Vegas – you can bet on this gem!
Sep11

Vegas – you can bet on this gem!

Next time you’re in Vegas you MUST try The Lotus of Siam. ( http://www.saipinchutima.com) Actually, I would almost do the four hour drive from LA just to go this family-owned restaurant. (With a quick visit to my favorite Goldfish slot machine, of course.) What an experience! Outstanding, authentic, and simply deeelicious Thai Food. (Ranked #27 of 3877 restaurants on Trip Advisor) And reasonably priced, too.       I discovered this hidden gem on Top Chef Masters, when some celeb chef was singing its praises. I thought it would be a fun place to take my brother Neville, and his wife, sweetheart Petra—visiting from South Africa. Can you tell which one’s my brother? (or boet as they say in SA)     Cuz, Dale who lives in Vegas, and her boyf, Will were good sports and braved it too, and happily everyone was impressed.   It’s about a 15 minute car-ride from the Las Vegas Strip in a nondescript strip mall. The lineup of cabs out front is the first sign that the general public have caught on, and if you don’t have a resy you could wait for hours. The walls are covered with magazine articles and Zagat Ratings. The gorgeous wine cellar is another clue that this isn’t your average hole-in-the-wall.   We took our server’s recommendations, and each perfectly balanced dish was interesting, with huge depth of flavor. Here are some of my faves: Crispy Garlic Prawns    Giant garlic prawns. And I’m not talking “shrimp.” These are the real deal: meaty, gorgeous, deep fried with crispy shells that eat like chips. (I don’t usually do fried, but these were definitely worthy.)   Beef Short Ribs  The short ribs are un.bee.lievable. Fork-tender and tasty, with lovely, light, fresh noodles. (I could easily have polished that one off myself!   Crispy Duck Panang Curry I’ve never tasted such succulent and tender duck. The curry sauce didn’t over power, and despite being pan fried it wasn’t too rich. Green Papaya Salad (Healthy Pick)     If you haven’t tried this before, it’s not what you’d expect. I’m not a huge fan of fruit in salads, and this can be misleading because when you think papaya you think sweet fruit, right? But the green, unripe papaya is crispy and fresh—fab way to sneak in some greens. I couldn’t actually find this on the menu, but since it’s something I always order at Thai restaurants (and it was on the server’s top ten) it was a no-brainer. Pad Thai     It was a little embarrassing to order Pad Thai (which you’ll find at any Thai restaurant in the US) at this exotic establishment, but hubby, Sam, had to...

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How I Gained 4 Pounds in 4 Days (NY Confessions)
Jun26

How I Gained 4 Pounds in 4 Days (NY Confessions)

We’re back from 7 nights in New York and Boston, and after a fantastic trip I’m happy to say there’s no place like home! I’m definitely a West Coast girl. Staying smack dab in the middle of Times Square did not a relaxing vacation make. But we didn’t go there to relax! And what a trip to be staying “On Broadway!” (Those of you who knew me in my musical theater days will appreciate that.)     I was sooo happy that I packed my Best Weight Watchers Travel Snacks when we were delayed for NINE hours. (You might have seen my #IHateDelta tweets) Who needs stale pretzels when you have Cosomi Cookie-Crackers? Anthony Bordain’s Kitchen Confidential on my iPad Mini kept me from losing it completely! (Though I’m not sure I wanted to hear what really goes on in the kitchens of NYC just before dining in some of them. Scaaaary.) We checked into The W Hotel at 3:45am (!), and were ecstatic that Hazel had attempted to erase our nightmare travel day with a gorgeous corner suite on the 55th floor. After numerous warnings about teeny-tiny NYC hotel rooms, we were stoked. (Can you say upgrade?!) And so ensued a Four Day Eating Fiasco You must know by now that I’m a bonafide foodie, and despite having a (mostly) healthy food blog, I’m obviously into baked goods, hence the name “OrnaBakes.” So I wasn’t about to miss this opportunity for trying good eats across NYC. It’s a good thing we walked for MILES each day. (Would you believe I forgot to take my FitBit Flex!!!)   Everyone asks me the same thing: What was your favorite food? So here it is!   Eataly (sigh) Wow. What an experience. I mean—there’s an entire Nutella Room! (Check out my Greek Yogurt Panna Cotta with Nutella Sauce for the BEST dessert EVER!)       Seriously the best pizza ever to pass my lips—with fresh buffalo mozzarella that tasted like Italy.   And who knew that simple spaghetti in butter, olive oil, parmesan and pepper could taste so unbelievable!   And then of course I couldn’t miss fresh Hazelnut Gelatto. (My top 5 foods on earth)   Fun to watching these friendly bakers effortlessly make foccaccia. (Not sure why there were three of them on this task. But it looks interesting!)   Sam was ecstatic to find his beloved GUS (Grown Up Soda) which is increasingly hard to find in LA. (Gelsons still carries it)   I was so overwhelmed by the shelves and shelves of magnificent Italian confections, that I didn’t even come away with a single one! (Plus I knew if I bought a...

