The Determined Cook

A place where perfection lies in the tasty morsel that finds its way into your mouth.

Parmesan Chicken a la The Barefoot Contessa

In the days that follow the Christmas feast, after rolling from party to party sampling everything that is rich, and luxurious, the dinner I am in search for is something light.  I am still rebelling against the need to diet after packing on the holiday pounds, but my system is yearning for something that is refreshing and new.  Doing away with recipes that may call for leftovers, I turned to my goddess, the Barefoot Contessa (Ina Garten).  In her Barefoot Contessa Family Style cookbook, I found her Parmesan Chicken (printable recipe).
Although this recipe calls for the chicken to be fried in butter, I chose to fry the breasts in a mixture of olive oil and butter, and I fried them until they were lightly golden on each side.  The cooking process continued in the oven set at 360F for 20 more minutes.  Served with banana squash roasted with brown sugar, cinnamon, and butter, and a side of steamed asparagus spears, this was a light, satisfying meal.

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Merry Christmas and All the Best for the New Year

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Dinner with Friends at 82 Queen

Yesterday, I actually ventured out beyond the two-block perimeter that I had set for myself and joined my new friends for dinner at 82 Queen.  Located on King and Queen street in the very snazzy end of Charleston, it’s a beautiful restaurant with a courtyard tucked away, off the street.  The weather was gorgeous, warm with a light breeze, so the hostess guided us outdoors.  We stepped into a courtyard with white wrought iron furniture, a brick floor, creeping ivy and a sprinkling of fairly lights and poinsetta flowers, everywhere.  It was just magical.

Our server explained the basics of the menu and the night’s specials, simple, great low country ingredients that were turned into such mouthwatering dishes.  Since we were looking for variety, we decided to order off the appetizer menu…this would also allow us to have dessert, and not push us off the scales.  I chose a bowl of the She-Crab Soup with Sherry, Scallops with a Bacon Risotto and Pepper Coulis, and ofcourse, Creme Brulee.  However, to start us on the right path, our server brought over a basket of cheddar and garlic biscuits, fresh out of the oven – served with a honey butter, this was a nice start to our meal.  Served steaming hot, it a large bowl, the She-Crab soup was epicurean delight.  It was lighter than other ones I have had, and did contain the roe whose flavor was brought out by the sherry.  My scallop dish was indicative of the treasures that the Charlestonian shore has to offer.  The scallops were perfectly seared, succulent, and flavorful…more than anything, they were fresh!  Two large scallops sat on a bed of bacon risotto and the plate was drizzled with a red pepper coulis.  To sweeten an already perfect meal was the creme brulee – the custard was light and the glassy sugar topping was just burned enough.  Served with strawberries and homemade whipped cream, it was a great finale to a magical night with friends.

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Caviar and Bananas and Sparkling Christmas Trees

Yesterday, it rained in Charleston.  It was the end of my first training session, so class let out early; however, being new in the city, and not wanting to wander in the rain, I retraced my steps from the day before, through streets I was familiar with.  On my wanderings the night before, I came upon Caviar and Banans, it looked like a great place for gourment take-away, so I walked over and took a better look. 

 The food counter at Caviar and Bananas

Located at 51 George Street, Caviar and Bananas boasts a modern interior, an eclectic menu of organic food, a coffee and dessert bar, a great selection of wine and cheese, and flavor aides for both the amateur and professional cook. The staff are very friendly and very helpful and when I asked if I could take pictures for my blog, they were very accomodating.  Everything on their menu looked delectable, so choosing dinner was a quite a task.  I finally settled on two (thick) medallions of spice-rubbed seared beef tenderloin, grilled asparagus, braised collard greens, and a large crab cake…the walk and the cold left me famished!

