follow me on my new facebook page!

boy it's been difficult to keep up with this blog. remembering to snap photos during the cooking process, remember to bring my canon s90 camera to the restaurant for good low light photos, getting the right plated shot, and then posting those photos and writing an interesting blog post takes a lot of time... time i unfortunately don't have these days given my new job.

so i've converted over to an easier format: facebook!!

if you've enjoyed this blog, please go to facebook.com/wednesdaynitedinner and Like my page to get updates on restaurant reviews and my cooking adventures in the san francisco bay area and beyond! thanks for all your support over the years. =)

now... time to plan thanksgiving dinner... with only 4 days left in the countdown!! what special dish are you making this year? here's my turkey from last year in san francisco...


valentine's dinner

when you eat at some of the best restaurants in the country on a regular basis, the idea of scrounging up a reservation at a hot restaurant (if even possible), be seated next to other lubby dubby couples where you get absolutely no privacy and have to yell your sweet nothings at each other, and be relegated to its "special valentine's menu" instead of be able to order what you really want from the menu (read: what can we serve that's cheap and easy to make en masse and we can charge $50 per guest), is just absurd.

so this year, i decided to make my own five course valentine's dinner for my sweetheart at home. it's been a while since i've posted (sorry) and i really haven't been cooking much at all, but it was a joy to get back into the kitchen and whipping up some good grub. it was also exciting to work with some fun, luxurious ingredients. no prep pictures this time, as i was under deadline, so use your imagination. =) so without further ado...

the menu...

oysters ready for shucking! quick note: after getting your oysters home from the bar or farm, i recommend scrubbing them down with a brush in cold water to get rid of dirt and grime and make the shucking process a little cleaner. also, if you're not shucking immediately, place the oysters, deep cup side down in a bowl and cover with a wet kitchen towel in the fridge for up to 2 days max.

first course: beau soleil (atlantic northwest) and hog island sweetwater (pacific tomales bay) oysters on the half shell with champagne mignonette. i picked up both from the hog island oyster bar in the ferry building and shucked them right before serving. the beau soleils were bright, briny and meaty while the sweetwaters were sweeter and more delicate. what really brought it all together was the mignonette, a simple but tasty mixture of 2 tablespoons champagne vinegar, a minced shallot, 1/4 t salt, 1/4 pepper, and another 2 tablespoons of champagne poured right before serving. great way to start off the meal after popping the bubbly.

a 2 lb live lobster freshly steamed for about 14 minutes over boiling water. left to cool off, i then cracked the shells, and removed and coarsely chopped the delicate meat. the shells were then added to a small sauce pan with some water, bay leaf and black peppercorns to reduce down to 1 tablespoon of lobstery essence.

third course: warm lobster salad over butter lettuce with tarragon butter. the above lobster essence was whisked with 4 tablespoons of butter and seasoned with tarragon, lemon, salt and pepper to create the lobster dressing. after warming the lobster morsels in the dressing, i layered the meat over butter lettuce dressed with a little olive oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper. the brightness and acidity of the lemon cut through the richness of the lobster and butter perfectly and the tarragon added a light liquorice note. quite rich on the palate. and how many times do you get to cook and devour a whole lobster!?

third course: salmon sushi and seaweed salad. continuing the seafood theme, i thought it'd be nice to include some fresh fish. both the sushi and seaweed salad came from nijiya market in j town. very fresh and a nice counterpoint to the richness of the last course.

fourth course: roasted miso marinated chilean sea bass with wasabi mashed purple potatoes and blue lake green beans. i originally wanted black cod for this, as i intended to make nobu's famed miso black cod, but nijiya market was out and the fish monger recommended the chilean sea bass as the next best substitute. boy, he was right. the filets, marinated in a sweet miso paste of red miso, sake, mirin and sugar for 2 days, was browned in a grill pan for a couple of minutes and then roasted in the oven for another 10 min until moist and flaky. so tasty, sweet and savory. the purple potatoes, mashed with shallots, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper, provided a tasty and light starch and the green beans were simply blanched. yum, yum, yum.

