Tag Archives: chicken

Fleet Week Airshow Picnic

October is a special time for San Francisco as Fleet Week is finally here and we get a respite from the summer fog and cold in what we call our “native summer”. This weekend was one of the prettiest weekends I have ever seen for Fleet Week, the sky was so blue and clear, and the air was warm, like San Diego warm.

My view #picnic #lazysunday
(perfect blue skies)

Besides the parade of ships, ship tours, safety and disaster recovery demonstrations, the Naval band, and the North Beach parade, Fleet Week features a thrilling airshow by a variety of amazing precision flying teams, culminating in the Blue Angels. I have always loved watching the blue and gold planes streak through the skies of San Francisco, flying right over my apartment building, over the Bay, through Downtown, they’re screaming loud but it is so thrilling.

I have watched the airshow from a variety of places over the years, from the Marina Green, the retaining wall at the entrance of the Marina, Aquatic Park, on the Hyde Street hill, and of course, from the water on friends’ boats. A few years back my dearest sisterfriend and I found the perfect spot to watch the airshow from a local park on top of Pacific Heights. Our annual picnic there has become a happy tradition, despite the Parks and Rec Department heavily watering the grass each year the night before.

This year, I brought one of my giant blue camping tarps, which held away the soggy field from our backsides for a little while but it was not impermeable. We were far better off than everyone else who were unprepared for the squish factor!

I was able to try out my new picnic basket, and it performed like a champ.  People back in the day really knew how to build a picnic basket and this one is amazing.  The hard wood top folds back completely flat, perfect to hold the glasses for our Aperol spritzes.  Inside the basket is a suspended divider, which is where I perched the tray of warm crispy oven baked chicken pieces, while the rest of the basket held my chill bag, which kept the zucchini and cucumber tiger salad  and grapes nice and cool.  The removable divider flips over to become a little tray table for the picnic blanket, how perfect is that?  It held everything:  the cutlery, plates, my mini cutting board kit from the SF Opera in the Park days, serviettes,  champagne glasses, the works.  I am so over the moon happy with this basket.

What a beauty! A gift from a nice man. Time to plan a picnic!!
(my new vintage picnic basket, a gift from a nice man)

Our menu:

  • Crispy oven baked chicken
  • Roasted sausages with sourdough bread and all the fixings
  • Zucchini and cucumber tiger salad with shiso dressing
  • Fresh green salad with yuzu dressing
  • Bunches of chilled red grapes
  • Veggie sticks and hummus
  • Sharp cheddar for snacking
  • Assorted chips
  • Juice boxes for the kids
  • Aperol spritzes for the adults

The chicken I made for the picnic is from a recipe from my dearest friend L’s mom.  Since I was a baby, her mom and my mom would take turns making lunches for our families when we got together for sailing trips, Christmas tree hunting, pumpkin patch forays, or various camping trips.  L’s mom used to make this amazing baked chicken with an unusual breading of wheat germ and sesame seeds and it was always my favorite.  It has been years since I have made it for myself, or anyone else and it is the perfect picnic food.  It fit in perfectly with the non-specific Asian zucchini tiger salad recipe I wrote about previously.  This year, I added cucumber to the tiger salad in lieu of the fennel and it was fantastic.  We ate so much that we didn’t even miss dessert other than the grapes, we completely forgot to make something.  Next year, however, we will have brownies or some other evil treat.

Aperol spritz
(Aperol spritz time!)

We lazed about on our vast blue tarp, which we covered in colorful fabrics and sarongs, and over the course of the next four hours we enjoyed our lunch and the warm air, people watching, and fending off tickle attacks from the boys and various dogs who were highly intent upon sampling our chicken and sausages.  The ladies played around with our new nail art stamping plates and nail vinyls, and looked at gorgeous photos from the Homecoming dance the night before.  We also did watch the amazing planes and their pilots zoom around, there were lots of time between the various displays to enjoy our lunch and each other.  The Breitling team and the Blue Angels were especially thrilling this year!

I hope the “native summer” returns for another weekend as I would like to use my beautiful picnic basket again. It being California, odds are that it will.

Recipes:      Crispy Oven Baked Chicken

Zucchini Tiger Salad with Shiso Dressing

Aperol Spritz

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Happiness Is… This Month’s Meat CSA

Happiness is…..my beautiful butcher’s bag from 4505 Meats monthly meat CSA.

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  • a quart of lamb stock
  • chicharonnes
  • chicken livers
  • bone-in beef rib eye
  • harissa-rubbed sirloin medallions
  • pork rib chop
  • chicken apple Calvados sausages
  • ground beef
  • harissa-rubbed flapskirt

    This month I specifically requested a selection of meat suitable for grilling plus I asked for chicken livers, and it was so nice of them to accommodate me. Other than making my mom’s pate de maison and a steak with macque choux I haven’t really mapped out what I’m going to cook with my meat allotment this month.

    I also scored another amazingly tasty treat.

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    Magic Bacon Bombs!!

    Magic Bacon Bombs are the 4505 Meats’ version of crack: queso and chorizo stuffed jalapeno poppers wrapped in bacon. Kaboom.

    I bought the last of them last weekend and they haven’t made anymore but when I called today about picking up my meat CSA Nicholas very kindly agreed to make me some more.

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    It was fun to chat while they finished assembling them for me and then they wrapped them up for my trip home. The drawing was a hilarious touch!

    Usually one puts them on the grill and cooks them until the bacon is crispy, but since I live so very high above the street with no grilling facilities, I will do them up in the oven and in my humble opinion they’re even more delicious.

