Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Things I'm thankful for...

This Thanksgiving I'm thankful for new restaurants that know how to knock it out of the park with their food, ambiance, and service. Though it seems like such a simple task, it really is an art; and when a restaurant nails all three, it is truly an occasion to be celebrated. Lure Fish House, the newest addition to Camarillo's restaurant scene, is just one of these places.

The newest endeavor of David Cortina, owner of a number of restaurants in San Diego, Lure is artfully managed and nuanced by front of house executive, Stephen Schmidt, who can be found browsing the restaurant, greeting customers, making wine recommendations, and pretty much working the room with finesse.

The interior of the restaurant, which you would never guess was formally a Coco's, is all about attention to detail: over-sized sculptural light fixtures, small blown glass pendants, an oyster bar which offers a front row seat of the kitchen, a three-sided cocktail bar, deep booths, an extensive beer, wine, cocktail list, and a well-crafted modern feel. The service during our meal was impeccable- from the hostess opening the door for everyone entering the restaurant to the guy behind the oyster bar shucking oysters and rolling out both conversation and ceviche cocktails.

Now to the food. We sampled oyster's on the half-shell with spicy horseradish and cups of piping hot New England clam chowder (the recipe borrowed from a friend of Cortina's in Scituate, Massachusetts), alongside a Camarillo strawberry cocktail and icy cold Fat Tire Ale. For entrées we enjoyed the mesquite charbroiled halibut (light and simple fish with a vibrant kick) with a side of crispy shoestring potatoes and comforting creamed corn, and the seared ahi tuna (so perfectly cooked, it melts in the mouth). We rounded out the evening with a trio of sorbets in an icy cold cocktail glass - a surprisingly refreshing finish to a decadent evening.

Though they've only been open since last week, this is a restaurant with an old soul and a bright future. All of their seafood complies with the Monterey Bay Aquarium seafood watch standards, and all of their prices remain under $20. Lunch service starts next week and starting tomorrow, customers will be able to order live dungeness crab (prepared to order) from their front row seat at the oyster bar.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The best thing I ate this week...Don't be a hater.

I feel sorry for brussel sprouts. These little green cabbage-like vegetables get such a bum rap. But, if you've ever had them cooked just right, you know what I know: these little green orbs are divine.

Tonight, when I had a bag of brussel sprouts but none of the ingredients I usually cook with them(like potatoes, bacon, heavy cream), I looked to my Joy of Cooking cookbook. This is where I turn when I forget at what temp to best bake a potato or when I need a quick recipe to help me utilize a boatload of zucchini from the garden. When in doubt, I always gravitate to it, the old standby, the cookbook that's been with me longer than my husband has, longer than the Paula Deens and Rachel Rays that sit shiny on the bookshelf.

This recipe (which I came across on page 353 to be exact) was really quick and easy, producing brussel sprouts that were caramelized and brown on the cut side, yet soft and tender at the same time. Since I grew up fearing brussel sprouts with all my might, I'm still amazed when I find myself popping these nutty little cabbages into my mouth like candy. Tonight I was even more amazed when my four year old was doing the same thing.

Brussel Sprouts Cockaigne

12 brussel sprouts (I used a 1 pound bag)
3 TBL butter
2 cloves garlic, crushed

Rinse the brussel sprouts, pat them dry, and slice in half lengthwise. Warm butter in a medium sized skillet over medium-low heat. Add garlic, stir, and cook until starting to brown. Remove garlic from skillet and discard. Place sprouts cut side down in the garlic butter. Cover and cook over low heat until tender, 15-20 minutes. Arrange on a platter or in a bowl and drizzle with any remaining butter.

Note: Since I didn't have any remaining butter, I finished mine with a drizzle of walnut oil (but you could use olive oil), salt, pepper, and grated parmesan. A squeeze of lemon juice would also be a nice touch.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The best thing I ate this week...a tower of tender tri-tip

Recently, I've been spending a lot of my time with my new friend, Yelp. Or www.yelp.com if you haven't discovered it yet, the search engine that will help you find the best wings, donuts, sushi, or whatever you are craving, wherever you are, and however hefty or skimpy your budget may be. On a recent trip, Yelp told me where to find a great bagel in San Francisco (where I happened to also stumble upon the best chocolate dipped coconut macaroon of my life), the perfect Italian meal in the North Beach area of the city, and it told me where to find a stellar, affordable lunch in San Luis Obispo, where we stopped for a bite on the way home.

Despite all of the good food I ate in San Francisco (no offense, San Fran, I loved your pumpkin ice cream, tortellini carbonara, and that thick slab of pesto pizza), it was this tri-tip sandwich at Firestone Grill in SLO that practically brought me to my knees.

Let me start with what I normally dislike about tri-tip sandwiches. Often times the beef is overcooked, and most of the time it is tough and cut too thickly. Sometimes the roll is too hard, sometimes the meat pulls out of the sandwich as you bite it, sometimes the whole affair is just too dry.

