Tuesday, March 11, 2014

5 Things To Do in Santa Monica While Your Kids Are Having Fun at Parent’s Night Out

Rooftop Lounge at the Shangri-La Hotel
A few times a month on Friday nights, we open our doors at our summer camp spot in Santa Monica for an evening of cooking lessons for your kids, Lego robotics activities, foozball, dance games, science activities and more! 

To signup:  (CLICK HERE)

But here are 5 things you, the parent, can do as your kids are having fun at PNO:

5)  Go out for dinner on the Santa Monica Promenade.  There are plenty of great restaurants serving everything from Italian pizza at Trastevere to sushi at Monsoon  If you’re craving seafood, check out my favorite spot in the city: Blue PlateOysterette. 

4)  Check out a film.   For the latest movies, The Promenade is your go to spot to see artsy fare like Wes Anderson’s gorgeous “The Grand Budapest Hotel”  or, if the kids inside you needs to come out, the super awesome “Lego Movie.”  You can also check out a classic film at the Aero Theater

3)  Grab your girlfriends and have a Girl’s Night Out.  In need of a fun night out with cocktails?    Hit up a cool rooftop lounge such as the Hotel Shangri-La or the Vice Roy Hotel.

2)  Stay in  Enjoy the peace and silence of your house with some take-out Chinese food, a bottle of wine and catch up on your favorite shows from House of Cards to Modern Family.

1)  Treat yourself!  Your kids are having a good time, so why not enjoy yourself as well?  Enjoy a glass of fine wine at Bodega Wine Bar,  a massage at The Massage Place  or grab an ice cream and play games at the Santa Monicapier.  

There’s plenty to do!

And what will your kids be up to?

At our next PNO your kids will enjoy a delicious meal of:
-          Homemade Pasta:  Learn how to crank at fresh pasta, tossed in a tasty Alfredo          and Marinara sauce
-          Caesar Salad, a tasty green salad in a lemon-Parmesan dressing
-          Baked Chicken Milanese, a breaded and baked classic Italian dish 
-          Chocolate Chip Cookies for dessert! 

Meanwhile, Lego Robotics kids will engage in the “Hammer Car Rampage!”   Build the super fun “Hammer Car” bot and see how you can do against our “challenges”

Other Games / Activities: 
-          Foozball! 
-          Just Dance 2014 on the PS3!  Dance your heart out
-          Night Tag, a fun low-lit game of hide and seek
-          Gak-making, learn the science of liquid to solids that you can play with

Signup early for Parent’s Night Out:   (CLICK HERE)

Friday, November 1, 2013

Super-Easy Salmon Teriyaki with Brown Rice and Veggies

Salmon teriyaki with brown rice and veggies
A few nights ago I saw a piece of salmon in my refrigerator and was immediately bored.  I could roast it, pan-sear it, but I wanted something with more flavor and taste.  Suddenly it hit me...I'd make salmon teriyaki!

Below is my super simple salmon teriyaki recipe you can make in 20 minutes or 50 minutes (which means you'll marinate it longer).  I'm a fan of fast and easy cooking as I live on my own and on a weeknight after a day of Cooking and Lego Robotics, I don't have a lot of energy (or patience) for a  gourmet meal.  

I only cook in batches of 3 meals, so this recipe reflects 3 individual meals, 1 for dinner and 2 for later.  When your co-worker chewing on a cold turkey sandwich stares in awe at your lunch, tell them Chef Eric sent you the recipe and direct them here.

I love this dish because it's easy, inexpensive and tasted exactly what I'd pay $16.99 at a Japanese restaurant.  Also, the only ingredients you need to pickup at the market are the salmon and a small piece of ginger, because the other ingredients are pantry staples that you'd be wise to have on hand at all times.

Salmon Teriyaki
- 1 1/2 lb salmon cut into 3 8-oz fillets (skin on if you like it crispy)
- 1/3 cup soy sauce
- 1/3 cup mirin (seasoning sake)
- 3 Tbs sake
- 4 Tbs sugar
- 1 tsp ginger, minced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 tsp corn starch
- 1 Tbs olive or vegetable oil
- Sesame Seeds
- Kosher salt and black pepper

The Fast Way (No Marinade - 20 minutes)
  Rinse and pat dry your salmon.  Season both sides with salt and pepper.  Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat, add cooking oil and cook skin-side down for 4 minutes, flip and cook for 4 minutes.

  Meanwhile, in a bowl whisk together, soy sauce, mirin, sake, sugar, ginger, garlic clove and corn starch.  

