Friday, September 26, 2008

Carpe Diem

If you ever have the chance to fall in love, carpe diem! If you have the chance to marry your best friend, carpe diem! If you know what you want, really really know, then carpe diem and go after it!

And if you ever have the opportunity to go to Ojai Valley Inn and Spa then seize that day and GO! It is just gorgeous. The hills, the landscaping, the rooms, the golf course, the pools, the dining areas... I could go on and on.

Now if you are invited to a wedding, I say carpe diem! Many men I know say they are boring or that they find it an obligation. Excuse me? Gorgeous grounds or banquet halls, food, wine, dancing, conversation, music...... Weddings are FUN! I love them. And if you happen to have a wedding to go to at the Ojai Valley Inn--GO! You might just find yourself eating some delectable courses. The menu options are astounding. Such as:

Ahi Tempura, Nori Wrapped Ahi Tuna,
Jumbo Asparagus and Hijiki Seaweed Salad
with Wasabi Cream and Spicy Mustard

Champagne Poached Pear and California Goat CheeseSalad
on a bed of Butter Lettuce and Arugula, with Candied Pecans
and Fried Beets, with a Dijon Vinaigrette

Entrée of Duet of Grilled Marinated Tenderloin of Beef and Roasted Lobster
Applewood Bacon Wrapped Filet Mignon
Paired iwth Maine Lobster
Basisl Essence Potatoes and Truffle Butter

Wedding cake of course ensued. I am sorry but I forgot to get a picture of the whole cake. It had layers of white cake with a chocolate mousse-like filling and vanilla creme frosting. Good coffee, champagne and wine were flowing liberally!

I do have to that the ahi appetizer was my favorite. A true work of art... It was amazing. There were four of those round tempura pieces on the plate. It was filling in and of itself yet somehow I wish I had had the idea to steal my neighbors who seemed to busy to eat anything. The thought.....

The salad was clean and flavourful and just the right mixture of texture and flavor.

The main course sounded and looked so impressive and really had nice flavors but the beef and lobster were a little over-done in my opinion. It is pretty hard to serve a crowd that size (around 150) and have everything come out perfectly.

The whole evening was one of beauty and class though. The centerpieces were the largest I had ever seen in my life. The music was a mix of classic and fun. And staying at the resort for 2 whole glorious days... Priceless!

Congratulations to Natalie and Cassidy. May you live a long, full and loving life together.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Olives in Ojai

Look! I brought you back some olives from Ojai.

Friday night in Ojai, we dined at a little restaurant called Suzanne's Cuisine. It was just a hop skip and a jump from the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa where we were staying for the wedding. The meal we had was lovely but I especially loved the olives that were served with the warm bread at the start of the meal. I could have made a meal of those and the toasty 'n tasty french bread! They were thick and meaty and full of garlic and good olive oil flavor.

Upon inquiring about them, I found out that they buy the olives from a distributer and wash them to get rid of some of the vinegar then soak them in their own garlic and olive oil mixture. Suzanne, the namesake and part owner, agreed to sell some to me when I departed on Sunday. She dug up this cute little jar and had it all ready to go. Now they are in my refrigerator and I am rationing them for a little while. They are just so good and perfect to pair with fresh bread, cheese and wine. All my favorites!

Maybe I'll try to make my own soon! Where do I buy the olives though? Any clues?

Next up: Wedding pics! The event and food was just amazing!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Napa Rose Bar -- Disneyland Grand California Hotel

We have season passes to Disneyland. As do my sisters. Being that the kids are very little toddlers, we generally go only for a few hours, a couple rides and then call it a day. Because we are there for such a short time, we usually park in the Downtown Disney parking lot. This lot is free for 3 hours and then you get an hour or two free with validation.

Inside the Disneyland park, a burger, fries and a drink or something to that effect is probably close to $10 – $15 per person! And that burger will BARELY have any meat and the meat that is there is cooked until it has the texture of cardboard and the fries are tepid and limp.

But my sister discovered that if you leave the park and walk a few steps over to the California Grand Hotel, you can then meander to the Napa Rose Restaurant.

We go to Disneyland to have fun with the kids so the main dining room is not appropriate. But the bar is very very nice, practically empty and offers both the kid menu and appetizer menu. Adult beverages start at around $7 each. Adult appetizers around $13. So that is only $20 and you have
WINE and gooooood food! Okay. It may NOT be a huge portion. But it is good and balanced. You will sit in a soft, relaxing chair near a fireplace. A waiter will server you and you will have a plethora of enticing options.

The kids menu offers roasted chicken breast, mashed potatoes and vegetable for only $13. Likewise the filet mignon on the kids plate is $13!!!! My husband said “it is probably so small… barely a medalian!” But do you thing the burger patty in the park is any bigger????
AND they validate for you! This saves a few dollars too.