But like a modern day Goldilocks, when I bit into this sandwich, I knew it was just right. The soft hoagie roll - generously buttered and toasted - was piled high with thin slices of tri-tip and smeared with a sweet barbecue sauce. The meat was pink, tender, thinly cut, and piled at least ten slices high atop the roll. The sauce oozed out, almost taunting me to hurry up and eat. But I knew better- this was a sandwich to savor. With every bite, I could hardly wrap my brain around the faint crisp of the buttered roll, the texture of the flavorful meat, and the uber sweetness of the sauce. They all sang with a gospel-like amen in my mouth.

At $7.99, the tri-tip sandwich was one of the most expensive items on the simple menu of burgers, sandwiches, and salads at this happenin' college student hangout. Sitting outside in the sunshine - after a stretch of bone chilling rainy days braving San Fran's public transportation system with two exhausted little boys in tow - savoring my sandwich and a few crispy onion rings, I was the happiest woman in the world. That is, until I finished the last bite of my sandwich.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Best thing I ate this week: my first moqueca

The best thing I ate this week was, well, pretty much everything I tried at Moqueca Restaurant at the Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard. Not only did we love the food, but the atmosphere at Moqueca offered a nice change of pace. The dining room of this family owned restaurant is filled with vibrant artwork, and the service is refreshing.

Though not pictured, the risoles, made for a delicious appetizer. Little pockets of dough (think mini empanadas) were each stuffed with a single beautifully seasoned shrimp and deep fried until bronze like sun kissed skin. The crust was crisp on the outside, but really doughy on the inside...making them a joy to eat, especially when dipped in tartar sauce. We also tried the frito misto, an assortment of fried seafood, that came with a light yogurt sauce (pictured above).

But the real showstoppers of the evening were the Caipirinha cocktails (the national cocktail of Brazil, made with cachaça, sugar and lime) and the moquecas. What is a moqueca, you might ask? Moqueca is a traditional Brazilian stew, made with tomatoes, cilantro, onion, olive oil, and seafood cooked slowly in a clay pot in the oven.

We opted for one moqueca with filled with fish, shrimp and calamari, and another full of chunks of mahi mahi. Our server told us they were enough for two to share, but three could easily enjoy one as well. The sauce was light and tangy, the seafood soft and tender from cooking in the sauce. We spooned it over glistening white rice and pirão (fish stock thickened with yucca flour), then added a few drops of hot chili oil, as our ever patient server instructed us to do.

There's something so magical about eating out of a rustic, clay pot; and something so refreshing about finding a high-end restaurant off the beaten path. This is one of those restaurants that the moment you leave, you are already thinking about when you will return and what you will order. For me, I'm already looking forward to going back for the bobo de camarao (a rich stew similar to a moqueca, but filled with shrimp and mixed with coconut milk).

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Roasted Beet Hummus

I stumbled upon this recipe online one day, and just couldn't wait to try it. Not only because I adore beets, but also for the fun color. It comes from Dinner with Julie, but unfortunately, isn't posted any longer. So, here it is, for the next time you want to make an appetizer that's a real conversation starter. You may want to play with the amounts of salt, garlic, and lemon juice to really make it your own. And if you want to make it even faster, you can buy the pre-cooked beets at Trader Joe's.

Roasted Beet Hummus

1-2 beets, greens trimmed

1 19 oz (540 mL) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

1 large garlic clove, peeled

juice of a lemon (2-3 Tbsp., or to taste)

1/4 cup (60 mL) thick plain yogurt
2 Tbsp. (30 mL) tahini

1/2-1 tsp. (2-5 mL) cumin

1/4 tsp. (1 mL) salt, or to taste

2-4 Tbsp. (30-60 mL) olive or canola oil

Wrap the beets in foil and roast at 350ºF for an hour, or until tender (you can bake them alongside other stuff, while the oven is on). When it’s cool enough to handle, peel and cut into chunks.

Put all ingredients except the olive oil into the bowl of a food processor and purée, pouring the olive oil in through the feed tube as it blends, until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning if you need to. If it’s too thick, add more olive oil, yogurt or water.

Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to 4 days before serving. Makes about 2 1/2 cups.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Best things I ate this week: Something sweet and something savory

This week it was a toss up between something I made, and something I ate out. The best thing someone else made for me this week was the lasagna al forno at Quincy Street restaurant in Oxnard. This little neighborhood restaurant is known for it's Chicago style ribs and barbecue, but also excels in the arena of Italian cooking. The lasagna, which I got as a half-order, was the ultimate comfort food, the perfect antidote to yet another cold and foggy night in Ventura County. The lasagna noodles were layered with a hearty meat sauce, plus mozzarella, ricotta, and Romano cheeses. I absolutely adored the tang of the cheese with the richness of the meat sauce- and the whole thing made me feel all warm and fuzzy (and full) inside. Stay tuned for the full review in the VC Reporter in a few weeks.

The best thing I ate this week that I can take any credit for, is the Cookies and Cream Cake I made this weekend. The recipe is adapted slightly from The Cake Mix Doctor, and her cookbook, Chocolate from the Cake Mix Doctor.

25 chocolate sandwich cookies, plus additional if needed
Shortening and flour for pans (or Pam spray with flour)
1 package (18.25 oz.) white cake mix with pudding
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup half and half or milk
1/2 cup canola oil
3 large eggs

Place the chocolate sandwich cookies in food processor, and process until you have crumbs. You should have at least 2 1/2 cups of crumbs. If not, process more.

