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Missed me? Good. I missed you, too. All the writing I’d done over the last year and a half about my love for cooking, and my dream to turn this passion into a bill-paying hobby now has come to fruition. The fact I’m here so seldom these days is due to my fully booked schedule. Yoohoo!

Last month I was working closely with my dear friend and a talented vegan chef, Melissa Costello of KarmaChow, on a project that involved cooking three meals a day for a group of 15 people over a period of three weeks. You can imagine our hands were full. However, I returned home with a roster of recipes that will serve as an inspiration to my own meals that I’ll then exhibit on these pages for you to enjoy.

Instead of a recipe, however, today I want to introduce you all to an Australian food stylist and a celebrity chef, Donna Hay. OK, some of you may not be that impressed as you and Donna go way back. Good for you! I myself, however, only discovered her last year, and, what can I say, I was head over heals for the Aussie gal and her culinary chops.

There are books, videos, an Australian TV show on food styling, and the magazine I’m a fan of. Only six or seven issues a year, which come to America with an irritating delay. Nonetheless, I am able to snatch each one every two months or so from my local Barnes & Noble. And so can you. I invite you to look through its pages for not only a gold mine of brand new recipes, but also the stylings of the dishes Donna and her team put together. Her signature color, pale blue, transcends across most of the recipes creating a casual, somewhat relaxing, and yet very elegant image. Juxtaposed against that gently humming background are vibrant reds, greens and yellows that make all dishes presented jump out of the pages. Literally! The arrangements on plates are an artistic expression in its own right. Simplicity screams through all Donna’s creations. Each element on the plate is exposed while being a coherent part of the entire dish, and yet there’s no chaos. Brilliant!

Even Oprah (I can’t believe I’m mentioning her visit to Australia once again, as if there wasn’t enough talk about it already) knew who to call when in the Aussie Land in order to have a feast of senses of her life…

 

It’s only fair to mention that my attitude towards Oprah is rather bitter-sweet, to put it mildly. Then again, there’s nothing wrong with BITTER-SWEET, especially when it comes to such chocolate bites sprinkled over thick slices of French Brie and topped with fresh basil chiffonade, then enclosed within two crispy slices of sourdough bread and melted in a panini maker. Aha! That’s a little secret I know from my gal, Giada De Laurentiis, and I’m sure she wouldn’t mind me spilling the beans.

And just like that I snuck in a recipe. A little bonus before I get down to sharing more of my own culinary tips and ideas. Check out the Australian cook extraordinaire and try something new today. Let your curiosity be stirred and your taste buds tickled. Always try to use the best, the purest, the freshest ingredients, and the pay off will be ongoing though your lasting satisfaction, infectious happiness, and vitality!

Even when it seems that nobody’s home and things get eerily quiet around here, like minutes before sunrise, don’t think for one second that I lounge with my bum buried deep between soft cushions of a couch and scratch me some balls. On the contrary, I’ve been out and about cruisin’ and schmoozin’. As a result, just the other day, I met Susan Feniger of STREET, and then Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo of ANIMAL, another wildly popular restaurant and one of LA foodies’ favorite.

A close friend’s birthday celebration brought me to a dinner table at STREET, where Susan poked her head in between us to say hi and offered her menu suggestions. I couldn’t help myself and launched across the table over a timidly flickering candle, barely missing my friend’s wine glass, in order to shake Susan’s hand. My impetuous plunge landed me right in front of our chef and I came just shy of kissing the woman. I looked up in terror, prepared to be escorted out of the venue at once. To my astonishment, after my less than graceful entrance, chef Feniger was simply delightful, all smiles, and generously opened her door to me whenever I am ready to commit some time in her kitchen. Woot-woot!

ANIMAL is a whole different animal. If you’ve been hanging around here for a while, you may remember me mentioning PIGGING OUT at the place just a few short months ago. To this day I have vivid memories of their BACON CHOCOLATE BAR (go ahead and click the link to see the chefs in action) that haunt me whenever I’m craving a dessert. I was so impressed, in fact, with the food and the entire concept behind their restaurant that I finally got my act together and approached chefs Jon and Vinny directly. I prepared a speech, and drove down Fairfax with candy up in my sleeve ready to bribe. I asked for a job, the non-paid kind, an apprenticeship.

My wish was granted even before I finished telling my long and windy story with a trembling voice and sweaty hands. I couldn’t believe how easy that was. And just like that, at 8 o’clock the following morning I was tucked in a truck along with Jon Shook and his right hand Frank heading down to Santa Monica Farmers Market in order to get fresh produce for the restaurant.

