DineLA – Mistral Restaurant (Winter 2015)

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

So first, a quick update: I’m a bit sad to report that Cookie Con was a bust. The event itself was great, I’m sure. It was just such a highly sought-after event that the entry lines wove out into the surrounding neighborhood and the wait was hours-long. We did not miss out completely, however, as the event organizer Nancy was kind enough to send us a small swag package that included The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie from Call Me Cookie (cookies delivered to your door, what?!) and an adorable popsicle necklace from Bakery Charms (so freaking cute I want to collect them all!). Sweet!

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There was one happening that I just had to take part in last week and that’s dineLA Restaurant Week. I met up with a dear friend in her part of town, the Valley, to check out this quaint French bistro for lunch. Situated right on Ventura Boulevard (of course), Mistral has a classy, intimate vibe with warm, inviting service.

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We selected the same appetizer — baby kale and arugula salad, avocado, parmesan shavings, lemon-olive oil. It was a well-composed salad, and I’m an especially big fan of the combination of bitter arugula and fresh lemon. The parmesan added just the right touch of saltiness to season the greens.

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For my entrée, I was pleased to see that the printed menu included an option that I had not seen on the dineLA website — boeuf bourguignon, pearl onions, carrots, turnips, mixed rice. I love a hearty, classic beef stew. The meat was amazingly tender and the wafting aroma of red wine was intoxicating.

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My dining companion chose from the sea — crispy skin imported branzino, red grapes, heirloom cherry tomatoes, sweet basil. It was a beautifully plated dish and I could tell the fish was cooked perfectly.

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They say that great minds think alike, so it came as no surprise that we both selected the same dessert as well — miniature chocolate soufflé. The adorable ramekin arrived piping hot with a molten, airy middle and a nice rise of about one inch above the rim. A smaller ramekin carried its sidekick of creme chantilly. I generally dislike whipped cream so I was surprised to find that this was absolutely delicious, not too sweet, fragrant with vanilla, and certainly not from an aerosol can.

After a leisurely two hour lunch of chatting and catching up, we ate this course in silence, savoring our little moment of bliss accompanied by a cup of hot black coffee for me (green tea for her).

This is the life.

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Check out Mistral Restaurant: mistralrestaurant.com

13422 Ventura Boulevard
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423

See their Yelp reviews here!

Morton’s The Steakhouse – Beverly Hills, CA

Food Adventures, Los Angeles

My dad loves steak, and my parents love to visit us here in LA and check out the awesome restaurant scene that Martin and I often take for granted. So it was with much excitement and enthusiasm that Martin and I decided to treat them to dinner at Morton’s The Steakhouse in Beverly Hills for my dad’s birthday last month.

Mmmm steak....

Mmmm steak….

The service was stellar, the ambiance enchanting, the food phenomenal, and the company simply the best. (Sorry, no alliteration for that last one. How about fantastic familia? Now I’m just trying too hard…)

(Chocolate) Souffle Girl

Desserts and Sweets, Recipes

Soufflé. French for “breathed” or “puffed,” this classic, notoriously difficult dish can send shivers through a chef’s spine. As our friend over at Bunny Eats Design puts it, it is the home cook’s nemesis.

I’ve always wanted to make a soufflé. After watching countless movies and TV shows, I wanted to be that person pulling a beautifully risen soufflé out of the oven. Not going to lie, the “Asylum of the Daleks” episode of Doctor Who with Jenna-Louise Coleman as Souffle Girl played a pretty big part in influencing that desire. So I set to work, combing the internet for recipes and diligently reading up on the eggs chapter of McGee’s On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. Coincidentally, Martin requested a soufflé for his birthday, so that was the deciding factor for me to pick up my whisk and carpe soufflé (hm, that combination of Latin and French worked better in my head…).

Voila! Chocolate souffle

Voila! Chocolate soufflé

Martin has a huge sweet tooth so it was an easy choice to make a chocolate soufflé. I also prepared a vanilla crème anglaise to accompany it. It was certainly ambitious, especially since, for want of a stand mixer, I did everything by hand. A lot of love went into whipping up those egg whites. But in that moment when I pulled the soufflés out of the oven and saw how tall they had risen, I felt so very proud of my accomplishment! (Martin enjoyed it too – he endearingly nicknamed it the Girlfriend Soufflé.)

Here's a shot that really shows the height of its rise.

Here’s a shot that really shows the height of its rise.

Though I consulted On Food and Cooking for most of the technique, I have to credit Food Network Kitchens for providing a starting point for figuring out the proportions of ingredients (although I did end up making some adjustments). Our kitchen just happened to be perfectly prepared to handle this daunting task, so read carefully, plan well, and take inventory of your equipment. This is going to be a long post, so please bear with me.

Soufflé Ingredients (listed in order of usage):

Butter and white sugar for prepping ramekins

3 1/2 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (I used most of a Ghirardelli 60% cacao baking bar)

2 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 egg yolks

1 1/2 tablespoons warm water

1 tablespoon white granulated sugar

6 egg whites, brought to room temperature

1/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup white granulated sugar

Crème Anglaise Ingredients:

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 egg yolks

2 tablespoons white granulated sugar

Using these proportions, I was able to fill 2 smaller (4 oz-ish) ramekins and 2 standard 6 oz ramekins.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. According to On Food and Cooking, this will yield the quickest and most dramatic rise, but also a faster collapse. I opted for this because I prefer my soufflés lighter and more airy; low and slow will yield more of a lava cake consistency and a less dramatic rise.

