Thursday, September 20, 2007

Boccalone, serious about salumi

On Saturday morning, Mike and I stopped by the restaurant, Incanto, right around the corner from us, for a taste of their new venture - artisanal salumi! Or in their words, 'Tasty Salted Pig Parts." I am crazy for cured meats so this was a heaven sent activity for a Saturday morning in my world.

Boccalone is run by Incanto’s chef and owner, Chris Cosentino and Mark Pastore. They are known for their authentic Italian cuisine and commitment to sustainability. We have dined at Incanto several times and it is consistently delicious. Their homemade pastas are wonderful. Perhaps my favorite thing to do is to go, without a reservation (gasp!) and sit in the bar area, sipping flights of vino and twirling pasta, while picturesque dishes pass us by on their way to the dining room.

Boccalone is currently making more than 20 varieties of salumi using traditional (i.e. time and labor-intensive) methods. They sponsor a Salumi Society Membership where you can subscribe to receive a bag of the meats that are at their peak, two times a month. Each bag, or sachetto, will include a mix of fresh sausage, cooked meats, and cured meats. It is a nice idea, but you really must be committed to the pig in order to do this membership. If a smaller portion is more your style, like me, they will be selling their products at BiRite Market and Avedano.

During the tasting, my favorite tastings included the salumi with fennel and brown sugar. It was gentle and sweet. The blood sausage with the quail's egg was divine. The bite was salty, earthy, and flavorful. Perhaps my very favorite was the lardo served on a fig. The melting fat paired with melting fig melted in your mouth. Worth mention are their sausages. Their sweet sausage might be the best sausage I have ever had. Their spicy sausage is sweet, but leaves some heat in your mouth. I enjoyed its complexity. Boccalone definitely has a good thing going on and Bay Area dwellers are quite lucky!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Whole Foods - Potrero Hill

Grand opening Whole Foods - Potrero! At last!

Perhaps the only bummer about leaving SOMA for Noe Valley was leaving the Whole Foods behind. Not that I didn't think that Whole Foods was often over-priced or too crowded to shop in, but you know, it is nice having a place close to the apartment where I can get organics and fresh fish. I definitely had a list of things that I could only get at Whole Foods. Between the farmers' market on Saturdays, the Good Life Grocer in Bernal, Mollie Stones, and the local butcher and bodega, I have been getting by without a Whole Foods in my life. This past week Whole Foods welcomed itself back into my life with the opening of a new store in a neighboring ‘hood!

This past Wednesday's SF Chronicle Food Section brought music to my ears. The new Whole Foods in Potrero Hill was OPEN! This is fairly convenient to our house so on Sunday afternoon, I set out with Jai to do some grocery shopping for the week and get some lunch. Never go shopping with a ten-year-old. She is a big help, but she doesn't have much control over the shopping cart, which she insists on driving. I actually hate pushing the shopping cart so this works out, but she hit one out of every two people with it. My apologies to those injured. Kidding, but thanks for understanding. By the time we got to the checkout, I was ready to pull out my hair. She is a great kid, just hard to keep track of when she is asking every employee if they have pomegranate. What she was going to do with one, I have no idea, but I let her run with her quest.

This Whole Foods is the largest in San Francisco proper. And, even better, they have a two story parking garage that is easy to get in and out of unlike their other two locations. The deli/prepared foods section is quite robust, notably the soup selection is stunning. The bakery is quite extensive. Some stranger was trying to convince me that I should buy Jai this remarkable chocolate dessert that was priced at $6.99. I don’t think so. The meat counter is long and has an expansive selection. The fish counter rocks. If anything, the produce section seems small in comparison to the other stores. There is ample seating for dining-in and there is even a coffee/shop bistro section on the ground floor which allows for even more spaciousness. Once I get the layout down, I think I will really enjoy shopping in this store.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Trifecta of delicious restaurants

Over the past few weeks I have been to three absolutely delicious restaurants in the Bay Area with my "Core Team" of girlfriends. The restaurants have restored my faith that some chefs really care about what they send to the table every night and that the laid-back people of Northern California can, in fact, provide attentive service.

