Thursday, February 28, 2013

Cooking Around the World: Malawi, Part II

I meant to make this as dessert when we had our Cooking Around the World: Malawi, Part I dinner, but we were all full. So, I opted to make this for breakfast today. Dessert for breakfast, you say?!? I know. But it has milk, orange juice, and bananas. Sounds breakfast-y to me.

This is a classic dessert soup made with bananas that originates from Malawi, adapted by me because, as you know, I can't follow a recipe to save my life! Serves 4.

3 C organic whole milk
juice from one orange
2 T honey
2 T cornstarch
cinnamon and raw turbinado sugar for garnish
3 bananas

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the milk, orange juice, honey, and cornstarch. As it heats, the soup will begin to thicken. Cook till desired thickness; ours was still pretty liquidy. Float slices of bananas in your soup and garnish with cinnamon and raw sugar.

Well, this wraps our tabletop travel to Malawi. We tried Roasted Mbatata, Cabbage Ndiwo, and now this Banana Soup. These Global Table Ambassadors are signing off for now. We're heading to Malaysia next.

*Update 5/31/2013: Added to Katherine Martinelli's Banana Linky*

Pots de Crème {Pass the Cookbook}

I joined the fun for the Pass the Cookbook series kicked off by Kita, the culinary force behind the Pass the Sushi blog.

Her goal: cook from some unused cookbooks on her shelf...and get some other foodies to join her. Sign me up! "Hello, my name is Camilla and I'm addicted to collecting cookbooks."

I solved my crowded shelves a bit differently than Kita - giving them away with gift baskets to local friends this year - but I'm game to join her fun.

Kita dusted off her copy of The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food From My Frontier by Ree Drummond and picked three recipes from which we needed to cook (I've included links to the recipes on Ree's website): Perfect Potatoes Au Gratin, Herb Roasted Pork Tenderloin, and - the recipe I ending up selecting - Pots de Crème.

I swapped out espresso for "very strong coffee" otherwise I stayed true to the original ingredients. I did, however, change the procedure a bit, skipping the blender all together and doing more of a ganache process.

12 oz semisweet chocolate chips
4 eggs, at room temp
2 t pure vanilla extract
8 oz espresso
1 C organic heavy cream
2 T organic granulated sugar

Heat the heavy cream and sugar in a small saucepan. When the sugar is dissolved and bubbles start to form - but before it boils - remove the pan from the heat and pour in the chocolate chips. Let sit for 3 minutes. Whisk till smooth. Whisk the eggs, vanilla, and espresso together in a large mixing bowl. Slowly add the chocolate mixture to the eggs. Pour the mixture into small mason jars, pretty glasses, or demitasse cups. Place on a tray and refrigerate for 2 - 3 hours or until firm.

That's it for this round. Click for the facebook group of bloggers who are participating. We're cooking from Guy Fieri's book next month. Will it be Cherry Cobbler Pizza, Asian Fried Quinoa, or the Snakebite?!? Hmmm...I'm still deciding.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Cooking Around the World: Malawi, Part I

We headed to Malawi in our Cooking Around the World Adventure tonight. Malawi is located in Southern Africa, east of Zambia and west of Mozambique and is slightly smaller than Greece. Chichewa is the most common language spoken in Malawi though English is also used in business and government.

The flag consists of 3 colors: red, representing the blood of Malawian nationals who freed themselves from the British colonial empire; black, representing the color of their skin; and green for nature and vegetation. In the middle there is a white sun as a sign of hope.

Sweet potatoes (called mbatata) seem to be very common. I had toyed with the idea of making mbatata biscuits but opted to just roast some sweet potatoes instead.

Cabbage Ndiwo

3 C greens*, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 T olive oil
2 small tomatoes, chopped
1 cup water
salt to taste

Saute onions in oil until tender. Add remaining ingredients, cover and simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes or until greens are tender. Dylan wanted to put quail eggs in the Malawi cabbage nest, so we did.

Common green vegetable leaves used in ndiwo:

Cassava Leaves = Ntapasya or Chigwada
Sweet Potato Leaves = Ntolilo or Kholowa
Bean Leaves = Nkwanya
Small Bean Leaves = Chitambe
Pumpkin Leaves = Mkhwani
Chinese Cabbage = Chinese
Mustard Leaves
Rape Leaves
Kale Leaves

This is just Part I...because we were too stuffed for Part II. Coming up soon...

