Monday, January 22, 2007

Tokyo Lobby & A Very Merry Un-Birfcake!

As schedules would have it, we decided to forego our usual January family Birfcake celebrations and chose instead to enjoy an evening out on the town. This was truly going to be a very merry Un-Birfcake! We didn't need the freeway, not even the major streets. I guided our driver, one of the celebrants, through my neighborhood short cuts. Of course he complained about having to drive like an old geezer. "Which way? Left or right?" "Follow the curve." "What!?" That had us laughing for the rest of the trip. I try to keep away from the Saturday night traffic with the fender-benders, the looky-looz, and the careless drivers who are always preoccupied and distracted. Driving in and around my 'hood is dangerous, especially at night. However, since finding my way through these side streets, it is a safer and more enjoyable ride. Our driver did eventually agree, it was safer.

I hadn't been to Tokyo Lobby in years. Not exactly the hippest or fanciest Japanese restaurant. The plate presentations are nothing spectacular. But the place is always packed, with lots of families and groups out to have fun. It has an atmosphere that is friendly and although it presently has a "B" rating, that did nothing to stop the crowds from lining up at the hostess station. Neither did the cold weather, and since we had to wait to be seated, that front door kept opening and closing, letting the brisk air to keep our minds off the wait. All around us were smiling people, knowing that soon they'd be served food like on the platters and boats and bridges that passed by. I actually observed a group conversation stop mid-sentence to watch a server with a boat. Yes, boats and bridges filled with tempura, ribs, steak, chops, fish and sushi!

As soon as we were seated our server presented us with a huge menu offering countless combinations, boats and bridges. Pages and pages of sushi. Nearly everything is pictured, so if you are uncertain, just point at the picture! The "hi sign" is to close the menu book, then your server quickly appears to take your order. Being a small group, we declined to order a boat or bridge, but watching them pass by tempted us to re-think our order. We are served the usual tea, tsukemono and soup. Then the first platter of shared sushi is served. Dragon roll, tempura roll and salmon skin roll.

The salmon skin roll was our least favorite, as if it was thrown together, messy and not neatly wrapped, the small salmon pieces falling out. It was hard to decide about which of the others we liked better, the dragon or the tempura, since both were delicious. Next came our individual orders.

These were served promptly and we were surprised to find that they actually looked better than the photos in the menu.Even I cannot eat that much food! Good thing we shared, that sushi combination was delicious, except for the boring California roll. The steak was tender and perfectly cooked, although overly sauced. The tempura was crispy, my favorite piece was the sweet potato. Or was it the shrimp? And since we each ordered combination plates, we were rewarded with a generous scoop of green tea ice cream. It was more food coloring than green tea, but I managed to eat it anyway! Real green tea has an unusual color when mixed into ice cream, a dusty grayish green, not exactly visually appealing. I would have preferred ginger ice cream, but that was not an option here. We sang happy birfcake right along with the large group seated across from us. They served one of those famous Chinese strawberry whipped cream sheet cakes.

It was really more like taking home groceries than a "doggie bag" from Tokyo Lobby. We were shocked to have so much left over and wasted none of it. It may not the hippest, but it sure was lots of fun to celebrate a very merry Un-Birfcake at Tokyo Lobby.

927-K East Las Tunas Drive
San Gabriel, CA 91776
Located in the Albertson Center

Monday, January 15, 2007

Remembering the Cup Noodle Inventor

Look into the cupboard of any American office breakroom, college dorm, or kitchen and you might find one or two styrofoam containers of Cup Noodle. Go open your own cupboard and check. See, I told you so! For many years now these little instant ramen soups have been a staple for college students, soccer moms, busy workers, anyone in a hurry for a quick meal or snack. Even during our current "winter weather" way down into the low 20s and 30s, (yes, laugh at us wimpy Southern Californians, but last week it was over 85 degrees F!) a warm container of Cup Noodle can take the chill off a cold evening.

We noticed the marketing strategy, aimed at the growing numbers of Latino foods purchasers. That shrimp picante flavor is an example. Earlier this month the inventor of the Cup Noodle passed away, Mr. Ando. With respect and admiration for bringing the simple instant ramen soup into the homes of so many around the world, all of us here at La Vida Dulce offer our thanks and appreciation for years of providing a quick lunch, a late night snack, or an after-school treat. Vaya con Dios!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

A Snack Fit For The King, Uh Huh!

Elvis Presley was taken from this world way too soon. Tacky impersonators in bad makeup and polyester suits, slimy lounge singers and many drunken karaoke nights have done nothing to stop our love of the King of Rock and Roll. Somewhere in my cousin's house is her black velvet painting. Elvis is still the King.

In honor of his birthday this month, we would like to present our version of a dulce snack that Elvis might have enjoyed. Sweet enough but not too icky sweet, with some added healthy ingredients, this little treat is yummy with a glass of milk or cup of hot cocoa. That's how I'd like to remember him, up late at night in the kitchen with a couple of these little snacks and maybe hot cup of tea.

