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Tuesday, December 30, 2003

No Recipe Pumpkin Soup Recipe

Necessity is the mother of invention. Nothing could be truer in the kitchen. It's amazing what you can cook when you have very little in the pantry. It can be much more challenging and yet gratifying to try to figure out what do with the ingredients on hand than to come up with a new menu from scratch. Coming home from vacation means coming home to an empty fridge. If you're lucky. If not, you've probably got some smelly clean up to do. Keeping certain canned foods on hand can insure that you will be able to make a meal from virtually nothing. A few things I always keep on hand are garbanzo beans, jars of artichoke hearts and canned pumpkin puree. With garbanzo beans you can make a one-pot meal, you just combine the beans, cooked couscous and a few chopped steamed vegetables. With artichokes you can make a simple pasta sauce by chopping the artichokes and adding them to store bought tomato sauce. Or just saute some garlic in olive oil and add the artichokes to that--voil...
Sunday, December 28, 2003

Fruity Yogurt Scones Recipe

I love scones. When I was in high school we had a British exchange student come stay at our house for a few weeks. We showed her around town and in turn she introduced my family to the pleasures of homemade scones. Or "scons" as she called them. Now that was a recipe we had her write down for future reference. From what I have read, it seems scones originally came from Scotland and were made with oats and cooked on a griddle. Oat scones are still one of my favorites, but now there are all sorts of sweet ones, savory ones and many that have no oats at all. They are usually flour based, round or wedge shaped, and bake quickly in the oven. Most famously served in the afternoon for tea with clotted cream and strawberries, they are also terrific for breakfast, instead of muffins or toast. For years I have experimented with various recipes and I have come to the conclusion that the reason that they taste so divine is because they have so much butter or cream in them. There are...
Friday, December 26, 2003

Eating Cactus

You know the saying "If life gives you lemons, make lemonade". Well what if life gave you a cactus? In Mexico, you'd do the logical thing and figure how to make something to eat with it. In Baja California the sea, the desert and the mountains all come together in breathtaking landscapes. The stark desert is dotted with many types of shrubs and cactus including the saguaro, prickly pear and barrel cactus. The prickly pear cactus in particular has been used as food since pre-Columbian times in Meso America. The fruit of the prickly pear is called "tuna" in Spanish and is super sweet. Mexican popsicles or "paletas" are sometimes flavored with this cherry red fruit. The paddles of the prickly pear are called "nopales" and are commonly cooked with scrambled eggs or served in tacos and salads. They have a slippery texture, somewhat like cooked green bell peppers. You can buy the cactus paddles de-spined or jarred in Latin grocery stores. A...
Monday, December 22, 2003

Viva Mexico!

An all-inclusive resort. Included are not just food and drink but "activities". The advertised snorkeling trips have been long been cancelled (though you can borrow the snorkeling gear and search the pool for fish) and the bikes all have flat tires. So activities are limited to daily Mexican bingo--lotteria, volleyball and lounging poolside. In addition to the meals in the dining room, Fiesta Inn, in San Jose Del Cabo has a swim up bar and a snack bar. The snack bar is the real center of activity. Imagine a menu composed of hamburgers, hot dogs, onion rings, french fries, various quesadillas, fish tacos and unlimited guacamole, salsa and chips--all included of course. Now that's what I call vacation! The guacamole here is just divine. It must be the most simple mixture of mashed ripe avocados, salt, cilantro, perhaps a bit of lime? but that's really it. Fresh tortilla chips fried up every day and a chopped fresh salsa of tomatoes, sweet onions, cilantro and ho...
Friday, December 19, 2003

A Quest

Somewhere there is a drink with an umbrella in it and I am on a quest to find it. I will be gone until Christmas day, and there is a good chance I will be posting updates while I am away but an equally good chance that I will not...check back here soon....
Wednesday, December 17, 2003

L&L Hawaiian Barbecue:Restaurant

I've been dreaming of going to Hawaii for months now. The beach, the ocean, the gentle breezes and swaying palms. Pure relaxation. But somehow it wasn't meant to be. Work got in the way then procrastination and suddenly Hawaii was no longer an option, not this year anyway. So you can imagine my excitement when I discovered that one of my favorite Hawaiian dining institutions had set up an outpost in the Bay Area. What Hawaiians call "drive-inns" are not what you and I think of as drive-inns they are really Hawaii's idea of fast food outlets often found in strip malls without any "drive-inn" service at all. They feature inexpensive "plate lunches" that consist of a scoop or two of rice, macaroni salad, and any one of a number of island specialties like chicken katsu, Hawaiian BBQ short ribs, fried mahi mahi or BBQ chicken. As specials you will also see Hawaiian local dishes like kahlua pork and lau lau. These entrees are all a mix of the is...
Monday, December 15, 2003

