Meat the producers

Posted by Anita on 08.24.08 6:08 PM

(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**Aside from grinding and stuffing a few pounds of sausage now and then, curing meats is a task — much like beer-brewing and bread-baking — that I am more than happy to leave to the experts. Don’t get me wrong: I love getting up to my elbows in fatty meat and curing salts and aromatics. But when you have local artisans like Fatted Calf, even the most enviable meat-curing skills become obsolete.

To say we’re big fans of the work that Taylor Boetticher, Toponia Miller, and the rest of the Fatted Calf crew are doing is a huge understatement. We’ve spent the last two years gleefully eating our way through their entire offering, and there’s barely a thing we’ve tried that didn’t make us squeal with delight. Their smoky bacon is heaven in a frying pan, their rind-on pancetta is nothing short of funky-fabulous. Their beef jerky is addictively awesome, and their pâtés and terrines are a slice of savory joy. Their sausages — especially the Toulouse and the andouille — are light-years better than anything we make at home.

So when we heard that Piccino — a jewelbox cafe/restaurant in Dogpatch, the next neighborhood over — was hosting a supper featuring Fatted Calf products, cooked jointly by Taylor and the Piccino crew, we reserved two slots as fast as our little fingers could email the RSVP.

I should add at this point that Cameron and I have mostly given up on these sorts of one-night foodie extravaganzas. It’s too easy to get your expectations set impossibly high, or to calibrate each bite to the fantastic sum of money you’ve spent. We went against our usual stance this week for two reasons: Piccino is precisely the kind of restaurant we love — a cozy neighborhood space with a short, ingredient-driven menu that actively supports local farmers and food artisans — and because we can’t get enough of Fatted Calf.

On the night of the meaty meal, we gathered on the sidewalks in front of Piccino’s corner doorway. Happy gaggles of diners shunned the interior and spread down each street, glasses of deep-pink rosé in hand as we savored a rare, warm San Francisco summer evening. We hung back for another reason, too: We weren’t sure how we would all fit into the small dining area. Eventually, we were called to the communal table, so we squeezed onto the banquette, tried not to knock elbows with our neighbors, and wondered just what we’d gotten ourselves into.

We needn’t have worried. By the time the second course (and third glass of wine) rolled around, we’d been utterly, completely won over. There were some service mishaps — one end of the table missed out on a pizza that somehow got misdelivered not once but three times — but these were forgivable, almost-funny oversights. We were chatting with our neighbors quite amiably by this point, companionably sharing platters of assorted charcuterie and a casuela full of lightly pickled, jewel-like vegetables.

One Local Summer 2008For the next course, we each got our own plates… a wise move, as I suspect that riots might have broken out otherwise. Who could be trusted to share a perfectly ripe Hamada Farms peach, draped with tissue-thin lardo, accessorized with a bitter-crisp salad of baby dandelion greens? (Hint: Not me.) Next up came an inspired riff on pork and beans: Shelling beans cooked to a toothsome creaminess, garnished with crisp-chewy pork rillons and melted Early Girl tomatoes.

Then, the main course platters filled the table: unctuous smoked lamb; bowls of fregola with charred young onions and baby potatoes; marinated eggplant with roasted gypsy peppers and capers; golden beets with their own sauteed greens, tarragon, and ricotta salata; and an out-of-this-world mint chutney. After hours of joyful din, passed platters, copiously refilled glasses, and a bevvy of spontaneous toasts to the kitchen, we were struck dumb. Everyone, all down the table, sat nearly silent, in awe of the fabulous food.

We hardly had room for dessert, but we bravely soldiered on. Plates of figs in various stages of caramelization arrived, dolloped with sheep’s milk fromage blanc, decorated with strawberries, and accompanied by an almond tuile. We lingered in the candlelight, talking with new acquaintances and exchanging plans to run into one another at the market next weekend. When I looked at my watch, I was stunned to see it was nearly midnight: We’d passed 5 hours in a magical space that somehow seemed to have grown larger, filled with conversation, light, and laughter.

To me, the most amazing thing about the whole meal was that (with the exception of the fregola and the wines) everything we ate came from within our local foodshed. The lamb was grown on the same Napa homestead as the shelling beans, both brought to Taylor as part of an over-the-fence trade with a prolific neighbor. Like all of Piccino’s regular meals, the vegetables and fruits for the evening were sourced from local farmers; many of their names graced the menu.

