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Months of anticipation, weeks of preparation, two days of hard work, and now it’s all over with. My two days at Test Kitchen with chefs Jason Fullilove and Seth Caro were not only educational, thrilling and satisfying on so many levels, but also those two days in the freezing kitchen (an oxymoron, true nonetheless!) turned simply into a big family event.

There was an army of us helping chef Fullilove present his big guns, his culinary creations. Despite the stress and long hours with no food (the cobbler’s children walk barefoot) there was a sense of camaraderie and thrill among all of us. When I first saw the menu penned by Jason Fullilove I thought out loud:

HE’S SUCH A SHOWOFF!

…only to hide my intimidation with the dishes he had put together for his Test Kitchen stint. Take a glance at what we served and drool with compassion:

Black Rice Beignets w/ Goeduck & Sea Urchin Crudo, Cherignola Olive Powder, Salmorigio Aoili, Lemon Confit
Pear Ravioli, Telaggio Cheese, Marcona Almonds and Fresh Cardamom
Barramundi, Black Octopus Sausage, Smoked Lobster Nage, Aerated Sorghum Seeds
Ras Al Hanuot Spiced Lamb Belly, Fresh Chick Pea Puree, Heirloom Carrots, Salsify
Warm Gianduja Cake, Butternut Squash Pudding, Pear Yokan and Fenugreek Ice Cream

Black Rice Beignets w/ Goeduck & Sea Urchin Crudo, Cherignola Olive Powder, Salmorigio Aoili, Lemon Confit

Pear Ravioli, Telaggio Cheese, Marcona Almonds and Fresh Cardamom

Barramundi, Black Octopus Sausage, Smoked Lobster Nage, Aerated Sorghum Seeds

Knowing the Los Angeles market and its ever growing demand for vegan options Chef Fullilove also served such bites ala carte. One of the biggest hits of the night was vegan pink pasta, cutting which was a floury task just hours prior:

Tagliatelle, butternut squash, tuscan kale & olive oil poached tear drop tomatoes

Roast Forest Mushroom and Leek terrine w/ Chestnut & Lambrusco Espuma

The desserts, conceptualized and executed by chef Seth Caro (a recent contestant of Bravo’s “Top Chef Pastry”), were an artistic exposition in their own right. I was lucky to observe and participate in the process of their creation, never anticipating the final result to be that electrifying to my palette.

Warm Gianduja Cake, Butternut Squash Pudding, Pear Yokan and Fenugreek Ice Cream

Jason, my better half, came to the restaurant for the tasting along with our good friend Dana. When I stepped out from the kitchen to check on them, Dana was squealing and squeaking with a mouthful of the above delight, wiggling her tiny butt across the chair she was sitting on. When she saw me approaching, she exclaimed:

WTF? THIS IS UNREAL! HERE, YOU MUST TRY IT.

…and a spoonful of the cake with the oozing hot chocolate entered my mouth at once.

Dana couldn’t help herself. Her joyful exuberance caused by the explosion of flavors in her mouth urgently needed an outlet. Born entertainer, not only was she the perfect companion for Jason, who celebrates the culinary arts with similar passion to mine, but also she befriended everyone in her vicinity from the patrons at adjacent tables to all the wait staff swiftly sweeping across the room.

Dana, with her expressive nature, was a perfect example of the satisfaction all our guests experienced on both nights. All the food was impeccably paired with wine by the Test Kitchen co-owner and sommelier, bringing each dish to a new level. We served close to 200 people, and smiles were ever present, emails and comments of gratitude still pouring into chef Fullilove’s inbox.

I forgot how much fun I had by his side at that other restaurant in Beverly Hills some months ago. After those two 14-hour days I was ready to play again. Hence, as of this week I’m sharing my restaurant time between Animal and Desert Rose in Los Feliz, a Mediterranean kitchen Jason took over last month. I’ll be reporting more. Stay tuned.

 

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Let’s open with the latter.

I would like to take a moment to talk about the Internet. It is a mysterious machinery I do not understand. I file it under the same category as radio, airplanes, and telephones. It may be not kosher to admit that in public, but I have no clue how those work. Nor do I care really. As long as they do their job!

What puzzles me about the Internet in particular today are those little hairy monkeys from my micro-world, and directly related to these pages. As any committed blogger, I check the stats every day to know who’s coming to visit, how they find ONE MORE BITE, what pages I get linked to, etc. I don’t really KNOW who reads it, relax, unless you decide to tell me about it in the form of a comment, send me an email, postcard or a new Audi TT (black,  please).

