Superbowl Eats

Sorry this is late but think of it as a early summer entertaining post and ignore the Superbowl stuff.

Every Superbowl, we go over to our friends Amber and Lisa’s to watch the game.

Surprisingly, we end up being very absorbed in the proceedings. Like the year that New Orleans won, I was very invested in a New Orleans victory because New Orleans Saint’s Scott Fujita was a feminist, pro same-sex marriage Cal graduate. By that standard, I have to root for the Ravens because of linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo’s vocal support of gay marriage, as opposed to 49ers’ cornerback Chris “gays are not welcome in our locker room” Culliver.

While other people say that the Superbowl is an excuse to watch commercials, I say it’s an excuse to eat things with your hands. So this year we are putting together a slider bar for the festivities. Here are the components.

Slider rolls

I’ve seen them at Trader Joe’s in a 12 pack.

Meat

This year we are going with ground pork as the burger. I like ground pork for this because it has a more neutral flavor than ground beef. In this case, I want the toppings to shine. Ground pork sells for something like $1 per pound in Chinatown; so it’s an affordable option. One pound of ground pork should give you eight sliders. So to fill at least 12 buns, you would only need 1 ½ pounds which amounts to $1.50. For pork burgers, I like to season with about 1 teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of pepper, along with adding an egg and 1 slice of white sandwich bread that’s been soaked in water (to add moisture).

The toppings

Beet relish

Arugula pesto

Arugula is something that just grows wild in our front yard so it is really convenient. Throw 4 cups of arugula, 2 cloves of garlic, ¼ cup of chopped walnuts, the juice and zest of 1 lemon and ½ cup of olive oil in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth.

Coarse grain mustard

Okay for this one you just buy.

Pickled onions

Slices of monterey jack cheese

As an added bonus, I’ll also be making beet chips with onion dip.

Beet chips are ridiculously easy. Slice the beets as thin as you can possibly get them (I don’t have a mandoline which is the standard way to do it). Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes as the edges of the beets dry out. Put them on a wire rack which will allow them to crisp as they cool. The onion dip is even easier. I made onion jam ahead of time.  With that already made, you just mix 1 cup of onion jam with a 8 oz. block of cream cheese and 1 cup of sour cream and ½ cup of mayonnaise. If you wanted to add a little healthy component, you can add carrot sticks, celery sticks and sugar snap peas as dippers. Easy finger food for the big game.

Crossposted at Oakland Local.

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Don’t let the name fool ya – Tuba Restaurant

I have this thing about Middle Eastern food – while I know there are differences in region between Middle Eastern dishes, I could never figure out what those differences were.  They all melted into they same pot of hummus, baba ganouj, and felafel.  To be honest I couldn’t taste the difference between take out Middle Eastern versus sit down Middle Eastern.

So finally, visiting West Coast Rebecca in San Francisco, we discovered Tuba restaurant.  A true, blue authentic Turkish restaurant.  Because West Coast Rebecca has actually been to Turkey, we had someone who could vouch for the authenticity of Tuba.  And authentic Tuba was!  It also address my twin ignorances of not know the regional differences and not knowing the difference in gourmet vs. divey.

We did order a HUGE amount and it ended up being $40/per person but that was because we did a zillion appetizers and drinks and baklava.  We could have ordered half that amount and been very happy.  We did avoid the sampler platters because at other restaurants, Middle Eastern sampler platters end up having like a 1/3 of a cup of dip that the entire table fights over.  Looking at other sampler platters, this was not the case and there was a nice abundance.  Added to that abundance was the awesome Turkish flatbread that was halfway between Greek pita and naan and utterly delicious.

Located in the Mission, Tuba is the real deal.  And it gave me true blue sense of how Turkish food is different from Middle Eastern food.  A core component of Turkish cooking is yogurt, REALLY good yogurt.  From the cold appetizer menu we ordered the Ezme – roasted pepper and walnut dip – and the Haydari – mint and yogurt dip that was the highlight of the meal.  There was a wonderful simplicity to the thick and creamy yogurt dip.  It was amazingly flavorful and substantive.

From the hot appetizers we ordered the Feta Prawns, Zuchinni Fritters and Sigara Boreği – feta cheese cigars.  All of them were wonderfully executed, coming out hot and in the case of the fritters and cigars – crisp.  I wouldn’t order the prawns again because the flavors were really flavors you would have in any other restaurant.  On the recommendation of WCR, we ordered the lentil soup to share.  That was truly eye opening because it was far different from any other lentil soup we’ve had.  It was very well spiced and made as a puree.  Because we had so many appetizers, we only Hünkar Beğendi, the lamb stew with the an eggplant puree.  The stew was fully flavored and savory but the puree was eye opening.  rather than being like baba ganouoj, it was thicker to be like a porridge that would complement the lamb stew.

