Thursday, July 31, 2008

buckwheat


i am a bit curious.

when you saw the word "buckwheat"...what came to mind?

did you think of soba? pancakes? breton crepes? did you think of a character from the little rascals?

did you think of fresh pasta?

i bet you didn't. well, neither did i.

i was very intrigued when i saw this at a local market. more often than not, when i become intrigued...i buy... and then figure something out later. the figuring out part is what happened yesterday. while i was waiting for my work computer to upload a seemingly gigantic boat load of files (which really shouldn't have taken as long as it did...but that is another non-food related story), i decided to take a moment and contemplate fresh buckwheat pasta.

inspiration is a bit odd sometimes. i was thinking of buckwheat and was thinking about the breton-style buckwheat crepes at ti couz and naturally, one of my favorite crepes they do is a mushroom crepe. thinking about the crepes made me realize that despite my mushroom obsession i haven't made anything mushroom-related since i returned from my last trip. that is like, a month without mushrooms (since i didn't have any on my 2 1/2 week trip).
qu'elle horror!

naturally, this must be remedied.

i sliced and roasted a melody of mushrooms (
trumpet royale, forest nameko, alba clamshell, brown clamshell, and shiitake) with some whole cloves of garlic.



i also decided to add a significantly larger amount of kalamata olive oil than usual as i wanted to use the oil infused with the mushrooms and garlic as the foundation for my pasta sauce. i also dried some fresh basil this week, so i crushed a few dried leaves and added the basil along with some kosher salt to the mushrooms. i definitely prefer to use dried herbs when i am roasting....and i absolutely prefer drying my own over the store bought kind. the potency is amazingly different.

once the seasoned mushrooms and garlic were done, i removed the mushrooms and garlic and set it aside.


then i poured the oil used to roast the mushrooms and garlic into a hot pan. then i added a couple of slices of anchovies ...once that disintegrated...i added some chili flakes.. well, quite a lot of chili flakes...and then after a few swirls.....i added am extra large nub of butter (plugra - salted), the roasted mushrooms/garlic mixture, and a very large handful of arugula. sometimes, i'll only add the arugula at the end of a hot dish so that it will just wilt from the heat and still have that strong pepper/bitter bite... but this time, i wanted to actually fry up the arugula to see how that would impact the oil/sauce....as well as temper the arugula bite. (btw...you can click on any of these pictures to see them larger....)


then i added the quickly cooked fresh buckwheat pasta. notice how the color of the pasta lighted up dramatically when it was cooked...

after the pasta tossed and ready i plated it in my sunny kitchen.


this turned out wonderfully. i'm actually having it again---right now. for lunch. yuummmmmmooooo. the buckwheat pasta has a bit of a nutty flavor which is complemented by the heartiness of the roasted mushrooms. also, i love having whole roasted garlic cloves in pasta....they are like a surprise when you bite into one and it completely alters the flavor of that particular bite. there is nothing subtle about this dish. it is very impertinent.....with very strong flavors, rich, hearty, spicy, and supremely satisfying.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

toasted disappointment


it looks good doesn't it? well, today was a lesson in that it absolutely does matter what the ingredients are.... particularly when one is making simple foods.

i decided to veer away from well known loves today and try a new bread. it is a gruyere cheese bread (which sounds pretty good doesn't it?) from a berkeley bakery. my suspicion was aroused when i sliced into the dark round. first up, i realized just how light the bread was...particularly for the size (i didn't realize this in the store as i was carrying quite a lot of things at the time). then, as i looked at the fresh slice of bread....it....well...it just looked a bit odd. it looked like wonder bread. i poked at the slice...it didn't have the spring or bubbles of a typical artisan bread. i smelled it. it didn't have a particular toasty or yeasty or hearty aroma....it just smelled of gruyere cheese. the cheese that was melted on top of the round....there was no cheese folded into the round. hmmmm. interesting.

my instincts were blaring. i had a moment. i thought to myself..."hmmmm, i don't know if i should even bother toasting this. my instinct tells me that this isn't going to be a good idea." but then i thought, attempting to placate my instincts.... "i should try new things and be a bit more open minded."

now, i'm not exactly monogamous when it comes to bread...there are quite a few bakeries (i.e., acme, grace, semifreddi, cheese board breads...just to name a few) that i seem to turn to again and again. my primary love is, of course, the acme upstairs bread.

however, i think sometimes venturing out and trying something new is a good thing. in this case, it made me appreciate the spongy chewy breads from the my loved bakeries.

you know what? i think today was also a lesson that sometimes it is a good idea to trust one's instincts. i doubt that i'll even make bread crumbs from this bread.

