Oven-Baked Beef Kebab with Eggplant

 

Enjoy this personal twist on a traditional family dish that’s fun to assemble and easy to bake! They’ll come out moist and flavorful every time!

Ingredients

 

  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 2 eggplants
  • 18-20 fingerling potatoes
  • 1/2 onion
  • 1 tsp. Aleppo red pepper
  • 1 tsp. mint
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 cup bulgur #1
  • 4-5 mini bell peppers
  • 1 bunch fresh mint for garnish

Sauce

  • 1 tsp . Olive oil
  • 1/2 onion
  • 1 tbls. tomato paste
  • 1 tbls. red pepper paste
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp. Sugar
  • 2 tsp. dried mint
  • 2 cups water

 

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Peel the eggplant (I prefer Japanese eggplants) in just three sections (don’t need to peel the entire skin)
  3. Cut the eggplants just over an inch wide
  4. Optional: Lightly season eggplant slices with salt and grill. You may also fry them or simply add them to the dish raw.
  5. Chop half the onion (the other half will be used for the sauce).
  6. Add the chopped onion to the ground beef in a large bowl
  7. Add bulger, salt, Aleppo pepper and dried mint to the beef
  8. Mix all ingredients well by hand
  9. Chop the other half of the onion
  10. Heat very little oil to a frying pan and add the chopped onion
  11.  Add salt, tomato paste, red pepper paste, dried mint, water and sugar
  12. Whisk all ingredients together, when sauce starts bubbling, remove from heat
  13.  Cut the edges of the fingerling potatoes so that they are the same length as the slices of eggplants.
  14. Assemble the dish by layering the bottom of the baking dish with some of the sauce (Just enough to cover the bottom).
  15. Make small meat balls with the beef mixture and place around the pan, alternating between beef, eggplant and potatoes.
  16. Add the remainder of the sauce on top of the diesh
  17. Slice the baby bell peppers and add to the top of the dish.
  18. Cover with foil, bake at 400 degrees for 40 minutes.
  19. Uncover and bake for another 20 minutes.
  20. Garnish with fresh mint and serve!

 

Shushan Darzian is the founder and owner of Ladybugs Catering & Events. Her passion for food, presentation and exquisite detail drive her mission to provide outstanding service for her clients. As a former educator, she is committed to life-longing learning and loves to travel. She resides in Southern California with her husband and two sons.

 

Tips on Hosting a Dinner Party

Hosting an event and catering and event both have similar responsibilities—-however, the essential difference for a host to keep in mind is entertaining both our guests as well as ourselves. Being a part of the event is just as important as planning it and sometimes it’s easy to exclude ourselves from the fun because we’re so preoccupied with managing the details. Preparation is important— to plan the event and dress the part—it is equally important to feel included in the festivities. I truly believe it’s important to not only look the part, but to be a part…and enjoy the occasion!

I recently hosted a very special dinner for my cousins. About eight years ago we realized that as our lives got busier with work and our families, we saw each other less and less. It was hard for us to accept distance when we were raised together and had been very close since childhood; so we made a pact to have dinner together once a month, just us. Each of us takes a turn hosting this important dinner, and we have the chance to catch up, share laughs, play games, eat good food, and enjoy each other’s company! Our rules are simple. The dinner is intimate, it’s with cousins only, we prepare the food instead of ordering it, and we don’t use plastic ware. Of course there are some exceptions—life happens. Sometimes our children join us, and we have an opportunity for more games, more bonds, and hopefully more traditions to pass onto them. What’s most special about our deal is that we created it between cousins and it has grown into our tradition.

I truly believe it’s important to not only look the part, but to be a part…and enjoy the occasion!

Recently, it was my turn to host and I had a few things in mind for the dinner. My job as the host is to prepare great food, drinks, and entertainment. Consideration for your guests is important for any event—their likes and dislikes—when planning. Knowing my cousins, I realized they hated cocktail hour, and I needed to give them what they really wanted: sitting together at the table, talking and enjoying delicious food. With this in mind, I made cocktail hour face-to-face, with the same space for conversation but with more food within reach for us to munch on. We sat at the table with low floral centerpieces and a middle runner filled with food. The table was a grazing station with a variety of appetizers and dishes spread across the table. My goal was to have the food flow naturally, just like the conversations we’d be having at the table!

For any event I give myself the freedom to be creative—and while I admit I do procrastinate a bit when it comes to my own events—-I am mindful that planning is important and preparing is necessary. These are a few things I always consider:

  1. The food—I have fun with preparing the menu for my guests, and especially with my cousins, I like to ask what each prefers to eat.
  2. The theme—this is vital for the ambiance—it’s important to set the tone of the evening for guests and the added effort shows you care. In selecting the theme, I always consider the season. The menu selections for the event are usually custom tailored to seasonal food items. The colors of the season also inspire both the table setting and arrangements which contribute to the overall ambiance.
  3. The entertainment—my family loves playing games, these are often competitive but always end with love and laughter!

