Archive for July, 2008

I’m a bit behind on writing this post because I’ve been pretty busy the last few days. Monday night my refrigeration guy was able to come by and I didn’t get home until 7:30, which was a 13 hour day for me. I’m not complaining though because he is always fun to talk with. Tuesday night I ended up getting home late as well and once I was done working out I didn’t have the energy to do anything. I did sit in front of the TV and watched Tori and Dean with Nancy, don’t tell anyone thought! It’s a pretty funny show. Dean cracks me up.

We’ve had a bit of a reprieve at work this week after the large caterings over the weekend. We usually do two to four lunch caterings each day, but for the past two days we’ve only had a few. It’s fortunate in one way as we all needed the rest after last week. Unfortunately the catering business is fifty percent of our revenue so all-in-all it’s bitter sweet! Nice to have a slow few days, but not so nice when you run the totals at the end of the day.

On the positive side I just booked a 200-person lunch for next week which will go a long way in making up any shortfall from this week. Part of the menu will include 80 grilled pieces of lemon-herb chicken. I will definitely have to give Megan the “Chicken Mastery” certificate after this. Hahaha.

So before I get to the recipe I did want to post a few pictures of our place. The first one is from this past weekend when we were putting together boxed lunches. I think we literally had every table in the restaurant and most of the chairs, covered with the boxes.

This one covers a little larger area. If you look to the back left you can see a storage room and the mixer. If you can believe it, I almost can’t, this is where our baker Joannie stands most of the day, in that very tiny spot and makes hundreds of cookies, dessert bars, cupcakes, crisps, pies etc.

So getting back to the reason for this post… a few weeks ago Nancy picked up some cedar planks for me because I wanted to try them out for grilling salmon. Seemed pretty easy. Nancy was going to make corn chowder and I would make the salmon. I stopped at my new favorite place, Whole Foods, and picked up a pound and a half of wild salmon and headed home.

On the back of the plank package there was a recipe for a rub that I changed because I knew it would be too salty. The recipe was super easy and it tasted great. The smoke from the plank was awesome, not overpowering at all. You can find the corn chowder recipe (it was excellent) at Nancy’s blog http://dishingup.wordpress.com.

I will definitely use the planks again with salmon. I didn’t have to worry about flipping the salmon or putting the filets in tinfoil. The flavor was great, cleanup was simple and all in all it was a keeper. I will continue to experiment with rubs and marinades though.

If you have any experience cooking with planks please share them!

Spiced Rubbed Salmon on a Cedar Plank (serves four)



  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon ancho chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper


  • 1 1/2 pounds fresh salmon filets with skin on
  • 2 cedar planks
  • Honey for drizzling

Soak the planks in water for one to two hours before starting.

Preheat your grill to 350 to 375 degrees, medium-low heat. In a small bowl combine all the rub ingredients. Rub the salmon with a moderate amount of the prepared rub and set aside.

Place the planks on the grill and heat for a few minutes. Using tongs turn over the planks and place one piece of salmon on each plank. Close the lid and cook for 13 to 18 minutes depending on thickness of the salmon. You are looking for an internal temp of 135 degrees. You can also judge by touch and sight. It will be flaky, opaque and fairly firm to the touch.

Drizzle with honey and devour immediately.

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Wow, what a weekend and what a day last Friday was. We prepared food for two catering events, one, a 150 person wedding and the other an upscale boxed lunch for 200 people. On Friday I had quite a day and a ton of fun. I did a large amount of prepping while trying to keep the front of the restaurant running smoothly. Nancy, Joannie and Megan were up to there eyeballs in food from the moment the day started. Megan cut and grilled so much chicken that the joke was that I was going to go print her out a “Chicken Mastery” certificate.

One of the dishes we were making was an Asian salad with skewered grilled chicken satay and peanut sauce. I consider myself super lucky that I wasn’t asked to skewer the chicken. We all got a good laugh because Joannie, who is vegetarian, ended up the job. She must have spent 3+ hours producing over 1,000 skewers.

