Saturday, December 5, 2009

Away We Go

Tonight we are packing our bags.  We have spent the last few months gathering warm clothes, water-proof shoes, scarves, knit hats and every last little thing we are going to need for our trip.  Where are we going, you ask?  We are going to be spending December in Europe, starting in London, then to Bruges, on to Paris and finally Padova, Italy for Christmas.

It is no doubt going to be an amazing trip of new places, new voices, and of course amazing food.  As much as I can as we traipse around Europe I will update the Tiny Kitchen with photos and insights on where we are, what we are doing, and what we are eating.  I hope you all will follow along, and enjoy our European Christmas adventure.

And away we go....

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Giving Thanks

It is not often that we get to spend Thanksgiving with my family out in the Valley. We typically opt for the bigger Christmas holiday to make that trip and plan our huge family holiday meal. This year, the missus and I will be abroad for Christmas (more on that later) and wanted to spend at least one of the holidays around my parents' dinner table.

Typically, we would be cooking for a crowd of a dozen or more, but this year was just us; my parents, sister, the missus and I. Believe me when I tell you we had plenty of food to go around. And around. And around. You get the idea. Definitely something to be thankful for. A big step for us was ordering a free-range turkey from Mary's Turkeys, a local farm that makes free-range birds available by special order through their website and local markets. Another departure for us was choosing to try brining the turkey this year instead of just oven-roasting it. When we arrived Wednesday night after battling holiday traffic on the I-5, my dad had the bird nestled comfortably in a cooler packed with bags of ice and a dark aromatic brine.

We stuck to mostly traditional Thanksgiving staples like cornbread stuffing, biscuits, cranberry relish, deviled eggs prepared with care by my sister, and of course mashed potatoes and gravy. Really, what holiday is complete without gravy?  And since we had such a stockpile of fresh veggies to play with, we threw together a mix of roasted vegetables with herbs and balsamic vinegar.  The simplest things prepared with the least amount of fuss always turn out to be the best.  For desert, instead of the traditional home-baked pie, we brought a treat up from San Francisco to share with everyone, a bread pudding with whiskey sauce from Cajun Pacific.  After dinner, we even threw the turkey carcass into a pot of water with some chopped vegetables and made a big, beautiful bubbling pot of stock, some of which turned into a fantastic and simple leftover turkey soup two days later.

Our family has started to get pretty good at putting on a holiday meal.  We figure out a menu, work out what is going to be in season and what local farm we should buy our ingredients from.  Like this year, we use the bounty of our CSA subscription and of course my mother's prolific garden to prepare our feasts.  Together, we have become quite the culinary team.  

While all of the food is wonderful, and brings us together as a family as we dance around each other chopping and peeling and boiling, the meal isn't the only thing that makes these days special.  It's going out to the garden and picking bushels of vegetables as a family.  It's sitting around the kitchen table after dinner, playing a traditional game of Scrabble.  And it's being there, with our family, talking and laughing, finding out what each is looking forward to, what we are struggling with.  (Oh, and it's also giving my sister a hard time about her new boyfriend.)  It's being thankful for the gifts that we have been given, and the people we have to share them with.

I hope everyone had a chance to give thanks with your families and friends, and that you all ate very, very well.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Persimmon Bread

With all of the Foodbuzz blogger festivities behind us, it is due time for some actual food, don't you think? I am sure all of the coverage of the blogger festival by myself and the multitude of other foodies has been more than enough to make you jealous, and maybe even gotten you thinking about starting your own food blog. Fair enough, you deserve a good recipe, something to fill your kitchen with delicious aromas. You've waiting long enough.

As we roll through Fall onto the threshold of Winter, the variety of fruits and vegetables coming in our CSA box is changing, and bringing new challenges to the Tiny Kitchen. Among the vibrant pile of bock choi, beets, sweet potatoes and pomegranates, came a bag of bright, plump Fuyu Persimmons. Once I got past the initial forehead-wrinkling over what I could possibly do with these beauties, unsure if they required some ancient alchemy to even be edible, I figured out that I had the variety that could be rinsed and eaten like an apple.

