Got Milk? Isabel’s Mexican Chocolate Bread Pudding


Last week for Zagat, I wrote about the Mexican chocolate bread pudding at Isabel’s Cantina in Pacific Beach. It’s a decadent chocolate infused dessert that pairs well with milk. The dessert was created in conjunction with the Got Milk? campaign where restaurants were contacted to create a food that pairs well with milk. Select restaurants including Isabel’s Cantina created specials and it wasn’t just sweet offerings. Savory items like Korean fried chicken in San Francisco were also included. But if you’re anything like me, sweet is the way to go and I loved this dessert because of the subtle spicy kick from the chipotle chocolate ganache on the side.

Since the restaurant will only be serving it for a limited time, here’s a copy of the recipe to make at home. When it was served at the restaurant, a glass of whole milk was served alongside. Since moving to adulthood and ever conscious of the calories I put into my body, the whole milk was like drinking an unsweetened milkshake. It was thick but helped douse ease the spice from the ganache. I recommend if you make this cake to go ahead and also pair it with a glass of whole milk.


Mexican Chocolate Bread Pudding

Created by chef Isabel Cruz

Bread pudding
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
2 tablespoons brown sugar
6 croissants enough to fit a 9-inch pie plate, split lengthwise
1 cup almond slivers

Mexican Chocolate
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 cup sugar

Chipotle Chocolate Ganache
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup half and half
1 tablespoon adobo sauce from canned chipotle chilies in adobo sauce

For Mexican chocolate:
Combine the ingredients in a food processor or blender and pulse until semi-fine ground. Set a side.

For Chipotle chocolate ganache:
In a medium saucepan, add the chocolate chips, half and half and adobo sauce.

Cook over low heat until chocolate chips being to melt. Stir with a fork until sauce forms. Remove from heat and set aside.

For bread pudding:
Preheat the oven to 350º degrees F. Butter a 9-inch pie plate and set aside.

Combine the eggs, half-and-half and brown sugar in a large bowl and whisk to combine. Press the croissants into the egg mixture to soak, turning over twice.

Fit the bottom half of each croissant into the butter pie plate, sliced side down. Sprinkle 3/4 cup of the Mexican chocolate over the croissants followed by 1/2 of the almonds.

Layer the remaining croissants sliced down side on top and sprinkle with remaining chocolate and almonds.

Bake the bread pudding until puffy and dry on the top but still moist inside.

Remove from oven and let cool slightly before cutting and serving. Can be served at room temperature or chilled. Top with a spoonful of ganache before serving with glass of milk.

Guess Who’s Running Again? Hint: It’s a Fit Foodie Ambassador


I get a ton of emails. A ton. Restaurant openings. Invitations. Long-lost relatives from Namibia who want to send me money. Funny recipes. And people calling me a retard. You name it. Last month, I received an invite to become the Fit Foodie Ambassador for Cooking Light & Health’s 5K Race weekend and I applied not thinking they wouldn’t pick me. But big surprise— they did and now I’m training for it.

A little history: I was a big runner about 15+ years ago. Living in Bankers Hill, I would drive from my 2nd Avenue studio apartment and run at Balboa Park by myself racking up miles. But I gave up out of boredom. So getting back on the wagon is important for me and I’m giving myself month to prep for the race.

Given my job, working out is a requirement. I’m not as fit as I would like to be but I’m in the realm. I walk Doctor 4+ times a week for almost three miles, hit the gym to use the elliptical when I have time and do pilates. It’s a balance that works with the theme of this year’s race “Calories Burned. Calories Earned.” And man, do I have a lot of calories to burn every time I eat for work. The Fit Foodie 5K Race is taking place on November 7 and here’s my goal: I don’t want to suck.

5K is the equivalent of 3.1 miles and frankly not a big stretch. In a month I’m looking to increase my lung capacity and endurance, and ramp up from walking to running nonstop. The first time I hit the treadmill, it was hard and took just as long to do a run/walk as I do on most days. I’m still sore but I appreciate the deadline. IMG_6067

Will I accomplish my goal? We’ll see. If you’re looking to join me, you can sign up at Use the code BURNINGKITCHEN and you get 50% off registration fees. Deadline to register is November 4.