I will say that it’s better to make reservations.  We didn’t have any and they were nice enough to accommodate us but they were packed and initially told us they couldn’t squeeze us in.

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DIY – Canning basics

The process of canning things to keep them for the long term can be lengthy. My fellow Oakland Local Blogger Jess Watson did a post on canning with a great breakdown of the costs. Connecting with your neighbors for foraged fruit is a great way to score fruit for jams. Another way is to tell your farmer’s market vendors you are canning and want their less desirable fruit. I’ve gotten reduced prices when I’ve requested the ugliest fruits. The Berkeley Bowl also has a section for not-so-nice produce for 99 cents a bad (usually about four pounds of produce).

Before we get into actual recipes, I’d like to give a bit more detail on the process of canning. Canning is very straightforward, but very involved.

The equipment:

A very large pot – If you can anything that is a quart size, you will need a pot that will hold enough water to cover the quart jars by at least 1 inch.
A jar funnel – this wide mouth funnel will save you a ton of time ladling stuff into jars. Also, it’s important to seal the jars for the rims to be clear of food stuff. A funnel will ensure a clean seal.
A jar tong – to lift jars out of boiling water.
A ladle – to scoop the stuff into the jars.
A magnetic lid stick (optional) – a plastic stick with a magnet at the end to lift up metal lids from boiling water.

The process:

1. Preparing the stuff inside. It could be a pickle where you simply blanch the vegetables and prepare the vinegar brine. It could be jam. It could be produce like tomatoes you want to can for the winter (requiring the requisite blanching and peeling).
2. Sterilizing the jars. It’s always important to sterilize the jars to ensure your food won’t spoil. Simply put the waters in water. Bring to a boil at boil them jars and lids for at least 10 minutes.
3. Filling the jars. Just remember to wipe down the rims to ensure a proper seal.
4. The final boil. Once filled and with the lids on, put the jars back in to boiling water and let them boil for a designated amount of time. For things like jams and pickles where vinegar and sugar and natural preservatives, you will only need to boil for about 10-20 minutes. For whole produce like tomatoes or fruit in syrup, you will have to boil them much longer (like 40 minutes) to ensure sterilization.

In the summer, the varieties of produce to can and capture their summer ripeness is dizzying. The downside is that no one wants the vats of boiling water heating up their kitchen. In the winter, the cold and dry air makes the vats of boiling water the most enjoyable. Unfortunately, the variety of produce available is limited. But there is produce to be had.

My favorite website is Food In Jars, an urban canner in Philadelphia with a tiny kitchen. My favorite recipes using winter fruit are:

Pear Vanilla Jam

Pear Cranberry Jam (I sub in the juice and zest of an orange for the lemon juice)

Barefoot Contessa Marmalade

Cross posted at oaklandlocal.

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10th Anniversary Dinner

This past Friday, J and I celebrated our 10th Anniversary.  Yes, 10 years ago we got hitched.  While the REALLY big celebration is our February vacation in Hawaii (don’t worry, we’ll blog about that), we had to mark the actual day.

As fate had it, a restaurant we were itching to try, Miss Ollie’s, was doing dinner service for restaurant week.  We loved chef Sarah Kirnon’s food since her time at Hibiscus.  We were really excited to see her open her own place but unfortunately, it was only open for lunch.  So hooray for restaurant week.  The great thing is that the menu was a prix fixe for $40 with cocktail and wine.  Also, because it’s a restaurant week experiment, there’s only one seating so we could have a leisurely meal.  Couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate our anniversary.

We started with THE BEST cocktail I’ve ever had – Ti drink of rum, ginger syrup and lime juice.  Then we went with the actual menu:

Macadam
A salad of salted cod, wild parsley, lime juice, oil cured pimento,
roasted garlic, and scotch bonnet pepper. This was just a perfectly balanced salad – salty, zesty, spicy.

Pickliz with plantain cakes.  Recently I’ve become and pickle lover and this was one of the best preparations, I’ve ever had.  It had pickled and shredded carrots and turnips  and another soft pickled onions to eat with the plaintain cakes.

Porc Boucane
Slowcooked “bucccaneer pork shoulder’ with sauce chien.  The pork should was cooked as a roast and sliced with the sauce chien which was a gremolata-like mixture of parsley, lemon zest, garlic, and green onions.  Incredibly tender and savory with a bright flavor of the sauce chien. 

Sides
Pigeon pea creole consomme
Puree of giraumon (sweet pumpkin)
Greens
All were delicious but the greens were a revelation.  They were gently cooked in coconut milk.  REAL FULL FAT coconut milk is now a staple in my kitchen. 

