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Gas Station Gourmet Valentine's Day

What do I do this Valentines Day now that we're in a real recession? ;-)

Feb 08, 2009
ChewToy in Home Cooking

Best Sushi in the OC

My girlfriend just got a promotion and her boss is letting her expense a fine dinner for two on the company as a bonus. She wants sushi so I suggested Urasawa. After giggling and realizing that she needs to keep her job, we need other options. She also doesn't want to drive too far from home (near South Coast Plaza).

So, what's the best extravagant sushi experience within 30 minutes of Costa Mesa. Budget limit is high but not quite Urasawa level.


p.s. Food is more important than atmosphere and service

Jun 26, 2008
ChewToy in Los Angeles Area

Chow House - LB to OC

I swear this is a chow question. Just bear with me...

My girlfriend is pushing for us to buy a house. Somewhere as far north as Long Beach or Orange and as far south as Laguna. She asked me what was important to me in finding a house. My response was "it has to be chowish".

I want a place near a good farmers market, a Trader Joes, a high end grocery store (Bristol Farms, Whole Foods, etc.), a cheese shop, a wine store, and inspiring restaurants. Preferably walkable.

I'm still new to the area. What are the chowish places to live?


Feb 28, 2008
ChewToy in Los Angeles Area

Gas Station Gourmet Valentine's Day

More photos

Feb 27, 2008
ChewToy in Home Cooking

Gas Station Gourmet Valentine's Day

Sorry it took me so long to get back and write a report.

Here’s how it went down......

I kinda cheated a little bit here and there on my theme with the food. I could have gotten hot dogs from the 99 cent store but my intentions were to make her giggle, not kill her. ;-)

I wore old ripped jeans, a white tank top, the loudest and tackiest cheap necktie I could find tucked under the shirt, a baseball cap on backwards and 99 cent store flip flop sandals. For three days, I went without shaving. I looked like a dressed up version of the criminals on the police tv show “Cops”. I wanted to get an obnoxiously tasteless tablecloth but couldn’t find one. My second choice was setting down valentines day newspaper ads in red with hearts all over. Couldn’t find those either. I turned a few Pabst Blue Ribbon beer cans into rather attractive votive candle holders and had a taper candle in a brown beer bottle. I tried to find sporks (the plastic combination of a fork and spoon in one) but couldn’t find those either. Napkins of course were tacky printed paper towels. I also offered a bib made from a 99 cent store plastic bag. The TV is connected to the computer, so I put on a fireplace screensaver. Other candles were lit around the house.

On the table, I had a tin bucket with USC’s logo printed on the side (her school) and filled with ice. The bubbly selection was Andre California Champagne ($3) with a screw-cork and sporting a USC beer cozy. Surprisingly, the Andre wasn’t completely bad but certainly not Schramsburg. I also had a Tinkerbell gift bag (Her favorite Disney character). In the bag, I had a pair of hideous pink leopard print flip-flop shoes and a plastic tiara with a heart on it that lit up so she could dress the part. Since I haven’t given her a ring yet, I got her a candy ring pop. (commitment lasts about 200 licks) I also included a pair of “Love Cuffs”, red plastic fuzzy handcuffs. It’s amazing what you can find at the 99 cent store. We never used the “Love Cuffs” but discovered that they make a great cat toy. ;-)

When she arrived, I had “Dueling Banjos” playing on iTunes followed by the sappiest love songs I could find. Later, the playlist moved into better tunes and a bit of barbershop quartet.

I scribbled the menu on the back of a fake arrest report and decorated it with hearts. Of course, the title was “Hold On To My Beer... I’m Gonna Try Somethin”. On the inside, it said “Men-You”.

Here are the courses...

Andre’s Broken Heart Cocktail – Plastic Champagne glasses filled with Pop-Rocks (for extra fizz) and crushed heart candies (the kind with little love notes printed on them) topped with Andre sparkling wine. Surprisingly tasty.

Franzia Red “Chillable” Box of Wine – This was served in mason jars. She always makes fun of box wine but neither of us can remember actually trying it. This turned out to validate our suspicions. It tasted like a mix of Kool-Aid and fruit juice that had been left in the summer sun for a few weeks. Needs more “inner tube” aroma. Interesting that it notes on the box “Table Wine with Natural Flavors”. Not sure what that means.

