Monday, April 30, 2012

Weekend Foodie Field Trip: Los Feliz

It really is a shame that I don't have all the time in the world to explore the precious pockets that exist in Los Angeles. I love to explore new cities and towns to smell, taste, touch, hear, and see the features unique to that specific area. I view each new town as a menagerie box, strewn with various odds and ends that exude a specific charm and whimsy. 

After a bumpy horseback riding experience Saturday afternoon, a few of us headed to Los Feliz for some post-ride grub. We ended up at Alcove, a quaint neighborhood cafe reminiscent of Aroma Coffee and Tea, a favorite local haunt. The menu is chock full of salads, sandwiches, smoothies, and breakfast favorites that are prepared with the perfect combination of local and exotic flavors. In a rare turn of events, I ordered the simplest thing on the menu--a turkey club on a pretzel roll with fresh-squeezed lemonade--that will no doubt encourage me to go back and be more adventurous with my lunch selection! Alcove also provided me and my peeps ample people-watching while sitting on the patio (one of my very favorite pastimes), where we spotted a few celebs and a handful of beautiful, no-name people who, while I tore into my gargantuan, multilayer sandwich, munched daintily on their chopped salads and chilaquiles. Whatever!


Sunday night I caught up with a very fabulous friend with whom I love to explore the city. While we sipped on our fresh squeezed juices al fresco (she a spinach, kale, parsley, cucumber and ginger concoction and I an apple, carrot, beet, spinach and parsley potion), our mini crossbodies shared a giggle at our expense. They're tres chic, just like their owners!

P.S. Do you follow La Petite Gigi on Facebook & Twitter? Do it. Now!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Coconut Milk Guava Cocktail

When I was a kid, I would dream of the days when I would be allowed to drink alcohol just to get one, sweet taste of a piña colada. It was the 90s and I would practically drool at the sight of the paper white, creamy, cloudy cocktail drifting by me while sitting poolside on vacation. They would, without fail, be decorated with a juicy pineapple wedge and maraschino cherry, golden nuggets to a teenager with delusions of grandeur. Ordering the non-alcoholic version was not enough to satisfy my need to know what was so special about this drink. Funny how a few years can turn what you once thought was a culinary masterpiece into a cultural cliché. Nevertheless, I am still obsessed with coconut-based drink, but as my palate has matured, so have the ingredients in my cocktails. This one draws from traditional piña colada flavors, but ditches the pineapple for guava and the fluff for a smoother, silkier texture. But don't be fooled by my oozing sophistication: I'm still a sucker for the sticky and sweet summertime drink!


Coconut Milk Guava Cocktail
Serves 1

> 1 oz coconut milk
> 1 oz vodka
> 2 oz guava nectar
> 1 oz fresh lime juice
> 1 tsp simple syrup

> Fill cocktail shaker with ice and add all ingredients.
> Shake vigorously and strain into chilled martini glass.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Wedding Pilaf - "Ghoozoo Ichi"

I am Armenian. That might mean different things to different people, but to me it means that 97 years ago, my people were almost wiped off of the face of the planet. They were massacred. Their homes were broken into by the Ottoman military and their wives and children were raped, tortured, and murdered. Neighborhoods became mass graves and prisons. Our ancient churches, the first of which was built in 480 AD, were torn down and/or reestablished as mosques. Our national monuments were desecrated and taken away from us. Armenia was reduced to 11,000 square miles; a tiny country on the outskirts of Turkey. A blip on the map.

The casualties totaled approximately 1.5 million and, for almost a century, the Ottoman/Turkish government has still not acknowledged their ancestors' actions as genocide. In fact, most international governments have condemned the current Turkish government for denying that what happened in 1915 was a genocide. Most countries around the world have recognized the Genocide, except for Turkey, the United States, and a handful of others, despite historical record.

It pains me that many people around the world are still not aware of the significance of April 24, 1915, the official start date of the Armenian Genocide, when Armenian intellectuals were targeted and arrested just for being Armenian/Christian. Hundreds of thousands of others were forced to march for approximately 500 miles to what is now Syria. Without food or water. Without their dignity. Some died along the way, some made it to their final destination and were then killed, and some, like my ancestors, survived and thrived in spite of the systematic execution of their people. That's what genocide means: "the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group."

In honor of this most significant day in my ethnic history, I watched my mother, the daughter of a Genocide orphan (her father was torn away from his family and grew up in an orphanage in Syria), cook my favorite Armenian dish: Wedding Pilaf or "Ghoozoo Ichi" as we call it. It is made with rice and ground beef, a seven spice blend, and nuts, but most importantly it is made with our heritage in mind. It represents the Armenian diaspora, as the recipe draws from a Middle Eastern dish my mother learned to make in Lebanon. It is the ultimate comfort food and today, it makes me proud to call myself Armenian. 

Take time today to educate yourselves about what happened on April 24, 1915: not a massacre, not a holocaust. A genocide.

