Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Even I can make Lasagna (with a little help from my friends)

My friend Sam had a baby! Hooray! Although I did manage to make her some pretty awesome Blondies for consumption (and comfort) during her hospital stay (and BTW, THANKS Trader Joes Blondie Mix- you never fail to impress!), my girlfriends and I decided to get together and make some real food to send over to the new parents.

I have not blogged at all about actually cooking something for as those who know me (or are literate and actually ready the title of this blog) know, I am NOT a good cook.  So of course, I thought something as complicated and yummy as lasagna was way out of my league.  I also just thought I would never want to make it because it seems like it takes a long freakin' time and as the mom of a two year old tornado- I don't often get an hour and a half to make a lasagna!

Enter my dear friend (and mom-to-be and fantastic cook!) Meghan, who assures me that she has an Ina Garten recipe for lasagna that even I can make.  Now I want to preface the following story with the fact that Meghan still did almost everything when it came to making our lasagna (I worked within my capabilities-chopping and stiring), BUT after seeing this dish made start to finish, I feel like even I-the mommy who doesn't cook- could do it.  And it wouldn't even take me an hour an half!

Here's what you need:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped yellow onion (1 onion)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 pounds sweet Italian turkey sausage
1 jar of tomato sauce (whatever brand ya like)
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound lasagna noodles- the NO BOIL kind!  I didn't even know they existed!!!
15 ounces ricotta cheese
3 to 4 ounces creamy goat cheese, crumbled
1 cup grated Parmesan, plus 1/4 cup for sprinkling
1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
1 pound fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced

 Ok, now Ina tells you to make your own tomato sauce.  yeah right.  I just asked my friend Francesco Rinaldi to provide and I think it worked out juuust fine.

Here's what you do:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Heat the olive oil in a large (10 to 12-inch) skillet. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes over medium-low heat, until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the sausage and cook over medium-low heat, breaking it up with a fork, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until no longer pink. Add the sauce and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer, uncovered, over medium-low heat, for 15 to 20 minutes, until thickened.

Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with the hottest tap water. Add the noodles and allow them to sit in the water for 20 minutes. Drain.

In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, goat cheese, 1 cup of Parmesan, the egg, the remaining 2 tablespoons of parsley, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Set aside.

Ladle 1/3 of the sauce into a 9 by 12 by 2-inch rectangular baking dish, spreading the sauce over the bottom of the dish. Then add the layers as follows: half the pasta, half the mozzarella, half the ricotta, and one third of the sauce. Add the rest of the pasta, mozzarella, ricotta, and finally, sauce. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup of Parmesan. Bake for 30 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling.

 This thing looked beautiful coming out! Shoulda taken a picture- darn!  You know what, I think I'm gonna make this lasagna all by myself next week and will update this blog with a photo.  I should mention that if you doubt your own abilities to make this dish, good old Trader Joes makes an excellent frozen vegetable lasagna that I have relied on for a family dinner a good amount of times.  Huff Post even rated that one the #1 best tasting frozen lasagna.  Hey Trader Joes- two good product placements for you in this blog! Send me some free stuff! But don't send lasagna- cause I got that covered:)

Big shout out to Meg for teaching this terrible cook how to make such a tasty family dinner!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Pizza Party- Part 1

Today's post is simple. It is (the beginning of a) list of my favorite pizza places in neighborhoods around LA.  Trust me, as a mom that doesn't cook- I know my freaking pizza.  Here's a few pizza joints I love:

Silver Lake: Nicky D's Woodfire Pizza2764 Rowena Avenue  Los Angeles, CA 90039 323-664-3333
Thin crust, lots of cheese (may wanna do a little napkin grease blotting on the top of this one), but so good. I like the "blond bunny", only order with marinara sauce.  The Silver lake location is NOT a good place to take kids--its tiny. Order delivery.

Hollywood: Pizzeria Mozza
641 N Highland Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90036  (323) 297-0101
More like a date place than a kid place, but the pizza is the real deal.  I love the burrata and squash blossom pie.  Take your husband or pick up when you feel like a fancy pizza splurge.

Eagle Rock:  Brownstone 
2108 Colorado Blvd, Los Angeles, California 90041(323) 257-4992
This is our local spot (as we are Eagle Rockers), but my East Coast tastes are totally satisfied by this real deal pizza joint.  Take the fam- there's a good amount of seating (and beer).  Order a pie for delivery if you're local or make the trek to pick up--its worth it.

