Lido Bottle Works’ Chef Amy Lebrun Shows Off Fish Mastery

Amy Lebrun, the talented executive chef at Lido Bottle Works at Lido Marina Village in Newport Beach, joined me in my kitchen to show off her fish cookery skills. She showcased rock cod fillets, same-day caught off the backside of Catalina Island.

She sourced the fish from the Dory Fleet and Market, the beach-side fishing cooperative located at the base of the Newport Pier. The fillets, a glimmering bridesmaid’s pink, smelled sweet – proof that the fish had been plucked from the salt water only hours earlier.

Lebrun graduated from Huntington Beach High School where she played on the soccer team. After graduating from the culinary program at Orange Coast College, she had the opportunity to work her way up in the kitchens at Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel. She cooked from the banquet kitchen to the Club Grill to the Dining Room, under the treasured mentorship of Chef Dee Nguyen.

She credits Nguyen with teaching her the importance of endurance. Today, Nguyen is executive chef-owner of Break of Dawn restaurant in Laguna Niguel. He conducts inspirational pop-up dinners from time to time, and she relishes those opportunities to collaborate with him.

Secret Talent: She says that “bad dancing” brings her joy, especially if it is accompanied by someone who can’t sing very well.

Biggest Mistake: Working in catering. It wasn’t for her. She says that it is just reheat and serve; temporarily, she says that it killed her soul.

Favorite knife: She adores her one-sided Global vegetable knife. As a student in 2000, she attended the Culinary Olympics in Germany. Her cherished knife traveled in a knife bag in the overhead bin above her head. That was air travel before 9-11.

Drink of Choice: Red wine. A Sonoma Valley Pinot Noir from Walt is one of her favorites.

Espelette Powder: She loves using mild Espellete pepper, an ingredient must-have in the Basque country of France. The name comes from the village of Espelette in southwest France.

Collector: She collects Bakelite jewelry, vintage Pyrex and reverse-painted picture frames from the 20’s.

Lido Bottle Works’ Dory Catch of the Day with Kabocha Puree, Seasonal Fruit Pico, Chorizo and Rainbow Chard
Yield: 2 generous servings
1/2 kabocha squash, peeled, seeded, strings removed, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 2 cups)
1/3 cup diced sweet onion
1/2 unpeeled apple, such as Honeycrisp, cored, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 cup dry white wine plus 2/3 cup water
Salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups ground soft Spanish chorizo
Seasonal Fruit Pico, unpeeled and all cut into small pieces to each contribute about 1/4 cup: Asian pear, Fuyu persimmon, Bartlett pear, crisp apple, pomegranate arils (seeds), roasted (peeled) poblano chili, red onion – plus 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, salt, pepper and olive oil to taste
4 tablespoons butter, divided use
2 (about 4 to 6 ounces each) rock cod fillets
1 small bunch rainbow chard (4 large stalks of chard), stems removed and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup diced red onion
Espelette powder to taste
Optional garnish: borage flowers

  1. In a large saucepan on high heat, add squash, onion and apple. Add wine and water; bring to boil. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low; simmer until squash in fork tender. Puree in blender or using an immersion blender. Set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, cook ground chorizo in wide medium skillet on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until cooked through and a little crispy on part of the exterior. Set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, prepare “pico” of seasonal fruit: In bowl combine prepared Asian pear, persimmon, pear, apple, pomegranate, chili, red onion, cilantro, juice, salt, pepper and olive oil. Set aside for 20 minutes for flavors to marry.
  4. Season fish with a little olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Heat 2 tablespoons butter until very hot in large skillet on medium-high heat. Saute fish, turning once, until cooked through (it is ok if butter gets a little color in the process).
  5. Meanwhile, cook chard: In large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons butter on medium-high heat. Add chard stems, garlic and red onion. Cook until stems are starting to get tender. Add leaves and cook until heated through and wilted.
  6. Plate: Place a puddle of squash puree in center of each place; push with spoon to smear slightly. Top with generous portion of chard, building a mound. Top each with fish fillet and sprinkle with espelette powder to taste. Top with chorizo and pico. Serve immediately.

Lido Bottle Works, Lido Marina Village, 3408 Via Oporto #103, Newport Beach


Rice Pilaf is a very versatile dish. It can be augmented with many different combinations of vegetables. One of my favorite add-ons is leeks and corn kernels.

