Aug 20 2014

All things Fabio…

So I got a phone call back in July from my friend Kristen… it went something like this. So do you think you will be up for a little adventure on August 2? My response was… I’m not entirely sure. You see, I had emergency knee surgery in early July. I was doing yard work and ended up with a bucket tear in my meniscus (locking my knee) and a partial tear of my ACL. Luckily they were able to repair things during the surgery and I just ended up on crutches with a full length knee brace and a lot of pain.

Kristen shared that she had gotten us tickets to see Chef Fabio Viviani at Eat Drink S.F. I was a HUGE fan of his on Top Chef and followed him on Life After Top Chef. I also loved when he was a guest on the Chew.  I decided to say “yes” to Kristen because it gave me something to look forward to. As the weeks ticked by it was looking more and more like my body wasn’t cooperating with the timeline – especially after adding a broken toe into the mix.  I had a crutch accident and slammed my foot into the door jam. So after that and not being able to walk at all – I knew the trip was out. I made the call and told her to invite another friend… and it CRUSHED me to have to miss out.

Well… Kristen decided that she would go to the event alone and give the ticket away to someone once there – it was a sold out show.


She had a blast. She texted the above photos and I got a play-by-play once she returned home. Sounds like I missed quite the event. Kristen then shared that she wanted to make some recipes out of his cookbook Fabio’s Italian Kitchen and that she would come over to my house and cook while I assisted from a sitting position. I was SO TIRED of eating frozen food, I jumped at the chance to create something delicious. I had not cooked or been out to eat in 7-weeks – Heck, I’d only been out of the house a few times and that was for Doctor appointments and physical therapy. I was craving Italian food big time.

Fabio's Italian Kitchen Cookbook

Not only did she bring all of the recipe ingredients – she surprised me with a signed cookbook. I would have jumped up and down if it hadn’t been for the crutches, leg brace and ugly broken toe shoe I was wearing. Sweetest gesture ever… I have some awesome friends, that’s for sure.

It was time to get to work. The hardest part was prepared by Kristen the day before. She made Fabio’s Tomato Sauce with Oil and Garlic – Pomarola and Fabio’s Grandma’s Meat Sauce – Sugo di Carne della Nonna – which takes 6-8 hours to cook. He begged the audience to make his Grandma’s meat sauce – told everyone that it was worth every minute – so Kristen was up for the challenge. She even snapped a few photos from her own kitchen… Love that girl!


Simple ingredients…

  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 8 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 28 oz. can of whole plum tomatoes
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 10 basil leaves

Start by cooking 5 tablespoons of the olive oil and smashed garlic in a saucepan over medium heat until garlic is golden brown. Then add the tomatoes and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Cook over medium-high heat until the sauce is thick and no longer watery. Add remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil and turn the heat to high… stir, crushing the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon. Cook until the oil turns red, then turn off the heat and add the basil at the very end.

Next up was Grandma’s Meat Sauce recipe which called for using 2 cups of Fabio’s tomato sauce.

 meat-sauce ingredients

I got several phone calls as the sauce bubbled away on Kristen’s stove. One explaining how wearing a white shirt without an apron was a bad idea, the next was to tell me how amazing her apartment smelled.

meat sauce

It’s definitely worth purchasing the cookbook for some of Fabio’s authentic family recipes. I wanted to link to the recipe online, but couldn’t find it anywhere… so hit me up through email or in comments if you are dying to try it.


Fabio’s Béchamel Sauce was next on the list to make.


All three recipes were part of the bigger picture recipe – Fabio’s Baked Ziti – which for us became Fabio & Kristen’s Baked Mostaccioli – since the grocery store didn’t have any ziti pasta.



  • 1 lb. Dried Ziti or Penne Mostaccioli Pasta
  • 3-4 Cups Grandma’s Meat Sauce (Recipe called for 2 cups, we felt it needed more.)
  • 3-4 Cups Béchamel Sauce (Recipe called for 2 cups, we again felt that it needed more.)
  • 1 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 1 Cup Mozzarella Cheese (We used more mozzarella and agreed that some fresh mozzarella as a topper would have been nice too.)

We poured the meat sauce over the cooked pasta and then added in the béchamel and other cheeses. Since we weren’t cooking it right away, we ended up baking it at 350 degrees instead of just placing it under the broiler until golden brown like the original recipe suggested.




