Now that the Dark Days are over, we’re back in the kitchen, casting hungry eyes on spring’s new crops. We’ve had asparagus at our markets now for more than a month, and we’re gorging ourselves on it every week. It’s making its way into every course but dessert!
For a recent brunch party with friends, I wanted to include asparagus on the menu — it’s such a perfect spring flavor — but didn’t really want to mess around with Hollandaise sauce, or any of the other prepped-to-order asparagus dishes in my repertoire. None of the recipes for asparagus salads I found really appealed to me, so I winged it, adding ingredients until I found a combination that looked as good as it tasted.
The recipe below was more than enough as a side dish for 8. Our guests took home some of the leftovers, and we still had enough for two lunch-size portions. So unless you’ve got a big group on hand, or you’re serving it as a main course, a half batch should be more than sufficient.
- serves 8 as a light meal, or 16 as a side dish
1 bunch medium asparagus
1-1/2 cup matchstick-sized pieces of ham
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp finely grated fresh lemon zest
1/4 to 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
3 cups cooked garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
Parmesan cheese, broadly shaved with a peeler (1/2 cup)
1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Cut asparagus on the bias into 1/8-inch slices, discarding woody or tough ends. Cook the orzo al dente, then rinse in cool water to cool; drain well, shaking the colander to remove excess water.
In a wide skillet, bring oil, zest, juice, salt, and pepper to a simmer. Stir in the garbanzo beans, then remove from heat and let steep. When beans have cooled to near room temperature, place in a large bowl along with their dressing. Toss with the orzo, ham, Parmesan cheese, and parsley. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Serve at room temperature, or cold.
Note: As long as your ingredients are fresh and the pasta very well drained, the salad can be prepared up to 8 hours ahead with no loss of texture.
After a whirlwind month of travel, it sure feels good to be home. Even though I was painfully aware of the time we’d spent away from our own kitchen, I hadn’t really grasped how long we’d been absent from the farmers market. Despite our well-planned list, we wandered around the Ferry Plaza in a full-blown daze, like tourists who’d never seen produce before. But our farmers seemed genuinely happy to see us, and the usual summer bounty looked more glorious than ever to our newly appreciative eyes.
But somehow — even though we returned home with armloads of the most beautiful food on the planet — our first real meal back home didn’t translate into a fabulous feast. The occasional lackluster supper is bad enough when you’ve put an afternoon of thought and effort into it, but when you’re having company over to boot… ugh.
We turned some of our meat CSA haul into homemade sausage using Ruhlman’s merguez recipe. The test patties we made tasted fine, but an afternoon of fridge-rest made the coils taste blah, not bright. Somehow a Turkish-style soup of tepary beans and cumin — which I’ve made before and loved — turned into a stodgy mess.
For dessert, we harvested three beautiful bergamots off our tree to make champagne-citrus sorbet. But when we cut the fruits open, they were nearly all pith. Desperately squeezing them anyway while praying for a food miracle, we got less than half the juice we needed. We punted and bought a replacement carton from Whole Foods, and served it alongside locally made baklava.
But luckily, despite all the other disappointments, our side dishes turned out pretty well. On the grill alongside the mergez, we roasted skewers of multicolored sweet peppers from Quail Hollow and purple onions from Catalan. And even though it looked a bit like leftover hot cereal, a salad of Full Belly Farms wheatberries — dressed with local vegetables and our own garden herbs — was the best thing we ate all night.
- adapted from Epicurious
1 cup wheatberries
1 red bell pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
2T fresh lemon juice
1T red-wine vinegar
1 tsp ground cumin
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp coarsely ground aleppo pepper (or to taste)
3T minced parsley
3T mint chiffonade
2 ounces feta, diced small
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
1/2 English (or other seedless) cucumber, cut into julienne strips
2T to 1/4 cup chopped brine-cured black olives
Soak the wheatberries overnight, or for at least a few hours. Cook the berries in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender but not blown out, about 2 hours. (Depending on freshness, wheat variety, and soaking time, this can take as little as an hour or up to 3 hours.) When cooked, drain the berries and set aside.