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    Fantastic…

    It will be fun to plan out my my menus. I have friends coming over this month and plan to put my broiler to good use.

    Please remember to support your local butcher, particularly if they are like 4505 Meats and purchase pasture-raised whole animals and butcher them nose-to-tail.

    Get your own meat CSA!

    Chicken Mock Pot Pie

    It was one of those nights. I came home from work cranky, sore, hungry, and exceedingly broke.

    I surveyed the emptiness of my refrigerator and found a partial carcass of a roasted chicken from the other night and spotted a box of Bisquick stashed in the corner of the pantry. Perfect, it’ll be a mock chicken pot pie kind of night.

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    I made myself Negroni, because of course I have all the ingredients for that, but no vegetables, for Pete’s sake I am even out of pepper. But I muster onwards, sipping a few sips of my cocktail made me feel a little better, they also accentuated the urge to have something decent and slightly hearty for dinner.

    I looked in the freezer and found a little bit of frozen spinach and some frozen corn kernels and spread those in the bottom of one of my beautiful oval casseroles. I picked out most of the meat from the chicken carcass and added all of the pan juices and sauce from the chicken into the casserole. This went into the oven to get bubbly, while I pulled out that ubiquitous box of Bisquick. I measured out the mix and grated in some cheddar cheese and sprinkled in as much black pepper as I could from the tiny porcelain chicken salt-and-pepper set that I keep on my dining table. I mixed up the biscuit dough with my hands and patted it rather flat between my palms and laid it on top of the casserole filling.

    My chicken mock pot pie went into my convection oven while I relaxed at the kitchen table finishing up the latest issue of Lucky Peach. The aromas of Campari, orange and gin were slowly eclipsed by the baking smells of biscuits, cheese, and chicken.

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    This is certainly not haute cuisine but it is wonderful comfort food and I’m grateful to be able to cook a decent dinner out of my pantry. I am grateful for a pantry full of great things, including very fine gin.

    Nine more days until payday!

    hal’s Negroni

    My First Tagine – Chicken with Preserved Lemon

    A beautiful Emil Henry tagine found its way to my home and I was so excited to wash it up and begin my maiden voyage of Moroccan tagine cooking.

    My apartment is so tiny and I have enough kitchen equipment to stock several large homes, so my new tagine gets to live under the antique Japanese slat table I use as a coffee table. It’s such a gorgeous color, it looks like sculpture nestled under the bench.

    My new tagine, which gets to live under my coffee table. #cityliving

    The tagine gets to keep my vintage Taylor and Ng chicken roaster company along with my massive Irish cut crystal ice bucket that currently houses yarn.

    Tagine and Chicken, good neighbors :)

    This lovely gift also included a jar of preserved lemons from Tunisia, a large jar of saffron from Spain and some fancy couscous. I started with browning the chicken in some deep green olive oil from Lodi.

    Heating the deep green olive oil.

    The base of the tagine holds 6 cups of stew and is larger than my Caphalon searing pan. It did a tremendous job slowly browning the chicken to the perfect golden hue.

    This tagine is amazing for browning chicken. I'm smitten.

    (My, what big thighs!)

    I used a 5 pound 6 ounce chicken, on sale from the Unsafeway for $6.00. What a whopper of a bird! I could have fit in all of the parts at once but I didn’t want to crowd the pan. While the chicken was searing, I chopped up some onions, garlic and ginger. I fished out three preserved lemons from its jar of brine and rinsed them a little. Then I cut the lemons into quarters and removed the pulp, and finely shredded the rind. Preserved lemons, if you aren’t familiar with them, are simply lemons preserved in coarse salt and a touch of water, and jarred until the salt completely melts into a brine. The lemons have a unique flavor, lemony but mellowed, and are essential to the recipe. You can make your own like Anna and I did one day.

    Making chicken tagine for lunch today!
    Three large onions and all of the aromatics and the saffron threads went into the tagine base until soft and gently browned. The aroma was heady. I have adopted Molly Katzen’s dogma that if you don’t know what to make for dinner, start by sauteing an onion. The scent will inspire you.

    Sautéing onion, garlic, ginger in Lodi olive oile
    The vegetables had softened and were golden so I added in the browned chicken, some artichoke hearts in lieu of olives, water, the preserved lemons and artichoke hearts.  I used artichoke hearts because I had them and did not have green olives, which are the traditional accompaniment to this dish.  I really don’t care for the flavor cooked olives, however, and the brininess they add to stews but that is just my preference, and it was my lunch, so I went with what worked for me.

    I also added a splash of wine, it may not be authentic but the spirits moved me! On went the adorable cone lid and I relaxed for half an hour while it gently simmered.

    My tagine's maiden voyage.

    (Ready to simmer, and it already smells great)

    After 30 minutes, I flipped over the chicken pieces, basted everything a little, tasted for salt and pepper and added pinches of each, and a good squeeze of fresh Meyer lemon juice and let the tagine cook for another 15 minutes.

