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The Kroft

September 30, 2014

During that first trip to the Anaheim Packing House with my girlfriends, there was another eatery that really caught our eye.  An eatery known as The Kroft, and uses a big porker pig as it’s logo.  With a line that was non stop and tables that were constantly filled, this place was intriguing.  Between PopBar Anaheim and The Kroft, the majority of visitors to the Anaheim Packing House seemed to be concentrated at one of these 2 places.  At the end of that first lunch outing to the Anaheim Packing House, my girlfriends and I looked at each other and we knew we’d be back in the near future to give The Kroft a try.  After all, if all these people are waiting in line for it, it can’t be that bad.

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So, a few short weeks later, we made plans to get together and meet for lunch again at the Anaheim Packing House.  This time around, we had planned to dine at The Kroft, and we made plans to meet early so that we could hopefully be there before the lines for lunch really started forming.  The Kroft calls itself “comfort food reinvented” specializing in sandwiches served in brown butcher paper, decadent treats such as poutine, and Midwestern favorites such as fried cheese curds.  Of course, if it’s reinvented, that must mean that some of these comfort foods are kicked up a notch, and that’s what makes The Kroft different from any other comfort food eatery around.  After perusing through the daily menu, written in chalk on boards you can find near the registers, or on a large board hanging over guests heads near the storefront entrance, my friends and I had come to a decision as to what we wanted to eat.

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For starters, we each ordered the homemade cucumber mint lemonade being offered.  It was a hot day outside, and I found the lemonade to be really refreshing.  You could definitely taste the cucumber in it, and it gave it a slightly watery cucumber flavor instead of the straight tang of a good homemade lemonade.  One of my friends wasn’t as fond of the drink because she couldn’t really taste the mint and she was hoping that cucumber mint really meant you’d be able to get the flavor of both ingredients.  On that point, I’d have to agree with her as I also only tasted the cucumber and if there was any mint flavoring it was so subtle it was lost behind the lemon and the cucumber.  However, I was fine with my lemonade really just being a cucumber lemonade.

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The real draw for me on this “comfort food reinvented” menu was the selection of poutiness that were offered.  My husband and I already had plans to visit Eastern Canada, including Montreal, later in the year, and poutine was something we had been discussing.  If you know anything about Montreal, then you know you’ve got to try some poutine.  For those who don’t know, poutine is traditional French fries covered in gravy and cheese curds.  It’s certainly hearty, comfort food.  However, finding poutine on a menu in Southern California is just not that common.  So, you bet I’m going to take notice when I see it prominently displayed on The Kroft’s menu.  After mulling it over, one of my friends and I decided to split the braised short rib poutine.  Served with pickled onions, and a fried egg on top if you wish, this was a classic poutine with the cheese curds and the gravy and the braised short rib.  The fries were perfectly crisp and delicious, and the gravy was good and not too salty until I discovered that they had mushrooms in their gravy and that turned me off a bit as I’m not a mushroom fan.  The braised short ribs were tender and soft, but I wish they would have had more flavor.  It also would have been nice to see more cheese curds in the dish as well.  The pickled onions were a nice touch.  Ultimately the braised short rib poutine was ok, but my mind wasn’t blown.  However, considering you can’t really find poutine anywhere else, I was happy to at least have poutine in any version I could get it.

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Knowing that poutine alone wouldn’t be enough for lunch, I decided on the ultra popular porchetta sandwich with pesto, arugula and porchetta.  Porchetta, which is originally an Italian pork dish, is widely popular in Eastern Canada and the Upper Midwest as well.  Perhaps when the Kroft says they have comfort food reinvented, its Canadian comfort food they are referring to?  While I’ve heard of porchetta before, I’d never actually had a porchetta sandwich.  And boy, I’ve been missing out.  In this case, it’s basically pork loin, stuffed with seasonings and herbs, fat and skin, rolled up and roasted.  Once it’s fully-cooked, it’s then cut up and served in a homemade bread roll and served with pesto and arugula.  It was so good.  Yes, it’s fatty, but that’s really what pork is.  But the flavor of the roasted pork and bits of crispy pork skin and the spices mixed with the tang of the pesto and the peppery bite of the arugula all on the warm, soft bread roll was an amazing, and intoxicating combination.  I literally could have had 2 of these sandwiches.  It was so incredibly tender, and moist, and full of rich flavor that I love.  But, you’ve really got to be a pork lover to enjoy this one.

