Date Night with Cucina Cocina! We’re makin’ Pasta!

You know you’re in sync with your husband when you sign up for a “Date Night” Pasta class and he already bought a pasta machine and a ravioli tray for your birthday!

What a guy, huh? 🙂

So after a Friday night birthday dinner with the family, and laughing over the timing of my gifts, Saturday night we went to Santa Monica for our “Date Night” Pasta Class with Cucina, Cocina!

When we arrived, there were flowers, candles, wine, chocolates, soft music and sliced baguettes with oil and balsamic vinegar. What a nice way to start to a cooking class!

Taught by Tracy Kontos and Alejandra Schrader of Cucina, Cocina, the menu included linguine and clams in a white wine sauce and butternut squash stuffed ravioli in sage and brown butter sauce!

First we learned to make the pasta dough. Flour, egg yolks a bit of olive oil, two fingers and a smile! Tracy showed us how…

and then it was our turn…

Thank goodness there was wine!

Each couple made two batches of dough – one for linguine and one for ravioli! While the dough was chilling in the fridge, Alejandra showed us how to make the clam sauce! She used manilla clams. They were soaking in water with a bit of flour. Alejandra explained it would help naturally thicken the sauce as the clams were cooking.

A bit of onion, garlic went into the pan!

Then some wine!

Alejandra let the sauce simmer to evaporate the alcohol.

While that was cooking Tracy demonstrated how to roll the dough into sheets. We used the Kitchen Aid mixers with pasta rollers/cutters. That was fun!

Tracy showed us a trick to make the pasta go around in a circle as it pressed thinner! I won’t be able to do that with my hand crank machine, but it was a great tip!

Neat, huh?

When the pasta was done, we had our turn! I don’t have any pictures of that… we were busy rolling dough through our spiffy red mixer! When both batches of pasta were done (two different thickness), Tracy showed us how to make ravioli. Who needs a fancy piping bag, when you can just use a big storage bag? That’s another great tip for filling anything, not just ravioli. Tracy had prepped the butternut squash filling for us so we could get straight to the pasta.

She showed us how to use water or an egg wash as a binder between the layers of pasta…

After placing the top layer of pasta over the filling and gently working out the air bubbles (so the ravioli doesn’t burst in the water!), it was time to cut shapes! We used a pasta wheel and a pasta cutter.

Of course, other students got creative and made stars! We were satisfied with traditional circles. (Just wait until I make pasta at home! I’m going to find some wild cookie cutters and go crazy! Hahaha!) Here we are, making our own ravioli. Start with pasta, then filling.

It’s Date Night Pasta! Look at that shot! Hot stuff! 🙂

Cut and ready to go!

Next it was time to make linguine! Alejandra helped us roll our pasta through the cutters, dip the noodles in flour and turn them into lovely little nests! I wish I had more pictures of her helping us, but here is how our pasta turned out… can you tell we are amateurs? Alejandra’s lovely pasta is on the left. Ours are next to hers. It’s ok! We’ve never made pasta before in our life until that night! We’re going to get better with every batch. You’ll see. 🙂

It looks better on a plate!

Now it was time for the best part! Cooking and eating! Fresh pasta cooks very quickly, so we all lined up while Tracy and Alejandra cooked the pasta and added their sauces.

Clam sauce for the linguine!

Brown butter sauce with sage for the Ravioli!

Thankfully, after 26 years of marriage, not only are we in sync without knowing it, my husband is patient enough to put up with me saying “Don’t eat yet! I have to take pictures!” This is how our pasta turned out!

It was as delicious as it looks!

Here is the Ravioli… you’ll notice there isn’t as much on this little plate. That’s because we had a few “issues” with our pasta and these were the best of the bunch. You do know this is an Imperfect Kitchen blog right? Just making sure I’m living up to the name. 🙂

Overall, we had a great time! It was fun to learn how to make our own pasta. I am excited to create fresh noodles for our family, and learn how to make pretty nests like Alejandras! So if any of you are near LA and have some time, check out Cucina, Cocina and take a class or two. Tracy and Alejandra are so much fun! Tell them I sent you. I promise you’ll have a great time too. 🙂


Giadas Lemon Ricotta Muffins!