Black Russian Bundt Cake Recipe

Holiday party season started officially last weekend. We had so many events to go to we needed most of the week to recover. This weekend was much the same. One of the best events last weekend was a tree-trimming open house at Elizabeth's house in Palo Alto. Elizabeth is a managing editor at Weldon Owen, a publishing house that is responsible for the Williams-Sonoma series of cookbooks among other things. While Elizabeth doesn't work on cookbooks (at least not yet!) she is a terrific home baker. The spread of baked goodies she prepared looked bakery beautiful and I felt a personal responsibility as her friend to try absolutely everything. That's just the kind of friend I am. The biggest hit was the Black Russian cake. You may know about doctoring cake mixes, and you may have even heard of adding Kahlua to a cake, but the vodka in this cake really gives it a holiday kick! Elizabeth not only came up with the recipe (after doing much research online) but she chose to make ...
Saturday, December 13, 2003

Pacific Chai Refrigerator Cookies:Recipe

My friends and I discovered the Indian tea beverage Chai in college. As students of all things new and exotic, we made it from cooking freshly ground spices, black tea and milk with honey until it was strong, spicy, and creamy. We might have bought it at the store if it was available like the instant coffees and cocoas we hoarded in our rooms, but it wasn't. Now it's all over the place. Almost every espresso bar, coffee shop and cafe sells it in a "latte" version. Even supermarkets are selling instant chai under their private label brands, a sure sign Chai has gone beyond college dorms. There are even several Chai bath products for those who can't get enough just drinking it. While I still make Chai from scratch, I confess I buy a powdered version so I can make a refreshing cold slushy drink by whipping it up in the blender with ice cubes and a splash of milk. But now that winter is upon us, I have begun drinking more hot Chai and it dawned on me that there ou...
Thursday, December 11, 2003

Nitrites Healthy?

Nitrites cause cancer. Remember hearing that? Health experts said that to be on the safe side you should cook your bacon over low heat to avoid those nitrites or better yet buy nitrite-free bacon. Nitrite, a common additive in cured meats like bacon is used to help preserve it and give the meat a rosy color. How, you might have wondered, could something that makes bacon better possibly be so bad for you? Well, it turns out that the science behind nitrites (or nitrates) being carcinogenic is sketchy to say the least. In case you missed it, according to a New York Times article published November 3, 2003 *, it now turns out nitrites might actually be GOOD FOR YOU. There is even the possibility of nitrite therapy being developed for certain ailments, specifically stroke, pulmonary disease, obstructed heart vessels and other conditions involving poor circulation. Scientists at the National Institutes of Health and at the University of Alabama and Wake Forest University have found...
Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Potluck Stories

Here's my theory. Everyone has a good potluck story. I know I've got a couple. When I was growing up potlucks were very popular. It's economical for one thing and there is the pride in showing off your culinary skills of course. Personally I feel a great deal of pressure nowadays if asked to bring something. What if I mess up? My reputation is on the line! These days potlucks aren't as common among my set. The only potluck events I can think of are my parents annual 4th of July party, my book club and Christmas cookie parties. The first potluck I can remember attending was with my family and I must have been in one of the primary grades. I think it was a school or Campfire girl event and several parents were in charge of bringing main dishes. Maybe 4 or 6 main dishes all together, I can't remember. What I do remember is that all the main dishes without exception were lasagne. All different of course, but still what are the odds? My other potluck story has to ...
Sunday, December 07, 2003

Fig, Onion and Black Olive Tapenade:Recipe

I get a lot of good ideas from reading Craigslist Food Forum . Recently I read about an olive fig tapenade that people seem to be raving about. Needing an appetizer that could survive for a few hours without refrigeration, I figured it would fit the bill. The recipe originally comes from the "Jimtown Store Cookbook:Recipes from Sonoma County's Favorite Country Market", a recipe collection that also comes recommended by one of my favorite food bloggers--Heidi Swanson on her site 101 Cookbooks . Tapenade, a French condiment, is a thick rough paste typically made from capers, anchovies, olives, olive oil, and lemon juice. You can use it as a sandwich spread, to spread on bread, crackers or as a dip for raw vegetables. There is also an Italian version, olivada which is a simpler puree of black olives, olive oil and black pepper. Either way, because olives are so salty, combining them with sweet figs makes perfect sense. Though making it with a mortar and pestle is tradit...
Friday, December 05, 2003

