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Tag Archives: dinner

Creamy Cauliflower Fennel Soup Recipe

Quick and Easy Velvety Vegetable Soup

Cauliflower soup with fennel adds depth to this dinner. Photo by Christine Willmsen

Cauliflower soup with fennel adds depth to this dinner. Photo by Christine Willmsen

This is a healthy, yet rich tasting soup that takes minutes to cook and has only a couple of ingredients. We often crave something hot and filling during these cold nights, so this soup hits the spot. Cauliflower is a powerful vegetable known for its vitamin C and K. I added fennel to the soup for a twist that gives a hint of licorice flavor. To ensure any soup maintains a flawless white color, use white pepper. This will make two bowls of soup, because we always want seconds when it’s this good.

You’ll be shocked there’s no butter or cream in this decadent dinner when you taste it. Enjoy it with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

Hot in the Kitchen – Cauliflower Fennel Soup

Ingredients:cauiflower

3 tablespoons of olive oil

1 small head of cauliflower cut into large chunks

1/2 cup chicken broth or water

3 green onions chopped

1 teaspoon white pepperfennel

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon garlic paste

1/2 cup sliced fennel or half of a fennel bulb with center core removed

1/4 cup whole milk

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh or dried chives

cookIn a medium pot, heat olive oil to medium high heat. Add cauliflower, chicken broth and green onions. Sprinkle in white pepper, salt and garlic paste and stir ingredients. Boil ingredients for five minutes. Add fennel and continue to cook at medium heat for five minutes. Put all ingredients into a blender such as a
VitaMix and add 1/4 cup milk. Blend on variable speed for blended soup15 seconds and then on high for 15 seconds. If using a blender, mix ingredients until thick and whipped.  Serve in a bowl and sprinkle chives on top.

For vegetarian soup substitute water for the chick broth.

Cheers

Christine

 

 

Dinner at a San Francisco restaurant worth the hefty price

Benu – an Asian-influenced restaurant takes me on an 18-course food journey

Salmon with cherries and sour cabbage. Photo by Christine Willmsen

Salmon with cherries and sour cabbage. Photo by Christine Willmsen

Rarely am I speechless. Rarely can I find the words to describe food. But when I stepped into Benu, a restaurant that combined Asian flavors with European techniques, I immediately knew it was going to be a rare experience. After attending the Investigative Reporters and Editors Conference in San Francisco, I needed a food fix. Benu, located in a historic building in the SOMA district, only took reservations. But like most journalists I had to try to get in, and so I walked to the restaurant and asked if they had any cancellations.

Cooking staff at Benu create 18 course dinners. Photo by Christine Willmsen

Cooking staff at Benu create 18 course dinners. Photo by Christine Willmsen

Keep in mind most places like this offer fine dining and a price fixe menu but they don’t cater to just one person. There is no bar or lounge and no solo seating. But the Benu manager said “let me see what I can do.” While I thought there was no way I was going to get into this coveted 3-star Michelin restaurant, the staff whispered back and forth for several minutes.

Soon, and to my surprise, I was whisked to a table, set for one in a dining room with dark wood and grey and black walls. Only a few simple art pieces hung on the walls ensuring there would be few distractions from the food experience. I bubbled with excitement not just because I got a seat at this restaurant, but because I was going to be there for hours. Yes – hours of pure indulgence, because what awaiting me was a theatrical performance of service and food presentation.

I wasn’t intimidated by the price – $195, but I had to pace my stomach. Why? Because 18 courses awaited my taste buds. Some of them were just bite-size explosions of flavor but others were substantial portions on the plate. Knowing the price tag, I savored every bite.

A night full of unexpected flavors colliding

Quail egg, potage, ginger for the first course. Photo by Christine Willmsen

Quail egg, potage, ginger for the first course. Photo by Christine Willmsen

I’ve been to several high-end restaurants with interesting combinations of flavors, but rarely have I had an experience like Benu, where I couldn’t find words to describe the food. After several courses I realized I was tasting food that this Midwest girl had never had before, so there was no frame of reference to convey flavors, ingredients and spices.

Luckily staff was there to assist in describing the ingredients and how they were prepared by Chef Corey Lee and his team. While each of the 18 courses was unique, there were several standouts that showcased the chef’s creativity and skill.

The night started with a thousand-year-old quail egg, potage with ginger that had an undescribable yet enjoyable flavor with a silky texture.

