Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Chinese Comfort Food in Oxnard

A few weeks back, I had the opportunity to review the Golden Chicken Inn in Oxnard for the VC Reporter. And what I found was that stepping into this restaurant, which has been around since 1929, is like stepping into another era.

As you see here, this is a no frills kind of white tablecloths or chandeliers, but instead, laminate tables and wood paneling galore.

Behind the paneled walls in this photo are some of the 'private' dining nooks...unlike anything I've ever seen in a local restaurant.

The register is stationed inside this unusual cage, but there's nothing menacing about it. The staff and servers at the Golden Chicken Inn are beyond smiley and friendly.

This was our favorite dish of the evening - the kung pao chicken, filled with peanuts, scallions, chile peppers, and crunchy water chestnuts. The only downside? We liked it so much, there wasn't any to take home with our leftovers.

The Golden Chicken Inn is located at 701 S. Oxnard Boulevard in Oxnard. Phone: (805) 483-9122. Note: they are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Best thing I ate this week: Mango Salsa

This was a first for me. Judging a contest that is. The venue: The Oxnard Salsa Festival. Our challenge: sample a gazillion salsas created by local chefs and discern a winner. We were charged with rating them by appearance, texture, consistency, flavor, seasoning, and heat level. It seemed like a pretty easy task - you know, eat chips and salsa and pick what I like, things I'm really good at. And then we got started.

After tasting a few of the salsas I had that same panic I have sometimes when wine tasting (yes, I know, I shouldn't be taking my wine tasting so seriously that any level of panic is involved). "How will I keep them straight?!" "I like this one, but do I like it better than the one I tasted three salsas ago?"

Luckily, sitting at my table, was a man named Vince. Boisterous, friendly, and clearly an aficionado of judging at the salsa festival, he took charge, metaphorically holding our hands and giving us some wise words of wisdom. He reassured us we'd know a favorite when we saw it, "A good salsa is so good that you'd want to sit down with a basket of chips and eat the whole bowl," he said.

As we sampled, some were too spicy, some were too sweet, some had an off-putting look, and others a not so awesome texture. And then I met the mango salsa, some of the prettiest salsa I've ever seen: full of sunshiney chunks of mango with flecks of red and green pepper. It was sweet, yet had a subtle kick on the backside (that was the habanero talking), reminding you it was salsa and not a fruit salad. I loved it so much that after scoring all our salsas I had to move it to the other side of the table so I wouldn't eat the whole bowl. This was my winner, my favorite, and definitely the best thing I ate this week.

Turns out, this habanero mango salsa is the baby of one of my favorite Oxnard chefs, Martin Ledesma, of Sugar Beets Restaurant and it went on to win Best Fruit Salsa and tied with Cabo Seafood Grill and Cantina's salsa for Judge's Choice. The Oxnard Salsa Festival takes place the weekend of July sure to stop by and check out the salsa tasting tents and try the mango salsa for yourself. Be prepared, you may want to pull up a chair and eat the whole bowl.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Food tasting tours coming soon...

As many of you know by now, I'm busy working on my newest food-centric endeavor, Ventura Food Tours. I love writing about food, talking about food, thinking about food, and of course, eating food. And since I haven't been able to make a full-time career out of food writing (wouldn't that be a dream?) for a while now I've been trying to find yet another way to share this passion for food with others. Alas, the idea for Ventura Food Tours was born, and here I am, on the cusp of launching a new business.

Though I'm starting with a walking tour in downtown Ventura, I'm hoping to create other walking tours in areas around Ventura County (Camarillo, Ojai, Oxnard, etc.), and also plan on creating custom food tours for groups looking to do something a little different or those who want to cover more territory than we can do on foot.

As part of the process of starting up such a business, I've spoken to others in the food tour industry: Six Taste, Tourific Escapes, Melting Pot Food Tours, and Denver Gourmet. Everyone has been very helpful and supportive, offering me priceless advice and loads of encouragement. Who knew strangers could be so kind! Last weekend I went down to Pasadena for the Old Pasadena Walking Food Tour. And, wow, what a tour it was!

