Monday, March 30, 2009

DEALS and STEALS! A guide to eating out for less in Orange County

You love food. And maybe you are a good cook but who doesn't love to eat out now and then? I know I do. But it is just a little harder for everyone, no matter what your situation may be. In the current economy we are all cutting back.

I have some great news though! You don't have to blow your budget every time you eat out. You can have your cake and EAT it too!

Get Happy at Happy Hour!
Many restaurants offer happy hour deals. If your job is flexible or you are able to get out early, you can still enjoy some very good food at prices that are up to half off the regular menu prices. Check your local favorite spots for happy hour times and prices.

And check THIS out! Here in Orange County Happy Hour Week is coming up! April 12th-18th, many fabulous OC eateries are offering special happy hour menus all day, all week! You HAVE to check it out! What a deal! Nearly a steal. If you aren't in Southern California, maybe you can Google around and find a site with restaurant deals in your neighborhood.

Kids Eat Free!
Now for the real STEAL! Yes, it is true. You can take the kids out for FREE! Many restaurants are trying to help out people with families. In Orange County and probably in your area as well, restaurant all over are choosing a day to offer free kids meals with the purchase of an adult meal. Here are some sites that feature the deals around this town:

I hope you can find some great deals in your area as well.

Now for a quick bite from the Art and Aioli test kitchen.
Just add some special sauces to snazz it up!

We had my son's 3rd birthday over the weekend. Since it was at a park, I needed to think simple and easy to transport. My sister suggested Togo's. Well their sandwiches are okay but they don't thrill me too much. I decided to just make my own.

First up was purchasing good bread. That is a MUST. I made two kinds of sandwich. One was a fairly classic Italian Sub. I just mixed up my own sort of vinaigrette sauce. Don't forget to offer peppercinis!

The other sandwich I offered was a turkey sandwich with an avocado basil aioli. Let me tell you, the aioli came out GREAT!

Have fun with your sandwiches and play around with sauces and ingredients.

Avocado Basil Aioli

1/2 recipe of this homemade mayonnaise (I added 3 cloves of garlic)*
1 1/2 avocados cut up
large handful of basil

Put your mayonnaise in the food processor. Add the avocado and basil and blend to the desired consistency. Quick and easy. It is ready to go!

* If you don't want to make the homemade mayonnaise, use 1 to 1/2 cups of good quality commercial mayonnaise.

** Mix it up. Add cilantro instead of basil... or try some tarragon and roasted garlic... how about roasted red peppers and oregano... lemon zest and rosemary. I could go on and on. The possibilities are endless!

Don't forget to RSVP to my virtual Open House! Just email a recipe to missNnick [at] gmail [dot] com and include your name, blog address, permalink to the entry and a link back to me! Can't wait to see you there!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

You're Invited!!! A Virtual Open House Extravaganza + a Giveaway!

You are ALL invited! In honor of Art and Aioli's ONE year anniversary, I am hosting a belated blogoversary bash! As a culinary art studio, it will be an Open House night with food, wine, art and great company I hope! Stop by any time on Tuesday April 14th to check it out.

But I would love for you to participate as well! Bring an appetizer, beverage, or dessert to share. Or send me some artwork to hang on the wall. It must be tasteful and suitable for audiences of all ages. I will need your food and art submissions by April 8th to make sure I have time to hang it and set it all out on the buffet table. I do want to make a nice presentation for the very first Art and Aioli Open House night.

Please send entries to missNnick [at] gmail [dot] com. Include "A and A Open House" in the subject line. Make sure your photos are at least 150 x 150 pixels (square). You will need to include your name, blog name and URL, the name of your entry (dish), the permalink to your entry, and a link back to Art and Aioli!

In addition to a wonderful party spread, I am going to do a new giveaway!

But here is the catch! While I would love for you to leave a comment on this post and gladly welcome any thoughts, in order to be eligible for the drawing to win the invitations, you must pop on over to my Stationery Blog at Miss 'N Nick and leave a comment there telling me why you prefer traditional invitations in the mail as opposed to Evites or emails etc... You must leave the comment by midnight on April 10th in order to be in the drawing. You can reach the proper post here:

I am so excited. I just know we'll have a great turn out. Don't forget the deadline is April 8th for recipe entries and April 10th for contest entries. Tell a blog buddy!

