So Much Cheese, So Little Time! – Grilled Cheese Invitational 2010

Now that I am finally over my cheese coma it is time to share. Recently we visited the 1st 8th annual Grilled Cheese Invitational in downtown LA. We had been looking forward to this for sometime. We were also able to be judges, which added to the excitement.

As you would expect the event was packed. There were tons of people competing a lot of judges and about six food trucks as well. Cheese, butter, beard and food trucks, what more could you want. If you were patient enough you could even get beer!

We got to try a number of entries; some were good some were okay. There was a lot of fun to be had and we really enjoyed ourselves. We even met a few of our Twitter friends, @GourmetFoodTrk, @VirgStrickland, and @Kazper73. We almost met up with @Kitchycooker as well but just missed her as she went into start cooking her entry. Sorry we missed that one!

We had a great time. At this point we are trying to figure out if we want to compete and then we would have to get into the test kitchen. The competition is fierce so we will have to be ready. I bet it is a lot of work trying to keep the judges happy. Need to be original, need to have big flavor and need to be able to make it quickly. It sure sounds fun!

Test Kitchen – Crepes, with a Little Flare!

Back into the test kitchen. This time it was all about the crepe.

These are fun to make once you get the batter down!

We started with a traditional savory batter then added some flare from there. This was a small batch and we learned a lot about making the crepe itself. It is amazing how the thickness of the crepe itself can completely change the way the crepe tastes for better or worse. I am expecting to add more to this blog entry over time.

I hope you enjoy this first batch. If you have any ideas on interesting fillings please let us know. We will be sure to try them out, photograph them and let you know how they turn out!

Here are some photos from the session on April 25, 2010:

#1 – No Flare Here, Just Turkey and Mozzarella Cheese!

#1 – How it turned out, Turkey and Cheese

#2 – Korean Style Marinated Chicken and Kimchi, with Cheddar and Jack Cheese!

#2 – This one was Awesome!

#3 – Pulled Smoked BBQ Chicken with Muenster and Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese

We decided to make #3 with a thicker crepe than the others.  This worked out very well.  There were some very bold flavors but the crepe still stood out.  I am looking forward to working on this more.  

When is a Burger more than just a Burger? – Umami Burger

Let me start by saying that we have wanted to try these guys out for sometime ever since we saw them on the Best Thing I ever Ate on the Food Network. Umami Burger are high-end burger joints in the greater Los Angeles area. We made our way to the one on Hollywood Blvd.

This was a very fun place. We got there in the early afternoon and were seated right away. We ordered their special “Spicy Bird” which is a turkey burger with fried crunchy onion strings, spicy sauce, cheese, green chili on a grilled bun. The burger itself was cooked perfect and had a nice bite to it. This was a marvelous burger.

Spicy Bird!

We also ordered a Carnitas Burger that I must say was simply incredible. This was nothing like I expected it to be. It was a patty made of tender and flavorful carnitas with the consistency of a traditional burger. It had fried tortilla strips on top for texture along with a green sauce that added another layer of complexity. Amazing!

Carnitas Burger – Killer!

We also ordered their triple-cooked Hand-cut Fries that came with a Dijon mustard and mayonnaise sauce. The fries are very thick with a nice outer texture. They were well seasoned and the sauce fit them perfectly.

Hand-cut Fries with Dijon Mustard Sauce

Last we got their Tempura Onion Rings. These were very light and once again perfectly cooked. They were accompanied by homemade ketchup. The ketchup was more like a tomato sauce versus ketchup but the onion rings did not need anything.

Tempura Onion Rings with Homemade Ketchup

If you are in the mood for a hip place with killer burgers and good beer check these guys out. You will not be disappointed.

Umami Burger on Urbanspoon

Pub Crawl or is it a Gourmet Truck Crawl? – Comfort Truck, FrySmith, Bootleggers Brewery & The Bruery

Last Saturday was a good food adventure day. We started out by going to Charlie’s Chili in Newport Beach for breakfast. Then it was watching all of our Twitter & Facebook peeps talking about visiting the 15 gourmet food trucks that were at the California Democratic Convention at LA Live. Unfortunately we were not able to make it to that event. To be honest we thought it would be a nightmare. Turns out we were wrong. We enjoyed all of the tweets about the great food.

As you would expect we were a bit jealous. I spent some time combing through Twitter and the Mobile Cravings website to find if there was be chance any nearby trucks that we could go check out. Turns out that there were two “LA” trucks making their way down to the OC.

