Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Three to Try :: LA and Orange County

An overcast run along the Santa Monica boardwalk

I have often considered myself a California girl. I wasn't born there, but Southern California is a place I visited frequently growing up, before my family called it home. And after attending high school in south Orange County, I moved to Westwood to attend my dream school and my parents' alma mater, UCLA. Going to school in a big city gave me ample opportunity to explore, including dining at restaurants across the culinary spectrum. Los Angeles serves up everything from the neighborhood doughnut shop to hole-in-the-wall bar to the critically acclaimed restaurants of top chefs. And because of the diversity of the city itself, you can take a culinary tour of the world without ever leaving the the Southland. In fact, it was during my senior year at UCLA that the idea for Chasing Crumbs was born out of these experiences and my love of writing.

In the past month I returned to my beloved Southern California twice, first to spend time with my grandmother and parents in Newport Beach and then again to visit some of my closest friends in Santa Monica. And as is often the case, I discovered some new gems that I am excited to share.

Two-scoop upside-down cone, Salt & Straw

Salt & Straw
Ever since I heard Salt & Straw was expanding to L.A., it moved to the top of my list for an upcoming visit. The vaunted Portland ice cream shop is known for out-the-door lines and collaborating with local farmers, chefs and artisans on flavors that range from the traditional to what some might call bizarre. Take the menu at the the new Larchmont shop, which includes California-inspired avocado and strawberry sherbet, tomato water and ojai olive oil sherbet and black olive brittle and goat cheese ice cream.

So, when I met my friend Brittany for the afternoon, I told her that the only thing I planned was an ice cream trip. Luckily she's accustomed to and flexible enough to follow along with all my foodie whims. True to form, there was a line out the door at the L.A. Salt & Straw, but it took us little time at all to reach the counter to sample some flavors before ordering double scoops.

I could've walked away with far more than two scoops because every other flavor screamed "try me." When I return, not if, I think I'll be ordering the sampler, which allows you to get smaller scoops of four flavors. My first scoop was the seasonal California peaches with lemon crumble, basically my favorite dessert turned into ice cream. Fresh peaches were caramelized with brown sugar to create a thick jam running through the vanilla ice cream studded with lemon cobbler. For my second, I wanted something that would be a good pairing and opted for the sea salt with caramel ribbons. The ice cream uses a house-made burnt caramel and salt from Mark Bitterman's Portland salt shop. It's one of Salt & Straw's signature flavors and I can see why it's their most popular. It's definitely my favorite of all the salted caramel ice creams I've tried.

Sidecar Doughnuts
Sidecar is not your ordinary doughnut shop in Costa Mesa. I first tried a bite of their wonderful treats in the cinnamon apple donuts ice cream at Salt & Straw and couldn't resist a detour to try sidecar doughnuts from the source. Sidecar specializes in doughnuts made with fresh ingredients and fried in small batches. I opted to try two of the monthly doughnuts. Huckleberries are a favorite of mine (it's probably my northwest roots), so I had to try the huckleberry cake doughnut. It wasn't too heavy, and studded with plenty of sweet whole berries. Malasadas are a treat that are hard to find, so when I spotted a malasada with apple jam, I had to give it a try. It was airy with just the right amount of filling, and a light dusting of sugar on top. All in all, it made for a perfect afternoon treat.

Seasonal blackberry and bourbon cocktail, SideDoor 

SideDoor is nestled inside one of my favorite restaurants, Five Crowns in Newport Beach, known for great prime rib and charming inn setting. The bar at Five Crowns was long styled like a traditional English pub, but in 2009 the bar was reopened as an English-style gastropub with it's own entrance and menu.The menu focuses on seasonal ingredients, small plates, cheese and charcuterie and artisanal cocktails. However, you'll still find some signature Five Crowns dishes re-envisioned on the SideDoor menu.

