Monday, August 30, 2004

Ready When You Are:Cookbook

What says comfort to you? Macaroni and cheese? Chicken pot pie? Chili con carne? Borscht? Risotto? Pho Bo (Vietnamese beef and noodle soup)? Comfort foods come in all forms and all nationalities. Comfort food often comes in the form of a one-dish meal. Martha Rose Shulman author of more than twenty books including Mediterranean Light has written Ready When You Are a compendium of comforting one-dish meals that features about 200 recipes and all of the ones just mentioned.

One of the things l particularly like about this book is that it really gives you a peek into the mind of a great cook. Shulman, a working mom, tells you how she makes meals, including even what equipment she uses. Each recipe gives you a visual clue indicating it it can be made in advance and whether it is vegetarian or can easily be made vegetarian. She introduces the recipes telling you where she got the idea for it, and at the end of the recipe she offers tips on advance preparations and even what to do with leftovers! It's as if she has thought of everything.

The book is filled with recipes you may be familiar with as well as more exotic versions of comfort food. I can't wait to try Catalan chick peas with sausage, Turkish summer vegetable stew and couscous with chicken, lemon and olives. Next time I want to bring a casserole to someone who needs a meal, I can skip the standard lasagna and make something not just hearty but healthy as well. Whether you are looking for recipes for your family, for entertaining or just something to stash in the fridge that will last you more than a meal or two, this is a book chock full of good ideas. And yes, she does include some comforting dessert recipes as well. Do visit Martha Rose Shulman's web site where you can check out some of her recipes for yourself.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Spinach Fig Salad Recipe

Summer is the season for salads. Some days it just gets too hot to turn on the stove. And you never get quite as hungry on those days anyway. A salad for dinner makes perfect sense. Still I am always challenged to figure out how to make salad feel like a meal. Especially without adding fish or grilled meats.

Friday night was one of those salad nights. I had planned on making a chickpea and spinach dish but cooking was out of the question. A spinach salad was devised instead. Fortunately there were several delicious things on hand to make the salad something special. In this case Stilton cheese, red onions that were "bloomed" in vinegar, glazed pecans, and Mission figs.

I think the secret to a salad that feels like a meal is a formula of three elements. First off it needs some protein. It can come in the form of grilled chicken or fish or even steak. Or it can come in the form of cheese or nuts or beans. The second element is layers of flavors. Just as a good vinaigrette is a balance of oil and vinegar, for a salad to become a meal it too needs a balance of flavors. In this case there was the bite of the onion and the blue cheese, balanced by the sweetness of the figs and the dressing. The last element is texture. The Stilton provided a bite of flavor and a creamy texture. The nuts not only added protein and sweetness since they were glazed, but a crunchy texture as well.

The dressing for this salad was a vinaigrette of olive oil, blood orange olive oil, and fig balsamic vinegar. It's helpful to think about the dressing last, after you have composed all the other pieces. Sometimes you can add that extra flavor element that a salad is missing with the right dressing. Or it can highlight a flavor in this case it accentuated the figs. Other times it may be all about the texture. A good creamy blue cheese dressing is an example of this, it balances the cool, bland crisp crunch of iceberg so very well. I hope this salad inspires you to make up one of your own the next too-hot-to-cook day.

Spinach Fig Salad


4 big handfulls of baby spinach leaves
3 thin slices of red onion (soak briefly in vinegar to remove bitterness)
1/3 cup or so crumbled blue cheese of your choice
1/3 cup or so pecan halves
4-5 figs, cut into quarters

2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 Tablespoons blood orange olive oil (or more plain extra virgin olive oil)
2 Tablespoons fig balsamic vinegar (or regular balsamic)


Glaze the pecans by tossing in a saute pan with a tablespoon of sugar, melt over low heat and cook stirring until toasted. Let cool. Meanwhile assemble the other salad ingredients and whisk together the ingredients for the vinaigrette. Taste the vinaigrette and add salt and pepper to taste. Toss salad with vinaigrette and pecans.


