Sunday, December 15, 2013

Giveaway: Hodgson Mill baking products (CLOSED)
In addition to providing their product for the lemon-raspberry sour cream cake I made recently, Hodgson Mill is also partnering with me for a giveaway. One lucky winner will get $25's worth of either whole grain or gluten free baking products to use for their very own grain holiday.

To enter into this giveaway: (contest is closed)

Friday, December 13, 2013

Recipe: Lemon-Raspberry Sour Cream Cake

For me, chilly winter weather (OK, as chilly as Southern California gets) means time to fire up the oven so I can flood my home with that wondrous freshly-baked aromas & a blast of comforting warmth.

All this was made even better when I entered Hodgson Mill's "Have a Grain Holiday" recipe contest, since I get to be creative in crafting a recipe and get a batch of their lovely baking products too. (Actually, you can get a chance at their baked goods too by entering their sweepstakes, and if you missed out on that - here's a $1 off coupon for you to use through the end of Feb.)

And for my blog readers, here's an extra giveaway opportunity for their baking products.

Lemon-Raspberry Sour Cream Cake And while I know winter usually call for baked goods that are hearty, robust and spicy (fruitcakes, gingerbreads and the like,) I think it's a refreshing change of pace to have some bright and sunny too -- thus my lemon-raspberry sour cream cake. It's light in texture, tender in mouthfeel with the mildest crunch from a sugar topping, and the perfect fruity tang to balance its sweetness.

Slices of this cake can pass off as a breakfast pastry. Or if you're feeling more indulgent, top it with a fruity dessert sauce, light frosting or scoop of sorbet for a simple yet elegant dessert dish.

Lemon-Raspberry Sour Cream Cake

  • 1 cup flour (I used Hodgson Mill's White Whole Wheat Flour)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • zest of 2 lemons (approx. 2 tablespoons)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup frozen raspberries
  • 1 tablespoon raw/turbinado sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 425 F and line the bottom of a 9 inch cake pan with parchment paper.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
  3. In a larger mixing bowl, toss the granulated sugar and lemon zest together; add butter then cream until smooth. (You can also use the butter paper to grease the sides of the cake tin.)
  4. Add sour cream, vanilla and egg and combine until smooth. Then add flour mixture in 2-4 batches, stirring until well-combined each time.
  5. Gently add the frozen raspberries and stir until they are well distributed throughout the batter.
  6. Pour batter into the cake pan and smooth out with a spatula or clean hands until it's even throughout (the batter is on the thicker side.)
  7. Sprinkle the turbinado sugar on top and put in oven's middle rack.
  8. Bake for 30 minutes, testing for doneness as needed (a toothpick inserted in center of cake should come out clean.)
  9. Let cool for 10-15 minutes, then serve. 
Disclosure: Hodgson Mill had provided the flour used in this recipe.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Eat My Blog 5.0 Happening Today!

Today's the Eat My Blog bake sale (with proceeds benefiting the Philippine Red Cross for Typhoon Haiyan relief), so come on down to Coolhaus Pasadena from 10a to 1p today buy some delicious baked goods from bloggers & pros.

As for my contribution? Freshly baked chocoholic cookies (and I do mean fresh, they're being baked in batches right now!)
Chocoholic Cookies for #EatMyBlog bake sale
The recipe is available here (my only modification for the #EatMyBlog edition is I did 50/50 white chocolate & dark chocolate chips.)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Recipe: Crispy Mustard-Herb Roasted Potatoes with Pancetta & Cider-Mustard Sauce

Mustard-Herb Roasted Potatoes w Pancetta & Cider-Mustard Sauce 
The recipe for this dish came about rather serendipitously . . . I had just read J. Kenji Lopez-Alt's (a.k.a. SeriousEats' Food Lab) tips & tricks for ultra-crispy oven-roasted potatoes and was waiting for an occasion to give it a try (as well as my own flavor twist to his recipe.) Around the same time, I got picked to participate in a Mystery Ingredient Blogger Showcase to craft a recipe using their secret ingredient, which turned out to be Colman's Mustard. So I basically blended the techniques of the former and the flavors of the latter for my Crispy Mustard-Herb Roasted Potatoes with Pancetta & Cider-Mustard Sauce.

The result from that marriage was nothing short of awesome. Thanks to the par-boil & high temperature roasting with generous—but not frightening—amounts of oil, the potatoes were amazingly crispy on the outside with a wonderfully creamy and fluffy interior. And the aromatic bite of the mustard (used in both powdered & paste forms) was an elegant balance to those baked taters, the cider cream sauce's rich, fruity sweetness and the smoky-salty bits of pancetta.

And like most of my other recipes, this one is a cinch to make. And because the potatoes stay crispy for a while (and is even delicious cold) you can make this show-stopper side ahead of time, just save the sauce for drizzling right before serving for that dramatic & flavorful finish.

