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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Cafe Crepe

Prosciutto Brie and Egg Crepe at Cafe Crepe in Santa Monica

This past weekend I set out on a failed mission to find the Santa Monica farmers market. I still haven't been cooking, but I like to snack on fruits and veggies during the day (or so I tell my trainer). Unfortunately, I didn't bring my BlackBerry with me so I ended up aimlessly wandering the streets of Santa Monica. In order not to make the whole trip a waste, I decided to treat myself to an early lunch. After parading up and down 3rd Street Promenade for a bit, I finally settled on getting a crepe at Cafe Crepe on the south end of the Promenade. Even though the place was busy, I was able to be seated fairly quickly because it was just me, but then I waited...and waited...and waited. Finally someone came out and asked if I knew what I wanted, but I had barely gotten through the breakfast and sandwiches portion of the menu. I don't know about you, but if I am going to eat at a place called Cafe Crepe, you can be damn sure I am going to have a crepe. I wasn't really in a sweet mood so I stuck to the savory side. Eventually my server came and I asked him which would be better between a smoked beef, Swiss, egg, and Dijon crepe or the prosciutto, egg, and Brie crepe. He enthusiastically said the prosciutto was better so that's what I ordered. The crepe was fine, but a little...meh. The fried egg was a little too well cooked for my preference and the crepe was very chewy and a little bland. Overall it wasn't a bad meal, just not a terribly exciting one. The side of fries I had (oh yeah, definitely didn't tell the trainer about that) were great. Well seasoned and perfectly crispy, I got to linger over them while reading a (rare) delightful script...also it took a while for my server to bring me the check. I definitely would love to go back and try the sweet crepes because they looked (and smelled) amazing.

Cafe Crepe
1460 3rd St Promenade
Santa Monica, CA 90401

Just a note, I may be posting to little to not at all over the next couple of weeks. The good news is that I got a new apartment, but I can't move in until the 1st and so I am still not cooking while I finish up the last few weeks in crazy house. I am so excited to get back in the kitchen and stop eating snacks as meals you have no idea. Thanks for sticking with me through it all!

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Foodbuzz Community Table at Beso

Early last month, I received an email from Foodbuzz saying they were having a raffle to take ten LA food bloggers out to dinner at Beso. I decided to enter not really thinking I would make it. A few weeks later I received another email saying I was one of the lucky chosen to dine courtesy of Visa Signature. I have heard of Eva Longoria's and Todd English's restaurant before, but had never been so I was definitely up for a new experience.

Since LA traffic always sucks, I arrived about twenty minutes late so when I arrived the bloggers behind Sippity Sup, The Culinary Image, Pleasure Palate, Pink Stripes, South Bay Foodies, TableConversation, Viva LA Foodies, The Food Addicts, and Food Art LA were already seated as well as our hosts from Foodbuzz, Dorian and Ryan. Luckily I didn't miss too much with my lateness. I still got to sample the avocado guacamole and artichoke guacamole and have some tasty sips of sangria.

Beso Red Sangria

The appetizers then came. A taqueria tasting, shrimp and chorizo flatbread, and margarita flatbread were all good. There was also a grilled flatbread served with a red pepper hummus that I really enjoyed and normally I don't like red pepper anything.

Flatbread and Red Pepper Hummus at Beso

Of these I sample the chicken adobo, steak, and plantain. The steak was the best.

Taqueria Tasting at Beso

"Margarita" Flatbread at Beso

I wish there had been a few more pieces of shrimp on the sides

Shrimp and Chorizo Flatbread at Beso

One of the highlights of the meal was the seared diver scallop. It was served on top of an oxtail rosti and topped with a horseradish cream. It was delicate and flavorful without being too fishy. It was also the first time the chef had made the dish for diners to sample. Lucky us!

Seared Diver Scallop at Beso

At this point, I was starting to feel very full, but I pressed ahead with the entrees. The chili rubbed skirt steak had that always loveable balance of salty and sweet.

Chili Rubbed Skirt Steak at Beso

I think I was the only one that didn't get a bite of the crispy onions that topped the chicken, but it was a good dish though it got lost a bit with the steak and paella.

Jidori Chicken at Beso

I can be really picky about paella. I'm pleased to say that this one was quite excellent.

Paella at Beso

After seeing all this food, you're probably wondering how I had room for dessert. Well, I didn't really, but I managed a bite of each. Unfortunately, the first dessert I tried was my least favorite. I am huge fan of manchego cheese, but I don't think it belongs in a cheesecake dessert.

