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.

 

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Paella

This week was the first in years that my whole immediate family has spent more than 1 or 2 days together. It has been great, lots of laughs, lots of catching up, and lots of great food. One of the things that really brings us all together is eating and cooking. For as long as I can remember we have been spending the majority of our time in the kitchen sharing recipes and tips, and creating wonderful dishes.

One thing that my mom really instilled in us was to make everything (or at least try) from scratch. This has been a wonderful skill and hobby to have because it made us appreciate the fruits of our labor so much more than just going out to eat.

This weekend we decided to make Paella, one of my all time favorite dishes. There is something so comforting about the creamy saffron rice coupled with juicy sweet shrimp and spicy sausages. I have yet to find a restaurant in Los Angeles that can replicate what we can make at home. I gave it an honest try at Artisan House in Downtown LA, but was greatly disappointed by the lackluster amount of seafood and the bland rice. The closest I have come is in a great restaurant in Portland, Oregon called El Toro Bravo. Here the seafood is extremely fresh and there is plenty of it to satisfy at least two people. The rice is nicely seasoned with just the right amount of saffron.

The thing I love about Paella is that you can really add whatever protein you want. You can play around with different types of fish and shellfish, different types of sausages, you can add chicken; the combinations are really endless. For our Paella we chose to use spicy pork sausages, browned chicken legs, and big juicy prawns. We also used homemade chicken broth that made the flavors of the dish much more complicated and rich.

You can also play around with the types of vegetables that you add; you can add bell peppers, onions, peas, and so on. We chose to use roasted red bell peppers and summer peas.

Paella is also a great dish that pairs beautifully with a variety of different wines. Based on which protein you use, you can try it with pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc, vino verde and other dry white wines or Rose. We chose to pair it with a grenache rose that we bought from margerum winery in Santa Barbara, very light and crisp, and went great with the dish. Overall a great meal spent with my favorite people; I couldn’t ask for anything better.

Paella (4-6 generous servings)

2 cups arborio rice

4 cups chicken broth

2 generous tablespoons garlic

1 1/2 tsp organic saffron. I suggest you not skimp on this ingredient and splurge on the good stuff.

2 tablespoons sambal

1tbs  salt

2 tsp pepper

1 lb shrimp

1/2 lb chicken, browned but not cooked all the way

2 spicy pork sausages, sliced and browned

1 cup summer peas

1/2 cup roasted bell pepper, sliced

Preheat the oven to 350 F. In a large skillet cook the rice with the garlic and saffron over medium heat for about 5 minutes to help the rice cook faster and the saffron to start developing its flavor. Brown the chicken and the sausages just enough to get some color but not to cook all the way. Place the rice in a large paella pan, or large round pan, and pour the chicken broth over it. Place the chicken, shrimp, sausages, peas, and bell pepper over the rice. Spoon sambal over rice/seafood mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Using your hands or a spatula mix everything together evenly. Cover with aluminum foil and place in the oven for about 70 minutes, check if the rice is cooked all the way (it should be soft like risotto). If it is not, pop it in the oven for another 5-10 minutes.

Sushi Gen

Ah glorious Sushi Gen.

When I first moved to Los Angeles to pursue my career in food, Cameron would take me to another great Sushi spot in little Tokyo called Hama. This was when I discovered the wonders of real authentic Sushi, not deep-fried and filled with imitation crab, which is what I was used to. One night, when Hama was completely booked we decided to check out Sushi Gen, which thankfully had room for two at the bar. Little did we know, it would soon become one of our favorite spots.

Sushi Gen offers what I think to be the best Sushi . We have been to Nobu in New York, and Sushi Nozawa in LA, both very highly regarded Sushi restaurants, and both agreed that Sushi Gen takes the prize. The fish is extraordinarily fresh and the rice is flawlessly prepared.

The standouts are: the Spanish and Japanese mackerel, both unique in their own flavors and are served with a dash of ponzu sauce and a little sprinkle of scallions. The sweet shrimp, which is raw and takes some time getting used to the texture, is served plain on top of the rice and comes with either the fried head, or a miso soup with the head. The sardine,which has a beautiful phosphorescent color and a mild saltness. The scallop, which literally melts in your mouth and has a unique sweetness to it. The snapper, which is served with a little sliver of lemon and a hint of salt. The salmon skin hand-roll, picture salmon jerky wrapped with warm rice and pickled vegetables, one of my personal favorites. The salmon roe, which pop in your mouth and pair excellently with the rice. The list could go on and on; there are so many different types of sushi and requires that you go in with an open mind.

The service is extraordinary. Once you become a regular, the guys working at the bar will greet you as if you were one of them. They really take care of you and have some of the most skilled hands I have ever seen. I highly, highly recommend you check out Sushi Gen, and if you have to wait for a seat, go have a beer at Bar C, which is just a couple doors down.

Death and Brownies

One of my mother’s dearest friends recently lost her husband  to a very aggressive form of cancer. I had the opportunity to meet him and am saddened that he is no longer with us. Grief in my opinion, is the worst kind of emotion. It is painful, it is frustrating, it is ugly. I have sadly lost a few people in my life, but cannot imagine the pain she must be feeling.

