Asparagus Potato Salad

It’s springtime and local asparagus is back in stores and at the farmers’ markets. Here’s an easy recipe for potato salad that includes delicious, fresh asparagus. I like this vinaigrette based version better than mayo for letting the flavor of the asparagus shine through. By following the method in the recipe (letting the onions marinate in the vinaigrette, then adding the hot potatoes) the onions are “cooked” to make them milder than raw onions added at the end would be.

This recipe is extremely adaptable. If asparagus is out of season, you can use blanched green beans, snap peas or any other green vegetable that you like. Or you can skip the green vegetable all together and add chopped olives and capers. You could also substitute thinly sliced fennel for the onions. A garnish of chopped boiled egg or bacon crumbled on top would also be nice

ASPARAGUS POTATO SALAD

Ingredients:

½    pound             Asparagus
1      pound              Yukon Gold Potatoes–small
2      tspns               Dijon Mustard
1      tspn                 Salt
¼    tspn                Black Pepper
2     Tblspns           Sherry Vinegar
6     Tblspns          Olive Oil
½    medium        Yellow Onion—julienne
¼    cup                 Parsley, Chives or Dill—chopped (optional)

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• Cook asparagus by your preferred method—steamed, broiled or grilled. Just be sure not to overcook it. Cut into 1” lengths.

• Scrub potatoes and cut into ½” pieces. Place in a medium saucepan and cover with cold water. Add 2 Tblspns salt. Bring to a gentle boil and cook until just cooked through—about 15 minutes. Drain.
• Meanwhile, make vinaigrette in a medium mixing bowl. Whisk together mustard, salt, pepper and vinegar until combined. Continue to whisk while drizzling in oil. Stir in onions to thoroughly combine.
• While potatoes are still warm, mix with dressing and onions. Gently stir every 10 minutes or so until cooled to room temperature.
• Stir in asparagus and herbs.

 

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San Francisco Day Trip

I made a quick trip to San Francisco last week to check out a couple of food-centric destinations that I’ve been reading about. After years of experience making day trips to the city, I’ve learned not to try to overdo it—just picking a couple of places I must visit, then adding a few spots to my list in case I have time.

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The Mill, featuring Josey Baker Bread and pastries

I haven’t spent much time in the Western Addition neighborhood, but wanted to check out The Mill, a bakery on Divisidero Street. Parking was surprisingly easy in this area in the middle of the city between Japantown and the Haight. The Mill is a bright and airy coffee house featuring Four Barrel Coffee and Josey Baker Bread. The pistachio croissant was a little heavy on the pistachio mix, but tasty none the less with a nice little hit of sweet blackberry jam. Next time I’ll try to get there earlier for a better selection of pastries. However, the real draw of The Mill is the bread. Many of the flours for the house-baked breads are milled on site (hence the name). My favorite was the Cornmeal Rosemary. The crust was pleasantly chewy with a hint of caramel/char. Inside the loaf, the crumb was stretchy, chewy and pocketed with uneven holes in just the right way. The flavor was nutty with a hint of rosemary and tartness from the sourdough culture. The Black Pepper Parmesan loaf was also delicious. I enjoyed it the next morning lightly toasted with a smear of mashed avocado and smoked flaked sea salt (more on that later). Dark Mountain Rye, in a traditional loaf shape, was dense and hearty and perfect for a ham and cheese sandwich. They even offered a gluten-free loaf called Adventure Bread made with seeds and nuts and held together with psyllium husks.

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I was pleasantly surprised to find a new Bi Rite Market just down the street. I learned that it opened at around the same time as The Mill–about two years ago. Like the Mission District branch, this market does urban grocery right. There’s a great selection of local produce, house-made prepared foods and charcuterie (I got some delicious lamb merquez sausage), carefully selected wine and beer, coffee and a multitude of distinctive local products like bread, baked goods, chocolates, salsas and jams.

