Category: travel


Video: Eating And Exploring Chengdu and Mount Emei in China’s Sichuan Province

By Krista,

You may remember earlier this year, my brother Danny and I had the privilege of doing our first international trip together, where we headed to China to explore some of the country’s distinct regional cooking. We both agreed that the highlight of the entire journey was exploring the Sichuan Province, where I found what have become my favorite markets in the world in small town called Emei.

Emei is most widely known for being the home to Mount Emei, or Emeishan, a massive misty mountain and UNESCO world heritage site that’s a pilgrimage site for Chinese Buddhists. It’s said to be a place of enlightenment, and I think that the street food and markets should be a rite of passage for food lovers too.

In our video above, Danny and I dive into the area’s deep cultural history through its food, and gain a deeper appreciation for the people who prepare it. Mapo tofu, kung pao chicken, street meat, hot pot, dumplings, and piping hot pork noodle soup are just a few of the dishes you’ll see, along with footage of Chengdu’s panda bear sanctuary, Emeishan, and the magnificent people of the Sichuan province.

Take a look, and prepare for your tastebuds to tingle.

 

Video: How To Make Chinese Dumplings

By Krista,

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When it comes to cooking, sometimes the simplest things are the easiest to mess up. Dumplings are one example: they can be delicate and delicious perfection or a sticky mess.

Several chefs specializing in the craft opened up their kitchens to my brother Danny and I while we were on assignment exploring regional Chinese cuisine for Quest magazine. So to document it all and share the knowledge, we made a video of one of our favorite, more basic preparations from the chefs at the absolutely stunning, brand-new Waldorf Astoria in Beijing.

In the video you’ll see how to make the dumpling wrapper dough, how to mix the succulent pork stuffing, and finally how to crimp the edges before boiling these little clouds of glory. Here’s how it’s done:

How To Make Chamomile + Cardamom Spiced Indian Donuts

By Krista,

Matt Armendariz_indiandonut

Photo by Matt Armendariz

Maybe it’s the colors, maybe it’s the spices, perhaps it’s my obsession with yoga, but I’ve always been fascinated with Indian culture. So it’s only natural that at the tip top of my travel bucket list is an edible journey through the country, exploring the regional cuisine — hopefully with a few stops for some downward dogs along the way.

To be honest, that Big India Trip was part of my pre-30 bucket list. And seeing as how The Big Day is coming up in a few weeks (eep!), I don’t think it’ll happen. Life kinda gets away from you like that. But it will this year. I’ll make it be so, gosh darn it.

Since I can’t make it to India before the ol’ three-oh, I might as well make something so that my tastebuds can take the journey. So to toast this birthday month (yes, I celebrate for a whole month, and so should you!), I’m going to be making these gorgeous Indian donuts called gulab jamun. (It’s prounounced GOO-lahb JAH-moon, for the record.) I wrote about them for LAist in honor of my friend and Food Network Star Aarti Aarti Sequeira, who also used to write for our site. The recipe comes from her new cookbook, Aarti Paarti: An American Kitchen With Indian Soul.

She gives her gulab jamun— which she and Nathan Lyon made for her book party — a modern twist by drizzling them with chamomile cardamom syrup. They’re the perfect treat for any special occasion, and are often served at weddings, birthday parties, and holidays.

So rather than running from this landmark birthday that admittedly has me a bit freaked out and questioning EVERYTHING, I’m going to run towards it with these ooey gooey, delicious donuts in hand. (There’ll likely be a cocktail or two, too. Let’s be real.)

Ingredients

For donuts:

1/2 cup nonfat instant dry milk powder
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
1 tablespoon melted ghee or unsalted butter, cooled
2 to 3 tablespoons whole milk
Sunflower oil for deep frying

For the chamomile cardamom syrup:

1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 cups water
4 chamomile tea bags
4 green cardamom pods, crushed open but left whole
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
kosher salt

To garnish:

1 teaspoon minced pistachios
grated lemon zest
vanilla ice cream

Method

For doughnuts:

In a large bowl, stir together the milk powder, flour, lemon zest, baking soda and a pinch of salt with a fork until well-combined.

Make a small well in the ingredients, and add the vinegar and ghee. Stir until the mixture takes on the texture of sand, 1 to 2 minutes.

Now add the milk in a thin, slow stream, stirring all the while with your fork. The mixture will first look like wet sand, then come together and come away from the sides of the bowl into a loose dough that somewhat resembles cottage cheese. The dough should be soft, light and pretty delicate, but not too sticky; add a few pinches of flour if it’s sticking to your fingers too much.

