Saturday, November 14, 2009

Chicago Food n Fun

I took a quick trip to Chicago a couple weeks ago to visit two of my best friends...Tiffany and Lisa. It was a great time and even though I was only there for about 30 hours...we made the best of it and of course had some incredible food! I love Chicago food because you can find some really good comfort food....which of course I love since I grew up in Ohio and we love comfort food here in the Midwest!

Check out these places next time you're in Chi-town!!!!

Over Easy Cafe
Monday: Closed
Tuesday - Saturday: 7:00am - 3:00pm
Sunday: 8:00am - 3:00pm

4943 Damen Ave
Chicago, IL 60625
(773) 506-2605

The Mighty Muffaletta

seriously an amazing sandwich and the potato salad that goes with it is perfect!

They call these Sassy Eggs and that they are!!! Not just the work of art that they appear on the plate....way beyond that....the flavors are so good that before you know've eaten the whole plate of what you thought was a ridiculous amount of food in front of you!
So beautiful and now I dream about this meal....darn it Chef Jon!!!
Inside is so cute...modern but cozy!!!!

Phoebe's Cupcakes
3327 N. Broadway Ave.
(between Aldine Ave & Buckingham Pl)
Chicago, IL 60657

Tel: 773.868.4000
Fax: 773.868.4005


Monday-Thurs. 11:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m.

Fri-Sat. 8:00 a.m. - 11:00 p.m.

Sun. 11:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m.

Early morning pick up available Monday-Thurs. with 24 hour notice. 773-868-4000

These were their Halloween freakin' cute!!!!!

My friend Tiffany feeding me the little chicken was a coconut cake with coconut icing....absolutely delicious!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Persian Jeweled Rice

Jeweled Rice
I catered a rehearsal dinner a few months ago that was based on the groom's Persian culture. It was so nice to cook Persian food as I grew up with this type of food and have always loved the flavors and techniques of Persian cooks. I honestly believe that Persian food is the finest in the world. It is always so delicious and beautiful!

When you get married in Iran you must have Javaher Polow or in English...Persian Jeweled Rice. This stunning rice dish is supposed to represent the jewels and sweetness that are to come to the happy couple....and bring them good luck. And the dish truly does look like it is adorned with it may take some time and some ingredients that you don't always have on hand....but believe me....this dish is a show stopper and will definitely get your guests to say "oooohhhh" and "aaahhhhhh"....not to mention the amazing flavor that is going to put them over the edge and be so thankful that you made them a dish worthy of royalty!

So here is a recipe for Jeweled Rice that is not as time consuming with a few shortcuts but will still impress your guests and will taste and look amazing!

Jeweled Rice with Lamb
8 cups cooked rice (preferably Basmati Rice)
1 cup blanched and slivered almonds (reserve 1/4 cup for garnish)
1 cup golden raisins (reserve 1/4 cup for garnish)
1 cup barberries (or any other bright red berry) (reserve 1/4 cup for garnish)
3 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 tablespoon sugar
1 can julienned carrots (I learned this shortcut from a Persian friend of mine!)
1 pinch saffron threads
1 tablespoon orange marmalade
orange rind (for optional garnish)

A unique ingredient in Jeweled Rice is dried barberries. You can find these at some Middle Eastern grocery stores but if you cannot find them you can substitute with dried cranberries or cherries or use fresh pomegranate seeds since they are in season right now.

If you do use a dried berry...make sure to rehydrate them by soaking them in some water.

Saffron is also used in Jeweled rice so take the pinch of saffron and let the threads soak in about 1/2 cup of water until the water is bright orangish-red.

Once all your dried fruit is hydrated...saute the raisins with the almonds in one tablespoon butter and one teaspoon of olive oil.

Then add the dried berries. Season this mixture with a teaspoon of cumin, and a little salt and black pepper.

I use fresh lamb from the Middle Eastern butcher whenever I can. For this recipe I use about 1 lb. of lamb. You can also substitute beef or just omit the meat if you want to keep the dish vegetarian.

Cut the lamb into bite size pieces and saute in one tablespoon of olive oil and season with salt, 1 teaspoon cumin and a little black pepper.

