Happy (Tiny) Thanksgiving!

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Thanksgiving is going to be different for us this year. It is my first year in the service industry, which means that I work on holidays and “normal” weekends. Oh dear… It would seem… I’ve turned into my father. (j/k – love you, Dad!)

I’ve always loved holidays — and it was difficult for me to come to terms with this — but Thanksgiving isn’t about gorging on turkey (or roast chicken or rack of lamb) on the third Thursday of November. It’s not about the side dishes or even the pie or alternative desserts. It’s about spending time with the people you love and being grateful for what you have… and that really should be happening year-round, holiday or not.

So, our dear readers, if you are indeed celebrating tomorrow, we hope you have a very happy Thanksgiving! As happy as the Tiny Hamster in the video. As for us, we’ll be postponing our festivities to a later time and will gladly share any new recipes we test out. Cheers!

(Many thanks to our friend Genie at Bunny Eats Design for the inspiration to share the video.)

Vanilla Panna Cotta with Blueberry Compote

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The holiday season is upon us and you know what that means — it’s time for a few easy-to-make yet impressive-looking desserts that you can add to your repertoire for wowing guests! Case in point: before I stumbled upon this article on The Kitchn, I had never even considered making panna cotta at home. And now that I’ve seen the light, I could not imagine spending $14 on it at a restaurant ever again (unless there are some really special flavor combinations going on…). It’s that easy and oh so versatile to customize to your liking. I had some blueberries in the freezer from our visit to a pick-your-own blueberry farm in Santa Barbara over the summer, but you are welcome to use any seasonal fruit to pair with the silky smooth pudding. Just a slight note, this basic recipe involves gelatin and refrigeration to set, unlike the traditional Italian recipe which uses egg whites and is baked in a bain marie.

Panna Cotta Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups milk

1 1-ounce envelope of powdered gelatin (or 4 gelatin sheets, bloomed in ice water)

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 vanilla bean, scraped

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Set up a double boiler if you have one, or bring a small pot of water to a boil and nestle a heat-safe bowl (Pyrex, for example) over it. Add milk and sprinkle the powdered gelatin over the surface. Let sit for 1-2 minutes to bloom the gelatin. Add the sugar and vanilla and whisk well to completely dissolve the sugar. It should have a silky texture with no grittiness. Heat the mixture until it is barely simmering. Pour in the cream and continue to cook until the mixture has warmed to room temperature. (If it is too hot, just set aside to cool a bit before pouring into the molds.) Pour into ramekins or serving dishes. Refrigerate for at least one hour or until set. The texture will be wobbly and much more delicate than jello. Serve cold.

Blueberry Compote Ingredients:

2 cups frozen blueberries, divided

3 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons honey

Dash of ground cinnamon

In a small saucepan, heat 1 cup of blueberries with the water, honey, and cinnamon. Simmer over medium-low heat until the fruit starts to break down, about 5 minutes. Using the back of a spoon, gently mash the berries into a coarse puree. Add the remaining 1 cup of blueberries and cook for another 3-5 minutes or until the whole berries are warmed through and the mashed berries have formed a sauce-like consistency. Serve warm.

The blueberry compote also tastes great as a topping for ice cream, pancakes, waffles, even steel cut oatmeal! Once it has cooled, I transferred the leftover compote to a glass jar and kept it in the refrigerator for about a week. It could probably keep longer if you’re into canning jams and whatnot, but the compote is so delicious that it will magically disappear quite quickly!

I know it’s been a long time since we’ve posted a recipe on this blog, but I hope you enjoy this two-for-one. We did not include step-by-step photos this time, but trust me, it’s just THAT easy. If you try either of them at home, please let us know what you think!

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our-growing-edge-badgeThis post is part of the monthly link up party Our Growing Edge. This event aims to connect food bloggers and inspire us to try new things, and I can honestly say that my life has changed for the better knowing now that panna cotta is just so easy to make!

This month is hosted by Linda at The Orange Bee.

Cheers!