Manchego Cheesecake at Beso

The hit of the dessert table was the Nutter Butter. I assume you can probably guess what this tasted like, it was heavenly. Such peanut buttery and frozen deliciousness.

Nutter Butter at Beso

The light crispy churros were a great way to round out the extensive meal.

Churros at Beso

At some point during our dinner, the owner of the restaurant herself came out to say hello to us as well as the chef. It was almost like we were the celebrities which was kind of funny to me. Overall, I thought it was a very good dinner. I really enjoyed the wine pairings with each dish especially the La Posta organic Malbec. I think Rico put it best when he said it was a good dinner, nothing extraordinary, but very good. I've been tweeting with Abby for a while now so it's good to put a face with a name and I got to see Michael again. I am looking forward to seeing these same faces and more at Foodbuzz's blogger festival in a couple of months!

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Friday, September 11, 2009

Gaby's Mediterranean

Gaby's Mediterranean

I think I have eaten out more in the last month than in the last year combined!! Over this past long weekend, we decided last minute to spend some time at the beach. Thankfully it has finally cooled down (to 89 degrees) so the beach weather was perfect! Since we were planning on grilling up a feast the next day, we wanted something that wouldn't be too heavy but that would soak up some of the wine we had been consuming earlier. JenFinn suggested Gaby's and what an excellent suggestion it was. The prices are reasonable, the food is fantastic and the service is quick and friendly. After we (quickly) learned there was no wine, Jen ventured out to grab a bottle of white and we weren't charged a corkage fee. It went really well with my chicken kebab dinner. You better believe my plate was clean in no time. FYI, this was a really great meal, but with raw onions, hot sauce, and garlic sauce, I am glad I wasn't macking on anyone that night.

Gaby's Mediterranean - 3 locations...all in West LA

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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Chaya Brasserie

Chaya Sushi

I don't know why it's taken me a week to talk about the wonderful evening I had a little over a week ago. Well, for those that follow me on Twitter, you know I have had a tough time with my living situation so life has been a little stressful. Besides Raul's birthday party and a little grill action this past weekend I haven't cooked much in the past month, but don't fear...I have certainly been eating. That's why I was particularly excited when Chrystal of The Duo Dishes sent me an email inviting me to happy hour with other LA area food bloggers. Believe it or not, one of the goals on my 101 in 1001 list was to meet at least three other food bloggers. Not only was I able to cross a goal off my list, but I was so excited to meet some people I have gotten to know over the last year plus of food blogging. Even though I was exhausted from the party, I braved the LA heat and headed over to my former neighborhood to Chaya Brasserie.

Chaya Sushi

I saw them the second I walked in and it was so wonderful to put faces to the people behind Diana Takes a Bite, Bread + Butter, South Bay Foodies, Kirby Von Scrumptious, Yo Soy!, Punky Chef, and of course the aforementioned Duo Dishes. Once we settled in and got to chatting, I felt like we had all known each other for years. Maybe it was the wine and frou frou martinis or maybe it was the sushi we were gifted with by the chef. Either way, I didn't really want the night to end, but alas it was a school night so I had to give myself a curfew. Many thanks to Chrystal and Amir for organizing what is hopefully the first of many similar nights.

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Sunday, September 6, 2009

Cuban Opera Cake

Cuban Opera Cake

This cake...this was my masterpiece at Raul's birthday aka the 24, 24, 24 party. After my disastrous Dobos Torte, I was extremely hesitant to try another layer cake so soon. In case you couldn't tell, layer cakes make me nervous. I am just never sure how they will turn out and having to make one for a party is kind of a big responsibility. We decided that if the cake didn't turn out, Glen would run to Kiss My Bundt and pick up something delicious and not a failure like a Maple Bacon Bundt... I decided to start baking the night before and do as much of the recipe as early as possible. After getting started on making coffee and setting out ingredients, I realized I had forgotten the Kahlua. I ran to the store, got more and got started...and then I realized the boys had no vanilla. I was not in the mood to go out to the store again so I just replaced the vanilla with more Kahlua. That was the only change I made to the original recipe. The cake was simple enough to put together, but I got super nervous that after the recommended 35 minute baking time, I still had a soupy mess in the middle. I baked the cakes for about 45-50 minutes total and then let them cool.

Raul's Cake
(No, the crooked cake looks awesome *wink*)

While the cakes were cooling, I ran out to WeHo to have a drink with the boys because it was also Glen's birthday that night, but I could not get my mind off finishing the cake so I returned home. Four hours later (2:30AM), all of the parts of the cake were done except the chocolate glaze and the cake was chilling in the refrigerator. I wish I could tell you what happened during this time, but I was so incredibly tired and just set on getting as much done as possible. As you can probably tell, the layers are lopsided. This is because I suck when it comes to cutting cakes so the middle ended up being thinner than the edges. Honestly, I didn't really care and I think it looks rather artistic, no?

