Tag Archives: herbs

How Do You Like Your Nuts?

I wanted to makes spiced pecans for a snack for a day’s excursion to the South Bay and needed inspiration, so I posed this question, “How do you like your nuts?” to some culinary minded friends on Facebook. Usually spiced nuts are mixed with egg whites and baked to allow the seasonings to adhere to the surface of the nut, but for me that is disallowed because of the eggs so I needed a new idea.

Happily my friends came through with suggestions such as rosemary and cayenne, sugar and black pepper and butter!

My memory flashed on a jar of Aji Amarillo chile powder I purchased from Peppahead, a friend’s family business. It’s a beautiful yellow chile with a warm heat and fruity flavor, and much more interesting than cayenne pepper.

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My grocery delivery the night before included a sack of fresh rosemary so I broke off a big piece and pulled the jar of Demerara sugar from the pantry cupboard and set to work making hot, spicy, salty and sweet nuts for our snacking pleasure.

I melted almost an entire stick of butter in a skillet and added the sugar, spices and the rosemary and when it was all melty and mixed well, I poured in handfuls of fat pecan halves. Four minutes of stirring later I poured the hot nuts onto a platter to cool and showered them with sprinkles of crunchy Maldon sea salt. I love Maldon salt, it has such a clean flavor and the squared shaped crystals, like little patio umbrellas, crunch delightfully between your molars before hitting your tongue with that perfect salty hit.

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When they were mostly cooled I scooped them into a little bento box that would fit into my satchel I was bringing on the trip. I made up a thermos of hot Earl Grey tea and tossed in some little bags of peanut M&Ms for good measure and set off for my fun day with friends.

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When we stopped for a break we were the envy of all around us as we popped these rich, toasty, buttery, spicy and sweet and salty nuts into our mouths and groaned in delighted pleasure as all the flavors combined in our mouths. It was an utterly satisfying snack. The best part is that I still have a half a bag of pecans left at home to make more!!!

Spice up your own nuts here! (printer friendly recipe)

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Decadent Pleasures: Fried Chicken (Part 1)

Fried chicken has long been a decadent pleasure of mine and apparently it’s a family tradition as well. I came across photographs of my grandparents and great grandparents and a gagillion of great aunts and uncles and assorted family picnicking the backyard eating fried chicken and mashed potatoes. They did this a lot.

With this genetic predisposition I’ve always made excellent fried chicken using a variety of methods, American, Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, and even a Turkish version, albeit not authentic, but always delicious.

Last night I went out to dinner at Miss Ollie’s in historic downtown Oakland with some dear friends to try out their fried chicken and rum cocktails.

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Fried chicken and rum punch is almost as heavenly as fried chicken and rosé Champagne.

The amazing Miss Ollie’s uses some sort of magical chopped parsley, onion, and perhaps lemon mixture and stuffs it under the skin before she batters and fries her chicken. Holy cow was that good!

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At lunch today while I was nibbling on the amazing leftover chicken wings and some her delicious fried Kale with shredded cabbage and carrot pickle I had sort of a brainstorm. I was trying to think of what is in this concoction of Miss Ollie’s, and then my mind wandered over to Margaret Fox’s recipe from Cafe Beaujolais of gooped potatoes. Potato goop is a delicious mixture of garlic and herbs, parsley and olive oil that she tosses with cubed potatoes and then roasts in the oven until everything is crunchy and succulent and heady with aromatic herbs.

Would it be completely outrageous of me to use a similar type mixture stuffed under the skin of my fried chicken?

I thought of how fond I am of brining the chicken first using a brine similar to what Ad Hoc does but using buttermilk.

That’s when it hit me. I don’t really have any plans this weekend. I’m going to make fried chicken in a decadent way.

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You can almost see the gears turning…

Infusion Class at The Fifth Floor

Out of the wealth of fantastic restaurants in San Francisco I have a few favorites and the Fifth Floor is ranked highly among them.

Their burger – bourbon – beer special is a frequent indulgence and Chef David Bazirgan’s treatment of foie gras is incomparable. Foie mousse stuffed buratta – foie-ratta! It is the most luscious thing ever on a plate.

When I heard through friends that Chef Bazirgan was going to teach an infusion class I had to go, no matter what.

I hailed a cab and hobbled over to the Fifth Floor, which is located in the Hotel Palomar, and entered the lounge during the daylight hours. It was a very weird feeling to see the place with so much light and empty except for our exclusive group.

