Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Sea Salt Butterscotch

Trader Joe's has done it again! I was in there today to get a few things for my husband and while waiting in line, something caught my attention. The words Sea Salt and a picture of chocolate caramels. 

I couldn't wait till after dinner so I went ahead and ripped the bag and popped one in my mouth. These chocolate covered balls are soft and creamy inside and "enrobed" in dark chocolate which offsets the caramel sweetness. The sea salt also helps offset the sweetness. 

You know how they say dark chocolate is good for you; well these chocolates are dark and another good thing is it has 1 gram of fiber! Hey, that's better than no fiber at all. You also know that fiber is good for you, so next time you're at Trader Joe's, pick up a bag. I think you'll like them too.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Bowtie Pasta with Fresh Tomato Sauce

Amy and Nako did it again....they gave me a bunch of fresh tomatoes; too many for just salads so I knew I had to make some spaghetti sauce. Tomatoes and fresh basil from the plant Cindy gave me. When I went outside to cut some basil, I noticed that the plant was comatose.  Someone neglected to give it some water. I immediately did CPR and watered it....waited about an hour. I am happy to report, it made a full recovery.

I started out sauteing some shallots, garlic and leeks in a little butter and lots of olive oil.  I then added the chopped basil ( a bunch ), about 10 tomatoes (peeled and chopped).  I seasoned the sauce with coarse sea salt and pepper. After tasting the sauce, I thought it was a bit too sour so I poured some Mirin sauce. I overdid it that it got to be too sweet. I went to my disorganized pantry and looked for something I could add to take away the sweetness. My eyes settled on a can of olives. I ended up adding the whole can of chopped olives.  I was still not happy with the outcome so I got some rice wine vinegar and poured some in and decided to add chili flakes.  It was tasting better at this point but I wanted it to be less sweet and more salty. I opened the refrigerator and saw my tub of feta cheese. Things are always better with feta, don't you think?  That just about did it!

The result was a very good tomato sauce; a bit salty, sweet, and spicy.  Sandi was willing to sacrifice and go off her diet just to please me. What a friend indeed.

I had some left over which I delivered to my tomato supplier, the Nakasatos.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Mar'sel at the Terrenea Resort

I got another deal at Travelzoo for a 4-course dinner at Mar'sel for 2 people including wine (total of $30) at $99.00.

We enjoyed our last dinner there except for the service. We had a server who was not interested in service. See last blog:

Like I stated in the past, I was still interested in coming back for the good food. I had spoken to the manager before and he asked me to make sure to let him know when I was ready to come back. He no longer is employed there. Oh well, I guess managers are like restaurants, they come and go.

The ambiance is great. You are right by the ocean and most people prefer to sit outside though we opted for inside; safe from birds. We were greeted by a nice waiter named Jeffrey. I informed him that we had a voucher from Travelzoo so he enthusiastically got us the special menu; no attitude. Though there really should not have any as they automatically add the 18% tip on the original amount which was $194.00.

Before anything else, they came with some nice bread which they called English muffin. It was not your traditional muffin. It looked more like a biscuit but the texture was of regular bread. They served this with a creamy butter and some sea salt. I figured the best way to devour this muffin was to take some of the salt and sprinkle it directly on the butter, break a piece of the warm bread and slather the salted butter on the bread and enjoy.  This may have been the best experience of the evening!

They brought out our first course which was a cheese & charcuterie board. We enjoyed the Spanish cheese, salami and ciabatta toast.  I forgot to ask which brand  of whole grain mustard they used as it was so good. The housemade pickled vegetables were too sour for both of us.

For appetizer, Sandi ordered the Chicken Liver with housemade preserves with ciabatta toast. I don't eat liver but she insisted I try. Taste change so I figured maybe this time I would like it. She got a small scoop of liver with lots of preserves and put it on a piece of toast.  As I put it in my mouth, I tasted the wonderful preserves, and I thought, hhmmm...this liver ain't that bad.....then all of a sudden I tasted the liver. Oh my God! I prayed that I could get rid of the taste with a sip of wine and water. I eventually did. After this experience, Sandi informed me that the liver was not good. She described it as tasting like baby food; nasty baby food.

