‘Tis The Season for Gift Baskets

Yes, the holidays are definitely upon us.  Looking for a thoughtful gift sure to please everyone on you list? What could be easier than a  Melissa’s Produce gift basket?   Melissa’s Produce supplies the freshest seasonal staples and exotics.  Fruit, vegetables and fine wines can all be creatively arranged in any combination, from single stunning gift baskets to impressive monthly subscriptions. You choose whatever best suits your gift giving needs.

Vegans or vegetarians on your list? The baby vegetable medley is perfect for salads, roasting or soups.

And if you happen to find one of these bad boys in your fruit basket don’t be scared, it’s an  Ecuadorian dragon fruit and they are new to the US market. The uber sweet, soft inner flesh and seeds scooped out with a spoon are sure to tickle the palate and leave a lasting impression no matter which way your friends and family lean food-wise.

Melissa’s colorful gift baskets are perfect for everyone from the health conscious to those who have busy entertaining schedules through the New Year. The seasonal assortments are an impressive display that will always be appreciated as a lighter alternative to the holiday excess bound to occur.

Be sure to check out Melissa’s Produce Gift baskets for a carefree alternative to last minute holiday shopping.

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The Vegetable Butcher Spills Her Secrets


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.







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Diving Deep Into The Vegan Pool


We strongly recommend finding experts to guide the way when exploring new cuisines. We took our own advice and enlisted the expertise of Zel and Reuben Allen, the masterminds behind Vegetarians in Paradise.


They eased the way through the menu at the new Vegetarian and Vegan restaurant, Vegetable, in Studio City.


We were first struck by the official stamp proclaiming all organic produce, with a seasonal and local standard to boot. We jumped right in and were oh so pleasantly surprised by the intensely flavored meal that was delivered one small plate at a time.


Floored is the best way to describe our reaction to the savory, salty, sweet, spicy mix of flavors and textures incorporated into the butternut squash toast. Roasted garlic and butternut squash “butter” top grilled sourdough. And if that isn’t exciting enough, baby tomato, fried leek, crushed red chili pepper, flake sea salt, fresh oregano and a balsamic reduction sent us into states of ecstasy some of us did not know vegan food could conjure.


Moving deeper down the rabbit hole, a crisp edged saffron infused savory corn cake turned out to be a beautiful assemblage atop spicy chickpea sweet onion stew and a salty garlic lacinato kale. A kiwi and serrano pepper pico de gallo adds a bit of heat as does the smokey Sriracha aioli. While the drizzling of balsamic reduction incorporates just the right amount of sweet tang to the mix.


The meaty sautéed baby portobello mushrooms in a balsamic vinegar with sweet onion and chives are beyond addicting and we could make an entire meal of these with a loaf of grainy bread.


For comfort food, not much beats mac and cheese, which at Vegetable is made with Andean Dream gluten-free quinoa pasta shells, savory garlic cashew cheese sauce, baby tomatoes, and a garlic walnut crumble topping.  All we know is that it’s rich, creamy and satisfying. No cheese?  Really?


We finished off with a crisp edged, gluten free blondie loaded with shredded coconut and a vegan peanut butter ice cream that simply must be tried to be believed. No dairy?  Tasted like the real deal to us.


Thank you Zel and Reuben for the palate and mind-blowing introduction to Vegetable and the delights of a vegan diet. We’re on board with team vegan and are excited to make vegan and vegetarian cuisine a part of our health diet.


Vegetable, 3711 Cahuenga Blvd, Studio City, CA 91604
Phone – 818-754-1149         web site – vegetablela.com

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Vegan and Vegetarian “Meats” Galore


In our search for healthful living and eating we are exploring the options and found quite the unique market in Vege USA.  The cafe that used to provide meals closed down a year ago, but sales of frozen and dry vegan and vegetarian products are still going strong at this animal free alternative shop.


Signage on the wall specifies what is vegan or vegetarian, and which products contain eggs or milk. We greatly appreciate clear labeling so customers can be assured that their purchases conform to whatever lifestyle choices they have made.


Products are from Taiwan and there is a definitely Asian feel to what is offered.


Seafood soy product are heavily represented and of course vegetables are also a part of the mix.


The frozen food section carries “meats” that only need to be heated and added to your favorite dishes.


Large frozen packages make pulling dinner together a snap.


There is also a dry goods section hosting such exotic offerings as vegetarian shark fin,


and the famous XO sauce found on many Asian menus.


For the holidays, vegan turkeys and ham are on offer for those wanting to keep tradition in appearance, if not in actual meats.


For those looking to explore vegan and vegetarian diets or already dedicated to the path, Vege USA is a shop committed to an animal free recreating of meat, chicken and fish and a great place to dive deep into the philosophy.

Vege USA, 1425 South Myrtle Avenue, Monrovia, CA 91016
Phone – 626-386-0800          web site – vegetarian-plus.com

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A Local Indian Adventure


One of the larger shops in the independently owned India Sweets & Spices chain is located in Northridge. Serving the local community, they offer a wide selection of goods for those interested in cooking, eating and living India culture and cuisine.


