Monday, May 28, 2012

Snow Princess Dessert House - Hacienda Heights, CA

Shaved snow may just well be the next dessert craze to hit Southern California, following the spread of frozen yogurt a few years ago.  I first had it in Taiwan, where its unique texture captured my interests.  Fruit juice or other flavors are typically mixed with condensed milk and then frozen into a block of ice.  Upon ordering, the ice block is shaved by a special machine that produces ribbons of flavored milk ice.  It's light yet creamy, melting like snowflakes on your tongue.

The shaved snow at Snow Princess uses fresh fruit and no dairy.  It was certainly flavorful but I prefer the sweet creaminess from places that use condensed milk in their snow (like Class 302).    

--- Food/Drinks ---

The snow is probably the most unique part about this dessert house - it has a soft ribboned look that ends up creamy and melty in your mouth. All of the snow flavors I tried were good including lychee, green apple, strawberry and yogurt.  Portion size is a plus.  The orders were piled about 6-8 inches high with the toppings decorating the bottom edges.  Definitely enough to be shared between two people.

I didn't think the toppings were very good.  Fresh fruit would've been a big plus.  The popping boba is a little on the sweet side making chewing a little strange.  I think the primary purpose of the rainbow jelly is for adding color, I didn't think it added very much to the snow in terms of taste.

---  Service ---

Average service.  There is a $3 per person minimum when sitting down.  This means that if splitting a snow dish three ways, you'll be asked to order fries or something else.  Typically I would expect this minimum from a super busy place, but since the place was nearly empty, I would've liked them to be a little more lenient in this area.

--- Environment ---

I visited with friends on a Saturday night, it was very empty.  The tables, chairs and room decorations were appealing and colorful, typical of what you might expect from a shaved ice cafe.

--- Parking---

Located within a plaza, the nearby stores and restaurants can be very popular requiring a short walk from your car.  Parking spaces are on the smaller end but other no problems finding parking.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Playground - Santa Ana, CA

The food truck craze has come a long way.  Being first a fan of The Lime Truck, we were excited to hear that chef Jason Quinn started his own B&M restaurant.  Complete with daily changing menus using fresh ingredients of the season, the restaurant has garnered many rave reviews and now we can finally contribute to that. 
-- Food ---

The Playground Burger - This burger was not on the menu but ask your server and he/she will know.  After the first bite I immediately knew - this is one of the best burgers I've ever had. The patty is medium to medium-rare, extremely tender with an incredibly rich and juicy meat flavor.  Mustard by itself is not something I have typically seen in my recent burger adventures, but in my opinion I thought the mustard sauce paired very well with the burger.   This burger is a must have if it's your first time.

Dragon Roasted Broccoli - A roasted broccoli dish that wasn't very interesting. I would pass on re-ordering this dish next time.

Roasted Sunchokes - Sliced sunchokes browned in olive oil and a unique blend of seasonings.  It's not bad. 

Modernist Fried "Brick" 1/2 Jidori Chicken with San Marzano Tomato & Peas - Although the dish is listed as a half chicken, it is not your typical rotisserie sized "half-chicken" - it's a lot smaller.  The plate holds about three pieces of chicken with a rolled blend of white and dark meats together.  The chicken is amazing and the skin is wonderfully crispy.  The chicken and the off-menu burger were the standout favorites for me. 

---  Service ---

The service was prompt and friendly.  Our server's recommendation for the half brick chicken was spot-on.  I also really like restaurants that leave the carafe water bottle at the table to serve ourselves.  When we emptied the bottle, another bottle was placed on our table - like.  

On the menu they list a "Fun Fact".  A 3% gratuity is added to all food orders to thank the chefs who work hard in cooking and preparing the food.  Not too bad, but also not really that "fun" for the customer.

--- Environment ---

The red painted walls, eccentric paintings and art pieces give a unique feel to the place.  The large board of beer and wide selection of beer taps behind the bar is also a plus.  No TV's for watching sports, just a pretty cool open seating area to hang out and enjoy your food.

--- Parking---

Metered parking wasn't a problem for Saturday dinner around 5pm.  One quarter will give you 20 minutes in the meter..  There seems to also be some free street parking in the back streets behind the restaurant.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Fudge Brownies with Almonds

These quick and easy fudge brownies take after Mark Bittman's recipe in How To Cook Everything, The Basics.  I followed the tweaks to make nutty brownies by adding toasted almonds and subbing 1/4 cup of almond flour for 1/4 cup regular flour.  These came out more fudge-like than I expected.  The almonds were a nice addition and the almond flour contributed to the moist, fudge consistency.  For lack of a square baking pan, I baked them in the cast iron skillet which resulted in thinner brownies as well.  Definitely an easy recipe, but I prefer my brownies to be chewier and I like using regular dark chocolate more than unsweetened chocolate.

