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By Christina Cha

Luxury living has become a necessity.  A quality and expectation of living that we as a society had become well accustom to. But during tough economical times how does one or many of us get acclimate to the new lifestyle and change? From the era of “high class society” to “Wow, I really need to downgrade my living situation?” It’s reality that most of us face today and it is becoming more of a humbling experience. But does that mean we really need to sacrifice and give up our palates from where we have finally achieved such stature on fine culinary gourmet cuisine to where we need to revert back to the top ramen noodles, TV dinners, and spam.

Well, what if I was to tell you that you don’t have to pitch your piggy bank anymore to buy high quality fresh organic foods that come with that high-end steep price tag?  The solution is simply “fresh” and really “easy” to get that my well versed society readers could actually respect and enjoy.  The British Invasion in the 60’s consisted of the Beatles and the Stones, today Fresh & Easy has  traveled the Atlantic from the UK and entered the US Market as your neighborhood market; known for offering high quality fresh foods to its well-prepared meals (with no preservatives or trans fat).  The offering consisting of well known household name brands that we all grew to love are all found at a reasonably well budget price, has finally debuted their beer and wine selections nationwide. The stocking will be dispersed in every 120 locations offering close to 180 wines, retailing for less than $12 a bottle. About 70 of the 180 wines are excusive to only Fresh & Easy, where the majority of the top selling wines price range close $3 a bottles! But don’t let that price tag deceive you on the caliber of taste and authenticity. 

I took the liberty and sacrifice to be you’re so called, “guinea pig” to sample these items for you at the Fresh & Easy Beer and Wine debuts party at the Historic yet lavish and still luxurious landmark in Hollywood, the Hotel Roosevelt (I know, my job is tough).  The F&E Hilltown Vineyard Chardonnay sold for $6.99, was surprising refreshing crisp and clean smooth flavor.  I am normally not a Chardonnay fan, but I found this wine to be fully balanced and lightly buttery. The F&E Les Cepages Pinot Noir retailed for $6.99, is really great wine for the money that your friends would not have clue how much you spent on it. The flavor is light, like most pinot noir, with an elegant warm vanilla spicy finish. And how can you go wrong with the F&E Napa Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, priced at $11.99. The name Napa Valley should stand clear in one’s mind that this will go perfectly with any flank skirt steak or rib eye that you plan to make at your next dinner party. Napa Family Vineyards has been recently awarded a silver medal at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

Although the wines were all excellent choices at this event, I can definitely vouch that the quality of the foods at Fresh & Easy are right up there.  One would not be ashamed or know any difference between the freshness, the quality of the meats, or selections and verity of food provided at this neighborhood store in comparison to gourmet grocery store. Welcome to Fresh & Easy, the perfect neighborhood market for the millionaires on a budget.


Fact Sheet

Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market

El Segundo, California






By Michael Hepworth

Mushrooms are one of the most versatile of foods that can used as an appetizer, main course or an accompaniment to virtually any kind of meal. There is even a restaurant somewhere in Italy that serves nothing else but mushrooms, and the more research you do on the subject the choice of mushrooms available is staggering. One source that I had the good fortune to try is Hokto Kinoko Mushroom Company, which grows 100% wild cultivated mushrooms and ships to retail outlets all across the USA including Whole Foods.  Open for business in February 2009, Hokto Kinoko is the USA subsidiary of the largest mushroom company in Japan , and an estimated $50 million investment is proof that they believe there is a growing niche market for high quality mushrooms. Using the site where a company called Golden Gourmet Mushrooms was located, the old plant was razed to the ground and the new facility built.

Commonly known as a “Star Wars” facility by the local San Diego media who have toured the plant, there are two miles of conveyors, and all the mushrooms are grown and harvested by robots. Three out of the 4 are untouched by human hand. Only the king trumpet has a human touch when it is hand trimmed. The company is based in San Marcos near San Diego, and produces four types of mushrooms at their massive 250,000 square foot farm. They are maitake (“hen of the woods”), king trumpet, brown beech and white beech. At full capacity the farm can cultivate six  million pounds of mushrooms a year.

