One Week till Cookie Con!

Desserts and Sweets, Food Adventures, Los Angeles

That’s right, folks. Los Angeles has a Cookie Convention and it’s coming to the Pasadena Convention Center next Sunday! We were floored by this news and quickly went to their website (lacookiecon.com) to get our tickets to this sure-to-be-awesome event. (I believe our exact reaction was “Cookie Con?! How did we not know about this?!”)

Reality TV buffs will appreciate the celebrity lineup of guests from Food Network’s “Sweet Genius” and Next Food Network Star, Fox’s MasterChef, and more. There will be fondant rolling classes, candy apple making for the kids, and demonstrations for new tools and equipment. But most importantly, the website highlights “hundreds of delicious free samples from national and local vendors, offering an extravaganza of cookies, candy, chocolate, coffee, ice cream, beverages, and unique baked savories too.” SIGN US UP!

Salted Chocolate Chunk Cookies by our friend CCU at Go Bake Yourself!

Salted Chocolate Chunk Cookies by our friend CCU at Go Bake Yourself!

After our chocolate filled adventure at Indulge LA, we know we have to develop a game plan to synchronize our (precious and limited) stomach space and our (ravenous and unrelenting) sweet tooth. Luckily, we will be attending with a pair of friends with whom to share the bounty. I know Martin is going to keep an eye out for the best chocolate chip (his favorite) while I am always game to try unique variations on the traditional cookie (like our limoncello and semolina version).

VIP tickets are already sold out, so grab your GA passes soon if you want to attend the first annual LA Cookie Con! (Psst — sign up for their e-newsletter for a 10% off coupon code!)

As if you needed more convincing, a portion of the proceeds from the event will benefit Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. You definitely won’t want to miss out on this chance to stuff your faces while helping to support a great nonprofit. (But in case you can’t make it, stay tuned for our post-event recap with plenty of mouth-watering cookie photos!)

cat eated cookie

Disclosure: We were not compensated for this post; however, we did receive discounted press tickets to the event for the purposes of our review. All opinions are our own and were not influenced in any way.

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Thai Green Curry Coconut Mussels [Cooking Demo]

Blogging Community, Food Adventures, Los Angeles, Main Dishes, Recipes

So yesterday I was invited to do a cooking demonstration on the main stage at the 626 Night Market and I am excited to announce that it was a great success! I was nervous as this was my first demo experience (I soon learned that it was a first for 626 Night Market as well!), and I would be following a cooking-on-camera veteran Marina Chung of The Taste. I knew I would only have a 30-minute time slot, but I was feeling ambitious and really wanted to show off a dish that could be done from start to finish. I racked my brain for ideas when it hit me — steamed mussels.

Thai Green Curry Coconut Steamed Mussels

Thai Green Curry Coconut Steamed Mussels

We have done moules marinieres at home many times, even making a 5-pound batch for a party with our dear friends Brian and Patricia, both of whom play major roles on the 626 Night Market planning team and were influential in getting me this gig. This time, though, I wanted to do a special twist with a Thai green curry based broth; the first time I ate a similar dish, it was a red curry broth at Waterloo & City and the flavor combination really stuck with me. It also perfectly fit our blog’s mission of finding easy ways to replicate gourmet food at home. I knew I would be able to execute the dish in the amount of time given and most importantly, I was confident that it looked and tasted good enough that my audience would (hopefully) be inspired to make it at home too!

They even made this cool graphic for marketing my demo segment!

They even made this cool graphic for marketing my demo segment!

I am so happy to share the recipe with our readers. Unfortunately I do not have step-by-step photos, but somewhere out there exists film footage of my demo. When I have access to it, I’ll update this post with a link so you can watch the clip at home and follow along. Scroll down to read the recipe or click here to download the PDF file that was handed out at the event. I also thought I’d share what I learned about doing cooking demonstrations – they are super fun but I feel they also require a good amount of planning and organization in order to be done well.

