Eight-Leg Treasure From the Deep – Chef Rainer Schwarz Turns Octopus Tender and Delicious


Wine-braised octopus, legs grilled until lightly charred, is paired with a luscious tomato vinaigrette and creamy garbanzo puree.

Executive chef-partner at Driftwood Kitchen, Laguna Beach, and The Deck on Laguna Beach, Rainer Schwarz, knows how to deliciously nuance seafood, incorporating vibrant flavors and contrasting textures into everything from whole crisp-skinned branzino to hamachi crudo, buttermilk-fried soft shell crabs to seared sea scallops adrift in truffle-spiked risotto.


That polished skill-set also applies to his Grilled Spanish Octopus, an alluring concoction that appears on the Driftwood Kitchen’s small plate menu.


The eight-legged wonder is tenderized by long, gentle braising in a mixture of fruity red wine, leeks, herbs, dried chili flakes and garlic. A wine cork is also added to the pot, an ingredient trick that Schwarz says insures tenderness. Once cooled, the legs are grilled until heated through and caramelized, a light char gracing their exterior.

Watch the short video to see Schwarz’ prep and plating.


On the plate the diagonally-cut chunks of octopus sit atop hummus-like garbanzo puree. And draped over the top is an heirloom tomato vinaigrette, a mixture that flavor boosts the dish with Spanish sherry, capers, shallots and agrumato, a lemony extra-virgin olive oil that is made by pressing whole lemons along with the olives. Zahtar (a tasty condiment made with dried herbs, sesame seeds and salt) is judiciously sprinkled over the top.



Born in Austria, Schwarz originally came to the U.S. to work with the Patina Group’s Joachim Splichal; the two chefs met when Schwarz was Chef de Cuisine at the Grand National Hotel in Switzerland.

Restaurant favorite: Other than one of his restaurants, Schwarz says that his favorite eateries are constantly changing. Jaleo, Chef Jose Andres’ restaurant in The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, is his current pick. He loves Jaleo’s baby squid from southern Spain sautéed with Spanish white beans. It’s a dish he dubs “simple delicious food.”

What’s always in the fridge at home: Plugra butter (European-style American-made high butterfat butter, the only brand his son, Max, 15, will eat), a good white wine and good cheese.

Early Austrian days: He studied accounting in school and was a professional chess player until he fell in love with cooking at age 15.


Thanks to Curt Norris for his time and talent – his mouth-watering photography and video-taping (and editing).


Driftwood Kitchen’s Grilled Spanish Octopus
Yield: about 6 to 8 servings
Braised Octopus:
1 Spanish octopus, 4 to 6 pounds
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves peeled garlic
White and light green portion of 2 leeks, washed, thinly sliced
1 bottle fruity red wine
2 tablespoons dried red chili flakes
2 bay leaves
Heirloom Tomato Vinaigrette:
5 ripe heirloom tomatoes, finely diced
1 large shallot, finely diced
1/2 cup Pedro Ximenez (Spanish sherry)
1/4 cup capers, drained, rinsed
1 cup agrumato (extra-virgin lemon olive oil)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Garbanzo Bean Puree:
2 cups cooked, drained garbanzo beans, canned beans OK
Extra-virgin olive oil, enough to give a smooth creamy texture
Juice of 1 Meyer lemon
For grilling octopus: olive oil
Garnish: zahtar
Optional garnish: tiny peppardews, microgreens, radishes cut into matchsticks
Cook’s notes: Note to home cooks, this vinaigrette would be delicious atop any grilled fish. Agrumato oil is sold in shops that specialize in gourmet items, such as Surfas in Costa Mesa. Zahtar is sold in Middle Eastern markets and in spice shops such as Savory Spice Shop.
1. Start by rinsing the octopus by hand in cold water, scrubbing it with your hands in the process. Heat oil in large Dutch oven on medium heat. Add garlic and leeks; cook on medium heat until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in wine, chili flakes and bay leaves. Add octopus; simmer gently on low heat, covered, until tender. Remove octopus from liquid; cool.
2. Meanwhile, prepare vinaigrette. In a bowl or glass measuring cup, combine all vinaigrette ingredients except the oil; stir to combine. Add oil in a very thin stream, stirring constantly. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Set aside.
3. For garbanzo mixture, place beans in food processor. Process gradually adding olive oil, whirling until mixture is a smooth puree. Strain through sieve. Stir in the juice of 1 Meyer lemon. Add sea salt to taste; set aside.
4. Once the octopus is cooled, cut legs off body. Heat a grill pan on medium-high heat and oil it generously with extra-virgin olive oil. Grill octopus legs until caramelized and lightly charred. Cut legs on the diagonal into 1- to 2-inch pieces. Smear some of the garbanzo mixture on each plate. Top with octopus. Stir vinaigrette and spoon over octopus. Sprinkle with zahtar to taste. Garnish with tiny sweet peppadews, radish and microgreens, if desired.
Source: Chef Rainer Schwarz, The Deck on Laguna Beach and Driftwood Kitchen, Laguna Beach


Here’s a quick tip from Melissa’s …


Use kale in an open-faced sandwich.

Kale-topped toasts adorned with sunny-side up eggs make a delectable breakfast treat, but they also could be the centerpiece of a tasty lunch or supper. If you prefer firmer yolks, turn the eggs to cook on both sides, or substitute moist scrambled eggs or scrambled egg whites.