Monday, February 25, 2013

Cooking Around the World: Tava so Oriz {Macedonia}

Tava so Oriz 
(Macedonian Chicken Stew)


  • 1 medium-sized chicken, skin on, cut into legs, breasts, etc.
  • 6 C organic chicken stock
  • Root Vegetables: 2 carrots, 1 parsnip, 2 leeks
  • 1 parsley root, ½ celery root, 1 leek
  • 1 bell pepper (I used a yellow one)
  • freshly ground salt and pepper
  • 2 C short grain brown rice
  • 1 pat of butter per person

In a large soup pot, caramelize the leeks. Quickly brown the chicken to seal in the juices. Add in the stock and the vegetables. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook until the parsnips are tender. Add in the rice and cook for another 30-40 minutes - until the rice is soft.

Traditionally this is served with a side of melted butter that is poured over the stew. We gave it a try, but it was unnecessarily rich.

I will definitely make this again; it's the ultimate in comfort food!

I have no idea what is going through R's head as he gnawed on the chicken bones...maybe he was thinking about our next country: Madagascar.

But before we go, here's some information about Macedonia...

Macedonia is located in southeastern Europe, north of Greece. Completely landlocked, Macedonia is about the size of Vermont. Macedonia gained its independence, peacefully, from Yugoslavia in 1991, but Greece objected to the new state's use of what it considered a Hellenic name; so it was officially designated as "the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia." In 1995, the United Nations began referring to Macedonia by its constitutional name, Republic of Macedonia.

Fun Facts
  • Their toilet paper is scented. 
  • Sidewalks are used for driving and parking, not for walking.
  • They don't use cents.  Everything is rounded up to the nearest Denar.
  • They come over unannounced and at any time, so you must always be prepared.

Cooking Around the World: Madagascar

Years ago when the movie Madagascar first came out, my then toddler had a pair of shoes with the characters on them. Here he is! You can almost make out Alex the Lion's mane, right?

He was so proud of those shoes and was trying to show them off to his Aunt Pia and Aunt Jenn when we were having a picnic with them. 'Ma-ga-gar!' he announced, pointing at his shoe. What, Sweetheart? they both asked. 'Ma-ga-gar!' he said louder, inching closer and lifting up his foot. I'm not quite sure how long this exchange went on; I think I must have been occupied with Riley somewhere. By the time I got back, Dylan had Pia's face in his hands and he was saying it if the problem was his volume...with his foot up in the air: 'Ma-ga-gar!!'

She looked at me and apologized, "Cam, we have no idea what he's trying to say, but he's very enthusiastic about something. What is he trying to tell us?" Dyn, what are you trying to say to Aunt Pia?  'Ma-ga-gar, Mamma! Ma-ga-gar!" Oh, Madagascar...he's trying to show you his shoes. While Pia was fluent in 'toddler' from her toddler, mine was a whole different story. He was, admittedly, difficult to understand at times.

But, I digress. Today we travel to 'Ma-ga-gar' by tabletop for dinner...

Spiced Beef and Potato Cakes

This is a traditional Malagasy recipe spiced beef and potato cakes. Side note: I have no idea how this is pronounced. I pronounced it "cattle." Riley immediately piped up, "Oh, they called it 'cattle' because it looks like a cow patty." Not likely.

1 pound 96/4 grassfed organic ground beef
1 t minced fresh ginger
2 minced cloves of garlic
1 t curry powder
freshly ground salt and pepper
2 large potatoes, scrubbed and cubed
1 egg
5 T flour
butter and oil for frying

Boil the potatoes in lightly salted water until fork tender. Mash with a potato masher until smooth.

In a large pan, brown the meat in a splash of oil with ginger and garlic. Once cooked through, season with salt, pepper, and curry. Mix into the potatoes. Add 1 beaten egg to form a "dough."

Heat butter and oil in a large, flat-bottom pan. Form the meat-potato mixture into balls and flatten them slightly. Dip them into flour to coat. Then fry on both sides for about 3 minutes per side. The katles should be nicely browned and warm all the way through. Serve hot with a hot pepper dipping sauce.

Salady Voankazo
Fruit Salad with Lychees

I couldn't find any lychee at the market today. Darn it. So, I used what I had. This dish was a hit, but I'm not sure it's really authentic. Still it was Salady Voankazo-inspired.

Dylan helped me hull and slice the strawberries. See how big he is now!

