Once You Go Packet, You'll Never Go Back: Grilled Salmon Packets

The other night I was at a dinner party when the conversation turned to grilling. My friend's husband said he was sick of the same-old, same-old grilled meals: steak, chicken, fish, etc. Instead, he said, he wanted some new ideas to mix it up a bit. I immediately thought of one of my favorite grilled meals and asked him, "Have you ever tried grilled salmon packets?" He looked at me with curiosity so I went on to explain that whenever Bryan and I want a quick, nutritious meal with practically no clean-up, we grab some tin foil, fill it with whatever's around – chopped onion, garlic, spinach leaves, sliced lemon, for example – lay a fresh piece of salmon on top and then seal up the packet. We throw it on the grill for 12 minutes, let the fish steam in its own juice and dinner is r-e-a-d-y, ready.

It couldn't be more simple or delicious; best of all, you throw out the tin foil and the clean up work is done. Of course, you can make it with whatever you want; halibut, salmon, tilapia and chicken work really well, just remember the cooking times are different for each piece of protein. Here's my go-to recipe for our salmon packets. This one's for you, Eric.

Grilled Salmon Packets
Makes four packets
  • Four 20" pieces of tin foil (feel free to double the layers if you're worried about leaks)
  • 4 uncooked salmon filets (size is up to you; ours are typically 3" x 5" per serving)
  • 3 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
  • 1/2 white onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 lemon, thinly-sliced in rounds
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 lemon wedges, for garnish
Place on piece of salmon skin-side down on a piece of foil. Top with a single layer of lemon slices. Repeat with layers of sliced onion and sliced garlic. Drizzle with one teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Bring lengthwise sides of the foil together and crimp closed. Repeat with the edges, rolling the foil in on each end to seal the packet. Place on the grill for 8-10 minutes for medium rare, 12 minutes for medium and 14 minutes for well-done. You do not need to flip the packets; they will steam on the grill. Remove packets from the grill and let rest for 2-3 minutes. Open the foil packets, being careful as steam will escape. Use a spatula to transfer the salmon from the packets to the plate. Serve with a side salad or goat-cheese and spinach-stuffed mushroom cups (recipe coming soon).

Step #1: Place salmon filet on tin foil

Step #2: Top with a layer of lemon slices

Step #3: Repeat with layers of sliced onions and garlic

Step #4: Seal each packets by crimping middle and edge foil seams together

Step #5: Put on grill and cook for up to 12 minutes. Remove and let rest before opening packet.

Step #6: Use spatula to transfer to plate, perhaps on a bed of steamed spinach. Serve with lemon wedges and enjoy!


A Summer Classic: Watermelon, Feta & Mint Salad

Watermelon is this summer's sweetheart. Recipes abound for refreshing watermelon-basil cocktails, slushy watermelon granitas and even grilled watermelon for dessert. So when Bryan and I made dinner for our friends as a housewarming gift, I knew a watermelon salad was the way to go. I mean, so were hamburgers, an arugula fennel salad with shaved Parmesan as well as a prosciutto-wrapped fig appetizer, but the watermelon salad – made with juicy chunks of watermelon, crumbled feta cheese, salty Kalamata olives and tons of fragrant, fresh mint – was something special. I made it solely with seedless pink watermelon, but so many Farmers markets are carrying organic yellow watermelon. A combination of the two would be both stunning and delicious, and next time I'll definitely make it that way. Of course, when the yellow watermelon isn't available, the traditional pink is just as wonderful. Here's the recipe.

Watermelon Salad with Feta & Mint
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon Sriracha
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 seedless watermelon, scooped with a melon baller or chopped into bite-size pieces, chilled
  • 2 cups feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1 1/4 cups pitted Kalamata olives, coarsely chopped
  • 1 small sweet onion, diced into a 1/2" pieces
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped mint leaves
In a large bowl, whisk the olive oil, lemon juice, salt, Sriracha and pepper. Add the watermelon, feta, olives and onion and toss very gently, avoiding breaking up the watermelon pieces. Serve immediately or place in refrigerator until ready to serve. This is best made no more than a few hours before you plan on serving, or else too much of the watermelon juice will leak out into the salad. You want all the pieces and flavors to meld together, but not become a juicy mess.


