Monday, August 11, 2008

Still Here!

Yep, I'm still here, but with a wedding, a (short) honeymoon, and a move coming up, you can imagine that I don't have much time to post these days. But fear not, once things settle down (which hopefully will happen in the next few weeks), I will return to the world of food blogging once again.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Catching Up...

With the wedding less that two months away, I unfortunately have not had time to post very often. If I were to have some spare cycles, here are a few things about which I would write:

  • A recap of our dinner with Jeremiah and Tesha at Manresa back in March, complete with pictures of course

  • Our short trip to Napa, doing a bit of wine tasting and ending the day with a fabulous dinner on the patio at the newly renovated 25° Brix in Yountville

  • A short congrats to the 2008 Bay Area James Beard Award winners

  • Five Facts for Karen: After I posted my list for Scott, Karen suggested that I have a list with non-food related facts

  • Progress on "The List" - yes, I will share it with everyone some day...
There are more things, but these were the ones that came to the top of my mind. Of course, I will also write more about our wedding: the planning that we did, the vendors that we chose, etc. But all in good time...

I hope that everyone has a restful and relaxing Independence Day! I know that I can use the day off. Don't forgot about your favorite annual eating contest. Let's see if anyone will break the 20000 calorie barrier at Coney Island this year.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Top Chef: The Finale

Well, again life and work has gotten into the way of some quality blogging time. Unfortunately, I missed the live showing of the Top Chef season finale. I finally got around to catching a rerun of the final episode last week. Wow, I guess that I didn't miss much. I don't know about you, but I thought that was perhaps one of the most boring episodes of Top Chef that they've ever broadcast. It would have been a forgetable mid-season episode, but for a season-ender, it was a downright snoozer. I would have almost rather watched an episode of that train wreck on the Food Network. Almost.

If you missed the episode, I suggest that you check out David Dust's summary of the episode for a fictional but far more entertaining version of the finale. Despite the end of the season debacle, I'll still be tuning in for the next season of Top Chef which will be set in the Big Apple.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Five Facts for Scott

Well, I'm in the middle of a five day off-site for work this week up in Napa Valley (I know, rough life), which unfortunately means that I will miss the live season finale of Top Chef. I hope that they upload the episode to Hulu tomorrow evening so I won't be kept in suspense for too long.

However, since I do have some time on my hands this evening, I thought that I would response to the meme for which I was tagged by Scott at One Food Guy.

So, without further ado, here are five facts about me, all food related of course:

  1. For this off-site event, I took full responsibility for making all of the food selections. A few of my co-workers have joked that if the food sucks, they'll let me hear about it on my blog. So far, the feedback has been pretty good, but in case any of my colleagues are reading this, I'll be moderating my blog comments with extreme prejudice. Heh.

  2. While I will pretty much eat nearly any food, one things that I can't stand is cottage cheese. It's pretty much an issue with texture. About the only time that I didn't gag from eating cottage cheese was during a visit to the Cowgirl Creamery, mostly likely due to the fact that this particular sample of the vile cheese was mostly curds with very little whey.

  3. I eat a lot of frozen fruit directly from the freezer, mostly strawberries and blueberries from Trader Joe's.

  4. Like Homer, many of my favorite cuts of meat comes from a wonderful, magical animal.

  5. Karen is amused by the fact that I was happy to find out on our second date that she too enjoys eating that wonderful, magical animal.

So, Jo from Taking Over the World One Bite at a Time, Jen from Eatingplum, Chef John from Food Wishes, Biggie from Lunch in a Box, and Charlotte from her eponymous web, here is your mission, if you choose to undertake it:
  1. Link to your tagger (me in this case) and post these rules.

  2. Share 5 facts about yourself.

  3. Tag 5 people at the end of your post and list their names, linking to them.

  4. Let them know they've been tagged by leaving a comment at their blogs.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Didja Notice...

...that tonight's winner and loser had the strongest and weakest sous chefs, respectively? I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that the whoever has the best assistant next week will be crowned Top Chef.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Final Four

Well, we're now down to the finals of this season's Top Chef. The venue for the last two episodes will move from the Windy City to the warmer climes of Puerto Rico. Had Lisa been eliminated instead of Dale, I believe that the top four of the original sixteen cheftestants would be vying for the title of Top Chef. Who will it be, early favorite Richard or five-time Elimination Challenge winner Stephanie? Or will it be one of the dark horses?

In any case, the Top Chef finale should prove to be some entertaining television, of higher quality than the train-wreck-that-I-can't-stop-watching, The Next Food Network Star. I hope that at the very least, they'll eliminate that chef from planet Vulcan before she drives me nuts with her "cooking education, community outreach, and culinary craft" blather.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Dear Padma, Ted, and Tom Tony,

I love your show, but you sent the wrong chef packing last night. Lisa's gotta go.

Yours truly,
A Devoted Top Chef Fan

Monday, May 19, 2008

Hawthorne Lane: Take TWO

Last week, I took Karen out to celebrate her birthday. Since it was a "school night", I thought that it would be nice to go somewhere interesting, fun, and low key. So, I decided to take Karen to TWO. Located in the space once occupied by the restaurant Hawthorne Lane, TWO was born out of chef/owner David Gingrass' desire to reinvent his restaurant to have a hipper and more casual atmosphere. We had the opportunity to visit Hawthorne Lane twice before it closed, the last time for its final cooking class.