Breakfast Toasts with Kale and Sunny-Side Eggs
Yield: 4 servings
4 (3/8-inch thick) slices rustic whole wheat bread
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided use
5 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, divided use
1 large garlic clove, minced
6 cups Tuscan black kale (cavolo nero) or curly-edge kale – that has been washed, patted dry, midrib removed, loosely packed, cut into 1/4-inch wide crosswise slices, see prep
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
4 eggs
Seasoned salt
1. Adjust oven rack to 8 inches below broiler element. Turn on oven light and broiler. Place bread in single layer on rimmed baking sheet. Broil until just lightly browned, about 30 seconds. Remove from oven, turn bread over and lightly brush with olive oil, using about 1/2 tablespoon. Sprinkle each toast with 1 tablespoon cheese. Return to broiler. Keep a close eye on the toast; broil until lightly browned, about 40 to 50 seconds.
2. Line a large plate with paper towels. Heat oil in large, deep skillet on medium-high heat. Add garlic, kale and water; season with salt and pepper. When liquid comes to a boil, cover and cook until tender, about 6 to 8 minutes, tossing mixture 2 or 3 times during cooking (common kale will take longer to cook than Tuscan kale). Remove lid and cook until most of liquid evaporates, about 1 minute. Add lemon juice and toss. Place on paper-towel lined plate.
3. Place toasts on 4 plates. Generously spray a medium-size nonstick skillet with cooking spray. Place on medium-high heat. When hot, add eggs one at a time, placing them in a single layer. Reduce heat to low. Cook until white is set, about 2 minutes. Divide kale between 4 toasts. Using a spatula, remove each egg from skillet and place on top of kale. Sprinkle eggs with seasoned salt and remaining cheese. Serve immediately.
Nutritional information (per serving): calories 300; fat calories 120, total fat 14 grams; sat fat 4 grams, cholesterol 190 milligrams; sodium 710 milligrams; total carbohydrates 27 grams; fiber 5 grams; sugars 4 grams; protein 17 grams; vitamin A IUs 310%; vitamin C 210%; calcium 30%; iron 20%
Source: “50 Best Plants on the Planet” by Cathy Thomas (Chronicle, $29.95)


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Holiday Cookie Contest Names $1000 Winner!

Lucca and Provenance Restaurants hosted a holiday cookie contest!  $1000 bucks to the winner!


Irvine resident Natalie Hartanov won $1000 for her delicious Florentine Triangle Jewels!


The contest took place at Provenance in Newport Beach. Chef-Owner Cathy Pavlos was on hand to join in the cookie tasting fun and, of course, to write the check!

(Provenance – The Garden at Eastbluff  is at 2531 Eastbluff Drive, Newport Beach. Restaurant critic Brad A. Johnson named it one of the best new restaurants of 2014.)



“I’ve been making these beautiful cookies – a Florentine mixture baked on top of a butter crust — for Christmas cookie trays for more than three decades,” says Natalie Hartanov.  “For years, I used the candied fruits (as noted in the red and green variation at the end of the recipe), but lately I’ve been making them with dried apricots, dried cherries and almonds.   Either way, they look and taste fabulous!  Dip the edges in chocolate (I like to do this) for extra pizzazz.”

Butter Crust (recipe below)
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup whipping cream
3/4 cup chopped dried apricots (use California Blenheim apricots, not Turkish)
3/4 cup chopped dried pitted tart Montmorency cherries
1 cup sliced almonds
2 tablespoons freshly grated orange peel
6 to 8 ounces bittersweet OR semisweet chocolate, melted
1. Line a 10×15-inch jelly-roll pan with non-stick foil.  Prepare Butter Crust.  Press crust dough evenly into bottom of the foil-lined pan.  Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven 12 to 13 minutes until just beginning to turn golden.  Remove from oven.
2. Meanwhile in a 3-quart saucepan, combine butter, granulated sugar and cream.  Place over medium heat; cook, stirring often, until mixture boils.  Boil 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly.  Stir in apricots, cherries, almonds and orange peel.  Carefully spread mixture evenly over pre-baked crust.
3. Bake in preheated 375-degree oven 12 to 14 minutes, until bubbly and golden brown.  Cool in pan.  Cut cooled cookies crosswise (along 15-inch side of pan) into 6 strips.  Cut each strip into 4 or 5 squares/rectangles and then cut each square/rectangle diagonally into 2 triangles.  Refrigerate cookies, if desired.  Dip one edge of each triangle into melted chocolate.  Allow chocolate to set (refrigerate to speed up).  Store cookies in refrigerator.  Bring to room temperature to serve.  Makes 48 to 60 triangle cookies.

BUTTER CRUST:  In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, combine 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, cut into pieces, and dash salt.  Process until blended.  With motor running, add 2 teaspoons vanilla and 2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons whipping cream through feed tube, processing until dough clings together.

RED AND GREEN FLORENTINE JEWELS:  Replace dried apricots and dried cherries  in above recipe with 1/2 cup EACH chopped red candied cherries, chopped green candied cherries and chopped candied pineapple OR chopped candied orange peel. Proceed as directed in recipe.


Thanks to Natalie and the other four finalists for their delicious and beautiful cookies. And thanks to Cathy Pavlos for making it happen! Happy Holidays!


