06/6/14

Car chaos and great brisket in the Valley

Last weekend started out so well. After weeks of research, we headed out to The Valley to buy a car. Chris had been without a car after an accident a couple months back. So, this was much needed.

We had a car in mind and headed out to Northridge to check it out. It was perfect. We even saw the kid from Modern Family in the Wendy’s across the street.

We bought the car and that was when things started to get crazy. I don’t have my license yet (hang over of many years spent in Europe) and Chris had been renting a car to visit me.  Which left us with two cars to get back to the apartment but only one driver.

The rental car was from Hertz and we had been given the name of an office close to the dealership. We headed off to it with the idea of dropping of the rental and getting a cab back to the new car. When we got there it was closed.  In desperation, we found a safe side street to park the rental and found a friend that could help us move the cars around the next day.

Before we headed out the next morning, Chris called Hertz and was given a price (and charged) for a one way rental. They also gave us the address of where to drop the car. Simple, right?

Yeah,except that when we got to that address it was an empty parking lot with no sign of any buildings at all much less a Hertz office. We called Hertz again and they apologized and gave us another address. Amazingly, when we got to that location, it didn’t exist either. Made slightly more ridiculous by there being two other Hertz’s customers there also looking for the mystery location to drop off their rental car.

Once more we called them and the person on the other end told us that our only option was to take the car to Burbank Airport. Since we had been trying to return this car for three hours, we were happy to have a promising solution.

That was until we got to Hertz at Burbank Airport where they told us we would be charged a much higher rate for returning it to them. That was on top of the amount Chris had already been charged when he called that morning. Made worse by the woman behind the counter – Bonnie – who rolled her eyes at us when we were explaining what we had just been through at the hands of her company. Long story made somewhat shorter, Chris was able to call the next day and get some of that extra refunded but it was all handled so poorly that we won’t be renting from Hertz again any time soon.

There was one bright point to the day. Of course, it was food.  We planned to go  for lunch in Northridge before we started the car gymnastics.  I did my research and decided that we should give Brent’s Deli a try.

I loved that there was an actual deli counter right inside the door.  That gave me hope that Brent’s Deli just might be the right thing.

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The dining room was packed with people but they moved folks in and out quickly.

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We only waited ten minutes to be seated despite there being at least half a dozen parties in front of us.

The menus we were given,once we were seated, were something else. Honestly,I don’t think I have ever seen a menu with a table of contents before.

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From breakfast through to dessert, there were so many items on the Brent’s Deli menu that we had munched through the complimentary plate of pickles before we had decided what to order.

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I kept coming back to the dips section of the menu and finally settled on ordering the brisket dip.  Chris ordered the pastrami and turkey dip with sauteed onions. We split things so we both could try each sandwich.

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The sandwiches were massive. Yet. no sooner had I commented that I would never be able to finish it before my half of the brisket dip vanished down my throat.

The piles of tender thinly-sliced beef brisket were sandwiched between a flaky kaiser roll. The roll was just crusty enough to take a deep dip into the au jus without falling apart.  I especially liked that the au jus wasn’t overly salty. With most other dips, I can only manage a few dunks before the sodium begins to overwhelm. Not the case here.

Just the sight the brisket dip gave me hope that it would be good but what did surprise me was the quality of the coleslaw. It tasted just like the coleslaw my Nana makes. Which,of course,is the best coleslaw on the planet. Not too creamy, not too sweet and – very importantly for me – no raw onions.

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The pastrami part of the pastrami and turkey sandwich wasn’t bad either. The turkey,whilst good, wasn’t really needed on the sandwich. It acted as a barrier to the au jus and as a result the bottom part of the sandwich was moist and the top was dry. I ended up taking out most of the turkey so that I could have more of that moist pastrami goodness.

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As much as the car chaos drove us crazy,at least it lead to the discovery of Brent’s Deli. Now we know where to go for some great deli sandwiches when life brings us to the valley.

Oh and this is the new car in question. Almost as tasty as that brisket.

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05/25/14

Who has the best milkshakes in Los Angeles?

My second anniversary of moving to Los Angeles is rapidly approaching. I am starting to feel a bit at home but the truth is that,in a city this size,two years is barely enough time to scratch the surface of all it has to offer. Particularly,if you are a foodie.

There are some areas of the Los Angeles foodie scene that I have explored more thoroughly than others. For example, I have had more than my fair share of cupcakes since moving to Los Angeles. Which came in handy today when both myself and Chris fancied a cupcake but we each wanted a different style.

I wanted a super moist cupcake and a selection of creative flavors from which to make my selection. So, for my cupcake we headed off to Beverly Hills to Georgetown Cupcake.

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I picked up a Lavender Earl Grey Teacake cupcake and a White Chocolate Raspberry cupcake. Both were delicious cupcakes.

