Monday, March 27, 2006

I Got New Equipment!

A friend of mine realized that he wasn't using his stand mixer very much, and decided to sell the thing off for 20 bucks. It's a KitchenAid K5SS mixer, made by Hobart. He gave me first dibs on it. Naturally, I pounced on it like a fat kid on a cupcake. It now resides very happily in my kitchen, permanently on the counter because it's damn heavy... this thing is built like a tank. It has all of the standard attachments, plus a combination food grinder and pasta extruder. I am absolutely THRILLED to finally have a KitchenAid mixer in the house. We do have a Bosch around here, but it almost never sees the light of day because it's such a pain in the ass to use.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Making Sorbet

Someone around the house picked up a tub of Dreyer's Slow Churned Light strawberry ice cream. As one can imagine with products that were never virtuous but made less bad for oneself, it was wholly unsatisfying. It just didn't taste like strawberry unless you hit the ribbon of strawberry flavored swirl, and even then it just tasted sweeter. So, I decided to take matters in my own hands and made some berry sorbet. I went off the Cook's Illustrated recipe, and started by pureeing 3 cups of berries with 1/2 cup of water in the food processor, and then strained out the solids. I added a cup of sugar, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, and 1 tablespoon of rum (the recipe specifies vodka or berry liqueur, but I don't have either around here, and what would a strawberry daiquiri be without rum?), mixed it well, and let it chill first in the fridge, then the ice cream freezer. Once it reached relatively frozen consistency, I transferred it to a container and let it finish freezing in the freezer. The end product, while tasty, was much softer than I prefer. This would likely be due to the large amount of sugar. Sugar lowers the freezing point of the mixture; not enough and you end up with something hard and icy, too much and you end up with sorbet that doesn't freeze all the way through. I'll keep working on the recipe until I get it nailed down.

UPDATE: The sorbet needed an overnight stay in the fridge, not just a couple of hours. It's wonderful now.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Reviews: Wolf Creek Brewing Co, Valencia CA and Pink's, Los Angeles CA

First off, big thanks to the Los Angeles Chowhounds. If it wasn't for you, this review wouldn't be possible. Alas, I didn't get to try as many of the suggestions as possible because I asked about the Valencia area and our hotel was in Pasadena 40 minutes away (I wish I had known before I got in the car to head over, there's some great looking stuff around there!), but I appreciate the help.

We went to Wolf Creek in Valencia after spending the day at Magic Mountain, and absolutely loved it. One friend of mine got the tri tip dinner, another friend got the meatloaf special, and I went with the blackened chicken pasta. All were utterly wonderful, and the portions quite generous, something we were glad about after not eating much at Magic Mountain (10 bucks for nachos that would cost 4 outside the park will do that to you!). I thought my dish was the best one; it had a good balance of pasta to veggies and chicken, the veggies were cooked just right, the pasta was al dente, and the level of seasoning was just right. We split a slice of the caramel chocolate chip cheesecake for dessert, and were pleasantly surprised when we found out it was on the house.

The next day, we were going to meet up with some friends for lunch in Hollywood, but we quickly scuttled those plans after finding out they were going to California Pizza Kitchen. It's a good thing cell phones don't come with buttons that let you strangle the person on the other end of the line, it would have had much use if it did. We were in the Hollywood area with nothing but my wits to guide us, and enough money for something cheap 'n cheerful. We almost stopped at the Tommy's on Hollywood Boulevard just off the 101 (may not be the most exciting of things, but at least it's something we don't have here in Phoenix), but then I remembered about Pink's hot dog stand on La Brea and Melrose. Thanks to the wonderfulness that is Google Local on cell phones, we were there lickety-split.

I am very, very glad we ended up at Pink's; they serve up one mean chili dog! I got the Today Show dog, which features two tube steaks, mustard, onion, chili, a slice of cheese, and guacamole, all on one bun. I wish the bun was a little bit more substantial, but then again, a bun that nondescript definitely doesn't compete with the toppings for dominance. Thankfully, the bun was sturdy enough to hold all of the toppings without conceding before you're done with the dog. The dog is easily one of the best I've had. I really appreciated the natural casings, and their chili is ridiculously good. We sampled sides of onion rings and chili cheese fries; neither one is all that great (they come frozen out of a bag), but the fries were a winner since they acted as a vehicle for more of the chili.

Again, thank you very much California hounds for your help on my journey, I really appreciated it. Hopefully next time, my friends will give me some advance notice so I can plan our eating better, but hey at least we didn't end up at CPK like the people we were supposed to meet ;-) Come on over to Phoenix some time, I'll be glad to show you around the best my hometown has to offer!