Santa Monica: Joe's Pizza
111 Broadway, Santa Monica, CA 90401(310) 395-9222
Pizza less than a block from the Pacific Ocean...seems like there's no way it can be good, right?  Wrong!  This is a place to grab a slice (or pie) to go, and then head to Palisades Park to enjoy.  Not much seating, and no real ambiance.

Santa Monica: Pizza Antica
395 Santa Monica Pl, Santa Monica, CA 90401(310) 394-4080
Pricey, but delish with interesting combinations or build your own options with really fresh ingredients.  Actually my fave thing here is a seasonal burschetta with smoked salmon and capers.  Pizza is heartier with more of a thick crust thing happening than I usually go for.  Plus the top floor of Santa Monica Place mall has pretty much the best view of the ocean you could ask for and a place for kids to run while you're waiting for your food.

Echo Park: Masa
1800 W Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90026 (213) 989-1558
Real Deal Chicago Style Deep Dish Pizza!!  Plus this is a great place to take kids for dinner out.  Lots of space, laid back atmosphere, lots of choices.  I freaking live for several non-pizza items on this menu including the moules frites and the croissant bread pudding, but for a pie I am hard pressed not to pick the 'Cerro Gordo' Bistro style pizza (thin crust)  or good old extra cheese deep dish.  Just one thing- they are NOT afraid of garlic at Masa...vampires beware.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles

On Tuesday night my parents tooks us out for a farewell meal at my Dad's favorite LA spot. He comes to visit us less than my mom, usually about once a year, and doesn't care about seeing much...but he always insists on a meal at Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles. And while he prefers the Hollywood location, we had a great meal at the Pasadena location on Lake Ave. this past visit. There were eight (and a half) of us: My mom and Dad, their friends Ted and Judy (with whom they left for China with immediately following our meal at Roscoe's), Steve, me and Mr. Rider (officially 18 months old now), and Steve's two buddies.  Now I want to preface the following review with the information that we were there at 6:30 p.m. on a Tuesday and while they were busy, it was not the normal slam you can expect at Roscoes at 8pm on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday.  I will also say that Roscoe's has been one of my favorite places to eat (and take out) since I moved to LA in 1998. And my last disclaimer is that I may be slightly biased toward soul fod in general growing up with two parents from Tennessee... but in any case, here's the rundown:
Locations: We went to the one on Lake Ave in Pasadena, but other locations are Long Beach, Hollywood (on Gower) and Mid Cityish (on Pico).

Parking: Pasadena and Pico locations have lots, expect to pay to park for the Hollywood location. Not sure about LB

Menu: Don't expect to eat healthy. This is the real, deal Southern soul food. Vegetarians beware, most likely the good majority of their vegetables are even cooked in bacon grease:)

Food: I always get the #13 ("1 succulent breat, 1 delicious waffle) and about 1/2 of it is enough for me (of course, I always get a side of collard greens (perfectly cooked and seasoned at Roscoes with just a little heat. My 18 month old loved the collard greens during this last trip to Roscoe's!) to go along with it.  The Scoe's special is also a good classic way to get both chicken and waffles, but is a little bit more food (man size meal). Some people say you are supposed to eat the chicken and waffles together. Now I love sweet/savory combos and I certainly don't mind if a little syrup gets on my chicken or some chicken crumbs fall on my waffle, but I don't eat them together.  That's dealers choice.  I also get the mac and cheese for the kid, but its so darn good I usually end up "tasting" that a few time as well.  My dad LOVES the chicken livers at Roscoes but beware that one order of them is HUGE. If you like chicken livers, these are some of the best-hot and crispy.  You can go gravy (Roscoes brown gravy is awesome and so thick you can almost eat it with a fork) or no gravy, but here is a piece of good advice. No matter what you order, if you want gravy on it...get it on the side and let that chicken stay crispy till it gets to your table.  If you want the best of both worlds, the "da dip" and get crispy chicken and thick, delicuious gravy all in one bite. A lst thing not to miss at Roscoe's at the grits...good as side to anything.  You'll know the food is authentic southern just by looking at it, but to confirm that Roscoe's really knows what the South is all about- order an iced tea.  The natural question you'll be asked (as in any good southern restaurant): "sweet or not sweet".

Service: Is usually damn good here.  You may have to wait (on hour or more on a weekend), but once you sit down, you'll get good friendly service and you're food will come out quick and piping hot.  At the pasadena location, they even asked us if we wanted to sample any of the sides before we ordered them. This is great when you have a hungry kid with you.  That few bites of mac and cheese held Rider over while we ordered and waited  for the food to come. At the Pico location, they used to have this one waitress named Big Momma who was a total LA legend. I hope shes still there becuase she really is the best.  Remember folks, food service people work hard, so tip them well no matter what and tip them extra generously if they do an outstanding job.  The standard now is 18-20%.

