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Naked patches of dirt around our house, where there used to grow juicy grass, signaled it was time to get off our meatless diet. Last Sunday marked the monthniversary of our eating only combinations of  a veg with another veg over a bowl of grain of some kind.

To celebrate, we invited a few friends over, all foodies, for a potluck dinner. Everybody brought a dish of their own making. Our dining table, barely standing straight under the weight of all the goods, bravely held on its head a giant casserole of Risotto, a glass bowl of Short Ribs with Wild Mushrooms (from Poland!), a tray of Armenian mini Pizzas and Pastry Rolls filled with Cheese. There was Shrimp Ceviche, mean Brussels Sprouts with Pine nuts, another dish of Rosemary Roasted Potatoes, Sauteed Zucchini with Mint Butter, and some Simple Green Salad for common sense. The menu was only complete with a platter the size of the Columbus Circle in New York City filled with THAI LAMB LARB of my creation. Here’s the satellite shot, for it were the only way to capture it whole:

I found the recipe for this colorful appetizer in my recently purchased book “Small Bites” by Jennifer Joyce. As the author explains, “larb” describes ground meat in Thai. She used pork for her dish, however I went with lamb. Shockingly, that’s pretty much the only change I applied to the recipe. (Yes, Mama Linda, for once I followed the instructions!)

Before I list all the ingredients, let me just say that if I were to ever make this again (as hardly ever do I repeat myself on a plate), I’d use BIBB LETTUCE instead of Romaine. The latter seems muscular enough to hold the filling, however its leaves are long and straight-ish. Bibb lettuce not only has a kick-ass name but also its leaves create small and sturdy cups that I imagine would be more practical with this dish.

Having said that, let’s rock & roll. Get yourself the following items:

– 3 stalks lemongrass

– 2 tbsp vegetable oil (I used coconut)

– 1 lb lean ground pork (lamb worked!)

– 1 tbsp soft brown sugar (raw cane variety was just as good)

– 1 sm red onion, finely diced

– 1 ripe but firm mango, diced

– 3 tbsp fresh cilantro leaves, some chopped and some picked leaves for garnish

– 20 heart of Romaine lettuce leaves, chilled to serve (mark my words. I say BIBB!)

Remove the hard parts of the lemon grass and finely chop only the white, soft insides. Toss it into a saute pan with heated oil and stir fry it till soft over medium heat. Now get the fire going and add your larb. Cook it until crispy and brown. Remove from the heat when fully cooked (5 minutes or so), and set aside.

Quickly whip out a DRESSING using the following:

– 3 tbsp palm sugar (again, raw cane rocked!)

– 1 sm red chili pepper, deseeded and finely chopped (wahs your hands THOROUGHLY afterwards and under no circumstances touch your eyes, or nuts if a boy, with those fingers. Trust me!)

– 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

– 1 tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and grated

– 1/2 cup fresh lime juice

– 2 tbsp fish sauce.

If you own a mortar and pestle, use it to crush the sugar, pepper, garlic and ginger together until they turn into a paste. Add the lime juice and fish sauce and mix together. In case you didn’t have the ancient tool, simply toss everything into a small jar, close it tight and shake like a mad person until sugar’s dissolved and all the guys inside are seriously dizzy, but happy.

Pour the dressing over the still warm meat, add your onion, mango, and cilantro, toss about and scoop some of the filling onto the prepared lettuce leaves. Done!

The dinner, just like a Thai wedding, went on for days. Or at least it felt like it, especially when we collected all the empty wine bottles in the end.

Jason’s and my celebration of meat went on into the week, and was culminated with our last night’s visit at ANIMAL. This LA restaurant has earned its reputation with the rich meat dishes it serves. It was also featured in various culinary magazines as well as the Food Network, or else known as my televised bible. Can you imagine a better place to PIG OUT? Literally.

