Top Chef Masters Viewing Party w/ Chef Ludo Lefebvre

Husband and I became avid fans of Top Chef after we caught a few episodes of Season 2.  When we heard that there was going to be a Top Chef Masters, we were excited.  How would some of the most renowned chefs perform, especially the ones that had previously been judges?

The first season last year was my introduction to Chef Ludo Lefebvre.  I was a little padawan foodie, learning my way around the LA food scene (still am!).  I remember watching him, wondering what the hell he was saying, and getting a kick from the bickering between him and Chef Rick Moonen.  Fast forward to the last few months…  I’ve since gotten a better handle on LA food and restaurants and, no surprise,  Chef Ludo’s name has been popping up quite a bit with the exponentially increasing popularity of his pop-up restaurant, LudoBites as well as his LFC – Ludo Fried Chicken.

Finally about to get me some Ludobites!

Wine, wine and more wine

Chef Ludo returned to the 2nd season of Top Chef Masters and when the episode aired on 4/21, he threw a viewing party at Akasha in Culver City.  Husband and I were there to watch all the fun as he and the other contestants, including Moonen, fought for a spot in the next round and redeem themselves.  But more so, we were there to eat some LFC for the first time.

Akasha is in the building that many geeks would recognize as the exterior of Flynn’s Arcade from the movie, “Tron”.  Let’s just say that the interior of Akasha is about as far from an arcade as you can get. The space isn’t huge but the open contemporary floor plan makes it feel intimate yet large at the same time. I couldn’t stop staring at the extensive wine collection behind the large bar.

Sage Lemondrop

Since we got there when the party started, the place was still fairly empty.  That was fine as it allowed us to grab a table.  A waitress came by and we ordered the cocktail of the night – Sage Lemondrop.  Chef Ludo combined organic gin, organic lemonade and sage leaves to make this.  I always thought I hated gin (ugh, gin n’ tonics are nasty!) but this was delicious.  A little tangy, not too sweet…

My plate of everything

Bacon biscuits

They were still setting up the food, served buffet style.  I spied a large basket of jalapeño corn bread, salad, deviled eggs, something in a large pot and biscuits.  Hrm, a Southern theme…  I can dig it.

When everything was set up, Husband and I dug in.  I grabbed a little of everything.  The large pot ended up containing collard greens with black-eyed peas, not my favorite.  I’m not really a bean person.  There was also mac n’ cheese, a red cabbage cole slaw and mashed potatoes.  The biscuits had bacon bits in it which sold Husband on them, and me, as well.  The couple that loves bacon together…well, gets fat together.  These were soft, fluffy; I kept having to constrain myself from going back for more.

Awesome mac n' cheese

As a mac n’ cheese lover, I’m a bit picky about it.  Chef Ludo made a fantastic classic version.  Many other versions I’ve had never had enough cheese sauce for my liking but this wasn’t the case.  And the crunchy crumbs on top is a must from a texture point of view, I think.

LFC

Since they wanted to make sure everyone got some LFC, we were limited to 3 pieces.  That’s okay, because these boneless fried balls of poultry were quite large.  A nice amount of batter that didn’t come out too saturated in oil, the herbs really gave it a lot of flavor.  Even Husband was impressed.  I think I heard the words “some of the best fried chicken ever” come out of his mouth.  I agree.  And the lemon aoli sauce gave a nice tang to it.  I can understand the hype surrounding LFC.

This bird will OWN you...

By the time the viewing started, the place was packed with Ludo fans like this guy.  It was fun watching the show with other people who were just as into it as us.  While Ludo didn’t win on the show, he certainly won me and Husband over.

Now I’m really sad I wasn’t able to get a reservation for LudoBites 4.0 at Gram & Papa’s…*sniff sniff*  Well, there will be a LudoBites 5.0, right?

The Catty Critic give LFC 5 NOMs!  More please…

For more pictures, visit my Facebook page!

LudoBites
Pops up at various locations

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Almond Strawberry Cake

Kirbie, a fellow food blogger in San Diego posted a wonderfully yummy sounding recipe for an almond tea cake last week.  Thanks to Costco, I had 4lbs of strawberries in my fridge that needed to be consumed quickly so I decided that I would try this recipe and add strawberries to it.

Talk about a quick and simple recipe…  Break out a bowl, whisk and spatula and you’re good to go.  I put together this baby in about 5-10 minutes this morning.

Ingredients
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
sliced almonds for sprinkling

I added:
1 cup strawberries, cut into small pieces
Sliced strawberries for decorating

Mmmm strawberries

1. Set the oven to 350°F.
2. Grease a 9″ pan.  I used a springform pan…my first time ever!
3. Whisk the eggs into the sugar one by one and then add in the salt and extracts.  Mix well.