Cuban Opera Cake

Now you may be wondering what makes this cake Cuban. To be honest, I can't really tell you, but I can tell you that it was freaking delicious. Even though I make cakes once in a while, and cupcakes, I am not a huge cake person, but this was so good. The coffee really brought out the chocolate flavor and it was rich, but not heavy feeling. Glen even called it "one of the best cakes he's eaten". In the end, this cake is not difficult, it just takes some time and patience. It's well worth it!





Cuban Opera Cake
(Slightly adapted from Bon Appétit, September 2003)

Makes 12+ servings

Cake
4 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups (packed) golden brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 1/2 teaspoons Kahlua
4 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup crème de cacao (or Kahlua)
1/2 cup freshly brewed coffee, lukewarm

Buttercream
8 ounces imported milk chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup sugar
4 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

Coffee Mousse
1/2 cup half and half
4 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder or coffee powder
4 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin softened in 1 tablespoon water 10 minutes
1 cup chilled whipping cream
1 teaspoon Kahlua

Chocolate Glaze
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
12 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped

For cake:
Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter two 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 2-inch-high sides; line bottoms with parchment paper rounds. Dust pans with flour; tap out excess. Melt chocolate in top of double boiler over simmering water, stirring until melted and smooth. Remove from over water. Cool to lukewarm. Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat sugar, butter, and 3 1/2 teaspoons Kahlua in large bowl to blend. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition and stopping occasionally to scrape down sides of bowl. Gradually beat in lukewarm melted chocolate. Beat in dry ingredients in 3 additions alternately with sour cream in 2 additions, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Gradually beat in crème de cacao (or Kahlua) and coffee. Divide batter evenly between prepared pans; smooth tops.

Bake cakes until toothpick inserted into centers comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Cool cakes in pans on racks 10 minutes. Invert cakes onto 9-inch cardboard rounds or removable tart pan bottoms; cool cakes completely on racks.

For buttercream:
Melt milk chocolate in top of double boiler over simmering water, stirring until smooth. Remove from over water. Whisk sugar, egg yolks, 2 tablespoons water, and corn syrup in medium metal bowl to blend. Add 1/4 cup butter. Set bowl over saucepan of simmering water; whisk constantly until mixture reaches 170°F, about 4 minutes. Remove bowl from over water. Using electric mixer, beat until completely cool and thick, about 6 minutes. Gradually beat in 1/2 cup butter, about 1 tablespoon at a time, fully incorporating each addition and stopping occasionally to scrape down sides of bowl. Beat in lukewarm melted chocolate.

For coffee mousse:
Bring half and half, 2 tablespoons sugar, and espresso powder to simmer in small saucepan over medium-high heat. Whisk egg yolks and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar in medium bowl to blend. Gradually whisk hot half and half mixture into yolk mixture. Return mixture to saucepan and stir constantly over medium heat until thermometer registers 160°F, about 2 minutes. Pour into large bowl. Add softened gelatin; stir until dissolved. Using electric mixer, beat until cool, about 10 minutes. Using clean dry beaters, beat cream and Kahlua in medium bowl until stiff peaks form. Fold whipped cream into coffee mixture.

Cut each cake layer horizontally in half. Place 1 cake layer in bottom of 9-inch-diameter springform pan. Cover with 3/4 cup buttercream. Place second cake layer atop buttercream; cover with mousse. Top with third cake layer. Refrigerate 1 hour to allow mousse to set. Spread 3/4 cup buttercream over third cake layer. Top with fourth cake layer (cake will rise above rim of pan). Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.

For chocolate glaze:
Stir sugar and 1 cup water in medium saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to high; bring to boil. Whisk in cocoa; remove from heat. Add chocolate; whisk until smooth. Let stand until cool but still pourable, about 2 hours.

Run knife around pan sides to loosen cake. Release pan sides. Scrape excess mousse from sides of cake. Transfer cake on springform pan bottom to rack set over baking sheet lined with parchment or wax paper. Pour glaze over cake, allowing glaze to drip down edges onto baking sheet (use spatula to spread glaze over any uncovered spots). Refrigerate at least 2 hours to allow glaze to set. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep refrigerated. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour before serving.)

