2.28.2010

Foodbuzz 24 24 24: A Glimpse Inside The Foodie Underground- Chicks with Knives



Each month Foodbuzz.com selects 24 food bloggers from among their Featured Publishers to prepare or enjoy a meal all on the same night across the globe. I was selected for February’s 24 24 24. My meal? Shhh! It’s a secret! Around Los Angeles, people whisper of a supper club that pops up once a month in an undisclosed location. The address is given only to those fortunate enough to receive an invitation. Welcome to Chicks with Knives.

Chicks with Knives is an underground, invite-only supper club. It is a gathering of individuals with one thing in common: an interest in consuming delicious dishes creatively prepared using sustainable, organic, local, and ethical ingredients. The night is a celebration of one of life’s simple joys - pure gastronomic pleasure.

I was fortunate enough to join these secret ranks for an evening, and so I offer you a rare glimpse inside Chicks with Knives.

The setting for tonight’s dinner is a non-descript building on a quiet Downtown street. The night is dark and the sky dewy from the day's rain. I walk up a narrow staircase along the side of a building to the loft above. When I enter I am greeted by warm smiles. In true Chicks with Knives fashion, the space is big, bright, and convivial, just like the women behind the dinner.


The main course of the evening was duck. For an amuse bouché, our hostesses used the delicious duck liver to create creamy duck liver mousse on house-made brioche toast topped with apricot-saffron jam. I’m generally not one for mousse or pate, but this improvised concoction was a savory delight. The brioche toast had a nice toasted edge to compliment the smooth duck mousse. Flecks of salt enhanced the sweet, smoky apricot jam. A few of these and our appetites were whetted.


The dining area contained three small tables that were precisely set. At each table were the cutest Kichu tangerines fresh from the farmer’s market. They were a sweet palate cleanser. While we waited for the appetizer, we nibbled on the Easter-egg radishes with cultured butter, pickled Persian cucumbers, and German butterball potatoes.

I have never enjoyed pickled food more than I do when it is pickled by the hands of Rachael of Chicks with Knives. She has a talent for pickling that is unmatched. At a previous dinner I had the pleasure of attending, I enjoyed the most amazing pickled beets. For tonight’s dinner, we were served a lovely dish of pickled Persian cucumbers. Crunchy yet soft, tangy with a hint of sweetness, these pickles were altogether perfect.


There is something so wonderful about a simple plate of radishes with butter. Sprinkle a little sea salt on top and each bite is blissful. To go with tonight’s radishes, the Chicks provided homemade cultured butter that had more flavor than any other butter I’ve tasted. This butter was truly inspired.


The roasted German butterball potatoes with green olive and roasted garlic tapenade surprised me. This was not your average spud. The green olive and roasted garlic tapenade was explosive with flavor. The rosemary spike in each potato provided a fragrant compliment to the flavors.


The first course was a wild mushroom consommé with smoked mushroom tortellini and roasted chanterelles. The broth was comforting and rich. There were a few beautiful strands of chanterelles sprinkled throughout. Tender pillows of tortellini rested in the broth. With each loud slurp satisfying warmth filled my body.


The second course was a pain d’epices blini with roasted fennel, winter citrus and hollandaise. The verdant flavor of the fennel paired well with the zesty Oro Blanco grapefruit, while the Cara Cara oranges provided delicate sweetness to offset the rich Hollandaise.


The main course was a duck pot-pie with pate a choux crust and English peas. This sat atop a duo of buttered carrots and sautéed garden greens (kale, sorrel, Swiss chard, amaranth and collard greens) with garlic. The duck was tender and rich, swimming in a sea of savory béchamel and peas. This viscous stew was pleated between two soft flaky crusts of bread- the pate a choux. The bitterness of the sautéed greens nicely offset the lush pot pie. This meal was sumptuous and memorable.


Along side the main course was a vanilla scented rutabaga puree. This was the most heavenly bowl of creamy, smooth, vibrante mash I haven't ever tasted. The vanilla beans shine through the buttery rutabaga. Each bowl was practically licked clean. (Find recipe below)


Already full from the bounty of amazing dishes, each guest was presented with a bowl of key lime cheesecake with key lime curd and rhubarb compote. These petite works of art were crowned with a “graham cracker” tuille. The dessert was transcendent. The cheesecake made from farmer’s cheese was silky and lush. The key lime curd was so deliciously tart there were puckered lips around the table, followed by satisfied smiles. The subtle rhubarb compote paired harmoniously with the bright flavors of the key lime. The graham cracker tuille was firm with a delicate crumble. I wanted three or four more of these tuilles they were so good.


