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.

OKAN revisited

After my first visit, I knew I had to come back to OKAN. And bring friends. More people must know about OKAN and eat there!

On my 2nd visit, the same coworker came along and I dragged two friends with us.  Since one of them was a pescatarian, we stuck mostly with vegetarian or fish dishes.  This time around, we ordered:
– 2 Kabocha pumpkin salads
– eggplant
– Braised pork – Nagasaki style ($8.50)
– Pan-fried pork homemade dumplings ($5.50)
– Grilled Hamachi cheek ($12.50)
– Green tea tiramisu
– Pudding with black honey
We also ended up with some grilled hamachi ($8.50) because the waitress didn’t realize we wanted the cheek.

So we ended up ordering pretty much all the same stuff as last time, but it’s because it was all amazingly delicious!!

OKAN - Kabocha salad

OKAN - Kabocha salad

The Kabocha pumpkin salad was as good as I remembered.  I pretty much ate almost an entire bowl on my own.  This is one of the “must order” dishes if you ever visit this restaurant.  There’s just something about the perfectly cooked kabocha paired with the crunchy cucumber and whatever seasoning they use that makes this dish magical.

OKAN - Egglplant

OKAN - Eggplant

The next dish was the eggplant.  We attacked the bowl before I got around to taking the picture.  While it does not look appetizing, it was pretty good.  The eggplant was nicely cooked and seasoned and had a lot of flavor though the texture was mushy.  I think this may be a “special” menu item rather than a regular one as I don’t recall seeing it last time I was dining here.

OKAN - Braised pork Nagasaki style

OKAN - Braised pork Nagasaki style

Here’s a much better picture than in the previous post of the Braised Pork Nagasaki style.  I would consider this another “must order” dish for OKAN diners.  This really showcases how well the chef(s) at this restaurant handle red meat.  The pork is perfectly cooked; it’s got lots of flavor and is never dry.  I like how they leave a thin layer of fat as that just adds to succulence of this dish.

OKAN - salt and green tea salt

OKAN - Salt and green tea salt

At this point, the waitress brought us grilled yellowtail.  We had ordered the cheek but that seemed to have gotten lost.  We told her we would eat it anyways since it was already at our table but we still wanted the cheek.  The grilled yellowtail (which I apologize for failing to nab a photo of…it was a beautiful piece of fish!) came with a side of salt and green tea salt.  I didn’t think the fish needed it as it was already seasoned well and had a bit of a soy sauce-based glaze on it.  I had to try the green tea salt.  Sadly, green tea being such a mild flavor, you didn’t really taste it.

OKAN - pan fried pork dumplings

OKAN - Pan-fried pork dumplings

OKAN - pan-fried pork dumpling

OKAN - Pan-fried pork dumpling filling

The homemade pan-fried pork dumplings arrived shortly after we devoured the grilled yellow tail.  These were nicely fried with a crispy bottom.  The wrapper was not sticky or chewy and the filling was moist.  As you can see, there’s quite a bit of green stuff in there.  I think that overpowered the pork a little.  Not the best dumplings I’ve had but better than some I’ve had at other places.  If these were home-made, I couldn’t tell, because they were assembled as neatly as the store bought ones.  The only thing that would convince me that this was home-made is the filling as I’ve never tasted anything quite like it.  I’m not sure what the green vegetable in it was but it had a slightly peculiar taste I was not familiar with.  I would have asked but the waitresses barely spoke English. Most of the patrons are Japanese, which, in my book, is a sure sign that OKAN serves good and authentic cuisine.

OkAN - Grilled Hamachi Cheek

OkAN - Grilled hamachi cheek

Our hamachi cheek arrived and it was just as good as last time.  Consistency!!  The top skin was cooked to a crisp; the meat inside was moist.  And as before, this was a huge serving.  The four of us did a number on this dish but we were already getting full from the previous entrees.  One thing about OKAN is that even though you think you’re not getting a lot because the servings seem small and you’re sharing, you’re actually getting quite a lot of good food for a great price.

