A winter’s salad

Posted by Anita on 01.16.07 11:39 PM

fennel-pear-apple salad (c)2007 AECNot much of a story: We bought two baby fennel bulbs at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market this weekend, with no definite plan for what to do with them. I decided a nice shaved-fennel salad would be a good, crisp foil for the cheesy softness of tonight’s main course: the Baked Manicotti [* link removed] recipe from Cook’s Illustrated. (I give it a B-minus, not that you asked.)

Cruising the aisles of Bristol Farms, I picked up a beautiful pear and a container of mild bleu cheese crumbles. When I got home, I sliced the pear and fennel as thin as I could — which was pretty thin, since we’d just gotten our big knife back from Critical Edge — tossed them with some Alejandro & Martin “fruity and fragrant” olive oil, half as much champagne vinegar as oil, salt, cracked pepper, and those bleu cheese crumbles.

If I do say so mahself, it was one of the best salads of the year. (OK, so the year’s only 16 days old… it was still good enough that I wanted seconds.) We’re eating pretty well down here in the basement!

Fennel-Pear-Bleu Salad
2 baby fennel bulbs, or 1 smallish regular fennel bulb
1 ripe, fragrant pear
2 tsp. fruity olive oil
1 tsp. Champagne vinegar or other mild-flavored vinegar
1/4 to 1/2 cup mild bleu cheese crumbles
salt and fresh-ground pepper to taste

Remove the fennel tops, and slice the bulb thin, on the bias. Halve the pear, remove the core, then halve again and slice thin. Toss the fennel, pear slices, and half of the cheese with the olive oil and vinegar, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper. Plate up, and garnish with the remaining cheese.

Serves 2

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

farmers markets, recipes
1 Comment »


We have a weiner!

Posted by Anita on 01.15.07 9:25 PM

chili dog (c)2007 AECMmmm, football-watching Prather Ranch chili dogs…

And we also have a WINNER. In fact, we have a couple hundred. But for those of you sitting on the edge of your seat, wondering whether you’ll be the lucky one getting a care package from us this week, you might want to cast an envious glance in the direction of the appropriately named “Award” — he or she is the winning bidder who will be taking the Armchair Tour of the Bay Area from this year’s Menu For Hope raffle.

Thanks again to everyone who bid and supported this amazing event. Be sure to visit Chez Pim for the complete list of winners.

other blogs


DOTW: La Chispa

Posted by Anita on 01.13.07 3:05 PM

La Chispa (c)2007 AECThis month’s Mixology Monday, hosted by the folks over at Imbibe Unfiltered, features Winter Warmers — a happy thing for those of us who happen to be living in unheated basements. Now, I realize that “warmers” refers to these drinks’ effect on the drinker’s internal comfort, rather than the temperature at which they’re served. But with the weather in Fog City threatening to dip into the 20s overnight, a double-dose of warmth seems wise.

I was looking for something that packed the twin punch of alcohol and heat, along the lines of an Irish Coffee. But unlike my better half, I am not much of a coffee drinker. I love the taste, but I can’t do caffeine… especially once the sun goes down. Mexican chocolate is one of my favorite warm drinks, so it seemed natural to fortify this brunchtime favorite with a nip of something strong.

Plenty of complementary liqueurs came to mind; we tried brandy, Cointreau, Kahlua, and even nocino. But in the end, tequila worked best. A tot of mezcal adds fire and a touch of funk, which keeps the drink from veering off into sickly-sweet territory. A dash of orange bitters rounds out the taste and keeps the tequila’s aroma in check. (In a pinch, Cointreau or another orange liqueur would do the same, but the drink needs no extra sweetness.)

The Spanish word chispa literally translates to “spark”, but it also has connotations of enthusiasm, liveliness, and — a ha! — small amounts of liquor. And in some parts of Latin America, chispada (lit. “sparked”) is a colloquial expression for “buzzed” or “tipsy”. More genteel than borracho (“drunk”), it’s something you might say about your grandma after she’d gotten uncharacteristically alegre at a family gathering. In other words, you’ve imbibed just enough alcohol to warm your toes, but not enough to slur your speech.

If you don’t want to buy Mexican chocolate tablets just for this recipe, feel free to make your own, or simply add cinnamon (preferably canela) to your usual hot cocoa mix or recipe. The texture won’t be the same, but the flavors will still sing.

MxMo Winter WarmersLa Chispa
Mexican chocolate, such as Ibarra or Abuelita
1 cup milk
1 to 1.5 oz. medium-quality tequila, to taste
2 dashes orange bitters (or a dash of Cointreau)
whipped cream, perferably unsweetened

Prepare the Mexican chocolate according to package directions — typically 8 oz. hot milk blended with 2 wedges of chocolate tablets. In a mug or an Irish coffee glass, combine the tequila, bitters and the hot chocolate, and stir gently to combine. Top with a dollop of whipped cream, and dust with cinnamon or chile powder.

