Sunday, July 31, 2011

My Norcal Farm Stay

This summer, I had the opportunity to stay with a friend at Pacific Star Gardens, her family-run organic farm in Woodland, California. Having been a customer and worker at farmer's markets for quite some time, I jumped at the chance to have a behind the scenes look at what goes on before produce is ready for sale. Unfortunately, due to recent bad weather, their harvest suffered, but I still enjoyed delicious and juicy tomatoes, watermelon, and cantaloupe. I would love to be able to visit during berry season when they have an abundance of berries such as strawberries and blackberries available for picking.


Pacific Star Gardens has stalls at a number of farmer's markets including Davis, Tahoe, Placerville, and their hometown, Woodland, where I tagged along to help out!

Woodland is just a 10 minute drive to Davis, so we drove down twice to visit the UC Davis campus and explore their farmer's market and other local eats.

Woodstock Pizza is a very popular pizza parlor in the neighborhood directly surrounding the university campus. For lunch we enjoyed a delicious and fresh pesto, tomato, artichoke, and broccoli pizza.

Yolo Berry Yogurt- very popular froyo among UCD students. They serve a handful of interesting yogurt flavors including snickerdoodle, watermelon, dutch chocolate, and tart, but it's the toppings that make this place extra special! Unlike typical frozen yogurt shops carrying a limited amount of toppings such as fruit, cookies, cereal, and chocolate chips, Yolo Berry has classic candy store finds like chocolate covered espresso beans, chocolate covered gummy bears, a variety of M&M's, sour gummies, and so much more. 

Hungry for lunch after working the Woodland Market, we decided to head over to the Davis farmer's market because of their wider selection. I decided on a Channa wrap, consisting of fresh, chewy Indian naan bread wrapped around flavorful chickpeas, lettuce, chunky tomato sauce and spicy cilantro sauce. Never have I seen Indian food like this at a farmer's market!

My friend tried an indulgent and oversized puff pastry, bavarian cream, and berry dessert that was oh-so-sweet and luscious. 

This was a trip of firsts! I had never been to a state or county fair before, but I happened to be visiting while the California State Fair in Sacramento was going on, and could not pass up the chance to see and try all of the unique fair foods I've been hearing of. I wasn't able to try everything I wanted (that would have taken days!), but my group and I ate a few very interesting and tasty fair treats.

Foot long corn dog!

Deep fried candy including fried cheese cake, fruity pebbles, peanut butter cups, and brownies.

Exotic meats such as beaver and raccoon on a stick, alligator sandwiches, and kangaroo burgers... delicious?

Deep fried jelly beans, which were more like buttery donuts with a sweet chewy surprise in the center. Not bad!

Funnel Cake. A fair classic that will never get old. Made even better covered with a downpour of powdered sugar and fresh strawberries, this definitely was my favorite of the night. 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sunday Morning DIY Donuts

Last christmas, I received a donut maker from my little brother (greatest present ever!) but, having been in Oregon, I never had the chance to try it out... until now! I've been a die-hard fan of donuts all my life and often times requested them in place of a birthday cake. However, I don't like to fry foods at home so I've never been able to try making them myself, but my new Sunbeam donut maker put an end to that. My mind went wild thinking about all of the delectable donut flavors I could make, but since it was my first attempt, I decided on a classic basic donut recipe with simple lemon and raspberry glazes. The fact that the donut maker was so cute made them all the more special!

My donut maker came with a little booklet of recipes, so I used this as my guide, making a few minor adjustments. You should end up with around a dozen donuts.

*This donut maker may look like a cute children's toy, but it can get VERY hot, so I wouldn't recommend letting a child make these on their own.

1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
4 tablespoon melted unsalted butter
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup milk

For the glaze, I put about 1/3 cup sifted powdered sugar in two bowls, adding lemon juice and zest to one, and mashed up raspberries (their juices act as the liquid) to the other. It really only takes a small amount of liquid to turn the sugar into a glaze, so just add a little and mix it up, repeating this until you have a somewhat thin, pourable consistency. Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, and baking powder, creating a small well in the center. Add the butter, egg, and milk and mix until you have a smooth consistency. Pour batter into your donut maker, filling each individual base to the top (careful not to put in too much, or you might end up with a donut explosion).

Cook 6-8 minutes, until the donuts are nicely golden. Cool on a wire rack, then dip and swirl them in the glaze. 2 or 3 dips should result in a nice layer of glaze for your donuts. Before the glaze hardens, decorate your donuts with sprinkles, chocolate chips, chopped nuts, or whatever toppings you like.

With or without glaze, these donuts came out great. The cake was sweet and pancake-like and a perfect canvas for a variety of flavors.  Don't let their size fool you, these things are FILLING! Next time I might get a little fancier with them and flavor the cakes, maybe with cinnamon and nutmeg, chocolate, banana, or apple (apple fritters yummmmm) and try out some new glazes. 

Coffee and donuts, what could be better?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

I Scream for Sweet Rose Creamery

Brentwood Country Mart's Sweet Rose Creamery is a west side summer staple. Created by Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan, the same owners as Huckleberry Cafe (one of my favorite places EVER), this gourmet ice cream shop has countless fresh, seasonal, and creamy ice cream treats unlike any other. You can really taste the care put into every flavor, making it some of the best ice cream around.