*NOTE: The Cupcake invitations are NOT available for this offer. As one of our most popular designs, we are back ordered on this piece for about a month and I do not want to offer something that will not be available right away. Also note that if you need more than 2 boxes (20 invitations) , the two winners will also have the option of purchasing more of the same invitations or matching note cards at a 10% discount in conjunction with this giveaway extravaganza.


Hungry right now? Try some of this!

Chinese Chicken in Lettuce Leaves
adapted from The Sterling Performance Cookbook

3 Tbls. oil (I use vegetable but add a small splash of chili and sesame oil as well for some heat)
1 1/3 cups finely chopped chicken breast
1 cup seeded and finely chopped red bell pepper
1/2 Tbls. sugar
1/2 Tbls. salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
2 1/2 Tbls. minced fresh ginger
1 1/2 Tbls. soy sauce
3 Tbls. water
1 Tbls. fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 large scallion, sliced
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
cilantro for garnish

Heat the oil in a skillet or wok over medium high heat. Add the chicken, green or red pepper, sugar, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring constantly until the peppers turn a deeper color and the chicken is cooked, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the ginger, soy sauce, water, and lemon juice to the chicken mixture, stirring well. Cook for 1 more minute. Remove the chicken from the heat. Sprinkle with the scallion and walnuts and garnish with cilantro. Set aside and keep warm.

Make spicy dipping sauce!

Spicy Dipping Sauce
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/8 cup or more soy sauce
1 tsp. sesame oil
1/2 or more tsp. chili oil
1-2 tsp. hot chinese mustard
1-2 tsp. chili garlic sauce
A few scallions

Stir all the above ingredients together in a bowl until well blended.

To serve plase 2 or 3 tablespoons of the chicken mixture on a lettuce leaf, roll up; and place on serving dish. Pass the sauce separately.

Listen! If you are a fan of the lettuce wraps at P.F. Chang's, then you will like these. They are just as good. If not (dare I say???)... Better!

Tips: Cut the chicken pieces as small as you can. It is the hardest part of this dish. To make it easier to cut, freeze the chicken a little while or let frozen chicken thaw out partway.

Hey, did you know we are now on Facebook? Join the group. It's a lot of fun and a wonderful forum of ideas.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Putting Some Art in Today!

"You've Got a Friend" 2009 • By Sand Artist Ilana Yahav

You all know this blog is mostly food or the art of food. But just wanted to share an extremely beautiful video of sand art. It is amazing how this woman works and creates so quickly! Inspiring!

I received the video via email. The sand artist is Ilana Yahav. Check out her website:

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Irish Meets American- My St. Paddy's Day Meal

Happy belated St. Patrick's Day to all of you. I hope it was a good one filled with corned beef, green beer or whatever floats your boat.

I don't usually do anything especially Irish on St. Patrick's Day. It's pathetic I know. Maybe because I only have a wee amount of Irish in me (hear my strong Irish Brogue?). In reality the the holiday is to honor St. Patrick, think about the start of spring and get a much welcome reprieve from Lenten resolutions. Now it is just an excuse to party! I remember one year, in my younger, single days, in which my friend and I got to an Irish pub a little before 5pm. After over an hour and a half of standing in line with no real signs of promise that we would EVER get in, we hightailed it out of there and had a glass of wine at some "non-Irish" and probably classier bar. That line thing was NOT up our alley. Nor is getting there and beginning to drink in the "wee" hours of the morning. Some people have to work! I'll go to an Irish pub another day of the year.

This year, however, I was in the mood to make the infamous corned beef! But my husband didn't think he would like it or eat it. Soooo picky! ;( So I came up with the idea of corned beef and pastrami sandwiches with cold slaw! At the last minute we invited a couple neighbors over too. I made green malts for the kids. The guys had beer and the women, wine. So you see... it wasn't quite corned beef and cabbage nor was it exactly hamburgers and fries. But very Irish-American wouldn't you say?

