One Week till Cookie Con!

Desserts and Sweets, Food Adventures, Los Angeles

That’s right, folks. Los Angeles has a Cookie Convention and it’s coming to the Pasadena Convention Center next Sunday! We were floored by this news and quickly went to their website (lacookiecon.com) to get our tickets to this sure-to-be-awesome event. (I believe our exact reaction was “Cookie Con?! How did we not know about this?!”)

Reality TV buffs will appreciate the celebrity lineup of guests from Food Network’s “Sweet Genius” and Next Food Network Star, Fox’s MasterChef, and more. There will be fondant rolling classes, candy apple making for the kids, and demonstrations for new tools and equipment. But most importantly, the website highlights “hundreds of delicious free samples from national and local vendors, offering an extravaganza of cookies, candy, chocolate, coffee, ice cream, beverages, and unique baked savories too.” SIGN US UP!

Salted Chocolate Chunk Cookies by our friend CCU at Go Bake Yourself!

Salted Chocolate Chunk Cookies by our friend CCU at Go Bake Yourself!

After our chocolate filled adventure at Indulge LA, we know we have to develop a game plan to synchronize our (precious and limited) stomach space and our (ravenous and unrelenting) sweet tooth. Luckily, we will be attending with a pair of friends with whom to share the bounty. I know Martin is going to keep an eye out for the best chocolate chip (his favorite) while I am always game to try unique variations on the traditional cookie (like our limoncello and semolina version).

VIP tickets are already sold out, so grab your GA passes soon if you want to attend the first annual LA Cookie Con! (Psst — sign up for their e-newsletter for a 10% off coupon code!)

As if you needed more convincing, a portion of the proceeds from the event will benefit Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. You definitely won’t want to miss out on this chance to stuff your faces while helping to support a great nonprofit. (But in case you can’t make it, stay tuned for our post-event recap with plenty of mouth-watering cookie photos!)

cat eated cookie

Disclosure: We were not compensated for this post; however, we did receive discounted press tickets to the event for the purposes of our review. All opinions are our own and were not influenced in any way.

Vanilla Panna Cotta with Blueberry Compote

Desserts and Sweets, Recipes

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!

Thai Green Curry Coconut Mussels [Cooking Demo]

Blogging Community, Food Adventures, Los Angeles, Main Dishes, Recipes

So yesterday I was invited to do a cooking demonstration on the main stage at the 626 Night Market and I am excited to announce that it was a great success! I was nervous as this was my first demo experience (I soon learned that it was a first for 626 Night Market as well!), and I would be following a cooking-on-camera veteran Marina Chung of The Taste. I knew I would only have a 30-minute time slot, but I was feeling ambitious and really wanted to show off a dish that could be done from start to finish. I racked my brain for ideas when it hit me — steamed mussels.

Thai Green Curry Coconut Steamed Mussels

Thai Green Curry Coconut Steamed Mussels

We have done moules marinieres at home many times, even making a 5-pound batch for a party with our dear friends Brian and Patricia, both of whom play major roles on the 626 Night Market planning team and were influential in getting me this gig. This time, though, I wanted to do a special twist with a Thai green curry based broth; the first time I ate a similar dish, it was a red curry broth at Waterloo & City and the flavor combination really stuck with me. It also perfectly fit our blog’s mission of finding easy ways to replicate gourmet food at home. I knew I would be able to execute the dish in the amount of time given and most importantly, I was confident that it looked and tasted good enough that my audience would (hopefully) be inspired to make it at home too!

They even made this cool graphic for marketing my demo segment!

They even made this cool graphic for marketing my demo segment!

I am so happy to share the recipe with our readers. Unfortunately I do not have step-by-step photos, but somewhere out there exists film footage of my demo. When I have access to it, I’ll update this post with a link so you can watch the clip at home and follow along. Scroll down to read the recipe or click here to download the PDF file that was handed out at the event. I also thought I’d share what I learned about doing cooking demonstrations – they are super fun but I feel they also require a good amount of planning and organization in order to be done well.