Meanwhile, roast the red pepper and place in a brown bag or covered bowl to steam soft, about 20 minutes. When cool enough to handle, remove the skin and seeds, and slice the flesh into long, narrow strips.
In a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, cumin, garlic, aleppo pepper, and salt to taste. Add the cooked wheatberries and stir well to coat; toss in the remaining ingredients. Taste for seasonings and adjust if needed. Serve immediately at room temperature. (You can also refrigerate as needed, but the salad will be stickier. Be sure to remove from the fridge about 30 minutes before serving to take off some of the chill, and toss again to refresh the appearance of the dish.)
You’d be forgiven for thinking that locavore eating in the dead of winter means a limited palate of kale-green, potato-brown and cauliflower-beige. But, much to our very pleasant surprise, we’ve been cooking up a colorful assortment of oranges, pinks, purples… and even reds.
I’ve told you about two of the drinks at our cocktail soirée, but here’s a little secret about the nibbles we served: Everything was at least 90% local, and most of it came from entirely within our 100-mile radius.
The prettiest plate of the night was Cameron’s gorgeous tower of tiny Martha-inspired canapes: roast beef and horseradish on herb bread, and two different kinds of smoked salmon with mustard-fennel sauce on rye. An assorted platter of Fatted Calf pâtés and sausages took their place beside a trio of locally produced mustards. The crudite plate included too-cute-to-eat baby carrots, fractal-icious romanesco, and blushing breakfast radishes. A batch of pesto-filled pastry pinwheels, a spicy dip of Rancho Gordo black beans, and a platter of Northern California cheeses rounded out the savory stuff. On the sweet side, a batch of Earl Grey-scented tea cookies caused such a stir that three different guests asked for the (ridiculously easy) recipe.
Much as I adored the tea cookies, my favorite new party recipe isn’t a recipe at all. We cut a big bagful of Happy Quail piquillo peppers in half — yes, we had local peppers in January! — removed the seeds, and stuffed them with a mixture of Fatted Calf chorizo and Acme breadcrumbs. A few minutes under the broiler and we had the most popular hors d’oeuvre of the evening. I can hardly wait until next season to try it again!
After a party like that, that last thing we wanted to do was cook. As the month wound down, we hit up some of our favorite restaurants to see what their midwinter menus had in store. Nopa served us yet another scrumptious supper courtesy of our local farmers: we split an order of goat cheese fondue, followed by a grass-fed burger for Cameron and grass-fed shortribs for me. A few days later we ended up with friends at The Alembic, where we shared local lamb sliders and a sinful order of truffled mac-and-cheese made with Mt. Tam and Serena — two of our favorite Northern California cheeses.
With Dark Days like these, it’s hard to feel deprived.
Dark Days Ticker — January 16-30
- Dark Days dinners at home: 7 (out of 16), plus the party food
- Locavore dining-out: Alembic, Nopa, Range
- New recipes: Pesto pinwheels, chorizo-stuffed peppers, Earl Grey tea cookies
- Old faves: Mom’s quiche Lorraine, Julia Child’s beef stew
- Freezer fodder: Linguine Bolognese, chicken & dumplings
New (to us) local items
- Cap’n Mike’s smoked salmon — red and white varieties
- Piper-Sonoma Brut and Blanc de Noirs sparkling wine
- Capellino pesto in a tub (made in SF!)
- Bellwether Farms’ pecorino-style Pepato
- La Clarine Farm’s Sierra Mountain goat Tomme
- Eatwell Farm‘s romanesco
- Happy Quail Farms piquillo peppers (last of the season!)
- Local mustards from Made in Napa Valley, Mendocino Mustard and Narsai’s
In the pantheon of sparkling cocktails, there are a thousand lesser gods, and then there are the titans: the bright Mimosa, the elegant Champagne cocktail, the tart French 75, and the dusky Kir Royale. They’re generally a subtle lot, and so simple to make that you hardly need a recipe. They’re all lovely in their own ways and moods — Mimosas at brunch, Champagne cocktails at weddings, French 75s when you want to get into an argument about gin vs. brandy — but the Kir Royale is perhaps the most adaptable.