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Two Dinners and a Movie
May12

Two Dinners and a Movie

You MUST see “Chef” by Jon Favreau—now playing in select movie theaters. Not just for foodies; though if you’re passionate about cooking—or eating— you will LOVE every minute of it! And wish you could jump right through the screen and devour every delicious dish… (See below for how you can actually make that happen!)     Filled with positive messages, this heartwarming comedy about a chef who quits his restaurant job to start a food truck, will inspire you to be true to yourself, and be the best you can be—as a writer, parent, artist, or whatever your passion. Most touching was the broken, workaholic chef’s relationship with his soulful young son—played by talented 10-year-old, Emjay Anthony, who had to keep up with improvised lines from Favreau and Leguizamo. The flick cleverly incorporates Twitter, showing how destructive—and influential—social media can be, and how naturally it comes to the youngsters. (I need a “Percy” to promote OrnaBakes!) And you might think twice before posting a nasty review about a restaurant—or movie—on Yelp! I had been dying to see Chef from the minute I saw the trailer, and hubby, Sam—who was not dying to see it—graciously agreed to indulge me. (No pun intended.) But alas, turns out that opening night on Friday, May 9th, was for limited release only, and not playing in our area. So instead of being at the movies, I was in usual my place on the couch, watching charmingly humble Pharrell Williams on Jimmy Kimmell. And then, next up… Jon Favreau promoting the ultimate ode to food! Well, when Sam saw that it co-starred Sofia Vergara, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Downey Jr., and Dustin Hoffman (yes, in that particular order), he was suddenly keen to go with me! (Interesting.) I then discovered on Facebook that Favreau was doing Q&A at the AMC Century City following the movie, the very next night! So… we snatched up the last two decent seats; got Granny on board to babysit, and less that 24 hours later… #bestdatenightever    Orna with Jon Favreau 5:30pm Happy Hour at Pink Taco (Owned by 31-year-old Harry Morton, of Morton’s Steakhouse family. Highly recommend!) 6:30pm Quick visit to the Container Store (sigh, love love love that store) 7:00pm Chef: Movie Tribute to Food 9:30pm Q&A and photo op with Jon Favreau 10:30pm BJ’s Pizza (I told you it was Two Dinners and a Movie…) What more could a girl want on the eve of Mother’s Day?   Q&A with Jon Favreau Hearing writer, director, and star, Jon Favreau speak openly and honestly about the movie—and his creative process—was deeply inspiring, so I wanted to share some of...

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Starbucks and La Boulange: Picks and Points
Nov07

Starbucks and La Boulange: Picks and Points

I’m not usually tempted by full fat baked goods at Starbucks (evil!), but ironically, since they partnered up with San Francisco’s La Boulange—which they now own—the “reduced fat”, artisanal options have brought up some serious cravings in me for pastries! Do labels like ‘low fat’, ‘whole grain’ or ‘oatmeal’ make you more likely to give in? I was surprised to find that the “Wheat” Spinach Croissant was higher in fat and calories than the Tomato & Cheese Croissant, after assuming the opposite. (That’s clever marketing for you!)     I managed to stick with my Skinny Caramel Latte (yay me!) and inhaled a Corazonas Oatmeal Square Mini as I got into my car. (One of my favorite Costco items.) This small victory inspired me to compile this guide—with nutritional information and Weight Watchers PointsPlus values—to empower us in the upcoming holiday season! I’ve included my Top Ten Best and Worst Choices, but you’ll find the complete guide below. Even if you’re NOT a Weight Watcher, this list will help you make good choices. Print it! Pin it! Bookmark it! Have a plan before you’re staring longingly through the glass. FACT: All calories are not created equal Weight Watchers does not consider calories at all to calculate points. (Surprised?) By comparing the points versus the calories, you’re automatically making better choices, because PointsPlus values are based on fat, carbs, fiber, and protein—which affect how long you will feel satisfied, and what food choices you make for the rest of the day. TIP: Take something delicious with you, and compare points and “worthiness” to it!  Ask yourself… Is that Lemon Pound Cake really worthy of all those points? You can’t expect a banana or a fruit cup to stand up to the temptation of a 14-point pastry. But if you have something with you that you consider a special treat (not your usual protein bar or Apple Chips), you’ll be better equipped to resist.  My Top 5 Bring Along Snacks Corazonas Oatmeal Square Minis – 2 PP (The regular size Corazonas Oatmeal Squares are 5PP per chewy square of whole-grain, oaty goodness, with 6g protein to keep you feeling satisfied! My fav is the Peanut Butter. Great to keep in the car because they don’t melt. Check points for different flavors!) Vitalicious Vitatops Muffin Tops – 3 PP belVita Golden Oat Breakfast Biscuits – 3 PP for two biscuits Luna Fiber Bars – 3 PP (my fave is Peanut Butter Strawberry) Bobos Oat Bars – 5 PP for half the bar, so a little decadent, but sooo delish and all natural ingredients. Does the ritual of buying something in a little paper...