Jerk Tarts con Whiz – I wanted to rehydrate beef jerky and wrap it around pieces of apple. The beef jerky I got wasn’t long enough so I had to improvise. I put pieces of apple between pieces of jerky and filled the edges with Bacon Flavored Cheese Whiz (spray can cheese) then I heated it up on a mini cast iron skillet. Shockingly yummy.

Fwah Graw O-Torch-On de Spam Avek Bull-Burst Sauce – I treated canned Spam kinda like foie gras au torchon. I rinsed it to get rid of as much salt as I could and then poached it in butter. Next, I sculpted it into heart shapes and seared it. The sauce recipe I borrowed from Mario Batali who stole it from another chef. Melt a package and a half of original Starburst fruit chew candy with one can of Red Bull (carbonated energy drink). Again, surprisingly good. We will definitely make the sauce again.

Napoleon Duh Weenie – My goal was to deconstruct a hot dog and reconstruct it in a gourmet fashion. I seared a hot dog on my cast iron skillet and sliced it into thin disks. Using a tin can from Campbell’s Tomato Soup, I cut circles of Wonder Bread. I mixed ketchup and mustard separately with powdered methylcellulose to create a hot firm gel and cut it into circles with the can. I cut a sweet white onion in a circle as well. Next, I layered all of the circles, including the slices of hot dog, into a tower (napoleon). On top I made a heart with Cheese Whiz and filled it with ketchup spheres or “caviar” made with sodium alginate, sodium citrate, and calcium chloride. I placed a swoosh of a relish gel on the plate made by pureeing sweet pickle relish, straining it, adding agar agar, heating it, letting it set, and then pureeing once again. This had a touch of irony. I cheated and got decent hot dogs made from good organic meat with no chemicals... and then used a bunch of molecular gastronomy chemicals. Many giggles.

Lemon, Lime, and Basil Slurpee – We needed a palette cleanser. My girlfriend gave me a toy Slurpee machine for Christmas a year ago. I love Slurpees from 7-11. It’s basically a slushy beverage made with a soft drink or juice. I made one using Sprite soda infused with fresh basil. Oddly, it worked quite well and revitalized our taste buds for the next courses to come.

Padded Thighs and Ramen with Flamin Hot Cheeto Love Nuggets – This was a spin on Pad Thai. I made it with a package of Hot & Spicy Top Ramen noodles (20 cents!), julienned green onions, carrots, red bell peppers, chopped peanuts (airline size package), bean sprouts, and cilantro. The sauce was made from peanut butter, a bit of dark chocolate, and some other stuff already in the kitchen (hoisin, honey, red wine vinegar, ginger, garlic, sesame oil, soy sauce, Sour Sriracha, oyster sauce, etc.) I added sliced up microwave chicken nuggets and plated it on a bed of blanched arugala. I topped it with powdered Flaming Hot Cheetos and had a lime wedge on the side. It was served with pink bendy straws instead of chopsticks. We giggled a bit before running to get a fork. The dish was a success.

Convenience Luv On Fire With Chocolate Tang Sauce – This was more about the flambee spectacle than anything else. I soaked Twinkies in dark rum. My thought to set it on fire came from bananas foster. I sauteed butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and allspice. Just before plating, I added more rum and lit it on fire. It burned for a short bit but the flames were too blue to photograph. Strangely, the Twinkie was not charred at all. This goes back to the theory that Twinkies are made of asbestos. I served this with a surprisingly good chocolate sauce using Hershey’s and Orange Tang powdered drink mix.

Truck Stop Truffles – Finely powdered Oreos blended with cream cheese and then dipped in chocolate. These were surprisingly easy and tasty. So to further complicate things, I finished them off 8 different ways.

Rolled in Cocoa Powder – Kinda standard truffle.
Drizzled White Chocolate – Again, kinda normal but good.
Rolled in Nutella Powder – I made the powder by mixing Nutella with Tapioca Maltodextrin. Very good!
Rolled in Walnut Powder – Pureed walnuts also mixed with Tapioca Maltodextrin.
Rolled in Malted Milk Powder – Like an inside out malted milk ball.
Rolled in Flaming Hot Cheeto Dust – Great red color but... Well it sounded good on paper at 1am.
Rolled in Orange Tang Powder – Good enough for the astronauts. This was awesome!
Topped with Honey Granules – Looked great and added a sugary crunch.

