Saturday, March 31, 2007

Off the Menu Curry Dinner

Last night I got to attend an Asia Society Off the Menu dinner, and what fun it was. This series explores favorite dishes that chefs have not been able to keep on their restaurant menus. A ticket to one of these events means you get to taste some very special dishes, no matter what the theme. My fellow Bay Area Bites blogger Thy Tran moderated a fascinating conversation between the chefs.

Each participating chef talked about curries from their home countries--India, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand and dispelled some common misconceptions.

From India, Ruta Kahate made a beef curry, and shared that beef is eaten by some Indians and that not all curries have lots of ingredients, this one used only three spices.

From Indonesia chef Daniel Sudar made a spicy goat curry called Gulai Kambing that is usually only served once a year but that he plans on putting on the menu at his soon-to-be-opened Red Lantern restaurant.

Alex Ong from Betelnut restaurant made a Nonya style Korma curry with chicken that is normally made with lamb. It was served dry, but was full of flavor. Because the word curry is derived from the Tamil word for sauce, it is commonly believed that all curries are served with sauce, but that is not necessarily true.

One special chef was in fact not a restaurant chef but my friend, food blogger extraordinaire, Pim. She made a curry and didn't use a curry paste. Kanom Jeen Nam-prik is a rice noodle dish with a curry sauce served with shrimp. Pim's Thai restaurant pet peeve is the way curries are served mix-and-match where customers choose the color--red, green or yellow and the meat, usually chicken, beef or pork. In Thailand much care goes into the pairing of the curry and the meat.

Each dish was strikingly different in texture and flavor showing just a sampling of the wide range of curries in a few parts of Asia. I will try to give you a head's up when the next dinner is announced as they frequently sell out.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Bargain Bank: Shop

My name is Amy and I am a bargain hunter. I recognize it is a disease and I have no power over it. If I see a bargain, I don't just buy one, I buy two, three, four or more. And now I sometimes get on the phone to call others, do they want some? So I guess this makes me something of a bargain pimp.

We have a little joke in our household. I say "I'm going to the bank" and Lee says "Going to the Bargain Bank?" Well, he's right. The Bargain Bank is right across the street from the actual bank, so how can I not go? Every single day there is new stuff that I want to check out. I don't actually buy stuff everyday. As all bargain hunters know, vigilance is key because you never know when or where you will find your next treasure.

The Bargain Bank often has a good selection of gourmet products. Sometimes products are frighteningly near an expiration date, but not always. Some of my most impressive finds have been white truffle honey, Scharffenberger Nibby Chocolate bars, and as of yesterday, Yellingbo Gold Extra Virgin olive oil. I tried this complex and creamy Australian olive oil at the Fancy Food Show a couple of years ago and really liked it. It got rave reviews at Saveur magazine not long after. A 500 ml bottle sells around $20, but at the Bargain Bank? $3.99! Of course, it will probably be gone today. My other prize finds yesterday were some tins of Harney & Sons iced tea bags. They are lovely and would make a nice gift but now that I have spilled the beans it will be hard to give them away. Consider this shopping tip my gift instead.

Bargain Bank
1541 Polk Street @ California
San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 345-1623

599 Clement Street @ 7th Ave
San Francisco, CA
(415) 221-4852

Mon-Fri 10:00 AM – 7:00 PM
Sat-Sun 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM

When is a bargain not really a bargain? Over at Bay Area Bites is my take on Restaurants Struggling with Sustainablity Check it out and weigh in on the debate.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Weird Fish: Restaurant Review

The latest Eat Local Challenge has been announced, and this time around the organizers are taking cost into account. It's being called the Penny Wise Eat Local Challenge. I Iook forward to seeing how everyone does in regard to their respective budgets (or guidelines) as outlined by the Department of Labor. For anyone participating here in the Bay Area, I have a suggestion. When you want to eat out, head over to Weird Fish.