A small produce section offers the basics at the front door, while aisles carry prepackaged mixes to facilitate the easy cooking of traditional snacks, dishes and sweets.


At the back of the store, a hot food counter and small seating area supply Indian street food, mixed plates, chai and yogurt drinks for just a few dollars.


The hot trays showcase what’s available on each particular day. A completely vegetarian menu highlights the talents of Indian chefs who have mastered the art of produce and legume specialties.


A side case displays chaat and snacks that are commonly seen as Indian street and fast food.


At the front near the register we encountered freshly made sweets. We had a hard time choosing from the colorful milk based desserts.  All are exceptional rich and a few bites satisfies our sweet tooth completely.


A fried snacks case displays spicy, salty crunchy delights that are eaten throughout the day.


We are fascinated by the beauty product aisles that hold the secrets to beautiful hair and skin.


After browsing the store for a bit, we chose a selection of sweets that we will be savoring through the holidays.


For an exciting look into India’s delicious locally made and imported treasures, India’s Sweets & Spices is a exotic adventure not to be missed.

India Sweets & Spices, 18110 Parthenia Street, Northridge, CA 91325
Phone number – 818-407-1498

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Baba Sweets Reopens With Spectacular Indian Desserts

DSC_0226The October 2015 grand reopening of Baba Sweets in Canoga Park is proving to be a sweet experience all around. We visited on Diwali and found a steady stream of guests picking up treats to commemorate the Indian festival of lights.


Staff, armed with stacks of boxes, quickly filled the colorful containers with milk solid and condensed milk based Indian sweets such as barfi, a fudge like delicacy and jalebi, a fried, fermented batter, pretzel shaped dessert soaked in sugar syrup.


We were especially taken with the highly recommended mango barfi, a rich, thick, creamy milk based fudge that melts in your mouth evoking the sweetest celebration of the magnificent mango.


Baba Sweets staff are wonderfully accommodating, allowing customers to taste the days offerings. We took small samples of everything on the table before deciding which to purchase.


Then decided on the small gift pack and asked for a smattering of our favorite sweets.


A variety of textures and spices highlight the unique desserts and we found Baba’s delights to be some of the best Indian sweets we have had the pleasure of enjoying in Los Angeles.


Don’t be surprised by the introduction of cardamom, pistachio, cumin and a slew of exotic spice, fruit and nut combinations.


Everything is priced exceptionally well including drinks, mango lassi and the weekend lunch which is offered in combinations based on the number of vegetarian dishes guests choose.


Don’t miss the free chai on the right side near the center of the room. The warm sweetened and spiced tea is the a perfect complement to the treats they sell. For a spectacular taste of India, a stop at Baba Sweets will both transport and delight.

Baba Sweets, 21318 Saticoy Street, Canoga Park, CA 91304
Phone – 818-883-5825         web site – thebabasweets.com

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Indian Cuisine Made Easy With Crack The Code


The charming Nandita Godbole has come out with the second edition of her inspired book, Crack The Code, Cook Any Indian Meal With Confidence. This latest version contains more recipes and supports fine tuning of the culinary skills involved in the preparation of Indian food.


The ancient secrets behind the multitude of spices, herbs, techniques, skills and kitchen supplies necessary to craft this wondrous cuisine are simplified and spelled out in detail by Nandita who has created a curry cravings code cheat sheet to help along the way.


Ms. Godbole’s previous book, A Dozen Ways To Celebrate: Twelve Decadent Indian Feasts For the Culinary Indulgent, is a beginners guide to Ayurvedic principles and how they influence Indian cooking, allowing readers to enjoy both delicious and health propagating meals. In-depth sources for information on Ayurveda are available in her bibliography.


A proponent of healthful eating, she supports procuring the best quality, unadulterated ingredients possible, such as those sold by Melissa’s produce embracing organic, locally sourced and environmentally sustainable attributes.


Recipes suitable for vegetarians and omnivores alike fill her books and she includes guides for basic indian spices and how to create your own spice blends.


Soups, salads, snacks, entrees and side dishes from exotic regions in India are easily broken down into bite sized morsels, so even those with relatively little cooking experience can master them.


Nandita’s daughter and husband are heavily involved in the preparation, cooking, recording, public relations and photography surrounding her books.


For those interested in capturing the essence and techniques of the Indian kitchen, Nandita’s books offer easy to read and understand, beautifully illustrated guidebooks to the cuisine.  For access to Crack The Code by Nandita Godbole as well as her previous book A dozen Ways To Celebrate, please click on the titles to be transported to Amazon where you can purchase electronic copies for your iPad or Kindle.


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Thrive Market Offers An Education On What’s Healthy For Us And The Planet


We love buying organic, non-GMO, local sourced, sustainable, nourishing food and healthy products. However these goods are often expensive, difficult to find and we honestly don’t have the time to research and substantiate their claims. Then we saw an ad for Thrive Market, whose tag line is, wholesome products, wholesale prices. They believe nutritious food and sustainable items are a right and not a privilege and they are on a mission to make it easier for us to buy what’s good for us, our families, our communities and our planet.


