Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Recipe Time #10: "Holiday Coffee" Pecans

Inspired by Bon Appetit's Candied Espresso Walnuts recipe, these pecans are lightly sweet with a wonderful, aromatic nuance of sweet spices and finely-ground coffee - great as a party snack or as quick 'n easy homemade gifts!The ingredients:
10 ounces raw pecan halves
1 egg white
2/3 cup sugar
2 tsp. finely ground coffee (or instant coffee)
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees; combine sugar, coffee, ginger, cinnamon & nutmeg in a bowl.
2. In a large bowl (big enough to toss the pecans in), beat the egg white until frothy, add vanilla extract
3. Toss raw pecans into the egg white until thoroughly coated, then add the sugar mixture and toss again until the pecans are covered in the mixture.
4. Spread on a parchment-paper-lined cookie sheet on a single layer, bake in the oven for about 5 minutes.
5. Take out of oven, give the pecans a turn and a flip, pop in oven again to bake for another 5-7 minutes.
6. Remove from oven, let it cool and serve or wrap!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Foodventure Sins of 2007 Series: Me

Ok, I figure I might as well start the confessional series with my own list of foodie sins, so here goes:

1) Honey Walnut Shrimp (and variants thereof) available at
Panda Inn, PF Changs & other Americanized Chinese restaurants - I am not even sure why I am so addicted to this dish. It sounds yucky (battered fried shrimp tossed in a honey-laced, mayo-laden sauce with a few candied walnuts for garnish) but it's such a nirvana-like (though guilt-ridden) pleasure every time I pop one of these sweet, heavy, crispy suckers into my mouth.

2) The Tamale Cakes at Cheesecake Factory - probably because it's a "savory" dish that appeals to my sweet tooth and my fat cravings; the masa patties are super-sweet and it's topped with obscene amounts of avocado, salsa verde, sour cream and a chipotle-ranch-like sauce. On the up note, I can eat this "appetizer" alone and be full, though I'm sure it's packed enough calories for all three meals.

3) Frozen Pot Pies from ConAgra Marie Callender's - nevermind what hormones & antibiotics those animals were possibly injected with, they are the perfect instant comfort food swimming with vegetables in a gravy like sauce and covered in an artery-clogging crust. And unlike some pot pies which try to deceive you with only a top crust, I can be assured that the gravy-sogged side & bottom crusts are there for me in these individual sized fellas (the box may say 2 servings per pie -- but who really shares these anyways?)

4) Pudding Milk Teas from various "boba" places - having worked at a Tapioca joint for almost two years in college, I am utterly sick of those damned pearls. But I still can't get enough of the custardy pudding that you can slurp up through the thick straws. If it's any less sinful sounding, I do prefer to get my teas from joints that fresh-brew them to order (and not let them sit in a vat for half a day), such as Monrovia's Aloha Boba.

5) "Rolly Sushi" - Yes, there are occasions when by "let's eat sushi" I mean the grossness that's dripping with teriyaki sauce and mayo and stuffed with avocados, shrimp tempura & imitation crab. More the reason for me not to post a photo up . . . which will likely wound up on a "Wanted" poster at real sushi bars all over the city. Also a word of caution to future dining companions, double check with me on what I really mean when I go "let's eat sushi".

Alright, I've spilled my beans of shame -- now it's your turn :)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Need Your Help for My End-of-Year List Series!

The end of the year is around the corner, and we all know what that means in the world of media: lists, lists and more lists. There's even a list to endorse lists! So I'm going to put one up before '07 rolls out, with your help!

As Sarah from "The Delicious Life" pointed out, we foodbloggers and foodblog followers don't always eat out at the hottest, trendiest & tastiest restaurants, nor do we whip up fancy meals fitting for saliva-inducing photos every single time. I'm going to take her point one step further: hell, there are times when we love eating stuff that we hate to tell to our acolytes.

"You, my epicurean muse? Like that?!" Yes; here's a tissue.

You may try to hide it, but the clues are there... orange chicken sauce stain on the shirt, the cheets caught under fingernails, or that rapid-fire order for a strawberry daiquiri. How 'bout the "Cheesecake Factory" receipt (for a party of one) that fell out of the billfold? Oh the horror!

