7.31.2005

Chicken, Chicken and More Chicken

now that we are on subject on chickens, here is a great story...
mcclure

polloalabrasa
pollo a la brasa

You know somedays you just get an itch to eat chicken. Not just any chicken but one that is well-spiced, roasted to a crisp skin and juicy inside. Once in a while, I absolutely need to get my fix of Pollo a la Brasa on Western and 8th. I crave the garlicky chicken and the searing aji. I think everytime I've gotten their chicken, I have gobbled it down savagely. It is just so good. The aji is a killer but it's so addicting. It's like reward and punishment all at once.

pollocampero
pollo campero's famous face

Another place I love to get a chicken fix is Pollo Campero. Pollo Campero is a family dining restaurant chain that started in Guatemala in 1971. Since then, it has spread out to other Central America countries, Mexico, Ecuador and U.S. If you can believe it, at some time the chicken was dealt on the streets after being smuggled into the country. Now days people are still trying to bring back some Pollo Campero only to have it confiscated at the airport. Now can those airport officers really resist the delicious smell of their confiscated loot?

Well thank god there are a few in LA. I love the crispy texture of the Original chicken and the secret spice mixture. Their condiments are so so but the salsa verde is good and also their Spicy Rice is a must-try.

Pollo a la Brasa
764 S. Western Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90005


Pollo Campero
1605 West Olympic Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90015
www.campero.com

7.21.2005

Summertime... Friend or Foe?

Ahh, it's summer time again. Hot days, sweaty smelly gym, hot days. I'm not fond of summer weather at all. How will I get through it this year?

Things that I love about summer... The smell of ripe peaches and nectarines at the farmer's market. Cool, ripe watermelons to chomp down. Concord grapes (Koreans love 'em!). Outdoor concerts and festivals. Barbeques and beer. And one of the greatest annual LA summer rituasl... treks to the Hollywood Bowl.

My food preparations for the Hollywood Bowl have become more and more casual and informal with each concert. But not in a bad way. The first meal I remember packing up for pre-concert picnicing was...

=Eryka Badu=
Grilled Flank
Grill-Steamed Veges
Salad
Couscous
Whole lotta work. I was grillin and preparing this all day during the hot summer and packed it up in huge foil containers for over 10 people or so. I would definitely recommend myself not to do this again. An evenly distributed pot-luck is best for these events.

An improved menu for the next year:
=Rachmaninoff=
Roasted Vege and Goat Cheese on Baguette
Prosciutto, Parmesan & Arugula on Baguette
Spinach Salad with Roquefort and Pistachios

And this year:

=David Byrne and Arcade Fire=
French Ham and Swiss on Croissant
Coconut Macaroons
Lambic Framboise
Cider (Normandy)

=Basement Jaxx=
Sundried Tomatoes in Olive Oil
Olives
French Baguette
Parmesan and Pecorino
Salami
Chateauneuf de Pape Bordeaux

**This antipasto mix was very informal and finger foody. But at the same time we got to our seats right before the show started. In which case most of the surrounding seats will be filled, meaning nowhere to put down all the lil containers holding the delicious antipasto-y things.

I conclude sandwiches are best for clean up and packing. And also bring enough alcohol! I cannot emphasize this enough. Where else will you be able to bring in your own food and alcohol? Plus cheapest bottle of wine is $21. But if you are planning to get there a bit early to picnic and can happily sprawl out over few rows, bring it on baby.

And if none of these options sound appealing take-out is also a great choice. No dishes, no work during the heat and fast. Actuallly that sounds awesome. Where should I take-out from next time?

Auntie Em's Kitchen

autieem's

I got a tip-off on Auntie Em's from a fellow wine taster at Colorado Wine Company, a former baker at the restaurant. Auntie Em's is pretty famous for their cupcakes and other dessert baked goods.

I'm not a cupcake expert but they were luscious. First was the Chocolate. I devoured its glossy, cocoa-beautiful, ganache-smothered fluffy chocolate cake. Then the Red Velvet. Delicious and berry-pretty but a bit drier than the chocolate. Lastly the Carrot Cake. More moist than both (also reads: fell apart when I tried to cut it into six equal pieces for the present company), it had a nice rich frosting, not that the others didn't. My fav? The Chocolate...