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Holiday Countdown: Five Easy Ways to Add Glam to Christmas Entertaining

1. ICE BUCKET SPLENDOR: Freeze a bottle of vodka in a fancy-schmancy block of ice adorned with rose petals, thin citrus slices or fresh cranberries. Here is the path that Martha Stewart lays out on marthastewart.com. I choose a squat vodka bottle for this because my freezer won’t accommodate a tall slender bottle.

1 bottle vodka
1 clean empty cardboard half-gallon milk carton
Fresh flowers or thinly sliced fruit (or fresh cranberries)
Utility knife
1. Pour water into the container, just covering the fruit and flowers. Place the carton upright in the freezer. When the liquid is completely frozen, add another layer of fruit and very cold water, and freeze.
2. Repeat, filling and freezing a third of the carton at a time, which prevents all the fruit and flowers from floating to the top until the water reaches the bottle’s neck. Remove from the freezer when it’s time to serve the vodka: Cut away the milk carton with a utility knife; wrap a dinner napkin around the bottle’s base, and serve the vodka with slices of lemon zest tied in knots. Source: marthastewart.com

2. POMEGRANATE SYRUP for Cocktails, Mocktails or Pancakes: This colorful syrup can be prepared up to two weeks ahead and stored in the fridge. Use a small amount stirred into flutes of Champagne or white wine, chilled vodka rocks, or sparkling water “mocktails”.


To make the syrup, combine 2 cups fresh pomegranate juice (such as Pom) and 1 cup granulated sugar in a small saucepan on high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring. Reduce heat and gently simmer until reduced in volume to 1 cup, about 20 minutes. Cool and refrigerate well-sealed.

3. Oh-So Easy-But-Elegant CHEESE PLATTER:  Buy 2 or 3 delicious cheeses. I like to have one blue-veined cheese, one aged white cheddar and one washed-rind cheese, such as Brie.


I arrange the cheese on a slate board and write the name of each cheese in chalk below. Then I scatter nuts and  dried fruit around the cheeses, or sliced apple and/or pear.

Sometimes I drizzle the blue cheese with a little honey. Provide crackers (or thin slices of baguette), cheese knives and  holiday cocktail napkins. Voila!

4. Super-quick PROSCIUTTO WRAPS for appetizers: Use thinly sliced prosciutto twisted around wedges of fruit. Fuyu persimmons are a favorite. Fuyu persimmons are the variety that are tomato shaped.


5. Luscious THUMBPRINT COOKIES: Cookbook author and Food Network Star Ina Garten created my favorite recipe for Coconut Thumbprint Cookies. You can personalize them by adding your favorite preserves to the indentation made by pressing a thumb or finger into each coconut-coated sphere of dough.


Ina’s Thumbprint Cookies

Yield: about 32 cookies

3/4 pound (3 sticks) butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Egg wash: 1 large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water
7 ounces sweetened shredded (flaked) coconut
Raspberry or apricot jam, or your favorite
1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugar for 3 minutes on medium speed. Add in the vanilla and beat until combined. In a separate bowl mix the flour and salt with a whisk to blend. On low speed add flour mixture to butter mixture; mix until dough starts to come together. Dump on floured board and roll together in a flat disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two or three baking sheets with parchment paper.
3. In a small bowl, beat together the egg and water. In another small bowl, place the coconut. Using a medium (1-ounce) ice cream scoop, scoop the dough into your hand and roll into a ball. Drop in the egg wash and then into the coconut. Roll it around and press to coat Place on the baking sheet. With your finger, press an indentation into the top of each cookie dough ball. Fill each indentation with 1/4 teaspoon of the preserves. Bake for about 20 minutes or until coconut is browned. Allow to cool on the baking sheets before removing to a wire rack to cool further.


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No-Stress Easy Appetizers: Got 5 Minutes?


Appetizers start a party off right, especially if they are eye-catching as well as scrumptious.
Ripe Pear Wedges Wrapped in Prosciutto
Yield: about 32 wedges
3 ripe (but not squishy) pears, washed, unpeeled, cored, see cook’s notes
Optional: 3 ounces hard or semi-hard cheese, thinly sliced about the same size lengthwise as the pear wedges, see cook’s notes
5 to 7 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto
For serving: Toothpicks
Garnish: microgreens or fresh herbs such as rosemary or Italian parsley
Cook’s notes: Buy pears 4 to 5 days before using to allow time to ripen. Red Bartlett or green Bartlett with a red blush are the prettiest. White cheddar is delicious with pears, but my favorite cheese to pair with pears is Oveja al Romero, Spanish Manchego-like wonder that is aged coated with rosemary. It has a beautiful herbaceous nose (available at Surfas in Costa Mesa).
1. Cut pears into wedges that are about 3/8-inch thick at the thickest part. Place a piece of cheese next to one side of each wedge and wrap each wedge with narrow strip of prosciutto, twisting it around middle. Secure each with toothpick. Place on platter and garnish with microgreens (immature greens sold in plastic containers at Trader Joe’s). These are best assembled just before serving to prevent pears from discoloring.