    I also started water boiling to make the couscous. Couscous is a fine pasta that is shaped into small grains. Traditionally one makes the couscous in a coucousiere, which I happen to have, and it is steamed and fluffed in the top section of the pot while a stew (or just boiling water) simmers in the base. We are fortunate today to have basically instant couscous that only needs to be added to boiling water, returned to a boil, removed from the heat with the lid on to rest for 15 minutes, and voila! Perfect couscous and no effort. The couscous that I received as part of this gift was particularly cool, larger sized shapes but not as large as Israeli couscous. It was *fancy*.  I let the couscousiere languish and used a 2 quart saucepan instead, super fast and so tasty. Why don’t I make more couscous?

    m'hamsa couscous

    The timer went off, and it was time for my Moroccan lunch! I heaped my bowl with some couscous, pulled out a tender and moist piece of chicken breast and a rich spoonful of vegetables and sauce. The chicken was gently flavored with lemon with the earthy undertone of the saffron and a zip from the ginger and garlic. I was surprised the chicken was a bit spicy but then remembered the lemons were preserved with some beautiful crimson chile peppers, no doubt the peppers infused the lemons with a bit of their heat. I was supposed to have added parsley or cilantro but did not have any and the dish did not suffer from the lack of it. It was a frigid and moist afternoon but inside I was enveloped in a fantasy of dining under azure skies, feeling cool breezes through twisting stone alleys and buildings, hearing exotic foot traffic behind ornately carved screens and wearing embroidered caftans and leather slippers. I nibbled at my beautiful lunch and sipped some rose wine and felt quite pleased with myself for making a hot cooked lunch on a weekend. And it was so easy!

    Chicken tagine complete, I must say it was quite tasty and easy.

    When I make this again I will use the fresh baby artichokes, quartered, because the canned and frozen ones really lacked the lovely artichoke flavor I was hoping for but it did add a lovely subtlety to the tagine regardless. I set aside some of the couscous and chicken in small containers for the freezer for dinners on another night, and packaged up the rest to take to work for lunch for the next few days. At my office, reheating the chicken and couscous in the work microwave the aroma of lemons, saffron, ginger and spice filled the kitchen and my coworkers were quite complimentary on my humble repast. I made myself a cup of mint tea and relaxed for a moment at my desk, enjoying my desk-chair visit to Morocco in rainy San Francisco.

    (Recipe here)

    Menu Planning

    I came home from Thanksgiving with my darling parents and found that my refrigerator door was left ajar about 2″. Horrors! The great dumping and clean-out commenced on Monday night after work and then my fridge was sadly empty except pickles, hard cheese and wine. Time to shop and for menu planning!

    D___ and I went shopping together this weekend and I discovered a few shops that I must frequent in the future . A terrific butcher shop on Taraval reminded me of our beloved long-gone Quilici’s, and the lovely guys there helped me with grass fed beef stew pieces, nicely marbled and hefty for $7.99 a pound. They also had terrific dried pastas in shapes like lasagnetti and mezze penne.

    Next was the wonderfully inexpensive Asian market with perfect, organic produce and Eastern European dry goods and dairy. You have to love a shop that sells Ak Mak, Bulgarian feta, Russian sour cream and my favorite salsa and chips, plus gigantes beans. I splurged on two huge produce crates filled with groceries for $77.00. The clerk insisted I take my haul away in boxes because they were free, never mind that I can’t really carry one box, let alone two, but they were free, and bags cost $.10! One should never argue with the clerks, they’re savvy, budget wise.

    Somehow D___ and I staggered into my apartment with everything in one trip. We filled my dining table with food, and I started my menu planning in earnest over a cappuccino.

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    Meals For The Week:

  • Beef Bourguignon ~ inspired by Mastering The Art of French Cooking
    1. beef, fresh shiitakes, carrots, onion, celery, tomato sauce, red wine, garlic, leek top bouquet garni, chopped parsley. Served with farrow.
  • Chicken Stew ~ inspired by George Bradshaw
    1. chicken thighs, carrot, onion, fennel, bay leaf, chicken broth, dill, roux, white wine,sour cream. Served with jasmine rice
  • Gigantes Plaki ~ from Modern Greek
    1. Great white beans, onion, garlic, tomatoes, parsley, bay leaf, oregano, feta, squirt of lemon at the end. Add shrimp, perhaps?
  • Sautéed Greens
    1. Chard, dino kale, watercress, garlic, lemon olive oil. Serve with quinoa. Breakfast option.
  • Coconut Rice Pudding ~ inspired by Wing Wings
    1. Bomba rice, coconut milk, sugar, sea salt
  • Green Salad
    1. romaine, orange bell pepper, green onion, fennel, avocado, feta, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, Lodi olive oil.
  • Red Beans and Rice ~ inspired by Country Cajun Cooking
    1. Pink beans, andouille sausage, tomato, onion, green onion, bell pepper, celery, garlic, Aleppo chile, Sriracha, beef stock, jasmine rice.
  • roasted Corn Salad
    1. Corn, artichoke hearts, edamame, olive oil, lemon juice, tarragon
  • Salsa and Chips ~ post shopping nibbles
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    Lately I have been preferring to eat my main meal at lunchtime and have something lighter when I get home with a glass of wine or tea. Some of these entrees are also destined for the freezer for when I lack the energy to make something simple.

    I also have a few items in the pantry and freezer that need to be slotted in somewhere:

  • pork truffle butter and crackers
  • adjvar and crackers
  • pork rillettes
  • butternut squash
  • As the dishwasher purrs along, I started poaching the chicken and chopping the vegetables for that stew, and realized I’m tired and want a bubble bath. I’m taking a glass with me to the tub while the carrots, onion and fennel simmer slowly. I’ll finish the stew for supper tonight and cook the greens for breakfast.

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    It feels nice to be home with the fridge stocked, good smells perfuming the air and a good meal plan for the next little bit.