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Especially the white chocolate one which was made incredibly moist by having real raspberries baked into the cake.  It is always nice to be reminded that real ingredients went into something which is,after all,priced at a premium level.

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Chris wanted equally delicious cupcakes but in more classical flavors. We hopped back in the car and headed over to Third Street to visit Sweet E’s where he picked up a mixed pack of mini cupcakes.

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Chris loves this place so we do end up there fairly often. I like the cupcakes too but not as much as he does. Mostly because they tend to be almost sold out when we get there so I have only managed to have a small selection of cupcakes. Those that I have had were pretty good. I’m just the sort of foodie that gets bored eating the same thing over and over.  I do need to remember to try out some of their non-cupcake offerings the next time we are there. Those cookies always look incredible.

What does make Sweet E’s stand out for me is their consistently and friendly and personable service.  Today, that was demonstrated by them remembering what we had ordered during our previous visit. For such a popular bake shop, that is especially impressive.

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You get the picture that I have come to have a decent understanding of the Los Angeles cupcake scene.  However, there is still so much of which I am ignorant. One of those areas of ignorance is where in Los Angeles to get a good milkshake.

I’m not really that much of a milkshake drinker but when a craving hits it hits and the past couple weeks we have been craving milkshakes. We have tried a few different places around the city and none of them have been all that satisfying.

We tried again today at Sweet E’s. I held out a bit of hope when they slid an extra wide straw into the cup.  That is usually a promising sign of a wonderfully thick milkshake. Sadly,that promise wasn’t fulfilled.

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The Sweet E’s milkshake suffered from the same problem of the other milkshakes we have tried around Los Angeles. It was as if I was drinking melted chocolate ice cream. Really good chocolate ice cream but I would much rather have been eating it with a spoon than through a straw.

When I am craving a milkshake, I want something that is so thick and creamy that I could stand a french fry up in it. Effort exerted sucking the rich goodness through a straw is rewarded by a drink so filling that it can substitute for an actual meal.

My Los Angeles friends, I need you to help me with my local foodie education. Who serves the best milkshakes in Los Angeles? Clue me in!

05/20/14

How ridiculous is the Food Network’s new Rewrapped show?

If I am a food porn junkie then the Food Network is my dealer. Lately, their supply had become a bit stale. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Chopped and Diners Drive-ins and Dives as much as the next foodie but there are only so many episodes of them that I can watch back to back.

The Food Network must be aware of their shortcomings because they have recently introduced a series of new shows.  None of the offerings are particularly original but shows like Beat Bobby Flay and America’s Best Cook are perfectly watchable.

Then we get to Rewrapped.

Marc Summers will always get points from me for having hosted Double Dare and Unwrapped is a decent show but man did he miss the mark with this show. When I first saw  the commercials for Rewrapped, it looked like it would be a bit like the Top Chef round where they have to using vending machine junk food in their recipes. Most home cooks have crushed up cookies to make a pie crust so I could see how a show like that could be enjoyable and relatable. Sadly, Rewrapped did not go that practical path.

Rewrapped Show

Each episode has a theme featuring a popular branded food item. One of the first episodes,for example, was about Goldfish crackers.  The body of the show is made up of three professional chefs participating in two ridiculous cooking competition rounds.

The first round  requires the chefs to recreate the snack item. Not to do their own upscale version or give it their own slant. Nope, they are suppose to get as close to the original as possible so that Marc Summers and two other judges,including a representative of the featured brand, can pick apart their efforts.

It isn’t just like your company’s item? Really? Maybe that has something to do with your product being made in a factory and a ton of additives.  Who at the actual factory hand-cuts the Goldfish crackers?

The second round of Rewrapped is called the innovation round where the chefs have to use the featured item in an original recipe. This part could be fun but it all gets  spoiled by listening to Marc Summers criticize. Rarely is a kind word spoken. Even the Chopped judges say nice things and,unlike Summers, they are actual chefs.

Have I mentioned that the show is hosted by Joey Fatone? No? He makes that much of a impact as a host.

Sorry, Food Network, this one is a major food porn fail.

 

05/5/14

The Healing Powers of Puppies and Food Trucks

Pain took me out of the blogging game for most of last week.  I had been walking, unknowingly, on a sprained ankle for three weeks.

I woke up one morning with intense pain in my leg. At first, I thought it was a leg cramp but it wouldn’t go away. When I got to work I was in pure agony and ended up asking to go home because I couldn’t concentrate on anything.

Due to fly the next day, I went to a doctor to make sure it wasn’t something more than a bad cramp.  At one point when the doctor was examining me, I wondered out loud if it was actually a sprain and not a cramp.  He literally told me it was not possible and that it was just cramps and that if I wore socks to bed they wouldn’t happen again. I asked him if I could have something for the pain and he refused by saying that I could take Aleve and it would take care of it.