Parmigiano Reggiano “Spoons” with Balsamic Syrup
Yield: 20 servings
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
10 ounces Parmigiano Reggiano, cut into cubes (about 1-by-1/4-by-3/4 inches)
20 small basil leaves
10 seedless red grapes, halved (or 20 thin wedges of Fuyu persimmon or cored apple)
1. Place vinegar and sugar in small saucepan. Bring to simmer on high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar; immediately reduce temperature to medium-low and gently simmer about 10 to 12 minutes, reducing the mixture to a little less than 1/4 cup. Set aside to cool.
2. Place cheese cubes in individual Asian soup spoons, teaspoons or one-bite appetizer style bowls. Arrange on platter. Drizzle each with cooled balsamic syrup; garnish each with basil leaf and grape half.
Do-Ahead: syrup can be made in advance and stored at room temperature; cheese can be cut into cubes and stored airtight in refrigerator.


Ginger Roulade
Yield: 16 servings
One (8-ounce) plus one (3-ounce) package cream cheese, room temperature
2 (9-by-12-inch) sheets of lavash, see cook’s notes
2 1/2 cups baby arugula or 1 large bunch watercress (large stems removed, washed, patted dry)
One (8-ounce) jar pink pickled ginger, liquid squeezed out, see cook’s notes
Cook’s notes: Lavash is soft, thin flatbread; it’s sold at some supermarkets, Trader Joe’s and Middle Eastern markets. It should be pliable enough to roll, but if it isn’t you can moisten it with a damp paper towel. Pink pickled ginger is sold in many supermarkets in jars, either in the refrigerated deli close to the wonton skins, or in the sushi section.
1. Place cream cheese in food processor; whirl until soft. Spread cream cheese on one side of each lavash. Place leaves in a single layer on top; cover with pickled ginger. Starting from long side, roll each into a long roll (if it cracks don’t worry, just keep rolling). Trim each end.
Do-Ahead: Wrap each roll in a dampened paper towel (slightly moist, not wet). Refrigerate up to 3 hours in plastic bag or airtight container. Cut crosswise into 1 1/4-inch pieces. Place cut-side down to display spiral design created by ingredients.

… OK, these bacon wonders take more than 5 minutes to prepare, because they spend some time in the oven!

Brown Sugar and Black Pepper Candied Bacon
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
1/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
Finely grated zest of 2 limes
12 slices thick-cut bacon, cut in half crosswise
1. Preheat the oven to 375. In a small bowl, stir together brown sugar, syrup, cayenne, black pepper and lime zest.
2. Put the bacon on a rack (in a single layer) on a rimmed sheet pan lined with foil for easier cleanup. Brush with the sugar mixture, flip, and brush the other side.Bake until the fat is rendered, the bacon is crisp, and the glaze is bubbly, about 30 to 35 minutes (rotate pan front to back if cooking unevenly after about 20 minutes). Let cool on the rack for 5 minutes before serving. Do-Ahead: Do not drain on paper towels; the bacon will stick. If made in advance, store on cool baking sheet lined with a fresh piece of parchment paper for up to 2 hours. If desired, serve upright in a glass (like breadsticks).




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Fig & Olive’s Zucchini Carpaccio – who knew raw zukes could be so délicieux!


Sometimes it’s very simple combinations of ingredients that wow the palate; a bowl of perfectly seasoned olives teamed with sliced salami, or wedges of crisp sweet-tart apple paired with aged white cheddar.


Or, in the case of Fig & Olive in Newport Beach, a stunning “carpaccio” made with raw paper-thin zucchini slices, buttery extra-virgin olive oil, fresh lemon juice, shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and toasted pine nuts. It’s a classic concoction with roots in the south of France.

Watch the short video and see the tricks. I tried making the carpaccio after delighting in it at the restaurant. My version was fine, but not nearly as good as the one overseen by the restaurants’ executive chef, Pascal Lorange. I was delighted when he consented to come to my home and show me the specifics while taping a video.


To start, he showed me that the zucchini needs to be an exact size, the diameter of a quarter, not a nickel or a fifty cent piece. They need to be very thinly sliced, preferably by using a mandolin. He confessed that a vegetable peeler could also be employed to do the skinny slicing.


The components, because there are so few, need to be perfect. The extra-virgin olive oil plays a crucial role. Lorange told me that for the carpaccio he prefers oil that is sweet and buttery, an aromatic wonder sourced from Portugal.


The tasty vegetarian treat may sing of summer, but it is just as delicious as a first course when the weather turns chilly.

Two culinary mentors: Lorange credits two European chefs with putting him on the right track, gastronomically speaking. First, the time spent in the kitchen with Francois Piscitello, chef-owner of Le Jardin des Begards in Liege, Belgium; there the innovative six-course set menus sparked his creative juices. And he credits his training at 18 with legendary three-star chef Georges Blanc in Vonnas, France (the heart of the Bresse countryside). There he learned the culinary fundamentals that are the backbone of his cooking.

Where are they? The local restaurant is in Fashion Island, Newport Beach. Other Fig & Olive locales include Chicago, New York City and West Hollywood.

