Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Stinking Rose

Lovers of the fragrant, tangy, and just downright delicious bulb of earthly delights known as the stinking rose converged on Gilroy, California last weekend for the 30th annual Gilroy Garlic Festival. Up top there is a picture of a giant flaming garlic bulb standing in the midst of all of the garlic-loving mayhem. Before we get going here, let me just mention that it was hot there in the small town of Gilroy. And not like a "oh, it sure is nice to be outdoors" kind of hot, but a sweating in unfamiliar places kind of hot. Now, I am originally from the Valley, so heat like this I should be used to. But I have acclimated as a city boy, and my tolerance for the dusty valley heat has pretty well bottomed out.

In case you had any doubts, people will line up for anything if it's free. Make it a hot day with very little shade and offer people free ice cream, expect just a little bit of a line. And this, by the way, is no ordinary free ice cream, but free garlic ice cream.

Just steps away, you can walk right up and buy the stuff and in larger portions. But then it's not free there.

We opted for the less adventurous of the flavors and got the vanilla garlic ice cream. For the uninitiated, I realize that garlic and ice cream do not initially sound compatible. But have some faith, dear friends, in the mystic power of garlic. The garlic flavor infused into the sweet vanilla contrasts well but does not overwhelm. It is, certainly, not your typical flavor of ice cream, and honestly not one you would eat on any sort of regular basis. But if you never have, it is a must try, and on the rare occasion you come across it not a bad way to fight off the heat.

After perusing the arts and craft stalls and seeking occasional shelter in prime shady real estate, we sat in on a cooking demonstration by Devon Boisen, executive chef of Berkeley's Spenger's Fresh Fish Grotto. Chef Boisen, a master of all things sea food, demonstrated the proper techniques for cleaning, boning, and skinning a salmon. Once he had quickly and deftly cut several perfectly sized salmon steaks, he walked the audience through a pretty simple recipe for poached salmon.

With a pan about half full of extra virgin olive oil, he warmed several cloves of garlic over a medium heat to infuse the oil with the garlic. Once the oil was infused, he submerged the salmon steaks in the oil, and let them cook over low heat. In the meantime, chef Boisen discussed how to make a simple gelatin-based infused sauce for the salmon, and the finer points of preparing fresh fish. This salmon recipe I might even try one day. Maybe.

But my biggest complaint about this here Garlic Festival? It seemed lacking in garlic stuff. I mean, apart from the main food vendors who sell a wide variety of garlicky foodstuff, it was more like a carnival than a food festival. I was just expecting, I dunno, more GARLIC. Christopher Ranch, the source of the garlic for the festival, was relegated to a small box at the edge of the grounds where they were selling a few of their fine wares. What's up with that? I guess I was expecting an all out free for all of people hurling cloves of garlic at each other like at the tomato festival in Spain. On second thought, that might not be such a great idea.

So, after a long day in the hot sun and valley dust, it was time to get moving along. But not before we stopped for the highlight of the Garlic Festival tour, the legendary garlic fries. Yes, you have had garlic fries before. But no, they were not this good. Gordon Biersch's got nothing on this.

It was a fun, albeit exhausting day. For those thinking about making next year your first visit, try to keep a few things in mind: First, you will wait in line, a lot. You will wait in line on the highway coming in to Gilroy. You will wait in line as you approach the parking lot, you will wait in line for the shuttle to take you to the main gate, and you will wait in line to get your tickets. You will even wait in line to get back onto the shuttle that will take you back to your car. You will wait in line for an ungodly amount of time. Advice? Buy your tickets online. If you're feeling frisky, get a hotel in Gilroy the night before, so you can wake up and go. Wear sunscreen and drink lots of water, and bring your appetite.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Veggie Goodness

In the spirit of cooking with good, fresh local produce this summer, I picked up one of my favorite summer vegetables, okra, at the Rainbow Grocery Co-op in San Francisco. Rainbow has become my new favorite place to go grocery shopping. You will find an amazing produce section, an unparalleled selection of bulk goods including oils and nut butters, and all things fresh, healthy, and sustainable. What you will not find there, however, is meat. No bother; the plethora of goodies found at Rainbow easily make up for not having a meat counter. Really, Rainbow is probably the next best thing to a farmers market.

Anyway, back to the veggies. I don't cook with okra very often, although I'm not sure why. Okra is a strange vegetable, a cross somewhere between a pepper and a zucchini, with a tacky exterior and sticky paste that oozes out when cut open. One of these days I am going to have to find out what that goo is all about.