Crispy Roasted Mustard-Herb Potatoes with Pancetta & Cider-Mustard Sauce

  • 3 pounds baby potatoes, washed and cut in half lengthwise
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon table salt
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt 
  • 10 thyme sprigs
  • 7 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons Colman's mustard powder
  • 12 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 4 ounces diced pancetta
  • 4 ounces hard cider
  • 1 tablespoon Colman's prepared mustard
  • 2.5 ounces heavy whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  1. Preheat oven to 500 F; line a 8 x 12 sheet pan with aluminum foil and put it in the oven while it's preheating
  2. In a large enough saucepot, put potatoes in with enough water to cover it along with the table salt and rice vinegar. Bring it to boil over high heat, then turn the heat down to a simmer and let it simmer for 5-7 minutes (it should just start to yield when poked with a knife.
  3. While potatoes are simmering, combine the leaves from 5 thyme sprigs, kosher salt, mustard powder, and 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large bowl and whisk with a fork until well blended.
  4. Drain the simmered potatoes, then toss them in the oil mixture until they are well coated; remove the heated sheet pan from the oven and generously coat with the remaining oil. Carefully lay the potatoes cut side down on the pan, and place in oven's middle rack to heat for 25 minutes.
  5. Remove from oven and turn the potatoes cut side up - carefully adding garlic cloves in the gaps between the potatoes. Put back in oven to heat for another 20-25 minutes (when the skin starts to char and the cut-side flesh is a deep golden brown.)
  6. While the potatoes are heating the 2nd time around, heat up the pancetta in a skillet on the stove at high heat. When it browns and crisps, remove them and set aside, leaving the rendered grease in the skillet.
  7. Turn heat to medium and pour in hard cider to deglaze, using a spatula or wooden spoon to scrape any pancetta bits stuck to the skillet.
  8. After the initial bubbles dissipate, add cream, English mustard, and cornstarch. Whisk vigorously, breaking up any lumps that may form.
  9. Let the sauce simmer for 1-2 minutes until it starts to thicken, then turn heat off and set aside.
  10. When the potatoes are ready, scoop onto a plate and sprinkle on the crisped pancetta; garnish with remaining thyme sprigs and drizzle on sauce just before serving.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Recipe: California Ragù

I know, corn is not a traditional meat ragù component (and I was already picturing throngs of Italian grandmothers screaming obscenities at me as I added it into the sauce,) but I personally love the color and flavor these golden nuggets of sweetness contribute, balancing the tomato's acidity, crushed chili flakes' heat and the earthy-savory combination of beef, onions and mushrooms. And to give it a good measure of sophistication, a healthy dose of Port to add some complexity to the whole affair without having to wait for it to reduce like one would with red wine.

I figured if I added California as an adjective to this dish, anything goes right? (Sorry if you came here thinking I'd add avocados to the recipe; I haven't... yet.)

Corniness aside (and you're free to omit them if you want to, but don't knock it till you've tried it), this is a supremely easy but deeply satisfying one-pan wonder, and perfect for those times when you want something comforting without wanting to put in a lot of effort. It takes under 45 minutes from start to finish, and most of that is just stirring & adding of ingredients. And I'd wager someone better at multi-tasking than I am can get this done in half an hour.
My personal preference for eating this ragù is with rice, which soaks up the flavors beautifully while still retaining their fluffy texture. But feel free go traditional and use it to top some pasta, or even on its own with some shredded cheese on top and crusty bread on the side.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Foodventuring Through Arts District & Little Tokyo

This past weekend, I was invited to check out the inaugural L.A. Sriracha Festival. But when I arrived at its start time of 3 p.m., I saw this right outside. . .
sriracha fest line
(and there's another line equally long wrapped around the corner!)

. . . so I decided to bolt & explore the area a little while before making a return.
Urban Radish Market

About a block down from the festival's site at Lot 613, I came across Urban Radish -- a recently opened market that reminds me of a Surfas & Sprouts hybrid (with some gourmet boutique-y food items, along with fresh, seasonal produce, a sandwich bar and even cold-pressed juices.)

As it turned out, I have been on a hunt for onion jam (for those moments when I'm too lazy to fuss about with caramelizing my own onions) and found a nice one by The Jam Stand there, so I snapped that up and mozied onwards, while keeping this place on notice for future gourmet shopping occasions (for me, it's lot closer than either Surfas.)

