That’s -so- last year

Posted by Anita on 12.31.06 8:38 AM

radishes (c)2006 AECI mentioned my 2006 culinary resolutions in passing last week, and it seems only fair to see how well I managed to pull them off.

I will eat more food that I can trace to its source.

I spent as many Saturday mornings as logistically possible at various farmers markets, and I can honestly say that I could count all of our 2006 trips to Safeway on one hand. We turned to Whole Foods and Tower Market for any needs that couldn’t be managed at the Ferry Building.

The experience was, frankly, eye-opening: We’ve developed relationships with farmers, gotten a much better feel for the rhythm of seasonal crops, and enjoyed observing that — although better food does, often, cost more — we’re more satisfied with a smaller quantity of good things as we used to be with an abundance of mediocre stuff.

I will make time for entertaining friends at home.

We did better this year — especially in the summertime, when it’s so easy to create an amazing spread from all the great produce — but there’s plenty of room for improvement in 2007.

I will find a talented architect to remodel my kitchen.

Check!

I will learn where to find better lunch possibilities near my office, and not just lazily fill my belly with convenient crap.

I definitely put my heart into this one, although I can’t say I was particularly successful. The best thing that happened to my lunch hour in ’06? Hands down, it’s the new “Foodie Court” and Bristol Farms grocery at Westfield SF Centre. (I didn’t say it’s good for my budget, however.)

I will teach the basics to my friends who want to learn to make Thai food.

Well… nobody asked. :D I think we got a little Thai’d out after three straight weeks of three five Thai meals a day on Kasma’s trip — we probably cooked less Thai this year than any in recent memory. But, once the new kitchen’s finished (and we have — hallelujah! — an exhaust fan) I hope that will change.

I will read cookbooks from the library before I buy them.

Boy, did this one take off in a big way. I’ve had a steady rotation of three (or more) cookbooks checked out all year. My local library makes it so easy! I just find the ISBN on Amazon, paste it into the library’s search engine, click “Request”, and wait. A few days or weeks later, I get an email telling me my book’s on the hold shelf at my local branch.

I’m having so much fun exploring new cookbooks that I’m working on a Bookshelf page so you can peek at what’s on my kitchen counter each week. (Please be gentle… I’m still beating my head against the monitor — Amazon and WordPress don’t like each other much, so I’m pretty much coding things by hand in my non-existent free time.)

This is the year I will try to cook at least one new recipe a week.

The library-book project pretty much made this a given, although there were definitely good weeks and bad weeks here. Lots of great new recipes made it into our regular repertoire, namely Pear and Arugula Salad, Bleu Cheese Cauliflower Soup, Peach Bruschetta, and Salted Caramel Ice Cream.

I will taste anything that’s put in front of me, no matter how ‘weird’.

See also: Thailand. And also last week‘s Drink of the Week.

I will use my new smoker (you know, the one I hope to get for my birthday) often enough to justify its purchase.

I guess we found other ways to spend that particular chunk of money. :D

I will give my time to the food bank, and not just when my company gives me time off to do it.

I did volunteer (with the office crew) this summer, but never made it over on my own, except when bearing bags of donations. I resolve to do better in 2007.

I will fill my new garden with as many edible plants as possible.

Another rousing success, thanks in large part to the persistence of my wonderful husband. He sourced some gorgeous edible specimens, pouring over Internet resources and picking the brains of some talented local experts. I’m tickled that we have a garden that’s as tasty as it is beautiful. Stand by for a citrus update in the next week or so…

We will finally take our long-awaited culinary tour of Thailand.

What a wonderful way this was to start our year. One of my resolutions for 2007 is to finally pare down my 1,500 photos into something manageable, and post them to share. If all goes well, perhaps I can dig up our notes and write a few ‘backdated travelogue’ posts next month…

How about you? Any food-related resolutions for 2007?

I’m truly curious… this isn’t just a lazy way to end the post. :)

holidays & occasions, locavore, other stuff
8 Comments »

 

DOTW: Bloody Mary

Posted by Anita on 12.29.06 7:12 AM

bloody mary (c)2006 AECNot that any of our regular readers will be overindulging this weekend… but just in case you find yourself in need of a wee “hair of the dog” after late nights and too much holiday cheer, here’s a recipe for a classic morning-after tipple to put you back to rights.