Although this was a one-time event, we’re already looking forward to going back to Piccino often. (I’ve stopped in a few times for a glass of wine and a bite to eat after picking up my Mariquita mystery box, but I haven’t really tried a whole meal there. That’s going to change.) And, if you’re in the mood for an epic food evening like ours, check out the Piccino schedule; there’s another meat dinner scheduled with RoliRoti’s Thomas Odermatt in October, and a mushroom feast with Far West Fungi in November.

(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**

Piccino Café and Pizzeria
801 22nd Street
San Francisco, CA 94107
415/824-4224

Fatted Calf Charcuterie
Oxbow Public Market
644-C First Street
Napa, CA 94559
707/256-3684

- Also sells most products at:
Berkeley Farmer’s Market
Saturday, 10 to 3

Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market
Saturday, 7:30 to 2

locavore, meat, Napa & Sonoma, One Local Summer, restaurants
10 Comments »

 

DOTW: Sungold Zinger

Posted by Anita on 08.20.08 5:35 PM

(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**As our book club sips its merry way around the City, we’re discovering quite a few cocktails that we really like. Try as we might to work up enthusiasm for the drinks we’ve intended to sample, more often than not we actually become quite captivated by another option on the menu.

Such was life the other night at the bar at Range, where we’d gone to sample the Green Lantern, their contribution to Food & Wine Cocktails 2008. It’s an interesting enough drink, and if you hadn’t told me the lurid green came from muddled kiwifruit, I probably would have been stumped.

But the highlight of the evening was two pleasant surprises behind the bar: A newly-shorn Carlos Yturria — who, much to everyone’s pleasure has taken the Wednesday shift alongside the ever-fabulous Brooke — and the reappearance of a summertime favorite on the drinks list. The stalwart known as the Sungold Zinger has graced Range’s warm-weather cocktail menu since the restaurant’s earliest days, and its fan club is legion.

Jen ordered one, served by the man who invented it. Then Fatemeh followed, and then me, and then Cameron, and pretty soon there was a line down the bar of these sharp-looking, vibrant-orange cocktails. Well-balanced, tangy but not too tart, it’s a simple but beguiling combination… the kind of drink you wonder why nobody invented before. Everyone who tasted it had to have one of their own; we were totally smitten. And, apparently, we’re not alone: the Sungold Zinger was chosen one of the 20 best cocktails in America by GQ magazine.

It’s a simple enough recipe to make at home, especially when Sungold tomatoes are at their peak, as they are right now. But if you’re anywhere near Range — especially on a Wednesday night when Carlos is around — drop in for a little sip of summer sunshine.

by  *Fatemeh* via Flickr - Licensed under Creative Commons(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**

Sungold Zinger
3-4 Sungold tomatoes
Pinch of sea salt
1/2 oz agave syrup
1/2 oz lemon juice
1-1/2 oz 209 gin

Muddle the tomatoes, salt, and syrup together in a mixing glass. Add lemon juice and gin, and shake well with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with another tomato on the rim.

Variation: Replace the agave syrup with an equal amount of St-Germain elderflower liqueur, a nice alternative if you want a little floral hit.

(leftmost filmstrip photo courtesy of book-club member *fatemeh* via CreativeCommons)

bar culture, Drink of the Week, drinks, recipes, restaurants, The Mission
14 Comments »

 

DOTW: Cable Car

Posted by Anita on 08.11.08 12:07 PM

(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**The Bay Area is home to so many fabulous local spirits that it seems almost impossible to single any of them out for special attention. For gin alone, we’ve got 209 and Junipero right here in the City, and Sarticious over the hill in Santa Cruz. We’re close to two top-tier artisan vodka companies — Charbay in Napa and Hangar One on Alameda — both of which also make a variety of other liquors and liqueurs, including St. George Absinthe and Single-Malt Whiskey, and Charbay Rum and Pastis. We’ve got a local brandy-maker, an old-school whiskey distiller, and even a bierschnapps haus.

But honestly, San Francisco’s best local drinking resource may be its bumper crop of creative mixologists. As Camper pointed out (and I keep harping on at every chance I get), Food & Wine Cocktails 2008 includes an unmatched 17 recipes from SF’s watering holes. The bartenders in our City aren’t just great at mixing up other peoples’ recipes, they’re tops at creating new drinks, too.

San Francisco’s bragging rights as a cocktail-creation mecca can be traced to an illustrious heritage, arguably starting with Jerry Thomas‘s 1880s invention of the Martinez, running through the 1920s with Duncan Nicol’s creation Pisco Punch, and Trader Vic’s Bergeron‘s (oft-disputed) introduction of the Mai Tai in 1944. And — just as today — the City’s always been full of canny restaurateurs popularizing drinks that were invented elsewhere, bringing signature drinks like Irish Coffee to the masses.

