Mar 122014

Wilfreds Picks_Spring_2014

If you know me at all, in real life or via Facebook, you know that I have a long-lasting friendly relationship with wine. It started when I was a teenager in Serbia, where beer and wine are conveniently considered to be more like food items, than alcoholic beverages.

I did not like the taste of wine when Father would pour a few sips into a goblet placed just to the right of my plate, and it took years of perseverance and many long nights for the two of us to get on friendly terms.

Our friendship is still full of mysteries and secrets, as I do not presume that I know much about wine. I know that I thoroughly enjoy its company, that it makes me laugh, and allows me to push aside the ugly of the world for a few hours.

I do not foresee us splitting ways any day soon and I am convinced that we are to spend numerous hours together getting to know each other much better. I am willing to learn, and even make sacrifices, such as  braving the 91 eastbound at rush hour on my way to Riverside for the opening of the newest BevMo! store.

Riverside BevMo!

Riverside BevMo!, photo by Valerie Mitchell

I arrived with my knees wobbly and my knuckles white, my head filled with the highway screeches and honks. It would be an understatement to say that I welcomed with a sigh of relief a proffered glass of 2012 Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc and a saucer of nibbles.

I am always eager to hear new advice on how to pair wine and food, especially when the teacher is Wilfred Wong, the Cellar Master for BevMo! for the last nineteen years. This man has a dream job: he travels all over the world, tastes the wines, rates them, and chooses which ones are going on BevMo! shelves.

Wilfred Wong

Wilfred Wong, photo by Valerie Mitchell

So what should you do to be able to taste wine like a pro? Follow the four Ss:

  • SEE the color of the wine; as the white wine ages, the color gets darker and as the red wine ages, the color gets lighter; the color can also give a hint as to what type of grape was used to make the wine; color can help determine how light or heavy the wine will taste or feel – the lighter the color, the lighter the wine should feel in your mouth.
  • SWIRL: Coat the side of the glass to help wine open up and release the aromas for the next step.
  • SMELL: Sniff three times and come up with three words to describe the wine.
  • SIP: You will taste sweet, sour, salty and bitter.

When pairing wines with food think of the elements of the food that will affect the wine. Is the food salty or sweet? Does it have acid or is it fatty? (Use the acid in the wine to either complement the food, or cut through fatty types of food.)

Some of these tips will definitely help you pick the right wine for your next dinner party, but the most important lesson is that you should really imbibe the wines you personally like. Wine drinking and tasting is highly subjective and therefore, there is no right and wrong answer.

Wine tasting

Wine Tasting at Riverside BevMo!, photo by Valerie Mitchell

And the best way to learn what you like is to taste as many varieties of wine as you can. This made me clap my hands in anticipation, eager to start making new acquaintances.

To make it even more irresistible, BevMo! 5 Cent Wine Sale just started. And in case you have no clue what I am talking about, here is the deal: if you buy one bottle for retail value, you get another one for only a nickel. Or buy one case of wine at the regular price, and the second case is just 60 cents. Here is the chance to experiment and stock up without buyer’s remorse, as there are over 200 different wines offered in this deal.

 Wilfred Wong’s Top 10 picks for 5 Cent Wine Sale:

1.     Main & Geary Pinot Grigio ’12 (92 points) Suggested Pairing: linguine, clams in a light cream sauce

 2.    Ray’s Creek Sauvignon Blanc (89 points) Suggested Pairing: raw oysters on the half shell

 3.     Dolce Vita Prosecco (89 points) Suggested Pairing: tuna sashimi, with sorrel and lemon

 4.     Beringer Carneros Chardonnay ’12 (92 points) Suggested Pairing: sauteed, pounded chicken breast in a light crème sauce

 5.     Ray’s Creek Chardonnay (91 points) Suggested Pairing: lightly grilled shrimp, with a white wine reduction sauce

 6.     Kenwood Jack London Merlot ’10 (92 points) Suggested Pairing: baked pork tenderloin, with savory spices

 7.     Zolo Gaucho Select Malbec ’11 (91 points) Suggested Pairing: grilled beef or goat, light red wine reduction sauce

 8.     Donovan-Parke Pinot Noir ’12 (91 PTS) Suggested Pairing: grilled salmon, fresh, savory herbs

 9.     Unruly Red Table Wine ’11 (92 points) Suggested Pairing: grilled beef or lamb, with a light touch of savory herbs

 10.  Crooked Path Zinfandel ’11 (93 points) Suggested Pairing: Greek style lamb kebobs, with rosemary and lemon zest

Be sure to check out Wilfred’s Top 10 Picks here each week and stop by your local neighborhood BevMo!, where the local beverage experts can help you make your 5 Cent Wine Sale picks.

