January 29, 2008

Lots of lemon leftovers

Hey... it's FULL of Vitamin C!!

From the archives: a year ago today, I introduced the Ciolinos and their sensational syrah.

January 28, 2008

When life gives you lemons...

...heat their juice and a bit of zest gently with egg yolk, sugar and cornstarch until you have a nice custard. Fold that custard into miniature butter-crumbly pastry shells. And top them with a fluffy egg white meringue. Then post your story alongside 400-some others for the January edition of the Daring Baker challenge. Just don't follow my lead and post it three weeks LATE. (Lucky for me that powers of the internets and blogger allow me to post-date my story).

Jen of The Canadian Baker was our hostess this month, and proclaimed January the month of the lemon (and the egg white). I actually made the little lemon tarts within days of the official post date (a few days late because I didn't want to infect my tasters with the sniffles). But a week of training followed sickness... and more tasks than time to complete them followed training. So here we are in mid-February (despite the fact that the date up there is January 28). The lemon tarts are long gone, living on in photography alone.

By now you've already read hundreds of accounts of weeping meringue and soupy curd. Where did I struggle? Ironically, with neither of those components. What gave me fits was the crust. That's right, the crust. What came out of my food processor resembled clumpy flour, not smooth and supple dough. I was devastated... if I couldn't make the one component everyone else succeeded with, what hope did I have to achieve the *hard* stuff? Lucky for me my guy is a whiz on the internet as well as in the kitchen. He found me this, and helped me roll out some sensational tart shells. Tragedy narrowly averted.

We ended up with six mini tarts (because I have six mini tart shells), a dozen shortbread crust cookies, and a *ton* of leftover curd and meringue. Stay tuned to see what we did with that...

Overall, it was a great challenge. I'm not a fan of the commercial lemon meringue pie on dessert carousels at diners across the country, but the mini-tart approach was quite pleasing.

Want to try it yourself? Jen has the recipe posted here.

From the archives: A year ago today I explored my culinary genealogy.

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January 22, 2008


Using this model, perhaps raising and lowering the wine glass counts as lifting weights?

January 21, 2008

Healthy, Fresh & Fast

A recipe that boasts being healthy, quick to cook, and features market fresh yet easily obtainable ingredients is a *perfect* candidate for January's first Magazine Monday. And it's even better when the final product tastes even better than it looks. Bon Appetit!

Grilled Tilapia with Smoked Paprika and Parmesan Polenta
adapted from Cooking Light, January/February 2008, p. 168

2 cups lowfat (1%) milk
2 cups water
1 cup polenta
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup grated Parmeggiano-Reggiano

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated black pepper
4 6-ounce fillets tilapia

Bring milk and water to a boil in a medium saucepan.

While milk comes to a boil, combine oil, paprika, garlic powder, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper in a small bowl, whisking to create paste. Rub both sides of fish evenly with spiced oil (I used a pastry brush here and it worked quite nicely, although it may now carry a permanent orange tinge from the paprika). Set fish aside.

When milk/water comes to a boil, gradually add polenta, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and cook 5 minutes or until thick, continuing to stir constantly. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon salt. Remove from heat and stir in grated cheese. Cover to keep warm.

Heat a large nonstick grill pan over medium-high heat. Add fish to pan. Cook 4 minutes per side, or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork.

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January 20, 2008

Almost like shopping with Grandma...

Grocery shopping with my grandmother remains one of my fondest childhood memories. Those of you who've been reading for a while know that growing up, we spent summers visiting our grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins in Illinois. My paternal grandparents made the journey from Italy to America as small children. Both families settled in small mining towns southwest of Chicago. Summers in the villages of Ladd, Cherry, Chicago Heights and Steger Illinois taught me a lot about life, love and community in small town America. And one of the best things about small town America to me when I was growing up was time spent in what Grandpa called the marts of trade.

Unlike today's mega-marts and warehouse-style outlets, grocery shopping with my grandmother was only partially about stocking the pantry and the refrigerator. It was also a chance to greet neighbors, relatives, friends. And to get advice from food purveyors on what was good today, what was fresh, and how to prepare it. Grandma Kate knew Dominic the butcher, his wife, his son and daughter, his new baby grandson. And Dominic knew how much my grandfather loved a tender pork roast, a rare beefsteak. And he always had a scrap slice of mortadella or salami to delight my brother and me. Similar scenarios played out in the bakery, the green grocer, the fish counter and even the four check-out counters at the front of the store. Grocery shopping with my grandmother was part financial transaction, part social interaction, part educational experience, and a great adventure.