Thursday, August 26, 2004

Ceramic Peeler:Equipment

I am not a geek, but I am always curious about new kitchen gadgets and technologies. So just a few months ago at the Gourmet Products Show when I saw that several companies were selling ceramic knives, I was eager to give them a try. They are made out of futuristic sounding "zirconium oxide". The manufacturing process also sounds like something out of a science fiction novel; ceramic material is ground into a micro-fine powder, made into slurry and poured into a machine where it is subjected to 100 tons of pressure and molded into blades. I tried one out that was made by Kyocera and was surprised at how light and sharp it was. But talking to chefs and foodies I didn't find a lot of support for these new knives. I heard complaints that they can only be sharpened by the manufacturer, that they are too fragile and can chip or break, and that they don't hold their sharpness as long as promised.

This week I got a chance to try out Kyocera's new wide ceramic peeler and I have to say, I'm really impressed. First of all it has a great comfortable handle, it is angled to make peeling easier and it is sharp as can be. Best of all, unlike other peelers, there is no chance it will rust. I tried this peeler out on raw butternut squash and beets and it came through with flying colors. Speaking of which, the white ceramic did not get stained when I peeled the beets!

Being able to peel hard winter squashes and root vegetables is really useful. I made soups out of each in the pressure cooker in minutes flat. While I'm not sure I would use this for peeling carrots, there is no question it is much safer and easier to handle than any other peeler I've ever used on hard-to-peel and larger fruits and vegetables. Kyocera also recommends using it on tropical fruit, cheese and chocolate.

If you're not ready to invest in a ceramic knife yet, but want to try out the technology, at just under $20 this is an affordable piece of hardware you may really enjoy using. Williams-Sonoma will probably carry the peeler and Soko Hardware (1698 Post street in Japantown) carries both the peeler and some knives. You can visit Kyocera's web site to find out where to purchase near you.

Some places to find this new wide peeler:

Kitchen Kaboodle East Coast Kitchenware chain
Knife Merchant Catalog and website or 1-800-714-8226
County Restaurant Supply-San Carlos, CA (probably the closest to the Bay Area) 650-591-0701

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Noe Valley Adventure

Sometimes you just have to venture beyond the beaten path. Well, beyond your beaten path and perhaps onto someone else's. The neighborhoods I frequent the most for grocery shopping are the Mission district, the Richmond and Sunset with many stops on Clement, Geary, and Irving. But reading Pim's blog I learned that Stonehouse Olive Oil had opened up a shop on 24th street in Noe Valley and that was just the push I needed to go exploring.

Noe Valley and 24th street in particular is a little neighborhood that has a terrific selection of shops and cafes. The weather is often sunny in that part of the City so it makes for a nice "city outing".

First stop was brunch, albeit a late one at Miss Millie's. While the prices are a bit high, this is the place for a gut-busting and delectable breakfast. The menu has very unique items like a Dungeness crab hash with roasted potatoes, cipollini onions, spinach, a trio of peppers and peas topped with poached eggs, a mellow pepper sauce, creme fraiche and sourdough toast. You're not likely to find that anywhere else.

After brunch we wandered over to Stonehouse where we bumped into Pim! She told us about the saucisson sec from Fatted Calf Charcuterie that they carry there, which of course we indulged in. I can also highly recommend the Stonehouse blood orange olive oil. A little goes a long way. It's just the thing for green salads, and finishing grilled salmon or chicken. Stonehouse also recommends using it to grill french toast. Oooh that sounds good, doesn't it?

Next stop was Noe Valley Bakery. They make a terrific rustic sourdough bread that was used for some BLT sandwiches on Sunday.

On to 24th St Cheese Company where the friendly staff is happy to give you tastes of anything you like and make suggestions for a little slice of heaven. We bought some Boucheron, Stilton, Brie and a delicious ripe cheese from Portugal I've already forgotten the name of.