Sunflower Authentic Vietnamese: Restaurant

When I was growing up Asian food meant Chinese and occasionally Japanese. But over the years Thai restaurants became quite common. Then Vietnamese restaurants started popping up. What strikes me about Vietnamese cuisine is how varied it is. Sometimes you can taste the Chinese influence, other times you can taste a French influence. But it's all good. In San Francisco there are many Vietnamese restaurants to choose from but one I go back to consistently is Sunflower. It's a popular place, in a happening neighborhood full of great places to eat. Actually this restaurant has two locations, one right around the corner from the other. The food is the same. The prices are very reasonable. The staff is welcoming and efficient. Tonight we had some spring rolls, the fresh cold ones, wrapped in rice paper and lettuce leaves stuffed with rice noodles and shrimp and served with a spicy peanut sauce. Another appetizer was the deep fried pot stickers. We also had a stir-fried chicken ...
Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Persimmon Bread Recipe

I've never really gotten into making bread. I do it occasionally, but it's not my passion. When I want to bake something I usually don't have much patience so quick breads are more my style. There are lots of great quick breads. Two of my favorites are banana bread and persimmon bread. They each use very ripe or over ripe versions of the fresh fruit. For persimmon bread you want to use the Hachiya variety. The Fuyu is rounder shaped than the Hachiya and is a bit crunchy, good for using in salads, it has a pale orange color. Fresh Hachiya persimmons are really extreme. Their color is almost shockingly bright orange and the texture is downright slimy. Though they are sweet there is sometimes a very bitter after taste to the raw fruit. They sound just awful, but actually they are quite delicious. And if you can't fathom eating them raw, you should really try them in bread because they are no longer bright orange, slimy or bitter. This recipe comes from a neighbor of m...
Monday, December 01, 2003

Jam Souvenirs

Lee and I are collectors. We collect all sorts of thing. Some of it valuable, most of it not. We love to travel and to bring stuff home. Problem is with a small apartment collecting can easily get out of hand. And it's not like we actually NEED anything. So a few years ago we came up with an ingenious idea. Rather than buying lots of stuff we don't need on vacation, we'd buy something we actually do need. Jam. When we go on a trip--even if it's just a weekend trip and we feel compelled to buy something we pick out a jar of jam. We know we'll use it up and while we do we'll remember our trip fondly. In Hawaii we have bought tropical guava and lilikoi jams. On our honeymoon in Spain we bought Seville orange marmalade in Seville. In Paris we always buy Bonne Maman jam. It's a grocery store brand, not gourmet but it's really good and much cheaper there and they have flavors you'd never find here--rhubarb prune and orange fig, both delicious. Our o...
Saturday, November 29, 2003

Turkey Drumsticks Braised in Cranberry Sauce Recipe

When you love Thanksgiving as much as I do, you want it to prolong it. One year instead of the traditional Thanksgiving feast at my parents house, we ended up at someone else's house. All was well and good until the following day--no leftovers! One of the best ways to relive the joy of the holiday is by eating a nibble of what you had the night before. So I suggested a second night of Thanksgiving, much like many Jewish holidays that are celebrated two nights in a row. "Who would come?" asked my mother. "We have a turkey" said my father and with that I made a few calls and the first second night of Thanksgiving was born. Now that I am married, Lee and I spend at least part of the holiday weekend with my parents and part of the weekend with Lee's family. So two nights of Thanksgiving has become the norm for us. But I don't know whether I will ever host Thanksgiving at my house. Our apartment is too small, we only have four chairs and in any case it woul...
Thursday, November 27, 2003

Thank You!