The tenderloin was cooked to perfection – pink, soft, and moist in the middle, with a seared, spicy crust.  Grilled asparagus is not something too difficult to cook, but these spears were flavored and grilled just right.  Since collared greens are my new favorite vegetable I have discovered that there is more than one way to cook them – these were cooked with tasso ham.  My last item of choice was the crab cake.  Made with fresh lump crab meat, this one was a bit different because the crab was not entirely shredded.  I tasted a hint of wasabi which made this crab cake one for my books.

A rack full of goodies…spices, sauces, pasta, dips, herbs 
Food her in Charleston is relatively cheap.  My dinner at Caviar and Bananas cost me under $15 which makes it a great place for the population that it serves – college students. 
What a great selection of cheeses from around the world
After perusing the shelves and sampling some cheese, I had to leave, or else I would have sat there and eaten until I couldn’t move.  What a super little find!  After my dinner adventure, I was off to the Francis Marion Park to see the sparkling Christmas Trees.
Christmas wonderland at the Francis Marion Park
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Getting My Bearings and Revisiting the Swamp Fox

St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church on King Street (taken on my morning walk, as the sun is rising)

Yesterday, was a bit of a difficult day.  The training was great – long, but great, but more than that, I was feeling the effects of a sleepless night and terribly missing Brad and Maya.  After my training, I got back to the hotel and decided to go out and get some fresh air.  Located on King Street, the Francis Marion Hotel is right next to Charleston College; it is a great, safe spot surrounded by churches, student housing, great restaurants, the Francis Marion Park, and great little shops.  The city of Charleston is decorated for Christmas with poinsettas in every shop, twinkling lights and tinsel, and the mood is further set by the sound of Christmas music floating through the night air.

The lobby at the Francis Marion Hotel

I walked a few blocks to the nearby CVS and stocked up on my girlie supplies (face masks, special shampoo, and of course, a cheap bottle of Arbor Mist).  On my travels, I stumbled upon Caviar and Bananas, a great little gourmet store.  Besides having a great menu with organic gourmet fare, and a great selection of wine, they also have every foodies dream of bottled marinades, spices, sauces, and recipe books.  Along King Street, I also came upon another gem called Handmade.  From the outside, it looked like a very high end jewelry store, but when I stepped inside, the welcoming southern tone of the shop assistant and the price tags brought me to realize that I had found a little bit of shopping heaven.  Hammered gold, sterling silver, turquoise, and beaded jewelry grace the shelves, were calling out my name and tempting me to buy, and buy lots.

Saw this guy on my walk last night…couldn’t resist.

Whether or not I did remains to be told… The fresh air did me good, but I was still exhausted.  Dinner was on my agenda, but traveling alone keeps me from wanting to sit in a restaurant, especially, when I all I want to do is curl up in my freshly turned down king sized bed.  I have promised to live on local fare while I am here and that usually means seafood.  The Swamp Fox was my restaurant of choice.  Quiet, in the Francis Marion’s Lobby, and with a good track record on its seafood, I decided on a quiet corner  ordered the dinner special – a pecan crusted catfish with two sides, collared greens and southern-cooked vegetables.  Dinner was absolutely delicious – the fish was soft, flaky and fully marinated and the crust was crispy.

I am now, officially, addicted to collared greens, especially the ones from the Swamp Fox that are cooked with bacon.  The chef was true to his word – he promised me comfort food and he delivered.  Suffice to say, I had a restful nigt.

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The Determined Cook Visits Charleston

Mirrored view of my hotel room in the heart of Charleston.

The Determined Cook will not be cooking in her kitchen this week. In fact, she will not be cooking at all. I am in Charleston, South Carolina, working, missing my family, but also looking forward to the culinary adventure that awaits me. I will blog my travels this week, as all my meals will be cooked by someone else. My goal is to survey the locals, and find the hidden treasures that make Charleston the food gem that it is.

It is 11:20 p.m. I just got off the plane and made my way to Charleston proper, after getting lost in some gorgeous, Christmas fairyland suburb. As you can see, my professionally made bed awaits me, and only me tonight…I missed storytime with Maya, hugs with Brad, but am looking forward to myself.