If you’re feeling too fuzzy to make your own tomahhhto juice, feel free to substitute V-8 or another flavorful store-bought brand. But juicing your own makes for a crisp, tomatoey taste you can’t get from commercial stuff, and a pleasant viscosity that helps keep all the seasonings afloat.

Need another excuse to whip up a Bloody Mary? Matt gives you 10 of them, fresh from the archives.

Slightly Fancy Bloody Mary
Makes 3-4

1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes in juice (preferably Muir Glen)
1T Worcestershire sauce
2T freshly squeezed lemon juice
6-8 ounces vodka
Tabasco sauce
Grated horseradish*
Cajun seasoning salt, such as Tony Chachere’s (or celery salt, or garlic salt)
Lemon wedges, celery hearts, green olives

Process tomatoes and their juice in a food processor. Strain the puree through a coarse sieve into a non-metallic container, stirring and pushing the puree through the seive until you’re left with just seeds and about 1/4 cup of dryish pulp, which you can discard. You’ll end up with a generous 2 cups of thick tomato juice. Add the Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice to the seived juice, and refrigerate at least 1 hour, until well chilled.

In a highball glass, stir together 2 ounces vodka, 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon horseradish, a generous pinch of seasoning salt, and Tabasco sauce to taste (start with 3 drops). Fill the glass 2/3 full with ice and add 6 ounces of the tomato juice mixture. Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary. Garnish each drink with a lemon wedge and a celery heart, and olives if desired.

*Either fresh-grated from a horseradish root, or bottled horseradish without any creamy additives; “prepared horseradish” will make the drink cloudy and slick.

breakfast, Drink of the Week, recipes
4 Comments »

 

Boxing Day wrapup

Posted by Anita on 12.26.06 4:27 PM

image courtesy UN World Food ProgrammeAlthough the origins of Boxing Day are somewhat murky, many of the historical theories include the traditions of providing food or other sustenence to those less fortunate than ourselves. English households apparently boxed up Christmas leftovers for servants’ families, and churches distributed alms collected from the ‘poor box’ on the day after Christmas, St. Stephen’s Day. And I’m sure you know the carol about Good King Wenceslas

So it seems appropriate to celebrate, today, by thanking everyone who participated in the Menu for Hope charity drive: We raised $58,000 $60,925.12 — that’s more than three times as much as last year — a lot more useful to the recipients of UN World Food Programme aid than day-old leftovers.

If you’ve got a little more time off before the new year, why not tidy up your pantry and take a box of canned goods to your local food bank? Most of the holiday donation barrels seem to have disappeared from grocery stores and office lobbies already, but the San Francisco Food Bank offers a handy list of locations that happily take your donations all year ’round. Or, even better, take a shift as a volunteer food sorter — I’ve done it twice, and it’s hard work, but also a lot of fun.

If you’re outside San Francisco, check out Second Harvest‘s search engine: Plug in your Zip code, and they’ll connect you with a nearby food bank.

holidays & occasions, Menu for Hope
1 Comment »

 

Merry Christmas

Posted by Anita on 12.25.06 10:48 AM

xmas brownies (c)2006 AEC…and a happy holiday season to everyone. May your day be filled with delicious food, the love of friends and family, and a dash of unexpected beauty.

holidays & occasions
2 Comments »

 

If you can get it here…

Posted by Cameron on 12.23.06 4:53 PM

settebello_pie.jpgSan Francisco, hang your head in shame. Much as I love my City by the Bay, it’s never been a good place for pizza. The situation has improved in recent years, thanks to the likes of Pizzeria Delfina (If you can get in. if you want to pay $70 for pizza.), but only barely.

I’ve always found the situation mystifying–but after today’s lunch it’s escalated to infuriating. Why, in the foodiest city in the country (hush you homers, I’m pontificating), is it practically impossible to get a decent pizza, when I can sit down to a magnificent Neapolitan pie at a strip mall in Henderson, Nevada?

