Saturday, November 9, 2013

Virginia's Kitchen Staples: Victorinox 40520 Fibrox 8-Inch Chef's Knife

I'd like to introduce a new series of blog posts where I share my kitchen essentials.  I've tested these thoroughly and not only use them in my own kitchen, but I like to give them as gifts as well.

I'm not a fan of the big knife blocks you get at Macy's.  I prefer to customize my knife collection.  Just like a golfer's got preferences with what brand of driver they use, putter, etc...I feel the same way about my knives.  If you're playing a par three, you might just need to bring a pitching wedge, putter, and a good driver.  So I'd like to go over just the essentials.

Today I'll start with my "driver"...the chef knife.

In case you haven't been caught up with my life so far, I've been working hard on my startup, Speek.  This means making some cuts (PUN INTENDED) at home so I'm not going nuts buying obscure Japanese Ginsu knife sets.

The best part? It's under $40. Nailed it.

After much research (Equipment Corner in Cooks Illustrated is an awesome source), I came across this hidden gem.  Stays nice and sharp, good size, and the handle stays grippy when your hands get wet.  Can't ask for much more. Sturdy knife for prep and I've cut some serious chicken bones with it as well.  This is a solid knife and a great housewarming/Christmas/birthday gift for the food enthusiast in your life.

Here's the Amazon link.

Next up...I'll tell you about my pairing knife...which would probably be closet to your "putter".

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Easy Peasy Split Pea Soup

Working at a startup has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.  But I will say my lifestyle has changed drastically.  Mostly for the better.  And if you hate conference calls, I promise you Speek will make YOUR life better.

There has, however, been a lot of penny pinching.  I haven't cut my hair in over a year, manicures are a thing of the past, I bat more than an eyelash at a $100 bar tab, and this Valentines Day we skipped the fancy dinner and decided to stay in.  My significant other and I both work for Speek and there's a lot of work to be done!

This split pea soup is not only super easy to make, it is also budget friendly.

If you wear a snuggy while eating this, it tastes better.

Easy Peasy Split Pea Soup
Serves 6-8 easily

4 slices of low sodium bacon, chopped (you can substitute a cup of diced leftover ham)
2 medium onions, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 large Russet potato, peeled and cubed into 1/2" pieces
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 package of dry split peas, rinsed
1 and 1/2 (or 2 if you like a thinner soup) box of chicken stock
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 pinch of dry basil
1 dash of liquid smoke (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

1. Cook bacon in large Dutch oven.  If you are using leftover ham, sauté it up with just a little olive oil.
2. Add onions and carrots.  Sauté until soft.
3. Add garlic, stir until fragrant.
4. Add the potato, peas, stock, bay leaves, garlic powder, basil, liquid smoke.
5. Bring to a boil.
6. Lower heat to a simmer and cover for about an hour or until peas are very soft.  Stir often. I like it super thick, but if you prefer it thinner, add more chicken stock (last half of the second box).
7. Season with salt and pepper.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Mama Lee's Braised Spicy Korean Chicken Stew (Dak Dori Tang)

You likely won't find this traditional Korean dish in a restaurant.  It's a homemade favorite in many Korean kitchens.  It's got a kick to it, but you can adjust the spice level by using less gochugaru (Korean pepper flakes) and jalepenos.  I do not recommend omitting them...they really make the dish special.  This dish is super easy, you can't screw this up, I promise.  Be sure to check out the notes at the bottom of the post.

Ready to serve

Braised Spicy Korean Chicken Stew (Dak Dori Tang)

2 tablespoons of sesame oil
10-12 skinless boneless chicken thighs (you can also use skinless drumsticks). Trim excess fat
2 medium onions, chopped
2 Large Russet potatoes, peeled and cubed into 1-2"ish pieces
3/4 cup soy sauce
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup cooking wine - mat sul (optional)
1 tablespoon of minced ginger
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
1-2 tablespoons, depending on how spicy you want it, gochugaru (Korean red pepper flakes)
1 jalepeno, sliced
1 bunch green onion, sliced into 2 inch strips
Korean sticky white rice to serve on the side