While Karen had already been to TWO once before for lunch, I had not visited since our cooking class. While there were some differences in the decor, notably the wall panels and the lighting fixtures, the place still seemed to be quite similar to its previous incarnation.

Soon after we were seated, we were pleased to be presented with their starter plate of flatbread and biscuits. The flatbread was deliciously cheesy with a hint of heat and the biscuits were flaky and wonderfully buttery.

After a round of drinks (Karen ordered a mojito and I got a glass of Gloria Ferrer sparkling wine), we were ready to order dinner. We started out with a decadent appetizer, slow-roasted marrow bones served with crusty bread and caramelized onions. There was the perfect amount of marrow in the order: one bone for each of us with enough marrow to spread over the toasted bread. Despite the richness of the marrow, there was just the right amount so that we didn't feel overly sated by the starter before our main courses.

Since we were both pretty hungry, we decided to order a couple of entrées which we split. The first main course was braised beef cheeks with gaufrette potatoes, maple glaze, and horseradish crème fraîche. The beef was really flavorful and fall-apart tender and went very well with the horseradish. The maple glaze was interesting, having a slight hint of port, but was perhaps a touch sweet for my taste. Nevertheless, this was an excellent dish.

Our second main dish was a pan-fried pork cutlet, which could be prepared in two different ways. We could have ordered it with broccoli rabe and lemon, but opted to have it with spicy marinara and aged provolone cheese. The huge cutlet was deliciously tender and not at all greasy. With the marinara and cheese, it was reminiscent of a veal parmesan. It was another fine dish, though given the heaviness of the marrow and beef cheeks, it would have been more prudent to go with the lemon and rabe option.

For our side, we continued with the rich food theme and ordered some truffled macaroni and cheese. I enjoyed the mac and cheese, though the truffled flavor was a bit too strong for Karen's liking. I am curious if they used real truffle oil or something that came out of a laboratory.

Though we were getting quite full, it was, after all, Karen's birthday, so we ended the meal by sharing a decadent dessert, their signature "TWO Chocolates" mousse cake. The dessert consisted of semisweet and milk chocolate mousses, devil’s food cake, and caramel rice krispies. It was wonderfully rich and delicious. Even though I'm not a dessert guy, I'd definitely order it the next time I'm there.

So, there you have it, a fabulous birthday meal. I was a bit disappointed that they didn't do anything special for Karen, as per my OpenTable request, but the food was great and the service was prompt and attentive, so we really can't complain too much.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Six Left Standing

After ten weeks of Top Chef: Chicago, six cheftestants remain going into the Restaurant Wars episode.

With a half-dozen chefs remaining, I'm going to make a prediction for the rest of the season. I predict that the chefs will be eliminated in the following order:

  1. Spike
  2. Lisa
  3. Antonia
  4. Stephanie
  5. Dale
This means I predict that Richard will be named "Top Chef".

Who do you think will be "Top Chef"? Let's hear your predictions!

The Interview

My friends are at it again... another Random Act of Cheetos.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Accidental Proposal

With the multitude of Web 2.0 and social networking tools available today, many companies are turning to viral marketing to help promote their brand awareness. One such campaign was the Orange Underground, a viral marketing effort put on by the makers of Cheetos. The campaign asked fans of the cheesy snack food to film "Random Acts of Cheetos" (RAoC) and upload their videos to an online video hosting site. From the submitted entries, four finalists would be selected, with the winner being chosen through an open vote. The grand prize winner, to be announced in June, will receive $5000 in cash and a year's supply of Cheetos.

A few of my friends got into the act and filmed a couple of RAoCs. Though they didn't make it to the final round, I think that their videos were quite funny. Check it out:

Cooking for Mom

My mom was in town for the past few weeks to help out with the wedding planning, so I had a rare opportunity to cook for her on Mother's Day. Since we were doing engagement photos on Mother's Day, we actually decided to cook dinner for my mom on Saturday. My mom didn't really have any preference as to what she wanted for dinner, so it was up to us to decide what to prepare and serve. We spent a good part of the morning deliberating various options but ultimately, Karen came up with the fabulous menu that follows.

We began our dinner with a simple fennel and orange salad. It was crisp and refreshing and a nice way to start off our meal. Plus, it was fun to suprême some oranges.

For the main course, Karen decided to go with surf and turf. The "surf" dish was roasted sockeye salmon with roasted plum tomatoes and caramelized lemon slices, courtesy of Dave Lieberman. Not only was it a fabulously colorful dish, it was quite delicious as well (even though I did overcook the salmon a little bit this time). We used Meyer lemons in the dish, which added a bright, citrusy flavor.

The "turf" component of our meal was a roast of the Bay Area-favorite Fred's Steak. Not the prettiest thing to look at, but in this case, looks are deceiving - it was wonderfully tender and flavorful as usual.

We didn't neglect our veggies. In fact, we had two sides of vegetables. The first was a side of roasted purple cauliflower:

We also enjoyed some tender asparagus tips, which we roasted with garlic and sesame oil.

