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.


Thursday, November 30, 2006

Drowning in work..........!

After an amazing trip to Japan, a bout with the flu and new responsibilities at work, I've had no time to update my beloved TT. Hope you all stay tuned as I do plan to keep it up after I get my head above water at work. In the meantime, here are some photos from our recent trip, which honestly was one of our best ever, if not a learning experience that perhaps I may be getting too old to party all night and not suffer the consequences afterward. Ah, to be 21 again, if only for the bounce-back-fast aspect of it all............

Renkon no kimpira

Castella shaped like little men......(castella is a sweet cake)

Close up of the castella.......

Fried. Pork. Sandwich. 'Nuff said, right???

More to come.....

Friday, November 24, 2006

One post before we leave Japan......

An eki-ben to tide you over......

See you all back online soon!

Sayonara Nippon....mata sugu aitai ne!!!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Last Post Before VACATION: Yuzu Miso Pork Chops

Vacation, all I ever wanted.....vacation haaave to get away...........Yes, dear readers, the time has once again come for another trip to one of my favorite places on earth. JAPAN! I guess my last trip was only six short months ago, but this time J's band is going on a one week tour and I've decided to tag along, groupie-style. Ok, not groupie-style but wife-style. We'll start off in Osaka, then go to Tokyo and finish up in Nagoya. Although we'll miss Thanksgiving, we'll have plenty of non-turkey items to nosh on. I'm particularly looking forward to okonomiyaki, ramen, hot corn soup in the can in the vending machines (hey- it's GOOD), thick toast with good coffee, and lots of izakaya eats! It will be nice to be in a place that actually feels like winter, since Los Angeles refuses to cool down. It's difficult to feel the holiday spirit when it's 85 degrees out.

Miso mixed with yuzu, mirin, egg, sugar, yuzu kosho...

In honor of our upcoming journey, I'd like to share with you a Japanese-inspired dish that I snagged off of Chubby Hubby. I made a few tweaks (like using pork instead of lamb) and skipped all of the garnishes, but it came out very well. My parents bought a yuzu tree that is now filled with the little citrus, and I was lucky enough to get one last weekend when I went over for dinner. I'd clipped and saved the CH recipe months ago and finally had the chance to try it out!

Browning the chops.......

Placed in baking dish........

I purchased three boneless pork chops and brined them in water, brown sugar and salt for 2 days (I brine most of my chicken and pork these days- it makes ALL the difference). Since Chubby Hubby's recipe is for 10 servings, I did my best to whittle it down and convert the measurements. I mixed some white miso paste, mirin, sugar, one egg yolk, yuzu kosho and the grated peel of one yuzu in a bowl and set it aside while I browned the pork chops in a pan. After generously smearing each pork chop with the miso paste, I sprinkled each with a bit of panko and a few slivered almonds before placing them in a baking dish in a 400 degree oven for about 10 minutes.

The chops came out great, and the flavor of the yuzu mixed in with the sweet miso was fantastic. Served with some steamed brown rice, mushrooms sautéed in butter and soy sauce and a green salad, it was a nice, healthy dinner. Next time I will definitely try it out with lamb chops, although this yuzu miso would be good on pretty much anything, including halibut or chicken. I think it will make repeated appearances on our table. Thanks CH!

Dinner is served!

I doubt I'll be able to blog during my trip, but I will absolutely make it my duty to eat as much good food as I can- after all, it's my responsibility to you, dear reader!

Hope you all have a beautiful Thanksgiving and lots of delicious food!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Sourdough pancakes

I can't remember the first time that J and I had the sourdough pancakes at Campanile, but I do remember being completely blown away by them. J, particularly, fell hard and fast for the thin, light and slightly tangy discs of pure delight, and has ordered them on every single brunch outing to Campanile in the years since. We've looked long and hard for other restaurants that serve these beauties but have never found another place in Los Angeles that featured them on the menu. Not that it'd be easy to top Campanile's version- they truly are moutwateringly sour and absolutely delicious. The tanginess combined with creamy butter and sweet maple syrup is something that everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime.

I knew, one day, that I'd want to attempt to make my own sourdough pancakes, but first I would need a starter. Call it laziness, fear of the unknown or both, but I never got around to creating the mix of flour and water that would grow into an active starter. Yes, it's been on my cooking list-of-things-to-make for awhile now, but I got distracted by shiny photos in Food & Wine or Gourmet of other foods that just cried out for my attention.

