Monday, June 22, 2009

Live Nude Veggies

This little number is one vegetarian dish that has enough POW to substitute for 4th of July fireworks. It is always a pleasure to discover something we may not have stumbled into on our own and this was the case with the raw kale salad you see here, sandwiched between the red and orange. 

We were doing some work with Northshore health guru, Dena Mendes, a cyclone of information, advice and energy, when she introduced us to raw kale gone wild. So let's break this one down, starting with the Kale:

We start with a bunch of curly or lacinato kale (aka tuscan or dino or cavalo nero), cleaned well, thick woody part of stems removed. The leaves are chopped into 1 to 2 inch pieces, tossed into the food processor and pulsed...not too much though, we don't want raw kale soup this time, although that sounds like something to investigate..... Next we add some grated parmesan, pecorino or grana padano cheese, dried cherries cut into smaller pieces...the little bits of cherries are a smattering of tart deliciousness in a sea of green. The third balancing agent is nuts--pine nuts, walnuts or pecans are great. Now we drizzle on some raw olive oil, lemon juice and zest and pulse another time or two and we have the raw kale salad. We love it on its own, but with its cohorts in this case, any dabbler in veggie love will be quite pleased.

Mashed roasted beets form the lovely red pillow the kale is resting upon. We peel and dice raw beets, toss them with olive oil, salt and pepper, mix in some sliced garlic, wrap it all up in a foil packet and pop it in the oven where it steam/roasts until sufficiently soft. Next the contents are emptied into a bowl for the mashing...a hand-held potato masher will do the trick.

On top the very stunning display is carrot, stripped with a veggie peeler and fried until golden in olive oil. It is crunchy, tasty, flashy and fun. You will love it like we love it, I have no doubt!

The final, but crucial ingredient  is the jalepeno vinaigrette dressing the perimeter of the plate. Trust me, this is not just for looks. It is a flavor enhancer that seems to work well with almost anything....It makes a dish POP! Jalepenos are minced...seeds and ribs can be left in or omitted depending on your spice tolerance. They go into the mixing bowl along with a clove of raw garlic also minced and a pinch of kosher or sea salt. Mash up a little, add some fresh lime juice, give it all a good stir and drizzle in some extra virgin olive oil while whisking.  This dressing becomes silky quite easily due to something in the jalepeno, which is part of the magic. If you make this, try drizzling it over any dish that needs a little waking up. When we first discovered it, we put it on everything but the breakfast cereal.

Earthy sweet beets, bitter-green kale, crunchy-sweet fried carrots and tart/spicy jalepeno vinaigrette. Its flavors keep pace with its fetching looks and it is win-win on the health front, too. I have yet to see someone levitate right after eating this, but we know it is possible, any day now! If you make this and find yourself floating, please tell us about your experience!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sat Chit Ananda

Who doesn't love morels?  To find them on a restaurant's menu is a goose, to be sure.  Even  better to see and smell them raw and dirty at the farmer's market.  But to walk through the just-woken forest ground among fresh signs of deer and the first weeks' growth of all manner of wild green things and to suddenly hear, "I FOUND one!" is a thrill so rarefied and special that consciousness of all other things momentarily disappears.  And if this exclamation just emerged from your own mouth, then you have - albeit briefly perhaps - attained what only our greatest sages and masters have known. 

Jodi and I just returned from our first Ohio morel hunt in six years and now the world is righted again.  Anyone who's ever hunted these beautiful, quixotic specimens knows that the mission necessarily becomes one of total obsession, the day's waking hours often ending in bed with images of mushrooms hidden under leaves playing like a slideshow on the backs of your closed eyelids.

We've done a lot of hunting and gathering in our travels, from all manner of wild berries to greens to other kinds of mushrooms, but there's something different about morels.  I think it's that you can be standing right over one, looking at it for 30 seconds and still not see it.  All blended in so perfectly with the rumpled dead leaves from Fall, knotted tree roots, and old hickory nut shells, they just disappear until suddenly - like those old eye puzzles that look like a senseless pattern until you relax your eyes enough that a perfect image of the statue of liberty shoots out at you - there it is!!!!  It's been there this whole time.  And you were there to salvage this morsel of deliciousness that could have so easily been wasted, left unnoticed to rot in a matter of days or hours.