Yes, it was a lot of food. Probably too much, but it was a lot of fun to cook for my mom. Of course, we didn't forget dessert. For the sweet ending of our meal, we had macerated strawberry and raspberry shortcake with a little bit (okay, a lot) of whipped cream and mint chiffonade.

It was a very hearty and satisfying meal. I have to give kudos to Karen for putting together such a fantastic menu. My mom loved the dinner and is looking forward to many more meals cooked by us in the future.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Engagement Photos!

I know, I know... Things have been pretty quiet around the FFT blog the past few months, but there's a good reason! As I mentioned earlier, Karen and I got engaged last summer and have been ridiculously busy working out the details for the wedding. After months of work, we are finally looking down the home stretch of wedding planning.

The past weekend, we had an engagement photo session with Laura, our fabulous photographer from Beautiful Day Photography. Accompanied by my mom (on Mother's Day!), we had a really fun time getting shots from multiple locations around San Francisco, including Alamo Square, the Presidio, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Chinatown.

Yesterday, Laura gave us a sample of some of the shots that she took this weekend and they look fabulous! Below is one of our favorites. You can see more photos from our weekend shoot on her blog.

Photo courtesy of Laura Grier/Beautiful Day Photography.

We had a blast working with Laura and are really excited that she will be working with us to capture a special moment in our lives.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

0 Fer Four

Another week, another Top Cheftestant going home. Indeed, another Bay Area chef has been eliminated, which leaves us with the following numbers:

  • Number of Bay Area chefs remaining out of the four who started the competition: zero

  • Number of seasons in which a Bay Area cook has been named Top Chef: zero
Looks like we are still below the Mendoza Line.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Got Milk?

If any of you happen to be passing through Charleston, Illinois tomorrow evening and have a hankering for a big glass of milk, you might want to stop by the South Quad on the Eastern Illinois University campus. At 6:30pm, you can enjoy a glass of cold milk (a very big and tall glass) with competitors in the MilkGallon Challenge, a contest which involves drinking a gallon of milk in an hour and holding it down for the remainder of that hour.

While this may not sound too difficult, it's actually much harder than you might think. Despite the urban legends that claim impossibility of this feat, it has been done. Our very own Bay Area "foodie" Joey Chestnut has done it before, downing an entire gallon in 41 seconds.

As an incentive (really, as if you needed one), the contest organizers are offering cash prizes to the first three finishers. Even if you can't complete the challenge, you could still win $10 for the most dramatic "reversal of fortune". You'll need to pony up $3 to compete in the contest. You'll also need to bring your own gallon of milk. No cheating now - the milk needs to be at least 2% - no wimpy attempts using skim milk are allowed.

I'd actually like to see someone drink and hold down a half a gallon of half-and-half in half an hour. But that's just me.

Monday, April 21, 2008

A Couple of Quick Comments

Lots of work + loads of wedding planning = no time to post on my blog...

I just have enough time for a few quick comments about my current favorite TV show, Top Chef:

1. Is it just me or are the chefs this season weaker as a whole than in past seasons? Maybe it's just the San Francisco-based chefs who are sucking...

2. Is it just me or are the cheftestants quite a bit more snippy and aggressive than in past seasons? See how often they are dropping the F-bomb on the show? Even Tom commented on the noticeable increase in profanity this season.

3. If you are looking for some morning-after commentary on the week's show, check out David Dust's Top Chef episode summaries - they are simply hilarious.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Ya Know, I'm a Foodie and All....

...and willing to splurge for amazing dining experiences at places like the French Laundry and Manresa, but it would be terribly hard to justify ever spending $5K a person to attend a food event (unless I were to hit the Mega Millions jackpot, I suppose) like the attendees at the Pebble Beach Food and Wine Festival paid this past weekend. I'm amazed that over 3000 people shelled out that kind of change for the four-day event. I guess that there are a lot of wealthy foodies out there.

Can You Beet That?

A beet hater learning to love those ruby red roots?

I've heard that story before.

From the Glad Family of Products....

Did any of you notice the conspicuous product placement in the Chicago Block Party episode of Top Chef? I suspect that most people may not be aware of the fact that Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing, KC Masterpiece Barbecue Sauce, and Kingsford Charcoal are all cousins to the Glad family of products, one of the major sponsors of the series.

Another Strong Bay Area Showing

This past week, James Beard Foundation announced their nominees for the 2008 James Beard Foundation Awards. Like last year, the Bay Area food community is well-represented. Boulevard and The Slanted Door, two perennial San Francisco favorites, are up for the Outstanding Restaurant Award. While not a clean sweep like last year, four of the five nominees in the Best Chef in the Pacific Region (California and Hawaii) are from the Bay Area: Douglas Keane of Cyrus, Craig Stoll of Delfina, and Michael Tusk of Quince are repeat nominees from last year, with David Kinch of Manresa joining them on the list of nominees.

Nate Appleman of A16 and SPQR is a repeat nominee in the Rising Star Chef of the year. Nicole Plue of Yountville's Redd and Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson of Tartine Bakery were nominated for Best Pastry Chef of the Year.

Other Bay Area nominees include Terra for the Outstanding Service Award and Merry Edwards of her eponymous winery for the Outstanding Wine and Spirits Professional Award. Bobby Stuckey, formerly of The French Laundry and now co-owner of Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder, Colorado, is another nominee in the latter category.