Then, one day, as I was perusing one of my favorite food blogs, I noticed one sentence within the post about sourdough pancakes. The post itself wasn't even about the pancakes, but when I read that the Raven-haired Goddess of Seattle Food Blogging had a recipe courtesy of her brilliant fiancée, I didn't waste any time asking her for some advice. I was unrealistically hoping that the recipe didn't involve a starter, but of course it did. Then, Ms M came to the rescue by actually offering to mail me some of her own starter! "How on earth was this possible?" I thought, but let Ms M take charge. Sure enough, a couple of short weeks later, a jiffy pack arrived on my door containing a Ziploc filled with broken pieces of dried starter and instructions on how to reanimate it. How brilliant!!

Dried, crumbled starter arrives!

I quickly got to work and by the next day, I had a bubbling caldron (ok, Pyrex bowl) of live, active sourdough starter!! In my house!! On my counter!!! I carefully followed Ms M's instructions and fed it daily for about a week, after which time I had enough to make a batch of pancakes. I looked up a recipe online and the batter came together so easily. Although Ms M mentioned that baking soda or powder may cancel out the sourness, the pancakes did retain a good deal of tang.

Crumbled starter soaking in water....

It's ALIVE!!!!!!!!!!!!

Close up of active bubbles....

It just so happens that I work with Campanile owner/chef Mark Peel's wife Daphne, and he was kind enough to give me some advice on how to make the pancakes without the baking powder and soda. He suggested separating the eggs, mixing in the yolks and then whipping the whites to form soft peaks, then folding them into the batter. I will definitely try it that way and see if I get tangier sourdough pancakes. Thanks Daphne and Mark!!

Pancakes getting ready to flip out!

And thank you, Ms. M, for sending me a little piece of your starter which will hopefully live a long and glorious life in my refrigerator for years to come. I hope that you don't get flooded with requests for starter (please don't, dear reader!)- I simply had to give a shout out for giving me something I've wanted for so long.

Beautiful, airy, light and delicious....

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Happy Blog Birthday: Tuna Toast Turns One Today!

I can hardly believe it's been twelve months since I dipped my toe into the food blogging waters. What started as a cautious and unsure journey has now turned into one of my favorite hobbies, and I have you, dear reader, to thank for that. After trolling on several wonderful food blogs for months, I finally got up the nerve to start Tuna Toast. Had it not been for the many beautiful, well-written and fabulous food blogs out there (either created or read by you all!) I would have never gotten the inspiration to start my own. For this, I am forever grateful.

Domo Arigatou!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Restaurant review: MOZZA

Last night I had the chance to preview MOZZA, the much-anticipated (talk about an understatement) and much-hyped pizzeria owned and operated by Mario Batali and Nancy Silverton. Foodies and pizza-lovers have been waiting for the opening, and much as already been written about the place, including a story on a recent salami theft there. Yes, people break into restaurants to steal $700 worth of it must be good, right?

Good can't even begin to describe it. I must warn you- if you get annoyed by raving restaurant reviews, stop reading now because it's all love from me, baby. And before you start accusing me of working for them or getting paid to do this, let me stop you. In the interest of full disclosure, I do know the Executive Chef and the Manager/Sommelier very well- we've been friends for a while. That said, I would never pretend to like something that a friend made if it wasn't good. Never. Well, maybe if my 96-year-old grandma ever made me cookies and asked if I liked them and I didn't, I may fib a little and say yes. Other than that, why would I insult my friends or family when they are well aware of my obsession with food?

Now that we've gotten the formalities out of the way, let's begin.

The space is medium sized, with high ceilings and a "pizza bar" where you can see the wood-burning oven surrounded by several chefs in full view. It's casual in a very refined way and not at all formal. There is a beautiful bar that takes up one wall but it has a nice, relaxed atmosphere and was certainly bustling last night. The service was friendly, informative and helpful. One thing- the place is LOUD. In fact, I must say it was one of the loudest restaurants I'd been to in recent memory. Hopefully something can be done to remedy that problem.

We started with 2 glasses of the Tuscan Morellino di Scansano Sangiovese ($10) which came in larger-than-I've-seen personal decanters. Since I had viewed the menu online awhile back, I knew the one starter that I had to have- a bruschette of Chicken Livers, Capers, Parsley and Guanciale ($8). I absolutely love chicken liver- my dad used to make it for supper and I've loved it ever since. I don't see it often on restaurant menus so I jumped at the chance to try their version. What can I say? It was the ultimate bruschette. The chicken livers were sautéed and slightly mashed but still very chunky. Spread on thin slices of grilled bread and topped with paper-thin crisps of guanciale, it was MADE for consumption with the sangiovese and just heavenly. I must warn you how decadently rich it truly is, but my god- food just doesn't really get much better than this. The guanciale is extremely salty but the chicken liver mixture is not, so balance is achieved.

