Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Christmas Croque

I just finished washing the last of the wine glasses from Sunday dinner, which turned out to be a very relaxing and warm way to spend a December evening. It rained like crazy here on Sunday, with big dramatic gusts of wind, thunder that sent our dog trembling into the corners and downpours that soaked me as I ran about doing the last of the dinner errands. I now know that San Francisco rain is the poor man's snow, so I was excited about the "storm", since inclement weather of any kind makes it feel cosy indoors.

I never did find a pig foot, but the boeuf bourguignonne didn't seem to suffer much. It actually ended up being the perfect party dish since I was able to stretch its preparation out over many days. By Sunday all I had to do was reheat it and make a salad. Thankfully, since as ever I was a bit ambitious with my other plans: alphabet Christmas cookie seating cards, a bevy of other sweets and a croquembouche.

I had a few extraordinarily clumsy days last week (grace incarnate I am not) and the croquembouche was the prime showcase for this klutz. The pastry cream threw itself from the refrigerator when Sarah unwittingly opened the door, spilling and invading the crevices between the floorboards of our rustic pine floors. Our dog, for once, came in handy. Then, as is inevitable, I burned my thumb on the molten caramel I was dipping each cream puff into. But the result was really lovely, I thought. Dear Sarah made a comment, somewhere between baking the cream puffs, whipping up the filling and swirling pans of caramel, that she hoped this dessert (for which I had enlisted her help and used many, many pans) would taste as good as it looked. Actually, I think the comment was more along the lines of, "do you think this will be worth it?"

What can I say?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

There are trotters, then there are feet

Do any of your remember my post about food for emotional invalids?

Well, now I have to post about food for physical invalids. My dear dining and life companion, Sarah, seems to have fractured her foot in an innocent stumble down the stairs. When she awoke on Monday morning her foot looked like a brined piece of meat (gross, I know, but it did), so swollen that you couldn't tell if she had bones or an arch. After an exciting seven hour stay at the hospital, she returned with a fresh set of crutches. Now she's hopping and hobbling her way around. It's a little cute and a little annoying, and since every task now requires monumental effort on her part, I've tried to streamline her life a little by making her dinner, since I'm working tonight.

I whipped up a lovely potato-leek soup using all the surplus ingredients from last week's trip to the Berkeley Farmer's Market. A nice bunch of baby leeks, an onion, 1 clove of garlic, ten baby yukon gold potatoes, skins on. I melted a knob of butter, added the chopped garlic, leeks and onion, sauteed them until translucent, then added 4 cups of chicken stock and the halved potatoes. Boiled until the potatoes were tender, whizzed in the blender and added some chopped parsley. Active time: about 7 minutes. Really.

I used some homemade chicken stock that I had in the freezer. Having homemade stock (or any good edible, for that matter) in the freezer makes me feel like a rich person with a stocked larder, ready for dinner at anytime. It's like money in the bank. That's why yesterday, on yet another scouting mission for the Sunday supper, I deliberated in the soup aisle comparing the ingredients on a bunch of "premium" packaged beef stocks. A quart of prepared stock costs abut $3.00 and doesn't require any effort or time. They taste OK, but usually lack the body and deep flavor of their homemade counterparts. Finally I decided that this is a special meal for special people who deserve homemade beef stock. So I wheeled my cart to the meat counter, got 5 pounds of beef knuckle hacked into pieces, went home, browned the bones in the oven, set off the smoke alarm, deglazed, dumped the whole mess in a pot, covered it with water and let it simmer away for three hours. The result? A big cup of surplus beef fat (sweet bonus!), 16 cups of premium deep brown stock (some for dinner on Sunday and some for a future pot of French onion soup) and a sense of happy contentment.

For me, that's what good cooking is all about--a sense of happy contentment. Now, go make yourselves some soup.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

A week of grants and trotters

Where does the time go?

It's already mid-December and I've been terribly remiss in my postings. Needless to say I've had quite a lot on my proverbial plate this month, including a scholarship application for a food writing conference and a grant proposal. The grant proposal is in its final days, meaning that I've been scrutinizing each word, making a lot of coffee and waking up at 4am to fret in the darkness. I'm proposing a food-based oral history project for Northern Maine, a region with a remarkable ethnic diversity and a wonderful mix of the kinds of foods we ought to be preserving. While the food of New England is perhaps less storied than that of, say, the South or Northern California, there's a lot of very cool stuff happening there now and I'm proposing to go and record it.

The rest of the time I'm busying myself with holiday preparations. We've invited a gang of friends over for a Sunday holiday supper and I've been brainstorming and planning for the meal. The words "pig foot" have made it on to my grocery list for several days running--who knew it was so difficult to find a pig foot. I don't want to ruin the surprise for dinner guests who might be reading, but I'll be sure to give a full update on the meal on Monday.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Giving Thanks

Boy, that was a real cliffhanger, wasn't it? I didn't kill the yeast. The Parker House Rolls rose and were a lovely part of our Thanksgiving dinner, a groaning table of beautiful food prepared by new and old friends. We ate chicory salad with persimmons and pomegranate seeds, mashed potatoes and gravy, brussels sprouts with roasted chestnuts and a brozed Narragansett heritage turkey. 5 years ago there were only 400 of this breed of turkey alive--now the population has boomed, a bird saved from extinction.

The bird was smaller than the broad-breasted turkeys that have become the Butterball norm, almost resembling an oversize duck, with big thighs, wings and drumsticks. Our friend Zack roasted it to a deep, even brown, a broad expanse of crispy skin with succulent meat that actually had flavor.

There is a great deal to be thankful for.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Rollin' Rollin' Rollin'

We have a situation here. Mere hours from Thanksgiving I'm having some major dinner roll problems. Let me set the scene for you. In Bangor, Maine, there's a little bakery by the name of Frank's Bakehouse. It's on Main Street, not too far from the Catholic church, and they make all sorts of down home baked goods, like whoopie pies and superlative doughnuts (rumor is they still use lard.) But the crowning jewel of Frank's are their dinner rolls. They are the pull-apart kind, yeasty and a little sweet, with a nicely bronzed cap. They come in white or wheat and they are the definitive roll, the benchmark bread.

I'm a long way from Bangor. So I decided that I would make rolls myself. With only a small number of ingredients and very few variables I figured I could probably make some Frank-esque rolls on my own. I was wrong. Last year I tried some sweet potato rolls using a recipe from the most excellent cookbook, Home Baking, by Jeffrey Alfond and Naomi Duguid. They weren't bad, but they weren't Frank's. This year I decided I would use a recipe of my own creation, a mixture of challah and brioche techniques and ingredients. I baked them last night, and they were pretty good. Not Frank's. In desperation I called the bakery and asked them for the recipe. They were at first reticent, then said that they could give it to me, but it was a recipe that made 30 dozen. No problem! I'll rescale it!! Then they said that they were actually too busy to give out the recipe just then--could I call after Thanksgiving?

Clearly they don't understand my situation. After Thanksgiving? The woman at Frank's was kind enough to tell me the ingredients, which she claimed were just the usual: flour, butter, sugar, eggs, yeast. Yeah, that's right--the same ingredients I used. So now I'm stumped. This morning I decided I'd do a second batch of just plain old Parker House Rolls (did you know Ho Chi Min worked at the Parker House, as a busboy?) but I think that I might have killed the yeast with a too hot milk-butter mixture. Fulled formed, in a warm, draft-free place, they haven't risen at all. I know this is a bad sign, I'm just not ready to admit it, yet.

Will midnight find our heroine mixing yet another batch of dinner roll dough? A full report on Friday.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Promises, Recipes

Loyal readers, do you remember my promise to track down the recipe for my mother's apple cake? I deliver forth the goods. I made it last night (it took about 5 minutes, literally, to put this baby together. The recipe is so simple that it can hardly even be called a recipe. What a delight.) and found it just as good as I remembered. I served it with a dollop of whipped cream, but it'd be nice for breakfast or tea or as a little afternoon snack. There wasn't any leftover, or I would be having that little snack right about now.

So here goes:

A Simple Little Apple Cake from Mrs. Stimets

2 cups diced apple (peeled or not, doesn't really matter)
1 cup sugar (white sugar or a mix of white sugar and light brown sugar)
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 egg, beaten
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup nuts, toasted and chopped (I used walnuts)

Mix the sugar with the apple cubes and let stand until most of the sugar has dissolved. Mix together the dry ingredients. Add the dry ingredients to the apples. Stir in the egg and the oil. Mix well until incorporated. Add nuts. (At this point the batter will not look promising. It will look like there isn't enough batter relative to the apple cubes. You will be feeling discouraged. Don't worry.) Pour the batter into a greased 8 inch pan (square or round) and bake in a 375 degree oven for about 30 minutes, until nicely browned and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Hot Dates

This morning I made a date relish to accompany our braised chicken dinner. The relish is a simple combination of sliced fresh dates, cilantro, lemon juice and olive oil and should be a good compliment to the spicy braise.

Dates are definitely an undervalued American fruit. In most supermarkets the only dates available are those odd desicated bits that make their way into GORP and fruitcake. Even when you do occasionally see fresh they are usually the most common Medjool variety which, while quite tasty, are only one of the dozens of varieties available, ranging in size from tiny to more substantial, from slightly sweet to pure maple syrup, from Barhi to Deglet Noir and back again. Plenty of other countries use dates liberally, including Australia, where sticky date pudding is practically a religion and throughout the Middle East and North Africa, where they are eaten out of hand and cooked alongside savory meats.