My next stop was The Pour Haus, which I've always known as that wine bar next to Church & State. Since I wasn't in any mood to eat until I returned to Sriracha Fest, this seemed like the perfect place to mellow & linger while waiting for the admission lines to dwindle down. 
Pour Haus Wine Flight
And sure enough, I had a lovely flight of three Southern Italian Reds here—my favorite being Cantine Colosi's 2011 Nero d'Avola, which was soft, juicy with ripe berry and plummy aromas—an easygoing red for a warm afternoon. The $9 pricetag for three generous pours isn't bad either.
Sriracha Fest
After the flight (and a glass of happy hour Lambrusco), I made my way back to the Sriracha Festival around 4:30 p.m. (halfway into the event). The admission line was gone, but alas, so were many of the foods (and the few remaining stalls still serving foods had considerably long queues themselves.) But I did manage to sneak in some nibbles and sips, including a fairly fiery Sriracha leather from Pour Vous (which was apparently used on their pork sliders that ran out fast), Eagle Rock Brewery's Manifesto witbier and a Thai Tea soda from Los Angeles Ale Works.
Little Bear
Since I didn't get to eat much, I joined Caroline on Crack for an excursion to Little Bear, where we shared a plate of their heavenly crispy brussel sprouts and a refreshing glass of Firestone-Walker's Vessel 8 Saison, and hungrily eyed her tomato soup with grilled cheese dippers too.

After Caroline and I parted ways, I decided to head to Little Tokyo to see what food mood will strike. Ramen in Daikokuya? Udon at Marugame Monzo? Sushi at Sushi Gen or Toshi? Homestyle foods at Suehiro?

Shabu Shabu House
Alas, I settled upon Shabu Shabu House, since I haven't been in a while and since I'm solo, it's a prime opportunity for me to snag a seat quickly and bypass their infamously long waits. 

Indeed, I got seated within 20 minutes (even while couples were being told to expect an hour wait by the host.) And their beef shabu shabu was pretty solid: the meat was meltingly tender and nicely accented with the sesame & ponzu sauces, and the vegetables tasted fresh and clean. Definitely worth a re-visit if I'm solo-dining again, not so much with company though. 
The Pie Hole

Last but not least, a quick stop by The Pie Hole for some baked goods to go, a bacon & cheddar scone for the breakfast the next morning and a slice of their maple custard pie to satisfy my sweet tooth. Both were heavenly, and intriguing enough for me to want to attempt reverse-engineering at home (though I had already done a version of the cheese scone before.)

In any case, I'm delighted what started out as a single-event invite turned into a foodventurous afternoon and evening through the Eastern parts of downtown. And if Sriracha Festival returns next year, I'll be sure to make a note of getting my butt there extra early!

Disclosure: my admission to the Sriracha Festival was hosted.

613 Imperial Street 
Los Angeles, CA 90021

661 Imperial St
 Los Angeles, CA 90021
(213) 892-1570

1820 Industrial St
Los Angeles, CA 90021
(213) 327-0304

1855 Industrial St
Los Angeles, CA ‎90021
(213) 622-8100

Shabu Shabu House (Yelp page)
127 Japanese Village Plaza Mall 
Los Angeles, CA ‎
(213) 680-3890

714 Traction Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90013
(213) 537-0115

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Ode to Tomatoes Day 1: Artisan, Paso Robles Wines & Apple Farm Inn Dinner

Grapes at Opolo
Paso Robles wines have piqued my curiosity for a long time but visiting the area itself has—until recently—eluded me, since I either didn't have enough time to make a side trip en route to Northern California, or I just get lazy and sooner make my vino-focused daytrip with Santa Barbara County wineries instead.

So, when the Boutique Hotel Collection had invited me for an "Ode to Tomatoes" weekend to check out what their resorts and restaurants have to offer, I decided to pad the already long weekend with a few extra excursions of my own.

And it was so worth it.

The three and a half hour drive up the 5 and then westward on the 46 was largely uneventful, but it was a great opportunity to polish off my podcast backlog (a mish mash of This American Life, Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me, Slate Gabfests, The Table Set, and Science Friday.)

Upon arriving in Paso Robles, I was ravenous - so I heeded the advice of a friend and went to Artisan, a casual-chic restaurant in downtown that does local-seasonal fare. 
And I'm so thankful for that rec, my lunch there was delectable: a luscious potato soup gratin made with pork stock and topped with gooey aged white cheddar and crispy lardons, followed by a meltingly tender lamb leg French dip with an almost gravy-like lamb neck jus; the latter was beautifully paired with Talley Vineyard's 2011 Estate Pinot Noir.