 

Whether entertaining or hosting, preparing or planning, I always remind myself to enjoy the process. Some of it comes with experience and trying new things, but I like to have fun and be creative every step of the way.

 

For more tips on hosting and how I prepare for an event, click here!

 

Shushan Darzian is the founder and owner of Ladybugs Catering & Events. Her passion for food, presentation and exquisite detail drive her mission to provide outstanding service for her clients. As a former educator, she is committed to life-longing learning and loves to travel. She resides in Southern California with her husband and two sons.

Recipe: Ejjeh and Kookoo

Ejjeh and Kookoo different dishes, though they have some similarities. Both are traditional and delicious, the perfect addition to your Easter feast! Visit my Youtube channel to watch the tutorial video, or click here!

Ejjeh—A Traditional Middle Eastern dish.

 

Materials:

  • Takoyaki Pan (nonstick)
  • Grater
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Ice cream scooper (optional)
  • Chopsticks (optional)

 

Ingredients: (creates 14-15)

  • 1 cup chopped mint
  • 2 cups chopped parsley
  • 2 cups chopped green onion
  • 10 eggs
  • 1 cup grated zucchini
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic (optional)
  • baking powder
  • olive oil

Directions:

  1. Crack ten eggs and whisk in a large bowl.
  2. Add chopped parsley, mint, and green onions to the whisked eggs.
  3. Grate 1 cup of zucchini and add to bowl.
  4. Add garlic, baking powder, salt, and black pepper to bowl.
  5. Evenly mix combined ingredients in the large bowl.
  6. Place Takoyaki pan on stove at high heat. Once warm, lower heat.
  7. Add olive oil to pan generously.
  8. Use an ice cream scooper to evenly add mixture to the middle of each circle in the pan, avoiding the edges. Cook for 3-4 minutes.
  9. Use chop sticks to turn over when the bottoms are evenly brown. Cook for another 3-4 minutes.
  10. Remove from pan when both sides are brown and place on plate.
  11. Add olive oil to pan for every batch you make.

Kookoo—A Traditional Iranian dish.

 

Materials:

  • 7-inch pan
  • Ladle

 

Ingredients: (creates 4)

  • 1/2 cup chopped dill
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 2 cups chopped Persian leeks
  • 2 cups chopped parsley
  • 2 cups chopped green onions
  • 2 cups chopped spinach
  • 6 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose white flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • olive oil

Directions:

  1. Whisk 6 eggs in a large bowl.
  2. Add chopped leeks, green onions, dill, parsley, cilantro, and spinach to the whisked eggs.
  3. Add salt, black pepper, flour, and turmeric to bowl.
  4. Evenly mix combined ingredients in the bowl.
  5. Place pan on stove over medium heat.
  6. Generously cover the pan with olive oil.
  7. Use a ladle to place mixture on the pan. Pat down evenly until creating a perfect circle.
  8. Cook for 4 minutes, until edges are brown.
  9. Turn over to cook the other side. You can flip it onto a plate and slide it back onto the pan. Make sure to add olive oil to pan before adding the uncooked side.
  10. When bottoms are evenly brown, slide onto plate.
  11. Cut the circle into 6 pieces, and they are ready to serve.

 

 

 

Shushan Darzian is the founder and owner of Ladybugs Catering & Events. Her passion for food, presentation and exquisite detail drive her mission to provide outstanding service for her clients. As a former educator, she is committed to life-longing learning and loves to travel. She resides in Southern California with her husband and two sons.

Down In New Orleans

New Orleans—the city of vibrant music, spicy cuisine, and people celebrating life!

My recent trip to The Big Easy was a wonderful experience that brought together great friends, great music, and great food. We stayed at the Ritz Carlton in the heart of the French Quarter, where we were met with authentic New Orleans gumbo. New Orleans is a melting pot of French, Creole, African, and American cultures and cuisines. I had some expectations going in—mostly for good food and music—though not all of them were met (scroll down to read why). Still, I was enchanted by the city— its rich history, the music playing everywhere day and night and of the warmth of people who truly seemed happy.