Their menu of unique and delicious flavors: Fresh Mint Chip, Salted Caramel, Basil, Stout, Summer Corn, and Peaches and Cream, to name a few.

Display case of sundaes, ice cream sandwiches, cakes, and other ice cream treats. The sundaes remind me of Japanese parfait, probably because of their amazing Japanese ice cream chef, Shiho Yoshikawa.  

Our scoops: summer corn, salted caramel, and strawberry. 

This was my first experience with corn ice cream, and it tasted exactly like sweet creamy corn. It was tasty and a favorite of many, but I prefer my corn on the cob. The salted caramel ice cream had a strong burnt caramel sugar taste and was loaded with salt, so you definitely got the salty-sweet taste you asked for.

Strawberry, a classic, and my favorite of the three flavors. Sweet and refreshing, I felt like I had just bought a basket of strawberries from the farmers market! 

I also had samples of their nicely strong and dark coffee ice cream, and the fresh mint chip, which tasted like they picked a handful of mint leaves from the garden and steeped them into the ice cream base, resulting in vibrant, summery ice cream perfection. 

Sweet Rose Creamery: Brentwood Country Mart 225 26th St. Suite 51. Santa Monica, CA 90402

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Brownie Experiment: Part 1

Is it possible for something to be too chocolatey? I never thought I, a devout lover of all things chocolate, would ever ask this question, until I tasted these over-the-top brownies.

Alice Medrich's New Bittersweet Brownie recipe from her book "Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy" was the kick-off to my quest for the perfect brownie, and definitely was a great place to start. Dense, rich, and full of deep bittersweet chocolate flavor, these are more like bars of flourless chocolate cake combined with the decadent pudding-like interior of a chocolate souffle rather than your classic less chocolately, cakey brownies. I highly recommend this recipe to anyone completely and hopelessly addicted to strong, dark chocolate.

My little brother, a fruity dessert person, took just one bite and was temporarily knocked senseless, which goes to show you absolutely MUST be a die-hard chocolate fan to enjoy these brownies. You might as well be eating heaping spoonfuls of sweet, buttery melted chocolate (I wouldn't recommend this unless you enjoy being in a sugary, dizzy stupor. Personal experience). Now, to answer my previous question: no, these are not too chocolatey. However, they do lie dangerously close to that fine line separating chocolately goodness from chocolate overdose, which didn't stop me me from eating half of the pan on my own. After my initial brownie experiment, I've decided to search for something with slightly less chocolate and possibly more flour, to get a little closer to that traditional brownie taste. But it'll probably be awhile before I've fully recovered from this chocolate binge before I can proceed with my experiment (AKA before my mom allows another pan of brownies in the house. The torments of not living on your own...).

8 oz 70% cacao bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into several pieces
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
scant 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour

Line the bottom and all 4 sides of an 8 inch square metal baking pan with foil.
Preheat oven to 350 deg F with a rack in the lower third of the oven.

Place the chocolate and butter in a double boiler, or in a heatproof bowl set on top of a pot of barely simmering water. Stir frequently until melted, smooth, and quite warm. Set aside. In a medium bowl, beat eggs, sugar, salt, and vanilla with an electric mixer on high speed until the eggs are thick and lightly colored, about 2 minutes. Whisk the warm chocolate into the egg mixture. Fold in flour. Pour batter into the lined pan and spread evenly. Bake 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean**. Cool in the pan on a rack, and cut into desired size squares. (The recipe said 16 brownies, but that seemed ridiculously tiny for me, so I suggest 9 squares instead.) In my opinion, serving warm with a small scoop of vanilla or coffee ice cream is the perfect counter-balance to the dark chocolate flavor of the brownies. 

**Be very careful not to over-bake. Nothing is worse than a dry, crumbly brownie. Pulling them out of the oven even before a toothpick comes out completely clean is 100 times better than waiting too long. I think slightly under-baking them for extra gooey-ness is the only way to go when making brownies.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Guide to Eating at Mitsuwa Marketplace

Mar Vista's Mitsuwa Marketplace is home to one of the best food courts in all of Los Angeles (and California, and the US, and the world... Ok maybe not, but it's pretty amazing). Donburi, ramen, curry, and so much more, Mitsuwa is one of my favorite places for an affordable, tasty meal and unique snacks.

Pork Katsu Curry from the Misasa stall, which specializes in donburi (rice bowls) and deep fried foods.

Santouka Ramen's shio (salt) ramen combo. Santouka is the most popular stand in the food court, and the shio ramen is their signature dish. Hot, rich, salty pork broth filled with thin ramen noodles, pork, bamboo shoots, and kamaboko. On the side you get a soy sauce flavored hard boiled egg and your choice of rice bowls, my favorite being the ikura (salmon roe).

Mitsuwa's hidden gem: green tea flavored soft serve ice cream located in the little cafe connected to their bookstore. This creamy soft serve isn't too sweet, allowing the strong green tea flavor to shine through. The wafer cookie it comes with is perfect for dipping in the ice cream. 

