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.
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.
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.
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! Tester 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.
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)
• Immersion (or “stick”) blender, food processor or blender.
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
• 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.
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:
-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
(makes 1 ¼ cups)
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.
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!
8 ounces Lasagne Sheets
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I love baking bread. So I was excited when I was asked to bring rolls to Thanksgiving dinner. I knew that I would make plain white pillowy dinner rolls using that tried-and-true Basic Rolls recipe from Craig Clayborne’s The New York Times Cookbook, but thought it would be nice to have a whole wheat option, too. After pulling several recipes from various cookbooks and the net, I came up with this version. These rolls were even better the next day as a vehicle for leftover turkey!
1 Tblspn Yeast
1 ¼ cup Water
¼ cup Butter
1 tspn Salt
2 Tblspns Fresh Sage–chopped
¼ cup Honey or Maple Syrup
1 large Egg
1 ½ cup Whole Wheat Flour
1 ½-2 cups All-Purpose Flour
Put water and butter in a microwave safe bowl and heat on high for 45 seconds. The water should be just warm to the touch. In a medium bowl, stir together all ingredients except all-purpose flour. Add a cup of all-purpose flour and stir. Add enough remaining flour to make a soft dough. Turn out onto a well floured pastry board or clean counter top. Knead dough until smooth and elastic–6-8 minutes. Place in a lightly greased bowl and cover. Let dough rise in a warm spot until doubled in size–about an hour should do.
Punch down dough and turn out onto a lightly floured board. Divide dough in half, then divide each half into 8 equal pieces. If you have a kitchen scale, each piece should be about 2 ounces. Roll each piece on the board using a circular motion with your hand in a claw position. Use your palm and fingers to form a tight skin on each roll. If the rolls are slipping on the surface, use a dab of water to help them stick a little to form that tight skin.
Place rolls evenly apart in a lightly greased 8″ x 13″ brownie pan or quarter sheet pan. 15 rolls fit perfectly, so you decide what to do with that extra roll. Cover and let rise for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, pre-heat oven to 350. Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown on the top. For even baking, turn the pan half way through cooking. Remove from oven and let rest for 5 minutes, then remove from pan to a wire rack to prevent the rolls from getting soggy on the bottom. If not serving immediately, put the rolls back in the pan, cover with foil and re-heat in a 350 oven for 5 minutes.