Travels n Things: OC Bakery Crawl

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I’m not a morning person. But I found myself getting up super early, on a Saturday to boot to attend a bakery crawl with some foodies in Orange county.

The first stop was the Farmers Market in Irvine where we chatted with chef Rachel Klemek, owner of the Blackmarket Bakery. Fresh baked goods were numerous at this small stand.

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So many to choose from but I ended up with the Pain au Chocolat… or chocolate croissant if you will. Very tasty & I was glad I wore my sweats for this one!

Up next was 85 degrees, a Taiwanese bakery in Irvine. It had such long lines. So long that we were asked to wait outside. Also they had a strict no photography rule to the dismay of us foodies.

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Once the coast was clear, I snapped a pic of probably the most unusual bread I’ve seen to date, a calamari bread. Its dark color was undoubtedly from the squid ink. It was a bit intimidating to me but in the end I’m glad I picked it out. It just tasted like garlic bread with squid. Not bad at all! Also the prices were super cheap, it was ridiculous. It’s no wonder people had their trays filled sky high yet paid hardly anything for it.
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I also shared a creme brulee with my husband. The flavors were light and not overly sugary at all.

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Already feeling full, I opted for a lighter dessert, a fruit tart to be exact at Champagne Bakery in South Coast plaza. It was just what I needed. The bakery was nice and clean and reminded me of Porto’s without the chaos. The prices were also more standardized but it was still a shock coming from a place where we paid almost nothing!

The group continued to Thach Che Hien Khanh in Little Saigon. By this time I was super full but did get some Banh Mi and Vietnamese coffee that I’ll write about in my next installment of Tuesday’s Travels. I want to thank Sara of Our Private Kitchen for organizing this event. It’s always fun meeting new foodies & sharing the enthusiasm!

Cupcakes Couture is Cupcake War Champ

I’m not participating in Muffin Monday this week so I decided to post on its more flamboyant cousin, the cupcake. Let’s face it, we’re lured to these decorative beauties. We ogle at them in display cases. We don’t care if we have to run an extra mile after we’ve devoured a few. It’s worth it.
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The good news for us folks in the South Bay bubble is that we don’t have to go all the way to Sprinkles or Crumbs to get our cupcake fix. There’s quite a few contenders here in the South Bay. One of those is Cupcakes Couture in Manhattan Beach. I didn’t know it was a participant in Cupcake Wars on Food Network when I walked in. For me it was simply a cute little store that I’d walk or drive by when I was in the area. They have an open kitchen where you can see the bakers hard at work assembling these little beauties. For many, that and the display case are worth the trip alone. For me, I wanted to try one of these pretty treats that are available on a rotational basis so I suppose you could come in every day to try them all.

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So of course I had to get a Lady in Red which is the obligatory red velvet cupcake which was very moist. Its cream cheese frosting was sweet and creamy.

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If you’re like me and a whole cupcake can seem like too much to finish in one seating, they have mini versions that calm that sweet tooth of yours. I could really taste the banana in the Nutella Banana one. There were no holding back on the flavors. I would like to see the larger version.

This little shop definitely packs a punch although their cupcakes are a bit on the pricey side. They are standard sized cupcakes but are priced comparably to those found in Sprinkles. However it’s a nice treat every now and then if you don’t want to leave the bubble.

Cupcakes Couture of Manhattan Beach on Urbanspoon

Torrance Bakery

I love Old Torrance. I do need to go there more often. There’s just something about the narrow streets, the style of the buildings, the layout which just makes things seem so laid back despite being in a sprawling town. Just traveling less than 10 minutes takes me away from all that craziness for just a little bit.

I’m glad that they’re planning on revitalizing Old Torrance because it has a lot of potential. There are many closed shops down there but the one that you can count on having steady business all day long is the Torrance Bakery.

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It’s not glitzy, far from it. Maybe that’s why it has such appeal. It’s just a humble little bakery with an open kitchen where you can see the bakers at work. Next door, you can see a nice display of wedding cakes that look so good, it makes me want to buy one just for fun.

We went there after lunch but it was still pretty busy. However, the line moved quickly. The staff was friendly and patient despite the frenzy.
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Strawberry was the theme of the day. We each got a strawberry slice and a strawberry cupcake. The slice had toasted coconut which went surprisingly well with the buttercream frosting and the fresh strawberry. It was a bit rich so it took me two sittings to finish it. Not that I minded. The muffin also had buttercream frosting with some strawberry filling. I can’t put my finger on it but the filling wasn’t as sweet as I thought it would be. Overall it was a good cupcake but next time I’d just stick with the slice. With a decent variety, I’ll be back for more in a few weeks time.

