October 2010

lobster day

Lobster is one of those rare foods for special occasions.  Sadly, Emily has never had lobster before and I only once.  With no birthdays or anniversaries in sight, we thought we would create our own special day called “lobster day” that would be held every October 15th in celebration of … well, nothing really, aside from delicious crustacean.  (As a side note, it is now also a celebration of Willow, a new member of our family; she’s a greyhound we rescued on October 16th, but more on that in a separate post).   So with this idea planted in our minds, we got things started.  I rode my bike down to Sun Fat Seafood (the same place I got the shrimp and scallops in “paella, per se”) and picked up two live lobsters and transported them home in a cooler strapped to my back.  Needless to say it was an awkward ride home, but the thought of sweet lobster kept me going.  Cooking them couldn’t be easier.  Simply rinse them off, throw them in a steamer basket over a pot of boiling water, and wait.  There are a few signs lobsters give you to let you know they’re ready to be devoured: their shells turn bright red, the legs come off easily, and the fat starts to ooze out of the torso right in front of the tail.  We ate them with butter and bread.  I think there was a salad and some wine involved too, but all I really remember was the lobster.

-Jordan

There was a salad by the way, I made a simple yet classic caesar salad.  It was a really nice and salty counterpart to the sweet and buttery lobster.

consider the oyster

Oysters: the weird things that look like rocks in the seafood section of the grocery store.  Nobody actually buys those, right?  Wrong.  If you’ve never had a raw oyster, the first thing you must do is go to Swan Oyster Depot, which is located on Polk, between California and Sacramento.  It’s a great place to have your first bite of briny goodness.  This place is terrific; all the shellfish is awesome, but the oysters are the reason to go.  Swan’s only has seating for about 15 along the bar, so the line is usually out the door (fortunately, the employees tend to offer those waiting a beer or glass of wine so they have something other than the oddities of Polk St. to take in).  Swan’s tends to have about 6 types of oysters at any given time; most are local, but some are from Canada, the East Coast, etc.  I recommend getting a variety because you can really taste the difference when you have them side by side.  The service is great and it’s a really fun place to grab some seafood.  Unfortunately, the wait is usually pretty long and it’s a little pricey, about $12 for 6 oysters (note that Swan’s is a great deal compared to other seafood restaurants), and they only take cash.

So, now that you’ve followed my advice, gone to Swan’s a couple times, and fallen totally in love with oysters, what do you do?  Clearly, it’s a bit unreasonable to pay $2+ for an oyster and the novelty of Swan’s is wearing off.  Here’s my advice: buy an oyster knife.  They’re easy to find and pretty cheap too (I got mine at Whole Foods for $8).  There are plenty of reputable seafood mongers in san Francisco (Sun Fat Seafood, Whole Foods, Bi-Rite, etc.), so buy some oysters and get shucking.  So far, Emily and I have only bought from Whole Foods, but that’s just because the prices are actually very reasonable and they’re convenient.  On our last trip, we got a few Kumamoto for $1.3 each, some Blue Points for $1, and some Tomales Bays that were on special for $0.9 each.

Now that you’ve got your quality oysters (which are definitely alive, right?) and your oyster knife, you’re ready to shuck.  First, rinse the bivalves in some cold running water, and be sure to keep them cold during this whole process, i.e. shucking, sitting around prior to eating, and eating itself.  For safety’s sake, hold the oyster in a towel and use your dominant hand to gently insert the knife into the oyster.  I’ve found that finesse is better than force when shucking oysters; if you’re too aggressive, you’ll likely break the shell which will leave shrapnel in your pristine oyster.

This is probably a bit too aggressive.

After you’ve separated the shells, carefully scrape the oyster from its shell leaving as much of the briny liquor as possible.  Place the halved oysters on a chilled plate and eat plain, with some lemon, or with mignonette (recipe follows).  Some crusty bread with Emily’s homemade butter and you don’t need anything else.

Mignonette (Makes about 1/2 Cup)

One Small Shallot, minced

1 tsp salt

1 tsp freshly ground pepper

About 1/2 cup red wine vinegar

Combine all ingredients and let sit until ready to use (a couple hours ahead of time is best for flavors to meld).

-Jordan

baking therapy: pumpkin cookies with browned butter icing

Sadly, I think summer might officially be over in San Francisco. The past few days have been chilly, drizzly and grey. I’d complain more, but the end of summer means the start of fall …  new ingredients to choose from, heartier recipes to make and PUMPKIN EVERYTHING!

This week’s baking therapy showcases fall flavors- pumpkin, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Plus, who doesn’t love browned butter?!