The only thing that came close to this in my 21st century adult life was the farmer's markets -- at least until Lunardi's opened in Danville. It's taken the space of Andronicos, an upscale grocery chain from Berkeley. And with artisan meats and cheeses, and in-store bakery and a Peet's Coffee, it hasn't abandoned the upscale market.

But what makes Lundardi's special for me is the people. The fact that during precious days before Christmas, when he's got a line of people a mile long, Joe behind the butcher counter asks me what I'm doing with three pounds of pork tenderloin. And when I tell him we're serving it stuffed for dinner on Christmas Eve, he takes the time to butterfly it for me. And tosses in a length of butcher's twine to hold it together. That Ann and Arnold at the registers do more than make occasional eye contact with their customers... they converse with us. They remember names, and where customers' kids go to school.

It's almost like shopping with Grandma...

Lunardi's Market| 345 Railroad Ave., Danville, CA | 925.855.8920

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January 19, 2008

Rachel Ray, eat your heart out...

I don't have a lot of words lately. But I'm eating some wonderful meals, and I've got the pictures to prove it.

One recent meal featured leftover mustard glazed salmon crumbled over mache greens and avocado dressed with lemon juice. With five minutes of prep time, it took more effort to clean up *after* dinner.

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January 18, 2008

A *good* case of the blues...

A small tub of blue cheese crumbles leftover from last month's Christmas Eve festivities.

A bunch of spinach and a pair of pears in this week's CSA box.

A pound of Rosie organic chicken breasts.

Fifteen minutes with Firefox and Google.

What's for dinner tonight? Whole Foods' Baked Chicken Breasts with Spinach, Pears and Blue Cheese.

Bon Appetit!

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January 17, 2008

Always a bridesmaid...

Those of you who've been following along this month know that I haven't had a lot of luck with recipes from my chosen focus cookbook this month: Moosewood Low-Fat Favorites. A used bookstore bargain-bin find, it's been occupying space on my cookbook shelf for several years. The inside front cover's inscribed with wedding shower wishes from a group of the bride's girlfriends. I've often wondered what became of Kim and Mark, married in early 1997. Now that I've tried some of the recipes, I'm understanding why regardless of how their marriage fared, Kim was willing to sever her relationship with Moosewood. After a lackluster seafood dish and an equally bland experiment with garlic soup, it's only a recipe or two away from eviction from *my* kitchen. Double-dog dumped.

Tonight my mission is to use up some CSA cucumbers that are on their last legs. I think Moosewood's got a simple cucumber salad recipe. Sure enough, there on page 233: Cucumbers Vinaigrette. All I need is two cukes and a handful of pantry staples.

But wait, behind the cucumbers there's a quarter of a red onion and a wedge of jicama... What the heck... the more the merrier. So I slice the vegetables, whisk together the vinaigrette toss it all in tupperware and the tupperware back in the 'fridge so that the salad can macerate and absorb the vinegary goodness.

The result? Not bad. Not bad at all. But not much of a recipe either. Moosewood's still going to have to try a bit harder to maintain its spot on my bookshelf...

Cucumbers (and other crunchy vegetables) Vinaigrette
Adapted from Moosewood Low-Fat Favorites

2 medium cucumbers, peeled (since mine came from the CSA and had no wax, I didn't bother)
1/2 jicama, peeled and julienned
1/4 red onion, sliced
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground dried mustard
ground black pepper to taste.

Slice cucumbers crosswise into 1/4-inch rounds. Toss with jicama and onion.

Combine vinegar, sugar, salt and mustard in a small bowl, whisking vigorously to dissolve sugar and salt. Toss with vegetables. Refrigerate for 20-60 minutes to allow flavors to blend. Season with ground pepper to taste.

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January 16, 2008

Hay, Hay, Let's Play (with pizza)

Okay, so this probably isn't the most attractive edible to emerge from my oven. But DAMN did it taste good! And it's my humble contribution to January's Hay Hay, it's Donna Day, where we're celebrating pizza.

I started with the basic Donna Hay Pizza Dough, straying only slightly from the recipe as Joey posted it. I substituted whole wheat for one of the two cups of all purpose flour, hoping to increase the final product's nutritional value at least incrementally. I figured if I was going to pile it with pork fat, I'd better add nutrition somewhere. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

The pizza dough came together quickly and easily, and the twenty minute rise gave me the time to hone my knife skills prepping the toppings. I'd selected primarily locally-sourced toppings: a rapidly ripening pear from my CSA, some pancetta piana (dry-cured, skin-on pork belly that is seasoned with black pepper and rosemary most commonly found in Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna) from the Boccalone box, and a hunk of Point Reyes Blue I found blooming in the back of the cheese drawer. Over the toppings I drizzled a couple of tablespoons of a lemon and ginger infused cream honey I found at one of the farmers' markets last summer.