The Set-up (I practiced once at home first)

The Set-up (I practiced once at home first)

ingredients:

2 pounds live mussels, cleaned and carefully stored

2 stalks fresh lemongrass

1-inch piece of galangal, sliced (optional)

2-3 kaffir lime leaves

1.5 tablespoons thai green curry paste

14 fluid ounces coconut milk OR 7 fluid ounces coconut cream plus 1/2 cup of water or chicken broth

1 tablespoon fish sauce

3 tablespoons thai basil, cut into ribbons (chiffonade)

1 fresno chili, sliced OR 1 thai chili, crushed (optional)

loaf of crusty bread for serving (french baguette works well)

 

directions:

clean the mussels, scrubbing off debris and removing the beards. discard any that are chipped, cracked, or remain open despite gentle tapping (it’s called a percussion test!).

dice only the lower, golden-colored portion of the lemongrass stalk. discard the green stems or save for later use (they’re great for soups!).

in a hot skillet, briefly sauté the lemongrass, galangal, and curry paste until aromatic. add the coconut milk (or coconut cream + water) and kaffir lime leaves and bring to a simmer.

turn the heat to high and add the mussels, double-checking to discard any that may be unsafe to consume. cover with a tight-fitting lid and let the mussels steam. within five to seven minutes, all of the mussels should have opened.

with a slotted spoon, transfer the mussels to a serving bowl.

add two tablespoons of thai basil to the broth along with the chili, if using. taste and adjust for saltiness by adding fish sauce (you may not need the full tablespoon, depending on the brininess of the mussels). if the broth is too watery, reduce the liquid by simmering for a few more minutes.

ladle over the mussels and sprinkle with the remaining thai basil for garnish. serve with a loaf of crusty bread for soaking up the broth.

bon appetit!

Voila!

Voila!

I learned so much about doing a cooking demo, both in researching before the event and from the feedback I received after the event. Here are a few tips that I hope will come in handy if you ever have the opportunity to show off your cooking prowess and love for food:

1. Research your ingredients: I looked up every single item on my ingredients list to see if there were any fun facts I could provide the audience. I wanted to make sure I knew what I was talking about and to anticipate potential questions, so I researched topics like possible recipe substitutions (galangal vs. ginger, coconut milk vs. coconut cream), health benefits of any ingredients, proper handling and techniques, the best ways to describe certain methods (like de-bearding mussels). I was told later that the audience found it helpful that I took the time to describe each item and make “exotic” ingredients seem less daunting.

2. Plan your time: I did a run-through of preparing the recipe from start to finish in my own home first, especially since I would be using a portable burner and wanted to ensure the equipment would cooperate. This also gave me the opportunity to adjust my game plan so that I would fill in any “blank” time between waiting for things to heat or cook. For example, the instructions above mention cleaning the mussels first before starting the broth, but since I knew I would have to wait for the cream to come to a simmer, I started that first and used the wait time to talk about the mussels. I also had to make sure I added in some time for mishaps or answering questions and, in my case, subtract some time in case I speak too quickly (as often happens when I give presentations… it’s the nerves!).

3. Speak with personality: Speaking of speaking, before my demo I spent a lot of time on YouTube watching videos of live cooking demos. I ran the gamut from my favorite cooking personalities (Martin Yan still has GREAT showmanship long after his Yan Can Cook days!) to small-town county fairs, and I tried to glean some do’s and don’ts based on my preferences. The main thing I noticed is that cooking and talking simultaneously is not as easy as it looks! Also, I enjoyed most when the presenter sounded like they were talking to a crowd of peers. Luckily for me, I didn’t have to imagine the friends (but more on that below).

4. Make checklists: I was working with the bare minimum for my demo — tables, a 6-outlet surge protector with extension cord, and a headset/microphone. That’s it. I had to check and double-check my lists as I was packing my non-perishables: cutting board, towels, water, portable burner, skillet & lid, knives, spoons, prep bowls, decorative props… then I had to make sure my list for last-minute ingredients was up to snuff as well! I’m the type to get that odd feeling that I forgot to pack something so lists galore work best for me.

