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!

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).

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!

Let’s Get STEAMY

The New Year is a time for all of us to reflect on our lives, contemplate our achievements and failures, look into the future and pledge resolutions for making us better people, and to LOSE WEIGHT!

Just kidding! ( but not really…) On New Year’s Day the whole nation realizes that eating Halloween candy, stuffing, English toffee and buttered rums nonstop for three month’s causes some unflattering bulges and a serious case of lowered self-esteem due to ill-fitting pants. I personally did a decent job this Fall up until December 10th. Then, I just went crazy and ate star-shaped sugar cookies for breakfast. It was like Hansel and Gretel in my apartment for three weeks. But now the fairy tale is over, I’m 5 pounds heavier, and it’s time to shift back into a more veggie-centric eating plan.

This leads us to today’s dinner: “A boring, vegetable soup.”

At least, that’s what I thought as I lifelessly began chopping carrots. But, surprisingly enough, it wasn’t boring and turned out to be quite tasty and filling. Plus it is  worth 1 Weight Watcher’s point a cup.

To make a tasty soup, all you need to do is throw a mix of your favorite vegetables into a soup pot. I used broccoli, celery, spinach, carrots, zucchini, onion, garlic, red pepper and cauliflower. Pour in enough chicken stock so that the vegetables are covered and then bring it to a boil. Once it boils, turn the heat to low and let it simmer for 10-15 minutes. Season with thyme, lemon juice, pepper and (lots of) sea salt. You can also add in some noodles or rice if you need your carb fix.

What is YOUR favorite low-calorie dinner? I’m taking suggestions for upcoming posts. In addition to the vegetables, I’m starting up Pilates again, which I’m really happy about! I’m so sore I can barely manage to do basic functions. No matter how much walking or running you do, nothing will leave you more sore than a Pilates class.

Now I’ll leave you with this hilarious, and kind of inappropriate, “morning warm-up” workout video. I had visions of myself making a video of me attempting this, but then I realized I would live a life of shame from then on… so I decided against it.

Four-Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms

Stuffed mushrooms are SO tasty and versatile, not to mention easy and fast to make. Since bread is off-limits for the first two weeks on the South Beach Diet as well, they work as a nice substitution for bread in pizzas and as an accompaniment to cheese.

Soft or full-fat cheeses are not allowed on the SBD until later or in moderation, so if you are really strict about no cheating whatsoever, you can substitute it with a reduced fat cheese. Dhiren brought home these two cheeses though and they worked out nicely and added lots of flavor. I don’t think 2 tbsp of cheese is going to set me back or rekindle any cravings.

To make these lovelies, you need:

  • 3 stuffing mushrooms (I made one serving)
  • 1/2 c. skim Ricotta
  • 1 tbsp Gouda
  • 1 tbsp Chambozla (you can substitute any type of soft cheese for this)
  • 2 tbsp shallots, minced
  • 2 tbsp garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tbsp parsley
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Clean mushrooms and remove the “gills” on the inside with a spoon. Heat a skillet and then cook mushrooms for 4-6 minutes on medium heat. This reduces the time needed in the oven.

2. After 3-4 minutes, toss in the minced shallots, garlic and parsley and sauté in a tsp of olive oil. Scrape into a bowl, add the cheeses and incorporate together with a fork.

3. Place mushrooms in a baking dish with the rest of the olive oil (I just used a cake pan– whatevs!) and fill them with the cheese mixture. Salt & pepper them, and then place in the oven to cook for 5-8 minutes or until the mushrooms are soft and the cheeses bubbly. Next time I try this, I’m going to try broiling it, so the cheese gets that nice browned look on top.

4. Decorate with a couple sprigs of parsley or maybe one of these bad boys:

I hope you like lamb

 

I’m not a serious meat person, but the thought of a lamb chop always makes me excited. We never had lamb for dinner in either of the homes I grew up in. Instead, I was raised on chicken, beef and turkey with the occasional veal cutlet and fish thrown in. Trying lamb for the first time was a taste-bud meltdown. (The same is true for duck!) The thing I love the most about lamb is its simplicity and fat content. Lamb is so flavorful on it’s own, that there’s not much more you need to do to it.

Here are three pretty simple recipes for lamb: Simple Lamb Sliders, Oliveri Lamb Stew and Lamb Chops with Apricot Compote. MMM. Enjoy!

SIMPLE LAMB SLIDERS
Sometimes you want to cook a meal in 10 minutes. You’re tired, cranky and not in the mood to mince garlic, measure out herbs and unload the fridge, but, you also want pizazz. Well, then this recipe is for you. I personally think lamb is good enough on it’s own without seasoning, just be sure to splurge on a good-quality, fresh ground lamb. It’ll be a little pricey, but well worth the extra cash. You’ll need:

Ground lamb
English muffins (whole-grain-it-up for your <3) or typical mini hamburger buns
Apricot jam (or a chutney of your liking)
Onions
Olive Oil

1. Form the lamb into small 1/4 inch balls and smash together while you heat up a portable grill (godbless my George Foreman) or use a real one if you have it.

2. Heat up olive oil (1-2 tbsp) in a small frying pan. Chop some onion into long slivers. Once the oil is ready, throw in the onions and caramelize.