My kids shared a pasta with red sauce for $7 and ate the WHOLE thing!!! Quite a rarity! As well as a cheese pizza for $7. My husband also had a slice of theirs. It would have been enough to fill me up. I got a prociutto, caramelized onion, cheese (I forget the name), grape and fig pizza ($13) and a glass of red wine ($7ish).

We also got dessert!!!! THREE scoops of ice cream (gooooood quality) for $6.50 on the kid menu. At Haagen Dazs just outside you get ONE scoop for around $4.00!!! And a flourless chocolate cake with dark chocolate, orange ganache and cinnamon ice cream! Yeah baby!!!

Why go with crappy junk when for a few dollars more you have a mini fine dining experience!

Works for me!!!

What would you prefer?

* This image was taken from my Iphone... sorry for the quality!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

From My Garden To Yours!

Don't you love it when fate or perfect timing steps in? The other day when I had a beautiful piece of fresh salmon waiting in the refrigerator, I was folding laundry and just half-heartedly watching the Food Network when all of a sudden I hear Paula Deen mention Garden Salmon. My head perked up and I listened. By garden Salmon, she was referring to using the herbs from her garden with a little butter and then baking it. Easy enough!

I set out to do the same. My garden is a little pathetic these days though. I just do NOT have a green thumb. Brown is more like it! But my basil is still growing well. Not in the pots but in the ground. And there are still peppers growing. The Fresno chili plant is especially prolific.

To begin, I turned the oven to 350º and took out a large piece of tin foil. I placed my salmon down and added a fairly good slab of butter. Then I topped with the basil and Fresno chilies from my garden along with capers, lemon slices and a little garlic salt and pepper. The tinfoil was closed and I put it in the oven. How easy was that!

About 13-14 minutes later, I took it out and here is what I got. Tender, juicy, flaky, moist salmon! I plated it with a little orzo which had just a little olive oil and fresh Parmesan sprinkled on top. It was delicious and felt fairly light and a perfect late summer meal. And salmon is amazingly good for you. It has a ton of those Omega-3 fatty acids that not only good for you body and heart but can increase brain development and help skin look younger and more beautiful! Talk about a miracle fish. Who doesn't want to be a young healthy braniac with gorgeous skin?

Speaking of fate. I would like to dedicate this dish to Rebecca, my new adoptee. From my garden and home to yours... I hope you like fish and I DO hope I have some wisdom to impart. I was paired with Rebecca at Ezra Pound Cake in the Adopt a Blogger Event created by Kristen at Dine and Dish. It is a really fun event that pairs more experienced bloggers as mentors to those who are newer to the game. If you are feeling sage these days, go sign up at Dine and Dish.

Now here's the funny thing. I am supposed to be the mentor! Good thing I've been eating my salmon! It is ironic as I feel so new to the blogosphere as it is. And one look at Rebecca's cooking and photography and I am SURE I can learn a lot from her. You have to check it all out. She is a newly married, professional cook who is currently on hiatus. Congratulations!

From what I've seen so far, she is one talented young lady. I am dying to try some of her recipes. The pastries are divine! But first up may just have to be these Fried Green Tomatoes with Buttermilk-Lime Dressing. I can't stop thinking about them. I just hope I can find the green tomatoes.

Keep checking back as I hope to recreate on of Rebecca's masterpieces very soon. Meanwhile, I am getting the house in order to head up to the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa for the weekend. A family friend will be getting married there and I am sure it will prove to be about the most spectacular wedding I ever go to unless I start hob-nobbing with the stars.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Gift

Sometimes you are given a special gift. One that, in just looking at the box, is almost pleasure enough. Just holding it, wondering or maybe even having a pretty good inkling of what's inside, is half of the joy. Picture a little familiar looking blue box with a white bow. It in itself would make a handsome decoration on your dressing table. You know the one. While I have only had a couple in my life, the signature light blue is enough to delight. The color has a feeling of beauty and promise.

And so it was when I beheld the beautiful "gift" that Marie, the Proud Italian Cook, showcased a little while back. Ever since I saw it, I knew I had to have one too. I looked at a couple markets to no avail. And then the day came. I was near Whole Foods. Marie got hers there. I did too.

While the "gift" I found was not in the same fancy outer wrapper that Marie acquired, when I set it gently on the plate, I knew I had only seen the surface. Inside was the true gift. As with the little blue boxes I have received, I simply looked at my pristine, white, handformed looking ball for a while. Next to the tomatoes and basil it sat so daintily. The colors calling out Italy and late afternoon sunshine in a Tuscan garden. I added olives, organic ciabbata bread and a dish with olive oil and balsamic. It was beautiful!