Their lunch menu consists of sandwiche, salads and a daily soup. The Turkey Meatloaf Sandwich was good but the half-inch slices of meatloaf were stacked one slice too high. I had to deconstruct the sandwich to level it out with one layer of meatloaf and ate the lone pieces by themselves. The bread was a tiny bit too thin for the meatloaf because the soft middle part of the bread fell apart a little bit with the ketchup and mustard and all. Taste wise good but a few things to be improved upon.

The Grilled Chicken Breast came on a delicious crusty rosemary roll. I also tried Watermelon Gazpacho for the first time and it was refreshing and tasty on such a warm afternoon. I didn't even know there was such fruit gazpacho. Now it's on my list of food to whip up, somewhere at the bottom of the very long list that is.

Auntie Em's Kitchen
4616 Eagle Rock Blvd.
323.255.0800
Auntie Em's

7.19.2005

Colorado Wine Company: Sunday Tasting II

colorado

Yes we headed back to Colorado Wine Company's Sunday Tasting again. We enjoyed the first time so much why not spend another Sunday afternoon sipping on wine, nibbling on cheese and relaxing? After fattening ourselves up at Auntie Em's Kitchen (awesome cupcakes!), we drove down the block looking forward to the cool air-conditioned bar with its comfortable living-room like atmosphere.

Colorado Wine Company specializes in wines that are under $25. A wonderful concept and philosophy considering many people like to drink wine without breaking their wallet.

This time around we sipped on some Zinfandels. My favorites were the Zingaro and Rosenblum, although the Three Thieves is a great deal because it's a jug rather than a regular sized bottle. Good for a large party or even Hollywood Bowl where volume is also important next to taste.

Three Thieves Zinfandel 2003, CA ($9.99)
Zingaro Benchland Zinfandel '02, Benchland, CA ($14.99)
Murphy-Good Liar's Zinfandel '03, Sonoma County, CA ($16.99)
Rosenblum Alegria Vineyard Zinfandel 2001, Russian River Valley, CA ($19.99)

www.threethieves.com

Colorado Wine Company
2114 Colorado Blvd.
Eagle Rock, CA 90041
323.478.1985
www.coloradowinecompany.com

Indian Fare: Pav Bhaji

pavbhaji

When I am feeling lazy I like grabbing a packaged food item at Trader Joe's. Their products are usually tasty and also natural. The lucky dish? Indian Fare's Pav Bhaji. "From Bombay, this traditional Indian recipe has potatoes, tomatoes and diced vegetables in a spicy aromatic sauce." It was so spicy! I had to keep taking breaks while eating it. But it was yummy.

One thing was confusing. On the back of the box it says that pav mean loaf of bread. Where's the loaf of bread?

Chasaengwon, A Tea Haven

tea

Did you know that white, green, oolong and black tea are all made from the same tea leaf? I didn't until a few months ago. It's safe to say I've been ignorant about tea for most of my life. I've always enjoyed drinking tea at Chinese restaurants but never really took up drinking tea until this past winter.

A few months ago Chasaengwon caught my eye while I was driving down Wilshire. Oooh~ a Korean tea shop!

Chasaengwon is the seventh and only international branch of the Hankook Tea Company, which is run out of South Korea. The company has been around for about fifty years working with Honam Tea Farm to produce high-quality tea. The packaging and branding of this high-quality tea is very beautifully executed in artfully patterned cylindrincal containers.

teaset

I tried the Gamnong Green Tea, which is the highest grade of green tea that they grow. The tea came with a whole emsemble: tea cup, small pitcher for the hot water, thermos with additional water, and a tea pot in which to steep the tea. The tea has a very delicate flavor and color with a mild toasted, nuttiness to its aroma, almost like toasted seaweed (gheem). It was delicious. Good thing I had my own thermos.

tealatte
green tea latte

Also on the menu were conventional drinks with an unconventional tea-twist such as Green Tea Latte and Green Tea Mocha. I didn't know what to expect from the Green Tea Latte at first because I couldn't quite put the flavor of tea and latte together in my mind but it worked very well. The subtle tea flavor came through well because the latte was not very sweet but milky.

