Vacation Eats- Silver Lake and Hollywood, CA

Janeen and I made it to California! We came out here to see our really great friend Erin (Hollywood comedy star). We are starting our vacation in Los Angeles. Erin lives in Silver Lake not far from Hollywood,  an awesome part of town.

The first thing we did when we got to LA was hit up a food truck! It was late but we just got off the plane and into Erin’s neighborhood.

This one was called Gus’s Lunch Box. It had standard Mexican food like burritos and tacos. I had the Taco Pastor, which was pork in red sauce. It did not have pineapple, which I was expecting because of how the Mexican place back home makes them.

The tacos hit the spot. I chose the mild sauce because I can’t eat very hot spices anymore… I’m not sure why, but I have developed an allergy to one of the chemicals in hot red peppers. The mild sauce was great though and the corn tortillas were really good.

In the morning, Janeen and I set out on a mini-walking adventure that turned into an all day affair. We walked through Silver Lake and stopped at Local for brunch. As you can see by the menu, it was right up my alley. Everything was fresh and well made.

Even though this menu looks bangin’ and I wanted all of the dishes on it, we chose to eat off the special whole wheat crepe menu.

We ordered the La Razza and a dessert crepe (the one with sweet lemon ricotta) and split them between the two of us.

Here’s the La Razza, cut in half with sour cream, avocado, and some awesome home fries. It also came with a smokey (but not hot) pepper sauce that was really good spread on the home fries.The whole wheat crepes added a new texture that went really well with all of the fillings.

The dessert crepe had lemon ricotta stuffing the crisp whole wheat crepe, topped with cooked fresh strawberries and creme fraiche. Excellent, I still ate a lot of it even though I was a little full from the breakfast crepe.

Sharing the two crepes was a great idea. I was comfortably full after the half of breakfast crepe and stuffed after half the dessert crepe. This place also had excellent iced coffee. They even had soy milk out on the fixins table. I really appreciate this because I always have to ask and usually pay extra for soy milk.

After our excellent brunch, we headed onward to the Silver Lake Farmers Market. Here we found super fresh fruits, veggies, and taste-tested many delightful treats. We got a ginger lime juice to share with cane syrup and found some pretty styling LA hats. Here’s some veggie eye candy from the market…

We started walking down Sunset Blvd. and just kept on going until we hit Hollywood Blvd. We actually walked the whole way to the Chinese Theater. Sightseeing, penny squishing, and stopping for a frozen margarita along the way. We had to call Erin to come pick us up because we had walked 5 miles to get all the way over to the most touristy part of Hollywood. On our way home we stopped at the Griffith Park Observatory for some spectacular views of the city.

After some freshening up it was dinner time! We went to Erin’s favorite place Pho Cafe for Vietnamese.

We shared the #3, spring rolls with shrimp and beef inside and a large Sapporo beer.

I got the Pho Ga #13 – rice noodle soup with free range chicken, ginger sauce, and herbs.

Both dishes are highly recommended. They use really good meat here, the beef and shrimp in the spring rolls and the chicken in the soup were all really good.

After dinner we went to a wine and beer bar. My drink of choice was Russian River Damnation. A smooth Belgian ale with an apple/pear taste to it. Perfect for sipping after a late dinner.

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There is only one…

I’m going to write about this at the risk of losing my reputation for eating great food… My friend Matt made a statement that he has never eaten a Big Mac or a Whopper. I responded by saying I had also never eaten either of these burgers from the fast food giants, and then I jokingly said we should perform a taste test… and he and some other friends thought that was a great idea.

So I went along with it, not entirely all gung-ho about it. Actually, I was a little nervous about the whole thing. I hadn’t eaten a burger from a fast food joint in a looooong time. Like, not since I was little, and even then I think I always opted for the chicken nuggets. I am really not a big fan of fast food. I have been seeing McDonald’s a lot in the news lately for adding apple slices to their happy meals. I’m not really sure that is going to make a difference because I think they probably have to coat the apples with preservatives or something to keep them from turning brown, but at least it’s a step in the right direction.