1. Heat sesame oil in large Dutch oven or pot.
2. Brown chicken thighs (make sure you've trimmed the excess fat). Don't worry about getting a good sear.  It doesn't matter in this stew.
3. Add the onions and potatoes to the chicken.  Stir.
4. In a bowl, mix together the soy sauce, water, cooking wine, ginger, garlic, sugar, gochugaru, jalapeno, and green onion.
5. Pour mixture into pot.
6. Stir and bring to a boil.
7. Lower to a simmer and cover.
8. Keep covered until potatoes are done.
9. Simmer, uncovered for another 15-20 minutes...or until desired thickness.
10. If you see some grease pool on the surface of the stew, move the pot over so half of it is at a boil.  The grease will pool to the side thats not heated.  Carefully skim the fat off of the surface.

Serve on a plate next to a side of rice.

Before it was brought to a boil:

Right before I boiled and covered. 

-- Most of these ingredients are readily available in your supermarket.  The two you might not find are Gochugaru (Korean red pepper flakes) and Korean cooking wine (mat sul).  I've included links to images of the two so you if you happen to be in the International food store you can bring this along to help you!  If you happen to have a lot of the gochugaru left over, keep it fresh in a ziplock in the freezer.
-- I STRONGLY suggest serving this with traditional sticky Korean white rise.  My favorite brand is Kokuho Rose.  You should be able to find a small 5lb bag at the grocery store or International store. I recommend making this in a rice cooker.  Be sure to rinse the rice well before cooking.  I wash the rice until the water is just barely foggy.
-- Do not add any salt.  Braising the chicken in the soy salt adds plenty of seasoning.  Trust me.
-- You can substitue the chicken for 3-4 chicken breast halves cut into strips.  I prefer thighs because it really is much more flavorful.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Danny's Roasted Brussels Sprouts

My good friend Danny's recipe for roasted Brussels sprouts will make anyone an instant fan of these little cabbages.

I first had these on New Years Eve.  I was skeptical when he used the Parmesan cheese out of the can you generally reserve for pizza.  He's tested this recipe over and again and claims the canned Parmesan cheese is the key.  Fresh grated tends to melt to fast and burns easily.  So, put your food snobbery aside and give this a try.

You'll eat these like popcorn.

Danny's Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts, cleaned, trimmed and halved
Grated Parmesan cheese (I used the kind you just shake out of the can)
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Red pepper flakes (optional)

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
  2. Toss Brussels sprouts with olive oil and cheese to coat evenly
  3. Season with salt and pepper.  Add a bit of red pepper flakes if you want a little kick
  4. Roast for about 15-20 minutes or until leaves and cheese slightly brown.  Pierce one with a fork...if it gives just a little, they are done!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Souper Easy Sausage, Potato, Kale Soup

I posted this picture on Facebook and got a request for the recipe.  It's been a while since I've posted anything, so here it is:

Sausage, Potato, Kale Soup
Serves 6

1(ish) lb of ground sausage (or take the casings off 3 sausages)
1 diced medium onion
Red pepper flakes to taste
1 peeled and cubed Russet potatoes (or 4 diced red potatoes, whichever you prefer)
1 box of chicken stock (homemade of course is better!)
1 lb of kale
1 cup of water
1 cup of half and half
Salt and pepper to taste
Dash of nutmeg

1. Break up and saute ground sausage, onion, and red pepper flakes in large pot or Dutch oven.
2. Drain and put back on the stove at medium high heat.
3. Add cubed potatoes and stock.
4. Bring to a boil and cook until the potatoes are almost done.
5. Add kale.  It looks like a lot, don't'll cook down.
6. Add water if desired.  I like to add a little bit to add more liquid.
7. Cover and simmer until kale is tender....right about when the kale stops being bright green.  But don't overcook or they'll be come mushy.  Kale is pretty forgiving, so don't sweat it too much.
8.  Take off the heat and add cream.  Add salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

14 Things to do in Atlanta

A giant sign reading "Virginia Lee" written in marker greets me at the airport through the windshield of my hostess' car.  Sabrina's wild, curly hair pokes out of Merve, her trusty Mazda. 

Sabrina.  She tells me the locals hate referring to Atlanta as Hotlanta.  A-town it is.