In the period of 3 1/2 hours we stopped in at ten different places, learned a lot, ate, ate and ate some more. A cantaloupe agua fresca, a thick syrupy balsamic vinegar, and the dark chocolate truffle I experienced are still imprinted on my tastebuds. Here are a few of the other highlights in pictures:

The falafel at Father Nature...definitely the best falafel I've ever had - light, crispy, and crunchy.

The olive oils and vinegars we sampled at Beyond the Olive.

The South American fare at Choza Mama. My favorite was the lamb in cilantro sauce (top left).

The blossoming tea at Bird Pick Tea and Herb.

And last but not least, the chocolate gelato and orange sorbet at Tutti Gelati.

It won't be long, and we'll have some of our very own tasting tours, right here in Ventura County. If you want to stay in the loop and be notified when the tours launch, follow Ventura Food Tours on Facebook or visit the website to sign up for our newsletter. Happy eating!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Best thing I ate this week: A Taste of Hollywood

Sometimes when I have a lot of writing to do (which means a lot of eating), I like to say that I am eating my way through Ventura County. Well, yesterday I expanded my horizons and attempted to eat my way through a small part of Los Angeles County, by way of one of the delicious food tours run by Tourific Escapes. And sure enough, it was the most fun I've had in a really long time - a perfect adventure for someone likes me who likes to experience a city, a culture, a neighborhood through its food.

The four hour Hollywood Sights and Bites tour was the perfect blend of Hollywood history, sight-seeing, and eating...and jammed full of decadent treats and tastes, so many that I don't even have the space to cover them all here. Alas, with the help of Flickr, here's a slide-show to give you an overview:

When asked about my personal favorites of the day, I'd have to say the Kaya Toast at Susan Feniger's Street stands out the most. Picture a buttery grilled cheese sandwich, but instead of being filled with cheese, this one is filled with coconut jam. It comes with a dish filled with soy sauce, arugula, and a fried egg. Our guide suggested cutting the egg and breaking the egg yolk, and as it mixed with the soy sauce we spooned pieces of egg, arugula, and sauce into our little sandwich squares.


The end result: a salty, sweet, buttery crunchy sandwich infused with the rich egg yolk, salty soy, and peppery arugula. The play of textures and flavors was so much fun I could hardly stand it. We were told that this is the last dish Susan Feniger made on Top Chef (unfortunately it precipitated her leaving the show), but now it has become the top seller at her street food inspired restaurant. Definitely a winner in my mind and probably one of the best things I've eaten this year.


Another favorite stop of the day was Mashti Malone's off of Sunset Boulevard. Where Street is high end with a little bit of glitz and polish, Mashti Malone's has the feel of your favorite hole in the wall spot to grab a treat. The owners hail from Iran, where they get their inspiration for exotic flavors like ginger rosewater, saffron, green tea, and coconut pineapple ice cream. They also offer more traditional flavors like a decadent peanut butter cup and cookies n' cream if that's what you're in the mood for. We sampled flavor after flavor and then selected a cup of our favorite. It was a tough decision, but I went for the lavender ice cream. I mean, really, how often do you get to eat a cup of lavender ice cream? Sweet and purple, with each bite I was transported to my garden. It felt as if I was eating flowers, my favorite perfume, and decadent sweet cream all rolled into one.


After a total of six stops around Hollywood and more food sampling than I've ever done in a single day, we left L.A. sporting full tummies and big, happy grins on our faces. What a great way to see and experience Hollywood. Next on my list of food tours? The Santa Monica Sights and Bites Tour.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Outstanding in the Field

So, this menu just sauntered into my inbox today, from my friends at Main Course California. I used to work with them and they know I can't get enough of delicious food and decadent menus- so they sent it to the right person! Chef Rachel Main just finalized all the delicious details for their upcoming Outstanding in the Field dinner, so here's a sneak peek. In case you're still on the fence about going, or if you're one of those wondering if its worth the expense, start reading! They had me at carrot pancakes... what's going to make your mouth water?

