Monday, May 30, 2011

Happy Memorial Day

My Summer Ready Back Yard
Leading up to this Monday Off, I get very excited and the week prior I always have a meltdown regarding the shape of our post-winter backyard. I run around like mad checking the condition of our grill, patio furniture, pool toys, etc. My sweet husband masterfully calms me and we spend the days leading up to Memorial Monday vigorously dusting, scrubbing and hosing down our favorite part of the house. You see this is a must so we can begin the BEST part of summer. BBQ's BBQ's and more BBQ's.

To me Memorial Day signifies the unofficial start of summer. Farmer's markets are in full swing and filled with smells of pure freshness, the sun seems to be brighter and of course the repertoire of dishes to prepare skyrockets! My focus drastically shifts from soups, stews and less then bright salads of the winter months (we are in California so winter is not all that bad) to the bright colors and flavors of summer.

Our Memorial Day BBQ has a few MUSTS that I would like to share with you, the first being watermelon. There is no summer without this sweet, cold, juicy fruit! I like to cut mine into bite size cubes and serve it in the Middle Eastern fashion with feta cheese and fresh mint. Instead of crumbling the mint, I like to grate a nice salty chunk of it directly over the watermelon and then sprinkle with the mint. The combination of sweet and salty with the mint giving it a little kick is an eye opening, cool and refreshing little dance in your mouth. We don't start the BBQ's with watermelon and feta, but I mention it first because its so awakening to the taste buds that it popped up in my mind before I could even get to the savory stuff.

Fresh Mint and Finely Grated Feta Cheese

Watermelon with Feta and Fresh Mint

Meats and various sides are front and center of our Memorial Day BBQ. Thanks to my co-worker Lianna whom I harassed to get the scoop from her in-laws regarding the magical meat marinades that are present in their Armenian culture, I now prepare all my meat for BBQ's in this manner. All it takes is 24hrs in the fridge, a few simple spices and you will have the most incredible moist and mouthwatering chicken kabobs. Recipe to follow. Lianna gave me the low down on chicken and beef kabobs, but I plan on obtaining more very soon. I hear the lamb chops are something extraordinary.

Middle Eastern Flavors definitely tend to dominate the protein portion of my Memorial Menu, however that's not the case for the sides. "Northern Italy particularly Genoa in the Liguria region" according to Wikepedia is the home of my next summer ritual...PESTO. Pesto is everything, truly the perfect creation. And although I make it year round (I like to spread it on crusty baguettes and put it in soups), something about being able to pour this wonderfully tangy sauce on grilled summer asparagus, bright colored bell peppers, summer squash and zucchini just screams summer.

Pasta Salad with Pesto and Cherry Tomatos 
Traditionally pesto is prepared with basil, pine nuts, garlic, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino and a little olive oil. For my BBQ's I also toss it in to some cooked fusili, along with a touch of Greek yogurt and cherry tomatoes for a cold pasta salad that goes great with all the kabobs. A few more vegetable sides (Ina Garten's summer corn salad is a must some crusty bread and Hebrew National kosher hot dogs with sesame buns and condiments for the kids and we are all set. Welcome Summer and Happy Memorial Day to all!

Marinated Chicken Breast Kabobs-Armenian Style...TX Lianna!

6-8 Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts Cubed
1/2 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
4 Garlic Cloves, Minced
1 Large Lemon, Juiced
1 tablespoon Unseasoned Meat Tenderizer
1 tablespoon Smoked Paprika
1 tablespoon Ground Cumin

Cut the chicken breasts in to bite size kabob pieces. Starting with the oil, combine the next 6 ingredients in a small container you can cover. Shake the marinade and pour over the chicken pieces. Using gloves or your hands mix to coat evenly all the chicken pieces. Cover and refrigerate for 24hrs prior to cooking.
When ready to cook, remove the chicken from refrigerator and bring to room temperature before putting on the grill.
Skewer 5-6 pieces of meat on to small bamboo skewers (Tip:soak the skewers in cold water prior to using to prevent burning). Cook 5-6 minutes per side on a grill preheated to 400 degrees (You may use a stove top grill-pan as well on medium to high heat). Remove from heat and let the meat rest for 6-8 minutes before serving. Enjoy!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Eating Ojai

