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Dogs and Cats Join Forces with Burgers and Beers at Plan Check

This post originally appeared at FlyandDine.com

If you’ve ever wondered what a meal heavily seasoned with cuteness tastes like,  LA gastropub  favorite Plan Check has the answer waiting for you this month. From June 10-July 10th, they are offering their latest menu collaboration with Hello Kitty creators Sanrio. For $39, diners will get a 5-item meal featuring the dog and cat duo of Pompompurin and Chococat.

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Holding up the savory core of the meal is the Pompompurin Grilled Sausage Sausage sandwich, made with house blended sausage, and topped with kimchi slaw and kewpie cilantro mayonnaise (kewpie mayo is a popular Japanese condiment made with rice vinegar instead of distilled vinegar). The whole thing is served on Plan Check’s signature crunch bun emblazoned with the image of the stylist beret-wearing puppy character.

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On the side, dig into Togarashi potato chips –  essentially Yukon gold potato chips seasoned with a Japanese spice mixture. Accompanying them is a very Plan Check version of mac and cheese, made with Americanized Dashi cheese, bread crumbs, and parmigiano reggiano to form a creamy, delicious umami bomb. Definitely plan to be begging your server for seconds on this one.

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Heading into dessert, you’ve got a very Instagram-worthy Chococat cookie served with vanilla ice cream, and a Vanilla cream soda with whipped cream adorned with the chocolate powder likeness of Pompompurin.

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Diners will leave with a full belly, melted heart, and boosted karma, because a portion of the meal proceeds will be donated to L.A. Love and Leashes,  an animal adoption space created by non-profit Friends of LA animal shelters.

What’s a Vegan Donut??

*This story originally appeared at FlyandDine.com*.

Cupcake craze out, non-traditional donut craze in. At least, that is what you can assume from the influx of specialty donuts taking over Southern California: Brioche donuts from Portland’s Blue Star; artisanal, seasonal donuts from OC’s Sidecar; baked donuts at Mid-City’s Fonuts; and now, organic vegan donuts from Bay Area’s Donut Farm.

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You’ve probably never given much thought to whether donuts are vegan or not. As it turns out, most donuts have some kind of dairy hidden inside – be it milk powder, butter, or eggs. But is milk powder some kind of magic ingredient that makes a donut the sweet, hollow-centered fried joy that it is, you ask? Nope! Texture-wise, Donut Farms’ donuts don’t seem to be vastly different from their dairy-laden counterparts, save for being a little less greasy.

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Donut Farm Founder and NorCal native Josh Levine first stumbled across vegan donuts back in Seattle in 2005, thought to himself “that sounds fun”, and proceeded to formulate his own version mad-scientist style in his home kitchen. Eleven years and three Bay-area locations later, Donut Farm has landed in Echo Park, in an easy-to-miss strip mall on Sunset. The space is small, with two trays of donuts on view displaying both traditional and more fun flavors to choose from (we’re talking Mexican chocolate, whiskey tangerine fig, and matcha green tea for starters). After an initial tasting, a personal favorite was the basic, raised glazed donut. It was fluffy, fried dough perfection and created by a sexy sourdough starter named Francois that was grown on-site (yes, really).

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In a break from the status quo, Donut Farm is a 100% organic and vegan fried-dough establishment, making it the only one of its kind in LaLa Land. A wall mural from urban folk artist Bunnie Reiss and sweatshirts emblazoned with an inverted pentagram donut logo make it clear that these are donuts with a punk rock soul.

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Perhaps even more impressive than being vegan is the fact that Donut Farm is 100% organic, yet has a price point that comes in on par/under what other non-organic “artisanal” donut shops are charging. While Josh describes his donuts as “Level 5” vegan (no honey, sustainable palm oil, etc.), he is clearly not trying to push a vegan agenda on his patrons. In fact, there is no vegan/organic signage in or out of shop. “Vegan donuts are not for vegans…..they are for everyone”, he explains, sharing that his goal at Donut Farm was to create a “pure food expression of the donut for everybody”.