Our small group left bewitched and delighted. Each course was mesmerizing and impossible to forget. To be invited to one of these secret dinners is to be one of the lucky few that gets to enjoy one of the best meals in Los Angeles among the a select group of new friends.


** Chicks with Knives recipe Vanilla Scented Rutabaga Puree**

1 tablespoon hazelnut oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Salt

1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes

1/2 pound rutabaga (aka Swede)

1/4 cup butter

1/4 cup heavy cream (yup!)

2 (more) teaspoons vanilla extract

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, and seeds scraped out

Salt

Preheat your oven to 275F.

Toss the hazelnuts with the oil, extract and some salt. Roast for 5 -8 minutes or until just fragrant. Rough chop and set aside.

Peel and chop the potatoes and the rutabaga. Boil in salted water until soft (the rutabaga takes longer...so either chop it smaller than the potato or boil them separately.)

Drain and mash with the remaining ingredients. Taste and adjust seasoning to preference.

2.22.2010

Worth Every Penny



Sometimes there is nothing more soul satisfying than a well-seasoned patty of beef and a slice of flavorful cheese on a soft toasted bun. Throw in a heaping helping of crisp tender fries and all of my troubles melt away.


When Diana of DianaTakesABite told me that she had never had a cheeseburger before, I knew I had to be present for the momentous occasion when she enjoyed her first cheesy, meaty bite. After much debate on Twitter over where to get the best cheeseburger in Los Angeles, Diana settled on Rustic Canyon for her cheeseburger and me as her dinner date.


Rustic Canyon is an upscale restaurant and wine bar that offers an extensive menu of contemporary, market-driven comfort foods. The menu ranges from Butternut Squash soup, Crispy Polenta, Parpardelle to Roasted Jidori Chicken. A cheeseburger would hardly seem like the thing to order at a restaurant like Rustic Canyon, but the burger is definitely part of the attraction and does not fall in the shadows of the restaurant’s other dishes.


Rustic Canyon serves a Niman Ranch burger with sharp cheddar, onion fondue, bread and butter pickles and an herb remoulade on a Rockewagner brioche bun ($16). Each strata of this cheeseburger is well thought out and inspired from the beef to the bun to the pickles.


The ratio of ingredients is ideal. The thick juicy patty is coated with the right amount of sharp melted cheddar cheese. A resonant onion fondue sits atop the melted cheese. A nice slather of herb remoulade brings all the flavors together. The slightly sweet brioche bun is tender and firm and cradles all of the components. With each bite the bright and spicy notes of the arugula stand out. The cheeseburger is unfailingly juicy.


Rustic Canyon demonstrates how with the right ingredients even the most ordinary dish can be transformed. This may be one of the more expensive burgers in Los Angeles, but it is worth every penny.

Rustic Canyon

1119 Wilshire Boulevard

Santa Monica, CA 90401

(310)393-7050



2.15.2010

Xiomara: Foodies Beware!



I drive by this restaurant all the time. The name grabs me. I wonder what kind of food they serve and who goes there. I decided finally to give it a try during DineLA week. My reservation was made for Xiomara (See-o-mara), a Cuban fusion restaurant on Melrose Avenue just past Highland.

The reservation was for four people at 9pm. The restaurant was quiet on this Monday night with only four other parties seated. Having looked over the DineLA prix fixe menu before arriving, we were all hungry and eager to enjoy the food at Xiomara.

Then the waiting game began. Our party was promptly seated at our table, but no menus were given. A server came to our table and took our drink order. Four tantalizing mojoitos arrived at our table, but still no menus. We sat for 20 minutes before receiving a menu.


Our appetizers came out relatively quickly and we thoroughly enjoyed them, however the rest of the meal dragged on. Our plates were cleared, our drinks finished, and no entrees in sight. By the time our entrees were delivered, only one other party remained in the eerily quiet restaurant. By the time we received dessert, even they were gone. To make matters worse, the ice cream accompaniment to our tres leches cake was half melted. Our friend’s three-gelato sampler turned out to be three samples of mango. Our server told her that this was the only gelato they had. Suffice it to say she did not order mango at all and did not eat her dessert.

At this point we were ready to leave. We waited for our check and had trouble even finding one of the two servers to bring it to us. Did I mention that it was already 11pm! The bill was presented and we immediately put down our payment. I could see one of the servers behind me cleaning silverware while the other server was at the front of the restaurant setting tables. No one was acknowledging us. I would have asked for a manager, but it was very evident that there was no manager working that night. Finally in our frustration we called for the server across the room. We waited another 19 minutes for the bill to return and watched as the two servers struggled with splitting our check. The check returned manually written and the server explained that the Micros system had crashed. Fine. Yet, another problem occurred- we had been overcharged. Imagine how frustrated we are at this point, tired from all the waiting and ready to go home. I again flagged down a server and tried to explain that we were charged incorrectly, but rather than understanding their error and fixing the mistake, the servers argued over it in front of us.