I needed to julienne, into 1/8″ pieces, about 20 pounds each of bell peppers, carrots and cabbage. The bell peppers were great because I was able to really practice my knife skills, about 1 hour of them. The carrots were a bit easier because I was able to use the mandoline (watch out!) and with my mesh glove I cruised through them. The cabbage was the easiest as I only needed to core, then run them through the food processor with the shredder blade insert.

Nancy’s birthday was Saturday so our staff volunteered a few months back to handle the wedding catering Friday night. All we had to do was set up the event, make sure everything was ready to go and then we could head off. I had originally planned to make dinner for Nancy after we left the event, but after 12 hours of standing up I decided I was a wimp and I only wanted to relax. Thanks to my staff though, who after working all day, spent another 6 hours taking care of the wedding. We did pick up dinner on the way home and just chilled out.

About 11:00pm, after Nancy was out cold, I realized we would be heading to work early again Saturday morning and I really wanted to make breakfast for Nancy. The problem was I wanted to stay up late and I didn’t want to get up early. I decided I would make the strata that had been on my list for the last few weeks.

I spent some time a few weeks ago looking through many of my cookbooks and had a pretty good idea what I was going for. I do have a few tips I leaned that I wanted to share. When you use high-moisture ingredients like sausage or raw vegetables you must saute them first to remove the moisture. If you don’t the strata will be wet and soggy. Second, to produce the perfect texture you should weigh down the strata while it sits in the fridge overnight. This will allow all of the egg/cream mixture to really soak into the bread. You don’t have to use anything fancy, I just used a gallon of milk.

The outcome was excellent and I will be making it again. I think I might try to make a pepperoni pizza strata next time. The recipe was inspired by “The Best New Recipe” from Cook’s Illustrated.

Strata with Spicy Italian Sausage & Gruyere Cheese

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 7-8 slices French bread
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 4 medium minced shallots
  • 8 ounces pre-cooked spicy Italian sausage, cut into slices
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 6 ounces Gruyere cheese
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream, or half-and-half
  • 1 1/4 cups half-and-half
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Start by drying out the bread. Pre-heat the oven to 225 degrees. Arrange the bread in a single layer on a sheet pan and bake for 40 minutes, turning once after 20 minutes. Remove the bread from the oven, let cool for a few minutes, then moderately butter one side of each piece.

Okay. On to the the sausage and shallots. Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a medium pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and saute for 2 to 3 minutes, until translucent. Add the sliced sausage and saute until browned, about 4 minutes. (The sausage is already cooked so you are only browning them to concentrate the flavor and reduce the moisture.) Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Add the wine to the pan, increase the heat to medium-high and simmer until you have reduced by half. This will go quickly, just 2 or 3 minutes.

Take an 8×8 baking dish and coat the inside with butter. Arrange half of the bread slices in a single layer on the bottom of the pan, buttered side up. You can break the pieces to make them fit. Sprinkle half of the sausage/shallot mixture evenly over the bread then cover with 1/3 of the cheese.

Arrange the other half of the bread over the cheese, then the remainder of the sausage/shallot mixture and another 1/3 of the cheese.

Whisk the eggs in a bowl until combined. Whisk in the reduced wine, parsley, half-and-half, heavy cream if using, 1 teaspoon salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. Pour the mixture evenly over the bread and cover, flush with the surface, with plastic wrap. Weigh down with something heavy. Refrigerate for at least a few hours up to overnight. Place remaining cheese in a bag and save.

Remove from refrigerator and let sit on the counter for 20 minutes to warm up a bit. Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees and place oven rack in middle position. Uncover the strata and sprinkle evenly with remaining cheese. Bake, uncovered, for approximely 40 to 50 minutes until the edges and center are puffed and when you shake the baking dish the strata doesn’t jiggle. If you have a convection oven then cook at 270 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes.

