Ramekin: L.A.’s new sweet spot

It’s not often you see a good dessert place open late in Los Angeles. True, on that strip of Beverly Blvd., you’ll come across Susina and Milk but not all of us can get ourselves to Mid-Wilshire. Luckily, if you live on the east side, Ramekin in Los Feliz is serving up some amazing ice cream and seasonal desserts. Best part is that they are open late (closes at 11:00pm on weekdays and at 1:00am on Friday and Saturday nights)!

I first learned about Ramekin from my friend Gregory. He knows chef Jason Park who makes the delicious baked goods and homemade ice cream. Earlier this year, we were invited to the soft opening – it was truly a treat! We didn’t want to leave after the first round of tasting the desserts. From seasonal ice creams (made in-house!) to panna cotta to seasonal tarts – all are served in ramekins.

Homemade ice cream and sorbets at Ramekin.

Homemade ice cream and sorbet at Ramekin.

The menu changes seasonally and they get a lot of their ingredients from the local farmer’s markets like Hollywood and Santa Monica. There’s an emphasis in non-GMO ingredients and it feels good to talk to a chef who knows exactly where his ingredients are from and how it was grown.

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Banana cream pie at Ramekin.

Since the opening of Ramekin, I’ve gone back countless times. The menu changes slightly because they use seasonal fruits. But one of my favorite desserts that I often crave is a standard on the menu: Chocolate bread pudding. It’s not your typical bread pudding so don’t try to compare. The toasted bread is hot and caramelized from being baked in the often. The smell is sweet and buttery. And to top it off, a scoop of Tahitian vanilla ice cream slowly melts into the crevices of the cubed bread. The first bite is the best – I get my spoon and dig straight into the ice cream — it’s important to get a little bit of ice cream, bread, and chocolate all on one spoon to get have the perfect first bite experience. What’s there not to love?

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Chocolate bread pudding at Ramekin.

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Pistachio ice cream at Ramekin.

It’s great to see how this spot has become part of the Los Feliz neighorhood since it has been open. You’re saying “Duh, it’s in Los Feliz – of course it’s PART of the neighborhood.” But I’m talking about walking in to see people playing boardgames at the communal table with friends while drinking their Handsome coffee and having a cookie. You see the Ramekin staff say hi to regulars as they come in to try their latest ice cream flavors. Indeed, these are all the things I saw when I was recently there. Looking forward to many more visits to Ramekin and seeing more people discover this sweet gem on the east side.

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My friends at the soft opening of Ramekin in February.

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Ramekin
1726 N. Vermont Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90027
323.667.9627

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Easy chocolate covered strawberries recipe [vegan friendly, RECIPE]

I’m going to a 4th of July BBQ and I volunteered to make dessert. I asked if there were any dietary restrictions and my friend said it would be great if I could make something vegan-friendly. I said yes without thinking. But later I realized most of the stuff I make uses butter or eggs so I couldn’t use my go-to dessert recipes. But then I realized, dark chocolate is vegan – just read the label though because some name brands can skimp on the cocoa and add milk… more on that later.

chocolate dipped strawberries

The recipe doesn’t take a long time to make and it’s a great dessert for groups. You don’t need serving spoons or knives – just pick it up and eat! Best part, you just need 2 ingredients to make it:

  1. 12 oz. chocolate chips (semisweet chocolate) – read ingredients to make sure there aren’t any animal products in the chocolate
  2. 2 dozen medium sized strawberries

I admit I read every bag of chocolate chips in the baking aisle in the store. Interesting bit is that not all semisweet chocolate chips are made the same. The ones that were more inexpensive had some milk or dairy mixed in but the more pricier chocolate chips didn’t and I assume it’s because it had a higher cocoa content. I ended up going with Guittard real semisweet chocolate but the Ghirardelli all natural semisweet also works if you can find it in stock at your grocery store.

So you have your goods, now what?

