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roast chicken and veggies

Roast chicken, potatoes, carrots, parsnips and shallots

My favorite holidays have always been the big eating holidays. That usually meant Passover with my parents in Philly and Thanksgiving with my aunt in Boston. Before I moved to Los Angeles, I can’t say I thought too much about the other big holidays like Rosh Hashanah. Now that I live far away from all my family and friends, I decided to try my hand at hosting my own Rosh Hashanah dinner.

Last week, I ran home from work and got a chicken in the oven to roast. I used The Best Recipe’s technique of just brushing some butter, salt and pepper on the chicken before roasting it. I like how simple it is and it tastes delicious. The key seems to be positioning one wing up, then the other, and then raising the heat with the breast facing up. My sister has a different edition of The Best Recipe that has a totally different recipe, but my version is simple, simple. I also roasted some carrots, parsnips, shallots and potatoes.

chicken resting

Chicken resting amid a bit of a mess

I started Digest LA to help get me out and about in a new city, Los Angeles. I never really expected that it would have me learning to cook and inviting new friends over to my house instead. Thanks Anjali, Kendra, Adrian and Rene for spending my first Rosh Hashanah with me. Happy New Year.

eggs for dinnerAfter a long day, I called my mom from the grocery store and asked her to suggest something to make for dinner. She said she ate a burger. No go – I ate at 8 oz Burger Bar last night. By the way, don’t go. The burger is pretty good, but the service is horrible. Then my mom said, “well I like eggs for dinner.”

What a good idea! I have loads of eggs leftover from cooking for brunch and I even have 4 pieces of bacon left from the succotash I made the other night. I grabbed some Dutch Crunch bread, whatever that is, and 3 different types of cookies. Hey, I said it was a long day. I didn’t have regular vinegar so I poached some eggs using champagne vinegar, fried up some bacon and enjoyed a delicious dinner where I didn’t even have to buy anything. Thanks mom!

brunch spread

brunch spread

To commemorate 6 months of living in Los Angeles, I made brunch for a few friends. I might have overdone it a bit with the amount of food, but there were so many recipes that I wanted to try. I also needed an excuse to use my table for the first time. Just because I make fancy food, doesn’t mean I don’t usually eat it by myself in front of the television.

butter bibb lettuce with mango, berries and raspberry vinaigrette

butter bibb lettuce with mango, berries and raspberry vinaigrette

I made a lettuce wedge of butter bibb and paired it with some fruit. Missing from the pic is the raspberry vinaigrette I made. The dressing is made of raspberries, raspberry vinegar, egg yolk, oil, and water blended together. It wasn’t the best party food because I had to plate it for each person individually, but otherwise quite delicious.

baked french toast bread pudding with candied pecans

baked french toast bread pudding with candied pecans

I spent the day ahead of time preparing dishes so that everything would be ready when my guests arrived. This baked french toast bread pudding was perfect for that. The challah is soaked in the custard overnight and just has to bake in the morning. I made some candied pecans to top it with. Delicious!

mushroom and fontina quiche with truffle cream sauce

mushroom and fontina quiche with truffle cream sauce

I made this mushroom and fontina quiche with truffle cream sauce.  I sauteed some crimini, oyster and shitake mushroom in butter with shallots. I guess anything sauteed in butter with shallots is a pretty good start to a recipe. My friend Megan brought delicious pumpkin muffins, which you can see a peak of in the corner.

I also made cornmeal cake with berries and whipped cream, but I didn’t get a picture of that. Thanks to my friends for coming over and making me delicious things like a bloody mary with tequila! I think I better start planning the menu for my next brunch.

