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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

OTD Bush a sneak peek

You may have eaten at Slanted Door or even at Out The Door either at the Ferry Building or at San Francisco Centre, but you're going to want to try OTD Bush in the Fillmore. In addition to many of the dishes that Chef Charles Phan is famous for such as Vietnamese Spring Rolls and the Jicama and Grapefruit Salad or the Chicken Claypot, OTD Bush offers something else entirely. Breakfast! I love breakfast but let's face it, going out for breakfast in this town usually means American fare, dim sum or maybe Mexican food. Now there is something new, Vietnamese food. At a press preview I got tastes of a lot of deliciousness. Hats off to Pastry Chef Chucky Dugo for a whole bunch of sweet and savory treats to dig into. I was crazy about the crunchy-on-the-outside, fluffy-on-the-inside Beignets, Crepes with apples, Warm Banana Sticky Rice with toasted coconut and sweet and savory style pate choux pastries. The little puff pastries were still slightly eggy on the inside, just the way...
Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Judging the National Beef Cook-Off 2009

Last week I was one of the judges at the National Beef Cook-Off . It's one of the top culinary contests in the United States, held once every two years with $70,000 in prize money. It was interesting to see what contestants included in their recipes. Trendy ingredients and "superfoods" like walnuts and pomegranates made it into multiple recipes. There were familiar flavors like balsamic vinegar, chipotle and blue cheese, and more exotic ingredients like pistachios and quinoa. I tasted 15 dishes culled from about 2,000 entries. In each category there was a clear winner and a very delicious dish that anyone could make at home. Should you be interested in entering a cooking competition, the most common mistakes that contestants made were: * Under seasoning the food, some dishes really needed salt * Not paying attention to texture, some dishes were very mushy * Not having a satisfying balance of flavors--too rich or too little acid * Not cooking the beef for the r...
Monday, September 28, 2009

Why do YOU cook, Sean Timberlake & DPaul?

Photo credit: DPaul Sean and DPaul aren't just home cooks they are home canners, unafraid to take on one hundred pounds of tomatoes at a time. They are also culinary explorers, bakers, and cocktail makers, not to mention charming dinner companions. Their posts at Hedonia share a joie de vivre and a taste for all things delicious from the simplest down home barbecue to dinners at Alinea. "DPaul and I are both pretty adept in the kitchen, though we tend to do different things. When he's cooking, I'm the de facto sous chef. Unlike him, I love prepping. I find zen in the methodical and repetitious tasks in the kitchen like chopping, and really enjoy working with a knife. I also love cooking as an alchemical process. I enjoy watching flour and egg transform into cool, silky pasta, or fruit and sugar into viscous jam. It's truly magical to me."...
Friday, September 25, 2009

Peanut Butter & Banana Sandwich: Recipe

There's no getting around it. If you want to eat cheap and healthy food, peanut butter is a natural choice. I know some people can't stand the stuff, but I rather like it. What I don't really like are peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. This year during the Hunger Challenge I didn't buy any jam, but I did splurge on some bananas at about 30¢ a piece. Because they are large, I only needed a half a banana to make this sandwich. I like it open face, but you could easily slap another piece of bread on it. The good thing about eating something like this is that it's tasty, filling and nutritious, but also well under budget, allowing more money for other meals. But this like almost all my meals is starchy and while it might satiate my hunger it doesn't give me as much energy as I would like. Living on a limited budget is all about making choices. It's not terrible, but left to my own devices I might choose this sandwich no more than once a year. Last year I ...
Thursday, September 24, 2009

Carrot Salad Recipe

As I mentioned in my first Hunger Challenge post this past Sunday, carrots are a bargain. They are nutrient dense, much cheaper than salad greens and can be served so many different ways. Last year I missed eating salad during the Challenge . This year I was determined to try to come up with some kind of a budget-friendly salad and carrots came to the rescue. All my recipes last year were for one pot style meals. They are easy on the wallet but don't allow for much variety on the plate. Remember those carrot and raisin salads you ate as a child? I really didn't want to make one of those. This has more of a tangy profile than a sweet one. It's inspired by a Moroccan version that I found in Claudia Roden's The New Book of Middle Eastern Food . I'm particularly pleased with how this recipe turned out. It goes well with sandwiches and as a side dish but can also be served as a snack. I can actually imagine making this beyond the Challenge. Food isn't just a ...
Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Lentil & Potato Curry Recipe