Until it was popularized by Catholic priest Félix Kir, the simple aperitif of white wine and blackcurrant liqueur was known quite aptly as blanc-cassis throughout its native Burgundy. But then, history intervened. An active organizer in the Resistance during World War II, Monsieur Kir helped plan the escape of more than 5,000 prisoners of war. After the Liberation, Kir was elected mayor of Dijon — the Burgundian capital — and eventually took his place in the French national assembly. He was the last clergy member to wear the habit in the halls of the Palais Bourbon, and he always toasted delegations visiting Dijon with the aperitif that perfectly marries two of the town’s best tipples.
The original Kir is made by dosing white wine — not, as some would say, Burgundy’s reknowned Chablis, but rather the slightly sour Aligoté — with Dijon’s equally famous blackcurrant liqueur, creme de cassis. The Kir Royale makes things a bit more festive by replacing the white wine with Champagne, an inspired substitution that moves an everyday apero into the realm of celebratory cocktail.
The Kir Royale also makes a perfect party drink, as it’s low in alcohol — best for guests who may not be accustomed to knocking back a few high-octane libations in an evening — and quite forgiving of measurement-free mixing. After all, what host wants to spend time fiddling with precisely a half-ounce of this and exactly three shakes of that when there are guests to greet, coats to hang, conversation to encourage, and appetizers to primp?
We’re having a few friends over for cocktails and canapés tomorrow night, and one of the ways we’re planning to keep things simple is by setting up a do-it-yourself Champagne bar. We’ll put a case of bubbly on ice, line up a couple dozen flutes, and gather a gaggle of colorful liqueurs — cassis, St-Germain, absinthe, violette, Chartreuse — for guests to customize their drinks. We’ll have syrups, garnishes, and bitters, too, plus a sheet with ideas on how to mix and match. It’ll be fun to see an assortment of pastel sparklers in the hands of our pals; I can’t wait to see what our clever friends concoct.
1/4 to 1/2 ounce crème de cassis (or to taste)
Champagne or other dry sparkling wine
Pour the cassis into the flute, and top with the bubbly.
Garnish with a lemon twist, if desired.
Custom Mixology Service
The “cocktail geeks” from Married… with Dinner will create a pair of personalized beverages for your soiree, based on your preferences. We’ll do all the prep beforehand, then serve your signature selections to up to 12 of your closest friends.
We’ll provide all the necessaries: Ice, mixers, syrups, garnishes, plus any tools we’ll need. We’ll even bring suitable glassware: No cocktail cleanup!
(Please note: We’re happy to shop and schlep, but due to liability issues, the winner must pay for the alcohol.) This prize is limited to San Francisco Bay Area redemption — unless you’d like to pay travel expenses… let’s talk! — and is subject to a mutually convenient schedule.
This item is Menu for Hope prize UW-08.
- Click here to make a donation and enter to win.
- Read the Menu for Hope overview to learn more.
I don’t know about you, but it seems lately like my life is exploding with insanity. It’s not just work, either; it’s home and dogs and life in general. It’s all rush-rush, crazy nonstop chaos… and it’s not even the holidays yet.
I knew things had gotten out of hand when I realized we hadn’t seen Paul & Sean — friends we saw nearly every week in the summertime — in more than a month. Worse yet, we hadn’t hosted a dinner party in so long that I couldn’t even remember who had come, or what we’d served. Clearly, something had to give.
Now, the last thing any frenzied soul needs in the midst of a swirling storm of busy-ness is the stress of planning a soirée. So we resolved to keep things simple: A small guest list, a casual menu, and an early start time so as not to keep folks up late. Ah, autumn entertaining… the very best kind, don’t you think?