Shrimp Risotto and Butter Lettuce, Citrus and Avocado Salad

Butter Lettuce, Citrus and Avocado Salad and Shrimp Risotto

I am somewhat relieved to say that I no longer am sous chef Michelle. I am a free woman again. The last class I worked, we made a tomato basil risotto that was terrific. It reminded me that I have always wanted to make risotto, but I have never tried. I picked some ingredients at random (shrimp, bacon, arborio rice) and consulted my good buddy, who is a risotto expert. He advised me to cook the bacon and sweat the onions (I used a bit of shallot also) in butter before adding the rice. Then I added a cup of white wine and then started the 20-30 minutes of slowly adding (homemade) chicken stock. I sauteed the shrimp with garlic and butter separately and then added it to the risotto with some parmesan at the end. I have to say, it turned out all right. I can’t wait to make risotto again… maybe with the truffle oil I picked up.

I also made a salad with some butter lettuce, navel oranges, garden tomatoes, and avocados. All of this is my practice at cooking without recipes.

poached eggs

Poached Eggs for Joe's Breakfast

The third best thing about my vacation at my sister’s apartment in JC is that I can practice cooking techniques and she and her husband, distracted caring for a baby, will eat whatever I put in front of them. That might not sound like much, but you can’t get much practice cooking for one and it is hard to judge your own work. Of course, as new parents, they seem happy to have any food plopped in front of them.

I have really been wanting to make poached eggs on my own since the Mother’s Day cooking class so I seized the opportunity to experiment. I added vinegar and salt to the water and brought it just short of boiling and then lowered the temperature. You have to do a lot of fiddling with the heat to maintain a good poaching temperature. I tried swirling the water before lowering the egg in, but that really just forced the yolk to the outside. I got the best results by not swirling the water and just slowly lowering the egg into the water. Perfect pouch! Because the temperature of the water keeps changing, the ideal cooking time changes as well. I poached the eggs around 3 minutes, but by the time I got to my own eggs, they were slightly more medium than the previous eggs.

poached eggs

my poached eggs - a bit medium

They were still really good and far from overcooked. The brioche we got from Fresh Direct was also delicious. Today I am going to make chocolate butter to go with french toast for tomorrow’s breakfast. We’re going to need a bigger brioche.

Happy Anniversary J + J!

Ginger Marinated Pork Tenderloin, Asparagus, Really Weird Italian Bread

Ginger Marinated Pork Tenderloin, Asparagus, Really Weird Italian Bread

I learned another thing from Julia Child recently, never apologize for your cooking. In My Life in France, she serves a friend really disgusting Eggs Florentine and never utters a word of acknowledgement that it is bad. I want to apologize for my plating in the picture above, but no. From now on, no more apologies. I am spending a week with my sister and her newborn and trying to help out by cooking meals as much as possible. For our first night, I made my old standby, Ginger Marinated Pork Tenderloin. This recipe is excellent for a bachelorette like myself because one tenderloin is enough for one person plus some leftovers. Of course, as soon as I became single, butcher shops began discriminating against me by only selling tenderloins in twos. The pork tenderloin came out pretty nice although I can never manage to get a nice sear on my meat. I think I need higher heat and to dry the marinade off the pork much more before putting it in the pan. I also tried to mince garlic the way I saw it done in a video recently where the chef smashed the garlic pretty flat and then just sliced it for it to break apart into a dice. That didn’t really work for me at all. I guess that is what practice is for.

We haven’t planned the menu for the rest of the week yet. I think we decided on some sort of rolled chicken dish for tomorrow. Any suggestions?

salad and bread

I am not going to pull a Julie and Julia, but I have started reading through Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck.

Here is what I have learned so far:

Oil – French cooking doesn’t use olive oil. It has too strong a taste. For French cooking use odorless and tasteless vegetable oils. Since I moved to LA, I already have gone through a big bottle of olive oil. Now on to Canola.

Butter – French butter is more akin to salted butter in the U.S. So there is use for salted butter besides for bread after all.

Bacon – If you use American smoked bacon in a French recipe, you should blanch it first.

Creme fraiche - Creme fraiche can be recreated with whipping cream and buttermilk. It takes a long time so luckily Pavilions carries creme fraiche.

Flour – French household flour is like 3 parts all purpose flour and 1 part bleached cake flour.

Vinaigrette – Sugar is heresy in vinaigrettes. I can’t get behind that rule because of my Aunt Sara’s Poppy Seed Vinaigrette Dressing in the picture above.

