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Friday, December 31, 2004

2004 Food Trends

New Year's Eve seems like the right time for a wrap up of the year in food. This past year saw lots of bad food news. There were mad cow scares, Martha Stewart eating prison food , fast food health scandals (including the death of McDonald's CEO ) the death of Julia Child and all around low-carb craziness . On the upside the restaurant scene in San Francisco seems to be coming back to life with the opening of some new high profile restaurants, such as Michael Mina. The other trend seemed to be towards lounge/nightclub restaurants like Lime , Frisson and Levende to name just a few. The trend towards "small-plates" has generally meant more creative menus and more choices at the dinner table. The interest in local produce, farmers markets and organic food continued to grow this year. There was a huge resurgence in artisan chocolate, including those with untraditional flavorings such as curry or ginger and ultra traditional flavorings such as chili . So w...
Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Sideways:Film

On Christmas day I went to see the Golden Globe nominated film Sideways . I'm not a movie critic so forgive me, but it was perhaps the first wine movie I've ever seen so I think it's worth blogging about. The movie is ostensibly the story of two friends (played by Paul Giamatti and Thomas Hayden Church) who are off on a wine country getaway before one of them gets married. But getaway is the last thing they do. The buddies confront each other, their past and their failures--often in the company of two strong women (played by Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh). The writer-director team of Jim Taylor and Alexander Payne also worked on Citizen Ruth, About Schmidt and Election so it should come as no surprise at how well they manage to balance slapstick humor, dark comedy, and drama. Everyone has known someone like the happy-go-lucky "Jack" who manages to end up always smelling like a rose despite his at times despicable behavior. We also identify with Miles who after...
Monday, December 27, 2004

Orange Spice Walnut Pancakes:Recipe

While after Christmas sales may beckon others, I am avoiding the lousy weather, venturing out no farther than the kitchen. What I've learned in my kitchen is that necessity truly is the mother of invention. So perhaps is laziness. Using what you have on hand to cook forces you to be more creative and inventive. Rather than going through the motions and relying on tried-and-true recipes, you move out of your comfort zone and take risks. When I got home from vacation I tried to restock the fridge and pantry but forgot to buy milk. Amazing how many recipes use milk, even making pancakes from a mix requires milk. This is what I mean about laziness. Sure I could have gone to the store this morning, but it's been raining nonstop... What I did have on hand was orange juice. After searching but not quite finding a milk-free pancake recipe that met my liking I developed this recipe which turned out amazingly well. These pancakes are especially good topped with Lyle's Golden Syr...
Saturday, December 25, 2004

Merry Christmas

Today is December 25th, Christmas day, a day Jews celebrate by going out to eat Chinese food and by going to see movies. After all, what else is there to do? Christmas dominates our culture and on this day most everything is closed and most everyone is celebrating with their families. While I was in Mexico the celebrations for the Virgin of Guadalupe overshadowed preparations for Christmas for most of our stay. But as our trip was drawing to a close, the Mexican colors of red, white and green seemed to be everywhere. Even in doughnuts. I will be heading out soon for Chinese food and plan to see the movie Sideways . Since this movie is being described as a "wine movie", I''ll probably post about it soon. In the meantime, for those of you celebrating Christmas, I wish you a very joyous one....
Thursday, December 23, 2004

Bob's Donut:Shop

The pleasure derived from a warm fresh French or French cruller doughnut is almost beyond description. It's a very different kind of doughnut than say an old-fashioned. It is light and crispy and almost eggy in the center. While many doughnuts are made from yeast based batter, the cruller is made from pate a choux (pronounced: pat-a-shoo). A doughnut seems like a very decadent indulgent thing, yet according to Dunkin' Donuts a cruller will only set you back 150 calories. The French cruller is a doughnut that has a long history in the Northeast where it was traditionally made in a braided rather than round shape. Why it's called a French cruller I cannot say for sure. Cruller comes from the Dutch word krulle, meaning "twisted cake." Perhaps the French part refers to the French type of dough it's made from? If you know for sure, please feel free to enlighten me. As with all other doughnuts it's really nothing special when cold, but it you can get your ...
Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Mexico Highlights