Loaded down with our purchases we finally wound our way all the way through the Castro and down Market street so we could swing by Yum! my favorite and probably the most fun gourmet store ever. Just the place to stock up on the likes of Lee's beloved HP Brown sauce, ras el hanout and wacky sodas from the world over. The proprietor Paul and I happily chatted about varieties of hot chocolate and exotic spice mixes. What more could I ask for? The perfect end to a perfect day.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Aushak Dumpling Recipe

I love dumplings! Russian pelmenyi, Italian ravioli and gnocchi, Japanese gyoza, Chinese wontons, potstickers, dim sum...I don't think there is a dumpling I don't adore. But I'm more likely to order them in restaurants than I am to make them at home. In the same category as tamales and blintzes, making dumplings is one of the more time-consuming cooking projects around. That said, sometimes you fall in love with something so much that you need to find a way to re-create it at home despite the bother.

One of my favorite dumplings is something I could only find at an Afghani restaurant. Until now that is. Aushak, a boiled leek dumpling with yogurt and meat sauces, is so good it's hard to get enough of them. Perhaps that's why they are offered as both an appetizer and a main dish on the restaurant menu. Leeks make a fresh, green filling that has some body to it, unlike mushy spinach. The two sauces are a balance of a white, yogurt, tangy one and a red, rich, meaty and savory one. A little mint tops the whole thing off, a green counterpoint to the green filling. (but I suppose you could serve this with other sauces if you are vegetarian or just not inclined to making two sauces)

No question this recipe is labor-intensive, but absolutely delicious. The good thing is you can make a big batch and freeze plenty of it for another day. Or you can prepare this dish with friends, assembly line style and make a day out of it.

Serves 4


Leek filling
2 leeks (about 2 cups chopped)
3 green onions, chopped
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
1/4 tsp hot chilli pepper

1/2 pkg of wonton wrappers

Meat sauce
1/2 pound lean ground beef
1 small onion (1/2 cup chopped)
1/4 cup water
1 clove crushed garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground coriander
pinch black pepper
1 can (8 oz.) tomato sauce
1/2 cup water

Yogurt sauce
1 cup plain yogurt
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/4 teaspoon salt


Cut most of green top and roots from leeks, halve lengthwise and wash well. Dry with paper towels and chop finely. Fry leeks and green onions gently in oil until soft but not brown. Combine leeks and green onions in a bowl with salt, cilantro and hot chilli pepper.

To assemble: Place a teaspoon of leek filling in the center of the wonton wrapper. Using your finger, wet edges of eggroll skin with water and fold in half, sealing edges. Fold the dough in half and seal by pressing the edges together very firmly. Roll aushaks in flour and place on a tray. Cover with a cloth until required.

To finish bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Drop in aushaks and boil for
5-7 minutes. It is best to do this in batches of about 10 at a time. Remove when cooked and keep warm over simmering water.

For the yogurt sauce, mix all the ingredients together and adjust seasoning to taste.

For the meat sauce, blend onion and 1/4 cup water in blender until liquid, then mix beef in pan together with the onion and brown in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When dry add the remaining water and other ingredients to meat and cook 20 to 25 minutes over medium-low heat. Final sauce should be very thick and dry.

To serve: spread some of the yogurt sauce on a plate. Top with hot aushaks and cover with more yogurt sauce. Top with meat sauce. Garnish with finely sliced fresh mint.


Lulu's Blog

Tomorrow is the next edition of the famous "Is My Blog Burning?" event so I am cheating a bit by not really posting much today, except to say check out my dear friend Lulu's new blog.

Lulu is a fabulous cook from Bombay. Back when we shared an office and talked non-stop about cooking, she taught me how to make things at home that I used to enjoy only when eating out at Indian restaurants. We often shared lunch so we could sample each others creations. Lulu just moved from the Bay Area to New York and reading her blog you can follow along as she shares recipes and discovers the many culinary sides of Manhattan at Lulu's Gonna Love Manhattan.

Check back tomorrow for the dumpling edition of IMBB!

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Free Culinary Institute Classes

What cook hasn't considered picking up some new tricks by taking a cooking class? But cooking classes usually fall into two categories as far as I'm concerned--either too basic or too expensive. And sometimes both. So I browse the cooking school catalogs and daydream...