Fifteen minutes at 425 and... oh. my. gaaawd. Just the right combination of sweet and salty, tart and tangy. Leftovers are going to make *great* lunches for the next several days. Thank you Joey, for allowing me to play a bit with pizza toppings, and reminding me how often all of the ingredients for a fresh satisfying dinner are hiding in my pantry and refrigerator, waiting me to drop the takeout menu and unleash my creativity on them. I encourage you to go and check out the roundup at 80 Breakfasts later this month... you're bound to find additional inspiration (and far better photography) there.

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January 15, 2008

Carbonara alla Cosentino

Back in early December, our bi-weekly "piglet" sachetto of tasty salted pig parts came with a nice chunk of Guanciale (a salt-cured pork jowl, mostly found in the region of Emilia-Romagna) which the newsletter proclaimed is the traditional cured meat used to make the famous dishes Amatriciana and carbonara. They provided a recipe for the former. And we've been after the guys at Boccalone for Chris' recipe for carbonara ever since.

We got it a week or so ago.

And it was wa-aaaa-ay worth the wait.

I can't comment on the ease of preparation or lack thereof on this one; my contributions included stopping at Whole Foods for cheese, then boiling and draining the pasta. Have I mentioned lately how much I appreciate the fact that John knows his way around the kitchen?

I can, however, comment on the taste. Rich. Unctuous. And quite authentic, if what came out of my grandmother's and great-aunts' kitchens are any indication. A little of this goes a long way (which is good because it's pretty calorically dense). Next time (and there will be a next time) we're going to scrap the oak-y California chardonnay (which was open) in favor of a crisper pinot grigio in the recipe -- that should play better against the dish's richness. And we're going to take a piece of John's go-to carbonara recipe and add a bit of Boccalone's spicy Italian sausage to the mix. Because one can never have too many tasty salted pig parts...

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January 14, 2008

Like father, like daughter...

A month or so ago ago, Meryl at My Bit of Earth posed a question that's been haunting me (in a good way) ever since. She asks What is a good habit that you have that's like your parents or grandparents? A bad one? A funny one? She opens up a fascinating discussion in the comments, but rather than write an essay there, I decided to discuss it in greater detail here...

As much as my father loved to entertain, he rather disliked cleaning up afterwards. After a party, you'd find spatulas, spoons and other utensils scattered around the kitchen counter, abandoned wherever he'd last used them. Dishes would pile in and around the sink. With two kids and a wife to pick up behind him, it wasn't often much of an issue. Since I have neither a wife nor kids to look after me, I need to get better about picking up behind me. Because it's a drag to have to spend thirty minutes locating that measuring spoon (and washing it) before I can get started with a new recipe...

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January 13, 2008

Think Garlic! Spanish Potato Garlic Soup

First, apologies in advance for the crappy cell phone picture. My camera's in John's car.

I wanted to love this, my second selection from my focus cookbook of the month: Moosewood Low-Fat Favorites. It has all of the components for bringing warm and flavorful comfort on a cold rainy winter day. Long a lover soups with 'cream of' in the title but trying to watch my waistline, I'm slowly making peace with soups with chunks. And with a broth containing 20 roasted and pulverized cloves, it was the *perfect* contribution to Sunita's Think Spice - Think Garlic event.

Sadly, despite the sweet spicy garlic, a pungent CSA onion and smoky paprika, it failed to deliver the flavor. I'm really wondering if this is another case of operator error. Others have enjoyed it. But for me, it wasn't even the sum of its parts. Sorry Sunita. I tried.

I'll finish it, but I won't try it again. And unless the next couple of experiments with Moosewood are phenomenal, I'm going to clear a space on my bookshelf, offering this one as a donation in the next library fund-raiser.

Spanish Potato Garlic Soup
from Moosewood Low-Fat Favorites

For the Garlic Broth:
1 large head of garlic (about 2o cloves)
1/4 cup white miso
3 cups water
3 cups vegetable stock

For the Soup:
1 large onion, thinly sliced (2 cups)
2 large potatoes, thinly sliced (I used russets and left the skin on)
1 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup chopped tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried thyme

Heat oven (or toaster oven) to 400.

Separate and peel garlic cloves. Place on dry pie plate and roast for 15-20 minutes (until golden but not browned).

While the garlic's roasting, slice the onion and potatoes, and chop the tomato.

