Ally
I recently went on a vacation to Seattle. I hadn't been back to the Emerald City in about five years, but just minutes into the drive to the hotel I remembered why it was one of my favorite cities to visit. The lush greenery, overcast skies, and the petrichor--it's like a familiar blanket that envelopes me. Not to mention the coffee...Seattle is a town that knows how to do coffee right. I think Mr. S. and I had at least 5 cups a day. Seriously. Nothing beats a great cup of joe. I'm a big Stumptown fan, but we also ventured out and hit up several other coffee houses this visit. FYI- In the midst of our caffeine quest, Mr. S. and I discovered that Fonte also makes an amazing Americano. Give it a go.

If you're not already a fan of the Kimpton chain of hotels I highly suggest checking them out.  This is the second time we've stayed in a suite at the Alexis and we loved it. We got a great deal  (25% off, free parking, and a $40 gift card).  The free parking is a HUGE cost saver. Parking is crazy expensive in Seattle.  


Our Living Room 

The Dining Area (we were in the Ballerina Suite)

The Bedroom 

We also visited our favorite restaurant again- Cascina Spinasse in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. We did the Menu Degustazione (which includes every antipasto, primo and secondo on the menu) and every dish was spot-on amazing and the service was impeccable (just like last time). They've expanded a bit since the last time we were there but the restaurant has still retained it's rustic, romantic charm.  The housemade fontina fonduta stuffed Caramelle with pinenuts and sage was just one of my favorite dishes that night. It just melted in my mouth.



We did a few touristy activities as well- Pike Place, a ferry ride, the Space Needle, and a spin on the ferris wheel at sunset.  Mr. S. wanted to check out the EMP Museum, so we did that too.  



And I wanted to take a peek at Chihuly Gardens. The glass sculptures were absolutely mesmerizing. I could have spent the afternoon staring at some of the floor-to-ceiling pieces inside the facility.



Vacation, alas, it's always too short! When we got home I wanted to keep the vacation vibe alive so I made a batch of "Seattle brownies." It's a riff off of a recipe by Nick Malgieri that appeared in the NY Times called, "Supernatural Brownies." But this version has coffee and cocoa in it to kick it up a notch.




"I Left My Heart in Seattle" Brownies

Ingredients

8 oz. bittersweet chocolate

2 sticks of unsalted butter

1 teaspoon instant coffee powder

1 cup AP flour

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

2 tablespoons Guittard's Cocoa Rouge Cocoa Powder

4 large eggs

1 cup dark brown sugar

1 cup granulated white sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup chopped walnuts


Instructions

1. Butter a 13x9 baking pan and line with buttered parchment paper. 

2. Preheat oven to 350 F.

3. In a double boiler (or use a boiling pot of water with a metal bowl over it like I do), melt the bittersweet chocolate and butter. Once it's all melted down, add the instant coffee powder.  Mix together. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.

4. In a bowl, combine the flour, sea salt, and cocoa powder together. Mix thoroughly. Set aside.

5.  In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs.  Then add in the sugars and vanilla.  Stir.  Add the melted chocolate/butter mixture and stir again.

6. Fold in the flour mixture. Mix. 

7. Pour the batter into the baking pan. Spread the batter evenly over the parchment paper. Sprinkle the walnuts across the batter.  

8. Bake in the oven for roughly about 35 minutes. At 30 minutes, I would stick a knife or toothpick in and see if it comes out clean.

9. Cool in pan on rack.  Once it's cool, lift out the brownies on the parchment paper. Slice. Place in airtight container or wrap with plastic tightly. **These brownies taste even better the next day when the flavors settle in. I know it's difficult, but set them aside until the next day.


