Thursday, May 29, 2008

Herb Garden Update--

To compare, you can find my original project post here.
The pics pretty much tell the whole story. I'm proud to say I haven't killed anything!! Yet.

What I've learned is that I should've planted the thyme by itself in a big pot and planted double the basil & parsley plants. As you can tell by the pic, I use them quite regularly!

The mint looks kind of gross and I'm debating just tossing what's in the pot. I really wanted regular mint anyway (what you see here is peppermint and it kind of stinks!)

So, just wanted to give hope to those of you out there who think you can not grow anything. If I can, YOU definitely can! ;)

Spinach Salad w/Roast Chicken, Cherries & the Goat.....

This is our alltime fav salad and our harbinger of warmer weather meals. I was inspired to make this little gem by a restaurant I visited in NOVA (northern VA) a few years ago. Although, the name escapes me now. :)

OMG-- did I just pull a RR, EVOO w/the NOVA? LOL! Stop! Snap! Slap me now! Oh well.......moving on.....

This is so easy to pull together and instead of roasting your own chicken, you could pick up a roast chicken/breast from the store.
Bella's Spinach Salad w/Roast Chicken, Cherries & the Goat
Serves 2

Two large handfuls of baby spinach
One roast chicken breast, meat picked apart for salad
Handful of dried cherries, chopped
Handful of pecan pieces, toasted
2 oz of The Goat (goat cheese ;) )
In 2 large salad bowls, place equal amts of spinach, chicken, cherries, pecan & goat. Toss w/BG Vinaigrette (recipe below):

Balsamic, Garlic Vinaigrette
The traditional measurements for vinaigrette are 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. But, I like more punch :) I make this well ahead of time and let set up in the fridge. I've also lightly sauteed the garlic in the oil to take away the raw edge and infuse the oil w/garlicky flavour!

2 parts oil ( I did 1/4 cup)
1 part balsamic vinegar (1/8 cup)
1 large clove garlic, pressed
1/2 - 1 tspn dijon mustard
1/2 - 1 tspn brown sugar
salt & pepper to taste

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Barefoot Blogging & Baked Eggs

So, I've joined up with an online group of Inaites. Our mission is to plow through Ina Garten's considerable collection of recipes, making 2 pre-designated recipes a month, about which we will blog. This is great for me as I have all of her books and this is the first excuse I'll have to make some of the recipes :)

Our first recipe is Ina's Baked Eggs from her Barefoot in Paris cookbook. I've tried this recipe before and it's delicious for dinner w/a green salad. The mistake I made this time was using a 2 c. oven proof porcelain bowl vs. the gratin I normally employ.

I should have either a.) used the gratin for the three eggs so they would have room to spread out and cook evenly or b.) used only 2 eggs in my porcelain bowl and adjusted topping accordingly.

As it stands, mine were still a little too raw in the middle, which I attribute to the dish not being big enough (a few extra minutes under the broiler fixed this issue).

Here's the recipe for those interested:

Herbed-Baked Eggs (otherwise known as shirred eggs)
Copyright, 2004, Barefoot in Paris, All Rights Reserved

1/4 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
1/4 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary leaves
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan
6 extra-large eggs 2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Toasted French bread or brioche, for serving

Preheat the broiler for 5 minutes and place the oven rack 6 inches below the heat.

Combine the garlic, thyme, rosemary, parsley, and Parmesan and set aside.

Carefully crack 3 eggs into each of 2 small bowls or teacups (you won't be baking them in these) without breaking the yolks. (It's very important to have all the eggs ready to go before you start cooking.)

Place 2 individual gratin dishes on a baking sheet. Place 1 tablespoon of cream and 1/2 tablespoon of butter in each dish and place under the broiler for about 3 minutes, until hot and bubbly.

Quickly, but carefully, pour 3 eggs into each gratin dish and sprinkle evenly with the herb mixture, then sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Place back under the broiler for 5 to 6 minutes, until the whites of the eggs are almost cooked. (Rotate the baking sheet once if they aren't cooking evenly.)