Outstanding in the Field
Earthtrine Farm, Ojai
May 11th, 2011

Passed Appetizers
Dave Pommer’s Carrot Pancakes with Crème Fraiche, Fried Earthtrine Garlic & Fried Carrot Tops
Santa Barbara Spot Prawn Salad with McGrath Avocados &Dave Pommer’s Fingerlimes on House- made Crispy Rice Crackers
Grilled Watkins Ranch Flank Steak with McGrath Oranges, Roasted Earthtrine Garlic & Sautéed Chard
Deviled Earthtrine Green Onion & Chickpea Fritters with Ojai Cage-free Eggs

First Course
Chilled Dave Pommer Lettuce Soup with Somis Nasturtium & Earthtrine Arugula Ice Cubes
Earthtrine Vegetable Kimchee with Japanese Turnips, Radicchio, Escarole & Chard Stalks

Second Course
Local Ling Cod with McGrath Oranges, Ginger & Earthtrine Garlic with Dave Pommer Carrot Puree
Tempura Earthtrine Japanese Turnips -and- Grilled Dave Pommer Sprouted Broccoli

Third Course
Pudding Cake with Dave Pommer’s Meyer Lemon & Thyme
Earthtrine Farms Pakistani Mulberries
Santa Paula Honey & Santa Barbara Pistachio Nut Brittle

Guests will gather at 4pm for wine and nibbles, then host farmers BD & Liz Dautch will lead a tour of the farm before everyone sits down for a family-style feast with the Earthtrine farmers and other local farmers and food artisans providing ingredients for the menu.

Ticket price of $200 per person includes the farm tour, five-course meal paired with wines, and all gratuities. To learn more and reserve a seat at the Outstanding table, visit

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Best thing I ate this week: Curried Chicken Salad

This week it was a craving that got me. The Food Network's Ina Garten was making a delicious looking curried chicken salad; and I'm not sure what it was, but it was all I could do to not run to the store that moment and get all the ingredients. I tried to shake it off, even sleep it off, but the next day I found myself in the store, gathering all the ingredients. Sure enough, it was as good as it looked on TV, and by far, the best thing I ate this week.

What makes it so good is that the chicken is cooked on the bone with the skin on, leaving it beyond moist and tender. The addition of the white wine and generous amounts of curry powder make for a sauce so good you'll be dreaming up other ways to use it all week long. The grand finale, the salty cashews, lend a happy crunch. We enjoyed it for dinner, and then lunch all week long. For now, my craving has been an satiated, but this recipe is a keeper for sure.

Ina Garten's Curried Chicken Salad (as seen on The Food Network)

3 whole (6 split) chicken breasts, bone-in, skin-on
Olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups good mayonnaise (recommended: Hellman's)
1/3 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup chutney (recommended: Major Grey's)
3 tablespoons curry powder
1 cup medium-diced celery (2 large stalks)
1/4 cup chopped scallions, white and green parts (2 scallions)
1/4 cup raisins
1 cup whole roasted, salted cashews

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the chicken breasts on a sheet pan and rub the skin with olive oil. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until the chicken is just cooked (Note: I baked mine for 50 minutes to make sure it was fully cooked and the juices ran clear). Set aside until cool enough to handle. Remove the meat from the bones, discard the skin, and dice the chicken into large bite-size pieces.

For the dressing, combine the mayonnaise, wine, chutney, curry powder, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Process until smooth.

Combine the chicken with enough dressing to moisten well. Add the celery, scallions, and raisins, and mix well. Refrigerate for a few hours to allow the flavors to blend. Add the cashews and serve at room temperature.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Cooking with kids: A lesson in letting go

natural born griller (kid chef)

Motherhood couldn't be more humbling. I can't even begin to list the gazillion things I swore I would never do as I parent, that I now find myself doing just to get a moment's peace (can you say Spongebob?). See, I thought I would be an amazing Mom. Silly me, I thought it would be easy, that I would be a natural. I was a good babysitter - didn't that mean I would be a knockout of a mama?