The winners will be announced at a ceremony at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center on Sunday, June 8, 2008.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Top Chef Chicago: The Block Party

Three weeks into the new season of Top Chef and the first San Francisco-based chef is gone. It was too bad to see Erik go - having eaten at his restaurant, I was hoping that he would stick around for a while. So much for those rumors.

It was interesting to see the SF contestents group themselves onto the same team, though given the political leanings of this area, it probably would have been more appropriate if they had been on the Blue Team.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Let the Flames Begin!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Top Chef will be kicking off Season 4 tonight. Karen is a bit surprised at how much I've been looking forward to this new season of Top Chef, and I guess that I'm a bit surprised myself, especially since I don't watch all that much TV.

Anyway, I'll be looking forward to watching the flames begin!

A Blast for Breakfast

Has it really been nearly a month since I last posted? I guess that time really flies when you are busy with work and wedding planning. Even the extra day in February didn't seem to buy me any free time to write. Anyway...

A few weeks ago, I read an article about a new entry into the breakfast food market, Batter Blaster. Yes, what you've always wanted, pancake batter conveniently sold in an aerosol can. After hearing some more buzz about this product on the radio later that week, I decided that I wanted to give it a try.

An opportunity came up a few days later when Jeremiah invited Karen and me over for Sunday morning brunch. I eagerly offered to bring the ready-made pancake batter as my contribution to the meal. Jeremiah seemed a bit skeptical about the batter, but told me to go ahead and bring some, no doubt swayed by the fact, which I repeated multiple times, that Batter Blaster is USDA certified organic.

When Sunday morning came around, Karen and I dropped by a neighborhood grocery store to pick up a "fresh" can of batter. As I was checking out, the clerk mentioned that the pre-made pancake batter had been flying off the shelves ever since they started stocking it. I guess that Batter Blaster had been selling like, well, like hotcakes...

When we got over to Jeremiah's place, he had already fired up the griddle on his Viking stove and had started browning up a batch of home fries. Fortunately for me, he had reserved some room on the griddle for some hotcakes. So, I shook up the aerosol can of batter and pressed the nozzle, forming neat, little circles of soon-to-pancakes on the hot cooking surface.

Just like that - quick and easy with no mess. (Well, you do need to clean off the nozzle, but that's a snap - just run it under some hot water.)

A short while later, after Jeremiah cooked up some bacon and eggs to go with the home fries and stack of pancakes, we were ready to eat.

The verdict? Eh, honestly I was a bit disappointed. The pancakes had a distinct sweetness to them, not like the flavor that you get from maple syrup, but more like that of straight sugar. I guess that I could have expected that, given the third largest ingredient in that batter (after filtered water and organic wheat flour) is organic cane sugar. However, it probably would have been fine for waffles, which is an alternate recommended use for Batter Blaster. Also, the product information indicates that you should be able to get approximately 28 4-inch pancakes from a single can, but we did not get nearly as many, even though we nearly exhausted the can. However, that could have been due to user error, as I may not have shaken the can enough, especially for the last few cakes that I made.

Well, it was worth a try, but at $5.99 a can, I had really hoped for more.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

"Hey, did you go to Carleton?"

For whatever reason, I seem to hear this question quite often when I am wearing the attire of my alma mater. Karen is amazed at the number of random places where people, seeing me wearing a Carleton shirt, ask me if I actually attended the college in Northfied, Minnesota. The encounters have occurred in many different situations including, while eating lunch in Maui just before exploring a volcano, during a hike in Rocky Mountain National Park on a trip to Boulder, and while seeing the terra cotta soldiers in Xi'an. Of course, there have also been a lot of Carleton call outs during my eight years in the Bay Area, including shout-outs on the streets of San Francisco and a few brief exchanges in various locations in Wine Country. You might think that my entire wardrobe consists of college gear, but, in reality, I only have a t-shirt and a sweatshirt. (Okay, I do have more Carleton shirts lying around, but none that I ever wear; I doubt the '89-'90 Third Myers floor t-shirt even fits anyway.)

Yesterday, while wearing my Carleton sweatshirt, I went over to the Ferry Building's Saturday morning farmers' market in search of some Fatted Calf bacon. While wandering around the stalls, I was asked not once, not twice, but three separate times in the course of an hour if I attended the small liberal arts college. One of the people who asked me, Dave, is actually a vendor at the market. After procuring some bacon, I stopped by his booth, Andante Dairy, to check out his offerings and picked up some butter, which was hand-churned by Dave himself. After trying some of the butter on some crusty bread that I picked up from the Acme Bread Company, I can attest to the quality of this delectable, creamy, high-fat content butter. I'll definitely go back for some more butter in the future.

One place where I haven't gotten a Carleton shout-out is in Europe, even though I've been there almost a dozen times over the past few years. I guess that it's a function of me not really wearing much Carleton gear during my business trips over to the Continent. Perhaps I'll have to include one of my Carleton shirts to wear during one of my forays into Heidelberg after working hours. I'll let ya know when happens.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

A Foodie in Stockholm

Around these parts, when work gets busy, blogging gets slow. Unfortunately, it's been quite busy at work lately. However, now that a long weekend is here (a three day weekend of my own creation as Presidents' Day isn't a work holiday for me), I thought that I would take the opportunity to catch up on my backlog of posts.

