Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I can't live with out my stove top grill

This Reversable Double Griddle is sold by Crate and Barrel. Now that I own one, I cannot live without it. On one side it is a griddle and the other side is a grill. It fits neatly on two gas burners, heats up quickly and evenly, and leaves perfect grill marks. Now, for about $50 any kitchen, no matter how small, can have a grill.
Our outdoor grill is inconvenient to get to at the new place so I find myself using this tool to grill a couple of times a week. Unlike grill pans, this tool has enough surface area for all your grilling needs. The extra liquid pools conveniently in the corners. It is easy to store and best yet, clean up is a snap!
My only tip is to spray some cooking oil on the grill before placing your grillables on the pan. Without a little oil, the food will stick.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Cooking up a storm

This has been quite a weekend for cooking. Yesterday I made brunch for friends. As you can see from Hunter's comment on my previous post that the menu went over well. I even managed not to burn the frittata, though it did get a little dark. The food was quick and simple to make and I bought all ingredients that morning at the local produce bodega. For once, my timing for cooking was great and I got to spend plenty of time with our guests. Here is a peak at the grilled pineapple dish. Very yummy!

Then I made peanut butter cookies from the P.B. Loco White Chocolate Raspberry Peanut Butter that arrived earlier this week. They turned out very well, with just a hint of the white chocolate raspberry lingering on the palate. They have certainly been a big hit with Mike. He is not allowed to eat them all. The cookies are for a BBQ next weekend so I put most of them in the freezer.

Last night for dinner, I went on the light side and made Shrimp and Mango Kebabs from "Cooking with Amy" blog. Mike boiled up some corn on the cob. We opened a nice bottle of Chardonnay and had a nice dinner at home.

This morning Mike convinced me to make "good luck" waffles which I made using Bisquick. I used the recipe on the box but I replace the milk with club soda. It is nice trick that makes the waffles light and fluffly and they have fewer calories (so you can eat more). I also added a teaspoon of vanilla. I served the waffles with fresh, sliced strawberries and maple syrup. With that lumberjack meal, it is a good thing we went for a big hike shortly after breakfast!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

A quick and easy brunch menu

This Sunday we are having some dear friends over for brunch. I have been thinking about what to make ever since we invited them to come over. A little neurotic, I know, but I love planning menus! We are planning a day trip on Saturday so that does not leave a lot of time for prep and I will likely do the shopping on Saturday night or Sunday morning. So I can't go overboard and that pretty much rules out any baked goods. I have been dying to make a frittata now that I have the right pans. (The last one I made was a disaster - I burnt the top to a crisp.) We brought some macadamia nuts with us from Hawaii and I have been searching for fun recipes that call for them. Those two factors were my inspiration for this simple brunch menu:

Frittata with asparagus, tomatoes and fontina
Grilled pineapple with Nutella and macadamia nuts
Artisanal bread, toasted, with jams and butter

I think I can whip this up in no time and can focus on spending time with our friends and not in the kitchen.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Bittman, you've gone one step too far

I like Mark Bittman, "The Minimalist," who is a frequently published food writer for the NYTimes. I like the concept of minimalistic cooking. And even more than those things, I LOVE hamburgers (and so does my Aunt Helen, so it must be genetic). So when today's NYTime's Food Section cover article was "For the Love of a Good Burger," I was pretty excited. In fact, I had been craving red meat and so for dinner last night I made burgers.

Mark kicks off the article about how most burgers are mediocre, at best. And I agree. It is very hard to find a good hamburger. I like mine medium-rare and I almost always get them served to me medium-well. And the quality of the meat is often questionable. Yuck.

He spends nearly the entire article speaking to his idea that the only way to get a decent hamburger is to ground your own meat. He cautions to not buy packaged ground beef in any form. What? Are you kidding? I have a job. I am not grinding meat at 7:30pm to get a hamburger after I have been "grinding" away at the office for the last ten hours. Not a chance. Grinding meat does not seem one bit minimal. I cannot imagine that many readers are going to commit to grinding there own beef now that Mark told them it is better to do so. Consider your audience Bittman, we are busy people!

Why couldn't he have spent the article discussing what type of ground beef to buy and where to buy it in order to get the best burger possible with minimal fuss. For example, for grilling burgers I usually buy organic beef, 90% lean (80% lean probably tastes even better, but I can't do it). The fat drips off the burger when grilled and leaves the burgers quite tender and tasty. I try to buy my ground beef at the local butcher, Whole Foods, Mollie Stones, etc., somewhere that is going to have better quality meat than Costco's frozen beef patties. I always season and form my own patties, but that is as much effort as I will am willing to go to to get a good burger.