Step 1: Prep Ramekins

Step 1: Prep Ramekins

1) Prepare the ramekins by buttering the base of the ramekin all the way up the sides. I used a scrap of paper towel and some softened butter that had been sitting on the counter. Coat the buttered ramekins with sugar. I read a trick online to minimize mess: add a spoonful or two of sugar to the ramekin. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and shake to get all of the sides evenly coated. Shake out the excess into the next ramekin and continue the process. Some recipes say to freeze or refrigerate these prepped ramekins. I left them out on the counter and achieved fine results.

Step 2a: Melt Chocolate

Step 2a: Melt Chocolate

2) Create a double-boiler by bringing about 1 inch of water to a simmer in a small saucepan. Place a heat resistant bowl (like a Pyrex) inside, making sure the bottom does not touch the water. Melt the chopped chocolate with the butter.A silicon spatula is helpful to stir and scrape down the sides of the bowl, ensuring the mixture blends smoothly.

Step 2b: Smooth, melted chocolate

Step 2b: Smooth, melted chocolate

When the mixture is completely smooth, take off the heat and stir in the vanilla. Set aside for later.

Step 3: Egg Yolks and Water

Step 3: Egg Yolks and Water

3) Whisk the egg yolks with the warm water in a small bowl until frothy and pale yellow. Sprinkle in the 1 tablespoon of sugar and continue whisking until it reaches the “ribbon stage,” so named because a lifted whisk will cause the mixture to cascade down in a ribbon-like pattern. This will take about 5 minutes from the time you add in the sugar.

Step 4: Frothy yolks + melted chocolate

Step 4a: Frothy yolks + melted chocolate

4) Fold the egg yolk mixture into the melted chocolate, mixing gently. I drizzled the egg mixture into the chocolate rather than dumping it in all at once.

Step 4b: Fluffy chocolate

Step 4b: Fluffy chocolate

I think this helped to keep some of the yolk froth.

Step 5: Stiff but Glossy Peaks

Step 5: Stiff but Glossy Peaks

5) Time to foam! Take out your largest Pyrex (or other non-reactive) bowl; add the egg whites and lemon juice. Grab a NEW whisk or wash the first one very well. Any trace of egg yolk and the whites will not whisk up properly. Whisk away to get it started; then add in the sugar and continue whisking. I did this by hand, and it took about 10-15 minutes of vigorous whisking to get the stiff but glossy peaks that you’re looking for. Phew! What a workout.

Step 6: Gentle Folding

Step 6: Gentle Folding

6) Now it’s time for more folding. Some people say to work quickly but I heeded the advice of On Food and Cooking and worked gently instead. Spoon about 1/4 to 1/3 of the foam onto the chocolate mixture and gently fold to lighten. Add about half of the remaining foam and continue to fold, using as few strokes as possible. Then finish up the foam and fold. I’ve read that if you have to make the choice between white streaks and over-mixing, it’s OK to have white streaks. Too much or too vigorous mixing will lose a lot of your hard-earned voluminous foam.

Step 7: Spoon into Ramekins

Step 7: Spoon into Ramekins

7) Spoon the soufflé mixture into your prepared ramekins. Apparently, the cocoa strengthens the bubble walls so this souffle mixture, while it seems delicate, is actually quite resilient and could keep in the fridge for a few days or in the freezer indefinitely before its bubbly integrity deteriorates. I personally didn’t chance it. Place the ramekins onto a baking sheet and slide them onto a rack situated in the bottom 1/3 of the oven.

Step 8: Baking Time....

Step 8: Baking Time….

8) Bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes or just as the tops start to brown. Contrary to popular belief, you CAN open the oven without ruining the soufflé. It is the heat that causes the air bubbles to expand and loss of heat that causes the collapse. Still, I left well enough alone and was grateful for my glass doors through which I could keep a watchful eye.

Step 9: Crème Anglaise

Step 9: Crème Anglaise

9) If preparing a crème anglaise, you’ll have just enough time to do this now. Bring the cream and vanilla to a simmer. (If you have vanilla bean pods, this would be a great opportunity to use them instead of extract!) In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until silky and not grainy. Add a bit of the cream to temper the yolks, whisking constantly or you may end up with scrambled eggs. Return the mixture to the pot and continue cooking until the consistency is substantial enough to cling to the back of a spoon. Set aside.

Step 10: The Finished Product

Step 10: The Finished Product

10) Serve immediately after removing from the oven. Like I mentioned earlier, this method yields a beautiful rise but also a very quick collapse. Break open the soufflé and drizzle in the crème anglaise.

DIG IN!

Dig in.

Drizzle. Serve.

Drizzle. Serve.

Bon appétit!

our-growing-edge-badgeThe soufflé has always been a bucket list item of mine, and in the kitchen, it happened to be a wonderful example of my own growing edge – the part of me that yearns to keep learning and trying new things and meeting new challenges. Just as I was basking in the glow of my soufflé accomplishment, I serendipitously received an email from Bunny Eats Design inviting us to participate in the monthly blogging event for Our Growing Edge. So I sat myself down and composed this post. I assure you this will not be my last soufflé, and I hope my post inspires you to try your first (Valentine’s day is just a few days away… hint hint)! Believe me, it can be done and oh, is it satisfying!

If you’re feeling apprehensive, I’m no expert but will gladly try to answer any questions you may have – just drop me a line. :3