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Skyline from Alamo Square Park

At the crest of a hill in the neighborhood just a block from The Mill sits the large, green, dog-friendly Alamo Square Park. Bordered by iconic Victorian row houses, the park offers great panoramic views of the city–from the top of one of the Golden Gate Bridge’s towers to the downtown skyline. The beautiful weather made the park the perfect place to break bread (literally) and enjoy some cheeses and house-made duck pate from Bi Rite Market

Spice Ace, a source for hundreds of spices, herbs, salts, spice blends, chilies, flavored sugars and extracts is just a few blocks away on a quiet, residential street. This place is amazing! IMG_5871Tester jars of everything on offer are available for smelling and tasting. You could spend hours exploring this neatly organized shop. However, your nose and palate get exhausted after a while. Some highlights from the shop include a huge selection of curry blends from all over Asia as well as the recently trendy Vadouvan blend used by French cooks. The selection of salt varieties and blends was mind-boggling. I couldn’t leave the shop without the Halen Mon smoked flake sea salt from the UK. It’s lightly smoked and delicately flakey with a slight sweetness—delicious on avocado, fried eggs or a just about anything.

With my top spots checked off the list, I had time to tackle the “if there’s time” list so I dashed across the Bay Bridge toward Berkeley for stops at two old standbys: The Spanish Table and Berkeley Bowl West. After that and knowing that I wasn’t going to beat rush hour traffic anyway, I decided to treat myself to some ice cream at the Oakland branch of Smitten Ice Cream. Smitten features made-to-order ice cream using a kitchen mixer-like setup with an injection of liquid nitrogen. In addition to creative, delicious flavors featuring local ingredients, it’s entertaining to watch your ice cream being made in just a couple of minutes while a haunted house’s worth of fog rises from the mixer bowl. Freezing the ice cream at such a low temperature (-321° F.) in such a short period of time makes an incredibly smooth and dense final product. I had the seasonal flavor of the month—Blood Orange with Pistachio Cookies. It was light in flavor with a tart kick from the blood oranges and little crispy texture from the cookies. An excellent way to end a great day—fortified to face the traffic.

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Ice cream to order at Smitten Ice Cream

 

Continuing to Dress Better

As promised, a follow up to my last post about DIY salad dressings. In the midst of winter, flavorful tomatoes are in short supply. Sun-dried tomatoes are a good way to bring tomato flavor into the depths of winter.

Here’s a creamy, flavorful dressing that goes beyond the basic vinaigrette, but is still quick and easy to make.

SUN-DRIED TOMATO FETA DRESSING
(makes 2 cups)

Equipment:
• Immersion (or “stick”) blender, food processor or blender.

Ingredients:IMG_5444
4 each Sun-dried tomatoes (not in oil)
2 cloves Garlic – roughly chopped
1 small Shallot – roughly chopped
2 Tblspns Capers (optional)
⅓ cup Water
¼ cup Basil Leaves
1 Tblspn Maple Syrup or Brown Sugar
1/3 cup Rice Wine Vinegar
½ tspn Black Pepper
4 oz. Feta Cheese
2/3 cup Olive Oil

IMG_5457• Soak tomatoes in hot water for 15-20 minutes.
• If using immersion blender, place all ingredients except feta and oil, in a tall, clear cylindrical container or measuring cup. Blend until fairly smooth.
• Crumble feta and add to container.
• With blender running, slowly drizzle in oil.
• If consistency is too thick, blend in water, one tablespoon at a time, until desired consistency is reached.

Other herbs, such as marjoram, dill, parsley or chives may be substituted for basil according to your taste. This dressing works well on a traditional greens-based salad, but its bold flavor also works well when mixed with blanched and chilled green beans, drained and rinsed garbanzo beans and chopped Kalamata olives (as pictured below). You can substitute other green veggies (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cucumbers or even kale) for the green beans. And cooked grains (farro, wheat berries, barley) or any other type of canned beans can replace the garbanzos.

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Resolve To Dress Better

If you’ve made a New Year’s resolution to eat more salad, why not go one step further and resolve to make your own salad dressings. It doesn’t take long, the ingredients you need are probably already in your pantry, and the dressings you make from scratch will taste much better than anything you find on the shelves of you local supermarket.

