Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Bake-a-Thon for Camp Footprints

By Tsz on April 25, 2010

My good friend, Allen, sent me a heartwarming email recently. This summer, he will be volunteering at Camp Footprints, a camp first founded in 1992 that serves kids with developmental disabilities. It’s a cause especially close to Allen’s heart as his uncle passed away from complications with severe developmental disabilities. So in memory of his uncle, Allen signed up to be a camp counselor and plans to raise a total of $800 to sponsor 2 kids to go to Camp Footprints.

Because of current rough economic times, it’s not easy to ask others to donate when many struggle to make ends meet—I am currently in that boat. However, I want to give in my own way, and the best way I know is to cook.

For Foodbuzz’s April edition of 24,24,24, I was propitiously chosen as one of the lucky bloggers to host a dinner. However, instead of a traditional sit-down meal, I took the opportunity to engineer a day of baking: a Bake-a-Thon (and following bake sale) where all the proceeds go to the benefit of Camp Footprints. Hosted at Allen’s apartment, I recruited a small squadron of friends, 4 very capable bodies to bake and package camp-inspired goodies such as:

1. Samoas Rice Krispies
2. S’more Sandwiches
3. Choco Mint Brownies
4. Trail Mix Cookies

At noon sharp, my friends and I assembled at my friend’s apartment and began setting up the different stations for maximum efficiency. A cookie-cooling station was first on the list—we created a make-shift bench using my friend Lucky’s beer pong table (which was dubbed the cookie pong table for the day). We also transformed the dining room table into the mixing table and the kitchen into a baking machine.

Then, Allen and Lucky broke off to the cutting area to trim out all the labels for the baked goodies. Inspired by vintage candy wrappers, I had designed one-of-a-kind packaging for each of the different items—it was seriously one of the most enjoyable design projects I’ve had to date!

First off, Samoas Rice Krispies. Yulree, my friend with the serious mixing-arm, was our master mixer. Paying homage to my favorite Girl Scout Cookies, I recreated the classic by adding butterscotch chips and coconut flakes within the marshmallow cereal mix. And to top it off, a drizzle of semi-sweet chocolate.

Pretty soon, the kitchen smelled of caramel and marshmallows—it was glorious. Since the recipe makes one 9 x 13 inch pan, we made 4 batches to make a total of 24 big treats.

Next off, S’more Sandwiches. While I love a good s’more, the time it takes to create one s’more makes it more of a every-once-in-a-while treat, so here I attempted to make them more portable, cleaner, and with less preparation time required.

An involved operation, my friends Pauline and Lucky set off to split the graham crackers, assemble the layers and toast them in the microwave to cement the sandwiches together. All 100 of the them. We found that adding a layer of honey-chunky PB works wonders on the taste and the mechanics of further cementing the treats together.

As the pair was working their assembly-line, churning s’mores out like clockwork, Yulree and I learned the finer arts of tempering chocolate. First stumbling onto Mark Bittman’s video a few days back, I learned that dipping chocolate is quite the art-form—when done correctly, you get a nice glossy layer of the good stuff. However, if you do it wrong, you’d get a streaky, dull mess.

Heeding Bittman’s warning and advice, we dutifully melted a few handfuls of chocolate bits till the temperature reached 115 degrees. Then removing the mixture from the heat, we “seeded” the choco-lava with more chocolate so the temperature fell to 91 degrees. Because the golden period for dipping chocolate is from 91-88 degrees, we conjured up superhuman speed to dip as many sandwiches as possible. It was a messy, albeit delicious affair.

5 o’clock and at the half-way mark! Now, we switched gears again to create the Choco-Mint Brownies. Due to time constraints, my friends and I decided upon using boxed mixes. We settled on the double-fudge brownies for moistness and prepared the batter as usual… with the exception of adding a box of chopped Andes Mints (laughing diabolically) before baking. If that wasn’t enough, we also painted the tops with even more dark chocolate and sprinkled additional Andes pieces on top after cooling for more chocolatey impact.

Two hours later, with our energies almost drained, it was time for dinner! On the menu was Watermelon Aqua Frescas and Bacon-wrapped hot dogs—a little camp-inspired treat for Allen to get him ready for camp. We made the aqua fresca by blending an entire watermelon (including seeds for flavor), simple syrup, the zest of one orange and its juice together with water. Served simply with ice (or for an adult’s version, add a shot of rum), nothing is more refreshing.

