Jul 302013
 
Hatch Chile Cookbook Promotion at Melissa's from bibberche.com
Hatch chile season is just around the corner and I cannot wait to fill my house with smoky smell of these meaty roasted New Mexico peppers. I still pursue every sale my local grocery stores have for sweet red peppers that remind me of late summers in Serbia and huge sacks of dark red capsicums littering the sidewalks, farmers markets, and back yards, destined to be turned into a dozen or so different preserves, relishes, and spreads.
But Hatch chiles, as new as they are in my pepper-obsessed world, bring me a sense of adventure and excitement. They are available for only a few weeks in August and September, and there are hordes of aficionados breathlessly awaiting their appearance. Some of them will be heading straight to Hatch, New Mexico, equipped with wooden crates, huge bags, and plenty of room in their trunks.
Hatch Chile Cookbook Luncheon Melissa's
Just in time for the new season, hard-working folks from Melissa’s Produce released Melissa’s Hatch Chile Cookbook. I was fortunate to be invited recently to their headquarters in Vernon, CA, for a luncheon and book promotion, where I met the authors, Chef Ida Rodrigez and Sharon Hernandez, co-owner of the company. Melissa’s talented chefs prepared fifteen dishes, most of which featured dried or frozen Hatch chiles.
Hatch Chile Cookbook Luncheon at Melissa's from bibberche.com
What gives these chiles their celebrity status? Like Vidalia onions, they are grown in a small area with distinct micro-climate; in New Mexico’s Mesilla Valley days are hot and nights cold, which slows down the ripening process of the chiles and they mature to be meatier and tastier than many of their more famous cousins. They also range from mild to extremely hot, which makes them versatile and adaptable to any palate and taste. As I learned at Melissa’s, the taste of Hatch chiles is enhanced by roasting. And roasted, they can be frozen and preserved to be used throughout the year.
The new cookbook features 150 recipes, from cocktails, starters, main dishes, to desserts. Here are a few photos to give you an idea of different ways you can use Hatch chiles:
Hatch Chile Cookbook Luncheon Melissa's from bibberche.com

Hatch Chile Salsa Fresca

Hatch Chile Cookbook Luncheon Melissa's from bibberche.com

Hatch Chile Guacamole

Hatch Chile Cookbook Luncheon Melissa's from bibberche.com

Honey Mustard Pretzel and Nut Crunch with Hatch Chile Powder

Hatch Chile Cookbook Luncheon Melissa's from bibberche.com

Hatch Chile Corn Bread

Hatch Chile Cookbook Luncheon Melissa's from bibberche.com

Hatch Chile Club Sandwiches and Chicken Salad Tea Sandwiches

Hatch Chile Cookbook Luncheon Melissa's from bibberche.com

Grilled Shrimp Skewers

Hatch Chile Cookbook Luncheon Melissa's from bibberche.com

Dutch Yellow Potatoes Salad with Hatch Chile Vinaigrette

Hatch Chile Cookbook Luncheon Melissa's from bibberche.com

Baby Heirloom Tomato and Grilled Corn Salad

Hatch Chile Cookbook Luncheon Melissa's from bibberche.com

Hatch Chile Devil’s Food Cookies

Hatch Chile Cookbook Luncheon Melissa's from bibberche.com

Even beverages can be spiced up: Hatch Chile Ice Cubes

Hatch chile season officially starts on August 3th, when they first start appearing at the local grocery stores. Here is the schedule of Hatch chile roasting at Bristol Farms Stores in southern California:
Westchester Saturday August 17th 8:00am – 2:00pm 8448 Lincoln Blvd. Westchester, CA 90045
South Pasadena  Saturday August 24th 8:00am – 2:00pm 606 Fair Oaks Ave. South Pasadena, CA 91030
Santa Monica Saturday August 24th 8:00am – 2:00pm *Live Broadcast with Chef Jet Tila from 10am – 12pm 3105 Wilshire Blvd. Santa Monica, CA 90403
Newport Beach Saturday August 31st 8:00am – 2:00pm 810 Avocado Ave. Newport Beach, CA 92660
La Jolla Saturday September 7th 8:00am – 2:00pm 8510 Genesee Ave. La Jolla, CA 92122
And Lazy Acres store in Long Beach will host the roasting August 17, 8:00 – 2:00 2080 Bellflower Blvd. Long Beach, CA 90815
If you would like to roast your own chiles, follow these simple and thorough instructions from my friend Dorothy:
For more on Melissa’s Hatch Chili Cookbook luncheon and promotion, read these informative articles.
You can grab your own copy of the book from Amazon or from Melissa’s Produce.
Jun 072013
 

graybeh from bibberche.com

Ever since I started elementary school, my family spent two weeks of winter break in the mountains, where we had an adorable, miniature, and very rustic cabin. Everything we needed, we had to pack into the trunk of Father’s Fiat 1300; there were no stores and the narrow, mountain road was often buried under the enormous snow drifts, which made it impossible for anyone to navigate for days.

The week before our departure, Mother and Njanja would rarely leave the kitchen, preparing enough food to sustain us and guests for the fortnight. The refrigerator and pantry shelves slowly filled up with enameled pots of beans, sarma*, cabbage with pork, and goulash, trays of pastries, rolls, and cookies, and bowls of semi-prepared side dishes.

Graybeh from bibberche.com

Father would pack them tightly around snow tires, along with packages of frozen meat, wooden crates of vegetables and fruit, sacks of pantry staples, and casks of red wine. Five of us would remain pretty much immobile during the three to four hour trip to the cabin, Mother and the three of us buried under the canvas bags and baskets containing the rest of the supplies, Father intensely focused on the road conditions. Filled with excitement and sense of adventure, we never complained, even after we had to help unload the car and take the provisions in the house down a path Father shoveled for us moments before.

He would immediately get to work defrosting the pipes and building fire in the fireplace. It took a long time to warm up the foot-thick stone walls and we sat on the couch with our full winter attire on, shivering, but awaiting with anticipation the first offering: a cup of hot tea and a plate of cookies. Mother would empty a bottle of water she filled at home into a teapot, turn on a small two-burner gas stove, and get the tea steeping, while unwrapping gurabije, not too sweet, but crispy butter cookies topped with chopped nutsshe and Njanja prepared ahead.

Graybeh from bibberche.com

The balls of dough are about 1 inch in diameter

Never did those cookies taste better than on those frigid early afternoons, when we dared take the gloves off only to dunk a piece in our tea. They dissolved on our tongues, their buttery flavor chased by the fragrant aroma of hibiscus and wild flowers, bringing comfort, and temporarily easing hunger caused by the unrelenting mountain air. The tea would warm our hands just when the fireplace came to life, and we would finish the last bites huddled together in front of fire.