The car fills with our cackles and smoke as we laugh at the comically large sign that never quite made it a baggage claim welcome.  It smells faintly of the art teacher's office.  Her steering wheel shakes after 60 miles per hour. We drift on the humid Atlanta highway, headed for Roswell. There is whiskey on the horizon.  And I'm ready.

Atlanta is huge.  I traipsed around North Atlanta, East Cobb, Roswell, East Atlanta and made my way downtown, finishing with our dramatic W Hotel stay and a decadent dinner at Buckhead's Aria.  I didn't see it all, but I saw a lot.  Sabrina's group of friends are diverse, loud, and full of life.  We partied well into the morning hours, lighting sparkler's off of Marlo's rocking chair covered porch in East Atlanta.  I felt true southern hospitality and ate enough indulgent food to keep my personal trainer and dietician busy for at least another year.  A definite contrast to my visit to Northern California.  Atlanta was one giant party.

Things to do in Atlanta

1. Have someone greet you at the airport with a giant sign.

2. Eat burgers at Vortex.

3. Feel a little miserable about it.

I avoided the coronary line of burgers which involve  a fried egg on a half pound burger.

4. Recover.

3  Have a staring contest with a cat.

4. Eat crickets

Really, those are sour cream and onion crickets.

5. Try every soda ever in the world of coca cola

My tummy hurt after this.

6. Crash a rooftop pool party at the W

7. Leave with souvenirs

8. Drink a bottle of whiskey every day you are there.

not really. 

9. Hang out with local celebrities.  As in the white guy (Ricky Raw) in this video.  I want that bacon and eggs scarf.

10. Meet Paul Somer's Asian doppelganger.

11. Hang out with Turk from Scrubs.

Nah, it was just his doppelhanger

12. Eat at Aria , one of the top Atlanta restaurants and get treated like royalty (no pictures here, you know how I hate taking pictures in restaurants)

14. Eat at Delia's Chicken Sausage Stand and get treated like a glutton.  Yeah, that's a chicken sausage sandwich on a donut.

photo from
Thanks Sabrina and Friends, for helping me live through the least amount of sleep and I've had since college and showing me a fabulous time.

Monday, May 9, 2011

15 things to do in California

15 things to do in California

1.  Eat dim sum in San Francisco with legit Chinese people.

Barrett's lovely grandma who insisted I get squid and ordered off the menu.

The menu.

2.  Explore some sketchy Battery to get a view.

I climbed to the top of this in cowboy boots.

Some popular bridge...jeez, what was it again?

3.  Scowl at hippies in Haight.  Scowl with hipsters in the Mission.
You know how I feel about hippies.

Perplexed...why does it cost so much to look cheap?  The shopping was ridiculous.
4.  Go to a food truck festival.  Eat at more than three trucks.

By the harbor near Golden Gate.

Indian curry in a burrito with basmati. SHUTUP!
I also have never seen so many Asian Americans that spoke perfect English in one place.

5.  Scoot your huskies.  Wait, you can do that anywhere.

Those sister in law with her huskies.

6.  Visit the Black Chasm.  A huge crack in the earth.

7.  See some of the biggest trees you will ever see.

8.  Be warned.

9.  Learn more than you want to know about wine making.
each of these barrels from France costs any where from $1500-$2000 and are only used up to three times before they are converted to a life of storage or turned into some souvenir cutting board.

10. Go to a barrel tasting.

First winery (with my in laws), not intoxicated one bit.

This guy studies wine making in Davis as well as on the vineyard.  The life.  He has plans to open his own winery.

11. Go to a super exclusive estate winery.  Taste wines they only make 74 cases of.

Casa Nueva...they sustain themselves on their wine clubs.  They do not  participate in retail.

12. Mingle with cool locals that have wineries, sheep, goats and pair food straight off the land and grill with their wine.

surfer dude who makes wine.

Funny story...the winery bought the goats to get rid of weeds, instead they ate the grapes.  Now they just live a life of leisure on the propery.

13.  Feel a mix of jealousy and awe.  Eat at the Culinary Institute of America.

14.  Take in some views.

15. Forget your sunglasses.