Friday, April 18, 2008

Friday Quickies #21: Grilled Cheese and Oysters

Grilled Cheesy Goodness: As I mentioned a while back, the Grilled Cheese Invitational is this Saturday, and Eater LA broke word that it'll be @ Griffith Park. While no alchy allowed, there's bound to be a lot of cheesy eats, costumes and performances (and that's a good thing). Can't make it to the event but still want to pay your homage to Grilled Cheese month? Caroline on Crack noted that Century City's Clementine is doing a Melt the Vote, offering five variations of the grilled sandwich throughout April, and letting diners vote for their fave. This weekend, modern soul food joint Larkin's in Eagle Rock is doing a deep-fried grilled cheese sandwich with spicy mayo as their lunch special. Of course, you can always fall back to Culver City's Meltdown, etc. or do Campanile's Grilled Cheese Thursdays.

Last 'R' Month: If cheese is not your thing, maybe oysters are -- but you better satisfy your craving soon before these mollusks turn bland. If you like 'em fried, LA Times has a handy list of places to check out.

And finally...: Brea's TAPS Fishhouse & Brewery is partnering with Napa's Pine Ridge Winery for a special five-course wine paired dinner for $85 on Wednesday, April 23. The inventive menu includes New York Steak with Porcini Essence and Blue Cheese "Flan" and Chocolate & Date Cake Spheres with "Valrhona & Pork Syrup" -- worth checking out for those with bold and fearless palates.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Mini Foodventure #62: LA Mill (Silver Lake)

After practically every foodblogger in L.A. had weighed in on the place, I finally had the opportunity to drag my old-fashioned butt to try LA Mill, but only after a most unremarkable and mediocre lunch in Hollywood and I felt like making it up by treating myself to some damn good (and pricey) coffee & sweets.

Swinging by the place at around 3:30pm, for a place so raved about during its soft opening period, it was surprisingly empty and quiet. A student was grading papers by the bar, a middle-aged foursome were sharing dishes family-style, a hipster-ish couple sat outside and a regular was chatting it up with a barista. Alas, no celebs . . .

After studying the menu a while, I decided to go for lighter fares. As much as I would love to watch the barista work that interesting coffee pot, I opted instead for their signature cappuccino . . .
. . . that's flavored with orange essence and finished with pinches of valrhona cocoa powder. It was good, but not mindblowingly so. The foam was perfectly pillowy, the espresso sufficiently strong and the orange aromas fragrant and overall pretty smooth but it had a tinge of burnt-bitter astringent aftertaste that I didn't care for. So not sure I would pay $5 again, especially since I wanna see them work the clover machine or that hourglass-looking pot next time.

For dessert, I got the humble sounding pear-cranberry crisp with miso ice cream -
and got a freaking gorgeous work of art! A knotted tube of torched pear gelee with dots of cranberry compote, alongside miso ice cream atop of buttery streusel crumbs, finished with two dollops of limey foam. All the components are as flavorful as they were pretty and not too sweet (I especially loved the miso ice cream!) and I had some fun mixing and matching them to get different combos of tastes and textures. However, as delicious and delightfully whimsical this dish was, lost in translational in this artsy modern-chic interpretation -- was the more homestyle Americana pear betty kind of dessert that I was originally craving for. Should've known better than that the sweets here wouldn't be so humble, considering that I had Adrian Vasquez's creative works at Providence.

But it was overall an interesting and mostly positive first impression. Given all the other interesting things on the menu (savory, sweet and drinkables), I'll definitely be back to give it another go. And I'm not even gonna wait for a crappy meal to prompt me to either!

LA Mill
1636 Silver Lake Blvd
Los Angeles

Monday, April 07, 2008

Lessons learned from my vegetarian stint

Without further adieu, here's how my mostly meatless Lenten period panned out...

Probably most shocking was that, except for isolated instances like driving through Koreatown (ugh!), I didn't really find myself missing meat and that had time to appreciate a greater range of vegetables, fruits and traditionally meat-free dishes such as pasta with pesto sauce, flatbreads with hummus, Indian lentil dishes and minestrone soup. You may even say I delved into veganism, though I did consume dairy and eggs with some regularity.

