Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Lasagnette with Lemon Recipe

Lemon Lasagnette
Do you believe in reincarnation? Not being part of my cultural or religious tradition the concept of reincarnation always seemed pretty farfetched to me. Except for one thing. I buy dry pasta like it's going out of style. Right now I have on hand 33 packages. From the typical angel hair, spaghetti, lasagna to the more unusual like campanelle, trinette, and maniconi. And it's been months since I purchased any. It's not like we eat it every day or anything. But subconsciously I feel the need to stock up. Could I have been a poor, starving Italian in a past life? Quite possibly.

Many people are avoiding pasta these days because of their fear of carbs. Shame really. My suggestion is to make pasta a first course instead of a main course, as it's done in Italy. My other suggestion is that when you want to make a really special pasta course, use an artisanal pasta like Pasta di Gragnano, Rustichella d'Abruzzo or the less expensive but equally good brand Latini available locally at A.G. Ferrari or look for it at your local gourmet or specialty grocer. Those dry pastas are extruded through a bronze dye which yields a rougher texture that truly holds the sauce much better than the typical brands. But for everyday meals, do like most most Italians do and choose Barilla or De Cecco, whichever you like better.

This recipe may seem strange at first, but it is piquant and delicious, perfect for those times when the cupboard is bare. I adapted it from a long out-of-print recipe booklet published by Barilla.

Lasagnette with Lemon
Serves 4-6

Ingredients

3/4 lb lasagnette (you can also use tagliatelle or fettucine)
1 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
4 shallots or 1 very small onion (about 1/3 cup chopped)
1 Tablespoon sweet paprika
Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

Wash the lemon and grate the rind then juice the lemon. Peel and chop up onions or shallots. In a large skillet saute the onion in olive oil, when tender but not brown, add the lemon juice and grated rind and paprika. Cook the pasta until al dente. Toss the pasta in the pan with the sauce, adding some of the pasta water if needed. Season generously with salt and pepper.

Enjoy!

Monday, March 29, 2004

Great Food Magazines


I have a shocking confession to make. There are times, sometimes whole weeks when I don't feel like cooking. The fridge may be empty or full; it makes no difference. Not in the mood. The muse has left the building. In this predicament we just have to eat out, order in and wait for the feelings to pass. Another good solution to jump start one's cooking mojo, is to turn to cooking magazines.

There are so many cooking magazines available at my local newsstand it boggles the mind. There are the widely available typical American ones like Everyday Food, Bon Appetit, and Cooking Light and the more esoteric ones like Saveur, Cook's Illustrated, Food Arts and Gastronomica. There are also a whole host of foreign ones, from English speaking countries mind you, like Olive, Delicious, BBC Good Food and Food & Travel. English ones, Australian ones, Canadian ones. Some really interesting stuff too. But because they are printed abroad they come at a high price.

Browsing at the newsstand can inspire a weeks worth of recipes, easy. Because reading a cooking magazine allows you to daydream a bit, a chance to ponder the possibilities. But all cooking magazines are not the same. All of them offer recipes, techniques, travel and restaurant reviews but each has a different slant. Here is a run-down of cooking magazines I actually subscribe to and why. (I've included links to their websites, though none of the sites can hold a candle to the actual magazines.)

Food & Wine
My favorite among the bunch, Food & Wine has a more contemporary even sophisticated sensibility than other typical food magazines. The wine articles are not intimidating and the recipes are more original and inspiring than I find elsewhere. It also has travel articles in fact, the best restaurants we tried in Spain were recommendations from a copy of Food & Wine.

Bon Appetit
"America's food and entertaining magazine". Bon Appetit offers readers favorite restaurant recipes and it truly excels with it's "every night cooking" and "too busy to cook" recipes each month. The recipes are interesting, appealing and accessible. But it's focus is on how to entertain with food and it does a great job at that too.

Gourmet
Gourmet's best issues are the collector's editions that focus on one city and cover recipes, restaurants, markets, trends and history. Since the redesign, Gourmet has become much less the magazine for the epicure than it used to be. It now features the "quick kitchen" and "five ingredients" recipes in addition to the more involved preparations. Unfortunately it doesn't do as a good a job with those as Bon Appetit does. It also offers up plenty of travel and shopping articles.