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Friday, September 4, 2009

Cubano Sandwiches

Monte Cubanos

For Christmas, JenFinn got me a subscription to Gourmet. The first episode I received was March 2009 and I could not stop drooling over a picture of the most delicious sandwich on the cover. It was one of the first recipes I planned on making for Raul's birthday aka my 24, 24, 24 party. However, after a night and morning of cooking, we were pretty tired and not really in the mood for any more batter. In a rare twist, the recipe in the magazine only makes one sandwich so I increased it by ten times the amount and then cut the sandwiches so that everybody at the party could enjoy some. Unfortunately, I didn't know until the day of the party that birthday boy is not a fan of pickles so I made some sandwiches without them. The exact origin of a real Cuban sandwich is unknown, but this is an interesting spin on them. Instead of mashing the garlic into a paste, I just chopped it which meant that some people bit into pieces of garlic, but since we were amongst friends, it was ok.

Monte Cubanos

Even if you think you don't like mayonnaise, do not skip that step. The garlic is amazing and it really ties the whole sandwich together.

Cubano Sans Pickles


Monte Cubanos
(Adapted from Gourmet, March 2009)

Makes 10 sandwiches

20 slices firm bread
1/4 cup yellow mustard
40-50 dill pickle rounds
20 slices black forest ham
20 slices smoked turkey
20 thin slices Swiss cheese
1 bulb garlic, cloves separated and peeled
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4-1/2 cup unsalted butter

Spread 1 slice of bread with mustard and top with 4-5 pickles, 2 slices of each meat, and 2 slices of cheese. Mince and mash garlic to a paste with a pinch of salt, then mix with mayonnaise. Spread on remaining slice of bread and assemble sandwich.

Melt butter in a heavy medium skillet over medium-low heat. Cook sandwich, uncovered, until underside is well browned, about 4 minutes. Flip and cook remaining side, covered, until well browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, 1 minute. Cut the sandwiches into quarters and serve warm.

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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Plantain Chips and Cuban/Mexican Grilled Corn

Plantain Chips

As I mentioned a lot of the dishes I served at the 24, 24, 24 party were very meat-centric, but I also had a few vegetarian options. The rice and beans I posted the other day were vegetarian as were these treats. I had originally planned on making tostones, but as the day and heat wore on, we decided we didn't have the time or energy for a second round of frying so we went with plantain chips. I have been eating plantains since I was in the womb so I love them every which way, but my favorite way to enjoy them is those roasted chips they so conveniently sell at Trader Joes. These were fried so not as healthy, but still tasty and simple to make.

Cuban/Mexian Grilled Corn

We also served up some grilled corn once the party got going. Actually, Dan was the one who took care of all the grilling and I just got the toppings ready. I think I have had cotija cheese before in salads or something, but I loved the salty bite with the sweet corn, and I have never really been a fan of corn. A sprinkling of chili powder and a squeeze of lime was all that was needed to make this a fresh accompaniment to some of the heavier dishes. Just a note, I have never grilled corn myself in my life, I am pretty sure the directions below are what Dan did to make it good.

Plantain Chips

Makes a lot of chips

7-8 plantains, peeled and sliced to 1/4-inch thickness
Canola oil for frying
Salt

In a large pot or deep fryer, preheat the oil to 350 degrees. Add a few of the sliced plantains, but not too many so that they don't stick together. Fry 8-10 minutes until crisp. Drain on paper towels and season with salt immediately. Serve cooled.

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Cuban/Mexican Grilled Corn

Corn
Butter
Grated Cotija cheese
Lime wedges
Chili powder or ground cayenne pepper

Preheat the grill to high. Slather each piece of corn with butter and wrap in tinfoil. Grill until the corn is tender, turning every few minutes. Sprinkle the corn with the cheese and dust with chili powder. Serve with lime wedges.

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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Vaca Frita and Croquetas de Jamon

Vaca Frita

One of the first things I decided on making when Raul and I chose a Cuban theme for the party was vaca frita. Vaca frita literally means fried cow. Basically what it is is steak that has been boiled with flavorful spices and then fried to tasty deliciousness. Well since I was serving some other heavy foods at the party, I wanted to find a way to lighten things up. Luckily this had already been done for me. Although this recipe takes some time, most of it is inactive time and you can get to work on the other things you will be serving with this. In my case, it was cilantro rice and Cuban-style beans which were really a great accompaniment to this meat.

Croquetas de Jamon

As you can tell, this menu was pretty meat heavy, but there were some vegetarian options including the recipes I shared yesterday. Another meat option I served were ham croquetas. A few months ago I made coxinha which I guess are technically Brazilian, but I wanted to make something similar, but with less work. I found this easy recipe for croquetas so I cooked some up. They were so good and crispy on the outside and creamy and full of hammy tastiness on the inside. One of the best things is that you can make the mix the night before and then fry them up on the day of the party.