Puree garlic in a blender with miso and water. Add to vegetable broth and bring to a simmer.

Heat olive oil over medium heat in large skillet. Saute onions, potatoes and paprika 5-7 minutes, until onions are tender but not brown. Add tomatoes and thyme and simmer 5 minutes, until most of tomato liquid is absorbed/evaporated.

Add potato mixture to broth and simmer until potatoes are tender.

Serve with crusty sour dough bread.

Others who've tried this recipe:
Conrad at Green Edmonton gives us a local/organic/sustainable riff on this recipe.
Skona of Skona Life recommends this for warding off the winter chill.

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January 12, 2008

Dining out in Dayton - Jay's Seafood

On our last drizzly evening in Dayton we took the advice of colleagues and friends and ventured back into the historical Oregon District. Our destination: Jay's Seafood Restaurant. Our biggest challenge turned out to be finding the restaurant; despite state-of-the art navigation toys, one-way streets and oddly shaped blocks conspired to confound us. But we persisted, and soon found ourselves seated in an elegantly appointed dining room dominated by a 32-food mirrored mahogany bar... a scene I found reminiscent of the 1940's films my father adored.

K was a little concerned when our waiter pondered her inquiry about "gluten free" as if she was speaking a foreign language, and we both breathed a sigh of relief when it became clear that the chef understood her dietary restrictions... and that our waiter was pleased to have learned something new. She chose the seared tuna, and I selected the local "Lake Erie" Walleye in a pecan butter sauce. THIS is my memory of solid, Midwestern food: simple, gut-sticking preparations that seek to satisfy, not impress. A great way to end a long week.

Jay's Seafood Restaurant | 225 E. Sixth Street, Dayton, OH | 937.222.2892

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January 11, 2008

Dining Around Dayton: Brio

If it's Wednesday, it's team dinner night.

"Team Dinner Night" struck fear in the hearts of most of my colleagues, given our experience with the lunch offerings so far...

So when the powers that be announced Brio Italian Grille would be our destination for the evening, we all breathed a collective sigh of relief. Yes it's a chain. But given the number of Arby's I've seen in the last two days, they could have chosen *far* worse in the chain department. I glanced at the online menu and knew I could make some relatively healthy choices. And my gluten-free colleague could eat, period.

I chose the Wood-Grilled Salmon Salad with a glass of Sketchbook Cabernet Sauvignon, and while Pacchia certainly remains the best meal I've had in Dayton, I didn't walk away disappointed or hungry.

One more day...

Brio Tuscan Grille | 4459 Cedar Park Drive, Beaver Creek, OH | 937.429.7792

They Dayton Daily News reviews Brio.

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January 10, 2008

Dining Around Dayton: Pacchia

Turns out the pizza might have been the *best* lunch we're going to see in Dayton. It's gone steadily downhill from there. Tuesday I had my first experience with mystery meat; I truly have *no* idea what kind of protein was suspended in the gelatinous brown sauce. I skipped it, but a more adventurous colleague described it as a peculiar experience. Not one he wished to repeat. I had a pile of iceberg lettuce (sans nuclear lime green gloppy dressing), two bananas and a handful of mixed nuts. And spent the afternoon dreaming about dinner.

I'd found our dinner venue on Open Table and based on 20 minutes on the Internets, I was fairly confident we'd eat well. The executive chef's a native of Dayton, and an honors graduate of the CIA with an impressive resume. A seasonal menu of New American cuisine, Mediterranean-style had my attention. So after six hours studying statistics, four of us piled into a rental car and headed for Pacchia in the Oregon District of downtown Dayton.

Parading through the espresso and panini bar on the way to the main restaurant was a bit odd, but I can see how the former would appeal to the college and the early after work crowd. The look and feel of the restaurant is very contemporary, very hip. It would fit just fine in many bay area neighborhoods (though the rent would probably be prohibitive... the space is *huge*.)

My dining companions chose the salmon and the stuffed fillet of beef. I'd spent the previous evening salivating over a fish I'd never heard of as Mario Batali bested Jamie Oliver on Iron Chef America... and here was the mystery fish, on the menu in Dayton. I'll have the Grilled Fillet of Cobia (with roasted fingerling potatoes, petite carrots, and mango Maltese orange and mint salsa). With the "Fifth Street" salad. And a glass of Sketchbook Pinot Noir. Please.

Memories of mystery meat fade into the distance...

