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Sunday, December 31, 2006

First Day in Ho Chi Minh City aka Saigon

Sorry no pictures, or even any links yet. But here are some first impressions: Arriving at night the city is balmy and buzzing with motorcycles, scooters and people everywhere. But there is a calm purposefulness about it all. Everyone we meet is polite and soft-spoken. First day after a breakfast of pho with a view overlooking the Saigon river, we walk from the Hotel Majestic to the Ben Thanh market. Crossing the street to enter is a harrowing experience! You can't wait for traffic to die down because it never does. You just have to plow ahead in an act of utter faith or stupidity. The market is crammed with stalls and vendors selling everything from clothes and shoes,"madam, madam, I have your size!" to bars with just one specialty--bun noodles or banh mi or something else. Glasses of exotic looking colored drinks have noodles and polka dots and who-knows-what floating or sinking in them, all day glow colors. Tons of beautiful fresh fish and enormous prawns and lobsters,...
Friday, December 29, 2006

Off to Southeast Asia!

I'm going to Vietnam with a side trip to Cambodia. I will be gone for an entire month. I know there will be lots to write about and assuming all goes well I plan to share the details of my trip from the road, so stay tuned. It may take me a few days to get situated so in the meantime please feel free to peruse the archives, you never know what you'll find, or try a recipe in the Get Cooking! section. Every Wednesday you'll find a new post from me over at Bay Area Bites . Best wishes for a Happy New Year! FOOD...
Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Best Breakfasts in San Francisco

Why do we love going out for breakfast? I mean, logically we should prefer to laze around in pajamas and read the paper. But somehow the lure of better-than-homemade pancakes, eggs benedict, corned beef hash and the like pulls us out of the comfort of our homes in search of the first meal of the day. Everyone has their favorite breakfast places. For some, it may be proximity or hospitality that makes a place worth standing in line for. But for me, it's really all about the food. And I'm willing to head halfway across town for a breakfast that satisfies. Typically I don't review a place just on the basis of breakfast, but as a result some of my favorite places get overlooked. So here without further ado, in no particular order, are my picks for best breakfast. 1. Kate's Kitchen I've tried their lunch specialties but nothing compares to their massive pumpkin pancakes with just a touch of cornmeal. Just be sure to order a short stack I've yet to be able to ...
Monday, December 25, 2006

Raisin Bran Muffins: Recipe

Bad news. I have a hard time working my way through a box of raisin bran. I'm not really all that fond of cold cereal in the first place and as a result I often end up with stale cereal. The good news? Raisin bran makes great muffins. I find most conventional muffins are really more like cake, too light a crumb and too greasy. Otherwise muffins are a great fast food. They can also be good for you if you control the ingredients, adding fresh fruit and nuts and limiting the fat and sugar. Another good thing about this recipe is that you probably have all the ingredients on hand. As you may have noticed from other recipes on my site, this makes a small batch. I prefer small batches when it comes to baked goods. If you make a fewer muffins, you're more likely to eat them when they are still fresh. This recipe is very closely based on one I found on the Kraft foods site, but with a few twists. Raisin Bran Muffins makes 7 large muffins Ingredients 3/4 Cup flour 2 Tablesp...
Saturday, December 23, 2006

Sometimes reading a blog is like making a friend. You get to know them better every time you hang out together. And so it is with This Little Piglet . From reading Lia's blog I know she works for the Food Network and that she's eaten at some of my favorite places in Seattle and at places I'm dying to try in New York. Though she hasn't been blogging long, her recipe index reads like my to do list. There isn't one dish on it that doesn't appeal to me. I eat soup all year long, but I've got to admit it's especially appealing in Winter. So for those of you in a soup mood, check out The Gracious Bowl , a blog all about soup. Did I mention this blog features a recipe for prosciuttons? Check it out! Cooking Gadgets . Oh my, why did it take me so long to discover this guilty pleasure of a site? Cooking gadgets is filled with equal parts stuff you long for and stuff you can't help but laugh at... FOOD...
Thursday, December 21, 2006