Today was our last day in Mexico, tomorrow we return home. The trip has been wonderful and while I did not take many photos,I have many mental snapshots of delicious moments: Swimming in the turquoise waters of the Caribbean ocean under the Maya ruins at Tulum Savoring the most divine Mexican chocolate ice cream, bitter and lush Catching sight of brilliant green, blue and red parrots flying through the jungle at Laguna Bacalar Chilling down with an almost daily lime paleta (popsicle) in the sweltering Yucatan heat Hearing the romantic songs of a Merida trio at the Park Hidalgo Swooning over mole chicken enchiladas wrapped in delicate thin corn tortillas Spotting a cotamundi scampering down the street in Chemuyil I hope you have gotten a good taste of Mexico vicariously through the posts of the past three weeks. The beautiful photos in the posts have come from the hotels we stayed at and the Mexican Tourism Board. The photos I did take will be featured in posts when I return....
Sunday, December 19, 2004

Chemuyil:Restaurants

It is possible to visit Mexico and not experience Mexico. It is easy to find comfortable lodgings, lush jungles, beautiful beaches, familiar food--all at the prices you would expect to pay at home. However, if you make the effort you can also find the real Mexico. Between Cancun and Tulum the coast is dotted with resorts and resort communities. If you venture to the West of the highway you can find outposts, tiny villages and towns. Like mistakenly stepping into the service entrance of a grand hotel, the streets are populated with the people who service the big resorts. Most of the people come from somewhere else, few are local. Yesterday we ventured into Chemuyil, a tiny village just three miles from where we are staying in Akumal. The streets were filled with children on a Saturday, playing and laughing. There were a couple of mini-supers, the ubiquitous grocery stores, and a small outdoor market where women were buying fresh produce. Music was playing and the town was relaxed...
Friday, December 17, 2004

Huevos alla Amy:Recipe

After four days at an all inclusive resort we are now staying at the Villa Savasana, nestled between the Caribbean ocean and the fresh water Yalku lagoon. Villa sounds rather grand, it is really just a three bedroom one and a half bath house. The picture above is of the villa. Unfortunately the weather has turned grey and we have not been swimming or snorkeling which is what this location is perfect for doing. Staying in a house means we are able to cook, especially breakfasts and some dinners. Eggs are a very popular breakfast item in Mexico and are served all kinds of ways--rancheros, Mexicanos, Veracruzana, with ham, bacon, potatoes, you name it. At the resort everyone had their eggs cooked to order which was nice since people tend to be fussy about their eggs. I like mine softly scrambled or poached. Fried eggs get too rubbery for me. Since tortillas are the best bread around, I am making my version of huevos rancheros for breakfast. I partially poach the eggs in salsa and do ...
Wednesday, December 15, 2004

More Mexico

Oops! I jumped the gun, there was something about blogging in the Merc but it was not the piece I was expecting (see last post). I will keep you posted....for now back to Mexico... While Mexico has many ruins and precious artifacts of ancient civilizations, the museums are often old and musty. Two exceptional museums, modern and enlightening, were the Maya museum in Chetumal and the city museum in the fort at the castle of Laguna Bacalar. The Maya museum in Chetumal explores the life of the Maya people as opposed to the history alone. It is organized by the three worlds--earth, the celestial world and the underground--and attempts to take you into the life of the Maya. There was little information about cooking, except to show some cooking vessels and also it was explained that cooking took place indoors. The museum in the fort was filled with children when we were there and why not? After all it was all about pirates! It told the history of the Laguna Bacalar region and the ...
Monday, December 13, 2004

A Break

I am breaking with tradition here. I am staying at a resort and it is just too hard to get access to the internet, so I am blogging ahead of time. Just pretend it is Monday, ok? I will be back on schedule next week. I was recently interviewed by a journalist from the San Jose Mercury News. So expect to find an interesting piece on blogging in the Merc on Monday. My apologies as I do not have the link for it yet but poke around and you should find it....
Sunday, December 12, 2004

Dinner at Mimi's

Did you ever eat in a restaurant that was not really a restaurant? On this trip we have eaten at taquerias, restaurants, cafes, cocina economica places, and loncherias. We also ate at Mimi´s which was something else entirely. Mimi is from Mexico City one of the worlds largest cities. It is congested and polluted and vibrant and alive. But Mimi was not healthy and her doctor told her to move to the country. She found a spot she liked very much at Laguna Bacalar. The lake is also known as the lake of seven colors. Imagine a large shallow lake surrounded by wildlife, especially tropical birds. The lake ranges from turquoise to opal to grey to navy blue--all at the same time. It is peaceful and beautiful. After three years Mimi's health was much improved. She and her husband made plans to return to Mexico City, but then they did not go. They stayed. It was just too nice at Laguna Bacalar to leave. So Mimi decided that she would open a restaurant but it seemed no one is willing to se...
Friday, December 10, 2004