Remove from oven, cut into 4 or 6 pieces and devour.

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Well things are going well. The restaurant has been super busy with the great weather and we are catering two large events this weekend, both high-end events, one a wedding and the other a big lunch for one of the non-profits here in Reno. I think the count is at a bit over 300 at this point.

Everyone has been calm until today and now the stress is starting to work its way around the place. Menus are being finalized, shopping lists are starting to be made and we are trying to figure out where to put everything. We have no space in the restaurant and even less refrigeration as many of you know.

The great thing about this business though is that you don’t have any choice but to get it done. You can’t be late, you can’t skimp on the ingredients and you have to bring your A game every time or you quickly find yourself out of business. Fortunately for me, Megan and Nancy have been doing this, with limited resources, for the past 6 years. All I really need to do is to do as I’m told and not ask questions. Ha ha.

So with the stress of the week I decided I would handle the cooking for the family last night. I bookmarked a chicken curry recipe from eatingwell.com not long ago and I thought it was time. I love curry, and especially enjoy the smell when we make our chicken curry salad for the restaurant.

For a bit of background on my first first-hand curry encounter we need to go back a bit over a year ago. I had started at Dish, most important was the fact that I was coming from a sales and marketing background. Other than working at Lyon’s Restaurant when I was 18 as a dishwasher I had no experience. Granted I heard all the stories from Nancy for the prior 5 years, but as Megan still says “Joe you always find the hardest way to complete a task”.

When I first started it was hard to be the co-owner of the place when I didn’t even know what the heck I was doing. Granted I increased our catering business at a drastic rate in the first few months, but I didn’t have a good grasp on how to complete the day-to-day activities of the business. Yes I knew how to do some cooking and I could handle the customers and the cash register, though I didn’t write tickets too well, still don’t actually.

So one day, trying to help out, learn and garner some respect from the employees, I told our prep cook that the next time the chicken curry needed to be made I would take care of it for him.

Well soon enough the day came and in typical Dish fashion they threw a half written recipe at me, yelled out a few instructions and said thanks and all went back to doing whatever it was they were doing. Now not only did I not have any idea what chicken curry was all about, I had four lunch caterings I was trying to organize that day. I knew I didn’t have enough time to complete it, but I was trying to get respect from my employees and get in the trenches with them. So I said, “Sure, okay, I’ll do it”.

I then surveyed the place trying to find somewhere to prep and put my portable burner so I could get going. My usual space, behind the front counter, was being used by another employee who was making Greek Salads en masse for the caterings. Somehow I found a small place with a table that would do. Unfortunately it was about as far away as you could get from everyone else in the restaurant and far from the kitchen. Resulting in… back and forth to the kitchen to ask questions, get spoons, knives, etc. DOH!

Needless to say about 20 minutes into it, I had completed about 5 minutes of work and beads of sweat were starting to appear on my forehead. My employees, who could see I was stressed and in over my head just watched in amusement as I fumbled around and generally made a fool of myself. None of them said a word though. Finally Nancy came over, thank God, and told me to get back to the counter and finish overseeing the catering orders and she would finish the curry.

It took me another month or so until I tried again… I came in on a Sunday night when everyone was gone and made it for Monday morning. Everything worked out well and I saved face.

Back to present time. This recipe worked out great. It was super easy to make, which I like since I made it after work. It didn’t take long and it tasted great. Both boys ate two helpings and neither are super curry fans. I really enjoyed the yogurt sauce as well instead of a coconut-milk-based sauce, which Randy has some issues with.

Definitely give it a try! I made it with brown basmati rice which I cooked for 45 minutes after it started to boil. To spice it up as well I added a teaspoon of coriander and half teaspoon of cumin along with a tablespoon of butter and a good pinch of salt to the rice and water before it started to boil. Nancy made some steamed rainbow chard with salt and butter to serve alongside. The boys said this was not bad, and ate some. These are “greens” and are high in nutrients, so steam some up and serve ’em to the kiddos.

