Osteria Mozza

For my birthday last Wednesday, my very benevolent husband took me to one of my favorite restaurants of all time, Osteria Mozza.

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We started off the night with our favorite Italian cocktail, Spritz con Aperol, a classic venetian cocktail made with prosecco, ice, aperol, a little soda water, and a slice of orange peel; Mozza does it just right, with the perfect ratio of prosecco to Aperol.

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I love Mozza for their very diverse mozzarella bar, the incredible pasta selection, and the exceptional service. I also love the bold flavors, the incredible textures, and the beautiful presentation of the food.

We started off by splitting the Grilled Octopus with potatoes, celery and lemon. The octopus was perfectly grilled; crispy exterior, soft delicate interior. Balanced beautifully with the acidity of the lemon and the crunch of the celery.

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Then we had the Baby Kale with pine nuts, ricotta salata, and marinated anchovies. What an incredible dish. A twist on a classic salad (Cesar) the kale is blanched just enough that you still get a crunch from the greens and is dressed with an incredible Cesar-esque dressing that is tart and salty from the anchovies. Then it is sprinkled very generously with the ricotta salata. This dish is definitely on my to-do list for recipe developments.

Following the salad we had the Bufala Mozzarella with crushed lemon, bagna cauda and bottarga, which honestly I could do without. The bagna cauda over powered any other flavor and completely took over the subtlety of the bufala mozzarella, which is a true shame.

Lastly we shared two different pastas: Garganelli with Ragu Bolognese; nice rich flavors, beautifully crafted pasta, nothing to out of this world. And the Bucatini all’Amatriciana; spicy yet sweet, nice balance of tomato to pasta ratio, very classic and extremely well executed, paired wonderfully with the wine.

As if we couldn’t eat enough, we finished off the night with the Bomboloni that is served with huckleberry marmellata and lemon mascarpone. I gotta say, this is one of the best desserts I have had in a while. Bomboloni are one of my favorite things in the world; think fancy doughnut holes. Served with an incredible huckleberry jam and and the most heavenly lemon mascarpone. Perfectly fried and deliciously sweet yet tart. At this point I was so full that we had to take the rest of the Bomboloni home, which were a perfect breakfast the next day!!

Friendsgiving

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Ok OK, so this is way late, but with the Holidays and traveling to Mexico for a family wedding, it has been tricky to get this post up.

For the last three years, my now husband and I have been planning and hosting what we like to call “Friendsgiving”. In years past, we have done a pot-luck style event and have just been in charge of the turkey, a few sides, and of course dessert. This year though, we decided to go all out and make everything and just have our friends bring wine or beer.

One of the things I have come to love the most about the hubby is his philosophy of: if you are going to do something right, you should go all out. And all out did we go! We got rentals for the tables and chairs, and all of the wine glasses and dinner plates. We spent all week prepping and chopping and planning and stressing! It was a wonderful way for us to bond doing the things we love the most, all while listening to wonderful music and sipping on delicious wine!

The dinner menu was wonderful:

Soup:

Butternut Squash Soup with Fried sage croutons

Main Course:

Roasted Brine-Cured Turkey with With Wild Mushroom Stuffing

Madeira-Sage turkey gravy

Sides:

Brussels Sprouts & Butternut Squash with Bacon Vinaigrette

Everything parker house rolls

Baby Arugula salad with Roasted beets, toasted pumpkin seed, cilantro and goat cheese

Cranberry Sauce with Champagne and Currants

Mashed potatoes with celery root

Dessert:

Pumpkin Brioche Bread Pudding with cinnamon caramel sauce and whipped crème fraiche

 

All in all a very successful event full of many laughs, wonderful food, and incredible wine chosen by our resident wine expert, David Othenin Girard at K&L.

Looking forward to next year!!

 

 

 

 

Birthday Cake…(one of) my guilty pleasures

Do you ever have a craving that just will not go away? Is there something that you crave and you eat, but after a few days or weeks there is that little voice in the back of your head screaming ever so lightly? For me, its chocolate cake (and chocolate chip cookies but that’s another story).

