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Saturday, January 31, 2004

All About Goat Cheese (chèvre)

You've probably heard the famous quote from General de Gaulle during the May riots of 1968 "How can anyone govern a country with 246 different cheeses?" Believe it or not, there are many more cheeses than that now. The real number may be impossible to know, but estimates run anywhere between 500 to 600 different cheeses in France alone. While at the Fancy Food show earlier this month I got to try several different fromage de chevre or French style goat cheeses, maybe ten different varieties in all. In the US, goat cheese has gotten much more popular in last ten years or so. As proof, I can now buy a log of Laura Chenel's soft creamy chevre at Costco. And it's excellent. Of course there isn't the variety you get in France. In Paris, there are tiny little cheese stores (fromageries) that sell more types of goat cheese than you can imagine. They come in a variety of shapes including cylinders, discs, cones and pyramids, and like beautiful presents, some ar...
Thursday, January 29, 2004

Creamy Cauliflower Fondue Soup Recipe

I love the challenge of figuring out what to cook with what's fresh and in season. But I have to admit, I'm getting awfully tired of winter. In the beginning of winter I love all the root vegetables and greens, the hearty stews and pasta dishes, but around now I start really longing for a nice ripe tomato. Oh well, back to reality! Cauliflower is one of those winter vegetables I haven't really gotten sick of yet so I thought I would make a cauliflower soup. Cauliflower is like a bland version of broccoli, and it makes really great soups. The two standards I make are either a curried version or a cheesy version. Soups are a great way to "eat your veggies" because you can combine so many vegetables in a soup and it just makes it all the more delectable. This soup is no exception. I created a creamy cauliflower fondue soup this week in part, as a way to use up some Emmenthal cheese I had bought to make fondue. I think it's interesting from the standpoint tha...
Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Lotus Garden Restaurant

On Saturday night I joined a bunch of culinary enthusiasts from the Craigslist Food Forum (I've recently learned that some find "foodie" derogatory) for dinner at Lotus Garden . While I have yet to visit Vietnam, I am always amazed at how at each Vietnamese restaurant I visit there is something unique on the menu that I have not seen elsewhere. Lotus Garden was no exception. While the standard items like imperial rolls and Vietnamese crepes were good, what really struck me were the raw beef salad and the eggplant with coconut and curry sauce. First off, if you haven't had a Vietnamese crepe, I highly suggest you order it sometime. This is one of those dishes that must have been taken from the French and improved upon by the Vietnamese. The crepe itself is made with rice flour so it's crispy and tender at the same time. Rather than filling it after it's cooked, it's filled while cooking so the goodies are part of the crepe itself. The toppings on the ...
Sunday, January 25, 2004

Samosas Recipe

I always assumed samosas were Indian. They're one of the most popular snacks in India. Here in the US, just about every Indian restaurant has samosas on the menu, listed under appetizers. While I assumed they came from India, I have read that they actually come from the Middle East or Central Asia, where early versions were filled with dried fruit, nuts and lamb in medieval times. There is a similar cheese filled pastry called sambusek found throughout the Middle East today. In fact, samosas are popular well beyond India and the Middle East, and there are versions all over the world including places like Africa and the Caribbean. A French version is spelled "samoussa" and is sometimes filled with chicken, fish or shrimp. Recipes for samosas vary greatly. At the most basic, they are a crispy pastry, in the form of a triangle, filled with either spiced potatoes and peas or ground lamb. But they also come with cheese fillings and other types of vegetables as well. There ...
Friday, January 23, 2004

Citizen Cake Restaurant CLOSED

The older I get, the more service seems to matter to me. I don't expect great service in a dive or a diner, though I am pleased when I get it. But in a moderate to expensive place, it really bugs me if the service is less than top notch. I do recognize that things don't always go according to plan, especially in a restaurant. People show up late, they stay at their table for ages after their check has been delivered, they show up in mobs at unexpected and inconvenient times. Any number of things can make service go from smooth to bumpy. But tonight after being told a table was being set for us then seeing it given away to others and being told a table would be ready in 20 minutes and then having to wait almost 40, my level of irritation was palpable. At the very point our group was ready to give up, we were finally seated. To his credit the manager on duty apologized profusely and did not charge us for our drinks, smoothing over some frazzled nerves. But on to the dessert...
Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Organic Milk

