Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Hole in the Bone

Maria and Markus, friends from Sweden, invited us for dinner Saturday night. They had brought oysters with homemade BBQ sauce to our recent California dinner; we knew that Sweden had lent California some top-notch foodies, and we were not disappointed.

We started with an excellent bottle of Reserve Pinot Noir from Cambria, received as part of their wine club, and some hummus and tomato/olive spreads. The main course was Osso Bucco, which translates to "hole in the bone" - braised veal shanks where the hollow portion of the bone holding the marrow is considered quite a delicacy. Served with asparagus and mashed potatoes, the veal was outstanding - tender and juicy, and matched perfectly with 2 more bottles of wine. You heard me, the four of us drank 3 full bottles of wine.

I sent M&M an email thanking them for dinner, implicitly excusing myself for drinking too much, or making a fool out of myself. I uttered a sigh of relief when Markus replied that they too "weren't exactly the snappiest couple in the neighborhood on Sunday". I realize I hardly even tasted dessert, individual lemon pudding cakes I made with Steve Ross' homegrown lemons, swallowing it almost hole so I could get home to bed.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Takara - Another Top 100

Friday night = date night!!

Off we went to Takara in Japantown, one of San Francisco's top 100 according to the Chronicle, and one we had not yet been to. The restaurant was your average, everyday Japanese restaurant with wooden tables and fish tanks in the entrance. We started with an appetizer of cold tofu with green onions and dired bonito, and Nino had the takara chirashi and I had assorted sushi. We were impressed with the fish; Nino's was a heaping mound of fresh, assorted fish atop sushi rice, a huge plated for a reasonable price ($17). My sushi was great - thick fresh pieces of albacore, salmon and yellowtail/green onion roll. We toasted another week done with some hot sake, perfect on the cool autumn evening.

Nino asked how I rated the restaurant on a scale of 1 to Ebisu. "Doesn't come close to Ebisu", I replied. I asked him if this was really a top 100, and his answer made sense - for Japanese food, this was pretty darn good and extremely competent. He finished by saying it was nothing special, leaving me to believe that this was one restaurant we might not agree with on the list.

Banana Leaf Bonanza

I met Arik for dinner at Banana Leaf, the Malaysian restaurant in Milpitas - always so nice to sit and catch up with him. I promised to flog (defn: To capture culinary adventures in a food log) our visit given we've been there half dozen times and never remember what we ordered. On this visit we had:
Gado Gado - Indonesian tofu salad with thick peanut sauce (excellent)
Roti Prata - Flatbread with curry sauce (always a good starter)
Mango Chicken - Pieces of chicken, mango and peppers in a sweet sauce (could have been tastier)
Pad Thai - Sweet and spicy sauce over noodles with thick chunks of chicken, shrimp, tofu and squid. This is one of the best pad thai's I have ever had (OK, not counting in Thailand)

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Harvest Festival Part II

Sunday Supper was the culmination of events for CUESA's Harvest Festival weekend. This $150 sit down dinner at the Ferry Building attracted 350 people for an evening of gourmet appetizers, first courses, entrees and desserts provided by Bay Area chefs. While I did toy with the idea of paying the money to attend the dinner as a guest, I decided instead to work for my dinner and help out behind the scenes in the hours leading up to the dinner.

About 25 chefs were on-site to cook and prepare for dinner. My duties included waiting for the 8 entree chefs to arrive and to help them unload into a makeshift kitchen set up with hot boxes, grills and ovens. Being a foodie in San Francisco, I couldn't help but get excited about meeting some of the top chefs in the city. OK, so "meeting" is not necessarily the right word - it's not like they said "Oh, nice to meet you Karen. Why don't you come by the restaurant and we can chat over coffee one day." But they were all very nice, and thanked me for helping them unload their cars. And it was great to put some faces to names and catch a glimpse of their personality. There was Annie Sommerville from Greens, who was a little frantic and running a little late, Johnny Alamilla from Alma, a laidback and scruffy kid, Arnold Wong from EOS and Bacar, pulling up in his Mercedes G-Class SUV, Traci des Jardins of Jardiniere who cooked in her kitchen at Mijita in the Ferry Building, Stuart Brioza from Rubicon, Joseph Manzare from Globe and Armando Paniagua from Rose Pistola. I also had the chance to "meet" Craig Stoll from Delfina and boy, did I want to tell him how much I love his food!