  Add teriyaki sauce to pan with salmon and cook for 2 minutes, spooning the sauce on top of the salmon.  Remove salmon to a plate and cook sauce until it's reduced and thickened, about 2-3 minutes.  Strain teriyaki sauce over a mesh colander on top of a bowl.  Serve salmon with teriyaki sauce spooned on top and garnish with sesame seeds

The Longer Way (With Marinade - 50 minutes)  
  Follow recipe above except marinate the salmon for 20-30 minutes in the teriyaki mixture.  Before sauteing in the pan, be sure to pat salmon dry so it gets crispy.  Also, there's no need to add salt and pepper because the marinade will season the salmon.

How to serve with brown rice and vegetables (The Fast Way)
    Todd, my homeboy in the meat department at the Albertsons in Culver City, told me about a quick-cooking brown rice that I am now a huge fan of.  It's called "Success Boil-in-Bag Brown Rice" and allows me to cook brown rice in 16 minutes.  All you do is put an individual bag into water in a small pot, cover and bring to a boil (about 8 minutes).  Reduce to simmer and cook for 8 minutes.  Carefully remove bag using a slotted spoon to a bowl, use two forks to open the bag and pour out the rice.  Season with a pinch of salt and a pat of butter (come on, it's brown rice, you can splurge a little!).  To elevate the taste even more, add chicken stock to the water you boil the rice in.

   For veggies, you can steam, roast or saute broccoli, zucchini, green beans or whatever you like.  Or, you can be lazy (which is ok every now and then) and heat some frozen vegetables, which have almost EXACTLY the nutritional value of fresh vegetables.  Be sure to pour the teriyaki sauce on top for flavor.

  Game plan for fast, weeknight cooking
 Overall, this meal took me 30 minutes to put together, including the rice and veggies.  Start with the rice ASAP, and then make the salmon and during the middle of cooking microwave your veggies.  Wash dishes while you have a few spare moments.  (This is key to keep your kitchen clean and neat!)  

  It's lunch time and I need to go eat some leftover salmon teriyaki.  Enjoy!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Away We Go...without much to carry

It's rather late and I don't feel tired.  Excitement builds for my trip to Italy when I'll depart tomorrow (or technically, today).  My grandfather is picking me up at noon for my flight that leaves at 4pm from LAX to arrive in Milan December 25th at 5pm.

I have a very minimalist pack ready to go and I'm surprised by how light it all is.  My pack is the size of typical school backpack and is made up mainly of clothing:  2 polyester t-shirts, 1 long-sleeve polyester undershirt, 1 flannel shirt, 1 small quick-dry towel and 2 pairs of socks.  Besides that I have my toiletries kit, which includes just the basics and Dr. Bronner's soap which I will use to wash my clothes when needed as well as for showering.

I will wear most of my clothing:  socks, shoes, underwear, polyester t-shirt, beige hiking pants, a red insulated pull-over sweater and an outer jacket.

The irony is that I bought a large, light backpack after spending 2 hours suiting up at Adventure 16, an outdoor equipment store, only to realize I filled up half the pack and was wasting space.

I also have a very light over-the-shoulder Patagonia pack with my iphone, camera, pad and paper, passport and "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac.

In Italy I'll treat myself to a few items like sunglasses, a beanie, gloves and new shoes (I plan to throw away the ones I'm wearing, which are some old bball shoes) but I don't plan on spending much more on clothing.  Maybe I'll buy a dress shirt for New Years.

The point is that now that the basics are taken care of, I can devote my time to just enjoying the cities and travelling around.  I don't have any definite plans except:

1)  Spend a week in Padova with the Valeriani family.

2)  Go to Florence until I have to go home January 8th at 8am

3)  Learn 10 new Italian recipes

Everything else will be improvised.  Airbnb.com will help me find wherever I will live in Florence.  The only place I know I want to revisit is Venice, and then I'll probably just pick random towns to check out based off of recommendations from Italians I meet along the way.

It's thrilling to have so little to do.  Part of the plan is wandering around and getting lost.  Don't tell my mom that last part.  But hey, I'll get myself out of any jams I get stuck in.  Isn't there an app for that?  If I can survive the time in the spring of 2007 when I was stuck in Naples...at night... with all my luggage, a female companion who was scared out of her mind and no idea where our hostel was, I'll be fine.

Naples is making me think of pizza...and now I'm getting hungry.

Earlier in the day I had an incredible lunch at Honey's Kettle Chicken  a local spot in Culver City with the best fried chicken I've ever had.  Seriously, every bite of chicken is loaded with crunch and who knows how many spices.  Also their biscuits are buttery, sweet and a tad salty and expertly pair with the chicken for a truly indulgent meal.