Preheat oven to 350. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans with shortening and dust with flour (or spray with Pam with flour).

Place the cake mix, water, cream, oil, and eggs in a mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed for 1 minute. Increase speed to medium and beat 2 minutes more, scraping down sides when needed. The batter should look well combined. Fold in 1 cup of the cookie crumbs until well distributed. Divide the batter evenly into two pans. Place on oven rack in middle of oven, side by side. Bake the cakes until they spring back lightly when pressed with your finger, about 25-30 minutes. Cool in pans on wire rack until cool to touch, and then remove from pan to rack. While cakes cool, make vanilla buttercream frosting (also from the Cake Mix Doctor), adding in the 1 cup of cookie crumbs at the end.

If cake tops are uneven, slice a small portion off top to level them out. Ice bottom layer, and sprinkle icing with 1/4 cup cookie crumbs. Place second layer on top, finish icing top and sides of cake. When finished, spread 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup cookie crumbs on top of cake and press down into icing. Can decorate sides of cake with remaining cookies (cut in half) if you like.

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting (with cookie crumbs)

8 TBL (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 cups confectioners sugar, sifted
3-4 TBL milk
1 cup chocolate sandwich cookie crumbs (reserved from before)

Place the butter, vanilla, and 1 cup of the confectioners' sugar in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed to incorporate, 30 seconds. Add the remaining sugar alternately with 3 TBL milk, 1 TBL at a time, blending with the mixer on low speed. Add another TBL of milk if the frosting seems too stiff. Then add the 1 cup of cookie crumbs. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, 1 minute more.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Best thing I ate this week: biscuits

I've been wondering about Allison's Country Cafe for years now. Based on the hoards of people waiting outside their doors every Saturday morning, it's clear that there is something delicious going on in there. Well, I finally got a chance to see what all the excitement is about when I went for breakfast this week. And the best thing I ate? Their biscuits.

They are about four inches tall, a nice golden brown on top, and full of soft white dough inside. They are more like dinner rolls because they don't flake into layers or crumble like some buttermilk biscuits do. What makes them so magnificent is their size and soft texture. They are like comfort on a plate, and the perfect pairing for their tangy homemade raspberry jam or their savory gravy.

And let me take a minute to talk about their gravy. In my 35 years, I've never really considered myself a gravy person. I'd much rather smear my biscuits and rolls with butter and jelly. But, seriously, after eating the gravy at Allison's, I think I just might be a gravy girl now. There's is thick and creamy (which most gravies usually are), but what sets it apart is the perfect amount of saltiness and the chunks of ham and sausage and the generous flecks of pepper. If you're like me, you won't be able to stop dipping bite after bite of your biscuit into this creamy concoction.

Oh, and the chicken fried steak is to die for as well. Stay tuned for more in the VC Reporter in a few weeks.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Gordon Ramsay is looking for Kitchen Nightmares in the Ventura Area

Has your favorite restaurant gone bad? Have you tried a new eatery only to discover it doesn't cut the mustard? Apparently FOX's hit show, Kitchen Nightmares, is currently searching for new restaurants in Ventura to be featured in the upcoming season.

Here's a bit from the press release:
"Each week, Chef Ramsay will attempt to turn one ordinary and empty restaurant into the most popular, sought-after venue in town. He reveals the behind-the-scenes realities of running a restaurant and wastes no time getting down to business – implementing signature menu items, modernizing décor and making the restaurant run as smoothly as possible. With his reputation on the line, Ramsay accepts nothing less than the best when it comes to the food, staff and customer service. While still prone to the explosive outbursts and spectacular confrontations familiar to fans, Ramsay reveals a sensitive and nurturing side as he coaches, cheers and challenges the restaurant staff, all the way from appetizers through dessert."

If you know of a restaurant that desperately needs expert guidance, send them the restaurant's name, location and a brief description why you think Gordon Ramsay should take over. Contact kristincastingshows@gmail.com or you can post your suggestions here on my blog.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Best thing I ate this week: Roasted Carrot Salad

I posted this recipe for Roasted Carrot Salad a while back, after it made its way into my inbox via the McGrath Farm newsletter. I printed it out and added it to the pile of recipes I'm dying to try that lives on my kitchen counter. Well, you know how it goes...summer vacation started, and a few camping trips and lots of playdates later, it's July already.

So when I finally had a moment to make a true homemade meal, this recipe was at the top of the pile. This salad was everything I thought it would be and by far, the best thing I ate this week. The carrots were soft and sweet, and perfectly caramelized.

They went perfectly with the tangy blue cheese, chewy sweet cranberries, and the peppery arugula. Note: I used walnuts instead of almonds and wanting to stretch the recipe even further, I definitely used more than 2 cups of arugula.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Drop what you're doing and eat this

If you haven't been to Bonanos yet, the list of reasons why you need to has just gotten a bit longer. Their Peruvian food is de-lish, the service wonderful, and the atmosphere relaxing and not what you would expect in this little strip mall on Ashwood Avenue in Ventura. Check out these reviews in the VC Star, VC Reporter, and on Gayot. Chef Dante Balarezo has recently added a few new fresh seafood dishes to his already rockin' menu. The new dishes include Tiradito en cremas de aji amarillo y rocoto (sashimi style fish with aji amarillo sauce, pictured above), and Causa de cangrejo (layers of pressed potato with crab meat and avocado, pictured below).