Drink of the Week, drinks, Mixology Monday, other blogs, recipes


10 days in…

Posted by Anita on 01.12.07 8:29 AM

framing (c)2007 AECA lot of folks are visiting from Ilva’s Show Us Your Kitchens roundup, so I thought I’d post an update of where we stand on the kitchen remodel.

Demolition is entirely done, all of the new framing is complete, and I’d guess the plumbing is about 2/3 finished. We have new waste and vent pipes in all the right places; now we just need supply lines for both water and gas. Electrical work was also due to happen this week, but seems to have not gotten off the ground yet.

The most exciting day so far was Wednesday, when we came home from work to find our new wall! Now, I realize that to most of you, the idea of making a kitchen smaller must seem rather odd, but the rear of our house desperately needed a hallway. The door from the living room opened into the kitchen, as did the master (which is to say, only) bedroom. All four rooms of the house — living, dining, kitchen, and bedroom — were all roughly the same size. In fact the kitchen was the largest quadrant, because it didn’t have closets or a fireplace eating up space. By sacrificing ~40 square feet of space, we’ve made the kitchen more cozy, gained a little separation between cooking and sleeping spaces, and improved the flow of the house significantly.

That’s probably more theory than you wanted to know. If you want to see the execution, I’ve put up a mini-tour of progress so far, over on Flickr.

Oh, and the combat kitchen? It’s going quite well. We even made our mac-and-cheese-off entry in our new toaster oven. We aren’t fixing anything glamorous, but we’re eating pretty well. Cooking’s not the hard part, no harder than camping or dorm cooking. No, the real bitch of it all is the cleanup. We’ve gone almost exclusively to (compostable) paper plates, but the prep utensils and pans are really murder to wash. This week, we’ve been eating out a lot due to evening plans that kept us out and about. I think we’ll try to do some cooking ahead this weekend, for next week. Planning is key — no more whipping something up that sounds tasty at the spur of the moment.

ps: The next installment of Drink of the Week will happen over the weekend.



Sweet release

Posted by Cameron on 01.11.07 9:05 AM

PaydayWhile picking our way through the tattered wreckage of our kitchen late last week, Anita pointed out an empty plastic wrapper of Sour Punch Straws and said, “One of the guys has a sweet tooth.”

I wondered if it had been left behind by one of the contractor’s children, as I’d seen them at the job site a couple of times. But Anita was sure, and I think that she was right. It had the definite feel of worker debris.

At first I thought that they were a modern take on Pixy Stix–paper straws filled with a mixture of powdered citric acid and sugar. Kind of like crystal meth for kids in fun flavors: rots your teeth and makes you crazy. Turns out they’re more like gummy worms/licorice with sour powder on the outside.

The idea of pouring a pile of powdered sugar in my mouth is about as appealing as eating sand, but I’m no candy snob. When I have a sweet tooth and the only option is the drugstore rack, I can run down a tick-list of several well-loved options.

First up is Payday, that happy combination of nuts and aereated caramel. If I want chocolate, I’ll grab a Milky Way, although that’s lost some of its appeal in recent years. I can also be seduced by Starburst or Skittles. I used to be a complete slut for York Peppermint Patties (are they still running those goofy commercials?). I’d nibble all the chocolate off so that I could get a few bites of the unadulterated minty filling.

Thanks to Mike’s Candy Wrappers for the graphical raw material.



Farewell, Sunday supper

Posted by Anita on 01.05.07 3:37 PM

chix leg (c)2006 AECRuth, Joe and Jeremy Hoffman
Hoffman Game Birds
Manteca, CA

January 5, 2007

Dear Hoffman clan,

I’m having a hard time putting into words how sad I am to read in the CUESA Newsletter that I will no longer be able to buy your birds on Saturdays at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. Your beautiful chickens have become one of our weekly staples, and we’d even started coming to the market earlier so as to avoid being disappointed by your “sold out” signs.

I hope you’ll consider teaming up with a retail outlet in San Francisco; I don’t know how often we’ll be able get to Berkeley to visit Magnani’s Poultry, but the thought of going without your birds is too much to contemplate.

I’m sure I’m not alone in my love of your poultry, but I also couldn’t let the opportunity pass to let you know how much we appreciated what you’re doing. I hope the attached post, about your chickens, sums it up adequately.

Sincerely, and sadly,
~ Anita

farmers markets, other stuff, shopping
1 Comment »


Smackdown and cheese

Posted by Anita on 01.05.07 10:00 AM

(c)2007 AEC All Rights ReservedCookiecrumb over at I’m Mad and I Eat and Kev at Seriously Good have challenged one another to a , an ooey-gooey duel, a fight to the death on the field of fromage. Their chosen weapons? Bechamel, pasta… and cheese.

