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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Look for surprises in unexpected places...

Can't believe it's Thanksgiving already! I was looking through some pictures Victor and I took this past year and found this one which I totally forgot.   We took this at The Integratron in Landers, CA a few months ago.   There is a house there at the Integratron where you can hang out until it is time to go into the Dome for the sound bath.  While kicking around there, we stumbled across this which made me smile...

Friday, November 2, 2012

Dias De Los Muertos

Last weekend, The Hollywood Forever Cemetary hosted their annual Dias De Los Muertos festival.  Although this was our first time attending, the Cemetary has been hosting this event for the last thirteen years.   If you are not familiar with Dias De Los Muertos, aka Days of the Dead, basically, November 1st and 2nd are set aside to celebrate family members which have passed on.  November 1st is used to honor deceased infants and children while the 2nd is reserved for adults. People put together fairly ornate alters around the gravesites/headstones to honors their loved ones using marigolds and La Calavera Catrina (The Elegant Skull)  imagery.   The event at the Hollywood Forever Cemetary also included vendors selling Dias De Los Muertos themed art as well as some music performances.   It was a beautiful day in Los Angeles this year for the event.   The pictures don't do it justice....

Monday, October 29, 2012

2012 Halloween Treats

In an effort to get in the Halloween spirit,  I put together these spooky treats.  I cannot take credit for the vampire cupcake "Halloween vampire cupcakes" and this design will come up...but since it's on many websites, I am not sure who to give proper credit to?  Who ever came up with the idea, thank you!  It's easy yet holiday specific!  Perfect for those who want a festive cupcake without a lot of food coloring.  

I was a little disappointed on how the sugar cookies turned out.   They taste great but they just look so-so.  I made the cookies over the weekend but they didn't get decorated until Monday night after work (during the last Presidential debate actually).   I was already tired from work but I couldn't wait until the weekend again to decorate so we sort of rushed through the decorating.  If I could only quit my job and work on cookie decorating full time...I have great ideas in my head, they just rarely make it on to the cookie!   Luckily, there are plenty of holidays coming up to try again!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Pappy and Harriet's

As a music fan, I have heard tell of Pappy and Harriet's for a few years now. A lot of folks have played here: Calexico, Graham Parsons, Dandy Wharhols, Johnette Napolitano, etc.   A friend was working with a band who was playing out there, so I looked up the website see to see how far it was from LA:  130 miles east!  Although they have a great roster of bands playing every night of the week, unfortunately, it is a little too far to catch a show and then make it to work in the morning! 

Victor and I took a little weekend trip out to the dessert back in June.  We visited the Integratron for a rejuvenating "sound bath" and then headed to Pappy and Harriet's for lunch.   It's located in Pioneertown, CA, a small town in the Yucca Valley near Joshua Tree with a population of 350.  The town was a started as a Old West movie set that had some housing for the actors.  They still do some "old west" reanactments on the weekends (the cast were doing a run through of their lines when we were there).    Pretty easy to find, you take Pioneertown Rd off of Twentynine Palms Highway...there is not much out there, so when you happen upon the town, you know it!     Back to our lunch, I had a veggie burger (this still California after all) and Victor had a grilled chicken sandwich.  Both were tasty, big portions and great if you find yourself out in the Yucca Valley, definitely make time to swing by Pappy and Harriet's in Pioneertown.   If you go for a show,  you may want to consider booking a room at the little motel they have so you can have a beer or two and not worry about driving back to main highway.

Catching up

It's been a few months since I last posted.    My lack of posting was 50% because I have been pretty busy lately and 50% questioning whether or not I wanted to continue with the blog.  I originally started this blog to share my creations from my cake decorating class with my family.  After the class ended, it morphed into a general food blog  but Food Bloggers are a dime a dozen it seems. I wondered, what do I bring to the table that is more interesting or unique than everyone else? I do some recipe creation but mostly, I am just veering off of an existing recipe (always giving credit of course)....also, as most hard core food bloggers will tell you, it's a lot of work creating a picture perfect creation (ok, mine don't always fall into THIS category), getting the best photo possible and then writing an interesting and charming synopsis for your post. For some of the more successful bloggers, it's their full time job!  Anyway, what I missed on my time away from blogging was the the blog is going to be changing a bit, covering more topics than just food.  Hopefully, people will enjoy the change! 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Mission Inn and Spa