What I do know is what phrases Internauts enter into their search engines (like google or yahoo) to find my silly page in the cyber world. Today for example, some horny hungry person, clearly lucking the time to cook on their own, decided to look for “sexy personal chefs” and so typed that into the google search. I’m flattered to have been found. However, just so I don’t get too cocky and my bra doesn’t pop from pride bubbling up in my chest, there’s another little flower here leading to my blog that reads: “kill it before it spreads”. Huh?

People look for Stefan Richter and that restaurant I used to work at, Da Vinci, and find their way over here. The “quinoa and brussels sprouts recipes” entry will also successfully lead you to my blog. If you want a “goat cheese cranberry stuffed chicken”, you’re in luck–there is my Chicken Cordon Blue recipe with these components described in detail among these pages. That makes sense. “Melissa Peterman nipples” or “drop crotch carrot men” don’t.

If you think I made those up, you so overestimate my creativity and wit. I take no credit for the above. Moreover, I beg for an explanation! How in the world do people who search for a “text on indian toilet” find a food blog?? Hello! Google people, talk to me!

I don’t know when and if I’ll get my hairy monkey problem resolved. That’s all for the SOUR part for today.

Now on to the SWEET thing. Why? Because sweet is GOOD. Sweet is necessary to keep balance in your food and then in your system. Sweet is one of the four basic flavors (along with salty, sour, and bitter) that are present in any complete dish. Nonetheless, it’s all about finding that fine balance in anything you do, cooking included. Well… duh.

My sweet suggestion for today are CARDAMOM POACHED APRICOTS STUFFED WITH MASCARPONE. Even though the apricot season is pretty much over, you can make this beautiful and sweet bite all year round, as we’re using dry fruit for the thing.

Once again, I lifted the idea from my handy book called “Small Bites” by Jennifer Joyce that I had referred to previously. Once again, I changed the recipe by an inch and a half after trying once and needing some improvement. I am a big advocate of a freedom in one’s kitchen. Don’t be enslaved to a recipe. Make it work for you instead.

To start, gather the following:

– dried apricots, about 8 oz package

– handful of seeds from crushed cardamom pods (ground cardamom will do, too)

– mascarpone cheese and goat cheese, 1-2 tbsp of each, softened

– fresh mint, chopped, about 1 tbsp worth

– juice of 1 lemon

– 3 tbsp raw cane sugar

– 1-2 cups of water

– 1/2 cup unsalted pistachios, roughly chopped.

In a small sauce pan heat together the water, sugar, lemon juice and cardamom. Toss the apricots in and let it all simmer for about 10-15 minutes until the fruit is soft and plumpy. Remove the the orange balls and let them cool.

In the meantime, mix both cheeses together along with mint. See, Jennifer’s recipe calls for Mascarpone only. However, after doing it her way, I was missing something. The goat cheese will give the whole thing a tang that will take your sweet bite into a different dimension. Also, I dare you to add just a pinch of ground cardamom into the mix. Just do it. It will be fine.

Take each apricot and using a paring knife make a small incision on one side, enough to scoop in a nugget of the cheese mixture. Now dip your stuffed fruit, cheese side down, into the crushed pistachios so they stick to the filling, thus covering up the entrance to the cave. (Yes, I’m a dork, I know.)

Such prepared Sweet Bites arrange in a single layer on a platter , or in an air-tight container, and store in a refrigerator for at least an hour so the cheese sets.

An hour later… VOILA!

Cute, right? And you know what else? SWEET!

Oh-Mah-Gawd, what a paralyzing accident did I get myself into last night! I crashed face first into a platter of… (are you sitting down?)… CARAMELIZED PEARS WITH… (oh, god, save my soul!)… WHIPPED CREAM.

Our sweet neighbor Mike stopped by in the afternoon hours carrying “something small and trivial, but better than sex”. He appeared at our threshold oh-so gently cupping two precious, juicy, perfectly ripe pears he had purchased from a specialty store. Generous man that he is, he hurried to share the joy the fruit had given him and Peter, his husband, with us.

We have a special bond with our neighbors, as not only are they fun, life loving, gregarious and genuine people, but also Mike is as nuts about playing in the kitchen as I am (if not more…? Nah, can’t be!). He often runs over with treats of his own making as those are the simple things in life that make the difference. It doesn’t hurt that Peter, like myself, is Polish. All in all, most of the neighbors are rather sweet and semi-chatty making the place our version of “Melrose Place”. Well, maybe with less inter-unit screwing.

Mike tenderly slipped both pears into Jason’s hands while giving the cooking instructions to me. “Slice those babies up and sauté them with a little brown sugar. They’re heavenly. I’m telling you, they’re better than sex!” he exclaimed visibly elated and off he returned to his lovely abode.