Rather than grow the mushrooms in dirt or manure, these little babies are cultivated indoors in well lighted hygienic rooms, and visitors to the area are required to go through a disinfection process and change shoes. The ancient Egyptians called mushrooms “the plant of immortality” and the early Romans called them the “food of the gods.”  The medical benefits of eating mushrooms have been well documented but basically they provide a large dose of anti-oxidants which is great for the immune system. They also produce bundles of Vitamin D, a deficiency which can lead to cancer. They are also rich in potassium, niacin and selenium as well as vitamins B1 and B2.

As a reference source to learn more about mushrooms, I can recommend a book called Chasing the Rain, a new venture by mushroom chaser Taylor Lockwood, describing his life long search for the world’s most beautiful mushrooms. Also known as the “Jacques Cousteau of mycology”, Lockwood is one of the leading lights of a group of people who spend all their spare time chasing these rare mushrooms.  His travels have taken him to the forests of Borneo , China and Tibet , Russia , South Africa and more, and many of these rare mushrooms are photographed in their splendor for this book. He has been to places that most of us will never see in our lifetimes, and almost deadly encounters with snakes, wasps and spiders are commonplace for this Florida based mycologist.

Website: www.hokto-kinoko.com, www.taylorlockwood.com

Recipe -Mushroom Grill Sides

1 package each maitake, brown beech, white beech mushrooms

2 onions

2 red or yellow bell peppers

Mix vegetables and mushrooms in sauté pan on grill side burner with a little oil.

Season with leftover marinade from the meat, chicken or fish. Sautee over medium

heat until desired consistency. Serves 4.



Having visited the La Cense Ranch in Montana a couple of years ago, I was delighted to find out recently that they have started to market their marvelous meat products. I tried some of their New York Steaks along with the prime-rib, and can tell you that grass fed cattle are really the way to go for the best steaks, and La Cense meats are a cut above the rest. Of course they are not inexpensive, but these days it seems nothing of quality is.  La Cense Ranch has been around since 1869, and is located on the outskirts of Dillon, a small college town that is famous for its Labor Day Rodeo. When I was there I saw how the cattle get the chance to graze 100% on tall grass on the rotational method. This is entirely different to the method that involves herding the cattle into feedlots, or finishing their feeding on grain to fatten them up. This expensive method of grazing results in beef that is nutrient-rich, higher in Omega-3’s, and lower in fat and calories. Driving around a ranch of 88,000 acres is quite an eye opener, and considering that the ranch extends across 122 square miles, it must be quite an ordeal in winter for the ranch hands.

Owner William Kriegel bought the ranch from Japanese interests in 2000, and the New York based businessman flies from the big city to the big sky every month to oversee operations. The highest point on the ranch is Gallagher Peak at 8,477 feet, and the closest airport to the ranch is Bozeman , about 110 miles to the north, and a most enjoyable drive down through pristine countryside. I say this, because the ranch also raises top quality quarter horses, many of them gelded 7 days after birth. For the next three years they raise these horses to be perfect companions, and then sell them on to buyers. There are a handful of guest cabins on the ranch if you want to check these animals out for possible purchase.

There are seven different cuts of steaks including the top sirloin (7oz), the Ribeye Steak with the most marbling (9.5oz), and my favorite, the New York Strip (7.5oz), the perfect balance of flavor and tenderness. When it comes to burgers, La Cense offers steak burgers that are 85% lean, and are a combination of sirloin steak, round roast, chuck roast and flank steak (6oz).  They even have beef for stew, and also beef for kabobs, brisket, beef liver and short ribs. The seasonal gift pack offers four different packages in one for each season, and the entertainment pack is perfect for the host or hostess who is throwing a party, and includes prime rib (3lb), pot roast (3lbs) and twelve six ounce steak burgers.  It is worth getting in touch with them just to check out their catalogue, where the photographer has done a superb job in capturing these roasts and steaks just as they are the perfect shade of pink. They will also throw in a few recipes as well, and if you concerned about the shipping, then all packages are sent overnight, and packed with enough dry ice to ensure freshness on arrival.


