Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Bread Project - In knots

The bread project returns.
In the form of pretzels.
From the Street Food cookbook.
Varieties - salt, cinnamon sugar, poppy seed, sesame seed
The verdict - while the attractiveness varied, the taste was delicious.
Here's how it went down this Sunday past:

The dough, post-rise.

Rolling it out

Getting all twisted up

The blanching

The eggwash


mmm up close

Best Day Ever

As previously mentioned, I recently celebrated a birthday. Among several lovely presents, I received this Russ & Daughters shirt...

What better way to break in this reminder of one of my favorite New York culinary spots than a walking food tour to discover new culinary favorites in San Francisco? So on the Saturday after my birthday, a slightly chilly but clear morning, Daniel and I set out to chow down. He'd done some excellent research on some of the best spots, and our plan was to eat small amounts at as many places as possible.

We began in the Inner Richmond for dim sum.

Our first stop was the Wing Lee Bakery. A tiny little dim sum joint, known for long lines and for running out of the most popular items before noon. You order at a counter, and your delicate treasures are set on a plastic tray. Although most people get food to go, there were tables in the back, so we queued up behind the diverse crowd, and made our selections - Sweet rice cake (gelatinous and sweet, not our favorite, but still good); baked pineapple bun (sweet and soft, with a crispy crust on top, pretty lovely); coriander gow (full of lots of fresh veggies); chicken shu mai (salty, a little chewy, but with a slightly crunchy give, really fantastic). Everything was really wonderful (and only set us back $4.50), but our favorite was...

The sweet rice bun - inside sticky rice and chicken, so, so yummy and satisfying. Kind of like Hawaiian musubi...

The chicken shu mai, the coriander gow, sweet rice cake, and the pineapple bun

Daniel munching on the pineapple bun

The beautiful veggies inside the coriander bun

Next we hit Good Luck Dim Sum, just down the Clement Street from Wing Lee.

A similar establishment, one waits in a long line to order at a counter. But here you record your order on a sheet of paper, much like at some sushi restaurants. Again, most people order their food to go. Here the orders are placed in pink cake boxes...

Me, checking out our options. Pink cake boxes lurking.

Here we went for chicken shu mai (for comparison's sake), steamed chicken bun, lotus bun, and a pork bun (for me). The verdict - we liked the shu mai at Wing Lee better, but these were still good. The chicken bun and the pork bun tasted almost exactly the same, meat similar to that in a shu mai - almost a meatball - but here wrapped in soft white bread. I always find this sort of bun comforting in theory, but in practice, it's always a little much. The lotus bun was sweet, filled with a sticky, brown paste, almost like a red bean bun. It was good, but we wanted to save our apetitie, so we didn't finish the whole thing. Wing Lee won the dim sum battle, but Good Luck was nothing to sneer at, and again, the whole purchase was only $4.10, including a bottle of water...

The lotus bun

Next we headed back toward the Mission. Basically journeying from East Asia to Mexico and Central America.

On our way, we stopped on Market Street, so that I could sample what Daniel had learned was some of the best el pastor (a kind of roasted/braised pork) at Taqueria El Castillito.

While I went for the el pastor taco, Daniel went vegetarian. His taco was black beans, rice, hot salsa, cilantro, onions, cheese, and guac, with a tomato slice balanced precariously on top. While he said it was delcious, it seemed like a challenge to get one's mouth around...

My el pastor taco was comparitively petite in size, but in flavor - ooh boy. This was one mean taste sensation. Topped with just cilantro and hot salsa, the meat stood out in all its slow cooked, sweet, tender, chewy glory. Knowing that we had loads of Mexican goodness ahead of us, I didn't want to finish the whole thing, but it was honestly all I could do to hold back. This thing was incredible.

We continued our journey, our feet beginning to ache by this point, and our stomachs verging on full. We decided to window shop at a couple of burrito joints on Mission and Valencia, and to save our apetite for El Metate further into the Mission.

El Metate is known for its burittos and tacos from the sea. Although the jumbo prawn burrito is supposed to be heavenly, we decided to stick to taco size snacks, wanting to make sure to spread the joy among as many establishments as possible.

Daniel had the fish taco, lightly breaded, with some simple hot salsa, and a squeeze of lime. He was very pleased...