Now, cooking these beauties may not quite measure up to the thrill of finding them but it ain't no slouch either.  After doing the necessary slug, ant, and bug removal - hey, these mushrooms are wild - we got in the dugout.  First up, Buttermilk Biscuits with Ramp and Morel Gravy.  Yep, nothing carries mushroom flavor better than dairy, so out goes the country sausage, in come the morels, and you've got a breakfast Thomas Keller and your Kentucky grandma could share.  Oh yeah, and in another act of Mother Nature's brilliance, she has adorned the Spring forest floor with a carpeting of ramps just in time for the morels to pop  up.  So on those cruelest of cruel days when you leave the woods skunked, a bag o' ramps is always a consolation prize. 

Next up: Central Ohio's classic Fried Morel sandwich.  Buttered bread, floured and butter-fried mushrooms, more buttered bread.  That's it.

And finally (our trip was too short, as always): Blue Cheese, Ramp, and Morel Bread Puddings with an asparagus sauce.  A new classic of ours, and already showcased in our very first blog entry.

So here's to you, my fungal friend: Thank you again for being so frustrating, so unintelligible, so glorious, and so tasty.  May we meet again. 

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Did someone say TUNA?

The answer to the weekly question was TUNA: versatile, healthy, savory and satisfying, but most importantly, a protein we could all agree to love. The question? What should we have for the family dinner Sunday night.

At the suggestion of tuna I began to think hmm.... bland, as tuna is one of those ingredients in which my interest depends on what phase I am in. I have gone through times when it was the best thing going like in Kauai when it is being served up raw and delicious around every corner and at times it seems boring. So when the tuna ideas began to come forward in my mind and turn this potentially unexciting dinner into a clean, savory and punchy treat, I was tickled and increasingly excited about what was to come.

The crust: I can never really name the seasonings and will have a hell of a time if we ever decide to write a cookbook....but we can guess smoked paprika, toasted cumin, cinnamon...but a nice amount of flavor packed on to the raw tuna, which is then doused with some olive oil, seared on all sides and sliced.

The salad: edamame, radish, steamed carrot, orange, avocado, cilantro and mixed lettuces (you can see how I started to love this idea--it just screamed healthy good times).

The Dressing: Toasted sesame vinaigrette with lime and honey, balsamic vinegar, tamari, minced ginger and garlic, toasted sesame oil and olive oil and a little peach jam for a touch of extra viscosity.

On the top we made a glaze of reduced soy, orange juice, cabernet and balsamic vinegars. 

It was as good as it looked. It was luscious with the avocado and bright with the orange segments, and the tuna really stole the show. We did have to make plain tuna with caramelized onions and mashed potatoes for the least adventurous family member, but we all swooned.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Honeymoon Time Travel

Jodi and I lived in Barolo, Italy for 3 months back in 2000 - in tents in the garden of Rafaella Pittatore's agriturismo.  In between picking nebbiolo grapes, fierce euchre contests over four dollar bottles of the best barbera, and a near daily obsession with agnolotti del plin, we managed to sneak some time with chef Ercole Musso in his Barolo Osteria, I Cannubi.  At the foot of the famed Cannubi hill, we'd sit with him and his wife Loredana between Pranzo and Cena or after hours, talking politics in broken Italian, sipping Tokaji.  He invited us into his kitchen for one whole afternoon so we could experience "La Cucina Italiana" and we marveled as he made everything - EVERYTHING - from scratch and by himself. He fed 80-100 during busy lunches or dinners and he was all alone in the kitchen.  "Ercole" translates as "Hercules", so I guess it's no wonder.
Ever since those days it's always been my dream to get married in Barolo - a small affair outside on Rafaella's lawn - our little Barolo friends bringing unlabeled bottles from their family cellars, salumi from Franco the Macellaio, some grissini from "the paneteria people", tajarin or ceci soup from Rafaella's mother, and of course Ercole on the outdoor wood-fired grill.  Well, familial and financial circumstances wouldn't allow for such a party this year, but I think the gods did what they could.  A few months before the wedding, we found out that of all things, Ercole and Loredana recently left Barolo and opened up "The Post" - a restaurant in Grand Cayman - one of the two stops on our honeymoon cruise.
So Barolo came to us, sort of.  And boy was it sweet.  Right across from Seven Mile Beach we were treated to a REAL Italian antipasto of prosciutti e formaggi, Piedmontese wines and grappas, Caribbean spiny lobster risotto served in the shell, and a continual offer of more and more and more with the classic Barolo refrain of "All you have to say is Si"  But after eating non-stop for a week already on the cruise ship we had to say "Basta" - though not before Jodi's long-prayed-for finale: Ercole's Panna Cotta.  Just enough gelatin to keep it from spilling off the plate, this virtuosic effort has haunted us since 2000 and has eluded our every attempt to reproduce it.  Alas, strewn with a few berries and an aged balsamic-ish sauce, it sat before us again - regal, uncomplicated, and utterly perfect.  I guess we were too entranced to snap a picture of it, but feast your eyes on his amazing chocolate dessert: a luscious showstopper to be sure.  Tasting that panna cotta again, though, was like traveling through a wormhole - it consumed us.  And when food does that, it's grace.  It's religion.
And for the rest of that afternoon and evening, long after Loredana's hundredth "ciao, ciao, ciao" goodbye at the pier, our bellies and our smiles bore the stigmata of Ercole.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Cruising into the Future via Mexico

