Our food writing class took a food centric tour of San Francisco’s Mission District. Here are a few of the places that we visited.

1)   La Victoria – We were introduced to some traditional Mexican pastries. Most of them are under a dollar by popular demand. All are baked in house.

Shown above: A “concha” pastry. It is sweet, but not overpowering sweet. It has a buttery flavor, too.

Shown above: An assortment of pastries that we sampled, only a few of the many that they make. One of my favorites was the ciudadela, named to mock the Spanish architecture of the Citadel in Mexico. Also shown is the coconut macaroon and the concha.

2)   La Palma – We got to sample a huarache, which is basically a really long taco. The flavors were great. This one had pork, cabbage, cilantro, onion, queso fresco, and black beans

3)   Taquerias El Farolito (24th and Mission) – This taco al pastor was so flavorful. Marinated pork is sautéed to achieve that flavor reminiscent of meat cooked on a rotating spit (tacos al pastor is influenced by Lebanese settlers in Mexico). Topped with onions and cilantro, this was my favorite thing all day.

4)   Mr. Pollo – Owners Manny, Ivan, and Sean bring influences from Venezuela and Guam (Ivan) to this formerly Columbian restaurant. It is small – just two tables – and the owners do everything including front of the house work. Ivan explained to us how they hit the farmers market daily. Since they are so small, he says it allows them to feature ingredients from the market that he couldn’t  if it were larger.

Shown here: coconut milk polenta (creamy), fried plantain (crispy edges), and arugula salad for freshness and acididty.

 

5)   Humphrey’s Slocombe – This place features ice cream flavors you wont find elsewhere.

Some of the flavors were chocolate smoked sea salt, bourbon & cornflakes (you really get the bourbon), brown sugar fennel (one of my favorites), and oolong tea. They use organic Straus Family Creamery dairy and use local ingredients. I sampled many flavors and settled on the chocolate smoked sea salt. Wow. One thing that really struck me was how creamy the texture was.

Chinatown in San Francisco

January 23, 2012

This picture shows an array of teas from the Red Blossom tea shop in Chinatown of San Francisco. Our pretty young tea sampler, who apparently left a very good paying job to return to Chinatown and run the family business, demonstrated to us the traditional method of brewing tea in China. First, place a small amount of loose tea, a bright and fresh green tea in our case, into a tea pot, porcelain or glass is best. The leaves are first awakened by pouring hot water over them and quickly discarding the water. Allow the leaves to steep for a few minutes in hot water and then decant into a second pot, so as to not oversteep. The leaves may be used again for a second emulsion, which is even better than the first. Once served, the tea is slurped to cool the tea, as well as to enjoy the finish in the back of your throat.

We visited the Four Seasons restaurant for dim sum. The following are just a few of the selections.

Bean Curd Roll: vegetable spring roll, and shrimp and chive dumpling.

Beef Chow Fun: local and freshly made rice noodles with beef and snow peas. This was one of many dishes so I was already getting full.

Sesame Balls: A subtly sweet end to the meal. These are best eaten really hot. A rice flour dough is stuffed with a sweet lotus bean paste, rolled in sesame seeds, and then deep fried.

Mock Chopped Challenge

January 23, 2012

If you have ever watched Chopped (The Food Network), then you know how challenging it can be. Each contestant receives a basket of 3-4 mystery ingredients with which they must make a composed dish before the clock runs out. In the chopped spirit, our class was assigned to do just that, only minus the time constraints.

The three ingredients that I randomly picked were boneless skinless chicken breast (yawn), banana (ok, challenging for sure), and basil.