I halved the recipe because I didn’t think Jordan and I could consume 6 dozen pumpkin cookies over the next few days, but the whole recipe is below.

Pumpkin Cookies with Browned Butter Icing, adapted from Martha Stewart Living

For the cookies
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 1/4 cups packed light-brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin (14 ounces)
3/4 cup evaporated milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the icing
4 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon evaporated milk,
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

For the cookies

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg in a medium bowl; set aside.

Put butter and brown sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy. Mix in eggs. Reduce speed to low. Add pumpkin, evaporated milk, and vanilla; mix until well blended. Add flour mixture; mix until combined.

Transfer 1 1/2 cups batter to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain tip (you could also use large ziplock with the tip cut off one corner). Pipe 1 1/2-inch rounds onto parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing 1 inch apart. Bake cookies until tops spring back, about 12 minutes. Cool on sheets on wire racks 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire racks; let cool completely.

For the icing

Put confectioners’ sugar in a large bowl; set aside. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, swirling pan occasionally, until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Immediately add butter to confectioners’ sugar, scraping any browned bits from sides and bottom of pan. Add evaporated milk and vanilla; stir until smooth. Spread about 1 teaspoon icing onto each cookie. If icing stiffens, stir in more evaporated milk, a little at a time. Cookies can be stored in single layers in airtight containers at room temperature up to 3 days.

Conclusions: The cookies are soft and delicate with a subtle pumpkin flavor. Sadly, I over-iced them and the browned butter flavor was a bit overpowering.  A lighter coating of icing next time, plus a little bit more of the spices and they’ll be spot on. Despite their imperfections, with a cup of tea or coffee these little guys are delightful!

-Emily

fall dinner for four

Last night, my sister and my cousin joined us for dinner. It was another rainy day and I’d decided soup seemed to be the perfect cozy fit. Jordan was so sweet and did all the work for this delicious meal while I gabbed with the girls.

Butternut Squash Soup with Ginger and Garlic
Butternut squash, about 3 pounds, cut into large chunks
Small onion, cut into large chunks
2 carrots, cut into large chunks
6 cloves of garlic
4 cups vegetable stock
1 t ginger, pealed and grated

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Toss squash, onion, carrot and garlic with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes to an hour.

Put roasted veggies in a large pot or dutch oven. Add 3 cups of stock and ginger. Simmer, covered for 20 – 30 minutes. Puree in a food processor or blender. Simmer for another 15 minutes. Season once again and serve with crusty bread and a salad.

Jordan did a beautiful job emulsifying the vinaigrette for our spinach and arugula salad. He’s such a pro!

Conclusions: Positively fall! This soup is so hearty it makes a perfectly substantial meal all on its own. The crusty caraway bread from Tartine Bakery and acidic spinach and arugula salad were perfect accompaniments. Hurray for fall and the start of squash season!

-Emily

baking therapy: easy chocolate cake

Another coworker’s birthday, another cake. This time I went with chocolate because we all know that any real dessert has to be chocolate.

Easy Chocolate Cake, adapted from Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room-temperature
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup flour
1/2 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 t vanilla
1/2 cup sour cream

Powdered sugar for dusting, fresh berries and chocolate shavings for garnish

Preheat the over to 350 degrees

Butter an 8 inch round cake pan, line bottom with parchment paper, butter, dust with cocoa powder.

In a medium bowl, sift together cocoa powder, flour, baking powder and salt. In a separate mixing bowl cream butter, then sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then beat in vanilla. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture alternating with sour cream.

Spread batter into prepared pan. Bake 30 – 35 minutes. Cool 10 minutes in pan and then invert onto a wire rack to cool completely. Once cooled dust with powdered sugar, then garnish with berries and chocolate shavings.

Conclusions: A pretty dense chocolate cake. The berries were a nice way to cut the richness of the cake, and this may sound crazy, but I’m glad I accidentally burnt the ganache that was supposed to top the cake. It would have pushed this dessert over the edge. The coworkers enjoyed it, but I have to say it wasn’t my best work. The search for the perfect chocolate cake recipe continues!

-Emily

baking therapy: cheesecake

It was my coworker’s birthday on Monday, and as office manager, it falls within the vast scope of my duties to provide a dessert and organize the eating of said dessert. For David’s birthday I decide to make a cheesecake. And no, this is not the super top-secret recipe to Nonnie’s famous cheesecake. I’m not giving that one up this easy.

