Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Chilled Summer Tortellini Salad

Ah the summer…the air is hot and the sun is blazing. For some reason, one thing I madly crave in the summer is a cold pasta salad. I can never get enough of any variety of these chilled delights in the months of July and August. This is a version of a tortellini salad my mom use to make in the summer growing up in the hot desert sun. This is perfect for any occasion dining alfresco and is extremely easy to make. Perfect for parties and potlucks, this is easy to make for feeding an army. Make your own version by adding your favorite veggies and meats. 

Chilled Summer Tortellini Salad
2 9 oz packages of Tortellini
4 slices of bacon, chopped up into 1 inch cubes
3 cups of spinach
1 handful of fresh basil, chopped
1 scallion, chopped
2 cups of grape tomatoes
8 oz of asiago cheese, shredded or flaked
1 3.8 oz can of sliced olives
¾ cups of olive oil
¼ cups of balsamic vinegar
1 tsp of brown sugar
1 clove of garlic, chopped or smashed
Salt and Pepper

Cook tortellini as directed on package (I have found that they all vary a tad). While the water is heating for the tortellini start your bacon, cook bacon until crispy, drain fat. Mix bacon while warm into spinach so spinach wilts a little, chill. Your tortellini should be done, drain and chill. When the tortellini is to desired temperature, add it into a large bowl with bacon and spinach mixture, basil, scallion, tomatoes, cheese and olives. Whisk together olive oil, balsamic, brown sugar, garlic (if using a smashed clove remember to remove it before adding the vinaigrette to the salad) and a pinch of salt and pepper. Taste vinaigrette to make sure it’s balanced, add sugar or salt accordingly. Pour vinaigrette over the salad and toss. Salt and pepper to taste. This recipe tastes best when flavors have had a chance to marinate, it can be eaten immediately but best if chilled for a couple hours. Garnish with basil leaves. I sometimes make this with fat free balsamic or Italian dressings instead of making my own. My mom uses salami, provolone, and Italian dressing. The sky is the limit on variations of this cold summer salad. Enjoy! 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Meyer Lemon Verbena Cake ~ An Ode to Mother

 Yesterday, we celebrated my amazing mother's birthday at the Mission Inn, in Riverside, CA. If you have never been, its an incredible historic inn, that has a phenomenal brunch on Sundays and awe inspiring Christmas lights in the winter. My mom is beyond incredible, words could never express how profound she is. The is the most seamlessly classy woman, somehow in an incredible effortless and never pretentious way. She is a wizard in the kitchen and at entertaining, she thrives on having a full home with full chairs at the dinner table.  A domestic goddess, she also earns huge marks from a feminist perspective. Super intelligent, my mother has balanced a 35 year teaching career, as well as a 12 year political career, while raising two children, maintaining a successful, loving marriage and countless philanthropic endeavors. My mom taught me the most powerful life lessons through example. As a little girl, I always saw my mom as fearless, unstoppable, focused and beyond strong. As I grow older, I see my mom not only as a superhero mom, but also as one of my dearest friends (don't worry this goes for you too, dad). The oh so special bond between daughter and parents, the unconditional love and deep friendship that we have is one of my most cherished aspects of life. It was such a pleasure to celebrate my wonderful mom, with my incredible family.

My Beautiful Mother and I 
In honor of my mom, I baked her a Meyer Lemon Verbena cake. I wanted something that would taste like summer air - crisp and fresh. This cake turned out very nicely but after a lot of modifications and "winging it" moments in the kitchen. Hopefully, my notes will make this easier on anyone who attempts this! My mom and dad said it tasted like lemon meringue pie as a cake. I made the frosting so it would be light and fluffy but not melt in the heat. We had to pack up the cake and travel for an hour in the summer heat with it, then it had to withstand dinner, then home with my parents. I froze the cake before our trip as well to ensure that it would survive intact. It worked!