A basic vinaigrette is a great starting point. From there you can add ingredients to suit your tastes or that will complement the other ingredients in your salad. Vinaigrettes are just a combination of acid, fat and flavor in a standard ratio:IMG_5411
-1 part acid (citrus juice, vinegar)
-3 or 4 parts fat (oil)
-flavor (salt, pepper, chopped shallot, garlic, dried or fresh chopped herbs)

If you’d like your vinaigrette to hold together (emulsify) you can add a little dijon mustard or honey. You can also play with the ratio of oil-to-acid based on your personal taste and the boldness of flavor in the acid. If you like your dressing tart, add less oil.

You can whisk together the acid and flavor ingredients in a bowl and then drizzle in the oil while whisking. However, it’s much easier to just put all of your ingredients in a jar with a tight fitting lid and shake vigorously until well mixed. Added bonus: no clean up!

You can use a high-end extra virgin olive oil in your vinaigrette, but in most cases the vinegar and flavorings will overpower the oil, so a decent mid-priced extra virgin oil with a flavor profile that you like will do just fine.

To balance out the flavor of vinaigrette that seems too strong, add a few drops of water and shake or whisk until incorporated. Keep in mind that extra virgin olive oil may solidify in the refrigerator so you will need to take your vinaigrette out of the fridge an hour or so before you plan to use it and shake to reincorporate the oil.

Here’s a variation on the basic vinaigrette with an Asian twist. Fresh, crisp, raw baby bok choy is a great green for making salads and this dressing works especially well on bok choy. Teriyaki vinaigrette also makes a good marinade for tofu, chicken, fish, beef or pork

TERIYAKI VINAIGRETTE
(makes 1 ¼ cups)

Ingredients:IMG_5421

¼ cup Soy Sauce
2 Tblspns Rice Wine Vinegar
2 Tblspns Orange Juice
1 Tblspn Honey
1 clove Garlic—minced
2 tspns Fresh Ginger—grated (or 1 tspn dried ginger)
½ tspn Hot Sauce
2 tspns Orange or Lime Zest
¾ cup Canola Oil

• Whisk together all ingredients except oil until well combined.
• While whisking, drizzle in oil until blended.
• Alternatively, place all ingredients in a small jar and shake vigorously until combined

I’ll go beyond basic vinaigrette with a couple of blended dressings that will help shake up your winter salad repertoire in my next post.

Asparagus and Mushroom Lasagne

       I’ve always loved asparagus season in Central California. I like that it’s a finite season, and it’s an agro-culinary treat you can really look forward to. Resisting the urge to buy those nice looking spears that come from Mexico a month or so before the California season begins, I patiently wait for the local product to finally arrive. I’ve been enjoying this year’s crop in the usually ways: grilled, sauteed, broiled, in salads,  etc. , but wanted to create a recipe that included some of my other favorite flavors. While asparagus has a distinctive flavor, it lends itself well to a variety of cuisines and applications. This recipe for lasagne  has lots of steps, but isn’t difficult to make. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

 

8          ounces              Lasagne Sheets

3          Tblspns            ButterP1040299

½         small                Onion – small dice

3          Tblspns            Flour

1 ¾      cup                  Milk

½         tspn                 Salt

¼         tspn                 Pepper

1          Tblspn             Olive Oil

1          Tblspn             Butter

8          ounces            Crimini Mushrooms

½         tspn                 Salt

¼         tspn                 Pepper

2          tspns                Fresh Thyme (1 tspn if using dried)

