Sunday, January 29, 2012

Saturday Brunch and Flour Cookbook Review

We've been on an at-home brunch kick for the last few weeks; last week I hosted wine club at my place for brunch and this week, A. and I made a nice brunch for the guys yesterday. Our friends from Boston had given us the Joanne Chang's "Flour" cookbook earlier in the week and I've been eager to try out her delicious looking (and fortunately, not too complicated) pastry recipes. I really like Joanne Chang's story; she is a Taiwanese American who graduated from Harvard with a degree in applied mathematics and econ, went into management consulting and left to pursue her culinary dreams instead, working her way up various Boston fine dining establishments and eventually finding pastry as her calling. She founded and owns three Flour Bakery & Cafes around Boston.

We made the raspberry rhubarb muffin from her cookbook to go along with Giada's Italian Sausage Egg Bake which was on a recent episode of Giada's foodnetwork show. We followed both recipes closely; the muffins took about 20 minutes to cook (rotating a few times) and we had enough batter to make 12 regular size and 12 mini size muffins. The only change to the sausage and egg dish was using chicken sausage as opposed to turkey sausage. Both dishes were delicious and I would definitely make both again; the rhubarb gave the muffin a lovely tart flavor and the texture and consistency of the muffin were perfect: light and fluffy on the inside with a beautiful smooth crust on the outside. I think the creme fraiche in the recipe made all the difference. It had just the right amount of sweetness too, often I find recipes to use too much sugar. In the future, orange zest might be a nice addition and I would probably use fresh raspberries so that they maintain their structure better. The savory dish:,the sausage and egg bake was delicious too; lots of bright contrasting flavors and textures: the sweet and chewy sundried tomatoes, tangy goat cheese, savory sausage, fresh spinach and basil, crunchy croutons, topped off by a soft runny egg.
Muffins "before"
Italian Sausage Egg Bake before the eggs
After the eggs
Done! We cooked it for about 19 minutes because we didn't want the eggs too runny
I've only made one recipe so far, but I look forward to trying many more!

Friday, January 27, 2012

800 Degrees Westwood: Pizza in a Flash

800 Degrees, the eagerly anticipated pizza joint by the Umami Burger guys, opened up a few weeks ago, but I waited til yesterday to go after the crazy crowds died down a bit. Still, I was expecting it to be quite popular so I was surprised when we went at 2pm and ordered immediately plenty of tables of available. There was definitely some bottlenecks at the toppings bar and at the Ferrari soda machine, but we were sitting down eating our pizzas in less than five minutes. It was quite good, really authentic tasting neopolitan pizza: super thin salty chewy crust with slight char, tangy fresh tomato sauce and quality toppings. A bit skimpy on some of the add-on toppings, but good deal for $7 a pie including our add on toppings. Parking in Westwood is a pain; we ended up parking a few blocks away at the Trader Joe's lot.
Pizza Bianca with olives and artichokes ($7)
Margherita pizza with salumi ($7)
Assembly line pizza
Wood fired oven
Ferrari soda machine. Too many choices! Several flavors within every brand too

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Ludobites 8.0 at Lemon Moon Review

