Sunday, February 25, 2007

Midwestern Strata?

Today, I decided to make some Wild Rice Hotdish. My girlfriend had it on her list of food requests for a little while now and, with the rainy season upon us, I figured that it was the perfect time to make it.

The funny thing is that within a two hour span today, I was twice questioned whether or not this delicious dish was truly a hotdish. Both my sister and my friend Terence asked me the exact same two questions: (1) Did I cover it with Tater Tots? (2) Did I use cream of mushroom soup? Having answered in the negative to both questions, I was accused of fraudulently passing off a non-hotdish item as a true Minnesotan hotdish. Terence, whose experience in Minnesotan cuisine comes solely from his experience with the Marriott industrial food service professionals during his college years in Northfield, went so far to say that what I was making was, in fact, not hotdish, but merely some sort of Midwestern strata.

Tater Tots? What happened to French fried onion rings?

Shopping at Le Village

Yesterday, my sweetie and I paid a visit to Le Village (211 South Hill Drive, Brisbane), a gourmet food wholesaler located just south of San Francisco. We had heard about this distributor from our friends Tesha and Jeremiah and had been looking forward to seeing it for ourselves for the past couple of months. Lauded by Thomas Keller and Anthony Bourdain, Le Village caters primarily to institutional or commercial buyers. Indeed, private consumers can usually only purchase items via mail-order through the company web site. However from time to time, usually about one weekend a month, Le Village opens its warehouse doors to the general public. This was one such weekend, so we took advantage of me being in town (instead on a flight to Europe) to check it out.

On Saturday, we made the short drive from the City down to Brisbane. We found our way to the warehouse, which is nestled in deep in an office park next to San Bruno Mountain.

We had only intended to take a look around to see what was available, but we grabbed a shopping cart in case there was anything that might we want to pick up. Within a few minutes of entering the warehouse, it was apparent that we would be putting the cart to a fair amount of use. There were so many tasty things that caught our eye - pallets of imported chocolate; rows and rows of French lemonade and cider bottles; a huge walk-in refrigerator filled with cured meats, stinky cheeses, and imported yogurts. It was a food lover's fantasy.

A hour after we walked in, we walked out with a cart full of goodness and a significantly lighter wallet. We bought a bunch of Mamie Nova French yogurts which were highly recommended by Jeremiah and Tesha. We also found ourselves with a smoked duck breast, some duck confit, and a round of stinky cheese (whose name escapes me right now), as well as several bottles of French lemonade and cider. We also bought a case of petit fours, which are currently residing in my freezer, awaiting my next dinner party. We picked up a case of mix and match French wines, which included some white and red Burgandies, a couple bottles of Bordeaux, and some wine from the Rhône region. I did a quick online check and saw that many of the bottles were retailing for twice the price that we paid per bottle.

On top of all of the great food, the service was excellent. Everyone there was very friendly and helpful. One of the guys, who was passing out samples of cured dry salami, stopped what he was doing, went out of his way to help us find the items that we wanted, and took the time to answer our questions. It was a far cry from the service that you usually get at your local megamart. I'm looking forward to the next open warehouse weekend. If you are interested in visiting yourself, check out their open warehouse events page.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Wake 'n Bacon

Last week, my sweetie pointed out a new alarm clock design to me. I'd be up for buying one of these, though I'm not sure whether it would remind my girlfriend of waking up on a Sunday morning to the smell of Mom cooking breakfast...

Sunday, February 18, 2007

A Foodie's Weekend

Last week was another long and tiring one at work, culminating in a ten hour whiteboarding session on Friday. After wrapping things up around 7pm, I headed up to San Francisco to spend a nice, relaxing weekend with my sweetie Karen away from the rigors of work. We hadn't set any dinner plans, but since we were both pretty hungry by the time that I got up to the city, we wanted something that would not require a long wait. I had been thinking about chicken wings, so we first tried San Tung, a Chinese restaurant in the Sunset District known for their dry-fried wings, but the mob of people waiting outside sent us looking for an alternate venue. I wasn't stuck on getting wings, so we decided to shift gears. Neither of us had eaten sushi in a while so we drove north toward one of our favorite sushi places, Sushi Bistro. My girlfriend imposed a strict twenty minute wait limit, but luckily we arrived at a lull in the action and found our seats almost immediately.