Here’s how the taste test went…. Our friend James decided to come along because he has never eaten the Big Mac, even though he is the fast food king of all of my friends. We also decided to order both burgers the “original” way, so no extra add-ons were part of the taste test.

Matt, James, and I went to Burger King first, with a coupon for buy-one-get-one-free Whoppers. I was happy about that because I did not want to spend a bunch of money on this. We ordered and picked up our Whoppers and walked across the parking lot to McDonald’s (yes, there is just one small parking lot separating McDonald’s and Burger King). Is it okay to walk into McDonald’s holding a Burger King bag? Probably not, but we didn’t care.

We also had a coupon for a free Big Mac (score!) and we got some fries and drinks to wash it all down… just in case it was gross (I’m glad we got the fries). We also prepared ourselves with about six of those little cups of ketchup, another good idea.

We sat down and cut the Whopper and Big Mac in half – Matt and I shared them because there is no way I would eat two burgers. James was the lucky (or unlucky) one with two whole burgers to himself.

We started with the Whopper. The Whopper has a whopping 670 calories attached to it. It looked much different from the Big Mac. The bun was giant sized and the meat patty matched it. The meat was big, round, flat, and dry. The topping included mushy pickles, shredded iceburg lettuce, crappy tomatoes, cut up onions, mustard, ketchup, and mayo. I think we should have added cheese to it, it might have helped it a little bit. I really don’t like mayonnaise, but I didn’t want to mess up the taste test.

Impression at first bite… dry and boring. I added extra ketchup which did not help.

The Big Mac is much smaller around but is actually taller than the Whopper. It’s not too far behind the Whopper with 540 calories. The most notable difference is that it has three buns, cheese, and a special sauce (which I think might just be Russian dressing). The meat was not as dry. It was actually kind of greasy. It also included the pickles (a little crunchier than the Whopper’s), shredded iceburg lettuce, and onion but no tomatoes or other condiments. I think this burger is supposed to be all about the special sauce.


Impression at first bite… not as dry, not as boring. The special sauce did give it an edge over the Whopper but I still didn’t really like it that much. It’s not something I would eat again, but if I had to choose between the two, the Big Mac would win.

I was happy about having the fries and ketchup. I finished the half of the Big Mac but not the half of the Whopper, it was just straight up bad. Matt agreed with me on choosing the Big Mac as the better of the two. James disagreed and choose the Whopper because he didn’t like McDonald’s special sauce. Two to one, the Big Mac wins.

Overall experience… I had fun, but it is not something I want to do again. I felt kind of gross afterward with the weird feeling you get after you eat Chinese food. You know the feeling… like you’re hungry but you know you just ate a lot. Why does that happen? We noticed both buns had marks on the inside like they were toasted… but they were not toasted. What do they do print marks on the bun? I find that very odd. How can you even do that? One last thing, not to be completely disgusting, but I also couldn’t get the image of large scale cattle farming out of my head. Which is one reason I only by the free-range, grass-feed beef at market.

I am going to go back on the claim that I have not eaten a fast food burger since I was little… I think the actual last time I had a fast food burger was two years ago when I went to California. We stopped at In-n-Out Burger because we had to try it. I am actually visiting sunny California this week, so I’m sure you’re going to see an In-n-Out Burger post. My friend Janeen is coming with me and I know she will have to try it. I’m going to give it another try, but I’m not going animal style this time…

Skydiving Sandwich

Yesterday we went skydiving with Skydive Philadelphia! It was one of the coolest things I have ever done. I actually set everything up for Dan’s 30th birthday last year but we never cashed in the certificates. After almost a year, and one failed attempt because of clouds, yesterday was finally our day. We drove up to the tiny town of Perkasie, Pa to make the leap.

We still have to wait for the video and pictures from the skydive company. I can’t wait to see them, I am sure we probably both look kind of crazy. I yelled the almost the whole way down…not because I was scared, but because it was awesome!