The first place that we went for dinner was Canteen. First, you must have a reservation. They do 3 seatings each night - 6pm, 7:30pm, and 9pm. When you walk into Canteen and it looks like a hip diner. There are booths that fit four people (or seven if you really squeeze) and a long diner counter top with seating. Your waitress is the nicest person ever and the hostess has been more than accommodating when your party number has changed several times throughout the day and you have called so often that you and "Stephanie" are on a first name basis. Then you get the menu and it is anything but diner like. The menu changes weekly and features the best of fresh, local produce. Unlike a diner, which tends to have a "we make everything" menu, Canteen has four options for starters, entrees, and desserts. My dinner group managed to order everything on the menu that week and it was all worthy of oohs and aahs. Every bite was a pleasure. And even though we had plans to eat the birthday cake that I had made for Melissa's birthday later in the evening, our waitress insisted we order a serving of the vanilla souffle. Thank god she did. It might be the best dessert I have ever had.

A week or so later, my friends and I got together for a late dinner at Bar Bambino, a recent addition in the Mission. We ate outside, a rarity in SF, on the back porch. The heat lamps kept going out, but otherwise it was quite pleasant. The food here is done very well and gives attention to many different styles of dining from light bites to full entrees. It has a variety of small Italian plates and a heck of a wine list that the staff is eager to help you navigate. The small plates ensure you get to try many things on the menu. We shared a variety of bruschettas and salamis and then each of us ordered a pasta dish. It was one of those meals that drew out for hours thanks to good friends, lots of laughs, and wonderful food. It was a very enjoyable experience and I can hardly wait to go back with my husband.

Last weekend, we headed to Sonoma for girl's weekend. For dinner we secured reservations at The Girl and The Fig, a place I have been wanting to go for a long time. The drink list is quite fun - lots of interesting cocktails. I had a basil martini that made my heart stop. I love the flavor of basil and when mixed with vodka, it tasted like summer - fresh and green. I had a bay scallop and crayfish tail dish with seasonal vegetables that was excellent. My only disappointment was that my dish was just slightly overdone. I would recommend The Girl and The Fig to anyone visiting Sonoma.

I hope my luck does not run out as I am really enjoying finding some more truly excellent places to go out to eat in San Francisco (at a variety of prices - none of these are over the top expensive).

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Mystery Box

This stack of produce was quite a surprise. This past week I ordered a "mystery box" of fresh produce from Mariquita Farm. The farm has begun delivering these mystery boxes to local restaurants for pick-ups on Thursdays. They describe this venture as, "taco truck -meets- the-farmers market." How great is that concept? This week's delivery restaurant location was Incanto, which is in our neighborhood, so I placed an order. I figured that it is September and with so many yummy things are in season that I would not end up with box full of potatoes and kale (always a risk in the winter). For $25 it was worth a try.

First of all, the word, "box" is misleading. It is more like a crate. A huge crate of vegetables. I have about 12 multi-colored peppers, 20 plus tomatoes, 3 huge eggplants, carrots, red chard, a whole pie pumpkin, tropea onions, baby gold beets, basil, godzilla fingerling potatoes, and a "mystery," zucchetta rampicante winter squash. The squash looks like a butternut squash whose neck has gone wild. This was a lot of food for $25. I could not believe my eyes when I got home and Mike had laid everything out on the countertop. Needless to say, I steered clear of the farmers markets this weekend. I had more vegetables that I knew what to do with. Tonight I made ratatouille for dinner using some of the loot and it was delicious.

The drop-offs are every other week. The dates and locations are:
9/20 Pizzetta 211
10/4 Let's Be Frank at 1 Fort Mason
10/18 Zuppa
11/1 TBD

If you are interested in ordering, follow this link for the details.

Mysterious Thursdays at Mariquita Farm

Order your mystery box today. It is a really fun thing and you will be supporting local farmers and cutting down on your food miles. You have nothing to lose and fridge full of farm fresh produce to gain!