Fact Sheet

Website: www.lacensebeef.com

Email: info@lacensebeef.com

Phone: 866-422-2333





Imagine my delight when after flying back to Los Angeles after a trip to Scotland recently, I saw a packet of Walkers shortbreads in a gas station just outside of LAX.  A couple of days before I was having a private behind the scenes tour visiting Walkers factory in the village of Aberlour in the Highlands, a delightful place where Joseph Walker started with just a simple grocery store in 1898. After about a year, business started to pick up, and eventually he was able to buy a horse and cart to deliver his shortbread to local customers.

  It was not until the early 1970’s until the company started exporting, and 3 Queen’s Export Awards later they are one of Europe ’s 500 fastest growing companies. Today they employ over 1,000 people in peak season, and the product is shipped worldwide, and is widely considered the best shortbread in the world. Walker ’s products are easily recognizable by the unique tartan packaging with the royal seal of approval on the box or tin. They currently have about 250,000 square feet of production space, and 140,000 square feet of warehouse space, but are expanding so quickly that they are adding an additional 80,000 square feet of factory space in Elgin.  The company is still family run by the great grandchildren of the founder Joseph Walker, and many of the employee’s today are the grandchildren of the people he employed. Just as in Victorian times, Walker ’s only uses the best ingredients available-flour, pure creamery butter, sugar and salt. No artificial colorings or flavorings are used, and a fascinating visit on the factory floor made it clear to this scribe that the emphasis on consistency and quality are second to none.

The factory workers seemed a real happy bunch, maybe because every week they rotate duties in the production process, ensuring that boredom is relatively minor. They have numerous Royal Warrants, and are the official shortbread suppliers to the Queen. Prince Charles has an organic line of biscuits called Duchy Originals manufactured at Walkers, and these have a marvelous unique taste when infused with the Walkers touch. Other hot items from Walker ’s are their famous Scottish fruit cakes full of spices and nuts, and a wonderful selection of oatcakes.  Unfortunately, it is not possible to buy direct yet from the company, so the best way to buy these products is to visit a British grocer in your local city or via. The internet where you can punch in British grocer and have numerous choices.  Alternatively, next time you are in the Highlands of Scotland, call the factory in advance to see if they can arrange a private tour. I am not sure if they have any official tours, but the folks at Walkers are so friendly and accommodating, that a visit here will be a highlight of any trip to Scotland .





Now here is a great idea for a gift that come across my desk this week, and that is a gourmet cake, sent through the mail to your favorite person. All you have to do with is to specify the occasion and a delivery date, and if they fail to make that deadline, then you get your money back.

 I was lucky enough to receive an unbelievably good rich chocolate mousse cake with fudgy rosettes in the mail from Bake Me a Wish, a New York based bakery that was only formed in 2004. This has to be their most decadent offering, with the cake itself arriving in perfect order in an attractive gift box packed in a dry ice container, and they even put a message on the cake.

 If the chocolate cake is a bit rich for your tastes, there are plenty of others to choose from. These include the strawberry shortcake topped with whipped cream and Belgium white chocolate shavings or the vanilla bean layer cake with buttercream mousse..




Everybody loves chocolate, and I have recently discovered a mail order company with superb quality product based out of Fort Wayne, Indiana called DeBrand Fine Chocolates. The company started in 1987 by Cathy Brand has grown in leaps and bounds, and I had the good fortune to order their Classic Collection, Truffle Collection and their Connoisseur Collection. All arrived in a refrigerated box in perfect shape, and three weeks later, thanks to remarkable self constraint, there are still some chocolates left to enjoy,

The Classic Collection remains their top seller and comes in 1/2lb ($18) up to 3lb boxes ($108). There are several caramel variations in addition to the natural fruit creams such as cherry, apricot and raspberries that are bursting with flavors. The Connoisseur Collection ($36 for 16pc) is geared towards those of us who like diversity in flavors, textures and taste.

