Melt It! a grilled cheese co.

melt It!Yesterday, I was invited to try a new restaurant in Pasadena.  It’s called Melt It! a grilled cheese co.  I consider myself a bit of an expert in the world of grilled cheese, having competed in the Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational in 2011 in Los Angeles.  I did not win, but my recipe , came in 18th out of 200 in my category.  Let’s just say, I made a lot of grilled cheese sandwiches trying to come up with my winning recipe!

Melt It! grilled cheeseMelt It! has only been open for 10 days and they are doing well with many eager, hungry patrons.  I have to say the hardest thing for me was to figure out what to order.  I could have eaten them all.  I settled on the Tabasco Melt, which consists of Tabasco Butter, Monterey Jack, Bacon, Avocado, Tomatoes on Sourdough.  It was world class. They also have a grilled cheese with Macaroni & Cheese in it. I need to go back and try that one.

Melt It! portobello friesAnd, I also tried the sweet potato fries with the Warm Blue Cheese Dip – OMG!!!  This warm dip is crazy good!  Tim, the owner, then brought me some Portobello fries with their signature house dressing / dip, which is also unique and delicious.

Melt It! Pb&jAnd for dessert – wait for it – the Deep-fried Pb&j Sandwich – sort of a Monte Cristo on steroids.

One of the things I am very passionate about is supporting local businesses, especially restaurants.  A very large percentage of restaurants fail in the first three years.  There are so many factors in a successful restaurant – location, location, location – oh, and the food has to be good, oh, and the service has to be “the customer’s always right”  good, and of course the ambiance, music, ease of parking, cleanliness, etc…

The owner and all of the staff are very friendly and welcoming.  They couldn’t have been nicer.  I smell success at Melt It!  I will without a doubt be back!

A Chicken Sandwich Minus the Bigotry & Some Chicken Nuggets too!

Eat the Chicken, not the bigotry….

I don’t usually blog about controversial topics, but I have to do it.  I am astounded by the stupidity.

I’ve only been to Chik-fil-A a handful of times.  The chicken is good, but it’s the sauce that is delicious.  I went to one recently in Baltimore, MD with my daughter Zoe.  The thing that struck me was that the employees were way too nice.  It actually gave me the creeps.

So, I guess this company is based on lies…  Don’t even get me started about the chain being closed on Sundays!

“The Chick-fil-A culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect –- regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender. We will continue this tradition in the over 1,600 Restaurants run by independent Owner/Operators. Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.”

Chick-fil-A Chicken Sandwich

Makes 4 sandwiches

3 cups peanut oil
1 egg
1 cup milk
1 cup flour
2½ Tbs powdered sugar
½ tsp pepper
2 Tbs salt
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, halved
4 plain hamburger buns
2 Tbs melted butter
8 dill pickle slices

Heat the peanut oil in a pressure cooker over medium heat to about 400 degrees.

In a small bowl, beat the egg and stir in the milk.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, sugar, pepper, and salt.

Dip each piece of chicken in milk until it is fully moistened.

Roll the moistened chicken in the flour mixture until completely coated.

Drop all four chicken pieces into the hot oil and close the pressure cooker. When steam starts shooting through the pressure release, set the timer for 3 1/2 minutes.

While the chicken is cooking, spread a coating of melted butter on the face of each bun.

When the chicken is done, remove it from the oil and drain or blot on paper towels. Place two pickles on each bottom bun; add a chicken breast, then the top bun.

Note
It is very important that your oil be hot for this recipe. Test the temperature by dropping some of the flour coating into the oil. If it bubbles rapidly, your oil is probably hot enough. It should take about 20 minutes to heat up. To make a “deluxe” chicken sandwich, simply add two tomato slices and a leaf of lettuce. Mayonnaise also goes well on this sandwich–it is a side order at the restaurant.

Chick-Fil-A Chicken Nuggets

Serves 4

2 cups chicken breast (Boneless, Skinless, Cubed)
1 cup flour
1½ cups cracker Meal
¼ tsp paprika
2 cups water
2 chicken bouillon cubes
2 ¼ tsp McCormick season−all

Place cool water in bowl, add 1/4 teaspoon season−all and dissolve bouillon cubes in mixture. Place cubed chicken in water, mix, cover and place in refrigerator for 12 hours or next day.

When ready to cook nuggets, mix flour, cracker meal, 2 teaspoons season−all and paprika in bowl. Heat oil for deep frying. Drain chicken. Coat nuggets in flour, cracker mixture and fry until golden. Chicken will be flavorful and juicy.

Chick-fil-A Sauce

Makes 1 cup

1 cup Ken’s Honey Mustard dressing (no brand substitutions)
2 tsp smoky barbecue sauce

Combine ingredients and cover and refrigerate until serving.