Afters
Kilibibi (sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg popped corn)
Sweet potato cake with caramel sauce
Sweet potato cake was perfect ending.  Sweet and creamy but small enough not to be too much.  The Kilibibi was something they gave to take home after a wonderful meal.

We can’t wait until they have regular dinner hours!

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Expanding the Empire

Hey Folks!

J and I have a new gig at Oakland Local.  For those of you in our hometown, “Oakland Local is the independent, non-profit news resource for what’s happening in education, city government, food, innovative tech, arts & culture, youth & more in Oakland.”  It was created in the wake of the Oscar grant protests to lift us the voices of actual Oakland residents.

As actual Oakland residents ourselves, we were asked to blog about our experience on food and Oakland.  So we will be posting weekly about food.  Not to worry, we’ll still be posting here.  The Oakland Local stuff will be specific to Oakland.  In fact you’ll probably see more content as we post links to our Oakland Local stuff.

Check out my first post.  Complete with snarky comment!  I have arrived!

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English Hunter’s Breakfast

Here’s a fair warning.  I’ve hit the canning bug and might be posting a lot on canning.  This winter, I learned how to can jam and am on a jamming kick.  It’s ridiculously straightforward (I wouldn’t say it’s easy because you have to do things so sequentially).

My canning kick actually got started a few summers ago when I canned tomatoes with West Coast Rebecca and Angela Goodhair.  Canning tomatoes are only fun when you are doing it with wine and friends.  Otherwise, it’s kind of a pain in the ass.

Basically, you sterilize the jars and lids in boiling water for 10 minutes.  Then you peel the tomatoes, put them in the jars.  Add about 2 tablespoons of an acid (we use lemon juice).  Wipe the rims clean and then add the lids on.  And then put the full jars back in the boiling water for 40 minutes.  None of this is complicated but boy is it a lot of work.

The result is that you get the full flavor of summer tomatoes in the middle of winter.  I did a winter gazpacho with canned tomatoes and it was divine.  Another awesome use of canned tomatoes are making a English Hunter’s Breakfast.  My friend Lady Bountiful made it for Christmas morning on year and it was at once fresh and filling.  It’s basically a biscuit with a gravy of canned tomatoes thickened with a roux.  That’s it.  I served mine with a ham steak that had a marmalade glaze on it but it’s a perfect vegetarian option without.

English Hunter’s Breakfast

The biscuit

Tomato gravy
1/2 large onion finely chopped
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 16 oz can of stewed tomatoes
1 teaspoon of balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Saute the onion in the butter until translucent.  And the flour and mix into the onion and butter until it looks like a paste.  Add the tomatoes and simmer until thickened.  Add the rest of the ingredients and stir until combined.   Serve over biscuit.

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The perfect biscuit

Ever since graduating college, I’ve been making biscuits.  I make the same kind without fail – Better Homes and Gardens Biscuit Supreme.  Like chocolate chip cookies, I have the biscuit recipe committed to memory.  Forget admonitions of using certain kinds of flour or adding buttermilk or cream, it’s all about how you handle the dough.

2 cups flour1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 cup of butter cut into pieces
2/3 cup of milk (plus more for moistening)

Heat the oven to 450.  So mix all the dry ingredients in a large bowl (I like using a whisk).  Add the butter and with a pastry cutter, cut until you get pieces the size of peas.  If you don’t have a pastry cutter, cut the butter into as small a piece as possible.  So here is my key tip for making flaky, tender biscuits – use your hands.  Using your thumbs and fingers, rub the butter and the flour together and flatten out the butter.   You can see how to do that here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0kQh8z_Jos Go to :42 to see the demonstration and ignore her telling you to use White Lily.  That’s a load of hooey.  Any all-purpose flour will work fine.  Once the butter is in good shape, add the milk.  Mix with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together.  Turn out on a floured board and knead a few times until the dough is a fairly uniform consistency (no super wet spots or super dry spots).  Press out to about 1 inch deep and cut into biscuit shapes (I use a glass).  Once you cut the biscuits, knead the scraps together and cut more biscuits. Put biscuits onto a greased pan (or in my case a Silpat thanks to my sister!) and bake for about 15 minutes on the middle rack.

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Responding to fan mail – On writing

So someone left the nicest comment today I’d like to share and respond to:

“First of all I would like to say fantastic blog!
I had a quick question which I’d like to ask if you do not mind. I was curious to know how you center yourself and clear your mind before writing. I have had a hard time clearing my thoughts in getting my ideas out. I do take pleasure in writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are generally wasted simply just trying to figure out how to begin. Any recommendations or hints? Many thanks!”