The eggs will continue to cook after you take them out of the oven. Allow to set for 60 seconds and serve hot with toasted bread

Thai Diner/Broad St. Location

Friday nite found us anticipating going to see the Indiana Jones flick as well as meeting friends for Thai. We like to pick the UA10 on Broad Street b/c typically it's not packed like other theatres around town. So, that left us only one choice of restaurant- Thai Diner in the Westland shopping center (has a sister location in Carytown).

I can not say enough good things about Thai diner! Our party split apps: calamari, fried spring rolls, fresh spring rolls. Everything flavorful & appetizing which really whet my appetite for the main course.

Hubs had the crab and shrimp fried rice special. His only complaint was that there were peas and carrots throughout and that's his #1 pet peeve about americanized asian food. (mine too if I think about it!) I had the chicken pad see eu- deeeeeeeeeelicious! Hit the spot! And I enjoy having the option of ordering the thin noodles w/my dish (I have texture issues w/the really thick/slimy noodles).

An FYI-- If you've never been, Thai Diner has 3 kinds of hot. Medium (for us wimpy folk), American hot and Thai hot. Medium is still pretty dang spicy depending on who's cooking that nite.

Love this place and it makes me so happy that it's a convenient take out option!


I really WANT to like Bacchus. I have friends who LOVE Bacchus. There's something about the interior that is cozy and appeals to me. However, there's something about the food that never quite makes the level Bacchusl likes to project. This has been the only consistency in the many times I've tried their food.

Saturday found us embroiled in hard labor, working on stripping our dining room walls amongst other domestic projects. As a "reward" we wanted to go out for a nice meal and kick back. Thus, we found ourselves at Bacchus.

I ordered the gorgonzola, polenta, marinara app. Hubs ordered the shrimp scampi app. Mine was tasteless and bland. Even the sauce, which I could clearly tell was homemade. My gorgonzola had one vein in it that I could tell and that was the only bite that packed any punch. Hubs had no complaints about his shrimp.

For my main course, I ordered spaghetti carbonara which, while flavorful, had cream in it. Thus, the thick, clingy sauce I desired was not delivered. Btw- isn't it a cardinal sin or something to add cream to carbonara? ;) I really enjoyed the sauvignon blanc by the glass that my server rec'd.

Hubs veal was tasty, the portion generous. The veg. left something to be desired. The plating looked like something fresh off the line at a Morrison's. The beans/carrots overcooked and they might as well have taken an ice cream scoop to serve up the potatos just like my lunch lady in high school for all the thought that went into arranging the food artfully. The reason I'm complaining about this so much (b/c I know you're raising your eyebrows at me and making that swirling finger around the ear "she's crazy" motion right about now) is that the veal was $24. Really? $24 for the "morrison's plate?" $12 for my carbonara is about right and for that I will not complain.

I think Bacchus needs to settle in and accept itself for what it is-- a neighborhood joint where folks go for comfort food. They keep trying to act like they are fine dining, mainly by jacking prices. I say, give it up! There are a ton of fine dining options. People want something they can depend on day to day, not just for 'special occasions.' Just my .02 garnered from observing and eating at the place over the years. I've decided if I want authentic Italian in Richmond that won't piss me off, I need to stick to Edo's or Mamma Zu's. My recommendation is that you stop here for dessert and a cocktail after eating somewhere else. B/c I will tell you they make a mean chocolate peanut butter pie!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Plate Full of Summer.......

This weekend in VA was cool, clear and breezy. Just gorgeous. And the perfect weekend to finally tackle painting our dining room. Why? Well, I've decided it's b/c we're insane & love to torture our anal rententive selves w/painting the darkest brown imaginable against all white trim and ceiling. You know there's no way all of our paint lines will ever be perfect. We are currently endeavoring to accept this maddening fact. ;)

After much sanding, grunting, taping, whining and rolling, I fixed us a plate of this:

And it instantly soothed all aches & pains from our hard day of labour. Nothing better than BBQ chicken, fresh green beans, corn on the grill and a little parm orzo al fresco. If it seems like I eat parm orzo with everything, well, it's b/c I do!

So, here's a cheer to summer! We're ready for you! :)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A few notes on Fox Point.......