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Good Luck Lobster

I start my new job tomorrow. I am really quite excited to start. I have my new (to me), little Prius all ready to make the commute to Napa. Though, I must admit, the GPS is elluding me a bit. There is a learning curve on that bit of technology. I did get my Bluetooth working though.

As a surprise, Mike got us lobsters for dinner. As a former cook at a seafood shack on the shores on Connecticut, he claims to be quite the lobster boiler. In the three years I have known him, I have never seen him in action. Tonight was my night to see him in action.
I got the full tutorial. Boy vs. girl lobsters. What lobster "blood" is. How long each sex needs to cook. How they float when they are done. Mike manned the pot and the initial cutting and cracking. Meanwhile I steamed some corn on the cob and made an easy heirloom tomato salad.

The lobsters were delicious and it was really fun to learn how to eat them like a pro. Also, I enjoyed comparing the textures of the lobster meat from the different body parts. What a treat! Thanks, honey!

*Why is this blog post called, "Good Luck Lobster?" If anything, the lobsters had some bad luck at our house tonight. There are foods in my life that I associate with good luck. While I am not particularly superstitious, I do think that eating something you love, that prepares you mentally for something important, isn't a bad idea at all. For instance, my dad used to make me "Good Luck Waffles." I would eat these waffles the mornings that I would return to college. That "good luck" would fuel me through the next semester. So Mike, I am afraid you may have started a tradition of eating lobster the day before either of us begin a new job.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Freezer friendly foods

I am preparing for a change in my daily schedule now that I will be commuting out of the city for work. I have been stocking the freezer with easy to prepare/reheat meals like soups and pasta sauces using the fresh and seasonal foods at the farmer's markets.

This week I made meatballs. I figure that it will be easy to get a couple out of the bag in the freezer when I get home from work. I can reheat them with some pasta sauce and that will be dinner. The meatballs turned out fabulously. The flavoring was very nice and using a high quality ground beef (organic and free range) was the key to sucess.

To be honest, I have no idea where I got this recipe. I had cut out the recipe some time ago and pasted it in my scrapbook of recipes. I believe it was the New York Times, but I am not sure. Anyhow, they are very good!

Italian Meatballs
Time: 30 minutes

2 lbs of ground beef (or 1 lb ground beef and 1 lb ground veal), let it rest on the countertop for a half an hour before cooking so the meat is not freezing cold
1 cup of bread crumbs
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan
1 tablespoon chopped, fresh basil
1 tablespoon chopped, fresh parsley
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 ground cayenne pepper
2 minced cloves of garlic
2 eggs
3 tablespoons of olive oil

Mix all of the ingredients except the olive oil in a large bowl using your hands. Do not over mix. Take a selection of meat in your hands and roll a two inch ball or meat between your palms. Take care that the meat is firmly packed but not compressed. Repeat until all the meat is rolled into balls. I ended up with 24 meatballs.

In a large, heavy pot (I used my Le Crueset Dutch Oven), heat the olive oil over medium-hit heat. When it shimmers, add the meatballs in batches of eight or so. Do not crowd. Brown well on the bottoms before turning, or the meatballs will fall apart. Turning gently using tongs. Continue cooking until browned all over. Remove meatballs to a plate or paper towel as each batch is finished. No need to add oil between batch as the fat from the prior meatballs adds enough fat cook the subsesquent batches. Let the meatballs cool slightly and then freeze (or refridgerate depending on when you are going to use them) until needed.

I also froze some zucchini that I didn't get around to using. It was a super simple process. I found out how to freeze fruits and vegetables using the National Center for Home Food Preservation website. It is a great resource for freezing and canning food, among other things. I am not ready to take up canning, maybe next year, but freezing zucchini couldn't be easier.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Food week in review

I have been a delinquent blog poster this week. I found myself with the proposal of gainful employment on Monday and been beside myself with excitement! My dream of working for a food company has finally come true. In preparation of actually starting the job, I have been racing around trying to get a new car, (I will be commuting outside SF) and going for doctor check-ups and such. Plus, the weather has been absolutely gorgeous, at long last, and I have been spending time outside. During my time at home, I have been working away in the kitchen.

