Snow = Baking Storm

With a snow storm in our midst, I had the chance to catch up on baking.  I love to bake.  It is one thing that gives me great joy to provide a warm treat for loved ones and friends.

Tonight, I made some Cranberry Bread.  I had a box mix to use up from Christmas, so I decided to bake it as a surprise for my boyfriend, who sprained his ankle.  It was flavorful and moist.  Granted, I could have doctored it up a little by adding some almond extract or almonds to the mixture, but I wanted to keep it simple not to overpower dinner.

The main star was tonight’s dinner.  I made a chicken rice casserole that was perfect for the snowy evening.  This casserole was simple and easy to make.  In fact, you could even make it ahead of time too.  The casserole begins with cooked chicken (I used boneless, skinless chicken breasts) seasoned with garlic.  The sauce has a Cream of Mushroom base, and you can adapt the seasonings to taste.  It is a healthy, comfort food dish.

Chicken Rice Casserole

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (cubed)

2 cans of Cream of Mushroom Soup

1 c. Milk

1 tbsp. minced garlic

1/2 c. slivered almonds

1 tbsp. tarragon

2 packs of microwaveable brown rice (unseasoned), cooked

1/2 c. dry bread crumbs

2 tbsp. Grana Padrano or Parmesan cheese, grated

**Note:  I used 2 tbsp. Grana Padrano and 2 tbsp. Raspberry Cheddar Cheese

1 tbsp. melted butter

1 tsp. Smoked Paprika

First, saute the chicken in garlic and olive oil.  Cook until chicken is no longer pink.

Second, stir together two cans of cream of mushroom soup with 1 c. milk.  Once combined, add the chicken, almonds, tarragon and rice.  Stir together and place mixture in a greased 13X9 baking dish.

Third, combine bread crumbs, melted butter, smoked paprika, and cheese together.  Spoon bread crumbs over chicken rice mixture.

Bake in a 400 degree oven for 25-30 minutes.  Let cool a bit before serving.

If you are looking for a wine to pair with this casserole, I would pick a Pinot Grigio or a light red, like a Sangiovese. Three Fox Vineyards has two great offerings. Their Appassionata Vidal Blanc is a really good white, as it sweet and crisp. The Il Volpe Sangiovese is a light red that would pair well with meats and cheeses. With cherry and spice notes, this wine is 75% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet Franc and 5% Chambourcin.

The Best Sushi Ever…

Ordinarily, I am skeptical about sushi, as it is hit or miss at most of the Japanese restaurants.  However, my opinion has changed after eating at Pacific East Solon, a Japanese restaurant in Solon, Ohio.  My boyfriend’s mother and stepfather took us there to eat last Sunday, since we were up visiting them in Cleveland last weekend.  My boyfriend’s mother kept raving about their sushi and about how fresh tasting everything was on their menu.  I knew I had to try this.

When we arrived, the restaurant was busy.   After we were seated, I had an opportunity to look over their expansive menu, including many Japanese and Mongolian dishes.  I knew that I wanted Philadelphia and Eel rolls. I ordered a special that included Miso soup and a house salad with a Ginger dressing. Meanwhile, my boyfriend, his mother and stepfather ordered a special that included 7 pieces Nigiri sushi, Sashimi, and a tuna roll.

We received our appetizers of miso soup and house salads. The soup and salad were very good. The waitress was very attentive to our table, and she apologized for the long delay due to the assembly of the sushi specials. We received a free order of Edamame, which was very tasty. It had a salty coating, and the Edamame was steamed perfectly.

Finally, our food arrived and it looked too beautiful to eat. The presentation was exquisite, and it tasted fresh. My eel and Philadelphia roll combo tasted awesome.

The Sushi specials also arrived, and again, the presentation was even more amazing. I had one piece of Mackerel, and the taste was fresh with no additional seasonings. It was fabulous. Personally, I was more amazed by the taste of the Salmon, which had a buttery taste.

We were stuffed at the end of dinner, but my boyfriend’s mother insisted we have dessert. Now, I am not one to pass up dessert, so we decided on the Fried Banana and Red Bean Ice Cream. The presentation again did not fail to amaze, and the taste was phenomenal. The Red Bean Ice Cream offered the right amount of sweetness. The Fried Banana dish was another great dish. Granted, fried foods are not my favorite, but this dish was a game changer for me. The tempura dipped banana was good, but it could have had some more sweetness (like honey in the batter).

Overall, I look forward to going back to Pacific East Solon, the next time I go back to Cleveland for a visit. The prices were affordable for the amount of food you received, and the quality/presentation was the star of the entire visit.

Salmon with Chardonnay Pan Sauce

Salmon is one of my favorite seafood dishes. When I visited Montana a few years ago, I had the best cedar plank salmon dishes at Montana’s Rib and Chop House. It was enough to swoon this Maryland native to adopt a new fish with its mild taste that could adapt to any rub or pan sauce.

Imagine my surprise while I was shopping and found Honey Smoked Salmon fillets that were ready for searing. I immediately picked up a package of the fish for dinner Monday night, since I had Jasmine Rice on hand to use. This turned out to be a great dish that paired well with Chardonnay, and I figured that I would reduce some of it along with some butter, dill, and tarragon to create a pan sauce. You could drink it as well, since it is the perfect pairing.

Honey Smoked Salmon with Chardonnay Pan Sauce
1 package of precooked Honey Smoked Salmon Fillets
1/4 c. Chardonnay (I used Knapp 2009 Reserve Chardonnay)
2 tbsp. butter
2 tsp. Dill
2 tsp. Tarragon

First, lightly sear the salmon fillets in olive oil. After fish is cooked, remove from heat.

In a pan, melt butter. Once butter is melted, pour in Chardonnay, Dill, and Tarragon. Cook until chardonnay reduces. Immediately serve over salmon.

One year ago…

Yesterday, my boyfriend and I celebrated the one year anniversary of our first date. We decided to go back to the place where we went: Dogwood Tavern in Falls Church, Va.

The Dogwood Tavern offers a menu of regional dishes with a hint of personality. Both my boyfriend and I love their brunch menu offered during the weekends, and their dinner menu is no different, since the restaurant uses quality ingredients. It is no wonder why there is usually a waiting list every time we go.

Since we went for dinner, the first thing we noticed that it was a raw bar night. They had specials on snow crab legs, oysters, and mussels. My boyfriend loves snow crab legs, while I kinda look at them suspiciously as I am from Maryland…and love my steamed crabs with Old Bay. He also ordered the Shrimp and Grits, which looked scrumptious. The shrimp were huge and the grits were cooked perfectly. My boyfriend was raving about them. As for the snow crab legs, they looked like some of them were filled and some not so much.

I ordered the Fish and Chips. Fish and Chips scream the best of British eats. There was no doubt that this special of the evening was a good choice. When the waitress bought the dish out, it was loaded with tons of chips (waffle fries) and the fish was huge. The fish was coated in a cornmeal breading that seemed to dominate the flavor of the cod used. I thought it was flavorful, especially when dipped in the tartar sauce. I used malt vinegar to add some flavor, but I should have asked for the Old Bay to add an extra special kick.

Overall, we were stuffed by the time dinner was over. It was great enjoying good food with a special someone. I look forward to many more visits in the future to Dogwood.