Friday, March 31, 2006

SF Day 6 & 7: Scharfenberger, Moroccan Feast & Monterey


Wednesday, thanks to John's sister, we had a car to use to go adventuring. We jumped in and headed to Berkeley with an afternoon goal of a 2:30 tour of Scharfenberger Chocolates. We started at the factory even though it was long before our tour just to make sure we could find it and then convinced ourselves to have lunch there at Cafe Cacoa. John went for the all chocolate lunch while Grace and I had quiche and a ham and gruyere pannini. He started with a bowl of Scharfenberger Mocha as big as your head. Then he proceeded on to a grilled pannini filled with chocolate, pulled from one of the factory vats. He finished off his all chocolate lunch with a triple chocolate cake that we shared. They must warm the top before it comes to the table because the smooth ganache frosting shone like patent leather. We fit in a visit to the Berkeley Bowl, which is a large, amazing produce and grocery store. I have to say I have never seen so many varieties of one thing. They must carry 20 kinds of oranges, from tiny honey tangerines and fresh mandarins, to blood oranges and red navels. We bought some citrus and some muscat grapes that taste great. I have never seen Muscat grapes in the Midwest. One of the culinary, legends of the restuarant world is in Berkely - Chez Panisse. I wish I could say I ate there but I have to save that for another day. I did a drive by though. It looks very inviting and it is across from a really great cheese store and bakery called The Cheese Board that we did venture into. The cheese case there is full of hundreds of kinds of cheese. As we stared at the cheeses, a baker came by with a hot tray of cheese baguettes, followed by some fresh from the griddle english muffins. We knew we couldn't keep any cheese cold so we settled on english muffins for the next day's breakfast and some great scones.

The factory tour was more chocolate lecture than tour. It started with an entertaining lecture on the production of chocolate, including tasting different percentages of dark chocolate and including passing around cacoa beans before and after roasting and tasting of the nibs from inside the bean. You'll have to go on the tour to get the rest of the story. We ended with a walk through the factory, and then with some chocolate tasting back in the retail store.

I really enjoyed Berkely and would like to go back and check out more of it.


We ended the day with a fabulous meal at a Moroccan restuarant called Aziza Everything we had was delicious. We met my friend Tom there. The setting is just what you would want in a Moroccan restuarant - dark walls, secluded booths. We started with beef and grape skewers, a trio of mediteranean spreads and a salad of cardoons. Cardoons are kind of like really large celery stalks, with a taste that is a cross between celery and artichokes. All the appetizers were great. For our entrees, we shared Couccous with Seasonal Vegetables and raisins and nuts, Prawn Tangine with house-made Preserved Meyer Lemons, Devils Gulch Ranch Rabbit over a parsnip puree with dried cherries. All three were excellent. The dessert menu was as tasty and intriguing as the rest. We shared 3 desserts starting with Ruby Red 3 Ways - a sorbet of grapefruit juice, brûléed house made zest jam with fresh fruit segments. It was not an inexpensive evening but it was worth every penny!


We took a road trip toMonterey to see the aquarium. The food was uneventful - lunch in the aquaium cafe, except for the garlic fries, which were a big, hot, freshly cooked pile of fries, smothered in raw garlic and chopped parsley. The aquarium was huge and fabulous. We spent many hours wandering back and forth. Just whenwe thought we had seen it all we would stumble on another exhibit.

The drive to Monterey was one of the big reasons to go and I was rewarded by seeing the artichoke crop at it's peak in fields close to Monterey. I made the mistake at not stopping at any road side stands on the way there. They were all closed on the way back. But it was quite a site to see, with the misty mountains off in the distance out one window and the ocean and dunes out the other.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

SF Day 5: Gnocchi and North Beach Pizza

Another rainy day in San Francisco did not dampen our adventurous spirit at lunchtime. On an earlier jaunt through North Beach, we had passed a restuarant that had the phrase "house of gnocchi" over the door. No one could remember the exact name though so we picked another italian place we knew the name of and met John there, luckily Figaro's, "house of gnocchi" was right across the street. We settled in to a fairly empty restuarant staffed by italians, the beautiful kind. We shared a Insalata Caprese and then our entree came. In a frozenmoment, that will now be mentioned every time we order gnocchi, John's Gnocchi Basilico came to the table, literally. The pretty italian waitress upended the entire bowl onto the table in front of him. When the replacment dish came we tucked in to some excellent gnocchi, all made fresh. One was a basil gnocchi in a creamy mushroom sauce, the other was a spinach gnocchi in a tomato sauce. We also shared a steaming bowls of mussels in a wine and cream sauce that had us asking for more bread to sop up the sauce.

