Monday, November 23, 2009

Thomas Keller's Buttermilk Fried Chicken. Sort of.

Okay. Newsflash. Fried chicken is bullshit. Every time I make it... the innocuous pie plates of seasoned flour, the quaint bowl of buttermilk, the pile of harmless chicken parts and pieces... an hour later I am cursing myself as perspiration drips down my face into a vat of boiling hot oil. Why? Because, OH, I'm sorry, let me correct myself, Making fried chicken is bullshit. And, the people who say it's not have never made it. Or, they are the kind of people who have all the time in the world or have a deep fryer. Here's some advice: pan roast your skin-on chicken parts. Sear the skin, flip and stick in a 400 degree oven until cooked through and skin is crisp. Season with salt and pepper. End of story. Just as good. No, even better than that. If you love yourself, do not get involved in buttermilk or dredging, hot boiling 300+ degree oil or seasoned anything except directly on chicken or possibly in a brine.

Trust me on this one, please. And, don't get seduced by those people who tell you the best way to fry chicken is in a cast iron skillet (you know who you are Alton Brown). It's just as messy as a deep fryer, a thick bottomed dutch oven or a $300 Le Creuset cast iron enameled pot which is what I used tonight. To no avail. There was nothing special about that fried chicken except I undercooked the first piece like I always do because how can you really tell that the chicken is cooked all the way through when there is a thick-ass crust covering all that uncooked meat? You cut into it. That's how. And, then, you have that piece of chicken that will get cooked but now since you've knifed into it, it can't be plated for your presentation perfect photo-op dinner plate.

And, you have to take of pic of dinner, especially if you've gone through the hell of frying chicken. OH, and of course, it tasted good. Like family reunion summer picnic with a down home crunch type good. Don't forget, this Spicy browngirl CAN cook--even if it's the dreaded fried chicken. Having Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home cookbook by my side helps. With straight-up recipes and manageable lists of ingredients, there's lots of food love for the home cook in those pages.

By the way, here's a great place to BUY kickin' fried chicken (and waffles):

The Little Skillet, San Francisco

And, here's a great place to get whole-roasted and rotisserie chicken:

Good Frikin' Chicken, San Francisco

peace and grits and fryin' legs,


Saturday, November 7, 2009

Big Valley Buffalo is Back!

In case you hadn't already heard... Prather Ranch has revived its buffalo trade ("bison" to you rancher types). Almost a year ago, they were having distribution problems and their tasty, grass-fed buffalo trade was stopped. That meant no more buffalo burger breakfasts after my Saturday morning runs along Embarcadero.

However, after today's run (in a shiny, new pair of Asics, I might add), I was thrilled to see buffalo burger on the menu at Prather Ranch's outdoor grill pit at the Ferry Plaza market. The price has gone up--the economy of scale for pristine, grass-fed game meat being what it is--about two bucks a pound more from the last time they had it. And, they're no longer doing a flat rate for 5 lbs of meat. But, Big Valley Buffalo is so worth it. Take it from this foodie...

See you at Prather,


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

"Food, food, food. Food, food, food."

Hello, Friends!

I'm currently working on a post about Giant Sous Chef, but things have been extremely busy around here... I'm working on a food web series, taking a couple classes and waging a silent war against comma and participle abuse. SO, it's been hectic. Chaotic even.

A Taste: Giant Sous Chef calls himself the Big Dog--you know those friendly, dopey dogs that stick their bums in your face while you're watching television. But, mostly, Big Dog's (just like GSC) want your food. You can see it in their big, round eyes and hear it in their sly panting. You may think dogs crave your constant companionship, but don't be fooled. They're 'sessing out your food and your potential to give them food (or drop it near them). Big Dogs have one thing to say to you and anyone in their immediate vicinity, "Food, food, food. Food, food, food."

- Big dogs nuzzle your legs if you smell like bacon. No, they do not love you.
- Big dogs pad into a roomful of diners and size-up the defenseless by staring at them.
- Big Dogs appear the moment they hear a potato chip bag unfurling or cereal hit a bowl.
- Big Dogs are not afraid to drool. They think this will convince you to feed them faster.
- For Big Dogs, FOOD=LOVE.

The same rules apply for Giant Sous Chef. But, he also does lots of human things like cook, clean Spicy's kitchen and fund crazy food adventures. And, of course, Giant Sous Chef Eats...

Want to learn more about him? Check back soon for update.

peace and corn grits,


Monday, August 10, 2009

Robbie Burns, eat your sheep's heart out!

Slàinte! (Eating Scotland.)

The New York Times tale, 36 Hours in Glasgow, recently reminded me that Giant Sous Chef had toured me 'round his homeland and I still haven't blogged bout it. Glasgow, on top of having the most genuine, friendly locals east of Lake Michigan, has several tasty finds. The Ubiquitous Chip, off a cobblestone lane in the West End serves a warm, huggy cockaleekie soup. The chicken and leek soup with barley, cleverly named by a people that truly relished their gift for gab, was perfect for the city's rainy, clammy climate. (barley freaks like chef sleeping draco will love it)

I don't agree with the Times' assessment that Ubiquitous Chip's "something of a Scottish Chez Panisse." Having eaten at both, UC cannot touch the level of technique and organic integrity maintained at CP. And, Watters would never serve leaden sauces like the greenish, grainy one that came with my salmon. Fortunately or not, UC was certainly the best dining experience I had in Glasgow. The organic Orkney salmon was tender with good, clean flavor. If you find yourself on that side of the Atlantic, you MUST indulge in the local seafood. Geoduck, anyone?

