Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Wine, dine, and drink your way through December

McGrath Family Farm will be closing their roadside market for the winter. Their last day open will be December 31st; and the stand will re-open March 17th, 2010.

Oxnard Convention and Visitors Bureau has launched Wine, Cheese, and Chocolate Tours for those looking for a full day of delicious excess. Similar to the wine trail tours run out of Ventura (check out my story on that), the tours take place every Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and depart the Welcome Center in Oxnard. The tours include stops at Heritage Square -- Rancho Ventavo Wine Cellars and La Dolce Vita Restaurant; Channel Islands Winery; Herzog Wine Cellars; and Cantera Cellars (see owner Mike Brown talking wine below) and Bella Victorian Vineyard Tasting Room in Camarillo. The cost is $75 per person.

The Cave, at Ventura Wine Company, has updated their small plates menu...including these mouth-watering new additions:
  • Duck Ragout with Pancetta, Gnocchi and Red Onion Marmalade $7
  • Grilled Chicken and Crimini Mushroom Strudel $7
  • Goat Cheese Croquette with Sweet Capacola and Lemon-honey Vinaigrette $7
  • Beef Bourguignon with County Potato Puree $8
Celebrate New Years at Cafe Fiore with one of their festive fixed price menus:
  • $55 for a three course dinner, 5-7:30pm, includes a free glass of champagne
  • $75 for four courses, 8-11pm, includes champagne, party favors, and admission to live music

Thursday, December 10, 2009

These are a few of my favorite things...

Since the dawn of time, I have been ordering the same ice cream every time I go to Baskin Robbins: Peanut Butter Chocolate. The chocolate ice cream is creamy and silky, and filled with thicker than thick swirls of chewy peanut butter (the texture is similar to that of caramel). The peanut butter brings that salty sweetness that only peanut butter owns.

But, last week, I went to Baskin Robbins, ordered the usual, and was surprised to see that, in my eyes, it had lost some of its luster. Why? Because I've found somebody new:

Yes, its Safeway Select Chocolate Moose Tracks (found at Vons stores here in Cali). It is made with a darker chocolate ice cream, and then filled (and I mean filled) with these thick fudge swirls. Now they aren't your traditional swirls, they are more like inch wide curved ribbons of dark chocolate. And, as if that wouldn't be enough, the ice cream is also generously speckled with miniature peanut butter cups that add the perfect amount of saltiness. When allowed to sit for 5-8 minutes at room temp before scooping and tasting (I know, the waiting is hard!), it tastes divine. Oh, and its one of those "light" ice creams, so you can eat even more.

In addition to chocolate and ice cream, I love me some wine. And while my story in the Reporter a few months ago exposed me to some pretty nice, high end wines, I still love a good bargain, especially when it comes to my everyday wine. And given my love for wine and my tight grocery budget, I've tasted a lot of wines in the $4 - $6 range. And this, Trader Joe's Coastal Cabernet, is my favorite. Oh, and at $3.99 its one of the cheapest. Assuming you don't open your big mouth about its cost, your company won't even know, its that good!

My last favorite is My Florist Cafe and Bakery in Ventura. Now, I went there a few times last year, and was never really wowed by their food or their service. But, earlier this week, I stopped in for some wine with friends and my very low expectations. And, I was actually wowed.

First, by their wine. Pretty much every day, they sell all their bottles at half-price. Now, if you buy a $60 bottle of wine (thats already totally marked up), its not such a deal. But, if you order one of the cheaper bottles, like the Zinfandel we chose (marked down from $38 to $19) it feels like a real deal. Second, I was totally impressed with the service. Our server was attentive, but gave us space, kept our water glasses full, and never seemed to mind that we were only having drinks. My third new happy favorite at My Florist is their Bread Pudding. It comes baked and warm in a generous bowl (the size of a cereal bowl), and is crammed with bread straight from their bakery. It was creamy and sweet, with chunks of soft and tangy lemon rind, and topped with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream. It was enough for the three of us to share and still feel like we'd indulged. Note: its not shown on their online menu.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Chicken by heart

I don't know about you, but isn't there something satisfying about knowing you've got a few good recipes stored in your head? You know, the kind where you can spontaneously grab the ingredients at the store, and trust that you have everything you need? There's something liberating about not having to open a cookbook and something wonderful about making a dish that uses less than 10 ingredients. This is one of those recipes. It comes from a former co-worker; and while it started out as a low fat dish, I have, of course, made some umm..changes. The dish comes together quickly and easily. After spending an hour in the oven, the chicken comes out tender, the sauce thick and spicy, and the whole thing is ready to be served over rice.

Salsa Chicken
4-6 pieces of boneless chicken (either breasts or thighs work well)
1 packet taco seasoning (low sodium works great)
1 jar salsa
2 cups shredded cheese (cheddar, monterey jack, or any combo)
*Extras: chopped green chilies, black olives, 1/2 can black beans (rinsed and drained), 1/2 can of canned corn (drained). You can use any combo of these if you have them on hand.

Spread 1/2 cup salsa on the bottom of a 13x9 pan. Coat chicken pieces in taco seasoning and lay in pan. Cover chicken with 1 cup salsa. (At this point, you can add your toppings if you choose). Cover pan with foil. Bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees. Uncover, sprinkle with cheese, bake uncovered for another 15 minutes until cheese is melted and bubbly.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Play in the kitchen

Over the summer, I had the opportunity to observe some kids cooking classes for a story for Edible Ojai Magazine. One of the classes was taught by Chef Robin Goldstein, owner of Playing in the Kitchen. Truly gifted and at ease teaching in the kitchen, Robin is one of a kind. She truly believes in allowing students, both young and old, to get down and dirty and messy in order to learn the skills and joy involved in creating a meal. Interested? Check out her next class on holiday desserts:

Sunday December 6th @ 1:00 - 3:00 pm
Ojai Culinary School, Lavender Inn
210 East Matilija Street, Ojai

Enjoy a warm glass of Mulled Red Wine, a wonderful way to warm up while you make Polenta Cookies with Sweet Cranberries, Almond- Tea Pear Gratin with Earl Grey Tea, Italian Panetonne Bread Pudding and a fabulous S'More Brownie Torte with toasted Marshmallow topping. Class fee $55. Call the Lavender Inn to make a reservation (805-646-6635).

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Scaredy cat

I'm about to do something that I've been too scared to do for the past five years. No, it isn't some life threatening sport, its an endeavor that involves one of my biggest issues: yeast breads. My mother and my grandmother are both known for these delicious little pocket rolls they make, which grace the table with butter or salty Virginia ham at any and every family gathering.