I know, I know I was supposed to keep it clean and light during that time squeezed between holidays. I didn’t plan on being put against the wall by an idea of that incredibly decadent dessert that’s “better than sex”. Who could resist that? So I did it. Yup, I broke and made the CARAMELIZED PEARS WITH (gasp) WHIPPED CREAM. You can walk around huffing and puffing all you want, but you can’t stop me from telling you ABOUT THOSE PEARS, because it’s simply too divine to just keep it to myself.

I followed Mike’s directions, and sliced the fruit into half-an-inch thick discs and set them on a heated pan with a touch of olive oil and butter. I sprinkled them with raw cane sugar, as that’s the only kind of sugar you’ll find in this household. Then I christened each slice with a drop of pure vanilla extract, and drizzled fresh lemon juice all over the pan. Just a touch. I let everybody get happy for a few minutes over a low-medium heat. Then I flipped the pears and gave the other side a moment to lounge in their own juices.

Within minutes I had this beautiful delight on a platter dressed with a flower of whipped cream and drizzled with its own caramelized juices. All it needed was a dust of cinnamon and a fork. The rest is history.

The whole pear incident, from start to the last bite, took no more than half an hour. However, I needed many hours of bouncing off the walls in our living room before I wore off the sugar rush and was able to settle down in bed for the night. Just saying.

And yes, it was ORGASMIC. Jason, however, thinks pears taste like dirt, so he would have none of the dessert and he never experienced what I did. I guess we’ll cultivate the old fashion way and won’t give up sex just yet. (PHEW!)

I am the mother to Cosmo, a 4-year old shihtzu. My dog requires a bath every 10 to 14 DAYS. Otherwise, the white parts of his paws start to resemble an old pair of UGG boots dipped in mud and then sun-dried, and he secretes the scent of a homeless person. If I were to stretch the time between his baths and let him walk around au naturel, we would all get evicted from our building in no time.

The best part comes AFTER the bath. When in the tub, Cosmo relinquishes his power and hands over authority to the person pouring water all over his body. He stands motionless, startled, with his eyes W-I-D-E open and mouth shut tight. He endures all that rubbing and scrubbing without uttering a single cuss word despite the fact that we give him enough reasons to call us every name in the book.

Then comes the towel… The challenge is to get as much moisture out of his coat as possible before Cosmo torpedoes out of the bathroom. When he’s out, he’s gone! With crazy eyes, he gallops across the house back and forth, non-stop, for about 3 days straight, pacing and barking at himself, his tongue hanging out and drops of water splashing all over the walls, floors, and ceiling. Suddenly, he stops for a moment to catch his breath, after which he takes off all over again and slaloms between the legs of the dining table and its chairs. If you find yourself in his path, you best run for your life. Nothing stops Cosmo when he’s in DRYER MODE.

Inevitably, the spectacle ends and Cosmo finds his way to me. Putting on his cutest face, wagging his tail, waving his eyelashes at me, he asks,  “What’s for dinner, mama?”

“Dog food for you, you little mischievous bundle of love you” “Roasted Asparagus Wrapped In Pancetta for me and daddy.”

In my effort to break the cycle of cushioning my midsection during the holiday season, I’m breaking the bank in search of ideas for flavorful yet light meals. Starvation and deprivation are two words that longer belong in my dictionary. They should never be an option for you either. Eat whatever you want, just be smart about it, and love yourself no matter what!

ROASTED ASPARAGUS WRAPPED IN PANCETTA served with a side of Mâche with Avocado Salad with Strawberry Dressing makes a beautiful and delightful dinner for two, and most importantly leaves room for dessert.

To start, preheat the oven to 400°. Snap the ends of the asparagus spears off and drizzle them gently with olive oil before seasoning with black pepper. You don’t need salt because of what’s coming up next: wrap a paper-thin slice of pancetta (or pastrami) around each spear and lay it flat on a baking sheet. Place the pan in the oven for about 12-15 minutes until the asparagus is cooked, but still has a little bite to it.

In the meantime, prepare your salad as you would with the Mustard Dressing. Except this time, instead of Dijon mustard, add a handful of chopped fresh strawberries and whip the dressing in a blender or Magic Bullet, if you have one. Then dress your greens and avocado gently, drop a few chunks of strawberry around for extra blush, and serve everything with a toasted slice of baguette.

The salty and crunchy bites of the Asparagus contrast, thus emphasizing the delicate leaves and flavor of the cow grass dipped in strawberry juice, making this an exquisite and sophisticated meal .

Who even needs a dessert after that?

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