Wood Spoon: Chicken Pot Pie for the Soul & Lens

Many of us in the food blogosphere all carry around the same Canon s90 camera but very few of us actually know how to use it. There are several exceptions to this rule and one of my favorites is Julian aka DJJewelz. He uses the same camera as all of us, no Photoshop, and always manages to take beautiful pictures. Sure he has the artists’ eye but he also knows simple shortcuts for better pictures. My new friend Nastassia, of Let Me Eat Cake, and I were both talking at the Latin American Dessert Crawl about how in awe we were of DJJewelz’s pictures and how we so needed a class with him. During this crawl one of the stops we skipped was Wood Spoon, a Brazilian restaurant in Downtown LA. The two of us girls conjured up a plan: take DJJewelz to lunch and have him help us with our cameras. We arrived on a Friday for lunch so we had better lighting for our impromptu class.

We had all heard, thanks to Giada De Laurentiis episode of “The Best Thing I Ever Ate”, that Wood Spoon had a great chicken pot pie. That was obviously my main course but we decided to start with some appetizers aka photo subjects. We ordered the Pastel Portuguese, which was a shrimp stuffed dumpling with coconut sauce, and we also ordered Coxinha, which is the most popular Brazilian street food with chicken inside. Both Nastassia and I were nervous to step out of “Automatic” mode and venture into “AV”. We were both convinced that with so many options we would screw up the setting on camera to no return. Julian was a patient teacher and walked us through 4 things that we really needed to do to easily enhance our pictures. Between F-Stops, exposure, Macro settings and white balance testing we were starting to get some really good pictures.

At this point in the meal the pictures were actually better than the food. We were in during lunch hours and we were sad that out of all their exciting juices and lemonades on the menu we could order none of them and could only drink iced tea or coke. Oh well, this was school, we couldn’t be distracted by a foodgasm this early on in the lesson. We were getting confident and then came the Chicken Pot Pie. This was no Marie Callendars version, this had fresh corn and hearts of palm and a surprising amount of black pepper. It was a perfect portioned lunch and I was in love with the adorable wood spoon that laid across the crusty top. I dug in and as Julian said, “If it’s good enough for Giada, then it is good enough for me!”

Let Me Eat Cake was sad to learn that she couldn’t order cake or any dessert at all on this day. However, we really weren’t complaining. The restaurant could/should have included all items on their menu but we still got great food subjects and a Pot Pie fit for an Italian American Food Princess. It was a delicious and educational lunch and I strive to try and take better picture and get out of my “Automatic” comfort zone. Julian gave us the good advice to check these simple camera settings first because it easier than having to return to the restaurant and order the same thing for a redo…but with Wood Spoon I woodn’t (sorry, I couldn’t help myself) mind returning for another chicken pot pie lunch!

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Thirsty Thursday: FOUR at Checkers & Chef Todd FTW!

We have written about Checkers and their Thursday happy hour called FOUR for a long time, but it is truly our favorite weekly deal. The man on the left, Tyler, takes care of the drinks and the man on the right, Chef Todd, handles the food. They have fine-dining expertise and skill that is made affordable so you can easily indulge to your belly’s content. They offer four plates and four drinks for four hours (from 4p-8p) on Thursday for $4 each. It is the deal of the century. Last week after John Kelly Chocolates and before the Sexy Singles Soiree 2.0 we sampled all four of the dishes.

Last week the theme for FOUR was “Best of FOUR” paying homage to people’s favorite bites and drinks. The food served was calamari salad, braised beef shortribs with risotto, halibut fish tacos, and a roasted red pepper and tomato soup. The drinks ranged from, my favorite, the Secret Garden to an Old Cuban. I know what you are thinking, why am I telling you about all of the delicious things you missed? There are a couple of reasons: 1. I am mean. 2. It featured edamame beans in the new ways that Chef Todd was interviewed about. 3. To make you go today and discover more FOUR deliciousness.

