Tuesday, September 27, 2011

C is for Cookie

Cookie Monster, you're in for a treat.  As an experienced and longtime Cookie Fan, I can honestly say I have never seen, heard or most importantly, tasted anything as unique as these fun little cookies I just happened to run into at the OB Jazz Fest. 

Peanut Butter Overload Extravaganza.  Love this name
(I may have added the "Extravaganza")
I love Fests, in general.  But a Jazz Fest?  Double love.  So when my sister Aulani told me about the Ocean Beach Jazz Fest in San Diego, I got a bit excited.  Shutting down Newport for an all-day street closure featuring the top jazz bands in socal?  In! 

What we (and when I say we, I mean Aulani) didn't realize, is that not only was there amazing music, this fest featured gourmet food tents, too!  
Me: Aww so there's no food?  
Aulani: Nope, no food.  
And then we turned the corner and saw 80,000 food tents.
Tent after tent of arts, crafts, and oh, food...

I, of course, noticed the Cookie Tent right away.  But everyone wanted to listen to this band that was about to start, so fine, I went to The Harp, one of the many jazzy venues of the day.  And I'm glad I did because I would have missed out on my new favorite jazz band, the Nathan James Trio.  Love!
The Nathan James Trio--not sure what I love more--
their hats or the little washboard guitar!

But I was still thinking about cookies.

And I may have told everyone I was thinking about cookies.

So.  We went to find the cookies. :)
An awesome New Orleans-style jazz band
sashaying down Newport 
What we didn't realize at the time was that we were about to experience Cookie History.  These were not just your average cookies.  These were the most unique and innovative cookies in the history of cookies.

Me infiltrating the Cravory Cookie tent
The geniuses at The Cravory have actually created 950 customized cookies, all of which are available online and at little fairs.  Allow me to highlight a few of my favorites...

Red Velvet and Birthday Cake
Rosemary Balsamic.  Because why not?

And here the crown jewel, (drum roll please...)
Pancake & Bacon Cookies!
Consensus: they were very...interesting. 
All of them were pretty amazing (we tried about 6 different treats).  Perhaps not surprisingly, my favorite was Peanut Butter Overload.  Why?  See if this doesn't move you: Organic Peanut Butter Dough with Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Reese's Chips and Guittard Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips.  Holy peanuty heaven.

I quickly designated myself as the Cookie Keeper.  This responsibility involved guarding the cookies and generously doling them throughout the day as we listened to amazing band after amazing band.  All in all, an incredible day made even better by the discovery of some of the most special cookies on earth.
Aulani fully enjoying her Peanut Butter Overload.
Speaking of sharing, I leave you with one parting thought from the master himself: "Sometimes me think what is love, and then me think love is what last cookie is for.  Me give up the last cookie for you."   As if I didn't already love Cookie Monster.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Peanut Butter Stuffed Hawaiian Sweet Bread French Toast with Bananas and Walnuts

So breakfast is my absolute faaaaavorite meal of the day.  And I'm always looking for ways to "dessertify" (yes I make up my own words) any food, but especially anything remotely related to the breakfast category (cue my constant debate with co-worker Burton about whether Blueberry Muffins are dessert or breakfast.  Burton, for the last time, they're breakfast-dessertish.  Obviously).
My Little Cooking Fairy
A shout out to Cafe 123 in San Diego, CA for the inspiration of this next insanely tasty breakfast treat.  They had a strong opening act--warmed up the audience a bit, if you will--but I like to think I brought the house down.  Heyo!

The nice thing about The Peanut Butter Stuffed Hawaiian Sweet Bread French Toast with Walnuts and Bananas is that though it's a mouthful to say, they're relatively fast and easy to make.

One caveat before we begin: I highly, highly recommend hiring a Little Cooking Fairy.  They're not just the best helpers on earth, they're pretty adorable, too.  And they're happy to get paid in French Toast.  

So here's what you'll need (this is the closest thing you'll ever get to a recipe from me, so please pay attention, Jenny and Kailey's mom).

- 1 Loaf of King's Hawaiian Sweet Bread (I also love Ani's from Long's in Hawaii and Big Island Punalu'u Sweet Bread but those may be a tad more difficult to source)
- Light Soy milk (fine, you can use fattening regular milk but I do live in LA so there you go)
- Eggs (brown and organic are best.  Just kidding, I think I got some on sale.)
- Cinnamon
- Vanilla Extract
- Bananas
- Walnuts, chopped (or smashed depending on the skill level of your Little Cooking Fairy)
- Peanut Butter (the more creamy and processed and less natural, the better.  That one's for you, Ryan Lau.)