Low Calorie Chicken Curry with Yogurt Sauce (serves 4)


  • 2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped – I like onions so I used a large onion
  • 1.5 pounds boneless chicken breasts, skinned and cubed into 1.5 inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup of water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom (can sub 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon & 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg)
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper or more if you like
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1/4 cup apricot preserves
  • 2 cups low-fat or nonfat plain yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Toss in onions and garlic and saute until golden, about 5 minutes. Make sure to not burn the garlic. Just reduce the heat if it’s cooking too fast. Add the chicken and saute until browned. Add the water, coriander, ginger, cumin, cardamom, cayenne, raisins and apricot preserves.

Simmer uncovered until chicken is cooked and the liquid is mostly absorbed and/or evaporated, 15 to 20 minutes.

Slowly stir cornstarch into the yogurt until dissolved. Add mixture into the pan and stir to incorporate. Simmer gently, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens. Do not boil or the sauce will separate. Season with salt and pepper.

Eat it and enjoy. Please pass on other ideas to help me with my Curry Cooking Quest!


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I love shrimp. Especially with red chili flakes. They are low in calories, low in fat and taste great. They do have a good amount of cholesterol though. We make shrimp with rice or pasta once every few weeks in the summer. Sometimes we grill them and other times we saute them on the stove.

Recently I purchased Lynne Rosetto Kasper & Sally Swift’s book “The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper” for Nancy because she always listens to the Splendid Table podcast and really likes Lynne. Friday night I decided that I would give the shrimp recipe in the book a try.

We had a great week at the restaurant. Three days this week we had a line out the front door with people lining up in the parking lot. At one point we had 15 people in line waiting to order and every seat was filled in the restaurant, we were running out of clean glasses, we had 12 or 13 tickets hanging and everyone in the restaurant was having a great time. I love days like this when the lunch rush starts at 11:45 and doesn’t end until 2:00.

The hardest part is trying to get the food out in a timely fashion with our very small kitchen. After we get 10 or so tickets hanging we start telling everyone that there will be a 15 or so minute wait to make sure they have the time. Inevitably, on these days, there is always at least one person or group that tells us that everything is cool, but five minutes after they sit down we start getting dirty looks. After another five minutes pass they will come up to the counter to inquire about their order and inform us that they are running out of time and have to be back to the office or to an appointment. We then get the order out to them and 99.9% of the time they forget the wait after they start eating the food and start to enjoy themselves. It would be great if we had a bigger kitchen so we could have more people working on orders, but there is just no space to expand so we continue on.

Today was a bit slow early on, but it finished strong. After work I headed out pretty early and met Nancy at the new Whole Foods store.

Our first stop was the produce area where I picked up some fresh ginger. We then headed over to the cheese area because Nancy wanted to pick up cheese and ciabatta for a small snack before dinner. I picked up some Gorgonzola from Italy, the stuff I used for the polenta and the gnocchi, then we headed over to the seafood section and picked up some 26/30, fresh, deveined shrimp.

Now we were on a roll, so I picked up some sweet dessert wine, I love dessert wine! Then I realized I wanted to make a strata on the weekend to continue my egg cooking quest, so I picked up some heavy cream, bread and some spicy italian sausage to go with the 2 dozen farm eggs we received yesterday in our CSA basket.

Then out of the corner of my eye I noticed a former employee of ours working in the bakery area so we headed over to talk to him and ended up buying a tart and 4 other small pastries. $100 later and after eating the pastries in the parking lot (bad start to eating smart tonight) and sharing notes about what we liked and didn’t we headed home to cook.

The shrimp were super easy to make and we really enjoyed them. Not a match for the gnocchi though, haha. We paired them with some jasmine rice we threw in the rice cooker while the shrimp was marinating and had a light quick meal.The recipe is definitely worth making and may very well be repeated for quests as an appetizer.