For the hot dogs, we wrapped bacon around beef franks (bun-length ones are the best), then pan-fried them till smoky and crispy—which was surprisingly harder than it looks because the rebellious bacon prefer to unravel themselves from the franks. It made me appreciate well-made ones on the street so much more. To accompany the dogs, we toasted buns in the oven, sautéed onions with tricolored bell peppers and made caper-garlic aoili from scratch.

Refreshed and stuffed, we shuffled back to the kitchen for the final item, the Trail Mix Cookie. I found a wonderful recipe from Betty Crocker and thought to share it with all of you. Of course, I’m not one to color within the lines, so I made a few minor adjustments (in parentheses).

Trail Mix Cookies by Betty Crocker
Makes 60 cookies

1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup PB (I used honey chunky PB for flavor and crunch)
1 cup butter at room temp
1/2 cup shortening
2 tsp vanilla (vanilla bean paste adds little flecks of beans, fancy!)
2 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups oats (I like old-fashioned ones for the texture)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 cups M&Ms
1 cup peanuts (I prefer lightly salted toasted peanuts for that salty-sweet balance)

1. Heat oven to 375°F. Beat sugars, peanut butter, butter, shortening, vanilla and eggs in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until creamy, or mix with spoon. Stir in flour, oats, baking powder and baking soda thoroughly. Stir in candies, peanuts and raisins.

2. Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls about 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheet; flatten slightly with fork.

3. Bake 9 to 10 minutes (I baked mine for 12) or until light brown. Cool 1 minute; remove from cookie sheet to wire rack.

120 cookies later at midnight, we were finally finished! 12 hours of baking—we are true marathoners. To cap the night off, those of us who hadn’t yet overdosed on sugar celebrated with freshly made ice cream sandwiches and once once we all switched gears to put Allen’s apartment back together.

With our cache of baked goods, our goal is to sell them all (Today at the LA Yelp Elite Event, kudos to Allen for spearheading this!) to be able to sponsor one child to camp.

Thank you to my friends for giving day of your time to embark on a sugar-filled adventure with me. It was a crazy day, especially during the home stretch as we were falling from our sugar highs, but we pulled through and came out victorious!

Until the next time.

Images courtesy of Lucky.


LudoBites 4.0: Experiencing the Twilight Zone

By Tsz on April 10, 2010

On rainy days in elementary school, our teachers would pop in VHS tapes (remember those?) of classic Twilight Zone episodes to keep us kids entertained during recess. Those black & white stories were fascinating and I must admit, a little scary. Not because they show gory details, but the way they leave you hanging with the ending, your imagination was your greatest enemy.

One especially memorable episode was called “The Eye of the Beholder.” It starts out showing a young woman with her head completely bandaged as she was undergoing face surgeries to look normal. Yet failing for the 11th time, she was sent away from society to live with people with the same “condition” outside of city limits. It was then that the camera panned to the “normal” people, who all sported pig snouts, whereas the young woman was the one with the beautiful face.

It was a powerful episode for me as it got me pondering: what is normal?
You see, for the longest time, I’ve been secretly in love with food. Before this blog—before having a reason, so to say, to take photos of food, I’ve been quite self conscious about outwardly showing my enthusiasm for a wonderful meal. And even now, as I’ve gotten more comfortable with sharing my love of food and taking countless photos of particular epicurean delights in public, I always saw myself as an oddity. The eccentric one who stops others from taking their first bite until she got that perfect shot. Yes, I’m that friend.

I’ve slowly started to own up to my quirks, yet it wasn’t tell last night where I felt at home. Thanks to Will from FoodDigger, I was invited amongst other food enthusiasts to preview Chef Ludo‘s latest incarnation of the much anticipated LudoBites 4.0, housed in Gram & Papa’s in downtown. It was there where I got to meet others who equally (if not more so) adore food as much as I do and we spent the night enjoying Ludo’s newest creations, discussing the benefits and setbacks of DSLRs for and most of all, walking on air to be meet others who share the same passion. It was an unbelievable evening.

And the food, it was anything but forgettable.

1. Tartine with “3 fat textures”
The night started with a warm crusty loaf of baguette studded with crunchy salt crystals and 3 saucers each featuring a different form of fat: clarified butter with chiblis, emulsified brown butter and creamed lard with honey and lavender. Each delicious in its own right, but I kept going back to lard, which was floral, sweet and rich—it’s the new butter.

