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Saturday, December 31, 2016

All About Caviar

I’m pretty sure the first time I had caviar was at a wedding. It was years before I ate it again. I was in the lobby of an opera house in Budapest during intermission. There I encountered an incredible spread of elegant hors d'oeuvres, many topped with Russian caviar. I drank a Soviet version of Champagne and felt very posh. It left a more memorable impression than hearing Carmen sung in Hungarian! According to the dictionary, caviar is the processed salted roe of large fish, typically sturgeon. Sturgeon take 10 years to reach reproductive age and are in danger of extinction in the wild. While Russian caviar is most well-known, I’m going to focus on American caviar since it is more sustainable, readily available and less expensive. American caviar was once a huge industry. In the early 19th century caviar was harvested so heavily in the United States that sturgeon almost disappeared completely.  Recently American caviar has made a return. Today sturgeon are farmed by comp...
Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A Few Last Minute Gift Ideas

Are you still shopping? That's ok! I've got a few recommendations for things I really like. I hope you will too... 1. For the cook who has everything A torch—but not just any torch, a propane high heat Bernzomatic torch . Why? It’s way more powerful than those little dinky butane torches and it is a fun tool. I’ve been experimenting with vegetables, fish, even a crust of sugar on a slice of lemon. It’s just a way cool thing to have. It’s the perfect tool for getting the skin off peppers, cooking the best steak ever or putting the slightest char on raw fish. Maybe this is the year I make Baked Alaska! Under $50 and you can get it online but better to purchase in-store and get the propane at the same time.  2. For families and DIY enthusiasts The Global Grub tamale kit . I’ve written about this before but I’m telling you again because this is such a quality product. You will quite honestly make the best tameles of your life from this kit and you can fill them with a...
Thursday, December 08, 2016

Chinese Cookbook Reviews

I have a confession to make. I don't always test recipes from cookbooks I review or even recommend. Why? Because I don't generally follow recipes. I use cookbooks for inspiration, learning techniques or great flavor combinations. I don't get hung up on instructions because there are so many variables I can't control (stove, oven and cookware for example).  Of course when it comes to baking or cooking a cuisine I am less familiar with, I do follow the directions as closely as I can. Which brings me to three new cookbooks covering Chinese cuisine.  Many Chinese cookbooks in English focus on recipes from Chinese food as it is cooked outside of China. But three new cookbooks take a deeper dive into the regional cuisine of China. Two of the books look at all of China while the third concentrates on the cuisine of the Jiangnan region. Each book provides varying degree of context about the regions. Dong Po Pork, left to right: All Under Heaven, Land of Rice & Fish, ...
Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Grape Olive Pig book review

Author Matt Goulding is in love with Spain, and it shows. It’s where he has a home with his Spanish wife and where he has the perfect “insider/outsider” status to dig deep. A James Beard award winning food and travel writer, it’s easy to get seduced by his prose, as he covers a mix of food, people and places. He’s genuinely enthusiastic which almost always makes for a good subject and a great book.  In Grape Olive Pig , Goulding takes readers all over Spain. But it’s anything but a typical trip. In addition to stories, he uses graphics and lists to take his experience and turn it into tips for the would be traveler. In each location he tells the stories of the locals—from chefs to shepherds and a few family members too. In Salamanca it’s about processing pigs, in Valencia it’s the story of rice, in Cadiz it’s about tuna. Each story is personal, told with history and details that pull you in. It’s a new kind of travel guide packed with both plenty of practical information and yet...
Tuesday, November 29, 2016

All About Preserved Lemons

Earlier this year I received a lovely batch of lemons from Limoniera Ranch. They were so perfect I knew I wanted to preserve them. Preserved lemons are a wonderful ingredient to use in traditional Moroccan cuisine, but if you don’t cook Moroccan food very often, have no fear! They are more versatile than you might think. Making preserved lemons is more about technique than recipe. I use the general instructions from Paula Wolfert . The biggest difference is that I slice the lemons into quarters, I find them easier to squish into a Mason jar. Wolfert leaves them attached at the bottom. But beyond that, her recipe for packing them in a jar with salt and some lemon juice to cover them is pretty much perfect. But do use nice lemons, without blemishes and on the small side if possible. You can add black peppercorns or bay leaves, but I go simple just using lemons, lemon juice and kosher salt. Now when it comes to using them of course you can add to tagines, the most classic way to u...
Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Dungeness Crab Season & Giveaway!