Still, I actually wanted to make something with them, so I scoured the interwebs for a persimmon bread recipe that was relatively simple and painless, and stumbled onto this recipe from the Fat free Vegan blog. I admit that I probably had the wrong variety of persimmon for this recipe, as the flesh of the fruit should be from the mushy Hachiya type and not the firm Fuyu type, but I made it work. I peeled the persimmons, chopped them into quarters and threw them into the food processor for a few seconds to turn them into a pulp. Keep in mind this is a vegan recipe, and as it does not contain dairy or eggs, it is not as moist as other quick breads. With all of that said, here's what to do:

1 1/4 cups persimmon, mashed pulp
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons canola oil or unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup agave nectar (or substitute 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. sugar and 2 tbsp. water)
2 cups whole wheat flour1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (freshly grated)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup raisins or dried apricots, chopped (may use up to 1/2 cup)
(I used apricots, because, well, I don't like raisins.)
1/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional--may use up to 1/2 cup)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, spray a loaf pan with nonstick spray.

In a small bowl, combine the persimmon, lemon juice, applesauce and agave nectar. In a large bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients, except for the apricots and walnuts. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, stirring until the flour is just moist, do not over mix. Fold in the apricots and walnuts, if desired.

Pour mixture into the prepared loaf pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the bread comes out clean, about 40 - 50 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before removing from the pan. You can allow to cool completely before serving, or wrap in plastic and store in the refrigerator.

The bread is good warm, but really shines if given the chance to cool completely before serving. Better yet, let it chill overnight as it tastes even better the next day. This loaf is dense and filling, but lightly sweet in just the right way. This came in handy as a mid-morning workday snack, or great after dinner drizzled with a little honey.


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Foodbuzz Blogger Festival, Day 2 & Farewell Brunch

Saturday morning, with the sun shining brightly over The City, our army of food bloggers descended on the Hotel Vitale and Ferry Building Farmers Market, Foodbuzz name badges securely hung from our necks. To start the morning, a small group of us sat down for a discussion on sustainable farming with chef Paul Arenstam of the Americano and Brian Kenney of Hearst Ranch, the farming/ranching arm of the Hearst media corporation. Hearst Ranch humanely raises grass fed livestock in the central coast of California and distributes their high-quality meats around the country.
According to Kenney, the difficulty of raising grass fed, sustainably farmed livestock is finding consumers willing to pay the higher price for the higher quality product. Luckily, chefs like Arenstam and others are looking for humanely raised alternatives to feed lot livestock that take into account respect for the animal, the environment, and the quality of the meat.

While others gathered for olive oil or cheese tastings, the rest of us were left to explore the Ferry Building and grab a quick bite to eat before the taste pavillions at the Metreon. With a little time to kill, it was a beautiful day to lounge on a bench in Yerba Buena Gardens and enjoy some people watching.Before I knew it, it was high time to get upstairs to the Metreon City View level for the taste pavilions, a hall full of food, beer and wine artisans eager to share their creations, and their stories, with all of us. There was a huge array of things to sip and nibble on, so I'll share some of my highlights, guided mostly by what I was able to get a good picture of.

Here we have the Kerrigold table, with some of the richest butter and most flavorful cheeses you will ever have the chance to enjoy. I am not ashamed to say I visited this table more than once.
The crowd raved about this demure little ceviche cup, served by Fuego Restaurant from Long Beach. These little guys were amazing; two perfect bites of bright, salty freshness in a stylish shot glass.These tasty little bites came from the kitchen of Aquarius out of Santa Cruz. Little pastry cups filled with deliciousness (although I am having difficulty remembering exactly what.)

One of the major participants of the Taste Pavilions was Foodzie, a great website for producers of artisan foods, from snacks, sauces, preserves, and amazing chocolates. These beautiful little chocolates with smoked sea salt are from Neococoa, a new San Francisco chocolatier.

After nibbling on a plethora of tasty bites, sipping beer from Rogue, Magnolia, and 21st Amendment Brewery, I was stuffed and a little fuzzy from all of the beer. The kids at Foodbuzz, working their tails off all afternoon, were rockstars and could not have put on a better event. Alas, after a long day of stuffing my face with some of the tastiest delights the food world has to offer, it was time to head home for a quick nap in preparation for the evening's Outstanding In The Field dinner.