I always think about dates this time of year, with Thanksgiving fast approaching. Not only does their complex flavor pair well with fall fruits, rich caramels and bitter chocolate, they also always played a starring role at our Thanksgiving table. My grandmother, who otherwise was not a good cook, would make her famous stuffed dates every year for the holiday. The dates, which are stupidly simple, are very rich and very delicious and are just the thing to serve alongside your pies or as an accompaniment to that lazy fireside glass of port. In our house, the bowl usually appears on the coffee table just after the Macy's day parade cheers in Santa Claus and they are steadily consumed throughout the afternoon, which may account for our lackluster performance at the dinner table. Each date must be wrapped in a small square of tin foil; the foil keeps the filled dates from drying out, and it makes each one seem like a little gift.

To make these dates, pit a whole mess of fresh dates by slicing the side of each one and carefully extracting the pit. (Medjool dates are actually good for this recipe because they are firm and can be easily stuffed.) In a small bowl, combine softened cream cheese with powdered sugar. (How much? That depends on how many dates you have. You want the filling to taste a bit like not-very-sweet cream cheese frosting.) If you are feeling fancy, you can add a little lemon zest to the filling, too. (N.B. Grammy didn't do that.) Using a teaspoon or your fingers, pinch off a little of the cream cheese mixture and stuff it into the date. Squish the date around the filling, and top the hole with a toasted walnut. Wrap the date in foil. Repeat.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

French Breakfast

About four years ago I spent a summer working at La Varenne cooking school in Burgundy, France. Anne Willan, the owner and founder of the school, is a prolific writer and publishes a new book almost every year with the help of various recipe testers and editorial assistants who clamor for the opportunity to spend a summer in France. She has a wealth of arcane cooking information (do you know the traditional garnish for babas au rhum? Well, do you?) and is a demanding and exacting boss. I won't sugarcoat it--some of the chores were terribly dull and aggravating. Other chores, like picking fruit from the ancient potager (made famous by Amanda Hesser's book The Cook and the Gardener) and turning it into jams and jellies, were great satisfying work.

Though Anne and her husband know and like great food, it always appeared that they had very few vices. While we stagieres would sneak pieces of chocolate and potato chips, Anne stuck to the basic French doctrine: lots of vegetables, some cheeses and the occasional dessert, red wine and long walks after lunch. But being British, she did love her shortbread. Every week one of the kitchen minions would be assigned the duty of producing a weeks worth of French sable cookies, which we would then individually wrap and give to Anne. She would keep them in her bedroom and she and her husband would each eat one every morning. We all adopted the habit of a sable with our morning coffee, though often times ours would be the packaged variety made by Bonne Maman. The French word sable refers to the texture of these cookies, sandy, meaning they are so tender that the crumble delicately when you bite into them.

I got thinking about all this because I bought a shortbread cookie from Berkeley's Cheeseboard Collective yesterday, thinking that I would have it for dessert. But I forgot about it, only to remember this morning when I saw the butter stained bag on the counter. The cookie, alongside my morning cup of coffee, took me back 6,000 miles and 4 years to a big chateau in a little French town. It remains one of the finest breakfasts imaginable.

Anne's basic sable recipe:

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
7 tablespoons butter

Sift the flour onto the work surface and make a well in the center. Put the salt, sugar, egg yolks and vanilla in the well. Pound the butter with a rolling pin to soften it, add it to the other ingredients into the well and work them with the fingers of one hand until throughly mixed and the sugar is partially dissolved. Using a pastry scraper, gradually draw in the flour then work the dough until smooth. Chill at least 30 minutes (you can keep the dough in the refridgerator for up to a week, provided it is well wrapped.

Roll the dough out to a thickness of 1/4 inch and cut out shapes using a round or decorative cutter. Transfer them to a baking sheet and brush with an egg wash or a little heavy cream. Bake them in a 375 degree oven until lightly browned, about 10-15 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

For Spacious Skies

My parent's have been in town visiting over the weekend, which meant lots of exploring and recreational eating, two of my favorite things. Friday night I took them to Los Jarritos on 20th and South Van Ness, a Mexican restaurant owned by the Reyes family. It's a step up from many of the Mission District spots, both in decor and in food. Their Friday night special of posole (a brothy tomato based soup studded with bits of roasted pork shoulder and tender hominy) and the housemade flour tortillas are particularly worthy of note, though they make a fine chile rellenos and the service is kind and efficient.

Saturday morning the road trip began, with a quick stop at the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market so my folks could marvel at California's bounty and we could load up on provisions. An hour later, laden with Acme's ham and cheese turnovers, a crostata from Frog Hollow, strip steaks from Niman Ranch, Cowgirl Creamery cheeses (a gruyere and a local goat), mushrooms, greens and just-picked carrots, we returned to the car and the road ahead.

Our destination was the wilds of Yosemite, a place I had never been and was anxious to see. It was, in a word, breathtaking. The road rose to the sky and every turn afforded vistas, granite monoliths and giant sequoias. We greeted the cool evening with wood stoves cranked and steaks off the grill, topped with sauteed mushrooms and roasted potatoes. As the sky darkened the stars appeared in earnest, brighter and closer than back here on earth. I can't wait to return.

Still, it felt like a shock to leave the park and, some 4-odd hours later, be sitting in the swank bar area of The Slanted Door. A day of hiking left us sleepy but hungry, and the bright, clean flavors of chef Phan's food--a mix of Vietnamese, French, and California ingredients and technique--were just the thing to perk us up. I have to admit I was hesitant to eat there, having heard reports of overpriced, not as good as when it was on Valencia Street, too large to serve good food, etc. It was an excellent meal. Standouts included the green papaya salad, a brilliantly balanced combination of ingredients, the manila clams with crispy pork belly (which I wasn't sure I would like but found myself lapping the bowl) and yellowtail with a soy-chili dipping sauce. They also offer an addictive japanese eggplant dish, with the rich flavor of coconut milk and green chiles. I was pleased to see that the dessert menu didn't offer too many gimmicks of the lychee, green tea or mango variety so commonly seen in "Asian" restaurants. Rather, it was an edited assortment of fine flavors--a pumpkin bread pudding with apples and chestnuts, a pear tart with pear sorbet, a fine creme brulee and Chinese cinnamon ice cream.

The whirlwind California tour now complete (my parent's are, as I write, winging their way back to Vermont), we'll have to return to our former routine. I began the day, as I always do when there isn't anything better around, with a bowl of yogurt sprinkled with grape nuts. It's back to the grind, I suppose. Sure is nice to know, though, that 4 hours away there's a little piece of paradise waiting.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

We're from the country--and we like it that way

To me, California still seems like a vast uncharted land. There are still places not all that far from my home that feel completely untouched by development and I find it easy to imagine the landscape that early explorers must have discovered upon hitting the coast. Thanks to mighty preservation Route 1 winds along a coast dotted with trees instead of houses, rocky outcroppings instead of tourist shacks. It's so gorgeous that you can't understand why every road isn't choked with people, clamoring for the view.

We spent the weekend up in the Anderson Valley, which is quickly becoming (or has already become) the home of some very fine wine, produced by some very nice folks. The cosy valley offers just the right climate for grapes, including pinot noir, chardonnay, pinot gris and syrah and the area is dotted with top-notch wineries that eschew Napa's snobbery and tasting fees in favor of nice, neighborly banter and generous pours. We arrived at Navarro Vineyard's tasting room just before closing, but still had time to enjoy a flight of their wine. I think the Kahn's are making some superior wine, none of which sell for more than $30 a bottle. They are easy drinking wines that stand up well to food, and their gerwurztraimner is this year's Thanksgiving wine: dry, complicated, hinting at apricots, maybe. Hinting at delicious, for sure.

Navarro's 2003 pinot noir accompanied the dinner we enjoyed a few hours later at the Boonville Hotel. We stayed in the hotel, a ten room affair just off the main road, with a lovely patio and gardens and roosters crowing in the wee morning hours. The hotel is owned by the Schmitt family (the folks that sold the French Laundry to Mr. Keller) and the kitchen is overseen by Johnny Schmitt. His parents own the Apple Farm, just down the road in Philo, an organic orchard that produces cider and fruit, as well as offering lodging and cooking classes. I have heard the cooking classes, taught by Sue Schmitt, book a year in advance and are well worth it. Apple Farm's organic apples, most unusual varieties that grow well in Philo, are brought to the ferry building's Saturday farmer's market.

The Boonville's food was exceptional, made doubly so by the roaring fire in the dining room and the cool air outside. We ate Sonoma duck with polenta and olives and Niman Ranch pork with roasted apples and braised radicchio and found that they were both enhanced by the local wine. Dessert was a coffee pot de cream and hand-churned ice cream, the latter served with delicate Mexican wedding cookies and pecan shortbread dipped in chocolate. The best part was that we only had to totter up a flight of stairs to reach our room.

The next morning found us at the Meyer Family Winery, just down the road in Yorkville, where 10am was met with glasses of port and Scharffenberger chocolate. Matt Meyer is a friend of a good friend, so he showed us around, explained their wine and port production, and generously spent his time with us before sending us down the lane with some of their ambrosial port, just the thing to cap off holiday meals. Currently their distributorship is quite small and limited to the West Coast, but it's definitely one to keep your eye out for. The flavor is sweet and rich and well-balanced--though port is high-alcohol you never feel like you're being overwhelmed.

