Monday, July 27, 2009

"Kitchen on Fire" - A Cooking School in Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto

For Christmas, my sister was both creative and thoughtful by purchasing a cooking class for my Mom, me and our sister-in-law. She originally purchased from a cooking school that unfortunately went out of business. We all did some research and found “Kitchen on Fire” in Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto area. We wanted a “hands on” class and also had an interesting menu with something that would please all of us.

Kitchen on Fire was founded in 2005 seasoned restaurateur and author Olive Said and chef and caterer MikeC.  MikeC. can also be seen on the PBS show, “Hippy Gourmet Show”. The classes range from cooking 101 to baking to corporate teambuilding workshops.

We chose a class entitled, “Deliciously Quick Weeknight Meals”. The class had about 20 attendees from your novice to experienced cook. Having all experience levels made the class interesting. Chef Olive kicked off the class with his french accent and briefly went through the menu and highlighted a few techniques for each dish. Once he spun through and discussed the dishes, we were all set free to choose a dish we wanted to work on. I have been to several cooking classes and this one was the first time everyone was not assigned a dish to work on. We were able to work on a particular dish and then rotate to another one, to learn as much as possible.

Both Chef Olive and Mike were full of personality and very knowledgeable. Everyone in the class seemed to have a great time and the three hour class went by quickly. My favorite dish of the night was the “Grilled Roasted Prawns with Tomatoes and Feta Cheese”.

The menu consisted of:
Panzanella Bread Salad
Peas and Spinach Risotto with Truffle Oil
Grilled Roasted Prawns with Tomatoes and Feta Cheese
Chards and Carrot Lam Soup with Lemon
Sauted Steak in Sauce Marchand De Vin with Roasted Potatoes & Turnips with Rosemary
Pear Pound Cake (Quartre-Quart Aux Poires)

If you want a fun cooking class with chefs who have personality plus, then check out a class or two at Kitchen on Fire.

A group photo - My Mom, Sister Cathy, me and my Sister-in-Law Therese. A good time was had by all!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Bottega in Yountville

The Bay Area has a plethora of outstanding restaurants that are waiting for everyone to experience. There are so many to choose from and every inspiration is represented here: Fine dining in San Francisco to casual dining in Wine Country and everything in between. With a couple friends, we recently started “The Restaurant Club” and our goal is to choose a new dining destination each month and have lunch on a Saturday. The person who chooses the restaurant picks up the bill and then we rotate to the next person.

Yesterday, it was my turn and I selected Michael Chiarello’s new venture in Yountville, named “Bottega”. ( A quick tip – use Open Table to make your reservations. It is quick, simple and free. They send a confirmation along with a reminder through your email. Sign up today, if you are not already a member. (

Bottega is located in beautiful downtown Yountville in Napa Valley. It is rustic yet elegantly refined with warm colors, rich woods and stone. It feels like you are in an upscale Napa home and very inviting. We sat next to the striking wine room with cabinets of wine all around and an innovative chandelier with antique looking spoons dangling, and a large wood dining table.

The service was spot on and our waiter was knowledgeable, attentive and friendly. There was fresh baked bread with a sauce of olive oil, parmesan cheese, red pepper flakes and a touch of garlic to spread on top – outstanding. Enjoyed a glass of Frank Family 2007 Chardonnay. ( For the first course, I had the signature dish, “Polenta under glass”. It was a rich, creamy polenta with a slight crust of parmesan cheese and topped with caramelized wild mushrooms. Next to the glass was a small container with balsamic game sauce. The concept is to pour the polenta and mushrooms onto the plate and top with the balsamic sauce. The flavor combinations were out of this world.

Next course was the Smoked and Braised Natural Short Ribs with preserved-lemon spinach and smoky jus. The meat was incredibly tender – no knife required. We shared the dessert of white chocolate Panna Cotta with rhubarb fritti and Madeira rhubarb pappardelle. The Panna Cotta was so smooth and rich with a hint of cardamom. Simply delicious! Accompanied the wonderful dessert with a perfect cappuccino and just had a most glorious meal.