Contorting our weekly menus into the Dark Days Challenge hasn’t been much of an effort, truth be told. But then, it’s hard to feel too smug when your whole meal plan involves soups, pastas, and meat-potatoes-veg plates with a green salad to start. Weekday dining is pretty fanfare-free at our house, and we like it like that.
But for company, it seemed like a nice touch to try at least one recipe that was just a little more haute than humble. For months, my recipe file has held a strange-sounding starter — Leek & Potato Soup with Melted Leeks in Ash — from rising star chef James Syhabout (of PlumpJack Cafe fame when the article debuted, now chef de cuisine at two-star Manresa… ooh-la-la!). Just as I’d hoped, the soup was special but not too fancy for the casual entree of braised lamb alongside bean-and-rice salad. And then there was that dreamy spice cake, frosted with icing made from local cream cheese and butter… a lovely kickoff to fall, if I do say so myself.
Thanks to the generosity of party guests Cookie and Cranky, we are now in possession of a bag each of whole-wheat flour and cornmeal, both grown by Full Belly Farm in Capay Valley. And — wonder of wonders — I found locally made dried pasta. Although neither organic nor sustainable in any discernible fashion, Eduardo’s Pasta Factory could hardly be more local: They’re just over the neighborhood line in Bayview, pratically visible from our back deck. Better yet, they make a pretty nice assortment of pasta types; this week we bought rotini, linguine, and penne, and there’s a few more shapes awaiting our next shopping trip. All in all, a good week for local carbs.
New to our pantry this week, sorted by distance:
Eduardo’s Pasta Factory dried pasta – San Francisco
Molinari Sicilian-style hot Italian sausage – San Francisco
Mastrelli house-made cheese raviolini – San Francisco
Divinely D’Lish granola – San Francisco (+local farms)
Guittard milk chocolate chips – Burlingame
Amy’s Organic canned split pea soup – Petaluma
Jimtown Store deli artichoke spread / pasta sauce – Healdsburg (Sonoma County)
Alexander Valley Gourmet Manhattan-Style Pickles – Healdsburg
Full Belly Farms certified organic flour and cornmeal – Guinda (Capay Valley)
Sierra Nevada Cheese Gina Marie cream cheese – Willows (near Chico)
Last week’s Dark Days Challenge meals included:
- Prather Ranch beef chuck, Far West Fungi white mushrooms and dried porcini, Eatwell onions, Clover Organic sour cream, homemade stock
- Eduardo’s Pasta Factory rotini and Dirty Girl haricots verts
Sunday lunch with friends
- Leek-Potato Soup: Little‘s potatoes, Eatwell leeks, homemade veggie broth
- Braised Lamb: Marin Sun Farms leg of lamb, Hedonia preserved lemons, Eatwell onions, Chateau Souverain sauvignon blanc, homegrown thyme, Happy Quail roasted peppers
- Bean & Rice Salad: Eatwell onions, Happy Quail sweet peppers, Rancho Gordo beans, Massa Organics brown rice
- Raita: Hamada cucumber, Chue’s cilantro, Redwood Hill goat yogurt
- Spice cake: Gina Marie cream cheese and Clover Organic butter, Alfieri almond brittle
- Wines: Chateau Souverain syrah, Merryvale Starmont sauvignon blanc
Soup & salad
- Pasta Fazool: Home-canned Mariquita tomatoes, Rancho Gordo heirloom beans, Fatted Calf pancetta, homemade chicken stock
- Pear salad: Little‘s lettuce, Apple Farm pears, Point Reyes blue cheese, Glashoff walnuts, Bariani olive oil, O vinegar
Stacked chile verde enchiladas
- Prather pork, Quail Hollow chiles and tomatillos, Eatwell onions, homemade stock, Rancho Gordo tortillas and beans, Spring Hill colby-jack cheese
Friday (…is always pasta night)
- Mastrelli ricotta raviolini topped with Hedonia marinara sauce
- Molinari hot Italian sausage, grilled
- Salad: Little’s lettuce, Glashoff walnuts, Three Sisters Serena cheese, Chue’s green onions, Bariani olive oil, O vinegar
- Rosenblum 2005 San Francisco Bay Zinfandel (from Alameda!? Who knew!)
