Restaurant 101: Prep Tip


vanilla half and half

vanilla half & half steeping 48 hours before it will become a Bavarian Cream

The main difference between restaurant cooking and home cooking is preparation. Restaurant cooks plan their dishes days and weeks and in advance which gives them time to spread tasks over a few days in order to build up flavors and get the most out of each ingredient.

vanilla half and half

this will be the vanilla base in a vanilla bean and citrus Charlotte Russe for a Downton Abbey viewing party this Sunday night

A few years ago, a pastry chef gave me a great tip that completely changed the way I make desserts: to get the most flavor, steep cream ingredients in advance. Making a vanilla custard, panna cotta, cream brulee? Let the vanilla steep in the cream for 24-48 hours. This works great for other reedy, seedy things (like fennel, anise, stick cinnamon, lemongrass) and subtle flavors (chamomile, lemon verbena). Shorter steeping times (30 min-2 hours) are best for more pungent flavors (rosemary, mint, lavender, citrus zests). From there, your combinations are endless. For a dinner party, how elegant (and easy) would a chamomile panna cotta with lemon curd be? Or a vanilla bean panna cotta with blueberry sauce? For an asian twist, how about a lemongrass creme brulee with ginger sugar?

Simply bring your cream, half & half, or milk to a simmer and add your flavoring agent. Remove from heat and allow to come to room temperature then chill in the refrigerator until ready to use. Strain the cream before using in your recipe.

Speculaas Cookies

This will make me sound like an unabashed nerd, but a well designed grocery store is my happy place. I love turning the corners around aisles to discover unexpected treasures on the end caps.  Encountering baby vegetables of any variety can turn my day around like that Dead or Alive song.

While at Trader Joe’s the other day, picking up some fancy cheese for a Sunday dinner, I impulsively picked up a box of those deliciously addictive Speculoos cookies.  I’d had them before, but in the course of my daily life of writing books and waiting tables, I had forgotten about these gingery, crispy delights.

The Gent and I proceeded to devour the box within 48 hours.

We needed more. So many more. In a cookie-craving frenzy, I pawed through my pantry and uncovered cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, molasses…. I had eggs, and butter, and flour, even Almond Meal.  Then I was called off work last night and the evening unrolled before me like a blank canvas waiting to be filled.

It was cookie kismet. Continue reading

Hospitality @ Home: Kale Salad

kale salad ingredients

the beginnings of a beautiful salad

Let us take a moment to consider Kale. That humble, sweet green with the bitter bite that has the texture of an innertube when not prepared correctly.  You can’t swing a salad spinner around Los Angeles these days without hitting a restaurant with a Kale Salad on the menu.  I am ever hopeful, but alas, have been burned many times by the sub-par kale salad.

Until I encountered the amazing version at Food Lab in Silverlake.  I had read about it on Yelp!, Twitter, Facebook, everywhere, and when I met a friend there for lunch a couple weeks ago, I knew I had to have it. Studded with almonds, shallots, brussels sprouts and romano cheese, this salad is my new obsession.

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Everything in Moderation

roast chicken breast recipe

So, I haven’t been around for a bit.

When I began this blog, I vowed never to begin a post with those words but the recent absence deserves a note.  For those of you that don’t know, I have been busy writing a memoir.  On top of that psychological heavy lifting, I recently developed tendonitis in my left hand.  It’s not that big a deal, but it compels me to keep my typing to the writing that I am under contract to do, rather than the fun stuff.

In this moment of confession, I also need to come clean about something else…. I don’t eat like this all the time.  And I don’t cook every day.

Right now, between working on the book and pulling a few shifts at the restaurant, I am only cooking once a week.

That’s a heavy admission for a food blogger.  I am glad to have it off my chest.

So I thought it might be nice to let you all in on my recipe for Once a Week Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts that will stay juicy and re-warmable for a week. It is also my recipe for Chicken Cracklings and the beginnings of a chicken stock base.  That’s one thing you pick up quick from running restaurants—find a way to use to use everything! So put your big girl pants on and keep reading…..

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Restaurant 101: Table Tantrums

Saw this on huffington Post this morning, and it got me thinking about something that happens in restaurants so often that I shudder to think about it…..

It was posed to me this way, in a job interview a couple of years ago.  “It’s nine o’clock on a Friday night, and the owner’s brother just walked in the door.  He will only sit at table 38, and there is a couple sitting there.  You have to move them. What do you do?”

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Pumpkin & Spice Infused Vodka

pumpkin sugar pumpkin pumpkin vodka recipeFor Thanksgiving this year, I felt like doing something different.  For me, holiday cooking is not so much about cooking the same dishes year after year. No, the holidays are the time that I try over the top recipes that I would never ordinarily have an excuse to make.  This is the time that I bring out the recipes with obscure spices, with several steps, with long preparation times, like this Pumpkin and Spice infused vodka.

It’s adapted from this recipe on Food52.

I used pumpkin instead of butternut squash because I think it’s more seasonal.

To peel and disembowel the pumpkin, pop it in the microwave for 2 minutes on high, then place it on a cutting board and slice it in half down the middle.  Scoop out the guts (reserving the seeds to toast for a yummy snack), then peel and cube the pumpkin.

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Hospitality @ Home: Turkey Meatball Subs!

turkey meatball sub

For football season, I like to serve these babies up on a toasted french roll.  For a tailgate, you can make them in advance, and keep them wrapped in their foil to enjoy field-side.  Or, if you live in Los Angeles, fire up the grill by the pool and enjoy after a long swim….

this is how to watch football in LA

Yes, that is a TV, on a patio, by the pool…

I  adapted the meatball recipe from Serious Eats,  adjusting the meatball seasoning to use dried herbs, adding some grated onion for moisture, and since I was using lean turkey, dumped in two tablespoons of butter to raise the fat content and give the finished meatballs some richness.  For my marinara, I used leftover Tomato-Butter sauce that I made, but a high-quality store bought tomato sauce, like Bertolli Five Brother’s Tomato Basil would be perfect, as well.  No, Bertolli did not pay me for that plug, it just so happens to be my favorite store-bought sauce.

Recipe after the jump…

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