So a couple of weeks ago my whole family got together to celebrate my sister and mother’s birthdays (they are only born 2 days apart!). I got a text requesting a chocolate cake and my first thoughts were :HELL YEA.

Being a pastry chef I have to admit that most sweets don’t make me super excited, I am the type of person that adds extra salt to my cookie recipes or douse my carrots and cucumbers with soy sauce and lime (don’t judge its delicious).  But there is something about chocolate cake that just makes me crazy. Have you ever seen the movie Matilda? Remember the scene with the chocolate cake? Mouth-watering…..

Anyway, back to the birthday cake that I made, I spent a good amount of time looking through my recipe collections and finally decided on using David Lebovitz’s Devil’s Food Cake recipe. I love this cake; its moist, chocolatey and not too sweet. I gave it my own twist by adding a raspberry ganache (simply fold in about 1/4 to 1/2 raspberry jam into some of the ganache from the recipe) between the two layers. Yum! The result: A beautiful, juicy, heavenly cake…But now that its been a couple weeks, and the craving is slowly starting to return….

The Silverspoon

For those of us who like to cook, we are always in search of the perfect cookbook. But what makes a perfect cookbook? Can there really be just one?

The reason I love cookbooks is because there are literally thousands of viewpoints on different techniques, cuisines, themes, and so on. Whenever I am traveling, I usually like to buy a cookbook that is written for locals versus something that is made for tourists because it tends to be a lot more authentic and is fascinating to see how different authors around the world communicate to their readers about food and cooking.

One of my favorite books to cook out of is The Silverspoon, which is exactly that. A cookbook for Italians that includes all the dishes that Italians like to eat and prepare. The edition that I own has been adapted for English-speaking readers. According to the book, English language cookbooks usually  have very detailed step by step descriptions for how to prepare the dish. Although its been adapted for English-speaking readers, the authors of The Silverspoon, made a huge effort to maintain the authenticity of the recipes and include some ingredients or methods that may seem unusual to us. For example, the other night I made Bread Soup with Tomato, something I had never had and didn’t know how it should taste. It was interesting because the recipe was quite bland for my palate and I ended up dousing the soup with Sriracha and added way more salt than I think it calls for.

What I think this book was intended to do, was to give its readers a basic understanding of Italian food and cooking, and to encourage cooks to branch out on their own. I have cooked a couple of things out of this book and so far, it has been a great learning experience and, thanks to the support of my husband, I have decided to cook my way through this book in an effort to learn more about Italian cooking and to further my skills as a chef! Coming up….Shrimp Risotto!!

Pumpkin-Chocolate Chip Bread

Is it just me or does it seem like fall just does not want to come to California this year. I know that (and I send my deepest condolences to all those affected by Sandy) many parts of the States are experiencing their own climate changes (yes I said it!), so I really can’t complain that us Angelinos are “suffering” from day after day of 80 degree bright and sunny days. I just want to be able to put on a sweater, curl up by the TV and eat some delicious fall baked goods. There is something so absolutely wonderful about the taste of pumpkin, the crunch of pecan pie, and the  smell of cinnamon emerging from the oven.

One of my favorite things to bake (regardless of the season) is my pumpkin-chocolate chip bread. This weekend I refused to let the heat win and decided to whip up a batch of this glorious bread. It is moist, full of spice and the pumpkin pairs divinely with the chocolate chips. I wanted to use my new chocolate chips (Cacao Berry Mexique) that I had bought at surfas, but they were absolutely disgusting. They were waxy and tasted like dirt, and ended up using Ghiradelli Chips.

This bread also keeps really well and is wonderful toasted with a spoonful of Valencia peanut butter with sea salt. So lets keep hoping that it will finally cool down and I can start making some mulled wine!!

Pumpkin Chocolate-Chip Bread

2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon allspice

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs, room temperature

1/3 cup water

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 cup (9 ounces) canned pumpkin puree

1/2 c neutral-flavored vegetable oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup chocolate chips

1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly coat loaf pan with melted butter or cooking spray. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, ginger and salt until thoroughly blended. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and water. Add the sugar and blend well. Add the pumpkin puree, oil, and vanilla extract and blend well.