Once again, we were not disappointed with our choice. We ordered a couple of their speciality maki rolls, the Spicy Crunchy and the M&L Forever. Both of the rolls were very good, especially the Spicy Crunchy, which was served with a flavorful sauce, but they played second fiddle to the nigiri we ordered. We got some unagi (tasty as usual) and an order of butterfish nigiri, which was served with a little pile of chopped scallions that gave the moist fish a refreshing note. My sweetie had wanted to order some baby yellowtail, but they ran out before we got there, so we decided to substitute in some tuna belly. Not satisfied with a single selection, we ordered not one, not two, but three different types: albacore belly, yellowtail belly, and, our favorite, o-toro. All of the three orders of nigiri were great, especially the generously portioned one of o-toro, which just melted away in your month.

After a much-needed night of sleep, we decided to take advantage of the absolutely fantastic weather (70 degrees Fahrenheit in the middle of February!) to take a long walk down from Alamo Square to the Ferry Building Marketplace, which was holding one of its weekly farmers' markets. Coincidentally that morning, our friend Delphine was there helping out with a cooking demo presented by Staffan Terje, the Swedish-born chef/owner of Perbacco, a trendy Italian restaurant that opened in the Financial District last fall. We arrived too late to see the demo of the pan roasted squid appetizer, but Delphine slipped us a small tasting. We caught the tail end of the preparation of the milk braised pork shoulder with cabbage and polenta, and enjoyed a sample of the tasty and tender dish. While waiting for Delphine to finish her work, we wandered around the Ferry Building and checked out some of the farmer's stalls:

Delphine met up with us for lunch at Mijita, Traci Des Jardins' restaurant in the Ferry Building celebrating her grandmother's Mexican heritage. Karen and Delphine munched on some crunchy chicken tacos, while I went for the chorizo con huevos.

Not wanting to waste an opportunity to be outside in such gorgeous weather, Karen suggested that we invite some friends over for a backyard BBQ that evening. Of course, we had zero grillable food items on hand, so after finishing lunch, we headed back to my sweetie's place and grabbed my car to do some grocery shopping. We weren't up for doing anything that required too much preparation (since we didn't have a whole lot of prep time in the first place), so we decided on grilling burgers and sausages, being sure to include some of Wisconsin's greatest contributions to the culinary world, the Cheddarwurst. To round out the menu, we put together a simple fennel and orange salad with a light vinegarette dressing.

Unfortunately, by the time that we got back from the store, cleaned, and prepped, the fog had started to roll inland and the temperature had dropped quickly (as it commonly happens in SF), so I got the ol' Weber Kettle going. Since I didn't have a chimney handy, I opted to use MatchLight instead of Kingsford, so I needed time for all of the igniter to burn off. The coals were ready just as our guests arrived. By that point, it was simply too cool (and foggy) to eat outside, so we grilled up the meat and headed indoors. The food was very yummy - there's nothing like meat that's been grilled over an open fire. We had a great evening camped out around the kitchen table with a great group of friends, enjoying the pomegranate vodka cocktails that were being prepared with great zeal by Liam with supplies brought over by Tesha and Jeremiah. We finished our meal with some Mexican chocolate ice cream that we picked up at Mitchell's earlier in the afternoon.

On Sunday, we started out the day with a hearty breakfast using leftovers from the previous evening: a Cheddarwurst, smoked sausage, and egg scramble served on a toasted hoagie bun - not exactly the healthiest breakfast but sure tasty. It was quite a large breakfast, but we needed a meal to tide us over until dinner because we were heading to Ad Hoc (6476 Washington Street, Yountville, 707-944-2487), Thomas Keller's new "temporary" restaurant that he opened down the street from Bouchon and the world-famous French Laundry in Yountville. Our dinner was to start at the unusual hour of 3:00pm, which was the only opening when my sweetie made the reservation earlier in the week. (We were joking if we should call this meal "dunch" or "linner".)

We were having a lazy day and, since we were in no hurry, we started on our drive to Napa in the early afternoon. We thought that it would be nice to check out a winery before we had dinner. Fortunately, my sweetie remembered that Domaine Chandon is located right next to Yountville so we decided to have a glass of sparkling wine there before dinner. Our friends Jeremiah, Tesha, and Liam were also heading to Napa Valley, so we coordinated our plans and met up for some bubbly.

Even though the weather was a bit cloudier and cooler than the day before, it was still a gorgeous day. We hung out for a while on the patio of Domaine Chandon with our friends, enjoying the sun and the unseasonable weather. As 3pm rolled around, we said goodbye to our friends and made the very short drive to Ad Hoc.

There is only one, prix-fixe menu available on a given day at Ad Hoc. Everyone basically gets the same four course meal: a soup or salad course, the main entree, a cheese course, and a dessert. (I imagine that they must make some sort of accommodation if you have food allergies.) We had the following meal:

Our dinner started with a Basque style potato and leek soup.