On this Thanksgiving day I'd like to say thanks for reading, and thanks for your support and encouragement. I've been writing recipes, restaurant reviews, mini essays, tips, interviews and general reminiscences about food for almost six months now. In that time Cooking with Amy has been praised by Forbes magazine, recommended by the San Francisco Chronicle, been visited 3500 times (the counter is new so it's not accurate) and been linked to by too many other blogs to count. So what do YOU think? Now it your chance to tell me! Too personal? Not personal enough? More recipes? Less recipes? More interviews? Let me know what you think by clicking on comments below or the guestbook. And have a Happy Thanksgiving!...
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving. My favorite holiday and here's why: 1. Friends and Family 2. Open to everyone, no citizenship requirements 3. Great food 4. Nothing required of you other than to eat and be thankful 5. Devoid of excess commercialism unlike you-know-what 6. You get two days off from work (most people do anyway) 7. Completely secular 8. Did I mention great food? This year I will be making three desserts. A cranberry walnut tart, a pear ginger upside down cake and a third surprise dessert. I'm terribly sorry that I didn't get organized enough to write up the recipe for a special creation of mine involving pumpkin and filo dough, but I promise to write the recipe this year and post it next year....
Sunday, November 23, 2003

Monte Cristo Sandwiches:Recipe

Brunch. Such a problematic concept. Don't get me wrong, it's great. Would I have chosen it as the meal for my wedding if I didn't love it so much? But it's the heading out of the house on a Sunday morning, and invariably standing in line waiting for a table that ruins it. Then there's the whole sweet or savory thing. The eggs benedict or the blueberry pancakes? Bagel cream cheese and lox or French toast and maple syrup? This may be how smoky meats like sausage and bacon became such popular brunch side dishes, born from the difficulty of deciding what to order in the first place. Today the solution was simple. Homemade Monte Cristo sandwiches. I wish I could tell you some fabulous story about the Monte Cristo, but I can't. In doing the research even the esteemed James Beard Organization concedes the origins are unclear. Where did it come from? Why dip a sandwich in egg? Why is it named Monte Cristo? The name seems to date back to as early as 1941, when it sta...
Friday, November 21, 2003

Caramelized Onion Waffles with Smoked Salmon:Recipe

Sometimes what inspires me most is a cookbook. I read cookbooks like some people read magazines. Browsing, skimming the index, picking and choosing a recipe here, a recipe there. Like many cooks, I don't necessarily follow recipes to the letter, but I do get great ideas from them. Right now I have a pile of cookbooks next to my bed. I am reading several by Paula Wolfert and several more by Nigella Lawson. I'm actually trying to decide if I want to purchase any of them. I check out cookbooks from the library when I can to live with them a bit and see how it goes. The one cook book I did purchase recently is "The Secrets of Success Cookbook, Signature Recipes and Insider Tips from San Francisco's Best Restaurants" , written by SF Chronicle food critic Michael Bauer. It came highly recommended and I have to say I have not been disappointed. One of the recipes that inspired me this week was the Caramelized Onion Waffle with Smoked Salmon and Radish Salad from Mi...
Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Happy Garden:Restaurant

Certain things it's just better to go out for. In this category of could-make-it-at-home-but-won't are really elegant multi-course French meals, sushi and Chinese food. Oh I guess I make a Chinese meal at home from time to time, but it's usually just one or two dishes and rice. I'm spoiled. San Francisco has some outrageously good Chinese food available in restaurants that are a hop skip and a jump from my front door. A recent find is Happy Garden in the Richmond district. Happy Garden is on Clement street, where there are plenty of enticing Asian restaurants, fresh markets, and cafes. This is a great neighborhood for exploring and trying new things, but Happy Garden is truly a standout amongst its neighbors for its quality, quantity not to mention price. One of several "Family Style" meals on the menu is $38.80 and feeds approximately 6-8 people. So what do you get for $38.80? A veritable seafood extravaganza is what. It begins with a seafood bean cu...
Monday, November 17, 2003

All About Chanterelles

Fresh chanterelles are my favorite mushroom. Sure I enjoy porcini and I certainly wouldn't pass up a truffle white or black if it crossed my plate. But there is something about chanterelles that appeals to me the most. They are so very unique. First of all they are beautiful to look at, golden and trumpet shaped. Not a true gilled mushroom, the underside of the cap has rounded gill-like ridges or veins that branch irregularly so their texture when cooked is velvety and tender. They cook up like an oyster mushroom unlike common button mushrooms, which are often crumbly when raw or wet and juicy when cooked. Flavor-wise chanterelles are delicate and almost fruity tasting, nothing like the earthy meaty taste of a portabello for instance. Some have compared the scent of chanterelles to apricots. They smell and taste more like a flower then a mushroom. Divine when prepared simply and served on their own, chanterelles combine well with almost every other kind of mushroom too. This pa...
Friday, November 14, 2003