The highlight of the evening was joining the sit down dinner after our volunteer work was completed. Each chef cooked for 50 people so depending on where you were seated, you were served a first course from 1 chef and an entree from another chef, different that what others were served at different tables. I missed the first course due to volunteer duties but was lucky to be served Stuart Brioza's Fragrant Spiced Lamb Shoulder with Autumn Squash Dumplings and even got to taste some of Joseph Manzare's Wild Salmon with Nicoise Olives, Oven-dried Tomatoes and Rubycress Potatoes Braised with Garlic and Thyme. Everything was outstanding. I couldn't get over how tender the lamb was, and did not have the strong lamb taste, and the dumplings were perfection - doughy outsides with pureed squash sweetness inside. The entree was followed by a cheese course, and then dessert - big plates filled with little bite size pastries like Brown Sugar Pecan Bars from Farallon, Housemade Fig Newtons from Postrio, Chocolate Friands from Tartine, and Fruit Pastries from Frog Hollow Farm. I ate as many little bites as I could but I was stuffed!

All in all, the event was great - a wonderfully delicious way to raise money for CUESA's educational and market programs. I was glad to be a part of it.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Big on Brunch

There were two themes to the weekend - Harvest Festival and brunch!

Weekend brunch is not one of our rituals and more often than not you'll find us home for breakfast on Saturday and Sunday mornings, especially with the introduction of "Sunday Double Sundays" this summer. We now receive both the SF Chronicle and New York Times on Sundays and can spend the better part of the day (even some of the following week) getting through them. Breakfast usually consists of homemade waffles or eggs and Willie Bird's turkey bacon and we feel no need to go out. Except when it's a social event "Oh let's do brunch" kinda thing. Until now.

On Saturday we went to Liberty Cafe for brunch and given that this is so close to home, this event alone may reshape the way we spend our weekends. Our meal was delicious and reasonably priced. For $8, I had a huge corned beef hash with poached eggs - corned beef, potatoes and spices topped with 2 poached eggs. It was delicious, filled my beef craving and I swear I didn't need to a thing 'til dinner. Nino had the eggs benedict with avocado which he rated as pretty much on par with Bette's (if Bette's is a 10, Liberty Cafe is 9.75). Ken, who we finally got caught up with after forever, had the homemade granola and yogurt - YUM!

Sunday was brunch number 2 at Slow Club with Trace and Robert. Perhaps it was our build up of Slow Club for dinner or that this brunch followed so soon on the heels of Liberty Cafe the day before, brunch was not out of this world amazing. Each of the meals were good - the french toast, chicken rancheros and eggs, and rare tuna on greens but if given the choice between brunch and dinner, Slow Club is where to be for dinner. Anyway, that's when Sante is there!

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Harvest Festival Part I

Sip and pour, pour and sip - that was my rhythm at the Organic Wine Tasting event at the Ferry Building Friday night, kicking off a weekend of activities for Harvest Festival. I worked as a volunteer for the event and from 5-8pm sold wine tickets for $5/glass before sending wine enthusiasts to one of the wine stations in the building. There were three whites and six reds to choose from.

The Ferry Building was bustling with after-work shoppers, regular ferry commuters, CUESA supporters and general wine and food enthusiasts out to support these local events. The Ferry Building Marketplace merchants sold specially made treats to the public as they sipped and walked and talked and sipped.

In the interest of being a good saleswoman, I took it upon myself to taste as many as the organic wines that I could. Particularly memorable were:
Yorkville Cellars Sauvignon Blanc
Yorkville Cellars Petit Verdot
Yorkville Cellars Richard the Lion-Heart
Frey Vineyard
Organic Syrah
Biodynamic Cabernet Sauvignon

This was a wonderful event - fun, lively, laidback and people were in a wonderful mood on this fine Friday evening.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Nigella Lawson: Domestic Goddess?

