Archive for the ‘comfort food’ Category

Marvelous Mushrooms

February 17, 2010

Regular readers may recall that every so often I get a bee in my bonnet about a particular kind of produce.

Persimmons come to mind. Brussels sprouts too. No surprise that a blog named Lettuce Eat Kale showcases a certain dark, leafy green, whether roasted or dehydrated.

Today, mushrooms get their due. Recently, I’ve become a tad obsessed with these forest favorites as they show themselves, post-rainy season, in my neck of the woods.

First, I felt compelled to make Mushroom Risotto. Compelled. So at a farmer’s market I stocked up on a big, brown bag full of crimini, shiitake, and oyster mushies. And I made a big, brown batch of risotto, its inherent creaminess offset by the earthy flavors of the three fungi.

My recipe is similar to this one, sans cream, from Simply Recipes. But I have nothing against cream, cream and I are firm friends, so I’ll definitely give Elise Bauer’s version a go. And I encourage you to, as well.

Then I read Barbara Kingsolver’s love poem to the mighty morel in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, her lyrical account of a year living off the land.  This exotic edible, which defies attempts at domestication, sells for a small fortune during its short season.

With a little local help, Kingsolver uncovers the mystery of where Molly Mooches (morels to the rest of us) pop up on her very own property and her family set out to hunt and gather this prized wild delight.  She finds a perfectly good home for them in Asparagus and Morel Bread Pudding, from Deborah Madison‘s Local Flavors (downloadable here).

Next up, the forageSF Wild Kitchen Chinese New Year dinner, where fungi was featured in not one but two of the seven courses, made up of mostly sustainable, foraged, local, wild ingredients, natch.

The communal dinner kicked off with the smoky subtlety of Black Trumpet Mushroom and Wild Radish Dumplings and ended on a high note with Ginger Candy Cap Ice Cream. The candy cap mushrooms offered a deep, rich, maple-syrup like sweetness to this delish dessert.

I know, mushroom-infused ice cream. Who knew it could be so good?

Then just last week, I was wowed by the dreamy creaminess of Scott Howard’s reinvented macaroni & cheese, at his restaurant Five, in downtown Berkeley. This mac&cheese only marginally resembles the American classic mama used to make. And that’s a good thing.

Little ramekins of loveliness ooze with orzo, cream, and smoked gouda, topped with sliced, braised morels, a dollop of tomato jam, and a smattering of bread crumbs. A decadently divine dish.

Ready for a recipe?

Today’s offering, Chanterelle Pate, comes courtesy of chef Mary Kuntz, whom I met while reporting on the Sprouts Cooking Club.  Kuntz has worked in many acclaimed local restaurants and taught cooking to teens in Richmond public schools for about a dozen years.

She recently ran a four-week cooking class for Sprouts attended by Kaiser Permanente employees and their families at the Westside Cafe in Berkeley.  The mushroom pate was a big hit with her students.

For a primer on choosing, caring & cleaning mushies, whether wild or cultivated, start here.

Enjoy experimenting with these woodsy wonders.

Mary Kuntz’s Chanterelle Pate

Ingredients:

1 lb. cleaned, sliced chanterelle mushrooms

1 stick butter

3-4  finely chopped shallots

2 cloves minced garlic

½ cup finely chopped Italian parsley

2 Tablespoons chopped fresh thyme (or lemon thyme)

1-2 cups dry white wine

2 cups peeled almonds (blanch & slip skins off)

salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper

Method:

1. Sauté the sliced mushrooms, shallots, garlic, parsley and thyme in the butter in a large frying pan.

2. When tender, pour over the wine, add almonds, and simmer till most liquid is absorbed.

3. Pureé in a processor in batches, add salt and pepper to taste, and some more soft butter to make richer, if desired.

4. Place in serving terrine and sprinkle with a little more minced parsley.

5. Cover and refrigerate for at least a few hours (or overnight) to allow flavors to develop.

6. Serve with toasted baguette, dark rye bread, or wheat crackers.

Food Poisoning, Food Allergy, or Stomach Flu?

February 8, 2010

Will depart from regularly scheduled programming today to bemoan the fact that for the third time in two and a half years I have some intestinal trouble that has had me completely off food since Friday.