2. Carrot salad with saffron Anglaise, pickled pearl onions, citrus and mustard powder
Next up was an in depth study of carrots, with the specimen prepared 2 ways: gastrovac’ed and marinated. The gastrovac’ed carrot was curious indeed, for although it tasted fully cooked, it retained the texture of one that was almost raw—it was the best of both worlds. As for the wide ribbons of citrus-marinated carrots, they had a nice zip that paired nicely with the sweeter cooked ones. Because the trio of fresh citrus segments (we were advised to eat it peel & all) added even extra tang, I thought the dish was complete even without the Anglaise.

3. Egg, potato mousseline, lobster and borage flower
Our meal went up exponentially through the roof with this. Whimpers and moans could be heard throughout our table as we tasted the magical combination of butter poached lobster, swimming in a heady broth made from the shells and tomalley, then layered with a soft boiled egg and an avalanche of velvety butter-whipped potato puree.

If I wasn’t in public, I would have literally licked my bowl clean. I
almost did in fact… as documented by Elliot from F for Food.

4. Foie gras-croque-monsieur with lemon turnip chutney
Brought back from LudoBites 2.0, this is panini version of Helen of Troy as I can imagine battles fought over this beauty. Impeccably made, it features toasted squid ink bread spread with a creamy cheese and arranged with delicate slices of proscuitto and slabs of dreamy foie gras terrine. Initially, I ate my portion plain, but as I passed the half way point, the tangy lemon turnip relish was invaluable in keeping the richness in check.

5. Burgundy escargots, garlic flan and green jus
An unique take on the ubiquitous “escargots in garlic butter and parsley,” Ludo starts out with a luxurious custard infused with garlic, then he adds a note of freshness with a green jus made with parsley. The dish was than capped with plump saute snails. Fabulous dish, even if it followed an impossible act.

6. Columbian River king salmon confit, spring cabbage, orange skin & Juniper berries
This was one of those instances where the sum wasn’t better than its individual parts. While the salmon was fantastically poached in a temperature-controlled olive oil bath until perfectly rare, the Juniper and lemon aspic lent a peculiar texture that unfortunately took attention away from the fillet. The limp cabbage side didn’t help the case either.

7. Poached Jidori chicken, crispy skin with hazelnuts, garden vegetables and bacon Royale
For the last savory course, we all got to experience Ludo’s childhood. He explained roast chicken with cream (Supreme de poulet) is a classic in French homes, particularly in his region, so here he recreated the dish for us. With a twist, of course!

Like a true scientist, Ludo isolated each component of the dish and re-engineers them to make it the best it could be. Take the chicken breast for example: we all love crispy roasted skin, but to do so often means sacrificing moisture from the meat. Ludo solves the problem by poaching the breast in a roulade for an unadulterated succulent chicken “fillet mignon” if you will. Then for the clincher, the skin is then fried with hazelnuts and crumbled on top of the “fillet.” Perfection.

The best way to eat the dish is to have a bite of the chicken (be sure to get a few fragments of the skin chips—sorry, that did not come out right), a smear of the bacon royale, which is the cream sauce in custard form, and a piece of the fresh leek salad. Repeat as needed.

8. Brie Chantilly Napoleon, honey comb, balsamic, frisee salad
As a note, our meal was paired with exquisite wines, courtesy of Jill from DomaineLA. However, because I am afflicted with ADD (Asian Drinking Disorder), I refrained from most of the pairings until the cheese and dessert course. That’s right, even as a one drink wonder, there was no way I was going to miss out on dessert wines.

So, to accompany the impossibly fabulous cheese plate, Jill poured a flute of the Coteaux du Layon. A sweet white wine, it’s made with Chenin blanc grapes that were left on the vines till they are over-ripe, to the point where some have rotted (in Jill’s words!) for a complicate, honeyed profile that tasted faintly of St. Germain.

The sweetness of the wine and the honey comb went exponentially well with the Napoleon of brie. Hand-whipped for a total of 2 hours by Holly of Michelin Project, the brie took on a smooth, buttery texture. It was a dream when paired with the peppery frisee, crunchy toast points and balsamic syrup. My 2nd favorite of the night!

9. Dark Chocolate souffle, black pepper milk chocolate ice cream and chocolate cream
The evening concluded with another study, this time in chocolate. Not unlike the “3 fat textures,” the dessert studies the cocoa bean in 3 different temperatures and preparations. The hot element was the airy dark chocolate souffle, with its molten interiors. If that wasn’t chocolately enough, there was a saucer of warm bitter chocolate sauce for pouring. Then to complete the trifecta, a milk chocolate ice cream with a real pepper kick. The pepper was critical in this dish from being one-noted as was the smoky Banyuls.