My only regret was not having a dining companion (or a few) so I can sample more of their dishes and drinks (many of which utilize locally made spirits.)
Paso Robles wineries
After lunch, I spent a few hours going through Paso Robles Wine Country, which was really mellow and laid-back (reminded of the back roads of Sonoma wineries, and in contrast to the touristy Napa.) Of the wineries I tasted, these three were my favorite stops:
  • Tablas Creek - no stranger to the lovely wines they make, so I was thrilled to finally visit their winery. My only grievance, they had already sold out of their amazing Mouvedre-dominant dry rosé when I went. On the other hand, I did discover several new wines from their label that I loved, including the 2011 Esprit de Tablas red blend and the 2012 Vermentino.
  • Villicana - my "hidden gem" find of the roadtrip, they had an amazing Roussanne—which I got a bottle of—and also distill their grape juices to make vodkas and gins under the Re:Find label, and having sampled them, I can vouch for the tastiness of their gin and cucumber-flavored vodka (and kicking myself for not getting a bottle of those too!)
  • Daou - being one of the highest vineyards in the Paso Robles region, this place offered an amazing view of the whole area, and their gorgeous tasting room and patio makes it a perfect spot for lazying a day away with a picnic and a bottle of their wine (which, from my tastings, lean on the big, bold red side—not exactly my type considering the warm weather and that I was tasting them on their own, but I could see potential for chillier times and when paired with meaty dishes)
After my pleasant afternoon of wine tasting, I finally made my way back down to San Luis Obispo to Apple Farm Inn & Restaurant, the first official stop on the "Ode to Tomatoes" tour.
Apple Farm Inn
I had heard & read about Apple Farm Inn before, but was unprepared for delightful country decor of the property and warm hospitality of the staff. It was like getting the charms of a bed and breakfast with the amenities of a boutique hotel.

After checking in and freshening up, I went to the restaurant for their backyard winemaker dinner with Le Vigne winery. Of course, given the theme, every dish was infused with freshly harvested tomatoes -- which taste worlds beyond what one would find in a supermarket aisle. 
Ode to Tomatoes dinner @ Apple Farm Inn
With tomatoes this vibrant-tasting, there is very little that needs to be done to them, so I am glad that every dish really highlights their fresh essences than muddle them up with other strong flavors. While the entire five-course meal was solid, I was particularly delighted by the bright heirloom tomato gazpacho with green zebra tomato sorbet; the oxtail ravioli with beefsteak tomato sauce, Thai basil and crispy shallots; and the caramel-poached green tomato goat cheesecake. The last of which I hope to reverse-engineer at home (unless Chef Smeets can bear to part of that recipe!)

Needless to say, I went to bed that night with my tastebuds thoroughly satisfied (though for good measure, Apple Farm did have two gigantic chocolate chip cookies on the nightstand and sparkling apple cider in the fridge waiting for me, in case I get any late night snack attacks.)

And this is the only the beginning of the epic 3-day journey, more to come in a future post...

Additional photos on Flickr set here

843 12th St
Paso Robles, CA 93446
(805) 237-8084

9339 Adelaida Rd  
Paso Robles, CA 93446
(805) 237-1231

2725 Adelaida Road
Paso Robles, CA 93446 
(805) 239-9456
Facebook (Villicana)
Twitter (Villicana)
Facebook (Re:Find)
Twitter (Re:Find)

2777 Hidden Mountain Road
Paso Robles, CA 93446
(805) 226-5460

2015 Monterey St. 
San Luis Obispo, California 93401
(805) 544-2040

Disclosure: My meal & accomodations at Apple Farm Inn & Restaurant were hosted. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Recipe: Miso-Pesto Vegetable Soup

Admittedly, calling this a recipe is bit of a misnomer. Rather than set-in-stone rules, this is more like a loose set of guidelines, which generally describes my cooking philosophy too. But with cooler weather coming, I figured it's good time to share this "recipe" for miso-pesto vegetable soup. It's hearty, healthy and can be made in a hurry—from fridge & pantry to the table in under 15 minutes. 
Miso-Pesto Vegetable Soup
I also love that this feels more substantial than the typical pureed vegetable soups; even after a blitz in the blender, it still has rough, nubbly bits to give it some texture, so I don't feel like I'm on a liquid diet.

Even better yet, it utilizes ingredients that I pretty much have on standby all the time: vegetables, miso paste, pesto sauce and some seasonings. And in the latest rendition of this soup, I found it works wonderfully with a bag of frozen vegetables too (yes, that middle American mix of peas, corns, carrots, lima and green beans,) since it still gets a flavor boost from the deeply savory miso and vibrant pesto.

While this vegan soup satisfying enough as is, if I'm feeling extra indulgent I'd throw in a splash of cream and top it with some cheese too.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Pitfire Pizza's Cocktail Menu Launch

Since it opened—especially in the closest-to-me downtown LA location—Pitfire Pizza's been one of my regular go-tos for pizzas and pastas without the full service fuss. The ingredients are fresh, the menu changes with the seasons and it feels a lot less cookie cutter than the other fast casual pizza restaurants around town.

And I love their selection of unique & affordable craft beers, eclectic wines and refreshing sangrias.

But the Fairfax/West Hollywood location is taking their bar one step further this past week, and here's a hint from their storefront...
Fairfax Pitfire Pizza Exterior
...that's right, a full bar with cocktails. Even better yet, all their drinks on the menu are $8 all the time (pretty much unheard of outside of a dive bar in L.A.)

