My fellow food blogger, PleasurePalate, turned me on to these incredible peel & apply cupcake designs today. Immediately I knew I needed to share them with other cupcake lovers, bakers and admirers out there. They're called Ticings and are ready-made, peel and press appliques for cakes and cupcakes. You can choose from a gallery of designs or upload your own custom art that Ticings will then transform into edible icing sheets. So if you're piping-challenged or just decorations according to a specific theme -- like the artist-designed Halloween icing sheets below -- browse through Ticings design page and start ordering!
When I first heard that Obika Mozzarella Bar was opening in L.A. (the Century City location opened last week; Beverly Center is set to open in November), I was thrilled. You may recall that Bryan and I took a trip to Italy in April. Among the legions of paper-thin prosciutto, cured salumi, stretchy knots of mozzarella, grilled artichokes and homemade pasta that we consumed was an late afternoon apertivo at Rome's Obika Mozzarella Bar. This particular Obika was about 200 yards from our hotel in the Campo di' Fiori, famous for its robust daily farmers' market and after-hours bar scene. A seat on the tiny outdoor patio -- at least in the late afternoon -- provided us with a view of the bustling square as well as a glowing Italian sunset reflecting on the buildings. Ironically, I took a photo right from our seat on Obika's patio, as well as a photo of our plate of prosciutto and mozzarella (shocking, I know).
View from Obika in Rome's Campo di' Fiori
Plate of prosciutto and mozzarella
It's been nearly six months since we returned from Italy and as I said, I've been looking forward to Obika's L.A. opening. Bryan and I went to the Century City location today to recreate our Roman afternoon apertivo and I've got to say, with the exception of an unfortunate office tower/mall view, our meal nearly transported us back that small square in Rome.
Obika's three Mozzarella varieties, imported weekly from Italy
Obika resembles more of a sushi bar than an Italian enoteca, but that's the point. Mozzarella bars have been popular in Italy for years and it wasn't until Nancy Silverton opened Osteria Mozza that the concept made its way to L.A. Obika's menu, the items for which are almost entirely imported from Italy, takes a mix and match approach. Choose one of three types of mozzarellas -- a "Classica" mozzarella, a smoked "Affumicata" variety or a creamy Stracciatella di Burrata mozzarella -- and then pair it with grilled vegetables, a variety of cured prosciutto, salumi and pistachio mortadella or house-made pestos. While the mozzarella is obviously the main event, the menu also includes a small selection of appetizers, crostini and pastas. We ordered a flatbread with sausage patè, Burrata and tomatoes to start, followed by Mozzarella "Classica" with a selection of salumi for Bryan and the Straciatella di Burrata with grilled vegetables and basil pesto for me.
Roasted Bread topped with Spicy Sausage Patè from Calabria, Stracciatella di Burrata, Cherry Tomatoes, Basil, Capers from Pantelleria & Salted Ricotta cheese
Mozzarella "Classica" with Tasting of Prosciutto Crudo San Daniele DOP, Oven Roasted Ham & Felino Salame
How did the dishes fare compared to Obika's Roman counterpart? Let's just say we cleaned our plates. Food aside, our server was wonderful as well; enthusiastic, knowledgeable and happy to answer my many questions about Obika's pesto recipe, product origins and even discuss our love for the Umbrian countryside. She let us take our time at the table, giving us time to unwind and slowly finish our glasses of wine (a Sicilian Nero D'Avola for Bryan and a Tuscan Morellino Di Scansano for me) after our meal. We must have really relaxed, because before we knew it an hour and a half had passed and I was ordering a Cappuccino to cap off my meal.
Obika's Cappuccino, raw sugar added
All in all, Century City's Obika was as good as we remembered its Campo di' Fiori counterpart to be. And as true Italians know best, there's just something wonderful about taking in a late afternoon glass of wine, indulging in a few small plates and relaxing in great company. Which is exactly what we did. Obika's only drawback? In the words of food critic Jonathon Gold, who positively reviewed Obika in LA Weekly earlier today, it's still true that "No matter how hard you squint, no matter how tasty the Negroni in your hand, the [Campo di' Fiori] seems very far away." Oh well, at least we have the food.
I've never been much of an ice cream lover. In fact, I've never been much of a dessert fan in general. Don't get me wrong; there is something wonderfully decadent about a rich chocolate souffle, a spicy autumnal (read: pumpkin) semi-freddo and flaming, caramelized bananas foster melting over vanilla bean ice cream. But when it comes to caloric expenditure, I'd rather spend them on the savory side of the meal spectrum. Cheese, charcuterie, short ribs paired with a great red wine; that kind of thing. But recently a friend brought over a simple yet incredible dessert that blew my mind: a pint of LaLoo's Goat's Milk Frozen Yogurt. One bite and even my jaded dessert palate was sold.