Fast Food Taste Testing: Burger King’s HA1loween Whopper

Halloween Whopper Wrapper

Note from Darlene: I’ve been busy so I wrangled Paul into eating this burger and writing a post for me. If there’s one lesson to be learned, lunch is never free with me.


Not in a “Happy Halloween” way, but in an opposite of “yay!” way. Halloween Whopper Closeup

Burger King unveiled its HA1loween Whopper locally this week, and for those keep tabs on international fast food offerings, it seems to be a far cry from its Japanese model from 2014. Here’s my breakdown from the American version vs. its overseas counterpart.

Aside from the nifty packaging that resembles a mummy, the first and most obvious deviation from a regular Whopper is the light–diffusing, black bun. Advertisements claim it’s infused with A-1 steak sauce. Other than its color, it seemed to be the same regular-issue sesame seed variety that comes standard with any Whopper (I didn’t notice any pronounced A-1 flavor). The Japanese version didn’t have sesame seeds, so it had a much more pronounced blackness. (If I’d ordered mine without lettuce, tomato or onion, it would’ve been much less colorful.)

Halloween Whopper in Hand

The next deviation from its Japanese predecessor was the presence of A-1 steak sauce in place of ketchup. Apparently this was to echo the darkness of the bun (?) but it didn’t make the burger taste any better. I’m not sure if A-1 and mayo make good bedfellows. (Darlene reports when she ordered it, the fine young man behind the counter warned her that there was no ketchup and if she wanted steak sauce or ketchup. Customers had been complaining they didn’t like A-1 in their burger.)

The final deviation was the slice of American cheese. It was the standard yellow-orange you’ve always had, opposed to the Japanese version’s black cheese. Perhaps American focus groups just couldn’t handle that. I think seeing the words “squid ink” on a Burger King menu in Oklahoma or Indiana would incite panic, mass confusion and rioting. Burger King Menu

All in all, the burger tasted the same as any other Whopper, but for the A-1/ketchup swap. This is a good thing; I’m not sure if a radical departure in flavor would be a good idea for those curious in trying this novelty. The price was $4.99, which is the going rate as a regular Whopper a la carte or $7.39 for the combo meal.

Since it’s for Halloween, I would imagine this is one of those “only for a limited time at select Burger King locations” sort of deals, so if you need to get one, act sooner rather than later.

The Jury’s Out: Spam Snacks

Spam Jerky

Since returning from Spam Jam in Hawaii this spring, I’ve had in my hands a hot little product from Hormel: Spam Snacks! And I wasn’t able to write about it until now.

During the opening events, simply labeled packets were handed out while I was tasting the various Spam dishes. As other attendees were ripping open the packets to chow down with the food (overkill if you ask me), I reserved mine until I was in San Diego and shared it with Paul.

There are no surprises here: it tastes like Spam but we both agreed that eating it alone without plain white rice didn’t put the product in the best light. The whole joy of eating Spam for me is usually comes with a big pile of carbs and eggs.

Spam Jerky closeup

Unless you like eating Spam as-is and much drier, I don’t think it will appeal to a lot of people. A lot of people at the event were calling it “Spam jerky” because it has a lot of similarities to beef jerky with a bit of chew. I can foresee keeping it on hand if you’re on a meat-centric diet or if you’re looking to keep it in your emergency food stash, but isn’t that what a regular can of Spam is supposed to do?

Huffington Post calls it “weird.” While I won’t go as far as calling it that, I think sticking to different flavored cans Spam is the best course of action for Hormel.

Three flavors will be available on shelves soon: bacon, teriyaki and classic.


While I was in Hawaii, I also managed to pick up several cans of garlic Spam as well as a disappointing can of teriyaki-flavored Spam which you can find on the mainland.

Fear the Walking Hungry: Where to Eat Downtown for Comic-Con

Here we go again! San Diego Comic-Con arrives this week and while free snacks and drinks connected to various promotions might be flowing downtown, it doesn’t match the wealth of great dining options in the area. Keeping in line with my post last year, here’s a list of places to go for budget lunches, cocktails and everything in between — and without a comic book-themed cocktail in sight!


