Napa Valley Cheese Board by Chef Paul Fields



You all know I like to travel. Many of my posts are restaurant reviews from some of my favorite travel spots. I was recently visiting friends in Napa and walked for the St. Jude walk for cancer at the San Francisco Zoo. It was wonderful to be with friends and I was very moved by participating and being present at such an extraordinary event for such an extraordinary hospital. And I’m thrilled to add that my dear friend’s daughter is now 5 years cancer -free after treatment at St. Jude.

While in Napa we had some pretty amazing food – it helps that my friend’s husband, Paul Fields, is a chef. Paul makes some of the most delicious food I have ever had! He is a true genius! His company is Twenty Below, and he and his wife Julie run the company. The idea is a dinner party, or lunch, for 20 people or less. Multi-course meals are set in a variety of different venues and locations throughout Napa Valley; from farm tables in the vineyard to private venues with unlimited Napa Valley views.  Some phrases you may be familiar with are “pop-up”, “caterer” and “personal chef”…Twenty Below is all of this and more.  

They feature deliciously fresh, elegant multi-course meals paired with exquisite wine from prestigious small boutique wineries. The limited guest list allows for detailed, focused attention to menu planning and preparation.  If you are going to be in the Napa or Bay area, call Paul! 

The cheese board above was put together by Paul and Julie. This is a classic Napa cheese board – look at all the yummies – figs, cheeses from around the world, olives, anchovies they brought back from Spain, peppers, salami, and a variety of crackers and bread. All I can say is: “wow!!” Now you can do this at home and wow your friends. You don’t need to be in Napa to serve a beautiful Napa cheese board.

Gourmet Airport Food in Philadelphia


It seems that these days gourmet food can be found everywhere and in places you might least expect. From food trucks, to baseball parks, to airports. I travel a lot, and usually search out a Jamba Juice or a gourmet snack stand for cheese or hummus when at an airport. This summer I was at Philadelphia International Airport, Terminal F, which is the new American Airlines terminal, and stumbled upon a gem of a restaurant that I wish were around the corner from me. It is called Local Tavern, opened by the celebrity chef Jose Garces. Local is a modern American tavern with locally sourced food, materials throughout the design, and beer (over 60 on tap). Look at the salad in the picture above – would you have guessed that came from an airport restaurant – arugula and burrata cheese salad with the lightest lemon vinaigrette dressing! Yum!!!


You order from an iPad and then when ready to check-out, you swipe your credit card and walk away. So no waiting for the check, sending your card, waiting for it to come back and sign — great when you might be tight for a flight.


The menu is quite extensive, from shrimp and grits, Korean BBQ beef short ribs with quinoa, and roasted salmon with orecchiette Puttanesca with fennel and olives, to sides like cheese grits, fried pickles, mac and cheese (above), roasted Brussels sprouts (above) and french fries, to sandwiches like Philly cheesesteak, salmon burger, local grilled cheese, and build your own burger. And they have 2 gluten free options! Is your mouth watering yet?

Filet Mignon Boursin Bites



This is possibly the easiest, and perhaps one of the most elegant appetizers you can make and serve. My husband had a wrap party this weekend for his zombie spoof movie (I cannot mention the name because we are entered in over 20 film festivals, but will let you know when we can — it is VERY funny!). For his party I make a myriad of small bites and served wine, beer, soda, cider, and prepared a dessert tray. The steak/Boursin bites were by far the most popular. I wish I had purchased more steak.


Filet Mignon (2-4 pieces depending on how many people your are serving)

Boursin cheese (let soften on the counter for 1 hour)


Lavender salt (find at a farmer’s market or on-line — I got mine at the Ferry Building Farmer’s market in San Francisco)

Instructions: (most important part of this dish: DO NOT OVERCOOK THE FILET MIGNON)

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.

Get an oven-safe pan hot over medium-high heat. Add good olive oil (about 2 tablespoons). Sear the filet about 1 minute per side. Place in the the oven for 10-12 minutes for medium-rare steak (12 minutes for filet that is 2 inches thick).

Slice baguette and spread Boursin on eat piece. Place sliced filet on each baguette slice. Sprinkle with lavender salt and serve.


Dessert Platter

These were all store-bought. It’s okay to do that when you are short on time (the story of my life). What is most important – find good quality desserts and arrange them beautifully on a tray.

Appalachian Restaurant, delicious southern delights



Crawfish with grits and a fried egg

We were on our yearly ski trip to the Western North Carolina mountains and happened upon this little gem in the hills of Valle Crucis, Over Yonder Restaurant. The restaurant is in an old victorian home loaded with charm. The decor is casual elegant, dress is casual – it is a ski town. The menu is loaded with authentic, handmade delights of the region like pork chips, hot & sour frog legs, farmhouse pimento cheese, fried okra, grits, chicken fried chicken, crawfish, and NC trout, just to name a few. I had the crawfish which was served with stone ground grits with a duck fat basted fried egg!! Yum!! My husband had the pan-fried NC rainbow trout with sweet potato casserole, napa slaw with almonds and smoked onion tartar!

They also have a kids menu which is great when traveling with the family. Several of my children still have a bland palate so when grilled cheese and potato chips are on the menu, we are set!

The desserts are all handmade and so creative. They have banana pudding with whipped cream and wafer toffee crumb, peach cobbler with buttermilk ice cream, fried beignets with sorghum molasses, chocolate chess pie with vanilla ice cream, and sundaes.


Chocolate Chess Pie

I would highly recommend this restaurant if you are in the Boone, Banner Elk area of North Carolina. I would go back again and again.