Weird Fish is a fun and funky little restaurant on what I suppose you could call an up-and-coming stretch of Mission Street at 18th. I've eaten there twice and each time a line formed out the door. The restaurant serves fish but not much. On some days the fish selection is limited to maybe just tilapia and catfish. Why? They only serve sustainable, farmed fish so as to not deplete the oceans. While firmly committed to serving local produce, they also care about cost and balance sustainability with expenses. The prices are low to moderate for a seafood restaurant. Unlike many other seafood restaurants, this is a perfect place for vegetarians. All the salads and most of the vegetable dishes are tremendously satisfying and packed with flavor.

Both times I ate there I had the Fish and Chips ($11 for 3 pieces). The fish is tender and is fried in a beer batter. The chips are a combination of potato and sweet potato, not my preferred British style chips and not completely crisp like the fish, but delicious all the same. I would also order the two-bite Pete's Famous Tacos ($4) again. A special of fish cooked in banana leaves with lime slices was delicate and came with great vegetable side dishes of mashed spuds and green beans. Some other favorite dishes of mine are the Edamame Noodle Salad ($4), and the decidedly weird, but strangely addictive fried dill pickles called yoyo's. I think they used to be slices but are now long juicy and crisp, crunchy spears.

On the veggie side, I liked the hearty Little B Stack ($6), with layers of grilled sweet potato, spinach, goat cheese and marinated tofu but the red beans and plantain were a little bland for my taste. Also the desserts were hit and miss but there are plenty of other good options for dessert nearby. While there is a "suspicious fish " dish on the menu every night, there really isn't anything that weird about Weird Fish (aside from the pickles!). Because it's a very small and popular restaurant, get there early, and don't go with more than a few close friends.

Weird Fish
2193 Mission St @ 18th St
San Francisco, CA

Sun-Thu: 9am-10pm
Fri-Sat: 9am-12am

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Cooking School Daze

Have you ever daydreamed about going to culinary school? I have. While I seriously doubt I'll ever attend, I do enjoy getting a glimpse of the professional kitchen. Here are some great ways to sneak a peek for less than even a day's tuition.

Whether you want to see videos of students, techniques or great chefs, the Culinary Institute of America at has it all. The webcasts or "epi-sodes" are really addictive. I watched one, then another, then another. The chef videos are particularly good. Some highlights are a tour of the Per Se kitchen with Thomas Keller, an interview with Jacques Torres and a clay pot cooking lesson with Charles Phan. Tip: Start at the student episodes and then you can get to Channel Navigation where the technique and chef videos are.

Another great source of cooking school lessons comes from the Culinary Institute of America's ProChef program. There are a free "e-learning" classes you can take online, sponsored by different companies. They even include quizzes at the end of each unit. The Worlds of Flavor section is also terrific, my favorite? Savoring Asia.

Yesterday I got a copy of Baking Boot Camp: Five Days of Basic Training at The Culinary Institute of America and I practically devoured it in one sitting. It's written by Darra Goldstein primarily in a diary format. At the end of the book there are recipes and techniques, and tips are sprinkled throughout, but the day-by-day account of classes are surprisingly exciting in a voyeuristic kind of way. I hope there are more in this series--it's a real winner.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Cool Quesadilla Combos:Recipe

Somewhere along the line I seem to have forgotten about quesadillas. But recently a couple of factors lead to me rediscovering them and their potential. One is the Organic Whole Wheat & Corn Flour Tortillas available at Trader Joe's. Each tortilla has only one gram of fat, five grams of fiber and is high in iron. They fit into my "try to eat more whole grain foods" resolution. A little experimenting lead me to discover that the nutty flavor of whole wheat tortillas is really good with non-traditional, not-necessarily Mexican fillings.

The other bit of inspiration came from a recipe I read in Sara Foster's Casual Cooking for Grilled Shrimp and Goat Cheese Toastadas. That jumping off point lead me to create a shrimp, avocado, radicchio and goat cheese quesadilla with a drizzle of chimichurri sauce. It was truly outstanding. I know quesadillas were all the rage about five years ago, but if you haven't played around with them in a while, they are definitely worth revisiting.