5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help: When the guys in the kitchen spot me (or anyone really) carrying something too heavy or bulky to be comfortable, they always say “Don’t be a hero!” I had to ask for some help getting my supplies to and from the stage, and that is A-OK. Also, I did not end up doing this because of the nature of the venue and stage setup, but you can invite audience members to come up and assist with the prep! It helps get them more engaged in the process, especially if you are able to provide samples at the end.

Family Photo

Family Photo

And last but certainly not least, I wanted to say thank you to 626 Night Market and to all of my friends and family who came out to support me in doing my first cooking demo! I wish I had been able to take a photo from where I was standing up on stage, but when I looked down to the audience, I saw so many familiar faces sitting in the crowd and it made my heart melt. I already knew some people would be there; my best friend Calvin and his girlfriend Pollyanna were visiting from out of town and we had caravaned to the event together, our friends Lilia and Wilson had just met up with us at Popping Fish Balls, and Brian even sneaked away from his event duties to watch. Of course, my dear Martin was grinning from ear to ear to finally see the results after enduring my recipe tweaking, the hot hot heat, the traffic, and my constant asking of “what if this happens?” “what if I forget something?” “what if I curse in front of all those people?”. I am so thankful for his endless support, acting as my guinea pig, offering suggestions, carrying my equipment, patiently waiting as I got checked in and set up with the sound people, and just quelling my anxiety in general. AND as you can see in the photo above, my parents came out to the event as well! I was so excited since many of the ingredients were grown in their own backyard, and it meant so much for them to see me in my natural element. And then I saw even more friends had come out to surprise me — Grace and Andrew, Curtis, Edmund, Vicky and Will… before I knew it, I had my very own entourage there to cheer me on, laugh at my lame jokes, ask questions during Q&A when there was awkward silence (“Why IS a dead mussel a bad mussel?”), and sample my dish at the end. I felt so loved.

Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.

———————

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 you can bet that a first-time cooking demo is the perfect entry! Though I am not new to cooking mussels, it was my first time cooking in front of a large audience. Large being defined as more people than would fit in my living room while I cook in the comfort of my own kitchen. ;)

This month is hosted by Lindsey at Sneaks and Sweets.

Cheers!

Homemade Squid Ink Pasta (Nero di Seppia)

Main Dishes, Recipes

Martin and I had always wanted to go to the fish markets in Downtown Los Angeles but we never seem to wake up early enough to catch the good stuff. One morning, we made our way over to Los Angeles Fish Co. in the industrial district, ready to be inspired by the bounty of the sea. Razor clams, Santa Barbara uni, PEI mussels, pompano fish, arctic char, fanny bay oysters… the assortment was exciting. One of the more interesting finds was a jar of cuttlefish ink. We love to order squid ink pasta whenever we find it on a menu, and we’ve always wanted to make it at home ourselves, so we opened our wallets and forked over the $35 for the 500 mL jar (as we later discovered, it will last us for a very long time).

Capellini nere alle vongole

Capellini nere alle vongole

The first question I had (and Googled) was “squid ink vs. cuttlefish ink.” The verdict? I learned that most commercial squid ink is actually from cuttlefish, and that cuttlefish ink is superior because of its rounded, smooth flavor. Squid ink could taste strongly of iodine. Both bring the briny essence of the sea and a stunning black hue to a classic Italian dish. My second question was whether I should have purchased the cephalopods whole and extracted my own ink sacs. Another Google search told me that commercially harvested ink, packaged in jars, are generally higher quality and better suited for cooking. And the third and last question — how the heck do I add it to the pasta dough?

Squid Ink Pasta Dough Ball

Squid Ink Pasta Dough Ball

Well, browsing online yielded a lot of recipes for what to do with the store-bought squid ink (don’t do it). But when I finally found some advice on making homemade black pasta, it turned out to be surprisingly easy! Just take our fresh pasta recipe (yields about 1 pound of dough), and whisk in one tablespoon of ink with the egg-oil mixture prior to pouring it into the flour. It’s that simple.

Ingredients:

Ingredients:

5 ounces all-purpose flour

5 ounces semolina flour

3 eggs, beaten

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon squid ink (or cuttlefish ink)

1 teaspoon olive oil

1. Measure out the flours and gently mix to combine. Make a well in the center.

Flours and Egg-Ink Mixture

Flours and Egg-Ink Mixture

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, salt, ink, and oil. Pour into the well.

