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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Melissa’s Produce 2017 Produce Trends and 2nd Annual Dessert Contest + Recipe

In the past five years, I have been eating more and more fruits and vegetables thanks to Melissa’s Produce. They sell the most amazing variety of produce in Southern California and across our great nation. Their products are readily available for foodservice companies, restaurants, and consumers. On my trip to the World Food Championships in Orange Beach last year, I found Melissa’s Baby DYPs at Winn-Dixie. I was so excited to see a fellow Californian, even in produce form, I had to post it on Instagram. In Orange and Los Angeles Counties, I have personally seen their products at Northgate, Smart & Final, JONS International Marketplace, and Vons.

If you want to know what the produce trends are for this year, I have them for you thanks to Melissa’s. (below each trend, is a listing of Melissa’s products):

Convenience to Save Time in the Kitchen

Peeled & Steamed Butternut Squash is prepped and ready-to-heat and eat right out of its convenient, single serving package.

Organic Soup Starter Kit is a variety pack of the basic fresh ingredients needed for a delicious soup in a convenient 2½ lb. tote consisting of 3 russet potatoes, 2 carrots, 1 zucchini, 1 celery stalk, and 1 yellow onion.

Organic Garden Grab Bag is a variety pack of essential organic vegetables in a convenient 2 lb. tote consisting of 1 green bell pepper, 1 red bell pepper, 1 cucumber, 1 zucchini, 1 carrot, 1 bulb of garlic, and 1 shallot.

Coconut Heart is harvested before the meat is fully developed with delicious and refreshing coconut water inside.

Varieties and Colors in Produce

Fresh Mixed Baby Carrots are sweet, tender young carrots that are peeled, washed, and ready to use.

Snack-able Sized Items

Spicy Edamame is seasoned with a mix of favorite Asian flavors including sesame, soy sauce, salt, ginger, and togarashi seasoning.

Fresh Coconuts are conveniently labeled to indicate which eye to punch with a straw. Crack them open and the thin layer of coconut meat is soft and sweet.

Trendy Vegetables

Okra are small, crisp, brightly colored pods that are a mainstay of southern cooking. They are served fried, roasted, cut up for soups and gumbo, or pickled.

Trendy Potatoes

Baby Dutch Yellow® Potatoes (DYPs®) are round with distinct yellowish-white skin.

Trendy Chile Peppers

Shishito Peppers are traditionally served in Japanese cuisine roasted and tossed with sesame oil and a dash of soy sauce.

Emerging Produce: Tatuma, Milpero, Turmeric, Organic Ginger, Thai Chiles, and Guava

Trendy Citrus Fruit

Neopolitan Tangerines are a brand-new hybrid variety and are slightly smaller in size than most mandarins. They have a big flavor with a very high natural sugar content and are seedless, easy to peel, and extremely juicy.

Seasonal Fruit

Butterscotch Pears™ are directly imported from the fields of South Korea. Each pear is carefully wrapped while still on the trees with a protective paper cover to protect them from the elements resulting in a blemish-free fruit. Each pear is tissue wrapped for moisture retention and placed in form-fitting foam socks to protect them from bruising. The prized paper-thin skin is devoid of the bitter flavor normally associated with other pears.

Trendy Tropical Fruits

Passion Fruit is an aromatic, jelly-like golden flesh fruit that is sweet-tart in flavor and filled with edible seeds. If the skin is smooth and perfect, it is not ripe yet. Let it get wrinkled and dimpled and then it is ready to eat.

Tropical Dragon Fruit is an exotic cactus fruit that has a delicately sweet and mildly acidic flavor somewhat like watermelon, cactus pear, and kiwi. The fruit inside ranges from white to pink to magenta. The tiny black seeds are edible, similar to a kiwi.

Once a year, the Melissa’s Produce family of writers and bloggers have a friendly dessert competition where the winners are amongst the attendees.

