Monday, August 17, 2009

What I Miss

Yes, it'd be nice to cook a perfect Beurre Blanc or Bavarian Creme. It'd be swell to wrap a boned duck in pastry decorated with little frills or crank out sheets of fresh pasta and make ravioli. All that, cooking, eating, is wonderful.

But when I think of the best meals I've had, I often can't remember what I ate. It was the people, the laughter, the big group gathered around the table, maybe on a summer night in France deep in the heart of the Auvergne, or last Thanksgiving at my moms, or even a bunch of cater-waiters, giddy from a long shift hunkering down with plates of leftovers at someone else's wedding, commiserating over this annoying guest or making obnoxious comments about the maid of honor.

I think that's what's missing from this whole food equation, for me personally. I'd rather have a pizza with two or three people I genuinely love, or at least who make me laugh- then vichysoise
done to perfection all by myself.

Is this me angling for a dinner invitation? Absolutely.
I'll bring wine and dessert.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

best 20$ taco ever

This goes out to my reader Tim-Dog Redmond.

No you didn't spend 20$ for a taco at one of the new boutique eateries that are springing up everywhere all the time. You made it at home and it was so good if you had it on your menu at your boutique eatery it could easily fetch a Jackson without making a Blackberry toting patron blink twice. Adjectives: spicy, juicy, dripping, fresh, filling.
Here's how it happenned:

Last Friday at your favorite market, the Latin supermarket Mi Tierra on San Pablo, you got a pound of their pre-diced pre-marinated Adobo pork, 3 bucks a pound fer that. This morning you noticed the following bits in your fridge;

-one slightly ragged last big flour tortilla
-like a 5th of an avocado starting to look a bit too wizened
-chunky salsa (bottled)
-crema ( liquid, pourable sour cream, sold in blank containers at the same joint, 2.77 a pound)
-a few random slices o' pepper-jak cheese.
-aforementioned pork

You placed the cheese on the tortilla, popped it in the oven, sit right there on the rack, don't go anywhere.
You sauted the pork in your thinnest iron pan till it started to burn a little and you got a whiff of "is someone grilling next door?" Of course you sprinkled browning meat with Smoked Paprika you got at the Spanish Table because everything tastes better with Smoked Paprika.

You put hot meat on tortilla when cheese was melty, added Avo, green stuff, salsa, salt, poured cream all over, your tortilla is crisp and cracks a bit when you folded the molten mass into a taco. You ate this for a late breakfast thinking "why does anyone ever go out?"

Imagine substituting carne asada for this next time?

Mmmm. You got filled again, for cheap.


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

64 Words on Ranch Dressing

Easy -As hell.
Good -On everything.

Two parts buttermilk, one part mayo.
Salt and pepper. Few dashes of vinegar.
Small crushed garlic clove. Mix.
Gets better each day in fridge. No MSG or 4.79$ price tag.

Eat with: Left over chicken shredded and tossed on a salad, spread it on sandwiches, dip for veggies, great with apple slices.

Hidden Valley can suck it.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Tips For Eating Out Smarter

1. Don't go to restaurants for great food:
Cook that at home. (Read some of my other posts for inspiration) Go for the exciting atmosphere, maybe a beautiful bar or room, (the round bordello-red room at Ducca in SF) a terrific chef who you can chat with about what he's cooking and is happy to share jokes and tricks with you (Anthony at Sea Salt's grill station counter in Berkeley). Think about restaurants no longer as places to go when you're hungry, but special occasion places to go for energy, entertainment, revivifying, inspiration.