.......Penzey's to the rescue again!

I'd recently acquired a big ass bag of frozen Tilapia that left me in search of recipes for it. As much as I eat this fish in restaurants, I thought there would be a plethora of great recipes to choose from in 'Recipeland.' Alas, there is not.

Never fear! Fellow bloggers and Penzey's came to my aid. I decided to try roasting the fish as one normally would with lemon, a little butter, S&P and then amp it up w/a hearty sprinkle from my new cache of Fox Point. I roasted everything off at 400 degrees for approx. 15 minutes. (or until fish flakes).

For those wondering what's in this miracle sprinkle, it's garlic, onion & chive. And, wow! Whatta punch!

We served our flavourful fish with a side of parm orzo and steamed asparagus. The perfect meal if you ask me. Although, ask me again when I make fish tacos. :)

Monday, May 19, 2008

Plundering the pantry........

.......has anyone guessed by my latest entries that I'm trying really hard to only use what I have on hand in the pantry? Thus, some of the 'interesting' combinations. :)

For this recipe I'm about to share, I should really write apology letters to Marcella Hazan, Lidia Matticchio and heck, even Mario Batali. But, alas, there is no time-- so, sorry y'all! :) This is some super bastardized Italian going on here.

I'm a big lover of Canadian Bacon in all things. Particularly on pizza and especially on eggs benedict. It truly is the wonder meat. Alas, I had no CB on hand and subbed in smoked pork chops which provides the same smoky, rich flavour. Thus I give you this tasty recipe born of my salty/sweet combo cravings and pantry leavings:

Pasta a la Canuck

1 box whole wheat linguini
1 onion, finely chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, finely minced
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 c. red wine (or 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar for a little punch)
1 28 oz. can crushed plum tomatos
1/2 tspn sugar
1/4 tspn pepper
1/2 c. chicken stock (or 1 tbsp tomato paste)
2 Tbsp. fresh chopped basil
1/2 tspn Italian Seasoning
3 smoked pork chops, trimmed and roughly chopped
(or a whole small package of Candian Bacon, trimmed and chopped)
2 tbsp fresh chopped Italian parsley
salt to taste
Fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Heat olive oil in dutch oven over medium heat. Sweat onions and garlic over medium heat (careful not to brown) until translucent. Add wine and allow to simmer for a minute. Then, add tomatos, sugar, pepper, stock/paste, basil, Italian Seasoning and meat. Allow to simmer over medium-low heat for approx 1/2 an hour with the lid off. Add parsley add the end of cooking and salt to taste.

Also, towards the end of the sauce simmering, cook pasta. Strain (do not rinse). Immediately, combine pasta in dutch oven w/sauce and then serve up w/some fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Hope you enjoy this as much as I did! :)

Friday, May 16, 2008

Chicken, Bacon, Ranch Pizza

This post is dedicated to the hubs who loves this pizza. I honestly could take it or leave it. I mean, it's tasty and all, but there are other things I like better. IE: if you put some in some GOAT CHEESE & take the ranch out....I'm there! ;)

In this post I would also like to declare that I am the Queen of Making Tasty Stuff With Leftover Crap. Seriously. If it were an olympic sport, I would be a hardcore competitor.

So, I had some leftover calzone dough and pizza sauce lounging around the freezer along with a lone chicken breast. All of a sudden the pistons started firing as I remembered I also had some bacon hiding in my cheese drawer---and voila! We have Chicken, Bacon, Ranch Pizza!

I know there's got to be a recipe or two out there for this, but I don't follow any, I just slap it together until it looks tasty! Go by your own tastes-- everyone is particular about amt. of sauce, cheese, etc.-- just use this recipe as a guideline.

Chicken, Bacon, Ranch Pizza

1 roasted chicken breast*
4 slices cooked bacon
1 c. pizza sauce (I make my own)
1/2 c. ranch dressing
1 Tbsp. dry ranch dip mix
Lite Provolone Slices
Shredded Monterey Jack
2 rounds of thawed calzone dough, at room temp

Place pizza stone(s) in oven. Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

Heat pizza sauce over moderate heat, adding 1 Tbsp. ranch dip mix.