Monday, July 28, 2008

a simple lunch

i am attempting to make a deadline. i have a feeling that i'll be thinking, writing, and/or saying those words an awful lot in this new job. the fact that midnight in ca is 8am in the uk....well, that makes things even more interesting. for my lunch today, i wanted something filling, salty, spicy, quick, and relatively healthy. hmmmm, a seemingly tall order don't you think?

since i have been back from the uk, i realized that i had gotten out of the habit of making quinoa. i decided to remedy that today and made the super grain the basis of my meal. as accompaniments, i decided up on some braised kale (from riverdog farm of course) and some boiled eggs (organic brown cage free). as you can probably see, the eggs were seasoned a bit...with nuoc mam and chili flakes (gotta get my salty and spicy in there). it was exactly what i needed and helped me from just eating toast (or some variation thereof) all day.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

another late start


another late start today. perhaps i should just call saturday my "late start" day? yet, at some point, i do want to get up early enough to get to the sf ferry building farmers market.....however, today is definitely not that day.

despite my late start and my brain attempting to process through a foggy haze...i tried something new for my late morning breakfast.


i had a semifreddi morning bun that was a couple of days old. i was very reluctant to waste it......and was inspired to make it into a toast. big shock huh? especially since i seem to eat some variation of toast every day.

i must say that it worked out smashingly well. the smell alone that filled my place was worth the idea.....what a nice welcoming smell in the morning. when i took the toast out of the oven, i slathered large amounts of my homemade conserve consisting of apricot, plum, plucot, and habanero chili.


yum yum. this morning treat was particularly good with a nice "cup" of earl grey tea. perhaps getting up so late isn't such a bad thing after all.


Friday, July 25, 2008

a tale of two jams

so i've been thinking a lot about the combination of sweet and spicy notes the last few weeks. well, sweet is obviously for my gigantic sweet tooth and spicy...well, me love the hot stuff. i think of my love of spicy hot stuff as one of those lifetime affairs that i'm pretty committed to.

as i was percolating over the possibilities, i decided to make some spicy fruit conserves. yet what chili to use? fresh? powered cayenne? dried bird eye chili? should i make a sugar syrup infused with chili...then add the fruit? the options seemed quite endless and i hadn't even started yet. eventually, i decided upon habanero as it may be my imagination, but i think habanero has some "fruity" notes to it.

well for my first foray into the sweet spicy conserve realm, i decided to keep it real simple. the first conserve consisted of fresh dark red pitted cherries and a few slices of habanero---sans the ribs or seeds....i wanted to be conservative with the spice for this experiment. also, as the sweetener, i used raw agave.


this one turned out quite nice and the couple of slices of the habanero minced up


really impacted the conserve.


it wasn't overly spicy but you could tell there was chili in it. the spice underscored the chunks of cherries and didn't overpower the fruit. interestingly enough, the chili really brought out "green" flavor notes with the cherries (not in a bad way).

for my second venture, i decided to kick up the spice component substantially... so i wanted a conserve with very strong sweet and sour flavors. as a result, this conserve consisted of apricots, plums, and plucots. as for the habanero, i added 4x the amount i used for the cherry conserve...and this time, i included the ribs of the pepper. again, i used only agave as my sweetener.


as this conserve was bubbling away, i could immediately smell the difference. this just smelled like it would be spicy. yum yum. plus, my mouth was already watering at the thought of flavors that combined sweet, sour, spicy, and fruity notes.


sure enough, after this conserve was done cooking...i tasted a bit of it warm...and it definitely had a stronger kick to it. also, the sweet and sour notes of the fruit held up well and didn't get overwhelmed by the habanero. i think this one is my favorite of the bunch...although the cherry habanero conserve is really good.

once both jams had cooled, i decided to truly test them out....i put split a couple of bánh bông lan (think sponge cake) and added a spoonful of jam on each.....