We spend a fair bit of time thinking about fun things to put in cocktail glasses. We like filling them ourselves, and we like finding places where they arrive before us brimming with tantalizing, aromatic mixtures. But while we’ve written about liquors, liqueurs, bitters, and more, we’ve yet to address water, an indispensible part of an enjoyable cocktail experience.
We think about water in very different ways than we used to. It’s easy to forget that not long ago (when Lionel Ritchie danced on the ceiling), Evian and Perrier were truly snooty stuff. Today, even the most benighted grocery store offers multiple brands of still and sparkling water.
Bottled water is often more readily available than tap, and it occasionally solves real issues of quality or sanitation. Anita’s mom lives just outside of Las Vegas, where she buys drinking water by the five-gallon jug at one of the area’s ubiquitous water stores. (Yep, that’s all they sell.) We’re glad that she does, as the local tap water laughs at Brita filters and tastes like it came from an ill-kept swimming pool.
But many geographic regions have seriously good tap water, and local water is even an irreplaceable recipe ingredient. In these areas, bottled water provides convenience or a perception of higher quality, but comes with with a true pricetag we’re just starting to appreciate. Why, when we’re counting our food-miles, watching our carbon footprint, and supporting area farmers by buying local meat and vegetables, are we washing it all down with water that has been shipped from Europe? This question has prompted several Bay Area restaurants to switch from bottled water to municipal water that they refilter — and sometimes even carbonate — themselves.
Carbonation, of course, generates that delightful addition that you can’t get from the tap: bubbles. The carbonation machines used in restaurants are large and expensive — out of reach of most private citizens. But supplying your maison with local eau gazeuse is achievable. If you live in or near a city, you may be within range of a service like the Seltzer Sisters, which jacks up good old Hetch Hetchy with fizz and delivers it in reusable plastic seltzer bottles. If you have a hardcore DIY streak, you can find surprisingly detailed plans for building your own carbonation system. Or, you can buy a soda siphon and charge your own seltzer. (In the interests of full disclosure, our own siphon adventures have been less than successful; your mileage, as they say, may vary.)
No matter where it comes from or how it got there, water can make or break a single cocktail or an evening’s indulgence. Soda water is a common mixer, and ice cools and tames a drink’s ardent spirits — some even feel strongly about the very shape and clarity of the ice that does the job.
But for all that, the water that we appreciate most when we’re at a bar is stuff that arrives alongside our cocktails. Presuming that it doesn’t taste like a Vegas swimming pool, our requirements are simple: water should be available immediately and continually. We do our level best to drink at least one full glass for each cocktail. Providing ample water is one of the surest signs of a thoughtful bartender; staying hydrated is the best way we know of to avoid a painful sunrise.
Dressed-up Tap Water
Even if your area enjoys pleasant-tasting tap water, a quick preparation before your next dinner party can add a bit of grace to your table. Fill a pitcher with water and put it in the refrigerator to chill. An hour or so before your guests arrive, float a few slices of citrus or cucumber in the water to give it a little extra flavor. You can leave the citrus slices in the pitcher when you serve, but it’s best to pull the cucumber out, as it can become waterlogged and unattractive.
Although I am a major fan of authentic comida mexicana, I’ll readily admit to an equal fondness for old-fashioned gringo-style ‘Mexican’ food, a love I come by honestly courtesy of my Southern California roots. So when our favorite Marin-dwellers invited us up for more pear-pickin’ fun — this time under the guise of a 1960s-theme potluck — I had a treasure trove of retro recipes to choose from already in my files.
Most recipes for Seven-Layer Dip feature a storebought fiesta of canned beans, taco mix, shredded cheese, and pre-made guacamole in a tub. But this party’s guest list included some of the area‘s best loved and most popular food bloggers — there’s no way I’d serve them anything from a can.
