Scrumptious Fried Chicken Sandwich at Buttermilk with Chef-Owner Ryan Adams

Chef Ryan Adams shares fried chicken secrets from his newest eatery, Buttermilk in Old Towne Orange.

Chef Adams’ culinary creativity is mind-boggling. Delectable ideas backed up with well-honed culinary skills, flow at full tilt. The acclaimed chef recently has expanded his restaurant holdings in Orange County. In addition to his award-winning Three Seventy Common in Laguna Beach, he now owns and operates Parallel Pizza in Dana Point, as well as Buttermilk Fried Chicken in Old Towne Orange.

It was his fried-chicken expertise that he shared when visiting my home kitchen to shoot a how-to video. That irresistible bird has garnered raves at his family-style Fried Chicken Dinners held at Three Seventy Common (on one Sunday each month).

At Buttermilk, a 24-seat fast casual and take-out restaurant, the buttermilk fried chicken abounds, paying homage to his Grandmother Mary and her from-scratch recipe.

He dry-cured the thighs for 24 hours in the refrigerator before double dredging, battering and frying them. Tucked into a bun slathered with aioli, a crown of coleslaw added a just-right amount of crunch and color, plus a little tickle of spicy heat lent by pickled red jalapenos.

A fry-it-brown tip offered key advice. New oil doesn’t brown the chicken properly. Save a tablespoon or two of “used” (denatured) oil that was used for previous deep frying; add it to the new oil. You will be happier with the well-browned exterior.

First Not-From-Scratch Memory: At three or four years old, at a family barbecue, a guest brought potato salad purchased at a supermarket. He took one bite and walked away, explaining that he really didn’t like it.

Secret Talent: His wife says he can find a solution to every problem. One day trying to get a rug under an enormous couch, he devised rollers to go underneath to make it portable.

Favorite Restaurant: The Ranch Restaurant in Anaheim is admired for the consistency of Chef Michael Rossi’s cuisine. Not only is the food delicious, but the overall service is really on point.

Drink of Choice: Whiskey. His go-to is Larceny Bourbon Whiskey; Weller rocks is for special occasions.

Buttermilk Fried Chicken, 238 W. Chapman Avenue, Orange. Open for lunch, dinner and late-night appetites.

Buttermilk’s Fried Chicken Sandwiches
Yield: about 3 to 4 sandwiches
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Salt and pepper to taste
Seasoning of choice, such as Lawry’s Seasoned Salt or dry rub that contains paprika
Dredge mixture:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
Batter: 2 cups buttermilk, 4 lightly beaten eggs
Aioli: 1/2 cup garlic chili paste (sambal oelek), 2 tablespoons pickling liquid (liquid from pickles), 2 cups mayonnaise
About 4 cups thinly sliced cabbage (half green cabbage and half red cabbage)
Sliced pickled jalapenos, about 8 crosswise slices
Cider Vinaigrette:
1/4 cup whole grain mustard
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup oil (combination of olive oil and canola oil)
For deep frying: canola oil
Plating: favorite soft buns or rolls, spicy sliced pickles (for store-bought, he recommends Dave’s Spicy Pickles)
1. Season chicken with salt and pepper (plus any other dry herbs or spices of choice or seasoned salt – his dry rub formula is proprietorial) and refrigerate 24 hours in sealed zipper-style bag.
2. For dredging: Combine flour, cornmeal, baking powder and pepper in large bowl. For batter: In separate bowl, mix buttermilk with eggs (if made ahead, refrigerate). Set aside.
3. For Aioli: In medium bowl, whisk chili paste, pickling liquid and mayonnaise (refrigerate if made ahead).
4. For Coleslaw: Prepare vinaigrette. In large bowl, whisk all ingredients except oil until blended and salt dissolves. Add oil in thin stream, whisking constantly until emulsified. Toss cabbage with enough vinaigrette to coat. Add jalapeno slices and toss. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Best made 20 to 25 minutes before serving for the most desirable crunch but can be held longer if needed.
5. Fry chicken: Remove chicken from refrigerator. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Heat oil (enough to deep fry) to 350 degrees in deep pan. Dredge each piece in flour mixture and dip in batter. Dip in flour mixture again and cautiously ease one by one into heated oil. Deep-fry for approximately 4 to 5 minutes or until nicely browned. Place on rimmed baking sheet and place in preheated oven for a few minutes until cooked through with an internal temperature of 160 degrees.
6. Spread aioli on bottom halves of buns. Top with 2 crisscrossed pickle slices. Top with chicken and a generous amount of coleslaw. Add top halves of buns and serve.

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Chef Ross Pangilinan to Open at TERRACE at South Coast Plaza


TERRACE opening soon!

Chef Ross Pangilinan is gifted with vision, talent and guts. In late 2016, after seven years as executive chef at Leatherby’s in Costa Mesa, he opened Mix Mix Kitchen Bar in Downtown Santa Ana. The globally-inspired eatery has garnered many prestigious accolades.

