Saturday, April 30, 2011

Spa and Soup

Wow, Mexico really did a number not just on my nerves (still trying to live down my husbands passport ordeal) but on my Immune System! I have been fighting everything from a cold to a cough to a stomach bug since the day we got back to LA. Needless to say, after days of playing catch up at work and home, my body broke down. So one quick visit to the doctor later and an order to take it easy, I was forced to stay home from work today.

I decided to take this "sick-day" opportunity to go check out a Korean Spa my friend Patricia has been talking about for some time now . She's now two for two as far as recommendations go, as she is the one who suggested Fig & Olive which I loved, and now this heavenly place that whooped my tushy back to health (well not completely but I am getting there)!

Not only was this a heavenly, confusing, liberating and therapeutic experience for my body, but as an added bonus this turned into taste bud pampering as well! You can imagine my surprise and joy when after walking up to the co-ed area following a crazy good scrub, massage/abuse/bath combo I discovered they served FOOD. And I am not talking spa-food, you know light salads, sandwiches, etc. oh no...this was Korean Food. Delicious smelling traditional Korean food, accompanied by tasty Banchan "small dishes of food served along with rice in Korean cuisine" such as Kimchi (Korean fermented vegetable dish usually made with nappa cabbage and other spices).

I hesitated ordering for all of 30 seconds as the smells were too good to give me any doubt. There were also several people sitting cross- legged on the floor at low tables eating with such vigor and intensity that it only made we want to try the food more. Gladly I did!

People eating at the Korean Spa
As I pondered the menu and salivated over pictures of Seafood Noodle soups and my FAVORITE Bulgogi (thinly sliced prime cuts of beef traditionally marinated in soy sauce, garlic, scallions, pepper, onions ans sugar, before it is grilled to perfection), I took a deep breath in and snapped back to reality. This was not an easy task given the intoxicating smells coming out of the kitchen, but I needed to stay focused when choosing my meal. After all I was there to heal myself, specifically from a sore throat. After a brief silent mourning for Bulgogi, I ordered the Vegetable soup written on the Specials Board. 

Korean Vegetable Soup
The soup had a creamy thick consistency
and was filled with carrots, peas, broccoli,
corn, zucchini, scallions, noodles.
Slightly sweet and spicy it felt
soothing and healing in my mouth.
So tasty!

The Banchan served with my Soup was
spicy citrus pickled radish with soy sauce
and jalapeno. I asked for seconds as this was so delicious.

The sweet lady with heavily accented English took my soup order and suggested I use one of the Saunas in the co-ed area while I waited, I took her advice and chose the Jade Sauna. I patiently waited for my soup as I laid there on a floor mat of the pleasantly heated room, meditating (trying at least as the soup was clouding my mind) with a wooden block under my neck gently propping my head. I swear I felt my body healing itself more and more with each passing minute. My soup was ready shortly after, and I inhaled it in less then 10 minutes, not caring how hot it was...again I was determined to heal myself.  

OK seriously this may have been one of the best days I have had in a very long time. The treatment was almost 2 hours long and compared to traditional spas, such as Burke Williams, Hotel Spas, etc. cost next to nothing! I was scrubbed, massaged, washed, bathed in milk, you name it. All joking aside however, the treatment although brutal at times and laking a touch in the "customer service department", was absolutely PHENOMENAL. I could care less that my therapist only said 4 phrases to me "Face up, Face Down, On Your Side and Stand Up". I LOVED IT ALL! I can't wait to go back sometime soon, and not just for the treatment, I WANT MORE FOOD!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Thank Goodness for the TACOS

Sayulita, Mexico April 2011
Now that our stomachs have settled, nerves calmed down a bit and the fears and rumors of "Drug wars in Mexico and kidnappings of tourists" put to rest, I am ready to recap Spring-Break in Nuevo Vallarta. Oh, and we even managed a trip down to Sayulita! A wonderful seaside, hippie, surfer, fishing village that despite having been "discovered" by tourists and investors, still has the charm of authentic, low-key Mexico. Thank goodness we made it here, where we found delicious food (sadly we only spent a few hours) and amazing Tacos around every corner. Because without Sayulita, the only place where the vibe and the food was worth oohing and aahing about, I would sadly have nothing delicious to say about the all inclusive we stayed in.