Not only did Boonville and the Anderson Valley feel like a great break from the city, it also felt like home. Here's hoping it stays that way.

Thursday, October 20, 2005


Last night, someone at work (my part time job, mind you, and nothing glamourous--I'm the reservationist) brought me a doughnut fresh from the fryer, a little experiment by one of the cooks in pastry, drizzled with a little confectionary sugar glaze. It was, of course, delicious.

Doughnuts are a food that I can get really emotional about. When I was a kid, my father once drove me to a friends house on a snowy Sunday morning. Our Pontiac station wagon (the kind with the faux bois decals) couldn't make it up the back road, wheels spinning on the ice, so I offered to get out of the car and walk. After all, the house was just up over that rise, past a small pond and to the right, an old Vermont farmhouse.

Hours later, my friends mother called my dad to see when I was coming over. My father realized that he'd dropped me on the wrong country lane, where I had been walking, and walking, and walking. What he didn't know was that after I had walked for a few hours and it had started to snow a little old man pulled up in a Jeep. It was the first and only car I had seen since being dropped off, so I followed my 8 year old instincts and took a ride with him to his house where his wife, I swear to god, was making doughnuts. From scratch. It was like the best kid's dream, ever. I don't remember wanting to go home, but I do know that when my father finally arrived in a borrowed truck to rescue me, the old man's wife sent me packing with a brown sack of fresh sugar donuts, the grease staining the bag.

I only mention this story so that you will understand my stance on doughnuts. Despite years living in Boston, I've come to the conclusion that Dunkin' Donuts are NOT GOOD DOUGHNUTS. To me, a plain doughnut means a plain cake doughnut, unglazed, unsugared. The fluffy kind with sugar coating? That's a glazed doughnut, having nothing to do with plain doughnuts. My favorite of all, though, which are nearly ubiquitous in apple country this time of year, are apple cider doughnuts. The spicy, dense cake, when fresh from the fryer, has an outer crust that crunches slightly when you bite into it. So far, in San Francisco, I have found no traces of cider doughnuts. The closest doughnut shop, Happy Donut, must be a front for some other type of operation, because they give you a bags worth of donuts for the price of one. They are decent, super sweet, but no cider doughnut.

The origin of the doughnut is difficult to determine. Variations on the fried dough theme were popular throughout Europe long before the signature doughnut as we know it came to American shores. One of the first mention of doughnuts is in Washington Irving's "History of New York" published in 1809, where he describes balls of dough fried in hog's fat that resembled oversize walnuts (the nut in doughnut, presumbably). And a small plaque at a home in Rockland, Maine, identifies that spot as the birthplace of the doughnut hole (1847), the brainchild of a Maine seaman.

At any rate, one of my favorite spots for cider doughnuts is the Cold Hollow Cider Mill, in Waterbury, Vermont. Though you cannot order their doughnuts online (a freshness question, I'm sure, though I'd take a stale one of their doughnuts over many others) you can order their cider donut mix. I can't attest to the quality, but if you have a hood fan and a dream, I suggest you try it out.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Birthplace of the Noodle

An archaelogical dig in Northwestern China has unearthed some new culinary information: China is the birthplace of the noodle. Chinese archaelogists found an overturned earthenware bowl containing noodles, preserved under layers of ash. The noodle bowl was found at the late Neolithic site of Laija, a site dated at 4,000 years old. The discovery conclusively proves that it was the Chinese who first supped on noodles, not the Arabs or the Italians as previously considered.

The noodles closely resemble the hand-stretched wheat noodles that are currently eaten throughout Northern China, though those found at the dig site were made from millet, a crop that grows well in the semi-arid climate of Northwest China.

In honor of this discovery I suggest you all go out for Chinese tonight.

Into the Kitchen

Recently I've had friends confess that they read my blog as a procrastination technique, a break from the daily grind. Nothing could make me happier, as reading other people's food blogs comprises a large portion of my work days, too. But I've found a much more effective way to avoid the chore of trying to sell stories to people that don't want them: cooking.

We're having some guests for dinner tonight, new friends. It's only a Tuesday but I've settled on an elaborate menu that requires lots of advance preparation. I'm trying, in a small way, to impress them, since they know that I cook a lot and write about food and I'm sure they are expecting something more than spaghetti and meatballs. Making a meal like this goes against everything that I ever advise people who are nervous about cooking for guests. "Make something simple," I always crow, "and make it really good." I'm the queen of the roasted chicken and mashed potatoes, the grande dame of soup as dinner with bread, cheese, and salami, and maybe a salad to round things out. Generally, when I go to other peoples houses for dinner, I'm relieved to hear that we are having a simple meal and nervous when they announce they have purchased something they have never cooked before. The words you don't want to hear as a dinner guest: "What do you usually do with squab?" Uh-oh.

Today I'm at a frustrating place with my working life, so I made up this menu as a way to excuse myself from the computer legitimately. I couldn't write! I was cooking! To further justify my slackerdom, I tried to pick some new things to make (along with some old things) so that I'd at least be learning something along the way. So, for tonight, it's garlic toasts with braised greens (kale, broccoli rabe and spinach), a little gorgonzola and a poached egg, tiny roasted squash tortellini with sage and brown butter, pork loin with garden herbs, roasted potatoes and a little cherry tomato salad, and something chocolate (TBD) for dessert.

Now, back to the kitchen.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Nota Bene

My dining companion on that Italian voyage (and on nearly all voyages before or thereafter) reminded me that at that same restaurant in La Spezia we also had a first course of nearly perfect pesto, made with local Genovese basil and good parmigiano, tossed with fresh pasta, tiny cubes of potato and blanched green beans. A true taste of the Ligurian coast. How could I have forgotten?

A few days ago I accused Sarah of never remembering meals (well, meals that I make), an accusation that stemmed from her apparant lack of reverence for some brisket with tzimmes that I made for her brother's return from Iraq last spring. She kept calling it pot roast. I kept reminding her it was brisket. Then, she would feign remembrance: "Oh, yeah, the one that you made in the dutch oven with the potatoes." Nope, the one I made in the roasting pan with carrots and prunes, the one that I browned a piece of cow the side of New Jersey for, using only our warped roasting pan and my Yankee ingenuity.

Well, it's not really life or death now, is it? The point is that there are lots of good meals to be had, in seaside Italian towns and right at home. The point isn't brisket or top round, just that eating well with good company is one of lifes greatest pleasures.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Ciao, Chow

Today I started daydreaming about some time that I spent in Italy a few years ago. A good friend rented a massive house on a hill in a sleepy Tuscan town as a birthday present to herself. Over the course of two weeks friends came and went, and house dinners were collections of food finds we had each discovered on our respective journeys through the countryside. One night I provided porchetta I had bought at Dario Cecchini's butcher shop in Panzano, the famed butcher who recites Dante and plays opera while slicing your meat. Another night, my contribution was a nicoise salad, made with Italian canned tuna in olive oil.

One day we planned to meet my friend Nicolas, a Belgian who works for the Italian chocolate company Venchi. Venchi's chocolate is very, very good, and I have a particular place in my heart for their Cuor di Cacao, tiny squares of ultra-bitter chocolate. Nicolas was a new transplant to the company headquarters, in Cuneo, Italy, near the Alps, and didn't know much about the great Italian villages. We checked a map and agreed to meet halfway, in a seaside town called La Spezia. After lots of wrong turns in Tuscan towns, we finally arrived. La Spezia, as it turns out, lacks all the character, charm and beauty of the nearby tourist hot-spot of Portofino. It's a working town, a port city that still boasts a very active port--and not much else. The pink buildings lining the waterfront were black with grime, the streets were almost completely devoid of people and I saw a rat the size of a small dog emerge from a trashcan. Bella Italia this was not.

We wandered for a while looking for a place for dinner. One shack on the water looked promising until we walked closer and the smell of rotting fish brought tears to our eyes. Finally, we settled on an ordinary restaurant with an unsurprising menu and a surly waiter.

We ordered the fish for two, a whole fish roasted over vegetables. For the first time since arriving in La Spezia, we were pleasantly surprised. The whole fish, of name unknown, arrived in a broad copper pan, gently laid across thinly sliced potatoes and cubes of tomatoes, seasoned simply with fennel and red pepper flakes. The potatoes were crispy of the edges and silky where the fish had protected them from the heat. The fish was tender, moist and perfectly fresh. It was a great meal, made more so because our expectations had been so low. Though Nicolas had forgotten the promised chocolates, much to the dismay of the gang back at the house, we were able to find the autostrada home, cutting our four hour voyage down to a mere two. Though we vowed never to return to La Spezia, here I am, years later, recounting a splendid meal in a town hardly worth another thought. Bella Italia, indeed.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Tagged! Prunes, they're what's for dinner

There's a weird phenomenon called "tagging" in the blogosphere (a pretty strange place in its own right) in which one blogger "tags" another. A tag means that you have to find the 5th line of your 23rd post and extrapulate something interesting from there.

Since I don't want to be a spoil-sport, I'm responding to a recent tag. My 23rd post, 5th line reads,

"But prune juice also has high levels of acrylamide, and black olives and wheat toast."

