Thursday, July 8, 2010

LA Challah and Hummus Hunt - Part III

Okay. It's been two months since I last posted. There have been many delicious meals. A big decision (we're officially moving to LA); and I've even started cheating on myself by doing some additional blogging at the Manolo Food Blog. There have also been some additional articles, which as always you can check out on my website.

And naturally, there has been some challah and hummus tasting.

A recent Friday saw a record triple challah try-out -

First from Eilat Bakery, two little guys -- one egg challah with sesame seeds...

And one water challah without...

Now usually, I prefer egg challot to water because of my intense love for Zomick's egg challah and because they tend to be a little chewier and moister, an all around better platform for dipping into hummus. And when I purchased both of these loaves and gave them a squeeze, I fully anticipated that this predilection would be the case. The egg felt nice and squishy, while the water felt hard and too crusty.

Lo and behold, however, the egg challah was pretty bland and didn't have a nice tear, while the water challah had a good toothsome quality and a little more flavor. You live and learn. Neither, however, lived up to Schwartz's or to the challah against all others are judged. The beloved Zomicks.

The third challah of the day was a total wild card. From Got Kosher? Provisions.

No, your eyes are not deceiving you. That is a pretzel challah with Belgian chocolate chips.

Notice how my fingers are coated in chocolate? We had tried one of Got Kosher?'s plain pretzel challot a few weeks prior, which I had loved (especially with peanut butter) but which Daniel had found a little too malty in flavor. This chocolate version was pretty ridiculous. Quite rich and delicious, especially when warmed for a bit in the oven. I would not, however, recommend dipping it in this --

The week's hummus portion. Purchased from one of the Kosher groceries on Pico. Shipped from Israel, it was certainly good, but no better than Sabra and thus not worth all the extra carbon footprint miles (aren't I a good environmentalist?)

Overall, a decent outing, but the quest continues. And now that we're becoming official LA citizens, the mission takes on an even graver seriousness. We must succeed in finding our Los Angeles versions of Zomicks and Damascus because shipping rates are just cost prohibitive (yes, I've investigated this.)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

LA Challah and Hummus Hunt - Part II

The Los Angeles challah and hummus hunt continues. Last Friday's stop came courtesy of a purveyor that specializes in that other specialty of the Jewish bread baker - the bagel.

According to my research, the Bagel Factory not only makes some of best bagels on this here Left Coast, but it also makes a pretty mean challah (including a chocolate chip version - an idea that I find simultaneously tempting and tawdry.) So we zipped over to try their wares.

First, the challah. Compared to our previous almost Zomick's worthy experience at Schwartz's, this loaf was a bit disappointing. The Bagel Factory version was good, but a little drier than I'd like, without the satisfying chewiness that generally comes with the egg (versus water) variety of the braided bread. However, once we got further into the loaf it got better and better. And by Monday afternoon, when I grilled up a couple of slices to make Daniel a chicken sausage with pineapple salsa sandwich, it was downright delicious. (And the half-sized versions that I noticed and squeezed as we exited the store seemed moister and squishier than the full-sized kind that we had already purchased.)

While Bagel Factory did offer it's own version of hummus, there was another item on the menu that required our attention instead. Whitefish salad. As Zomick's is to challah, Russ and Daughters' whitefish salad is to, well, whitefish salad. Creamy, fishy, a little sweet, a little tangy, it may well be my favorite food in the world. Especially with a schmear on a bialy or a Bagel Hole bagel, with a ripe tomato and an onion slice. Oh my lord, I'm getting hungry.

Anyway, so good is this salad, that to be honest, I don't even hunt for other versions to rival it. I know they will only disappoint ( a recent trip to Susan Feniger's Street, where I sampled the whitefish salad on a pretzel roll, nearly broke my heart.) However, the version at Bagel Factory looked kinda good, and when Daniel decided to order it on an everything bagel, I was a happy nibbler (while nursing my own ridiculously good container of hearty, chunky lentil soup.)

The whitefish bagel sandwich was pretty darn good. While the salad didn't have the complex layers of flavor that my old friend Russ and his trusty daughters offer up, it was a very solid showing. Not overly rich like some varieties, allowing the smoky fish flavor to really dominate. The bagel had a decent chew, and wasn't the kind of freakishishly puffy blimp-style popular in so many parts of the country.

In fact, the everything bagel that came with my lentil soup was good enough to eat on its own...

But it was even better with the bits of fallen whitefish that I scavenged from the white deli paper of Daniel's sandwich after he was done. And yes, I admit, I even licked said white deli paper. I would hate for good fish to go to waste.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Fast Food - Animal Protein

When we first headed West, it was to Northern California, home of amazing burritos, farm fresh produce, killer Burmese, and some pretty fantastic burgers - you'll recall my love of the Monk's Kettle turkey burger par example.

However, I purposely put off trying that king of the California burger - the In-N-Out because I wanted to wait to try it in on its home turf in SoCal. Even after arriving in LA, I put off trying it because I wanted to be in a full-on burger craving mood.