My appetizer was much,much,much better! It was a Slow Braised Idaho Pork Cheek.
I really couldn't care less where the pork was from.....well....I guess I do.  This was served with wild mushroom barley "risotto' with soft cooked egg and black truffle butter. I enjoyed the tender pork and the barley risotto which tasted like a very aldente pasta.

Four entrée, we both chose the Balsamic Barbecued Idaho Pork Chop. It was served with grilled peaches, mustard greens and crushed marcona almonds.  By the time we got our entrée, we were both getting full. We ate 1/2 our pork chops and took the other 1/2 home.

Dessert was a a disappointment. The Roasted Nut "Tart" was a soft caramel, spiced chocolate, sea salt vanilla cookie. The so called tart was  not a tart. This should have been called a mousse. The spiced chocolate was too spicy and the caramel was all over the nuts which was fine but somehow,it just didn't work.

Mar'sel will have to improve on their desserts because the last time we were there, we were not impressed with their selections either.  I have had really good desserts in the past but that was a long time ago.

The restaurant was quite busy on a Wednesday evening. The new manager helped the staff in serving food. He was dressed in a suit looking professional but not once did he come to our table (before it got busy), nor did he make eye contact with one of us.
I saw him interact with a larger group though.  Sandi mentioned that she had read and observed that 2 women dining, normally don't get much attention. I have never noticed that till last night. I will have to pay attention to that from now on.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Bacon + Chocolate?

I have always enjoyed this dark chocolate but haven't had it in a long time until recently,  a friend gave me a bar of Mo's Dark Bar by Vosges. See previous link on what this Chocolatier, Katrina is all about:

This Dark Bar is 62% dark chocolate with hickory smoked uncured bacon with smoked salt.  This is a dark chocolate delight and if you like bacon, you are in for a treat. In my opinion, this is the best chocolate bacon ever. The bitterness of real dark quality chocolate with the smoked bacon is a marriage made in heaven. If that's not enough, when you bite into the chocolate, you chew on bits of salt to offset the bitterness of the chocolate.

I quote you Katrina's instructions for eating this chocolate:  "Breath.... engage your 5 senses, close your eyes and inhale deeply. Be in the present moment, notice the color of the chocolate, the glossy shine. Rub your thumb over the chocolate bar to release the aromas of hickory smoked uncured bacon flirting with dark chocolate. Snap off just a tine piece and place it in your mouth, let the lust of salt and sweet coat your tongue."

With that in mind, how can you resist not going to store to try some now.  I buy mine at World Market (Cost Plus). Mind you, they are not cheap. They are about $7.00 but well worth it.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Sandi's Impromptu Dinner

The other day, Sandi asked me if I would like to have dinner at her house as she had some tuna that she defrosted.  What am I to say; can't hurt her feelings.

We started out with a salad that looked vibrant; this would have gotten any vegetarian ecstatic. My friend Mertz had just given me a bottle of dressing she wanted me to try. It was Galeos low fat world's best Miso sesame seed. We both liked it; a bit sweet and it didn't taste "diet" at all which is a good thing.

She had baked and later broiled the tuna which she generously sprinkled some Cajun spice. She tried a piece and felt it needed something to complement the spiciness. She poured some passion fruit (the ones you mix for drinks) and that was all it needed to taste really good. For veggies, she served a variety; baby carrots, Brussels sprouts, beets and pecans baked in maple syrup.

For dessert, we had honey vanilla yogurt and vanilla almond granola with frozen mixed berries. That's probably why I liked it since I enjoy sweetened fruit much better than fresh. I know......I'm odd that way.

The impromptu dinner was such a treat and right after dessert we were off to a "Nightclub Two Step" dance class to burn off the calories.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Lawry's Portfolio Wine Tasting

Lawry's sent out invitations via email on their Portfolio Wine Tasting Event which took place on August 14, 2013. What caught my eye were the great wineries participating. Duckhorn, Cakebread, Stags Leap, Clos du Val, Franciscan to name a few. The price for the wine tasting with hors d' oeuvres was a reasonable price of $48 which included tax and tip.