The soup, like the entree that followed, was served family style. The soup portions were enormous - there were five bowls of soup in that earthenware container for two people! The soup was very tasty, though a touch oily (from the sausage I suspect). My sweetie did note that it might have been better to have a salad instead of a soup, given how warm it was outside.

Next came the main course: braised duck with dried fruits and nuts, served with pearl barley and spinach.

This was my favorite course. The skin on the duck was crispy, reminiscent of duck confit that I had on Rue Cler in Paris, and the meat was almost fall-off-the-bone tender. The fruit and nuts were a nice match to the savory duck meat. Again, the portion was huge. By the time that we were done with this course, we were getting quite full.

After the entree was cleared away, we were presented with the cheese course.

My sweetie had read on Yelp that one of the things to look for was the cheese and honey plate. We were a little disappointed when our cheese platter came sans miel, but the quince paste went very well with the goat's milk cheese. Both my girlfriend and I are amazed how differently cheeses taste when they are accompanied by different things like dried fruits and honey.

Finally, though we certainly did not need another course, we were served a ginger and date cake with cinnamon whipped cream.

Though I'm not a huge fan of dessert, this cake was great - very moist and not overly sweet. The whipped cream was very good too - the amount of cinnamon was just right.

After gorging ourselves, we took a sunset stroll down Washington Street, walking by some other well-known restaurants such as Redd, Bistro Jeanty, and the other two Keller restaurants in town. It was a fabulous end to a fabulous weekend.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Braised Short Ribs - Illustrated!

Before heading off to Germany last week, I broke in my new Dutch Oven with a batch of Braised Short Ribs with Chocolate and Rosemary. Now that I've returned back to the States and downloaded photos from my digital camera, I decided to share the experience. Here were the results:

After rendering a couple of rashers of bacon (I suspect that pancetta is not an item in the Safeway inventory), I browned the short ribs in the drippings and removed them to a temporary holding location:

Then, I threw in the onion-heavy mirepoix, some finely diced shallots, and a few cloves of minced garlic into the pot and sweated down the vegetables:

I poured in some red wine (2000 Woodbridge Cabernet) and reduced the liquid until half of it was left. I then added chicken broth, a can of diced tomatoes, the meat (the ribs and bacon), and the aromatics:

Three hours of braising + Chocolate + Cocoa = Good Eats!:

The finished product, served on a bed of smashed russet potatoes:

The results were fantastic. Both my sweetie and I thought that the short ribs were very tender and the savory sauce, reminiscent of a chocolate mole (minus the chiles), complemented the beef perfectly. It was a very easy recipe to make and definitely one that I will use again.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

More Musings from Anthony Bourdain

Some thoughts on Food Network's current lineup of celebrity chefs.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Food Fight: United v. Lufthansa

Well, I flew back to Germany again this morning, the fourth time since I started my current project at work. However, unlike the previous trips, I decided to fly United instead of Lufthansa. For the last several years, I had been choosing to fly Lufthansa whenever I needed to come to Europe, partially because I had grown tired of the service on United (at least, on their US flights) and partially because of the mediocre food (or lack thereof in many cases) that we've come to expect from our domestic airlines.

However, on my last Lufthansa flight, I was quite underwhelmed with the level of service that I received, even though I was in business class. While served on real plates with real (i.e. metal) flatware, the Lufthansa food was quite unappetizing to say the least (a plate of greasy roast goose, anyone?). So, after chatting with a couple of friends who have had a lot of recent experience on both United and Lufthansa, I decided to give United another shot, figuring that it couldn't be any worse than the German flagship airline.

On this morning's flight, I was refreshingly surprised by the crisp and attentive service that I received from the United flight attendants, though admittedly this could have been due to the plane being half-full; I suspect that a lot of people decided to fly a day later so they could catch the Super Bowl. The food on this flight (beef brisket and mashed potatoes for dinner; egg and sausage croissant for breakfast), while not spectacular, was at least on par with what I would expect from food prepared in a 8' x 10' 747 galley. I can't say that it's fair to compare the food to that of my last Lufthansa flight as I was in coach (though in Economy Plus, which was another reason to go with United), but given my expected air travel in the upcoming year, I should be able to give a first-hand report from United Business class pretty soon. Stay tuned for further updates.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

My Newest Addition to the Kitchen

I bought one of these last night on sale - almost 1/3 off of the list price. I could have purchased the mocha version of this Dutch oven (Le Creuset calls them 'French ovens') for a pittance, but I didn't want to have an ugly brown pot sitting on top of my stove. I figured that the 7 1/4 quart version should be big enough to handle almost any cooking task that I would attempt in my smallish kitchen.

I think that the first dish that I will make in the Dutch oven is one that my sweetie has requested: Braised Short Ribs with Chocolate and Rosemary.