May 31, 2006

Jump to the left... step to the right... let's do the time warp again... Mio Vicino (Campbell)

During our recent visit to Mio Vicino, I found myself flashing back to odd memories from my childhood.

Family dinners out to celebrate a birthday, an anniversary, or the fact that Mo inadvertently set the brand new oven on the 'clean' cycle when preparing what was to be our inaugural dinner from the remodeled kitchen.

Typically Italian food or seafood, though Chinese was also an occasional favorite.

It wasn't the meatballs (covered with cheese) that topped the spaghetti delivered to our nearest neighbors on the restaurant's patio that took me back in time.

Nor was it the basket of warm, ueber-fresh sourdough bread delivered to our table -- crusty on the outside, soft and, well, sour on the inside.

It wasn't even anything directly food-related.


So what *was* it, you ask?

A trip to the ladies room to prevent a permanent tomato stain on my brand new spring sweater.

The *ladies* room?!?!?

You bet.

Growing up, my girlfriends and I were obsessed with exploring restaurant ladies rooms. The countertops -- kitchy tile, modern (for the time) formica or sleek stone surfaces? The fixtures -- brass was our favorite find. The soaps -- orange surgical scrub, gritty comet-like soap, or floral perfumy and lotion-thick "luxury" soap? Paper towels or air blowers? The menu could wait, we just *had* to know the secrets sheltered behind the bathroom door.

Okay, we were weird. I'm all grown up now, and I've overcome my obsession. Without therapy. So I was more than a little surprised as I wandered into the ladies room in search of a damp paper towel for blotting and found myself stepping back in time. Surrounded by orange and lime green walls with more than a dozen 12-inch mirrors in basic geometric shapes behind the sink, I momentarily forgot my mission as I surveyed the scenery. I was ten again.

A strange look from a woman at the sink interrupted my reverie, I doused a paper towel with water, dabbed at my sweater, and returned sheepishly to my table. To add "orange" "lime green" and "mirrors" and "disco-70's" to my notes about the Mio Vicino experience.

So what did we *eat* you want to know?

Oh yeah. Average Italian-bistro fare.

As an appetizer, we chose the fried calamari -- tender enough, but with WAY too much barely-seasoned breading for me; the calamari got lost.

John then chose the penne bolognese which he thoughtfully let me try. The tomato cream sauce was excellent, but the sausage had far too much (read: detectable amounts of) fennel for me.

I opted for the goat cheese pizza with kalamata olives and pine nuts -- all ingredients I adore. Yummy, but rich-rich-rich. I finished less than a third of the single-serving portion. Leftovers for lunch tomorrow!

We paid the check, packed the leftovers and hit the road quickly -- I think John was afraid I was going to sneak back into the restroom with my digital camera...

Mio Vicino Cafe
384 E. Campbell Avenue, Campbell

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May 30, 2006

Swing your partner; promenade... May's Recipe Roundup

My monthly recipe roundups are mostly for myself; they're my way of tracking the recipes I've marked to try. All in one place, which I can access from any computer. Or at least any computer with internet access. More efficient and portable (for me) than bookmarks or a geeky excel spreadsheet (although I keep those too. Call me obsessed.)

Below are the recipes I've added to my list this month. They look yummy to me. YMMV.

Fried Calamari courtesy of the Unemployed Chef.
Lemon-Roasted Potatoes from Cream Puffs in Venice.
The Wednesday Chef's Garlic Soup with Mussels.
Ice Wine Icecream and Blueberry Tarts with Meyer Lemon Cream from Dessert First.
French-Style Gnocchi courtesy of Sam at Becks & Posh.
Orangette's Chocolate Malted Cupcakes.
Macadamia Maple Granola and Almond Lemon Curd from Chocolate & Zucchini.
Iced Lemon Corn Mufins, Sweet-and-Sour Cipolline, and Monkey Bread from Kate at Pie in the Sky.

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May 26, 2006

Watch it wiggle...never too old for jello shooters!

We gave Barbara and Ansel a simple directive.

We asked them to cater an afterparty for the members of our dance committee. They were to work within a modest budget. We wanted *good* food, *real* food – not deli trays and tubs of dip from Costco. We wanted a balance between “foodie” and accessible. We wanted a party our guests wouldn’t soon forget.