Settebello has modern Vegas charm, which is to say that it’s cavernous, painfully clean, clangingly empty, and so new that you can practically smell the fresh concrete. The sheer size of even the smallest of these commercial spaces dwarfs any attempt at coziness, but Settebello manages to inject some warmth–perhaps it was the overwrought Italian pop music wafting through the sound system. Could have been the Real Madrid game on the widescreen TV. Perhaps it was the friendly staff. Might have been the giant mural of the Bay of Napoli on the wall, or the Italian travel posters. Could it have been the enormous pizza oven?!

The menu is simple, built around Neapolitan pizza. Settebello has been certified by Vera Pizza Napoletana, a distinction that it shares with Seattle’s Via Tribunali, among others. We’ll pass lightly over the absurdity of creating a committee to preserve taste, but only because the pizza at Settobello is very, very, good. I defiled the purity of my margherita with finocchiona from Salumi, secure in the knowledge that “Variations of pizzas are recognized if they are informed by the Neapolitan tradition of pizzas and are not in contrast with the rules of gastronomy.” The pie and its precious cargo were worthy of each other’s company. The sauce and cheese were light, fresh, and applied with a gentle hand. The crust wasn’t quite as perfect, but according to the folks at Valley Wine and Cheese across the parking lot, there have been some oven issues that needed sorting out. Anita’s calzone wasn’t as spectacular as my “margherita con…”, but was still very good.

Nitpicking. Pure nitpicking. This is seriously good pizza. I can’t wait to try the bianca. It will be a sad trip to Henderson that doesn’t include a visit to Settebello, and a sad flight back to pizza wasteland that is San Francisco. I shall console myself with carnitas and birria.

Settebello Pizzeria Napoletana
1776 W. Horizon Ridge Parkway
Henderson, NV 89052
702.222.3556

Italian, restaurants, Vegas
6 Comments »

 

That holiday feelin’

Posted by Anita on 12.22.06 8:25 AM

Menu for HopeI’ve appealed to your sense of adventure, your sense of holiday panic, and now I’m going to appeal to your sense of altruism. As you enjoy this season of plenty, couldn’t you spare $10 or $20 for the UN World Food Programme? If you haven’t already done so — or, heck, even if you have — please head over and buy a ticket or two for the Menu for Hope charity raffle.

If putting food in the mouths of starving kids isn’t enough motivation for ya, let me try another tactic: Have you seen some of the things you could win? There are dozens of top-shelf cookbooks, hosted dinners at schmancy restaurants, some really cool culinary art donated by pros, one-of-a-kind treats made just for you, baskets of local ingredients from all over the country, food tours of some of the world’s culinary capitals, high-end kitchen gadgets galore, even the chance to meet a celebrity or two. Honestly, I’m having a hard time not bidding on every dang thing on the list!

You might think, with close to $50,000 in tickets already spoken for, that your odds would be slim. But as of right now, you have a 1-in-12 chance of winning our prize… and a 33% chance of taking home at least eight other offerings, including two different prize packages that include the highly covetable Tartine cookbook.

To boost your chance of winning, may I suggest that you check out Sam’s cool list of the odds on the prizes donated by West Coast bloggers? Then head over to the donation page and buy a ticket, stat: bidding closes at 6pm Pacific time today.

other blogs, shopping
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DOTW: La Orpez

Posted by Anita on 12.22.06 6:30 AM

Orpez (c)2006 AECI’ll start right off by saying you’re just going to have to trust me on this one. I’m sure your first reaction will be the same as mine: A raised eyebrow and a faintly upturned nose. But sneer at your own peril.

At the top of the month, Cameron and I found ourselves at Sutra, attending to the festivities of the office holiday party. Amid cold canapes and hot gossip, we overheard my boss order a Gin and Coke from a passing cocktail waitress.

“Gin and Coke, did you say?” I inquired.

“Mm, yeah.” he replied, sensing my skepticism. “Something I used to drink a lot when I lived in Spain.”

Hours passed, with conversation lubricated by liberal wine pours (made even more generous by waiters struggling to pacify our large party as we waited far, far too long for entrees). The boss ordered another of his bizarre beverages, and I couldn’t help but dig a little deeper.

“So, tell me again how you came to drink this… curious cocktail,” I quipped.

