Sweet Nostalgia: Cream Puffs

mothers-day-002Cream puffs (or we call them “Choux Cream”) have a very special place in my heart, and probably in many Japanese kid’s as well. They were one of those special snacks that you only get on special days in Japan – birthdays, graduations, or when your mother’s rich friend visits (the guest either brings them as a gift, or your mother goes out to buy them to show off). Even now, I get pretty nostalgic when I make cream puffs, remembering the colorful rows of French-inspired puff pastries in a glass showcase in an upscale department store and wishing that I can have a piece.

Despite the sophisticated exterior and image, cream puffs are one of the easiest desserts to make. I’ve tried several recipes and liked them all, but decided to go with Martha Steward’s recipe from Baking Handbook this time for the first time because her version used a total of eight eggs between the pate a choux and the pastry cream, which was exactly the amount I had in a refrigerator (I was too lazy to run out to the store).

mothers-day-flowers-and-puffsI didn’t follow the recipe exactly and altered it slightly. Instead of using the recipe for Cream Puffs, I used the recipe for Pate a Choux and the Pastry Cream and combined them together to make my version of Cream Puffs. I added fresh strawberries to add a touch of spring to the dessert.

And look at the beautiful bouquet of flowers my boyfriend brought for my mother for Mother’s Day. They were beautiful and the wonderful floral scent, coupled with freshly baked cream puffs, filled the entire room with sweet nostalgia.

Best Friends Forever: La Frite

My best friend and her family recently relocated to a place far, far away, and although I’m really happy for her and her new life, the move has left a tremendous void in my heart … and my stomach. Not only was she my best friend, she was also my epicurean soul sister, and there was nothing we cherished more than spending time together over a glass of wine and fabulous food. And boy, did we eat over the years (but she never gained weight whereas I gained at least 20 pounds from hanging out with her! Man, what I do in the name of friendship!

One of the places we frequented was a little French cafe called La Frite in our neck of the wood because we both loved affordable, friendly, low-key places. The restaurant offered good food and relaxing atmosphere, and although I never thought it offered the best French food in town by any means, the experience certainly hit the spot whenever we were looking for a place to unwind after a long day at work.

The last time we were at La Frite, we spotted a lady eating a cheesy, casserole dish at a table next to us and I had to have whatever it was that she was having. The casserole turned out to be a Ratatouille Crepe. I ordered it out of curiosity and while the idea of having a ratatouille on top of a crepe and baked in cheese sounded heavenly, the whole thing was just a little tad too much for me. But it sure was interesting and I’m glad I tried it (I’m sure Remy will be proud of me).


Crepe Ratatouille

On the other hand, what my best friend ordered, I thought, was out of this world. It was a daily special of lamb smothered in garlic sauce. I though the meat was cooked to perfection (a little on the rare side which I prefer) and the garlic sauce made my eyes roll backward.


Rack of lamb with garlic sauce

And of course, what’s a French café experience without a plateful of perfectly golden French fries and …


…. cream burle to share?


I guess the reason why La Frite holds such a special place in my heart is because this was (along with other places all over town) our place where we shared laughter and, of course, food coma, together.

La Frite
22616 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills, CA 91364

Shabby and Chic: Riverside Cafe

a-matredA commercial I see on television often now is the one for Sour Patch Kids candy, where a chewy, sugar coated sour candy figure plays terrible pranks on people, only to get away with it because, “first they’re sour, then they’re sweet.” I don’t know anyone who’s charm is so big that they can actually get away with chopping off someone’s hair, throwing eggs with intent to hurt, and allowing a cheerleader to fall on her butt!

When it comes to a restaurant, however, there is a place that is so lovely and charming that it can get away with pretty much anything – even tables and chairs made out of cheap plastic straight from Home Depot.

Tucked away in the residential neighborhood of Burbank is Riverside Café, a roadside French bistro so tiny that you can drive by it and never realize that you just passed a little gem of a place. The restaurant serves selections from an authentic French menu, from French Onion Soup to lamb – a little difficult to believe from the extremely humble, bungalow-like exterior.

a-shephard-pieI ordered a medium rare Maitre’d (top), a 12 oz. steak smothered in rich and flavorful garlic butter mixed with a generous portion of chopped Italian parsley. The meat was a little on a tough side but a full juicy flavor burst in my mouth at every bite. My boyfriend ordered the Shepard Pie (above), a layer of seasoned, slow-cooked ground beef resting nicely between a bed of mashed potatoes from the chef’s daily offerings, with a side of crisp French fries (which I devoured most of, as usual).

A dining experience at Riverside Café is like having an intimate dinner at friend’s — a friend who has absolutely no sense of style with her not-so-chic-but-very-shabby floral table cloth and plastic furniture — but can cook up a wonderful and cozy meal that will compensate for all the shortcomings.

Riverside Café: 1221 W. Riverside Drive, Burbank, CA 91506