Fig & Olive’s Zucchini Carpaccio
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
1 pound medium zucchini (diameter about the size of a quarter)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons shaved Parmigiano Reggiano
4 tablespoons toasted pine nuts, see cook’s notes
Cook’s notes: To toast pine nuts, place in small dry skillet on medium heat. Shake handle frequently to redistribute pine nuts, cooking until lightly browned. Watch carefully because they burn easily.
1. Trim zucchini ends. Cut into paper-thin slices using a mandolin or vegetable peeler.
2. Arrange the zucchini slices, slightly overlapping, on a large, flat platter. Cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
3. In a small bowl whisk the olive oil and lemon juice. Just before serving, whisk the olive oil dressing briefly to blend it, drizzle it over the zucchini, season with salt and pepper, scatter the cheese and the pine nuts on top, and serve.
Source: Pascal Lorange, executive chef Fig & Olive restaurants


…Here’s a quick tip from Melissa’s…


Sausage and lentils are a luscious combination, especially if you add apples and celery!

Use ready-to-use steamed lentils and this kind of dish is really quick to prepare. Look for them in the refrigerated deli section at Trader Joe’s, Gelson’s, Mother’s and Bristol Farms.


Sausage with Warm Lentil-Apple Salad

Yield: 4 servings
4 sweet or hot Italian sausages
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1 large Granny Smith Apple, finely chopped
2 stalks celery with leaves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves or 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
Salt and pepper to taste
17 ounces cooked lentils
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 cup chicken broth or vegetable broth
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar or cider vinegar
1. Heat grill. Grill sausages on all sides until cooked through. Place on plate and cover with foil.
2. In large deep skillet, heat oil on medium-high heat. Add shallots, apple, celery, rosemary, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes. Add lentils, mustard, broth and vinegar; stir to combine. Simmer on medium heat until celery and apple soften and liquid reduces slightly. Spoon into 4 shallow bowls and top each serving with a sausage and a sprig of fresh thyme or rosemary.


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The Best and Easiest Thanksgiving Throwback Recipes – Cranberry Mold and Pumpkin Pie

thanksgivingpumpkinmascarponepieA Throwback Thanksgiving menu – that’s the underlying theme of what fills many family’s feast-day tables. The backbone of the meal is made up of core dishes that kindle memories, culinary traditions that are part of what makes each family’s repast unique.


Through three generations, the names of many dishes carried attributions with monikers that called-out the name of the family member that “invented” them and were responsible for providing the gems year after year. Those concoctions’ place on the table remains set in stone; dishes such as Mom’s Apple-Spiked Dressing, Aunt Mary’s Cranberry Salad, or Cathy’s Pumpkin Pie.

Reluctant to tinker too much with tradition, I’ve sought out ways to freshen up those classics, tweaking each dish just enough to build flavor and create texture contrast, without creating a lot of extra work.


Aunt Mary’s Cranberry Mold Cuddles Fresh Berries: I know that gelatin has lost foodie status over the years, but this version boosts the flavor by replacing half of the water with whole cranberry sauce, and adds diced celery and coarse-chopped nuts for crunch.

In my aunt’s childhood, gelatin was considered rather fancy. It was considered a sign of wealth before the dawn of prepared “pre-granulated” gelatin in 1894 by Charles Knox (a little more than twenty years before Mary’s birth). Prior to that only members of the elite classes could afford it; wealthy families employed cooks to labor for hours, rendering gelatin from beef bones and clarifying it to make elaborate aspics, salads and desserts. They were dishes with a Downton Abbey kind of splendor.

I updated Mary’s salad by generously garnishing it with fresh berries tossed with a mixture of orange liqueur, agave syrup and fresh mint.





Cathy’s Pumpkin Pie Facelift

Delicious, and glammed out with cut-outs made with extra pie crust, I found a way to make the pumpkin filling taste better. Adding mascarpone, the Italian-style cream cheese, adds creaminess and subtle nuttiness. And increasing the spice components, just a smidgen, increases the allure.

As for the crust, I’ve included the recipe here. But in truth, during the holidays I often resort to using prepared refrigerated rounds of pie dough. I ease them into glass Pyrex pie pans, crimp them to look homemade charming, and hide the dough boxes deep within the recycle trashcan.


Pillsbury’s pie crusts contain lard. That gives the crust a dandy texture, but prevents me from using it due to the vegetarians at the table (they can’t eat the dressing or the cranberry mold, so I have to have a dessert that pleases them). I use thawed Trader Joe’s pie crusts; they are made using palm oil and butter as shortening.

Happy Thanksgiving to all. Ask guests to help. It builds a warm feeling of community to give everyone a feast-job.



