Zesty Tequila Lime Chicken

Main Dishes, Recipes

For the title of this post, I had contemplated making a pun on Tequila Mockingbird (To Kill a Mockingbird… get it, get it?), but as our primary modification to Ina Garten’s recipe was to add three types of citrus zest, zesty it is! That’s right folks – lime, lemon, and orange zest all play a huge role in making this marinade really sing. That and some good tequila. No need to break out the top shelf Patron or Don Julio – your favorite low-to-mid-tier gold will do. We recommend aiming for a $20-30 bottle; we used Sauza Commemorativo, a gorgeous amber-hued añejo tequila aged 18 months in oak barrels.

Zesty Tequila Lime Chicken

Zesty Tequila Lime Chicken

NomNomCat Tips:

#1: You really don’t want to skimp on the marinating time, so be sure to plan well in advance! This recipe recommends overnight marination; I managed to get in 24 hours by prepping this meal as I was cooking the night before’s dinner. If you do need to multitask a bit, you can marinade frozen chicken pieces so that they defrost and absorb flavor at the same time (thus saving time from waiting for the chicken to thaw first). Again, it must sit at least overnight and if using frozen, be sure to rinse off any ice crystals before dropping the chicken into the marinade.

#2: If ever a recipe really depended on a microplane, this would be one of them. Don’t have a microplane? Use the finest side of your box grater. Don’t have a box grater either? Time to get one. Just kidding, sorta. You could skip the zest (Ina Garten did in the original recipe and I’m sure hers comes out just fine), or do it the old fashioned way – take a vegetable peeler and try to get as thin a slice of the peel as possible. Use a paring knife to scrape off or cut away any pith (the bitter white part). Then just finely mince the peels and voila – zest!

Microplane - very important, though not mandatory

Microplane – very important, though not mandatory

#3: I have both grilled and baked these chicken thighs, and I’ve found that both methods are good in their own ways. I like the ease of sticking them in the oven and forgetting about them for 45 minutes, at which time I can serve and eat. Baking would also be a great way to bring back a bit of summer when the weather starts getting too cold for grilling. If you do decide to grill these, about 10-15 minutes per side would be the ballpark. Grilling is a delicate balance between making sure they are sufficiently cooked (165 degree internal temperature) and that they don’t dry out. You may want to make extra marinade to reserve for basting.

Ingredients:

Ingredients:

1/2 cup tequila

1 cup fresh squeezed lime and lemon juice (approximately 3 limes and 2 lemons)

1/2 cup fresh squeezed orange juice (approximately 1 medium orange)

The zest of all citrus fruits above

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (you can add more to kick it up a notch!)

3 cloves garlic, finely minced

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

4 chicken thighs, bone-in and skin-on (or about 1 pound of chicken, your choice of cut)

Lots of Citrus Zest

Lots of Citrus Zest

Prep the citrus. I’m a slow zester, so it took me a while to put this marinade together. Be prepared – the kitchen is going to smell amazingly fragrant as the peels start to release the aromatic citrus oils.

Measuring Out the Citrus Juices

Measuring Out the Citrus Juices

Combine the marinade ingredients. Taste if you dare. It should pack a punch.

Marinating in a Plastic Bag

Marinating in a Plastic Bag

Clean the chicken thighs and place them into a plastic gallon-sized zip-top bag or glass container. Pour the marinade over the chicken and squish around to get the chicken really coated. If using the zip-top bag, let as much air out as possible to ensure maximum chicken-to-marinade contact. If using a glass container, create an airtight seal using plastic wrap or its lid. Refrigerate overnight.

Ready for the Oven

Ready for the Oven

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees or heat up the grill. Gently shake the chicken as you remove it from the marinade. Lay on a foil-lined sheet pan for baking at 375 degrees for 45 minutes, or arrange on an oiled grill and cook for 10-15 minutes per side, depending on the size of your pieces of chicken.

After 45 minutes of baking

After 45 minutes of baking

Serve with fresh flour or corn tortillas, salsa, lime wedges, chopped cilantro, and diced onion. I liked using a bright, chunky pico de gallo for texture and flavor contrast.

Dinner is Served!

Dinner is Served!