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Porchetta sandwiches wrapped in butcher paper, braised short rib poutine in a nice tidy to-go box, paired with some refreshing cucumber mint lemonade, ah, yes.  That was a great lunch.  I love the fact that the menu wasn’t full of the comfort food I was expecting, you know, your mac n’ cheese and regular French fries, etc.  Where in Southern California do you find porchetta?  And if you can find it, I can’t imagine it being better than you can get here at The Kroft.  You bet I’ll be back for the sandwich, the poutine and the lemonade again.  What better comfort food to enjoy on a hot summer day in Southern California.  I completely understand now there always seems to be a line at The Kroft every time I’m at Anaheim Packing House.  The only difference?  Next time, you’ll probably catch me standing in line too.

 

Black Sheep Grilled Cheese Bar

September 23, 2014

The Anaheim Packing House is more than just PopBar.  Sure, it may be the most popular eatery at this funky food hall, but that didn’t mean there weren’t a bunch of other places to try out.  The reason I was at the Anaheim Packing House for my first trip there was to meet up with a couple of my old high school friends to catch up and reminisce with them.  I hadn’t seen either of them in over a year, right before one of them had left the States to resume her around-the-world travel adventure.  Like me, both of my friends are travelers and like to explore new places and cultures.  One of my friends, almost 5 years ago now, decided that she really wanted to see the world.  With only a vague plan of where she was headed, she set off and we all followed along in her various adventures through Facebook.  After 2+ years, she finally came home for a visit and what was the last time we had gotten together.  After another almost 18 months of travel, she was finally back home, at least temporarily.  So, we decided to get together and catch up and it seemed like Anaheim Packing House would be great place for such an event.  With many different food stalls and eateries to choose from, we were bound to find something we’d all like.

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Ultimately, we found ourselves sitting around the counter at the Black Sheep Grilled Cheese Bar.  As a division of The Cellar in San Clemente, CA, a well-known and popular cheese shop, creating a grilled cheese bar seemed like a natural extension.  And what better place to open up than at the new Anaheim Packing House located in Orange County, not too far up the freeway from where the cheese shop is.  The grilled cheese bar is set up with bar countertops and bar stools that face inwards so that you can watch the cooks making your gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches in a very inviting and homey set up.

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The Black Sheet Grilled Cheese Bar offers up 7 different types of gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches that include both savory and sweet options and a whole host of different types of cheeses and other items to go into your grilled cheese.  Be ready, this isn’t the grilled cheese sandwiches from your childhood.  This is grilled cheese taken to a whole different level.  For instance, take grilled cheese sandwich #3 which contains Swiss raclette, cornichons, pickled red onions, and joe’s potato chips.  Swiss raclette, that sounds amazing, and not sure something I’ve seen in a grilled cheese sandwich before.  There’s grilled cheese sandwich #2, which really interested me with manchego, jamon Serrano and quince paste.  However, I had no idea what quince paste was and if I would like it, but the jamon Serrano sure sounded delicious.  There’s the Classic, #6, made with cheddar and Swiss on sourdough.  Or the #5, the Man, with salami and cheese.  And the sweet option #4 made with d’affinois, strawberry coulis and graham cracker crumbs sure sounded fantastic as well.

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To start off the meal, we grabbed a couple of bottles old-fashioned original Rock & Rye soda.  It was described as mix between cherry cola and Dr. Pepper.  And it was quite tasty.  Once you placed your order, you were given your drink and you could sit back at one of the stools lined up at the counter and wait for your food.

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The counter looked into the “kitchen,” as it were, and you could watch your grilled cheese sandwich being prepared and then put into the familiar Panini presses so that the cheese would melt and ooze out of the sandwich.

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Ultimately, from all of the choices, my girlfriends and I all ended up decided on the same exact sandwich, grilled cheese sandwich #1 made with Cypress Grove formage blanc, caramelized onions, roasted tomatoes and arugula pesto.  During the course of our sitting at the counter, I actually got to watch them fresh-make a batch of arugula pesto and it was so mouth-watering.  After being put through the Panini press, the cooked grilled cheese sandwich is cut in half and served in baskets lined with black-and-white checkered paper.  The Cypress Grove formage blanc had such an interesting flavor.  It wasn’t quite a soft cheese, but probably had a texture more like a fresh mozzarella.  It had some substance and form, but also a bit soft and melty and spreadable.  The tangy flavor of the cheese paired nicely with the roasted tomatoes and the acidity of them and the peppery arugula pesto.  The caramelized onions added just the right amount of sweetness to go with the wheat bread the sandwich was made with.  All three of us ended up finishing up all of our sandwiches, so I would say that the grilled cheese sandwich was a winner.