Alas, we are in Chicago, which translates as: at the end of all the craziness. Between the move across the country, the wedding and cruise, and settling in to a new place...we found ourselves floating back and forth from elation to exhaustion over and over again....WHEW! What a ride! Great time to stop, take a breath and share one or two stories from the wedding trip as a bridge between the San Francisco foodie life and the exciting Chicago adventures to come.
From the moment the cruise plan was hatched we knew we were onto something potentially serious. Bringing this group of people together anywhere was bound to make for good times. We had 24 people on the "yes" list, only our closest friends and family members.  It was even more perfect than we had imagined!
But since this is our FOOD blog, I will cut to the culinary highlight of the wedding cruise: Cozumel, Mexico. Keep in mind we are super fans of the Mexican table....we can hardly wait to stain up some of our new kitchen wedding gifts with chili puree and achiote pastes! We didn't have time to research anything about Cozumel and what to do there, so when we docked, we crossed our fingers and walked onto the island.
Twenty minutes into our journey downtown on foot someone finally said yes to one of the cab drivers and 7 of us piled on in. Although we were all enjoying the walk, the cab ride proved to be worthwhile after pumping the driver for information about where to get the best Conchinita Pibil, a specialty of the Yucatan region of Mexico. He explained where to go and how to get there as he dropped us off deep in the heart of Cozumel at a VERY local outdoor market. There were no tourists around, which delighted all of us....but we did see our somelier from the ship dining at one of the market's tiny little restaurants. 
We looked around, someone got a HUGE avocado and mango smoothie (wicked good) and before too long the tune of LUNCH was being hummed by at least half the group. Luckily the restaurant the cab driver mentioned was just a few blocks away. We slipped through the quiet streets and easily found our way. Our first impression was not the was so large and spotless that we were a little afraid we had been sent to a gringo trap. But that twinge of concern was nothing compared to the fright we all experienced when Jeff found out there was no Conchinita Pibil on the menu. It was not pretty!
But we had come this far, everyone was hungry and we all had beers on the table...Bohemia Negro, I think, very yummy. It really didn't seem like we could leave at this point, we just had to go with it. We asked the waiter what the best yucatecan dish on the menu was and he pointed us toward the Pollo Negro, black and spicy from the toasted chilies. Reluctantly, Jeff consented to this new paradigm and we moved on, admittedly made easier by the top notch tortilla chips and guacamole that appeared on the table. 
After the grumbly beginning, we all loosened up and Jeff was soothed by the fact that there were fresh house made corn tortillas available. We were not prepared for the obscene love that we were to feel about this black chicken. When it finally hit the table we saw, smelled and tasted that all was right with this experience and that although the cabbie misled us in some ways, he was our new hero. The chicken was soft, moist and bathed in the black sauce that was NOT a mole. It was deep and tangy and somewhat unfamiliar. We had to know more about this mysterious inky potion. The waiter was able to get across that this was another paste like achiote paste, which is what makes pibil pibil. Back to the market!!
We did manage to get our hands on some of these wonder pastes. You can find the red achiote paste in the US but it is always a thrill to pick it up in Mexico from the market where they pry a hunk off for you from a massive block. We found the red, the new beloved black paste and a new one none of us had tried or seen before that is spent green tea green. It is still burning a hole in our pockets at this time and we are dreaming of a spicy paste-y Mexican dinner ASAP!
After that score, contentedness was wafting in the air. We lollygagged along the streets that led back to the more touristy parts of downtown, shopping and bargaining as we went. We whiled away the entire afternoon just enjoying having this beloved group of friends together. Some of us bought jewelry or blankets, and others....Mexican wrestling (Lucha Libre) masks. You can't imagine the sight of this! 
Day turned toward evening and we managed to find a menu with Conchinita Pibil. There was a cute patio and we decided to have a small nibble before heading back to the ship. It was good but could not be compared with any of the dishes we had as a group at lunch. But there was a real highlight featured in the photo. The margaritas were just delightful! Fresh lime, expertly balanced....and no one was holding back. People were having one or two, maybe three....and finally the waiter threw out his best card. Matt ordered one more and the waiter said "I have something for you!" When he returned he had a Margarita in a glass as wide as Matt himself! We got such a kick out of this...I did not think it possible, even with 9 people, this drink would be taken down. Sometimes we amaze ourselves though. 
Sun soaked and electrified by a perfect day with pals, we made our way back to the ship, miraculously punctual. The party continued on board from dancing on the deck, highs and lows at the slot machines to literally gut busting laughter and some late euchre played through half closed eyes as a night cap. We bid each other "buenos noches" and the ship rocked us to sleep.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Weddings Holidays and Travels, Oh My!