As you may recall, I paid a visit to Sweden late last year. For the most part, the trip was packed with work, but I was able to break free one day to do some sightseeing around Stockholm. Despite the less than perfect weather, my colleague Dan and I roamed around the city center, taking in a number of historic sites in the Gamla Stan (Old Town), including the Royal Palace, the 700-year-old Riddarholmen Church (which, unfortunately, was closed), and the famous statue of St. George and the Dragon. We also wandered by the Den Gyldene Freden restaurant, the site of a workshop dinner a few nights earlier. With minimal changes since 1722, Der Gyldene Freden is a living example of a 18th century restaurant. Unfortunately, I can't say that I liked the food very much - the bleak roe appetizer and arctic char entrée were rather bland and left me wanting for some spices.

Toward the end of the short afternoon (short indeed, as the sun set around 3:30pm), we stopped by the famous food market Östermalms Saluhall,

Like the Ferry Building Marketplace in San Francisco, the Östermalms Saluhall market is a collection of various food shops and cafés housed under a single roof. Similar to its Bay Area counterpart, this food marketplace targets the higher-end of the culinary spectrum. For example, check out this refrigerated case:

Crab, foie gras, and beluga caviar - you'll need a hefty wallet to shop out of that case.

Of course, there are more mainstream foods available as well, such as beautifully marbled cuts of beef:

Seafood is a big part of the Swedish diet, and this market offers up an ample selection of both fish and shellfish.

You can even buy yourself a tasty anglerfish if you so desire.

Of course, you can't live on meat alone (at least not healthily anyway): the Saluhall market also offered a large assortment of vegetables and fruit, undoubtedly imported from some warmer climes.

I even found some miniature pineapples. These grenade-sized fruit made me think of, well, grenades.

And for those people who think dessert is the best part of a meal, the Saluhall market also had plenty of sweet treats.

It was definitely a cool site to visit, a spot that all foodies visiting Stockholm should consider putting on their list of places to see. Perhaps next time, I will see if I can find myself a can of surströmming to bring back as a souvenir.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Top Chef 4: Chicago

Attention Reality Food TV fans: Top Chef is back.

Set in Chicago, the Emmy-nominated series will begin airing new episodes from Season 4 on Wednesday, March 12. While I've been critical of Top Chef in the past, the last season reeled me back. I'm looking forward to the new season, especially with four local chefs in the running: Erik Hopfinger, executive chef at Circa; Jennifer Biesty, the executive chef from COCO500; sous chef Ryan Scott of Myth; and chef/consultant Zoi Antonitsas, formerly of the Presidio Social Club.

As Michael Bauer noted in his blog post today, San Francisco has been underrepresented over the past couple of seasons. Hopefully, one of the chefs will be able to take home the title of "Top Chef", bringing the prize back to where the series was first set.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Mad Knife Skillz

For the most part, I think of myself as having relatively decent knife skills. I can finely dice a onion without much effort, debone a chicken, julienne a potato, cut a carrot into a brunoise, etc. - not half bad for an amateur chef like me.

Well, despite what I think of my knife-wielding skills, I got taken to school this past weekend. My mom, who's in town visiting, wanted to make some low bock gow or turnip cakes for Karen and me. Most recipes for low bock gow call for grating the daikon radish that goes into the cake. However, my mom prefers to cut the radish instead so that it does not get too wet and soggy while it's being cooked.

Watching my mom slice the daikon into a fine julienne was most impressive. Each cut was very clean and precise, and all of the strips were nearly uniform in thickness. While I'm pretty sure that I could duplicate the end product, I seriously doubt that I could do it with the same blinding speed in which she took apart the radish. As Karen can attest, my mom was wickedly fast, even though she was just using a cheap cleaver and not my fancy Shun santoku. While she isn't as crazy fast as Hung from Top Chef 3, she was definitely impressive for a non-professional chef.

I guess that I'll need to go to Costco and buy a bag of potatoes on which to hone my skills. Maybe one day, I'll be as fast as my mom with the knife. At least I should have the right genes.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

La Fleur de Bretagne

Did you know: Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, kale, collard greens, and kohlrabi are different cultivar groups of a single species, Brassica oleracea or Wild Cabbage?

While it would be a stretch to call either Karen or me a huge fanatic of cauliflower, this so-called flower of Brittany, has been making it on to our dinner plates with increasing frequency. Though cauliflower is typically steamed or boiled, we've recently prepared it in a couple of different ways that we've both enjoyed.

After returning from our trip to Mexico, Karen made a cauliflower and bacon soup using a recipe from one of our favorite San Francisco restaurants, Range. The soup was really easy to make and very delicious - the smokiness of the bacon paired very well with the cauliflower. It was a perfect way to enjoy this vegetable which is at its peak of sweetness during the winter.