Now I'm even more hungry, and still not tired.  I better go "try" to sleep.  Buona Notte!

Monday, May 14, 2012

How A Cooking Italiano Group Lesson Turned Into a Bonding Experience For Kids….And Their Moms!

Cooking Italiano Group Lesson with Chef Eric 
People bond over a good meal, but more so when they prepare it together.  At a recent Cooking Italiano Group Lesson, which is a cooking lesson in the comfort of your own home, I had the pleasure of seeing a group of kids form new friendships as they made a home cooked meal for their moms.

The Cooking Lesson
A client had won an auctioned Cooking Italiano Group Lesson / Birthday Party Package for her 8-year-old daughter, but instead of waiting for her birthday, she wanted to have a “cooking play date” for 7 kids in which we would make enough food for them and their moms.  The menu would include five favorite dishes from my after-school classes: Handmade Fettuccine Pasta with a Homemade Marinara Sauce, Green Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette, Garlic Bread and for dessert, Gelato Sundaes. 

On a warm Saturday afternoon, I pulled into the client’s house in the Pacific Palisades to begin the lesson by creating the chocolate gelato, as it takes the most time to simmer the custard, freeze and churn it.

Homemade Vanilla Gelato

Who Doesn’t Love Gelato?
Once the gelato was busy churning, we focused on making fresh pasta.  Using our “pasta tree” (otherwise known as a pasta drying rack) and our pasta machines, we turned eggs and flour into silky, smooth fettuccine.  Kids love to use the pasta machine because it’s very hands-on and fun to use the machine’s hand-crank to make the pasta dough thinner and thinner until we can send the dough through the fettuccine attachment. 

Meanwhile, the moms seemed to be enjoying themselves as they relaxed in the living room.  One kid asked, “Do you think they miss us?”  As the sounds of laughter echoed from the mom-filled room complete with champagne and a platter of fruit, cheese and crackers, I responded with a grin, “I think they’re doing just fine.”

Halfway through the lesson, we began chopping vegetables for the salad using kid-friendly lettuce knives.  The girls enjoyed the chopping, as well as whisking and taste-testing the balsamic vinaigrette.

Hand-cranking fresh pasta in our enrichment class with Chef Alix

With the sauce simmering and the garlic bread in the oven, we cooked the fresh pasta and prepared the dinner buffet.  The girls were beaming with pride and the mothers too as we enjoyed the pasta, salad and garlic bread.  A few moms complimented me on the tenderness of the fettuccine, while the kids were raving about the garlic bread. 

After dinner, the kids bolted outside to play, but I corralled them back in the kitchen with a simple question, “Who wants to make gelato sundaes?”  We then whipped up homemade whipped cream and made a quick chocolate sauce.  In an assembly line, we cranked out fourteen sundaes with a scoop of vanilla and chocolate gelato topped with fudge, whipped cream and strawberries that everyone enjoyed.

New Friendships Formed
During the lesson it seemed to me that all the girls were old friends.  Later, however, I found out that for a few of the girls, this was their first time spending time together outside of school.  My client enjoyed how this “cooking play date” kept the kids happy and engaged as she had an opportunity to bond with their moms.  Leaving the house that evening, I reflected how amazing it was to see my work result in people coming together.

To learn more about our Cooking Italiano Group Lesson / Birthday Party packageClick here 

If you like this Cooking Italiano blog post, check out  "Understanding Gelato Compared to Ice Cream"

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Understanding Gelato compared to Ice Cream: 3 Key Differences

 It’s hard to explain what is gelato to those who have not experienced it at its best in Italy.  Gelato means “frozen” in Italian and is comparable to ice cream but there are a few key differences

3 Differences between gelato and ice cream

1)  Gelato has less cream than ice cream.  Typically, gelato has about 10% butterfat, while ice cream has 18%-26% butterfat, because its makers use more heavy cream.  More cream masks the flavors of the other ingredients and that’s why gelato, which is less creamy, allows you to taste more flavors with each bite.

2)  Gelato has less air than ice cream, which again means that each bite is denser with flavor.  The churning process with both desserts allows air to go into the treat so that it is lighter than if it was immediately frozen.  Ice cream is churned so that the volume is double, meaning each bite is 50% air!  Compare this to gelato which has 20% air, ensuring each spoonful has more flavor.

3)  Gelato is served slightly warmer than ice cream.  While both treats are served at well below 32ºF, the freezing point, gelato is served slightly warmer by 10º to 15º than ice cream.  Because it’s less solidly frozen, when you eat it, you’ll notice how it very smoothly melts in your mouth.