Don’t dilly-dally; this dough dries out quickly! Divide the dough into 8 equal portions. Roll them into small balls, about 1 inch in diameter. They’ll look a little puny to you, but don’t worry—they will swell in both the oil and the syrup. Place them on a plastic wrap-lined plate. Top with a lightly dampened paper towel, then with another piece of plastic wrap.

Pour oil into a small, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven to a depth of 2 inches. Heat the oil over low to medium-low heat until it registers 325ºF on a deep-fry or candy thermometer (if you don’t have one, then drop a small piece of dough into the oil—it should sink to the bottom, then pop to the surface in about 15 seconds).

Meanwhile, line a plate with a double layer of paper towels.

When the fat is at the right temperature, use a slotted spoon to carefully drop four of the dough balls into the pot. As soon as they pop up to the surface, use a spider or slotted spoon to keep them gently moving and rolling in the hot fat so that they brown evenly. Cook in this way for 2 to 3 minutes, until they’re a light mahogany or acorn color. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and lay them on the paper towel-lined plate. Repeat with the remaining balls of dough, making sure that the fat returns to the correct temperature before adding the dough.

For chamomile cardamom syrup:

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, water, tea bags and cardamom pods and bring to a boil over medium heat, uncovered. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 3 minutes. Push the tea bags to the side, and lay the fried doughnuts in the syrup. Stir to ensure the doughnuts are well doused in the syrup and simmer, partially covered, for 5 minutes, until they swell and soften. Remove from the heat, and pull out the tea bags and cardamom pods. Carefully stir in saffron (if using), crushing it lightly between your hands, then add the lemon juice and a pinch of kosher salt. Let the whole thing cool off for a couple of minutes.

Serve 2 doughnuts per person (hot or warm) with a couple of tablespoons of the syrup. Top with pistachios and lemon zest. And if you’re my mum, top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream!

Chef’s note:

Depending on the climate you’re cooking in, you may need more or less milk. Don’t add the entire 1/3 cup at once. Add a little at a time until the dough comes together. You may not need it all.

Chinese Dining Etiquette Tips From Shanghai

By Krista,

kate collage3

Photos by Danny Simmons

A big part of being a food writer in a foreign country is understanding the local culinary culture. Having a grasp on local traditions not only helps you blend in (I already stick out enough as a 6 foot tall Viking woman!), but shows your dining companions that you’ve done your homework.

I did a cool piece in collaboration with Kate Spade New York and Quest Magazine about the local culinary traditions in Shanghai for their Fall campaign.

Head on over to the KSNY blog for my tips on dining in Shanghai — and China in general — and stay tuned for more of my tips from my time abroad.

Mattei’s Asian-Inspired Grilled Avocados With Ponzu + Fresh Wasabi

By Krista,

Grilled Avocado_Matteis Tavern_Gary Moss

It’s pretty much sacrilege to be a born-and-raised California girl like me and not be completely obsessed with avocados. I can’t even tell you how many after school snacks were made by spooning that creamy, buttery fruit out of it’s skin straight into my mouth. If I had a lime and some S&P, great. But even plain, a whole avocado has no chance against good ol’ Krista. They really are a wonder fruit, and are fantastic smashed on toast, frozen and tossed into smoothies instead of ice, or made into a healthy, delicious dip or hummus.

I’d been seeing some recipes for grilled avos on Pinterest, but had yet to try them. So when I went up to Santa Inez for my friend Melissa’s 30th birthday celebration and saw them on the menu at Matttei’s, I had to give it a go. (And by “give it a go” I mean politely decline the suggestion that the table share one and order my own. It’s a borderline obsession.)

The avo came with beautiful grill marks and the rich, smokey oak char of Santa Maria-style BBQ that’s so popular in the area. The center was used as a little gravy boat for the house-made ponzu sauce, whose bright citrus flavors were made even more intense by the fresh wasabi that was grated and served on the side.

Needless to say I’ve been thinking about it all week. Thankfully, the recipe has graciously been given to me by Mattei’s Tavern chef/partner Robbie Wilson. He makes his own ponzu — which is absolutely phenomenal — but if you don’t have time for fermenting it you can easily find a bottle at your local Asian market or at Whole Foods.

These grilled avos really are the ideal item for your grill this Labor Day Weekend. They’re a perfect vegetarian option instead of those ho-hum garden burgers, and taste fantastic when sliced on top of seared steaks, like the bavette I had at Mattei’s.