Pumpkin Pie with Mascarpone Update
Yield: one 9-inch pie, about 8 servings
Crust (or substitute refrigerated pie crust):
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup chilled non-hydrogenated solid vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup (or more) ice water
1 cup canned pure pumpkin (not pie mix)
1 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 (8-ounce) container mascarpone cheese, room temperature
For serving: sweetened whipped cream
Cook’s notes: Mascarpone is an Italian cream cheese; sold at many supermarkets (often stocked in the refrigerated deli with imported cheeses) and at Italian markets. To prevent dough from pulling in toward the center during baking, ease it into the pie pan, don’t stretch it. Often I cut the rolled-out dough in half down the middle, and then ease both halves into the pan. I close the seam by using two fingers to press it together. Whether or not you use the cut-in-half method, use your knuckle to press dough against side of pan where the bottom of the pie pan meets the sides.
1. If making crust from scratch: Blend flour and salt in food processor for 10 seconds. Add butter and shortening; pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add 1/4 cup ice water; pulse until dough begins to clump, adding more ice water by teaspoonfuls if dry. Gather into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic and chill at least 30 minutes. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead.Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out dough on floured work surface to 12-inch round. Transfer to 9-inch glass pie dish (see cook’s notes). Trim overhang to 1 inch beyond rim. Crimp edges. Chill crust while making filling.
2. For filling: Using electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat pumpkin and sugar in large bowl until well blended. Add eggs and next 7 ingredients and beat until blended. Add mascarpone cheese and beat just until mixture is blended and smooth. Transfer filling to prepared crust.
3. Bake pie until custard is set, about 55 minutes. A tip for preventing crust’s edge from over-browning: Pie rings, made of aluminum or silicone, are gizmos made to fit over the edge of the pie crust. Often the edge of the crust starts to get very brown long before the filling is cooked. Check pies after 20-25 minutes of baking. If crust is nicely browned, place pie ring on top of crust and continue baking until filling is cooked. Remove ring with potholder.Transfer pie to rack and cool. DO AHEAD: Best served the day it is baked. But can be made 1 day ahead. Tent with foil and chill. Serve with whipped cream.
Filling facelift: Often pumpkin pies develop a crack or two in the filling during baking. For camouflage (just in case), you can cut leftover dough into leaves, twisted twig shapes or pumpkins; place in a single layer on baking sheet lined with parchment paper and brush cut-outs with egg wash (1 egg yolk beaten with 1 teaspoon heavy whipping cream). Try to keep wash on cut-outs, not dripping over the sides onto the paper. Bake in 350-degree oven until golden, about 10 minutes. Cool. Place on pie filling in decorative pattern. (This is also a way to make store-bought pie look homemade.) Source: adapted from Bon Appetit magazine


Aunt Mary’s Cranberry Mold
Yield: 10 to 12 servings
Large package (6 ounces) raspberry Jell-O
2 cups boiling water
1 (14-ounce) can whole cranberry sauce
1 cup diced celery
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
3 cups mixed fresh berries, such as blueberries, blackberries, raspberries
1 1/2 tablespoons orange liqueur, such as Grand Marnier (or orange juice) mixed with 1 1/2 tablespoons agave syrup
Fresh mint leaves
Cook’s notes: To avoid nuts and celery from floating to the top, chill the gelatin until thick (but not set) before adding them. My preference is to not worry about the nuts and vegetables floating to the top, because when the mold is inverted, the “jelly” part shows and looks pretty, plus when serving every scoop will have those components in it.
1. Combine Jell-O and boiling water in medium bowl; stir until completely dissolved. Add cranberry sauce; stir to combine and dissolve the “jellied” portion of the cranberry sauce (I use two big spoons and mash undissolved cranberry “jelly” between the spoons). Stir in celery and walnuts. Pour into ring mold or ornate crown mold. Chill until set. MAKE AHEAD: Can be prepared two days in advance, refrigerated in mold, well-sealed with plastic wrap.
2. To unmold, hold mold in warm water for 15 to 20 seconds; invert on plate. If it doesn’t unmold, repeat resting in warm water at 5 to 10 second intervals.Just before serving: In a medium bowl, combine blueberries and blackberries. Add liqueur mixture and gently toss. Add raspberries and use a clean hand to very delicately toss one time (raspberries are fragile). Arrange berries around mold and garnish with mint leaves. Source: adapted from Mary Kast, designer, watercolor artist



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Holiday Cookie Search – LUCCA Cafe and Provenance Restaurants Pay $1,000 to Winner!

ATTENTION BAKERS! LUCCA & Provenance Host $1,000 Holiday Cookie Contest 

christmascookiesreindeerChef Cathy Pavlos Conducts County-Wide Search for the Best Holiday Cookie

What fun! I want one of YOU to win. 

The public is invited to submit their most prized cookie recipe through Sunday, November 30th.


Chef Cathy Pavlos, owner of both sponsoring restaurants, will select five finalists to go head-to-head in a “cookie showdown” in December at Provenance. With the help of a panel of judges, Chef Cathy will name one cookie the winner and award its baker a $1,000 cash prize!

cathypavlospeek“This search is an opportunity for my guests to share a piece of their family history, beginning with the age-old tradition of holiday baking,” comments Chef Cathy, whose cookies at LUCCA have grown a fan club of their own over the past decade.

“Growing up in Orange County, one of my favorite things about the holidays were the wonderful cookies my mom would bake. We couldn’t wait for them to cool before we sunk our teeth into their sugary, warm goodness.”


Submit a recipe and photograph (optional), along with name, age, and city of residence, via email to mona@moxxepr.com. The entries will be collected through midnight on Sunday, November 30th.

Five finalists will be notified and invited to a final judging during which their cookies will be evaluated on taste, appearance and holiday spirit. Finalists must be present at the final judging to qualify for the $1,000 prize.


“A good holiday cookie can transport you to a simpler time, when all your problems could be solved with a freshly baked ginger spice cookie. This competition will boil down to a search for that one cookie that best evokes a sense of nostalgia with the perfect balance of flavors and ingredients,” added Chef Cathy.

Details about the final event and the judging panel to join Chef Cathy to determine the winning entry will be released in November. Those interested in following details may refer to the Facebook pages for LUCCA and Provenance.