But think of the cathartic release you'll get by confessing your favorite anti-foodie edibles & potables to me for my series of "Foodventure Sins of 2007"! (If you've read this far into my entry, consider yourself tagged to reply) Simply comment to this post or send me an e-mail with your list of Americanized, chain-y, mass-produced, adulterated, corporate and/or semi-homemade stuff that you just can't resist but also can't fully bring yourself to admit loving. A few words about what keeps drawing you back is appreciated too!

I'll be posting the series till the end of the year (because, of course, next year we'll all repent and learn from the errors of our ways and just cold turkey all that junk off . . . or so we would say.)

And I will be putting up my foodventures sins list shortly, so stay tuned . . .

If you feel like restoring the balance by also proclaiming your love of swanky & respectable joints - send it to Dana from the "The Knife" for the Kindest Cuts series (including one submitted by yours truly).

Did I mention you're already tagged if you got this far? ;)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Holiday Themed Friday Quickie #10

With all the holiday menus & food gift ideas that are zipping into my e-mail, I figure now's a good a time as any to fire off a few quick holiday food thoughts:

- Dining Out during the Holidays. Of course, I've gotten a whole lotta e-mails for prix-fixe menus on Christmas Eve & New Year's Eve. Not sure if I'll go to one, given the pretty high price tags on most of them. But I hope everyone who's already made "Eve" dining out plans are going to play nice, the staff are essentially giving up their holidays so that the non-cooking, non-serving people can have one. And having worked holidays foodservice in years past, the allure of big tips and overtime pay falls way short of having to work on a day when everyone else is celebrating or getting R&R. Yes, there still should be an expectation of appropriate service and food, but for all the "little things", be generous and cut a little slack.

- Now for a much more affordable prix-fixe event that I'm excited about, American Express & are hosting a Restaurant Week from Jan. 27 to Feb. 8 (except for Feb. 2) -- with many happening Los Angeles restaurants doing three-course menus that doesn't burn a hole through your wallet; lunches are $15 or 22 and dinners are $25 or 34. Some of the places I plan on checking out are Grace, Noe and Angeli Caffe. For a full list of participating restaurants and what they're serving, go here.

- Finally, this X-mas I've actually been shopping for my own wishlist (just so I don't get too sore if I happen to get crappy foodie gifts), including a mandolin slicer, citrus press and a Boston cocktail shaker + strainer set. There are still a few more things I would like but I'm happy with what I got myself now, and there are already lots to celebrate and be thankful for. I may post up my wishlist this weekend, if only as possibly inspiring (and last-minute) gift ideas.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Mini Foodventure #47: Mode (Downtown)

Too bad a restaurant like Mode wasn't around when I was in college. Delicious bistro-y foods at an affordable price AND 24/7 service would've been mighty useful during my "crammin' over ramen" days. But hey, I still pull an occasional late/all-nighter now, so a nice go-to place for decent grub anytime is still a welcoming thought; thus, I've been keeping an eye on Mode like a kid outside the candy store that's just about to open . . .
. . . or maybe not. Originally slated to serve right after Halloween, Mode's schedule got sidetracked quite a few times, all the while promising to open "soon". Finally, after a month of unexpected delays and broken promises, Mode went into a light opening mode this past weekend, serving its dinner menu on a 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. schedule -- and that's good enough for me to take an early peek before the weekend swarms.
For a place that's pretty casual, Mode has a pretty swanky vibe with its trendy white furniture, designer-ish ceiling lamps and a cool electronic blue catwalk leading up a projected screen of muted ModTV showing off all sorts of trendy and pricey wearables. Watching all those beautiful people strut and prance was an interesting way to regulate my appetite, and I found myself not wanting a heavy dish like goat cheese ravioli with browned butter.
The front-of-house that day are a pretty well-groomed and fashionable bunch too, but are also very friendly folks who eagerly look forward to going 24/7 this coming weekend. I'm sure a whole slew of downtown clubbers are too.

As noted before, the menu is primarily French bistro-ish foods (Moule Frites, Quiche, Osso Bucco, Cheese plates and the quintessential French Onion Soup with Gruyere) with a bit of Californian-fusion touches (Paninis, Calamari with a Harissa mayo, Seared Tuna Steak with Bok Choy); none of the dishes are outlandishly creative/weird, but that's understandable since most never-close places are going for a broad appeal. In fact, compared to the other always-open eateries around, Mode is actually kinda edgy. Also mentioned before, the prices are pretty reasonable, most of the entrees are in the $10-$16 range, and the priciest thing on the dinner menu was a N.Y. Steak Frites with Bernaise sauce for $24.