During this British food excursion, I discovered my love (cue the pipers, please) for Haggis. Anywhere, anytime, I am down. I especially love the spices. And, that you can make it veggie. UC's vegetarian haggis, served with mashed turnip and carrot, was reminiscent of Jamaican jerk sans heat and a dash of American Thanksgiving. Add nubbly, boiled Scottish oats and earthy lentils or nuts (for veggie version). Or, iron-rich organ meats (with a nod to conscious, whole animal eating) for haggis carnivorous. N.B.: The haggis on the Glasgow Grosvenor Hilton's brunch buffet was also tops.

...the Bad and the Ugly.
I would be lying if I didn't say I had a few straight-up whack food encounters in Scotland. First off, definitely question anything and everything sold as edible at the Glasgow airport. Edible does not always mean consumable. What if I told you I witnessed a man order "bruschetta" and in return he received pre-sliced baguette (pre-frozen, too?!) topped with rubbery shards of "melted" cheddar cheese? How about a full-on declaration: DO NOT ORDER A SALAD IN THE GLASGOW METRO AREA! Unless you want your baby lettuces tossed with greasy, flavorless pesto. Or, a platter of whitish romaine crowned with a full half of browned avocado? Yes, people, BROWN SALAD. Is an inverse culinary logic at work in Scotland that transforms sheep's blood oatmeal to an incredibly appealing and tasty dish?!!? Play it safe, stick with sausage-y and/or fried things and heavy, buttered carbs.

But, nearly all of the gustatory missteps are made-up when you stop for petrol. Enter left, drive up, park right--Marks and Spencer's Simply Food...Britain's culinary BINGO! The British equivalent of the WAWA Grill. 7 Eleven gone to culinary heaven. Someone at M&S corporate thought, Mmm... if you're going to get petrol why not get more than a pack of crisps and the odd litre of milk? Why not raw breakfast meat? Why not fresh prawn sandwiches? At a BP station between Blantyre and East Kilbride, they had three types of take-away haggis, four shelves dedicated to meat sausages...a line of fancy, fresh sandwiches ready-packed and handy, racks of wine and boxed & ribboned chocolates. It was like a Madison Avenue micro-grocery!

Post-Script: At the Chippy in Stirling. Here's the deep fried haggis Giant Sous Chef smothered in brown sauce. We ate this with battered cod, deep-fried black pudding, smoked sausage and malt vinegar doused chips sitting inside his mate's Mercedes while watching and listening to that soft Scottish rain pelt the windshield like poetry.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Junk Food, Tony and B-more...

I got a TIVO!

I'm not 100% on how to use it, but it's here, and Giant Sous Chef has set-up a season pass for some of my favorites-- No Reservations, Everyday Italian, 30 Rock... However, Comcast's programming guide is more than a little screwed up, and listed the wrong episode titles in the wrong hours for No Reservations. Luckily, it still managed to record NR "Rust Belt" in which my beloved Tony breaks bread with two actors from my favorite-of-all-time crime series, The Wire.

Tony is as obsessed with The Wire as the rest of us stating that the series and John Watters are the two things that brought him to the Charm City. He endures rain, clouds, long lines, blight and more blight. Tony is also accompanied by the infamous Samir (made infamous in the Romania episode). Their stops in Baltimore specifically are not slow-food-inspired and probably not organic, but untensil's-not-required meals of "pit beef" sandwiches, "lake trout" and grapefruit-sized crabcakes play soulfood's sweet, low songs as good as any other.

(As a fellow NY'er who's never been to B-more, I'm not completely ignorant of the place. An old friend--San Francisco's very own Chef C Double, in fact-- has apprised me of crab cakes and Lexington Market fried chicken and the many opportunities for bleak urbanscape photography.)

To get into the spirit of low-budget lifestyles in the Rustbelt, I had Giant Sous Chef pick up a bag of Ruffles Cheddar and Sour Cream chips for me... YES, Spicy eats junk food. Not always, not often, but it does call to crave. In the spirit of the recession, I'm gonna start thinking of the broken days of yore--college years, pre-organic, decidedly vegetarian AND growing up in the Reagan 80's--to reflect upon what would make my list of... Junk Food Delights!

More to come...

Peace out,


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Kicking off the Season with Tony and El Lomito...

The fluffy, golden bun looked especially good on my TV last night, as I watched Tony Bourdain devour EL LOMITO:
"A monstrous sandwich of pork, avocado and mayonnaise"

As you know, Spicy advises balance in all things sandwich even if, in this case it means a hefty portion of pork must be heaped with nearly a whole avocado and a generous ladling of soupy-looking mayo. And, of course, there's the bread. Pay special attention to the bread. It's not just a vehicle, nor a canvas for sandwich ingredients. It is an ingredient. At Fuente Alemana, where Bourdain confronted this local delight, they bake their own buns--a 6-inch round.

The El Lomito's marinated, slow-cooked pork is shaved, submerged and served steeping from its own jus, looked tasty and delightful. Like the "Three Little Pigs" in No Reservations Chicago episode -- another porcine-based creation featured at right angles to Bourdain's gullet -- I'll give this one a try at home and let you know how it goes...

It's a 'Sandwich Recession,' afterall!

Buen Provecho!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Bourdain is back!

Yes, I am free advertising for the Travel Channel, but my favorite food host and virtual travel companion, Tony Bourdain, is back for a fresh season of No Reservations. Tonight, he's doing his thing in Chile. I'll be following each new episode this season, providing worthwhile highlights. And, if I'm moved to comment, I most certainly will. (Just like last season: See posts 1/6/09 and 2/4/09)

With so much television programming out there, you might as well watch the good stuff.