Years ago, my mom bought me some gear and even walked me through the process. But, I was too afraid. It wasn't until recently, as I've been working through some of my issues with yeast, that I started to think about the rolls again. With Thanksgiving coming, I wanted to do some baking. And this seems like the perfect chance. Whats the worst that could happen? Burnt rolls...done that before. Anyway, I've mixed the dough, let it rise once, punched it down again, and now it is in the fridge to rise yet another time before being turned into rolls in the morning. Will let you know how it goes, and will hopefully have pictures too!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

'Tis the season for eating, drinking...and recycling?

Stop by the Ventura Farmers’ Market on Saturday the 14th (during the regular hours of 8:30 a.m. to 12 noon) to learn more about recycling in Ventura. An environmental Services Specialist from the City of Ventura, will be on hand to provide information on recycling and help educate the public on what is recyclable (like holiday cards and wrapping paper) and what is not. There will be interactive games for both children and adults, so check it out!

Sign up for a CAJUN & CREOLE THANKSGIVING Cooking class at Main Course California. It's on Friday, November 20th from 5PM -10PM. In this class, you'll learn the secrets of Cajun flavors and how to use them in delicious Thanksgiving dishes. The lipsmacking good menu includes:
  • Oyster Artichoke Soup with Pernod & Spinach
  • Mirleton Stuffed with Shrimp, Tomato & Cornbread Dressing
  • Boudin Blanc en Croute with Creole Mustard
  • John Folse's Aubergine Pie
  • Slow Roasted Duck with Louisiana Clementines & Louisiana Popcorn Dirty Rice Stuffing
  • Bruleed Upside Down Banana Bread Pudding with Rum Ice Cream
Check out Nancy Michali, owner of Ojai Culinary Studio, and her Make Your Own Thanksgiving Pie Class on Wednesday, November 25 at 9:30 am or 1:30 pm. Bring your own pie pan and face your pie crust fears as you make pies for family and friends to enjoy on Thanksgiving. Options include: My Mom's Apple Pie (with lattice crust); Apple Pie with Cheddar Crust (double crust); Southern Pecan Pie; Macaroon Pie (macadamia, pecan and coconut); Pear-Almond Tart; Pumpkin Maple Pie; Sweet Potato Pie with Gingersnap Pecan Crust; Butterscotch Chiffon; and Pear-Cranberry Pie. Cost: $20/pie

Make a reservation for Paradise Pantry's wine dinner on Tuesday, December 8th from 6:30-9:00PM. It will feature wines from Eric Kent Winery. Their showstopping menu includes:
  • Baby Beet & Pear Salad over Market Greens topped with Fried Shallots & Crumbled Goat Cheese paired with a 2007 Chardonnay
  • Crab Cakes served in a Spicy Cauliflower Curry Sauce paired with a 2007 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
  • Herb Encrusted Salmon Served in a pool of Spicy Blackberry-peppercorn Sauce paired with a 2007 “Windsor Oaks”Pinot Noir

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Comfort in a casserole dish

Like most of us, I have a bookshelf that is overflowing with cookbooks - from Paula Deen to Rachael Ray to the Joy of Cooking. But, my first stop when I'm in search of comfort food or a new sure to please recipe, is either Cook and Lovett (the cookbook from my high school in Atlanta) or Loaves and Fishes (the cookbook from our Aunt and Uncle's church in South Carolina). I love these compilation cookbooks because the recipes are always so darn good. Sure, there are some jello mold or goulash recipes that I'll probably never try, but when it comes to desserts, casseroles, chicken dishes and crockpot recipes, these cookbooks are where its at. And, I love that I have a connection to the people who submitted them, whether its the little old lady that always greeted me when we went to church in South Carolina or the mother of the boy I sat next to in 9th grade science class.

This recipe for chicken enchiladas (from Loaves and Fishes, and submitted by our cousin Liz Rosinski) is a perfect example with its short list of ingredients, easy preparation, and a big wow factor. The filling comes together easily and is filled with a tang from the cream cheese and a zing from the chilies. While the drizzle of cream may seem excessive and you may be tempted to omit it, it helps all the flavors steam together and stay moist, while the cheese on top gets crispy. I serve these enchiladas with green salsa on the side.

Creamy Chicken Enchiladas

1 TBL butter
1 medium chopped onion
1 can drained green chilies
8 oz. softened cream cheese, cut up (light is okay)
3 1/2 cups cooked chicken, chopped or shredded
flour tortillas
2-3 cups shredded monterey jack cheese
1/4 cup whipping cream

Melt butter over medium heat. Add onion and chilies. Saute 1 minute. Stir in cream cheese and chicken. Cook until cream cheese melts. Spoon some down center of tortilla and roll up. Place, seam side down, in lightly greased 13x9 casserole dish. Sprinkle with cheese, drizzle with cream. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes until cheese is melted and browned.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Must love mushrooms and be willing to embrace garlic

This was the recipe that introduced me to pre-baking my pizza crust to get it nice and crisp, so it holds a special place in my heart. Usually I just improvise my pizza on Friday nights, using whatever goodies, sauces and cheese I can find in the fridge. So, this one, since it actually involves following a recipe, is like more of a special occasion pizza - one for company or to perk up an otherwise boring Saturday night. This pizza - with its garlic infused everything, mounds of browned mushrooms, and FOUR cups of cheese rivals anything you'd get in your local gourmet pizzeria. It will fill your house with the scent of garlic on steroids and will shout to the neighborhood that you mean business in the kitchen.

Mushroom and Garlic Pizza
  • One bag TJ's pizza dough or one 14 ounce can Pillsbury pizza crust
  • 3 TBL extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 5 ounces shitake mushrooms, stems discarded
  • 8 ounces white mushrooms
  • Salt
  • 8 ounces shredded swiss cheese (2 cups)
  • 8 ounces shredded mozarella cheese (2 cups)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spread the pizza dough out to cover a large baking sheet, then brush with 2 TBL olive oil and sprinkle with the garlic. Bake for 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, thinly slice the shitake and white mushrooms. In a large skillet, heat the remaining 1 TBL oil over high heat and sauté the mushrooms until golden, 8-10 minutes. Season to taste with salt.

Sprinkle the baked dough with the swiss cheese, then the mushrooms, then the mozarella. Sprinkle a little more salt over the top and return pizza to oven. Bake until cheese is golden and bubbly, about 15 minutes. Allow to rest for 5-10 minutes before cutting.

Note: you can use any type of mushrooms. I sometimes use two bags of pre-sliced mushrooms (crimini or white) from Trader Joe's. Last time I made it I added some sautéed spinach, but its incredible just with the mushrooms.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Yes, you can find Gator and Roo tacos in Oxnard...

Recently, I had the opportunity to review Luigi Ortega's in Oxnard. Its one of the first times I've sat in a restaurant, feeling almost speechless, concerned that I may never find the words to adequately describe it. But, I did, and you can check out my review here. But, these photos might do better to explain.