I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating: It’s almost impossible to write about food when you can’t keep any in your stomach. So I won’t. But I will ask you all a question: Does that seem like a lot of tummy upsets in a short amount of time?

I ask because my friend Karen, whose hubbie Jay has pinch hit for me on two of these occasions by taking my son for the day, wondered if maybe I’m allergic to something and don’t know it.

Could there be a food that’s literally making me sick?

Karen has first-hand experience: She discovered she’s allergic to lentils. Lentils! Who would have thought they’d pose a gastrointestinal hazard?  But Karen ended up in the E.R after eating lentils so they’re off her list of safe legumes she can consume.

I’ve had food poisoning before;  oysters one New Year’s in Pt. Reyes and prawns one anniversary celebration in Milan spring immediately to mind.

Food poisoning is the pits. Acute, violent, it’s like you morph into Linda Blair in The Exorcist.

The Italian incident was the worst. The then-hubbie and I had exactly the same dish but only I succumbed at 2 a.m. in the most intense way. Maybe it was The Gods getting back at me for picking a fight on what was supposed to be a special, joyous occasion. Or maybe they were just equaling the score since he got hepatitis after our honeymoon in Mexico. Who knows.

Thank goodness we’d sprung for a modern Milan hotel room with a bathroom the size of my current cottage. I spent a lot of time in there and refused to let anyone in. It was a wild scene and I didn’t want any witnesses. Then we had to make a decision whether or not I was well enough to fly home that day.

I wasn’t. But I was also terrified of being left in a land where I didn’t speak the language and feared dying of dehydration with no one the wiser, so I forced myself to get on that 12-hour flight. It was not pretty. At one point I lay on the floor in the airport terminal. Ewww.

On the plane I found myself sandwiched between a group of happy clapping Baptists — Lord help me — who were, it must be said, very sweet. When I explained my predicament, that I would not eat anything in flight and might have to dash out of my seat without any notice, they were kind and understanding. By the end of the trip one practically snarled at the flight attendant: “Don’t you get it? She’s too sick to eat. Stop offering her food.” Bless that woman.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to crawl into my own bed than I was at the end of that journey. I did not change my clothes or brush my teeth. But I did lie there moaning in relief that I had made it home with my insides still intact.

What I have right now doesn’t have the drama of food poisoning. Maybe it’s a gut bug I picked up on an overnight field trip with a group of 5th graders. I started to feel bad the evening we returned from the three-day trip, though nobody else in our group seems to have gotten sick.

Or maybe it’s something I ate at a Thai restaurant Friday night — I can’t rattle off the menu or visualize it right now because it makes me feel icky. No one else in our large party got ill, but immediately after the meal I started to endure major discomfort during a dance performance we all went to and I had to head home in a hurry.

And that proved to be me last supper, for now.

While I’m on this sorry subject, my colleague Molly Watson over at the Dinner Files recently compiled a handy list for caregivers looking after someone with a short-term, yet incapacitating, illness. Check it out.

I’d add to her list: Feeding young ones so the sick don’t have to spend any time in the kitchen. Nothing worse than having to make dinner for kids when you’re too ill to face food. My son’s dad made dinner for our boy last night and for that I’m extremely grateful.

I’ll save the $15 co-pay at my doctor’s office and solicit online opinions. What do you think I’ve got — food poisoning, a virus, or food allergy — and what do you recommend I do to find my way back to food?

Molly suggests salty crackers, which I’d forgotten about. I think I might try and make it to the corner store for a box so I have something to nibble on, if the urge strikes.

Then it’s back to bed for me. Stay well.

Seeking Comfort Foods During Season of Excess

December 28, 2009

Had too many fancy-pants dinners lately? Sick of rich desserts? Over overindulging on the eating and drinking front at holiday parties?

If I’m in Australia this time of year I start to O.D. on nibbles like taramosalata dip, champers, and triple-cream Brie. In California, it’s enough with the holiday cookies already.

So, quick question: During this season of excess consumption, what foods do you seek out to bring back balance in your diet?

For me, it’s porridge or granola, fruit, & yogurt for breakfast. Manchego cheese, rice crackers, & fuji apple for lunch. A big green salad or roasted root veggies for dinner.

What foods help you stay on track during the holidays? Do tell.

Gobble, Gobble & Gratitude

November 24, 2009

Hello peeps.  I know many of you are busy prepping for the annual American food fest, so I won’t keep you long.

