y4pcT1JaIwGptQJPO6l_mZmgv34 tiffin unboxed: January 2011

Chef Marathe's Santosh (tomato-coconut soup) Recipe

Recently I wrote a post about my Un-Curry Table experience ().

My favorite dish that night was this incredible tomato soup. Well, Chef Marathe has shared this classic recipe in her recent LA Weekly interview.

Allow me to spread the joy of this dish, with this link to the recipe. You will not be disappointed!

बोन अप्पेतित  (Bon appetit!)

Recent Finds: A-Frame's Furikake Kettle Corn & Other Treasures

Let me begin by saying that I'm not a huge popcorn person. I rarely eat it, not even at movie theaters.

Recently there has been lost of buzz about Kogi founder Roy Choi's and David Reiss' AFrame. Since AFrame does not take reservations and the wait was said to be 1+ hours, my plan was to let the buzz die down. Until I heard the KCRW Good Food radio segment with Jonathan Gold. The clever concept is described on their menu as a 'modern picnic', with the finger foods served in casual, stylish metal plates. I find it irresistable to eat bite sized food with my hands.

By now, I've been there twice and on the second visit, we ordered two orders of this popcorn among three people (one left early so only two of us devoured the second bowl).

AFrame - Furikake Kettle Corn

This popcorn hits the right notes on the palate because it tastes simultaneously sweet, salty, spicy/hot, with a slight ocean vibe and also buttery. The glazed kettle corn is tossed with the Japanese furikake seasoning, often made with toasted nori, sesame seeds and other spices. The flavors meld beautifully. You will most likely lick your fingers clean long after the bowl is emptied into your tummy.

AFrame - Blue Crab Cakes

Another dish I eagerly sought out was the Asian inspired green curry, lemongrass and pancetta Clam Chowder. Alhtough a delicious dish, I found it a bit too rich. What really stole the show for me, besides the kettle corn of course, were the Blue Crab Cakes. They are light yet plump, containing just blue crab without fillers, with notes of ginger and lemongrass. The cakes sit on a bed of creme fraiche sauce, a unique accompaniment for crab cakes. They also come garnished with shiso and baby lola rosa leaves that you wrap around the crab forming a fresh 'taco' like flavor bomb.

AFrame - Chu-Don't-Know-Mang
Normally I'm not a huge dessert type, but there is no denying the great taste and creativity of AFrame's desserts. The Chu-Don't-Know-Mang consists of instant "pound-cake churros". Yes, they are sliced, fried and rolled in cinammon sugar then stacked on the plate to dip into the decadently thick chocolate malted milk with a dollop of vanilla ice cream in the center. Very rich, interactive and reminiscent of childhood comfort treats.

Each of these dishes take very familiar comfort foods and add a that 'modern picnic' touch.

A-Frame on Urbanspoon

Learning To Step Up My Photography Game

Last summer, a friend and I took a beginning DSLR (digital single lens reflex) photography class, armed with a new camera which I barely new how to turn on. 

Many people who  know me consider me an 'artsy' type, often commenting I have a good eye for composition and that my photos make them feel like they were 'there'.

What they don't usually know is that until this class I rocked a point and shoot camera and relied on my art history education to capture good shots. Especially with the blog, it was high time to step up my photography game.

One of my ongoing goals was to learn how to use manual settings on a 'real' camera. For the class our main goals were twofold. One was to practice macro photography. More simply put, to have a clear object up front with a blurred background. The photos you see on so many great magazines and blogs. The second goal was to minimize post-editing with Photoshop, and let the camera do most of the work.

During the classroom lecture, it was relief to learn there were four major settings that really impacts the shots: the key controls of ISO, shutter speed priority, aperture priority and shooting mode. Once we were on the field, the challenge of being good at coordinating everything at once hit me.

For the field component of the class, we began with nature, particularly roses. The pink roses we used as subjects revealed subtle color variations, natural patterns and details in the petals. We strove to find the lowest ISO (sensitivity of sensor) to get the highest quality images with a smaller aperture number to capture a shallow depth of field.

My best shot appropriately focused on the buds in the foreground while showing a hazy background. Goal #1 -check.

This shot adds some good color variation to the shallow depth of field.

This overexposed shot, although a mistake, turned out quite lovely. The light looks like a sun ray and the photo feels vintage. Proper exposure does not always have to be the goal. Experimentation often yields interesting shots.

Although it was not part of the curriculum, I strayed from the roses to practice a few architectural shots at Pasadena City Hall that displayed more depth of field. Along with food, landscape and architecture are my favorite subjects.

This shot frames out the relief sculpture on the fountain, which has become slightly dulled over time.