  • caviar from one vanilla pod
  • vanilla pod
  • juice from half of a lemon
  • 2 T organic raw turbinado sugar
  • fruits (we used strawberries, bananas, blueberries)

Place all of the fruit in a mixing bowl. Toss with the remaining ingredients and allow to macerate for at least 20 minutes before serving. When you serve the fruit, be sure to spoon some of the syrup that's formed into each bowl.

These Global Table Ambassadors are signing off for now. We're moving forward through the M-countries and will heading to Malawi next.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Cooking Around the World: Luxembourg

When I started looking for recipes to cook for Luxembourg, I quickly realized that I loved what I was seeing - fresh seafood + fresh herbs + wine. They make Moulen, a dish with mussels steamed in Riesling, that looked amazing, but it was a bit too similar to the Moules dish we had when we traveled by tabletop to Belgium last February. I wanted something with a little bit of novelty.

I settled on two Luxembourg-style dishes for tonight's dinner: Hiecht mat Kraïderzooss and Kriibsen. Or, at least, my variation of them. I didn't have pike or crayfish, so I swapped in cod and large prawns. I took lots of liberties with these dishes, using the traditional recipes as a jumping off point.

Fish in Green Sauce

Poach the fish in a mixture of fish stock, water, and a splash of riesling. Top with green sauce...

3 T butter
1 t crushed garlic
handful chervil and chives
bunch of parsley
pepper and salt
1/4 C organic heavy cream

Melt the butter in a small sauce pan. Add the garlic and saute for 2 minutes. Pour in the cream and simmer until slightly reduced. Stir in the herbs. Season, to taste, with freshly ground pepper and salt. Spoon the sauce over the fish. Serve hot.

Crayfish Luxembourg Style

Crayfish were common in Luxembourg waters until the 1930s. However they quickly began to disappear as the waters became polluted. One or two streams have become clean again, and there are crayfish again in Luxembourg, albeit in small quantities. I used large prawns instead. 

Boil the prawns in a mixture of butter and Luxembourg riesling. Toss with fresh herbs. This dish is typcially eaten with one's fingers...and served with a riesling. I couldn't locate a Luxembourg riesling, but I found one - from Wente - with grapes from Arroyo Seco.

The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is a small country surrounded by Belgium, France and Germany.

Luxembourgish, the national language, is akin to German. German is the first foreign language for most Luxembourgers and is used in the media while French is the governmental language.

Luxembourg shares the Moselle valley with Germany and the local white wines are well known and popular. And like other northern European countries, Luxembourg also produces popular brands of beer.

With this adventures, we've wrapped up the Ls and are heading to Macedonia next.

Smoked Salmon + Brie + Bacon Jam

This afternoon I had lunch with one of my best friends. As we were getting ready to leave the restaurant, she handed me a cooler. "Mike has been experimenting with cold smoking salmon," she explained.

Have I mentioned how much I love getting gifts of goodies and ingredients?!?

I already had plans for dinner, so I started brainstorming about turning Mike's cold-smoked salmon into our first course. Here's what I came up with...

Crusty French bread spread with a triple creme brie, topped with cold-smoked salmon, and smeared with bacon-fennel jam.

Thanks, Mike. You'll have to explain cold-smoking to me next time I see you.

Rhubarb Heart Tarts

Completely missed posting these before Valentines'. This has been sitting in my drafts folder. Whoops. So easy. So yummy. And pretty!

Tart Crust
2 C flour + 1/2 C more, as needed
1/2 C organic powdered sugar
3/4 C butter, at room temperature
2 T cold water

Blend all the ingredients - except the water - together to form pea-sized chunks. Add the water and gently press together until it forms a ball. Lightly knead in up the 1/2 C more flour until the dough is not sticky. Refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Roll crust out to desired thickness. Use a cookie cutter to cut into  desired shapes; hearts were appropriate for this week. Lay bottom crust on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Spoon jam into the center of the tart. I used fresh rhubarb sauce, but use whatever you have on-hand. Lay another crust on top, then press the edges of the crusts together to seal it. You can use the tines of a fork to create a crimped look, if you wish.