Last weekend, Victor and I stayed at the Mission Inn and Spa in Riverside, CA.  The hotel is listed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation's website.   Looking through the website, I realize I have actually now stayed at four historic hotels:

  • The Mission Inn and Spa (Riverside, CA)
  • Mohonk Mountain House (New Platz, NY)
  • The Queen Mary (Long Beach, CA)
  • The Fairmont Hotel (San Francisco)

We also had drinks at The Driskill Hotel (Austin, TX) where I ended up accidentally setting myself on fire...but that's a different story for a different day.

Back to the Mission Inn and Spa....we were going to a birthday party out near Riverside, so rather than make the 70 mile journey back to Los Angeles that night, we figured we would take the opportunity to make it a mini-vacation. We checked in about 9 pm on Saturday...the room was lovely, bigger than we expected with a four poster bed and flat screen TV.  Our room was on the second floor, facing the front of hotel, overlooking Las Campanas' (the hotel's Mexican restaurant) patio. We were a little concerned about the potential noise factor of the patio, but since the restaurant closes at 10 pm, we figured it wouldn't be an issue.   Frankly, pretty much every room in the hotel overlooks some noisy something:  the pool, the interior courtyard, the street or like us, the Mexican restaurant. We quickly found out the restaurant patio was not going to be the only potential noise issue as we heard high heels click, clicking to and fro above our heads on what sounded like either hardwood or tile...

Since it was still pretty early, we decided to explore the hotel is a really interesting place with lots of nooks and crannies to explore.  I was pretty surprised at the level of access guests have to pretty much all areas of the hotel the only exception being the chapels.   What we did realize in our travels is that The Mission Inn is an event hotel....sure, all hotels hold events, but it seemed like this hotel, due to it's unique decor, specialized in events. This means lots of inebriated folks running around everywhere in formal wear celebrating, lots of staff setting up and breaking down tables, decor, etc in unused areas for the next event and wedding DJ music pumping out of an event room on the first floor (so glad our room wasn't above that!).    Thanks to front desk graciously supplying us with complimentary ear plugs (just give them a call and ask), we were able to get a fairly decent night sleep (only woken up once!).

The next morning was Easter (hence the Easter Bunny shot above), so the hotel was having a special Easter Brunch for $59 a person.   While we love the variety of an all you can eat brunch, $59 is a bit excessive, so we ordered room service.  We both got the "blueberry pancakes" which were just regular pancakes with a serving of blueberries on the side (huh?).   I should also mention, the pancakes tasted like they use a mix and just average blueberries (I had better tasting blueberries in my fridge at home).  I did enjoy my coffee though....

The tall and short of the whole experience was, the hotel is beautiful and cool to explore but don't come here for a restful, relaxing weekend...and if you want a great Sunday morning breakfast,  go elsewhere.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Carmel Mission Inn

Victor and I recently took a mini-vacation up the California coast to check out Hearst Castle, Monterey Bay, Santa Cruz and Carmel. We stayed at a different hotel each night, which was probably a bit much, but gave us the chance to check out some interesting places. The place we stayed at in Carmel was the Carmel Mission Inn. It was a pretty inconspicuous place located right off of Highway 1 but was peaceful and serene once you were inside.

The hotel property backs up to The Barnyard, a shopping center with some boutique stores and a good variety of restaurants. Once we checked in and dropped our stuff, we walked over to Flanagan's Irish-American Pub for dinner and drinks. I love a hotel that has stuff in walking distance. After doing the tourist thing all day, it's so nice to just park the car and relax for the night.

Xiao Long Bao at Kuan's Restaurant

Unfortunately, I only have "aftermath" pictures from our lunch at Kuan's a few weeks ago. We were all so hungry when we got there that we just dove in without giving a second thought about photographing any of the food. It was a mad frenzy of chop sticks, tea and dumplings...

