Ali Rosen’s Bring It Does Just That

Ali Rosen, the founder and host of Potluck with Ali, has a new book out called Bring It. And you guessed it, it’s all about tried and true recipes for potlucks and casual entertaining.

We were lucky enough to be regaled with her wisdom, as well as sample some tasty tidbits from her book. Our favorite piece of advice is, when bringing a dish to someone’s home or event, don’t make it difficult on the party planner. Come with a serving dish, spoon, or whatever else is needed. Don’t challenge your host by requiring a lot of prep at the location either. They may not have extra refrigerator, counter or oven space. In other words be as self contained as possible, for your sake as well as the sanity of everyone involved.

Delicious treasures abound on these pages, including Ali’s Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus, which really pops with its lemon, butter and egg yolk dressing. The recipes found in Bring It are practical, fun and foolproof, which is a style that fits just about everyone.

Ali’s Quickest, Most Flavorful Bolognese tops any pasta that floats your boat. And every dish travels and keeps well. So no matter what the event, picnic, PTA meeting, lunch with the girls or extended family dinner, there’s a recipe ideal for the occasion.

Like Snap Peas with Parmesan and Bacon, which combine the crisp sweetness of the season with the salty and savory, a winning combination every time. Keep an eye out for each recipes side bar which shares exactly how the dish travels, stores or reheats best.

Strawberry Sandwiches bring back childhood memories of Wonder Bread and honey, two essential ingredients. And the kids will love them too, if you share.

While Snowy Chocolate Cookies are the perfect hostess gift for any invitation, even when the host says “Oh don’t bother, I’ve got it covered”. Everyone will love this thoughtful goodie. Because who couldn’t use an extra little sweet, especially after a long day prepping for company. Thank you Ali for Bring It, with your guidance we certainly will now.

Harissa’s Triumphant Charcuterie and Seafood Boards

When Chef Alain Cohen opened Got Kosher? in 2009, he wowed the culinary panorama of Los Angeles with his extraordinary Tunisian, French and Moroccan inspired cuisine. Shortly thereafter, his innovative pretzel challah was named Best Non-Traditional Challah by Los Angeles Magazine. Cohen continues invigorating each braided egg bread with ingredients ranging from Belgian Chocolate Chunks, to Kalamata Olive & Rosemary, or Apple Honey Raisin, to name just a few options.

Always pushing the envelope, Got Kosher? has now been revitalized and renamed by its founder into Harissa. The new moniker is a nod to the beloved Tunisian signature spicy condiment, and the signage out front is not the only transformation. A remodel of the space and introduction of new delicacies await patrons as well.

All guests are treated to a complementary basket of their award-winning pretzel challah along with a dollop of vibrant harissa. Together they pack a delightful sweet, mildly spicy punch that wakes up the palate for the gourmet treasures to come.

New menu offerings include a Charcuterie Board overflowing with house-cured beef prosciutto, soprasetta, saucisson sec, lamb pancetta, chicken pate with cognac, walnuts, tunisian olives, cornichons, moutarde and crostini.

Those in the mood for something a bit lighter will appreciate the delectable seafood board. The plank comes laden with house-smoked gravlax and whitefish, salmon terrine, boutargue, taramasalata and whitefish salad. All showcasing the breadth of culinary talents mastered by Chef Cohen and his staff.

The menu continues to feature the classics that have kept this establishment on LA foodie maps. The ever popular Pulled beef brisket, Alain’s Tunisian Tuna Sandwich, B’stilla and Short Rib Beef Bourguignon continue to enchant.

As does the harissa spiced burger, which shimmers with just a touch of heat and tons of savory integrity. Embraced in a soft pretzel bun, the burger is further amplified with a noteworthy combination of roasted tomato, balsamic glazed red onion and harissa mayo. Yum.

Don’t overlook the hard-to-find couscous dishes at Harissa. We were particularly taken with the Lemon Raisin Chicken Tajine which makes a tangy, sweet romp across the tongue.

Besides the noteworthy bread pudding, an ideal conclusion to your tunisian feast is Mom’s Sweet Harissa Almond Cake doused in orange blossom syrup and served with chilled sabayon.

The bakery, shabbat and catering menus here are all superlative and can be accessed next door to the restaurant. Please feel free to stop by even if you only need a pretzel loaf or one sweet treat to go.

And of course no meal at Harissa is complete without traditional Tunisian Green Mint Tea.

