Monday, December 28, 2009

Boxing Day Dinner

Boxing day? yes that's right, the English holiday held on the day after Christmas. On this day at my moms house I helped prepare dinner, I chose to cook Swordfish which I brought with me from a San Francisco seafood vendor. The fish was long line caught in the waters off of Santa Barbara California. To start I crushed fennel and coriander seeds in a stone mortar which I sprinkled on the Swordfish loins with salt and pepper. Next I pan seared the fish with extra virgin olive oil till golden and then placed in the oven to finish cooking, but not for too long, because overcooked swordfish can become tough and dry. While the fish was being prepared a relish of red onions and capers was made with the addition of vinegar and sugar for a sweet and sour flavor. After the fish came out of the oven it was sliced and placed on a platter with the relish on the side. I liked it a lot, juicy and firm with a mild meaty flavor.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Iceland Memories

I went to Iceland a few years back and really liked it, I liked being in a part of the world that a lot of people haven't visited yet, lucky for me it was not winter yet and the weather was good. This Nordic country is surrounded by the Icy North Atlantic ocean is famous for its seafood. The thing to eat in Iceland is the famous Icelandic lobster also known as Norway lobster or Langoustine. You will get a huge platter of them and simply prepared is the best way. They are like giant prawns with a sweet lobster flavor. A great restaurant to try is Humarhusid Restaurant, Amtmannsstigur 1, 101 Reykjavik, (+354) 561 3303. So you will have to stop in Reykjavik next time you are crossing the pond.

The Perfect Food Memory

I like to eat just about everything and I eat foods from just about every country of the world, but I think the one food that I can eat everyday (and try to) is a crispy pork Carnitas taco. All my favorite flavors come together in every bite. The layers of flavor start with salty, fatty and crispy braised pork on a soft warm corn tortilla with a big dollop of avocado, chopped jalapeno and lots of cilantro, finished with a scatter of small diced white onions. I love it! It takes me back to street taco stands in Baja Mexico where we would give the cook some money and say "keep them coming" a few beers and maybe a shot of tequila with the cook and a food memory is made.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Stuffed Braised Cabbage

Stuffing on Napa Cabbage leaves
In Broth, Ready to Braise

Savory, Tender and Flavorful

Today is December 21st, the first day of Winter with the shortest day of sunshine. Now that its officially Winter, I had the idea of doing a classic cold weather dish. Stuffed cabbage slowly braised till tender. There are three ways I thought of how I shall make them. The first idea is using ground pork and rice with a tomato sauce or a Asian style with ground pork, mushrooms, ginger and rice in a soy sauce broth, I did the Asian way this time and it was really good and easy to make.

8 Napa cabbage leaves
1/4 pound Ground pork
1 pinch Cilantro, chopped
1 small knob Ginger, grated
2 cloves Garlic, chopped
Dash Soy Sauce
2 Shitake mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup Jasmine rice, Uncooked
1. Cut off whole leaves from stem and blanch in boiling water til soft, lay flat on work surface.
2. Make the stuffing with the rest of the ingredients.
3. Lay a spoon full of stuffing in the middle of a cabbage leaf.
4. Gather sides and roll up, place in pot.
5. Add a broth of water, soy sauce and ginger.
6. Simmer with lid on for about 20 minutes.
YIELD = 8 rolls

Monday, December 14, 2009

Pork Belly

Raw Pork Belly
Cooked Pork Belly
Crispy Pork Belly Strips

Most people can not get enough bacon and the trend in the last few years has been cooking pork bellies. This is the cut of pork from what bacon is made from, it is a large belly flap with thick layers of fat and meat. The belly needs a long and slow cooking time to make the meat tender. I used a spicy pork stock and my pressure cooker to speed up the process which took only about an hour. The result was a thick and tender piece of pork ready for the next step. The big slabs were cut into smaller pieces and I placed them in a pan to slowly fry in its own fat at a low temperature, it becomes crispy and golden on the outside and very tender and juicy on the inside. This is pork at its best and can be served any way you would use bacon.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Dungeness Crab in Thai Coconut Curry