Rainbow Bridge, the neighborhood health food store in Ojai, has an expansion in the works. Though they are still digging their way through red tape and County checklists, it should be open sometime early this Fall. They are taking over the space that used to house the local sporting goods store; and once complete, the Rainbow Warehouse will offer bulk oils, agave syrup, vinegars, honey, syrup, bath salts, detergents, and hand soap. There will also be gifts, stress reduction machines, and much more. And if you haven't stopped by Rainbow Bridge lately, they just added a water station outside the store, where customers can bring their own containers to be filled with fresh, filtered water. This is one of the many ways that Rainbow Bridge is trying to do right by the environment, by cutting back on the number of plastic water bottles filling our landfills.

The Cave at Ventura Wine Company has a new small plates menu if you're looking for a good reason to stop by for a sip of wine and a bite of food. Here are just a few to pique your interest:

BBQ Pork Tenderloin, Southern Slaw and Texas Cornbread $7
Penne with Mussels, Clams and Roasted Corn $7
Island Brew Company Battered Catfish with Spicy Cajun Pepper Sauce and Dirty Rice $8
The Cave "Rap & Roll": Ahi Tuna, Avocado, Sprouts, Cucumber and Creamy Spiced Rice $8
Scallops New Orleans, Potato Cake and Endive Salad $8
Summer Grilled Potato, Seared Pancetta and Napa Cabbage Salad $7
Herbed Cheese Polenta with House Pomodoro $6

Friday, June 25, 2010

Lots to love at Limoneira

Until this week, I had no clue that so much goes on over at Limoneira. This place, which I thought was just a big lemon orchard in Santa Paula, is really more like a town (they even have their own post office and fire station). They do tours, host weddings and events, have their own skincare line (Limoneira Lifestyles), and will take you on a hot air balloon ride if you want.

Here are some interesting facts about Limoneira:
  • They grow produce on 7,000 acres of land in California; Sunkist markets it and sells it all over, from your neighborhood Vons store to high end restaurants in Japan.
  • They utilize solar power (6400 solar panels to be exact) to run their lemon packing plant.
  • A group of English miniature sheep graze under the solar panels...an economical and cute way to keep the grass from getting too tall.
  • While you may know Limoneira for their lemons, they also grow oranges, avocados, and even pistachios.
  • They love to do tours...even for school groups. And you can play bocce ball on one of 12 bocce courts while you're there!

Limoneira has even partnered with Chef Jason Collis from Jonathan's, and they are doing "Blues, Barbeque, and Bocce" every Sunday this summer. There's live music, plenty of space for playing bocce, beer, wine, and beautiful scenery everywhere you look. Above you'll see some of the decadent food he served us out in the avocado orchard this week, including ice cold lemonade and refreshing lemon bars.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Best thing I ate this week: Filet at the Sidecar

Isn't this just about the prettiest thing you've ever seen? A thick filet of beef, sitting pretty atop creamed spinach, yukon gold potatoes, and a puddle of port wine sauce. This was the best thing I put in my mouth this week, by far. And it all happened at The Sidecar Restaurant under the watchful and skilled eye of one of my favorite local chefs, Tim Kilcoyne. The filet, which I like to order medium rare, was tender with just the right amount of pink and the outside was perfectly caramelized and peppery.

Now to tell you the truth, the reason I ordered the filet is because of the creamed spinach. When done right, this is the ultimate comfort food. So when I see it on a restaurant menu, especially a restaurant as good as the Sidecar, I rarely pass it up.

Rather than creaming his spinach in a thick and heavy bechamel, Chef Tim likes to keep it simple. The spinach is blanched and then mixed with a decadent sauce made with heavy cream, and then finished with a bit of butter just to make sure you never forget it. And even though only a small amount comes on the plate with the filet, here I am three days later, still thinking about it. The combo of the filet, the creamy spinach, the thick potatoes and the sweet port wine sauce was Oscar worthy.

And in case you just love looking at pictures of memorable food, this is what we had for dessert. Above is the Sidecar bread pudding, made with their homemade bread and finished with a caramel tangerine sauce. Below was the dessert special of the day, a fresh blackberry shortcake. Chef Tim Kilcoyne got the berries from Old Creek Ranch Winery around 4pm, and here they are on my plate around 9pm. The shortcakes were sweet, the berries the epitome of summertime, and the whip cream infused with the flavor of the blackberries as well.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Food Happenings this month

Cafe Fiore is offering 30% off any bottle of wine this Sunday (Father's Day), June 20th. Call 653-1266 to make your reservation.

Check out the Wine and Wishes event at the Ventura Wine Company on Sunday, June 27th from 2-5pm. They will be pouring tastes of over 100 of their favorite wines, alongside small bites prepared by their chef, Gary Daniel. The cost is $55 per person, and $30 of each ticket will go to the local chapter of Make-A-Wish Foundation.

The Sidecar Restaurant is celebrating local food yet again with their Rio Gozo Farm dinner on Wednesday June 30th. This four Course meal costs $45 per person, plus tax and gratuity. This menu is available in addition to their regular dinner menu from 5pm-9pm. Farmers will be on hand to talk about their farms and produce! Reservations are recommended.

