end-of-summer langoustine rolls & a birthday recap

My birthday came and went and now I’m left in that post-birthday haze that always plagues me the second week of September. You are no longer special. Back to reality. Go clean the litter box. It’s just so much fun having attention, gifts, food, and surprises lavished on you, and being able to avoid doing life’s mundane tasks by simply stating: “I’m the birthday girl.” (Except now that I am 25, it makes me a “birthday woman,” which is not cute…)

It was  definitely one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had, making the withdrawals that much worse. The boyfriend turned my birthday into a birthday week, surprising me with baked goods, chocolates, a piñata and lots of little gifts every day leading up to my actual birthday. We had our first celebration the week before at my Dad’s, where Dhiren surprised us with a piñata. I can’t remember the last time I’ve hit a piñata, or laughed that hard….There’s something so unsettling about being blindfolded, spun around, feeling disoriented and vulnerable, while your Dad knocks you in the head with a paper-mâché owl. Observe:

On my birthday itself, I woke up to presents & a massive owl balloon.

He  then took me to 26 Beach Restaurant in Venice for brunch, where I gorged myself on lemon ricotta French toast, one of the best croissant sandwiches I’ve ever had in my life and of course, some of Dhiren’s food as well! After we stuffed ourselves, we headed over to the gorgeous Getty Villa in Malibu, saw some cool museum things & worked up an appetite for dinner across town at Osteria Mozza.

This was a big surprise, since Dhiren had me put Angelini Osteria (our normal celebration spot) into the GPS. Waiting for us at the restaurant was my friend Vanessa, who had been texting me as we went to dinner, making me feel incredibly guilty that we didn’t invite her. I had absolutely no idea she was there. Then, to compound the shock, Leah, my best friend since high school, showed up mid-meal after telling me a couple days before that she was stuck in Dubai. We had a fabulous meal which included an array of foods I can’t even remember. We then headed to the Groundlings where my third surprise awaited in the form of my friend Iris, who joined us for the show.

Needless to say, I was kind of in a daze the entire evening.

The day after my birthday we went to celebrate with my grandparents and mom, who made me a Thanksgiving dinner, the most delicious from-scratch chocolate cake with Swiss Buttercream and gave me a KitchenAid with Dhiren! I also received some awesome cutting mats, an emulsifier and a set of French bakeware.

It was a fabulous birthday and totally worth not being able to fit in my pants!

Back to the present. I’ve been craving lobster rolls for a LONG time ever since I stumbled across a recipe online, and decided to utilize my KitchenAid for the first time to mix it all together! I was initially worried that I wouldn’t get much use out of the KitchenAid, but I can easily see how it is going to make my life a lot simpler and neater, especially since I am not talented at swirling around those hand-held mixers.

Now I didn’t actually use lobster in these because langoustine was simply more convenient and I avoided making two grocery store trips.

Ingredients (makes 3-4 small sandwiches like the one pictures)

  • 1 package of frozen langoustine tails (Trader Joe’s sells a 12 oz package)
  • 1/8 cup of mayonnaise
  • 1 stalk of celery, chopped finely
  • 1 teaspoon of dill
  • 1 Tablespoon, fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/2-1 teaspoon of salt (or to taste)
  • pepper to taste
  • 3-4 rolls, or French baguette (as pictured)
  • 2 Tablespoons melted butter

Recipe:

1. Defrost langoustine tails, and chop. Dump into a bowl. 

I love my new Martha Stewart chopping mats!

2. Add the celery, dill, parsley, salt and pepper and mix for a couple minutes until well blended. 

3. Top roll or baguette with salad mixture and brush butter on the top.

Took about 10 minutes. This makes a nice addition to the usual egg & chicken salad routine!

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cheesy egg sandwich & a chat about breakfast

Breakfast has always been my favorite meal of the day. It sets the tone and establishes the comforting  idea that I have eaten today. Even if I can’t eat for the rest of the day– I forget to pack a lunch, I get caught up doing something and can’t find time, I end up stranded in a desert somewhere– it’s okay because I had a nice, hearty breakfast. This is the reason why as much as I love Italy, I seriously don’t understand how Italians forgo breakfast. Cookies, pastries and coffee are delicious, but it just doesn’t cut it for me as a start to my day.