Mixology Monday badgeAll by way of saying: This month’s episode of Mixology Monday — Local Flavors, hosted by Kevin at Save the Drinkers — has got our name all over it.

Now, I’m generally not a fan of tampering with the classics. But here’s one exception: The Cable Car, a clever Sidecar variation with a decidedly local angle. Created by Tony Abou-Ganim in 1996, the drink became the signature cocktail at Harry Denton’s Starlight Lounge, the iconic nightclub perched at the top of the Sir Francis Drake hotel “between the stars and the cable cars”. The Starlight’s specialty drink menu leads off with the Cable Car to this day… no mean feat in a town where cocktails are forgotten before the publicity even hits the presses.

So the Cable Car’s got a good back-story, and a gorgeous home bar. But how’s it taste? Frankly, the sample we sipped last weekend was unworthy of its lofty setting, not to mention its illustrious pedigree. Captain Morgan may be the 900-pound gorilla in the spiced-rum category (not to mention a pop-culture icon), but he’s no friend of my palate. And really, a drink with its roots in France deserves a better orange liqueur than Marie Brizard. I know it gets busy at the Starlight, but I’d like to think that the cocktail world has evolved past the point where a reputable bar resorts to sour mix, even its own house-made stuff.

So let’s bring this one a little closer to today’s standards: Fresh lemon juice, quality rum, a dash of real spice, and a top-shelf orange liqueur. A true San Francisco treat.

(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**

Cable Car Deluxe
– inspired by Tony Abou-Ganim‘s modern classic

1-1/2 oz gold rum (such as Appleton V/X)
scant 1/4 tsp allspice dram
3/4 oz Grand Marnier
1 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz simple syrup (highly optional)

Shake with ice, and strain into a chilled, cinnamon-sugar-rimmed cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange or lemon spiral.

———————-

Other featured cocktails with a San Francisco twist:

  • Bee’s Knees – Our version, made with 100% local ingredients
  • The Soiree – SF Cocktail Week’s signature drink for 2008
  • Martinez – Jerry Thomas invented it here in San Francisco

Drink of the Week from our local bars:

bar culture, Bay Area, downtown SF, Drink of the Week, drinks, locavore, Mixology Monday, recipes
8 Comments »

 

DOTW: Tommy Gun

Posted by Anita on 07.06.08 10:44 PM

(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**This week’s stop on our Summer of Cocktails tour finally hit the bullseye: A solid cocktail in a superlative setting.

Bar Drake is the lesser-known of the Sir Francis Drake hotel’s watering holes, but this chic spot is no second fiddle. It may lack the stunning skyline views of Harry Denton’s Starlight Lounge — not to mention its swanky scene — but the lobby lounge offers an abundance of glamour, centered on a dramatically lit back-bar soaring almost to the top of the second-story mezzanine.

Bar Drake’s sumptuous elegance surrounds a mix of couches and comfy chairs, settled around the lobby at clubby intervals. The service is impeccable, and the prices — $10 for most cocktails — are downright affordable by downtown standards. You might not expect that a hotel lobby bar would be the place to find an innovative cocktail menu, especially with some of San Francisco’s trendiest clubs within stumbling distance. But with a drinks program led by master mixologist Jacques Bezuindenhout (better known for his work upstairs), you’re in capable hands at Bar Drake.

Bearing more than a passing resemblance to the venerable Sidecar (also invented in a hotel bar), Bezuindenhout’s Cocktails 2008 entry — the Tommy Gun — somehow captures the familiar taste of a drink you’ve enjoyed for ages. Despite not one but two ingredients borrowed from the pastry kitchen, it has none of the “gosh, aren’t we clever” oddness of some modern creations. A pleasant balance of tart and sweet, spice and heat — it’s a lovely, timeless drink.

My one quibble with Bar Drake: The bartender the night of our visit was rather haphazard with his measures, free-pouring his spirits and mixing multiple drinks at a time. Predictably, this led to fairly significant variation among the dozen or so Tommy Guns our group ordered throughout the evening. Looking around the room, spying drinks ranging from deep orange to palest yellow, you could tell at a glance that everyone’s drink was quite different. Still, we all loved what we got; perhaps it’s a testament to the strength of the recipe that it can be so broadly varied and still pleasant.

When properly made with a keen eye on the jigger, the Tommy Gun can more than hold its own among the year’s best drinks.