Meanwhile I went for the next best thing to a prawn burrito - a prawn taco. Again served simply with salsa and lime, the shrimp were perfectly cooked to have that great shrimp pop when you bite them. They were really well seasoned, and as compared to the el pastor taco, this seemed like such a light bite that I ate the whole thing. (and I'll admit, a couple of really tasty tortilla chips).

Our last stop of the day was on 24th Street, and we got there right before it closed.

La Torta Gorda
has just about every kind of torta you can imagine, and they come in two sizes, each prepared on freshly baked bread, with beans and cheese. We decided to split two (don't worry, both smalls) - and we went for the carne asada and the grilled chicken - hold the cheese and the mayo. There is very little that I love more than a sandwich, except maybe a sandwich that combines the joys of a burrito with the inherent pleasures of a sandwich. And that is exactly what these tortas did. I often find carne asada too greasy to move beyond one or two bites, but this meat was so well cooked and the grease balance so perfectly maintained, that I ate my whole half (much to Daniel's chagrin). The chicken was also really moist and well-seasoned, and we gobbled that one up too.

The carne asada. Look a that good bread, the meat, the avo. Oh yum.

Daniel in chicken torta revelry.

After the tortas, we were officially sated, so we began the long walk home. By the time we had ascended the hill back to our apartment, we were exhausted. Really exhausted. Our feet were throbbing; our leg muscles ached; frankly we could barely move. I couldn't figure out what our problem was until I logged our path into G-maps pedometer. We had, over the five hours of our adventure, walked eleven miles. No wonder we were so zonked. But realizing how far we'd gone, we decided we deserved a little dessert. So we broke open the coconut butter rolls we'd purchased at a Hawaiian bakery in the Richmond.

It was soft and butter and the coconut nice and crunchy and sweet - like a tropical cinamon roll. Just what a birthday girl and her intrepid companion needed at the end of a long, hard day. The best day ever.

KT Scone Home

Sorry. That's a terrible pun. It doesn't even make sense, except that I'm heading to the East Coast (home) on Thursday. I can't wait. It's making me feel festive. So I made some scones. Vegan pumpkin cranberry to be exact. Warm with a little apricot jam on top, they were lovely. I made them even more virtuous by replacing half of the oil with applesauce. I'm a saint really.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Fast Food - Monks Kettle

Ten days ago was my birthday. I am officially very old. While I have arthritis and wrinkles and cellulite to look forward to, I am also all about celebrating the joys of old age. With age comes wisdom, and I exercised some of that wisdom on my birthday proper, knowing that I would not have it in me for a raucous celebration. I wanted something low key and cozy.

So Daniel and I walked down into the Mission and drank some beer and ate some comfort food at the gastropub cum beer bar, Monks Kettle.

It was perfect. Although we had to wait for a while, we were finally seated in a nice big booth and serviced by a knowledgeable waiter who really knew his brews. He patiently described several options and then based on what we ordered to eat and our ill-developed preferences, helped us choose a couple of beers that satisfied us thoroughly.

Perhaps even more satisfying was the grub. We split a big soft pretzel that came with little pots of stone ground mustard and a cheddar cheese sauce for dipping. So soft, so salty, so warm and fresh from the oven. So delicious, in fact, that tomorrow, I plan on making some of my own.

Then we each had a turkey burger for our main course. I know boring right? What are you an old woman watching your cholesterol or something? Well yes I am, but in this case boring and healthy wasn't boring at all (and let's be honest an enormous turkey burger on a big white bun isn't all that healthy anyway...). But it was so intensely flavorful and moist, and it had a perfect bread to meat ratio. I close my eyes just thinking about it. I ordered mine with avocado and saved some of the stone ground mustard from the pretzel to smother it with. Man it was good. I have been craving another one of these since.

But being the wizened wise one that I am, I know that if I hold out for a while longer, it will taste that much better when I go back for a second round.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Thankful it got on the table...

Two weeks ago, we enjoyed a multi-family, potluck Thanksgiving dinner at the most gorgeous house ever in Tiburon. Views of the Bay and if you leaned your head just right, the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a perfect, delicious, really pretty joyous day.

But earlier that morning, things were not looking so hot. In fact if you were to ask my mother or Daniel what I had been up to just four hours before I was peacefully sipping wine and engaging in civilized conversation, they would have described a scene involving a half dressed raging baker, devastated by the results of her toils.