The term “pilaf” is generally used when rice is cooked in a broth, and often implies that the rice has attained a golden color by first being sautéed lightly in oil (or oil and butter) before the addition of the broth. When entertaining, I make pilaf ahead of time and reheat it in the microwave before serving it. Lovely.

Corn and Leek Pilaf
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
1 large leek or 2 small leeks, white and light green portion
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, canola oil or grapeseed oil
1 1/2 cups long-grained rice
3 cups broth, chicken or vegetable
3/4 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Optional: chopped fresh basil or parsley, to taste

1. Quarter leek(s) lengthwise and cut into thin crosswise slices. Place in bowl of cold water and squish them around to remove any sand or grit. Drain and pat dry; set aside.

2. In a large saucepan, heat butter and oil on medium-high heat. Add rice and cook, stirring a couple of times, for 1 minute. Add leek(s) and cook, stirring occasionally, until rice turns light golden brown. Add broth and bring to boil. Cover with tight lid and reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Simmer 13 minutes. Add corn, cover and cook 4 minutes or until all broth is gone. Remove cover.

3. Add salt, pepper and, if using, chopped fresh herbs. Toss; taste and adjust as needed.

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Roasted Artichokes with Lemon Vinaigrette, Worth It!

Roasting artichokes brings out their nutty, delicious flavor. The process isn’t open roasting, to my mind it is kind of a steaming in the oven, the halved olive oil-coated “arties” arranged cut-side down and covered with foil.

I fell in love with them at TAPS Fish House and Brewery in Irvine. Executive chef Ryan Robertson does them to perfection – served with herb vinaigrette, Pecorino cheese, Romano cheese, Meyer lemon and basil pesto aioli.


So … I wanted to recreate them at home. Using my new favorite cookbook, “Vegetables Illustrated” from the folks at America’s Test Kitchen, I pulled out my sharpest knife and set to work. Here’s the truth …. prepping raw artichokes requires time and determination = trimming, halving, removing the fuzzy chokes requires dedication. But truly, they are delicious.

Roasted Artichokes with Lemon Vinaigrette

Yield: 4 servings, or 8 half-artichoke servings
3 lemons
4 artichokes (8 to 10 ounces each)
9 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons chopped Italian parsley
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

  1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 475 degrees. Cut 1 lemon in half, squeeze halves into large container filled with 2 quarts water, then add the spent halves. Working with 1 artichoke at a time, trim steam to about 1/4 inch and cut off top quarter of artichoke. Break off bottom 3 or 4 rows of tough outer leaves by pulling them downward. Using kitchen shears, trim off top portion of outer leaves. Using paring knife. trim off outer layer of steam and base, removing any dark green parts. Cut artichoke in half from top to bottom. Remove choke and any tiny inner purple-tinged leaves using small spoon. Submerge prepped artichokes in lemon water. Prep remaining artichokes.
  2. Cover bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon oil. (I used a rimmed baking sheet so I got more caramelization on the cut side – it’s up to you.) Remove artichokes from lemon water, shaking off excess water. Toss artichoke halves with 2 tablespoons oil, 3/4 teaspoon salt and pinch of pepper. Gently rub oil between leaves. Arrange cut side down on prepared dish (pan). Trim ends of remaining 2 lemons, halve crosswise and arrange cut side down in dish (pan) next to artichokes. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and roast until cut sides of artichokes begin to brown and bases and leaves are tender when poked with the top of paring knife, 25 to 30 minutes.
  3. Transfer artichokes to serving platter. Let lemons cool slightly then squeeze into fine-meshed strainer set over bowl, extracting as much juice as possible (press firmly on solids to yield 1 1/2 tablespoons. Whisk parsley, garlic, mustard and 1/2 teaspoon salt into juice. Whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in 6 tablespoons oil. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon dressing over artichokes. (These beauties are delicious warm, at room temperature or cold. Source: “Vegetables Illustrated” (America’s Test Kitchen, $40 price on cover)


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Chef Craig Strong Opens Ocean at Main in Laguna Beach

Chef Chef Craig Strong opened Ocean at Main in Laguna Beach in October, fulfilling a long-time career dream to open his own restaurant. The location is 222 Ocean Avenue near Main Beach, and the 126-seat, 4,500-square-foot eatery is open daily for lunch and dinner (and now serves weekend brunch on Saturdays and Sundays, 10 to 3).