My very own little ball of Buratta cheese! I was almost afraid to open it up. It was just so perfect. But alas, I had to see what was inside. The soft outer shell of fresh mozzarella cheese broke slowly apart to reveal the creamy marscapone which began to ooze out from the center. I took a little wedge and smeared it endearingly onto my bread. The first bite had to be free of other flavors. Into my mouth it went and seemed to just melt down my throat. I took a sip of wine then gingerly spread a little more on the bread. This time adding the tomato and basil. Another taste. Sheer heaven! This is NO ordinary cheese. It is precious and beautiful and mild yet stands out of the crowd. It IS a special treat.

Now Marie, I do not know whether to thank you for your post and the introduction to the Burrata, or berate you for getting me to fall in love with yet another costly and somewhat fattening delicacy! But in all seriousness, I am soooo grateful. For me, THIS is a perfect meal. A perfect little gift!

Speaking of gifts.... I am bringing a ton of this Burrata cheese over to Susan for her virtual SGCC 1 year Blogiversary Bash! It is not a difficult recipe but but a gift of my new favorite cheese along with tomatoes and basil from my garden. Congratulations Susan! Thanks for the invite. It's going to be a great party!

Friday, September 12, 2008

What do you see when you turn out the light?

Is is visions of sugar plums? Chocolate, mint or raspberry delight? Do you prefer cake? Or a nice cheese tray? Ice cream or candy or crème brûlée. Tell me your favorite dessert!

On a daily basis, I do not necessarily eat dessert after dinner. I might have a bite of chocolate or a gummy bear or something but dessert is NOT every day for me. But when I have guests I do like to offer some sweets.

For our small dinner party I looked again to help from a friend and choose a recipe I had been ogling on Robin Sue's Red Kitchen. It was these caramelicious-shortbread bars which Robin found at Ann's Velvet Lava Cafe. I just couldn't get them out of my head. I LOVE caramel!!!!!!!! I ADORE shortbread!!!! And chocolate... Well that is the icing on the cake of course! I had to try them.

The only change I made was to sprinkle some walnuts on the top as I thought it would be pretty and be a nice addition to the chocolate and caramel. I was slightly disappointed that my caramel color was not as dark or rich looking as Robin Sue's. But there was NO disappointing in the taste. MMMMMMMMMmmmmmmmmmMMMMMMmmmmmm GOOD! Sooo rich and decadent. I was berated a little as my friend's husband said it had enough fat and calories for a whole day worth of food but that didn't seem to stop anybody!

Because I didn't want to eat these waist-expanding treat all day the next day, I froze the remaining bars. And if possible, I have to say they were even better after being frozen! I love cold frozen chocolate. I kept them in the freezer up until one concert in the park night and brought them to the park. They truely were fabulous! So if you like your sweets cold, try freezing these treats... I might (doubtfully) help stop you from eating too much at once! I highly recommend having friends nearby to help you from eating all of these yourself. It is QUITE dangerous.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

With A Little Help from my Friends...

One of my favorite things to do on a Sunday is cook and have friends over. Most of you are foodies as well so I am sure you can relate!

This post is a bit belated as this dinner was about a month ago. But time gets in the way of the best laid plans doesn't it. At any rate, we had a couple friend over for dinner one Sunday night in August. My husband is NOT the best eater in the world and I wanted something he would like as it was actually his idea to have guests this time. We hadn't barbecued any steaks in a while so this is where the menu began. Steak! From there I went on to potato as it is an easy pleaser and goes well. Corn is so summery and such a favorite with kids so I had to have that. Now how to make it interesting...

This is where I "try with a little help from my friends" in the food blogging world. I had been thinking of the sauces that Robin Sue from Big Red Kitchen had made to go with her Carne en Palito ever since I read the post. Robin originally got them from Laylita's Recipes. They sounded wonderful and just a little different. I didn't have any skewers here and didn't want to run to the store, plus I wanted the steaks to be whole so my husband would like it better and it would hold more juice in. I decided to add some chicken to the menu for the kids and as I thought the sauces would be great with chicken as well like an appetizer.

The two sauces I chose were those Robin had chosen– Laylita's Balsamic Chimichurri Sauce and her Salsa de Mani which sounded like such a different peanut sauce. And let me tell you, these sauces STOLE the show! They were great. We all particularly loved the Balsamic sauce on the steak. While it seemed just a simple vinaigrette, it was just so flavorful and perfect with the dinner as a whole.

To round out the meal, I prepared green beans in one of my favorite ways. I simply steam fresh french green beans. Meanwhile I caramelize about 1/2 an onion in butter over the stove. When the onion and beans are finished I toss them in a bowl with fresh baby tomatoes, a little olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar along with salt and pepper to taste. I love the combination of the al dente warm beans, sweet and savory onions and the cool crisp raw tomatoes.

