Reviews

Recipe Review: Giada’s Creamy Linguine with Lobster and Bacon

What do you think I do on my lunch breaks at the office? That’s right, I watch the Food Network. And if you haven’t already guessed it, my favorite Food Network Star is Giada De Laurentiis, who is my spirit animal as well. I’ve reviewed her restaurant and another recipe of hers, but it’s been awhile so I figured it’s time for another.

giada dance

My Patronus

Back during December, there was a “Holiday” episode of Giada at Home in which she cooked this Creamy Linguine with Lobster and Bacon.

Creamy Linguine with Lobster and Bacon 1

I can’t even.

I mean, hello, just listen to the name of the recipe. Watching it cooked on the screen was torture for my colleague friends and I. The sight of it inspired a deep need for it within us.

need

Said Johnny and friends to the pasta.

Still, I didn’t see what made it traditionally “Holidayish”. But when Valentine’s Day came around, I thought it would make the perfect V-Day dinner! In my mind, shellfish and pasta are staples for a special Valentine’s Day dinner, and the addition of bacon makes everything much more romantic.

valentine

Valentine’s Day = Food!

Of course, I am single – and Whole on My Own – and so is my mother and sister, so we had ourselves our own little fancy Valentine’s Dinner where we enjoyed this fantabulous recipe, along with a Kale and Roasted Beet Salad and some Prosecco.

After cooking the meal and taking my first twirl and bite, I knew it was a keeper. HOLY HELL PEOPLE!

the taste

My reaction after the first bite basically.

Tender sweet lobster, salty smoky bacon, delightful linguine noodles, rich tomato cream sauce, fresh herbs and peas, and of course, heavenly Parmesan cheese; this dish has everything going for it! All the flavors and textures play off each other perfectly. It is a luxurious and sensual dish. And though it sounds indulgent because of the cream and bacon, a moderate sized portion of this was actually just the right amount, no one felt weighed down or bloated, but perfectly satisfied. Remember people – moderation!

The recipe is pretty easy to follow. Giada has labeled the difficulty as “Intermediate”. That’s just because you do have to do quite a few things at once, and once you start there is no stopping, so you have to be prepared. Plus, if you buy a whole cooked lobster or two, you have to break open its shell which is no easy feat.

xena fight

Basically the effort it takes to break open lobster. Damn those spikes!

My advice is to do all the prep work before you start the cooking. Chop all the vegetables and herbs, have the tomato and cream measured out, have the lobster meat cut up into chunks and set aside in a bowl, and have everything readily assessable. This way, once you start, you’ve got everything you need to execute.

Ingredients for Creamy Linguine with Lobster and Bacon

Prepare everything ahead of time and lay it out.

I cut the ingredient portions in half because I was only cooking for 3 people while Giada originally intended the recipe for 6, but you could easily double this recipe or modify it for your friends and family as needed.

At any rate, you should absolutely 100% make this dish when you are feeling a little bit ritzy! Enjoy!

Also, here is a video of my lobster singing “Under the Sea”.

Mitasie 3 Review

I have recently been having a lot of foodie fun trying more vegetarian and vegan foods. I am experimenting with more vegetarian/vegan recipes, like my Vegan Cauliflower, Mushroom, and Red Bean Chili, and am enjoying visiting more veg-friendly restaurants (Native Foods and Veggie Grill are long standing favorites of mine).

 

you don't eat meat

While I am not a vegetarian, I do think we need some animal protein in our diets and know that I certainly need some in mine, I am also a firm believer that we can and should cut way back on our meat consumption, utilize better practices when it comes to meat, and make better sustainable choices overall. An easy way to help our own health and the health of the planet is to enjoy some more veggie centric meals. This has led me to seek out more vegetarian establishments recently.