fifth course: lemon curd panna cotta and lavender short bread cookies. if you're a regular of my blog, you probably know i don't bake or really make desserts. never really successful at it. so seeing as i had 4 other courses to prepare, i decided to take the easy route and pick up dessert at miette patisserie at the ferry building. light, lemony panna cotta paired well with the buttery, crumbly lavender cookies and was a nice way to wrap up a luxurious but light meal. too bad my sweetheart wasn't all that into lemony desserts. oh well, more for me!

the meal was paired with a wonderful bottle of 2006 domaine carneros brut rose from napa. crisp, clean but with enough heft to match the richness of the seafood menu but enough bubbles to cut through it as well.

my sweetheart had a fantastic time and i, apparently, got five stars. ;) next year, think about preparing your special someone a simple yet luxurious dinner for two at home. put on some slinky jazz, add a roaring fireplace (or in my instance, the youtube fireplace video on my flat screen tv), some candles and a whole lot of canoodling and you'll have a very fun, intimate and romantic valentine's that won't put you out 3 bills. ;) happy valentine's day!


roast chicken: making it last a week without getting bored - nite 2

this is nite 2 of a series called "roast chicken: making it last a week without getting bored." yesterday i roasted a whole chicken and enjoyed a good meal for $3. now lets look at how i repurpose the chicken breast meat and create something that tastes new and yummy without spending much more cash.

this recipe comes from ina garten's barefoot contessa at home, one of my favorite cookbooks right now. i took the 2 chicken breasts, peeled off the skins and diced the meat into 1/2 inch chunks. the meat was still moist and tender from last nite and nicely seasoned already. to that i added 3 stalks of celery chopped, a cup of green grapes sliced in half lengthwise, a couple tablespoons of chopped fresh tarragon, a 1/2 cup or so mayo, salt and freshly ground black pepper.

i combined all the ingredients well in a large bowl and transferred the chicken salad to a tightly covered plastic container to chill in the fridge and let the flavors meld.

after an hour, i took sliced off half of the dutch crunch roll i bought yesterday and split it in half. i spread some grey poupon dijon on the bottom half, layered a few pieces of thinly sliced parmesan, added some fresh greens and topped with a serious serving of chicken salad veronique. oh and 2 garlic-stuffed olives for good measure.

mmm! this chicken salad is a great combination of flavors and textures. the mayo to meat ratio is perfect. the crunchy celery goes great against the tender meat. and the liquorice profile of the tarragon is matched by the sweet and slightly tart green grapes. i ended up eating extra spoonfuls of the stuff between bites of the sandwich!

and what's great? it tastes nothing like last nite's roasted chicken meal. very different and satisfying. and how much did this cost? well, if we count just costs for tonite's meal, it comes out to about, oh $2.75. nice huh? so far, this week, i've spent only $5.75 on 2 fantastic dinners. tomorrow, roast chicken & wild rice soup.


roast chicken: making it last a week without getting bored - nite 1

these days it seems like we all try to squeeze a little more out of a little less. my comfy new apartment perched high above the san franciscan valleys with a view of the transamerica building and oakland hills in the distance is taking a toll on my checkbook (along with, of course, the weekly $50 dinners at all the fabulous hotspot restaurants this damn city has).

oh, what's one to do? well, cut back. food (and my weekend bar tabs) takes the biggest chunk out of my paycheck every month. how do you conserve cash when most of what you spend is on an essential, food?! i suppose i can downgrade what i eat - no more $10 salads from mixt greens, instead, $6 worth of greasy chinese takeout from b&m mei sing on 2nd street - but i'm not interested, or willing, to do that everyday. so then?

i realized i could cut back quite a bit by cooking dinner more at home. cooking for one gets a little monotonous though. no one to impress, no one to ooh and aah over your masterpiece. and my taste for variety and good ingredients gets expensive. ok, so then?