To start, even the exterior is a bit perplexing (notice that the sign just barely covers the old Rusty's Pizza sign)...foreshadowing of what's to come.

This is the front part of the restaurant...complete with a decadent dessert case, an overwhelming menu...

and a waterfall, a bridge, and Mickey Mouse.

This one is taken in the giant main room, where there are video games galore to keep the kids (and grownups) occupied while you chow on wings, beer, pizza, ostrich, burritos and gourmet pastas.

This is the surf themed room. I couldn't capture the Day of the Dead themed room (yes, colored skulls on the wall and coffin table) or the dark bank vault because private parties were going on.

The Philly cheese steak, topped decadently or scarily (depending on your belief system) with Cheez Whiz.

The Gator Taco.

The Turtle chili.

The Ortega Fries. Decadent, naughty and totally excessive. And, yes, I really enjoyed them.

Milk and bones dessert. Delicious chocolate chip oatmeal cookies shaped like dog bones, served with ice cream, in a dog dish. Hmmmm? The perfect ending to the most memorable meal I've had in a while.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Brussels are the new black

I didn't grow up eating brussel sprouts. In fact, I actually grew up fearing them. My only exposure to this little veggie was through the world of television. I'm pretty sure I watched the Brady kids refuse to eat them, and maybe even saw the Beaver (yes, I used to watch Leave it to Beaver) hide a few in his napkin.

Flash forward 25 years, and I've crossed over to the other side. I can't seem to get enough of these little cabbage like gems. And while the Cleavers and Brady's always served them steamed, plain, and nasty looking, roasting them is the way to go. When cooked at a high temperature, they caramelize and get brown, nutty, and a bit crispy. And this recipe, which came from my dear Uncle Bruce, calls for roasting them with bacon and adding some lemon juice at the end. If you're scared of brussel sprouts or have never tried them roasted, you must try this mind blowing recipe. And, if you like these, you have to check out Molly Wizenburg's recipe for cream braised brussels- another delicious way to do brussels.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts with potato and bacon

1.5 pounds yukon gold or new red potatoes, quartered or halved if small
1 pound brussel sprouts, trimmed and halved
6 medium shallots, quartered OR 1 medium onion cut into wedges
4 slices thick cut bacon, but crosswise into 1/2 inch strips
2 TBL olive oil
2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 TBL unsalted butter, melted
2 tsp lemon juice

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Combine potatoes, brussels, shallots, and bacon in a large bowl; toss with the oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss again. Transfer to roasting pan and roast for about 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes, until the veggies are tender and well browned. As you can see from my photo, I love them dark and crispy.

Combine the melted butter and lemon juice in a small bowl, and pour over the vegetable mixture. Toss to coat and stir immediately. Note: this step can be skipped if you don't have lemon juice, but it adds another level of flavor, so if you've got a lemon and some butter, give it a try. The tang of the lemon really takes it to the next level.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Hey, who doesn't love wine, bread, and tractors?

Breadshare Program
October 8th – December 31st
A new take on the “CSA” community supported agriculture model applied to their artisan community bakery. The model for the breadshare is very similar to that of a CSA, in which people pay up front and receive a weekly box of produce from a local farm. Instead of produce customers will be receiving a well-rounded weekly assortment of artisan breads, crackers, bagels, english muffins and compatible specialty items such as cheese, olive oil, and much more. Weekly Pick Up Day and Time is Thursdays from 3pm to 5pm. Cost: $35/week, 12 week minimum.

Tuesday, October 27th, 6:30-8:30PM
Ojai Vineyard Wine and Food Pairing Event

Saturday, November 14th
Basic Winemaking & Appreciation Class
Come check out this very informative class on Basic Wine making at the Winery from 11am-4pm. You can sign-up through Ventura Community College.

November13-15, 20-22, 28-29
Wine, Dine & Play at the Square
$49 p/p all inclusive. Wine taste at Rancho Ventavo Cellars, Dine at La Dolce Vita, Enjoy the play at the Elite Theatre with "Children of Eden" a musical by Stephen Schwartz. Pre-payment and reservations a must! (805) 486-6878.

Antique Tractor Weekend
October 10th & 11th, 9:00am - 6:00pm
Over 30 antique tractors will be visiting the farm this weekend along with their owners who will be on hand to answer any questions you may have. Don't miss the Tractor Parades at 12pm, 2pm, & 4pm!

Saturday October 10th
In honor of Columbus Day weekend, embark on a flavor voyage at We Olive Ventura. They are serving up tastes of their We Olive house-brand balsamic vinegar with vanilla ice cream. As they say in their newsletter, "For all you disbelievers, we're bringin' it on!" You'll also be able to sample vanilla ice cream drizzled with olive oil and sea salt -- a true taste treat suggested by Fantastic Frank from their corporate office.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Fall fun for all foodies

Simple Sauces/Dinner and a Class - Friday, Oct 2 at 6:30 pm
Master preparation of sauces that can make everyday food special in this hands-on, basic skills class. The recipes will include: Winter Lettuces with Warm Sweet and Sharp Dressing; Crisp Chicken with Sherry Vinegar Reduction Sauce; Pork Tenderloin with Pomegranate Sauce; Sirloin Steak with Whisky-Mustard Sauce; Cauliflower with Whiskey-Mustard Sauce; Steamed Asparagus with Mustard and Caper Vinaigrette; and Ice Cream with Bittersweet Chocolate and Butter Rum Caramel Sauce. Cost: $45
Indian Cooking - Sunday, October 4 at 11:30 am
Komali Nunna, local cookbook and delicious cook, teaches a demonstration and hands-on class on sumptuous Indian comfort food.
An Italian Evening with Michele Carbone - Friday, October 9 at 6:30 pm
Join us for a delicious dinner with the author of Friday Evenings and prepare and enjoy ravioli.
Saturday in the Kitchen/Fall Soups - Saturday, October 17 at 11:00 am
Learn soup basics as we make soups perfect for autumn in this hands-on, basic skills class for cooks 12 and up.

Starting October 1st, McGrath will be offering all sorts of Halloween festivities. These include a FREE Corn Maze Monday throughThursday, Pick-Your-Own Pumpkins (priced by size), and wagon rides on weekends (on the hour)! The cost is $3 for the Corn Maze and $3 per wagon ride...or both for $5. Add a visit to the animals and your visit is only $7!

Annual Holiday Wine Tasting
Sunday November 15, 2009
$25 Per Person
This is the tasting of all tastings and one that is not to be missed.

