Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Hasta La Vista


Here I go! It's vacation time again.

This trip takes me to Mexico. I'll be in the Yucatan for three glorious weeks, a place known for warm weather, beautiful beaches, archeological ruins, Maya culture, seafood and relaxation. It may also be known for blogging. I promise to keep on blogging from internet cafes as often as I can. But if I miss a few days I hope you'll forgive me. There will be plenty to tell when I get home.

Hasta la vista babies!

Monday, November 29, 2004

All About Pho


What does it take for a food to become an obsession? Certain foods come to mind, chocolate, barbecue, oysters, and now pho. Pho is a Vietnamese noodle soup that has gained in popularity with the rise of Vietnamese restaurants specializing in the dish. It is not pronounced "foe" but rather "fuh". Sometimes referred to as the national dish of Vietnam, it is eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

While there are many different versions of the dish from different parts of the country, it is basically rice noodle soup usually with beef and an assortment of fresh herbs added to it at the table. There are versions with chicken and seafood too. I have never had vegetarian pho but I have heard that it does exist. Like chicken noodle soup, it is an amazing comfort food. The smell alone can make you feel better when you're suffering from a cold or a broken heart.

If you want to check out what pho is like in Vietnam without the plane ticket head over to Noodlepie a wonderful blog I discovered not long ago. You'll find reviews, photos and more. Here in San Francisco the local paper did an exhaustive search for the best local pho, and even came up with a recipe. Another source of all things pho is a site that was just mentioned in Saveur magazine, Pho-King. No making fun of the name!

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Biddy


I love words. I love discovering new words or being surprised by words I thought I knew the meaning of, for example, I thought I knew what a biddy was. It turns out that a biddy is a chicken and the use of the word dates back to the 17th century. Sometime in the late 18th century it came into the vocabulary as a deragatory slang word for "old lady" probably much as "chick" came to be known as girl or woman in the 1960's. In this century one rarely sees "biddy" on the menu though.

Hmmm, a biddy in every pot? Maybe not!

Thursday, November 25, 2004

All About Thanksgiving


Thanksgiving is an annual American holiday celebrated by families, friends and magazines. Yes. Magazines. In fact, you could say our current version of Thanksgiving was invented by a magazine or more specifically a magazine editor.

Around this time every year, historians regale us with stories of what the first Thanksgiving was really like. We learn that it was unlikely they ate a stuffed turkey, there was no pumpkin pie, no cranberry sauce, and most of the food was provided by the Wampanoag not the pilgrims--who feasted on venison, lobsters, clams, oysters, and fish. Harvest festivals were a long standing tradition for the Wampanoag natives going back way before the arrival of the pilgrims. The pilgrims and colonists, devout Christians, observed many days of "thanksgiving" throughout the year in which prayer and fasting were the order of the day, not feasting.

The first national Thanksgiving was held in December of 1777 by colonists to celebrate the surrender of British General Burgoyne at Saratoga. But Thanksgiving was not celebrated consistently all over the country until much, much later. In 1827, Mrs. Sarah Josepha Hale the editor of the most popular ladies magazine of the day, Godey's Lady's Book, began lobbying all they way up to the president for the instatement of Thanksgiving as a national holiday. She felt it was a moral issue, that Thanksgiving would do no less than strengthen the country. In 1863 Abraham Lincoln finally agreed and proclaimed it that is should be celebrated by all Americans on the same day. The focus of the holiday was unity and peace because the country was undergoing a bloody Civil War, so the proclamation doesn't even mention the Thanksgiving of pilgrims and indians...

But it continues to be magazines that promote Thanksgiving, not just as a religious harvest celebration, but as a celebration of home, family, and sharing. There is hardly a magazine that doesn't make Thanksgiving a cover story in November. Magazines are filled with recipes, crafts and decorations, skits, you-name-it. Unlike other holidays, the magazine version of the holiday is actually the more meaningful one. For a country that prides itself on family and unity and being a country of immigrants, the mythological Thanksgiving is a most wonderful thing. It sure beats a day of prayer and fasting.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Note: A special thanks to Laura Schenone for sharing the story of Sarah Josepha Hale.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Pilgrim Onion Marmalade:Recipe


One of the many things I love about Thanksgiving is the idea that it commemorates a time when the pilgrims and native peoples got along. With such a well-documented sad history of native Americans being mistreated, it's nice to remember that for a moment at least everyone was at peace. This Thanksgiving I'm using the cocktail hour to pay honor to those who were here before us with some "pilgrim and indian" inspired appetizers.