The Set-up (I practiced once at home first)

The Set-up (I practiced once at home first)

ingredients:

2 pounds live mussels, cleaned and carefully stored

2 stalks fresh lemongrass

1-inch piece of galangal, sliced (optional)

2-3 kaffir lime leaves

1.5 tablespoons thai green curry paste

14 fluid ounces coconut milk OR 7 fluid ounces coconut cream plus 1/2 cup of water or chicken broth

1 tablespoon fish sauce

3 tablespoons thai basil, cut into ribbons (chiffonade)

1 fresno chili, sliced OR 1 thai chili, crushed (optional)

loaf of crusty bread for serving (french baguette works well)

 

directions:

clean the mussels, scrubbing off debris and removing the beards. discard any that are chipped, cracked, or remain open despite gentle tapping (it’s called a percussion test!).

dice only the lower, golden-colored portion of the lemongrass stalk. discard the green stems or save for later use (they’re great for soups!).

in a hot skillet, briefly sauté the lemongrass, galangal, and curry paste until aromatic. add the coconut milk (or coconut cream + water) and kaffir lime leaves and bring to a simmer.

turn the heat to high and add the mussels, double-checking to discard any that may be unsafe to consume. cover with a tight-fitting lid and let the mussels steam. within five to seven minutes, all of the mussels should have opened.

with a slotted spoon, transfer the mussels to a serving bowl.

add two tablespoons of thai basil to the broth along with the chili, if using. taste and adjust for saltiness by adding fish sauce (you may not need the full tablespoon, depending on the brininess of the mussels). if the broth is too watery, reduce the liquid by simmering for a few more minutes.

ladle over the mussels and sprinkle with the remaining thai basil for garnish. serve with a loaf of crusty bread for soaking up the broth.

bon appetit!

Voila!

Voila!

I learned so much about doing a cooking demo, both in researching before the event and from the feedback I received after the event. Here are a few tips that I hope will come in handy if you ever have the opportunity to show off your cooking prowess and love for food:

1. Research your ingredients: I looked up every single item on my ingredients list to see if there were any fun facts I could provide the audience. I wanted to make sure I knew what I was talking about and to anticipate potential questions, so I researched topics like possible recipe substitutions (galangal vs. ginger, coconut milk vs. coconut cream), health benefits of any ingredients, proper handling and techniques, the best ways to describe certain methods (like de-bearding mussels). I was told later that the audience found it helpful that I took the time to describe each item and make “exotic” ingredients seem less daunting.

2. Plan your time: I did a run-through of preparing the recipe from start to finish in my own home first, especially since I would be using a portable burner and wanted to ensure the equipment would cooperate. This also gave me the opportunity to adjust my game plan so that I would fill in any “blank” time between waiting for things to heat or cook. For example, the instructions above mention cleaning the mussels first before starting the broth, but since I knew I would have to wait for the cream to come to a simmer, I started that first and used the wait time to talk about the mussels. I also had to make sure I added in some time for mishaps or answering questions and, in my case, subtract some time in case I speak too quickly (as often happens when I give presentations… it’s the nerves!).

3. Speak with personality: Speaking of speaking, before my demo I spent a lot of time on YouTube watching videos of live cooking demos. I ran the gamut from my favorite cooking personalities (Martin Yan still has GREAT showmanship long after his Yan Can Cook days!) to small-town county fairs, and I tried to glean some do’s and don’ts based on my preferences. The main thing I noticed is that cooking and talking simultaneously is not as easy as it looks! Also, I enjoyed most when the presenter sounded like they were talking to a crowd of peers. Luckily for me, I didn’t have to imagine the friends (but more on that below).

4. Make checklists: I was working with the bare minimum for my demo — tables, a 6-outlet surge protector with extension cord, and a headset/microphone. That’s it. I had to check and double-check my lists as I was packing my non-perishables: cutting board, towels, water, portable burner, skillet & lid, knives, spoons, prep bowls, decorative props… then I had to make sure my list for last-minute ingredients was up to snuff as well! I’m the type to get that odd feeling that I forgot to pack something so lists galore work best for me.