Just before their launch last week, I was invited to sample their new cocktails—and pleased to find out the ones I've tried are all pretty good, including:
Pitfire cocktails
  • Rumpkin Pie w Coruba dark rum, carrot syrup, pumpkin spices, lemon juice & soda - not too sweet or overly spiced up, this slightly effervescent drink is great for that "not quite Autumn" weather that's standard in SoCal.
  • Moscow Mule - they have this on tap (and it makes me wonder why more places don't), and it's a solid cocktail - good carbonation, nice gingery bite & just enough limey tang to balance it all out.
  • Cognac Boston Sour - they have three styles of sours here w your pick of base spirit, I opted for the Boston style (slightly less acidic & shaken w egg white) with Cognac, which made for a delightfully light and frothy dessert cocktail.
I only wished I had more liver to try more of their offerings (particularly their classics such as Manhattans, Sazeracs & Negronis.) But guess that'll have to wait till next time.

Pitfire Food To help soak the drinks up, we were also served plenty of Pitfire's tasty grub, including offerings from their new bar menu (smoked olives, oven roasted chicken wings with a spicy-garlicky rub) as well as their Fall seasonal items, including a comeback of my favorite pizzas from Autumns past: brussel sprouts with bacon & fresh mozzarella and the roasted pumpkin with fontina, pumpkin oil & sage browned butter. Another recurring favorite is their Farmer's Market platter, a selection of deftly prepared seasonal vegetables for those rare occasions when I'm not feeling "carby."

For something new: I also enjoyed their spaghetti tossed with linguica sausage ragout—robust & bold and totally perfect for the next rainy day so I can dive into this deep dish of comforting pasta. 

And as thrilled as I am to have a wallet-friendly drinks (and eats) option adjacent to West Hollywood, I can't wait for the cocktail menu to roll out to its other locations, especially downtown L.A.

Other write-ups about Pitfire's cocktail menu launch:
Los Angeles magazine
e*star LA

801 N Fairfax Ave #101
Los Angeles, CA 90046

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Beer Tasting: Abita's Andygator

Since I'm in Southern California, beers from Abita Brewery (from the other LA) are fairly uncommon to come by. And when their beers do make an appearance, it is usually the Purple Haze (their lager brewed with raspberries) or Turbodog (their rich, almost chocolaty dark ale) that gets most recognition. While I do enjoy both beers, for me -- my favorite of their line up is the Andygator (with their Pecan Harvest Ale being a close runner-up, though I haven't seen, let alone tasted, that one in a LONG time...)
Abita's Andygator

What I love about the Andygator is its balance of flavors, aromas and body. It's got a bit of tropical fruitiness and caramel-toffee sweetness on the initial nose & palate, but far from being a fruit and sugar bomb. That's followed by slightly toasty maltiness and just enough hops to make it satisfyingly rich and refreshingly light at the same time (and fear not, bitterphobes - this beer only clocks in at a mild 25 IBUs.) All this makes for a brew that's approachable for many but with enough complex nuances for a beer enthusiast to appreciate.

But where this Andygator really snaps is with its ABV, it clocks in at 8% but tastes considerably lighter -- and one can easily quaff a bomber-sized bottle only to feel its bite a few minutes later (as I did.) Thus, I'm super stoked they just started selling them in more manageable six-packs of 12 ounce bottles (with a giveaway to commemorate the occasion, with one lucky winner getting a 2 nights hotel stay, VIP brewery tour & a swamp safari).

But until they make their way to the West Coast, or me seeing it on tap at local bar, I guess I'll have to wrangle a drinking buddy to share this 22 ounce of potent deliciousness. All the while hoping for more of Abita's seasonal & specialty brews to make landfall in "the other LA" out here.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Recipe: Chocoholic Cookies

Chocoholic Cookies
These are cookies which I can claim very little—if any—credit for, since it's basically derived from Nigella Lawson's Totally Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies with just a few tweaks for my preferences (most notably using dark brown sugar & extra egg for the added fudginess & chewiness factor, and a splash more vanilla to balance out chocolate's intensity). But they are everything as Nigella promises and are, per her words, "the chocolatiest cookies you will ever come across."

And they are absolutely amazing a few minutes out of the oven, with the cookie in that crumbly, fudgy stage and the chips still molten and gooey.

As an added bonus, these cookies freeze & rebakes easily so that, being the chocolate fiend enthusiast that I am, I can batch freeze them and satisfy that call for cocoa any time I want afterwards.

