Monday, June 29, 2009

Beautiful Water/ Wine Glasses

Anyone who watches The Barefoot Contessa has to admire Ina's beautiful glassware. I love how simple and elegant it is. It looks great with a casual or formal setting. Her pattern is called Amite by Cristallerie La Rochere. You can find sites that allow you to order the pattern, but it is a little pricey. I just found a great alternative the other day from Crate and Barrel. I think the pattern is similar, but has a modern twist that would work well in my home. The price is great too, at only 11.95 per glass. I already have wine glasses, but have been looking for something nicer to serve water in when people come over.

Ina's glassware pattern

Marcel Wine Glasses
Marcel Pattern at Crate and Barrel

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Best Caesar Salad!

Now that I have discovered the exquisite taste of a homemade Caesar Salad, I haven't bought a pre-packaged salad since. The recipe I use is by Rachael Ray, located on

San Fran-Caesar with Sour Dough Croutons

Recipe courtesy Rachael Ray

Prep Time:
10 min
Inactive Prep Time:
0 min
Cook Time:
20 min
4 servings



  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, eyeball it
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 3 cups cubed sourdough bread
  • 1 teaspoon coarse black pepper
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme

Salad and Dressing:

  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce (recommended: Tabasco)
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, eyeball it
  • 2 large hearts Romaine lettuce, chopped, 7 to 8 cups
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan
  • Salt and coarse black pepper
  • Anchovies, optional garnish


Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Heat garlic and oil over low heat and melt butter into the oil. Place the bread in a large bowl and toss with garlic oil and butter. Season with pepper, Parmesan and thyme. Spread croutons evenly on a baking sheet and bake until crisp and golden, 15 minutes.

In the bowl you made the croutons in, combine garlic, lemon juice, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce and mustard. Whisk in extra-virgin olive oil while mixing the dressing.

Remove croutons and let cool. When you are ready to serve, add lettuce to the dressing in the bowl and toss to coat evenly. Add cheese, salt and pepper, croutons. Toss again. Adjust seasonings and serve, with or without anchovies.

My own tips:

  • minced garlic works just as well for the croutons instead of crushing it.
  • There is a reason Tabasco is recommended! I have tried other hot sauces and it really doesn't have that tang that Tabasco has. I usually add a little more than called for because I like things spicy.
  • I have done the anchovies as a garnish and it's good, but now I prefer anchovy paste right in the dressing. About 1tbsp.
  • I am hooked on Fleur De Sel Sea Salt! That is the only kind I use in salads. I order it online from Also available online from Williams-Sonoma.
  • I usually bake the croutons at 350 or 375 degrees for the 15 minutes. I like them really crunchy and golden! Still keep your eye on them though so you get the perfect color you want.
  • I have a large wooden bowl that I use for Caesars and a separate salad bowl for all other types of salads. Traditional Caesars usually have actual anchovies ground into the bottom of the bowl so the flavor ends up seeping into it. That's why many prepare their Caesar in the same wooden bowl all the time, and never prepare any other type in it.

The process for this is so easy. I have done this so many times now that I don't need the recipe and can eyeball everything. I have to warn you though-this salad will ruin just about every other Caesar Salad for you in the future. My husband especially has a hard time enjoying a Caesar when we go out to eat. He usually won't even touch it now because he knows the huge difference compared to a homemade version.

 Fleur De Sel de Camargue - 4.4 oz.
Photo from

Cooking on the Wii

Photo from

If you love cooking, you will love the game Order Up on Wii. I saw this game in the game store and was immediately drawn to the cute cartoon characters, and obviously the cooking aspect of it! My husband kind of looked at me like I was crazy, but I tell you, we started playing it when we got home and were both addicted! We played for hours!

The objective is to work your way up from owning a greasy diner, to the upscale, fancy restaurant. In between you own a Mexican place, and an Italian place. You get to hire assistant chefs (who all bring different skills to the table), purchase new recipes, buy your own spices, and play fun mini-games like waking up your assistants if they fall asleep on the job, flicking rats out of your kitchen, impressing the food critic, and passing the health inspection. You even have to know your customers and what spices they like added to their food.