Torrance Bakery & Party Center on Urbanspoon

 

We found this place tucked in the same strip mall that Christine’s is, close to the PV border. I was glad to find another bakery close by. Sadly, when we arrived, there wasn’t much of a selection of baked goods left. However we got over that quickly and looked at the menu.

The menu had a lot of comfort food, what you’d expect from a cozy mom & pop cafe. If only the staff was as welcoming as the menu. Maybe it was a long day, maybe their shifts were almost over but they didn’t seem happy to be there at all.

The chicken cobb sandwich was a creative idea. All the goodness of the salad between two pieces of bread. For the most part it worked with the exception of the chicken that was a bit on the dry side. The pickle and fries were decent though. I don’t care for coleslaw so it just remained on my plate as a garnish.

I sincerely hope this was a mere case of wrong meal, wrong time since they’ve gotten good reviews on their breakfasts and bakery. I’ll have to get up early one morning and check it out for myself.

Misto Caffe & Bakery on Urbanspoon
Misto Caffe and Bakery in Los Angeles on Fooddigger

Over the Moon

I first learned of moon cakes during the very first month of my food blog in September of last year. I was impressed by the detail of each cake. Each design so perfectly etched. I bookmarked a few recipes but never got around to baking it. I also admit I was intimidated about making such a dessert.

A year later the moon festival came upon us and again I saw my fellow bloggers’ recipes. Again I promised I’d make the cakes, or try them. I’m glad to say I succeeded at the latter.

I was shopping at a local Asian market when I happened upon hopia, a Filipino pastry that looks similar to a moon cake and in fact could be described as the Filipino version of the dessert. Right next to it was the one and only moon cake itself. I of course bought a few to sample. Sadly the only English on the packaging were the ingredients and the word Moon Cake so I brought them home and hoped for the best.

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The first cake I tried was a dense square cake with an intricate design. The cake itself was fairly dense. I knew right away I could not finish it in one seating. The cake was doughy but not too rich. The center of the cake contained yolk and lotus seeds. I couldn’t taste either but overall the cake was fairly good even though I could only eat one half at a time.

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The second cake I tried was small and round with a red design on the top that was unfortunately separated once I took the cake out of the wrapper. This cake was doughy and sweeter than the previous. The center was gelatinous and equally as dense. This cake reminded me slightly of the more familiar hopia I was accustomed to.

I was glad I was able to try the famed moon cake although next time I would venture out to Monterey Park to try the real and fresher deal.

I found these Moon Cakes at Seafood City in Carson. If you are a more daring soul, try to make these from scratch!

Sweet Endings at SusieCakes Bakery Manhattan Beach, CA

It’s Friday, we’ve made it through another week. Can you believe it’s already halfway through September? That means that the holidays are slowly creeping up on us..and with that of course comes all the sweets! Of course you can always start your empty calorie intake gradually. Try cupcakes for instance. I don’t know a single person that can turn down these simple but delicious & downright beautiful mini cakes! I may be using mini as an understatement as we all know that cupcakes are in fact getting much larger.

SusieCakes in Red Velvet, Chocolate Mint, and Chocolate in Manhattan Beach, CA

Luckily for us South Bay dwellers, there are, albeit a few bakeries worth sampling. One of these is SusieCakes in Manhattan Beach. A cozy cottage that perhaps is reminiscent of those found in fairy tales is where you can find some of the best cupcakes in the area that are on par with the big shots like Sprinkles & Crumbs. While those two companies still hand make their products, there’s something even more authentic about Susies. The moist texture of these oversized cupcakes along with their creamy frostings feel as if someone painstakingly spent hours working on each and every cupcake by hand ensuring they did not leave the kitchen until they were on par with the rest of the batch. The atmosphere is that of  a corner store that we’ve only read about in school books or seen on tv & the big screen. The service was quick as the peak hour lines moved quickly. Gone are the gimmicks and in the end, a cupcake worth the trip and the crazy parking that is characteristic of the South Bay and most importantly, a return trip in the future.

SusieCakes on Urbanspoon

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Giuliano’s Delicatessen and Bakery Torrance, CA

I’ve learned over the past year of living in Torrance that a good deli is hard to find. Sure there’s plenty of chain delis around, but I wanted something authentic. Something like the small delis in Hermosa Beach offered me. I thought I’d try my luck with Giuliano’s in Torrance.

I admit that once I walked in I was a bit confused by the layout. They had a few tables in the front, but all of the sandwiches and small market were in the back. The market was filled with many Italian pastries and goods. The deli’s pastry case had many cookies and baked goods that I grew familiar with over the years. As tempting as the pastry case was, I controlled myself and proceeded to look at the sandwich menu.