Ally
I don't have a lot of vices but of the few I have, coffee is far and away the most prominent. My coworkers can attest to what a difference in personality I have if I roll into the office in the a.m. sans coffee. Let's just say...it's NOT pleasant.  So imagine my delight, when by happenstance I stumbled across a coffee product line that was delicious, convenient, and good for me?  Lemme tell you about my two new fave beverages:

XX Espresso Cold Brew Coffee with Almond Milk and Triple Shot Cold Brew Coffee with Almond Milk by Califia Farms.  

Both are delicious and low cal, much better than whatever Mocha-Choca-Bullshit you order at Starbucks.  I've bought the individual sizes at the Rite Aid by my work and have bought both individual sizes and the larger sizes in the grocery section of Target.  Raley's and the Co-Op also sell some of their stuff too but I think it might be pricier.  There's other flavors too - Dirty Chai, Salted Caramel, Mocha, Mocha Mexica, and Cocoa Noir. Mmmm...

A few interesting facts:

Califia's bottles are recyclable (Plastic #5).

Califia's almond milk is Kosher. Their products are Pareve and Orthodox Union is their Rabbinical Certifier

Their products are non-organic currently; however, they are all non-GMO.

Califia's iced coffees with almond milk have no saturated fat, ares soy-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, cholesterol-free, and carrageenan-free.




* This is not a sponsored post. The stuff just tastes good and deserved a shout out.
Ally



Dear Blog,

I know I've neglected you...like REALLY neglected you and I'm sorry. 2015 was a chaotic year, full of a lot of ups and downs and I was feeling a bit overwhelmed and needed a break. It was me, not you. But this year I'm determined to have a great year and one of my resolutions is to get back into cooking and blogging. So be ready! ☺


First thing on my To Do List is: getting over this frickin' cold/sinus infection. It's hard to be awesome when you're all stuffed up and your head feels like it wants to explode.  Not to mention, I sound like a cross between Darth Vader and Girl 6 with my heavy breathing and raspy voice. It seems like everyone is down with this creeping crud...and this stuff apparently likes to lingers. I've already missed two days of work because of it and I'm pretty sure my office is one step away from going all Outbreak. There's a lot of people out with a cold, flu, or bronchitis.



I've been doing all the things I'm supposed to: hydrating, staying in bed, sleeping a ton, Purelling the sh*t out of everything, and using Puffs Plus Lotion (trust me, these are the holy grail of tissues). Peppy loves having me home and has been sleeping as much as I have. This weather has been pretty conducive for it. We even watched a great movie the other night, "Love and Mercy".  

I've also been eating a LOT of soup. A friend of mine made me a delicious Lemon Orzo with Chicken soup that I'm going to have to get the recipe for so I can make more. It felt insanely good on my sore throat.  In the meantime, this is one of my current favs to make when I'm feeling under the weather:


Red Lentil Coconut Soup

Ingredients

  • 2 cups red lentils, uncooked
  • 1 white onion,chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 fresh jalapeno, finely chopped, including seeds
  • 1 tablespoon fresh peeled and minced ginger
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder 
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • pinch of smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • ⅓ cup tomato paste
  • 7 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 can unsweetened light coconut milk
  • 1 15 oz. can of garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • fresh cilantro, chopped, for garnish (optional)
  • lime wedges for serving (optional)

Instructions


1. Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion, red bell pepper, and jalapeno and saute until the vegetables have softened and the onion takes on a translucent color.

2. Add the ginger, garlic, curry, cinnamon, smoked paprika, salt and tomato paste. Stir. Cook for 3-4 more minutes.

3. Add the vegetable broth, coconut milk, lentils, and garbanzo beans. Stir. Bring the the mixture to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook uncovered for 20-30 minutes.  

4.  Add the lime juice at the end. Stir.  Season with additional salt, if needed.

5. (Optional) Serve with cilantro and lime wedges.
Ally

Ever have one of those weeks? I've just been a giant ball of stress and anxiety for days now and I can't quite put my finger on any one thing that is triggering it.  PMS, the kidlets, lack of sleep, work? The stupid house alarm going off in the middle of the night two nights in a frickin' row? Anyhow, I've been feeling sleep deprived and extremely stabby. So you can imagine that cooking something uber complicated is not high on my agenda.  One of my fav recipes to make during times like these are lamb burgers. Lamb burgers seem fancier than your everyday hamburger, but take about the same amount of effort. 