Chef Ross Pangilinan, owner of Mix Mix in Santa Ana, will bring Terrace by Mix Mix to South Coast Plaza in Fall 2018. (Photo by John Pangilinan)

A second restaurant is in the works and projected to open in early September. TERRACE by Mix Mix is on level 3 of the Crate and Barrel/Macy’s Home Store Wing in the location previously occupied by zpizza.

In 2011, when chef was still at Leatherby’s we shot a video about his fabulous Appetizer Meatballs with Tzatziki. They are perhaps the best meatballs you’ll ever eat. Have a look.

You can read more about Chef Ross and TERRACE in the story I wrote for Orange Coast Magazine at

Leatherby’s Appetizer Lamb Meatballs with Cucumber Tzaziki
Yield: 6 to 8 portions
1/4 to 1/2 hothouse cucumber, peeled
1 pound ground lamb
1 pound ground beef
2 cups panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon harissa paste (or other chili paste), see cook’s notes
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives or parsley
6 eggs
1 tablespoon coarse salt
2 tablespoons grated and strained cucumber
1 cup plain yogurt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 to 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon chopped fresh mint
1 teaspoon chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon minced garlic
Garnish: sliced fresh chives, coarse salt such as fleur de sel, freshly ground black pepper, extra-virgin olive oil and pita chips
Cook’s notes: Harissa is a North African chili paste that is sold in Middle Eastern markets, some natural food stores, and some supermarkets with large imported specialty food sections. It is often packaged in squeeze-able tubes the size of toothpaste.
1. Grate cucumber using the large holes on a box grater. Place in colander; sprinkle with a little salt and set aside to drain.
2. Place all meatball ingredients in large bowl of electric mixer. Using the paddle attachment, thoroughly mix (starting on lowest speed). Cover and chill for 1 hour. If available use a 1-ounce ice-cream scoop to portion the mixture. Form into 1 1/2-inch spheres using lightly-oiled hands.
3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Heat a lightly-oiled grill pan on medium-high heat. Place 3 to 4 meatballs on each bamboo skewer. Place in single layer on grill pan in batches. Grill mark the exterior on all sides and place on rimmed baking sheet; place in preheated oven for 4 to 8 minutes, or until thoroughly cooked.
4. Meanwhile, prepare tzatziki. In medium bowl, place 2 tablespoons (packed) grated and strained cucumber. Add remaining tzatziki ingredients and stir to combine.
5. Smear tzatziki on individual serving plates or platter. Top with meatballs. Sprinkle on chives, coarse salt, pepper and a small drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. Add pita chips, placing them vertically between the meatballs.
Source: Ross Pangilinan

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Picnic Pleasure – This Easy Bacon Tart is Irresistible

A savory tart cries out for a summer picnic.

This Caramelized Shallot and Bacon Tart is a favorite, whether served at a summer outing or as a first course for a showy company dinner. The sweetness of browned onions and shallots team beautifully with crisp bacon and creamy ricotta.

Caramelized Shallot and Bacon Tart
Yield: 8 servings
1 round prepared pie dough, such as refrigerated Pillsbury Pie Crust
4 slices thick bacon
1 tablespoon canola oil
4 shallots, cut crosswise into thin slices
1 1/2 large yellow onions, cut in half top to bottom, thinly sliced crosswise
1/8 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Egg wash: 1 egg yolk beaten with 1/2 teaspoon water
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat to 350 degrees. Ease chilled dough into a 9 1/2-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Use top of bent finger to press dough into fluted sides of pan. To create a double layer of dough on sides of crust, trim dough 1/4-inch above top of pan; fold overhanging dough over so top of fold is even with top of pan to reinforce sides; press with top of bent finger to seal sides. Roll rolling pin over top of tart pan to make top of dough even all the way around. Poke dough at 1-inch intervals with tines of fork (bottom and sides). Line dough with sheet of aluminum foil. Add about 1 cup dry beans, raw rice or pie weights. Bake 15 minutes. Remove from oven; remove foil and beans, rice or weights. Set aside.
2. In large, deep skillet cook bacon until crisp; remove bacon from pan and drain on paper towels, reserving 1 tablespoon bacon grease in pan. Add 1 tablespoon canola oil and heat oil on medium-high heat. Add shallots and onions; cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and starting to brown, about 9 minutes. Reduce heat to medium or medium-low. Add sugar, thyme, salt and pepper; stir to combine. Cook until onions are golden, stirring occasionally, about 20 additional minutes.
3. In small bowl combine ricotta, egg yolk, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Gently spread ricotta mixture on bottom of tart shell. Top with shallot mixture, spreading out into an even layer. Crumble or chop bacon and sprinkle on top of shallot mixture. Brush top edge of crust lightly with egg wash. Place on baking sheet and bake in preheated oven until golden brown and heated through, 35 to 45 minutes. Allow to cool 15 minutes before cutting into wedges and serving.
Source: “Melissa’s Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce” by Cathy Thomas (Wiley, $29.95)


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Tequila, Tacos and Delicious Innovation

Puesto’s fresh take on Mexican cuisine has been the O.C. buzz since the first Orange County location in Irvine’s Los Olivos Marketplace opened (near Irvine Spectrum). Now with a second location at Park Place in Irvine, the fan base is mushrooming.