Mix the egg and sugar

4. Using a rubber spatula, stir in the flour.
5. Fold in the butter and strawberries.

Batter is all done...

6. Pour batter into cake pan and smooth top with spatula.
7. Place sliced strawberries in whatever pattern you desire.  Sprinkle almonds on top.
8. Bake in oven until golden brown.  The original recipe stated 25-30 mins but I found with the strawberries added, I had to bake this cake for about 40 mins.

Bake a pretty cake...

Ready to serve

My first slice...

Since Husband doesn’t do strawberries…or really any sort of fruit (*sigh*), I baked an original recipe version for him.  He liked it and so did our pug….

The original Almond tea cake a la Kirbie

The strawberry version definitely came out more moist than the original but the original isn’t dry by any means.  Both had very strong almond flavors so if you are not an almond fan (is that even possible???), this is not the cake you are looking for.  But if you are an almond fan, welcome to happiness.

I will be making this again, maybe next week to share with friends!  And I think this would go over well at the upcoming baby shower I’m helping host.  I’m thinking of using a mini-muffin pan to make “baby” versions.  Thanks Kirbie!

Visit Kirbie’s site for other great recipes!

Farmer’s Market Find

On Saturday, Husband and I walked over to a nearby Farmer’s Market in our new neighborhood.  I came across a stand that was selling products from East and West Gourmet Afghan Food – bolani and various sauces.

Not familiar with Afghan cuisine and having never heard of “bolani” before, a quick visit to Wikipedia turned up the following:
Bolani (Persian : “بولانی”) Bolani is a vegan flat-bread from Afghanistan baked or fried with a vegetable filling. It has a thin crust and can be stuffed with a variety of ingredients, such as potatoes, spinach, lentils, pumpkin, or leeks.

Bolani originates strictly from Afghanistan. It is vegan and very low-calorie. It is usually served as an appetizer, side-dish, or main dish.

It is similar to Paratha which comes from India, but it has different spices and ingredients.

East & West Gourmet Afghan Food is the only trademarked producer and retailer of Bolani in the US. Their products can be found in Farmers’ Markets all over California as well as Whole Foods Markets, Mollie Stone’s, Andronico’s, Corti Brothers, and various Food Co-Ops.

To me, they looked like quesadillas without the cheese.   I like quesadillas so I should like bolani, right?  Okay, so my logic may be flawed but whatever gets me to eat new things…

Pumpkin Bolani

Various sauces

The stand carried pumpkin and spinach bolani.  After sampling both of them topped with various sauces like cilantro pesto, I raided Husband’s wallet for cash.  I ended up walking away with one of each type of bolani (4 servings in each bag) and containers of garlic mint cheese (more like a yogurt), cilantro pesto and eggplant pesto which cost us $24 total (we got one product free).  A little pricey…  On the website, it said that their products were also available at Whole Foods so I’m going to see if my local branch carries their products and if so, what the prices are.  There’s always direct ordering from the website but I haven’t checked out what shipping costs are like.

The guy at the stand suggested heating up a skillet with a little bit of oil and frying the bolani or just microwaving it as it’s best served warm.  I brought some of the pumpkin bolani to work for lunch today and popped it in the toaster oven which gave the bread a little bit of crispiness on the edges.  Topped with the garlic mint cheese, it was yummy!  The yogurt-y sauce, while garlic-y, is not overly so and the mint gives it a nice refreshing quality.  This would work great as a vegetable dip or as salad dressing.

The thing I like most about these products is the fact that they are low calorie, low fat and packed full of nutritious stuff like vitamins and anti-oxidants n’ all the other things those guys in white coats say to eat else you’ll keel over and die.  Jamie Oliver would be proud…

I could see myself visiting this stand every week for bolani but I think my wallet may have a say about that.  Maybe every other week?

***Pictures yoinked off East and West Gourmet Afghan Food’s website.

First Annual LA Street Food Fest

LA Street Food Fest

VIP Patio

Saturday, we hit up the LA Street Food Fest.  When we arrived, there was a line that wrapped around the block.  Fortunately, we had snagged pre-sold VIP tickets but even then, there was a 1/2hr+ wait to get in because they were checking names off a list.  I appreciate the effort to be green and not have people print out anything but it would be faster and still eco-friendly to have VIP attendees print out tickets, collect them at the door, and then recycle the paper.  Looking for each person’s name on a list really backs up a line…

The VIP lounge was okay.  The free drinks, swag bag, and use of indoor restrooms did make the $30 price worth it, in my opinion, but I was disappointed by the lack of exclusive VIP vendors.  Only 3 were present on the patio – Dim Sum Truck, The Fry Girl and T Salon.  A few more would have made the VIP lounge feel more…VIP-y.