The 2nd Annual ChewNtell Edible Gift Guide

I just took a glance back at my very first post (Gift Guide Numero Uno), almost a year ago to the day. It unsurprisingly confirmed one thing for me -my enthusiasm for all things tasty hasn’t wavered much in the last year . I still want to force feed my favorite foods to friends, and a gift guide is still a much kinder and palatable way of doing so (pun intended, of course). The fact is, I spent a good bulk of this last year trying to have as many new food experiences as possible, discovering along the way all the great edible items out there that people are putting hard work into making.  It makes me so happy to share the “fruits” of my labor with you, and for you to share them  with other people (or hoard them for yourself – I won’t judge). The holidays are a perfect time for this to happen. So,  if you have someone (or two) on your list that loves delicious food, be happy….your holiday shopping just got a heck of a lot easier.  I’ve compiled a list (and snapped beauty shots) of my tastiest discoveries of 2014….click on the names for links. Happy shopping!

Baia Pasta

photo 6 Okay, so….I freakin’ LOVE Baia pasta.  These guys are fighting the good fight in reminding the world that gluten consumption is a damn good thing.  Based out of the Bay area, they have crafted some of the tastiest noodles I have had the pleasure of eating. What really sets them apart is their  beautiful varieties of cuts – accordions, spinners, and mohawks, oh my! They are 100% organic, and they offer flavored pastas that will really take your homemade pasta dish up a notch or two. I tried their new Ajo & Olio(aka garlic & habanero) flavored pasta  for the first time a few months ago, and it was a spicy, garlicky party in my mouth. That pretty much cemented them in the #1 spot as my top pasta provider.  It’s worth mentioning that the folks at Baia are super nice….so nice, in fact, that they want to give you guys 15% off your online purchase! Enter CHEWNTELL at checkout, and try not to feel smug you got the best pasta money can buy at a discount.

 Compartés Chocolate

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If there was such a thing as a Chocolate Bar Beauty Contest,  Compartes would shut the whole thing down and send the other bars home crying.  With some of the prettiest wrappers you’ll ever lay eyes on and an array of uniquely exotic flavors , these bars have both style and substance.  Handcrafted in small batches here in the City of Angels, each of these bars feels like you are unwrapping a present sent down from the gods of chocolate. So, your shopping for that choco-lover in your life is pretty much done-zo, and you don’t even have to bother putting a bow on it.  With flavors like Donuts and Coffee milk chocolate, Cereal Bowl white chocolate, and Thailand (Ginger & Lemongrass) Dark Chocolate, your biggest problem will be keeping these bars under the tree and out of your mouth.

Laguna Salt Company Smoked Salt

photo 3The fact that I only discovered the magic of smoked salt this year is something I’m almost ashamed to admit publicly. It is, without question, a serious pantry game-changer.  Salt is already the #1 most important ingredient in your kitchen, but smoked salt is an awesome and dynamic way to change up your cooking.  Avocado toast was  the “it” girl of the food world this year, but have you tried it with a sprinkle of smoked salt? Better. Scrambled eggs? Better with smoked salt. Roasted veggies? Better with smoked salt. Hell, I even put it on chocolate chip cookies. There are a ton of different smoked salts out there, varying by which types of wood they are smoked with. After trying extensive “research”  my favorite is Summer Smoke salt from Laguna Salt company. It is smoked with pecan, red oak, alder, cherry, hickory, maple, and mesquite woods.  Apparently that’s a truly winning combo – so you can put that in  your dish and smoke it!

Flying Disc Ranch Dates

photo 5Here’s one I highly doubt you will find on any other gift guide out there….dates.  Not just any dates, though – the BEST dates you will EVER have in your life. Yeah, I know that’s a bold statement, but I have witnessed these particular dates convert date-haters into date-lovers.  For those who don’t know, I spend a lot of time scouring farmer’s markets in the LA area, sampling every possible bit of produce I can.  One Wednesday I came across an unassuming stand in Santa Monica, and what happened took me by surprise .  What looked like an average, everyday date crossed my lips and changed my life.  It was lovingly grown by the folks at Flying Disc Ranch in the Coachella Valley, who use eco-dynamic farming practices. Don’t know what that means? That will have to be a whole ‘nother post (and it’s worth knowing!).  They carry several amazing varieties, but the ones I have in mind are the Zahidi and Barhi dates.  They are pillowy, buttery bites of sun-fed happiness. If you don’t want to just take my word for it, Martha Stewart and Alain Ducasse (a fancy French chef) are both fans. The little sweet buttery babes are  just $5 & $8 a pound. The important thing to believe is that I want to be your foodie matchmaker, and this is one blind date you can count on ending well.