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The concept of having gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches is such an appealing one because it harkens back to our childhoods when we grew up with plain grilled cheese sandwiches of white bread and processed cheese as an easy dinner staple.  It screams comfort food.  But all dressed up with different cheeses and other fillings, these grilled cheese sandwiches call out to us and yet bring us back to our childhood all at the same time.  This particular grilled cheese from the Black Sheet Grilled Cheese Bar left my friends and I wanting for more and curious as to what the other types of gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches on the menu tasted like.  I think it’s safe to say I’ll have to go back and give the other sandwiches a try.

PopBar Anaheim

September 18, 2014

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A few months ago, after years of development, a new food hall called the Anaheim Packing House opened in the heart of downtown Anaheim.  Just down the street from City Hall and taking over a historic building, the Anaheim Packing House is aiming to be the new, hip, foodie hangout of Orange County.  Leaning upon the history of the area, once known as a center for agriculture with groves of orange trees, the Anaheim Citrus Packing House, built in 1919 was a hub of activity for farmers who came with their fresh picked citrus ready to process and package into wooden crates which would then be carried off to market via the South Pacific rail line which lies just outside the building.  This packing house is one of just a few that remain within Orange County, and with the development of the packing house as a food hall for the community, showcasing local chefs and cuisine, the packing house has now found new life in a new form.

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Inside the Anaheim Packing House, the most popular food store was by far, PopBar.  An interesting and unique concept for serving popsicles that you knew I had to give it a try myself.  PopBar calls themselves “handcrafted gelato on a stick” using only the freshest and finest ingredients to make their all-natural popsicles in-house daily.  Hailing from Indonesia, with a majority of locations in Jakarta, PopBar can also be found in North American at the famous West Edmonton Mall in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, in Mexico, in the West Village in Manhattan and now at the Anaheim Packing House in Anaheim.

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The store was so new when I visited, that they had to draw up instructions on how to order a PopBar on white posterboard paper as properly printed, permanent instructions hadn’t been created yet.  As you can see in the instructions there are 3 different types of PopBars: popGelato, popSorbetto and yougurtPop.  All three types of PopBars are made fresh daily onsite with all natural ingredients and are gluten-free with no preservatives or artificial coloring.  In addition, popSorbettos are lactose-free and vegan friendly.

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To order your PopBar, peruse through that particular day’s flavors set out behind a glass-enclosed, refrigerated display case.  Each PopBar is labeled as a popGelato, popSorbetto or yogurtPop along with it’s flavor.  You can see here the hazelnut popGelato, green tea popGelato, pineapple popSorbetto, chocolate popGelato, yogurt (plain) yougurtPop, and mango popSorbetto.

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If that wasn’t enough, there’s also the banana popGelato, vanilla popGelato, blood orange popSorbetto, grapefruit popSorbetto, watermelon popSorbetto, pistachio popSorbetto, strawberry popSorbetto, gianduia popGelato and finally the mixed berries popSorbetto.

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After you’ve chosen your PopBar, that’s only half the battle.  You move on down the line and you must decide if you want your PopBar dipped.  There are 4 different dippings you can choose from: dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, or mint dark chocolate.  But that’s not it.  You also have to decide, if you want your PopBar dipped, do you want the whole thing dipped, only half of it dipped, or do you want your dipping drizzled on over the PopBar using a spoon?  So many decisions!

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And then, there are poppings!  It’s toppings for your PopBar, hence the name poppings.  Again, more decisions to be made.  The poppings that are offered are almond, pistachio, hazelnut, caramel corn, waffle cone, chocolate sprinkles and coconut shavings.  How your poppings are applied to your PopBar depend on how you determined you wanted your dipping.  If your PopBar is half dipped in sauce, then your poppings will also only cover half the PopBar.  This is because the sauce that your PopBar is dipped in acts as the “glue” that will bind your popping to your PopBar.  So, if you only drizzle on the dipping, then you’ll only get a drizzle of the popping as well.

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There’s so many different combinations and flavor profiles that you can mix and match to your liking.  When I made my first popBar, I chose the banana popGelato.  As soon as I saw banana, I knew it was mine as I’m a sucker for banana-flavored anything.  The banana popGelato already comes dipped in chocolate, but I asked for a half-dipping of white chocolate to go with the dark chocolate already on the bar.  And for my popping, I went with caramel corn.  This created a sticky, chewy, and sweet concoction.  I loved it.  The caramel corn was crunchy and chewy, the white chocolate was decadent, the dark chocolate was rich and underneath it all, the banana popGelato was so good.  Full of banana flavor, and definitely with no added sugar or preservatives, it tasted so fresh.  The combination of chocolate and banana is one you just can’t go wrong with.