To back up a little bit, about 8 or so years ago, some friends introduced me to Kuan's Restaurant. It's just little hole in the wall in a strip mall right off of the 60 in Montebello. They are famous for their juicy Xiao Long Bao (XLB): steamed, pork filled dumplings with broth somehow baked in. To eat, put the dumpling on a spoon before biting as the broth will seep out...and you don't want to lose any of that great flavor. People go nuts for Kuan's dumplings...while we were there, we saw a family pull up and purchase a frozen bag of 50. No joke. Not only are the XLB tasty, juicy and filling, they are only $6.95 for 16 dumplings!

This past trip we also ordered green onion pancake, fried bread roll, garlic string beans, pickled cucumbers, some sort of tasty noodle dish, orange chicken and sweet and sour soup. The only thing I did not like was the sweet and sour soup: it was not very hot and that gooey viscosity that sort of freaks me out. End damage for all this food including tip? $10 per person. It doesn't get any more reasonable than that.

If you are thinking about checking this place out, definitely read the reviews on Yelp first. Some folks seem to feel like this place is "in the ghetto", others feel it's over hyped....The ghetto statements actually make me laugh. No, the location is not fancy, but I have definitely been to sketchier neighborhoods in my life and can say with a good degree of confidence, this is not the ghetto. In terms of the "over hyped" statements, that's more a matter of personal taste....I am not a connoisseur of Xiao Long Bao, so I can't speak to their authenticity BUT I can say the dumplings left me satisfied and happy.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Mo's Smoked Gouda dip update!

I have gotten a lot of feedback on my post about Mo's Smoked Gouda dip from Whole Foods. As Grace pointed out in her comment posted in November, Whole Foods has since dropped the name "Mo's" and relabeled the product (hot or mild) Smoked Gouda Dip. The recipe has slightly changed as well. It's a subtle change, but it's definitely different. Still good, just different. My husband and I ate a fair amount of the original Mo's dip so I feel confident stating that there has been a change...I wonder if the name and recipe change is because the original Mo realized that he was onto something and is going to be marketing his version? Only time will tell....

In my original post, I mentioned that I was going to try to make my own version. I did try but the results were just ok...I will try again. If anyone else has been successful in making their own version, I would love to hear from you!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Southwestern White Bean and Ham soup

I had a left over ham bone and was super excited to make some sort of soup with it. I love split pea soup, but my husband is not the biggest fan. So, I decided to make a Southwestern White Bean with Ham soup which I was pretty happy with. I added a small can of Trader Joe's green chilis to give it a little kick. If you want even more of a kick, feel free to add some hot sauce.

Note, I had originally prepared the ham with cloves, pineapple and brown sugar, so it already had a good flavor to it which definitely added to the depth of flavor in the soup.

Kristen's Southwestern White Bean and Ham soup

1 fully cooked ham bone with some meat stuck on it
1 cup of sliced celery
1 cup of sliced carrots
1 cup of sliced onion
1 bag of white northern beans
1 can chopped green chilis
3 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon olive oil
6 cups of water
2 teaspoon italian seasoning
1 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 bay leaves

Sort and soak beans for 6-8 hrs. In large soup pot, saute chopped garlic in olive oil until cooked.

After beans are finished soaking, rinse and transfer them to the large soup pot with the sauted garlic. Add 6 cups of water, ham bone, veggies and spices; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let soup simmer for about 2 hours.

When soup is ready, carefully remove meat from the bone. I do this by simply using a long wooden spoon and pushing the meat away from the bone. The meat should be very tender at this point and fall off the bone easily.

Discard bone, bay leaves and serve.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The old fashioned pleasure of gingerbread...

Just say the word "gingerbread" and images of a home decorated for the holidays with a glowing fire in the fireplace instantly come to mind. It was a little easier for me to conjure up these thoughts while we were on the East Coast visiting's a little harder when it's 70 degrees here in LA.

Anyway, while we were in Philly, my mom was wondering what to do with some heavy whipping cream left over from a pasta dish she had made, so I decided to keep it simple and just make whipped cream to serve on top of warm gingerbread cake. I find that if you bake with some frequency, most likely, you have all the ingredients in your pantry already for gingerbread recipes (cakes or cookies) and therefore, it is a great quick "no trip to the store" dessert solution....and my mom's pantry did not disappoint!