Last week, I made fresh Ricotta. It sat in my refrigerator for about a day when I realized I wouldn’t have time to make anything to go with it. So, I did a search for Ricotta recipes. I came across these delightful muffins from Giada de Laurentiis and knew they would be perfect.

Plus, I love that I can use my ricotta instead of buying it!

Zested lemons for the muffins!

Now let’s put these fabulous flavors together and make some muffins!

A sweet little topping and we’re ready to cook!

Lemon Ricotta Muffins
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
1 large egg, at room temperature
finely grated lemon zest from 4 large lemons
1 TBLS fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup milk
Lemon curd for topping

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a 12 cup muffin tin with pretty paper liners.
Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together in a medium bowl and set aside. Cream together the butter, sugar and lemon zest. Beat the ricotta into the butter mix until well combined. Beat in the egg. Add the milk and lemon juice – it’s going to look curdled. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir until just blended. Warning! It’s going to be very thick! Divide the batter equally among the muffin cups. Sprinkle the muffins with sugar. Bake until a toothpick comes out clean and they are a nice lightly golden color, approx 16-18 minutes. Remove the muffins from the pan and let them cool on a wire rack.

Serve warm with a bit of lemon curd on top – it totally makes the muffins! I hope you enjoy them as much as I did! 🙂

Follow That Chef – Kirsten Gum Raw!

Have I mentioned how much I LOVE the “Follow That Chef” series from The Gourmandise School of Sweets and Savories? This week we had the opportunity to follow Kirsten Gum, a Certified Raw Food Chef, around the Santa Monica Farmers Market! Some of you may recognize Kirsten from Travel Channels “Treasure Hunters.” She is delightful, very playful and very much in touch with her food!

We went shopping for avocados, apples, dinosaur kale, fennel, squash and blood oranges – just to name a few!

Kirsten showed us how to pick apples without bruising them and to make sure the stems are intact so they stay fresher longer! She grew up on an apple farm, so this girl knows what she’s talking about!

Of course we did a little taste testing along the way! I loved the apples and dates. We also got to sample some tangerines. YUM!

Here is Kirsten checking out all the great produce from the organic farmers!

The menu for the demo after the market included a raw butternut squash soup, confetti spring rolls and an avocado, orange and fennel salad!

Back in the kitchen and ready to prepare some food!

I have to say, I learned a lot from Chef Kirsten. She told us: “We are the product of our choices.” That is so true! I learned there are plenty of options for eating raw. It’s not just chopped fruits and vegetables. She had great tips too! Adding an apple and a banana to a brown paper bag with avocados in it, will make the avocados ripen faster. You can thicken soup with nuts instead of heavy cream. Coconut water is better than Gatorade. If you pick an apple incorrectly, you’ll leave thumb bruises on it. Kirsten’s favorite tool to cut herbs is a ceramic knife. She eats salad with her hands and the Spring Rolls she taught us to make are totally cool!

The first thing we made was a salad with sliced fennel, blood oranges and diced avocados. Kirsten showed us how to peel and slice the fennel.

Then she chopped the avocado for the salad!

We helped her peel and segment the blood oranges.

After everything was done, we tossed it all together! Doesn’t it look fantastic?
It’s topped with fennel fronds and sesame seeds and a light dressing!

The raw butternut squash soup was tasty too!

But I have to say, my favorite thing, was learning how to make raw Spring Rolls! Check it out! My hands get a cameo appearance!

We started with dinosaur kale, that had been stripped from the stems.

Kirsten wanted the front row to be involved in the demo, so we were her sous chefs! Just ignore the Diet Coke from McDonald’s in the middle of a Raw Food Demonstration… it wasn’t mine, but it totally makes me laugh!