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    I’ll make sure the fridge door stays closed!

    P.S. Thanks to Laura of Hey Mom What’s For Dinner for the inspiration to plan a batch of meals

    Birthday Memories and Chicken Parm

    It was my distinct pleasure to coordinate a birthday dinner for a dear friend and to cook one of the entrees.

    When you were a kidlet did you get to ask for your favorite birthday dinner? Mine was always pork chops braised in a curry sauce with apricots and onions. Once my sis asked for a full-on Thanksgiving dinner! In the summer!  And she got it!

    My friend’s childhood recollection of her favorite birthday dinner was veal Parmigiana and chocolate cake with vanilla frosting. My grocery budget doesn’t allow for veal but I do make a mean chicken Parm!

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    (mean)

    Turns out we were planning on feeding fifteen people, including hordes of children, so I knew I needed to make a big batch of chicken Parm. I wanted the birthday gal to have leftovers to take home also, so basically I needed to double my recipe. Costco was the perfect choice for large quantities of chicken, cheese and tomatoes and it felt fantastic to finally be un-gimpy enough to walk through the entire warehouse to shop. It took forever but I did it! It was fun too, I shopped with a mutual friend for the party and it was great to collaborate with someone on the overall menu.

    Back at home, the night before the party I tackled the “do ahead” tasks such as grating the cheese for the breaded coating and making the largest pot of sugo or tomato sauce that I had made in several years. My first challenge was to open the enormous can of tomatoes, it was about three quarters of a gallon of tomatoes!

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    I love Andrew Carmellini’s book Urban Italian that I received for Christmas a few years ago and have absorbed his concept of a quick pasta sauce. I sauteed a huge white onion in olive oil until it was soft and added a tablespoon of sugar, a teaspoon of chile flakes, a tablespoon of sea salt and several teaspoons of dried oregano, and then began hand-crushing the tomatoes with the heel of my hand. Elbow deep in this giant can I scooped out tomatoes with my fingers and found stems, leaves and shreds of peels as well – not impressed with this product – I was glad I was doing this by hand! It was also my dinnertime so I added in some raw cheddar bratwursts from my favorite local butcher, 4505 Meats, to cook in the sauce. It was a nice symbiotic touch, they flavored the sauce and the sauce flavored them.

    Eventually the sauce was done, it simmered for 45 minutes and then after a quick blitz with the immersion blender I tasted it for seasoning. Usually I use nicer tomatoes like San Marzano tomatoes and these domestic tomatoes had a lot of acid that I was used to. I didn’t want to add more sugar so I used James Beard’s mother’s trick for balancing out acid in her tomato soup recipe and added a 1/2 tsp of baking soda. It’s fun to watch the base soda react with the tomato acids and foam up! Once the foam subsided the chemical reaction of neutralizing the acid was complete, I tasted it again and the sauce was perfect. Into the fridge it went in my largest four quart storage bowl. Four quarts of sauce! I was worried I made too much but I could have actually used more in the recipe. Isn’t that something?

    I took on grating the cheese next. It was a 1 1/2 pound block of cheese, it was like grating a hard bound book! My arms were flagging but I pressed on and grated almost all of it to use for the breading of the chicken and for sprinkling on top of the finished dish before baking.

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    (the cheese dwarfs my box grater)

    The day of the party I pulled on my favorite mushroom-sprigged apron, tied up my hair and got to work pounding the chicken. A dozen chicken breasts pounded to a 1/2″ thickness takes a bit of time to do and I am sure my (nice) neighbors hate me. I hope my noisy upstairs neighbors got the fillings rattled out of their head from my banging away for about an hour!

    (A little side note, it sure felt good to be able to do this kitchen task, a sure sign that my shoulder is all healed from its repair and subsequent injuries post-surgery. Hooray!)

    Once the chicken was all pounded I realized that I needed to get creative for the breading process. A good chicken parm is coated in seasoned flour, dipped in beaten egg, and then crumbed with grated cheese and bread crumbs, then fried or baked before being layered in tomato sauce and mozzerella cheese and baked until bubbly and golden brown. I am getting hungry just thinking about it.

    I may not have mentioned this much but most every kitchen in San Francisco has tiny kitchens. Apparently they are not as tiny as in New York per se but nonetheless they are quite tiny in comparison to the vast acreage of suburban kitchen counter space. I have one counter in my kitchen and it is next to the sink, covered with my luxurious but very necessary (to me) portable dishwasher. It doubles as a holder for the dish drainer as well. There is another small counter area directly underneath the built in cupboards that house my dishes and glassware. It has a clearance of perhaps 12″ and is essentially useless as a work surface. It currently is the perfect nook for my convection/toaster oven and barely holds the paper towel holder on the sides.

    I am nothing short of a miracle worker when it comes to finding creative solutions for the lack of counter space. I use my kitchen table often for work but it is very far from the stove, I also use the open door of the aforementioned portable dishwasher but there is little room when the door is opened to access the stove or open the fridge.

    Last time I made chicken parm was in my late ex’s Marin home, which was graced with lots of counter space and a mobile kitchen cart that I assembled from Pier One. In my tiny Roost kitchen I had to get quite creative to set up the breading station, so I utilized the cutting board under the convection oven (which does not fit the space and slants at a horrific angle, rendering it useless for chopping or measuring anything – thank you Mr. Landlord!). I put the egg wash on the cutting board, put flexible cutting mats inside the silverware drawer and the utility drawer that holds the wax paper and foil and balanced the pans of the dry breading mixtures in each. Another cutting mat was perched on the open door of the convection oven to receive the finished breaded chicken so it could be ferried over to the stove without dropping crumbs everywhere. The raw chicken sat on yet another flexible cutting mat on the open door of the dishwasher. Crazy, but it worked!