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My friend also chose a banana popGelato.  See, banana is just so irresistible.  Even though it already was dipped in chocolate, she asked for a full dipping in milk chocolate and a popping of coconut shavings.  Banana, chocolate and coconut, another classic, tropical combination.  Having just returned from a trip to Hawaii, I think she commented that it was like tasting Hawaii all over again.  Either I just spent too much time savoring my popBar or she enjoyed hers just as much as I did because she finished off her popBar faster than I did.

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I see now what all the rage is with PopBar Anaheim.  It’s fun, clever, and it’s designed to be made so that every customer walks away happy.  After all, how can you not enjoy a combination of flavors, dippings and poppings you chose yourself?  It’s flavorful and fruity and for the most part, relatively healthy as well.  It’s a fun afternoon treat, especially during a hot Southern California afternoon.  Believe me, I’ll be back to PopBar Anaheim in the near future!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fresh Berries Ginger Ale

September 16, 2014

I was recently home one afternoon sweating up a storm watching TV.  It was particularly hot during this time period and I was sitting inside a place with horrible insulation meaning if it is hot outside, it’s even hotter inside, and if it’s cold outside, it’s even colder inside.  Unfortunately, I don’t have air conditioning so I couldn’t even cool myself off with some A/C, and though my high-powered fan was working overtime, the thermometer in the room kept climbing higher and higher.  On TV was Bobby Flay’s bbq show on the Food Network, and in the episode that I saw, he made a really interesting ginger ale, that not only looked delicious, but refreshing.  Or perhaps, I was just delirious and overcome with heat by then.  But I couldn’t get the ginger ale out of my head, so what did I do?  I went out that weekend to the grocery store and picked up the ingredients that I needed to make my own version of the fresh berries ginger ale at home.

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Of course, you need ginger, and lots of it.  And a lemon, for which you’ll use bot the zest and the juice to help sweeten and mellow out the bite of the spicy ginger.

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Start by peeling your fresh ginger and cutting it into small pieces.  You’re going to need about 1.5 cups of fresh, peeled and cut ginger.

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Into a saucepan filled with 3 cups of cold water, add the rind of a lemon.  Cut off all of the outer yellow skin of the lemon and just drop it into the water.

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To the saucepan, add in your fresh ginger slices.  Squeeze in a bit of the lemon juice into the pot as well.  Lemon and ginger make a good combination.  Turn the heat on high on your stove top, and bring the saucepan to a boil.  You’re basically steeping the flavor of the ginger and the lemon together, much like making fresh tea.

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Meanwhile, take some fresh berries – in my case, strawberries and raspberries – and clean and hull them.

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Once the berries are cleaned and cut, drop them into a non-reactive bowl and sprinkle a tablespoon of granulated white sugar over the berries.  The idea is to macerate the berries.  This helps to bring out their natural sweetness and juice.  Leave the bowl sitting out on the counter for 30-40 minutes.  You’ll see that the sugar is completely dissolved, the berries are soft, and there’s this beautiful, pinkish syrup at the bottom of the bowl.

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When the water, ginger and lemon peel mixture on the stovetop has boiled, add in one cup of granulated white sugar into the water.  This may seem like a lot of sugar, but you’ve got to remember you’ve got 1.5 cups of fresh, spicy ginger in only 3 cups of water.  The sugar almost doesn’t put a dent into the spiciness of the ginger at all.  Boil the water until the sugar is full dissolved.  Now, just allow the liquid to cook until it’s reduced by about half its volume.  This really concentrates the flavors of the ginger and the lemon into a very concentrated ginger syrup.

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Once the ginger syrup has reduced by half, take the saucepan off the stove.  Strain the syrup through a fine mesh sieve into a sealable container.  What you’re left with is a highly concentrated ginger syrup.  Take this container and refrigerate it overnight.  This syrup needs to be completely chilled in order to make your ginger ale.

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Take some of your macerated berries and fill up a glass about one-third of the way.  Use the back of your spoon to muddle the berries a bit.  This releases more juices and breaks down the berries.

