Tuesday, September 21, 2010


My favorite food is clams. When I was a little girl, my favorite food was clams. As a teenager, my favorite food was still clams. As an adult, my favorite food is currently clams. When I am and aged elder, my favorite food will still be clams. In other words, I love clams.

So imagine my excitement the other day at brunch at the Presidio Social Club when I discovered that they have a clambake every Monday of summer on through the end of October. So guess what I had for dinner last night. That's right. I had clams.

But not just clams. The clam bake came with lobster and mussels, too, as well as sides, salad, and dessert. A feast indeed.

The butterleaf salad had a bright vinaigrette, crisp and refreshing - the perfect lead-in for a seafood fiesta.

The, the piece de resistance: a mound of shellfish. That parchment under the giant slab of lobster? That was filled with clams, mussels, and potatoes. The best part of the night came when I went to eat the last couple clams I saved for the end, only to discover that the parchment pouch continued further back under the pile of seaweed greens, sheltering another handful of the tasty morsels. Bonus clams!

I was in shellfish heaven. I would say I could eat clams multiple times a week, but I already do. I could almost eat them everyday. So what could make this meal better? Well, maybe chocolate. That's about all I can think of. Oh, wait! The dessert that promptly followed: DARK CHOCOLATE PUDDING. Heaven, I say. Heaven.

The Presidio Social Club's motto is, "All the benefits, with none of the dues," or something to that effect. All the luxury of a ritzy, exclusive club available to everyone. The decor and service fits the motif: classically chic with dark wood and leather, airy and full of light with lots of windows and an open floor plan, pleasant and friendly servers and bartenders. Certainly luxurious, but not without a sense of humor:

Monday, September 20, 2010

Soup's on!

Like with my barley post, I was still in the mood to keep things simple when I decided to make a soup from the leftover salt pork used in my tamales night refried beans.

Easy Lentil & Rice Soup

3 oz. salt pork - estimate
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped celery
1 chopped onion
6 cups chicken broth
1 bay leaf
1 cup bulk lentil & rice soup mix (consisted of brown & wild rice, and green, orange, & yellow lentils)

On stove, preheat removable ceramic bowl of crock pot (you could also use a pan) to medium heat. Remove much of the meatless fat from the salt pork. Dice remaining salt pork. Should have about 1/2 cup diced pork that's probably about half fat, half meat. Brown diced salt pork in preheated bowl or pan until crispy.

Remove crispy pork bits and set aside, leaving drippings in the bottom of the pan. Add carrots, celery, and onion to the pan and saute in the salt pork drippings over medium-high heat until tender. Add soup mix of rice and lentils to the pan and stir for a couple of minutes until coated with drippings.

Replace ceramic bowl into crock pot base (or transfer entire contents of the pan to your crock pot if not using a removable bowl). Add chicken broth, bay leaf, and reserved crispy salt pork. Cover and simmer on high setting for 4 hours. Remove bay leaf before serving.

Et voila! A simple, hearty, tasty soup perfect in this fresh Autumn weather.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Barley Time

We all know of my love for whole grains. As Summer shifts to Autumn, I feel my grainy desires shifting as well, from the crisp and cool, to the warm and comfy. Having perfected quinoa, I'm now turning my compulsiveness toward barley.

Of course, we all love barley in soups, but, inspired by Kashi's seven grain blend (plus sesame) which I super love, I wanted to give it a go in more of a pilaf style. I have a couple barley recipes in my queue, I think from epicurious and The New York Times, but first wanted to give my own simple concoction a try. Since this was my first barley attempt this year, I only did a half recipe to serve two. Except, it turned out so delectably, I ended up scarfing down the whole batch. So next time I'll definitely double up.

Simple Barley Pilaf

1 tsp. oil
1 stalk celery, trimmed and diced
1/2 an onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
1 cup sliced mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup pearl barley
1 1/4 cup of your favorite broth (I used low sodium chicken)

Heat oil in sauce pan. Sauté celery, onion, and mushroom about 3-5 minutes. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add broth and barley and bring to a boil. Cover. Reduce heat and simmer over low heat for 45 minutes. Salt & pepper to taste at the table.