Dan went out of the plane first. I was watching him get ready to go, scoot to the edge, and get ready next to the door… one second I was looking at him and not even a second later he was gone. It was like he got sucked out and went straight down. I didn’t see him again until I was almost landing. Here he is getting closer to the ground:

I thought the free fall felt like plunging through water. It was so exciting to see the ground below me and not be in an airplane. I thought I would be scared but I felt like I was floating and not scared at all. It was like the very first little part of the hill on a roller coaster but it lasted a lot longer.

Once the parachute opened it really felt like I was floating. I could see the Philadelphia skyline from where we were, which was pretty cool because we were about an hour away from there. It was also pretty surreal floating above houses, rivers, and a lake getting closer and closer to it all and then being on the ground before you know it. I think it’s the closest I’ll ever be to being a bird in the sky. That’s me landing in the photo above.

We survived and had a really great time!  After all of that jumping out of airplanes and free falling we worked up quite an appetite. We went to this really great breakfast/lunch place called The Down to Earth Cafe. We it found last time we were in Perkasie about a month ago. We attempted to skydive last month but there was a thunderstorm in the morning and the clouds never cleared, so we didn’t get to jump… but we had a great lunch.

The first time we ate here we both got the special panini made with ham and brie. It was really good and made with very fresh and high quality ingredients. The Down to Earth Cafe uses as many local, organic ingredients as they can. You can tell they really pay attention to quality. They also have a list of daily specials that use in-season ingredients. I wish I could come here of breakfast because all of the breakfast choices looked amazing. They also have a lot of really great drink choices that are made with real sugar and interesting ingredients. I tried this sipp ginger drink that was really good.

This time Dan ordered the fish tacos (one of the signature dishes). They looked nicely put together with flour tortillas, House-made red cabbage cole slaw, deep fried seasonal fish fillets, and slices of tomato and avocado. I actually didn’t taste them, which is weird for me because I always want to taste everything… I must have still been over excited from the fall and wasn’t thinking. Dan said they were really good so I’ll have to trust him.

I got the panini special again. This time it was sautéed spinach, white beans, feta cheese and grilled artichoke hearts all squished between two slices of rye bread. It was a really nice combination. I only added a little bit of salt and pepper. It also came with a side of red potato salad, which was one of the best potato salads I have ever had. The potatoes were cooked perfectly and the dressing was just right, not overly seasoned and not too heavy of the mayonnaise, just a little bit ( I really hate when there is too much mayo on food, I think the consistency is gross).

I also got a side of sesame noodles because I didn’t know I was getting a side of potato salad. The sesame noodles were also really good, with just the right amount of dressing and seasoning to coat the noodles.

Overall, this place is great! I would go back here in a minute if I am ever in Perkasie again. If you find your self in upper Bucks County, it is definitely worth a stop.

Cool Cucumber Soup

I have been really hungry for soup lately but it has been so darn hot outside that I don’t really want to make something hot to eat. I came up with this cold soup that is actually inspired by a soup that I made up last year when I had a ton of extra corn. I’ll share both recipes with you and you can try them both!

Cool Cucumber Soup:

4-5 ears of corn

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 cups chicken or vegetable stock

2 tbsp. butter

1/2 cup heavy cream, room temperature

4 oz. creme fraiche (it usually comes in 8oz. containers)

handful of fresh cilantro, chopped

2 medium sized cucumbers

Before we start, I would like to share a handy tip: Place the corn on a baking tray or a large round dish on top of an inverted bowl. You will catch all of the kernels and they wont go flying all over the counter top. I usually cover the inverted bowl with a damp paper towel, just in case I hit it with the knife. You don’t need the bowl if your tray or dish has low sides. *not the best picture, but you get the idea.

Bring the 3 cups of stock to a boil. Remove the kernels from the corn and place them into the boiling stock. Turn the heat down to medium so your soup is at a simmer and add the garlic, butter, salt and pepper (about 1/2 tsp of each). Let the soup simmer for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, peel and seed the cucumbers. To remove the seeds, cut the cucumber down the middle and run a spoon down the center of the cucumber, it will dig out all of the seeds.