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    I had two pans going at once and used the oven racks to receive the finished crisped chicken pieces. The trick to making chicken Parmigiana so that the coating does not fall off is to place the breaded chicken in a well oiled frying pan over medium heat and not touch it. For those of you that like to poke and prod their food as it cooks you must refrain from touching or moving the chicken. If you move it and the cheese is not properly golden brown on the bottom it will tear right off and you will have chicken that looks like it has mange. Put the chicken in the pan for two to three minutes and just relax, after that time you can grab the pan and give it a vigorous shake. If the chicken moves in the pan, it is ready to be turned over. The cheese has browned and set, it has unstuck itself from the pan, and you are good to go. If it doesn’t move, it’s Not Ready. This applies to nonstick pans as well. There is no rushing when it comes to browning chicken Parm.

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    Once you turn over your chicken and admire the golden brown gorgeousness of it all, again you must wait until the flip side has browned sufficiently.

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    It took over an hour to brown the dozen pounded pieces of chicken but it was worth the time. Each piece was perfect. Since I was assembling the dish at the party location I wrapped up the chicken in foil after it cooled and transported it, the sauce and the tubs of cheese in market bags with the casserole pans and a ladle. It was a giant chicken Parm kit!

    At the party about an hour before dinnertime, I heated the oven to 350, spread a couple of ladles of the tomato sauce in each casserole, added a layer of chicken, a layer of sauce and topped each one with slices of fresh mozzarella and handfuls of more Parmesan cheese. They baked for 30-45 minutes until the cheese was browned nicely on top and each casserole was bubbling with caramelized edges. They had to sit for about 15 minutes before serving so that you could cut generous squares of the finished Parm.

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    I was so gratified when the birthday gal took a bite, closed her eyes and said, “Mmmmmmfh, it’s just like home.”

    Another dear friend and conspirator made the most delicious chocolate cupcakes with cute sprinkles and vanilla icing.

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    Perfection. Birthday dinner goal accomplished!

    Recipe here

    Quick and Zesty: Panko Chicken Bites with Sriracha

    Today I’ve been feeling snacky and yet I just can’t get to the grocery store so I dove into my pantry and came up with everything I needed for my favorite quick chicken dish.

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    I am almost embarrassed to share this recipe because it falls under the category of Stupidly Simple. It is so toothsome and quick that it would be almost criminal not to share it though.

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    Boneless chicken is tossed with Sriracha and coated in Panko, baked quickly until browned and crispy, and eaten as soon as they are cool enough to handle.

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    This little tray won’t last long!

    Here is the recipe, I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

    Run for the Roses, and for a Mint Julep

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    (rose painted by Pierre-Joseph Redouté)

    The first Saturday of May is the Kentucky Derby or “The Run for the Roses”. It is also the ultimate time of the year to drink mint juleps and feast with friends at G___’s house.

    Somehow G__ effortlessly hosts 60 people or more in her home with the grace and effusive charm that only a truly gracious Southern lady can muster. Today’s soiree was another perfectly delightful gathering.

    G___ is a fantastic cook and hostess and she made a huge number of Southern delicacies for the groaning buffet tables:

    • deviled eggs
    • pimento cheese
    • pepper jam slathered over cream cheese
    • bowls and bowls heaped with crackers, nuts and strawberries on the stem
    • green salad with cucumbers and grape tomatoes
    • fresh berries macerated with orange juice and Grand Marnier
    • cornbread with green chile and scallions
    • macaroni salad
    • carrot slaw with golden raisins
    • red cabbage coleslaw with minced broccoli
    • crunchy fried chicken
    • Carolina-style pulled pork sandwiches

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    (one of four buffets; pepper jelly and cheese)

    The bar was manned by Xavier the butler who made dozens and dozens of glasses of mint juleps according to precise specifications of the lady of the house and poured endless bottles of champagne and fuzzy water. G___’s charming and refined sons dropped plump strawberries in the champagne glasses for the ladies.

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    (pimento cheese and the mint julep)

    Her boys also stayed up till the wee hours last night smoking the succulent pork shoulders for ten hours, then shredded them by hand. I helped frequently by offering “quality control” sampling. Heh.

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    (an expert shredder)

    I popped over a little early to man the fried chicken station and cooked up ten pounds of juicy, crispy thighs. This was the second time I have done this pleasant task and was quite pleased that the chicken was snapped up before the race started.

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    (don’t you love the stove!)

    20110509-092955.jpg(Done!)

    Sipping our heady cocktails and simply stuffed we mistily sang “My Old Kentucky Home” and cheered on the trainers, proud owners, fantastic hats, minuscule jockeys and those gorgeous, muscled steeds.

    We drew the names of the horse we were to cheer on during the race but this year we also unanimously cheered Pants on Fire with his female jockey who was racing at the Derby for her first time. Girl power!

    Sadly Pants on Fire came in 9th place but Animal Kingdom who was ranked 25:1 came zooming up from 6 lengths back to win the race, mane flying and neck stretched, with the jockey just holding on for dear life! What a race, what a horse!