Meyer Lemon Verbena Cake 

White Cake:
2 2/3 cups triple sifted flour or cake flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 large egg whites
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons lemon verbena - finely chopped (save yourself trouble and buy a plant, this is hard to find in a
grocery market)
2 tablespoon grated lemon zest
2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Lemon Curd:
4 large eggs
4 large egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup fresh Meyer lemon juice  
a splash of regular fresh lemon juice to taste, maybe a 1/4 cup
2 tablespoon Meyer lemon zest 
1 tablespoon regular lemon zest
1 and 1/2 stick unsalted butter - cubed
2 tablespoons of corn starch if needed 

2 cups heavy cream
1 8 oz package of cream cheese, softened
1 cup of granulated sugar - more or less on your taste
1 tablespoon of lemon zest
1 tablespoon of lemon juice - fresh squeezed please!
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Make the curd: 
This must chill overnight, so plan accordingly. In a large saucepan, (preferably over a double boiler, but if you are cautious you can attempt without) constantly whisk eggs, yolks, sugar, lemon juices, zests over low heat until thick, about 7 minutes until thick. Be cautious not to scorch the curd. Remove from heat and whisk in the butter until incorporated. Chill overnight. If the curd is not your desired thickness, (I wanted mine to be very thick to hold the four layers) you can reheat it and add corn starch until it gets to your desired consistency. Chill.

Bake the cakes: 
I made two batches of this recipe for a total of four layers but either way will work just fine! Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two cake pans and set aside. In a medium bowl sift together flour, baking soda and salt, set aside. In a large bowl, mix egg whites, butter, sugar until combined, then add sour cream, vegetable oil until everything is well combined. Stir in lemon verbena, zest and vanilla. Pour into round cake pans, place in the oven for about 20 minutes or until an insert comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

Make the frosting last: 
In a large bowl, mix heavy cream, cream cheese, sugar, zest, juice and vanilla until very thick. Cover and chill.

Assemble the cake: Carefully release the cakes from pans. Place one layer on a plate, spread the curd generously and evenly over the layer, repeat with another layer of cake until all assembled. Make sure its nice and sturdy if you are doing the four layers. Frost the cake.
 My tip: put tin foil in thin strips around where the cake will sit, that way, you can frost away and be messy, then remove foil and it looks like you are the cleanest cake froster in town! I garnished this cake with fresh, homegrown lavender that Todd grew. It was a hit!
The Mission Inn

The Mission Inn 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Going for the Gold

For the past several Olympics I have attended an Opening Ceremonies party thrown by my dear friends, Wendy and Andrew. Todd and I were thrilled to attend this year's festivities which occurred last night. The party was marvelous as always, Andrew, a master of mixology, appropriately mixed up the best gin and tonics in honor of London. I always look forward to being their guest as something about watching the Opening Ceremonies in great company seems to further cultivate the inspiration that comes with the Olympic Games.
For the party, I brought my host and hostess homemade Sticky Pudding with Toffee Sauce, fitting the theme of the evening. I was more than pleased with this recipe and will definitely be using this again when the weather gets a bit chillier. It was very easy and quick to make, I used a muffin pan instead of making it in a cake pan. These little pudding cakes are very, very sweet so the size was the perfect amount. Cheerio!

Sticky Pudding with Toffee Sauce
 Adapted from Bon Appetit January 2012 by Sandy LernerTavern

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups chopped pitted dates
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs

For the sauce:
1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon brandy
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease muffin pan. Bring dates and 1 1/4 cups water to a boil in a medium heavy saucepan, with sides that will allow for the sauce to expand. Remove from heat, slowly stir in baking soda, the mix will foam up. Set aside to cool.
Combine 1 1/2 cups flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat 1/4 cup butter, sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl to blend. Add 1 egg and beat to blend. Add half of flour mixture and half of date mixture; beat to blend. Repeat with remaining 1 egg, flour mixture, and date mixture. Pour batter into muffin tins.
Bake until a tester inserted into center of cake comes out clean, 40-45 minutes. Let cool.

To make the sauce:

 Bring sugar, cream, and butter to a boil in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly. Continue to boil, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in brandy and vanilla.

and... a small group pictures from the party...

Gin and Tonics
London Pride

Todd sporting his red, white and blue


Friday, July 27, 2012

Peek at the Week:

Peek at the Week, July 23rd: 

The 2012 Summer Olympics in London!!! 


Target City - Westwood, opened it's doors two days early on Tuesday. Westsiders and Bruins rejoice!   

Beating the summer heat with Watermelon. See the heart? It was in there when I cut the melon out. I'm relieved it wasn't the face of Jesus. 

The Stila Warehouse Sale IS BACK! This has been my yearly tradition until their hiatus. Tomorrow, July 28th it's on! 

