sweet eggs and lacked the pillow-like consistency that a soufflé should have. Luckily J had ordered the key lime tart which was mouth-puckeringly tart and not too sweet. Actually, neither dessert was too sweet which was a pleasant surprise. So many places serve cavity-inducing desserts and it was nice to encounter sweets made by someone with a light hand on the sugar.

Chocolate soufflé

Key lime tart

Overall, I would recommend Punch Grill if you're in the mood for something special, but not overly fancy. It reminds me of places like Hal's in Venice where you can get fine dining-esque menu options in a more casual setting. The restaurant's own description of "elegant yet casual" pretty much hits the nail on the head. I'll definitely be back for that flat-iron steak and onion rings. My tummy is growling just thinking about them!

Punch Grill
3001 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Back From Holiday Break..............

....if you can call it that! Once again, I apologize for the serious lack of posting. It's been pretty crazy around here but I'm back on the blog and I hope to post regularly from now on. I hope you all had a very Happy Holiday and have great plans (that involve good food!) for New Year's Eve or Day. J and I are going to try a new wine bar in Pasadena on New Year's Eve, then go over to my parents on the 1st for the traditional Japanese osechi ryori. We can hardly wait!

Although I know we will be consuming lots of Japanese food that day, I couldn't help but make a big 'ol Japanese meal for dinner last night. After all of the heavy holiday eating, we wanted something on the lighter side. You know how it goes- we all say we won't overeat for the holidays but it's nearly impossible. J and I had loads of juicy prime rib, cheesy scalloped potatoes, broccoli, green beans, chocolate chip cookies and champagne at his family's house on Christmas Eve. Then we went to my parents for roast pork sandwiches, lobster bisque, corned beef, rabbit terrine and big hunks of the best cheddar on rye toasts washed down with lots of wine (I may have had a bit too much, actually!) the next day. Add in all of the cookies, candy and caramel popcorn that has been appearing in the kitchen at work and you know what I mean about needing a lighter meal.

Since I haven't been cooking as much lately, I went into chef mode and probably made too many things, although it was so nice to be back in the kitchen again. I made these lovely chicken rolls that I snagged off of one of my favorite food blogs, Blue Lotus. They are so easy to prepare but look so pretty and taste even better. Add in the fact that they're healthy and it's pretty much a perfect dish. Luckily I have lots left over so I can bring them for lunch this week.

Braising the chicken rolls....

Clams awaiting their miso soup fate!

I also took another tip from Amy and tried sautéing the onions in a bit butter (hey, a bit never hurt anyone, right?) before adding my stock, miso paste and clams to the pot. The mellowness of the butter added a nice richness to the soup.

Miso soup with tamanegi and clams.

The hamachi and salmon sashimi I purchased at Mitsuwa in downtown were so fresh and delicious!!! What's better than salmon sashimi? Salmon AND hamachi sashimi! It was fun to watch the Mitsuwa staff unload all of the special New Year's food onto the shelves in preparation for the large crowds this weekend.

Yummy, blurry sashimi

J looooves shishito- a small, green Japanese pepper. When I say pepper, I mean more like a mini bell pepper. Once in a blue moon, you may get a really spicy one but usually, they are mild. I remember asking someone the produce guy at Mitsuwa awhile back, "How do you know which ones are spicy?" to which he replied, "Only the gods know." Well, the gods must be hatin' on me or something because every other one I ate was smokin' hot. I mean reach-for-my-water-please-now hot. J, on the other hand, happily popped one after another into his mouth and didn't get a single spicy shishito. Hm. I think it will be a few months before I buy those again.

The offending shishito pepper.....can you tell which ones are spicy???

I rounded the meal off with a daikon salad, cold tofu topped with ginger, green onions, bonito flakes and soy sauce and a nice, hot steamy bowl of white rice, of course!!! I suppose leaving the rice out would have made for a healthier meal, but c'mon..who can eat this stuff without rice?!?! I guess the question is, who WANTS to eat it without rice? Certainly not me. I need my rice.


It was so nice to just sit in front of the TV, nosh on all the Japanese food and watch Anthony Bourdain travel through the Mexico/US border towns on No Reservations. The Travel Channel is replaying all of Bourdain's favorite episodes before premiering the new season next Monday. I've always loved this show, but next season's adventures look like the best yet. Can't wait!!!

And to anyone who is still here reading, I just want to say thanks for all of your support. Happy eating!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

A Pledge To Start Posting Again!

Dear dear readers (if any of you are still out there...)

I am so sorry that I haven't been able to update my beloved Tuna Toast lately. I've been working like mad and just haven't had much time to cook or blog. I miss it all so much and I pledge to start posting at least twice a week from now on. I still have many photos from our wonderful Japan tour, as well as a restaurant review and some cookie photos in the can so please be patient as I will be back soon.....just after I get a good night's sleep since I've been working since 5:00 AM! Damn Golden Globe nominations!

See you soon.