Review: The Saban Free Clinic's 13th Annual Extravanganza for the Senses Event

Last weekend Bryan and I attended the Saban Free Clinic's 13th Annual Extravaganza for the Senses event at Sunset Gower Studios. The cuisine of over 40 restaurants and wines from 80 California vintners were on display for the 1500 guests that attended the event. Luckily, we had a media pass so we were able to get in before the rush of the main crowds and take our time enjoying the food and chatting with chefs. Some of our favorites included a summer slaw from JAR, duck tacos from Momed, spicy tuna and blue crab rolls from Sushi Roku, goat cheese pops from the Sky Room, vegetable lasagna from Angelini Osteria, sausages from Brats Brothers, miniature chocolate trifles from Delphine and of course, rose petal petit fours and champagne truffles from Valerie Confections. While the days leading up to event had been unreasonably hot -- temperatures in the 90's and 100's around L.A. -- the evening of the event was just perfect. There was a slight breeze, and the glow from the lanterns and view of the Hollywood sign made for a magical evening. Here are some of our highlights.

Great view of the Hollywood sign from Sunset Gower Studios

Individual cocktail tables were situated between booths for guests to make temporary base camps
If you haven't seen these, I firmly believe everyone should have these plates for cocktail parties. It's not just a plate, not just a wine glass holder, it's an incredible yet simple invention that allows you to have one hand free to eat, shake people's hands, and try other snacks while holding your plate. Finally, your plate and wine glass are no longer your cocktail party ball and chain.

Plate + Wine Glass Holder = Free hand to take a photo

While I photographed food, Bryan planted himself at the Angel City Brewing Company's booth :)

Halfway throughout the evening, there was a cooking demo by JAR's Suzanne Tracht

Summer Slaw from JAR

Duck Taco & Garbanzo Salad from Momed (Modern Mediterranean)

Housemade Potato Chips from Ivan Cane's Cafe Was

Grape, Goat Cheese & Candied Pecans Pops from Long Beach's The Sky Room

Crunchy Salad from Susan Feniger's STREET

Vegetable Lasagna from Angelini Osteria

Beef Yakitori from Chaya Downtown L.A.

Ahi Tuna & Short Rib Tacos from Far Bar

Salmon in Crispy Potato Cups from Bon Appetit/Restaurant At The Getty

Hungarian & Black Forest Brats from Brats Brothers

Short Rib Sliders from BOA

Rose Petal Petit Four from Valerie Confections

Decadent Chocolate Trifles from Delphine at the W Hollywood

While all the food and wine were fantastic, after an hour-plus of grazing nothing sounded better than an ice cold bottle of water. Luckily, FIJI was there to save the day (or night).


Three Tips To Keep Fresh Herbs... Well, Fresh.

Have you ever opened a jar of dried oregano that's been in your cabinet or spice rack for – let's face it, much longer than you'd like to admit – only to take a whiff and realize it smells like... absolutely nothing? I'm sorry to burst your herbaceous bubble, but seasoning your food with (most) dried herbs is the equivalent of infusing it with tiny bits of cardboard. Very sad, but very true. But here's the thing; what are you supposed to use instead? I understand the fresh herb hesitation; they're expensive, they go bad very quickly, and just what the heck are you supposed to do with twenty sprigs of thyme??

Photo courtesy of TLC Cooking

In the most recent issue of Bon Appetit, I came across some brilliant tips on keeping fresh herbs -- well, fresh -- for longer than the one week they seem to last in the refrigerator. If you follow them, you can have fresh herbs at your disposal for up to six months. However, I don't expect them to last that long once you enjoy the difference that just a few fresh leaves of basil, sprigs of rosemary and snips of chive make. So say goodbye to cardboard and say hello to happy, healthy herbs.

