Sweet Lolita Strawberry Vanilla Panna Cotta

Strawberry Vanilla Rose Panna Cotta

Wowza, it has been a long time since I updated – let alone threw a recipe at you. Sorry about that! Between preparing for Anime Expo, a sinus infection, preparing for my mom’s trip to Berlin, preparing for my trip to Europe, this summer has made me totally whack-a-doodle. That is an official term, by the way.

Some of you are looking at me askance, muttering, “What the hell is Sweet Lolita?” In Japan, there is a fashion-rooted subculture called “Elegant Gothic Lolita” that began gaining international traction in the early 2000s. Girls, boys and gender-neutral individuals don their fluffiest finest; sub-categories are as varied as the motifs they don: Gothic Lolita; Vampire Lolita; Elegant Gothic Aristocrat for more traditionally male silhouettes; Alice; Pirate Lolita; and the classic, Sweet Lolita.

Lolita runway-1374//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Illustration by Kira Imai
Loli’s (as they’re nicknamed) typically incorporate a particular aesthetic that calls forth motifs such as tea parties, picnics, dolls, and all things slightly old fashioned and cute. There are variations, of course, but for the purposes of this recipe, I’m calling forth the basic Sweet Lolita style. While I haven’t the energy to dedicate my whole wardrobe, I do enjoy certain motifs and incorporate them as more of an accessory to my life as a whole. Such as this heart-shaped strawberry vanilla panna cotta – perfect for a sweet lolita tea party!


I arrived late to the Panna Cotta Party – having only given it a try maybe four years ago when I first tried it at my favorite Italian restaurant, Celestino. I’ve been a fan ever since, and only got it into my head to finally attempt to tackle the delicious dessert this year. Baking and I have a tumultuous relationship; cookies rarely make it beyond the dough stage and cakes are a source of stress for me. I can churn out a decent fruit pie, mostly because I am not above buying store crust. So this whole Panna Cotta business came about in baby steps. First: the desire to actually tackle it. Second: purchasing an adorable ramekin from Daiso (aka The Greatest Store Known to Mankind). Third: A Serendipitous team-up with Nielsen-Massey Vanillas for that extra push. Fourth: A killer, fool-proof base recipe. And lastly: Just doing it.

Strawberry Vanilla Rose Panna Cotta
Big squishy hugs to Nielsen-Massey for the vanilla!

In lieu of half and half or cream, I decided to make this Panna Cotta out of a recent find at my local 99 Ranch Market (a popular chain of Asian grocery stores): Strawberry Milk. When in doubt, make it pink and cute! This recipe makes two (I used a circular ramekin to make a back up in case the heart ramekin failed).

Sweet Lolita Strawberry Vanilla Panna Cotta


Cooking spray
1 cup milk (whole or 2%)
2 teaspoons powdered gelatin
1/4 cup sugar
1 box (6.8 fl oz) strawberry milk (I used Binggrae Flavored Milk)
1 teaspoon Nielsen-Massey pure vanilla
Pinch salt
1/4th teaspoon rose syrup (optional)

  • Lightly spritz the ramekins with cooking spray, then use a paper towel to wipe upward, removing most of the oil, leaving only a light residue.
  • Set saucepan on burner but do not turn on heat. Pour the milk into the saucepan, then evenly sprinkle the powdered gelatin across the milk’s surface. Wait until the surface of the milk is wrinkled and the gelatin grains look wet and slightly dissolved.
  • Set the saucepan over low heat and warm the milk gently, stirring/whisking frequently. Do not allow the milk to boil or simmer. The milk should get hot, but you ought to be able to stick a finger in for a few seconds. This step will happen quickly as gelatin dissolves as the milk warms.
  • CHECK: Rub a bit of the milk between your fingers to ensure smooth texture. Alternatively, dip in spoon and check its back for graininess.
  • Stir the sugar into the milk and continue warming until it dissolves; less than 5 minutes.
  • Remove the saucepan from the heat before whisking in the milk, vanilla, (rose syrup if you’re adding) and a pinch of salt.
  • Divide the mixture evenly between the prepared ramekins and put in the refrigerator to chill overnight.
  • Wipe the plate with a damp paper towel before running a thin knife along the edges of the ramekin. Invert the ramekin over the plate and tap/shake very gently (if need be; I didn’t need to do anything. My panna cotta just plopped! right out) IF you have trouble, gently set the ramekin right-side up and fill a large bowl/pan with hot water before holding the ramekin in the bath for about 5 seconds. Try inverting again.
  • Garnish with fresh strawberries and enjoy with a cup of tea and some good company.
  • Alternatives: You can also primarily flavor the panna cotta with rose, orange blossom, or any other kitchen grade flavoring – also available from Nielsen-Massey.