What is it about humble ol’ Mac & Cheese that brings out the competitive spirit in otherwise mild-mannered foodies? Last year, our old Seattle crew hosted a mac & cheese showdown, where no fewer than half a dozen recipes vied for the crown. And about a month ago, Union — one of Jet City’s top restaurants — hosted a citywide smackdown (mac-down?) that got promoted on local radio.

I’ve got a few favorite recipes in the files, including a 5-minute version that I make sometimes for breakfast, but no single concoction owns my allegiance… certainly not enough for me to want to enter it into public competition. But the eye-rollingly good version I serve to company — as a side dish, mind you — comes courtesy of our friend Wendy, the hostess with the mostest, who’s tweaked Martha Stewart’s recipe to the point of decadence.

Fondue Mac and Cheese
4T (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for dish
2 slices good white bread, grated coarsely
2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 to 1/2 cup white wine
1 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. each freshly grated nutmeg, freshly ground black pepper, and cayenne pepper
1/2 pound sharp white Cheddar cheese, grated
6 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated
1/2 pound penne

Heat oven to 375°F. Butter a 9×9 baking dish, and set aside. Place bread in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 1T butter. Pour butter into bowl with breadcrumbs, and toss. Set breadcrumbs aside.

Fill a large saucepan with water, and bring to a boil. Add penne, and undercook by 2 to 3 minutes, until the outside of the pasta is just cooked. Transfer macaroni to a colander and drain well, shaking the colander to remove as much water as possible from inside the penne. Set penne aside.

Heat milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Melt remaining butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. When butter bubbles, add the flour and whisk for 1 minute. While continuing to whisk, slowly pour in hot milk. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick. Turn off heat, and whisk in the wine, salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and both cheeses, reserving 1 cup of cheese for topping.

Stir macaroni into the cheese sauce, then pour mixture into prepared dish. Sprinkle remaining cheese over top, followed by the buttered breadcrumbs. Bake until browned on top, about 30 minutes. Transfer casserole to a wire rack, and cool 5 minutes; serve hot.

food boards, other blogs, recipes, Seattle


DOTW: Black Velvet

Posted by Anita on 01.05.07 7:27 AM

black velvet (c)2007 AECWhen it comes to kitchen remodels, no news is good news. Our contractor’s crew of Irish lads has been rapidly turning the old kitchen into a pile of rubble and debris, and — contrary to our worst fears — there was nothing evil lurking within our 85-year-old house’s walls, floors, or ceilings. Let’s celebrate!

As we stood in the beer aisle, contemplating which six-pack to buy for our demo crew (so that they can toast a good week’s work today, too), Cameron veoted my suggestion of something from The Old Country as being too cliché. But conversations with charming men possessed of lilting brogues leaves me craving a pint of stout, so we put a few Guinness Drafts in the shopping cart. On second thought, seeing as how this was a special occasion, perhaps Champagne would be more apt. So we put a split of bubbly into the cart, too.

Back at home, we faced a serious dilemma: Guinness, or bubbly? Well, why not both…

Black Velvet
Irish stout, preferably Guinness Draft
Sparkling wine

Pour Irish stout into a pilsner or tall glass, to the halfway mark. Top with sparkling wine.

beer, Drink of the Week, recipes, wine & bubbly


Multiple kitchen disorder

Posted by Anita on 01.02.07 9:51 PM

approved (c)2007 AECWhen Ilva of Lucullian Delights posted two photos of her kitchen, she struck a chord among food bloggers. Her comments filled up with notes from all over, with links to photos and posts. So, knowing a good thing when she sees one, Ilva turned her post into a meme, asking each of her fellow food bloggers to show her their own kitchen.

Which, ordinarily, would be a lot of fun. But at the moment, that’s a little problematic. Because today I have three kitchens.

kitchen-before (c)2007 AECMy first kitchen sits on the main floor of our house, in the usual spot for a 1920s American home. Last night, when I took this photo, it looked eerily empty. At the moment, it’s slightly messier than I like it, given that our contractor and his crew came by today and tore out all of the appliances and cabinets, plus a good deal of the plaster. Since our debris box doesn’t arrive until tomorrow morning, all of said debris is sitting in the middle of the floor. (OK, that’s not entirely true — there’s an even larger pile in the garage.)

temp kitchen (c)2007 AECDownstairs, in the laundry room off of our guest quarters, we have a little combat kitchen that we’ll use for the next 3 months. Once we realized how much storage space we had, we brought a lot more of our gadgets downstairs than we’d planned. (Upside: We have fewer boxes to unpack. Downside: We have a lot less excuse to eat out.) Other than the obvious lack of a stove, oven, and sink, and the fact that the fridge is in the garage, it’s a surprisingly functional workspace. Of course, I say that now, not having put the whites in the toaster oven and the stew through the spin cycle… yet.

kitchen elevation (c)2007The third kitchen exists almost exclusively in the imagination of three people: Me, Cameron, and our architect. It’s slowly taking shape in the minds of our contractor and his crew… but I don’t think they inhabit it the way we do; not quite yet. But it’s fun to see them peering in and figuring it out, talking through its geometry as they turn blueprints into walls.