1. Treat Herbs Just Like Flowers
Trims the stems at a 45-degree angle, and place in a glass with two inches of water. Refrigerate for up to two weeks (cover the leaves with an unsealed plastic bag to minimize odor absorption) replacing the water if it gets cloudy.

2. Dry Hardy-Leaf Herbs like Thyme, Oregano, Rosemary, and Bay Leaves
Working with one herb variety at a time, wash thoroughly, blot dry and spread the leaves on a single layer on a paper towel. Microwave in 30-second intervals turning leaves over for even drying, until crisp and brittle. Microwave times will vary, but the whole process should take no more than two to three minutes total.

3. Freeze Soft-Leaf Herbs Like Dill, Mint, Parsley, Basil, and Chives
Place whole sprigs, chopped leaves, or whole leaves in a tightly sealed plastic bag for up to six months. When cooking, defrosting is unnecessary – just break off leaves and add them to the skillet.


Chicagoans Unite! Mr. Beef Is Now Open In Venice Beach

Ever since I lived in Chicago, I swear to God it's been nearly impossible to find an acceptable Chicago dog or beef sandwich in the L.A. area. Well, that all changed for me yesterday when I headed down to cover the opening of Chicago's famed Mr. Beef in its new location on the Venice Beach boardwalk. Dealing with the -- how shall I say? interesting -- crowd of the summer boardwalk scene was well worth it to get my hands on the.real.thing. It was so great to taste an authentic beef sandwich and Chicago dog that I ended up covered it in L.A. Weekly. Here's the post, with some additional, personal touches.

Chicago's Legendary Mr. Beef Comes to L.A.
You don't have to be Italian to appreciate the greatness of a dipped beef sandwich, packed with paper-thin beef dripping under the weight of savory jus. You certainly don't have to be from the Midwest to appreciate the bite of a Chicago-style hot dog, filled with Vienna beef and topped with the traditional slice of pickle, tomato, diced onion, relish, hot peppers, mustard and celery salt. And ever since Chicago's legendary Mr. Beef opened on the Venice Beach boardwalk on July 4th, you don't have to live in the Windy City to get them.

Mr. Beef's Famous Beef Sandwich

Mention Mr. Beef to any Chicago transplant and you'll need to give them a moment to compose themselves; their mouths may water and their eyes might take on a forlorn, love-lost look. Opened in 1963 on Chicago's Orleans Street by Italian brothers-in-law Carl Buonavolanto and Tony Ozzauto -- known simply as "Papa" and Uncle Tony" to Tommy Costabile, owner of the Venice Beach location -- the shop originally served their grandmother's sliced beef sandwich recipe. Chicago locals loved it as much as the Buonavolanto family loved making it, as Costabile notes, "we just love to cook and please [people]; it's what we live for."

Mr. Beef's Original Chicago Dog

Mr. Beef's Maxwell Street Polish Sausage

Over the years, the big beef sandwich at the tiny beef stand created such a demand that the family opened five additional Mr. Beef locations around the city. Throughout the expansion, grandma's original beef sandwich kept its spot as the menu's signature item, but the family slowly added other Chicago staples like the Chicago Dog, The Maxwell Street Polish and the pizza "PUFF." It also attracted the attention of food lovers beyond the streets of Chicago, beating out competitor Al's Beef on Travel Channel's Food Wars and winning the heart of talk-show host, Jay Leno. Since expanding to Venice Beach -- the beef stand's first locale outside Chicago -- Costabile says that his Mr. Beef location is the only restaurant in California to carry the real Vienna beef Chicago dog, Maxwell Street Polish Sausage and Iltaco's Pizza PUFF, a toaster strudel-esque pastry pocket filled with a mixture of meat, cheese, tomato sauce and spices. Perhaps ironically, Mr. Beef is located directly across from Muscle Beach, filled with meatheads and wanna-be Mr. Beefs.