Fast forward three weeks and after a short period feeling okay, I woke up in the night with the same intense pain. I suffered throughout the night and took myself to urgent care first thing in the morning. This doctor took me a little bit more seriously and gave me a pain shot in my backside and sent me for a x-ray. When the results came back she said that I had some swollen tissue around my ankle but not a fracture and sent me home.

Several hours later, I was still in the same level of pain and all I could think to do was go to the emergency room. The emergency room doctor felt around my foot and took a brief look at my x-ray from earlier in the day before telling me that I had a sprained ankle.  As a result, I am now on crutches and high level pain killers. My ankle still hurts a lot but not the insanity levels of the past few weeks.

After all of this pain, I needed something to make me feel good. When I heard about the No Kill LA (NKLA) pet adoption event at La Brea Tar Pits, it sounded like just what the doctor ordered. I mean, puppies AND food trucks?  Throw in Chris and Spotify and that sounds like my idea of heaven. So, I drugged myself up and headed on over to the event.

No Kill LA Adoption Event

As soon as I walked through the gates of La Brea Tar Pits park, there were dogs everywhere.

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I decided to start out with some food from one of the food trucks. Both because of hunger but because it would give me some time to sit down and rest my ankle before walking around the dogs.

There were several food trucks at the event. The only one I  had seen before was the Grilled Cheese Truck. I’ve eaten from them before but with as hot as it was, the idea of hot melted cheese wasn’t really doing it for me.

Hang 10 Taco truck

Hang 10 tacos

Instead, I decided to try out the Hang 10 Tacos truck. There menu was made up of a variety of interesting sounding tacos. Each of which was named after a different Los Angeles area beach. All of them, including the vegetarian tacos, sounded interesting and I knew I was going to try more than one. So, I took advantage of their three tacos and a drink for $10 deal.

Hang 10 Tacos menu

My taco trio was made up of The Manhattan,The Huntington and The Laguna.

Hang 10 Tacos trio

The Manhattan was made from charbroiled steak,cheese, cilantro and pico de gallo.

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The Huntington taco was pretty much the same thing but with pulled pork instead of the steak and with guacamole added.

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The Laguna taco, which as the one I was looking forward to the most, had battered scallops, cabbage, jalapeno cream sauce, guacamole and pico de gallo.

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All of the tacos were good but the scallop taco was the best. The light battering  meant not having to fight through breading to get to the tender scallops.  I was happy that the jalapeno cream wasn’t spicy.  In fact, none of the tacos I had were at all spicy. Which is prefect for me but I would imagine a lot of taco fans would have wanted a bit more fire.

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rescue dogs

With my foodie side satisfied, I headed into the main event to check out the dogs that were hoping to find new homes. Events, such as this NKLA event, make me both hate and love humanity. On one hand, there were hundreds of dogs at the event. Many of them had been abandoned or neglected but their original owners. As a dog lover that really frustrates me.

On the other hand, the NKLA event was full of people that volunteered their time because they know shelter animals face death if they donn’t find homes. That has to be the source of some hope.

Not to mention those folks that adopted a dog or a cat at the NKLA event. All around the park there were people cuddled up with their new family members.

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A big part of me wishes that I could have been one of them. There were certainly a couple dogs that I would have enjoyed getting to know better. However, part of being a responsible dog lover is knowing when you aren’t ready.  I had to leave two dogs behind with my ex-husband when I left the UK.  I am still not really over the guilty feelings I have from that. That, combined with my small apartment and busy work schedule has me convinced that it is best that I show my support in other ways.

I had a particularly strong bond with my pug that I left behind in the UK.  I loved both of my dogs but she really was my baby.  I’ve been trying to channel those feelings of sorrow and guiltby giving a little bit to the Pug Nation Rescue of Los Angeles. I do this by linking my Ralph’s card to them which means that Ralph’s gives them a percentage of what I spend.  I you want to learn how to do that, Pug Nation Rescue explains the process on their donations page.

Pug Nation Rescue

Rescue Pug

By far, the most common breeds I saw at NKLA were pit bulls and chihuahuas. Seriously, if you live in LA and buy or breed in order to get a chihuahua puppy then you are committing an act of cruelty against the huge number of strays that will be put to sleep because they couldn’t be found a home.

Dog Rescue

By the time I had finished walking around and meeting dogs, my ankle was starting to hurt again. In fact, it is throbbing with pain right now. It was worth it though because each time I saw a tail wag, or had some puppy kisses on my hand, I had a few moments of feeling better.

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Nothing felt better though than going past an empty cage and seeing the adopted notice hanging on the door. Congrats to all those dogs that, thanks to NKLA, are spending their first night in their forever home.