Quick note on shrimp before I share the recipe. If you purchase fresh shrimp eat it within 24 hours. Shrimp purchased frozen will maintain it’s quality for several weeks. Don’t purchase shrimp that smell of anything other than salt water. The numbers you hear thrown about like “26/30” mean that there will be 26 to 30 shrimp per pound. The lower the number the bigger the shrimp. For the below recipe I would go with 26/30, which are considered “Extra Large”.

As for deveining, it’s not hard. I prefer to devein any shrimp larger than medium size or just purchase them already deveined.

Ginger Caramel Shrimp (serves 4)

(adapted from The Splendid Table)



  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup medium-hot chile powder
  • 2 quarts warm water
  • 1 1/2 pounds large frozen or fresh shrimp (see note)


  • 4 large garlic cloves
  • One 4-inch piece of fresh peeled ginger
  • 4 tablespoons canola or other mild oil
  • Kosher Salt
  • 4 teaspoons sugar

In a medium stainless or glass bowl, blend the salt, sugar and chile powder in the warm water. Add the shrimp and let stand at room temperature for 20 minutes.

After shrimp have marinated, drain the shrimp, peel off the shells if you used shelled shrimp and then pat the shrimp dry.

Chop the garlic and ginger together into a small dice, about 1/8 inch. Heat the oil in a 12″ saute pan, straight-sided, over medium heat. Stir in the garlic-ginger mixture, the pepper and a sprinkle of salt. Cook for 1 minute stirring with a wooden spatula. Blend in the sugar and keep stirring until the garlic is pale golden in color. Make sure you don’t burn the garlic… do not let the garlic get dark brown.

Add the shrimp and stir for another 2 or 3 minutes, or until the shrimp are turning pink and starting to get firm. Transfer the shrimp to a serving bowl and season to taste. You can serve them hot or warm.

Note: If you are not using frozen shrimp then use cold water instead of warm and place in the refrigerator for the brining step.

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First off, let me start by saying one word, “WOW”. Okay, one more word, “GREAT”. These are the words that sounded off at the table last night!

Being Italian I’ve made multiple versions of gnocchi in the past few years. In fact it was one of the first things I attempted to cook when I started this whole “cooking quest”. Jacob and I have made at least 4 or 5 different versions in the past year. We have baked the potatoes, with salt and without salt, boiled the potatoes, put them through a ricer and through a food mill. We have made them with bolongese sauce, with cream sauce and browned butter. So in other words, we have made our share of gnocchi.

Last year I was looking through Thomas Keller’s book “Bouchon”. I noticed a recipe for gnocchi that didn’t use any potato, but used a dough made with flour, butter and boiling water. At the time I had no idea what this was all about, but vowed to make it one day. I vaguely remember Nancy telling me then what the dough was, but I was lost in thought at the time, or maybe I wasn’t really paying attention. Sorry my love!

A few weeks ago I was looking through the “Cafe Beaujolais” cookbook from Mendocino, California and another gnocchi recipe caught my eye. This one too had the same dough in it. What was this stuff? So yesterday I told Nancy and our baker Joannie about it and asked them for details on this mystery dough. At exactly the same time they both said in a loud voice from two sides of the restaurant, “that’s a choux pastry, a pâte à choux”. Then Joannie, who is Italian, said “Gnocchi, that’s not gnocchi! Well I guess you could call it a gnocchi,” as she made quote marks with her fingers in the air.

So I started to do some research on what a pâte à choux is. Here is what I found… It is a versatile dough of flour, water, butter and eggs distinguished by the fact that the flour is combined with the butter and water and partially cooked before the eggs are added to it. The resulting dough, which puffs when it bakes, has a light and elegant texture. It is used to make profiteroles, croquembouches, éclairs, French crullers, beignets, and gougeres.

I was excited. I get to try something new and adventurous… new dough, new fancy name, piping bag.. yeah! All I had to do was get out of the restaurant at a reasonable time so I could get home, work out and make dinner before I fell over with exhaustion and delayed my cooking for another day!

