At the Tiki-Tiki-Tiki-Tiki-Tiki Class

Boy am I hungover.

I tend not to drink (heavily) on weekdays, but when you take a class on Tiki drinks, there is a lot of rum involved.

The Cocktail Lab is by far my favorite store in Los Angeles, and not just because of the subject matter, the owners are awesome too.  Every month they host a different class to further your education on craft cocktailing (the schedule is here), and last night was all about the Tiki cocktail.

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When you are handed a giant colorful tiki cocktail when you walk in, the class is off to a good start.

The class was hosted by Randy Tarlow of Liquid Alchemist, a very sought after mixologist by bars all over the country. His syrups are unique, and fresh, and can take your cocktails to a whole new level.

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We got a lesson in the history of Tiki and where it came from, as well as how it became big in the USA after World War Two thanks to Don the Beachcomber, and Trader Vic, two men who had to battle it out for Tiki dominance.

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EPIC. (ish)

After that first drink, a Zombie, it was time to learn about the classic that people love: The Mai Tai. Contrary to everything I thought I knew, mai tais are actually very simple, don’t have pineapple or coconut in them, and are very, very strong. Plus you can set them on fire.

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Flaming Mai Tais and Coconuts.

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Roz’s Punch knocked me out.

The third and final drink was called Roz’s Punch, and it was a doozy. A mix of rum, bitters, syrups, and topped with some nutmeg, the drink had an unexpected spice that you don’t normally associate with the sweetness of Tiki drinks.

Obviously more extensive research is needed on the topic of Tiki cocktails, and I will have to experience many samples until I can call myself an expert. That’s my type of scientific research.

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Randy is intoxicating to listen to. Or, maybe we were all just intoxicated.

If you’re in Los Angeles,  you should check out the next class at The Cocktail Lab, or at least stop by and buy some Liquid Alchemist syrups!

Easy and Impressive

I’m running out to a dinner party but I just had to share a quick note.

My task was to provide an appetizer, and when you have little time, the easiest thing is to throw together a charcuterie plate.  Who doesn’t love some nice meats and cheeses? (Vegetarians, fine. But the rest of us!)

It takes about 10 minutes at the store to pick out some nice salamis, and of course some prosciutto, and partner it with a few cheeses.  In this case, I got a nice raclette, some sharp, grass-fed, cheddar, and a new cheese that is a mix of a brie and bleu cheese, which I can’t wait to try.  I’ll let you know how it is.

The best part is that it always looks so impressive. Probably because it’s called charcuterie, and that just sounds fancy.

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P.S. Don’t be jealous of my cheese knife!

On the Lamb (Meatballs)

You know those times where you look at a recipe and think “oh that might be good!” and then you try it, and you have to stop yourself from eating all of it before your boyfriend gets home because it’s so good?  This is one of those.

I happen to love lamb. It’s meaty, and juicy, and full of delicious flavor.  There are so many herbs and spices that work well with it in a very different way than other meats. You can create unique dishes with it that add an unexpected flair and a richness you can’t get with other meats.

This recipe is buried in the April issue of Bon Appétit magazine, and when I saw it, it piqued my interest enough that it was worth a try.  In fact, the April issue of the magazine is one of its better ones, there were plenty of recipes in there I wanted to try.

I also love meatballs. They’re perfectly sized, can go with pastas, salads, in sandwiches, or just eaten by themselves and they’re always a winner. There are endless ways to make them and I almost want to open a restaurant that sells exclusively meatballs!  Wouldn’t that be nice? (Copyright The Eating Table, 2015).

The key to this recipe is the amazing chili sauce that coats the meatballs. Don’t be intimidated by how much chili is in it, because it’s actually quite mild. It’s more flavor than heat.

The sauce starts with seeded, chopped pasilla peppers, red chili flakes, and cumin seeds, which you toast for a few minutes to really get the flavors going.

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After blending them with vinegar, oil, garlic, and sweet paprika (more flavor!), you’re left with this magnificently red sauce which you put in a bowl.

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The meatballs involve onions, more garlic, parsley, oregano, sage, coriander, cumin, fennel, and I’m already salivating at all those amazing flavors. lamb-meatballs-5

Combine that with lamb and pulse it in a food processor until it gets nice and mixed.  This also helps with the texture of the lamb as well, really making it a fine grind.

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Then you just form them into balls.

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Fry them up in a pan.

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And then, the best part, you toss them in the chili sauce.

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At this point I wanted to eat the entire bowl, because they look so amazing, but I had to wait to make them look pretty.

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The recipe has them being served with a cucumber/yogurt mixture, but I just served them with a lightly dressed salad.  And then ate more than I should have.