Saveur
Saveur is like the National Geographics of food and cooking. Not only are there recipes, but stories on origins of different kinds foods, drinks, ingredients and culinary traditions. Their emphasis is on authenticity but it's not at all snooty. It's here you will discover unusual ingredients and little known places to shop and dine.

If you are interested in subscribing to any cooking magazines, I highly recommend you check out MagazinePriceSearch.com. For right around the price of one issue, you can get a whole years subscription. As as an example, available through their site at the moment is Saveur, a one year subscription 8 issues will set you back $3.99 (single issue on the newstand is $5.00).

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Lost Recipes Cookbook


There are two kinds of cookbooks. One kind often features beautiful photography, and has recipes written by famous chefs from even more famous restaurants. These cookbooks are likely to weigh a lot, and cost a lot. While amazing works of art, bound to impress, they aren't really very practical for the home cook. Sure they may be a nice reminder of a once-in-a-lifetime meal, they may sit proudly on a coffee table, but live in the kitchen? Probably not.

The other type of cookbook was written with the cook in mind. Not the chef, the cook. That person who everyday decides what to serve to family and friends. It's possibly not even written by a "chef" but by a non-professional cook. Someone without a drop veal demi glace on hand. No white truffles in the fridge, no support staff of any kind unless you count a spouse or kids who might set the table or wash the dishes now and again.

Lost Recipes--Meals to Share with Friends and Family by Marion Cunningham is exactly that second kind of book. Filled with recipes for things that while they may have fallen out of fashion, are in the truest sense comfort foods, dishes like potato salad, cream of tomato soup, meatloaf and strawberry shortcake. Certainly not trendy but worth seeking out Cunningham seems to be reminding us.

Marion Cunningham looks like someone's grandmother. She has a kind, sympathetic face, glistening silver hair tied back in a neat bun and more often than not is photographed wearing an apron. If you read the introduction to her latest cook book, she expresses a concern for people not cooking and sharing meals at home as they once did. Her hope, Cunningham says, is to lure you back into the kitchen. And while my grandmother was a lousy cook, she certainly would have shared this sentiment. To accomplish this task, Cunningham has gathered simple-to-make, good-tasting and inexpensive dishes from our collective past. Unlike my grandmother, she actually has the culinary skills not to mention credentials to pull this off.

American through and through this book would make a fine addition for someone discovering American cuisine or rediscovering it. A masterful cookbook writer; Cunningham's recipes are easy to follow for even a novice cook. They are straightforward, and never complicated. And trust me, this cookbook will live in the kitchen, not on the coffee table.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Baby Artichokes Signal Spring


Baby artichokes mean spring to me. I first discovered them when I lived in Tuscany. There we ate the mini or baby ones raw, or made a frittata with them, the minute they came into season in March and April. I had grown up eating the large sized artichokes but the babies were a revelation to me. I loved the small version we ate in Italy so much I brought seeds home for my mother hoping she could grow them. It was years before the mini ones started to be sold commercially in the US. Fortunately now you can find them in markets all over the Bay Area. For more about baby artichokes and how to prepare and cook them, check out Ocean Mist

A bizarre looking food to anyone unfamiliar with it, artichokes are grown in California though they are native of the Mediterranean. The artichoke's spiny tips indicate it's in the thistle family. Artichokes are actually the edible bud of a flower; and are a good source of vitamin C, folate, and magnesium.

Unlike the larger versions, baby artichokes are very tender and delicious pan fried in olive oil and then steamed until just done. You can also slice them thin and make a salad out of them. Tonight we ate them dressed with lemon along with boiled fingerling potatoes. Fingerlings are a variety of potato that is also a newcomer to local markets. Because they are small, they cook up quickly. They have a sweet yellow flesh that really doesn't need any butter. A little salt maybe.

Our main dish was veal. Something else I ate frequently in Italy. Veal piccata is one of the easiest and fastest dishes you can make at home. And so elegant! Slices of veal are pounded thin and dusted with flour. You brown them in butter and olive oil, no more than two minutes on each side then add a squeeze of lemon, a sprinkling of capers and a splash of chicken broth and you're done. It's expensive but you only need a tiny amount per person, maybe a quarter of a pound or so.

Part of the reason spring is such a highly anticipated season is that it comes after winter. Spring's not nearly as nice as summer, but it is a welcome break from the dreariness of winter. Winter is alright in the beginning, but it gets old fast. The cold wet weather gets tiresome. The nights are long. The markets are filled with root vegetables and apples and pears. Not that there's anything wrong with root vegetables, apples and pears, but I long for something fresh and green and tender. And those first baby artichokes are like a promise of many good things to come.