Fudge Brownies with Almonds
makes 9-12 slices

8 Tbsp butter, plus a little more to grease the pan
3 oz. unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup almond flour
1/2 cup toasted, slivered almonds
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 350F.  Grease a an 8x8 square baking pan with butter, or line with parchment paper.
  2. Combine butter and chocolate in a small saucepan over low heat.  Stir constantly until chocolate is melted.  Remove from heat and continue stirring until smooth.
  3. Transfer mixture to a large mixing bowl and stir in the sugar until well combined.  Add eggs, one at a time, and mix until combined.  Gently stir in flour, almond flour, salt, and vanilla.  Carefully fold in the toasted almonds.
  4. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking pan.  Bake for 20-25 minutes until brownies are just set in the middle.  Cool until set, cut, and serve. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Oven Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Roasted brussels sprouts have become quite a popular item on many menus lately.  Seeing as how we really enjoy roasting other vegetables, we decided to give this a try this week.  The last time I had brussels sprouts was when I was a kid.  They didn't leave much of an impression on me, though books and movies certainly left a negative impression of them in my memory. After this trial, I can say for sure that I enjoy brussels sprouts.  At least when they are roasted.  Even more so when individual leaflets are roasted to a nice crunchy brown - brussels sprout chips!  We made these two days in a row.  The second time we actually peeled off the leaflets of each brussels sprout so that we could have a whole tray full of these delicious veggie chips.  The brussels sprouts taste great reheated, but the chips do lose their crispiness within a couple hours. 

Roasted Brussels Sprouts
serves 2

1/2 lb brussels sprouts
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1/8 tsp smoked paprika (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 400F.  This amount of brussels sprouts should also fit well in the toaster oven.
  2. Cut off the browned ends of each brussels sprout.  Slice in half lengthwise.  Save any leaves that fall off, or peel off more leaves if desired.
  3. Place cut brussels sprouts and leaves, olive oil, salt, pepper and smoked paprika in a medium bowl.  Toss until the brussels sprouts are well coated.
  4. Spread brussels sprouts in a single layer on a baking pan.  Roast in the oven for about 40 minutes, stirring the contents halfway through to ensure more even cooking.  Brussels sprouts are done when individual leaves are browned and crispy and intact halves are softened and cooked through.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Iron Press - Costa Mesa, CA

Recently opened at the OC Mix Mart, we stopped by the Iron Press last weekend to check it out.  We really enjoy the waffle sandwiches at Bruxie and wondered how these measured up.  Overall, my wife prefers the waffles at Bruxie for their light, fluffy texture.  The waffles here didn't have any standout flavors on their own, but the meat choices were pretty good, especially the Bratwurst that's locally sourced from Mattern Sausages & Meats.  The Iron Press also has 30 local beers on tap and the counter-style seating makes for a casual and social setting.  

--- Food/Drinks ---
Fried Chicken Waffle - Not bad.  I haven't been a huge fan of fried chicken and waffles, but overall a tasty dish.  The jalapeno maple syrup tasted a little watered down - I would've liked it to be a little thicker.  
Bratwurst Waffle (Hot Link) - Wow, I liked this one a lot.  The Mattern brat had a nice little kick to it.  Paired with the onions and the mustard, this was my favorite compared to the fried chicken. 
Waffle Fries (garlic and parmesan tossed) - The texture and the crunch were very good.  The garlic and parmesan cheese were just okay - nothing special and not really worth the extra $1.50.

The waffles are okay, I wasn't able to spot anything particularly unique about it.  The condiments come in a very tiny metal sauce container.  Despite being served in such a small container, the sauces that came with the waffles and fries were only half full!  The small container also made dipping your food difficult.  It seems they might have been running short on sauce that day or they just didn't take the time to fill it up all the way - dislike. 

---  Service --- 
Came to eat with a few friends during lunch.  Apparently we had come at a very busy time.  It took over 30 minutes to get our food after ordering.  There was a couple nearby that sat down after us and got so angry about the wait time that they stormed out of the restaurant before the food was served. 

The waitress that took our order was pleasant and accommodating.  The owner came by and chatted with us afterwards - nice guy.  He apologized for the wait on our orders and made up for it before we left - extra star for the service. 

--- Environment --- 
Very cool layout.  Sitting at the bar and watching the staff cook the food is very fun to watch.  Although I'm sure working in the open kitchen must be pretty stressful knowing that almost everyone in the restaurant is watching you. 

--- Parking--- 
Located on the edge of the OC Mix Mart, parking is plentiful and very close to the restaurant.  No problems finding parking during lunch on the weekends.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Skillet Blondie Cookie

I was really excited to finally own a cast iron skillet.  Such basic cookware and so cheap too!!  I really should have gotten one earlier!  This recipe was a quick fix for my cookie craving.  Even though it's officially called a blondie, it tasted like a giant cookie and went well with a scoop of ice cream.  It was moist and chewy on the inside with a slight crisp on the edges.  There are a lot of mix-ins in this recipe so the stuff-to-dough ratio is quite high.  It's possible to swap out mix-ins for other items to your liking.  I've tried craisins with walnuts and almonds with shredded coconut - both were delicious!

Skillet Blondie Cookie
adapted from the kitchn
serves 8

1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon espresso powder
1 large egg
3/4 cup dark chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and baking powder.
  3. Heat the butter in the 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat. Once the butter has completely melted, add the brown sugar and whisk together until it dissolves, about 1 minute. This can also be done in a small saucepan and you can brown the butter while you're at it.  Note that the butter sugar mixture may not mix uniformly and may separate out into layers.
  4. Slowly pour the butter mixture into the flour mixture. Add the egg, vanilla, and espresso powder. Mix with a wooden spoon until combined.
  5. Fold the chopped chocolate, walnuts, and dried cranberries into the dough. Transfer the dough back to the buttery skillet, and bake for 20-25 minutes or until the blondie is golden brown on top and set in the middle. A toothpick should come out of the center clean.
  6. Cool the blondies for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Slice in wedges like a pie and serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream (optional).
  7. Blondies will keep for three days in an airtight container at room temperature.