BevMo Riverside

I have been compensated to write this post. But everything you read is straight from my heart. Yes, twist my arm and point me to a glorious wine store…

Oct 232013

Buckwheat Rolls from

Ever since I received my new kitchen toy from Grain Mill Wagon, I have been preoccupied with thoughts of grinding. My eyes search different grains every time I enter a grocery store and I have accumulated quite a selection of prospects. My newest acquisition was toasted buckwheat, a plant that has more in common with sorrel and rhubarb than wheat, contrary to its deceiving name.

I have never eaten buckwheat while growing up in Serbia, even though Eastern Europe is the main producer, along with China. But, we did not eat oats, either, and I learned to love a steaming bowl of steel-cut oats with a touch of brown sugar and some dried fruit. I am curious by nature and a hedonist by choice, so experiments with culinary ingredients make me happy.

Buckwheat Rolls from

Once in a while I feel guilty that my children do not come home from school to a plate full of freshly baked pastries, as I remember how comforted and loved I felt when Mother offered a plump, warm yeast roll as a cure-all for any kind of teen angst. Those gnawing moments are mercifully rare and intermittent – I have finally accepted the fact that I will never be like Mother and that there are different ways to comfort and love, some of them not dependent on finicky yeast doughs and hours of proofing.

Yet, one of those moments caught me recently pondering what to make for my newest project. So naturally I decided to make rolls even though I did not know what to expect from substituting some of the wheat flour with freshly ground buckwheat flour. I have lost my fear of baking breads and pastries and kneading a soft dough is one of the most enjoyable tasks I can think of. But I am far from an expert and I was just a bit apprehensive of adding a variable.

Buckwheat Rolls from

The aroma of roasted buckwheat flour was robust and nutty, and texture grainy. It colored the dough taupe and its skin added a few chestnut  speckles throughout. But it rose beautifully and I encountered no problems while shaping the rolls.

I had a baggie of nigella seeds I bought at an Indian store a while back and thought that their exotic taste would complement the bold notes of roasted buckwheat. I sprinkled them on top of the rolls along with sesame seeds and I was smitten by the aroma wafting from my oven while the rolls were baking.

I loved these rolls. My neighbors loved them. My octogenarian friend who grew up in Oklahoma loved them. Even if you are not adventurous and daring, I promise you that buckwheat will charm you. As for my girls, I can assure you they felt loved and comforted, and just a little special, when they found a plate of these rolls on the kitchen counter just waiting for them.

Buckwheat Rolls from

Buckwheat Rolls

Recipe type: Bread/Rolls
Cuisine: International
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 6
Buckwheat flour adds a rustic, nutty flavor to these rolls. They could be made smaller and filled with various ingredients.
  • 1 cup buckwheat flour
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 envelope instant yeast
  • 1 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1½ tsp coarse salt
  • 6 Tbsp very soft butter
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 ½ cups warm water (110F)
  • 1 cup cottage cheese (or crumbled feta)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • ½ tsp salt
  • Topping:
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • sesame seeds, nigella seeds, caraway seeds (optional)
  1. Place both flours in a large bowl.
  2. Add dry yeast, sugar, baking powder, and salt and mix thoroughly.
  3. Make a well in the middle and add butter and oil.
  4. Mix a little and start adding water, little by little (you might not need all of it).
  5. The dough should be soft, but not sticky.
  6. Form the dough into a ball and let it rest for 1 hour at room temperature, covered with plastic wrap.
  7. Mix cheese, eggs, sour cream, and salt.
  8. Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces and roll them into balls.
  9. Flatten each ball into an oval approximately 8×5 inches.
  10. Place a few small heaps of cheese mixture in the middle, fold the longer sides over it and start rolling from one short side.
  11. Place the roll seam-side down on a cookie sheet.
  12. Continue until all the balls are shaped, filled and rolled.
  13. Brush with the beaten egg and sprinkle with seeds, as desired.
  14. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  15. Let the rolls rest while the oven is heating.
  16. Bake for 30-40 minutes, depending on your oven, until golden brown.
  17. Remove the cookie sheet from the oven and allow the rolls to cool slightly before placing them to a baker’s rack to cool completely.

