Crunch : 75th Birthday Showdown!

By Tsz on March 30, 2013

Gastrophoria is celebrating Crunch bar’s 75th Birthday Showdown!

To celebrate its momentous birthday, Nestlé Crunch is hosting a sugar-filled bakery face-off, where 15 top bakeries compete by creating sugary concoctions featuring Crunch bars. I was graciously invited to scope out LA’s contenders, which meant an afternoon of chocolate, butter, and sugar! Imagine a kid after eating a full-sized candy bar. Now times that by 10 and that was me!

Here’s a sneak peak of what to expect:

Crumbs’s Crumbs Crunch Cupcake
This is not something you can enjoy in skinny jeans, or any jeans period. This boulder of chocolate goodness includes a blondie base covered with chunks of Crunch that’s baked inside a chocolate cake. Add an inch of chocolate buttercream, a chocolate chip cookie and a whole crunch bar and you’ve got yourself a chocolate buffet.

Sweet E’s Nestlé PB Crunch Brownie
This is like the Two-Face of desserts. Not that it’s evil, but there’s two distinctive desserts going on for the price of one: chocolate chip brownie and PB fudge imbedded with Crunch bits. I ended up splitting them in half to enjoy each on its own.

Casey’s Chocolate Royalty Cupcake
You know the saying how dog owners resemble their dogs? Well, one thing I’ve learned is that same goes for baked goods and their creators! Casey is bubbly and glam and her creation embodies all of it. Her concoction is a devil’s food cake infused with Crunch bar pieces, more Crunch in its creamy filling and then topped with milk chocolate icing, two full bars and a edible glitter party!

Coolhaus’s Candied Bacon Ice Cream Cookie
One of the more austere desserts in appearance but it makes up for it in flavor and texture. There’s brown butter ice cream mixed in with bits of Crunch bar and candied bacon, which is then sandwiched between a chewy double chocolate sea salt cookie and a snack food chip cookie. It was like an ever changing Gobstopper: sweet, then salty; cold, then warm; soft, then crunchy. Though the other desserts all put up a good fight, this stole my heart and is the champion in my eyes.

All these treats are available at their receptive bakeries from now till April 21, 2013. Give them a try and visit Crunch’s Facebook Page to vote for your favorite. You may be a winner of a full-sized Crunch Bar!

Bonus tip: all the recipes for the contenders are available too in case you want to replicate at the comfort of your kitchen. I know I will be making that brown butter bacon Crunch ice cream…

Happy sugar rush!


Racion : A Labor of Love

By Tsz on March 29, 2013

Gastrophoria is a hearty plank of Racion’s caramelized calamari pintxo.

For the uninitiated, pintxo is simply an another word for tapas, most often used to describe foods from the San Sebastian area in Spain. It’s a wondrous place where narrow streets are filled to the brim with countless pintxo bars, each serving small bites of Basque specialties.

At Racion, they take the concept an extra step further and present some of their sauciest pintxos on grilled bread. Simple, yet perceptive. It’s as if they heeded all my unspoken calls for bread from the times I’ve had saucy foods (any dish with mussels, right?!).

Such is the case with their calamari. Instead of the omnipresent battered and fried variety associated with tapas, here they’re lovingly grilled on a plancha and served atop bright lemon aioli and caramelized onions that literally melts in your mouth. Think onion jam. Best part is all of that saucy goodness is absorbed by the wedge of grilled homemade bread below. No sloppy mopping needed.

The duo behind Racion, Teresa Montano and Loretta Peng, graciously invited me to their kitchen for a behind-the-scene look. Turns out this dish requires 2 days to create as they create every element of the dish from scratch—including the bread itself!

Made from scratch daily with a 2-year old flour-and-water starter and proofed overnight, each loaf of bread is given plenty of TLC from Loretta. Just before they start service each night, loaves of freshly risen bread are baked off in their own individual cast iron pans. This creates their signature hearty crust that just can’t be beat.

While the bread is baking, Theresa prepped razor clams that were delivered by Santa Monica Seafood—their fates are to be sauté that night, yum!

When the loaves are well-rested, it was time to finish the dish. On the plancha goes a hefty plank of their homemade bread with fresh squid. The onions are slowly cooked till they’re evenly caramelized and jam-like. When the bread is ready, it gets a nice layer of lemon aioli (house made of course) and melted onions. The calamari are then sliced and arranged on top, follow with a squeeze of lemon and sprinkle of parsley.

Now that is labor of love. It’s no wonder Racion made it on LA Weekly’s 99 Essential Restaurant List and celebrated its 1st birthday. Each dish on their menu, big or small, are given as much care as this pintxo.

Same goes for their journey to create open this gem of a restaurant, documented on their blog and how they continue to run the restaurant. Their secret according to Theresa? To always do right by people, whether it be their staff, guests or even vendors. And to cultivate and work with a great team.

Thank you to Teresa and Loretta and happy eating!

119 W Green St
Pasadena, CA 91105
Phone: (626) 396-3090

More behind-the-scenes:
How I Came to Roast 50 lbs of Pork Bellies for 200 People
King’s Hawaiian Bakery : Unwrapped!
Foodstory : Okonomiyaki 101
Grimmway Farms : Where Baby Carrots Come From
My Day in the BLD Kitchen
Come Fly With Me : Cooking an Underground Dinner
House of An’s Noodle Off: How to Win People’s Choice


Taza : Waffle Sliders and Coffee

By Tsz on March 28, 2013

Gastrophoria is a crispy ham and cheese waffle slider from Taza.