Another surprise is how easy it was to go veggie while shopping & eating out. It's actually even a bit liberating, since I am not bombarded with dozens of different menu options and faced with choice paralysis. With only a handful of vegetarian items in most mainstream eateries, it's pretty easy for me to decide what I want.

But that doesn't mean it was a breeze all the time -- during Lent (and not on a Sunday) I went to a friend's birthday celebration at Cheesecake Factory, but managed to get away with their meatfree (but nonetheless filling) tamale cakes and the non-meat items from the appetizer platter. When my parents celebrated their birthdays at a steakhouse, however, it was pretty depressing for me to just have salad & baked potato.

And of course, I had lots of fun trying & inventing new recipes -- my favorite being the
caprese-style sandwich from the previous entry (though I had enough heart to stick a little proscuitto in my friends' sandwiches) and a tofu and eggplant green curry with brown rice.

I am not sure if I changed much healthwise while on this month and a half spree; I'm basically eating the same number of calories but able to eat a bit more food since veggies are generally less calorie-dense. On the other hand, it was a bitch working proteins in (which is the only reason I resorted to eating fake meats on occasion, but found some to be not bad.) And without going way TMI, let's just say my BM's consistency did change a bit...

Even though Easter came and passed, I don't think I'm going to fully lapse back to my old ways. Now, I like certain meats too much to fully give it up (sushi, Korean BBQ, sukiyaki, shabu shabu & meaty dumplings, just to name a few), but I would consider going
flexitarian, eating mostly vegetarian except when I get the craving for meat (which would be about every 10 days, if my Lenten experience was any indicator) or the occasion calls for it (i.e. the steakhouse!). But most of the times I'll probably just roll with my vegetarian half, especially when things get as delicious as the velvety cold sesame noodle salad at Real Food Daily.

Coincidentally (or perhaps not), it was around this time that I finished reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, which I've relegated to my book shelf for the better part of the two years I've owned it. I don't think I'll be as hyperaware as Mr. Pollan was in learning how the food was grown, gathered and treated before it wounds up on the plate, but the text is definitely some good food for thought.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Friday Quickies #20: Upcoming Events and Virtual Food Blogging (Really!)

More fantastic foodie events:

Assorted LearnAboutWine events @ 40% off - I've been to a few LAW events before and they've always been very well put together, with experts who know their potables and lots of great accompanying sips and nibbles. To sweeten the pot, they are offering a 40% off discount for some of their April events, including: Intro Wine Camp (Apr. 6), Wine, Cheese and Chocolate Sunday School (Apr. 13), Wines of Argentina (Apr. 20) and Westside Wine Camp at 3 on Fourth in Santa Monica (Apr. 21) -- simply enter coupon code APRILSALE for the discount, but hurry because the offer expires on Apr. 6; I've already signed up for the Wine, Cheese & Chocolate Sunday School (turns out to be around $40/person post discount), hopefully I'll catch some of you there!

NeoMeze 5-for-5 - for wine tastings of a different nature (and location), Pasadena's
Neomeze will be doing a 5-for-5 on Tuesdays to Thursdays 6-8 p.m. throughout April. Sample 5 wines for $25, and small plate pairings for an additional $5 each. David Haskell from the well-known (but alas, closed) Bin8945 has a hand in selecting the wine list, and anyone who's been to Bin before personally knows his passionate enthusiasm for wines and pairings.

Tokyo Table Sake Night, part deux - Tokyo Table will be doing their "Sake Nights" again in April (Thursday the 17th in Beverly Hills location, Thursday the 24th in their Arcadia location). I went to the one in Arcadia on March 27th (will make a longer post about it soon); in short, a all-you-care-to-eat-and-drink small plates and sake fest, with 16 kinds of sake (and 4 sake-tinis) and about 15-20 varieties of food to try (my favorites being the una-don, the sashimi, tuna tataki salad). $35/person.

