Monthly Archives: July 2014

Heirloom Tomatoes + Burrata Cheese + Marcona Almonds = Amazing Salad

Forgive me, but I’m going to be controversial for a minute. I’m not a huge fan of chain restaurants. There, I said it. Before you get angry and start defending the “Cheesecake Factory/California Pizza Kitchen/insert chain restaurant here” let me explain. So many chain restaurants have huge, static menus, lack any resemblance of fresh, seasonal ingredients and don’t show any creativity in their dishes. When I see that, it’s a huge red flag that these restaurants lack the passion that I love to see from my favorite restaurants and chefs. While I certainly cannot say for sure, I would imagine they’re not visiting the farmer’s markets in the mornings, hand-picking the ripest heirloom tomatoes, juicy peaches and fragrant basil to use in dishes on that night’s menu.

Again, before you get mad, let me be clear. Of course not ALL chain restaurants lack the inspiration and passion for truly creative, fresh and flavorful food. Case in point: Gulfstream, owned by the Hillstone Group, which also owns and operates Houstons, Bandera and R+D Kitchen. Several months ago I posted a recipe to Houston’s famous Evil Jungle Thai Steak salad, one of my all-time favorite sweet, spicy and savory salads filled with medium rare steak, soba noodles, mint, cabbage, tomatoes, peanut and chili sauce. It’s amazing. But that’s another post.

Houston’s Evil Jungle Thai Steak Salad

Today I want to talk about Gulfstream’s seasonal heirloom tomato salad, topped with oozing, salty burrata cheese, crunchy Marcona almonds, a rich balsamic vinegar reduction and drizzle of green, almost grassy extra virgin olive oil.

Heirloom Tomatoes
Photo courtesy of

Burrata Cheese
Photo courtesy of

Marcona Almonds

A trip to Whole Foods this afternoon inspired me to try my hand making this incredible salad at home, after a huge pile of red, green and yellow heirloom tomatoes caught my eye. I knew that Whole Foods also sold burrata cheese from Angelo & Franco, one of my favorite cheese companies, so I grabbed a red and yellow tomato, a container of burrata cheese, a small box of Marcona almonds (a flat, intensely crunchy almond from Spain) and some arugula, for some greens and good measure. At home, I chopped the tomatoes and sprinkled them with salt and pepper, pulled apart one small ball of burrata cheese with my fingers (hey, you’ve got to get dirty in the kitchen sometimes!) and layered it among the tomatoes, dropped a few almonds on the pile and finished it off with a few drizzles of an Italian balsamic reduction (balsamic vinegar boiled down until it thickens into a syrup-like consistency), extra virgin olive oil and some chopped arugula. Dinner, done and done. It was just amazing and dare I say it, better than Gulfstream’s version.

My version of Gulfstream’s heirloom tomato & burrata salad

I don’t have an official recipe for this; I just eyed it. But if you’d like something more official, here’s my best guess.

Heirloom Tomato + Burrata Salad
Makes two servings

  • Two medium-sized heirloom tomatoes (mix the colors for a beautiful result)
  • One container of Angelo & Franco Burrata Cheese (contains two balls)
  • 20 Marcona almonds (found in most specialty stores, or in Whole Foods’ specialty section)
  • Drizzle of balsamic reduction
  • Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • Freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
  • ~3 tablespoons chopped arugula (or simply rip it with your fingers and sprinkle on top)

Wash heirloom tomatoes and cut into large chunks. They don’t have to uniform; in fact, they’re more beautiful when they’re totally different shapes and sizes. Separate on two plates. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Take one ball of burrata cheese and pull apart with your fingers. Spread the cheese around the plate, throughout the tomatoes. Drizzle balsamic reduction and extra virgin olive oil over tomatoes and cheese. Drop about 10 almonds around plate. Top with a a tiny bit of arugula and serve. Just make sure to have these ingredients on hand quite often, because people are going to request it. A LOT. 🙂

Candy Bar Cupcake #4: Butterfinger Cupcakes

I love Butterfingers. I can close my eyes and remember exactly what that first bite tastes like…
Photo courtesy of
First you hit the thin layer of wonderful milk chocolate, a barely-there protective sheath hiding flaky layers of butterscotch candy. If you haven’t had a Butterfinger for a while, your teeth might be fooled into thinking, if only for a second, that the butterscotch layers are too dense to bite through. But just a tiny increase in jaw pressure and the Butterfinger gives up its goods: layer upon layer of flaky, rich, butterscotchy goodness. Start chewing and the flakes meld together into a beautiful block of butterscotch, allowing you more time to savor that first bite. Swallow and repeat.