If you don't like goat cheese, don't be deterred. LaLoo's doesn't have goat cheese's signature 'tang.' The flavors -- Mission Fig, Cajeta de Leche, Forestberry, Cherries Tuilerie, Vanilla Snowflake, Rumplemint, Capraccino, Deep Chocolate and Strawberry Darling -- taste as organic as the ingredients themselves, without any fillers or preservatives. The frozen yogurt has a thick, rich custard-like consistency; not at all like airy, icy, flavorless varieties found everywhere in the ice cream aisle. The goat's milk makes it edible and more importantly, digestible for the lactose intolerant, all the while boasting more protein and calcium but less than half the fat of ice cream and gelato. As if you need any other reason, two words: toffee brickle, chunks of which can be found in the Cajeta de Leche flavor. Oh my goodness, it is great.
Currently I have three varieties in my freezer: Cajeta de Leche, Mission Fig and Capraccino (the last one was left over from a dinner party; I'm not a total animal). Keep in mind this is the first time since I had my tonsils removed at the age of twenty-one that I have had ice cream in my kitchen. That was ten years ago. But let's get real; it's not like I eat it every night. A small spoonful here and there is all I need. The flavors are so intense -- Mission Fig is like a creamy, frozen Fig Newton, while Cajeta de Leche has sticky swirls of Mexican caramel and bits of Texas toffee brickle -- that a little bit goes a long way. Of course, if you're a big dessert lover it's not unreasonable to imagine forgoing dinner altogether and just polishing off a pint. For me, it's dessert baby steps. Or maybe it's baby bites. Either way, I'm enjoying each one.
Looking for LaLoo's? Try Whole Foods market or order online here.
Yesterday I died and went to heaven, if only for fifteen minutes or so. They say it happens when you least expect it, and that was surely the case for me. I was at lunch with a friend at Enoteca Drago, a small Italian wine bar in Beverly Hills, where we were enjoying a relaxing Friday afternoon filled with wonderful white wine (an Italian Gavi for her, a French Sancerre for me) and light salads. It was then that we decided to split a pizza. Perusing the pizza portion of the menu, we wanted something more exotic than the traditional Margherita, but not something as heavy as, say, the Breakfast pizza, with onion, mushroom, bacon and eggs. So we settled on the Bomba, a pizza that, from the onset, sounded simple enough: mozzarella, caramelized onions and black truffles. Yeah, right. That was where we couldn't have been more wrong.
What happened next was incredible. Our waiter presented us with something I had never seen before: a plateful of what appeared to be layers of crisp, blistered crust covering what I could only assume was a pizza underneath. After all, we had ordered a pizza, hadn't we? Right away -- keep in mind we hadn't even touched the thing yet -- it smelled of sweet onions, salty mozzarella cheese and earthy black truffles. While I couldn't see them, I knew they were hiding in there. And I was going to find them. I sheepishly used my fork to lift the super-thin crust barely an inch, and what I saw made me gasp and exclaim an exaggerated, "Oh my God."
What Heaven Looks Like
The mozzarella cheese was still incredibly hot and pliable, coating both super-thin top and bottom crusts, stretching and oozing as I barely touched it. The onions, cut paper thin and caramelized to a perfect golden brown, had practically melted into the cheese, their purpose clearly not to be seen but to infuse the pizza with a light sweetness. And finally, the truffles. Good God, the truffles. Sliced across the entirely truffle -- not chopped or stingy in any way -- they were almost one inch across and they were... everywhere. I almost felt guilty looking behind the curtain (or under the crust, as it were), because I wasn't expecting this. I slowly dropped the crust, put my fork down and looked at our waiter, who was awaiting my reaction. His smile revealed that I was clearly not the first Drago diner to have such a magical reaction to the Pizza Bomba, as he simply nodded and said, "Do you want me to put in an order for a second one?" I hesitated about a second too long in reluctantly saying "no." A girl has to have some restraint.
The next time you're in the Beverly Hills neighborhood... You know what? Scratch that, just make a point to go to Enoteca Drago and order the Pizza Bomba. My friend and I savored it for about half an hour, sipping our white wines and chatting, stopping every so often to remark at the pizza. "Can you even believe this?" was said often, as we twirled the pieces of pizza in our fingertips, admiring the truffles and never-ending mozzarella. The crust never got in the way, instead providing a paper-thin foundation for the rest of the ingredients. It was honestly one of the best things -- pizza or otherwise -- that I've ever eaten.
Last weekend Bryan and I hosted about 50 of our nearest and dearest at the fourth annual "BISH BALL," a day dedicated to playing softball, tapping an Anchor Steam keg, eating bacon-wrapped hot dogs and most importantly, celebrating Bryan's birthday. The past few years, we had hosted BISH BALL at a field of questionable safety in Hawthorne, where we had to politely ask the local homeless contingency if they would kindly relocate for about seven hours. Last year BISH BALL was on hiatus due to Bryan's poor health. This year, however, we were back with a vengeance: a friend on the board of a little league booked a field nearly eight months in advance complete with AV booth, batting cages, bleachers, snack shack and an outdoor grill station. All that was left to do was order the Anchor Steam Liberty Ale keg (Bryan's favorite) and hit up Costco for all the fixings. For about a week, our apartment was a party waiting to happen.