2. Add the pumpkin mixture to the dry ingredients and whisk until blended and smooth. Add the chocolate chips, stirring until evenly distributed. Use a spatula to scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan.

3. Bake for 55 to 65 minutes, until the bread is firm to the touch and toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool completely (difficult as this might seem) before removing from pan and cut into 1/2 inch thick slices. Wrap left overs in plastic and store in refrigerator for 4 days.

Chocolate-Sunflower Shortbread Cookies

Ok, so now that I have had my come-to Jesus moment with home baking, I am ready to start having some fun! This week I helped out a family friend with a Seed Freedom Awareness Lecture,I was asked to bring some baked treats for the working group meeting and decided what better to bring than something with seeds! I had some sunflower seeds lying around and decided to make some chocolate shortbread cookies with the toasted seeds.

I discovered the wonders of shortbread about 2 years ago when my chef at the time asked me to make her a batch of pistachio shortbread. I’ve had shortbread before, but never any that was worth writing home about. The recipe she gave me though, was so incredibly mouth-watering that I became a devout shortbread fan. What I love about shortbread is that you can really play around with flavors and textures. You can add nuts, fruits, seeds, chocolate, the list goes on. It also doesn’t contain any eggs, so the dough has a pretty long shelf life and actually freezes quite beautifully. I adapted her recipe for the cookies that I brought on Monday, by omitting the pistachio paste and nuts, and instead added  Valrhona Cocoa Powder, and of course the toasted sunflower seeds. Feel free to play around with this dough by adding whatever you are in the mood for!

Chocolate-Sunflower Shortbread Cookies:

210 grams flour

40 grams good quality cocoa powder

240  grams butter, very soft

4 grams sea salt

60 grams toasted sunflower seeds

75 grams powdered sugar

-In a standing mixer, cream the butter and the powdered sugar until just combined. Add flour, cocoa powder, salt, and seeds. Mix until just combined.

-Remove from mixer, cut 2 large squares of parchment paper. Using your hands divide the dough into two equal parts. Roll the dough into 2  uniform logs. Place the logs onto the parchment paper and carefully, but tightly, roll up the dough into the parchment. Refrigerate for twenty minutes. Preheat oven to 330 degrees farenheit.

-Remove dough from refrigerator. Cut uniform discs, and place onto baking tray. Bake for about 15 minutes or until they are firm to the touch. Chocolate dough can be tricky so this is a good way to practice telling doneness by touch and sight! Make sure your oven is accurate and you keep a close eye on the cookies.

Back from Hiatus

Hello all,

I am back. I have to apologize for my disappearance. With a wedding (!) to plan and survive, and a little life challenges to deal with, I have not exactly been inspired to write. But now I am back! And back for good. I  have been doing a lot of cooking and a lot of eating. And even dabbling back into home baking. Starting slowly, like someone suffering from PTSD, with the occasional cake or quick bread here and there, I feel like I am finally feeling at ease with my dear o’l friend, Ms. Kitchen Aid, who has been sadly staring at me from her neglected corner.

Maybe I should explain.For those who know, I am a pastry chef in Los Angeles, who has lost her passion for home baking, because honestly after 10-12 hours of doing anything for a living who wants to do it all over again when they get home? Not me! But I realized, this was my go-to meditation, this was where I felt at home. Mixing batters and doughs, creaming butter, proofing bread, I loved it all. I decided that in order to reignite my passion for baking at home, I have got to get (slowly) back into it.

One of the problems that arose with my home baking is that I had all these ridiculous standards for myself for perfection and doing everything the 5 star, 5 diamond way. This is not the case at home. It should be relaxed and rewarding, and sometimes it should be a failure. It shouldn’t matter if you can bake 10,000 macaroons (not an exaggeration) in 8 hours, or make a $10,000 cake for one of the wealthiest royal families before lunch. It should be on my terms; when I want, how I want, and if I want.