Some good points of the article include not packing the meat too tightly or the burger will be tough and that you can season the patty adequately with just salt and pepper. But the most helpful part of the article describes how to grill the perfect burger:
"Burgers cook so fast that the heat source doesn’t matter much. You want a hot fire, but not a blazing hot one; that fat, as we all know, is quick to ignite. The rack, which should be very clean, should be three or four inches above it. Turn the burger only after the first side releases its grip on the grill, after a few minutes; if you don’t press with the spatula, you’ll get less sticking, too. Cooking time depends on the size of the burger, of course, but mine take about 6 to 8 minutes total, for rare to medium-rare. Pork takes a little longer, but not much."

Check out Bittman's recipe for the Inside-out Lamb Burger, but get ground lamb or ask the butcher to do it. It looks very tasty. See the picture above and that will get your mouth watering.

If cooking your own hamburgers is just too much work in general, might I suggest stopping by one of my favorite places in New York City for the absolute best hamburger - The Half King. They have the best burgers I have ever tasted, hands down. Order a pint, splurge and get the french fries as your side, and you are set to eat a truly wonderful American meal.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

A great place to buy cookbooks

I have discovered that the best place to buy cookbooks at a bargain price is Strand Books in New York City. Despite living in NYC for two years I had never been to Strand until my brother took me there one time when I was visiting him. Now I make a point to go every time I am in New York. The prices cannot be beat, they have an incredible selection of cookbooks, and ambiance of the place is amazing.

I discovered that Strand is place to buy cookbooks when I found The Silver Spoon, a cookbook I had been coveting, for about $20. It was half off! I could not resist purchasing the cookbook (and several other books). Pretty much all the books, including cookbooks are marked 30-50% off the cover price. The nice thing about this bargain buying experience is, unlike Amazon or shopping online, you can actually flip through the myriad of cookbooks they have right then and there.
While waiting for my brother to hurry the heck up, I was worrying about how I was going to tell Mike I bought a 20 lb book that I needed to carry back to San Francisco with me. I noticed a sign that they will ship your purchases for a very reasonable price. Things kept getting better and better. I now had a cookbook I had wanted forever and I did not have to break my arms to get it home!

If you ever find yourself in NYC and near Union Square check out Strand Book Store located at the corner of 12th Street and Broadway, just south of Union Square. Their hours are: Monday-Saturday 9:30 AM-10:30 PM and Sunday 11:00 AM-10:30 PM.

Friday, May 18, 2007

I never buy salad dressing

That is because I nearly always make it myself. This Mustard Vinaigrette is the simplest recipe and you can scale depending on the number of people to which you are serving salad. The mustard gives the vinaigrette a nice bite but isn't overwhelming and the olive oil is super healthy. And most importantly it tastes SO GOOD!

Mustard Vinaigrette

1 part real deal Dijon mustard, I recommend the brand Maille which can be found any grocery
1 part vinegar, typically I use red wine vinegar or champagne vinegar
3 parts extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste (I recently discovered course salt adds a nice crunch)

Your "parts" can be 1 tsp mustard, 1 tsp vinegar, and 1 tbsp olive oil which would serve about one person. For a larger amount use 1/3 cup mustard, 1/3 cup vinegar, and 1 cup olive oil.

Whisk the mustard, vinegar, salt, and pepper together. Then slowly drizzle the oil into the mustard and vinegar while whisking constantly to incorporate. Pour mixture over the salad, toss, and serve. Enjoy! And please try all sorts of varieties including adding herbs, using different vinegars, using different types of mustard, to give you some ideas.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Low brow nutella

I recently came across an incredible product. Granted, I haven't tasted it...yet, but I love the idea. The company is P.B. Loco and they make flavor enhanced peanut butters. The site even has recipes for suggested uses. The flavors are Peanut Butter with:

  • CoCo Banana
  • Asian Curry Spice
  • Dark Chocolate Duo
  • Jungle Banana
  • Raspberry White Chocolate
  • Sun-Dried Tomato
  • Creamy White Chocolate
  • European Cafe Mocha
  • Raspberry Dark Chocolate
  • Sumatra Cinnamon Raisin
  • Sun-Ripened Apricot
  • Classic Crunch
  • Classic Creamy

This product reminds me of Nutella, peanut butter's high brow, Euro alternative, but more fun. Can't you just imagine crepe including Peanut Butter with Sun-Ripened Apricot or toast with Peanut Butter with Raspberry White Chocolate.? It sounds divine, doesn't it? I wonder what peanut butter cookies made with Peanut Butter with European Cafe Mocha would taste like. You can even make a nice satay with the Peanut Butter with Asian Curry Spice. My mouth is watering just thinking of these alternatives.

I think P.B. Loco should rethink their marketing campaign, "The Adult Peanut Butter." Granted some of their flavors are a bit sophisticated, but I am pretty sure most kids would like the Jungle Banana flavor. My first thought when I saw the phrase "Adult Peanut Butter," was that they somehow incorporated liquor into the peanut butter. For example, Whiskey flavored Peanut Butter. Not sure how that would work, but that is what the marketing campaign initially made me think.