Once the lamb is nice and golden add the nut and fruit mixture and then add the saffron mixture, 1 tablespoon of sugar, 1 tablespoon orange marmalade, 1 teaspoon of cumin, 1 teaspoon of ground cardamom and stir. This does not have to cook just heated up all together.

The way to serve this dish is to layer the rice with the lamb, fruit and nut mixture. I then take the julienned carrots and orange peel, and some reserved nuts and dried berries and garnish the dish. I take pita and cut it into wedges and place them around the rice.

This is by no means a traditional Persian Jeweled Rice recipe but takes a fraction of the time (the traditional recipe I used for the wedding took me several hours to make)....But this recipe is still very delicious and will wow your guests with it's beauty!
Isn't this just gorgeous? And the flavor is seriously amazing! Please try this recipe as it really is not that difficult!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Summer Wedding

As most of you know...I own a catering company here in Omaha and I wanted to share with you a wedding I did this summer that was pretty simple but ended up being just beautiful. I love catering weddings and this wedding was special to me because it was the couple's second marriage and they both have children from their previous marriages (same as me and my husband). The way they included their children in the ceremony was so sweet. Heather and Scott were so easy to work with and they were so appreciative of all the work we did to put their special day together. It's always so nice to work for people who know how much hard work we put in to make everything run smoothly and how difficult it really is to make sure everything is timed just right. Enjoy the pictures and look for more wedding and event pictures to come!

Two of my employees getting the drink/bar station ready.

Heather wanted everything to be simple and and white with wild summer flowers.

She had a bunch of small vases with flowers in them on the tables and had this arrangement made for the bar.

The whole ceiling in my event space is a skylight...we hung white lanterns and the effect was amazing!

She didn't want to spend tons of money on flowers (like I said this was a 2nd marriage for both of them and they have better things to spend their money on..for so she chose several small vases with wild flowers on each looked great and the guests could still see each other across the table!

Heather also chose a simple yet contemporary dress with a black sash...she looked great!
Guests going through the appetizer station.

Instead of a wedding cake...the bride chose to do assorted mini desserts......
not only did they look beautiful.......
guests loved having a choice of many different kinds of desserts.
The first dance...I love how the lanterns look above them!

What a great wedding...thanks Heather and Scott!

Wishing you much love and happiness!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Indian Feast

My Indian Feast

I love Indian food and though I love going out to eat Indian....sometimes I love making Indian food at home just to try to recreate all those amazing flavors. I think it's fun to experiment with ethnic flavors and spices that I don't usually use at home. I catered a wedding a few months ago and the groom was Indian. They did half Indian food and half American food. It was a great wedding. The guests loved the diverse menu and I even got compliments from the Indian guests about my Indian creations. It's always a huge compliment when those who really know the food (meaning it's in their blood)....tell me that I did their food justice!

So here's a couple Indian recipes that I've simplified so that you can create similar dishes to those you love in Indian restaurants but without all the time and out though....your neighbors may come over for some dinner because the aroma from these dishes is amazing!

Easy Vegetable Biryani

1 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon butter or ghee (clarified butter)
1 teaspoon red hot pepper powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon garlic paste or powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon garam masala (an Indian spice mix that you can find in ethnic grocery stores and now even some main stream grocery stores or markets)
1-2 cups fresh or frozen mixed vegetables (depending on how many veggies you want in there)
3 1/2 cups water
2 cups uncooked rice (prefer basmati)
salt to taste
for garnish:
1/2 tablespoon fresh chopped cilantro chopped
1/2 tablespoon fresh chopped mint leaves

In a large pan heat oil and butter or ghee and add spices and saute for just a minute and add vegetables and stir well. Then add the rice and salt the mixture (at least 1 teaspoon of salt) and make sure the rice is coated with the mixture. Add the water and bring to a boil and mix one last time. Cover and lower the heat to a simmer. Let the rice absorb all the water and do not take off the lid to check for at least 15-20 minutes. If your rice is still too hard, turn off the heat and let the rice sit for another 10-15 minutes. Garnish with chopped cilantro and mint leaves

Vegetable Biryani

Indian Butter Chicken (Chicken Makhani)

For Chicken:
1 1/2 pounds chicken (on or off the bone)
1/2 cup plain yogurt
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 teaspoon garam masala
salt and pepper to taste

For Sauce:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 tablespoons ghee or butter
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 bay leaf
1 cup heavy cream or half n half
1 can chopped tomato (including liquid)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon red hot pepper
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup ground unsalted cashews or almonds
1/4 cup water

Salt and pepper the chicken then marinade in the yogurt, lemon juice and 1 teaspoon of the garam masala, garlic and ginger for at least one hour but prefer 6-12 hours.