What a delightful afternoon this turned out to be and I expected no less.  Most of the other attendees are friends from Twitter and from various food and cocktail events around town. I love how Twitter and Facebook has brought so many of us together, where before in a large city we may have otherwise not met.  My network expands all of the time – it is rather like witnessing the Big Bang theory in action.

Chef David and his bar manager, Brian Means, greeted us with a glass of sparkling wine and ushered us into the dining room where a demonstration table was set up with rows of comfy chairs.

Brian started things off with a tangy aged Pink Elephant, a cocktail of Beefeater gin, lemon, Small Hands pineapple gum, Rosato vermouth, orange bitters and smoked Absinthe.  This concoction was aged for two weeks to mellow the flavors. The Absinthe was smoked using a smoker gun.

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A few of these and you will see pink elephants.

Chef David showed us the smoker gun for a treatment of egg yolks. He forages for Douglas fir needles and other necessary herbs in his kitchen from their rooftop garden, various areas in San Francisco including the Presidio and the San Bruno mountains.

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Chef David firing the smoking gun assisted by Amy

Chef loaded the smoker gun with the Douglas fir and inserted the output nozzle into a hotel pan filled with fresh, raw egg yolks and sealed the pan with plastic wrap. The container fills with a thick fog of smoke and the egg yolks are infused with the aromatic scent for 30 minutes. Then the yolks are delicately transferred to a plastic bag filled with a dab of olive oil and sea salt and cooked in a sous vide (temperature controlled immersion bath) at 165 F for 45 minutes.  The softly cooked egg yolks are whisked to a creamy consistency with a bit of neutral oil and used on a beautiful shaved asparagus salad, which is on the regular tasting menu, or, for today, as a dollop on top of a tiny crostini with a quenelle of beef tartare.

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beef tartare crostini with Douglas fir smoked egg

Although I was not able to indulge in this little bite my friends assured me it was fantastic, with the smoke displaying as a subtle enhancement to the creamy egg.

The absinthe for the cocktail was infused with smoke in much the same way, although we were not privy to the organic material used to create the smoke.  Chef recommended purchasing a smoking gun at Polyscience, where they can be had for under $100 or locally at TriMark Economy Restaurant Fixtures on 7th Street.

Our next demonstration was something that many of us love but perhaps don’t think of as an infusion – miso soup.   The base for a miso soup is dashi, which is an infusion of konbu (seaweed) and bonita (tuna flakes).  Chef purchases his ingredients at the same shop I do in Japantown and he uses the best konbu and bonita he can find.  Because the packaging for these products are in kanji therefore naturally we have no idea which products Chef purchased, but I always follow the lead of older Japanese ladies when I shop for my dashi ingredients.

Chef noted that dashi is an essential, simple and yet subtle infusion, and his recipe (end of post) is a classic preparation.  He soaks the konbu  in fresh water for 30 minutes, then gently simmers this for 10 minutes.  Then, he removes the konbu and lets the infusion reduce for about 5 minutes over high heat.  The shaved bonita flakes are added to the hot infusion and allowed to steep for 10 minutes and then it is strained.

In a small bowl he mixes together the miso paste, using  3:1 red to yellow miso and then a ladleful of the hot dashi is whisked in, and the loosened paste is added to the rest of the dashi.  At this point your miso soup is ready to serve, and it is a question of what kind of garnish you would like to use.  This being the Fifth Floor the garniture was exquisite. Chef prepared pickled shitake shreds, cubed tofu, foraged seaweeds, onion blossom buds from the roof garden and daikon micro greens.

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fancy garniture for miso soup, Fifth Floor style

Chef David ladled the miso into teapots for ease of serving to the class, but it is also a clever way to serve to your own guests, as the teapot keeps the soup very warm and it has great panache.

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an elegant way to serve a simple soup

The chattering in the room ceased except for appreciative murmurs from everyone. Amy and Brian lined up for a cupful and Chef took a moment to enjoy some too, having had a really busy week between the usual filled nights at the restaurant, the Share Our Strength event Thursday and the foie gras dinner at Alexander’s the night before. We agreed that miso was our go-to soup when feeling draggy or under the weather. To me, it is far more satisfying than even chicken matzo.