I don't know about you but I cannot resist ordering a couple jars. I think I will go with one savory and one sweet. I will let you know what I think.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Lunching at the Ferry Building

One of my favorite places to go for a special lunch (some thing different than the soup, salad or occasional sandwich, I normally eat) is the Ferry Building Marketplace in San Francisco. Luckily for me, this is close to my office. It is also a very nice place to meet up friends or take out-of-town guests for lunch.

While there are many delicous places to eat in the Ferry Building, one of my longstanding favorites is DELICA rf1. It is a Japanese delicatessen. It is located in the middle aisle through the main doors. They use local, organic ingredients to make incredibly tasty and susprisingly, reasonably-priced food. They have bento boxes, incredibly yummy Japanese salads like wasabi garlic potato salad, spicy burdock and lotus root salad, and a hijiki and soy bean salad, sushi (including a roast beef sushi that is out of this world), main courses including tofu and chicken options, and freshly fried foods. With the exception of the fried panko foods, everything is really healthy. And that is just a sampling of the menu. Come to think of it, the fried stuff even looks healthy. It is not greasy at all.

At DELICA rf1, you get a wonderful and unique lunch. They have all sorts of options in the deli cases, but I usually go with the "main, a salad and rice" for $7.50. For the main, I love the tofu chicken patty and the salad I love the most has a sesame dressing over asparagus (or green beans) with shredded carrots. The salad is so good I dream about it. Whenever I have DELICA rf1 for lunch I am happy for the rest of the day!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Date night

Last night, I made Champagne Risotto with asparagus and prosciutto chips. It is a Giada De Laurentiis recipe that was recommended to me by my friend Rebecca. She was right, it was a great excuse to open a bottle of champagne (we have plenty of bottles left over from our wedding). As far as risottos go, this recipe is quick and easy to make, as it serves just two people. The champagne adds just a hint of sweetness. With a side salad, this is the perfect date night dinner! However, you could easily scale the recipe for four or six people for a celebratory dinner party.

Perhaps the most delicious part of the recipe is the prosciutto chips. You take slices of prosciutto and put them flat on a cookie tray. I used a silpat on the cookie tray to make cleaning easy. You put the slices of prosciutto in a preheated oven at 450 degrees for 6-8 minutes or until crispy. Then remove the tray from the oven, take the prosciutto slices off the tray and place them on paper towels. Once cool, crumble the crisped prosciutto into bite-sized pieces. In the case of this recipe, you garnish the risotto with the crispy prosciutto, but you could put it in salad, on pizza, etc.

Check out the very delicious recipe for
Champagne Risotto. I promise it is as good as the picture looks!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Roasting and boasting

Earlier this week I tried roasting a chicken for the first time. I now own a roaster which is very exciting. This is the first large piece of meat I have ever prepared. I mean, really, who has time to roast meat? It takes way too long. Definitely a weekend evening activity.

My roasted chicken turned out pretty well for a first timer. I had to consult several sources to figure out how exactly to roast a chicken so I will share the process with you.

Buy a whole chicken - kosher, organic, whatever. For me the kind of chicken wasn't that important the first time. I bought a 3.5 pounder, free range chicken from the local butcher,
Drewes Bros Meats. I would probably buy a bigger bird next time though so I would get more meat. Rinse the chicken and pat dry. If you are like me, you'll pray that there aren't any innards in the cavity that you have to remove.

I sliced a lemon in half, peeled 3-4 cloves of garlic, and selected a few sprigs of rosemary and placed them in the cavity of the bird. Next I tied the legs together with kitchen string. I rubbed the whole bird with olive oil (you can also use butter) to make the skin nice and crispy.

I placed the bird on the v-rack in the roasting pan and placed the whole ensemble in the oven on the middle rack. Set the oven to 400 degrees and cook for 15 minutes. Then turn the oven down to 350 degrees and cook for an 1 1/2 hours (for a 3.5 lb bird) or 2 1/2 (for a 5 lb bird). Also, check (compulsively the first time) the status of cooking by sticking a meat thermometer deep into the thigh of the chicken and when the internal temperature is 170 degrees and the jucies run clear, that mad hen is ready to come out of the oven.

Like I have seen my mom do with turkey, I let the chicken rest on a cutting board for 5-10 minutes before cutting into the bird and serving.

Mike likes the white meat and I like the dark. We both thought the chicken was very flavorful and tender. Mike even said it was better than Boston Market and he holds Boston Market in high regard. I served roasted, rosemary new potatoes and fresh English peas with the chicken.

Next time I will try cooking a slightly a larger bird and maybe stuff the cavity with some other herbs.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

The James Beard Awards influence

I have made some very important decisions today which were largely influenced by the announcement of the James Beard Awards.

