Tag Archives: dining

Weekend Fun and This Includes Brunch

This weekend we had warm weather. This time of year in San Francisco is like the rest of the world’s summer, one can go to work without a warm jacket and suddenly ladies wearing skirts with bare legs looks like a good idea instead of scoffing at all their goosebumps. I dusted off my linen skirt, said hello to my pasty legs and took them out for a spin.

My dear friend C___ invited me to join him to a trek to the Livermore Valley. He had been gifted a wonderful bottle of wine from Murrieta’s Well Winery and wanted more. The winery is built on the site of the spring where Joachin Murrieta, the famed outlaw and bandit, used to water his horses. There is a nice little fountain built using the spring water and no more wild horses. The wine, however, was fantastic and well worth the drive.

At the vineyard
(me standing on actual dirt! It feels as if I haven’t been outside in years. Oh wait!)

Chris at the vineyard
(my dear friend C___ whom I’ve known since I was a sweet young thang of 18.)

Murietta's Well is where he camped, fascinating
(If there is a historical plaque I am compelled to read it, thanks to parental training.)

Chris at Murietta's Well
(THE spring, please note the horses and Senor Murietta depicted on the tile)

It is a beautiful spot, very hot and arid and this seems to suit the vines. Surprisingly to a few folks wine grapes, like good tomatoes, like to be stressed.

Ascension
(detail of the steps leading up to the wine tasting room)

Vineyards
(peeking out the window to the vines and patio)

Their winemaker is Chilean and has been planting Portuguese grape varietals but making them in a Rhone style. I learned a lot about varietals I had never heard of previously. The tasting room was busy but we got the full treatment and ended up having a glass of wine on the balcony overlooking the vines while they pulled our wine from the “library” since we were allowed to buy some things not usually available. I like my wine friends and their superpowers!

Not enough of a recommendation for me.
(one of their award-winning whites, but who knew Houston had a wine competition / rodeo?)

View from the balcony
(a fine view with a glass of wine)

Me and Chris at Murietta's Well
(happy happy)

We ran into some traffic in Livermore, some of the side streets were really cute but overall the place is reminiscent of Los Angeles sprawl with housing tracts popping up on the hills. Some vines were being planted too, I would rather see the wineries expand myself.

Traffic in Livermore

I came home from winetasting and made myself some of my homemade bacon! Wow! Then I took a nap! Then, I had more wine.

Delicious! Murietta's Well 2010 Cabernet Franc
(a post-wine-tasting glass of wine)

Sunday morning I went to brunch. Please note this is the most social weekend I have had where I just did things for fun and it felt great to be “normal” and to make plans with friends and be able to actually attend them. Brunch was a popup for a local bakery, Marla Bakery, at the State Bird Provisions restaurant. If you are going to be in SF this Sunday I would recommend having their brunch, email them for a reservation or go early at sit at the counter like we did.

Marla cherry tart
(cherry and frangipane tart)

Anticipation is building for @marlabakery brunch

Marla’s pastries are incredibly beautiful. This the Marla bun which is like a palmier but made into a larger roll.

Lovely cherry & tarragon scones @marlabakery

I had dried cherry and tarragon scones with a little jar of marscapone and rhubarb compote piped in. All of these years searching for decent clotted cream in the city and I realize, stupidly, that I should have been using marscapone. It was truly brilliant. I didn’t get much of the tarragon but it is allergy season after all and my nose proved shamefully incapable of detecting aromas this weekend.  These sold out before Noon and I am very glad I had the foresight to order one to go.

Keep thinking about this lamb & fattoush @marlabakery brunch

For the brunch “entree” I had roasted rare lamb that took three days to prepare. It was rubbed in yogurt and barahat and was roasted perfectly.  Tender, thin slides were drizzled with harissa spiced yogurt. The flatbread had been brushed with spices too and was enormous and warm like a hug. The fattoush salad was herby and tart and included pickled onions and crispy flatbread crackers.

Darling coffee service @marlabakery brunch

I washed this down with a glass of cava and coffee service by Wrecking Ball. Ethopian coffee in a tiny carafe really hit the spot. The little biscotti were a nice touch too, I gifted them to my friend as they contain almonds and I can’t eat them right now.

I wish I could go back this Sunday but I will be off on another adventure!

Where to Go

Murrieta’s Well
3005 Mines Road
Livermore, CA 94550

Marla’s Bakery
Every Thursday between 4:00 pm – 8:00 pm at the Mission Community Market at 22nd & Bartlett in San Francisco
Watch their Facebook page for pop up brunch locations

State Bird Provisions
1529 Fillmore Street
San Francisco, CA 94115

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Pigging Out Pub-style

I have to say sometimes my life is pretty fantastic, like a week or so ago when I was asked to dinner to sample a whole smoked pig dinner. I love pork! 

Off I went to meet a few folks down in Ghirardelli Square, home of The Pub. Scott Broccoli, the owner at The Pub had a brilliant idea to smoke a suckling pig and serve it every Thursday.

After sipping a very nice Buffalo Trace bourbon at their bar our little group was ushered to a huge table. Scott, popped out of the kitchen holding a huge platter laden with a lacquered, glossy-skinned piggie. The head and legs were back in the kitchen because that enormous platter wasn’t big enough for all of it! He staggered to the edge of the table and talked about how he boned out the 75 pound pig and rubbed the meat with chopped garlic and herbs. The deboned pig cooks so much more evenly and prevents the meat from drying out from the hot smoke process.

20110801-083340.jpg

Scott returned to the kitchen to carve up the pig and shortly the servers arrived with plates piled high with that succulent pork.

That plate was massive. There were huge slabs of pork loin, pork butt, pulled pork, pork belly, and the big prize of shatteringly crisp cracklings. There was a huge mound of sautéed corn with bacon, potato salad with bacon and a hunk of cornbread topped with a squiggle of honey.