A couple of weeks back, I headed out in the rain to the Sunnyvale Farmers' Market, where I picked up three heads of cauliflower for dinner: a purple head, an orange one, and a head of Romanesco. Each of these varietals has an interesting characteristic. The color of the purple version, the type that we previously had with ratatouille, comes from the presence of anthocynanin, an antioxidant that is also found in many different types of berries and red wine. The orange varietal has 25 times more vitamin A than the common white version. And the romanesco is, well, just cool - the fractal pattern is quite fascinating, especially to a math guy like me. We cut up the florets from each of the three heads into bite-sized pieces, tossed them with olive oil and sea salt, and roasted the vegetables in a 400° F oven for 20 minutes. This was also delicious - the two of us polished off more than half of the cauliflower.

The other day, I was shopping at Safeway and noticed some items that I had never previously seen in their produce department: baby cauliflower.

They came in several different varietals, including white, purple, orange, and green.

Somewhere between the size of a ping-ping ball and a tennis ball, these little veggies looked like they came in individual serving sizes.

So, you might ask how many of these miniature flowering heads I picked up. Answer: Zero.


Yep, you read that right... $3 each... I think that works out to about a dollar a mouthful. At that price, I think that I'll just stick to the normal sized versions.

Monday, January 14, 2008

A 'Buzz in the Air

If you are a regular reader of Food for Thought, you may have noticed that I recently became a Featured Publisher for Foodbuzz, a virtual community dedicated to the love of food. Last week, the virtual intertwined with the real as the Foodbuzz team hosted a Featured Publishers' dinner at the Slanted Door in the Ferry Building in San Francisco.

Over a delectable assortment of appetizers and entrées, I took the opportunity to meet the fabulous editorial staff at Foodbuzz, as well to chat with some of my fellow Bay Area food bloggers, including the authors of The Petite Pig, The Whole Wheat, Cheese N' Things, Taking the World Over One Bite at a Time, and Lunch in a Box.

(Photo originally posted by eatingplum.)

I'd like to thank the gracious staff at Foodbuzz for putting together and hosting a fantastic event. I had a wonderful time and hope that there will be many more dinners with the Foodbuzz crew and other Bay Area bloggers soon!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Food-Loving Comedian

I was recently introduced to the humor of Jim Gaffigan, a hilarious stand-up comedian who has made several appearances on the Late Show with David Letterman. Much of Gaffigan's humor involves food, including routines about eating out, cake, and bacon. His signature piece revolves around his fascination with the microwaveable sandwiches in a sleeve, Hot Pockets.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Looking Forward to 2008!

Like many of you (at least I hope!), I'm looking forward to a great 2008. This is going to be quite a big year for me. As many of you already know, Karen and I got engaged a few months back and are in the midst of planning our wedding. We haven't set a date yet, but we are looking to getting married in the Bay Area sometime toward the end of the summer or the beginning of the fall. Over the next few months, I'm sure that you'll see some posts chronicling the trials and tribulations of our wedding planning. Of course, not all of it will be bad - I'm sure that we'll have a fun time tasting wedding cakes and sampling delicious food as we go through the process of selecting a caterer, so stay tuned!

I'm also looking forward to an exciting year at work. Last year, I picked up a lot of new tasks and additional responsibilities, so I hope to continue expanding my role in my immediate team and in the larger organization. I'll likely be doing some travelling, both for work and for leisure, which should give me the opportunity to expand my culinary horizons, as well as to continue my airline food reports.

Of course, I will continue to blog about our food adventures. Work and wedding planning permitting, I will try to post at least as frequently as I did last year. I recently joined up with the Foodbuzz Publishers Program, which will hopefully motivate me to write more often. And yes, I still owe you "The List" of restaurants - hopefully I will be ready to share it with you very soon.

Anyways, I'm pretty excited to see what 2008 will hold. I look forward to your continued comments and encouragement which make writing this blog so fun and enjoyable, so keep them coming!

Friday, January 04, 2008

A Mexican Getaway

Happy Belated New Year! My apologies for the lack of recent posts. Between the post-holiday vacation recovery (funny, I always seem to need a vacation after a vacation) and the head cold that I've been fighting, I hadn't felt up for posting until today.

As I mentioned in my last post, Karen and I took off for a little winter getaway last week. Our destination: the Riviera Maya, just north of the Mexican town of Playa del Carmen on the Caribbean Sea. We started our vacation very early on Christmas Eve, dragging ourselves to the airport in the middle of the night for our 6am flight. Our journey would take us most of the day, with a short layover in Phoenix. We arrived at the Cancún airport in the late afternoon, found our luggage (after an annoyingly long wait), and met up with the car service that we booked to take us to the hotel. (I'd like to give props to our transfer service, Balam Caribbean Transfers. Not only are they cheaper than a taxi, they also take you to your destination in style; we rode in an Escalade on the way to the hotel and in a Mercedes E-Class on the way back to the airport. Plus, the drivers were very courteous and were right on schedule.)

Highway 307, the dusty road connecting the airport to the Riviera Maya, was completely unremarkable save for the ubiquitous billboards that interrupted our view of the surrounding forests and the occasional giant-sized speed bumps that brought traffic to a standstill. Finally, after 40 minutes, our driver slowed down, made a left turn, and drove up to the gate leading to our destination, the Secrets Capri Riviera Cancún resort. One of Trip Advisor's top-rated hotels in the area, the all-inclusive Secrets Capri would be our home for the next week.