Bruschette of Chicken Livers, Capers, Parsley

We chose the Eggplant Caponata ($6) which ended up being the perfect compliment to the salty bruschette in that it was tender, cool and sweet. The small bowl had large chunks of melt-in-your-mouth eggplant tossed with pine nuts and currants all coated in a sweet glaze. I must say, there were way too many pine nuts in the dish and I would have preferred to have a slight sprinkling of them on top, but overall the flavors were delicious. It really was a nice contrast to the richness of the chicken liver. J and I agreed that these two small plates would be the perfect after-work dinner, washed down with a bottle of wine, of course;).

Eggplant Caponata

Margherita with Mozzarella, Tomato & Basil

And now, what the place is famous and will eventually become legendary for, the pizza. Oh, the pizza my friends. Of course we had to start with the classic Margherita with Mozzarella, Tomato & Basil ($10). The minute our waiter sat the pie down on the table, we were hit with the aroma of fresh was intoxicating. The pizza was thin in the center and absolutely bulbous with air bubbles around the perimeter. We dug right in and yes- it was truly the best pizza I'd ever eaten in my life. The Mozza Margherita is perfect in its simplicity of fresh, crushed tomatoes, torn basil and a light sprinkling of mozzarella. The crust was thin but held everything together well and had the perfect chew and slightly yeasty flavor. This was special.............until.........

...the next pie came. The Burrata, Escarole, Bacon & Caramelized Shallots pizza ($13) arrived at our table, topped with obscene globs of creamy white burrata and small chunks of pork belly. I love how Mozza means "smoked pork belly" when they say "bacon." I took a bite and promptly went to confession. Ok, I didn't but how could anything this good not be a mortal sin??? The same glorious crust of the margherita was now holding the beautiful green escarole, the chunks of richly fatty pork and topped by the coolest, creamiest burrata. Each bite was a combination of the slightly chewy crust and all the flavors of the freshest toppings. Now THIS was something truly special.

Burrata, Escarole, Bacon & Caramelized Shallots pizza

2005 Moscato d'Asti (left)

We'd consumed quite a bit of some glorious food, but nothing could prepare me for what was yet to come. We were served two different dessert wines, and although the pale, sparkling Stella Rosa Il Conte d' Alba ($7.50) was smooth and flowery, the 2005 Moscato d'Asti ($8) was a revelation. It's red color defied it's crisp, moscato flavor and it was, quite truly, like eating the grape itself. Such a wonderful find!

Soffiata w/ Yogurt Gelato and Amarena Cherries

And what did we eat with these lovely glasses of wine? The Soffiata w/ Yogurt Gelato and Amarena Cherries ($7) was nice-almond puffs, tangy gelato and sweet cherries topped with a light sprinkling of pistachios. A classic flavor combination. However, it was completely overshadowed by what I will, on record, say is the best dessert I've had at any restaurant this year. The Butterscotch Budino with Rosemary-Pine Nut Biscotti ($7) was the richest custard I've ever eaten with a deep caramel/butterscotch flavor. One bite is rich enough to send you over the edge, yet somehow, you find your spoon going in for another scoop, and yet another. Then you see that now your spoon has taken a dollop of the budino and put it on top of one of the two crunchy cookies that come on the plate and before you know it- it's all in your mouth. Your senses pick up the slightly burnt caramel sweetness combined with what must be the best sea salt and it all comes together with a hint of rosemary from the biscotti. If you've been looking for the ultimate in butterscotch puddings, your search has just ended here.

Butterscotch Budino with Rosemary-Pine Nut Biscotti

As we rolled ourselves out of the restaurant, we made plans to hit the treadmill with extra vigor and, of course, to return to Mozza many times over. I implore you to take a trip to Mozza with an empty stomach and prepare to eat some of the finest pizza, if not THE finest pizza, Los Angeles has ever seen.

Mozza opens Tuesday, November 14th and is open 7 days a week from noon to midnight.

Pizzeria Mozza
641 N Highland Ave
Los Angeles
323 297 0101