My mom submitted her tasty Manju recipe and won 4th place! She received two lovely cookbooks by Ming TsaiSimply Ming In Your Kitchen and Ming’s Master Recipes. I am a HUGE fan of Ming Tsai and had the privilege of dining at his Blue Ginger restaurant back in 2009 while working on a tradeshow in Boston.

My recipe didn’t place but if you are on a gluten-free or ovo-lacto vegan diet, you’ll love my recipe.

Coco-Chocolate Chip Cookies by OC Food Diva

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Yield: 16 cookies
Great for gluten-free and ovo-lacto vegan diets

1 cup peanuts, crushed into a powder
1 tbsp grapeseed oil
½ cup granulated sugar
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs, whisked
½ cup coconut milk
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp salt


  1. Preheat oven to 325°F.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together coconut flour, sugar, powdered peanuts, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.
  3. Add in oil, eggs, vanilla extract, and coconut milk and mix with hands until dough forms.
  4. Mix in chocolate chips.
  5. Shape into 1-inch balls, pat down to form a patty shape, and place on parchment paper lined cookie sheet.
  6. Bake on the middle rack for 15 minutes until golden brown.
  7. Let cookies cool on sheet and serve.

I hope you will try some of these fruits and vegetables that are trending. The color of the rainbow is waiting for you in the produce aisle!

For more information:

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Saturday, March 11, 2017

Road to the Slab-O-Rama: Lodge on the River in Bullhead City, Arizona

As a Kansas City Barbeque Society Certified Barbeque Judge (CBJ) and food/travel writer, I travel to different barbeque competitions where I: Judge and taste the best barbeque around; Collect signatures to become a Master Judge; Learn about the teams and their cook; And visit new places around our great country. On this trip, we were on our way to Bullhead City, AZ for the Slab-O-Rama Barbeque Challenge where I judged and the hubby followed the Shig Ninja BBQ Team during their cook.

We had a grueling 11-hour drive from Orange County to Bullhead City. It was one of the first of the storms that hit California and Nevada and caused a lot of road and highway closures including 177, 62, and 95. They were all closed due to flooding. As we got diverted into alfa fields, the hubby decided to stop to see how to get us northwest to Bullhead City. Not knowing that the gravel on the side of the road was actually silt and an uncharacteristically heavy rain just fell, the car sank into the “mud”. Thank goodness for AAA, but we still had to wait an hour for the tow truck to pull us out.
  • Travel tip: Even though we all have Google Maps, Waze, etc. on our smart phones, it is always good to know how to read a map. You may be stranded where there is no cell service and it is always handy to have state maps in your car when on a road trip. Printed materials like maps and guides are available for AAA Members at any branch.

When we finally arrived at our destination, Lodge on the River, in Bullhead City, AZ, they luckily had a clerk working overnight so we were able to check-in. Even at 1 a.m., the registration clerk was friendly and got us checked in quickly. We stayed in one of the River Front Suites. The suite is very spacious for a family of four or two couples traveling together (queen bed in the bedroom and pullout sofa in the living area). The bedrooms have either a balcony or patio and have fantastic views of the majestic Colorado River. Amenities include cable TV (Old school - tune to channel 3 on the TV and then use the remote), air conditioning in the living area and bedroom, table for 4, phone, microwave, coffee maker with Donut Shop Coffee, and mini fridge. We were beat so it was time for a shower (to wash off all the mud) and hit the hay. We had to get up in a few hours so I could check in for judging and the hubby could meet up with Shig Ninja BBQ.

We left the curtains open to make sure we woke up in time and enjoy our view a bit more. The room has a desert/Southwest theme from the furniture and décor. The hotel is a bit older and could use a little facelift with the furniture, bedding, and televisions. If you are staying here to enjoy the river, this hotel is just fine for resting and hanging out in between watersport activities (river rafting, boating, jet skiing, etc. with boat launch just a half mile away), hiking, or enjoying a BBQ competition. They also have a limited number of dog-friendly rooms if you travel with your fur-babies.