I have never even contemplated making gurabije here in the New World, as for me they are inextricably tied to those long-gone winters and our beloved small cabin that is not there any more. But the memories flooded me when I opened Jerusalem: A Cookbook,  by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, looking for a dessert to make for our monthly virtual club started by my friend Beth of OMG!Yummy. There on page 260 was a recipe for Ghraybeh, simple butter cookies topped by pistachios. I knew that I had to make them right here in my kitchen, even though southern California comes in contact with snow and ice only via Hollywood.

Graybeh from bibberche.com

I am sure that graybeh and gurabije have a common ancestor somewhere in the Middle East and that the cookie reached the Balkans carried in fond memories of many Ottoman Turks who occupied the area for several centuries. Unlike Njanja’s version, it asks for orange blossom and rose petal waters. I am lucky that I live near two Persian grocery stores and finding those, to me, elusive and exotic ingredients does not pose a problem.

Njanja used various cookie cutters to shape gurabije; in this recipe, the small balls of dough are flattened by hands which gives them more old-fashioned, rustic look. There is no egg-white wash, nor chopped nuts on top, rather a solitary shelled pistachio in the center of the cookie. They baked to slightly golden color and accompanied by a cup of strong tea, they were satisfying and comforting, albeit lacking the tantalizing promise of adventure the cookies of my childhood miraculously possessed.

Jerusalem: A Cookbook is a treasure filled with recipes that have the power to instantaneously whisk you away to those enchanted, ancient lands. One day soon I hope to walk the streets of Jerusalem and experience a new adventure. In the meantime, I am filling my wandering soul with promises just by flipping page after page. Why don’t you join me in Tasting Jerusalem?

*Sarma is a Balkan take on dolma; it features sauerkraut leaves stuffed with ground meat and rice).

graybeh from bibberche.com

Mar 092013
 

Savoy Cabbage with Quinoa from bibberche.com

My parents traveled a lot when we were growing up and I cannot even begin to describe the excitement we felt each time when we sneaked out of our room well after midnight, after Njanja was sound asleep and snoring in her bed; we were eagerly awaiting their return on the living room couch. We learned very fast that Mother spent her free time wisely, looking for unusual gifts for us, and could not wait until the morning to watch her unpack and hand out carefully picked toys, crafts and books.

We were the first kids in school to make watercolors using more than twelve shades and the only ones in the neighborhood who had a set of beautifully crafted and detailed medieval army, complete with horses, their riders, and infantry. We spent hours playing with miniature traffic signs aligned along the imaginary streets, learning the rules without even trying. We loaned our friends thick coloring books and could not even imagine going to a sleepover without toting the game of “Life”.

After these trips our pantry and refrigerator would fill out with stinky cheeses, shiny olives, mysterious patés, delectable chocolates, and unusual liqueurs. They mostly shared their spoils with their friends, but we had the first dibs, and in time our curiosity won and we started to enjoy these exotic products still unknown in our town. New and unusual food products stopped to scare us and we embraced the unfamiliar tastes and learned how to appreciate the foods that were not ordinary and common.

When we traveled together as the family, the meals were almost always something we looked forward to. Eager to sample the best an area had to offer, we all usually ordeded different dishes in order to share and experience as much as we could. We never picked the wiener schnitzel and pommes frites (aka french fries), a staple that can be found in any European restaurant, just like we never stayed in Holliday Inn-type hotels. We wanted adventure and yearned for challenges, leaving comforting, standard and known to less intrepid travelers.

It is only natural that my girls never found children’s menu exciting. I chuckled when my ex-husband complained about Nina’s love and appreciation of more choicy types of seafood when she visited him in Florida as a first grader. I was feeling all warm and fuzzy when Zoe wanted mussels for her fifth birthday party, even though I had to intervene and convince her that her friends might prefer pizza. And when I ask for dinner suggestions, one of the first things Anya would shout is Chicken Livers!

50 Best Plants on the Planet from bibberche.com

Plenty more recipes to come!

When I received a copy of 50 Best Plants on the Planet from Melissa’s Produce, written by Cathy Thomas and photographed by Angie Cao, my mind went into the adventure-seeking mode and I chose to make recipes that went against my comfort zone. I don’t know anyone in my home town who ate Savoy cabbage besides my family, thanks to Mother, who incorporated her Central-European culinary influences into our daily lives. Her dish paired this unusual cruciferous vegetable with pork, celery leaves, potatoes and garlic, making a soup/stew kind of dish, very satisfying and warm, perfect for chilly nights that we have been experiencing lately.

But Cathy Thomas offered a drastically different approach and I knew instantly that we would accept the challenge and enjoy the outcome. Mother would be proud that I tackled Savoy cabbage in a new way, testing my girls’ palates and pushing them towards culinary adventures. As I have bookmarked almost every page, we are in for a great culinary trip.

This gorgeous book is available for purchase at some selective grocery store chains (Bristol Farms and Lazy Acres) and online on melissas.com. The hard cover edition will be distributed to most bookstores throughout the nation in April.

Savoy Cabbage with Quinoa from bibberche.com

SAUTÉED PEPPERS WITH SAVOY, RAISINS AND QUINOA

Recipe courtesy of 50 Best Plants on the Planet by Cathy Thomas (Chronichle Books, San Francisco); reprinted with permission.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup dry red quinoa
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, and cut into 1/4 inch strips
  • 2 yellow red bell peppers, cored, seeded, and cut into 1/4 inch strips
  • ½ cup golden raisins, coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • Coarse salt (kosher or sea)
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped Savoycabbage
  • 1 ½  teaspoons balsamic vinegar

 Directions:

1. Combine the quinoa with 2 cups water in a small saucepan. Bring it to a boil on high heat. Cover and decrease the heat to medium-low. Simmer until the quinoa is tender and the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Gently stir and set it off heat, covered.

2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large, deep skillet on medium-high heat. Add the peppers and toss to coat. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add the raisins and fennel seeds and season with salt and pepper.  Cook until the peppers are softened, about 4 minutes. Add the cabbage and vinegar. Stir to combine and cook until the cabbage is limp, about 4 minutes.

3. Divide the quinoa between eight small bowls. Taste the pepper mixture and adjust the seasoning with vinegar, salt, and/or pepper. Spoon the cabbage mixture over the quinoa. If desired, top each serving with some feta cheese. Serve.

Red Quinoa from bibberche.com

Thanks, Robert Schueller and Melissa’s Produce for your beautiful, fresh edibles!

 

Feb 022013
 

It’s been several weeks since Casey of Kitchen Play instigated Cookbook Tour to promote An Edible Mosaic, a brand new book by one of our own, Faith Gorsky Safarini. The six of us embarked on this exciting ride, trying to approach the task from various angles. We wrote a review of the book; we cooked one recipe each for an interesting prix fixe meal; we had a Twitter party where we all prepared the same dish, cooking and tweeting at the same time; we promoted Faith and her book on Facebook; and we posted photos on Cookbook Tour board on Pinterest.