  1. Wash your strawberries and dry thoroughly.
  2. Lay a clean sheet of parchment paper on a cookie sheet.
  3. Get a pot and fill it with water halfway and put it on the stove with medium heat. Get a metal bowl and put it on top. I have a bowl that’s slightly bigger than the pot so it sits nicely on top and doesn’t sink into the water. Don’t use glass or plastic.
  4. Put the chocolate chips inside the bowl and get a wooden spoon to stir s the chocolate melts. Use a wooden spoon so it won’t scratch your bowl like metal or plastic spoons.
  5. Once the chocolate has melted, turn off the stove and grab your strawberries.
  6. Dip your strawberries halfway and swirl in the chocolate. Lift up and let the excess chocolate drop off and place the strawberry on the parchment paper that’s on the cookie sheet. Once you’ve put it there, don’t move it around or you’ll have a chocolaty mess.

Once you’re done, let it cool outside for about 15 minutes then put it in the fridge for a couple hours. In less than 3 hours, from start to finish, you’ll have your chocolate covered strawberries for your party!

Baking gluten-free almond macaroons [RECIPE]

This is my second attempt trying to bake almond macaroons. The first time I did it, it turned out pretty bad so I didn’t even bother taking photos. I recently found a recipe that I posted on my Pinterest board for chewy almond macaroons from Saveur. I love almonds and it’s gluten-free and vegan-friendly – which is a safe dessert to bring for potlucks if people have aversions to certain ingredients.

The recipe calls for just a few ingredients:

  1. Almond paste (do not use marzipan)
  2. Superfine sugar (aka Baker’s Sugar)
  3. Salt
  4. Amaretto liqueur
  5. Powdered sugar

I’m not going to lie, almond paste is pretty expensive. I bought mine for a little under $7 for 7 oz. This recipe calls for 18 oz. Next time I may try to make my own almond paste if I have the time – or shop around for a beter deal (but I doubt I will find anything better). Here’s how it looks after the ingredients were all mixed and they were put on the parchment paper on the cookie sheet.

You’re supposed to take the macaroons out when they have turned golden however, mine took a long time to turn golden and when it did, the macaroon shape flattened to look like a cookie – it didn’t look like the one that Saveur posted.

DO NOT use regular granulated sugar. The recipe calls for “superfine sugar” which is something between the consitancy of granulated sugar and powdered sugar. I was going to buy the superfine sugar but it was almost $5 for a carton and I only needed 1/2 cup. I did some research online and apparently, you can put granulated sugar in the food processor for a couple minutes or until it gets really fine.

Granted the look of the almond macaroons didn’t look like I had expected BUT it tasted great. There was a little caramelization on top and the cookie was dense and chewy. Even though the base of the recipe is almond paste, the almond flavor didn’t overpower the cookie – it was subtle and sweet. If you have tips to make this dessert better, please share your tips with me! I’d really appreciate it.

If you’re willing to give it a try, here’s the RECIPE for chewy almond macaroons.

Brian’s Shave Ice + Dole Whip! [DEAL]

If you’re a regular to this blog, you know I love Hawaiian shave ice from reading my previous posts. Today in my inbox I found a deal on Living Social for Brian’s Shave Ice. This place is located around the corner from  Blockheads Shavery. I actually went to this place a few months before Blockheads had opened and I was very pleased with the shave ice – it was fine ice, not granulated, and had a good assortment of syrup flavors.

It’s a traditional Hawaiian shave ice place but the bonus is that they also serve Dole Whip. Yes, THE Dole Whip – the one that was only found at Disneyland and Hawaii.

Now you can get it on a cone or at the center of Hawaiian shave ice at Brian’s. Note: If you only want Dole Whip, there’s also a place that opened up in West Hollywood that only serves different fruity combination of the soft serve. Here’s the menu and various combinations you can get at Brian’s.

That’s Brian shaving some ice in the photo above. He’s a cool guy and brought his love of Hawaiian shave ice to West LA.

My friend and I each got a shave ice with Dole Whip. For my syrup flavors, I got pineapple, melona, and POG (passion, orange, guava). Also, I topped it off with some li-hing mui powder.

Check out that dollop of Dole Whip! It’s a nice smooth surprise at the end of the shave ice. You know when the syrup runs to the bottom, it can get a bit soup? Well, the soft serve mixes in and makes it easy for you to finish it off. This is a light dessert that won’t weight you done after a big meal – it’s just fine shavings of ice. I have to say, I’m so happy that Hawaiian style shave ice is here on the mainland – it seems so right!

If you miss the Living Social deal, no worries because they post specials on their Facebook and Twitter feeds.