An idea so simple, yet so brilliant that I’m surprised no one has thought of it before. What’s a waffle slider you ask? Take a slider roll—preferably King’s Hawaiian—and fill it with cheese and ham (or any other meat and cheese combo of your choosing). Then, lay the concoction on a waffle iron for a few minutes till it gets smushed and grilled to perfection. It’s the new Arnold Palmer I say!

It’s notable to add that Taza isn’t just a place for waffle sliders (though it’s certainly a good enough reason to visit) but a choice coffee house. Serving curated brews from over NorCal, you can get your San Francisco favorites such as Blue Bottle Coffee, Ritual and Verve! Best deal is their coffee & donut set: a cup o’ coffee and a donut from Semi Sweet Bakery of your choice for just $3.75. Give the Almond Joy donut a try—you can thank me later.

Happy eating!

11 W Huntington Dr
Arcadia, CA 91007
Phone: (626) 538–2233

For more coffee goodness around town:
Spazio Caffé : A Taste of Italy in Santa Monica
Proof Bakery : Goal Setting with Coffee
Iota : Coffee Tasting in Ktown
Demitasse : Iced Coffee Perfection


Proof Bakery : Goal Setting with Coffee

By Tsz on March 21, 2013

Gastrophoria is a warm canelé and flaky chocolate croissant from Proof Bakery.

One of my new year resolutions is to actively pursue my passions. Emphasis on actively pursue as it’s one thing to dream, but another to follow through to make it into a reality.

Why? Because it’s so easy to procrastinate simply in the act of living. With long work days, never-ending bills and responsibilities with family and friends, goal setting is the last thing on my mind at the end the day. Instead, I find myself vegging out to New Girl episodes on Hulu. Fail.

However, I realized if I never stop to evaluate and start steering myself in the direction of my dreams, I will never get there. After having this epiphany, I made a promise to myself. Time to buckle up and get going!

Thus, a self-imposed 4-month sabbatical to discover and to create. To be creative again, to read, write, design, paint and most of all, figure out how to support myself financially so I may extend these 4-months into a lifetime.

To stay on course—and prevent the “watching tv all day in PJs” syndrome—I’ve taken a page from New Girls and created a procrastination jar in place of their infamous Douchebag Jar. Think of the classic swear jar, but repurposed for productive motivation. Anytime I find myself taking a detour or straight up slacking off, my partner-in-flavor gets a coffee from me that weekend.

To kill two birds with one stone, I’ve made it into an explore LA exercise. Each coffee forfeit must be from a different shop. No Starbucks/Coffeebean cop-outs.

Week 1 was productive, but I did succumb to bouts of YouTube-itis. So, brunch with coffee was on me that Sunday. Time for a Proof Bakery trip! Since everything looked amazing there, I went (a little) overboard with a full spread: canelé, current scone and 2 types of croissants, plus the coffee forfeit.

While the coffee and scone were above average, the canelé was a true object of beauty. Sculpted and oven kissed to a perfect tan, its chewy exterior barely contains its soft vanilla custard innards. It has the flavor of an old-fashion egg custard pie, but much improved with a chic facelift and addition of vanilla beans. Think Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina after her Parisian makeover.

The croissants were also not to be missed. Both the ham & cheese and chocolate croissants sported sky-high flaky pastry layers that held well to pressure. This is not your supermarket variety that squishes to greasy nothingness upon holding. They were crispy, flaky yet light—the holy trinity of croissant attributes.

It was a tasty penalty. I’m curious, how do you stay on track?

Proof Bakery
3156 Glendale Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90039
Phone: (323) 664–8633


Blueberry Lemon Ginger Oat Bars

By Tsz on March 13, 2013

Gastrophoria is a crunchy, homemade blueberry lemon ginger oat bar.

I love watching movies—nothing beats a cozy night in with a film and a big bowl of popcorn (with grated parmesan + truffle oil please)! One exercise I tend to do during movie nights is to envision a signature dish that embodies the main character or the film itself. Is that weird?

While watching Fantastic Mr. Fox lately, I was enamored by the line, “Beagles love blueberries!” Since then, I’ve been itching to create a dish that Mr. Fox himself would enjoy.

My creation? A rustic oat bar that’s filled with sweet blueberries (sans sleeping powder), scented with lemon and studded with candied ginger for a little zing. Perfect snack to bring along for long stakeouts and adventures in the woods (or in the city)!

To complete the mood, the immensely talented Shannon of Sass & Peril shared a few of her foxy wares. Inspired by Mid-Century design and Scandinavian aesthetics, Shannon breathes life into playful illustrations made out of simple geometric shapes. Truly fantastic, don’t you think?

Happy Eating!

Ps. Sass & Peril is kindly offering 20% off at her Etsy and webshop from now through March 20, 2013 (midnight PST). Enter Foxy20 at checkout!

Blueberry Lemon Ginger Oat Bars
Makes 12 bars

1 1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup dried wild blueberries
2 tablespoons minced candied ginger (about 2 slices)
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup melted butter

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a cupcake pan or a 9×9 inch pan depending on if you’d prefer to have round bars or to cut your own.

2. In a mixing bowl, combine oats, blueberries, ginger, lemon zest and sugar. Mix well.

3. Mix the melted butter with the honey and pour into the oats. Stir until the mixture is thoroughly mixed.

4. Divide the mixture in the 12 cupcake cups or within the square pan. Press to shape.

5. Bake till golden brown—around 20–25 minutes. Let cool and enjoy!

[Photos by Tsz Chan. Red Fox Birch Wood Screenprint and Fox Tea Towels by Sass & Peril]