Our project is slowly winding down and I wanted to ask Faith a few questions about her culinary adventures in a Middle Eastern kitchen. As an expat, I was curious to learn about her experiences and observations. I hope you will enjoy the interview. Thanks, Faith for allowing me and my readers a glimpse into your life!

Faith Gorsky

1. What types of food were your favorites before you met your Syrian husband? What did you grow up with? What kinds of food did you like to prepare previously?

My mom was a pretty great cook and I grew up eating classic American meals like roast chicken, beef stew, and spaghetti and meatballs. When my husband (Mike) and I met, I was very young and still in law school (and I was in undergrad right before that), so I only had access to small kitchens and minimal ingredients and equipment, and very little time to cook. When I had spare time, I was cooking a few Indian dishes that my friends in undergrad had taught me, along with a few classic American recipes that I had learned from my mom. My cooking really blossomed after marrying.

2. What was your initial response to Syrian food? How adventurous were you?

I was very open to Syrian food, and I always tell myself I will try anything once. Overall, I immediately loved the food, of course with a few exceptions (like Yogurt Soup and Jute Mallow Soup). But even those few dishes that I didn’t enjoy right away have come to grow on me over time.

3. What was the first Middle Eastern dish that warmed your heart? 

Fried Eggplant with Garlic and Parsley Dressing, because of the story around it.

My most treasured food memories all revolve around family; because of the deep emotional connection linking the food with the feeling, eating the food always conjures up happiness. This is perhaps my favourite food memory.

A few years ago I was in Zabadani, a rural area north of Damascus in Syria. My husband and I were staying with his family in their country home for a few days, and another family had come to visit. Of course a feast was in order.

My mother-in-law and the other ladies were busy all day making a variety of many different dishes. Out of all the foods served that day, a very simple fried eggplant dish with garlic and parsley dressing was by far my favorite. I had tasted eggplant before, but this was the dish that made me fall in love with it, and it was at that moment when my mother-in-law realized that my husband and I truly were perfect for each other. You see, my hubby hates eggplant in any form and my mother-in-law has always hoped he’d marry someone who loves it!

As I sat there ignoring almost every other dish on the table and gushing about this simple eggplant dish, Sahar sat there beaming. Reliving that memory in my mind every time I eat this dish is what makes it so meaningful for me.

4. What was the first dish that you mastered?

Fried Kibbeh. My mother-in-law loves to tell the story of when she first showed me how to make this dish-she and I were working in the living room at a coffee table as we shaped the kibbeh, relaxed and chatting happily as best we could; remember, she speaks Arabic and I speak English, and although we both know a little of the other’s language, it is oftentimes a challenge, but surprisingly we understand each other more than you might think! She formed one perfect torpedo-shaped kibbeh and after I saw her shape the first one, I joined right in. Of course my kibbeh wasn’t nearly as perfect looking as hers, but I soon improved and she said I was able to make kibbeh after seeing it made only once, which is something no one else that she has taught has been able to do. Here’s how she describes it: I’ve tried to teach many Arabic women how to make Kibbeh Mekliyeh; it takes several times before they can do it, and some never even master it. Faith saw me make it once and the next time she made it herself. As we say in Arabic, laha nefus ala el ekel (literally meaning, she has breath that is good for food, which means she has a deep passion for cooking).

It was an incredible feeling that night when we sat down to dinner and my mother-in-law pointed out to the family the kibbeh that I had made.

Photo by Faith Gorsky

5. Is there a dish you did not care for no matter how many times you tried it?

Surprisingly, no! The few dishes that I didn’t like at first have now become favorites and are regularly made in my kitchen. I think the only reason I didn’t like them to begin with is because I didn’t grow up eating them, and some dishes come as quite a surprise the first time around! (For example, Jute Mallow Soup, which has a slimy texture and earthy flavor that is brightened with garlic and lemon.)

6. How did the differences in language influence your cooking?

The main influence that the language barrier had was that it necessitated me getting in the kitchen alongside my mother-in-law and watching everything she did. But really, I would have had to do that anyway; as with any old-world cook, she doesn’t write down cooking times, steps, or ingredient measurements. She knows how to do things based on her senses, how much spice to add to meat by looking or tasting, how long to knead dough by its feel.

7. How big a role did love for your husband play in your desire to master Middle Eastern cuisine? (I drew the line at cooking squirrel (and other rodents), but mastered biscuits, chicken and dumplings, fried buttermilk chicken, gumbo, and NC BBQ ribs.)

Wanting to make my hubby happy played a huge role in my desire to master Middle Eastern cooking, especially at first when I wanted to make sure that I’d be able to cook his favorite dishes. He’s quite a picky eater in general, even when it comes to Middle Eastern foods; he often talks about how growing up his mom would make one dish for the entire family and a separate dish just for him because of how picky he was. So, this meant that there wasn’t a huge array of dishes that I had to learn in the beginning to keep him satisfied; however, as time went on my own desire to learn more about the cuisine because of my own love for it took over.

Roasted Chickpeas – Photo by Faith Gorsky

8. Did you teach your MIL some American dishes? (I know how hard my mother resisted.)

Yes, which was great fun! To name just a few, I taught her my favorite chocolate cake (which is my mom’s recipe for Crazy Cake, which also sometimes goes by the name of Wacky Cake), roast chicken with gravy, lasagna, and oatmeal. These are foods that my in-laws have heard about and have wanted to try for years, but didn’t know how to make. My mother-in-law was very willing to try anything I made, and luckily everything was a hit with the whole family.

9. What are some of your husband’s favorite dishes, Middle Eastern and American? Did you manage to make him a meal to equal his mother’s?

Middle Eastern foods: Shawarma, Mujaddara (Lentil and Bulgur Wheat Pilaf with Caramelized Onion), Molokhia (Jute Mallow Soup), Shakreeyeh (Lamb & Yogurt Soup), and of course Hummus and Falafel.

American foods: Spaghetti, tacos, roast chicken, beef pot roast, and battered fish fry.

It’s funny, Mike is so incredibly picky about his food, which was one of the main factors that drove me to learn how to cook his favorites from his mom. Once I started learning all his favorite dishes and eventually mastered them, he starting telling me all the time how he doesn’t have to miss his mom’s cooking because mine is every bit as good. Of course I give his mom the credit for this – she is the one who taught me, after all!

