Monthly Archives: September 2014

East LA Meets Napa 2011: Holy Mole!

Last Friday, AltaMed hosted the sixth annual East LA Meets Napa in the heart of downtown Los Angeles. The event, which celebrated the success of both East LA’s Mexican culinary community and Latino-owned vineyards in California, took over historic Union Station’s flow of gorgeous Spanish courtyards, intermingling tables serving mini plates of authentic Mexican eats with nearly 30 Napa-based wine tasting stations. The nearly forty participating restaurants represented some of the best of LA’s Mexican cuisine, and better yet, many of the restaurants are family-owned by generations of East LA residents. Each restaurant’s featured dish — ranging from shrimp taquitos, to sweet corn and scarlet quinoa tamales, to pork skin quesadillas, and a bounty of moles — was paired with wines like crisp Sauvignon Blancs, spicy Zinfandels and bold Cabernet Sauvignons.

As the sun set over downtown LA, the event flooded with ladies dressed in colorful cocktail dresses and summer-inspired wedges, and men who ditched their jackets and rolled up the sleeves of their button downs. Live music flooded the courtyard, setting the mood for hungry guests doing their best to balance plates, wine glasses and the occasional napkin. To say people had their hands full is an understatement, but it was either maneuver the crowd with your plate+glass combo or miss out on sampling the goods. We heard some guests devising creative strategies to get the most mole for their moolah, while others patiently stood in line at each table, chatting, munching and mingling.

If there was a culinary theme to the evening, it would easily be “Holy Mole!” The famed 40+ ingredient Mexican sauce — prevalent in East LA restaurants — played a prominent role at nearly every station. Velvety black mole was slathered on sweet corn tamales and mini pork tostadas, flowed off the edges of fried tortilla rounds, and drizzled into shredded chicken tacos. Green moles — tomatillos and cilantro lend the sauce its “green” color — topped chicken skewers and mini Chile Rellenos stuffed with shrimp.

Homemade tacos proved to be the second theme, filled with everything under the sun: shrimp, pork, chicken, carne asada, zucchini blossoms, bell peppers, goat cheese… You name it, it was in a taco. Steaming tortillas, fresh off the griddle, were available at every turn. As were endless bowls of creamy guacamole, perfect for taco dipping and later, finger licking. Hindsight being 20/20, I’m fairly certain thousands of tacos and an unfathomable amount of guacamole was consumed on that balmy Friday evening.

The Wine Corridor

While the authentic Mexican food was fantastic, so were the tiny details that made up the East LA Meets Napa event itself. Compared to many foods events throughout the year, East LA Meets Napa was incredibly well run. The crowd never seemed impossible to maneuver. The plate+wine glass combo showed forward-thinking. Cocktail tables with sunflower centerpieces dotted the landscape, never out of reach for a quick rest or a flat surface to eat on. The event guide included a map revealing the location of each specific restaurant and winery’s station. Those same stations were strategically placed throughout the courtyard, creating a nice flow without any traffic jams. While mole and tacos seemed to be strong suits, the cuisine was versatile and flavorful. The wines were refreshing and perfectly paired for the food at hand.

We’re looking forward to returning next year and supporting the cause. But thinking about last week, some of our favorite East LA tastes of the evening came from the following restaurants:
Mini Tostadas from Homegirl Cafe & Catering

Sweet Corn & Scarlet Quinoa Tamale from Rivera

Mango & Carne Apache Ceviches from CaCao Mexicatessens

Scallops with Lime & Serrano Chile from Loteria Grill

Shrimp Taquito from Yxta Cocina Mexicana
Fried Tortilla With Beans & Green Mole from La Parrilla Restaurant

Mole Cups from Moles La Tia

Hand-Injected Jello Designs from Attila The Flan

PB&J and Lemon Cupcakes from Goodie Girls

Passion Fruit Cream & Raspberry Gold Rush from Porto’s Bakery & Cafe

Sunday Morning Waffles

Happy Sunday! Bryan and I are so happy to be back home. After a week away, sometimes there’s nothing better than being back in your own surroundings, not to mention kitchen. After sleeping in today, I celebrated our lazy morning with homemade waffles for breakfast. I use an incredibly quick recipe and within 10 minutes our apartment smelled like piping hot, delicious waffles. Add a melting pat of butter, warmed Vermont maple syrup and you’ve got a killer breakfast.

Here’s what you need to make two perfect waffles:
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cups warm milk
  • 1/6 cup butter, melted, plus more garnish
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (I used pure vanilla paste, a potent alternative)
  • Maple syrup
In a large bowl, mix together flour, salt, baking powder and sugar; set aside.
Preheat waffle iron to desired temperature. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs. Stir in the milk, butter and vanilla. Pour the milk mixture into the flour mixture; beat until blended.
Ladle the batter into a preheated waffle iron. Cook the waffles until golden and crisp. Serve immediately.
Ladle batter onto waffle iron. Make sure it doesn’t overflow.
Close waffle iron & let cook until desired doneness.