I am a part of October Unprocessed, an event started by Andrew Wilder of Eating Rules in 2009. If you still have not heard of it, visit his blog and read all about it.

October Unprocessed 2013

Oct 192013

Dominique's Kitchen from

I traveled to France only vicariously, first through my parents, then through my sister and my friends, and most recently through my oldest daughter, Nina. They all brought me presents from the land of Gaul: little crystal bottles of perfume, a roll of green silk that became my eighth grade graduation dance dress; gloriously stinky cheeses; tiny pewter Eiffel towers; reprints of Toulouse-Lautrec’s art; minuscule ornate boxes hiding three perfect truffles; an airplane-size bottle of Veuve-Clicquot.

I embraced their stories and pored through the photos, trying to absorb the magic by osmosis, imagining my own feet hitting the streets of all those places that became so familiar while I spent hours reading the French classics. One of these days I’ll visit France in person and I am convinced it will be one of those marvelous “deja vu” experiences that would prevent me from feeling like a tourist.

Dominique's Kitchen from

In the meantime, I’ll continue my France-by-proxy existence by frequenting one of my favorite South Bay restaurants, Dominique’s Kitchen, which is celebrating its first anniversary this weekend. I hate to lament the passage of time again and again, but it truly feels like a fleeting instant from the first time I noticed the bright yellow board with the restaurant’s name hovering above the PCH. Since then, I stopped by a few times on their Ménage à Trois Mondays happy hour, and each time I felt as if I were coming home.

French restaurants have a reputation in America of being too expensive, too fancy, and too intimidating. The owners Dominique and Liza are trying to break the stereotype and change that widely accepted, but wrong opinion. They came up with a concept of a casual restaurant that would offer classic French dishes at affordable prices in a friendly and welcoming atmosphere. They yearn to demystify some of the more exotic fares and invite everyone to feel at home at their cozy, warm place.

Dominique's Kitchen from

Dominique and Liza, the owners

Throughout the celebratory weekend, chef Dominique will be preparing dishes that feature snails, as an adventurous and fun ingredient very much underused in American culinary traditions. They were pleasantly surprised by a positive response from their customers who genuinely loved their classic escargot served during Mondays’ happy hour, that they felt confident in offering the public many other ways to prepare this ubiquitous French food.

Fried Kale with Parmiggiano from

Fried Kale is offered at happy hour

Chef Dominique Theval grew up in the outskirts of Paris and his mother made the escargot maybe once a month. The snails from Burgundy came already detached from their shells, and after they were sauteed in garlic and butter, they were placed back into the shells and smothered by the insanely rich, flavorful, and yet so simple sauce that just begged for a heel of crusty, French bread.

Country Pate from

Country Pâté with Cornichons is one of my favorite happy hour dishes

This classic approach to snails is hard to beat and I am glad I get to enjoy it every time I show up for their happy hour. But in the weeks to come, there will be many different dishes featuring escargot aimed at broadening the culinary horizons of the loyal patrons.

A few days ago I had a chance to try some of those dishes with several other media people and food bloggers. We really did not know one another, but as we sampled chef Dominique’s creations and sipped wine, it felt as if we were in a casual, street restaurant somewhere in France, surrounded by friends, relaxed after another day at work.  Yes, the snails were the main attraction, and as a bunch, we were not the connoisseurs; but we were curious and adventurous. And we definitely enjoyed many incarnations presented to us.

Dominique's Kitchen from

Organic Greens Soup with Escargot

Dominique's Kitchen from

Mache Salad with Escargots and Portobello Mushrooms in a Raspberry Vinaigrette Dressing

Dominique's Kitchen from

Crust of Escargots with Brie Cheese – an ultimate grilled cheese sandwich!

DOminique's Kitchen from

Home Style Roasted Escargots and Fingerling Potatoes

Dominique's Kitchen

Sauteed Escargots with Garlic Cream

If you are in the area, stop by the restaurant for a complimentary glass of champagne, a chance to win a prize, or just to hang out and nosh on some of the most delicious and affordable French cuisine in southern California. I know I will be there on Monday, and many Mondays to come!

Oct 082013

Carpaccio from

First time I tasted carpaccio was at an upscale Italian restaurant in one of the western suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, our home town for more than a decade. It was presented on a big, narrow, cream-colored oval plate, and it looked stunning; thin, red pieces of beef tenderloin, perky dark green arugula, curlicues of shaved parmigiano, yellow-green comas of extra virgin olive oil, and dark-brown droplets of balsamico painted a picture that reminded me of Caravaggio and his beautiful contrasts.