Taking things a little bit over the top (shocker!), I wondered if I could make the entire recipe using local ingredients. By ditching the usual topping of canned black olives in favor of multi-colored baby tomatoes, it was a slam dunk: Rancho Gordo red nightfall beans, homemade chorizo — made at our SausageFest from Prather Ranch pork shoulder — plus Will’s excellent avocados, Dirty Girl tomatoes, and local dairy products… even the chips were made in Napa.
Locavore -and- retro? Hell yeah.
Seven-Layer Dip, food-blogger style
1/2 pound ripe tomatoes, diced
1/2 to 1 jalapeno or serrano chile, minced
1/2 white onion, diced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
salt, to taste
1 pound Mexican-style chorizo
1/2 onion, chopped
1 pound Rancho Gordo beans, cooked in the approved fashion
1 tsp Mexican oregano
1/2 pound cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 pound Jack cheese, shredded
3 large Haas avocados
1/2 jalapeno or serrano chile
1/2 onion, minced
2 small tomatoes, diced
pinch of ground cumin, or to taste
1 large container sour cream
1/2 pint Sweet 100 tomatoes, halved
2 bags good tortilla chips
Mix up the tomatoes, jalapeno, onion, cilantro, and salt in a medium bowl, and set aside to allow the flavors to combine.
Saute the chorizo in a large skillet until cooked, breaking up any chunks as you go. When fully browned but still juicy, remove the sausage to a bowl or plate with a slotted spoon, leaving the fat in the skillet.
In the same skillet, saute the onions in the chorizo fat until browned and soft. Add the beans and some of their cooking liquid, smashing with a potato masher until mostly smooth; add additional bean liquid or warm water to get to a smooth consistency. Add the Mexican oregano, and stir to combine. Spread the beans in the bottom of a 13×9 casserole; top with the browned sausage, then half of the shredded cheese; set aside.
Halve the avocados and remove the pits. Score each avocado half at 1/2- to 3/4-inch intervals, cutting down to — but not through — the skin. Scoop out the avocado chunks with a soup spoon and place them in a large bowl. Add the pepper, onion, tomatoes, and cumin, mixing just until combined; you want plenty of texture. Carefully smooth the guacamole over the cheese-topped chorizo, then top with the salsa, the sour cream, the remaining shredded cheese, and the Sweet 100 tomatoes. Serve with tortilla chips for dipping.
Note: If you’re serving the dip immediately, it’s more attractive to use the guacamole as the last layer before the tomatoes; this isn’t very practical when you’re taking the dish (chilled, please!) to a party in another county, unless your friends like brown avocado.
Top photo ©Sam Breach / Becks & Posh; used with permission
After reading yet another post extolling the virtues of making your own ginger beer, I decided to take the plunge. Aside from the tedious (but strangely relaxing) task of peeling and grating 2 pounds of fresh ginger, it’s quite a simple operation.
Dale DeGroff’s homemade ginger beer recipe — recommended by Robert at Explore the Pour — isn’t very sweet at all: A mere 3/4 cup of sugar to 2 gallons water. If you want sweetness in your drink, it’s simply a matter of adding simple syrup to taste. Starting with a barely-sweetened ale, you’ve got the flexibility to use liqueurs or flavored syrups without fear of a cloying end result.
Other than a prominent ginger taste, the largest difference between the commercial stuff and the homemade variety is a lack of fizz. I experimented with carbonating part of my batch by running it through a soda siphon; it worked, although perhaps a bit too well. The relatively dense liquid hung on to the CO2 bubbles better than plain water would, resulting in a thick-headed mess. Not wanting to waste any of my brew, I emptied the contents of the siphon into pint glasses, allowed the foam to subside, and funnelled the result into an empty bubbly bottle (which I capped with a spring-loaded Champagne saver). The end result: A lightly carbonated, highly gingery, very dry ginger beer.