When we were in Sicily this last December, Paolo (the husband of my 5th cousin, Francesca) shook his head as I described how we typically eat eggs for breakfast in America. He would frown and say pesante (heavy), cautioning us that eating eggs at the start of the day would make us fat. Cookies however, are totally cool.

The real tragedy is that for the first couple days during our stay they did give us eggs in an effort to make us feel at home, and they were the BEST eggs I’ve ever eaten: fresh from a nearby farm, deep-colored yolks, cooked in butter and served with the most delicious bread.  So good. But after seeing them look on in horror, we finally decided we would do as the Sicilians do and nibble on our biscotti and sip our cafe in the morning, and then proceed to eat our weight in pasta at lunch.

California apricots are so delicious this summer

My daily at-home cappuccino

Although I was sad to leave Sicily, I definitely longed for my California breakfast. Normally in the morning I take a cappuccino and an egg in some form (I love soft boiled and poached eggs) paired with one or two of the following: a piece of toast, a good-quality frozen (or fresh) waffle, juice, oatmeal, yogurt, fruit, bacon, a sourdough muffin, a pancake or a smoothie. This combination of fruit + protein + carb will lead to a happy Danielle. The only thing I will NOT eat for breakfast is cereal. I just don’t do cereal. The bottom line is, I won’t waste my time with unfulfilling, processed bits of flakes, whether they are sugar-coated flakes or cardboard flakes. Cereal is a soulless food and a horrible way to begin a day, in my humble opinion.

Today is the boyfriend’s day off, so I offered to make him my “famous” egg sandwich. Now, let me say that the boyfriend and I do not eat these regularly and neither should you if you want to avoid heart attacks and gallstones. Nevertheless, these make a great treat for the occasional brunch.

Ingredients (for one sandwich… double or triple it if you intend to make more than one).

  • 2 eggs
  • 2-3 Tablespoons buttermilk OR half-and-half
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • Pepper to taste
  • 3 Tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 2 Tablespoons butter OR butter substitute (I used ghee because we’re out of butter and Earth Balance)
  • 4 Tablespoons cheddar cheese, grated
  • 2 slices Italian, French or sourdough bread

Recipe:

  1. Crack eggs into a small bowl and whisk with a fork until well-blended. Add buttermilk, salt & pepper to taste.
  2. Heat up a skillet on medium. Put 1-2 teaspoons of butter in the pan and then add the egg mixture, continuing to scramble with spatula or fork. If the pan is well-heated, they should cook for literally 20 seconds. My secret to great scrambled eggs is to remove them from heat while they are still a little runny because they continue to cook. Nothing is worse that overcooked eggs.
  3. Toss grated cheese into the eggs & allow the heat to melt the cheese.
  4. Meanwhile, take the two slices of bread and spread butter on one piece and mayo on the other. Take the eggs with melted cheese and carefully stack on one slice of bread, and cover with the other. Then spread mayo on the outside of the bread– this is my “secret” for amazing grilled sandwiches.
  5. Let the pan re-heat to medium-low, and place the sandwich on the skillet, heating up and getting perfectly crispy and hot. Flip and repeat.

Want to make this even worse for you (read: more amazing)? Cook a couple pieces of bacon and then cook the scrambled eggs in the bacon drippings instead of butter and add bacon to it.  This is what I did in these photos, which is why the eggs look kind of “off.” I found this version AMAZING, but Dhiren prefers his egg sandwiches straight-up sans bacon flavor (which makes sense since he is a recently converted vegetarian and doesn’t know any better).

You can also add: avocado, tomato and/or make this healthier by choosing a higher-fiber bread, using egg whites and cutting way back on the fat. I actually ended up eating a poached egg with some fruit and bacon in my effort to keep it paleo, but the boyfriend offered me a bite of his sandwich (not like he had a choice!)

the ultimate comfort food: spaghetti with clams

When I need comfort food, there is very little than can compete with a big bowl of perfectly al dente spaghetti, butter, clams, garlic, and yes, a fabulous pecorino.  I don’t care if all of Italy sneers in my face because I enjoy shellfish with cheese. I happen to like it, so THERE.  I totally understand the argument that cheese can mask the natural aroma of great seafood, but I’m tired of this antiquated myth circling about that eating cheese and seafood will give you an upset stomach, and/or make you a trashy human being. It won’t and if you like the taste, I hereby give you permission to grate away.