go onto any cooking site and they'll feature at least one article on how to make a meal stretch out over the week. it usually involves cooking some protein once early in the week and using that meat in imaginative ways over the next few days. repurposing. that works for me. here's the menu for the week:

nite 1: roast chicken with thyme and rosemary, wild rice and greens tossed with a red wine vinaigrette
nite 2: chicken salad veronique sandwich
nite 3: roast chicken & wild rice soup
nite 4: chicken salad veronique and greens

after work monday i swung by safeway to pick up a 5.5 lbs whole chicken. it was on sale for $0.79/lb. score. i also picked up a dutch crunch roll. i proceeded to roast the chicken the same way i did earlier this month in the roasted chicken with salsa di giovanna and sauteed brussels sprouts post. this time i added a couple of sprigs of rosemary into the cavity alongside the thyme. the chicken came out perfectly cooked this time around.

after resting the bird under foil for 10 minutes, i sliced of my favorite part, the thigh and leg, and plated that with some wild rice pilaf that'd been cooking for about an hour and some mixed greens tossed in a quickly made vinaigrette of red wine vinegar, honey, olive oil, salt and pepper.

in a never ending quest to become better at plating, i took one of my square molds and patted a nice square of wild rice down on the plate to add a little interest. fun. i finished off the chicken and rice by drizzling extra virgin kalamata olive oil over and around. kalamata olive oil has a stronger, more assertive olive flavor to it. good stuff.

the chicken is tender, moist and flavorful. the greens have the acidity to cut through the chicken fat. and the rice is substantial enough to fill up the tummy nicely. a glass of crisp, fruity bota boxed chardonnay rounds out the meal.

a good start to the week so far. this meal cost me about $3. after dinner, i sliced up the rest of the chicken, removing the other thigh and leg, wings, and breast meat from the carcass, saving everything in tupperware for the next meals. tomorrow nite: chicken salad veronique - an ina garten recipe! this experiment of squeezing a little more out of a little less might just work well...


pan-roasted basa with new potatoes, tomatoes, spanish olives and kale

inspiration for tonite's dinner comes courtesy of food network's recipe of the day post on facebook, tilapia with hash browns. i'm always looking for ideas on how to cook fish, as i'm not the most confident with it in the kitchen, and the simplicity of a one-pan fish roast sounded great to a guy who's been working late lately. it also sounded like a recipe that could be repurposed easily with other similar white fish, giving me yet another technique to draw upon next time i'm faced with preparing fish.

i headed to safeway and decided to build a more rustic fish roast, based on a couple of such entrees i've had at restaurants like nopa and others. i picked up a bag of new potatoes which would add some more substance to the dish versus hash browns that just sounded too greasy. i then picked up a bunch of kale, some roma tomatoes, a jar of garlic stuffed olives (like these more than the pimento-stuffed ones) and rosemary.

i was about to ask the fishmonger for a pound of tilapia fillets and then noticed some other white fish next to it which looked a little more moist and meaty than the flimsy tilapia. i can't remember the name, but the guy said it was similar to catfish. a quick look at the label now reveals it was basa fish, a mild white fish. i know it wasn't labeled basa at the store, but it definitely matches the descriptions on the web.

once i got home, i fired up the oven to 400 degrees, sliced the new potatoes and started browning them in olive oil over medium heat. 3 cloves of chopped garlic went in as well, along with salt and black pepper.

while the potatoes browned, i chopped 2 roma tomatoes, 3 leaves of kale, and a handful of the olives. these were tossed with a little bit of olive oil and salt and pepper.

i took one basa fillet and chopped it into large chunks. i then seasoned it with salt, pepper, crushed rosemary, and some tumeric for color.

i then layered the kale and half the tomato mixture over the potatoes, then the basa, and the remaining tomatoes.

the whole skillet went into the hot oven for about 15 minutes to roast. once i got to around 10 minutes on the clock, i kept a close eye on the fish to make sure it was cooked through but not starting to dry out. (i hate dry fish.) i was looking for medium doneness.