First, full disclosure: I do not (heart) the holidays. And nothing announces the official start of the festive season than Thanksgiving. Well, I guess there’s also Halloween, the end of daylight savings, the beginning of cold & wet weather, but I digress.

Here’s my beef with end of year celebrations: Too much expectation and anticipation followed usually by, let’s be real here, disappointment. Throw in some cultural disconnect, a bit of family drama, a smidgen of self-diagnosed seasonal adjustment disorder, and meat-centric meals and, well, me and the holidays aren’t a good match.

But — wait — don’t go, this isn’t going to be a bummer blog post, promise.  When you have a kid in the picture you just have to get over yourself and any party pooper tendencies that set up shop in your psyche this time of year. I’ve learned ways to navigate this potentially challenging period (nothing like practice) and I’ll share some of them with you all. And recipes too! So stick around.

Think different. Who says you have to eat turkey and that weird Jell-O-canned-fruit-Cool-Whip concoction your relative brings every year?

The last TG I hosted I fed a hearty batch of Lentil Soup to six vegetarians on a cold winter’s night. An unconventional but popular choice.

Find more veggie fare for Thursday’s table at NPR’s Kitchen Window from San Francisco food blogger Nicole Spiridakis, along with gluten-free recipes for the big day by another local scribe Stephanie Stiavetti.

Pecan pie or pumpkin cheesecake not your kind of sweet note? I hear you, so try starting a new tradition for the end of the meal. This year, thanks to a prolific tree, I’m going to make the Meyer Lemon Tart  from the new My Nepenthe cookbook. (Recipe follows.)

Keep cool. If you suffer from last minuteitis, you’re likely scrambling to come up with a menu right now. Relax, you’ll find a great little guide over at Food News Journal, complete with hand-picked recipes for every course that should serve you well. I especially like the look of Brussels sprouts with buttered pecans courtesy of Gourmet (R.I.P).

Practice gratitude. Last year, my first solo TG in two decades, I received more than a dozen invites for dinner. A dozen. Now I know how the homeless feel: Everyone wants to feed you on Thanksgiving.  I attended three fun soirees — flirted with trouble at one, observed the raw anger of a recently divorced dad at a second (note to self: bitterness may be a key flavor but it does not make for good company at the dinner table), and plopped down for dessert & dish at a third. All that and dance class with my galpals, added up to a pretty stellar day in my mind. And while the food was good everywhere I went, it was the connection with friends that sustained me that day.

This year, my boy and I will visit with two families he’s known since birth.  We’ll take a hike and picnic with one, and then have a low-key meal and play highly-competitive games with the other. (Heard of the card game Spit? More fun than the name suggests and super addictive.)

The food will be good at both venues, natch; we all like to eat around here. But what’s likely to nourish me most on the day is the generosity, kindness, and friendship of the posse who have served as my surrogate family in the more than 20 years I’ve called this country home.

And that, from where I sit, makes for a Happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy.

Flickr photo by Road Fun used under the Creative Commons license.

Meyer Lemon Tart

—From My Nepenthe: Bohemian Tales of Food, Family, and Big Sur by Romney Steele

Serves 8 to 10.

Sweet Dough:

½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
4 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
Pinch salt
1 cup flour

Lemon Curd:
5 or 6 Meyer lemons (1 cup juice)
3 eggs plus 3 egg yolks
7/8 cup granulated sugar, or to taste
4 tablespoons butter

1. Beat the butter with the sugar, salt, and flour until just combined.

2. Press the dough evenly into a 9-inch round fluted tart pan.

3. Freeze the prepared tart shell for at least 30 minutes before baking.

4. Zest half the lemons (setting the zest aside), then extract the juice from all the lemons to make about 1 cup.

5. Whisk the eggs and sugar until well combined in a medium nonreactive, heatproof bowl, then whisk in the lemon juice.

6. Place the bowl over a gently simmering pot of water and whisk continuously until it begins to thicken, about 5 minutes.