The meat was well flavored from the smoking but so incredibly juicy and tender. The pork belly was enough to make me want to run into the kitchen and hug anyone who was serving up back there. the cornbread was better than mine, which is saying *a lot*! There was no way I could finish my plate and at $23.50 it is a huge value for that price.

So if you are craving a juicy smoked pork dinner get down to The Pub this (and every Thursday). Scott starts serving at 6:00 on and it is first come-first served. I hear he can smoke a pig to order with a week’s notice, shall we plan a picnic?

The Pub
Ghirardelli Square
851 Beach Street
San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 351-0500

A Very Thankful Thanksgiving

My ancestor came to this land 390 years ago. Half the colony died that first winter. Can you imagine how sad that must have been, after that long journey with all of the hardships, to finally arrive only to lose so many. The first Thanksgiving, so it is said, was celebrated after surviving a year with a harvest. Our family in this century like to celebrate our being together after much time apart and cook a killer meal. Most of the fun is being together in the kitchen with gentle jostling and teasing, collaborating and handing off tasks seamlessly, and many tastings. A common refrain is, “Are you sure that has enough salt, let me try that again!”

As a special treat this year I purchased a Happy Thanksgiving produce box from Happy Girl Farms, my first experience with them, and hauled all the produce up on the train in a duffle roller bag, also filled with wine. Of course one wheel on the bag broke as I was leaving my apartment and I had to drag that beast around like a mobster hauling a dead body, woof, what a long trip!

It was quite the adventure in what one would consider a relatively simple task of picking up the produce box. I was given an address saying there would be prominent signage near a gate in a fence of a lovely home in Castro Heights. I took a taxi after work; it was 5:30 pm and already inky dark outside. In a dimly lit street, the taxi driver said that he thought a long dark fence was the right one. Thankfully I had a tiny flashlight on my house keys and turned it on and headed towards the fence. On the fence near eye level was a quarter-sized sticker that said Happy Girl Farms, visible only after illuminating it with my tiny light. I saw a door in the fence and pushed it open, saw below me a foot-plus drop down to a dirt slope, and three boxes lying on the dirt. I carefully stepped down and promptly slid on the mud (it had rained heavily that day) and slid to a tall shrub straight below me. I grabbed at it, wrenching my shoulder injured previously from the tragic high-fiving incident at the World Series celebrations. I badly scratched and punctured my hand from the 1″ spines from the shrub which turned out to be a bougainvillea bush! But I prevented myself running into it by a fraction of an inch with my face or falling in the mud. Swearing loudly, I retrieved my keys and baby flashlight from the ground and looked around for the clipboard as instructed in the email but didn’t see anything. There was one large produce box, opened to the elements, so I peeked inside and saw some of the veggies listed on my receipt. I heaved the box off the dirt and transversed the slippery hill up to the gate and sidewalk in the pitch black dark. I managed to lift the box up to the sidewalk level. As I hauled myself out some pedestrians walked by almost knocking me back inside the gate down the slope but one man grabbed my arm to steady me. Whew. Thoroughly shaken, muddy and bleeding, I stood there for a moment, and the cab driver came over and said, “Are you okay??” He helped me into the cab and loaded the muddy box in the back, and drove me home. I called Dirty Girl and got voicemail, then rang up my mommy and whined about the things I do for fresh produce! The cab driver handed me a paper towel to staunch the bleeding and wipe up some of the mud; either it was a kindness on his part or a defensive measure to keep his hack clean. Once home, cleaned up and disinfected, ice pack on my shoulder and a glass of wine consumed (for medicinal purposes), I received a call back from a rep at Happy Girl Farms. The guy informed me that I actually came on the wrong night, despite their email confirmation that clearly said the pick up day was Tuesday. He said something about their having computer problems and asked me to check the box. I did and found that many items listed on their receipt were not in the box. He again mentioned it wasn’t my box, and so I offered to forward him their email to me. He said I could keep the box (how generous!!) and I felt rather exasperated at this point and retorted, “Look, I’m leaving tomorrow at 5 am. If you want to come by tonight and pick up this box and give me *my* box, I would be really happy with that.” After hemming and hawing a bit he said he’d refund me a portion of the price and next time they would put some flashlights in that yard. I think I will pass on using this pick up place on the premise of preserving my health from a broken ankle or bougainvillea-related flesh shredding, and spare the homeowner any litigious opportunities. Ah, the adventures of supporting local farms.

On a positive note, all of the product was fantastic. We have apples, pears, garlic and onions, carrots and parsnips, bunches of herbs, a variety of potatoes, celery and some squash. Once safely at the parents, we stashed it all in the garage and got ready for our Thanksgiving Eve dinner.

We talked about the Big Day menu while feasting on our usual Dungeness crab, sourdough bread schlepped from the city, mOm’s Louis dressing and iceberg lettuce wedges, augmented by crisp-tender asparagus spears. Truly though, any excuse to eat crab is a welcome one. Or Louis sauce. That sauce rocks!

Thanksgiving morning dawned with the fiery blaze of the liquid amber tree and frost everywhere, a brisk 32 degrees.

Just WOW. What a tree!

After lots of coffee and toasted Acme sourdough bread and butter, we hopped to work in the kitchen and I posted the menu and to-dos for each menu item on the fridge.

Our Menu:
o Dry brined turkey roasted with bacon and sage
o Granny’s “Aunt Emma’s” dressing
o Giblet gravy
o Mashed potatoes
o Potato butter buns
o Roasted whole onions
o Carrot and parsnip coins in a beef-butter reduction
o Green salad with roasted quince, pomegranate, pecans and goat cheese, with a quince syrup white wine vinaigrette
o Pumpkin chiffon pie

Mom started with the pie crust. I loved mOm’s comment, “If this pie pan could talk… It is older than you and has seen many pies.”