St. Louis Cathedral

New Orleans has so much to offer visitors and most places are accessible by foot or street car. Walking the streets of the French Quarter and Garden District is a wonderful way to soak in the sights, sounds, and smells of city. Colorful flowers and beads decorating buildings, musicians on street corners strumming their guitar as they sing, music spilling out the windows of jazz bars, and Cajun spices filling each restaurant. One fun way to sightsee while learning about local history is taking a Carriage Tour, which I highly recommend. There’s so much history in New Orleans and sitting in a horse-drawn carriage while admiring the cast-iron balconies of the French Quarter is a great way to learn about how the city evolved as well as its rich heritage. What stood out to me particularly was the St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square. It is the oldest Catholic cathedral in continual use in the United States. Its location overlooking the square and waterfront is a breathtaking sight, but just standing in front of this historic place of worship made me feel like I was somewhere special, somewhere important.

 

I was enchanted by the city— its rich history, the music playing everywhere day and night and of the warmth of people who truly seemed happy.

Another glimpse of New Orleans is by the St. Charles Street Car, which is an affordable way to connect you to the Garden District. This is a charming neighborhood filled with lavish homes and rich greenery of its oak trees. The Garden District is home to many celebrities and filled with boutique shops, elegant restaurants, and cute cafes. While in the Garden District my friends and I visited Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. I had no idea of how people were buried there or the ceremonies involved, and the tour was very enlightening—it was definitely worth it! Fun fact: The tombs are above ground because of heavy rainfall and are mostly all family tombs. That means each tomb is the final resting place for not only the recently deceased, but likely an entire lineage of that family.

We also took a Bayou Tour and visited a plantation—two unforgettable experiences. The Bayou Tour was surprisingly beautiful and scenic. Water lilies, frogs, birds, Cypress trees and Spanish moss were all around as our speed boat coasted through the swamp. We also got to see some alligators up-close! While our tour guide fed one alligator I was right next to him, looking directly at the gator. My friends panicked as I leaned forward off the boat—but I was so caught up in that moment, feeling fearless I stretching my arms forward to capture the moment with my phone camera.

Feeding time!

The Oak Alley Plantation tour was amazing to behold. In our tour we visited the slave quarters, where the slave stories were told as if they were living in the present and we learned about the importance of sugar for the plantation. My favorite part was the entrance—the tall oak trees lining the path, the branches cascading above as they intertwine and the bright green leaves woven together! Every tree was named and absolutely breathtaking to see.

Unfortunately, I had some disappointments on the trip. I was looking forward to the beignets at the original Cafe Du Monde, my hopes were high for the savory dessert New Orleans is famous for. The café did not meet my expectations—the beignet was doughy, flavorless and covered in powdered sugar; the café selection was limited to beignets and coffee so the experience was less than satisfying. Luckily however, our hotel had the most delicious, fluffy, hollow beignets served with a side of flavorful sauces—I highly recommend tasting these! I also recommend dining at Doris Metropolitan for delicious aged meats and sweet bread as well as Pêche Seafood Grill for crab claws and oysters galore.

A trip to The Big Easy is well worth it—enjoy the jazz clubs, walk the French Quarter, tour the cemeteries, visit the National WWII Museum, walk the waterfront along the Mississippi River, and eat crawfish and alligator tail. Most of all, enjoy the heart of the people and the life of the city!

 

 

 

Shushan Darzian is the founder and owner of Ladybugs Catering & Events. Her passion for food, presentation and exquisite detail drive her mission to provide outstanding service for her clients. As a former educator, she is committed to life-longing learning and loves to travel. She resides in Southern California with her husband and two sons.

 

 

 

Creativity Calls: From Classroom to Catering

I have always been hands-on with Ladybugz, Inc. I’m involved in the entire process— from the team effort in preparing the dressings and marinades, meeting with clients, the logistics of the business, to attending the events and managing them. The quality of the food is most important to me, but I also value a strong, dedicated team. Teamwork is something I have valued in business as well as in the classroom. It’s as important to build trust and faith in my team as it was important to cultivate trust and faith with my students. I have also learned to “let go” as a practical step in trusting those around me and encouraging them—my experience as a teacher helped me do this. My motto as a teacher came from my background in Design Based Learning (DBL)—-an innovative way to teach through design. DBL is all about connections, about understanding that every problem has a solution. In the classroom those connections come from teaching students not to give up, to find a solution to a problem and to grow. It’s a process that’s similar to my work as a businesswoman and caterer. I listen to my clients and bring their vision to life while collaborating with my team. We can make great food and be great visionaries, but without a great team, we cannot produce successful events. Having respect and relying on my team brings these events together.

 

“I see what inspires me, I visualize it in my mind, and I make it my own.”

