All hail autumn

Posted by Anita on 09.11.06 1:20 PM

white pom (c)2006 AECOk, I guess it’s fall. Where the heck did our typical gorgeous Indian Summer go? (For those of you elsewhere, the Bay Area usually enjoys its best weather in the early fall. Just as everyone else in the country is resigning themselves to wool trousers and coats, we’re finally breaking out the linen.)

Well, the weather may be all messed up, but I’m not really complaining. It’s fun to have cooler weather when the fall produce starts coming, and plenty of excuses to try those autumnal recipes that have been waiting for their chance in the spotlight.

The farmer’s market this weekend was full of fabulous finds, including the white pomegranates pictured above (they didn’t taste like much, unfortunately.. but they were too gorgeous not to ogle) and some luscious heirloom apples. Even our friends at Primavera busted out with some less-summery breakfast options: chilaquiles verdes, plus pork picadillo-filled chiles rellenos made on a griddleque macho! Unfortunately, we’d been out partying the night before and slept late, and they sold the last chile to the woman in front of me…

For our first fall recipe, we tried out the braised meatballs and gorgonzola polenta featured in the wine section of Friday’s Chronicle. Man, they were good — definitely one for the “keep” file. We also made a batch of chili from the Prather Ranch blog. Hmmm: It’s very tomato-y and the black beans are a strange choice for such a red bowl of red. This one reminded me why I always make half recipes of new things. Oh, well… maybe it will be good over burgers?

cooking, farmers markets, Mexican, shopping


A tinkerer’s damn

Posted by Anita on 09.11.06 1:01 PM

roasting chiles (c)2006 AECI never met a recipe I didn’t want to futz with. I suspect many people suffer from a similar affliction, but I had no idea how bad a case I had until yesterday.

I’m helping a friend test a recipe — which in turn is a mashup of two other recipes — for an article he’s writing, so I resolved to follow written directions to a T. Doesn’t seem so hard, does it? But it’s actually a lot more difficult than I’d imagined. No substiting homemade beans for canned? Damn. No leaving out ingredients that offend my purist sensibilities? Argh. And — because he specifically asked me to keep an eye out for missing steps and oversimplifications — no turning to the original recipes for clarifications on ingredients or descriptions. I think my brain might explode. At least the recipe allowed for roasting peppers on the grill, offering the standard broiler method as an alternate. Woo-hoo!

Are you a tinkerer, too?



They are what they eat

Posted by Cameron on 09.10.06 8:57 AM

BumpI’ve been on an old movie binge for the past couple of months, but after trying and failing to make it all the way through “The Third Man” and “Some Like It Hot” over Labor Day weekend, I decided to give Cinema Appreciation a break for while. Instead, I queued up season two of The Wire, a police drama set in Baltimore.

I think that when there’s a scene in a screenplay that involves food, the writer might as well wave a big red flag and yell, “Character development!” Why else would anyone ever film one? Food scenes are messy and hard to coordinate, and it’s almost impossible for anyone to look good while they’re eating. But because of the intimacy and specificity of food, it’s a great way to establish a character or add context.

The second episode of the The Wire is titled “Collateral Damage,” but it might as well be called, “What’s to Eat?” Early on, two of the main police characters share a meal in an interrogation room. Once partners and still friends, McNulty and Bunk gnaw their way through a mess of crabs that McNulty caught while on duty in a patrol boat. Seafood is expensive, but if you have access and knowledge you can harvest your own, and the meal is sloppy, unpretentious, and obviously delicious. The shells are strewn in piles across a table covered with newspaper, washing up against a rack of cheap beer in cans. McNulty is the founder of the feast, and it’s at least partially an apology for having recently added to Bunk’s responsibilities. Bump is both fastidious and a connoisseur of carnal pleasures. At one point he corrals a crab body and, after razzing McNulty for letting it go to waste, dips his paw into the shell and dispatches a handful of guts, unselfconsciously licking his fingers clean. The entire process is quick, neat, and something that only Bunk could make look graceful.

The next food scene is set in the prison cell of a drug kingpin caught and sentenced at the end of the first season. When one of his foot soldiers visits from another part of the prison, Avon Barksdale offers him food from a spread of Kentucky Fried Chicken. The message is clear: Avon is in control and plans to stay that way. He has the contacts and money to make his stay at least slightly more comfortable. And, even though he has been sentenced to seven years in prison, he intends to find ways to shorten that time, and he is determined to live his life as normally as possible.

In the last food scene in the episode, we catch up with members of the stevedore union at their favorite bar at 9am after a spectacular booze-up the previous night. The dock workers huddle around the bar, nursing hangovers until one man shows up with a carton of eggs. The men crack raw eggs into glasses of beer and then gulp the mess down: breakfast and the hair of the dog in one go. This, we gather, is how they live — hanging on from paycheck to paycheck while the port dies around them.

movies & tv
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Pearl’s of promise

Posted by Anita on 09.08.06 12:13 PM

pearls sign (c)2006 AECI’ll cut to the chase: I think Pearl’s — the newish SF outpost of a Mill Valley icon — has a lot of potential, especially if you order correctly. Someone’s obviously put a lot of thought into the menu, where you’ll find gourmet-ish upgrades like buffalo burgers and natural beef (for an extra $1.25-$1.50) and seasonal fresh-fruit shakes, alongside Pink’s-style gutbombs like The King: “A 1/4 pound burger crowned with a hot dog, cheddar, American cheese, and thousand island dressing.” Whoa.