5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help: When the guys in the kitchen spot me (or anyone really) carrying something too heavy or bulky to be comfortable, they always say “Don’t be a hero!” I had to ask for some help getting my supplies to and from the stage, and that is A-OK. Also, I did not end up doing this because of the nature of the venue and stage setup, but you can invite audience members to come up and assist with the prep! It helps get them more engaged in the process, especially if you are able to provide samples at the end.

Family Photo

Family Photo

And last but certainly not least, I wanted to say thank you to 626 Night Market and to all of my friends and family who came out to support me in doing my first cooking demo! I wish I had been able to take a photo from where I was standing up on stage, but when I looked down to the audience, I saw so many familiar faces sitting in the crowd and it made my heart melt. I already knew some people would be there; my best friend Calvin and his girlfriend Pollyanna were visiting from out of town and we had caravaned to the event together, our friends Lilia and Wilson had just met up with us at Popping Fish Balls, and Brian even sneaked away from his event duties to watch. Of course, my dear Martin was grinning from ear to ear to finally see the results after enduring my recipe tweaking, the hot hot heat, the traffic, and my constant asking of “what if this happens?” “what if I forget something?” “what if I curse in front of all those people?”. I am so thankful for his endless support, acting as my guinea pig, offering suggestions, carrying my equipment, patiently waiting as I got checked in and set up with the sound people, and just quelling my anxiety in general. AND as you can see in the photo above, my parents came out to the event as well! I was so excited since many of the ingredients were grown in their own backyard, and it meant so much for them to see me in my natural element. And then I saw even more friends had come out to surprise me — Grace and Andrew, Curtis, Edmund, Vicky and Will… before I knew it, I had my very own entourage there to cheer me on, laugh at my lame jokes, ask questions during Q&A when there was awkward silence (“Why IS a dead mussel a bad mussel?”), and sample my dish at the end. I felt so loved.

Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.

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our-growing-edge-badgeThis post is part of the monthly link up party Our Growing Edge. This event aims to connect food bloggers and inspire us to try new things, and you can bet that a first-time cooking demo is the perfect entry! Though I am not new to cooking mussels, it was my first time cooking in front of a large audience. Large being defined as more people than would fit in my living room while I cook in the comfort of my own kitchen. ;)

This month is hosted by Lindsey at Sneaks and Sweets.

Cheers!

LA County Fair 2013 – Pomona, CA

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

As we bid adieu to summer, we also said our goodbyes to this year’s Los Angeles County Fair at the Pomona Fairplex. Situated in the far east corner of LA County, quite a ways from our humble Westside home, the LA County Fair is definitely one of those things every Angeleno should check out at least once. Wander the huge fairgrounds in the sweltering heat, devour deep-fried foods with reckless abandon, win assorted plushie prizes of Despicable Me Minions or Sanrio’s Hello Kitty and Friends, and hop aboard a few (probably unsafe) carnival rides decked out in neon-colored panels. Los Angeles, especially the city as we know it, doesn’t seem like the County Fair having type of place. But we do have one, and it’s pretty fun indeed!

The Grand Wheel

The Grand Wheel

Martin scored a pair of free tickets, so after our hour-long drive on the 10 fwy and forking over $15 for parking, we moved quickly through the security lines and, finally, stood on the fun side of the gates, marveling at the many attractions. First on our minds, as usual, is food. Right on cue, then we saw this…

Chuckwagon

Chuckwagon Wild Hog BBQ

We love BBQ and all but what really stood out to us was the Waffle Fries! I looooove waffle fries. We shared an order which was a tad pricey at $4, but that’s fair food pricing for ya.

The last waffle fry

The last waffle fry

We were too excited about the waffle fries and ended up polishing off all but one before I realized we needed a quick snapshot. Believe me, you get more than that for $4. It was actually a pleasantly hefty pile.