A Boston Delight, Sonsie


On a recent trip to Boston, I just had to eat at one of my all time favorites: Sonsie on Newbury Street. They have been there for over 21 years! Wow! When my husband and I lived in Boston in the mid-90’s, we frequented Sonsie. I was so excited to return there with my daughter last weekend. Above is the lightly battered, fried calamari with an arrabbiata mayonnaise and fried lemons. It was not heavy at all. You know how sometimes you get fried calamari that’s heavily battered, heavily fried, and chewy? Well, not at Sonsie!

Next my daughter had the gluten free (GF) cheese pizza – amazing! You would never know the dough was GF. In fact, Sonsie has an entire gluten free menu with more than 15 choices. I had the GF wagyu burger (the bun was gluten free), with artisanal bacon and truffle fries. An upscale burger, cooked to perfection. The desserts (see pics below), were nothing less than, well, yummy!! And I finished my dinner with their signature espresso martini.

Wagyu Burger with GF bun and truffle fries
Apple Tart with honey bacon and caramel ice cream. Crisp topping, warm apples, sweet bacon! Really?
Chocolate Bread Pudding – need I say more?


Pictures of Sonsie. Note the fantastic art on the wall that changes seasonally. I wish they were for sale. I’ve included my daughter’s favorite — a woman dressed in 1950’s clothing holding a chainsaw — now don’t you want that hanging in your living room? I do!


Napa, The Inn on Randolph, the best breakfast in town


Yes, the best in town, and possibly the best breakfast in the world! Chef Paul Fields is the executive chef The Inn on Randolph, in Napa. He is a creative genius with flavors. He makes fresh breakfast every morning for Inn guests,  using the freshest ingredients from Napa’s Farmers Market or their own garden, they use organic whenever possible. Being in Napa, they are lucky to have access to some of the country’s most talented food artisans. Their coffee is a blend roasted for the Inn. The breakfast is a meal that will last you until dinner, including fresh fruit, house-made yogurt, and house-made gluten free granola. And this is followed by the hot entree. Chef Paul uses fresh ingredients of the season. Above is a delicious medley of kale, cauliflower, apples, fresh herbs, artisan sausage, and the perfect poached egg with hollandaise sauce. It’s worth noting that the entire kitchen is gluten-free. But you would never know it unless you asked.

The Inn on Randolph is all about exceptional service and creating the best Napa vacation for every guest, from wine tours to tastings, to cooking classes, you name it, the Inn Keepers will make every effort to make your trip to Napa special.

The Inn is beautiful but it’s the breakfast that will keep you coming back to the Inn on Randolph every time you visit Napa.




Houska, A Czech Christmas Bread

It’s Houska time.

Doc Ellen Cooks

Well, it’s almost Christmas day and I’m finally blogging on my mother-in-law’s Houska recipe. I wanted to share this recipe earlier in the month but somehow December got away from me! This recipe is originally my husband’s great grandmother’s recipe, handed down to her daughter, then to her daughter, and now to me. My husband is part Czech and grew up eating this bread on Christmas morning. My in-laws send Houska to us every year.  I warm it up in the oven at 225 degrees F for 20 minutes and serve it with soft butter.  I was thrilled have this recipe because this is one of the most delicious breads I have ever had. It is sweet, soft, colorful, and just bursting with flavor. You can make it any day of the year if you wish. I’m going to make it for New Year’s. Enjoy!

HOUSKA     A Czech Christmas Bread

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Salmon with Walnut Pesto and Lemon Pasta


I was recently visiting my sister in Florida and we had a craving for fish. We went to the market found some fresh, gorgeous salmon and decided to make a walnut pesto and lemon pasta as a side. When we got home and started our prep, we realized that she did not have a food processor! Oops!! So she suggested using her NutriBullet to make the pesto — initially I laughed, but soon realized that was a brilliant idea! The pesto, of course, is more pureed then when using a food processor, but equally delicious.


Ingredients for the salmon:

1 pound of salmon (for 2 people – I always ask for center cut)

1 cup fresh basil leaves

2 cups of fresh washed baby spinach

1/2 cup walnuts (+ save some for topping)

Juice and zest of 1 lemon

1/2 cup white wine

1/4 cup good olive oil

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Ingredients for the pasta:

1/2 pound of pasta (we got artisanal pasta)

1/4 cup lemon olive oil

Zest of 1 lemon

Parm reggiano



Add all pesto ingredient to the NutriBullet. Add more wine if needed. Puree. Set aside.

Place salmon on a baking sheet with parchment or foil. Top with pesto and freshly chopped walnuts.

Bake at 375 for 18-20 minutes (remember the rule of thumb: 10 minutes per inch of thickness when cooking fish)

Meanwhile, cook the pasta according the package directions. (We like it al dente.) Drizzle with lemon olive oil and zest.

Plate and enjoy! Remember salmon is high in omega-3 fatty acids = heart healthy. Eat it at least once a week.

Cauliflower Curry Soup

fall is here — make soup

Doc Ellen Cooks

Cauliflower Curry Soup

Cauliflower is not on everyone’s list of favorite vegetables, but it’s on mine. It’s so versatile and has so many health benefits. It can be bland, so it needs a little dressing up. I add it to chicken curry, I use it when I’m serving crudités to guests, I steam and mash it and serve it like mashed potatoes, and sometimes I just steam it and add a little butter and Parmesan cheese. I must say, this recipe tops any other use of cauliflower. It is easy to make. It is light, velvety, and for an added crunch I top each serving with 5 croutons (only 30 calories extra).

Cauliflower is a flowering vegetable in the cruciferous family. Other cruciferous vegetables include bok choy, collard greens, broccoli, brussel sprouts, and of course cabbage. Cruciferous vegetables have been linked to a reduction in cancer risk, especially prostate cancer.

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