7. Whisk in the butter in pieces.

8. Cook, stirring frequently, until the curd coats the back of the spoon, another 5 minutes or so.

9. Taste and adjust the sweetness, as needed.

10. Strain the curd into a separate bowl, then whisk in the zest.

11. Press a piece of plastic wrap on the surface while cooling.

12. Bake the tart shell for 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown in an oven preheated to 375°F.

13. Cool slightly, then spoon the lemon curd into the shell, spreading evenly with a spatula.

14. Bake for 7 to 10 minutes, until just set but still slightly jiggly in the middle.

15. Serve chilled with a dollop of lightly whipped cream or fresh berries.

Photo Meyer Lemon Tart: Sara Remington

Stuck in a Dinner Rut? You’ve Got Lots of Company

November 17, 2009

Fascinated by a report out of the UK (thank you Food News Journal) that reveals the average mother rotates through just nine different meals to feed her family. (Ah, why weren’t the fathers polled as well?)

And one in four make the same meals on the same day of the week.

Wow. You’d think with all the variety of food available these days, the easy access to free and interesting recipes on the Internet and wildly popular TV cooking shows we’d mix it up a bit. But, no, it seems that hectic work/life schedules, choosy children, and partners who toil outside the home for long hours mean that mealtimes get overlooked and we fall back on favorite foods we know and love.

The poll of 4,000 Brits conducted by a food product company found that the nine most repeated meals are:

1. Spaghetti Bolognese

2. Roast Dinner

3. Shepherds Pie/Cottage Pie

4. Pasta

5. Meat and two veg (hello 1960s!)

6. Pizza

7. Casserole/Stew

8. Sausages and Chips/Mash

9. Indian/Curry

Truth be told, allowing for regional and dietary differences, I’m probably equally guilty of rotating through a limited menu list.  My family’s nine:

1. Tofu/Brown Rice/Couscous/Quinoa and veg

2. Pasta with Pesto or Pureed Veggie Sauce

3. Indian (Still tofu, rice, veg, tamarind sauce, naan & mango lassi)

4. Soup & Salad (granted, some variations on this theme)

5. Homemade Tortillas, Beans, Guacamole, Cheese

6. Japanese: (Um, tofu, rice, nori, pickled ginger, raw veg)

7. Pseudo Thai: (That would be, tofu, rice or noodles, & coconut milk)

8. Eggs (boiled, exactly seven minutes!) with toast & salad

9. Pizza (Weekend treat, Cheeseboard, she notes defensively)

Yikes! Like the mamas surveyed, when I cook for my vegetarian son I make simple meals I know he’ll eat. I don’t want to waste time or money on food he won’t try and I’m keen to make sure he gets the nutrients he needs in the small windows of time we have together. Sometimes we whip up butternut squash pot stickers or falafel and hummus but not as often as I’d like.

Since I think a lot about food, I do try to mix it up a bit, by adding different seasonings or sauces or substituting new ingredients for old standbys but I’m frankly a little embarrassed by my narrow range.

Should I be? Would you be hard pressed to come up with nine or more than nine meals you prepare for your family on a regular basis? Do you have your own standing list or do you make a point of experimenting each week and adding something new in the mix?  Do tell.

Flickr photo by helen.2006 used under the Creative Commons license.

Book Giveaway: My Nepenthe

November 13, 2009

It’s always tricky to write about a pal’s book, you don’t want to come off sounding like a fawning friend, frankly.

So, in the case of My Nepenthe by Romney “Nani” Steele, I’m going to let others hand out the praise. Sunset describes Nani’s cookbook-cum-memoir as “a valentine to one of the most beautiful places to eat in the world.” Michael Pollan calls it “a very special book about a very special place.” And epicurious just named it the best American regional cookbook of 2009.

If you know Big Sur, home to the iconic Nepenthe restaurant, the area and the eatery need no introduction. If you’re not familiar with this small, rural California Central Coast enclave perched on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean then you should add it to your list of places to visit before you die. Really.

For 60 years Nepenthe has served comfort food with a view to locals, travelers, and tourists. And so much more: for the artists, nature lovers, spiritual seekers, writers, and wanderers who stop by, this magical spot transcends what comes out of the kitchen.

In My Nepenthe Nani, 44, a writer, chef, and food stylist, reveals the colorful back story to this family restaurant, founded by her grandparents Bill and Lolly Fassett, including the unorthodox life they lived, the eclectic boho community they cultivated, and Nani’s own foray into running Cafe Kevah as a European-style eatery with slow food sensibilities located on the same site as the “House of No Sorrow.”

romney.steele.2If you’re curious to find out more, read my Q&A with the author over at the hyper-local site Berkeleyside.

