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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Getting Our Connect on: ProjectConnect

Did you win our contest for the Project Connect event on Tuesday at the Coloft in Santa Monica? Because if you didn’t, you really missed out on a great evening. It was a ton of networking and meeting new people. This was an unusual event because it highlighted a few things that you don’t normally see at a networking event. Rather than focusing on who you had to meet the focus was on who you can introduce other people to. The event was organized by Stephanie, owner of Social Bling, and the main themes of the night were: listening, complimenting, and gratitude.

It was hosted at the coloft building in Santa Monica. The coloft is a space that allows entrepreneurs to come together and rent out workspace for the month – kind of like a much better Starbucks. I am rereading The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki and the energy from that book is surely true at the Coloft, which enables a free flowing work environment and collaboration between entrepreneurs. The main thesis of the book being that any given crowd is collectively smarter than any individual expert.

We all mingled for a little bit in the beginning and drank some Mary Jane relaxing soda, which contains kava – a plant which has marijuana-like effects on the mind and body. We should’ve known better because the label clearly says “Do not consume more than two a day.” We failed to read the label and were giggling all night. Although Carina and I are often referred to as “Giggle Corner” even without this magical soda.

The evening was full of laughs and getting to know other entrepreneurs that do the same thing we UGs do. Being an entrepreneur is probably the scariest but most exhilarating thing one could ever do. It’s truly an incredible roller-coaster. It’s nice to be surrounded with people that have the same sentiment about our passion. Particularly because so many people really don’t understand entrepreneurship. My mother, for example, really doesn’t get it. The same was true of the mother of the Coloft’s owner, Cameron. Cameron said that when he told his Persian mother that he was going to be an entrepreneur, she said, “Oh, what kind of doctor is that?” We chuckled because we know how hard it is to have a good support system as an entrepreneur. We were all looking at each other that night with the same hope and willingness to help each other in some way or another. We’re a good, but quirky, race of people. Among some new friends in attendance were: Lizzy Shaw, Blair Goldberg, Alaia Williams, and Jenda.

Some of the other sponsors were: Social Couture (who’s the woman who brings you parties in a box), the Writer’s Boot Camp, and Bodega Wine Bar. There was a challenge at one point in the night to see what we could make happen using social media. Thankfully, a woman from Kind Plus bars was there and ran out to share some bars with us. It’s a gluten-free bar and a company that takes social responsibility very seriously. In fact, Kind was named one of BusinessWeek’s Most Promising Social Entrepreneurial Companies. Their new campaign is their ‘Not so random acts’ of kindness cards. Via the web you can track these acts with a uniquely branded card. Visit here for more details.

We are ladies with food always on the mind, we can’t blame the Mary Jane soda for our munchies, but we felt the need to bring a snack for everyone in attendance. Where did we turn? Our favorite truck  The Border Grill truck came to the rescue.

Since this was a social networking event, we pulled our social network together (i.e., Twitter) and asked for some help to feed these tired kava-drunken souls. Border Grill came through for us like a good friend and, since they were across the street, brought everyone little dulce de leche churro bites and whipped cream. They were life-giving to our pseudo stoned brains. Special thanks to the Border Grill truck, Nick, and Christina, the kindest Border Grill employees in the whole wide world. Who says you can’t transcend the boundaries of Twitter and real life? It’s been our experience that Twitter friends are often more reliable than real life friends. What made this instance special was that this time it was a company pulling through and not an individual person. Border Grill, like so few other businesses, do social networking right and realize that human connection is just as important!

The night ended with song and all was well-documented by an E! camera crew. The video should be out soon and will include an interview by all the sponsors and, of course, yours truly, the UGs. It will be hypertexted and will be streaming soon to a UG channel near you. Many thanks again to everyone who came and the two lucky ladies who won our contest, Veronica in LADoubleDEntendre, and Amanda – You ladies have become very near and dear to our hearts. Thank you for your support on this here blog and your unfailing friendship to the UGs, who may very well be crazy and passionate enough to turn the world upside down with their antics and love for all things food, fun, and friends. Remember folks: listen, compliment help each other out, and be grateful in real life and on the interwebs…If you don’t we WILL come after you!

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!

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.

ProjectConnect: UG Girls are Giving Away 4 Tickets

Alright, this photo isn’t exactly the best representation of ProjectConnect, but hey it works. Plus we have a really fantastic event and opportunity to tell you about so we might as well use flirtation tactics. What is a flirtation tactic using social media to really connect? Funny you should ask, we have an event that you must attend to learn all about this and more. We have partnered with Social Bling on this experminental event that will take place tomorrow. Here is the official FB event page with all the naughty little details that I will also include here in case you aren’t ready to click yet.