Brush the tops of the tart with extra jam and sprinkle with raw turbinado sugar. Bake until the crusts are cooked and lightly browed, approximately 40-50 minutes.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Cooking Around the World: Kugelis {Lithuania}

We're moving forward in our Cooking Around the World Adventure, traveling to Lithuania by tabletop for dinner tonight. While I toyed with the idea of making Bulvinial Blynai, Lithuanian potato pancakes, potato pancakes are generally met with wrinkled noses and the admonition, "Mom, you know that potato pancakes are not our favorite." Yeah, I know. So, to avoid, that interchange altogether, I opted for Lithuanian's national dish: Kugelis, potato pudding.

Traditionally served with sour cream, lignonberry sauce, and more bacon bits, I swapped out the lignonberry for some fresh rhubarb sauce I had made.

I used lots and lots of culinary license with this. How can you go wrong with potatoes, bacon, and eggs, right? So, my proportions might be "all wrong" for a traditional kugelis, but it was delicious! And Dylan, my kitchen elf of the evening, helped me out with all the grating.

3 potatoes, grated
1 onion, diced
1 pound applewood smoked bacon, diced
6 eggs
1/2 C organic whole milk
1 C white whole wheat flour
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Reserve 2 T of bacon for garnish. In a large, flat-bottom pan cook your onion and bacon until the bacon is cooked through and the onion caramelized. In a separate pan, cook the remaining bacon till it's crispy. Grate the potatoes and stick in salted water to keep it from oxidizing.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the remaining ingredients together to form a batter. Butter a 9" x 13" baking dish. add in the potatoes and bacon-onion mix. Cover the dish with foil and bake, covered, for appoximately an hour - or until the pudding is firm. Remove the foil and bake until the top is golden brown, approximately another 15-20 minutes.

Serve with a dollop of sour cream, a spoonful of rhubarb sauce, and a sprinkling of crisped bacon. This got a thumb's up from Riley!

A bit more about the country...

The colors on Lithuanian's flag are yellow, green, and red. The yellow stripe represents the sun, Lithuania's wheat fields and prosperity; the green symbolizes the country's forests, flora and hope; and the red stands for the blood spilled for independence, courage and the people's love and loyalty for Lithuania.

Fun Facts About Lithuania
  • The official name of Lithuania is ‘The Republic of Lithuania’.
  • Lithuania is situated in Eastern Europe, between Latvia and Russia.
  • The official language of Lithuania is Lithuanian. However, you will find majority of the people also speak Russian and English.
  • Lithuania is about the same size as West Virginia.
  • Lithuania was the last country in Europe to be converted to Christianity. Before Christianity, the country’s religion was ‘Romuva’.
  • Lithuania had only one king during the royal times, King Mindaugas.
  • The first publishing house in Lithuania was founded in Vilnius, in 1522, and the first Lithuanian Book was published in 1547.
  • Lithuania was the first Soviet republic to declare independence from the USSR.
  • Basketball is the most popular sport in Lithuania.
  • The first railway network in Lithuania was established the 19th century, that connected Warsaw and Saint Petersburg.
  • Bread and salt are important to Lithuanians. Lithuanians welcome important guests.
These Global Table Ambassadors are signing off for now. We'll be heading to Luxemborg to wrap up the L countries of the world. Movin' on...

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Bacon-Fennel Jam

Back in September, Jake, Pia, Brian, Jenn, Mike, and I went to Edible Monterey Bay's pop-up dinner at La Crème. While many of the flavor combinations that Chef Jon created were unforgettable, one stood out in my mind and has inspired me to experiment: bacon jam. You read that correctly - salty, smoky bacon + sticky, sweet jam. I started with David Leite's version, then tweaked to make this...

1 pound applewood smoked bacon
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and finely diced
2 t crushed garlic
3/4 C espresso
1/2 C pear vinegar
1/2 C raw turbinado sugar
1/4 C wildflower honey
1/4 C unsulphered molasses

Place the bacon in a large, flat-bottom pan and begin to render the fat. Add in the fennel and garlic and cook until softened. Add in the sugar, then pour in the liquids, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for 1-1/2 to 2 hours, until all of the liquid has been absorbed. The jam will be dark, caramelized, and delicious.

I plan to use this to adorn some goat cheese tarts this weekend. Look for a recipe soon!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Cooking Around the World: Kasknopfle {Liechtenstein}

I have been slacking on my Cooking Around the World (home) adventure. I did teach a 6 week class at my sons' elementary school called "Culinary Adventurers: Eating Our Way Around the World." And when I teach those Friday afternoon electives, all of life's extras stop. Who knew that wrangling a dozen 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders would be so consuming - and stressful?!? Probably everyone, except for me.