In lieu of bread I took out some extra pizza dough that I had (frozen and saved) from this night and rolled it out for focaccia bread. Any pizza dough works great for focaccia. It is so easy. All you have to do is top it with a few herbs and some olive oil! In this case I topped it with olive oil, red onion, tomato, oregano, cilantro and parsley to compliment the sauces I made.

Now, let me not overlook the potatoes I made! These accordion potatoes were inspired by Peter at Kalofagas. They just looked so fun and different despite the simplicity. Okay the ingredients were simple. Just some butter and seasoning. But I did find it a little time consuming to get the butter in every crevice with two little ones running around. That being said, they came out great both visually and to the palette! I did make some modifications to my potatoes. Instead of using the seasoning Peter used, I melted butter and to that added some of the herbs I had chopped for my sauces. In this way I felt it would be a better compliment to the whole meal.

The kids ate outside. The adults ate inside at my new table which has a handy expansion lief tucked conveniently underneath. It is a higher bistro style table and fits just right in it's rectangular form for every day and yet is not too crowded as a large square for nights when guests are over! I really like it.

A special thanks to all my blogging buddies who aided with their recipe ideas. And a special thanks to my family and other friends who helped gobble everything up! It was a lovely evening.

Now stay tuned and let your stomachs digest this a little and I will tell you what I made for dessert! You didn't think I'd forget THAT little detail did you?

Friday, September 5, 2008

Grilled Chicken with Asian Slaw and Avocados

My Asian slaw (above) is a slight adaptation I made to my family's "famous" Chinese Chicken Salad recipe. Whenever we get together with the WHOLE family, it is always a potluck. My mom has 3 sisters and a brother and they all live here in So. Cal. so add their kids (my cousins and often significant others ... none are married yet) and my sisters and all our kids... Well it is a big group. And chances are somebody makes the Chinese Chicken Salad as their contribution to the meal.

The reason it is so popular with our family is twofold, I think. Firstly, it is mild yet very flavorful and appeals to most everyone. And secondly, it is made with cabbage. Cabbage is the perfect salad when you need to make it ahead of time and serve a large group. It can hold up well to the dressing and does not easily wilt or get soggy when sitting fully dressed on a counter for several hours! Really it is the best way to go if you have a large group. For as good as a green salad may be, once it wilts, gets soggy and turns to a mush of old lettuce... who likes it?

When you are in a quandary about what to make for your next potluck, I urge you to offer up this salad. It is so easy and I have yet to meet someone who didn't like it!

Chinese Chicken Salad

1 small head of cabbage (I buy pre-shredded bags and use 1 to 2)
4 green onions chopped
1 package of chicken flavored Top Ramen®
2 Tbls. sliced almonds
1 tsp. sesame seeds
1 Tbls. butter
cooked chicken (about two large full breasts)

Normally I bake two or three chicken breasts with bones and skin in the oven with light seasoning and olive oil. When cooked through, let it cool. Shred or cut up chicken into bite size pieces. Can be done up to a day ahead.

Crumble up the Ramen® noodles and set the seasoning packet aside. In a medium saute pan melt the butter and add the crumbled noodles, almonds and sesame seeds. Saute on on medium to low heat until the noodles and almonds begin to brown and get crispy. Take off the heat and set aside to cool in a small bowl. Can be done several hours or up to a day ahead.

Make the dressing.
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 packet of seasoning from the Top Ramen®
Salt and Pepper to taste
(I add a little chili oil and a tiny bit of soy sauce too)

Whisk together all the above ingredients. Can be made a day ahead.

In a large bowl combine the cabbage, green onions, chicken, toasted Ramen, almonds and sesame seeds and toss with the dressing. And voilá! There you have it. If I make it though, I almost always add red and/or yellow bell peppers to give it some color and add some vegetable content. Other great additions I have tried are celery, carrots, and mushrooms.

Now as I said, these photos are a slight adaptation to the above recipe. I had made the salad one evening when my parents were over. I didn't use all of the dressing or the toasted topping though. So the next day when deciding what to eat for myself, I decided on this little twist.

In a bowl, I tossed the cabbage with red bell peppers, cilantro and green onions with the dressing. I placed it on the plate and topped with the toasted noodles, almonds and sesame seeds and garnished with more cilantro. I then placed fresh, warm, grilled chicken and sliced avocado on my plate and drizzled with a tiny bit of chili oil. I LOVE heat!

The cilantro worked so perfectly with the dish that I may include it the next time I make the regular recipe. And the warm chicken and avocado really rounded out the meal. Let me tell you. It was filling, flavorful and a more than satisfying dinner for a warm summer evening. DO try this at home.

Grilled Chicken with Asian Slaw and Avocados

This dish is based off of an easy and satisfying ...

See Grilled Chicken with Asian Slaw and Avocados on Key Ingredient.