A. came in town from NYC yesterday and we scored a last minute reservation to Ludobites 8.0 at Lemon Moon last night. I had submitted to the Urbanspoon lottery (along with K. and 2 other friends) and none of us were able to score a reservation, so we got lucky. I had been to Ludobites twice at Breadbar on 3rd Ave (back in the day when it was easy to get reservations) and Royal T in Culver City, but have missed the last few as they've all been either Downtown or in the Valley and reservations have been increasingly difficult to obtain. We had a really nice meal; I thought the menu / food was typically Ludo: rich decadent ingredients (like foie gras, butter, chicken liver, etc) but composed with a light and well-balanced touch, and some modern techniques to keep it fresh, fun and interesting. Favorites were the foie gras and the duck. The menu:
Brioche, Seaweed Yuzu butter. I always like Ludo's bread and butter, just a great way to start the meal. This was no exception, the buttery yet airy brioche with the soft butter with just the right bit of tang from yuzu
Chicken Tandoori Crackling. Rich little bite; I always love chicken liver mousse, so I liked this a lot. Not sure the crackling adds a whole lot since chicken liver mousse is so rich anyway, but I enjoyed it
Foie Gras, Tamarin, Turnips, Daikon. I really enjoyed this dish; the foie gras was so silky and light, and I liked the balance with the tangy / sour tamarind broth, fresh thai mint / basil, and crunch from the daikon
Duck, Orange, Olives, Carrots. Another perfectly balanced dish between the fresh and caramelized citrus, salty olive, glazed carrots and perfectly cooked, tender duck, with just the right amount of fat. There was a bit of a sesame crust on the skin of the duck which was nice; reminded me of a fusion Chinese / French dish
Steamed John Dory, Squash Spelt Risotto, Fennel, Lemon. I liked the combinations in this dish, with the sweet squash puree, chewy spelt and freshness from the fennel and lemon cream. The fish was just a little overcooked and dry to me.
Apples, Caramel, Orange Creamsicle. A simple but good dessert with big chunks of apple. Can't really go wrong with apple, caramel and orange

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Review of Versace for H&M Purchases

Versace for H&M palm print sequin dress, Prada Minimal Baroque Sunglasses, Opening Ceremony booties
Keeping with the tropical theme from my Mexican vacation, here are my Versace for H&M purchases from last week. I missed the launch frenzy as I was in Taiwan, but had seen a few pieces returned at the H&M in Century City and midtown NYC since the launch date, along with all the prelaunch videos and marketing. Versace is a little too South Beach flashy for me and I can't say that I loved any of the pieces that I saw in stores and found the fabrics to be too polyester rayon feeling / looking in spite of being mostly silk and really did not like the shoes and bags. I just didn't find anything worth buying at full price. However, when N. told me that she saw some pieces 50% off on Monday at South Coast Plaza, I decided to check out the remainders in the stores on Wednesday. I bought 2 dresses that I had never actually seen before in stores, the green and turquoise sequin palm print / alligator print dress from the Sunset Blvd store and the black, pink and purple heart fringe dress from the Beverly Center, both for 50% off. I'm a little surprised that I was still able to find dresses in my size, particularly since the store told me they were marked down over a week ago. What else was left was mostly what I had seen lots of before in stores: the purple and red asymmetrical dresses, the purple and black bustier chiffon dresses (all of which never fit me right, surprisingly too small on top), the pink heart fringe skirt and top separates, the red palm print jeans, the sleeveless Japanese print dress and tons of shoes and bags. The two dresses I bought are true to size, but on the whole, I found the collection to run really small, a lot smaller than the Lanvin x H&M collection (caveat being that I'm about five months pregnant in these pics). Many of the dresses are designed to be skintight, so you really need to try on the pieces to make sure they fit. They didn't have my favorite pieces from the collection, the long sleeve Japanese print dress and leggings that were featured in Vogue, but I think these two that I got are pretty fun and very Versace. I wish I had the palm print dress a week ago; it would have been perfect for a Puerto Vallarta beach wedding! I'm not sure that I'm going to keep both of them; I'm thinking about returning the heart fringe dress. Thoughts? The Lanvin x H&M collaboration still is my favorite collaboration to date by far.
The back of the sequin palm print dress. I thought they were bananas when I bought the dress (a la Prada), but they are actually alligators
H&M heart fringe dress that was in the ads
Kinda fun, but as K. said, maybe a little too 80's?
Not sure what Otis thinks
The ads (images via Fashionista)

