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Of all of the reasons why I was excited to move to Los Angeles this summer, my boyfriend was at the top of the list.

Getting to cook, finally, was just below him, followed by having someone to cook for.

Below that, being able to drive my convertible around again, ie to discount specialty, and specialty, grocery stores like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.

Cooking in New York was an adventure in improvising. The kitchen was too small for the fridge, sink, and oven — a piece of the wall was cut out so that the oven door could open. (I am completely serious!)

But I’m ridiculously proud of having eaten at close to 200 restaurants in New York City, and I genuinely miss my local go-tos, Iron Sushi, Thai NY, and gyro street carts, and the guys at McAdam Buy-Rite. The nicest.

Now, in my subletted duplex in Los Angeles, I have a huge kitchen with a steel-topped island for prep work, a modern gas oven, and a family-sized refrigerator, and I live within two miles of a Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and two Ralph’s locations. In four months, I’ve eaten at only 18 Los Angeles restaurants, and 6 are take-out.

So, what’s cookin’?

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Salmon Nicoise

Fish. A lot of it. Salmon is my favorite swimmer so I’ve cooked it the most, just baking it with a sprinkle of salt and drizzle of olive oil (350 degrees for 9-12 minutes for medium well). I’ve matched it with spicy fruit salsas, Nicoise style salads, and beds of creamy pasta.

But my best fish recipe came as a huge surprise. Unemployed, in June, I took to watching Today with Hoda and Kathie Lee before getting to work submitting job applications. (It’s light, irreverent, and lushy, which suits me well.) I didn’t think too much of a segment with a Boston chef, who prepared a brine to keep swordfish moist — until that night, when I saw beautiful steaks on sale at Ralph’s. Why not?

I love the recipe for the extent to which it elevated a food I’ve always felt was too tough, too dry, and too fishy to enjoy — and don’t even think about under-cooking it. But it comes out so moist and soft. I serve the swordfish as a sandwich, with thinly sliced onions and a homemade sour cream/mayonnaise sauce with dill, horseradish, and lemon juice.

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Swordfish sandwich

Chicken. A lot of this, too. Conscious of my budget for organic chicken and none too keen on dry, flavorless meat, I usually buy thighs, and occasionally boneless breasts or legs, for my homemade Shake ‘n Bake. As a kid, I loved it when my mom made Shake ‘n Bake drumsticks, and I have the happiest memories of her acting out the old hokey commercials with an exaggerated southern accent. It’s easy enough to make the mix yourself, though.

I put about a half a sleeve of Ritz crackers in a heavy Ziploc bag, press out the air, and seal it, then I use an empty 2-buck-chuck wine bottle (of which there is never a shortage) as a rolling pin to crush the crackers. Then I add seasoning salt, pepper, cayenne, and poultry seasoning and shake the bag to mix it. I dip the chicken in either milk or a beaten egg depending on what I’ve got, drop it in the bag, shake, and bake for 25-35 minutes (350, always). Easy.

Shrimp. Trader Joe’s sells bags of medium-sized frozen shrimp at a great price, and they defrost really nicely under running water. I always find some remnants of digestive tracks in the tails, so it’s worth inspecting them all before cooking with them, but the quality is excellent. I like making shrimp tacos with homemade guacamole and shredded lettuce, shrimp rolls with buttered hot dog buns and a light mayonnaise and lemon binding mixture, and shrimp over pasta with a very simple butter, parmesan cheese, and dill preparation. This last meal is probably my boyfriend’s favorite thing I make, and it’s by far the easiest. Good relationship!

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Shrimp and pasta

Lobster. For my birthday, I made baked stuffed lobster, and I asked my boyfriend for the gift of his eating it with me. It was the first time I did the somewhat unpleasant process without my mom, but I made it through. Barely.

The menu was actually baked stuffed lobster, twice baked potatoes, and artichokes, so it was likely that eating would take longer than cooking, and it was going to take forever to cook. But my guy knows me and my enthusiasms. He quickly proved to be an earnest sous-chef, shielding lobster #2’s eyes so she wouldn’t see lobster #1’s carnage, for example, but not quite as skillful as he was a documentarian for the evening. He had just bought a very new, very exciting camera, and he was capturing as much of the night as he could on film. This was all great until I pulled the lobsters out of the oven to check them and saw that I desperately needed to put skewers in to stop the tails from curling. I worked furiously—so furiously that the pan fell off the stovetop! I scrambled to right the lobsters, but I immediately burnt most of the pads on my left hand. And so the boy gingerly set his camera down… then rushed to me to flip the pan and replace our lobsters. Nary a crumb of stuffing was lost. But boy was my hand blistered!

Steak. For my boyfriend’s birthday three weeks after mine, I opted to make filet mignon with a mustard bourbon sauce at home. Again with the ambitious meals. I used a wonderful recipe from Gourmet and would recommend it to anyone looking to do a special occasion meal but is less confident with cooking steak (like me). I would not recommend attempting fried onion rings on the same night, though. Because I knew the steak wouldn’t take long to cook, I wanted to cook all of the onion rings beforehand then keep them warm in the oven. Well. The batter just didn’t stick, and any rings that actually came out crispy lost their crunch after 20 minutes at 200. Oh well. Even soft, they tasted great, but we agreed we’ll leave that to the pros.

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Tinto de verano, or “poor-girl’s sangria”

Cocktails. No surprise there. Last year, I wrote about infusing tequila with jalapenos for spicy margaritas. That phase came and went. Right now, I’m definitely in a cheap Chardonnay phase, and I hope this passes, too. But I can’t imagine my adult life without bloody marys and red sangria.

For the perfect bloody, I can work with pretty much any tomato base, from cheap bloody mixers to the juice canned tomatoes are stored in. Maybe not ketchup — that’s one of my added ingredients — but I’m confident I could work with spaghetti sauce. I add: horseradish (tons), Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, black pepper, a squirt of ketchup, and a splash of olive or pickle juice, depending on what I have around. Basically, I’m just adding spice, saltiness, and sweetness as needed, generally deepening the flavor of the base and concealing the hair of the dog. I garnish with olives and pickles. It is the perfect drink on a Sunday evening, reading on my patio.

The best sangria I’ve ever had was in Virginia, where it’s strangely illegal to mix wine and liquor. (?!) I usually find the real deal to be too strong and too sweet — I’m just in it for the wine and citrus. It’s no surprise, then, that I love the tinto de verano, a refreshing Spanish spritzer of red wine and orange or lemon/lime soda. Some say it should be a 1:1 ratio, but when the Hotel San Jose in Austin featured this on their menu, they made it about 5:1, and that’s how I make mine. I use any red wine and Fanta or Sunkist orange soda (2 buck chuck Shiraz requires the least amount of soda because it’s the sweetest). I mix well, and if I have oranges or cherries around, I garnish. Served over ice, it’s pretty much the perfect drink after the first perfect drink on a Sunday evening.

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