Thai Coconut Crab Curry

Dungeness crab season has arrived to the West coast and in San Francisco its a much welcomed Winter tradition. The common way its enjoyed is simply cooked and cracked with loaves of sourdough bread and local white wine, that's fine for me, but sometimes I like to try something a little different. Today I chose to make a quick Thai style coconut curry which the crab was tossed in and served with steamed rice. Very rich, spicy, fragrant and good.
Thai Style Coconut Crab Curry
1 whole cooked, cleaned and cracked Dungeness Crab
1 4 inch piece of lemon grass, crushed
3 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1 small knob ginger, chopped fine
1 teaspoon yellow Thai curry paste*
1 5.6 oz can of coconut milk*
1 dash fish sauce*
1/2 jalapeno, sliced thin
dash vegetable oil
3 kaffir lime leaves*
juice of one lime
1 big pinch cilantro, chopped

1. In a wok or large sauce pan heat the oil.
2. Add all the herbs, paste, garlic, ginger, jalapeno, cook for a minute.
3. Add coconut milk, fish sauce and lime juice and crab.
4. Toss crab in simmering sauce as it reduces and thickens.
5. Serve with steamed rice and chopped cilantro.

* Available at specialty or Asian Markets

Julia Child and Cookbooks

I recently saw the new movie Julie & Julia which is based on a modern writer cooking her way through Julia Child's ground breaking book Mastering the art of French Cooking. I know of Julia's story well and have even seen Julia's real kitchen on display at the Smithsonian in Washington DC, she is credited with making classic french cooking accessible to the common people. It got me thinking of what cookbooks inspired me to learn more about cooking. My early cookbooks were classic french cooking from famous chefs like August Escoffier and Paul Bocuse, later I bought a lot of Jacque Peppin books which were my favorite because of his style of explaining cooking technique's with lots of photographs, I even met him once a few years back and was very impressed by his simple but professional approach to cooking. Now I buy cookbooks with more specialized subjects like foods from certain regions of the world or restaurant cookbooks. I have a lot of books and looking at them now, give me memories of the foods they inspired me to cook.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Holiday Dinner

On this American holiday turkey is the center piece, but most of the time the big bird is over cooked and dry. I have been cooking chicken the last few years with good results. I make a double breast roulade with a traditional sausage stuffing. Since its all white breast meat, the cooking is even and there are no bones to worry about. I also made sweet potato puree, roasted carrots, stuffing and pan gravy. Very fast and easy after everything is prepped the day before, it all cooks in about the same time. With dinner done and cleaned up its time to sit in front of the fire with a glass of good wine.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Very Quick & Easy Asian Inspired Soup

The weather has now turned cold and rainy, I will now hate to admit that it is Winter. Time for cold weather foods that are slow simmered like soups and stews. I had the idea for a soup and its my take on the classic chicken noodle soup, the inspiration comes from San Francisco's Vietnamese restaurants. Only a few simple ingredients with little effort. Rice noodles, chicken, cilantro, ginger, Thai basil and lime. Start by slowly simmered a whole chicken in lightly salted water with garlic and ginger for about a hour till tender, then shred meat and set aside. Rehydrate the dry noodles in hot water till soft and place a mound in a big prewarmed bowl. Add the shredded chicken on top of the noodles and pour hot broth over, garnish with chopped cilantro, basil and sliced chili peppers. This soup can be garnished with extra items like bean sprouts, chopped peanuts and a squeeze of lime.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Playing with Fire

My restaurant like a lot of others has a big variety of hot sauces available as a condiment, they are good but sometimes that's just not enough and I have to make a batch as well. There is a trend now in making very spicy sauces, so that's what I did. The searing heat from peppers comes from capsaicin which is a compound found in chili peppers, there is a scale for measuring the hotness of chili peppers which is known as the Scoville scale. The hottest chili available now is a little known pepper called Naga Jolokia or better known as Ghost chili with a Scoville measurement of over 1000,000, that is just way too hot and asking for a lot of trouble. Number two on the hot list and the pepper I used is the Habanero chili or scotch bonnet on a scale of between 100,000-350,000. By comparison the jalapeno is much "cooler" at 2,500-8,000. I made the fiery sauce by simply grilling habaneros, tomatoes and onions, next simmering them with garlic, white vinegar and salt till soft. Then blended till smooth and strained. People in the restaurant are a little scared to try it at first but when they do, find that it has as much flavor as heat.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Day Trip to Napa Valley