Grocery Stores


Here’s your place for go-to provisions and a mainstay in my previous comic-con guides. If you’re not picky, lunches like pre-made sandwiches and even a salad bar can be found here. Prep in advance and grab yourself a free Ralphs card for even more savings. Added bonus: this store is open 24/7 if you’re in need of something in the wee hours. 101 G St.; 619-595-1581


Jimbo’s… Naturally

Bypass the Ralphs and make a trek over to Horton Plaza for this health-oriented grocery store. Like Ralphs they have several hot food bars and slew of grocery items that’s ideal to snack on throughout the day. But unlike their mainstream competitor, they close at 9 PM so get in early. 92 Horton Plaza; 619-308-7755

Cheap Eats

Food Shop

One of the brightest restaurants downtown by Iron Chef Vietnam is also budget-friendly. Head here for supreme Vietnamese classics like banh mi sandwiches, stir-fried garlic noodles and pho all around $10. The shop is small with limited space so my advice is to call ahead and place and order. While you’re also at it, grab their very potent Vietnamese coffee to go for afternoon fuel. 455 5th Ave.; 619-359-8894



Mexican food can be hit or miss in San Diego but for a cheap, worthwhile option, check out this place on Park Blvd. This local favorite serves tacos and burritos galore with the most expensive thing on the menu topping off at $8.25 for a fully loaded chimichanga plate. And if you’re new to the area, don’t leave without trying a San Diego exclusive: California burrito ($6). All the good things in a carne asada burrito plus french fries. 202 Park Blvd.; 619-269-6055


The Kebab Shop

It’s a bit more of a walk from the convention center but the promise of spiced lamb- and chicken-filled shawarmas or döners (flat bread) meet you at the end for $7.99 each. For a low-carb option, order their döner box that omits the bread completely and is filled with your choice of lamb, chicken or falafel with assorted greens. There is no additional charge to add rice or fries to the box. Also look for their wide selection of fresh salads at the front for those looking for healthy sides. 630 9th Ave.; 619-525-0055

Pizza Studio
Pizza Studio

For a hot custom-made pizza with unlimited toppings, Pizza Studio is worth a visit. It’s one of many customized pizza concept places hitting San Diego but this is the closest to the convention center. A 11-inch thin pizza is $7.99 but bargain hunters looking for something cheaper can’t go wrong with a margherita or pepperoni creation for only $5.99. For added savings (and if you think you’ll be hitting the pizza train often), sign up for their rewards program that awards free pizza. Gluten-free crusts are available for an additional $2. 119 Broadway; 619-501-2076

For Something Sweet
Le Parfait Paris
Le Parfait Paris

Looking for a little sugar high and that free candy just won’t do? Consider Le Parfait Paris, a newish French bakery that opens early and closes late. But consider going in early before they run out of sweets. Under the glass display, you’ll find colorful French macarons, eclairs and croissants alongside savory options like quiche and sandwiches. Gluten-free options are also available. 555 G St.; 619-245-4457

A Place to Get Away From it All (But Not Too Far)
Stella Public House
Halcyon Coffee/Stella Public House

This up-and-coming part of San Diego is a short jaunt and boasts terrific views of the harbor with lots of outdoor patio space. Halcyon, the coffee part of the space serves a terrific cup of coffee in a cool, loungey atmosphere. By evening, head into Stella Public House for beer cocktails, pizza and other awesome apps. The shop opens early and closes by midnight. Bring your computer to take advantage of the free WiFi if you have to work. Note: The walk to the area can be a bit sketchy so keep your belongings close. 1429 Island Ave.; 619-234-0808

Bottega Americano

Bottega Americano

Accessible by trolley or foot, this gleaming destination filled with marble-topped tables is worth the trek. Head here for Italian-inspired lunches or dinners and they also have some amazing cocktails. Added bonus, they also have a cute marketplace by the entrance to fill up on treats or ready-to-eat foods. Added bonus: the restaurant is open until 11 PM every night of the con with happy hour 11 AM until they close! 1195 Island Ave.; 619-255-7800

For Cocktails
Nobel Experiment

Noble Experiment

If a cool, hidden bar within a bar is your thing, this cozy place that’s no bigger than a double-wide trailer will suit your needs. Head into The Neighborhood, push on the kegs near the back and you’ll find a secret bar with some of the strongest drinks in town. But take note: reservations are absolutely required. 777 G St.; 619-888-4713



