My Time at the 1st 8th Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational

Last year, I attended the 1st 7th Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational and I had an absolute blast. There was no doubt that I would attend this year’s festivities. The last time around was also the first time our friend Arun and I really got to hang out and know each other. Arun is the so-called Mayor of Downtown and is a vegetarian that gets such joy from bread, butter, and cheese. He had secured himself as my date months ago and despite a new woman in his life, I was still kept as his official date. I arrived 15 minutes before the event started and the line was already quite long. We walked into the Los Angeles Studios and it was immediately reminiscent of the actual 1st annual LA Street Food Fest at the same location.

Once again, these nondescript streets were filled with people, food trucks, vendors, and a ton of high energy. The sea of people wasn’t quite as large and the judging area with all of the really interesting sandwiches was off to the side. I had entered as a judge several weeks ago and I was glad that my group and I were all approved as judges. The most exciting part of the GCI is the competition. You get to see some truly unusual concoctions. The first round is called the missionary and is supposed to be just standard bread and cheese. This may sound like boresville but the possibilities are endless.

There was some slight variation in this round, even though I am not quite positive that it was actually allowed. My favorite of this round was one on Russian Rye with tomatoes, relish, and onions added in the sandwich. I don’t know what it was about this dish but it just totally worked for me. It was like a meatless strange version of a reuben that made this a grilled cheese favorite for me.

After the first round we took a break and went to the common area for non-judges. There was all you can eat free Tillamook grilled cheeses, potato chips, tomato soup, and Izze sparkling juices. There was also numerous trucks including 2 Grilled Cheese Trucks, World Fare, Cool Haus, Border Grill and specialty sandwiches from some of LA’s finest chefs. I wasn’t quite ready to stand in line so I went up above to buy a beer.

If I had to make one complaint it would be that there were no drinks being sold or given out in the judging area. I got so desperate for a Diet Coke (remember I am a Diet Coke head) that I walked to the front of the Grilled Cheese truck and grabbed one and laid cash on the table. There was a ton of people in cheese costumes and other silly outfits and the atmosphere was fun the entire time. There was cheese calling contests, grilled cheese poetry, cheesy costume contests and speeches from the official Mayor of Cheese. When we returned back to the judging area it was the Kama Sutra round, which means the sandwiches got a little crazier.

The judging this year was much smoother than last year. The lines were shorter but you still got the distinct idea that you had to beg for your piece of the grilled cheese. One sandwich that I was camped out to get was being made at the end of the table with such care. It was the Duck, Duck, Goosed grilled cheese. It had duck confit, foie gras, a fruit jam for sweetness, and a cave-aged gruyere. It sounded incredible and it tasted even better! In line, I heard a girl that sounded disgusted ask, “Eww, duck feet?!?!” Apparently she only heard half of the “confit’ word. The guys that made the sandwich weren’t exactly amateurs, they were from The Oaks Gourmet Market in Hollywood. It was the last sandwich I tried and it was definitely the best! I was in love at first bite…

Josie didn’t attend last year or this year due to her Saturday catering job but she was at the first couple GCI events that took place in a loft in Downtown. Despite only seeing the last two years the upgrade in this event is remarkable. More people, more sponsors, more vendors, and way more enthusiasm. The tagline of the GCI is “Bread-Butter-Cheese-Victory” and I can, without hesitation, say that they nailed them all. The event was a complete success. I, on the other hand, disappointed myself by only making it 3.5 hours, but it IS a 6 hour food event. You were a true UG hero if you made it through all of the rounds. Anyway, that was my experience and my favorites, what do you got? I want all the cheesy details.

The Pasta Bible: A Mighty Unholy Book

Photo Credit to RalphAndJenny on Flickr

If you are like me, then you love Fail Blog and it brings you great joy to add new things on Twitter with the hashtag #awesometypos. When these things are food related I often say the phrase “uncouth gourmand” in my head. However, there are certain thing that are beyond a fail and beyond uncouth…they are just wrong.