I got my friend Cindy to go with me. This tasting was to start at 6 p.m. We got there at 5:30 p.m. in time to coat our tummies with their delicious meat balls and potato chips in their parlor.

Promptly at 6:00 p.m. we checked in and strolled into one of their private rooms next to the bar. They had nice size wine glasses all lined up and tables with the different wineries with a few samples of their wine. I must tell you that all of them were good, some better than others and a few that were outstanding. I was upset that one of my favorite, Duckhorn was not there. The representative apparently did not show up.
Cindy and I have never heard of Nickel and Nickel Kelham Vineyard which showcased their Cabernet. We liked that a lot. We also had a taste from Frank Family, that was excellent. I asked how much a bottle cost. The answer was $150. There was another one we thought was also excellent and that was $85.   After several tastings we were getting confused;  It would have been a good idea to take notes. That would have been very hard to do as you had a glass of wine in one hand and a plate of food on the other.

Let me tell you about the food. The had hors d' oeuvres galore. A long table filled with cold cuts, delicious cheeses, fondue, grapes that were baked with balsamic vinegar and grape seed oil (unusual but delicious), roasted vegetables and wonderful figs! Aside from these, they had servers passing mini tomatoes stuffed with polenta, melon with prosciutto and something with shrimp on top (can't remember what the something was)
Cindy and I were enjoying ourselves too much.  I dumped some of my wine in the bucket in order to try as many wines I could. Cindy could not part with one drop as she didn't want to "waste" it.

We ended up taking our plates to the bar and sat there so we could enjoy our food. There were guests waiting for tables for dinner so I wasn't sure if we would be allowed to sit at the bar.  It turned out, that a few people from the wine tasting had the same thing in mind.  My suggestion for Lawry's next time they have this affair is to have some tables in the room so people can sit down. Another suggestion is....it would be a  good idea if the wine representatives have cards with the name of the wine and some information. Most of them just recited the name and description of the wine as if anyone would remember everything. If they had cards or flyers, it would have been easy to make notes. Lawry's did have a list of Wines available for purchase but some of the ones we tried were not on the list.

This was a fun evening and highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys wine. I asked one of the servers if  Miss Duke was around. She said: "Yes, I'll send her over."
In a few minutes, Miss Duke make her entrance. We acted like 2 high school girls that haven't seen each other since spring break. She's my favorite server and always make it a point to request her. She is such a riot!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


Celebrated my brother's birthday at Melisse on Wilshire Blvd. in Santa Monica last night. We both haven't been at this fine establishment in a long time. The ambiance was still elegant as ever;  Our table was nicely set with a little card that had "Happy Birthday" printed on it along with a small black box with some chocolate truffles. That was a very nice touch. We couldn't wait to try one of their "impeccable prix fixe menus.

The bread that kept coming did not disappoint.  We enjoyed the French, olive, brioche, and bacon focaccia. For amuse-bouche, we had some sort of onion gelee, tomato rolled in goat cheese coated with nuts. The onion didn't have much flavor though the tomato with goat cheese was quite good. After that, they brought out a little glass with chilled cucumber soup with some tomato base topping. Though the cucumber was refreshing, it was also a bit sour. Maybe this was a good thing to awaken our palates. With the soup, there was a piece of scallop with fennel. Gary and I do not like fennel or any of it's relatives but we ate it anyway. This shocked our palates!

For the first course, Gary picked the Hokaido Scallop with summer melons, lemon verbena and Manzanita berries. This reminded both of us of what we used to make on hot days in the Philippines. We shredded the melons so they looked like spaghetti and added cold water and a bit of sugar which was very refreshing. The melon juice was good but it was overpowering that the poor scallops were ostracized.
My first course was the Kona Abalone with lemon cucumber, Matsutake mushrooms and yuzu.  There were more mushrooms than abalone. It had good flavor but nothing out of the ordinary.

We both picked the same dish for our second course: Lobster Bolognese, fresh capellini with basil and brown butter truffle froth. This was a sweet spaghetti. Again, we both had the same comment. Reminded us of the spaghetti we used to eat in the Philippines when we were young. The capellini was aldente though I forgot about the presence of lobster as I hardly tasted it. The froth didn't do much. I never understood the fascination with froth...to me it looked like someone washed their hands with soap and instead of rinsing their hands, they let the soap settle on the food!