Barbara and Ansel delivered.

Jello shooters. Over 300 individually packaged Jello shooters. Tequila & lime. Vodka & cherry. Displayed artfully on a tray presented to each guest as they arrived.


But they didn’t stop there.

Milling around the party suite, jello shooters in hand, our guests encountered trays of hand made finger sandwiches. Home baked cookies and lemon bars. Real onion dip, with real-not-rehydrated onions. Spice cake. Triple chocolate sheet cake. And a chocolate fountain with goodies for dipping. All of it real food. And eminently accessible.

Barbara and Ansel succeeded, beyond our wildest expectations.

Our committee will *never* forget our afterparty.

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May 22, 2006

Stupid fun stuff

I usually pass these things up, but this one sort of fits the theme and my current mood.

Hmm...a funky cafe in San Francisco? I can think of worse fates...

You Are a Creative Cook

Your cooking is unusual, inspired, and definitely one of a kind. People love your unique style, but you've had your share of kitchen flops.
You have the makings of a cult chef. You may not cook at the Four Seasons, but you could have your own little funky cafe in San Francisco!

May 20, 2006

Further adventures in the eating local challenge - Piatti Locali (Danville)

Just in time for May's Eat Local Challenge, Piatti in Danville's undergone a bit of a makeover. Long an Italian food favorite in my household (a feat - I'm picky about Italian restaurants), they've "gone local". The marketing spiel on their website touts: "Italian Inspired - Locally Grown... We cook in the style of the Italians, creating simple, flavorful dishes from the day's freshest ingredients. We think you'll agree; it tastes better that way." Mid-way through my local challenge I was eager to trade a skillet for a fork and let someone else do the cooking. A quick visit to Open Table garnered us a table for two at 8, and we were set.

Or we thought we were. After a shaky start waiting with twenty-some other eager diners in the rather crowded entryway for twenty-feels-like-forty minutes and then being briefly abandonned by the hostess mid-restaurant while she searched for a table at which to seat us, we studied the menu, not sure what to expect out of the remainder of our evening.

We started with the Wood-Fired White Prawns wrapped in Proscuitto di Parma over creamy polenta, stuffed with Cowgirl Creamery cheese. Yeah, Proscuitto di Parma's not local by any stretch -- but Cowgirl Creamery cheese *is* -- and damn, do they pair wonderfully together. Slightly crispy, salty Prosciutto, creamy rich triple cream-style cheese, with fresh moist and tender jumbo prawn. Yum.

My Spring Salad with Farmer's Market Strawberries, while a bit more local, didn't tip the wow meter as much as I'd hoped it would. Composed of baby spinach, pistachios, "Easter Egg" radishes, red onion, Sonoma goat cheese and a citrus-mint vinaigrette, it was delightfully fresh and a wonderful balance of textures -- but the onions, marinated in something very Asian-tasting, overwhelmed many of the other more subtle flavors. So I scraped them onto my bread plate and enjoyed the remainder of the salad.

John chose the Fontina Cheese and Prosciutto Ravioli (pictured above) garnished with sweet butter walnuts and fresh thyme. The ravioli were sublime in their simplicity -- premium, local fresh ingredients *do* make an incredible difference. I opted for the Niman Ranch Flatiron Steak with roasted red and white spring onions, buttermilk mashed potatoes and salsa verde. I ordered it rare -- the only way worth eating steak in my not so humble opinion -- and cut it with a butter knife.

butter. knife.

To pair with our meal, we chose Folie a Deux Zinfandel from St. Helena -- special to us because the winery was founded by a dear friend's brother in the early 80's. Red wine. Rich ravioli. Tender steak. Local ingredients. Recipes inspired by the old country. Good food *is* happiness.

And then there's dessert. Fiorello's addictive Caramel Balsamic Gelato. Farm-fresh strawberries. A crisp-buttery cookie container. I invite those of you who don't get the good food like good sex connection to check out Fiorello's gelatos.

Pick your favorite flavor. Add a basket of fresh berries, cherries, stone fruit -- whatever's in season and catches your attention NOW. Pop open a bottle of champagne. Light a candle. And use your imagination...