Though the weather has been gloomy here in LA, we’re not quite ready to let go of summer yet! Celebrate with one last summery hurrah by serving up these street-style tacos filled with juicy, flavorful tequila lime chicken. Or bookmark us for next summer’s barbecues – just remember to come back and let us know how it goes!

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Friday Fun: Soju Watermelon

Drinks and Cocktails, Recipes

The weather has been unfortunately gloomy here in LA lately, but July still means summer and summer means watermelons galore. Every time I go to pick out a watermelon, it reminds of a camp activity we played called “Big Watermelon” and how we counselors had to scramble to figure out how to say big watermelon (and the rest of the chant) in different languages. Sandía grande. Dà xīguā (大西瓜). Keun subag (큰 수박). Ookina suika (大きなスイカ). But I digress. This time, I was picking out an 大きなスイカ for a different purpose — soju watermelon.

Soju Watermelon

Soju Watermelon

We were planning for our July 4th barbecue when I saw a photo of it online —  a gorgeous cocktail concoction of watermelon juice and soju served in its own shell. It’s like the Korean-influenced cousin of the vodka watermelon, and I knew we just had to try making it ourselves. It turned out to be very easy and intuitive. Just grab a watermelon that’s an appropriate size for your party (we got a “personal” mini watermelon that made enough for about 5-6 people), a bottle or two of moderate-to-cheap soju, a lemon, a blender, and some ice. Oh, and a knife to (carefully) hack open the melon.

Ingredients:

Ingredients:

1 seedless watermelon

1 bottle of soju (we used Chamisul Original)

The juice of one lemon

Ice

Sugar (optional)

Beautiful ripe watermelon

Beautiful ripe watermelon

Step 1: Split the watermelon in half. Try to go right down the middle, otherwise you’ll end up with one “bowl” that will be more shallow than the other. OPTIONAL: if you are confident in your knife skills, you could also cut in a zig-zag pattern to yield a more interesting-looking vessel at the end.

Step 2: Scoop out the contents of each half. We did one half at a time. Fill up a blender. Pulse until smooth (but not too long or it will get frothy). You may need to push down with a spoon now and then to get the blades to catch.

Step 3: Pour the juices back into the shell and/or into a punch bowl to serve. We were surprised at the volume of juice the blending process yielded, so we had to transfer the leftovers to a large bowl. Also, our melon rinds were a bit too spherical so we placed them in a small bowl for extra support.

Step 4: Add ice, lemon juice, and soju to taste. We added one bottle’s worth to our mini watermelon and provided extra for anyone who wished to top off their drinks for a stronger kick. If your watermelon was bland or underripe, you may want to add sugar (or a simple syrup of dissolved sugar and water) to taste.

Step 5: Find a poolside or barbecue or karaoke bar and enjoy the refreshing taste of summer.

Cheers!

Cheers!

Soju (소주) is a Korean vodka typically distilled from rice. Jinro is the most popular manufacturer with many varieties in their product line. I prefer Chamisul Fresh if drinking soju neat but the more affordable Chamisul Original is fine for mixing, like with this delicious homemade agua fresca. The alcohol content is usually lower than that of vodka (around 20%), but it can still sneak up on you, so drink responsibly. Cheers!

626 Night Market – July 2013

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

On select weekends this summer, the 626 team transforms the Santa Anita Race Track into a Taiwanese style night market, complete with rows of vendors hawking a variety of noms and live music performances to keep the crowds energized. The very first 626 Night Market in 2012 clearly met a real need, attracting far more attendees than the venue could handle. But thanks to this year’s planning team (including our friends Brian & Patricia) subsequent Night Markets have seen dramatic improvement. Still, the crowds are pretty epic — this past weekend brought out 55,000 Angelenos and even long distance visitors, trumping the June weekend’s record of 40,000 attendees.

Summer Garden Nights: 3 weekends (and now Labor Day Weekend as well!)

Summer Garden Nights: 3 weekends (and now Labor Day Weekend as well!)

While a night market experience isn’t quite the same unless the sun’s down, we opted to go early, right at 4pm when it opened, so we could maximize our time sampling noms. Shorter lines, less congested walkways, and plenty of delicious inventory that will certainly sell out as the night progresses? We can handle some hot summer sun for that.