For the unique opportunity to try Tunisian cuisine from a master chef, Harissa is one of the few establishments dishing out the best Tunisia has to offer right here in our own backyard.

Azerbaijani-Style Novruz Spring Celebrations in California

The Vernal Equinox today marks the beginning of Novruz. A joyous holiday celebrating spring, peace, friendship, life in harmony with nature and as it literally translates, a new day.

Novruz is celebrated in Iran, Azerbaijan, Central and Western Asia, the Caucasus, the Black Sea Basin, and the Balkans. The California Azerbaijani Friendship Association, headed up by Ms. Kimiya Mammadova, held their Novruz Gala last Saturday night and we were thrilled to participate in the festivities.

Music and dance followed a lavish feast that included all the flavors of spring. Honoring of the the new season is best represented by the famous leek and herb laden egg dish called Kuku Sabzi. This healthy treat enlivens the senses with copious amounts of seasonal herbs including cilantro, parsley and dill. It can be eaten for breakfast, brunch, as an appetizer, side-dish or final touch to a holiday meal. We found the light, abundantly fragrant slices reminiscent of an overstuffed frittata and wouldn’t mind wedging some into freshly baked bread with yogurt and radishes, as recommended by Bon Appetit.

We were regaled with plates of stuffed pastries scattered across the table including the badambura above. Azerbaijani cuisine specializes in some of the best nut and fruit filled delicacies we’ve tasted. Their baklava’s cake like texture makes for a moist, balanced, unique interpretation of the filo dough encased sweet we tend to find in local Middle Eastern and Mediterranean establishments.

Stuffed grape leaves were a beefy powerhouse representing the elusive Azerbaijani cuisine served at the event. The delicacies were lovingly transported to Santa Ana from San Diego’s Cafe 21. An Azerbaijani owned Mediterranean gem that boasts two locations serving exceptional renditions of old and new favorites.

It is tradition to serve Plov during Novruz. The staple consists of crusted, perfectly cooked basmati rice, tender lamb, dried fruit and nuts that all blend into a symphony of sweet and savory satisfaction.

And no spring celebration is complete without a nod to the fresh fruit that is beginning to emerge as the weather transforms from winters chill into spring’s warmth and abundance. If you happen to be near a restaurant of the region, we strongly recommend you check out some of the holiday dishes and take full advantage of natures awesome blossoming.

Wishing everyone a joyous spring and Novruz Bayraminiz Mübarek, which means Happy Novruz.

Amanda Cushman Keeps It Real

As food becomes ever more complex, leave it to Amanda Cushman to keep it real. Her new book, Simple Real Food, is filled with insights that facilitate easy, delicious, clean food prepared simply.

Amanda’s thirty plus years of experience and expertise are honed down to their essence. The book captures her love of nourishing meals that embody the fresh, bright flavors we all love. Her White Bean and Vegetable Soup on page 64, gets an incredible kick of basil and pine nut richness from a dollop of Pesto Creme.

Refreshing Thai Summer Rolls with Lime Dipping Sauce, showcase world cuisine in its most delectable and wholesome format.

And Roasted Curried Cauliflower on page 105, transforms the cruciferous head into a serious flavor bomb that we couldn’t stop eating. Plus Amanda gives all manner of alternatives if cauliflower doesn’t float your boat.

There are plenty of vegetarian options, but Ms. Cushman has not forsaken the carnivores. Hoisin Ginger Chicken with Mango Mayonnaise captures a succulent, juicy tenderness as does the Grilled Skirt Steak with shallots, red wine, garlic and rosemary.

And as important as it is to eat clean, it’s just as vital to indulge a bit. So desserts, from Poached Pears to Flourless Chocolate Torte with Raspberry Coulis, pay homage to the sweet finish.

For those looking to fill the table with exceptionally tasty and easy dishes, Amanda Cushman’s Simple Real Food is a stellar addition to any cookbook arsenal.


Kitchen Creativity Unleashes The Genius In Us All

We recently had the pleasure of sharing an afternoon in the test kitchen of Melissa’s Produce with Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. We were treated to a tsunami of ingenuity through an introduction to their new book Kitchen Creativity.

This latest publication follows a slew of inspirational books by the duo, including The Flavor Bible. Here they continue the culinary creativity conversation by taking things to new levels of insight.