A shaky start to the evening -- an earth moving ending. The new Piatti will be the latest addition to our regular rotation.

Piatti Locali Danville
100 Sycamore Valley Road West, Danville

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May 19, 2006

Local Edition - Burning Blog Extinguished with Lodi Wine -- Details at 11....

I was all prepared. I chose a dish I wanted to try. I chose a wine I was sure would pair well with it. Midway through the Eat Local Challenge, I’d even taken the time to source the majority of my ingredients locally. I was excited – my first food blogging event!

I prepared my meal, taking photographs at each stage along the way.

I took copious notes on the tweaks I made to the recipe I’d started with.

I sat down to a delicious Wednesday night feast with the Scooby Gang keeping me virtual company on the TV.

I took more notes on what I liked, what I didn’t like, and what I’d change in the future.

With every intention of posting my adventure the very next day.

And then life intervened. And my glorious entry into the blog-event world got moved to the back burner (yes, pun intended).

I missed the round-up deadline. But I still want to document the experience (share the recipe and the wine, for those interested). So without further adieu, my story follows.

The Recipe – Sablefish with Strawberry Balsamic Sauce*

1-1/2 pounds sable fish fillet about 1-inch thick
4 teaspoons Searing Paste
1 teaspoon toasted unhulled sesame seeds
1/2 cup Strawberry Balsamic Sauce
4 strawberries, stemmed and thinly sliced
Fresh flat leaf parsley or mint sprigs for garnish

For the Searing Paste (Recipe will coat 3-4 pounds of fish. Refrigerate leftover paste for future use)

2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper; finely ground

For the Strawberry Balsamic Sauce

1/2 cup finely chopped strawberries
2 tablespoons finely diced red onions
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (preferably aged)
1 tablespoon water
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 to 2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

The Process

Prepare the Searing Paste: Stir all ingredients together in a small container. Chill. Store any leftovers, covered, in the refrigerator for future use.

Prepare the Strawberry-Balsamic Sauce: In a microwave-safe glass container, combine the strawberries, onion, vinegar, water, and pepper. Microwave uncovered at high power for 2 minutes. Stir and microwave for an additional 2 minutes, or until onions have softened. Remove from microwave. Stir with fork, crushing larger pieces of berry/onion with tines as necessary. Add sugar and salt. Serve warm.

So far so good.

Prepare the fish:

I had about a pound of sablefish, so I rinsed, dried, and sliced it into three equal portions rather than the four the recipe recommends when you start with 1.5 pounds.

And this is where it gets a little dicey. The instructions say to spread a thin coating of Searing Paste on the top and bottom surfaces of the fish using a small flexible spatula. They figure about ½ teaspoon paste per surface. With four surfaces, elementary math says that’s 2 teaspoons.

Easier said than done. Not sure where my error was (I suspect my paste wasn’t cold enough is part of it), but when I flipped the fish to spread side two, side one adhered quite effectively to my cutting board. Eventually I got some paste to stick to each side, but I’m pretty sure I used more than the recipe recommended.

From there, we commence cooking: Heat a large skillet over medium high heat, Add fish, pressing gently to ensure paste makes contact with pan surface. Cook until golden brown, about 2 minutes on each side.

The paste may not have coated effectively (or it might have been subject to user-error) but it sure browned efficiently. What came out of the pan onto the plate was some of the most perfect, restaurant-quality browned fish I have *ever* had the pleasure of serving. Too bad I was serving just to myself. This is a recipe I’ll keep in mind for company (after I figure out the searing paste thing).

Plate and serve with Strawberry Balsamic Sauce.

The Wine

Thanks to the chicks at the Grapevine, Michael David is among my favorite Lodi wineries. And also thanks to the chicks I had a bottle of their Incognito Viognier that I thought would pair perfectly with the fish and fresh berries. According to the Phillips brothers, this Roussanne-turned-rare-strain-of-Viognier “originated somewhere in the Chateauneuf du Pape region of the Rhone Valley in France, then mistakenly sold to the grower - the talented Mr. Ripkin - as Roussanne, who, finally, sold the resulting grapes to Michael~David Vineyards.” They further assert that the grapes grown in the Sacramento Delta “produce the powerful and intense fruit with a sultry body that characterizes this wine, making it unlike any other Viognier.” That’s what they say. I say they produce just the clean, crisp, sweet-but-not-TOO-sweet white wine that I love.