Turkey Legs

Turkey Legs

We didn’t eat any turkey legs but I just had to showcase a photo to show how monstrous they are. I don’t know what kind of turkey these legs belonged to, but I don’t think I want to rub one the wrong way. Sadly, every stall seemed to have plenty of turkey legs just lying on the grill, drying out in the heat. Texas Turkey Legs, the signs all proudly shout. Because everything’s bigger in Texas, right?

Street Kitchen

Street Kitchen

We strolled past an endless stream of stands selling tacos, corn dogs, cotton candy, candied apples, etc. before we spotted this sign from Street Kitchen. Lobster sliders?? Let’s go!

Lobster Slider

Lobster Slider

Okay… $6 a slider is pretty steep, even by street food / fair standards. I really wanted to like this slider, especially after our wait (the guys manning the kitchen seemed to still be finding their groove). The lobster was plentiful, juicy, and just a bit warmed. There was a slice of smoked bacon in there that gave the slider a hearty, stick-to-your-ribs sort of flavor which was awesome. The brioche bun, however, was quite dry (a magnificent feat considering how much butter goes into a typical brioche) and the spicy mayo, though delicious, was slathered excessively over the slaw, drenching the lobster and dripping everywhere like those Carl’s Jr. commercials in the 90’s. Judging from the mess, this really did belong in our faces. Overall it was OK but had so much potential!

Ridiculous Fried Food

Ridiculous Fried Food

We continued on our journey and came upon a very tall, very impressive signboard for Chicken Charlie’s (one of many stalls, we later discovered). They proudly vend deep fried anything — pickles, cookie dough, bacon-wrapped pickles, Oreos, Twinkies, avocados, even frog legs. They are also home to the Krispy Kreme Burger and the Krispy Kreme Sloppy Joe, with the namesake doughnuts as buns. Don’t get too excited, we did NOT order any…

The Parade

The Parade

We did, however, reach the main road just in time to catch the parade! We waved to Smokey the Bear and his friend Woodsy the Owl before seeking out more food.

Spud Ranch

Spud Ranch

Ever since we spotted them at 626 Night Market, I told Martin I wanted to get a spiral potato on a stick. Just for the heck of it. And then we saw Spud Ranch and their “Twisters”. So there.

Twister with Seasoned Salt

Twister with Seasoned Salt

At $6, this towering Twister is a pretty decent deal. After all, you get a whole potato’s worth of indulgence, and I really enjoyed these because the slices were thin. The edges crisped up like a potato chip while the centers stayed just chewy enough to hold its shape. Awesome. They offer an assortment of salts and toppings, but we went relatively simple with a sprinkling of seasoned salt. The perfect snack to share.

Steampunk Cake

Steampunk Cake

In search of reprieve from the blistering heat, we went into the (air conditioned) exhibition hall that housed Culinary Styles, with wall to wall glass cases displaying contest winners and their prize ribbons. Some were truly impressive, and this steampunk cake decorated in hand-cut fondant gears was one of my favorites.

Table Setting Competition

Table Setting Competition

Baked goods aside, we also admired the many themed table setting displays in the center of the room. This one received a perfect score with its tennis theme and clever decorations. I want to know where I can find those Wilson tennis ball glasses and tennis racket swizzle sticks!

TARDIS Cake

TARDIS Cake

And just to serve as a reminder that Whovians are everywhere, we spotted this TARDIS cake on our way out. Some of the fondant work looked a bit wonky, but I really appreciated the detailing on the sign and the door handle. I wonder what it would take to get one of these for my birthday…

Frozen Lemonade

Frozen Lemonade

And last but certainly not least, I splurged on a refreshingly slushy frozen lemonade for dessert. The texture of the ice was perfect, like a frozen margarita, and it really hit the spot on such a hot day. Brings back memories of going to theme parks as a child with my parents and sharing a frozen lemonade with my mom (she’s a big fan too!).