I started the brown sauce, part two of the three-part gravy process, and prepped the veggies and fruits for the dressing. My sis made the dressing while Mom made the filling for the pumpkin pie elbow-to-elbow with me as I prepared the dough for the potato buns. I love these buns, we all love these buns, in fact, I plan to make more tomorrow. Can you see why?

Everything was going so smoothly, we had time to take a break, take a nap and knit (just me). Around 3:30 pm we put in the turkey, and three and a half hours later the turkey was done!

Mmmm, bacon..

I decorated da boid with strips of bacon and fresh sage leaves. The little onions roasted happily under the roasting rack. Everyone was liberally slathered with butter.

My sis gently tossed and arranged the salad, I dolloped spoonfuls of butter and sour cream onto the mashed potatoes, and mom made the gravy. There was liberal sampling going on. Bliss.

This gravy is so good, you could eat it like soup.

The carrots and parsnips were perfectly done, not mushy but toothsome, cooked with beef stock and butter and reduced to a syrupy glaze.

The potatoes were creamy and showered with parsley and a lake of butter. Mmmm, butter….

The table looked so festive. My sis put a cinammon-spiced cranberry sauce in her pretty Spode turkey dish, with the spoon in a compromising position. Squawk!!!

I tried carving the turkey this year, and overfilled a platter to the point of ridiculousness with the juicy meat. And bacon.

Every single dish was outstanding. I poured an ’09 Serenade from Casa Rondeña in New Mexico (a Gewürztraminer/Reisling blend) and an ’06 Cabernet Sauvignon from Stags Leap (a lovely gift from the winery, thank you!!). We filled out plates to match our hearts filled with love, and were too full for pie! Desultory conversation followed and then bed, with blissful turkey dreams.

Today was the culmination of a year-long dream, pumpkin pie and coffee for breakfast (and a few leftover buns slathered with butter) and the leftover turkey sandwich. And a nap. We traded stories all afternoon, about family history, and country and city living oddities. It is so delightful to relax with my family and get to know them better, year after year.

What a great holiday we had, and tonight we get to do it all over again, the only work involved will be gentle reheating!

I’m off to go hang up the outdoor Christmas lights now with my sis, with my stepdad’s supervision, another post-turkey day tradition.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Perfect Reception

When I moved into my beloved Russian Hill apartment years ago, my sis gave me some essential cookbooks, one of which has become a go-to favorite. George Bradshaw was an amazing contemporary writer and in the 50’s he began to write about food. His 1969 book, Suppers and Midnight Snacks, became a novel of sorts for me. I would curl up in a quiet corner and imagine myself preparing his suggested menus while holding a martini and dressed in an elegant caftan. It was the 70’s after all, back when Doris Day and Dinah Shore were the penultimate hostesses. An updo, a caftan and a long cigarette holder were the gracious hostess’s costume of choice.

Over the years I have tried many of George’s recipes and still yearn to try more of them. I especially adore the chapter titled Lonely Pleasures.

“With any luck, one spends a certain amount of time alone. This means of course that you eat alone, and can indulge any outrageous taste you secretly harbor. The pressures are off, there is no home economist or gourmet looking over your shoulder – unless of course, you have the misfortune to be one yourself – and you can let go.”

Better words have never been spoken, George, although I secretly wish you had titled this section Solo Pleasures. As one who has the pleasure of indulging meals at home singularly I prefer not to emphasis the lonely aspect.

His writing is highly amusing, especially where he goes on to describe all the things one can do whilst dining alone, including reading a novel, watching the sun set (obviously he never lived in foggy San Francisco), and telephoning.

“…I have a friend who calls me up the minute she begins to eat celery – the reception is perfect…”

Amusingly enough, and coincidentally, I too have a very dear friend who does exactly the same thing. We will be chatting along on various fascinating but mundane topics, and then Crunch, Crunch, Crunch!!!

“What are you eating, now?” I ask with an underlying chuckle, and think of this book. She will reply, “Celery” or “Tortilla chips with guacamole” or, like yesterday, “Bok choy from the garden. I’m pruning it before the gophers do.”

I recall to her memory this chapter in the book and we break off into peals of laughter, interspersed with crunching. Naturally.

In this chapter is a section of cooking one can do during a rainy Saturday to prepare oneself for the week or weeks ahead when, alas, the servants have departed, never to return, and yet one needs a decent meal after a long day.

George prescribes, and I have frequently followed his sage advice, preparing a variety of entrees that can be cooked and bagged into portions and frozen, but that have panache: crepes, beef stew, and chicken in a veloute with artichokes.

One of my favorites is what he calls Chop Chops. They are a purée of flavors suspended in gelatin and then frozen, to be added into soups, sauces and sautes for a little como se yama zing.

My favorite book

If for no other reason, you must obtain this book, and read this chapter. The story on truffles still has me in stitches. Although it is long out of print, one can find a decent copy on Alibris. And then you can thank me later.

CHOP CHOPS

2 envelopes of unflavored gelatin
1 c H2O
6 cloves of garlic
3 medium onions (I use white)
1 bunch of watercress
10 sprigs of parsley (Italian or flat leaf)
Juice of a large lemon (or 2 Meyer lemons)

Special equipment: four mini ice cube trays – if you can find silicon ones that would be ideal, for reasons explained later. They are 1/2″ deep and each makes 90 cubes.

Melt the gelatin in the cold water, then heat gently to dissolve it. Allow to cool. Peel the garlic and the onions and chop roughly. Cut off the stems of the watercress and the parsley and use the leaves for stock another time.

Place all ingredients into a blender and purée until you have a beautiful jade-green purée.

Pour the purée into the mini ice cube trays and freeze overnight or until solid.

Now comes the tricky part. Unless you have silicon mini ice cube trays, no matter how you flex the trays, apply hot wet towels or curse at them, the cubes will not easily part from the trays. This has to do with the gelatin. However, if you use a very sharp small knife and score around the edge with the tip, then plunge the tip down into the tray the green chop chops cube will pop right out.