We needed strips of Kale, so Kirsten showed us an easy way to do a chiffonade cut. This is the same way to cut Basil! First, you lay the leaves on top of one another to form a nice stack. Then you roll the stack up like a cigar. It should look like this:

Then, using a sharp knife, you rock the knife from the tip down through the roll and push away from you to cut. Like this:

Pretty cool huh? Now, you may be saying “But Kale is so tough! How could you put it into a Spring Roll?” Well, I’ll tell you! Kirsten taught us another raw tip… massage your kale till it gets wilted. Yep, grab it and squeeze it over and over till it breaks down. She promised us strong muscles at the end! 🙂

Next we added some purple cabbage and purple carrots! Kirsten put those through the food processor to slice them up evenly.

We added sliced red bell peppers for more color! Don’t you love how bright and beautiful it is?

Kirsten made a dressing of diced red onions, lemon juice, sesame oil, whole garlic cloves, a dash of Himalayan pink salt, some tahini, a pinch of cayenne pepper and honey. She pulsed it in a blender and coated the cabbage mixture!

Now the FUN part! Rolling them up! First, take rice paper rolls and soak them in warm water. Do this one at a time – overlapping the circles when you’re done.

She piled some of the cabbage mixture at the bottom of one of the circles and started to roll it up!

As you roll, make sure you tuck the edges in along the way.

Keep rolling so it’s nice and tight!


Cut it on a diagonal to plate, then enjoy!

Kirsten let us try too. Here is mine! I’m pretty proud of it. Not too bad for never rolling a Spring Roll in my entire life!

Needless to say, I have found a new passion for Spring Rolls and a new respect for eating Raw. Thank you Chef Kirsten for your time, all the wonderful information and for sharing your love of food with us! Namaste!

If you want to know more about eating raw, or about Chef Kirsten, check out her web site at: You can also find her on Facebook (with a spiffy new page!) at:

Versatile Blogger Award!

The Versatile Blogger Award

I want to thank Chris from FoodThoughtsofaChefWannaBe! It was very exciting to get an award from a fellow blogger. It’s nice to be recognized for doing what you love. When a blogger gets this award, they are asked to thank the person who gave them the award, (with a backlink to them) list 7 things about themselves, and award 5 other deserving bloggers with their own Versatile Blogger Award!

So let’s play! Here are 7 things about me…

1. I work for Starbucks
2. I HATE washing dishes!
3. My dream is to travel the world! (C’mon lottery tickets!)
4. I adore musical theatre and going to plays.
5. Visiting Disneyland makes me ridiculously happy
6. I love to read
7. My husband and I still go on dates after 26 years of marriage!

Now it’s time to pick five other bloggers! These folks have great blogs. I follow all of them, not just on Facebook, but through their actual blogs on the internet. Check them out! They’re all great people.

1. Kitchen Tested!
2. Savory Simple
3. Sumptuous Spoonfuls
4. Forkful of Comfort
5. Ally’s Kitchen


Follow That Chef-Master Chefs!

I love Wednesday mornings, especially with a cup of coffee, a good friend and an early trip to Santa Monica for The Gourmandise School of Sweets and Savories “Follow That Chef” series. This was the second time we’ve followed a Chef at the Santa Monica Farmers Market. The Guest Chefs this time were Tracy Kontos and Alejandra Schrader – Finalists from Master Chef Season 2!

Tracy and Alejandra were both warm and friendly, answering a multitude of questions as we followed them around the Market. They explained their reasons for choosing produce for their demo. They shared information on how to look for the best oranges, herbs, choosing meats, the difference between radishes, and explained a variety of different cooking techniques. Here are some photos from our walk around the market:

A HUGE artichoke! Imagine the dips you could make with this!

Gorgeous (and delicious) Rainbow Chard!

Tracy showing us Watermelon Radishes

Alejandra choosing Rosemary for her lamb dish

Tracy picking the perfect Herbs for her Herb salad

Having fun!

Alejandra discussing how to choose lamb with a farmer

Tracy with Fennel bulbs for her Salmon dish

Here are some other fabulous things we saw – and a few we bought!