Just last week though I stumbled upon a section in the Culinary Institute of America's pro chef catalog about e-learning classes. After some online investigation I discovered that they have a number of free classes aimed at professional chefs. A couple of them you can even get credit for taking, if you pass an online exam.

These classes have a lot going for them in addition to the fact that they are free; you can go a your own pace, watch streaming videos, download recipes and see mini-movie cooking demonstrations. There are even chat, and discussion features. Because the classes are aimed at professional chefs, they are perfect for people who are already accomplished home cooks.

If you register you can sign up for a do-it-yourself guided wine tasting class, though you'll have to buy some recommended wines to complete the class. If you successfully complete the quiz at the end of the class, you will be entered in a drawing to win a free wine course of your choice at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone's Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies. I haven't taked the wine class yet, but I did take the class on using raisins and how they fit into some of the world's major cuisines, and found it fascinating. I not only scored some recipes from Thomas Keller, I also scored 87 on the exam which means I actually got 1.5 credits for the class!

I highly recommed checking out these product oriented free e-learning classes. Here are the classes that are available right now:

The Professional Chef Discovers Soy Sauce
It's a condiment most of us think we know as well as salt and pepper. But how much do you really know about this ancient Asian flavoring? Learn about how soy sauce is made and how to distinguish the best, how it is used to heighten and boost flavor, and find a variety of new and traditional recipes that use this fantastic ingredient.

The Professional Chef Discovers USA Peanuts and World Flavors
The Culinary Institute of America and the National Peanut Board
invite you to discover the peanut in all of its amazing versatility!

Contemporary Flavors with California Raisins
French Laundry Chef Thomas Keller and CIA Chef Instructors introduce you to some of the world's major cuisines and to the role raisins play in many of their extraordinary dishes. You'll learn how the movement of goods and people slowly alters a cuisine, and you'll take a close look at some contemporary culinary trends.

Beef & The Global Bistro
Find recipes and fresh ideas for preparing beef in the global bistro style. You'll also learn about some new value cuts that make beef an even more profitable menu proposition. And as you watch the professional chefs from The CIA demonstrate techniques on video, you'll gather the skills you need to bring these dishes into your own kitchen.

Almonds, New Directions for American Menus
You'll find recipes, contemporary and classic, that will bring more global flavors into your kitchen. And with the accompanying video demonstrations by the professional chefs of The Culinary Institute of America, you'll master the new techniques to do it.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004


Did you ever walk along the beach and see shiny little crabs scurrying sideways in the sand? Or maybe you saw crispy sun-bleached crab shells nestled among the driftwood, seaweed and beach glass that had washed up on the shore? Did it ever occur to you that those little critters would make a tasty snack? If not, you're not alone. Rather than buy any, I thought taking a picture would do the trick...

Lee and and I were anything but crabby this weekend. We enjoyed a leisurely Sunday afternoon at the Nihonmachi Street Festival in Japantown . Mostly this gives us an excuse to eat Asian style street food, listen to Taiko drums, watch Polynesian style dancing, and poke around some of our favorite stores in Japantown. We have lots of stores we like in Japantown, but my top two picks are Ichiban-Kan where I find cheap kitchen utensils and gadgets galore and Nijiya, a Japanese mini-market with everything from fresh shiso leaves to sushi grade fish.

There isn't an aisle in Nijiya not worth exploring. Usually I find something I haven't seen before. On this trip we discovered a couple of things, including beautiful boxes of bath salts promising Japanese style mineral baths at home. But perhaps my favorite aisle in any Asian market is the snack food aisle. I'm not a big snack food eater but I love seeing what other folks like to snack on. While I had seen crispy little fish, wasabi peas and dehydrated squid before, I have to admit, these crabs were a new one on me.

1737 Post St
San Francisco

22 Peace Plaza
San Francisco

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Summer Syrups

I recently wrote about Torani syrups, but at the Fancy Food Show earlier this year I also discovered syrups from the Sonoma Syrup Company. Less sweet than Torani and made from all natural ingredients, Sonoma Syrups are a real treat not just for drinks but also for experimenting in the kitchen.