Lamb Burgers

Ingredients

2 1/4 lbs. ground lamb
1/2 cup diced red onion
6 oz. crumbled feta
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
1 tablespoon ground coriander
3/4 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
3 tablespoons oil  (+ extra for oiling the grill)

Instructions

1. In a large bowl, mix the ingredients with your hands until evenly blended.  Form into 6 patties. Make a thumbprint indention on the top, middle of each patty.

2. Cover and place in the fridge for 30-60 minutes

3. Preheat grill.  Grill burgers over medium heat on oiled grill, for about 5-6 minutes on each side (or desired doneness).

4. Remove from grill and serve with your favorite condiments.  We like to top ours with a low-cal Greek yogurt dressing like OPA by Lighthouse Feta Dill Dressing

Makes 6 burgers.
Ally


Ok, I know autumn supposedly started Wednesday but it still feels really hot to me. I walked over to Weatherstone with a buddy for some coffee today and I was sweating...errrr, glistening!...on the walk back.  Fall can't come soon enough. Maybe it's because I'm an October baby but man, I love bundling up (all those layers hide the love handles I'm working on), drinking hot apple cider by a fire, and don't forget the smell--- I LOVE the smell of autumn. It has a crisp, clean scent that I wish I could bottle up and sniff through the year.  



Anyhow, hopefully with the entrance of autumn, I'll be more inclined to drag my tired ass into the kitchen and cook and thus, blogging more. I'm sorry, really, for being MIA for so long. Seriously, I may have the same amount of hours in the day as Beyonce but I am dead tired...every day.


Despite being in a perpetual state of lack of sleep, one thing I do look forward to is my monthly book club. Last month's book was Carson McCullers' "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter." It was an extremely depressing read but we had a good discussion about it.  I had signed up to bring dessert and wanted to bring something Southern, since the book took place in Georgia.  While rummaging through the internet, I ran across a picture of a Pig Pickin' Cake and decided to bake one. It was easy to make (I made it the night before) and it turned out delicious (albeit not the most attractive cake I've ever made). I looked up the origin of the name (c'mon admit it--you were thinking "WTF?" too!).  Turns out that it's called a Pig Pickin' Cake because it's a typically a dessert brought to pig roasts (aka a "Pig Pickin'") in the South.  Despite the weird mish mosh of ingredients, it's very tasty and not super fattening.

Pig Pickin' Cake

Ingredients

1  box Duncan Hines Yellow Cake Mix
1  11 oz. can mandarin oranges
4  large eggs
1/2  cup canola oil
1  3.4 oz. package vanilla instant pudding (it has to be instant)
1 15oz. can crushed pineapple with juice
1 12 oz. container of Cool Whip Lite

Instructions

1. Line pan bottoms with parchment paper.  

2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

3. In a large bowl, combine cake mix, oranges (with the juice), eggs, and oil.  

4. Divide the cake mix into two 9 inch circular pans.

5. Bake for approx. 30 minutes. Remove cake from oven and cool completely. Pop the cakes out of the tin and remove parchment paper.  Place one cake on a serving dish.

6. In a large bowl, mix together instant pudding mix, pineapple with juice, and the Cool Whip Lite.  

7. Spread frosting along the top of the first cake.  Place the second cake on top.  Cover the whole kit and caboodle with frosting.