Well there's nothing like a little rock-N-roll, a wee bit of vodka (not to worry parental types, not enough to make it unsafe to drive,) and the witching hour to make a girl (and a bearded fellow) crave a burger. Big time. So after hearing our friends' band The Lincoln Bedroom play in Hollywood, we headed to that fast food icon for a midnight snack- er meal.

(Before I descend into burger bliss, I have to give a quick shout out to The Lincoln Bedroom. They were so, so good. Seriously. This is coming from a person who goes into most live music performances -- especially those at bars -- with a big dose of skepticism and a sense of foreboding. But I couldn't stop smiling the whole time they were playing.)

And that smile just extended to the In-N-Out experience. I loved the bright, bright lights of the joint. Even at 12:30 AM, the branch on Sunset was a hopping, festive (if slightly seedy) place to be. I loved the paper hats that the folks at the counter wore (the guy who took our order reminded us of Smash from Friday Night Lights.)

Having put off a visit to In-N-Out for so long, I'd done a lot of thinking about what to get. I'd practiced using the proper lingo for the various off-menu preparations and when we got to the counter I was ready to go.

Here's what we ordered...

Fries, Animal Style (meaning with fried onions, melted cheese, and "spread")
The verdict: Sinful, decadent, everything else you can imagine. Although, while I kind of liked that the cheese wasn't completely melted, it was a bit too solid to coat a large portion of the fries. This did, however, allow Daniel to eat some of them post-burger.

Daniel got his burger Animal Style (topped with fried onions, pickles, and "spread")
The verdict: At 12:45 or whenever it was that we finally got our order (this isn't fast fast food), he had no complaints. The next day he did say that perhaps because he didn't grow up eating In-N-Out, this did not surpass his greasy fast food standard-bearer, the Whopper. Although he also tried to maintain that his burger was a healthy choice because he didn't get a "Double Double," so clearly the boy has a skewed perspective.

Speaking of healthy, I went for Protein Style (served sans-bun in a lettuce wrap; with ketchup, mustard, and raw onions, no spread)-
The verdict: Man, that was a lot of lettuce. But I like lettuce. And I like burger. So, what's not to like? In fact, in my defense for making such a girly carb conscious choice, as a child on the occasional trip to McDonalds, I often removed the bun from my Happy Meal burger, choosing instead to focus on the skinny patty, diced onion, and pickle slices. So I was hanging it Protein Style waaaay back.

Seriously though, it was a pretty fine burger. Especially when topped with some Animal Style fries. I think this is what they mean by animal proteins.

Monday, April 12, 2010

LA Challah and Hummus Hunt Part I

So Daniel and I are on day seven of our two month trial run at being LA citizens. A few key observations thus far:

1) What they say about traffic is true.

2) What they say about it being all Hollywood is true. You literally can't go into a restaurant or coffee shop without hearing something along the lines of "I'm trying to figure out how to add an element of racial tension into Act III" or "Yeah, I'd be happy to work for free as long as I get a credit." Welcome to Hollywood, baby.

3) What they say about the weather is (mainly) true. Our first few days here were glorious. Then last night it rained so loudly, I kept making Daniel pause the episode of Project Runway we were watching to see if we needed to build an arc. Here's Daniel in Malibu, dancing for joy.

But I digress. Clearly, a key element of our decision to take or leave LA is the food. And one of the things that we look for in any city is a place to buy good challah and hummus. We love them separately (after all, what's a turkey sandwich without a good schmear of hummus?) But we REALLY love them in concert.

For all of its amazing food attributes, during our time in the Bay Area, we never found challah and hummus that could live up to the New York Pantheon of Zomicks and Damascus. But we're hoping LA may prove a little more robust in this department.

And so last Friday, we began our hunt for great C&H LA-style.

Based on a Chowhound search, I decided that we'd start with Schwartz' challah.

Located on a stretch of Pico that has an embarrassment of Kosher establishments, this 50-odd year old bakery and deli won raves from the Hounds. Because of traffic (see above) and some address confusion (see bearded man above), we arrived around 1:30 and were worried that they this late on a Friday afternoon, they might have run out of the great braided bread. But we were in luck, and the counters were stocked with it.

Being the picky texture connoisseurs that we are, we gave the challot some good squeezes, and were initially disappointed by what we felt. The bread felt too crusty, without the good soft give that our standard-bearer Zomicks offers. Not wanting to give up too soon, I kept squeezing, and strangely after testing about five loaves, I found one with precisely the right consistency.

Here's a picture of the little fellow that we took home:

He was just right. Soft squishy,

And with the perfect tear. Mmm. Look at that doughy goodness. The taste was also pretty fantastic. A little sweet. Nicely chewy. We were thoroughly impressed, although I for one still think that Zomick's has a leg up -- it's a little more eggy, which I like. This though was nothing to sneeze at and may well become our go-to LA challah (although I am slightly concerned/perplexed by the fact that there was such a range in textures of the challot on display)

From there we headed to try out some hummus. I'd read good things about a sit down Lebanese place in Westwood called Sunin, and after seeing a picture of their hummus on their website (creamy and smooth looking,) it seemed as good a place as any to begin our hunt for the second step in the one-two punch that is C&H.