Immediately my mind went to the Elvis Sandwich. This sandwich of peanut butter, honey and bacon is rumored to have been Elvis Presley’s favorite (and one of mine, now, too). I added a little inspiration from peanut butter and banana sandwiches of my childhood and my concept was formed: I alternated petite t

oasts (they look like mini pieces of sliced bread) smothered with freshly ground honey roasted peanut butter, banana slices, bacon, and small cubes of basil scented poached chicken. Here’s a picture of what it looks like:

The recipe is easy enough for my 10 year old step-daughter Laura to make (although she would never eat it because she’s picky):

Elvis Sandwich Inspired Skewers

1 TBS canola oil

1 TBS butter

1 large boneless skinless chicken breast, 1 in. cubes

1 banana (not over ripe)

Freshly groun

d honey roasted peanut butter or ½ cup of regular with 1 TBS of honey

6 slices of thick center cut bacon, cut in thirds

3-4 basil leaves

For Bacon:

In a large pan arrange bacon in a single layer. Cook on low heat until done. Meanwhile, cook chicken (below). When bacon is done, remove and place on a paper towel lined plate.

For Chicken:

Heat a large pan over medium. Add the oil. Add chicken and sauté until the outside of each piece turns white (about 3-4 min.). Add the butter and basil. Turn heat to low, cover, and cook through (about 3-4 min. more). Don’t overcook. Remove chicken from pan to stop the cooking process and set aside. Once thy have rested 5 minutes, cut them to ½ inch pieces.

To Assemble Skewers:

Alternate a peanut butter smothered petit toast, banana slice, bacon (skewer in and out to get bacon to fold on itself), and finally chicken. Repeat. Finish the skewer with another peanut butter petite toast. Makes at least 5 skewers.

I wanted to understand what cooking meant to my mom…….so I thought I would ask.

Jamie: Mom, can I interview you for a blog post for my food writing course?

Mom: Sure

Jamie: What was the hardest part about cooking for us?

Mom: (Long silence) I can’t really think of anything

Jamie: Were there any disappointments cooking for us? You know like maybe you spent an hour cooking something for us and we wouldn’t eat it? Or, maybe you would get frustrated that we were picky or demanding? Any feeling like that that you can remember?

Mom: (Long silence) I can’t think of anything right now.

Jamie: Ok. How about this one, has your relationship with food changed in any way over the years as a result of cooking for us?

Mom: I don’t think so. I used to make instant mash potatoes but your dad taught me to make real mashed potatoes. Ted (my stepfather) taught me to make sauces.

Jamie: What did cooking mean to you? Did you like it? Was it rewarding or did you just do it because you needed to eat?

Mom: I don’t know. I like cooking if there is no pressure but not when I’m tired.

Jamie: What was you favorite thing for us to cook together?

Mom: (Long silence) Maybe curry chicken? I don’t know if it was my favorite for us to make but it is all I can think of.

Jamie: What were the trials of cooking for us?

Mom: The what?

Jamie: The trials, you know?

Mom: Sometimes I would make spaghetti. That was a little hard I guess.

Ok, so my mom is not exactly one to self reflect. She is not known to get all sentimental or nostalgic. She has a poor memory. Exchanges with mom like the one you read above use to frustrate me to no end. Now I know that it’s not that she doesn’t give a shit, she just doesn’t show emotions well. She’s like a stereotypical dude in some ways I guess.

One thing she does fairly well is curry chicken.

Curry Chicken

1 whole chicken, skinned and cut up

1 cup honey

¾ – 1 cup mustard (to taste)

1 teaspoon curry powder

Put chicken pieces in a 9” x 12” baking pan and bake for 40 minutes at 350 degrees. Meanwhile, mix honey, mustard and curry powder to taste. Drain grease off chicken. Spoon all of curry mixture on top of chicken pieces. Bake an additional 20 minutes, tasting every 5-7 minutes.

Soft Boiled Eggs

January 12, 2012

Call me a control freak, obsessive, compulsive, or nutty. I am very picky about how my soft -boiled eggs turn out. Both the eggs and the half english muffin on which they rest must be hot when the plate hits the table. The egg white must be somewhat firm but the yolk runny. The english muffin must be toasted to medium. Any deviations on the above two specifications and I scrap it and start over. Yes, I said it. I throw it away and begin again. Sorry, kids in Africa.

