Thursday, December 17, 2009

Vegas and Lobster Ravioli

So I've been slacking a bit. I was on a roll during my Thanksgiving break, but then it was back to reality. I just spent the weekend in Vegas seeing the Dierks Bentley concert (which was fantastic, even though he didn't take the stage until midnight!). We had some great meals that I'll detail soon. This week I am consumed by my teaching duties and 2 finals in the master's math courses I'm taking. Oy. It will be over very soon. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I will leave you with one quick meal idea that has become somewhat of a staple in our house. It's a Trader Joe's lover's dream. Lobster ravioli with a saffron cream sauce and peas. The ravioli sounds fancy and expensive, but it's only 3 bucks and easily feeds 2-3 people. The saffron at Trader Joe's is the most reasonably priced saffron I've found. The cream from TJ's also deserves a mention. It has a high butterfat content so it's incredibly viscous, a beautiful sight to behold as it exits the bottle.

To make the dish, saute 1 garlic clove, 1/2 a small diced onion (or 1 shallot) in olive oil until softened, add 1/2 cup (or so) of cream, a pinch of saffron, salt & pepper to taste, and simmer for a few minutes until it thickens a bit. Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of peas and the cooked ravioli, and stir to coat everything with the sauce. Easy, fast, and tasty.

Okay, back to studying. More to come soon...

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Homemade Chicken Stock (for the Soul)

I know, I know. Who wants to spend time making chicken stock when you can buy a perfectly decent stock at almost any grocery store?  Well, suppose you have a chicken carcass lying around. Sorry, that imagery may have been a little too grotesque, but it comes with the territory. We had recently eaten a Costco rotisserie chicken, (which is pretty darn delicious, by the way), so we had all those chicken bones, a measly amount of meat, and a heaping amount of gelatinous post-roast drippings. My husband is not one to let something go to waste, so he immediately got that telling twinkle in his eye: time for stock!

Making stock is perfect when you're hanging out at home in your tube socks like Tom Cruise, and you have a few hours of love to put into a pot. There's something that never ceases to amaze me about starting off with water, a chicken carcass, chopped up veggies, and some seasoning, and ending up with a delicious magical liquid. This stock can be used in all sorts of applications from risotto to sauces to, of course, soup. What's even better is that the stock can be frozen, in any quantity, for months. Just toss it in the fridge to defrost the night before, or use the defrost setting on the microwave.

I think what made this version of stock particularly good is that the Costco chicken was so well seasoned to begin with. All of that salty goodness seeped osmosis-style into the liquid. Now, don't plan on going too far away while the stock cooks. Every 15 minutes or so, you'll need to skim the scum.  The scum is really just proteins that rise to the surface looking like a bubble bath gone wrong.

Here's the Alton Brown recipe to get you started, but the great thing about stock is that you can adapt it to whatever you have on hand.  Ordinary chicken, Christmas duck, Thanksgiving turkey or even a turducken (we've made stock from the first three, but not the latter, so proceed with caution). We didn't have any of the herbs Alton calls for on hand, so we just left them out and still had great results. There are so many other variations: beef, veal, vegetable, lobster, shrimp, but I'll save those for another time.

I promise you won't be sorry if you invest the time to make some stock (sorry about the Wall Street pun, but it was completely intentional).

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Crumbs Bake Shop

Last weekend I finally had the chance to try Crumbs Bake Shop in Beverly Hills. Yes, I've had Sprinkles cupcakes from both the Newport and Beverly Hills locations. And, yes, I like the cupcakes at Sprinkles. I think they have an amazing vanilla cake that I haven't tasted anything like anywhere else. The color is very white, so I think the recipe may include fewer egg yolks, but I'm getting off topic. I purchased 4 cupcakes total. They kind of tricked me into the 4th one because I had picked out 3, but the box had 4 "cupcake holes" (a technical term), so of course I had to fill it up. Actually, the box itself deserves praise. The smart design meant that there was no cupcake slippage, and no frosting contamination. You know what I'm talking about, when the cream cheese frosting infiltrates the chocolate frosting without permission. 