Another crazy ride!

Another crazy ride!

So all in all, we had a fun time skipping along, hand-in-hand like teenagers on a date. The LA County fair is a great way to spend a day with the family (there were a LOT of kids and a LOT of kid-friendly attractions!) and I definitely think it’s worth visiting at least once. Nothing like spending a day in the sunshine, fried potato and frozen slushy in hand, to really revel in a Southern California summer. And maybe a beer, although they cost $9 here… bring lots of cash.

Till next year!

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Check out the LA County Fair: lacountyfair.com

1101 W. Mckinley Avenue
Pomona, CA 91768

See their Yelp reviews here!

626 Night Market – July 2013

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

On select weekends this summer, the 626 team transforms the Santa Anita Race Track into a Taiwanese style night market, complete with rows of vendors hawking a variety of noms and live music performances to keep the crowds energized. The very first 626 Night Market in 2012 clearly met a real need, attracting far more attendees than the venue could handle. But thanks to this year’s planning team (including our friends Brian & Patricia) subsequent Night Markets have seen dramatic improvement. Still, the crowds are pretty epic — this past weekend brought out 55,000 Angelenos and even long distance visitors, trumping the June weekend’s record of 40,000 attendees.

Summer Garden Nights: 3 weekends (and now Labor Day Weekend as well!)

Summer Garden Nights: 3 weekends (and now Labor Day Weekend as well!)

While a night market experience isn’t quite the same unless the sun’s down, we opted to go early, right at 4pm when it opened, so we could maximize our time sampling noms. Shorter lines, less congested walkways, and plenty of delicious inventory that will certainly sell out as the night progresses? We can handle some hot summer sun for that.

Tan San Skewers

Tan San Skewers

Be sure to grab a vendor directory when you walk in. Those looking to stay green can download the PDF from their website and view it on their smartphones instead. It will help you a) identify mysterious-looking noms, b) track down your favorite noms, and c) avoid (or find, depending on your preferences) the STZ – Stinky Tofu Zone.

This is our friend Zhu. He's proud of that lamb skewer.

This is our friend Zhu. He’s proud of that lamb skewer.

The first thing we gravitated toward were these smoky, meaty lamb skewers from Tan San. Fresh off the grill, the lamb itself was a bit chewy, but the seasonings were enhanced by the charred bits from the barbecue.

Takoyaki and Okonomiyaki!

Miniyaki Takoyaki and Okonomiyaki!

There were a surprising number of Japanese food vendors, expanding the scope of the Night Market to encompass many Asian street food cultures. I was extra excited about takoyaki. I love okonomiyaki too, but I love takoyaki so much that I sometimes sing the Takoyaki Song.

Miniyaki: Wasabi Takoyaki

Miniyaki: Wasabi Takoyaki

I grabbed an order of the wasabi takoyaki from Miniyaki. 6 delicious balls of octopus-filled batter, drizzled with sweet okonomi sauce and wasabi mayo and topped with a mound of shaved bonito flakes. Whoever said “Money can’t buy happiness” obviously never spent $5 on an order of these. おいしかった~!

Brace yourselves for this next one…

Rosal's Family Shoppe: Balut

Rosal’s Family Shoppe: Balut

A common street food throughout Southeast Asia and the Philippines, balut is really tastes much better than it looks. As a kid, I used to eat this with my dad; he would let me have the hardened yolk and drink the brothy juice while he ate the duck. Martin and Zhu dug right in, though this one was a little too developed for Martin’s tastes.

Simbala: Taiwanese Sausage

Simbala: Taiwanese Sausage

The boys had grabbed refreshments from a Stella Artois booth, so naturally the next victim would be more noms that pair well with beer: Taiwanese sausages from Simbala. The texture was firmer than expected and it reminded me of a Vietnamese lap xuong. Very juicy and flavorful and also went well with…

Wei's Scallion Pancakes

Wei’s Scallion Pancake Hut

…scallion pancakes! Crispy flat discs of flaky dough layered with chopped scallions (green onions), fried on a griddle until golden brown. And for only $4? Sold!