The quality of ingredients play an important part in making great gelato because you now understand that the ingredients matter for everything (and this is true of all Italian cooking).

Making Gelato
Gelato begins with a custard base made by combining cream, egg yolks and sugar and bringing it to a near boil before it’s chilled.  Next, this base is mixed with fruits, cocoa, mint or any flavor you can think of, as long as it is of the highest quality and at the peak of the season.  For example, strawberry or cherry gelato tastes best in summer, and is never as good during the rest of the year.

My favorite gelato flavors include pistachio, stracciatela (chocolate chip), fragola (strawberry), and bacio (which means “kiss” and refers to a chocolate truffle with a hazelnut center).  One of my favorite combinations is choosing a chocolately flavor paired with a scoop of mint so the flavors balance each other after each bite. 

My friend enjoying gelato in Trento, Italy
In Italy, it seems like everyone is walking around with a cup or cone of gelato.  It only costs 1-2 Euros (about $1.50-$2.50) for a perfect sized snack on a hot day…or a warm day…or even if it’s freezing outside, you will still crave gelato!  When I studied abroad in Italy, I lived for a few months in Trento, a town in North Western Italy by the Dolomite Mountains, and took classes at the local university.  Between my studies, my friends and would go to different gelaterias around town until we found the one with the best flavors and served the largest portions.  Our favorite shop near the town’s central piazza, meaning plaza, offered two generous scoops in a cone for 1.5 Euros, or about $2.25.  What a deal!

(Gelato Taster Secret:  ALWAYS go for a cone because a scooper will pack in more gelato than if you choose a cup.)

I apologize if all this reminiscing of Italy makes you want to jump on the next plane to Italy to taste this fantastic dessert.  Fortunately, you can experience gelato in Los Angeles in a way that is close to the great stuff I remember in Italy

Next Tuesday I’ll share my FAVORITE place to go out for Gelato. 

Mangia Bene!  (Eat Well!)
Chef Eric

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

How to Make The Best Tomato-Basil Bruschetta

Photo by David Greenwald

In my last post I shared a moment making Bruschetta with over 70 teenagers at Culver City High School and now I’ve included that recipe, as it’s one of my favorite appetizers to make.

Bruschetta refers to garlic rubbed bread that is grilled and lightly drizzled with olive oil.  It does NOT refer to the topping you place on the grilled bread, as some American producers of “bruschetta” will make you believe with their products  

The word bruschetta is derived from “bruscare” which means to “roast over coals.”  True bruschetta is grilled, because the act of grilling creates a satisfying, crispy outside and those aesthetically pleasing black grill lines.   Bruschetta originates from Tuscan cooking, which celebrates hearty breads and the art of grilling, which I’ve experienced at it’s best while eating a “Bistecca alla Fiorentina” in Florence, Italy.

As a matter of what bread to use, the most true bruschetta uses a Tuscan loaf, which is a dense, crusty bread.  A sour dough or Ciabatta will work as.  A baguette produces slices that are a little small for true bruschetta, and would be better as a “crostini.”

Difference between Crostini and Bruschetta
Crostini meants “little toasts” and refers to an Italian appetizer that has small pieces of toasted bread, about 2”-3” in diameter, that are topped with a spread, like one made of fava beans or olive paste.  Most restaurants will use crostini and bruschetta interchangeably, but just know that crostini are smaller bites, while burschetta are larger slices of bread that accommodate chunkier toppings like a tomato-basil salad. 

For grilling the bread, I recommend firing up a grill, or using a cast-iron skillet with grill ridges.  You’ll get a nice grill mark without all the prep and cleanup of a grill. 

Now as for the bruschetta recipe itself, I’ve included my favorite recipe below.  I’ve made this with hundreds of students and it’s a great appetizer for dinner or a party. 

Tomato-Basil Bruschetta

Active Time: 20 min   -    Start to Finish:  20 min  -     Serves 8

3 medium tomatoes, about 1 lb.
5 basil leaves
1 loaf of Tuscan bread, ciabatta, sour dough or baguette sliced into ¼” thick slices
1 garlic clove, cut in half
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
Red Wine Vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

To Grill the Bread:  Heat a grill or a cast-iron grill skillet over medium heat.  Grill one side of each slice for 1-2 minutes until grill marks form.  Remove from the grill and lightly rub each piece with the inside half of the raw garlic clove.  (Do not overrub, otherwise it will be too garlicky).  Drizzle with olive oil and add a small sprinkle of salt.