Friday, October 4, 2013

LQ Fooding @ Vertical Wine Bistro

I've known Laurent Quenioux and his eclectic fare since his Bistro K days in South Pasadena, so when I heard he's doing a few "foodings" (that's food+feelings, a concept that I'm familiar with but still don't fully grasp—and I'm not sure if anyone's meant to,) I made a reservation, snagged Conbon, grabbed a bottle of wine and up the stairs we went to Vertical Wine Bistro.
Stairs to Vertical Wine Bistro
And just like he promised on his site, these foodings are unique, one-of-a-kind experiences, with a menu of dishes that sounds disparate but induces curiosity at the same time. Oysters with chicharrones & figs? Porridge with pomegranate & teriyaki chicken? Would that really work?
Zaca Mesa Z Cuvee
Had I known that Domaine LA was doing the wine pairing & selections for the LQ foodings, I would've readily gone with her picks. But since that wasn't disclosed on the LQ site (and I myself didn't know until shortly before the dinner over twitter,) I wound up bringing along a bottle of Zaca Mesa's 2009 Z Cuvee Rhone-style red blend. And it worked pretty well throughout the meal, with its mix of berry & spice notes, a medium body and soft tannins (which got mellower as the night went on.)

As for the dishes, they were all very playful indeed. With so many different components, no two forkful are ever the same, and wekept playing mix and match with each course. Of the six courses, my favorites were:
Rice & Chestnut Porridge, Pomegranate, Mushrooms, Teriyaki Pintade Hen
Rice & chestnut porridge with teriyaki pintade hen & pomegranate - a surprise to me since I generally prefer my porridges to be on the mellow side, but here it acted as a balance against the piquant pom arils and the luscious, richly flavorful chicken.
Hare Pie, Quince, Huckleberry, Brussel Sprouts in XO Sauce
Wild Scottish hare pie with huckleberries, quince, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, brussel sprouts in XO sauce, sichuan peppercorns - Admittedly the pie on its own was a bit too salty but upon mixing it with the tart berries, sweet, fragrant quince and the savory sprouts, it was like technicolor of tastes compared to the black & white of a standard pot pie, with various flavors and textures mingling merrily on my tongue.
Lychee Cremeaux, Vanilla Froyo, Passion Fruit Gelee, Cherry Granita
Lychee Cremeaux, passion fruit gelee, vanilla froyo, cherry granita, blood orange caramel, cookie crumble - like the hare pie, I loved the fiesta of flavor variations and combinations on this plate. I'm also thankful that this was a lighter dessert, considering the heftier courses we've had prior and because we also ordered...
Cheese Cart
Cheese Plate
...selections from LQ's cheese cart, which has a reputation of its own. With almost 40 kinds of French cheeses of every imaginable variety (aged vs. fresh, hard vs. soft, bleu vs... not), it's another experience that's near impossible to replicate (well, my not taking notes of what we actually might be a factor too.) But the seven we chose spanned all three milks, a range of textures, ages & rinds, and even a vein (to Conbon's hesistance, but even she found that one "not bad.")
Cheese Accompaniments
The accompaniments are just as unique, with an array of fruit forward spreads, some hazelnuts and helping of truffle honey. The last one is worth the $3 extra splurge, since it goes well with every cheese we had that night.

My only real sadness is that this fooding will be LQ's last for 2013 (there are still some spaces available for this coming Sunday & Monday, check out the reservations page or his twitter feed.) But I do look forward to what inspirations he'll bring back in '14, after his debut in London.

More photos on my flickr set here.

LQ Fooding @ Vertical Wine Bistro
70 N Raymond Ave
Pasadena, CA 91103

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Lexus Culinary Masters Dinner @ Animal

Until recently, upon hearing the words "automobile PR", my mind would instantly jump to test drives, car shows, and demo races with scandily-clad women waving checkerboard flags. Plus a good mix of testosterone-fueled grunting alongside a near-obsessive geekout over the vehicles' technical specs & features.
Intro by Lexus
And that was a notion that was disproven when I was invited to their Culinary Masters Dinner last month at Animal, when its chefs & co-owners Vinny Dotolo & Jon Shook (who are also behind Son of a Gun & Trois Mec) are inducted as their latest culinary masters and will be doing food-related outreach on the brand's behalf alongside other masters including Daniel Boulud, Masumaru Morimoto and Michael Symon.

At this particular dinner, they partnered with Michelle Bernstein (from Michy's and Crumb on Parchment in Miami & also a recent Culinary Masters inductee) for an eight-course, wine-paired dinner benefiting Common Threads, a charity dedicated to educating kids & their families to cook wholesome, nutritious and delicious meals at home.
Lexus Exterior
Since this was an event hosted by Lexus, there's bound to be some encounter with one of its vehicles. For me, that entailed being chauffeured from my home to Animal in its 2013 LS460.
Lexus Interior
I was very thankful that I didn't have to keep my eyes on the road for the 45 minutes trip there (and better yet, the tipsy trip back.) I am even more grateful that I wasn't assaulted with a bunch of car questions & sales pitch along the way. After a full day at work, I'd much rather rest my eyes & catch up on my e-mail backlog than go into depths about cabin space, fuel economy, horsepower and resale value. That being said, the ride was enjoyable and smooth throughout even in the throes of LA's stop-and-go rush hour, with comfortable seating (which has seat warmers AND coolers) and lots of room.