    Panna Cotta Header


    Have you ever indulged in the lolita fashion or panna cotta?


    Recipe: Herb Baked Camembert

    Herb Baked Camembert

    When I was last in Ireland, I spent a weekend in a caravan at the Beara Penisula. Our hostess bought a whole Gubbeen cheese, sliced in half, stuffed it with fresh herbs before wrapping it in foil and baking it over an open grill. It was the most heavenly cheese I’ve ever eaten in my life. I have never in my life tasted cheese as delicious as I have in Ireland; the USA cannot hold a candle to them. Don’t get me wrong – I can always find a decent cheese – but only in Ireland can I be blindfolded in front of a cheese bin and no matter what I pick up – it will be incredible.

    Unsure when I would make it back to the emerald isle, I went nuts at the Shannon Airport and purchased about €35 worth of cheese and totally stank out my fellow passengers. SORRY NOT SORRY. When I was done going through my pile of delicious creamy heaven, I nearly cried. I’ve tried to replicate the baked herb cheese a couple of times, but nothing will ever taste as good as that Gubbeen. Still – this recipe is great for a dinner party or potluck where you’re asked to bring an appetizer. Serve with Triscuits or water crackers or those mini toast crackers that are stupid addictive.

    Also, you don’t have to use Camembert – use brie or another soft, creamy cheese of your choice. Just make sure it isn’t reduced fat or any other such nonsense that cheese has no business being.

    Herb Baked Camembert

    You’ll Need:
    4-6 stems of fresh chives
    2-4 sprigs of fresh thyme
    1 TBS fresh oregano
    3 large cloves of garlic
    optional: 2 TBS fresh Italian parsley, 1 sprig of rosemary

  • Preheat toaster oven to 300 F (use proper oven as secondary option)
  • Wash your herbs, pat dry before roughly mincing. (I advise removing leaves from stems)
  • Peel and roughly chop garlic.
  • Slice camembert or brie wedge in half, lengthwise
  • Place herbs and garlic on both sides of cheese wedge before placing the halves back together.
  • Set cheese on foil-lined cookie/silicon sheet.
  • Bake until melted (15-20 minutes)
  • Remove from oven, transfer to serving dish and serve immediately.
  • Relish in your shamelessness.
  • Herb & Garlic Baked Camembert

    Recipe: Rosemary Lamb Milanese

    Homecooking: Lamb Milanese

    I’m trying to take the initiative with Halloween and solidify my plans and costume. I’ve got two pieces I need to buy and then the rest I can piece together out of my own wardrobe. Do you have plans already? I know, it’s a month and some change away, but I like plans. I was supposed to go to Texas and meet some friends to go camp out at the Texas Renaissance Faire, but due to medical mishaps beyond my control and weakening finances, I think I’m going to opt for a quiet evening of passing out candy to trick-or-treaters. It’s the most grown-up activity I’ll have ever engaged in on Halloween, but I’m actually kind of looking forward to it. Except for that occasional obnoxious kid that will invariably walk up my friends porch. That is what a special witches’s brew in my hand will be there for, though.

    The weather is cooling down, despite what my weather app is telling me. There was a lovely breeze at the L.A. Zoo on Saturday evening when my friend Annie and I went to the Sunset Safari. There were animals, feedings, a buffet dinner, carousel rides and best of all, face painting:


    But that’s another post for another time.

    A few months ago I was lucky enough to have been invited to taste selections from the summer menu of Fig & Olive in West Hollywood. For my entree, I picked the rosemary lamb Milanese, and from the first bite I was smitten. By the second bite, I was in love. By the third, I knew I could not live without it in my life. I mean, see for yourself:


    Delicious, right?

    Now, I don’t precisely have a butcher or even know what sort of cut to look out for when it comes to lamb steaks, so I just grabbed my favorite cuts from Trader Joe’s and went to town pounding them as flat as I could without the neighbors calling the cops for all of the noises of blunt-force trauma. That is pretty much the most labor you’re going to have to put in for this recipe. As fancy as it looks, sounds and tastes, this is not only one of the quickest meals I’ve ever prepared but the easiest.