Yeast Breads: I think I can, I think I can

For once and for all, I am determined to overcome my fear of yeast breads. See, I've been scarred by past experiences with bread that never rose, ingredients wasted, and dense, flat loaves of rock hard bread. Maybe for some this would be acceptable...to just give up, to never make homemade bread. But, I come from a long line of women who are beyond adept at yeast breads, women who produce buttery puffy rolls, homemade cinnamon rolls, and homemade Moravian Sugar Cakes that would make you swoon. And, given that I consider myself a cook, succumbing to this fear is just unacceptable.

On a recent trip back to North Carolina, my Mom took me into the kitchen for my third lesson on proofing yeast, and this one seemed to work. She taught me to add a pinch of sugar to the yeast before adding the "warm" water. The sugar gives the yeast something to feed on, speeding up the activation process. As she showed me how, I was surprised at how hot the water actually was. And since neither of us uses a thermometer to measure the water, its all about the touch. Many cookbooks talk about using warm water, or water the same temperature as a baby's bottle; but her water was hot to the touch.

And now that I'm adding the sugar and using what I would call hot water, I'm loving bread making for the first time in my life. There is nothing like the feeling of seeing the yeast and hot water mixture bubbling and puffing up. There is nothing like the smell of bread baking in the oven; and there's nothing like the taste of a warm slice of bread fresh from the oven, slathered in butter. This is the bread I made today - a simple white bread from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

My eating and drinking adventures

So, you probably knew this already, but I absolutely love what I do. I don't make much money (heck - some of my writing is practically for free) but my joy is sky high. For the VC Reporter I write restaurant reviews every few weeks; and for the quarterly magazine Edible Ojai, I just started writing the Edible Notes column. I get to research new foods, places, restaurants, products, books, movies (pretty much anything food or drink related in Ventura County) and then I get to write about it.

Yesterday, I had yet another great opportunity to expand my taste horizons. This time it was Ventura Limoncello, a handcrafted lemon liqeur that is made right here in Ventura on Palma Drive. Imagine your grandma's best homemade lemonade married with a hint of Italy and the grown-up sophistication and kick of pure grain alcohol.

Lemon peel is steeped with pure grain alcohol for a set period of time, filtered, and then mixed with sugar and water to make this delicious liquid. Limoncello originated on the Amalfi Coast of Italy, and is traditionally served ice cold as an after dinner drink. Yet, there are a number of local chefs taking this sweet drink to a whole new, and sometimes savory, level. The Chef at Brooks restaurant does limoncello mussels, and the Chef at the Crowne Plaza makes a limoncello vinaigrette and a limoncello creme brulee. While I may not make anything quite as grand, I'm definitely looking forward to integrating it into both my cooking and my cocktailing. Stories and recipes to follow.

I also got the chance to visit the Knead Baking Company in Ojai. Intrigued by the mother-daughter pair that own this bakery and cafe, I'm writing a story on them for Ventana Monthly Magazine. While they have been selling their bread at the Ojai Farmers Market for a few years now, their storefront location is fairly new. They greet customers like old friends; and sitting there sipping my coffee, I felt like I was sitting in someone's kitchen.

High ceilings, lots of windows, tangerine colored walls, and light colored wood accents give the space an airy and comfy feel. Their baked goods are both pleasing to the eye and the taste-buds. My friend and I sampled a chocolate croissant- crisp and filled with a warm layer of chocolate hazelnut spread. The quiche of the day was built with a perfectly thick and crispy crust, and filled with potatoes, bacon, and lots of fresh dill. The cheddar dill scone was dense and full of flavor. Knead is definitely striking a perfect balance between high quality fresh food and a sense of environmental responsibility (serving organic coffee, selling reusable market bags, etc.) without a bit of pretension, making this a refreshing stop for a coffee, a sweet treat, or a full meal.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Fall events calendar

We Olive: September 14th from 5:30-8pm: Monday-night easy appetizer event, where you can learn how to make simple, tasty finger foods. There will be food and beverages to enjoy and sample menus with recipes for gourmet tailgate parties of your own. Attendees will receive a 10% discount on all purchases that evening. Tickets to this event are $10.00. And, Saturday, Sept. 19th, from 1-4pm - Jeff from the Los Olivos Olive Oil Company will be in-store sampling their delicious oils and vinegars.

Taste of Ojai at the Ojai Valley Inn. September 19th from 3-6pm.

Boccali’s Tomato Festival and wine tasting September 26th (5-9pm) at their restaurant at Reeves Rd. and Hwy. 150.

California Beer Festival. September 26th, from 1-5pm. Mission Park, Ventura. 60 beers, live music, free souvenir mugs, and some stand up comedy.

McGrath Family Farm Have kids? Like pumpkins and field trips? This year the farm is offering a wagon ride through the fields, PLUS pick your own organic pumpkin, a corn maze, and the opportunity to check out their animal center...all for $4 a student!

Ojai native Anna Thomas' new book, LOVE SOUP, will be in bookstores on September 21, and they're having the hometown party at Treasure Beach on October 3rd at 2pm. Stop by to taste some soup, have a glass of wine, chat, and she'll sign books. She says, "Soup saved my life over and over -- it's the way I survived in the wee kitchen. I could still have great home-made food, and have people over for casual dinner parties -- I could keep cooking. I fell in love with soup all over again, and had to write a book about it."

November 14th “Wings and Wine” event. Taking place in a hanger at the Camarillo Airport, several local wineries will be pouring wines in between historic World War II planes such as a Japanese Zero, a P-52 and many others. Money raised will assist in the maintaining of these historic aircraft.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Summer Love

Okay, so I am having a love affair. A love affair with all of the fresh produce coming from the garden (I can't even say 'our' garden, because my husband has done all the work and deserves all the glory). And I have never experienced anything like this. We have loads and loads of tomatoes, giant zucchini the size of footballs, and more cucumbers- giant, yellow, bumpy, crisp and delicious- than we could ever handle.

We have shared, we have swapped, we have used them for payment (for having my wetsuit repaired but that's another story), we have baked, and we have eaten until we are blue in the face. But if there was ever a food that's good to eat in such excess, it's fresh produce from your own backyard. And having this bounty of freshness, and not wanting it to go to waste (I HATE SEEING FOOD GO TO WASTE!), has led me to try a bunch of new recipes. For today, I wanted to share some of my favorite tomato recipes. The first is from my mother-in-law...a super easy no-cook pasta sauce that will fill your kitchen with the scent of garlic and basil. We tossed it with pasta and then ate it on fresh bread the next day.


1 pound tomatoes (or about 6 large) skinned, seeded, diced*
3-4 cloves minced fresh garlic
1 Cup fresh basil - minced
1/2 Cup fresh parsley - minced
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 Cup parmesan cheese
1/2 Cup olive oil

*tomatoes are easily skinned if you set them in a pot of boiling water for a couple of minutes and then drop them into ice water. The skin usually pops and is easy to peel off.