This quick dish can be filed under 10-minute meals.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 pound of pasta
  • 4 Tablespoons of butter
  • 1 medium shallot, loosely diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 cans of clams (I used the 6.5oz cans of Trader Joes’ Maine Whole Cherrystone Clams)
  • Salt to taste
  • Grated Pecorino or Pamesan (optional, to taste)

Recipe:

  • Vigorously salt a large vat of water and bring to a boil.
  • Throw in the pound of pasta once the water is hot and time it according to your preference. I usually cook spaghetti for 8 1/2 minutes, testing it along the way until it has the perfect bite.
  • Meanwhile as the water boils and pasta cooks, heat 2 Tablespoons of butter on a skillet. Be careful not to let it burn (I love ghee, or clarified butter for this very reason).
  • Once the pan is hot, toss in the shallots and cook for one to two minutes. Then add the garlic. After another minute finally add in the clams.
  • Drain the pasta and then throw it back into the pot, along with the clams. Toss 2 more Tablespoons of butter (or however much you need to get the pasta coated).
  • Salt to taste and grate fresh pecorino or parmesan over each serving (optional).

tips for making homemade ding dongs

I’ve been meaning to bake my Mom homemade Ding Dongs for a while now since she loves the wrapped-in-tin-foil version. Since her birthday is fast-approaching, I decided to give A Cozy Kitchen’s recipe a whirl (which is adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s recipe). I’m very grateful I tried this out a couple days before as a test-run, because these cakes were way more temperamental than I ever imagined.  So here are my tips, tricks and observations in the event that you try out this recipe yourself.

1. Get a a high-quality chocolate for both the cake AND the ganache. This does not mean Nestle-brand quality folks. I made the error of using a random baker’s chocolate form Ralph’s, and next time I will totally splurge on the pricier, high-end chocolate because I can taste a difference.

2. Second, if you decide to make these in the shape of smaller cakes (as opposed to Smitten Kitchen’s regular-sized layer cake), then skip the part where you flip out the cooled cake entirely. Instead, use the pastry cutter and cut each mini-cake while still in the pan. Then, carefully pull out the outer bits of cake and set aside ( I fully intend to use these scraps for rum balls by the way). Use a spatula to slide the cake out of the pan and thus, avoid dealing with it sticking or having to use parchment paper. I used this method with half of the cakes with success (except for one little guy on the left that was accidentally diced in the wrong spot). This method will yield pretty little complete cakes.

3. Contrary to both blogs that insist on 10″ pans, this recipe worked great with two 9″ pans AND baked at 300 degrees for 45 minutes.

4. Use a larger-sized, round pastry cutter, especially if you want to stuff these with a decent amount of frosting. I experimented with both and definitely prefer the larger cake (but I’m also a glutton, so don’t necessarily listen to me…)

5. I did not have success with Smitten Kitchen’s directions for 7-minute frosting. I’ve made several 7-minute frostings before throughout my life with great success. Smitten’s failed on me three times and was too “liquidy” (I think the fault could be with a too-hot temperature over the double-boiler). I ended up beating some heavy cream and then adding a tad of runny 7-minute frosting to make a thicker filling because after my third attempt I was about to have a kitchen meltdown.

Even though these turned out good with 1/2 heavy cream and 1/2 marshmallow frosting, I wouldn’t recommend heavy cream as a filler for these.

6. Take time cutting out the holes in the cake in a calm and rationale way, and don’t forget which top pairs to the cake… seems simple enough, but the last thing you want to do is spend an extra ten minutes trying to match cake tops!

7. When you put the tops back on, be sure to cut off part of the bottom of the tops! I ended up pushing a lot of the frosting out from my too-big tops.

8. Be sure everything is cool… I was impatient and worked with hot cake, which is a major no-no. Impetuous people don’t make great bakers…

In the end these tasted great and didn’t leave a typical aftertaste in my mouth like normal ding-dongs. Next week I’ll post a follow-up to let you guys know how the REAL batch came out for Mom. In the meantime, my freezer is full of ding dongs. Any takers?

Salmon Tacos in a Carmelized Agave Butter Sauce with Mango Salsa

The moment I realized I had all the ingredients I needed to make these tacos happen tonight, I got excited. Probably a little too excited.