Anxiously watching them fry my scallion pancake

Anxiously watching them fry my scallion pancake

Each pancake was made to order and arrived hot off the griddle. I watched the grill master skillfully monitor and flip eight pancakes at a time (not all at once, of course, though that would be incredibly impressive!).

Wei's: Green Onion Pancake

Wei’s: Green Onion Pancake

It was everything I had hoped for and more. They offered sweet chili sauce, garlic soy sauce, and generic unlabeled hot sauce that suspiciously resembled sriracha. I kept it simple with just a dab or two of sriracha. They were excellent plain too.

Gottsui~!

Gottsui~!

As we wove through the crowds, we noticed a distinctly long line gathering. We discovered that it was none other than my latest Sawtelle obsession, Gottsui! The guys seemed like they were having a great time. I was tempted to grab one but I think I’ll just have to make a return visit to their storefront. Really soon. また ね~!

Turkish Doner Kebab

Turkish Doner Kebab

Turning the corner, we found a selection of more international cuisines – Mexican, Turkish, Indonesian… The guys at Turkish Doner Kebab even brought out fresh spits of turning shwarma and generously offered samples for us to try. So moist and so good. Unfortunately I was getting too full to finish my own pita pocket.

Aunty Merry Indonesian Food

Aunty Merry Indonesian Food

People seemed to be raving over the grilled corn here at Aunty Merry, but Martin spotted the bird’s egg curry skewers and had to have it. Both of us noticed that the bird must be quail and well, quail’s eggs are delicious!

Aunty Merry: Bird's Egg Curry Skewer

Aunty Merry: Bird’s Egg Curry Skewer

Lightly marinated in curry sauce, these hard boiled quail eggs were tender and succulent. They lacked the punch we had expected with the curry description, but it’s possible that the creamy yolks overpowered any seasoning.

Tea Lane: Candied Hawthorn (or Haw) Berries

Tea Lane: Candied Hawthorn (or Haw) Berries

Now these were something I did not expect to find on a skewer. Hawthorn berries are often used in Chinese candies, most memorably the chewy red discs packaged in paper tubes that I knew as “haw flakes.” This was my first time trying the fruit itself, and it was just as sweet-tart as I expected. The hard candy coating was done well – not sticky at all.

Starry Kitchen

Starry Kitchen

We made our way around the ring of food trucks which featured the usual suspects – Grilled Cheese Truck, Lobsta Truck (one of our favs!), Ludo Truck, and many more. But then I spotted Starry Kitchen. Okay fine, I saw the dude in the banana suit long before I even saw the banner.

Starry Kitchen: Pandan Churros with Kaya Cream

Starry Kitchen: Pandan Churros with Kaya Cream

Genius. Pure genius. The pandan churros tasted exactly like my memories of buying freshly pressed lá dứa waffles at Van’s Bakery back home in the OC, but in bite-sized, chewy+crispy stick form. The kaya coconut cream was so deliciously sweet and fragrant that I scooped out every drop with my last churro. So freaking good.

CoCo Tea House

CoCo Fresh Tea

The guys all made a boba stop to get a milk tea from CoCo. I noticed they had recently opened a location at the Olympic Collection on Sawtelle, but apparently they have over a thousand locations, 900 of which are in China alone! Crazy!

Thoke: A Burmese Kitchen

Thoke: A Burmese Kitchen

Of course we had to circle back to visit Thoke. There we found some familiar faces, our friends from camp! Jason and Sherlock were busy manning the fryer, serving up some hot egg rolls and curry potato samosas.

Thoke: Curry Potato Samosa

Thoke: Curry Potato Samosa

One bite and you’ll be hooked after hearing the satisfying crackle of the golden brown pastry shell, but it’s the flavor-packed curry potato filling that really makes it an awesome addition to the variety of street food at the night market. Kudos!