Whisking in the Ink

Whisking in the Ink

3. Using a fork, stir in a circular motion to slowly incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet.

Kneading Time!

Kneading Time!

4. When a dough starts to form, knead on a floured surface for 5-10 minutes.

Resting the Dough

Resting the Dough

5. Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest for 20 minutes to 1 hour.

Cross-section of Dough

Cross-section of Dough

6. Cut into quarters. Flatten into a disc and roll out to desired thickness.

Beautiful Velvety Jet-Black Pasta

Beautiful Velvety Jet-Black Pasta

7. Cook in salted boiling water for 2-3 minutes. Drain and toss into sauce of choice. Serve immediately.

Cut Pasta

Cut Pasta

So if you’re looking to make a homemade Italian meal to impress a loved one, try making squid ink pasta. Now that’s amore!

Serving Suggestion: Squid Ink Pasta with Clams

Serving Suggestion: Squid Ink Pasta with Clams

Risotto with Italian Chicken Sausage and English Peas

Main Dishes, Recipes, Side Dishes

Last week I posted a picture of our dinner after having made what I thought was just a simple but tasty way to use up some storebought Italian sausages I had hanging out in the fridge. But the photo garnered many “likes” on both Facebook and Instagram (follow me: keepcalmbakesouffles) so by popular demand, here is the recipe. I had a package of Open Nature brand Italian chicken sausages, but your favorite sausage of just about any brand and flavor will do. (Although if you have some bratwurst to deal with, might I suggest our beer braise with caramelized onions instead?)

Risotto with Italian chicken sausage and English peas

Risotto with Italian chicken sausage and English peas

Also, I chose to toss in English peas as they looked especially fresh and colorful on the shelf of my local Trader Joes (which, apparently, now stocks microgreens as well in case you wanted to bring restaurant plating techniques to your home kitchen). You could substitute (or add) fava beans, chopped asparagus, artichoke hearts, shaved fennel… if you dream it, you can achieve it. Longtime readers may recognize that the instructions are very similar to the risotto al funghi that we posted last summer!

Ingredients:

Ingredients:

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 white or sweet onion, diced

1 package Italian chicken sausage, sliced into 1/2-inch thick pieces

1 1/4 cup arborio rice

1 cup dry white wine (2 buck chuck Chardonnay will do fine)

3 cups chicken broth (approximately)

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme or a few sprigs fresh thyme

1 cup English peas (or frozen petite sweet peas)

1 tablespoon butter

1/4 cup parmesan, grated

Salt & pepper

Prep

Prep

First things first, set up your mise en place: minced garlic, diced onion, sliced sausages, bottle of wine opened and ready to go. (And peas picked out of their pods if yours are THAT fresh.)

Sweating the Onions

Sweating the Onions

Sweat the onions and garlic in oil over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes.

Add the Sausage

Add the Sausage

Add the sausage and saute for a few minutes. I tried to get a bit of color on some of the slices.

Add Rice and Wine

Add Rice and Wine

Add the rice and pour in the wine to deglaze the pan. Stir until the wine has been absorbed.

Simmer Simmer

Simmer Simmer

Toss in the thyme and pour in the chicken broth, about 1 cup at a time. Let the liquid come to a simmer. When the rice has absorbed most of it, add more chicken broth, reserving about 1 cup (less is OK) for the next step.

Add the Peas

Add the Peas

After about 20 minutes or when the rice has just gotten to the al dente stage, add the peas and pour in the reserved broth.

Finishing the Risotto

Finishing the Risotto

When most of the liquid has been absorbed and the peas are cooked through but not mushy, finish with the butter and parmesan. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve hot.

Serving Suggestion

Serving Suggestion

White wine may be a more traditional pairing for risotto, but I enjoyed my portion with a tall glass of the Sam Adams Seasonal brew Cold Snap, an unfiltered white ale with the smooth brightness of the summer ale but a hint of spice to remind you of the best parts about this time of year. (Yes, I loved it so much at Dave & Buster’s that I bought a few bottles to enjoy at home!)