When we were done at the Market, we went back to The Gourmandise School for a cooking demo! Both ladies were excited to share their knowledge and expertise. The atmosphere was fun and FULL of information on healthy eating, spices, nutritional benefits of certain foods and how to make better choices! Sorry Alejandra, I have to go with Tracy on the Duck fat issue though! Yum!

Alejandra made a beautiful Rack of Lamb, Fingerling Potatoes and a Wild Arugula Salad with heirloom tomatoes, kumquat and a blood orange dressing! Tracy made a gorgeous Poached Alaskan Salmon with a Mixed Green Salad, shaved fennel, citrus and edible flowers!

Fennel bulbs and how to cut them to prepare them for the mandolin.

Tracy showing us how to use the mandolin to shave fennel

Different citrus for the salad

I learned a new term! To “supreme” an orange means segmenting it, for a salad or cooking dish. Tracy showed us how to do it!

Alejandra showed us how to season and prepare the lamb.

Roasted Fingerling Potatoes with Rosemary and Thyme

Tossing the Arugula

Salmon poaching in oil flavored with Garlic, Tangerine and Thyme

Preparing to plate!

These are Tracy and Alejandras finished dishes!
Poached Alaskan Salmon topped with a Salad of shaved fennel, herbs, citrus and watermelon radishes!

Rack of Lamb with Roasted Fingerling Potatoes and Rosemary

Wild Arugula Salad with heirloom tomatoes, kumquats and a blood orange dressing

Here were our tasting plates! Everything was delicious!!

Tracy and Alejandra have recently opened their own private business! You can find them online at Check them out for Catering, Private Chef services, Wellness Programs, Corporate Lunches, Lifestyle Cooking Classes (I plan on taking a few!) and more!
Thank you again Gourmandise for a fantastic morning! We are looking forward to coming back for more demos and classes very soon.

Spicy Pork Verde

We had this dish for the first time several years ago at my sister-in-law’s. We asked for the recipe, then discovered we had the cookbook where they got the recipe! This is our adaptation of Weber’s Smoky Pork Chile Verde from: “Weber’s Charcoal Grilling! The Art Of Cooking With Live Fire!” It has become one of our family favorites.

It takes about 30 minutes to prepare, but nearly 3 1/2 hours to grill, so plan accordingly. You can also do this with a whole chicken and that will cut the time down a bit!

Create a rub for the pork by mixing salt, chile powder, dried oregano, garlic and cumin. Massage the spices into the meat and let it sit for about half an hour while you prepare the fire.

You’re going to create a “three-zone” split fire for low heat, carefully placing a large disposable drip pan between the charcoal, filled halfway with warm water and toss in some hickory chips.

Drain the hickory chips and scatter them over the piles of charcoal. When they begin to smoke, place the pork in the center of the cooking grate, close the lid and smoke-roast the pork for about 30 minutes.

While the pork is smoking, purée tomatillos, chiles, garlic, onion, jalapenos, and oregano in a food processor! We added jalapeño to the original recipe because we like it a little hotter. 😉

Pour the sauce into another disposable heavy-duty aluminum pan, add a beer to the sauce and mix well!

Put the pork in pour the tomatillo mixture around the pork so it comes up the sides by an inch or so.

Cover tightly with foil and cook over indirect low heat, with the lid closed as much as possible, until the meat reaches an internal temperature of 190 degrees and tears easily with a fork. This will take about 2 to 3 hours depending on the size of your pork shoulder and how steady you keep the temperature on the grill.

When the pork is done, remove it from the grill and transfer it to a cutting board. Roughly chop the meat into chunks and shreds. Pour the pan liquid into a large saucepan and add the chopped meat back to it. Simmer uncovered for a few minutes to blend the flavors. Season with cilantro, Tabasco, salt and pepper.

Chop lime wedges and cilantro to serve with dinner!

Serve with steamed rice, sour cream, lime wedges and a bottle of Tabasco!

For the full recipe check out Weber’s page and their Smoky Pork Chile Verde Sure, it’s a bit time-consuming, but you’ll love the flavor! Enjoy!

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