Armed with these secrets, the chefs at Melissa’s Produce foraged what they had in the pantry to craft Grilled “Chicken-on-the-Side” Caesar Salad, a bean based “Meatless” Meatloaf and Chunky Gazpacho with Grilled Shrimp.  And you too can open your refrigerator and joyously manifest to your hearts content with the help of Kitchen Creativity.

The book is broken into three sections.  Stage 1 Mastery, where we learn not only how to taste and season, but also the history, famous dishes and pairings essential for kitchen proficiency.  Stage 2 Alchemy, is a beautifully illustrated showcase of flavor equations and dynamics that transform ingredients into extraordinary taste sensations. And finally Stage 3, the heftiest portion of the book, is where we can soar in play and inspiration while following our creative intuitions, allowing wisdom to flow from our own inner compass out onto the table.

Everything we have ever wanted to know about great food and how its prepared in the finest restaurants, by the most renowned chefs, is detailed for the benefit of all.

Thank you Karen and Andrew for always continuing to pull back the curtain and generously share what you have learned, not only from your own experiences, but also from the triumphs of the worlds most creative chefs.  Kitchen Creativity proves to be a valuable tool for anyone interested in exploring the magic that happens when passion, alchemy and a trained palate collide.








The Secrets to Dazzling Food Photos Revealed

Are you as obsessed with food photography as we are?  If so, have we got a book for you.

The Food Stylist’s Handbook by Denise Vivaldo with Cindie Flannigan is such a fun read we almost decided to become food stylists on the spot. Their book has all the guidance necessary to begin or advance a food styling career. This how to manual explains exactly what the job entails, equipment needed, the different niches and of course, how to get started. But don’t overlook the fact that it also contains a ton of valuable advice for us regular folk looking to put out stunningly beautiful culinary masterpieces we want to shoot and eat.

We adore the Tricks of the Trade chapter that delves into topics as diverse as getting more height out of pancakes, which brand of egg to use for a flawless presentation and achieving the most gorgeous spiral cut from your ham. Above Cindie assembles the perfect Sundae, but this one’s made of Crisco not ice cream, so admire but don’t eat.

It doesn’t matter whether you want to configure fake or edible food, the tips in The Food Stylist’s Handbook help everyone present a better plate. Need some guidance in making that burger you’re about to consume more instagram friendly?  It’s in the book, showing how one can adorn with condiments found on the table, perfect for a restaurant blog post. Want to impress friends who come over for lunch? The magic to beautiful bacon for your club or BLT is in the cooking method, using skewers or foil to get just the right curl to your strips.

Edible flowers add a charming touch to any plate, especially white china laden with salad and chicken breast in need of a pop of color.

And a dash of just the right herbs and spices brushed around grill marks make shrimp irresistible.

Regardless of why you want a stunning presentation, the answers you are searching for abound in words and pictures throughout this sensational guide book.

And the ladies haven’t forgotten the importance of serving containers and utensil recommendations to insure that delicious courses get the best send off possible.

So take it from the women who have honed and mastered the techniques and get your own copy of The Food Stylist’s Handbook.  Who knows, you may become the next Picasso of the instagram world or at the very least of your own kitchen table.

Spaghettini Celebrates 30 Years of Success

Laurie Sisneros and Cary Hardwick, the charming owners of Spaghettini, have a lot to celebrate. They’re a few months shy of 30 years in business, have unveiled a lovely alfresco seating area and released a book of Spaghettini’s recipes in collaboration with their accomplished Executive Chef, Victor Avila, called From Our Home to Yours. All in all they have a lot to be proud of.

Their new outdoor space focuses on comfort first and foremost. The surrounding greenery and abundant shade umbrellas enhance the calming experience. So guests can now take full advantage of warm Seal Beach afternoons and evenings.

We sampled Spaghettini’s brunch menu and were duly impressed by the deconstructed Wedge Salad which has a history dating back to 1916. Not only is it beautifully presented, the flavors and textures of crisp cool lettuce and juicy ripe tomato play exceptionally well against the smokey bacon and full bouquet of Blue Cheese Dressing.

For starters, the fresh and healthy ahi tuna tartare is a meaty and supremely satisfying powerhouse that melts in your mouth beside the crunch of oil brushed, toasted baguette slices.

Another winner included in the book, is the Pommery shrimp which is a perennial favorite that has been flying off the menu since the restaurants opening back in 1988. The secret recipes for Pommery Mustard Sauce and Garlic Butter are generously shared, so you can create this crowd pleaser at home for family and friends.