Plenty More

photo 2I have a LOT of cookbooks, and I love each one of them so much it practically warrants a DSM-IV diagnosis (that’s some mental health humor for those of you unfamiliar ). This cookbook came out two months ago, and I have barely been able to stay out of the kitchen since. I dare say no other cookbook has ever been as inspiring to me….the photos are absolutely beautiful, and recipes are filled with gorgeous flavors and ingredients. The fact that it is vegetarian is a minor detail overshadowed by the beauty of the dishes (and let’s face it, we ALL need to be eating more vegetables).  This is truly a wonderful gift for that person in your life who loves to cook (and hopefully they have an Amazon prime account or a Whole Foods nearby….there are some amazing exotic ingredients involved). So order away, and plan on “randomly” dropping by around dinner time, all the time.

Happy and delicious holidays to you all!

The Dark Side of Popsicles

My name is April and I’m a popsicle hoarder.

That is the sobering realization I had this morning when I opened my freezer and counted 58 different homemade popsicles in 14 different flavors. It all started innocently enough about a month ago with 2 pints of Pudwill Farms blackberries, some organic sugar, and a little bit of fresh tarragon. I realized that I could make pure magic on a stick.  Even better, I could SAVE that magic in my freezer and have it ANY TIME I wanted.

That is when the mentality of “If one is good, 1000 must be SO much better” kicked in. I started making about two types of popsicles a day from all of my farmer’s market loot. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a bit fanatical about farmer’s markets in the summer. It takes every thing in me to hold back from actually skipping around the booths of nectarines, peaches and strawberries. I realized I could now preserve those beautiful flavors in something other than jam. Before I knew it, my  produce-nerd soul was knee-deep in a serious popsicle-making addiction.

My popsicle babies, from bottom center, clockwise: Blackberry Lemon Verbena, Ruby Red Grapefruit + Yogurt, Coconut Key Lime, Watermelon Parsley, Cucumber Lime, Sour Cherry, Roasted Peach, Avocado Lime, Key Lime Pie, Rapberries and Cream, and Roasted Plum, Tarragon, & Yogurt

A few of my popsicle babies, from bottom center, clockwise: Blackberry Lemon Verbena, Ruby Red Grapefruit + Yogurt, Coconut Key Lime, Watermelon Parsley, Cucumber Lime, Sour Cherry, Roasted Peach, Avocado Lime, Key Lime Pie, Raspberries and Cream, and Roasted Plum, Tarragon, & Yogurt

As addictions often do, mine progressed to the next level: dealer. I had major popsicle overstock, and soon was meeting friends on my corner for popsicle pick-up drive-bys (seriously).  The BEST part about making your own popsicles: it’s EASY, and when you make them at home you have complete creative control. The general formula is: pick your favorite fruit, blend it up, add some simple syrup, and pop it in the freezer. Once you have that basic skill down, you can get crazy and take your pops to the next level (i.e.  swirl in cream or yogurt, or infuse herbs like tarragon and mint into your simple syrup).  The only real “skill” involved is making simple syrup. Here is a basic formula:

3/4 cup organic sugar + 3/4 cup water+ simmering for a few minutes= 1 cup simple syrup

An important thing to note is that you need to make your popsicle mix a little bit too sweet. Apparently some scientific reaction occurs when freezing that reduces the sugar’s potency, so you need to overshoot the sweetness mark before you freeze.

Giving credit where it is due, I drew lots of inspiration from these two fine popsicle cookbooks, which you can buy at Amazon here and  here:

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If, like me, you favor instant gratification – get a Zoku instant popsicle maker (while you are at Amazon, you might as well get one ). You can try your frozen brainchild creation in under  10 minutes, which takes popsicle making to a whole new level of fun. This, no doubt, was a major contributing factor in the development of my popsicle-making problem.