The sun bouncing on the water created some great focal points for this one.

The final exercise during our field work was to capture the feeling and energy of motion by setting the shutter speed, panning the camera while fast moving cars approached a traffic intersection and taking the shot at the right moment.

This shot is a bit blurrier than desired, possibly missing the right moment to take the shot. The motorbike and Smart Car made cute subjects, though.

I totally missed the mark on this one, blurring everything. The vintage car also made a fun subject.

This shot turned out just right by using a slow shutter speed and panning the camera to follow the cars, then choosing the right moment to capture the shot.

Our instructor said that learning photography is like learning a foreign language. I have a new appreciatation of how much artistic and technical talent has to converge at just the right time to capture a great shot.

Armed with the proper tools I am now ready to become a more capable shutterbug, matching the technical skills to my eye.

Ramen Jinya - Broth You Want to Bathe In

A couple of weeks ago, during Los Angeles' 10 days or so of torrential rain, someone had a brilliant idea. Sunny, from Deglazing The Foodie Terrain, suggested Ramen Jinya. A better meal for that weather, I cannot fathom. Her brilliant photography and enticing food descriptions always convince me to try anything. If that was not enough, Ramen Jinya's Hakata Ramen also appeared on Jonathan Gold's 10 Best Dishes of 2010.

I expected only greatness knowing that (1) the restaurant was in a downplayed strip mall in Studio City; (2) it's owned by a Japanese mogul who owns 7 restaurants spread across Tokyo; (3) they have an open noodle kitchen. The food by far exceeded my expectations.

Ramen Jinya - Tonkatsu Hakata Ramen, fresh garlic and Tokyo Curry Rice

The meal began with a fresh green salad with what tasted like miso dressing with strong garlic and daikon flavors. I, somewhat timidly, went with the Tonkatsu Hakata Ramen, described on the menu as "Pork Premium Rich Flavor". It has a deep bone marrow flavor as well as dashi, dried fish and other types of umami goodness. The bowl contains a few slices of tender, juicy, buttery chashu fatty pork. Up front and center is also a perfectly soft boiled egg with vibrant yellow yolk. There are assorted vegetables to round things out and the slightly chewy noodles soak up just enough broth while still maintaining their integrity on their own. 

There are several optional add-ons, my favorite being the cloves of fresh garlic that the diner crushes into the broth, adding another level of kick, as if that's even needed. I also turned the meal into a combo by adding a side of Tokyo Curry Rice. It's a solid Japanese curry bursting with complex flavor, clearly made from scratch.

Ramen Jinya - closer view of the ramen
This was not the typical light, clear ramen I've had at many Japanese restaurants in town. One can see why limited portions of it are served each day.

Ramen Jinya - the broth
It's rich, soulful, unctuous. The broth is murky, reflecting the 12 hour cooking time. You just lose yourself in it!

Ramen Jinya Japanese Noodle on Urbanspoon

A Shout Out to the Signature Umami Burger

Umami Burger - at Umami Burger in Hollywood
Umami Burger is not new, nor is there a lack of reviews of it. I am here to celebrate it as still juicy, mouth-watering and totally crave-worthy.

The first time at Umami Burger, at the La Brea location, a couple of friends and I tried several things on the menu and cut everything into quarters. Perhaps there were too many distinct tastes for any one thing to stand out. While everything was tasty, I did not understand they raves and thought it wasn't something I'd try again.

Recently, after a long show at the Hollywood Pantages Theater, a couple of friends and I walked over to the Cahuenga location for a late dinner. It could have been the extreme hunger talking, but the signature burger was magical to taste and delicious to behold.

The burger is based on the savory, meaty fifth taste (after bitter, salty, sour, sweet) of Umami. Umami is attributed to glutamate which is naturally occurring in certain foods. What is unique about these combinations in the burger is that they meld together to create that deep flavor, rather than provide flavor and texture contrasts like In-N-Out burgers' raw onions do in that burger.

The burger looks like their gorgeous logo. And this time I noticed the logo branded on top of the shiny, Portuguese bun that has a light and elastic quality. It soaks up the juices and provides the perfect ratio of bread to the other ingredients. It is one of the few burgers where I will eat both of the buns.

Nobody knows the complete set of ingredients but what can be discerned is the freshly ground beef patty griddled to medium-rare, a parmesan cheese frico, a roasted tomato, carmelized onions, a grilled shitake mushroom and a side of the housemade Umami ketchup.

Like I said, there is nothing new and different about this burger, but they should just keep doing what they're doing.

Umami Burger on Urbanspoon

Salt Chalet - Mining Salt's Benefits

Happy new year! For me there is no need to make dramatic resolutions on January 1st because my focus is on making each day count.