First was the Comfort Truck, which was being hosted by Bootleggers Brew. The Comfort Truck is a truck that is based in LA and one of the many trucks that are on my list to check out. This is an older truck that looks to have been refurbished and it has what looks to be a very expensive paint job. You cannot miss it going down the street. The have a small menu as most trucks do but the focus here is on good comfort food. I have to say they nailed that!

They offer a variety of sliders, mostly chicken that I thought was very cool. They also had a corn salsa with seasoned flour tortilla chips they call “Crack”. That was a good name for them! We tasted three different sliders and the “crack”. Their main attraction is the Golden Fried Chicken Slider that was just killer. This one is a boneless breast that is marinated then fried. It is served with a roasted garlic aioli that is the perfect compliment. You have to get this one for sure. We also had the Sautéed Spicy Chicken Slider and the Jerk Beef Slider. These were both spot on as well. We were both super happy with the food.

Golden Fried Chicken Slides
Sautéed Spicy Chicken and Jerk Beef Sliders
Comfort Truck “Crack” with Bootlegger’s Hefeweizen and Rustic Rye

The only downside was they were not as friendly as I am used to when visiting a gourmet food truck. Not rude or anything but just a little off. Now on the other hand they have been very friendly on Twitter. So I do not think this was normal for them. When is all said and done you have to check these guys out! I know we will be visiting them again soon.

Bootlegger’s Brewery

In addition to great food we were at Bootlegger’s Brewery, which we had never heard of before. There were a lot of people hanging out which was nice to see. We tried a couple of their beers and they were very good as well. It was very interesting to see what looks like a growing trend where breweries invite in gourmet food trucks and together leveraging social media bring a crowd together. I think it is a very good idea. One offers good food that can be changed on a weekly basis and the other offers good booze. That is a winning combination. I am hoping to see more of this in the future. After talking to the owner at Bootleggers it seems it was working out well. They have had a number of different trucks from the OC and LA.

Comfort Truck on Urbanspoon

The second stop that night was @FrySmith which was at a different brewery call The Bruery. How is that, two breweries in Orange County bringing in inviting gourmet food trucks from LA. This stop we did not try the beer, sorry @TheBruery. We will check them out next time. They had a good crowd as well so I am sure it was good. FrySmith has one of the coolest trucks I have seen. The funny part is when we got there it looked like an old funky truck from a distance. I was so wrong! Big windows so you can see what is going on. There is a lot of cooking area and along with lots of stainless steel. It looks like it is a converted truck of some sort. It was fun to watch them work.

We ordered their Chicken Sweet Potato and their special, which was a Poutine. The Poutine has Ballard Family Farms cheese curds and porcini gravy on fries. This was awesome. The cheese curds had a wonderful texture and flavor. They were generous with the curds, gravy and fries. The porcini gravy had a great mushroom flavor and pulled the whole th
ing together. We both liked this one a lot.

Poutine – Cheese Curds with Procini Gravy Fries

Neither of us are huge sweet potato fries fans but the Chicken Sweet Potato fries are their most popular item. The chicken is done with a tomatillo- tamarind sauce and topped with shredded cheese and chopped cashews. We were split on the chicken, I really liked it by itself but Kim was not so sure. I think it has to do with the odd combination. When you see the nuts with the shredded chicken you almost think you are going to have a more Thai influenced flavor and that was not the case. The one thing that seemed different to me on this dish was the fact that there was no sauce so the flavors did not seem to blend well together. So the jury is still out on this one. Many people rave about this combination. The sweet potato fries may have been our downfall.

Chicken Sweet Potato Fries

They also have cookies on special. This night they had two different ones. First was the Chili Chocolate with chocolate chunks and pecans. The cookie was soft and chewy with big chocolate chunks. The chili was a very nice touch. It kind of hits you after the fact. Not hot but you know it is there.

Chili Chocolate Cookie

The second cookie was the Cherry Chunk with chocolate chunks. This was perfect as well. It was soft and chewy with lots of cherries. Both cookies were awesome. You have to be sure to get to them early, as they seem to sell out fast!

Cherry Chunk Cookie

Overall the @FrySmith was good. We will go back. However I am a little concerned about how often they will have repeat customers. They have a pretty small menu. The menu has big flavors and I am looking forward to checking out their Kim chi fries. I am sure they will do well but in the long run it would be nice to see a little more. I am only saying this because it was a fun truck; they were very friendly both in person and on Twitter. Besides they do good work. I want to see them around for a long time!

