Friday, May 28, 2010

Birthday Dinner At San Francisco's A16

Alright, it's official.  I'm getting older.  Not old, mind you, just older.  The inevitably steady always forward never backward progression of time is a typical and well-worn source of worry.  But really, when a birthday comes around, I say enjoy yourself, eat, drink, and be merry.  No reason to fuss and fret over gaining yet another year, but take one day, or two, or five, and worry about celebrating, well, yourself.

In that spirit, as I went from being 30 to being "in my 30's", I wanted to enjoy an amazing dinner with my favorite girl at a spot I have been aching to try for some time.  That spot was A16 in San Francisco's Marina District, and believe me, it was worth the wait.

We started off by ordering a carafe of Terredora di paolo red wine, recommended by the waiter as being the quintessential pizza wine.  Starters came in short order; the missus getting the roasted asparagus with black olives, ricotta and lemon, and I the roasted calamari.

The calamari was fresh and flavorful, a very bright and uncomplicated dish.  Wilted greens completed the plate, adding a little bitterness to the calamari and sharp lemon flavor.

If A16 is known for anything, it is their pizza.  If the wood fired oven blazing away in the open kitchen was any indication, I could tell they take their pizza seriously.  I ordered the Salsiccia pizza with fennel sausage, roasted spring onions, mozzarella, grana, garlic, chilies and olive oil.  The waited brought us a small jar of chili oil, proclaiming he loved it and put it on everything.  The chili oil was ferociously hot, but with a great flavor to back it up.  In small drops, it added just the right amount of heat.

But this pizza didn't need any doctoring.  Perfect from first bite to last, this was honestly the best pizza I have had this side of the Atlantic.  The sausage was fresh and flavorful, the cheese creamy and light. Although the pizza was huge, it would have been a sin to not devour it completely and lick my plate clean.  You can rest assured there was not a speck of pizza left on my plate.

 And finally, thinking there would be no way to fit any more in, we came to desert.  I've mentioned before that I am not a huge sweet tooth, but sometimes, like on my birthday, I feel inclined to indulge.  We shared an apricot and pistachio tart with honey ice cream that topped the meal off perfectly.  Not too sweet or indulgent, just a simple, crispy tart with the tang of apricot, the crunch of pistachios and the cool sweetness of ice cream.  Just a few simple ingredients and I am a happy man.

It was, to say the least, a fabulous birthday dinner with my beautiful wife.  I don't think I will wait for another birthday to come around before I visit A16 again.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Quinoa Stuffed Poblano Peppers

Recently we have begun to discover the wonders of quinoa, and have enjoyed making all sorts of simple, savory dishes with this super-healthy grain.  Any dish made with quinoa is bound to be hearty and filling; a deceptively small amount will keep your appetite sated and your tastebuds happy.

So when the missus discovered a recipe on one of our favorite blogs, Cooking With Amy, we figured we like quinoa, we like peppers, and we definitely like mushrooms, so why not give this a shot?  The great thing about this dish is how easy it is to make; very little preparation in needed beyond chopping a few veggies and rinsing the quinoa.

For those uninitiated into the realm of quinoa, first thing to note is that it has to be rinsed, thoroughly.  Second, quinoa absorbs an astounding amount of water, so figure on your water to grain ratio being somewhere around 2:1.  As part of an entree for 2 people, 1/2 cup of quinoa is just about right to make your tummy full and happy.  However, there is nothing wrong with making more and having some left over for lunch the next day.

But lets move on to the recipe at hand, shall we?

2 Poblano peppers, cut in half, seeds removed
1 cup of water
1/2 cup of red or white quinoa
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup mushrooms, chopped
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
2 cups swiss chard leaves, shredded
1/4 cup pistachios, chopped
1 1/2 cups canned crushed tomatoes, liquid included
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Combine water and quinoa in a saucepan, bring to a boil then reduce heat to low.  Cover; cook for 15 to 18 minutes until water is completely absorbed.  Remove from heat.

In a large skillet over medium high heat, add your olive oil.  Saute onions, mushroom, and garlic for about 8 minutes, until onion is tender.  Add the chard and allow to wilt, it will reduce in volume by more than half.  Add the cooked quinoa and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Once combined, spoon the mixture into the pepper halves.

In a casserole dish large enough to hold the peppers, (an 8 x 8 should do) pour in the canned tomatoes and liquid.  Nestle the peppers into the sauce and top each with a few pinches of chopped pistachio.  Bake for about 30 minutes, until the peppers are tender.

This is a hearty, warm, and simple dish great for a weeknight.  We ate it as our main course, but the peppers could easily be served as a side dish as well.  The one change I would make next time around would be to roast the peppers first and remove the skin; once they had baked the skin was tough and a little bitter, roasting them first would have brought out the sweetness of the peppers.  We used fairly small peppers, which made stuffing a little bit difficult; if you can, find fat peppers that will give you plenty of room to stuff all the goodies inside.

Thanks to fellow San Francisco foodie Amy Sherman for the great recipe.  I hope you all will give this a try and don't be afraid to add your own spin on it.  That's what cooking is all about.  Enjoy!