She is one of the kindest, strongest, and most generous people I have had the pleasure to meet and was happy/nervous to find out she was coming to have dinner at my parents house. She is the type of woman who bakes dozens of cookies for you for the holidays, makes beautiful jewelry, and has not a single bad bone in her body.

I have to be real and admit that I have not baked for pleasure in a very long time. Baking at home after 8-10 hours of doing it for a living is the last thing I want to do. But as soon as I found out she was coming over, my first instinct was: brownies. This is one of the few ways I know how to express my emotions, whether it’s for dealing with the death of a loved one or the birth of a baby. Baking is how I share my love, and tonight, she needs all the love she can get. I decided to bake the brownies out of my favorite baking book, Baking Illustrated, and was surprised at how much better it made me feel. I hope that she will enjoy these brownies as much as I enjoyed making them.

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My Obssession with Ceviche

Besides sushi, ceviche is one of my all time favorite foods; I have a strange affinity for very acidic food and a true love for all things seafood.  My weakness for ceviche probably comes from my years spent in the coast of Mexico; Ixtapa, Puerto Vallarta, Cabo San Lucas, where I was able to sample some of the best of the best, with the freshest fish and the perfect balance of lime juice, onions, cilantro, and tomatoes . It wasn’t until a few years ago where I had the opportunity to sample Peruvian ceviche, which to my understanding is where it originated from, at one of Portland’s best restaurants, Andina. Peruvian ceviche differs from Mexican ceviche in that they usually add potatoes to balance out the heat as well as some kind of lettuce, usually butter lettuce.

After I had tried this version, I was instantly hooked and on a mission to find something like that here in LA. Thanks to a random night of being driven by a Peruvian cab driver, we were sent to Mario‘s Peruvian. It is a very unassuming place that really has no sense of style whatsoever but that’s not why you go, you go because the food is incredible and extremely satisfying. After waiting about an hour for a table, totally worth it, we sat down and started stuffing our faces with the fluffy and warm white bread that you smother with a tangy green sauce called huacatay, made with; aji, huacatay (a Peruvian plant), oil, rocoto perper and salt. Truly addicting. We decided to order the ceviche mixto, which came with fish, shrimp, squid, and octopus. It is cooked in the lemon juice with onions and spices and served with boiled potatoes. The spices brought me straight to a little village in Peru, I just couldn’t get enough. It was absolutely balanced with just the right amount of acidity that was complemented with the sweetness of the seafood. The seafood had a nice soft texture, not chewy like in other ceviches I have tried. I didn’t feel that it was too spicy for my personal taste, but I can see why the potatoes might be necessary for those who can’t handle heat.

Once we got home I was determined to make my own version of ceviche to see how it could even begin to compare to Mario’s. I added a little twist by adding some fresh peach that we had just gotten from our vegetable box of the week. Considering we finished the whole thing in one sitting, I think it was pretty damn good! Here is the recipe:

1 pound Shrimp, peeled,  cut into small pieces

Juice of 8 limes (more or less depending on how acidic you want it)

1 tomato, cut into small cubes

1/4 c cilantro, finely cut

1/2 onion, cut into small cubes

2 tsp salt

1tsp pepper

1 peach, not ripe, cut into small cubes

2 tsp jalapeno, cut into very small pieces

Place all ingredients into a large bowl, mix well (make sure you wash your hands after or else the jalapeno will most likely get in your eye) and let sit for at least 4 hours in the refrigerator.If you have time, give it a good stir everyone in a while to make sure the flavors are distributed evenly Serve with your favorite chips and a margarita or two!

   This is a Mexican ceviche from another great place called Picante. I told you I am obssessed!

The Parish-Review

As you know I went to the newest downtown LA restaurant, the Parish, on Friday night. Considering this used to be the location of quite possibly the worst restaurant in downtown, Angelique, I knew that there was nowhere to go but up. We ended up going on opening night, so with that in mind I knew there would be a few mistakes here and there.

The hostesses greeted us with a nice smile and led us to our table which was in the upstairs area of the restaurant. Right away I was pleasantly surprised at how nice it looked compared to the horrendous decor of its predecessor. You have to walk by the open kitchen where you can see the cooks working as well as catch a glance at Chef Casey Lane (who was a lot smaller than I was expecting). The bar upstairs was busy and filled with people trying to grab a cocktail while waiting for their table. It seemed as though everyone was enjoying themselves .The lighting made you feel as if you were in a speakeasy; dark and mysterious.

Once we sat down we ordered a nice bottle of gruner-veltliner which unfortunately was not served cold enough and had to wait at least ten minutes before we could drink it. My friend to the right of me ordered the gin gimlet which was refreshing,  and was obvious that they used nice gin. Once we got the wine flowing we ordered the fried olives, which had a great complexity of flavors and textures; salty, crunchy, and bitter, balanced with the tastiness of the fried aspect. The only complaint was that they left the pits in and had the waiter not told us, we probably would have choked. Then we all shared the deviled eggs which were good, but I thought a were little plain, not worth the $9. The  poutine fried oysters however were great. The oysters were fried to perfection and the gravy was not too heavy;  the fries however seemed a little sloppy and perhaps had been sitting for too long. Next we had the grilled corn which  was served with a honeycomb butter; juicy and sweet, by far the favorite of the night.