Coming Full Circle…After nearly 25 years of working at luxury hotels and resorts around the globe (including Studio at Montage Laguna), Strong has come full circle to his native Southern California roots.

Inside dining and on the patio.  Mr. Wonderful and I like to sit next to the fountain on the patio. He starts with a snazzy Manhattan and I have the St. Clair (vodka+St Germain+Cucumber+Mint). Note that the restaurant is in a historic building,  an early 1940’s building designed by Aubrey St. Clair that once housed the Laguna Federal Savings and Loan.

The Chef Says…“I want to cook for our guests the way I cook for my family and friends at home. At Ocean at Main, I will celebrate the diversity, freshness and healthy lifestyle of Southern California. We will procure our ingredients from the local farmers and meat, seafood and specialty vendors whom I have been working and collaborating with for years. Coaxing the true flavors from exceptional products is always my goal.”

It’s really difficult to select my favorite dishes, because I haven’t had anything that I haven’t loved.  Here’s a small taste:

Charred Spinach Octopus with Cauliflower Ratatouille (Chef once worked in Barcelona, Spain at the prestigious Arts)


Dungeness Crab Cavatelli (pasta made fresh in house)

Oxtail Kale Risotto – Register critic Brad Johnson named this his “best dish of  the week.”

Best Spinach Salad around in my opinion – delicious Bloomsdale spinach – crunch comes from fried calamari – perky from vinaigrette – YUM

Ocean at Main, 222 Ocean Avenue, Laguna Beach

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Cranberry Cake – tart berries balanced with sweet-rich goodness

The tartness of fresh cranberries pairs well with sweet, buttery baked goods.

This sweet-tart cake is delicious for breakfast or served as a holiday dessert accompanied with whipped cream or ice cream.

It also makes a great hostess gift!

It can be prepared three days in advance, wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature.

Finely chop fresh crannies in food processor (don’t puree).

Finely grate citrus – easiest and quickest way is using a Microplane.


Cranberry Spice Cake

Yield: 8 servings

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups (8 ounces) fresh (or frozen, thawed) cranberries
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon freshly grated orange zest
2 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup apple cider or apple juice
Lemon glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest
3 tablespoons strained fresh lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
For servings: sweetened whipped cream or ice cream


  1. For cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat bottom and sides of 8-inch square baking pan with nonstick spray. Line bottom with parchment paper; coat paper with spray. Whisk flour and next 5 ingredients in a medium bowl and set aside. Pulse cranberries in a food processor until finely chopped but not puréed; set aside.
  2. Stir sugar, brown sugar, and oil in another medium bowl to blend. Add eggs one at a time, stirring to blend between additions. Whisk in sour cream, orange zest, lemon zest, and vanilla.
  3. Whisk in dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with apple cider (or juice) in 2 additions and whisking to blend. Fold in chopped cranberries. Scrape batter into prepared pan; smooth top.
  4. Bake, rotating pan halfway through, until a tester inserted into center of cake comes out almost clean, 60 to 70 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack; let cake cool in pan for 15 minutes. Run a thin knife around inside of pan to release cake; turn out cake onto rack. Peel off parchment paper, then flip cake and let cool for 20 minutes.
  5. For lemon glaze: Whisk powdered sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt in a small bowl. Spread glaze over warm cake, allowing it to drip down sides. Let stand until glaze becomes crackly, about 1 hour. Serve at room temperature, with compote spooned next to it.

DO AHEAD: Cake can be made 3 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

Source: Adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine


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Luscious Korean-Style Ribs and Cucumber Salad from Chef Brian Huskey

Brian Huskey, acclaimed OC chef-owner of two Tackle Box restaurants, shares the secrets of his luscious Korean ribs in my home kitchen.

Korean ribs offer irresistible succulence. The well-marbled beef cut crosswise into thin meaty slabs caramelizes to perfection on the grill.  Dubbed “flaken ribs,” each chew yields a balance of sweet-soy-ginger soaked flavors.


For decades I added 7-Up soda to the marinade, but in the hands of Brian Huskey, executive chef-owner of Tackle Box in Corona del Mar and Costa Mesa (SOCO), a tastier marinade version is spiked with Asian pear. The pear does double duty; it adds subtle sweetness while tenderizing the meat.