To Roast the Bread:  Preheat an oven to 425ºF with a rack at the top.  Lay the bread on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil and a pinch of salt.  Bake until the top is golden brown, about 2-4 minutes, watching closely so it’s not overcooked.  Remove from the oven and lightly rub each slice with the inside half of the raw garlic clove

To Make the Tomato-Basil Topping:  Chop tomatoes into chunky pieces and place in a large bowl.  Add basil torn up with your hands.  Add 2 Tbs of olive oil, 1 Tbs of vinegar, a big pinch of salt and pepper and mix thoroughly.  Taste your salad and adjust seasoning as needed.  Add the tomato-basil on top of the bruschetta and serve warm.

Chef Eric’s Tip:  To make “Caprese Bruschetta” add a slice of mozzarella on top of your bruschetta followed by the tomato-basil salad.

I hope you enjoy this recipe, as much as I do.  Next week we’ll explore variations on bruschetta.  Until then…

Mangia Bene!  (“Eat Well!”)
Chef Eric

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Cooking Italiano with BIG kids (at Culver City High School)

The Gist:  I volunteered at Culver City High School as a Guest Chef at their Culinary Arts Class.  It was my first time teaching teenagers to cook and it was a blast!

As I looked around the table of students eager to learn how to make tomato-basil bruschetta, the first thing that came to mind was… these kids are huge!  I’ve taught my cooking class at elementary schools all over LA where the oldest kids were in 5th grade, but on Thursday, Sep 29th at 8:05 a.m. I was surrounded by teenagers at Culver City High School

I was a special guest chef that day at their Culinary Arts class…which was amazing to me because I never even had a Culinary Arts class when I was a teen attending high school in Ventura, CA.  Their teacher Carolyn Caldwell called me to get some tips on how to teach a cooking class to kids and I offered to help out in her class one morning.  As an Eagle Scout, I’ve always enjoyed doing community service, and this was a great way to share my passion for Italian cooking with kids outside my regular after-school cooking class. 

As I transported two boxes of cooking equipment through the school, I walked by every clique and high school stereotype under the sun, from jocks to geeks, and knew my cooking class would bring them all together.

The first period of kids arrived and looked at me with surprise, wondering who I was.  I greeted them with a friendly “Ciao!” and asked if they were ready to make some food.  Their eyes lit up.  “We’re gonna eat something?” one of them asked.  “Of course!” I said.
This would be their first lesson actually making food, as their classroom was undergoing a deep cleaning and all the stoves and ovens were unavailable for use.  Their last lesson involved chopping lots of onions to better their knife skills and the mere thought that they be able to eat something (and not cry) produced palpable excitement. 

The Lesson Begins
With a group of 26 kids in each 1-hour period, I divided the class in half so I would two 30-minute lessons.  The students quickly cleaned up, put on their aprons and waited next to a cutting board to chop tomatoes.  At one point I looked to my left and saw a rather odd sight: one teenager was wearing his leather jacket under his apron!  He even rolled up the jacket’s sleeves.  “The things teenagers do to look cool,” I thought as I chuckled and reached for a tomato.

We chopped the tomato into bite size chunks and made a flavorful salad by mixing them with torn basil leaves, extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar and salt and pepper.  I purposefully underseasoned each salad so the students could taste it and learn to adjust the salt and pepper amounts as needed.

Next up I heated up one of my portable electric pans and we toasted slices of baguette  with a little olive oil.  When they toasted on one side, we rubbed the bread with a raw garlic clove.  We then topped each slice of garlic toast with the tomato salad and with a loud “Mangia Bene!” (“Eat Well!”) Took a bite.

 I loved hearing the crunch of the bruschetta followed by smiles and “yum!” as the hungry students ate the dish they had just made.  As they finished their dish and wiped down the station some of them told me they were going to make the dish that night.  I was very proud of them.

More and more kids
Soon the next group arrived at the table, even more eager to cook after watching their classmates chow down.  In 30 minutes, we were done and after two more periods of class it was 11:30 a.m. and I had already taught over 70 kids how to make tomato-basil bruschetta!  Exhausted, I cleaned up and headed out, as I had a cooking class to teach that afternoon at St. Martin of Tours elementary school where we’d be making homemade fettucine pasta tossed in fresh basil pesto. 

Overall, I loved seeing how making bruschetta brought teenagers from all walks of life together in the name of good, healthy food.  Cooking truly is a universal activity that everyone can enjoy whether you’re a jock, nerd, cheerleader, goth or cool guy in a leather jacket.

The next post will feature my bruschetta recipe, so check it out next Tuesday!