Hotel couch, southern opulence at it’s best.


Making sure that I don’t get left out of the pictures.
Aaaahh!  Much better…G’nite world.


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No Fuss Pulled Pork and Coleslaw Thursday Dinner

Pulled pork is a dish that I have always wanted to make, but just never got down to it.  Not having much time to watch it cook, I decided to use my trusty crock pot.  Slow Cooker Pulled Pork is the way that it is listed on the internet, and most of them call for a bottle of one’s favorite BBQ sauce poured over a shoulder of pork and just left alone.  Well, I poked through my pantry and found another packet of McCormick’s Slow Cookers BBQ Pulled Pork packet of spices.  I buy packets of spices when they are on sale so that I can used them during the week to jazz up my dishes.  This packet of spices requires a 1/2 cup of ketcup, a 1/2 cup of brown sugar, and 1/3 cup of apple cider vinegar.  Mixing the ingredients together, I carefully painted the shoulder of pork with the marinade and left it to marinate (in the fridge) overnight.  On Thursday morning, the pork went into the crock pot (low for 8 hours) and I went to work.  
On the way home, I picked up some hot rolls from Jon’s market and a head of cabbage.  Grammy Betty was kind enough to make her coleslaw.  I don’t have a recipe for this, but as soon as I do, I will post it; however, I saw her add evaporated milk, apple cider vinegar, and a bit of pepper.  Dinner was tasty, quick, and comforting – what I look for on a Thursday night.

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Roasted Striped Bass

Image from http://www.tesco.com
 

In addition to our delicious Thanksgiving turkey, our table was graced with the fruits of the sea, a dish of Roasted Sea Bass (see printable recipe).  I knew that I wanted to make a stuffed fish-dish that used ingredients that were citrusy, light, and delicious.  Not being the best fish buyer, I set my parents to the task of buying the fish.  For those of you who live in the San Fernando Valley (Los Angeles), the 99 Ranch Market (Sepulveda and Victory) is a little bit of food heaven.  Although mainly an Asian market, the produce, fish, meat, sauce, sweets, and dairy selection can greatly benefit any recipe.  My parents decided on striped bass, a fish that I had seen in various recipes, but never cooked.  The folks at the 99 Ranch Market are kind enough to take care of all the icky tasks related to cooking with fish.  They scaled, gutted, and washed each fish until they were ready to cook. 
The day before Thanksgiving, I salted the fish and rubbed them with oilve oil.  Then I stuffed them with my marinade and thick slices of lemon.  I poured the leftover marinade over the fish, sealed the dish and marinated it overnight.  On Thanksgiving Day, after the turkey was done, the fish were removed from the fresh and brought up to room temperature.  I baked them for one hour at 350 degrees F (covered for a half hour and uncovered for another half hour).  It was a great addition to our table and by the end of the meal, all that was left was a few bones…not a bad compliment to the cook.

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Easy Peasy Weeknight Beef Stew

The past few nights have been rather chilly, so I decided that Beef Stew (click for printable recipe) would be a great choice for dinner tonight. With limited prep time, I opted for a little help from my “friends”. (McCormicks makes a great beef stew seasoning packet, leftover chopped onions and celery from Thanksgiving, canned beef stock, and Charles Shaw Cabernet SauvignonThe method is time friendly and can be done as you are getting ready for work. Sautee the beef in hot oil then remove from the pan.  In the beef sauce, sautee the onions, celery, and a bit of crushed garlic.  Once that is nice and golden, remove from the pot, and deglaze with the red wine.  Once a sauce has been created add ingredients, with the remaining half packet of spice and beef broth back into the pot, and cook for a bit.  Transfer all ingredients into a waiting (heated) crock pot.  Set to low and cook for 8 hours.  When you get home, the aroma of a home cooked stew wafts through the house.  I served this with bread rolls.  Make lots because it tastes better in days that follow.

     



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