Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Great news on the restaurant front....

After being closed for a few months, Cafe Bariloche has re-opened its doors under new ownership. Driving through downtown today, I noticed tables outside on the sidewalk, topped with brightly colored umbrellas. Excited to see the front door propped open, I went in to get the scoop. The restaurant is the same, with its colorful interior, tiny little bar, and lovely aromas wafting from the open kitchen. Alas, my life will be complete again now that I will have continued access to their lovely empanadas and amazing Caribe chicken. The menu is the same, but enhanced by new additions like Ecuadorian Ceviche and Argentinian Bread pudding. This restaurant adds a lot to the local restaurant scene, I'm so glad to see it has survived.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

In the Classroom

I recently had the pleasure of doing a review of Main Course California for the VC Reporter, which will run in this week's paper. In addition to their small restaurant and catering and personal chef business, they also offer cooking classes. Coming up on April 29th they are offering "Classic and Modern Sauces for food lovers," where students will make (and take home) a variety of versatile sauces, including mango lychee salsa, caramelized shallot vinaigrette, and a pomegranate balsamic reduction. On May 9th they are offering a class title "Sweet Preserves," where students will learn the art of canning and make a variety of strawberry and rhubard jams to take home.

Other places to look if you're searching for cooking classes in the area:

Ojai Culinary Studio
  • Cooking with Trader Joes, on Friday May 1st, where students will learn how to cook a delicious meal with only five ingredients and sample a variety of wines under $7.
Ventura College:
  • A Taste of Ventura County with renowned Chef Tim Kilcoyne at the Sidecar Restaurant on Saturday, May 16th.
  • Food and Wine Pairing at the Sidecar Restaurant in Ventura on Monday, June 8th.
  • Basic Winemaking and Appreciation on Saturday, July 18th, at Old Creek Ranch Winery in Oak View.

Restaurant News

With the economy in such a sorry state, it was bound to impact the Ventura restaurant scene. Sushi Teri on Ashwood has closed, as well as BadAss Coffee on Thompson Boulevard, and Cafe Bariloche on Main Street. The closing of Bariloche almost brought tears to my eyes- it was the first restaurant I ate in when I moved to Ventura, and such a unique little spot. And I still think about their crisp little empanadas and the Caribe chicken, which consisted of perfectly cooked chunks of chicken breast tossed in a delicious cilantro oil.

On a happier note, Sicily by Gino is due to open mid-May on Main Street in downtown Ventura. This will be the newest culinary endeavor for owner and native Sicilian Gino Milano, who also owns Gino's Sicilian Express in Santa Barbara and Cucina Isabella in Camarillo. I'm anxiously awaiting their pizza, paninis and salads. In the meantime, I might head down to Cucina Isabella (455 Carmen Drive, Camarillo). On a slightly bizarre posting on Craigslist, they claim to have a $5 lunch special, perfect for those of us who have drastically cut our dining out budget during these tough times.

Another newish spot that I'm hoping to check out (and possibly review for the VC Reporter) is Pizza Salad in Thousand Oaks. Opened in 2008, they claim to be "America's first organic pizza restaurant." Pretty much everything they serve is organic and their top priority is providing gourmet food that is good for their customers and good for the environment. What also makes them unique is that they have yummy food options for customers needing vegan, gluten-free, lactose-free and low salt options. All this and it tastes good? The menu is intriguing enough that I just might make the drive down there to check it out.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Petting Zoo and Produce

Today I took my kids to check out the new farm center at McGrath Family Farm in Camarillo. We desperately needed an outing and this seemed like a destination that would make us all happy. As we drove down the 101, I tried to ignore the incessant fighting coming from the backseat, and instead fantasized about the fresh produce and flowers and the petting zoo awaiting us. And then, there it was, right off the Central Avenue exit: this little beautifully landscaped oasis overlooking fields and fields of flowers and vegetables.

We started with a little tour of the petting zoo and learned all about the animals they keep on the farm. Aside from being adorable and entertaining the kids that visit the farm - most of the animals play an integral role in the farm. The ducks and goats assist in weeding in parts of the field and are also skilled in trimming back the lettuce. The goats provide milk and the chickens provide eggs, most of which go to the many workers on the farm. The kids also got to touch a white pigeon and an adorable bunny, and squealed over the two baby lambs that were born last week.

We then went inside the new farm stand, packed full of beautiful plants, lush bunches of fresh flowers, and a bounty of organic produce, just begging to be sampled. My kids are adventurous eaters, but not enough to yet appreciate the fresh cilantro, mustard greens, or beets that I was ogling. But being kids, they made a beeline for the strawberries. We bought a pint and sat outside at the table, watching the animals and admiring the fields, grateful to have such a neat little spot within 15 minutes of our house.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Blueberry Gems

Muffins, muffins, muffins - I could eat them all day long. I like little light bite size muffins and dense muffins as big as my head (you know, the kind that nutritionists advise us to avoid at all costs). I mean, they are pretty much little cakes moonlighting as breakfast, and I love anything that allows me to work more cake into my diet and not have it count as dessert. This is my favorite blueberry muffin recipe - super simple and easy to pull together- I always have frozen blueberries in the freezer and self-rising flour in the pantry. There's no softening of butter or pulling out the mixer, which allows me to be a bit spontaneous (which as a Mom, I rarely get to be) and whip them up when inspiration grabs hold.