The shop is a nice place to hang out especially in the evenings now that it is getting so warm. It stays open until 12am during the week and 10pm on Saturday.

Chasaengwon
3839 Wilshire Blvd. Unit C
213.380.3538
www.hankooktea.co.kr

Feelin Taj Mahalic?

Akbar's a great bar in Silverlake with a casual atmosphere, a good jukebox, amiable bartenders and Chimay. Now can that combination ever be bad? Well I was hanging out there one day when I smelled some delicious, spicy, penetrating aroma of Indian food coming from the corner of the bar. The guy/bartender told us that a new Indian place, Agra Cafe, opened across the street in the small strip mall. I had delicious Agra in mind when I left the bar that night.

Craving Indian food and having been disappointed recently by the westernized Indian food at Electric Lotus, I was really looking forward to the spicy full-flavored dishes at Agra. The restaurant is named after the city of north-central India on the Jumna River southeast of New Delhi, the home of the Taj Mahal.

The Chicken Madras is perfect for the spicy heat lovers. Damn, it had some curry kick though. I had Chicken Tikki Masala, Naan and Mango Lassi to counteract the lovely burning on my tongue but I kept going back for more of that Madras curry. Isn't a lil spice so addicting sometimes?

Agra Cafe
4325 Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles CA 90029
323.665.7818/7890
www.agracafe.com

7.13.2005

Littleneck Clams with Chorizo and New Potatoes in White Wine Sauce

You can probably tell that most of my entries have been about what I eat out. I've been a bad lil girl.

Just a few months ago, I would rush home after work in anticipation of cooking a new dish. Many nights I even ate standing up between the chopping, sauteing and stirring. My parents thought I was a maniac cooking at 11 at night while they went off to sleep. This lasted for few months then I got tired. It's simply too hard to work, gym, socialize and cook fabulously all together during the week.

So in my efforts, I decided to make a nice weekend lunch for myself. I was craving some shellfish, as I often do, so I headed to Wholefoods which carries really fresh seafood products. I got some littleneck clams to steam up. No recipe and no measuring. The best way of stress-free cooking, imo.

Shellfish is pretty easy like that. A little onion and garlic with chorizo and potatoes. Then add clams with a pour of dry white wine. Sprinkle parsley and you are ready to go.

But here is an approximate recipe:

Littleneck Clams with Chorizo and New Potatoes in White Wine Sauce

1/2 chorizo link, sliced thinly at diagonal
1/2 cup dry white wine
chopped parsely to top
4 new potatoes, slice into 1/3 in rounds
1/2 onion
3 cloves garlic
1.5 lbs littleneck clams or other steaming shellfish
1/2 baguette, sliced lengthwise
1 tbsp butter

1. Saute potato until almost cooked through. Add onion and garlic and saute for few minutes. Add chorizo and cook for few minutes.
2. Add clams and wine. Cover with lid until the clams have opened. Discard any that are still closed. Add butter to pan. Meanwhile, toast baguette in oven.
3. Sprinkle parsley over the clams. Serve in large bowl with nicely toasted baguette slices on top.
**Serves 2 as an entree.

7.12.2005

Heritage Wine Company & Lucky Baldwins

luckybaldwins

For the Fourth of July Sunday, me and few other troublemakers thought an afternoon wine tasting at Colorado Wine Company would be an awesome idea. So off we headed to Eagle Rock away from the city. We get there and the place is closed!! Durr.. yes we should have double checked before because it is a holiday weekend.

Devastated but not hopeless we brainstormed for excellent substitutions. How about Heritage Wine Company? Lucky Baldwins? Even better, how about both? Both spots are located in Pasadena only a block or so away from each other. Convenience - always an important factor for an outing, especially when boozin.

At Heritage, we tried the Champagne/Sparkling Wine Flight for $18:
Schramsberg '00 Blanc de Blancs Brut, Calistoga
Laurent-Perrier NV Brut L-P, Champagne
Roederer Estate NV Brut Rose, Anderson Valley.

I really like Laurent-Perrier so it was a treat to be able to have a glass without buying a whole bottle. A bottle of non-vintage Brut can be about $25 to $40. Not too expensive for a great tasting champagne.