The Artie Lange

The 4 flavors I picked: Artie Lange, Carrot, Peanut Butter Cup, and Vanilla. The Artie Lange is a unique flavor. This is the Crumbs website description: "The Artie Lange cupcake was created by Artie himself live on the Howard Stern Show in 2008. Vanilla cake with chocolate cream cheese frosting filling, topped with vanilla cream cheese frosting dipped in chocolate fondant and edged with chocolate and vanilla sprinkles. A portion of the proceeds from the Artie Lange cupcake is donated to St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital." I wish I could say that I picked this one because of the charity donation, but that would be a lie. My only complaint was that the fondant was more for looks than flavor, in my opinion.

 Peanut Butter Cup

The unstoppable combination of peanut butter frosting and chocolate cake, need I say more?


I enjoyed the carrot cupcake even more than I expected, due in part to the absence of raisins. The cream cheese frosting on it was very moist and there was plenty of it.


Ok, so I have a confession. I froze the vanilla cupcake for another time. It was Thanksgiving week and I didn't want it to get stale, so I froze it. The Crumbs website said I could, so there.

Overall impression: I really enjoyed the cupcakes and thought they were a pretty good value. The vanilla was $2.95 and the others were $3.75, and the cupcakes are huge. They also have a few flavors in mini sizes. Unfortunately, there are no Orange County locations yet. There are other LA locations in Calabasas, Glendale, Larchmont, and Malibu and they will also ship their cupcakes.

Crumbs Bake Shop
9465 Little Santa Monica Blvd
Beverly Hills, CA 90291
T 310 550 9811

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Craft LA Review

Thanks to my mom's birthday, I had the chance to try Tom Colicchio's LA restaurant Craft located near the Century City outdoor mall. It was just the two of us and I made reservations painlessly on We were there on a Saturday night with a 7:30 reservation and the place was packed, but you wouldn't have known that from lingering in the bar area. The bar is referred to as Craftbar and has a menu of its own. Next time I'm in the area, I definitely want to try the bar menu for dinner. From the looks of the menu, the bar focuses on small plates at very reasonable prices, especially given the area.

One highlight of the evening was the fact that we had to wait a few minutes for a table, because if we hadn't waited, we wouldn't have seen the chef himself, Tom Colicchio. It was a rather surreal moment because it happened so quickly. We noticed the hostess open the door for someone, he darted inside, and went straight to the kitchen without hesitation. We were told later by our waiter that Chef Tom only comes in every few months, so our sighting was a rarity. He never came out of the kitchen while we were there, so we felt like we knew a secret that none of the other diners were in on.

Wine bottle wall

Now for the food. We started with cocktails: a Tom Collins infused with cucumber for me and the Craft Margarita for my mom. Both were delicious and not stingy with the hard stuff. They brought an amuse bouche of butternut squash soup with pepitas on top. This was a tasty bite and we were ready for the rest of our meal. We shared everything, which ended up being the perfect amount for the two of us. Salad course: warm spinach and smoked bacon salad. This was full of delightful porky flavor and the perfectly cooked hard-boiled egg on the side was a nice touch, though I wish the salad had been warmer since it was described as a warm salad. Pasta course: papradelle noodles with porcini mushrooms in a brown butter sauce. This was our favorite course of the night. Main course and side: black cod and baby leeks, and roasted cauliflower as the side dish. Things can get pretty pricey because the main dishes don't come with sides. We loved the cauliflower, but wished the fish was a little more cooked. I know that rare fish is the trend, but I like to save my rare fish excursions for sashimi. There were many other items on the menu that sounded good. Next time, I'll have to bring a few more people so we can try more dishes.

Cranberry muffin!

The bargain of the night came at dessert. My mom ordered the cheese plate with the French Bleu D’Auvergne. For 5 bucks, the plate was decked out with candied nuts, a fruit chutney and puree, two types of thin crackers, and a hefty helping of the cheese. I ordered the beignets, which had an orange flavor in the background. They came out piping hot with honey and chocolate ganache on the side. Had I known they were also going to bring my mom a chocolate ganache birthday cake on an adorable little cake stand, I wouldn't have ordered dessert. Oh well. The dessert menu also had some non-traditional ice cream flavors that sound worth trying. I had my eye on the maple bacon flavor. After everything was cleared they brought more little treats: a tiny tray of caramel corn, 2 cookies, candied pineapple and a cranberry muffin for each of us for breakfast. I love little extras like that.
Patio during the day

All in all we had a great time and the service was good as well, especially considering how busy the place was. I think I need to go back one more time to decide if it's worth the high price tag, or maybe we'll just try our luck at the bar.