I went with my Mom, Nana and I went to SideDoor on a Monday evening and it was packed. Lively conversation flowed through the relaxed atmosphere of the pub. We opted to get a few items to share among the three of us. I enjoyed the smoked bacon and addition of egg in the wedge salad. We watched as the chef at the charcuterie stand assembled our french onion press. As it sounds, it was essentially eating french onion soup in sandwich form, and it was delicious. The onions burst with flavor and balanced perfectly with the sourness of the fresh bread. And of course, one couldn't ignore prime rib, so we ordered the prime rib chili cheese fries, a popular choice at tables around us as well. The chili was rich with generous amounts of prime rib and the fries perfectly crispy underneath. After all that food, I still couldn't turn down dessert. The espresso creme anglaise that accompanied their doughnuts was perfection, in fact I took home the leftover sauce to add to my coffee because I didn't want to waste one drop of it.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Recipe Roundup

Before long, it'll be rainy day, gray skies and cooler weather. There's just something about curling up on the couch with a good book and a bowl mac and cheese. Comfort foods are called so for a reason, but I'm always on the hunt for an interesting twist. Here's a few of my recent finds.

I recently learned about a new trend "waffling," essentially putting unexpected foods into a waffle iron to see what happens. I'll admit I was skeptical at first, but then the idea actually intrigued me. However while waffles are a brunch staple, I'll order in a restaurant, a waffle iron is one of the few gadgets missing from my kitchen. I've never really been able to justify it, knowing it would probably gather more dust than oil. But this recipe from FWx has me wanting to run to the store right now. It throws some of my favorite flavors into the same dish, ones I might never have put together. Cheddar and beer are perfect compliments, I don't know why I never considered using them together in a biscuit batter or waffles as FWx did. And the honey and sriracha, perhaps unexpected, sound like a great spicy-sweet glaze for fried chicken.

My breakfast staple. I could eat eggs over easy day in day out, even with all the talk that eggs can lead to bad cholesterol. I loved this roundup from Food 52 because it speaks to one of my favorite aspects of cooking. No two cooks are the same, give them the same recipe and every person will put their own spin. Even with a simple fried egg, there are endless ways to make it. My preferred technique is similar to Emily Vikre's -- a frying pan on medium-high heat and a pad of butter, and I remove the pan from the heat when I flip my egg. It's been fun trying these other methodologies to see how the end result differs.

Mac and cheese, I've been known to make lists of restaurants to try based on hearing they have a great macaroni and cheese, I've got one entire cookbook devoted entirely to the dish, and I will constantly experiment with different cheeses and mix-ins. I made these macaroni and cheese muffins for a going-away potluck a while back, and they're much easier to eat while mingling carrying around a bowl and spoon. What's great about this recipe is the addition of the Dijon mustard and butternut squash puree.

I immediately cut out the recipe card for this from the back of this past month's Real Simple magazine. Of course, it's got bourbon, apple and vanilla, an absolutely delightful combination of flavors. But what really intrigued me was the use of grits in the cake batter. This is definitely on my "Must Bake" list, and I can't wait to share with you how it turns out. 

Bourbon has been my spirit of choice now for a while. While I usually drink it neat or with one or two ice cubes, I do enjoy finding creative cocktails that utilize it. The bourbon brulé from NY Times Cooking combines some flavors I wouldn't have imagined trying together all at once -- bourbon, orange, ginger and sherry. If it tastes as good as it looks in the picture, it'll make a worthy drink for holiday celebrations.

I love sweet potato fries. What I really need to find is a place that serves endless baskets. But let's be serious, they're really not that difficult to make at home, I've just never tried. I found this great recipe on NY Times Cooking, just six ingredients and barely any time at all. What took me so long?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Three to Try :: Phoenix

Since moving to Phoenix three years ago, I've watched a culinary scene continue to expand and I continue to find new favorites. Great food combined with a great atmosphere will keep me coming back to a restaurant again and again. I am especially drawn to farm to table or seasonal concepts and locally-owned establishments. Today I share my current Phoenix favorites, three restaurants that feature locally-sourced ingredients and a warm, inviting ambiance that makes you feel instantly at home and all uniquely repurpose old buildings.

Smoked Chicken and Andouille Gumbo, Southern Rail

Southern Rail
Chef Justin Beckett was a 2012 nominee for Food & Wine Magazines's Best New Chef after opening Beckett's Table in 2010. Beckett's Table is unique in its combination of sophisticated comfort food, local ingredients and humble atmosphere. When Beckett opened his second restaurant, Southern Rail, earlier this year, I knew it would quickly become one of my favorite restaurants in Phoenix. Southern Rail is grounded in the same approach as Beckett's Table while emphasizing the flavors of the American South.