The place is clean and crisp, without feeling sterile. Counter service was on the ball, and the prices seemed in line with similar joints: We paid a bit more than $20 for the two of us. You could see the fresh fruit for shakes in pourable containers in a little fridge near the register, and everyone backstage looked like they knew what the hell they were doing. They even offered frings, so I didn’t have to choose between two equally appealing side orders… sa-weet.

Unfortunately, I was so distracted by the surprise option of fries with rings that I didn’t specify what kind of cheese I wanted on my Pearl’s Deluxe, so I got some particularly nasty American technicolor-orange stuff. The theoretical 1/2-pound patty was flat, machine-made, and downright industrial. It came with a decent, but obviously store-bought bun, plus nice leafy lettuce, cardboardy tomato, and sliced onions. The meat was cooked to medium — as they said it would be by default — but tasted manky enough that I don’t think I’d dare order it again.

Cameron wisely opted for the natural-beef upgrade on his mushroom-bacon burger; his Jack cheese tasted a little less processed than the American, the ‘shrooms were good (although they paled in comparison to those at Joe’s), and the patty looked like it had been formed by human hands. Unfortunately, they’d cooked the living daylights out of it. Medium? Nononono… this poor patty was scorched to fare-thee-well-done. Still, it remained reasonably juicy and definitely worthy of another try.

How ’bout those sides? Both fries and rings were from a bag, but actually tasted like someone had bothered to find the best premade versions they could get, rather than the cheap, sugar-coated nasties you find most places. Similarly, Cam’s vanilla malt — although made with soft-serve ice cream — was actually creamy and malty, without the gloppy texture you usually find with extruded dairy.

Will we go back? Probably, yeah. But I’ll stick with the natural beef, make sure to specify real cheese, and ask for my burger to be cooked medium-rare.

Pearl’s Deluxe Burgers
780 Post Street (at Jones)
San Francisco, CA 94109

downtown SF, meat, restaurants
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DOTW: Gin & Tonic

Posted by Anita on 09.08.06 7:46 AM

G&T (c)2006 AECI know, I know… not very creative. But even though I’m back in foggy ol’ SF, I feel like I’m permanently parched from the Vegas jaunt. And — as if I needed another excuse — it’s Mom’s favorite.

Gin & Tonic
Fill an 8-ounce highball glass 1/2 to 3/4 full of ice. Add 1.5 ounces good (but not great) gin, and top up the glass with tonic. Garnish with a wedge of lime, squeezed if desired.

Drink of the Week, drinks, family, recipes


Aw, horse feathers

Posted by Anita on 09.07.06 4:23 PM

B&B doorbell (c)2006 AEC

After waiting expectantly for word of the Bourbon & Branch grand opening, we made reservations a few days ago. We received an email moments later with the speakeasy’s top-secret address — but alas, no secret password. We arrived a bit early for our 8pm reservation last night, and found the location without much trouble, thanks to an amusing sign. After buzzing the doorbell, we were admitted to an incredibly dark space and greeted by the bartender; a hostess asked for our reservation details and seated us after some initial confusion.

As our eyes adjusted, we saw that our booth’s table was actually a tapered, foot-wide plank with an inset mirror. It was difficult to read the menu — a multipage tome housed between wooden covers with the new B&B logo laser-etched into the grain — by the light of the small oil candle, but we recognized a few worthy favorites from our Zig Zag days, including the Aviation and the Drink with No Name.

Once we fully got our bearings, the space felt more than a little hokey, like a community-theater set for a working-class ’20s bar. We both loved the pressed-tin ceiling and the multilevel layout, but the red flocked brothel-style wallpaper seems rather twee, and the whitewashed brick wall behind the bar, garnished with votives in glass holders, feels more Southwestern than speakeasy. Even the bathroom design was more than a little off: black walls, black floor, black loo, black basin… lit by four candles and a single dim bulb. Honestly, is it too much to ask for a little light?

After a thorough perusal of the menu — accomplished while twitching every time my eyes lit on one of a dozen typos — I opted for a drink called The Avenue: Bulliet bourbon, Calvados, passionfruit juice, grenadine, and orange-flower water; Cameron asked for an Aviation. Our waitress (a laconic Latina sporting a plunging neckline and an utterly unnecessary push-up bra) returned a few moments later, letting me know that they were out of the juice for my drink. I reverted to my standby, the Old Fashioned, heartened by the menu’s claim that B&B uses the original recipe. I also asked for a glass of water, and she offered still, sparkling, or tap. Maybe I don’t get out enough, but this was a first for me: Paying to stay hydrated in a bar.