10. What would be the advice you can give home cooks who would like to get their feet wet with Middle Eastern food?

The best advice I can give is not to be intimidated just because a recipe, ingredient, or cooking method might be unfamiliar. For example, take my chicken shawarma recipe. I marinate chicken in a blend of seasonings and yogurt, and utilize a two-step cooking method that yields incredibly moist, flavorful chicken. I had an American cook tell me she was leery to use yogurt as a marinade for chicken, saying it sounded “weird” to her. (What she really meant was that she had never done it before and so she had no idea what to expect.) She ended up making the dish and not only has it become a favorite for her and her family, but it has also become a regular dinnertime staple. If you keep an open mind, you never know what new favorite you might discover.

Pickles – Photo by Faith Gorsky

I enjoyed being a part of this group. An Edible Mosaic is a gorgeous book filled with flavorful recipes that can instantly transport you into a Middle Eastern souq. I hope you check it out – I know you will love it! Thanks, Faith and Casey! And thanks to my friends and fellow bloggers for such a pleasant company!

Heather of Kitchen Concoctions

Laura of Spiced Life

Jennifer of Savory Simple

Stephanie of 52 Kitchen Adventures

Amanda of Maroc Mama

Jan 282013
 

50 Best Plants on the Planet from bibberche.com

Holiday season for those who follow the tenets and traditions of Serbian Orthodox church does not end with the big ball coming down on Times Square. We celebrate Christmas on January 7th and usher in a New Year on January 13th, as our church has not accepted the Gregorian calendar. And even though we do not have a habit of making New Year’s resolutions, let alone sticking to them, it always makes me feel good to have that extra time to get my affairs in order, reflect on the previous year, and start thinking about the new beginnings.

2013 started off bright, promising excitement and new challenges, even though I fell asleep well before midnight out of sheer exhaustion, both on December 31st and on January 13th, raising a glass of prosecco surrounded by the love and warm hugs of my family some time in the afternoon, rather than at the last moments of the departing year. There was no countdown for me, no traditional Strauss waltz right after the bubbles slide down my throat, nor heartfelt wishes whispered in my ear. Overcome by many days of fatigue and frenzy, we all succumbed to sleep in our new home, without guilt or regret.

50 Best Plants on the Planet from bibberche.com

The long month of January is slowly winding down; and I am just organized enough in my new life to reach for some familiar things that always make me happy: my music, my photographs, my books, and my cooking. Most of my books are safely packed in the storage, along with four book shelves that used to shelter them, but I kept a few favorites out of prison, knowing that just looking at them would bring a smile to my face and assure me that everything is well with the world.

One of those books is a cookbook from Melissa’s Produce, the biggest produce supplier in the U.S., conveniently located only a dozen or so miles away in Vernon, California.  50 Best Plants on the Planet is published by Chronicle Publishing and features the writing of Cathy Thomas, an acclaimed food columnist for the Orange County Register, and luscious photographs by Angie Cao. The forward is written by Cheryl Forberg, RD, a James Beard Award-winning chef and former nutritionist for The Biggest Loser.

This book sits on the box freezer in my new kitchen and whenever I need a burst of fresh and colorful, I reach for it. We had several weeks of rain and fog in southern California and our spoiled souls suffer under the tyranny of gray. But I forget about the cold and rain as soon as I start flipping the pages, mesmerized by the beauty of nature’s bounty, so simple and unassuming, yet so glorious and inviting.

This encyclopedic tome features fifty fruits and vegetables which pack the most nutrients, listing them alphabetically. Each selection offers three versatile recipes developed by a team of experts and chefs at Melissa’s Produce, as well as numerous tips for buying, using, storing, and preserving the chosen plants. I was not surprised to find included all-time favorites like broccoli, spinach, asparagus, blackberries, and oranges; but I was definitely glad to learn about the benefits of watermelon, gooseberries, cantaloupe, gai lan, beet greens, and edible chrysanthemum leaves (not the common blooming ones in our gardens – those would be poisonous, as I was cautioned by Cathy).

I don’t need a New Year’s resolution to get inspired, as I had a chance to taste some of the recipes at Melissa’s Produce book-signing party a few weeks ago. The counter in the middle of their glamorous kitchen was laden with colorful dishes bursting with flavor, and it took several trips to sample all the food that Melissa’s talented chefs prepared for us. After our hunger was satiated, Cathy Thomas entertained us with the stories about her childhood, talked about her inspirations for the book, and answered many questions from the attentive and curious audience.

Melissa's Produce from bibberche.com

I have received a signed copy of the book, and I already have dozens of recipes book-marked. I am eager to start learning and cooking, relying on the advice of the experts, as well as experimenting with my own creations. I have no doubts that this cookbook will contribute to a healthier and more prosperous new year.

50 Best Plants on the Planet: The Most Nutrient-Dense Fruits and Vegetables, in 150 Delicious Recipes is available for sale at Bristol Farms supermarkets. Its hardbound edition is sold exclusively online from www.melissas.com and it retails for $35.00. By April 2013 it will be distributed to all major book sellers in the US.  It can also be pre-ordered on www.amazon.com.

50 Best Plants on the Planet from bibberche.com

Jan 222013
 
Lenti Bulgur Pilaf from bibberche.com

Photo by my 3G iPhone. No comment.

I have always wondered how celebrity chefs on TV manage to pull off their seemingly easy cooking demonstrations, having to consider the time and space limitations, the necessity to show technique, the need for banter and entertaining talk, and the intimidating presence of non-forgiving video cameras.

I am an oldest child and I embrace challenges. Or, as my sister would put it, I tend to pick ways to make my life harder. I played with the idea of making a video of myself preparing a dish I am truly comfortable with, only to satiate my curiosity and explore another terra incognita. Recently I decided to put that momentous event off until much later, convinced that it really would make my life much harder. And these days I want to invoke my inner Milan Kundera and experience my own Unbearable Lightness of Being. No need to stress, over-exert, or worry. I had more than my share of those in the past several months, thank you very much.

A while ago I enthusiastically answered an email from Casey Benedict of Kitchen Play and signed up for the Cookbook Tour with five other food bloggers. Supporting Faith Gorsky, a fellow writer and a newly-hatched cookbook author came naturally. Her book An Eddible Mosaic is gorgeous, the dishes from her Syrian mother-in-law invite me back home to Serbia, and every time I open it, I feel as if I were visiting an old friend.

An Edible Mosaic by Faith Gorsky

We invited our friends and readers to join us for a live Twitter party last weekend. All six of us were preparing the same dish, Lentil and Bulgur Pilaf with Caramelized Onions, at the same time. We had one hour to gather the ingredients, cook, take photos, upload them to Twitter, and record our progress in a live Twitter stream.

Well, people who know me are aware of the fact that I am a techno-peasant. I believe that there are mean little elves who reside inside my laptop, whose only purpose in life is to sabotage and impede my technological efforts. But not only was I armed with my iPhone, I recruited my oldest daughter who was on her winter break from UC Berkeley. She poo-poos my woes and wrestles with any techie problem with an analytical and logical approach. And together we pulled it off.