That bit of hard-hitting journalism was written in response to a Times article about the high-levels of cancer causing acrylamide found in fried potato products, like fries and chips. On another vaguely related note, I made one of my favorite fall dinners the other night, and it contains both prunes and olives. It's a nice, simple braise from the very important book "All About Braising" by Molly Stevens. If you don't already own this cookbook, you should certainly go out and buy it. The recipe is simple---you dredge some skin-on chicken pieces (I cut up a whole chicken, though you could use all thighs and legs) in flour, heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a dutch oven, brown the chicken pieces then transfer them to a platter. Pour any accumulated fat out of the dutch oven and add a cup of white wine, 1/4 cup of white wine vinegar, a crushed clove of garlic, a nice strip of lemon zest, two cloves, 1/3 cup pitted green olives and 2/3 cup pitted prunes. Return the chicken pieces to the pot, cover, and let the whole thing simmer gently on medium heat for about 35 minutes, until the chicken is tender. Serve over mashed potatoes or egg noodles.

Worth the acrylamide.

America, are you out there?

I read a lot about the death of American culture and American food and I think some of it is true. The American fascination with homogeneity, big business and inexpensive goods has led to some dismal outcomes. Now, you can go to Paris in Los Vegas, eat a Mcdonald's meal in Sheboygan or Los Angeles that will taste exactly the same, and pay a ridiculously low price for meat that is raised in a factory farm on cheap feed using cheap labor. But I do think that indigenous culture remains, that there is more good food than we think in America, and that if we can just find a way to make some of the good things about American life accessible to average American, we will be on the right track. It's merely a matter of recharting our course.

Yesterday we drove thirty minutes outside of San Francisco down Route 1, oohing and awing at the vistas and the Pacific Ocean. We hiked in the redwoods, breathed in the fresh eucalyptus scented air, and felt miles away from the city. Of course, a day trip is never complete without a food find, and this trip yielded two. A stop at the Phipps Country Store, in Pescadero, yielded pumpkins and a huge selection of dried beans that they grow on the property, big ones, small ones, with names like "Jacob's Cattle" and "Chestnut Runner." Recently Phipps has gotten attention for their heirloom beans, and now they're shipping them all over the country. But you wouldn't know it by looking at the funny farmstand, which sells gummy candy and has cages of iguanas out back. They'll ship their beans and have a website: www.phippscountry.com

We left Phipps with lots of beans and a big bag of salted peanuts in the shell and munched them as we headed further down Pescadero Road into the forest. On the way home we stopped at the San Gregorio General Store (www.sangregoriogeneralstore.com), looking for a cup of coffee and maybe a sweet treat. We walked in to the sounds of a bluegrass trio and were thrilled to find a short wooden bar, a wide selection of cast-iron cookware, and a couple of plastic cake stands filled with cookies. The standouts were the date nut bars, tender pastry enclosing a thick layer of date puree studded with chopped walnuts. I'm going to call for the recipe. In the meantime, I suggest you pay them a visit, preferably on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon when you can drink a beer, listen to the music and watch the locals come and go.

Who says American culture and American food is dead and gone? In Pescadero and San Gregorio, the music plays on.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Will the nightmare ever end?

This just in: Rachael Ray will host a day-time talk show beginning in the fall of 2006, backed by none other than my beloved Oprah. Please! Somebody stop her! I could go on and on and on about the various things I find irksome about Ms. Ray, but I'll just mention a few of the things that really burn my biscuits.

1) Her aggravating, chirpy way of speaking, replete with acronyms ("evoo"), abbreviated words ("delish") and rhetorical questions ("how good does that look?").

2) Her thirty minute meals that often rely heavily on pre-packaged junk, like grocery store poundcake, frozen peaches and whipped topping.

3) The lame shit she does on her $40 a day show that no normal, self-respecting diner would ever do, such as using a coupon, during happy hour, at a bar, when you're drinking only water. It further annoys me because she has such a tremendous platform, and, oddly, such a large viewership, that she could be using this $40 a day to champion the small farmers, producers and restauranteurs that are preserving great American food traditions. But no, they don't take coupons.

4) Her nearly nude spread in FHM. I mean, come on. One look at their website, and you'd think the magazine was porn.....hey, wait just a second. It is porn! Rachael, did you know that?

And those are just the things that I can think of off the top of my head. Now a day-time show. Genius.

The Announcement of her new show can be found here:

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The spices in your neighborhood

It's become clear that Spain is, at least culinary speaking, hot right now. After the surge of upstart Amero-French bistros and brasseries transformed our dining landscape (and left us with such civilized French trappings as cheese for dessert), chefs moved on to the next big thing: Spain. There has been a lot of hoo-ha about El Bulli, Ferran Adria's laboratory of gastronomy hours from civilization in a Spanish coastal village, and food folks are equally excited about the Arzak family, in San Sebastian, where father and daughter work together to create mind-bending food that is both art and science. Years back, on the aforementioned trip to Alsace, I had the enormous pleasure of meeting Ms. Elena Arzak. She stands at roughly five feet tall, but is a true powerhouse and a generous spirit. While the rest of the chefs (notably the Parisians---sorry, but true) ignored me, Elena graciously joined me at table for the aforementioned beer soup.

While Arzak and Adria are all good, I'm really interested in the foods of the Basque region, the stretch of land that blends all things French with all things Spanish. It's a happy marriage, at least as far as the food is concerned, with the cheeses (look for Bleu des Basques and other sheep's milk cheeses, among them Erhaki, Ossau-Iraty and Petit Basque) of particular note. But perhaps the best thing to come out of Basque country is Piment D'Espelette. This dried, powdered red pepper resembles true Spanish paprika, and shares with paprika a warm, smoky, rich flavor. Underlying the mild heat is sweetness that reminds you that the peppers used in Piment D'Espelette are picked when dead-ripe, then sun-dried for two to three months to concentrate their flavo, after which they are quickly broiled and ground to a powder. Like a lot of great European foodstuffs, true Piment D'Espelette has been awarded with D.O.C status (Denominacion d'Origine Controle). D.O.C status means that Piment D'Espelette can only be produced in certain areas, during certain times of the year, and that production must adhere to standards that dictate everything from how ripe the peppers can be before harvest to how they must be dried and powdered. Giving a product D.O.C status protects its integrity and tradition, but it also keeps a lot of cheap imitators from producing inferior product and claiming it's the real thing. Currently, only 10 Basque villages are allowed to produce piment.

Espelette Pepper, also known in the Basque dialect as Ezpeletako BiPerra, is the ideal spice for fish and potatoes, for scrambled eggs, for little garlic crostini with white bean spread, for roast lamb...basically, it's the ideal spice. Best of all, unlike loads of kitchen tools, ingredients, and gadgets, a bottle of Piment is relatively inexpensive and will last for a long time in your kitchen, enlivening lots of formerly drab meals. At the end of October each year, a Piment D'Espelette festival is held in the Basque region. Having never seen it myself, I can only imagine that it's an unparalleled culinary event.

San Francisco chef Gerald Hirigoyen has a Basque restaurant here in the city, aptly named Piperade. Below, his recipe for--what else? Piperade! Piperade could be considered the building block of all Basque dishes, and it highlights the regional foods of Basque country--tomatoes, garlic, and piment.

Gerald Hirigoyen's Piperade

1/2 cup olive oil
1 small onion, finely sliced
6 anaheim chiles, seeded and finely sliced
6 garlic cloves, sliced
6 ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 tsp. sugar
1/8 teaspoon Piment D'Espelette
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper

Heat the olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Add the onions, chiles and garlic and cook for 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, sugar, piment d'espelette and bay leaf, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, then reduce the heat and simmer 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Discard the bay leaf and serve warm, alongside eggs for an elegant brunch, or with fish, lamb, or chicken.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Mr. Bond's Culinary Capers

I've been thinking a lot about my friend Jason lately, a very talented chef who has taken his talent of the wilds of New Hampshire, to L.A. Burdick's restaurant in Walpole. Burdick's is best known for their handmade chocolates, particularly their tiny chocolate mice with almond ears, but soon enough, I'm sure, their restaurant will begin diverting attention away from those mice.


Jason has proven himself an eager and willing dining and cooking companion, and I can't help but get nostalgic thinking about all of our culinary triumphs and experiments. There were roasted pumpkin seeds at Halloween, fruitcakes at Christmas (we had a blind fruitcake taste test one year, his mom's vs. my mother-in-laws), and a particularly trying gastronomic vacation to Alsace where, as guests of the board of tourism, we ate cabbage and pork knuckles for a week, washed down with local beer. We even had beer soup.

Jason singlehandedly cooked the meal for my wedding, a feast of modest proportions that consisted of boudin blank, flank steak and pork loin (heretofore referred to as "mixed grill"), bowls of sliced summer tomatoes with sea salt, corn salad with feta and herbs and a spicy peach chutney. He also cooked a meal for my very-important guest, the cookbook author Anne Willan, back when he was chef at a restaurant in Boston. Anne is a woman who takes her dining very seriously, particularly French food. So when Jason turned out pate a choux with black truffles and a rabbit dish with a sauce made from the bunny's own blood....well, let's just say it was a job well done. Of course, who can forget the time he pulled into the driveway with a whole baby lamb wrapped in plastic sheeting in the trunk of his car, then proceeded to make an Easter dinner that would make any Greek proud, replete with lamb two ways, braised and roasted.