This week, their big carrots are half-off. Now, normally, I wouldn't get really excited about carrots, but they put this recipe in their weekly newsletter, and its got me thinking. I just might need to play hooky from work, drive down there right now, and get me some carrots.

Roasted Carrot Salad
2 pounds carrots, peeled and thinly sliced on the diagonal
1/2 cup slivered almonds
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
salt and ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1 (4 ounce) package crumbled Danish blue cheese
2 cups arugula

Preheat an oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).

Combine the carrots, almonds, and garlic in a mixing bowl. Drizzle with the olive oil, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Spread out onto an ungreased baking sheet. Bake the carrots in the preheated oven until soft and the edges turn brown, about 30 minutes. Remove and allow to cool to room temperature.

Once cool, return the carrots to the mixing bowl, and drizzle with honey and vinegar; toss until coated. Add the cranberries and blue cheese; toss again until evenly mixed. Combine with the arugula and serve immediately.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Best thing I ate this week: Ferraro's Fried Rigoletti

Nothing beats Sunday dinner at a traditional Italian restaurant like Ferraro's in midtown Ventura. I really love this place- I love it because it isn't flashy or trendy or trying to be something that its not. It's totally old school, all the way down to the paper placemats, dinner plates, and, yes, grape wallpaper. And their food is on point.

The best thing I ate this week is their baked fried Italian rigoletti (above left). I've never had anything like it. The rigoletti (similar to a corkscrew noodle) are cooked al dente and then pan fried in olive oil until brown and crisp. The noodles are then tossed with steamed broccoli, topped with shredded cheese, and baked until the cheese melts. It comes with a side of marinara to pour over the whole affair. The rigoletti become crispy and a bit chewy - giving a normally plain noodle a whole new bite. Ferraro's has been around the block a few times, but for me, this is a totally new way to experience pasta. Ferraro's is located at 2788 East Main Street, Ventura. Phone: 648-7270.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Best thing I ate this week: Petite Reve coconut chai infused chocolate truffle

"Don't do it if you're not passionate about it." That's what entrepreneur Kate Dunbar says about starting your own business. But she has nothing to worry about because she is beyond passionate about making decadent, high quality desserts with fresh, natural, and local ingredients.

She is a proud and busy mom of three, and the proud and busy owner of Petite Reve Chocolates - a new addition to the culinary scene in Ventura. Though right now most of her business is by special order, she's hoping to be at the Ojai and Ventura Farmer's markets in the next few months.

I met with her this week to talk about her business and taste her wares for a short piece I'm writing for Edible Ojai. I tasted flourless chocolate cake(above), buttery madeleines, and French macarons made with almond flour and filled with chocolate ganache. I tasted rich, dark chocolate brownies infused with different spice combinations and a towering crepe cake made (below) of 20 layers of handmade crêpes filled with a whipped chocolate ganache.

It was all insane and worthy of a thousand words, but OMG, the truffles were by far the best thing I ate this week. I tasted one that was infused with local honey and chipotle - it was sweet, spicy, and warming to the mouth. Another was infused with bits of pixie tangerine rind, blood orange rind, and meyer lemon rind.

But the true show stopper was the coconut chai infused truffle(from Ojai's very own Zhena's Gypsy Tea). Somehow Kate infuses each tiny little bite with the essence of this tea - and the mouth is bathed in chocolate, coconut, and a hint of spicy chai. The truffles are so decadent and rich that Kate suggests cutting each tiny little truffle into quarters and allowing them to melt slowly in the mouth. Trust me, these truffles are so good, you'll want the taste to last all day.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Jam your June with foodie fun

Pick your own lavender at New Oak Ranch
Looking for a family outing? You can pick your own lavender at New Oak Ranch in Ojai. Take a picnic and enjoy a little escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. U-Pick Lavender begins the weekend of June 19th and runs through the weekend of August 28th. Hours are Saturday and Sunday 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. To visit during the week, or anytime throughout the year, please call (805) 640-1189. Admission to the Ranch is free but there is a $5.00 per bunch cutting fee. New Oak Ranch is located below the Ojai Foundation at 9599 Ojai-Santa Paula Road – just 6 miles east of Ojai and 12 miles west of Santa Paula.

Ojai Valley Lavender Festival
And for a day packed with the magic of lavender, mark the calendar for the Ojai Valley Lavender Festival on Saturday, June 26th in Ojai’s Libbey Park. There’ll be nearly 100 vendors boasting lavender products and Mediterranean-inspired merchandise, speakers to stimulate and educate your thirst for lavender and music to put you in a festive summer mood.

Oxnard Salsa Festival
The Oxnard Salsa Festival will take place on June 24th and 25th from 11am-7pm. The festival is a FREE community event presented by the Oxnard Downtowners to bring people downtown for a great experience. Enjoy food, music, dancing, and some of the best salsa you've ever tasted.

Check out Boccali's 24th Anniversary Celebration on Saturday June 5th, from 5:00-8:30pm. Tickets are $25.00 and include dinner, show, tip, and tax. Dinner is all-you-can-eat pasta, pizza, and tri-tip buffet, and includes non-alcoholic beverages.