plating was a little complex, as there are a lot of ingredients in the dish, but it presents beautifully. the tumeric was a last minute addition, but i think it add just the right punch of color against the rich greens and reds of the kale and tomatoes. and the roasted rosemary sprig was a nice touch. to finish the dish, i drizzled extra virgin olive oil over everything and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice to bring it all together.

this dish was a delight to eat. the basa fish is extremely tender and moist and is really similar to catfish but a bit milder in flavor. the tumeric and rosemary gave it a subtle but substantial flavor. the kale was tender where it was under the fish, but crispy where it was exposed to the heat, a nice contrast in texture. and the tomatoes and olives provided a nice acidic, salty punch to the smooth and starchy potatoes.

all in all, a very easy dish to prepare and it's great that it's all done in one pan. i can easily see substituting the basa with tilapia, catfish or even cod, which would be amazing. it's also a pretty cost-effective dinner. total cost for this meal comes out to around $7.50. and you know fish entrees usually clock in around $20. a success on many levels!


sauteed shrimp with chile, lemon and thai basil, summer squash saute and wild rice pilaf

whenever my friend nerissa and i get together we know it's going to be a long night of fun conversation. so this time around, i suggested we have dinner at my place where i could cook us a nice meal and we could gossip leisurely over a bottle of wine in a comfy space without feeling rushed by a waiter. yes, i haven't made a wednesday nite dinner in a while...

i decided to go with a one-plate entree inspired by a food post in the kitchn blog, chili, lemon, and basil shrimp with israeli couscous to keep prep to a minimum. after work today, i ran into safeway, picked up a pound of large 31/40 count raw shrimp and a container of raw macademia nuts (because i love macademias and i figured it would add a little crunch and texture to the dish). i then ran across the street to golden produce to pick up other ingredients.

while in the produce store, i realized i needed to add some vegetables to balance the protein/starch recipe. i settled on some nice yellow and italian squash and grabbed a roma tomato for acidity. with groceries in bag and hand, i jumped on the muni back up the hill home.

once home i got the wild rice pilaf going (the store didn't have israeli, or pearl, couscous, so i substituted a wild rice mix that would add texture and color to the dish. a cup of rice, 2 cups of chicken broth and a pat of butter simmered on the stove for about an hour until fluffy.

while the rice simmered, i diced up the squash and sauteed them with some garlic and shallots over medium heat in olive oil until soft and caramelized. i then added the diced tomato and seasoned liberally with salt and pepper, some cumin seed, some chopped cilantro, more olive oil, and a couple of tablespoons of red wine vinegar to balance out the flavors. as the saute was pretty soft, i crushed a handful of the macademia nuts and added that to the mixture for some crunchy texture. the whole concoction simmered over low heat for another 10 min or so which really helped all the flavors meld.

when the rice was ready, i turned my attention to the shrimp, which would cook quickly once they hit the pan. i heated a saute pan over high heat, added olive oil, chopped garlic and red chilies, and quickly added the shelled, deveined and butterflied shrimp. once they started turning opaque, i grated the zest of one lemon into the pan, squeezed the juice from said lemon, and added a big handful of coarsely chopped thai basil leaves. a quick stir and the shrimp was ready.

to plate, i layered the rice pilaf in a bowl, followed by a hearty portion of shrimp, and then garnished with the squash saute. sorry for the lack of usual step-by-step pictures, but i was too engaged in conversation with nerissa sitting across the counter to remember to grab my camera. but here's the plated result...

i must say, the flavors, textures and colors came together very nicely for a one-plate entree. the shrimp was fresh, springy and spicy with a nice lemon punch from the citrus and lemony thai basil. the summer squash saute had the right amount of acidity, thanks to the tomato and red wine vinegar, to cut through the olive oil in both the squash and shrimp sautees, and the cumin seed added just a touch of mediterranean to the dish. the rich wild rice pilaf was a perfect match, adding crunch and texture as well as a nice dark color base to the dish.