On Sunday evening I made a nice dinner of Chicken Breasts with Shallots, Chèvre, Figs, and a Port Reduction Sauce from a recipe on While I quite enjoyed the dish, Mike wasn't too crazy about it. Perhaps it was too French for him? I thought the creaminess of the goat cheese with the sauted shallots and fresh thyme were nice compliments to the chicken. I always love figs. I served this with fresh green beans and roasted fingerling potatoes. I did manage to spill half the reduction sauce all over myself and the kitchen. Good thing there was plenty left for the meal but my god, what a mess!

I should have know that it wasn't a great day for me to be cooking. Earlier on Sunday, I struggled with my new food mill trying to Tomato Sauce from Lidia's Italian Table with some of my own additions, like garlic. It came out all right, once I won my battle with the food mill. After safely stowing the sauce in the freezer, I had to change my clothes. I was completely splattered in red sauce!

While I was simmering the tomato sauce another culinary disaster ensued. I attempted to make L'Affaire du Clafoutis as posted on fellow blogger, Garnett's site Vanilla Garlic and I used a tart pan where the bottom pops out. I should have know better. The mixture of eggs and milk was too thin for that pan and it all came roaring out the bottom of the pan. At that point I was out of sugar. I have been trying to find a suitable organic sugar to use for my baking sugar. I went to Mollie Stones and did some shopping. I came back to try my clafoutis again in a different pan. In moment of overconfidence, thinking I had memorized the simple recipe, I forgot the "pinch of salt." Well, the missing salt and use of fat free milk, not whole milk or cream, resulted in a flat and bland tasting clafoutis. A bummer because the Italian prunes sure were delicious!

On Tuesday night I went camping with my girlfriends near Stinson Beach under the full moon. We made s'mores over the campfire for dessert. Those sweet graham cracker sandwiches brought back memories of my childhood. We had big bonfires and cookouts in our backyard with all of our neighbors each summer. My dad would whittle the kids roasting sticks for the marshmellows. I would burn at least 10 marshmellows before I toasted one perfectly and could assemble my s'more.

On Wednesdy afternoon I made a batch of absolutely delicious Pear Ginger Muffins from blog, Coconut & Lime. They are sensational. Initially, I thought the ginger might be overwhelming but it was a perfect compliment to the sweet pear. I froze half and we have been snacking on the other half of the batch. I envision eating these muffins on my way to work this fall.

Today has found me in the kitchen again. I made a batch of Split Pea and Ham Soup from a Moosewood cookbook. Obviously, I added the ham to the recipe. It is the best split pea soup and it very easy to make. The secret ingredient is red wine vinegar which you add at the end of cooking. The acidity brings out the flavors nicely. It went to the freezer as well for the winter when we are both commuting.

As I type this post, I am slow roasting tomatoes using Kalyn's Kitchen's recipe. My herb combination was fresh basil, fresh rosemary, and dried oregano. I also used some fresh ground black pepper. They are coming along nicely and the house smells divine.

This week, I finally purchased Jamie's Italy which I had been coventing. It was a great purchase. I have also been reading the book, Alice Waters and Chez Paniesse: The Romantic, Impractical, Often Eccentric, Ultimately Brilliant Making of a Food Revolution. It is very well written and I can barely put it down, but don't want it end either. I highly recommend putting it on your "must read" list.

I must run. Mike is taking me out to dinner to celebrate my new, cool job. We are headed to a great place in the neighborhood, Firefly. Then tomorrow I jet off to Miami, FL to spend the weekend with my Cornell girlfriends. Art deco, cuban food, and the beach, here I come! I just love, L-O-V-E Miami! And Rachel too. She is the one we are celebrating this weekend.