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Restaurant Review: Cafe Firenze, Moorpark, CA
Jun21

Restaurant Review: Cafe Firenze, Moorpark, CA

Love Cafe Firenze! Cafe Firenze is one of our favorite restaurants; upscale without being stuffy or snobby, with high quality ingredients and a wonderful, warm atmosphere. When I heard, on Top Chef, that Fan Favorite, Fabio Viviani, had a restaurant in Moorpark—about 30 miles away from where we live—I imagined a little Italian eatery out in the middle of nowhere. I never expected the majestic, gem of a place—hidden in the Albertsons shopping center—surprisingly cosy and charming, even with the large, high-ceilinged rooms, and beautiful, regal decor. The booths, especially, are cosy and intimate. (Though we all agreed we could live without the decorative pillows—pretty, but not practical!) You enjoy the royal, fine-dining treatment—even if you’re there with little ones—without the snobbery of the Los Angeles west side. As musicians, we appreciate the subtle, tasteful, live music by the talented guitar player. (Think Sting or Eric Clapton.) The staff couldn’t be nicer, and are very knowledgeable about the food. You can tell that Fabio really appreciates them (giving credit where credit is due), and they are happily supportive. Left to Right: Adam, Executive Chef John Paolone, and Lindze Our favorite waitress, Christina—she tells it like it is! He certainly couldn’t do it without them—since he’s currently opening two more restaurants in Chicago; following the huge success of Siena Tavern, which opened in February 2013. Our favorite, kid-friendly place for special occasions, we’ve celebrated Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve at Cafe Firenze, with our three-year-old, Aja.  Valentine’s Day at Cafe Firenze, 2012 Perfect for a date night too; even our picky, jet-setting friends were impressed! Kharen and Randy Bernstein They loved the Chicken Scaloppini and Crostino Di Burrata. Parmesan Bread, Burrata Cheese, Grilled Pancetta, with a Brown Butter Sage sauce. You won’t go wrong with any of the pastas, but you HAVE to try the Braised Short Rib Ravioli. (To die for!) Braised Short Rib Ravioli in a rich and decadent Taleggio Cheese Sauce. Since my new obsession with Caesar Salads, I try them everywhere I go, and this one didn’t disappoint. Next time I’ll try the Ossobuco, before attempting to make it from his fantastic new cookbook Fabio’s Italian Kitchen! Click here for the Cookbook Review and Cooking Demo at Cafe Firenze  >> Click here for the full dinner menu >> What are your favs at Cafe Firenze? I’d love to hear from...

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Fabio Viviani’s Cooking Demo and Cookbook Review
Jun20

Fabio Viviani’s Cooking Demo and Cookbook Review

This past Saturday I dragged Sam to Top Chef Fan Favorite, Fabio Viviani’s Cooking Demo and Book Signing—well, it wasn’t the kicking-and-screaming kind of dragging, since Cafe Firenze is one of our favorite restaurants. (Click here for my restaurant review >>) This time I had the foresight to let them know I’d be coming, and smart business man that he is, Fabio personally responded, guaranteeing me a good seat. Despite the aggravation of having had a flat tire between his morning Cooking Demo at Firenze Osteria, and this second session at Cafe Firenze, he greeted us warmly. He wasn’t phased by the slightly unstable setup, in their first time using the light and spacious patio—this time only turning away fifty, instead of the usual one hundred fans. He jokingly removed item by item as they jiggled while he pounded the poor pork on the vibrating table! The general tone, as he passionately shared memories and family traditions, was very laid back—more like hanging out with him over good eats and drinks, than watching him sweat over a hot stove, attempting to teach us how to cook. He enjoyed circling the fire pit!   Mama’s Boy…? His mother, Renza, refused to give up the family’s precious recipes unless he agreed to publicly share what he put her through as a boy. (Payback!) He still had to coax details out of her, since “sausage. and. beans.”—her typical recipe instructions—just wouldn’t cut it for a cookbook. Sign up for info on Fabio and Mamma’s upcoming cooking class >> Should be very entertaining! When he was five, after unintentionally setting her on fire, his 87-year-old great-grandma, Maria, kept little “Fabiolino” by her side in the kitchen, to keep him out of trouble, and contain his abundant energy and penchant for mischief! Stirring polenta and apple cake for hours on end, he learned from her to “do it right, or do it twice.” Already displaying character, to help feed his family, he took a night job when he was eleven (ELEVEN!), when his mom had to quit her job because of a problem with her hands. He would unload fifty-pound bags of flour and carry pies from the 120 degree basement to the 10 degree pie store from 1 – 7am—causing him to be sick and miss school, and get suspended. No wonder he hates baking! “It’s not about how bad I had it but about how good I want it from now on.” He Keeps it Simple As a child, he only had one pair of shoes, slept on a folding chair in the kitchen, and lived on eggs from their forty chickens, fruits and veggies from his...

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