We started with a few appetizers to share:

1. Carrot Salad with Parsnip Chips, Green Goddess Dressing and Avocado

2. Hamachi Tostada with Herbs, Fish Sauce Vinaigrette and Peanuts

3. Lamb Meatballs over Golden Rice with Green Garbanzos & Creme Fraiche.

Everything was phenomenal, but the meatballs just blew our minds. It sounds almost like an oxymoron, but those meaty balls were fluffy, almost airy, so light and delicate. Amazing!

Then the Entrees arrived. Jason ordered Catfish with Gold Rice Succotash, drizzled with Tabasco Butter and topped with King Crab. Every bite melted in his mouth. I can verify it was true, for I have sunk my fork into his plate for examination.

My main course was quite different. I asked for Crispy Rabbit Legs with Peas, Dandelion and Meyer Lemon Aioli. The meat just fell off the bone upon the slightest touch of my utensil. It was cooked to perfection and the flavors did not disappoint. HOWEVER. Yes, there is a “however”. For my liking, the meal was too heavy. There was so much sauce poured all over the meat you could hardly see the Guest of Honor peeking through it. The rabbit, that pour bastard, was DEEP FRIED, I guess the best method for that crisp texture. It’s not the kind of food I enjoy on weekdays, or even a weekend.

The feast did not end there, oh no! We had to try their famous dessert of Bacon Chocolate Crunch Bar dressed with Anglaise. While their Panna Cotta did not kick flip-flops off my feet, and one taste was enough, I could hardly stop myself from stealing the chocolaty bites finished with bacon bits from Jason’s plate. Bacon was written all over that bar, but also it was married to rich and velvety chocolate, and it was a Holy Union I tell you. Alleluia.

After sampling their food it was clear to us why the two chefs from Florida, who created the restaurant, called it ANIMAL. The food was superb, and it stood for its name, but when the dinner was over I considered another meatless month, just for a moment.

And then I found a leftover patch of grass behind our garage.

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I know. I know! It’s been too long. You must be thinking that since The Food Network has launched its daughter program, appropriately called The Cooking Channel, I must have gotten lost between the folds of my couch, sitting with my nose glued to the TV 24/7.

I wish! But somebody has got to pay her bills, plus Cosmo’s mani and pedi ain’t cheap. His favorite nail polish is Bulgarian Rose by the way. Don’t ask me where he got that from.

Less than two weeks ago I announced the start of my very own LUNCH DELIVERY SERVICES here, in Los Angeles. Guess what. It’s HAPPENING! I’ve been busy menu planning, then designing labels, then shopping for containers, then grocery shopping, then cooking, and delivering at last. Breathe in, breathe out.

I was also clear-minded enough to snap a few photos in all that chaos. Just imagine me with a chef’s knife in one hand chopping cucumbers, my toes holding tight a wooden spatula and stirring soup in the pot, while my jaws clenched on the camera and took some shots.

ONE MORE BITE Lunches (sides)

As a result of the madness, I was able to produce this CRUNCHY RED QUINOA SALAD with a Medley of Vegetables and BASIL VINAIGRETTE. Also, I made this refreshing FRUITS SALAD sprinkled with Orange Juice and MINT CHIFFONADE.

One of the meals on my Menu for this week is this delicious and healthy PAN-SEARED TUNA Over the Bed of SPINACH with Gorgonzola, Pecans and Cranberries, dressed with POMEGRANATE VINAIGRETTE.

Speaking of dressings, there’s nothing easier than making one. The most basic one is simply oil (olive) and acid (e.g. vinegar, acidic juice) in 3:1 ratio with a pinch of salt and pepper. You can get fancier than that just by adding a touch of a healthy sweetener (e.g. honey), maybe a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, or cucumber (as an emulsifier), whip it together, and just like that you have made yourself a perfectly wonderful vinaigrette.

Once you get the basics, then you’ll want to explore other flavor combinations and possibilities. One of my favorite dressings that I make for our meal ALL THE TIME is Basil Vinaigrette. To make it yourself, follow the steps described above and add a bunch of fresh basil leaves to your blender. WHIZZ. WHIZZ. Done.