The very much so anticipated release of Passion Pit's Gossamer,  Tuesday, July 24th. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Date Night : Jitlada

Tom Ka

Rad Na

Crying Tiger

Last night for date night, we decided to journey to the legendary Jitlada. Todd has been a fan for a long while, but I, I had yet to try the very much so buzzed about Thai eatery. Raved about in the L.A. Times, by Rachael Ray, Zagat Rated and Johnathan Gold approved, the Thai eatery is located on Sunset in a strip mall in Thai town. We entered into a cozy feeling atmosphere bursting at the seams full of diners. The decor is very basic but with nice touches such as Thai fabrics used as tablecloths and lower than expected lighting. We were seated right outside of the kitchen in the second dining room. After a wait, a pleasant woman took our drink order, Chang and Pinot Nior. They offer a basic and standard list of Thai beers and wines are listed by varietal. We drank our beverages, chit chatted, sat with empty glasses and stomachs for a long while before our order was taken. Todd warned me that patience was key to eating at Jitlada. They even have a sign posted in a cute warning of the small kitchen and traditional cooking, which takes time. We ordered the Crying Tiger Beef (featured on the Food Network's Show- The Best Thing I Ever Ate), the Tom Ka soup with shrimp, the Rad Na with chicken and spring rolls. After time, our beef made it's way out of the kitchen, heaven. The beef was exploding with flavor and came with a delicious spicy sauce for dipping. It was gone in two seconds, tender, moist and oh so good. The second dish to arrive: the Tom Ka soup. My absolute favorite soup is Tom Ka, I have eaten it countless times and this was hands down my favorite. Jitlada's Tom Ka had an undeniable freshness to it. The soup has complex flavor of coconut milk, lime, savory flavor, cilantro, some heat, lemon grass, ginger etc. This was the most balanced Tom Ka soup I have ever had. The flavors were seamless, which I often find that Tom Ka is made too sour, or bland, too spicy, not spicy enough -this was the perfect balance. Our plates were cleared and another long wait until our Rad Na came out, Thai noodles in a gravy with Thai green veggies. Again, extreme freshness and balance, this dish was saturated in savory flavor. The gravy was delicious and the noodles were the perfect texture, they tasted homemade. We then waited longer for our spring rolls, at this point we realized, we were exhausted because TWO and A HALF hours had passed. We really didn't care about the spring rolls at this point  and we ready to just get up and move. We finally get the attention of a waiter and our spring rolls were delivered about ten minutes later- my guess, the order was forgotten and what arrived was not a plate of spring rolls but fried rolls. We absolutely appreciated the flavors, freshness and perfection of the tastes of our dinner. We did not appreciate the TWO and a HALF hours we spent with no real effort for customer service. We rarely ever saw the pleasant woman who took our order initially and struggled to get the attention of anyone who worked there. Though warned about the wait, this was beyond a "normal slow" wait and even more, the lack of service was what bothered us the most. Next time, we will order for pick up. Such a phenomenal meal, outstanding food, we simply just do not have the time to dine in. My tip: a must try but if you are dining in make sure its with someone you haven't seen in five years plus and have and immense amount to talk about, no other plans for the evening and don't go too hungry - or just order for pick up, which we will be doing very soon. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Smashed Potatoes with a Side of Spider

A couple of evenings ago,  Todd and I shared a special “first” in the adventures of our relationship. I was zoning out, shamelessly watching my DVRed latest romantic drama between Jane and Grayson on Dropped Dead Diva, while Todd was on the computer hunting for the location of our next adventure. It was around 11:00 p.m., I was also simultaneously flipping through a Sunset magazine (really living on the edge) as I looked up and saw the scariest looking spider I had ever seen bouncing along the wall. This guy was not crawling but agile, hopping like a rock climber scaling the side of Half Dome. I quickly said in a terrified voice “Todd. There. Is. A. HUGE. SPIDER.” Todd is use to me jumping to higher ground in order to dodge my imaginary wrath of a daddy long legs, so, not to my surprise, he was less than alarmed. He slowly emerged from his computer and looked at the far wall. His calm nature quickly changed, “that’s a black widow!!!!"  We immediately began running around the apartment, frantically trying to devise a plan, windows were opened, furniture moved off the wall - we became crazy people. Do we suck it up in the vacuum? What kills a black widow? We finally found an organic insect killer under the sink but, really? It had a picture of an adorable puppy on it and was made of rosemary oil. Was this REALLY going to kill this terrifying creature? We were skeptical though we had a plan - I spray, Todd kills. We took our marks, I, with the organic spray, he, with my rolled up Sunset Magazine in hand. I aggressively started to spray. It felt like a million years passed as the spider hung curled on a string of web saturated in rosemary. Images flashed through my head of the spider falling to the ground, escaping, then crawling up my toes at night. I start to yell to Todd “SMASH HIM BABY! SMASH HIM! SMASH HIM!" Todd took one sweeping swing and SPLAT! I yelled, "Yesssssssss!" We both cheered "WOoooooooooooooooooooo!" High five. Our neighbors officially think we are nuts but we had successfully conquered our first black widow experience together.

