Eating Out @ Claro’s Italian Market

A couple of the families I teach for live close to Claro’s Italian Market in Tustin. This means that once a week on my route, I am consumed with one thought:

Italian cookies.

We don’t really have many options here in Orange County when it comes to good, authentic Italian bakeries and stores. Growing up in Arcadia & Monrovia, CA I was lucky enough to live close to another Claro’s and I have tons of nostalgic memories of going there with my Nana on her trips to get fresh deli meat, cheeses and of course, cookies.

So, once in a while I cave in and make a pit stop for some of my favs. I really want to master some Italian cookie and pastry recipes (namely, the chocolate buttons, rainbow cookies, shells with cream, plain anisette cookies, Mom’s chocolate chip biscotti, fig cookies and sfogliatelle, which you can’t find in So Cal). My Nana is the person to go to for that Italian fig cookie recipe. Every year she makes them around Christmas and I hope to have her teach me this year so I can continue the tradition in my own home.

[gasp: stolen photo from the internet #1]

Anyhow, I went to Claro’s a few weeks ago to garner all of the ingredients for tiramisu which I brought to Dhi’s family reunion in Cayucos. The tiramisu turned out “ok.” You definitely need to soak the ladyfingers in authentic espresso and a liquer to give it any sort of oomph. Mine was only soaked in (dare I confess it) instant espresso. It was an Italian brand, but it was on a pinch since I was sans espresso maker at the time. The actual dessert is REALLY expensive to make though! I mean, for the sweet marsala and marscapone alone, you’re looking at a $15 cake.’

Anyhow, sweet dreams of cookies.

[gasp: stolen photo from the internet #2]

(PS: Despite having a crazy birthday week including a 6-course French meal, lots of cupcakes, sweets galore and many splurges, I lost 2lbs at my weigh-in today! How cool is that? The pilates, walking and counting points paid off for the rest of the week. I’m officially down 4.6lbs on Weight Watchers, and loving it. I’ll post more about it when I hit my 10% loss and have something substantial to boast about.)


Birthday Post 2011

Today is my birthday and it’s been a fabulous year full of food, friends, family, travel and life! I’ve been reflecting on all the amazing times I’ve had over the past year and feel super blessed to have the life I do! Here are some highlights & awards:

Favorite Restaurant: Angelini Osteria (going there  tonight for my birthday din-din) Fresh, delicious, flavorful gourmet Italiano with an L.A. feel. Love the vibe, the intimacy and the food. I haven’t been to Mozza or Bocca, but I have a feeling this place isn’t easily topped.

Favorite Restaurant Runner Up: Cucina Urbana in San Diego. This is like the Bottega Louie of S.D. but it doesn’t have the pretense, anorexic-looking hipster Los Angelinas and the food was a notch better. Smaller portions, better, quirkier ambience.

Best breakfast: My Dad’s house. Seriously, my Dad makes the most amazing waffles ever. Sadly I don’t have any pictures, but hopefully I’ll fix that this weekend!

Best pastry: Lobster Tails from Court Bakery in Brooklyn. Crunchy, light and flaky on the outside, creamy, thick and sweet on the inside. Amazing pastry. Sadly you can’t find them anywhere near California (if you know of any place that has them, send me a message).

Favorite Dessert from my kitchen: Coconut Creme Pie. I was really impressed with my pie. I did not however, use fresh coconut or my own crust, but nonetheless, this was the best dessert I think I made all year.

Favorite meal from my kitchen: Eggplant & Zucchini Lasagna. Though, I’m super proud of my risotto, I thought this lasagna turned out amazing for my taste buds.

Favorite meaty meal: Lamb chops with apricot preserve and baked carrots.

Worst dish this past year: Egg soufleé a la microwave. This was quite possibly the most disgusting thing I’ve single-handedly made in my life. SO bland, mushy, uncooked, and simply revolting. So glad I’ve ditched the microwave too.

Favorite moment when I ate too much and got sick: Max’s Birthday Party catered by Ciao Cupcake. I think I ate 10 cupcakes that day, no joke.

Cooking goals for this birthday year:

  • Lobster Tails. I need to learn how to make them and give them as Christmas presents
  • Pad Thai (made it before years ago and it came out super dry)
  • Paneer from scratch
  • Mozzarella from scratch
  • Ice cream cake- always wanted to make an ice cream cake.
  • More curry!
  • Fondant-covered cakes
  • Healthier recipes! Now that I’ve started Weight Watchers, I can still eat whatever I want in moderate portions, but I want to learn some recipes that have fewer points and are healthier.
So happy birthday to me, and here’s to more eating, healthier recipes, and lots of cooking!

(PS: I’ve started noticing WordPress is now beginning to run ads on my blog. Not cool. So not cool.)

Eggplant Sandwich Replica

Since I finished classes at UCI this past December, there’s been a void in my life, and its name is “Chicken Eggplant Sandwich.” Most people who have attended UCI at one point or another stumble on Le Diplomat Cafe and try one of their (cheap) delicious sandwiches.

I decided to try and remake their vegetarian eggplant version (sans chicken).