Below is a list of some of my favorite filling ingredients and my tips to get you started.


bitter greens
red peppers

roast pork



bbq sauce
truffle oil
garam masala
black pepper

1. Pair up classic combinations, some suggestions:
cheddar and chutney
chicken, mango and bbq sauce
shrimp, feta and green onions
brie and pear

2. Restraint is key. Don't overstuff! For one regular sized flour tortilla, try not to add more than 1/2 cup of fillings.

3. Not every combination has to have cheese, I find leftover Indian food tastes great in a whole wheat tortilla without any cheese at all. Pesto, with or without parmesan cheese is wonderful with potatoes.

4. Use a lightly oiled non-stick pan for cooking your quesadillas and when cooking them open face, use a lid to help melt the cheese and heat up the fillings quickly. When the cheese melts, fold the quesadilla over and remove it from the pan.

5. You can also make them open-faced or tostada style. So technically they are not always "quesadillas" but, who cares?

If you'd care to share, let me know your favorite combo, the more nontraditional the better. The one in the photo? Roast pork, asparagus and Stilton.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Contest Winners

Congratulations to my chicken-smart readers. The first three to answer correctly, Sarah, Debbie and Ed have won a copy of 150 Things to Make with Roast Chicken (And 50 Ways to Roast It) courtesy of Taunton Press.

1. A four pound chicken is typically raised in six weeks with
A. 20 pounds of feed
B. 15 pounds of feed
C. 10 pounds of feed
D. 8 pounds of feed

2. In 1950 what percentage of US chickens were "free range"?
A. 50%
B. 80%
C. 90%
D. 40%

3. You shouldn't eat a chicken liver if it is which color?
A. Green
B. Red
C. Brown
D. Grey

4. Which part of a chicken has the most calories?
A. Gizzard
B. Wing
C. Breast
D. Drumstick

5. In Ancient Rome someone who said "you were raised by a hen" was
A. Insulting you
B Complimenting you
C.Teasing you
D. Annoying you

6. Swiss law requires that all chickens raised in country
A. Have access to the outdoors
B. Have milk with their cereal
C. Are fed organic feed
D. Get chocolate if they lay eggs

Over at Bay Area Bites is my post on the Steele Wine Dinner @ Luella

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

150 Things to Make with Roast Chicken: Cookbook & Contest

Back when I was working more than full-time at a design firm, Sunday was my cooking day. I always spent at least a few hours preparing for the week ahead. What did I cook? Things I could quickly freeze and reheat for dinner such as chili, spaghetti sauce, meatloaf and lasagna or I made roast chicken with vegetables.

The thing about roast chicken is, not only is it wonderful when you make it, any leftovers become the base of literally hundreds of other meals. My mainstays were chicken enchiladas, chicken stuffed crepes, chicken salad and chicken pot pie.

Over the past few years I have experimented with endless methods of roasting. I've used a vertical rack, I've split the bird and flattened it, cooked it under a brick, you name it. Lately I've been rather partial to Nigella Lawson's formula for cooking it which is 15 minutes per pound at 400 degrees plus 10 minutes or until the internal temperature hits 180 degrees. I start with the breast facing down then flip it over when it's halfway cooked. I look for the largest organic roaster I can find so I have plenty of leftovers.

Tony Rosenfeld, contributing editor at Fine Cooking magazine has just written a book called 150 Things to Make with Roast Chicken (And 50 Ways to Roast It) Rosenfeld suggests cooking two chickens at once to double the leftovers. What a great idea! This book is perfect for people who have limited time for cooking and need more ideas of what to do with leftovers. It also has plenty of techniques for you to find your own favorite way to roast a bird. Once you do, you'll never run out of ways to turn one chicken into several different meals, no matter what size your household.

I have three copies of this book to giveaway, courtesy of Taunton Press. Only one entry per person, so choose carefully! Remember, you MUST include your email to win and your mailing address must be in the United States or Canada (unless you want to pay for shipping). Just choose your answers and post them in the comments section. The first four people to correctly answer all the questions will win a copy of the book. Good luck!