Looks like delicious fun! Right? Can you say tequila?

Puesto’s Cado-rita is made with Lunazul Reposado, fresh lime, agave, and avocado.

Or how about some ice cold Gelato – nopales and lime – with a shot of tequila poured on top?

And maybe some chilled cerveza, if you’re in the mood?

Tacos are at the heart of Puesto’s Mexican street food menu. Pictured below are the Filet Mignon Tacos (filet, crispy cheese, avocado, spicy pistachio serrano) and the Verduras Tacos (crispy melted cheese, rajas, potatoes, corn, tomatoes, nopales, avocado and zucchini blossoms). Keep reading to find out about that crispy cheese!

Many tacos showcase fillings wrapped in crisp cheese, a blanket of fried and melted queso Oaxaca and a Mexican melting cheese that is somewhat like mozzarella. The cheese wrapping is dubbed “costra” in Spanish. It translates as “scab” in English, not a very alluring appellation that is in fact appealing.

Katy Smith, executive creative chef at Puesto, is best known for her hip tacos, handmade blue-corn tortillas and craft cocktails, but those delicacies only scratch the surface of her talent. She offers dishes with irresistible twists.

Among her traditional dishes one of my favorites is Pescado Veracruzana, a dish that showcases fish fillets adrift in a scrumptious sauce primarily made with diced tomatoes, green olives, pickled jalapenos and capers. On the menu, instead of fish fillets, she often riffs on the theme and substitutes shrimp for the mellow white-fleshed fillets.

Watch Chef prepare this simple dish. In my home kitchen, she used black cod that she sautéed skin down to create a potato-chip crunch on the surface.

She started the Veracruz sauce by sautéing a sliced white onion, an onion variety that is most often used in Mexican dishes. That variety has a clean, interesting taste and is more tender and thin skinned than other varieties.

Fish Veracruz-style is a welcome recipe for home cooks to have in their arsenal. The sauce can be made in advance (capers should be added at the last minute to prevent over-saltiness). And it takes a very short time to prepare the fish right before serving. Accompany it with rice and maybe some ice-cold margaritas.

More about Chef Katy Smith …

Secret Skill: She sings and grew up acting in musical theater productions. When she attended University High School in Irvine, she played the lead in “Singing in the Rain.” Joyously, she jumped out of a giant cake.

Favorite Restaurant: Locally, she loves 370 Common. It’s walking distance from her small 40’s Laguna Beach cottage. She says that the restaurant feels like home with incredible roast chicken and “the best” french fries. She also adores Chicago’s Fat Rice, an eatery with an alluring Macanese menu.

Her drink: Rye Manhattan on the rocks.

Here’s the recipe:

Puesto’s Pescado Veracruzana
Yield: 2 servings
About 1 tablespoon olive oil
Medium-sized white onion, halved, sliced
1 quart diced fire-roasted canned tomatoes
1 large garlic clove, thinly sliced
2 ounces green Manzanilla olives, quartered
2 ounces finely diced jalapeno escabeche, see cook’s notes
2 tablespoons escabeche liquid (pickling brine)
2 dried bay leaves
2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano, see cook’s notes
Chopped Italian parsley
2 (4-ounce) skin-on fish fillets, snapper or black cod
Olive oil
2 tablespoons capers
Salt and pepper to taste
Garnish: Italian parsley and cilantro
Garnish: lime slices
Cook’s notes: Chef prefers jalapeno escabeche because the chilies are pickled with onions and carrots, but plain pickled jalapenos can be substituted. Remove any stems from oregano (and discard the stems). Rub the oregano leaves between your palms before adding to mixture.

    1. 1. Heat oil in large deep saucepan on medium-high heat. Add onion; cook, stirring occasionally until lightly caramelized and tender. Add tomatoes, garlic, olives, jalapeno, escabeche liquid, bay leaves, oregano and parsley. Simmer on medium heat for 20 minutes.


    1. 2. Towards the end of simmering, cook the fish. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1- to 2-tablespoons oil. Add fish skin-side down; cook until almost cooked through and turn. Cook just long enough to just barely cook the fish throughout.


    1. 3. Add capers to sauce. Taste sauce and add salt and pepper as needed. Place most of sauce on platter. Top with fish, placing it skin up. Spoon remaining sauce on top. Garnish with parsley, cilantro and lime wedges, plus a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.