1          Tblspn             Olive Oil

8          ounces            Spinach

8          ounces            Piquillo Peppers – diced

12        ounces           Asparagus

1          cup                  Whole Milk Ricotta Cheese

4          ounces           Goat Cheese

1          tspn                 Lemon Zest

2          Tblspns          Basil—chopped

1          large                Egg

½         tspn                Salt

¼         tspn                Pepper

  • Cook lasagne according to package instructions. Cool and set aside.
  • Melt butter in medium sauce pan over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until soft and butter is just beginning to brown.
  • Reduce heat to low and add flour. Stir with a rubber spatula to combine and break up any lumps. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, for 2-3 minutes.
  • Slowly add milk while stirring constantly to prevent lumps from forming. Add salt and pepper and stir frequently until mixture is thick. Remove from heat and set aside.
  • Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to a boil. Trim tough ends from asparagus. Add asparagus to water and cook just until crisp/tender—about 3 minutes.
  • Drain and immediately dunk in ice water to stop cooking. Drain again and set aside.
  • Cut mushrooms into wide, chunky slices—about 3 slices per mushrooms for medium-sized caps.
  • Add olive oil and butter to a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and salt. Sauté for 5-7 minutes or until mushrooms have softened and released their juices. Add pepper and thyme and cook one more minute. Remove from pan and set aside.
  • Wipe out pan and add 1 Tblspn olive oil to pan over medium-high heat. Add spinach and sauté until just wilted, but still bright green in color. Remove from pan and set aside.
  • In a medium bowl, combine ricotta, goat cheese, egg, zest, basil, salt and pepper.
  • For lasagne assembly, spray a 9” square baking dish with cooking spray. Place a layer of noodles in the bottom of the pan. Top with about 2/3 of the béchamel sauce. Add mushrooms in an even layer.
  • Add another layer of noodles and top with sautéed spinach and about 2/3 of the piquillo peppers.
  • Add another layer of noodles and top with 2/3 of the ricotta mixture. Lay in the blanched asparagus spears in an even layer and top with remaining ricotta mixture.
  • Add another layer of noodles and top with remaining béchamel sauce and piquillo peppers.
  • Cover with foil and bake in a pre-heated 350° oven for 30-40 minutes or until heated through and bubbly.
  • Allow to cool for 10 minutes before cutting and serving.

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Curried Coconut Hand Pies


I seem to be a little obsessed with hand pies these days! Following my previous post for a savory hand pie, I thought I’d follow up with a sweet option. The inspiration for this pie came from browsing the spice blends with Kristina at Stone Creek Kitchen.  I had planned on doing a coconut pudding filling and was inspired to add a savory spice blend for a little extra kick. I used a curry mix, but I’m sure that a garam masala or STK’s Ancient Chinese Secret spice blend would work just as well. The filling for these pies makes a great pudding on its own–just serve with some fresh berries and a crispy cookie.

(yields 12 pies)

Ingredients:

 Filling

1          cup                  Whole MilkIMG_1900

1          can (15oz.)      Coconut Milk

½         cup                  Brown Sugar

¼         cup                  Corn Starch

¼         tspn                 Salt

4          large                Egg yolks

1          Tblspn            Butter

1 ½      tspn                 Curry Powder

1          tspn                 Vanilla Paste or Extract

¾         cup                  Coconut (shredded, unsweetened)IMG_1929

1          medium           Banana

2          Tblspn             Brown Sugar

2          Tblspn             Butter

Dough

3          cups                All Purpose Flour

½         cup                  Coconut

2          Tblspns            Sugar

1          tspn                 Salt

¾         cup                  Vegetable Shortening

1          large                Egg

6          Tblspns            Cold Water

1          tspn                 Cider Vinegar

1-2       cups                Oil for frying (a high smoke-point oil like canola, peanut or sunflower)

Make filling

  • Preheat oven to 350°.
  • In a medium sauce pan, bring milks just to a simmer over medium heat.
  • Meanwhile, combine brown sugar, corn starch, salt and egg yolks in a large bowl and whisk to completely combine.
  • Slowly whisk the hot milk into egg mixture. Return mixture to the sauce pan.
  • Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened. Whisk in butter, curry powder and vanilla.
  • Spread coconut evenly on a small baking sheet. Toast in oven for 5-7 minutes or until evenly browned. Watch carefully, as coconut burns quickly.
  • Peel banana. Cut in half and slice into ¼” half moons.
  • Melt butter and brown sugar in a non-stick sauté pan over medium heat. Add bananas and cook until nicely caramelized—about 5 minutes.
  • Fold toasted coconut and caramelized bananas into filling.