Tan San Skewers

Tan San Skewers

Be sure to grab a vendor directory when you walk in. Those looking to stay green can download the PDF from their website and view it on their smartphones instead. It will help you a) identify mysterious-looking noms, b) track down your favorite noms, and c) avoid (or find, depending on your preferences) the STZ – Stinky Tofu Zone.

This is our friend Zhu. He's proud of that lamb skewer.

This is our friend Zhu. He’s proud of that lamb skewer.

The first thing we gravitated toward were these smoky, meaty lamb skewers from Tan San. Fresh off the grill, the lamb itself was a bit chewy, but the seasonings were enhanced by the charred bits from the barbecue.

Takoyaki and Okonomiyaki!

Miniyaki Takoyaki and Okonomiyaki!

There were a surprising number of Japanese food vendors, expanding the scope of the Night Market to encompass many Asian street food cultures. I was extra excited about takoyaki. I love okonomiyaki too, but I love takoyaki so much that I sometimes sing the Takoyaki Song.

Miniyaki: Wasabi Takoyaki

Miniyaki: Wasabi Takoyaki

I grabbed an order of the wasabi takoyaki from Miniyaki. 6 delicious balls of octopus-filled batter, drizzled with sweet okonomi sauce and wasabi mayo and topped with a mound of shaved bonito flakes. Whoever said “Money can’t buy happiness” obviously never spent $5 on an order of these. おいしかった~!

Brace yourselves for this next one…

Rosal's Family Shoppe: Balut

Rosal’s Family Shoppe: Balut

A common street food throughout Southeast Asia and the Philippines, balut is really tastes much better than it looks. As a kid, I used to eat this with my dad; he would let me have the hardened yolk and drink the brothy juice while he ate the duck. Martin and Zhu dug right in, though this one was a little too developed for Martin’s tastes.

Simbala: Taiwanese Sausage

Simbala: Taiwanese Sausage

The boys had grabbed refreshments from a Stella Artois booth, so naturally the next victim would be more noms that pair well with beer: Taiwanese sausages from Simbala. The texture was firmer than expected and it reminded me of a Vietnamese lap xuong. Very juicy and flavorful and also went well with…

Wei's Scallion Pancakes

Wei’s Scallion Pancake Hut

…scallion pancakes! Crispy flat discs of flaky dough layered with chopped scallions (green onions), fried on a griddle until golden brown. And for only $4? Sold!

Anxiously watching them fry my scallion pancake

Anxiously watching them fry my scallion pancake

Each pancake was made to order and arrived hot off the griddle. I watched the grill master skillfully monitor and flip eight pancakes at a time (not all at once, of course, though that would be incredibly impressive!).

Wei's: Green Onion Pancake

Wei’s: Green Onion Pancake

It was everything I had hoped for and more. They offered sweet chili sauce, garlic soy sauce, and generic unlabeled hot sauce that suspiciously resembled sriracha. I kept it simple with just a dab or two of sriracha. They were excellent plain too.

Gottsui~!

Gottsui~!

As we wove through the crowds, we noticed a distinctly long line gathering. We discovered that it was none other than my latest Sawtelle obsession, Gottsui! The guys seemed like they were having a great time. I was tempted to grab one but I think I’ll just have to make a return visit to their storefront. Really soon. また ね~!

Turkish Doner Kebab

Turkish Doner Kebab

Turning the corner, we found a selection of more international cuisines – Mexican, Turkish, Indonesian… The guys at Turkish Doner Kebab even brought out fresh spits of turning shwarma and generously offered samples for us to try. So moist and so good. Unfortunately I was getting too full to finish my own pita pocket.

Aunty Merry Indonesian Food

Aunty Merry Indonesian Food

People seemed to be raving over the grilled corn here at Aunty Merry, but Martin spotted the bird’s egg curry skewers and had to have it. Both of us noticed that the bird must be quail and well, quail’s eggs are delicious!

Aunty Merry: Bird's Egg Curry Skewer

Aunty Merry: Bird’s Egg Curry Skewer

Lightly marinated in curry sauce, these hard boiled quail eggs were tender and succulent. They lacked the punch we had expected with the curry description, but it’s possible that the creamy yolks overpowered any seasoning.