Store immediately in an airtight ziplock bag. You will have enough chop chops to last an entire year, or to share with a friend!

To use:

  • Add a cube to a saute pan in which you have pan fried chicken breasts or a little piece of filet of sole, add a little white wine for an instant sauce.
  • Do the same but with red wine for sauteed beef medallions.
  • Makes a wonderful sauce allowed to thaw and added to homemade (or store bought) mayonnaise for dipping steamed artichokes or a dressing for asparagus or lightly sauteed fish.
  • Add four cubes to a pot of soup or stew, they will provide almost all the seasoning you need.
  • Melt with butter or olive oil and serve over fresh summer squash or any sauteed vegetable.

The uses are endless and it is amazing what a great flavor one little cube will add.

Paella: A Plate of Love

When I come to my parents for a visit, however brief, I know that mOm will be cooking up something special. Isn’t that what family visits are all about, good food shared with great company?

paella 2

For years, mOm has been torturing me with tales of her paella. We both have had friends that visited Spain and brought us back the best souvenir: glimmering, fat jars of saffron threads. Add to that great sources for smoked paprika, local chorizo, and seafood from the Bay Area, it all bodes well for a great dinner. For this night, mOm said she was just doing a little “motherly-type cooking”.  To me it’s anything but, it’s a plate of love!

On the way up to the country, my pal L___ and I popped in to the fun Michael~David winery in Lodi to stretch our and the puppy’s legs and to grab some great wine. Besides the amazing local cheese (Modesto), lavender spray and blueberry pie (from the winery’s family farm, the Phillip Farm) we totally scored with a case of Viogner, their Enigma 2006. Dry and crisp but heavy on the pineapple, pear and a touch of spice, this was the perfect wine with which to cook (and sip with) paella.

A tour of the living room and meet King-dog:

On our last night of our brief visit, it was paella night!!!  I played sous chef and chopped up various veggies, seafood and measured out wine (one cup for the paella, one cup for me) and so on, gently being cautioned not to cut my fingers off (really, mOm – love you!) and my perpetual reminders right back to wear an apron and take off the good jewelry, we really worked together seamlessly.

tomatoes

I love cooking with my mom, hearing stories about the recipes and family history, sharing tips we have gleaned from the net and the thousand cookbooks we devour regularly, and stories from around the small town that is now my parents home. City folk through and through, living in a small township has been quite a change for my parents, and one they have delighted in so many ways. The tales of the country are always so fun, like the time where a neighbor’s bull broke free from his pasture and ended up in Mom’s “back 40” and whiled away the afternoon eating Mom’s pears and mooing loudly. Or the colorful handyman characters who appear at the back door to ask for work, presumably when their cash runs low, but always leaving a tool or something behind, shades of Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence. Or, that in the country, one only goes to the front door if they are a utilities worker, the UPS driver or there has been a sadness in the family, ergo it’s best not to sit in the family room in your PJ’s after 9:00 am!

Despite all the chatter, we do actually get work done in the kitchen, omitting the multiple times dinner has been quite late whilst my dad waits patiently in the family room, listening to the classical station and very often singing along. On this night, mOm kindly let me film her making her paella, even posing the ingredients just do for the camera (see below for the video!). She is a food blogger’s mom, through and through!

The local butcher did not have the smoked salmon sausages mOm usually uses in her San Francisco-created paella, but he had a great selection of Echo Falls hot smoked salmon that would provide the necessary flavor. The zippy local chorizo was excellent, as was the fresh salmon steak that was deftly skinned and deboned and chunked up. No other fresh seafood was available this day (small township, remember?) sadly, but the well stocked auxiliary freezer produced plump prawns that were quickly thawed and drained on toweling. To add a little more variety in the protein department, fresh chicken thighs were added to the chopping board. A decent store-bought chicken broth was liberally sprinkled with russet saffron threads to infuse the broth, what a delicious aroma!

shrimp collage
(quick thaw your prawns by a soak in cold water for 5 minutes, then drain on paper toweling for 5 minutes)

The spanking brand new paella pan was christened with Bay Area olive oil from Bariani, then kissed with onions and garlic. After a brief doe-see-doe, sweet red and green bells were added to soften, then surprisingly ripe and juicy plum tomatoes danced in the pan. The star of the show was stirred in to the softened vegetal mass, Arborio rice this time. After a few slow, figure-eight swirls of the spatula, the aforementioned wine and broth, now shaded a lively orange from the saffron, were stirred in for a few minutes. Finally, the chicken and sausage were sprinkled in and pushed into the fragrant and soupy rice mixture. A bit later the prawns were plopped in, then even later the smoked salmon and fat sweet peas. One is supposed to let the rice simmer mostly undisturbed and to let it form a highly coveted crunchy crust on the bottom, but the pan was on its maiden voyage and the glass-topped stove is still a bit tricky to control at a low temperature. So we chatted, and stirred, and chatted some more, joined by the King-a-ling and my dear pal L___ and the man of the house. I just love it when every occupant of the house finds their way into the cozy, steamy kitchen that’s barely built for two, let alone five (if you count the 80 lb pooch, which of course we do, as he’s such a personality).

Finally, the paella was ready, the plump rice had absorbed the luscious juices from the vegetables, meats and broth and was ever so slightly chewy and yet tender. A quick dash to the terrace for a handful of parsley that miraculously survived the snowfall before Christmas and it was  roughly chopped and strewn upon the surface of the now deep yellow rice.  mOm topped off the steaming pan of paella with a sprinkle of sweet smoked Spanish paprika. It’s magical stuff really, just sprinkle some on your scrambled eggs one morning and you will never think eggs are boring again.