Make dough:

  • Combine flour, coconut, sugar and salt in a medium mixing bowl.
  • Add shortening and cut into the flour mixture with two knives, a pastry blender or your fingertips until the mix resemble a course meal—kind of like wet sand.
  • Whisk together egg, water and vinegar and add to flour mixture.
  • Combine with a fork until a rough ball begins to form.
  • Pull dough out onto a lightly floured board or clean counter and turn and push mixture together a few times to form a cohesive ball. Flatten into a disk and wrap in waxed paper and refrigerate for 30 minutes or more.

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Assemble:

  • Cut dough in half and roll half out to ⅛” thickness on a lightly floured board. Cut out 5” circles and set aside. Roll up scraps and set aside.
  • Roll out second half of dough in the same manner. Gather up all scraps and roll out one last batch. You should have 12 circles.
  • Working in batches of 4 or 6 circles (depending on space), place about a tablespoon of filling in the center of each circle. Wipe the edges of the dough with a finger dipped in water. Fold edges together and pinch with thumb and index finger. Crimp edges with a fork. If fork sticks to dough, dip it in a little flour.

Cook:

  • Place oil in a heavy bottomed pan with sides at least 3” high to a depth of about 1 ½”. Heat over medium heat to a temperature of about 350°.
  • Fry pies, two or three at a time, for about 2 minutes on each side until lightly browned.  Drain on a rack over a sheet pan.

Notes:IMG_1985

  • These pies taste best if eaten within a day.
  • Using pre-made frozen pie crust is an acceptable shortcut.
  • Components can be made a day or two ahead and assembled and fried when ready.

Black Bean and Corn Hand Pies

IMG_1748Hand Pies–the ultimate portable food! It seems almost every culture has a version of this on-the-go lunch or dinner. From Cornwall, it’s the pasty which has made its way to many parts of the world–most notably the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. In Latin America and Spain it’s the empanada, also great as a tapa. In Italy it’s the calzone which is pretty much pizza fillings stuffed into an enclosed pizza crust.  You can use any pie crust recipe you like, but I like using a combination of vegetable shortening (or lard, if you have it) and butter for a nice combination of flavor and flakiness.  An egg in the dough adds a certain richness. The idea for this filling came from a visit to The Mmoon Empanadas in Los Gatos. These pies freeze well. Just place the uncooked pies on a sheet pan and freeze them completely, then put them in zip-top bags. They can be cooked straight out of the freezer, just add about 5 extra minutes to the cooking time.

BLACK BEAN & CORN HAND PIES

(makes 6 large pies)

Ingredients:

 Filling

1          Tblspn             Olive Oil

½         cup                  Poblano Pepper—small dice

½         cup                  Yellow Onion—small dice

¼         cup                  Red Pepper—small dice

1          clove               Garlic—minced

½         tspn                 Salt

½         tspn                 Ground Cumin

¼         tspn                 Ground Chipotle Chili (or other chili powder)

¼         tspn                 Black Pepper

½         cup                  Corn

½         cup                  Black Beans–cooked

½         cup                  Queso Fresco (or shredded Jack or Cheddar)

Dough

2 ¼      cups                Flour

1          tspn                 Salt

2          tspns                Sugar

½         tspn                 Ground Cumin

¼         cup                  Shortening

½         cup                  Butter (one stick)

1          Tblspn             Cider Vinegar

6          Tblspns            Ice Water

1          large                Egg

1          Tblspn             Water

Filling

  • Char the skin of the poblano pepper by either roasting under a broiler or placing directly on the burner of a gas stove turned to medium heat. Turn pepper a quarter turn as the exposed side of the pepper becomes evenly blackened. When pepper is completely blackened, place the pepper in a bowl and cover tightly with a plate or some plastic wrap—this helps create steam to loosen the skin.
  • When cool enough to handle, slip off the blackened skin and remove the stem and seeds. It’s best not to rinse the pepper under water so as to preserve all of the roasted flavor.
  • In a sauté pan over medium-high, heat oil until it just begins to shimmer. Add onion and red pepper and sauté until softened, but not browned—about 5 minutes.
  • Add salt, pepper, cumin, chili powder and garlic and cook until garlic is fragrant—about a minute.
  • Add corn (fresh or frozen), black beans (rinsed and drained) and poblano. Cook and combine until heated through. Taste, and adjust seasoning as needed. Place in a medium bowl to cool. Add crumbled cheese and stir to combine.