The beggar's purse of treasures from the oak combined earthy flavors. Photo by Christine Willmsen

The beggar’s purse of treasures from the oak combined earthy flavors. Photo by Christine Willmsen

The surprising dish of the night was the “beggar’s purse of treasures from the oak,” a pouch of earthy juices and flavors that combined truffles, mushrooms, egg yolk and Iberico ham that melted on the tongue. They presented this on a glass disc that was flipped into different shapes as the courses progressed. Often times the food appeared to be floating above the plate.

 

 

Nestled in a fish boat, salmon roe, eggplant, buckwheat and perilla resembled an abstract painting more than another course. The buckwheat cracked with a crunch like cereal in my mouth.

A hearty helping of wild summer salmon with cherry and sour cabbage, reminded me a bit of the Northwest. The salmon was cooked perfectly to medium rare and the cabbage provided a contrasting texture.

The fragile lobster coral xiao long boa melted in my mouth. Photo by Christine Willmsen

The fragile lobster coral xiao long boa melted in my mouth. Photo by Christine Willmsen

The lobster coral xiao long bao was memorable with its feminine paper-thin pockets of pillowy liquid lobster broth disintegrated in my mouth instantly, with no need to chew.

And then there was what I like to call – lick the bowl moment – when I sipped the faux “shark fin soup,” with dungeness crab and Jinhua ham custard.

 

 

Faux shark fin soup with Jinhua ham was rich, silky and aromatic. Photo by Christine Willmsen

Faux shark fin soup with Jinhua ham was rich, silky and aromatic. Photo by Christine Willmsen

An unidentifiable smell hovering below my face, with the broth having numerous ingredients including chicken, garlic, ham, ginger and carrot. But the texture of the Jinhua ham had a remarkable, creamy texture that I’d not experienced. The server said they finely grade the ham from eastern China while it’s still frozen to create the texture. In the end out of courtesy for other guests, I refrained from licking the bowl.

 

 

Rely on Sommelier to choose your drinks

Chocolates hidden in wood boxes surprise the guests. Photo by Christine Willmsen

Chocolates hidden in wood boxes surprise guests. Photo by Christine Willmsen

I stayed away from adding the beverage pairing for an additional $150. Instead, I relied on the sommelier to choose just a couple of beverage pairings that would last the evening and hold up to multiple courses.

I started with a glass of Chablis for the first few courses, then a bone-dry Junmai sake with flavors of lychee and unripened Anjou pear. I completed the night with a Pinot Noir to match my salmon, roast quail and braised beef.

The night ended with a server opened and spun wooden boxes in different angles to offer hidden chocolate desserts.

Not once during the evening did I feel uncomfortable sitting at my table alone. I walked out of the restaurant with a dreamy smile and a bulging, satisfied stomach. The exploration of flavors was worth the price.

Cheers

Christine

Benu on Urbanspoon

Chorizo Stuffed Acorn Squash Recipe

Ditch the traditional sweet recipes for acorn squash and try this savory and spicy recipe. Photo by Christine Willmsen

Ditch the traditional sweet recipes for acorn squash and try this savory and spicy recipe. Photo by Christine Willmsen

Spice up Acorn Squash with Chorizo stuffing

A savory stuffed squash is a great dinner on a cold night. Skip the sweet version of acorn squash with butter, cinnamon and brown sugar and go for a spicy kick by using chorizo. This is a no-fuss recipe I created after craving a stuffed acorn squash. The nutty sweet flavors of the squash explode with the combination of chorizo, which is Spanish sausage that can be purchased at most grocery stores.
Squash is high in fiber, vitamin C and potassium.

Buy one squash and you can enjoy one half for dinner and the other one you can warm up for lunch. This is also a great recipe if you are having a friend over for dinner.

Hot in the Kitchen: Chorizo Stuffed Acorn SquashIngredients for recipe

Ingredients:
1 acorn squash
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper
½ pound ground chorizo (Spanish sausage)
¼ cup onion minced
1/8 cup red pepper finely chopped
½ cup potato finely chopped
¼ cup kale finely chopped
1 tablespoon golden raisins chopped
1/3 cup mozzarella

Score squash and salt and pepperPreheat oven to 350 degrees while you cut the acorn squash in half lengthwise and clean out the inside seeds and mush with a spoon. Score each half with a knife, by lightly cutting vertically and horizontally on the inside. Brush olive oil all over the insides of both halves and then salt and pepper them liberally. Cook for 30 minutes, while you finely chop all the ingredients for the stuffing. Sauté on medium heat the onion, pepper and chorizo for five minutes until tender and add potatoes, kale and golden raisins and cook for another five minutes. Stuff each half of squash with the mixture and cook for another 30 minutes. Sprinkle mozzarella on each half and broil at 500 degrees for two minutes or until light brown.