Drinks arrived promptly, and we started to notice the table’s flaws. Even with only two of us at a four-top, it seemed impossible not to find something — a glass, a candle, a bulky menu — to knock, nudge, or otherwise propel into the darkness. Cam pronounced his Aviation heavy on the juice; I thought it tasted good, if not particularly balanced. My OF was served in a properly sized glass, a diminutive single-rocks number. As I sipped it, it became apparent that its only fruit was the wide lemon-twist garnish… no muddled orange!? Believe you me, I despise those fizzy messes of mash that most bars pass off as Old Fashioneds, but this vintage version was a bit too austere for my tastes. (Still, it’s hard to complain too much about a barkeep reverting to an antique formula.) My water was refilled as needed; Cameron was never even offered his own glass — a mortal sin in my book. Good bars serve water without asking, and keep glasses full; you’re happy while you’re drinking, and you’re even happier the next morning.

Our second round included a Vesper for Cameron — not listed on the menu, but properly concocted (with perhaps a gilding of orange bitters?) and served in a petite v-glass — and a Spanish Rose for me. The latter was noted in the menu as one of the bar’s signature “drinks from people we like,” credited to a former Enrico’s cocktail-slinger. The recipe included Plymouth gin, Licor 43, lemon (juice, presumably?) and a sprig of rosemary. Sounds good so far? Picture it served in a tip-prone red-wine glass, over an astounding amount of ice. It tasted pretty good, but I was utterly embarrassed to drink this foofy pink monstrosity in a place that’s so damned cocktailian that they prohibit patrons from ordering a Cosmo.

We gave up our table well before our two-hour slot elapsed, having run out of excuses for staying. We’ll come back and give B&B another whirl some night at the bar — the folks up there definitely seemed to be having a more interesting time.

Bourbon & Branch
a secret location near Jones & O’Farrell
San Francisco, CA 94102

bar culture, downtown SF, drinks


Grill’s night out

Posted by Anita on 09.06.06 10:50 AM

grilled pizza (c)2006 AECMom had a craving for pizza, but we wanted to stick around the house to be with Dad. It was way too hot to turn on the oven, so we considered the grill. Cook’s Illustrated had a grilled pizza recipe [*link removed] that sounded pretty good (and less elaborate than the Mario version in Food+Wine), so off we went.

We had a little chicken left from dinner the previous night, and plenty of basil from a friend’s garden. Mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, and mozzarella cheese rounded out the toppings.

The dough’s pretty wet, so it takes a well-floured hand — and all the tricks listed in the recipe — to get it rolled out. Even then, three of the four pizzas more closely resembled free-form amoebas than nice, round pies. But they sure did taste good… maybe not as good as real pizza, but a nice weeknight option (and a great way to use up leftovers).

* Edited to add: We removed the link to the Cook’s Illustrated pizza recipe in July 2008 in protest of their bullying tactics.

cooking, family
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A peach of a pair

Posted by Anita on 09.06.06 10:01 AM

peach bruschetta (c)2006 AECEveryone knows about the natural affinity of pears and blue cheese, but unless you’re a fan (as I am) of the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market Cookbook, you might not have though of trying peaches avec bleu.

This recipe is good even when you make it with supermarket stuff, as we did… finding local produce in Vegas is virtually impossible. But I promise that you’ll make little grunty noises if you try it with good gorgonzola, perfect peaches, and Acme bread.

Peach Bruschetta with Bleu Cheese
Adapted from Becky Smith’s recipe, as told to Peggy Knickerbocker

4 slices country bread, or 12 slices good baguette cut on the diagonal
2 of the best peaches you can find
extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 pound soft gorgonzola

Halve peaches lengthwise, and remove the pit. Cut each half in half again, and peel each peach quarter. Cut the quarters into 1/4-inch slices, keeping them as flat as possible.

Place the bread slices on a medium grill, and cook until golden brown. Remove from heat and brush with olive oil. Spread with the cheese, and top with the peaches. Eat standing over the sink, slurping the peach juice from your hands.

cookbooks, cooking, farmers markets, recipes, shopping, Vegas
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Your own… personal…

Posted by Anita on 09.06.06 9:54 AM

personal melons (c)2006 AEC…melons.

(apologies to Depeche Mode)

C’mon, it’s Vegas… you didn’t expect a melon joke?

levity, shopping, Vegas


The egg maven

Posted by Anita on 09.06.06 9:52 AM

mushroom swiss omelette (c)2006 AECEver since she was a little girl, my sis has been an egg-o-maniac. I know my memory’s got to be faulty, but it seemed that soon as she was tall enough to reach the stove, she was whipping up gorgeous fried eggs every morning before school.

In our house, Cameron has the egg juju (in addition to the biscuit hand and many other culinary skills I covet), and my already mediocre skills have lapsed into downright dustiness. So it stands to reason that when I’m visiting family, it’s Patti who gets called on to turn oeufs into omelettes. I’m tasked with sauteeing mushrooms, pouring juice, or setting the table… and happily so, ’cause I know what’ll be on my plate in mere minutes.

breakfast, cooking, family
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