Monday, April 23, 2012

A Very Foodie Weekend

I think I ate my weight in food this weekend and that makes me a very happy girl! A much-needed happy hour sister date Friday night was made oh-so-much-better with the addition of my favorite end-of-week drink, sangria. We popped over to a local wine and tapas restaurant, Vino, where we consumed copious amounts of starches. We started with a seared lettuce wedge caesar salad with a side of Spanish white anchovies. Next up were croquetas, crispy mashed potato croquettes filled with chicken and served with tomato aioli. Always a hit. We made our way down the extensive menu and ordered up patatas bravas, crispy potatoes with spicy aioli sauce and goat cheese montadito, a crostini-type tapa coated with walnuts topped with dried cranberries and a drizzle of honey. If that weren't enough, sissy and I capped off the meal with a small order of bacon-wrapped dates and cranberry-basil bread pudding with vanilla ice cream. 

Saturday night was more of a culinary adventure, as I finally made my way down to West LA to try one of the city's most-talked-about new restaurants, Picca. I started with a cocktail called Boots With the Fur, which combined pisco with green apple juice, apple brandy, orgeat (sweet syrup made from almonds, sugar, and rose water), falernum syrup (a Caribbean cocktail staple), and ginger for an herbaceous twist on a Peruvian classic. It was delish and a great complement to the anticuchos, tiraditos, and causas we consumed (sorry, no pics).

After dinner, I insisted on trying out SnoBar, a cotton candy/shaved ice hybrid that had one of the most interesting textures I've felt/tasted. I opted for the taro and rose flavors, which looked just as beautiful as they tasted. The taro was quite multidimensional and tasted almost buttery. The rose was sweet and fragrant and the perfect end to a foodie field trip!

Sunday was also a treat, as I spent the afternoon sunning on Leo and Lily's (Woodland Hills) outdoor patio. The Mediterranean-inspired menu beckoned me towards the shakshuka, poached eggs floating in a sauce of tomatoes, chili peppers, and onions. Honestly, I love any dish that lets me dunk fresh bread into sauce. Can't go wrong! It also helped that I was accompanied by my very favorite 21-month-old. He makes everything delicious!

And, finally, Sunday evening was spent at one of my new favorite haunts, Aroma Coffee and Tea (remember?), where the pastries are huge and the ambiance stirs with LA's most interesting cast of characters. A quaint little cottage-style cafe with a garden patio and frothy tea lattes? I'm in. All day, every day. Was your weekend chock-full of culinary surprises? Do tell!

Friday, April 20, 2012

May Daouk's Beirut Villa

I love Beirut. Not only was I born there, but I am convinced the spirit of the world is contained in the little tiny city that holds my past. The juxtaposition of old world tradition and contemporary high-end lifestyle is fascinating to see and be around and I am certain that experiencing that mystical contrast is what launched my passion for stimulating my senses.

In one afternoon, you have the ability to traipse across ancient ruins preserved for 9,000 years and walk along a seafaring village filled with scents of soap and spices where time seems to have paused at 2750 BC. You will see things you never thought you'd see in your lifetime, like bullet-riddled residential buildings with blown-out windows, memories of a tragic, divisive civil war that seems to never disappear. You will also experience some of the best culinary delights worlds over, feel the joie de vivre of a people who live like there's no tomorrow, and get a glimpse at the luxury that they covet just by looking through the glossy shop windows on a bustling downtown boulevard.

I was thrilled to see a snapshot of my birthplace featured in Architectural Digest, with a peek inside the home of fellow Beiruti May Daouk, an interior designer who moved into a late-19th-century villa in her hometown after spending years working in New York. The lofty space is one of few single-family homes in Beirut (most are contained in multi-unit buildings) and features classic Middle Eastern design elements such as the prominent arches you see throughout. Peep the gallery wall featuring architectural prints of the ancient city of Baalbek, mentioned above. This photo spread has got me jonesin' for international travel!


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Passion Fruit Caipirinha

I had almost almost forgotten about my love affair with passion fruit that's a lie. I had a passion fruit macaron about a month ago, until Saturday night, when I took a sip of my tropical fruit-laced caipirinha, the Brazilian national cocktail, at dinner and felt a familiar hug around my taste buds. Something about the tropics, man. They do something to me. I took it upon myself to recreate the cocktail in my own kitchen, give or take a few ingredients. The caipirinha's main ingredient is cachaça, a liquor made from fermented sugarcane juice, that really packs a punch. I am currently on the tail end of my cachaça buzz (thanks to another, bar-made caipirinha I had at dinner tonight) and will most probably have to make some major edits before posting this. My homemade version was very well-received and will probably make an appearance at future events. Buzzed blogging. I highly recommend it.

Passion Fruit Caipirinha
Serves 1

2 oz cachaça (I used light rum - Malibu Rum Coconut)
2 oz passion fruit juice
½ lime cut into wedges
1 tsp sugar

> In a glass, muddle sugar and limes together. 
> Fill the glass with ice
> Add juice and cachaça/rum and stir

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Perfect Wedges for Spring/Summer

Get a load of these bad boys. These will have me teetering on my tiptoes all season long if I have anything to do with it. The addition of the cork base makes this the perfect wedge for both day and night and the colors (peep that cool coral hue) will pop on your post-sun skin. The only problem: I'll be almost 6 feet tall in these monstrosities. 5 inch wedge with a 1.5 inch platform? The view is grand from up here...