Serve immediately with butter and maple syrup. Enjoy!

A Tribute to Family: Bryan’s Turkey Burger Recipe

It’s been just over two weeks since my last post. Things in our world were just thrown upside down, as two weeks ago Wednesday we received a call that Bryan’s Auntie Judy had been admitted to the hospital. Needless to say we were shocked as Judy, one of Bryan’s closest aunts, was always full of vigor and monitored her health very, very closely. It turns out, she played it her health card too close to the vest. Only 63 years old and married for 43 years, Judy had battled (and beat) breast cancer several years ago. However, a few years later the cancer came back near her stomach. Judy kept this news to herself — undergoing many rounds of chemotherapy and various treatments alone — preferring to spend quality time with her family and just-born granddaughter without causing them any worry. Well, after three years of fighting, the cancer had spread beyond repair and Judy was hospitalized. When we got the call, we dropped everything, packed our bags (and Charlie’s) and drove up to the Bay Area. It was only then that we learned the truth and severity of the situation. After three days in the hospital and many visits by her loved ones, Judy passed away peacefully with her husband and sister-in-law by her side.

Needless to say the past week-and-a-half has been incredibly emotional as we’ve all comes to terms with the situation. Whether we agree with Judy’s decision is beside the point; we just lost one of the most fun-loving, straight-shooting, brave and compassionate women in our world. Judy was more than just Bryan’s aunt; she was a second mom, a shoulder to cry on, and an ear to listen. We love her very much and she will be missed more than she’ll ever know.

This family recipe, courtesy of my husband, is for Judy.

All that said, it’s a bit hard for me to just jump back into blogging. However, I think I’ve got the perfect post to get back into the spirit: a family recipe. It might not be Judy’s famous ziti, but it’s one of my favorite recipes that just happens to come from my husband, Bryan. It’s comforting, it’s delicious and he’s been making it since we first started dating, making minor adjustments throughout our relationship and finally perfecting it just a few weeks ago. What is it? A turkey burger, dubbed by yours truly as the Bishop Burger. It’s a staple in our household and I hope you and your family enjoy it as much as we do.

Bishop’s Burgers

  • 3/4 lb of ground turkey meat
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 tablespoon spicy brown mustard (dijon works as a substitute)
  • 1/4 cup diced white onion
  • 1 clove garlic, diced
  • 3 tablespoons feta cheese
  • 1-2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 beer (for the handsome cook)
  • Sliced tomatoes, for topping
  • Grilled onion, for topping
  • 1 ciabatta bun, brushed with extra virgin olive oil and toasted on grill
Heat grill over medium high. Mix turkey meat, egg white, olive oil, spicy mustard, onion, garlic, feta cheese, Worcestershire, salt and pepper until throughly combined. Bryan always does this with his hands, as you can feel the ingredients come together. Form into two patties and set aside.

Bryan working his burger magic…

Mix all ingredients and form patties

Heat the grill over medium high heat and cook the turkey burgers until done, about four minutes on each side. Remove from grill, cover in foil and let rest for a moment.

Grill the turkey burgers until cooked through, about four minutes per side.

Add the buns to the grill and remove the burgers. Set aside and let rest.

In the meantime, add buns to the grill (sliced side down) and let brown for a minute or two. Watch them closely so they do not burn. Remove from grill, top with a turkey patty and add your favorite toppings and condiments!

We grilled some onions; they’re one of my all-time favorites.

We threw some onion slices on the grill for fun and added it to layers of crisp lettuce, thick steak tomatoes (sprinkled with salt and pepper, of course) and spicy mustard. I opted out of the bun, using iceberg lettuce leaves as a wrap instead.

Layer your favorite toppings and add a fun side dish, like grilled corn!

Give Thanks: Chocolate-Glazed Pumpkin Pie Cheesecake

Chocolate-Glazed Pumpkin Pie Cheesecake

Thanksgiving is right around the corner, a wonderfully gluttonous day during which Americans will consume nearly three times their recommended daily calorie count. Sure, plates will be piled high with the usual suspects — slices of roasted turkey, heaping mounds of stuffing, fluffy mashed potatoes swimming in gravy — but what about dessert? While pumpkin, apple and pecan pies are the most popular Thanksgiving pie flavors, who says you can’t kick dessert up a notch?

Dress up that classic apple pie with a generous drizzle of caramel. Add a shot of bourbon to your tried-and-true pecan pie to give it an adult twist. Or better yet, serve guests this Chocolate-Glazed Pumpkin Pie Cheesecake. Rich, creamy and altogether dreamy, it’s a Thanksgiving dessert guaranteed to disappear.