We left Xiomara upset and completely disappointed. From the minute we sat down to the minute we left, we received poor customer service. Throughout our dinner we were kind and tolerant, but we should not have spent $200 on a dinner that took 2 hours and 20 minutes. What disappoints me most is that we enjoyed our meal and were looking forward to sharing a positive experience, but after receiving such completely horrible service we will certainly never be back.

I wrote to the General Manager to explain what happened on our visit. It took her almost a week to send this response:

Xiomara had a meeting with all the employees that worked on Monday night to discuss the service your received.

According to the servers the reason you did not receive menus as soon as you were seated is that your group did not all arrive at the same time and they waited until your group had completely arrived before giving you the menus.

The problem with the melted ice cream was that it literally had just finished churning and had not had time to freeze- it should not have been served. it seems that the server did not put the sorbet order in with the flavors that were requested. the server should never had told you that we only had mango, since we did have all the flavors on the menu.

The disagreement on how to split your check happened because our pos system was not processing credit cards, the filter on our water heater had burst over the weekend and shorted out several different electronic systems and the hardware to process the credit cards had not been replace yet. However, they should not have disagreed in your presence nor should they have double charged the sales tax, that was someone not understanding how to fill out the credit card slip.

The service you received was not our normal standard and Xiomara would like to send you a gift certificate for 2 mojitos and 2 appetizers.


I cannot believe that a restaurant would be so apathetic to this situation. I expected a sincere apology and acknowledgement of what went wrong on our visit. Instead Xiomara's General Manager passively justified all of the evening’s mistakes. In a sense she validated the poor customer service we received. Her offer of 2 mojitos and 2 appetizers hardly compensates for our four meals. Take my advice: there are many fantastic restaurants in Los Angeles - do not waste your time or your money on Xiomara.

2.11.2010

Let Me Eat Nutella



Last Friday the world celebrated Nutella - that ooey gooey chocolate hazelnut spread that with one lick has you hooked for life. For World Nutella Day I was honored with a rare firsthand experience in the kitchen of Joan's on Third. I received a special lesson in the making of one of Joan's favorite recipes- mouth watering Nutella poundcake. The whole kitchen had a warm vanilla fragrance. Jar after beautiful jar of Nutella in front of me, it was hard not to steal a taste. Joan’s on Third offers Nutella poundcake ($1.95) throughout the week. Come on the right day and you can find it fresh out of the oven and wrapped in individual slices.


It all starts with the butter and sugar.


Then the pure vanilla extract and eggs.


Once the wet ingredients are combined, add the flour.


Take the mix and create alternating layers of Nutella and batter.


The end result is poundcake with a warm honeyed glow throughout. The Nutella glistens through folds of plump cake. The exact recipe remains Joan’s secret, but my time in the kitchen inspired me to make my own Nutella creation.


Since I have a known affinity for cake so I decided to make Nutella cupcakes. I used a vanilla cake base with a hint of almond extract and mixed Nutella throughout the cake batter. The result was a buttery marble cupcake with subtle nutty undertones. I was pleasantly surprised to find a thick dollop of Nutella at the bottom of each cupcake. For added richness I frosted some of the cupcakes with more Nutella. Add toasted hazelnuts for a nice crunch. On its own, frosted, with nuts, anyway you have this cupcake, the flavor is impossible to forget.


I got bit by the Nutella bug and now I’m nutty for Nutella.


Vanilla cake (Recipe adapted from Joy of Baking)

½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature

2/3 cup white sugar

3 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

zest of 1 large lemon

1 ½ cups all purpose flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, cream together butter and sugar. Next, mix in eggs, vanilla and almond extracts, lemon zest and milk.

In a separate bowl combine flour, baking powder and salt.

Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix with electric mixer on low speed. Scrape down sides of bowl periodically to make sure all ingredients are fully combined. Mix for 3-5 minutes, batter will be slightly lumpy.

Fill lined muffin cups 2/3 full. Alternate layers of cake batter and Nutella. Take a tooth pick and stir up mixed batter. Bake for 18-20 minutes.

2.07.2010

Sweets For Your Sweet


Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. What are you getting your sweetheart?

Here are a few sweet spots for perfect Valentine’s Day gifts.


SWEETS FOR THE SOUL


Sweets for the Soul is a gem in Atwater Village. Small and sweet, it houses the best brownie creations you will find in Los Angeles. The selection ranges from the basic Brownie Bliss and Blondie squares to Hotter Shots and Truman Capote brownie hearts. What better way to say I love you than with a brownie heart?