Feeling more French than Fusion, I went for the Croque Madame & Pomme Frites . . .
which turned out very well, the seasoned fries were fried well, and the sandwich was made with toasted brioche that had the perfect combo of slightly crispy exterior with a pillowy texture within, the slightly-nutty emmenthal cheese went well with hearty slices of black forest ham and rich mornay sauce. And of course, the over-easy egg with its liquidy yolk goodness drenching all the layers.
not bad for $11. Ok, probably not the best value in town but it's still a better and tastier deal than what most places are serving up, especially in the wee hours of the night.

In short, this place made a nice first impression on me and I can't wait to return again in the near future, since there were some other light dishes that were highly recommended but I wound up being too full to try after the sandwich. And of course, I can't wait for it go open all night and, if other items taste just as good, become my default "Plan B" place for food in downtown. Hope everything is smooth sailing from here on out for them.

916 S. Olive St. (between 9th and 10th Streets)
213.627.4888 (according to OpenTable, but the URL's defunct)

Monday, December 10, 2007

Special Foodventure #46: LA Luxury Chocolate Salon

Never thought I'd say this, but I definitely had too much of a good thing the LA Luxury Chocolate Salon, which I was invited to (i.e. I got in gratis). Who'd thunk that an event with just 20 tables could offer up so many cocoa products?
There were chocolate bars, chocolate truffles, chocolate chips and cocoa powders and even "goo", chocolate dipped fruits, chocolate liqueur, single-origin chocolates, eco-friendly fair trade chocolates, chocolates infused with wines and teas and herbs and spices and, of course, the ubiquitious (white) chocolate fountain. There was even a chocumentary.

Being a "luxury" chocolate event, the chocolatiers showcased items that are more exotic, eccentric and, yes, expensive than your average Hershey's, but a small piece of the good stuff easily outweighs those one-pound bags of fun-sized bars.

Anyways, without further adieu, here's a few of the my favorite chocolatiers at the event:

- L'Artisan du Chocolat: A French chocolatier designing bonbons in-line with current upscale chocolate trend: ganaches of unusual flavors and with modern, artsy print designs on top. I decided to skip over the various flavors (including rose petals and hibiscus) and went straight for the pure 72% dark chocolate ganache, which clinched the deal for me -- a very intense cocoa flavor perfectly balanced with sugar and fat, with a dry texture and a pretty clean finish. Definitely shows off the chef-owners mastery of the confectionary arts.

- Chuao Chocolatier: I was so glad to see them make an appearance at the salon, as I fondly remembered the truffles I brought back from their Irvine boutique store. As expected, all their unusually flavored chocolates exceeded my initially-skeptical expectations, from the Modena balsamic-strawberry caramel chocolate pods to the mildly aromatic Earl Grey bergamont milk chocolate bar, the latter a shock really, since I usually dislike strong, pungent smell of Earl Grey teas. Also very happy to find out that Omni Hotels (including the one in downtown LA) is partnering with Chuao and serving its eclectic hot cocoas in their caf├ęs - sounds like a wonderful way to warm off Jack Frost.

- E. Guittard: Ok, considerably less artisanal than most, but props to the guy who was tabling, who was very well-versed in the various chocolates sampled and offered very helpful notes about what to look for in quality chocolates as well as flavor, texture and aromatic differences between chocolates of different origins. A nice mini-lesson about cocoa and pretty delicious bars to taste and learn as well, and definitely landed their brand in my book if I'm looking for some cooking/baking chocolates.

- L'Estasi Dolce: Definitely adventurous with edgy flavors such as the Asian-inspired lemongrass-ginger and wine-enhanced pinot noir and mimosa truffles. I particularly like their wine truffles since the wine flavors are not overpowering (as is the case with most alcohol-laced truffles I've tried) but just enough to complement and enhance the ganache. One taste and you'll say sayonara to those gimmicky alcohol-filled milk chocolate grossness that's been sitting on store shelves for goodness-knows-how long too.

There were also interesting lectures and demonstrations taking place as well, from making a chocolate martinis using pure ingredients (and an unusually large amount of cashews) to truffle-shaping techniques to get that perfectly round bonbon. So all in all, a wonderful event despite eating enough chocolate to actually make me feel a little sick (unlike wine, I doubt a spit-out would be as well-received).