Upon arrival, we were greeted with passed hors d'oeuvres & glasses of bubbly and left to mix & mingle until Lexus' brand representative made his announcement of its newest culinary masters; we then took our seat and were treated to a delightful multi-course feast.

While I think all dishes were a delight and provocative in one way or another with combinations I would've never put together, there were definitely a few highlight dishes, including:
Beets, Yogurt, Blackberry
Yogurt with red beets, blackberries, hibiscus and shiso - this starter course tasted as vibrant as it looked, with the red beets' sugary sweetness balanced by the tang of the berries and hibiscus, the refreshing aroma of shiso & melded together by the creamy yogurt. It's like a fancy parfait!
Squash Blossom, Shrimp, Cheese Grits
Shrimp-stuffed squash blossom with cheese grits - fried squash blossom is always a delight, but I loved that instead of the usual cheese, this one was filled with shrimp - a playful take that reminded me of tempura with a blossomy shell. The cheese wasn't completely out of the picture tho, and was mixed into the grits here for a comforting accompaniment to the squash & shrimp.
Egg, Bouillion, Sausage, Garlic Bread
Bouillon with egg, Italian sausage, fried broccoli and garlic bread - a delightful mingling of different flavors and textures; I loved how the rich sous-vide'd egg gives way to the light, luscious broth with hits of spice & "greeness" from the sausage and broccoli. And the toasts were great for eating alongside the soup or dunking in to mop up the last bits.
Dry Aged Beef, Creamed Corn, Chanterelles
Dry aged beef, chanterelles, scallions, balsamic, creamed corn - artfully presented and a pleasure to eat, especially as I kept mixing and matching different components to see what combinations work (in short, they all do!) And it was beautifully paired with a 2010 Rhone that is smooth on the palate but robust enough to hold its own (and bring out) the bold flavors on the plate.

After this experience, if people asked for my opinions on Lexus, I'd say it was delicious. Sure, I'll probably get strange looks from 99 percent of the crowd, but I'll keep an eye out for that 1 percent who'll give me a nod and a wink because they too, have had encounters with their culinary events.

Other reports on this event:
Eating LA
(Beverly Hills Restaurant) Examiner

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Healthy Snacking: Krave's Basil Citrus Turkey Jerky

I've never been much of a jerky lover as a kid—having been fed those over-dried leathery strips that smell funny and tastes even weirder—and it's recently that I discovered actually like them. Well, at least the actually tasty ones like the ones made by Krave.
Krave Basil Citrus Turkey Jerky

I first came by Krave about a year ago when Woot! offered a deal on their sampler pack, and I was curious about their unique flavors (way different than the usual varieties of "original", smoked, spicy, barbecue, and teriyaki.) While I enjoyed all of them, the basil citrus turkey jerky became my favorite upon, a surprise even to me since I expected that to be extra-dry and gummy as hell, except that it's anything but.

This was like tasting jerky in technicolor, with a fiesta of flavors from the tang of the lemon, the fruity sweetness of apples and honey and the intoxicating bouquet of basil. And it has a nice chewiness without going to leather-tough territory.

On top of being delicious, this is a snack I can nosh on with very little guilt. Each 1 oz. serving has only 80 calories. Even if I chomp down on the whole bag (and I have been tempted to on several occasions,) it'll only clock in at 260 calories—which isn't bad at all. And with each serving packing in 9g of protein (it is mostly turkey breast, afterall) it's great before or after a strength workout to help those muscles repair, or as a filling snack to bring along.

As for me, I can't wait to stock up on a few more bags for hikes, trips... or a party; maybe I'll even be bold enough to do one of their suggested drink pairings too!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Pantry Perennials: Pepperoni

Yes, it's the ubiquitous pizza meat, which I find funny since 1) I don't make pizzas at home and 2) I hardly order pepperoni on my pizzas (meatwise, I'd much rather have my pies topped with sausages, bacon and ground beef, and the occasional ham/Canadian bacon if I'm feeling "Hawaiian".)

But I keep sliced pepperoni around because it's such a versatile, multi-tasking ingredient, since it contributes:
  • Oil: Instead of vegetable oil or butter, I sometimes begin my stir-frys and sautés by throwing a few snipped slices of pepperoni on the skillet and wait for that brilliantly orange-red, spice-infused oil to leach out within a minute. I then take the pepperoni out and have vibrantly-flavorful cooking oil to start with.
  • Seasoning: for similar reasons to the oil, I will regularly add pepperoni at the end of cooking a dish to do double duty of adding saltiness & spiciness at once. And just like extracting the oil, it doesn't take long for the dish to be boosted with the meat's flavors.
  • Texture: pepperoni slices crisps up quickly and wonderfully, and it makes for a delightful change of pace from other crunchy toppings (breadcrumbs, frizzled onions, and heaven forbid-- Bac-O Bits, which I just found out don't even contain any animal products.)
While I can go on and on about my uses for pepperoni -- currently, my favorite is to crisp up pepperoni slices on the skillet & crumble it and using the spicy oil for a vinaigrette, making for a fantastic dressing & topper for a salad. Or, when I want a near-instant snack, crisp up the pepperoni and use the oil to grill a slice of bread and eat both with some olives or pickles.