One of my former co-workers and I used to devote 1 day each month to trying something new and adventurous that we wouldn't normally do. In my 20-something days that's all we could squeeze in between going out all the time. Now I think why restrict those experiences to once a month? Why not always look for them? So I do. 

A couple of readers and friends suggested I share some of these alternative finds, so for that reason, here is Salt Chalet

Salt Chalet - Encino, California
Salt Chalet offers salt room therapy, or halotherapy, a holistic treatment for breathing ailments. This innovative therapy recreates the negative ion microclimate found within natural salt caves in Eastern Europe. The treatments are popular in Israel, and Israeli entrepreneurs started this company, bringing this proven therapy to the U.S. 

Salt therapy improves conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, smoker's cough, colds and flu, sinusitis, allergies, snoring, eczema, psoriasis and other related ailments. In Los Angeles, the air pollution and car exhaust we breathe in alone warrants huge benefits. 

The treatments run $55 per session, with discounts for family members and a series of multiple sessions. 10-15 sessions are recommended for most chronic conditions. Tippr offered a voucher for 3 sessions at 78% off the regular price, which I immediately snagged. With that deal there was nothing to lose.

Salt Chalet - Private Room

The treatment rooms are coated from floor to ceiling with layers of untreated salt and salt deposits hanging like stalactites. A generator disperses a mineral rich, Israeli Dead Sea salt dry aerosol into the room. To keep the rooms bacteria free, each person enters the room in their street clothes with a set of surgical socks on their bare feet. Shoes are left in baskets outside the room. The rooms contain ambient lighting and music, zero gravity lounge chairs (the same ones I have on my deck at home) and a flat screen TV.
As far as maximizing the experience, I tried different methods for each session. My first visit was in the private room. The aerosol is fine and effortless to breathe in. I opted to listen to music, watch ocean waves on the screen and just focus on breathing. The staff told me the salt softens the skin so those in the private room have the advantage of removing some clothing to obtain skin benefits. The salt on the floor is quite jagged against my bare feet so I made a mental note to wear socks during the next visit.

By the end of the session the warm room filled up with a light mist which I could see clearly due to the blue and purple tinted lighting against the white salt. 

Salt Chalet - Private Room

After coming out relaxed, the wonderful staff offered me water and gave me a tour of the other rooms. The treatment is so gentle, it is completely safe for children and they have their own sandbox type room (of course with powdered salt instead of sand) with toys and books. 

Finally there is a communal room. Just sticking my head inside partially I broke into a fit of coughing. A woman exiting after her treatment was also coughing. It was clear the salt concentration was much higher in that room since the salt is pumped in all day. I made a mental note to try that room for visit two. 

By the time visit 2 came around I had been suffering from a sinus infection for 2 1/2 months and had a real condition to test. Neither antibiotics nor nasal sprays made a dent in clearing the congestion and I was exhausted from constant coughing and sneezing. 

For this visit I met a friend and we did our session in the communal room. We chatted the whole time while lying on the lounge chairs and the time just flew. What I did notice was that I was effortlessly breathing through my nose by the end of the treatment. My friend, also a longtime sinusitis sufferer, indicated the same benefits. This continued for several days along with sleeping like a baby.

On our way out we met a lovely woman named Orit who told us that she provides massages in the private rooms that can be added on to regular sessions for $35 extra. The deal was sealed for my third visit, which I didn't wait too long to schedule.

By visit 3 my sinusitis was still dragging on with less congestion but heavy coughing and runny nose. I didn't think a 45-minute massage would be too relaxing but Orit has a warm, serene energy and beautiful smile that already began to relax me. She uses Avani dead sea lotions and oils imported from Israel, also sold at Salt Chalet. 

Her style was a bit different than typical Swedish massage which focuses on different quadrants of the body at a time. It felt more holistic and she definitely honed in on the tense spots with a fair amount of pressure. Her face and scalp massage at the end was worth the experience alone. She used a quilt to cover me up instead of a light sheet which felt cozy in the already warm room. The experience of having a massage in a cave added to the natural feel.

So in conclusion, what health benefits did salt therapy provide? It killed bacteria, reduced inflammation and broke down the mucus in my bronchial tubes and lungs, which were then either coughed up or expelled by the metabolic process through the bloodstream. 

How do I know this? I never once had to take Mucinex, cough syrup or use nasal sprays after my third treatment, after three months of a sinus infection. The symptoms are gradually diminishing. I truly believe the sessions accelerated my recovery process. And the icing on the cake is softer skin, better sleep, relaxation. And a desire to return to Salt Chalet.