To win a copy of this visually lush book, filled with 85 restaurant recipes tweaked for the tastes of today’s home cooks, leave a comment about a special place  — and a local eatery that adds to the area’s charm. Submit your entry by 10 p.m. PST on Friday, November 20 and I’ll pick a winner from the suggestions shared below.

Update: Thanks to all who entered — you guys made me hungry for places both near and far. So many great suggestions I couldn’t decide, so I put your names into a pot (my desk is next to my kitchen) and the winner, chosen at random is: Christine, for her suggestion of the worldly Vagabond in San Diego. Congrats. an autographed copy of My Nepenthe is on its way to you. Look for another book giveaway in December.

To whet your appetite, a few recipes from the pages of My Nepenthe follow.

Pappardelle with Chanterelles

Serves 4

½ pound fresh chanterelle mushrooms
1½ tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
1 large shallot or small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 sprigs fresh thyme, stemmed
²⁄³ cup vegetable stock or water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 to 12 ounces dried pappardelle pasta or other wide pasta
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Zest of 1 lemon
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for passing

Considered gold by the culinary world, found chanterelles were a regular part of my grandmother’s Sunday night dinners and were
often featured in the Thanksgiving meal.

Gently clean the mushrooms with a dry brush. Avoid soaking in water. Trim any dry stems. Slice the mushrooms into ½-inch pieces.

Heat the oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large heavy skillet over medium high heat. Add the shallot and cook for 1 minute.

Stir in the mushrooms, garlic, and thyme and sauté until the mushrooms are browned, 3 to 5 minutes.

Ladle in the stock, season with salt and pepper, and simmer for 3 minutes, until the mushrooms are just tender. Remove from the heat.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Reserve ½ cup of the pasta water and then drain the pasta in a colander.

Add the pasta to the mushrooms in the skillet along with the remaining 2 tablespoons of the butter.

Cook over moderately high heat, tossing the pasta to coat and adding pasta water to moisten if needed, until thoroughly coated.

Stir in the parsley and lemon zest.

Divide the pasta among 4 warm plates and sprinkle with the Parmesan. Pass additional Parmesan separately.

Chopped Salad with Roquefort Dressing

Serves 4 to 6

Roquefort Dressing

2 teaspoons granulated garlic
2 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried mustard
2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
5 to 6 ounces Roquefort cheese
2/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup canola or safflower oil

Chopped Salad

2 heads romaine lettuce
1 head green leaf lettuce
4 to 6 cherry tomatoes
Freshly ground black pepper

For the dressing:

Combine the garlic, basil, oregano, mustard, pepper, sugar, and salt in a clean glass jar.

Crumble the cheese and add to the jar. Add the vinegar and oils.

Cover and shake vigorously until thoroughly combined. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.

You will have more than enough dressing; refrigerate any extra.

For the salad:

Wash and thoroughly dry the lettuces, trimming the ends and discarding any bruised leaves.

Tear into bite-size pieces and place in individual chilled bowls. Top with the desired amount of dressing, making sure each salad has
plenty of blue cheese chunks. Add the cherry tomatoes and grind black pepper over the tops.

nepenthe.fabric.slice

Pumpkin Spice Cake (Bohemian Wedding Cake)

Makes 1 (9-inch) cake, serving 10 to 12

1 cup whole-wheat flour (not pastry flour)
1 cup unbleached white flour
1½ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
Pinch salt
1 cup vegetable oil
1½ cups brown sugar, firmly packed
2 eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree (about 1¾ cups)
¼ cup molasses
¾ cup raisins
½ cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

Sour Cream Frosting:

½ cup (4 ounces) cream cheese, softened
½ cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
About 2 cups confectioners’ sugar

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan, knocking out any excess flour.

For the cake:

Combine the whole-wheat flour, white flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and salt in a medium bowl.

In a large bowl: stir together the oil and brown sugar, mixing well. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Stir in the vanilla. Mix in the pumpkin puree and then the molasses.

Stir in the dry ingredients, mixing until thoroughly incorporated. Stir in the raisins and walnuts.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake about 1 hour, until a toothpick inserted  in the middle comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 15 minutes, then invert and cool completely.