Brian’s Shave Ice
11301 W Olympic Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064

Simply sweet at Semi Sweet Bakery

If you ever need an excuse to explore downtown Los Angeles, check out the monthly Downtown Art Walk. It happens the second Thursday of every month. I know a lot of people go for the art but… I also go for the food.

Last year, hoards of food trucks made their way for the event. Recently, the food trucks haven’t been around but businesses have moved into some of the empty storefronts – businesses like Semi Sweet Bakery.

Right when you walk in, it’s brightly lit with an array of sweets behind the glass. They have several type of “ding-a-lings” which are like specialty mini Ding Dongs.

It was obvious they had a lot of sweets but what I was craving something savory. I ended up ordering a short rib empanada. They have three flavors – mushroom, beef, and short rib. I admit I was questioning myself on why I did that but the guy at the register handed me a fresh empanada – I put my nose to the bag and inhaled and all questions disappeared. I made a good choice.

The exterior was buttery and flaky. The short rib was tender and moist. It’s actually a perfect snack or something for an appetizer tray. Also, I got something sweet – a homemade Pop-Tart… um, I mean pocket tart!

Yes, a pocket tart looks like a Pop-Tart but it definitely doesn’t taste like one. The strawberry pocket tart I ordered didn’t overwhelm me with sugar. The shell was a hearty crust with strawberry preserve in the center. The glaze was subtly sweet – all the flavors worked together really well.

When I ordered, I also got a complimentary triple chip cookie that just came out of the oven. Basically, it’s a chocolate, butterscotch and potato chip cookie. There’s a slightly salty aftertaste from the potato chip that lingers after each bite.

The name of the bakery is perfectly fitting and I’m definitely looking forward to getting more treats!

Semi Sweet Bakery
105 E 6th St
Los Angeles, CA 90013

Bosco Bakery roti cafe buns!

I’m a big fan of Korean bakeries. The baked goods are not too sweet, the breads are airy and light, and the buttery bread just melts in your mouth. Recently, I went to Bosco Bakery in Koreatown with some friends after dinner to gorge on some almond roti cafe buns.

No, not all of those are for me. We each ordered one. This was actually the first time I actually tried the almond bun here – I was not disappointed. From the outside, it’s a perfect simple dome – no glaze, frosting, or sprinkles.

Don’t let the plan look fool you. The dome-shaped treat is filled with sweet almond slices that add great texture to the soft buttery bread.

The photo above makes me salivate every time I look at. I remember my first bite – I sank my teeth into the toasted sweet exterior into the soft bread. But I have to say my favorite bite was the second one when I actually got my first taste of the sweet slivered almonds.

Shave ice + milk = Blockheads Shavery Co.

This past weekend I was doing my part to support small businesses by getting a haircut at Taka Salon and getting some gifts at Giant Robot on Sawtelle. While running errands I found a new shave ice place called Blockheads Shavery Co. – well it’s a different take on shave ice. Their version is creamier because they add milk into the ice blocks. Here’s how they explain it:

Blockheads Shavery Co. is tucked away on Mississippi right off of Sawtelle. It’s been open for a couple weeks and so far I like what they are serving up.

Here’s how you order.

  1. You choose the flavor of the ice. They have various flavors ranging from original which is a milky cream flavor, strawberry, chocolate, and black sesame.
  2. Pick your toppings
  3. Pick your puree.

If you can’t decide, they have a list of their popular combinations posted. I got the #3 which is the original ice, strawberry and mochi toppings, and strawberry purree. The guy at the counter was nice and gave me a sample of their homemade rice cakes to try.

The portion was larger than I thought it would be but surprisingly, it wasn’t heavy. When they make the snow cream, they bring out a block of ice that is a mixture of the infused flavor you want and milk – to give it that creamy consistency when they shave it like regular shave ice in the machine… then you get snow cream!

The snow cream is soft, smooth, and light. I admit from the three toppings I had, the homemade ricecakes (which is slightly larger than mochi) was my favorite because it had a soft and moist texture that went well with the strawberries and snow cream.

I love how the shave ice falls apart when you scoop up each bite at a time. Check out the photo above – how the ice really looks like shavings. If you love ice cream and/or shave ice, this place is definitely worth trying. I will be back!

Blockheads Shavery Co. prices are decent – a regular bowl is about $3.50. The combination I got was $4.50 — and I split it with someone because it was pretty big.