Friday, January 20, 2012

Puerto Vallarta Scenery

Our trip to Puerto Vallarta last week was actually my first trip to Mexico ever. I've been to a bunch of tropical places including the Caribbean, Central America, Asia but somehow never made it to Mexico, even while growing up in Southern California. Puerto Vallarta is nice, but definitely has the feel of a big tourist resort town. The beaches are dominated by a row of large resort hotels curving all along the bay. We stayed at one, the Westin Puerto Vallarta. I much prefer smaller, more private boutique hotels or villas; my favorite places that I've traveled to are places like Bali and St. Barths. It just feels too overdeveloped and corporate otherwise; it feels like we could be anywhere. We stayed on the 9th floor of a huge 14 story resort with several pools and restaurants. I know a lot of people like this kind of experience, but for me, it was just too much people, too much stuff, not enough peace and privacy, all the time. The Westin was fine; we got a great airfare / hotel package through Orbitz, so I can't really complain too much. It definitely wasn't as nice as some of the other Westins that I've stayed at, particularly in the rooms and bathrooms. The beds and pillows weren't "heavenly bed" soft and the rooms and bathrooms could just use a little freshening up. I'm just happy it wasn't too noisy in the hallways. Many of the water features in the front of the hotel were turned off, but the pool grounds with all the palms were pretty. I wasn't too pleased that they charged for internet, although it seems to be the norm for all the hotels in the area. The beach was rather rocky with a strong current so we never ventured into the water, although I'm not a fan of going in the ocean anyway. When the sun was out though, it was really pretty, the water just sparkles and shimmers intensely blue, though different from the Caribbean turquoise. We strolled around the Marina a lot for meals and ventured to the Centro district downtown for a stroll along the Malecon around sunset followed by dinner a few blocks up the hill. The Malecon along the water was lined with huge nightclubs and touristy restaurants but a nice place for a stroll before dinner. The sunsets in Puerto Vallarta are gorgeous, particularly when there are a bit of clouds; fiery pinks, reds and oranges over the bay. All in all, we had a nice vacation, though it's not a place that I would be rushing back to return to since there are so many amazing places in the world to travel to.

Shots of the Westin Property:
View from our balcony
The Malecon at sunset
The marina. Calypso St. Barth x Target dress; I've actually gotten a ton of use out of this dress while on vacations, nice coverup from the sun

Mexican Breakfast #2

On our second morning in Puerto Vallarta, we tried Terraza di Roma in the Marina. I ordered the chilaquiles again while K. got a chorizo scramble. I liked the chilaquiles from Mr. Cream better; the tortillas were too soggy in this version and the sauce didn't have as much kick or flavor. Overall, both dishes felt greasier / heavier. Still, it was nice to sit on the dockside patio and enjoy the view of the boats in the Marina.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Marisma Fish Tacos in Puerto Vallarta

My favorite part of vacation is being able to try all the delicious local food. I tend to prefer street food or homestyle cooking as opposed to fancier fusion places. I always do my research ahead of time, usually through Chowhound, and prepare a list of places to try. More often than not, I plan my hotel to be convenient to the best places for food, preferably walking distance. We didn't have too much choice during our trip to Puerto Vallarta since we were going to a wedding, but luckily the Westin is walking distance from a few good places in the Marina and a short cab ride away from downtown. My must try for Puerto Vallarta was Marisma's Fish Tacos, and it was indeed so good that we had to go back twice for lunch. There's a location in the Marina, not too far from Mr. Cream's, so it was an easy 20 minute walk from our hotel. Over our two visits, we ordered the grilled fish, grilled shrimp, fried fish, fried shrimp, calamari and crab tacos. K. preferred the grilled shrimp whereas I preferred the fried fish tacos. The fried fish was perfect, a single piece of fried fish with a smooth non-greasy batter delicately encasing the moist flaky fish. The corn tortilla was perfect, not too grainy and held up to all the sauces, and the taco was topped simply with some shredded cabbage which provided nice freshness and crunch. The array of sauces were great: two creamy sauces, one green and one pink, a hot salsa, a red shallot sauce and a soy based shallot sauce, along with some lime and chopped salsa. I liked using all the sauces, particularly the creamy pink sauce, the red shallot sauce and the fiery hot sauce which really gave some nice kick that lasted for hours. In the future, I would definitely stick with fish or shrimp, the calamari and crab weren't as good. I'd love to find a good fish taco place in LA!
All dressed up and ready to go


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