As we arrived, we were greeted with a flute of champagne and a cool towel. After checking in, we headed up to our room, a third floor unit with a balcony overlooking the lush tropical forest that surrounded the hotel. Though we were tired from a long day of travel, we took a quick tour through the hotel, pool, and adjacent beach front (all beaches in Mexico are owned by the federal government) before we headed to dinner. Since it was Christmas Eve, the resort was hosting a special dinner in the Riviera, their general-purpose buffet restaurant. Both Karen and I were very pleasantly surprised with the dinner spread. We both started with a plate of appetizers which included crab legs, smoked swordfish, several different types of pâté, and an outrageously rich duck foie gras mousse.

The main dishes were somewhat typical of an American-style buffet: roast beef, turkey, grilled asparagus. A couple of highlights were the truffled mashed potatoes and the lobster-stuffed portobello mushrooms. For this special dinner, the restaurant prepared a large assortment of delectable treats for dessert.

Though it was the night before Christmas, the only snow to be found was on the gingerbread houses.

The next day, Christmas Day, we slept in, paying off the sleep debt that we incurred on the journey from the Bay Area to the Caribbean. Since we had dinner at the Riviera the previous night, we wanted to try one of the other four restaurants at the resort. We decided to have lunch at Oceana, the seafood restaurant overlooking the beach, where Karen dined on a pan-seared grouper filet, while I enjoyed the grilled Atlantic salmon. In addition to the Riviera and Oceana, the resort has three other restaurants: Portofino, an Italian restaurant; Himitsu, which features Pan-Asian cuisine; and the Seaside Grill. Over the course of our stay, we had the opportunity to sample the food at each of these restaurants.

After lunch, we headed out to the pool and spent the afternoon soaking in the warm rays of the sun lying out on the chaise chairs on the deck and floating on the foam mats in the pool. The figure-eight shaped pool was quite nice; it was actually separated into two different pools, one warm and one cool, so we could choose which one suited our particular preference. Hanging out by the pool would be our primary activity during our stay. As we lounged in the sun, we caught up on our reading list: during our trip, I finished up The Omnivore's Dilemma, a book that I started during my trip to Sweden, while Karen read Heat. While we read our books, we took full advantage of the all-inclusive package by making sure that we were supplied with a steady stream of cocktails. For me, the drink of this trip was the strawberry daiquiri. At first, Karen laughed at me for ordering these foo-foo drinks, but by the end of our trip, she was ordering them with me. Since it was Christmas Day, the resort had another special meal in store for us that evening, a Christmas dinner on the beach. That night, we dined under the stars, enjoying fare such as marinated flank steak, grilled chorizo, and paella, which was prepared just a few feet from our table in a giant paella pan.

The next day, we grabbed a quick buffet breakfast at the Riviera. The fare was fairly typical of an American style breakfast - omelets to order, pancakes, sausages, and bacon. After finishing breakfast, we spent the bulk of the day once again reading poolside. After a day in the sun, we went back to our room to clean up and get ready for our evening massages. As a special gift to the guests, the spa was offering half-price treatments that day, so we jumped at the opportunity and booked a couple's "Under the Stars" massage session. We received our treatments after sunset on a raised wooden platform in one corner of the resort right on the beach. The idea of a massage under the stars was quite romantic, though it did get a bit chilly with the wind gusting off of the water. After our massages, we headed off for dinner at Oceana, where we both ordered their version of Surf and Turf, beef tenderloin with grilled shrimp. While Karen was content with the shrimp, I asked if I could substitute lobster, which was offered in another entrée, for the shrimp. Our waiter said that it wasn't a problem. However, instead of substituting the shrimp, he brought me both entrées! I guess that with the all-inclusive package, you can practically get as much of anything off the menu as you desire. The lobster turned out to be spiny lobster instead of American lobster, but I wasn't going to complain too much about that.

The next day, we decided to mix up our activities a bit. Since we were in the Mayan region, we wanted to check out some of the ruins in the area. One of the most famous coastal ruins is Tulum. We woke up early and caught the bus for the hour-long ride to the ruins. Unlike the more famous Chichen Itza, Tulum is considerably more compact, so our tour would only take a couple of hours. The first part of the tour was led by a local Maya guide, who gave us a very entertaining lecture on the history of the ruins and surrounding area.

The last half of our visit was unstructured time, so we took the opportunity to wander around the site and snapped many photos of the ruins, including the main temple where the high priests performed human sacrifices to the gods.

The ruins run right up to a cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Below the cliffs is a beach that was packed with visitors who walked down the wooden staircase to enjoy a dip in the warm ocean waters. Before Karen took a quick dip at the beach, we got a few photos that captured the spectacular view of the azure waters of the Caribbean.

After returning to the the resort, we grabbed a quick lunch at Riviera before we headed out to our usual spot next to the pool. After another relaxing afternoon in the sun, we decided to try a new restaurant for dinner and checked out the Seaside Grill. Located in the same building as Oceana, this restaurant featured a meat-centric menu. Karen ordered the grilled pork chop, while I selected the ribeye steak. The "ribeye" turned out to be a strip steak cut, which was fine with me, but it was a touch on the fatty side, especially with the large pat of compound butter which topped the steak.