Nonetheless, I eagerly anticipate its return next year!

P.S. Did I mention a lot of food journalists & bloggers sightings as well? Teenage Glutster, Pleasure Palate and Eater LA were there, just to name a few.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Friday Quickies #9: Foodie Events of Past, Present & Future

I've definitely been enjoying my share of Season's Eatins', hopefully you all are as well :)

So here's a brief & eventful Friday Quickie -

Past: 16th Annual Indio International Tamale Festival - again, a gastronomical journey that was well worth the two hour drive and shlepping. Having already blogged about it last year, I didn't do much note-taking and photo-snapping since everything looked pretty much the same. Of course, I had to visit Grandma Lupe's stall again, and glad she's still going strong and the tamales still moist, fluffy and wickedly yummy. A new contender I'm particularly impressed with is Temecula Tina's, which had a succulent chile verde-pork tamale and a delicious apple tamale with a caramel center.

After sampling my fill, I brought back about 30 in an icebox to share with friends and slowly polish of myself. But already I'm counting down the days till the next one . . .

Present: Thanks to a tip from Caroline, I'm heading out to the Chivas Studio for a charity event and practically free drinks. Hopefully I learn a few more whiskey cocktails (i.e. beyond Manhattans and Old Fashioneds) as well as a better appreciation of the spirit. But my dining/drinking companion and I are heading to Luna Park beforehand for dinner so we don't get too tipsy too fast (though chances are probable that we'll probably have a drink at Luna Park too!)

Future: Meeting up with friends, and possibly Abby, at this Sunday's LA Luxury Chocolate Salon; with lots of chocolatiers that will be selling and sampling their goods (along with some wineries and spirits too!) Definitely a fun event for any cocoa-phile or anyone looking to polish their chocolate palates beyond the likes of Godiva & Ghiradelli, and not a bad deal either for $17.50 advance or $20 at the door. Hope to catch you there ;)

Anyways, about time to take off for Luna Park & Chivas Studio, so here's to a good and tasty weekend!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Fire & Spice . . . but is everything nice?

After last year's tasting, I was jalloping for joy when Kettle Chip "People's Choice" rolled around this year. With the bracing cold of winter (okay, as cold as SoCal can get) ~ I'm sure their theme of "Fire and Spice" is welcoming for those looking to heat things up.

In the name of R&D for this blog, I've ordered a pack and gorged taste-tested all five flavors. Here's my two cents:

1. Wicked Hot Sauce - surprisingly good and tasted like a hybrid of salt & vinegar potato chips and Flamin' Hot cheetos, the combination of vinegar tang, moderate spiciness and garlic-onion made for a very bright and flavorful chip. My second favorite of the five.

2. Mango Chili - I'm definitely well acquainted with the sweet-savory food trend of Kettle corn, Sea Salt Caramels and
Bacon Chocolates, but how will the trio of sweet, savory AND spicy fare? In a word: OMGDelish!! (Nevermind that this isn't even an Urbandictionary word... yet) Even though the mango flavor wasn't really there (I just picked up more of a generic tropical fruit scent) the sweet aroma and taste was a wonderful complement against the salt and the habanero & cayenne heat. This one definitely gets my vote as the fave!

3. Jalapeno Salsa Fresca - For those into spicy tomato sauces, this one's it: it had a pronounced sun-dried tomato flavor with a splash of lime and a significant kick from jalapeno and cayenne peppers. But personally, this chip just didn't quite hit the spot for me. It tasted pretty similar to Twisted Chili Lime from last year's competition (which I also deemed to be the mediocre one of the bunch) but definitely not bad -- so again, it gets the middle-of-the-road third place.

4. Orange Ginger Wasabi - Oh, where did the R&D go wrong? I had such high hopes for this very unique-sounding flavor but this just tasted disgusting -- the wasabi wasn't strong enough to produce that wonderful endorphin-induced tingle, and combined with orange, ginger & salt made for something that tasted like swamp water samples. (I re-tasted the chips a day later and had the same exact experience, so I threw out the rest of the bag . . . believe me, it's gotta taste pretty bad for me to not finish it off.)