We sent John back to work and wandered North Beach, stopping in at Stella's bakery for some almondina and almond with pine nuts. We wandered a little farther up Columbus to XOX Truffles. The only place I know of where you can get 20 chocolate truffles for $7! We got an assortment and since they all look alot alike, each one is a mystery bite sure to please those chocolate cravings.

We finished the evening off with watching Harry Potter and ordering in from North Beach Pizza while John had an evening out with some friends.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

SF Day 4: Quick Tropical Salmon Dinner - To Go!

I was munching on my bacon wrapped prawn salad at Scott's Seafood in Walnut Creek with Gra ce and my friend Peggy, when I found out what that I was preparing dinner for friends that evening out of my husband's malfunctioning corporate apartment kitchen. I had to decide here and now what to make so that Peggy could take us to Andronico's (think fancy schmancy grocery store) and we would take it back with us to the city via BART and trolley and 4 block walk, prepare it in that kitchen and convey over a 30 minute car trip to San Rafeal. The request for something light and low fat added to the challenge. After throwing ideas back and forth with Peggy (it doesn't hurt to have another personal chef with you!) I decided on Salmon on greens with a lime ginger dressing and tropical fruit.

The schlep back to the city was a lot longer than anticipated due to BART malfunctions so I was really glad that the butcher at Andronico's had given me a frozen gel pack to keep the food cool. Back at the apartment I chopped the mango, papaya and bagged them. I had also bought Muscat grapes and mandarin oranges in a light juice. Two bags of spring mix field greens completed the salad portion. A simple dressing of fresh lime, ginger and honey completed the dressing. We packed up and went. I broiled the salmon at the Marx's house drizzling with dressing, started on the skin side and turning over and basting again. The greens were piled on the plate, drizzled with dressing. The warm salmon were placed on top and surrounded with the tropical fruit - viola! no cooking in the apartment - and a low fat delicious dinner on the table in minutes. A Trader Joe's Key Lime pie with fresh whipped cream was an easy finish and kept with the tropical theme.

Monday, March 27, 2006

SF Day 2 & 3: Ferry Building, Gourmet Club, Golden Gate Park


Saturday morning, we did my favorite San Francisco activity. My goal was to buy the ingredients for a salad for dinner for Sunday night at John's sister. It was like being in salad heaven! And to make matters worse, my PC friend Tom involved in the decision. Every stall brought on a new idea - "look at these field greens - we could get dried fruit from that other stand and sugar some pecans and make a fig balsamic vinegrette! look over there - what about there!" The decision was clinched when we went to Tom's friend's farm stand and she let us taste some peppery arugula blossoms with a hint of flowery sweetness. It looked like a wildflower bouquet, with long stems with small forsythia like blossoms of pale yellow and brown. We ended up buying arugula blossoms and field greens planning on tossing in large pieces of crisp bacon, shards of parmesan and a meyer lemon vinaigrette. We served melted herbed chevre croutons alongside.

Grace and John and I spent quite a few minutes tasting honey at the honey stand. Each kind had its own unique flavors and characteristics. We ended up choosing the CIA honey - the hives are in the herb garden at the culinary institute - it had a very strong flavor with lots of different notes. We plan on drizzling it over fresh riccotta, along with some lime oil. This was Tom's idea. We brought it to Joan's sunday night. He piled it in the middle of a large plate, drizzled the honey and lime oil over it and then surrounded it with crackers. We also brought a Cowgirl Creamert Triple Cream Cheese caller Mt Tam and some Humboldt Fog - a creamy cheese with a ribbon of blue. The outer edge gets runny like a Brie the longer it sits out.