Along the way, of course, were failures. What friendship is without them? There was the New Year's Day morning when Jason waved a tin of kippers under my nose, sending my champagne-weary stomach into knots. There was the red velvet cake I made for his birthday, a monstrosity so sweet that eating it was an act of deep friendship. There was the cake he made for our friend Sarah, scorched beyond recognition, but baked in a heart-shaped pan.

If a friendship can be charted by gastronomic highs and lows, ours is complete. I raise my glass to you, Mr. Bond, and the empanadas, galettes, sausages and cocktails still to come.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Surprise! French Fries are bad for you

The New York Times reported some hard-hitting news last Wednesday. French Fries are bad for you, and the State of California thinks you should know. Turns out fried potatoes have high levels of acrylamide, which has been shown to cause cancer in lab rats and mice. The attorney general of California is now recommending that french fries and potato chips carry warning labels, like those found on cigarette packages and solvents.

But prune juice also has high levels of acrylamide, and black olives and wheat bread. Fortunately, black olives, prunes and wheat toast haven't quite caught on in the same way that fries and chips have. But what ever happened to personal responsibility? Do we really need warnings to remind us not to gorge ourselves at McDonald's?

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Mom's House II

I'm one of those lucky people who has a mom that is a great cook. We grew up eating what we kids considered exotica--baked ziti and lamb curry. Over the years my mother's enthusiasm and skill has grown exponentially, and in recent years she's worked in a professional kitchen in Vermont.

It might dismay her, then, to know that while I have good memories of many of the meals that we have eaten together, the recipes I'm looking for are for all for the things she hasn't made in years, maybe decades. I talked to my brother about this. He, too, remembers the cocktail meatballs, in the their curious sauce of brown sugar, ketchup and cranberry sauce (jellied, from a can) that my mother served over white rice, though he doesn't remember the apple cake, a moist spiced cake studded with chunks of local apples, which mom would make after we went apple picking each fall.

I imagine making the popcorn balls that mom used to make at Halloween for our trick-or-treaters this year, but urban suspicions prefer individually packaged mars bars to hand-wrapped homemade caramel corn.

And then there were the haystacks. These weren't really something mom cooked, just assembled. The recipe was off the box of Total cereal, and involved coconut, peanut butter and a "no-bake" approach to cooking. A few years ago I tried to get the recipe from the good people at Total. When they finally sent the recipe, or what they thought was the recipe, I filed it away without trying to make them. I was afraid that my memory of those haystacks was probably better than they ever were.

But now, the apple cake? I think that would hold up to close scrutiny.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Mom's House

It's started to get a little chilly here in San Francisco. Since I have no idea what the weather patterns are supposed to be this time of year, it feels perfectly OK, kind of like early fall days in New England. It seems only natural to take eating cues from climactic change, and this week my thoughts are on French onion soup, lentils with sausage, braised things and sauteed greens.

Last night we went to Chez Maman, a sweet, tiny restaurant on 18th Street in Potrero Hill. It's not a sleeper or a well-kept secret, so I'm sure I'm not telling many people something that they don't already know. Run by the same folks behind Chez Papa, the larger, fancier restaurant two doors down, Chez Maman serves a small menu of French bistro-y items, from croque monsieurs (or madame's) on sweet bread that reminds me of Cuban sandwiches, to a merguez sausage panini, to great salads--particularly the endive salad, which combines chopped endive with cubed pears, candied walnuts and roquefort and the frisee salad, that Parisian classic of frisee topped with bacon and a poached egg.

The restaurant has two tiny tables in the window and a long bar that faces the open kitchen. Small wine and dessert lists round out the dinner offerings, which also include, oddly, quesadillas, and crepes. I must also mention their superior shoestring fries, served with a bright and garlicky aioli. These little potato toothpicks rival the fries at Universal Cafe (Universal mayb have a slight lead) and are quite addictive.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Burgers, Bakeries, Cheese and Huckleberries

There's a great deal to catch up on. For information on burgers, check out my friend Amy's blog at www.californiaeating.blogspot.com. She provides some well-deserved publicity for my new favorite burger spot in our 'hood.

In other news, it was back to the East again, this time for a wedding ( like the birthday I attended back East some weeks back, it too involved a big feast and a cake). It was my first trip through Boston since I moved, and I set about trying to eat all of the things that I loved in the city and visiting all of the friends, too. I remembered how much I adored the double chocolate chip cookies that they sold at Whole Foods, so I bought some of those for the flight back. Though they have Whole Foods out here in abundance, for some reason the magic mystery of the cookie hasn't been explained to their cadre of West Coast bakers. They don't make 'em out here. I suspect it's because they don't actually meet the Whole Foods standards. They are too good to be made with sucanat and whole wheat flour. Somewhere, in a Whole Foods commissary, a clever and brave baker is lacing the double chocolates with the requisite crisco, white sugar and real chocolate.

I also remembered how I often enjoyed the palmiers at Bread & Butter bakery, in Jamaica Plain. They boast a kind of chewy, caramely goodness and a rich butter flavor and the requisite flakiness. After having spent many a morning on line at Tartine bakery in San Francisco I can now confidently say that the rest of B&B's offerings are only suitable. The palmiers, however, are worth the trip.

Then there were the cheeses from Formaggio Kitchen. In the interest of full disclosure I must reveal that I worked at Formaggio for many, many years, so my analysis is hardly unbiased. But given my high-level of cheese expertise, I can say that there are few places like it in the country (maybe Murray's in NYC, Zingerman's in Ann Arbor...) and that visiting there felt just like going home, if home had a cheese wall featuring 3o0 cheeses from around the globe, cut to order. Robert, the GM of FK, told me that recent wheeling and dealing with the FDA (who ban the raw-milk cheeses aged under 60 days, boo!) has resulted in more great cheeses, especially goat cheeses, making it through the gauntlet. The time to mobilize is now, my friends. www.formaggiokitchen.com

Finally, in a moment of shameless self-promotion--the new CHOW magazine is out. Find it on newsstands and read my hard-hitting treatises on quince and America's cheese shops.

Oh, and one more thing: I think huckleberries are the new pomegranates. I'm imagining it now--here comes the Huckatini. Don't say I never told you.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

The Not-So-Friendly Skies

A quick note to say: what is going on with airline food today?

I didn't take my first flight until I was nearly twenty years old. By then my expectations had reached mammoth heights, and I spent weeks before my trip imagining the glories of air travel. Turns out there isn't a single glamourous thing about winging your way from one coast to another, and the least glamourous thing seems to be the food. I mean, honestly, what's going on? Bankruptcy, for one, meaning that United (and other airlines, I'm sure) now make you pay for boxes of snacks with kicky names like "The Jumpstart" which contains a whole bevy of overprocessed, under-vitamined, overpackaged garbage.

But I think there's a bigger problem here. The setting: a boardroom somewhere. The players: Airline execs in power suits. The lunch served in meeting: Vitamin water, anemic cookies, wrap sandwiches. The subject: what food translates well to the friendly skies.

In a situation like this, the only meals you would expect them to dream up are salisbury steak and vegetarian meals that consist only of fruit and bottled water. In my fantasy I imagine that once Alice Waters finishes her worthy crusade against shitty school lunches (www.edibleschoolyard.org) she wields her influence against the good people at the FAA, demanding that they improve the quality of plane food. Unfortunately, unlike the school lunch initiative, there's no government funding for our inflight dinner, so I suspect my fantasy will remain just that.

In the meantime, I encourage savvy jetsetters to pack their own bento boxes filled with fresh and delicious treats, guaranteed to make those sitting near you very, very jealous.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

In case you ever want to go home again

Some things change a lot, and other things never do. I went home to Vermont for the first time since moving to California in April and was pleased to discover that my mother's kitchen is exactly as I had remembered it. The occasion was my father's 60th birthday, which required lots of great food and a big cake, of course.

My mom is a cook, too, and messing around with food seems to be in our blood. We like planning menus and parties, and we really like cooking good things for people we love. Friday morning found us brainstorming the menu for the next day's festivities-- shrimp on the grill, deviled eggs, fried chicken, corn salad, broccoli and cauliflower salad, biscuits, bean salad with walnut vinaigrette and the cake--a four-layer white cake layered with whipped cream and my mother's homemade raspberry-chocolate jam. It was summer picnic at its finest, cooked in the wretchedly humid East Coast weather.

Fried Chicken truly brings out the best in humankind. It's stinky, greasy and annoying to make, but so wonderful to eat--frying up a big batch is culinary shorthand for "I love you." There's a lot of good information about fried chicken out there (I happily defer to the great John T. Edge, Southern food writer extraordinaire, and his seminal book, Fried Chicken and Apple Pie) and plenty of good recipes. When I'm at the cast iron skillet, I keep it simple: flour seasoned with salt and pepper and cayenne, chicken soaked in buttermilk, vegetable oil for frying. A friend that grew up in Arkansas turned me on to the wonders of double battering, in which you take the chicken out of the buttermilk, dredge it in the flour, back into the buttermilk and one more turn through the flour. This is very good, if you're in the mood for lots of crispy coating.

At any rate, all of the fried chicken was eaten, the guests and the guest of honor relished the meal, and our heroine discovers, happily, that home was just where she left it.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

The Good, The Bad, The Overcooked

I found myself on San Francisco's Clement Street on Friday night, a kind of mini-Chinatown that springs forth from the middle of the Richmond. I purposely went without any recommendations on where to eat--I figured that I'd follow my nose, peer in windows, look for signs of life (and dumplings). My dining companion and I lingered in front of many a window, retraced our steps a few times--you don't want to make a mistake, here--and finally settled on Taiwan Restaurant.