Although I do rotate between a few brands, Fresh & Easy's is one of my regular go-tos. The flavor is great (just salty, spicy & complex enough), and I appreciate its lack of nitrates & unnecessary chemical gnarlyness. I also like its larger-than-norm slices (which I can snip down if I need to), and at 60 calories per 1 oz serving & priced at $3.49 - it's not a bad deal for the wallet or waistline either.

Monday, September 23, 2013

8 until 8 Happy Hour at Scarpetta

With powerhouse restaurants such as CUT, Urasawa, Mastro's and Crustacean, Beverly Hills isn't exactly a neighborhood where one can expect to dine without shelling out some serious dough. Until recently, my personal options on a budget in that area were M Café & Greenleaf Chopshop, both of which close pretty early and—while I'm thankful to have healthy choices—not exactly the foods I'd seek out when I'm feeling indulgent, in the "more carbs & fat, calorie-counting be damned!" sense, not necessarily in spending more.
Happy Hour Menu
So I was rather excited to find out that Scarpetta has a happy hour with plenty of delicious and filling choices. Furthermore, it's freaking easy to remember: 8 bar plates & 8 cocktails are $8 each before 8 p.m. Monday-Saturday [they're closed Sunday]. For those who prefer beer & wine, those are available for $4 to $6, respectively, during their HH. And when I went about a week ago, they actually had 10 small plates to choose from.

And don't let the term "small plates" fool you; one can easily get full from 2-3 of these sizable orders. In fact, on my most recent trip, three was perhaps a bit much even for me and I had to enlist Mattatouille & Caroline on Crack to help me polish off some of the foods, which included:
Porchetta Piadini
Porchetta sliders on brioche buns - mini sandwiches that are great on their own but made even better with the assorted housemade pickles, whose crunchy tang were a nice foil to the slightly sweet bread & savory pork.
Mushroom - Mascarpone Ravioli
Mushroom-mascarpone ravioli - their ravioli filling & sauce changes up seasonally, but I loved this variation with plump & tender pasta pillows filled with light, earthy mushroom-cheese, finished off a luscious mushroom cream sauce and a bright spinach puree.
Peach & Ricotta Salad
Grilled peach & ricotta salata salad w baby lettuce & toasted almond vinaigrette - a nice dish for those who want lighter fare, or just wants to fill out their fruits & vegetables quota, this salad was a delightful melange of flavors and textures: smoky-sweetness of the grilled peaches, briny-creaminess of the cheese and the soft crunch of the almond & lettuce.
My happy hour tipple of choice is the Noce - basically a Rye Old-Fashioned paired with some candied pecans to snack on.

But what made this already filling meal into a real belly buster were the assorted complimentary snacks that were also sent out with the order, including . . .
Chips & Nuts
. . . a big bowl of spiced nuts and platter of housemade, herb-infused potato chips . . .
Bread Service
. . . and their famous bread basket, which got LA Weekly's praise of best in the city with good reason. Asides from the assortment of accompaniments (whipped butter, olive oil & caponata), one of the breads in the basket is the stromboli, which is stuffed with gooey mozzarella, bright tomatoes and spicy salami (there's also a meatfree version for vegetarians.)

So needless to say, with all of this going on I can probably order 2 (perhaps even 1) "small plate" and not need another bite for a while.

And at $32 (+ tax & tip), this quickly became my favorite go-to happy hour (and early dinner) place in Beverly Hills, and one of few spots in LA where you can grab some classy bites without breaking the bank.

Other write ups about the Scarpetta Happy Hour:
LA Times
e*star LA
Five Pacific

225 N Canon Dr 
Los Angeles, CA 90210
(855) 370-8021

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Recipe: DNA Cocktail

In short, this is my hybrid of a Negroni and a Gin & Tonic (which I recently found out was the drink that enabled England to become an empire). I came up with this on the fly after a sweat-inducing round of tennis. It's got a refreshing fizz, pleasant aromas of florals and spice, mildly bitter bite and a wonderfully crisp finish.

Plus, it's super fast to make, so ideal for instant barside cooldown. Oh, and I guess parties too.

The cocktail's name is admittedly a bit geeky, since its components comprise of gin, Campari, Angostura bitters and tonic water; let's not get into the ingredient swap to turn this into a RNA cocktail...