Here is what I learned from my own kitchen experiments:

Tapioca starch – Tapioca starch and tapioca starch modified is not the same thing. Especially when the modified tapioca starch is called Ultratex 3. If you know what Ultratex 3 is, then you know what I tried to do is pretty funny. I will stop buying weird chemicals that I don’t know what they are. I will buy tapioca starch and make pao de queijo.

Oh and if you want to know more about the title of the post, you may want to check out What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by my favorite author Haruki Murakami.

shrimp and broccoli

Roasted Broccoli with Shrimp

The best advice my brother ever gave me was to keep frozen shrimp in my freezer because I can always take it out and brine it in some salty water while it thaws and make a delicious dinner. I guess shrimp is always frozen on the shrimping boats anyway so there is no harm in letting it freeze a little longer in your home. As long as you have some olive oil and garlic on hand, you always have the fixins for some dinner.

When I first moved to LA, I had a completely empty pantry. Not knowing where to start; I made sure I had basics like frozen shrimp, salt, garlic and olive oil. One tired weeknight, I decided to make Melissa Clark’s Roasted Broccoli with Shrimp from the NY Times via The Wednesday Chef. The only problem being that my spice pantry was bare. I tried to make it anyway just using garlic, salt and olive oil; which is basically a completely different and less exciting meal.

The second best piece of advice my brother gave me was to go buy spices. I did and retried the recipe with cumin and hot chili powder and coriander. What an absolutely delicious and easy weeknight dish. I file this one under pantry and weeknight and it makes me happy.

Bouchons au Thon

Bouchons au Thon

My sister introduced me to Bouchons au Thon two summers ago. I thought she was crazy for making them and quickly renamed them Tuna Cupcakes. The recipe is from Orangette’s blog. Molly (Orangette) recreated it from one her French host mother invented in her capacity as a Flexipan and Silpat saleslady. It ends up, Orangette’s French Host Mother should be in the silicone product hall of fame. Not only are Tuna Cupcakes completely delicious, but they are easy to make and you find most of the ingredients already in your kitchen. The most amazing part, your love of Tuna Cupcakes will require you to buy a silicone muffin tin. Trust me, it is worth it. Pair them with a salad and a baguette and weeknight dinner is served.

Schematic NY pie contest

pie contest I organized at work

I have always had a sweet tooth. I love Tastycakes, Watchamacallits, Peanut Chews, Snickers, Twix ice cream bars, you name it; but growing up we never had sweets in the house. I would get a crazy craving for sugar and was trapped in the suburbs with no means of transportation. One thing we did always have in the house were eggs. And we had sugar because all those fake sugars hadn’t really been invented yet. And flour. If I was really lucky we had cocoa or unsweetened chocolate. We also had floor to ceiling bookshelves filled with books and quite a few of those books were cookbooks.

So I would pour through the cookbooks and figure out all the different things we had the ingredients to make and make them. Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts was a good resource. My parents would walk into the kitchen to cakes, cookies, tarts, even mandel bread. People say that cooking is way easier than baking because baking is a science, but I love baking… I love science. It all makes sense. I had incredible luck with baking until I encountered the dreaded Lemon Meringue Pie. I made Lemon Meringue Pie so many times and it would never turn out right. One time the custard wouldn’t set. Another time I couldn’t whip the egg whites into meringue. I couldn’t understand why things I had done easily for other recipes now just failed to work. I became obsessed with getting i right. My parents even started to help me. I think my dad finally put an end to it when he asked me, “Do you even like Lemon Meringue Pie?”

No, Lemon Meringue Pie is terrible. It is overly sweet and garish and thickened with cornstarch. I had made way more delicious and sophisticated desserts before this setback. The thing is I learned so much making that stupid pie over and over again. I learned about thickening agents and custards and meringues and pie crusts. So, why am I sitting here thinking about this? I realize that I need my Lemon Meringue Pie for cooking. This is how I learn… I need to make one thing over and over again until I understand everything about making it. And then I might hate it, but at least I will know how to make it. Any suggestions?