Entrance to the Caves

Endless Barrels of Wine in Caves

Napa Valley Vineyard

Late Season Cluster of Grapes

When I need a quick weekend get away trip, my first choice is one of the local beaches, my second choice is a trip to the wine country. The first wineries are only a quick half hours drive away. This last weekend was clear and very warm for this time of the year, I was also surprised to see that the grape vines were now just starting to turn colors and there was still some grapes left on some vines, they were starting to shrivel up like raisins and had a very intense and sweet taste like honey, this is what late harvest wines are produced from and why they are sweet.One of my favorite places in the valley is Rombauer vineyards which is right off the sliverado trail near St. Helena, they make really nice wines and the hillside views of the valley are amazing. If the name sounds familiar its because its the same family that wrote the very popular cookbook "The Joy of Cooking".
Rombauer Vineyards, 3522 Silverado Trail, St. Helena, Ca 94574 707 963 5170

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Ramp Restaurant & Bar

The city of San Francisco is surrounded by water on three sides and with this much water front property you would think that there would be lots of restaurants on the water, there are only a few but the only only one with its on private dock is The Ramp Restaurant. Its tucked away and almost hidden in the middle of a working ship yard surrounded by massive ships in dry docks, it is well South away from the tourist areas of the city. Its a funky blue collar hang out for locals who come for a drink and good burgers, fried calamari and other classic bar items. In the summer the huge outdoor patio has live Latin music on weekends with taco or oyster specials. I have been going there for years and sometimes also by boat which can be a a lot of fun.

The Ramp Restaurant & Bar, 855 Terry Francois St, 415 621 2378

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Cowgirl Creamery Cheese

Marin County California has a few good cheese making companies and one of the best is the Cowgirl Creamery based in the small coastal town of Point Reyes Station in a area of rolling hills dotted with grazing cows, the same cows that produce the milk for the creamery. It got its start in 1997 and has grown in popularity while maintaining small hands on techniques. They make around eight different varieties with many winning awards from many National competition's. My favorite is Red Hawk which is a triple cream cheese with a brine washed rind thats then aged for six weeks and very good.

Cowgirl Creamery at Tomales Bay Foods 80 4th Street, Point Reyes Station, Ca 415 663 9335

Monday, November 09, 2009

Lots of Little Tacos

Avocado, Tomatillo Salsa, Queso Fresco, Cilantro
A Nice Piece of Pork with Spices

Pork Taco

Chorizo Taco
A quick and easy snack (or main meal if you eat lots of them) are these little soft tacos made with a variety of savory fillings. These are not the standard American ones with the crispy shells, grated cheese and sour cream but tacos made from small four inch (101.6mm) corn tortillas with just a few fillings. The taco fillings I made were pork shoulder cooked in my pressure cooker with Latin spices and dry chili peppers till it was falling apart tender, Crumbled Chorizo sausage, a hot sauce made with grilled tomatillos, Serrano peppers and avocado, Guacamole, Chopped cilantro and crumbled Queso Fresco to finish. These small two bite tacos were amazing and packed with lots of flavor. The next morning I used the same condiments for Chorizo and egg tacos.

Tomales Bay Road Trip

I had family in town this last weekend and with beautiful weather a trip to the North Coast seemed like a good plan and it turned out to be a great idea. A lack of wind or cool fog and with blue skies made driving the rolling hills toward the coast a stress free trip. We ended up at the Southern end of Tomales bay and immediately headed to my favorite oyster farm, The Tomales Bay Oyster Company. There are a few at the bay and this one is great with reasonable prices on oysters, clams and mussels. Me and my brother bought four dozen small oysters to share and with a bag of pre cut lemons and ice to keep the oysters cold it was a quick drive on highway one to the nearby beach. Warm sun and cold oysters were perfect.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Fagioli al Fiasco (Beans in a Flask)

There is a old method of cooking beans that traditional comes from the Tuscan region of Italy. Beans are cooked in either a earthenware pot or glass bottle which is embedded in hot ashes of the fireplace or wood burning ovens. The beans need to cook for many hours at this low temperature, simply seasoned with extra virgin olive oil and maybe fresh sage leaves. I have a Pyrex glass flask designed for this purpose and use it sometimes to cook small quantities of beans.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Cuban cigars