Hatfield’s – Hollywood

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For my birthday this year, my dear boyfriend treated me to dinner at Hatfield’s, a restaurant that had earned one coveted Michelin star back when the Guide was still in LA. He knew that I love tasting menus, although it proved surprisingly difficult to find one with availability on a Sunday night. (As I am constantly reminded, I work the same nights that normal people want to go out!)

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The first thing I noticed that the odd sense of familiarity when we walked into the dining room. And that’s when it hit me — this is the dining room from the movie Chef! So our date night started out with plenty of jokes involving “He’s NOT getting to me!” “I’m NOT needy!” “It’s f*cking molten!” (If you still haven’t seen the movie, stop reading right now and go track it down!)

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We sat in the center of the dining room and got an amazing view of the open kitchen. I was mesmerized by the brigade and how calmly and deliberately everyone seemed to move; it was almost unreal, especially compared to my experience in a closed kitchen where organized chaos breaks loose every night.

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We opted for the chef’s 7-course tasting menu (priced at $110 per person). We were told that it would be served “in tandem,” which was described to mean that each of us would receive a different dish each course. Long story short, we got to try a total of 14 dishes! I defined the dishes that I received first as (a) and the ones Martin received first as (m). Please forgive me if I missed any details; there’s quite a bit going on in every dish and by the end, I was really feeling the gin in my cocktail! (Also, the photos aren’t too stellar thanks to my camera phone and low lighting.)

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Speaking of cocktails, I had The Hendrix Experience: Hendrick’s Gin, Thai basil syrup, lemon, prosecco. It was a lovely bright green color and tasted as refreshing as it looked. Martin mentioned that his usual libation of choice is the sazerac and our server suggested The Innsbruck. I remember nothing about it other than that it is rye whiskey based, garnished with a sprig of rosemary, and went down oh so smoothly.

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Amuse Bouche: Cured Fluke, Egg Salad Remoulade, Potato Chip. A delightful first bite of cured white fish to whet our appetites for more.

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Course 1(a): Croque Madame: Yellowtail Sashimi, Prosciutto, Sunny Side Up Quail Egg, Grilled Brioche. One of their signature dishes, we were thrilled to see this as part of our tasting menu. The “grilled” brioche reminded me of this one time when we fried brioche croutons in clarified butter. Butter + butter = love. The combination of cured jamon and fresh hamachi doesn’t sound like it would work out but somehow it does in this adorable little sandwich.

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Course 1(m): Kanpachi Sashimi, Persian Cucumbers, Mango. A refreshing and light starter, this is the way I generally like to begin my dining adventures.

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Course 2(a): Butternut Squash Flan, Coconut Froth, Maitake Mushrooms, Curried Sweetbreads Croquette. I loved this dish. I may even go so far as to say it was my favorite of the night. Hidden beneath the froth of fragrant coconut and Thai-inspired flavor is a delicate butternut squash flan. The silky texture and the smooth broth paired wonderfully while the croquette added an extra level with its crunch. The maitake mushrooms were just the icing on the cake to remind you that, indeed, Winter is Coming.

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Course 2(m): Squid Ink Garganelli, Dungeness Crab, English Peas, Pea Tendrils, Pearl Onions. We are both huge fans of squid ink pasta; there’s just something about the gorgeous black color hiding away a surprising burst of citrus and briny flavor that we can’t get enough of. The pea tendrils were fried as a crispy garnish and the crab added a lightness to an otherwise creamy sauce.

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Course 3(a): Slow Cooked Salmon (Sous Vide), Eggplant, Charred Scallions, Salmon Roe. I had never had sous vide salmon before and I’ve got to say, I’m just not a fan. The peculiar cube of gorgeous medium-rare salmon looked beautiful but had a soft texture that I could not get past. I did enjoy how the roe added a finishing touch of saltiness to the dish the way a sprinkling of fleur de sel would have.

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Course 3(m): Red Wine Braised Octopus, Charred Shishito Peppers, Orange Rind Gastrique. The octopus was pleasantly tender, and as I am a huge fan of shishito peppers, I much preferred this dish over the salmon.

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Course 4(a): Pan Roasted Duck Breast, Strawberry Sambal Gastrique, Braised Radicchio & Hibiscus, Fennel & Gold Beet Salad, Cashews. I felt that this dish really embodied the time of year — the transition between summer and fall. I actually really enjoyed the radicchio and hibiscus, which I found to be extra bitter (Martin was not a fan but loved the duck).