When I saw the Lentil & Potato Curry recipe in Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian cookbook I thought it would be a budget friendly recipe. I can't seem to shake the idea that potatoes are inexpensive. The truth is, they are not. Organic potatoes, the only ones I could find at Whole Foods, were $1.49 a pound. One large potato? About a pound. But potatoes are high in Vitamin C and B6 and leaving the skin on provides good fiber so they are a good pick when it comes to nutrition. I don't know about you, but I can barely cook anything without onions and garlic. I couldn't help but notice Bittman's recipe was missing those two crucial ingredients so I added them. I was able to get away with buying a very small portion of lentils in the bulk section. Sometimes buying a larger package is more economical but in this case it wouldn't have saved me any money. Can half a cup of lentils and one potato serve two people? In this recipe it can. Lentil a...
Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Parsley Pesto Recipe

Eating on a budget is possible, but it's not exactly exciting. To be honest, despite my success with recipes I developed last year during the Hunger Challenge I didn't make any of them again after the Challenge was over. They were too plain, sad reminders of a week of limitations. My desire this year is to coax maximum flavor out of inexpensive dishes and not rely on my old standbys, bacon and parmesan cheese. The Challenge seems to be turning me into a vegan. One recipe I've been trying to rethink is pesto. In this version I replaced basil with parsley, took out the cheese and olive oil, used pumpkin seeds in place of pine nuts and used a bit of bread to give the sauce some texture. I credit cookbook author Sally Schneider with that idea. She uses a mixture of bread and water to create creamy texture that tricks you into thinking you are eating something made with oil or fat. The nice thing about this sauce is that in addition to using it on pasta, you could also serv...
Saturday, September 19, 2009

Budget Grocery Shopping Tips

Just yesterday the San Francisco Chronicle reported that unemployment has reached 12.2% in California, that's the highest it's been since 1976. That means more and more people are struggling to make ends meet. More and more people are facing hunger. I'm lucky, I've never faced hunger. I've never used food stamps or gotten food from a food bank, but for the second year in a row, I'll be participating in the Hunger Challenge sponsored by the San Francisco Food Bank. It's an opportunity to try to gain a better understanding of the challenges that come with trying to eat 3 meals a day for only $4, the typical food budget of a food stamp recipient. I've already gone shopping twice at Whole Foods , once for my own cooking and a second time with Sue Kwon of KPIX to help her as she takes on the challenge. This week I'll be sharing my experiences, tips and recipes. To kick things off, here are some of suggestions for how to save on groceries at Whole...
Thursday, September 17, 2009

Why do YOU cook, Carol Blymire?

Carol Blymire brings a new level of commitment to food blogging. You think cooking through Mastering the Art of French Cooking was impressive? That's nothing. Carol cooked her way through the French Laundry cookbook and documented it on her blog, French Laundry at Home , and is now cooking her way through Alinea at her follow-up blog, Alinea at Home . Carol shares her adventures and her food and reading how friends and neighbors react to her creations makes me feel like I'm right there with them. There's a good chance I may never cook from either of those books, but I am a vicarious observer and long-distance appreciator of every dish and every post. "I cook because I'm adopted. Stay with me; I know it might sound weird, but trust me, it's true. Study after study shows that when babies who were adopted reach adolescence and adulthood, they have greater difficulty connecting with others on an intimate, trusting level. When I was born in the late 1960s, ...
Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Visual Food Lover's Guide

The Visual Food Lover's Guide is a terrific resource that I can't stop leafing through. In fact, it has taken up residence next to my bed along with a few other treasured tomes. It has the basic information on how to buy, prepare, cook, serve and store over 1,000 types of food. It also gives you the rundown on nutritional information. It's nowhere near as personal or opinionated as Jane Grigon's Vegetable Book , but with hundreds of entries it is much more comprehensive. I really like that there's a color illustration of each item and some photos for techniques like how to make bread or pry open oyster shells. The entry for anise has an illustration of the flowering plant, star anise seeds and pods. That level of detail is what makes it so worthwhile. They've also done a great job making sure that produce and seafood from different geographic locations are included. My only complaint is that the mushroom section is a bit thin. I would have loved to have seen...
Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Why do YOU cook, Garrett McCord?