Sonoma syrups come in terrific flavors like tangerine, lavender, pomegranate and vanilla. They give you a bit of a head start in the kitchen for infusing your creations with flavor. One idea is to mix them with powdered sugar to make a simple glaze for homemade baked goods. You can also use them in marinades and salad dressings. I'll be playing around with these syrups and sharing more recipes, but in the meantime check out an article I wrote for SF Station on using syrups this summer. In it you'll find the recipe for Gary Danko's signature cocktail the Orange Dreamsicle.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Thank You Julia Child

Everyone knows who Julia Child is. Not only a national treasure, she is a cultural icon. And though she passed away this morning just missing her 92nd birthday, her impact on American cooking will long continue. It's hard to remember a time before Julia Child. But it's not hard to see how she made a difference. Can you imagine a time when leeks were not commonly available in supermarkets? It wasn't so long ago. But on her TV programs she encouraged us to demand things like shallots and leeks from grocery stores and they complied.

In recent years we saw Julia Child in the role of host, introducing us to great chefs from all over the country. But starting in the early 1960's Julia appeared on public television, demonstrating the art of French cooking in a way that had never been done before. An unlikely TV personality, she had a funny voice, was over six feet tall and while she cooked "by the book" she wasn't afraid to let us see her make a mistake or two. She was unpretentious to the extreme, even proclaiming her preference for McDonald's french fries. When health experts expressed their disdain for butter, Julia came to its defense. Her humor and personality made her just the person to encourage us to care about food and care about cooking. She helped us to discover something she had discovered in France, and to move away from the canned, packaged convenience foods of the 1950's.

My relationship to Julia Child was like so many others, I read her cookbooks, watched her television programs and just a few months ago I got to visit her kitchen which is an exhibit in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Her personal collection of copper pots and pan is at Copia, the American center for wine, food and the arts up in Napa.

I encourage you to see the exhibit or at least visit online and hear her stories, read about her tools, see the kitchen itself. Hopefully it will inspire you, just the way she inspired so many of us.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Food & Wine Bloggers Potluck

One of the things I love about blogs is that they can be such a personal form of expression. Reading them you really get a feel for the blogger, who they are, their sense of humor, what they care passionately about, etc. It isn't long before they feel like old friends.

So it seemed perfectly logical to have an event where a bunch of Bay Area based food bloggers could actually meet in person. A series of emails were traded, and the call went out for a potluck to be hosted at the home of Heidi of 101 Cookbooks fame and coincidently the only other blogger I had actually met in person.

Other bloggers who attended along with charming significant others included (in no particular order), Derrick of Obsession with Food, Alaina of NYC Eats (who just recently moved to SF) Anne of Cheese Diaries, Alder of Vinography and Pim of Chez Pim. Jen and Heather rounded out the party and we ate and drank and chatted the evening away. No surprise the food was fabulous and the wines flowed freely. With a California theme and emphasis on local produce there was fondue and tapenade, gazpacho and roasted nuts, crostini and stuffed tomatoes and a big gorgeous spinach salad. Not to mention some lovely lemon scones as a party favor. Fresh figs showed up in a tapenade, salad and dessert so you know this was a summer affair.

If I could have fit everyones contributions into one photo I would have, but you'll have to settle for dessert. This luscious raspberry fig crostata served with creme fraiche ice cream was brought courtesy of Pim and since she blogged about it you can read the full story of how it came into being on her site. I'm sure it won't be long until everyone else gets around to blogging about the evening so do check everyones sites this week.

A big thank you to everyone who came for a brilliant and positively delicious evening. Special kudos to Heidi for hosting. I can't wait to do it again.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Vicolo Pizzeria CLOSED

Finding good pizza, never mind great pizza, is a bit like the search for the holy grail. Never ending. And the joy is in the searching, not just the finding. To that end I have to admit I have yet to try several places that come highly recommended. Top of my list is Pizetta 211 in the Richmond. I've also heard good things about Nizza La Bella in Albany. But in the meantime I do have one other Bay Area pizza place that I like a lot. Vicolo Pizzeria .

