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!

Last Days of Summer

My boyfriend and I have been prepping for three big events: 1) his 30th birthday, 2) a big final recital for our students, which was held at my undergraduate college and 3) moving on September 1st. SO, with that said things have been seriously sad in the food department and we’re surviving on Trader Joe’s frozen pizzas and bags of marshmallows (I wish I was kidding). Despite losing 10 pounds in May & June, I’ve pretty much given up on any form of tracking my food or attending Weight Watchers meetings this month; exercise is entirely out of the question and cooking is my last priority. These things should be the most important priority in theory, but with so much going on it has all gone on the back burner. It took all of my energy to make a simple baked mac & cheese, BBQ chicken and some frozen vegetables a couple weeks ago, and since then it’s been bagels, doughnuts, boba drinks and an endless line of no-nutrition, surgery snacks. And exercise? Totally nonexistent aside from packing boxes and painting the new place.

Once we get into our new apartment, I am going to be completely revitalizing our eating. First, we will have a GAS STOVE! Whoopie! Second, we will be living close to  a couple renowned farmer’s markets. Third, our schedules will start getting into a groove with me going back to grad school and the boyfriend teaching.

I’m SO happy with our new apartment and am so ready for the move in two days. We can’t believe we found a place that actually met all our criteria: gas oven, 2 bedrooms, hardwood/ bamboo floors, ~900 sq feet of space, safe & suburban setting but 30-40 minutes from downtown LA, UCLA, Orange County, etc., laundry hook-ups, garage parking, ample storage, tons of closet space, in a triplex (as opposed to an apartment complex) AND it’s in our price range. Needless to say we are thrilled.

The only slight problem is that despite having a huge kitchen, the cabinets are kind of ugly and there actually isn’t that much counter & storage space. So, we’re going to purchase one of these babies ASAP:

Once we’re settled-in, I’ll start my regular food posts again. Check out this crazy rainbow I saw while driving on the 55 two days ago! It was actually a double-rainbow at one point, and you can kind of make it out in the second and third pictures. Anyhow, happy end-of-summer!

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.

Ricotta & Wheat Pies [start of a new Easter tradition]

Ricotta & wheat pies are not an Easter tradition in my own family, but I have declared it a new tradition from here on out. They are crusted with a pasta frolla (a kind of shortbread), and then filled with a sweet ricotta filling, either adding chocolate or wheat berries at the end. My grandmother always made Sicilian Easter Rings growing up, and next year I’ll tackle those as a new project.

I made a total of 8 pies for Easter to give away as gifts and bring to the various households (both my boyfriend and I come from split families, so there’s always double to dish out) It was not a small feat considering my sad excuse for a kitchen and erratic stove. They turned out fabulous to my surprise. I used two different ricotta bases, and the version with the wheat was the general favorite. The wheat pies turned out lighter and creamier, whereas the ricotta pies were thicker and denser.

SO, I’ve adapted the recipe so that the base is the same, and you can simply add the wheat or chocolate chips at the end.

This recipe makes two pies. Go ahead and make the dough 1 full day in advance. It softens very, very quickly once you begin handling it. Make the wheat berries in advance too (takes about 1 hour or so).

Pasta Frolla- The Dough

  • 4 sticks of butter, room temp.
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup water, room temp.
  • 4 cups flour

1. Cream together the butter and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy.

2. Add the zests, the honey, the baking soda and baking powder. Mix for about 1 minute until everything is really incorporated.

3. Add the water, beating at medium speed until you’ve created a liquid batter.

4. Add the flour and mix until you’ve created a nice little ball of dough. Do not over-mix or knead it like you would if you were making pizza dough.

5. Wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or for a full day.

6. Prepare your pie pan with a cooking spray or grease. Set aside 1/4 of the dough for the lattice strips on top. Roll out the bulk of the dough so it can cover the pie tin/ plate (about 13-14″). Gently lift and drop the pie tin/plate so the dough settles, and then trim off the edges.

Tips:

  • Work quickly with the dough, because it begins to soften immediately.
  • Use plastic wrap above and below the dough while rolling it out, so it won’t stick to anything. Pull off half of the plastic wrap when you’re ready to place the dough, and then after you’ve folded it over the pie tin, peel off the remaining wrap.
  • If you’re going to use metal, disposable tins, either bake the pie with three of them stacked up OR place the tin on a pre-heated baking sheet. This will help it cook more evenly.

The Filling

  • 2 pounds ricotta
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 6 tablespoons of orange blossom water (optional) 
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 orange
  • 5 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 6 extra large eggs
  • 1 pound wheat berries (prepared) or 2 cups mini chocolate chips (both optional, depending on the kind of pie you want)
1. Prepare the wheat berries (if you’re making a wheat pie) by soaking them for 10 minutes in warm water. Fill a large pot with enough water to cover the berries (as if you are making rice) and bring to a simmer. Add the drained wheat berries, along with the zest, juice and rind of an orange and some honey, brown sugar and a pinch of salt. Cook for about an hour, until the berries are still chewy but soft. Stir often so the bottom doesn’t burn and then drain, and set aside to cool.
2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
3.  Incorporate the ricotta, the two zests, the sugar and the orange blossom water.
4. Add the eggs one at a time until everything is thoroughly mixed and fluffy.
5. Fold in either the wheat berries OR the chocolate chips OR leave it plain!