Enter Mitasie 3! I can’t believe it took me this long to discover this little gem of a restaurant; located literally around the corner from me in Huntington Beach, its right next to the PetSmart I take my dog to all the time. Mitasie 3 is a self-proclaimed “Healthy Vegetarian Vietnamese” restaurant serving up completely vegan versions of Vietnamese classics. My colleagues and I stopped in for lunch this past Friday for our “Cultural” lunch and were not disappointed!

A small restaurant, the space is bright with Asian décor and a definite feeling of light and freshness. Also cool, they display artworks from local artists that are up for sale! It wasn’t busy when we went and were quickly seated and attended to. The service from there continued to be superb with two very friendly servers making sure that we were happy throughout our experience.

look food

Now to the food! On this particular outing, we decided to order a bunch of different dishes and share.

We started with two different types of Mitasie’s Spring Rolls.

Mitasie Jimaca Rol

Jicama Spring Roll

The Jimaca Spring Roll is comprised of steamed jicama, shredded carrots, basil, and soy ham all rolled up into rice paper and served with a spicy peanut sauce. The rolls were tasty light and refreshing, perfect on a warm day!

Mitasie BBQ Spring Roll

BBQ Pork Spring Roll

The clear winner of the Spring Rolls, however, was the Soy BBQ Pork Roll. BBQ soy ham, avocado, mint, lettuce, sprouts, and cucumber, again rolled up into the strangely clear rice papers and served with the same peanut sauce. These rolls were slightly hearty and packed the great flavor of tangy BBQ while being contrasted and complimented by the fresh veggies. I would make a meal just out of these and a salad!

Mitasie Thai Salad

Thai Salad

I actually ordered another dish just for me because, food. I ordered the Thai Salad which was moderately spicy and fully fresh. Mixed greens, carrots, bell peppers, basil, a special Thai sauce, and soy chicken. This salad was a surprising amount of food. The Thai sauce really gave the dish a nice kick and the soy chicken really did look, feel, and taste like chicken! I’d order it again.

Mitasie Shaking Beef

Shaking Beef

Next we had the other clear winner of the day, the Shaking Beef. Marinated and roasted soy beef, shallots, tomatoes, peppers, and garlic in a sweet vinegar sauce over a bed of greens. I’ve had vegan chicken that tasted like chicken before, like in my salad above, but never have I ever had a vegan version of beef that tasted legit. Holy Hera! This dish beautifully danced between sweet and savory and was entirely delectable. This is another one I would order just for me next time!

Mitasie Cryspy Shrimp

Salted Pepper Cryspy Soy Shrimp

We also shared the Salted Pepper Cryspy Soy Shrimp. This baby is spicy! Soy shrimps that have been fried to a perfect and satisfying crunchiness, onions, peppers, and jalapenos. This one just had a great depth of spicy and savory flavor. Plus, it was fried! Get this one too!

Mitasie Garlic Noodle

Garlic Noodle

Lastly, we had sides of the Mitasie Garlic Noodles; spaghetti noodles, garlic, tofu, mushrooms and olive oil, as well as the Garlic Fried Rice. As you might have guessed it, both were very garlicy; and garlicy is good! The noodles can be ordered as a main whereas the rice is a perfect and cheap side order. If you like garlic and need some carbs with your meal, either of these should do nicely!

The prices at Mitasie 3 are incredibly fair. You can easily enjoy a nice, healthy meal for $10 or under. I am so used to having to pay a premium to eat healthfully that I went into the restaurant expecting to spend more than was actually necessary. How refreshing, no pun intended, to find a place where I can eat well for less!

so good

We left full of plant-based deliciousness and with happy hearts. Mitasie 3 is a little hidden treasure in my eyes. The atmosphere is bright and inviting, the service is friendly and quick, and the food is fantastic and equally healthy. I especially love that I have another vegan option nearby when as I begin to order more vegetarian. I hope you make a trip over to Mitasie 3 and enjoy what they have to offer!