It wasn't the decor that drew us in, I promise you that, but rather the chef in the window manning two enormous steamers, with barbequed pork buns and elegant pinched dumplings on deck. We ordered the gingery chicken dumplings and the pork dumplings and then tried to pick the perfect time to eat them, before they cooled down but after they pass through the stage where they burn your mouth, thereby ruining the rest of your meal. We also enjoyed a very fine plate of braised green beans topped with a handful of ground pork, lots of garlic and some Chinese pickled vegetables. All of this is just build up to what I really want to tell you about, though: the Taiwan spare ribs.

Now, I'm not really a spare rib kind of girl. But my curiousity was piqued, and the waiter gave an appreciative nod when I ordered them, like I was in the club. A huge platter of riblets appeared minutes later, braised, then deep fried, then rolled in the sublime sauce, which had hints of five spice powder and pineapple juice. I ate lots of them with great gusto, thinking of my friends Julia, who loves meaty things on the bone, the messier the better, and John, who confessed to me not too long ago that he doesn't like a) meat on the bone and b) onions in his food. More for us, John.

That's the good news. The bad news is that Sunday morning I had an absolutely dreadful brunch. At a respectable place, too, the kind of place that sets you back $50 for breakfast. The kind of place that is great at dinner, but at brunch turns into a place that you should warn your friends about. Luna Park, 18th and Valencia. I'm not going to say that it was a disaster--wait, that's exactly what I'm going to say. A trainwreck, disguised as breakfast. I ordered a chickpea stew with poached eggs and merguez sausage, and what I received was a bowl of underseasoned, undercooked chickpeas in a thin tomato broth, with a soggy square of bread in the middle, topped with two poached-to-the-point-of-hard-boiled eggs. And grizzled dry bits of merguez. Four grizzled bit, to be exact, each about the size of my thumbnail. When I alerted the waitress to the fact that the eggs were way overdone, and asked that she replace them, she did--with a bowl of poached eggs so UNDERCOOKED that the whites weren't even set. Actually, they were brought out by another waitress; I didn't see ours again until she brought us the check.

I suppose I could have been more aggressive about it, but I kind of thought that my entirely uneaten breakfast would send a signal. Wrong again. And the final straw? $2.75 for a cup of coffee that wasn't refilled a single time. I'm over it, I swear.

They should go take some lessons from the folks at Taiwan Restaurant.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Personality Types, Upside Down Cake

I just took my Myers-Briggs personality test. This is something everyone else in the world did about five years ago, and I remember lots of conversations that hinged around the magic letters I, E, S, N, F, P, J. I also remember thinking the whole thing was pretty stupid. But I took the test, and it turns out that I'm a ESFJ--the "provider guardian." Martha Stewart was a ESFJ, you know, and George Washington, too.

In terms of practical expression, I think that the ESFJ manifests itself most obviously in my overwhelming urge to bake for others. This began more than a decade ago, when I was just a wee lass toting brownies (made from Seventeen Magazine's recipe) to the children's librarian at the public library. Now I bake for neighbors (banana bread, more brownies) and dinner guests (upside down cake) and new acquaintances who invite me to brunch (blueberry muffins). I'm pretty certain I do it because people like you more when you knock on their door holding sweets, because nobody, nobody does it anymore. Also, it doesn't matter what you are making for dinner provided you have baked a proper dessert, so it gets you off the hook a little bit in that respect, too.

I've already given you a dynamite birthday cake recipe (see earlier post) but for everyday appeal you should master the upside down cake. It's incredibly versatile, since you can use any fruit on top. The classic pineapple is always a winner, but it works well (and is equally delicious) with nectarines, peaches or plums. Best of all, this cake can be a dessert dessert or a brunch dessert or a breakfast dessert.

Upside Down Cake
(adapted from The Best Recipe cookbook)
You should make this cake in a 10-inch cast iron skillet, if you have one. If not, a 9x3 inch pan will do, but make sure you butter it really, really well, to avoid the embarrasing moment when you flip your cake right-side-up and all the fruit clings neatly to the inside of the pan. Argh!
4 Tablespoons butter
3/4 cup light brown sugar
Fruit, sliced into manageable slices (4 peaches or nectarines or 5 plums or 1 small pineapple)
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3 Tablespoons cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 Tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
4 large eggs, seperated
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2/3 cup milk
If you are using the cast iron skillet, you can make the topping right in there and then pour the cake batter over the top and pop the whole thing in the oven. If you are using a cake pan, you'll have to make the topping in a seperate pan then pour it into the cake pan.
Melt the butter in the cast iron skillet set over medium heat. When the butter is melted, add the brown sugar and cook until the mixture is foamy and pale, about 4 minutes. Arrange the fruit on top of the sugar mixture in a pretty design (I go for a concentric circle). Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, cornmeal and salt in a medium bowl. Cream the butter in electric mixer at medium speed, gradually adding in one cup of the granulated sugar. Continue beating until light and fluffy. Beat in egg yolks and vanilla, reduce the mixer speed to low, and add dry mixture and milk, alternately in three or four batches, ending with the dry ingredients. Continue mixing until batter is just smooth. Transfer the mixture to a big bowl, clean the bowl of your electric mixer (unless you are one of those lucky ducks who has two bowls for their mixer) and then beat the egg whites on low speed until foamy. Increase the speed to medium high and beat until soft peaks form. Add the remaining two tablespoons of sugar and beat until the whites form stiff peaks.
Take a quarter of your beaten whites and fold them into the batter. Fold in the remaining whites in two additions, folding until no white streaks remain. Pour batter onto the fruit, taking care not to disturb the pretty design you made, and pop the cake into the oven. Bake until the cake is golden brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 60 minutes.
Remove from oven and let sit two minutes. Place a serving platter over the pan and hold tightly. If you are using the cast iron skillet, it's a good idea to wear an oven mitt on both hands when you're doing this flippy thing. Trust me on this one. Flip! The first couple times you do this, you might want to flip privately, in case something goes wrong or you discover you didn't butter your cake pan enough (see above) but when you've gotten it down, it's fun to do it in front of an audience, because the cake is absolutely lovely and impressive when turned out.

Monday, July 25, 2005

What's for dinner?

I'm not crazy about leftovers. Well, I should qualify that. I'm not crazy about eating the same meal, in unaltered form, twice in a row--even if it's really good. Even if it "improves with age." I like making something, like a roast chicken, that can wear many hats. Roast chicken dinner one night followed by chicken salad sandwiches or pulled roast chicken with barbecue sauce on a soft roll. One bird, many meals.

I also really like looking in the fridge or pantry, realizing that there is nothing to eat, and then making a dinner out of nothing. This is precisely what I did last night, and I think it could be the premise for the next Iron Chef. Don't give the chefs a pantry stocked with uni and creme fraiche--give them a fridge with six eggs, cheese ends, condiments and a few potatoes. That would really seperate the men from the boys.

So, what did I make? Tortilla Espanola. I was served my first slice of this egg and potato frittata-like snack by a Puerto Rican friend, accompanied by garlicky aioli. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

Here's the method: For a tortilla that serves one or two people.

Heat 3/4 of a cup of oil in an 8 inch skillet. It doesn't have to be non-stick, but if you have one, go ahead, use it. When the oil is hot, add about a cup of diced potatoes, maybe a small zucchini if you've got one, and let cook over medium-low heat until the potatoes are soft but not brown (if they are beginning to brown before cooking through, lower the heat) While they are doing their thing, whisk up 5 eggs with salt and pepper. When the potatoes, etc. are cooked, drain them (save the oil, you can reuse it) and add them, while still hot, to the beaten eggs. Stir to combine, add a couple teaspoons of the oil back to the skillet then dump the whole mixture in. Cook over low heat until the tortilla is mostly set, then pop the skillet under the broiler and broil until it's set on top. Turn out onto a plate and let cool to room temperature. Eat with aioli, if you like, or a big green salad.

Something from nothing. I'll be darned. Delicious!

Monday, July 18, 2005

Dinner for Emotional Invalids

We all know what foods to make for invalids, for the sick and weak. A scrambled egg, dry toast, baked potatoes, congee, chicken soup. What is less certain is what to cook for emotional invalids, for friends that are just having a tough go at it, a bad week, or year, a rough patch. I suppose I put myself in that category now: new city, no job, long days, a little lonesome-- which direction?

When you're in this state, with an overabundance of what I like to call "invalitude," it's nice to be asked out. Your friends call and all you have to do is bring a bottle of wine. So you dress yourself up a little, take extra good care of your delicate self, and you and your bottle of wine go to Oakland for dinner.

Dinner is enough; anything is enough. But a really good dinner---well, that's something. And a really good dinner that feeds your soul and fills your stomach? Well, those are good friends. If you haven't made this recipe before (I hadn't) you should, as it will instantly become part of your repertoire. A big green salad, some red wine--let the healing begin.