Here’s how it’s done:

Mattei’s Grilled Avocado With Ponzu and Wasabi 

Ponzu Sauce

Ingredients:

1 cup freshly squeezed citrus juice (mix lemon, lime, grapefruit)

1/3 cup plus 2 Tbsp. rice vinegar

1 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup sugar

2 Tbsp tamari sauce

3 Tbsp  Mirin, alcohol burned off

Small handful of dried bonito flakes

2 inch square konbu

 

Grilled Avocados

Ingredients:

1 avocado, halved

2 tbsp olive oil

salt

pepper

2 tablespoons ponzu

1 teaspoon wasabi

 

Method:

Mix ingredients, set aside, strain after at least 24 hours, then age in cool dark place for 3 months. Use within 1 year.

Preheat your grill or preferably start a charcoal/wood fire, just as you would for cooking steaks. The fire will be ready for cooking when you can only hold your hand a few inches above the fire for a couple of seconds.

Cut the avocado in half lengthwise, exposing the pit. Remove the pit and scoop out the meat with a large spoon by running the spoon under the flesh and along the skin. The back of the spoon should scrape against the skin.

Place the avocado with the crater side up. Brush with olive oil, then season with salt and pepper. Place the avocado face side DOWN on the grill and cook as you would your favorite steak to mark.

Serve with ponzu sauce by filling up each crater. Garnish with freshly grated Japanese wasabi on the side if you can find it, or a prepared varietal from your local market if the fresh version is not available.

Chef’s Notes: Make sure to procure avocados that are a day or two before ripeness. They should not be too hard or too soft. You are simply grilling the avocados for grill marks, as it only needs to be warmed through, not cooked. 

 

The Dishlist: Best Bites In Beijing

By Krista,

In the spirit of 8 being a lucky number in China, my brother Danny and I compiled this video of the 8 best eats in Beijing. Check out this dizzying array of dumplings, street snacks, scorpions and Chinese wine! (Yes, I did indeed eat scorpions! Is that terrible for a Scorpio to do? I sure hope not.)

Be sure to check back for more videos of my favorite eats throughout China coming soon to my YouTube channel.

Exploring China’s Regional Cuisine With Quest Magazine

By Krista,

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It’s a shame that Chinese food has been long associated with lonely nights in and hungover dim sum brunches. The cuisine from one of the world’s most ancient societies is really quite complex, steeped in thousands of years of tradition. In fact, the Chinese are so connected with what they eat that it’s considered medicine.

A tour through China’s three largest cities — Beijing, Chengdu, and Shanghai — with my younger brother Danny on assignment for Quest Magazine showcased that directly. (And how truly useful his Chinese classes in college truly could be! Seriously, he was a life saver!)

Looking beyond the lazy Susan, I found that the cooking in the world’s most populated country is as varied as the regions themselves. I also realized that he and I could travel together internationally without wanting to rip each other’s heads off. Who knew?

Anywho, Danny and I will be releasing some videos of the awesome food I ate in the coming weeks. But in the meantime, you can read the full story on China’s regional dishes over at Quest Magazine by clicking this link, or by checking out the digital version below.

East Meets Southwest: Kale And Brussels Sprouts Salad With Cilantro Mint Vinaigrette

By Krista,

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My Cali-Mexi-India-inspired salad

Angeleno cooking seems to be all about mash-ups these days. It’s hard to turn a corner without seeing some sort of Korean taco or Filipino ube cupcake, upped with awesome local produce and Cali fusion flare. Exhibit A is an awesome little restaurant I discovered last week in Downtown L.A. called Badmaash. (The restaurant has been open for a little over a year now, but I went for my first visit during Dine LA.’s Restaurant Week. Quick slacking, Simmons!)

Badmaash serves both updated and traditional Indian food in an ultra-hip-yet-laid-back modern gastropub setting. There are things like Punjabi pork belly and chicken tikka poutine on offer, but they also do traditional dishes too, like chaat, baingan bharta, and a ridiculously delicious version of saag paneer made with freshly chopped spinach and the fluffiest paneer you’ve ever tasted.

The thing that’s great about Baadmash and other modern Cali fusion spots like A-Frame and Escala is that they also really pay attention to freshness and quality produce. No one is claiming they’re “authentic.” It’s just good, fun food with some international flare.

And to be honest, that’s how I like to cook at home. I travel a lot, and love taking those international influences and bringing them into the kitchen so I tap into those sense memories when I’m not on the road. The quick little salad I whipped up did just that.