Benvenuto primavera!

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

What Makes A Good Cook?


A recent entry from Craigslist Food Forum with names removed to protect the identity of the posters:

What makes a good cook?
. . . passion
. . . Intuition
. . . A curious nature...
. . . restraint
. . . sensuality, creativity, good hands....
. . . An acute sense of taste and smell
. . . an open mind for new possibilities, but also a good memory and analytical skills for accumulating knowledge of what works well
. . . Obviously, one of those Eggstractor™ thingys
. . . love for it and experience
. . . good cookbooks
. . . The abilty to eat everything they cook
. . . Innate interest in/love of/passion for food
. . . a desire to please
. . . Ability to plan ahead..
. . . all that and knowing how to shop
. . . Genes and some good pots
. . . . . . lol i thought you said "and some good pot"!


The wonderful thing about cooking is, it's pretty much accessible to anyone who wants to give it a go, unlike say, race car driving. But what makes a GOOD cook? That's a different matter. Here's my take on the top three things that make a good cook:

1. Technique
Techniques can be self-taught or taught in a school or best of all by a mentor. Somewhere along the line most good cooks have observed someone else cooking and learned from them. It might be their parents, another cook or chef, even a chef on TV. Skills are crucial. If you can't peel and cut an onion, you can't be a good cook. One master of technique is Jacques Pepin. He has written several books on the subject but the easiest one to get your hands on is "Jacques Pepin's Complete Techniques". Somehow it just helps to see how to do something right the first time.

2. An intimate understanding of food
Anyone, well almost anyone, can follow a recipe, but understanding what works and what doesn't is something that you can only learn from experience. People who grow up eating great food have an advantage, but an appreciation can come over time--and by eating lots of good meals. While what tastes good to me may not be what tastes good to you, good cooking is never entirely subjective. We have all had meals we know are good. Getting to know food also means getting to know ingredients and the "Slow Food World Presidia" is growing into an international resource for outstanding ingredients and food products.

3. Desire
A desire to please others through the culinary arts can lead to becoming a good and possibly great, cook. It is possible to be a good cook and merely replicate dishes, but great cooks innovate and push the boundaries of cooking using everything they can. Cooking goes from good to great when it is inspired. Like an artist is driven to create art, a good cook is driven to create wonderful meals. That desire comes from within.

If you want to be a good cook, find someone to learn from, eat as many good meals as you can learning about food along the way and be inspired to cook your very best.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Kappa Restaurant Review


Small plate restaurants may seem like something new and trendy. But that's not necessarily the case. Many cultures have a tradition of small plates--tapas from Spain, dim sum from China, and koryori from Japan. If koryori is new to you, you're not alone. Koryori is actually a Kyoto version of kaiseki, a traditional ritualized seasonal meal that is born of Buddhist traditions and was developed to accompany the tea ceremony. Restaurants that serve it cater primarily to Japanese clientele and unlike sushi or tempura, koryori has yet to be widely known outside of Japan.

But there are koryori restaurants in the US, though you may have to do some research to find one. This past Friday night Lee and I enjoyed a koryori dinner at Kappa, on Post Street in San Francisco. It felt like being let in on a secret. Not only was the style of cuisine new to us, but the entrance to the restaurant was somewhat obscured with no sign in English. The restaurant had no windows and the door was solid so from the street you would never know the place existed. And the menu was quite puzzling, very few items were listed and some of them were only written in a transliteration--like "hirame usuzukuri, tsukune, and satsumaage". Finally there were many strips of paper with Japanese writing on them that must have been seasonal or special menu items but again, no translations into English.

The prix fixe menu was recommended for first time diners and was well worth trying. A total of nine courses were served, each delicious and exquisite in its own way. As an example, one plate consisted of six assorted single bites including asparagus in a thick sesame paste, surimi wrapped in paper thin slices of daikon, homemade unagi sticky with barbecue glaze and complemented by a fresh shiso leaf, a grilled scallop with red miso, a large poached shrimp in a cold creamy sauce and a mini piece of mochi stuffed with red bean paste.