I topped the pile o truffles with 2 pink Marshmallow “Peeps” birds kissing. Bonus points for being extra sappy.

Well, the dinner was a success. She laughed the whole night. Almost everything tasted great and was a bit of a surprise to us both. I think it was proven that it’s possible to great meal without foie gras, kobe beef, and truffles. However, we had to throw out the box wine.

After all that, the kitchen was a disastrophe! I wish I had a biohazard suit.

Thanks to everyone for all the suggestions!

Feb 26, 2008
ChewToy in Home Cooking

Gas Station Gourmet Valentine's Day

Thank you all for helping me through this event. Chowhound and the hounds that support this site ROCK!

I want to use the lowest, cliche ingredients and elevate them to the highest level. I think it's fair if I use a couple of cracked out tricks.

What do you think about a hot dog napoleon? Alternating layers of thinly sliced hot dog and wonder bread on top of a gelee of pureed relish and topped with spherical ketchup and mustard caviar.

Dude, I got skills and enough equipment to be dangerous. Need more ideas and proofreading so I don't go too far.

Thank you all so much!

Feb 07, 2008
ChewToy in Home Cooking

Gas Station Gourmet Valentine's Day

I'm so laughing. There must be special spot reserved for me in culinary hell after this.

I brew my own beer but that's probably too good for this event. I'll have to spring for PBR. Love the jerky wrapped around fruit!

Feb 07, 2008
ChewToy in Home Cooking

Gas Station Gourmet Valentine's Day

I agree, the twinkies are probably made of asbestos. I figure I have 2 options....

1) Soak the twinkies in a rum that's over 100 proof. Although, using 151 Bermuda rum goes against the Ghetto theme and would probably get her tanked. ;-)

2) Soak the twinkies in regular rum and then make a preparation much like bananas foster. Heat butter, brown sugar, and rum in a pan (napalm). Toss in twinkies. Give the twinkies about a minute to get coated and up to temp. Ignite in the pan and then plate and deliver quickly.

This is all theoretical so I should try it first and remember where the extinguisher is. ;-)

Feb 06, 2008
ChewToy in Home Cooking

Gas Station Gourmet Valentine's Day

Top Chef was my first thought for research but they don't have any of those recipes that I could find. Probably because they were quickfire challenges.

The search continues ;-)

Feb 06, 2008
ChewToy in Home Cooking

Gas Station Gourmet Valentine's Day

Thanks to everybody for the great suggestions. Keep them coming!

Yeah, my girlfriend has a stellar sense of humor. These types of creative efforts tend to go over better than the time I took her to French Laundry up in Napa. Go figure. ;-)

Feb 06, 2008
ChewToy in Home Cooking

Gas Station Gourmet Valentine's Day

My girlfriend has been complaining about my spending money on top quality ingredients when I cook for her. Copper River Salmon, Kobe Beef, Heritage Turkey, Bordeaux wines, D'Artagnan foie gras, and I could go on about the exotic produce, spices, and my recent molecular gastronomy kick.

So, for this Valentines Day, I want to let her know that I got the message and still love her. (She has a great sense of humor!)

I want to create a dinner experience using the cliche bottom of the barrel ingredients, but prepared in a very gourmet style with a surprisingly great taste. I want to source as many ingredients from either the 99 cent store or the gas station. Here's a rough sketch of some ideas I have so far...

Menu scrawled in crayon on the back of a fake Arrest Report

Andre sparkling wine chilled in a mini metal trash can with strawberry Pop-Rocks in the plastic champagne glasses for added flavor and fizz.

Wine from a box served in mason jars.

"Fwaw Graw O Torch-On de Spam" (in the shape of hearts)

Something using Top Ramen that I haven't figured out yet

Rum Soaked Twinkie Flambee with a Hershey's Dark Chocolate Syrup and Orange Tang Sauce

I'll be wearing ripped jeans, white tank top (wife beater), a loud tie, baseball cap, and a dinner jacket. The music selection will start with "Dueling Banjos" and move on to "Let's Get It On" by Jack Black.