Ojai, CA Farmer's Market May 15th, 2011
If and when the unexpected opportunity ever arises for my husband and I to do a quick getaway, alone without the kids, we JUMP on it. So rare is the chance when stars align, neither one of the kids are sick, and a babysitter is readily available. Incredibly this was the case 2 Fridays ago. We almost couldn't believe it when we found ourselves in the car, flying down the 101 NORTH heading towards Ojai, CA. I mean I would have loved to find us on our way to oh let's say San Francisco or Napa instead (Paris would have been nice as well) but this last-minute quickie (we had to be back in less then 48hrs) had to be close to home.
Ojai Trolley

Ojai is a tiny little city in Ventura County, CA on the way to Santa Barbara. You veer off the 33 from the 101 to find this green sleepy oasis, with hiking trails galore, days spas, a wonderful Sunday Farmer's Market, bike paths, restaurants and trees upon trees of gorgeous greenery that makes you feel like fairies are watching you from behind every leaf. No joke, Ojai has a meditative eeriness that once there you are guaranteed almost forced to escape, relax and feel a world away.

For me as usual any place I travel to regardless of how big or small it may be, requires my submergence in the food of the destination! I tried to sample as many places as I could when we were there. A few meals made quite an impression and some were so memorable, my mouth is watering as I am now writing. All in all I managed to try 2 bakeries, a candy store, 3 casual dining restaurants, and 1 fine dining restaurant...not bad for a weekend getaway that lasted less then 48hrs :) My waistline is thankful we were able to squeeze in a few picturesque hikes in between all the eating. The first hike being after our breakfast at the Ojai Cafe Emporium, where I came face to face with a warm, freshly baked boysenberry scone, whose buttery, crumbly texture was true perfection!

Eating in Ojai was awesome, but stumbling upon Knead Baking Company at 4:30pm after yet another hike, was the best! I was anxiously anticipating our upcoming 8pm dinner at Suzannes Cuisine, a place repeatedly on the list of top places to eat in Ojai. But, I just couldn't help myself and pass up an opportunity to sample the fine looking offerings of this adorable artisan bakery.

We decided to grab a cheese and charcuterie plate to go, and minutes later (Knead was a short walk from the inn we were staying at) we found ourselves in the comfort of our hotel room, with a bottle of our favorite Chardonnay devouring this beautifully assembled creation. Artisan prosciutto salami, various cheeses, greens, cornichons, and house made bread and crackers. They even threw in (per my request) a wonderfully tangy gigantic marinaded artichoke.

Cheese and Charcuterie Plate at KNEAD

Let me just say that the level of self control I had to exercise in order to not overdo it and eat every last bit so I wouldn't ruin my dinner was painful. My husband practically dragged me away from this "5pm snack" and I nearly burst in to tears when the possibility of eating every last bite of the cheeses and meat slowly faded.

Thankfully dinner at Suzannes came sooner then later. And with the arrival of our first appetizer, my emotional suffering of not having finished the charcuterie and cheese was immediately erased and replaced by none other then warm crusty toasted sweet baguette and Duck Liver Pate! A rich, decadent, well seasoned, creamy, pate. This time there was no holding back, and against my husbands advice to now save room for main course (what is it with him, first save room for dinner now for main course) there was no stopping me. Every last bit of this ridiculously good concoction was gone.
Duck Liver Pate

 My main course consisted of King Salmon On A Bed Of Homemade Sauerkraut With A Dill Beurre Blanc Sauce and my husband chose the Jumbo Sauteed Scallops On Bed Of Rice Noodles In A Ginger Curry Sauce. Both dishes as expected were phenomenal. I've never eaten piping hot Sauerkraut before and its buttery texture, combined with the perfectly cooked flaky moist salmon, dripping with the rich beurre blanc was indescribably good. 
My Entree

My Husband's Scallops
Suzanne's was as I had read and imagined, hands down the best place to eat in Ojai. Romantic and inviting the restaurant and its food had the feel of established confidence that can only come with experience and knowledge of how to use great ingredients. The food is straightforward, rich and bold. The service was comfortable and efficient. It was evident that the chef and the staff really knew their stuff and were there to give you a prompt but most importantly delicious experience.

Front Of Suzannes Cuisine Ojai, CA

Ojai has always been a recurrent choice on the list of  places as far as quick getaways go. After "eating Ojai" however its definitely jumped a few notches. I have been many times before to this little town but never has my palate been as satisfied as it was this weekend in May. We will definitely be coming back to eat in Ojai very soon. I am not sure how long I can go without another meal at Suzannes and can already foresee the deep ache that will ensue within me as result of craving that magical pate.