Roll out your dough very thin w/a little flour. Place it on parchment and then parchment/dough onto a pizza peel. I don't have a peel, so I flip a cookie sheet upside down and use that.

Top w/sauce (go light, you don't want to make the crust soggy. Top with a little ranch, your meats, then your cheeses. I sprinkle w/the Monterey Jack and then cover with Provolone slices. Makes for an ooey gooey, but not too much, cheesy slice.

Knock oven back to 450. Slide pizza(s) onto pizza stone(s) carefully. I usually pull out the oven rack w/the stone on it, grab the parchment closest to the stone and slide it quickly onto the hot stone surface. Quickly push rack back into oven and close door.

Bake for approx 12-15 minutes. Depending on your oven and how done you like your cheese. Crust will be super crispy!

*Cook's Note-- I roast my chicken breast at 400-425 for approx. 35 minutes after rubbing it down w/some olive oil, a generous amt. of kosher salt and pepper.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Cafe Gutenberg & Havana

(couldn't help myself, it's what automatically pops into my head anytime I say, read or hear 'Cafe Gutenberg'- ;) )

Late Friday evening found me out with a friend wandering around the Farmer's Market/17th street area of downtown Richmond. Otherwise known as "The Bottom." We hadn't yet decided on a destination for dinner and meandered by a few promising, hopping joints. One of which was LuLu's, which happened to be packed to the gills. It being 8:30 and all, we weren't digging a wait. Thus, we ended up around the corner at Cafe Gutenberg. In my 4 years in Richmond, I had yet to visit the 'berg and was excited to find myself there.

The dinner menu and specials posted outside were enticing, as was the lack of wait. So, we helped ourselves onto the patio on a semi-chilly May evening. I ordered the passion fruit tea (delicious) and my friend ordered a spanish white (of which I can not remember the name). The wine was crisp, but a little dry for my taste. The wine menu itself presented a nice array of choices.

For dinner, my friend ordered the pulled pork french dip. I had the tortellini w/spring veggies. Both were passable, but alas, not noteworthy. The pork was way to sweet for both of our tastes and I'm unsure of the aioli that was gracing the baguette it came on. The sauce on my tortellini was buttery, flavorful & smooth; a nice compliment to the crisp asparagus, spinach, tomato, spring onion and mushrooms that came with it. Alas, I found the tortellini lacking in flavor and substance.

I liked the atmosphere, the place is very appealing overall. Service was kind, helpful and timely. But, I feel like it best serves the breakfast/brunch/lunch crowd. Dinner seems a bit of a stretch ($17 for tortellini-- I'm sure the rent is high, but $17? Really?) I will def. go back for a coffee, some quiche and a salad.

Post-meal, we mosied over to Havana, just across the Farmer's Market. Again, a first for me. I was immediately charmed by the interior and the complete vibe of the place. Stuccoed, "aged" columns with warm colors and palm trees "growing" out of the bar. I mean, who doesn't like that?

We seated ourselves at the top of the bar next to the open windows. Well, if you can call them windows. Technically, I think they are garage doors? We quickly found out why those seats were so easily available to us as the bar behind us on the street in the window filled up with enthusiastic cigar smokers. It is a Cuban restaurant/bar after all, cigars do make sense. But........P.U.!

I'd love to go back for a bite to see if the food can live up to the presence of the place. Two thumbs up as a fun joint to take out of towners.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Chicken Parm Burgers

Thank you AGAIN, Penzey's, for jazzing up my boring, old weeknite chicken.

I had 3 chicken breasts (approx. 1lb) thawing in the fridge today w/no idea what I was going to do with them. Then, my tastebud's wheels started to turn as I remembered my new Penzey's Italian Sausage Seasoning sitting, waiting for me in my cabinet. And I had buns. And I had provolone. And now here you have my Penzey's inspired Chicken Parm Burger!

