Monday, June 29, 2009
At least some of them do. My Auntie Rosie, one of my dad's sisters, and her husband Johnny mushroom-hunted for years, and went well into their 80's. My sister went with them once and returned marveling not only at their endurance for a day of work she described as nearly back-breaking for someone in her 30's, but how methodical they were in their hunting--which is important, of course, when it comes to potentially poisonous things.
As they were with everything else, Johnny and Rosie were generous with their findings. They hunted painstakingly for the right mushrooms, then sliced them, dried them, divided them, and scattered them throughout the family. Often when I would see them, Auntie Rosie would arrive with a bag of homemade biscotti or freshly-picked peaches from a farm they liked to go to, or basil from their garden. I loved all of these gifts. But best of all was when Rosie would pull out a fat little ziplock bag full of pungent mushrooms and say softly in her scratchy little voice, "You like porcinis?" Uh, you bet I do.
To my great, great sadness, Rosie isn't with us anymore. But, some of her treasured mushrooms are. I've been holding onto the last sack of lovely porcinis she gave me for awhile now. Periodically I take them out and look at them, trying to decide whether or not I have something worthy of them. Rosie was an excellent cook, and I never wanted to fritter those delicious, earthy mushrooms on something silly. On the other hand, she was practical and not overly sentimental. She would have laughed at the idea of me holding onto a dusty bag of fungus.
Tonight, I decided to bring two of my favorite chefs together and make Marcella Hazan's chicken with marsala and Rosie's porcini mushrooms. You start by browning the chicken over high heat, then add the aromatics, wine, and soaked mushrooms, and cook everything slowly over low heat for close to an hour, until the meat nearly falls off the bone.
I don't like to cook chicken that long; I'm generally loyal to Marcella, but I know my own tastes. So I took the chicken out after 40 minutes of simmering. The sauce had reduced to a thick, dark, shiny glaze, and the porcinis had absorbed the spiciness of the marsala. I served it over buttered noodles with chives, and in spite of both of us battling colds, the husband and I enjoyed every bite. I think both Marcella and Rosie would have been proud.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Plus, I've been called for jury duty this week. Every day I check to see if I have to report the next day. So like a little drone I go the the sfgov website at 4:30 pm to find out my fate for the next day.
The final straw was that we received a recall notice on our oven. Apparently, this model has been linked to house fires and explosions. Um, okay. So, we're not to use it until it gets fixed or replaced.
When someone tells me I can't do something, that's all I want to do. Thinking about dinner last night, I decided on chicken roasted with cherry tomatoes. Then I remembered about the oven. So we ate delicious wild salmon instead, with Israeli couscous and almonds on the side.
Today I was thinking ahead to the weekend, reflecting on how nice it will be in a few days when this icky cold is gone. AM is having a birthday party this weekend and I've been promising her red velvet cupcakes for ages. Probably since her last birthday! I'd looked at recipes, made a shopping list, and even picked up some little sprinkles to decorate the tops. But then it occured to me that sadly, AM will have another red velvet cupcake-free birthday this year, thanks to my potentially combustible oven.
I drowned my fussiness in some nabe udon soup at lunch. I really like udon, especially when I'm sick, and this one comes with the weird pink and white fish cake (what is that? I love it!), seaweed, napa cabbage, shitake mushrooms, one tempuraed shrimp (which I now know to order on the side so it doesn't get soggy), and a poached egg. When I have a cold, I'm ravenous. Normal people lose their appetites. I get an acute, demanding hunger. I finished almost the whole bowl, minus a few stray noodles, and the egg, of course.
After demolishing the soup, my spirits were lifted. Food does make you feel better, both physically and mentally sometimes. I still have to crush the cold and wiggle my way out of jury duty, but I'm a little better equipped for both challenges.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Saturday, June 20, 2009
I've done coffeecakes, but they're simply too much for two people, and I want to cry scraping the end of something I baked into the trash. So, muffins and scones tend to be the way to go.For some reason, I often have cranberries in the freezer, so cranberry muffins are a frequent choice. That or cream currant scones, a favorite from Baking Illustrated. Those scones come together quickly into a floury little ball, and then you simply pat them into a round, cut, brush with cream and sugar, and bake. That's a great recipe.