I want to eat at
French Laundry for my one year wedding anniversary. I need to eat there once before I die or I don't think I can call myself a "foodie." I know it is expensive, but I figure my anniversay is a time we can splurge. They take reservations up to two months in advance. Take note, honey. I love you!

Mazy and Deenie, when I come visit you in Chicago, I really want to go to
Frontera Grill for dinner. My treat, since you both will be hitting the books at Northwestern. Rick Bayless is the chef and his cookbook was the one I used to make my menu the other week for my Mexican dinner party.

And brother, we still have to go to Babbo. I don't know why exactly, but I just have to eat there. This restaurant choice was not influenced by the James Beard Awards, but by my love of salumi, pancetta, prosciutto, and genuine Italian cooking. Bring your appetite, we are doing the tasting menu.

Monday, May 7, 2007

It's It ice cream sandwiches

These Bay Area classic ice cream sandwiches are the ultimate summer treat. It's Its are an old fashioned San Francisco sweet. They are ice cream sandwiches with a scoop of vanilla, chocolate, mint or cappucino ice cream sandwiched between two oatmeal cookies and dunked into dark chocolate. They were invented in 1928 and the packaging looks like it has not changed since then which is, admittedly, part of their charm.I like these treats so much I ordered a couple cases of It's Its to serve as our rehearsal dinner dessert. A little informal, yes, but lots of fun. I have also been know to run to a convenience store to pick up some It's Its for a dinner party. They are just fun and really tasty!

Sunday, May 6, 2007

The neighborhood farmers' market

One of the best things about moving to Noe Valley (a.k.a. Stroller City, as I call it) has been the neighborhood farmers' market on Saturday mornings. This Saturday, my husband and I woke late, grabbed our canvas shopping bag and headed to the market on our way to brunch.

While farmer markets are abound in the city of San Francisco, there is something I really like about shopping at this one. It is small, not overly crowded, and easy to navigate. You can easily swing by and grab some seasonal fruits and veggies and be on with the rest of your day. It is a smaller, more intimate, version of the Saturday Farmer's Market at the Ferry Building downtown where the commitment to shopping and the hit to the wallet are both deterents to even going. Here you can easily compare quality and prices without driving yourself nuts. There is also a chance to get to know the vendors which I hope to do.

At The Noe Valley Farmer's Market I usually head to the back of the lot to the two larger veggie vendors. They have a nice selection and their prices are fairly reasonable, for organics. I have also been impressed with the quality of the things I have purchased. The herbs at these two vendors look amazing as well. One vendor even has italian, thai and purple basil! This week I bought, fresh English peas (I LOVE fresh peas), an artichoke, carrots, new red potatoes, and a crown of broccoli. Just enough to get us through the week.

The details, if you are in the 'hood:
Noe Valley Farmers Market
24th Street between Church and Sanchez
8am - 12pm on Saturday

Thursday, May 3, 2007

French martinis

French martinis are my absolute favorite cocktail. They are the perfect stiff drink masked by just the right amount of sweetness. I have got lots of my friends hooked on them. If you want to make them at home here is the recipe that I use:

2 oz Vodka
½ oz Chambord (it comes in an orb-shaped bottle)
2 ½ oz Pineapple Juice

Pack a shaker full of ice and add all ingredients. Shake or stir. I usually shake to get a nice muddled color. Strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a lemon twist (optional, I never do it).

Enjoy! I sure do.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Arroz Con Pollo

Dinner was a hit! Twice actually, as my husband and I just had the leftovers for dinner tonight.

The pumpkin seed dip had a peanut butter taste to it that complimented the roasted tomatoes, cilantro, and habanero chili that were chopped and mixed in the paste. It was good with chips and with carrots.

The salad was really good, though I should have made individual salad plates instead of making a platter of butter lettuce leaves topped with the roasted pepper salad mixture. It was difficult to get them from the platter to plate. I added cucumbers to the roasted pepper mixture for the texture.

And the Arroz Con Pollo y Frijoles Negros entree was amazing. I promise I am usually quite critical of my own cooking, but this was really good. The chicken was tender, the rice cooked thoroughly, and the spices were just right. While you are making the dish you think there is no way that anyone should ever use that much ancho chili powder in one dish, but you do and it works. I even pulled off doubling recipe without a hitch.
It was easier to make than I thought it would be. The salsa I made to top the dish was Smoky Chipotle and it added the perfect amount heat to the dish. I broken in my Le Creuset Dutch Oven making this dish and it worked like a charm (thanks Hunter and Caroline!) I could not have been more pleased with the outcome. Of course, I only remembered to take a photo after the dish was half eaten. At least that way you know people liked it!

Dessert ended up being very simple - sliced, fresh strawberries. A delicious ending to a somewhat heavy dinner.