The Determined Cook

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

Resurrecting an Old Favorite

The Determined Cook has risen from the ashes of pure convenience, laziness, and fast food.  As the prolific Erma Bombeck said, “When it comes to cooking, five years ago I felt guilty “just adding water.” Now I want to bang to tube against the counter top and have a five-course meal pop out. If it comes with plastic silverware and a plate that self destructs, all the better.”  That truly was my sentiment for the last couple of months, but I have grabbed the reigns of my runaway life, steered myself towards my kitchen, and begun to cook.  Please re-join me as I fumble through ingredients, kitchen tools, family likes and dislike, and healthy food choices.

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Fridge Cleanout Pizza

Our little one has been recovering from having her adenoids and tonsils removed so food has not been the top priority in our home.  However, when she woke up from a nap craving pizza, the good parents that we are indulged her.  My husband thought of this as a good excuse to clean out our fridge from the holidays and use what was still usable.  Let’s just say that Maya was ravenous for her Fridge Cleanout Pizza.

 We used Trader Joe’s herb pizza dough – it was really tasty for a pre-made dough.

  Trader Joe’s pizza sauce was generously slathered over the dough.
 We then sprinkled Trader Joe’s mix of four cheeses – not my favorite choice for pizza, but it did the job.
 The only “cook-like” thing done with the pizza was the toppings mis-en-place.  We had polish sausage, chopped bell peppers, sweet onions and garlic.

 This masterpiece enticed our Maya Rosie to have her first “real” meal since her surgery.  I think that her making the pizza with B. made it more interesting to her.

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Happy New Year

My passion for cooking and writing has been renewed, especially by this chilly weather that we have been having in Los Angeles.  Rain, dark skies, and a nip in the air are what make me want to stay in and just cook, cook, and cook.  All that said, I hope that your new year brings you lots of good flavor, great new recipes, and good health.  Happy 2011!

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Remembering Our Parisian Walks

During our last Spring Break, B., Maya, and I took a two week trip to London and Paris. Visiting Paris has been a dream of mine, and to spend a few days of Spring in the City of Lights was heavenly.  It was cold and rainy, but the idea of being in such a beautiful city, rich in art, culture, history, and cuisine, didn’t stop us from wandering the narrow, crooked streets.  On our walks, we came upon lots of delicious finds. 

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Resolving to Eat Light – Salmon Cakes

When deciding upon a New Year’s resolution, it seems like a futile task because before the first week of the New Year has passed, without doubt, I will have probably broken my resolution.  Most of my resolutions are weight related – exercise more, eat better, drink more water, etc.  This year, I am determined to lose 30lbs, but I am determined to do it the right way – by changing my outlook on food.  My emotions control my eating habits, but I have tried to educate myself to find foods that work in sync with maintaining my emotions – in a positive way.  In addition, I vow to do nothing drastic.  This will be a true change.  Let’s hope this works.
To begin with, I started out by chosing a simple dish of salmon cakes that I could eat over a few days, and with with I could vary the accompaniment.  One day I had it with a small cucumber salad, and the next with steamed peas and carrots.  The cakes are rather easy to make.


  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 15 ounces canned salmon, drained, or 1 1/2 cups cooked salmon
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten (seasoned with salt and pepper)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Garam Massala
  • 1 cup of mashed cauliflower
  • Juice of 1 lemon 

Once the ingredients were all mushed together I made my little cakes and put them in the fridge for about 30 minutes so that they would set.  Spraying the skillet with olive oil, I put them on the pan until each side was golden brown (about two minutes a side).  Then, I put them in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes.

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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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