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Fill this glass to about 1/4 to 1/3 of the way with the concentrated ginger syrup.  If you don’t like the strong spicy flavor of the ginger and would like a less bubbly, more spicy ginger ale, fill it up 1/3 of the way.  If you want a sweeter, more bubbly, less spicy ginger ale, make sure not to fill up the glass more than 1/4 of the way with the concentrated ginger syrup.

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Top off the glass with cold club soda.  The combination of the ginger syrup and the cold club soda will make the mixture bubble and fizz.

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Stick a straw in your drink and you have a refreshing fresh berries ginger ale.  Depending on how much ginger syrup vs. club soda you have in your glass the drink will either have a nice bite, or will be a little bit more mellow.  However, regardless, you can expect there to be a hint of spice and tang because you did use fresh ginger after all to make a highly concentrated ginger syrup.  But the bite of the ginger combined with the club soda makes the drink refreshing, and unique from any other pre-bottled ginger ale you can buy at your local grocery store.  And the fresh macerated berries also add another level of flavor and tang.  This is a great drink to make for a summer outdoor bbq to help take the edge off of the heat!

Sweet & Savory Crepes

September 12, 2014

My husband was so proud of himself for thinking up this dish, especially during the middle of this busiest period of his work year.  It was so great to see how well this dish turned out on something that was just a whim of an idea.  One day, during the middle of the work day my husband and I were texting back and forth trying to come up with an idea for dinner that night.  He had originally suggested making a frittata for dinner as we had eggs at home, but I wasn’t really feeling a frittata that night.  After a few minutes of silence, my husband came back to me and said he had an idea and wasn’t sure if it would work or not, but that he wanted to give it a try because he knew we had all the ingredients at home necessary to make it work.  His excitement, even via text message was obvious, so that in turn got me excited.  When I asked him what his idea was, he told me he wanted to make crepes!  That sounded so luxurious and fun, I was excited.

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Our crepes were made with a semi-homemade flair.  Instead of making our own crepe batter, we made use of premade, store-bought pancake batter.  Add to that melted butter, milk and eggs and you’ve got a simple, easy-to-make crepe batter.

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And then you need some items for the crepe filling.  After all, you can’t make a crepe and just eat it plain.  Well, I guess you could, but what would be the fun in that?  You can take crepes in two different directions, sweet or savory.  As you’ll see, we went both ways with our crepes.  I love the sweet, as I’m sure you know by now.  With sweet crepes, you can have tons of fun with it.  You can use any kind of filling you like with basic ingredients you can probably find around your house.  We had mini chocolate chips, fresh strawberries, fresh blueberries, bananas, sweetened condensed milk and whipped cream.  Of course, if you can’t get your hands on fresh fruit, you can always use frozen fruit and turn it into more of a syrupy sauce or a glaze.

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Start with the a cup of the pancake batter.  Pour the pancake batter into a large mixing bowl.  Ultimately one cup of pancake batter made ten 10″ crepes, more than enough for 2 people to enjoy.  You wouldn’t think that a few crepes could be so filling, but trust me, they are!

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Into the mixing bowl, pour a cup of milk.  This crepe batter will use more milk, or whatever liquid you choose to use, than pancakes as you need the batter to be a lot runnier so that the crepes will be nice and thin once cooked.  Stir the pancake batter mix and milk together to combine.

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Crack open one egg into a separate bowl and beat it lightly.  Then pour the beaten egg into the batter you’re creating and mix the ingredients together.  The egg helps to act as a little bit of a binding agent to hold the crepe batter mix together as well as adding a bit of fluffiness to the batter as well once cooked.

From there, melt half a stick of butter in a saucepan on the stove.  When the butter has melted pour it directly into the mixing bowl with the pancake batter mix and the milk.  This will help to thin out the crepe batter and will add sweetness from the butter into the crepe mixture so that you won’t need to add butter on top of the finished crepes the way you would with pancakes.

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Once you combine all the ingredients together you should have a fairly watery batter.  You want to be able to run a fork through the batter and have the batter slide right through the four in a cascading waterfall.  That’s when you know your batter is thin enough to make crepes.

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Take a nonstick skillet and heat it on medium-high on your stove top.  Spray a little bit of nonstick cooking spray into the skillet.  When the skillet is hot enough, measure out about 1/4-1/3 of a cup of your batter (depending on the size of your skillet) and pour it directly into the skillet.

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Immediately start making rotating circles with your skillet to spread the batter around.  Again, another reason you need a thin batter.  This batter will cook quickly and you need it watery enough so that you can spread it around the skillet so that it cooks evenly.  The batter should eventually cover the entire bottom of the skillet and be almost paper-thin.

