Restaurant 101: Prep Tip

vanilla half and half

 

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

shaved brussels sprouts
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.

Continue reading

Pumpkin & Spice Infused Vodka

pumpkin sugar pumpkin pumpkin vodka recipe

For 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.

Continue reading

Pumpkin Spice Latte Syrup

Living in Los Angeles, few things truly invoke the feeling of Autumn.  The palms trees that frame the avenues, swaying ever so violently in the Santa Ana winds, do not burn with orange and gold leaves.  Even at night, temperatures rarely dip below sixty degrees.  So, in addition to strident insistence on wearing sweaters because it is October, guys, the thing that signals the beginning of Fall in the modern era is … the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte.

When I managed a restaurant at the base of an office building in downtown LA, we would get requests frequently for our version of the beverage, and so I (a former Starbucks barista myself) developed a Pumpkin spice syrup for our bar, that I will happily share with you now, in consideration of the current Pumpkin Spice syrup shortage of 2012

I do something a little differently with my syrup, cutting the amount of sugar in the base mix and adding sweetened condensed milk, but I like the body that the sweetened condensed milk gives to the final product.  The cinnamon/pumpkin/condensed milk combo adds creamy richness and warmth to whatever you add this syrup to– coffee, latte, hot chocolate, a little brandy and creme de cocao shaken over ice…

If you don’t want to use the sweetened condensed milk, then just increase the brown sugar to 1 1/2 cups.

Recipe after the jump

Continue reading

Better than Popcorn Crunchy Snack Mix

spiced nuts recipe

Y’all, I am obsessed with kale chips. I am not afraid to admit it, and I know I am not alone.  On a whim a couple of weeks ago, I toasted some almonds and seasoned ’em up with a little salt and sugar, mixed them with the kale chips, and called it snack mix.  It was delicious, but I knew it could get better. So I worked on the nut seasoning, and I think I nailed it.

I enjoy these almonds alone, or tossed with kale chips. I’ve plowed through bowls of this Almond-Kale mix while watching the NBA Finals, or a good Rom-Com, it is the crunch of popcorn combined with a sweet, salty, spicy flavor punch, and minus any of the empty calories.

So here it is….

kale almond snack mixrecipe after the jump….

Continue reading