Triumphantly, the paella was paraded to the family room dining table, which was lit with fat white candles and set with the Royal Evesham Gold service, another souvenir from a lovely vacation in Great Britain years ago.

paella 1a modest portionthe evidence
(does your family count the shrimp tails after dinner? mine does, hee hee)

We dove into the pan, heaping piles of paella on each other’s plates, counting the prawn and chorizo allotment per person, joshing and ribbing each other, and toasting the cook, her helpers, tasters and for any other reason we could think of along the way.

The best part was, as we prepared to leave the next morning, mOm said casually, “I packed some paella for your dinner tonight…” Later, home alone and feeling quite blue, I remembered the bag I shoved in the fridge and heated up a full pound of mOm’s paella love, and for a few minutes I felt like we were all together around the table again, having fun and enjoying time together.

See how she made the paella here:

REC: mOm’s Paella Love

6 T Olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 red/green/yellow bell peppers, chopped
5 cloves garlic, chopped
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
2 1/2 c. rice, Arborio or Carnaroli are good
1 c. dry white wine
5 c. chicken broth
1/4 tsp. saffron threads
Bay leaf
1 chorizo sausage, cooked, cut into chunks
4 links smoked salmon sausage, cut into 1″ pieces (or substitute a fresh salmon steak or fillet, cut into 1″ pieces and 1/4 lb hot smoked salmon, flakes into large chunks)
1 large chicken thigh, skinned, boned, cut into 1″ pieces
1 # Prawns, cleaned and peeled
1 c. frozen peas
1/4 c. flat leaf parsley
Smoked paprika
(1 1/4 # cooked lobster, cut into chunks)
(1 1/2 doz mussels, scrubbed well, beards removed)
(1 dozen clams, well scrubbed)
(1/2 # sea scallops)
Salt & pepper

Heat olive oil in a large skillet or paella pan, sauté onions and garlic until tender. Add peppers and sauté ~5 minutes. Mix in tomatoes and cook 10 minutes. Meanwhile, sprinkle saffron into chicken broth. Add rice to skillet and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add wine, broth and bay leaf, salt and pepper, stir well, simmer on medium low heat for 5 minutes.

Stir in seafood, (except smoked salmon, if using) sausages and chicken. Stir occasionally and cook until the liquid is absorbed and seafood and meats are cooked through (and clams and mussels are open). Approximate rice cooking time is 15-20 min from the point where the broth is added to the rice mixture.

5 minutes before this, add peas (and smoked salmon), gently fold in (to avoid breaking up the salmon).

Before serving, sprinkle on chopped parsley, smoked paprika, decorate with lemon wedges.

Serves 6.

We served this with a wonderful wine from New Mexico! Casa Rondena’s winery is located in Los Rancho de Albuquerque, and their winemaker and founder John Calvin makes delicious wines grown on the banks of the Rio Grande. L___ and I discovered the winery during our epic A Dog and Two Chicks on Route 66 road trip.  During that trip I became a member of their wine club and this year won their member contest of a case of mixed wine! It was so exciting as I have never won anything before. The wine we enjoyed with the paella was their ’06 Clarion, a Gold Medal winner, and is mostly Syrah with some Tempranillo and a little Cabernet Sauvignon.  Rich and smooth and a bit spicy, it was a perfect foil to the unctuous rice and saffron, spicy sausage and smokey seafood flavors.  Sadly we finished the bottle quickly but happily I have another at home along with a wealth of others to enjoy.  (Thank you John and Vicky for the treat!)

And, thank you mOm, Dad, and L___ for the lovely trip, and especially to mOm for the paella love!

In Search Of: The Yeti

No, not really the Yeti but the elusive perfect soup dumpling…

I can almost hear Leonard Nimoy’s voice in my ear narrating as I venture forth on my quest.

I heard tell that there was real hole in the wall in the inner Sunset that had good soup dumplings. When I heard I had a chance to lunch with a dear friend while her company was on haitus we quickly nailed down a date and rendevouzed at the metro stop at Market Street.

We hopped on the N Judah to the inner sunset and danced between raindrops to find the King of Noodles. In what must have been a converted garage space, this little restaurant is unassuming and yet immaculate with amazing scents wafting from the tiny kitchen.

We claimed the last table and examined the menu and the specials. We knew that soup dumplings were the main thing but there were so many other intriguing dishes listed, and *so cheap*!

First up, I wanted to try the pan fried soup dumplings, and the beef chow fun with XO sauce. E__ wanted garlic chive pancakes and shrimp and pork wonton soup. We both were excited about shrimp and garlic chive dumplings and very curious what salt and pepper tofu was but the potential quantity of food was getting a bit excessive, even at these prices.

After a bit of a wait we ordered and sadly they were out of pan fried soup dumplings. E___ pinch hit by ordering the salt and pepper tofu instead, and everything else we discussed getting, rationalizing that the leftovers would be great. They were, and the salt and pepper tofu turned out to be the surprise hit of the day.

Soft squares of tofu crisply fried and dusted with Sichuan peppercorns, salt and perhaps a little sugar, they were all at once crunchy, chewy, squishy, salty and spicy. Ever movie theater and sports complex should sell these and they would outsell popcorn in a heartbeat.

The focus of the day, however, was soup dumplings and I was most anxious to try them. From what I had heard and what captivated me was the thought of a tasty dumpling filling surrounded by a pocket of savory soup *inside* a sealed dumpling. Magic, you say? Conceptually it is easy. The usual dumpling dough, rolled out and encasing a ground filling with chicken or pork or both, aromatics like ginger and garlic and seasoned with soy or what have you. Then the magic, a large spoonful of jellied aspic or chicken stock reduced until it forms a jelly when chilled. When the dumpling is steamed, the aspic liquifies and becomes amazing soup inside the plump dumpling. Doesn’t that sound fantastic? Imagine a bite of this, bursting in your mouth, the flavors pooling on your tongue, the sensation of hot soup, tender but toothsome meat, slighly chewy noodle, ahhh. Food porn.