By way of response, he simply offered me his glass. One of my culinary resolutions this year was to taste anything once, so I took a tentative sip. And then another. And then a huge grin broke across my face as I realized that this kooky concoction — something that sounds like you’d drink it only in desperation — is surprisingly good. I mean, it’s no Manhattan, but it would make a solid option should you find yourself in a bar of suspect mixological credibility.

The instruction continued: “In Spain, they make it with a gin called Larios, which is like Gordon’s. Don’t mess it up with the fancy stuff — you need a gin with a bit of bite.” The garnish? Possibly lime, but more probably lemon to be authentic. (Apparently, they’re not much for limes en España.)

One last obstacle remained: “Gin & Coke” is a terrible name, not the least because it sounds, well, rather disgusting. I suggested we christen it with the boss’s surname, but he demured.

“Call it the Orpez,” he countered, with a wistful tone and a far-away stare. “She’s the one who introduced it to me.”

La Orpez
1-1/2 ounces gin
Coke
wedge of lemon

Add the gin to an ice-filled rocks glass, then fill the glass with Coke; stir to combine. Garnish with a wedge of lemon, and serve with a jaunty Iberian air.

Drink of the Week, recipes
5 Comments »

 

A desert oasis

Posted by Anita on 12.19.06 10:32 PM

valley cheese (c)2006 AECI’m back here in Vegas, and… oh, who am I kidding? I’m back here in Henderson, home of tract houses, chain restaurants, and megamarts. Very nice ones, all of them, but still… a bit prefab. On my last visit, I drove almost 10 miles to the nearest Whole Foods, on the other side of town, in a fit of homesickness. Imagine my disappointment to find rock-hard avocados, bin after bin of out-of-season produce, and sickly looking everything. I guess it was better than Vons, but only just.

So when a friend suggested that I check out a place called Valley Cheese, I was a little skeptical. If even Whole Foods can’t deliver the goods in this culinary wasteland, I didn’t have much hope that a small shop would do any better. When I found their rather sad website, I was even more suspicious. But — what the hell — I was bored and hungry, and needed an excuse to get out of the house.

Valley Cheese & Wine is the kind of place you could drive right by for months and not even know it’s there, set back off the street in what can only be described as an upscale industrial park, adjacent to a construction site. Inside, it’s another world: The spacious shop is anchored by a wall of gourmet dry goods — pasta, oils, vinegar, pickles, and such — on one side, and a pair of cold-cases on the other: one with a well-kept assortment of cheese, and another displaying surprisingly robust charcuterie options. The entire center of the store is given over to rack upon rack of wines.

Both of the owners, Bob and Kristin, welcomed me within minutes. When Kristin found out I was a first-time customer, she offered the “nickel tour”, a full circuit of their various wares, complete with an explanation of the cheese case schematic ( “East Coast artisans on the left, West Coast on the right, Europe on the lower shelf…”) — an obsessive after my own heart, to be sure.

Bob talked about their groceries and salumi offerings, including a half-dozen varieties of Fra’Mani sausage… but nothing from Armandino, alas, due to problems getting their orders filled correctly. He also went to great pains to tell me that everything in the store was hand-selected. They were both adorably proud of their shop, and rightly so.

My only gripe — and it’s a very small one — is that they keep all of their cheeses and meats under plastic, both in the display cases, and when wrapped for you to take home. I’m guessing it’s difficult to keep artisanal products properly hydrated in the desert climate otherwise, and everything looked and tasted just fine, so perhaps I’m just being irrationally persnickety.

This corner of Henderson’s awfully far from The Strip to make Valley Cheese & Wine a side trip for most visitors, but if you happen to be making your escape at Green Valley Ranch or any of the Lake Las Vegas resorts, it’s definitely worth a long browse. Just be sure to bring a map.

Valley Cheese & Wine
1770 Horizon Ridge Parkway
Henderson, NV 89012
702.341.8191

shopping, Vegas, wine & bubbly
2 Comments »

 

Gifts for procrastinators

Posted by Anita on 12.18.06 1:05 PM

giftyboxStill searching for the perfect holiday gift? I’ve got a few ideas for you that I guarantee won’t just collect dust, or get relegated to the re-gifting shelf.

