Archive for the ‘Food & Cooking’ Category

Plastic Recommendation – Ella Dining Room & Bar

March 1, 2009

Photo: Ella Dining Room & Bar

David and I rarely go out for expensive dinners, as we’re trying to watch our budgets.  But, his mom offered us a dinner out for Valentine’s Day, and I suggested we try Ella Dining Room & Bar.  The restaurant is fairly new and was opened by a well known and well-respected Sacramento chef who owns The Kitchen.  David and I were both incredibly tired and not especially hungry, and when we arrived we immediately hit the bar for vodka Red Bulls.  This is not something we customarily do when we’re out for dinner, but we both needed a jolt of caffeine.  Alas, David was informed by the bartender, “we don’t serve energy drinks.”  He ordered a gin and tonic instead and got me a glass of wine.  When he arrived with the drinks, I asked him what he had ordered – the drink looked like ginger ale.  Turns out the restaurant makes their own tonic water, which does have a slight ginger element.  It was delicious.

We went easy on ordering, opting for a few small plates to share.  I was in the mood for oysters, but David hates them and they served them by the half dozen.  We started with potato gnocchi with broccolini, parma prosciutto, organic cream and Parmesan.  It was yummy, but on the heavy side.  We then shared brussels sprouts with black pepper bacon and cipollini onions and ravioli of mushrooms and fresh goat cheese with leeks and black truffle butter, which was my favorite dish of the meal.  I never eat truffles so it was a nice treat.

I love food.


My Top 10 Recipes – Glazed-Grilled Salmon With Perfect Steamed Rice & Wilted Spinach & Bok Choy

February 28, 2009

Salmon is my favorite fish, although I only like it prepared a few ways.  I HATE smoked salmon (too salty), raw salmon (unless it’s FRESH, it’s too fishy) or poached salmon (too heavy).  I like my salmon best from the Pacific, filleted (no steaks) and grilled.  Atlantic salmon is too mushy for my taste.  When David prepares salmon, it’s usually straight forward – salt, pepper and oil.  He is awesome at getting a perfect crispy crust.  When I make salmon, I tend to go the Asian route, creating a teriyaki-style marinade and pan grilling.  It’s a bit hot, a bit sweet, and the addition of brown sugar allows it to develop into a nice glaze.  I pair the salmon with simple steamed rice – I provide you with my method below and a vegetable, in this case spinach and bok choy wilted with leeks, garlic and pepper.

Ingredient List – Serves 2

  • 2 salmon fillets
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon dry white wine
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar (light or dark)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tablespoon fresh grated ginger OR 1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger
  • 8 garlic cloves
  • 1 cup short or medium grain white rice
  • One bunch spinach
  • 3-4 heads small bok choy
  • 1 leek
  • 1/4 medium-hot pepper

Mix the soy sauce, wine, brown sugar, 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, 1/2 tablespoon sesame oil, cayenne pepper, ginger and 4 of the garlic cloves, minced.  Marinate the salmon in a bowl or bag for about an hour.

Measure 1 cup of white rice.  Add to a bowl and fill with water until roughly 1/2 inch over the rice. Allow to sit for about a half hour.

Trim bok choy, allowing around an inch of the white stalk to remain.  Slice the remaining 4 garlic cloves and 1/4 of the hot pepper.  Trim the leek so that only the white and light green portions are remaining and cut down the middle lengthwise.

Add two cups of water to a saucepan.  Tie a hand towel around the lid of the pan, ensuring it’s taut along the interior of the lid.  Bring the water to a boil.  Drain the water from the measure rice and add rice to the water.  Cover and allow to simmer for 20 minutes or until done.

Heat 1/2 tablespoon oil in a large sauce pan and 1/2 tablespoon oil in a smaller saucepan, both over medium-high heat.  Add the leeks, garlic and pepper to the large saucepan and allow them to sizzle.  Add the salmon to the smaller pan, skin side down, with around 1/4 of the marinade.  Allow it to cook for a few moments.  Turn the salmon and add another 1/4 of the marinade.  Add the bok choy and then the spinach to the larger pan.  After a few more moment turn the salmon again and remove the skin.  Cover for a few for moments and then remove the lid, allowing the sauce to reduce a bit more.  Give the spinach and bok choy a toss or two until it’s cooked.  Check on the rice and remove it when done.  Serve the salmon over the rice and greens with some of the reduced sauce.  You may garnish with toasted sesame seeds, if you like.