Paula Deen's Blueberry Gems

2 cups self-rising flour
1.5 cups sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup milk
1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen

Preheat oven to 375. Line 18 muffin tin cups with liners or spray with cooking spray (or 12 muffin cups if you're making jumbo muffins).

Combine flour and sugar in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, combine the eggs, vanilla, oil and milk. Whisk together until well combined. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Pour in the liquid. Mix with a spoon until the flour is moistened. Gently fold in the blueberries.

Spoon batter into muffin cups, filling two-thirds full. Bake for 23-25 minutes until nicely browned and puffed.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

BBQ Chicken PIzza

Okay, I have vowed to only post my favorite recipes here - nothing that's just average, nothing that I would consider "good enough." And since BBQ chicken pizza is one of my favorites, here you go:

-1 bag Trader Joe's pizza dough (or any other brand)
-1 or 2 TBL olive oil
-1 cup bbq sauce
-Cooked chicken breast meat, approximately 1 c. chopped (I buy TJ's "Just Chicken")
-thin sliced sliced red onion (or chopped green onions)
-shredded cheese (mozarella, monterey jack, smoked gouda, or any combo of these)
-chopped cilantro

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray pizza pan with cooking spray. Roll dough on board with cornmeal (my favorite) or flour. Spread dough on pan, brush with olive oil. Bake for 6 minutes. While baking, chop chicken and toss with half of the bbq sauce. Remove from oven- if dough has puffed, poke raised spots with knife to deflate. Spread remaining bbq sauce on crust. Top with half of the cheese. Top with chicken and onions, and then sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake for 14-16 minutes more until brown and crisp. Allow to rest at room temp for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Smoky and Spicy Quiche

Quiche is a great go-to when the fridge is on empty. The key to a successful quiche (thanks, Laurel!) is to bake it at least a few hours in advance, and let it rest for a few hours before serving. You can then serve it at room temperature or reheat in the oven at 200 degrees for about 15-20 minutes. This recipe can be adapted, adjusted, and made to be your own...don't be afraid to substitute whatever veggies, cheese, or meat you have in your fridge. Even my kids devoured this, despite the spicy kick from the tomatoes- they pretty much love anything in a pie shell. For my 5-year old who thinks he doesn't like eggs, I call it "cheese pie," you can call it whatever you want, just try it!

Smoky and Spicy Quiche
  • 1 ready made piecrust (Trader Joe's is my favorite, but you can use any brand)
  • 5 eggs
  • 1- 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/4 cup sourcream
  • 1 can diced, fireroasted tomatoes with green chiles (well drained, juices pressed through sieve)
  • 1 package Trader Joe's chopped pancetta (or 3-4 slices bacon, chopped)
  • 2 cups shredded smoked Gouda (approx. 5 ounces)
Brown pancetta, set aside to drain on paper towel lined plate. Place pie crust in deep dish pie plate, prebake at 400 degrees for 5 minutes. While it bakes, whisk together eggs, milk and sourcream. Stir in tomatoes. Once piecrust is finished pre-baking, drop oven temperature down to 375. Layer 2/3 of the cheese in the bottom of the crust and top with pancetta. Pour in egg mixture and top with remaining cheese. Bake for 50-70 minutes, until top is set and golden brown. Do not overbrown it, as the gouda will continue to brown after you've removed it from the oven. Allow quiche to rest for a few hours before serving.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Favorite random kitchen tips

As I've said, I'm no professional chef, but I do have a few tricks up my sleeve. These little, simple pointers- garnered from watching others cook, cooking with friends, reading cookbooks, and my own trial and error- have become crucial in my cooking and make me look like I really know what I'm doing! Hope you'll find them helpful as well:

-Don't be afraid to really salt your food. Do you see how much salt the professional chefs on Food Network use? They will often grab a mini handful from a dish and sling it right in there! Salt will really help bring out the flavor of you food, don't be afraid of it.

-When you make pizza (whether homemade or frozen), allow it to sit out and rest for at least five, even 10 minutes. I used to cut into my pizza straight out of the oven, and the juices would run everywhere, taking with it a lot of the flavor and wonderful oils. Letting it rest allows the cheese to firm up a bit, keeping all the yummy flavor in.

-When making scrambled eggs, add in 1-2 TBL of sour cream instead of using milk. Your eggs won't be runny, but more fluffy and with an added zing.

-Ice cream tastes better when it is soft. Let it sit out and soften for at least five, even 10 minutes before you scoop it. If you don't believe me -test it out yourself. Try the ice cream rock hard out of the freezer and taste it again after its really softened up. The flavors are better and the ice cream feels better in your mouth when its really softened up.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Tried and True Crispy Pizza

In our house, if you're a grown-up, Friday is pizza and movie night. It used to be frozen pizza, but since my love affair with Trader Joe's began, I've been using their pizza dough and play with different fun toppings each week. Sometimes its pepperoni deep dish, sometimes its pesto and veggie,and other times it chicken, gorgonzola, caramelized onions, and walnuts (you haven't lived until you've had crunchy walnuts on a crisp pizza). Anyway, no matter the toppings, I really like my crust thin and crispy...and the key is to prebake the crust before topping it. Here's the scoop:

-Roll out pizza dough (Pillsbury, TJ's, your own homemade dough)
-Brush with olive oil (can also sprinkle with chopped garlic or some italian seasong for umph)
-Bake at 400 degrees for 6 minutes.
-Remove from oven, top with your sauce, cheese, and toppings, return to oven for about 15 minutes.
-Once brown and crispy, let pizza sit for 5-10 minutes to firm up and become even more perfect.