Today, though, I felt more in the mood for something savory. I looked through my Barefoot Contessa cookbook and found a recipe for cheddar-dill scones. I love the Barefoot Contessa's recipes, most likely because they always seem to call for a pound of butter, a pound of sugar, and cups upon cups of heavy cream. As the Contessa herself would say, "How bad can that be?"
I decided to try these scones, subbing chives for dill. I didn't have any dill in the house, plus, I'm not a huge dill fan. I don't mind it, but there's something about that feathery texture, much like fennel fronds, that gives me the heebie jeebies.
I mixed the dry ingredients in the stand mixer, cut in the butter, then pulled it together with eggs and cream. The eggs were surprising to me; my standby recipe only relies on cream to moisten the dough. Next came the sharp cheddar, cut in small cubes, and the herbs. Finally, I rolled out the dough, cut it into rounds with a juice glass, and popped them into a hot oven.
The scones turned out flakey and perfect, with a mild oniony flavor from the chives and a salty richness from the cheese. The husband divulged that he preferred these to the usual currant scones. I had to concur. I will definitely be making these again.
While devouring the crumbly and delicious little scones, we discussed what the difference was between scones and biscuits. A quick search on the Internet informed me of some rather silly distinctions--scones are served at tea or breakfast, while biscuits go with dinner; scones are triangular while biscuits are round. The only reasonable distinctions I could find were that scones usually include cream while biscuits are more likely to have milk or buttermilk. In addition, biscuits don't have eggs, while scones often do. But, sometimes they don't, such as the Baking Illustrated scones.
Biscuits, scones, they all make for a pleasant start to the weekend.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
One of my best friends, AM, recently moved out of the city, down to the peninsula. She now lives with her man in a pretty little home, sort of in the woods, with a big backyard for barbecuing. They're outdoorsy, so they can ride their bikes from their house to all kinds of beautiful destinations without navigating traffic and grime like they would have to in San Francisco.
She digs it. But, she misses the city. And I miss her! So, we make a point to meet at least once a month up here for dinner.
Often we go to Gialina. It's right off 280, so quick for her to get to, and we both love the pizza, particularly the one with nettles and pancetta. But last week when we made our monthly plan, we decided to try something new. We chose La Ciccia in Noe Valley.
Located at the intersection of Church and 30th, this really is the edge of Noe, and drifting into the realm of the outer Mission and northern Glen Park. I should know, because I used to live one block from this intersection, in a building which obscured the legendary Chenery House. Chenery House is an enormous mansion which occupies the center of the block, not visible from Chenery, 30th, San Jose, or Randall. I could write a whole post about living next to the Chenery House, famous for its Labor Day parties featuring Tammy Faye Baker and an indoor swimming pool on the second floor...but this blog is about food.
We left this neighborhood over three years ago for the howling winds of Twin Peaks. Not long after we left, La Ciccia opened where Verona Restaurant closed. Now that I've eaten at La Ciccia, I'm wondering how we can get back to the old 'hood.
The restaurant is owned by Italians--Sardinians, really, and so it makes sense that the small, focused menu is largely seafood. We started with a warm seafood salad, mild yet flavorful in a pool of fruity olive oil, which we mopped up with crusty bread. We then moved on to fregula with seafood and squid ink, which we'd both honed in on the menu immediately.
You know how some dogs are ugly-cute? Or how ornate architecture can be beautiful-hideous? The fregula was lovely-scary. It arrived inky, inky black, in a stark white bowl, with a scatter of parsley. At first, the fregula was impossible to distinguish from the seafood, although we quickly began to identify squid, octopus, and other perfectly-cooked bits from the sea. The consistency was like a risotto--creamy, but al dente.
The more we ate of this fregula, the more the flavors deepened. It was a dish that throughout the rest of the dinner, I kept thinking back on and wishing I had more of. Everything else we ordered was also excellent--a thin-crust "white" pizza with grilled radicchio and sopprasetta, a side of braised lettuces, hazelnut gelato. But I couldn't stop thinking about the squid ink fregula.
The wine list is apparently something to be admired, according to the Wine Spectator and other experts. It's extensive and completely Italian. AM and I knew none of the wines on the list, but our waitress was happy to answer our questions, as well as provide us with tastes before ordering.
All in all, the food was outstanding, the service friendly, and the atmosphere warm but not clausterphobic, a feat for a space that is extremely small and narrow. It's a restaurant you'd like to go on a date to, either with someone you already love, or someone you can get to know based on how they respond to a steaming bowl of black pasta. The Hungry Dog gives La Ciccia an A.