Monday, May 16, 2011

Crave Cafe-Whata breakfast near my house!

Crave Cafe Counter
Sherman Oaks, CA
 As I've mentioned in the past, I am a die hard fan of Charlie's coffee shop at the 3rd street Farmer's Market in Los Angeles when it comes to breakfast. That's not to say that I am not always on the look out for a great breakfast place in my neck of the woods. Not easy always making the drive over-the-hill as us Valley Folk call it, but then again I'll go to the end of the universe for good food.

There are plenty of good breakfast places in Studio City/Sherman Oaks where I live, but GREAT not good is what I seek when it comes to eating out for breakfast. Its not that I am picky, I'd just much rather stay in and make something wonderful at home when it comes to the morning meal. Unless my belly is calling out for the traditional stuff like waffles, french toast or pancakes. This I leave to the experts. And even though I'm capable of whipping up a light and fluffy morning stack of syrup dripping pancakes my family members are quite the fans of, I prefer someone else make them for me.

A favorite of mine is Ce Ce's in Tarzana, CA who truly has some of the best Pancakes around. With 27 kinds to choose from (amongst them the unreal Tiramisu Pancakes with kahlua, chocolate chips, house mascarpone cream & cocoa powder and the Ginormous Apple Dutch, a German Pancake topped with baked apples). Oh just heavenly, their pancakes are one of a kind! I did however the other day finally find a place EVEN CLOSER to me (all of a 5 minute drive from my house) that really made my tummy happy. Oh and my kids, forget about it....SEE BELOW

French TOAST with NUTELLA at
Crave Cafe in Sherman Oaks!

How I skipped this place I have no clue! Its been around for at least a year, its local and OPEN 24hrs! I know I've driven by it at least a dozen times, but have never thought to try. I mean Ventura Blvd. is saturated with eateries of every type and I haven't exactly been to every single one. BUT THIS? How could I have missed it? I guess I am more angry at myself then anything, and happy that we finally decided to try it.

Breakfast served 24hrs, an extensive menu of wonderful omelets, sandwiches, soups and salads. I can't wait to go back and try more. I'm guessing sandwiches and salads will be as larger then life as the french toast and waffle were, so I am certain to be satisfied. Whata breakfast, whata find!
The Waffle at CRAVE

Sunday, May 8, 2011


My 2 Loves
The reason I love being a MOM
I know I usually write about my adventures in food, today however in honor of Mother's Day I'd like to briefly share with you another one of my passions. Being a Mom to two of the most amazing kids a person could ask for. I warn you this is going to get mushy. Mostly I just want to wish all the women out there who are mother's, grandmother's, soon to be mother's, aunts, and whomever else has played this important role a Happy Mother's Day 2011!

My adventures in parenting began in 2004 with the birth of my Ben and with the addition of my Lia in 2006. I love being a Mom. I live and breathe for my kids. I'd like to think that I parent and approach parenthood with the same passion I have for food! And that's a lot of passion.


I try to plan each day for them the way I do a great meal...with excitement, novelty, familiarity and love. I try to inspire them and they inspire me every single moment of every single day. They are full of innocence and charm yet they posses the knowledge and heart of people way beyond their years. They fill my life with joy and new experiences. They make me a better person. Thanks to them I have learned and continue to learn more and more about myself, who I am and where I want to end up.

That's not to say that every "meal/day" with them is tasty, but its definitely full of flavor and life lessons. At times a little bitter but in the end always delicious and incredibly rewarding. Being a Mom makes me want to create, makes me want to love and most important it makes me want to be the best I can be for my 2 loves.

Today is Mother's Day and I honor all those who play this crucial role. All that you are and all that you do is INCREDIBLE. We are amazing, we are powerful and we make the world go around! We have the most difficult but the most rewarding job in the UNIVERSE. I LOVE BEING A MOM.

Happy Mother's Day!

Friday, May 6, 2011


Last Saturday we took our friend Roy out for a belated birthday celebration, and I got to pick where to go! I chose craft Tom Coliccio's contemporary American. I have been meaning to check it out for some time now, so this was the perfect opportunity. The meal was so tasty, the ingredients fresh, and the masterful balance or restraint rather in the use of seasonings, made for a memorable experience.