I'd decided to make two desserts for the feast - one dairy, one pareve. The dairy one came from New York magazine - a deep dish pumpkin pie with walnut streusel, a cranberry jam, and cream cheese topping. I made the pie crust and the filling the day before and the walnut crumble and the cranberry jam went on Thanksgiving morning without a hitch...

Topped with walnut crumble

Pouring on the cranberries

The cream cheese topping didn't spread as smoothly, but my mom and I put our baking brains together, and came up with the notion of adding additional heavy cream to make it softer and of squeezing it on with a plastic ziplock bag instead of spreading on with a spatula.

The cream cheese spread

Problem solved. It wasn't the most beautiful dessert ever, but I had a good feeling about it. But please note that there is no picture of the complete pie. That is because it was at this point that chaos ensued. I pulled the pareve dessert out of the oven - an invented ginger pomegranate pear cake, which I planned to top with pomegranate seeds, a pomegranate glaze, and crystallized ginger bits.

As it emerged, the cake looked beautiful - just as how I'd pictured. So I ran to get dressed, and asked my mom to start making the glaze and to take the cake out of the pan. I was in the bedroom, when I heard my dear mother say to Daniel, "Oh she's going to be so mad." I took a deep breath and called out to find out what had happened. Long story short, the bottom of the cake had burnt.

The next ten minutes were not my finest. It is at this point that the aforementioned half-dressed raging baker emerged. The combination of hunger brought on by some pre-Thanksgiving fasting and the fear of arriving without a pareve dessert sent me into a tailspin.

BUT I did not throw the dessert. I did not throw it away and I did not throw it across the room. Small victories. Instead, I cut off the bottom, put big slices into a bowl and drenched it in pomegranate juice. Then I covered it tightly with Saran wrap to allow its warmth and moisture to steam it a bit until it was a kind of Indian pudding type thing.

It was a rough morning, but after a couple of glasses of wine and a delicious turkey and all the trimmings, both desserts ended up tasting just fine...

A big ole plate of dessert

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Fast Food - El Majahual

A couple of Saturdays ago, on a beautiful sunny afternoon, Daniel and I went for a long walk through the Outer Mission. And although we'd had a big brunch at Mission Beach earlier that morning, by the end of our wanderings, we were starving, so we decided to try out a Colombian/El Salvadoran hole-in-the-wall that I'd stumbled upon a few weeks prior.

The menu is a great mix of the two cuisines, and it was very difficult to choose. But ultimately we went for the following:

Chicken Tamale - this was literally the best tamale I've ever had. The corn part was sweet and moist and chewy. The chicken was melt in your mouth tender, perfectly seasoned, perfect in every way.

Chicken stewed with potatoes and cassava, rice, salad, and ripe plantain - this was Daniel's main course and in spite of my revulsion inspired by the giant plantain in the middle of his plate, I couldn't help but sample several bites of this entirely satisfying plate of comforting deliciousness. Again the chicken was perfectly cooked. The potatoes were tender and had soaked up the chickeny goodness. Even the salad, a kind of citrus cold slaw was fantastic.

Sopa de Pollo - I'm going through another soup phase, so I went simple chicken soup with veggies. Served with rice in the bowl and a homemade tortilla on the side. More perfect chicken - in this dish all white meat. Loads of fresh vegetables. A rich clear broth. And a thick, crispy on the outside, soft on the inside corn tortilla to dip in it. I was full, but I ate the whole thing.

Daniel also had a cashew fruit drink, which was too melony and sweet for my taste, but he loved it.

The food took a long time to come because it's all made to order and there were some mysteriously loud banging sounds emerging from the kitchen, but this is a homey, delicious, comforting joint, and a place that I can't wait to get back to.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Highway Fun

Because one can never have too much birthday, unless of course one happens to be one of the Berenstain Bears, I took Daniel on a mini road-trip last weekend, up Highway One into Mendocino. As is our way, the road-trip was all about stopping to look at pretty views, and stopping to eat yummy road food. A brief review of our imbibing...