(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**

Tommy Gun
- Jacques Bezuindenhout, Bar Drake
published in Food & Wine Cocktails 2008

2 thin slices fresh ginger
1 tsp apricot jam
1/4 oz fresh lemon juice
2 oz Irish whiskey
1/2 oz Grand Mariner

Thoroughly muddle the ginger with jam and lemon juice. Add ice, whiskey, and Grand Mariner; shake well with plenty of ice. Double-strain (through a Hawthorne strainer into a fine-mesh sieve) into an ice-filled rocks glass; garnish with lemon twist.

bar culture, downtown SF, Drink of the Week, drinks
9 Comments »

 

DOTW: Fog Cutter

Posted by Anita on 06.23.08 6:30 PM

(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**You may remember from last month’s MxMo post that something like 17 recipes from our local bars and restaurants are included in Food & Wine Cocktails 2008 — a feat unmatched by any region’s mixologists, including the much-larger contingent from New York City. Soon after the book hit the streets, a gaggle of Bay Area food bloggers were talking about how remarkably lucky we are to live in a region with so many talented bartenders. One thing led to another, and soon people were plotting an exhaustive tour of the featured establishments.

Now, anyone who’s been party to a brilliant idea hatched in the midst of an alcohol-fueled afternoon knows what usually becomes of these grand plans: Nothing. As soon as the sober light of reality hits, you realize that getting a dozen-plus people to agree on schedules, venues, and pacing is just too much drama for a simple cocktail.

But obviously, you don’t know Jen.

Our supremely organized friend sat down with her trusty spreadsheet in one hand and a copy of the cocktail compendium in the other and plotted out an agenda that takes us to a different F&W-mentioned bar each week of the summer. Because of the logistics of getting our mostly San Francisco-based crew to far-flung destinations like Napa or even the East Bay, Jen left some drinks off the formal agenda as an extra-credit exercise for completists to tackle at their leisure.

Circulating the schedule to a crew of cocktail-savvy bloggers and other social butterflies, Jen kept the schedule-jockeying to a minimum with one simple idea: “We’ll be gathering here at the appointed time. Come if you can; we’ll see you next week if you can’t.” Brilliant, no?

And by god, it seems to be working. A quick call to the bar a day or two before gives us reasonable assurance that they’ll have any special ingredients on hand. People come early, leave late, wander in and out during the evening. A good time is had by all, and we manage to have a sociable drink or two before wandering off in various directions in search of supper.

And if the published cocktail at this week’s destination turned out to be… well, perhaps we’ll just say “seasonally inappropriate”? At least we had a wonderful time with some of our favorite blog-friends, enjoying some unseasonably warm weather in one of the coziest bars in The City. And hey, there’s always next week.

I don’t know about you, but when I’ve had a bad meal or any other below-scratch culinary experience, my natural instinct is to go for a do-over at a tried-and-true spot where we know we won’t be disappointed. Looking over Jen’s list, we realized that some of the far-flung omissions weren’t so far-flung after all, at least to those of us blessed with a car and a FasTrak transponder. And, really, it doesn’t take much of an excuse to get Cameron and me across the bay to Forbidden Island; the opportunity to taste a Fog Cutter made by the man whose license plate spells out the name of this Trader Vic tiki classic was more than sufficient.

(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**

Fog Cutter
- Martin Cate, Forbidden Island
From Food & Wine Cocktails 2008

1-1/2 oz white rum
1/2 oz gin
1/2 oz brandy
2 oz fresh orange juice
1 oz fresh lemon juice
1/2 oz orgeat
1/2 oz Amontillado sherry

Shake all ingredients except the sherry, and stain into an ice-filled highball glass. Carefully pour the sherry on top, and garnish with a sprig of mint.

bar culture, Drink of the Week, drinks, East Bay, recipes
11 Comments »

 

DOTW: Monte Carlo

Posted by Anita on 06.13.08 7:03 AM

(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**If you follow San Francisco’s cocktail scene even half-heartedly, it’d have been hard to miss the news about Beretta, heir to the old Last Supper Club space on Valencia. Even before its much-anticipated opening, this spot was generating plenty of buzz — much of it due to a bartender roster that reads like a Who’s Who of San Francisco mixologists.

Beretta’s culinary pedigree isn’t too shabby either, and our first dinner there was quite promising. A short list of risotto options — the one we tried, with porcini and Barbera, was homely but delicious — follows a litany of pizzas that could give Gialina or Pizzeria Delfina a run for their money with a few simple tweaks.