In a new cookbook entitled, Pasta Bible, under the recipe for Spelt Tagliatelle with Sardines and Prosciutto one of the ingredients had a major typographical error. Was it a misprint on an unusual ingredient that is easily misspelled or confused? Nope, it was on the most common ingredient in cooking, the one that had been written correctly in more than 150 recipes in the book.

The mistake ingredient was “salt and freshly ground black people.”

Any idiot would know that this was clearly just a mistake but it is costing the publisher, Penguin Group Australia, $18,000 in reprints and a world of embarrassment.

For more on the story see:

Sydeny Morning Hearld

BBC

Yahoo

If you screw up, Food World, we will be there!

Brunchin’ with the Girls in Pasadena

It’s a mix of insomnia, hypomania, and a lot of love that gets me up in the morning to build this little thing we often refer to as UG. But on this particular morning, I woke up in a bunk bed in Malibu! The problem, however, was that I was supposed to meet Carina, Roni, and her bud Caroline who was in town from Sweden for brunch at Central Park in Pasadena!

We’ve been there only once before. Funny thing about that place is that when we went last time, Carina’s then-boyfriend said this of the pic of us: “Dude, you guys look so hungover!” Don’t be quick to judge – we were and he was right. Therefore, our memory of this place was a little fuzzy. It wasn’t a first choice place. The non-UGs were coming from the monthly Rose Bowl flea market and we were looking for a brunch spot in Pasadena. Carina wanted to try Maison Akira’s $38 French-Japanese buffet brunch. Caroline wanted something a bit more traditional and I, being jobless, didn’t want to spent that much on eggs. Go figure, right? If I could have yolky eggs on everything, I’d be a satisfied woman. But since there aren’t many brunch places in Pasadena, we opted for Central Park.

We had met Roni a couple times before through Arun, the Mayor of Downtown, and she has always intrigued me. She’s from Tel Aviv, a Harvard grad, runs a math club, is a blogette peer, and fronts a band (which she just fired everyone from). Only two words can describe this girl: F-in awesome. When talking to her, you get this feeling that this girl is running her own one-man pirate ship; she is no marginal character. We learned a lot from her and chitchatted about everything from books, movies, music, dating, and life in general. The place was packed so we talked for a bit, and well, we could’ve talked for hours more. It was nice.

Here at UG, you get a more playful and, often times, less sophisticated worldview of food. Admittedly, our blogosphere buds do this just as passionately, but more beautifully and probably a lot more couthly than we do. I’ll try my best to explain. We sat down and were all super hungry. After indecisively narrowing my entree down to waffles and eggs, an impulsive urge for a turkey club came upon me as I coveted my table neighbor’s food. Carina ordered the eggs sardu, Roni the croissant french toast, and Caroline ordered the shrimp pasta.

The meals got to us and they looked edible enough to tickle our pickle. We dove in. I try to write as honest and true as possible so that anyone sitting at the same table before me, at the same establishment, about to eat the same food can relate on some level – albeit without the company. And perhaps it was our excitement, our hunger, or the lack of Pasadena brunch spots – but these butter loving babes didn’t melt.

In fact, it sucked. I mean it was only a slight notch above typical diner fare for probably double the price.

But fear not. Like any loyal dater, we’ll just have to give it another shot. Plus, this brunch place does impress more with a hungover body…so I am sure this can continue to be a morning after place. However, after a whirlwind weekend in Malibu, it just simply didn’t stack up.

