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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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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