Cheers

Christine

This Seattle restaurant’s menu is diverse and fresh

Ever-changing menu at Blind Pig Bistro makes it a worthy restaurant to revisit

Three words describe the Blind Pig Bistro in Seattle’s Eastlake neighborhood: seasonal, local and creative. This small restaurant seating less than 30 people is sandwiched between a Subway and teriyaki restaurant in a tiny strip mall at 2238 Eastlake Ave. E. But don’t let the size of the restaurant be the judge of what this restaurant can cook.

The small kitchen at the Blind Pig Bistro prepares a 12-courses tasting menu for visitors. A large blackboard on the wall is a menu that serves as a cheat sheet for what your palate will be tasting throughout the night. Come hungry and pace yourself at this casual restaurant that takes no reservations. It’s best to plan this dining excursion with a group of friends (a total of 4 works best) so that you can order the tasting menu that’s shared at the table for a total of $130-$170 depending on the fresh menu. For about $40 per person, you can try numerous dishes that will wow your taste buds.

Chef Charles Walpole modifies the menu every couple of days, and overhauls it about once a week focusing on local ingredients and fresh seasonal products coming from farmers in the area. Through the International Food Bloggers Conference and Urbanspoon, several food bloggers from across the country, included myself dined at the Blind Pig Bistro. Bloggers said the food was fresh, provocative and well-balanced. The favorite dishes were the steak with charred eggplant, duck and zucchini salad.

If you need to nibble, experience their happy hour of small bites of the chef’s desire for $5 and wine by the glass for the same price. Recent reviews of the restaurant include:

The Seattle Times

Eater Seattle

Seattle Met

Cheers

Christine

Blind Pig Bistro on Urbanspoon

Squid Ink Pasta with Scallops

Squid Ink Pasta Adds Color to this Recipe

Want to jazz up your pasta dinner with a little color? Try flavored or colored pasta like squid ink.  While the thought of squid for some people may make them say – yuck- I know many of you are daring enough to try it.

My video will show you just how easy it is to create this visually stimulating dish that combines squid ink pasta, scallops and fresh vegetables.

Frankly the best part of the squid ink pasta is the deep, rich black color. Cephalopods like squid release the dark liquid as a defense, and the liquid is extracted from the ink sacs of the squid when they are being harvested.

Black squid ink pasta is the perfect color contrast to the seared scallops. Photo by Christine Willmsen

Black squid ink pasta is the perfect color contrast to the seared scallops. Photo by Christine Willmsen

And for those who are scared of the flavor – fear not – squid ink pasta tastes very similar to wheat pasta with a subtle salty flavor. There typically is a small percentage of ink that’s added to the water and dough that creates the black color. Squid ink pasta and other types such as tomato, basil and spinach can be bought at gourmet grocery stores like Central Market for $9 and online at Marx Foods.

In my last video and blog post I showed you step-by-step how to sear scallops in a pan like a professional. Now that you know it’s simple to cook scallops, making this dish will be easy to do when you get home from work. A great wine to pair with this dinner is a glass of Spanish Albariño.

Hot in the Kitchen: Squid Ink Pasta with Seared Scallops

Boil squid ink pasta for eight minutes. Photo by Christine Willmsen

Boil squid ink pasta for eight minutes. Photo by Christine Willmsen

Ingredients:

1/4 bag of dry squid ink pasta

3 defrosted or fresh large scallops

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 gloves garlic minced

1/4 cup red pepper diced

3/4 cup cherry or small yellow tomatoes

2 tablespoons chopped basil

1 tablespoon chopped thyme and parsley (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

Rinse scallops, pat them really dry with paper towel and lightly season with salt and pepper. Pour one tablespoon olive oil into pan that’s reached medium-high heat and add scallops. Don’t move or flip them. Cook for two to three minutes until brown. Flip and cook an additional two minutes. Remove scallops from pan and let them rest. Boil pasta in unsalted water for 8 minutes.

In the pan combine the remaining olive oil, garlic, red peppers, tomatoes, salt and pepper. Sauté for approximately six minutes on medium heat, then add basil, thyme and parsley and cook for an additional two minutes. Add scallops to the pan to warm them up. After draining the pasta, combine it with scallops and sauce.