Sticking to Kosher Meat: For Love and For Health

Photo Credit to DinnerCraft on Flickr

It has been almost a year since my last relationship ended. It was a sad situation and it came in the form of a break-up email I had to send to my ex-boyfriend who was stuck in Europe. Since then, I made new friends and choices and was told by my business and religious mentor to stick to kosher meat. He meant this in terms of trying to strictly date Jewish men. The theory behind it was that while I am still young, my heart and livelihood would be better off if I only dated people that I would consider marrying. A rabbi later pushed this point by saying that marrying a Jew doesn’t guarantee success but it does help your chances for a successful marriage. Up until that point, I have dated a lot of “interesting” people but none of which I would have ever considered marrying: an out of work actor/scientologist, a homeless man, an anarchist named Pogo, and other winners. They were all beautiful and fascinating people but I decided to get serious about dating for the sake of less broken hearts. The journey with Jewish men has been healthier, rational, but not quite the amount of intensity (i.e. drama, according to Josie) that I was looking for. Through my time on Jdate I have discovered that there are a ton of non-Jewish women on there trying to nail a Jewish man…clearly there is something healthy about this idea of kosher meat.

In fact, if you read today’s New York Times article entitled More People Choosing Kosher for Health there is definitely something to this notion. According to the article there is a huge kosher meat trend not because of religious reasons but because the public views it as healthier and safer. All of the meat has to be processed under strict kosher law and is monitored extremely carefully, from the way it is killed to the way it is butchered. All kosher meat is also heavily salted which helps to keep away certain bacteria, making it a safe choice.

I can make obvious (albeit uncouth) links about the Orthodox Union heavily monitoring the meat to the Jewish mother monitoring her son or about the careful butchering of meat to Jewish men with circumcisions. However, what do you think? Do you view Jewish men and kosher meat as a safer and healthier option? I do, in fact, that is what I intend to say to my future Jewish husband before we eat kosher brisket at the wedding reception.

Euro Pane: Bringing the BEST Egg Salad to the People

“I live in Pasadena, which is home to your favorite egg salad sandwich.” That was the first thing I said when I met Ruth Reichl. She is now my idol, however, then I was just beginning to learn her story. I read that fun fact on one of her tweets, before I read the heartbreaking ones and learned that Gourmet magazine went under. My fellow food bloggers and friends, Gastronomy Blog and Teenage Glutster, were in line with me to meet Ruth after the celebration and talk for Gourmet magazine. They both told me that Ruth Reichl’s book Garlic and Sapphires changed their lives. After meeting her and hearing their vetting, I knew this was a book that I must read. For the last few years, thanks to B School and coming into womanhood, I have been strictly reading business, economics, and feminist books. Since I finished school I have moved on to read nothing but Erica Jong, once you find a writer and character (Isadora Wing) that share your exact voice it is impossible to let go. On my recent trip home I finally picked up Ruth’s book and once again my life was changed. Ruth Reichl has the career, personality, palate, and writing ability that I aspire to hold. I finished the book in only a few days and now feel a new vigor to transform my life and really get great at writing about food. Color me inspired.

After returning back to LA after a great time in Nor Cal, I came home to discover that my bathroom sink overflowed. It was a nightmare. I escaped to my favorite bakery, home of the best egg salad, with the last couple of chapters of her book to savor. When I first moved to Pasadena, nearly 3 years ago, it was Lovebirds Cafe across the street that I was most excited about. I loved the name of the cafe and the interesting sandwich menu with crisp green apples and sharp cheddar on a turkey sandwich. Unfortunately, the place was awful. However, it is because of those bakery failures that I traveled across the street to Euro Pane. It was not the egg salad that first stole my heart there; it was the caramel sea salt french macaron. My boyfriend at the time was an emotional eater, who felt the exact same way about food that I did, and we got this cookies the morning after every sleepover. My next boyfriend, who was much more of a drinker than an eater, didn’t get food at all and said it was the “total chick’s cookie” for those times when us girlies crave the sweet and salty. I later described this particular cookie as “the essence of femininity.” I find the term to be much more feminist approved and accurate. On this emotional day when I came in, while my sink was being fixed and the tiles on my bathroom floor were scrubbed, I needed a cookie. At the cash register they were giving samples of the caramel sea salt macaron. This quarter of a cookie filled my salty/sweet quote but I still needed more sugar. I ordered the berry macaroon. The consistency and complexity was just as delicious but in the words of Sinead O’Connor and my Yelp review “Nothing Compares 2 U, my sweet and savory cookie.”