(mouth watering at the thought of street food and adventure!)


Saturday, June 27, 2009

Osteria le Panzanelle. (Tuscan food. Period.)

(1.0 Lasagne in Lucarelli)

Ciao, bella! No, you don't have to remind me that I'm utterly delinquent in my post-Tuscany blog responsibilities. Since we got back, I'd even found a way to cook lavish meals as procrastination technique. (Quickly checks camera files.) There was:

Lamb Pockets Nite - mini lamb meatballs with fresh tzatziki served in a warm, soft pita. Tzatziki triggers my Astoria days when me and the crew used to go to Sagapo for happy hour. Around nightfall, owners brought baguette and bowls of tzatziki to 'quiet the drunks'.

Then there was:

Panini Night - When I could no longer stand my primal urge for panini, I dragged out the Cuisinart Griddler (wedding gift), bought a slab of Acme onion bread, some good cheese and grilled a mess of vegetables. Needless to say, 'panini night' extended into panini week!

followed by...

Grilled Shrimp & my turkey chili where I flirted with the memory of Tuscany's wonderfully ubiquitous cannellini beans and used them in the chili (instead of black beans). And, why not bake up some sour cream blueberry muffins while I'm at it? You know, before blueberry season is completely over. It'll be quick, just like...

Dad's Real Green Fish Curry, which is what I do with the packets of fresh-caught pompano that my parents (a) send back with my brother when he visits them or (b) bring in deep frozen blocks--shrink-wrapped and layered in butcher paper--in their luggage when they visit. Home cook's secret: I use fool-proof 'Thai Kitchen Green Curry' sauce paste from a jar, high quality coconut milk and a mess of green veggies like blue lake beans, zucchini and spinach and herbs-aromatics--cilantro, green onion. Thus, it's REAL GREEN Fish Curry.

When I made the decision Friday afternoon that I had to post something--even if it was just photos from that dreamy Osteria in Lucarelli--without captions, images speaking for themselves would be enough... I decided, "Hey, why don't I roast a whole 4 pound chicken?" Near midnight, when Giant Sous Chef and I were stuffing our faces with plates of Citrus Roasted Chicken with herbed lemon garlic orange jus, the Lucarelli photos were the last thing on my mind.
(above left, Giant Sous Chef meets a fluffy friend!)

But, come this morning... FINALLY I motivate. Here they are... Tuscan food. Period.

(2.0 Eggplant involtini with ethereal ricotta, my antipasti course.)

(3.0 Primi Piatti with antipasti 2: Spaghetti with sausage, tomato and mushroom and feathery ricotta and leek gnocchi.) These courses were a revelation! I just don't think you know what al dente means until you taste it in Italy. The spaghetti was chewy, but still melt in your mouth tender, and when it's proper al dente with just enough pasta water to silken the sauce, the flavors cling to each strand without messing with the balance of the dish. The 'Gnocchi Gnudi' - filled with leeks and cheese--pillow perfect. I could have died here. Seriously.

(4.0 Canellini Beans.) The pay day for my 20 year obsession--first encountered in a can of Progresso's Macaroni and Bean, aka Pasta e Fagioli--with the italian white bean. Looks simple, and it is. But, beneath Italy's night sky... something altogether different.

(5.0 A glass of 1999 Brunello di Montalcino Col d'Orcia.) Of course we had a full bottle of wine. When our server did the wine presentation, she popped the cork, put it just beneath her nose and inhaled, swooning. "Perfecto," she said. In my world, Northern California's wine valley region is spectacular, but Tuscany-- in all their sangiovese grape glory--is the true Wine Country. Sorry, France!

(1.5 Le Panzanelle's Nettle Lasagna. Encore!) For the Italian 'primi piatti' usually a pasta course, they just plop it down on a plate. It's not straddled with sides or shown up by a slab of grilled meat. It's its own thing. Better to focus on and devour, I say. A masterpiece.

(6.0 Tuscany's mother dish: Cinghiale, wild boar stew.) Meaty, hearty comforting poor people cuisine. It's like Italian Adobo! All forks in!

(7.0 Torta di Mondorle e Cioccolata!)
Osteria Le Panzanelle, the source for all this hubbub, has Spicy and Giant Sous Chef's highest rec. The service was welcoming. The food and wine... simply decadent. (All for a humble peasant's sum!) Vai, vai, vai!


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Filipina via New Yorker returns...*

...from Europa!

Check back soon for part I of Spicy and GSC's food adventures in the UK and on the Continent.

Suet frites in Paris... Veggie haggis in Glasgow's West End... Wild Boar in Lucarelli...

...coming soon.



p.s. where you been this spring? or where you headed this summer? food adventures? leave a comment, and let spicy know!

*Le Menu: Bagels and Lox (I toast and butter my bagels prior to dressing them-- I know this is not traditional!). Deep fried Lumpia Shanghai (mmm... filled with ground pork, onions, carrot, spices) with onion, patis, soy and calamansi dipping sauce. A bed of lettuce soaks up the hot oil and belies a healthy start to the day. (Don't send me lipitor pamphlets just yet, this was a special treat. I actually have low cholesterol!)
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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Broke Foodies: West Coast Style.

Let's face it, with this bona fide recession fixed firmly in place there's lots of broke foodies out there. So, what do we eat now, you ask?
Check out Spicy's Recession Favorites for Broke Foodies. (great tastes for little cash) Spicy's always looking to save a buck and keep it gourmet, and here's a few ideas to get you started (and saving!). And, one more thing... no need to be shy at the table--good conversation can fill you up, too!

Weeknight Burger: West Coast Style
*(Cost of this tasty meal for two? About $15.)