I first visited Southern Rail, which revives the space once home to the iconic Beef Eater restaurant, the weekend it opened and quite possibly wanted to try everything on the menu, which features a variety of small plates, entrees and hearty side dishes. On that first visit, the gumbo and heaping plate of beignets really stood out and showed Beckett's attention to traditional recipes. When I returned with my Mom she was equally impressed with the atmosphere and creative twist on southern classics. The cider-brined pork loin was moist, flavorful and by the time I finished it looked as though I might have licked my plate clean.

Next up I am excited to try Southern Rail's weekend brunch. I think my sister would adore the fried green tomato benedict, the hoe cakes and SR bread pudding frunch toast sound delightfully decadent and who could pass up a good dutch pancake. If the sticky buns are anything like their pull-apart brioche, someone will have to stop me from eating them all. And I am hoping to get a seat at their dinner with guest chef Sean Brock, of Husk in Charleston and Nashville.

Bruschetta, Postino

Postino at first glance is the neighborhood wine bar and cafe, but spend a little time at each Valley location and you come to learn that it is so much more. Each location is housed in a building of historical significance to the surrounding community, and the communal dining rooms are a welcome gathering place. Known for unique wines, amazing bruschetta, cozy patios and a mix of vintage and edgy decor, Postino has its niche and does it exceedingly well. With the opening of a fourth location in Tempe this week, I don't even have to drive very far to enjoy the best bruschetta in town!

The menu may be limited -- mostly sandwiches, salads and their signature bruschetta -- but it's all fresh and excellent for pairing with their changing selection of wine and craft beer. it's one has made them one of the most popular places in town. Try to get a table on a Monday or Tuesday and you'll find yourself waiting for upwards of an hour. It's worth the wait for their killer deal -- after 8 p.m., you can enjoy a bottle of wine and a bruschetta board for just $20.

Liberty Market
Liberty Market operates in what was quite literally once the neighborhood market. Today it is a neighborhood bistro in Gilbert serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. The servings are generous and the conversation flows easily in their open dining room. Chef David Traina and his wife Kiersten, run the day-to-day and never cease to have a smile on their faces. They share a passion for food with the other co-owners Phoenix restaurateur Joe Johnston and his wife Cindy, whose touch can be seen in the unassuming decor and friendly atmosphere.

My favorite chilaquiles in the Valley so far are Liberty Market's take on the traditional Mexican dish, with their green chile pork. With both a tomatillo sauce and red pequin pepper sauce, there's just the right level of spicy to not overpower the flavors of the pork. At dinner, Liberty Market serves such diverse offerings as the aforementioned green chile pork, wood-fired pizzas, baby-back ribs, loaded salads and burgers. I recommend the grilled chicken pasta, which is finished with chopped bacon, smoked mozzarella, and fresh vegetables in a parmesan cream sauce. From what I could see at the tables around me, I don't think you can go wrong with anything on the menu. And be on the lookout for specials, I had the most delicious Italian pistachio cake (not a regular on their dessert menu) to finish my meal on one recent visit.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Easy for Everyday :: Apple Cinnamon Buttermilk Scones

I can't usually go a weekend without baking something, and this weekend was no exception. The weather has finally cooled down a bit in Phoenix, I woke up to temperatures in the 70s! So this morning I decided to incorporate one of my favorite flavors of fall, cinnamon apples, into scones. I remember eagerly watching my mom prepare scones when I was growing up, but I never really paid close enough attention to make them myself. When I first tried making scones myself a few years ago, I realized they are quite easy to prepare and take relatively little time to bake. And scones are like biscuits in that you can easily transform them from a morning pastry to a savory side dish, simply by changing up the mix-ins to your batter.

1 granny smith apple
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp butter

2 cups flour
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup butter (room temperature)
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. In a small sauce pan, melt 1 tbsp butter. 
3. Dice apple into small chunks, about the width of your thumb. (You want them large enough to maintain a slight crunch after baking the scones)
4. Add apples, brown sugar and cinnamon to the melted butter. Stir so that apples are fully coated. Let simmer for 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
5. Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and baking powder together in a large mixing bowl.
6. Cut in butter, until flour mixture resembles coarse crumbs. 
7. In a small bowl, beat eggs and whisk in buttermilk, milk and cinnamon apples. 
8. Add all at once to flour mixture, and stir with a fork until batter is just moistened. 
9. Turn out dough onto a flour surface and form into a 1/4 inch thick rectangle. Cut dough into triangles.
10. Arrange scones on a lined baking sheet so they are not touching.
11. Bake for 12-14 minutes, until golden brown.  