The Results

So. How’d it work, you ask? Most excellent, if I do say so myself. The recipe – despite the paste problems – is a keeper, and equally employable as a quick weeknight meal (with just a bit of advanced planning/shopping) or a company-worthy entrĂ©e. And the wine lived up to my expectations – paired perfectly with the buttery-crisp fish and the sweet-tang of early-season strawberries. Pinots and Zins tend to be my grapes of choice – I rarely turn to a white unless the meal absolutely demands it. I’ve added Incognito to my small stash of un-oaked Chardonnays for those occasions when white is a requirement.

*Recipe adapted from Seafood Cooking For Dummies®

Curious what those who got their entries in on time did with the theme? Check out Fabulous Favorites Festival Roundup #1 and Roundup #2.

Technorati Tags: Cooking | Recipes | Food Blog Events | Is My Blog Burning | Wine Blogging Wednesday | Eating Locally

May 18, 2006

A farmer's market drive-by

Heading to Rockin' Jokers on a Wednesday evening, we happen to spot a farmers' market that bears investigation.

Because we've got time (and because John knows I'm developing an obsessive love for farmers markets, and because he enjoys them too) we pull into the lot for a look.

Corn on the cob-on-a-stick - if only I hadn't just eaten...

We found an herb farm vendor - I'm going to try to grow rosemary, John's trying his hand at habanero...

And the vegetable discovery of the season -- fava beans (with or without a nice chianti).

Strawberries & balsamic and strauss cream and shortcake... oh my!

"Small Bees" - honey, skin cream, and some of the most beautiful handmade candles I have ever seen.

We WILL be back on an empty stomach!

Cambrian Park Farmers’ Market, San Jose
Located on the corner of Camden & Union Avenues
Wednesdays, from 4:00pm – 8:00pm
May 10th – October 25 (2006 season)

May 17, 2006

Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em... - Sushi King (Milpitas)

And others escape greatness altogether.

They. just. suck.

John's comment when he tried the spicy tuna roll was that it had to get better from there. Unfortunately, it didn't. The salmon was oily, not buttery. The rice was dry. And we could taste fish through the heavy brine on the saba.

You've seen the plastic sushi displays that commonly adorn Japanese restaurant window displays. Looks good, but tastes -- well -- like plastic.

In retrospect, I think the plastic sushi might have been tastier. And it certainly looks better than some of what we were served.

To be fair to the restaurant, we arrived toward the end of their lunch service. Late enough that the boat/bar was already closed, but the chef would prepare our selections to order. Fine with us. That's generally our modus operandi in boat establishments anyway -- watch the boats full of pretty-if-unsanitary fish circle as entertainment, order fresh from the chef.

In the end, Sushi King wasn't bad. Where bad is defined as resulting in food poisoning. But it wasn't good. And it certainly fell far short of great.

Sushi King
74 Ranch Dr, Milpitas

May 14, 2006

Exploring the Pleasant Hill Farmers Market

Sense memories. They fascinate me for the wide range of emotions they invoke, for those parts of the past they bring momentarily and vividly into the present.

The scent of fresh-baked bread transports me back to early mornings in my grandmother's kitchen: bare feet on the linoleum floor, ice-cold orange juice and a slice of bread still warm from the oven, butter oozing into its crevices.

The crisp feel of a blank, neatly lined sheet of composition paper reminds me of all I loved about back-to-school: those first few days where the newness of the coming year still held an aura of promise and of mystery, where (at least in my head) anything was possible.

Bare feet on warm asphalt brings back memories of long summer days: swimming, summer camp, sun-tanning, wherever the muse took us, and the lazy summer evenings of BBQ and back-porch conversations that followed.