Serves 2.
Nutrition Information Per Serving: Calories: 165. Total Fat: 3g. Sat. Fat: 0.3g. Cholesterol: 0mg. Sodium: 67.1mg. Carb: 31.3g. Fiber: 5.1g. Sugars: 3g. Protein: 5.1g.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Perfect Brownie

Way back in December, I bought the Perfect Brownie pan. For the family's celebration of Festivus, I contributed seasonal beverages (mulled cider and brandy, egg nog and rum, and Bittersweet cocoa with handmade marshmallows) and a cookie platter full of a combination of old family recipes and the recipes I'd used to make gift jars for friends.

Left to right: Grandma Adams' Old Fashioned Molasses Chews,
Mocha Rum Balls from Gifts in a Jar,
Butterscotch Oatmeal Cookies from Gifts in a Jar,
and Grandma Rose's Mamoul.

I'd planned on adding my mom's brownies from her high school home ec. class, but she couldn't find the recipe anywhere. But I still had the pan.

Fast forward a few months and multiple pans of experimental brownies using beans instead of flour (another time, friends). While visiting my Grandma in Kansas, my mom discovered a box filled with fundraiser cookbooks to which we had contributed over the years. I'd claimed all along that the High School Brownies recipe was in a cookbook created as a fundraiser, but predating the multiple such cookbooks used to raise money for our schools. Sure enough, in a cookbook my aunt compiled for a nursing home she worked for long before I started elementary school, my mom found it. A few weeks later, after some pestering phone calls on my part interrupting another of my parents' vacations, the recipe made its way through the Internets from their campsite in Eastern Washington to this very laptop on which I am typing at this instant.

And so I finally made the brownies to which I've always compared all other brownies in the pan that so easily divides a batch into such perfect pieces. My next cookie platter will be complete!

As you can see, the recipe calls for "chocolate," no qualifications. Back in the days of this recipe's origins, that meant you'd go to the grocery store for a bar of "baking chocolate." Ah, it was a simpler time. These days, the chocolate aisle - because there's a whole aisle, now - is far more complicated. So, it's best to buy chocolate by cacao percentages. For baking, America's Test Kitchen tells me 60% is the best. It was one of the first episodes I ever watched. I practically memorized it. For this recipe, I finally tried a large block of Callebaut 60% Intense Dark Chocolate, America's Test Kitchen's winner for best dark chocolate. They tested by eating it straight, making pot de creme, and baking brownies. Perfect! Well, to be fair, with each of their taste tests, who wins goes back and forth between Ghirardelli and Callebaut. I usually use Ghirardelli (and that's a hard "g" people. Trust me. I took Italian in college. Sound smart, pronounce it correctly), which my mom taught me to love as a little girl. And now that I live in SF, it just fits. But, loyalist though I am, who am I not to try every great chocolate I can get my hands on? So this time I tried Callebaut, which many would argue is better (sacrilege!). I eyeballed it off the block, so my amount could have been anywhere between three and four ounces. I don't have a scale and couldn't think of a quick way to measure without making my head hurt with crazy conversion calculations. Close enough. These brownies were certainly chocolatey, and that's good enough for me! Not sure Callebaut replaces Ghirardelli as a favorite, but it's certainly good stuff. 

Man, this recipe is easy. You don't even need the electric mixer, though I usually revel in turning on my KitchenAid. A wire whisk and a little wrist action is all it takes! Even easier, as this is 2010 and not the 1960s, I may have melted the chocolate and butter in the microwave instead of using the baine-marie, or double pan, technique. I'm not dissing a classic, but using a low setting and stirring often, microwaving the chocolate both removes any accidental contact with water through condensed steam and allows control of the temperature so it doesn't get too hot too quickly. I also left out the nuts, of course. I'm in the minority that thinks nuts ruin baked goods. Completely destroys the texture. There you are, biting into a chewy brownie or cookie, and crunch. Yuck. Keep the nuts in a bowl on the side or grind 'em up, like in baklava and mamoul. Anywho, off the soapbox. I have one more adjustment for next time that applies only to the Perfect Brownie pan. Next time I'll adjust the timing a little to compensate for the quicker heating caused by the divider piece, cut it down to maybe 20 minutes or so. I like 'em gooey! 