Take a trolley to Little Italy— San Diego’s hottest dining neighborhood. While there are many choices for cocktails including Richard Blais’ very hot Juniper & Ivy, go to this Italian restaurant for their housemade vermouth. Hint: grab a seat at the bar area between 4-7 PM and with every drink, they’ll bring a selection of appetizers for free! I promise, you’ll want to stay for dinner as well. 750 W Fir St.; 619-501-0030



This quirky, eccentric place with a science-theme serves lots of fun cocktails and has an awesome happy hour to match. (Lobster corn dogs anyone?) Test tube cocktails served in a beaker will catch your eye as notable scientists painted on the wall watch you silently. If you’re daring, order up the cotton candy cosmo for two. 750 5th Ave.; 619-546-9321

Related: Destroy All Hunger: Where to Eat At Comic-Con (2014)
San Diego Comic-Con 2014: I Crashed A Party and Saw and Made Friends
The League of Extraordinary Appetites: Where To Eat At Comic-Con (2013)
Comic-Con 2013: A Mish Mash of Things
Agent of L.U.N.C.H.: Where to Eat Downtown During Comic-Con (2012)
San Diego Comic-Con 2012 Wrap-Up: All Things Related to Food
Crisis on Infinite Plates: Where to Eat Downtown For Comic-Con (2011)
Culinary Culture in Comics: Comic-Con 2011 Wrap-Up

Hawaii Sights and Spam Jam

Honolulu Airport

It’s been a while hasn’t it? Since my post way back in April, I’ve been busy pumping out posts on Zagat and also did a bit of traveling. Namely to Hawaii.

View from plane

I visited back in May to cover Spam Jam. I was by myself and a short trip with less than 72 hours on the big island. Flying in was easy. Five hours and you’re in Hawaii. From my window seat I can peer into the island before landing.

The last time I was in Hawaii was when we made the move from the Philippines to San Diego. I have a photo somewhere of me wearing flower pants and yellow bows in my hair at the Buddhist garden found within the airport. There are no walls separating the outside from the airport and the concourse. Like me, a lot of people disembarking from the flights took a moment to take a photo.

View From Hotel

Between scheduled events I had to attend, I had plenty of time to wander Waikiki. Outrigger Resorts, a sponsor for Spam Jam, put me up on the main strip. It’s a busy center located right by the beach. Looking out from my patio I could see the main drag that was busy until well after midnight. To the right was the beach.


A short distance from the hotel was a statue of Hawaiian surfing legend Duke Kahanamoke festooned with leis. I heard about ABC shops being everywhere and my walk revealed one on almost every corner selling the likes of bathing suits, sunscreen, souvenirs and even selfie sticks.

Spam musibi

Food at the convenience store was my main draw, especially since I was eating by myself most of the time. I started taking photos every time I saw a Spam musubi but gave up after the fifth time.

Hawaii Bagels

Mochi Ice cream

Some food items that drew my attention were the tropical-flavored bagels (taro, pineapple and strawberry-guava) and mochi ice cream.

When I wasn’t wandering by myself, I took an outing with a few other guests to KCC Farmers Market at Kapiolani Community College. Locals and tourists alike filled the parking lot of the campus. Visiting the farmers market afforded me an opportunity to see the local produce — some which I’ve never seen in San Diego.

Hawaii Farmers Market

Hawaii Farmers Market taro

Hawaii Farmers Market lunch plate

Spam Jam Taste of Everything

As much as I wanted to eat everything at the market, I saved room for Spam Jam. You can read all about it here.

Before heading back to San Diego, I met up with friends and Nemu*Nemu comic creators Audra Ann Furuichi and Scott Yoshinaga who took me away from the strip for breakfast. We also made a stop a Leonard’s Bakery, known for their malasadas.

Leonard Bakery exterior

Leonard's Bakery

Lines formed outside for their fresh-from-fryer pastries. They were a whopping dollar each and served hot. Bringing them to share with Paul was a wee bit unsuccessful since the flavors of each one mingled in my carry-on bag but I really enjoyed the custard-filled one on my hotel deck.