When we returned from the BBQ competition, our room had been serviced and looked just like we checked in. They don’t have an on-site restaurant, but if there are plenty of restaurants options from the Laughlin hotel buffets and restaurants to the north and lots of fast food and mom and pop places just south of the hotel.

If you’re looking for a quiet, no frills motel away from the casinos and right on the main highway, let Lodge on the River be your next resting stop.

For more information:
1717 Highway 95
Bullhead City, AZ 86442
Pet-Friendly: Yes (limited number of rooms)

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Thursday, March 9, 2017

Review of Sara Moulton’s Home Cooking 101: How to Make Everything Taste Better by Sara Moulton + Recipe

Sara Moulton is one of the first chefs that sparked my inner foodie. It all started with a channel called, TV Food Network (now known as Food Network), back in 1993. I was in my first year of college studying to be an accountant, while in my third year working in New Orleans Restaurants at Disneyland. In that year, I found out even though I was great in math, accounting was simply not my forte. Instead, I went back to what I also knew I was great at, fine arts. Along with the arts, my foodie taste buds began to develop as my boyfriend (now husband) and I began eating different cuisines for date night instead of the usual fast and cafeteria food we ate while working at Disneyland. We ventured out because of chefs like Sara Moulton and Emeril Lagasse who came into our homes through the television showing us that there was more to dinner than just Hamburger Helper and Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. My dad has always been great in the kitchen. With the help of Sara, he began to experiment with different cooking techniques and ingredients on the weekends. After 30 years in the auto body business, his inner foodie immerged as well, and now cooks for a living in Hawaii.

Sara Moulton’s Home Cooking 101: How to Make Everything Taste Better is all the details. The opening line of the cookbook pretty much sums it up, “If you selected 10 people and handed them the same recipe to prepare, you’d end up with 10 different dishes.” Good cooking is all about the details. You don’t have to be a trained chef to be detailed in your cooking technique or develop your senses. Sometimes it is not all about the time and temperature reading on your oven, it is about observation using sight, sound, smell, touch, and, of course, taste that can take your cooking to the next level.

I’d like to give a big thank you to Melissa’s culinary team and Sara who prepared the following dishes with the utmost care and expertise.

In the “The Good Cook’s Pantry” chapter, Sara shares Carol Montag and Jonathan Horwich’s technique on the perfect Hard-“Boiled” Eggs to make her Fancy Stuffed Eggs. I am privileged to share these recipes with you (see below). I am a big fan of truffles and the aroma alone from these stuffed eggs reminded me why! I think I was a truffle pig in another life. The hard-boiled technique really does make the egg whites tender and the yolk silky. I am also a HUGE fan of deviled eggs. I could eat a dozen and not even bat an eyelash. The simple ingredients make the egg flavor shine through. I can’t wait to make these again! This would be great for a family gathering and even potluck. Rating: 5/5

Hard-“Boiled” Eggs from Sara Moulton's Home Cooking 101: How to Make Everything Taste Better by Sara Moulton (Oxmoor House)
Start to finish: 40 minutes / Hands-on time: 10 minutes 
Servings: Makes 6 hard-boiled eggs

6 large eggs (see Note)

Fit a collapsible steamer inside a medium saucepan and fill the saucepan with about 1 inch of water or to just below the level of the steamer basket (no water should be touching the eggs). Put the lid on top of the pan and bring the water to a medium-high boil over medium-high heat.

Using a large, long-handled, slotted spoon, place the eggs in a single layer in the steamer, being careful not to burn your hand with the steam. Steam the eggs for 10 to 12 minutes. (At 10 minutes, the yolks will be slightly undercooked; I prefer them this way.) Transfer the eggs carefully to a bowl of ice and water and let them cool completely.

When they are cool, crack them all over and peel them under cold running water, starting at the wide end of the egg, and making sure to get under the membrane (which makes it much easier to peel the egg).