Cheesecake with Mixed Berry Sauce

For the cake
1 1/2 cup ground shortbread cookies
1/2 stick butter, melted
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup (packed) fromage blanc (you could also use crème fresh or ricotta)
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 large eggs

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Melt butter and mix with cookie crumbs. Press cookie mixture firmly onto bottom of a springform pan. Wrap outside of pan tightly with 3 layers of heavy-duty foil so water doesn’t leak in while baking. Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese, fromage blanc, sugar and vanilla in large bowl until smooth. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating until incorporated after each addition. Pour batter over prepared crust in pan. Place cake in roasting pan; add enough hot water to roasting pan to come halfway up sides of springform pan.

Bake cake until set but center moves very slightly when pan is gently shaken, about 1 hour. Remove cake from roasting pan; cool 1 hour at room temperature. Refrigerate uncovered overnight. (Can be prepared 2 days ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated.)

For the sauce
1 -2 cups mixed berries (I used frozen … it’s cheaper)
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup sugar

Simmer berries, water, sugar in a medium saucepan over medium low heat for 20 minutes. Strain out seeds through a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth.

Serve with sauce, garnish with a few fresh berries.

Conclusions: Well, it was gone so fast I wasn’t even able to take a picture and a coworker asked for the recipe. I consider it a job well done.

-Emily

 

darbar date night

When Emily and I go to a restaurant, we ask a simple question: could I make this dish better?  Usually, this is really important when we review food in our comfort zone (american, french, etc.).  But when it comes to ethnic cuisine, we are not experts and usually the answer to the question above is no.  Of course, this doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate ethnic food and pick out the good places.

This just so happened when we went to Darbar, an Indian-Pakistani restaurant on Polk between California and Pine.  We’ve been there many times and it is consistently a pleasurable experience.  The atmosphere is nice and warm with cheesy murals and photos of Pakistan coating the walls.  There’s never a wait for a table and the service is usually pretty good, although they tend to be significantly slower when the room is more than half full with patrons.  They’ve shown improvement in this regard over the half a dozen times we’ve dined there.  Obviously these flaws are not enough to keep Emily and I away.  Darbar has some serious advantages too, namely the food and the price.

We have sampled most of the menu at Darbar and settled on some favorites.  From the appetizer section, the Vegetable samosas ($2) are very good with a very crisp crust and a satisfying potato filling.  They are very balanced and the tamarind sauce and mint chutney accompany them really nicely.  Before I continue, I would like to say that the mint chutney at Darbar is really excellent, one of the best I’ve had.  It’s spicy, acidic, and yet still tastes of fresh mint; I could put it on just about anything.  On our most recent visit, we ordered a Seekh Kebab ($2.5) from the pakistani side of the menu.  The spicy, ground beef came out sizzling on a hot cast iron skillet in all its clichéd glory, served with onions and lemon.  The meat itself was a bit dry, but the flavors were all there; the sweetness of the charring onion, the spices of the meat, and the acidity of the lemon worked together beautifully.

The main courses continue the trend of value and taste.  Darbar has a nice selection of curries and rice dishes as well as six varieties of naan and a dozen special menu items.  Everything we’ve had has been good, simple Indian food at a good price.  The creamier curries tend to be a bit mild in spice and flavor, but you can ask them to bump up the heat if you so desire.  Emily’s favorite dish is the Mater Paneer ($6), which is fresh cheese and peas cooked in a cream based curry.  The peas add a nice sweetness to the dish, which counters the spice of the sauce and the slight saltiness of the cheese.  We really love paneer chesse in this context; it is a relatively dry cheese with a slightly chewy texture.  This lack of creaminess is what makes it work so well with this curry.  My personal favorite dish is the Sindhi Biryani ($8); tender pieces of lamb cooked in curry, served with spicy saffron rice and riata.  Unlike the cream based curries, this dish comes pretty spicy.  The lamb is tender but sometimes a tiny bit dry, and the riata is very tasty, but not the best I’ve had.  It’s the rice that makes this dish; the blend of spices (cardamom, clove, etc.) excite the palate with every bite.  Even with the small flaws, the excellent rice brings the whole dish together in a way that really works.

To sum it up, Darbar is great Indian food and an excellent value (a dinner for two tends to cost $25-30 after tax and tip, and we leave with enough leftovers for lunch the next day).  Some downsides are the occasional service issues and the lack of a liquor license (although they do make a great mango lassie for $2).  The charm and quality of food definitely make up for any mistakes we’ve encountered.