Cut one cucumber into small cubes and set aside.

Take the other cucumber, cut it into chunks and put it in the food processor (you could also use a blender but you might have to work in batches). Add the cilantro to the food processor with the cucumber.

Ladle out about half of the corn kernels and liquid from the soup pot into the food processor. Pulse the mixture until no cucumber chunks remain. Pour the cucumber-corn mix back into the soup pot with the rest of the corn and stock. Add the small cubes of cucumber, heavy cream and creme fraiche.

Season with salt and pepper to your liking. Place it in the refrigerator to cool down. This is a great dish to make ahead of time. You could eat it warm or at room temperature, but it is really refreshing cold, especially on a hot day.

and the soup that inspired it…

Creamy Corn Soup

4-5 medium sized ears of corn, kernels removed.

2 tbsp. olive oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded

3 cups chicken stock

handful of fresh cilantro

8 0z. creme fraiche

2 tbsp. butter

salt and pepper

Heat the olive oil in a soup pot and saute the garlic, jalapeno and corn kernels over medium-high heat for a few minutes. Sprinkle with salt and watch as you are sauteing, you are not trying to caramelize the onions, just saute until they are soft. Add the stock and bring the soup to a boil. Turn down the heat to medium and let it simmer for about 10 minutes.

Blend the soup with a hand blender until smooth. You’ll have to ladle the soup into a blender and work in batches if you do not have a hand blender.

Mix in the creme fraiche, cilantro, and butter. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If you want to add a little smoky surprise or a little extra kick- you can add 1 tsp of smoked sweet paprika. For a thinner soup, add more chicken stock. I usually eat this one hot, but it is probably good cold as well.

Raw Tomato Sauce

I have been eating tomatoes morning, noon, and night right now. I am certainly getting my fill. I made this easy pasta dish a few times now. It’s easy and quick and it tastes great hot or cold. The only thing you have to cook is the pasta!

Summer Pasta with Raw Tomato Sauce:

1 box of pasta in any shape you like… I love mini-penne made by Barilla.

1/2 medium red onion, cut into thin 1 inch sections

3 garlic cloves (smashed and minced)

3 tbsp unsalted butter

salt and pepper

3 large tomatoes (about 1 1/2 lbs)

1/2 lb feta cheese or fresh mozzarella

A handful of fresh basil leaves

Cook the pasta in salted water. Reserve at least 1/2 cup of the pasta water when draining the pasta. Place the onion, garlic and butter in a bowl and pour 1/2 cup of the hot pasta water them. Let the mixture sit for at least ten minutes, the butter will melt and the garlic and onion flavor will infuse in the water.

Chop up the tomatoes and mix them in with the pasta in separate large bowl. Take the basil leaves, stack them up, roll them together, and slice them into thin strips (chiffonade) and  mix them in with the pasta and tomatoes. Pour the pasta water mixture over the pasta and mix. Break up the feta or cut up the mozzarella and add it into the pasta and serve. The heat from the pasta makes the tomatoes kind of melt, creating a sauce that coats the pasta. This meal is really good the next day because the pasta soaks up all of the flavors.

This is the simple version I made the other night when I had some of my girlfriends over for dinner. I used whole wheat pasta this time.

You could also add other veggies really easily. I added yellow wax beans and baby zucchini to one version of this dish. I just cut the zucchini into little circles and the beans into 1 inch pieces.

You do not have to cook the veggies in a separate pan. Just drop them in the boiling water with the pasta about a minute before the pasta is done. You won’t have another pot to clean and they will be perfectly cooked, not over cooked. I have also been using local garlic because a few stands have it at market right now.

I added green beans into this version. I used the same technique of dropping them into the boiling pasta right before it was done. I used the fresh mozzarella cut into cubes in this one as well. I also added some extra herbs in addition to the basil (I used purple basil this time) I also added Italian flat leaf parsley and a few chives.