Now the Butterfinger comes in a new form: a chocolate cupcake with peanut butter frosting and homemade butterscotch brittle, courtesy of Food Network Magazine. Just try to resist making these, especially after checking out the photo. I dare you.

Photo courtesy of
Here’s how you make them:

For the Cupcakes:
3 sticks unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
3 1/4 cups packed dark brown sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
For the Brittle:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup butterscotch chips
For the Frosting:
1 cup heavy cream
2 10-ounce bags peanut butter chips
Make the cupcakes: Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F using the convection setting, if available. Line two 12-cup muffin pans with paper liners. Put the butter, cocoa powder and 3/4 cup water in a microwave-safe bowl, cover with plastic wrap and microwave until the butter melts, about 2 minutes. Whisk to combine, then whisk in the brown sugar.
Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Whisk in the warm cocoa mixture. In another bowl, beat the buttermilk, eggs and vanilla; stir into the batter until just combined but don’t overmix.
Divide the batter among the prepared cups, filling each three-quarters of the way. Bake until the cupcakes are slightly domed and spring back when lightly pressed, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool in the pans 10 minutes, then transfer to racks to cool completely.
Make the brittle: Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper. Place the granulated sugar in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring to a boil and cook, swirling the pan but not stirring, until it turns amber. Remove from the heat; stir in the peanut butter and butterscotch chips until smooth. Immediately pour the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet, smooth into a thin layer with a spatula and let cool. Break the brittle into pieces, place in a resealable plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin.
Make the frosting: Bring the cream to a simmer in a small saucepan. Remove from the heat, add the peanut butter chips and let stand about 5 minutes. Whisk until smooth. Place the pan over a bowl of ice, stirring occasionally, until the frosting is spreadable, about 10 minutes. Spread on the cupcakes or transfer to a pastry bag with a large round tip and pipe on top; sprinkle with the brittle.

Gluttony at 40,000ft: Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class Experience

Virgin’s In-Flight Walk-Up Bar 

A few months ago I had the incredible pleasure of taking a business trip to London. It was a trip of “firsts:” the first time I had been in a city during the Olympic Games, the first time I’d been working for a UK-based company, and the first time I had the privilege of flying Virgin Atlantic Upper Class. Sure, there are lie-flat seats, free pajamas and a full, backlit bar complete with bartender and barstools, but more importantly there was great food both in-flight and post-flight at Virgin’s Upper Class Lounge. Check it out below.

Boarding the Upper Deck, the first thing you hit is the walk-up bar, where a bartender is pouring pre-flight glasses of champagne and Mimosas. I opted out and went to my seat to settle in. Sadly, I had intentions of heading back to the bar but never made it. Maybe next time. Regardless it was a total #InFlightFAIL.

Upper Class Menu

Once I got to my seat, the first thing I noticed was the menu. It was huge. After nearly a decade of business travel on American Airlines, on whose planes you’re lucky if you get a seat that stays put (let alone an edible meal), I was just floored to see the passion and creativity that Virgin Atlantic had put into the menu. As a professional strategic planner by day and personal dinner party “thrower” (technical term?) by night, I was even more excited to see how integrated the whole experience was. Heading to London? Why not have an afternoon tea service complete with miniature cake stands for each guest? For the night owls, it makes perfect sense to offer a full dining experience but about passengers who sleep through dinner? That’s where the “Graze” menu comes in, offering off-hour guests mini beef burgers, a “Coronation” chicken salad, and vegetarian sushi selection. Pure genius and truly consumer-centric, something that Virgin clearly prioritizes. But enough geeking out at the experiential marketing; let’s get back to the food.

Amuse Bouche: Pesto Puree with Breadsticks

Sit down at your seat and you better hope you’re hungry. Granted, service is spread out over about 8 hours, but there’s a lot of pomp and circumstance before you even take your first bite. Flight attendants first need to set your table by pulling a hidden slot out of your cubby’s wall, sliding it over your lap and adorning it with a cloth placemat, flatware, silver salt and pepper shakers, and cloth napkin. Need to get up during the amuse bouche, appetizer, dinner or dessert service? No problem. Just slide your table down towards your feet and you’ve got plenty of room to stand up. Very ergonomically correct, if I may say so.

Roasted Tomato and Basil Soup
Thai Chicken Curry

Once you’re all set up, Virgin’s service seemingly goes on forever. First, there’s an amuse bouche — ours was a pesto puree with breadsticks (above) — followed by your choice of Roasted Tomato and Basil Soup (left) or Smoked Salmon for starters.

Need a cocktail with your food? Choose from a full bar of high-end liquors and spirits. then a main course selection of Grilled Filet of Beef, Thai Chicken Curry or English Pea and Mint Tortellini with assorted breads. Our flight had Rosemary Focaccia and Pumpernickel. One of each, please.