The culmination of the entire 1st Annual Blogger Festival was the dinner Saturday night, held at the peculiar location of the Greenleaf Produce warehouse deep in the Bayview district of San Francisco. The location proved to be the perfect spot for this gathering, making it feel like an illicit and secretive gourmet meal for about 250 people. On the way to the venue, our bus filled with hungry bloggers got lost in the heart of Hunter's Point, the driver carefully negotiating the narrow streets and consulting iphone directions that eventually got us to the right spot.

The menu for the Outstanding In The Field dinner was created by celebrated San Francisco restaurant Namu, and prepared by Chef Dennis Lee's staff in this impromptu kitchen stretched over banquet tables and mobile grills. Below you can see the prep and staging area for the mushroom soup we would be enjoying as our first course.

The concept behind Outstanding In The Field dinners is to bring people together, usually to a farm, to celebrate the bounty of sustainable, local food together along a single, artfully designed table. Our table, draped in simple white cloth, snaked through the racks and rooms of Greenleaf to stunning effect.
Keep in mind, we were dining in a working produce warehouse, stacked high with pallets and crates of fruits and vegetables ready to be loaded on a truck and shipped out the moment we had cleaned our plates. Playing the gracious hosts, Greenleaf even gave us a magnificent centerpiece piled high with fresh fruits and veggies for us bloggers to use as camera fodder.

This steaming bowl of soup with maitake, shimeji, and enoki mushrooms started the dinner, a warm and earthy first dish.  Beyond this single dish, everything was served family style, and we were encouraged to help serve each other, and we certainly did not hesitate.  After the required photo ops, of course.

Next up was Udon with grilled calamari in a browned butter ponzu reduction, cucumber, kaiware, frisee and yellow pear tomato with chojang and sesame vinaigrette.  Quite the mouthful to say, but even better to eat.

Next on the menu was a sea trout baked with fried garlic and Japanese curry powder, served with mushroom risotto with crispy maitake mushrooms.  These dishes were some of what I love best about food; fresh, quality ingredients served simply enough to be able to tell their own story.  The risotto was fantastic, and the trout was cooked just enough to be tender; slightly salty and fresh.

The dish everyone couldn't stop talking about was the roasted brussels sprouts with ponzu fried garlic, guanciale and bonito flakes.  The boring, bland, stinky brussels sprouts of your childhood have found a new way to live.  Served next to soy braised beef cheeks and oxtails, baby carrots and fingerling potatoes, these two dishes hit it out of the park.

The dinner was incredible; perfectly executed by everyone involved. As we sat along the sweeping table, drinking Bonny Doon wines, laughing together and talking about everything we had experience at the festival, we had become one big family. Everyone seemed perfectly at home with each other, like we had known one another for years.

We capped off the evening with the 1st annual Foodbuzz Blogger Awards, served with a sweet desert wine from Bonny Doon. Alas, the Tiny Kitchen wasn't nominated this year. Maybe next year I'll have to step up my game and get this modest little blog in shape. For now, I am still enjoying the warm glow (and piles of swag) from this amazing weekend of foodie bonding at it's finest.
Braving another sunny day in San Francisco after a long night of revelry, we gathered one final time Sunday morning for the farewell brunch at Lulu restaurant.  Complete with a bloody mary bar, the brunch was hosted by Nature's Pride bread and featured Kerrygold cheeses and butter and pears from Frog Hollow Farm.  From frittata with aged cheddar to crouque monsieurs with smoked ham and truffle mustard to just good old plain bacon, this meal was a delicious way to wrap up the weekend.  Still, it had been a long weekend of perpetual indulgence, and eventually it was time to head back home for a quiet Sunday at home.