8. Store it in the fridge until you are ready to serve it.
Ally
Every once in awhile, Mr. S and I like to go for a quick get away to SF. Nothing is usually on the agenda, just a quick overnight to relax, eat some good food and of course partake in some Philz Coffee. We usually squeeze in a trip to Japantown while we’re there. I like to hit up Daiso for cutie kitchen items and stock up on some of my favorite Japanese treats at Nijiya Market. In the past we’ve parked our butts at the Grand Hyatt or the Orchard. This time however, we decided to stay at the Kabuki Hotel in Japantown.  We scored a great deal on the rate and the hotel's reservation agent, Sandy, made sure we had an upper floor, corner suite.  This way we were assured of some quiet. I stayed at the Kabuki years ago when it was the Miyako and the Raddisson owned it.  It’s now owned by the Joie de Vive chain, not much has happened in the remodeling department (it's pretty no frills) but the JDV staff is terrific.  Domingo was working the front desk during our check in and check out and he was an absolute doll. I took a few pics of our room and the view to share. 

Bed 

Sunken in tub and separate shower, Japanese-style

Sitting area with sliding screens

Koi pond on the first floor


Panoramic view from our wrap-around balcony, day time

View from the other side of our balcony, night time

Rooftop garden on nearby restaurant
(click to enlarge, it's pretty cool)
  

The thing I liked most about staying at the Kabuki was the proximity to Japantown (duh, it’s smack in the middle of it) but also that if you head over a few blocks to Fillmore (Pacific Heights), there’s all kinds of small cafes, delicious coffee spots and specialty stores.  Next time you're there, check out Jane on Fillmore and Pizzeria Delfina.  Sure, Pacific Heights is a bit hipstery but like Japantown, there’s practically no riff raff milling bout. Honestly that’s a huge draw for me. The last time we were in SF, I was getting pretty tired of the aggressive panhandlers in Union Square encroaching on my personal space.  Now if they would just build a Philz over in Japantown….☺
Ally

Recent conversation with Kidlet #1 over a breakfast of matzo brei:

Kidlet #1: This is good, what's it made of?

Me: Crushed matzo crackers and egg.

Kidlet #1: What's that?

Me: An unleavened bread. They're like giant crackers. My dad used to buy them for me when I was a kid.  I'd put a ton of margarine on them and eat them for a snack.

Kidlet #1: Cool. Are you going to write about it on your blog?

Me: Maybe.

Kidlet #1: Do you still call us kidlets?

Me: Yeah...but I guess I should change it now that you guys are teenagers. What should I call you? 

Kidlet #2 calls out from the living room: Starlord56! Starlord56!

Ummm, ok.....so I'm NOT going to call them Starlord56 (although I do kind of wonder where the heck he got that idea from?) but I do think they're due for an update. They're hardly "kidlets" anymore at 12 and 15 years old.  Kidlet #1 is taller than me and just started shaving for goodness' sake! So maybe I'll just start referring to them as Teen Z (Kidlet #1) and Teen B (Kidlet #2)?  That should suffice, right? ☺


Anyhow, this weekend try making some matzo brei for breakfast (or a snack), you'll love it.  My favorite recipe is Ruth Reichl's, although I use a little less butter than she recommends (her recipe uses 6 tablespoons).  Reichl once described matzo brei as, "one of life's perfect foods."  I think she's absolutely right, the dish is quite delicious in its simplicity.

Matzo Brei

Ingredients

4 matzos
4 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Instructions


1. Crumble matzos into a large sieve placed over a bowl to catch crumbs, then hold sieve under running cold water until matzos are moist and softened but not completely disintegrated, about 15 seconds. Gently press out the excess water.
2. Transfer to bowl with crumbs, then add eggs and salt and mix gently with a fork.
3. Heat butter in a 10- to 12-inch skillet over moderately high heat until foam subsides. 
4. Add matzo mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until eggs are scrambled and matzo has begun to crisp, about 3 minutes. (I usually flip them halfway through, I like them slightly crispy on both sides.)
* Sometimes I like to mix it up by adding in some sliced spring onions or a shake of garlic powder. Or go sweet and sprinkle it with a some cinnamon and brown sugar or a wee bit of maple syrup. There's a matzo brei for every taste.
Ally
Ugh! I'm stuck at home today. Woke up feeling under the weather and a bit nauseated.  Mr. S can attest to the fact that I'm a horrible patient. I start feeling quite grumpy when I'm regulated to the bed. Don't get me wrong, I love sleeping in but being forced to stay in bed is...well, it's like back in high school or college when you read a book of your own accord and you loved it, but take that same book and have it part of an assignment where you're obligated to read it? Fuggedaboutit, you hate the book. It's like that with me and sleeping/staying in bed when I'm sick.

