Rachel Hollis Makes Comfort Food Easy

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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

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

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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Carved wooden bowls filled with potato and garbanzo salad in a cilantro chutney, start guests off with a hint of 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.

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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.

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

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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 sauce served along side.

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Chicken Kabob skewers are tender boneless chicken breast marinated in their secret mix of ingredients before being charbroiled into plump, juicy chunks.

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For lamb lovers, the Quabili Pallow consists of a hefty mound of richly seasoned basmati rice, raisins and julienned carrots a top tender lamb shank, a specialty of the house. Dishes are large enough to share, which to us means more plates to sample.

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Do not miss the warm walnut and pistachio baklava, whose  sweet and savory balance, coupled with the slight crunch through layers of filo, makes this one of our favorite hidden LA desserts.

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

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

Homestyle Azerbaijani Cuisine Has Arrived

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New cuisines light us up, so when Feride Buyuran and Melissa’s Produce teamed up to host a tasting celebrating her new cookbook, Pomegranates & Saffron, A Culinary Journey to Azerbaijan, we jumped at the opportunity. Azerbaijan is surrounded by Iran, Armenia, Turkey, Georgia and Russia, and we found nods to all the neighboring countries in the beautifully prepared dishes.

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Feride’s award winning cookbook features a very accessible cooking style that celebrates Eastern European, Russian and Middle Eastern flavors. Ingredients and spices from the region are presented with a special flare we attribute to Ms. Buyuran’s culinary skills in her adaptation of recipes culled from family and friends.

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Dishes such as tender Meatballs in Sweet and Sour Tomato Sauce (page 71), have pristinely balanced flavors that make them comfort food well suited for a main course as well as a substantial party appetizer guaranteed to keep guests happy from a warming tray perch.

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Ganja-Style Chicken with Eggs (page 98), gives credit to Azerbaijani’s second largest city where this satisfying dish originated. The tender dark meat chicken and egg casserole is ideal for breakfast, brunch, lunch or a new spin on dinner.

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For a serious sampling of the Mediterranean table, the Vegetable Kabab Salad (page 42) is both refreshing and healthy.

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We were also impressed with the abundance of dill that spikes Feride’s perfectly cooked basmati rice, reminding us of the famous, aromatic Persian rice dishes celebrated internationally.

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The final treat that won our hearts and palates was the layer upon layer of pastry dough, not filo, that is the secret to the scrumptious Azerbaijani walnut baklava.  A mild sweetness and loads of crushed nut meats packed between layers of melt in your mouth pastry, is a labor intensive endeavor that is worth every minute put into it.

For those looking for something unique that is easy on the eyes, nose and palate, we strongly recommend purchasing Pomegranates & Saffron, at least until Feride opens her first restaurant.

Ramadan Celebrations

It is with immeasurable sadness and compassion regarding the continued attacks on Turkey, that we send prayers to all those suffering and choose to forge ahead with open hearts and minds. We desire to learn and share our personal experiences during the holy month of Ramadan which ends today, July 5, 2016.

Ramadan each year corresponds as closely as possible to the month Muhammad, the founder of Islam, received the Qu’ran from God. During this most sacred time of year, Muslims all over the world fast during daylight hours, observing with no food or liquids, from sunrise to sunset for the entire month. Ramadan is a time for reflection and prayer, allowing the devout to contemplate their relationship to God and focus on positive attributes of the human experience. It is not only an introspective time, but also quite festive, with Iftar (breaking of the daily fast), welcoming a spirit of celebration among family and friends.

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We were fortunate to partake in an Iftar celebration at Orkide in Gaziantep, Turkey. The restaurant and patisserie is committed to perfecting their craft, as evidenced through a vast array of awe-inspiring fresh pastries, sweets, baklava and colorful puddings.

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Led to beautifully set tables, we could barely control our excitement as we began the memorable experience of a traditional Iftar dinner. A wide variety of meze (appetizers and salads) are laid out and we joyfully united with the Muslim patrons prior to sunset, awaiting the evening prayer call which signals the beginning of the meal just as the sun dips below its horizon.

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The Turkish table, especially in Gaziantep, is renowned for its meze, and we were dazzled by small plates of herb based salads, the freshest vegetables, olives, cheese, pickled dishes, savory stuffed pastries called borek, nuts, dried and stewed fruits, a rich clotted cream called kaymak and some of the freshest breads we have ever tasted.  Orkide is at the top of their game in this arena offering soup, refreshing greens and a full table top of traditional starters to the delight of guests.

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Another uniquely Turkish dish we have fallen deeply in love with is the cig kofte (pictured above), a bulgur, herb and spice mix formed into distinct peaked portions that diners douse with fresh lemon juice and roll in lettuce leaves, before biting into each spicy, refreshing packet.