There is a whole mystique with Cuban cigars, they are said to be the best in the world? maybe they are or maybe its just that having a illegal product makes them special? I think Cuban cigars are no better then those from other Countries, Its like saying French wine is the best. That said if someone were to give me a Cuban I would not turn them down. Today which is less then a week from Halloween and a very warm and sunny day makes sitting outside with a cool drink and cigar a perfect way to relax. I fired up my Cohiba cigar and watched the slowly setting sun. It gave me time to think about the the silly ban of Cuban products and when that can all change some day.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Lucca Italian Delicatessen, San Francisco

Lucca on Chestnut Street

Domestic and Imported Canned Foods
Huge Variety of Cheese from around the World

The #2 Combo on Sourdough with a View
San Francisco does not have as many delicatessen's as New York city 0r maybe Chicago but the few that are here are very good. The best two Italian deli's in the city are Molinari at 373 Columbus Ave in North Beach and Lucca at 2120 Chestnut Street in the Marina district. Since I was in the Marina area, lucca was the best choice to get a few custom made sandwiches for a Saturday lunch by the bay. These sandwiches are made to order with many choices of quality meats, cheese and local baked breads. Also available are lots of side salads and a huge selection of good bottled drinks. I really like both delicatessens but you must also go to Molinari, the smell of all the amazing foods hits you first as you walk in the front door and then you are forced to walk past the long counter with endless food choices with dozens of cured meats hanging from the ceiling. They also make and sell fresh pastas and ravioli.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Stripe Bass Dinner

Freshly Cut Fillets

Smoking Hot Cast Iron Seared

Pan Seared Stripe Bass with Citrus Relish

I chose to use a fresh whole stripe bass tonight and I wanted to simply pan sear it with a light citrus sauce. When ever possible I like to cut fillets from a whole fish because its the best way to make sure the fish is fresh and I also like to keep the skin on because not only does it look good it becomes crisp. With these fresh fillets the only prep work to do ahead of time is to caramelize yellow onions as a base for the fish. The sauce is simply made from segments of lemon and orange, lemon zest, extra virgin olive oil, capers, fresh cracked pepper, chopped garlic and parsley. To cook the fish, a cast iron pan is heated till smoking and the fillets are seared skin side down with a splash of oil till brown and crispy, then flipped over and cooked till done. placed on a bed of the warm onions with a briny spoonful of sauce placed on top. I love to serve fish simply this way.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Stormy Night Comfort Food

Chicken Stew with Creamy Polenta

Tonight with the first major storm of the winter rolling in from the cold ocean, I felt like a big warm bowl of soft and creamy polenta served along side a rich tomato and chicken stew. Some foods are better the next day like the chicken stew I made last night which was simply reheated and served with the polenta. I don't know how bad the storm will be but I am happy now with my dinner.

Chicken and Tomato Stew
3 skinless Chicken thighs
2 cloves Garlic, chopped
1/2 Yellow onion, sliced
3 Roma tomatoes, medium dice
Pinch of Oregano (fresh or dried)
Splash of Red Wine
Splash of Olive oil
Kosher salt/Black Pepper to taste

1. Brown the seasoned chicken in hot olive oil.
2. Add the sliced onions, garlic, oregano and tomatoes, cook till soft.
3. Add the wine and cover pan, simmer till tender (about 45 min)
Add some water if necessary to prevent from burning.

Creamy Polenta
1/2 cup Polenta
3 cups salted water or seasoned chicken stock
a good Pinch of Parmesan cheese, grated

1. Bring the water or stock to a boil, turn heat down.
2. Slowly add the polenta while stirring to prevent lumps from forming.
3. Continue to stir on low temperature till cooked (about 15-20min)
4. Add the Parmeasan cheese and serve along with the stew.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Oktoberfest Party in the Wine Country