And then the babies arrived- two of them, both boys, about two years apart. And I realized they were sent to me to test every ounce of my patience and magnify all my little quirks and idiosyncrasies... oh, and to fill my heart with love and my life with joy, too!

One of the things I always dreamed of doing with my children was cooking with them. I was going to be one of those moms who cooks with her kids and gets them to fall in love with brussel sprouts and shrimp because we spend all this magical time in the kitchen together, wearing aprons, giggling, and bonding.

And then I tried cooking with a 3 year old. Not so fun. Germy hands in the batter, flour licked off the counter, and many a sneeze and cough thrown in as well. It bugged me for many reasons. I don't like mess, and I like being in control. Cooking with my kids was like the mirror being held up in front of my face. I couldn't help but look: it was glaringly obvious that cooking with kids was so hard for me because I didn't really have control.

Fast forward two years later and my youngest is five. Motherhood has gotten the best of me and I have slowly let go of that vice grip on control. And now the fun has begun. In the hours we have between when his preschool lets out and big brother gets off the school bus, the little guy and I bake treats and often work on that night's dinner. Apple bread, kale salad, and even braised lamb are among the dishes we've worked on together. He has his plastic knife, his own way of stirring, and both boys have now conquered cracking eggs (to be honest: it was hard to turn the control over on that one). We take turns pouring and sifting, and while they still insist on licking flour off the counter top (they think it is sugar), it doesn't quite bother me as much any more.

A few weeks back I overheard one of them say to my own mother, "I really love cooking with my mom." That just might be one of my proudest moments yet on this roller-coaster ride we call motherhood.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Best thing I ate this week: Wurstkuche

I'm a planner. And try as I might, I just can't help it. I'm planning what's for dinner while I'm driving morning carpool. While I'm working out at the gym, I'm planning how I'm going to squeeze all my errands into the afternoon. Though I wish I were better at flying by the seat of my pants, this is just who I am, and after 35 years I'm tired of fighting it. And its a pretty sweet deal for my whole family. My husband has someone who likes to make all our camping reservations, travel arrangements, and someone who buys coffee and dogfood before we actually run out. My kids enjoy scheduled playdates, permission slips turned in on time and a sense of order in their life.

So when my husband plans a fun day trip to Los Angeles, which he does about once a month, I'm all over it. He finds these driving tours, andcool walking tours, and historical restaurants that used to be well frequented by the likes of Janis Joplin. And when he plans these day trips, it feels like a true vacation to me. Sure, I may have to drive and I may have to referee some serious backseat boy fights, but I'm not really in charge.

This past Saturday was one of those gifts of a day. He found this cool driving tour of historical bridges in we headed out with the kids and the dog for a drive. And since he knows me so well, my hubby also planned a stop at a restaurant we've been dying to try, Wurstkuche; and that's where I encountered the best thing I ate this week.

Eating the Belgian fries with a white truffle oil glaze was pretty much a religious experience. The truffle oil adds a perfect Je ne sais pas, and the decadent dipping sauces put the whole thing over the top. We chose a kicker blue cheese walnut bacon, a curry ketchup, and a pesto mayo, all of which blew my mind.

The sausage options are endless - from a traditional bratwurst, to duck and bacon with jalapeño peppers, to a vegetarian Italian. I chose a rabbit, veal and pork sausage seasoned with white wine. They topped it with sweet peppers, caramelized onions, and I finished it off with a generous squirt of honey mustard. As I sat there sipping my Dunkelweizen (their beer and soda selections are equally impressive as their sausage options) and dipping my fries, I thought to myself, I could really get used to this not-planning thing.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Coffee: A Love Letter

I can still remember my first taste of coffee. I was probably four years old, and my mom gave me a tiny cup of what she called coffee milk - a splash of sweat creamy coffee mixed with ice cold milk. I was hooked even then; and it was only occasionally that she would indulge our pleas for the creamy drink.

