Turkish is an Inspired Addition to Westwood’s Eclectic Culinary Mix

Our exhilarating explorations through Istanbul, GaziantepUrfa and Cappadocia in Turkey last year, left us hungry for the UNESCO honored cuisine we sampled there.  Special thanks are in order to culinary connoisseurs, Faye and Yakir Levywho introduced us to The Kitchen @ Westwood.

This quaint, centrally located, gem of a restaurant, offers dishes we thought we could only indulge in after a 13 hour flight.  For starters they display samples of the quintessential Turkish snack and breakfast specialty,  borek. These flakey pastries, either baked or fried, savory or sweet, are filled with a wide variety of tempting ingredients from meat to cheese, potato to spinach and feta. But alas these tasty wonders are just the beginning of an array of inspired Turkish delicacies.

A sampling of The Kitchen’s dips proved to be a great choice.  We savored the smoothest, creamiest hummus from a secret recipe (all we know is that tahini is involved) that is worth its weight in gold. The smokey eggplant dip is about as habit-forming as they come and the refreshing yogurt with cucumber revitalizes the palate when eaten with or between any items on the menu.

The Fusion Salad is a reminder that although Turkish ingredients are used, this restaurant is firmly planted in Los Angeles, where our quest for the best tasting and healthiest salads mimics what the Turks have known all along; healthy food can be delicious. This combination of dark leafy power greens, broccoli, quinoa, strawberry, apple, sliced almonds and a pomegranate vinaigrette are the pinnacle of cuisine combining. We could eat this riot of health and wellness on a plate every day and strongly recommend doing just that.

Pide, is often referred to as Turkish pizza because of its obvious resemblance to the world famous pie. At the kitchen we found a delightful version topped with cheese, egg and Turkish sausage that rivals pide in Istanbul. A meal in themselves, one can also share a variety of uniquely topped pide as an appetizer when dining with a large group.

Turkish doner is recognized locally as shawarma and prepared traditionally on a rotating vertical spit. The dark meat and skin elevated by Turkish spices, keep the chicken well marinated and succulent.

Shaved hot off their towers, the doner is presented in numerous ways, from stuffed inside sandwiches to plates piled high. The luscious, moist, mildly spiced meats showcase the high quality ingredients and skill that go into the preparations.

The beef doner is topped with crispy lamb skin and fat, keeping it super tender.

Kebabs of chicken, beef or salmon are also charred to perfection, plump chunks, complemented by grilled vegetables and rice or layered into sandwiches with customers choice of pita or French bread. Try not to miss the in-house baked focaccia which exemplifies the culinary diversity and expertise of the talented chefs.

Another Turkish, under-the-radar dish is manti, which are beef stuffed ravioli smothered in yogurt and paprika sauce. This pasta plate is a warm and comforting tradition enjoyed throughout Turkey.

Iskender Kebab starts with beef doner that is lovingly placed on top of cubed bread and then doused in a rich tomato sauce. It is served with yogurt, pickles and pita bread.

Turkish tea is a staple at breakfast and throughout the day. We consumed more cups in Turkey than anywhere else we have traveled. So our meal was not complete without many glasses that we enhanced with just a touch of sugar.

However the sugar may not be necessary if you choose the flakey, buttery, pistachio laden baklava that is the pride of Gaziantep. The Kitchen’s version is on point and a scrumptious interpretation we would happily indulge in with our Turkish tea for an afternoon snack, dessert or anytime we need a well balanced sweet.

As one of the few Turkish restaurants in Los Angeles offering stunning renditions of Turkish favorites, we encourage visiting The Kitchen @ Westwood for a chance to savor this specialty, hard-to-find cuisine right here in our own UCLA centric neighborhood.

Sara Moulton Makes Life Easy

Sara Moulton is sharing her best tips, techniques and secrets with the goal of making all of us better home cooks through guidance from her latest book, Home Cooking 101.  The TV Chef superstar incorporates step by step instruction and photos, giving readers a visual manual that instils confidence and promotes efficiency.  Fans can easily follow along and craft dishes that make dining at home a pleasure.

She decodes the mysteries of the culinary arts that prevent many of us from achieving success. Pointers in the details, various preparations, flavor pairing, timing, equipment and how to stock a pantry make the magic accessible.

Interested in traditional dishes like fancy stuffed eggs? Sara lays out uncomplicated and enticing versions with advice on fashioning stunning presentations of the melt-in-your-mouth standard.