For the frosting:

Mix the cream cheese, sour cream, and vanilla in a medium bowl until smooth.

Sift in the confectioners’ sugar and mix well. It should be thinner than a typical cream cheese frosting.

Place the cake on a cake plate. Spread a thin layer of frosting on top and all over the side. Freeze any leftover frosting, or reserve for muffins or cupcakes.

— All Recipes From My Nepenthe: Bohemian Tales of Food, Family, and Big Sur by Romney Steele/Andrews McMeel Publishing

Photo of Romney Steele by Doug McKechnie

What’s for Dinner? Find Answers on the Web

November 4, 2009

How many of you have found those email chain letters in your inbox asking you to share a recipe with a dozen or so others? How many of you actually respond?

I’m not entirely sure why, but I never seem to reply to these recipe requests (sorry Anne, Katherine, Ellen, et al.) and wind up feeling a bit guilty about it.

Maybe they’re too much pressure — you feel the need to cast around for the perfect dish to share with the masses. Maybe it feels too time consuming and thus goes into the to-do list, and then too much time passes or you forget…Who knows.

I suspect many of them are generated by busy working parents (mostly moms), who want help with that perennial post-work-school-pick- up-race-to-martial arts/dance class/soccer-hustle and the inevitable, ravenous question: “What’s for dinner?'” as soon as you walk in the door.

It’s hard to resist the urge to say something snippy like “What are you cooking?” or even “Who the hell knows?” but that won’t get dinner on the table. And when time is short, you’re hardly about to start browsing through your library of cookbooks for inspiration.

But what if you took a few minutes out of your day to check out a couple of online recipe resources. That sounds doable, right?

So in the spirit of sharing recipes via the ‘net (if not email) I offer web links to click to find nutritious & delicious dishes you can fix for your family in a timely fashion.

There are a zillion food sites and blogs out there. Many look gorgeous, some are very funny, lots are beautifully written. For this post I want to highlight a few that consistently offer recipes that could work on a school night when everyone is tired, time-starved, and very hungry. (Which doesn’t means these aren’t pretty, witty, and wise as well.)

No doubt you’ll have your own bookmarked recipe links you’ll want to share. Feel free.

As for those recipe exchange emails…okay, alright, already, I’ll reply…maybe there’s a blog post in what happens after I hit send.

Five Online Food Resources

Simply Recipes Elise Bauer’s six-year-old, award-winning web blog is chock full of easy-to-fix, healthy suggestions for family meals. The site is easy to navigate, the recipes easy to follow, and it’s easy on the eyes as well, with lots of lovely photos. Browse categories that meet your family’s needs, whether budget, vegetarian, or gluten free.

Try Spinach Frittata, Enchiladas, or Sauteed Swiss Chard Ribs with Cream and Pasta.

101 Cookbooks Heidi Swanson, author of Super Natural Cooking, serves up evocative images of wholesome vegetarian offerings on this much-lauded site, started as a way to work through recipes in the vast number of cookbooks Swanson had amassed at home. This blog is a snap to get around too.

Consider Lemony Chickpea Stir-fry, Broccoli Cheddar Soup, or Carrot, Dill and White Bean Salad.

Tasty Kitchen The brainchild of the hilarious blogger Ree Drummond, aka as The Pioneer Woman, a self-described spoiled city gal who left the urban life to marry a cattle man and homeschool four children, Tasty Kitchen is a recently launched site for home cooks to share their favorite recipes. Good place to park those email recipe exchanges, maybe?

Check out Pumpkin and Pear Soup, Ratatouille, and California Style Sushi Rolls.

super.cook.logoSupercook is a cool newish web tool equipped with a search engine that helps you prepare meals with the ingredients you have on hand. Just plug in what you have in your pantry, say rice and lentils, and within seconds you’ll get a recipe or maybe several from its database of 300,000 and growing. You can comment on whether you like or dislike a dish and even add your own to the mix. Another potential home for those avid recipe exchangers! Named by Time.com as one of the 50 best websites for 2009.

Will Write for Food Speaking of bests, several “best food blogs” lists are worth perusing when you’ve got a little more time to surf around to find a recipe resource that appeals. My pal Dianne Jacob over at WW4F has gathered links to five of these best ofs in one place.  The website delish also keeps a comprehensive list.

Check back for a future post when I finally put together my very own favorite foodie bloggas blogroll.