As much as I love to cook, I have never roasted a whole chicken in the oven - until now. There have been boneless breasts and thighs all different ways and beer-butt whole chickens on the bbq but never a chicken I had to cut myself and roast in the oven. I turned to Nigella Lawson for advice and instructions figuring her Slow Roasted Garlic and Lemon Chicken, one of her top 5 most requested recipes, was bound to be a hit.

Needless to say, the chicken came out dry. Was it me? Maybe I could blame it on the great gas oven we have or maybe it was the frozen chicken I started with. The fresh lemons from the farmer's market? The cheap white wine I used? Aha, it must be the dinky roasting pan we have, one we were hoping would be replaced with a brand new roasting pan with V rack as a wedding gift. Alas, that gift is still on our Macy's bridal registry and given that Thanksgiving is coming we will be buying it ourselves.

Karen Kaushansky: Domestic Goddess? No, but hell I'm trying!

Monday, October 11, 2004

Mum would be proud

Asparagus and Wild Mushroom Pappardelle
Steamed Crab

I grew up hating mushrooms. The raw white button cardboard mushrooms could be found in salads and when cooked, their slimy texture overpowered any taste that may have existed. Growing up in Montreal, this is all I knew about mushrooms.

More recently, my eyes have been opened to whole new realm of mushrooms. In part I credit Moto when he used dried porcinis in a homemade tomato sauce that gave the dish such an earthy intense flavor. I was hooked. Next came the homemade gnocchi in fresh porcini sauce from Liberty Cafe. Not only was I hooked - I fell in love with mushrooms. Since then I've been using dried porcinis, chanterelles, and morels and fresh shitakes, brown criminis, wood ear, tree oysters, portobellas and straw mushrooms.

It is now wild mushroom season in California. At the Alemany farmer's market on Saturday we stopped at the mushroom man and picked out some criminis and tree oysters for a recipe just published on to celebrate the season. I didn't have fresh pasta and instead used gnocchi whose sweet taste balanced well with the wine based sauce.

We couldn't resist the fresh dungeness crab at the market and picked out a 1.75 pounder to steam. 10 minutes of steaming and we had sweet crab meat alongside our wild mushoom pasta and Acacia Chardonnay.

A word of advice - stay away from white button mushrooms.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Debate Party Pizza

Fig and Goat Cheese Pizza

What's a debate party without pizza? We went over to Josh and Cate's to watch the debate and whipped up the Goat Cheese/Fig/Onion pizza that Mike and Marnie made last weekend. I'm not a fan of goat cheese so I put fresh mozzarella on one and goat cheese on the other. What makes this pizza so good are the carmelized onions used instead of sauce. Make the onions as per the recipe and then top with just about anything. Thing is with this pizza - it is a party showstopper but so easy to make. The pizza was gone before Bush could once again blame Saddam for 9/11.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Slow Club - October 7

Slow Club

Date night at Slow Club! We haven't been out for dinner in a while and Sante (Slow Club's wonderful chef) told us that Thursdays are often the best nights to come in since he goes to the market Thursday morning in Marin so everything is fresh, fresh, fresh!!!

I can't say we had a quiet dinner given the noise level even on a Thursday night at the restaurant but we did have a great time and a chance to talk about life, the universe and everything. Well maybe not everything, but we did talk about Nino's possible thesis and had a serious conversation about his understanding of what he wants to do with his degree, as well as some serious thoughts on where I'm at and where I want to be.

Sante sent over his now infamous zucchini salad and gravlax with herbed cream cheese on toasted walnut levain. Gravlax is mild smoked salmon, the Swedish equivalent of Jewish lox. I really liked the mild flavor given that I often find lox too salty and overpowering but this was just right.