Price: There's no bar at Roscoe's (domestic beer and Heineken are available) so you don't have to worry about your tab running too high here.  Expect 15$ per person (grown up person).  There's no "kids menu", but sides are enough for a kid of most sizes.  Overall a good value for the money.

Keep in mind: The locations vary in size but almost all of them are packed pretty tight.  They have high chairs and are certainly kid friendy but between the usual wait time and the close quarters, it may be a good idea to pick up take out if you have multiple children.  This is a staple take out place for me, especially when I'm having guests over- it pretty much a sure fire hit every time.

Rider did great at Tuesday night's dinner, depsite being a bit under the weather. He loved his freshmade lemonade (no refills on this) and his greens, mac and cheese and fried chicken.  And, btw, he loved it the next day too for breakfast.  I didn't try the chicken livers with him...maybe next time...

The bottom line is, kids or no kids, LA native, transplant or visitor, don't miss Roscoe's..

Monday, March 12, 2012

Visit Japan with your kid...

Except don't pay for the flight (literally and mentally), don't book a miniscule hotel room, don't get a passport and don't worry about learning to say "Help, my baby has terrible diarreha" in Japanese. Instead, come down to Little Tokyo in downtwon Los Angeles and let your kid enjoy new and exciting foods (and sights and sounds and smells). BUT, please, please, please-do this own your own as a family and DON'T sign up for my food tour...

My weekend job is as a tour guide for SIX TASTE, Los Angeles' fastest growing food tour company. We give tours in Little Tokyo, Downtown Financial District, Thai Town, Santa Monica, Hollywood and "New" Chinatown (Arcadia and San Gabriel).  I lead the LT (little Tokyo) and Santa Monica tours on a regular basis, for the past 2 1/2 years now.  This past weekend I had this really cool young couple from North Carolina on my Sunday tour, who bravely brought their 10 month old along for the 3 hour "ride"- straight through his nap time, mind you.  Now, I'm not gonna say that it was horrible (for them or for me), but I will say it was extremely inconvenient.  As new parents go, they handled the whole situation pretty darn well: they came prepared with lots of food and drinks, new when to pick that kid up and walk away (as to not disturb the other people on the tour) and even managed the curbs, traffic and crowds with a (huge) stroller.  They mentioned that they had travelled with their son quite a bit already and knew the deal, but what I kept thinking to myslef was "how can this be at all fun for you??"  However, I also reminded myself that I traveled all over Italy for two months last summer with an 8 month old and I managed to have a good time...I wonder if all the Italians we met along the way were thinking of me the same way I thought of this couple?  in any case, parents, baby and tour guide all made it through the three hour tour, and I was generously tipped for my patience an understanding throughout the afternoon. But I certainly don't hope to see any infants on my tour this coming weekend:)

Now this little baby was too young to eat any of the delish food that Little Tokyo has to offer, but kids that are eating real food have a bunch a cool options in this neighborhood that I would love to point out to other parents.  Remember, exposing kids to a variety of foods is important in shaping them as future foodies! Not to mention making your children aware of cultural diversity and molding them into global citizens.  Here are some things you must not miss in LT when you take your family for a mini-Japanese vacation (without leaving LA):

Imagawayaki at Mitsuru Cafe (in the Japanese Village Plaza).  This traditional Japanese street food is like a pancake batter pockets filled with sweet red bean in the middle. Its definitely a dessert, but your kid will be eating beans at the same time! Also, they make these right in the front window and kids love watching them being made.  They only cost $1.25 each, but lines can get long.  Also, they come out HOT so watch this with little ones.

Mochi Ice Cream at Mikawaya (in the Japanese Village Plaza).  You may have had the box version of Mochi Ice Cream (made by them same brand, Mikawaya) from Trader Joes, but the store version is soooooo much better.  The mochi (glutenous rice candy) is so fresh and chewy and they have an incredible variety of flavors at this flagship.  you can also get a mochi-lato--which is the same as mochi ice cream except with gelato in the middle. My faves are the toasted almond, chocolate hazelnut and kona coffee, but they have tons of kid-friendly options as well (see vanilla, chocolate and strawberry:)

Tan Tan Men Ramen at Chin Ma Ya (in Weller Court Mall)  There's lots of great ramen in LT (the best at Diakokuya, but thats another blog) but I think the most kid friendly version is at Chin Ma ya on the second floor of the Weller Court outdoor mall.  Not too spicy and with a mild flavor, it suits a little person's palatte.  The noodles and ground pork are easy to eat and you can get it with a little chicken skewer (think popcorn chicken on a stick) for a sure fire hit with your kids.  The con is that this place is teeny, leave your stroller outside.