Tea Lane: Candied Hawthorn (or Haw) Berries

Tea Lane: Candied Hawthorn (or Haw) Berries

Now these were something I did not expect to find on a skewer. Hawthorn berries are often used in Chinese candies, most memorably the chewy red discs packaged in paper tubes that I knew as “haw flakes.” This was my first time trying the fruit itself, and it was just as sweet-tart as I expected. The hard candy coating was done well – not sticky at all.

Starry Kitchen

Starry Kitchen

We made our way around the ring of food trucks which featured the usual suspects – Grilled Cheese Truck, Lobsta Truck (one of our favs!), Ludo Truck, and many more. But then I spotted Starry Kitchen. Okay fine, I saw the dude in the banana suit long before I even saw the banner.

Starry Kitchen: Pandan Churros with Kaya Cream

Starry Kitchen: Pandan Churros with Kaya Cream

Genius. Pure genius. The pandan churros tasted exactly like my memories of buying freshly pressed lá dứa waffles at Van’s Bakery back home in the OC, but in bite-sized, chewy+crispy stick form. The kaya coconut cream was so deliciously sweet and fragrant that I scooped out every drop with my last churro. So freaking good.

CoCo Tea House

CoCo Fresh Tea

The guys all made a boba stop to get a milk tea from CoCo. I noticed they had recently opened a location at the Olympic Collection on Sawtelle, but apparently they have over a thousand locations, 900 of which are in China alone! Crazy!

Thoke: A Burmese Kitchen

Thoke: A Burmese Kitchen

Of course we had to circle back to visit Thoke. There we found some familiar faces, our friends from camp! Jason and Sherlock were busy manning the fryer, serving up some hot egg rolls and curry potato samosas.

Thoke: Curry Potato Samosa

Thoke: Curry Potato Samosa

One bite and you’ll be hooked after hearing the satisfying crackle of the golden brown pastry shell, but it’s the flavor-packed curry potato filling that really makes it an awesome addition to the variety of street food at the night market. Kudos!

Grilled Octopus

Grilled Squid and Octopus

I REALLY wanted to get one of these, but it was already 7pm and the lines were quickly building at every vendor’s stall. The aroma of grilled squid and octopus legs wafted through the air, a welcome change from the… pungent stinky tofu.

Last Stop: iSweet Snow Ice

Last Stop: iSweet Snow Ice

I saw snow ice and had a feeling it would resemble Blockheads Shavery. We decided to go simple and get a watermelon snow ice, plain (no toppings).

Zhu and the Watermelon Snow Ice

Zhu and the Watermelon Snow Ice

I always worry that watermelon desserts will get their flavor from the artificial stuff, but luckily, summer is the perfect season for the real stuff. The snow ice here was fluffy and really carried the essence of real watermelon, down to its gentle sweetness. Really a great way to end a prevening of nonstop nomming.

626 Night Market: Summer Garden Nights is an awesome event, and we’re glad we got to visit and try delicious noms from so many awesome vendors. If you have not yet checked it out or if you’re still traumatized from the very first one, mark your calendars for August 3-4th AND the newly added Labor Day Weekend!

Bring cash, wear comfortable shoes, and go early or prepare for 30+ minute waits. Admission is only $2 before 6pm, $3 after, and parking is absolutely FREE. What are you waiting for? 626 Night Market is the largest Asian night market in the US!

UPDATE:

GIANT BOBA!

GIANT BOBA! (via 626 Night Market FB page)

Interested in being part of the World’s Largest Cup of Boba?! Check out their Kickstarter and the potential unveiling at the August weekend of Summer Garden Nights! 320 gallons of milk tea in a 6 foot tall plastic cup — it’s definitely going to be a sight to see!

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Check out 626 Night Market: 626nightmarket.com

285 W Huntington Dr
Arcadia, CA 91007

See their Yelp reviews here!