And the taste of spring's first sun-sweetened cherries reminds me of the carefree days of my childhood; the cherry tree that stood proudly in our back yard served as the stage for many memories-in-the-making. Its blossoms indicated the rain was really gone and spring and then summer were on the way. Its branches supported a tire swing providing hours of entertainment -- and me, when I climbed among them to disappear from the world for a bit. Its trunk served alternately as a 'backstop' during kickball games and as 'home base' when playing hide-and-seek. And the fruit -- the fruit was glorious. Too young to know or care their variety, I loved them for what they were: first tart, then sweet, quintessentially red.

So when cherries make their first appearance at the market, I'm a happy camper. And during Saturday's visit to the Pleasant Hill farmer's market with cherries abundant in many of the farm stalls, I was firmly ensconced in my happy place.

In addition to nearly 2 pounds of cherries, I took home a package of dried peaches for snipping onto salads, locally-produced olive oil, balsamic vinegar and honey, a handful of red potatoes, some onions and an avocado.

I can see it now -- when the stress of the weekday meeting circuit gets to me, I'll grab my bag of snacking cherries and take a quick mental detour to my favorite treehouse. It's going to be a great eating-local week.

Pleasant Hill Farmers' Market, Pleasant Hill
Located @ City Hall - 100 Gregory Lane
Saturdays, from 10:00am - 2:00pm
May - October (2006 season)

May 13, 2006

Risoto, with some fava beans (and a nice chianti)...

This year's "damn, it tastes great AND it's good for me" discovery: fava beans.

Leary of anything that looks like a legume since I don't understand the what's and the why's of my one significant food allergy, I approached them cautiously in a spring risotto at Nibblers last month. I instantly fell in love. And thankfully I walked away from the experience without looking like Lisa Rinna after a collagen injection and my epi pen stayed stashed in my purse.

I went home and started looking for recipes featuring favas. And sought them out at the market.

My first fava experiment: Fava Bean Risotto with Fresh Mozzarella and Prosciutto adapted from the April issue of Cooking Light magazine.

Midway through the eat local challenge it took some homework and some ingenuity, but I was able to source all ingredients except the salt and pepper from within 150 miles of home.

The Ingredients:

4 1/2 pounds unshelled fava beans (about 2 1/4 cups shelled)
2 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto (I used homemade prosciutto -- the last vestiages of a Christmas gift from one of John's bocce buddies)
Cooking spray
2 1/2 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth (I opted for homemade chicken stock)
2 cups water
1 tablespoon butter
1 1/2 cups chopped leek (about 2 medium)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups uncooked Arborio rice
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1/3 cup dry white wine
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups trimmed arugula
4 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

The Process:

I'd been warned that working with fava beans was a time consuming process. Like a feisty five-year-old intent on playing MY way, I ingorned the warnings. I spent thirty minutes watching Rachel Ray bargain hunt in Belgium as I de-podded 5 pounds of favas.

While my beans blanched, I tossed my proscuitto slices onto a silpat covered baking sheet and into a 400 degree oven to crisp slightly.

Then while Alton Brown explored cole slaw, I started popping the blanched beans out of their rather tough outer skins. It was here that my inner five-year old figured out that perhaps this wasn't the best selection for a weeknight meal. But since it was risotto or ramen -- and I'd gotten this far -- I pressed onward.

Next it was time to assemble the risotto itself.

Bring stock to a simmer over medium heat, taking care not to boil. Keep warm. Check.

Melt butter and saute leeks & garlic for about 3 minutes. Check.

Add rice and thyme, stirring to coat rice with butter. Rice glistens. Check.

Reduce heat and add the wine, stirring until it's absorbed. Check.

Start the thirty minute process designed to aggravate the most mild case of repetitive strain injury: adding broth, 1/2 cup at a time, until absorbed completely, or until your arm falls off. THIS is why I don't make risotto, I order it out. I take another look at the pretty magaizine photograph to remind myself how good this is going to taste...

Once the liquid's all absorbed, I added the favas, a pinch of salt and pepper. Removed it from the heat, added the arugula and the cheese.

And a little after ten, I'm sitting down to dinner.

The Results:

So... how'd it turn out? Was it worth the effort on a weeknight?

Well it wasn't Daniel's, but I think it was pretty damn good. The prosciutto definitely takes it over the top, and the melty cheese is quite satisfying. I think the leftovers will be great as pan-fried risotto cakes.