Of course, there’s no shortage of good cocktails that use ginger ale as a base: Moscow Mule, Headless Horseman, and Dark & Stormy, to name just three. But this week’s entertaining schedule included a fair number of parents with a sharp eye on their little ones. You can’t just whip up a strong cocktail under these sorts of circumstances (no matter how tempting it may appear to the bartender).
Riffing on Audrey Saunders’ Gin-Gin Mule, an increasingly popular Moscow Mule variation, I combined my ginger beer with the usual gin, lime, and mint, but in a simpler, lighter arrangement. No muddling, less gin, less lime, and a little added fizz… a few variations and you’ve got breezy Mule alternative that’s not the least bit watered down. It’s a faintly boozy drink, a good option when entertaining guests who lack the cocktail gene, or when the weather’s hot enough for multiple cold beverages around the barbecue. In short, it’s a perfect Drink of the Week for summer’s first long weekend.
1/2 oz simple syrup (mint or rosemary flavored, if possible)
1 to 1.5 oz dry gin
4 oz homemade ginger beer
juice of 1/4 to 1/2 lime
In a 12 oz highball glass filled with ice, combine the syrup, gin, ginger beer, and lime juice. Top with soda water to fill, and garnish with a mint sprig.
If you’re using commercial ginger ale, be sure to pick a quality brand with plenty of bite. Skip the soda water and reduce or eliminate the syrup, depending on the sweetness of your mixer; the end result will be more along the lines of a Shady Grove. If you decide to make your own ginger beer, be forwarned that DeGroff’s recipe yields a generous two gallons. It freezes well, however.
Sometimes, we just don’t post because we’re not eating anything interesting, and there’s just nothing to talk about. But I can assure you, that has NOT been the case these last couple of weeks. We’ve been eating our way around the bay, scheduled to the breaking point: Out of the last 11 evenings, we’ve had nine social engagements. No wonder I’m exhausted!
Our little foodie death march all started back on Tuesday the 15th, with my second of four sessions in Kasma Loha-unchit’s Thai cooking classes. I’ll post a complete wrap up at the end of the series, but suffice to say that if you’re looking to learn more about Thai cooking, look no further.
Then that Wednesday, we met up with DPaul and Sean to say farewell to our mutual friend Matt (who’s taking a sabbatical from San Francisco for a while) over a sangria-soaked supper at Piqueo’s, Bernal Heights’ new Peruvian cevicheria and small-plates joint. Although the impossibly long menu was nearly entirely different from our first visit a month or so ago, we enjoyed almost everything we’ve tried there so far.
Thursday of the same week found us stuck in traffic on the Bay Bridge approach, on our way to The Blue Door at Berkeley Rep. A car-snarl from hell — more than an hour from SoMa to the Bridge, thanks — meant we missed our Downtown reservations by more than an hour (we called!) and our consolation snack at North Beach Pizza was grim in every way possible. Truly, we were expecting mediocre but fast, and ended up with slow and barely edible.
Saturday we hit the Ferry Building market in the morning, running into Tea at the Rancho Gordo stand. Farmer Steve’s sure the popular boy these days, with dozens of folks stopping by to congratulate him on his much-publicized (and bilingual!) defense against Carlo Petrini’s ill-mannered slagging of the FPFM’s farmers and customers alike. Everyone must’ve bought a bag or three of beans as they stopped by to say “Good on yeh!” to Mr. Sando — many varieties were already sold out by the time we strolled up.
That same afternoon, we hosted two sets of friends and their 2-year-olds for a summer supper of bacon-cheeseburgers, mac salad, and red cabbage slaw, with complete strawberry crisp for dessert. The junior guests had as much fun as their mommies and daddies: Little Toby rocked out on guitar with Cameron, and Miss Martha endeared herself to everyone with sweet hugs and adorable curiosity.