with some requisite tea of course.....


both were very yummy. i think i'll be adding spicy homemade fruit conserves to my everyday repertoire.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

a moment of morning perspective


hmmmm. no matter how chaotic and busy things get at this new job, i think i will always need to pause for a moment...take a deep breath.....step back, and gain a bit of perspective. sometimes, it is really nice to do this with a semifreddi's morning bun, a large scoop of homemade cherry conserve, and tea.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

gỏi cuốn....what is in a name?

summer rolls. salad rolls. spring rolls. fresh rolls. cold rolls.

these are all various names for gỏi cuốn, a refreshing mix of mint, lettuce, vermicelli rice noodles, bean sprouts, chives....with sometimes shrimp and/or poached pork. i find it easier to look for name
gỏi cuốn than trying to figure out the english translation.

well, whatever you decide to call it, it makes for a good snack.

Monday, July 21, 2008

bánh giò: a steamed dumpling-tamale in a banana leaf

for the longest time, i had no idea what the name of bánh giò was. like many vietnamese dishes, i only knew bánh giò on sight and taste. i adore these things. i adore the steamed rice flour and tapioca dough that cuddles the yummy filling....a filling that consists of sautéed salty ground pork and wood ear mushrooms. i find these things to be a bit addicting.

when i was a little neophyte foodie hunter, i remember getting 3 of these triangle shaped goodies at a time at local delis that specialized in vietnamese street food. when i got them home,


i'd quickly unwrap one,

spit it apart,


splash on some nuoc mam and reheat it in the microwave

for a quite a few years, my favorite food was a toss up between these goodies and chile colorado burritos -- extra spicy...at guadalajara market (10th and empire in san jose). i think if you asked me during that time, i would lean one way or the other depending on which fave i thought i was going to eat that day.

now, fast forwarding to present time...because didn't know the name of bánh giò, it was a bit more complicated tracking it down because quite a few steamed dumplings-tamale-like dishes like bánh giò come wrapped in banana leaves. when i would try to find it, it was more hit-or-miss (mostly miss) as many folks that work the deli's i went to didn't speak very much english and i speak no vietnamese.

yet, my luck changed yesterday when i was in oakland's chinatown. i decided to drop into a take out place on webster....from the window it looks like a typical fast-food chinese place...the sort of place where i usually just keep walking by... but a couple of months ago, i saw some vietnamese street food sitting on top of the counter....and when i walked inside, i noticed that they had quite a selection of vietnamese street food products. normally, this place is super duper packed and there is absolutely no notion of a line or cue...and the spoken english is pretty pidgin. yet, yesterday, after i grabbed some bun bo hue, i noticed it wasn't as crowded so i ducked in to get some snacks.

lo'and behold, the woman that waited on me spoke perfect english! i used that as an opportunity to ask her what was in the various triangle shapped dumplings...and with great patience she explained the ingredients until she got to the bánh giò. when she got to the bánh giò, i asked her the vietnamese name. she seemed pleased that i asked and after she told me, i kept repeating "
bánh giò, bánh giò, bánh giò, must not forget!" to myself all of the way home. i doubt that i'll forget the name of this goodie....ever.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

bún bò huế: a bright spot during a dreary day


it is a dreary day today. it is one of those overcast days that makes me wonder if it really is july. i actually didn't feel like leaving my place today due to the weather. yet, i really really really wanted to have some bún bò huế. it is funny... now, that i know where to get it (kim huong), i'm all about having it almost on a weekly basis. i practically did have it on a weekly basis before i left on my last trip. the spicy broth with thick round rice noodles and hearty slices of pork and beef... so good...so yummmy....and such the ultimate comfort in a bowl. i find anytime i feel on the verge of (or actually, right smack in the middle of) not feeling well, then i crave spicy hot soup with a vengeance. i often imagine that the fire burns the sadness and other lurking bad stuff away. perhaps that is it..you know....some mystical cure of warmth and spice. or perhaps it is all of the released endorphins reacting to the self inflicted pain. well, either way works for me.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

late start


today was quite the lazy day. i did absolutely no work today and it felt really good. i think i absolutely needed a break. my body definitely let me know this when i didn't get out of bed today until 11:30am. after creeping out of my warm and cozy bed, i puttered around my kitchen. while i was puttering around, i left a message for CW letting him know that i was finally awake and to give me a ring before he headed on over. we had made plans to see the dark knight (i.e., batman) today. i wasn't about to be so lazy that i'd miss out on a chance to go see christian bale as batman. intense interpretation. very intense. i'm not afraid to admit that i like intense.