10100 Constellation Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90067
(310) 279-4180

Friday, November 27, 2009

Afternoon Tea at the Montage

Last weekend it was my mom's birthday and we've been talking about going to afternoon tea for some time. I researched all the places I could find in Orange County and in LA. From everything I read I finally settled on the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills. We wanted a sit-down service, not buffet style, which is offered at some places such as the beautiful Huntington Gardens in San Marino (a little town near Pasadena).  I think our choice was a good one. We've had the pleasure of having afternoon tea in London, at places like the Dorchester Hotel, and we knew that experience would be hard to live up to.

First of all, the setting. The hotel itself is gorgeous. It is only a year old, so everything is in pristine condition. We spent some time walking around before we sat down just to take it all in. The room where the tea is held daily, the lobby lounge, is much nicer than the name suggests. When I hear "lobby lounge" I think of people waiting around with their bags listening to a mediocre piano player. This is not the case. The room is large and one wall is floor to ceiling windows that look out into the garden.  The seating is all plush sofas and chairs with low tables. The place settings were beautiful as well. Everything from our plates to the sugar bowl was china hand painted specifically for the hotel. There was also a harpist, which made everything seem fancier.

There were basically 2 "levels" of tea service to order, with the only difference being that one includes a glass of champagne in addition to the tea, scones, finger sandwiches and desserts. With it being my mom's birthday, we went for the champagne. Our waiter was very knowledgeable about the teas, which was helpful since there were so many choices: many varieties of black, green, and white teas. My green tea had a tropical flavor with an interesting curry-like flavor in the background.  I loved the tea my mom ordered, called Meli Malo, it was a white tea with flavors of citrus fruits and plum. I need to find out where to buy it! The scones were the perfect texture and just how a traditional English-style scone should be. I sometimes forget that the scones at Starbucks aren't the best representatives for what scones originally set out to become. We each had one "plain" scone and one apple spice scone. Both delicious alone, or with the Devonshire cream, lemon curd and strawberry preserves served on the side. 

The finger sandwiches and desserts were great as well. We each had one of six different types of sandwiches, so there was no fighting over them or looking ridiculous attempting to cut them in half. There was a curried chicken salad inside a tiny pate-a-choux cup, egg salad, heirloom tomato, smoked salmon, cucumber, and asparagus with a salami type meat. The standout from the dessert options was definitely the French macarons, which came in vanila and chocolate raspberry varietites. The other fun surprise was the cake they brought out for my mom's birthday. It was a rich chocolate layer cake with vanilla buttercream filling and ganache on top. At this point, we were bursting at the seams and looking forward to the walk back to the Mosaic Hotel, where we stayed the night. From start to finish we had a lovely time and I hope we'll be back someday.

As a side note, one of the funniest things is watching the men in the tea room. They always look like they can't quite get comfortable and they seem to be looking around, afraid that some macho college buddy will come in and give them a hard time for drinking tea from pretty cups. Do you have a male spouse, significant other or family member who enjoys afternoon tea?

Coming up: a review of Craft LA (Tom Colicchio's restaurant) and Crumbs bakeshop.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Breakfast

This morning's breakfast came from my favorite breakfast cookbook, A Real American Breakfast. It's a comprehensive book on breakfast with 464 pages, thorough explanations, and some great photos. The recipe this morning: Cranberry Cream Cheese Stuffed French Toast. A long title, but a simple recipe that's great for a weekend family breakfast or part of a wowing brunch with a big group. One of the great things is that it can pop right into a 250 degree oven once it comes out of the pan (or griddle), and it stays delicious. When I put it in the oven, I place the french toast on a cooling rack that sits in a sheet pan. This way, it stays crisp on both sides!

I picked up at the challah Fresh and Easy yesterday, thinking that I might make bread pudding, but this was a perfect use for the rich, sturdy bread. I followed the recipe fairly informally, making a few little changes, and with something like french toast, it's pretty tough to mess up.