We also bought Cooking Mama, but it didn't even compare to Order Up. I hope they put out a second one as the first one is kind of short (you could pass it in a day if you wanted). Even so, I still go back to it to play my favorite restaurants (the Mexican and fancy place), and I might even try it on "hard" (no food meters to tell when food is cooked) just to see how well I do.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Dressing Up Your Table

On Ina Garten's website, a question is asked about where she gets her silver bowls that she uses on the show. Ina reveals that it is a line called Hotel Silver sold at Bergdorf Goodman's. The pieces are ones that were originally used in old, upscale hotels. Now since Ina makes just a little bit more money than I do, Bergdorf's is a great choice for her. Not so much for me. So, I did a little investigating and found some great sites where you can purchase these pieces at a much more reasonable price. Even so, you probably will only be able to collect one or two pieces at a time. I got my first two bowls at and I love them. You can fill them with dried fruits, nuts, or candy. They instantly add glamour to your table. The other site I love is which features great vintage pieces with that Parisian flair. I haven't bought anything from there yet, but I have my eye on a couple things.

Hotel Silver is so much fun because the pieces are one-of-a-kind, and have a great story behind them. They are great conversation pieces for your next party.

Vintage Silverplate Small Deco Bowl
My new bowls (I got two)
Photo from

The Parisian Poodle

Since it might be awhile before I make it to Paris, I thought I would bring a little piece of it to me. My husband and I had hoped to get a dog once we settled into a larger home of our own. Since that happened recently, we started thinking about what kind to get. I had wanted a Standard Poodle for quite some time, but unfortunately, our backyard is pretty small. We didn't think a large dog would be very comfortable.

We both loved all the poodle qualities still, and since they don't shed (great for Chris's allergies), we decided to go for the smaller version. We just got our apricot toy poodle puppy a few weeks ago and it has been quite an adventure. We are very lucky in that he has been relatively easy. He slept through the night the first night home, and every night since. It took just about a week for him to catch on to the potty training. He has the occasional accident here and there, but it's only if we're not doing our job and watching him carefully. Overall, I am very impressed with the work the breeder did with him to get him ready. You can read all about her and her breeding program here.

Now, when you think poodles, you think France: the world capital of fashion and style. I definitely wanted a French name for him. I like my pets' names to be different, so I steered clear of the usual names. We finally agreed on Gusteau, the French chef from the movie Ratatouille. How great is it that I got to incorporate cooking into it?! His nickname is Gus Gus or Gusti (or Goosapotamus or Mr. Lubber Lubber, or Buddy Boo-well you get the idea) and he is a lover. He bullies my cat Cavalli (named after Italian designer Roberto Cavalli), but they seem to like the rough housing because they always come back for more.

For some chic toys for our Parisian Poodle, we bought him the I Love Paris! toy set from It includes a plush Eiffel Tower, baguette, and cappuccino. We also got him his own loofah chef dog that he loves from PetSmart (on clearance too!). Now if I can only find a tiny beret for Gusteau, we'll be set!
I Love Paris! toy set
Photo from

Summer Reading

Photo from

As an English teacher, it is a given that I love to read. Summer is the one time of the year when I can really make a dent in my reading list. Typically, I read almost exclusively about Tudor history, and in particular, Anne Boleyn. Lately, though, I have found that new books on the subject have been slow to come out. So, I have found myself entering a new genre: travel memoirs.

Like many people, if I had the means, travel would be one of my top priorities. Until I become the first millionaire teacher, though (I'm still working on that), I can only travel in my mind through books. I had the opportunity once to travel to Italy, which was a life's dream of mine. I have been into European culture, music, food, history, you name it, since I was old enough to read about it. And let's face it, what says style and elegance more than Europe?