The hummus that arrived at our table lived up to the picture.

It was indeed smooth and creamy, a truly perfect texture. My one complaint is that I felt it had a bit too much tahini. Sadly, I've found that this is often the case with the smoother varieties, so that you end up having to choose between a slightly overpowering sesame taste in favor of texture or a slightly grainy texture in favor of a more balanced flavor. Really, a girl shouldn't have to make such a decision.

That said, the hummus was still quite good (we definitely finished it all.) And, almost equally importantly, Sunin had the best lentil soup that I've had since my beloved Carrol Gardens Zaytoons fix. AND they have pickled turnips. So all told, a good find indeed.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A FOFL Exclusive! - The Making of Chicken McNecklace

It's been said that I spend an inordinate amount of time focused on food. I read about it. I write about it. Yes, I often dream about it. And then there's all that good time spent eating it. Food and I have a pretty strong, faithful relationship. But this past Saturday, that relationship got a little weird. I found myself sitting in my toaster oven of a car, Otis, doing this -

Yes, that's right. I was stringing those little critters they call Chicken McNuggets into a necklace. And it made me feel a little funny. My fingers got greasy. I smelled like fried oil and processed chicken.

Not too long after, I took it even further, and found myself doing this -

Yup, now stringing together mini pigs-in-a-blanket (in honor of my father, they were Hebrew National) to create this -

No, I'm not starting a mail-order edible jewelry shop (although maybe I should - given how greasy both of these products are, they could also serve a third function as a kind of oil rich moisturizer.)

All of this hard work was actually in service of Daniel's latest video (which I helped write and in which I make a cameo)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Daniel - A Korean Delicacy

So in the last couple of weeks, it has become clear that I am living with a superstar. Okay, he's a superstar in Korea, but an overnight sensation nonetheless. For those who haven't been following Daniel's meteoric rise to South Korean fame, it started when he made a video about the Olympic gold medal figure skater Kim Yuna. He went on to be interviewed by Korean radio, have his first video appear on Korean television, and to receive a few marriage proposals via YouTube comment. He's taken, people.

I wasn't going to post the videos here because they don't have much to do with food, but since many of his fans have commented on his eating of pizza in the first video and his gobbling of a hamburger in the follow up, I figured why not? So without further ado, I give you Butterpolice, as he is known on YouTube, the Korean sensation.

Part One - Kim Yu-na Fan Watches Gold Medal Performance

Part Two - Kim Yu-na Fan Trains To Be Like Kim Yu-na

Monday, March 8, 2010

We Want Food- Itsa Pizza Pie!

As an anxious child, I had many fears - burglars, thunder storms, bananas. In some respects, I was very lucky though. I never had to worry too much that my parents would split up. They had a pretty great marriage and rarely fought, so when they did it felt dramatic and the reverberations of the fight would ring in my ears for days after. As an adult, I don't remember the details of any of them except one. It was a doozy. The cause of said row? Barbecue pizza.

Yes, you read that correctly. The biggest fight my parents ever had was over pizza topped with some kind of saucy pulled pork barbecue. My dad thought it sounded disgusting. My mom, a great lover of both pizza and barbecue was anxious to try it. Tempers flared. Pizza was ordered. I told you so's were issued. I hid in my room with the dog and covered my ears. My parents eventually came in and comforted me; the argument had just been the result of hunger-induced tempers and misunderstandings.

Unlike in other pizza-ordering situations, where leftovers were always consumed the next day along with a pre-prandial drink and a viewing of MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHours, on this occasion the uneaten remains were tossed. All was forgiven. But not forgotten. For the rest of my childhood, it was the marker for every other disagreement. The barometer against which other fights were measured. From that day on, whenever my parents argued, if I felt the slightest amount of concern that it would escalate into something more sinister, I would look at them and say, "Is this barbecue pizza?" And they would reassure me that yes, this fight too had a bark far worse than its bite.

While Daniel and I have had many a food-related disagreement (when my blood sugar drops, my temper escalates), we share what may be an unlikely love of barbecue pizza. It's one that developed during Daniel's 28th birthday party, which was also the historic election night of Barack Obama. We ordered a cheese-free barbecue chicken pizza. When the guests had left and we felt free to eat a few extra slices, we discovered that this barbecue pizza, which also featured jalapenos and red onions, became even more delicious when dipped in Sabra hummus. Decadent? Yes. Carb heavy? Oh yeah. We've enjoyed the combo many times since, and it has become our go-to food to enjoy while watching event television - election night, Super Bowl, and of course, the Oscars.

So yesterday, in honor of the Academy Awards (my personal favorite TV event), I tried my hand at making my own BBQ pizza.

I used an overnight pizza dough recipe from Epicurious .

Marinated some chicken breast in a mix of spicy red barbecue sauce, a splash of Carolina mustard, a dash of ketchup, and a dollop of canned tomato sauce. Sauteed up three jalapenos. Sliced a red onion.

Topped the 9-inch pizzas and let them bake on my brand new pizza stone (courtesy of my buddy Ariel). The result? Delicious. And if need be, worth a fight.