Monthly Archives: February 2015

How to Cook Better Food for Vegetarians and Vegans

Every home cook likely knows how to throw together a meatless meal or two, but actually cooking a meal that vegetarians or vegans will love can be tricky. Those who have held to this diet for any length of time can attest to growing tired of Tofurky for Thanksgiving and the various other clichés, and people who are only just making the switch to a meatless diet will find themselves running out of ideas if they don’t adjust their cooking techniques. Luckily, with just a bit of work, any chef can learn to prepare excellent vegetarian food.

Anyone who is just getting started on a diet without meat should begin by familiarizing themselves with some basic nutrition. Animal products contain many useful vitamins and minerals, such as zinc, iron, protein, and vitamin B12, but there are easy ways for vegetarians and vegans to enjoy a nutritionally balanced diet. However, creating a flavorful meal can be more challenging, insofar as cooking with vegetables and other non-meat foods alone can prove difficult for those unpracticed in the art. Begin by picking up bold spices and fresh herbs, and don’t be afraid to ladle on some extra fat, with olive oil and butter being popular choices. It’s often easy to make the food look good, thanks to the beautiful colors and textures available with vegetables, but making it taste good usually requires interesting sauces or a combination of ingredients.

While a vegetarian or vegan cookbook will likely be an excellent way to get started on finding delicious new dishes, the main feasting event of the year, Thanksgiving, may present more of a challenge. For many vegetarians or vegans, Thanksgiving is the season of Tofurky or another big dry meatless loaf. Those planning a Thanksgiving dinner or any other big gustatory event at which vegetarians will be present should consider not overdoing a central dish and instead focus on the diversity of flavors available during the harvest season, preparing a number of side dishes instead. Alternately, consider finding something unusual and unexpected, like heirloom beans or vegetables, to make the special occasion feel even more special.

L.A.’s Growing Downtown Arts District Offers Food and Artsy Fun

In many respects, the Downtown Arts District remains an unassuming corner of Los Angeles filled with old and occasionally abandoned warehouses. However, that image is changing. Like warehouse neighborhoods before it, the Downtown Arts District is becoming the go-to location for excellent galleries, gorgeous loft apartments, and creative expression of all kinds. Luckily for L.A.’s gourmands, it has also begun attracting some incredible talent among the city’s chefs and restaurateurs. Angelenos looking for breakfast, lunch, or dinner downtown need look no further.

While Seattle and San Francisco are more often thought of as coffee destinations, L.A. is making its mark with the Downtown Arts District, as several excellent cafés have appeared recently. Stumptown Coffee Roasters brings Portland flavors south, while Blue Bottle Coffee Co. delivers a San Francisco feel. However, those looking for a unique L.A. experience will want to visit Handsome Coffee Roasters, which also hosts a Wednesday night farmers market. Of course, those looking for more substantial fare along with their cup of joe should consider visiting the Pie Hole, a modest café with big flavors in their myriad pie creations, or the Daily Dose, which provides unusual and incredible sandwiches in an outstandingly beautiful location.

The Downtown Arts District offers more than clever cafés, of course. Those looking for fine dining will perhaps want to start at Church & State, which serves up wonderful French classics without any pretentiousness. Mexican and South American food lovers will prefer Cerveteca, while Italian food fanatics should visit The Factory Kitchen, especially those willing to spend the extra money for the exquisite prime beef rib chop. The new star in the district, however, is Bestia, which offers a surprising and delightfully rustic Italian menu that manages to stand out from the crowd. After dinner, however, remember to stop by the Bread Lounge, where you can pick up the city’s best baguettes, among many other gluten-filled delights.

Making a Menu – Planning Weekly Meals at Home

Virtually everyone agrees that cooking at home is a fantastic thing to do for a huge variety of reasons, from getting to spend more time with family to saving money by avoiding high restaurant prices. Eating at home can mean healthier meals, happier families, and smaller waists, but putting food on the table every day can seem like an enormous chore, and there’s always the concern that you’ll get bored with the same meals every week. To combat the difficulty and boredom, the best thing to do is to have a meal plan.

Having a complete meal plan for each week or each month is one of the best ways to save money and ensure an excellent diet for everyone at home. By planning ahead, you can eschew expensive options like eating out or having prepackaged meals while simultaneously reducing the number of times you have to interrupt your day to go to the grocery store. Naturally, the cost comes in the organizational and planning stages.