Saturday night was Southern Gourmet Club at the Marx's house. Southern? Doesn't sound so appealing or gourmet but oh my goodness - what a feast! Perfectly fried chicken, seasoned with onion powder, garlic powder, paaprika and cayenne then drizzled with honey! Chicken Fried Steak sandwiches on tender, buttery biscuits served with gravy alongside. Pulled pork in a sweet but mustardy sauce was especially tasty. A huge pot of Farmer's Market greens - chard, dandelion and more were served cooked up with pork fat in a big pot of "likker". A fabulous salad of frisee, beets and pears with candied walnuts may not have been too southern but no one complained. A black eyed pea salad, blue cheese mashed potoatos, cornbread speckled with bacon, served with freshly made butter and honey, and corn pudding spiked with more bacon and japepenos rounded out the menu. To top off the evening, sweet potato souffle came to the table fresh from the oven, served along with pecan pie and a lovely light coconut cream cake, layered with fruit and a whipped cream icing. Several wines were served throughout the evening and explained by Nick who had the chore of pairing wines with almost every dish containing bacon! It was a food lover's feast and Ihope to be in town for the next theme of Persian!


Sunday was a glorius sunny day. We ran through several ideas of how to spend our day but cancelled several because they ended up indoors. Finally we just hopped a cab to Golden Gate park. We were dropped off in front of the De Young and even though the stark rusty exterior was really tempting us to go in, the rare sunshine insisted we stay out. First stop was the japanese garder. The minute we walked in the gates we were attracted by the peaceful wooden builind serving japanese tea. We beat the crowds and sat at a table in the sunshine. We were served oolong and jasmine pots of tea by a lovely woman in a pink kimona, alongside a plate of japanese sesame and alond cookies and various japanese snack bits. The setting was so peaceful and sunny and beautiful, it was hard to leave but the rest of the japanese garden beckoned us. A lot is compacted in a small space but every where you look is beautifully manicured and tended as only a japanese garden can be.

The sunshine was still tempting us to stay outdoors so our next stop was the free botanical garden. Needless to say we weren't the only ones out on a beautiful sunday in San Francisco. We wander down concrete trails then veered off onto mulch paths winding through the gardens. Colorful bushes and flowers, none to be seen in the Midwest, were there to be explored, smelled and enjoyed.

We ducked into the De Young cafe for a quick lunch with promises to come back soon to check out the museum.

The evening was spent at John's sister's Joan for a fabulous family dinner. Tom and I served up the ricotta appetizer and the cheeses. Dinner was a fabulous butterflied leg of lamb, marinated and tehn grilled. The other meat was a spooky blackc tri tip. At first glance it looked like Mitch had left it on the grill for about 24 hours - the whole thing was an uninterupted solid black. Turns out it comes this way from a special marinade at the butchers. I think the only way anyone would every buy it would be on a strong recomendation because it did not look particulary appetizing. But when cut super thin, the black became just a thing edge. The meat was very tender and flavorful and with a little horseradish sauce - truly amazing! Our salad made it to the buffet with a vinaigrette of meyer lemon juice, olive oil, dijon mustard and a smidge of honey. The flowers sprinkled over the top looked really lovely and added a nice arugula bite. Joan made rosemary potatoes, lemon orzo, bread and butter and oven rosted asparagus. Dessert was a dense creamy bread pudding served with a toffee sauce and orange scented whipped cream served with dense chocolate brownies speckled with cranberries. I was temporarily distracted from dessert by cuddling my new great niece and rocking her to sleep, but I eventually gave her up and had my share. It was a fun evening with family and friends and delicious food - what more could you ask for!