I was seduced by its clean, simple taste from the first slender bite. Of course, those were the days of promises, when the tears were easily hidden in a glass of good Sicilian Primitivo and the future always overrode the present. But the flavor of carpaccio was not emphasized by euphoria and hope; it was truly good and memorable.

Contrary to what some members of my family may think, I am a geek, and I started researching carpaccio, wondering if I could make it at home, satisfying my inner hedonist as well as my inner frugal self. What I found out did not surprise me: the most important thing is ensuring the superb quality of each ingredient.

From that day on, I stopped ordering carpaccio in restaurants. I mastered the technique of preparing it myself, and it became my favorite starter for a dinner party, providing my guests were not of a squeamish and non-adventurous sort that eye everything not burned and charred as inedible.

Olives from

I buy my beef tenderloin at a local Persian store where the young Mexican butcher knows me well. I talk to him in my rudimentary Spanish, trying to practice as much as I can, even though he speaks perfect English. I tip him a dollar or two every time I buy something from his counter and he always brings me the best and the freshest cuts from the back of the store.

I splurged a long while ago on a bottle of thick, fragrant balsamic vinegar and I use it extremely sparingly for special occasions, treating it with more reverence than a bottle of VSOP Courvoisier. I purchase only the authentic, aged Parmigiano Reggiano which resides wrapped in luxurious layers of thick paper towels neatly enclosed in a ziploc bag.

When it comes to olive oil, I usually fall back to the old and familiar and anything that was produced in the Mediterranean will be more than sufficient to meet the standards (my standards have to do more with memories of sweet, hot nights spent under the olive tree branches in Croatia, Montenegro, and Italy, than with the intricate process of extracting the best olive oil).

This time, though, I abandoned my tried and true and used Pompeian Extra Virgin Olive Oil, the first one in its category to receive the USDA Quality Monitored seal, which verifies the quality and purity of olive oil through rigorous government testing and reviews of production processes. It’s low in acid due to first pressing of great quality olives, fragrant and beautifully colored.

A big platter of cold beef sprinkled with briny cheese and bitter arugula, and dotted with sweet vinegar and robust olive oil made for a perfect repast on a day when the Santa Ana winds brought the heat back to southern California. I don’t have an ancient olive tree in my yard, but the smell of the ocean at twilight when the sun is dipping bellow the horizon is enough to send me back to those sultry Adriatic nights that will forever keep on bringing a smile to my face.



  • Beef tenderloin
  • Aged parmigiano reggiano
  • 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp good quality balsamic vinegar
  • arugula and/or other dark greens


1. Wrap the meat in plastic and place in the freezer for 30 minutes.

2. Unwrap and slice thinly against the grain with a sharp knife.

3. Place the pieces between two layer of plastic wrap and beat with a meat mallet until paper thin.

4. Layer the pieces of thin meat on a platter.

5. Scatter the greens on top.

6. Dot with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

7. Shave the cheese on top evenly.

8. Serve with a glass of hearty, Italian red wine (not necessarily Sicilian Primitivo)

Carpaccio from

Visit and like Pompeian Facebook page here.

Click here to get $1.00 off coupon for Pompeian Olive Oil.

Take a survey for a chance to get a $200.00 gift card.

Thank you Smiley360 for a complimentary bottle of Pompeian Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Sep 132013

Ramen Burger from

I don’t like standing in lines. Not for a premiere movie tickets, not for the newest techie gadget, not for the sales on Friday after Thanksgiving. (Having to spend hours away from classes while waiting in never-ending lines, depending on mercy of the office harpies at the University of Belgrade just to be issued a monthly bus pass clearly does not count. That I endured this at the age before smart phones were invented, makes the experience even more traumatic).

So when I learned that Keizo Shimamoto would be serving 500 ramen burgers last Saturday at 11:00 am at Mitsuwa Market, a Japanese  chain store in my neighboring Torrance, I deliberately failed to set the alarm. Yes, I was determined to go, as I was curious about the concept, but I knew that I am not that hard-core to camp in front of a store for a food item, no matter how highly recommended and hyped.