1. A four pound chicken is typically raised in six weeks with
A. 20 pounds of feed
B. 15 pounds of feed
C. 10 pounds of feed
D. 8 pounds of feed

2. In 1950 what percentage of US chickens were "free range"?
A. 50%
B. 80%
C. 90%
D. 40%

3. You shouldn't eat a chicken liver if it is which color?
A. Green
B. Red
C. Brown
D. Grey

4. Which part of a chicken has the most calories?
A. Gizzard
B. Wing
C. Breast
D. Drumstick

5. In Ancient Rome someone who said "you were raised by a hen" was
A. Insulting you
B Complimenting you
C.Teasing you
D. Annoying you

6. Swiss law requires that all chickens raised in country
A. Have access to the outdoors
B. Have milk with their cereal
C. Are fed organic feed
D. Get chocolate if they lay eggs


Sunday, March 18, 2007

Princess Cake

Lee's favorite cake is a Swedish Princess cake. I get him one every year on his birthday. It's layers of fluffy genoise, smooth custard and raspberry jam all topped with whipped cream and then completely covered with a thin layer of marzipan. This cake really delights marzipan lovers, and it's the perfect Spring cake for birthdays, weddings or showers. It's colored pale green, it's creamy and light with just a little fruit flavor to it.

In San Francisco several bakeries make good Princess cake. Though it's a Swedish cake, you can get it from an Italian bakery, Victoria Pastry, a German bakery, Schubert's Bakery or a French bakery, Patisserie Delanghe. They are all delicious. I can't say I really have a favorite. Oh yeah. How could I forget? Lee's my favorite. Happy Birthday Lee!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Penne with Rapini & Italian Sausage: Recipe

I know there are other things to do with rapini but I am stuck in a happy rut. I always eat it exactly the same way. Rapini also called broccoli rabe looks like a leafy miniature broccoli and has a slight bitterness to it that marries well with the richness of Italian sausage. Toss that combination with a little onion, garlic, chili flakes and pasta and you're in business.

Broccoli rabe or rapini was something I ate in Italy, there it was blanched and then sauted in olive oil with garlic. Only in Italy it was called broccoli rape pronounced "rah-pay". But I imagine the "rape" name has not helped it much in the popularity department in the English speaking world. If you look it up in the dictionary it turns out to have even more names--rapa, raab, rappone (for big bunches I guess) Italian turnip, taitcat and turnip broccoli. In Italian rapa means turnip and broccoli means broccoli. As for the identity crisis--am I a turnip or am I broccoli? It is a relative of the turnip and yet looks more like broccoli. As far as the names goes, I think I'll stick with rapini.

In addition to being delicious, rapini is a very healthy vegetable with a high level of vitamin K in addition to vitamins A and C, calcium, folate and potassium. It is super easy to prepare and cook. You just boil it for a minute or two and voila! No stems to peel, no florets to break apart. Just don't overcook it, the texture is part of what makes it so good. Even people who don't like broccoli often like it which makes it pretty special indeed.

Penne with Rapini & Italian Sausage
serves 2 - 3 (double the recipe if you are serving more folks)

8 ounces penne (I use the "O" organic whole wheat penne from Safeway)
8 ounces, rapini or about one small bunch
8 ounces Italian sausages, about 2 links
1/2 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, chopped
pinch of red chili flakes (optional)
1/4 cup grated parmesan or peccorino cheese

In a large pot, boil water with a large pinch of salt for the pasta and to blanch the rapini.

Heat a large skillet over medium heath and into it, crumble the Italian sausage and add the onion. Cook over medium heat and after 5 minutes add the garlic. Cook until onion is translucent and sausage is cooked through. If sausage sticks to the pan, add a splash of water and scrape it upwith a wooden spoon.

Cook the rapini in the boiling water for just a minute then take out with tongs or a strainer. Bring the water up to a boil again and add the penne. Chop the rapini roughly and add it to the sausage mixture along with the chili flakes.

Combine the cooked penne and sausage mixture and add half the parmesan cheese, tossing to combine. Taste for seasonings and serve with the rest of the cheese.