I’ll admit it. I’m feeling a little bit crabby. Fortunately after a closure last year, this year, crab season has already opened and I can be as crabby as I like! I spoke with Chris Lam the president and CEO of Pucci Foods, a leading seafood distributor, about the season.  How’s the Dungeness crab season looking?  Crab season started out on time, looking promising, Fish and Wildlife have done the testing, and so we are quite excited, especially since it’s traditional for the holidays in the Bay Area.  We have a lot of crabs. This  year we’ve been getting heavy crabs full of meat.  How is the supply, are they sustainable? We have the supply because of sustainable programs. You are only allowed to fish for the males and a minimum size, allowing the females and juveniles to reproduce.  How long will the season last?  Into the first quarter of next year. As areas open up, in Oregon and Washington we will see even more availability after December 1.  How's the p...
Monday, November 21, 2016

East of Jerez Cocktail Recipe

Boozy and bitter. No, I’m not describing anyone in particular, but rather one of my favorite cocktails, the Negroni. The classic recipe for this cocktail is equal parts gin, sweet vermouth and Campari . While a truly perfect cocktail as is, the Negroni also lends itself beautifully to variations.  Lately I’ve become enamored of barrel aged gin, which sounds like a terrible idea but done with restraint, it’s actually terrific. You get the sharper botanicals and citrus notes but with a mellower edge. A good barrel aged gin retains freshness that is so key to gin, but picks up nuances of spice from the barrel. Watershed Distillery takes their Four Peel gin , which contains  lemon, lime, orange and grapefruit peel along with juniper, cinnamon, allspice and coriander, and they age  it in bourbon barrels for at least a year.    On a recent trip to Columbus, Ohio I met Alex Chien, one of the top bartenders in the Midwest and something of a gin aficionado. He’s also the bartender f...
Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Food Writer on a Diet

The beginning of this year I went on a diet. I know! A food writer on a diet, it sounds crazy. But I had gained a lot of weight and it had to be done. My diet is really simple and I’ve lost almost 20 pounds. A number of people have asked me how I did it, so I shared the story on my friend Dianne's blog .  When I'm dining at home, I generally follow The Day Off Diet from Dr. Oz. I do take a day off. Sometimes two days! It just depends on the week and my schedule. If I can order something on my diet at a restaurant I do, if not, I don’t sweat it.  Here’s the diet in a nutshell—Every day I try to eat two servings of complex carbohydrates, two servings of foods high in monounsaturated fatty acids (olives, avocados, nuts or seeds) and six ounces of lean protein a day. I eat all the non-starchy vegetables I want and just a little bit of olive oil.  It’s a fairly low carbohydrate diet, so I eat much smaller portions of pasta but I mix in a ton of vegetables, I eat pure...
Saturday, October 08, 2016

Mushroom & Parmigiano Pasta Recipe #WinePW

Remember the Campbell’s soup jingle, Mm Mm good? That’s kind of how I feel about Merlot. It’s velvety tannins, plum and blackberry flavor and soft character make it easy to enjoy and very popular. It’s one of the “noble grapes” of France or c├ępage noble and is used as a blending grape but also as a single varietal. It's planted all over the world and of course its character varies depending on the region. In France where it's a primary grape in Bordeaux Merlot tends to have more acidity, in Italy it can be lighter and more herbal, in the US it was so lush and delicious it led to a craze in the 90’s and the quality dropped as winemakers scrambled to plant it everywhere. It's still the second leading variety planted in California, just behind Cabernet Sauvignon. Fortunately today it's better than ever. I particularly like Merlot from California and Washington where the best examples combine the fruitiness you expect from a New World wine and yet the structure of an Ol...
Thursday, September 29, 2016