    After all that excitement it was time for dessert. Joining G___’s gorgeous cut crystal bowl of macerated fruit many guests loaded the dessert table with chocolates, lemon tart, fruit pies and tarts, hand picked strawberries, platters of pineapple, a splendid pink pudding with a crushed cookie crust and a towering red velvet cake all decked out for the Derby. Somehow I had forgotten that this cake is filled with cream cheese frosting, oh my! We nibbled on thin slices and pretended to complain about the calories.

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    I guess I have had my fill of mint juleps but in case you haven’t, here is how a true Kentuckian makes them.

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    REC: A Real Mint Julep

    Tall or highball glasses
    Ice
    Fresh mint leaves
    Bourbon, preferably Makers Mark
    Simple syrup*

    Put a clean disk towel on the counter and heap your ice cubes upon it. Wrap up the ice in the towel and using a mallet or meat tenderizer pound the heck out of the ice until it’s finely crushed. It usually helps to think about April 15th (or the 19th in this case for 2011).

    Put a sprig or two of mint in each glass and fill tightly with the crushed ice, smashing the mint up a bit as you do. Add 1 tsp of simple syrup to each glass and fill with bourbon.

    You can make these ahead of time (up to an hour) by placing the filled glasses in the freezer.

    Sip *slowly*!!!

    *** Note: Simple syrup is easy to make. For mint juleps you need 1 cup each sugar and water, a sprig of mint and a clean glass jar or bottle. Put everything into a pot and bring it to a boil. Don’t stir, just wriggle the pit now and again. When the sugar has completely melted and the liquid is cool, set it aside to cool. Store it in the fridge until needed. It will keep for months. You can also use this syrup for mojitos.

    Many cocktails use simple syrup, so it’s nice to keep a bottle in the fridge, just leave out the mint for more versatility.

    The best part of the afternoon was seeing so many of my dear friends. Despite the miles that separate us and the years that pass so very rapidly we never lose the joy of seeing each other and exchange hugs and kisses, share smiles at seeing their faces and a few tears over those who are no longer with us. Over the decades that I have known these lovely people my life has been so enriched and I feel such gratitude.

    Thanks for the lovely party, G___, I look forward to next year!

    One-Handed Cooking

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    Finally after surgery my appetite has returned a bit. I still can’t eat much but it is a good feeling to have that little growl in the belly back.

    I’m recuperating nicely and have been well taken care of by wonderful and amazing friends. As dear D___ said it is nice to have food bloggers as friends because they bring you chocolate pudding and other divine treats.

    It is hard not to be in the kitchen and it’s literally been months since I’ve cooked anything of note and weeks since I’ve done anything but reheat things. This week I managed to unhook my frying pan from the rack and made myself the ultimate comfort food – grilled cheese.

    Ah, grilled cheese, how I love you. The crispy buttery crust, my teeth biting through good bread then sinking into the hot melted cheese, wow. It really hits the spot.

    Today I indulged myself using St. Pat’s cheese from Cowgirl Creamery, which has nettle and herbs on the soft bloomed rind that hides a triple cream buttery cheese made with Straus milk. I love this seasonal cheese so much! A big thank you to my office for sending me a cheesy goody box from Cowgirl.

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    On top of the slabs of gooey cheese I added shreds of leftover rotisserie chicken from the market over ruggedly sliced Acme sourdough. I jazzed my sandwich up a bit using Gewürzmühle salt from Navarro Vineyards, which imparted an earthy divine tang. Their rosé is amazing as are all of their wines and a glass would be terrific with this sandwich.

    Just hearing that sizzle lifted my spirits immensely and made me feel that things are nearing normalcy.

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    It is a bit tricky cooking one-handed, like slicing bread and planing cheese, but it works. My new physical therapy this week is to wipe the table or counter with a sponge. The doc told me to practice my “wax on, wax off” moves, which made me giggle. So not only am I fending for myself it is also prescribed therapy and pretty soon I will know karate.

    I munched down my melty lunch while reading the Saveur sandwich issue and dreamed about making something fabulous for an upcoming picnic with the Bay Area food bloggers.
    Muffalata anyone? After cleaning up I took a nap for four hours, a combination of cheese coma and recuperating induced fatigue. Despite this it was a good start to returning to cook.

    I think I need to try something with bacon tomorrow, don’t you? Another favorite of mine is thinly sliced apple and Tillamook extra sharp cheddar, a fabulous combination that I highly recommend you try. What are your favorite grilled cheese sandwich fillings, or do you prefer the classic?

    Pop Tart Prowl

    Sometimes an event comes along that you just can’t say no to, I mean, how can you turn down a pop tart?

    Eating pop tarts has been a pleasure reserved for my adult life only. Growing up my mUm never allowed such things in the house, not that I felt deprived mind you, considering her baked goods and my own creations were far superior to a dubious box of fat, sugar and preservatives from the store.

    Last year while languishing on my dearest friend L’s couch in front of a crackling fire in the wilds of Santa Fe (and I mean it when I say wild. The coyotes were circling the house that night and the Great Horned Owls were crunching away on the gravel on the roof, it was mind-blowing.) my dear pal asked me if I wanted a pop tart. It was 10:00 pm, we were watching silly movies and had consumed ridiculous portions of posole not all that long ago. Naturally I said yes and a few minutes later she delivered into my grasping hands a serviette with a steaming hot toasted apple cinnamon pop tart. It was flaky, with a well seasoned fresh tasting apple filling with plenty of cinnamon. We promptly had one more each and some tea and then just as promptly zonked out on our respective perches like a pair of tired toddlers.