The evening went by leisurely as we ate dish after dish and drank cup after cup of sake. The chef/owner and his wife seemed to take real pleasure in serving everyone, smiling and bustling about. It may have been a secret, but we were treated graciously and made to feel welcome. With only Japanese people in the restaurant, all speaking Japanese, it felt more like Kyoto, than San Francisco.

Kappa
1700 Post St., Suite K
San Francisco
(415) 673-6004 - Call for reservations after 4:30pm
Mon - Fri: 6pm - 10pm
Saturday: 6pm - 9pm

Friday, March 19, 2004

10 Minute Sesame Noodles Recipe


Condiments. I can't get enough of them. In our fridge we have no fewer than five mustards, six jams, seven Asian sauces, and various chutneys, Indian pickles, salsas, HP brown sauce, relish, horseradish sauce and ketchup. You name it, it's probably in there. But if there is one and one alone that I can't live without, it's Chinese chili garlic sauce from Lee Kum Kee. I use it in all sorts of dishes to punch them up a bit. You can add it to soups, stews, and stir frys of course. You can use it alone as a dipping sauce or mixed into mayonnaise it makes a great spread or dip for veggies. I even use it in place of harissa in Moroccan style meals like couscous or tagine. Best of all, you can use it as a shortcut to make a tasty meal in minutes.

This week I adapted a recipe that uses a Thai spice blend. My sister sent me some a while back and I have struggled to come up with ways to use it. Most herbs are just better fresh than dry. But this blend when reconstituted in sauce really comes to life. You can buy it from My Spicer which is where mine came from. My Spicer has loads of interesting spices and blends available at very reasonable prices. Penzeys Spices also has a version (as I've mentioned before Penzeys catalog is well worth requesting) or you may even find a version in the supermarket.

This dish is fast, easy, healthy, uses relatively few ingredients (all staples in my household) and is great hot or cold. It's a useful thing to have in your repertoire to serve at home, for picnics, potlucks, whatever. Feel free to vary the amounts and customize it any which way you like.

10 Minute Sesame Noodles

Serves: 4 as a side dish or 2 as a main dish if you add more veggies like broccoli, snow peas, whatever you like.

Ingredients

8 oz. noodles (I like angel hair pasta but those flat Thai or Chinese rice stick noodles are good too)
1 carrot, peeled and shredded
1 scallion slivered
1-2 tsp. Thai Spice Blend
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
1 Tablespoon peanut butter
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 Tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon Chinese chili garlic sauce (or more to taste)

Instructions

Prepare the noodles according to package directions. Mix Thai spice blend, sesame oil, peanut butter, soy sauce and rice vinegar. Whisk to blend, then add carrot strips and scallion. When noodles are cooked, drain and toss with the sauce while hot. Or you can drain the noodles, rinse them in cold water and toss them with the sauce.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

All About Lavender


For a number of years now there has been a migration of sorts. Sweet, fresh and fruity flavors found in the kitchen have made it into bath and body products and conversely floral scents have headed for the kitchen. On any trip to the drugstore or supermarket you can find apple shampoo, vanilla scented body lotion, citrus ginger body wash etc. Meanwhile in upscale markets in the produce section you can find edible flowers. In addition to using flowers as a pretty garnish there are actual recipes using the petals of roses, chive blossoms, banana flowers, nasturtiums and the like. One flower that seems to be gaining in popularity is lavender.

Anyone who knows Latin or almost any romance language may recognize that lavender comes from the Latin word "lavare" which means to wash. Lavender has antiseptic properties and has traditionally been used in soap. So a lavender liquid dish soap is a natural. Aromatherapists claim that lavender will relax and calm you, just what you need when facing a sink full of dishes. There are more than a few artificially lavender scented dishwashing soaps arriving on the market, but if you want to spoil your personal dishwasher--in my case my husband, find something with natural ingredients and aromatherapy properties like Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Dish Soap. Mrs Meyer's is also biodegradable, not tested on animals and doesn't contain ammonia, chlorine or phosphates. Check out the web site to find where to purchase this product.

Two interesting products make using lavender in cooking a snap. Lavender grown in a kitchen garden was the inspiration for an infused syrup from Sonoma Syrup Company. They suggest using it in beverages like lemonade, iced tea and cocktails and with fruit in salads and sorbets. It can also be used in savory preparations like marinades and vinaigrettes, making it the perfect thing to have on hand for spring and summer entertaining. Right now this product is available from various online sources, and at places like Copia, but expect it to be carried more widely soon.