Meet Darius Somary Part 2

Successful marketer becomes a professional chef and now caterer Part 2 Striking out on his own Why did you decide to go into catering after working at Oliveto? The restaurant experience was really good, it was a perfect experience for someone fresh out of school, in their early 20's who is all excited about working hard and partying hard. But I was beyond that. I couldn't stay up until 3 am partying. And then the salaries in the restaurant industry are very low. Also, I don't necessarily want to be a celebrity chef. If I make it on TV that would be great but it's not my goal. I like Jamie Oliver's style. He's all about understatement and simplicity. He is very creative, using basic ingredients and basic techniques. He goes shopping with you and takes you every step of the way. Cooking should be very intuitive, tangible and understandable. I love his cookbook; it's very modular. By that I mean he includes the variants without specifying exact ...
Thursday, November 13, 2003

Meet Darius Somary

Meet up-and-coming chef Darius Somary. Darius was a successful market researcher for over ten years before leaving the corporate world and going back to school, graduating from Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Arts Program at the California Culinary Academy. He recently left top rated Oliveto restaurant in Oakland to start up his own business, SpringLoaf Catering So what inspires someone to leave corporate life for the culinary arts? Why did Darius leave the fast-paced world of a restaurant kitchen? And what's it really like to be a professional chef? Read on. Part 1 Becoming a Chef Nurture or nature? Are you a chef by choice or were you born to be one? Cooking has always been a hobby of mine. When I came home from business trips I used cooking to wind down, playing with flavors. It was the first career I consciously chose, everything else I slid into. More nature than nurture I guess. You had a career in marketing for many years, what lead to your decision to switch careers?...
Tuesday, November 11, 2003

All About Pomegranates

My appreciation of certain foods is only enhanced by the symbolism associated with them. As an example, in Italy it's a tradition to eat lentils on new years day. The individual lentils are supposed to represent the coins that will come to you in the new year. Ever since I heard that, the thought of a big sausage and lentil stew on new years day seems like just the right thing. Jewish new years or Rosh Hashanah has its own traditional foods. I grew up eating apples dipped in honey to represent the sweetness of the new year, but I just learned that another traditional food for the Jewish new year is the pomegranate. Moroccan Jews say that the seeds of the pomegranate represent the good deeds or mitzvah that will occur in the new year and I have to say I think that the two-fold symbolism is as sweet as an apple dipped in honey. Pomegranates like figs, feature prominently in Greek mythology, as well as the bible. They have long been a symbol of fertility in many cultures. Have you...
Sunday, November 09, 2003

Hangtown Fry at Tadich Grill

San Francisco has had a wild history. It wasn't called the Barbary Coast for nothing. Brothels, saloons, gambling, opium dens, San Francisco was famous for all of that, especially at the time of the gold rush. You can still see remnants and reminders of that time in the streets of San Francisco. Many streets are actually named after "ladies of the night". Another reminder of those times is a dish that was created during that era and has been served in San Francisco ever since. The town in the gold country known as Placerville was once known at Hangtown. The dish that bears its name is Hangtown Fry. The legends surrounding the dish are numerous. The two stories I have heard are that either a man condemned to be hanged requested this dish as a way to postpone his hanging since the ingredients were expensive and hard to come by or that a miner who struck it rich asked a bartender to create the most expensive meal possible and he did using oysters, salt pork and eggs. ...
Thursday, November 06, 2003

OTT "Over The Top" Oatmeal Cookies:Recipe

Who doesn't like cookies? It's hard to imagine growing up without them. They were a staple in my lunch bag year in, year out. But in Italy cookies are less of an everyday thing and more of a fancy treat to be served to guests with dessert wine after dinner. Elegant cookies are found at all good Italian bakeries and are made in the home during holidays. But the cookie jar filled with homemade cookies for the whole family to snack on is not an Italian tradition. When I lived there, American style chocolate chip cookies were unheard of. I made them for the family I was living with and they were horrified to hear that Americans would eat them with milk. Of course they also had a hard time understanding why we would eat french fries with Coke either. You hear a lot about how simple food is often the best, but the opposite is true when it comes to cookies. Dare I say it? Lately I am actually bored by plain old chocolate chip cookies. Even with chocolate chips AND nuts, there just...
Tuesday, November 04, 2003