Provenance is located in the Eastbluff Village Center in Newport Beach (2531 Eastbluff Drive). For more information, please call 949-718-0477 or visit http://ProvenanceOC.com.

LUCCA is located in the Quail Hill Village Center in Irvine (6507 Quail Hill Parkway).  For more information, please call (949) 725-1773 or visit http://www.LuccaCafe.com.

For more information, contact:
Mona Shah-Anderson, Moxxe PR at +1 818 749 1931 or mona@moxxepr.com

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Roasted Cauliflower – Stonefire Grill’s Salad Secrets


Stonefire Grill’s Chilled Cauliflower Salad is delicious on its own or used as a warm filling in pita bread.

What happens when a strict vegetarian takes his place in his family’s popular meat-and-potatoes restaurants? Some luscious plant-based retooling evolves, with cauliflower, kale and wild arugula taking center stage along with the well-established rib, chicken and tri-tip favorites.


Justin Lopez is the son of Mary Harrigan, the co-founder of Stonefire Grills. Lopez leads the menu development team for the large family eateries that include locations in Fountain Valley and Irvine as well as 4 Los Angeles sites.

Without abandoning the most popular offerings, he reshaped the menu to include a focus on vegetarian dishes. Sales of the new meat-free items soared and the restaurants found a growing numbers of vegetarians and vegans among their loyal clientele.

Roasted cauliflower is one of the stars. See how its done in this short video.

Roasting transforms the cruciferous veg into something irresistible and highly versatile, the exterior caramelization yielding rounded flavors and subtle sweetness.


Lopez teams the browned tender-but-not-mushy cauliflower with Lemon Tahini Sauce, a tasty concoction that combines smooth sesame paste with fresh citrus juice and garlic.


When serving it as a salad or as a warm pita filling, he includes Spicy Cilantro-Serrano Sauce, a perky puree that can be mild or fiery depending on the amount of chilies that are added to the mix.


Leftover sauces can be chilled and used to augment other roasted vegetables or grain-based dishes.

Stonefire’s Chilled Roasted Cauliflower Salad
Yield: 4 servings
1 cauliflower, whole, thoroughly washed
2 to 3 ounces extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Lemon Tahini Sauce:
1 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup water
6 large garlic cloves, peeled, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Spicy Cilantro-Serrano Sauce:
1 1/2 bunches fresh cilantro, washed, stems trimmed about 2 1/2-inches long
1 to 2 fresh Serrano chilies, or more to taste, stems removed, sliced
4 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 head roasted cauliflower, cooled
2 to 3 Roma tomatoes, diced
2 to 3 green onions, trimmed, thinly sliced or chopped, including dark green stalks
1/2 cup Lemon Tahini Sauce
1 tablespoon Spicy Cilantro-Serrano Sauce
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut a shallow slice off the bottom of the stalk so that cauliflower will sit flat on baking sheet; leaves and most of the stalk should remain intact. Add 1 tablespoon of kosher salt to large deep pot (such as a pasta cooker) of boiling water on high heat. Submerge cauliflower and boil for approximately 10 minutes.  Then, remove cauliflower from water, drain and place on rimmed baking sheet stalk-side-down to cool for 3 minutes. Pour oil atop cauliflower and use clean hands to rub oil over entire surface. Sprinkle on 2 pinches of kosher salt. Roast approximately 30 minutes, turning as needed for even roasting. If additional browning is needed turn on broiler and broil until nicely browned (watch carefully to prevent burning).
2. Prepare Lemon Tahini Sauce: Combine all sauce ingredients in food processor; process for approximately 1 minute. Set aside.
Prepare Spicy Cilantro-Serrano Sauce: Place about 1/3 of cilantro, plus all of the Serrano chilies, garlic and kosher salt in food processor; process until finely chopped. With motor running, slowly add half of oil in thin stream through the feed-tube. Add the remainder of the ingredients, little by little, processing between additions.  Scrape the sides of the bowl occasionally to ensure that all ingredients are thoroughly mixed.  Blend for a total of 3 to 4 minutes.
3. Prepare salad: Use hands to tear cauliflower into small florets. In a large bowl gently toss all salad ingredients together. Chill for approximately 1 hour. Taste; add more Lemon Tahini Sauce and/or Spicy Cilantro-Serrano Sauce as needed.
Source: Justin Lopez, Stonefire Grills


…Here’s a quick tip from Melissa’s …

Sweet and Spicy = Delicious piquant-sweet melon.


Use any ripe melon for this delicious dish. I like to serve this as a first course or as part of a showy buffet.

(Make the syrup in advance if you like, and then drizzle on the melon up to 30 minutes before serving.)

Spicy-Sweet Melon
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1-1/2 teaspoons seeded and minced serrano chili
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon minced fresh mint
2 tablespoons minced red bell pepper
2 large, ripe cantaloupe
1. In a small saucepan, make a chili syrup by combining the sugar and water over medium-high heat and boiling until the sugar is dissolved. Pour into a small bowl and let cool. Stir in the chili, lime juice, mint, and bell peppers.
2. Cut the melons in half and remove the seeds. Cut into wedges or other interesting shapes and arrange attractively on 8 chilled plates. Drizzle about ½ cup of the chili syrup, or to taste, over all the melon. Reserve the remaining chili syrup for another use.