Given that I am down to two blog posts per month I could ask that question myself. But when I do put finger to keyboard this is my process. Get the kernel of what you want to write about. This is a food blog so I write about food. It could be the politics of food, food television, restaurant reviews, recipes or just play by plays of a dinner party. It is almost as important to know what you WON’T write about as what you will. Surprisingly, when you give yourself constraints on what you write about, the universe of what you CAN write about becomes super clear. For me, this is my blog. That I write online is completely voluntary. I know it would be different if I got paid.

“Inspiration” happens when you pay attention. I blog when I get one of two reactions. 1) Can’t you believe that sh$%#t?” or 2) OMG that was awesome. For a food blog the #1 topics can be things that the Food Network and its celebrities say/do, the fact that Roadfood excludes Asian restaurants or workers rights in ham factories. #2 is often a great restaurant, a clear recipe, or a fun event. Whatever it is, make it something you would be dying to tell your friends about.

When it comes to the actual writing, I just write crap. Seriously, I just put words on a screen without caring how they read. Because here’s the thing – you can fix incoherent, you can fix verbose, you can fix sounding silly. What you can’t fix is an empty screen. Just write dumb things and then take ten minutes and read it again to see how they sound. For me, there is not centering. There is no zen space. There’s just fingers on the keyboard and hoping for the best.

Hope that’s helpful!

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B Side

We have yet another favorite hangout.  B Side barbecue on San Pablo Avenue near the historic California Hotel.  B Side is from Tonya Holland, of Food Network and Brown Sugar Kitchen Fame.  B Side is named for San Pablo Avenue’s historic status as a barbecue thoroughfare in Oakland. The restaurant itself is a friendly and informal hangout.

They just started dinner service a month ago and they are already packed.  The food is signature Tonya Holland.  Interesting takes on barbecue classics.  Pretty much all the dishes are served a la carte with the meats ranging from $6 for a small order to $12 for a large order.  The sides are an affordable $4-5.

Meat: Our recommendation is to get the chicken wings no matter what.  They are spicy but only slightly sweet with a delightful smokiness.  They come with a blue cheese dressing that is delightfully restrained.  While the wings are a standout, the pulled pork sandwich is best in class and a great value at $8 (like other meat dishes it comes with coleslaw/salad and pickled vegetables).   So far we’ve gotten the dark and stormy ribs and they have the same smoky, spicy, sweet qualities as the wings.  While the salmon is amazing, it’s a bit pricey at $12 for maybe 6 oz of salmon.  And if they are on special, the burnt ends are TO DIE FOR.  So tasty and surprisingly tender.

Sides:  Pretty much everything is good, but the breads are mindblowing.  The cornbread has a nice balance of salty sweet and bready while the ACME white bread is done Texas Toast style.  I’m not a huge fan of the okra but it’s a great value at $5.  The rest of the sides are uniformly good if not creative but the standout is the pickled vegetables.  Holy cow are they good eating.  A GREAT balance of salty, sour and a little bit sweet.

And speaking of value,the cocktails come in quart size mason jars!  SCORE!

I’d highly recommend hauling your butt over because even though it’s full most nights, when people REALLY catch wind of B Side you’ll see Brown Sugar Kitchen lines.  Tonya Holland maintains her consistency with this food and it’s become one of our go-to eateries.

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Thanksgiving – The Good, Bad and Ugly

So this Thanksgiving was at once low-key and festive at the same time.  Rather than the big family Thanksgiving with the cousins, aunts and uncles, we had a few friends over.  The family tradition of doing a 5K/10K continued though with the addition of my mother and my uncle walking the 5K.  FAMILY REPRESENT!

The Good

  • The wine – all four bottles of it.  Drank an awesome prosecco with the cheese course and a delightful sweeter sparkling with dessert and three bottles in-between.
  • The turkey!  – I’ve got it DOWN.  It came out perfectly moist and flavorful.  The key was making the butter rub and rubbing down the turkey two days ahead.  
  • The vegetarian stuffing – infuse you vegetable stock with the soaking liquid from soaking dried mushrooms.
  • The GRAVY!  Yay West Coast Rebecca for her mad gravy skillz and YAY marsala wine.  It was the platonic ideal of gravy. 
  • The pumpkin pie from WCR.  She did the impossible – made pumpkin pie from fresh pumpkin which didn’t taste like squash. 

The Bad

  • The risotto which kind of got more congealed and overcooked.  However, it made perfect risotto cakes the next day.  

The Ugly

  • The grilled radicchio. That didn’t even make it to the table.  The grilled made the radicchio SOOOO bitter and burnt.  It was inedible. 
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