Iltaco's Pizza PUFF

The reaction from the eclectic Venice beach crowd? Costabile says "it's so nice to be welcomed" especially from Chicagoan-turned-Angelenos. "To see the expressions on their faces when they eat [the beef sandwich] and finally believe it's the real thing; that's exactly why we're doing this." First-timers are also giving Mr. Beef their approval, politely giving up their natural inclination to bury the taste of a dog under a mound of ketchup. "Instead," Costabile says, "they let us give it to them the right way." Which is, of course, the Chicago way.


Got a Bunch of Leftovers? Here's How I Put Them To Good Use!

Last night was leftover night. I don't mean leftovers from other meals, I mean having a mishmash of ingredients that we needed to make the most out of before they went bad. You see, Bryan and I usually cook during the week, leaving Friday and Saturday nights as our nights out on the town. Since we're headed to Rick Bayless' Red O (check out my original review here) tonight and Saban Free Clinic's Extravaganza for the Senses tomorrow, we needed to go through the leftover bits from our reverse pantry list. We had part of a French baguette, some leftover grilled chicken, buffalo mozzarella, mixed greens, goat cheese, thyme, garlic and a lemon. My immediate thought was to create a kick-butt baguette sandwich we could share, so I made spread out of the goat cheese, thyme, garlic and lemon (I threw in a little S&P for good measure), toasted the baguette, added a layer of sliced grilled chicken, topped that with the mozzarella, drizzled a bit of balsamic syrup, threw on some field greens and TA-DA! We had a serious sandwich. These are the best types of dinners; a great way to get creative with your remaining groceries and put your perishables to delicious use.

Our impromptu dinner: a sandwich made with all our leftover trimmings!
I don't have a recipe for this sandwich, but I did take a few photos as I was making it. The beauty of it is that you can add whatever you want to it. What's your favorite "leftover" meal to make? Have you ever created one that's now a staple in your kitchen?

Leftover baguette, sliced and toasted

Goat cheese, garlic, thyme and lemon zest made the spread

It melted into the crunchy baguette... mmm!
I reheated some leftover grilled chicken breasts

I sliced it and added it to the baguette

Threw in some sliced sweet onion for good measure!

I sliced buffalo mozzarella and added it to the chicken layer

Then I drizzled some balsamic reduction

Finally, I topped the layers with mixed greens and the remaining baguette slice. Dinnertime!


Napa Valley's SolBar: Calistoga's Shining Michelin Star

Last weekend, Bryan and I took a trip with his family to the tiny Napa Valley town of Calistoga. It's a bohemian's paradise with a one walkable main street, rustic outposts mixed with trendy boutiques and high-end restaurants situated next to 1980's dive bars. A stone's throw from Calistoga, just off the beaten path on the Northern part of Silverado Trail, lies the Solage Resort; a 100% sustainable resort with Restoration Hardware architecture, a Roosevelt Hotel-style pool and a Michelin-starred restaurant, SolBar. On our first afternoon in Calistoga, Bryan and I headed to the SolBar for lunch. It was 90+ degrees so we grabbed an umbrella-shaded table on SolBar's patio, overlooking the pool and more importantly, overlooking everyone else's meals.

Clockwise from top left: Solage Resort entrance, Solbar patio, Michelin plaque, Solbar interior bar.