Thankfully, I'm done teaching for the year and can get back to cooking with my two boys. We headed to Liechtenstein via tabletop tonight and whipped up some Kasknopfle, cheese dumplings.

Two fun facts I came across:

  • Liechtenstein produces more sausage casings and false teeth than any other country in the world.
  • 100% of the Liechtenstein population older than 10 years of age can read.

Now back to the Kasknopfle...

1 1/3 C flour
1 1/2 t salt
3 eggs
3 T water
1 large onion
10 1/2 T mixed grated cheeses

Place flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Mix eggs and water in a separate bowl and then add to the dry ingredients. Mix until bubbles rise in the batter. The batter is the correct consistency when it is thick. Cover the batter with a cloth and let stand for approximately 30 minutes.

Bring salted water to a boil in a large pot. Drop small bits of the batter into the simmering water or put through a colander. When the dumplings come to the surface, remove and drain them with a sieve. Place them on a plate and mix with the grated cheese and a pat of butter. Garnish the cheese dumplings with toasted onions and serve with salad. And given my fun fact #1, I also served sausages for dinner!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Food Matters Project: Kicked-Up-a-Notch Paella

This week Meg of Fledgling Foodie picked our recipe for the week: Pared-Down Paella with Peas, Clams, and Chorizo.

While the simplicity of Mark Bittman's simplified version is appealing, I decided to kick it up a notch instead. I merged Bittman's recipe with Esperanza's Paella in José Pizarro's Seasonal Spanish Food  that my cousin Tiffany gave me for Christmas. I like José's inclusion of chicken and green beans, but skipped the rabbit and the fava beans. I'm allergic to fava, sadly.

Click to read what all of the creative cookers in The Food Matters Project made: here. Look in the comments section. Then, join us next week when Keely Marie hosts us making Bittman's Rolled Cabbage!

Here's my Kicked Up a Notch Paella...

olive oil
2 shallots, minced
6 oz chorizo (I used soy chorizo)
1 red bell pepper, sliced
2 C brown basmati rice
1/2 C fresh tomato sauce
1 C fresh peas
1 C cut green beans
1 C cubed chicken
2 lbs clams
pinch of saffron
2 C hot water
2 C chicken broth
1 T cilantro
lemon wedges for garnish
smoked paprika

Soak the saffron in the hot water. In a large, flat-bottom pan, heat a splash of olive oil and cook your shallots until they are softened and translucent. Add the chorizo and cook until nicely browned.

Add the cubes of chicken and cook until done. Stir in the peas, red bell peppers, green beans and rice. Saute for a minute or two - until the rice is glossy and coated with oil. Add in the tomato sauce, saffron water, chicken broth, and cilantro. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce the heat, and simmer for 30 minutes. Check for doneness and add water if the rice is not quite tender.

Place the clams on top of the rice mixture. Cover and steam for 10 minutes - until the clams are open. Discard any clams that do not open. Garnish with a sprinkling of smoked paprika. Serve hot with lemon wedges.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Rethinking Bee Pollen... {Poll}

While I'm working on a story about bees and beekeeping, I have had the opportunity to meet and visit local backyard beekeepers. Today, I spend some time with Bill and his bees in Del Rey Oaks. We watched bees coming in and out of the hive with pollen in the baskets on their legs. I had a twinge of guilt as I realized that when I purchase bee pollen, someone is robbing those little bees of their hard-earned bounty. Question one: am I still a thief if I didn't personally harvest the pollen?

Question two: would these dishes have been just a good without the bee pollen?

Bruschetta with Bee Pollen, Brie, & Bresaola

What do you think?! Comment below or email me at constantmotioncamilla [at] gmail [dot] com.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Another Homerun at La Crème {Tasting Notes}

When I write that I will never pass up an opportunity to be wined and dined at La Crème, that is no exaggeration. There are two reasons why: Chef Jon Moser and Tamie Aceves.

An unforgettable dining experience is about the atmosphere, sure. And Tamie nails that every time. Last night was no different - ivory silks, scarlet napkins, voluptuous vases filled with fragrant red roses and delicate wax flowers adorned the cozy tables set for two. But hers is not the kind of decor that feels stuffy or pretentious. Votive candles in jam jars cast starry patterns on the table. You feel right at home, well, a more elegant version of your home.