Ramen Burger lines from

The recovering journalist in me woke up and nudged me to get up just in time to make it close to the end of the line at 10:30. I felt empowered by finding a decent parking place and exercised my patience for a while, relieved when more and more people queued up behind me. But when they announced that I probably would not get to be the one of the chosen 500 to sample the $8.00 ramen burger, along with a few dozen of my crestfallen neighbors who stood in line behind the coveted corner, I had to rethink my strategy.

I stayed in place for a few minutes, thinking that there might be some vegetarians ahead who might forfeit their burgers. The logic prevailed, though, and I decided to head to the store and be the journalist, experiencing the event vicariously and taking testimonies, resigned that it was not in my cards that day to taste the trendy fusion burger.

Ramen Burger assembly line from

I positioned myself in front of the stall hosting Ramen Burger crew and started taking photos of busy hands assembling the burgers, minutes before the hungry hordes were allowed to enter. Ramen noodles, already cooked and shaped into sturdy disks, were placed onto a griddle until golden brown and crispy. A charbroiled hamburger patty fit perfectly on top of one of the rounds, followed by a secret shoyu sauce, a few leaves of arugula, chopped scallions, and another ramen round. It was neatly folded in a pleated paper wrapper constructed specifically to prevent the juices and sauce from seeping out.

Ramen Burger experience from

I happened to be at the right place and the right time to see Keizo Shimamoto, the guy behind the the ramen burger fame, pass one of the burgers to his mother, who declared that she had never tasted one of her son’s inventions before. Even better, I stood next to the CBS News cameraman who passed his burger to me, as he was on a diet. I figured it was research combined with a good deed and bit into it.

I expected the ramen bun to fall apart at the first attack, but it was surprisingly sturdy. According to Keizo, this is not your usual instant ramen, but rather custom made by respectable Sun Noodle company in New Jersey. It took me much longer to finish this burger, and it kept me full for quite some time. It was an unusual combination of flavors and textures, which is typical for fusion cooking, and while I still prefer a classic hamburger, I would not mind breaking the routine with this umami-rich newest food sensation.

Keizo Shimamoto from

Keizo’s story is an inspiring one. Born, raised, and educated in southern California, he entered the work force as a computer programmer, only to depart to Japan to study ramen, in pursuit of his dream. After four years he returned with an idea of a ramen burger which combines his two culinary loves, and almost overnight became a frenzied success. It seems that things are moving incredibly fast for this one-man enterprise, as the demands are clearly going through the roof. He is riding the wave with a smile, knowing that all his work has finally paid off and his dream became a reality. He and his ramen burger are here to stay, and I would not be surprised to see Keizo more frequently back on the West coast.

A few hundred photos and a full belly later, I slowly made my way out of the store, where the line was shorter, but still winding around a couple of corners. Keizo’s ramen burger was satisfying, but did not convince me that anything is worth waiting in line for hours in midday southern California sun.


Aug 242013

Hatch Chiles at Bristol Farms from

Wednesday morning, I dared the rush hour traffic on PCH heading north to Santa Monica. It was my day off and I decided to spend a part of it with a few of my blogger friends at the opening of a new Bristol Farms store on Wilshire Boulevard, as guests of Melissa’s Produce and the store management.

You can send me to Tiffany’s and I’d probably meander around the aisles for a few moments just to show good graces before exiting in haste with sighs of relief. On the other hand, exploring a brand new grocery store filled with the most delectable food stuff is definitely a reason to get excited.

Right at the entrance to the store I was greeted by a bright display of Melissa’s Hatch chiles – a reminder of Bristol Farms’ efforts to offer the most seasonal, local, natural, organic, and community-driven produce. These New Mexico chiles are in season for only a few weeks in August and September, and now is the time to get a box or two, roast them (either at home or at one of the roasting events scheduled throughout southern California), freeze them, and bask in the happy thought that come January, you can start the pot of Chile Verde, or enjoy Hatch Chiles Rellenos at any time.

Hatch Chile Products at Bristol Farms from bibberche.comI have Melissa’s Hatch Chile Cookbook, but as I walked around the store, I encountered a few items that used Hatch chiles in the most creative ways. OK, corn bread and cheese might be somewhat expected, but trail mix and sushi? Definitely intriguing and, in the case of trail mix, seriously addictive.

I spent a few hours weaving around the aisles, impressed by the choices and delighted by the knowledge, passion, and zeal of the employees. Having my friends by my side made this experience even more enjoyable.

We took turns snapping the photos  and admiring the vibrant colors of the fresh and versatile produce section.