Cranberry Cream Cheese Stuffed French Toast


2 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/3-1/2 can whole berry cranberry sauce

3 eggs
1 1/4 cups milk
1 tsp vanilla
2 tsp sugar
dash of salt

1 loaf challah or brioche bread, cut into 1" slices (I used 8 slices total)
unsalted butter and canola oil for the pan

First, make the cranberry-cream cheese filling by stirring 2 oz. of softened cream cheese and about 1/3 of a can of whole berry cranberry sauce in a small bowl (use more cranberry if you'd like).

Then, mix the eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla and salt in a shallow pie plate or bowl. The pie plate has the perfect amount of space for soaking 3-4 pieces at a time. Cut a pocket into the side of each piece of bread, careful not to cut all the way through. Spoon 1-2 Tbsp of filling into each slice. This may vary based on the size of your slices. Try not to overstuff or the filling may leak out. Soak bread in the egg mixture for roughly 1-2 minutes on each side. Enough time that the bread is moistened throughout, but not falling apart.
Heat a griddle or large skillet (I used a 12" cast iron skillet) over medium heat. I actually started heating up the pan on medium-low when I started the recipe. This seems to be just right to get the pan to temperature so that the pan is ready for the bread as soon as it's soaked. Before putting the bread in, melt 1/2 Tbsp butter with 1 Tbsp canola oil. Cook the bread for a few minutes on each side, until the French toast is golden brown on both sides. The time it takes really depends on your pan, so just keep an eye on it. When the first batch is cooked, place it in a 250 degree oven (as described above) or just eat it! Cook the rest of the French toast the same way. The recipe calls for serving the French toast with confectioners sugar and maple syrup, but we ate it as is, and I think I preferred it that way. I didn't feel like making it more sweet, to me it was the perfect tart-sweet combination.

The finished product, complete with bacon cooked Alton Brown style. This bacon deserves to be the subject of its own post...

The inside!

The family loved it, so I think this recipe is destined for our breakfast hall of fame. The cookbook includes other intriguing variations like cranberry-orange, chocolate, and apricot sausage that I look forward to trying. This cookbook would make a fabulous Christmas gift and it would be easy to pair with other items like a cast-iron skillet, fancy mail order bacon, gadgets like a whisk or spatula, etc.

Nothing says Happy Thanksgiving like a plate full of bacon.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Almost a year...but here's my first original recipe post!

Ok, here goes. I guess I have to start somewhere, but it really wasn't until this week that I felt I had something worthwhile to post about. I came up with a new recipe (well, new to me anyway). I have been trying to use quinoa (a super grain!) more often, but I often can't think of what to do with it. By the way, it's pronouced keen-wa, which I didn't figure out for a while after I had first seen it in recipes...

We were having a middle eastern inspired dinner last week and I wanted tabouli as a side dish (I just discovered there are many ways to spell tabouli - tabbouleh - tabouleh - ok that's enough... ). We were fresh out of bulgar wheat (another awesome whole grain and the traditional grain used for tabouli), so I used quinoa instead, and it came out so well!

I didn't use very precise measurements, because I really just tasted it as I went along, so following is my best attempt at approximating the amounts. I did cook the quinoa precisely, however. I used the basic quinoa recipe from the wonderful cookbook Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison. That is one fantastic book, and I'm not a vegetarian (though I don't eat a lot of meat).

Quinoa Tabouli

1 cup quinoa, well rinsed
2 cups water
pinch of salt

1 lemon, juiced
2-3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
salt and pepper to taste

To cook the quinoa:

Bring the water or stock to a boil then add the quinoa and a pinch of salt. Lower the heat, cover the pan, and simmer until liquid is absorbed, and the spiral in the quinoa is visible, about 12-15 minutes.

To finish the tabouli:

Transfer the cooked quinoa to a bowl and combine the remaining ingredients, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. This can be served at room temp, or refrigerated until you want to serve it. I actually cooled the quinoa quickly using a bowl of ice water that I placed the smaller quinoa bowl into (just don't submerge it, of course!). Feel free to tinker with the amounts called for. Like I said, I pretty much eyeballed it.

As a side note, rinsing the quinoa may seem like a pain, but it eliminates a bitterness that can occur because of the protective coating on it called saponin, which keeps the critters away from it in nature. But, poor quinoa, the saponin will not keep the humans away from you! You are too delicious and we have sinks with which to rinse you!