It was going to be questionable since our refrigeration guy was supposed to be coming at 4:00 to do regular preventative maintenance on all of the refrigerators and freezers and display cases. He’s a great guy and often times after he finishes we end up spending an hour hanging out and trading stories. For the record, refrigeration has been the bane of my restaurant-owning existence. If it’s not one thing breaking it’s another. There is nothing worse than coming in in the morning to find out that $500 of product has to be thrown out because a compressor froze up and stopped working overnight. Fortunately Nancy found this guy 6 months ago and he has kept everything in tip top shape since.

He is a very busy guy though and I was hoping he would call me to reschedule so I could take off and get home… fortunately or maybe unfortunately, not sure, he did and I was out of there like a rocket ship blasting off.

Nancy was going to be gone with her running group so it was going to be all me. She would get home in time to eat the results, but if something went wrong it was going to be up to me to figure it out. Fortunately nothing went wrong, in fact other than dropping a half cup of flour all over, things went smoothly.

The dish was incredibly rich, the gnocchi were light and airy. In fact the texture was what I have only dreamed of when making traditional potato gnocchi. I can’t wait until we have our next dinner party, because I’m going to make this for the first course. I think I will present them in a small ramekin with just about 12 pieces per person. What a way to start a dinner… I’ll have Nancy do the main course since I’m not sure I can top them!

All I can say is make these as soon as you can. You will love them and so will your family or guests. These as a primi, maybe Osso Bucco as the main and a tiramisu for dessert. WOW!

Baked Gnocchi with Prosciutto & Gorgonzola (serves 4)

(adapted from the Cafe Beaujolais Cookbook)


  • 1 cup cold water
  • 1 stick butter, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1.5 oz. chopped prosciutto (put in the freezer for 15 minutes before chopping)
  • 4 oz flavorful cheese (Stilton, Gorgonzola, Muenster) I used half Gorgonzola and half Muenster

Fill a 6 quart pan 3/4 full of water and bring to boil. You are going to par-cook the gnocchi in this water, meaning you will drop them into the boiling water for a bit, then finish cooking in the oven.

In a medium-sized pan, place 1 cup of cold water and butter and bring to a boil. You want the butter to be melted fully just as the water boils.

Add salt to flour and then add the flour/salt mixture to the water all at once. Remove the pan from the heat and beat with gusto with a wooden spoon or whisk, to make a smooth paste.

Put the pan back on the stove, with medium heat, and dry the paste by scraping it toward you with the wooden spoon or a spatula, flipping the paste over. Keep the paste moving to dehydrate it. The less water remaining, the more readily the paste will absorb the eggs. (I did this part for 2 or 3 minutes.)

The paste with steam, form a film on the bottom of the pan, and butter will glisten on the surface.

Remove pan from the heat. Add whole eggs, one at a time. Each time an egg is added, the paste with appear to separate. Continue to beat with the wooden spoon and it will come back together.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Put the finished paste in a pastry bag, cut off enough of the end so that when you push through the dough it will be about 3/4 inch thick. Hold a knife or clean scissors in one hand, the pastry bag in the other over the boiling water. Squeeze and cut after 1 inch of paste emerges. The knife or scissors may get gummy, so you can dip them in the boiling water to clean.

The dumplings will fall into the water and sink to the bottom. When they rise to the top they are done. Remove with a slotted spoon to a buttered plate.

Butter a medium-sized 8×8 inch baking dish and pour enough cream to coat bottom. Cover with the chopped prosciutto, half the cheese, then the gnocchi, then the remaining cheese and finally the remaining cream. Bake for about 1hour until cream is mostly absorbed and gnocchi turn golden. Eat right away.

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I started this post last Wednesday. The past few days have been a bit rough. The restaurant has been very busy and we were down one person for the past few weeks. This changed today though, as we had someone start who worked for us in the past and she was able to plug right in.