Another surprisingly delicious lavender product is Cedar Rock Lavender Pepper. While you can make lavender pepper yourself using culinary grade lavender blossoms and pepper, Cedar Rock also includes some other ingredients like orange peel to perk it up. If you've ever used herbs de provence you may recall the scent of the Mediterranean that fills the air when lavender heats up in the kitchen or on the grill. A perfect accent to a seared ahi tuna or on a warm goat cheese crostini, lavender pepper also works well with sweet dishes like lavender pepper cornmeal cookies, to flavor a panna cotta or sprinkled on poached pears or apples. It is available online only and makes an inexpensive hostess gift.

Monday, March 15, 2004

SF Station


I am very pleased to announce that I have just begun writing for SF Station. SF Station has been bookmarked on my computer since it launched. It's a great site for finding out what's going on in the City, and also offers the giveaway where you can sign up to win free passes to museums, clubs and bars, movies, theater etc. SF Station will be reprinting some past restaurant reviews from Cooking with Amy as well as new articles so stay tuned.

The restaurant review I wrote for Lotus Garden has been reprinted on the front page of SF Station click here if you would like to read it.

More about SF Station:

SF Station is San Francisco's independent online information source for Arts & Culture, Entertainment, Food, Shopping, and Urban Lifestyle. SF Station provides in-depth and up-to-date coverage on SF Bay Clubs, Music, Film, Theatre & Dance, Events, Galleries, Museums, Restaurants, Bars, Fashion, and more.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Meet Paul Frohlich


Paul is the proprieter of one of the top specialty food stores in San Francisco, Yum (sadly Yum closed, you can find Paul at Boccalone at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza)

Located at 1750 Market Street, Yum carries most everything to make a cook's heart sing. From childhood favorites like marshmallow fluff to a selection of over 100 exotic spices, some of which you've probably never heard of, Yum not only offers up great selection at reasonable prices, but does it with grace and style. And where else might you expect to find balasmic vinegars stored in a chrome medicine cabinet?

Read on to learn more about who and what has inspired such a fabulous store.

This store is so unique in breadth and depth of products, what inspired you, was there a niche you were trying to fill?
There is and we're not there yet--I've lived in NY, London, Paris, and San Francisco and it struck me that in all those cities have some sort of food hall--San Francisco didn't. It used to be Oakville Grocer and Macy's Cellar. The wonderful thing is the breadth (of those places) and it inspired me. It's about the quality of the product. There is a reason why everything ends up on the shelf. We don't deal with many distributors--we buy as much as possible from producers. Our customers are always asking us questions, the less middlemen the more info we can gather direct from the source and pass on to them.

Who did you have in mind as your customer? Who shops here?
Before I had this store I was a manager at HomeChef in Laurel Heights. Along with very loyal neighborhood support, a proportion of HomeChef's Customers were people buying to cook for someone else--private chefs and caterers not necessarily "eaters". By comparison, here it's everybody who can't wait to open up the Wednesday Chronicle food section. We do some mail order and we ship on a daily basis. It's fun when people come back here again and again. I've been most surprised that we've become a destination for people who bring their friends and family from out of town.

What is your philosophy towards cooking and shopping for food?
Recipes and classes say you have to do this and you have to do that but that's only half of it. After a class you have to make the recipes your own. The rules work for someone but that doesn't mean they work for everyone. I wanted to remind people to break down the barriers. When we do menu suggestions, we keep them light, and not too structured. We want people to do what works for them. We want people to feel a sense of enthusiasm, where cooking is no longer a chore.

Tell me about your obsession with bottled soft drinks!
We wanted to build a wine section, but very quickly it looked like any other wine store in the city. There are some really great wine stores in the city and it wasn't doing them or us any favors. What could we do that would create the breadth and playfulness? We chose something that was quintessentially American. When the economy started to tank I wanted to offer people something they could readily indulge in. The $12 bottle of wine wasn't it. We have over 130 different sodas and they have to be in glass bottles. It's a different formula in glass bottles, it's all about quality. I actually have a list of others, but we're tapped out in terms of room right now. There are another 38 more I'd like to carry...