Photo credit Garrett McCord Garrett McCord is a fearless cook. He can be wildly creative at times, but mostly I am fascinated by what intrigues him and what challenges he is willing to take like making chocolate truffles with bacon or elderberry syrup . I first got hooked on his writing when he was blogging about his crazy out-of-the-box cupcake creations. His blog is Vanilla Garlic and he is also a contributor at Edible Sacramento and Simply Recipes . "These days I find my life completely consumed by work and graduate school. More than once have I had to resort shoving fast food down my craw for fuel so I can continue researching or writing. Still I do my best to find time to cook. It's a basic human practice to try and find pleasure in satisfying hunger so cooking acts as a source of joy. Cooking becomes my respite and study break. Brewing up a batch of preserves and making a batch of cookies allows me to work with my hands and exercise a different part of my brain....
Monday, September 14, 2009

Sausage & Vegetable Kebabs

I love kebabs! I don't know why eating food on a stick is so much fun, but it is. The best kebabs I ever had were in Istanbul, the meat sizzled on the outside but was juicy on the inside. Luckily kebabs are easy to make at home even for those like me, without an outdoor grill. I'm amazed at how versatile kebabs are and how they always manage to stretch whatever I'm cooking. It must have something to do with surface area and spacial relations. When food is served on a stick, it just seems like there is more of it. Two slices of eggplant, two small zucchini and just under two Italian sausages somehow made a huge dinner for two. It also gave me the feeling of Summer, even though it was cooked and eaten indoors. When it comes to kebabs, skip the bamboo. The best kind of skewers are metal--I have two sets, flat metal which are particularly good for meat and vegetables and double pronged which are perfect for seafood. With either one you choose, the food won't slip an...
Friday, September 11, 2009

Win an Oregon Bounty Cuisintership

I just spent the past weekend in Portland, Oregon. Officially I was there to attend a wedding but my not-so-secret mission was to check out the food. I had the best French toast of my life, some very tasty pastrami , scintillating creole Cuban food and outstanding local lobster mushrooms and potato gnocchi that I can't get out of my mind. Portland is also known for artisanal brewed beer, and I am particularly fond of Willamette Valley wines, especially Pinot Noir. If you'd like to get closer to the great food, wine and drink of Oregon, there's a contest you should enter. Between now and September 18th, 2009 you can win one of seven all-expense paid "cuisinterships" to Oregon. That's roundtrip airfare, six nights lodging and $1000 cash, for a five-day, six-night apprenticeship as an Oregon chef, cheesemaker/chocolatier, craft brewer, distiller, rancher, fisherman or winemaker. Learn a bit about what makes Oregon such a fascinating culinary destination on t...
Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Why do YOU cook, Kalyn Denny?

Photo credit: Kalyn Denny Kalyn Denny of Kalyn's Kitchen is one of the most positive voices in food blogging. She started her blog with a focus on the South Beach diet , but has expanded to encompass all low-glycemic and low carb foods. Her vibrant recipes and photography are a pleasure to behold, but her passion for fresh herbs and for reaching out to food bloggers is what I admire most. This photo from her garden represents so much of what I like about Kalyn, it's home grown, fresh, straightforward yet impressive and utterly inspiring. "I suppose in the beginning, we all cook so we can eat the food. Over time though, cooking becomes more about creation and self-expression and much less about just getting fed. When you cook a lot and try to do it well, the process of cooking becomes a form of self-nurturing whereby we show love to ourselves and others. For me, tapping into that feeling is one reason cooking is so enriching. Beyond that, the challenge of cooking as...
Tuesday, September 08, 2009