To give you a bit of background our restaurant is small. We have 38 seats inside and 12 outside. Total square feet is 1,200 and there are 6 of us. Nancy is the creative genius and overseer of the operation, baker and chef. Myself, chef dishwasher. Megan, our superstar chef de cuisine has been with us for almost 4 years. Lisa, is the focused prep and line cook. Joannie the great baker (who probably doesn’t need to work, but does because she loves working with me so much) and our counter person Anna who just started back with us today. Last, but not least is Mike who handles a ton of deliveries for us and makes sure the lunch caterings are ready to go out the door.

With only 5 employees in the cafe, if you are missing one person you can really feel it. On average we have a full restaurant everyday and most days we handle 3 to 5 catering delivery orders that go out before the lunch rush. We make all of that food in the midst of steaming milk for the latte people, scrambling eggs for the breakfast burritos and corralling pastries for the “just coffee ma’am” men who change their minds when they see a tray of hot scones hit the counter. The best part is, we do it with a 87 square foot kitchen. Imagine that if you can. Most of you probably have a larger walk-in closet than our kitchen.

Anyway getting back to food… you can tell by the last few posts we’ve been eating pretty rich lately and I’ve missed a few days of exercise. We had frittata last weekend as well as spare ribs on Sunday (post coming on that one) still doing some research. We had a lasagna with an excellent bolongese sauce Nancy made as well.

I was hoping to get home a little earlier last Wednesday, so I could try out some low calorie chicken tacos. I love tacos plain and simple and believe me I need to start making some lower calorie, lower fat food for a few days and get myself back in line. Nancy leads a bible study and was going to be heading out early, so the goal was to get home, work out and make dinner so we could eat together before she had to leave. The evening didn’t work out as planned.

Nancy left while I was working out, said she would pick something up on the way. I had no desire to cook anything so I pulled out one of my standbys… a Trader Joe’s, Trader Ming’s meal in a box. There are three different versions, Pad Thai, Kung Pao and Peanut Satay. They are actually pretty darn good.

The noodles are in one package, the sauce in another. You open the box, remove the noodles from their package, put back in the box, mix with the sauce and warm in the microwave for 2 minutes. Viola! You have a meal. The best part is they are only about 550 calories, which is what I’m shooting for at dinner.

So, if you haven’t tried them, give them a shot.

Okay, back to chicken tacos. The recipe is inspired from a few different versions I looked at on Food Network. I was able to make them on Thursday of last week, but due to chaos and craziness it has taken me until today to get the text done. They were excellent, so easy to make and tasted great. You can literally make them in 1/2 hour after work and enjoy a filling and low calorie meal.

Low Fat Chicken Tacos


  • 8 corn tortillas
  • 1 1/4 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast cut into small cubes or strips
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 teaspoons canola oil
  • 1 large yellow onion
  • 1 bell pepper, seeded and sliced into strips
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced or not seeded if you like it really hot
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 cup store bought salsa or make your own
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 sliced scallions and 1 large tomato chopped for garnish
  • 1 cup low fat sour cream, or the real stuff
  • 1/2 cup of shredded cheese

Pat chicken dry with paper towels to remove moisture. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet, preferably not non-stick (the chicken will not brown as well), over high heat just until oil starts to smoke. Add the chicken and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until browned on all sides. This is going to take about 4 to 6 minutes. If the bottom of the pan becomes full of liquid and the chicken is poaching instead of browning, pour off the liquid. You want the chicken to brown, not steam or poach. If the chicken starts to burn you can add more oil and/or turn down the heat. You want the brown bits to form on the bottom of the pan, this will add flavor later.

When the chicken is browned remove from pan to a bowl and set aside. Reduce the heat to medium and add remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. When hot add onions and cook, stirring until they are tender, about 5 minutes. As the onions release their liquid you can start to scrape up the browned bits that have formed on the bottom of the pan. You will notice that they mix in with the onions and your mouth with start to salivate at this point.