nerissa brought a lovely bottle of 2007 ledson russian river valley sauvignon blanc which paired perfectly with its bright floral and fruity pineapple notes. oh, and note my awesome new orange, basket-weave square placemats from cb2!

all in all, dinner was ready in an hour and nerissa and i settled into an evening of non-stop conversation and laughs while devouring everything on our plates, in the pots and pans, and bottle and glasses. what a great wednesday nite...


roasted chicken with salsa di giovanna and sauteed brussels sprouts

roast chicken is one of those soul-warming dishes that are just amazing on a cold, foggy nite in summery san francisco. you may think roasting a whole chicken is a difficult thing, but actually, it's one of the most simplest in terms of preparation and pretty difficult to screw up. it's also inexpensive to make.

this recipe comes from james peterson's cooking, a massive, award-winning cookbook that explores the kitchen essentials and basic cooking techniques that every chef should know. the recipe is very simple compared to others but also very effective and quite tasty. once you get the technique down, you can then vary the recipe by adding aromatics, marinades, dry rubs and so on. so let's get to it.

i start with a fresh young chicken of about 5 pounds and truss the legs and wings with kitchen twine to keep the package compact. the neck and giblets go down around the chicken in a pan that is just large enough to hold everything. this is important because exposed pan surfaces can easily burn and smoke.

the entire chicken is seasoned liberally with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. i also inserted a few sprigs of thyme in the cavity. not part of the recipe, but i had some extra and wanted to get rid of the thyme before it went bad.

a triple layer of foil is rubbed with a tablespoon of room temperature butter and covers the breast, buttered-side down. this protects the breast meat from cooking too fast and drying out before the thigh meat is done. the chicken then goes into a pre-heated oven at 450 degrees for 25 minutes to roast.

with the chicken in the oven, i turned towards prepping the salsa di giovanna which is basically a vinaigrette of lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil and herbs. i last used this over swordfish a couple of weeks ago with much success and knew it would taste amazing on roasted chicken. so i chopped up a few sprigs of mint and oregano, thinly sliced 3 cloves of garlic, and juiced one lemon into a measuring cup.

i combined the lemon juice with three times as much extra virgin olive oil and whisked them into an emulsion. the garlic and herbs went in and sea salt and black pepper seasoned to taste. once combined, i set this aside to let the flavors meld.

after 25 minutes of roasting, i removed the foil from the breast. after another 15 minutes, i checked between the breast and thigh with an instant read thermometer for a temperature of 140 degrees, which would mean the chicken was perfectly done. but i was getting inconsistent readings and when i tilted the chicken to its side, the drippings were still cloudy red. i put it back into the oven for another 10 minutes until the juices ran clear with red streaks. (completely clear juices mean the chicken is overcooked.)

once the chicken was properly done, i let it stand for 10 minutes while i sauteed some sliced brussels sprouts in a little butter until nicely browned. a dusting of salt and black pepper finished off the side dish.

time to plate! i like dark meat so i sliced off the thigh and leg portion and plated it with some of the brussels sprouts and drizzled the vinaigrette over and around the chicken.

the peterson recipe yields moist and flavorful meat that pretty much fell off the bone. while the skin wasn't as crispy as i'd have liked - more time in the oven would've remedied this but that would also have run the risk of overcooking the breast meat - it was plenty tasty and i'd rather have moist, juicy meat over dry, grainy stuff anyday. the chicken tasted fantastic. perfectly seasoned and accented by the salsa di giovanna, giving it a green and lemony bite.

all in all, oven time was around 60 minutes while active prep time was only about 10-15 min. the 5 pound chicken cost me less than $5. cost of tonite's dinner plate? oh, less than $2. average cost for the same entree at a san franciscan eatery? probably around $15-18. of course, my safeway chicken isn't organic, local or free-range, but you know...

for some reason, i always think of roast chicken as a chore to make, but it looks like i just proved myself wrong. the savings in budget is mighty satisfying too.