Penzey's Spices

Look what I got! These are each spice mixes from Penzey's sent to me by a friend who knows me well. For years I have enjoyed the Penzey's catalog, which is full of information about the herbs and spices they sell and recipes to boot. But better than the catalog is actually visiting a Penzey's store, something I did for the first time this Summer on my birthday with my sister in Portland. Spice stores are wonderful places filled with endless jars and bags to tempt you. At Penzey's there isn't anything that you can't get a whiff of at the store. Walking around you experience what real fresh spices are all about. Too often spices are purchased at the supermarket where they are overpriced and not very pungent. Then we take them home where they languish until they lose all color, scent and flavor. I buy some spices from bulk bins at Rainbow Grocery , a few exotic peppers from The Occasional Gourmet , especially my favorite the hard to find Marash pepper and a R...
Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Maverick: Restaurant Review

What took me so long to try Maverick , the cozy American eatery in the Mission? I really can't say. But I like to give a restaurant plenty of time to sort out the kinks before giving it a try and if last week's dinner was any indication, kinks are pretty much nonexistent at this point. Everything we had was terrific and the servers were knowledgeable and welcoming. Eating with food bloggers and their partners means plenty of bites for sharing so I got to taste a fair selection of the menu. Fortunately portions are very large and fine for wandering forks. I ordered the venison as a main and can't remember the last time I got such a big loin rather than a few fanned slices. The black lentils were firm and nutty flavored, a nice accompaniment to the rich and sweet yet by no means gamey venison and velvety chanterelle mushrooms. The scallops were perfectly cooked and the textures of the crisp yams and fine parsnip puree provided nice bite. The fried chicken was a real pleaser,...
Sunday, December 17, 2006

Please Mocha Me Happy!

We are now well into the third annual Menu for Hope fundraising campaign. As you know, we are raising funds to support the United Nations World Food Programme . Allow me to make a little pitch for my contribution, the Mocha Me Happy! package, code #UW13 . This prize package would make the PERFECT Valentine's Day gift for a coffee and chocolate lover. It is packed with scrumptious premium brands of deliciousness--chocolate bars, French roast coffee, chocolate sauce, cocoa powder, chocolate covered coffee beans, and two wonderful books, total package is worth over $60 retail. Only two people have bid on this package so your chances of winning it are especially good! It also has a couple of special surprises in it, one of which I will reveal today, Kona Coffee Crunch marshmallows from Plush Puffs Gourmet Marshmallows . I suggest floating them in your hot chocolate, but it's entirely up to you. * Savor four Scharffenberger mocha chocolate bars * Drizzle Charlie Trott...
Friday, December 15, 2006

Brie & Bacon Fettuccine Recipe

I love the story of stone soup. I love it for all the wrong reasons. You know the story , right? The moral is that by sharing what one has, everyone eats well. But for me, I am like the greedy villagers, still amazed that soup can be made with a stone. While not quite stone soup, you might think of this as "stone pasta". A dish of plain pasta it is made better with a bit of bacon, onion and a knob of brie. The resulting dish is kind of like Spaghetti Carbonara only faster and easier, and possibly even tastier. And I love Spaghetti Carbonara! Brie has long been considered by many to be the most popular of all French cheeses. It comes from a province once called, "Brie" now called Seine-et-Marne which is not that far from Paris (and now more famous for being the site of a Disney Resort). Real brie is made from unpasteurized cow's milk but the version available in the US is made from pasteurized milk so the resulting cheese is milder and less ripe than true b...
Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Free extra virgin olive oil!

That's right. Alejandro & Martin are offering gift boxes with a selection of four different 100 ml bottles of their extra virgin olive oils for free to a select audience, you! The oils come from Spain, Greece, Italy and California. I haven't tried these oils yet but I have heard good things about them. If you want them, all you have to do is pay for shipping. Supplies are extremely limited so if you want in on this click here now . I've ordered mine and will let you know what I think once I've tried them. (by the way there is no financial incentive in this for me, I'm just sharing an offer that was made to me) SORRY THIS PROMOTION IS NOW OVER! I hope you got a chance to order these oils, mine came in the mail today. The box has a wonderful guide to tasting olive oil as well as usage suggestions. Do check out their website when you get a chance if you missed out on this offer. FOOD...