Monday night, an impromptu get-together chez nous. Tea was in town for the week, so we invited her, plus DPaul and Sean (are they sick of us yet?) — and their sweetie-pie girl Reese — over for dinner. We snacked on pencil-thin asparagus dipped in homemade aioli while we tried out yet another recipe for grilled pizza. I’m still not convinced we’ve found a keeper in the pizza department, but the season’s first peach cobbler proved a hit all around. And when we saw Tea later in the week, she declared that the chopped salad we served with the pizza had earned a slot on the menu of foods she expects to find in heaven. (Flattery like that will get you invited back!)
Tuesday was Thai cooking class again, and Wednesday another dinner to-do: Cameron’s cousins and their 2-year-old (we’re toddler magnets!) were in town from Houston, on their way to Yosemite for the long weekend. Little Camden gobbled a Prather Ranch hot dog while the grownups feasted on tri-tip grilled up Santa Maria style (rubbed with an equal mixture of salt, pepper, and garlic powder moistened with oil), sliced thin and served with guacamole on Rancho Gordo tortillas, with a side of beans a la charra. And yes, another quickie dessert: Pear-rosemary crumble, and vanilla ice cream.
Tonight we met up with a gaggle of cool food bloggers from SF, the East Bay and beyond for dinner at Berkeley’s stalwart O Chame. We loved every appetizer we shared — especially the seared ahi cubes and their lovely horseradish drizzle, the grilled shiitake mushrooms with fresh asparagus, and the snackalicious green-onion pancake blocks. Our soba and udon bowls were so-so (flavorful broth, but overdone noodles) but scoops of balsamic vinegar caramel ice cream were hauntingly good… and rapidly gone.
A short stroll down 4th Street led us to Cody’s Books, where we listened to the charming Clotilde speak about her progression from software developer to food blogger to published cookbook author. She gave us all a chuckle when she spoke of the oddness of being a Frenchwoman writing an English-language food blog — to the consternation of some of her compatriots, she confessed — and her passion for ‘dangerous’ recipes like souffles and gougeres, where a cook never knows whether she’s destined for dinner or disaster. (Clotilde’s signing books Saturday afternoon in San Francisco, in case you’d like to meet her and get a copy of her lovely new book.)
Tomorrow? Ugh. I’m more than a little bit sick of cooking, and yet I don’t think I could bear the pressure of going out somewhere new, or even someplace fancy. So… we have reservations at Range, our delightful standby, where they know us just well enough that we can all relax, but not so well that we have to be social. I’m liking that idea a lot. I wouldn’t have missed a single night of the last 2 weeks, but I am sure glad that it’s done.
I’m half hoping that the bounty of the farmers market on Saturday snaps me out of my apathy, but I won’t be surprised (or even too sad) to find that I’ve burned out on planning, prepping, and putting food on the table… at least for a while. We’ve got a freezer full of incredible leftovers from the last six weeks of new-kitchen cooking frenzy, so it’s not like we’ll go hungry.
As we slow down a bit, I’m aiming to do a better job posting here on a more-regular basis. I’ve got a backlog — five posts’ worth and counting — of recipes, photos and stories that should last through a week of diminished cooking capacity. In the meantime, I’ll tide you over with a recipe for an simple (but apparently impressive) salad that’s quick enough for everyday, but with a just enough company-class touches for a weeknight dinner party on the fly. You can vary the vinegar, the cheese, the herbs, and even the olives to complement your main course.
Heavenly Chopped Salad
(adapted from Food & Wine, September 2006)
2 T mild vinegar (such as cider, champagne or sherry)
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 small shallot, chopped fine
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cups chopped lettuce or baby greens
4-5 small Belgian endive (preferably red) halved, cored and coarsely chopped
1 English or Japanese cucumber, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
2T to 1/4 cup coarsely chopped chives (or other herbs, as you prefer)
3/4 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved (or other olives)
1/2 pound feta (or bleu) cheese, crumbled
Whisk the vinegar, lemon juice, and shallot in a medium bowl. Whisk in the oil until emulsified, and season the dressing with salt and pepper.
Combine the remaining ingredients together in a large bowl. Add half of the dressing, season to taste with salt and pepper, and toss. Add the remaining dressing (or less, to taste) toss again, and serve.