anyway, as i puttered around my kitchen looking for my breakfast-lunch...as well as waiting for my brain to fully wake up.... i initially decided upon melted parmesan on top of toasted upstairs bread....


yet, once it was "ready, i changed my mind. i decided that parm and cheese alone just wasn't going to do it and i wanted something else....so i added some smashed avocado.....


but that still wasn't enough. this just shows how my decision process gets all whacked when i'm am woozy from sleep and know that i really don't have to wake up. if i have to wake up....for like work or something like that...then the brain synapses go into "red alert" mode....but if i know that i don't really have to be awake...well, lets just say that i end up being in state that is a step up or two from a sleep walking zombie.

in my zombie like state, i thought "what else should i add to the parm and avocado?"....then inspiration hit and i went for the arugula and a couple of cherry tomatoes.

it was perfect. just a perfect start to a late day.

Friday, July 18, 2008

hell-fire salsa: how appropriate


well, i'm pretty certain that i still have a job.

i had a meeting with mr. french boss boss (i.e., the boss of my boss...hence he is "boss boss") today and was very honest about my impressions of my new company. normally, i keep those thoughts completely to myself and absolutely positively do not feel motivated to share them. yet, as mr. french knows me pretty well and recruited me to this new company...he knows that i don't usually volunteer that sort of information unless asked directly. so of course, he asked directly and set aside an hour to discuss. naturally, nothing is more pleasant than squirming in the hot seat for an hour and wondering if you're still going to have a job at the end of it.

now, it is one thing to be so honest with mr french boss boss...but when he said that he'd like me to monitor the market and not be afraid to be provocative and say what i really think to the rest of the exec team on a quarterly basis, my initial thought was "bloody hell". i suppose all of this time around brits is starting to rub off. hmmm, maybe i'll also start saying everything is "brill-i-ant" or "fan-tas-tic" as well. anyway, i'm not certain what your experience, dear hearts, has been with execs...but my experience with execs is something a kin to tip toeing through a mine field. i think i've survived in my current iteration of my service-oriented career by providing execs with the information they need without inserting my personal agenda or perspective. call it a survival tactic when surrounded by super intense people with strong personalities ...who have the power to fire you on the spot.

now armed with the project initiative of presenting possibly unpopular and provocative (i.e., which is likely just another word for unpopular) perspectives to the exec team is a bit like trying to walk through hell without any demons noticing. this is why i think munching on hell-fire salsa is sooooo appropriate today. i enjoy eating the salsa straight for the full kick...but i also enjoy sticking cubes of rip avocado into it (see above)....fire-y, creamy, and just want you need to get the blood pumping....as if meetings with the boss boss wasn't enough to do so.

for those of you who haven't had hell-fire salsa, it is a local product from happy jackal...they are based in santa cruz and, unlike many so-called hot salsas, hell-fire salsa really is spicy hot. i think the habeneros may have something to do with it. just a guess.

oh, and in keeping with the "hell-fire" theme....i'll also be seeing hellboy (oh yeah!) later this evening as well. quite, serendipitous, don't you think?

local kitchen and wine merchant: a soma restaurant


BF and DB had been talking about local for a few weeks before my various trips around the states and uk. they seemed to enjoy it each time they went and it seemed to be quite popular with other folks in their soma building. it is hard to believe that it has probably been about a month since the last time i saw BF. time goes by very quickly. perhaps a bit too quickly. i think this is the longest time i've gone without seeing him for a few years now.... so when BF suggested that we all go to local for dinner, i was extremely agreeable.

after thursday evening's experience, i can completely understand why
they enjoy it so much. the location is a bit odd. one would never think that this place even exists off of 1st and folsom in soma....especially from the outside.

this street doesn't exactly say "hey...chic modern restaurant here!" yet, once inside the building.... the look-and-feel is very nice. it is very tasteful and modern....and the food was quite good.

i ordered the fries with shaved parmesan and truffle oil (see picture above) as well as the charcuterie plate as my starter... (hey i was hungry).....


and then had the fresh pasta with a spicy bolognese


i copied BF because he always gets this dish when visiting local. i think the next time i pay a visit to local, i may order the bolognese again as well. i absolutely love the spice of their sauce. at so many places...the bolognese has no spice...yet, this sauce had the spice as well as the meltingly tender nubs of meat. yum yum.