Of course, I ordered the egg salad that I have been raving about for the last two years. I had Ruth Reichl’s book in my hand and I really tried hard to concentrate on the way in which an expert would eat this. I felt as though I had all of her words and shared experiences at my disposal and I closed my eyes to enjoy and enhance the taste. This sandwich is open faced, which for a non-UG may mean a knife and fork. The eggs themselves are soft boiled and are right at the perfect line of very delicate and not oozy (technical term). The fresh baked bread has a sun dried tomato spread that perfectly sweetens the sandwich and some fresh baby greens for texture, color, and taste. The sandwich then has the final cracking of black pepper and sliced chives on top and it is served. It is a sandwich of renewal and despite being Jewish and always despising Easter this would be the epitome of an Easter sandwich. Let’s just say I wasn’t worried about my bathroom sink after eating this sandwich. I often say that 80% of my life is the quest for a good sandwich and this, my friends, is it.

I know Pasadena gets a bad rap for food, but we truly hold one of the greatest sandwiches and we are about to get even luckier. The rumors are on the blogosphere (from Cafe Pasadena and Brigham Yen) that we are are getting a brand new Euro Pane. Whether it is a relocation or a second location, I am thrilled! We will be sure to let you know, when we know more, but for now grab an egg salad sandwich and a cookie because your life just got so much more delicious.

Cilantro: A Clean Crisp Herb or a Soapy Flavor?

Photo Courtesy of Stadum Girl on Flickr

“Do you have the cilantro gene?” I first heard that question asked last Sunday on the Beef Roll Crawl. One of the crawlers didn’t have any of the beef rolls because cilantro was the main filling and she simply could not eat it. I thought the question was a silly one because I know cilantro to be a strong taste, so people either love it or hate it, but what the heck did that have to do with a gene? Perhaps I understand this about cilantro so much because I have been told my entire life that I have a strong personality and I am used to people either loving or hating me. It’s strong, the eater picks a team, and then game over; there’s no need for genetics in this equation.

I am someone that has been on Team Cilantro since the age of 9 on. I was born and raised in Santa Cruz (where I am typing this post now) and there has always been an abundance of organic produce around in my own kitchen and in my community. I was always on the fruity side and grew up olallieberry and yellow plum picking, my attraction to vegetables took a little longer to develop. My favorite vegetable was, something that was actually a flower, the artichoke. Why would I eat a salad when there was such a fibrous, fun to eat and dip, plant that I got to clean and get to the heart of? However, when I was 9 there was an organic cafe for college students that opened up near  UCSC on the Westside of Santa Cruz, that had a Chinese Chicken Salad that I fell in love with, it was the first salad I ever loved. It wasn’t the standard one that you may see at Americanized Chinese restaurants. This one had fresh grilled chicken, rice vinegar (my favorite), and fresh and crisp veggies. The first couple times I had this my mom asked for no cilantro for me, because the flavor was too strong. This is when I started to come to terms with obsession with food. I have never lived on the Westside of Santa Cruz and yet I would demand that my mom drive me there just for this salad. One time we called it in, picked it up, and when we opened up the bag I saw that my salad was covered in cilantro. Upon opening up the environmentally friendly salad box the aroma hit me first. I knew that my current favorite salad was not in it’s usually dressed form. I thought about picking it off but I left it on and that is when my love affair with cilantro began. It had the cleanest taste I have ever eaten and after that my life with food was greatly enhanced. My Jewish grandma was an avid cook that especially loved Asian and Indian food. I grew up thinking that Yan Can Cook was on every grandma’s bookshelf and never knew that most grandmothers stuck to meat and potatoes. My grandma was one of the most thoughtful people and never imposed her tastes on everyone else. Always on her table was her fat-free margarine and real butter; the choice was yours (at the time I always chose margarine because I thought it made her happy and because it was easier for me to spread on the fresh baked bread). My favorite dish that she made was always Indian chicken, she set up bowls and bowls with toppings so she wasn’t imposing and that the decision was my own. The spread on the table reminds me now of banchan that you will see at KBBQ places. In the beginning, I just threw on shredded coconut and golden raisins (Like Grace Adler, I still LOVE raisins in everything) and after my positive experience with cilantro that became the first topping I threw on. I can’t imagine my food life without cilantro as it enhances fish (ceviche), soup (pho), sandwiches (banh mi), tacos and curries beautifully and adds that extra element into the flavor profile. What if this herb, that I have come to love for it’s fresh and clean taste, tasted too clean (in a bad way) to many people? Apparently there is a huge portion of the population that think that cilantro tastes like soap and just can’t eat it. This is the so-called cilantro gene. After inquiring about this strange term and doing some online research, I am shocked.