Pulled Pork Nachos

Gus’s BBQ 

Last night, we went to Gus’s BBQ in South Pasadena, CA for dinner.  Gus’s has been around since 1946, though it’s been sold and re-done in the past few years.  For some reason, I ordered the pulled pork nachos.  My expectations were low.  Boy, was I wrong!  Everything about this messed up pile of meal was fantastic!  I could kick myself for not taking a picture of it.  Anyway, if you live near here, I recommend that you “high tail” it over there and order this dish.  Below is a rough estimate of the recipe.

Pulled Pork Nachos

Serves 3 – 6

2 cups (more or less) leftover pulled pork
1 bag regular corn tortilla chips
½ cup (more or less) sliced, pitted kalamata olives
BBQ baked beans
4 oz Monterrey Jack cheese, grated
4 oz sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
½ cup (more or less) jarred jalapeño slices
3 Tbs barbeque sauce
Guacamole

Some sort of vessel that you can take from oven to table easily.  A cast iron skillet works well.

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.  This should take about half an inning of an average game.

Line the bottom of your baking vessel with a mix of blue and white corn tortillas.

Scatter pulled pork over the top of the tortillas.  Layer with sprinkled cheese, olives, beans and jalapeño.

Repeat until you’ve achieved a level of height you’re comfortable with.

The top layer should be mostly cheese. Squeeze some barbeque sauce on top of the nacho pile. Top with guacamole.

Bake approximately 10 – 15 minutes.

Dinner in the dark

I think everyone should try this at home on their significant other….

Dinner in the dark has become the latest rage in culinary dining experiences. From Los Angeles to New York, diners now have the option of eating their meal while seated in an intimate and completely darkened dining area or wearing blindfolds. Many of the restaurants offering dark dining encourage guests to eat without utensils to expand the senses of smell, touch and taste.

While dinner in the dark is relatively new to the U.S., this practice is commonplace in Europe. The origins of exploring culinary delights in darkness began in Zurich during the early 1990s. According to the Florida Institute of Rehabilitation Education, a non-profit organization serving the blind, “Dining in the dark was pioneered by a Swiss socialite who was blind. He threw dinner parties for his sighted friends in the dark to add flair and zest to the occasion.”

The unique culinary experience concept quickly spread throughout fine dining establishments and social clubs in Berlin, London, Paris, Tel Aviv and Prague. Most dark dining restaurants employ blind or partially-sighted wait staff to provide employment opportunities and raise awareness about blindness.

U.S. Dinner in the Dark Restaurants

California
Opaque is the premier dinner in the dark restaurant in California. With locations in L.A., San Francisco and San Diego, Opaque serves diners a three course meal consisting of salad, entrée and dessert. Entrées include roasted lemon herb chicken breast with garlic parmesan broccoli spears or seared Ahi tuna steak with vegetable salad and sticky rice.

New York
In conjunction with Dark Dining Projects, CAMAJE Bistro and Lounge presents “sensory feasts served to blindfolded guests” a few times each year; including a special Halloween feast. CAMAJE serves diners four courses paired with wines. Artist performances are conducted for heightened sensory perception.

Florida
Chef Adrianne Calvo occasionally offers dinner in the dark events at her Miami based restaurant, Chef Adrianne’s Vineyard Restaurant and Wine Bar.

A Prize in Every Box!

As a child, the ONLY reason I wanted to go to the grocery store with my mother, was to go the cereal aisle.  The main reason was to scan the selves for the best prize inside.  Sadly, we now live in an overly cautious, wear a bike helmut, seat belt (how many of you slide from side to side in the back seat of the car?), don’t choke on that kind of world.  How did we ever survive our childhood?  If you ask me, it’s adulthood that is the scary part of life.

Basically, cereal was a very serious business.  Capt n’ Crunch with Crunch Berries, Lucky Charms, Trix, which one to chose?  Kashi?  Really?  I think not!  Once, home, you would open the box and start digging and shaking (while being yelled at by a parental unit) to get to that wonderful wrapped piece of plastic, perfect to get lodged in your throat.  You can picture me wearing my “Devil Made Me Do It” ratty t-shirt.  Collect all six!!!  1960s Trix tiddly winks (on sale on ebay for $9.99, by the way), which was a plastic container with a raised image of the Trix rabbit on both sections and the tiddly winks inside.  Choking hazard?

When I was 10 years old, I bought a bag of 10 bags of popcorn – with a prize in EVERY bag!  Imagine the look on my face when I opened up all 10 bags to find nothing!  It was my first feeling of real rage.  I immediately wrote a letter to the company demanding an explanation.  A few months later and very large box arrived with millions of plastic prizes and every snack product they manufactured.  This started my quest to find products with false marketing.  I have received cases of soap and a few lame letters of apology.

Anyway, I will stop reminiscing and get to my point.  A few weeks ago, I had lunch at Mix ‘n’ Munch Cereal & Grilled Cheese Café.  You can have 25 kinds of cereal. What a concept.  I had no idea that there are Cereal cafés all over.  There is one with PJ-clad servers pouring cereal day and night, topping it off with everything from fruit to malted milk balls.

Here are a few examples of the new phenomenon.