The Ratings:
(1 to 5, 5 is highest)

Wolf Creek Brewery
27746 N McBean Pkwy
Valencia, CA 91354
(661) 263-9653
Overall: 5
Food: 5
Service: 5
Atmosphere: 3
Prices: 3-4 (moderate to med-expensive)
Value: 3
Kid Friendly?: 4
Open Late?: No

709 N La Brea
Los Angeles CA (Hollywood)
(323) 931-4223
Overall: 5
Food: 4
Service: 4
Atmosphere: 3 (it's hard to go wrong with al fresco dining)
Prices: 1 (Cheap Eats)
Value: 3
Kid Friendly? 3
Open Late? Goodness yes.
NB: Cash Only

Saturday, March 11, 2006

A Tale of Two Gelati: Arlecchino and Gelato Spot

A friend of mine, the ever lovely Bellana, had a rather stressful week. It's one of those cases where you need really damn good ice cream, and a really fun movie. I decided for ice cream that we would go try Arlecchino, the new gelato place attached to the ever growing La Grande Orange complex on 40th and Campbell, right in the middle of the Arcadia district. I swear, 30 years from now LGO & Co. is going to take up the entire neighborhood with all kinds of chowish goodness. Anyway, I tried one of the special gelato available (I have no idea what it was called, but it was vanilla gelato with raspberries mixed in), and Bellana tried out the blood orange sorbetto. Both were... decent. I felt like my gelato was a little too airy and almost on the gummy side, certainly indicative of too much air allowed to mix into the finished product, and you really couldn't taste any of the small bits of raspberry sprinkled throughout. Bellana's sorbetto was quite firm (exact opposite problem, not enough air), but pleasantly flavored. There were a number of things that left me with a less than sweet taste in my mouth, all of them revolving around customer unfriendly policies. First is the ten dollar minimum on credit card purchases. I absolutely despise places that do this; to me it gives an air of two things, either my money isn't good enough for them unless I'm spending more than I want to, or they're desperate to stay in the black. Maybe both. There was also the oddity of two flavors costing more than the rest. If you go for a double scoop of the special Amaretto flavor, you'll drop seven dollars instead of the four that you thought you were going to spend. SEVEN DOLLARS for two scoops of ice cream? For money like that, it had better have me rolling on the ground in fits of ecstasy. Just bump the prices up by a dime across the board and get it over with. Next up in the line of issues is that half of the items are listed only in Italian. [We interrupt this review to bring you an important news flash... It is raining in Phoenix! Hallelujah! We now return you to your regular review.] I like to have the ['nother news flash... thunder too! I'm a native Arizonan. Close to five months without this makes one a little goofy for it] items shown in English next to the Italian word. While asking what the hell everything is is a nice way of getting to know the proprietor, I'd much rather be able to glance and automatically know "Ah, straciatella is chocolate chip!" Then there's their last policy... a two sample maximum. I'm indecisive as hell. I like to get as much information as possible before making my decision. Angel Sweet lets me taste a bunch of things. Gelato Spot lets me taste a bunch of things (and with as many flavors as they have, thank goodness!), why doesn't Arlecchino let me taste a bunch of things?

I decided halfway through my scoop that we should have an informal tasting, and try out the Gelato Spot on 32nd and Camelback for a side-by-side comparison. Upon arriving at the Spot, I was very relieved to find that we came in at a slower point during the night. If you arrive at a busy time, I hope you bring earplugs. Something about the painfully trendy girls who frequent the gelato spot has them all yipping at each other in high-pitched tones like the irritating thousand-dollar dustmops with legs... er, I mean... cute little toy dogs that they inevitably own. Add a high ceiling and hard surfaces all over the place, and even a few people in the place can make quite a racket. We were both craving lots more frozen deliciousness, so we each got the large, a three-scoop monster: Mine was key lime pie gelato, mango sorbetto, and blood orange sorbetto for comparison's sake; hers was passion fruit sorbetto, raspberry sorbetto (good for comparing to Angel Sweet), and strawberry cream gelato. Now *this* was ice cream heaven. The blood orange sorbetto here was everything it should be: Intensely flavored, just the right balance of sweet to acidity, and a texture of frozen silk. All of the flavors were fantastic, and great fun was had trying out different combinations of the six flavors between us (blood orange and raspberry... mmmmmm). There were some minor quibbles with the Spot, though. One is that I ran into the occasional chunk of ice, likely a remnant of someone not letting the rinse water drain off of the scoop before diving in. The other is that the noise level in the place makes it hard to communicate your order to the girl behind the counter.