The third course came. Finally, something to almost to write home about. Flat iron steak with celtuce (celery or Chinese lettuce), wheat berries, cipollini onion-Jalapeno condiment. These 2 pieces of steak were delicious; on the salty side but delicious.
This was served with a very creamy mashed potatoes which we shared.

Gary chose Cherries, vanilla and white sesame for dessert. It was o.k. I picked the Meyer Lemon with coffee ice cream and ricotta. The presentation was impressive but I did not enjoy it at all. The lemon was heavy and gummy. After our desserts, they brought out a plate of petit fours; the chocolate with dulce de leche was the best among them.

Funny, the couple behind us commented on how something (probably the steak) was too salty. Later on, Chef Josiah Citrin came to our table and asked us how everything was. We said it was good. That's all we could say. It was such a pity because normally, I would have gotten excited and have a picture taken with the chef.  I really could not get excited about much. As he went to the next table (behind us), the lady that complained about the dish being too salty said: " Oh, everything was a surprise".  I think she meant that as a complement.... Gary and I just laughed.

We were both really disappointed with the food as we expected it to be as good as we remembered. We always raved about everything. Don't know what went wrong. I am sorry to say I won't be visiting Melisse for a looong time.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Gerhard's Gravy

Last week, I had some friends over and the guest of honor was someone who's wife is away and I wanted to make sure he would have at least one decent meal (not gourmet which he is accustomed to) while she was gone.

For hors d' oeuvres, I warmed some fresh salsa with cheese in the microwave and served it with chips. I had a tub of some fresh Mozzarella already in a marinade so I served that with some fresh tomatoes from Sandi and Amy's garden and poured some Balsamic Glaze.

For entrée, I cooked pork tenderloin; seasoned with herbs and cooked them in butter. After searing, I then baked them. The secret of this dish was the sauce; Gerhard's Gravy. Unfortunately, one can no longer get this fabulous sauce that he used to make from veal and turkey bones with herbs and then simmered for 24 hours! Gerhard was the owner of Café Cego's in Rolling Hills Estates which sadly closed a few weeks ago.

I started out with a simple salad with jalapeno olive oil and peach white balsamic vinaigrette.

I served the pork with mashed potatoes cooked with lots of butter, garlic powder, feta cheese a some whipping cream.  The vegetables were eggplant and asparagus from Amy and Nako's garden.  I roasted them in a 400 degree oven drizzled with olive oil, lots of sea salt and balsamic vinaigrette.

The meal turned out to be almost "gourmet".  Dessert was easy. The guest of honor loves ice cream.  It was a  no brainer to get some dark chocolate raspberry swirl truffle  from Handel's.  I also bought the waffle bowl. It was very rich and oh so creamy yummy ice cream.  Everyone loved it.

Clean up was a breeze.  Cindy and Sandi were the perfect guests aka maids. They helped put left overs away and cleared everything. These are the type of people you want to invite over and over.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Blaze Pizza

It's been about a month since this pizza place opened at the Rolling Hills Plaza in Torrance. I didn't know anyone that has tried it and I got tired of people asking me if I've been there.

I decided that today was The day. I went in there not knowing what to expect. Lot's of staff in an assembly line. They have 8 signature pizzas and "Build Your Own Pizza".
I wanted to build my own (you dictate and they build it for you). As I looked through the glass or what is plastic.....I saw different kinds of cheeses: goat, Gorgonzola,  shredded mozzarella, ovoline mozzarella (balls packed in water), Parmesan and ricotta.
For sauces, they had the classic red, spicy, white cream, pesto, BBQ and olive oil drizzle. They had a few choices for meats and vegetables. See choices below.