Farmers are the only providers of produce and meat for ANIMAL’s kitchen. “It’s all about the love” I was told. How classy? How elegant? And how honest an approach to making food and conducting business in general that is? Think about it. As a customer at a fine dining place you don’t want to be served some cheap rubbish full of chemicals and genetically altered by mad and corrupted scientists. As a restauranteur, you don’t want to cheapen your final product  by using crappy produce of vague origin. Also, by shopping local not only do they support their farmers, but also minimize their carbon footprint! And yes, they recycle at the restaurant as well. I was shown separate containers for food waste, trash, and then paper and metal. One of the staff members takes away all the plastic bottles they collect in a month and takes it to a recycle center.

Need I say more? I’m in love. I can’t wait to join the 2 Dudes, as they used to call themselves, and their team, and see my inner dude come out and play. Did you take a look at that video I told you to click the link to? The Bacon Chocolate one? Go ahead and do it again, this time paying close attention to the chefs’ surroundings. You see that kitchen they’re making the bacon candy bar in? From now on, a few times a week, this will be my office, my lab, my classroom, and my playground. It is going to be a fun and rewarding ride, and you bet I will be writing about it. Looks like we got a green light for Season 2 of my Restaurant Diaries. Woot-woot indeed!

I wish. To travel along the rebel who knows food like nobody I know in person, I wish. To learn about carta di piano from the mothers and grandmothers of a Sardinian village while raising a toast with wine made locally, I wish. To walk among golden fields of wheat and rye, to sink my teeth in a tomato bursting with flavors and straight off its vine, I wish.

I’ve been watching lots of “No Reservations” on the Travel Channel. Can you tell? I guess it’s only fair that I mention I’m a fan of the show on Facebook as well, so that I can get their updates and feeds about the upcoming episodes like:

As if it wasn’t alarming already, I follow the guy on twitter, too, because, well, he’s there and clearly wants to be cyber stalked.

Alright. I get it that it’s not quite Tony himself. It’s the producers, the marketing team, the network even, who the cracker knows. Tony is some other place every time a new twit appears online. Duh.

Have you noticed how familiar I got with Mr. Bourdain? It’s because his book “Kitchen Confidential” is sitting on my night-stand supported by no other than the most recent of his penned bricks “Medium Raw”. He’s everywhere I turn my eyes whenever the lights are on. I feel like I KNOW the guy in person. If he happened to be strutting down Sunset Boulevard right in my neighborhood, I would merely throw at him…

“WHASSUP TONY!”

… without so much as a wink, and keep walking Cosmo hoping for a rapid poop, so we can turn around and go home finally. Man, that dog takes FOREVER to empty his bowels! WHAT’S WRONG WITH THAT PATCH OF GRASS??

I don’t even know how it all began, that boyfriend-approved affair with another man. Jason hasn’t shown any signs of jealously in fact since I took a break from watching “Dog Whisperer”. Back then he would ask me biweekly at least…

“ARE YOU GOING TO LEAVE ME FOR CESAR MILLAN?”

…I haven’t heard that phrase in a long, long time.

I will take my assumption even further. I am convinced Jason would not reject an offer of some sort of a ménage a trois, if we were given an opportunity to shlep along chef Bourdain across Europe for example. I mean it in a professional sense, of course, where our job would be to attend any finger-licking tastings and youth-reviving feasts. In such a setting I would gladly share a seat with Mrs. Bourdain, with their offspring gleefully hopping on Jason’s lap. Think sequel to “European Vacation”.

In my tribute to Tony (Yes, we go WAY back!), I’ll be writing today about PORK. My sweet Ms. Piggy in a flurry of crispy bibb lettuce and a nest of pea shoots resting right on thy head, make yourself at home.

No recipe is needed for this pink perfection. Simply season the loin with salt, pepper, a touch of olive oil and maybe fresh thyme as well; place it in a roasting pan, add a cup of white wine or chicken stock and shove all into a preheated oven (at 350°) for 35-40 minutes total. Take it out, cover with aluminum foil and let it rest for another 10-15 minutes. While the meat is gathering its juices, you make a glaze: 1/2 cup of port wine + 1-2 tbsp of honey in a small sauce pan. Let it come to a boil, turn the heat down to low and let it simmer away until reduced two-thirds or so. When the liquid gets thicker and sticky-er, pour it over the slices of your roasted pork loin.