Here is what I have learned:

*There are a ton of I Hate Cilantro websites, groups, and followers

*Dr. Wysocki, a behavioral neuroscientist, looked into the idea of the gene by interviewing twins at the Twins Day Festival. Here is what the WSJ reported:

More than 80% of the identical twins gave ratings similar to their siblings, while only 42% of the fraternal twins did — suggesting cilantro hatred may be a genetic trait. But Dr. Wysocki cautions that he hasn’t yet analyzed enough fraternal twins to draw a firm conclusion.”

Dr. Wysocki contends dislike of cilantro stems from its odor, not its taste. His hypothesis is that those who don’t like it are unable to detect chemicals in the leaf that are pleasing to those who like the herb.

*Julia Child refused to eat cilantro (CNN Interview)

*Cilantro haters seem to never get the “fantastically savory” smell that the cilantro lovers smell (NPR)

*This is totally my own observance, and may have to do with my group of friends, but I find that a lot of the cilantro haters are either Japanese or Filipino.

It seems as though the love or hatred of cilantro goes way beyond a simple taste preference. There is passion in this issue. Perhaps only one other herb stirs up more controversy than this, but there is no need to go there. So are you a cilantro lover or hater? If it’s a hatred that many people share, should restaurants be more mindful of this?

Stephanie’s Guest Post: Riding in Cars with TheJGold

I don’t consider myself a foodie. My palate isn’t nearly broad enough to be one; I’ll try anything once, from balut to cacahuetes, but I still find myself ordering the same Spicy Eggplant Lunch Special again and again for years. (Yes, I still listen to Pavement, too.) But what appeals to me about reading Jonathan Gold’s articles is the sense that these foods this man seems to find occupy some kind of otherwordly Platonic ideal, and the dish itself, for someone like me, is always going to disappoint. Of course it is. I know that going in — but in the way that some people fantasize over romance novels without necessarily identifying with the virginal maiden, I’ll swoon over an unusually potent Twitter update from THEJGOLD about a scarlet payload of ground chiles collecting at the tip of a mango popsicle, all while knowing that there is, for me, no flavor-experience  as potent as the image itself. My copy of “Counter Intelligence” isn’t so much a guidebook as it is a book of sonnets — albeit creepy ones, to sausages. And when I attended the 2nd annual Gold Standard tasting event last month, my head buzzing with thoughts of texture and spice delivered from God, this became clearer to me than ever: ricotta cheese fresh enough to rip your face off (whatever that might mean) is still ricotta cheese. Virtually everything I tasted was delicious and fresh and fabulous and painfully real: to my tongue and my mind, unfortunately, ideas are delicious — but real food, real life? Meh.