Here is what is on today’s FOUR Menu (all items are $4 from 4p-8pm):

2007 SANTA BARBARA SAUVIGNON BLANC – A gold medal recipient at the West Coast Wine Fair, this is a lively and bright example of the varietal, with lush flavors and a clean finish!
2008 SANTA BARBARA CHARDONNAY – Creamy on the palate with pear and citrus notes, this chardonnay is well-balanced and expressive.
2007 SANTA BARBARA PINOT NOIR – a great little pinot with hints of earth and cigar, foiled by ripe blackberry and lively acidity.  91+ PTS, WINE & SPIRITS MAGAZINE
2007 SANTA BARBARA COUNTY CABERNET SAUVIGNON – Deep and rich, with a velvety texture.  An ideal pairing with the Sonoma duck!

CALEDONIA PRAWN SCAMPI – beautiful large prawns with stewed tomatoes, tarragon, and house-made herb fettuccini!
CANNELLINI BEAN STEW – with charred Spanish chorizo and fresh lemon and basil…
MAITAKE MUSHROOM TOAST – served on grilled sourdough with a mushroom butter.
PAN-SEARED SONOMA DUCK BREAST – paired with caramelized cauliflower, spring onion and Medjool dates; spectacular!>

As someone that is from the Central Coast, I love that they are partnering with Summerland Winery this Thursday for FOUR. I don’t know if it is from my childhood dream of owning my own boutique hotel or my love of good quality cocktails and well prepared food but I just love Checkers. If you are unable to enjoy it tonight…shoot for next Thursday. Also, I just heard that Checkers will be giving away Mother’s Day gifts for all of the moms out there. Here are all the details:

MOM EATS FREE BRUNCH

The a-la-carte brunch will be served on Sunday, May 9 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Checkers Downtown’s newly renovated dining room replete with style and artwork evoking the hotel’s 1920’s origins. Checkers’ Executive Chef Todd Allison has culled a menu certain to sate the desires of the most finicky of mothers. For the traditionalists there are Checkers’ Buttermilk Pancakes filled with strawberries, blueberries or bananas and walnuts, or for the more adventurous there is the Open-Faced Fried Egg Sandwich on grilled sourdough with prosciutto, stewed tomatoes and arugula. But, if she is the elegant-at-all-times type, she’ll certainly enjoy the Maine Lobster Risotto, the Seared Maine Diver Scallops with Moro blood orange, fork mashed fingerling potato and pomegranate glaze or the Grilled Colorado Lamb Loin with Rancho Gordo heirloom bean ragout and natural jus. Whatever her tastes are, mom will dine in style – and the host will save enough to buy her some flowers too.

The “Mom Eats Free” offer is valid up to $30 in value and does not include alcohol, tax or gratuity. Certain conditions and restrictions apply. Prices range from $9 to $30 and the full Mother’s Day brunch menu can be viewed at http://www.hiltoncheckers.com/files/mothers_day_menu.pdf. Reservations can be made by calling 213-624-0000 or online at http://www.opentable.com/checkers-downtown?rid=276.

Times are tough and Checkers is making things easier for you. Whether it is by offering you four plates and four drinks for $4 on Thursdays or  by giving your mom a Mother’s Day meal, they have won our UG hearts! I don’t want to get in trouble with the other UG….but one of the UGs is working on winning Chef Todd’s heart! Hint: It isn’t me.

P.S. If you wanna know how Checkers makes the UGs feel, then order the plate of gooey chcolate chip cookies…yup, it’s kind of like that!

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.

UG Crew in Full Force at Sexy Singles’ Soiree 2.0

The UG Girls can be described as many things but one of our favorite classifications is single. There ain’t no man holding us down, well, if they are it isn’t in a bad way. Unfortunately, it has been a while since that has happened, or as Josie has said, “I am a born again virgin.” Anyway, we knew we had to attend the Sexy Singles Soiree hosted by our two favorite bloggers and Tweetettes: The Minty and Vixen.