Moulton points out that King’s Hawaiian rolls are the perfect, comforting foil for her Beef Stroganoff Burgers. If your family adores substantial, meaty dinners, try these.  Not to worry if carbs are not your thing, she gives alternatives such as sour cream, dijon mustard and porcini mushrooms which replace the bread and top the burgers beautifully.

Spicy creamed corn is a swoon inducing dish, uniting summer’s freshest (in winter frozen corn can be used) with Serrano chilies for a zesty kick punctuated by fresh lemon or lime. This heavenly combination is a winning side dish that complements everything you serve.

Chef Moulton takes into consideration dietary preferences, with her omnivore focused book giving nods to vegetarians and vegans through blissfully versatile menus.  Dishes such as root vegetable bourguignon highlight the rich umami found in the original beef based dish without a trace of animal derived ingredients.

Something Sweet, the last chapter of the book, simplifies all those gorgeous desserts we thought were too difficult to even attempt. Now we can impress with the best of them.

Robert Schueller, produce expert and director of public relations at Melissa’s Produce let us know that colorful, prepackaged, simplified preparations of fruit and vegetables are what’s trending in 2017.  We think color and easy to use produce are philosophies that are here to stay and in perfect alignment with Moulton’s message of ease and joy in the kitchen.

If simplicity and grace are what you’re looking for, Sara Mouton’s Home Cooking 101, delivers expertly to those of us who lack the training but still embrace the desire to put out stunning meals for friends and family. Thank you Sara.

Dorie’s Cookies: the Guidebook for the Season

The holidays could aptly be named cookie season, as the tantalizing bites seem to pop-up everywhere this time of year. Which makes Dorie Greenspan’s new book impeccably timed. Timing is a trait highlighted in chapter one, The Perfect-Cookie Handbook. This entree into her world delves deep into techniques, ingredients and gear, exploring the secrets she has amassed over her renowned baking career and lovingly corralled into Dorie’s Cookies.

Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security, these are not your standard cookie recipes. They span continents, ethnicities, cultures, occasions, creative expression, a myriad of textures, tastes, ingredients, the spicy, savory and of course the sweet. We were swept away by the Cocoa-Cayanne (pictured above) and couldn’t get enough of the brilliant Rosemary-Parmesian Cocktail Cookies (below).

The invaluable tips and tricks include achieving uniformity in your cookie size by using baking rings or placing them in muffin tins. Pretty clever in our estimation. Dorie is intent on making us all better bakers and on that she delivers big time.

Crisp French Vanilla Sables are simply divine and had us swooning at first buttery bite.

While Classic Jammers reminded us of grandma’s best.

A perfect holiday gift for all the talented bakers you know or those who aspire to be, Dorie’s Cookies guarantees superior treats for years to come. Check out the two day shipping opportunities at Amazon.com if you want to pick up a few copies of the best seller before the holiday weekend and be sure to luxuriate in the deliciousness of cookie season.

Zapien’s Mexican Delicacies

dsc_0028

With Chef Marco Zapien presiding over the Grand Reopening of Zapien’s Salsa Grill and Taqueria in Pico Rivera, customers are guaranteed a delectable adventure through a wide variety of regional Mexican specialties. Named the best Mexican Restaurant in Los Angeles seven times, Marco has a lot to be proud of and he took time out of his extremely hectic schedule to demonstrate the steps that go into the creation of their well regarded chile verde. The dish of tender pork cubes braised in tomatillo salsa is crafted with a melange of chili peppers, herbs, spices and the distinctly tart tomatillos, often referred to as Mexican green tomatoes.

img_5497

The restaurant’s menu is loaded with exceptionally flavorful dishes starting with a mildly spicy chipotle bean dip that is as addictive as any we have ever had the pleasure of digging into. And that’s just the beginning.

img_5475

Freshly made guacamole satisfies brightly with its use of perfectly ripe avocado, tomato, onion, and cilantro.

img_5459

The secret to the success of Zapien’s dishes is integrating only the freshest ingredients including the savory tortillas prepared throughout the day. Everything is made in house, so be sure not to miss the salsa ranchera which can be used to add a spicy dash of invigoration.

img_5516

Their potato tacos burst forth with an abundance of shredded lettuce, cheese and a sprinkling of chopped tomatoes. We love this refreshing interpretation that elevates the staple potato tacos to a higher level of refinement and gusto.

img_5507

The enticing artistry and scrumptious flavors of Zapien’s Enchilada en Mole, tantalize with chipotle braised chicken, freshly prepared corn tortillas, a slathering of their specialty mole poblano salsa and a creative drizzle of sour cream.  This rich and complex dish has us singing Chef Marco’s praises to everyone we meet.

img_5506

The extensive menu highlights Zapien family recipes including chiles rellenos, fajitas, carne asada and sopes to name just a few. Your favorite Mexican dishes are sure to be found here with Chef Marco’s innovative spins and traditional interpretations. For those as taken with the cuisine as we are, Zapien offers cooking demonstrations, each with a different theme.  The price of these classes include techniques, tips, all you can eat tastings and drink specials throughout the evening.

img_5521

When dining with the Zapien family, be sure not to miss the comforting and dense bread pudding with caramel sauce. It is a treat best savored slowly with coffee or tea for a satisfying end to a memorable meal.

