Thursday, August 23, 2012

TGIF: In the kitchen with Emma

When the lovely and super-talented Emma of Poires Au Chocolat visited California a few months ago, she rented out an absolutely beautiful home in the Berkeley hills so that she could work on recipes for her future book. I managed to convince her to let me tag along while she recipe-tested, mainly so that I could taste the awesome British desserts that came flying out of the kitchen. Let me just say... the girl knows how to make some damn fine desserts! I cannot wait until her book is done. If what I tasted during her visit is any indication, that book is going to be positively amazing. Thanks, Emma, for letting me play kitchen paparazzi for a day while you baked away!

Happy Friday, everyone! Make sure to make some time for tea and scones this weekend!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Kitchen Prep and a Simple Summer Menu

It's not often that the actual counters of my kitchen make a public appearance. The light in my kitchen is particularly horrid, either with direct sunlight bursting full blast through a small window or no light at all (and I don't have a budget that can afford flash strobes for an artificial light set-up), and the counters of my kitchen are usually covered with a layer of caked-on chocolate or dirty dishes waiting to be wiped up in the chaos that pervades my life. But, thanks to some extreme coincidence and some miraculous cleaning from family and friends after July's wedding cake adventure, there happened to be a day when I was prepping for a small dinner party that (1) my counters were (relatively) clean and (mostly) chocolate-free, and (2) clouds drifted in front of the sun outside, letting diffuse light brighten up a corner of the kitchen without its usual uncontrollable intensity. So for once, that day, I got to cook with my camera beside me and capture the process rather than the end result, which is quite refreshing since usually, it's the opposite for me.

For this dinner, I didn't have any elaborate plans: it was a casual hangout on a Saturday night for a couple of friends who live a bit further away and who aren't in the area very often. (Then, a few more friends joined at the last minute--but the more, the merrier! :)) Basically, the menu was formed from whatever I managed to find inspiring at the market that morning:

a Summer Saturday Dinner

kalamata olive tapenade or tomato conserve
with toasted sweet baguette

nasturtium and granny's bonnet salad
with shaved radishes, mixed greens, and whole grain mustard and honey balsamic vinaigrette

red and gold beets
marinated in apricot-orange jam vinaigrette
with goat cheese and honey

blackened padrón peppers
with lemon zest and smoked Maldon salt

seafood paella
with mussels, shrimp, and spicy chicken sausage

Greek yogurt
with orange blossom strawberries, brown sugar shortbread crumble, and Tcho chocolate

Pine Ridge rosé
lemon and fresh mint fizz

I've been somewhat obsessed with beets lately, and the marinated beets and goat cheese that I made that night was a dish inspired by a recent visit to State Bird Provisions--an amazing up-and-coming restaurant in SF that serves small plates as you chat with the chefs working in the tiny kitchen. The tender beets are marinated in a sweet and tangy combination of apricot-orange jam (leftover from making this dessert) and a dash of vinegar and served with creamy goat cheese topped with dabs of mild honey.... so simple and divine. The olive tapenade that I made for the crostini appetizers was from David Tanis's book, with a quick squeeze of lemon juice thrown in for a wee bit more acidity than his original recipe calls for (but that I think makes the recipe even better!). The tapenade matures for a few hours in the fridge and is even better the second day, satisfyingly salty when I slathered it on top of leftover paella for lunch.

For greens, we had a colorful floral salad, all spicy with crunches of shaved radishes and whole grain mustard vinaigrette, and the spice theme continued through the blackened padrón peppers (lightly salted with some lemon smoked Maldon) and the spicy and saffron-y seafood paella, boasting a kick of smoky pimentón and tomato. For drinks, I broke into a Pine Ridge rosé that's been sitting in the back of my cupboard for a while since I thought that the dry pink would go well with the spice and seafood, but the real hit of the night as far as drinks went was the homemade lemon and fresh mint fizz. Inspired by my mint plants (which I've miraculously kept alive for over a year now), I mashed together mint leaves and lemon zest, threw them in sugar and water with whole lemons for a simple syrup, and added sparkling water to the syrup as needed for some awesome, brightly-flavored, home-grown soda.

