Pumpkin Bread is one of the very first things I learned how to make. The idea of it is so simple: mix a can of pumpkin with some sugar and some eggs, add some flour, lots of spices (I went heavy on the nutmeg, the cinnamon, the cloves), and pour into a greased loaf pan. An hour later your apartment smells like the greatest seasonal candle ever invented, only better than a candle because you can eat it. No wonder I made pumpkin bread so often. Now that I’m a mature statesman of gastronomy (ahem) I thought I would elevate my pumpkin bread game by changing one of the components in a major way; a way that contains a major secret.
Ina Garten is one smart cookie. On a recent episode of her show, I watched her amp up the flavor of a potato leek soup by roasting the potatoes and leeks on a cookie sheet–getting them nice and golden brown–before pureeing them with chicken stock and topping the soup with crispy shallots. So when Vitamix asked me to make an autumnal soup recipe using their S30 model–a model ideal for making an individual portion–I knew what I had to do. Off to the store I went to pick up a butternut squash, an apple, an onion, some ginger, and some chicken stock, and then I went full Ina.
Man, are you in for a treat. Are you ready? Imagine a slice of fresh, milky mozzarella that’s been coated in panko bread crumbs and fried. That sounds pretty good by itself, doesn’t it? Now imagine that on an eggy roll (Hawaiian sweet bread) and topped with both basil aioli and a spicy tomato jam. It’s hard to even wrap your head around, but I know it’s a real thing that exists because I ate it at the Burnt Truck at the Orange County Fair and ever since it’s been haunting my dreams. Making this at home wouldn’t just be an act of selfishness (I NEED TO HAVE MORE), but an act of charity because if I figure out this recipe that means you get to eat it too and you’ll be just as happy and haunted as I am.
Sometimes you eat a dish that’s so good you have to have the exact recipe, to recreate it at home in such away that it’s indistinguishable from the original. Other times, you try a dish and love it so much that it inspires you to riff in a similar way; not to make that exact same thing, but to make something similar in your own style. The latter is pretty much what happened to me when I visited the Dos Chinos truck in Orange County. There, one of the owners, Viet demonstrated how to make their signature shrimp and rice bowl. It was a positive playground of textures and flavors and when I left, I set about to make something similar at home, but in my own unique Amateur Gourmet way.
Many a chef will tell you that “less is more” when it comes to creating a dish. Not so the food truck chef. Take, for example, Martin Tse of the Dogzilla Truck which I recently visited at the Orange County Fair. His signature dish, the Dogzilla Dog, makes a solid case that “more is more,” especially when it comes to recreating an all-American classic like the hot dog. Tse’s take involves everything under the sun including grilled onions, avocado, Jayo (Japanese mayo), homemade Teriyaki sauce, bacon bits, and a Japanese spice mix sprinkled liberally on top. The resulting Dogzilla dog is so good, I knew I had to make it for myself at home.
Not long ago, I made a trip to the Orange County Fair–about an hour from where I live in Atwater Village–to partake of the food trucks that gather there right near the farmer’s market. My first stop was the Lime Truck, a well-known L.A. enterprise (they won Season 2 of the Great Food Truck Race on Food Network), where Alex–one of the truck’s long-time employees–walked me through one of their most popular items, the lamb sandwich. My mission: to recreate it at home.
What is the most refreshing summer drink? Some might argue lemonade. With its puckery punch and bright yellow color, it’s a tough drink to beat in the summer months. And yet, ever since moving to L.A., I find myself gravitating towards another drink when I’m hot and want something a little less tart, a little more smooth. That drink, as you can tell from the title of this post, is horchata. It’s a drink that’s naturally thickened from the starch in white rice and heavily spiced with cinnamon. I’d never made it before (I usually get it from one of the plentiful Mexican restaurants here in my neighborhood), but making it just by itself seemed a little boring. Which is why I had the idea to incorporate another ingredient, something to give the drink more body and also to make it more healthful; that ingredient, as you can also tell from the title of this post, is an avocado–rich with Omega-3 fatty acids. Together, horchata and avoado might make a killer smoothie. Only way to find out was to try.
Popcorn at home never quite dazzles the way it does at the movie theater. Maybe it’s because of all the buttery goop they squirt on, maybe it’s because of the smell it gives off, but my homemade popcorn rarely does the trick. That’s why, recently, I decided to give up on my quest to reproduce that giant overpriced bucket of yellow stuff and replace it with something far more original, exciting, and–to steal a word from the title of this post–snacktastic. The results, I’m glad to say, speak for themselves.