My Top 10 Recipes – Spicy Broccoli With Crispy Fried Polenta

February 27, 2009

Spicy Broccoli with Crispy Friend Polenta

A reader suggested that I share my 10 favorite recipes, which I thought would be easy.  However, I had trouble deciding between my favorite everyday and favorite special occasion dishes.  I landed on the dishes that I crave often.  Some are easy, some are more complicated.  Many have been adapted from cookbooks, others I’ve made up myself.  I have made the decision to split the recipes out into separate posts, gathering them together in a summation post when I am finished.  I will start with my first recipe and list my other choices, all to come down the line!

Up first, spicy broccoli with crispy fried polenta.  The broccoli portion of this dish is adapted from a recipe from The Zuni Café Cookbook (Spicy Cauliflower & Broccoli Pasta).  The pasta is FABULOUS, and if you are interested, I highly recommend purchasing the cookbook.  I sometimes make this as a pasta, other times I make it as a side dish.  I sometimes use cauliflower, or broccoli, and often both.  Polenta is not something I cook often, but the following recipe is my favorite and I think it’s fantastic paired with the spicy broccoli as a wonderful vegetarian option.

Ingredient List – Serves 4

  • 2 heads broccoli
  • 8 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 3 shakes of red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup polenta
  • 1 & 1/2 cup milk (may be replaced with water or vegetable stock to make dish vegan)
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 1/4 lemon
  • 1/4 medium-hot pepper
  • Salt & pepper
  • Fresh grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Cut off the stalks of the broccoli and slice length-wise into thin (1/8 inch) strips.  Don’t worry about the florets as they break off.  The pieces should look like tiny little slabs with bits and pieces of floret.  Mince 6 cloves of fresh garlic and 1/4 cup parsley.

Line a small baking pan with parchment paper.  Simmer milk with 2 cloves of garlic, sprig of rosemary, lemon and pepper for five minutes.  Do not allow it to get too hot or the milk with burn.  After five minutes, remove the rosemary, garlic, pepper and lemon from the milk.  Season the milk with salt and pepper.  Reduce the heat and add the polenta in a slow stream while stirring.  Cook for a few more moments until the polenta is creamy.  Put the polenta into the baking pan and cover with another piece of parchment paper.  Press down with a flat object (like a smaller pan) until the polenta is around 1/4 inch thick and uniform.  Put into the fridge to cool for 30 minutes.

Remove polenta and cut into 2-3″ pieces.  I like to cut them into abnormal shapes so they are not uniform.

Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and add 1/4 cup olive oil.  When hot, add the majority of the broccoli pieces, leaving the small florets behind.  Give the pan a good shake and LEAVE THE BROCCOLI to crisp up.  Do not be tempted to continually stir the broccoli or you will end up with a steaming mass.  After around 5 minutes give the broccoli a toss and add a dash of olive oil, the remaining bits of broccoli, the garlic and the red pepper flakes.  Leave to crisp again for a few more moments.  Add parsley and remove from heat.

Heat the remaining oil in another large sauté pan.  Add polenta pieces and fry each side until brown.  Plate the polenta and add the broccoli on top.  Add loads of yummy Parmesan cheese and serve!

Coming up in future top recipe posts…..

Herb-Roasted Pork Loin with Mustard Breadcrumbs (from Sunday Suppers at Lucques)

Glazed-Grilled Salmon

Strawberry Shortcake (from Martha Stewart)

Pan-Roasted Chicken (from Biba’s Northern Italian Cooking)

Garlic Hummus

Crab Cakes (from Saveur magazine)

Roasted Vegetable Lasagna

Chicken, Walnut & Apple Salad

Shrimp Cocktail

Top Chef Finale – My Thoughts

February 26, 2009

Photo: Bravo

David and I watched the Top Chef finale tonight.  We got rid of cable so we customarily watch it a night late.

I am, in a word……irritated.  First of all, Casey?  She sucks.  It wasn’t her challenge, and she totally overwhelemed Carla.  Partly Carla’s fault, sure, but I got some SERIOUS bad vibes from Casey.

Hosea?  He also sucks.  He’s been a whiny bitch for the entire season.  And what really sent me over the edge was his comment to Carla while they were awaiting the results, about making his “own food.”

Way to rub it in, asshole.

Stefan?  You know….he’s a jerk, but he TRIES to be a jerk, and he knows it.  There’s something endearing about that.  I can tell he’s actually a good guy.

So, yeah…..I’m pissed that Hosea won.

Baked Fries (To Go With Those Baked Chicken Strips)

February 25, 2009

I saw a recipe for baked fries over at Lottie + Doof, one of my favorite cooking blogs, and I had to share it with you guys.  Especially because they would be great with my baked chicken strips!