That sticky interior makes it perfect for clinging to other things, like breading, which is probably why it is so often found coated in corn meal and sizzling in several inches of oil. For this dish, I was going for something slightly less fattening than the southern classic fried okra. I think these veggies might just make it on our list of regular favorites in the Tiny Kitchen, and it reminded me of just how much I love okra. And tomatoes. Oh, and garlic and corn.

The recipe below is pretty adaptable; add, subtract or change for your tastes, or for what's in season. Remember, they're just vegetables.

Broiled Okra with Tomatoes, Corn and Garlic

12 - 18 grape tomatoes
6 - 8 okra stalks, cleaned and cut into rounds
8 - 10 cloves of garlic, peeled
Kernels from 1 ear of corn
6 basil leaves, roughly chopped (for garnish)
Olive oil

Slice tomatoes in half and place halves and garlic cloves on a jelly roll pan. Drizzle in olive oil, season with salt and pepper. Broil about 5" from heat for 5 minutes. Toss corn and okra with about 1/2 tbs of oil, season with salt and pepper. Add to jelly roll pan, and return to oven. Broil for another 5 minutes, or until veggies start to brown. Sprinkle with basil, and serve.

Note: If grape tomatoes aren't your thing, use a regular tomato, halved, and cut into 1/4 inch slices. Or whole cherry tomatoes. Or add some red onion. Or whatever. What am I, your mother?

The pork chops were really just so we would have a meat to go with these yummy veggies. The greenish sauce on top is my feeble attempt at a light tomatillo salsa, and it could use some tweaking. But the chops, for what it's worth, went a little something like this:

Season pork chops on both sides with salt and pepper.
Pan sear the chops for a few minutes on either side, until both sides are browned. Put chops in a 375 deg oven with some olive oil and garlic cloves for about 15 - 20 minutes, or until cooked through.

My Rough Tomatillo Salsa:

12 tomatillos, halved
6 - 8 cloves of garlic
1 poblano pepper, chopped
A handful of cherry or grape tomatoes
The juice of one lime
A handful of basil leaves
1 tbs. olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Throw all ingredients into a food processor, pulse until it becomes a sauce.

So the sauce was good, very fresh tasting and light. But it was just a wee bit too spicy. Maybe not so much pepper next time. Maybe an onion. This is what makes cooking fun, right? But the veggies were the real point of the dinner, and they were perfect. The bright, fresh flavors really mixed well together, and the only real problem was that I didn't make enough for leftovers.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Travels to the Pacific Northwest, Part 2: Portland

After a brilliant couple of days in the Emerald City, Mrs. Rosewater and I caught a choo-choo train (barely) to the outpost of fugitives and refugees, Portland. Portland is truly one of my favorite cities, if for no other reason than it is home to the The Temple: The greatest book store in the entire world, a site of holy pilgrimage for bibliophiles the world over, Powell's Books. The main location in downtown Portland houses four stories of books covering an entire city block of literature-worshiping goodness, with specialized satellite locations spread throughout the city. One of these locations, nestled in the hip Hawthorn District, specializes in Home and Garden and Cooking books. It is here that I stumbled upon a used first-edition copy of Jaques Pepin's "La Technique". (I know, you were starting to wonder what exactly this babble about me geeking out over a bookstore has to do with food. Maybe you thought you were on the wrong blog?)

Portland seems to be the land of a million brew pubs. Like Starbucks in San Francisco, there seems to be at least one in every neighborhood. Not that this is a bad thing, especially because they all seem to craft their own unique, outstanding brews. One of these, just outside Portland in Troutdale, is the Powerhouse Pub & Theatre at the Edgefield. Now, Edgefield has an interesting past: Originally built as a poor farm, it was converted into a nursing home / sanitarium in the 1960's, and only recently converted into a hotel with restaurants, a brew pub, and an outdoor theatre. After sampling the fare at the brew pub (I recommend the fish and chips), we walked the perfectly manicured grounds, checked out the 32-hole pitch and putt golf course, and even a unique sculpture of Grateful Dead legend, Jerry Garcia.

Edgefield was a pretty cool place, and on another trip it might just be worth a stay at the hotel or at least a place to catch a show. But our true culinary destination was not a place that serves beer, or even dinner.