The salad proved that you *can* get something other than iceberg in the Midwest and that a sweet tart dressing in the supporting cast rather than grappling for the lead is a wondrous thing. And the cobia. An intriguing combination of firm and buttery with a rich tender flavor, cobia will be my entree of choice any time I see it on a menu. And unless something I eat in the next two days is earth-shattering, Pacchia will go down as the culinary hit of this trip (and possibly the Denver > Dayton > Denver circuit).

Worth the drive, even in the rain.

Pacchia Restaurant | 410 East 5th Street, Dayton, OH | 937.341.5050

Other opinions on Pacchia:
A 20-something sales rep and student had a less-than-stellar experience.
Sue of Rabbit Run Cottage gives me a list of must-try experiences in Dayton, including both Pacchia and another restaurant on our radar later this week.

From the archives: A year ago today, I played with puff pastry.

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January 09, 2008

Taste & Create - Other People's Food

Welcome to the first 2008 edition of Taste & Create, where my directive was to:

  • Browse through my partner’s yummy blog entries, and pick out one dish that looks really interesting.
  • Create the dish I've chosen.
  • Taste it and tell you what I think (aka - blog about it)!
  • Include a photograph.
My partner this month is Katie of Other People's Food. I love the premise behind Katie's blog. She takes published recipes (family favorites, features from magazines and cookbooks, the best of the web) and recreates them in her Virginia kitchen, making "Other People's Food" something entirely her own. If you're not familiar with Katie, I'd strongly suggest you go check her out. Go ahead. Really. We'll wait...

I spent the better part of a week combing through Katie's archives, discovering we share a lot of common culinary likes and dislikes. I've bookmarked more that a dozen recipes "to try".

I found myself salivating over a recent series of "brown butter" features, wondering which buttered up recipe I would choose? Goat Cheese Ravioli with Roasted Bell Peppers and Brown Butter? Buternut Gnocchi with Brown Butter and Sage? Roasted Fish Fillets with Brown Butter Corn Sauce?

In the end I bagged the butter (for now...) selecting her Miso-Glazed Sea Bass with Asparagus.

Asparagus? In January? It looks pretty emaciated in my grocery store, so I substituted leeks and parsnips from my CSA box.

And Whole Foods didn't have any sea bass, so a succulent slice of Alaskan halibut took the lead role in my version.

The fish was excellent. And I knew I'd love the buttery parsnips and crispy leeks. But the standout here was the miso glaze. A brilliant balance of sweet and salty, with a clean tart finish from the lemon, caramelized to perfection under a broiler. MUCH less fussy and far less time consuming than Martha's version or Nobu's, this is going to be my go-to miso glaze.

Miso Glazed Halibut with Roasted Winter Vegetables
(adapted from Katie of Other People's Food)

3 leeks, white and light green parts only
5 medium parsnips
2 tablespoons olive oil
pinch of salt
fresh cracked black pepper

1 pound halibut fillet
2 tablespoons white miso paste
1 1/2 teaspoon white sugar
juice of one small meyer lemon

Preheat the oven to 450.

Slice leeks in half lengthwise; submerge in cold water, "swishing" to remove dirt and grit. Rinse under cold water and pat dry with paper towels.

Cut parsnips into 2-3 inch cubes.

Toss leeks and parsnips in olive oil. Spread on baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Roast at 450 for 40 minutes, stirring at the 20 minute mark.

Combine the miso, sugar, lemon juice and a couple of twists of fresh ground pepper in a small bowl. Whisk well with a fork to combine.

Put fish in 8x8 broiler-proof pyrex baker. Top with miso glaze.

Broil fish 5-6 inches from heating element under low broiler for 6-8 minutes. Turn off oven and close oven door for additional 6 minutes to ensure thick fillet is cooked through but not dry.

Thanks to Nicole for introducing me to Taste and Create, and to Katie for providing such wonderful recipes to choose from!

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January 08, 2008

Dining around Dayton: Harrison's

As predicted, our first catered lunch was an early indication that we were going to have to work to find decent food in the Dayton suburb of Huber Heights. Lunch was also confirmation that my gut instincts to avoid pizza Sunday night... I've never encountered margarine as a pizza topping but it seems to be a staple around here. One of the locals swore he knew where we could do better. So my crowd piled into the car , passing a "restaurant row" littered with Applebees and Olive Garden and headed for Tipp City, OH in search of Harrison's.

According to our host, a native, Tipp City was founded as Tippecanoe City in the 1800's along the Erie Canal, with early commerce built upon the canal trade. And that Harrison's is named at least partially after the town's presidential connection. It's lost none of it's small town midwestern feel, and its streets left your heroine a bit homesick for the summers she spent in the central Illinois mining towns of her ancestors.