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beautiful miso soup – warm, comforting and restorative

As the food section of the infusion class drew to a close, Chef David passed around a pot of eucalyptus infused oil that he made by crushing branches of young eucalyptus from the Presidio and allowing it to steep with a neutral oil, such as canola. He uses this light and floral oil as a finish to some of his dishes. I was surprised that it did not have any tinge of menthol, just a very pleasant herbiness with a familiarity that comes from growing up driving through the Presidio.  He also discussed the common and classic of infused vinegars but did not want to demonstrate them because, knowing we are “foodies” he felt this particular demonstration would be superfluous.

Since the class was so informal it was such a treat to have the opportunity to chat food with a chef of this caliber. He made a delicious razor clam ceviche for the Share our Strength event and an attendee inquired about his source for clams, which turned out to be very close to her hometown on the east coast. Another person asked about his contribution to the foie gras dinner the night before so Chef David pulled out his iPad and showed off his photo gallery, which is also available to view on Instagram.  He and his wife are also expecting his first baby quite soon.  Mazeltov!

With a fresh pour of sparkling wine in our glasses, and for me a little help from Amy with my purse, we transitioned over to the lounge to discuss infused spirits and tinctures with the Bar Manager Brian Means.

Brian had a large trolley filled with interesting dropper bottles of various mysterious ingredients, little containers of spices and herbs and a huge glass barrel of lemoncello.

Brian started off by discussing the commonly known infusions in the world of finely crafted cocktails, namely vermouth, bitters and infused vodkas.

He demonstrated a unique use for vermouth, namely Aperol, an Italian aperitif similar to Campari.  He brought around a tray filled with Asian soup spoons, and nestled into each spoon was a egg yolk shaped sphere of a pale jade hue with bright red bits of what looked like tobiko scattered over the top. This was fact an Aviation cocktail formed into a sphere with crunchy bits of dehydrated Aperol.

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The Aviation is a well-known cocktail in San Francisco (and elsewhere) comprising gin, maraschino liqueur and usually egg whites, but this time the liqueurs were mixed with sodium alginate, a form of powdered seaweed, and formed into a sphere using a calcium lactate solution which creates the skin of the sphere. Fun stuff indeed! The Aviation ball popped in the mouth and then the bitter and crunchy bits of the dehydrated Aperol provided the final KaPow of sensation.

Next dessert wine glasses filled with a golden liquid were delivered to our waiting hands.  The fragrant scent of lemons filled our heads as we sipped Brian’s housemade lemoncello (recipe below) made from Greek lemons.

This was heady stuff and after all that we had imbibed so far most everyone was sipping this slowly.  Brian makes an infusion of peeled Greek lemons with Everclear, a very high-alcohol spirit (known as moonshine back in my youth but now available commercially).  The peels sit on the alcohol for several weeks then are strained and diluted with sugar syrup.

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Lemonhead time – lemoncello, a classic liqueur originally from Sicily 

The color is achieved purely by the duration of the peels infusing with the alcohol. Meyer lemons are also wonderful for this concoction or any citrus fruit peel can be used for a different effect. I immediately thought of kumquats and plan to make up a batch once I see them in the market again.

Vermouths are infusions of herbs and spices that are blended into red or white wine, sweetened or not.  A common herb in vermouth is gentian, which I had always associated with the color violet (look at your crayon box!) but is a traditional herb used as a tonic.

Another common infusion is bitters, which are technically tinctures. In older times before advanced medicines, the local quack or healer would make tinctures of healing herbs and spices to treat ailments.  Today, they are a base for many cocktails and are a very potent infusion of herbs and spices and alcohol.  Brian passed around his collection of housemade tinctures:  black pepper, habanero, espresso, cinnamon, lemon, vanilla (same as a vanilla extract), black walnut, cherry, and my personal favorite, candy cap mushroom.   The base for tinctures does not have to be Everclear, bourbon and rum are often more suitable for a base depending upon the ingredient to be infused. Brian’s favorite tincture is a citrus bitter (recipe below).

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I could not get enough of this tincture, candy cap mushrooms in a bourbon base

The final infusion Brian discussed is a newcomer to most of the cocktail crowd, fat washing. I have had a lot of experience with this when I created bacon bourbon and bacon vodka several years ago. Bacon fat is added to the alcohol base and left to infuse for a few days. The mixture is then frozen to allow the fat to be removed easily, and after straining a few times through cheesecloth the mixture is ready to use.    My fat washed bourbon made the best bacontini.

Brian, of course, takes fat washing to another level by making infusions of roasted pecans with butter infused into bourbon, or coffee beans and cacao nibs with Everclear.  I really want to try making butter pecan bourbon once I figure out this allergy-intolerance business.