Like Arizmendi there are some down sides to this choice. No delivery. A limited number of toppings. Vicolo pizza is also relatively expensive as far pizzas go. Slices cost around $4. But on the plus side, this pizza is uniquely delicious. Vicolo makes several varieties and you can eat them in the restaurant or buy them partially baked and take them home to finish baking. Some local stores carry their pizza and pizza crust "shells" in the freezer or refrigerated section. Their deep dish crust is made from stone-ground cornmeal and comes topped with "California style" toppings such as wild mushrooms or leeks as well as the more traditional sausage with peppers and onions or quattro formaggi. The pizza is so richly flavored that even one slice makes for a rustic and satisfying experience, though perhaps not a whole meal. The crust is much more crisp than chewy and stands up well to lots of toppings. This is not a minimalist pizza experience.

Vicolo is located on an alley which is what the name "vicolo" means in Italian. It is the creation of Patricia Unterman, who also owns Hayes Street Grill and is the writer of Patricia Unterman's The San Francisco Food Lover's Guide. Vicolo was featured on FoodTV's The Best Of Pizza Places episode.

Vicolo PizzeriaCLOSED
201 Ivy Street (between Hayes and Grove off Franklin)
San Francisco
Sunday through Thursday 5 to 8 p.m.
Friday and Saturday 5 to 9 p.m

Only open for lunch of days of matinee performances at Davies Symphony Hall or the Opera House from 11:30-2pm

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Arizmendi Bakery:Shop

I remember the first time I heard about The Cheese Board pizza. My parents told me that they had been to a place in Berkeley where they sold pizza at lunchtime and served it in old Reeboks. How disgusting! I thought. Old Reeboks? Dirty old athletic shoes? Really? Then it hit me, old "brie box" not Reeboks.

The Cheese Board began in 1967 as a privately owned business. But over time it became a worker owned collective. In 1985 The Cheese Board Collective began making pizza. It was quite a success and to this day, people line up and purchase pizza at lunchtime (they also sell pizza in the later part of the day)

An offshoot of The Cheese Board is Arizmendi Bakery in San Francisco. Also a worker-owned collective, they opened up in the Fall of 2000, and use the same recipes as their sister cooperative. So what is special about their "gourmet" pizza? Several things. First off it features a thin, sourdough crust. It is a very chewy pizza that crisps up on the bottom, and has a definite sourdough tang to it. The toppings are also unusual. Some examples of pizzas this month include portobello, shiitake and button mushrooms with a sesame, garlic and ginger vinaigrette and parsley. Or fresh corn, fresh red bell pepper, goat cheese, garlic, olive oil and cilantro. Or a more traditional tomato, red onion, smoked mozzarella, garlic, olive oil, parsley and Parmesan. They use as different combination of fresh, seasonal vegetables, herbs and different cheeses everyday. Their pizzas are vegetarian. After all, this is Bay Area pizza...!

On the negative side you pretty much have to buy it "to go" because there is no seating. Only one type of pizza is available per day. Pizza is only available after 11:30 a.m. and when it first comes out of the oven you may even have to wait in line. But that's ok. Because it's that good. It's reasonably priced to boot. Pizza is $2 a slice, $8 for a half and $16 for a whole one. You can find out what pizza they are selling each day by checking out the pizza schedule.

Arizmendi Bakery
1331 9th Avenue
San Francisco
Tuesday - Friday:7:00am - 7:00pm
Saturday: 8:00am - 7:00pm
Sunday:8:00am - 4:00pm
Pizza available after 11:30 a.m.

The Cheese Board Pizza Collective
1512 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, CA. 94709
Pizza Hours
Tuesday-Friday: 11:30am - 2pm and 4:30 - 7:00pm
Saturday 12 - 3pm and 4:30 - 7pm

Thursday, August 05, 2004

All About Pizza

I know very little about the food chemistry involved in the making of pizza. But I do know this much. You can't get truly great pizza in the Bay Area. You can get good pizza, but that my friends is not the same thing. Locally many people will point you towards Zachary's Chicago style pizza or to A16 and their Neapolitan style pizza or even Tommaso's and their New York style pizza. Each of these are not bad. But they pale in the comparison to the real thing.