Foods of the Americas, Native recipes and traditions published by Ten Speed Press is a new book published to coincide with the opening of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC. A gorgeous coffee table book with beautiful color as well as vintage black and white photography, it includes stories, essays and poems; great source material for learning more about the traditions of the people who came before us. It also has 140 recipes inspired by native Americans from all over the United States and beyond, using native ingredients.

While I plan to make a couple of recipes from the book, in particular the Potted Smoked Salmon and the Cornmeal Crackers, I will also make a dish based on a pilgrim recipe to pay homage to that rare, peaceful moment in history.

For my pilgrim recipe I was inspired by this account of early settler cooking:

"In another home, a homemaker was cooking a "sop of onions" over the hearth: First she boiled down the onions, then added peppercorns, "raisins of the sun," salt and vinegar for flavoring. The whole mess would be spread on bread"

Note: Here's the recipe I created for the onion marmalade, I just can't bring myself to call it sop! You could serve this alongside the turkey or on toast slices.

Pilgrim Onion Marmalade


Ingredients

1 Tablespoon oil
4 medium red onions, quartered and sliced thinly
3 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon light brown sugar
1/2 cup raisins
1 cup water
plenty of black pepper
pinch of salt
Pine nuts, optional

Instructions

In large skillet, heat oil over low heat. Add onions and sprinkle with salt and sugar. Meanwhile soak the raisins in one cup boiling water. Cook the onions, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes or until soft and caramelized. Add vinegar, pepper, raisins and soaking water and simmer until the raisins plump, adding more water as needed. Cook for another 15 minutes or until fairly dry (no extra liquid in pan) and glossy. Pulse mixture in food processor to a thick spreadable consistency. Top with toasted pine nuts if desired.

Enjoy!

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Melted Ice Cream Rugelach Recipe


Ah the joys of a fresh carton of ice cream! Alas it is only a matter of time before little ice crystals form and the ice cream loses it's perfect texture. One way to prevent oxidization is to put a layer of plastic wrap or scrunched up tin foil on top of your ice cream before putting it back in the freezer. But when it gets to the bottom of the carton, it's pretty much hopeless. Unless of course you have a recipe for melted ice cream cookies.

For IMBB # 10 Cookie Swap let me introduce you to rugelach. Rugelach are rich butter or cream cheese pastry dough cookies shaped like little horns or crescents and usually filled with some combination of chopped nuts, raisins and jam. But some of the best homemade rugelach I ever had were made with a melted ice cream dough. They are positively delicious and often served around Christmas time at the Jewish holiday of Hannukah. Because the name is Yiddish, it is quite challenging to pronounce, especially if you aren't Jewish. Here is a recording of how to pronounce it properly:rugelach. If this proves to much for you, feel free to call these "melted ice cream cookies".

Rugelach (melted ice cream cookies)
makes 64 bite-sized cookies

Ingredients

Dough
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 lb butter (2 sticks)
1 cup melted ice cream (vanilla, strawberry, anything without big chunks)

Filling
1 cup chopped walnuts or combination walnuts and raisins
2 Tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup jam or preserves (raspberry or apricot are good, but experiment!)

Topping
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 Tablespoon sugar

Instructions

In a food processor or with a pastry blender, combine the flour and butter, when crumbly add the melted ice cream. Divide dough into 4 portions; place each on sheet of plastic wrap. Pat each portion into 1-inch-thick circle, using floured hands. Wrap plastic wrap around each circle to enclose. Place in freezer for one hour to firm up the dough (or refrigerate overnight, but why wait?).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cover baking sheets with foil or parchment paper. Mix walnuts or nuts and fruit with 2 T sugar and set aside. Roll each disk of dough to 10-11 inch circle on lightly floured surface, lifting dough occasionally to add more flour to work surface as necessary. Spread each circle evenly with a tablespoon of jam or preserves.