6. Pour the mixture into the pie shell until it is about 3/4 full. Top it with a thin layer of pasta frolla or a lattice design. Use an egg wash and brush egg over the pie. Bake until it is golden brown, set but not too hard (it will continue cooking for a while). It took mine about 45 minutes to an hour.
7. Chill it and serve!
Tips:
  • It was a PAIN to find wheat berries. I went to Target (obviously futile), Sprouts/ Henry’s, Albertson’s and finally Mother’s Market, which of course has every random nut and flake you could ever dream up.
  • Be sure the wheat berries are cooked and ready to go before starting the mixture, because the actually filling takes minutes to stir together.
  • Wheat berries are cooked like rice, and make a fabulous breakfast. Swap out oatmeal for wheat berries!
  • If the pie is beginning to brown too much on the crust, cover it with foil.

Now bring us some figgy pizza!

I should totally be going to bed right now, especially since tomorrow I’ve sworn to wake up at the crack of dawn and begin damage control. The past two weeks have been pure overindulgence excused by Easter and the big news that I will be attending UCLA in the Fall on a full Fellowship! I’m in a constant state of shock. This will mean a new apartment and completely new life in L.A. come September. I plan to savor my last few months here in Costa Mesa, for as much as people love to complain about Orange County, I’ve really enjoyed my life here over the past couple years.

 Some of the food highlights from the past two weeks include an exorbidant amount of See’s Scotchmallow eggs, lunch out today at The Counter in Marina del Rey (see below!), dinner with Leah at Paco’s, pasta night with Iris, dinner at Mozza’s in Newport Beach, salmon eggs benedict for Easter at Dad’s, Nana’s Ham & Yams, and oh yeah….  8 pies I baked as gifts in my small kitchen the Friday before Easter [post to follow later this week].

So anyhow, back to this pizza! Two weeks ago, we literally ate pizza four nights in a row… we are complete pizza addicts. Dhiren made a pizza with goat cheese & figs and it was SO good that I made it again the following day.

Ingredients:

Basic pizza dough
Figs (fresh are the best, but since they were out of season, I used dried)
Goat cheese, crumbled
Honey
1/2 Onion
Olive oil
Mozzarella, grated

1. Prepare your dough! I will put a basic pizza dough recipe up in a couple days for those of you who are curious. For years I bought Trader Joe’s dough, but now we make our own. Not to knock Joe’s, but it always seemed impossible to get a crunchy, perfect dough with their pre-made, refrigerated kind…

2. Caramelize the onions until they are sweet and a deep golden color.

3. I recommend soaking the dried figs for a while prior to heating them up. I didn’t have time to soak them, so I just threw them on a skillet for about 5-8 minutes and heated them with about a tbsp of honey prior to putting them on the pizza.

4. Preheat your oven to about 400 degrees.

5. Roll out your dough as you like it, and brush with olive oil. Crumble goat cheese on top, and grate mozzarella on the entire pizza. Arrange the onions and the figs.

6. Stick it in the oven until the dough is crunchy and cooked (our dough doesn’t LOOK ready in this photo, but it was perfect!) I always use the touch-test with doughs, since looks can sometimes be deceiving.

I love combining sweet and savory flavors, and this is the PERFECT pizza for that. Hope some of you try it out!

Maple Syrup & Brown Sugar Parfait

Label this under “fast, simple & decadent.”

Ingredients:

  • 2/3 cup nonfat, plain yogurt
  • 1 1/2 tbsp maple syrup (pure)
  • 1/4 cup cereal (I used raisin bran)
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • strawberries
  • blueberries

Take a clear glass and fill the bottom layer with 1/3 cup of organic, nonfat yogurt. Then top it with 2 tsp of pure, maple syrup. Crush 1/4 cup of cereal, or granola and sprinkle on top. Then add a layer of blueberries, followed by more yogurt, maple syrup, strawberries and then the brown sugar. Brûlée the brown sugar with a torch (I know… I’m obsessed with the torch. It makes everything 100 times more amazing though, I swear…)

This has 6 Weight Watchers points, and is a delicious snack or dessert.

Anyhow, life took over last month with grad auditions, lots of practicing and working on my eating habits. Met my 5% weight loss goal two weeks ago, which was no small feat since I have a lot of weight to lose. I neglected this blog all last month, but no more. Next up is a spinach quiche I made earlier in January that turned out amazing, as well as my first multi-tiered layered cake (and fondant!!) Excited to get back on the boat and dedicate more time to this.

How to Poach Your Eggs with Pride

I’ve been a little obsessed with poached eggs lately. They are so delicious & healthy and have a softer consistency than a fried egg. Whenever I fry my eggs, I always feel a little vulgar as well, even though I don’t actually fry them in fat. Eating a poached egg however, always leaves me feeling very refined.

Directions:

  • Bring about three inches of water close to a simmer in a large saucepan.
  • Drop a splash of vinegar in the water (this will help “tighten” up the egg- or at worst, give you a false sense of confidence). Crack one egg into a small bowl (this makes it easier).
  •  Carefully slide the egg into the water.
  • Using a spatula, help the egg keep its shape and allow the white of the egg to envelope the yolk.
  • Boil for about three minutes.
  • Use a slotted spoon to gently scoop up the egg, and set it in a bowl. Wait for about 30 seconds, and then using a paper towel, swirl the bowl around to drain the water “run-off” (sounds appetizing, huh?) and dab. Some people like to drain the egg on the paper towel, but I always worry that it’s going to stick to the paper!
I usually do about three-four at a time for the boyfriend and me, using a large, wide saucepan. I haven’t encountered any problems doing this. I just use a spatula to help the eggs stay in their place and fold over.

Goodbye little Poachie. I mean, you’re cute and all, but I can poach four eggs in three minutes on my own, and well…. you’re just holding me back.