Eating a big, juicy burger always make me feel like a kid. Back East, I was raised on a hot, juicy homemade burger that Chef Dad concocted in response to the Big Mac TV ads in the 70's. Instead of carting us all to the fast-food mecca, Chef Dad made his own burger--just they way we liked them. Special sauce, too? Of course.

(Chef Dad had broken down 'special sauce' as mayo and ketchup a little pickle juice and crisp white onion)

While other kids got Ovaltine and Nilla Wafers as an afterschool snack, Chef Dad would fry up an 80-20 patty, shred lettuce, slice a beefsteak tomato, whisk up some special sauce and hold the squeaky pickles that I hated. Then, faster than my big brother could belt out the Big Mac jingle, I'd have fatty pink burger juice running down my arm. (Oh, to be young and chubby!)

Decades later, my afterschool burger's all grown up. And, Chef Dad wouldn't be disappointed. The West Coast Lamburger meets all the specs for a handheld feast. And, this grub is local.

There's been a lot of hullabaloo lately--at least in the Bay Area--about the lack of 80-20 beef. Where I shop for the best in local and organic--Whole Foods, Bi-Rite and the city's various farmers markets--I can find the best antibiotic-hormone-free meat on the market, but I can barely find a beef mix above 15% fat. Where's the fat? Leaner beef means risking a dry burger which is... unacceptable to me. If I'm going all out to have 'Burger Night,' I'm gonna to get my fat's worth!

Enter, ground lamb...where fat and flavor rendezvous:

Burger night. Giant Sous Chef finds several excuses to pass through the kitchen just as the lamb patties sizzle away in our new All-Clad grill pan. A meaty cloud fills the kitchen. Though I haven't made lamburgers since Superbowl 2002, seven years later Giant Sous Chef and I still refer to them in our cocktail chatter (as if that first succulent bite was only yesterday)... Unlike my show-stopping Superbowl XXXVI lamburger stuffed with a heady Stilton and served on Ciabatta with a side of smothered buffalo wings, I wanted to make this a conscious burger. I wanted not a fast-food burger but "slow" (like Carlo Petrini slow) and sustainable one. I gathered ingredients from purveyors as 'close to the table' as possible. I chatted with the butcher, baker and cheesemonger until my burger vision became clear.

Prather Ranch Ground Lamb. Oregon's finest. With succulent fat, premium texture and the finest flesh of grass-fed livestock, my ground lamb mix only needed a little bit of Dijon mustard, oregano, salt and pepper to make a fine patty. Taking advice from grill masters like New York's Bobby Flay and Napa's Michael Chiarello, I handled the meat as little--a few turns with the fingers and quick, gentle molding and shaping--as possible to keep it from cooking up tough.

The West Coast lamb needed a special cheese. I had tasted some Point Reyes Farmstead Reserve Bleu at Bi-Rite Grocery a few days before, but I thought it would play too strong. Their 'Original Bleu'--with that salty Pacific breeze in every bite--would suffice. I also sauteed a bunch of Watsonville baby spinach and shallot in Stonehouse Estate Blend olive oil (from the Fall 2008 press).

Then, there was the bread. You gotta think about the bread. No excuses. Yet, my usual choice for burger bread--challah rolls or focaccia, too eggy or too olive oily--clashed with the lamb and tangy bleu cheese. Armored with a hefty, golden crust impervious to the hot juices that would bust through the finished burger, and with just enough fragrant, herbaceous rosemary compliment the lamb, Acme's Herb Slab was the natural choice.

I had also frenched some garnet sweet potatoes for oven fries. I toasted squares of herb slab and hit them with a little Irish Butter before smoothing on the bleu. I made four 1/4 lb. burgers. Cooked to about medium they were obscenely juicy.
.. *(Cost of this tasty meal for two? About $15.)

Hanging Tender Dinner. Aka
'the butchers cut' or in
France, the beloved 'onglet.' The hanger steak is an odd-shaped cut made up of two muscles that--you guessed it--hang off the kidney below the tenderloin. I get mine from Prather Ranch and Golden Gate Meat Company. If you go to GGM, they can do a free rub that further enhances the flavor (cook it fast and leave it juicy) of this affordable and increasingly trendy cut.

For sides, I took my recipe for duck fried rice, subtracted the bacon and duck confit and sub'd in Wildwood firm tofu. Marinating in organic shoyu and sprinkling garam masala onto the the tofu and the final dish while still in a hot wok, elevates this beyond drab fried rice takeout. Blue Lake Beans in the Bay are classic. All they need are simple blanching and a few hot tosses in the wok with a little shallot or garlic, S&P. With these protein-rich sides, you won't need much steak per person to make it a hearty, balanced meal. (Total cost for two: 3.00+4.75+12.00=$19.75)

Panini Prandial. Isn't it boring when people tell you breakfast is the most important meal of the day? At minimum, we remember to buy yogurt and fruit-sweetened toaster pastries on the grocery run. But, when you have just a little more time, why not go to the butcher for maple pecan sausage links? Dust off your panini grill (the busy foodie's best friend!). Then, use leftover cheese (in my fridge, Spring Hill's Jersey Monterey Jack-- "Jersey Cows" not New Jersey!), vitamin-rich greens to saute and stuff inside and whatever else you want to panini. (Scrambled Petaluma farm-fresh eggs, optional.)

PANINI INSTRUCTIONS: Stuff fresh ingredients betwixt bread. Grill sandwich and smoosh.
($ one panini costs about $3 to make)

All that and a bag o' shrimp...