But in the future, I think I'll save risotto recipes for company occasions. Somehow the work's more worth it when I'm sharing the results with friends than when my late night company consists of the fuzzy little troll and Doc Gibbs...

May 12, 2006

Take me out to the ballgame...

When I'm stressed, I turn to the kitchen for refuge.

I hate exercise.

I love to read.

I'm happiest surrounded by good friends and great food.

And baseball may be America's pastime, but for me it is really ALL about the hotdogs.

I'm my father's daughter.

Like many American families, the summers of my youth included a handful of baseball games. But while my mother and my brother dressed head-to-toe in A's memorabilia and kept careful-if-odd records they called "box scores," Mo and I wandered off in search of the quintessential Polish dog.

I carried this trend to college, where much to my mother's dismay I attended a tailgate party for every single home game, but never managed to set foot inside Autzen Stadium. Hey, a girl's got priorities.

In more recent summers, John and I have attended the occasional San Jose Giants' games. No, not *those* Giants, the other ones. And true to my heritage, I've eaten my way through the sandwich offerings from Turkey Mike's Baseball & Barbeque pit on the third base line. Quarter-pound hamburgers with all the fixings. Hot links to bring tears to your eyes. Jumbo jumbo hot dogs. And a Polish that'd make Mo proud.

But a surprising thing's happened over the course of my adult relationship with America's favorite pastime. I'm enjoying the experience for more than just the food.

There's the minor league antics. The 'lucky number' promotion, where the winner claims a Rotten Robbie gas card. The audience participation rendition of Y-M-C-A. And the "smash for cash" contest between innings: three random fans choose a player counterpart. An old truck parks adjacent to first base. Each player gets three attempts to smash out a headlight. When successful, their fan-teammate wins a cash prize. Apparently harder than it sounds -- in half a dozen games, no one's won that one.

There's the fact that 2005 was a winning season for our hometown heroes -- they walked away the California League champions. And they're #1 in the northern division again this year. A little research reveals that since 1988 (which was their first year in the California League) the San Jose Giants have won more games than any other team in the league. In that time, 20% of their roster has moved on to success in the major leagues. Eleven former Giants have appeared on World Series rosters.

What? Those sound like statistics? Well what can I say... perhaps I'm a bit of my mother's daughter too...

Now excuse me while I go find the churro guy...

May 08, 2006

Around the world (wide web)

Found this on The Unemployed Cook and since she's left it open, I've decided to participate...

Three recipes you have recently bookmarked from food blogs to try:

Spinach Salad with Cinnamon Dressing from 28 Cooks

Coconut Almond Snapper Fingers with Grapefruit and Avocado Salad from the Traveler's Lunchbox

Garlic Soup with Mussels from The Wednesday Chef.

A food blog in your vicinity:

Tea and Cookies is just across the bay, though we've never met.

A food blog located far from you:

Grab Your Fork is on the opposite end of the globe.

A foodblog (or several) you have discovered recently (where did you find it?):

Well aside from the obvious: The Unemployed Cook there's also Hedonia, What We're Eating and the brand new Eat Local Challenge. I find new blogs primarily through referrals from some of my favorite reads.

Any people or bloggers you want to tag with this meme:

I'll leave it as the Unemployed Cook did... open to whomever would like to take it from here...

May 07, 2006

Playing at Professionalism - Taste of Pleasant Hill

Every time I've been downsized, right-sized, or for any other reason found myself contemplating career options (more than once across my adult life), I wonder how life might have been different if I'd discovered culinary school (or taken the concept of "leisure studies" seriously) when I graduated from high school. During my brief period of unemployment in the heart of the dot-com bust, I explored culinary school as one option -- and was sobered to learn that it rivaled the cost of my undergraduate degree in price, for a two year program. So I returned to the tech life and live my food industry fantasies vicariously through my friends in the restaurant industry.

Some people live to know how their cars work -- to be able to disassemble and reassemble them. I'm content knowing where to put the gas and how to check the oil and leaving the rest for the professionals. But when it comes to food, every little thing about the industry intrigues me. How it's grown (though with my black thumb, I'd be hard pressed to grow it myself). How it's prepared. And to tour a professional kitchen, in action? That's *my* personal Disneyland.