The 1st Annual Foodbuzz Blogger Festival was truly the start of something great; Foodbuzz didn't over look a single detail when planning the whole weekend.  As many times as I have said it before, thanks Foodbuzz for a perfect foodie weekend.  And thanks to all of my new foodie friends, it was great getting to know you and I can't wait to see what is in store for next year.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Foodbuzz Blogger Festival, Day 1

What a weekend. Friday kicked off the 1st Annual Foodbuzz Blogger Festival, an event for all of us food-crazy bloggers to get together and share amazing food, drink, and conversation. Over 200 food bloggers came to town this weekend from across the country and even around the world to enjoy our fair city. Luckily, Lady San Francisco kept the clouds away and the lights glittering bright for our guests to enjoy.

The festival kicked off on the terrace of the Hotel Vitale, just across the wide lanes of the Embarcadero, providing us with quite a view.

As the temperature dropped and bloggers found their way up to the plush suite and terrace of the hotel, we packed together under heat lamps sipping Skyy vodka cocktails and Speakeasy ales making new friends as we stood in line for a small bite or a fresh drink. Really, it was the best bar line in The City that night; no shoving or arguing, just folks getting acquainted and asking "so what blog do you write?"

Soon, it was off to the Ferry Building to enjoy some of the best street food San Francisco has to offer. Trucks lined the stalls of the Ferry Building's north arcade space to share their creations as we continued meeting new friends while gushing over each bite. The roving trays of chicharrones from 4505 Meats were a huge hit.

Alive raw restaurant served wafers topped with avocado, tomato and basil and an amazing raw cheesecake, almost just as good as the real thing.
Cupcakes are all the rage in the city right now, and one of the best in town is Mission Minis. These little guys are a perfect bite size, topped with sweet butter cream frosting, and are moist and delicious.
The hit of the night for most everyone came from Roli Roti and their porchetta sandwich, crispy skin together with perfectly rotisserie roasted pork belly and pork loin in a sourdough bun mopped in the roasting juices. (No good pictures of this one, sadly. I was too busy filling my belly with its porky goodness.) Topped with salt and chopped parsley, these sandwiches were way too good to miss.

I have a weakness for pizza, and when we're talking about crispy, clay-oven style pizza, it's hard for me to focus on just about anything else. The folks at Pizza Politana and their brilliant mobile clay oven turn out some of the best hand-tossed pizza in The City. These beauties here were being snatched up just as quickly as they came out of the oven.

This first night of revelry around The City's best street food left nothing to be desired, and not enough hands to take all the pictures it deserved. And while I was to busy stuffing my face to take enough good pictures, all of the vendors deserve a mention for a fantastic showing. The whole arcade was lined with amazing eats, from the simple brilliance of Tacolicious, the quick to disappear pies from the SF Pie Truck, Strauss Family Creamery ice cream, Spencer on the go, San Francisco's only mobile French restaurant, and of course the sudsy libations of Thirsty Bear Brewing Company. Am I missing someone? I probably am. So much food coming at you from all sides, it's easy to lose track.

But wait, there's more! Friday was just the start of what would become an epic food blogger weekend. Stay tuned for recaps of days 2 & 3, and our brilliant Outstanding In The Field dinner at the Greenleaf Produce Warehouse.

For even more on Friday night's festivities, check out these fellow bloggers: Food Wishes, Oldways Table, Eat, Live, Travel, Write, What's Gaby Cooking?, Let Me Eat Cake, CBSOP, and many, many more.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Foodbuzz Community Table Dinner at Bushi-Tei

Less than a week after an amazing dinner at Spruce with Foodbuzz and Black Box Wines, Bay Area foodies again gathered around the Community Table to talk, eat, drink, and of course take pictures. Last night, we were given the chance to dine together at Bushi-Tei in San Francisco's Japantown. Old faces and new sat around a beautiful wood and glass table as we were introduced to the owner and sommelier and served a sparkling wine from South Africa, the same sparkling wine President Obama toasted with on his inauguration.

Our place setting:

After an amuse bouche of miso marinated kobe beef, our first course arrived. The ankimo torcon, or monk fish liver, was plated with snow crab salad, spicy fish roe-potato mousseline, julienne vegetables & parsley coulis. The monk fish liver was rich and deeply flavored and paired nicely against the sweet snow crab and the crisp julienne vegetables. We were served a sweet Domaine Fevre Champs Royal Chablis that went down beautifully against the salty dish.