Edible Celebration
A celebration for the publication of Edible: A Celebration of Local Foods will take place at Treasure Beach & Café (928 East Ojai Avenue, Ojai; 805-640-0611) on Sunday, June 20th from 2-4 PM. Authors and Edible Communities, Inc. co-founders, Tracey Ryder and Carole Topalian will be available to sign books and answer questions about this important, fast-growing movement and community of publishers that began in 2002 with the publication of Edible Ojai magazine.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Best thing I ate this week: Spencer Makenzie's Ceviche

Spencer Makenzie's is known in Ventura for their gargantuan tempura battered fish tacos, but don't be fooled: this is not your average taco stand. They also make a delicious ceviche, filled with big chunks of fish and shrimp, chunks of red and yellow peppers, and even fresh radish. All of this is laid over crispy tostada shell with a tangy citrusy sour cream sauce. And if you've already enjoyed the ceviche, the parmesan crispy tacos and the tuna pockets are out of this world as well.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Cooking Classes for young and old (and those in between)

Playing in the Kitchen has announced a few new summer classes at the Lavender Inn in Ojai.

Learn how to make it, dry it and have it handy for mid-week! A perfect recipe for 2 people to do together. Menu includes 15 Minute Pink Tomato Sauce, Salsa di Pomodoro, and Homemade Pistachio Pesto.

Geared for kids 8-12 years old. Menu includes Green Eggs & Ham, Sweet 'n' Crunchy Granola, Yogurt Parfait with Honey, and Homemade Marshmallows with Cocoa.

Geared toward Adults who are interested in learning some options for a gluten free meal your kids can eat and love! You will learn, make an awesome meal using alternative ingredients to accommodate gluten allergies, including celiac patients.

Check out these upcoming classes at Seasons Catering:

Spring Sweets, Tuesday May 18th, with Jana Heredia
Upside-down Orange Blueberry Cake, Spiced Mexican Chocolate Pudding with Cinnamon Sugar Crisps, Lemon Ricotta Tart, Pistachio Cardamom Cupcakes, Lemon Pepper Cornmeal Cookies

Light and Easy Dinner Party,Wednesday May 19th, with Daisy Mastroianni
Artichoke, Goat Cheese Spread on Garlic Crostini, Spinach and Strawberry Salad with Poppy Seed Dressing, Dijon and Crème Fraiche Brushed Halibut, Wild Rice with Roasted Spring Vegetables, Rhubarb, Strawberry Crumble

Greek Holiday, Tuesday May 25th, with Linda Skene
Toasted Pita with Tzatziki, Moussaka, Greek Roasted Potatoes, Rosemary, Garlic Grilled Lamb,
Fresh Greek Salad

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Ladyface Alehouse is having a busy month...

Ladyface Cigar Night
Monday, May 19th at 6:30 PM on the patio. A representative from Wall & Welch's Cigars will be your guide. There will be cigar selections, education, and conversation and Brewmaster Dave will be roaming the tables with beer pairing suggestions and a presentation of some new Single Malt Scotches selected for the occasion.

Sunday, May 23rd "Celebrate Stage 8"
This is your chance to watch the world's greatest cyclists battle for supremacy as Stage 8, the final stage in the Amgen Tour of California, passes their patio four times.
Reserved Patio tickets on sale now for $50/pp. Reservation includes:
* In & Out access to the patio from 11:30AM to 5:30PM
* Commemorative tulip glass & first Ladyface ale
* Large-screen HDTV with televised race highlights & award ceremonies

May 17-23: The Mother of All Beer Weeks
Join in this annual celebration dedicated to craft brewers and the culture of craft beer. The nation's largest beer week, this is an exciting opportunity for craft brewers to commemorate their art, innovation, and tradition with enthusiasts across the country.

To celebrate at Ladyface, they will be featuring:
* A stellar lineup of American Craft Beers to pay homage to those pioneering brewers who have sought to bring great beer to every table in America
* Brewery tours will be offered every day at 5:30 PM, Sunday May 17th through Friday, May 21st
* Happy Afternoons will begin at 3 (instead of 4) to 6 PM, Monday through Friday
* Saturday, May 22, 7-11 PM: Release Party for "Dérailleur Bière de Garde," a Commemoration Ale celebrating The Tour of California, made in collaboration with Semler Vineyards

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Best things I ate this week: Indian

This week, I had the pleasure of eating at Cafe India in Camarillo.....this giant masala dosa (potato stuffed lentil crepe) served with coconut chutney was absolutely to die for.

Chicken saag and lamb pasanda.

Onion bhaji with tomato chutney.
Stay tuned for my upcoming review in the VC Reporter.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Where to eat your heart out this week...

Paradise Pantry announces their Tuesday's "Grilled Cheese & Wine" times! Along with their regular menu, they will also be offering special, melty, grilled cheese sandwiches- made with different artisan cheeses every week, so stop on by.