Bella's Chicken Parm Burger
Makes 6 Good Sized Burgers

1 lb whole chicken breasts
1/2 onion, grated
2 garlic cloves, grated on microplane
1/4 c. fresh, finely chopped basil
1/4 c. fresh grated parm. reg.
1/2 jar of marinara
2 tspn. Penzey's Italian Sausage Seasoning
6 buns (I would suggest a hearty sour dough, we used whole grain)
6 slices provolone

Take chicken, cut in large chunks and place in food processor. Pulverize. For some reason the meat sticks together better this way for burgers than store bought pre-ground chicken. Mix chicken with onion, garlic, basil, parm & seasoning. Shape into 6 burgers.
Fry burgers up in a pan over medium heat or grill until cooked through/no longer pink.

Turn broiler on high and toast buns & heat marinara(I add 1 tspn of the it. sge. seasoning to the marinara) while chicken is cooking. Once chicken is done, place burgers on a cookie sheet. Top them with a small ladle of sauce, cover with slice of provolone and place under broiler until cheese is melted (not browned).

Serve immediately!

*Cooks Note-- I would recommend Sour Dough as it's sturdy enough to stand up to the sauce without getting soggy. I swiped our buns w/a bit of butter and toasted really well in a pan. But, b/c they were whole wheat, they got soggy pretty quick. I will tell you though, those first 3 bites with the crispy buttery bun, melty oozy cheese, sauce & spicy chicken was heaven singing a hallelujah chorus in my mouth! :) Sour dough might help the divine experience last a little longer! ;)

You notice I also put the sauce on the meat first. This is an attempt to have the cheese seal in the sauce and try to spare the soggy-ness. (is that a word?) A piece of cheese on the bottom bun is not a bad idea either!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Fusion Stirfry?

Note the question mark. Maybe I'm getting too big for my culinary britches. I'm not trying to be fancy, I swear! I was just following, as usual, the dictates of my VERY demanding tastebuds!

It all started with a basic recipe for Balsamic Chicken & Vegetables(from Fitness Magazine) and morphed into something different altogether. You can find the original recipe here. It ended up being something tasty, simple & healthful that hubs and I agree should be in our regular rotation.

Here is what I ended up with, palatable if not a little weird ;) I'm calling it:

Twisted Chicken & Veggie Stirfry
2 healthy servings

1/4 c. roasted red pepper & parmesan italian dressing
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp. honey
1/4 tspn. crushed red pepper (or a dash of Sriracha)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
12 oz. chicken, cut into strips (about 2 large chicken breasts)
1 c. broccoli florets, cut small
1/2 c. julienned carrot
handful of ripe cherry tomatos, seeded, cut small
2 scallions, green parts cut thinly on bias

Combine dressing, vinegar, honey and crushed red pepper and set aside.

Heat oil over medium-high heat (I used a dutch oven) and cook chicken for 5-6 minutes or until no longer pink. Remove to a large bowl; cover to keep warm.

Add broccoli and carrot to pan. Cook, stirring constantly for 3-4 minutes until broccoli is tender-crisp. Transfer to same dish as chicken, cover.

Add dressing to pan (stand back or it will clear your sinuses!) Cook for 1 minute (or a little less) stirring w/whisk to scrape up browned bits on bottom of pan. Drizzle dressing over chicken & veggies. Sprinkle w/chopped tomato and scallion.

One dish wonder! :)
* Note to self-- add 2 cloves minced garlic in w/veggies next time.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Baked Chimichangas

Simple, delicious and just in time for Cinqo~~! Humble & healthy, this is one of our fav. weeknite "standbys."

Baked Chimichangas

8-12 standard tortillas (I buy low fat/fat free)
2-4 cooked chicken breasts, shredded (depends on how many chimi's you want to make, I typically roast my chicken w/olive oil, S&P)
1 can fat free refried beans
1 c. salsa of choice
1 c. shredded cheddar
1/4 c. finely choppped green onion
1 small can chopped green chilis
A few shakes Texas Pete

Combine shredded chicken w/beans, salsa, onions, chilis and Texas Pete. Warm through. Add cheese, stir through until melted.

Fill tortillas w/approx. 1/2 c. of chicken mixture each. Bake in oven at 350 for 20-30 minutes. Serve on a bed of lettuce topped with sour cream and salsa.
*adapted from Better Homes & Gardens New Dieters Cookbook