Next course was a slow roasted natural beef tenderloin with matsutake mushroom risotto, English peas, pinor noir reduction & espresso oil. This beef tenderloin was perfect; just medium rare, the meat seemed to fall apart with a touch of the fork. The pinor noir reduction & espresso oil added a rich peppery flavor that contrasted perfectly with the buttery risotto and the earthy matsutake mushrooms. The dish was paired with an Expression 39 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, a great, deep red wine that really brought out the richness of the tenderloin.

And, finally, desert. A precariously balanced tower of different textures and flavors, a peach melba with daiginjyou sake-kabosu cube, stuck through with a spike of sugar. Not being a huge desert person, this was a nice surprise. The layers of different textures and flavors all stood out on their own, but were great all together on a spoon. The jello-shot like sake cube was interesting, certainly not something you would typically find atop a desert dish. Paired with a Gonzalez Byass Solera 1847 Oloroso Sherry, a thick, rich and very sweet wine that complimented the desert well.

Dinner was fantastic and as always it was a great time getting to eat, drink and talk with all my food blogger friends and all the great folks from Foodbuzz. And here's looking forward to next week, and the Foodbuzz Blogger Festival!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Foodbuzz Community Table Dinner at Spruce

Last night we once again gathered around the table together for a Community Table Dinner hosted by Foodbuzz and Black Box Wines at the stylish Spruce restaurant in San Francisco.  Black Box, a wine company breaking the conventions of how a great wine is presented, partnered with Foodbuzz to pair their great varietal wines with the fresh and creative cuisine at Spruce.  

The night started in the foyer of Spruce, enjoying house made charcuterie, Merlot and Reisling from Black Box Wines, catching up with old faces and getting acquainted with new ones.

Once we were ready for dinner, we were led into the beautifully appointed banquet room, where we heard a few words about the delicious wines we were about to drink and the dishes they would be paired with.  Then, it was on to the good part:  The food.

With camera flashes popping, this beet and pear salad with aged goat's milk cheese and walnut vinaigrette was placed in front of us.  The flavors of the salad were perfectly balanced and paired nicely with a 2008 New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

Next came a dish of roasted halibut with fennel, chanterelle mushrooms, and a fennel fumet.  (Sorry, all my photos of this dish were pretty abysmal.)  The best part about this dish were the chanterelles piled onto sauteed spinach, all nestled into a beautiful bright green fennel sauce.  The halibut was paired with two whites, a 2008 Monterey County Chardonnay, and a 2008 Napa Valley Reserve Chardonnay.  Both paired well with the dish, but the standout was the Napa Valley Reserve.

The highlight of the meal was the grilled bavette steak with duck fat potatoes and bordelaise.  The steak was grilled to a perfect medium-rare, juicy and flavorful and absolutely mouthwatering.  But it was the duck fat potatoes that made everyone rave.  Crisp skin and soft interior, these potatoes were completely different from any fry you might be used to.  The flavor of the duck fat was so light and buttery, we were all in heaven.  Not willing to take a back seat to the dish, the 2007 California Cabernet Sauvignon was dark and peppery and a highlight of the wines for the night.
The dinner wrapped up with a Farmstead cheese plate paired with a 2007 Central Coast Shiraz.  The cheese was good, but a little underwhelming after the previous dishes we had just enjoyed.  
It was another great dinner with a great group of folks talking, drinking wine, and doing what we all know how to do best:  Eat.  It was a blast to sit and eat with food blogger friends, the folks from Foodbuzz, and of course our new friends at Black Box Wines.  Thanks to Kiersten, Chef John, Marc, Jesse, Rebecca, Bridget and the rest of our table for making it such a great night.
For a few more looks at our dinner at Spruce, check out Jesse's phenomenal photos at Beer and Nosh and Chef John's witty recap (and a picture of my belt buckle) at Food Wishes Video Recipes.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Orange Pumpkin Cloverleafs

Here in the Tiny Kitchen, we are always looking for new ideas and fun things to make, and while I love baking it is hard to justify baking a batch of anything when there is only the two of us around to enjoy it. We always feel a little gluttonous faced with stuffing our maws with a dozen or so tart, fruity scones or warm, crumbly muffins yet for some reason we rarely feel inclined to dump our excess baked goods on our unsuspecting co-workers.