This summer will actually find me re-reading some fabulous books that have the ability to transport you to another place. First up will be Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. This will actually be the third or maybe even fourth time I have read this, but it never fails to inspire. A very easy read, with casual, humorous prose, Gilbert explores the direction of her life in three different places: Italy, India, and Indonesia. Okay, not the whole book takes place in Europe, but India and Indonesia are the perfect locales for the more spiritual second and third portions of the book.

The second on my list is The Reluctant Tuscan by Phil Doran. This will be my third time reading this. This was one of those lucky finds on a table at Barnes and Noble. I had never heard of the book or the author, but this book was so enjoyable. It is the autobiography of Doran as he leaves his high-powered career and life in Los Angeles and show business, for an old, dilapidated country house his wife purchases in Tuscany. Oddly, while most of us would dream of living life in one of the most beautiful places on Earth, Doran has a hard time adjusting to a slower pace of life, and resists at every opportunity. This is a humorous, and very honest look at the Italian way of life. Great book to enjoy with a glass of wine.

The newest one I've found is Without Reservations by Alice Steinbach. I've read it once and have mixed feelings about it. I'm going to give it another look, however, because it does take you to some wonderful countries. Steinbach is looking for a change in life and takes time to live in three different countries: France, England, and Italy. I found the first section, France, to be quite charming. You could almost imagine yourself dressed to the nines and enjoying a cappuccino and croissant at a sidewalk cafe. The other sections didn't quite live up to the first for me, even though I have a fascination with both countries. Steinbach's writing style is not quite as down-to-Earth as Gilbert or Doran, and not quite as humorous. It is another tempting look at what it would be like to leave your ordinary life behind, for the style and elegance of life abroad.

I'll be looking for more great travel memoirs to tackle this summer, but this should be a great start. Happy reading and happy traveling!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Perfect Summer Meal

Last night we made an incredible meal! I love using Giada DeLaurentiis's recipe for herb stuffed chicken (available on under Herbed Spring Chicken and Vegetables). Basically, you take boneless, skin-on chicken breasts and carefully work the skin away from the chicken in order to create a pocket for a mixture of fresh herbs. I love that this recipe is so versatile because you can switch the herb combination to whatever you like/have. I like her original combo the best which includes, parsley, garlic, fennel seeds, crushed red pepper flakes, and thyme. I have recently been reducing the amount of thyme in it and adding in fresh rosemary from our farmer's market and I like the bold flavor of it. The key to this recipe is the searing of the chicken in a saute pan with olive oil. Just 5 minutes on each side really creates a gorgeous gold and crunchy skin. Then it finishes in the oven for 15 minutes. We've made this dish a number of times and have always enjoyed it.

The new dish on the block came in the way of Ina Garten's Grilled Panzanella Salad (also available on I had seen it recently on her episode, Fired Up. I had tried Giada's artichoke panzanella previously and really enjoyed it. Ina's recipe, however, was INCREDIBLE!! Best of all, it's simple to make. The key here was grilling some of the vegetables. It really added a great flavor. Each bite had something different. Sometimes, you would get the taste of the fresh vegetables, like the cucumber and tomato. Other times, you would get the taste of the vinaigrette, which had a nice tang from the Dijon mustard (which I love to use in my own salad dressings). Then in some bites, you would get the taste of the grilled peppers, bread, and onions, with a wonderfully rich, deep, fire-roasted flavor. This was a winner, and definitely a refreshing summer meal that really showcased the wonderful produce available this time of year. You even get to make some of it outdoors on the grill. How summer is that? I can't wait to make this again! This will become a staple in our home for sure!

To finish the meal, I took a simple cue from Giada. We threw a couple fresh peaches on the grill, sliced them up, and put them in the bottom of a wine glass that was then filled with some Pinot Grigio. Delicious!

This meal was colorful, healthy, and easy! Not to mention the great flavors! It was the perfect, light, summer evening meal.

Ina's Grilled Panzanella Salad
Photo from Food

Friday, June 19, 2009


So, my experience with cooking has been quite a journey. I am a converted cook. I actually used to hate cooking. I think it had to do with working in retail at the time and my incredible impatience. Retail was tough because your schedule was never consistent. Getting home at 10 or later at night sometimes is not exactly conducive to whipping up a gourmet meal. Plus, when I want to eat, I want to eat! I didn't have the patience to actually prepare something.