A dozen-plus antipasto options included delicious grilled asparagus served with olivata and soft-boiled egg quarters, and a spot-on plate of Monterey sardines in soar. Although portions are modest, this is definitely not dainty “small plates” food. They’re just the thing if you like being able to order a starter without ruining your appetite, and at $5 a pop you can always order two if you’re ravenous. Better still, they’re the perfect size for snacking at the bar while sipping one of Beretta’s well-crafted cocktails.

And yes, it’s all locavore-friendly: The menu boasts of food that’s “always fresh, seasonal, and sourced from local farmers”. Word ’round my office water-cooler is Beretta’s weekend brunch is a crowd-free glory all unto itself — and what better place to nurse a hangover?

Because, really, you might just be tempted overindulge when you see Beretta’s lengthy cocktail menu. Unlike the truncated drink offerings at many restaurants, this list offers a little something for every palate, and all drinks are priced at a reasonable $9. Over the course of the evening, we sampled a fantastic Gin & It made with Vya sweet vermouth and Tanqueray 10, plus an eye-opening Air Mail and pleasantly brisk an Agricole Mule.

Mixology Monday badgeOne other drink we tried — the Monte Carlo — bears more than a passing resemblance to an old favorite, the Oh Henry, minus the ginger ale. Lest a fruity liqueur trick you into thinking this is a tame tipple, remember that Benedictine is 86 proof… stiffer than some bourbons! So, I suggest you do as the Beretta barkeeps do and serve it in a dainty Nick-and-Nora glass.

It’s not often we discover a worthy bourbon drink that’s escaped our notice — we’re great fans of America’s brown liquor, and we’ve even been known to put it in our food. So it seems only fitting to share our discovery as part of the June edition of Mixology Monday: Bourbon, hosted by SeanMike at Scofflaw’s Den.

(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**

Monte Carlo
1-1/2 oz bourbon or rye
1/2 oz Benedictine
2 dashes aromatic bitters

Stir with ice, strain into a small cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of orange.

—–

A small sample of previous Drink of the Week entries featuring bourbon:

1/25/08: Horse’s Neck with a Kick
10/12/07: Whiskey Sour
9/14/07: Fashionably Lillet
7/27/07: Mint Julep
7/6/07: Sazerac
11/10/06: Manhattan
8/18/06: Currier

bar culture, Drink of the Week, drinks, Mixology Monday, recipes, restaurants, The Mission
6 Comments »

 

A race to Thai

Posted by Anita on 04.22.08 5:01 PM

(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**At this very moment, I’m on my way to Oakland for the last session in my third series of advanced classes with Thai cooking expert Kasma Loha-unchit, the award-winning author of It Rains Fishes and Dancing Shrimp. Since it takes a year or more to complete the prerequisite classes — and chances are good you’ve heard me rave about Kasma before — I won’t torture you with the details of the truly delicious food we’re making …although you’re welcome to peek at the photos on Flickr, or check out my last class recap of Series B.

But… if you’re interested in starting down your own path to culinary liberation (and really, who doesn’t want to be able to cook better Thai food at home than you can buy at any restaurant outside of Thailand?) you’re finally in luck. Kasma’s just this morning opened up three new Beginning Thai Cooking series for fall 2008:

September - Mondays, Sept. 8, 15, 22 & 29
- Tuesdays, Sept. 9, 16, 23 & 30
October – Mondays, Oct. 6, 13, 20 & 27

(There’s also a single Intermediate series and a single Advanced set, but I’m presuming that anyone who’s met the prerequisites for these has already gotten word of them.)

Each 4-session series costs $175, which includes 16 hours of hands-on instruction and full meals. More details about the classes — including menus — can be found on Kasma’s site, Thai Food and Travel.

But do hurry: The beginning classes, especially, fill up faster than you can say “bpoo pad pritkai dâm pkap kreuang tehd” (or even “Black-Peppered Crab with Roasted Spices”… ) Send a request to hold your space to kasma[at]earthlink[dot]net, and be sure to send along second- and third-choice dates to avoid disappointment.

(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**

classes, East Bay, Thai
8 Comments »

 

A slice of life

Posted by Anita on 04.18.08 8:09 PM

(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**When I read that Shuna Lydon was teaching her legendary pastry tutorial — a class that, by her own admission, she’s taught so many times she’s lost count — I leapt at the chance to sign up. The last time I had the pleasure to learn at her elbow, I picked up countless little tricks for making outrageously tasty seasonal fruit desserts.