Heirloom tomato bruschetta, on page 18, starts with the highest quality tomatoes elevated by a mix of garlic, shallots, vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and fragrant basil.

Spaghetti and Meatballs is of course found here. It’s made from a recipe that accentuates the intensely porky flavor with lots of garlic, parmesan and onions.

For those looking for lighter fare, there is plenty to choose from including the Caramelized Salmon. Ginger and lemongrass incorporate a delicate Asian touch that aligns perfectly with the fatty fish. The crisp topping of  sweet potato strands add not only a burst of color but also a crunch that plays well against the brawny slab of heart-healthy salmon.

A combination of “Peas and Feta Cheese work exceptionally well together, especially if made with French Feta” according to Chef Avila, and we were tickled by this new commingling.

For a serious splurge, the Mac and Cheese is loaded with heavy cream , parmesan and gorgonzola and takes this childhood favorite to a very adult level.

The dessert section is loaded with house specialities and don’t miss the light, airy and supremely satisfying White Chocolate Cheesecake which we absolutely adore and would eat every day if we could.

2018 presents many great opportunities to celebrate life with a visit to Spaghettini for their world class Jazz and delightful California and Italian menu or a whirl around the kitchen under the excellent tutelage of From Our Home to Yours Cookbook. Enjoy the journey.

Katsu Sando’s Melt In Your Mouth Wagyu

Katsu Sando Pops Up on Sunday nights at Kura Japanese Restaurant located in the corner mall at Sunset and Crescent Heights. Katsu Sando translates to cutlet sandwich and that’s basically the entire menu, four Nama Panko crusted sandwiches and a couple of extras. But what extraordinary sandwiches they are.

Daniel Son, head chef at Kura fell hard for the Japanese convenience store snack in Tokyo and decided to craft his own elevated version. He has succeeded.

The A5 Wagyu-Katsu Sando is an expertly seared melt-in-your-mouth wonder that reminds us so much of the highest quality sushi, that we were officially awed. The marbling ratio of fat to tender meat in Japanese Wagyu beef is the secret, and the direct result of the immense care taken in the raising of the cattle.

In addition to the pricy but worth it Wagyu Beef-Katsu Sandwich, we strongly recommend the Mushroom Katsu Sando. It’s the perfect thickness for an unforgettable bite past the super soft House Made Honey Milk Bread slathered with Sando sauce, into a layer of Shiro-Wafu Frisee, through to the fried to perfection crunch of panko crust and deep into the meaty fungi. It’s a truly scrumptious journey.

Pork and Chicken are also in the line up and if you pull back the wrapping paper you are rewarded with a glimpse of the Pop Up’s name branded into the bread.  Very cool.

And don’t forget to indulge in the hot sauce found on every table. It adds a hit of heat that you may or may not feel inclined to incorporate. It definitely enhanced the pork, but we were resistant to even attempt it atop the flawless Wagyu or Mushroom Sandwiches.

For a taste of the real deal, elevated Wagyu beef and other varieties of Katsu Sando, you have to visit Kura on Sunday evenings (the rest of the time it’s their regular delightful Japanese menu) and let the flavors transport you straight to Tokyo.

It’s Worth Investing Time in Historic Old Sacramento

I was born in California and never made it to the state capital, until now. One crucial part of that oversight is missing out on the Historic Gold Rush Town of Old Sacramento. For those interested in avoiding the same mistake, it’s a good idea to invest some time exploring this spectacularly preserved piece of California History. A good way to start is by moving right in, with a stay aboard the Delta King Riverboat Hotel. This gracefully refurbished paddleboat floats on the Sacramento River adjacent to Old Sacramento State Historic Park and is the ideal home base to immerse oneself in the slower pace of mid 1800’s California.

First and foremost, don’t rush. Give yourself some time to explore because there’s a lot to see and do. Two days would be the minimum and try to include a weekend which preserves the opportunity to experience the underground tour.

Established in 1849, Old Sacramento is alive and well with the spirit and fervor of the gold rush. Handsome turn of the century buildings are well tended and house a variety of businesses you can explore. Traipsing through the streets and shops is a full day excursion in itself.

Rest assured if you need to revive anytime during your wanderings, they offer the illusive pineapple soft serve frozen treat, Dole whip, also available in mango. Unlike Disneyland, it’s self-serve here, so you can crank out as much of the icy concoction as you can handle, baring a serious case of brain freeze.