Grilled Octopus

Grilled Squid and Octopus

I REALLY wanted to get one of these, but it was already 7pm and the lines were quickly building at every vendor’s stall. The aroma of grilled squid and octopus legs wafted through the air, a welcome change from the… pungent stinky tofu.

Last Stop: iSweet Snow Ice

Last Stop: iSweet Snow Ice

I saw snow ice and had a feeling it would resemble Blockheads Shavery. We decided to go simple and get a watermelon snow ice, plain (no toppings).

Zhu and the Watermelon Snow Ice

Zhu and the Watermelon Snow Ice

I always worry that watermelon desserts will get their flavor from the artificial stuff, but luckily, summer is the perfect season for the real stuff. The snow ice here was fluffy and really carried the essence of real watermelon, down to its gentle sweetness. Really a great way to end a prevening of nonstop nomming.

626 Night Market: Summer Garden Nights is an awesome event, and we’re glad we got to visit and try delicious noms from so many awesome vendors. If you have not yet checked it out or if you’re still traumatized from the very first one, mark your calendars for August 3-4th AND the newly added Labor Day Weekend!

Bring cash, wear comfortable shoes, and go early or prepare for 30+ minute waits. Admission is only $2 before 6pm, $3 after, and parking is absolutely FREE. What are you waiting for? 626 Night Market is the largest Asian night market in the US!

UPDATE:

GIANT BOBA!

GIANT BOBA! (via 626 Night Market FB page)

Interested in being part of the World’s Largest Cup of Boba?! Check out their Kickstarter and the potential unveiling at the August weekend of Summer Garden Nights! 320 gallons of milk tea in a 6 foot tall plastic cup — it’s definitely going to be a sight to see!

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Check out 626 Night Market: 626nightmarket.com

285 W Huntington Dr
Arcadia, CA 91007

See their Yelp reviews here!

Eat Real Fest LA

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

(Many apologies for the delay in this post, but this event was great and we wanted to share our experience, belated as it may be. Please enjoy!)

This summer, an annual gathering to support sustainable and local products and produce, Eat Real Fest, hailing from Oakland, took over the parking lot at Helms Bakery and transformed it into a fun food festival to rival Carmageddon. The furniture stores became venues for discussion panels and forums, and the lines of the parking lot became rows of food trucks, displays, even a little resting area for fluffy goslings. We woke up on that Saturday and took the 33 over to Helms, a convenient (and free!) way to get to the food fest. I was excited to try the many food trucks that were slated to be setting up shop, and the variety of DIY panels and cooking demos sounded fantastic! We were planning to make a whole day of it so we could also catch the Lit Fest discussion, very appropriate for getting our launch ideas!

Helms Bakery

For lunch, we browsed the maze of food trucks and settled on sliders at Me So Hungry. We shared the Cali sliders at the recommendation of the guy who took our order. It was reminiscent of a mini Father’s Office burger, with applewood bacon, caramelized onions, arugula, and gorgonzola. It was good, but I was still pretty hungry afterward.

Me So Hungry Cali slider

Off we went to the Whole Foods truck (my first thought being “What?? Whole Foods has a truck?!”) to buy a refreshing glass of watermelon juice. It was literally a liquified watermelon with a beautiful brilliant red color and delicious crisp flavor.

Watermelon Agua Fresca

It was a pretty warm day, so we wandered into the indoors expo area, browsing the wares of many local jam makers, bakeries, and even Jamaican marinade brands. We saw these adorable grow-your-own-mushroom kits from Back to the Roots and I had to buy a pair (one for us and one for my mom. Ours have not been sprouting, but my mom picture-texts me with her progress. Too cute!).

BTTR Mushroom Kits – also available at Whole Foods!