Makes 16 small or 8 large scones

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Recipe Roundup :: Something sweet

Anyone who knows me know that I've got a sweet tooth. Like I've said before, I have favorite pastry shops or ice cream shops in almost every city I've spent more than a couple days in. And my sister is a pastry chef who she makes the most delectable treats. Of course I would love to live closer to her, but I know if that happened I'd have to develop some serious self control because I wouldn't be able to help myself from eating her sweets all the time.

Chocolate chip sour cream coffee cake
I always like to start my week off on the right foot, and what better way to do that then with a great breakfast. With that in mind, Monday morning I made this coffee cake I found on Smitten Kitchen. I allowed myself to sleep in a bit, so it was more like a late brunch by the time the 45-minute baking time was through. But my apartment was filled with the smell of chocolate and I soon learned it was worth the wait. The freshly baked coffee cake was rich and moist, but the cinnamon covered chocolate in every bite left me wanting another piece. Deb claims this coffee cake "might make you feel unintentionally wronged by every other coffee cake" that came before it. I don't think she was kidding, it's that good.

Apple cider donuts
Yesterday was the first day of fall, and for me that means apples. I love hot spiced cider, apple pie, and apple butter. I've been meaning to attempt a homemade donut project for a while now, and these apple cider donuts I found on Food 52 seem like the perfect opportunity. My mouth waters just reading the recipe. Maybe my friends are adventurous enough to let me try the recipe on them for brunch.

Funfetti cake
From scratch, that is. Food 52 shares the secrets to making everyone's favorite birthday cake at home, no box necessary. Little did I know the complexity of our beloved funfetti cake, it's all about the right balance to get the sprinkles to suspend in the cake batter. This recipe is worth trying for an upcoming birthday, as I really hate using store-bought mixes when I bake anything. Baked good just taste better when you make them homemade.

Mini blueberry tarts
A fresh dessert with some hearty oats added to the topping. This would be another good option for a brunch or cocktail party or shower, as the tarts look adorable! Hopefully I'll find an event that lets me give this recipe a try.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Travels and Top Chefs

Duck egg raviolo at Juniper & Ivy

Top Chef is one of my favorite guilt pleasure shows, food TV meets reality TV. Between the professional chefs, quickfire challenges and destination finales, I find endless inspiration. Over the many seasons of the show, there were a few creative chefs that really caught my eye. And it only fuels my desire to travel to new cities, so I can dine at these chefs' restaurants. In the past year, I was had the opportunity to visit restaurants owned by my four favorite Top Chefs and I can say each of these restaurants is worth traveling for.

Juniper & Ivy
Ever since I watched Richard Blais on season four of Top Chef and then again as he won Top Chef All Stars, I have been inspired by his adventurous cooking style. And equally determined to try one of his restaurants. Blais has trained with some of the best chefs in the business, including Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud. But he's really forged his own way with his restaurants where he reinvents classic dishes often utilizing cutting edge cooking techniques like liquid nitrogen. For a while it seemed like I would have to wait to dine at The Spence or Flip Burger in Atlanta. That is until I saw Blais' announcement that he was opening a left-coast cookery in San Diego. Take my beloved west-coast regional cuisine, mix it with Blais' modernist signatures -- I knew it was sure to amaze.

And a chef who finds inspiration in both June gloom and Coachella dates, that's definitely something I can relate to. So I was determined to try Juniper and Ivy as soon as possible. Lucky for me, Blais opened Juniper and Ivy in March and I was headed to San Diego for a belated birthday celebration with my parents, so I didn't have to wait long at all. My mom and I delighted in trying the Coachella dates with lamb bacon for an appetizer, and then decided to order a variety of small plates so we could try more things. The smoked swordfish with gooseberries and mustard caviar was a must, as non-traditional caviar is a Blais signature. Our meal was ronded out with a refreshing asparagus panna cotta, duck egg raviolo and slow-roasted beets with ricotta. We finished with not one but three desserts, it was my birthday after all. I think my favorite was either the yodel, their take on the Hostess treat with a hot chocolate sauce or the citrus marshmallow sorbet that accompanied the pine needle meringue.