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear – Book Review

You know Elizabeth (Liz) Gilbert, because I know you have seen and/or read Eat Pray Love – that’s her book. And though you may only associate her as the woman who found herself through her time  eating in Italy, meditating in India and loving in Indonesia; what you may not be as aware of as I am is that Liz Gilbert is an earth-bound angel sent to help us capture inspiration and liberate our creativity in our daily lives. I’ve listened to her talks and interviews and read other works of hers and her words always touch me at my core; it’s the same story with her most recent memoir, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.

In Big Magic, Gilbert touches on many different aspects of creativity and the undeniable human instinct that we have for it. For the book, Liz draws on experiences from her own life, stories from others, and the wise words of many different types of memorable people. It is, in short, a discussion of creativity, its importance to us and our world, and how we should go about treating it, cultivating it, and living it.

Now, I am not going to launch into some 10 page essay breaking down every facet of the book and dropping quotes left and write; you don’t need to read much more from me, you don’t need more words to process, you just need to go and read the damn book. The book manages all at once to be informative, educational, comical, thought-provoking and, well, inspiring. You’ll love it!

With that said, if you’d like to read on, I would like to share a few of my biggest, personal takeaways from my read of Big Magic.

idea

Inspiration and Ideas are often external forces – Gilbert theorizes that the inspiring thoughts and ideas that come to us do so in the literal sense of the phrase – they come to us from somewhere else, outside of ourselves. In a sense, she discusses the intriguing possibility that the ideas that spark us to create are their own beings of energy and light floating around, and they seek a vessel – a person – through whom they can be brought into the physical world. Ever had an idea that you thought, “Huh, that’s really cool!” but you never acted on it, and then a month, a year, or even a decade later you see that idea come into reality by someone else and you think, “Hey! That was my idea!” but you accept it as a mere coincidence? I know you have, we all have. Well, you probably did have that very idea. That idea probably chose you to try be born through, but you didn’t do anything with it. And so, it left you and moved onto someone who could and would bring the idea into reality.

I found this discussion in Big Magic to be incredibly intriguing. I had heard Gilbert discuss this topic before in this TED Talk, and at first I wasn’t sure what to make of it. After reflecting a bit, I’ve come to realize that I totally and completely agree with this concept of the external idea. Have you ever had a thought or idea that when you first thought it up you believed it to be the greatest idea ever, but then you didn’t write it down fast enough and no matter how hard you try you simply can’t remember what that idea exactly was? We’ve all had it happen; the poem or song you dreamed up but didn’t pen down and now you can’t remember how it went in your head, the storyline of the epic novel that would be riveting but you didn’t draw it out fast enough and now the storyline isn’t as strong, etc. I have had ideas – flashes of inspiration – but I didn’t eternalize them fast enough; and when I go to remember them, no matter how deeply I rack my brains, I simply can’t remember them at all! I have lost great ideas and tore myself apart in search of finding them again, but I can’t. Why? Because they are nowhere to be found within me; they have literally left my body and my conscious and moved onto a person that will act on them more quickly and birth them into the mortal world where they can touch others.

This is not to say that this theory discredits people who appear to always be brilliant in terms of creativity and may even be called geniuses. Rather, the theory supports the idea that some people are great vessels or instruments for catching the ideas that are floating around in the ether, working with them, and developing them into something truly amazing. We can be creative people, but we just have to be open to reaching out into the universe and catching the right ideas that we can then work with to create. As you can tell, this was a hugely important part of the book for me; I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the subject.

personal-freedom

Stop putting requirements and expectations on your creativity – In Big Magic, Liz implores us to not burden our creativity with fantastical expectations and goals. Translation: stop telling your creativity that it must make you X amount of dollars so that you can leave your day job, stop telling your creativity that it must make you famous and adored, stop telling your creativity that it must produce more than the art you are making it for. This type of energetic thinking does no one service; it limits your creativity, it creates stress and longing within yourself, ultimately leads to sacrifice on the part of the creativity, which eventually leads to frustration and disappointment. There is no point to this! Be kind to your inspiration and creativity and do it simply for the fact that you feel compelled to do so without any attachment to the end result!