The woman working the register was very helpful and once I had selected my order, the Chicken Bella Nonna, she added “Wonderful choice, you’ll love it!” I hope she was right.

Giuliano's Delicatessen and Bakery sandwiches are of good portion and price

The presentation was nothing spectacular but a good portion for the price. The bread was fresh and chewy, however the chicken was a bit dry while the vegetables were cooked well. Needless to say, it was an imbalanced combination. The sandwich could have used a little more seasoning despite its numerous components such as olive oil, provolone, zucchini, chicken breast, fennel, sauteed mushrooms, and tomatoes. The potato salad was also nothing to write about. Just your standard tasting salad, similar to those that you could pick up at your grocery’s deli. As my friend and I chatted away unwinding on a Friday evening, we noticed that they started closing shop. Sure enough, we were informed that they closed at 7pm which to me was unheard of. I hope that my lackluster sandwich wasn’t due to the fact that the restaurant was closing in an hour’s time. Maybe I’m old fashioned but I believe any meal should be prepared right no matter what time it’s being served.

ETA: I did enjoy their Redondo Branch. Way better by leaps & bounds!

Giulianos on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Review: The Larchmont Larder Los Angeles, CA

I was meeting a friend for St Patrick’s day lunch. Where to go was always the question, especially with so many restaurants in every direction. Thankfully I stumbled across LA & OC Foodventures blog on Larchmont Larder. So I decided to give this place a try.

Larchmont Larder is in an old fashioned looking house with a front porch complete with ample seating. Enter the bright yellow door and you are faced with a quaint interior. A small dining area is complete with bright red chairs and blue cushioned benches with Union Jack pillows. The mushroom is a recurring theme at this restaurant. The most unique display of this can be seen in the chandelier.

Mushroom Chandelier at Larchmont Larder

A small pantry displays some of the offerings.  Salads and entrees line one cooler while another one encases baked goods. An assortment of beverages and deli items are found in a third cooler.The breakfast menu is served daily from 8am-11:30 and includes baked goods, fruit, oatmeal and breakfast sandwiches. The lunch menu changes weekly but always includes salads, entrees, vegetables, sandwiches,and soups.

Items are ordered at the register whereby afterwards, the diners pick their seats and the food is brought to them. The salad duo of Asian Noodle Salad with Cucumbers & Carrots as well as the Thai Chicken Salad with Cabbage, Wonton Crisps, Toasted Peanuts, & Ginger Lime Dressing arrived within a minute of ordering.

Salad Duo at Larchmont Larder

Our table had reached the conclusion that the Thai Salad was “Asian lite”. Yes, the wontons were crisp, the greens were fresh, and the dressing was tasty. However, no taste of cilantro could be found. This dish could have been so much better if the flavors were kicked up just a little bit.

The Asian Noodle Salad was on par. The dressing was creamy and slightly sweet. The noodles were not soggy at all and the salad was simply fun to eat.

St Patrick's Day chocolate mousse & mint

In honor of St Patrick’s day, the chocolate mousse and mint on a sugar cookie crust was ordered. The mousse had a light consistency and blended very well with the mint. The sugar cookie crust was wonderful in itself and could probably have been eaten alone. However it was more exciting to eat the flavors of sugar, chocolate and mint altogether. It was a great way to end the meal.

Larchmont Larder had a very nice, cozy atmosphere and friendly staff. The food was pretty good but not completely out of this world. The price was the biggest criticism. Averaging at $12-$20 an entree, the portion size sadly did not match the price. Of course this has a lot to do with the area that the establishment is located. It is a good place to go once in a while to kick back & relax but not a place to have your daily lunch.

A very small parking lot is available. Metered street parking is available next to the restaurant but free parking can be found on the residential streets. Watch the signs for parking rules.

The Larchmont Larder on Urbanspoon
Larchmont Larder in Los Angeles

Double Restaurant Review: Lala’s Argentine Grill and Susina’s Bakery

On Saturday, a friend & I braved the rain (read: drizzles) and had a girls night out to catch up over one of my favorite activities: eating! Our first stop was Lala’s Argentine Grill on Melrose. The rain wasn’t really an issue to me, but it was still cold either way you look at it. That’s why I was shocked when the hostess asked us if we’d like to sit outside. That was a unanimous no! Sure the patio was screened in & heated but a cool breeze could still be felt in the restaurant. So much so we requested to sit as far away from the patio doors as possible so as not to catch a cold. We were there to eat and it would be highly more enjoyable if we still had feeling in our limbs!