Despite all of this, as the days have grown shorter, a bit colder, and much wetter, it seemed like the right time warm the Tiny Kitchen with the comforting smells of baking. With that in mind, we flipped through the pages of a few of our Gourmet magazines to find just the right thing to bake to welcome the beginning of Fall. The missus had a hankering for "something with pumpkin", and these adorable little Orange Pumpkin Cloverleafs seemed to fit the bill nicely.

So in honor of our friends at Gourmet Magazine and the first cool nights of Fall, here are the humble Orange Pumpkin Cloverleafs:

3/4 stick unsalted butter, melted, divided
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm milk
1 tablespoon mild honey or sugar
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour plus more for kneading and dusting
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup canned pure pumpkin
2 large eggs, divided, plus 1 yolk
1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon water

Equipment: a muffin pan with 12 (1/3 to 1/2 cup) muffin cups

Butter muffin cups with 1 tablespoon melted butter. (or, what worked for us was to take the unmelted butter and smear it inside the muffin cups with my fingers.)

Stir together yeast, warm milk, and honey in a large bowl and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. (If mixtures doesn't foam, start over with new yeast.)

Mix flour, salt, pumpkin, 1 whole egg, yolk, orange zest and juice, and remaining 5 tablespoon butter into yeast mixture with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until a soft dough forms. Turn out dough onto a floured surface and knead, dusting surface and your hands with just enough flour to keep dough from sticking, until dough is elastic and smooth, 6 to 8 minutes. Form dough into a ball.

Put dough in an oiled large bowl and turn to coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and let dough rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled in size, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. (Our kitchen was not exactly "warm room temperature" so we turned the oven on low and left the door open to provide warmth.)

After the dough has risen, punch down dough (do not knead), then halve. Roll half of dough on a lightly floured surface with lightly floured hands into a 12-inch-long log (keep remaining half covered with plastic wrap.)

Cut log into 6 equal pieces, then cut each piece into thirds. Roll each piece into a 1-inch ball by cupping your hand and pushing dough against work surface as you roll in a circular motion. Put 3 balls side by side in each of 6 muffin cups.

Make more rolls with remaining dough in the same manner. Cover rolls with a kitchen towel (not terry cloth) and let rise in a draf-free place at warm room temperature until dough is about 1 inch above rim of muffin cups, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375 deg with rack in middle. (That is, of course, unless your oven isn't already on.)

Whisk together remaining egg and water and brush on tops of rolls. (You will have leftover egg wash.)

Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Transfer rolls to a rack and cool at least 20 minutes. These rolls are best served warm the day they are made, but can be frozen for up to 1 month, thawed & reheated in a 350 deg oven.

These little rolls are soft and doughy, with a bright citrus tang and have just a the slightest sweetness of pumpkin. They would make a nice change of pace as a dinner roll or a great little breakfast muffin topped with melted butter. These little beauties were a lot of fun to make, the missus and I working together in the Tiny Kitchen to mix, knead, cut and roll them to life.

Finally, a toast to our friends at Gourmet Magazine: It was a sad day when it was announced that Gourmet Magazine would be stopping publication after their November issue; surely the food world will be a much blander place without this magazine to tease our appetites and encourage our love of all things edible. Gourmet gave us a joy for food that no other publication can bring. Whether it was an article about a restaurant's fascinating avant garde cuisine or one person's passion for the traditions of cheese making, Gourmet considered food as something to be treasured and enjoyed. While their work at Gourmet will certainly be missed, Ruth Reichl, Ian Knauer and the whole staff of writers and editors will easily find a home for their talents and passions, and we all look forward to seeing what they do next.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Simple Things

Big, beautiful golden Chanterelle mushrooms, sauteed in butter and white wine....

Juicy, bright red Early Girl tomatoes, the very last of the season...

And a big bowl of whole wheat linguini, topped with melted parmesean cheese.