Ever since we saw an episode of "No Reservations" with Anthony Bourdain in the Pacific Northwest, I have been itching to visit the rogue bakers at Voodoo Doughnut. These outcast pastry makers create such madness as the Triple Chocolate Penetration, a chocolate doughnut with chocolate frosting and cocoa-puffs, the Voodoo Doughnut, a voodoo-doll shaped doughnut, complete with spike through the heart, and what is quite possibly the most addicting pastry in the universe, the Bacon Maple Bar. Yes, you read that right.

I won't say this doughnut changed my life, but... no, it actually changed my life. There are insufficient words to describe what this doughnut tastes like. You must try this doughnut at least once in your life. It was just so good that I needed, not just wanted, another one. Once you get the taste, you will never be the same. Ever.

Pictured with my new favorite food group are other Voodoo Doughnut creations such as the banana fritter with peanut butter and Chocolate, a cream-filled with chocolate frosting, and a crushed Oreo cookie doughnut.

Never underestimate the power of bacon.

Thanks to Mark, Kelli, and Mason for showing us such wonderful hospitality and a fantastic time in Portland. We can't wait to come back!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Travels to the Pacific Northwest, Part 1: Seattle

Over the Fourth of July holiday week, the Missus and I hopped a flight and headed into the grey and rainy Pacific Northwest. After getting on the plane, waiting, de-planing while mechanics made repairs, a fair amount of swearing, and finally a later flight out, we landed in beautiful, rain-free Seattle only four hours after we were originally supposed to arrive.

With only a few hours to enjoy the city on our first day, we checked into our hotel and headed down to check out the University District. With its 24 hour copy centers, multi-cultural hole in the wall restaurants, and trendy vintage shops, the University District reminded me of Berkeley's Telegraph Avenue. We walked for a while, enjoying the warm sun exploring a new city and looking for a good place to eat. We settled on Big Time Brewery & Alehouse, a cool little place with great beer and pub fare that includes some tasty thin crust pizzas. With a few slices of Margherita Pizza and a couple of pints of Organic Pale Ale safely in my belly, it was time to grab a cup of coffee and walk off dinner.

Note: The neighboring restaurant to Big Time was one of those Pan-Asian dives that pastes a color picture of each item on their menu to the front window called "Tasty Things". While the restaurant and the food looked dubious at best, the main figure in the restaurant's logo, was... wait for it... A DOLPHIN. Yes, a restaurant serving seafood felt the need to associate their menu with our favorite mammal of the sea. You can't make this kind of stuff up.

Day Two
It's time to hit the market. We met up with the folks from Savor Seattle for our tour around Pike Place Market with a group of about six people. With our cameras out and "Tourist" badges in plain view, we set out for a delicious and informative insiders look at a few of the favorite market stalls. Along with our infectiously cheerful tour guide Angela, we toured and tasted some of the best Pike Place has to offer, including Market Spice, Beechers Handmade Cheese, Daily Dozen Doughnut, and Piroshky, Piroshky.

We of course paid a visit to the raucous, fish-throwing gentlemen of the infamous Pike Place Fish Market.

The one throwing the fish there is called Bear. He took quite a shining to one of the ladies in our tour group. It got a little awkward.

You can call us tourists all you want, but the tour of the market was great. We never would have gotten to see and taste the things we did without Angela and Savor Seattle. It was a beautiful, sunny day spent exploring Seattle.

Day Three
Our last day in Seattle, and it's raining. Ok, I realize we are in the Pacific Northwest, but it was still kind of a bummer. Anyhow, one of the things we had to do before leaving Seattle was pay a visit to Salumi, a popular deli and Salumeria run by the loving parents of celebrity chef Mario Batali. Believe me when I tell you that this tiny shop doesn't ride the coattails of their famous son; their hand-crafted salumis stand on their own as some of the best food Seattle has to offer in probably the city's coolest neighborhood, Pioneer Square.

As a testament to Salumi's popularity, the line stretching out the door and down the block never seemed to get shorter, even a couple of hours after lunch. We barely made it in the door before they closed for the day, and with only 10 minutes to spare before our train left for Portland. With our delicious cured meat and cheese sandwiches in hand, we scrambled down to the Amtrak station just in time to catch our train.

Time to eat? I couldn't agree more. Seattle was an amazing city, but now it's off to Portland to visit friends, play some frisbee golf, and eat the greatest doughnut ever.