When I was growing up my parents raised chickens. We had fresh organic eggs even during the most lean times. We ate a lot of eggs and sold the rest to neighbors for a dollar a dozen, as I recall. The yolks of the eggs were thick and orange colored, and they tasted, well, like eggs. Sadly eggs from the market don't. Try any brand you like, but unfortunately they just aren't the same. And this in San Francisco, a stone's throw from the city of Petaluma at one time known as the egg basket of the world. I never really experienced farm-fresh milk. Except once or twice at a visit to a farm. But I think I know what farm-fresh milk tastes like. A year or two ago my sister-in-law was raving about organic milk. I decided to give it a go. The taste is amazingly different from the traditional commercial product we have all become accustomed to. In the Bay Area we can choose from Straus Family Creamery or Horizon Organic milk. I prefer Straus, but by all means try both or see what...
Monday, January 19, 2004

Fancy Food Show 2004 Top Trends

Every year in January, the National Association of Specialty Food Trade puts on the Fancy Food Show and Confection Show in San Francisco. For those in the trade, it's exciting to see thousands of gourmet products in one place and it's one of the best ways to learn about what's new. In the coming weeks Cooking with Amy will be sharing more and more from the 2004 Fancy Food Show. For today, a taste of what's to come with some of the top trends (listed in no particular order): 1. Unique pairings of herbs, spices and fruits showing up in all kinds of products, in particular I was struck by Lavender Pepper, Lemon and Cardamom and Balsamic Peach. 2. New beverages, syrups and juice products, especially with exotic flavors like Blood Orange and Pomegranate. 3. Ginger in EVERYTHING from cookies to chocolates and teas. 4. Cheeses infused with wines. Forget the shelf stable packages of Port Cheddar, now there are unusual combinations from Italy, France and the US lik...
Saturday, January 17, 2004

More Food Blogs

The wonderful thing about surfing food web sites is you get to be an armchair traveller. There are many places I would love to go and visiting certain sites, blogs in particular, gives me a window into those places and what life there, especially culinary life, is like. Late last Fall I discovered Chocolate and Zucchini . An unlikely pairing perhaps, but it reflects the adventurous side of a culinary enthusiast who approaches cooking and eating out with equal zest. Clotilde shares her experiences and adventures with a passion that makes you want to go along for the ride. Clotilde is a Parisian chocolate lover and very brave when it comes to trying out new and challenging recipes. I already shared her delight in French cuisine, now I get to live vicariously through reading about her culinary exploits. Just a few weeks ago I came upon another interesting site this one from Asia, that has captured my imagination. Like Clothide, Renee posts entirely in English and takes wonderful dig...
Thursday, January 15, 2004

Syrian Lentil Chard Soup Recipe

When I was growing up, "leafy green vegetable" meant spinach. At some point swiss chard was added to the repertoire and then bok choy. But that was really it. Oh sure, we had salad every night, but no other cooked leafy greens. Later on I discovered the sharp bite of mustard greens, the silky mellowness of cooked escarole and the spicy bitterness of turnip greens. These days my organic market delivery brings me kale and collard greens too. But I still like spinach and swiss chard for sentimental reasons. Another category mainly skipped over in my childhood was legumes. We ate Mexican refried beans, chili beans, and baked beans, but that was about it. I guess if I had been raised in the South I might have been exposed to more beans and greens, but I wasn't. In college on a budget I lived on black beans, and in Italy I discovered white or cannellini beans. Out on my own I experimented with lentil stews and soups of all kinds until I discovered a recipe for Syrian lentil ...
Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Scottish Oat Scones Recipe

Sometimes you're just not hungry enough for dinner. But you might be a little hungry. So what do you do? I suggest tea. Like the the kind you have in jolly old England with milk and sugar served with a scone slathered with jam. If you need something savory, then add a little sandwich, cream cheese and cucumber on wheat is nice. Make sure the bread is sliced thin, it should be tasty, but by no means gut-busting. If you're still hungry, have another. As I have mentioned before scones are good because they are made with butter. The most traditional type of scone is an oat scone. There's just something decadently good about oats and butter. Like having a bowl of oatmeal with just a little pat of butter on top, it's just the right pairing. Oat scones are buttery and the oats give them both a nice texture and flavor. My favorite oat scone recipe I got out of a magazine ages ago; it has ingredients everyone has on hand, takes only 12 minutes to bake and less than that to pr...
Sunday, January 11, 2004

Tangerine Vanilla Seafood Sauce Recipe

Have you noticed a lot of bath products sound like food? Flavors like vanilla, cucumber, orange and almond are all making it into personal care products. I have some tangerines that I was trying to figure out what I should do with and it occurred to me that combining them with vanilla might be nice. Searching online for "tangerine and vanilla" I found hand cream, hair "texturizer", scented soap and lip balm! And here I was thinking about making a sauce for scallops... Citrus combines wonderfully with seafood. The only thing is the acid can actually cook the fish, so you have to marinate quickly, use the rind only or make a sauce to finish the dish instead. Vanilla may be a surprising choice to pair with citrus but it actually makes a lot of sense. Vanilla counteracts the acidity in citrus and creates a more complex flavor. Over ten years ago at the now-defunct Maurice restaurant in the Parker-Meridien hotel in New York, Michelin three-star French chef Alain Send...
Friday, January 09, 2004