Obviously, I need help brainstorming this if I'm going to pull it off. Would like to have more courses. Could use suggestions on menu planning, recipes, decor, and music. It's all in the name of love. ;-)

Let loose the hounds!

Feb 06, 2008
ChewToy in Home Cooking

Whole Roasted Pig in OC

My girlfriend's office is having a Hawaiian themed Christmas party. So, they're thinking about getting a whole roasted pig. Any idea where to find one near Santa Ana?

Dec 04, 2007
ChewToy in Los Angeles Area

Best Eastern NC BBQ

I know this is a dangerous topic as everyone has their own favorite but what do you think is the best Eastern NC example of BBQ?

I'll be traveling from Los Angeles to the Triangle in a few days and spending some time in Wilmington, NC.


Oct 25, 2007
ChewToy in Southeast

A Week in Wilmington, NC

My girlfriend and I are from Southern California and are flying out to North Carolina next week for a family reunion in Wilmington. I haven't been there since I was a toddler.

What are the "Not to be Missed" chow-ventures? Where should we go to sample dishes that we can't find in California? Doesn't matter if it's a 5 star restaurant or a tiny shack with a still out back. Just has to be amazing food.

We figure we should definitely try the BBQ (both East NC and West NC style). I'd like to have Maryland-Style Steamed Blue Crabs if that's possible.

Also, we'll be flying in and out of Raleigh so recommendations for lunch in the Triangle area would be great as well. We also welcome any non-chow suggestions for things to do between meals ;-)


Oct 22, 2007
ChewToy in General South Archive

Review- The Winery Restaurant, The District, Tustin

I went there on their opening night so I expected things to be a bit off.... They were. I just went to the wine bar rather than try their restaurant just yet. It was crowded, noisy (bad acoustics), and impersonal.

There were only two options for flights (Red or White). Very few wines by the glass to be considered a wine bar. We ordered two flights and the glasses were placed in front of us. There were no tasting notes and neither of us could hear the bar tender who was running around so we have no idea what we sampled.

We tried two bar appetizers. The "Crispy Lobster-Red Wine Risotto Lollipops with Black Truffle Sauce" while plated well was just BLAND and the texture was that of a tater tot on a stick. The "Herb Pommes Frites Cone with Dipping Sauces" was average at best and as for the two dipping sauces... one was ketchup and the other was a runny white mess.

We had high hopes for this place but were dreadfully disappointed. So glad we didn't try dinner! Maybe if they do a major overhaul, we'll consider it again in six months. Until then, we'll stick to Symposium for a wine bar and Pinot Provence for dinner.

p.s. The other poster was correct. It's an overpriced, glorified Black Angus.

Sep 08, 2007
ChewToy in Los Angeles Area

Best Farmers Markets & Suppliers in the OC

I moved down to the OC from LA but still haven't figured out where to shop.

Here's what I'm looking for:
1. Best Farmers Markets
2. Best stores for fresh produce
3. Best butcher shop
4. Best source for fresh fish
5. Best ethnic shops
6. Best cheese store
7. Best wine store
8. Best kitchen supply store
9. Anything else you can think of that I missed ;-)

My priorities are (in order):
1. Quality
2. Selection
3. Price

I know there are posts for some of these things but thought it would be nice to have everyone's picks consolidated. Kind of a guide to the county that used to have Orange trees. ;-)


Jul 22, 2007
ChewToy in Los Angeles Area

International Marine? Help!!

I'm definitely not meaning to sound snooty. ;-) I've had sockeye many times and it is wonderful. But then king is to die for. I missed having it last year and want to spoil myself this time.

Jun 11, 2007
ChewToy in Los Angeles Area

International Marine? Help!!

Forgot to mention... I live in OC but was willing to drive to LA for IMP. So, I'm open to any other suggestions that require a drive or getting up at 3:00am.

Jun 11, 2007
ChewToy in Los Angeles Area

International Marine? Help!!

That's for Copper River Sockeye not Copper River King.

Jun 11, 2007
ChewToy in Los Angeles Area

International Marine? Help!!