We booked Dreams Villamagna in Nuevo Vallarta for spring break because it was a short 2.5 hour flight from LA, all-inclusive (easy with kids). I should have known by the way the trip started out that this vacation would not be exactly what we were hoping for. Let me explain as things were a tat bit rocky from the start.

Dreams Villamagna Nuevo Vallarta April 2011
Upon check in at the United Airlines counter, my husband discovered that his Passport was EXPIRED! Oh joy! My heart sank to the pit of my stomach as the "friendly" airline staff at the counter "attempted" to sort out the situation. After what seemed like eternity, it was clear that I was to make this close but International trek solo, with 2 kids and way too much luggage I am used to hauling alone. The sinking heart was replaced by tears of frustration (yes I cried and so did the kids) and the reality of saying goodbye to my hubby as he turned and walked out of the airport made for a sad flight. Yes, we do not travel apart EVER. We agreed to cross our fingers, take a deep breath and figure out a way for him to renew his passport and join us in Mexico as soon as possible.

My kids and I made the bittersweet walk/run to GATE 86 (of course it was ALL THE WAY AT THE END OF THE HALL), barely made the 11:30 flight, and 2.5 hours later were greeted or should I say pulled in different directions by overbearing taxi drivers at the PVR international airport. They all seemed to know me, they all said "Mrs, we been waiting for you, come". Honestly after the morning ordeal I almost believed them, but decided to stay focused on locating my shuttle rep in the orange shirt. Not the easiest thing to do in a sea of orange shirts of varying shades, tons of tourists and shouting cab drivers.

You see, my mind was still clouded by the recent stories of Mexican drug wars and the shocked looks on peoples faces when mentioning our upcoming vacation. My husbands voice resonated in my head "Find the guy with the orange shirt, no one else"! I took a few deep breaths, continued to pull 2 huge luggage, 2 kids, a backpack full of electronics and 2 kids back packs, I swear for a moment I grew another arm from all the adrenaline. Eventually the man in the orange shirt found me, and a short 20 minute, comfortable, safe air-conditioned mini-van ride later, my kids and I were resting/recovering in our hotel room. On a happier note, my husband and friends with kids flew up 24hrs later, and our vacay began.

Can you spot the Lizard :)
The kids LOVED the Lizards living up in the
trees all over Syulita
To quickly sum up this Mexican Getaway 1. It was an ABSOLUTE BLAST for the kids 2. Involved tons of sunbathing, terrible all-inclusive food (still not sure how this place made the "preferred" hotels list) and 3. Over-consumption of sugary, watered down, still-not-certain-there-is alcohol in this drink feeling. You know which ones I am referring to if you've ever stayed at an all-inclusive resort. I sometimes think the bartenders take a class on how to make these concoctions in a way that will ensure the obnoxious tourists keep coming back for more. Because regardless of how many Electric Long Island Iced Teas (A bright turquoise drink the bartender ensured me was "super strong" ...... well it wasn't) or Dirty Monkeys (a creamy, chocolaty drink that allegedly had Kahlua-but may as well have been an ice-blended from Coffee Bean) neither drink tasted nor did what alcohol is intended to do.

Thankfully, on day 3 of our trip, we decided we needed a break form the all-inclusive, so we piled up in to a van and headed to Sayulita. This is where I had the taste of Mexico I had hoped for, and the best tacos I have had to date, anywhere! I mean I have had or at least thought I have good tacos before, but honestly these were the BEST. The unassuming little place called "Fish Tacos" was where we pretty much tried every single taco they had to offer. Shrimp, fish, carne asada and chicken. The Fish was my absolute favorite. Made in their tiny kitchen, the freshly caught mahi mahi (it is a fishing village after all) was served on a buttery tortilla (I have never had a tortilla so soft), with shredded red cabbage, fresh chopped tomatoes, cilantro and a touch of crema. Perfection in my mouth. All the tacos were delicious and the meal at "Fish Taco" was by far the most memorable from the entire trip.