Salmon tacos have been on my list of ultimate comfort food since I tried them for the first time a couple years ago at one of my favorite Mexican places called Taco Mesa in Costa Mesa. They serve this incredible salmon taco with a creamy butter sauce along with a mango relish that is to die for. But, at $4/taco I soon realized that I needed to recreate this in my kitchen and save some dough. This recipe is all-the-way-paleo if you just omit the tortilla (replace it with mixed greens!) There’s something so incredibly delicious about salmon with agave and butter as well.

Ingredients (makes 2 servings)

  • 2 pieces Wild Salmon
  • 2 tbsp butter (I use clarified butter, also called “ghee“)
  • 2 tbsp agave syrup
  • 3 tomatoes
  • 3/4 onion
  • handful of cilantro
  • 2 yellow mangos
  • 1 lime or 1/2 lemon (I like using lemon more and more in my salsas these days)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • tortillas (for a treat I use flour tortillas, but tonight I used an Ezekiel flourless tortilla)

Recipe:

1. Chop up the onion, tomato, cilantro and mango and combine in a bowl to make the salsa. Add fresh lime or lemon juice and then salt and pepper to taste.

2. Heat up the grill (I just use a George Foreman) and add the salmon to the grill with the skin still on, face-down. Cook for about 3 minutes on one side, depending on the heat of the grill you’re using. Flip over and continue to cook. You can peel off the skin at this point (Fun fact: salmon skin really grosses me out for some reason… if my hand accidentally touches it I jump, squeal and get really skeeved)

3. Once the salmon has cooked for a few more minutes, I flip it over once more to cook for about a minute on the side that had the skin (so it gets those nice, even grill marks).

4. Meanwhile, I combine the agave syrup and ghee into a small saucepan or frying pan, and melt it together on low heat. I gradually turn up the heat while stirring, allowing the agave to bubble and caramelize.

5. Transfer the salmon to a plate and pour the butter sauce over the salmon.

6. Heat either two small tortillas per person, or one large tortilla. If you have a tortilla skillet, great! If not, you can use the grill or the toaster oven.

7. Add the salmon and salsa on the tortilla and eat!

Sage & Butter Filet Mignon with Yam Fries and Asparagus

Wow this blog has gathered a lot of dust! 6 months worth of dust… my excuse has always been that I don’t have enough time, but I finally admitted to myself that since I spend hours watching Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (judge away) and staring vacantly at Facebook, I have no excuse. Since I last posted we moved to a (way better) apartment closer to L.A., I started grad school and the boyfriend and I traveled to Rome and Sicily in December (major food post to come). Things have definitely been on the up and up and I am now settling into 20 days of spring break (thus, the rekindling of this site!). I’m hoping to infuse this blog with some broader topics though as I move forward (because there is more to life than grub) so be on the lookout for posts on fitness, music, health, DIY, fashion and general rants. I’ll first start by posting an easy recipe from last week.

As some friends and family know, I’ve been slowly leaning towards eating more and more Paleo (a.k.a. “the caveman diet”) and for a solid two weeks I was following Whole30, which is an even stricter version of Paleo where you only eat high-quality meat & fish, vegetables, fruits and certain fats like olive oil, seeds and nuts for 30 days. Well, I didn’t make it to 30 days. I technically didn’t make it past four days, but I’m going to be delusional and not count a certain night of excessive drinking post-performance. It just didn’t happen, alright?

I nonetheless feel amazing while eating Paleo and the more I research, read and experiment the more it makes sense. For the first time in a LONG time a lot of my stomach issues disappeared and I am now 10 pounds away from weighing what I did in highschool. How do you like them egg rolls? My only complaint is that we (non-cavemen) have unfortunately been conditioned to have something called variety. So, I am trying to figure out how to eat paleo “most of the time” while being able to dip into my fav non-paleo meals without getting too cray-cray. I mean, a life without pasta and wine is not a life.

With that said, let’s talk about STEAK:

Filet mignon is seriously my favorite cut of beef and is one of the many perks of eating Paleo. It melts in your mouth, is tender and soft and is a super low-maintenance cut. All l I did was salt & pepper it and then seared it over high heat until rare. I took some fresh, chopped sage and simmered it on low heat with a couple teaspoons of clarified butter (also know as “ghee”). I chopped up some yam fries and sautéed some fresh asparagus with shallots and olive oil, and had dinner ready in 20 minutes.