The execution of a successful soup dumpling is another matter. I have heard soup dumpling horror stories: burst, dry dumplings, soggy dumplings or tough thick noodle casings that defy chewing. But thanks to my pals on Twitter I have compiled quite a list of places in the Bay Area that have rocking soup dumplings and the King of Noodles was high on the list.

Our ordered arrived. Six plump dumplings were nestled atop leaves of Napa cabbage, steam still swirling up from inside the bamboo basket. Little ramekins of red vinegar diluted with soy and shreds of tiny juilienned ginger floating around were delivered with soup spoons. With the same care given to a game of Operation, we plucked up a dumpling with our chopsticks and deposited into the soup spoons. Carefully now, we nibbled a tiny corner off of the tender noodle casing. Puffs of steam blew sweetly in our faces and we discretely slurped out the hot soup, trying to balance our greediness to eat with the danger of incinerating our tongues with boiling hot soup. Then, a quick bath in the dipping sauce, we ravished the dumpling in great chomps. It was divine, all I had hoped and dreamed of, and I had two more dumplings left to consume! Totally addicted, I dreamed of daily visits to this dumpling heaven, becoming a regular, miraculously learning Mandarin by osmosis, eating every item on the menu, slowly gaining the trust of the staff and chef, and then finally allowed into the kitchen to learn the secrets of their dough, filling, aspic and construction methods. Well, perhaps not, but a gal has to dream after all.

We turned our attention to the garlic chive pancakes. Pancakes in the Chinese cuisine have as many variations as the dialects in China itself but this pancake was of a configuration unlike any we had seen before. And trust me, living in San Francisco, we both have eaten tons of amazing Chinese food. These pancakes were almost quesadilla-like, without the cheese of course, folded over to incase a hearty filling of chopped garlic chives, minced ginger, dried shrimp, and silver noodles. They were amazing, delectable, and it was hard not to fight over the last one. I was getting full at this point and we hadn’t even tackled the other three dishes!

Onward then, we plunged onto the wonton soup and the shrimp dumplings. The filling in all three dumpling products we ordered were distinctly different, and each were fantastic. The shrimp and green garlic chive dumplings were almost sui mai in texture but shaped like a traditional dumpling. A succulent curl of fat pink shrimp was cuddled by a robe of garlic chives and seasonings that were perfect as-is, no dipping sauce, no hot sauce, just naked. But the King of Noodles makes their own chile paste that is as fiery as Vesuvius and, after one recovers from the lip numbing heat, the sweet chile and pops of garlic enhanced both the dumplings and the chive pancakes. Suddenly, it was very warm in there and in a vain attempt to dilute the chile we swirled perfect jasmine tea around our mouths, exhaling vast clouds of steam like the Hogwarts Express.

The wonton soup was excellent. Playing mother, E__ ladled out a petite bowl of steaming soup, lighter in taste than what is inside the soup dumpling, but rich with perfect dots of golden chicken fat glistening on the surface. The wontons were pork filled and tender and luscious. I love how silky the noodle casing became in the soup and they just slithered down our throats. To our surprise, the large tureen was also filled with fat coiled rice noodles, thick slices of shitake, and halved baby bok chow. I have always wondered how on earth anyone is expected to eat these crisp-tender greens, too big for the spoon, too drippy for chopsticks and frankly so slippery between the plastic tools it was almost impossible to even get it near ones mouth. But we managed, flipping droplets of broth all over the table and each other, as if we were standing on the bow of a Red & White ferry on the bay during a typical small craft warning.

I must interject at this point to say that E__ and I are true ladies, gentile and well versed in the feminine arts, as well as our professional accomplishments and a strong passion for the Giants. But no lady, not even the bluest of the bluebloods could deftly manage the trickery of baby bok choy in broth without some collateral damage.

We took turns between the various dishes spread across out table, serving each other courteously like Chip and Dale, glancing longingly to the XO noodles and knowing we couldn’t even manage a bite.

They were happily packed for home along with shameful amounts of everything but the pancakes and the soup dumplings, long since scarfed down. Alas, we abandoned the remainder of the soup to the busboy’s attentions. We did not, however, leave behind a single cube of tofu, which upon reheating later was still as divine despite the departure of its former crispness.

After paying the exceedingly modest bill for our bounty, we strolled back to the train stop and headed our way to our respective homes. I don’t know about my friend, but I promptly took a deep and satisfying nap. Food coma!

The XO noodles were incredible, even the next day. My stomach growls at the thought of them even now.

King of Noodles
1639 Irving Street
(between 17th Ave & 18th Ave)
San Francisco, CA 94122
(415) 566-8318

My rating: 6 out of 6 dumplings!!

I look forward to visiting the next dumpling place on my list, would perhaps you like to join me?

Attending BlogHer Food ’09?

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This has been an amazing year. I have started a blog, joined Twitter and have met some amazing people. And BlogHer Food 2009 is going to be held in my town! Best of all, many of the great people I have been “tweeting” with are attending BlogHer and I get to meet them in person!

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What are the odds that all these great things happening within a few months? It is synchronicity at its finest!

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So, in anticipation of the conference, a dear friend suggested I compile my favorite foodie spots in town for the visiting attendees of BlogHer.

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Living in San Francisco I am often asked where do I like to go to eat. What a question! It is truly baffling how to respond because no matter how many places I go, it seems like Hydra’s head, I knock one place off my list and hundreds more pop up. I want to try them all, to become a regular there, to move into their kitchens and never leave. But that dang practicality rears its little voice to whisper in my ear, “you can’t eat out every meal, your pots and pans would miss you, you cat would miss you, your bank will seek you out and make you photocopy and sweep to pay them back!” Ah me, wouldn’t it be nice to never have a budget and have all the time in the world to do what you love? Oh yes, we do have that, it is called the Lottery and who knows, I may win one day, or get hit by lightning – the odds are higher for the latter actually!!