Generally, Mexican food is not at the top of my list of favorites. However, I have learned from this trip that the reason for that is because I have never really tried "authentic Mexican food" before. Thankfully, Sayulita gave me the "authentic" experience and opened both my mind and palate. You can say now have the desire to explore this colorful and flavourful cuisine some more (my husband will be thrilled as Mexican is at the top of his favorites list). And although I won't be flying to Mexico anytime soon as I need time to recover from the "expired passport adventure", I think its about time I head down to Grand Central Market in downtown LA I have a feeling I may find just as great of a Taco as the one I had in Sayulita or close enough for now!


All the Tacos we Tried

The Tacos were served with 4 Salsas/Sauces
My favorite was the Bright Orange (Peanut and Chipotle)
as well as the Green (Pineapple Jabanero)

Sayulita Fish Taco April 2011

Woman Selling Spicy Shrimp Skewers
On the Beach

 Local Woman Grilling Amazing Smelling Meats
Stalls like this are THE BEST in Sayulita for an
authentic taste of MEXICO

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Spicy Date Night

Isn't he a HAM?
"Two thousand four hundred and fourteen kilometers or one thousand four hundred ninety nine miles, and one thousand seven hundred forty two yards, that is how long the coast line in Peru is. Needless to say we love seafood" ....this was written in chalk on the "specials board" covering the back wall inside the Peruvian restaurant that was the destination of a recent date-night. So from the moment we sat down and read the board, I knew I was going to be pleased, because "Needless to say I sure do love SEAFOOD as well".

For a while now my brother in law Saar has been telling us to check this place out. Finally we made it! Tons of fish on the menu, spices, flavors bursting, colors popping off the plate, and warm hearty, home-cooked dishes are IT at Los Balcones Del Peru, in Hollywood. Aji Amarillo (a South American chili pepper that some consider to be "the most important ingredient in Peruvian cooking") made its bright colored presence known in almost every dish we had. I was so glad we finally made it to this quaint and tasty little place. The restaurant may have been small but the flavors and colors were HUGE! 

I adore Ceviche and it happens to be a staple in Peruvian cuisine! We tried several kinds and they all were tasty, fresh, tangy, citrusy and spiced with chili peppers. My favorite was the TIRADITO. Thanks to the Aji Pepper the color was so vibrant, the fish so fresh its as if it swam on to the plate. I must say I was glad that a glass of water was nearby to cool down my mouth between bites, as the heat level was insane and bordering on abusive. Thankfully its the kind of palate abuse you want more and more of despite the fact that your tongue is on fire.

Oh I almost forgot to mention the "Corn on Steroids" that is Peruvian Corn. Look closer at the picture, those giant yellow chunks the TIRADITO is topped with...Yes, that is Choclo (Peruvian word for Corn). This mild, slightly sweet, chewy corn, sporting the largest kernels I have ever seen, was sprinkled over every Ceviche we had that evening. I am guessing its supposed to tame the fire in your mouth from the chili. Ahmmm, I think not. Added a layer of texture it did, put out the fire...not so much :) 

Thinly sliced sea bass ceviche, aji sauce,
with a hint of soy sauce

Chopped mussels, shrimp, squid and salsa criolla

Mixto Ceviche and Crispy Calamari

Sea bass, wine, tomatoes, onion & Peruvian peppers
served with steamed rice

After Ceviche overload (I couldn't help myself we had to try at least 3), we split a main course. The SUDADO DE PESCADO was simply DELICIOSO. I learned that it is a traditional way of preparing fish in Northern Peru by stewing it with tomatoes, garlic, onions, white wine and chilies of course (hence the gorgeous bright colors). As you may have guesses by now, this too was rich, flavourful and SPICY. The glass of water was no longer enough, thankfully it was served with a side of steamed white rice to cool you down between and with bites.