Friday, March 24, 2006

SF Day 1: Bow Hun

Another great day in San Francisco. Grace and I played tourist today and walked to Fisherman's Wharf. We pondered our options for breakfast and ended up having scrambled eggs and home fries in a sourdough bowl at Boudin Bakery. The building that houses the bakery is less than a year old. The first floor has a gourmet food store and bakery and a Peet's coffee stand. You can order food there and then find an empty table inside or out to sit down and enjoy your purchase. We sat at a little table inside because of the rain (that continued all day.) Watching the overhead baskets of bread circle through the whole bakery intrigued us enough to go upstairs and take the tour. It was $3 and children were free. It starts with a typical museum display on the history of the family bakery, mirroring San Francisco's. We went through that pretty briskly, more attracted by the the bakery through the second story window. We were particularly intrigued by a baker that was measuring out flour and other ingredients into large stainless steel vats on rollers. They could roll up to a flour machine that measured an exact amount of flour into the vat, then the vat could be rolled to a kneading machine. We watched as he unhooked one vat and removed it from the kneader. He rolled it over to a railing that looked over the first floor. Using a large knife he cut off huge chunks of dough and dropped them over the railing. I assume there were gentlemen there catching the dough but we couldn't see. He then rolled the rest of the dough to a chute that shot it down to the first floor where it went into a machine that formed the dough into perfect balls. We continued our tour ending in the Tasting Room that had wonderful fresh bread, with a variety of condiments to try. We certainly got our three dollars worth. The rest of the afternoon was spent doing touristy Fisherman's Wharf activities - Ripley's Museum, Hot Fudge Sundae at Ghirardelli (get the dark chocolate hot fudge sauce!) and ended with a hot tea at Barnes & Noble and then a trip to Trader Joe's.

Friday evening we were in search of Chinese in Chinatown. With the help of Chowhound PC Tom and the Gourmet Guide to SF we ended up at a small restaurant called Bow Hun, known for it's Claypots. We ordered pot stickers and eggrolls for appetizers. Both were very tasty and fresh. They came piping hot to the table. Our entrees came next. John ordered the Bow Hun Special Clay Pot. It came to the table in a clay pot and the liquid was actually boiling. Chuncks of tender BBQ pork were floating in a bubbling brown gravy. Floating on top were delicious dumplings. Under the dumplings were cabbage and large black mushrooms, quite a flavorful dish. Grace's order came next - Prawns in lobster sauce. This was the least appetizing looking entree we got but Grace seemed to enjoy it. My entree was a seasonal special of fresh dungeness (John saw her fish the live crab out of a fish tank.) It was cooked in a scallion and ginger sauce. The whole crab came chopped up on a platter, slathered with sauce. I have to say I have never had a fresher crab. Grace and I polished off every bit. It cost around $18 and was worth every penny.

After dinner we walked to Yoogo Gelato, an asian gelato and bubble tea shop. A very patient young girl let us taste as many as we wanted. I was very proud of myself for tasting the Durian Gelato - especially after smelling it! Yikes! It had the smell of putrid eggs. It tasted very sweet and floral, with rotting egg overtones. I also tasted Black Sesame (good), Taro (very nice) and ended up with a small combo cup of Passion Fruit and Lychee. Grace got Lychee and Rose - we thought of our friend Arbi who is from Tunisia where rosewater is a common flavoring - he would have loved it. Grace really like it too.

And one of the nicest things about John's place is we could walk home. Chinatown runs into North Beach which is the Italian section. It reminded me of the transisiton between New York Chinatown and Little Italy, one minute chinese restaurants and then pasta house and cafes with outside seating. We took a very steep climb up Montgomery Street then down a really neat neighborhood street and then finally down the Filbert steps, so actually we were climbing up Telegraph Hill and then down the other side. The Filbert steps go past some really neat homes all nestled in a rain forest-like garden. I guess I thought of the rain forest because it was STILL raining! There are another set up steps, the Greenwich steps, we plan to take another day in daylight and search for the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill!

Friday, March 17, 2006

Boulevard Dinner

Boulevard Dinner

Tonight, I am preparing a dinner from the cookbook for Boulevard resturaunt in San Francisco. It has taken 2 days of prep and a trip back to the butcher to get the pork chop that I wanted.

Here is the menu:

Fried Calamari in a light basil infused batter, served with a fresh marinara sauce
bought fresh calamari from Whole foods

Warm Medjool Dates Stuffed with Goat Cheese Served over Field Greens with a Blood Orange Vinaigrette
Tweaked the vinaigrette, tasted too bitter - too much skin in the dressing. I added some of the juice from the oranges and a little sugar. Dates are from the bulk section of Whole Foods.