By going directly to the leading brands, they eliminate mark-ups on the highest-quality products, and then pass those savings on to members. For every membership they sell, Thrive Market donates a membership to a low-income American family so we can all thrive together.


We love the concepts, and with the 30-day free trial membership and gifts offered, they made it easy for us to give it a try.  Membership offers access to natural and organic products at wholesale prices as well as special promotions, contests and educational content. The membership is $59.95 for the year, which comes out to just under $5 a month. Free trials begin upon placement of the first order and roll into a paid membership 30 days later.


Excited to get started, we went shopping online and were pleased with the accessible ways goods are presented.  We chose from categories such as gluten free, Moms, paleo, raw, staples or vegan. We were also able to scroll through food, beauty, bath and body, health, home, pet, babies and kids sections. We learned a lot just browsing the site, because each item showcases pertinent information including a description, ingredients, nutritional information and values each item possesses such as, fair trade, non-GMO, certified organic, etc.


Our first order came in just two days and was sustainably packed in alignment with their philosophies.


There is free shipping on orders over $49.00 and we took advantage of that little perk.


Our first order came with both a 25%  and a 15% off coupon. We used them both, one to stock our pantry and one to set ourselves up with green cleaning and household products.


Our free gifts for trying their service included a 15 ounce jar of Nutiva organic coconut oil and an Exo protein bar made with cricket flour. At least we know where the protein came from.  Haven’t worked up the courage to eat that one yet.


We just started our relationship with Thrive Market and are currently checking prices on goods and doing the math, but it looks like $5 a month to have access to wholesale pricing, easy online shopping, free delivery with $49.00 orders and daily updates on products, recipes, and advice on living cleaner and healthier lives is going to be a good investment for us.

Thrive Market – thrivemarket.com






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Abundant Dosa and Chutney Selections In Cerritos


Journeys down to Little India both invigorate and make us hungry. Always in search of new restaurants, we drove a few blocks away from Pioneer Boulevard, over to the Southern Indian dosa house Chennai Tiffins, a vegetarian restaurant specializing in the cuisine from Chennai.


Dosa are crepes made of fermented rice and lentil flour that are cooked thin and crispy, either served empty or stuffed with vegetables and accompanying sauces.  A variety of styles and ingredients abound within this wonderful southern specialty. Chutneys (sauces) are displayed in a chutney bar at Chennai Tiffins and we tried them all to find our favorites.  We began with the peanut chutney which radiated a heavy raw peanut essence that melded into the spices with a bit of chili heat.


We found a new chutney we have never seen before. A crushed and spiced lentil powder called podi sat in a bowl next to a container of vegetable oil.  The trick is to mix a good heap of lentil powder into the oil and concoct a thick paste.  The result is a spiced, crunchy, smooth, mash that reminds us of well spiced falafel.  We slathered it on our dosa and were thrilled with the textural crispness under our teeth that added to the soft dosa a hit of earthy flavor creating a unique and scrumptious experience.  We were informed that this lentil dust also blends well into ghee, replacing the oil, if that is preferred.  It can be purchased at Pioneer Cash and Carry and is called spiced chutney powder.


Chili chutney and mint chutney both add a slightly sweet, creamy, herby refreshment to whatever we spoon them onto.


While classic tomato chutney is a heavy jolt of tart vinegar, fresh tomato citrus and herb puree.


The beautiful green glowing chutney is coconut which has a heavy grated pulp texture of the fruit that tastes like it just fell off a tree in a tropical paradise.


Each patron takes a segmented dish and fills it with chutneys of their choice.


There are six chutneys all together and guests are encouraged to try them all to find their favorites.  We kept jumping from one to the other and adore the variety offered.


The traditional side dish to dosa is sambar, a spiced lentil soup.  This one is particularly dense with blended lentils and vegetables that are heavily spiced with both Indian herbs and a generous helping of chilies. Guests are welcome to unlimited bowls of this soup that they can fetch at their leisure from the chutney bar.


The page long list of dosa is overwhelming so we went right for the Cheenai Specialties and tried the CT Special Dosa.  Stuffed with potato and an assortment of vegetables, the kicker is the cheddar cheese and secret sauce. It comes cut into manageable “slices”  and we dipped each bite into a chutney enjoying the interaction of warm crepe, creamy potato and cool refreshing chutney.


From the appetizer menu we also sampled the gobi Manchurian, a battered and deep fried cauliflower topped in a sauce that is a melding of Chinese and Indian flavors.  This version is considerably lighter than other versions we’ve had with a sparing topping of sweet and tart red sauce and a load of diced, sautéed, sweet onion of a vibrant red color that addes a nice texture and mellow tang to the well cooked cruciferous dish.


For an opportunity to try a large number of very unique styles of dosa, Indian appetizers and Chennai specialties for prices that run from $6.50 to a high of $8.00 for very shareable dishes, Chennai Tiffins brings great options to dig into and explore.

Chennai Tiffins, 11321 183rd Street, Cerritos, CA 90703
Phone – 562-809-1600

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