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Let the batter sit for about 30 seconds and then flip it over to the other side.  Your batter should be a light golden brown on one side.  Again, because the crepe is so thin it takes almost no time at all to cook.  Let the crepe sit for another 20-30 seconds and remove it to plate.  Your crepe is now done.  Make all of your crepes and stack them up, putting a piece of wax paper in between each one so that they don’t stick together.

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Now, it’s time to stuff your crepe!  This is the fun part.  You can choose to make a savory crepe, as my husband likes to do.  Take a few slices of sandwich meat, we happened to have honey ham on hand.  My husband grilled up the honey ham just to get some color on the ham and to heat it through.  Lay the ham slices in the middle of the crepe, and then using a grater, my husband grated a little bit of Gruyère cheese over the top.  Then roll up your crepe and you have a savory ham and cheese crepe.

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Of course, not a surprise, I prefer to have a sweet crepe.  Take some sliced bananas, some sliced strawberries, a little sprinkle of mini chocolate chips and a drizzle of sweetened condensed milk to help act as glue to keep the crepe together.  Roll it all up and you have a delicious chocolate banana and strawberry crepe.  The sweetened condensed milk goes together perfectly with the fresh fruit and the hint of sweetness from the melted butter in the batter of the crepe.

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When making his sweet crepe, my husband chose to use some fresh blueberries, a little sprinkle of mini chocolate chips and a little bit of whipped cream.  As you can see, you can get creative and stuff your crepes with any ingredients at all that you can find around your house.

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Sweet and savory crepes made easy, and semi-homemade, made using ingredients most people find in their refrigerator and pantry already.  It’s great because you can whip up a batch of crepes in 10 minutes.  The batter takes no time to make, in fact, melting the butter probably takes longer than anything.  Once you pour the batter in the skillet, your crepe is done in 1-2 minutes, and then you stuff it and roll it and serve it immediately.  You can have a meal, or dessert, on your plate in no time at all.  And, since it’s so easy to make your own, everyone’s happy because the crepe is stuffed with whatever you decided to put into it.

Cheesecake Factory Waikiki

September 9, 2014

Well, we’ve made it to the last day of our vacation in paradise.  Eight days and 7 nights traveling and sightseeing through 2 of the Hawaiian islands has left us incredibly relaxed and reinvigorated.  Today also happened to be my husband’s birthday.  So, I told him, for his birthday, and our final meal in Hawaii, it would be his choice where we ate.  He has his pick of any of the restaurants in Waikiki that were within walking distance of our hotel.  To my surprise, instead of choosing some nice fancy restaurant, he decided to go with an old favorite, the Cheesecake Factory Waikiki.  Admittedly, it may be a big chain restaurant, but you always know you’ll get good, filling food in a nice relax atmosphere.  I seem to find myself at various Cheesecake Factory locations throughout America on my various vacations.  On top of enjoying various Cheesecake Factory locations here in Southern California, I’ve dined at the Cheesecake Factory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Las Vegas, Nevada, Seattle, Washington and now Honolulu, Hawaii.

Located right on the main drag through Waikiki of Kalakaua Ave, this Cheesecake Factory is hard to miss for anyone traveling through town.  Not to mention that in the 3 days we’d been on Oahu, the handful of times we’d passed by the restaurant, there were non-stop crowds waiting to get in and dine.  We were lucky as we showed up late Saturday afternoon to eat and were immediately seated.  We had anticipated having to wait an hour or so for a table.

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As this was his birthday, I told my husband to celebrate.  Order a drink, get crazy.  Ok, maybe not that crazy, but what the heck, it’s your birthday.  Looking through the drink menu, my husband finally settled on a drink called the Molokini Sunset.  How appropriate, a specialty Hawaiian-inspired cocktail, one that isn’t available on the regular Cheesecake Factory menu.  The drink consisted of Mt. Gay and Malibu rums, pineapple, orange and passion fruit all blended with vanilla ice cream.  The drink was served with a beautiful purple orchid flower and slice of orange speared through a toothpick resting right at the top of the glass.  It’s hard to see in this picture, but the puree of the passion fruit and the orange create this pink glow that’s interspersed throughout the drink and seemingly looking like it’s the orange rays of a setting sun against a white backdrop, hence the name Molokini Sunset.  My husband really enjoyed this drink because he said it tasted like you were drinking a tropical milkshake, after all, can a drink blended with vanilla ice cream ever be a bad thing?