The flavors I used are a little bit Indian, a little bit Mexican, and a whole lot of California. (Admittedly I haven’t been to India yet, but it’s at the tip top of my travel bucket list and gosh darn it, I will get there within the next year. Gotta manifest that!)

As a typical California kale nut, I’d usually opt for that as my greens, but I discovered a new addition to TJ’s salad aisle called Cruciferous Crunch, which is made up of kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and green and red cabbage. It’s pretty darn tasty!

This salad is even better if you allow it to sit in the fridge for an hour or so because the acid breaks down the cruciferous veggies making them less fibrous, but you can also eat it right away if you’re feelin’ hangry.

Here’s how it’s done:

Ingredients:

*serves 4 as a side, 2 as a meal

3 cups shredded greens (I used TJ’s Cruciferous Crunch mix)

1 can organic black beans

1 cup crumbled cotija cheese (you can use feta if cotija isn’t available)

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

1 avocado, cut into cubes

2 tbsp mint cilantro chutney (I used Mirch Masala)

4 tbsp olive oil

1 lemon, juiced

 

Method:

Whisk together lemon juice, chutney, and olive oil in a small mixing bowl and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, add in greens, beans, cheese, and tomatoes. Pour in dressing and toss, then add avocado. Toss making sure not to bruise the poor avo, then serve.

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Recipe: Real Deal, Sichuan-Style Kung Pao Chicken

By Krista,

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I just got back from my first trip to China with my brother/videographer Danny Simmons, and I can’t wait to share some videos from the cooking classes I took, along with the story on regional Chinese cooking I’m writing for Quest Magazine.

While we put those how-to videos together, I thought I’d tide you over with a recipe for kung pao chicken.

I learned to make this traditional Sichuan dish at the Sichuan Higher Institute of Cuisine, along with another local staple, mapo tofu. The kung pao we made couldn’t have been more different than its sad takeout stepsister in the States. The bright, ginger-studded version we made was much less goopy, with a delightful crunch from fresh peanuts and fried chills.

Here’s a recipe for how it’s done.

Ingredients:

2 boneless chicken breasts, with or without skin (about 2/3 pound total)

3 cloves of garlic and an equivalent amount of fresh ginger

5 scallions, white parts only

2 tablespoons peanut oil

a generous handful of dried red chiles (at least 10), preferably Sichuanese

1 teaspoon whole Sichuan pepper

2/3 cup roasted unsalted peanuts

 

For the marinade:

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons light soy sauce

1 teaspoon Shaoxing rice wine or medium-dry sherry

1 1/2 teaspoons potato flour or 2 1/4 teaspoons cornstarch

1 tablespoon water

For the sauce:

3 teaspoons sugar

3/4 teaspoon potato flour or 1 1/8 teaspoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon dark soy sauce

1 teaspoon light soy sauce

3 teaspoons Chinkiang or black Chinese vinegar

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon chicken stock or water

Method:

1. Cut the chicken as evenly as possible into 1/2-inch strips and then cut these into small cubes. Place in a small bowl and mix in the marinade ingredients.

2. Peel and thinly slice the garlic and ginger, and chop the scallions into chunks as long as their diameter (to match the chicken cubes). Snip the chiles in half or into 2-inch sections. Wearing rubber gloves, discard as many seeds as possible.

3. Combine the sauce ingredients in a small bowl — if you dip your finger in, you can taste the sweet-sour base of the gong bao flavor.

4. Season the wok, then add 2 tablespoons of oil and heat over a high flame. When the oil is hot but not yet smoking, add the chiles and Sichuan pepper and stir-fry briefly until they are crisp and the oil is spicy and fragrant. Take care not to burn the spices (you can remove the wok from the heat if necessary to prevent overheating).

5. Quickly add the chicken and fry over a high flame, stirring constantly. As soon as the chicken cubes have separated, add the ginger, garlic, and scallions and continue to stir-fry for a few minutes until they are fragrant and the meat is cooked through (test one of the larger pieces to make sure).

6. Give the sauce a stir and add it to the wok, continuing to stir and toss. As soon as the sauce has become thick and shiny, add the peanuts, stir them in, and serve.

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Exploring Australia’s Wild Side

By Krista,

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South and Western Australia are two of the country’s lesser trodden states, where isolation and nature afford not only stunning vistas and incredible sea life, but also some of the most bountiful food and wine the world has to offer. I went to check in on my favorite destination for Quest Magazine, it ended up being the cover story for their recent print issue.

From stargazing to wine tasting and foraging wild foods, it was an incredible adventure.

You can read the full cover story here.

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