Sprinkle nut mixture over the top of the cookie disk, towards the outer edge or border. Cut each circle into 16 wedges. Roll up each wedge, starting from wide end. Place, point sides up, on prepared baking sheets; shape into crescents by pinching the corners. Sprinkle with combined cinnamon and sugar. Bake for 15-20 minutes.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Meet Tony Bourdain


Last week Anthony Bourdain came to town to sign copies of his latest book, Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook: Strategies, Recipes, and Techniques of Classic Bistro Cooking. At A Clean Well Lighted Place for Books, the space was jammed with foodies, chefs and so many culinary students from the Culinary Academy just a few blocks away that Bourdain claimed he could smell them coming in the place.

Bourdain knows how to work a room. He is opinionated and takes on the controversial issues--the scandal at James Beard, the unsung heroes of the kitchen--Latinos, TV celebrity chefs, the raw food movement, foie gras, bear bile, you name it, nothing is off limits. He tells it like it is and despite his handsome good looks, he quickly dispels the idea that cooking is in any way glamourous. What makes him so appealing is his passion and enormous respect for the humble beginnings of much of the world's greatest food. He spoke at length about the more undesirable or "squiggly bits" that need lots of trial and error to turn into something truly great. As for his new book, he says the hardest thing about learning to cook bistro food, is pronouncing it.

It's pretty unusual when you think about it. Most celebrity chefs are first and most well known for their cooking and have used that to build a non-cooking career. But not Anthony Bourdain. Though he was a cook for years, his real fame came from his writing and not even writing cookbooks but non-fiction in his two bestselling books Kitchen Confidential and A Cook's Tour. He also wrote a series of mysteries. Then came television, and now, finally, a cookbook based on his classic bistro cooking at Les Halles in New York. Unlike so many other cookbooks this one is written for the home cook, teaching them what do, as it is done in a restaurant.

If you want straight-from-the-hip advice and you want to know how to cook the classics like Boeuf bourgignon and Vichyssoise, Les Halles is your book. If you want to hear about Bourdains next adventure living in Vietnam for a year, and his culinary travels stay tuned to the Travel Channel next year.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Author Events


It seems like there are lots of great author events happening around town right now. Though I missed Thomas Keller speaking about his new bistro cookbook, Bouchon; last week I did see Anthony Bourdain speaking about his new book, based on the recipes at Les Halles. This week I highly recommend checking out the Laura Schenone lecture at the San Francisco Public library. Laura Schenone will be here to discuss whether or not it is true that a woman invented Thanksgiving, among other things.

Laura Schenone won the 2004 James Beard award for her book A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove A History of American Women Told Through Food, Recipes, and Remembrances

Laura's book is a combination of stories, recipes and photos that celebrate the power of food throughout American history and in women's lives. You will find native women who pried nourishment from the wilderness, African American mothers who sold biscuits to buy their children's freedom, and immigrant wives who transported recipes across the globe. The journey continues to the present with a compelling voice and captivating visual beauty revealing culinary creativity that connects us all.

San Francisco Public Library
November 18
6:30-7:30 pm
Latino Community Room
100 Larkin Street

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Pomegranates:Cookbook


Would you be inclined to buy a cookbook devoted to burgers, fondue or toast? I wouldn't. None of those things are all that challenging to make in the first place. A whole book on grilled cheese sandwiches? Gimme a break. Cookbooks on single subjects have to be something special to catch my eye. They have to be varied, cover more than just one meal, and they should intrigue me to try something new and way out of the ordinary.

Pomegranates by Ann Kleinberg is just such a book. Kleinberg's book includes recipes appropriate for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert. Not to mention beverages. This book comes out just in time because pomegranates are terribly trendy these days. Pomegranate juice and syrup is turning up in stores all over the place. No wonder as it is filled with antioxidants, used in many different cuisines and amazingly versatile. You can use the jewel-like seeds or the juice in recipes that are sweet or savory.