There are so many more places to talk about in LT, but this should get you started. Go down for the afternoon and enjoy the food, listen to my friend, Arthur Nakane (LT's resident) one man band, and do a little shopping (if your kid love Domo or Hello Kitty, he or she will be in heaven).  Try the real Japan when your kids are grown (and can pay for it themselves).

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Cow's End

I actually got to have lunch with husband today. WITH NO KID.  It was short, but very, very sweet.  We are both working in the South bay area, so I decided to make the effort and drive over to have lunch with him in Venice. We went to place called the Cows End Cafe. Here's the rundown...

Location: venice...right near da beach.
Parking: iffy

Menu: limited--mostly a coffee shop, although they had some delish looking smoothies and milkshakes on the menu which I couldn't bring myself to try today.

Food: for what it is, Cows End does pretty good on the food.  The sandwiches reminded me a lot of the what you get for lunch in Italy. Simple paninis on really good bread.  Plus they make Itlaian sodas there...Steve had a vanilla one which was super tasty.  An italian soda is just fizzy water with flavored syrup, for those not in the know.  I had a chai tea latte (my fave) that was average to good.

Service: Its counter service, but I must say, they counter dude was particularly nice and cool.  Not at all like the douchey beach dudes that usually work the counters at places like this.

Price: reasonable for the area. $8 for a sandwich with a little side salad. not grat, but not bad either.

Keep in mind: its cash only, but theres an ATM. They have a super cute upstairs "study louge" with WIFI and cozy places to sit. They also have outdoor seating, which on warmer days would have been spectacular.

Could we have eaten here with Rider in tow? Really, its a pretty tiny little place so that makes me think it wouldn't be too much fun.  But there was definitely food he could eat on the menu and its proximity to the beach might make it a great stop before or after a beach day.

Maybe Steve and I can make this a regular tuesday lunch date...I'm dying to try Miss Lizzy's Southern Food cafe in  Westchester....

Monday, March 5, 2012

Mommy Doesn't Cook

Here it is, my new blog. Long gone are the days of posting about this hip new restuarant or that fabulous bar that just openend.  The money, energy and sleeping time devoted to the culinary explorations of my youth (see: my twenties) are now just too precious to be casually "reserved" for dinners out with friends, long brunches on Sunday mornings, late night food truck runs or happy hour cocktails. Now...I'm a mom.  And I am really a full fledged mom now. Here's the deal--most of your life you are told horror stories about the trials of caring for an infant. There's so much to dread when a baby come into you life-sleepless nights, no time to shower, tension with your partner and, of course, zero time for fun with friends (of fun with anyone for that matter).  What no one tells you is that the infant stages (0-approx 9 months) are actually only a transition into having no life of your own to speak of.  With a baby that little, you can still pack 'em up in a carrier, sit 'em in the booth a restaurant and enjoy a (somewhat) civilized meal at a (somewhat) civilized hour.  Once they hit the toddler stage, the boom is, effectively, lowered.  But its not just your social life that takes a hit with a toddler in tow.  For mommies, autonomy is gone.  The desicions you make affect someone else now.  You have the stink of responsibility clinging to you.  In many ways, it is absolutely terrifying. 

One of the biggest changes is meal time.  As someone who takes food seriously and who has made a little side career of being "in-the-know" about the Los Angeles food scene-I think I dreaded the change in my dining habits the most of the all the things that come along with that little bundle of joy.  Until I had Rider (my son), I spent most nights (and a good deal of expendable income) eating out with my husband or friends, checking out a new bar or wine store, enjoying all that the LA food scene had to offer in neighborhoods from Downtown to the beach. Now, with one little mouth to feed (Rider) and one very big one (my husband, Steve), I find myself struggling with changing my lifestyle and dealing with my fear of failure in the kitchen.  Thats' where 'mommy doesn't cook' orginiated... birthed from my cooking inabilites, my love of all things made for me by a chef and my desire to stay current on my LA food scene knowledge.  Here is where I'll find my way through being a mom who puts food on the table each night, one way or another...