On my second tour of SF, I shacked up with Giant Sous Chef in a tiny studio in the SOMA district. But, there was lots of good in that place... Along with the genuine clawfoot tub, there was a separate kitchen (stove was safe distance from futon). AND, Trader Joe's was (still is) across the street. For the savviest, broke foodies, TJ's is one of the best spots in many cities to save on food.

Even though my palate's outgrown TJ's 'two-buck-chuck' (aka Charles Shaw wine) and moved onto their twelve dollar imported Barolo, I still grab a bargain bag o' frozen shrimp when I'm there. Usually the uncooked, peeled, tail-on U30 count does me. But, I saved a bit this Easter by getting the smaller-bodied, tail-off version...

Po' Food. You know how much Spicy loves NOLA. So, this Easter Sunday in honor of flavors of that favorite place (and the journalist Chris Rowe), I attempted to recreate Domilise's roast beef and spicy shrimp po' boy. Exactly as it sounds, a soft roll decked out with shaggy slices of slow-roasted beef, shrimped encased in a seasoned, fried breading and stove-hot debris gravy. It's best to make your own roast-- you'll end up with all the makings for 'debris' (the crispy, sometimes chunky, somewhat burnt bits from roast that scatter into drippings when carved). In NOLA cuisine, debris is retained for gravy. Debris is important. It's the single touch that makes this po' boy rich...

Country Club Shrimp Salad at Home. Do you love couscous like I do? A box of couscous costs about two dollars and contains approximately 10 servings. How can you go wrong? You can have it hot, cold, savory, sweet. It's especially tasty in my arugula shrimp salad with poppy seed dressing. The couscous' unique texture, peppery greens and tangy emulsion unite with chilled shrimp tossed with a squeeze of meyer lemon, salt and pepper.
Simple, cost effective and oh, so good! (cost of one salad 6/5.99 + 6/2.99 + 6/2.50)

What's your recession food fix? Wanna recipe? Tell Spicy in comments!

(you may not hear from spice-E & giant sous chef for a little bit as we're taking the credit cards to europe... we'll try to post from the road, but no promises with nothing but an ipod touch (with NO camera function) to guide my way... IPOD TOUCH--get a camera!)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Sandwich Recession.

...Easter Sunday, Burgers, Little Skillet and a Westie.

I've decided to make roast beef and fried shrimp po' boys for Easter Dinner.** And, chocolate risotto pudding. And, I'm saving that bottle of McWilliams Shiraz (vino cheapo). For the family brunch buffet, I'm thinking pastel de tres leches with fruit topping. The strawberries were too green at Rainbow co-op (and I honestly think we're pushing the season here), so I might go with mangoes instead or see how the Cali strawberries look elsewhere.

NOLA is my religion, so I woke up thinking about those roast beef and fried shrimp po' boys! It's the trendy thing right now—sandwiches in general are, since we're all so broke and whatnot. Tom Colicchio even has a book about sandwich making, and is heading our way (to the Bay) for his book tour. Apparently his 'Wichcraft franchises have lines out the door. I haven't been to the one in SF quite yet. I'll get there...

On Tuesday night I did find a decent buffalo burger at Pearl's Deluxe Burger in Russian Hill (is it RH or TL or TN? I'm not straight on that part of the city). Just off the corner of Post at Jones, a clean little hole in the wall serving all the greasy stuff. But, what made it my destination? In the last year, Prather Ranch, my fine meat dealer (and the peeps who introduced me to "beef-falo") lost their buffalo supplier. And, it's taking time to find another bison outfit. Sad, but true.

(they still have plenty of delicious meat, especially that Oregon Lamb)

SO, I had to cheat on them with Pearl's Deluxe... which wasn't so bad. I had the 1/2 lb. buffalo burger with cheddar and bacon (and crinkle cut sweet potato fries and some of my friends frings (fries-n-O-rings!). It was fatty and drippy and sooo-hole-in-the-wall-good. Bacon jutted! Cheese oozed! The three of us didn't even look at each other again until we were finished eating and swabbing meat juice from our faces.

My only criticism: Pearl's, get some new buns! The soft sesame seeded white roll fell apart while I was eating my ginormous, juicy burger. It obviously wasn't thick enough and had little flavor. I know the meat's the star, but I give extra points if a joint thinks about the bread.

A foodie-FRIED fact: One of my favorite SF chefs returns from a sojourn back East, and he's starting up the Little Skillet out of 330 Ritch Street (remember that spot? a few memorable evenings there). Among other snacks, they'll have CHICKEN-N-WAFFLES, PEOPLE!! (double plus good). So, please drop in 'n give ol' C-Double a shout. Let him know Spicy sent you—maybe, he'll crack a smile.

In a final note, this weekend I hope to post the long-awaited West Coast Burger photos. Spicy's own lick-your-lips creation. Plus, a revelation about the Acme Herb Slab! Check back soon for the 'Westie' burger.* It's damn good. And, you should know about it.

**(Po' boy update: In my attempt to keep it real and have sandwiches for Easter dinner, I ventured to Trader Joe's for the ingredients. "Natural" roast beef? Check. Fully-cooked, tail-off, medium shrimp—great for breading and frying? Check. Beef gravy? Uh-oh. TJ's did have their famous "turkey gravy in a box" though... So, ok, I bought it. I have a jar of Superior Touch Beef "Better than Bouillon" in my fridge, and it won't be the first time I've doctored things behind closed kitchen doors...Spicy's sneaky like that.)


*(no fluffy white scotty dogs were harmed in the writing of this this posting)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

I waited at Cafe Cuvee back in the day...