Be creative with your veggies! I usually just walk around market and get what ever looks the best and freshest. Simple, easy, quick and delicious.

Beer Taste: Summer Love

Dan really loves beer, which is probably why I really love beer. We are always on the look out to try something new. I am all about tasting new things-  so I never get too disappointed when Dan wants to find local breweries or restaurants with extensive beer lists when we go places. I’m not a beer expert or anything, but I do like what tastes good and I’ll try anything. I’ll be giving you my opinion and some basic info about the beers I feature on here.

Let’s get started…

I’m starting my beer reviews with one of my favorites beers appropriate for the season: Summer Love from Victory Brewing Company. Summer Love was once only available at the brewery in the summer, but it is now conviently available in bottles this year… and often served in my backyard.

I first tried this beer during a brewery visit with a few of my girlfriends. I am pretty lucky because the brewery and brew pub aren’t too far from where I live.  It’s a great spot to catch up with some of my college buddies that live scattered over central PA. I am also pretty lucky that my college girlfriends like great beer.

Summer Love is a light ale with bright and clean flavors. Grassy and Lemony, it’s everything a summer beer should be. It looks like a pilsner when you pour it but it definitely has the bolder flavors of an ale. It’s lightly hopped with American and German whole flower hops. It starts off light and finishes with a little hop kick you can taste at the back of your tongue. The ABV is 5.2%, not terribly high- making it a good beer to choose if you are going to be barbecuing all afternoon.

This beer is part of the “With Love, Philadelphia XOXO” campaign. So if you are from afar and you are visiting Philadelphia, you’ll be able to find it all over the city this summer. Or you can pick up a case! It’s Perfect for summer outdoor gatherings, packing in a cooler, tailgating, baseball games, and beach going.

I am currently planning my wedding right now and I am always on the lookout for food, drinks, and fun things that I could include in the party. I would love to feature this beer at the bar. How often is there a local beer with love in the name that I love to drink? I know it’s a little bit kitschy or cute… but I think this beer will make the cut.

Beautiful Beans

Look at these beautiful beans that available at market right now!

I have been using them in so many dishes lately. I thrown them in to pastas, soups, and salads. I just steam them by dropping them in boiling water for about a minute. Their color intensifies and it takes a little bit of the rawness out of them. After steaming, I drain them and drop them in ice water to halt the cooking process. This way they stay nice and crunchy. I really don’t like over cooked veggies that are mushy.

Here’s one of my favorite salads. It’s so easy to throw together, it only takes about ten minutes to make. It’s perfect to bring to parties in the summer months. You can mix and match the beans to go along with whatever is in season. It’s even great with a variety of canned beans if it is the middle of winter.

Easy Bean Salad:

1/3 lb green beans

1/3 lb yellow wax beans

1/3 lb dragon tongue beans (the ones with the purple stripes above)

1 can black beans

1 can chick peas

1 can dark red kidney beans

1 can cannellini beans

1 lemon, zested and juiced

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 small red onion, chopped small

1/4 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup garlic vinaigrette  or white wine vinegar

handful of  basil leaves, chopped

handful of flat leaf Italian parsley, chopped

salt and pepper (to taste)

All you have to do is mix it all together in a big bowl and serve. It is even better the next day! You might want to make some extra for yourself…

The search for the perfect bun…

I have been searching for the perfect burger bun for years. I remember the day that I found it. It was about two years ago at my favorite restaurant in Lancaster – John J. Jeffries. They began featuring a grass-fed burger on their menu for summer and I had to try it. It was perfectly cooked (medium rare) and had home-made ketchup and caramelized onions on top. The bun was perfect – a brioche bun that was light, airy, and toasted just enough to make the edges a little crunchy. You could bit right through it and your burger didn’t slide out the other side. It was the bun I was searching for! I asked the waiter about the bun and he informed me that they get them from LeBus Bakery in Philadelphia. I never made it to LeBus when I was visiting Philadelphia and I never found the buns anywhere in Lancaster. Until…

I was in line at the smoothie stand at market on Tuesday waiting for my mango-strawberry-coconut-OJ smoothie to cool me down in the 100 degree heat. I looked up and saw them…a whole dozen…sitting on top of the bread display next to the cooler full of juice…with a little sign that read “brioche buns, Le Bus bakery”… I could not believe it! The Lancaster Juice Company also gets Le Bus bakery products to sell at their stand, I knew this, but I did not know they ever got the brioche buns!