I'll admit it, I'm bewitched by pomegranates. They are so beautiful and as wonderful as they are as a fruity garnish or accent I love them even more in marinades, salad dressings and soups. I have sought out exotic recipes using pomegranates ever since I purchased my first bottle of pomegranate molasses. But if you want to really try using them in all their glorious possibilities, check out this book. Though the volume is slim, it contains over 60 recipes such as Jeweled Rice with Pistachios, Apricots, and Pomegranates or Stuffed Cornish Game Hen with Orange Pomegranate Glaze. How about Pomegranate poached Quince for dessert? Yum!

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Russian Shopping Adventure


Our Russian shopping adventure continued down the block from New World Market, at Gastronom which means "supermarket" in Russian. Ironic, because the space is tiny, especially compared with New World which is quite large with a long deli counter running the length of the store. But there are some different things available at Gastronom and it was Alenushka's choice for purchasing caviar.

Tasting before you buy is the ticket when caviar buying at Gastronom. Gastronom sells four or five salmon caviar ranging in price from about $12 to $45 and you won't know which will taste best until you try them all. Sometimes it's the cheapest one that tastes the best. I didn't buy any of the three types of marinated mushrooms this time around, but will definitely try them the next time and possibly some of the cherry vareniki which got rave reviews and were not available at New World. Gastronom has lots of prepared foods as does New World, perfect for taking home to feast on with minimal fuss. Lots of salads, dumplings and sweet and savory pastries filled with fruit, meat, cheese, cabbage, even green peas.

Off to Moscow and Tblisi Bakery across the street where a most unusual treat called "churchkhella" was in the case, a string of walnuts coated with what looked like wax, but was actually layer on layer of grape juice. I was told it is a Georgian or Armenian or Azerbaidzhanian, and not very sweet. At Moscow and Tblisis the day old bread is referred to as "nightly bread" and is only a dollar or so a loaf. There were lots of interesting and inexpensive cakes and breads to take in, but we made our bread purchases at the last stop--Cinderella Bakery and Restaurant, where we also ate lunch. At Cinderella we were joined by Pastrywhiz and we all drank some homemade kvas, a tangy mildly alcoholic beverage made from fermented black bread. Cinderella is just the place for hearty and delicious soups like beet borscht or mushroom barley. But you can also get blini with various toppings, pelmenyi, pierogi, or piroshki. Also recommended was Katia's: A Russian Tearoom, another slightly more elegant Russian restaurant that has been around for ages is down the block and across the street from Cinderella.

The beautiful powdered sugar dusted pound cake at Cinderella was only $2.55 a loaf and had no artificial or mysterious ingredients. Pound cake is the perfect match for strong Russian tea or dunking in chocolate fondue....The dark rye was extolled by the cashier as being fresher than the light rye so that made for an easy decision. Deciding what to try first once I got home was much tougher.

Gastronom
5801 Geary Blvd. @ 23rd
415.387.4211

Moscow & Tblisi Bakery
5540 Geary Blvd @ 20th
415.387.5025

Cinderella Bakery & Restaurant
436 Balboa @ 6th
415.751.9690

Tuesday, November 09, 2004


Before my Russian shopping adventure this past weekend I stuck with the familiar when shopping for Russian groceries. I bought farmer's cheese to make blintzes. I bought the best tasting homemade sour cream. I stocked my freezer with various types of meat and potato dumplings called pelmenyi and vareniki to boil up and serve with a dollop of the aforementioned sour cream. I sometimes bought a slab of Russian bacon or some smoked fish. Baffling to the uninitiated, too many other items in Russian specialty shops have all Cyrillic labels with no English translation and even if they are translated their usage remains a mystery.

