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!

Uncovering the Secrets to the UG Mating Rituals: Part 1

By: Nadia Noir aka DoubleDEntendre

Biologically and chemically, most men are attracted to luscious curves, voracious fertile appetites, and a keen intellect that ensures the survival of their progeny i.e. the future sperm donors of their lineage. Biologically and chemically, most women are attracted to…chocolate. Horrible cruel and unusual studies that require women to choose between their love of sex and their love of chocolate demonstrate that more than 50% of women actually prefer chocolate over sex. This may mean that somehow scientists need to genetically mutate the male genes to create the perfect man who can both perform reliably in bed AND have detachable limbs made out of fine Amedei Tuscan chocolate. While this option might eventually be necessary for the survival of all mankind, there is currently an alternative to the invention of the “Edible Man”: the Uncouth Gourmand girls. Both Carina and Josie have all the attributes that biologically dispose them to being awesome lovers; they also enjoy sex as much as they love drizzling scorching hot chocolate sauce all over each other and licking it off –or so previous scholars studying Uncouth Mating have reported back to me. Be aware that this theory is scandalously unscientific and there is no actual evidence of this except the warped products of my overactive imagination.

Seeing as the Uncouth Girl is socially the “perfect mate”, I decided to observe them in their natural habitat in order to determine the processes of their mating rituals. My hope is that my research may encourage the Uncouth Man to gallop forth from the depths of the wild city of Los Angeles, pluck these willing and nubile young mistresses up, and teach them that some parts of a man can be edible—even if they aren’t dipped in chocolate.

My first question in the series was, “Where does the Uncouth Girl find her Uncouth Man?”

While at first the girls were hesitant to divulge their juicy secrets, once given the opportunity to put something in their mouths while talking (note: while not expressed explicitly, research has pointed to a possible oral fixation in the society of the Uncouth Girl. Do not worry. I am doing more research into this area soon), they opened up easily and with little to no lubrication.

Below is a video of my findings.

In order to aid my future studies, if you have any questions that you would like to ask the Uncouth Gourmand girls, please put them in the comments below.

Oh My Fudge God: John Kelly Chocolates

Truffle Fudge?!?! That is the best word combination since Uncouth Gourmands. It is the mixing of high brow and low brow and the combination is something magical. I am a strong believer that contradictions are the best complements. Take sweet and salty for example, these two things are very different but married together they are a match made in heaven. A few weeks ago we were approached by Lizzy Shaw of Lizzy Shaw PR saying that there was a chocolate place that we had to try. I had just written about my favorite cookie, the caramel sea salt french macaroon from Europane, and she said she knew of  a salted dark chocolate that had to be on the UG radar. Her enthusiasm in this chocolate was infectious and we set up a time to try these complex chocolates. The day was set for Earth Day and we knew how to get to the chocolate factory and store because she said it was near Cheebo.

I have eaten Cheebo numerous times but had sadly never been in the establishment. The orange sign and exterior was never missed as it was my favorite color and I got delivery many nights when I worked down the street. I wasn’t sure why we were having coffee first, but I wasn’t complaining. Lizzy explained that this was a great date place because the lighting inside was perfect. Josie and I took careful notes and leisurely walked to the very next building, John Kelly Chocolates. As soon as we arrived, I knew exactly why we didn’t start here.

Of course, upon entering we ran straight towards the display case and went to the samples of chocolate above. All of our senses were turned off and we simply put the fudge in our mouth and enjoyed. I started on the right side of the tray and went to the treat that I was most looking forward to, the Dark Chocolate with Grey Sea Salt. This was not the best place to start as this was the apex. It was perfect. How could it get better from that bite? This was chocolate in it’s richest and creamiest form and topped with salt that enhanced the sweetness. I still tried many other chocolates but I knew at first bite that this was my true love. Unlike my love life, this love did not waver with the more that I tasted.

After sampling a lot of chocolate, Josie and I were both not looking up or talking and were only concentrating on the chocolate in our mouths. We were in another world and when we finally snapped out of it I got out of my tunnel vision and looked beyond the sample tray. I then spotted a  toothpick tray and said, “Oh, is this how couth people eat samples?” We laughed and then we were back to reality and ready for a tour and to start listening.

We walked to the right into the mini Willy Wonka-esque chocolate factory with the owners John & Kelly. That’s right, it is two people that have combined their names. They made us laugh by explaining that they can always tell telemarketers when the ask for John Kelly on the phone. The fudge pictured above with the grey salt was my favorite and watching it being made was so cool. We saw the fudge before it was chocolate dipped, watched it get dipped and hand monogrammed with a letter P to represent that peanuts were inside. It was a whip of the chocolatier’s finger that made the “P”, Josie and I made our oohs and ahhs and we were absolutely two girls in a chocolate factory.

It was a hands on process that we were so excited to witness. The dipping stations were our favorite and as we moved on to the wrapping and packaging it was just as interesting. The dipped and cooled truffle fudge was transported and wrapped in gold foil. These wrapped pieces could then either be put in small displays for retail shops (including Neimans) or sold in their own shop only a room away.

As we circled back around to the front of the store I noticed the statues that to me were more important than Oscars. It was the coveted Gold Sofi from the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, Inc. (NASFT), in the highly competitive category of “Outstanding Chocolate” for my favorite truffle fudge. Once again, unlike dating, I was able to pick a winner.