What else makes the store different?
We do tastings on an informal but regular basis. We have a frequent shopper program and offer 2% back as a thank you to our customers. We don't sell them but we offer cookbooks as a reference for people who come into the shop and want to look something up. The layout and displays in the store are the way they are because I like things just so. Everything here is here for a reason.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Bittersweet Cookbook


In Berkeley there are two famous Alices. One is Alice Waters, executive chef and owner of Chez Panisse, the great proponent of organic and sustainable food production and then there is Alice Medrich. Alice Medrich revolutionized the way way we think about chocolate in this country. Her store Cocolat which opened in 1976 sold the most decadent chocolate desserts and truffles ever. Gourmet magazine famously said, "Cocolat is to chocolate what Tiffany's is to diamonds". Growing up in the Bay Area Alice Medrich was the much bigger star in my constellation. Working at a gourmet food store that carried her products I had firsthand experience of her delicious confections. And so did many folks in the Bay Area as her stores expanded and a wholesale business was developed.

After college I briefly considered going to work for Alice Medrich at Cocolat, but given my retail experience, I was wanted in the store, not in the kitchen which is where I wanted to be. But I got to try my hand with her recipes as she wrote cookbook after cookbook. In fact, in the early and mid-1990's she again revolutionized the thinking on chocolate by coming out with a groundbreaking low-fat dessert cookbook. Her lower fat recipe for chocolate decadence is a classic to this day.

I got to hear Alice Medrich speak this past weekend, promoting her new book, BitterSweet--Recipes and tales from a life in chocolate. Medrich has gone back and retooled old recipes and created new recipes to work with the great quality chocolate that is more available to home cooks today than it ever was. Most of the chapters of the book begin with bits of Alice's memoirs. It is a wonderful way to learn about chocolate and the woman who introduced so many of us to the pleasures of something we take for granted today--truffles.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

All About Egg Coddlers


Every once in a while I gain possession of some kitchen gadget or device that has fallen out of favor. Often despite my best intentions it just ends up on yet another shelf, unused, unloved. But aware of the risk, when my mother offered me her set of egg coddlers, I couldn't resist. They are so charming to look at that even if you swore off eggs you might want to put large blossoms in them for decorating a table or you could use them for serving jam or marmalade. They can also be used for heating up baby food.

Egg coddlers allow you to cook an egg to the consistency you like, and serve it up in a convenient and attractive manner. Personally I love the tecture of poached eggs, but there is no way to really get them dry enough once they emerge from their bath. I know Martha Stewart places them on the heels of bread and trims them just so, but they still seem drippy to me. I also like soft boiled eggs, but eating them out of the shell is a mess. I know they look cute in egg cups, but they really aren't that easy to crack the lids off and eat.

But beyond the actual cooking, egg coddlers are also wonderful for developing endless egg variations. For example, when I was growing up my mother occasionally made a most divine egg dish that consisted of eggs cooked in butter with a splash of dry sherry and a sprinkling of cheese melted on top, usually cheddar. What made this rather odd combination of sherry, eggs and cheese so yummy or where the recipe even came from remains a mystery but trust me, it's delicious. With an egg coddler I can easily duplicate the taste.

If you have egg coddlers, dust them off and give them a try and if you don't keep your eyes open at flea markets and thrift shops, they're just the kind of thing you find there. Finally you can buy new ones at Sur La Table or do a search for them on eBay where the vintage Royal Worcester ones I have routinely sell for between five and ten dollars.

The basic instructions for using them are:
Butter the inside of the cup, drop in the egg, top with salt and pepper then screw on the top, place in a pot of boiling water with the water coming up to the edge of the metal rim. Do not completely submerge them. Boil from anywhere between 5-8 minutes depending upon how you like your eggs. I find six minutes is perfect. For a traditional "three minute egg" cook for five minutes in the coddler. The nice thing is you can open it up and if it's not done, you can screw the lid on again an pop it back in the water again.

I've also been told you can beat the eggs and cook them in the coddler, or even mix them with sugar and cream to make individual custards, but I have never tried it.

Here are my top suggestions for coddled eggs:

*Eggs a la Mama
Top egg with 1/4 teaspoon of dry sherry and a sprinkling of cheese, cheddar or Swiss do nicely

*Oeuf aux Fine Herbes
Add one teaspoon of fresh finely minced parsley or combination of parsley and chive, scallion or chervil

*Farmhouse Egg
Top egg with crumbled bits of bacon, fresh chopped onion, mushroom and cheese

*Ham and Egg
Cut a small thin slice of ham into half-inch strips and line the cup with these. Add the egg on top of the ham

*Mustard Cream Egg
Top egg with a 1/2 teaspoon of cream, a 1/4 teaspoon stone-ground mustard, and a 1/4 teaspoon Parmesan

*Salsa Egg
Top egg with a teaspoon or so of salsa

*Smoked Salmon Egg
Top egg with bits of chopped smoked salmon and a lump of cream cheese.