Cheers

Christine

Restaurant brings French flair to Bainbridge Island

Three fun ways to enjoy Bainbridge Island for the day through food, walks and a museum

If eating solo, sit near the kitchen where you can watch Chef Greg Atkinson and his team use fresh ingredients for their dishes. Photo by Christine Willmsen

If eating solo, sit near the kitchen where you can watch Chef Greg Atkinson and his team use fresh ingredients for their dishes. Photo by Christine Willmsen

Restaurant Marché, a bistro with a French-influenced menu, is reason enough to visit Bainbridge Island. Owner and Chef Greg Atkinson consistently prepares great food with a focus on local ingredients. But there’s more to see and do on this island.

With ferries leaving almost every hour from Seattle, Bainbridge is the perfect getaway for the solo traveler – either by foot or by car.

What better excuse do you need than a fantastic restaurant, verdant gardens and a new museum to visit Bainbridge Island for the day?

If the beautiful ferry ride over to this island getaway isn’t enough nature, I recommend you take your car on the ferry and then drive to the Bloedel Reserve. The 150-acre forest is lush with gardens and ponds. If you are keenly interested in birds, don’t forget your binoculars for this stroll.

After walking the trails for a couple miles, head back to Bainbridge Island’s downtown area – Winslow Way – where shops, the new museum and a wine tasting room will keep your senses engaged.

The great attraction about Bainbridge is that you don’t need a car if you just want to wander about downtown for the day.

New Museum captures creativity of local artists

The Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, right on Winslow Way, between the ferry terminal and downtown shops, is a feast for the eyes. The museum, which opened in June, is free and features artist from the Puget Sound area.

At this point, you’ve built up an appetite and there’s no better place to curb it than Restaurant Marché.

Comfort and quality lead you to Marché

The lyonnaise salad has a perfectly cooked egg via sous vide as the centerpiece. Photo by Christine Willmsen

The lyonnaise salad has a perfectly cooked egg via sous vide as the centerpiece. Photo by Christine Willmsen

A hearty plate of duck breast with broccolini and an ancient wheat grain. Photo by Christine Willmsen

A hearty plate of duck breast with broccolini and an ancient wheat grain. Photo by Christine Willmsen

Here, Atkinson and his wife, Betsy, flow through the restaurant like it’s their second home ­– at least that’s the way guests are treated when they are greeted by the couple. Greg Atkinson worked as executive chef at Canlis for seven years and has also written several cookbooks.

At Marché, you can sit outside or inside depending on how busy the restaurant at 150 Madrone Lane is on any given night. But the best seats (about four of them) in the restaurant are near the open kitchen, where you can watch Atkinson and his team roll out dishes like grilled salmon, trout meuniére and steak.

Try the salad lyonnaise, which has thick chunks of bacon and a gooey-centered egg (cooked sous vide) on top of friseé. Marché has great cocktails, but the wine by the glass is limited.

The show-stopping dish is the Pleasant View duck cooked medium rare with a crispy, rich skin and a bing cherry sauce drizzled on top. It’s plated with Eikhorn, an ancient wheat, and broccolini.

The menu also offers small plates to nibble on like the country pate with pistachios and greens.

Just steps away is Mora Iced Creamery, where you can grab a gelato for the walk back to the ferry.

These are some of my top reasons to visit Bainbridge Island. I hope you find even more.

Cheers

Christine

Restaurant Marché on Urbanspoon

An invitation to explore a great Seattle restaurant – the location is a surprise

Join other foodies at Seattle’s Mystery Meet dinner

So this Solo Cook is all for adventures – especially with food. Are you game? Do you like secrets and mysteries?

Well join me, the host, at the Mystery Meet dinner in Seattle. Join other foodies in a food exploration on Tuesday, April 2, at 8:30 p.m. You don’t know what restaurant you’ll be eating at until the day before and you don’t know the menu until you arrive. Sign up here and invitations will be sent out.

I’m the host of this event and guarantee you’ll have a great time at this amazing restaurant with multiple courses for only $49. But there’s no way you’ll get the location out of me early – although I do accept bribes.

Part of the fun is solving the mystery by guessing what restaurant I’ve picked. Here are some clues.

Location Clues:

  1. Washington D.C. mound.
  2. 21% between 25th & 26th.
  3. My posse’s on it.
  4. Hindi or Nepali for “plate.”
  5. Dorothy naps.

I attended a Mystery Meet dinner a couple months ago that was hosted by another food lover and blogger, Myrissa Yamashiro. It was an amazing night at Luc filled with a visit from Chef Thierry Rautureau and great conversations about food vacations, cooking and the hot restaurants in the area. I have no doubt we’ll have just as much fun and entertainment at this surprise restaurant.

Be daring, be bold and book your ticket now for Mystery Meet dinner.

Cheers

Christine