The recipe:

– 4 tbsp mayo (makes extra aioli)
-1/2 minced garlic from TJs. You can use real garlic if you have a food processor and want it to be that much more fresh- I’d normally use real garlic, but I sadly don’t own a processor (hint, hint… birthday is on September 6th….)
– 1/2 tsp lemon juice,  freshly squeeze.
– French French baguette
– Feta cheese
-Eggplant (I use the Eggplant/Zucchini melange from TJs. Kind of expensive at $3.99, but it’s really good, and all you gotta do is heat it up. Time vs. Money and all…
– 1/2 Roma tomato.
– Sea salt to taste

1. Combine garlic, mayo and lemon juice in a small bowl and mix well.
2. In a small frying pan, heat the eggplant (or grill it/ fry it if using fresh eggplant), add some thinly sliced tomatoes to the pan a couple minutes before taking off the heat.
3. Cut baguette to whatever size you can eat & coat the inside with the garlic mayo.
4. Crumble feta cheese inside.
5. Put baguette open-faced in a toaster, and toast for about 5 minutes, or until feta is soft and gooey.
6. Layer one/two small pieces of eggplant and tomato in the baguette and lightly salt to taste.

Serves two. Goes well with ginger ale. 😉

Result: the garlic mayo at Le Dip is whole fat (I used reduced fat) and I don’t think that they put lemon juice in their aioli.  So mine was  tarter and a bit more acidic, but still pretty damned good, if I do say so myself! I forgot that eggplant is an acidic vegetable, so you really don’t need to add lemon. I think it would be better to add lemon if you plan to use the sauce on a chicken sandwhich though. I also  added extra veggies, whereas Le Dip’s is more sauce & cheese.

The main different was that I didn’t put NEARLY enough garlic compared to the original, so if you don’t mind offending everyone around you for 24 hours, add twice as much garlic and it’ll be more like Le Dip’s. Letting the mayo sit for a couple hours in the fridge after incorporating the garlic is probably a good idea too!

Hope one of you Le Dip lovers tests it out and let’s me know what you think!


Weekend of eating & reviews

I’ve already talked about my stint with the infamous coconut cream pie, but didn’t cover the rest of last weekend, which was just as delicious and sinful. I figure I’ll use the cheating as an opportunity to post a couple of reviews, especially since I won’t be frequenting these places for a long while. My eleven year-old brother, Christian, came to stay with me and Dhiren overnight, and we had a really fun time tasting our way around Orange County.

Review # 1: The Original Pancake House

The Saturday morning started at our favorite spot, The Original Pancake House in Anaheim. My mom is actually the one who introduced me and my brother to this place years ago. On the way back from trips to San Diego, we would often stop at the OPH in Aliso Viejo. That specific chain makes an incredible, and I mean incredible, Eggs Benedict.

Anyhow, back to last Saturday. Christian wasn’t impressed with the Western Omelette, but I liked the signature sherry mushroom one that I split with Dhiren. It came with their famous buttermilk pancakes, which I barely touched because of this bad boy:

Meet the notorious Apple Pancake. Oh. My. God. This photo can’t begin to explain how decadent this is. We ordered it with extra cinnamon and sugar, which was a good choice. Totally made the obnoxious 45-minute wait worth it. I also highly recommend the Dutch Baby, which is a lighter (but huge air-filled) pancake served with butter, powdered sugar and lemon. Though on the pricey side for eggs and pancakes, it is worth the extra money for the specialties that you can’t get anywhere else. I recommend going during the week, because who wants to compete with the aggressive and hungry church crowds?

Review #2: Sprinkles Cupcakes & Gelato Paradiso

Ok, we all know about Sprinkes and all the annoying press coverage its gotten. I personally think waiting in the sometimes-long line is totally worth it for the plain dark chocolate cupcake and the dark chocolate with coconut frosting. But, I am not a fan of red velvet cake in any form, including Sprinkles’ famed version. Since childhood I’ve always associated red velvet with the nasty Southern Armadillo Cake, which makes me gag. I don’t understand the hype over red velvet and think that a normal chocolate cupcake smothered in cream cheese frosting is far superior than one drenched in red-dye 40.

Christian is a huge red velvet fan however, and I won’t fault him for it, but even he thought that the red velvet tasted odd this time. I tried a bite and it left a horrible, metallic after-taste. Sure, he finished the cupcake because it’s $4– why let that money go to waste? But something was wrong. I don’t know if these cupcakes are losing quality because of mass production, or if someone tricked us and accidentally slipped in one of their vegan cupcakes, but it left much to be desired.

Looks pretty though!

Below is my favorite Sprinkles: the dark chocolate.

If you are visiting the Newport Beach Sprinkles and are discouraged by the long line and scary Newport housewives in their white SUVs, I highly recommend visiting Gelato Paradiso instead. Their Panna Cotta and Stracciatella are my favorite. It’s a better option all around, boasting a shorter line, lots of interesting and creamy flavors, similar prices for less calories and bloat.

I wanted to include a review of Natraj Cuisine of India, where Christian and I ended our foodventure (below), but that place deserves its own spot on my blog. My favorite dish, paneer masala, won Christian over though.

Thanks for being my partner in crime!