Flickr photo by dcdan used under the Creative Commons license.

San Francisco’s Street Eats Scene

October 30, 2009

magic.curry.kartOkay, so I’m a little obsessed with street food right now. First it was Oakland. Then Sydney. Last night it was time to check out the sidewalk scene in my old stomping ground San Francisco.

It was the call of the Creme Brulee Cart that beckoned me across the Bay on a night when there was no crossable bridge. (Anyway, it’s probably more authentic to show up for cart food via public transit vs. driving into town, don’t you think?)

But the venue for the street eats forum struck me as incongruous at first. I mean, The Commonwealth Club in downtown San Francisco is hardly a renegade, fly-by-night kinda operation, is it? Turns out a division of the club, Inforum, is designed to appeal to 20- and 30-somethings and spark “provocative dialogue and debate.”

Who knew? While the crowd skewed older and the discussion was thoughtful if relatively tame, it revealed some intriguing details about pavement cuisine.

Here’s what I learned:

  • Charles Phan looked into opening a street cart in Oakland, got put off by all the bureaucracy, and opened a Vietnamese restaurant on Valencia Street in San Francisco instead. Good news for devotees of Slanted Door, Out the Door, and newcomer Heaven’s Dog.
  • News accounts have focused largely on the assumption that the street food trend is booming because the economy is not and so folks are in search of cheap eats. That’s only part of the story. The street cart scene is also growing because lots of talented cooks — some professionals, some not — are un- or underemployed.  Steven Gdula, the freelance food writer behind Gobba Gobba Hey, turned to making baked goods (gobs are portable round cakes filled with cream originally from Phili and a little like a whoopie pie) because the bottom fell out of the media biz.  The man behind the Magic Curry Kart, Brian Kimball, announced he’s being laid off today from his job as a psychotherapist.
  • There’s a mighty fine sense of community among many street cart folk. They often band together to share their goodies on the go and generate some buzz and bucks at one location and readily promote each other’s offerings. The Gobba Gobba guy started flogging a fellow cart pusher’s pickled beans in a story shared last night. (At this point in the conversation, a jar of beans emerged from the audience and was immediately passed around for a taste test.)
  • In perhaps the ultimate display of street solidarity, at the post-discussion sample fest down at 111 Minna Gallery, street vendors sported t-shirts and signs that read: Free Murat: Street Food is Not Terrorism, in support of their fallen comrade, Murat Celebi-Ariner, the vendor known on the street as Amuse Bouche, by all accounts a charming French guy who sold muffins at 24th Street BART in the morning.  Murat Celebi-Ariner, was picked up by Homeland Security’s ICE agency on a visa violation and his deportation is imminent, according to a visibly distraught Gdula, who counts Celebi-Ariner as an early supporter of his sweet street treats.
  • While not every food hawker is a master chef, some gastronomy professionals like Mission Street Food‘s Anthony Myint, clearly pride themselves on showcasing their  techniques and talents in nomadic restaurant settings. We’re talking fancy food way beyond what the typical taco truck dishes up.
  • For some gourmands on the go, it’s important to give back to the community they serve. Mission Street Food contributes all profits to programs feeding the hungry. Kimball plans on reaching out to low-income communities and disadvantaged kids.
  • It’s tough out on the street, dodging health inspectors and police (who mostly want to make sure that sidewalks aren’t blocked and who, true to stereotype, appreciate the baked goodies), dealing with permits, insurance, and health & safety concerns.
  • Without Twitter, Facebook, and food blogs, this beloved food movement probably wouldn’t have taken off so fast or grown so large. Every cart vendor on the panel was helped along, early on, by social media. The Creme Brulee guy has 8,575 Twitter followers and counting as I type.
  • This bricks-and-mortar-less business looks like it’s not going away any time soon: Each week a new cart starts making the rounds In San Francisco, says panel moderator Tamara Palmer, a contributor to SF Weekly‘s street cart coverage.
  • Sampling street eats in a crowded bar/gallery with other cart-crazed folks is a lot of fun. Loved the caramel ice-cream from relative newbie Smitten Ice Cream. The delicacy of the Brussels sprouts canape from Mission Street Food was divine. Curry and creme brulee brothers didn’t disappoint. And the Soul Cocina concoction, that a couple standing in line willingly shared with me (thanks you two fellow food lovers), sung with so many different flavors it made me happy. Exactly what was in those little paper holders? Dried lentils, puffed rice, tamarind, pickled veggies, maybe? Can anyone fill in the missing ingredients for me?