Unfortunately, the next morning I woke up with a bit of a stomach bug. Luckily for me, it was not a full blown case of Montezuma's revenge, but it lingered with me on and off throughout the rest of the trip. It wasn't too serious and didn't prevent me from doing anything during the trip, but it was definitely a nuisance. As a result, I only ate a light meal at the Riviera before we grabbed a taxi and headed into Playa del Carmen to check out the town. Since our cabbie dropped us off near the beach, we decided to check that out first. The beach in Playa del Carmen was crowded, quite a bit more than the one at the Secrets Capri, which made me appreciate the relative space that we enjoyed back at the resort. Despite the crowds, Karen and I enjoyed a nice, long walk on the soft, white sands of the beach before finding an open spot to settle down. We both took a quick dip in the ocean water, which was very refreshing on this warm day.

While the all-inclusive package was nice (we certainly enjoyed our share of cocktails), it also discouraged us from checking out the local food - we definitely weren't going to get refunds for the meals that we didn't eat at the resort. However, since we were already in town, we thought that it would be nice to sample some of the local cuisine, even though we had already paid for the food back at the resort. We hung out at the beach until the sun was low on the horizon before heading into the central district in town which is centered around 5th Avenue. As we walked down 5th Avenue, we were surprised at how touristy it was - it was very reminiscent of Fisherman's Wharf. As we neared the south end of the street, Karen remembered that there was a Maya restaurant nearby. Heading down a side street, Karen quickly found the restaurant, Yaxche Maya Cuisine. Finally, we had an opportunity to sample some local food! As it turned out, we weren't all that hungry, but as we had eaten lightly that day, we decided to get two dishes. We selected the boxito, small shrimp tacos with a burnt blackened pepper sauce, and an order of cochinita pibil, a traditional Yucatán pork dish wrapped and cooked in banana leaves and served with red onions and a side of beans. The cochinita was delicious.

Returning to the hotel after an afternoon and a meal in Playa del Carmen, we debated whether or not we should have dinner. We decided to wait until later to see if we were hungry or not. Around 10pm, we were both starting to get hungry again so we went to grab a quick bite at Portofino. We started with some of the lighter appetizers: Karen ordered the melon with serrano ham and I ordered the carpaccio of tuna, salmon, and mahi-mahi (pictured below). Both starters were delicious and reasonably light. For the main course, we ordered the veal agnolotti and the linguini with pesto. Both dishes were also pretty tasty.

I think that Portofino was my favorite restaurant at the resort. We made a return visit a couple of days later, where we enjoyed the veal saltimbocca (pictured below) and the rack of lamb. All of these dishes were also very good.

Saturday was a big adventure day for us as we headed to Xcaret, an archaeological and ecological resort park just south of Playa del Carmen. We were both very excited as we had signed up to swim with the dolphins while we were at the park. We had a great time playing with the dolphins, who were very well trained and quite playful, even though both of them were pregnant. One of the highlights of our hour with the dolphins was the footpush. We would have gotten some photos of us playing with the dolphins except that they were charging outrageous amounts for the pictures that they had taken - can you believe they were asking us to pay $59 for four digital photos on a CD? And that was the cheapest package! (Unfortunately, personal cameras were not allowed at the session.) After our session with the dolphins, we continued with the water activities by floating through some underground rivers. This was not nearly as fun as playing with the dolphins. Not only were the rivers quite crowded, there was not a whole lot to see in the dark caves through which the river flowed.

In the afternoon, we went around the park checking out the flora and fauna, which include jaguars, some giant sea turtles, a tapir, and a variety of fish in the aquarium. Our day at the park ended with a two hour performance at the very impressive Grand Tlachco outdoor theatre. The show included two historical ball games (including one that was like a fiery version of broomball), a ceremony dedicated to the Sun God, and a music show highlighting songs from the different regions and states of Mexico.

After we got back to the hotel after this long day in the park, we were both hungry and tired. Since we had one more restaurant at the resort to check out, we decided to have dinner at Himitsu. Billing its fare as Pan-Asian, the restaurant really features an amalgam of Chinese, Japanese, and Thai cuisines. I have to say that we were a bit disappointed. While the sushi was decent (especially the hamachi, which was excellent), the rest of the food was rather ordinary. Though the presentation of the food was nice, the food was just not what we expected. For example, the dim sum appetizer that Karen ordered to start was deep fried and overcooked.

Sunday was out last full day at the resort before we headed home, so we decided to spend it relaxing. Unfortunately, it rained quite heavily that morning, so we were stuck inside until showers stopped in the early afternoon. We spent some time at the beach, relaxing on hammocks as we enjoyed our strawberry daiquiris.

Overall, this was a great vacation. I have to give major props to Karen, who did all of the work to put this vacation together for the two of us. (Thanks, sweetie!) We both had a lot of fun and I was very happy that Karen got a chance to get away from the cold weather that she dislikes and enjoy some time in the warm sun. Though we were reasonably happy with the accommodations and the fine service we received from the resort staff, we'd probably opt for a non-all-inclusive resort for our next beach vacation. Not only was it quite expensive, we felt that we also missed out on opportunities enjoy more of the local culture and cuisine. For Karen, this was a nice reminder of the people and culture of Mexico, and for me, it was a great introduction to our neighbor to the South.