It turned out to be a good night. I am really liking what I hope is a growing trend. Libations and road food, who can ask for more.

Frysmith (food truck) on Urbanspoon

Test Kitchen – The Perfect Panini

One thing that people may not know about me is I have actually worked in a kitchen. When I was younger I worked my way from dishwasher to sous chef and then to manage my own kitchen. The only problem was that I was too young and burnt out after years of 60+ hour weeks. The restaurant business is a tough one. However cooking and food are a part of me. About 5 years ago it started to get fun again. Maybe it is because I have a kitchen with enough room to work that I enjoy, or maybe it was just time.

I have had dreams about opening my own place. It would not be anything fancy but it would be a fun place with a fully stocked bar and serve food that had big flavors. It would be a lot of work and take a lot of money. I am not sure I want that kind of pressure or risk at this point in my life. But who knows maybe down the road it will happen.

Like I said I have been playing again for the last five years. As a silly project I am working on a cookbook. Kim and I made one for our friends and family a couple of years back and it was a hit. It was a collection of family recipes and some of our own. The twist was we modified every single recipe with our own touches. To me that is what you should do with a recipe. Recipes are “guidelines” and are there to make sure you have a basic understanding of how a dish is put together. Hmmm…. that must be the reason I cannot bake! Baking is the opposite of that. Baking is much more a science as cooking is an art!

The fun thing about this next book is I have NO idea what I want it to be about. I have a ton of ideas but right now it is more about me experimenting in the kitchen and having fun.

For this session the subject was Paninis. Since I have been working on this blog all I ever hear about are grilled cheese sandwiches, sliders and so forth. Why not try working on the best Panini. Or is it really a grilled cheese done in a Panini press. Not sure, technically a grilled cheese is bread, butter and cheese. These days you can find all kinds of grilled cheeses. A Panini (or Panino) by definition is an Italian sandwich made usually with vegetables, cheese, and grilled or cured meat on a roll like ciabatta. I still have no idea because I made these with slices of bread! At this time I am calling them Panini. Maybe someone will let me know if this is correct or not.

We got ourselves a very nice Panini press, loaded up at the store and went to town. Here are the works that I have come up with so far. A few are similar but have tweaks as I work to get the best three to four different sandwiches. One thing to know about making a Panini and cooking in general, once you understand what ingredients work together it is pretty simple. One thing I learned a long time ago, don’t over think it. If you mess up you toss it and start over. A lot of the time you will create something unexpected that will delight you.

Here are the sandwiches that have been put together so far. Surprisingly they all came out good. However there were a couple that really stood out!

#1 – Grilled Sliced Turkey, Turkey Bacon, Arugula, Mozzarella, Smoked Gouda, and Dubliner Irish Cheese on French Bread

#2 – Grilled Sliced Turkey, Turkey Bacon, Fresh Basil, Sundried Tomatoes, Smoked Gouda, Provolone, and Dubliner Irish Cheese on French Bread

#3 – Grilled Roma Tomatoes, Sun-dried Tomatoes, Fresh Basil, Mozzarella, on French Bread with Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Simple but perfect!)

#4 – Turkey Carnitas, Salsa, Fresh Cilantro, Mozzarella, on French Bread (One of my favorites)

#5 – Scrambled Eggs, Turkey Bacon, Smoked Gouda, Dubliner Irish Cheese on Whole Wheat

#6 – Scrambled Eggs, Grilled Turkey, Avocado, Salsa, Smoked Gouda, Dubliner Irish Cheese, Mozzarella, on Whole Wheat (Incredible)

I would love to see your comments if you have feedback or ideas for future test kitchen sessions!

Don’t forget if there is someplace you would like us to check out just let us know on our Facebook page.

Good Food and Good Booze! – @brcelonaonthego at Hi-Times in Costa Mesa, CA

What more can you ask for? A gourmet food truck at one of my favorite places Hi-Times.  This was just too good to pass up! First we went shopping and picked up some of Kim’s favorite wine and a couple of bottles of tequila for me.

Then it was on to the main event, finally trying out Barcelona on the Go. I have wanted to try these guys for a while. I have had the pleasure of being to Spain and had tapas. I assumed the food would be similar and I was not disappointed.
We ordered the top half of the menu which was a bit too much but it was worth it so we can share with our fans.

What a feast topped of with a 2008 Seghesio Zinfandel

First off was the Lentil Soup with Smoked Ham. This was a very good soup that had perfectly cooked lentils in a broth had a great pork flavor. It was not very hearty but Kim reminded me that not all soups are hearty. I enjoyed the soup but I could have really used some more “stuff” inside.