For my pizza, I ordered one with the a bit of classic red sauce with white cream sauce. I had mozzarella, Gorgonzola and some of the ovoline mozzarella. She took that soft ball and tore pieces and placed them on the pizza. I had her put a few pepperoni on half (for my husband) and also got the applewood bacon, olives, artichokes and mushrooms. The pizza went in the 900 degree oven which supposedly can cook the pizza in 2 minutes! It may have taken just 2 minutes BUT there was only one guy slicing and boxing the pizza. As I stared at my pizza patiently waiting to be sliced, boxed and getting cold, I decided to ask him not to cut it so I could heat it at home. Since the pizza was not big I ordered a side of salad for $3.85. By the way, the pizza cost $7.45. The price was definitely right.

The pizza had a very thin crust and I was amazed on how it cooked so fast. On my way home, I called my husband to turn on the oven to 375 degrees (probably should have been 400 degrees)  I was hungry so I heated it for 5 minutes which did the job.
The verdict: Pretty good! It is not better than Nancy Silverton's Pizzeria Mozza but for everyday pizza, I really did like it and my husband did not complain; he liked it too.

Blaze Pizza's address is 2625 Pacific Coast Hwy. in Torrance, Ca.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Wilson Park Farmer's Market

I've never been to the Farmer's Market on Wilson Park in Torrance.  I've gone walking there with my partner in "eating" crime Sandi, several times in the past. Last Saturday, I received a text from her at 7:15 a.m. asking me if I would like to "power" walk at the park and as a bonus, check out the market. I immediately got dressed and we were at the park by 8:15 a.m.

We walked at a slow pace as we passed the flowers and vegetables. By the time we got to the booths that sold food, we were crawling. Too many distractions. By 8:30 a.m. we both realized we haven't had breakfast and the aroma of the various foods made us even hungrier. Thai Tiffany had a semi-long line so I lined up there as Sandi went for the potato on the stick. We ended up sharing a Pad Thai with 1 skewer of  barbecue chicken. We also thought we'd try the Thai tea. I've had Thai tea before and I knew it would be sweet. This one was different. It was awful. It had a peculiar flavor. The pad Thai was good and the potato was even better, salty!  We enjoyed our food at 8:30 a.m. Just to show you, our stomach does not really know if it's breakfast, lunch or dinner time. When hunger strikes you eat...end of story, everyone happy. Does that sound like a quote from Confucius?

After all that flavorful food, we started craving for something sweet. We tried a sample of the mini bundt cakes. It tasted good so we bought a few; 3 minis for $10.00.  I got the cappuccino, raspberry chocolate and lemon to take home.  One bite of sweet didn't make us particularly happy. We walked by a booth selling donuts. As I cased the joint, I zoomed in on what looked like a cronut.  I immediately bought 2. This place has a restaurant in Culver City named Café Laurent. The cronut looked promising. It looked crispy. It had the layers of croissant but it was not crispy at all. In fact, it was chewy. It had the right amount of custard but it failed to really excite our palate. It too had a bit of a greasy aftertaste.

By the time we were done with dessert and ready to do a real walk, I remembered I had a nail appointment at 9:45 a.m. so off I went.....

After dinner that evening my husband and I tried the mini bundt cakes. Funny how I used to love them and thought they were really good. Sandi felt the same way. I found them to be too sweet (the filling) and they were not as moist as they used to be. We ate them all anyways.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Five Guys

Five Guys Hamburger Fast Food just opened up in Torrance a few weeks ago.  A family run business which started in 1986 in Arlington,Virginia and eventually spread all over the states.

The place had the feel of an In-N-Out Burger joint. They had a big box of peanuts which you could have (for free) while you waited for your burger.

You could order regular size burgers and what they call "little burgers". The little is big enough especially if you put in the many toppings and condiments available.
In addition to mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, relish, pickles, they also had grilled onions, grilled mushrooms, Jalapeno peppers, green peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, A-1 sauce, bar-b-q sauce and hot sauce; all for no additional cost. Suddenly, my "little" bacon cheeseburger was little no longer!

The Cajun Style Fries was enough for 3 people. They were very good but lacked the crispiness.  The burger was very fresh. Freshness was the key. It was good; I'd say much better than In-N-Out. Though I am not an In-N-Out fan, I still enjoyed this one but I have to tell you that as far as fast food goes......my heart belongs to Carl. (Carl's Jr.)

Five Guys is located at the corner of Hawthorne Blvd. and Lomita Blvd. in Torrance.