We watched dozens of people scrambling for a spot to make their own sauerkraut (not our cup of tea) and eventually found a pasta-making demo from Chef May Parich of The New School of Cooking. This definitely caught my eye as we’ve been experimenting with homemade pastas ever since Martin bought me a Marcato for Valentine’s Day and made me dinner with it. :) She had a Kitchenaide with the pasta making attachment, but she still mixed the dough by hand using the “well” method. We learned a few neat tricks from her, the most important being the use of semolina. It truly makes a difference using a combination of semolina and all purpose flour, rather than AP alone. The chewy texture, the beautiful yellow color, all thanks to semolina! The other helpful hint was to roll out sheets of the pasta and let them sit in a baking sheet, with layers of saran wrap in between to keep them from sticking, so that you can cut the sheets all at once. We applied some of her techniques to our basic pasta, but we’re looking forward to trying Chef May’s ideas for spinach pasta, agnolotti, and much more!

Chef May’s Demo

After the cooking demo, we moseyed on over to Room & Board, who lent their furniture displays for the Lit Fest panel, hosted by Gustavo Arellano of OC Weekly and featuring four different “kinds” of food writers:
Russ Parsons, food editor of the Los Angeles Times
Amy Scattergood, editor of Squid Ink, LA Weekly‘s food blog (if I remember correctly, another representative of Squid Ink was actually present.)
Eddie Lin, author of the infamous Deep End Dining
Hazel Quimpo, community manager of Yelp Orange County

(from the Eat Real Fest website)

The Lovely Panel

It was very interesting to learn about the perception, from both a reader’s and a writer’s standpoint, of these different types of food writing. Which is taken more “seriously” and which is more “easy to relate to”. What makes good food writing. How important is it to have good photos. What was most helpful was being able to speak one-on-one with Eddie Lin after the panel to get ideas for our blog launch. He was very gracious but honest with his advice, and we definitely appreciated that.

Our stomachs were grumbling for dinner by then, so off we went to the “alley” of food trucks. I had been wanting to try Big Mista since we first saw the man pulling out a drawer full of chicken wings and lovingly turn and baste them.

So many chicken wings!!

And so we stood in line. It was almost 40 minutes before we reached the front of the chicken wing line, during which Martin had slid over to the other line to get us some pulled pork sliders. These were delicious; the meat was barbecue-y and flavorful and served on a sweet Hawaiian roll with crispy, cider vinegary slaw.

Pulled pork slider on sweet Hawaiian rolls

It reinvigorated me for the long wait, but what really hit the spot was snagging one of the last orders of pig candy. The look in Martin’s eyes told me he loved me just a little bit more for having introduced him to this sinfully thick slice of bacon glazed with brown sugar to a caramelized crunch. What a deliciously un-Kosher delight! (Big Bang Theory reference, anyone?)

Sinfully good pig candy

Soon enough, the fresh-from-the-grill chicken wings were ready. And man, were they worth the wait! Where does one even find such HUGE chicken wings? They were the size of most chickens’ thighs! The barbecue glaze was sweet and sticky with a little kick to it, and the skin had crisped up nicely. The meat was so juicy, and the wings overall were just fingerlickin’ good.

Long awaited chicken wings

We devoured them in much less time than it had taken to get them, but no matter — immediately in front of us was the Flying Knives butchery contest. Two teams, each with a 1/4 steer to break down into quality cuts of beef. It was definitely a sight to see! We had a mad craving for steak after watching the frenzied sawing and slicing.

Team Lindy & Grundy

Team Whole Foods

We were tempted to get a shave ice before we left, but the sun was setting and it was getting chilly fairly quickly. Off we wandered toward the bus stop, looking behind us at the fun and informative festival that had popped up seemingly out of nowhere, as if it were all a dream.

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Check out Eat Real Fest: http://eatrealfest.com/

Eat Real Fest LA was July 16-17, 2011 at the Helms Bakery District.

Eat Real Fest Oakland was September 23-25. Check back for Eat Real 2012!

Follow them on Twitter @eatrealfest