Dessert was a completely unfussy affair, more of a plateful of the necessary tastes and textures to make up a subtle sweet ending to a simple summertime meal than a big bang at the end: fresh strawberries from the market lightly flavored with sugar and orange blossom, some buttery sweet and toothy crumble (made with hard red winter wheat for some oomph), thick and creamy and tart Greek yogurt, and a square of dark Tcho chocolate to round it off. Sometimes, easy is best. :)

Thursday, August 16, 2012

TGIF: the Sutro Baths, San Francisco

On the tippity tip of San Francisco by the Pacific Coast, beneath tall coastal trees, and down a cliff-side maze of sandy trails and staircases, sits the modern-day ruins of the Sutro Baths. I'd heard about the Baths a long time ago when I had a wee childhood obsession with the neighboring Cliff House, but I had never actually ventured down from the top of the cliff for a visit. So, in a continuation of my exploration of the City by which I live and of which I know very little, a few old college friends and I went out a couple weekends back to poke around. (before heading to dinner at B Star Bar, which is--as I discovered that night--one of the few restaurants in the area that serves ochazuke, a Japanese comfort food dish that's a particular favorite of mine. The B Star version was terrific, with salmon, poached egg, pickled veggies, and crunchy genmai, all hot and soupy and perfect for the wintery and foggy San Francisco summer weather... but I digress.)

It turns out that the Sutro Baths were a magnificent engineering achievement of the late 1800s, built by a former mayor of San Francisco (who was a very rich man). The Baths encompassed numerous swimming pools of various temperatures--all fed and replenished by tide waters of the Pacific Ocean--, diving platforms, stadium seating, private dressing rooms for hundreds of people, and a museum. Later in its life, part of it was even converted into an ice skating rink. I had no idea of the grandeur of the place (or that such a place could even exist!) until googling to find out more led me to sites featuring really cool old photos and memorabilia from the heyday of the Baths. Then, in the 60s, the entire site burned down to almost nothing, and what remains today are bare outlines of the pools that the Baths once contained, reclaimed by algae, murky waters, and seagulls.

Visiting the Baths was pretty cool, because you can walk along the edges of the pools (being very careful not to fall in or get swept into the sea) and imagine what it could have possibly been like in the late 1800s. I've always imagined ruins to be ancient sorts of places, like the marbled columns of Ancient Rome or the wheel-carved cobbled streets of long-buried Pompeii, so seeing more recent ruins is quite surreal. You can also walk through the tunnel that used to feed ocean waters into the pools and marvel at the engineering it must have taken to make and maintain such a large operation--back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, no less. It's an interesting walk through a slice of San Francisco history that you don't often hear about.

Anyhow, I hope everyone has a wonderful upcoming weekend, full of adventures into the unexplored corners of your hometowns (or whatever towns you happen to be in, for that matter!). Happy Friday!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Raspberry Sorbet and Ginger Beer Floats

Lately, all the desserts that I've been making seem to be frozen ones: they're super easy, super delicious, super perfect for the hot weather, and they disappear super quickly from my freezer. This raspberry sorbet is the latest concoction out of the ice cream maker, and it's so thick and dense and packed with raspberries that it tastes almost creamy--even though there's no dairy in it. (Also, I looooove how deeply pink-red it is.) Then, as an extra treat, I've been pouring some of my favorite extra spicy ginger beer (a nonalcoholic and stronger version of ginger ale) on top to make a fruitier version of the classic root beer float: the raspberry sorbet and ginger beer float, which is so perfectly refreshing.

Not a long post today since I have to wake up extra, extra early tomorrow to catch some sunrise photography, and it's already midnight! (eep!)

P.S. I'll be passing through Boulder, CO and Kansas City over the next few days. Do you all have any suggestions for absolutely-do-not-miss restaurants and foodie hangouts???

Read on for recipe....

Friday, August 10, 2012


Happy Friday, everyone! August is just flying by... (very much without me, it feels).