But first, there’s the dust, and the Dumpster. And the chaotic existence of having — if only for a day — three kitchens in one house.

kitchen, other blogs


Flavor of friendship

Posted by Anita on 01.02.07 2:27 PM

yokohama chinatown (c)2005 CTCFlashback to Thanksgiving, 2005: We were sitting around my parents’ living room, visiting with some of their friends who had come over for coffee and dessert. Talk turned to our upcoming trip to Thailand, and our brief stopover in Tokyo on the way to Bangkok. Mom’s friend M, who is Japanese, asked us what we were planning to do there.

We chatted about our plan to tour the Tsukiji fish market the first morning, and then mentioned, sheepishly, how we’d heard about a museum in Yokohama devoted to the history of ramen noodles. M told us, very excitedly, that she’d grown up in Yokohama and would be visiting her family there for the New Year holidays — right at the same time we’d be passing through. She’d heard of the museum but had never been — could she come along with us? (How fast do you think we said “yes”?)

tsukiji (c)2005 CTCA few weeks later, we arrived in Tokyo late Christmas night, and headed straight to bed. We had a date the next morning at 3:45am with our Tsukiji guides. And then, on the very same day, we boarded the shinkansen (bullet train) down to Yokohama to meet M. Despite massive jet lag and a complete language barrier, we only made one minor misstep — we picked a queue that led to a smoking car.

By the time we realized our mistake, all the nonsmoking seats were taken. Fortunately, sitting in the smoking car had one advantage: We got to spy on Japanese salarymen as they smoked and snacked on food they’d brought onboard from track-side kiosks. One man’s lunch in particular piqued my curiosity — could it really be a fried-pork sandwich?

Yokohama raumen museum (c)2005 AECM was the best Yokohama guide you can imagine, creating a food-filled tour of her hometown just for us. We started out the day, as planned, at the Shin-yokohama Raumen Museum, which features outposts of famous ramen shops from all over Japan in a setting that replicates a 1950s-era Japanese neighborhood. We sampled four different kinds of ramen, amazed at their variety and depth.

We followed our ramen-fest with a boat ride across Yokohama’s harbor. The ferry dropped us near one of Japan’s most famous department stores, where the basement food halls were filled to the ceilings with traditional new year foods, osechi ryori, which M explained would be enjoyed as a room-temperature feast on the first days of January.

Yokohama Chinatown (c)2005 CTCAfter touring the food halls, we strolled through the city’s bustling Chinatown. We browsed through cookware shops, pressed our noses to the windows where cooks flipped stir-fries in enormous woks.

Knowing we were on our way to Thailand, M wanted us to try Japanese curry. She knew just the place to take us — another food museum! (You have to love a country where there are no fewer than seven food-related attractions in a single area.) Although much less of an actual learning experience than the Raumen Museum, the Yokohama Curry Museum offered a few exhibits, centered around a food court. We feasted on beef curry, curry udon and other curry dishes, and amused ourselves in the impressive gift shop full of ingredients and mixes from all across Asia.

new year decoration (c)2005 AECAs we walked around Yokohama, M pointed out a number of traditional holiday decorations called kadomatsu: bamboo, pine, and straw in simple, elegant arrangements on either side of the doors of nearly every establishment and home.

At some point that afternoon, M asked how we’d enjoyed our shinkansen journey. We told her that we loved the gliding from Tokyo’s center to its suburbs, and out into the countryside. Talking about the train ride reminded me of that curious sandwich I’d seen. Sure enough, M explained, it was a katsu sando: Tonkatsu on white bread, garnished with a spicy-sweet sauce. Wow!

It turned out we were just blocks from Katsuretsu-An, Yokohama’s most venerable tonkatsu restaurant. Even though we were stuffed from our museum grazing, M insisted on taking us there for dinner. We feasted on a meal that started with steaming bowls of miso soup garnished with pebble-sized clams, followed by juicy-crisp tonkatsu.

katsu san (c)2005 AECAs night fell, M walked us back to the train station, and even rode part of the way back to Tokyo with us, to make sure we knew which way we were headed. As she bade us farewell at her transfer point, she handed us a tidy white box that held a thoughtful gift: A katsu sando of our very own. We stashed it in our hotel minibar and shared it on the shuttle to Narita the next day, reminiscing about our wonderful day, and the heartfelt generosity of our new friend.

restaurants, shopping, travel