Our thoughts were expressed in the ingredient list above. The added sauce and béchamel would have really helped the dish. We also decided to broil it a bit after baking so it could get a little golden brown on top – we might have broiled it a tad too long – the cheese got really crispy, rather than bubbly/creamy. That all didn’t matter much because the flavor was amazing – the meat sauce was incredible and while next time I might not go to all the extra steps of making Grandma’s Meat Sauce like Kristen did – it sure was a special treat after having lived off frozen dinners and sandwiches for weeks on end.


Had to include Kristen and Fabio’s selfie. Thank you Kristen for everything. A big hug and thumbs up from your new BFF Chef Fabio and your old pal Foo.


From the awesome photos, to the signed cookbook, to picking up the ingredients, slaving away in your own kitchen and massive clean-up duties, you really lifted my spirits. I can’t thank you enough. Looking forward to a future trip to Southern California where we can hit up Fabio’s restaurant – Café Firenze, for a cooking class or perhaps for some Chef’s Table dining…since he and Kristen are buds now.

We also managed to make a delicious soup and fit in a Hallmark movie while I iced and elevated… good times indeed. The soup recipe will be coming soon!


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Aug 04 2014

Bánh Mì or Bust – The Search Continues…

I talked about Paul and Tom in my Bánh Mì or Bust post back in May. They got me hooked on Lee’s Sandwiches in San Jose, CA by introducing me to their grilled pork Bánh Mì. On my most recent visit, Paul and Tom thought it would be fun to explore other Bánh Mì options in the area. Tom noticed a while back that a dry cleaners in Santa Clara had split off into a sandwich shop. The ladies that run the dry cleaners, also run the sandwich shop. Paul was pretty skeptical, but we ultimately decided to check out Yelp to see what others thought of the place. After reading many positive reviews, we added it to our list.


We weren’t sure if ordering a single sandwich cut into three pieces would go over well. They were all very accommodating as I snapped photos like we had just purchased a masterpiece. That description was not far from the truth. The pork was tasty, the juices soaked a bit into the bread – the bread was wider than others I’d previously had, crunchy on the outside and very soft on the inside. The carrots, daikon and onion pickling was good and the cilantro, cucumber and jalapenos were pretty evenly distributed. We were all pleasantly surprised at how well balanced it was, Tom felt it was a good symphony of flavors and I would have to agree.

We all commented about how hard it was to just have a third of a sandwich before moving on to the next place. We all wanted more. We jumped back in the car and our iPhones took us to our next destination – Thanh Houng Sandwiches in San Jose, CA.


There was plenty of seating, the World Cup was on TV and the place was very clean. We received friendly counter service when we ordered another grilled pork sandwich to be cut into three pieces. While waiting I noticed that they had baskets of bread and all the ingredients for you to purchase items “to go” to make sandwiches at home. That was cool. As for the Bánh Mì… the pickling was weaker than Annie’s and the meat wasn’t as flavorful. The bread was definitely crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, but the balance of flavors was missing. 

Back in the car we went. Next up was Phat Tri – this was definitely an entirely different experience.


Phat Tri is located in a fairly run down plaza. Parking was tight and there was no where to eat inside or outside. We walked through the doors and were a bit overwhelmed by the smell of incense. The place had packaged food on every flat surface, waist high throughout the shop. Freezers and refrigerators contained meats and a variety of other fresh and frozen products. I placed our order – one grilled pork sandwich. It only took a few minutes. $5 later and we had a bag filled with what looked like three separate sandwiches. We had read yelp reviews that talked about the sandwiches being large – 10 inches… but they generously gave us a sandwich and a 1/2. We ate our sandwiches on the trunk of Tom’s car – this wouldn’t be the only time this happend, ha! We all took our first bite and immediately noticed that the pork had a slight curry flavor to it. We noted that it was salty and sweet at the same time. The pickling was good, the cucumber slices were a bit thick, but overall we liked the sandwich. This place definitely won for best bargain. The Yelp reviews were right, you get a lot for the money. We still had two more places to go, so we each wrapped our halves and headed out to destination number four – Duc Huong, also on Story Road in San Jose.