Date:
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Time:
7:00pm – 10:00pm
Location:
Coloft
Street:
920 Santa Monica Blvd (free street parking)
City/Town:
Santa Monica, CA

7:00 – 7:30 – Check-in, general networking
7:30 –7:50 – Social Experiment kickoff and presentation from Sponsors.
8:00 – 8:45 – Social Challenge
9:00 – 10:00 – Results and Honorably Mentions.

SocialBling present ProjectConnect, An interactive social experiment using social media to inspire real life activities and connections.

Tools (suggested, not required): Web-enabled phones connected to your social networks, persuasion/flirtation skills and a readiness to meet new people and have great time.

Why? – Because having fun while expanding your cerebral and emotional intelligence sounds like a good way to spend a Tuesday night.

Cost: $25
For tickets – http://www.formstack.com/forms/socialbling-projectconnect
(preregistration required, no tickets sold at door)

We will, of course, be at the event and we have a special surprise planned in the Social Challenge section if you, attendees, can break our code. You won’t know about this surprise unless you come and if you want to come then you must buy a ticket. Although there is another way…you can win a ticket for you and your friend to the event. We are giving away two pairs of tickets by 5pm today, April 16th. All you have to do is:

Send us your most Uncouth Gourmand moment in a Tweet (@uncouthgourmand) or as a comment on here in 140 characters or less by 4:59pm today.

Josie’s example: @uncouthgourmand my most UG moment was when I put my hands in Carina’s drawn lobster butter with lemon slices thinking it was a water dish  (True Story: happened at Gordon Ramsey’s restaurant in London)

Carina’s example: @uncouthgourmand while discussing how much I like penetrating the straw in the boba cup, I dropped the entire drink with  boba down my shirt

Good luck and we hope to see you tomorrow! Even if you don’t win you can still be a winner (as opposed to a loser) by buying your ticket here by 3pm tomorrow.

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!

Mi Piace: A Monday Night Happy Hour Worth Trying

One of the first places I ever went alone to in Los Angeles was Mi Piace in Pasadena. I was 17 and only a few months away from starting college at Woodbury University. I had to do some placement tests during the summer, so they knew what math and English classes to put me in. I knew no one in LA and my friend Sunshine (I am from Santa Cruz) was unable to come with me. She was several years older and we would always sleep at her brother’s house on our SoCal trips during my high school years. I had been conversing via AIM with a nice gay man that was an Interior Architecture Woodbury alum asking questions about the school. I told him I would be visiting and he said I could stay with him. I don’t know what my mom thought I was doing but I ended up staying the night with this stranger after testing all day and being to tired to drive back to SC. He lived in Pasadena with his boyfriend, actually only blocks away from where I now live, had a meditation room, and I offered to take him to dinner. He suggested Mi Piace and told me that the place was “So Sex & The City.” That was all this high school student had to hear. I was sold. I will say now with some age, experience, and knowledge that it really isn’t that great of a show. I still care for the characters but it is, with the exception of a few people and storylines, a lot of dysfunctional women and relationships that are unhealthy for females to idolize. Anyway, the show was at this time something I put on a pedestal and I was in awe of. I felt so sophisticated in this lounge and I did feel like a girl in the big city. After dinner, we went shopping at J. Crew and there I saw Kristen Davis. My first big LA celebrity sighting and it was perfection. It was the quintessential Charlotte town, store, and intersection.

Since then, 6 years have past. I have finished college, grad school, and grown up (sort of). Being in lounges and eating and drinking is now my world. I have lived in Pasadena for almost three years and rarely go out there anymore. I have become more of a downtown gal. Last month, when I was on the Gays and Dolls WeHo Bar Crawl, I met a fantastic gay man who lived in Pasadena. He told me that Mi Piace on Mondays was something that I had to do. Every Monday after 6pm almost all drinks are $5 and all appetizers  are 1/2 priced until closing. Last Monday, I met him there and we had a fun night. I had come from a large dinner so I  wasn’t that hungry, but I was thirsty. I reverted back to my 17 year old brain and ordered drinks, I never drink. I started with a French Cosmo and then went on to a Key Lime Martini. It was good and girly and took me back in time. I just tried a bit of the food and was impressed; it was more than worth the 1/2 off prices. There was mac n cheese, a salmon pizza, and chicken lettuce wraps at our table. The best surprise of all was that my new gbf (gay boyfriend) and I were joined by our matchmaker, The Minty, who also wrote about this very reasonable Happy Hour. She referred to it as, cheaper than the parking in the area.

To keep the words of my first time at Mi Piace alive and well, “It is so Sex & The City.” There is a part of me that thinks I have outgrown it and it is no longer my scene but it still has its positive sides. This Monday night Happy Hour is not to be missed! Just as I doubt I will miss the second Sex & The City movie. Josie and I actually saw the first movie while in Paris..how romantic! Of course, we had to read the subtitles but it was still worth it. Who wants to see it with us? Maybe we can follow it with HH at Mi Piace on Monday. After all, there are $5 French Cosmo all night long!