DB ordered a yummy pizza with mushrooms, arugula, green olives and garlic.....DB let me have a slice...and i must say that the combination works very well.


overall, it was a lovely evening....great company and great food. i'm a lucky foodie.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

snacking away on summer fruit salad...

i typically dislike ordering fruit salad from a restaurant or deli as what often passes for "fruit salad" often consists of huge cubes of under ripe melon, maybe two halves of a hard strawberry, and if you are really lucky....a few tasteless blueberries.

yet, making a fruit salad at home is completely different. it elevates the humble fruit salad into a "destination" kind of event. it also allows one to be a bit flexible and creative....depending on the ingredients at hand.

today, i started out with cutting up a santa rosa plum, a plucot, an apricot...along with a handful of cherries.....

then as i was putting it together, i remembered that i also had some blueberries as well....and these blueberries are quite tasteful. aren't the colors pretty and inviting?

after i assembled the fruit together and drizzled on some agave...i was about to walk away from the counter with my pretty plate of fruit and thought....why not have some yogurt too? there is enough fruit to make a yogurt dish as well as a fruit salad. so back to fridge i went to whip up the fruit and yogurt dish.....


this is where making this sort of dish at home is really handy. when inspiration hits...it is quite easy to accommodate it. both the yogurt and the salad were very nice snacks.


i ended up eating the yogurt right away and then picked at the salad for at least an hour or so. every time i took a bite i kept thinking "yum yum for my tum tum". i love munching away on yummy stuff while i'm working.

it is so good to be home.

cherry crisis averted


i bought quite a bit of produce at berkeley bowl earlier this week. one of the very decadent purchases i made was a large amount of cherries. after i arrived home from berkeley bowl, i placed them in the fridge as i love super cold sweet cherries.

yet...alas...last night when i went into the fridge for a cherry treat, i took a couple and popped them into my mouth and was extremely surprised. you see, what happened was that there was an open bag of the very fragrant basil in the fridge right next to the cherries. so guess what i tasted when i ate one of the cherries?

basil flavored cherry.

i almost wanted to cry right on the spot. cherries are not exactly the cheapest fruit.

while a basil cherry citrus compote or relish may be intriguing on top of a brined piece of pan fried pork.... i was in the mood for fresh cherries....that tasted like pure cherry... not basil flavored fresh cherries. then i thought, "how can i save the cherries?" i decided to soak them in water overnight to see what would happen. really, what did i have to loose at this point?

this morning i did the taste test and alas, cherry crisis averted. no more basil notes! thank the gods that worked out.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

lychee frozen yogurt

i took a late lunch break today but, oddly enough, i was having a difficult time deciding what i wanted to eat. you'd think it would have been easy to decide as i haven't eaten downtown in a while. yet, i suppose my difficulty in choosing had something to me munching on spicy blue corn tortilla chips with hellfire salsa for a substantial amount of time before exiting my place.

hmmmmm. that must have been it, huh?

well, i was on a mission...a mission to get outside for at least a few minutes today....appreciate being outside....

and eating something so i won't be starving at 7pm or so...when i am in the middle of trying to finish off a report. so, i just headed south through downtown and thought... "i've got to find something that sounds appealing".

as i walked through downtown, i decided to pay yogurt harmony a visit. it has been ages since i've been. i went almost twice a week when it first opened. then, maybe... once a every other week or so.

while i typically get a small plain yogurt with no toppings when i visit yogurt harmony, i decided to branch out today. one of the flavors they were offering today was lychee. now, i definitely like lychee. yet, i had never had it in a frozen concoction before. hmmm. i decided to really branch out and get the lychee frozen yogurt with mango topping.


it was really yummy. i think the lychee frozen yogurt was just the thing i needed to peak my curiosity and my appetite.