Step 1: Make your french toast batter.  I made breakfast for the whole family (5) so I cracked 10 eggs, then mixed in about 2 cups of soy milk and gave it to the Cooking Fairy to mix (not letting the fairy crack the eggs is crucial, just trust me on this).  I then sprinkled about 2 tablespoons of cinnamon and maybe 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract.  I'll be honest, I kinda winged in.  But it turned out ok.  Just have fun out there, people.
Dipping Time!

Step 2: Dip your Hawaiian Sweet Bread slice in the funky batter.

Nicely cooked on both sides
Step 3: Place the dipped bread onto a hot frying pan (I turned the burner to Medium), already coated in Pam (or butter.  Again I live in LA so I'm trying to make these as healthy as possible.  Yes, I know that sounds ridiculous).  Flip when ready, about 2 minutes on each side until they're cooked all the way through.  I suggest doing two at a time since you'll need 2 for each creation.

Step 4: Place 1 slice of French Toast on a plate. Coat the top in a thick, luscious, rich, delectable, delicious layer of peanut butter (sorry I got a bit carried away).  Coat the bottom of a 2nd slice of French Toast with an equally amazing layer of peanut butter.

Yay for Peanut Butter!

Think of it as a fried peanut butter sandwich but it's healthy
because it includes bananas and walnuts.
 Step 5: Place the second slice of French Toast on top of the first slice, like a peanut butter sandwich.  Cover with sliced bananas and destroyed walnut bits.  Et voila, The Peanut Butter Stuffed Hawaiian Sweet Bread French Toast with Walnuts and Bananas.
Add a little bit of maple syrup...

Holy peanut butter yumminess
They were soooo yummy.  The sweetness of the Hawaiian bread plus the creaminess of the peanut butter combined with the fresh bananas and crunchiness of the walnuts was the perfect combination of tastes and textures.  Oh boy I love these.  If you'll excuse me, I think I'll go make some right now...

This picture has nothing to do with anything,
I just can't stand how flippin cute she is.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Life is Short...Eat Dessert First!

Jacques Torres, brilliant chocolatier and sign maker

I could not agree with you more, Jacques Torres.  It turns out I basically agree with you about everything, but especially this little gem of a motto.  (I could not have been more excited to take this picture, can you tell???  In fact, this was one of the only publishable photos where I wasn't grinning like a giant dork.  Keri, you're seriously one of the most patient people on earth.  Nothing but love for you.)

I recently had the awesome privilege of visiting Jacques Torres' adorable little chocolate haven in Brooklyn (it's actually in DUMBO--Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass--is that not the cutest thing ever?  But I digress.)  Ever dreamed of visiting Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory?  Well, here's your chance.

Entering Chocolateland (cue the singing angels).
Jacques Torres is a master pastry chef and chocolatier, with thousands of delectable treats to prove it, but his true genius is in the completely charming and almost overwhelming display of chocolateness that literally makes you want to eat or buy everything the minute you walk into the store.  

The building's exterior is plain yet very clever--it's a working chocolate factory, so the windows expose their magical chocolate-making machines.  And the minute you step inside...the wonderful and powerful scent of all things chocolate wafts through the air.  Combined with the gorgeous dark brown and orange color palette and overwhelming displays of all things chocolate, I felt Instant Chocolate Happiness.  Forget a kid on Christmas.  At Jacques Torres, I felt like a kid on crack riding a pony on Christmas. 
Perfectly packaged, delightfully delicious.
Row upon row of any and every imaginable chocolate treat lives in this store--chocolate malt balls, chocolate cheerios, chocolate bark with roasted hazelnuts, candied ginger bars, chocolate chip cookies, hot chocolate, dark chocolate bars, milk chocolate bars, white chocolate bars with almonds, dark chocolate covered peanuts...you get the idea.

[Enter Crazy Chocolate Freak to counter]
Me: I'll take it.
Chocolate Lady: You buy the bark by the pound.
Me: Ok, I'll take 10.
Chocolate Lady: That's a lot.  I think you mean 1.
Me:*pause* Nope.
Chocolate Lady: *blank stare*
[And scene]
I bought a bit of everything.  You know, as gifts.  For others.  Because I'm a giver.   Seriously, I did give some away.  That's the nice thing about chocolate.  Who doesn't like it?  I don't know anyone who would refuse the Gift of Chocolate.
I chose almost one of everything because
variety is the spice of life.  
Here I am in front of the store with my glorious chocolate gift box filled with beautiful, delectable chocolate treats, intended for my co-workers.

Geeking out!  
And here is the above mentioned box that I opened in my hotel room.  I forgot what I had ordered so I wanted to take a peek.   And I then remembered that I wanted to try the Peanut Butter Chocolate Ganache--ummm to die for.  Wish I had bought a whole box of it.  
Life is like a box of chocolates.  (Except I knew what I was
getting since I hand picked each one).