Tacos Dorado

I used to think I knew what tacos were. Back in the old days they were bright yellow crunchy crisp pre-formed shells made of corn filled with ground beef, some spices shredded iceberg lettuce, chopped tomato and a shred of cheddar. That was all I knew. Soft tacos are usually what we know think of as authentic. They are soft corn tortillas with a spoonful of chopped meat or chicken or seafood, sometimes organ meats--tongue, brain, etc. A taco might have a little chopped cilantro or onion on it but not much else. Well, not here in Mexico. Tacos Dorado are more like taquitos, filled with a barbequed chicken, rolled up and fried crisp. They are topped with shredded iceberg and crema and sliced of tomato and onion, maybe some crumbled queso. Tacos Arracheras are even more unlike traditional soft tacos. A flour tortilla is filled with melted cheese, a dab of refried beans, chopped marinated and grilled beef filet, and so much guacamole it oozes out the sides. Like a Philly cheesesteak it...
Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Antojitos

We are deep in the heart of the jungle now. Or so it seems. We are staying at the Chicanna Ecovillage which is located just steps from the Chicanna Maya ruins in the Calakmul Biosphere Preserve. The meals here all seem to include platanos or a type of fried bananas. Served with rice, refried beans, as a garnish, even with eggs. Platanos are like bananas but starchier and only eaten cooked. They often have a carmelized surface and tangy flavor I suspect comes from lime juice. We have grown quite fond of platanos. Meals are very heavy and focused on meat. The chicken actually tastes like chicken unlike the bland excuse for chicken we get at home. The best meals are actually snacks, called antojitos. In the Yucatan and here in the state of Campeche the antojitos are sopes, empanadas, panuchos and salbutes. All of them are some form of fried dough and topped or filled with cheese or meat and salsa and or crema and or avocado. They are usually crispy and light and mouth-wateringly good...
Monday, December 06, 2004

Welcome to Campeche

Campechanos are foodies. That is what my guide book seems to indicate anyway. I would agree. Campeche is farther south than Merida and right on the sea. Not surprisingly the seafood is excellent. Shrimp tostadas, seafood cocktails, and some more unusual offerings. One specialty of Campeche is pan de cazon, layers of chopped cooked shark between tortillas and smothered in a spicy tomato sauce then baked. Another specialty is arroz con pulpo, a dish similar to arroz con pollo only with chunks of tender octopus in place of the chicken. The rice here is delicately seasoned and studded with onions and peppers. I cannot resist checking out the markets in each town or city we visit. Each vendor carefully arranges their produce for maximum effect. Here in Campeche, the fresh fruit and vegetable stands also sell conserved fruits in syrup. The jars are everywhere but way too large to carry home. Also candy with honey is a local ubiquitous treat found in markets, pharmacies, etc. Like in...
Saturday, December 04, 2004

Beautiful Merida

Merida is just as beautiful as I remember it. A very romantic city with Moorish details to the architecture and Spanish colonial influences everywhere. Lunch is the main meal in the Yucatan. Many of the best restaurants are closed for dinner. You can have a taco for 30 cents or go crazy in an elegant upscale fine dining institution and spend $10, if you really try hard. We had lunch our first day at Gran Almendros. This mainstay of Yucatecan cuisine claims to have invented poc-chuc, a very popular dish in this region. Pork cutlets are marinated in achiote and bitter orange juice, then grilled and served with a picked onion relish and more bitter orange. They also served cochinita pibil, another dish with sour, bitter orange juice, but this time a shredded pork. The meals are often heavy and well-spiced but light on vegetables. Fortunately fresh fruit is everywhere including juices and frozen popsicles called paletas. The Mexicans may not be experts at dessert, but they sure gro...
Thursday, December 02, 2004