To make sauce, heat 1 tablespoon oil and the ghee or butter in a large saucepan over medium high heat. Saute onion until soft and translucent. Add tomato paste and stir, and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently then add chopped tomatoes, stir and cook for another 2 minutes. Stir in cream or half-and-half. Reduce heat to low, add rest of spices, stirring frequently. Season with salt pepper and simmer on very low heat for about 5 minutes then turn off heat.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add chicken. Brown the chicken until golden add 1/4 cup water, reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes. Then add sauce and ground nuts, simmer until liquid has reduced and thickened, and chicken is completely cooked. If sauce thickens too much add a little water until the chicken is cooked through.

Serve with a drizzle of cream or what I like to drizzle on top is what is called Crema Mexicana. It tastes in between a heavy cream and a sour cream. I know it's not Indian but it really does taste so good drizzled on Indian food! Trust me....try it! Don't eat with a fork...scoop it up with some Indian Naan instead!

I like using a little bit of boneless skinless chicken thighs cut up and some chicken legs. But you can use breasts if you'd like.

As the chicken simmers it soaks up all the yummy flavors of this amazing sauce!
They sell this near the queso cheese and the tortillas in the dairy aisle. I always have some of this in my fridge.

Mmmmmm.....this was so good!!!!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Pomegranate Martini...Avesta Style

Avesta's Pomegranate Martini

When I owned my restaurant Avesta Eclectic Cuisine we were known for our martini bar with about 40 different martinis on our list. We had a lot of fun coming up with our martini recipes and of course we had to have a signature martini so right away I knew it had to be the Pomegranate Martini. I had grown up eating pomegranates and drinking pomegranate juice so I thought it would be perfect to mix with vodka.

Back when we opened our restaurant pomegranates were yet to be as popular as they are today but once we came up with our recipe we knew we had come up with a winner. And boy were we bartenders couldn't keep up with the demand....we were premixing the pomegranate mix by the gallon. It's been two years since I closed my restaurant and I still get people emailing me about those martinis....and since POM Wonderful was so kind in sending me some's a version of my Pomegranate Martini....enjoy when of these after the kids have gone to bed and you're wanting to feel really good!

Pomegranate Martini...Avesta Style

Martini Shaker filled with ice

2 oz Premium Vodka (my favs are Absolut, Grey Goose or Belvedere)

1 oz Pomegranate Liquor or Triple Sec

2 oz POM Wonderful juice

1/2 cap full of Pomegranate concentrate (you can get this from Middle Eastern stores but if you can't find it just use 1 oz more of POM)

Champagne or Spumanti to top off the martini

Fresh lime wedges

Fill martini glass with ice and top with soda or tap water to chill the glass. Meanwhile pour all ingredients in the shaker and shake really well....pour out the ice and water out of the martini glass and then pour contents of shaker into the chilled glass. Top with champagne or spumanti, garnish with lime and sit back and enjoy!

One of my best friends Jeni got me this's one of my rules that everyone must own some pretty martini really does make the drink taste better! And I never have all matching glasses...that way your guests can pick what they like and then they'll know which glass is theirs all night.
Always have these ingredients on hand to be the best host...believe me your guests will be impressed with this martini!
The blood red color of the martini is so beautiful and if you don't like champagne or don't have any on hand you can serve it just like this or add a little 7 up or Sprite to the top for a little fizz.
But if you've never had a martini topped with champagne then you have not lived. And you don't have to buy expensive champagne to get the effect...even cheap sparkling wine or spumante will do the job. This just adds that extra special touch to make you feel like a queen....I am a champagne whore and could add it to any drink....try it and you will understand.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

POM Wonderful!