And of course no self-respecting gold rush town would be complete without an assortment of saloons. The River City Saloon claims to craft the best bloody Mary’s in Sacramento, but you need be the judge of that.

And Fanny Anns has to be one of the most captivating memorabilia stuffed bars in California. Stopping in for lunch, a cold one or just to browse the wild collection should be high on your to do list.

But the absolute highlight of Old Sacramento, is the California State Railroad Museum. This is a must see appropriate for the entire family.

Start you visit  with the informative movie which explains the back breaking labor and dedication that went into building the North American transcontinental railroad system. If you time it right, call first to be sure, the movie will be followed by a free half hour tour of the museum. No matter how you feel about trains, the amazing dioramas, restored trains, exhibits, dining car, heavy china display and simulation of a nighttime traveling sleeping car, are truly momentous experiences.

Recognition is paid to the workers who slaved through bone-chilling winters and blistering summers from 1863 to 1869 in order to make the dream of connecting the east and west coasts a reality.

Guest can pass through glistening trains of the era that look ready to hit the rails, reminding us of the romance and ease the railway system brought to U.S. travel.

Many cars are manned by costumed docents eager to share how their particular train was instrumental in facilitating everything from delivering mail to providing fine dining for guests.

Mannequin run kitchens and period china recreate the rigors and necessitates of a continually operational system of public transportation.

Be sure to search out the night train sleeping car simulation which is rigged to feel precisely like the real thing.

You can also hone your skills driving the same simulator used to train bullet train drivers. See how well you do manning the helm, followed by the challenging maneuvering of a speeding trains glide into the station.

The California State Railroad Museum is at the top of its game, being both technologically advanced, while also preserving their unique vantage point in the history of railroad travel and California’s involvement in its evolution.

We have to say that Old Sacramento offers such an inspiring glimpse into the past that we wouldn’t mind falling back in time over and over again.

Delectable Surprises in Sacramento’s Little Saigon

2010 was the year Sacramento officially designated Stockton Boulevard between Riza Avenue and Fruitridge Road, Little Saigon. And anyone visiting the area should definitely stop by for an authentic bite at one of the scores of Vietnamese restaurants located in the area. We found a real winner in Quan New Ninh Hoa, located at 6450 Stockton Blvd, Sacramento, CA 95823.

House Special No. 1, at the very top of the menu, is a fun opportunity to roll your own Vietnamese summer rolls. An abundant assortment of tantalizing morsels show up on your table and you get to organize them any way you choose. First pick your protein, which can be Charbroiled skewers of  pork, chicken, shrimp or fried fish. We went with the traditional BBQ pork and were beyond thrilled.

Also on the plates delivered, you will find slim fried egg rolls, angel vermicelli sheets, fermented pork with garlic, assorted greens, pickled radish and carrot salad, green onion, crushed peanuts, a homemade, mildly-sweet dipping sauce and an ingenious rice paper softening system that we wanted to play with all evening.

To start the process, remove a dried rice paper wrapper from the side pocked and gentle dip it into the warm water bath section. The firm rice disk will begin to gently soften while being turned in the half circle mini tub. Be sure to turn at a slow, steady pace. It doesn’t take long and you don’t want to leave the translucent sheet in the water for an extended period. Allow it to soften and become flexible before removal from the water. Place the rice paper on your plate where it will continue to relax just a bit more.

Fill the now pliable wrapper with sheered off pieces of protein, one egg roll, an herb selection, pickled and fresh vegetables. Then roll like a burrito, being sure to turn in and secure the ends prior to the last fold so the filling doesn’t fall out.

Dip you cigar shaped package into the sauce, add a smear of chili paste from the table condiments if a spicy kick is your preferred flavor profile.

Your hard work will pay off when you bite into your crispy, smokey, fresh roll which is a texturally complex flavor bomb of pure pleasure.

Another specialty of the house found on on every table in the restaurant is Banh Beo which on the menu is referred to as Banh Bot Loc La. This well loved rice cake dish is served in small white ceramic cups and topped with bright orange pureed shrimp, green onion, fried shallots and pork floss.

They are eaten by topping with a bit of fish sauce, using your spoon to release the steamed rice from the dish and slurping the entire contents into your mouth for a creamy, crunch, savory, rich bit of umami goodness. These two traditional dishes are great representations and an opportunity to savor a bit of Vietnam right here in Sacramento, California.