04/21/14

Low Fat Lemon & Garlic Grilled Chicken Thighs

Chicken. I have a freezer full of the stuff. It is perfect for when I am trying to watch my calorie intake. It can get a bit samey though so I am always looking for ways to keep the same old bits of chicken taste interesting without letting them anywhere near a deep fryer.

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Chicken breasts have their virtues but I more of a dark meat kind of a gal. Chicken thighs have a succulence to them, even with their skin removed,that is more pleasing to my taste buds.

Plus, they are pretty inexpensive and frequently on sale. Which was the case when I picked up these chicken thighs.  Healthy and budget-friendly? Perfect!

lemon and garlic chicken ingredients

As bland as chicken parts can be, they can also be thought of as a great blank canvas that can be coaxed to take on a bunch of different flavors.

Once I had the chicken thighs in my cart, I put my on my thinking cap to decide what I wanted to do with them. Eventually, I decided on a Mediterranean sort of vibe.

Lemons and garlic were the base for the chicken thigh recipe that was brewing in my head. Originally, I wanted to put a bit of fresh oregano into the mix but my supermarket didn’t have any. They did, however, have marjoram. Whilst not exactly the same taste, the two are fairly interchangeable. I put some in the basket and headed home to put together the chicken thighs in time to serve to Chris that night.

It really was a super easy recipe. I just put all of the non-chicken ingredients into a dish to create a marinade. Then, I pulled the skin off of the chicken thighs coated them in the marinade. Then, they went into the fridge for an hour to soak up some of that lemony and garlic yumminess.

chicken thighs marinade

After that hour, it just put the chicken thighs on the grill for a few minutes on each side. I used a cast iron grill pan. I love that thing. I am not sure my landlady does though because this was one of those comical after the fact moments where I was able to tell when it was time to take them off the grill pan by when my smoke detector went off.

Not because anything was burnt but because the ventilation in my apartment’s kitchen stinks.  The sort of steam that comes off that grill pan when it is up high was enough to send me scrambling to find a broom so that I could reach the off button of the smoke detector.

chicken thighs cooking

After they came off the grill pan, I put the chicken thighs into a roaster pan and then into the oven for another 15 minutes or so to get them cooked through.

grilled chicken thighs

These chicken thighs were packed with so much flavor that I had to stop myself from picking at them before it was time to take them to the table. The garlic had my taste buds tingling and then that citrus came in with a refreshing zing. So good and healthy too!

I served them some sauteed spinach and some mashed potatoes to form a killer low fat chicken thighs meal.

I put together a video to prove that it really is that easy. Next time, I will hold the camera the right way around. LOL.

 

Low Fat Lemon & Garlic Grilled Chicken Thighs

Lemon and garlic chicken thighs

Ingredients:
1/4 cup olive oil
Juice of two small lemons
Zest of one small lemon
2 cloves garlic,minced (I use a zester)
2 tablespoons fresh marjoram or oregano
6 bone-in skinless chicken thighs

Directions:

Combine olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, garlic and marjoram or oregano in a dish large enough to hold all of the chicken thighs. You could probably do it in a big Ziploc bag, I just didn’t think far enough ahead to have one in the house.

Once everything is combined, put the chicken thighs in the dish and coat with the marinade. With that done, put the dish into the fridge for at least an hour. To make your work night meals as easy as possible, you could put them together in the morning and have them ready to cook when you get home.

When you are ready to cook, preheat the oven to 475 and put a grill pan onto the heat. You could use a cast iron skillet if you don’t have a grill pan. You just won’t get those nifty grill marks.

Put the thighs on the hot grill pan, the marinade will act as all the oil you need. Cook them for about 7 minutes each side. Transfer the chicken thighs to a roasting pan and put the pan into the preheated oven.  Cook for another 15 minutes or until cooked through.

Rest for five minutes and then serve.

04/19/14

Food trucks and people watching at Ktown Night Market

If the folks behind this weekend’s Ktown Night Market had been wondering if they had managed to get the word out then their questions were answered by the ginormous line of people waiting for the gates to open. I arrived only an hour after the 4pm opening time and already the line was at least several hundred people deep.

Predictably, it was the promise of foodie adventures that got me to show up. That it was being held within a five minute bus ride of my apartment didn’t hurt either.

The Seoul Sausage food truck won the Great Food Truck Race within a month of when I moved to Koreatown. Yet, I have never had the chance to try their food. Their bricks and mortar shop is in a different part of Koreatown and whenever I have seen their truck in my part of town it has been closed.

Seoul Sausage truck

When I heard that they were heading up the Food Truck Alley portion of the Ktown Night Market, I figured it would be really bad foodie form to miss the chance to finally try them. The pot was sweetened when it turned out that they were bringing two other Great Food Truck Race winners,Grill ‘Em All and The Lime Truck, with them to the event.