Photo: Lottie + Doof

I Get Pizza!

February 24, 2009

Okay, you know when you’re expecting someone and an hour and a half later they still haven’t arrived and you start to think about whether they got in a horrific car accident or held up at the bank?

That’s me.  Plus, I am HUNGRY.

Thankfully, I just called David, who finally picked up.  And he’s waiting for the pizza he ordered us.

Thank god.  And, yum.

Chicken “Strips” Without The Grease

February 24, 2009

If you’re anything like me, you have found yourself drunk at a Hard Rock Cafe (TGI Fridays, Applebees, the list goes on and on) sitting in front of a basket of fried chicken strips.

I LOVE chicken strips.  It’s probably one of the most unsophisticated dishes I enjoy, but I don’t care, they are delicious.

However, I don’t fry anything at home (with the exception of crab cakes and falafel), and I certainly don’t own a deep frier.  Years ago I saw a small feature in a fitness magazine about baked chicken strips, and I tried it out.  I have since developed my own recipe that I think is delicious, and far more healthy than the fried version.  These strips are easy and perfect for a simple dinner (pair with a starch and a vegetable) or topped on a salad.

Here is what you’ll need.  Keep in mind that I kind of wing my recipe and adapt given what I have in the kitchen, so go with what works for the batter and breading.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons spicy mustard (or any preferred mustard)
  • 1 dash white wine
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 2 cups panko or plain bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup chopped almonds
  • Salt and pepper
  • Cayenne pepper

Whisk the eggs, mustard, wine and oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  Mix the panko/bread crumbs with the chopped almonds.  Add a dash of cayenne pepper and season with salt and pepper.

Note: I throw it just about anything to the breading mix.  My preferred mix is half panko and bread crumbs, chopped almonds, some almond meal, fresh parsley, S&P and cayenne pepper.  In the photos shown, I used panko, bread crumbs, cayenne, dried polenta, dried herbs, salt and pepper.

There’s a lot of flexibility – use oats if you like, or omit the mustard if you’re not a fan.  Play with it.

Butterfly the chicken breasts and cut into strips.  Dip in the egg mixture and then into the bread mixture.  Place on a well-oiled pan.  Before putting into the oven, spray the tops of the chicken strips with olive oil.

The chicken should take around 15-20 minutes to cook.

Top 10 Kitchen Ingredients

February 24, 2009

The ingredients I find myself using the most and keeping well stocked in our kitchen.  What are yours?

Fleur de Sal & Fresh Ground Black Pepper

I keep a small sack of fleur de sal by the stove for garnishing food. It has a lovely texture, less “chunky” than other sea salt. This Portuguese-harvested salt is a great substitute for the more expensive fleur de sel (from France). I don’t use it to season food while it’s cooking, but garnishing with this salt treats you to a textured and layered flavor that cannot be beat. As for pepper, I am pretty simple. I prefer freshly ground black pepper – I usually buy the Trader Joe’s brand with the built-in grinder. I have yet to invest in proper grinders for salt or pepper.

Fresh Italian Parsley

The fresh herb I use most often, after rosemary and sage. I buy it because it’s cheap and I tend to use it all before having to toss it. It can also be frozen and added to fresh chicken stock for flavor. It’s a simple garnish and has a subtle flavor that I enjoy.


If I could, I’d put garlic in everything. I think its flavor is so beautiful and delicious, and I love how it changes depending on how it is prepared. You can roast whole garlic cloves to spread on crackers or bread with cheese, shove cloves into meat for depth of flavor, infuse oils, add minced garlic to sautéed vegetables or simply toss a few cloves into a roasted dish. Garlic tastes delicious in every savory dish. I move through it like it’s no-body’s business.

Whole Dried Red Pepper & Flakes

Highly underestimated for their ability to add heat to a variety of dishes. I use dried red pepper in the form of flakes, powder or whole dried (which I will customarily toss into a dish while cooking and then remove – like a bay leaf).


Delicious! I buy lemons and/or limes on just about every other shopping trip. It’s weird, because I love citrus, but I don’t eat oranges. Lemon juice or zest, however, end up in a boat-load of my dishes. Sometimes I will squeeze the juice into the dish, but more often I will toss a few slices in for flavor. Zest adds a subtler flavor. Limes are, for the most part, used in cocktails, Pellegrino and Mexican food (grilled meats/vegetables and guacamole).