Nino ordered the king salmon with leeks, potatoes, and heirloom toy box tomatoes. The fish was a little tough but the leek/potato mixture quickly made up for that. I had the sturgeon with green beans, saffron roasted onions and grilled organic eggplant. I don't see sturgeon in restaurants very often; it was perfectly cooked and tasted almost sweet while the eggplants and onions were just as good as Sante told us.

One of the highlights was definitely dessert: Mascarpone Cheesecake with balsamic strawberries and whipped cream. Rich and creamy, yet so light with a crumbly cinnamon crust. This was incredible and while I eat cheesecake very rarely, this has to be one of the best I've had ever. We almost went for the warm apple walnut crisp but Sante steered us in the right direction again!!

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Gourmet Cookbook Ordered!

Gourment Cookbook

Ruth Reichl, editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine was supposed to be at Sur La Table in Berkeley last night to promote the new 1200 recipe tome The Gourmet Cookbook - recipes from 60 years of Gourmet magazine. Unfortunately she had a family emergency and John Willoughby, executive editor, filled in. This was a paid event to support Women Chef's and was a delightful evening.

There were perhaps 60 women at the event and as we filtered in we moved from station to station tasting some food and wine brought in from some Bay Area restaurants. Kermit Lynch donated some wine, Boulevard prepared bite size shrimp filled pastry, there was canapes of white bean puree on toasted baguette some topped with smoked salmon others with red peppers, a station serving soupe au pistou from Cinq restaurant and little mini cupcakes from Citizen Cake. John Willoughby was interviewed by Kim Severson, a food writer from the San Francisco Chronicle, who is in the process of moving to the NY Times! The conversation was informal and informative - Kim has a great sense of humor and ease with the audience. John was charming and fun as he talked about the 3 year process of putting the cookbook together, of the twice daily tastings, of choosing just 12 chocolate cakes down from 50 for the book, of the less than perfect yellow type for recipe titles. The audience asked questions about representing different ethnic foods, about the Thanksgiving issue and about "the lobster article".

I was glad to be a part of the event, and while I didn't buy the book at Sur La Table, I went home and ordered it from Amazon immediately.

Monday, October 04, 2004

October 2 - Pasta with Artichoke Sauce

Artichoke Heart Sauce

Greg and Laurie got us an original and delicious wedding gift - a subscription to the Connaisseur's Club at igourmet which is a monthly delivery of gourmet foods. Friday night we decided to try the Artichoke Heart Sauce and pasta from our first month's delivery. We cooked up the pasta and then after draining, poured the sauce over the pasta and voila - a quick, easy, delicious meal. The sauce was outstanding - artichoke hearts blended with some oil, herbs and salt, thick and chunky ready to cling to our al dente rigatoni. This doesn't seem like it would be too hard to make with store bought artichoke hearts however we were very content to open the can and have a gourmet meal in minutes.

October 3 - California Dinner

Mike and Marnie stayed with us for the night and they organized a California dinner at our house for their friends. Everyone was expected to bring something and there would be prizes for the best Californian dish. You were asked to write up a little something on the dish you brought and we voted after dinner for the winners.

We were 11 people in total and dinner worked out wonderfully - great company, and delicious California food, and a perfect mix of appetizers, main dishes and dessert. Here are some of the dishes we had:

  • Crab dip in sourdough bread bowl
  • California platter of raisins, olives, cheese and almonds
  • BBQ'ed oysters with homemade BBQ sauce
  • Smoky eggpland/red pepper spread
  • Goat cheese and fig pizza
  • Tri-tip
  • Sharfen Berger chocolate truffles dusted with real gold

We entered the tri-tip into the contest. These were 2 tri-tips from Costco marinated for 24 hours (48 hours is the ideal) in beer, Yoshida's Gourmet Sauce, garlic and dry mustard (optional). We BBQed the meat for a total of 19 minutes (6 minutes flip, 6 minutes flip, 5 minutes, 2 minutes). Our write up explained that these were happy California cows for the California Atkins crowd. We came in second place for best California dish, and came in first for taste!