After we received these dishes we ended up waiting almost an entire hour before we received our last two; our server didn’t check in on us once. Also there were plenty of bussers to take away our glasses and silverware, but none to replace them. we had to ask at least twice to get some. Thankfully we had another bottle of wine to keep us going through the wait, but it didn’t go unnoticed. We finally received our fried chicken, which was ok, after the olives and the oysters I felt a little “over-fried” and couldn’t really appreciate the dish. The chicken seemed to be fried nicely, but there was some serious seasoning that was lacking. Lastly we shared the dal, which to me if you are going to put dal on the menu, it better be kick-ass. It was underwhelming and the piece of chutney toast that went along with it was tiny, barely enough for one person to get a bite (there were 6 of us, it was awkward).

Lastly, we decided to go all out and split the toffee pudding, which was incredible, not too sweet, nice choice of bread, actually one of the highlights of the night. Overall, I would say that the Parish needs improvement (especially in the service department) but on its way to be one of downtown’s top restaurants.

Industriel

The other night Cameron and I decided to check out Industriel, one of downtown LA’s newest “urban chic” restaurant; defining themselves as “the style of cuisine served up by your grandmother in her farmhouse in Provence, France, with one little twist:
Your grandmother has sleeve tattoos” (industrielfarm.com).

I have to say for the all the hype that it got, I was severely unimpressed. Although I loved the decor and the ambience; honey bear jars hanging from the ceiling, bright red chairs, music played at a decent level, mason jars filled with picked everything, our experience at Industriel was B- as at best. I wish they had spent as much time refining the menu as they did decorating the space.

First of all we started off by ordering a glass of sparkling rose, one of my guilty pleasures in life, and instead received a huge glass of regular rose, which we had to send back. It seemed as though the waiter was not really well versed in the wine list, or perhaps was not really paying attention.

We then ordered the “house-made sausage”, which was actually full of flavor from the herbs and had a nice rustic texture to it. However, it was served with homemade mustard that was bitter beyond belief and was almost inedible. The pickled vegetables, although vibrant in color, lacked that crunch that I love about pickles and had a strange after taste that made me think they used too much clove in their pickling juice.

This was followed by the smoked octopus which is one of our favorite dishes in general to begin with so we might be a little biased. However, the octopus was nicely smoked, and had a delicate texture that was neither too soft nor too chewy. Oh I forgot to mention that at this point in the meal, we finally received our bottle of wine that we had to drink mostly without any food to accompany it. Back to the food, we finished off by splitting the duck which is served with a wheat berry wild rice cake,pecans, currants, baby roots, and hibiscus jus. The duck was cooked quite nicely, but a little unforgettable. The rice cake was really confusing; is it a pancake or a rice cake? Overall the dish seemed forced and just not really well executed. At this point we were a little tipsy from power-drinking our wine and decided to skip on dessert and make our way home. Overall our experience was rather lack luster and we ended up paying an arm and a leg (which I hate doing with mediocre food). So would I return? To eat: No. To hang out at the bar: Probably. Let me know what your thoughts are.

Skaf’s Grill

On a recent food adventure with my sister, cousin and soon to be husband (!), we decided to go to Skaf’s Grill for lunch. I actually discovered this place through my fiance who is also a food devotee and is constantly hungry for more.

Skaf’s is a wonderful Lebanese restaurant in North Hollywood that offers dishes that are not only fresh and flavorful, but also extremely affordable. The highlights there are the falafel, Baba Ghannouj and most importantly the chicken shawarma. The juicy and flavorful chicken is served with soft pillowy rice and comes with garlicky hummus and the oh so wonderful cabbage salad. My other favorites there are the tabbouleh and grape leaves, which are made daily and served warm. This is a great place to go for meat eaters and vegetarians alike as they offer many satisfying plates and combos that will indulge any appetite.

 

Welcome!

Welcome to NatalieEatsLA! As some of you may know I am a pastry chef in Los Angeles. I have worked in some great places, such as The Peninsula Hotel and Bottega Louie. My favorite thing to do, besides bake, is go out and explore all of the wonderful eateries in Los Angeles. Some of the best food isn’t found in the five star restaurants or hotels, but rather is hidden amongst the strip malls that you may drive by everyday. This blog will guide you through the city and help you discover some of LA’s best kept secrets, as well as give you my opinion on new restaurants around town. I will also try to recreate some the recipes of my best-loved spots as well as give you some of my own go-to recipes.

These glorious tacos can be found at one of my favorite lunch time spots Guisados, which is in East LA close to the USC hospital. I highly recommend getting the taco sampler which includes 6 mini tacos; including cochinita pibil and carne asada to name a few. Be careful with the habanero sauce, it is very very hot and will leave your mouth on fire for a long time! Cool off your burning tongue with one of their delicious aguas frescas, my favorite is the canteloup.

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