Still shopping?

Check out these deals and meals . READ MORE Over at Bay Area Bites are my reviews of two new very giftable books. Either give Infused : 100+ recipes for Infused Liqueurs and Cocktails or Michael Chiarello's Flavored Oils and Vinegars or use them to make gifts of your own! FOOD...
Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Holiday Gift Guide

Over Thanksgiving I hopped behind couches, slipped into a closet and even snuck out a backdoor. Yes, I was playing hide-and-go-seek with my not quite 5 year old niece. And every time she found me and we switched places (she'd hide, I'd seek), she'd adopt my last hiding place. While it made finding her a breeze, I kind of understood her thinking. If it's good enough for auntie Amy then it must be good enough for me. Which brings me to the topic of holiday shopping. I don't think anyone has ever had a hard time finding me a present. I am pretty clear on what I like. Often I buy what I want for myself for others, which is where my thinking is on par with that of my niece... So without further ado here are my top picks, presents I have actually given and truly, madly believe in . These are gifts that please me, but I'm betting they'll please you or someone you know too. Kitchen Gear Butter Keeper. It comes in other colors too, but isn't the orange ...
Monday, December 11, 2006

Menu for Hope/Mocha Me Happy!

Today is the launch of the third annual Menu for Hope . This time around we will be raising funds to support the United Nations World Food Programme . Food and Wine bloggers all over the world are donating prizes for you to win in a raffle. My contribution? The Mocha Me Happy! package, code #UW13 . You can find more prizes from the West Coast at Becks & Posh . Does the combination of chocolate and coffee make you buzz with happiness? Then this gift is for you! Inside you'll find edibles, drinkables and readables. Premium coffee, chocolate, chocolate sauce, cocoa, and even a couple of cookbooks will allow you to indulge your habit deliciously. This prize package is valued at over $60. * Savor four Scharffenberger mocha chocolate bars * Drizzle Charlie Trotter Bittersweet Chocolate-Kona Coffee Sauce * Stir up Schokinag Dutch Process Cocoa Powder (22/24% cocoa butter) * Sip Dark Roast coffee from Peet's , Douwe Egbert and more * Nibble Chocolate Covered Coffee Bea...
Saturday, December 09, 2006

Today is Shop Local First at Union Square and from 10 am until 5 pm there will be more than 40 participating businesses selling their wares on the square. During the day local business owners will be awarded "Most Innovative Entrepreneurs of 2006". The awards, which are sponsored by the San Francisco Mayor's Office, the SF Small Business Commission and Business Alliance for Local Living Economies will be given to five business owners, including the owners of Farmer Brown restaurant and Sellers Markets cafes and catering services. Finally, dining and shopping you can feel good about. On Sunday there are three events I plan to check out. The first is Cuisines of Southeast Asia , tasting and discussion. Thy Tran will moderate a discussion with authors James Oseland who wrote Cradle of Flavor and Andrea Nguyen who wrote Into the Vietnamese Kitchen. Since I reviewed both of those books, how could I miss it? It is from 2-3 pm at the Asian Art Museum and admission is f...
Friday, December 08, 2006

PlumpJack Cafe CLOSED

Remember how I told you I had a fantastic meal recently at PlumpJack Cafe ? Truly, this was one of my most memorable meals of 2006. Well, my review of it is up on SF Station. I can't wait to go back and hope you will get a chance to enjoy eating there too! READ MORE Check out my review of PlumpJack Cafe over at SF Station. FOOD...
Thursday, December 07, 2006