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Super Natural Cooking: Cookbook

I met Heidi Swanson back in my early blogging days, almost three years ago to the day. Her blog 101 Cookbooks was and is one of the blogs that inspired me the most. She has seemingly endless creative talents; in addition to being an amazing photographer she is also a wonderful writer and recipe developer.

Sometimes people talk about how the blind have better hearing. Because Heidi is a vegetarian, I think she has a heightened senses of flavors and textures in food. She manages to coax the most out of everything she cooks.

What else sets Heidi's recipes apart from the rest? She balances health concerns with taste. In her latest book, Super Natural Cooking, she has taken on whole and natural ingredients, coming up with all sorts of mouthwatering recipes. Just flip through the book and you'll see what I mean. For example she uses beluga black lentils to top a chive goat cheese crostini and her Lime-Bathed Peanut Salad, inspired by the lime peanuts she ate in Mexico, features tomatoes, peanuts, lime juice, jalapeno, cilantro and just a bit of olive oil and salt.

The way to approach this book is to take pen and paper in hand and make yourself a list of ingredients--like quinoa, amaranth, whole wheat pastry flour, all kinds of whole grain products that you've been curious to try, and then purchase them at your local health food store. Finally pick some recipes that use in season produce like the one I picked, Farro with Green Onion Sauce, Toasted Walnuts and Asparagus and start cooking! I think you'll be as impressed with the book and the recipes as I am.

Over at Bay Area Bites is my interview with Heidi Swanson and her top local food and wine shopping picks.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Hot Chocolate Lounges

Something amazing that happens when you drink really good hot chocolate. It's like you're mainlining happiness. Maybe because it's creamy, warm and already melted, that mellowing euphoria hits you hard, harder even than when nibbling on a chocolate bar.

Needless to say, I was really thrilled to write about the hot chocolate lounge phenomenon for Epicurious in their Daily Dish section. If you think a chocolate lounge sounds like a piece of furniture, think again. Chocolate lounges or cafes are places where you can linger over any number of deluxe chocolate beverages and experience the euphoria for yourself.

Here in San Francisco we have quite a few places to choose from such as the newly opened Moonstruck Chocolate Cafe on Chestnut Street, Bittersweet Cafe on Fillmore or my personal favorite, CocoaBella on Union Street. CocoaBella serves eight different flavors of European style hot chocolate each of which is rich and thick and made with melted chocolate, not just cocoa powder.

Coincidentally last week Christopher Elbow stopped by to make some incredible hot chocolate using his hot chocolate mix as a base but blending it with ingredients like coconut milk, spices, passion fruit juice, and a mixture of citrus juices including tangerine, grapefruit and orange. I know what you're thinking, hot chocolate and orange juice? Won't it curdle and taste weird? Well, no! It tasted great. In fact I think I could drink it everyday for breakfast. When you think about it, anything that works in a chocolate confection ought to work in a hot chocolate flavor too. This is one trend I can get behind.

Over at Epicurious is my take on Chocolate Lounges I hope you'll check it out!

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Books to Give and Get

Sometimes when I review a book I keep it. Other times I give it away. Recently a couple of books that I reviewed fell into that second category.

First off a pocket version of Patricia Unterman's San Francisco Food Lover's Guide. This is the most handy guide to finding good things to eat. I've raved about earlier versions of the guide and this one is no exception. No reviewer is going to match everyones tastes perfectly, but Unterman comes pretty close.

The guide divides up recommendations by neighborhood and includes restaurants, cafes, bars, delis, markets, wine, cookware and more. Stash this slim volume in your glove compartment and you will never be at a loss for dining options ever again. While this book is not just for tourists, I couldn't help but pass my copy off to a visiting hungry eater/blogger who already used it to find the burrito of his dreams.

The other book that impressed me was Everyday Food: Great Food Fast. It's filled with 250 terrific recipes and photos to go with each and every one of them. The detailed prep and cooking times and generally short list of ingredients help to ensure success. While I gleaned some wonderful tips from this book, it is perfect for my friends, and there are several, who do not feel at home in the kitchen. If you are looking for a good gift for someone learning to cook or getting reacquainted with their kitchen, this is it.