Puesto in Los Olivos Marketplace is at 8577 Irvine Center Drive in Irvine. A second is at Park Place, 3395 Michelson Drive in Irvine.

Puesto at Park Place

For more, go to Orange Coast Magazine –

Cathy Thomas is an award-winning food writer and has authored three cookbooks: “50 Best Plants on the Planet,” “Melissa’s Great Book of Produce,” and “Melissa’s Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce.”

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Feast By Firelight, Or Not

Recently, I wrote a story for the OC Register (as well as other newspapers owned by the Southern California News Group) about delectable dishes suitable for camping, cabins, and the great outdoors. 

BUT, I soon discovered that many of the dishes are fabulous prepared on the grill at home!  Scrumptious.

The story showcased the cookbook “Feast by Firelight” by Emma Frisch (Ten Speed Press, $22). The author’s simple-but-delicious recipes detail what to prepare before you leave, as well as menu suggestions and equipment lists.

(Note that the recipes work for home meals, too, because they offer advance preparation ideas that are welcome elements for busy cooks.)

My trainer Paul Cecere, known fondly in our house as “Jefe,” doesn’t like to cook fish in the house. I told him about the recipe from the story that cooks salmon enclosed in foil over an open flame – a technique that could easily be adapted to his gas grill.

The idea is especially appealing because the fish is topped with a refreshing, easy-to-prepare sauce – so even if the fish is a little over-cooked, the sauce gives it a just-right moistness and flavor.

Here’s the recipe  — and if you want more outdoor glamping recipes, go to my story

“First Night” Packet Salmon with Lemon, Thyme and Blueberry
Yield: 4 servings
1/4 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
2 teaspoons honey
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus 2 lemons, each cut into 6 thin slices
Four 6-ounce wild salmon fillets, frozen, see cook’s notes
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
8 fresh thyme sprigs
Cook’s notes: Frisch suggests that frozen seafood is oftentimes fresher than “fresh” seafood. When handled properly, it has been frozen within hours of harvest, preserving both the quality and flavor of the fish at its peak. Ask your fishmonger where the seafood is from or purchase directly from an online buying club such as Wild for Salmon, Alaska Gold, and Vital Choice. Your freezer will be stocked with last-minute meals.
1. Home Prep or for home cooking, several hours ahead: In a lidded jar, combine the blueberries, honey, and lemon juice. Use the back of a spoon to gently smash and muddle the blueberries with the honey and lemon juice. Seal the jar tightly and then chill for up to 3 days. Put four 12-inch square sheets of aluminum foil on a work surface. Lay 3 lemon slices, with edges overlapping like dominoes, in the center of each foil sheet and top with a frozen salmon fillet. Season the salmon with the salt and lightly dust with pepper. Top each salmon fillet with 2 thyme sprigs. Fold up two sides of the foil to meet in the middle and fold the edges over each other to seal the top. Then fold the two open ends of the foil to seal the packet. Seal the salmon packets in a ziplock bag and then chill for up to 24 hours.
2. Outdoors or on the grill: Fire the grill to medium heat and position the grill grate 4 inches above the coals (or turn on the gas grill at home). Using tongs, place the foil packets over direct heat and cook for 8 minutes. Using two forks, open the foil seal along the top, allowing the steam to escape and preventing the salmon from overcooking. Use a thermometer to check that the internal temperature has reached 140 degrees. An easier way to check for doneness is with a fork; the salmon should be firm and easily flake apart. (If you see white juice seeping out, a protein called albumin, it’s overcooked. But don’t worry, the blueberry syrup will moisten the fillet.) Serve the salmon directly from the foil. Spoon the blueberries over the top. Store cooled leftovers in an airtight container, chilled, for up to 1 day.

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Marche Moderne’s Dish: French, but Polynesian

Florent Marneau, executive chef-owner of Marche Moderne in Newport Coast, prepares Poisson Cru adrift in a frothy Coconut-Lime Vinaigrette. And yes, it’s perfect dish to cook when entertaining at home.

Some critics have named Newport Coast’s Marche Moderne the best French bistro in California. I wouldn’t argue that point.

Owners Florent Marneau, executive chef, and his wife Amelia Marneau, executive pastry chef, create flawless dishes made with the finest ingredients. Their dishes boast flavors that are balanced to perfection, their presentations splendidly orchestrated. Both are perfectionists and well-thought-out dishes that please both eye and palate are de rigueur.

Recently, Florent Marneau joined me in my home kitchen to show how to prepare his irresistible Poisson Cru with Coconut-Lime Vinaigrette, a dish inspired by a trip to the South Pacific. In Tahiti, he enjoyed the dish tossed and served informally in a halved coconut.

He gives the dish a more elegant take at the restaurant, arranging the components on a dressed-up dinner plate. Fish slices repose in frothy sauce at 3, 6, 9 and 12 positions.