Mix all the ingredients and let stand covered on the counter for several hours. You can add extra tomatoes or different herbs if you have them. I didn't have parsley so I just added more basil. You can also add additional salt to taste. It doesn't have to be exact. Recipe can be doubled easily. If you don't use it all, store it in the refrigerator for the next day. You will probably devour it within 24 hours.

My other great discovery during this week of summer produce decadence has been slow- roasting tomatoes. I tried this recipe from Molly Wizenberg, author of "A Homemade Life," pretty much one of the best books of all times. She dedicates a whole chapter to these tomatoes, plucked from her garden, cooked long and slow with olive oil and coriander, and reappearing concentrated and flavorful. And, yes, she is a good enough writer that a chapter about slow-roasted tomatoes reads like a novel that you can't put down. Her recipe is posted on her blog. Now, I'm not normally pushy, but when it comes to this recipe, I want to yell and jump up and down and demand that all of you try it. These tomatoes will leave you speechless. I was eating them like candy, layering them on bread, and draping them over pasta.

And, finally, if you're in the Ventura area, Underwood Family Farms in Moorpark is hosting a "Pick-Your-Own-Romas" event on September 5th and 6th, from 6am to noon. Pick-Your-Own Romas are 20¢ per pound. Already picked Romas are 40¢ per pound. Call (805) 529-3690.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Make a date with your tastebuds

Looking ahead, there are some fun events going on for all you food and wine lovers out there. Mark your calendars...your tastebuds are calling.

Paradise Pantry is hosting a beer and cheese pairing event featuring local, Carpinteria brew masters, Island Brewing Company. Tuesday, September 1st. Taste 6 beers and 6 cheeses for $15. If you haven't tasted this local brew, make sure you get to this tasting or head up to their brewery in downtown Carp for a pint.

The Pantry has also started a wonderful tradition of Sangria Sundays. They claim their sangria is the best in town, calling it "fresh, delicious, and down right POTENT!" This fruity summer drink will be available every Sunday through the month of September.

The Cave now has a new and expanded lunch menu. Tuesday through Friday they serve Sandwiches, Panini's, Burgers, Salads and lots of other lunch items between 11:30am and 2pm. Some of the more tantalizing options include a Cobb salad, a Caprese Panini, and a Cuban sandwich.

Old Creek Ranch Winery
is hosting a Labor Day Weekend Open House Friday, September 4 through Monday, September 7. They are celebrating the end of summer and the release of their newest version of their Bronco Rojo (red) blend. They are offering 15% off all wine purchases, except Bronco Rojo, as they have only 15 cases.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A little sip of heaven

Every once in a while, you're lucky enough to discover a new place, a place that is so unique or so special, that it feels like it belongs in a movie. I discovered such a place yesterday, when my husband and I played hooky and ventured down to Malibu for the day. What we found was the neatest little spot, Malibu Wines.

This little winery - green, lush, and calming - felt like an oasis in the middle of a desert. The lush and green picnic area is filled with quaint tables, a few brightly colored old trucks, an old wagon turned wine barrel fountain, and tire swings for the kids. You can sit in an Adirondack rocking chair under the shade of a tree, or sit at a stone-topped table under the shade of an umbrella, or climb a short hill to sit in the sun with a view of the valley. The bar where you can taste and purchase your wines is tucked to the side, under a grove of trees. They offer bottles and tasting flights of both red and white wines, and friendly, chill service to go along with them.

We tasted a few of their reds and decided on a bottle of the 2006 Saddlerock Cabernet to go with our picnic lunch of fresh bread, sliced tomatoes, Edam cheese, and fresh melon. Dark and smooth, the wine felt decadent, adding to the sense that we were truly on vacation. This is a great spot for a little getaway or a even a daytrip with the kids. If you take the 101 to Kanan Road, its only an hour from Ventura.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Brie that never fails me

I recently had the opportunity to review the Bella Victorian Vineyard Tasting Room and Bistro. The wine was delish, the people watching from the patio highly entertaining, but the food was average. While we enjoyed our thin crust pizza and prime rib sandwich, the baked brie left me longing for something better. While the presentation was impressive, the brie sat alone and naked (never a good position to be in) in its own little square dish, heated but not fully melted. I was disappointed because to me the term baked brie implies that it is wrapped in some sort of buttery pastry and baked until the cheese becomes gooey and otherworldly inside. To me, baked brie is a most decadent appetizer- one that is worthy of a splurge, meant to be eaten with bravado. So in the spirit of decadence, I wanted to share my favorite baked brie recipe- simple, delicious, and easy. I love it so much that after a dinner party we planned had fallen through, I made it anyway - for dinner, alongside some crackers and a green salad.

Sallie Wilgus' Baked Brie

Roll out pre-made pie crust (Trader Joe's is my favorite). Slice large wheel of brie in half horizontally. Fill with chopped basil and chopped sundried tomatoes (drained of their oil) and put top layer of brie back on. Place in the middle of pie dough, fold it up, and seal it. Flip it over so smooth side is on top and brush with a beaten egg. Place on cookie sheet and back at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes until golden grown. Serve with Stoned Wheat Thins crackers.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Fun food outings

McGrath Family Farm is hosting their Customer Appreciation Day on Thursday August 20th from 4-8pm. Chef Rich Mead of Sage and Sage on the Coast will be making some light bites for everyone to enjoy.

If you haven't wandered into We Olive in downtown Ventura yet (294 E. Main Street), be sure to check it out. I stopped in there recently and was truly amazed at the huge selection of oils, vinegars, tapenades, dips, and gifts they have in stock. Prepare to stay for a while and sample tons of different oils - one of my favorites was olive oil flavored with lemon, and another with an intense chili flavor. I also tasted a few balsamic vinegars - thick, syrupy, and dark as night - good enough to drink, and amazing enough to redefine how you see balsamic. You can even bring in your own bottles and purchase some of the We Olive oils and balsamic by the ounce. Definitely a great destination to broaden your horizons, learn, taste, and shop. And on Saturday, August 22nd from 1pm - 4pm they are hosting an Olive Tasting with Perry. Stop by to taste the different olive varieties and combinations and learn from the best.

And finally, Bonanos Fine Peruvian Cuisine has opened up at 100 N. Ashwood in Ventura. While I haven't had a chance to eat there yet, I stopped in to this dark and nicely decorated little restaurant for a menu yesterday. I was greeted with excellent customer service, and left with their menu: a simple menu full of delicacies like fried yucca with a cheese sauce; strips of filet mignon sauteed with onions and tomatoes served with french fries or over spaghetti; and seafood cooked in a Peruvian style similar to fried rice. Stay tuned...I'm hoping to review it for the Reporter after they've been open for a month or two and worked through the kinks.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Sometimes you just need to make a cake...