Lentil Soup with Smoked Ham

After that we had the Manchego Cheese Croquettes. These reminded me of chunky garlic mashed potatoes that were breaded then pan-fried. The texture was very good however we did not get a good taste of the cheese. If there was more cheese I would have called them perfect.

Manchego Cheese Croquettes

Next was the Papas Bravas, which are fresh cut thick french fries shaken with some spices. These were delicious. I wish I remembered what the spices actually were. It was almost like seasoning salt with paprika but less salty. Whatever it was it was a good combination.

Papas Bravas

Then we had the Potato and Egg Frittata, and again a good dish. There was a nice golden crust on the bottom and the sauce on top was a nice addition. If you have not had a frittata before this was like a scalloped potato but with onion, and eggs as the binder. The only problem we had was the fact we ordered way too much potato-based dishes.

Potato and Egg Frittata

Then it was onto the Chicken Empanadas. These were incredible. I love a good empanada and these were better than I am used to getting. The dough was cooked perfect and had a great texture. The flavor was chicken with the essence of bell peppers. I say essence because you could see the peppers but they did not overpower the chicken. These alone were worth the visit.

Chicken Empanadas

Finally we have their Paella Valenciana which had mussels, shrimp, calamari and spanish chorizo sausage. The flavor of this dish was pretty good. There was some sauce on top that was the same as the frittata but it did not really add anything with this dish. I wish there was more seafood, only found one little piece of calamari however the mussels were cooked perfect. The rice was crunchy which kind of bummed me out because it had a good flavor. Kim will tell you I am a bit of a rice snob and this rice was just undercooked. That will not stop me from trying it again in the future but I will have to go after the other things on their menu I have not yet been able to experience first.

Paella Valenciana

Overall it was good. Be careful that you do not go potato crazy like we did. We will visit them again. Don’t forget to get the empanadas.

All we need now is more gourmet food trucks to come into the OC. Seems there is one new one a week in LA. Hopefully it is getting a little crowded so they will have to migrate south(wishful thinking I know).

Barcelona Onthego (mobile food truck) on Urbanspoon

Late Night Craving – Crepes bonaparte & Louks to go – Downtown Fullerton, CA

You know when you get one of those cravings that you just can’t shake. Well I had a crepe craving last night. This is all Crepes Bonaparte’s fault! I blame them because they make a great crepe. I think Kim was sick of hearing me talk about it all day. So we checked out Twitter and saw that @crepesbonaparte would be at their normal Friday spot in downtown Fullerton.

We got there about 11pm and were pleasantly surprised to find not only @crepesbonaparte but also @loukstogo and @piaggioonwheels sitting there as well. SCORE!! We have been to Piaggio before and after our big dinner from @brcelonaonthego (another story!) we decided to just get something from Louks and Crepe Bonaparte.

First was Louks, which is a newer style truck with lots of windows. I like these because you can see everything that is going on kind of like an expedition kitchen in a fancy restaurant. Unfortunately their fryers were not working so we could not get fries or loukomades for dessert. That bummed me out as you can imagine. We did get a chicken gyro, which was on soft pita bread. The chicken was a little salty on its own but in the sandwich with lettuce, onions (I asked for no tomato) and tzatziki sauce it was perfect. I will have to visit these guys again in the future. Hopefully the fryers will be back working!

Chicken Gyro
Next was Crepes Bonaparte. Kim got the same thing as last time, which was a HazelBerryAna, but with a white crepe. This crepe has strawberries, bananas and Nutella. It was perfect. They make great crepes. I ordered their more popular Caprese. This one was also on a white crepe filled with chicken, mozzarella, tomatoes and fresh pesto. This one was very good as well. Nice complex flavor, and the pesto was perfect. I am hoping one of these days I can get a traditional turkey and cheese crepe (hint, hint).

Cool Mustache!

Caprese with a white crepe, Yum!

Lets just say that my craving was satisfied. If you have not been to see Crepes Bonaparte yet you need to do so! I think Louks will be added to that list as well but I will need one more visit to be sure. If the rest of their food is as good as the gyro then it should be an easy add.

Don’t forget if there is someplace you would like us to check out just let us know on our Facebook page.

Breakfast Adventure – Wilma's Patio – Balboa Island, CA

After another fun morning at Newport Beach with the dogs we searched and searched for a breakfast joint.  Finally we stopped at Wilma’s Patio.  Wilma’s is an older joint with a good sized menu.  Place seemed a little pricey and we were just not feeling it.  When the food came out we were pleasantly surprised.  They used quality ingredients and cooked our breakfast perfectly.