French Tea

When you think about tea, do you think of England? No question the British are big tea drinkers. When I spent a few weeks in the South of England one summer we drank tea no less than 5 times a day. But when I think about tea I also think of France where some of my favorite teas are sold by a company called Mariage Freres. The oldest tea importers in France, in business since 1660, they really know their stuff. In Paris the Mariage Freres shop has been in the same spot since 1854 on the rue du Bourg-Tibourg in the Marais. Visiting the shop is like stepping into the past. The shop is tiny and all the staff bustle about in white colonial era uniforms. The cool dark front room features a series of shelves lined with large ancient tea canisters. The scent of tea is everywhere and the staff is happy to open a canister and offer you a sniff of any of the 500 varieties you wish. The back room is a bright tea salon and while a bit cramped, it is lovely with tropical potted palms and de...
Sunday, November 02, 2003

Dutch Baby:Recipe

A couple of times on vacation Lee and I have gone out for Dutch pancakes. We like having them for breakfast, but it turns out in Holland the Dutch don't actually eat pancakes for breakfast. Needless to say, we've suffered through some very long mornings waiting for pancake shops to open up for lunch. Of course some Dutch pancake shops know what pancake freaks we Americans are and open early. In Holland they eat an eggy crepe type pancake as big as a large dinner plate. Flat like pizzas, they come topped with almost anything you can imagine from tomatoes, cheese, bacon or shellfish to dessert varieties with chocolate or ice cream and fruit. Pancakes have a long tradition in the Dutch culture. Supposedly over 300 years ago the first pancake was created in Holland but only in recent times have they gone crazy with the toppings. Dutch pancake houses are not only popular in Holland but we've found them in Canada and in the UK. But I've never seen a puffed oven baked panca...
Friday, October 31, 2003

Mo's Gourmet Hamburger:Restaurant

I admit it. While most of the time I try to eat veggies, seafood, and lean meats every so often I crave a hamburger. And I am of the opinion that if you are going to eat a hamburger, you should eat the best possible one you can get your hands on. Let's face it, it's a lot of calories. It's an indulgence of sorts. Life is too short to eat lousy hamburgers. Or lousy anything for that matter, but that's another story. So about now you are probably wondering which fine establishment will I recommend for a hamburger? Perhaps you're thinking Barney's or Zuni Cafe or even In-N-Out. Well, if you were thinking any of those places you'd be wrong. My pick for an excellent hamburger, cooked to order is Mo's. Mo's Gourmet Hamburger is on Grant Avenue in North Beach. They do everything right at Mo's. The bun is fresh and crusty, spread with a homemade slightly mustardy mayonnaise; the beef is center cut chuck ground in house, a full seven ounces. They...
Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Tea Smoked Chicken Recipe

I am a tea drinker. I love just about everything to do with tea, I am especially captivated by the ritual of tea. You might think I mean the Japanese tea ceremony, but actually I find the western rituals of tea making and drinking, while nowhere near as aesthetic or intellectual a pursuit, equally appealing. It seems like such a simple thing to make tea, and in a way it is--you boil water and steep the tea leaves then pour it--but each of those steps if done improperly can make a dreadful libation. The water needs to be fresh, the temperature should be boiling or just under the boil for some types of tea, like green tea. The amount of tea is also crucial. I find that I need to use much less tea than is usually called for to make a good pot of tea. Too much tea in the pot (I steep it in a fine mesh strainer) can make the tea bitter and so too can steeping for too long. Each tea is slightly different and you need to find out just how much time works for each. The longest I steep tea is...
Monday, October 27, 2003

Setting Up House

When I was getting married I indulged in the pornography of bridal magazines. All those glossy photos, fluff and titillation designed to arouse an intense longing and euphoria. Well I thought it was part of the whole wedding experience anyway. One of the features, in almost every bridal magazine is a piece on what you need to set up your household. Often this is in the form of a "Registry Checklist". On the surface this seems very useful. Unfortunately these lists are often straight out of the 1950's. Anyone you know use warming trays? Cordial glasses? Place card holders? Checklists designed to help typically range from the ridiculous to the absurd. In any case, most people are not moving out of their parents home and into their married home, there is usually some single time in there. So how do you figure out what you need when setting up a kitchen at any stage of life? Jerry Gagnon has written a wonderful article in this past Saturday's San Francisco Chronicl...
Sunday, October 26, 2003