Here’s the yuzu paste …

Here’s the white shoyu (soy sauce) …

Favorite Veg: He loves the base of leeks completely burned. The outer burned portion is removed and the interior has a complex, super-leek flavor. He slices it and serves it with a warm vinaigrette made with garlic, red-wine vinegar, green onions, shallots and chopped hard-cooked eggs. Very French.

Something That Few Know: He and Amelia love camping and bought a small motor home. They love to have a great meal with their two children around a big fire –  far from home in spots such as Wyoming or East Oregon. They plan the meals ahead and sous vide the dishes, then buy fresh fruit and vegetables at remote farms along the way.

Drink of Choice: Kir Royale, Champagne and Crème de Cassis

Poisson Cru with Coconut-Lime Vinaigrette
Yield: 4 servings
Crispy skin for crisp garnish: 3 or 4 pieces chicken skin
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Coconut Vinaigrette:
4 tablespoons yuzu juice, see cook’s notes
1 tablespoon yuzu kosho paste, see cook’s notes
Minced zest and juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon white shoyu (white soy sauce), see cook’s notes
Granulated sugar, to taste, about 1 teaspoon
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup coconut milk (include the thick-creamy cap that rests on top in the can)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 pound sushi-grade big-eye tuna, bloodline removed, cut into block without sinew, thinly cut into slices about 2-by-1-inches
1/2 pound sushi-grade Japanese or domestic fluke, thinly cut into slices (a little thinner than the tuna) about 2-by-1 1/2-inches
Minced lime zest
Ripe, but not squishy, avocado scoops (done with small melon baller device)
Breakfast radishes, cut into very thin lengthwise slices (mandolin is best), stored in chilled or iced water to curl
Green onion, cut thinly on diagonal
Micro cilantro
Lemon-infused extra-virgin olive oil
Smoked sea salt
Cook’s notes: Yuzu juice, yuzu kosho paste and white soy sauce are sold at Japanese markets; Mitsuwa in Costa Mesa is a good source.

  1. For crispy chicken skin. Place chicken skin in small skillet. Add about 1/4 cup water, just barely enough to almost cover; season with salt and pepper. Place on medium-low heat and cook until fat renders out and skin is crisp. Place on paper towel.
  2. For vinaigrette: In a large mixing bowl, add yuzu juice, yuzu kosho paste, lime zest, lime juice, white soy sauce, and sugar. Whisk in coconut milk. Add olive oil in thin steam, whisking constantly to emulsify. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  3. To plate: On each of 4 dinner plates, spoon sauce in middle of plate and spread out a little with the back of spoon. Top each with 2 tuna slices and 2 fluke slices. Top with minced lime zest. Garnish with small avocado spheres, radish “curls,” green onion slices, a drizzle of lemon-infused extra-virgin olive oil, pepper, micro cilantro and smoked sea salt. Serve immediately.

Here’s quick tip from Melissa’s Produce:

Tom Yum soup is a delicious sweet-sour-spicy concoction. If you use store-bought Tom Yum paste it only takes about 10 minutes to prepare it. Yes!

Yield: 3 to 4 servings
4 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth
1 tablespoon store-bought tom yum paste
2 fresh kaffir lime leaves, finely chopped
Optional: 1 tablespoon minced lemongrass
Juice of 1/2 lime
Optional: 2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 small red Thai chili, very thinly sliced, see cook’s notes
1 teaspoon sugar
4 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced or pulled apart if in clumps, see cook’s notes
2 green onions, sliced, including 1/2 of dark green stalks
Optional: 3/4 pound raw shelled and deveined shrimp
Garnish: about 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Garnish: lime wedges for optional use
Cook’s notes: Use caution when working with fresh chilies. Wash work surface and hands after completion and do NOT touch face or eyes. Use any fresh mushroom you like. My favorites are the shimeji mushrooms I find in small cellophane bags at Asian markets; they grow in clumps and have lovely brown caps.

  1. Heat broth in large saucepan on medium-high heat. Stir in tom yum paste, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass if using, lime juice and fish sauce if using. Add chili and sugar. Lower heat and simmer 3 minutes. Add mushrooms, green onions and if using, shrimp. Simmer long enough to cook shrimp (if using), about 2 minutes. Garnish with cilantro. Provide lime wedges for optional squeezing.





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Fake Yes, But Beautiful

Happily, I’ve known Denise Vivaldo for decades. She could have been a comedian. A good one. Most of what she says and writes is funny.

But no …

She made her mark in food styling and food writing. She so good at styling for photos that she could even make soupy glop look appealing.

Or, how about this ice cream?  It’s fake.



Recently we met at Melissa’s Produce in Vernon, to delve into the 2nd edition of her popular book, “The Food Stylist’s Handbook” (by Denise Vivaldo with Cindie Flannigan, Skyhorse).