First stop was in the beautiful (but on this particular day, absurdly foggy) Point Reyes. This is a locavore's paradise, with every restaurant, even the greasy spoons serving local, organic, free-range goodness. We hit up the Bovine Bakery. Daniel enjoyed a buttery, sweet, delicious sticky bun-

I nibbled throughout the day on a whole wheat, vegan apricot, raspberry scone. It sounds more virtuous than it was. It was enormous and delicious and over the day I ate the entire thing. I always tell myself that I'm sampling these baked goods so that I can teach myself to make them, but let's be honest, it's really about my overly active sweet tooth...

After a thwarted attempt to see the lighthouse at Point Reyes, we made due with lunch at Station House Cafe, taking advantage of the bounty the Northern California coast has to offer. Daniel had the halibut club and I a veggie sandwich with grilled jalapeno. Both were fresh tasting and satisfying.
Is this what they call Pea Soup fog?

We then continued our drive up, through the rain and fog, oohing and ahing at the amazing sunset that managed to make an appearance at the end of the day, before ending up in Fort Bragg, where we hit up the North Coast Brewery for dinner. A Chimayo Chicken salad (avocado, hominy, kidney beans, chicken) and some really nice minestrone for me and because it was his birthday a 100% Califonia raised Brandt burger for Daniel. We were both pleased with our meals, but the realy winner was the 4 beer sampler that I had. My favorite, the dark Belgian Style Brother Thelonious.

After an evening of bowling, we were up early the next morning, hitting up a few Fort Bragg culinary favorites before hitting the road.

We've since put together several smoked poultry sandwiches using these supplies, and I made a delicious smoked salmon scramble for dinner Monday night.

Yum, look at all that fish

Then because nothing goes better with smoked jerkey than cookies, we headed to Mendocino Cookies to pick up a sampler for a class we were going to that evening. We got peanut butter chocolate chip, cinamon sugar, hiker's delight (coconut, cranberries, chocolate chip), and ginger spice. Daniel, the peanut butter freak, responded accordingly. I couldn't get enough of the cinamon sugar. It was so soft and smushy and melt in the mouth delicious. I nursed it through the day, savoring each bite before savoring the last morsel dunked in milk when we arrived back home that evening.

Our final foodie delight of the trip was Queenie's Roadhouse Cafe in Elk. It is indeed roadside, and there is indeed a Queenie, who emerged from the kitchen halfway through our brunch to greet the local regulars. This place is amazing. Real roadhouse, greasy spoon breakfast plus rainbow flags, plus organic veggies, meat and eggs, plus vegan options. A California original.

I got the cornbeef hash and poached eggs, served with housemade whole wheat toast and organic ketchup. It was really good, but the hash was a little too intensely hashy (read greasy) for me, and so I had to limit my intake to limit my subsequent belly aching.

Daniel's dish though was a winner of the first degree - a potato, onions, hot peppers, and smoked gouda melange, served with cage free scrambled eggs. The gouda was perfectly smokey and balanced so well with the tang of the peppers and the carby goodness of the potatoes. Mmmm. We'll definitely be back the next time we're in Elk. Okay, maybe we'll go back to Elk so that we can be back.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Daniel Gets the BEST BIRTHDAY PRESENT EVER (and I don't mean the iPhone)

So in honor of Daniel's birth and the election of a new leader for this great nation, we had a little party in our new SF abode.

The focus was more on the what we were watching than on what we were eating, but a few foodie notes...

Those of the eagle-eye variety will notice the two bowls of candy perched on the arm of our couch. Daniel, who although he loves delicious candy more than the next guy will sometimes favor a joke over his palate, came up with the idea that when a state went red we would eat Airheads and when a state turned blue, we'd celebrate the Smarties they were.

With the election called early (especially in this kooky West Coast time zone), we were able to move quickly into the celebration portion of the evening. Complete with dessert and champagne.

Because he's been such a mensch of late, Daniel deserved two desserts -

A pear upside down ginger bread, recipe courtesy of Williams Sonoma:

And a three layer chocolate cake with caramel sea salt icing and a chocolate ganache, called the Sweet and Salty cake, recipe courtesy of the Red Hook bakery Baked, endorsed by Martha Stewart herself...

Please note the immense amount of butter involved in the ganache (does not include the butter that went into the caramel icing...)

Applying the caramel icing

The birthday boy applying the ganache, Ace of Cakes style

The presentation

It was a good night for two great patriots - President Elect BARAK OBAMA (I still can't believe it!) and our man Daniel.