Anyhow, being stuck in bed is giving me a chance to do a little bloggin'. This isn't really a food post but I suppose it is kitchen related.  If you know me, you know I'm a huge coffee drinker. It keeps me functional. It's also what keeps me from feeling stabby in the morning at work.  Anyhow, lately there's been a ton of cute coffee cups on the market.  If I had the cupboard space I'd buy them all.

Here are few of my favs. What mugs are you loving these days? Do you like fun ones? Cute ones? Plain ones?













Ally

Wow, I’m so glad April is OVER. Shortly after I posted about my mom passing, the car vandalism and someone doing a hit and run on the rental…someone broke into our locked backyard while we were at work and stole some locked bikes and expensive lawn equipment.  Can you *&%$#@! believe it?  Mr. S and I discussed the matter and decided to purchase a sturdier shed…a Tuff Shed, to place our lawn equipment and assorted miscellany in. We got rid of the boat (thank goodness! That POS had been giving me the stink eye for the past few years) and Mr. S and Teen #1 have been dutifully leveling out the side yard and laying down weed cloth.  Gravel is being delivered this week and the 8x12 shed shortly after. We also scoped out several security companies and settled on an ADT system through a company called California Security Pro.  It was a smooth process- the salesperson, Greg, was not pushy and our technician, Jeremy, was fab. I highly recommend them. They were even able to connect our garage which stands separate from our house. We did decide to install outdoor cameras too but we decided to do those ourselves. Anyhow this experience gave me a crash course in getting to know my County Supervisor, my Assemblyman and my POP (Problem Oriented Policing) Officer for my neighborhood and what’s being done about the escalation in crime since the passage of Prop 47.  Our POP Officer turned out to be great…and responsive! I also got to know the lead for our Neighborhood Watch…she’s on top of things and constantly in contact with the various law enforcement for our area.  I never knew living by the river and a park would be such a hassle. Homeless, tweakers, and crazies galore down this way.  If you’re not already using it, I highly suggest signing up for Nextdoor.com. It’s free and I access it from my laptop and the app on my phone.  I was shocked at all the stuff going on in my neighborhood that I had no idea about!

So anyway, now that you’re caught up-- Let’s talk food!  You know how I love Mr. S’s balsamic grilled asparagus and portabellas, right? Well, we found a new recipe for asparagus, we’re equally crazy about- Sesame-Soy Grilled Asparagus.  I found the recipe in the March 2015, Rachel Ray Mag and we’ve made it several times since.  It’s quite delicious.  A nice Asian twist to the typical grilled asparagus side dish and takes just a few minutes to prep.

Sesame-Soy Grilled Asparagus

Ingredients

1 bunch asparagus, trimmed
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger
1 scallion sliced (optional)
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds

Instructions

1.      Preheat grill or grill pan to high.
2.      In a large bowl, mix together soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, and ginger.
3.      Add asparagus.  Coat well. (I like to let it marinate for a few minutes.)
4.      Place asparagus on grill, turning until slightly charred- about 5-6 minutes.
5.      Garnish with scallions and sesame seeds. Serves 4.
Ally

Last night, Mr.S and I had dinner at a small restaurant in the SOMA district of San Francisco, called Fringale.  I had dined there about 5-6 years ago with my friend Grace and had really enjoyed my meal there, so I talked Mr.S. into going back there to dine.  I had had a shitstorm of a week, seriously of epic proportions- my mom passed away, some horrid delinquent went through my neighborhood slashing tires and keying cars (my car was one of the ones that got hit) and to top it off- in the middle of the night, some jerk did a major hit and run on my rental car.  Like I said, shitstorm of epic proportions.  I was beginning to feel a lot like Job.  Anyhow in an effort to clear my mind and calm my nerves, I thought Fringale would be a nice place to grab a pleasant meal of French comfort food. WRONG.