...for no particular reason. That's what I did this week - no birthday, no special occasion, no one joining us for dinner - just a desire to try my hand at flourless chocolate cake, and a bunch of eggs in the fridge calling out to me, "please don't let us go to waste."

I had been wanting to try this cake recipe from Tyler Florence , but only after I separated my eggs did I realize that it called for a Springform pan. And, yes, I am the one who gave away a perfectly good Springform pan, thinking it would leave more room in the moving truck when we voyaged from North Carolina to California. So, I did what we all do in the kitchen: I adapted by making 12 mini-chocolate cakes instead. You can do this as well - I filled 12 jumbo muffin tins and baked them for 17 minutes. I recommend using cupcake liners. And as for the whipped cream recipe - it comes from the Joy of Cooking. Serve them at room temp, mounded with excessive amounts of whipped cream. These taste best a day after baking, so if possible, bake a day in advance, store in the fridge, and bring to room temp an hour before serving.

Chocolate Cracked Earth
1 pound bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
1 stick unsalted butter
9 large eggs, separated
3/4 cup granulated sugar,

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan.

Put the chocolate and butter into the top of a double boiler (or in a heatproof bowl) and heat over (but not touching) about 1 inch of simmering water until melted. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar in a mixing bowl until light yellow in color. Whisk a little of the chocolate mixture into the egg yolk mixture to temper the eggs - this will keep the eggs from scrambling from the heat of the chocolate - then whisk in the rest of the chocolate mixture.

Beat the egg whites in a mixing bowl until stiff peaks form and fold into the chocolate mixture. Pour into the prepared pan and bake until the cake is set, the top starts to crack and a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out with moist crumbs clinging to it, 20 to 25 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes, then remove sides of pan.

Joy of Cooking Whipped Cream
1 cup heavy cream
2 TBL sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla

Chill mixing bowl and beaters. Beat cream on high speed until thickened. Add sugar and vanilla and beat until stiff peaks form.

Latest and greatest local food news...

Main Course California has updated their lunch menu- adding a Chicken Caprese Sandwich and a California Healthy Chicken sandwich. If these new additions are half as lovable and delectable as their other sandwiches and salads, we're in for a real treat. If you're not familiar with their food, you can check out this review I wrote a few months ago. They are also offering a one-of-a-kind Tequila-centric cooking class this Friday, July 24th from 6-9pm. Students will be making and enjoying such delicacies as gazpacho with drunken prawns; tequila tomato caprese salad; chile rellenos and raisin-tequila salsa, and tequila; and serrano soaked fruits with agave nectar and coconut mousse. Call 658-8900 or email info@MainCourseCA.com to sign up.

Paradise Pantry is holding a Summer Wine and Food Pairing dinner on Tuesday, July 28th. The mind-boggling menu includes himachi & salmon tartares towered with avocado and sesame crisps; spicy crab cakes served with seasoned crème fraiche; chilled corn and vanilla bean chowder with roast ham & rock shrimp; and piquillo pepper relleno stuffed with chorizo, summer squash, and goat cheese. And each of these courses will be paired with a different, and perfectly matched wine. Call them at 641-9440 to make a reservation.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Just say no to wasted produce

A dear friend of mine is starting something really cool: The Ventura Produce Cooperative. If you're like me, you may have extra fruits, vegetables, herbs, or flowers laying around your yard. Rather than watching them go to waste, wouldn't you love to share them and then get something you actually need in return? Well, that's what this is all about. Maureen is modeling it after two other coops- one in LA and one in Merced. If you're interested, send an email to shareyourfruit@yahoo.com to get on the e-mail list and indicate what types of goodies you have to share. The first exchange is set for this Sunday 7/12/09 at 12 noon at Maureen's house, 9572 El Cajon in Ventura. Happy sharing and happy eating!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Good news for you wine lovers out there

On Sunday, July 12th, The Cave at Ventura Wine Company is hosting a special wine focused dinner featuring wines from Stolpman Vineyards. Chef Gary Daniel will be serving a four course dinner, each paired with a different wine from this Central Coast winery. Think ragout of rabbit with pine nuts and olives paired with a 2005 Sangiovese, venison tenderloin with wild boar sausage paired with two different 2006 Syrahs, and their volcano chocolate with berries and a Syrah reduction sauce paired with a Syrah/Sangiovese blend- and that is just the beginning. This decadent event costs $75 and begins promptly at 5pm. Call 642-9404 to make a reservation.

And if you're still wanting more wine, Wine Lovers Bar on Thompson Avenue in Ventura is now under new management. Jill Shalhoob, owner of Jill's Place in Santa Barbara, has recently taken over this lovely little downtown wine bar. While their website hasn't been updated yet, plenty of menu changes have already taken place. They will still be serving pizzas, but I was told that now they will come from a new indoor pizza oven (under the former owners, the pizzas were cooked in an outdoor fireplace). The woman I spoke with on the phone mentioned something about a thin cracker crust topped with prosciutto, brie and roasted onions- and I was pretty much ready to drop everything to drive down there just to have a taste. In addition to the pizzas, they offer such delicacies as meat and cheese trays, an asparagus prosciutto wrap, and a caprese salad. They have also added beer on tap: Fat Tire, Hefeweizen, Sam Adams, and Stella Artois. Leave a comment if you've checked it out.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Something yummy and something new

As many of you may know, I entered the Trader Joe's sandwich recipe cookoff a while back. Well, I'm here to report that I'm actually a big giant loser. No, I didn't make the the finals or any second round for that matter. But the good news is that Trader Joe's has posted the recipes from the finalists. I thought my sandwich recipes were good, but these mouthwatering creations sound like they are to-die-for. Check them out, and please post if you try any of them. I know I sure will.

On a different note, Bonano's Fine Peruvian Cuisine is going to be opening up a Ventura location, in the former home to Sushi Teri at 100 N. Ashwood. This unique little restaurant, renowned for its Peruvian rotisserie chicken, is little sister to the original location in Northridge. Not only is it exciting to see a new restaurant opening in this crazy economy, but something totally new and different for Ventura.