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The main course changes nightly, but is always hearty and followed by their delectable sweets assortment.

We are huge fans of Orkide for their extensive talents showcasing Turkish cuisine, along with an infinite willingness to open their arms to those of us hungry to learn about their abundant table of delicacies. Thank you to the Turkish people and Orkide for sharing with us the heart of Ramadan celebrations and the true nature and generosity of the religion that encourages the best qualities of mankind through love, hospitality and a spirituality that nourishes in every way.

Orkide Pastanesi – Four locations in Gaziantep, please visit the web site to find the location most easily accessible to you.

Mexican Culinary Magic

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Pati Jinich introduces her new book Mexican Today by stating, “This is a book of recipes born out of passion: passion for my family; passion for my native Mexico and its ancient, modern and evolving foodways; passion for the changing Mexican cuisine within the United States, my home for the past eighteen years and the birthplace of my children; and passion for delicious, unforgettable, irresistible food.” And after sampling her recipes we definitely see, smell and taste exactly what she means.

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Pati’s Simmered Shaved Corn with Chiles and Epazote, glistens with full bodied sweetest from the freshest corn enhanced by her unique spice blend. We went back for seconds and thirds and would have continued but for our engorged, happy tummies.

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We were particularly taken with her Fast Track Chicken Pibil, a recipe that simplifies the cooking process without skimping on the smokey achiote essence or richness.

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She recommends serving the chicken pibil atop crisp corn tortillas and alongside her refreshing pickled onion and cabbage salad, also found in her book.

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We were tickled and surprised by the chewy sweet, salty and savory Everything in the Pantry Cookies which combine most of our own pantry staples including pretzel pieces.

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Pati’s drink recipes also surprise and delight and we found ourselves thoroughly enchanted by her honey and hibiscus flower tea with its understated, sweet-tart core.

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Mexican Today provides simplicity, as well as new and old twists, on contemporary Mexican cooking. The recipes reflect a long practiced fusion in the Mexican kitchen. Pati explores the way Mexican foods have merged and evolved on both sides of the border. A consummate storyteller, as evidenced by her five seasons as host of the PBS series “Pati’s Mexican Kitchen”, she shares not only the research but also personal experiences behind the making of this book. All her dedication and hard work unify into an inspired cookbook and a great read.

Link here Mexican Today to purchase Pati Jinich’s book from Amazon.

Cooking Classes Celebrate Culture and Cuisine

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We find cooking classes to be one of the most enjoyable and interactive ways to learn about a new country, city or cuisine. Where else can we get insider information on local dishes, ingredients, customs, family life, manners and setting a traditional table?

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In Istanbul we were eager to expand our understanding of Turkish food and signed up for Turkish Flavors, Sephardic cooking class which delves into founder, Selin Rozanes’ family recipes. After an introduction to Turkish seasonings at the spice market, we were ferried across the Bosphorus where a car shuttled us to her handsome home with its well designed teaching kitchen.

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We went right to work with Selin’s expert guidance on techniques, spice mixes, variances in Turkish red pepper pastes and advice on how to procure the freshest local ingredients.

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There was plenty of chopping, rolling, forming, mixing, sautéing, baking and boiling. But with the work spread between our team of participants, and Selin’s lovely housekeeper taking care of all the washing up, it felt effortless, playful and productive.  A little white wine soothed any discomfort we may have felt during the rainy, cold and exceptionally windy day, which turned out to be perfect weather for a cooking class.

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We progressed at breakneck speed and at the end of an hour and a half, had an expansive feast laid before us.

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Turkish dedication to hospitality, beautiful presentation, as well as delicious food was evident and we spent the afternoon leisurely savoring and discussing Turkish food and culture.

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Our main dish, Split Belly Eggplant (Karniyarik), combined ground beef, onions, herbs and spices, which are stuffed into eggplant halves before being drenched in tomato sauce and decorated for aesthetic and flavor optimization.

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Selin is more than happy to adjust the menu to accommodate dietary restrictions and the vegetarians in the group were easily taken care of without depriving the omnivores.

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Carrots in garlicky yogurt and tahini dressing, one of the stars of the class, is an inspired melange of freshly grated carrot sweetness playing off tangy dairy and smooth, rich, sesame paste.

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After savoring a tableful of family recipes, we were rewarded with dried apricots boiled in wine and cloves, stuffed with clotted cream and rolled in pistachios. A most civilized end to a day delving into the Turkish culinary arts. We left with full bellies, open hearts and a recipe book filled with Selin’s top secret recipes.

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Turkish Flavors offers walking tours of Istanbul, cultural and culinary tours in a variety of locations and her famous cooking classes, all designed to make you feel like a native. Bon Appetite.