Zapien’s Salsa Grill and Taqueria is located at 6702 Rosemead Boulevard in Pico Rivera.

Rachel Hollis Makes Comfort Food Easy

dsc_0526

Rachel Hollis’ new cookbook, Upscale Downhome, is forcing us to come clean.  First, cooking is not one of our well honed talents and on top of that we love comfort food. So when the opportunity arose to witness Rachel’s cooking in person, we grabbed it and can honestly say we were amazed not only by how tasty everything was, but also by the abundance of short cuts she incorporates into her book. Upscale Downhome is just the home cooking cheat sheet we have been searching for.

dsc_0500

We found the charming presentation and vibrant pesto mayo of her BLT Bites (page 42) too adorable and delicious to refuse and admit to grabbing a few extra for the trip down memory lane they conjured. Perhaps a more seasoned chef would find a recipe for a BLT mundane, but we would proudly display and serve this particular version at all our festive gatherings for the delight they bring to everyone who sees and tastes them.

dsc_0486

One of the best features of this book is that each step is not only explained, but also clearly detailed in photos, so readers know they are on the right track all through the process, not just at the end when it is too late to make amends. Turkey Chili (page 105) puts the slow cooker to good use and we love dishes that practically cook themselves by simmering away for hours.

dsc_0491

Comfort food comes in all forms and there are plenty of produce based dishes to indulge in, including a snappy Fresh Green Bean Salad (page 121).

dsc_0484

But when we think hard core comfort food, we have to say we fell in love with Rachel’s Sticky Ham and Cheese (page 39) which combine the sweetness of King’s Hawaiian Rolls with salty and savory melted Swiss and ham slices. The enchanting miniature size of these beauties make them all the more irresistible.

dsc_0480

Creative ideas for pulling together a variety of festive events abound. Besides sections dedicated to dips, snacks, casseroles, slow cookers and dishes to bring to potlucks, Rachel also has a delightful dessert division. Her Cookie Pudding Pie (page 187) combines all our favorite sweets and serves them in divine, tiny canning jars.

For those interested in endearing recipes, party ideas and presentations for family-friendly comfort foods, Rachel Hollis’ Upscale Downhome is just the guide for you.

Katie Chin’s Everyday Chinese and So Much More

img_4976

Stunning photos by award-wining photographer Masano Kawana are just the tip of the wonton in Katie Chin’s newly published Everyday Chinese Cookbook, 101 Delicious Recipes from My Mothers Kitchen.  Leeann Chin, Katie’s mother, was a celebrated restauranteur and together they cohosted the PBS cooking series Double Happiness. Katie’s passions for Asian cooking have led to a successful career as a caterer, culinary consultant and writer along with numerous TV appearances, a gig at the White House, and many articles featured in publications such as The Wall Street Journal, O, the Oprach magazine and Cooking Light.

img_4968

The visually stunning book highlights not only the mastery of Chin family recipes, but also explains Chinese ingredients, cooking techniques and tools. All the dishes we know and love are present and accounted for with simple, easy to replicate instructions.

img_4946

The Chinese Chicken Salad, Katie explains, was invented in Los Angeles, and her version on page 56 is as invigorating and enjoyable as any we’ve tried.  We will be making this one to impress friends and family for many years to come.  It’s a winner and practically effortless to pull together.

img_4938

The Starters and Dim Sum section is loaded with dumplings, lettuce cups, summer rolls and an assortment of mouth-watering singed meats on a stick.  For those like us who adore appetizers, this section is worthy of some serious exploration.

img_4967

We also received an education on Chinese fusion desserts.  If you didn’t know, and we certainly didn’t,  five spice powder and chocolate cake make an unbelievably exhilarating pairing. This is our new go to when we want to deliver a unique cake that both surprises and delights.

img_4932

While Nutella-Raspberry Wontons are as much a treat for the eyes as they are for the tongue.

img_4965

Katie Chin’s Everyday Chinese Cookbook is just that, a compilation of recipes easy enough for everyday cooking, that is also punctuated with creative inspiration keeping things fresh. Thank you Katie for rekindling childhood favorites and crafting inspired new meldings.  It all works beautifully.