They are mentioned in the LA Times for their "crisp-succulent roasted chicken." According to their article, most Peruvian restaurant menus "are similar to one another: a march of saltados, fried rice dishes, ceviches and Latin soups. And potato dishes, lots of potato dishes. Because Peruvian food is inherently multicultural, there's something for any eater to relate to. There are Chinese ingredients, Japanese techniques, African flavors, laid over a foundation of Latino and Andean cooking. Peruvian food might be the only cuisine that combines cheese, nuts, soy sauce, cilantro and fried plantain all in the same bite." Don't know about you, but I'm already salivating. This place is definitely worth checking out once they are opened.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Farmers Markets

The Ventura County Certified Farmers’ Market Association has opened up a new farmers’ market at Moorpark College. According to the press release from Janis Flippen Public Relations, the new market will be located in the Moorpark College campus in Parking Lot G1 at Campus Park Drive. The hours of operation will be from 8 a.m. to 12 noon every Saturday. 25 certified farmers will participate in the new market along with several food vendors offering a wide array of fresh produce, honey, eggs, fresh-cut flowers, potted plants and more.

Also, the Thousand Oaks Farmers’ Market returns to The Oaks Shopping Center after having occupied space for the past two years at the Hillcrest Center. This particular market offers an array of freshly grown produce including an ample supply of organic varieties, fresh cut flowers, bedding plants and more. Several food vendors also provide tasty selections at the Farmers’ Market including Me Gusta Gourmet Tamales, Mom’s Products, Yankee Doodle Bakery, Lourdes Tohme, Inc., Les Bles Bakery, Marcie’s Pies and Frontier Kettle Korn.

To celebrate the move back to its original location at The Oaks Shopping Center, the Thousand Oaks Farmers’ Market will hold a Grand Opening Celebration on Thursday, June 25. The celebration will run through regular market hours, 1:30 to 6:30 p.m. at its location on the east end parking lot on the corners of Thousand Oaks Boulevard and Wilbur Road.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Delicious things to eat, drink, do and learn

Happy Hour at the Cave
The Cave at Ventura Wine Company is now offering a Twilight Happy Hour. Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday between 4pm and 6pm any bottle of wine you purchase from their Retail Store may be opened in The Cave with no corkage fee...how cool is that? They've also got lots of new wines in their enomatic machines and a few new items on their menu: Sesame and Pepper Crusted Tuna with Won-Ton Crisp & Avocado Relish; Ciopino with Clams, Shrimp, Calamari, Mussels and Catch of the Day; and Potato & Crimini Mushroom Gratin.

Paradise Pantry
Thursday, June 25th: Stop by and meet Steve & Pam Lock of Ecluse Vineyards from Paso Robles!! 5-9pm. Also, pop in to pick up some of their amazing crabcakes....apparently they are so good that customers keep demanding that they make more.

McGrath Family Farm
McGrath Farm is now selling My Florist Bakery Bread at their farmstand every weekend- the perfect complement to their fresh produce. Whats fresh and in season right now? Strawberries, lemons, beets, radishes, lots of greens and lettuce mixes. Also, if you would like to join their CSA (community supported agriculture program) now is the time. You essentially buy a share of the farm's harvest, and every week you get a bountiful load of the freshest produce.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Coconut Bread

I love a good sweet bread for breakfast, and this one takes the cake. I don't even know what to say...it speaks for itself and tastes just as good as it sounds. The toasted coconut and the coconut milk make this more like a dense cake, so I feel like I'm getting away with something when I get to eat it for breakfast. I like to eat a big slice plain or lightly toasted with a little bit of butter. This comes from Tyler Florence's "Real Kitchen" cookbook.

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 TBL baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
Zest of 1 lemon
1-1/2 cups unsweetened coconut milk
1-1/2 cup shredded coconut, toasted

To toast the coconut, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread the coconut on a cookie sheet and bake for 5-10 minutes, stirring at least twice. It will get golden brown. Set aside.

Adjust oven temperature to 375 degrees. Grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan (I use cooking spray with flour). In a large bowl, mix the flour with the baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. In another large bowl, whisk together the melted butter with the brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, and lemon zest. Pour in the coconut milk and whisk together. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and fold everything together until you have a smooth batter. Gently fold in the shredded coconut until evenly distributed. Pour into prepared loaf pan and set it on a cookie sheet. Bake for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into center of bread comes out clean. Rotate pan occasionally to ensure even browning. Cool in pan for 20 minutes, then remove to rack or cutting board to cool completely.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Who wouldn't love brie sauce?

A few months back, we had some friends over for dinner who happen to be vegetarians. No biggie, I just went to my notebook of recipes (which by the way, would be one of the first things I would grab should my house be burning down), hit the vegetarian section- but nothing was calling to me this time. So, a friend e-mailed me this recipe, which she had received via some Real Simple Magazine newsletter.

I was skeptical at first, it almost seemed too simple. How could something with so few ingredients really be good, and company-worthy for that matter? Well, it is. The brie really does just melt and become a perfect sauce for the pasta. I ate so much, my stomach hurt. After making it one time and seeing how easy and good it is, you could try different veggies and pretty much throw anything in there (think garlic, roasted peppers, artichoke and olives).

Creamy Rigatoni with Broccoli and Brie

Courtesy of Real Simple

* 1 pound dried rigatoni
* 1 head broccoli, florets and stalks cut into 1/2-inch pieces and steamed
* 1/2 cup (2 ounces) pine nuts, toasted
* 8 ounces Brie (with rind), cut into 1-inch pieces
* kosher salt and pepper

1. Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain and return the pasta to the pot.

2. Add the steamed broccoli, pine nuts, Brie, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Stir until the cheese melts. Divide among individual bowls.

Tip: The Brie's rind adds a rich, earthy flavor to the pasta, but you can try fontina or Taleggio instead.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Looking ahead...lots and lots of Lavender

They are really pulling out all of the stops in Ojai in preparation for the upcoming Ojai Valley Lavender Festival. In addition to the festival, check out these two lavender-themed cooking classes in June.

Karen Evenden, author of the cookbook and memoir, A Taste of Croatia, will be teaching a class at The Ojai Cooking School at The Lavender Inn on Saturday, June 20, at 1 pm. Learn how to prepare lemonade, savory tomato jam, seared scallops, a seasonal salad of chicken, pistachios and strawberries, and biscotti – all blessed with lavender. Please call the Lavender Inn at 646-6635 to reserve a space. The cost is $55 per person.

On a different, but still lavender note, join Nancy Michali at the Ojai Culinary Studio for “A Taste of Provence” on Sunday, June 28 at 12:30 pm. In this hands-on cooking experience you will prepare a salad, red snapper, grilled chicken, scalloped potatoes, carrots and fougasse (the flatbread of France), all with the flavor of Provence. Did you know that lavender is one of the key ingredients in Herbes de Provence? Enjoy your meal with a glass of wine and top it all off with Lavender Crème Brulée. The cost is $50 per person; sign up by calling 646-1124 or going to the website.