2. Once you're there, order smarter.
I go to Sea Salt and order from the bar snack menu (usually available from 3pm on) wonderful small and eclectic plates of things like Deviled eggs with smoked salmon, Duck Tongues, sauteed Maine shrimp etc... These plates can be as low as 5$ - order four for the price of one entree and you have a diversified feast. (It's just like in the Stock Market baby: Diversify.)
I've gone to Ducca twice in the last week. Yesterday I went at 1:30 in the afternoon and oozed myself onto the red leather circular banquette in the Red Room. Looking up at the glowing red chandelier I totally zoned out. I could watch the big screen TV in the distance over the bar or just enjoy the quiet. The bartender was washing glasses and I ordered an espresso and Cannolli (which came beautifully presented on a porcelain raft with shards of meringue studded with roasted Hazelnuts, chocolate sauce was Jackson Pollacked nicely over the whole deal, the Cannolli itself- well, come on, it's Cannolli, it doesn't get better than that.) An hour later I had figured out what I was going to do with the rest of my life and faced only an anemic 10$ check. Fonda, on Solano Ave. in Albany also has a late night menu where great food and premium cocktails are in the 5$ range from 9 till 1 in the morning. (try the "Que Sera, Sera": British Gin, lime juice and thin slices of Serrano Chile, wicked good.)

3. Portions are way too huge at some places: Take Advantage.
Going to that place that where you always leave food on the plates? Okay big guy if you can't resist the big ticket entrees, order them and take home half in a doggie bag and plan on eating it for lunch the next day. But only if you're actually gonna eat it. That twenty dollar entree just became two meals, nice. Little bits of left over BBQ from T-Rex in Berkeley are great when I shred them and toss them into a salad, I even use the left over sauce for a weird but tasty lil BBQ vinagrette, sounds odd but try it.

I'm sure i'll think of more later. Let me know any I missed that you thought of, thanks..


Friday, April 3, 2009

Berkeley Bowl

Shopping or Zombie Death March?

Apologies to my faithful readers in Dubai and Lichtenstien, but I'm gonna write a little locally today, I'll try to keep you filled in enough to get my point.

Cambodians have Angor Wat, Indians have the Taj Majal, Jews have the Wailing Wall; foodies in Berkeley California have the Berkeley Bowl.

Berkeley Bowl is a vast supermarket with seas of citrus, miles of meat, and lots of everything else. The produce section itself is the size of a modest supermarket. A whole landscape of yellow, orange, red, purple, green and brown hills, peaks and plains of every apple, pear, plum, grape, leafy or root vegetable that is being grown anywhere on the planet. In the heart of February tiny glistening red tomatoes from Mexico are 79c a
pound . Star Fruit, Dragonfruit, Chermoyas, Juju Bees, even giant armored Durians emanating the fetid odor of shit, and ten other fruits you've never heard of are there for the taking.

Three aisles of food in bulk bins, enough vats of white powder to bring back Studio 54 flashbacks: Sea Salt, Fine Sea Salt, Cake Flour, Organic Cake Flour, Arrowhead Organic Pancake Mix, Garbanzo Flour, Tapioca Flour.

True, navigated carefully, great bargains can be found. I recently fought with several short Hispanic woman over some 99c clearance bags filled to bursting with tomatoes, eggplant and sea green grapes. I managed two bags before getting elbowed out by a guy in a blue oxford shirt.

But here's the rub; shopping at Berkeley Bowl is like being an extra a zombie film. The shoppers and myself are the senseless zombie hordes hurriedly clanking our oversized carts down the aisles, jostling into each other in the search not for brains, but something equally urgent to our survival, like say, seaweed salad or sustainably farmed Loch Duarte Salmon. And there is no director to yell "Cut!"

The zombie quality is palpable. A ninety pound woman in Crocs with frizzy hair , eye glasses and a blank stare (is that drool?*&!) knocked her cart into my kidneys and continued down the aisle without a backward glance. A dreadlocked white guy with a cart full of Tofu gives me a hungry glare as he reaches for a cheese sample ahead of me. It's bumper to bumper in front of the wall of Lettuce, traffic ground to a halt, and we all stand there stupefied, no one has the initiative to make a move as herd-thought takes over.

Depression overtakes me as I start to feel I'll never get out, or never get out with the best apples if I take the time to look at all forty-seven varieties. By the time I get to checkout, I'll be too late to pick up my kids from school.

Then you see the lines.

They stretch, half, even three quarters of the way up into the aisles themselves. This is not uncommon. And what is even stranger is that the people waiting in them are resigned to this thirty minute wait. No one seems upset or looks down the line with a frown or even a "hurumph".