For real extravagance try the Truffle Collection in either the 6pc ($15) or 12pc ($30) box. These are lovely oversized and individually molded chocolates, and a dessert in their own rite, and a perfect after dinner treat. There are plenty of other packages to choose from the attractive catalogue including the gargantuan large tower of chocolates priced at $170.

There are also plenty of novelty items such as Chocolate Cigars, Pretzel Rods, Hot Chocolate/Fondue and Marshmallows. Chocolate Tasting Bars ($6) feature the best chocolate couvertures from Belgium, Switzerland, France and the United States. DeBrand also arranges tours at the Chocolate Factory if you are in the area, but if you are unable to do that, place an order and you will see what real quality in chocolate means.



Fact Sheet
DeBrand Chocolates-10105 Auburn Park Dr, Fort Wayne, Indiana 46825



Gourmet Tea is fast becoming a hot item, and a couple of new companies have hit the market with quality product from such diverse regions as Boston and Tahiti. Tea Forte from Concord, Massachusetts, was founded by designer Peter Hewitt in 2003, and the hiring of Richard Guzauskus last year as Tea Master has really put them on the map.

 The Tea Forte blends are enclosed in hand-packed and patented silken tea infusers, each topped with a designed hand-wrapped wire and “leaf,” acting as a handle. The idea is to take the cup of tea into a ceremony as you entertain guests with a luxurious afternoon tea.

The Ribbon Box ($20-$25) that contains 20 infusers is a perfect way to try these delicious teas at an excellent value, and a typical box will include selections ranging from Earl Gray, Darjeeling, Chamomile Tisane, Bombay Chai to African Solstice. New items include Ginger, Jasmine Green, White Ambrosia and Green Tango. The Ginger is a particularly bold and enticing sweet ginger tea with a touch of lemon verbena, and a dash of black pepper for a spicy afterglow.

Tea Forte has also introduced the world to the Café Cup, a porcelain tea cup with a custom cover that keeps tea hot while brewing. There are other tea accessories that are well displayed in the excellent catalogue issued by the company, and we highly endorse this product.

From another part of the world comes Tahitian Noni teas that by all accounts were one of the more popular gift samples at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. The company was founded in 1995 to promote the Noni plant to the world outside of French Polynesia, and the six new teas are led by the superb Tahitea Spiced Chai. The Noni leaf is an antioxidant rich tropical fruit that protects the body against free radicals. It is also excellent for supporting proper indigestion, and it can be mixed with water or milk, and of course, all the teas are naturally caffeine-free.

The Noni Jasmine Green Tea combines the elements of the flavor of jasmine flower with the well known benefits of the noni leaf and green tea. The delicate harvesting and drying process enhances the full-bodied flavor of the noni leaf, and Jasmine Green is probably the healthiest in the range of the company.

Fans of the classic Earl Gray will probably want to try the Tahitian version that adds the classic Bergamot flavors and essence of citrus to the mix. The idea of this tea is to promote the feelings of peace and tranquility. Noni Lemon Iced Tea adds the flavors of sweetened lemonade to the noni leaf

Fact Sheet






From time to time we like to endorse food products that are exceptional, and Simply Divine Brownies out of the state of Maine are some of the best I have ever tasted. The mother and daughter team ship all over the country, and the Brownies arrive ready to eat or refrigerate. Their belief is that a rich, fudgy brownie made from the finest ingredients is one of life’s dearest pleasures.  There are more than thirty varieties on offer, and the business has exploded in just over three years. What sets these goodies apart are the toppings and frostings, as well as the first collection of hand cut and hand decorated shaped brownies in the country.

In 2007 they launched a new line of brownies truffles, scoops of their brownies enrobed in fine chocolate and packaged to go. They have been included in the Celebrity Gift bags for the Oscar Parties in 2006 and 2007, as well as Muhammed Ali’s Charity Fight for Life in 2006 and 2007. They have also made appearances on The Today Show and the Rachel Ray Show, and several times on the Food Network, most recently Food Network Unwrapped.  You can order them by phone, at the company store or over the internet.

Fact Sheet

Phone: 1-207-729-0111

Toll Free: 1-866-BROWN

Website: simplydivinebrownies.com









































































































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