To get you in the mood, here is a simple recipe shared by Kyle Crowner of the Ojai Lavender Festival:

Lavender Simple Syrup
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • ¼ cup lavender blossoms
Heat the sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat until the sugar is melted. Remove from heat and add the lavender blossoms; cover and allow to steep for about 15 minutes. Strain into a jar and refrigerate. Use to sweeten homemade lemonade & iced tea, drizzle over fresh fruit or pound cake, sweeten strawberries, or add to heavy cream before whipping.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Ten questions for Sandy Pujji

I recently got the chance to review The Curry Leaf restaurant in Camarillo for the VC Reporter and the owner, Sandy Pujji, really made an impression on me. I guess I'm kinda nerdy and always interested in what drives chefs and business owners, so I followed up with a few questions. Here is what Sandy had to say:

1. Three adjectives that describe your cooking style? "Indian food served on our plates are the same you would find in any Indian restaurant back home in England. Simple blend of spices. And we listen to our customers as we are here for them."

2. Favorite food when you're at home? "Simple things like fried egg on toast and lamb biriyani"

3. Least favorite food? "Not a big fan of raw fish on rice"

4. Food that makes you swoon? "Cheesecake"

5. Food that takes you back to your childhood? "My mums cooking of course, but she rarely cooks now, owning 4 restaurants"

6. Any food that you are horrible at making? "No. Try, try, and try again and when that fails, try again."

7. Why did you get into the restaurant business? "My mums had tried to get me to America for 20 years and I told her and my brother 8 years ago [that I would] only if we could open an Indian restaurant . So we opened Spice avenue in Santa Barbara. Because America needed a decent Indian restaurant like we have back home in England."

8. Where do you get your inspiration? "I'm inspired by everything around me. Trends change so should you."

9. Favorite local restaurant? "Charm Thai Cuisine and P6 in Westlake"

10. Where do you see yourself 5 years from now? "No idea , hopefully we are looking to open a THE CURRY LEAF in Thousand Oaks next year if things go good, full bar and lounge with restaurant, more up market." 25 years from now? "In good health"

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Caramelized Onion and Hazelnut Salad

This one comes from dear Rachael Ray and her cookbook "2,4,6,8: Great Meals for Couples or Crowds." I have Rachael and her TV shows to thank for getting me through lots and lots of feedings when my kids were infants and for teaching me that its okay to wing it and improvise in the kitchen sometimes. Watching her cook has given me the confidence to build recipes on my own, and has supplied me with an endless list of yummy recipes I'm still dying to try. This is one of my faves...perfect as a side or a main dish when topped with some chicken.
  • 1/2 cup whole peeled hazelnuts
  • 6 TBL extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 3 TBL balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 TBL Dijon mustard
  • 3 plum tomatoes, sliced
  • 4 large cups baby spinach or another green of your choice
  • 1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
Preheat oven to 325. Place the hazelnuts on a baking sheet and toast them in the oven for 10-12 minutes; your nose will know when they are done. Remove them from the oven and transfer to a cutting board. When cool, run your knife through them once to coarsely chop them.

While the nuts are toasting up, place a large skillet over medium-high heat with 2 TBL olive oil. Add the onions, season with a little salt and pepper, and cook, stirring frequently for 10 minutes. Add 1 TBL of the balsamic vinegar and a big splash of water. Continue to cook about 1 minute, using a wooden spoon to scrape up any bits on the bottom of the pan. Remove the onions from the pan and transfer to a bowl; stir in the remaining vinegar and the mustard. In a slow, steady stream, which the remaining 4 TBL olive oil into the onion dressing.

In a salad bowl, combine the tomatoes, baby spinach, chopped hazelnuts, and the blue cheese crumbles. Pour the caramelized onion dressing over the salad and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Serves 2.

Notes: This salad becomes a delicious meal when topped with grilled, sliced chicken breast. You can also substitute pecans or walnuts, if you can't find hazelnuts. And if you're feeding any more than a few people, I would suggest doubling the recipe.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Follow up to Sandwiches Galore

Okay, so I got a little excited to create some of my own recipes for the Trader Joe's recipe contest. On two different evenings I pretended I was in some fancy food magazine test kitchen and played around with lots of different melty grilled sandwich creations. The kitchen was a mess, as was my apron, and the cleanup was overwhelming. But there was something fun and satisfying about it, like I was in the cooking Olympics (only I was alone and not exercising and there was bacon involved). Anyway, I submitted two recipes to the contest because I loved them both too much to show favoritism. The grilled bacon and brie with apples and brown sugar is gooey and sweet....the smokiness of the bacon and the caramel vibe from the brown sugar perfectly balance one another. In contrast, the "carnitas pannino" has the moist shredded pork, perfectly paired with the spiciness of the jalapeno bread and green salsa.

Sweet and Smokey Grilled Cheese
  • One package Trader Joe’s Naan
  • One package TJ's Apple Smoked Bacon, cooked until crisp and brown
  • One wedge of TJ's double or triple crème brie, sliced lengthwise into ¼ inch slices
  • One Granny Smith apple, thinly sliced
  • Brown sugar
Brush the outside of each piece of naan with a bit of olive oil. To layer sandwich: start with a piece of naan and top with a few slices of brie. Then add 3-4 slices of bacon (enough to cover the length and width of bread), a few apple slices (enough to cover the length and width of bread), sprinkle with approximately 2 TBL brown sugar, and then top with a few more slices of brie and then the remaining piece of naan. Cook in a big skillet over medium heat, approximately 3-5 minutes per side, pressing down with spatula or by placing a heavy pan on top, compressing the whole sandwich and sealing all the yummy ingredients in with the cheese. Once cheese is melted and bread is nicely browned, remove from heat and allow to rest for 3-5 minutes, cut and serve.

El Grande Carnitas Pannino
  • 1 loaf TJ's jalapeno cheddar bread
  • 1 package TJ's carnitas, heated according to package directions, shredded
  • ½ of a 8 oz. block Monterey jack cheese, shredded (should be around 2 cups)
  • Trader Joe’s Roasted Piquillo peppers
  • Trader Joe’s Salsa Verde
Slice loaf in half cross-wise, creating a top and bottom of your giant sandwich. Brush the outside of each piece with a bit of olive oil. To layer sandwich, start by spreading half of the shredded cheese on the bottom. Top with the shredded carnitas – as much as you can squeeze on there without it toppling off (about half of the meat). Cut the roasted peppers in half or thirds, and lay those pieces on top of the carnitas. Sprinkle with the rest of the shredded cheese and then top with the other half of the bread loaf. Press down. Cook in a big skillet over medium heat, approximately 3-5 minutes per side, pressing down with spatula or by placing a heavy pan on top, compressing the whole sandwich and sealing all the yummy ingredients in with the cheese. Once cheese is melted and bread is nicely browned, remove from heat and allow to rest for 3-5 minutes. Cut and serve with green salsa to enhance its deliciousness.