Duc Huong was one of the Sacramento places I tried, so I thought it would be fun for Tom and Paul to experience what they brought to the table. The shop was new and very clean inside. It was a walk-up counter with no indoor or outdoor seating. We ordered the grilled pork and once again ate on the trunk of the car. The bread was amazing… Tom’s favorite of the day. Really crunchy on the outside and soft in the middle. The meat was seasoned well and ended up being Paul’s favorite of the day.  The rest of the sandwich was pretty well balanced and very close to the Sacramento version I had back in May. The true test was comparing the first four places to our fifth and final stop – Lee’s Sandwiches. We knew we already LOVED Lee’s – so we wanted it to be the last place for the comparison. 


Lee’s had plenty of indoor seating. We were greeted by friendly staff and you would think after four places, we would just order another sandwich to split. Nope, we got an additional one for later snacking. We busted open the first one and all three of us let out a good food sigh and agreed that it still held the winning title of best Bánh Mì for all of us. Sure it’s a chain, but the bread to filling ratio and overall flavors are perfect. Not to say the other places won’t be in the running if in the area, especially Annie’s for me.

The day was awesome, the visit was so much fun and I feel like I now need to conquer making Bánh Mì sandwiches at home. I know Tom and Paul have a good recipe, so I might just have to start there. Thanks guys for the great blogging adventure and for navigating us through my old stomping grounds. Looking forward to my next visit already.


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Jul 05 2014

Grown-Up Ants on a Log

I mentioned in my last post that my friends and I made one of the recipes out of The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Vegetable Cookbook: 100 Delicious Heritage Recipes from the Farm and Garden.


First let me talk a little bit about the cookbook itself. I love that the book is divided into seasons and that the pages are filled with amazing recipes, beautiful photographs, informational tidbits and places for notes.


I arrived at Paul and Tom’s place and immediately started thumbing through the recipes. Several caught my eye, seasons didn’t matter. I dreamed of sampling everything right then and there. I wanted to grab the Golden Squash, Pepper, and Tomato Gratin right off the page and I pictured outdoor dining and serving the Grilled Steak and Lima Bean Salad to friends.


I stopped flipping pages when I saw the recipe for “Grown-Up Ants on a Log” – It intrigued me. It didn’t matter that it was Summer, not Winter. I started reading the ingredients to Paul and he kept saying… I think we have that… I just bought currants, oh, we have that… then we got to chatting and next thing you know, Tom came through the door from work. Hi honey, I’m home! I showed him the cookbook and shared a bit about my meet and greet with Josh and Brent and then he started looking at recipes. We chatted about the ingredients for Grown-Up Ants on a Log again and he jumped into action. Kitchen cabinet doors flew open, ingredients started appearing on the kitchen island and I sat and watched in amazement. Dried currants, scotch whiskey, goat cheese, chutney, Dijon mustard, chile powder, celery, pecans – THEY HAD IT ALL! Shocked and giddy with excitement, prep and creation started immediately. Paul and Tom make an awesome team. I grabbed my camera and got some good shots.


Pecans hit the stove for toasting…


Mini scotch bottles rock! Scotch was poured over the dried currants – they needed to soak for 30 minutes… Tom mixed up some cocktails for us to wait it out. Sip, chat, wait… sip, chat, wait…


We did make a few substitutions… regular chili powder since they didn’t have any ancho chili powder. Spicey and smokey denied. Next time for sure.


We also used peach chutney instead of mango chutney (they actually had mango chutney) but the peach was made fresh from a friend and we thought it would be great.


We mixed the goat cheese until smooth and then added in the chutney, chili powder, salt and mustard (another substitution – we went with a grainy mustard – we all tasted the Dijon and decided in this case we liked the grainy better.) Could have just been a brand thing… I think it would be fabulous with either. We put the bowl in the fridge for a bit while the currants continued soaking and while we continued drinking.


The 30 minutes were up and supplies were laid out to create our logs.


That’s when the big plate debate began… Enter… 2 designers. Blue? (No…food doesn’t look as appetizing on blue) – Green? (We might lose the celery) – How about orange? Yes! Let’s go with orange. Oh crap! – we didn’t get fancy with our celery cuts like they did in the book… OMFG, who cares… these things are AMAZING! And with that, out to the patio we went with Josh and Brent’s grown-up take on a childhood treat – and of course… our cocktails.

These bad boys will be coming with me to parties when I’m asked to bring an appetizer… they were THAT good. I will try them with the mango chutney, Dijon and ancho chile powder next time for a true comparison.

Thank you Paul and Tom for the amazing visit, food adventures, continuous laughter and access to your fully stocked kitchen.

Love you guys!

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