Of the 25 plus varieties of pops I have made, one particular popsicle takes the Prom Queen prize…..she’s by far the prettiest and most popular.  Feast your eyes on this beauty:

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This is my Double Fig Vanilla Yogurt popsicle creation, which you, too, can easily make at home. Recipe after the  jump…… Continue reading

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Grand Central Marvelous: why DTLA is your next stop when hunger hits

At first mention,  DTLA’s  Grand Central Market’s name might be enough to pique your interest : it’s grand (a whopping 30,000 sq. feet), and central (-ish: because nothing  can really be central in a megalopolis like the City of Angels). Most Angelenos I talk to have no idea that it even exists. That’s easy to believe, because despite its impressive square footage, GCM is  easy to miss. Chances are, you’ve driven down Broadway a thousand times and never noticed it (ten times, if you live on the Westside). In addition to those suggested by its moniker, there are many more, less apparent qualities that should make this urban gem your next dining destination. If you are anything like me, you will find yourself going back to this open-air food bazaar again and again….and again. Wondering if you and I are kindred dining spirits? The answer lies below.

1. I like eating at the bar.

GCM has bar-eating options aplenty.  I prefer to cut out the middle man, sit where the action is, and chow down.

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2. I prefer to be overwhelmed with dining options.

Thai food? Mexican food? Chinese food? Grass-fed burger? Egg dishes of loose morals? Bratwurst? Coffee? Pastries? Cold-pressed juice? Pizza? GCM has me covered. It also helps with the classic “I thought I wanted a juice but I realized I wanted a burger” scenario (This happens to me. A lot).

Sticky Rice's Papaya Salad

Sticky Rice’s Papaya Salad: they do it right

Egg Slut's the Slut

Egg Slut’s the Slut: you know you want it…and it definitely wants you.

Blood Orange and Vanilla Cream tart from Valerie

Blood Orange and Vanilla Cream tart from Valerie: pretty pastry perfection

The organic, grass-fed Belcampo burger with beef-tallow fries: Mr. Ketchup's face says it all

The organic, grass-fed Belcampo burger with beef-tallow fries: Mr. Ketchup’s face says it all

3. I like peppers.

See below.

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Valeria’s: one-stop pepper shop

4. I eat meat, and I like to feel good about eating it.

I tried vegetarianism – it didn’t work out.  I decided that the next best thing is to eat meat that has been humanely and sustainably raised. That usually means I need to put my money where my mouth is and pay a little more. In the case of the ultra-awesome Belcampo Meat Co., I don’t mind one bit. They have some of the most beautiful, tasty meat I have ever had the pleasure of devouring. These guys are everything I could possibly hope for in a butcher shop – they raise their animals on their own farm and butcher their meat by hand, in their own processing facility. Please take a moment to look at their website to learn more about them. I also have gladly pronounced their burger  my new Favorite Burger in LA (eaten at the bar, ‘natch). Do yourself a favor and get an order of their spicy fried broccolini to balance out the meat intake while you are there – it’s the best thing a piece of broccolini could ever aspire to be.

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Belcampo Butchers giving good service

5. Sometimes, I miss New York.

I’m a LA girl through and through, but every so often I feel a pang of longing for my favorite city on the opposite coast (worth noting: this never happens anytime during December-March). No, there is no substitute for the feeling of walking the streets of NYC. But, GCM has a fantastic city vibe  that is very contrary to the non-urban experience that many areas of LA can be. It’s a little gritty, it’s not solely filled with white people, and it’s old (built in 1917 – ancient by LA standards).  Situated in the ground floor of the Homer Laughlin Building, its walls are filled with LA history, such as  housing Frank Lloyd Wright’s office space in the 20’s. There is a ton to see/eat/do within walking distance (yes- walking!!). You can even grab a bagel, lox, and cream cheese at Wexler’s  Deli and pretend you are at Katz’s (it’s a stretch, but work with me).  Like The Big Apple, GCM is ever-evolving. New vendors are announced regularly, and word on the street is that we might even have some NYC chef transplants in our midst here soon.

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So, if you have found that you like to eat all kinds of delicious food while basking in urban vibes like me, head down to GCM ASAP. There is even free garage parking, which is so rare in downtown that you might as well go just for that experience. (The downside – its only an hour, and validation can be trickier than assembling a desk from Ikea.) One of my main gripes about GCM is their hours – 8am- 6pm, which makes it REALLY hard for the under-65 crowd to have dinner. Well, as of July 3rd, the market will now be open until 9pm on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Rejoice, my darling Angelenos, your warm summer nights just got a WHOLE lot tastier.

Grand Central Market : 317 S. Broadway. LA, CA 90013