Clearly,I was not the only Los Angeles foodie that didn’t want to miss out because, after waiting all that time just to get into the Ktown Night Market,I then joined another mega line to order from the Seoul Sausage truck.

Ktown Night Market food truck line

Positioning the headlining truck at the entrance to the food truck area did create a bit of a bottleneck. There were barely any lines for any of the other food trucks but the behemoth line for Seoul Sausage made it appear that the whole of Food Truck Alley was a cluster of intimidating lines. Yet, the foodies filed behind each other to get their fix.  It was fun playing ‘spot the other food bloggers’ game with myself while I waited.

Seoul Sausage Great Food Truck Race

Once I did finally get up the ordering window, I was a bit bummed to see that the Galbi Beef sausage was already sold out. Since it was only an hour into the Ktwon Night Market, I’m hoping that was a case of it never being on offer that day in the first place rather than having planned that poorly.

With the Galbi Beef Sausage unavailable, the only straight out sausage available was the Spicy Pork. As I frequently mention, I am a spice heat wimp but I had waited that long in the line for the chance to try something from their truck and it felt like if you were going to have one thing from the Seoul Sausage truck that it should be an actual sausage. So, I took the risk and ordered the Spicy Pork Sausage.

Seoul Sausage Spicy Pork

I would love to be showing you great food porn shots of the sausage but my camera flaked out and took weird double images of all the shots I took.  Which is a pity particularly because it would have been good to be able to show the deep red color of the inside of the sausage. It looked like it really should be mega spicy.

As it turned out, there was certainly a level of heat brought to the pork sausage from the Korean spices but it was just enough to tingle my tongue rather than blow my head off. Pairing the sausage with an apple cabbage slaw was a good choice. The sweet and slightly tangy slaw was delicious and both complimented the flavors of the sausage and tamed the heat.

I wanted to try their rice balls too but there were other food trucks to explore.

The Lime Truck

My next stop was The Lime Truck.  After waiting nearly an hour to get to the Seoul Sausage truck, it felt great to walk right up to a window and order. Though, it did make me wonder how they felt about the imbalance of the lines. I suppose they knew that the Korean fusion slanted trucks were going to have an advantage.

Lime Truck Food Truck

Foodie circles have praised The Lime Truck’s Carnitas Fries. So, I decided that would be the dish I tried from their truck.  The dish is a pile of fries topped with pulled pork, crema, guacamole,chipolte honey slaw and cotija cheese.

All of the toppings were very yummy indeed. The fries themselves were pretty nondescript but I suppose with that much going on on top of them they didn’t have to be doing too much of the work. A bit of seasoning on them would have been good but even with that said, I’d happily order them again.

Carnitas Fries Lime Truck

I feel a bit like I left my foodie side down but not trying anything from Grill ‘Em All.  Creative burgers that are named after musicians? Yeah, that kind of has me written all over it. The problem was though that they were a cash only truck and at $9 a burger that would have wiped out most of my cash. Apparently there were ATMS at the Ktown Night Market but I didn’t see any in the Food Truck Alley  area. Something which cost Grill ‘Em All a sale and me the chance to taste those great sounding burgers.

Grill 'Em All truck

Another thing that was missing from the food truck area was anywhere to sit to eat. Which would have been fine if there wasn’t a big dining tent on the other side of the fairground with the junk food stalls you see at every public event.

It did make for some interesting people watching though as folks tried to find the easiest way to eat their food truck delicacies in some sort of comfort.

Ktown Night Market

Ktown Night Market

Ktown Night Market

Ktown Night Market

Ktown Night Market

Ktown Night Market

If they keep the selection of food trucks interesting, I’ll be sure to be at the next Ktown Night Market event too. Though, I will probably try to be there as soon as it opens so that I don’t have to stand in that huge line to get in.  A line which, by the time I left, had easily grow three times the length. Yikes but job well done to the Ktown Night Market publicity team.

04/15/14

Groupon Review: Cupcake Tour of Hollywood

I may have mentioned this one or two times before but cupcakes are sort of my thing. The Doughgasm girl icon has a cupcake in her hand for a reason. When a Cupcake Tour of Hollywood showed up in my Group offerings,I was pulling out my wallet in record time.

The cupcake tour Groupon cost $47 for a tour for two. Which, is down from the Great Food Tour’s normal price of $100.  That is a bit steep but Chris has been known to enjoy the taste of a cupcake now and then too and I figured it would be a nice foodie day out.

The morning of the Cupcake Tour of Hollywood started with a bit of chaos when we misinterpreted the address the company gave for the starting point of the tour. I have a bit of a thing about being on time and had a mini stress attack before we finally figured out where we should be and powered our way there just in time for the tour to begin.

When we finally arrived at the first cupcake store of the day, Georgetown Cupcake, we were met by a tour guide that suggested we go inside and buy a bottle of water for the journey. I suppose we should have thought about bringing a drink with us but since we didn’t we took his advice.