Blockheads Shavery Co. 
11311 Mississippi Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90025

Happily ever after and… Dimey’s Donuts!

I went to a lovely wedding this weekend in Pasadena. It was a beautiful event filled with lots of love and well wishes for the couple. I remembered talking with the bride during the early planning stages of the wedding and she said she wanted tacos at her wedding – sure enough, the tacos were there. But what caught my eye was the dessert: gourmet donuts!

I’m used to wedding cakes, cupcakes, and pies at weddings but this was the first time I had gourmet donuts for dessert at a wedding. The donuts were freshly fried up and dressed by Dimey’s Donuts.

As far as I can tell, Dimey’s seems to make donuts for special events. Their homepage is bare with just a contact email address. Their Facebook page says they made 250 donuts for the wedding – and I’m pretty sure all 250 donuts were happily eaten.

I do hope they open up a shop because their donuts are quite good. As you can see above, there was an assortment of chocolate glazed, passion fruit lemon glaze, and s’mores. Each donut is twice the size of your average donut hole. It’s actually not a dense dough – it’s airy and is perfectly fried. But my favorite from the bunch was the s’mores donut.

I took my first bite and I could taste the graham cracker crumbs layered over the donut glaze. Inside was a dollop of dark chocolate and marshmallow. The donut was light and had the s’mores flavors in each bite.

I have to admit that donuts are an ideal dessert for parties – they are simple, you don’t need utensils, and there’s no real mess (unless you get powdered donuts).

Checking in at Border Grill – Downtown LA

I had some out-of-town guests who were on a tight schedule to see me. They said they would be in downtown LA in a couple hours and that they were hungry – they wanted something very Los Angeles. I was racking my brain! Then I asked “Have you had tacos?” They said no and that they would love tacos but there would have to be a vegetarian option. I knew exactly where I wanted to take them.

Since my day job is in downtown, I knew I didn’t have to go far for some authentic Southern Californian cuisine because Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger’s modern Mexican restaurant was just down the street. No, I’m not talking about Ciudad – that closed in the summer of 2010. I’m talking about Border Grill (which took Ciudad’s place).

This isn’t the first Border Grill to open but it was my first time at a Border Grill restaurant. I haven’t even tried their food truck. When we got there, the place was pretty loud because it was during Happy Hour. I ordered up some roasted lamb tacos… check out how moist the lamb was and the fresh manchego.

One of my friends ordered the vegetarian tacos. I think her tacos were better than my order. The vegetarian options were filling and flavorful. Here’s the potato taco…

Also, here’s the other vegetarian taco that is a poblano corn taco with guacamole and corn.

We couldn’t finish our meal without a proper dessert. Here’s a complimentary dish that the manager gave to our table. It was a great surprise to end the meal. Below you’ll see the Rainforest Macadamia Brownie which had the perfect balance of textures and flavors.

I’m looking forward to going back and checking out their mojito and margaritas for happy hour. Perhaps I’ll follow this up with another entry on their libations. I’ll keep you posted!

Pop-up Pie Shop @ The Machine Project

Last month, A colleague of mine asked if I wanted to go to the Pop-up Pie Shop at the Machine Project in Echo Park. I had been so consumed with moving into my new place and unpacking that I haven’t been going out. But I admit, when he said “pie,” I was already sold.

This one-day pie tasting was an event where proceeds went to the Los Angeles Food Bank when you purchase a put-it-together pie set. The timing was great because it was right before Thanksgiving and the temperature in LA started to drop a few degrees — it started to feel like pie season!

They served up pumpkin, apple, and lemon pies. Below is the the “pie director,” Sarah Williams. People were running fresh pies out of the oven to Sarah as I took this photo.

If you bought a pie, you got a jar of your choice of filling and a crust in a box. Put it together, then put it in the oven and before you know you it, you have your very own pie. I admit, I thought the packaging was very cute and clever… and simple!

My favorite was the pumpkin pie. The flavors were subtle – after the initial pumpkin flavor, I could taste a hint of  maple coming through. Plus, the crust was just right – flaky  and buttery.

This Pop-up Pie Shop lasted just a day but it doesn’t mean you can’t have your own pop-up dessert gathering this winter season. Myself and some colleagues are planning a bake-off at work and I plan on having a cookie baking day next week! If all works out, I’ll be posting some photos from those events soon.

Cheerios!