Cocoa Energy Bites Recipe & Giveaway

So I was going to review the dark chocolate coconut GFB Gluten Free Bites I received in the Must Have Box I was sent by Popsugar but I’m sharing a recipe I created of my own version instead. I’ve noticed a lot of healthy products and raw foods use dates as a sweetener. Because I have a food sensitivity to dates and can’t eat them, I sometimes adapt recipes and use prunes in place of dates.  Even if you have no issues with dates, there’s good reason to choose prunes instead. While prunes and dates are about the same in terms of iron, fiber and protein, when it comes to sugar, carbohydrates and calories, prunes are lower. Prunes are also significantly higher in antioxidants including vitamin K and vitamin A.  A  number of studies  show consumption of prunes not only helps prevent osteoporosis but actually reverses bone loss thanks to a combination of bone building calcium, magnesium, phosphorous and copper.  I’ve always loved dried fruit, it’s high in calories so I use it as on...
Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Eat Americana Restaurant Review

I've enjoyed some very special dinners lately, but it was an unpretentious lunch at Americana Grill   Eat Americana that I’m most excited to tell you about. But first, a little background. It was several years ago when I first discovered Broken Record , a restaurant in the back of a dive bar in the Excelsior, a part of the city so far off the beaten track that you have to get on the freeway to get there. The kitchen was run by James Moisey and Shane LaValley. Their food seemed like pub grub on the surface but it was so much more than that. There were burgers, sandwiches, salads and some Southern things like crawfish and grits, buttery biscuits and mac and cheese. They also served a walnut pie that I miss to this day. The food was inexpensive and sometimes a little over the top, like a burger with bacon ground into the mix, but always good.  Chef James Moisey at Americana Grill The two chefs went on to great success at Rickybobby in the lower Haight for three years. And t...
Monday, September 26, 2016

Apple Welsh Rarebit Recipe

A few years ago I received a shipment of SweeTango apples courtesy of the growers and used them to make an individual apple crisp . This year, I was contacted to be a SweetTango blog ambassador, and was also hired to create a couple of extra crunchy recipes using raw apples. One of the recipes I suggested wasn’t chosen, but I was eager to make it anyway and it turned out to be a real keeper.  The SweeTango was developed at the University of Minnesota and is cross between a sweet Honeycrisp and a tangier Zestar! apple. It’s grown in New York, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Washington, and Nova Scotia, Canada. While it’s fine to bake SweeTango apples, they are particularly good raw. In addition to being juicy and sweet with a complex flavor that’s sweet, spicy and tangy, these apples are really known for their crunch. And there’s a reason for that. The apples have cells twice the size of most other apples. How crunchy is the SweeTango? It's acutally the Guinness Book of...
Monday, September 19, 2016

Tocha Tea Review - Herb Teas

Earlier this year I was avoiding caffeine and drinking only herbal tea. Herbal tea is really a misnomer, there is no such thing. Tea is made from leaves of the tea plant, camellia sinensis . Black tea, oolong, green tea and even white tea is made from the leaves of this plant. The different styles and colors come from how it’s processed. Herbal teas are more properly tisanes, a French term coined in the 1930’s. It can contain herbs, flowers, spices or other plant material. It is generally caffeine free.  I’m always trying to find tisanes that taste like something, anything. Often they are too bland or one strong flavor like licorice or rose hip takes over. Recently I discovered two fantastic blends from a small company called Tocha Tea . They were created by Venus Tsui, who was struggling with getting enough sleep as a new mom, and turned to a book of old Chinese remedies. The teas were inspired by her experience with herbs and are packaged in biodegradable sachets so you can se...
Thursday, September 08, 2016

Hatch Green Chili Con Carne Recipe

There is chile and then there’s chili. Chiles are sometimes called peppers, but that’s not really accurate. Pepper comes from peppercorns. Confusing things even further there is chili which is short for chili powder, made from powdered chilis and chili short for chili con carne, a stew made with fresh chilies or chile powder. The reason I bring this up is that when I received a carton of freshly roasted Hatch green chiles, I set out to find a recipe for chili con carne, made with Hatch chiles and let’s just say Google and I found it rather challenging.  Mostly I found recipes for pork chili verde but a request was made for beef. Lisa over at Homesick Texan has what looks like an amazing Chile Verde Con Carne made with beef, but it has 17 ingredients, which is fine if you’re making a big batch. But if you’re making a small batch during the week, my version is much simpler with a lot fewer ingredients.  As with all chili, you should let your taste be your guide. This year...