It's certainly about the food and the wine. Chef Jon creates masterful, elegant combinations of flavors and mouthfeel. And while the selected wines stand on their own, when paired with Jon's creations, they sing. Opera-style, misty eyes-inducing amazing.

But when those two - what's on the table and what's around the table - are aligned, you are treated to a sublime, magical evening. That was last night for me when Jake and I went to La Crème for their Luscious, Romantic & Juicy Valentines Wine Pairing Dinner. Five courses. Five wines. All were outstanding though we disagreed on which were our favorites.

Shared Antipasto Platter: A culling of gourmet cheeses and charcuterie

We all but licked the plate. I may have licked the knife, but I don't think anyone except for Jake saw me! It's difficult to pick my personal favorite, but the Humboldt Fog - that creamy, luscious goat's milk cheese with a subtle tangy flavor - presented with a tiny dice of pears poached in white wine with saffron and thyme was outstanding. The grilled baguette slices were the perfect, neutral canvas for the bold flavor combinations of Fiscalini cheddar with housemade Aleppo pepper jam and coppa with pickled golden raisins and whole grain mustard. And it was all paired with Coppola Winery's Sofia Blanc de Blancs. Refreshing and elegant, this sparkling wine is a blend of Pinot Blanc, Muscat, and Riesling. Mellow flavors of pears with a whisper of honeysuckle, and just the right amount of bubbles, made this Jake's favorite wine of the night.

Blood Orange & Almond Salad 

A simple blend of lettuces from County Line Harvest lettuces, tart arancia rossa orange segments, and toasted almonds with a drizzle of aged Villa Manodori balsamic were paired with Mer Soleil's Silver Chardonnay. A friend introduced me to this wine at Christmas. [Thanks, Miles!] Though I'm not a big chardonnay fan - it's typically too buttery - there is one word on this ceramic-bottled libation that caught my eye: unoaked. Yep, that's right. This chard is aged in a combination of stainless steel and limestone-based ceramic tanks. And its minerality and fresh-cut hay notes, followed by grapefruit and lemon, perfectly complemented that blood orange in the salad.

Seared Day Boat Scallop 

Just when the thought "this is my favorite course" crosses your mind, Chef Jon's servers bring out something that surpasses your expectations and enthralls your tastebuds even more. But, in hindsight, this was actually my favorite course! A perfectly seared scallop sat atop a celery root carbonara with a confetti-like sprinkle of micro herb salad. The only other couple seated with us in the Cigar Room asked about celery root and I said, "It's a hideous looking root. Kind of like a clod of dirt." Whoops, was that my outside voice? When Tamie brought a celery root out to show them, she said the same thing, "It's ugly, right?" Only Chef Jon could envision turning it into a delicious 'pasta'. This was paired with Etude's "Lyric" Pinot Noir. Creamy berry notes are countered with subtle chocolate aromas to form this luscious pinot.

Filet of Angus Beef 

Now here's the perfect example of Chef Jon deftly combining textures to render your mouth in utter bliss. Fork tender beef leaned on a mound of potato ravioli and sautéed cavolo nero, topped with crisped carrots. When I ducked into the kitchen, Jon described it, modestly, as mashed potato ravioli. Yeah, if your mashed potatoes are made with housemade marscarpone, sage, and a dash of nutmeg. If I didn't have another course to eat, I probably would have polished this off. And this course's wine was - by far - my favorite of the evening. The beef was paired with Paraiso Vineyard's "Wedding Hill" Syrah.

"Wedding Hill" is a lush ruby red, a delightful marriage of blackberry, black pepper, with a little bit of tobacco on the nose. I loved that it was weighty and structured without being heavy. I will certainly have to track down a bottle of this next time I'm serving beef.

By this point, I was full. Happily stuffed and ready for an espresso. But our babysitter clock was running low, so we skipped a trip downstairs to Crema and enjoyed the Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding. Artistically presented with a smear of dark chocolate, a spoonful of pinot noir reduction, a slab of pistachio croccante and a dotting of preserved tart cherries, this was paired with SLO Down Wines's Sexual Chocolate. Two thumbs up for the name, but it was a little too reminiscent of a chocolate-covered cherry for my tastes. Rich, almost raisin-y, it was not at the top of my list. Jake liked it though.

So, there you have it. Five fab courses by Chef Jon + a romantic vibe set up by Tamie = another homerun at La Crème! 

Oh, and thanks for the rose and a perfectly placed bench on the front step for some smooching. This was exactly the way I wanted to spend Valentines.