Our server was very pleasant as she was taking our drink and food order. She even asked us if we’d like the chicken skinless which was a good move considering how health conscious everyone is getting these days.

While we waited for our food, the obligatory bread basket was dropped off at our table. They clearly didn’t skimp on bread, as we both had 4 pieces each. The bread was accompanied with a dipping sauce of olive oil, garlic, and cilantro which I thoroughly enjoyed.

After waiting for close to 20 minutes, one of the bussers dropped off my Pechuga de Pollo which is a chicken breast marinated in an orange and lemon sauce. Alongside that was a very large salad with a citrus dressing. It was a rather large portion of a salad. I’m not used to seeing a restaurant serve a portion so big.

Pechuga de Pollo at LaLa's Argentine Grill

This chicken dish looked highly appetizing and of course very healthy at first glance. Sadly, the taste was nothing like it looked. The chicken breast was very dry and bland. Not a trace of orange or citrus could be sensed at all which was a huge disappointment. Thankfully we still had left over dipping sauce from the bread. Slathering the chicken with the dipping sauce completely saved the dish. The salad on the other hand was very tasty, there were no complaints on that end. This dish was literally hit or miss to say the least. The server barley checked on us during the meal. She did offer us dessert but the menu didn’t seem too appetizing to me.

Average menu price: $10

My rating ** out of 5 stars

Lala's Grill on Urbanspoon

After a less than scintillating dinner, we decided to head somewhere else to dessert. We ended up at Susina’s.

Susina’s reminded me of Porto’s but on a much smaller scale. I liked the warm colors of the dining area and the bright lamp fixtures. Even during the evening hours, the pastry case was chock full with numerous cakes, tarts, pies, and cookies. The selection was very appealing so it was hard to make a decision! I ultimately decided on the Americano cake and a vanilla latte.
The Americano Cake at Susina Bakery in Los Angeles

The Americano cake was made of espresso liqueur, chocolate mousse, and chocolate sponge cake. The chocolate taste was rich but the airy sponge cake balanced that very well.

Vanilla Latte at Susina Bakery

The vanilla latte was a little bit strong for me. It was only a single shot but I felt like it was a double. It could have used a little bit more sugar but it was also refreshing to get a non Starbucks coffee. The latte and the chocolate cake paired very well. After a less than stellar dinner, it was nice to end the evening on such a good note. The bakery stayed pretty busy as the night went on, a good sign.

Average menu price $8.00

My rating **** out of 5 stars

Susina Bakery on Urbanspoon

Recipe: Cinnamon Rolls

This week’s recipe is cinnamon rolls. We’ve all had one at least once, and c’mon, you know you would never turn one down. So now here’s a recipe so you can make this classic dessert at home!

Cinnamon Rolls

2 pkg non rapid yeast
2 cups scalded milk
1/2 cup sugar
2 beaten eggs
2 Tbsp salt
7 – 71/2 cups flour
1/2 cup melted margarine

Cooking time: 20- 25 mins
Preheat oven to 375

Mix yeast in 1/4 cup warm water. Add milk when cool. Stir in sugar, salt, and beaten eggs. Let stand 5 minutes, then add 1/2 of the flour and mix well. Stir in melted margarine and beat well.

Add remaining flour and knead until smooth and elastic. Turn onto lightly floured surface & let stand 10 minutes. Knead and place in greased bowl. Let rise until double. Press down and make rolls.

Roll, spread with margarine, brown sugar, and cinnamon, Cut out after rolling dough.

Spread butter heavily on baking pans. Sprinkle with brown sugar & drizzle with a little Karo white syrup.

Bake in a 375 degree oven for 20-25 mins

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Cinnamon Rolls
A tasty dessert, or breakfast. Definitely a crowd pleaser
Ingredients
  • 2 pkg non rapid yeast
  • 2 cups scalded milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 whole eggs, beaten
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 7-71/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup margarine, melted
Instructions
Preheat oven to 375Mix yeast in 1/4 cup warm water. Add milk when cool. Stir in sugar, salt, and beaten eggs. Let stand 5 minutes, then add 1/2 of the flour and mix well. Stir in melted margarine and beat well.Add remaining flour and knead until smooth and elastic. Turn onto lightly floured surface & let stand 10 minutes. Knead and place in greased bowl. Let rise until double. Press down and make rolls.Roll, spread with margarine, brown sugar, and cinnamon, Cut out after rolling dough.Spread butter heavily on baking pans. Sprinkle with brown sugar & drizzle with a little Karo white syrup.
Bake in a 375 degree oven for 20-25 mins
Details

Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 48 rolls

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