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Dough

  • Combine flour, sugar and salt in a medium mixing bowl.
  • Add shortening and cut into the flour mixture with two knives, a pastry blender or your fingertips until the mix resemble a course meal. Cut butter into ½” pieces and toss to coat with the flour. Pinch the butter pieces flat with your fingers. Working quickly, pinch and mix the butter pieces in until you have a mix with mostly pea-sized pieces.
  • Add cider and ice water and mix together with a fork until a rough ball forms.
  • Pull dough out onto a lightly floured pastry board or clean counter and turn and push mixture together a few times to form a cohesive ball. Flatten into a disk and wrap in waxed paper and refrigerate for 30 minutes or more.

Assemble

  • Preheat oven to 375°.
  • Whisk together egg and water in a small bowl
  • Remove dough from refrigerator and cut into 6 equal pieces.
  • On a lightly floured board, roll each piece out into a circle about ⅛” thick and about 7” in diameter.
  • Place about ¼ cup of the filling in the center of each dough circle. Brush the edges of the dough with egg mixture. Fold edges together and pinch with thumb and index finger. Crimp edges with a fork. If fork sticks to dough, dip it in a little flour.
  • Place pies on a parchment lined sheet pan, brush with egg wash,  and bake for 25-30 minutes or until nicely browned.

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Maple-Apple Tapioca Pudding

Tapioca pudding is a comfort food classic and an all-American favorite. Since it’s sugaring season in the Northest, I thought it would be nice to make a version of tapioca pudding using maple syrup.

On the farm where I grew up in Vermont, my brothers still make maple syrup. The method for gathering the sap and boiling it down into syrup has changed over the years, but the result remains the same—a delicious product that has many uses beyond a sweet topping for pancakes and waffles. Try substituting  maple syrup in marinades and dressings (like balsamic vinaigrette) that call for a small amount of sugar to add an extra depth of flavor. It’s also a great ingredient for experimenting with cocktails.

The key to making a good tapioca pudding is to cook the pearls until they’re just cooked—not crunchy, but also not mushy and falling apart. Soaking the pearls in water before cooking helps to achieve the perfect texture, and it shortens the cooking time.

 (makes 4-6 servings)

2          medium           Apples—tart and crisp (Gala or Granny Smith work well)

2          Tblspn             Butter

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½         cup                  Maple Syrup

½         cup                  Tapioca

¾         cup                  Water

1 ½      cup                  Milk

1          large                Egg – lightly beaten

½         tspn                 Cinnamon

  • Place tapioca and water in medium sized heavy bottomed pan. Let tapioca soak for 30 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, peel and core apples and cut into small dice.
  • Melt butter in sauté pan over medium heat. Add ¼ cup syrup and bring to a simmer. Add  apples and toss to coat. Cook for about 5 minutes or until syrup has thickened a bit and apples are just beginning to soften.
  • Add milk and egg to tapioca, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce to a low simmer and cook until tapioca pearls are completely opaque and have lost all of their crunch, but still hold their shape.
  • Add apples, remaining ¼ cup syrup and cinnamon and stir to combine. If too thick, add a bit more milk or water.
  • Serve warm, at room temperature or cooled.

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Food Day By The Bay

One of the great things about living in Monterey is its proximity to the San Francisco bay area and all of the culinary exploration opportunities that it offers. I decided to take a day trip to SF with my friend Blair yesterday to revisit some old food-favorites and embark on some new culinary adventures.

Frangipane Tart from Tartine

Frangipane Tart from Tartine

I always love the drive up Highway One past those vast fields of artichokes with the morning sun reflecting off the dunes on the ocean side of the road. Though there’s always the risk of a traffic back up, I like going up to the city through Santa Cruz and up over Highway 17. It’s definitely a prettier drive than the straight shot up 101.  The traffic demons did not disappoint as we encountered snarls in at least three spots which delayed the culinary indulgence that was about to ensue. Fortunately, traffic karma was kind to us when we finally reached the Mission district by providing a just big enough parking space a couple of blocks from our first destination, Tartine Bakery.