I had the Jalisco Scrambled with pork carnitas and hash browns.  The eggs were scrambled with tomatoes, onions, Serrano peppers and cilantro. The scramble had big pieces of carnitas and had a nice fresh flavor. The scramble was perfect with their fresh salsa and warm corn tortillas. The hash browns were perfect; they had a nice crunchy texture throughout without being over cooked. You could tell the person that made these had pride in his work!

Jalisco Scramble with Pork Carnitas

Kim had scrambled eggs, hash browns and a side of cornbread. Once again the hash browns were perfect the eggs were cooked just right. However the star here was the cornbread with whipped butter and honey. It was a big piece. They were not kidding around. The cornbread was nice and airy and baked just right. It was not a traditional southern cornbread but was very good.

Scrambled Eggs with Hash Browns

Cornbread with Whipped Butter

If you are in the Balboa area stop by and check out this joint. I wonder if their lunch and dinner are as good?

Wilma's Patio on Urbanspoon

Don’t forget if there is someplace you would like us to check out just let us know on our Facebook page.

Quick Stop for Breakfast – Side Street Cafe – Costa Mesa, CA

You have to love their mantra, Cheapskates Welcome!

This past weekend we stopped at Side Street Cafe to have some breakfast after visiting the Dog Beach down at Newport.  This is a simple joint on Newport Boulevard with indoor and outdoor seating.

They had a very eclectic menu that was full of home cooked goodness.  I ordered the Texas Scrambled, which had grilled onions, potatoes, and eggs topped with their homemade chili and cheese.  This was a very hearty dish.  I really liked their chili.  I would get it again.

Texas Scrambled with Squaw Toast

Kim ordered a short stack of Roasted Corncakes that are like pancakes with cornbread batter and jalapenos.  The jalapenos gave the fluffy corn cakes a little bite.  Just add butter and a touch of maple syrup and these were super tasty.  We really liked the originality.

Roasted Corncakes – Short Stack

Side Street Cafe was simple but satisfying.  I am looking forward to checking out many more places you would never think of.  If you have recommendations in your area please share them at our Facebook page.

Side Street Cafe on Urbanspoon

Good Food, Isn't Complicated – The Taco Dawg

That is the main theme at the @theTacoDawg and they nailed it! Dang, I really love food trucks. Food trucks are all the rage these days. Some people wonder and some people get in line and dive in. I am lucky enough that more and more food trucks are coming to Orange County.

Today I was able to sneak over to @theTacoDawg. I tried a number of delicious items (some would say I pigged out!). The Beach Comber taco, comes with your choice of meat, cheese, savory citrus slaw (w/mandarin oranges), and chipotle cream. I chose chicken for my taco and it was awesome. It has a soft corn shell with tender chicken, cabbage and all the rest of the trimmings. It was light but full of flavor.

The Beach Comber

The Texan has choice of meat (I got beef), cheese, bacon, lettuce, tangy Tex Mex and BBQ sauce on a soft corn tortilla. Once again a masterpiece! The meat was perfectly seasoned, the lettuce crisp and the sauce added a nice punch of flavor to the taco.

The Texan

The Dirty Dawg, was an all beef hot dog, smothered in homemade chili, nacho cheese (YES!), crumbled potato chips and onions. TASTY! The dog itself had a nice texture to it. They must be quality dogs or they are cooked perfect, or both. In addition, the chili was a perfect accessory and the cheese was just what you would picture…ooey gooey. I really enjoyed the Dirty Dawg.

The Dirty Dawg

Are you full yet? I was, but I trekked on to the Deep Fried Mac & Cheese! Picture a square serving of delicious mac and cheese about inch and a half thick, then rolled in breadcrumbs and deep fried to a nice, golden brown. Now break it apart and dip it into some ranch dressing. Doesn’t that sound like artery-clogging goodness? Well, it is better than that! You have to try this.

Deep Fried Mac & Cheese

Oh yeah, I cannot forget the seasoned fries. Think curly seasoned fries from a drive thru but not curly and cooked perfectly.

It was an interesting experience because they were also filming for some sort of show. It was fun watching it. With all of that going on they still served up killer food. On top of that the people were really friendly so all around it was fun. This was a very good lunch. I will visit these guys again!

If you have still not been to a food truck, make a point to go. If you need help finding trucks, please let us know and we will point you in the right direction!