Bucatini all' Amatriciana
For Six Hungry People
from Saveur Cooks Authentic Italian
2-3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
6 oz. pancetta, finely diced
1/2- 3/4 tsp. dried red pepper flakes
2 cups finely chopped tomatoes
2 tbsp. freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano
1 cup freshly grated pecorino-romano
1 lb. bucatini (hollow spaghetti)
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add pancetta, and cook until browned and crisp, about 10 minutes, then transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain, and set aside.
2. Increase heat to medium-high, carefully add red pepper flakes and tomatoes to hot oil in same pan, and cook, stirring often, until sauce thickens slightly, 6-8 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, add parmigiano-reggiano and 2 tbsp. of the pecorino-romano, and cook for a few minutes longer.
3. Meanwhile, season boiling water generously with salt, add bucatini, and cook, stirring often, until just tender, about 8 minutes. Drain. Transfer pasta to skillet with sauce, add 2-3 tbsp. pecorino-romano, and stir until well coated. Divide bucatini between 4 bowls, and sprinkle each with some reserved pancetta and a bit more pecorino-romano.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Beserkly Baby

I drove by the Berkeley Farmers' Market today and couldn't help myself. Never mind that my partner in eating is in Spain (more on that later) and I am cooking for one; the siren song of beautiful vegetables was just too strong.

But the BFM is a serious market, a professional market, that is so Berkeley that it's almost a stereotype, but in a great and wholesome and not too self-conscious way. Yes, you'll see bare-chested old-timers with large wooden amulets dangling from around their necks. There are hippies playing the banjo, a cute guy in a straw cowboy house sharpening knives and garden tools, vegan cookies.

There are also unbelievable baskets of cherry tomatoes, some as tiny as pinto beans, others bright orange and pear-shaped, big bags of salad greens, festooned with nasturtium blossoms and flower petals, and hearty seed studded loaves of bread.

My favorite discovery, though, were the little dates from Flying Disc Ranch, some 500 miles South of San Francisco, which tasted just like maple syrup. All that diversity, all that beauty, makes me think that California is a country unto itself.

The Berkeley Farmers' Market is open Tuesday from 2-7pm and Saturday from 10-3pm and is located at Center Street @ Martin Luther King Way. For more information, visit http://www.ecologycenter.org/bfm/index.html

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Turnovers and Tarts

I went to Acme Bread Senior last weekend (that's the flagship store on San Pablo in Berkeley) which is about the size of a shoebox, but it's a very pleasant shoebox, with lots of good smells and things to eat. We were actually staking out a table at Cafe Fanny, right next door, but I figured that I might need an appetizer to tide me over through the long line and subsequent long wait.

What I really wanted were these sublime onion tarts that they make at Acme Bread Junior (ferry building) but it turns out they don't make them at Senior. I don't know why. The guy at the counter didn't know why, either, but he seemed really bummed that he had never tried one, and even humored me as I went into painstaking detail, describing the caramelized onions, the fresh thyme, the slivers of black olive and the nice sprinkling of coarse salt and pepper, all on Acme's really exceptional puff pastry. I have tried lots of puff pastry, both homemade and in the bakeries of the world and Acme's has few equals.

I didn't want to go empty handed, of course (I told you! It really was a long wait!) so I got a ham and cheese turnover. That same puff pastry, filled with good cheese and cubed ham. I think they are on to something with cubing the ham. It keeps the turnover from being all flopppy, gives it a little texture.

Cafe Fanny was pretty good, but they don't have anything on Acme. Oh, and did I mention there is a rose wine sale on at Kermit Lynch, in the same little San Pablo plaza? I kid you not.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Peachy Keen

I'm beginning to realize things are taken for granted here in San Francisco. Maybe it's because the summer weather is absolutely perfect, with brilliant sunshine and nice breezes, or maybe it's because folks have become accustomed to living the good life. Whatever the case, this sense of gracious entitlement seems to extend all the way to fruit.

The good people of this city by the Bay are lucky enough to know what a real peach tastes like. If they are eating rock-hard, tart and juiceless peaches, it's only because they haven't yet reached enlightenment, which comes the minute you taste a peach from Frog Hollow Farm. These are what we should call "peaches with pedigree," because the fruit from Frog Hollow has been written about in all sorts of fancy magazines. The good news is, celebrity hasn't changed these stone fruits--they're really amazing.

I could say that they taste like fruit from my childhood, before factory farming took over and the average fruit or vegetable began traveling 1,500 miles to the average mouth, but truth is, I'm not sure I've ever had peaches that tasted as good as these. I had to cup my free hand under the fruit as I bit into it, sweet fruit juice running everywhere. You can get these little dynamos all over town, at Farmer's Markets and even at Whole Foods, or you can order a box and have it delivered right to you. I imagine the shipping probably costs as much as the fruit, but sometimes it's fun to splurge on ridiculous things, then to wait excitedly while said ridiculous thing wings its way to you. While waiting (or en route to the farmer's market) you can start planning what you will do with your peach motherlode. The first should be eaten out of hand, I think, but then it's open season, and you can make ice cream, pie, cobbler, betty, grunt, crisp--even throw some halved peaches on the grill alongside your pork tenderloin. I'm telling you, it's the real deal.


Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Just Perfect, and Pulled Pork

There are some days that are just perfect. A group of friends piled into the car and headed to the lake, where we swam, picnicked and soaked in the California sun. The day before I had scored a vintage picnic basket at the grand Alameda flea market, and we pressed it into service immediately, using the sturdy plastic knives and plates that came with the set.

When we were tired we drove over to St. Helena, home of the Culinary Institute of America and Napa's smaller, fancier cousin, to eat dinner at Taylor's Automatic Refresher (www.taylorsrefresher.com). Yes, there is a second Taylor's at the Ferry Building in San Francisco and yes, it does have almost exactly the same menu. But the feeling isn't the same, as there is something about enjoying your burger in plein aire, at little umbrella festooned picnic tables in the "country", that can't be beat.

I had a pulled pork sandwich made with sweet, shredded Niman Ranch meat--it was topped with simple coleslaw and a soft egg bun. I also had a milkshake, of course, and it made the long ride back to the city, through the fireworks, that much sweeter.

Friday, July 01, 2005

The French are Coming!

I just finished reading the New York Observer, and there's a big article about how Le Guide Michelin is coming to the big apple. Due out in November, the classic European guide, with its scrupulous anonymity and painstaking detail, will profile 500 New York restaurants and 50 hotels. On the short list are Alain Ducasse and Daniel Boulud's restaurants....hey, aren't they both French? Some coincidence running this story right before Independence Day. Jeez.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Thanks, Charlie

My mother once gave me a cookbook for Christmas, and the inscription inside read, "to a lifetime of good food and its community." Working in the food business is hard. You're cooking when most people are eating, spending weekends, nights, holidays on your feet and behind the stove. You miss a lot. It's no wonder they call the meal served to staff before their shift family meal--most cooks see more of their saute pans then they do of their loved ones. So it's only natural, necessary, even, that you build a community into your work. And a community of food loving coworkers cum friends is the best kind. Restaurants are all about hospitality--you're in the business to make folks happy, and your friends are the lucky benefactors of this spirit of generosity.

All of this build-up to say: I had a great dinner last night. I accompanied some good friends to the newly opened restaurant of their good friend, Charlie Hallowell. They're all Chez Panisse alums (a community with a fine pedigree, no less) and Charlie's new spot, Pizzaiolo, on Telegraph in Oakland, California, is just the greatest.

Maybe it's the warm wooden booths and tables, the communal table in the back room, with photos of his two children on the wall, the exposed brick and the buoyant, happy feel that the room has. Well, it's probably the food. Long cooked romano beans with an anchovy vinaigrette, a crisp toast slathered with aioli and topped with little cherry tomatoes, manila clams with chickpeas in a perfect broth--and pizzas, with buffalo mozzarella, broccoli rabe, sausage, and toasted crust, salty enough, with little blackened spots. It's affordable and wonderful, with a nice wine list and good desserts. All of which means that it feels comfortable and good, and I'll have to come back often. Thanks, Charlie.

You can check out pizzaiolo's menu at www.pizzaiolo.us

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Just for the Halibut

Our friend Faith just arrived from the wilds of Alaska for a visit. I didn't think to ask her to bring any regional culinary specialties (think salmon jerky and pickled beaver tail) but she did bring a copy of the Anchorage newspaper, which tells the story of a 365 pound halibut caught by a fisherman from Orange County, California (that's the O.C. to you, pal.)

My first thought was that it is sort of sad that the second largest recorded halibut caught in Alaska wasn't caught by an Alaskan, but my next thought was, when's dinner? Growing up in landlocked Vermont I developed an early aversion to creatures from the sea, with particular ire directed towards lobsters and fried clams. I've now come to think of this fish phobia as the folly of youth. Now I'm making up for lost time, and halibut has become my new best friend.

But we're talking about 365 pounds of halibut, and the mind reels with possibility. Even poor Hal's stomach contents included a dinner for 6; a four-pound cod. Halibut can be marinated in soy and ginger and served with Asian vegetables, or cooked with feta, tomatoes and black olives for a Mediterranean meal. I like to cube it, toss it in olive oil and lemon juice and grill the cubes on skewers. Then you can place the skewers onto a big salad, loaded with farm greens, maybe some blanched haricots verts, cooked corn cut from the cob....well, you get the picture.