EatSmart Precision Pro Digital Kitchen Scale

I use a digital kitchen scale practically every day. If you're serious about baking or developing recipes, it's a necessity. You may notice some of the more professional baking cookbooks show the weights of ingredients. It's a much more accurate way to measure than by using cups and spoons. When I develop a recipe using an ingredient like fish or chicken, I specify the weight because it makes a big difference in cooking time and also in terms of servings. For example, a salmon steak could be as small as 6 ounces or over a pound. Kitchen scales can get pretty expensive but the most recent one I tried, the EatSmart Precision Pro Digital Kitchen Scale is not expensive at all and has a lot going for it. If you are looking for a basic digital scale I would definitely recommend it. I spent about $50 for my Salter Aquatronic scale when my earlier scale, a Tanita died. It's a little more accurate for very small measurements (under one ounce) and it has a larger bed, but o...
Thursday, September 03, 2009

Why do YOU cook, Eric Gower?

Eric Gower's food excites me. His approach to cooking is creative and fresh. Like me, he loves to play with ingredients and find new and different ways to use them. Having lived in Japan, he often combines Western style techniques with Asian ingredients but also uses what's local. His passion for sharing techniques and great ingredients is infectious. He is the author of one of the most innovative cookbooks I own, The Breakaway Cook and he blogs at The Breakaway Cook . Tune in to the Mehta vs. Morimoto episode of Iron Chef America to see Eric as a judge. I probably eat out, on average, one meal a week. That means I'm cooking roughly 20 times per week, since I cook three meals a day most days. Why do I cook so much? Cooking for me is this ongoing practice of tweaks. Over the years I've tweaked my food to suit my own palate without a lot of regard for much, except what tastes great *to me.* Cooking, I think, is pure grit: if you do something three times a day, and keep a...
Wednesday, September 02, 2009

General Mills Photography Studios

At General Mills they do all their own photography on site for packaging, editorial, everything. They have a labyrinth of prop rooms, a photo lab, multiple kitchens and areas set up for photography and post production. Walking into the photo area was a hallway with photos taken by various photographers using General Mills products, just for the fun of it. I kept thinking, the photos would make great cards. Actually General Mills thought so too and gave us each a box of cards made from these fabulous photos. Here were my favorites, can you identify the General Mills product in each one? Sorry these are photos of photos, so please excuse the poor quality. I could have spent hours in the prop room or rather, rooms. Imagine every single color, size and shape pan, plate, placemat and everything in between. In a word, staggering. A huge thanks to the photographers and food stylists who set up a shoot, walking us through all the steps, the lighting, the props and the styling. I pic...

My visit to General Mills

Last week General Mills invited around 50 bloggers to come visit their corporate headquarters. I was a little wary. After all, I'm not a big consumer of packaged foods, but the lure of seeing the test kitchens and photo studio proved incentive enough, and I was in! The evening I arrived there was a welcome reception and dinner at the Mill City Museum . The museum has terrific interactive exhibits about the mill, and there was also lots of early advertising and packaging from Pillsbury and Gold Medal brands. I particularly liked seeing the ruins of the old factory and dramatic views from the observation deck, that really give you a feel for the history of the city and how important milling was. The next day bright and early,we headed to the test kitchens. They have 16 stations and test and develop 2000 recipes a year! Not all the test kitchen staff was present, but I was told they have about 15 employees. It was a dream kitchen, light and airy with huge glass windows looking ou...
Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Barbecue Style Brisket

Summer is almost over, but it's not too late to plan one more backyard barbecue. This past weekend I had some friends over for a potluck at my folks place, and the main attraction was the beef. My father recently purchased a smoker in anticipation of trying some Snake River Farms beef I had been given as a sample. I first had Snake Rive Farms beef at The French Laundry and more recently tried their burgers, both were fantastic. Wagyu beef has a higher percentage of unsaturated fat, more than any other breed and American Snake River Farms beef is free of both added hormones and antibiotic residues. It's extremely tender and flavorful. Brisket is an economical cut of beef and I was curious to see if American raised Kobe beef would be superior to conventional beef or grassfed in terms of flavor as well. Oh my. Was it ever. I don't eat beef all that often, but this is really the most rich and luxurious beef you can buy. It's a great way to indulge and tastier than stea...