La Ciccia is located at 291 30th Street in San Francisco.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
Anyway, on Friday I did my swimming, napping, and shuffling around, and happily, I still had some time to while away. So I decided to make a cake. Lovely!
I figured it was time to make that cake I'd been dreaming about for a few weeks, the raspberry buttermilk one from a recent Gourmet. Apparently, this cake has been all the rage among food bloggers, and it's understandable why: most people like raspberries; anything with buttermilk sounds good; and the recipe is dead simple. A monkey could make this cake.
I pulled together all the ingredients in a heartbeat and poured them into the pan. Then the fun part: scattering the little berries over the top.
The cake emerged golden and fragrant, with a slight crunch from the sugar sprinkled over the top. It tasted of vanilla and raspberry, with a mild tang from the buttermilk and a very tender crumb.
I surprised the husband with the cake that evening. He was quite pleased, as I've been serving a lot of salads recently. That night, it was roast pork loin with a cake chaser. Something good has to come of these furlough days, I figure. Why not in the form of a sweet and buttery little cake?
If you make this cake, be wary of the baking time. It's supposed to go 25-30 minutes, but mine was perfectly done when I checked it at 23. Our oven is newish so I don't think it runs hot.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
"I think this chicken is going to take almost two hours," I told her.
"How big is it?" she asked.
"Six pounds!" I replied, feeling like a proud parent.
My sister cooed appreciatively. "That's almost a small turkey!" she admired.
I like roasting big chickens: they cook better and more evenly, I find, and as long as I start them on the breast side and then flip them, they don't dry out. A few hours later, the husband and I dug into the bird, with crispy potatoes and garlicky broccoli rabe on the side.
The next night we had a rerun dinner.
After that, the sides were gone, but there was still a lot of chicken left, mostly white meat, since as I explained a few weeks ago, between the two of us, the thighs, drummies, and wings are the first to go. While leftover chicken can go a thousand different ways, recently I've been on a chicken salad kick. I usually make it the same way, with measurements varying depending on how much chicken I have to use as a base. But basically it's:
- chicken (cubed, not shredded)
- lemon juice
- salt and pepper
- a fresh herb (my favorites are tarragon, basil, or chives)
I like chicken salad with grapes, too, and have enjoyed ones with walnuts or pecans. But, I don't include either of those things in my recipe. I rarely have a bunch of grapes on hand, and nuts require toasting and cooling. The beauty of chicken salad is in its quick, satisfying assembly: chop, mix, taste, adjust, eat.I like it best just on a bed of arugula. I have turned it into a sandwich, but it's too messy. One might wonder if this is because I greedily load up the bread with too much salad. This would be an excellent point.
I think the chicken salad sandwich might work best in a pita pocket. When I suggested this to the husband, he just started to laugh at me. He thinks it's funny, how obsessive I am about cooking and eating. On the other hand, he was very pleased the other morning when I informed him that instead of buying a lunch, he could take some of the chicken salad I'd just whipped up, chock full of sweet apples and bright green chives. Who's laughing now?
Monday, June 8, 2009
This weekend I purchased raspberries and nectarines. I was starting to think about a cobbler, or maybe that raspberry buttermilk cake I've been dreaming of. But then, as so happens with good summer fruit, I couldn't bear to do anything with either of them except eat them alone. I did, however, take a few pictures.
I like this one because although it looks like a sink-sized colander filled with a bounty of raspberries, in actuality, it's a very small colander, probably about 2.5 inches in diameter, filled with less than a pint of berries. Why do I have a miniature colander? you ask. To go with my tiny whisk and tiny cast iron frying pan, completing my trifecta of miniature kitchen tools. I like small things. Kinda weird for a grown adult who's otherwise reasonably normal, but I know I'm not alone in my miniature fetish (I'm talking to you, JJ, PG, and SD).
The nectarines were also photo-worthy. I don't mean to be braggy, but I think my pictures are getting better. Although, it doesn't take a lot of talent to make something naturally beautiful look good. Just lots of light, a still hand, and the magical macro setting.
Friday, June 5, 2009
Oysters, ice cream, wine, and good company: find me a better Thursday night!
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
These are all on the to-do list. But sometimes I get an immediate craving that cannot be ignored or postponed. Like this past Sunday, I was overcome with an urge to make oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.