I just called International Marine Products and found out that they are no longer open to the public. The guy on the phone said that they just recently had to change their policy and require a business license from people.

I have a large dinner for friends in the next few days and was planning on serving Copper River King Salmon. They are going out of season soon and I can't completely kill my budget. Santa Monica Seafood is selling it at $10 higher than IMP.

Any suggestions as to what to do? I know most of the other retail places but either the quality is low or the price too high.

Help!!! :-(

Jun 11, 2007
ChewToy in Los Angeles Area

Best Wine Country Farmers Markets

We going to be up in Napa and Sonoma for the first two weeks in July. We're hoping to craft our own picnic baskets from provisions we find at the amazing farmers markets in the area. We're not afraid to cook and have a kitchen at our hotel we can use. Which are the best farmers markets with the best selections?


p.s. We'd love to hear of any other food adventures (not restaurants) we should consider such as cheese factory tours, olive oil tastings, etc.

Edible Flowers

I love the "Stellar Mix" of salad greens you can get at Maggies Farms' booth at many of the LA Farmers Markets. Not only does it taste amazing, it has bright petals from edible flowers that add to the taste.

Does anyone know where you can buy pesticide free, organic, edible flowers? Preferably fresh from a plant (florist or nursery). Preferably in OC near South Coast Plaza but I drive up to LA every so often.

I know you can get a sad scraggly box of them at Bristol Farms but I'm hoping to add real ones to my herb garden. (yeah, I know I can grow from seed but... my girl randomly whimpers "I want it now Daddy!")

Thanks for the help!

Apr 06, 2007
ChewToy in Los Angeles Area

Gateway Dinner to Wine Country

The reason I was thinking about going to Vino Venue was because it has a large selection available by the taste. The novelty factor doesn't hurt either. ;-)

Gateway Dinner to Wine Country

Need help for a family reunion of sorts. (just 4 of us)

I live in L.A. and am a bit of an aspiring chef. My dad lives in Washington D.C. and used to manage a winery. (I was surprised to find that Virginia wine could be quite good) I haven't seen him in almost 10 years. It'll be my first time meeting his new wife and his first time meeting my girlfriend.

We're going to meet up in San Francisco the first week of July and then venture up to Napa/Sonoma.

Any recommendations for the perfect restaurant in the Bay Area to show off California Cuisine and launch our trip to wine country? Price is not a concern nor is location.

I could also use suggestions for wine bars. ;-)

I was thinking Chez Panisse and maybe Vino Venue (Mission & 3rd). Let me know what you think!


Buffalo Wings in N. OC?

Wing Stop in Costa Mesa are the only acceptable ones for me. Wing Nuts are definitely sub-par. Otherwise it's a trek up to Hoagies and Wings up in LA.

Mar 06, 2007
ChewToy in Los Angeles Area

Where to get Colored Tortillas?

I'm trying to find colored Tortillas. I've seen blue and red Tortilla chips many times but never the raw Tortillas. I know I can make them from scratch but would prefer to buy them already made. Any suggestions?

I live in the OC but would be willing to drive if necessary.


Feb 27, 2007
ChewToy in Los Angeles Area

California Cuisine

I'm the original poster and should have clarified some things...

We actually live in Southern California, but often being so close to something makes the perspective more difficult. The ingredients shouldn't be a problem. However, we'd prefer to have everything be "finger food" and avoid needing two hands or utensils.

Great suggestions so far! Keep them coming.

Feb 16, 2007
ChewToy in Home Cooking

California Cuisine

My girlfriend and I are having a wine tasting party and the theme is California wines. Any suggestions for California style appetizers to serve? (We are already thinking about making some funky pizzas)


Feb 15, 2007
ChewToy in Home Cooking

Dinner near the Derby

A bunch of friends and I are going to a show at the Derby in Los Feliz. Any recommendations for dinner before the show? We are open to anything as long as it is good and close. I know Louise's is right next door but we want something better than that.


Feb 15, 2007
ChewToy in Los Angeles Area

Best Gumbo in LA/OC in bulk?

Any thoughts about New Orleans Fish Market?

Jan 31, 2007
ChewToy in Los Angeles Area