The Hotter Shot is Valrhona Venezuelan dark chocolate spiced with cayenne pepper, cardamom, cinnamon and ginger. This bite-sized morsel instantly captivates with the rich depth of its dark chocolate. The hidden heat bursts at the end of the bite. It is all together sweet, spicy, subtle and explosive.


The Truman Capote is a Valrhona cocoa base with white chocolate chips. Even this seemingly simply combination is anything but plain. There is a complexity of flavors unmatched by any other brownie I have had. The white chocolate chips undulate through the assertive dark chocolaty essence. Each blissful bite is exuberant.


At $2.50 - $3.75 per brownie, these handcrafted confections my seem pricey, but after one bite the value of the product is apparent. Throw your budget to the wind - this is an indulgence worth splurging on.

Sweets For The Soul 3169 Glendale Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90039 11am-7pm Tues & Wed; 11am-10pm Thurs-Sat 11am-5pm Sunday


SCOOTABAKER


image courtesy of Scootabaker

There has never been a cake so carefully constructed, a tart so tantalizing, a muffin so mouth-watering as those delivered by Scootabaker. Owned and operated by Heather Wong, her talent and passion shine through in the desserts she creates for Scootabaker- LA’s all natural dessert delivery service. Her desserts go from idyllic to demur. She has taken the hassle of traffic and parking out of the equation and left only sweetness delivered to your door.


image courtesy of Scootabaker

For the perfect Valentine’s treat, deliver your sweetheart Scootabaker’s signature frosting-filled heart cupcakes. The frosting rests delicately in the center of each cupcake in the shape of a heart. The cupcakes are silky and lush. The cupcakes are reasonably priced at $2.50 each. Whether you order a cake or tart, cookie or bar, you are sure to win the heart of the one you love.


image courtesy of Scootabaker

* Delivery Rates start at $10 & vary based upon your location from 90028 $30 Minimum order for delivery.

2.05.2010

Love Birds with Wild Mushroom Polenta Hearts


February is Battle Mushroom, part of the monthly food fight “Beet n’ Squash You” hosted by Mel of Gourmet Fury and Leela of She Simmers.

Shiitake


Maitake


Cremini


Many people think about mushrooms in the same way they think about Valentine’s Day: they view this flavorful fungus with disdain and annoyance. I am among those who love both mushrooms and Valentine’s Day. With mushrooms I choose to look beyond the dirt-coated exterior to find the rich earthy flavor below. The same goes for Valentine’s Day. I look beyond the crass commercialization of this day and prefer to view it as a pure celebration of love. Diamonds and flowers aside, it can be a nice excuse to simply remember the romance of a first kiss.

Keeping those themes in mind I have created a simple meal to share with the one you love. Wild Mushroom Polenta Hearts are rich and comforting. The creamy polenta marries well with the unabashed flavors of the Shiitake, Maitake, and Cremini mushrooms. Add freshly grated Parmigiano to accentuate the savory notes of the mushrooms.

I paired these polenta hearts with a perfectly roasted chicken brightly seasoned with lemon and herbs. The chicken had a crisp skin with moist and tender meat below. The Wild Mushroom Polenta Hearts and roasted chicken were simply beautiful together. I finished the dish with spiced honey and crushed fried sage for added depth.

This is not only a recipe for a delicious meal, it is a recipe for instant seduction.



Wild Mushroom Polenta:

1 cup polenta

4 cups water

1/2 cup cremini

1/2 cup maitake

1/4 cup shitake

1/2 cup Parmigiano

In a heavy sauce pan bring water to a boil. Once water is boiling slowly stream in polenta. Create a vortex in the water with your whisk before you begin pouring in polenta. Whisk constantly for 3 - 5 minutes until polenta begins to thicken. Once polenta thickens low simmer for another 30 minutes stirring frequently.

Meanwhile saute mushrooms with 3 tablespoons of butter until they become golden brown.

When the polenta is ready, mix in the mushrooms and Parmigiano. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Evenly spread polenta onto a lined sheet pan. Let cool. Once cooled cover the polenta with plastic wrap and leave in the refrigerator over night or for an hour to cool.

Use a heart cookie cutter to create polenta hearts. Before serving sear polenta hearts in a non-stick skillet over high heat. Use a little butter to get a nice, crisp brown edge to your polenta. Let the polenta sear, untouched for 2 -4 minutes per side.

* I purchased a roasted chicken from Joan's on Third. It is easy to prepare a roasted chicken, but for a quick and delicious weeknight meal Joan's on Third offers daily hot dinner items available after 4pm. Why not let someone do the cooking for you!


Joan's on Third

8350 West Third Street

Los Angeles, CA 90048



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