Once the rest of the tour group had gathered, the tour guide told us that we would each be getting to try a mini cupcake from the shop.  The offering of the day was the Cherry Blossom cupcake that Georgetown Cupcakes created as a homage to their Washington DC origins.

The Cherry Blossom cupcake is a Madagascar bourbon vanilla cake with fresh cherries baked into the cupcake. It is then topped with a cherry infused cream cheese frosting with a fondant cherry blossom appropriately  being the cherry on top.

Neither myself or Chris usually care for cream cheese frosting. So, I was a bit unsure about how the cupcake would go down with us but, as it turned out, the cupcake was really good. The cherries in the batter had a lovely fresh taste and helped to keep the cake extra moist.

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A big thumbs up from both of us and left us curious to try more from the Georgetown Cupcake menu.

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When time came to move on, our cupcake tour guide informed us that our next stop wouldn’t be to a cupcake shop. A bit of a bummer since the whole point of this tour was to try as many cupcakes as possible. Instead, it would be to Tartine O Chocolat, a French style pasty cafe, where we would be given the chance to taste one of their French macaroons.

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To be fair, the pastries looked great but Chris doesn’t like macaroons. So, that was one less tasting that he would be enjoying for the price we paid. I’m not an enormous fan of macaroons either but I figured that I had paid for it, so I would try it.

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The man that ran the cafe was kind and gave us some interesting history of the shop before he allowed us to select from a choice of flavors of French macaroons. Fairly predictably, I went for the chocolate macaroon and it was pretty good but it wasn’t a cupcake. You could be the best macaroon ever and I would still think you aren’t as good as a decent cupcake.

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Next, we moved on to Joan’s on Third.  Joan’s has been on my foodie radar since I moved to Los Angeles but I hadn’t been there before the day of the Hollywood cupcake tour. Sadly, I still feel as if I haven’t been there because rather than be invited inside to experience the feeling of Joan’s on Third, the guide left us part of the way down the block and asked us to wait while he went inside to collect the cupcakes we would be trying.

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When he came back, he had boxes of full sized chocolate cupcakes with him. To say that they weren’t good would be unfair to Joan’s.  The cake itself was very rich and dense. I felt like I should be using a fork rather than biting into it. They were very good but they were more like a cake in the shape of a cupcake than a cupcake.  Still, they were good enough to make me want to go back to Joan’s on Third and actually go inside.

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Next up was another non-cupcake stop in the form of Simplethings Sandwich Pie Shop.

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Initially, it was disappointing to have another cupcake taken out of the tasting count of what is advertised as a cupcake tour. However, in this case I am going to be forgiving because both myself and Chris thought their offering was the best thing we tasted on the tour.

Amongst the pies that Simplethings offers are a series of mini pies they call Cutie Pies. On our tour stop, they gave us their salted caramel pie to try. I’m a sucker for salted caramel as a flavor profile. So, I was happy to taste the salted caramel cutie pie. I wasn’t so sure if Chris would find it appetizing but I loved that he was willing to go out of his comfort zone and give it a go.

I know he is glad that he did because it was a true doughgasm moment. When we saw the salted caramel pie we were both concerned that it would be an overly sweet dish but instead we found it to be deliciously balanced.  The graham cracker crust took on most of the work of bringing the sweet tones to the almost clean tasting salted caramel. The richness of which was cut by the unsweetened cream on top.  Winner!  As soon as my healthy eating challenge is done, I am dragging Chris back to Simplethings for more pie.

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Eventually the tour had to move on and the group headed to Sweet E’s Bake Shop. Happily, this took us back to being given cupcakes to taste on the cupcake tour.  Sweet E’s is a super cute shop. The perky colors and playfulness of the shop design brought out the kid in in a candy shop feeling in our cupcake loving adult bodies.

The cupcakes weren’t half bad either. The cupcake that they offered the tour was the mini version of what they were calling an Irish Car Bomb cupcake.

I feel that I would be untrue to myself if I didn’t address my dislike of the American insistence on using that name to refer to the popular beer,Baileys and whiskey cocktail.  Having lived in the UK during some horrific car bomb terrorist attacks associated with the Irish troubles, I find the name to be in incredibly bad taste. Not just towards the victims of such attacks but to the Irish themselves where it borders on having racist undertones.  There, now I said it.

Anyway, no matter what they were called, the cupcakes from Sweet E’s were really tasty. The whiskey and stout that were involved added an adult flavors to what looked like a very youthful cupcake.  We enjoyed them enough that after the tour was over, we went back and tried a couple more of the mini cupcake flavors available from Sweet E’s. They were all good but none of them popped as much for me as these.