    Later, I was delighted to learn that the pastries came from Natures Path and that they were organic and pretty clean otherwise. My guilt felt assuaged somewhat but in my heart of hearts I missed my Mom’s jam turnovers, my childhood pop tart equivalent. I have never attempted them because of my dread fear of rolled dough but this is something I plan to rectify soon.

    So fast-forward to the present day and to my meeting the tres charmant Rachel Saunders and her incredibly lush book on jam. Rachel created the Blue Chair Fruit in the East Bay and has been making and selling her incredible jams at various farmer’s markets in the Bay Area and online. I lucked into a copy of her newly released book and it is well littered with post its and slips of notes of the recipes I plan to try and photos I just cannot stop gazing upon. Her book has taken up permanent residence on my lap and I cannot wait to tell you more about it (soon!).

    A local eatery in Berkeley announced they were having a pop tart party using Rachel’s jams and that she would be there in person to sign her incredible book so naturally I inked that invitation into my calendar and was delighted when my pal Luna of Luna’s Kitchen Magic said she could join me. Who better than my sister-friend, a trained pastry chef, to accompany me on a quest for pop tarts.

    This Saturday, a bus trip, a BART train, another bus and a long walk later, we arrived at Summer Kitchen Bake Shop‘s door. It was most definitely worth the effort to get there to see the darling Rachel again, and to eat pop tarts! We received a warm greeting but Rachel had a line of eager fans waiting to chat and over her shoulder I spied trays of pop tarts so we sidled by and headed to the cashier.

    We ordered one of each of Summer Kitchen’s pop tart creations to munch along with a cup of Blue Bottle coffee for me and an omlette sandwich for the both of us.

    The eatery is adorable, high ceilinged and a long counter in front of the grill with a few tables in front on a charming stretch of College Street. We snagged a few stools at the counter and began watching the show, our sides warmed by the pizza oven that anchored the end of the space. It was really challenging to perch like vultures and watch the grill cook make plate after plate of gorgeous sandwiches knowing we couldn’t order everything.

    But first we gazed upon the gorgeous pop tarts. Look. Drool. Don’t you wish you were there?

    The sweet pop tart had slices of the first of fall’s new crop of Fuji apples topped with Blue Chair Fruit strawberry jam, drizzled with royal icing and dashes of sugar sprinkles. The savory pop tart was filled with Blue Chair’s spiced tomato-bourbon conserve and goat cheese, and topped with shreds of Parmesan. Holy cow! They were simply fantastic. Flaky, thin, buttery pastry, still warm from the oven, pleasantly plump with the fillings and so tender. My toes were wriggling with delight as I nibbled slowly, trying to make them last, washed down by the mother’s-milk of Bella Donovan blend from Blue Bottle. I was beginning to regret only ordering two to share.

    Meanwhile, our deft grill cook had crisped thick slabs of my personal local favorite bacon from Golden Gate Meats, slivered an avocado and turned out a perfectly blonde curling shell of a four egg omlette awash with fresh herbs and butter into a soft torpedo roll. Why have I never thought of an omlette sandwich before? It was ridiculous, as Luna is fond of saying.

    Nirvana.

    I was distracted by the sight of the pastry chef making more pop tarts. Scrutinizing her technique and taking notes we watched her roll out sheets of pastry, top with the juicy apples and dollops of ruby red jam. How I coveted that huge bottle of jam! Behold, the birth of a pop tart.

    While they were baking the grill cook made tiny sliders of beef patties topped with blue cheese, piled them into a torpedo roll slathered with tarragon aioli and heaped with mounds of steaming mahogany caramelized onions, slices of pink heirloom tomatoes and handfuls of wild arugula. I am smitten.

    Sadly, most of pictures did not come out. The cook was grinning at me shyly as I tried to capture the action, occasionally pausing to let me snap a shot. Now more than ever I wish I had a camera!

    Then, to my right, the pastry chef pulled out a huge tray of naked chocolate cupcakes and scooped huge spatulas full of cream cheese frosting into her KitchenAid to fluff up before piping it into graceful spirals on the cakes. Our seatmate, a precocious 5 year old, scored a spoonful of frosting, lagniappe from the chef, lucky thing. The chef scattered chocolate pearls on top of the cupcakes and popped them onto pretty cake stands. If only I could have eaten more!

    Then the grill chef began making crispy chicken sandwiches and grinned when I piped up that bacon and avocado would go well with that sandwich, and more of that custard yellow aioli. I realized I wasn’t the only one watching the action. Intently peering through the counter and offering play-by-play was a young man, perhaps 10 years old. Young Jerry is a foodie in the making, he was commenting on the aioli and I explained what that was. He smacked his lips. We watched another burger torpedo being prepared. He hadn’t tried that one, he explained, and sidled over one stool closer to me. I remarked that I hoped the grill chef would make a chicken sandwich again, and then he did! Amazed, Jerry asked how did I know the cook was going to do that? “Magic”, I said, and grinned, then Jerry asked me if I played cards, like Pokemon… His dad laughed and asked Jerry to return to his seat and they finished their pop tarts. Little Romeo!!

    Luna and I watched as another batch of fruit pop tarts got their slathering of icing and sprinkles and sadly bid the cooks adieu.