The menu centered around smoked meats and beef, though the bourbon-glazed salmon was a brief and strong temptation. I also considered the restaurant's "signature" burger: a half pound of angus ground beef wrapped around a blue cheese and onion mixture, then *deep fried* and served smothered in spicy buffalo sauce. But in the end I opted for a beautifully rare fillet with typical midwest sides: cole slaw, mashed potatoes and sauteed onions.

Definitely worth the drive.

Harrison's | 106 E Main Street, Tipp City OH | 937.667.5200

The Dayton Daily News review.

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January 07, 2008

They MADE it!

They did it.

They made it.

They beat "the system."

For those of you not following local food news in the east bay area, allow me to explain. The Smith family has owned and operated Windmill Farms Produce Market since the early seventies, offering customers local produce from the farm-rich tri-valley and central valley areas in a delightful open air market setting. This summer, Contra Costa Environmental Health Services issued a ultimatum: the Smiths either had to completely enclose their market and stop selling cut produce or they would be forced to close the business. The Smiths and their loyal customer base collected 9000 signatures in their support and successfully won their appeal in early October.

Windmill Farms Produce | 2255 San Ramon Valley Blvd, San Ramon | 925.820.0747

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January 06, 2008

It's gonna be a L-OOOOO-NG week...

I peeled my (_]_) out of a warm bed at 4 AM this morning in rain-soaked California and headed for a quick shower. On my way to the airport. For a 6:30 AM flight to Dayton. Through Dallas, since I didn't want to get stuck in snow this time of year. All in the name of professional development. Week three of a six week program designed to turn me into a lean, mean six sigma process improvement machine.

Now our Dayton office has a bit of a bad food reputation among my colleagues in California. I've been told to take my own coffee (and to stop at a grocery store and pick up bottled water with which to brew it) because the office coffee is reminiscent of folgers brewed in dishwater, the hotel water tastes like a swimming pool, and there's neither a Peets nor a Starbucks within a 15 mile radius. And the *food* is worse than that. We shall see...

For now, I just need to get from here to there. With a minimum dependence on fast food.

So John packed me a bit of a care package. Some tasty salted pig parts, sandwiched between homemade parmesan bread. A few hunks of Iberica Spanish cheese. A handful of dried white peaches. And 4 mandarin oranges.

Once through the security maze in San Jose, I slid back into my shoes and set off in search of Starbucks... it was going to be a long day and I needed one last fix. I sipped my orange scented latte with the first of my mandarins.

One positive side effect of the recent west coast storms was a tail wind into Dallas, where we arrived an hour early (and killed about half of that waiting for space at the gate). I settled in to wait for my connection with a sandwich, another mandarin, a couple hunks of cheese, a big bottle of ice water, and a textbook on statistics.

I was on the ground in Dayton by 5:30 eastern, had my luggage by 6, and grabbed a cab to the host hotel. It was close to 7 by the time I was settled in and ready to think about food. I pulled out the hotel guide to see what was in walking distance.

Hmm... there are the usual complement of fast food joints: the arches, the king, the colonel and yet *another* Arby's (roast beef of questionable origin's clearly popular in this area...I spied no less than 9 of them on the 7 mile trek from the airport. And 39 listed in the Greater Dayton Area Yellow Pages). Perhaps not.

There's a Cadillac Jack's across the street. Not a candidate for dinner on my own the night before the Buckeye's battle LSU.

And there's a pizza place that delivers, but the pictures in the ad don't look good. And if you can't make pizza LOOK good...

Exercising my burgeoning skills in data-driven decision making, I ripped into my care package and dined on a couple of oranges, the last of the pig parts and cheese, the baggie of peaches and a bottle of water I'd procured in the lobby. And sent thank you vibes flowing across the country...

From the Archives: In an exercise of deja vu all over again, John kept me fed.

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January 05, 2008

Blame it on the rain...

D and T introduced us to Cesar in Berkeley over a year ago, where we fell in instant love with the spicy pimientos di padron and the sweet tart roasted grapes of the late fall.

So when they suggested a late night nosh at the Oakland location during a break in Friday's series of storms, we eagerly climbed into the back seat to traverse the tunnel.

The storms had taken their toll on the restaurant, which was operating with less than half of its normal Friday night staff and offering half of the normal menu. D took charge of the ordering, and in no time at all we had a sizable feast before us. Several selections stood out as the hits of the evening: The tortilla verde, one of the most beautifully balanced "frittatas" I have ever encountered. Boquerones with avocado on grilled bread brought a delicate, delightful dichotomy between smooth creamy sweet avocado, brisk sharp boquerones and crispy bread. The spicy tuna and egg bocadillo was the surprise of the evening for me: who knew a tuna melt could be that good?!? And the tocino de pato... I'm not a duck fan, but John insisted I try it. Oh. my. gawd. Duck bacon. And while the bar menu's received much-deserved acclaim, I was looking for something with less punch and absolutely adored the house-made lemon-mint soda. Again a perfect balance.