Listless and quietly we wait. If a register opens up we all turn our pale faces slowly in that direction.

Brains... Brains... Brains...

Some of us, the stronger ones, move toward it. Others stay, calculating a shorter wait now.
I want to abandon my precious Chilean Pears and grassfed Beef from Argentina, but I am slouched over and tired. Stay with group now. Stay with group. Must buy. Must buy.

Soon I will see the sunlight again. And next time I'll go to Grocery Outlet.

It is spoken of with awe and reverence, Berkeley Bowl. True, it is not a chain, the workers are unionized, and good prepared foods may be enjoyed in a seating area.

And compared to the Whole Foods I recently visited near Lake Merritt in Oakland, in which each potato seems airbrushed to Penthouse-page perfection, it seems like a corner store.

Where are we going with all this? It is baffling, such scenes of plenty, but what is stranger is that in these cornucopian halls of total copiousnesness, that we do not marvel in wonder at everything. That is the strangest part really. How all of us are so numb to anything -no matter how wonderful or peculiar- that we see too much of.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

10 Complaints About The Farmers Market

1. A woman ahead of me in line, wearing tight yoga pants and Prada sunglasses fondles a one dollar tangerine and asks "what varietal is this?".

2. Twenty five people wait in line for a two dollar cup of coffee. (And you ask why we are a nation of debtors?)

3. It is not hard to find a loaf of bread for six dollars.

4. Half the people are eating from prepared food stands like crepes or Thai- wasn't the point of this to cook affordable and seasonal food at home with our friends and families?

5. Damn, I missed the "cosmetically challenged" box of apples, SHIT! I coulda saved like two dollars. Too late now.

6. Customers 95.3% white and upwardly mobile or bearded (both sexes) and totally off grid.

7. I'm broke and can't afford a three dollar fruit turnover from Frog Hollow.

8. The Hog Island oyster guy has no cocktail sauce or limes anywhere in sight (oysters the one thing better to eat on the street- see Montclair farmers market in Oakland for that.)

9. Girl with tattooed arm bands and dark curly hair way too hot to see this early in the morning, I look like fuckin' boxcar Joe right now and I have no game- SHIT.

10. I can't think of a tenth. If you can, let me know.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Electric Stoves: Far Superior!

I'm f%#ing kidding fer chrissakes.

Yes I have a janky electric stove circa 1950 in my little two bedroom apartment. The kind with the funny coils that glow orange. This is the kind of thing you can't even admit around foodie folk, so I'm confessing this to you.

So I can't modulate the flames, but I have found a few useful things.

Always start it on High no matter what, or else you'll be standing and staring down at the thing for half an hour.

That done, with iron skillets or steel pans, "HIGH" becomes frickin HOT, so get ready to go down to MED HIGH and MED, then back up to MED HIGH often. And if things start to smoke and your deep frying oil is about to ruin your nice stainless steel All-Clad with that polymer burnoff thing, just REMOVE PAN FROM HEAT. Another seemingly obvious but-never-really thought-about-it-that- much thing I learned at Kitchen on Fire. Things getting hectic, oil burning while you chop that garlic you shoulda prepped? Just take the pan off the heat... No big deal. Remove pan and breathe.

So before I fall asleep tonite, for all my poor fellow electric stove brethren, i'll brag about the grilled cheese sandwich I made tonight on mostly the MED and then LOW settings.

1. Melt a pad of butter on HIGH, the after it sizzles, turn down to MED HIGH

2. Put sandwich in. Then turn to MED, then LOW. Slow and low, slow and low is the key to a perfect grill cheese.

3. When side one is golden, lift out of pan, plop in more butter, turn up if you need to for it to melt and sizzle, replace sandwich. Wait, slow and low, Do some dishes so you're not tempted to mess with it. LOW... When the second side is golden brown, it should be nice and oozy inside.

So the moral of this one is, use what you have. Life gives you a nice AGA gas range? Flambe your damn cherries with Kirsch and roast your red peppers on the open flame. Me, I'll make another grilled cheese for now.