Since Josie and I are not the only Single Ladies in the office (you just did the Beyonce finger move, didn’t you?) we brought in our PR and Accounting interns, Lea and Maria. We were also reunited with our first intern ever, Young Jin, who gave us all the Eating Dog post. The two hosts had specialty cocktails and, as a Jameson girl, I loved the Minty’s drink. Although the interns told me the Vixen’s gin based drink was good and strong as hell. Did I meet the man of dreams? No, not quite but one thing that made a lovely cameo was the first USDA certified organic Tequila called Casa Noble. Relax folks, we did our part for Earth Day! The interns loved this tequila and I can guarantee we will all be looking for it this Cinco de Mayo.

Did I care that I didn’t meet the man of my dreams? Nope, not one bit. We had great drinks, we were at our favorite downtown spot Drago Centro with their Happy Hour which goes all day and every day, and of course we were in fantastic company. Our friends in the blogosphere/Twitterazi made appearances including Hanhonymous, VeronicainLA, and Finer Things.

The night was fantastic and the event thankfully wasn’t a sausage fest, so I had fun with the girls. Speaking of which, what is the female equivalent of a sausage fest? If you can answer that question, you’d be a total Uncouth Gourmand. My favorite part of the event was a game that they had where everyone drew a playing card and then you had to make the best poker hand. This required the group to socialize and talk to one another. I, Carina, am one hell of a competitive girl and I had the King of Spades. I was being rude and rejecting in honor of the game (probably not that far off real life) and told people that I wouldn’t talk to them unless they were atleast a face card. May not have been the best tactic but I was the only girl amongst the four winners, I got a King and Ace Full House. I liked to call us the only winners, but truly we were all winners for getting ourselves out there and opening ourselves up…I am talking about our hearts…get your mind out of the gutter!

Brewery Art WALK, Vizzi TRUCK, & WorldFare BUStaurant

Saturday was the day that I should have been at school taking graduation pictures and picking up my cap and gown for my grad school graduation. However, that was not what I was doing. Instead I was looking forward to another school on Saturday. I was going to be attending an Italian Wine Class at Cube Marketplace. Minty and I knew we’d be attending this and set off to the Brewery Art Walk before the class. It was perfect weekend weather and it was magical to wander into and out of lofts to look at people’s collections in this art colony area.

Everything was lovely and then I stumbled into a place that I have been wanting to visit for years. I found the second Hipcooks location in the Brewery Arts District. I fell in love with their large communal tables, wood stump cutting boards, and cute aprons. I have a list of their upcoming classes and will definitely return for a class. By the way, I am so in love with their colander light fixtures.

After walking in to this cute kitchen my hunger started to grow and I was in the market for some food. Thankfully, just outside the art walk was the Vizzi truck. Minty told me that she read on Twitter that the World Fare was gonna come, however, they were nowhere in sight. Vizzi was not a second choice by any means and we ordered food. They only launched a few weeks ago and we were blown away by the fancy TV screens on the truck. I ordered the Balsamic BBQ Braised Wagyu Sliders and Minty had the Black Skillet Jidori Chicken Sliders. Both sandwiches were served atop Pimento-Spiced and Yakima salted Popcorn. Popcorn is one of my favorite food and I loved this fun side dish. I think I love that popcorn is such an uncouth thing to eat, it always feels as though it is being shoveled into your mouth and I feel like I can it unbelievable quantities. Minty and I subscribe to the school of “Sharing is Caring” so I gave her one of my beef sliders in exchange for one of her chicken ones. I liked hers better and she could sense it, so she asked me if I wanted to switch one more chicken for beef. I apologetically nodded and was happy as can be. These were good sliders  and the popcorn was a wonderful surprise. If I had one complaint it would be the buns. I am a bit of a bread snob and this tasted similar to King’s Hawaiian rolls, so I am guessing that is what they use. Not bad, but not up to par with the rest of the slider.