    We were delighted to meet in person Charlene Reis, the owner of Summer Kitchen, with whom we had been chatting incessantly on Twitter, and made plans to have a craft night soon. Rachel introduced me to her charming husband and helped me select jars of her jams to take home. I was thrilled to score the last jar of the spiced tomato-bourbon conserve and we agreed bourbon was a magical ingredient, like vanilla, but better. I exclaimed over my last purchase of Rachel’s blood orange marmalade and told her how that jar, which I bought at her book signing at Omnivore, disappeared in two days with the help of an Acme herb slab, Manchego cheese and some prosciutto, quite possibly the best sandwich I have ever invented. Another jar of Rachel’s three fruit marmalade got stowed away in my bag and Luna and I made our farewells.

    We strolled down the street and stopped into a sweet shop, several card shops and then to our next stop, Ici.

    Ici is an ice cream shop that has an impressive pedigree, its owner worked at Chez Panisse no less, and they usually have a line several store fronts long. Somehow we chanced to be there at just the right time with no line and popped in for a scoop. I chose the lemon ice cream with pinenut praline and an ocean of hot fudge. The combination of creamy lemon and rich fudgy chocolate is truly magical. Luna hit one out of the park with her choice of pear huckleberry sorbet with burnt caramel sauce (picture here). We plopped on a bench in front, another minor miracle, and thoroughly enjoyed our little treat.

    As we were leaving I noticed their decorations of crocheted ice cream cones and vowed to knit some soon.

    We planned next to visit Amanda’s on Shattuck and decided to work off our breakfast by walking there.

    Just like Calvin Trillin we decided to have a snack before lunch and stopped into Crixa’sCakes for tea and pastries.

    Fall has arrived in Berkeley and I was regretting my sandals but was grateful for my new leaf-green velour fleece jacket. We sat outside at an iron table as leaves scuttled by on the cobblestones, sipping our steaming Moroccan mint tea and stunning Hungarian pastries. The Hungarian version of pirogue was very good, how can you go wrong with buttery pastry filled with potato, cheese and dill?

    We fought a fork-dual over the last bite. Divine! But then we split a pastry amusingly called Fatima’s thighs. More of the buttery, flaky pastry was curled around a rich filling of walnuts, julienned apples, currants and scented with orange flower water, then heaped with powdered sugar. I dusted off my pants which were liberally dotted with sugar and was transported to a memory of eating beignets with a dear beau in steamy sticky New Orleans. We used to laugh that I should never wear black around powdered sugar, something that would have come in handy at Crixa’s!

    Another reason to visit Crixa is a street sign pole outside that has been yarnbombed, it is just so adorable.

    Awash in tea and feeling all buttery we continued our stroll through Berkeley, marveling at the odd fall clouds in the sky, a building decorated with sculptures of sea life, pots of tomato plants tucked away into doorways, and the unusual people who populate the area. It is so pleasant to stroll with a friend, to be able to walk without rushing. Luna slipped a small sack into my bag, a Springerlie cookie from Crixa, what a treat! We exchanged thoughts about soul mates, shared stories of our siblings and tales about ravens and crows as Brother Crow cawed above our heads.

    Our next stop was Stonemountain & Daughter Fabric shop, a place awash with the cutest, kitchy fabric. An entire row of bolts was devoted to food designs and we danced down the aisle singing the Coconut Song, imagining an apron made with a coconut pattern and lime fabric for pockets. I could not resist a few yards of an adorable mushroom fabric. We are taking a sewing class there in a few weeks, and I will make myself an apron to cheer up my kitchen during our drab SF winter. Suddenly we imagined ourselves buying most of the store’s stock and sewing up creation after creation!

    The imaginary budget depleted we headed out to Amanda‘s for their house-made spicy ginger aid and a crunchy garden salad. I was tempted by their array of spiced nuts, burgers, sweet potato fries and sodas but couldn’t manage another bite. Luna crunched her salad and shared her ginger ale, which was exceptional.

    To my surprise it was nearing 4:00 pm! We visited the pretty library for a small break and then meandered to Trader Joe’s for dinner fixings. I treated myself to a rib eye and ingredients for a pizza dinner another night. How does pizza made of naan with smoked Gouda, Asian pear and prosciutto sound? I thought I needed to make a pot of caramelized onions next week too, and buy bags of sweet onions.

    Lugging our goodies to BART, we luck out and the next train was in two minutes, and I was home in a half an hour. I quickly stowed my groceries before sinking gratefully down into a chair to slip on thick wooly socks and settle on the settee for a nap. Five hours later I woke up! Completely missing dinner means I can indulge in steak and eggs for Sunday breakfast!

    It was great to explore a new area and have home-made pop tarts and all the other treats that day. I plan to borrow a friend’s kitchen soon to make jam from Rachel’s adorable book, and to make pop tarts perhaps on my next Girl’s Night In. Stay tuned!

    …………………………..

    Resources:

    Blue Chair Fruit
    Jam, jam classes and the Blue Chair Jam Cookbook here:
    http://bluechairfruit.com/
    Also at the Temescal and Grand Lake Farmers’ Markets

    Summer Kitchen Bake Shop
    2944 College Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705-2204
    Open Daily 9am-9pm
    (510) 981-0538

    Ici
    2948 College Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705
    Open Daily
    (510) 665-6054

    Crixa Cakes
    2748 Adeline Street, Berkeley, CA 94703-1205
    Open Tue-Sat 9am-6:30pm
    (510) 548-0421

    Stonemountain & Daughter Fashion & Quilting Fabric
    2518 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94704-2722
    Hours: 11am – 5:30pm
    (510) 845-6106

    Amanda’s Restaurant (Feel Good Fresh Food)
    2122 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704
    Hours: 11am – 9pm
    (510) 548-2122
    http://www.Amandas.com