This trip to the chocolate factory was so much fun and oh so delicious. As I am sure you know, normally truffles are a gourmand dish with ganache centers. These truffle bars have the uncouth fudge center. This isn’t the waxy fudge you’ve eaten at the fair, this is homey and creamy goodness.

John and Kelly say, “Our mission is for everyone to have the same experience we had when we first tasted it – a creamy and silky revelation, with intense and luxurious chocolate flavor. If you love chocolate, we think you’ll be amazed at just how good fudge can be. Try it and you’ll see what we mean.”

We have tried it and we totally agree. This is THE Uncouth Gourmand chocolate of choice: sweet & salty, truffle & fudge, kosher & so good they should be illegal and something that we love! Thanks so much Lizzy for introducing us to this piece of deliciousness and to John & Kelly for the special tour. Although everyone is totally welcome to come to the shop, see how chocolate is made, sample, buy, and enjoy! This purple ribbon is a special for mother’s day and we can assure you that mama will be happy with this chocolate! If you are a fan of them on FB you will receive a code for 10% off to use in the store or online.

This truffle fudge will surely make you say OMFG: Oh My Fudge God!

Dining on the Edge: Dinner with Chef Keven

There’s carnal pleasure and then there’s food pleasure. I’ve never endangered my life for carnal pleasure, but for food pleasure…I do it on a daily basis.

Growing up I was deathly allergic to many things, and over the last few weeks I had gotten mild symptoms of a severe allergy. When I decided to visit my doctor he did a few tests and referred me to an allergist. Later that week, I met with the allergist; he took one look at me said, “Have you been eating shellfish?!” I admitted that my frequent visits to the SGV for Asian food had exposed me to many fish-based sauces. He told me to cut it out for my own good, but I relented. After all, I wasn’t in the hospital. It was just shellfish and I could endure the few moments of discomfort for a few moments of food pleasure. When I got my allergy test back, it said I was severely allergic to a long list of things. The most severe being: most types of seafood, peanuts, wheat, soybeans, and many others. FML. However, I will continue to eat what I want in the sake of food and I will die a king. Not very smart, but a girl has got to have her priorities in order. Such was the case at the swanky Hollywood Hills supper club that Veronica and I attended last week.

Veronica’s a  hip lady (far cooler than I) and she had a plus one to a private 5-course meal in a private home overlooking all of LA. She asked me and I jumped at the opportunity after she told me that the chef cooking was going to be the very talented Chef Keven Alan Lee of East in Hollywood.

As a woman who still, to this day, works in a busy kitchen, I admire Chef Keven’s attention to detail. His staff is disciplined and well-trained at what they set out to do. I saw the look on their faces as we ate what they had prepared for us, and they took pleasure in our pleasure. Kudos.

Below was the night’s menu:

Thai Eggplant Larb
Fried Tofu, Pickled Shallots, and Thai Peanut Sauce

Shitake Crab Poppers
Lump Crab, Garden Fresh Vegetables,
Seared & Roasted Shitake Mushrooms, Shitake Aioli

SUPER JUMBO Turkey Tofu Meatballs
Fire Roasted Tomato & White Bean Ragu

Dragon Style “Big Eye” Tuna
Thai Green Curry Rice
Dragon Torched Live

Cheven’s Signature Bread Pudding
Chololate Toffee and milk Chocolate Ganache

My favorites of the night were the Turkey meatballs, the tofu, and the bread pudding. The meatballs were obscenely fresh and soft but not as to fall apart. The tofu was fried into little adorable packets and garnished with some edible flowers.

And then there were the shitake crab poppers. I knew I’d be the one paying for it later, but its just one one of those things you have to do for yourself. So, I selfishly took a bite. It was perfection. Later that night, the taxation for my small bite was a mild swelling. That crab was worth every bit of pain. However, I think I’ll take it easy for sometime… Maybe.

Chef Keven has been asking me to shadow him and do “A Day in the Life” kind of a piece for the blog. He tells me that his day starts off at the farmer’s market, goes from town to town to find the best ingredients, and that he, a Jew, even speaks fluent Spanish. As a Latin gal, I can vouche for Kitchenese as it is actually very good. I may do the article, but I think that the cooking in the kitchen part should be left to the true professionals. After all, the rule of any good cook is to try all of the food you prepared and for me that is a deadly option.

The cocktails were also great, although maybe just as poisonous. If they’d been any stiffer, I would’ve probably woken up next to someone I didn’t know. Thank God I stopped when I did. The drinks were all mixed by Minx in Glendale. Chef Keven has recently started working with them to perfect the new Minx food menu. I will definitely have to check it out soon. Who’s in? I may even try and kill myself again for the sake of delicious food.

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 Commercial: iPhone + BlackBerry = Twitter Love

Here’s the story of a lovely Uncouthie
Who had an iPhone, which she used to Tweet.
All of her tweets came from an app known as Echofon,
The newest ones with a dash and a J.

Here’s the story, of a Gourmand named Carina
Who had a BlackBerry to tweet on her own,
All of her tweets came from UberTwitter,
Yet they were all signed with a dash and a C.

Till the one day when the Uncouth met this Gourmand,
And they knew it was much more than a hunch.
That these ladies would somehow form a Twitter account.
That’s the way we became UncouthGourmand.
UncouthGourmand, UncouthGourmand.

That’s the way we became UncouthGourmand
Follow Us, bitches!