Better still, Alaskan wild halibut is on the environmental defense short list of approved fish--it's plentiful in the Pacific and doesn't have to be raised in polluting pens on farms. For more information on responsible seafood choices, you can visit the www.oceansalive.org

To read the story of the lucky fisherman (and see a picture, too) who caught the giant fish, check out http://www.adn.com/front/story/6649118p-6535675c.html

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Delfina Divine

We popped into Delfina (18th and Guerrero, San Francisco) at 8pm on Friday night, hungry and a little cranky. We didn't have a reservation because we hadn't planned on going there--we were going to try this other place called chow, but they don't even take reservations, and one look at the dozens of hipsters queued up on Church Street and I knew it wasn't in the cards. The hand of fate steered us towards chef/owner Craig Stoll's fabulous Italian food. It was impossible to resist the fried squash blossoms, filled with lemony ricotta, and the housemade salame was divine: slightly gamy pork, with a rich flavor and great chewy texture. The beans with tomato and bacon were great, too.

Then a tagliatelle with pine nuts and zucchini, the pasta so fine you could nearly see through it. Finally, local halibut with potatoes and artichokes sott'olio (cooked in olive oil) for me, slow-cooked pork shoulder with farro for Sarah. A good bottle of dolcetto. A shared plate of profiteroles with espresso ice cream and a rich, bitter chocolate sauce (Scharffenberger, maybe?) A really fine meal.

At home, real summer food now. Sweet yellow corn on the cob, bean salads (I tried the canned white kidney beans from Trader Joes and was happily surprised--big firm beans that weren't overcooked and falling apart!) dressed with simple vinaigrette and some toasted nuts, grilled fish dotted with homemade pesto. With such good ingredients, it's best just to try not to muck things up too much.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Hot Tamales

I want to talk about tamales. Back when I was living in Boston, I'd eat a tamale once in a blue moon at a mediocre Mexican restaurant. Usually it was filled with a not-so-tempting mystery meat, replete with bits of skin and sometimes, if you were lucky, bones too.

But I really like food in little packages (see my Shanghai Noodle Shop post) and I always thought that tamales could be really, really good. I tried my hand at making them, once, and it was laborious and worth the effort, but it's not something I'm apt to do too often. But here in this great city of San Francisco, particularly in the neighborhood I'm living in, tamales are everywhere. There's a woman who sells them outside the Safeway on Bryant Street, a kind man who shows up outside the Bi-Rite Market on 18th Street on Saturday and Sunday evenings, cooler packed with the most wonderful pork and green chili tamales, and taco shops and bodegas everywhere that have them all the time. For $1.50. No joke.

I have come to the conclusion that they are the greatest snack food ever, and I'm wondering now why other cities haven't caught on. Hello, Boston, I mean you! Where is your tamale cart? Since I'm still unemployed, I have started having visions of becoming the East Coast tamale woman, with a squeeze bottle of hot sauce, a roll of paper towels, a cooler filled with hot tamales and a dream.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Lard and Peaches

Today I decided that my fear of naturally hydrogenated animal fats was standing between me and the greatest pie crust of life.

I have been trying to find the ideal pie crust recipe for awhile now. I limited my pie crust experimentation to varying amounts of butter or vegetable shortening and different techniques, hoping to stumble on the perfect balance that would lead to a sublime crust--the search would be over.

After consulting James Beard's American Cookery and the new Gourmet cookbook, I settled on a recipe. Today was the day I would make a peach pie to be remembered. So I bought lard at the corner store (at $1.50 for a quart, a bargain) and brought it home. I opened it and took a deep sniff. It smelled like bacon fat. I was hit by a sudden moment of uncertainty which led to a last minute modification: half butter and half lard. Ok, I was cooking now.

Peeled peaches--and a simple crust strategy: flour, butter, lard, cold water, sugar and lemon juice. The dough smelled like roasted meat. It rolled out like a dream and baked to a lovely golden brown. The result? Pretty good, my friends. Flaky, with a rich butter flavor, not too meaty or weird. Not perfect, but I think I'm on to something. More experimentation to follow.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Birthday Cake

It's my brother's 29th birthday!

CHOW magazine (www.chowmag.com), a new San Francisco-based food magazine for the young and not-too-serious, has a portion of this month's issue devoted to recipes that should become part of any cook's repertoire. It also has a few nice looking recipes for cake, in a separate section of the mag. I would argue that a good birthday cake should absolutely be part of a good cook's repertoire--it's probably the one thing I'm called upon to make most.

But I love making them. You instantly become an important part of the celebration, and most people (smart ones, at least) really like cake. My favorite birthday cake recipe comes from my aunt, who got it in a packet of recipes that was put together by the parents of elementary school students in the East Fairfield, Vermont school. It's really Tommy Torbett's mother's recipe, so credit is due to Mrs. Torbett, wherever she may be.

Her Black Chocolate Cake is an instant hit. It's kind of a chocolate cake recipe for children, but adults eat it with reckless abandon, particularly if it's baked into cupcakes. I have made this cake dozens of times, always with great results. My aunt (and I) like to frost it with a classic vanilla frosting (butter, confectionery sugar, vanilla) but you can use any frosting you like, provided it's not that insipid stuff from a can. Don't do it! If I were in Boston today for my brother's birthday, this is what I would make him:
Tommy Torbett's Mother's Black Chocolate Cake
2 cups flour
2/3 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup shortening
2 cups boiling water, divided
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 large eggs
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans or one 9x13-inch pan. Mix dry ingredients in a bowl. Add shortening and 1 cup boiling water and stir to combine. Add the vanilla, eggs, and an additional 1 cup boiling water, and stir until well mixed. Transfer to prepared pans and bake for 20-30 minutes. You don't want to overbake this one, so set the timer for 20 minutes and check it, adding additional time as needed. If you make cupcakes they won't take as long to bake, so check at 9 or 10 minutes and add additional time as needed.
Once cool, frost with frosting of your choice. No canned frosting! I'm serious!
Happy Birthday, David!

Friday, June 10, 2005

Laurie Colwin's Tomato-Corn Pie

I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that this tomato-corn pie is one of the best summer foods, ever. Moving from the East Coast to the West Coast has left me a little mixed up when it comes to seasonal eating, since here it's already time for cherries, decent tomatoes and sweet corn. At first I resisted making this pie, thinking that it was too early in the season, but then I changed my mind, thinking first of how delicious it is and then thinking it was the perfect dish to serve the vegetarian coming for Friday supper.

It's described briefly in Laurie Colwin's genius book, More Home Cooking, where she mentions having lifted the recipe from James Beard. Whatever its origins, you should make this pie as close to immediately as possible.

Here, I'll even give you the recipe.

Laurie Colwin’s Tomato and Corn Pie

2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 ¾ teaspoons salt
¾ stick (6 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes, plus 2 tablespoons melted
¾ cup whole milk
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 ¾ lbs. tomatoes, peeled (or not—it doesn’t really matter) and sliced ¼ inch thick
1 ½ cups corn (from about 3 ears) coarsely pureed in a food processor
2 tablespoons finely chopped basil
2 tablespoons finely chopped chives
7 ounces coarsely grated sharp cheddar cheese
salt and pepper

Whisk together flour, baking powder and ¾ teaspoon salt in a bowl, then blend in the 6 tablespoons cold butter with your fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add milk, stirring until mixture just forms a dough, then gather into a ball.

Divide dough in half and roll out 1 piece between sheets of plastic wrap into a 12 inch round, about 1/8 inch thick. Remove top sheet of plastic wrap, then lift dough using bottom sheet of plastic wrap and invert into a 9-inch glass pie plate, patting with your fingers to fit (there will be just enough dough to line plate without an overlap.)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees

Whisk together mayonnaise and lemon juice. Arrange half of the tomatoes in crust, overlapping, and sprinkle with half of corn, half of the basil, half of the chives and salt and pepper. Repeat layering with remaining tomatoes, corn, basil, chives, salt and pepper. Sprinkle with one cup of the cheese, pour the lemon mayonnaise over the top and sprinkle with remaining cheese.

Roll out remaining piece of dough into a 12 inch round in the same manner, then fit over filling, folding overhang under edge of bottom crust and pinching edge to seal. Cut 4 steam vents in top of crust and brush crust with 2 teaspoons melted butter.
Bake until the crust is golden and filling is bubbling, 30-35 minutes, then cool on a rack.

Eat! Yum! Nice light dinner with green salad. Also good the next day, but there is never any leftover.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Shanghai Dumpling Shop

It was foggy last night (a shocker here in San Francisco) and kind of damp and dreary, so I gathered some friends and we embarked on a fruitful exodus to Shanghai Dumpling Shop. Because I'm still new to this city, every drive requires a map and a keen attention to detail, particularly in the areas that are further afield. This restaurant qualifies as 'further afield,' located as it is way out in the Richmond part of town, on a not-very-hopping stretch of Balboa (3319 Balboa at 34th Avenue).

Oh, but the Shanghai soup dumplings! The Green Onion pancake, crusted in toasty sesame seeds! The baby bok choy with bean curd skin! The one dubious dish were the Lion's Head Meatballs, these giant pork balls sitting in a bowl of five-spice seasoned gravy. They tasted good but seemed like the kind of thing you might regret, if you are the type of person that regrets eating pork meatballs the size of softballs. I am not, so I ate them with relish.

This place offers nothing for ambience, but that's hardly the point. The point is, when Shanghai soup dumplings of this caliber arrive at your dinner table, you should cease conversation and devote several minutes to eating them while they are piping hot--you owe them that much.