It is a small miracle that 10 of these chocolates actually made it back to LA.  Co-workers, you are welcome. 

Jacques Torres
66 Water Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Popsicle Part II: Dark Chocolate Mixed Berry with Hazelnuts

The fabulous Irene with
her fabulous creation
I never thought I'd utter "popsicle" and "genius" in the same sentence, but boy, Pop Bar, do you deserve it. 

So gourmet popsicles are kind of a big deal right now.  I make this bold statement based on the fact that in one day, I ran into TWO different popsicle places!  (I tend to exaggerate.  A little.  Ok a lot).  I thought the Doughnut Peach Basil Popsicle was inventive.  Holy wow Pop Bar, you took the popsicle to another level entirely.   

My friend Irene and I had a somewhat disappointing dinner--gorgeous atmosphere but hello Flavor, we missed you.  Needless to say, we were very hesitant to try their dessert.  

That's when Irene brilliantly suggested Pop Bar, which happened to be around the corner.  At first the idea of another popsicle wasn't that exciting to me.  I had just tried a doughnut popsicle that afternoon, and there were sooooo many other dessert places I wanted to try. But when she described how unique this popsicle place was, I couldn't resist.

What's so different about Pop Bar?  You get to customize your popsicle!  Allow me (and Paul, the personal popsicle professional) to walk you through this fun, easy process.

Step 1: So many flavors, so little time!
Step 1: Choose your Flavor.  A wide variety of fabulous freshly frozen flavors are available, made from Gelato, Sorbetto, or Yogurt: Blood Orange, Grapefruit, Mango, Chocolate, Strawberry, Pistachio, Peach...you get the picture. I chose Mixed Berry, a combination of (I think) Blueberries, Strawberries and Raspberries.  Yay for summer fruit!

Step 2: Choose your Chocolate.  White, Milk, or Dark.  You really can't go wrong with any of these choices.  Your popsicle can be fully dipped or half dipped, depending on your preference.  I of course chose to let my popsicle completely submerge in the yummy pool of dark chocolate.

Step 2: Chocolate Time!  I like dark chocolate because
it contains antioxidants.  That makes it good for you.
Step 3: Choose your Nuts.  Almonds, Pistachios, Peanuts, or Hazelnuts.  Decisions, decisions!  While Paul was pushing pistachios, the hazelnuts were calling to me.  Here I reveal my complex thought process: chocolate + hazelnuts = Nutella.  Done.
Step 3: It's nuts in here.  Paul was encouraging
pistachios but I was feeling hazelnutty.
Et voila!  The Dark Chocolate Dipped Mixed Berry with Hazelnuts Popsicle, made just for me!
The finished masterpiece!

These little treats were exactly what we were looking for, and completely made up for our dinner misadventure.  The crunchy hazelnuts added a unique texture to the smooth, rich dark chocolate, which elegantly coated the sweet frozen berries.  Refreshing, sweet, and savory-yum yum yum.

To complete the wonderful experience, we headed to the park across the street and sat on a bench, enjoying our tasty creations on a warm, beautiful night.  

Thank you, Irene, for informing me AFTER we left the park that hundreds of little mice were running around our feet THE ENTIRE TIME.  (She wisely concluded that I would freak the hell out.  Which I did, later).   

In conclusion, I highly recommend visiting Pop Bar.  I also highly recommend not eating them in the park.
Popsicles in the park on a warm
New York summer night....bliss.
Pop Bar
5 Carmine St. (@ 6th Ave.)
New York, NY 10014
212 255 4874

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Doughnut Peach Basil Ice Pop

The Doughnut Peach Basil Popsicle
"I want to be a part of it, New York, New York!" Oh New York, I just love ya.  The moment my plane hits the ground, there's an undeniable energy in the air that makes me giddy with excitement.  (Side note: Every time I'm about to land in NYC, that fabulous Sinatra song plays in my head.  Seriously.  Every time.)

Oh the possibilities!  You never know what could happen, who you might run into, or most importantly, what incredible, exotic and revolutionary new food might be lurking just around the corner.

Take the popsicle.  Only in New York could this simple childhood amusement become a gourmet affair of epic proportions.   I tried two different types of this trendy treat, and both were pretty ridiculous.
Walking the High Line

The first stop, which we found completely by accident (these unplanned discoveries are often when I find the best things ever.  Lesson: be open to everything all the time, friends): People's Pops, a cute little old fashioned popsicle cart on the High Line.

The High Line is a gorgeous new park on the west side that cleverly converted a dreary, unused space into a fabulous walking path, complete with beautiful landscapes and outrageous views of the Hudson.