That being said, I have to remember that when I am feeling like I am reverting to my old ways, I need to take a deep breath, step back, and appreciate the way baking makes me feel and how rewarding it can be. Because I really don’t want to lose one of my oldest and dearest friends; good o’l Ms. Kitchen Aid.

                                                                                    

Does Provenance Dictate Quality?

On a recent trip up to Northern California for the Concours De Elegance at Pebble Beach, I had the opportunity to observe the lifestyles of the 1%. A place where $10 lattes are the norm and $800 breakfasts are no big deal. It got me thinking does the provenance of a restaurant or Chef make the actual food taste that much better? Or is it all in our head?

I have experienced it time and time again here in Los Angeles, where there is this huge hype for a restaurant run by some big name Chef, that just disappoints both my palate and my bank account. Why do I continue to do this? Why does it even matter? Shouldn’t we be enjoying the ingredients or the flavors of the food rather than let who made it or where we ate it dictate whether or not we liked it?

Since I was up in the Monterrey area for several days I had the chance to eat at several of the restaurants at the Lodge at Pebble Beach; a perfect example of a place where supposed provenance overcomes quality. One of the restaurants, Stillwater, which is supposed to be one of the best in the area, was extremely overpriced and quite a disappointment. Stillwater offers seafood dishes ranging from hamachi and tuna sashimi to olive-oil poached halibut. While the quality of the seafood was in fact quite good, the dishes themselves were boring and poorly executed;certainly not worth the $50 entrée price.

Another example was a few months ago we went to Jose Andres’ restaurant Bazaar ;a restaurant with very high ratings simply because of the fact that the Chef came from El Bulli, another big name restaurant in Spain. Not only was the service appalling, but the food was almost inedible. Nothing was seasoned properly nor really made any sense (Jose Andres is a big molecular gastronomy guy). The only thing worth eating was the Jamon Iberrico, which they don’t even prepare, it is cured ham that is imported from Spain. We walked away from their both poor ($200 meal!) and still hungry.

Contrary to that, there is a little Japanese place close to our apartment called Nabeeya, that is run by a very hardworking husband and wife team that offers great chicken teriyaki and spicy tuna bowls that are both extremely satisfying and very affordable (you can walk away spending less than $10).

Now I am not saying that cheap food is necessarily better than expensive food, I am simply stating that you won’t always get the best meal from the most expensive and popular restaurant. The best meals in my opinion, are the ones that are prepared by really hardworking people that really care about the product and the customer and are not caught up in the hype of who they are or where they work.

Starry Kitchen-New Downtown Location

Last night, after two glasses of rose at Spring Street Bar (one of the best local bars in LA), Cameron and I decided to go check out Starry Kitchen. We had been before to the location in the Financial District, which sadly closed down, and really enjoyed the meal that we had.

Once we heard that they were doing a sort of “pop up” restaurant at the Tiara Cafe, we decided we had to go eat there. I am a big Asian cuisine fan, everything from Thai to Vietnamese, and especially love what the husband and wife duo at Starry Kitchen do. Fresh ingredients, in your face flavors, and traditional Asian dishes.

The staff were very friendly and attentive, and made us feel like we eating at the owner’s house. We started out with the beef wrapped in sesame leaves which was served with a nice pickled vegetable dipping sauce. The beef was a little under seasoned on its own, but once you dipped it into the sauce it brought out the flavors of the sesame leaves and the beef.

Next we shared the garlic noodles, which looked just like plain noodles with butter, but were surprisingly flavorful and paired nicely with a generous splash of Sriracha.

Lastly we split the Singaporean crab, which to be honest was one of the tastiest things I have eaten in a while. The sauce is made with a homemade chicken stock and tomato base. It is spicy and sweet and has pieces of crab floating around waiting to be soaked up by the bread that is served with it. The crab is sweet and succulent. and is large enough to split between two or three people. Truly a spectacular dish. In fact, the waitress told us that on the weekend they usually sell out of the crab by 7:00. So if you have plans to go there make sure you get there before 7:00 or you will miss out on a sensational experience.

My Croissant Adventure

When I was in culinary school I took some really incredible classes. From learning the basics of breads to understanding the complexity of chocolate, I gained a really solid base for my career in pastry.