The book is packed with information for readers that want a career as a food stylist, or for those with a desire to create mouth-watering photos for their blogs or to share with friends on Facebook.


Ever look at a food photo and wonder why the dish looks so irresistible? Peering at that image you can almost smell that irresponsibility. Nearly taste the flavors and feel the texture? Most likely a food stylist worked hard to make that photo draw you in.

At Melissa’s Produce, Vivaldo and Flannigan showed how to prepare fake ice cream intended to use for photographs that require some time to shoot.  The real deal tends to melt quickly, but this “stuff” could last practically forever – meaning weeks. It’s basically powdered sugar and a solid fat of some sort.

Please don’t eat this! It’s absolutely fake! But interesting, right?

Phony-For-Photos Ice Cream

Traditional ice cream scoops, heavy duty in the size desired
1 cup vegetable shortening
2 pounds powdered sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
Food coloring

  1. Use a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Beat together 1 cup shortening and 1 cup powdered sugar on low speed until combined. Add the rest of the powdered sugar very gradually on low speed until mixture has the texture of Play-Doh. Add cornstarch and continue beating for at least 10 minutes on medium-low speed. During this time, add food coloring in a small amount and allow it to be completely mixed into the fake ice cream before adding more.
  2. Place mixture on work surface and knead briefly. Make a few practice scoops and adjust consistency at this time. If the mixture doesn’t come easily out of the scoop, knead in a teaspoon more of cornstarch. If mixture is too dry, knead in a tablespoon of shortening. If too wet, knead in 2 tablespoons powdered sugar.



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Asparagus Lasagna: Luscious Side Dish or Vegetarian Main

aparagusSizedYears ago, long before Gourmet magazine closed up shop, I found (to my mind) the queen of asparagus-pasta combinations: food writer Zanne Early Zakroff’s Asparagus Lasagna.


It’s an exquisite meatless dish that can function as a main course, first course or luncheon dish.


One-inch lengths of roasted asparagus stalks are combined with a creamy sauce accented with goat cheese and plenty of finely grated lemon zest and layered into lasagna-style perfection.


Although this recipe can be made with cooked standard lasagna noodles, paper-thin lasagna noodles called “no-boil” (or “oven ready”) are the best choice. Because of their thinness, they taste like delicate homemade pasta sheets. Plus, they don’t require precooking before they are layered into a casserole dish.


Once the casserole dish has been layered, the reserved uncooked asparagus tips are assembled atop the dish. One cup of whipping cream is whipped with a pinch of salt and spread over the tender tips. Grated Parmesan cheese is sprinkled over the top, and the dish is baked in a 400-degree oven. This final layer of cream and cheese, baked in a hot oven, gives the dish a glorious brown “gratineed” appearance.


I felt compelled to make a couple of small changes to make the recipe “my own. “ I added 1/4 cup of fresh chopped basil to the sauce. I adore the taste of basil with fresh asparagus. Also, I changed the baking pan from two (8-inch) square baking dishes, preferring to use one large gratin dish. Though the change requires the cook to fit the lasagna noodles in a patchwork design so they work properly in a pan with rounded ends, I prefer the dramatic appearance of one large dish.

Either way, it works. On occasion, I’ve added cooked, chopped Italian sausage to one or two of the layers, but I think omitting meat shows off the asparagus best.


Asparagus Lasagna
Yield: Makes 8 servings
4 pounds asparagus, tough bottom portion trimmed
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt to taste, kosher salt preferred
8 ounces “no-boil” lasagna
1/4 cup ( 1/2 stick) butter, cut into 4 pieces
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth
1/2 cup water
7 ounces mild goat cheese
1 to 2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon peel (zest)
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
One and one-third cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup chilled heavy whipping cream
Pinch of salt

Cook’s notes: No-boil lasagna noodles are thinner than standard dried lasagna noodles and have a more delicate taste. They require no cooking before layering into a lasagna; in their production, they are precooked and dried, and their starches are sprayed off. No-boil noodles are available at specialty food shops and some supermarkets. My Albertson’s sells two brands of no-cook lasagna noodles. You can use standard lasagna noodles, but they will require cooking and draining before assembling the lasagna.

  1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

2. Cut the tender tips off the asparagus and reserve. Place asparagus stalks in 2 large baking or jelly-roll pans. Drizzle olive oil over the top of asparagus, and shake pans to coat asparagus. Place asparagus in a preheated 500-degree oven for 10 minutes, switching the pan positions from top rack to bottom halfway through roasting and giving the pans a shake to rotate the asparagus. Remove from oven and sprinkle with salt to taste.

3. Meanwhile, soak lasagna noodles in cold water for 15 minutes. It is best to separate them and scatter them in the bowl so they won’t stick together. Drain.