I can’t say enough good things about this extraordinary bakery. The out-the-door-and-into-the-street line was efficiently moved up to the cash register by a patient and friendly staff. Blair and I shared our pork and cheese-centric breakfast treats at one of the tables out on the street. For her it was a ham, Gruyère and olive savory bread slice, and for me, the ham and cheese croissant. This croissant was absolute perfection—delicately crisp, flaky layers on the outside, giving way to a moist and tender interior. We also purchased a few treats for later consumption including a frangipane tart with huckleberries (delicious with coffee for breakfast this morning), one of their beautiful and tasty gougeres and a slice of lemon pound cake. We broke off a little piece of the pound cake before moving onto our next stop. It had this amazing dichotomy between density (it felt quite heavy in its waxed paper bag) and lightness. It felt like biting into a lemony cloud. Mouth-wateringly delicious! Everything in Tartine’s cases looked amazing, from the delicate little cookies on the top shelf to the banana cream tarts and meringue and coconut covered rectangular cakes on the bottom shelf.

Della Frattoria’s Rosemary Meyer Lemon Bread

We made a quick stop at Bi Rite Market on the way back to the car to pick up a loaf of Della Frattoria Rosemary & Meyer Lemon bread…amazing!  I’ll need to get over to Bi Rite’s new location on Divisidero soon.

Our next destination was Berkeley Bowl West. But rather than take a straight shot over the Bay Bridge, I wanted to check out Onigilly, an onigiri place on Kearny. However, my trusty GPS seemed to have other plans. Okay, full disclosure, I may not have been giving our little dashboard companion my full attention since Blair and I were waxing rhapsodic about our Tartine experience. Happily, while trying to remember if the Tomtom said left or right in 200 yards, we drove past a newish looking izakaya place called Izakaya House in SOMA. No easy parking near Onigilly, as expected, but both of these spots are definitely on a future city trip list.

Aw, Berkeley Bowl West–where do I start? Well how about with the first thing I saw when I walked in the door–the amazing olive baguette from The Phoenix Pastificio. I always grab a loaf of this delicious, crusty bread with lots of juicy black olives in its chewy interior. This bread is just one of the large number of local products throughout the store from beverages to cheeses to baked goods and prepared foods to artisanal products like the Bowl’s cucumber kimchi that Blair picked up. It would be difficult to pick a “best thing” about Berkeley Bowl. My favorites include the massive selection of produce (divided into organic and conventional sections), the pre-packaged bulk items (I like the dried veggies, snack mixes and grains), and of course the amazing beer selection. Some of the items I picked up on this visit were:

  • A selection of onigiri – I ate one of these delicious rice balls with a crispy tempura shrimp filling in the sunny parking lot to keep the blood sugar level at an even keel while Blair enjoyed her spicy tuna onigiri.
  • Yosemite Gold mandarins – a later harvest tangerine that’s really juicy and has a nice sweet-tart balance that was delicious after the onigiri
  • A bunch of Cincinnati radishes – They’re an heirloom variety that is long and tapered like a carrot. Crispy and mild. (photo below right)
  • Buffalo milk butter – A rich, creamy butter with a rustic finish imported from Italy. The same company (Delitia) makes a product called Parmesan butter (also carried at BB), which I like a little better. It was, however, really good on that olive baguette with a sprinkle of coarse sea salt.
  • Asian Snack Mix – I can’t leave BB without a bag of this salty, crunchy goodness from the bulk section.
  • Organic Farro – Also from bulk and a bargain at $3.59/lb.
  • January Barbecue Smoked Cider from Tilted Shed Ciderworks – Haven’t tried it yet, but it sure sounds interesting.

IMG_2074IMG_2071Cincinnati Radishes

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Next up was a quick trip over to The Spanish Table. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, but always like perusing their great selection of cookbooks, salts and spices, wines, cheeses, grains and beans, cured meats, and canned and jarred goodies. Blair and I picked up a couple of cans of stuffed manzanilla olives. I’m also looking forward to trying the inexpensive bottle of red displayed at the counter.