But shopping with Alenushka and Sour Cherry as they are known on the Craigslist Food Forum was a great opportunity for Pozoleboy and I to unlock many more secrets of Russian specialty store shopping and expand our culinary horizons. Our first stop was New World Grocery where we learned that Russian candy is often named after animals--such as bears or cows. We nibbled some rich candy called "syrki" a round chocolate covered delight filled with a sweet creamy center that tasted something like a fruity ricotta only creamier. I hope no one else was hoping to buy some as our little troop cleaned out the store's supply. I picked up a sour plum sauce that was recommended for barbecuing or serving with meat. I also noted for future reference a jar of honey with pine nuts floating in it. This is spooned on toast for a decadent breakfast. I also bought some of the yogurt which I did not realize until I got home was not low fat! At only $2.29 for a 2 pound container it was priced right but will be more of a treat than an everyday staple.

My other purchase was tea. It shouldn't have been such a surprise to find tea, after all Russians are famous for their samovars. The package says deluxe Ceylon but it is also flavored with bergamot like a traditional Earl Grey. And deluxe it is, when you see the length and quality of the tea leaves you know it will brew a top notch cup of tea!

The meat counter usually has a platter of slices of various meats to try, but the helpful women behind the counter are also perfectly willing to serve up tastes of almost anything you want. Don't miss some of the smoked and spiced beef like Russian versions of pastrami.

More on the Russian shopping adventure to come...check back Thursday.

New World
5641 Geary Blvd. @ 21st
415.751.8810

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Secret Menu!


Psst, secret menu, pass it on! Have you ever suspected that a restaurant had a secret menu? Or maybe just a menu that was in another language? Growing up my family frequented a Chinese restaurant where the waiter or manager would order for us, because the "real" menu was not in English. The food was terrific. Somehow eating off the secret menu was more exciting than eating off the regular menu, partly because you never knew what you were going to get.

Since those early Chinese meals I have learned it's smart to chat with the waiter about things not on the menu when I eat out. One example is to ask about certain seasonal vegetables, they don't always make it onto Chinese menus but if you ask for them you may be rewarded. Once at an Italian restaurant I chatted up the chef and we mused about the cuisine only found in the town of Lucca. At the end of the meal a dessert arrived that not only wasn't ordered, but wasn't on the menu.

Recently Pim of Chez Pim mentioned a secret couscous spot, actually a couple of them. It seems an Algerian cab driver had a line on where to get authentic couscous in the Tenderloin. But as you can imagine, it's not on the menu.

The Tenderloin is filled with interesting ethnic cuisine. While the menu might feature pizza, on Friday nights, Green Pizza in the heart of the Tenderloin also offers a spicy authentic Tunisian couscous. During the holy month of Ramadan, Hakim's mother is cooking for the local mosque where it is a tradition to feed all that are hungry. But she is also cooking at Green Pizza and you may find lamb, roast chicken, a chopped roasted pepper salad, homemade harissa (a spicy red pepper condiment) or even my favorite, Tunisian style borek, a crisp pastry filled with a soft boiled egg, tuna, harissa and chopped herbs. All those items are, well, you know by now...

Note: Ramadan, the Muslim holiday where people fast during from dawn until dusk ends in about a week, so if you want to try some of Hakim's mother's homemade fare, do stop by soon. Otherwise head over on a Friday night for couscous. At very least, stop by Pim's blog for a full detailed accounting of our not-on-the-menu meal.

Green Pizza CLOSED do check out Tajine in the neighborhood instead
219 Jones St @ Turk
(no sign, but the address is clearly marked)
Don't forget couscous only on Fridays and not on the menu!

Friday, November 05, 2004

Curried Butternut Soup Recipe


As each new season arrives I begin to think that it's my favorite. The colors, the scents, and the flavors of fall are just beginning to tantalize my senses. For sure it's the rich and eye-catching colors that grab me first; the pumpkins, pomegranates, pears and apples are so beautiful they almost beg to be put on display.

Of course anything that is associated with Thanksgiving is also a hallmark of fall. Pumpkin, pecans, cranberries, even brussels sprouts. Just the words alone make my mouth water in anticipation. It seems in preparation for the winter, flavors intensify. Not that the flavors of summer aren't intense, but they have a different fresh delicate succulent quality about them that disappears in the fall.