Cider Brined Pork Loin Chop with Cider Jus and a Braised Bacon Pomegranate Relish
Went back to Straubs because the first round of chops were to skimpy. Now, some of them are actually two bone chops with one bone cut off. They are at least 1 1/2 inches thick, if not more. I frenched them for presentation. The Pomegranate and bacon relish will really help make this special. The trick will be not onvercooking the pork.

Brussels Sprouts
shaved on the mandoline and cooked briefly with shallots and butter

Carrot Cake Triangles with Carrot Sherbert and Candied Carrots and a Warm Walnut Caramel Sauce
I don't do many desserts. This dessert was tricky. You cut the cake in half lengthwise, then cut each half into 3 layers of less than 1/4 inch. Very diffisult and not each layer perfect but it assemble allright and I think it will slice and present nicely. I thought I ruined the sauce. I added 3/4 cup more cream than the recipe called for. So I carmalized another cup of sugar and added the thin caramel mixture to that hot mixture and it worked and I saved myself a trip to the store! 9Which does not happen often.)

Warm Medjool Dates Stuffed with Goat Cheese Salad with Blood Orange Vinaigrette Recipe

Serves six

9 blood oranges
4 1/2 tablespoons light corn syrup
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 cups grape seed oil
3/4 cup pistachios
1 1/2 small head radicchio
3 cups loosely packed cleaned mizuna
3 cups loosely packed cleaned arugula
3 cups loosely packed torn cleaned frisee
18 Medjool dates
6 ounces fresh goat cheese
Pomegranate seeds
Pistachio oil

FOR THE BLOOD ORANGE VI N A I G R E T T E : With a swivel-bladed vegetable peeler remove the zest from the oranges, then peel away and discard all the white pith. Pull oranges apart into segments and put segments from 2 of the oranges into a blender w/ zest. (Note: I would not use all the zest - maybe from 1 orange? I also added a tablespoon of sugar and a couple tablespoons of juice from the bowl the segments were in.) Reserve the remaining segments for garnish. Add the corn syrup, rice vinegar, salt and puree. With the machine running slowly, gradually add the oil and blend until thickened. Set aside at room temperature for up to 6 hours or refrigerate for up to 2 days.

FOR THE PISTACHIOS: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Put the pistachios in a small pan and toast for 8 to 10 minutes, or until they take on color, stirring once or twice. Remove from the oven and put the nuts on a clean kitchen towel. Fold the towel over the nuts, rub the nuts together and roll them around to remove some of the skins. Set the nuts on a plate to cool.

FOR THE SALAD: Cut the radicchio in half and cut out the core. Cut the radicchio into 1/2-inch pieces and put into a large bowl. Add the rest of the greens and refrigerate loosely covered with a damp towel for up to 8 hours.

FOR THE DATES: Make a lengthwise slit in each date and pull out the pit. Roughly divide the goat cheese into 12 pieces, stuff into the dates, and press them closed. Place, seam side down, on a small sheet pan or baking pan. Set aside or refrigerate until ready to serve. Just before serving, heat the dates in a 350°F oven for 1 to 2 minutes (if the dates have been refrigerated, they will take longer to reheat), or until warm.

Toss the greens with some of the vinaigrette until lightly coated. Place a mound of greens on each of 4 plates and arange 3 warm dates around the salad with alternating piles of the reserved orange segments. Sprinkle with pistachios and pomegranite seeds aorund the plate and drizzle pistachio oil all over.

Boulevard -The Cookbook by Nancy Oakes and Pamela Mazzola

We will see how it goes. Thanks to Judy for all her help.

Ham, Beans and Cornbread

I have Ham and Beans in the Pressure Cooker now and cornbread in the oven. I am making it for a friend with an ill father per his request. I looked for a new cornbread recipe since the friend said her dad did not like sweet cornbread, which I usully make. I think I failed in that regard. It looks like it is turning out to be a good recipe but maybe too sweet for his tastes. I usually make a batch of honey butter to go with. And like most of my recipes, I found it on the internet.