I happened to walk the High Line with my friend Keri on a really hot day, so when I spied this little ice cream stand, I was pretty open to whatever the little ice cream guy was offering.

Let's see, I'll have the...
doughnut popsicle??? 

But much to my surprise, this ice cream cart didn't carry Drumsticks or Good Humor bars.  I was left with this dilemma: Doughnut Peach Basil or Nectarine Chai.

Before I saw the sign, I was thinking, ok I'll probably have a little vanilla ice cream sandwich or maybe a fudgesicle.  But noooo, these were not my choices.  I was debating between two ice pops that contained some of the most exotic ingredients on earth.

So of course I went with the Doughnut (I always say yes to fried).  I was beyond intrigued by what crazy genius would think to include a doughnut in an ice pop.

The first bite was so refreshing, it was like taking a big gulp of fresh water on a hot day.  (This also made me realize I was really thirsty, but luckily there were tons of drinking fountains around.  Drinking fountains that talk, by the way.  But I digress).  This popsicle was different from anything I had tried before--just by looking at it, you could tell it was fresh, homemade, and going to be delicious.

There were generous chunks of peach distributed throughout the bar.  Chopped basil added a unique, herbal essence.  And the doughnuts?  Sadly, while I could see the chunks, they didn't have much taste.  But no matter.  I just liked saying that I ate a doughnut popsicle.   All in all, a perfect treat for a hot summer day.

In fact, I've been wondering how feasible it is to have them shipped to me in LA.  Hint to my NY friends: perhaps you can bring a cooler of popsicles with you the next time you're in LA).

This is all that remained after 1.37 minutes. 

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Dim Sum Club

Ni hao, Chinatown.
No, this is not a review of a new historic, touching, yet seriously depressing Amy Tan novel.  This is better (and shorter).  It's the beginning of a wonderful dessert story that stars Chinatown in Los Angeles, which must be one of the smallest Chinatowns in the history of Chinatowns.

A few lovely girlfriends decided to meet for dim sum recently, and we had such a fabulous time, I suggested we form the Dim Sum Club!  I wanted to do this every Sunday!  (While no one was very excited about my absolutely terrible name for a foodie club, we agreed that we should all meet again soon for more fabulous adventures).

There were just a few left, so I took them all.  For the blog.  

Chinatown is such a visual treat.  I love that I can visit a Chinatown in just about any city in the world and eat all my favorite foods, buy a "Cucci" watch, handpainted paper lanterns, and a live baby turtle, all in one stop.  I've had quite a few Chinatown turtles in my lifetime.  Mooncake and General Tao were my favorites, namely because they provided hours of entertainment when I decided to add them to my once lively fish tank (No, I don't suggest this.  Yes, they ate the fish).

Chinese desserts bring me back to childhood.  I'm one-quarter Chinese, and I remember as a young girl, my tiny yet very speedy Chinese grandmother, sprinting through Honolulu's Chinatown, picking up her favorite treats and groceries along the way, with my sisters and I panting behind her.

Empress Pavillion Take Out.  This couple was so cute.
One of her favorite desserts was Gin Doi.  While my favorite version is located at a nondescript little stand in Honolulu's Chinatown, luckily, you can find this important dessert at most Chinatown bakeries.

We had dim sum and Gin Doi at Empress Pavillion (not to be confused with Happy Princess Dragon Palace, my first guess), but I also wanted to take some home, so I went next door and bought a few from their brilliant Take Out bakery.

I took a zillion pictures at the bakery, and drew some attention from a couple inside, who were trying to choose their treats between shots.  I apologized and explained that I have a blog, to which the woman gave me a blank stare.  She then sheepily asked, "Um so what is a 'blog'?"  It was a precious moment as I showed her my blog on my phone and explained why the heck I was taking so many pictures of desserts.  But I digress.

Tear-shaped Gin Doi available at Empress Pavillion
So what is it?  Gin doi is the Chinese version of a doughnut.  This round, tanned treat is covered in toasted sesame seeds that envelop a thick, sticky layer of sweet rice.  And the inside--surprise!  While seemingly hidden, the filling is a burst of sugary, smooth black bean or lotus paste.  And then of course, it's deep fried.  Fried, sweet, yummy goodness.  

One sweet, crunchy, oozy bite and I'm transported back to Maunakea Street, darting into the hard-to-find Gin Doi shop, while my Popo orders/barters/argues a few Gin Doi from the owner.  Thank you, Popo, for all the yummy memories.

Cut in half, in the hopes that we would "share"
(we each had a whole one).
Empress Pavillion

988 N. Hill Street,
(located in the Chinatown Bamboo Plaza)
Los Angeles, CA 90012