Brian recommended a wonderful book, which I have in my collection, the Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. I think it is an essential to any cook or food and cocktail enthusiast. He sources his amazing collection of herbs and spices from Scarlet Sage Herb Company in SF, or the Rainbow Market. There is a shop in Berkeley as well but as I am rarely there I didn’t jot down the name, my apologies.

Brian was so kind to gift us all with a bottle of his habanero bitters. I am compiling food and drink ideas to use with this vial of liquid volcano with a fruity edge.

We lingered for a while over the last of our lemoncello and wandered out into the bright blinking daylight for a cocktail and snack at Jasper’s to decompress and have more conversations about the wonderful world of infusions.

I hope you enjoy Chef David and Brian’s recipes, I am going to make the bitters after my next grocery store run. The Fifth Floor will be hosting another infusion class in either April or May and I highly recommend you snap up a ticket once they announce the dates.

RECIPES:

Chef David Bazirgan’s Fifth Floor Miso Soup (includes Dashi)

Brian Means’ Fifth Floor Lemoncello

Brian Means’ Fifth Floor Citrus Bitters

Playing with Pistou

One of my favorite things to make in the spring is a vegetable soup with a dollop of pistou, a country French type of pesto using tomato, garlic, basil and cheese.

Pistou is a zap of flavor, a bold hit of color and a zing to the tastebuds and an essential part of the spring menu.

This spring, however, my ability to use the mortar and pestle was out of whack, and so was using a knife so I had to miss my annual ritual. However, this summer, it has finally warmed up enough in the outlying boroughs to permit ripening of tomatoes. Yay! Tomatoes!

My CSA box has been overflowing with tomatoes and yesterday I was pondering what to make for dinner that would be simple and help me use up my bounty.  I thought of pistou over pasta.   And, given I am still not up to mortar work, I thought of making pistou in my food processor.

My dinner was ready in 10 minutes and it was fantastic.

I had the great luxury to use some incredible local goat cheese from Achadinha Farm.  Donna Pacheco is an incredible craftsman and her aged goat cheese is heady stuff. I was lucky enough to catch the staff at their stall at the end of the day and since they were packing up I got a tiny deal on a nice wedge of Capricious.  It’s interesting stuff, contrary to intuition you are not supposed to refrigerate it!  I like using it in lieu of Parmesan or serve it in rough chunks on a cheese plate or grated over vegetables or eggs.  It’s a little luxury.


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(keep the Capricious in waxed paper on the counter – not in the fridge!)

But last night I decided to get splurgy and use it in my pistou and I think I will never use Parmesan again.

Although using a food processor and aged goat cheese are quite non-traditional for a pistou I can heartily endorse their use.

While the pasta water was heating, I peeled some garlic and minced in the food processor.  Then, I added a cup of the Capricious cheese, broken into small chunks and pulsed until the cheese was well ground.  Next in went a medium-zized bunch of basil and when it was smoothly ground I tossed in a small tomato.  The processor whizzed away turning the normal pesto-green ingredients into an incredible sunset hue.  My tomato was a pink/golden heirloom variety and I added it “seeds, peel and all”.   After scraping the bowl and adding a bit of salt and pepper I thinned out the pistou with a small slug of olive oil and, voila! Pistou in 2 minutes.

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I dressed the drained spaghetti with the pistou and let it heat gently in the saucepan to mellow the raw garlic a little.   Mounded in a warm bowl the pasta coated with pistou glowed with warmth and flavor.  I perched on my chair and slurped away and watched Casablanca feeling rather content with life.

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HAL’s Pistou

5 cloves of garlic
1/2 c Parmesan or other aged dry cheese (I used Capricious by Achadinha in Marin)
1 bunch of basil (or 2 cups packed leaves)
1 small tomato
1/2 tsp salt or to taste (depending upon how salty the cheese is)
a few grinds of black pepper
2 T extra virgin olive oil

In a food processor, blend the garlic, then add the cheese and pulse until smooth.  Add the basil and pulse until the leaves are finely pureed. With the motor running add the tomato and puree until smooth.  Taste for salt and add if needed, add pepper.  With the machine running add olive oil to make a loose paste, like the consistency of jam or sour cream.

Serve in vegetable soups, dressed over cooked pasta, spread on bread in lieu of mayonnaise or drizzled over cooked vegetables.

Makes approximately one cup

(printer friendly recipe)