The BISH BALL Field of Play
Bryan's parents (now known as our snack shack heroes) flew down for the occasion. His Mom set out tray after tray of nachos -- made with queso dip, tostitos, salsa and jalapenos, if you're wondering -- while his Dad manned the grill to feed Bryan's famous hamburgers and USC's famous "ghetto dogs" to over 50 hungry athletes. Bryan made the burgers with Worcestershire, salt, pepper, olive oil, garlic and a special blend of spices. And just what is a "ghetto dog," might you ask? It's a specialty served by cart-vendors outside of USC football games: bacon wrapped hot dogs served in a steaming bun and covered with grilled onions, peppers and mustard. They were a hit. And for dessert -- there was no traditional cake this year -- I made individual cupcake burgers: cupcakes cut in half, filled with a brownie, mustard/lettuce/ketchup-colored frostings and topped with sesame seeds. Mmmm mmmm mmmm. Enough said. Although I will admit I forgot candles, so I presented Bryan with the mini cake and an iPhone birthday cake app. Hey, digital candles are better for the environment. :)
Bryan's burgers and ghetto dogs
Mini Cupcake "Burgers"I think everyone had a really great day. The sun was (somewhat) shining, the dogs in attendance were barking and the babies were running the bases in between innings, proving we're all getting a little older, a little wiser and taking the idea of "family" a little more literally. And considering everyone there is part of our "family," it couldn't have been a more special day. Here's to next year!
And... I'm back! I hope everyone had a wonderful Labor Day weekend full of fun, friends and family. Or if nothing else, just lots of great food! Bryan and I made a collective effort to get out of Dodge early Thursday morning, beating throngs of both L.A. and Labor Day traffic on our way to Lake Tahoe for a friend's wedding weekend. Before we headed out on our eight-hour-plus journey, I made one very important stop: Bay Cities Italian Deli. That's right, I drove almost half an hour to "deep" Santa Monica -- Lincoln Boulevard is considered "deep" when you live in West Hollywood -- simply to get sandwiches for the drive. I know I've mentioned my love for Bay Cities in the past, but I'm going to do it again. This time with photos.
Just why is Bay Cities so great? First, it's one of the few authentic Italian delis in L.A. Our city has no shortage of amazing Jewish delis where matzoh balls, lox and freshly-baked loaves of rye run rampant, but Italian delis are scarce, forcing locals to fight traffic just to get a mortadella fix. Second, Bay Cities' loaves of crusty-on-the-outside-yet-pillowy-on-the-inside bread are baked fresh every morning, still hot to the touch as you grab one from the wicker bread "station" at the back of the store.
Best. Bread. Ever.
When I got to Bay Cities at 8:50 a.m. last Thursday morning -- ten minutes before it opened, mind you -- I was the fourth person in line. It was pure torture, too, as we each craned our necks to get a glimpse of the still-steaming pans of turkey and sausage lasagnas, platters of mustard-dill potato salad and tubs of marinated olives being set up inside. At this point, all that separated us from the goods was four long minutes and a locked door.
Nine a.m. brought with it an almost a surreal experience, as for the first time ever I walked straight up to Bay Cities' deli counter and was met with a "what can I make for you?" I'm used to grabbing a number, perusing the store for a good half hour and then, when my ticket's up, rushing through my order. God forbid I go too slow and receive disapproving looks from other hungry ticket-holders, not to mention impatient sandwich-assemblers themselves. But on this morning, there was no line, no angry looks, no impatience; only a friendly face, stacks of blistered bread and a Godmother sandwich with my name on it.
A Taste of Italy Behind Glass.
Here's the pièce de résistance: The Godmother. It's what Bay Cities is known for. It's so good, Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger named it the best thing they ever ate between bread on The Food Network's The Best Thing I Ever Ate. So what's in it? Genoa Salami, mortadella, coppacola, ham, prosciutto, provolone and the works: mayo, mustard (yellow, honey or dijon), onions, pickles, tomatoes, lettuce, Italian dressing and mild or hot pepper salad. It's pure genius. Just one bite and you know you've got something special. The crust of the bread crunches between your teeth, giving way to the layer of salty, cured meat, crisp vegetables and tangy dressing. Normally there's a great layer of heat from the pepper salad, but this one time I opted out, knowing the sandwich would sit in its own juices for several hours before being enjoyed. Some people love soggy sandwiches; I think it's a crime to remove the crunch from a Bay Cities Italian loaf. Eh, to each his own.
You might be shocked that after all this talk about the Godmother, it was actually for my husband. We're fans of the "want a bite?" offering, so knowing I would get at least 2-3 tastes of his sandwich I went with my go-to order: Sausalito (spicy) turkey, avocado, provolone cheese and the works. Again, I took a rain check on the hot pepper salad. It'll be there next time.
My Turkey Sandwich
Fast forward about two hours into the drive -- right around noon, I believe. We dug into our mini cooler. Bryan unwrapped the sandwiches, gingerly placing one half on my lap as I drove past a variety of McDonald's, Carl's Jr's, Jack in the Boxes and long-forgotten "EAT" signs.
Hungry? Not anymore.
Smiling at each other with full mouths and happy tummys, we knew we did the right thing. Nothing beats the Godmother.