I can now say that I have tried out all three of the major gelato choices in the Valley. My favorite... is still Angel Sweet. They may not have the mind-boggling array of flavors of the Gelato Spot, but their product is faultlessly smooth every single time, and the clientele know how to speak without squawking. I also greatly enjoy their somewhat unorthodox scooping method of smooshing down your selections side by side in the cup; it makes snagging a little bit of one flavor and a little bit of another that much easier. Yeah, I know it's a weird thing to notice. But still, I like it. Gelato Spot is a really close second. I love their creativity with the flavors, but those pesky yapping customers and icy bits in the gelato are just enough to keep me getting my main gelato fix at Angel Sweet. Arlecchino... I wanted to like it, really I did. Alas, weird texture, weak flavor, and a bevy of customer unfriendly policies leave it as the also-ran in the world of gelato in Phoenix.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Quickie: what was Fat Slim's on 40th and Camelback is now a trimmed down version of Soma Cafe, called Soma Express. Go try it just for the health of it.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Jester Bite: Mr. Hunan, Tempe AZ

Quick service Chinese joint on University and Hardy; certainly not worth driving more than a few miles for, but if you're in the area and are in the mood for cheapie Asian food, it delivers good bang for the buck.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Review: PB Loco, Scottsdale, AZ

I started to notice some years ago that old-fashioned comfort foods were starting to get popular. Suddenly, new flavors of mashed potatoes sprang up on menus, the very comforting side dish of risotto became popular, and pot roast suddenly became vogue. It's rather nice in quite a few ways; if you've had a rough day and Mom is nowhere around to cook for you (or, if you're like me, mom isn't a good cook), no-nonsense, wholesome food is just around the corner. This movement has taken a couple of interesting turns. One that I have yet to try is Cereality, a place hidden in the Memorial Union on campus that lets you mix cold cereal with various topping to create your dream bowl of cereal. I'll let you know how that place is some time in the near future, if I ever remember it's there while they are open. Another funky comfort food shop is the relatively new PB Loco, located inside Scottsdale Fashion Square, on the top floor close to Nordstrom. As you may surmise by the name, PB Loco specializes in gourmet peanut butter. Many people are content with somply crunchy or smooth peanut butter; PB Loco does 10 other flavors, including things you may have already mixed with peanut butter like chocolate or bananas, to things you never would have guessed would go so well in peanut butter, like curry spices or sun-dried tomatoes. To get even more creative, PB Loco offers up a selection of 12 sandwiches, plus the opportunity to create your own masterpiece. Some friends decided to sample a bunch of different sandwiches, and so we descended on the place like the peanut butter crazed fools that we are. We tried six different choices. First up was the Cinny Nilla, with cinnamon-raisin peanut butter, apple slices, caramel, and vanilla cream cheese. Our next choice was the PBBLT, sun-dried tomato PB with lettuce, bacon bits, and cream cheese. Sandwich Number Three was the Latte Da, with mocha peanut butter, pretzels, and marshmallow fluff. We had another sweet choice with the Loco Coco, with dark chocolate PB, raspberry jam, and coconut flakes. We had a bit of a hard time selecting the last two, so we went out on a limb and got the Curry Spice (curry PB with cucumbers and pineapple bits) and the infamous Wacko (the same curry PB, but this time with pickles, coconut, and potato chips). All of the sandwiches come on decent bread (it wouldn't suprose me if they got it from Willo Bakery since that's where they get the peanut butter dog biscuits they sell at the register), and are grilled on a panini press, definitely a nice touch. The PBBLT and Cinny Nilla were expected favorites, as the peanut butter/apple and peanut butter/bacon combinations are already established favorites among more than a few people. The surprise favorite was the Curry Spice, with a nice blend of flavors and textures. The Wacko was the least favored (as you can expect); it was still quite good, but nowhere near the peanut buttery euphoria that came from all the other sandwiches. To top off the comfort vibe, each sandwich comes with a handful of animal crackers. My one quibble with PB Loco is that it ain't cheap by any stretch of the mind. It's really, REALLY good PB, but six bucks for a jazzed-up peanut butter sandwich? Ouch. But still, it's worth it for when you get a weird craving for peanut butter and just nothing but the wierdly addictive PBBLT or Curry Spice sammich will do. Of course, you could always get a jar of their peanut butter and take it home with you...