Williams-Sonoma Grand Opening

Yesterday was the opening of Williams-Sonoma at Union Square in San Francisco. Williams-Sonoma calls the store it's flagship. Merriam-Webster defines flagship as the finest, largest, or most important one of a series, network, or chain. And the new store certainly lives up to that definition. In 1954 Chuck Williams turned his hardware store in Sonoma into a store specializing in French cookware. The rest, as they say, is history. The inspiration was his love for cooking and eating with a close circle of friends. That love is still very much in evidence. The store opening was like a local foodie feeding frenzy. Some of the highlights from Saturday: *Chuck Williams was signing cookbooks. *Local businessman and entrepreneur John Diefenbach and his wife were sampling the San Macario olive oil that they import from Lucca. Lucca is town with strong ties to the bay area. In the bay area the number of residents with roots in Lucca is staggering and likewise in Lucca everyone ...
Friday, October 24, 2003

Spinach & Yogurt Soup Recipe

When I was growing up there was a good, inexpensive restaurant my family ate at frequently. They had a very simple menu, mostly fresh fish and burgers, nothing fancy. But every meal started with a salad or their famous Leek and Spinach soup. It was so popular that the proprietor put the recipe up on the window for all to see. As I recall it was a package of Knorr brand Leek and Potato soup mix made according to the recipe box and a package of chopped frozen spinach mixed in at the end. He served it with a thin slice of lemon on top. To this day I keep a package of Knorr Leek and Potato soup mix on hand, just in case. What I learned from that recipe is that recipes don't have to be complicated to be good. Sometimes the best recipes are the simple ones. Certainly when ingredients are at their peak of freshness and are high quality, less is more. As an example, Italians rarely cook fresh tomatoes. They are so good raw they eat them that way. Canned tomatoes are for cooking but fres...
Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Bacon, Bacon, Bacon

Let us now sing the praises of bacon. Anyone who knows me, knows how much I love, love, love bacon. It's got just about every taste sensation I crave--sweet, salty, and smoky. And then the texture, crisp, crunchy, and chewy all at the same time. Succulent with flavor and the richness of fat! I know it's not politically correct, but it's heavenly stuff. It just seems like it must be in our genes to savor the stuff and salivate at the very smell of it cooking. The other night we had a spinach salad for dinner. It was hot and neither of us were all that hungry. Now I enjoy salad, but the truth is if I had to live without it I could. Easily. The trick to making salad irresistible is to add all sorts of can't-live-without goodies. In this case I used crumbled Gorgonzola, croutons and bacon. Spinach loves bacon. I added a creamy Vidalia onion dressing and voila! a salad you don't want to skip. When I was growing up there were very few choices of brands of bacon. An...
Monday, October 20, 2003

Science of Perfect Potatoes

I met someone recently who told me if you want to write a bestseller, use the word "secret" in the title. I hate to admit it, but I think he might be right. After all, who wouldn't want to know all the great cooking secrets? The secret to perfectly fluffy mashed potatoes. The secret to deliciously crisp crunchy oven-fried potatoes (the kind that don't get soggy five minutes after coming out of the oven). Well if you're looking for those secrets, you're in luck. Enough experimentation and you can probably discover some of the secrets to good cooking. Personally I'll stick with the experts. One expert, namely Martha Stewart has demonstrated on her popular how-to-do-everything-better show, how to make the lightest, fluffiest mashed potatoes; the secret is to use a ricer. A ricer is a gadget that looks like an enormously large garlic press. I have yet to find another use for the ricer and yet, if you love mashed potatoes, the good ones like you get in reall...
Saturday, October 18, 2003

Saigon Sandwich Restaurant

Like some other recent food trends (nouvelle cuisine comes to mind) fusion has gotten a bad rap. On the surface, the idea of combining two cuisines to come up with something new sounds positively dreadful. Does anyone really want Chinese-Italian food? Current food trends in vogue are more about a pure and simple respect for high quality ingredients and authenticity than new-fangled mish mash. Does anyone remember the wraps fad? Yet there are some great examples of classic fusion cooking out there. Tex-Mex is fusion. Hawaiian food is often a fusion of Pacific Islander ingredients with Chinese, Japanese, Pilipino and Korean recipes. Yesterday Lee and I finally tried Saigon Sandwich on Larkin Street in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco. I had read about it for some time, so I won't claim that I "discovered" it by any means. A storefront shop with room for just two women working furiously behind the counter, the place offers only about five items on the menu--a ...
Thursday, October 16, 2003