My full review and a sample recipe from Everyday Food:Great Food Fast is up on Bay Area Bites

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Tanita Kitchen Scale: Favorite Things

I remember when I first tried a Microplane grater/zester on a lemon. I remember when I first tried cooking scrambled eggs with a silicone heat resistant spatula. I remember the first time I used a remote oven thermometer on a roast chicken. There was no going back. You put up with crappy kitchen equipment and gadgets and you don't even realize how lousy they are until you try something better. Meet my latest kitchen favorite, a digital kitchen scale--the Tanita KD-404.

I had a little kitchen scale I bought for a couple of dollars. It didn't work all that well but I'd grown accustomed to it. I never gave it a second thought. So when I was offered the chance to try out a new digital scale I figured, why not? I was not prepared to love it as much as I do.

First of all it has a wide surface meaning nothing will topple over when you try to weigh it and it's no problem to clean. It has a very clear digital display and you can easily switch between grams and ounces. It is thin, so it can be stored anywhere. It also also has a capacity of over six pounds. No more fussing over metric recipes, no more tipping over scale basket and no more dividing batches of ingredients because my old scale maxed out at one pound. Tanita makes larger capacity scales but I'm fine with this model. The Tanita KD 404 scale costs just under $50.

UPDATE: This scale died after a while and I found it hard to read when I had larger volumes to measure.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

This week three sweet treat posts caught my eye. I hope they don't make you crave frozen yogurt, fresh mangoes and doughnuts, but if they do, take comfort. You are in good company.

First Lulu loved Manhattan, then London, and now Bombay. Who can blame her when mangoes are in season? Check out her gorgeous photos and post combined with descriptions of my favorite fruit. Not every trip to the market yields perfection, sometimes just a little taste of what's to come...

Jennifer has a refined palate so it's no surprise the best post about the much hyped Pinkberry comes from her at the Hungry Hendonist. She even managed to sneak in some photos. I love all things sour, including yogurt, so I can't wait to get a taste. Hey Pinkberry, how about opening up a shop in San Francisco?

All the talk of doughnuts made me end up trying some very unsatisfying ones at a new restaurant in town that I think needs a little more time to iron out the wrinkles. But the eggbeater post on doughnuts almost makes me think I should try to get over my fear of frying. In truth I just wish Shuna would make them for me.

Friday, March 2, 2007

I Want Candy! Miette Confiserie

Audiences loved the romanticized fantasy version of Paris to be found in the movie Amelie. It was saturated with color, filled with quirky personality and a timelessness that made it seem charmingly old-fashioned and modern all at once. If Amelie was a candy shop, it would be Miette Confiserie.

Imagine a shop with large apothecary jars filled with old time candies you might remember from your childhood like cinnamon red hots, sanded lemon drops, and Swedish fish. Added to the bulk candies are those little tins of foil-wrapped chocolate sardines, chocolate bars, lollipops, even packages of pop rocks. Looking for something more deluxe? There are handmade caramels, a good selection of foil-wrapped chocolates and chocolate bars and imported marzipan in addition to packages of freshly made cookies from the Miette bakery. There is also a lot of licorice if that's your vice.

The thing is, it's all as visually delicious as it is tasty. Little touches like a gum drop tree and a bouquet of chocolate roses add whimsy to an already enchanting spot. Having been there twice I just want to move in.

So what did I buy? A little of this and a little of that, some tiny mint chips, Krema Batna, Dum Dums lollipops, creamy mint sticks, sesame candies, Squirrel Nut Zippers (just because I love the name) and a colorful little French treat from L. Voisin. Perhaps even more of a treat, my little bag only cost $1.65. I might just become one of those little old ladies who carries candy in her purse...

Miette Confiserie
449 Octavia Blvd @ Hayes St
San Francisco

Monday - Saturday 11- 7
Sunday 11 - 5