Produce Bristol Farms from

Am I the only one who finds beauty in all different shades of pink in this meat counter? The beef is grass fed, the poultry air-dried, and most meet in general is natural and organic, void of antibiotics, growth hormones, extra water, preservatives, and chemicals.

Meat Department Bristol Farms from

I don’t have to complain any more about the lack of game meets in California and lament the glory days spent with my hunting friends in Serbia and Ohio, who generously shared their catch. I saw elk, ostrich, antelope, venison, wild boar, bison, and even kangaroo!

Specialty Meats Bristol Farms from

I have never seen fish cut and displayed this way in a grocery store and it left me speechless. To make it even better, swordfish was on sale and I knew I would not be leaving the store without it.

Seafood Bristol Farms from

Yes, there are a dozen or so different soups offered at the lunch counter and they have a pizza oven, a sushi station, make-your-own wok bowl station, a deli station with freshly roasted tri-tip and turkey (carved per order) – just to name a few delicacies.

Lunch at Bristol Farms from

And then there is cheese. I roamed the store, but I returned to this section again and again, drawn by artfully arranged tables offering hundreds of cheese varieties. If anyone asks, I’d like to stake a claim underneath one of those tables and live there forever!

Cheese Department Bristol Farms from

I thought of my girls as I ogled the dessert case, wishing they were here to sample the perfect little bites, but secretly glad they were not, as I know that some of my baking and decorating efforts might lose their high ratings compared to these masterpieces.Desserts at Bristol Farms from

The cupcakes were not small, nor dainty, and we attacked them as a group at the end of our working lunch. If I call it work, eating cupcakes counts as research or quality control, not pure, unadulterated indulgence. So work it is. And the researchers were happy.

Cupcakes from Bristol Farms from

Remember the swordfish? The piece I brought home was about one and a half pounds and the three of us feasted on it like queens. Hatch chicken sausage is on the menu tomorrow and I cannot wait to taste it.

Bristol Farms from

I am sure that Bristol Farms store will be wildly successful in this increasingly affluent Santa Monica neighborhood. The management hopes that it will become a regular stop for the locals who demand and expect the best. As for me, I’ll visit occasionally to sightsee, sample, and purchase another exquisite piece of seafood.

Jul 302013
Hatch Chile Cookbook Promotion at Melissa's from
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
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

Hatch Chile Salsa Fresca

Hatch Chile Cookbook Luncheon Melissa's from

Hatch Chile Guacamole

Hatch Chile Cookbook Luncheon Melissa's from

Honey Mustard Pretzel and Nut Crunch with Hatch Chile Powder

Hatch Chile Cookbook Luncheon Melissa's from

Hatch Chile Corn Bread

Hatch Chile Cookbook Luncheon Melissa's from

Hatch Chile Club Sandwiches and Chicken Salad Tea Sandwiches

Hatch Chile Cookbook Luncheon Melissa's from

Grilled Shrimp Skewers

Hatch Chile Cookbook Luncheon Melissa's from

Dutch Yellow Potatoes Salad with Hatch Chile Vinaigrette

Hatch Chile Cookbook Luncheon Melissa's from

Baby Heirloom Tomato and Grilled Corn Salad

Hatch Chile Cookbook Luncheon Melissa's from

Hatch Chile Devil’s Food Cookies

Hatch Chile Cookbook Luncheon Melissa's from

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.
Jul 152013

Boozy Peach Compote

My sister was born toward the end of July, when the Earth spews forth its abundance, making the stalls at the markets sag under the weight of fruits and vegetables in all primary colors, throwing at us dahlias and gladioli with their large, obscenely beautiful flowers, flaunting their velvety petals and sinful shades like over-confident debutantes who are aware that their time is yet to come.

When we were in high school, I used to resent her birthday, as it seemed that she had an unfair advantage; everyone in town was sporting a healthy sun-kissed tan, summer break was at its best, the streets were teeming with teenagers, the city pool was the place to be, and parents were stewing in summer heat long enough not to be bothered to keep everything in check.

Serbian Peaches

As if that were not enough, the crates of peaches started appearing in our back yard, grown on the farm of our family friends. And I am not talking about your ordinary, supermarket quality fruit. These beauties were hand-picked  at the peak of their ripeness, gently laid into the crates covered with crumpled newspaper like babies in cradles, their red, and orange, and yellow fuzzy faces looking up. We approached them with the predictability of Pavlov’s dogs, salivating at the mere thought of their fragrant, luscious flesh that yielded so easily to our teeth and tongues, oblivious of the aromatic, sweet juices running down our chins and staining our tee-shirts.