This is yet another version of the famous Eagle Brand Magic Cookie bar. Filled with stuff that make it crunchy, sticky, gooey and sweet. Kinda stuck on you!

makes about 3 dozen bars
1 1/2 cups galletas Marias cookie crumbs
1/2 cup melted unsalted butter
1 can Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk
2 cups Nestle milk chocolate & peanut butter chips
1 cup dried banana chips
1/2 cup salted peanuts
1 cup miniature marshmallows

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. Combine cookie crumbs and melted butter. Press firmly into bottom of 9x13 baking pan. Pour entire can of Eagle Brand onto crumb mixture. Top with remaining ingredients, then press down firmly. Bake for 20-25 minutes or till marshmallows are browned. Cool completely before cutting into bars.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Back To School Winter 2007 & Updates

Ay, que la fregada! (Translation: "What a bother!" It's a colloquial term used in the USA, meaning "a bothersome chore," like doing dishes by hand.)
No posts for a while, too much homework and studying!
Coming up soon right here at La Vida Dulce:
A dessert salute to Elvis in honor of his birthday this month
A tribute to the inventor of a culinary and cultural phenomenon
A search for a perfect hunk of pork in time for Chinese New Year
A happy birfcake celebration
A big Aloha
Don't touch that dial!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Tamale Time 2006 Edicion Numero Cuatro - Ya Basta!

Well, theFrog just called and her care package of tamales just arrived. 4 days too late. Oh well, we tried. The TPO was saddened by having to throw it out in the trash, such a waste. Good thing it was sealed, so as not to stink up everything. I hope they never opened the box.

So, as we finish up our story, here are the other photos. One with the newly folded tamales placed into the big foil roasting pan, ready to get steamed. The next shows them in the pot, with the steam rising up. Ooh, they're almost ready! The last photo is Cousin Johnny holding an empty plate. Lucky guy, he got to eat the first one.

No matter, 1 dozen or 12 dozen, they take about an hour to steam. Save your money, don't pay for a large steamer. I inverted an old Marie Callender's pie tin at the bottom of a stock pot. Then made a large base of scrunched foil and placed that on top the pie tin. You don't want your tamal to bathe in the water, just take a sauna! I made sure there was enough water at the bottom, about a quart at least till it touches the foil. Then we placed the tamales, folded side down, in a circular manner inside the pot. Bring to a boil, then lower the flame to a very low simmer and cover tightly. Check to make sure there is enough water at the bottom, but try to keep the lid on it, or you'll lose the steam. You will know it needs water, because it will start to burn the pot, that smell is nasty and it gets onto the tamales. Yucko! The tamal is ready when it separates from the hoja. Tah-dah!

In all we had about 9-10 dozen to split between us. Not bad, because the cost of our little Tamale Time was less than what we would have paid for only two dozen tamales at the tienda. The left over masa was used for some roasted green pasilla pepper and red bell pepper tamales with two cheeses. These were small but very flavorful, from roasting the peppers.

It is sad that theFrog couldn't taste this batch, but when Michael goes for a visit soon, he promised to bring some along. Store bought? Maybe, we shall see. Adios!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Tamale Time 2006 Edicion Numero Tres

I had hoped to have good news by the time we finished our Tamale Time stories. Unfortunately, the package that was shipped to Monica never arrived. Somewhere between California and Hawaii, there's a soggy box of defrosted tamales, probably stinking to high heaven. Now I have to deal with the carrier. I hope to remain a lady at all times when I talk to these philistines tomorrow. Sorry, baby girl!

The small photo above is the old pyrex bowl filled with the prepped meat combination of pork butt and chuck roast, just taken out of the frige. Next to it is the chile colorado, both a jar of canned and a container of the fresh sauce from my Monterey Park connection. We were hard at work by this time, whipping up the masa, nearly killing the motor of my KitchenAid mixer, testing "will it float?" and checking the seasoning. We finally determined that since it had a good flavor, and our little test tamal separated just fine from the hoja, the masa was ready. We all looked at each other after tasting that little tamal---these are gonna be good!

The hojas (dried corn husks) were soaked in the sink with warm water. I was amazed how clean and sturdy they were. Nana Della always said that if the Christmas hojas were good, it was going to be a good year. Works for me, I love superstitions and old wives tales. Tamale Time 2006 was full on!

Cousin Nicky mixed the meat and chile sauce. I spread the masa, choosing only the best hojas. They were large enough, so you didn't have to piece any together. That comes later, when you start to run out. I spread out the masa only about half way up the hoja, right to the top edge, not too thick and not too thin. Hand off the hoja to my cousin. Then Nicky filled the tamal with the meat mixture, making these tamales more meat than masa. The meat goes in the center, fold over the sides, then turn up the "tail" and you're tamal is done. There's a great instruction sheet on Rick Bayless' Frontera grill site. Now at this point some gente like to tie the tamal. For my family, it just gets in the way of good eatin', having to untie a tamal. Soon the foil roasting pan was filling up with these gorgeous tamales, all ready to be steamed. PS---muchas gracias to theFrog for the camera!
(To be continued...)

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy Birfcake from La Vida Dulce!

Feliz ano nuevo and happy new year to all! This is the one year anniversary of my blog. Thanks to all who visit and leave comments. Best of everything to you for this new year. Tequila shot in hand, everyone salud!