Oh happy day! They were mine, and they freeze well… so I bought the whole dozen.

Soft inside, golden and shiny on the outside. All those summers of trying to create a burger good enough to submit into the Build a Better Burger contest… I finally have the bun. I hope I can create a burger worthy enough.

I’ve started my burger testing yesterday with a simple idea that I hope is a winning combination.

Burger #1 (I still need to think of a good name):

toasted brioche bun

medium-rare grilled grass fed burger

1 thick slice of pink heirloom tomato

a few fresh basil leaves

sliced fresh mozzarella

sliced avocado

thinly sliced red onion

I also added some green meanie dressing, because I can’t resist putting condiments on grilled food. It was good and it made it a little more moist. The tomato was nice and juicy but the dressing made it great.

Pickle Success

The other day, I decided to make some pickles…. I just threw some salt and pepper in a pot with water and brought it to a boil. I stuffed some sliced cucumbers, dill, and garlic in a jar. I poured the hot water into the jar and stuck it into the refrigerator. The next day…

PICKLE FAIL!

Ugh – They were gross… really, really salty. I definitely thought about my method a little more before I tried again.

Needless to say… my next batch was very well thought out. Here’s how I made my brine:

3 cups water

1 cup rice wine vinegar

2 tbsp kosher salt

1 tbsp whole black peppercorns

I got my cucumbers from the Lancaster Farm Fresh stand at central market.

One jar included pickling cucumbers, dill, and smashed garlic cloves.

Another jar included a sliced lemon cucumber, sliced small white cucumbers, smashed garlic, and dill.

The last little jar included the left over pickling cucumbers and some sliced red onions.

I boiled the brine and poured it over the cucumbers in each jar. I screwed on the lids and left them in the refrigerator for at least one day…

…PICKLE SUCCESS!

I am proud to say that these pickles came out splendid! I think the small white cucumbers made my favorite pickles. The pickles with pickled onions were Dan’s favorite. He suggested making relish out of them, which I think is a great idea. The pickle and onion mixture would be a great topping for a hot dog, perfect for summer.

Fresh Summer Salsa

I have an abundance of tomatoes lately and I love salsa. I gathered all of the ingredients to make my fresh summer salsa. There are so many veggies available right now that every ingredient in this is local. Yes, even the garlic is local! This recipe is both green tomatillo salsa and tomato salsa in one. It makes a lot so it is perfect for parties. It’s also super quick and there’s easy clean-up because I make it in the food processor.

Green Summer Salsa Base:

1 jalapeno pepper

1 small red onion

1/2 cup packed cilantro

3 cloves garlic

3 mini bell peppers – yellow, red, and orange (I like to add these for a hint of color and sweetness)

1 lime, zested and juiced

5 medium sized tomatillos, husks removed, washed and quartered

salt and pepper to taste

Put all the ingredients in the food processor (you might have to do it in batches depending on how big your food processor is) and pulse until all the ingredients are chopped. Here’s what it should look like:

You can eat it just like this, as a green tomatillo salsa. You can also use it as a base for other salsas. It’s really good stirred into chopped mango for a sweet salsa or stir a little bit into mashed avocado for a guacamole upgrade.

To make Fresh Summer Salsa:

Pulse 3 big (~ 1.5 lbs) red tomatoes in the food processor, working in batches if you have a smaller food processor.  If you’re from Lancaster, I recommend the Jet Stars from Washington Boro that I wrote about a few days ago. Mix your tomatoes with about half (~1 cup) of the green salsa base from above. Season it with salt and pepper to taste. It makes about 4 cups.