Whole Food Cheese Breaking "Crack Heard Around the World" - April 12 at noon; Whole Foods in the Southern Pacific Region will partake in a synchronized cracking of 24-month-old parmigiano reggiano cheese wheels and attempt set a Guinesss World Record. Hear the crack, then sample and learn more about the cheese.

Grilled Cheese Invitational - April 19 at a TBD location; registration for new contenders closed -- but show up for this free event anyways to see some crazy Grilled Cheese fanaticism and maybe taste a few yummy sammiches. In addition to their usual categories: missionary (plain as it can get, but also hardest to win), kama sutra (unique/exotic ingredients galore) and honey pot (like kama sutra, but sweet), this year they're also adding spoons (somewhere between missionary & kama sutra, basically any type of bread, cheese and "lubricant" could be used, but no extra ingredients). Photos from previous events here.

Speaking of Grilled Cheeses . . . my Sims 2 world is starting to hit a little close to home. First, they added a grilled cheese aspiration . . . and with their latest expansion pack, my Sims can pursue the cuisine hobby, which includes -- yes -- blogging about food. I wish I made as much $$$ as they do simoleons pursuing the habit though . . .

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Recipe Time #12: Caprese Style Sandwiches

"Oh, I didn't know they make 9th place ribbons . . ."

They don't.

Nine finalists prepared their healthy recipes for a contest with one mountain bike to win -- let's just say I walked back. But hey, I could've been first runner-up.

Or appeal the Fockers to make me a ribbon.

Nonetheless, I packed this sandwich for a snowboarding/ski trip a while back and it was well received, so here's the recipe.

Ingredients (3-4 servings)
1 baguette (I used a whole wheat loaf instead for the above photo; believe me, it's MUCH easier with the baguette)
1/2 a medium onion (color doesn't matter much), coarsely chopped
2 roma tomatoes, sliced (should make about 8-10 slices)
8 oz. mozzarella cheese, sliced (again, around 8-10 slices)
1 cup baby spinach leaves
2 cloves garlic
3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp. honey
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. butter

1. Cut baguette halfway across (or have the bakery do it for you when you buy it), hollow out each half with your hand. Dispose or save the breadcrumbs (which is great for thickening soups/sauces, making croutons, or a crispy topping on baked dishes)

2. Combine the honey and the balsamic vinegar, set aside

3. Make garlic-infused olive oil
a. Peel and finely chop the two cloves of garlic
b. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-low heat for about 15-20 seconds
c. Throw garlic in and heat for another 1-2 minutes (done when you smell that wonderful roasted garlic aroma)
d. Set aside

4. Make balsamic caramelized onions
a. Heat butter in skillet over medium heat until melted
b. Add the onions in and continue heating and stirring until they "sweated": translucent and lacking most of that raw flavor when tasted.
c. Add half of the balsamic-honey mixture, stirring and tossing thoroughly until the onions are coated. Continue heating for another 2-3 minutes and set aside.

5. Make and stack the sandwich
a. Drizzle one half of the baguette with the garlic-infused oil, the other half with the remainder of the balsamic-honey mix
b. Start piling on the cheese, tomato, spinach & onions however you like. My only advice is to keep the tomatoes & onions away from each other, since they are both slippery and can make for a messy experience upon eating.
c. Close the two halves together and wrap tightly in plastic wrap (you may want to cut the sandwich into individual portions beforehand to make it more manageable)

6. Store in fridge for two hours (or overnight) for the flavors to meld and marinade, then serve it up and enjoy!

Customization ideas:
1. You sub out half or all the spinach for basil to make it even more caprese-y, I just didn't happen to find any good basil at the market when I shopping so opted to use the Popeye greens instead.
2. I went meatless, but slices of pancetta and/or proscuitto will go wonderfully in here.
3. As you can tell from my picture, you can do this with a loaf too -- but it's much easier with the baguette (which they ran out of at several markets and bakeries when I made it for the contest).


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