Dim Sum Truck stand

Roast Duck taco sample from Dim Sum Truck

Dim Sum Truck was fantastic and I look forward to finding them on the street.  They were giving out samples of their roast duck taco and shu mai dumplings.  The roast duck was delicious; they left the crispy skin on the duck!  The shu mai was moist, plump and had good flavor though I found the soy sauce dressing they put on it a little on the salty side.

Making Doughnuts Fry Girl style

Cinnamon Sugar Mini Doughnuts from The Fry Girl

The Fry Girl (mini fresh doughnuts) was my husband’s favorite.  For a guy who’s not big on sweet things, the fact that he went back for seconds was a big deal.  They offered up two toppings – powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar.  We went with the cinnamon.  Lightly fried and sweet, these were wonderful.  I now want the mini doughnut making machine that they used in my house…

The teas were actually quite good.  They were giving out samples of a berry one and a chocolate-vanilla.  I enjoyed the berry one more.

We headed down to the main area to hit up some of the big-name trucks.  First on my list was the Grilled Cheese Truck except the wait was already at 2+ hours.  Um….eek?  It would have been a great perk for VIP attendees to get a few “fast passes”.  Wandering around, it seemed that most of the trucks had at least a 1 hr wait.  The more popular ones like Ludo Bites, Komodo, Fry Smith and Buttermilk were around 2hrs.  *sigh*  Looking around, Coolhaus (gourmet ice cream sandwiches) barely had a line (that changed quickly as the day got hotter) so we rushed them.

Brown Butter Bacon Chocolate Chip and Strawberry with Chocolate Brownie from Coolhaus

Coolhaus was doing 2-flavor sample bags for $3 or 4 flavors for $5.  We went for the 4 flavors – brown butter bacon ice cream with chocolate chip, ginger snap with wasabi ice cream, chocolate with mint ice cream and strawberry ice cream with chocolate brownie.  The brown butter bacon was good – rich ice cream with bacon bits.  The ginger snap with wasabi was disappointing as I didn’t taste wasabi at all.  The strawberry with chocolate brownies was a familiar and comforting combination.  I’m not a mint fan so I didn’t try that one at all.  Husband chowed down on that and had no complaints.  These were the perfect size for consuming neatly and quickly in 2-3 bites.  I hope they actually add mini-sandwiches to the Coolhaus menu.

Next, up was Mama Koh’s chicken (Korean-style chicken wings) which was an actual stand vs. a truck.  The LA Food Fest marked their debut to the public.  They had almost no wait whatsoever.  All the chicken had been prepared beforehand so all you had to do was pay and then grab a dish.  Quick and efficient but the chicken wings lost their crispiness.  They were covered in a deliciously sweet n’ spicy glaze though.  I enjoyed these and hope to see them popping up around LA soon.

A not so tasty thing from Sabor da Bahia

Another stand nearby, Sabor da Bahia was serving up Brazilian food.  They were out of their chicken appetizer samples so I tried a black eyed pea fritter with some sort of shrimp paste on it.   This was…not good eats to me.  The paste was good but the fritter part was salty and extremely fishy tasting.  I ended up tossing this.

Dogzilla

Dogzilla LA Food Fest menu

Dogzilla was present and I was quite enamored with their take on the hotdog.  Regular franks become Japanese-fused oddities with toppings like yakisoba noodles, furikake, nori strips and teriyaki sauce.  I didn’t get to try any due to the 2hr+ wait but I am now keeping my eye out for a chance to try these.  And hopefully get a shirt, one day.  A  hot-dog eating Godzilla?!?!?  Brilliant…

At this point, a couple of friends finally arrived (gotta love the LA traffic) and we ran around looking for something they wanted that didn’t have a crazy wait.  We tried to brave Louks‘ line but ended up eating at Fresser’s as that line went quicker.  The pastrami they served up was quite good – tender and very peppery.  My friend said their pot roast was delicious.  The caprese sandwich I had was mediocre.

After our friends had their bite, we decided the crowd and heat were just too much to deal with and left to go to Wurstküche which ended up having a crazy line out the door.  I was later informed that the Food Fest had started turning people away and that many more attendee-hopefuls didn’t even bother waiting in the long line.  Those who didn’t get in flooded the nearby restaurants.