ONE MORE BITE Vinaigrettes: Basil, Lemon, Pomegranate

Store-bought dressings are full of fat, sugar, and preservatives. Save yourself money and that unnecessary inch on your waist just by switching to home-made goods like the ones seen above. You’ll satisfy your palette. You’ll exercise your creative muscle. You’ll be healthier and closer to Nature with each bite. And it takes 2 minutes to make it, from scratch.

Go for it. Try this at home!

I know you’ve been sick of the same ole food you’ve been ordering over and over from those same ole, same ole restaurants. Also, it’s been on your mind for some time now that the food you’ve been taking down is not really that good for you. I know you’ve been craving something homemade, delicious, NEW, and actually on the healthier side.

I may have some good news for you, that is if you happen to live in the close vicinity (that would be Hollywood and West Hollywood of Los Angeles, CA). You may have noticed a few changes on this site, with the most significant one–a new link on the top menu bar called LUNCH DELIVERY SERVICES. That’s right, I have begun a new service, aside from my Personal Chef’ing, that will allow YOU to test and taste my own creations.

Don’t hesitate and check out the menu. I won’t let you get bored with it either, as I will keep adding on new items and rotating the existing ones to keep it fresh and versatile. Place your order today for your lunch tomorrow.

Bon Appetite!


This morning, as Jason and I sat at the breakfast table and slurped the last drops of hot coffee, we went over our options for today.

We’ve been challenged by the weather–it’s been raining a lot, and the sun has been rather a rare visitor over the last couple of days, which has greatly affected our sightseeing schedule. I felt a tad resigned , but Jason had a plan:

AFTER BREAKFAST, IF IT DOESN’T STOP RAINING, WE SHOULD GO TO THE PHARMACY AND GET…HM… THE…MMM… Here Jason raised his hands in the air, both positioned as if they were holding a thick pipe-sized object, and quickly moved his hands back and forth in opposite directions as if he was… loading a weapon.

A GUN? I suggested flabbergasted by his train of thoughts.

AN UMBRELLA! Jason found what he’s been looking for in every corner of his mind.

We’re taking it easy this morning due to the drip-drip situation outside, which at least allowed me to sit down and report about our whereabouts here in Poland. Don’t get too excited as we still have The Wawel Castle to visit before we leave this gorgeous city, hence for now I’ll just use my crutch–photographs–to catch you up with the latest and greatest.

It wasn’t raining when we first landed in Poland. On the contrary, the spring welcomed us with its saturated colors bearing new life on the Earth. My mother’s garden, her pride and joy, showed off the strength of a new life that Mother Nature gives year after year.

Mama and her husband of 11 years took us to Goluchow where the Czartoryski’s Castle is open to visitors. The Czartoryski Family is Polish aristocracy whose heirs are still spread around the world today.

 

The King Of The Castle

 

 

Jason vs the Knight

 

Jason, my hero, fought the guardian of the castle and cleared our way in.

If you’re in the mood for some royal hanky-panky, here’s your chamber–the Royal Bedroom.

 

The Royal Play Room (if you know what I mean)

 

The Castle is surrounded by a vast and luscious park, spotted by crystal clear lakes and wild animal quarters.

This blog centers mostly around food, hence I cannot omit the details of our diet while on the road.

 

Polish Little Horses

 

Hunger makes us fast learners and so we didn’t waste any time:

 

The Royal Dears (hello!)

 

At last we escaped from under my mother’s wings and we met up with my cousin Kinga who lives in the region of Great Lakes–Warmia and Mazury. She took us to the countryside, where soon she’ll reside, and we later drove along with her 1.5 year old happiness named Kalina to Gdansk, one of the oldest Polish cities resting by the Baltic Sea.

 

Horsing around in the country. Kalina's expression--priceless.

 

 

Three Joys in Gdansk, in Old Town.

 

 

May-shmay. It was freezing by the Baltic Sea. Lovely nonetheless.