He accompanies the ribs with a perky cucumber “salad,” a quick pickle laced with a pinch of Gochugaru Korean chili flakes. The bright red bits of pepper add gentle heat and a welcome hint of sweetness, while the bright rice vinegar-based brine complements the ribs’ richness.


Huskey competed on BRAVO’s Top Chef season 11 (reaching the final five), and his flagship eatery was acknowledged as one of OC’s “2017 Best Restaurants of the Year” by Orange Coast magazine.

Favorite knife: The first knife he bought (using his second culinary pay check) was his well-used Global chef’s knife with a blade made of high-tech molybdenum/vanadium stainless steel.

OC restaurant pick: He lives close to Water Grill in Costa Mesa and enjoys walking there from his home. He orders a drink from the bar along with a seafood tower.

Biggest culinary mistake: He cooked chicken breast without the skin, revealing that he was eliminated from Top Chef for this reason after reaching the top five.

Tackle Box “Home-Edition” Korean BBQ Short Ribs and Spicy Cucumbers

Yield: about 5 to 6 servings, 3 ribs per person
Short Ribs:
4 large yellow onions, peeled, cut into chunks
6 peeled garlic cloves, dark root ends removed
1 1/2-inch knob fresh ginger, peeled, sliced
1/2 Asian pear, peeled, cut into chunks, can substitute Bartlett pear if desired
1/2 cup dark soy sauce or Korean soy sauce
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons rice wine or sake
4 tablespoons Asian (roasted) sesame oil
1 1/2 tablespoons ground black pepper
15 to 18 flanken-cut short ribs
Vegetable or canola oil for oiling grill grate
8 Persian cucumbers
Enough kosher salt to sparingly cover
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon Gochugaru Korean chili flakes (available online or in Asian markets)
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
2 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Asian (roasted) sesame oil
Kosher salt to taste
Garnish: toasted sesame seeds

  1. Marinate ribs: Place onions, garlic, ginger, Asian pear in food processor. Process until part of mixture is pureed while a small portion is a little chunky. Place in large nonreactive bowl. Stir in soy sauce, sugar, rice wine, sesame oil and pepper. Add ribs and toss a little to coat. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours – 8 hours is better, but no more than 24 hours. If you look at the video, you will see how chef layers the meat and marinade in a stainless-steel roasting pan.
  2. Meanwhile, cut cucumbers into 1/4-inch wide crosswise slices. Place in colander in sink and toss lightly with salt. Allow to sit for 30 minutes, shaking occasionally to remove water that is released. Lightly rinse with cold water and drain well; pat dry. In a bowl mix all remaining cucumber ingredients except sesame seeds. Add cucumbers and toss. Can be prepared several hours in advance and refrigerated. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds.
  3. Heat grill to medium-high heat. Wipe clean grate with oil (I use a folded piece of paper towel held with tongs and paper towel dipped into vegetable or canola oil). Grill ribs until cooked through and nicely caramelized. Serve on platter accompanied with quick-pickled cucumbers.

Tackle Box locations: 3029 E Shore Avenue, Corona Del Mar, as well as 3321 Hyland Avenue, Suite E (SOCO), Costa Mesa

Here’s a quick tip from Melissa’s Produce!

Cherry tomatoes are often the tastiest tomato in the marketplace. Here’s a speedy way to show them off in pasta.

Weeknight Pasta Pomodoro

Yield: 4 to 6 servings
1 pound dry penne or fusilli or farfalle pasta
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided use, plus more for drizzling
3 large garlic cloves, minced
Pinch dry red chili flakes
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
4 cups ripe cherry tomatoes, halved if large, left whole if on the small side
3 tablespoons butter
2 cups whole fresh basil leaves
4 green onions, thinly sliced, including half of dark green stalks
Flaky sea salt such as Maldon, to taste
Garnish: grated Pecorino cheese
Minced Italian parsley