Allow me a girlfriend moment and say that I really love this photo of Chris holding the cupcakes from Sweet E’s. How lucky did I get to find a guy that not only enjoys foodie stuff  but who volunteers to hold the things we try so that I can take photos for my food blog? He’s mine ladies! lol.

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The final stop on the cupcake tour of Hollywood was Magnolia Bakery’s Los Angeles location. I had been to their main New York City location a couple years ago and enjoyed what I had ordered so I was curious to see how the West Coast venue measured up. Aesthetically, they managed to keep the same quaint but modern feel to the shop which makes for a cozy and inviting atmosphere.  The big displays of full sized cakes were a nice touch and good advertising for what they do beyond the cupcake menu.

At first, I groaned a bit when I heard that what we were being offered from the Magnolia Bakery was a mini cupcake version of their red velvet cupcake. There we were again with the cream cheese frosting issue. Something which has meant that neither myself or Chris are big fans of red velvet cake.

It all comes down to that dang cream cheese frosting. My sister and myself have been insisting to people for years that the red velvet cake that we grew up with in the Philadelphia area did not have a cream cheese frosting. It wasn’t exactly a buttercream either.

Frustratingly, neither of us can remember the recipe for the family’s red velvet cake frosting despite having made it several times as kids. Sometimes on its own just so we could eat it with a spoon. Yeah, I was pretty much destine to be the fat kid.

Preparing myself for disappointment, I bit into my mini red velvet cupcake only to be met with a yummy frosting that was not cream cheese! This was the nearest I had been to that family frosting in the years since I moved back to the United States. Reading the Magnolia Bakery’s menu, they use a whipped vanilla frosting. Bingo!

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With them being a New York operation, perhaps it was a case that red velvet didn’t always have a cream cheese frosting in the North East but that the Southern recipe that included it has since become the national norm? Whatever the reason, It was great to have validation of what I had spent years insisting to be the case.

Once the tour was over, we were left wondering between us if it had been worth it.  We did have a good time but largely because of being with each other. Was it worth the money?  The truth is in the numbers themselves. After the tour, I went through the websites of the places we stopped at on the tour and did some calculations.

We could have gone to each shop and bought the items we were served for a total of $16 per person or $32 for the pair. At the full company price of $100 for two people that is a ridiculous mark up. As it was, we paid $47 for the tour through Groupon so the level of service from the tour guide could have swung things.

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Unfortunately, we were both really disappointed in the tour guide. At each stop, he would take a moment to give us some background on each of the shops. Seriously, just about every time the story boiled down to how they were originally from Europe and then came to the States and started baking and were now running successful businesses. Not much at all about the actual food was shared.

He was also pretty rubbish at keeping track of his group. The tour covered a lot of ground between shops which meant a bunch of crossing streets. Not once did the tour guide wait at the other side to make sure everybody had crossed before he marched on. Instead, there were always a few people left way back trying to keep a visual on the group so they could eventually catch up. This lack of attention to his group was made most evident when several people left half way through the tour without him noticing.

All of which was made just a bit more tacky when he ended the tour by making a plea for tips. Normally, I would tip a guide but for $16 worth of tastings, I felt like I had already tipped the company enough. Not least because two of the promised tastings on the cupcake tour weren’t even cupcakes.

Whilst I enjoyed eating cupcakes with my sweetie, the truth is that for $50 we could have put together our own self-guided tour based on Yelp reviews and been able to sample a lot more than we did on the official tour.  In fact, I might just have to put together my own Doughgasm tour of Hollywood for us to do on our own.

That way I can go back and try more from the cupcake shops that we enjoyed without feeling I am paying for more than is being delivered.

04/11/14

Herbed Tuna Burgers With Wasabi

Remember when you were a kid and asked why hamburgers are called hamburgers when there isn’t any ham in them? No? Was that just me then?

Maybe we were showing our foodie leanings early on because the truth is that there are so many ways to make a great burger that have nothing at all to do with beef,let alone ham.

A few years back, I set myself a challenge to come up with a non-beef burger recipe every Friday for a few months. It was a bunch of fun. I probably should do it again,in fact.

These herbed tuna burgers with wasabi were a result of one or those build a burger Friday nights. The only fresh fish based burgers I had made until that point were made of salmon.

Part of me just wanted so see if fresh tuna would hold up to being made into a burger. Partially because tuna has a fairly delicate taste but also because of the crazy low fat content of the fish. The risk of having a tasteless,dried out tuna puck was high.

It all turned out pretty well though, the soy sauce helped to maintain moisture and the herbs and wasabi worked overtime to assure flavor.

Using wasabi paste also made it easy to control spice levels. Just add a bit more if you like things with more of a spicy bite or omit all together if you are making for kids or others with a more delicate spice tolerance levels.