The first step will always be to decide to get started, and that can be a difficult step to take. Begin by talking to your family members or roommates to get an idea of what foods they like to eat and what meals they enjoy. It will also be helpful to get an idea of when people plan to eat out during the week. Consult cookbooks or Internet resources to find new ideas every month, as well to prevent boredom. Next, put together your calendar, thinking ahead whenever possible. Will you have leftovers? If so, how will you incorporate them in the days ahead? Are there time-saving steps, like preparing components of meals ahead of time to assemble or save? Answering these questions will be essential.

Those looking for ways to make the process easier will find it helpful to put together a pre-written shopping list, which will ensure that you always pick up essentials without needing to write them down and remember them every week. It will also be important to learn to love your freezer. If you prepare more food than you’ll need, you can freeze the remainder, and incorporating these pre-made meals into your schedule will free up a lot of time that you’d otherwise spend cooking. Frozen whole foods are also a fantastic way to ensure you’re getting your fruits and vegetables. Try to avoid purchasing too many perishable goods, freeze what you won’t use immediately, and opt for already frozen produce when you think you won’t be able to use fresh ingredients in time.

Chinatown Revitalized – Los Angeles’ Next Dining Hotspot

For years now, Angelenos have been pointing hungry diners interested in Chinese cuisine to the San Gabriel Valley rather than Chinatown which, in recent memory, has often been dismissed as a tourist attraction with uninspired cuisine. That perception, however, is changing. As with all things real estate, the boom and bust cycle is coming back around to a boom, and cheap rent coupled with an influx of art galleries has brought the restaurant industry back to the area. Chinatown already has a fascinating history. It appears that it will soon have a wealth of incredible restaurants, as well.

While present-day Chinatown was dedicated by California’s governor and other state and city officials in 1938, Los Angeles has long had a vibrant Chinese population. While the first Chinese Angeleno appears in the historical record in 1852, it was the growth of the railroad industry in the 1860s that brought a large population of Chinese residents to L.A. The city’s first dedicated Chinatown appeared in 1880, but local pressure led to its collapse in the 1910s, and residents strove to relocate, eventually situating themselves in the present-day location in the 1930s.

Today, Chinatown is being revitalized once again. Roy Choi, the famed food-truck restaurateur, has moved Chego to the Far East Plaza, joining a branch of Scoops and Champ Ramen, while other restaurant industry movers and shakers have begun looking into the charming, often fascinating locations available in the area. Restaurants like Pok Pok, The Little Jewel of New Orleans, and Empress Pavilion are bringing diversity and class, while old standbys like Wonder Bakery, Via Cafe, and Thong Lo are bringing in new customers as the area expands. There are even an increasing number of restaurants selling non-Asian cuisine. Mexicali Taco & Co., for example, offers some of the best Baja cuisine in the city. Truly, there’s increasingly no reason to take the trek to San Gabriel Valley. Chinatown is once again coming into its own.

Kitchen Essentials – Selecting the Perfect Skillet

While kitchen catalogues and cooking TV shows often show professionals at work with endless tools and supplies, in reality, the savvy home chef knows that only a few essentials are necessary to make incredible food. One of the most important parts of a well-stocked kitchen is a good skillet or frying pan, a vessel with low, slanted sides that aid in evaporation and make it easy to flip food. While it can be fun to have a pan for every situation and every dish, those who are striving for minimalism or frugality can often get by with just a single well-made skillet.

For many people, the best and most cost-effective choice will be a cast-iron skillet. This type of pan can be incredibly versatile in the hands of a creative chef. Most famous for providing steaks with the perfect seared exterior, a cast-iron skillet can also be used to bake pies or pizzas, deep fry vegetables, or roast a whole chicken. These skillets are also extremely affordable, as even the industry leader, Lodge, sells its premier 12-inch skillet for less than $40. The only problem with cast iron is that it requires a bit of extra care, though the difficulty in this is often exaggerated.

Cast iron may be the cheapest high-quality frying-pan material, but the absolute best type of pan is “clad.” Used to describe pans made with a heat-retaining metal sandwiched between sheets of stainless steel, these skillets offer steel’s ease-of-use while retaining the high conductivity of metals like copper or aluminum. While the most affordable options will only be slightly more expensive than cast iron, the industry’s top-of-the-line skillets are made by All-Clad and often have price tags well above $100. Whatever you decide to buy, be sure to get something big enough. Experts generally agree that a 12-inch skillet will be large enough for practically any dish, though those who cook for themselves or just one other person can probably make do with a 10-inch model.