4. In a large saucepan on low heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and stir over medium heat for 3 minutes (do not brown). Remove from heat and, using a wire whisk, beat in broth and water in a thin stream. Return to medium heat and simmer for 5 to 6 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and add goat cheese, lemon peel and salt to taste; using a wire whisk, mix until blended and smooth. Stir in basil.

5. Cut asparagus stalks into 1- to 1 1/2-inch pieces.

6. Spray with nonstick olive oil spray or butter a 9-by-15-inch oval baking dish (or two 8-inch square baking dishes). Arrange single layer of pasta in pan(s). Top with one-third of sauce. Top with one-third cup of roasted aspagaus pieces and one-third cup grated Parmesan cheese. Continue to layer the pasta, roasted asparagus pieces and Parmesan to create two more layers. Top with a layer of pasta.

7. In a large bowl, beat the whipping cream with a pinch of salt until it holds soft peaks. Arrange asparagus tips atop the final layer of pasta. Spread whipped cream over asparagus tips and top with one-third cup of grated Paramesan cheese. Bake in middle of a preheated 400-degree oven for 20 to 30 minutes, or until golden and bubbling.

Advance preparation: Can be made 2 days before (and stored airtight in the refrigerator) without the final addition of whipped cream and Parmesan cheese. The whipped cream needs to be added just before baking. You probably will need to add 3 to 5 minutes to the baking time, but check to make sure the top isn’t getting too brown. Allow it to cool for 15 minutes before serving. Garnish with sprigs of fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley.

Source: Adapted from a recipe by Zanne Zakroff in the April 1992 issue of Gourmet magazine.


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Hendrix Lessons: Laguna Niguel Restaurant Wins “Dish Of The Year”


Orange Coast Magazine’s restaurant critic, Gretchen Kurz, named Hendrix’s burrata-spiked muffins “Dish Of The Year.”

Kurz wrote: “A crusty muffin exterior hides the unexpected inside – eggy; buttery house-made spaetzle, that is scarce on today’s menus. The nutmeg-spiced muffin gets salty umami  from bits of smokey Nueske bacon tucked within …”

Congrats to Hendrix, a third restaurant from the team behind Driftwood Kitchen and The Deck.



Is it possible for eyes to feel hunger? Look through Hendrix’ spacious front window and the sight could make your peepers ravenous. Trust me. A tall French rotisserie to the left of the front door displays a bounty of browned and caramelized treasures.

HendrixRottisserieThe rotisserie:

The top revolving skewer corrals plump chickens side by side. Brined for two days prior to spearing, the four-pound birds are judiciously basted with a mixture of fresh lemon juice, garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, fresh herbs and spices.


An alluring crust is created, the flesh underneath moist and flavorful. A vibrant lemon confit is served on the side. This citrus garnish requires two months to perfect, the thinly sliced lemons mingling with sugar, juice and lemon pepper for its 60-day nap interrupted by occasional stirring.

Just below, a gentle drip-drip-drip of chicken juices fall onto thirsty potatoes held in a basket attachment; they are thumb-length beauties with yellow flesh from Weiser Farms. Before service the dripping-spiked spuds are tossed with chimichurri.

One skewer down, lush porchetta performs its rotation; skin-on pork belly wraps around pork loin, the exterior becoming super crisp with its just-right exposure to the heat. A delightful hint of anise is absorbed from brining. Slices are accompanied with pickled vegetables, a mix of radishes, cauliflower and fresh fennel that add brightness with their acidic counterpoint.


On the bottom spear, a luscious Colorado leg of lamb takes it turns. It’s boned except for the shank and rubbed with a mixture of whole-grain and Dijon mustards. Milder than New Zealand or Australian lamb, the scrumptious meat is served pink and thinly sliced with lebni on the side.  Made by straining a mixture of yogurt, sour cream and salt, the creamy lebni is augmented with minced cucumber and chopped dill. It’s like Greek tzatziki, but thicker and richer.

Rainer Schwarz, executive chef-partner, said that Hendrix aims to be a neighborhood restaurant with honest delicious food, great service and value. A rotisserie platter showcasing chicken, lamb, porchetta and potatoes (plus all those flavor-amped garnishes) available both in-house and for takeout.

Chef Schwarz and New American Cuisine:

Schwarz has a well-established reputation in Orange County for his delicious restaurant menus. Along with John Nye and Colby Durnin, partners in the Sentinel Restaurant and Hospitality Group, they form the team behind Driftwood Kitchen and The Deck restaurants on the Laguna Beach coastline.

“I want Hendrix to be about the neighborhood,” Schwarz said. “I live a mile away. Neighbors will text me for reservations, or they will tell me if things aren’t right.

“You have to be passionate about this business. It’s not only about the hours, it’s about the effort.”


Chef Rainer is also a master of octopus. Looks delicious, right?

Watch Chef Rainer Schwarz prepare one Octopus dish.