Sriracha Shrimp Skewers

Appetizers and Starters, Main Dishes, Recipes

We love having friends over for food and drinks and merriment, so a summer barbecue for Independence Day was inevitable. As we planned out our spread, we knew we wanted to serve up our copycat Father’s Office burgers, zesty tequila-lime chicken (recipe to come), and shrimp. Hm. Shrimp. Our brains were riddled with question marks as to the marinade and the idea of “Oh, butter, lemon, and herbs will be fine… it’s a classic combination!” relentlessly gripped my train of thought. But with our other two fancified proteins on the menu, we wanted the shrimp to stand out too. Cue, sriracha.

Sriracha Shrimp

Sriracha Marinated Shrimp

Sriracha. An Asian bottled hot sauce made popular here in the States by David Tran of Huy Fong Foods, sriracha has been a critical household ingredient in my family since before I was born. My parents always had a bottle sitting in the refrigerator, always the Huy Fong one with the rooster and the iconic green cap. Known in Vietnamese as tương ớt (or “pepper sauce”), I only ate sriracha with pho and occasionally to spice up other Asian dishes like fried rice or non-pho noodle soups. It wasn’t until I moved to LA for college that I even saw a bottle of sriracha anywhere other than an Asian restaurant. In fact, it was EVERYWHERE – the dining halls, the Mexican taco trucks, the “international” section of Ralphs. All of my friends, regardless of their ethnicity, slathered sriracha over everything. Have you ever tried sriracha in lieu of ketchup for dipping French fries? IT ROCKS.

The iconic plastic bottle with the rooster and green cap (accept no substitutes!)

The iconic plastic bottle with the rooster and green cap (accept no substitutes!)

Huy Fong Foods sells out of every batch they produce and recently expanded their facilities from Rosemead (near where Martin grew up and would smell the scent of brewing peppers wafting through the neighboring streets) to a 23-acre factory in Irwindale… it warms my heart to see the success of a company with such humble beginnings (the family immigrated during the Vietnam War, just as my parents had). There’s even a sriracha documentary coming out soon; I’m expecting a Jiro Dreams of Sushi of the hot sauce world.

These little morsels quickly disappeared...

These little morsels quickly disappeared…

But back to the barbecue. Fortunately, our friends at Foodbeast resurrected this awesome recipe from Helen at Food52, and we found it on our Facebook news feed not a moment too soon. It was a huge hit at the party and definitely a keeper for future cookouts.

Ingredients:

Ingredients:

1/3 cup sriracha (we added 1 tablespoon extra for more kick)

1/3 cup olive oil (we reduced by 1 tablespoon)

1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

4-5 crushed cloves of garlic (we added a few more cloves)

1 teaspoon sugar

Small bunch of cilantro, coarsely chopped

Salt & pepper

2 pounds large shrimp (21-25 or larger), cleaned, peeled, & deveined

(adapted from Food52)

The Marinade - At the Beginning

The Marinade – At the Beginning

In small bowl (or measuring cup – I like to minimize dirty dishes), whisk together the first six ingredients, making sure to bruise the garlic pieces as you mix. Let the marinade mixture sit while you work on the shrimp.

The Shrimp

The Shrimp

Clean the veins from the shrimp and peel them under cold water. Tails on or off – that’s up to you. I preferred them tail-off for ease of devouring these morsels whole.

Seasoned Shrimp

Seasoned Shrimp

Transfer the shrimp to a medium glass bowl. Season generously with kosher salt (or garlic salt) and fresh cracked black pepper.

Look at the stunning marinade!

Look at the stunning marinade!

Pour the marinade over (scrape every last drop!) and mix well to combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. The marinade (i.e. the flavor) clings well to the shrimp when it comes time to grilling, so it’s OK if you don’t quite have 2 hours to spare.

You could almost hear the shrimp soaking in all that flavor!

You could almost hear the shrimp soaking in all that flavor!

About an hour before grill time, soak some bamboo skewers in water; this keeps them from burning to a crisp over the hot coals. I set out a baking sheet on a counter I wasn’t using, spread out the skewers in a single layer, and then poured cold water over them.

Skewering Time!

Skewering Time!

When it’s time, set up the grill and get it all nice and hot. Meanwhile, thread the shrimp on the soaked skewers. We have a small grilling surface, so I did 4 per skewer. You may want to wear food-safe gloves… I didn’t and my slightly burning fingertips immediately regretted that decision.