All sorts of winter squash are turning up at the market right now. Hardy vegetables that have some staying power. They wait until you are ready for them, unlike summery tomatoes and basil that say "use me or lose me!"

Butternut squash is so wonderfully easy to cook and just tastes like fall to me. Some of my favorite things to do with butternut squash are to use it in risotto, a tagine or soup. I really can't resist making a pureed butternut squash soup. There are endless variations for it. The one I made recently included an onion, an apple and some curry spices--cumin, chili and ginger. I finished it off with a can of coconut milk.

Note: I use a pressure cooker and a hand blender to make this soup quickly, but you could easily make this in a conventional pot and blend in a blender, a little at a time. You could also cook the squash in the microwave to speed things up, just cut it in half and place it in a glass container with some plastic wrap over it and cook until done.

Curried Butternut Soup

Ingredients

1 large or 1-2 small butternut squash
1 onion
1 apple
2-3 cups water
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon chili powder, any type you prefer
1 can coconut milk

Instructions

Peel, seed and chop the squash. Peel core and slice the apple into chunks. Chop the apple. Place all the vegetables and the apple in a pressure cooker and add enough water to almost cover halfway. Add the spices and cook on medium pressure for 10 minutes. Add one can of coconut milk. Puree the soup using a hand blender, then add salt to taste.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

VinoVenue:Shop CLOSED


I only went to an automat once in New York, and then this summer I got to see another, though non-functioning one, at the Smithsonian in Washington DC. But l always loved the idea. An automat was a vending machine restaurant that served up portions of ready-to-eat food. All glimmering shiny and modern, it was mostly a gimmick, as it wasn't really "automated" and people had to constantly refill the offerings, but that didn't make it any less appealing. The novelty of technology and gadgets is often very attractive.

Remember all the hype about smartcards a few years back? A smartcard is a plastic card that contains a tiny chip that includes a microprocessor and memory which means it can hold a ton of information. Though touted for years they haven't taken off in the US the way they have in Europe where people use them to access medical records, etc. Well smartcards may have finally come of age.

Like a prepaid debit card, at wine bar/wine retailer Vino Venue you can buy a smartcard and then use the it to purchase one ounce "tastes" of wine. One hundred wines are for sale at Vino Venue and most of them are encased in stylish vending machines where you insert your card, hold your glass up to a spout and voila! wine comes pouring out. The thing about purchasing wine is, it's hard to judge a bottle by the label. Tasting wine is the best way to know for sure if it's something you'll like. Wine tasting is lots of fun and the way the wines are organized at Vino Venue allow you to easily compare regions or varietals.

Last Friday night in addition to celebrating the publication of Heidi's new book Cook 1.0, and welcoming Sam and Fred of Becks & Posh and Fatemeh of Gastronomie to our informal group of Bay Area Food Bloggers, we also got to check out Vino Venue. A big thanks to Alder of Vinography for helping to arrange our evening, and to Brian at for hosting us. A visit to Vino Venue is provides a unique way to learn about wine through tasting, find something to buy, and share the experience with friends. Check it out and you too can impress your friends with your knowledge of the newest and most innovative shop on the block thanks to smartcard technology and vending machine gadgetry.

Vino Venue CLOSED
686 Mission St
San Francisco
415.341.1930
Mon-Th 12-9 pm
Fri-Sat 12-10 pm Sun 2-6 pm

Monday, November 01, 2004

Mae West


Do you ever find yourself in need of a good quote? More often than not, Mae West is my source for amusing bons mots. Her risque sayings are often very apropos for all things culinary:

"I generally avoid temptation unless I can't resist it" (Dessert anyone?)

"He who hesitates is a damn fool" (Especially at the buffet table)

"Too much of a good thing can be wonderful" (Whipped cream, chocolate, sushi...)

Tomorrow is election day, and while I try to keep this site free of anything political if it's not food related, I would like to share this one thought--if you are still undecided, at the bakery counter or more importantly in the election booth, let this memorable quote guide you--

"Whenever I'm caught between two evils, I take the one I've never tried."

--Mae West