Hint: Older eggs are much easier to peel, so this is one time when you might not want farm-fresh eggs.

Fancy Stuffed Eggs from Sara Moulton's Home Cooking 101: How to Make Everything Taste Better by Sara Moulton (Oxmoor House)
Start to finish: 40 minutes / Hands-on time: 10 minutes
Servings: Makes 12 stuffed eggs

6 Hard-Boiled Eggs
2 tablespoons Homemade Mayonnaise or store-bought mayonnaise
2 tablespoons crème fraîche
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan
1 tablespoon truffle oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Snipped chives, for garnish

Cut the eggs in half lengthwise, remove the yolks, and set the whites aside. Push the yolks through a medium sieve into a bowl. Add the mayonnaise, crème fraîche, mustard, Parmesan, and truffle oil to the mashed yolks and mix well with a fork. Add salt and pepper to taste and transfer the mixture to a re-sealable plastic bag. Cut off one of the corners of the bag, pipe the mixture evenly into the hollow of each of the whites, and garnish each egg half with some of the chives. (For a fancier look, transfer the mixture to a pastry bag fitted with a star tip.)

In the “Soups & Salads For Supper” chapter, Smoky Broccoli-Cheddar Soup is a great soup for fall. I love broccoli cheese soup; actually, anything with cheese is always on the top of my list. This soup has a creamy texture, almost chowder-like, with hints of potato and onion flavors. The smoky Canadian bacon adds another level of flavor. Rating: 5/5

Credit: Sara Moulton's Home Cooking 101: How to Make Everything Taste Better by Sara Moulton (Oxmoor House)
In the “Quick & Quicker Entrées” chapter, Beef Stroganoff Burgers is a brilliant creation blending the All-American burger with Russian Beef Stroganoff. This burger also practices the use of the James Beard Foundation’s Blended Burger Project concept of using mushrooms blended with beef. Mushrooms help stretch the use of the ground beef (healthier and sustainable for the planet) as well as add moisture to your burger. These burgers are amazing! The sauce is delicious. You can serve them like “salisbury steaks” with a side or put them on a bun and eat it like a juicy, messy burger. Rating: 5/5

In the “On The Side” chapter, Spicy Creamed Corn – The Summer Version is one of the best creamed corn recipes I have ever had. Since it was December, we had The Winter Version using frozen corn and Neufchâtel to get the desired creaminess. I can see making this for a family gathering and even potluck. Corn is the perfect side with any protein and will make any crowd happy. Rating: 5/5

In the “Something Sweet” chapter, Sara made Bananas Foster Crepes during the demo using Melissa’s Crepes. Sarah includes ingredients and directions how to make crepes which may seem daunting but once you get the hang of it, they are very easy to make. This simple and easy dessert will wow your family members for a quick family dinner. The bananas foster flavors from the ripe bananas, butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and rum just pop and your family will think a chef is hiding in your kitchen. The coffee ice cream is a perfect match. Rating: 5/5

Strawberry Cannoli Calzones pay homage to a snack that Sarah had on a family trip to France. It is a play on baguettes stuffed with chocolate. It is intriguing how the mind might find it odd to pair something you know as savory with something that you know as sweet. Many times, this combination is surprisingly pleasant. Sarah’s take on this utilizes a pizza dough (we know as savory) and stuffs it with a strawberry cannoli filling (we know as sweet). This fluffy, doughy handpie of a dessert is just perfection. The chewiness of the dough works well with the sweet strawberries and creamy Neufchâtel. I can see making variations on this replacing the strawberries with different fruits like raspberries or cinnamon apples and even chocolate chips. Rating: 5/5

Sara Moulton’s Home Cooking 101: How to Make Everything Taste Better is definitely a must-have cookbook for the home cook. There are so many great techniques and recipes that will make any home cook’s life much easier and bring fun back into the kitchen.

For more information:
Available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and IndieBound

On the search for an ingredient that you can’t find in the store, check out Melissa’s Produce.

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