Vaca Frita
(Adapted from Bitchin Camero)

Makes 10-12 servings

4 pounds flank steak, cubed
8 cups of water
2 1/2 tablespoons salt
3 bay leaves
5 medium-sized yellow onions, three halved, two chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
Juice of 3 large oranges
Juice of 3 large limes
Salt to taste

Place the steak, water, onion halves, bay leaf and salt in a large pot and set over medium-high heat. Once the water comes to a boil, cover and reduce heat to medium. Simmer the steak for 45 minutes – 1 hour, or until tender.

Remove the steak with a slotted spoon and let cool to room temperature. (Run the remaining liquid through a fine mesh sieve and use as a base for soups, or freeze.) Use 2 forks or your hands to pull the steak apart until it resembles pulled pork. Mix the orange and lime juice together in a small bowl or measuring cup.

Preheat your oven’s broiler. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. Once the oil is hot, add the chopped onion and saute until soft and beginning to brown, about 7 minutes. Add the shredded steak and half of orange/lime juice.

Saute for 2 – 3 minutes, then taste and add more orange/lime juice and salt to taste. (I used all of the remaining juice and just a pinch more salt. It is very important to taste for salt because you may not need it)

Spread the contents of the skillet onto a cookie sheet and place under the broiler until the beef and onions crisp and brown, about 10-20 minutes, you may need to stir half way through cooking. Remove and serve with rice and beans if desired.

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Croquetas de Jamon
(From For the Love of Food)

Makes 24-30 croquetas

4 tablespoons butter
1/2 a small onion, chopped
1/4 cup flour
2/3 cup evaporated milk
2 cups (12 ozs.) smoked or baked ham, minced and then ground to paste with a food processor
1 fresh parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon white wine
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 eggs, mixed with 1 tablespoon water
1 1/2 cups fine plain bread crumbs
3 tablespoons flour

In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until it’s soft. Add the 1/4 cup of flour to the butter and onions and whisk in the pan. Gradually add the evaporated milk; cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally or until the mixture comes just to a boil and is thick and creamy. Add the ground ham, parsley, wine, pepper and nutmeg; mix well. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes over low heat. Taste the ham mixture. It should be salty enough, but if not, add some salt to taste.

Pour the ham mixture into an 8 inch square baking pan. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and let cool in the refrigerator for 30 to 45 minutes so that it will solidify a bit and be easier to work with. This can also be done overnight.

Beat the eggs with water in a small mixing bowl until frothy. Combine the bread crumbs and flour and place in a second wide bowl or plate. Divide the ham mixture in the pan by cutting it into thirds crosswise and in eights lengthwise. Shape into logs that are about 1 1/2 inches long and 3/4-inch wide.

Dip the croquetas into egg and water mixture and then roll in the crumb mixture until evenly coated. Place croquetas back in the pan and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

In the mean time, heat the oil in a large cast iron pan so the heat is at 177°C (350°F). Fry croquetas for 2 minutes or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Serve the croquetas warm.

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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Cilantro-Lime Rice and Cuban-Style Black Beans

Cilantro Lime Rice

Here are two really easy and insanely flavorful side dishes that went along with the vaca frita with a twist that I will be posting at a later time. These are also really quick and great to have on hand for any time. I imagine they would go great with some grilled chicken or fish for a fast meal.

Cuban-Style Black Beans


Cilantro-Lime Rice
(Adapted from Closet Cooking)

Makes 8+ servings

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups long grained rice
4 cups water
2 handfuls cilantro, chopped
2 limes zested and juiced

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until tender, about 5-7 minutes until the onions have softened. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about a minute. Add the rice and toast in the oil for a few 2-3 minutes.

Add the water, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, covered until tender, about 20 minutes for white rice or 40-50 minutes for brown. Remove from the heat and mix in the cilantro, lime juice and zest.

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Cuban-Style Black Beans
(Adapted from Bon Appetit, September 1997)

Makes 6-8 servings

1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
6 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon dried oregano
3 15- to 16-ounce cans black beans, rinsed, drained
3/4 cup canned vegetable broth or water
1 1/2 tablespoons cider vinegar

Heat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, bell pepper, garlic and oregano and sauté until vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add 1 cup of beans to pan. Using back of fork, mash beans coarsely. Add remaining beans, broth and vinegar and simmer until mixture thickens and flavors blend, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Mix in sugar, if desired. Season beans to taste with salt and pepper and serve.

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