Coffee got me through college - and helped write some damn good late night art history papers. Coffee was there when I met my future husband, and I was appalled to find that he preferred his with only a watery splash of nonfat milk. He used to laugh and call my concoctions of cream and sugar my 'coffee milkshakes.' Coffee was there every morning soon after each of my sons was born. Sitting up in the middle of the night- cold and exhausted and wondering how on earth I would get this baby to stop crying- I was comforted knowing that at some point, when the sun came up, I could at least soothe myself with the ritual of a cup of coffee.

My love affair with coffee was so deep, that I seriously contemplated how people could possibly make it through life, and especially life with a newborn, without it. And now I am one of them. For some reason, my stomach no longer likes coffee - it actually detests it, responding with the angriest heartburn I've ever met.

So for the past two years, I've been trying to embrace a new life, one without coffee. Though I'm over the caffeine thing - its the aroma, the taste and the ritual that I long for. I've been known to sniff the coffee grounds as my husband prepares his coffee. I've been known to blabber on and on about the joys of coffee to anyone who will listen. I even took a photo of my last cup of coffee (above). It was fairly un-sexy in its Styrofoam cup, but the Hawaiian hazelnut (from Bagel Rock in Ventura) still lingers in my taste memory.

I've been searching for a replacement, but to no avail. Zhena's Gypsy Tea Firelight Chai is the closest I've come to a delicious morning ritual (with cream and sugar of course). Hot chocolate plays a pretty good understudy when I'm out to breakfast and want something steamy in a mug. And a chai latte is what I settle for when I feel the need to stop in at a Starbucks.

So, I just wanted to say to coffee, I love you. There's nothing like you. I enjoyed the time we had together, but life is pretty bleak without you.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Hip, A new Vegetarian Joint in Ojai

Aside from Mary's Secret Garden in Ventura, there aren't a lot of places to get vegan food in Ventura County. Enter Hip - a new vegetarian restaurant offering all sorts of vegan, organic, gluten-free, and raw items sure to satiate even the most die hard carnivores- located in Ojai. Open for about a week now, this little cafe is tucked into the back of what used to be Treasure Beach Cafe, with a tiny dining room and a serene sunshiny patio. They offer hearty portions and an array of desserts, ensuring no one leaves hungry. As for their daily offerings, here's a peak at some of the menu items.

Seitan BBQ Sandwich built of paper thin strips of 'wheat meat' piled high and smothered in bbq sauce. It is served on a sprouted whole grain bun with vegatnaise, miso mayo, lettuce mix, tomatoes, red onion and sprouts, and comes with a side salad and a handful of blue corn chips.

The Indonesian Wrap (one of the most beautiful sandwiches I've ever seen) is filled with tempeh, shredded green cabbage, carrots and red bell peppers and rolled in a gluten and wheat free rice wrapper. It is served with a spicy peanut-coconut dipping sauce. The Hip Hip Hooraw Wrap is stuffed with spicy jalapeno almond pate, guacamole, lettuce mix and sprouts wrapped in tender collard leaves.

The salads (which come with choice of: Tahini, house vinaigrette, or miso ginger dressing) include a bountiful sprout salad with locally grown sprouts, lettuce mix, avocado, and pumpkin seeds. The Greens and Grains is packed with spinach, lettuce mix, marinated greens, sea veggies, avocado and warm brown rice. The Chef salad is made with vegetarian ham, turkey and vegan cheese, lettuce mix, tomatoes and cucumbers.

Hip also offers a selection of chocolatey treats (shown above) and daily dessert specials (like today's coconut pie). Beverage options include fresh vegetable juices (like carrot, ginger, apple, cucumber and beet), date shakes, fresh fruit smoothies, and housemade Chai tea. Hip is located at 928 East Ojai Avenue in Ojai. Phone: 646-1750.