Located in Century City within a courtyard surrounded by high rise office buildings, craft screams power-lunch by day and fine-dining by night. Everything from the setting to the lighting and design was pleasant and comfortable. Now on to the food.
We started with the "Chefs Offering"
Creamy Burrata with Roasted Walnuts
and a touch of Pesto

Salad 1

Pea Tendrils with Burrata
Crisp and tangy the tendrils reminded me
of spinach and were surprisingly addictive.
They balanced the mildness and creaminess
of the Burrata nicely.

Salad 2
Baby Beet & Gorgonzola
Freshest beats ever. So sweet and and pure with
the rich flavor of the Gorgonzola.

The entire meal was awesome, and thanks to a slightly overcooked but delicious fish dish (I asked it be remade) we got to try the MOST INCREDIBLE GNOCCHI I HAVE EVER HAD. The waiter brought the side of gnocchi as a peace offering for the overcooked fish. I forgave instantly because the moment these buttery, fluffy, perfect pillows of cheesy potato goodness hit my mouth, I think I scared my dinner companions with my moaning. I kid you not, these were the most incredible Gnocchi I have ever had. One did not require teeth to eat these fluffy, soft and buttery offerings, gumming them would have been sufficient! I need a moment to regroup in order to tell you about the rest of the meal.

As with the starters, the main dishes and sides were once again indicative of "no frills, let the ingredients speak for themselves" perfect execution (with the exception of my fish which although took an extra time to execute in the end was to die for). The Loup de Mer (Or as Italians would say "Branzino" aka Mediterranean Sea Bass) had a crispy crunchy skin and the second time around was hot, moist and flaky on the inside.

Loup De Mer with Citrus

Thankfully I had a bite of every ones food. From what I recall (please understand my mind was clouded by gnocchi) the scallops melted like butter, the steak was cooked to perfection (we could not resist practically licking the plate of caramelized onions the steak sat on top of) and the Halibut was on par with the Loup De Mer, flaky and sweet with the green olive sauce so flavourful I could have drank it! But as I mentioned before, the peace offering Gnocchi just BLEW ME AWAY. As I ate them I actually planned a careful over-the-hill drive from my home in Studio City back to Craft in the weeks to come. I did so because I couldn't bare the though of not having these fluffy pillows of potato and cheesy joy upon the conclusion of this meal.                                                                 

Not to forget the side dishes! We chose shishito
peppers, potato gratin and mixed mushrooms. And if you are wondering how four people were able to consume this much food, my answer is this. How can you not when what's put in front of you screams freshness, purity, simplicity and balance. All the dishes shone in that restraint in the use of seasonings I mentioned earlier. It was like being taken on a journey of discovering how familiar things REALLY taste. No masking with seasonings, no dredging with oils and herbs. For all I know they sprinkled magic powder/potions because this may have been one of the few times a mushroom tasted like a mushroom, gratin was really great cheese and potato, and the shishito's a spicy tasty kick in your mouth.

Flatiron Steak

Mixed Mushrooms

Shishito Peppers

Potato Gratin

We did leave room for desert....after all it was a belated birthday celebration! We chose the Chocolate Chip Cookies as the waiter suggested. My husband asked if they are served with ice cream (I think he couldn't quite grasp YET how a simple cookie would be enough) when they said "No" he chose to add the Mexican Vanilla Ice Cream as well.
What can I tell you. As with the Gnocchi, I AGAIN started to plan the drive back to craft almost immediately. I appreciate a good cookie, especially a good chocolate chip cookie. But this was truly a GREAT cookie. Let me rephrase that.... I would rather it was called "Chocolate with a touch of cookies crust".

Perfect conclusion to a perfect meal. That cookie gave me what I call "the tickle". The tickle is when sweets induce  a tickle under my tongue (in the past only truffles have been capable) that make me hit the table with fists, grab sides of chairs I'm sitting on, and stomp my feet as I roll every sweet bite around my mouth afraid to swallow because I don't want it to be over! A dessert orgasm really.  The cookie did tickle, and only GREAT not good deserts give me the tickle. I am not much of a sweet tooth and I think that night I finally figured out why.... I need a guarantee that "the tickle" will happen whenever I have desert, thanks to the cookie at craft I now know! That is why I will be back for the Gnocchi and The Cookie for sure!  See you at craft!