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Course 4(m): Buttermilk Chicken, Arugula Pistou, Mushroom Duxelle, Crispy Shallot. The chicken was incredibly succulent and completely changed my view on ordering the poultry at a fine dining establishment. The crispy shallots were a fun garnish, making me think of fried chicken, while the sauces underneath melded well with one another.

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Course 5(a): 36 Hour Slow Cooked “Pastrami-Style” Short Rib, Shimeji Mushrooms, Fingerling Potatoes, Frisee Salad. The short rib was incredibly tender and paired with the mustard vinaigrette that dressed the salad beneath it, I was transported to a very high-end version of a Jewish deli. I just have to say though — I’ve never been able to look at a plate of frisee without feeling a lot of appreciation and a little bit of guilt, because I know what a pain in the butt it is for the person who has to pick the yellow leaves from the bitter white stems.

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Course 5(m): Braised Short Rib, Celery Root Puree, Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Red Wine Jus. A second preparation of the short rib, this was almost lacquered in red wine and tasted wonderful for it. I’d say this dish was the most no-frills one of the bunch, and I appreciated that. Nothing beats a good plate of beef, brussels, celery root puree, and red wine sauce.

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Course 6(a): Pavlova, Freshly Whipped Cream, Strawberry Chamomile Sorbet. The paylova was crispy and airy, the whipped cream was delicate, and the sorbet was the star of the show. It was fruity yet fragrant and not-too-sweet, just the way I like it.

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Course 6(m): Buttermilk Panna Cotta, Watermelon Granita, Blackberry Banyuls Sorbet. I usually dislike tangy dairy, but the buttermilk panna cotta was the perfect counter to the sweet fruit. I was also really looking forward to tasting the blackberry banyuls sorbet (banyuls is an expensive French vinegar made from Grenache grapes) and it exceeded my expectations.

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Course 7(a): Peanut Butter Semifreddo, Crunchy Chocolate-Peanut Tuille, Bitter Chocolate Ice Cream. I don’t know how they knew. Martin said he didn’t tell them. I didn’t mention anything. It’s like they’re mind readers, but our server placed this plate down right in front of me and I was thrilled. (What can I say? I love to feel special.) The semifreddo was delicious and if you managed to take a bite with a little bit of everything on it, it was like the world’s best candy bar.

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Course 7(m): Sugar & Spice Beignet, Venezuelan Chocolate Fondue, Vanilla Malted Milkshake. I love beignets and I love even more that this one is dusted in cinnamon-sugar rather than confectioner’s. The chocolate fondue was incredible — super velvety and bittersweet, perfect for someone who loves the darkest of dark chocolate (like me!). I really liked the playfulness of the vanilla milkshake, although I couldn’t help but make the comparison to Michael Mina’s root beer float (which, with its edible chocolate straw, wins by a slight edge).

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Bon Bons: Homemade Mallomar, Dark Chocolate, Marshmallow, Graham Cracker, Sea Salt. I will be perfectly honest — the first thing I did was poke it. It feels squishy. How do they get it coated in chocolate that is malleable enough to squish with the marshmallow enrobed inside? It was mind boggling, and I pondered it as I devoured the last, satisfying bite of our meal.

It’s no wonder that Hatfield’s still holds strong on Jonathan Gold’s list of 101 Best Restaurants in LA. This husband and wife team (Chef and Pastry Chef, respectively) creates intricate dishes that highlight so many seasonal ingredients, often combining a multitude of flavors in new and exciting ways. Some dishes were more amazing than others, and a few just had a bit too much going on for my taste, but overall, I had no complaints about our meal at Hatfield’s. Keep it on your list for a romantic date, special occasion, or cause for celebration!

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Check out Hatfield’s: hatfieldsrestaurant.com

6703 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90038

See their Yelp reviews here!