So when Daniel invited us to assist with his demonstration at this year's Taste of Pleasant Hill, we didn't hesitate to opt-in. On his tasting menu for the day, Daniel has chosen blue cheese & wild mushroom tartletts and some delightful leek and lamb turnovers. Yum! Spanning two tables, sandwiched between Pasta Pomodoro (serving meatballs and dessert bites) and a pizza joint (serving uninspired iceberg lettuce salad with prepared dressing), we weren't sure what to expect. The event serves as a fundraiser for the local preschool, so there were a lot of the under-10 set in attendance. With that demographic, it was fascinating to watch the public respond to Daniel's food. People fell into two camps: they either "got it" or they didn't. The best moment of the afternoon -- when a fourth grader's eyes lit up when she tasted the 'meat pie' and enthusiastically came back for more. Yeah, I could enjoy that part of the restaurant life...

May 05, 2006

If you build it, they will come...

I'll be there opening day. Guaranteed!

When my former employer sold their stock to the dark side of Redwood Shores (what? me? bitter? Nah!) I decided *my* soul wasn't going with my stock, and blanketed the bay with my resume.

As my days commuting to the peninsula grew numbered, I took stock of my situation. My commute would go from 45 minutes to 25 minutes -- with gas pushing well into the $2.00/gallon range, this hit the "pro" column. Ditto ditching $15/week in bridge toll. What would I miss? A steady caffeine supply within walking distance was definitely a nice-to-have, but I'd get over it.

After much introspection, in the end there were two sacrifices I'd truly miss and have difficulty substituting from the East Bay:

First, the proximity of coastal Half Moon Bay -- sand and surf to sooth the soul and fresh seafood to take home for later -- although in reality I'd made the trek exactly twice in my three year tenure in San Mateo.

And second, my weekly pilgrimage to foodie heaven: Draegers. A 60,000 foot emporium devoted to freshly prepared and specially packaged food treasures from all over the world. I could wax poetic about all that is Draegers for three or four paragraphs, but their marketing department sums it up much more succinctly than I would here. And while I have a hard time using the words "sophisticated" or "affluent" in self-descriptions while maintaining a straight face, Draegers was my first choice for an interesting lunch -- on the patio or at my desk. And my primary source for hard-to-find ingredients for dinner at home. Whole Foods works in a pinch, but it's a distant second. I miss Draegers.

Six months later, life is looking up. Draegers is coming soon to a neighborhood near me! Can't wait!

May 03, 2006

Iron Chef East Bay: local ingredients and leftovers -- a creative exploration

Take some fresh locally produced food from my recent shopping spree. Add some leftover ingredients that have reached the "use or toss" stage. A forty-five minute time limit (I left work late, stopped to shop, and want to eat dinner before I'm thinking about breakfast).

Forget the forty sous chefs at my beck and call. Convert "kitchen stadium" to "kitchen foodie-functional." Nix the TV cameras, the lights, the play-by-play commentary. The menu is three courses, not five. And it's in crayon, not caligraphy. This is a low-budget operation and quality ingredients trump ambiance.

Welcome to Iron Chef East Bay...

The "Locals" (procured on our
field trip last weekend and Monday's grocery adventure):
Arugula (Capay Valley)
Cherry Tomatoes (Capay Valley)
Petaluma Poultry Chicken Breast (Petaluma)
miscellaneous herbs (a gift from a kind neighbor)
olive oil and balsamic vinegar (Oroville)
stemmed shiitakes (Moss Landing)
"Incognito" Viognier (Lodi)

The "Leftovers":
St. Agur Blue Cheese
Clover sour cream

The Inspiration: a google search for "chicken breast" + "blue cheese" + "recipe" yielded several dozen variations of Chicken Cordon Bleu and Buffalo Wings w/ Blue Cheese Dip, plus this gem upon which I built my dinner. Pounded/rolled/stuffed chicken breasts represented more energy than I wanted to expend on a weeknight dinner for one (desiring to be done with dinner before thinking about breakfast).