Whether it was the all that spice, the excellent wines recommended by our sweet waitress (I sadly don't recall what exactly the wines were as I was busy overdosing on fish) or the sheer excitement of trying Peruvian food, we had a great experience at Los Balcones Del Peru. I will absolutely go again mainly so at some point I am guaranteed to try all the Ceviche they have on their menu. I somehow feel very connected to a place whose motto is "Loving Seafood". What can I say, my hubby knows well that the way to my heart on date-night or any night really is through fish :)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Special Meal

On Saturday I had a decadent, rich, and memorable meal that was undeniably filled with love and prepared by a chef with so much passion. I wish I could say that it was at a restaurant I can frequent again soon, or an event of which I can easily obtain the catering information. No, this was a meal prepared for us by a friend who's love of all that is food propelled her to put her established Law practice on hold and recently attend Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Los Angeles. Hearing of this moved me and after chatting with her over the past few months I knew I HAD TO TRY HER FOOD! Thankfully and probably suspecting how much I would LOVE it, she invited my husband and I and over for dinner.

I was so excited about Saturday I couldn't wait! Knowing Yana (she's a zealous, outspoken, kind, spiritual and colorful New Yorker) I could only imagine the larger then life meal she would create. Oh boy was I right! I somehow doubt that it was her newly acquired culinary techniques (I hear she's always been an incredible cook) that made this meal special. A meal of epic proportions in both flavor and size that was intended for 3 couples but had enough delicacies for 10. Ooohhhh, the leftovers!

Crab Salad Spring
Rolls with Ponzu

Salmon Cakes with Spicy
 Mayo and Masago

Grilled Heart Of Palm with Mango
Crab, Roasted Corn and Avocado

Mascarpone & Smoked Salmon
"Cream Puff" with Carmelized Onion

The four starters above could have easily been enough as they had so much flavor and substance. The heart of palm salad had an herby, spicy and tangy kick that was so refreshing and unexpected. The crab salad spring rolls melted in your mouth and the citrus of the ponzu with the creaminess of the spicy mayo, and the julienne of crisp cucumber and sweet carrot in the filling was delicious. I had to stop myself from having more and more as I needed to leave room for what was to come. Salmon cakes were super moist on the inside and perfectly crispy crunchy on the outside and her play on the classic "cream puff" with mascarpone and smoked salmon was cool, refreshing and a great compliment to the warm and crispy salmon cake. 

I devoured the appetizers but knew I had to show restraint as waiting for me was the most perfectly cooked piece of meat, on a gorgeous plate accompanied by a puff pastry filled with petite peas and pearl onions, and a creamy sweet potato gratin.

Main Course

Completed Main Course With
Herbed Mushroom Tarragon Cream Sauce

I generally like my steak prepared in its purest form, grilled with just a touch of salt and peppercorn so I can really embrace the flavor of the meat. Last night however, Yana took my pallate on a roller coaster ride with her steak preparation and let me tell you, I was thrilled by every drop and sudden turn. The meat was PERFECT PERFECT PERFECT.

Initially I ate just half as the portion was GINORMOUS, but my body needed and wanted more. I tried pushing away these thoughts as I knew that finishing everything would just make me sleepy. Besides, I  wanted to save room for desert. I did not succeed and not only did I finish every last morsel of the steak and creamy tarragon mushroom sauce, I leaned over to my husbands plate, and consumed all remaining bits of tender goodness he managed to leave behind. Oh and as for the puff pastry with peas which by now was a faint memory (I ate every last bit of that before I even got to the steak) and the sweet potato gratin that was cheesy goodness I regret not finishing. I could have IF I WANTED TO EXPLODE!

We finished the meal with a Salted Caramel Apple Pie. I swear I just drooled as I typed, no joke. I am very serious about this pie, as it was a VERY SERIOUS PIE. Buttery crust, moist tangy sweet apples, and the star flavor SALT. What a tickle in my mouth, such a tasty and comforting and unexpected combination of flavors. I felt teased, I needed more! My stomach was weeping STOP THIS, YOU MUST STOP, but I couldn't. I just couldn't. 
Yana, I THANK YOU wholeheartedly for taking me on this deliciously Gluttonous ride!!!!!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Panzanella and Fattoush

My home-made Panzanella
Lately I have been loving two very tasty and flavourful salads. The Tuscan Bread and Tomato salad Panzanella and the Middle Eastern Fattoush.  Flavor and origin wise they are worlds away, but coincidentally they both have BREAD as the star ingredient. Toasted pita to be exact in the Fattoush and Italian crusty bread in the Panzanella.