We had a hankering for dim sum when we began our trip, and normally I would head for Yank Sing in the Financial District or over to one of the dim sum shops on Irving Street in the Sunset. However, we were already on the other side of the Bay, and I thought it might be nice to explore something new. Oakland Chinatown seemed intriguing and turned out to be a great find. Covering an area of a several blocks near downtown, it’s a district jam-packed with restaurants, dim sum and pastry stores, herb shops, and housewares stores filled with inexpensive dishes, kitchen tools and gadgets. Greens of every description along with boxes filled with bitter melon, daikon, mushrooms, mandarins and heaps of other fruits and veggies spilled out of produce markets and onto the sidewalks.

Of the multitude of dim sum pieces that we purchased for next-to-nothing , our favorites were the pork and taro dumplings from Tao Yuen Pastry on Franklin and the barbecued chicken skewers and shrimp rolls at First Cake on Webster. I also picked up some fresh noodles, marinated tofu, and preserved pork belly at Yuen Hop Noodle Company, also on Webster.

Dim Sum from Oakland's Chinatown

Dim Sum from Oakland’s Chinatown

As rush hour and the promise of bumper-to-bumper traffic loomed, we decided to delay the trek home and headed over to nearby Lake Merritt to enjoyed some of our goodies on a sunny bench—washed down with a little brown paper bag sake!

We returned to Monterey with our shopping bags and stomachs pleasingly full.

Pork Fried Farro

A little leftover pork and some leftover rice in the fridge,P1050238along with a few veggies, is always a good excuse to make pork fried rice. In fact, I often cook extra rice just for that purpose. Last night, I found myself with the pork and the vegetables, but the leftover grain was farro. Farro is an old Italian grain that’s similar to wheat. However, farro cooks much more quickly than wheat berries. Just put them in a sauce pan with enough water to cover by about and inch and a half and simmer for about 15 minutes. Farro is a nice alternative to rice as a side dish and is great in soups and salads. I’ve even been known to eat cold leftover farro for breakfast with a little yogurt and some fresh berries. I think the word “toothsome” is a little overused as a food descriptor, but the term hits the mark with farro. It’s tender to the bite, but definitely holds its shape. It has a light nutty flavor with a hint of barley (but without that sliminess that comes with barley). It’s texture and flavor make it a natural for a fried rice style preparation.

4          tspns                Canola Oil

1          large                Egg

1          Tblspn             Garlic—mincedP1050208

1          Tblspn             Ginger–minced

½         medium           Red Pepper—small dice

1          medium           Carrot—small dice

2          cups                Farro—cooked

1          cup                  Edamame Beans (frozen, shelled)

1          cup                  Pork—cooked and diced

4          each                Green Onions—thinly sliced

1          Tblspn             Sambal (optional)

3          Tblspns            Soy Sauce

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  • Heat 2 teaspoons of the oil in a large non-stick sauté pan or wok over medium-high heat.
  • Scramble egg with about a teaspoon of water. When oil shimmers, add egg to pan and swirl around the pan (crepe style) until bottom is covered.
  • As soon as the “crepe” is set (about 15-20 seconds), loosen with a silicone spatula and flip over to cook other side for another 15-20 seconds. Roll out onto a cutting board and chop into small pieces.
  • Wipe out pan with a paper towel.
  • Meanwhile, bring a quart of water to a boil in a small sauce pan. Add a generous amount of salt and the frozen edamame beans. Return a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for a couple of minutes. Drain, run under cold water and set aside.
  •  Heat remaining 2 teaspoons of oil over high heat in the pan or wok until simmering. Add ginger and garlic and swirl around pan until fragrant—about 30 seconds. Add pepper and carrot and cook for a minute or two, until just beginning to soften.P1050233
  • Lower heat to medium and add farro. Stir around until farro is heated through—about 3 minutes. Add edamame, pork and soy sauce. If you’d like a little heat, add the sambal or an appropriate amount of your favorite hot condiment. Stir to combine.
  • Add egg and green onions. Taste and add more soy or sambal if needed.