Herbed Tuna Burgers with Wasabi

herby tuna burgers

Ingredients:

1/2 cup onion, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
3/4 cup fresh parsley, roughly chopped
3/4 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
1 lb tuna steak, cut up into chunks
2 tablespoons wasabi paste

Directions:

Put the onion, garlic, parsley, cilantro and soy sauce into a food processor or mini chopper and blitz together for about 20 to 30 seconds until everything is blended and the herbs are finely chopped.

Empty the herb mixture into a mixing bowl and set aside.

Put the tuna chunks into the food processor and blitz until the tuna is ground up but not yet a paste. This takes me about 30 seconds with the need to pulse a bit to get the stubborn chunks.

Scrape the tuna out into the same mixing bowl you put the herb mixture into.

Add the wasabi paste into the bowl and them combine with your hands to make sure everything is well mixed.

Divide the mixture into four and make into four even sized patties.

Put patties on a plate and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Take the burgers out of the fridge and heat a non-stick frying pan until it is hot and use either a bit of canola oil or a cooking spray if you want to save those extra fat grams. Though, if you keep it canola oil it is mostly unsaturated fat. So, whatever works for you.

Put the burger patties in the hot pan and cook for about 5 minutes on each side until they are cooked through.

Serve

04/8/14

Hanging with my Peeps (and other Easter candy)

If I ever need to remember that I lived outside of the United States for a long time,I just need to take a trip down the candy aisle. Many of the basic candy brands that were around when I moved to the United Kingdom are still on the shelves.  The varieties in which they are available,however, is often much different.

No time of year is that more evident than during the Easter candy sales season. Take Peeps as an example. When I left the States they were available in a couple of colors. Fast forward fifteen years and there is a veritable rainbow of Peeps available as Easter candy.

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It isn’t just the colors of the Peeps that have changed. Apparently, the Peeps flavor profile has also expanded.  Birthday Cake Peeps? I am imagining they have a more vanilla taste than the normal Peeps.

Birthday Cake Peeps

From fully chocolate covered to merely having their bird bums dipped in either milk chocolate or dark chocolate, chocolate has also become a feature of the Peeps Easter candy lineup.

Milk Chocolate Peeps Dark Chocolate Peeps

Of course, Peeps aren’t the only candies that take on unusual forms during the Easter candy season. Some brands such as Lifesavers, Nerds and Swedish Fish take on new shapes for the season.

Easter Lifesavers Easter Swedish Fish Easter Nerds Easter Jolly Ranchers

Others such as Kit-Kat and M&Ms simply jazz up the existing product to make it suitable for inclusions in Easter baskets across the country.

Easter Kit-Kat

Easter M&Ms

I may be new to all of these variations of classic American candy brands but for the most part I can understand the appeal of each variation.

However,could somebody kindly tell me what the point of Sugar-Free Peeps?

Sugar Free Peeps

 

04/4/14

Low Fat Moroccan Inspired Baked Potato Slices

I don’t know what it is about starting a healthy eating routine but around about the second week I always start to get carb cravings. This time has been no different. The first week of green smoothies and steamed fish and veggies was easy sailing and then half way through this week all I could think about were potatoes. I don’t even eat that many potatoes when I am not counting my calories so I am not sure why my cravings go that path but sure enough I found myself fighting the urge to bust my diet and buy some fast food fries.

Luckily, I was able to take a deep breath and count to ten without the intoxicating aroma of fresh french fries to sway me from my path. Instead, I reached into my bag of healthy eating culinary tips and remembered my recipe for low fat Moroccan inspired baked potato slices.

They aren’t fries but they have worked for me throughout the years because they are a way of getting a tasty potato dish on my plate without having to swap unhealthy for bland. Also, the recipe is incredibly flexible. If you don’t like Moroccan style spices then just use your own combination of spices and create your own version of the basic recipe.

Low Fat Moroccan Inspired Baked Potato Slices

moroccan potato slices

1 1/2 lbs potatoes
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon ground cilantro
1/8 teaspoon turmeric
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon chili pepper flakes
1 garlic clove
1/2 lemon, juice and zest of

Directions:

Preheat  the oven to 400 degrees.

Meanwhile, slice the potatoes into fairly thin but not ultra thin slices. I usually aim to make them about half the width of my fingernail. Leave the skin on for extra goodness and taste.

In a large bowl combine the oil, the spices, the lemon juice and zest. Mince your garlic and also put that in the bowl. However, I suggest actually grating your peeled garlic into the bowl. I use a microplane grater for this and I think it gives the garlic more punch in the mix.

Put the potato slices into the bowl and mix everything around so that all of the slices get well coated.

Line a baking tray with foil (I do this even with my non-stick trays to ensure  easy cleanup) and transfer the slices to the tray.

Put in the oven and bake for about 30 to 35 minutes or until they start to go golden brown.

Serve.