I didn't get a great picture of the cold slaw but I made it with my grandmother's ultra simple recipe with a little modification. She used just the cabbage, mayonnaise, a splash of white wine vinegar and a teeny teeny bit of sugar plus salt and pepper. We don't measure much in my family. My changes were, adding green onions, green bell pepper sliced very very thin and I used Julia Child's recipe for homemade mayonnaise. This was a GOOD cold slaw! I am picky about cold slaw but this was good!

I purchased the deli meat and amazing Gruyere cheese at this awesome German Deli near here. Mattern Deli has THE best sausage, meats, roast beef, pastrami and more. I love their sandwiches! And the bread... so different from that you find in most any other market. If you are in Orange, go check them out!

I thought the kids, as well as the adults might like a little pot of gold to go with their meal.
May the luck of the Irish be with you this year. We could all use a little pot of gold about now!

For a little more depth on the holiday and it's traditions, check out this video.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Double Double Protein Style!

I don't know how many of you are familiar with In 'N Out. They really do have GREAT cheeseburgers!

How many of you know about the "secret" menu? Well in case you don't know, there are a number of ways to order your burger that are not posted on the menu boards at the restaurant. My favorite alternative to the regular cheeseburger is the "Double Double Protein Style"! This burger comes sans (without) a bun and is good for those minding their carbs more than their calories. And let me tell you... it is soooooo good! Almost just as satisfying as the regular double double! Go on... get a burger today!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Cherry Berry Shortcake and My First Recipe Contest

It all started out with the contest. Do you know the one? Did any of you enter? The contest that Foodbuzz was running for Outstanding in the Field sponsored by Quaker True Delights. Well it called for recipe entries using on or more of the following ingredients:

Cashews • Chocolate • Raspberry • Almond • Bananas • Coconut • Macadamia nuts • Cherries • Cranberries

And the winner gets a trip to Chicago and an amazing outdoor dinner. So I thought... why not? Let's give it a shot! But the ingredients lent themselves more to a sweet concoction than that of a savory one. I can create and make up sauces, dips, appetizers and the like but a dessert? That is not as easy. What would be the point anyway? I never win anything. But the challenge was gnawing at me. I started to brainstorm. Cheesecake kept popping into my head. But could I pull it off? I kept toying with ideas. There were a few. Then it was coming down to the wire. The due date was Feb. 28th. Cheesecake has to be made a day ahead and I hadn't even gotten ingredients or decided the dish completely. Oh hurry up! Just choose, shop and get on with it!

And so I did! What I came up with is a Cherry Berry Shortcake as I call it. From their list, I used raspberries, sour cherries and macadamia nuts. I felt the shortcake idea was something loved by all and not as pretentious as cheesecake can be at times. It is homey and comfortable.

The base or cake I created was inspired by combing parts of my scone recipe with a traditional Scottish shortbread recipe and then I threw in some cream cheese in honor of my jam crescent cookies. I am calling this biscuit a Macadamia Shortbread Scone!

The cream topping was inspired by both clotted cream, whipped cream and cheesecake and has elements of all three in the ingredients and flavor.

As for the berry sauce, I used my grandmother's raspberry sauce for cheesecake as the jumping off point, added the cherries and made a few tweaks here and there.

It wasn't that easy. The hardest part was remembering to write the measurements and ingredients down as I went. Because at times I started small and added. So my paper had many scribbles and crossed out numbers etc.. The end result? Well it was pleasing to the eye and the taste? Soooo fabulously good! It was just amazing! The shortbread scones are right up my alley. My sister, cousins, mom and even my picky husband just couldn't get enough.

Here is my recipe. It is kind of long due to the 3 parts. But it is not really that time consuming.


Macadamia Nut Shortbread Scones

2 cups flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar (plus a tiny bit more if you wish for sweeter scones)
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
About 1 cup chopped madadamia nuts
10 Tbls. butter (cold)
4 oz. cream cheese (cold)
1/2 cup sour cream (heavy cream that has soured or regular cream or milk will work)

In large bowl combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and baking powder until mixed. Add the macadamia nuts.