 

We arrived in Krakow in the PM hours last Wednesday after a 10-day long marathon across Poland. I shall leave it at that for now and come back later with the images we’ll have captured in here and descriptions of the actual foods we’ve been enjoying throughout the trip.

I hope you had fun during this leg of our journey.

The day has come. April 15th arrived and Uncle Sam wants to hear from you. For once I have taken care of my taxes way before the due date, which, as you know, ended up in my utmost indignation and relentless hiccups despite my wildest expectations. Nonetheless, since I no longer need to worry about 2009, I can focus on a bowl of whole-wheat comfort bathed in a juicy sauce of my choice.

Every week Jason and I do groceries on Saturday, and we buy either one whole chicken that will last for several dinners/lunches, or just a chicken breast plus a fresh fish fillet. Those take care of two to three dinners a week. The remaining days we follow a mostly vegetarian diet.

Usually around Thursday I glance into the depths of our refrigerator and panic as the only thing looking back at me is one sad veg (like zucchini or broccoli), a half-empty jar of capers, leftover mascarpone cheese and rapidly wilting dill. For a moment I’m startled wondering what to make for dinner. But then I run through the pantry and discover at least two variations of dry pasta kicking back in the drawer, a can or two of water-packed tuna (no salt added), maybe a jar of tomato puree, and to make the deal even sweater – there’s a bag of artichoke hearts in the freezer. In a basket there’s always a few onions and garlic cloves only waiting to get in the game.

It takes about 20-30 minutes to make a hearty meal out of the above-mentioned. During the time my pasta water boils in a large pot, I chop and sauté an onion, add drained and crumbled tuna meat, then capers, frozen artichokes, and cover it with my liquid tomatoes. I season the sauce with salt and pepper, maybe a touch of paprika, and let it all simmer together until the pasta is aldente.

Apropos pasta, for a chunky sauce like this, choose the kind of noodles that have ridges and holes allowing the sauce to wrap itself around and/or inside each peace and become one. It’s very sexy.

(Hearing the words, Cosmo lifts his head from the nap, sniffs around, and teased by the aroma coming from the kitchen he barks out loud: OOO, DID SOMEONE SAY SEXY?)

Turn off the heat under the sauce. Scoop about a tablespoon or more of mascarpone cheese and incorporate it into the sauce. Let it melt, baby, let it all nicely melt in. Add freshly chopped dill or parsley, and slowly toss in your cooked pasta along with about a ladleful of pasta water. Mix it all together and voila!

I can’t even describe how phenomenal that meal is. My advise to you is to make only as much pasta as you’d like to eat at one sitting. If you make too much, you’ll be huffing and puffing but you won’t be able to stop before the dish has disappeared from the surface of the Earth.

Here’s another variation of my pasta mid-week fix. Get yourself an Anaheim pepper (green bell pepper will do, too), chop it and toss into a blender with 2 cloves of garlic, chopped onion, a bunch of cilantro, good pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper, a touch of chili powder, and drizzle in some olive oil. Mix it all into a green sauce.

Heat your skillet, add olive oil and sauté chopped zucchini (2-4, depending on their size), while your pasta is boiling away in a separate pan. Season it with salt and pepper and maybe a touch of smoked paprika (why not). When zucchini is semi-soft, add the green sauce and let it simmer together until the noodles are aldente. Toss the pasta into the skillet, stir, push everybody around, and serve!

Feel free to begin this dish with diced pancetta, letting its rendered fat to be the base for the zucchini. You can also add grated Gruyere cheese at the very end, or Parmesan if you prefer. Melted cheese will help bind your pasta with the sauce, turning the dish into a close-knit family.

Even when you think there’s nothing to eat in your house, think again. Check your cabinets; check the produce drawer in your refrigerator. From my experience, there’s always a lonely fellow left sending out RESCUE ME messages either by a pigeon, or in a bottle, or even coded in Morse, just dying to be devoured with pleasure. It’s just a matter of sautéing or fixing up otherwise.

I’m outta here. Da Vinci is exepcting.

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