So, in honor our smashed spider I have a lovely Smashed Potato recipe for you today.
My parents first made this for me long ago, out of a recipe they saw in Cooks Illustrated. Since, I’ve made it through the years and I’m not sure how the original recipe varies from my version at this point. This recipe is seriously one of my all time favorite comfort foods, its a real, rare treat. Oh, and so easy to make! 

Smashed Potatoes – Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

1 bay leaf
3 russet potatoes (I usually use red potatoes but this time I had a brain lapse at the store)
1 8 oz. package of cream cheese, softened
½ stick of butter, softened
¼ cup of milk - splash
2 tablespoons of fresh chives, finely chopped (more or less on your liking)

In a large pot of water with bay leaf, cook potatoes until tender when pierced with a fork. Strain water and reserve about a ½ a cup of the water from the pot. Let potatoes cool a bit, until they are ok to handle. Add cream cheese and butter to a bowl. Add a splash of milk to mix easier, add chives and thoroughly combine. Put potatoes, skin still on, in a bowl and smash them with any kitchen gadget you fancy, add splashes of the reserved water as needed. When potatoes are smashed to your liking, add the cream cheese mixture and combine. Salt and pepper to taste, serve warm and enjoy! This is heaven!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Catch of the Day: Catching Up with Crab Cakes

Oh, hello there, I have missed you. The past couple of months have been a whirlwind:
10th Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational, competing with the fabulous Erica Sardarian- Brioche, La Tur Brie (so good it could have it’s own post), Honeycomb, red wine poached pear and bacon- a delicious but not winning sammie (I’ve tried to grow ok with this, not quite there yet). Weddings, bachelorette weekends in Vegas, showers for brides and babies, parties, restaurants, a new niece! road trips, Oregon, Washington, California coast, family, moving, packing, picking paint colors, painting, redecorating, Cinco De Mayo, Fourth of July, shows, diet, working out like crazy, long runs, long walks and now, fully immersed in summer. Where does the time go? I’ve decided to keep this post short because honestly there is so much that I could write for days, so concise, I try.

The following recipe was inspired by my recent trip to the Oregon coast with Todd. We had an amazing time, we are both people who thrive in nature and honestly need it to stay sane. We had a blast visiting his family which sadly, we live so far away we don’t get nearly enough time with. The trip was life altering in many ways for me and one I will never forget. Challenging at times (long hours in the car and camping) but oh so worth it to see the beauty that lays north. I found myself yearning to be back on the Oregon coast just days after returning to L.A. My solution? Cook crab cakes! This recipe is super easy and though not a northwest recipe, approved by a Pacific North westerner, Todd. He loved them! This makes a large batch of large cakes; I had several left over and even brought some to my dad, major perk.  

Baltimore Crab Cakes - Bon Appetit August 2011

1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice plus wedges for garnish
1 1/2 teaspoons Old Bay Seasoning
1/2 jalapeƱo, seeded, finely chopped
1 pound lump crabmeat
1 1/4 cup panko, divided
1 tablespoon thinly sliced chives
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Whisk first 7 ingredients in a medium bowl. Add crab; fold to blend. Stir in 3/4 cup panko, chives, salt, and pepper. Divide into equal portions. Form each into 1"-thick patties. Refrigerate for at least 10 minutes.
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Place remaining 1/2 cup panko on a plate. Coat cakes with panko. Fry until golden brown and crisp, 3-4 minutes per side. Arrange atop lettuce; serve with lemon wedges.