And the final take-away message for the night, words to live by: Follow your passion. Do what you’re good at. Do it well. Good things will follow.

The Sweet Dish on Sydney

October 6, 2009

Flickr photo by jcmurty used under the Creative Commons license.

When you pop in and out of your homeland once or twice a year, as I do, it’s pretty easy to pick up on trends since you last touched down.

I was in Sydney for a month this past Southern Hemisphere summer, that’s December-January for those of you who have a hard time getting your head around a Christmas spent enjoying surf, sun, and fresh seafood. In the past few days over endless cups of tea or glasses of champagne a few food themes have emerged among my Sydney circle since I was here nine months ago.

The country is wagyu beef crazy. That’s well bred marbled meat to the uninitiated. Even people who don’t normally talk food throw this term around when speaking steak. Reading glasses in snazzy frames are a necessary accessory for diners of a certain age, though a recently-returned food critic blames it on a trend towards dimly lit tables at some of Sydney’s top restaurants.

Veggie patches are sprouting along median strips, including the beach suburbs Clovelly and Coogee. And the TV sensation MasterChef Australia has taken this island nation by storm, inspiring home cooks to spring for kitchen equipment like pasta makers, hunt down obscure ingredients, or get more adventurous behind the stove.

Food fads come and go, but some dishes remain classics. Like sticky date pudding. My sister-in-law Alice whipped up this simply delicious dessert  for a recent family gathering. I’m from a large clan: 5 siblings, 14 nieces & nephews (and another on the way). Many of these young adults tower over me now; all have hearty appetites. So we shared warm sticky date pud accompanied by lashings of whipped cream, a scoop of ice cream, and generous drizzles of caramel sauce on a chilly spring evening and all was well in our corner of the world.

Sticky Date Pudding
(Adapted from Alice Henry’s recipe.)

185 grams (6.5 ounces) pitted dates, coarsely chopped
250 mls (8 ounces or one cup) of water
1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
60 grams (2 ounces) butter
2 eggs
185 grams (6.5 ounces) sugar
185 grams (6.5 ounces) self-raising flour
1/4 teaspoon vanilla essence

1. Preheat oven to 190 degrees C (375 degrees F).

2. Grease and flour a baking tin (8-inch square, 2 inch deep) or cake pan.

3. Place dates and water in a medium saucepan and cook on high heat, bring to a boil, until mix resembles jam.

4. Sir in the bicarbonate of soda. Mixture will foam. Set aside for 10 minutes to cool slightly.

5. Beat butter, sugar, and vanilla until pale and creamy.

6. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

7. Fold through dates and flour until all ingredients are well combined.

8. Spoon mixture into prepared cake pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.

Sauce:

150 grams (5 ounces) brown sugar
150 ml (5 ounces) of cream
1/2 cup butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence

1. Place all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat.

2. Cook, stirring frequently, until sauce comes to a boil.

3. Reduce heat and simmer for another couple of minutes.

4. Cut cake cut into squares or wedges. Drizzle with sauce, and serve with ice cream and/or whipped cream.

Also delish with strawberries macerated in balsamic vinegar.

Pudding photo: Alice Henry

Update: My friend on the ground, Jacqui, see comment below, shares a photo of a community garden plot she spotted sprouting in Kirribilli, on Sydney’s north side. Anyone want to chime in with the story behind this movement to grow greens in urban Oz?

kirribilli.community.garden.1

Simply Delicious

September 16, 2009

Dudley’s Rhythm & Motion dance class on Sunday. Yogurt, granola, and berries for breakfast — topped off with a fig, no less — from around the corner at the architecturally splendid Stable Cafe, once the site of the San Francisco mayor’s carriage house in the 1800s, now adding some sparkle to an otherwise scruffy stretch of Folsom Street.

It’s the simple pleasures — dancing with the same community of movers & shakers for more than two decades, sharing a healthy breakfast with a friend (Beth’s line of the day: “Don’t you just love it when you crave a food that’s good for you?”), and enjoying eating outside in some sunshine after stormy weather — that make life grand. Don’t you think?