Anyway, just a few days after Gold Standard, my boyfriend Matt and I were invited to our fancy author acquaintance Mark Z. Danielewski’s birthday, which was held at the high-falutin’ $$$ bar-restaurant Lucques. We’re non-drivers, and the trip from Pasadena to West Hollywood took two buses. I was anxiety-attack-level terrified — this was perhaps my first time sitting at the kind of bar that did not have a bowl of tortilla chips on it; I’m not even comfortable using cloth napkins. I was already hesitant and literally sweating, and soon as we approached the restaurant, I spotted a familiar silhouette: a blond, mustachioed Hitchcock through the window. Mr. Gold was afoot! This was beside the fact that the other thirty or so strangers at this gathering were all Very Important: Bret Easton Ellis (briefly introduced to my boyfriend but not to me!), Danny Elfman and Bridget Fonda (extremely awkward conversation about my pomeranian!), and everyone else was a “Mad Men” production-manager or God-knows-what. Within fifteen minutes of arriving, a random drunk lady asked if I knew anyone there. I motioned at Jonathan Gold and said that, well, I knew who he was. The next thing I know, she pulls a sudden “You’re from Pasadena? He’s from Pasadena!” introduction — and I was whisked into forced conversation with the man himself. I stammered about how I used to have a poster of him in my room from when he won the Pulitzer (stolen out of the LA Weekly rack display), and I Am Not A Foodie But…, and something something Ludobites chorizo milkshake, and I ran away, mortified, and had a kumquat drink in the far corner of the room. It was a blur, and he was soft-spoken, quiet, and patient. Mostly patient.

As the rest of the night wore on — me keeping my distance from Mr. Gold — I couldn’t help but think of why I felt the need to stress that whole “I am not a foodie” shpiel. Why was I proud of this? Did I think this was important? Did I really think it seemed more notable or flattering or “pure” that I was a fan of his prose in some kind of self-contained way? I quickly came to realize two things. One: I should be honest, but I don’t need to try to flatter a Pulitzer Prize winner; and Two: Duh. He knows this. Jonathan Gold f-ing knows that he’s a writer’s writer, an ex-copy-editor, ex-music-reviewer, luscious-textual-fantasy-crossover-superstar. He gets it. That’s why he does what he does how he does it. And I don’t need to love pork belly to get it. And maybe it’s more interesting if I don’t.

Later, at the end of the night, I mentioned to Mark the important birthday man that we were planning on taking the bus home to Pasadena. I have no idea why this surprised me, but he said, “Pasadena? Oooh, WAIT!” — and, as I chased him down, howling “NOOOOOOOO,” he ran outside precisely in time to catch Jonathan Gold and his amazing [former longtime LA Weekly editor-in-chief] wife Laurie Ochoa getting their car from the valet. And he insisted that they take us home. I didn’t even catch their reaction, but the next think I know, Mr. Gold opens the door to their little white car and says, very calmly, “Hop in.” And and and and, again, a blur! I could only reel at the thought of what series of events could have possibly led to this situation, me and my boyfriend sitting in the back of the Gold-Ochoa-mobile. I asked why they chose to live in Pasadena, expecting a very dramatic explanation about its proximity to the most authentic noodle huts of the San Gabriel Valley, but the answer was a lot more practical: They got a good deal on a house. Mr. Gold recommended plenty of nice, scenic Pasadena locations to check out — strange mortuaries, gardens, statues, historic estates, exactly zero restaurants — and his lovely and insanely nice wife kept politely laughing at my obviously terror-filled attempts at jokes, and the conversation was awkward, and the silence was awkward, and the car was very, very clean. I kept talking and talking the entire time and I may have said some weird shit (“That giant fake Oscar statue is totally wrapped in a condom!” “The city of Alhambra is ashamed of its Chinese residents!”, etc., for 20 minutes), and Matt kept trying to steer the conversation to food, and I embarrassed myself more than I ever thought possible, and it was totally awesome.

Stephanie Solis