Susan's Cornbread
3 eggs
1/2 cup oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons Big Chief sugar
8 ounces sour cream
1 box Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix
1 8-ounce can cream style corn

Mix oil and eggs well. Blend in remainder of ingredients, mixing well.
Bake in 8" × 8" glass baking dish for 35 minutes at 375º.

This turned out to be a very dense, moist cornbread. It was not my favorite but my neighbor Wally said it was the best cornbread he had ever had and that he had eaten a lot of corn bread in his day. So there.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

I Left My Husband in San Francisco

I left my husband in San Francisco last weekend. He will be spending the next six months there. Lucky for me - it is a great place for food.

I don't think I could make a trip to SF without visiting the Ferry Building, a renovated ferry building now housing a wonderful farmer's market outside on weekends and year round shops inside. Recchiuti Chocolates (flavors like Tarragon Grapefruit, Star Anise and Pink Peppercorn, Ginger Heart), Tsar Nicoulai Caviar (truffled scrambled egg back in the shell, topped with caviar), and Far West Fungi (glass bell jars of exotic mushrooms, fresh procini, truffles) are just a few. I am slowly trying to make my way to all the food booths and resturants. I have had no disappointments.

Sunday was a miserable rainy day and after spending the morning at SFMOMA we headed to the Ferry Building for lunch and a steamy bowl of soup. We got 2 sets at the counter right in front of the schucker at Hog Island Oyster Company. Hog Island Oyster Company is the retail outlet for the Tomales Bay oyster farm of the same name.

They shuck the oysters as you watch. And the Oyster Stew is perfection. It is nothing but fresh oysters, cream, butter and chives. They serve it with a chunk of butter and a great Epi loaf. Really fresh oysters taste so different than the ones that have been sitting around on ice for days, sweet yet briny. To keep the stew company we got the Oysters Casino and the Oysters with ginger and lemon. If we hadn't been so cold and wet from running around in the rain we probably would have gotten a few raw oysters to slurp down. They serve 6 varieties and there was a lot of bubbly been served at nearby tables with fresh oysters piled high on stainless steel trays of rock salt. We also got the the Cowgirl Creamery Grilled Cheese (Cowgirl Creamery is the subject for another day!) It paled in comparison to the oysters but still it was a mighty fine grilled cheese.

I will go back at the end of March and hope to eat somewhere else but I may have to stop for a quick bowl of the Clam Chowder - Manila clams with bacon, cream, aromatic vegetables and thyme or maybe another bowl of Oyster Stew? Mmmmmm....

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Fleur De Sel Caramels

I have been on a candy making binge lately. I recently bought Truffles, Candies and Confections by Carole Bloom and got from the library, Chocolate Obsession by Michael Recchuiti. I suppose you could say Recchuiti inspired the whole thing. I had his amazing chocolates in the Ferry building in San Francsico. Candies infused with jasmine, pink peppercorns, star anice, burnt caramel, fleur de sel. They were all amazing. For years I have been making candy at Christmas time but they were easy recipes, not necessarily using quality ingredients. I decided to kick my candymaking up a notch.

I started my quest for great chocolates with several different caramel recipes that have turned out great and some of the best English Toffee I have ever made. But I really wanted to take the next step and temper chocolate and dip something. So I thought I would start with the Fleur de Del caramels since I love caramel and I have successful made caramel. Easy enough. Right?

Well, I have read about a thousand articles on tempering chocolate. But apparently not enough. The caramel turned out fantastic. Sweet and golden with a salty Fleur de Sel kick. I followed the instruction on tempering. I carefully dipped them all with the help of my daughter Grace. I left them out to cool. They were looking pretty great. I put them on the green counter where the dog can't get to them. Well, I must have left enough foil hanging over the edge. Because I heard a thud from upstairs and sure enough she had pulled one sheet to the floor and was hiding in a corner having a little caramel bliss!

And the real end to the story is, I did not temper them correctly. By the end of the day the dreaded freckles appeared. I will try to let this not discourage me from tempering and dipping. Now I really - really want one of those tempering machines that cost $350. But I hope to conquer this. I am sure it is like making fresh pasta. If you do it often enough you will get a feel for it. I am sure all friends and family will encourage me to try. Afterall they love all of them whether they have bloom on them or not!