Stuffed Brinjal Recipe

I'm no vegetarian, but I eat vegetarian meals all the time. Vegetables like mushrooms or eggplant are so "meaty" they make great vegetarian meals. I especially like to go vegetarian when I have Indian food. There are so many great veggie dishes in Indian cuisine I find I really don't miss the meat. A few years back I shared an office with Lulu, who also happens to be a fabulous cook and a vegetarian. She's from India and her knowledge of cooking is so different from mine that we've learned a lot from each other. A western cook and a Southeast Asian cook, a meat eater and a vegetarian, we both shared a passion for experimentation in cooking and for spicy food. When work was slow, we would spend hours chatting about recipes and researching our next meals. Eggplant entrees were often on each of our menus. This past week I found an Indian supermarket and felt compelled to buy several exotic items including fresh curry leaves and small round Indian eggplants. ...
Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Roasted Bell Peppers Technique

Bell peppers. Have you ever seen them growing? When you see them in the store they're in separate bins segregated by color--red, yellow and green and sometimes orange or purple. But if you see them on the vine, you understand they come from one plant. That green peppers ripen to red, yellow, orange or purple depending upon the variety. By the way, the name "pepper" is really a misnomer. Peppers are in no way related to black pepper. But it took botanists quite a while to figure that out. Chock full of vitamin C, and gorgeous to look at, peppers are phenomenal when roasted. It may seem like a lot of work, but it's really not. And in any case it's work worth doing. If you have ever had an Italian antipasto spread that included roasted red peppers marinated in a little olive oil and garlic you know what I mean. And if you haven't, give it a try. They also make a wonderful ingredient in other recipes. I love to put them in sandwiches. Pureed, red peppers make a...
Sunday, October 12, 2003

Fruity Yogurt Pancakes Recipe

What makes American food, American? I've been thinking about this recently. There are a few obvious answers--it's made in America, it uses American ingredients, the recipes were developed in America. There's also the whole "melting pot" thing. But I think it's actually something else. We are blessed in this country with a plentiful and huge variety of wonderful foodstuffs. In the San Francisco bay area there is so much that I can find that inspires me to cook. While there have been times of frugality and poverty, Americans have often lived lives much richer than their counterparts in other countries. Immigrants have brought their traditional recipes here and made them American by being more generous with ingredients than they might have been in the old country. Just look at pizza as a good example of this. For better or for worse, it is often much "richer" here than in Italy. So I think bounty is one important element in American food. The oth...
Friday, October 10, 2003

All About Figs

When I was growing up we had a fig tree in front of our house. My sister and I were avid tree climbers but I have to say, fig trees are pretty lousy for climbing. For one thing the branches are fairly slim and won't hold the weight of even one child let alone two. Then the ants. For some reason ants love fig trees, so climbing on a fig tree means climbing off the tree covered with ants. But somehow it still seemed worth it to get to the figs themselves. In parts of Asia and Africa the fig tree is referred to as a tree of life or knowledge. Buddhists, Christians, Jews and Moslems all talk about figs and fig trees in their sacred texts. The Greeks were positively obsessed with figs, believing them to be a gift from Demeter. In Italy the word fig is slang for female genitalia. It's really no surprise. Figs are a most bizarre and obscene looking fruit. So bizarre they're not technically fruit at all. Figs are flowers, if you open one up you can see they are filled with...
Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Best Food Blogs

Frustrated by the recall election? Don't even get me started! Here's an opportunity to vote for something a lot more satisfying. Forbes magazine has just ranked Cooking with Amy in the top 5 best food blogs. Read all about it at Forbes.com:Best Food Blogs . Then vote for your favorite in the readers poll . And check out the other sites that made the top 5: Deus ex Culina Food Goat Julie/Julia Project Lapin Gourmand...
Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Ginger Pear Upside Down Cake in Food & Wine

Fall is a wonderful time of year. The weather is still good. Many of the summer vegetables and fruit are still fresh and available and fall fruits are coming in too. That means figs and apples and pears in addition to tomatoes and basil. All of which inspires me to head into the kitchen. While pears and apples are good fresh and raw, I do believe they both improve when cooked. They also take well to warm, spicy flavors like ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, even black pepper. I found a recipe for Ginger Pear Upside Down Cake in the November issue of Food and Wine magazine that typifies fall. Lots of warm spices, a caramel pear topping (or bottom depending) and just the act of baking is a fall activity. Perhaps nothing signifies fall more than the chill in the air that gives bakers the permission to fire up their ovens. Now all I need is a reason to bake a cake! The biggest problem with baking a cake is that unlike cookies, it's harder to pass off 1/2 of the bounty to family...