[I always cut the ends off my herbs, stick them in some water and cover to keep them fresh throughout the week.]

Oh, this is making me nostalgic. Lately I’ve been indulging in a little too much sugar, and half and half in my coffee, and spaghetti, and Trader Joe’s appetizers, and bites of the boyfriend’s Del Taco quesadillas, etc…. and the result is, I don’t feel too snazzy. I’m planning to return to the “straight and narrow” starting on Monday. I’d start back up tomorrow but we are visiting the fam for brunch and while I am a strong woman, I don’t know if I can (or really want to) pass on my Dad’s amazing waffles. Before I head to sleep though, look! I bought some new Asics so I can look cool at the gym again. My old running shoes had holes in them (yes, plural) and they squeaked. I was getting some funny looks from the little old ladies at the YMCA. But now I’ll show them!

Braised Lamb Chops & Asparagus Risotto

I’ve classified this under “Danielle’s Favorite Meals.”

There’s really not much to say about this dish: it was amazing, and it’s definitely a pairing I want to store in my virtual cookbook and bring out when I want to woo someone or prove to people that I am sophisticated…

Once in a rare while I will come up with an original “recipe” (i.e. I’ll throw whatever I have in the fridge together in a makeshift dinner), but usually I steal other people’s tested recipes for my kitchen. Sometimes they are fantastic, others are… well, not so fantastic. That’s where this blog comes in. I want to be able to remember the good ones and let the other failed recipes fade away like a bad trip to Souplantation.

In this case, both the balsamic reduction and risotto were recipes I found online, and both turned out amazing. I’ve just copied and pasted them here- don’t judge me. I’m way too tired and behind in posts to type out these recipe and  add my personalized notes to them, and since I didn’t change much of anything in either one, there’s no need to.

Lamb & Balsamic Reduction a la All Recipes:

Ingredients

  • 3/4 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 4 lamb chops (3/4 inch thick)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup minced shallots
  • 1/3 cup aged balsamic vinegar
  • 3/4 cup chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon butter

Directions

  1. In a small bowl or cup, mix together the rosemary, basil, thyme, salt and pepper. Rub this mixture onto the lamb chops on both sides. Place them on a plate, cover and set aside for 15 minutes to absorb the flavors.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Place lamb chops in the skillet, and cook for about 3 1/2 minutes per side for medium rare, or continue to cook to your desired doneness. Remove from the skillet, and keep warm on a serving platter.
  3. Add shallots to the skillet, and cook for a few minutes, just until browned. Stir in vinegar, scraping any bits of lamb from the bottom of the skillet, then stir in the chicken broth. Continue to cook and stir over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, until the sauce has reduced by half. If you don’t, the sauce will be runny and not good. Remove from heat, and stir in the butter. Pour over the lamb chops, and serve.

Asparagus Risotto a la New York Times

Adapted from Mario Batali

Time: 45 minutes

1 pound asparagus, peeled, trimmed and cut into one-inch-long pieces, tips reserved
4 to 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
1/3 medium red onion, diced
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
Salt to taste
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese.

1. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add half the asparagus stalks and cook until quite soft, at least 5 minutes. Rinse quickly under cold water. Put cooked asparagus in a blender or food processor and add just enough water to allow machine to puree until smooth; set aside.

2. Put stock in a medium saucepan over low heat. Put oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a large, deep nonstick skillet over medium heat. When it is hot, add onion, stirring occasionally until it softens, 3 to 5 minutes.

3. Add rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is glossy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add white wine, stir, and let liquid bubble away. Add a large pinch of salt. Add warmed stock, 1/2 cup or so at a time, stirring occasionally. Each time stock has just about evaporated, add more.

4. After about 15 minutes, add remaining asparagus pieces and tips, continuing to add stock when necessary. In 5 minutes, begin tasting rice. You want it to be tender but with a bit of crunch; it could take as long as 30 minutes total to reach this stage. When it does, stir in 1/2 cup asparagus puree. Remove skillet from heat, add remaining butter and stir briskly. Add Parmesan and stir briskly, then taste and adjust seasoning. Risotto should be slightly soupy. Serve immediately.

Yield: 3 to 4 servings.