Boozy Peach Compote from

Summer for me is not at its height without peaches. They encapsulate the best nature has to offer, holding the essence of the sun in their perfect round shape. After smelling them individually for quality control, I bought several pounds at our local grocery store. I could not wait to sink my teeth into the soft fruit, anticipating a flood of memories. And I was not disappointed.

I have stopped resenting my sister and her birth season long ago. Every summer, wherever I am, I buy gladioli frequently, even when she is not with me in our childhood home. I eat peaches with abandon, smiling, awash with nostalgia, remembering those lazy, care-free summers of our youth when everything seemed possible.

Boozy Peach Compote from

Ghosts of Summers Past: Boozy Peach Compote
5.0 from 3 reviews


Recipe type: Dessert, Condiment
Cuisine: International
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 6-8
This is an easy, versatile recipe which can accommodate any type of stone fruits and different liqueurs or spirits. The fruit is not really cooked, but rather plunged into the hot liquid, leaving it somewhat firm. Use it to top vanilla ice cream, pound cake, pancakes, waffles, or crepes.
  • 4-5 large, ripe, but not too soft peaches, peeled and sliced into thin wedges
  • 1 Tbsp water
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 6 tbsp brandy, rum, or cognac (optional)
  • 1 cup apple juice (add a bit extra if not using alcohol)
  • 4 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • Fresh mint leaves
  1. Pour water and sugar in a heavy, stainless steel pot and heat on medium-low temperature until sugar caramelizes, swirling the pot frequently to prevent burning. (It will start changing color at the edges first and swirling will distribute the caramelization).
  2. It is done when it turns amber.
  3. Remove the pot from fire and add alcohol. (Be careful, as it may ignite).
  4. Add apple juice and lemon juice, and heat until it boils and all the crystallized sugar melts.
  5. Pour the peaches, vanilla bean, and cinnamon stick into the hot liquid and immediately turn the heat off.
  6. Let it cool off to desired temperature and serve with fresh mint leaves.


Jun 282013
Mama i Nina from

Mother and Nina

My blog has been alive for a little over three years, and I don’t think I have written more than a couple posts without mentioning Mother at least once. In a way, my site is a collection of memories, anecdotes, funny and not so funny events from my past and present, and she had one of the leading roles in this dramatic piece called life.

She lost her battle with cancer last July, and ever since I have been thinking an awful lot about her. Oh, she has always been present in my thoughts, as she was watching from afar over one of my shoulders, either unapologetically scolding me for doing something wrong, or lovingly praising my efforts and victories. But I don’t have the luxury any more to roll my eyes, sulk, throw back a sarcastic repartee, cry the wounded tears, argue for hours, smile out of pride, or plant a loud kiss on her soft cheek.

Mama, Zozo i Anja from

Mom, Zoe and Anya

And now that she cannot give me her unsolicited advice, I ask myself several times a day what she would have done or said. Every time I have a decision to make, I have to remind myself that I cannot click on her name in my Skype list of contacts and pray that she is not deeply involved in a game of Zuma or Shapez and able to coach me (if I caught her in between her favorite TV shows).

I have to admit that I flippantly pushed aside many of those moments I would have cherished now, impatient to move on with my own life, thinking of “no more” only in the most abstract and metaphysical sense, lulled in a make-believe conviction that my mother is immortal.

But those moments of regret are rare. When I think of my mother, I remember everything she tried to teach me. Now that I am a mother myself, even the lessons I refused to take to heart actually make sense. I repeat her words to my girls, although I made a silent pact with my teen-self not to torture my future children with her admonishments. I realized that she wanted to help me, rather than prevent me from having fun and enjoying the life to the fullest.

Mama i tata

Mom and Dad

Nestle©® Pure Life® is encouraging their fans on Facebook to post words of wisdom from their mothers. I would need several hours and many pages to list my mom’s sage advice, so I had to pick only a few:

Clean after yourself: It’s easier to keep the room tidy, saves time, preserves clothes, and contributes to overall harmony.

You can have too much of a good thing: For years I tried to fight this one, as it started when I began dating. Mother always stressed moderation and I finally had to accept it, too.