I chose to saute the chicken in olive oil to brown them and then transferred them to the oven to cook through while I constructed the sauce. A little bit of clarified butter and a couple handfulls of shiitakes sauteed until lightly browned. Deglazed with the viognier that's left in my wine glass. (re-fill wine glass). Turn the heat down and add sour cream and blue cheese. Toss to coat mushrooms. Spoon over chicken breasts. Serve with fresh green salad.

Allez Cuisine!

May 02, 2006

Culinary Curiosity 2.0

It's spring. It's stopped raining. It's time for a change -- a bit of a remodel. It's a work in progress -- I'll be tweaking it over the next couple weeks, but here's your first peek at CC v. 2.0.

What do you think?

May 01, 2006

Eat Local Challenge - To market, to market...

Day one of the Eat Local Challenge finds your heroine headed to Whole Foods -- for perhaps the very first time without a shopping list -- on a quest for foods produced locally.

First stop, produce. Here I'm in luck. Unlike Safeway, Whole Foods clearly labels virtually everything that's grown in California with exactly where in California it hails from, complete with a nifty little state map. And if I have any questions, the friendly produce guy is more than willing to help me out. I choose a hearty head of lettuce to use as the base of this week's salads. Since I've still got some goodies from last week's CSA delivery (and the promise of another delivery on Wednesday) I wander off to...

The fish counter, where I encounter perhaps the biggest surprise of my trip. I engage the eager young man behind the counter, explaining the challenge and learning, much to my dismay, that he's not terribly versant on where the fish he's selling came from. Again, the signs help both of us determine that the salmon is farmed on the east coast, and several other varieties come from Oregon and Washington. My only "local" choices are black cod and crab -- and my buddy can't define where exactly in the greater bay area "local" is. Hmm... Since I'm feeding just me this week and cleaning crab is more effort than I'm likely to have time or energy for after work, I opt for the black cod, thank the man for his help and move on to...

the meat counter. One of the things I love about Whole Foods is the meat counter. It's the next best thing to a real, old-fashioned butcher shop like the ones my grandfather would take us to on Mondays after school when we were kids. Red meat, poultry, pork, lamb and sausage lovingly displayed in refrigerated cases. Not shrink-wrapped meat in styrofoam containers and a buzzer to push if you can't find what you're looking for. I wait my turn and again explain my challenge to the man who offers to assist me. I'm looking for locally-raised chicken. He suggests Petaluma Poultry as a reasonable source and, chicken breasts in cart, I move on to...

the "grocery" portion of the store, where I simply wander the aisles getting a feel for what's locally produced (not much) and what's trucked in (a fair amount). This is the education I was looking for. I'm of a generation that's pretty much always read nutrition labels, but never paid attention to the information beneath them -- about where the product was made and by whom. Finally, I wander into...

the dairy section. I've been looking forward to this challenge specifically for the opportunity to try unpasteurized, unprocessed milk. Yes, of course I've had the opportunity before. But I've always weighed it against "but I can buy milk cheaper at Safeway." This month, it's not about cheaper -- I will find other ways to stay within my food budget (knocking out purchased lunches should certainly help).

And finally it's time to hit the checkout stand. I feel like the contestant on a cheesy 1970's supermarket game show... How did I do in the 45 minutes I allotted to "shop locally"...?
The Shopping List:
Mustard from Mendocino Mustard in Fort Bragg
Granolafrom Galaxy Granola in San Rafael
Lowfat Milk, Unsalted Butter and Ice Cream from the Strauss Family Creamery in Marshall
Lowfat Yogurt from Pavel's Yogurt in Oakland
Sprouted Whole Grain Sourdough Bread from Alvarado Street Bakery in Rohnert Park
Organic Green Leaf Lettuce from the Sacramento valley
Artisan cheeses from the Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes Station
Sablefish/Black Cod fished locally (according to the fishmonger)
Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast from Petaluma Poultry in Petaluma

The Tab: $79.36

The cheese is clearly specialty and I bought a fair number of locally produced "staples" -- but apart from the cheese, I can expect the list above to feed me -- breakfast, lunch and dinner -- for about 10 days. Shopping around, planning ahead, and I think I could make the local approach fit my budget. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the month plays out... whether I have to stretch my budget to make eating local work for me, or if in shifting my choices, the whole thing will balance out...