Had to pick up a few baked goodies from Bouchon Bakery ( The line was out the door but so worth the wait. Picked up a pain de campagne for dinner, a vanilla and espresso macaron, a package of their signature chocolate bouchons and some homemade doggie biscuits for Max.

Restaurant Club - Lynette, Brenley and myself!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Herbed Fritters with Pesto Aioli

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Herbed Potato Fritters

These are the most divine little appetizers I have had in a long time. The flavor combinations are out of this world. Take a bit of time but well worth the effort!


1 lb. Russet potatoes (About 2), peeled and cut into cubes
Sea salt
2 C. Flour
2 t. Fresh herbs, chopped (Thyme, parsley, rosemary, marjoram)
3 T. Scallions, sliced thin and slightly minced
1 T. Grated lemon zest
1/2 t. finely minced garlic
Fresh ground pepper
2 Eggs
½ C. Olive oil
Vegetable oil for frying

For the starter:
¼ C. warm water
1 T. Flour
1 ¼ t. Active dry yeast

Pesto Sauce:
½ C. Mayonnaise
¼ C. Prepared Pesto

Step one: Make the starter for the fritters. In a small bowl, combine the water, flour and yeast. Mix well and set aside in a warm place to activate and is covered with small tiny bubbles. (Should take approximately 45 minutes to rise)

Step two: In a large pan, boil water with a tablespoon of salt added. Add the prepared potatoes and reduce heat to medium. Let them cook for about 15 minutes or until very tender. Drain and place into a bowl. Mash with a fork. Cool completely.

Step three: In a large bowl combine the cooled potatoes, starter, flour, herbs, scallions and lemon zest. Mix well. Add the eggs and olive oil and combine. The batter will be thick and sticky. Cover the bowl with a towel and let rise in a warm place until it doubles in size. About 1.5 to 2 hours.

Step four: Pesto sauce is made by mixing ½ cup mayonnaise and ¼ cup prepared pesto.

Step five: Use a wok or minimum 8 inch deep stock pot. Add enough oil to reach 3 inches. Bring oil to 375 degrees. Each fritter will be about a 1 tablespoon of batter. Add enough fritters to the pan without over crowding. Carefully flip with a slotted spoon to prevent over browning. (Should take about 2 to 3 minutes) Place onto a cookie sheet lined with paper towels to drain.

Step six: Serve quickly onto a warm platter. If making in advance, up to one hour before your event, you can keep in a 250 degree oven.

(Adapted from Michael Chiarello's recipe - from his book "At Home with Michael Chiarello")

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Asian Inspired Dinner Party

We invite my cousin Ed and his lovely wife Paige over for dinner. They have an incredible wine cellar at their house and enjoy collecting Bordeaux wines. Since the theme tonight is Asian inspired, they brought over a Gewurtztraminer to enjoy. In addition, they gave us a 2002 Spring Mountain Winery Cabernet Sauvignon to put in our cellar. (It is going to be hard to wait to enjoy that bottle).

Several months ago, I visited the Pleasant Hill Wine Merchants and was turned on to Bex Reisling – what a find! Both whites complimented the meal wonderfully and were such classics for the Asian inspired dinner. We enjoyed wonderful conversation, memories, food and wine.


Shrimp and Pork Shumai with Spicy Dipping Sauce
Tom Kha Gai Soup (Coconut Lemongrass & Chicken Soup)
Grapefruit, Jicama and Water Chestnut Salad
Simple Pad Thai
Triple Sorbet – Mango, Raspberry and Pomegranate with Fortune Cookie


Husch – Gewurtztraminer – Anderson Valley – 2006
Tasting Notes: The nose opens up to a slight spearmint, asian pears and a hint of fresh cut wood. Soft and delicate mouthful with soft notes of lemongrass and a tinge of oak. Very soft sweetness and finish is very clean.

Bex – Reisling - Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany – 2006
Tasting Notes:
This is a delicious wine with just enough sweetness to give it a refreshing edge. Not overly-sweet, just enough. Loaded with peachy fruit and a layer of acidity against the fruit, the wine drinks so easily. Notes of honey, pear, apricot and minerals linger in the palate afterwards. Drink this refreshing Riesling with dinner or by itself.