You know how I am–always chicken this, chicken that (the happy, organic kind of course). However, pork tenderloin is lean and healthy, rich in vitamins of the B family, then zinc and of course protein. Since it’s also referred to as the other white meat, I no longer feel like a cheater, well, because… how much chicken can I eat for my ass’ sake?

I made this dashing, juicy, bursting with flavors PORK LOIN last week and fell for its tender and oink pink flesh instantly. So did Jason. Now, guess who’s coming to dinner this week? The red carpet is ready for you, my dear Ms. Piggy.

Guys, I have a new fun project and I hope you can help me. I am looking for talented cooking women of certain age, basically raised before the Internet era, who learnt most or everything they know about making food from their mothers and grandmothers.

Take a look at this ad I posted on Facebook and think hard whether it’s YOU or someone you know that fits the bill:

* * *
  • Is your mother/aunt/grandma the best cook you know?
  • Do all your friends look for an excuse to come visit around mealtime, claiming they were “in the neighborhood by chance?”
  • Do your mama’s dishes take you back to her homeland, the country where she was born and raised?

* * *

If yes, I want to meet the women of your tribe.  I invite your Mama/Grandma/Aunt to try her food on me, to show me how she does it, and to let me write about her on ONE MORE BITE. Using my blog, I want to showcase the hidden culinary talents amongst us, with a special dose of love for those who, like myself, had crossed the ocean in search of a new home here in America.

There are ethnic restaurants all over Los Angeles. However, I’m looking for authenticity, hidden away from commerce, where culinary traditions have been cultivated for generations. Whether your Mama/Aunt grew up in Thailand, India, Vietnam, Lebanon, Camerún, Italy, or Sweden, I’m dying to learn the tricks she inherited from her mother and grandmother.

I know there are amazing and highly skilled cooks in Los Angeles, who, despite the lack of professional training, are experts in their native cuisine. Help me shine a spotlight on the hard-working women from your family or community, who express their love through food.

Don’t wait! Contact me ASAP within the comment section!

I can’t concentrate on the keyboard. I keep drifting away into the wonderland in my head where Hauschka‘s piano rolls out a stairway in front of my eyes, and I ascend step by step into the air, surrounded by blue lollypops wrapped in red ribbons, and corpulent purple elephants taking an escalator down. Then, there’s a cloud of hippy bees buzzing by, followed by uptight butterflies dressed in unicolored suits and bow-ties.

I’m on zero medication, and it’s the music alone that afforded me a mid-afternoon high.

The reason I’m here today is to save the life of that half wilted zucchini in your refrigerator. There’s also a sad chunk of drying out bacon, or even better–pancetta–in the cheese drawer of your icebox that must be resuscitated immediately. And for the love of Zeus, how long do you think you can keep frozen peas in a freezer? They do expire, too, you know.

There’s no reason to toss food away, when it can be utilized in the most delicious way. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Every week, usually on Saturday, we do grocery shopping. Come Friday, I’m left with a handful of unused produce in our refrigerator, and a brand new challenge of turning it into a healthy, satisfying and comforting dinner for two. I’m not scared. On the contrary, I opt to face the music. That’s when I get to flex my creative muscle.

One of the babies of that intense and inspired labor was my ZUCCHINI, PEAS & PANCETTA MEDLEY. In other words, I saved the precious enzymes, mincro-elements, and hopefully also a few vitamins that then nourished our bodies, instead of being thrown away to the garbage and letting cockroaches rise in power.

The dish is so simple and self-explanatory, one does not even need a recipe. I will recap the steps in an effort to help you stayed organized.

Pancetta was diced and tossed into a hot skillet, and soon after chunks of zucchini followed. I seasoned the bunch gently with salt, as the bacon itself is salty already. Freshly ground black pepper, a touch of paprika, a dash of cayenne pepper for that extra punch in the nose all added flavor to my mixture. Half way through the coloring process (I like my veg a bit ruddy on the cheeks), in went the frozen peas. Five to seven more minutes and everybody was happy enough to leave the fire. A perfect time to finish the creation off with a teaspoon of my compound butter I told you about not long ago. The aroma of garlic and herbs unlocked from the creamy butter wrapped itself around every single green element on the plate, not leaving behind slightly salty and chewy bits of rendered pancetta.

We devoured the side dish along with steamed broccoli and a roasted leg of an organic chicken… Yes, it was a feast, and hardly did it look like the waiting area of an Emergency Room.

Do yourself a favor and save your hard-earned money. Don’t waste food. People in Asia, Africa, in your own city go to bed hungry each day, and only a fraction of them does it for vanity reasons. Let’s utilize more, and trash less. In general.


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