Il Cortile Ristorante – Paso Robles

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On our recent trip to Central Coast Wine Country, we were overwhelmed by our dining options in downtown Paso Robles. After all, where there’s good wine, there’s good food, right? But in our search for dinner plans, Il Cortile stood out with its homemade pastas, stunning dishes, and (because first impressions matter) clean and modern website.

Upon our arrival, we were pleased to find that our first impressions were just the beginning of a wonderful experience. It was a warm summer evening so we elected to dine al fresco on the inviting semi-enclosed patio. Our server Andrew was friendly, and somewhere along the way, we learned that a surprising number of Paso residents (including himself and the Chef Santos MacDonal) are LA transplants!

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Even after having partaken in an entire afternoon of wine tasting, we could not resist yet another opportunity to sample the Central Coast, so I had the Rose flight while Martin chose the Italian flight to start our meal.

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We love grilled octopus so despite other tempting offerings such as mozzarella di bufalo, coppa con burrata, and carpaccio di anatra (duck), we went with our first instinct: grilled octopus with fresh vegetables marinati in a spicy vinaigrette. The octopus was charred to perfection and oh so tender. It was served over a hearty bed of cannelini beans and tomato, reminding us that we are indeed in an Italian ristorante.

We mentioned wanting to try two different entrees and sharing so that we could sample two of their famed dishes. But without any indication or request, our server went ahead and asked the kitchen to split the plates so that we could each have our own portions, beautifully plated. So thoughtful!

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Following our antipasti was our primi of pappardelle al aragosta – squid ink pasta with a lobster ragu finished with salmon roe. Remember when we said we love grilled octopus? Well we LOVE squid ink pasta. Guaranteed, at least one of us will order it given the option. The lobster ragu was rich and packed with generous bits of lobster meat, while the roe (which I believe was actually tobiko, or flying fish roe, as it was much smaller than the distinct size of ikura) added a welcomed touch of saltiness. The pasta itself, made in-house, had the distinct texture that only fresh pasta has, and it was cooked just until al dente. Absolute perfection, we enjoyed every bite of this. (Editor’s Note: I noticed this dish is no longer listed on the current menu on the website and has been replaced with a lobster ravioli dish instead.)

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Our secondi was a very special dish, one that everyone will tell you to order if you come here but never seems to make a permanent appearance on the menu: osso buco – overnight-braised pork shank with parmesan risotto. It was customary to serve me easier-to-daintily-eat slices and chunks of braised meat while the gentleman got the rest of the bone-in shank in all its glory. What they didn’t know was that this lady has a strong stomach and ended up devouring some of her date’s portion as well, it was just so good! Quick research on the history of osso buco tells me that this was a more “modern” preparation with its tomatoes and mirepoix, but modern or traditional, it was an impressive dish that felt decadent and yet comforting at the same time. Don’t miss it!

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For dessert, Martin was in the mood for something less sweet and made a special request for an affogato – hot espresso poured table-side over vanilla ice cream. I opted for the vanilla panna cotta which was garnished with fresh strawberries and a berry coulis. I loved being able to actually see the flecks of vanilla bean, and the flavor was delicate. Delicious!

From beginning to end, we had an amazing experience. Be sure to include Il Cortile in your next Central Coast adventure!

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Check out Il Cortile – ilcortileristorante.com

608 12th St
Paso Robles, CA 93446

See their Yelp reviews here!

Michael Mina – Bellagio, Las Vegas, NV

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For us, food is an event that can stand completely on its own. So in retrospect, it was really no surprise that for our four-year dating anniversary, we spontaneously decided to hop in the car and drive through the desert to Sin City for a short weekend getaway capped off with a tasting menu dinner at Michelin-starred Michael Mina at the Bellagio.

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The service from being greeted by the hostess and GM to our dedicated waiters (plural!) to the ever-attentive bread and water guy was impeccable. The decor was beautiful and the whole experience felt sophisticated but not snooty, a delicate balance for white tablecloth restaurants of this caliber.