I had a recipe post all ready to go tonight, but for some reason, the timing just didn't feel right. So here are some awesome donut (aka: galaxy) peaches instead, which are so sweet that they count for dessert all by themselves. :) The recipe post is queued up for sharing come Monday. For now, I just feel like I want to take a deep breath and stop worrying and stressing out about literally every small thing imaginable. It's summer still!

Hope everyone has a relaxing and stress-minimizing weekend!

Oh, and before I forget, I did an interview a couple weeks ago with Donny over at Great Food Photos. I'm honored to be featured next to some of my favorite food photographers--it's a bit unreal. Read the interview here!

Friday, August 3, 2012

TGIF: Outer-(lands), San Francisco

As an East Bay native, I always have to confess to visitors that I don't know San Francisco as well as I really should, given my close proximity to the city. Growing up on the other side of the bay, I developed a keen sense that San Francisco was some mystical, far-away Emerald City--where you go for a special pre-Christmas shopping trip, or where you have to suffer long international embassy lines, or where one's dad disappears to every day for work. Besides, I boast some headstrong suburban pride: I grew up in the rattlesnake-breeding suburbs, surrounded by an odd combination of rough gang ghettos, fancy yacht parks, rolling golden hills, and health food nuts who bought organic food before it was cool. And, after all, my first love in the Bay Area will always be Berkeley (which I will boldly and belligerently proclaim to be the superior city).

But slowly, piece by piece, I've been getting to know San Francisco better and better lately--learning its neighborhoods and how its streets fit together, finding pockets that I love, figuring out its widely varied quirks and personalities, and venturing out of my old comfort zones of the pre-Christmas-shopping financial district areas. A few weeks ago, Jackie (of A Happy Day) and I finally made it out to the Outer Sunset and specifically to Outerlands, which we've been meaning to go to for months now. The Outer Sunset is the area of San Francisco at its westernmost slice, right smack next to the big, bad Pacific Ocean. "Outerlands" is actually a very apt name for this area: it feels like the outerlands of San Francisco, far-flung from the hustle and bustle of the business centers and from the way-too-much-personality-to-squeeze-into-a-tiny-space hipster-y Mission and Castro neighborhoods. In the outerlands of SF--the Outer Sunset--, life feels a bit slower, less frenetic, though plenty hipster still, thankyouSanFranciscogentrification. The Sunday we were there, it was foggy and hazy, which is typical of SF summer mornings, and people strolled slowly around on the streets towards their morning coffees or brunches, and garages opened to reveal tiny make-shift stands of homemade jewelry wares randomly on every few blocks.

The actual Outerlands restaurant itself (at 4001 Judah Street) is beautiful, which is pretty much why everyone kept telling me to go. Delicately lit with windows every few feet, the walls and counters are all lined with planks of reclaimed (drift)wood. It was like someone took a small restaurant from Portland and air-lifted it directly into San Francisco--smartly dressed and accessorized staff along with it. The food itself was solidly good (though still doesn't hold a candle to my favorite breakfast in the Bay, which is--of course, surprise surprise--in Berkeley), particularly the Dutch pancake served with perfectly ripe small strawberries and a deliciously made cappuccino, which was a welcome sight after the excellent ones I had had in Italy and have been hitherto unable to obtain here.

Post-breakfast, in search of some major gusts of wind, Jackie and I went off to explore Fort Funston, a hang-glider and dog park (no hang-gliding dogs, that I know of) along the coast, which I've been hearing so much about from my dog-owning San Francisco friends. In addition to great views of the bending Pacific coastline that made me long for another road-trip down along Highway 1, Jackie and I did manage to seek out some satisfyingly robust wind for flying scarf photographs as well as plenty of dogs to gawk at, wishing that we had our very own. No hang-gliders in sight that day, though.

A few more friends come into town this weekend, so there's a bit more San Francisco exploration on the immediate agenda for me. I'm also very much looking forward to at least a whole day at home... in the suburbs.

Happy Weekend, everyone!


Check out Jackie's point of view of our day together on her blog!