Now add the bell pepper, garlic, jalapeño and cumin. Continue to stir so as not to burn the garlic, and cook for 3 to 4 more minutes until peppers are bright, but still remain crisp.

While this is finishing up, take your tortillas, place them on a plate, cover tightly with plastic wrap and place in the microwave for 1 minute. This is the quick way to warm through your tortillas without having to warm up the oven. It works fine! The plastic wrap holds the moisture in as they warm.

Now stir in the salsa and the chicken you set aside. Cook, stirring and bringing up the remainder of the brown bits on the bottom of the pan until the chicken is hot, about 3 or 4 more minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the cilantro. Spoon into the warmed tortillas and garnish as you see fit. Pig out!

Let me know how it goes and what changes you have made! -Joe

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In May of this year Nancy and I were able to actually take a day off together from the restaurant. Most of the time, one of us takes a day off and the other goes to work. It’s great to own your own business, but it has its moments… moments when I would like to scream and slap myself across the face and ask “why did you leave that corporate america job with the set salary, vacation and benefits.” Fortunately these moments are not to often, two or three times a day at most.

My nephew, who lives in Seattle, was getting married and I was going to be in his wedding. Nancy and I decided that we would fly up on Thursday night so we could spend Friday in the city before the rehearsal dinner later that night.

Seven years ago I lived in North Bend, about 45 minutes east of Seattle for almost a year. For the past 10 years I’ve visited Seattle and the surrounding areas quite a few times to see my sister’s family and my friends. Seattle is by far one of my favorite places.

Nancy loves Pikes Peak Market so on Friday we ventured down to walk around and at some point we ended up in Beecher’s Handmade Cheese shop where I picked up “Pure Flavor”, Kurt Beecher’s cookbook.

When I got back to the hotel that night I read through the book and was very impressed with the photography and the quality of the recipes. One photograph caught my attention right off, it was the Summer Berry Parfait recipe. Heavy cream, sour cream, simple syrup, fruit and honey… wow how could you go wrong? I first made it a few months back for my parents, they loved it, and have been looking for the opportunity to make it again. Well the opportunity came tonight because we had Nancy’s dad and sister over for his birthday.

We are short one person at the restaurant and I worked 11 hours today, but I knew I could make this in 15 minutes after walking in the door. Better yet, I knew everyone would enjoy it.

The recipe is adapted from the one in Mr. Beecher’s book. I used fresh fruit from the farmer’s market. Experiment with the fruit, you will have a blast.

Summer Fruit Parfait (serves 4)


  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered
  • 1 cup of blueberries
  • 1 cup of nectarines – original recipe calls for raspberries, but I had nectarines
  • 1/2 cup crunchy granola
  • Mint leaves for garnish (optional)

To make the simple syrup grab a small saucepan, toss in 1/2 cup of water, 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract and the sugar. I like vanilla so I put 1 teaspoon this last time I made it. Heat over medium heat until boiling, stirring along the way until the sugar is dissolved, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the burner, set aside to cool.

Now for the cream. Grab a bowl and combine the sour cream, heavy cream, honey and remaining 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract with a whisk or fork. Just until creamy, don’t over do it. You are not looking for whipped cream.

Now for the fruit… place the strawberries, blueberries and nectarines or whatever fruit is available in 3 separate small bowls. Keep a few strawberries on the side for a garnish. Add the simple syrup in equal amounts to each bowl and then gently mix with a flexible spatula, or in my case your fingers. Clean fingers!

Now the fun part. You can assemble them anyway you see fit. I kind of followed the original recipe, didn’t really measure though, have fun.

Place 1 tablespoon of granola in the bottom of each of the 4 glasses. Top with strawberries and a layer of cream. Smooth to the edge of the glass if you want. Add a layer of blueberries and another layer of cream, followed by a layer of nectarines. Top off with a final bit of cream, a few strawberries, some granola.

Refrigerate until ready to eat, up to 3 hours!

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