Leonards outside

Why You Should Revisit Paris Baguette Stat: Chilled Cream Danishes, Brioche Stars and Meringues

Paris Baguette selection

If 85ºC Bakery has been your go-to for Asian baked pastries lately, I think it’s time to revisit Paris Baguette. Since opening last November, I’ve been guilty visiting 85ºC Bakery & Cafe for my salted mountain green tea fix while picking up pastries along the way. But recently I wandered into Paris Baguette to check it out and happily discovered they’ve upped their game with new items.

The latest finds are their chilled cream danish, brioche star and meringues.

Chilled Cream Danish

The chilled cream danish is almost hard to resist with a PB on top of each pastry. Retailing for $2.25 each, the flaky pastry is halved and filled with vanilla cream. I still haven’t had an authentic Dominque Ansel Cronut but I imagine this is what it would taste like. Paris Baguette still sells some variation of their take on Cronut but this is far superior. Despite “chilled” being in the name, the pastry is displayed alongside others in the unrefrigerated section.

Brioche Star

And how can one resist a big yellow star on top of a brioche pastry? That’s basically irresistible in my book. Maybe I should have picked this up earlier in the day but the brioche wasn’t as soft as I’m used to. The chocolate ganache inside was a big plus.

Paris Baguette cross section

A cross section of the chilled cream danish and chocolate ganache show a pretty solid filling base without being too overwhelming.

Also the same trip, I also spied meringues: chocolate and caramel.

ParisBaguette merigue

Since I already had two items on my tray, I opted just for the chocolate fearing the caramel might be overly sweet. I tend to sway away from the smaller meringues which I find too dry but this meringue was soft in the inside and reminiscent of a pavlova.

Have you entirely forgotten about Paris Baguette since 85ºC opened up? Are you like me and starting to recognize the employees at 85ºC? Which do you think it better? Or maybe you think I need a pastry intervention? Let me know.

Found at Trader Joe’s: Baconesque White Cheddar Popcorn and Crispy Cookies


Another day, another trip to Trader Joe’s — also known as one of my favorite ways to break up my day.

This trip happened after one of my intensive workouts — a necessity with my eating schedule. Since Trader Joe’s is on the way home, it only makes sense to combine the trip to the gym with grocery shopping regardless of how I look. Alongside my regular list of go-to items, I picked up two new items I’m really excited about.

Baconesque White Cheddar Popcorn


The store was relatively empty in the morning and a few employees were tasting new products and wrangled me in to try them. I’m not one for eating popcorn at 10 AM but I was lured in by the bacon flavoring.

Retailing for $1.99 for a 5 oz. a bag, there’s no real bacon in the popcorn; it’s instead substituted with smoke flavoring. I appreciate cheese popcorn already so the added bacon flavor adds a real wallop of flavor. A closeup of the kernels show pristine white popcorn with a light sprinkle of baconesque seasoning.

The packaging uses Trader Joe’s old-timey clip art and with the lack of real bacon in the popcorn, the name of the product makes perfect sense. There’s supposedly 5 servings per bag but I can imagine it going fast between two people.

The cashier clued me in that these bags go fast so I recommend getting two or more if you have a chance.

Crispy Cookies Filled with Belgian Chocolate


In the realm of Trader Joe’s knockoff brands, this one is very, very similar to Pepperidge Farms Milanos.

Like its mainstream cookie counterpart, it’s a plain cookie filled with chocolate. Look a little closer and you’ll find some differences. First, the shape. While the Milanos are oval, these beauts are rectangular with a slight rough edge. Taste-wise, the Belgian chocolate filling is a huge upgrade to whatever Pepperidge Farms uses in their product.

If I had to pick at one thing, it would be the cookie itself — or maybe that I’m used to the Pepperidge Farm version. It’s drier than the original. Blame it in lard or whatever preservative that’s used in the Milano for the difference in texture, but that alone won’t stop me from purchasing these again if the mood strikes.

A 7.5 oz. bag of 16 cookie retails for $2.79. I have my gal pal and fellow food writer Erin Jackson to thank for this awesome nugget.

Friday Fast-Food Fishtacular — Burger King’s Spicy Big Fish

What happens when a ubiquitous fast-food chain swaps out tartar sauce for “spicy sauce” on their fish sandwich?