Keep smiling: This advice came to me naturally, as my smile was the best defense against shyness. There are people in my home town who recognize me by my smile after decades.

Help those in need: I don’t have to try too hard to implement this one. Sometimes it takes less than a minute to hold the door, pick up a dropped item, or answer a question.

Have pride in yourself: As a perfectionist, I took this one a little bit too far. It is still not too late to accept imperfection and learn how to be proud.

968938 10200602861408267 1181392685 n The First Time Without You: Happy Birthday, Mother!

Mom with her daughters

She would smile smugly if she could hear my daily diatribes and lectures. I love my girls, just like she loved me, my sister, and my brother; I want to guide them, protect them, teach them, and pass my experiences to them, in hope that they would learn from my mistakes and my successes. I meet their defiant words with a snicker, knowing that one day they will be standing right here, lecturing their precious babies, with an invisible line of wise women behind them.

The one thing Mother did not teach me is to drink plenty of water. She sipped, and big amounts of liquids made her uncomfortable. She drank herbal teas and Turkish coffee, small glasses of homemade juices and soda water. I had to teach myself how to avoid dehydration, going against the flow in my native Serbia, where water was looked upon as necessary evil, the beverage of choice only in the dog days of summer, preferably faucet temperature, and never after exercising.

My girls know better. Even though it annoys me to find half-empty and empty water bottles at random places all over the house (in their beds, under the dining-room table, in the bathroom, in their backpacks, hidden in a pile of stuffed animals), I know that drinking water comes naturally to them and my lessons on that topic are not necessary.

This post is sponsored by Nestle©® Pure Life®. I have received consideration from Linqia on some of the materials for this post (photos, etc.)

Pure wisdom should be shared with others! Visit the Nestle©® Pure Life® Facebook wall and leave a comment with the hashtag #momswisdom sharing what your mother told you and how it has made you a better person.

Jun 242013


Huntington Beach Chili and Salsa from

Last Saturday morning, I grabbed my camera and shades, and drove south on PCH towards Huntington Beach and their 6th Annual Chili and Salsa cook-off. With the windows down, the wind tussling my hair, infinite blue sky above, and the Pacific on my right, I had a real Cinderella moment: Freida’s old hunter-green Bonneville with peeling paint, rusty rims, dents, and scratches became in my mind a sleek, red, and most definitely Italian convertible, and every movie I ever saw that featured southern California coast started playing in the background.

Huntington Beach Chili and Salsa from

Not a Lamborghini, but I’ll take it!

Huntington Beach Chili and Salsa from

Look at all those beautiful chiles from my friends at Melissa’s Produce!

I like the reckless and adventurous feel of Huntington Beach, but I always seem to just past through it on my way somewhere else. And every time I promise myself that I will allot at least a day to roam around this town that keeps on fascinating me. So Saturday June 15th I spent a few hours exploring downtown area where the annual street fair is held.

Huntington Beach Chili and Salsa from

Redhot Redneck salsa from Killarney’s was wickedly good.

Main Street was closed to the traffic and filled with booths selling street fair food, t-shirts, custom jewelry, candles, Oriental art, home-made preserves, purses, and even beach cruiser bikes. There was a stage on each end with bands playing one after the other throughout the afternoon. A side street held an enormous blow-up play area for the kids and several information booths placed along the Main Street offered details about the fair, parking, downtown events, and Chili and Salsa tasting.

Huntington Beach Chili and Salsa from

I loved this chili! Lots of cumin and cilantro.

Huntington Beach Chili and Salsa from

Mariachi in front of Aloha Grill booth

I strolled in the rhythm of the music, took pictures, talked to the vendors, spun the wheel at a couple of booths (I won a wine bag from the OC Fair booth:) and bought two leather hippie bracelets for my teens. I tasted a lot of chili and a lot of salsa, and my big water bottle proved to be my best friend.

Huntington Beach Chili and Salsa from

Huntington Beach Chili and Salsa from

The winners of the 6th annual Chili and Salsa Tasting, Chili Ahumada from Shenanigans

It felt good just to be outside in the warm California sunshine, stealing a few worry-free hours from a really busy week. I only regretted not bringing my girls along. But the fun in Huntington Beach does not end with this event; the community has planned many happenings throughout the summer, and next time I head south on PCH for Surf City Nights on Tuesdays, my girls are coming with me. Blow-up slides and funnel cakes for them, farmers market for me, loud singing in the car with windows down for all three of us – summer just got a whole lot better!