We ask your forgiveness. If we have any faithful readers, we know we are disappointing you! As it happens with everyone, especially around holiday time, we have hopped on the moving sidewalk and it is cranked up to 500 mph.

The excuses: Don't worry, they are good ones!  First, we are getting married--soon. The wedding will be February 5th on a cruise ship in Miami. Second, between now and the wedding we are ending our job here in Marin County, driving across the country (the southern route to avoid snow and to seek fresh tortillas and a bowl of green in New Mexico), and moving to Chicago! Now understanding might be sinking in.......hopefully?! 

We are very excited about all the changes, events and travels and the wedding. But the blog has been neglected and as much as we hope it is not true, this abuse may continue until things settle down. But our intention will be to get some great food pictures and travel stories on the page to share with you all.

In the meantime, one photo and a short story. We made these pot stickers from dough bought in Oakland's Chinatown. We were both very impressed with our shaping technique, if we do say so ourselves! They are filled with sauteed mushrooms and chicken sausage, ginger, soy and sesame. The sauce is sweet and spicy tamarind and the pile of colorful goodness in the back is the answer to our intention that night to eat something very healthy: bean thread noodles with lots of veggies. 

Thanks for your patience and keep one eye on the blog in case there are any short travel vignettes. And wish us luck!!!

Monday, November 3, 2008

All smiles and Fresh Mint

I'm sure you are already wondering why Jeff is always the one in the picture, glowing, with some sort of ice cream product in his too. I guess he is particularly photogenic in just this scenario. Could he look any happier?!

So the ice cream feature du jour is from Sketch Ice Cream in Berkeley. We feel fortunate that this place exists and that we stumbled across it one fateful day last winter. Eric and Ruthie, the owners of Sketch are literally super cool and every decision they have made for their shop is just right. The design, from the interior to the packaging is simple and perfect. To get a glimpse of what we mean, just check out their website and blog...and if you are in the area, you must make your way over.  They are serving up some of the best ice cream in the area...often with a side of Eric's dead pan humor...which we just love!

The Ice Cream: Sketch ice cream is Soft serve. That is a big part of what makes sketch so unique. They usually have about 6 flavors rolling each day, including at least 2 very seasonal and/or inventive picks. These are the ones we find ourselves wavering between. Some of the best we have put in our personal Sketch hall of fame, including--rose geranium, burnt caramel, cherry blossom, cocoa nib, cardamon, banana.......I could write a little story about each one of these. The banana we have not stopped thinking about since we had it 6 months ago. It was almost tart, which you would not guess for a banana ice cream. We don't know how they do it. Raw talent is the only explanation.

So in the picture Jeff is holding a house made waffle cone (you smell them being made as you walk up to the door) with fresh mint ice cream. There was no debate that day. You can't keep us away from anything titled fresh mint. The beauty of this one is the flavor of freshly torn mint leaves, as opposed to mint extract. It is a real star! 

Also available at Sketch:  Granite, frozen yogurt, fudgesicles that are almost black in color, dairy free and so chocolatey they redefine your idea of chocolate. They have fun toppings for your frozen concoctions and they make some amazing confections like salted chocolate covered toffee....all in this sweet little shop. You get the idea, pure goodness, an example of mastery!