Cut the butter and cream cheese into the dry ingredients until it resemble course meal. Add the cream (or milk) and stir until the ingredients hold together and form a dough. Using your hands shape the dough into a 2-3 inch thick log. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 350°. Spray a cookie sheet with non-stick spray. Pull the cold log of dough out of the refrigerator and roll into plain granulated sugar or cinnamon sugar mixture. Cut into 1 1/2 inch discs and place onto baking sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes or until lightly colored. Cool.

Sour Cherry, Raspberry Sauce

Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup pomegranate jelly
1/4 cup raspberry preserves
1 Tbls. cornstarch
1-3 Tbls. sugar
1/2 cup frozen raspberries
3/4 cup frozen sour cherries

Mix the cornstarch, lemon juice and pomegranate jelly in small bowl until combined. Pour into sauce pan along with the raspberry preserves and heat on medium low until no longer cloudy and sauce begins to thicken. Add the frozen fruit and heat until warm and beginning to bubble. The frozen raspberries will begin to break apart. Add sugar to taste. Remove from heat and cool. Can be made a day ahead.

Whipped Lemon Cream

4 oz. cream cheese (softened)
1/3 cup creme fraiche
1/3 cup sour cream (commercial)
3 Tbls. granulated sugar
2-3 Tbls. lemon juice
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4-1/3 cup powdered sugar (to taste)

Combine cream cheese, creme fraiche, sour cream, lemon and granulated sugar until smooth and creamy.

Meanwhile put heavy cream in a large bowl and beat until beginning to thicken. Add vanilla and powdered sugar (to taste). Continue to whip the cream until soft peaks form.

Fold the cream cheese mixture into the whipped cream until just mixed.

Assemble the Dish

Place the macadamia shortbread scone on a plate. Pour a little berry sauce over it. Top with whipped lemon cream and a little more sauce.

Garnish with fresh berries, macadamia nuts or an extra scone piece. Serve immediately.

Now I wonder who won? Have you heard? I cannot find a post or announcement on the Foodbuzz site. I thought the results would be in today or sooner? We shall see. I am not holding my breath. But maybe you should until you try my dessert. It is worth the effort!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Welcome to My Culinary Art Studio

If you are new to my blog, WELCOME! If you are a returning friend, WELCOME BACK! In the past few months or more I have been back and forth and in and out of working on this blog. At times it was just too busy. I had too much to do and too much to take care of. This is the main reason for my absences.

Then a few weeks ago, my one year anniversary in which I began blogging was to arrive. I wanted to do something special. Have a great meal or dish or post or giveaway. The day began to approach rapidly and I had no great ideas. No fabulously perfect dishes to share. I wasn't altogether that busy. I had many posts and photos in the vaults and in my head but I was out of steam. I was just not motivated. I did not feel happy. There are many things to worry about these days with the recession, loss of jobs, money problems, mortgage issues... Many of us are having a hard time. The weight of all these things was upon me and I just could not write, could not concentrate. But as will all things we pick ourselves up, dust off and begin again refreshed.

My goals are many. My hopes are high. My dreams are vast. With this blog, I truly want to make improvements. I want to work harder at providing new recipes. I want to post more often. I want to work harder at my writing skills and food photography. I want to visit other blogs more often. My hope is to provide an enjoyable site with useful tips, recipes, hints and information. One that is fun to read and view as well as something worth continually returning to. I want a more professional outlook yet will still write from my heart and personal feelings. My children will undoubtably pop into the mix from time to time. How can they not? They are the biggest part of my life.

For all of you that are regular visitors, you will note the new masthead. I had an idea for this header nearly a year ago but needed the time to set up the "artist's table". After a couple hundred shots and different configurations from simple to complex, I then went to the computer and played and created in order to come up with the new one above. Within this post you can see my two runner-ups. In the sidebar you can see some of my favorite close up shots from the day. The main idea was to play with the "art" concept along with the "aioli". I wanted it to look like an artist's work table. The work, the art will be the posts. The food. The writing. The creating of recipes and meals and parties. Cooking is an art. To really be good, one should be able to use creativity. Plating of food can be wonderfully gorgeous and have amazing design qualities. So within this site I hope to realize my art as a designer, a chef and a writer.

Thank you to everyone who comes to read and respond to Art and Aioli, a blog about art, food and the art of food. Cheers to you all and here's to new beginnings and hope for more flavorful days to come.