This time out, I finally learned why my usual pie-dough recipe is fine for savory applications like quiche, but not so hot for desserts. I got to see and feel where I’d been going wrong in my previous pie-making expeditions. As a side benefit, I got to hole up inside a breezy commercial kitchen on one of the hottest days of the year, relaxing into the busy charm of a kitchen full of women. Perhaps best of all, though, I got to come home with one seriously gorgeous pie crust for my troubles.

As I carefully ferried my flaky cargo across the bay in an insulated bag, visions of oozy pastry goodness danced before my eyes. But as bountiful as our spring produce is here already, we’re in that awkward in-between stage, fruit wise. It’s too late for apples, way too early for blackberries. Strawberries are coming into season, but I don’t really like them cooked. I’d hoped to have enough lemons off of our tree by now to attempt a lemon meringue, but you can’t rush Mother Nature. So I dusted off the cookbooks and went looking for options.

There it was, smack in the middle of my 1961 edition of The Joy of Cooking. A long-forgotten childhood favorite, that humble all-American dessert known as black-bottom pie. Line a simple pastry crust with chocolate custard (or ganache, if you’re feeling modern and fancy), cover with a rum-kissed custard, and top with whipped cream. Even with the cheapest ingredients, it’s indisputably delicious, even if a bit homely. When made with top-drawer bittersweet chocolate, pastured eggs, and the best dairy you can find, this simple combination turns into a dessert worthy of a pastry chef’s crust.

I separated four Marin Sun Farms eggs, and right away I could tell I was in for a treat. These eggs are always delicious, but some weeks — especially in the winter — they’re not especially gorgeous. These were a sure sign of spring: Yolks so yellow they were almost-orange standing proudly atop solid whites. Separating them felt almost cruel, as each half clung tenaciously to the other.

Cooking the custard until it was thick enough to coat the back of a spoon took mere moments — not the 20 minutes that Mrs. Rombauer instructed. Whipping the whites (to fold back into the custard) was equally swift: Even using a wimpy hand-held mixer, they flew right past soft peaks and into firmness in a matter of seconds. When yolks and whites were reunited, the resulting rum chiffon stood high in the bowl without the usual gelatin stiffener.

And the taste? Oh, my… so decadent. I can’t give away all of Shuna’s pie-crust secrets — though they’re there for the taking if you know where to look.

(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**

Black-Bottom Pie
1 pie shell, blind baked and cooled to room temperature
1/2 T (approx. 1/2 packet) gelatin*
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
4 tsp cornstarch
4 eggs, separated, with 1 white discarded
1-1/2 oz unsweetened chocolate, grated or shaved
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 T white rum
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup whipping cream
2 T confectioners sugar
1/2 oz bittersweet chocolate, for shaving

If using gelatin, soak in 1/4 cup cold water and set aside. Scald the milk. In a small bowl, add the sugar and cornstarch, and whisk gently to combine; set aside. In a medium metal bowl, whisk the egg yolks until light in color. Slowly stir the hot milk into the eggs with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula, then add the sugar mixture.

Bring a cup or two of water to a simmer in a medium saucepan. When you’ve reached a stable, steady simmer, place the metal bowl over the steam to cook the custard. Make sure that the water is not touching the bottom of the bowl; you’re cooking with the steam, not by direct water contact. Stir constantly with the spoon or spatula, making sure no hot spots develop. The custard is ready when it thickly coats the back of the spoon; this can take anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes, depending on the freshness of your eggs, the thickness of the bowl, and the speed of your simmer.

Place the grated unsweetened chocolate in a medium bowl. When the custard is done, immediately measure out 1 cup of the cooked custard into the bowl of chocolate, and stir until the chocolate melts and combines with the custard. Add the vanilla and a pinch of salt, and stir to combine. Pour the chocolate into the prepared pie shell, spreading evenly around the bottom.

If using gelatin, add it to the remaining custard while still warm, then add the rum; stir all until combined and the gelatin completely dissolves.

Using a stand mixer or electric hand mixer, beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Continue to mix while gradually adding the granulated sugar, a teaspoon at a time to keep from deflating your eggs.

Fold the whipped egg whites into the custard. Add the rum custard to the pie shell atop the chocolate layer, and chill the entire pie until set (about an hour).

When ready to serve, whip the cream to stiff peaks, then add the confectioners sugar. Cover the custard layer with whipped cream, and garnish with chocolate shavings or chocolate curls.

Pie will keep, in the fridge, for a couple of days.