Here is Wine Spectator's review for the Laurent-Perrier NV Brut:
WS 90 Pts. - Intense, even veering toward earthiness, yet there's also concentrated notes of vanilla pastry and berries. It's complex and appeals more to the intellect, with a sense of power and a lingering aftertaste. Try with food. Drink now.

My edit to that review would be: "Drink NOW!" More enthusiasm, you know?

After all the sparkling shenanighan, we walked down the block to Lucky Baldwin's, a British Pub and Cafe specialzing in Belgian brews. I had one thing on my mind. Well, a few beers of course, but one special thing: Pig in a Blanket. Their piggie is sooo delicious. The outer pastry is flaky and light and the cumberland sausage is moist and full of flavor. But at last, they were out. What was up with our luck that day?

We resorted to our backup dish: the also delicious Curry Chicken Pastie. Usually the pastry is flaky and fluffy but that day it was kind of disappointing. It seemed a bit flat and undercooked or something. The filling was still good though.

But the beers were excellent. I started with Craftsman's Poppyfields Pale Ale which was delicious. Craftsman Brewing Company is a micro-brewery located in Pasadena. It's the smallest brewery in Southern California. It won six medals in the 2002 Los Angeles County Fair Commercial Beer Competition. Pretty impressive.

We had the fortune of sitting at the table adjacent to where the owner of Lucky Baldwin's was enjoying an afternoon beer. We determined whatever he's drinking must be the best in the lot. I asked him and he answered: Avec Les Bon Voeux. It's brewed by Dupont Brasserie in Wallonia, the French part of Belgium. Oh man, this was definitely the highlight of the day. Roughly translated (by me - very bad at French), it means "with good wishes" or "with lovely desires" [Voeux (v.) : "souhaits (wishes), d├ęsirs amoureux (lovely desires)]. Anyone, please feel free to correct me. Dupont's Saison Dupont and Biere de Miel are also very tasty beers.

David, the owner of Lucky Baldwins, was called over to Belgium a few years ago and knighted for his efforts in supporting the art of Belgian brewing. And after that, the Prime Minister of Belgium flew over here to attend one of its widely known and very popular festivals. Lucky Baldwins is definitely one of my favorite bars. It always takes me back the summer I went to school in England. Their annual Belgian Beer Festival is not to be missed.

Heritage Wine Company
155 N. Raymond Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91103
626.844.9333
www.heritagewinecompany.com

Lucky Baldwins
17 South Raymond Ave
Pasadena, CA 91105
626.795.0652
www.luckybaldwins.com

Craftsman Brewing Company
www.craftsmanbrewing.com

7.11.2005

Monsieur Marcel

marcel

Farmer's Market at Third and Fairfax is a nice place to do grocery shopping for fresh produce and meats. That is, if I can't get up early enough for the Santa Monica farmer's market, which I rarely do. But what to do when you get hungry from all that shopping? Monsieur Marcel is a great gourmet store/restaurant that carries all sorts of great cheeses, cured meats and olives and many other goodies.

marceltree

They have an outdoor bar enclave and also additional table seating. The Provencal style decor is really adorable and especially pleasant on a nice sunny day. My favorite spot in the farmer's market is the tree that sits right in front of the store.

Anyhow, the food there is pretty good and made even better by the atmosphere. How does a bottle of vouvray champagne and fondue sound on a Sunday evening? Good? This is the perfect place to do it. Their fondue is delicious and a lil bubbly always cheers me up.

marcelsammie

The Jambon, Buerre, Cornichon sandwich is simple and light. French ham, butter with a side of cornichon and mustard. I really like their fluffy, crusty baguette. I prefer this over La Brea Bakery's baguette for sandwiches. The French Onion Soup is rich and full of depth. But I wish the lil toast on top wasn't so soggy and soggy-looking. Soggy is never pretty.

From the appetizer or tapas menu, the Mussels in Butter Sauce is good but on the small side. But if you are not too hungry, you can always fill up on their complimentary bread and cracker basket with your nice glass of wine and relax.