The Cave is celebrating their 2nd Anniversary! As part of the celebration, they have brought back their original menu and pricing... here is what's being served this week:

Cumin Rubbed Lamb $9
Filet Mignon with Purple Potato Mash $9
Mussels in Sweet Vermouth Cream $6
Pan Fried Garlic Scallops $8
Seared Salmon Rocket Salad $6
Tarragon Chicken Scaloppini $7
Tempura Shrimp $8
Tenderloin of Park with Apple Chutney $7
Three Cheese Mac-N-Cheese $6
Hummus Three Ways: Southwestern, Black Bean and Original $7

They are also offering $2 Dessert.... order their Gelato Duo and pay on $2! And...$2 Glasses of Wine.!!!! Nick has picked a favorite Red and a favorite White and they are available by the ounce or glass on the Enomatic Machine for $0.40 an ounce... that adds up to only $2 a glass.

Ojai Beverage Company is happy to announce the opening of their kitchen. They have been working hard with Chef Jerret Gilden to create an exciting new menu to compliment their selection of fine beer and wine. They will be serving from 11 A.M. until 9 P.M., Tuesday through Sunday. Check out their website for updates on the ever growing menu.

Monday, April 12, 2010

You could give Mom flowers, or you could give her one of these...

Mother's Day isn't that far away, so here are few ideas for all those busy moms you know.

Seasons Catering is offering a busy mom discount on their upcoming Crockpot Meals class, on Wednesday April 21st at 6pm. For $30 you can add a few new "do ahead" meals to your repertoire and if you let them know ahead of time, and bring your pot, they'll demo the meal in it and you can take it home (first come first served). I took one of Daisy's classes a few months back (see photo above), and it was amazing. Good food, good company, and lots of great recipes, tips and pointers.

Here's the menu for the night. . .
Chipotle Chicken Tacos, Cinnamon Spiced Pork Ribs, Slow Roasted Beef Sandwiches with Horseradish Cream Sauce, Moroccan Spiced Chicken with Apricots, Chocolate and Peanut Butter Pudding Cake. How can you resist?

Trying to come up with something fun to do on Mother's Day? Here's an idea. Take mom on a picnic at Old Creek Ranch Winery in Oak View. Everything is in bloom, its a beautiful spot for a picnic with your family, and you can enjoy delicious wine while you take in the view. Old Creek Ranch is like a little oasis, and its only 10 minutes from downtown Ventura.

And if you're a Mom, another thing on your mind these days might be summer camp. Well, Playing in the Kitchen has just released their summer cooking camp schedule. Chef Robin is an incredible teacher and just might inspire your picky eater to become an adventurous foodie. Read more about kids cooking classes in an article I wrote last year for Edible Ojai.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Best things I ate this week: Fries and Dirt

Who am I kidding, I've eaten way too many good things this week. We've had family visiting and it was Easter, so good things have been consumed in mass quantities. Wine, chocolate, and restaurant meals galore.

The best thing I ate that someone else made for me: the pommes frites at Ladyface Alehouse in Agoura. They were beyond crispy, perfectly salty, and seemed almost bottomless in their paper cone. They come with your choice of dipping sauce - we chose a creamy aoili, but there's a curry ketchup, a sweet and sour sauce, and an herbed creme fraiche as well. Oh, and the beer selection is divine. While their food is upscale and as local as they can make it, the vibe at Ladyface is anything but pretentious.

The best thing I ate this week that I made: dirt. Yes, thats what its called.

You start with chocolate cake, then layer a pudding mixture on top.

You top that with crumbled Oreos, and keep on layering.

When you're finished, gummy worms are the icing on top.

Here's the recipe - perfect for your next kids birthday party or potluck supper. And while it might seem like something just for kids, the adults at our Easter brunch devoured it as well. It is sweet, but the tang of the cream cheese keeps it from being overly sweet, and the mixture of textures is wonderful. This recipe makes a lot, so feel free to cut it in half for smaller gatherings. Or just make the whole thing, enjoy the yummy leftovers, and share with all your neighbors (thats what we did).


1/2 cup butter, room temp
8 oz. cream cheese, room temp
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 pkg instant vanilla pudding
3 1/2 cups milk
12 oz. cool whip
1 1/2 bags Oreos, crumbled
chocolate cake mix- baked, cooled, and cut into cubes
gummy worms

Mix butter, cream cheese and powdered sugar with hand mixer and blend well. In another bowl, mix milk and pudding mix until thickened, mix in cool whip with a whisk until smooth. Mix contents of these two bowls together.

Layer in large dish, large bucket, or smaller individual pails in this order:

Cake, pudding mixture, Oreos. Repeat this twice, finishing with the Oreos, and top with gummy worms.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Get your Peruvian on

Chef Dante at Bonano's Fine Peruvian Cuisine is offering cooking classes on the art of cooking the Peruvian way.

His next class is coming up on Saturday, APRIL 17th from 9:00 am - 12:00. In this hands-on class, the group will make three dishes:
  • SUDADO CHALACO (Fish stew in a tomato wine sauce and seafood)
  • CHUPE DE CAMARONES (Shrimp Chowder)
As Dante says "All my classes are small groups because I want to share and feed you with as much information as possible in 3 hours." I like the sound of that.

Bonanos is located at 100 N. Ashwood Avenue, Ventura. Phone: 339-9860.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The best thing I ate this week...

I love me some pizza, pretty much every Friday night. And a girl can only do pepperoni or pesto so many times before her eyes and tastebuds begin to glaze over. So, this week I dreamed up this lovely pizza, and called it Pizza al Pastor. And it was the best thing I ate all week.