The dish came together in less than an hour, the house smelled divine, and apart from the annoying fact that my father ate all of the caramelized onions that were supposed to be the finishing touch to the dish, I felt really proud of my accomplishment: not only was I able to follow all the steps accurately to come up with a fragrant and delicious meal, I managed to take the photos of the process and tweet while doing it!

Lentil and Bulgur Pilaf with Caramelized Onions from bibberche.com

Yes, we had to make another batch of caramelized onions, but we were at an advantage, as it was still early in southern California after the Twitter party ended. I made my first bulgur meal, I learned novel techniques and tips, and my whole family enjoyed this pilaf that I served with grilled Moroccan chicken.

This was enough excitement and multi-tasking for now. Shooting a video is definitely not going to happen soon. But as I learned from James Bond movies, never say never again.

I hope you get a chance to try some of the recipes from An Edible Mosaic. They are well written, comprehensible, easy to follow, and delicious. You don’t have to be an expert on Middle Eastern foods to take the plunge. And if you need some questions answered, don’t hesitate to ask me, or my friends who are participating in this book promotion.

LENTIL AND BULGUR PILAF WITH CARAMELIZED ONIONS

(MUJADDARA BURGHUL)

Recipe courtesy of An Edible Mosaic:  Middle Eastern Fare with Extraordinary Flair by Faith Gorsky (Tuttle Publishing; Nov. 2012); reprinted with permission.

Serves 4 to 6

Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Cooking Time: 50 minutes, plus 10 minutes to let the bulgur sit after cooking

Ingredients:

  • 1 ¹/3 cups (275 g) dried brown lentils (or 2 cans brown lentils, rinsed and drained)
  • 6 cups (1.5 liters) water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 large onions, quartered and thinly sliced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 pods cardamom, cracked open
  • 2 cloves
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup (185 g) coarse-ground bulgur wheat
  • 1½ cups (300 ml) boiling water
  • Plain yogurt (optional, for serving)

Directions:

1. Sort through the lentils to remove any small stones or pieces of dirt, and then rinse with cold water in a colander. Bring the rinsed lentils and the water to a boil in a lidded medium saucepan. Cover the saucepan, turn the heat down to a simmer, and cook until the lentils are tender but not mushy, about 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding more water as necessary so that they are always immersed; strain.

2. While the lentils cook, heat the oil and the butter in a large skillet over moderately-high heat; add the onion and saute until completely softened but not yet browned, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer half the onion to a small bowl and set aside. Continue cooking the remaining onion until deep caramel in color, about 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding a splash of water as necessary if the onion starts to get too dark. Set aside.

3. Put half a kettle of water on to boil. Transfer the sauteed onion (not the caramelized onion) to a medium saucepan. Add the bay leaf, cardamom, clove, cumin, cinnamon, salt, and pepper and cook 1 minute. Add the bulgur and cook 1 minute more, stirring constantly. Add the boiling water, turn the heat up to high, and bring to a rolling boil.

4. Give the bulgur a stir, then cover the saucepan, turn the heat down to very low, and cook until tender, about 10 minutes (do not open the lid during this time). Turn the heat off and let the bulgur sit 10 minutes, then fluff with a fork and gently stir in the lentils. Taste and add additional salt, pepper, and olive oil if desired.

5. Transfer to a serving dish and top with the caramelized onion. Serve with plain yogurt to spoon on top, if using.

 

Jan 082013
 

 

Lentil_and_Bulgur_Pilaf_with_Caramelized_Onion_(landscape)

Photo by Faith Gorsky

New year literally brought a new beginning into our lives. I erased our presence from the beloved apartment with a gallon of Clorox, turned my keys in, and hugged the managers whose eyes mirrored mine and sparkled with tears.  A new family was moving in, and I had to smile at the three girls jumping and skipping around, excited about their new home, remembering my two daughters and their happiness just a year ago. I drove off with my clothes piled up on the back seat of the old Bonneville, while the fountain in the courtyard and the pink facade slowly disappeared from my sight.

My girls and I are almost completely unpacked, with just a few odd items disrupting the harmony of our new abode. We have roses in the front yard and an orange tree in the back. We have an adorable poodle who makes our feet warm on these surprisingly chilly California nights. This holiday season ended with a miracle for us and I cannot even try to explain the gratitude I feel for my dear friend who opened her home to us and welcomed us in with a huge embrace and even bigger smile, erasing the scary thoughts of homelessness and shelters that occupied me for days.

We are slowly adjusting to our new routine, getting to know the pathways through the house and learning to live with the unusual noises. My friend has a house full of vintage cooking props and I cannot wait to use them in my photos. In turn, she is hungry for my cooking, and even a simple fried egg I make for her in the morning makes her face beam. I am humbled by her generosity and if she asked me to prepare a pheasant under glass, I would gladly do it, even if I had to go in the Sierras and catch the bird myself!

My life is slowly getting back to normal. A different, new normal, filled with uncertainty and mystery, but comfortable and welcoming nevertheless. The beast of anxiety and fear is still a frequent daily guest residing on top of my chest, but the promise of a wonderful year ahead gives me strength to shake it off and force it to go away.

I miss writing. I miss my camera. I miss the feel of a few keys that slightly stick under my fingers as I type yet another blog post. I miss my friends, real and virtual, and feel as if I were in exile for months. But as I disassemble the last of the packing boxes and send them to a recycling bin, I know that I have not only come home, but returned as well. And I am so ready to start living again!

An Edible Mosaic

What can be better to announce the beginning of a life much richer, fuller, and more satisfying, than a beautifully photographed cookbook filled with brightly colored fruits and vegetables of the Middle East, with authentic recipes for fragrant and aromatic foods of Syria, Tunisia, Morocco simplified and adjusted to the markets of the west? I am proud to be a part of the team involved in promoting Faith Gorsky’s lovely book, An Edible Mosaic: Middle Eastern Fare with an Extraordinary Flair.

If you remember, the six of us each picked a different recipe from the book several weeks ago, and prepared a prix fixe virtual meal for our readers. My family enjoyed Spinach Turnovers and it makes me feel good that it’s also one of Faith’s favorite recipes she learned from her Syrian mother-in-law.

I would like to invite you to join us again, this time in real time, for the Twitter party Cook, Tweet and Eat this coming Saturday, January 12th, at 4:00 pm EST. Let’s have fun preparing Lentil and Bulgur Pilaf with Caramelized Onions together, exchanging tips and ideas, posting photos, learning from one another and from Faith! I have participated in a few Twitter events in the last couple of years since I’ve been blogging, but this one will be special, as so many of us will be making the same dish and I cannot wait to see different takes, variations, and creations.