Mix n’ Munch

The Cereal Bowl

Cereality

Baked Meatballs

The Mighty Meatball

I love finding out about new food trends.  One of the things that I predict will be big in 2011 is Meatballs.

Old Italian is getting new respect. Meatballs are gaining momentum. The Meatball Shop in New York (five kinds, four gravies) has endless lines, and Disney (Orlando) opened a Meatball and Beer Bar – Portobello at Downtown Disney.

Small plates in general seem to becoming “de rigor” for most restaurants these days and meatballs fit the bill perfectly – high protein, big flavor, small bite.  What could be better? I think you need to start thinking about meatballs on their own and fogetabout the spaghetti.

Baked Meatballs

Makes 20 meatballs, 4 to 5 servings

½ lb ground pork
1 lb ground round
5 oz frozen spinach, thawed and drained thoroughly
½ cup finely grated Parmesan
1 whole egg
1½ tsp dried basil
1½ tsp dried parsley
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp red pepper flakes
½ cup bread crumbs, divided

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the pork, ground round, spinach, cheese, egg, basil, parsley, garlic powder, salt, red pepper flakes, and 1/4 cup of the bread crumbs. Using your hands, mix all ingredients until well incorporated. Use immediately or place in refrigerator for up to 24 hours.

Place the remaining ¼ cup of bread crumbs into a small bowl. Using a scale, weigh meatballs into 1½ oz portions and place on a sheet pan. Using your hands, shape the meatballs into rounds, roll in the bread crumbs and place the meatballs in individual, miniature muffin tin cups. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden and cooked through.

Punjabi Tacos

We had dinner at Radhika Bistro in South Pasadena, CA. I have had many tacos in my day, including Japanese tacos, but this one is really unusual – a Punjabi Taco. 

 

Radhika calls itself a “modern Indian bistro.”  But while Indian tacos might be an attempt to jump on the LA trend-wagon, they really are good: warm corn tortillas filled with tandoor-style chicken, pickled onions, Indian seasonings, tamarind sauce and raita. 

 

This is meant to inspire you to create your own loco tacos. 

Jasmine Café

Last Friday night, our youngest daughter, Grace, had her first 7th grade dance at her new school.  She had her new friends over to “primp / prep” for the dance.  We decided that we would drop them off at the dance and eat somewhere close to school.  We chose the Jasmine Café in San Marino.  I had heard many rave reviews, but hadn’t been yet.

It was wonderful.  Not only, was the food fantastic, but the owners were there and talked to us about their kids and most importantly, made us feel welcome.  There is something about the combination of friendly service and brilliant food, which makes for an enjoyable dining experience.

We tried the Walnut shrimp with glazed walnuts and the Orange Chicken, which puts a large chain to shame!  We also had the braised green beans and they make their own chili sauce that is delicious.

I think it is very important to support local restaurants and businesses in your area. According to economic studies, for every $100 spent at a chain store only $12 is circulated back into the local economy. Whereas that same $100 spent at a local business, is multiplied into a $45 recirculation.  I’m not sure if this statistic is spot on, but it sounds about right to me.

Shopping at a local small business means supporting friends and neighbors, the community, and the local economy.

Dim Sum

Dim sum is the Cantonese term for a type of Chinese dish that involves small individual portions of food, usually served in a small steamer basket or on a small plate.

Sunday morning we were invited by our new friends for Dim Sum at a wonderful restaurant in Alhambra, CA.  I happen to love Dim Sum, but there is nothing better than going with people who know what to order.  It was not the kind of place where they wheel around a cart and you choose a dish.  At this restaurant, you ordered in advance, which meant it was VERY fresh.  There were things that I normally would never eat, that I ended up really enjoying. The whole fish that was served at the end was spectacular, fresh and almost sweet. We had Shrimp Dumpling (蝦餃 har gau): A delicate steamed dumpling with whole or chopped-up shrimp filling and thin wheat starch skin.  My favorite – Char siu baau (叉燒包, char siu baau): the most popular bun with a Cantonese barbecued pork filling. It is steamed, fluffy and white.  Taro dumpling (芋角 wu gok): This is made with mashed taro, stuffed with diced shiitake mushrooms, shrimp and pork, deep-fried in crispy batter.

If you haven’t had Dim Sum in a while, I suggest that you go.  Look around and see what other people are ordering.

WoodSpoon

Last night we went to this amazing Brazilian “hole in the wall” restaurant in downtown Los Angeles called WoodSpoon.  I had seen it on The Best Thing I Ever Ate with Giada De Laurentiis.  Her husband took her there for the Brazilian Chicken Pot Pie, which has hearts of palm, olives and roasted corn.  It was excellent, though I must say, the best thing was a little ramekin of pesto mayonnaise that came with it.  The waiter said, “be careful, it’s addictive”.  I can see why after tasting it, so now I am going to try to recreate it.

Anyway, I know most of you do not live in Los Angeles, but I wanted to share the menu so that you can get some ideas of how to “change up” some of your regular recipes. Oh, and Dylan McDermott was sitting next to us.

www.woodspoon.com