Demystifying Wine Markup

Last week I got a chance to hear a number of chefs speak at an event to promote the newly launched American Express San Francisco Dish site. In a panel discussion local chefs participating in the site including Traci Des Jardins, Laurent Manrique, Elizabeth Falkner and Daniel Patterson spoke on a variety of issues. My burning question was about what those chefs/restauranteurs consider to be a reasonable wine markup and why. I am trying to familiarize myself with wine prices and better understand markup and often find it baffling. Less expensive wines are sometimes marked up quite a bit, expensive wines less so. Sometimes the markup is 2 times retail other times 3 times, 4 times or more. The chefs agreed that as a target, 33.3 percent was reasonable. They also said that they work hard to put together interesting wine lists that complement their menus. Factored into their cost is cellaring, training, and having the right glassware. Traci Des Jardins admitted that as restaurant profi...
Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Holiday Deals and Discounts

MagsForLess is offering a year subscription to Saveur magazine for only $4.99, that's 75% off the normal subscription price of $19.99. Restaurant.com is selling their dining coupons for 50% off. Buy a $25 dining certificate for $5. Some of the local restaurants include Panta Rei, Baker Street Bistro, and Destino but there are restaurants in many locations. Use Coupon Code 73515 at checkout, offer expires 12/10. Charles Chocolates is offering a 25% discount. I love the beautiful edible chocolate boxes, the chocolate marzipan, the boxes of mixed chocolates and the wine jellies. Use coupon code HOLIDAYSALE06 at checkout, offer expires 12/15. The Cozmo Deck is back! Next year the deck has $15 discounts at many terrific places including Mamacita, Brick and Yabbies. You can get 10% off the normal $30 price (which you'll recoup after dining out just twice) by entering the code AMY07 during check out. There is also a Los Angeles version of the deck. READ MORE Over at Bay Area Bites...
Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Eggnog Pancakes: Recipe

I made eggnog from scratch once for a party, during college. It was positively amazing. It consisted of sugar, brandy, heavy cream, eggs and a pinch of nutmeg. It ought to have been called devil's nog. The stuff was pure evil! But tasty. Sadly the eggnog you buy at the store is nothing like the eggnog I made. It's not fluffy and boozy, just cloying and thick. Every year I forget this and buy a quart. So this year after my first disappointing cup I decided to cook with it instead of drinking it. For years I've seen recipes for eggnog pancakes. But when I went to make them my printer wasn't working and I was too lazy to write down the ingredients. So I made up my own version. It turned out surprisingly good. Eggnog is really not much different than a custard. You could use it in all sorts of recipes. You can make milkshakes out of it or use it in french toast, bread pudding, pot de creme, ice cream, and maybe even crepes. If you have a favorite use for leftover eggn...
Sunday, December 03, 2006

Are you ready for some more food blogs? Sure you are! Here are my latest finds. They are not all brand new, just new to me. Check them out if you haven't discovered them already. Elegant Sufficiency . Funny name (with a story behind it) but a really wonderful blog just the same. It's so much fun to discover a blogger who seems to share your same taste and approach to life. This blog has wonderful links from different countries and chefs as well. Colleen Cuisine . Have you met Colleen? She's spunky and she's sassy. I'd say she has attitude. She also eats out a lot and writes about it. If I lived in LA I would really want her to be my friend. Trini Gourmet . How about a Trinidadian food blog? This week smiling Sarina posts about what seems to be a hot ingredient of the moment, bitters. I like this site because it is truly unique and besides, we could use more Caribbean food bloggers. SpiceLines . I don't know what to say other than I like this one. It&#...
Friday, December 01, 2006

I'm Dreaming of Vietnamese Cuisine...

While the holidays are thoroughly captivating to many, I am filled with visions of Spring Rolls, not sugar plums, dancing through my head. The end of this month I will going to Vietnam and it will not be a whirlwind tour. I will be there for a whole month. I have been anticipating this trip for a very long time. Being able to take big long trips is one of the true pleasures of working as a freelancer. Originally I thought I would be exploring more of Asia, but as I did my research it seemed there was at least a month's worth of things to see and do in Vietnam. In addition to reading travel books and articles, I've been reading cookbooks. A couple in particular are really helping to give me a better background in Vietnamese cooking, ingredients and eating across the different regions of Vietnam. While many people refer to the North and South, I've learned that you can also divide the regions of the country into three, the North, Central and the South. Each region has a...