Food Safety

Where do you shop for groceries? I shop all over the place. I shop at chain grocery stores, at specialty gourmet stores, at farmer's markets. You name a place to shop, I've probably shopped there. I'm not alone in this habit. I noticed some time ago that people seem to want cheap--as in Costco and high quality such as you find at local farmer's markets or high end specialty shops. So they shop all over the place. But thinking about quality and price brings to mind a very frightening topic in the news these days--mad cow disease. I was in Great Britain a while back when the scandal was hitting the high mark. The most terrifying thing about the British situation was that in an effort to avoid hysteria, the government assured people the beef was safe, when in fact it wasn't. It's the uncertainty that's really scary; not knowing what to believe. What we know for sure is that the practice of feeding cattle to cattle that gave us mad cow disease in the first...
Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Spaghetti alla Carbonara:Recipe

Bacon and eggs are breakfast food, right? In the United States they are. Eggs especially. Served all kinds of ways--fried, scrambled, baked, boiled, you name it. But a couple of my favorite ways to eat "bacon and eggs" are French or Italian style and most definitely NOT for breakfast, namely Salade Lyonnaise and Spaghetti alla Carbonara. You can split hairs with me if you want, and claim that Salade Lyonnaise uses the French "lardons" a kind of salt pork and that Carbonara uses Italian style cured pork jowl "guanciale" or even pancetta, but either recipe is terrific with bacon. And eggs of course. Salade Lyonnaise is a salad of curly endive, topped with a poached egg, chunks of bacon, and some croutons. The dressing is a warm combination of bacon fat, and vinegar used to deglaze the bacon fat and caramelization from the bottom of the pan. It's a great dish. Satisfying and yet light at the same time. The crispy crunch of the salad is matched with the...
Monday, January 05, 2004

Spice Rack Redux

Do you have an old-fashioned spice rack? You know the type I'm talking about. It looks so nice you probably put it on display. Lots of bottles, labeled and filled with herbs and spices. Sadly herbs and spices deteriorate rapidly when exposed to the sun. I know. I had spices lined up on a counter ledge. Every time I went to use them I was dismayed at how weak or faded they were. There are a couple of things you can do to boost the flavor of spices that you cook with. One thing is to buy whole spices and to grind them when you use them. You know how much better fresh ground pepper is than pre-ground pepper, right? Well if you only grind one other spice, make it nutmeg. You will be amazed at how much better it is freshly ground. I use it in spinach, with cheese dishes, in baked goods. It's quite versatile actually. The one spice you should not grind yourself is cinnamon sticks. Turns out that the cinnamon we get in sticks is not as good quality as the ground stuff. Check out...
Saturday, January 03, 2004

Lichee Garden Restaurant Review CLOSED

Certain meals you associate with certain people. Whenever I eat dim sum I think of my friend, Kristen. She and I are equally enthusiastic about eating dim sum, those little steamed and fried dumplings served with tea. Dim sum means "a little bit of heart" in Cantonese, so what better meal to associate with your best friend? We've been going together for close to 20 years now. We first went together when we were teenagers and brought our friends, then we brought our boyfriends, then our spouses and now we go with her kids. Kristen and her family have moved down to Southern California but next time she comes back up for a visit I will make a point to take her to Lichee Garden . I'm not sure how I missed this place. It's been around for over 20 years and it's frequently given high marks by reviewers. Lichee Garden is a typical Cantonese restaurant, with a bustling dim sum service and a lunch time menu of rice plates and noodle dishes. The dim sum is what I tr...
Thursday, January 01, 2004

New Year's Eve Menu

Wanna save about $100, $200 or maybe more? Stay home for New Year's eve. And Valentine's day. This also works for birthdays and anniversaries. I'm not suggesting you be a party pooper, just that you do your celebrating at home. Turn what could be loud and boisterous into intimate and romantic with a meal just for two, or four if you prefer a little more company. This isn't about a big multi-course extravaganza, in fact I suggest the opposite. Something simple, yet elegant and a bit of a splurge since you're not going out. One great menu is a seafood platter, mostly raw oysters, clams, poached shrimp, cracked crab, or if you can't handle that some takeaway sushi served with champagne will do nicely. The other idea is fondue. Don't laugh, it's really good! Make it two course and have cheese fondue followed by chocolate fondue. The secret to fondue is to thicken the wine first, heating it gently after adding a slurry of cornstarch and kirsch or wate...