With such rigid and specific demands on myself, I cease all conversation once the eggs are dropped in the water. I have to carefully time the English muffins to pop up when the eggs are almost finished. Butter toast. Eggs out, peel eggs quickly, running under water to spare my fingertips from a scalding. Quickly, I placed the eggs on the muffins and then it’s a dash to the table. I break only one egg while the other stays warm. The yoke runs out on the muffin. Ok, now I can relax. Ahh.

Yes, I need help. But at least I make good eggs.

“If you go to Phoenix, you have to go to Pizzeria Bianco. Just be prepared for the usual 2 – 3 hour wait”, the yelper wrote. Two or three hours? ” That’s insane.”  Just crazy enough to warrant a visit.

About a month later, after much anticipation, Leonard and I excitedly made our way across the lawn toward the entrance. The restaurant, once inside, appeared to have once been a residential home, large enough for eight tightly–spaced tables. Once we checked in, we were lead back outdoors to the adjacent free standing wood framed building which we soon realized also used to he someone’s home. “This is where you may relax until your table is ready,” the hostess smiled and gestured us into a room adjacent to the wine bar. We settled into a bottle of cabernet, slowly sipping and commenting on the living room decor in between nibbles of marcona almonds and some sheep’s milk cheese.

By the time she returned to summon us to dinner, one hour and forty five minutes had raced by, and my body felt warm from a mixture of the cabernet and Leonard’s good natured humor. Back across the lawn and into the first wood-framed space we returned, where our table awaited us. The wood fire oven gave the space a warm glow and invited us in further. So here we are, our expressions seemed to say.

Wasting little time, we settled on three pies: the Sony Boy, the Wise Guy and the Bianco Verde, all of which I recognized from the enthusiastic yelpers who had rarely steered us wrong. When the three arrived, we chuckled while rearranging as to make room on our two-seater table. Normally I would pause momentarily to admire aesthetics, but pizza should be eaten piping hot, so I wasted no time taking the first bite. My knife and fork went first for the Sonny Boy – tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, salami, and gaeta olives. The knife sunk through the gooey cheese and toppings and through the chewy crust.

The first bite is always my favorite, when I am salivating with hunger. My appetite now in high gear and my impulse control suppressed, my fork went for the Wise Guy with kid-like impatience – wood roasted onions, house smoked mozzarella. parmigiano reggiano, ricotta, and arugula. Forgetting my utensils beside my plate, it was hands only time. Bite after bite, we hoovered those pies until it hit me that we could take the rest to go. Ahh. We sat for moment and enjoyed that fully belly feeling, smiling contently at each other as if to congratulate the other for the teamwork in polishing off most of three pies.

Now it’s nap time.

Apple

January 8, 2012

Growing up in the Redlands in the semi-rural outskirts of Miami, FL, I had never so much as heard of a fuji apple. Thinking back, I wonder if my dad kept a few pieces of fruit in a fruit bowl just to avoid parental guilt.

The contents of the bowl were always the same. Two or three apples and two or three oranges would stare back at me as I ate my morning cereal. Given the fact that the fruit bowl didn’t have many visitors, its inhabitants were almost always pathetically long passed their prime. Given that my dad would not toss them until they showed visible signs of decay, they mostly served a decorative purpose.

Occasionally, my step mother would slip one into a bag lunch for a field trip to Metro Zoo or the Seaquarium. Waxy and red, I only knew them to be called “ washington apples”. I’d stare at it for a moment then finally take a bite. Meh. Not crunchy really. Sweet enough, maybe too sweet. Four or five bites in I would shove it aside feeling I had done my parents proud for attempting.

So you see, apples never really excited me.

Until 20 years later when I had a fresh fuji apple.

Wow, I thought. Where have you been all these years, you sweet, tart, crunchy handful of goodness? So complex is the taste of your flesh. So mind blowingly crunchy is your outer skin. Now crunch after crunch, slurp after slurp, your juice quenching my thirst and refreshing my mouth, until I satisfyingly set your stem and core softly on my napkin, and silently wished dad could still be with us to stock the fruit bowl now.