Despite my tiny adjustments, these were definitely the brownies I grew up with. It's nice to have them back.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

¡Fiesta de tamales!

Recently, a friend was selling homemade carnitas tamales to raise money to pay for a relative's hospital bills. Of course, I bought way too many (if there is such a thing as too much puerco y masa) and quickly found my freezer packed with four dozen tamales. There was only one thing to do. TAMALES PARTY!

Well, tamales alone do not a feast make, so I figured I'd throw together a couple of side dishes. Luckily, my brand new The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook 2001-2010 had just the two dishes I wanted: easy Refried Beans and Mexican Rice. And it even gave me an excuse to use my Dutch oven, and you all know how happy that makes me!

Mexican rice is not traditionally a favorite of mine, but I knew the husband man and my other guests are fans. This recipe really did balance flavors and textures very nicely, turning out fresh tasting and fluffy. The tricks: Frying the uncooked rice in oil, using pureed fresh tomato and onion for half the liquid (chicken broth for the other half) - a traditional technique, adding a little tomato paste - very untraditional, and cooking it in the oven instead of on the stovetop, stirring it halfway through, ensuring even cooking. Fresh onion, garlic, chiles, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime all added to the rice's vibrancy.

Personally, I was more excited to try the super easy sounding refried beans recipe. Canned refried beans are usually inedible paste, and the traditional method of cooking dried beans, frying them in lard, and hand mashing them is too time and work intensive for feasibility. This 20 minute recipe started with canned beans, replaced mashing with food processing, and added plenty of flavor with rendered salt pork fat (which one could easily replace with oil for a vegan version), fresh chile peppers, onion, garlic, and fresh lime juice and cilantro stirred in at the end. ¡Muy delicioso! My only complaint is that the bean : onion ratio seemed off. The flavor was spot on, but it affected the texture. Next time I'll cut way back on the amount of onion and be extra careful to dice it very fine.

Golly, I love myself some America's Test Kitchen.

We used this fiesta as an excuse for a long awaited Project Runway party. We plan on having a total of four PR parties, one themed for each judge, plus Tim Gunn. We're counting this as our Nina Garcia party. Yes, I know she's of Colombian descent, not Mexican. But they make tamales, too, even if they are more often wrapped in banana leaves instead of corn husks. Close enough! And (SPOILER ALERT) such a perfect way to say good-bye to Casanova, too. Your sexy grannies will be missed!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


I finally caved and purchased a tacky infomercial item: The ReacherGrabber. Well, actually a PikStik. Was there ever an infomercial for the PikStik? Whatever, it was the best reviewed brand on Amazon. I've kinda wanted one for years because of a black hole behind our washer/dryer. I bought shelves to prevent items - and the cats - from ending up in this black hole, but I have not leveled up enough on my carpentry skills and failed in my installation attempt. The husband man said he'd install them but, well, I pick my battles and have put the nagging to other, higher priority needs. So, for the three or four years we've lived here, the black hole has collected a variety of towels, socks, bottles of cleaning supplies, boxes of baggies, etc. But then a box of croutons fell back there and I'd had enough. You may take my dishcloths, but you can not take my croutons!

The tool did it's job exactly as I hoped, and I only banged my head on the cabinets once retrieving the myriad of items. But the image on the card stock backing for my PikStik does not depict my experience of crouching on a washer delving into a dusty crevice.

Look at this poor, but blankly happy, lady in her strange predicament. She seems to have misplaced her wine glass. On top of the cupboards. Because that's a really common place to casually set a single piece of barware. If this is a common party foul, I've been leaving my coasters out in the wrong areas when I have people over. Or maybe this is where she hides her wine and pills out of sight and reach of the kiddos and hubby. That would certainly explain her empty grin. But why does she need to hide the glass as well as the happy-making substances? I'm confused.

While I don't plan on needing my PikStik to retrieve errant stemware from many feet above my head, and despite the husband man's teasing at my purchase (I would've thought he'd be happy to have that pastel pink and green striped Paul Smith dress sock reunited with its mate), I'm happy with my new product. So neener neener, naysayers. I said neener neener.