Turkish Treasure

DSC_0144

The hard to find cuisine of Turkey has a new roving venue in Kuzine Foods Co., brought to us by Los Angeles and Orange County caterers extraordinaire, Eda Akarsu Smith and Hülya Nigar Aksu.

DSC_0166

The authentic flavors and dishes of their homeland are tastefully presented, allowing those planning parties to set a beautifully hospitable Turkish table.

IMG_4689

The exceptional baking skills of the Kuzine chefs is evident with each mouthwatering bite of the freshly baked traditional Turkish breads.

IMG_4682

Açma sometimes referred to as Turkish bagels, come plain or stuffed with Nutella, an inspired melding of sweet and savory.  Poğaça, often sold by street vendors, are stuffed with cheese, olive or potato as well as served plain wth tea at breakfast or as a snack. Catal, are a slightly sweet and savory pretzel shaped pastry that is also great for breakfast or snacks with tea.

IMG_4683

The Borek of Kuzine is loaded with tender spinach and tangy feta that simply melts in your mouth.  It is our dream snack and honestly we have been having a hard time finding versions this tasty anywhere in Los Angeles.

IMG_4691

Tabouli from Kuzine Foods is a well balanced mix of greens, onion, tomato, dressing and a sprinkling of bulgur, making for a most refreshing salad we could eat all day long.

IMG_4690

Cemen, a spicy red spread, explodes with the famous Turkish red pepper paste, tomato paste, ground walnuts, olive oil, garlic, cumin and bread crumbs.  This famous dish is not to be missed for its traditional taste of Turkey.

IMG_4693

Refreshing salads and starters abound on the vast meze table presented by these talented kitchen enchantresses.

IMG_4692

After salads and appetizers, the Turkish table is famous for its kebab and meatballs.

IMG_4685

Formed patties and skewered meats are available in a variety of styles based on what the host feels will be best for each particular event Kuzine will be catering.

DSC_0211

And of course no meal is complete without a sweet and what better way to finish off a meal than with flakey, butter layers of walnut baklava.

IMG_4684

For a new spin on a dinner party or event, the traditional preparations of the mesmerizing cuisine of Turkey is presented with grace and exceptional skill by the highly recommend Kuzine Foods Co., www.kuzinefoods.com    818-484-0757

 

 

 

Mango Season Is Upon Us

IMG_4839

Mango season is here and Keitt Mangos are sweet, juicy, silky and ready to be used in a myriad of ways.

IMG_4845

The challenges of peeling mangos are minimized when cut into slices or in half and then run over the edge of a glass.  We put our glass inside a bowl to catch any  juice that may run down the sides during the process.  The skin can be scraped over the lip numerous times to make sure we get every last morsel.

IMG_4854

We eat the slices straight, add them to salads and blend them into smoothies.

IMG_4866

We love Karoun Yogurt from Jon’s Market for its thick richness which makes super creamy smoothies and mango lassi.

IMG_4860

Our recipe calls for one large mango, 1 cup yogurt and 8 ice cubes blended until smooth.  The result is approximately 3 ice cold, large glasses of mildly sweet, tart refreshment. Many recipes call for sugar but we don’t find it necessary.  A little fresh squeezed lime and some cardamom are exciting additions although we usually drink it straight.

IMG_4864

For fiber free mangos and the best smoothies and lassi, we strongly recommend Keitt mangos which are ripe and ready to go when they are soft, with a little give and very fragrant.

IMG_4865

To order Melissa’s Green Keitt Mangoes, go to http://www.melissas.com/Keitt-Mango-p/713.htm and use the coupon code KEITT15 to take 15% off Melissa’s Green Keitt Mangoes only. Coupon Expires Sept 18th 2016.

The Vegetable Butcher Spills Her Secrets

IMG_4385

The Vegetable Butcher is a trusted professional who breaks down vegetables with knife lessons, insider tips, and approachable preparations. We love this title because it describes what we have always needed but never knew was missing from our lives. After a lifetime of fad diets that never produced lasting results, we now know that eating more fruits and vegetables makes us feel and look better. Giving up on “short cuts”, we can finally embark on a lifetime of mouthwatering, healthy meals with the help of Vegetable Butcher extraordinaire, Cara Mangini and her new book The Vegetable Butcher.