You get a happy customer.


Burger King‘s Spicy Big Fish Sandwich is their latest deep-fried ichthological offering. It appears to be roughly the same build as their Big Fish Sandwich (which I reviewed here), so for sake of brevity, I’ll just give the highlights.


The slab of panko-crusted white Alaskan pollock comes with pickles, lettuce and a “spicy sauce,” all within a “brioche-style” bun. Not a true brioche, apparently. The sandwich experience is largely the same as their Big Fish, with one exception.


The “spicy sauce” replaces the tartar, and it’s a welcome change. Though not as spicy as their “Zesty Sauce” (the condiment-of-choice for their onion rings), it did change the overall flavor profile to something better — and more memorable — than tartar sauce. Which, in the world of fast-food fish sandwiches, is a good thing.

The Spicy Big Fish is $3.89. The Big Fish was $3.59 in 2013, so I don’t know if this is just a regular price increase or a $0.20 upsell for the spicy sauce. It also clocks in at 470 calories, 24g of fat and 1150mg of sodium — all lower than the Big Fish (and significantly lower than 2013’s Big Fish).

Not bad, Burger King — perhaps the tide is turning in your favor?

Read other Friday Fast Food Fishtacular posts here.

Friday Fast-Food Fishtacular — AM/PM’s Fish Sandwich


It’s been a while since my last Friday Fast Food Fishtacular, mainly because I’ve exhausted all the fast-food fish sandwich offerings in the tri-county area. In fact, I was considering a series of critiques on fish tacos/fish burritos, but that could escalate into shrimp po’boys or tuna melts. No, fish sandwiches are my jam. Last week, I was completely taken off guard by a new fish sandwich from a most unlikely chain — AM/PM.


Actually it was Darlene who spotted the banner ad as we were waiting for a green light, and I was instantly intrigued. First: How did AM/PM crack the fish sandwich code that fast-food chains held in complete secrecy for half a century? Second: How fresh/tasty could these sandwiches possibly be, in the absence of a deep-fryer or skilled fishmonger? Third: Is AM/PM considered “fast food?” I figured $1.99 (+ tax) would give me some answers.


Of course the fish sandwich was served in a foil hotbag in their self-serve heatlamp box (where their burgers, dogs etc. reside). It had a cryptic expiration time on the bag, which said “Enjoy by 1:30” but “5:00” was circled on the clock. Seeing as how this was about half-past noon, I had no idea what any of this meant. I applaud that they try to make these as fresh as possible, but the problem is right in front of me: are we talking AM or PM? Was it made at 1:30 AM? Would I die if I ate it after 5:00 PM? And isn’t 5:00 PM technically before 1:30 AM the following day?? It’s the Gremlins Paradox: Don’t feed Gizmo after midnight… but isn’t 8:00 AM after midnight? WHAT DO I DO??


From the initial reveal, it certainly looked like a fish sandwich, probably not too far off from what you’d get at the university’s dining commons. According to the bag, it’s a deep-fried slab of Alaska pollock with a slice of processed cheddar cheese. What it DIDN’T have was a fat blanket of tartar sauce or a beautiful bed of lettuce (see banner ad photo up top for reference). Maybe I missed the lettuce bin and the tartar sauce pump bucket?


What it DID have was a curious case of shrinkage. In the above photo I highlighted two areas of the fish patty where the fish actually shrunk within its deep-fried coat of breading. Weird. Your results may vary.


Onto the eating experience itself — it was not as horrible as I imagined. (AM/PM, if you’re reading this, feel free to use that sentence as a testimonial in future ad campaigns. You’re welcome.) The geometric fish slab was crispy and tasted fine, the bun was soft and not stale/dried out from the hotbag and the pasteurized and processed cheese tasted as you’d expect from its description on the back. A week later, I’d say the takeaway was a cheese-flavored sandwich with some fish essence. Certainly not worth two bucks or whatever regrets you’d have afterward.

The AM/PM Fish Sandwich has 357 calories and 8 grams of fat. Surprisingly, that’s fewer calories and fat than the Jack in the Box fish sandwich, but that apparently reflects the absence of tartar sauce.

The ball’s in your court, 7-Eleven.

Read other Friday Fast Food Fishtacular posts here.