This was a very important takeaway for me. Look at this blog, Johnny La Pasta, for instance. This blog is one of my creative endeavors; through it, I pursue my creativity namely in relation to cooking, yoga, and lifestyle all through the medium of writing. Lots of other people do this too, and many of them make money for it – like lots of money for it. And so, I have at times placed expectations on my work for this blog that it will earn me a larger income than what I currently make, allow me to work from home, afford me more funds and time to travel, etc. When I have placed these bar marks on my work for Johnny La Pasta, I have noticed that my writing becomes more difficult and I become more stressed – especially when I am not seeing the high expectations that I created met. Now sure, the goal of turning my blog into a fiscally viable line of work is a decent and respectable goal, but I now refuse to make it a requirement of my work here. I create the posts and stories that I do because I have a passion for writing and the topics that I am writing about. I cannot burden my writing and artistic impulses with grand schemes. Instead, I will continue to create what I do because I feel compelled to and because I want to!

So, create because you feel it is something that you need to do, and do it without attachment or expectation. Enjoy the process, enjoy the result, be not disappointed by any of it!

splatter

Humans are meant to create…SO CREATE! – History tells us that humans have a deep need and will to create. Ever since ancient people figured out how to make scrapes on cave walls, we have been creating. We have been creating even at times where it doesn’t even make sense to create. When there is famine, plague, and terror; logically you would think that all creative endeavors would stop because there is a greater need to focus on tasks that support survival, but still, people continue to write and draw and paint and sculpt and weave and more throughout all of it. Creativity is nearly as a basic a need for people as food, sleep and sex. As a collective species, we have an insatiable desire to create and so we do.

In Big Magic, Gilbert tells us to follow our creative impulses when they come. Creating is good for us on many levels; it’s like a vitamin for the mind and the soul. And anyone can take that vitamin.

For some reason, we have come to believe that to create you must be creative, creative in the Pinteresty sense of the word. We have come to believe that if you want to create you must be a genius or a prodigy in one medium, only then can you actively and often create. The truth is, however, that anyone can be creative at any time. We can all be creative in big and small ways on a day to day to basis. This does not mean that what you create has to publishable or producible or worthy of a nomination. You create whatever you want simply because you feel the need on any given day; no one has to see or know about it, you don’t have to judge and critique after the fact. All you have to do is enjoy the process of it!

Look at children. They take a piece of paper and some crayons and just go for it. They aren’t attached to the end result. They aren’t worried about winning an award for it. They just see pretty colors in the crayon box, inspiration strikes them, and they ride that wave and create. The tree they set out to draw might end up looking like deformed purple octopus; but who cares? They certainly don’t. They are creating for the hell of it, and that’s beautiful. Let’s be more like that.

Are you a plumber with a poem ringing through your head? Write that poem! It doesn’t matter that you are a plumber, if you’ve got the inspiration, act on it. Even if it turns out as ghastly as some of the jobs you encounter in your plumber duties, just get it out of you and enjoy it for what it is! Are you a mechanic with music radiating between your ears? Pick up and instrument and play and sing it loud! It could be great, it could be okay, it could sound like cats dying; it doesn’t matter! Are you a screenwriter with a silver screen idea in your mind’s eye? Write that damn screenplay without concern of whether or not a studio executive would buy it or even like it. Ski that slope of creative energy for as long as it goes.

Okay, I’ll stop now, you get the picture. The point is, Big Magic was a reminder for me that creating is fun and it is healthy and it is accessible at some level to all of us at all times; so we should do more of it.