It is the simple things, like a warm bowl of pasta tossed with earthy, buttery Chanterelles and fresh, juicy tomatoes that make food worth eating. And, in my humble opinion, life worth living. As we close out summer and welcome the crisp chill of fall, take a moment to reflect on the amazing bounty we are able to pull from humble soil, a few drops of water, and a dash of sunlight. Here's looking forward to what the next seasons will bring.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Still With This Pie Thing?

Look, I told you I was craving pie crust, ok? Apparently the veggie pie just didn't do it. But, as luck would have it, the Missus was going to be celebrating her birthday, and since she has the sweet tooth in the family, I thought it would be fun to make her something to honor the occasion. And after a long, hard week, wouldn't it be nice for her to come home from work, welcomed at the door by a dozen long stemmed roses, to find her loving husband slaving over a ball of pie dough and a bowl of sweet, sugary peaches?

The process behind this sweet pie is actually a great deal simpler than the veggie pie. Once you have the crust down, all you will need are about 4 - 5 ripe but firm peaches, about 1/2 cup of sugar, 1/2 a stick of unsalted butter, and about a table spoon of brown sugar. If you missed the pie crust extravaganza, hop over to the Veggie Pie post and have a look. It's ok, we'll wait for you.

I strongly recommend baking the crust before you put the filling in to bake, otherwise you may not get that beautiful, crispy, golden brown crunch that makes pie worth eating and life worth living. Peel the peaches, remove the pit, and slice into slender crescents about 1/2 in thick at the widest point. In a bowl, stir the peaches with the 1/2 cup of sugar, and allow to chill in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes to a 1/2 hour.

Once the peaches have had time to adjust to their new sugar coating, gently spoon them into the pie crust. Spread the peaches around the crust so they are even. Then, using a small paring knife, cut small chunks of butter over the peaches, and sprinkle the brown sugar over the top. At this point, if you are wanting to put a second crust over the top, now is the time to do it.

Put the pie back in the oven at 375 degrees. Let it cook for, oh, about 15 minutes or so, until the butter has completely melted and the filling is piping hot. If you did add that second crust, cook it until the top crust is a beautiful golden brown. Let the pie cool on a rack for another 15 minutes or so to let the liquid come together. Slice, and serve warm with a couple scoops of vanilla ice cream. This pie is perfectly sweet with just a touch of tartness, and the crust should be crispy and buttery and all around delicious. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Dining By The Bay

Last night I had the opportunity to dine with fellow foodies at the Foodbuzz Community Table dinner at Epic Roasthouse on the waterfront of San Francisco.  Epic is a swanky, stylish space situated right along the Embarcadero against the glittering water of the San Francisco Bay.  It really makes for an impressive view during dinner.

A small group of food bloggers and food enthusiasts gathered for amazing food, fantastic wine, and even better company.  The evening began on the patio outside of Epic's banquet room overlooking the bay (and directly across from Waterbar) where we sipped champagne and munched on tasty hors d'ouvres.  Once it was time to sit down, we were given a choice of entree of either wood fire rotisserie pork rack chop with asparagus flan and roasted chanterelle mushrooms, the steak n' cake, a petit beef filet with a spicy crab cake and ragout of summer tomatoes, or the cedar plank smoked wild king salmon with a ragout of baby butterball potatoes.  I went with the steak n' cake ( a fun play on surf & turf), and it was phenomenal.  The steak was tender and juicy and wonderfully flavored while the crab cake was crispy and perfectly sweet.

Desert was a fabulous duo of sweet with a warm chocolate banana cake topped with caramel sea salt ice cream and dark chocolate shavings and a bread pudding with ricotta cheese and fresh peaches.  Yeah, amazing.  For not being a sweets guy, the desert portions were perfect and balanced with a sweet desert wine.  We finished the evening sipping coffee and raving over the meal we had all just enjoyed, discussing our favorite places to eat, and all the fun foodie things we have planned. 

It was an amazing meal and an unforgettable evening.  Thanks to all my foodie friends and the folks at Foodbuzz, Visa Signature, and of course Epic Roasthouse for making it all happen.  You all sure know how to throw a party.