Don’t forget wine pairings! Flight attendants come around with a four-pack wine carrier, offering up varietals like a Spanish Rioja, Italian Barbera, Napa Cabernet Sauvignon and Argentinian Malbec. How did I choose? Well, the last time I flew to London it was en route to Italy with Bryan, so I opted for the Italian varietal. Maybe it was the in-cabin pressure but it was delightful.

My Barbera was perfect with dessert, a warm chocolate and salted caramel pudding. It was eithe that or an apricot raspberry almond tart with creme anglaise.

About 30 minutes after dessert you start to think everything’s calming down and you can turn in for a six-hour snooze, but the flight attendant’s haven’t had the last laugh. They literally roll through the cabin with a wine, cheese and Port cart. No joke. It’s hard to stomach (pun intended) the thought of more food at that point, but I decided to take one for the team. I could only imagine Bryan’s disappointment to hear I passed up cheese and Port at 40,000 feet. I couldn’t let him down. Yup. That’s my rationale and I’m sticking to it.

Finally, it’s time for bed. Your flight attendant makes that for you, too. There’s a full-on mattress pad, sheet, fluffy duvet and pillow. You can adjust your personal TV screen to sit right in front of your face, providing in-flight entertainment until you lull yourself into dreamland. Better yet, if you wake up to use the restroom, your return to find your “bed” has been remade. I was a little surprised they didn’t  offer to tuck each passenger in.

When it’s time to wake up, at least on the way back to LA, it’s mid-day. That means no breakfast at 2pm. So what does Virgin Atlantic dream up instead? A full afternoon tea service. Flight attendants bring a cart to each passenger’s pod and offer fresh tea as well as a overflowing selection of tea sandwiches and pastries. Better yet, the attendant arranges said goodies on individual tiered cake stands for each passenger. Our flight’s sandwiches included ham and chutney, tuna and sweet corn, and cucumber with dill mayonnaise. A warm sultana scone came with refreshing clotted cream and strawberry jam while the “cake stand” included miniature chocolate eclairs, black currant and almond sponge cake as well as a selection of macarons. It was heavenly; in-flight gluttony at its best. Shortly after your afternoon tea service, your flight lands and you’re wheeled off the plane about 20 pounds heavier. Not true, but I can say I was especially grateful for a long walk through Heathrow Airport to customs.

Traditional English Breakfast at Heathrow’s VA Upper Class Lounge

That’s all the in-flight experience but there’s one more perk: Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class Lounge at Heathrow. If you ever find yourself with a ticket to this lounge, get there early. Like five hours early. Not because there are lines but because you’re never going to want to leave. Better yet, call ahead and book a massage, a facial or a body wrap. Men can relax and refresh in the barber shop; other guests either lingered over cocktails at one of two glowing bars or collapsed onto huge personal leather sectionals, each offering a pair of Bose headphones to listen to music or watch a 20′ TV. I couldn’t leave London without trying a traditional English breakfast, so I perused the menu found at everyone’s seat and gave my order to a passing waiter. The same waiter who was offering every guest champagne and Bellinis. Once you’re settled, you don’t have to move. I nearly fell asleep and missed my flight to LA, but I knew better. Eleven more hours of gluttony was about to begin.

“Unavoidable Bacon Shortage?” Say It Ain’t So!

Whoever said “Everything’s better with bacon” may want to find a substitute next year. According to The Los Angeles Times, a British Trade Group is predicting that a “world shortage of pork and bacon is now unavoidable,” as a result of this year’s drought effects on corn and soybean crops. Better stock up now! Check out the full report below:

Celebrate Earth Day with Magnolia Cupcakes!

Happy Earth Day! I was thinking about how to celebrate Earth Day and realized Bryan and I are already pretty good citizens of our planet. We recycle nearly everything, use “green” light bulbs, reuseable grocery bags, take short showers and turn off the water while we brush our teeth. I mean, that’s a start, right? I also planted a tree on Earth Day when I was in the fifth grade, so my karma should be good there. That said, I’m going to celebrate Earth Day this year by walking — not driving — about 1/2 mile from my house and getting an Earth Day-themed cupcake from Magnolia Bakery ($3.25/available in vanilla or chocolate with buttercream frosting). I’ll be indulging my sweet tooth and helping the planet at the same time, as for every cupcake sold Magnolia Bakery is donating $1 to the “Plant a Billion Trees” organization, an major restoration initiative launched by the Nature Conservancy to restore Brazil’s Atlantic Forest. It doesn’t get sweeter than that. (Photo credit: Magnolia Bakery)

Magnolia Bakery
8389 West 3rd Street
Los Angeles, CA 90048-4312
(323) 951-0636