If you're starting to salivate, here's the recipe:

One package TJ's pizza dough
A bag of shredded cheese (I like a cheddar or Mexican blend)
One can of diced tomatoes with green chilies or TJ's roasted diced tomatoes
One package of TJ's pork al pastor (found in the freezer section)
Finely chopped onion and cilantro

Drain can of tomatoes in colander or sieve. Leave pizza dough out at room temp for at least 20 minutes before rolling it out. Cook pork according to package directions (I think it tastes best when you do it on the stove, not the microwave) and let it sit while you get everything else ready. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roll out your dough, poke it a few times with a fork (so it doesn't puff up in the oven), and spread with a little olive oil. Bake for 6 minutes. Remove from oven, layer with tomatoes (which are your sauce), lots of shredded cheese, then the pork, and then a little sprinkling of the onion. Return to the oven to bake until brown (14-18 minutes). Let it sit at room temp for 10 minutes, then sprinkle with remaining onion and all of your cilantro.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

South American Wine Dinner at the Cave

This just in from the Cave (courtesy of their weekly newsletter)...

Sunday March 28, 2010 5:30 pm
$70 per person (tax & gratuity included) Reservations Required

Learn about the wines and regional cuisine of Chile, Spain and Argentina as The Cave goes international!! They are featuring four courses and three wine flights. Guests will be greeted with Spain's Sparkling Cava upon arrival then seated for dinner and fun. The tables will be set with Fried Yucca and Salsa a la Huanciana The Following three courses with feature three wines that will be tasted side-by-side with one dish each course to pair with all three wines.

Course One - Whites San Telmo Torrentes, Argentina Casa Lapostolle Sauvignon Blanc, Chile Vionta Albarino, Spain with Tres Formas de Mariscos: Cebiche Chilled Mussels, Clams and Scallop Fried Shrimp and Calamari with Grilled Sweet Potatoes

Course Two - Medium Bodied Reds Terrazas Malbec Reserva, Argentina Casa Lapostolle Carmenere, Chile Marquis de Grinon Summa, Spain with Salchicha a la Parrilla Marinados Grilled, Marinated Argentinian and Banger Sausages Yellow Corn with Jalapeno Butter and Peruvian Potatoes

Course Three - THE BIG BOYS of the Regions Cheval des Andes, Argentina Numanthia Toro, Spian Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta, Chile with Pata de Covdero y Coure con Mani Lamb Shank, Argentina Style with wild Greens, White Beans and Peanuts

Dessert: Plantanos Fritos Sweet Battered Plantains, Macerated Cherries and Fresh Cream

Friday, March 12, 2010

The best thing I ate this week...

Simply put: I eat a lot. I spend a lot of time making food, thinking about food, eating food, and of course writing about it. So today I found myself pondering, "what's the best thing I ate this week?" And I've decided to include this bit of foodie reflection on my blog each week.

Sometimes it will be something I have cooked (like the sweet and creamy corn quiche I made yesterday), and other times it will be something someone else made for me. This week, the best thing I ate was the Birria Empanadas at Main Course California. I recently started working part-time at Main Course, and this week I got to spend some time filming the chefs in the kitchen. They were making these delicious little empanadas filled with braised goat meat, olives, raisins, and fresh parsley and mint. I'm a total sucker for a) anything that mixes sweet and savory b) anything inside dough and c) anything fried. Well, these totally fit the bill. Crisp and brown on the outside, sweet and warm on the inside, with a lively kick of mint - they come three to an order and are accompanied by a hearty salad. De-lish!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Shout out to Trader Joe's, with a nod to Ventura's Fresh and Easy

As most of you probably know by now, Ventura has just been blessed with the opening of its first Fresh and Easy Market on the corner of Telegraph and Day Road. I can't say too much about it because I haven't had many chances to shop there yet. But, I was pleased with their selection, thought some of their prices were very reasonable (Nathan's hotdogs for $3.99!), and liked the look of the store. The self checkout - not my favorite - especially when you've got little kids who like to press buttons and don't understand the weight sensitive area thing. But, I do absolutely adore the fact that people shopping with young kids (yes, that would be me all frizzy-haired and frazzled trying to squeeze my weekly shopping in between work and a playdate at the park) get to park right in front of the store.

Anyway, I have found myself wondering about the impact on Trader Joe's and their business. But, knowing Joe and his loyal following, he's probably doing just fine thank you very much and probably wouldn't want us doting on him and worrying about his well-being. But still, I wanted to share one of my favorite, super easy recipes which I made this week in his honor. It's for Eggplant Parmesan Pasta, and it hails from Cooking with all things Trader Joe's, a cookbook dedicated to recipes using only ingredients from Joe's.

1 - 24 ounce package Roasted Eggplant Parmesan (found in the refrigerated, prepared foods section of TJ's)
3 cups farfalle or any pasta
1 TBL fresh basil or parsley

Cook pasta according to directions. Drain. While pasta is cooking heat eggplant parmesan according to package directions. Cut eggplant into bite-size pieces (I cut it while still still in the container with the cheese and sauce) . Do not discard any sauce or cheese. Stir together the pasta and the eggplant parmesan cheese and sauce mixture. Garnish with basil or a sprinkle of parmesan. Mangia!