“A Beautiful Thing to Behold”

When “not having a plan” gave way to financial crisis I went around the corner and put in my service resume at Café Cuvee on Market Street. It was a bare-bones place that served smoky, Italian roast coffee, a brunch that burbled with Francophile flair and for dinner something called New California Cuisine. Having once landed at a private university armed with modest life experiences with my civil servant parents and a career in typically under-funded public school systems, restaurant work had become a learned necessity. But aside from all the reasons I would tell the chef/owner in my interview about wanting the job, applying to Café Cuvee was a better option than phoning my parents to borrow money. Eight months had passed since I left New York, and the last thing I wanted to do in San Francisco was fail.

Two days later, I returned home and had a message that the restaurant wanted to hire me immediately. It would be brunch and dinner on Saturdays and brunch on Sunday. Three shifts. At my interview, Chef Anne was impressed by my abhorrence for the “quick turnover”—when diners are shuttled like cattle from foyer to table to exit inside seventy-five minutes to maximize the number of “covers” (patrons) the “floor” (dining room) can accommodate during “service” (hours of operation). Concurrently, after giving the menu a once-over: roasted organic vegetables en papillote, grilled Delmonico steak, aromatic pilaf, appetizers involving puff pastry and desserts rife with sabayon– every dish a la minute– I was equally impressed with Café Cuvee. Chef Anne was not messing around. Before the Slow Food Movement that reminds us to spiritualize food and practice meditative cooking and dining mainstreamed into American food phenomena, Anne wedged a large saute pan into the hyper-clockwork of modern life, presented us with small plates of roast peaches, goat cheese and port and said, “Sit down. Take a breath.”

Saturday dinner service with Anne at the burners and a doe-eyed waiter named Joe on the floor was simple enough. As hostess, I led a steady flow of patrons to sanded-down pine tables, recited a short list of “Specials”, filled water, served wine and removed empty plates. Joe’s professionalism (he was a ten-year fine-dining veteran) inspired a rapport, and while working the front of the house we commanded a ballet-like fluidity. With a Rachmaninoff compact disc catalogue in the stereo, working dinner could almost be relaxing especially when most nights started with Anne seating me in the dining room with a bowl of wild mushroom bisque and a glass of Poully Fuisse—at a front table, window-facing—to attract customers.

Hosting Saturday and Sunday brunch was an entirely different dimension. I worked with Rogelio, a Salvadorian cook who wore rubber-soled white loafers—all the better to zip between the hot station (range, grill and oven) and the prep station (Cuisinart, chopping blocks and pantry). The lone waiter on the floor (acquiescing to the whims of up to sixty covers with a full-house) was Erin, a lean auburn-haired girl from Upstate NY who had trained her dancer’s body to serve piping cups of espresso, oozing omelet’s and tiny bowls of house-made apple-berry jam en pointe. Despite Rogelio’s gravity defying speed and Erin’s unfailing grace, they entirely ignored my hostessing system. Wound up on bottomless double espressos, Rogelio couldn’t help chatting with waiting patrons, projecting boyishness from the open kitchen, then misdirecting them to reserved tables. Erin, only one of her sins, stacked dirty dishes and glassware without prejudice. They upended my work flow into jagged, unpredictable turns. Suddenly, I had to come up with a non-confrontational dialogue to remove hungry diners from reserved tables then confess they would have another 20 to 40 minutes wait. Or, I found myself with my hands deep in overflowing bus trays reconfiguring thick dinner plates such that their weight would not crush Anne’s rapidly diminishing supply of stemware. But, as it is in any restaurant that opens its doors with love and only hires people with rhythm and sense, it only took a couple crazy shifts to snap out the kinks. People came. People were fed. We all got along.

Take it from me who poured two-hundred cups of Grafeo Dark Roast per brunch and cut a hundred or so squares of hand-turned focaccia at night, Café Cuvee was hard, satisfying work. At the end of the day shift, when Rogelio slid our staff meal of coddled eggs with fresh cream and new potato homefries flecked with garlic across the hotline and poured Brut and pulpy orange juice for our Mimosa refresher, my satisfaction tripled. When I was handed the days’ tip-out in cash, my focus and attention to the nuances—measures of Dutch cocoa and sugar for hot chocolate, precise profiles on our compendium of Mexican hot sauces—were directly appreciated. Walking out of the restaurant in the late afternoon sun still gleaming off the Twin Peaks hills, the job encapsulated everything that was good about San Francisco: People, food and the ability to give of yourself. If I could have kept it up it could have been a Beautiful thing.

In my bi-monthly phone-call to my mother on the East Coast, an act stemming from some primal need to hear her voice, my new-found San Francisco/food service euphoria withered.
“Do you have job yet?” she asked under the blare of Friday night prime-time television.
“Well, yes, I’m working,” I said feeling caution rise in my throat.

Although she was already a semi-retired RN, I pictured her head to toe in starched nurses whites—a gold Saint Christopher’s medallion catching the light.
“How much are you making now?” she asked.
“Well, I’m paid hourly. But, the tips are pretty good–“
“What do you mean tips?” she blared. “Are you working in a restaurant?”

The word “tips” to my mother seemed to conjure the basest characters—renegade airport cabbies who touch your luggage without consent. I looked down at the discernible iced-tea and ketchup stains on my shoes.
“The chef at brunch is named Rogelio– just like Dad– isn’t that neat?”
“I don’t know why you quit your job. You had a good job. But, instead, you want to work in a restaurant.”

The “job” conversation was that brick wall that we loved to run our heads into. The “good job” she referred to was the Television Food Network where I had been a field producer—“assistant producer” by official title and pay, but certainly not by actual work—a place wrought with food snobs and drunken line cooks who couldn’t move fast enough to hack it in real New York restaurants.