First off, a cool little idea called Giftybox. The Classes & Workshop Giftybox ($49) includes a pass to a workshop — including food- and drink-related classes at Seattle’s Culinary Communion and San Francisco’s Compassionate Cooks, among others across the country — plus nice discounts at five other locations of the recipient’s choice.

If you’ve got a better handle on your giftee’s tastes, you might opt instead for the Wine Tour & Tasting Giftybox ($59), with options for California, Washington, Oregon, New York and other wine-producing regions. With this box, your lucky friend gets a gift pass for a winery tour & tasting of her choice, including a bottle of wine, plus tastings and discounts at 5 additional wineries in the region.

You can order either Giftybox as late as Tuesday morning (9am PST) to receive it by the 21st, via 2-day FedEx… plenty of time to wrap it up and sneak it under the tree.

If neither of these presents strikes your fancy, might I humbly suggest a gift that combines the warm, fuzzy glow of altruism with the dream-inducing rush of a lottery ticket? I’m sure you’ve already bought plenty of tickets for the Menu for Hope raffle — we’ve raised more than $25,000 already!! — but consider buying a handful for your friends and family.

A ticket makes a nice stocking-stuffer: Pick out a prize that suits your giftee’s personality, print out the page from the donor’s site with a note explaining you’ve bought a ticket on their behalf, and tuck it into a pretty envelope. (Sam explains it all much better at the bottom of this post.)

There are so many great prizes up for grabs, and some of them (not naming any names, ahem!) don’t have very many bids at all… so your odds of winning are incredibly good.

holidays & occasions, other blogs, shopping
1 Comment »

 

Cooking under pressure

Posted by Anita on 12.17.06 8:39 PM

pantry in the laundry room (c)2006 AECWhat’s your big holiday present this year? A fancy gadget? A new appliance? Maybe a fabulous cookbook? Not to brag, but I think I’ve got you beat: This year, our Christmas present to each other is a full-fledged kitchen remodel.

We knew the second we stepped foot in the house that’s now ours — and saw the utter disaster that was the kitchen — that a gut-job was in order. (If you clicked that link, I feel compelled to tell you that was the previous owners’ idea of tidying up for an open house.) But for the last 18 months, we’ve had more pressing remodel issues to tackle, and we also spent nearly 6 months working with a very talented architect to get all of our ‘must-have’ and ‘really-want’ items into one room while staying reasonably close to our original budget. But it’s gonna happen, boys and girls — it’s gonna happen soon.

January 2 is our scheduled start date, the day the big Irish guys show up with sledgehammers and dust masks and a big-ass Dumpster. And since this project includes not just our kitchen but also our master bathroom, we’re movin’ on down to the basement. Happily, like many SF houses, our “basement” is really the ground floor of our house, opening onto the backyard.

For the last year and a half, this space has served as our guest suite, home office, and music studio. Over the last month, we’ve worked with our kitchen contractor to turn part of it into our new laundry room and craft workshop (finally — a place for all those canning jars and infusion bottles!), a space that will serve as our makeshift kitchen during the remodel. Hence, the photo above: Our pantry-china cabinet-appliance garage-bar.

As you might imagine, I’m coping with the chaos by writing lists: A list of appliances we’ll need (toaster oven, yes. rice cooker, yes. coffeepot, yes. ice-cream maker? not so much), a list of one-dish suppers we can make in our screwball cafe… and another list of nearby restaurants that deliver.

I keep telling myself that our temporary home is larger than many apartments where we’ve lived over the years, and (sadly) that we actually have more counter space in the laundry room than we had in the old kitchen. My first college apartment lacked a kitchen entirely, and yet I cooked quite respectably — even for parties — using a microwave and a hotplate, washing dishes in the tub. Surely I can do at least as well with my current set of skills and resources. If all else fails, I’ll remember my mantra: “It’s only temporary.”

In addition to the contents of the server closet cabinet above, we’ll also have our gas grill on the deck, an incredibly expensive toaster oven, a coffee maker, and (temporarily) a big washtub in the bathroom — the kind you see in laundry rooms, but right in the shower.

cooking, equipment, holidays & occasions, kitchen
6 Comments »