Recipe adapted from Better Homes and Gardens
  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 cups finely crushed chocolate wafer cookies (about 24 cookies)
  • 1 8 ounce package cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 15 ounce can pumpkin
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chopped dark chocolate
  • 1/3 cup whipping cream
  • 2 ounces milk chocolate pieces or white baking pieces (about 1/3 cup), melted (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly coat a 9-inch pie plate with cooking spray. In a medium bowl toss together butter and crushed chocolate wafer cookies. Spread into pie plate; press evenly onto bottom and up sides. Bake for 5 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.
2. In a large bowl beat cream cheese and sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until combined. Add eggs, one at a time, beating on low speed after each addition just until combined. Stir in pumpkin, vanilla, pumpkin pie spice, and salt. Pour pumpkin mixture into baked crust.
3. Bake about 40 minutes more or until mixture is slightly puffed around edges and just set in center. Cool on a wire rack for 1 hour.
4. In a small microwave-safe bowl combine dark chocolate and cream. Microwave on 100 percent power (high) for 30 seconds to 1 minute; stir until smooth. Let stand for 15 minutes. Pour chocolate mixture over the cooled pie, spreading evenly. Chill, uncovered, for 1 hour. Cover and chill for 2 to 24 hours more. If desired, drizzle with milk chocolate.

Obika Mozzarella Bar: A Taste of Italy In L.A.

When I first heard that Obika Mozzarella Bar was opening in L.A. (the Century City location opened last week; Beverly Center is set to open in November), I was thrilled. You may recall that Bryan and I took a trip to Italy in April. Among the legions of paper-thin prosciutto, cured salumi, stretchy knots of mozzarella, grilled artichokes and homemade pasta that we consumed was an late afternoon apertivo at Rome’s Obika Mozzarella Bar. This particular Obika was about 200 yards from our hotel in the Campo di’ Fiori, famous for its robust daily farmers’ market and after-hours bar scene. A seat on the tiny outdoor patio — at least in the late afternoon — provided us with a view of the bustling square as well as a glowing Italian sunset reflecting on the buildings. Ironically, I took a photo right from our seat on Obika’s patio, as well as a photo of our plate of prosciutto and mozzarella (shocking, I know).

View from Obika in Rome’s Campo di’ Fiori

Plate of prosciutto and mozzarella

It’s been nearly six months since we returned from Italy and as I said, I’ve been looking forward to Obika’s L.A. opening. Bryan and I went to the Century City location today to recreate our Roman afternoon apertivo and I’ve got to say, with the exception of an unfortunate office tower/mall view, our meal nearly transported us back that small square in Rome.

Obika Century City

Obika’s Mozzarella Bar

Obika’s three Mozzarella varieties, imported weekly from Italy

Obika resembles more of a sushi bar than an Italian enoteca, but that’s the point. Mozzarella bars have been popular in Italy for years and it wasn’t until Nancy Silverton opened Osteria Mozza that the concept made its way to L.A. Obika’s menu, the items for which are almost entirely imported from Italy, takes a mix and match approach. Choose one of three types of mozzarellas — a “Classica” mozzarella, a smoked “Affumicata” variety or a creamy Stracciatella di Burrata mozzarella — and then pair it with grilled vegetables, a variety of cured prosciutto, salumi and pistachio mortadella or house-made pestos. While the mozzarella is obviously the main event, the menu also includes a small selection of appetizers, crostini and pastas. We ordered a flatbread with sausage patè, Burrata and tomatoes to start, followed by Mozzarella “Classica” with a selection of salumi for Bryan and the Straciatella di Burrata with grilled vegetables and basil pesto for me.
Roasted Bread topped with Spicy Sausage Patè from Calabria, Stracciatella di Burrata, Cherry Tomatoes, Basil, Capers from Pantelleria & Salted Ricotta cheese
Yes, there was actually roasted bread hiding under the mound of tomatoes and cheese

Straciatella di Burrata with Grilled Seasonal Vegetables & Basil Pesto

Mozzarella “Classica” with Tasting of Prosciutto Crudo San Daniele DOP, Oven Roasted Ham & Felino Salame

The “bread basket,” ironically in a sack made in Lithuania

How did the dishes fare compared to Obika’s Roman counterpart? Let’s just say we cleaned our plates. Food aside, our server was wonderful as well; enthusiastic, knowledgeable and happy to answer my many questions about Obika’s pesto recipe, product origins and even discuss our love for the Umbrian countryside. She let us take our time at the table, giving us time to unwind and slowly finish our glasses of wine (a Sicilian Nero D’Avola for Bryan and a Tuscan Morellino Di Scansano for me) after our meal. We must have really relaxed, because before we knew it an hour and a half had passed and I was ordering a Cappuccino to cap off my meal.
Obika’s Cappuccino, raw sugar added
All in all, Century City’s Obika was as good as we remembered its Campo di’ Fiori counterpart to be. And as true Italians know best, there’s just something wonderful about taking in a late afternoon glass of wine, indulging in a few small plates and relaxing in great company. Which is exactly what we did. Obika’s only drawback? In the words of food critic Jonathon Gold, who positively reviewed Obika in LA Weekly earlier today, it’s still true that “No matter how hard you squint, no matter how tasty the Negroni in your hand, the [Campo di’ Fiori] seems very far away.” Oh well, at least we have the food.