And with that, I hope I inspire you to read Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.

big magic 2.jpg

Mendocino Farms Sandwich Market Costa Mesa

On Wednesday December 2nd (aka Britney Spears’ Birthday, praise!) my colleagues and I went for our weekly “Lunch Bunch” outing to Mendocino Farms Sandwich Market in Costa Mesa, CA. When this restaurant was proposed as our lunch spot for the day, I really had no idea what it was. It was then pitched to me as a fast casual concept with an emphasis on local, seasonal, quality ingredient sandwiches and salads that are equally as healthy as they are tasty; “Sounds like my kind of place!” I said and with that we were off.

Mendocino Farms does two things – sandwiches and salads, that’s it! Sure, it’s only two categories, but what they do, they do WELL. Mendocino Farms sources the ingredients for their sandwiches and salads from local farmers, ranchers, and bakers who exercise best practices; the produce is fresh and often organic, the meat is free-range and vegetarian/grass-fed, and the bread is made with the best grains and baked fresh daily. And let’s not forget that the sandwiches and salads that are offered boast fantastic flavors and combinations.

The restaurant itself is both airy and earthy – very bright and welcoming. The kitchen is open for guests to see the culinary team in action. The décor has a definite artisan-feel with a big splash of health-emphasis. When you enter, you are greeted by the very friendly and helpful staff. They check to see if you have visited before, and if you haven’t, they give you an overview of the menu and their offerings. I really enjoy restaurants that have team members that speak with you about their offerings as it somehow makes you feel more connected to the food. In addition to explaining the menu, they also emphasize that they are very flexible when it comes to dietary preferences; gluten-free breads are available to substitute for other breads, they are more than happy to hold the cheese if you avoid dairy, and in general help you to order a meal that suites your tastes and needs.

A fast-casual restaurant, you order at the counter and then pick out your own table and wait for the food to be brought to you. What is really awesome, is that before you order, they are happy to offer you samples of the side salads and soups that they have available to add onto your meal so that way you can get a better feel for what you are ordering! Once you are seated, the food is brought to you on a small baking sheet and you are ready to enjoy lunch! Now, let’s get to what my colleagues and I had.

Mendocino Farms 6

The Blue Plate Special with Half Farm Club and the Healthiest Salad Ever

I ordered the Blue Plate Special -a ½ a sandwich with a side salad or cup of soup – with the Farm Club and the Healthiest Salad Ever. The Farm Club is masterfully comprised of local farm, free-range turkey breast, smashed avocado (always a yes), prime Applewood bacon, herb aioli, tomatoes, greens, pickled red onions and “Mom’s seeded whole wheat bread”. The bread was incredibly hearty and comforting while also remaining light, the vegetables fresh and full of their natural flavors, the avocado perfectly green, the bacon superbly crispy, and the turkey fantastically fresh and clean tasting. There was just the right amount of everything on this sandwich. The Healthiest Salad Ever included thinly sliced raw beets, ginger, carrots, and kale, black rice, golden raises, toasted hazelnuts, and chopped orange segments. It was sweet and refreshing, a perfect pairing with my sandwich. I was rather satisfied!

Mendocino 8

Korubuta Pork Belly Banh Mi

Some of my colleagues were a bit more adventures than I was on this trip. A few of them tried the Korubuta Pork Belly Banh Mi; a play on a traditional Vietnamese sandwich, caramelized Korubuta Pork belly, a housemade pickled daikon (no idea what that is) and carrots, cilantro, cucumbers,  jalapenos, and chili on a panini ciabatta. Apparently, this sandwich was spicy and hearty all at once. A definitely good choice for meat lovers and Asian food lovers alike!

Mendocino Farms 5

Peruvian Steak Sandwich

The Peruvian Steak sandwich was another big hit! Spicy aji Amarillo marinated steak with Oaxacan cheese, herb aioli, red onions, tomatoes, and shredded romaine on a panini-pressed torta bun. Though I didn’t try, I was told that the steak was decadent and the premium ingredients all worked together to create a sandwich that was rich, perfectly spicy, and superbly satisfying!