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For my drink, I went with an old favorite that I’ve enjoyed many times at various Cheesecake Factory locations, the Frozen Iced Mango.  The drink is made with mango, tropical juices and a hint of coconut blended with a raspberry puree, this drink screams tropical and is pure refreshment.  The flavors of the mango are just so sweet and juicy and delicious and the raspberry puree adds that bright pop of tart, acidic flavor to the drink.  You could certainly close your eyes and imagine you’re sipping this in a tropical paradise.  Wait, I’m already at a tropical paradise having a fruity blended mocktail.  Perfect.

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Perusing through the menu, my husband and I both spotted an item on the appetizer menu that we knew was purely Hawaiian and yet another menu item not offered at other Cheesecake Factory locations.  Ahi poke.  After having dined on the smoked ahi poke at Rays on the Bay in Kona, we knew we had to give the ahi poke at Cheesecake Factory a try.  Made with diced sushi-grade ahi combined with fresh ginger, green onions, soy sauce, chili-garlic and sesame layered between crispy wontons, the dish was a work of art.  Again, served with a beautiful purple orchid flower on the plate and a wonderful side salad, we couldn’t wait to dig into the ahi poke.  The ahi was of such tremendous quality that it literally melted like butter in our mouths.  I was a bit conserved about the chili-garlic, but I shouldn’t have been as the dish wasn’t spicy at all.  The ginger was really flavorful and the combination of flavors with the green onions and the soy sauce was perfect with the ahi which just soaked up all of these wonderful ingredients.  The crispy wontons really brought the dish together as it provided a vessel to enjoy the ahi, but also a terrific crunch and texture to the appetizer.

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As I often find myself ordering when I go to the Cheesecake Factory, I went with the crusted chicken romano for my entrée.  The dish is made by taking a chicken breast and pounded it thin, coating it with a Romano-Parmesan cheese crust and then pan frying it to the perfect golden brown.  The cheese crusted chicken is then topped with angel hair pasta in a light tomato sauce.  Of course, parmesan cheese is freshly grated all over the whole thing.  The cheese crusted chicken practically melts in your mouth.  The chicken is perfectly cooked and so light and thin and the cheese crust is flavorful and salty.  The pasta is a terrific addition as it goes well with the chicken and the tomato sauce compliments the cheese crusted chicken.  I could eat this every time I go to the Cheesecake Factory.

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My husband ordered a hamburger, or in this case, they call it a glamburger because it’s all dolled up.  We’ve actually seen this burger before on the menu here at the Cheesecake Factory locations in California briefly before they were removed from the menu.  It’s the macaroni and cheese burger, which is a charbroiled burger topped with creamy fried macaroni and cheese balls and creamy cheddar cheese sauce.  It’s like comfort foods of hamburgers and macaroni and cheese all rolled up into one.  How could my husband not like a burger like this?  And sure enough, he devoured his burger.  You get all the cheese you need from the macaroni and cheese and the added cheese sauce, and then you get a delicious burger on a nice toasted bun.  He got what he wanted for his birthday meal, and it hit the spot for him, so he was a happy camper.

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We decided to end our meal with by splitting a slice of cheesecake.  After all, this is the Cheesecake Factory.  It’s hard to pass up the wide variety of yummy cheesecakes they offer.  To my surprise, instead of his normal request for the Reese’s Peanut Butter Chocolate Cake Cheesecake, my husband actually requested that we get the Fresh Banana Cream Cheesecake, which is actually one of my favorites.  You can’t go wrong with their luscious fresh cheesecake, delicious whipped cream and fresh banana slices.

What a way to end our amazing, relaxing vacation in Hawaii.  As much of a cultural journey as it was to see everything from volcanoes to beautiful beaches, to learning about how Kona coffee is harvested, this trip was a terrific food journey as well.  Hawaiian shave ice, loco moco, and shrimp scampi, just to name a few.  We’re already dreaming of our next trip to Hawaii.  It’s hard not to fall in love with the spirit of aloha!

Leahi Club Lounge

September 4, 2014

As a valued loyalty member of the Starwood Hotel group, my husband gets us some nice perks every time we travel and stay at a Starwood Hotel.  One of the perks I appreciate the most is free wi-fi.  It’s hard to completely disconnect these days and live without being connected to the world through the Internet, if only for personal use rather than business use.  However, during our stay in Oahu at the Sheraton Waikiki, my husband received an additional perk for his loyalty, one free pass for the two of us to use the Club Lounge.  One of the features of most Sheraton properties (other than resort properties) is that they feature Sheraton Club Lounges which is a private lounge where you have access to computers, a lounge space with a big screen television, a place to hang out and relax, and a place where those with access are served a buffet breakfast each morning, and evening hors d’oeuvres service mostly with alcohol served, along with access to 24-hour coffee, tea, soft drinks and bottled water.  To gain access to the Club Lounge, most of the time you need to either buy passes or have booked a room, which usually costs more, on the Club floor.