With that comes the end of the roller coaster ride that was LudoBites 4.0. I can’t wait to get back on! Now if I could somehow find a reservation…

Much thanks to Ludo, Krissy and Sydney for a meal of a lifetime, to FoodDigger for organizing said meal, Jill for the excellent wine pairings and to all my dining partners!


How I Came to Roast 50 lbs of Pork Bellies for 200 People

By Tsz on April 7, 2010

A few weeks ago, an old classmate emailed me out of the blue, asking if I catered (I didn’t) and would be interested in cooking for her 25th birthday bash. Chalking it up to ignorance (as they say, ignorance is bliss), I replied immediately and told her while I had never catered, I was up to give it a try. Little did I know how much work and planning goes into it all, yet how rewarding the experience would be.

Scene 1: A Week Before the Party aka Assembling the Team
The success of the project would ultimately fall upon the team cause god knows I can’t do it on my own (as I’ve learned how much work goes into cooking for a crowd from the Panini-Off) so I started approaching my fellow foodie friends. With a tight budget, it fell upon food lovers who would be into the experience rather than the (non-existent) monetary incentive. I was incredible lucky to have Yulree as my partner-in-crime—she is as cool as a cucumber in times of stress and an awesome cook. Allen and Hannah, also friends of discriminating tastes, were also invaluable as our helpers and kept the team pumped up!

Scene 2: The Menu
Ellen was the ideal client as she left the creation of the menu entirely up to me. I believe the only guidelines was for the food to be “portable and delicious.” Score. Keeping the budget in mind, I started out with what I wanted to try out (I found out later it’s a cardinal rule not to try new recipes for a catering project, but again, ignorance is bliss!), which was David Chang’s pork buns. Tried one of those heavenly morsels during a recent NY trip and couldn’t stop pining for it. So yes, I must admit that this project quickly became the vehicle for what I wanted to eat/make. Slowly the concept became clear, the menu was going to be comfort food with a twist.

Brainstorming with Yulree, we settled on five dishes:

1. Popcorn a la Cafe Habana
A play on Mexican grilled corn, we made buttered popcorn and tossed it with cayenne, limon and queso cotija for a street-food inspired snack.

2. Pao de Queijo
This was our take on grill cheese with tomato soup. Garlic and Parmesan are the stars here in the Brazilian cheese bread with a fiery Arabiatta dipping sauce.

3. Pork sliders a la Momofuku
Armed with photos from my meal at Momofuku and Chang’s cookbook, we recreated signature his buns to the best of our abilities. Happy to report we did a pretty competent job at that.

4. Saute Miso Butter Veggies
Ramenya and Momofuku inspired, we created a quick stir-fry of baby carrots, haricot verts and asparagus seasoned with butter, shio miso, lots of garlic and Togarashi.

5. Fully loaded Potato shooter
The taste of a twice baked potato in soup form. Of course, we souped it up (pun fully intended) with a chicken and bacon broth base to make it even more irresistible.

Scene 3: The Day of Prep and Pork Nipples
The day before the party, I took a day off work to begin prepping. At precisely 8 am and armed with my trusty red Coleman cooler, I went and bought out my town’s supply of pork bellies—all 50 lbs of it. With 16 slabs of those bad boys I begin to work on cleaning them and brining them with a dry rub. It was then where I found out pigs were blessed (or cursed) with an overabundance of pork nipples. Ewww.

After marinating them in my cooler for 6 hours, I began roasting them in my family’s oven, 4 of them at a time. Soon my house was enveloped in the distinctive Asian BBQ smell. Yulree came over soon after and we set off in a record-setting speed shopping marathon to get the rest of our ingredients, tools and serving supplies.

With our groceries in tow, we came back to beauteous display of finished porcine roasts. I couldn’t help myself from sampling some crunchy chicharons—the spoils of war. I popped in the next batch and we got started on the potato soup and the bread dough.

By 11pm, the soup base and the dough was done, so I helped Yulree pack up and we said our goodbyes. At this point, I’ve still got one more batch to go and thus I continue roasting. The home stretch was toughest since by then, I couldn’t bear the smell of pork. And it was fully permeated into my clothes and home. I also ODed on sampling the crispy skins. When the bellies were all roasted, wrapped and packed into my fridge, I scrubbed myself clean (think Gattaca style) and hit my pillow at 1:30 am before passing out.

Scene 4: The Big Debut
Woke up at 9 am and got back into prepping, this time for the miso butter—it was a true workout to mix cold butter. After one last shopping trip to get the rest of the perishable ingredients, I sped on over to Solar Studios in Glendale. A studio used for filming and photoshoots, it was a beautiful cavernous space. Equipped with a full kitchen but without an oven, we made do with 3 separate toaster ovens set in different rooms to bake our cheese bread.