Enjoy!

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Balsamic Onion Marmalade and Gruyere Tartine Recipe


An Italian blogger, living in Germany came up with a unique virtual blog event, a blog cooking day called "Is my blog burning?"

"Why not put up a day where, just for the fun, bloggers take up a certain theme and come up with a recipe (original or not) for it? It would be really interesting to see what people from different backgrounds come up with and a great chance to get new ideas."

A French blogger picked the theme of tartine for today, March 7th, 2004.

tartine
n.
A French open-faced sandwich, especially one with a rich or fancy spread.

So I went down to the San Francisco Ferry Building Marketplace to find some inspiration for this event. What was in season? What nice bread was available? Sweet? Savory? Hot? Cold? So many choices!

I managed to get one of the last "pain au levain with walnuts" and this helped me with the rest of my decisions. I chose to make a balsamic onion marmalade tartine topped with Gruyere cheese. A French bread (with a California addition--the walnuts) topped with an Italian inspired spread and a Swiss cheese!

Balsamic Onion Marmalade and Gruyere Tartine
Serves 2-4 depending on how hungry you are

Ingredients

1 medium onion (red, white or yellow)
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon butter
1 teaspoon sugar
pinch salt
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar

4 slices of bread, preferably pain au levain or similar

grated Gruyere cheese

Instructions

Sliver the onions as thin as you can using a madoline or slicing with a knife. Melt the butter and oil over a low flame. Add the onion, salt and sugar. Stir the onions for a minute or so, then lower the heat and cover the pan to allow the onions to soften. After a few minutes remove the cover and stir until the onions caramelize. Off the heat add the balsamic vinegar then stir to mix over the heat and reduce until the vinegar has evaporated--you can add some water if it needs it.

Slice the bread, not too thin! Top with the onion marmalade, sprinkle on about a tablespoon of grated Gruyere per piece of bread and pop in the broiler until the cheese melts. Serve immediately with a tossed green salad dressed with lemon and olive oil.

Enjoy!

Friday, March 05, 2004

How Many Cookbooks?


How many cookbooks do you own? At last count I had 75. My sister really started me off with "The Joy of Cooking" circa 1984 for which I will be forever grateful. In terms of classics I also have the Escoffier, Fannie Farmer, and several cookbooks by both Jacques Pepin and Julia Child. I have an appetizer cookbook, dessert cookbooks, magazine compendiums, regional cookbooks and even two pressure cooker cookbooks. No favorites really. I love all my babies.

I started scouring the shelves of thrift shops for cookbooks when I was still in my teens. It was amusing to see the fads of yesteryear in the titles--the blender cookbooks, cooking with wine, microwave cookbooks, and endless diet cookbooks to be sure. But finding a really good one was like finding hidden treasure. Those rare cookbooks inspired me, encouraged me and motivated me to become a better cook. And at less than a dollar a piece they were a bargain.

On a sinister note, in Iowa a compulsive "cookbook crook" who fixated on stealing cookbooks from public libraries was placed on probation this week after pleading guilty to stealing 117 volumes, though she was originally charged with stealing nearly 450 volumes. She might have spent five years in prison and received a fine of up to $7,500 had she been convicted of the felony theft charges. According to Assistant County Attorney Jerald Feuerbach, who prosecuted the case, taking and keeping the cookbooks was the thief's "major form of recreation." That I can relate to. "She didn't have very many other outlets," Feuerbach said. "This was something that became her total outlet." That's putting it mildly. She could have opened an outlet store the way she was going.

Being interested in cookbooks to the verge of obsessed is not as uncommon as you might think. Heidi Swanson started a terrific blog 101 Cookbooks based on the fact that her cookbook collection had passed 100 volumes. In her words "When you own over 100 cookbooks, it is time to stop buying, and start cooking....I decided to make a resolution to stop buying cookbooks and start trying new recipes." I can't say for sure if Heidi has stopped buying cookbooks, but she is trying new recipes from them all the time as her site chronicles through beautiful photography and wonderful though all too infrequent posts.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Luna Park Restaurant


When friends come in from out of town, it can be challenging to pick a restaurant. Not because there aren't any good ones, but rather because there are too many. Mainly I want the place to be consistently good, have lots of options for all kinds of eaters (light, meat and potatoes, vegetarians, dessert fanatics) be fun and also give a good sense of what being in San Francisco is all about. If possible, convenient parking near by is nice to have too.