    Rosemary Lamb Milanese

    2 lamb steaks, fat trimmed & bone-off
    1 cup Panko
    3/4th cup flour
    1 large egg
    1 sprig of fresh rosemary, washed with leaves removed and coarsely chopped
    hefty pinch of smoked paprika
    small pinch of dried thyme
    pinch of salt
    grapeseed oil – enough to fry in your skillet

    Step One: Take care of that lamb. Wrap your fat-trimmed boneless steaks in plastic wrap before settling it on a cutting board or other tough-to-crack surface and start beating the absolute crap out of it until it thins out. There is just no other way of putting it, folks.

    Step Two: Get a deep skillet and cover the bottom with grapeseed oil – let it heat up as you complete step three.

    Step Three: As the oil heats up, beat the egg(s) in a wide-mouthed bowl; add the flour to a pie pan; add the Panko, coarsely chopped rosemary, paprika, thyme and salt to another separate pie pan or deep plate.

    Step Four: Dredge a lamb steak in the flour, then through the beaten egg before another dredge through the seasoned Panko. Once it’s crusted, gently lay the lamb steak in the oil and fry away. The thinner the steak, the less time it will take to cook. Anywhere from 3-6 minutes for each side ought to suffice. Remove and let it sit on a paper towel to drain the excess oil.

    Step Five: Oh. Wait. That’s it!

    I paired these steaks with a quick saute of mushrooms. A swirl of sherry, a dollop of butter, some minced garlic and parsley bring out the best of these fungi. Topped with fresh parsley and it’s the perfect side.

    Homecooking: Rosemary Lamb Milanese

    Recipe: Pozole Rojo de Pollo

    Chicken Pozole Rojo

    Last summer I was approached by my contacts at Del Real Foods, asking if I would join in the Blogger Recipe Challenge. I hadn’t blogged a recipe in quite some time, and though there was a bit of a time crunch with Steffie’s wedding on the horizon, I decided to participate. Incorporating a brand of market food in a recipe is not something I take lightly; I would never take such a risk on a brand I had not already tasted. Fortunately, I have tasted most of what Del Real has to offer and we wouldn’t be having this conversation if I thought their food wasn’t worth our time! Entrants had free range on picking any Del Real product, but there wasn’t much contest on what I would end up using:

    Chicken Pozole Rojo

    Low in sodium, flavorful, and juicy, this shredded chicken breast would serve as the protein for the recipe that instantly came to mind: red chili pozole. I don’t quite know what possessed me to tackle this Latin America favorite, other than my adoration for creating and consuming soups – which I suppose is good enough a reason.

    Chicken Pozole Rojo

    Pozole Rojo del Pollo
    with Avocado Lime Crema

    Yields: 6 servings

    prep: 10 minutes
    Cook Time: 1 hour

    Equipment: 1 large stock pot, 1 wide skillet, 1 medium sauce pot, 1 mesh sieve, blender OR food processor OR Vitamix


    8 cloves of medium large garlic, peeled
    6 dried guajillo chilies, stems, seeds and spines removed
    8 dried arbol chilies, stems, seeds and spines removed
    1 white onion, chopped

    1 25 oz can of hominy, drained
    3 cups chicken stock
    3 tablespoon garlic chili oil, divided 2:1
    1.5 tsp dried oregano
    2 teaspoon cumin
    1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
    3 whole cloves
    1 tablespoon ancho chili powder
    1 package Deal Real Foods Pechuga de Pollo Deshebrada (Shredded Chicken)

    optional: 1 cup frozen or fresh corn off the cob + 1 additional tablespoon of garlic chili oil

    garnish: cilantro, slivered raw radish, finely chopped red onion, avocado lime crema


  • Fill the medium sauce pot with water and set on the range at medium-high heat.
  • As the water comes to a boil, heat chilies on the skillet until softened but not burnt.
  • Place softened chilies into the boiling water and bring down the temperature to a simmer.
  • After 5 minutes, remove the sauce pot from heat, cover and let the chilies soak for another 15 minutes.
  • Heat 1 tablespoon of garlic chili oil in the skillet and add the drained hominy. Crisp up on medium-high heat for five minutes before adding hominy to the stock pot along with the shredded chicken and chicken stock.
  • Either using a hand blender, blender or food processor, puree half of the chopped onion with half of the peeled garlic. Add to the stock pot, combine well and add a pinch of salt.
  • Once the chilies are ready, add them in the blender/food processor with 1 cup of chili liquid, the 4 remaining cloves of garlic, cumin, oregano, coriander seed, cloves and the remaining onion. Strain through a fine mesh sieve, reserving the smooth puree.
  • Heat remaining garlic chili oil in the skillet before adding the chili puree. Allow sauce to thicken over medium-low heat for 5-7 minutes before adding it to the stock pot. Mix well and allow soup to simmer for fifteen minutes, adding extra seasonings according to your tastes.* Squeeze the juice of a lime for an added citrus flavor.