We did less well with the desserts. T ordered the special of the evening, a chocolate cake with a broken creme fraiche. And the saffron orange ice cream that accompanied an orange pound cake clearly suffered beyond the point of no return from the afternoon's power outages.

All in all, a great way to kick off a weekend.

Cesar Piedmont | 4039 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland | 510.883.0222
Cesar Shattuck | 1515 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley | 510.883.0222

Other bay area bloggers who share our obsession enthusiasm over Maggie Pond's amazing food and drink:
Fatemeh at Gastronomie feels as strongly as we do about the tocino de pato and makes several other excellent suggestions.
Gourmet Bee offers a make-at-home version of the intriguing spicy tuna and egg bocadillo.
Lia of Swirling Notions has a thing for the pimientos di padron.
Martha's sketches over at Trumpetville Travels capture the essence of both the Piedmont Avenue and Berkeley locations.
"Single Guy" Ben had a better experience with the saffron ice cream than we did, and offers Cesar a 3.5 rating on his unique scale.

Photo credit: Bar Cesar

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January 04, 2008

New on my must own list...

We've all played the game. My menu would include copious amounts of hamachi, saba and unagi, remember?

Now Melanie Dunea's interviewed fifty of the world's top chefs... men and women who've arguably tasted (and in many cases created) some of the world's finest food.

Anthony Bourdain. Thomas Keller. Eric Ripert. Jamie Oliver. Lidia Bastianich. Wylie Dufresne. Mario Batali. And many more.

What would they choose as their final meal on earth? Inquiring minds are dying to know...

No pun intended.

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January 03, 2008

What WILL they think of next?

A ten minute field trip with Google indicates that this has been around for a couple of years, but it's a first for me.

One of the perks of a project launch at work was a catered lunch today. A rather nice catered lunch, all things considered. Teriyaki chicken over rice, tofu and vegetables, fresh green salad, and banana bread bites. I wish I'd had my camera...

But the surprise for me (and many of my colleagues) was the spray-on salad dressing.

For an office buffet, we decided it's a great idea. Individuals can add as much or as little dressing as they want to their personal salads (thought delivery takes a while in any significant quantity). There's none of the mess associated with a half dozen bottles of dressing open and dripping everywhere. And it's probably a bit more sanitary.

I chose the Caesar Delight flavor. According to Wish-Bone this is the classic Caesar in a rich vinaigrette dressing made with Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Cheddar and Romano cheeses, spices and a touch of lemon juice. Spritz your salad just the right amount. At just 2 calories per spray, you can reward your taste buds and your waistline.

Hmmm. My version of "Classic Caesar" includes anchovy and egg, but okay...

From the archives: a year ago today, I got creative with puff pastry.

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January 02, 2008

January's Food Focus: Moosewood

Wasting no time diving into my goals for 2008, last night's dinner came from my focus cookbook for January: Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites. I picked the Moosewood book up at the neighborhood used book store several years ago because I'd heard good things about the restaurant and the collective. I've paged through it a couple of times, bookmarked a handful of recipes... but never cooked from it until yesterday.

Yesterday's search for inspiration found me preparing their Baltic Fish, a simple baked fish based on the restaurant's more calorically dense Fish Otis, doused liberally in a sour cream dill sauce.

Why'd I choose this one? It looked fairly easy, I had most of the ingredients on hand, and I figured the leftovers would reheat well later in the week when time is at more of a premium.

The verdict? Eh. It was okay. John didn't care for it, but that may well have been partially user error. Because my fish guy at Andronico's was out of cod, I opted for tilapia. Stupid, stupid, stupid... tilapia's never performed well for me in the oven (though it sautes like a dream). In a addition, I cut the bake time back by 5 minutes as fish usually dries out in my oven. So we ended up with a bit of tilapia sashimi in the center of one of the fillets.

You'll also notice there's no photograph. That's because it's visually bland. A study in white. And it's all soft. It needs something... red bell peppers? thicker sliced onions? to balance it out texturally. On the positive side, the leftovers were *far* more satisfying tonight. Not sure if the dill/sour cream needed time to macerate or what, but it was much more interesting reheated. Sadly there are enough to-try recipes out there that I probably won't come back to it.

I served it with a light green salad and a glass of Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley Riesling. Very nice.