One restaurant I return to time and again is Luna Park on the very hip part of Valencia Street in San Francisco's Mission District. In addition to all of the aforementioned--choices, fun, etc., it has the added bonus that the prices are quite reasonable. The only down side is the noise level, though if you go with a group of no more than 4 or 5 people you can sit in a cozy booth and having a conversation is less of a challenge.

Luna Park offers a number of interesting appetizers that are great to nibble on with drinks or while everyone is deciding what they want. This past weekend we indulged in the Warm Goat Cheese Fondue with Grilled Bread and Sliced Apples which was delicious. The menu this past visit had a couple of fish and seafood choices, a couple of vegetarian options including Fontina Stuffed Ravioli with Mushrooms, Spinach and Truffle Oil and Winter Vegetable Risotto with Parsnips, Rutabaga, Butternut Squash, Black Kale and Cambozola Cheese. In addition to bistro favorites of Moules Frites, Salad Nicoise and Flat Iron Steak, there were also no fewer than 5 different salad options. I had the Oven Roasted Sea Bass with Garlic, Potatoes, Broccoli Rabe and Chile and at $15.50 it was about the most expensive thing on the menu. It was presented nicely, perfectly cooked and very satisfying.

Luna Park is also known for its desserts, especially the Make Your Own S'mores: Molten Marshmallow and Bittersweet Chocolate, with House Made Graham Cookies but this time our party chose to order several orders of the Apple Huckleberry Crisp with Vanilla Ice Cream, and the Coconut Cream Pie which I can say without hesitation is the best I've had in recent memory. It was a huge slice and it had a perfectly fresh crisp crust, a light custardy cream, mounds of whipped cream and was covered in super large toasted ribbony flakes of coconut. If your idea of San Francisco is fun, decadently delicious and accessable--Luna Park is just the place to enjoy it with friends.

Luna Park
694 Valencia Street (at 18th)
San Francisco
Tel: 415.553.8584
Lunch: Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Brunch: Saturday & Sunday Brunch 11:30 a.m.-3:00 p.m.
Dinner and Desserts: Monday-Thursday 5:30-10:30 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 5:30-11:30 p.m.; Sunday 5:30-10:00p.m

Monday, March 01, 2004

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes Recipe


Waking up is hard to do. Really hard. For some, a strong cup of coffee or tea helps. Not for me. I wake up slowly and after being up for at least an hour or two I tackle breakfast. Left to my own devises, I would probably just eat brunch and save the real breakfast food for dinner, but Lee prefers something a bit more traditional.

The big problem with breakfast for me is always--what to have? Savory or sweet? Both are appealing but if I eat something sweet I may not get enough protein and as a result I'm ravenous barely an hour or two later. Nutritionists recommend a "balanced" breakfast meaning both carbohydrates and protein. Easy to do with eggs or cheese but harder to do with sweets like pancakes. Having sausage or bacon on the side is another way to go but probably not the best choice everyday. French toast or crepes are both sweet and have protein but I'm always looking for more protein-rich sweet options.

Ricotta pancakes are a perfect way to go. The ricotta gives you plenty of protein, they only have a couple of tablespoons of flour so you're not filling up on carbohydrates and best of all they are really delicious and cook up in a flash. Of course, serving them with bacon is up to you...

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes
Eight medium pancakes, serves two but recipe can be doubled

Ingredients

1/3 cup ricotta cheese
1 large egg; separated
2 Tablespoons milk
3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch salt
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon rind (or so)

Instructions

Blend egg yolk and ricotta cheese then add milk, flour, sugar, baking powder, lemon rind and salt mixing until completely blended. Beat egg white in another mixing bowl until just stiff but still moist. Fold gently into batter. Heat large nonstick skillet or griddle over medium heat and coat with cooking spray. Drop batter by heaping tablespoonful onto skillet, and cook until golden brown on the bottom then gently flip and cook on other side. Serve immediately.

Enjoy!