OKAN - green tea tiramisu

OKAN - Green tea tiramisu

OKAN - pudding with black honey

OKAN - Pudding with black honey

This time, they had the green tea tiramisu available.  We ordered that as well as the pudding with black honey.

The green tea tiramisu suffered an assault from 4 spoons before I remembered to take a picture so the perfect square was ruined.  However, you can see the nice green tea layers and the fluffiness of the lady fingers.  This was a tasty and light dessert.  You could actually taste the green tea which was nice.  However, I think the pudding is better.  The black honey…mmmmmm. For dessert, the pudding is imperative.

Overall, this was a better meal than my first visit because we didn’t have that horrible tuna and avocado roll.  The service was spectacular as always minus the order mix-up which actually turned out to be beneficial for us because we got to eat another great dish!

OKAN gets upgraded to 5 NOMs!!!

Wa Dining OKAN
3860 Convoy St., #110
San Diego, CA 92111
(858) 279-0941
http://okanus.com
Wa Dining Okan on Urbanspoon

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

Sprinkles – the Shiny of cupcakes

During my recent trip to the Bay Area to visit some old friends, the subject of cupcakes came up since we were reminiscing about a friend’s wedding where they had cupcakes instead of a wedding cake. The talk quickly wandered into the territory of who had the best cupcakes in the area. Our resident friend claimed it was either Sprinkles or Kara’s Cupcakes (he was partial to Kara’s).  Naturally, the talk of this wonderful little dessert turned into a craving so we paid a visit to the Sprinkles location at the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto since that was nearest to us.

When we got there, there was a short line and many people inside and out enjoying a cupcake.  At $3.25 a cupcake, I was hoping that Sprinkles’ offerings would live up to the hype and price.  Each day, Sprinkles puts out different flavors though the classics like dark chocolate and vanilla make a daily appearance.  There were some exotic choices like ginger lemon and banana and other mouth-watering pairings like chocolate marshmallow and cinnamon sugar.  I decided to go with one of their most popular flavors – red velvet with a cream cheese frosting.

Sprinkles - Red Velvet Cupcake

Sprinkles - Red Velvet Cupcake

The cupcake was on the larger end of a normal size.  There was quite a bit of frosting on there.  I’m not much of a frosting person since most of it is usually too sweet for my taste.  The cream cheese frosting didn’t prove to be an exception and I ended up leaving half of it on the plate.  It was good frosting, though, so I suspect most people with a sweet tooth will be happy with it.  And for those who are crazy about the stuff, they have a shot of frosting on the menu.

The body of the cupcake was delicious.  Moist, rich, this was one of…no make that THE best cupcake I have had in my life so far.  In the way of red velvet, this was a winner.  The color was a beautiful deep red.  The light chocolate flavor was there and wasn’t too heavy or too transparent.  This cupcake was an absolute treat to eat and I was tempted to buy a box of other flavors to take home with me.  However, I wasn’t leaving till the next day and I didn’t think the airline flight would be kind to them.  These cupcakes are meant to be enjoyed as soon as you get your hands on them.

Fortunately, there’s a location in LA.  There’s a pumpkin cupcake on the menu twice a week along with a Chai Latte flavor…. I believe they are calling my name.

5 NOMs and then some for Sprinkles!  Absolutely worth the $3.25 I dished out for this dessert.

Sprinkles
Various locations around the U.S.
www.sprinkles.com
Sprinkles Cupcakes on Urbanspoon

P.S. I don’t recommend eating the colored circles.  Those are just garnish.

Playa Vista Farmer’s Market

The husband and I decided to check out the Playa Vista Farmer’s Market since it was on the way to where we were seeing “Inglourious Basterds” (or however Tarantino is mis-spelling it…). This Farmer’s Market is fairly small…only about 20-25 vendors with 1/3 of them being food vendors. The rest are either businesses or fruit and vegetable stands. We browsed around trying to figure out which food vendor we wanted to try. I stopped at the Eat booth while the husband decided on an omelette from a neighboring stand.