“You had an apartment, a car, a good job,” she rehashed. “What else do you want?”

Tears welled in my eyes and streamed down my face. I reached for the half-finished bottle of Chilean red while my mother relegated restaurant work to the uneducated and non-english speaking then drove her point home.
“Honey, I don’t know why you wasted your time and money at an expensive university if you’re going to be a waitress? What is your degree for? What was the point?”

If the “job” conversation brought on mild to hysterical tears, which it usually did when I first came to San Francisco, I would curl up in front of my roommate’s 30-inch TV flicking through cable channels. What was the point? Moving to San Francisco and avoiding any job that involved television, Katie Couric wanna-be’s and production of commercialized media for as long as possible felt right—at twenty-four (at thirty, thirty-one, two). But, it was amazing how six grand in a savings account had slipped through my fingers. Money eventually came up short, but at that point in my life—1996, ’97, part of ’98—romanticism was bottomless. It was like the decision to walk away from my close immigrant family life on the East Coast to head to the unknown Midwest for college. As I considered what life after high school would hold for me, I observed my hardworking aunties and cousins dutifully opting for the least expensive (and nearby) City and State colleges, living with their parents in the family basement until they married and taking board certification tests or nighttime computer classes until they could bolster their surnames with officious acronyms—C.P.A, D.D.S., Ph.D. Since childhood, I was apt to laying in the grass and watching cloud patterns or for hours staring at ocean waves; my family tree’s well-tread career routes eluded me. I always seemed to be asking, What’s out there? What can I do? In the spring of my junior year in high school, an English teacher who had studied at Oxford and seemed to resemble their bearded, wizened Dons updated in chino pants and running shoes recommended a university outside of Chicago. When I was accepted, I packed my romantic notions and left home for the first time.

Thirty to forty-five minutes into my TV-induced vegetable state, the phone rang.
“Why did you tell mom you were working in a restaurant?” my sister said.

I envisioned her in one of those putty-coloured suits you buy off the rack, perhaps at a thirty-percent discount, at a department store. She would be hunched-over some kind of spreadsheet fingers poised above the keys of her laptop as if beginning a masterpiece.

“Well, I am working at a restaurant,” I said.

She tapped quickly at her keys; it sounded like the skitter of rodents.

“How much are you making there per week?”

I gave her a sum and she punched away at the keys again. What are your monthly expenses? she asked. Entertainment budget? Are you spending too much on clothes?

“I just sold some CD’s back to the record store,” I said. If I had sold clothes at a second-hand shop she calculated the buy-back rate as a percentage.

Despite a complete void of accredited University degrees or even a CPA certificate, my sister could crunch numbers with the best of them; she was a marketing director at a large East Coast mortgage bank.

“I thought you wanted to go to Europe?” she asked rhetorically. “You’re not going there on this salary. You can afford to take the bus to San Diego and visit Auntie Layda. Maybe.”

I poured coffee, tastes of wine, recited specials, cleaned the psychotic espresso machine and laughed at Chef Anne’s jokes. To supplement, I took low-paying temporary day-jobs when I could get them. San Francisco was not and is not a haven for job-seeking television producers.
“You look so happy when you’re behind the line,” I said to Anne while she plated lavender honey infused chicken thighs, organic Blue Lake beans and Yukon Gold potatoes mashed with tender nuggets of Rocambole garlic.

She finished the plate with a sprinkle of chopped fresh chives. A Mandarin family grew the chives and all of Café Cuvee’s herbs on a rooftop garden in Chinatown.

“When you love what you do,” she said. “It’s easy to be happy.”

When I was down, the restaurant was there. I sought Anne’s white, pillowy hugs and turned myself over to her umami of roasted root vegetables and citrus skins and the soft hands that put it all together brilliantly night after night. Why hadn’t it been like that with mother? Affection. Back home I had developed a hardness. Maybe, New Yorkers are born with the armor of apathy, of knowing everything and needing nothing. But, each night as I walked North on Church Street and turned right on Market and saw Café Cuvee’s black and white banner pulled taut against a square of twilight, I was walking toward the kind of acceptance we so rarely know.

Doe-eyed Joe polished soupspoons and stocked bottles of Sancerre sometimes reminiscing about his father’s Mission High glory days with Carlos Santana. Slabs of focaccia were pulled—dimpled and hot—from the oven and laid on racks in view of neighbourhood passers-by. After a couple of years, when I graduated from hostess/brunch waitress to garde manger, I worked in the narrow scullery at my own workstation on salad assembly and dessert plating. Rows of knives were neatly sized on a thick magnet mounted against the wall and stainless ladles, spoons and tongs swung overhead keeping me company. I roasted hazelnuts and skinned them between striped towels—the chopped, toasty pieces forming the crust on a ball of Laurel Chenel goat cheese. I spooned Anne’s ethereal chocolate mousse with my steadiest hand onto sugar coated phyllo triangles—layering and building addictive dessert “Towers”—and finished with warmed Belgian chocolate sauce poured from the lip of a battered sauté pan.