 

There is a powerful connection between teaching and catering. Working in a classroom to manage a group of twenty-something students really taught me how to understand people and how to take care of them. Teaching and catering are separate careers but they have made me who I am. I have such a respect for teaching and it’s sacred to me. Ladybugz, Inc. started the same time I started teaching and I learned a lot from both simultaneously. I understood people and their needs, how to take care of my students and my clients—-and above all, patience! There’s a bridge between the two fields, and while it’s surprising to say, they have the same end-goal: To produce a product.
After getting my Masters in Education in 2002, I started teaching. One day I was planning a birthday party for my son, Robert, and the theme was ladybugs. My good friend Rosie was invited to the party and afterwards suggested we join together to launch a business focusing on birthday parties for kids — we called it Ladybugz, Inc. As a teacher I knew how to entertain kids and Rosie was in the food business at the time, so we planned to take on the responsibilities of a host: food for the kids, food for adults, entertaining kids, favors for the kids, the cake, and everything else. Rosie and I had the motivation, but it was impossible to anticipate what we were getting into. After a few events the business shifted back to food. We started the business at home with lots of sleepless nights after our day jobs. We often cooked until midnight and prepared everything for the next morning! We had the drive and passion to start Ladybugz, Inc, to work hard enough to surpass expectations and to succeed. A short time later, Rosie had to leave because family became a priority and I took over Ladybugz, Inc. She often lent a helping hand when needed. When Rosie left my husband jumped in and helped me with the administrative side of the growing business. Without his support during my college years, his believing in me and his work behind-the-scenes, Ladybugz, Inc. would not be where it is today.

Whether teaching or catering, I have a constant desire to be creative. I draw inspiration from what’s around me and I’m always pushing myself to the next level. I see what inspires me, I visualize it in my mind, and I make it my own. As far as creativity there is no limit for me. People often ask if I’m concerned about others copying my work—-not at all! In fact, I consider it a great compliment. It pushes me to come up with something new that hasn’t been done before, even though almost all ideas are borrowed or adapted from someplace else. It’s just like DBL: create things that haven’t been done. It’s a mindset that puts no bounds on what I can think of and do, and it’s what inspires my creativity. Granted I couldn’t have succeeded on my own, and needless to say there were difficult times. However, I learned to get through them by finding balance between two jobs, being there for my family, pursuing a passion, and taking care of myself. It’s a balance that gives me comfort in knowing that things are taken care of and gives space for my creativity.

 

 

Shushan Darzian is the founder and owner of Ladybugs Catering & Events. Her passion for food, presentation and exquisite detail drive her mission to provide outstanding service for her clients. As a former educator, she is committed to life-longing learning and loves to travel. She resides in Southern California with her husband and two sons.

Beginnings

I believe that our experiences play a significant role in shaping who we are. I look back on my life and think about what made me who I am—try to pinpoint my mistakes, and understand my choices. I’ve learned that the little things in life make you who you are and that if something seems hard in the moment, those experiences only make you stronger. My experiences have shaped many things, and I’ve come to realize two truths: “Every problem has a solution” and “have the passion to do it”. Being a mother, wife, daughter, teacher, and business woman have given me the chance to do what I love.

Looking back I’ve always been captivated by cooking. Growing up in Armenia I needed to learn my way around the kitchen because there was a basic expectation that I needed to know how to cook when married. From a young age I learned and I experimented with preparing various dishes for my family. One of my earliest memories is of baking cookies for my family, and getting their positive feedback. Having fun with food at home and being appreciated by those who love you was a remarkable experience! From then cooking became my outlet for creativity and my first passion. It seemed there was no limit to what I could create. My family always encouraged me (even if the outcome wasn’t the best). I never gave up, never felt demotivated, and was never afraid to take a risk—it’s the same mindset that drives me today. I attribute a lot to my parents and the early years that shaped my attitude towards life. One of the strengths they rooted in me is resilience towards negativity—I do not allow it to upset my mindset. My deep respect for my parents and my commitment to never disappoint them kept me going. Their choice to focus on the positive instead of the negative is vital to who I’ve become.

 

My clients’ ideas are more than a menu, a theme or color scheme: they’re an atmosphere, a feeling, and it sets the tone for the event.

 

I always love the challenge to create something new, something I’ve never done before. My clients inspire me and I build off of their ideas. My goal is to give them what they want and I enjoy bringing their vision to life. That, combined with my passion for creativity, motivates me to constantly grow and raise the bar for myself. My clients’ ideas are more than a menu, a theme or color scheme: they’re an atmosphere, a feeling, and it sets the tone for the event. I maintain high standards for myself and I value transparency with my clients. Between creativity and particularity, my clients know what to expect of me and build a relationship on trust that I don’t take for granted. It creates momentum to do more—and that is exactly what I thrive on.

 

 

Shushan Darzian is the founder and owner of Ladybugs Catering & Events. Her passion for food, presentation and exquisite detail drive her mission to provide outstanding service for her clients. As a former educator, she is committed to life-longing learning and loves to travel. She resides in Southern California with her husband and two sons.