Hashtag for this event will be #AnEdibleMosaic. Casey of Kitchen Play helped us form our group and formulate a plan for promoting An Edible Mosaic. After Cook, Tweet&Eat party, she will put up a photo album of all the photos submitted on Twitter, with links and credit.

If you are interested, you can RSVP here. I hope to see you at the party on Twitter!

Lentil_and_Bulgur_Pilaf_with_Caramelized_Onion_(portrait)

Photo by Faith Gorsky

LENTIL AND BULGUR PILAF WITH CARAMELIZED ONIONS                                                                                                                             (MUJADDARA BURGHUL)

Recipe courtesy of An Edible Mosaic:  Middle Eastern Fare with Extraordinary Flair by Faith Gorsky (Tuttle Publishing; Nov. 2012); reprinted with permission.

Serves 4 to 6

Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Cooking Time: 50 minutes, plus 10 minutes to let the bulgur sit after cooking

Ingredients:

  • 1 ¹/3 cups (275 g) dried brown lentils (or 2 cans brown lentils, rinsed and drained)
  • 6 cups (1.5 liters) water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 large onions, quartered and thinly sliced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 pods cardamom, cracked open
  • 2 cloves
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup (185 g) coarse-ground bulgur wheat
  • 1½ cups (300 ml) boiling water
  • Plain yogurt (optional, for serving)
Directions:
  1. Sort through the lentils to remove any small stones or pieces of dirt, and then rinse with cold water in a colander. Bring the rinsed lentils and the water to a boil in a lidded medium saucepan. Cover the saucepan, turn the heat down to a simmer, and cook until the lentils are tender but not mushy, about 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding more water as necessary so that they’re always immersed; strain.
  2. While the lentils cook, heat the oil and the butter in a large skillet over moderately-high heat; add the onion and sautee until completely softened but not yet browned, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer half the onion to a small bowl and set aside. Continue cooking the remaining onion until deep caramel in color, about 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding a splash of water as necessary if the onion starts to get too dark. Set aside.
  3. Put half a kettle of water on to boil. Transfer the sauteed onion (not the caramelized onion) to a medium saucepan. Add the bay leaf, cardamom, clove, cumin, cinnamon, salt, and pepper and cook 1 minute. Add the bulgur and cook 1 minute more, stirring constantly. Add the boiling water, turn the heat up to high, and bring to a rolling boil.
  4. Give the bulgur a stir, then cover the saucepan, turn the heat down to very low, and cook until tender, about 10 minutes (do not open the lid during this time). Turn the heat off and let the bulgur sit 10 minutes, then fluff with a fork and gently stir in the lentils. Taste and add additional salt, pepper, and olive oil if desired.
  5. Transfer to a serving dish and top with the caramelized onion. Serve with plain yogurt to spoon on top, if using.

 

Dec 182012
 

Spinach Turnovers from bibberche.com

This month I am a part of a team that promotes a cookbook written by one of our own, Faith Gorsky of An Edible Mosaic. Middle-Eastern food is like a trip home to me, and I felt a connection to Faith as she wrote about her culinary experiences after she married a Syrian man and embarked on a trip to learn how to cook his favorite dishes from Sahar, her mother-in-law (as a linguist, I could not pass this one – sahar translates into sugar:)

The culinary world is sometimes like a game of Telephone that we used to play at grade school, before the birthday parties moved forward to embrace slow-dancing. A dish travels along the meridians and changes slightly with each turn, only to become something different every hundred or so kilometers. Every region adds its own flair, adopts it, and claims it with passion; and each incarnation is a story in itself, of the people, the land, the culture, and the history that brought it all together.

When I opened Faith’s book An Edible Mosaic, I felt as if I were visiting distant relatives. I felt comfortable, at home, but still minding my manners and observing keenly from a side table. Most dishes were like beacons that pulled me back to my childhood and foods I enjoyed in Mother’s and Njanja’s kitchen. But there were variables thrown in the mix that intrigued me and made me shift focus for a bit.

We have many dishes featuring dough and spinach in the Balkans. But instead of farmers’ cheese, eggs, and phyllo dough, this recipe asks for yeasted dough, sumac, sauteed onions, lemon juice, and cumin/coriander spice mix. I am lucky to have two Persian stores a few blocks away and cumin and coriander are a staple in my house. I tasted sumac for the first time when I visited my oldest daughter in Berkeley and ate at an Afghani restaurant. I could not wait to try a recipe that asked for it. And I was not disappointed.

An Edible Mosaic

Here is what Faith has to say about Spinach Turnovers:

During my time in Damascus, one of my favorite meals was my mother-in-law’s Spinach Turnovers. She and I would go to the market to pick up fresh spinach along with any other ingredients that were needed, and then she’d make the filling when we got home. After that, one of her sons was sent to the communal oven where the baker stuffed the family’s filling into his dough, and then baked the turnovers. Done this way, the family pays for the baker’s dough and goes home with freshly made treats.

The communal ovens were such a novel idea to me; they are remnants leftover from a time when very few homes had ovens of their own. Despite the fact that this is no longer the case in Damascus, the tradition has endured.

I really love the pleasantly tart flavor of these turnovers, which comes from both sumac and lemon juice. Paired with plain yogurt, they are a completely satisfying vegetarian meal.

Faith Gorsky, Author of An Edible Mosaic: Middle Eastern Fare with Extraordinary Flair 

This virtual potluck is like a mix-and-match menu, a prix fixe if you want, letting you sample appetizers, entrees, and desserts. Just say Open, Sesame, and the world of culinary wonders will be yours. Thank you, Casey from Kitchen Play for getting this group together and opening our horizons!

SPINACH TURNOVERS (Fatayer Bil Sabanekh):

Preparation Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Cooking Time: 40 minutes

Yields about: 25-35 turnovers

Ingredients:

  • 1 batch Savory Flat Pie Dough (recipe to follow)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil, plus more as necessary for the spinach
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 1 tablespoon sumac
  • 1 lb (500 g) spinach
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Olive oil to oil the baking sheets, countertop, and tops of the turnovers
  • Fresh lemon wedges (optional, for serving)

 Directions:

  1. Prepare Basic Savory Flat Pie Dough
  2. 2. Heat both the oils in a large skillet over medium heat; add the onion and saute until softened but not browned, about 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and stir in the sumac.
  3. 3. Chop the spinach and remove any large stems; add it to a large pot with 2 cups (500ml) of water. Cover the pot and cook over high heat until just wilted, about 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain in a cheesecloth-lined colander and let it sit until the spinach is cool enough to handle, and then wring the cheesecloth to remove the excess water.
  4. Combine the onion/sumac mixture, drained spinach, lemon juice, salt, coriander, cumin, and black pepper in a large bowl. The spinach should look slightly glossy; if it doesn’t, stir in more canola oil, 1 teaspoon at a time, until it does. Be careful not to add too much. Taste the spinach; it should taste like a well-seasoned salad; if it doesn’t, adjust seasonings (such as lemon juice, salt, pepper, and other spices accordingly).
  5. Preheat oven to 400F (200C) and lightly brush 2 large baking sheets with olive oil (alternatively, you can line them with parchment paper or silpat liners).
  6. Gently deflate the dough, then divide into 2 equal pieces and shape the pieces into balls; put the balls back into the bowl, cover the bowl with a slightly damp towel, and let sit 5 to 10 minutes. Lightly brush olive oil onto your countertop (or whatever surface you want to use to roll out the dough).
  7. Work with 1 piece of dough at a time and use your hands to gently stretch it out, then use the rolling pin to roll it out to a circle about 12 inches (30cm) in diameter. Stamp out circles 3 inches (7.5 cm) in diameter with a round cookie cutter. Scoop about ½ tablespoon of spinach filling onto the center of each piece of dough. Repeat this process with the remaining ball of dough. Gather the dough scraps into a ball, roll it out, and fill only re-roll the scraps once to prevent the dough from toughening).
  8. To form the turnovers, fold the dough along line 1-2 up and over onto the center, then do the same for the dough along line 2-3, and finally for line 1-3; pinch the dough together at the seams to seal it. (Alternatively, you can shape them into little pyramids: pull up lines 1-3 and 2-3 and pinch them together to form a seam, then pull up line 1-2 and pinch it together along the sides of the seam you just made to form the two remaining sides.)
  9. Line up the turnovers (seam side up) about 2 inches (5 cm) apart on the prepared baking sheets and brush a little oil on top of each. Bake until golden brown, about 15-20 minutes, rotating the baking sheets once halfway through cooking. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.
Spinach Turnovers from bibberche.com
Basic Savory Flat Pie Dough 

Ingredients:

  • 3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 ½ teaspoons sugar
  • 4 tablespoons warm water
  • 3 cups (375 g) all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
  • 11/4 teaspoons of fine salt
  • ¾ cups (185ml) milk at room temperature

 Directions:

  1. Brush ½ tablespoons of oil on the inside of a large bowl and set aside.
  2. Mix together the yeast, sugar, and warm water in a small bowl until the sugar is dissolved.
  3. Whisk together the flour and salt in a large bowl. Use a wooden spoon to stir the yeast mixture into the dry ingredients, and then stir in the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil. Gradually stir in enough milk to form shaggy dough (you may not need all the milk).
  4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead about 5 minutes; the dough is done being kneaded when you press your finger into it and the indentation remains.
  5. Transfer the dough to the oiled bowl and roll it gently to coat with oil. Cover the bowl with a slightly damp towel and let sit until doubled in  size, about 1 ½ hours.
I am so happy to be a part of this group of very talented bloggers who have passion for immersing themselves into new cultures and facing the challenges of new culinary pursuits.
Falafel from Heather of Kitchen Concoctions
Coconut Semolina Cake from Stephanie of 52 Kitchen Adventures
Date-Filled Cookies from Jennifer of Savory Simple

Recipe courtesy of An Edible Mosaic: Middle Eastern Fare with Extraordinary Flair by Faith Gorsky (Tuttle Publishing; Nov. 2012); reprinted with permission. The opinions expressed are my own. I have received a free review copy of the book from the publisher.

(This post contains an Amazon affiliate link. While Kitchen PLAY will receive a small fee for each sale of An Edible Mosaic made through this link, the link has been utilized solely for tracking purposes. We want to better understand how a program like the Cookbook Tour can positively impact cookbook sales. All proceeds from this specific affiliate link will be donated to Share Our Strength.)

Dec 132012
 

 

An edible mosaic

My parents were avid collectors of books. A few times a month a large cardboard box would appear at the door, and I could not wait for Mother to cut into it and retract the treasures I knew lurked inside. I would bury my nose in the middle of the book and inhale the smell that to this day makes me high. And, yes, if you are dying to know, there are distinct local differences in new book smells; I definitely recognize and prefer the books printed in Serbia, but will accept a new American book if I am in an urgent state of withdrawal.

One glorious day the plain cardboard box yielded a set of four beautiful books titled 1001 Arabian Nights. All four jackets were different, depicting mosques, luscious gardens, bazaars, and tables filled with platters of most inviting, albeit exotic food. Hard covers were ultramarine blue with intricate gold embossing swirling around the sides and I loved to run my fingers over the grooves. I don’t know how many times I read the tales of old Baghdad, dreaming of the days of caliph Harun al-Rashid, hearing the alluring sound of zithers, and wishing in my young, romantic, pre-teen heart that I could leave my pedestrian and boring reality and teleport to the Orient, roaming the souks and inhaling the aroma of grilled spicy kabobs wafting from around the corner.

A few days ago there was a plain cardboard box waiting for me at the door step. As soon as I saw where it came from, I rushed inside, trying to claw my way through the tape to get to the loot inside. When I finally liberated the book from the bondage of styrofoam  popcorn, my heart fluttered a bit, remembering the excitement of years gone by. I opened it randomly and inhaled fresh-from-the presses smell, experiencing the high that sustained me for years.

An Edible Mosaic by Faith E. Gorsky brought me back to my childhood when I lived vicariously through the characters of 1001 Arabian Nights. Three decades later I still feel the allure of the Orient. This time I get to experience the streets of Damascus through the eyes of an American woman married to a Syrian man. I don’t have to book the plane tickets. I don’t have to pack a single suitcase. I don’t have to deal with any bureaucracy. All I have to do is open the book and explore.

I want to invite you to come along on this trip with me. I am a part of a group of bloggers who are promoting Faith’s book. We are hosting a virtual potluck and a book review on Monday.  There is so much to learn and I hope you’ll join the fun of exploring the culinary culture that spans so many centuries.

Here is what Faith has to say about her cookbook:

My cookbook, An Edible Mosaic: Middle Eastern Fare with Extraordinary Flair, has over 100 Middle Eastern recipes. The recipes are authentic, but streamlined just a bit for the way we cook today, with unique ingredients demystified and approachable cooking techniques that anyone can follow. The book includes a few classic Middle Eastern favorites (like Hummus, Falafel, and Vegetarian Stuffed Grape Leaves), but there are also a few dishes that might become new favorites, like Red Bell Pepper Walnut Dip (Muhammara), Lentil and Bulgur Pilaf with Caramelized Onion (Mujaddara Burghul), and Meat and Vegetable Casserole with Pomegranate (Kowaj). I also share my method for making the most tender and flavorful Chicken Shawarma at home without the need for any special equipment.