Mendocino Farms Falafel

Enlightened Falafel Wrap

The Vegan Enlightened Falafel Wrap was one of the biggest winners of the day. This would probably be the one I would order the next time I return, and trust me; there will be a next time. This veggie friendly wrap is constructed from Mendocino’s housemade falafel-spiced V7 patty, Mendo’s classic hummus, a vegan tzatziki, grape tomatoes, shredded romaine, julienned cucumbers, pickled red onions wrapped in a panini pressed whole wheat tortilla. This was so fresh and zesty as well as fulfilling. It’s encouraging to see a restaurant have such great options for our vegan friends!

We also sampled sides of the various side salads. In addition my Healthiest Salad Ever, we tried the Curried Couscous and the Sriracha Potato Salad; both were surprisingly delicious! Could’ve eaten giant tubs of both! Keep in mind, some of Mendocino’s menu is seasonal and so some items may vary from time to time, but that’s part of the foodie fun!

In summary, our visit to Mendocino Farms was beyond satisfactory. It was so wonderful to find a fast-casual restaurant with a healthy vibe, foodie flare, and ethical practices. I will definitely be returning in the future for more tasty sandwiches!

For more information, visit Mendocino Farms’ website here: http://mendocinofarms.com/

 

Restaurant Review: Cleo Hollywood

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Ciao my friends! Johnny here with a little restaurant review for you! On October 17th, I headed up the freeway from Orange County to Hollywood to see Florence + the Machine at the Hollywood Bowl (it was a spectacular show – maybe the best concert I’ve been to so far). Anyway, having experienced the parking nightmare of the Hollywood Bowl before, I decided to head up to Hollywood early to ditch the car and spend a day being a native-tourist and of course, treat myself to a great meal at a new restaurant!

Earlier in the week, I had begun googling for good restaurants near the Hollywood Bowl; the one that really captured by attention was Cleo. The restaurant was described as a cool Mediterranean Tapas Restaurant, serving up small plates of Greek, Lebanese, and other Mediterranean inspired delicacies as well as great cocktails – these are things I love so naturally I landed here for my dinner before the show.

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Review: Be the Miracle – 50 Lessons for Making the Impossible Possible

Want a great, inspiring read? Be the Miracle – 50 Lessons for Marking the Impossible Possible by Regina Brett is for you! I don’t remember how a copy of this book came into my possession, but it has sat on my bookshelf for years and I finally decided to pick it up one day to give its pages a good honest try; I was floored. I cannot accurately describe how much I enjoyed the book and how insightful I found it to be.

This non-ficition book is divided into 50 chapters which comprise the 50 lessons referenced in the book’s title. What’s really great, besides the fact that you get to read 50 life lessons, is that each lesson is a decently short 3-5 pages which makes this book an easy read during the week; pick it up and read 1 or 2 lessons in your only free 20 minutes before bed and then put it down to continue the next day. These lessons vary widely and are based on Brett’s own experiences and stories that she has heard from other people’s lives.

This book is real and honest, it is incredibly deep and moving while at times also exceedingly humorous; it is a book that I would venture to say will enrich your life. If you read my last review of a health/lifestyle/spiritual based book, you will know that I keep my own book in which I write down quotes that I find to be particularly wise; I took almost 50 quotes from Be the Miracle – 50 Lessons for Marking the impossible Possible because I found so much meaning in the lessons that comprise this book! So, read it!

Recipe Review: Tyler Florence’s Watermelon Gazpacho

Ciao friends! Are you a fan of the tasty, chilled Spanish soup known as gazpacho? Personally, I am a HUGE fan! Gazpacho is packed with fresh vegetables, is amazingly refreshing, and doesn’t even require cooking! For as much as I love gazpacho, however, there is one variant that I put off trying for a long time: Watermelon Gazpacho. This past Meatless Monday, I finally put myself up to the challenge and gave it a shot!

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