Beautiful yet comfy:

The new 180-seat eatery shows off a creative design that is both stunning and welcoming, an all-embracing remodel of Fred’s Mexican Cafe that previously occupied the location. The enclosed patio area is lined with large bi-fold widows that open to a vista of trees, foliage, and on a clear day, a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean; forced-air heating assures guests of a chill-free experience. There’s a glassed in private dining area, as well as a retail wine shop where diners, if they like, can purchase a bottle to take to the table. Comfortable booths scattered throughout, are crafted from fabric that has the feel of a well-loved baseball glove.

A showy bar is in the center of the dining room. It boasts a dropdown beer tower that provides six craft beer choices. There’s a large selection of wines by the glass, as well as an array of alluring cocktails. The restaurant’s name honors Hendrick’s gin, so it seems fitting that the spirit is featured in The Perfect G & T. This refreshing cocktail, served in a stemmed white wine glass, includes Fever-Tree tonic water and botanicals, including juniper berries, cucumber and flowers such as rose petals and borage.

Off the bar, a cozy lounge areas seem the perfect spot to leisurely enjoy some wine and a plate of grilled Spanish octopus drizzled with harissa olive vinaigrette. There’s a good dollop of hummus on the side making the dish rounded and satisfying. Chef is a master at grilled octopus; it’s masterfully prepared to make the texture oh-so tender, while creating a crisp-yet-light char on the exterior.

Hendrix is at the Ocean Ranch Village in Laguna Niguel (32431 Golden Lantern). For more information, visit 

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Is Don The Beachcomber Closing?


According to a story by Anne Valdespino in the Orange County Register, rumors are flying that the Sunset Beach tiki-themed Don The Beachcomber is set to close.


Owner Delia Snyder and her late husband Arthur Snyder, opened Don The Beachcomber in 2009, in the spot on Pacific Coast Highway that had been Sam’s Seafood.

I loved the Tomato Beef served at the original Don The Beachcomber in Hollywood. Almost ten years ago I asked Delia to share her recipe for Tomato Beef and I’m grateful to have it captured it on this video.

Thanks Delia, and I wish you the very best. According to Valdespino, Delia denied the closure.

Delia Snyder uses two special techniques to ensure that the beef in this dish has irresistible flavor and texture. Before marinating the meat in a soy sauce mixture, she marinates it in a water-baking soda mixture. And before stir-frying the meat, she uses a restaurant technique called “velveting” in which she deep-fries the marinated beef slices for about 30 seconds.

Delia’s Don the Beachcomber Tomato Beef
Yield: 2 large entrée servings or 4 to 6 servings if serving other dishes
8 ounces flank steak, fat and silverskin removed
1 1/2 cups water mixed with 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon cornstarch
Ground white pepper to taste
3 Roma tomatoes
1 green onion, trimmed
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons ketchup
4 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon oyster sauce
Vegetable oil for frying (velveting) meat
1 tablespoon vegetable oil for stir-fry
For serving: cooked rice or egg noodles
1. Cut flank steak across the grain into 1/8-inch thick slices. Place steak slices in bowl and add baking soda-water mixture; toss and set aside for 5 minutes. Drain meat. In another bowl, combine soy sauce, 1 teaspoon vegetable oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1 egg yolk, 1 teaspoon cornstarch and ground white pepper to taste. Add meat to soy sauce mixture and toss to coat meat. Allow to marinate at least 5 minutes, or cover and marinate overnight in the refrigerator.
2. Peel tomatoes; place in simmering water to cover for about 30 to 45 seconds, then run cold water on them to cool. Remove peel. Cut each tomato into 6 lengthwise wedges. Set aside. Cut green onion into 1 1/2-inch long pieces and set aside.
3. In a small bowl, combine 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch and 2 tablespoons water; set aside to use as needed to thicken the stir-fry.
4. Combine sauce ingredients: In a medium bowl, combine ketchup, 4 tablespoons water, sugar, curry powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, vinegar, and oyster sauce. Stir to combine; set aside.
5. Velvet the meat: Place a slotted scoop and plate next to the stove. In a deep pan, heat enough vegetable oil to cover meat on high heat. When oil is hot but not smoking, remove meat from marinade and cautiously place in oil. Add meat and cook 30 seconds. Remove with slotted scoop and place on a plate. Meat will still be pink on the inside.
6. Stir-fry: In a wok, heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil on high heat. Add sauce to wok and stir. When sauce starts to bubble, add meat and toss. Add tomatoes and green onion; toss. Cook, tossing frequently, until tomatoes are heated through and start to soften slightly. If sauce isn’t thick, stir the cornstarch-water mixture from Step 3; add it a little at a time to the mixture and toss to combine, adding just enough to thicken sauce. Serve immediately with either rice or noodles.


Delia and her late husband Art Snyder on the day we shot the video in 2009.

To read the OC Register story, go to


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