Thursday, December 16, 2004

"Puff the Magic Pastry"...

... says Alton Brown. When thinking about puff pastry, "I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house down" rings in my ears. For some reason, these frozen layers of butter pastry have intimidated me. And yet, in recent months there have been a number of culinary experiences or readings that have made me want to knock out the big bad wolf with a brick, and head for the frozen section. If you need convincing, check out Heidi Swanson's Sweet Potato Pot Pie from her new cookbook Cook 1.0 , which also brings back warm, comforting memories of the pot pies at Liberty Cafe.

I was invited to a party last weekend and was asked to bring an appetizer. I rolled up my sleeves and decided to give it a shot, knowing I could fall back to the old standby of homemade hummus if it didn't turn out. With 3 types of fresh mushrooms on hand from the mushroom ladies at the Alemany Farmer's Market, I set out to create the Triple Mushroom and Leek Strudel from the Whole Foods Market Cookbook. I heeded Alton's advice: open the pastry after about 20 minutes of thawing to allow for even thawing, be sure to roll on a dry, floured surface and use a clean knife or pizza roller. I pressed the seams of the pastry together in bunches and then rolled them out to create one seamless sheet. The trouble began once I started centering the filling on the pastry - how much filling could I add but still be able to transport the strudel to the baking sheet without the bottom falling out of the strudel? The recipe produced double the amount of filling I was comfortable with.

With just two thirds the filling, and only two inches of a seam not wanting to cooperate, I put the strudel in the oven at 400degrees for 30 minutes (Alton's magic numbers). The strudel was a hit - both in appearance and taste! No one seemed to mind the rather soggy non-puffed bottom or the little seam on top with filling oozing (which I said was by design so steam could escape).

With leftover filling, the very next day, I tried again - this time letting the dough thaw even longer, and cutting it into 4 squares to bake individual turnovers. These were just as tasty, easier to work with, and I realized afterwards - a little magical.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Charmed by O Chame

Last week I was at Cody's to listen to Kermit Lynch read from his new book Inspiring Thirst. The book is a collection of essays from Lynch's wine brochures. His readings were delightful, as was the wine that he served from his own winery in France. Being so focused on food in the Bay Area I asked him, in the question and answer period following his reading, where he likes to eat in the Bay Area, perhaps places where the wine lists were exciting and interesting for him. Of all the questions of the day, this one stumped him the most. "Uh, Chez Panisse", he responded, "And um...", he hesitated, "Well Chez Panisse. That's it really. They treat us well there." The crowd was silent, waiting for more. "And well, O Chame is good."

So off we went one night this week when both of us had to be in Berkeley. O Chame is a cozy Japanese restaurant with a one page simple menu that I would liken to Japanese comfort food. We started with the seared tuna sashimi with braised leeks and horseradish, followed by 2 big steaming bowls of udon. I had the grilled rock cod with mustard greens and Nino had the roasted oyster and wakame seaweed udon. Everything was incredibly fresh and tasty.

Chez Panisse it is not, but O Chame rightly deserves its spot on the Chronicle's Top100 list.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Minako Organic

The day after Thanksgiving we had a wonderful date day. After sleeping late and having light breakfast and early lunch (both meals consisting of leftovers), we headed up to the Marin Headlands for a 2.5 hour hike up through the Miwok trail and down along the Coast Trail. The air was fresh and while the sky was not completely clear, it was beautiful out there. The hike entitled us to a short nap after which it was time to talk about dinner. There was no way in "H E double hockey sticks" that I was going to cook dinner - I was completely exhausted from cooking for 16 people and wanted to wait just one more day to deal with the turkey-drip laden roasting pan soaking in the sink. Off we went to Minako on Mission and 17th.

It was our first time there, though it often gets high ratings in local best of sushi lists. The restaurant uses organic ingredients wherever possible and the chef takes great care in the each item delivered to our table - in taste and presentation. The food was outstanding. We had 2 appetizers, though the Tofu Nato came with apologies after everything was served since the chef takes extra long to prepare this dish of fried tofu with scallions and a sweet and sour sauce. The 2 sushi rolls we ordered had extremely large, fresh pieces of fish, in order to be able to taste each flavor in the roll, we were told. The organic roasted barley tea was a perfect complement to the meal. There were 2 slight disappointments - I specifically ordered fresh salmon nigiri but received smoked salmon which had been on the menu. Also, the service wasn't as good as it could have been. Perhaps the post-Thanksgiving food coma had also taken the mother daughter team who runs the restaurant hostage.

And just so you know, we didn't have turkey for breakfast; we had pie.