One of my absolute favorite classes was what is called viennoiserie, which is the study of laminated doughs (aka croissants, pain au chocolate, danishes, etc.). There is something so completely zen about folding massive amounts of butter into a silky smooth dough.

Viennoiserie is very complicated and time consuming and requires a lot of patience. Yet the result is so gratifying that it makes every painstaking minute worth it.

As some of you read in my post about Renaud’s patisserie, I decided to try to recreate what I believe to be the best croissants in Southern California. Unfortunately because I neither have the ovens, nor the professional kitchen equipment, mine did not come out quite as perfect, but they did come out pretty damn good! I used the recipe from my all time favorite book Baking Illustrated, which if you are passionate about baking I highly recommend you purchase it and use for your go-to baking book.

The key to making croissants is maintaining the proper temperature of the butter. If it is too cold, the butter won’t incorporate as it should and the result will be a dense, nasty croissant. It is is too hot, the butter will melt and also will not incorporate as it should, and the croissants won’t be flaky and airy. The butter has to be cold, yet pliable enough that it can successfully create layers between the dough to create a wonderful and beautiful croissant.

You also have to make sure that you let the croissants proof long enough so that it looks as if they have taken a deep breath of air. This allows for the yeast to create even more air in the croissants. Below is the recipe for the perfect croissants, let me know if you have any questions, I am always happy to help!

Dough:

3 cups ap flour

1 tablespoon yeast

1/4 cup sugar

1 1/4 tsp salt

1 1/4 whole milk, cold

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Butter Square:

24 tablespoons (3 sticks butter), cut into 1 tablespoon pieces, cold!!

2 tablespoons ap flour

For the dough:

Whisk 2 3/4 cups of the flour with the yeast, sugar and salt in a medium bowl. Place the milk in a bowl of a standing mixer with the dough hook. Add the flour mixture and knead at low speed until a dough forms. Cut the butter into small pieces and add them to the dough. Continue to mix until the butter is fully incorporated and the dough is smooth. Wrap the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

For the butter square:

Using a bench scraper, toss together the butter pieces and flour on a clean surface. Smear the butter and flour back and forth against the work surface until they have combined into a smooth mixture. Wrap the butter mixture in plastic wrap, form into an even 7 inch square. Refrigerate until firm.

To make croissants:

Roll the dough into an 11 inch square. Place the chilled butter diagonally onto the dough. Fold the corners of the dough up over the butter square so that they meet in the middle and pinch the ends on the dough together to seal them.

Using a rolling pin, tap the dough from the center outward until the butter begins to soften and become malleable. Gently roll dough into a 14  inch square. Fold one outside edge of the dough in toward the center and bring the opposite outside edge in over the top, like a business letter. Repeat the process but fold over each end to make a square. These are what are called “turns” which is what creates the layers of air between the butter and the flour. You have now done 2 turns. At this point you have to chill the wrapped dough for at least 2 hours before you can do your next two turns. If at any time your dough becomes sticky, put it back immediately into to the refrigerator.

Once you have chilled the dough for 2 hours repeat the process 2 more times to do a total of 4 turns.

To shape the croissants:

Roll the dough into a 20 inch square, use a pizza cutter to cur the dough into two equal rectangles. Cut each rectangle into thirds width wise and then into triangles to yield 12 triangles. Working one at a time, lift the triangle off the work surface, holding the base in one hand and the tip in the other. Gently stretch into an isosceles triangle with two sides equal in length. With the base closest to you, cut a 1-inch slit into the center of the base of each triangle. Fold the two sides of the slit outward. With both hands roll the triangle from the base, gently stretching the dough as you roll, leaving the lat 1/4 inch of the tip unrolled. Transfer the croissant to a parchment paper lined baking sheet, unrolled tip facing downward. Bring the ends of the croissant toward each other to form a crescent shape.

          

  
To proof and bake:

Cover the croissants loosely with plastic wrap. Let them rise at room temperature until puffy, 45-60 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly brush each croissant with egg to add more color and shine. Bake until they are golden brown about 18-22 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through.