Chilaquiles

Yesterday we went to Cancun for dinner. Well, actually our flight to Merida did not leave until this morning so we spent the night in Ciudad Cancun. The hotel was right across the street from Sanborns Cafe. Sanborns which started out as a pharmacy I believe, is now a huge retail holding company. The original Sanborns had an adjoining restaurant and is located in a elegant building in Mexico City. It is famous for having invented Enchiladas Suizas and in my opinion they make the best chilaquiles anywhere. I have eaten at Sanborns in 2 locations in Mexico City and now in Cancun. Chilaquiles is a dish made up of yesterdays tortillas. They are fried and kind of stewed with a red or green sauce, and often some chicken or beans. They are topped with cheese and a dab of crema. I do not know what the American equivelant is--it is not quite hash or bread pudding, but it is so rich and creamy and delicious it is irrestistable. So is Mexico. Today we are in the white city, Merida. The cap...
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 won...
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 Briti...
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 na...
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. Her...
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 b...
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 transpo...
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 pomegran...
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...
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 cow...
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 me...
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 wonde...
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...
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...
Saturday, October 30, 2004

An Evening Out

A month or so ago I discovered the game FoodSmarts . I was so intrigued that I contacted the two creators of the game and they told me about all of their games (FoodSmarts, WineSmarts, ChocolateSmarts and SexSmarts) They also told me about Vino Venue , a wine shop and tasting bar with a twist--tastes of wine are sold by the ounce, out of wine vending machines. The "tastes" are purchased using a pre-paid smart card. Last night I joined several other Bay Area food bloggers for an evening of wine tasting and conversation at Vino Venue. When I got home, I found that SF Station had posted two articles that I wrote. One article is a restaurant review of Miss Millie's . The other article is about the very same SmartsCo and all of their games. Check back next week, when I will share more about Vino Venue and the second Bay Area food bloggers evening......
Thursday, October 28, 2004

Have you ever tasted ten varieties of salt? Trying them out I only found a couple that tasted different from one another, which confirms my belief that the texture of the salt--flakes, grains, chunks, has more to do with how we taste it than it's origin. They were awfully pretty to look at though. For the record, the smoky salt and the Hawaiian salt were not only differently colored but differently flavored. Another delicious first for me at the tasting this past Sunday was Tupelo honey, which frequently appears in music (band names, song lyrics, etc.) and was also featured prominently in the movie Ulee's Gold. It is produced courtesy of the bees and the Tupelo gum trees in the river swamps of Florida. Special elevated platforms have to be built to house the bees. Unlike other honeys it will not granulate. It is also okay for diabetics because it is low in dextrose and high in levulose. Hard to describe the flavor, it is not as cloying as clover honey and much more complex....
Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Condiment Tasting

Imagine heading into an apartment where four rooms are filled with tables laden with hot sauces, honeys, olive oils, salts and other pantry staples to taste. Each product is labeled, little bowls are filled with condiments and tiny spoons, chunks of French bread and pretzel sticks are always nearby. People wander from room to room, tasting, oohing and ahhing over their discoveries, some even taking notes. Sound like fun? It was for the participants from Craigslist Food Forum who brought all sorts of things to try and compare this past Sunday, and filled up a vacant apartment in the process. In addition to being a great opportunity to socialize, it was a terrific way to try lots of brands of basic items all at one time. Some of the tasting was "blind" notably the butters. Have you ever tried tasting ten types of unsalted butter at one time? If not, I highly recommend it. You might not expect that the taste would vary much, but it really does. The interesting thing for m...
Sunday, October 24, 2004

Persimmon Dream Terrine Recipe

When fall comes around I am always looking for new things make with persimmons. I have great recipes for persimmon bread, persimmon cookies, and I even like to just scoop persimmon over vanilla ice cream. Looking for a new way to use persimmon was the inspiration for this terrine, my entry in Is My Blog Burning? Terrine edition. Terrine is one of those words that has become associated with what is made in it. A terrine is just a kind of loaf pan, but usually when you hear "terrine" it refers to pate. Not always but often. Another example is "casserole". I can't think of any others but I'm sure there are plenty. I have to admit, this was not an entirely successful project. Because my household consists of two people creating a regular sized terrine seemed like way too much food. Some recipes for ice cream terrines I saw used unconscionable amounts of ice cream! Five pints supposedly makes a terrine serving ten people. So I used a mini loaf pan. This ...
Saturday, October 23, 2004

Is My Blog Burning?