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Given the restraints of reality and practicality, I do have to limit myself a bit and just focus on what I love, and in my city I do have a few beloved places. Anyone can recommend Boulevard, Michael Mina, Gary Danko, A16 (before Nate left), Quince, Incanto, Nopa. All amazing and delectable places to be true. But as an average person with an average budget and an elevated palate I like places where I can get amazing food, great and personal service and a neighborhood feel. San Francisco really is a compilation of neighborhoods with their own feel and flavor, and these are my neighborhood favorites:

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1) Swan Oyster Depot. If I could have lunch there every day I would. It’s a simple place. Stomach growling you wait in line watching people eat off an ancient skinny marble counter, perched on metal-legged wooden seat stools, served by a bantering crew of fathers, sons, cousins and pals who have been there since “back in the day”. Their seafood is impeccably fresh and mostly local, they have Anchor Steam on tap, the bread is San Francisco’s finest and their horseradish and Louie sauce are almost as good as mine. I have been going there since high school, when ever I could scrape up enough money. I could easily eat my weight in shrimp and oysters there. 

map 1517 Polk Street, within walking distance of BlogHer

At Swan Oyster Depot in S.F.

(photo courtesy of howie221 on flickr)

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2) Unabashedly a carnivore, I love The House of Prime Rib. This is my family’s special occasion restaurant. The service is always great, the prime rib is perfection, as is the table-side tossed salad, creamed spinach, Yorkshire pudding, fresh hot bread and a gigantic baked potato I never touch until the next day. You can get seconds. Yes, seconds, if you can possibly eat that much. The 49ers eat here, and one night a year the owner matches pound for pound all the beef our boys eat and donates that to a local shelter. Peter and Chris, the bartenders, are great family friends. My parents would go there every Thursday night for a cocktail before choir practice and most often I would join them. Over the years we would have Vitamin V Gibsons, then Cosmos, and now Knob Creek Manhattans and catch up on life while snacking on cocktail crackers and refilling our glasses from our personal shaker of elixir. Those were happy days and I still have a happy hour there now and again solo and gaze at the giant silver Contact capsule filled with beef and dream of ordering dinner.

map 1906 Van Ness Ave   http://houseofprimerib.net (5 minute taxi ride from BlogHer)
House of Prime Rib, San Francisco, CA b

(Photo courtesy of www.foodlibrarian.com, May 2009)

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3) The Ferry Building. What can I say? The restored Ferry Building is a foodie mecca. On Saturdays outside is a mob scene of chefs, home cooks, families, and miscellaneous random people all on the hunt for super fresh local food, drink and atmosphere. It is right on the bay sandwiched between views of the Bay Bridge and Treasure Island, and the Ferry Building with all its history and the looming spine of downtown. Inside, it’s like walking in a food porn dream. Miette bakery, the Slanted Door, caviar and champagne, gelato, Blue Bottle coffee, the amazing Boccalone, farm stands, golden olive oils, Cowgirl cheeses, Acme bread, chocolates! Wines! Fish and oysters!! Gadgets & garden goodies! It just goes on and on! Go early, go hungry, go with a full wallet. The Ferry Building will fill your belly, dazzle your eyes, empty your bank account and full your arms with foodie treasures.

map On the Embarcadero at the base of Market Street   http://www.ferrybuildingmarketplace.com (take the cable car down California to Market Street, then walk one block)
farmers collage

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4) Molinari’s Deli on Colombus. These guys are the real deal. Old school Italian guys whose sole purpose in life is to make salami and ravioli and then sell them to you earnestly, while helping you plan your dinner. So do you need sugo? Cheese? Prosciutto? Olives? Bread? A little salad or something? I used to walk there at lunchtime from my corporate gig on Market Street, order a groaning ciabatta filled with red peppers, provalone, prosciutto or salami, and an Italian sparkling limonata, hike up Coit Tower and munch on the top of the world. Brushing off crumbs from my lap, fending off tourists and pigeons I’d wend my way down the secret staircases back to the cool canyons of the Financial District to finish off the day, belly full and legs stretched.

map 373 Columbus Avenue (North Beach, 5 minute taxi ride from BlogHer)

Molinari's_interior

(photo courtesy of carlosyashinon on flickr)

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5) Victoria Pastry Company in North Beach. This is a wonderful traditional Italian bakery with a delicious history. They fill their canoli fresh while you wait. That is, by the way, one of the true secrets to a perfect canoli. Well, there are a few other secrets to canoli, I could write a novelette on that alone. The St. Honore cake is my all time special-occasion cake. I had one for my birthday this year. A layer of flaky pastry, sponge cake, pastry cream, then whipped cream, topped with a wreath of pastry cream stuffed puffs, rosettes of cream and cherries. Ahhh. Just walking in and seeing the cases full of amazing cookies, pastries and the sharp tang of good espresso in the air make my knees weak.
map 1362 Stockton Street http://www.victoriapastry.com/ (North Beach, 5 minute taxi ride from BlogHer)
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6) Zarzuela for tapas. I used to live on the same block as this wonderful haven for small plates of lovingly prepared authentic tapas. Having to walk by Zarzuela every night knowing I wasn’t having dinner inside was the worst torture. Often I would stop in even before they opened to say hello and chat. Many times I would run downstairs and order a few things to go, they would invite me to share a glass of fino sherry with them, I would get home to find they doubled my order of gambas al ajillo. I am not ashamed to say that when I go there for dinner, I order myself a sizzling cast iron skillet of gambas al ajillo just for myself. Back off, it’s mine… Their crab bisque is so creamy, beautiful and chunky with crab, and yet not a drop of cream is used. Their gazpacho is heaven, I will even eat octopus there. Over 16 years and two boyfriends have come and gone but Zarzuela is always it for me.