3. Grill the lamb to your liking.

3. Toast the English muffin. Once done, top with a thin layer of apricot jam or chutney. Fix the lamb on top and then put some caramelized onions on it. Delish.

Serve it alongside fresh arugula with balsamic oil and you’ve got a complete meal.

OLIVERI LAMB STEW

This is a quintessential wintry fall stew, so bookmark it for a cold, rainy day (which we probably won’t have here in California for another eight months…)

My friend Steven made this for me about three years ago and it changed my life. Steven is one of the best chefs & bakers I know, and I wish he’d put together a food blog of his own so we could all cook a little better.  This is his recipe verbatim, so thank you Steven!!

1 lb fresh green beans
1/4 C olive oil
3 lbs lamb shoulder, cut into 2 in cubes
1/2 C chopped onion
salt
pepper
1/2 C red wine vinegar (good quality)

1. Trim, wash, and drain beans.

2. In large pot, heat olive oil on medium high. When hot, brown meat deeply on all sides. ( several pieces at a time so as not to crowd the pot… ) Then transfer meat to a plate.

3. After all meat is browned and on the plate… cook the onion in the pot until its a pale gold color. Return lamb to pot. Add salt, pepper, and the vinegar. Bring the vinegar to a brisk simmer for about 30 seconds, turning the meat and scraping loose browning residues from the bottom and sides of the pot. turn the heat down to cook at a slow simmer. Add the green beans and cover the pot. Lid slightly ajar.

4. Cook for about 1 1/2 hours until the meat is very tender.

Lamb Chops with Apricot Compote

Saw this in a magazine a few years ago and tried it. Turned out to be really scrumptious. Sorry for the kind of gross-looking photo– took this picture before starting the food blog.

1/2 cup apricot preserves
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 teaspoon soy sauce (low sodium)
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cinnamon (ground)
1/8 tsp black pepper
lamb chops, trimmed

1. Combine the first four ingredients (apricot, mustard, garlic & soy sauce).
2. Combine the salt, cinnamon and pepper and sprinkle over lamb on both sides.
3. Heat a large skillet and then spray with Pam or cooking spray.
4. Cook lamb for apprx. 5 minutes on each side (or however well-done or not well-done you like it)
5. Add the apricot, lowering the heat to the lowest setting. Let it cook for another minute.

I served this with carrots cooked in olive oil and some fresh bread fried in the skillet with a tiny bit of olive oil and garlic.

Now I’m in the mood for a little Lamb Chop’s Playalong! Did anyone else grow up with this show? Love it.

“Bounce your bottom in your chair!”

You say Chickpea, I say Garbanzo

I’ve always wanted to make falafel, but assumed it was a complicated dish and avoided it. Well, it isn’t complicated and it’s a great quick, “kinda healthy” meal. You toss a bunch of ingredients in a blender or food processor, mash it into a little ball and fry it. Pretty painless, although it took me a while to assemble the ingredients since I didn’t have most of the spices and tahini. Here’s the recipe for a Mediterranean feast. You’ll need:

Falafel

  • 1 15-oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 3 Tbs. tahini
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 Tbs. grated lemon zest
  • 1½ tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 clove garlic, minced (1 tsp.)
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. ground coriander
  • ½ tsp. chili powder
  • ¼ tsp. salt (or to taste)
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 Tbs. finely chopped onion
  • 2 Tbs. chopped parsley
  • ½ tsp. baking powder
  • Olive oil, for frying

Yogurt Sauce

  • 2 cups plain nonfat yogurt
  • 3 Tbs. chopped cilantro
  • 2 Tbs. lemon juice
  • 2 Tbs. grated lemon zest
  • 1 Tbs. ground cumin

1. Pulse the first ten ingredients (through salt) in a blender or food processor until mostly smooth, but still chunky. Dump it into a large bowl and stir in the flour, onion, parsley, and baking powder.
2. Pour enough olive oil into large skillet to have 1/4 inch in bottom and heat. I always test the readiness with a couple breadcrumbs or a few drops of water. If the oil crackles and scalds you, it’s ready.
3. Shape 1/4 cup chickpea mixture into a patty like the one in the photo, and then lightly pat breadcrumbs on it and drop it carefully into the pan and cook 3 minutes per side until golden brown. Transfer to paper-towel-lined platter to drain. Don’t let the falafel stick together!
4. To make Yogurt Sauce: Combine all ingredients in serving bowl. Season with salt and pepper.

These turned out delicious and moist– one of my biggest complaints about falafel is that it tends to be super dry at some restaurants. I also put together a couscous salad. To make the couscous you prepare as directed on the box with slightly less water and no butter, then add around 6 Tbsp of olive oil, 1/2 chopped onion, a tomato, parsley and seasoning. I pretty much stuck to the recipe on the back of the TJ’s couscous box. Not very creative, but yummy. The boyfriend made a gyro out of his and wedged the falafel in a warm pita with hummus. I’m getting kind of hungry thinking about it.

WARNING: for those of you who don’t like chickpeas or have never used them, please note that chickpeas are the same thing as garbanzo beans. I traveled to three separate grocery stores like a moron searching for chickpeas with no luck. I like the name garbanzo better, and think it would also be a good name for a cat.