Joined by Allen and Hannah, we got back into prepping and setting up our picnic spread. Note, I even tried to coordinate with my dress—yes, I’m a geek!

At 8 pm, we stated plating, slowly at first as to keep our display in stock. But then 11p came and we had only served 70 out of 200. That was when we went into robot-assembly-line mode and plated the rest in record time. I think we even surprised ourselves at the speed we were working in. It got a little intense, but we rode it out and finished! We high-fived each other as hard as we could on a job well-done.

2 am: Mission Accomplished!

Scene 5: Gratitude
A colossal thank you to Yulree, Hannah and Allen, without you all, this would have never happened. And to Ellen, for giving me a chance and the opportunity to fulfill my dreams of catering. Also, to PJ of Chatchada for documenting my journey—your photos made the food look like miniatures work of art!

Until the next time…


Checkers Downtown: $4 Foie Gras & Caviar

By Tsz on April 2, 2010

Had an unexpected New York-esque experience tonight, mere blocks from work no less!

It all started this morning, when my boss forwarded me an email from Checkers promoting FOUR: a special happy hour event which occurs every Thursday where the kitchen creates 4 small dishes for $4 each and 4 mixed cocktails, also for $4 from 4-8p. This week featured champagne, foie gras and caviar—an irresistible combination—so right after work, we make a trek to Grand and 6th street.

Housed in the subdued gray Hilton Hotel in downtown, Checkers is a elegant dining room with a long and narrow layout, reminiscent of spaces in Manhattan. Shortly after finding seats, our server presented us with the FOUR menu. Since we were there for the whole experience—no dish were to be left behind.

We first started out with a champagne each, mine being the Axle Kiss—a Spanish Cava blended with Disaronno and creme de cassis. My boss went the classic route and ordered the Fellini: a sparkling wine paired with a trio of citrus from Limoncello, orange liqueur and Mandarin orange juice. Both were delicious.

1. Kurobuta Pork Belly with white bean cassoulet
The first dish, although a solid preparation of the classical French dish, was a bit disjointed. It was a bit like witnessing a couple on their first date. Upon the first taste, it appeared the pork was grilled and roasted on its own while the beans were stewed separately. The two parties seemed hesitant on mingling as they are just starting to get to know each other. It would be highly beneficial to the overall dish if the two components were cooked together for a little while—let them get comfortable so to say… maybe with a glass of bubbly?

2. Monkfish with roasted brussel sprouts and caviar buerre blanc
The monkfish on the other hand was like a power couple—truly a thing to behold. Crab-like in taste, the monkfish fillet was expertly cooked to perfection and drizzled with a luscious buerre blanc that suspended small briny beads of caviar. The slightly bitter roasted brussels sprouts were key in keeping the dish from getting too heavy and made it interesting. I went through two orders of this as it was just so good.

3. Foie gras “snow” with lychee and champagne gelee and pine nut brittle
I cringed immediately upon reading this on the menu as it was copied word-by-word from David Chang’s signature dish at Momofuku Ko with the exception of the use of champagne instead of riesling in the gelee. (Yes, being the food nerd that I am, I have his cookbook and had read it from cover to cover.)

Still, I was curious so I placed an order and inquired if Chef Todd Allison had worked with Chang. Within minutes, the chef came out and introduced himself. Turns out the culprit was his sous chef as Allison had no idea of who Chang was. We had a pleasant conversation about comfort food (his was roasted chicken—brined of course) and I realized the dish was nothing to get worked up about. After all, this was an opportunity to try Chang’s dish without flying cross country. And for only $4 no less.

The dish was a wonder to taste. The foie melted immediately upon making contact with my tongue, very much like actual snow flakes, albeit much more opulent. The brittle provided an unique counterbalance in sweetness and crunch—although the pieces could be much smaller. The gelee, with a strong presence of champagne vinegar was instrumental in keeping the dish from being too rich. This aptly-made copy fueled my curiosity of Ko… looks like a trip to New York is in order!

4. Pudding Chomeur: maple caramel bread pudding
Described as the “unemployed man’s pudding,” it was anything but poor. A generous layer of teeth-sticking maple caramel was soaked in a bread pudding that tasted as if it was made of muffins. Tasty, but oh so rich—a dish that is best shared.

Even with the designer knock-off foie, all the dishes tonight were solid and the drinks quite enjoyable. Added to the New York atmosphere and unbelievable prices, you can be sure I’ll be back for more.