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Chef Alan Greeley Wants to Take “The Ride of His Life”

HE is a man who can’t say no to helping others.
His goal is to raise funds for the Providence Speech and Hearing Center.
Yup, Chef Alan Greeley of The Golden Truffle is looking to take “The Ride of His Life.” Greeley’s fundraising goal of $2,500 by Dec. 2, otherwise known as “Giving Tuesday,” will not only allow him to take a “ride” in the chair, but will raise awareness and support for those in Orange County who suffer from balance disorders.
Providence Speech and Hearing Center (Providence) offers a unique and uplifting approach for patients, both children and adults, who have speech and hearing problems. The staff of audiologists and speech and occupational therapists value teamwork and making their patients feel at ease. In addition, Providence provides financing options to ensure that no patient is without the care they need.
Brain miscommunication can be caused by disabilities from strokes, and other brain injuries, resulting in nausea and dizziness. Greeley’s fundraising efforts will go towards “The Ride of His Life,” which refers to a “ride” in a Neuro-Kinetics rotary chair designed by NASA, which simulates dizziness and measures how the eyes, ears and brain communicate with one another during motion. 
“Dr. House, who was involved with the hearing intervention that Providence [Speech and Hearing Center] applies, was a long-time customer at The Golden Truffle so I was more than happy to get involved with the cause,” Greeley said. 
For some, a simulation of dizziness may not sound very appealing, but for Greeley, this is a welcome adventure to add to his lists. Greeley is a long-time motorcycle racer and rider, Pikes Peak Hill Climb participant, and Formula One racing fan. In addition to his passion for cooking, his passion is fundraising and helping those who need assistance.
Donations can be made to Providence by check in person at The Golden Truffle, where those who donate will sign a poster that will be framed and displayed at the restaurant for years to come.
(This is what Phil and I plan to do – go to the restaurant and give Alan a check – that way be can enjoy a great meal and sign the poster.)
Or is you prefer, donations can also be mailed directly to Providence or be made through the website: www.pshc.org/chefgreeley.
The Golden Truffle
1767 Newport Blvd, Costa Mesa, CA 92627
(949) 645-9858
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Great Eats This Week: Aleppo Peppers, Chicken Oysters and Other Delicacies


zovanaheimZov450ZOV Karamardian: Opened her new 130-seat restaurant, Zov’s Anaheim, at the corner of Katella and State College.

It’s a beauty! Architect/designer Charles Ramm has created a space that integrates the outdoor and interior spaces and includes a large bar as part of the centerpiece.

The restaurant is light and airy, a “city-fied” contemporary space.

zovanaheimLouieEggsThere’s something magical when life’s events come full circle. That’s the case as acclaimed chef Louie Jocson (most recently partner/executive of Red Table in Huntington Beach), returns to Zov’s as director of culinary operations after a 25 year separation. He started his career in the restaurant business at 15 washing dishes and helping in the kitchen of Zov’s before enrolling in culinary school and working his way up the ranks at many of OC’s top restaurants in the ensuing years.


Irresistible Sumac Roasted Seabass with Caper Citrus Butter Sauce: The tart sumac brings out the sweet-edge of the fish. It represents the highly successful collaboration of two gifted palates – Zov and Louie.

The menu is a blend of Zov’s Tustin Bistro, her Cafes, plus plenty of new menu items, too.


Gorgonzola Nueske Burger: caramelized onion, arugula, sauteed mushrooms, Nueske bacon, Pinot Noir reduction sauce. Mmmm.


Deconstructed Banana Cream Pie: Incredible. Treasures in every bite.


Signature cocktails, craft beers, wines. These Triple Pepper Deviled Eggs are a hearty nibble. Aleppo pepper, toasted urfa pepper and a red pepper sauce – not over-the-top spicy, they are just-right spicy.

Zov’s Anaheim, 1801 East Katella (at State College), Anaheim



The Crosby closed early this year, but to my way of thinking, the eatery that took it’s place is far more delicious.

The North Left’s Team:  Ryan Adams, the oh-so-talented chef-owner of Three Seventy Common in Laguna Beach stepped up to collaborate with Crosby chef Aron Habiger.

Both chefs are masters at New American Cuisine.

I love the whimsey of the enormous stuffed Kodiak bear that resides over the front door.

Here are some delicious dishes on the lunch menu (I am eager to return for dinner).


Tender-crisp Brussels sprouts with crunch-toasted hazelnuts, butter and garlic, plus a generous crown of shredded San Joaquin Gold, an artisan cheddar from Cowgirl Creamery.


Government Issue: A grilled cheese generously spiked with carnitas. Ole!

House-made potato chips.


What is the very very very best, most tasty part of the chicken?

The chicken oysters! They are the two small, oyster-shaped pieces of dark meat that lie on either side of the backbone.

So the chefs fry up a whole mess of those chicken oysters and serve them with a tangy dipping sauce, a blend that is somewhat like a thick BBQ vinaigrette.


Spicy Moroccan Chicken Sandwich showcases moist chicken, kale salad, fresh harissa and lemon aioli. Oh, and house-made chips.

(There’s a vegetable garden on the roof. Looking forward to fall dishes made with roasted carrots from that rooftop.)

The North Left, 400 North Broadway, Santa Ana – 714 543-3543


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