Tomorrow is the seemingly monthly event, Is My Blog Burning? This time hosted by Derrick of the aptly named, Obsession with Food blog. You still have some time to whip up a terrine if you'd like to participate. This time around there is a new web site to help you navigate the event. The IMBB web site has a countdown clock, a link to the "host" of the next event, articles, links to blogs, and more. There are also links for WBW. What's that you ask? Wine Blogging Wednesday of course! The other "compendium" site I recommend bookmarking is Food Porn Watch . A one-stop-shop for finding recently updated blogs, the site lists tons of of food blog sites and is updated hourly. Check back tomorrow for my terrine entry!...
Thursday, October 21, 2004

Calories in Bubble Tea?

Ever wonder how people end up at Cooking with Amy? I do, so I take a look at the referring pages, as they are known. Plenty of times readers find my site when searching for information on the internet. Just this week searches for "cooking turkey legs", "pupusa facts", "fried pork chops" and "pumpkin cake recipes" led people to my site. A common search is for "hors d'oeuvres recipes", with hors d'oeuvres usually misspelled. Because I posted something about all the funny misspellings of the word, my site invariably turns up. By far the most common search phrase is "how many calories in bubble tea?" "how many carbs in bubble tea?" "is bubble tea fattening?" or some variation on this theme. It turns out that this is the most popular question that leads people to my site. Why they end up referred here, I don't know, but after a year of seeing this question I decided it was time to find an a...
Tuesday, October 19, 2004

National Donut Month

The smell of doughnuts frying is a killer. We must be hard-wired to react to the frying smell of sugar and dough. Low carb diets be damned! Whenever I go to the Pike Place Market I can't resist getting a half dozen fresh-out-of-the-fryer hot, mini doughnuts. Light and crispy on the outside and soft on the inside when warm and fresh they are simply irresistible. As the doughnut vendor sprinkled my beauties with cinnamon sugar, she drew my attention to the vintage 1940's sign for "October National Donut Month". Though originally from Holland in the 1600's, doughnuts were popularized during the first World War in 1917 when Salvation Army "lassies" served up the treat to tired, hungry and wet soldiers fighting in France. According to Salvation Army legend, the donuts were fried, seven at a time in a soldiers steel helmet on an 18-inch stove. Later, a seven pound shell fitted with a one-pound shell was used to cut out the donut holes. Following the wa...
Sunday, October 17, 2004

All About Chanterelles

What do hedgehogs, lobsters and fried chicken have in common? Here's a hint, they are all vegetarian. In fact they are all names of mushrooms! Last week in Seattle I visited Sosio's Fruit and Produce at the Pike Place Market where you can find upwards of ten varieties of fresh mushrooms. The Pacific Northwest is famous for it's wet weather and the upside is the amazing varieties of local mushrooms including hedgehogs, chanterelles, matsutaki and porcini. Many mushrooms like my favorite the chanterelle, only grow in the wild and are often prohibitively expensive. Right now is the peak of the chanterelle season and these divine mushrooms are gorgeous, large, firm and unbelievably fresh. At Sosio's they were selling two pounds for ten dollars (a far cry from the $12.99 a pound for the lousy looking ones at my local market). Fortunately even if you're not in Seattle you can call Sosio's and they will ship these beauties to you overnight. I got so excited abo...
Friday, October 15, 2004

Harvest Festival 2004

Have you got plans this weekend? If not, consider heading over to the Ferry Building Marketplace for the second annual Harvest Festival . The festival kicks off this evening with an organic wine tasting happy hour. Actually an all organic wine tasting with wines from vineyards such as Frog's Leap and Yorkville Cellars. Glasses of wine will cost $5. There will also be plenty to eat, wild mushroom quesadillas from MIJITA & Far West Fungi, brisket sandwiches from Mistral & Potter Family Farms, fig & quince jam filled crepes from I Preferti Boriana, profiteroles from Miette & Ciao Bella and autumnal inspired varietal chocolates from Recchiuiti Confections. The festivities begin at 5 p.m. and at 8 p.m. there will be tango dancing in the main hall! Admission is free. Saturday there will be plenty of traditional barnyard activities for the kids at the market, including sheep shearing, pumpking carving, apple pressing, butter churning, etc. The activities will take p...
Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Pike Place market:Shop

Seattle's Pike Place Market is the real deal. Much as I love our version, the Ferry Building Marketplace , Pike Place is much more accessible for everyday shopping. There are tons more produce stands, and the prices are way more competitive. Just like at our market, there are always plenty of tourists and locals walking around enjoying the sights, sounds, smells and of course tastes the market has to offer. When I go to the Pike Place Market, there are several stops I feel compelled to make. First stop, walking around snacks. I'm a sucker for mini doughnuts which are served hot, with or without cinnamon sugar. Little fried dough balls of goodness. The smell alone will get you. But if you are not lured by the doughnuts, you can try tastes of whatever the fresh produce vendors are sampling and nibbles of the famous Chukar dried cherries or a myriad of jellies and jams. The market has no fewer than three spice shops to peruse. While I sometimes buy spices in bulk at mar...
Monday, October 11, 2004