I found a pretty basic recipe on Joy of Baking. Their recipe called for lemon zest in the cake and a lemon icing to top. I didn't have any lemons and planned on making homemade whipped cream, so I skipped these steps. The original recipe also calls for light brown sugar as well as unsulphured molasses...whether you decide to use light or dark brown sugar or sulphured vs unsulphured molasses really depends on how much you like molasses. Dark brown sugar and unsulphured molasses have a more intense molasses flavor than their lighter counterparts. I tend to only buy the darker stuff but that's me...

For best results on the whipped cream, use a metal or glass bowl (not plastic). Chill the bowl in the freezer for about 20 minutes or so before pouring the heavy cream into it for beating.

Gingerbread Cake (adapted from Joy of Baking)

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temp
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 molasses
1 cup milk

Grease and flour a 9 inch round or square pan and set aside. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium sized bowl, mix together all dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves.

In a bigger but separate bowl, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
Add eggs one at a time.
Add molasses and beat until combined.
Alternately add dry ingredients and milk, starting and ending with the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined.
Pour batter into prepared pan; smooth batter to ensure even depth of batter in the pan.
Bake for 40 to 45 minutes until cake tester comes out clean.

Cool on wire rack 10 minutes before removing from pan.

Basic Whipped Cream
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon confectioners' (powdered) sugar

Beat heavy cream in chilled metal or glass bowl until soft peaks form. Add vanilla and sugar and continue to beat until stiffer peaks form. Take care not to over beat after the stiff peaks form as the cream may start to look lumpy.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

RIP Angeli Caffe

Sadly, Evan Klieman's Angeli Caffe served its last loaf of delicious complimentary bread and handmade pasta on Thursday January 12th before permanently shuttering their doors. Per the article in the LATimes, the restaurant was simply not turning a profit any longer.

Victor and I went there for our anniversary in the fall. Since it was a special dinner, we went all out with entrees, wine and dessert. Our meal started off with Angeli Caffe's warm, melt in your mouth bread and the Scarmorza alla Griglia, perfectly broiled mozzarella balls with roasted tomatoes and oregano. For entrees, Victor selected the Lasagna Angeli while I opted for the Butternut Squash Lasagna. The Lasagna Angeli was a light and flavorful meatless lasagna in a tomato basil sauce. The Butternut Squash Lasagna was pasta layered with squash and Fontina cheese topped with a Bechamel (butter, flour, milk and pepper) sauce. Both dishes were made with handmade pasta and fresh and flavorful veggies. We topped off the night with some Chocolate Chunk Bread Pudding served with freshly made whipped cream. Despite the fact that we were already stuffed from our entrees, the warm, gooey, chocolatey bread pudding wouldn't let go of its hold on us until the entire plate was empty. As we left with our bellies full, we vowed to come back soon. Sadly is not going to happen now...

If you have never had fresh handmade pasta, you really must treat yourself and seek some out. The taste and texture is far superior to that of store bought dried also seems much lighter somehow. I am going to try to make fresh pasta in a few weeks...but in the meantime, I am open to hearing about people's favorite Italian restaurants since I am now on the hunt for a new one to try!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

2011 in review and looking forward...

Wow...2011 was a blur! But a blur of adventures, challenges and and downs.

Since this is a food blog and I try to stick mostly to the topic, most folks don't know that I am a bit of a news junkie. Sometimes I wish I could pay less attention to things as 2011 was a bit of an emotional roller coaster:
- The economy...
- The debt ceiling crisis...
- The Euro zone crisis...
- The devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan...and then the subsequent nuclear power plant problems...
- Bin Ladin killed...
- Arab spring...
- Riots in London...
- the tragic shootings in Arizona...
- the tragic shootings in Norway...
- the Occupy movements...

....and that is far from being a complete list.

Each new year, we reflect on the year behind us and become hopeful for the year ahead....we hope for personal successes, jobs, love, good health. We hope for peace and prosperity for all. There's a lot going on in the world right now. Take notice and do your part to help move things in a positive direction.