map 2000 Hyde Street (Russian Hill, 5 minute taxi ride from BlogHer)

Zarzuela

(photo courtesy of slowpoke_sf on flickr)

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7) Giorgio’s on Clement (pizza and calzone). Although not as many as in New York, the pizza places in San Francisco run rampant.  Ask a dozen people their favorite pizza place and you will hear a dozen answers. I have been visiting Giorgio’s for pizza since high school. I braved the bus and fog to get here, their sausage and mushroom pizza is the best I have ever had. Their calzone are amazing. Their antipasto salad is really basic and I swear they use Wishbone dressing but it just tastes so good. Now this place has seen it all in my life, boys, men, friends, parents, visiting friends, whoever I take along loves their pizza, doesn’t mind the wait and everyone loves the jukebox and the cheesey raffia covered bottles and fake grapes hanging from the ceiling. 

map 151 Clement Street http://giorgiospizza.com/ (Inner Richmond District, 10 minutes into the fog by taxi)
Giorgio's Pizzeria

(photo courtesy of Nick Sherman on flickr)

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8 ) Japantown for sushi, ramen and crepes. I know, there are many beautiful places to get amazing sushi in town. Sushi Groove, Sushi Raw, Godzilla, Shimo’s out in the Richmond, all great places. But I love sitting elbow to elbow with a Japanese family, munching fresh nigri in 31 flavors, or slurping udon or ramen that was made fresh that morning (but only if I remembered to wear a black tee that day because of the soup-splatter factor). Or a perfectly greaseless tempura and tonkatsu, savory, tangy dipping sauces, the perfect bowl of rice. A decadent crepe filled with mango gelato, watching live sumo from Japan on a bench under fake cherry blossoms. Nodding and bowing to ancient local ladies making incredible ikeban. Japantown does have it share of tourists but many Japanese-American people frequent its malls and it is truly a part of the community. I have fond memories of being babysat by my Japanese neighbors, eating nori and miso as a snack, watching Mighty Mouse in Japanese, no subtitles! Taking a Ikeban course with my sister via the local public community college television station. It’s not fancy, not Iron Chef (the orginal, naturally) but it is real food for real people.

map Post Street at Buchannan (5 minutes by taxi from BlogHer)
SF - Japantown

(photo courtesy of henryvolt on flickr)

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9) Zuni Cafe. I had the pleasure of working near Zuni Cafe and dining there rather frequently. It still is close by and I do go there a few times a year. If you have read my blog before you will know I have an ongoing love affair with chicken. The Zuni Cafe roast chicken is the ultimate in chicken dining. My former boss and dear friend gave me Judy Rodger’s cookbook and because of poring slowly and lovingly over the pages now my roast chicken is a thing of perfection. I am sure Judy’s is better than my home cooked one, especially because that delicious bread salad is a complete pain in the tukas to make – I mean really! You need to use at least 9 pots and pans and my kitchen at The Roost is rather small, well, very very small. However they do not serve jellied cranberry sauce at Zuni and I know it is plebian of me but I need that cranberry sauce. Zuni’s burger is another wonderful lunch or dinner, and their oysters are perfection. If you need to put something on an oyster, let it be the Zuni mignonette sauce. I learned to drink Lillet Blanc there as an aperitif. And it is such a beautiful and unique space, you almost can overlook the grunginess of Market Street at that section. Just thinking about Zuni reminds me that I really need to roast another chicken this week…. 

map 1658 Market Street near Gough http://www.zunicafe.com (10 minutes by taxi from BlogHer)
Chicken roasted in milk

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10) Nick’s Crispy Taco’s at Underdog Sports Bar on Irving in the Sunset. I know this is not fine dining but it sure is an amazing taco. The Underdog is a really great little bar, normally I don’t feel really comfortable in a sports bar but this place I do. The usual overabundance of televisions and testosterone fueled men but the difference here is that Nick’s is here. All ages are welcome and you will see people of every age, happily eating delicious tacos with juice dripping down their elbows, drinking beer and passing along the housemade red and green spicy taco sauces among the convivial tables. On Tuesdays tacos are a $1 and beers are $2, so we invariably get about 6 per person. Well, 5 but that’s with a side order of amazing guacamole. Their carne asada and carnitas are exceptional. Their shredded sauced chicken is also wonderful but I like the meat so much better. I am tempted every time to take home the squirt bottle of the green sauce, and they won’t tell me the recipe, but I’m determined to worm it out of them one of these days. On a non Tuesday, a taco “Nick’s Way” is a crisp shell filled with meat, then a soft corn tortilla filled with beans sandwiched together and spackled neatly together with way too much guacamole. I mean really. And this is $5 and it’s hard to finish it. The bartenders are friendly and fun, and the regulars are nice people. The guys even eavesdropped in a kindly fashion when I explained how baseball works to a dear friend who had never watched a game in her life (can you imagine?). After we were done with our beer and tacos, one of the guys leaned over to me and said, “nice job with the baseball rules!” he encouraged my friend to see a live game and bought us another round. If I lived closer this would be a place I would come to hang out if I felt the need for company and a cold Pacifico, but I could always use a taco.

map 1824 Irving Street near 19th Avenue  http://www.underdogssf.com/ (for the more adventurous, the inner Sunset district)
Nicks Way carnivas taco

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I hope while you are visiting my fair town for BlogHer that you try one of these nice humble places, or perhaps on a return visit. Great food here doesn’t have to cost triple digit prices, and I have barely scratched the surface with these choices. These are the places I go time and time again for those practical reasons. Now, if you have an unlimited budget and want a truly spectacular meal for one of those special occasion nights, please feel free to let me know and I would be happy to provide you with my “dream list” of dining options in San Francisco.

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I look forward to meeting new friends later this month!

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