Candy

A lot of people tell me that they only like to eat something if they know what it is. I wonder if this is really true. Does anyone know what is in most kinds of candy? Does that stop them from eating candy? Today my Japanese brother came over to my parents house for a visit. Tomio is about my age and from Osaka, Japan. He lived with my parents some years ago when he was studying English hence the brother thing. His family makes Japanese confections and candy. Mostly they make delicious crunchy cracker-y snacks with peanuts and seaweed. On this trip to the US, Tomio brought many kinds of confections as a humanitarian gift to children and the handicapped, living in group homes in Osaka's sister city, San Francisco. He also brought plenty of samples for us to try. No one I know ever refuses to try it. But do they know what's in it? Probably not. If from looking at it, they think it might taste good, they are willing to give it a go. I suppose that's human nature in rega...
Saturday, October 09, 2004

All About Prickly Pear

The first time I had prickly pear fruit was in a Mexican popsicle or "paleta". It was a bright cherry red and sweet as could be. Mexican summers can get so hot you need something, anything ice cold, never mind what the flavor is. But I think that was the first and last time I tried prickly pear fruit. So what do you do with prickly pear fruit? Until today, I honestly didn't know. Not that not knowing stopped me from buying some. When I find something unusual at the grocery store I often feel compelled to give it a go. Prickly pear fruit is in season from spring until fall, but I only just noticed them in the store. Prickly pear fruit is also known as tunas, barbary fig, Indian fig or Indian pear. The flesh can be yellowish green in addition to the beet red color mine were. They are popular in Latin America and Italy and also grown in Australia and Africa. A great source of vitamin C, each cactus fruit contains approximately 50% of the vitamin C found in an orange ...
Thursday, October 07, 2004

FallFest & Cal-Italia

This weekend there will be Fleet week and Columbus day activities happening around the City. But more importantly, there will be food events. Saturday there are two promising events. One is FallFest , from 11-4 p.m. at Justin Herman Plaza in front of the SF Ferry Building. This event features a European-style marketplace and food sampling from over sixty purveyors. Many excellent restaurants will be represented such as Aqua, Destino, Fifth Floor, Globe, Quince and Piperade. There will also be wine tastings, and small panel discussions. A fundraiser for Meals on Wheels, tickets are $75. The other event, is the Cal-Italia Wine & Food Tasting . This event takes place from 2- 6 p.m. at Washington Square Park in North Beach. Winemakers such as Bonny Doon Vineyard, Estancia Estate, Frey Vineyards, and Pietra Santa will be participating. The food will have a definite Italian flair with purveyors including Mozzarella Fresca, AG Ferrari, Liguria Focaccia, Etruria Gourmet products and ...
Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Food of the Month

Well it's October. And you know what that means. Or do you? There are so many food holidays this month it can be hard to keep track. So I thought I'd make a list to help you with your celebrations. You are planning to celebrate, aren't you? October is... Apple Month Applejack Month Caramel Month Cookie Month Dessert Month Pasta Month Pickled Peppers Month Pizza Month Popcorn Poppin' Month Pork Month Pretzel Month Seafood Month Vegetarian Awareness Month October holidays 7th is Frappe Day 9th is Moldy Cheese Day 10th is Angel Food Cake Day 11th is Canadian Thanksgiving, also known as Turkey Day 13th is National Peanut Festival 20th is Brandied Fruit Day 22nd is Nut Day 24th is Bologna Day 28th is Chocolate Day 30th is Candy Corn Day But if you want to skip all of these except of course for Chocolate Day, go right ahead! Personally I have no plans for Moldy Cheese Day yet......
Sunday, October 03, 2004