From the beautiful menu design to the high-energy design of the restaurant space to the plating of the food, this designer was in awe. The beauty of the restaurant matched the amazing flavors in our meal. As we talked with our waiter, he discovered how anxious I had been to try the restaurant, traveling from Phoenix for my birthday dinner, so he sent Richard Blais to the table! It was such a pleasure meeting him and talking about the food. It's definitely one of my more treasured memories and it left me with an even greater desire to go to Atlanta to try The Spence.

Over Memorial Weekend, I took a trip to one of my favorite cities to visit a few close friends who had recently relocated. After studying in D.C. during a summer in college, it has come to hold a special place in my heart. I am fascinated by the history, the politics, the museums and the restaurant scene that has blossomed in the years since I lived there. Prior to my visit, I quite literally scheduled my meals, so I could try almost every restaurant on my list and see as many friends as possible. One such restaurant belongs to Spike Mendelsohn, my other favorite chef from what was obviously my favorite season, season four, and Top Chef All Stars. Bérnaise, Mendelsohn's most recent restaurant venture, opened last June and it's been on my D.C. list ever since I read it was opening. Mendelsohn grew up in Montreal and spent time working in France, and the restaurant embodies the French bistro experience I am sure Mendelsohn is familiar with.

A two-story walk up in Capitol Hill, the design is chic and the atmosphere is inviting. My trip fell not long after brunch service started at Bernaise, so I joined my friends Julia and Charlsy for my favorite meal of the day. We sat on the second floor beside a window overlooking the bustling street below. It seemed so quintessentially French in my mind, despite never having been to Paris. I was immediately drawn to the crème brûlée French toast. Toasted brioche soaked in a crème anglaise, it was so decadent and so delicious. I would eat it again and again. And we so enjoyed our meal at Bérnaise that upon another friend's trip to D.C., Julia introduced her to the bistro as well.

Last fall I had the opportunity to attend a design conference in Louisville. I love attending conferences because it usually takes me to a new city and it puts me in the same room with others who share my passion and drive. These past couple years I had the opportunity to meet some amazing people who I have looked up to, who inspire me and who I can now call friends. I usually go to new cities armed with at least a few restaurant ideas and recommendations (some cities that list is longer than the one for sightseeing). For Louisville, I knew one of my meals had to be at an Edward Lee restaurant, a competitor on Top Chef season nine. Milkwood was right around the corner from our hotel so I persuaded a few of my new friends to join me for dinner there.

In addition to it's southern meets global cuisine, the restaurant is known around town for great cocktails. The drink menu is uniquely arranged by flavor -- sour, salty, sweet, bitter and umami. Given we were in bourbon country, I opted for the "salty" Firth of Forth. It was an adventurous choice mixing Bulliet Rye, vanilla and worcestershire sauce. But it was my dinner, the slow-roasted miso chicken that really wowed. I am not exaggerating when I say it's probably the best chicken I've ever tasted, delicate, melt-in-your-mouth and bursting with flavor.

The Voltaggio brothers are perhaps two of the most talented chefs to ever compete on Top Chef, both making it to the finale of season six. Michael Voltaggio edged out his brother to win the competition and in 2011 he opened ink. in West Hollywood. I attended college in Los Angeles but graduated before Voltaggio left The Dining Room in Pasadena to open his own restaurant. However I frequently return to L.A. to visit college friends, so I made it a priority to make it to ink. or at the very least ink.sack, Voltaggio's gourmet sandwich shop.

Last summer, on my way out of town, I stopped for breakfast and a stroll on Melrose. It suddenly occurred to me that while I had not found time to dine at ink., I could quite easily grab something from ink.sack to enjoy on my ride back. Problem solved. The restaurant reflects the energy and spirit I saw of Michael Voltaggio on Top Chef. And while the sandwiches are quite affordable, that does not mean they skimp on flavor. After perusing the nearly two dozen options, I opted for a pastrami sandwich that came with horseradish cream and dijon mustard. I have a weakness for great sandwiches, like this one, so there's no doubt in my mind I'll return to ink.sack on future visits to L.A. And eventually I am going to have a meal at ink,, I am still determined.