Shrimp on the Barbie

Shrimp on the Barbie

Shrimp are an excellent party food since they cook so quickly. Just 2-3 minutes per side on a hot grill and they will be perfectly opaque and juicy. Serve them up and wait for the satisfying “yums” followed by the telltale “sss” as your guests’ varying levels of tolerance for spiciness are put to the test.

We started with this...

I managed to snap a few pics before they were all claimed and devoured

There are plenty of hot sauce marinated shrimp recipes out there, and even ones that also feature the beloved sriracha, but many only call for mere tablespoons of the stuff for the same quantity of shrimp. It’s no surprise then that Helen of Food52 was awarded “Best Shrimp Recipe” for this stellar recipe that dares to really pack a punch. Give it a whirl for your next summer barbecue – it’s sure to be a crowd-pleaser! (And if you liked this recipe, check out her grilled lamb, also a winner on Food52.)

Blockheads Shavery – West Los Angeles, CA

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

Shaved ice comes in many forms — piled high and topped with fresh fruit and condensed milk a la Guppy House, scooped into a cone and flavored with a rainbow of syrups, and lastly, a dessert whose fans will vehemently exclaim is spelled without the d – Hawaiian style shave ice. And then there’s Blockheads Shavery.

Blockheads Shavery

Blockheads Shavery

The cute square penguin joined the Little Osaka / Sawtelle scene in 2011 and brought with it a frozen treat they call snow cream. Combining the best traits of creamy ice cream and fluffy shave ice, snow cream is shaved to order from giant ice blocks here at Blockheads and comes in at least five flavors at any given time: plain/original, green tea, strawberry, black sesame, and a seasonal flavor or two that varies from cantaloupe to cappuccino to peach.

Penguin Plushie!

Penguin Plushie!

If the menu offerings seem daunting, have no fear — you’ll have plenty of time to decide. There is always a long line out the door, especially on Friday nights when UCLA students flock to Sawtelle to congregate at SushiStop and a Blockheads dessert afterward. While waiting, take a look around at the adorable penguin paraphernalia, including the Andy Warhol style artwork on the walls. And the soft, soft plushie. Yes, I splurged on one.

Toppings Guy

Toppings Guy

I like the build-your-own shave ice. Just pick a flavor, a few toppings, and a drizzle. The pricing model starts at $3.50 for a regular bowl of just the ice and one drizzle. Add $0.50 for each topping, so choose wisely. The variety of toppings include fresh fruit, mochi, jelly, rice cakes, red bean, and so much more. There are about half a dozen drizzles as well, but I think the most noteworthy ones are the condensed milk and the chocolate syrup. In case you get overwhelmed, they do have a menu of “favorites” that feature popular combinations of toppings.

Green tea, almond jelly, condensed milk

Green tea ice, almond jelly, condensed milk

After hugging my newly purchased plushie and admiring the doodle wall for a few minutes, I finally heard, over the din of grinding ice blocks, my name called to pick up my order. Matcha (green tea) shave ice topped with cubes of almond jelly and a generous drizzle of condensed milk. Keepin’ it simple. The almond jelly reminds me of childhood and the condensed milk adds just the right touch of sweetness to the light and fluffy ice.

Strawberry ice, mango, condensed milk

Strawberry ice, mango, condensed milk

Dining Companion #1 ordered the strawberry snow cream topped with fresh mangoes and drizzle of condensed milk. The fruity combination was like a taste of the tropics on a hot summer’s day.

Black sesame ice, azuki, condensed milk

Black sesame ice, azuki, condensed milk

Dining Companion #2 assembled the black sesame snow cream with azuki (red beans) and drizzle of condensed milk. She remarked that the flavor combination was distinctly Asian and reminded her of some of her favorite desserts growing up. Black sesame, surprisingly, is one of Blockheads’ most popular flavors — clearly there’s a demand for their supply.

With the weather warming up, Blockheads Shavery is a great place to beat the heat and grab some sweet frozen treats. Gather a group of friends with similar tastes and order the large – it’s pretty massive and looked like tons of fun to dig into.

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Check out Blockheads Shavery: blockheadsla.com

11311 Mississippi Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90025

See their Yelp reviews here!