I have always liked these salads. The fresh produce that is abundant now that spring is here, is really making them a staple for me almost weekly. I've been lucky enough to perfect the Panzanella recipe at home so I fill that craving all by myself. As for the Fattoush, I swear by the Lebanese restaurant Carnival where it is perfect every time
Fattoush Salad

I love the Panzanella at a restaurant in Sherman Oaks, ironically named
Although I've had it elsewhere over the years, theirs is still my favorite (along with their killer mushroom soup)! The ingredients they use are so simple and fresh and the salad is just beautiful.

Bright colored juicy sweet red tomatoes, crisp fresh cucumbers, fragrant basil, tangy onion and extra virgin olive oil. The BEST however is the bread, that soaks up the tanginess of the basil and olive oil, and becomes moist and pleasantly soggy yet crispy in parts! SO GOOD. It is a traditional "bread salad" after all, so its no wonder the bread just shines.

As for the Fattoush, toasted pita bread, Sumac (a gorgeous burgundy colored spice derived from a plant that "grows wild in the middle east and parts of Italy"), lemon juice and olive oil are at the forefront of this Lebanese staple. Traditionally the Salad is made with whatever fresh seasonal ingredients you feel like using. Carnival's version has tomatoes, cucumbers, green bell pepper, red onion, radishes, parsley, tons of sumac, olive oil, fresh lemon juice and crispy crunchy toasted pita. Like the crusty bread in the Panzanella the Pita in the Fattoush just makes the salad. Smothered in uniquely tart earthy sumac, and drenched in the fresh lemon and olive oil its a wake-up call to every taste bud in your mouth. I love it!

So similar yet so different these two salads are really a favorite of mine. The way that the pure flavors and freshness of the vegetables is brought out by simple seasonings is very special. They make me feel and think of warm summer nights and it being light out even though its almost 8pm. They make me feel like simple is sometimes best, and somehow manage to erase the worries and complexities of day to day life.

I know it may sound strange but sometimes all we really need is a "Panzanella/Fattoush Day". This is a day where everything is or at least seems simple, sweet and pure. Hmmmm, maybe that's why I've been craving them so much lately. We all need to try and keep it simple from time to time. The things that get us to "Simple" may differ for everyone, for me it took a summery, fresh, tasty salad.


1/2 crusty bread (I use a sourdough baguette) cut into 1-inch cubes 
1 box sweet cherry tomatoes, cut in to quarters
2 unpeeled English cucumbers, cut 1/2-inch thick
1 red and 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut in to cubes
1/2 red onion, cut the half twice, then chop
11/2 hand fulls basil leaves, coarsely chopped
Extra Virgin Olive Oil, you will need for dressing and frying the bread
Kosher Salt and Black pepper for seasoning
NOTE: Make sure all vegetables are cut roughly to the same size.

For the dressing
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 large garlic cloves finely minced
3 table spoons champagne vinegar (red wine vinegar is OK as well)
1/2 cup of olive oil


1. Whisk the dressing ingredients all together, and season w a little salt and pepper to taste, set aside

2. Heat 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil in a large saute pan. Add the cubed bread and season liberally with kosher salt. Cook over medium to low heat, stirring and tossing frequently until they are crisp and nicely browned. Feel free to add more oil as you go as it may evaporate.

The Bread

Assembled Veggies and Basil
3. In a large bowl assemble all the vegetables and the basil. When bread is golden and crisp add to the salad and gently toss with the dressing using clean hands. Taste a little and season with salt and pepper if need be. Let the salad sit for about 15-20 min so all the flavors can marry and the bread absorb some of the juices.