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There is a great-looking a la carte menu that includes luxuries like a caviar selection rolled out on a serving cart and a whole lobe of foie gras roasted and carved table-side, but we had our sights set on doing a tasting menu. Even then, there were two options – the Signature, which features the six courses of the restaurant’s greatest hits, and the Seasonal, which changes from time to time based on what is available. Since it was our first visit, we opted for the Signature which is a steal at $115 per person. We were tempted to do the full wine pairing alongside our tasting menu but decided to each select one of the suggested pairings instead. Just before we received our 2011 Cantina Terlano pinot bianco (Martin’s) and 2012 Dr. L riesling (one of my favorites), we were surprised with champagne to toast our anniversary!

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Bubbly in hand, let’s get started.

Course 1: Domestic Caviar Parfait – alderwood smoked salmon, creme fraiche, shallot potato cake.

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A beautiful tower consisting of layered crispy fried potato, cool and creamy creme fraiche, smoky cured salmon, and a generous dollop of domestic black caviar, this dish was an innovative presentation of a classic flavor combination. I also couldn’t help but appreciate the simple yet elegant little piles of brunoise shallot that garnished the plate.

Course 2: Tartare of Ahi Tuna – asian pear, pine nuts, scotch bonnet infused sesame oil

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Photo-takers beware, this dish is finished table-side. Our waiter was observant, however, and paused so I could take my before and after photos. So kind! We felt it was a sizable portion to be part of a tasting menu; we later saw another table order the a la carte version and ours seemed to be about two-thirds the size! The Asian-inspired flavors were delicious and more reminiscent of a Hawaiian poke than a tartare.

Course 3: Miso-Glazed Chilean Sea Bass – shellfish dumpling, dashi broth

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Possibly the best preparation of Patagonian toothfish I have eaten! The buttery fish was perfectly cooked and unbelievably succulent. The dumpling looked handmade though it was unremarkable compared to the delicate yet flavorful broth. The garnish of mustard frill and shaved radish gave a welcomed freshness to the earthy miso and shiitake.

Course 4: Lobster Pot Pie – seasonal baby vegetables, brandied lobster cream

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This course was hands-down the most filling and I know when winter comes, I’ll be craving its rich and creamy lobster-brandy sauce bathing fingerling potatoes, lobster knuckles, and other hidden treasures beneath a golden and flaky pastry crust. This too was finished table-side as the waiters carved the crust cleanly, making it easier to lift the “lid” and peek at the filling below. My heart started to hurt from the obscene quantity of butter but it was so, so worth all of the rave reviews.

Course 5: American Wagyu Ribeye “Rossini” – hudson valley foie gras, pinot noir reduction

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Perhaps the most exciting part of leaving California is being able to consume the contraband decadence that is foie gras. Though we were warned that this particular morsel would be quite small, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the gorgeous slices of seared rib-eye were garnished with shavings of black summer truffle a la Tournedos Rossini. I don’t recall their asking how we wanted the steak prepared, but when it arrived, we saw that it was perfect — bright red medium-rare/rare with an even, crunchy sear. An excellent dish!

Surprise Pre-Dessert: Mascarpone Cheesecake with Huckleberries and Vanilla Crumble

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In addition to the champagne to start the meal, we were surprised with an extra dessert course, complete with chocolate writing that announced “Happy Anniversary!” The cheesecake was airy and light, just the way I like it, and I enjoyed the huckleberry compote to add a sweet and fruity element.

Course 6: Lincoln’s Candy Bar – peanuts, valrhona chocolate, pretzel

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This course was actually a trio featuring the “candy bar” (an elevated Snickers of sorts), a warm chocolate chip cookie, and a root beer float. The candy bar was sinfully good and I could take or leave the cookie, but what stole the show was the float! I first sipped it through the chocolate “straw” before digging in with a spoon. I only wish I had more room in my stomach to polish off every bite!

We had high expectations from reading online reviews, perusing the menu, and of course, having specifically selected Michael Mina for its one Michelin star rating. Though the tasting menu and service were both impressive, I was most amazed that the quiet, calm, open kitchen delivered such consistent and beautiful dishes. (I work in a mostly-closed kitchen and it can be sheer chaos back there!) Though there are so many high-end dining options in Las Vegas, I definitely recommend trying the Signature menu here if you get the chance!

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Check out Michael Mina: bellagio.com

Bellagio Resort & Casino
3600 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89109

See their Yelp reviews here!

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