Solage's Pool + View from Solbar Patio
It was nearly 2pm and the patio was packed with Solage guests and transplants from other Calistoga hotels, clearly on the hunt for some fantastic grub. The reaction of each table's chosen meals – and we chatted up more than one other couple – was a constant "Oh.My.God.This.Is.Amazing! You have the order the [insert dish here]!" As we watched the constant flow of waiters going in and out of the kitchen entrance, we saw about 10 spicy shrimp lettuce cup appetizers make their way to hungry diners. So we knew that would be our appetizer of choice. We must have been in a seafood mood, as I went for the tuna burger for my main course and Bryan went for the soft shell crab po'boy. Now, what to drink with the seafood bounty? I opted for the Bubbly by Nature champagne flight, with Mumm Napa Sparkling Wine, Caronelli Prosecco and Veuve Clicquot Champagne, while Bryan ordered the Unusual Suspects red wine flight, with a pinot meunier, grenache and sangiovese. For the record, more restaurants need to have a champagne pairing. It was just a great idea and as a champagne lover, I was thrilled to see it on the menu!

Solbar menu (click to enlarge)

My drink of choice: "Bubbly By Nature" Champagne Flight

Bryan's drink of choice: "Unusual Suspects: Red Wine Flight

Right after our drinks arrived, the bread made an appearance at our table. While the Himalayan pink salt, cracked black pepper and creamy, salted butter was a nice touch, the whole wheat bread itself was incredibly tough; surprising considering the bread was piping hot. I'm talking rip it with your teeth Neanderthal-style tough. I just couldn't get on board with it, as I wanted to keep my teeth intact for the rest of the actual meal. Very disappointing.

Housemade Whole Wheat Rolls
Himalayan Pink Salt + Cracked Pepper + Creamed Butter

The spicy shrimp lettuce wraps more than made up for the bread's lackluster performance. Large prawns, chilled but seasoned with a noticeable spice, filled butter lettuce cups with soba noodles, avocado and tangy pickled carrots. Nam pla suace – aka fish sauce with chopped cilantro – accompanied the cups. They were delicious and while the order comes with three cups, we thought it was only fair to order a fourth.

Spicy Shrimp Lettuce Wraps
Glass noodles, nam pla dipping sauce, avocado and pickled carrots
Our entrees arrived next, my seared tuna burger sitting on a poofy, griddled bao-like bun. The doughiness of the bao had barely been cooked out, leaving a perfectly moist bun crisped by a quick session on the flat top griddle. The fish was gorgeous, seasoned well and topped with the bitter bite of kim chi, a Korean dish made with fermented vegetables, e.g. Napa cabbage, radishes, green onion, cucumber, etc. My only regret? That there wasn't more of the marinated tofu and edamame side salad. It was just awesome. Daikon radishes, steamed edamame, pickled onions and grilled tofu seeped in a spicy, smoky marinade was a great accompaniment, providing a textural contrast to the delicate tuna. I tried to get the details on the marinade, but our waiter played coy.

Seared Yellowfin Tuna Burger
On a griddled steam bun with kim chi, marinated tofu and edamame salad

Tuna Burger + Tofu Salad (side view)
Bryan's softshell crab po'boy was a sight to behold. We took off the bun for the below photo, and as you can see, it was huge. The crab – fresh-out-of-the-fryer – was crisp and topped a pile of crunchy pickle slices, tomato and lettuce. The problem? It was a bit too fried; the greasiness of the crab overtook any potential for rich flavor. The vegetable garnishes gave it a cold vs. hot crunch, but unfortunately only added to the bland nature of the sandwich. The rice salad with house-made andouille sausage was fine, but didn't leave a lasting impression on either of us. Perhaps it was the cold temperature or the lack of spice, but we each took one bite and called it a day. While the dish looked incredible, Bryan said next time he would order something else.

Fried Softshell Crab Po'Boy (bun removed)
Spicy mayo and Carolina gold rice salad with house-made andouille sausage

Fried Softshell Crab Po'Boy (Bryan was halfway through!)
The verdict? A-. The setting was gorgeous, the wait staff friendly and attentive, the menu diverse and innovative, the presentation was beautiful and the wine list was a sight to behold. The spicy shrimp lettuce wraps and tuna burger were the hits of the day, while the bread and the softshell crab sandwich left room for improvement. That said, we're excited to go back soon and work our way through the menu!

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