—–

* Note: Most recipes call for a full packet of gelatin, which I find makes for a very firm, almost artificial-feeling chiffon. You can reduce it to half that amount, as noted here, to keep the texture less spongy. If you want the pie to be strictly vegetarian, the gelatin is optional providing that you’re using very fresh eggs, that you don’t stint on fully whipping them to stiff peaks, and that you don’t mind your custard layer being a little loose. (I actually prefer it this way myself.)

Also, the egg whites are essentially raw here, so the usual food-safety caveats apply.

—–

This little slice of yolk-yellow love also happens to be our entry for A Taste of Yellow, a blog event now entering its second year. Hosted by Barbara of Winos and Foodies, A Taste of Yellow features entries from food bloggers around the world — last year’s inaugural edition boasted 149 entries! — in support of LiveSTRONG Day, the Lance Armstrong Foundation‘s initiative to raise awareness and funds for the cancer fight.

LiveStrong logo for A Taste of YellowWe dedicate our Taste of Yellow post both to our hostess Barbara, in her ongoing efforts to remain cancer-free, and to our friend Briana. Many of you know her blog, Figs with Bri, where she posted Wednesday about her recent setback: breast cancer has metastasized to her lungs. Since then, her site’s gone dark and her email account is offline. We’re keeping Bri and her husband Marc in our thoughts and prayers, and hoping for the very best.

baking, classes, dessert, East Bay, other blogs, recipes
10 Comments »

 

Dark Days, begorrah!

Posted by Anita on 03.20.08 11:44 PM

(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**If you ask Cameron what his favorite cold-weather meal is, you might be in for a surprise. It’s not Thanksgiving turkey with all the trimmings. It’s not even a big prime rib, with plenty of leftovers for his beloved beef-and-bleu sandwiches. No, the thing my Scots-Irish husband loves best when the nights are long is New England Boiled Dinner — better known as “corned beef and cabbage” — with a hearty dollop of horseradish cream and an imperial pint of stout to wash it down.

Like most folks, we’ve reserved this marvelously meaty meal for St. Patrick’s Day feasts. But given how cheap it is, and how much we enjoy it, I’m not entirely sure why we don’t trot it out regularly. Perhaps we got in the habit back when it was difficult to find corned beef during the rest of the year. But the last few winters, we’ve taken to curing our own brisket, so getting our hands on nice corned beef isn’t so much of a problem.

I know there are at least two of you who know our little secret: Home-cured corned beef only sounds impressively arcane; it’s actually about the easiest thing you can cure at home. The only thing you need is a 4-to-6 pound piece of brisket — point cut, preferrably — plus a few easy-to-find spices and a week’s forethought. And if you use a dry cure like the Cooks’ Illustrated recipe [link removed*] we often follow, rather than the typical immersion brine, you don’t even need a lot of fridge space. Honestly, we’ve got to do this more often… if only for the crave-inducing leftovers.

This year’s brisket came to us from Marin Sun Farms, and a glorious specimen it was. For the accompaniments, we wandered the Ferry Plaza market and rounded up a Catalan Farms cabbage, two pounds of Little’s potatoes, a bunch of Star Route Farms carrots, a pile of Dirty Girl boiling onions, and a couple of rutabagas from Heirloom Organic. Imagine our surprise as we walked by the Happy Girl Kitchen pickle stand on our way back to the car and noticed they were selling prepared horseradish! (Yes, it was local — grown at Tairwa Knoll Farms and processed in Santa Cruz County — and delicious.) On the way home, we popped by our local microbrewery, 21st Amendment, and picked up a growler of their oyster stout. Ah, it was the easiest 100% local meal of the month, to be sure, and definitely one of the tastiest.

The rest of the fortnight was full of other tasty tidbits, including six meals at restaurants that wear their locavore menus on their sleeves. You’ll recognize lots of old standbys in the list below, and a pair of newcomers. Let’s just say that Conduit seems to be still working the kinks out of their kitchen; they’ve only just opened, so we’ll keep mum. On the other hand, Ubuntu is old enough to know better. I wish we had loved every bite at this nationally fawned-upon Napa newcomer, but — as our friend and dining companion Cookiecrumb detailed elsewhere — the inventive flavors and gorgeous ingredients were so oversalted as to be nearly inedible. Ah, well… they can’t all be Range, I suppose.

Mercifully, we did not return home hungry. There were plenty of other delicious things we discovered on our Napa field trip, including a to-die-for packet of pastrami (from Fatted Calf’s gorgeous new shop at the Oxbow Market) that had us happily gorging on sandwiches… even for breakfast. And we also discovered another secret ingredient that we’ll share more about in our next Dark Days installment.