I have eaten pizza in Chicago, New York and Napoli. I consider those three places the best for pizza. It is amazing actually when you eat pizza in Napoli because it is so unlike pizza in the rest of Italy. It is worlds better. And why is that? One of the great mysteries of the universe.

Pizza is not just the perfect balance of crust, sauce and cheese, it is the integrity of each those elements. Like the holy trinity, without one element, God, or in our case The Crust, the rest is meaningless. So what makes a great crust? Well a couple of things to start. One is the type of oven it is baked in and another is the ingredients. Most experts agree a wood burning brick oven is best. Flour, water and yeast seem like simple enough ingredients but it's never as simple as it seems. There are so many elements that can't be controlled--yeasts in the air, minerals in the water, humidity in the air. I am convinced all of these play pivotal roles in pizza. And I'm not even going to discuss the handling of the dough, including the manipulation and fermentation, something I know even less about.

So what do I suggest? Go for something local, that doesn't not try to be the approximation of something it can't possibly be. Stay tuned for my favorite Bay Area pizza picks this weekend as the eternal search for the best pizza continues...

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

The Helmand Restaurant Review

My first apartment in San Francisco was in North Beach, on Telegraph Hill. I thought I would be eating a lot of Italian food but what I discovered was that North Beach was a neighborhood in transition. New restaurants were opening up, not necessarily Italian ones. A restaurant that opened up right around the corner from me on Broadway was an Afghani place, The Helmand. The food was different from other cuisines yet not too exotic and because the prices were low it quickly became a favorite neighborhood spot. Not long after Gourmet magazine discovered it and gave it a terrific review. Fortunately The Helmand has remained inexpensive and has very good service despite its populaity. Perhaps most surprising is how elegant the restaurant is, with linen tablecloths, soft lighting, beautiful photography and an exposed brick wall it looks like a much more expensive place than it really is.

Some of the best dishes at The Helmand are the vegetable ones. They are also different from anything I've had anywhere else. One favorite dish is Kaddo, a baked pumpkin that is so sweet it is almost candied and served with a yogurt sauce. Another dish is Banjan, a pan-fried eggplant seasoned with spices and baked with fresh tomatoes and served with a garlic mint yogurt sauce. The cool yogurt balances the rich and flavorful egglant. This yogurt sauce shows up again on Aushak, a leek and scallion filled ravioli along with either a split pea sauce or ground beef sauce depending upon your preference. I am crazy about most kinds of dumplings and Aushak is no exception. I am determined to see if I can recreate this specialty. Hopefully I will be able to do it in time for the next "Is My Blog Burning?" theme: dumplings.

Also on the menu at The Helmand are great lamb dishes, I recommend the tender kebabs or the succulent rack of the lamb. The rack of lamb is the most expensive thing on the menu and is $17.95. Appetizers are about $5 and most entrees are in the $11-15 range. They also feature a lunch buffet for $9.95 or you can order from the regular menu. And if you enjoy the whole "six separations" thing, you'll be interested to know the proprietor of the restaurant is the brother of Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan. The Helmand also has a sister restaurant of the same name in Cambridge, Mass.

Helmand Palace
430 Broadway @ Montgomery
San Francisco

2424 Van Ness Ave
San Francisco

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Too Many Pomegranates?

You may have noticed that pomegranates have made their way into my blog quite a bit lately. Having discovered pomegranate concentrate or molasses I have done a little experiementing. I've also been writing a story on syrups including some recipes using pomegranate syrup for SF Station that hopefully will be published soon.

Clearly someone is taking notice of my pomegranate promoting...this is an actual email I received last week. I swear I did not make this up!








By the way, 268 kilograms of pomegranate concentrate is just shy of 600 pounds. Ok, so I like it, but not that much.