Eat - Turkey and Swiss on a Cranberry Scone

Eat - Turkey and Swiss on a Cranberry Scone

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Eat - Turkey and Swiss on a Cranberry scone close-up

Eat’s menu changes every week according to the lady at the booth. This week, they offered up a turkey and swiss sandwich served on a cranberry scone (a refined slider, if you will), bbq chicken sliders and regular beef sliders as well as a yogurt parfait. I couldn’t pass up on the scone sandwich (2 for $5) and ordered that. In the back was a grill that slices of turkey were placed on.  Once they were warmed up, the chef placed them with slices of swiss in between a halved cranberry scone and served it with some cranberry jelly.

These sandwiches were roughly the sized of my palm.  The scone was a bit on the dry side but did not crumble too much.  However, it did overpower the turkey and swiss a little and I didn’t taste too much cranberry.  The cranberry jelly was quite nice and had a little bit of spice to it.  I wish I had more of it to put on the sandwiches as more “wetness” would have helped.    Overall, it was an okay sandwich and it certainly got my creative juices running as to what other types of scone sandwiches could be created.

Ham and Swiss Omelette

Ham and Swiss Omelette

The omelette my husband got was a simple ham and swiss since he’s so anti-green stuff.  Still, it seems that he can’t escape the plants since the cook still put greens on his plate even though my other half asked for it to be omitted.  The omelette was quite good; the eggs were cooked to a nice fluffy consistency though I think it was slightly overdone.  There was a good amount of ham in each bite but I couldn’t quite find the swiss.  With the salt and pepper packets my husband added to the dish, the omelette ended up being quite flavorful.  As for the greens, it was a mix with tomatoes.  I didn’t taste any dressing on them.

Playa Vista Farmer's Market - Roasted Corn

Playa Vista Farmer's Market - Roasted Corn

We were still a little hungry and the tamale stand was calling to me.  The husband opted to get a huge ear of corn that we saw quite a few people walking around with.  The corn was incredible -very moist, buttered and tender.  The stand had an array of seasonings one could sprinkle on the ear, salt n’ pepper as well as lemon pepper and paprika.  The other half opted for black pepper, garlic salt and Lawry’s seasoning.

Playa Vista Farmer's Market - beef n' chile tamale

Playa Vista Farmer's Market - beef n' chile tamale

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Playa Vista Farmer's Market - tamale unwrapped

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tamale

The tamale booth seemed to be doing well given how many people I saw eating them and buying them in bulk.  The menu boasted about 6 different tamales ranging from chicken to beef to vegetarian fillings.  I chose a beef and chile filled one which cost me all of $3.50.  I decided to go with their medium salsa which had a very slight kick to it.  The tamale was nice and moist, very flavorful and had a good amount of filling.  The beef was tender.  This was a great tamale.  I would have gone back and bought some to take home if we weren’t going to be out for the rest of the day.  Maybe next week?

There were other booths that looked yummy.  A crepe booth next to Eat was serving up both sweet and savory dishes.  The usual Nutella and strawberry/banana crepes were on the menu but there was also a tomato and basil crepe that sounded positively delicious. A booth selling seafood had smoked salmon cakes that I sampled with a very spicy aoli.

This market looked like a good place to pick up local grown organic fruit.  I saw a variety of berries, nectarines, peaches, pluots and figs.  There was also a flower vendor that was doing very good business. We passed by a booth selling chocolate that was stone ground and used unrefined sugar and had some interesting flavor pairings.

It’s not as big as some of the other Farmer’s Markets around but it is new so hopefully it expands as more time passes and more people find out about it. For right now, it’s a decent place to get some eats and produce and a few other items.

There’s plenty of parking, which is nice, but not a lot of seating if you want to eat.  When we went towards the end of the hours, it wasn’t terribly crowded but there was still a steady stream of people coming in and out which was a positive sight as I rather enjoy farmer’s markets and want this one to stick around.

Playa Vista Farmer’s Market
Every Saturday 9am-2pm
Parking lot on Seabluff Drive, just south of Pacific Promenade