The gentleman behind the bar, that greeted us when we arrived, seemed very friendly and sat us at a nice 2-top by the window.  We had a foie with quince jam appetizer that was okay (Mulvaney's does it better) and a calamari la plancha dish, which was nice but not as memorable as when I had it during my last visit.  It really needed seasoning.  Anyhow, things were fine until we got our entrees.  Both of us ordered the sea bass, which was supposed to be served over a potato puree with artichokes. What we ended up with was potato puree sloppily plopped in a bowl with bits of artichoke and some kind of red broth (hard to tell if it was a tomato or red pepper based broth). On top was a piece of sea bass about  1.5 inches wide and 5 inches long.  This is THE most overcooked piece of fish I have ever eaten. It was dry as the Sahara and tough. Mr.S. gacked on his too but he hates to send things back. So he cut his up and tried to have it absorb some of the red liquid it was swimming in. I had had such a craptastic week that I couldn't deal with it. I very politely signaled the waiter over and explained what the situation was.  His response was to ask Mr.S if his fish too was overly dry.  Mr.S. advised him it was. So he took (only) my plate back to the kitchen.  What? Anyhow, a few minutes later he returned, handed me a menu and brusquely advised me that, "the chef always prepares the fish that way and no one has ever complained." He then informed me that I should choose something else.  At this point I'm a bit perturbed. After the horrible week I'd had, the LAST thing I needed was this snooty French waiter being a dick to me.  I really wanted to tell him that if that's how his chef ALWAYS cooks his fish, overdone to the point that it was not consumable, then that was a sad testament to his skills.  However, at the risk of ruining Mr.S's night too, I ordered the mussels.  I mean really...who can f*ck up mussels, right? The mussels arrived and they were fine. We opted to have dessert elsewhere and I mentally crossed Fringale off my list of restaurants to return to or recommend,

Anyhow, I thought I'd share a fish recipe that we make at our house often.  I ran across it by happenstance-- one of those emailed recipes from Tasting Table.  It's quite good, tasty with or without the ginger yogurt sauce and very hard to screw up (take note, Mr. Fringale chef).

Chile-Garlic Broiled Salmon with Ginger Yogurt Salmon (from the Tasting Table Test Kitchen)


Ingredients
Nonstick cooking spray
Four 6-ounce salmon fillets
1 tablespoon chile-garlic paste (sambal oelek)
1 tablespoon white miso paste
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon maple syrup
For Sauce:
¼ cup reduced-fat plain Greek yogurt
½ teaspoon chile-garlic sauce (sambal oelek)
½ teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce 
½ teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1 scallion, thinly sliced on a bias
Instructions
1. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and lightly coat the foil with cooking spray. Place the salmon fillets on top. 
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the chile-garlic sauce, miso and maple syrup. Divide the mixture over the top of each salmon fillet, spreading it to coat the tops and sides easily.
3. Adjust the oven rack so it is 5 inches from the broiler element and heat the broiler to high. Broil the salmon until the tops of the fillets are browned and sizzling and the center of each fillet gives slightly to firm pressure, 8½ to 9 minutes. (The sauce gets a crispy, dark look to it as it caramelizes.)  Remove from the oven and set aside to rest.
4. While the salmon cooks, make the sauce: In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt, chile-garlic sauce, soy sauce and ginger.
5. Place 1 salmon fillet on each plate and serve with a dollop of the ginger yogurt sauce and sprinkled with scallions.