  1. Bring large pot of salted water to boil on high heat. Add pasta and cook until just barely al dente, about a minute less than indicated on package directions. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water. Drain pasta and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, heat large, deep skillet on medium-high heat; add 1 tablespoon olive oil, garlic, red chili flakes, salt and pepper; cook about 1 1/2 minutes, or until garlic is softened but not browned. Add tomatoes; cook about 5 to 8 minutes, until lightly browned around edges and slightly shriveled.
  3. Add pasta and toss. Add enough of reserved pasta cooking water to make mixture a little sauce-y. Cook about 1 minute. Add butter, basil and green onion slices; toss to coat. Divide between shallow bowls or rimmed plates. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with flaky salt, Pecorino cheese and parsley. Pass pepper mill at the table.
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Pear-Nut Upside-Down Cake – So Scrumptious for Holidays or Any Day

Pear-Walnut (or Pecan) Upside-Down Cake

I served this cake as one of three options on Thanksgiving. Almost everyone asked for the recipe, because the cake is so scrumptious.

Bosc Pears, those brown-skinned elongated beauties, hold their shape in this delicious cake. I’ve made it with walnuts as well as pecans. Be sure that the pan you use is at least 2 inches deep and it is best if it is light-colored.

The recipe is from those perfectionists at America’s Test Kitchen.

A confession: I use salted butter because it is what I have on hand. So I use a little less salt than is called for in the recipe. Use the salt amounts given if using unsalted butter. Bad Cathy. (It works out fine.) And if you look at the photo, you’ll she that I cut the pears in quarters rather than eighths … always testing to see what I like best.

Serve it with sweetened whipped cream or crème fraiche.  Ho, ho, ho!

Yield: 8 to 10
Butter for greasing pan
Parchment paper cut to match bottom of pan
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) packed dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 ripe but firm Bosc pears (about 8 ounces each)
1 cup walnuts or pecans, toasted, cooled (toast on baking sheet about 5 minutes at 350 degrees – watch carefully because nuts burn easily)
1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
3 large eggs
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1. Topping: Adjust oven rack to middle position. Heat to 300 degrees. Grease 9-inch round cake pan and line bottom with parchment paper. Pour melted butter over bottom of pan and swirl to evenly coat. Combine sugar, cornstarch and salt in small bowl; sprinkle evenly over melted butter.
2. Pears: Peel, halve and core pears. Set aside 1 pear half and reserve for another use (maybe a nice snack for the baker). Cut remaining 5 pear halves into 4 wedges each. Arrange pears in circular pattern around cake pan with tapered ends pointing inward. Arrange two smallest pear wedges in center. (I’ve noticed that sometimes the pears are so long there is no room in the center, so I just snuggle them closer together …)
3. Cake: Pulse nuts, flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda in food processor until nuts are finely ground, 8 to 10 pulses. Transfer to mixing bowl.
Process eggs and sugar in now-empty processor until very pale yellow, about 2 minutes. With processor running, add melted butter and oil in steady stream until incorporated. Add walnut mixture and pulse to combine 4 to 5 pulses. Pour batter evenly over pears (some pear may show through, but cake will bake over them).
4. Bake until center of cake is set and bounces back when gently pressed and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 1 hour to 1 1/4 hours, rotating pan after 40 minutes. Let cake cool for 15 minutes (set a timer because this timing is important). Carefully run paring knife or offset spatula around sides of pan. Invert cake onto wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet; discard parchment. Let cake cool for about 2 hours and transfer to serving platter.

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Chef Blake Mellgren, Exec Chef-Owner Craft House in Dana Point, Big-time Masters Yellowtail

Blake Mellgren, executive chef-owner of Craft House in Dana Point, shows off fruits and vegetables in an irresistible fish dish. If you taste this dish, you won’t be surprised to know that Mellgren was one of three finalists at the 2018 Golden Foodie Awards in the prestigious 2018 Chef of the Year category.

Sometimes the name of a dish doesn’t do it justice. Yellowtail with Creamed Corn, Asparagus, Wild Mushrooms and Peach-Watermelon-Basil Relish sounds good, but it might be overlooked on a menu.

In the talented hands of Blake Mellgren, executive chef-owner of Craft House in Dana Point, the dish is well worth a two-hour drive in traffic. It’s that scrumptious.

The yellowtail is caught locally and cooked to perfection; fork cut, its caramelized surface reveals a lovely central streak of pink. The corn, oh the corn, is rich in thyme-scented cream and mellowed-out garlic. Mellgren points out that it’s creamed corn, not cream corn; creamed corn is luxuriously simmered in heavy whipping cream that’s augmented with the silky corn milk grated from the cobs’ exteriors. Once pureed and augmented with a few whole kernels, it’s smeared to cover the plate with a blanket of irresistibility.