Honestly, they were so good I almost had to ration them to make sure I didn’t eat them all in one sitting.  Even my boyfriend, who says he doesn’t like lamb, kept eating them and I had to make him stop.  They’re all gone now, and I immediately want to make more of them, but that feels so indulgent!

Then again, it’s my birthday week, so I can do whatever I want.  Off to the store for more ingredients, brb!

Recipe can be found here. And you really should try it.

Chicken & Broccoli Casserole

I was at an event last night, you know, hobnobbing with the Hollywood elite.  Or, you know, at least the people who work for the Hollywood elite.  Or really, just the common folk while the Hollywood elite conversed among themselves.  The point is, I was at a party on a Thursday!  What a rebel.

Anyway, I was talking to a very nice woman and she was telling me that her version of cooking is going to the prepared foods area at Whole Foods, which is not going to land her a man (her words!).  I told her cooking is a lot easier than people think, you just need to know where to start and find some simple recipes that are big on flavor, enough to impress a man people. Once you have a few of those down, you’ll get more comfortable and want to try more adventurous things!  Before you know it, you’ll never go to the Whole Foods prepared section again!  And maybe you’ll land a man.

Today’s recipe is one of those recipes that is delicious, simple, and impressive.  It’s got a ton of flavor, you probably have most of the ingredients already, and, if you’re into it, it’s low carb!  Something for everyone!

It starts by combining flour with some spices in a paper bag.  It’s like you’re own Shake-n-Bake!

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Then you coat each piece of chicken in that mix, and put it in a pan to brown.

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It starts like this…

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…and ends up like this!

 

 

After the chicken is golden brown, remove it, and add in half & half, cooking sherry, and a lot of parmesan cheese to make a flavorful sauce.

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In a baking dish you layer the chicken on top of a bed of chopped broccoli, and top each piece with prosciutto.

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Pour the sauce over the whole thing, and add more parmesan!  Never enough parmesan.

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Bake for 30-35 minutes until it’s perfectly done.

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Serve to guests who won’t understand how delicious it is until they take a bite and fall over in their chairs.

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You can use more or less chicken, you can cut the chicken breasts in half (so you have an excuse to use more prosciutto!), it works either way. The chicken is perfect, the prosciutto is crispy, and the broccoli absorbs the flavors and cheese from the sauce.  I encourage everyone to give it a try and report back. It’s super easy. And will definitely impress everyone who eats it!

CHICKEN & BROCCOLI CASSEROLE

INGREDIENTS:

6 chicken breasts

1/2 cup flour

1 1/2 tbsp sage

1 tbsp oregano

1 tsp paprika

3 tbsp unsalted butter

4 cups chopped broccoli

6 slices prosciutto

1/2 cup half & half

1/4 cup cooking sherry

2/3 cup parmesan or romano cheese

salt & pepper

INSTRUCTIONS:

1. Heat oven to 350.

2. In a paper bag, mix the flour, sage, oregano, and paprika.  Add chicken breasts, one by one, and shake to coat.  Like Shake-n-Bake!  Shake off the excess,and place aside.

3. Melt butter in a pan over medium heat. Add chicken and cook until golden brown, about 3-4 minutes per side. Remove from pan.

4. Pour excess oil from the pan, and add half & half.  Bring it to a light boil over high heat, stirring to scrape off the delicious brown bits from the bottom of the pan.

5. Add the sherry, boil for one minute.

6. Add all but 3 tablespoons of the parmesan cheese, and season with salt and pepper. Stir until cheese is melted.  Remove the pan from heat.

7. Place chopped broccoli in a layer at the bottom of a baking dish, and place chicken on top.  Cover each piece of chicken with a slice of prosciutto.

8. Pour sauce all over chicken and broccoli.  Sprinkle remaining parmesan on top of each piece.

9. Bake in oven until the chicken is tender, and the sauce is bubbling. About 30-35 minutes.  Serve hot!

Wintery Mac and Cheese

At the risk of sounding too Oprah about it, I have to say, there is a lot in life to love.  For example, the weather in Los Angeles is amazing, I have a very loving partner, two adorable dogs, and really great friends.  I love all of it.

But above everything else comes my true love:

Macaroni and Cheese.

For me, there’s nothing more satisfying, comforting, indulgent, and happiness-inducing than cheese covered pasta.  When done right, it can transport you to a place some* have described as pure nirvana.

(*I’m probably the only one who has said this)

Conversely, there is nothing more disappointing than mac and cheese done poorly. You know, like when you’re at a restaurant and that Lobster Mac and Cheese sounds delicious, and you order it, and it comes and you’re so excited, and then you bite into it and remember that lobster and cheese don’t always go well together, and the sauce is too thin, or too thick, or the wrong cheese was used, and- well you get the point.