Steve Madden STANNDUP, $99

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Basil Olive Oil Cake with Strawberry Balsamic Buttercream

What happens when you pick up good habits? Your bad, bad habits strike back with a vengeance. If walls could talk, my kitchen would reveal how much I love licking eggy, salmonella-laced batter off of the spatula and munching on salted nuts handfuls at a time. It would tell of the cakes that I've baked but not eaten, of the guacamole I've scooped right off of the kitchen counter and introduced to my savory-craver, of the time I almost got drunk off of a spoonful of vanilla extract (God, help me).

Good habit: starting a new workout routine. Bad habit: baking cakes and cupcakes (and frosting) the night before your pilates class. Verdict: worth every bite. Because my sweet tooth has never really sprung, I am constantly searching for palate whetting desserts that satisfy my need for muted flavors. This recipe came to mind after finding similar, but not quite perfect dishes. And here's a little secret: it's semi-homemade. Do I look like I have time to make a cake from scratch? Girl, please. I added a bit of my favorite herb and a few splashes (plus one) of my faaavorite condiment and voila: basil olive oil cake with strawberry balsamic buttercream. Fresh enough for spring, but deeply flavorful for any season.

Yield: 9 inch cake

> 1 box classic yellow cake mix (sub cooking oil for olive oil)
> 1 bunch basil (shredded)

> 1 cup butter (softened)
> pinch of salt
> 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
> 1 box confectioners' sugar (16 oz.)
> 1/2 cup strawberry preserves (I used sugar-free)
> 2 or so tablespoons balsamic vinegar (to taste)

- Prepare cake mix as directed on box, substituting olive oil for cooking oil.
- Rough chop/shred basil leaves, leaving stems out, and add to batter.
- Mix with electric beater until incorporated.

- Whip butter, salt, and vanilla until creamy.
- Then, whip in powdered sugar in a stand mixer using the paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy. 
- Add jam and vinegar and continue until incorporated.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

How I Accessorized: Palm Springs Edition

I love packing for trips. I always get overwhelmed right before I have a great, big epiphany that steers me in the right style direction. Last Friday, Carrie Underwood's "Jesus Take the Wheel" played in my head as I plopped down on my bed, feeling defeated at the sight of my entire closet on my bedroom floor (yes, the Lord can solve even the most trivial fashion emergencies). The thing is, getting out of town and living a different life for a few days makes me feel like a whole different person. I act differently, sleep differently, and even dress differently. Taking fashion risks is just easier to do when surrounded by strangers. That said, I didn't necessarily veer from the norm on my trip last weekend, but I did pay close attention to how I accessorized the desert-hued sheer fabrics that I took to Palm Springs. Heavy metals, Mother Nature-inspired designs, and complementary sunset colors comprised my travel jewelry collection. Do you find yourself making different style choices when you travel or am I just a weirdo?

Missing a stone. Don't judge.

Arm candy

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

Remember when I said I wanted to make one of my mom's bestest and most favoritest recipes? I finally did it! After years of letting the scent of warm, fluffy, tropical fragrance-laced cake waft through the house and tickle my nosebuds (that's right. Nosebuds.), I opted to take on the task once and for all. And what a task it was. Of course, Mrs. Gigi had to have modified the original recipe eight bajillion times to perfect it, but it was all worth it in the end. A beautiful, melt-in-your-mouth, sticky and sweet confection was born. And now it can all be yours! See the kinds of power I just give away?

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
Yield: 8
(note: I made these in mini round cake pans, but is usually made as a sheet cake, cut into squares.)

> 2 cans (8 1/4 oz. size) sliced pineapple (8 slices)
> 1/4 cup butter or margarine
> 2/3 cups light brown sugar, firmly packed
> 8 maraschino cherries, drained
> 1/4 cup broken walnuts (I skipped this)
> 1 cup sifted all-purpose flour (sift before measuring)
> 3/4 cups granulated sugar
>1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
> 1/2 teaspoon salt
> 1/4 cup shortening
> 1/2 cup milk
> 1 egg
> Whipped cream

> Preheat oven to 350F. Drain pineapple, reserving 2 tablespoons of the syrup
> Melt butter in a 10-inch heavy skillet (with heat-proof handle), over low heat.Add brown sugar, stirring until sugar is melted. Remove from heat.
> Arrange drained pineapple on sugar mixture in skillet. Fill centers of pineapple slices with cherries and spaces between slices with broken walnuts. Set skillet aside.
> Into medium bowl, sift flour with granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add shortening and milk. With electric mixer at medium speed, beat 2 minutes.
> Add egg and reserved pineapple syrup; beat 2 minutes longer. Pour cake batter over pineapple in skillet, spreading evenly.
> Bake 40 to 45 minutes, or until cake springs back when gently pressed with fingertip.
> Let stand on wire rack just 5 minutes. With small spatula, loosen cake from edge of skillet. Cover with serving plate; invert; shake gently then lift off pan.
> Serve cake warm.
09 10