I am, by the way, the lamest food blogger that ever blogged.  Unlike every other blogger at the table, I neglected to bring a camera to document the this wonderful meal.  The picture at the top of this post was "borrowed" from the Epic Roasthouse webiste.  (Uh, thanks guys.)  For some delicious photos taken by food bloggers better prepared than I, visit Beer & Nosh and Food Wishes Video Recipes.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Veggie Pie

So I have been craving pie for a while now... okay maybe not pie per se, but pie crust more specifically. Flaky, buttery, crunchy pie crust. Done right, the crust is the very best thing about a pie. Done wrong (and it can go very, very wrong), and it will be tasteless, tough, and do nothing more than hold the pie filling on your plate for you and look embarrassed next to your scoop of vanilla ice cream. Pie crust is a relatively simple recipe: Some flour, water, shortening, a pinch of salt and sugar, and magically you have the world's greatest accompaniment to fruit filling.

The challenge I was facing in my quest to consume pie crust was to think of a excuse to make a pie, with no special occasion and for only two people. But what about veggie pie? That might almost be considered healthy. And bonus, we can eat it for dinner! So with a fridge stockpiled with squash and eggplant from our CSA box, we had our filling, and I just needed to make that golden cup of goodness to put it all in.

First, the important part. Like I said, in principal pie crust is pretty simple. But it can be infuriatingly difficult to get right. When you're working in small spaces trying to roll out an uncooperative pie crust, it can be down right maddening. A couple tips to get started: First, put all the tools you will be using to handle the dough in the freezer for maybe 1/2 hour. This means your rolling pin, silicone mat, etc. Make sure they are good and cold before they touch your dough. This will save you a lot of screaming and cursing.

Second, the dough is all about ratios. How much water to flour, flour to shortening, you get the picture. Mix things together slowly at first, testing the mixture to make sure it has the right consistency and texture before rolling it out. Too dry? Add a little water, a teaspoon at a time. Too wet? Drop a tablespoon of flour in at a time to thicken it up. The right amount of shortening can be a little difficult to gauge, but about 1/2 a cup for a single crust should do the trick. Here's a super basic recipe for the crust, and by all means change the amounts as you see fit. It's your pie:

1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
1/2 cup shortening
1 teaspoon of salt
2 - 3 teaspoons of sugar
1/2 cup of water

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt and shortening. Blend together with a pastry cutter (or two knives) until crumbly. You will see little chunks of shortening throughout the mixture. This is a good thing.

Add the water slowly, mixing with a pastry cutter until completely incorporated. Roll into a ball, and chill the dough for about 15 minutes, or until you are ready to use it. Then, on a flour covered surface with your frozen rolling pin, roll it out to fit the size of your pie plate. Roll one edge over your rolling pin so the dough will drape over it. Gently lift it and set it into your pie plate. Push the dough to the edges, cut off the excess across the top, and using a fork or a small knife, poke little holes in the bottom of the crust. Place in a 375 degree oven for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

So now you have your delicious crust. Resist the urge to eat it all by its self, and lets put something in it.

For this veggie pie, we used a mandolin slicer to slice a medium eggplant and several green and yellow summer squashes. In a heated skillet, melt about 1/2 a stick of butter and begin adding the slices of eggplant. As they begin to absorb the butter and brown, pull them out onto a plate so they don't get too soggy. If they soak up all of the butter in the pan, add more.

Once you have cooked the eggplant slices, melt more butter, (or drizzle in some olive oil) in the same pan. Saute the squash, seasoning with salt, and after a minute or two add a splash of white wine. Once the wine has been cooked off / absorbed, season with dried oregano, and remove from the heat.

Line the pie crust with the slices of eggplant so they cover the bottom and go up the sides. Spoon the squash into the pie, pushing them around to make sure they are even and level with the top of the crust. For an added bit of color, cut a red bell pepper into slender slices and lay them across the top. Place your pie back into the 375 degree oven for another 2o minutes or so, or until you are just so hungry you just can't take it any longer. Top with Parmesan cheese, and then allow it to cool for a minute or two.

This pie was a nice surprise for a weekday dinner, and it made fantastic leftovers. Try it out with different vegetables if you like, or if you are feeling really frisky, maybe a crust over the top, too. Enjoy!