A few weeks ago I received an email from POM Wonderful asking if I'd like some samples of their pomegranate juice. I was so ecstatic as I'm already a huge fan of POM's pomegranate juice. If you are a regular reader of my blog you know that I love anything with pomegranates not just because I love the taste but also because of the great health benefits. Pomegranates are full of antioxidants and have been known for their health benefits for centuries (especially in the Middle East). Growing up Kurdish...we ate pomegranates all the time (my friends would always ask what that weird fruit was that we were eating!) and I am so happy that they are now getting the recognition in the U.S. they deserve.

The great thing about POM's juice is that their juice is 100% authentic pomegranate's all natural and contains no added sugars, preservatives, colors or cheap filler juices....and their pomegranate orchards are in California so they are local....not imported from overseas.

Very excited to get this package....I will take any freebies I can as this blog does cost me money to make all the that doesn't mean I'll always do a good review on a product...I will not endorse or talk up a product just because it was given to me. I will test it in recipes and if it's something I feel is worthy of a post...then I'll write about it.
Loved the fact that they personalized the package and sent me a letter about their company and all the benefits of their product!
Aren't the bottles so pretty? I do love this pomegranate juice and have been using it for years. When I owned my restaurant we bought this by the case to use in our signature pomegranate martinis and our pomegranate vinaigrette. When we started making these two items it was about 6 years ago and before the pomegranate craze....our customers went crazy for both these items. So since POM Wonderful was so generous in giving me these samples....I will be posting a few recipes on here in the next couple days using their product.

For more information about POM Wonderful and the benefits of pomegranates....go to

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Seafood Feast with Grilled Salmon

I love grilling everything and when it comes to salmon...I really don't think there's a better way to cook it than on the grill. I actually love grilling seafood in general not only because I love the taste but also because it allows you to have seafood at home without making your whole house smell like fish! So when I was in Phoenix visiting my sister and brother-in-law we decided to have a seafood feast one night and I grilled everything from salmon to shrimp and even crab legs. It was amazing! The salmon was the biggest hit but the crab legs were probably next in one there had eaten grilled crab legs before. The great thing about grilling the crab legs is that it crisps up the shells and not only does the grill give the crab meat that smokey makes it easier to break the next time you are in the mood for crab legs....try grilling them instead of steaming or broiling them....I just know you'll love them that way!

Grilled Salmon
Start your grill at least 10-15 minutes ahead of time so that it is hot!
One 3-4 lb Salmon Fillet (de-boned with or without skin)
(you can also use several smaller fillets if you can't find a large fillet)
2 lemons (1 sliced and the other halved)
2 tablespoons chopped dill
6 tablespoons butter
1 clove finely chopped garlic
salt & pepper to taste
aluminum foil
Make sure to pat dry the salmon and place on a long piece of foil (enough so that it can come up on the sides of the fish) that has been sprayed or drizzled with oil. I like to put the salmon on foil for this recipe because the butter and herbs kind of make a sauce and it helps keep the salmon really moist and it's easier to not have to worry about watching it and it's really easy clean up.
If there is skin on the salmon, put it skin side down. Sprinkle the fish with salt and pepper and then the garlic and dill. Cut the butter into thin slices and spread over the fish. Squeeze lemon juice all over the salmon with the two lemon halves. Top the salmon with the slices of lemon and place the foil on the hot grill. Close the cover of the grill and cook for 10-15 minutes depending on the thickness of your fillet. Salmon is ready when it is flaky, light pink and still moist and juicy inside.

I like using one large fillet because it looks so good when it's served...guests always ooohhh and aaawwww when they see this put on the table.
I love dill, butter and lemon on just seems to be a natural combo with this fish!
As the butter melts on the grill, the salmon soaks it all up and you end up with a very moist and juicy piece of fish!
Once my salmon is almost done...I take the lemon slices and put them directly on the grill for about 30 seconds to get them browned and a little smoky. I then place them back on the salmon.
We also had grilled shrimp and King Crab legs!
I marinated the shrimp with olive oil, garlic, paprika and chopped parsley.
The grill gave the crab legs that smoky flavor which made them so good!
Since we grilled outside we also ate outside...this helped again with keeping that seafood smell out of my sister's house.
My family dug in pretty quickly....of all the meals I made that week I think this was the biggest next time you grill out....don't just think hot dogs and hamburgers....think seafood on the grill...not only does it taste's so good for you!