IMG_4371

Cara studied vegetables on the farms of Long Meadow Ranch in St. Helena and in Napa Valley, where she learned all about produce growth, farming techniques, selection, varieties, storage and preparation. She is one of the first Vegetable Butchers at Eataly in New York City, as well as the owner and executive chef of Little Eater, a produce-inspired restaurant, and Little Eater Produce and Provisions, an associated local and artisanal foods boutique. Cara has a lot to share, which she does succinctly and tastefully in her book.

IMG_4387

The cookbook, after delving into some important knife and cutting basics, is divided by vegetable. It’s easy to pull out whatever natures bounty lurks in our produce drawer and immediately get an overview of its history, varieties, memorable pairings, how to select the best the market has to offer, proper storage and most important how to easily and quickly butcher each vegetable for optimal presentation and incorporation into meals.

DSC_0375

Recipes follow, in well illustrated chapters that simplify everything from crudités to salads, soups, side dishes, main courses and even desserts.

IMG_4444

We used the freshest tomatoes, cucumber, garlic and peppers from Melissa’s Produce in Cara’s Gazpacho recipe which produced a cold soup reminiscent of the splendid summer Andalusian Gazpachos we found on the Costa del Sol in Spain. And we whizzed it all together in no time with our powerful Ninja blender.

IMG_4432

The Vegetable Butcher is brimming with tips that make vegetables accessible. We witnessed Cara’s fast demo which completely transformed our relationship to cauliflower. We no longer look at the cruciferous heads with extreme suspicion, but instead now feel joy at what we can create after a few well placed cuts free the florets. Her secrets and tricks save us tons of prep time, cut fingers, uneven pieces and most important, from missing out on something as exciting as squash blossoms, tomatillos, sunchokes, okra, kohlrabi or fiddlehead ferns, simply because we didn’t know how to work with them.

DSC_0361

Confidently armed with The Vegetable Butcher, we have already transformed our dinner table to include a much wider range of fresh, wholesome and delicious produce based dishes.  Something we did not think possible just a few weeks ago. Thank you Cara for giving us the incentive and instruction we didn’t know we desperately needed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Afghani in Beverly Hills

IMG_4510

A sweet little patio at the back of a small parking lot in Beverly Hills, is home to the brand new Afghani Kebab House. The menu features fragrant rice dishes, grilled kebabs, meat filled dumplings and a variety of fruit and vegetables entrees suitable for vegetarians.  The food of Afghanistan is reminiscent of neighboring Iran’s Persian dishes, and a mild interpretation of the cuisines of Pakistan and India. The restaurant’s small kitchen cranks out homestyle flavors while catering to customers with warm and welcoming hospitality the region is known for.

IMG_4478

Carved wooden bowls filled with potato and garbanzo salad in a cilantro chutney, are an amuse-bouche that start guests off with a hint of the flavors to come.  Warm, airy Afghani flat bread is the traditional eating utensil, although the table is also set with fork and knife. The chewy, straight from the oven bread is addictive and we went through three baskets over the course of dinner.

IMG_4488

Always looking to incorporate healthy options into our diet, we started with the uber sweet Borani Kadoo, butternut squash, covered in ribbons of in-house made yogurt and a sprinkling of dried mint. This melt in your mouth appetizer is both soothing and gratifying.

IMG_4483

The eggplant appetizer, called Borani Badenjan, is sautéed with fresh tomatoes, garlic and peppers before being drizzled with homemade yogurt.

IMG_4502

The easy to devour mantu are dumplings stuffed with seasoned ground beef and sautéed onions, topped with yogurt, tomatoes, peas and herbs. These little beauties pair exceptionally well with the vibrant green herb sauce served alongside.

IMG_4491

Chicken Kabob skewers showcase tender boneless chicken breast marinated in Afghani Kebab House’s secret mix of oil, yogurt, herbs and spices before being charbroiled into plump, juicy chunks.

IMG_4495

For lamb lovers, the Quabili Pallow encompasses a hefty mound of richly seasoned basmati rice, raisins and julienned carrots atop tender lamb shank, a specialty of the house not to be missed. Dishes are large enough to share, which to us means more delicious Afghani food to sample.

IMG_4497

Be sure to save room for the warm walnut and pistachio baklava, whose  sweet and savory balance, coupled with the slight crunch through many layers of filo, makes this one of our favorite hidden LA desserts.

IMG_4504

Only three weeks old and already Afghani Kabob House has everything running smoothly, from congenial  service to the well prepared cuisine. We are looking forward to many balmy summer nights of affordable meals on their airy patio.

Afghani Kabob House
8560 Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA 90211
Phone – 310-854-1020