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My husband had read that the Club Lounge, known as the Leahi Club Lounge, at the Sheraton Waikiki was the nicest domestic Sheraton Club Lounge around.  Part of that is because the Club Lounge probably offers one of the nicest, if not the nicest, unobstructed views of Diamond Head, also known as Leahi in Hawaiian, on the island of Oahu.  When we checked in, even though we hadn’t booked a room that came with Club Lounge access, my husband had already planned to ask the front desk if we could get a pass to go up to the Lounge one day just so that we could take pictures.  He knew that would be something I’d really like to see.  Before we could even ask though for a pass, we were told by the lady checking us in that as loyalty members with status we would be given a one-time use pass to go up to the Leahi Club Lounge to either enjoy evening hors d’oeuvres or morning breakfast buffet.  Score!  I love some of the complimentary perks we get.

Logically, if you’re trying to get your money’s worth out of the Club Lounge, or in this case our one-time use pass, you should opt for the evening hors d’oeuvres.  During this cocktail period a couple of hot hors d’oeuvres are served along with fruit, sandwiches, soups and cheese and crackers.  But they also serve alcoholic drinks and at this particular location, they do an evening wine tasting with a sampling of some premium fine wines.  Unfortunately, since I don’t drink and my husband has an occasional drink when we go out, using our one-time use pass for a wine tasting and some hors d’oeuvres really didn’t make sense for us.  Breakfast would be more beneficial since we didn’t have breakfast options lined up for our trip.

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The breakfast selection was a terrific continental American buffet breakfast with a few hot items, to go along with breads and pastries.  You can’t have an American breakfast without having eggs, namely scrambled eggs which always seem to be a hit.  You also had the option to order hard-boiled or soft-boiled eggs as well.  Along with the scrambled eggs there were condiments of shredded cheese and salsa.

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A little meat to go with the eggs?  How about some roast link sausage with a side of ketchup.

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Want something a little more filling than eggs and sausage?  There was my favorite, French Toast with butter, whipped cream and maple syrup.  How can you go wrong with French Toast?

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To satisfy some of the Asian clientele who like to stay at this hotel, steamed white rice and miso soup was also available for breakfast.

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Looking for a lighter, healthier option?  There was fresh-cut fruit – strawberries, watermelon and pineapple – along with fresh Greek Yogurt or pre-packaged fruity yogurt in a cup as well.

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And for the kids, or the kids at heart, like me, there was also cereal selections including corn flakes and cinnamon toast crunch.

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Or steel cut oatmeal with brown sugar and raisins, if that’s more your style.

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Did I say there were pastries earlier?  The Leahi Club Lounge served a variety of fresh croissants, Danishes, and fritters and other assorted pastry items.

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I loved these cute mini bagels that came in plain, strawberry, garlic and sesame with a side of cream cheese.  Of course, there’s your standard white and wheat toast.  And what about the great local jam with flavors such as guava and passion fruit Hawaiian sun?  Of course, there was peanut butter and whipped butter as well.

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All of these delightful breakfast bites all while enjoying the beautiful view as you sit in the lounge surrounded by floor-to-ceiling glass and an almost 360 degree view.

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Wait, we didn’t get to the drinks yet!  How can you have breakfast served in Hawaii without having 100% pure Kona coffee?

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Looking for something fancier than just a cup of joe?  What about an espresso, or a latte or a cappuccino?  You can get that all in this fancy coffee maker.

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Or, if you are my husband and coffee isn’t your thing.  What about fresh juice in the morning?  Orange juice.  Guava juice.  It’s so hard to choose!

This is a great way to start your day.  A beautiful view.  Filling and delicious hot and cold breakfast items.  What more can you ask for?  The Leahi Club Lounge at the Sheraton Waikiki was a pure treat.  A little perk that we received for being a valued hotel guest and member of the loyalty program.  You couldn’t ask for more.  Too bad we couldn’t start our day off at this beautiful hotel with this kind of view every morning.  But being able to experience it just once was better than nothing.  Now, I’ve got the fuel I need to get me through the day.