I don’t know much about the organizers of the Street Food Fest but I wonder if they had ever put together an event of this size.  The venue they chose was fine and accommodating for the size of the event but there was a lot they could have done to improve the experience for their patrons.  The first thing they could have done was limit the number of people.  They announced they were expecting around 10,000 attendees.  Frankly, I think that was too much for food trucks to handle.  With only 2-3 people able to work in the space, cooking food “made-to-order” for those numbers without creating an enormous backup wasn’t feasible.  On top of limiting numbers, spreading the food festival over a weekend instead of just one day would help mitigate the crowd issue as well (though there are costs associated with this, I know).  Also, the organizers only released VIP tickets for presale and then later released a small number of regular tickets.  Releasing all the tickets for pre-sale and selling whatever remained at the door may be a better choice for next year; it certainly would have help reduce the wait at the door.  As for the lines, it was confusing trying to find the end and various trucks had lines that collided with each other.  After my years at Comic-con, I know there are many creative ways to try and keep things orderly, one of which are End of Line signs.  And worst case scenario, if it’s too long to manage, cut it off and ask people to come back in a half-hour.

While I didn’t really get to try most of the trucks I was hoping to, I didn’t think the Food Fest was an absolute failure.  It’s a great concept that was wasn’t executed as well as it could have been but it is the first year so kinks are to be expected.  If they do it again, will I return?  Absolutely.  Though I fully plan on getting VIP tickets again and being there well ahead of opening…  In the meantime, I’ll be hunting the various trucks I didn’t get to try on the streets.

Quickie

Fresh n’ Easy (Manhattan Beach location off Rosecrans) sells pre-made burger patties…but not just any regular burger patties.  BBQ Bacon Cheese!!!

The Husband grilled these up last night and they were pretty good.  They cook quite nicely – moist and flavorful.  There’s bits of bacon and cheese mixed in.

They come in 2-patty packs and aren’t very expensive.    Perfect for a couple who is enjoying the lingering summer…

Pronto’s

Work is filling up my time and school starts tomorrow for me (going back for my Master’s!).  But I didn’t want to neglect this blog…

For those in the San Diego area, specifically near Carlsbad, there is a great little family-owned deli called Pronto’s.  They sell fresh home-made pastas that are delish!  My husband and I tried the beef cannelloni last night for dinner.  Pasta sheets rolled around ground sirloin seasoned with herbs and cheese.  This was very flavorful and cooked up quite nicely.  Because I was tired and lacked ingredients, I didn’t make a sauce from scratch; I just used classic Ragu and threw in some extra garlic and Italian seasoning.  Besides, the husband likes Ragu (*sigh*).  Despite that, the cannelloni really stood out and we both enjoyed our dinner immensely.

Pronto’s stocks a variety of pastas.  I picked up a package of seafood ravioli, pumpkin ravioli, herbed gnocchi and a blue cheese ravioli that also has orange glazed pears in it.  I plan on making a sage pesto for the pumpkin ravioli.  I’ll be sure to blog about that…

Pronto’s also makes sandwiches, pretzel rolls, salads, etc.  It’s a popular place for nearby workers to go to for lunch.  I can vouch for their egg salad sandwich.  Yum yum.

They also have imported bottled wine for sale, including a blood orange mimosa that was pretty good.  Oh, and they are a bakery as well if you want something sweet.

Pronto’s
2812 Roosevelt Street
Carlsbad, CA 92008
(760) 434-2644
http://www.prontosmarket.com/
Pronto's on Urbanspoon

CBS Cupcakes

A couple of weeks ago, a couple of coworkers n’ I went to the UTC food court for lunch. I was surprised to see a cupcake vendor had moved in one of the spots. Cupcakes? At a food court? I was curious. We picked up a bakers dozen of the mini size to take back to work and share amongst the team.

Chocolate, vanilla, red velvet and strawberry (special flavor of the day) with the different frostings – chocolate, cream cheese and vanilla buttercream – and a variety of toppings like sprinkles, graham cracker crumbs and gummi bears. We also got 1 key lime as our 13th.

The cupcakes were all pre-made and sitting in a container. The frosting and topping get added when ordered. Some of the cupcakes were a bit on the dry side. The strawberry was probably the most moist and was pretty good if a bit faint on the strawberry flavor. It was at least a little pink. The red velvet was good with the cream cheese frosting. I can’t really remember much else.

These weren’t the greatest cupcakes. I’ve definitely had better. I’ve made better out of a box mix. But these certainly were a lot prettier than the ones I’ve made. And the little toppings added a nice little colorful touch….sorta like Cold Stone without the Fury of Lactose.

Cost wise, it was a $1.change for a single mini cupcake which seems a little on the steep side. And you got no discount for buying a baker’s dozen.

I’d be willing to give them more chances though since it looked like they’re new in business and probably trying to work out kinks n’ stuff.

First visit to CBS Cupcakes == 2 1/2 NOMs.

CBS Cupcakes
4545 La Jolla Village Dr
(in the UTC Food Court)
San Diego, CA 92122
(858) 453-2930
cbscupcakes.50webs.com/