5. Death Valley Chipotle - Definitely one for the heat-seekers, this chip is packed with a serious smoky spice punch of peppers - chipotle, cayenne and habanero! It starts out deceptively mild, but the heat creeps up on you and lingers (as I found out, with even more pepper-laced chips in my mouth)! Have a glass of milk handy for this one. This chip was only OK for me, too spicy for my personal taste, though I can always be optimistic about this and think of it as sensory portion control... ahem.

The wasabi swampwater chips aside, this year's pack is a pretty good bunch (and the Mango Chili is right up there with my last year's fave - Dragon 5 Spice and Royal Indian Curry). But don't take my word for it,
order a pack, host a tasting party or try them all by your lonesome! Oh yea, and vote for Mango Chili ;)! I will order another pack in 2008, after the contest is over and Kettle lets customers mix-and-match the year's contenders, if only to avoid getting another bag of swampwater chips.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Foodventure #45: Traxx (Downtown)

Yes, it's the Union Station restaurant; but no, it doesn't feel grossly overpriced nor does it taste unremarkably bland like any other airport, train depot eatery that everyone has encountered (pun intended). And yes, I have to explain that to every potential dining companion that contemplated dining there.
Opened ten years ago, Traxx's decor and menu is a delightful fusion of the classic and the modern, indicated by both its design and menu. The ambience, with patios that spills into the Union Station interior and also in the lush courtyard, has an updated art deco look, juxtaposing soft white lights against the sharp corners of dark geometric designs.

The menu struck a similar balance traditional and modern with updated classics such as beef tenderloin with a tarragon-merlot sauce and mussels in a tomato-saffron broth with couscous; having fairly light appetites that day, my dining companion and I shared an appetizer, entree and dessert.

To start off, we got their famous Louisiana Jumbo Crab Cake with Chipotle Chili Remoulade, easily a top contender as one of the best in L.A. Lots of sweet, succulent and lightly-seasoned crabmeat with minimal binder, rolled in breadcrumbs and deep-fried for a light and satisfying crunch. The mildly-spicy and rich remoulade was a wonderful complement to cake as well as a flavorful dressing to go with the mixed greens on top.
Next up is their Wild Alaskan King Salmon with Asparagus & Violet Mustard Beurre Blanc - a solid dish with a perfectly-cooked piece of fish: flavorful, buttery meat with its crispy skin on alongside tender and mild baby asparagus spears. But both my DC and I were lost on the sauce, which barely had any mustard flavor and none of the (would have been delightful) violet aroma. A mild downer but a disappointment nonetheless since it's promoted as such on the menu.

Another shortcoming here is the service, which is somewhat friendly but excruciatingly slow, especially considering that less than half the tables are occupied. It took almost half an hour for actual food to arrive, which wouldn't have been a big deal except for being ignored by the front-of-house with no reassurances or apologies of any sort for the unusually long wait. It was only a slight peeve for us, but I can only imagine the irritation of actual train passengers who have only so much time before they have to board.

But our gripes were assuaged with the comparatively quick arrival of the Chocolate Pot de Creme, a smooth, silky, cocoa-intense custard that's so sinfully delicious that I even forgot to take a picture upon arrival. But we did finish the pot and were **this** close to licking the ramekin clean.

Overall, I still am rather fond of Traxx (as long as I don't have a tight schedule) dining on modernized classic dishes in the classic atmosphere of the Union Station evokes a sense a nostalgia for the early 20th century--and the relaxed pace and quiet station definitely offers a calm respite from the hustle and bustle of Downtown L.A.

The Bill:
Crabcake - $14
Salmon - $25
Pot de Creme - $7
Pre-tax/tip total - $46

The Rating:
Ambience: 5/5 (Surely one of the strong points of this restaurant is its location and decor that throws diners back to the 1920s era)
Value: 3/5 (Slightly overpriced for portions, but definitely a better deal and much better tasting foods than restaurants at other transportation stops)
Service: 6.5/10 (Friendly and knowledgable staff -heard them go into extensive details about the wine list- but extremely slow and somewhat lax)
Food: 16.5/20 (Everything we had was good, but not as creative as we'd hoped)
Bonus/Demerit: none
Total: 31/40 (Worth at least one trip, esp. for those arriving in LA by way of train, but not so much for those departing for obvious reasons . . .)

Other notes
- Free valet when you dine here: two hours for lunch, three for dinner (believe me, you may just take that long); nonetheless a good incentive to eat here when picking up a friend, given that even self-parking costs a significant chunk of change at Union Station.

800 N. Alameda Street
Los Angeles


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