This cookbook is incredibly special to me because it holds a treasure of my in-laws’ family recipes. After marrying, I had the opportunity to spend six months in Damascus where I learned the ins and outs of Middle Eastern food from my lovely Syrian mother-in-law, Sahar. Watching her cook is like watching a ballerina perform a masterpiece.

The last thing I want to mention about my cookbook is that culture and the cuisine truly enrich each other, which is why I include cultural tidbits and stories from my Middle Eastern travels throughout the book. These snippets of culture help to paint a richer image of the recipes.

I hope you enjoy these Middle Eastern recipes as much as I do, and maybe they’ll become the basis for new traditions in your family!

Faith’s cookbook launch.

Virtual potluck.

Kitchen Play on Cookbook Tour

Oct 122012
 

Nathan Turner American Style Book from bibberche.com

A few days ago, I found myself, along with several other food bloggers at Melissa’s Produce warehouse to celebrate a newly-published book Nathan Turner’s American Style – Classic Design & Effortless Entertaining with its author. With enough time on my hands just in case I got lost, I maneuvered the streets of South Central LA with what I perceived as utmost skill and total cool. I arrived early Melissa's Produce Warehouse from bibberche.comenough, and after saying Hello! to my friends and acquaintances, and shaking hands with folks I did not know, Robert Schueller, the spokesman for Melissa’s, led us inside through the winding corridor decorated with photographs of celebrities and posters recording significant events of the past.

If you have never been to Melissa’s test kitchen, you are in for a pleasant surprise. It’s spacious, filled with light, lined with bookshelves heaping with cookbooks, preserves, and condiments, with walls proudly displaying items from Julia Child’s kitchen that owners Joe and Shannon Hernandez collected over the years, and the center island that usually features the food.

This time when we entered, a single, long table was set for us, with fold-out chairs made of bleached wood flanking it. Roughly sewn burlap tablecloth and dark blue denim runner were the backdrop to a stunning, yet simple design, one of those that hit you mid-glance, urging you to ask yourself “Why didn’t I think of that?” From plain glass vases holding purple basil, mint, and a variety of green plants of different textures, to linen napkins rolled and tied together with a rosemary twig on top, to mason jars instead of glasses, to a three-tiered distressed tin centerpiece cradling an array of colorful vegetables –  the design was a comforting country, laid back and relaxed, but harmonious and aesthetic nonetheless.

Melissa's luncheon for Nathan Turner from bibberche.com

I approached Nathan, his black-rimmed nerd glasses and casual clothing perfectly matched with the interior of the room. His warm Nathan Turner at Melissa's from bibbberche.comsmile and sparkle in his eyes put me at ease immediately. Our conversation was spontaneous, even though I was afraid at times that my questions tinted with accented English sounded like machine-gun fire. But even if they did, he responded in a calm, mellifluous voice, his smile never leaving his face.

Nathan TurnerNathan is a fourth-generation Californian, a mix of English and German, raised in San Francisco and on the working cattle ranch (emphasis on working) his maternal grandfather established, which made him appreciate real food. He has a degree in business, but the fate led him down another path; he discovered his passion for design on one of his summer jobs, and never looked back. He moved to Los Angeles a decade ago and opened his first shop in a dilapidated bungalow in West Hollywood, pulling all his creative impulses to mask the architectural faults of the smallNathan Turner from bibberche.com building and make his own mark in one of the most competitive fields in California.

His idiosyncratic approach to design that encompasses his love of travel and obsession with food made him stand out and become one of the most prestigious designers in our city. “My approach to decorating and entertaining is all about finding new ways to live and celebrate with low effort and high style”. He embraces his native West Coast laid back and relaxed style, effortlessly blending interiors and exteriors, bringing inside the elements of the outside world that make California so special.

His book is divided into three sections: Going Coastal, City Living, and Going Country. Nathan takes us for a tour of his Malibu home, lets us take a glimpse at his mother’s house in Tahoe, and even allows us to peek into some of the celebrities’ homes he transformed into  veritable retreats and sanctuaries (who doesn’t want to see the inside of Ione Skye’s or Amanda Peet’s glamorous Spanish adobe?) He brings his simple motto “barefoot, fuss-free, but still high-style” everywhere he goes and makes you want to kick back and enjoy life in any of his casually, but stylishly adorned rooms, secure that the party will be a hit and the food perfectly matched to the occasion and season.

Melissa's Produce Kitchen from bibberche.com

After he answered all the questions and signed all the books, we sat down to yet another delightful lunch prepared for us by Melissa’s

Melissa's luncheon from bibberche.comtalented chefs Tom and Raquel. Every dish represented the seasonal bounty, from fresh fruit platter, to Melissa's luncheon from bibberche.comgarden salad, jewel-like grilled corn and heirloom tomato salad, to Dutch Yellow potato salad spiced with Hatch chile vinaigrette, to unctuous strands of roasted spaghetti squash served with rich Bordelaise sauce, to beef and chicken lettuce wraps with flavorful aiolli, to addicting and alluring Hatch chile Devil’s food cookies as piece de resistance. We quenched our thirst with lemonade and Arnold Palmers, of course.

Warned in advance, I refrained from asking any personal designing questions while the Q&A session continued once we all visited the center island two or three times, but Nathan was gracious enough to share with us his tips on decorating on the budget. He advised us to go outside and look for inspiration. “The Nature offers so much at such a low cost. Look in your yard, in your neighbor’s yard, or take a drive on PCH and grab whatever you fancy! Don’t be afraid to experiment and trust your instincts.”

Nathan Turner from bibberche.com

As we were leaving, I shook Nathan’s hand and thanked him for inspiring me and allowing me to think, even for a minute, that I could pull it off as easily as he can. I will remember his advice and I will bury myself into his book for more inspiration in the days to come. (I am already scanning my neighbors’ yards for centerpieces).

Thank you, Nathan, and than you, Melissa’s, for this wonderful day!

“Nathan Turner is a renowned interior designer and entertaining expert. He owns an eponymous shop in Los Angeles – which merges his three passions of design, food, and travel and is a go-to-source for the country’s leading interior designers. He is featured on the Bravo’s Million Dollar Decorators and is the style expert at Pottery Barn. Nathan’s Parties, products, and designs have been featured in major national and regional publications.” (Abrams)

Nathan_Turner book from bibberche.com

Nathan Turner’s American Style: Design and Effortless Entertaining                                                                                                                                       By Nathan Turner                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Abrams Books / October 2012                                                                                                                                                                                                               U.S. $40.00                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  ISBN 978-1-41970-439-0                                                                                                                                                                                                             Hardcover with jacket                                                                                                                                                                                                                                224 pages / 81/2″x101/2″                                                                                                                                                                                                                        150 color photographs