(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**

Dark Days Ticker — March 1-15
- Dark Days dinners at home: 8 out of 15
- Locavore dining-out: Range, Primavera, ubuntu, O Izakaya, Two, Conduit
- New recipes: Jamie’s stuffed potatoes, Hugh’s milk-braised pork, cauliflower steaks
- Old faves: corned beef & cabbage, egg drop soup, bean salad, Waltuck‘s chicken paprikás, grilled rib-eye
- Freezer fodder: golden veggie bisque, potstickers, chili verde enchiladas, oxtail ragu, bolognese sauce

New local items in the pantry:
- Straus Creamery cream-top milk (2% and whole)
- Marin Sun Farms point-cut brisket
- Fatted Calf pastrami (available at their Napa store only, alas!) and bierwurst
- Little‘s “all blue” potatoes
- Zuckerman’s asparagus
- Happy Girl Kitchen Co. prepared horseradish
- Andante butter
- 21st Amendment Oyster Stout (brewed with Hog Island oysters!)
- Carmel S&S Syrah (thanks, Lauren!)
- Bartholomew Park Cabernet

—-

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

beer, Dark Days challenge, holidays & occasions, locavore, meat, Napa & Sonoma, restaurants
12 Comments »

 

MxMo: Fugu for Two

Posted by Anita on 03.17.08 8:29 PM

(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**In his introduction to this month’s Mixology Monday festivities, our genial host Rick describes how he came up with the idea for his theme of “Limit One“:

“Exotic cocktail spots would often advertise their potent potions by limiting a customer to one per evening. It wasn’t all gimmick, however; some recipes like the Zombie contained up to 5oz of 80-proof spirit! This phenomenon isn’t limited to just tiki drinks; in fact, many locales even have laws that forbid a bartender to create a drink with more than a specified quantity of liquor.”

Well, these sorts of potent potations may not necessarily be limited to tropical concoctions, but it’s hard to avoid the correlation: If the bar name includes an island locale and/or the word “Trader” in its name, the chances are pretty good that you’ll find some pretty strong stuff at the bottom of the menu.

Mixology Monday = Limit OneMercifully, many of these voluminous drinks come equipped with two or more straws, and most are expressly designed to be shared by gregarious group of cocktail hounds. Among this genre, the best known — and possibly the most confusingly varied — is the Scorpion Bowl. Back in the tiki heyday of the 1950s, it seemed like every bartender had his own scorpion style; some stuck with the arguably original rum and brandy; others went straight for the jugular with gin and/or vodka, and still others just threw together any random combination of high-proof booze in a bowl with sweet syrups, colorful liqueurs, and a tropical fruit garnish. With bartenders like these, it’s a miracle that anyone survived to tell the tale, much less that the Scorpion Bowl is remembered — and reinvented — so fondly in the modern mixology world.

At Alameda’s Forbidden Island, there’s no shortage of high-octane cocktails. Yes, you’ll even find a Scorpion Bowl: Show up on Sundays, and you can share one with your friends for a mere $15. Theirs is a potent elixir, and quite the show to boot: A flaming crouton simulates lava spewing forth from the crater of the bowl’s volcano centerpiece. True to its origins, this scorpion’s sting will surely make you — and, hopefully, three of your closest friends — forget all of your cares… and maybe your name.

But for my money, the tastier option is a Forbidden Island exclusive known as the Fugu for Two. Even though it’s served in an adorable Munktiki fish-bowl, it’s hard to imagine how anyone other than a tiki fanatic would think that a couples’ cocktail served from the belly of a ceramic pufferfish is romantic. (‘Til death do us part, anyone?) But the drink itself is as delicious as it is strong: Fruity and tropical, but not sickly sweet. It’s as potent as its Scorpion sibiling, yes, but it’s more than a little civilized.

For those of you who can’t make it to Alameda, the Fugu tastes just as nice when served in a regular bowl — or even a pair of double Old Fashioned glasses, in a pinch — as it does when it’s poured into a jumbo collectible mug. And unlike its aquatic namesake, you don’t even need a special license to prepare this Fugu.

(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**

Fugu for Two
3 oz amber rum
1 oz vodka
1 oz apricot brandy
2 oz pineapple juice
1-1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
1 oz passion fruit syrup (preferably Monin)
1 oz orgeat
sparkling wine

Combine all ingredients in a blender with two cups of cracked ice and pulse twice, very quickly. Pour into a tall bowl. and add more cracked ice to fill. Top with a float of sparkling wine, and serve with two straws.

bar culture, drinks, East Bay, Mixology Monday, recipes
14 Comments »