A vegetable mélange of sautéed vegetables rests on the corn, a mix of herbal earthiness composed of tender-crisp vegetables and browned wild mushrooms. The fish rests on an angle atop the veg and is generously adorned with fresh fruit salsa.

Have a look at the video to see how Mellgren nuances the dish. He makes it look easy and I love his “string-through-the-handle” trick.

Working the acclaimed kitchen of Danny Meyer’s The Modern, NYC: He says that it was like a ballet at 120 degrees, a symphony of dancers all in unison. As a line cook, he kept his eyes and ears open 24-7, taking in the nuances that were part of everyday routine that most restaurants overlook.

Drink of choice: Bourbon. There are over 70 whiskeys at Craft House. One of his favorites is Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.

Restaurant favorites in South County: Driftwood Kitchen, Laguna Beach.

Pan-Roasted Yellowtail with Creamed Corn, Asparagus, Wild Mushrooms with Peach-Watermelon-Basil Relish
Yield: 4 servings
Creamed Corn:
6 husked ears of corn, white or yellow
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium-sized shallots, thinly sliced lengthwise
6 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
Salt and pepper to taste
6 sprigs fresh thyme, tied together with cotton string, leaving one long end
2 cups heavy whipping cream
Asparagus, Wild Mushroom and Summer Squash:
2 tablespoons olive oil or blended oil (canola and olive oil)
1 bag of shimeji or honshimeji mushrooms (Whole Foods, Asian Markets)
1 bunch asparagus, cut on diagonal into 3/4-inch slices, leaving tips intact
1 summer squash (zucchini, Mexican white “tatuma” or crookneck), diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 shallot, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/4 cup dry white wine
Fresh herb mix: minced fresh thyme, rosemary, chives, parsley
Peach, Watermelon and Basil Relish:
1 ripe peach, white or yellow (in fall substitute orange, tangerine or apple)
Heart of 1 watermelon
1 sprig fresh basil, cut into thin strips
3 tablespoons blended oil (canola and olive oil)
4 (about 5 ounces each) yellowtail fillets (or substitute halibut, cod, or other white-fleshed fish)
2 1/2 tablespoons butter

  1. Prepare creamed corn. Cut corn kernels off cobs; don’t cut too close to the cob (leave some “meat” attached to the cob); cut atop a clean kitchen towel to corral the kernels. Set kernels aside. Grate cobs on a box grater set over bowl or rimmed plate to extract corn milk; set aside. In large deep skillet cook garlic and shallots in oil on medium-high heat until shallots soften. Season with salt and pepper. Reserving about 1/2 cup of kernels, add remaining kernels to skillet; cook until just barely tender. Add thyme (tie string to pan handle) and cream; simmer about 15 minutes. Add corn milk to cream mixture and let cook for another 5 minutes. Puree corn and cream mixture with an immersion blender or blender until smooth. Return pureed corn to put and add reserved corn; simmer 5 minutes. Taste and add more salt, or pepper (or both) if needed.
  2. Prepare vegetable mixture. Heat oil in large skillet on high heat. Add mushrooms and sauté until lightly browned. Add asparagus and summer squash; sauté until squash is just barely tender, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and shallot and sauté 1 minute. Add white wine, salt and pepper. Cook until wine is reduced. Season with a good pinch of fresh herb mix. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. (Just before serving, add a little more of that herb mix.)
  3. Prepare relish: Cut peach and watermelon in 1/2-inch dice; season lightly with salt and pepper. Add basil and gently toss.
  4. Prepare fish: Heat oil in large skillet until almost smoking on medium-high heat. Add fish, pressing it down gently. Reduce heat to medium. Once crust is achieved, about 3 minutes, turn it. Add butter and cook about 2 additional minutes. To plate, spread creamed corn over surface of each dinner plate. Place a generous scoop of vegetable mixture on one side. Place fish next to mixture leaning one side of fish on vegetables so that it is on a slant. Top fish with relish. Serve.

Craft House is at 34094 CA-1, Dana Point.

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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Halloween Creep Cakes, Thanks Martha

Is it possible to make a treat that is scary and whimsical at the same time?