  • Optional: In the skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of garlic chili oil and add 1 cup of frozen or fresh corn (off the cob). Roast over medium-high heat until partially blackened before tossing in the soup.

    * = I personally ended up adding quite a bit more cumin, a tablespoon of ancho chili powder and a generous teaspoon of garlic powder. I’m kind of insane about layering spice, though.

    Avocado Lime Crema
    1 avocado
    1 tablespoon cilantro
    juice of ½ lime (use whole lime if you’re a big fan like me)

    Combine all ingredients and thoroughly incorporate, either by hand or with a hand blender for optimal results.

    Once the soup is ready, garnish with freshly chopped red onion, cilantro, radish, and avocado lime crema. Enjoy!
    Chicken Pozole Rojo

    Recipe: Tonnarelli with Chef Vic Casanova

    Tonnarelli by Vic Casanova

    Tonnarelli with Chef Vic Casanova

    WHEW! This week has been busy, and next week will be even busier. I still have Tacolandia to report on, and a lot of mouth-watering features on the horizon, so keep a lookout! So, in a previous life (career) I was a nanny, and much like the might garden weed, children grow up, as mine have. Today, the youngest of a family I nannied for turned 16. I’m ecstatic to still be part of their lives, even if they are (nearly) grown-up and able to take care of themselves. Now, I’m off to again to assist bride Steffie with some last-minute DIY assemblage for her gift bags, then back home to prepare for my own birthday festivities. July has always been my busiest month of the year!

    Chef Vic Casanova

    Let’s give a warm welcome to guest Vic Casanova, Executive Chef and Owner of West Hollywood’s Italian eatery, Gusto, has always been committed to using the best of ingredients and hand-making each of Gusto’s six pastas for eight hours every day. As a chef and businessman, being a father always takes precedent in his life, and in the midst of preparing to open his second restaurant this summer and experiencing the warm months with his 3-year-old daughter and newborn son, Chef Casanova loves being able to cook and spend time with his family simultaneously. As a perfect summer dish, and his daughter’s favorite meal, Chef Casanova would love to share his recipe for Gusto’s infamous Tonnarelli, complete with parmigiano reggiano and the summer months’ freshest tomatoes and basil.

    with Tomatoes, Basil, & Parmigiano Reggiano

    Courtesy of owner/executive chef Vic Casanova


    San Marzano Tomato Sauce

    ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
    1 large onion, finely minced
    6 garlic cloves, finely minced
    1 t crushed red pepper flakes
    2 t chopped fresh oregano
    ½ medium carrot, finely minced
    2 28-ounce cans peeled san marzano whole tomatoes, passed thru a food mill
    20 basil leaves, hand torn
    ¾ c parmigiano reggiano, grated
    ¼ c extra virgin olive oil, high quality finishing oil
    Kosher salt to taste

    Fresh Tonnarelli

    2 cups caputo “00” pasta flour, plus more as needed
    4 large eggs
    ⅓ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for the pasta water


    San Marzano Tomato Sauce

    1.In a 3 quart saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat, add the onion, garlic, crushed red pepper flakes and cook until translucent.

    2. Add the oregano and carrot and cook 5 minutes more, until the carrot is quite soft. Add the tomatoes and juice and bring to a boil, stirring often.

    3. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until desired consistency is reached. Season with salt.

    Fresh Tonnarelli

    1. Measure 2 full cups of unsifted flour and add it all in the bowl of a food processor; process for a few seconds to aerate.

    2. Mix the eggs with the salt in a separate bowl.

    3. With the food processor running, quickly pour in all the eggs through the feed tube. Process continuously, as a dough forms and gathers on the blade and cleans the side of the bowl. If the dough does not come together or clean the bowl after 30 seconds or so, stop the machine, scrape down the sides, and sprinkle in a couple of tablespoons more flour.

    4. Process for a few more seconds – and add more flour if necessary – until a fairly firm ball of dough forms.

    5. Turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface, and knead by hand for a minute or more, until it is smooth and firm. If it’s at all sticky, incorporate more flour as you knead. Press the dough into a disk, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and let rest at room temperature for at least 1/2 hour. Cut the dough in four equal pieces.