Want to try it yourself and see if I just screwed it up? The recipe follows.

Baltic Fish
adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Low-fat Favorites, 1996

2 large fillets of tilapia (1 pound total weight)
3 medium baking potatoes, peeled and sliced (about 12 ounces)
3 cloves garlic, minced
salt and ground black pepper to taste
the juice of one meyer lemon
1 cup low fat sour cream
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
1/2 (heaping) tablespoon dried dill
1 medium red onion, very thinly sliced

Preheat the over to 350.

I started with the potatoes, boiling them as directed with the garlic for ten minutes, mashing them with a wooden spoon, seasoning with a bit of pepper and spreading them in the bottom of an 8x8 glass baking dish.

I added the fish to the potatoes, and juiced the lemon over the top, catching the seeds in my hands.

I combined the sour cream, dill and horseradish in the sour cream container (I'm all about reduction of effort) whisking with a fork until the three were well combined, then spooning the sour cream mixture over the fish.

I then topped this with the red onion slices, covered the whole thing in foil and put it in the oven for 30 minutes while I worked on a salad.

The shopping list:
farm raised tilapia and sour cream from Lunardi's.
potatoes, garlic and red onions from Farm Fresh to You.
meyer lemons from a coworker's tree.
dill from Penzey's.

From the archives: Today in 2007, we made ravioli.

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January 01, 2008

Be it resolved...

2008. In the coming year, I will lead a career defining project at work. I will see a lot of changes there, as we go from a "wholly owned subsidiary of" to "a division of." In my personal life, I will celebrate one of those "milestone" birthdays. We're going to try to get back to Salt Lake City in the spring. And we're talking about a trans-canal cruise through Panama next fall.

In one paragraph, I can outline what I know (or think I do) about the coming year. That's what I love about New Year's Day -- the wonder of the unknown. There's a whole lot of potential, a whole lot of promise in the days and months ahead. A bunch of "this year's mine... what will I do with it?"

For the same reason I steered clear of pass/fail classes in college and have always preferred essays to true/false exam questions, I'm more of a goal than a resolution person. Maybe it's semantics, but goals give me the opportunity to reflect and refine, to measure my progress along the way and make adjustments as necessary. Goals acknowledge the journey and progress made along the way. Resolutions, in contrast, seem to focus primarily on a score sheet: did I succeed or fail?

I've spent some time reflecting on my goals for 2008, what I'd like to accomplish this year in my "food blogging" life. In the spirit of potential and promise that rules the day, I'm sharing them here with you.

1. I want to develop a healthier relationship with food. I've got some weight to lose, some minor medical conditions that -- if I continue on the same trajectory -- will become major health concerns in the long term. This isn't about finding "the miracle diet" or about losing x number of pounds by xx/yy/zzzz date. It's about finding a way to enjoy the foods I love (perhaps in smaller portions or in different combinations) while meeting my long term health goals. It promises to be an interesting and educational journey...

2. My cookbook shelf is second only to the wine rack in terms of square footage devoted to storage. Magazine Monday has been a wonderful opportunity to put my stack of foodie magazines to good use, but my cookbooks need attention too. So this year I'm going to select a 'focus book' from my collection each month and try 4-6 recipes from that book within the month.

3. We're going to entertain more this year. We love our annual open house (and for those of you who attend no worries... we don't plan to change that) but we're looking for more opportunities to share good food with great friends, perhaps on a smaller scale. Look for a soup and stew focused event later this winter, some barbecue over the summer... who knows what else we'll come up with.

4. I want to develop better skills with food photography this year. Scheduling constraints prevented me from participating in Food Photo 101 at Nika's Culinaria over the holidays, but I've bookmarked it and intend to use the lessons there as a starting point. I'm also looking at a class at the community center this spring.

5. I'm going to write more this year. I have *always* loved to write (and English teachers, journalism professors and kind friends tell me I do it well). Writing about food brings me great joy... but like exercise, it's easy to dismiss when "there's not enough time". This year I'm going to make the time to exercise both my body and my mind. I've joined the group over at Blog 365 and have committed to writing something every day in 2008. This is one where the distinction between resolution and goal is significant...I'm not turning my recreation into something to add to my task list and stress about completing. If I get to December 31 and have missed a day or two or ten, I won't be checking the 'failed' box. I'll focus instead on the journey.

And today the journey begins. For those of you who decide to follow along, fasten your seat belts, keep your hands and arms inside the car at all times, and hang on to your personal belongings... it may get bumpy. But with any luck, we will have fun, we will learn, and we will grow.

Happy 2008!

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