Jacques Pepin: Fast Food My Way

Watching cooking shows on TV is one of my favorite pastimes. It's entertainment, sure, but I also learn a lot. My all-time favorite television chef is Jacques Pepin. I have many of his cookbooks and watch his television series religiously (let's just say I don't think it's any coincidence that his programs often run on Sundays). The latest 26 part series which debuted today is Jacques Pepin: Fast Food My Way . Right off the bat the title has to catch your attention; after all, Slow Food is all the rage right now. And fast food is practically a dirty word. But in truth we live in a fast-paced world. Who doesn't want to be able to quickly prepare a satisfying meal at home? No one I know. Some of the things I appreciate most about Jacques Pepin are in evidence in this new show. For one thing, his mastery of technique is incredible and watching him I am able to improve my own abilities and pick up all sorts of tips. Another element is his way of combining simple ...
Friday, October 01, 2004

Plum Cake Redux Recipe

I love the taste and texture of cooked plums. Plum jam is mouth-puckeringly delicious. Somehow when the plums cook, they concentrate and the richness, sweetness and tanginess all intensifies into something much more decadent than the raw version. Even the plum color becomes more bold and jewel-like when cooked. One thing that really complements plums is almonds. Almonds are rich, buttery and almost creamy. They are sometimes a bit bland which is exactly what you need to balance out the intense tang of baked plums. About a year ago I wrote about making a recipe your own. The recipe in question was a plum cake and I shared the changes I made to suit myself and encouraged you to do the same. So with a bag of French plums as my inspiration, I revisited this recipe yet again. The biggest change I made was in substituting some of the flour with almond meal. What possessed me to purchase almond meal, I cannot say. But there it was, along with the bag of plums, taunting me, "c'mo...
Wednesday, September 29, 2004

FoodSmarts, WineSmarts

There is something oddly satisfying about being able to impress your friends and family by showing off all the meaningless information that you know. Remember when Trivial Pursuit was all the rage? And how long has Jeopardy! been on TV anyway? Trivia games are positively addicitive. Last night I was watching Napa Style with Michael Chiarello, who is a renowned local chef and restauranteur. The show featured recipes for "game night" and the game they were playing was a food trivia game called FoodSmarts . Genius! Why didn't anyone think of this before? And how come no one told me about it? I was amazed at how challenging the questions were. I tend to think I know something about food, but I didn't get them all right. In fact when I checked out the product online, and tried the demo, I got even fewer of the answers right. Oddly enough I seemed to do better with the wine version... WineSmarts Do you know what Bombay Duck is? Think you know what "reser...
Monday, September 27, 2004

Summer Rolls:Recipe

When I first started eating Vietnamese food I was impressed with how often fresh uncooked herbs were used when compared to other Asian cuisines. And the quantity! Fresh herbs are used almost like salad instead of seasoning. Once when Lee and I were eating soup in a Vietnamese restaurant the owner came by to tell us about each of the fresh herbs that should be added to our bowls. He explained that one was for your stomach, another for your blood circulation, etc. We had thought of herbs as flavoring, but for our host, it was quite another story. Fresh herbs are commonly found in the Vietnamese sandwiches, in Vietnamese noodle soup "pho" and also in summer rolls "goi cuon". If Vietnamese cuisine only consisted of those three items I'd be happy, but of course there is much, much more to try. While I prefer going out for Vietnamese soup and sandwiches, making Vietnamese summer rolls is fun to do at home. They are full of fresh crispy raw vegetables and herbs an...
Saturday, September 25, 2004

San Francisco Museum Cafes

Today SF Station runs two new pieces that I have written. One is a round-up of San Francisco museum cafes , the other is a trend piece on that formidable beverage, Guinness . Last week they ran the review I originally published here on the French Laundry , in case you missed it. If you need your fix, do stop by and take a gander. As always, feel free to comment here. Monday I'll be back with something new to chew on....
Thursday, September 23, 2004

All About Apples:Cookbook

How would you like a free cookbook? Ok, it's an electronic book, but it's really beautifully written and has gorgeous photographs. Unlike most cookbooks, this one is based on a single tasting menu--the only one I've ever seen that focuses on Washington state apples. Washington state is famous for apples. More than half of all eating apples grown in the US come from orchards in Washington state. The harvest goes on for almost three months (August-November) and apples are available just about year-round so there is plenty of opportunity not just to eat them out of hand, but also to cook with them. Award-winning Seattle-based blog Tasting Menu has published the cookbook called All About Apples , a tasting menu from Scott Carsberg of Lampreia. It features eight dishes and a variety of different Washington state apple varieties. A labor of love, this cookbook is a tribute to the impressive creative skills of chef Scott Carlsberg of Lampreia restaurant, writer Hillel Coope...