    6. Roll each piece through a pasta machine at progressively narrower settings, to form long wide strips, about 1/8 inch thick (no thinner) and as wide as your machine allows. If the strip grows longer than the strings of your tonnarelli, cut it crosswise into two shorter strips.

    7. To cut the tonnarelli, lay a strip of dough over the strings of a chitarra. Using gentle but constant pressure, roll your pin lengthwise up and down the pasta, so the strings cut it cleanly into strands of tonnarelli that fall onto the tray of the chitarra. Dust the freshly cut strands with flour, and gather them into a loose nest on a floured tray. Cut all the strips into tonnarelli, and collect them in floured nests.

    8. Leave the tray uncovered at room temperature until you are ready to cook the pasta. To cook, bring to boiling a large pot of well-salted water (at least 6 quarts with a tablespoon or more of salt). Using your hand or a colander, shake excess flour off the nests of tonnarelli and drop them into the pot. Stir and separate the strands as the water returns to a rolling boil, then cook the pasta for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until just before al dente.


    Finishing Touches:

    1. Add cooked pasta & ½ c water from the pot that cooked the pasta to the 3 qt. pot with cooked tomato sauce.

    2. With the heat on medium, keep moving the pasta in the pot to ensure it absorbs the sauce. When sauce is clinging to the pasta turn off the heat.

    3. Add basil, parmigiano reggiano and mix well while slowly adding extra virgin olive oil. Then season to taste.

    Buon appetito!

    Recipe: Green Smoothie for the Red, White and Blues

    As I take a moment to catch my breath from the chaos that is dog-sitting/Anime Expo/Fourth of July-palooza, I decided to whip up a green smoothie to help fortify me and get me through the next 24 hours. This might come in handy for those of you going hog-wild on BBQ, booze and junk food and may be in need of a detox come Saturday. I used some coconut water imported from Thailand, about 3/4th cup. Enjoy!

    RECIPE: 4 baby carrots, 1.5″ peeled fresh ginger, 1 sliced green apple, 1 celery stalk, 1 small peeled beet and coconut water.

    What goes in your favorite green smoothie?

    Recipe: Cold Vietnamese Beef Salad

    Cold Vietnamese Beef Salad Header


    Cold Vietnamese Beef Salad

    Heatwaves are par for the course here in Los Angeles, and acceptance of their fickle presence is mandatory when taking up residence. December, July, or in this case, April, it matters not when the heat arrives like an unwelcome house guest, but that you are prepared to combat it. During oppressive heatwaves, I typically want nothing to do with my oven or stove. I want food that is light, crisp and refreshing. Nothing that will sit in my stomach like a rock, please and thank you.

    So, what to do with my steak leftovers, cooked when the weather was more spot-on for April? Digging around in my cupboard and fridge, I discovered a handful of ingredients that could easily be thrown together for this honky’s version of a chilled Vietnamese beef salad.

    1 cup rice noodles, cooked and chilled
    1 flank steak, cooked, sliced, and well chilled (or any leftover steak)
    1 carrot, washed and julienne
    1 (small) cucumber, washed and julienne
    1 generous handful (a cup or more) of fresh cilantro
    3 green onions, chopped
    1/2 cup peanuts (I used unsalted, roasted)
    optional: fresh mint leaves (which I sadly did not have)

    1-2 tablespoon chili garlic/Tuong Ot Toi sauce

    2 tsp fish sauce
    2 tsp rice vinegar
    1 tablespoon water
    1-2 tsp sugar, to taste
    2 tsp lime juice
    1 freshly minced red serrano chili pepper

    These are eyeball measurements, so consider this your friendly reminder to taste everything and adjust to your palate.

  • Step One: Meat. This recipe works best with leftover steak that you don’t want to reheat because of risking its perfect rare/medium rare sear, as in my case. Either way, have your steak cooked and well chilled before preparing this recipe.
  • Step Two: Noodles. I use dry rice noodles, which some of my friends consider blasphemy, but I’m too lazy to care. Cook the rice noodles as the package instructs, making sure to rinse them in cold water and stick them in the fridge for however long it takes to get them thoroughly chilled. 20-40 minutes is my guess.
  • Step Three: Combine all of the ingredients for the dressing, adjust measurements as needed. Cover, stick in the fridge to chill.
  • Step Four: Wash, julienne, chop and dice all of your salad veg.
  • Step Five: Gather all of the salad components and toss the meat, noodles and veg together before adding the dressing and toss again. Add more chili garlic sauce if you dig it. Garnish with peanuts. Eat and enjoy.
  • Recipe: Cold Vietnamese Beef Salad