Yup, Martha Stewart can with her Halloween-themed “Creep Cakes,” cupcakes adorned with monster-style marshmallow eyes and orange-wedge candy mouths.

Granddaughter Coco, 3,  decorated these cupcakes without help. Look who photo-bombed in the background! Katie the Carin.  (Coco told me that the cupcakes represent members of her family.)

Although some of Martha’s versions at are more labor intensive, I choose the easiest renditions for small grandchildren-hands to create.

And I simplified the process by using a packaged spice cake mix for the cupcakes, plus a simple buttercream frosting, a creamy icing that I tinted lime green with food coloring.

Creep Cakes
Yield: 24
1 spice cake mix, plus ingredients called for on box (or any flavor you prefer)
Cupcake paper liners
Buttercream frosting: 1 cup (2 sticks) room temperature butter, 2 teaspoons vanilla, 4 cups powdered sugar (1 pound), 1 to 2 tablespoons milk, food coloring
Decorations: regular-size marshmallows, M&M’s, orange citrus wedge candy, candy eyes; optional – licorice lace, gummy tape and jellybeans
1. Prepare cupcakes according to package directions, lining muffin tin with paper liners. Cool.
2. Prepare frosting. Place softened butter and vanilla in bowl of a free-standing mixer; beat on medium until combined. Add powdered sugar; drape a clean kitchen towel over mixer and beat on low speed until mostly combined. Scrape down sides and bottom of bowl with silicone spatula and beat on medium-high speed until completely combined, again scraping down sides as needed. Add milk a little at a time, beating between additions, until a spreadable consistency (you may end up using less milk). Add desired food coloring (I used green and a little yellow); beat to combine, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Spread on cupcakes (an offset spatula is handy for this).
3. Make Creep Cakes: For big googly eyes, cut marshmallows in half through the middle. Press an M&M’s on the sticky side. Put one, two, three or four eyes on top of each cupcake, facing forward. Cut citrus-wedge candy to make mouths or tongues.
Source: adapted from

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Autumn Salads – Salubrious Crunch Teamed with Irresistible Flavors

Beets. Oranges. Apples. A few toasted walnuts. Some creamy blue cheese-blessed dressing.

Quick! Hand me a knife and fork.

The flavor combinations in this salad are irresistible. You can add some grilled chicken if you like.

And there are a couple of shortcuts that make it quick to prepare.

One: Buy steamed, ready-to-eat beets. They are sold in the refrigerated deli at Gelson’s, Bristol Farms, Trader Joe’s and Mother’s Markets. (The packaging looks a little different at Trader Joe’s, but it has the same luscious beets inside.)

Two: Make the dressing ahead of time and store it up to three days in the fridge.

Here’s the recipe … it’s from my second book, “Melissa’s Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce:”

Hearts of Romaine Salad with Beets, Apples and Creamy Blue Cheese Dressing
Yield: 6 servings
2 tablespoons freshly-squeeze lemon juice
1/2 cup plain yogurt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste
6 ounces crumbled blue cheese
1 cup walnuts
3 hearts of romaine, each quartered lengthwise
4 medium beets, roasted or steamed, peeled, sliced or diced
1 crisp apple, unpeeled, cored, cut into 1/4-inch wedges
Optional for thinning dressing: 1 to 2 tablespoons milk or buttermilk
2 to 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
1. Place lemon juice, yogurt, olive oil, salt and pepper in blender. Whirl until smooth, about 1 minute, stopping to scrape down sides if needed. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Stir in blue cheese.
2. Place walnuts on rimmed baking sheet in single layer. Toast until lightly browned in a 350-degree oven, about 5 minutes. Watch carefully because nuts burn easily. Set aside to cool.
3. On each plate, place 2 romaine quarters. Arrange beet slices and apple wedges next to romaine. Spoon dressing across plate from side to side, spilling dressing across middle of romaine and a portion of the beets and apples. If dressing is too thick, stir in 1 to 2 tablespoons milk or buttermilk. Scatter walnuts on top. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.
Nutritional information (per serving): Calories 320; fat calories 230, total fat 25 grams; sat fat 7 grams, cholesterol 20 milligrams; sodium 460 milligrams; total carbohydrates 14 grams; fiber 4 grams; sugars 9 grams; protein 14 grams; vitamin A IUs 30%; vitamin C 30%; calcium 25%; iron 10%.

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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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