Dessert after Darbar:

One confession regarding the above post: we’ve never had dessert at Darbar.  On or most recent trip this didn’t change, but we did try a crepe place right down the street.  Crepes Ooh La La is located at 1220 Polk St.  They have a large selection of both sweet and savory crepes and their prices are decent too.  Fortunately, this is not one of those trendy, sit down places; it’s more of a hole in the wall with two crepe burners in the front window and a counter in the back with tables in between.  I love a simple butter, sugar, and lemon juice crepe, so Emily and I shared one.  For $3, it was pretty tasty.   We got it to go so all the delicious juices ran to the bottom leaving the upper half a bit dry.  Overall, it was a nice experience and a pretty good crepe.  I would like to go back and try some of their other varieties and maybe have one in house to see if there is a better distribution of juices.  One word of warning though: certain additions (like strawberries for example) are pretty pricey, so some crepes end up being quite expensive.  But, since I haven’t tried any of their other crepes I can’t comment on them, so who knows, they might be worth it.

-Jordan

sunday breakfast: french toast

My love of breakfast foods has already been professed, but here I go again … I love breakfast! I love it deeply, and especially so after sleeping in on a lazy Sunday morning.

Emily and Jordan’s French Toast
Day old baguette (sourdough is our favorite), sliced into 1 inch thick slices
3 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1 t vanilla extract
1 T brown sugar
1/2 t salt
1 t ground cinnamon (I love cinnamon and so I put a lot on my french toast)

Mix all of the above ingredients in a shallow baking dish. Melt 1 T of butter in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Generously coat the slices of bread with the egg mixture and place them in the hot pan. Cook several minutes per side, dust with powdered sugar and enjoy!

-Emily

buttermilk reincarnated: vichyssoise

Remember that leftover buttermilk from my butter-making experiment? Well, I just couldn’t let it go to waste and so I spent a little time browsing for buttermilk recipes online. After sifting through dozens of buttermilk fried chicken and buttermilk pancake entries, I found … vichyssoise with cauliflower and buttermilk. First thought: “Yum!”. Second thought: “Thank you Martha!”.

Vichyssoise with Cauliflower and Buttermilk, adapted from Martha Stewart Living
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
5 leeks, white and pale-green parts only, thinly sliced and rinsed well (about 3 cups)
1 white potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
Freshly ground white pepper (I used black because I didn’t have white, but the white would make it a prettier soup)
Large pinch nutmeg
1 small head cauliflower, cut into florets (about 4 cups)
Coarse salt
3 1/2 cups homemade or low-sodium store-bought chicken stock
1 cup buttermilk (ta-da!!)

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add leeks, and cook, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Add potato, a generous grinding of pepper, and the nutmeg, and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in cauliflower, a large pinch of salt, and 3 cups stock. Simmer, partially covered, until cauliflower has softened, 12 to 15 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove 2 florets, and transfer to a cutting board; thinly slice lengthwise. Set aside for garnish.

Working in batches, puree vegetable mixture in a blender (I used an immersion blender-much easier), filling no more than halfway each time. Return to pan. Stir in buttermilk and remaining 1/2 cup stock.  Season again with salt and pepper. Serve hot or cold, garnished with cauliflower slices.

Hot this is soup referred to as potato and leek soup, cold as vichyssoise … if anyone can explain this to me, I’m all ears.

Conclusions: While not the most photogenic of dishes, this soup is delicious! Quick, easy and really comforting. We ate it for three days and weren’t too upset about that fact.

-Emily

baking therapy: miykaelah’s madeleines

Oh, how I’ve missed Miykaelah’s madeleines since moving to San Francisco! They are the perfect cookie whether eaten by themselves or accompanied with tea, and thanks to Miykealah, one of my favorites. I know the madeleine pan is a bit of an investment, but these cookies are so worth the $14 pan. And, because of that scalloped pan they come out so darn cute!

Miykaelah’s Madeleines
1 1/4 cup cake flour
1/4 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
2 large eggs + two large egg yolks, room temperature
1 t vanilla extract
3/4 cup sugar
grated zest of 1/2 lemon
1/2  cup unsalted butter, melted then cooled

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Generously brush madeleine pan with melted butter and dust with sugar

In a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the whole eggs, egg yolks and sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and lemon zest and beat until well combined.

In a separate bowl, combine cake flour, baking powder and salt.

Using a rubber spatula, fold the flour mixture into the egg mixture until blended. Add the melted butter and fold until combined.

Drop batter by the spoonful into the madeleine molds. Fill each 3/4 full. Bake until golden brown and springy to the touch, 12-15 minutes.

Immediately invert pan onto a wire rack. Let cool completely. Wipe out pan, let cool, brush with melted butter, dust with sugar and repeat with remaining batter.

Conclusions: Wonderful, perfectly wonderful. I wouldn’t change a thing!

-Emily

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