Christening the Creuset... Chicken Vesuvio

vesuvio

I finally got my very own beautiful Le Creuset. Beautiful and heavy. Very heavy. When I saw the Le Creuset store in Palm Springs on my way back to LA I was so excited. Jumped out of my car with visa in hand, I charged in there with a mission. Unfortunately I could only afford one "mission" so I got myself a lil present: 9.5 qt Oval French Oven (or Dutch oven) in Flame.

A beautiful piece of work really. It is a cast iron pot with a porcelin enamel surface. Good for simmering, marinating, poaching, braising and browning. Refrigerator and freezer safe, home for leftovers and hero for large group cooking. 9.5 quarts is a lot but what if I needed to cook for twelve people? or cook a large chicken. What if... what if?

I began to think gleefully about what my first Le Creuset dish would be. Coq au Vin? Braised Short Ribs? Spicy Chicken and Potato?

I settled on a simple chicken dish.

Chicken Vesuvio
Everyday Italian (Giada De Laurentiis)

4 chicken thighs with skin and bones
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds small red-skinned potatoes, halved
4 large garlic cloves, minced
3/4 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup chicken broth
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
8 ounces frozen artichoke hearts or 1 cup frozen lima beans, thawed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
Heat the oil in large ovenproof pot over high heat. Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper. Working in 2 batches if necessary, cook the chicken in the pot until golden brown on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a bowl. Carefully add the potatoes to the same pot and cook until they are golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add the wine and stir to scrape up any brown bits on the bottom of the pot. Add the broth, oregano, and thyme. Return the chicken to the pot. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

Cover and bake in the oven until the chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a platter. Arrange the potatoes around chicken. Add the artichoke hearts to the sauce in the pot. Cover and simmer over high heat until the artichokes are tender, stirring often, about 4 minutes. Turn heat to low. Stir in the butter. Pour the sauce over chicken and potatoes, and serve.


**I would use six chicken thighs instead of four. Maybe the chicken thighs I got were smaller but I thought the ratio of potato to chicken was too large.
**Oh my lord, putting the pot into the oven and taking it out was exercise. The pot is heavy but with about two more pounds in it, it is HEAVY. It's time for me to goto the gym and work it out.

7.01.2005

Abbot Kinney Row: Stroh's Gourmet

strohs

My only and brief encounter with the Abbot Kinney row is when I had dinner at Primitivo Wine Bistro last year. Driving down this eclectic and beachy road on a perfect California day, I am already many mental miles away from work. There are so many cute little stores and eateries. A few on my list: Jin Patisserie and Abbot's Pizza Company. But today I checked out Stroh's Gourmet.

Some time ago I was reading about the burst of businesses and restaurants on Abbot Kinney and was curious about a cheese shop. Well my search for the cheese shop ended at Stroh's Gourmet, which is more like a specialty foods store/deli. It carries both domestic and international cheese, cured meats such as prosciutto, wine and all kinds of candy and goodies. However, I needed to get lunch so I tried not to get too distracted, excited and buy a basketful of stuff which I end up doing sometimes.

stroh's2

Stroh's sandwiches are premade but upon request can be pressed into a toasty crunchy panino. This is exactly what I did for my Roast Beef Sandwich. It was filled with baby lettuce, carmelized onion, goat cheese and tomato. The panini grill did its job of giving my sammie great color and texture. I like how the heat wilts the greens a bit and softens the tomato. A perfect pick-me-up. Other sandwiches include turkey and tuna but next time I may request prosciutto. Note to self: buy panini grill.

I indulged a little bit and got a chunk of Cypress Grove's Humboldt Fog Goat's Milk Cheese. I am a big fan of goat cheese (and all cheeses!) so when I tasted this, oh man, it was so good. This cheese won 1st Prize for American Original Cheese at the American Cheese Society in 2002. It is mild, creamy in texture and not so goaty as others. It is covered in vegetable ash and also has a layer of ash running through the middle of the wheel. I got a small chunk, about 1/2 in width on the rind, for $6.25. A bit pricey, but definitely worth it. Uh oh, this may be the beginning of an expensive habit.

Stroh's Gourmet
1239 Abbot Kinney Blvd.
Venice, CA 90291
310.450.5119