There’s nothing quite like homemade mac and cheese, and (not to sound too cocky) I happen to be pretty good at it. It’s what I bring to potlucks and it’s always a hit.

A few years ago I invited some friends over for dinner and was presented with a list of various dietary limitations, which included onions, tomatoes, garlic, any citrus, basically everything fun to cook with. Normally I don’t accept requests, but I happen to like these people a lot, so I didn’t cancel.

Fortunately mac and cheese is a dish that you can adapt in endless ways.  You can use different cheeses! Different pastas! Different vegetables!  You can cook it in a pot or bake until it’s crispy! It’s always exciting enough to use exclamation points!

This dinner took place during the winter, so I wanted something especially warm and inviting. I decided on butternut squash and kale as the vegetables, and for the cheeses a mix of mozzarella, smoked gouda, and nutty manchego.

The next part happened purely by happenstance. I was at Trader Joe’s, with my hand on a bag of whole wheat pasta, when I saw the brown rice pasta right next to it, and it called to me.  So I took a chance and bought that instead, and let me tell you, it was the best decision. The pasta is lighter than wheat pasta, so it made the entire dish feel less heavy and didn’t give you that feeling like you had a hunk of cheese in your stomach after that second helping.

I also used 1% milk in my bechemel sauce, which is blasphemy. I’m not a pro bechemel maker, and 1% sounded healthier, but hey whatever.

First I roast the butternut squash:

IMG_6889Crispy and sweet!

While that’s roasting you can lightly braise the kale and boil the pasta.

Then shred all the cheese.

img_6871Yet another reason I love my food processor.

Next, make a simple bechemel sauce.

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Then add the cheeeeeeeeeese!

IMG_6881I mean…

Then, add the kale, the squash, and the pasta.IMG_6892*SWOON*

You could eat it at this point, it would be delicious.  But if you like those crispy edges, like I do, onward.

Empty the pot into a baking pan, and top with some bread crumbs.  And then bake until golden brown.

IMG_6895Basically, I die.

Cut a piece off, take a picture to show your friends, and then eat the other 90% you left in the pan while no one’s watching.

IMG_6903I ate all the rest.

Wintery Mac and Cheese

INGREDIENTS
1 lb Organic Brown Rice Pasta (available at Trader Joe’s)
2 bunches kale
1 lb butternut squash (cut into 1 inch cubes) – (if you want to cheat, get two packages of pre-cut butternut squash in the vegetable aisle)
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
3 cups 1% low fat milk
3 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups shredded Mozzarella cheese
1 cup shredded smoked gouda cheese
1 cup shredded Manchego cheese
2 slices whole wheat bread
Olive oil
Parmesan cheese
Salt & Pepper

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. In a roasting pan, lay out the butternut squash.  Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt & pepper, get down and dirty and toss it all together with your hands.  Roast the butternut squash 30 minutes or so, until soft and slightly caramelized.  Be sure to toss the squash once during roasting.

3.  Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions (be sure to salt the water!).  Drain and set to the side.

4.  While the pasta and squash are cooking, wash the kale, remove the tough stems and slice into 1/2 to 1 inch strips.

5. In a medium saucepan over medium high heat, add the kale and chicken broth.  Season with salt, and toss lightly.  Cover and braise the kale until it has wilted down, about 10 minutes (it will still be a bit crunchy even after all that braising).  Drain when finished.

6.  Remove the crusts from the slices of bread and pulse in a food processor until you have fine bread crumbs.  Place in a bowl, toss with a little olive oil and set aside. You can also use store bought breadcrumbs.

7.  In a large pot, melt the butter over medium heat.  Sprinkle in the flour and stir with whisk until well incorporated.  Keep stirring until mixture thicken, about 2-3 minutes.

8.  Add the milk.  Whisk slowly, but continuously.  As the milk warms, the sauce will get thicker.  When it coats the back of a spoon, it’s ready.

9.  Add the mozzarella, gouda, and manchego cheeses.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

10.  Fold in the roasted squash, the braised kale, and the cooked pasta, and toss all together until everything is deliciously covered in the gooey white sauce.  Make sure to sample it…you know, to make sure it tastes right.

11.  Pour mixture into a baking dish large enough to handle all the goodness, and sprinkle the bread crumbs on top.  Sprinkle some parmesan cheese on top of that.

12.  Place in oven for another 20 minutes, or until brown and crispy.

13.  Remove from oven and serve.

14.  Call your friends and tell them they should come over because it’s so amazing.  Just make sure you don’t eat it all before they arrive.  Oh and tell them to bring wine.  It’s only polite.