It seemed almost immediately after we ordered, the famed World Fare Bus arrived. They were welcomed by a line and a camera crew for promotional purposes. It took a while for them to park and set up and so we waited, plus we had to digest.  This BusTaurant is famous for Bunny Chows, “Originally a South African street worker food; a hollowed out loaf of bread with filled with chicken curry, Chef Andi has taken the concept to a new level as a portable easy-to-eat medium for serving different flavors from around the world.” It is a very cool concept and we liked the second story, even if the steps were rather scary. We were already a bit full and ordered the Bunny Chow combo to share with Chicken Curry and Short Ribs and added in the Truffle Mac n Cheese Balls. We were first given the wrong order (photographed below) but we can’t complain because it was delivered to us after we were told to take a seat upstairs. The upstairs was beautiful but unfortunately there were no seats, so we stood.

We had the order corrected and we both dug in to sample. I liked this brioche bun much better and the chicken curry was good with my favorite golden raisins, athough, the short rib was pretty watery and it soaked right through the bread. Our meal came with a perfect cookie. However, for me, the item that was the clear winner was the truffle mac n cheese balls. They were perfection and reached a level that the ones at Fred 62 just can’t match. After these two lunches at mobile eateries, I was stuffed and prepared for wine class. They are both trucks I would try again, but that mac n cheese ball is something I would drive miles and wait in line for. Anyway walk, truck, and bus on and I will tell you about the wine class in the very near future.

Matzah Brei: It’s All It’s Cracked Up To Be

In the last post, Josie mentioned disappointing brunch food. Normally, brunch food comes in two categories: 1. Average and diner-esque 2. Delicious, but ridiculously overpriced. Breakfast food is so easy and simple to make so where is this nonsense added price coming from? Do restaurants think they can capitalize on serving a meal that mixes together 2 other meals? Who knows. What I do know is that when you look back on your childhood one of the first dishes you probably made was scrambled eggs. Cracking an egg for a child, and even for me now, is monumentally fun. It’s cracking the shell into the world of cooking and the world of all life forms.

I don’t know if it is because of my new idol, Ruth Reichl, or the reemergence of my Jewishness that seems to come back every few months but yesterday for dinner I wanted Matzah Brei. It is a simple dish that is basically the ingredients of plain scrambled eggs or an omelet with the addition of matzah crackers. This dish is most commonly a brunch food that makes a large showing during passover when leavened bread is not allowed. The truly interesting part of this dish is that it is a blank canvas and depending on what area your Jewish ancestors were from affects whether the dish is sweet or savory. You can either put salsa on it or applesauce and jam. It can either be scrambled or more like an omelet. Since becoming a devout Ruth Reichl convert, I used her simple recipe religiously and broke it into pieces like scrambled eggs. She may have been the LA and NY Times food critic and the editor of Gourmet magazine but this dish could not be any simpler. 2 eggs, 2 matzah crackers, salt, and butter. You break the matzah, you get it damp with water, you crack eggs, stir, and fry. When it came time to dress it up, I chose applesauce. It seemed the most fitting. I don’t really remember this dish as a kid but I always saw my grandma putting orange marmalade on matzah for breakfast.

Later, the night of my BFD (brunch for dinner), I talked to my mom and told her about my dinner. She claimed that she  and my grandma used to always make this dish for me as a kid. I might not remember this, but as soon as I took my first bite it felt just like home. When I asked my mom how it was served for me as a kid, she replied, “With jam.” Not a surprise, I know that my family is Ashkenazi with more of a sweet rather than savory palate. By sweet, I mean fruity. My grandma introduced me to the joys, from an early age, of raisins in everything. From carrot salad to stuffed hen and bran muffins, nothing was without raisins. In fact, I am looking for a stuffed cabbage recipe with meat and raisins similar to the one she used to make. If you have such a delicious recipe pass it on and if you are looking for a cheap and delicious comfort brunch food add this to your repertoire. From the breaking of crackers to the cracking of eggs, this is a perfect no fail UG dish! Crack on, this dish is all it is cracked up to be!

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.