The pinnacle of hard, Italian cheeses. I buy it whenever I can afford it. Rinds are always saved for tossing into soups, which infuses them with a deep, rich flavor.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

I recently read that unless you buy the right EVOO, you might as well be using vegetable oil insofar as the health benefits.  But, even though I can’t afford good quality EVOO, I still use it as I enjoy the flavor.  I buy a large bottle of the Trader Joe’s brand for general cooking and I love buying DeCecco oil as a bit of a splurge.


I use vinegars a lot, mostly for dressing salads.  Balsamic and rice vinegars are what I most commonly use, although my friend K was just telling me how much she loves Bittman-recommended sherry vinegar, so I might be giving that a try next.  Buying high-quality balsamic makes a HUGE difference, although I rarely do so.


I will throw nuts in any dish given the chance.  It drives David…..well, nuts.  I find that almonds are the most versatile, but I love using walnuts in salads and cashews in stir fries.  Slightly toasting nuts brings out their flavor, no need to buy flavored or candied nuts – they just add sugar.


Pasta is not my favorite starch but I do think it’s the most versatile of the non-perishables (rices, polenta, bulgar, etc etc).  I buy Barilla pasta when I find it on sale, penne is my favorite.  I avoid long pastas like fettuccine, as I think they are better when homemade (ditto with ravioli).

All Photos: Veer

Top Ten Kitchen Gadgets

February 23, 2009

I took it as a sign that I should write about my favorite kitchen gadgets when I saw this recent post over at The Kitchn.  I had been contemplating writing about what I use most in the kitchen, and it was the final push I needed.

We cook a lot, and while we do have some nice gadgets, most of our cookware is basic and moderately priced.

Victorinox Knives

David and I received a set of these knives two Christmases ago.  It’s a low to mid-range brand that has served us well thus far.  I use the paring and chef’s knives most often.  You can purchase the Victorinox chef’s knife at Amazon for $23.  It’s currently rated at 5 stars (with 263 reviews).

Cuisinart 14 Cup Food Processor

Everyone tells you it’s a must have for the home cook.  They’re right.  This was another Christmas gift, and while we don’t use it as often as we’d like, it’s wonderful to have around when we need to whip up pesto or blend soup.

Double-Blade Mezzuluna

I’m not quite sure how I lived without this.  It’s fantastic for chopping and mincing herbs (I use it mostly for parsley).  I prefer those with two blades and a double handle, as they are easier to control.

Ikea Cutting Boards

Ikea cutting boards are cheap and of decent quality.  I buy both the wooden and plastic boards.  The wooden boards are used for cutting vegetables and for displaying cheeses and other spreads during parties.


In my opinion this is a must-have item for home cooks.  Perfect for grating hard cheeses, citrus, ginger, cloves, etc etc.  A flat-surface microplane is multi-functional, but I prefer our rotary grater for cheeses.

Citrus Juicers

Here’s a story David never hears the end of.  My friend K brought me back this awesome metal hand-held citrus juicer from Costa Rica (or Mexico, I can’t remember – she travels a lot).  I LOVED it.  In the summertime, I make loads of tart, citrus-drenched cocktails, and this juicer was indispensable.  Then David broke it.  I was so upset.  It has been replaced with lemon and lime juicers (in citrus-coordinating colors, of course) that I picked up at Sur la Table.  But I still miss my old one, especially because I know it cost K under a buck.

Calphalon Nonstick Pans

This is a perfect example of a non-fancy item we use in the kitchen.  Cookware can be phenomenally expensive, and I know that we will someday replace our pans with lovely copper, cast iron or stainless steel pieces.  For now, these work just fine, especially considering that we don’t even have a gas range.  I find myself using the 12″ everyday pan most often.

Piral Terra Cotta Pot

This gets used more than our dutch oven, believe it or not.  It’s quite similar to the one shown except taller, and I got it for a steal at Sur la Table.  We use it often to make David’s famous, buttery rice pilaf.


I think I use these OXO tongs just as often as I use wooden spoons.

Expobar Espresso Machine

I’ve spoken of our espresso machine before, but it simply cannot be left out of a discussion of kitchen gadgets.  We use it at LEAST twice a day.  It’s our baby, and it’s a powerhouse.

Next up, my top 10 ingredients.


February 14, 2009

David just got back from the store (he said there were many, many men on a last-minute hunt for flowers, teddy bears and balloons), and this is what I get for dinner tonight!

Scallops with Mashed Potatoes & Tarragon Sauce

Tomato, Fennel & Watercress Salad w/Fennel-Tarragon Vinaigrette

Grilled Asparagus

A York Peppermint Pattie!

I’ve been in my robe all day.  I hope you all have a wonderful Valentine’s Day!