After getting lunch at the food court, make sure to check out the market's selection of delicious and unusual Japanese snacks.  

I love green tea and combined with red bean it's even better. Luckily, Mitsuwa carries quite a few treats in this flavor. One of my favorites is their package of round green tea flavored castella cakes (a lightly sweetened Japanese sponge cake) filled with sweet red bean. These cakes are very light and airy, and perfect with a cup of green tea. 

Another of my green tea flavored finds are the Oreo Soft Cookie green tea flavored cookies, which are unlike any Oreo you've ever tasted. It's more like a very mildly flavored little cake with green tea filling sandwiched between two puffy disks of not so sweet chocolate. My only complaint is that I wish the flavors were stronger.

Calbee corn snacks are the perfect example of a Japanese snack food. In Japan, corn on the cob is flavored with soy sauce, not butter and salt like American corn on the cob, and in my opinion so much better. These crunchy little treats are kind of similar to Cheetos, just not cheese flavored. 

Mitsuwa Marketplace : 3760 South Centinela Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90066 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Leftover BBQ Stir-fry

Lost at what to do when you have too many BBQ leftovers and not enough room in the fridge to store them? Well, here's the answer: leftover BBQ stir-fry! Because summer is the best time to buy vibrant, delicious veggies, my barbeques always feature tons of grilled veggies and there is guaranteed to be a decent sized portion of leftovers. Instead of leaving them to take up all the space in the refrigerator, I take advantage of my bounty of fresh veggies by making a tasty stir-fry for the next night's dinner! I only wish I didn't have to deal with my veggie hating meat loving brother's complaints every time he sees this cooking up on the stove. Thank god for Trader Joe's frozen pork buns, the guaranteed quick and easy way to silence his whining. But I should be grateful, because this means more stir-fry for me!

My stir-fry was filled with carrots, potatoes, cabbage, onion, zucchini, peppers, mushrooms, corn, and Dave's spicy tempeh. Mix in some oyster sauce and serve it over brown rice for the perfect meal!

Surviving Carmageddon, One Bite at a Time: Eat Real Food Festival

Surviving carmageddon: the one thing on the minds of everyone in Los Angeles. In order to avoid the possibility of being stuck in some of the worst traffic we've ever seen (in reality there was barely any traffic as a result of everyone's fear of driving) many made plans to stay local. Thankfully, the first ever Eat Real Festival came to Culver City's Helms Bakery, and was the perfect local weekend activity. The festival boasted a variety of local artisanal foods, live music, animals, a cookbook exchange, and food and craft demos. I was able to ride my bike over in just 15 minutes and took advantage of the convenient complementary bicycle valet service available. Too much good food to eat in just one day, I went for both days, filling up on a wide array of unique and delicious foods (with no guilt since I figured I burned off the calories on the way there and back).

Sno Con Amor was one of the best attractions at the festival. Nothing like your typical overly sweet snow cones, these were refreshing and you could really taste the flavors, rather than just sugar. Pictured are coconut, beet lemonade, and watermelon basil, which was my favorite.

Making new friends

My dream car! VW poptop bus in a display.

Cookies of my dreams.

Mother in Law's Kimchi

Handsome Coffee Roasters... ?! Interesting concept, too scared to try the coffee though. 

I was looking forward to trying Waffles de Liege more than anything at the festival. They were a little small for the price ($3 for one plain waffle, which actually is half of a bigger waffle), seeing as the West LA farmer's market sells equally delicious liege waffles that are bigger and cheaper, but I still enjoyed the caramelized sugary goodness. 

Belcampo Meat Co.'s beef tallow french fries AKA potatoes fried in beef fat! I didn't have any but from those I talked to the fries were savory, chewy, and very indulgent. 

CoolHaus chocolate chip cookie with strawberry jalapeno ice cream sandwich. The ice cream was wonderfully creamy and smooth with a fresh strawberry flavor, reminiscent of haagen dazs strawberry ice cream. The jalapeno went unnoticed, which didn't really bother me because I'm not a fan of spicy ice cream. Also tried their nutella, coffee toffee, and banana which all taste exactly like the flavor they represent. 

Nom Nom Truck's Bahn Mi grilled pork and pickled veggie sandwich. Again, as a vegetarian, I couldn't try it, but it was the favorite of a few members of my family. I did enjoy the wonderful aroma coming from the truck making me almost wish I could have a taste. 

Fresh margherita pizza made to order from a portable brick oven. 

Had the once in a lifetime opportunity to meet Aida Mollenkamp at her pretzel making demonstration. Not only was she super friendly and helpful, the pretzels were DELICIOUS as well. A handful of lucky festival-goers got to roll and twist their own pretzels, which were then baked off in the same brick oven as the pizzas, and ready for immediate enjoyment. Crunchy on the outside, and soft and doughy inside, they were just fine on their own, but even better when I snuck over to the gourmet mustard stand and they were nice enough to let me put some on my pretzel. YUM!

Pretzel Recipe can't wait to try it out at home!