Pouring Wine in my glass and others

Grilling Sausage over a Log Fire

Amazing Tomato Dip with Bread

The First of Many Bottles

This weekend I attended my friends annual Oktoberfest party on his Napa mountain top property. Like most of the people in the valley, my friend grows his own grapes to make wine which gave this Oktoberfest a whole different feel with wine being the dominate drink. In fact most of the people present are in the wine business and when they arrived there were lots of bottles in there arms. I appointed myself to help pour wine at the bar and what amazing wines they were, every varietal with vintages dating back to 1971 through the eighties and into the nineties. I happened to be in the right place to try them all. One of the cool features of the property's big outdoor entertaining space was a massive stone barbecue pit with huge adjustable racks for cooking just about anything you want. Tonight's menu was simple grilled sausages and other German style foods like sauerkraut and potatoes. One of the highlights on the menu was a large glass jar filled with heirloom tomatoes in plenty of good olive oil, which was excellent served with bread. It was a fun party and I can't wait till it happens again next year.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The end of Gourmet Magazine

I just heard that the publisher Conde Nast is ending Gourmet Magazine after a long 70 year run. The publisher sites poor readership and more importantly falling ad revenue for the cut. Decades ago it was the only magazine for curious and adventurous cooks, now there are much more broader and specialized choices. I grew up reading and looking through the magazines and also recreating recipes that interested me, the more sophisticated cuisines featured helped inspire me away from common everyday food and helped me learn of all the foods of the world. I have to admit that recently its not my first choice when buying a magazine and I became bothered by its many ads, but it helped shape me be the chef I am today, thank you Gourmet Magazine.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Focaccia with Caramelized Onions and Blue Cheese

Focaccia bread still hot from the oven

I made a three ingredient snack with fresh bread dough, soft and sweet caramelized red onions and a crumbled slice of blue cheese. Fast with the flat bread baking along with the onions, at the last minute the blue cheese goes on to melt, a glass of red wine and I am all set!

Rustic Layered Eggplant

It was a warm weekend and I felt like making something simple, light and healthy. I came up with roasting sliced eggplant and tomatoes and layering them with shaved Parmesan cheese, red onions, tomato sauce and fresh basil. Then a little Extra virgin olive oil drizzled on top to finish and its ready, I ate all of it and really should have made more for the next day.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Braciola is a Italian dish simply translated into meat roulade or roll. Its made with a variety of different meats or fish such as swordfish, it has a filling of breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese and eggs or what ever ingredients are available. Rolled and secured with toothpicks or tied with string, browned and fried in olive oil or a tomato based sauce. Great as a side dish served with pasta on a cold winter night.

Beef Braciola

1 Flank steak, pounded flat
1 cup Panko breadcrumbs
1 handful spinach leafs
2 whole eggs
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1 Tablespoon garlic, chopped
Tomato sauce as needed

1. Combine the filling ingredients and spread evenly on to the flank steak.
2. Roll up with the meats grain running length wise, secure with toothpicks or string.
3. In a pan with hot olive oil, brown all sides then add tomato sauce, cover.
4. Cook at a simmer till tender, about 1-2 hours.
5. Remove string and cut into thin slices, arrange on a platter with the tomato sauce.

Y=4-6 servings

Mahi mahi

Mahi Mahi Fillets Ready to Cook

One fish that I love to eat allot is Dolphin fish or commonly known as Mahi mahi which is its Hawaiian name, in Latin American Countries its known as Dorado. But don't worry about eating a dolphin, its not the from the same family. It is a large Ocean fish found in warm Pacific waters with a firm meaty texture and mild flavor, it has a thick non edible skin with brilliant sliver, gold, yellow and green colors. It is best cooked on a hot grill or pan sauteed. It is a prize sport fish with fishermen because of its beauty, size and taste. When I make fish tacos its the first fish on my list to use and tastes great.

Monday, September 14, 2009

San Diego, a Weekend of Sun, Tacos and Sailing

Just back from a few relaxing days in San Diego, the plan was to go sailing and sample some of the good Mexican food from the city's best taco shops. San Diego being a city on the border of Mexico gives it some of the best Latin food in California and is home to the famous fish taco, which are on found on menus everywhere. My brother and I brought fishing poles on the sailboat and trolled for tuna as we sailed the ocean, I did not get the big prize fish, but did bring in a small Barracuda. Later that evening the fish was simply grilled with olive oil and lemon and was surprisingly good, Mild and almost sweet. Also tacos made from slow cooked pork with fresh tortillas and salsas rounded out the dinner.