That all changed when I actually sat down to watch my first cooking show a couple years ago. I even remember that it was a recipe for mini meatballs! I was teaching at that point so my work schedule was finally predictable and routine. I could spend my evenings preparing a meal and eating at a reasonable hour if I wanted. Watching someone else cook was such an amazing thing to watch. The colors of fresh produce, the sound of a knife chopping through vegetables, the smell of garlic and onion cooking (okay, I couldn't smell through the T.V but I could imagine!). Cooking is really an activity that incorporates all five senses. I needed to try it. So, I began watching the Food Network to see what other recipes I could find. I was immediately drawn to Rachael Ray.

I saw so much of myself in Rachael. She was goofy, and not afraid to make a mess in the kitchen. I guess I always thought you had to be the perfect five star chef in the kitchen. She made it okay to have fun and play with your food while cooking. I started making many of her recipes, and most are good, but I have to admit, I've had some that are not so great (that could be my fault, though. Who knows?)

My taste in chefs has developed over the last couple of years, and I have now come to regard Ina Garten (The Barefoot Contessa) as my favorite. Her show is my favorite to watch. It is so incredibly soothing after a long day. I love how she incorporates the entire process of cooking. It's not just about making the meal, but the setting, the mood, the presentation, and the effective entertaining techniques she uses that really make it special. She really gives the entire package. Her style is always so elegant, yet simple at the same time. I have always been blown away at how beautiful her meals look, but she's really not lying when she says that they are simple. I have been able to prepare all of them with ease, and every single recipe has turned out great every time. If I can do it, anyone can! With a new house, I look forward to using her entertaining strategies to host elegant, yet comfortable meals. It's fabulous making people happy through food!

Photos from and

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Our Big Year!

This school year was definitely an exciting one for me, as well as a crazy one. Trying to teach is already an all-consuming feat, but throw in a wedding and buying your first home, and you've got more than you can handle on your plate!

My college sweetheart Chris and I tied the knot on October 11, 2008 at Casa Real Winery in Livermore, CA. It was the perfect day, and everything turned out better than I ever could have asked for. Thankfully, my mom loves to plan and organize events. Without her, nothing would have come together. We went with a Fall theme. Deep, rich colors, leaves, and lots of other natural elements. The venue was brand new and absolutely stunning! In fact, we actually took a risk and booked before they had even started construction. We saw artist renderings of the property, and were able to see the vision of what they were trying to create. It had a very old world, Mediterranean feel to it, which is exactly what I was hoping for. In the end, we had a warm, cozy, yet elegant event that was an absolute blast! 

On top of all of that, we decided to buy a house, and hoped that we could move in before the wedding. Well, we got our wish. After looking and bidding for months with no success, we finally had our offer approved on a 4 bed, 3 bath home in a fantastic gated community! The only problem was that we cut it kind of close. We closed and moved in just 3 weeks before the wedding. Talk about a lot going on at once! It was also tough for me at work since I started the school year living out of boxes. Now that we're more settled, I wouldn't trade it for anything. The house is coming together well. Almost the entire house is now furnished, but we're planning some renovations down the line. I'm excited for that, but it will be awhile. We gave up some of the bells and whistles in this house to get into the best neighborhood, but I think it was well worth it. At least everything is very livable for us, so there really is no rush. My aunt is working on our window coverings, so I can't wait until we can hang those! It will really add a nice finishing touch!

Amazing Photos by Ultra-Spective Photography in Livermore,CA

It's Summer!

My blog is born! As a busy teacher, I seldom have time to do anything for myself during the school year. Now that school is out, I figured now was the time to start a blog to record and reflect on all the wonderful things that are going on in my life that I haven't yet had time to process. I hope to spend my summer cooking great meals, and adding little bits of elegance to my new home and life. This will be a challenge because of our new little man, Gusteau. He needs constant supervision, so I will have to get creative! I'm up for the challenge though!