At the end of the night, a single glass of Cote du Rhone soothed me before we dove into Anne’s staff dinners—one evenings’ pinnacle: grilled Petaluma chicken supremes with Moroccan charmoula and wild rice pilaf. The tangy charmoula, created in part from the Bay Areas rich gifts of Meyer Lemon trees and wild cilantro leaf, captured such an earthy brightness that all of us were suddenly re-energized. After begging Anne for small take-home containers of the sauce to share with our loved ones, I and the rest of the staff proceeded to a pub crawl up Market street—shrill with Charmoula energy. Not wanting him to feel left out, before we left I snuck my second glass of Cote du Rhone into a tall porcelain mug for Victor, the nineteen year-old dishwasher who would pull mats and hose down the floors after we left. It might be hokey to say ‘Those were the days…,” but how do you honour the moments when you and everything fell into place in the most unlikely circumstances? How could I hold onto a separate peace made real in the weathered corners of Cave Cuvee when my “real” family had decided that working as “unskilled labour” in a restaurant is wrong? If in life I am looking for my own path and I do not believe in being ruled by the fragile pride of my elders, are the Beautiful things discovered along the way enough to sustain me? Simply by remembering them?

I poured coffee, tastes of wine, recited specials, cleaned the psychotically temperamental espresso machine, laughed at Chef Anne’s jokes, and booked slightly higher-paying production crew work when I could get it. I noticed how the sun struck Twin Peaks and shimmered all along Market Street once the fog rolled out at so many ten a.m’s. I discovered a jazz singer named Ledisi at the Café DuNord who sang a cover of “In a Sentimental Mood” in such a way that made me weep. I cooked Thai chicken curry with chilies and baked roasted hazelnut-banana cakes from scratch to the astonishment of friends.

Once, while compressed in my 3’x5’x8.5’ cubicle at Food Network, I read that eighty-percent of the our produce is grown in Northern California, from San Joaquin Valley to Sacramento Valley. A light went on in my belly. Did I need another reason? I respected food—it is of the earth and I am of the earth—I loved being around food. On Wednesday and Saturday afternoons at Café Cuvee before we began prepping for dinner service, Anne would arrive pink-cheeked from the Farmer’s Market. We unloaded her cart like children receiving long-awaited gifts: A box of hardy Fuji apples, overflowing bags of wild roquette, spring onions, leeks, vibrant French carrots, cinched and bulbous heirloom tomatoes nearly purple with sweetness.

version: 12 December 2004

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Garam Masala Explored.

For this past San Valentin menu, I stumbled upon a recipe for fried rice with duck confit that involved garam masala. The last time the spice had intrigued me was circa 1997: Michael Lomonaco's recipe for fancy oatmeal that combined old-fashion rolled oats with mango yogurt guessed it, a "pinch" of garam masala. I was fairly impressed with a desperately underrated spice. But, after moving to Northern California I rarely encountered it.

(Though one other memory stands out circa 1998 at "Big Sherms" chef pad in Lower Haight, SF where spices lined the windowsill in neat rows of baby food jars. We took one down and opened it. "Garam masala," C-double said. Yet, with one single breath, I already knew.)

Fast-forward to 2009...
In the never-ending pursuit of transforming boneless, skinless chicken breast into a dish that will truly blow your mind, an old high school chum offered this marinade:

"try marinating chicken (or ur fav meat) in garam masala, juices of limes and lemon, melted butter, and salt. marinate overnight and grill."
It tastes as good as it sounds—salty, sweet, savoury, buttery and tart hugging the senses! I marinated two chicken breast halves and one boneless skinless thigh (for more levels of fat flavor) for about 4 hours before grilling. Pragya said she's also employed oranges for the marinade, but this time I only used Meyer lemon and lime. I was concerned about the butter as I'm so used to marinating with olive or sesame oil, but it worked out well and brought a distinct richness to the final dish. I served the chicken with a side of micro-greens tossed with cucumber-ranch dressing and got a little naughty with indulgent slices of Acme's Rustic Italian loaf toasted with Straus Creamery salted butter and laced with olio tartufo bianco (extra virgin olive oil infused with white truffle).

Food glee at its finest. Truly.

Buon Gusto, Pragya!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Where's the Ube?

My good Catholic-self should have seen the false idolatry. My Bourdain fawning had to come to an abrupt pause at some point. So, why not when he's covering my cultural homeland (and possibly yours)—the Philippines.

It wasn't utter disappointment but... Where's the ube? The ubiquitous purple yam used in jams, fillings, cakes and ice cream among other specialties was conspicuously missing in Tony's reportage. It was like a Jeepney without horns. And, speaking of Jeepney's, the show's pacing was like a Jeepney stripped by bandits sitting in a deserted mega-mall, living to rust.

(Am I exaggerating?
Perhaps, a bit... But, this show, simply and sadly, was not their best. I even caught a sputtered micro-reference to the Iceland episode from season 1. Was it textbook Tony? Using sarcasm to mask fear?)

Let's start off with the camera work. There are over 7000 islands in the Philippines yet there isn't one aerial showing bodies of water and lush landmass. Ultra-green rice terraces captured from the jumper seat on a bi-plane? No. Handheld shots POV'd off the back of a ferry? No. Tony moving among the massive throngs, wedged between giggling schoolchildren on a crowded jeepney? Nope, nope. nope. Where was the director on this thing? Did they have a director? To make matters worse, this was the first episode to follow last week's Food Porn special—So, where was the Filipino food porn? Where were the close-ups of hacking up that crispy, crimson-skinned lechon with machetes? The nat sounds of primal food forage. And, the cutaways of steam rising from the swines cooked haunches barely veiling the sweat-drenched gaze of accomplished cooks? If Cebuano lechon is truly the best open-pit roasted whole pig in the islands and this episode's pinnacle where's all that luscious eye candy? With exception of the pig's skin, not one camera did the lechon justice. Hello?

Like I said, It wasn't utter disappointment... Poetry and choice bits were scattered throughout: The montage of Manila's battle scarred buildings and pensive populace, the deep yet ambiguous American influences and scenes in the dried fish market were spot on. The dinner at home with artist Claude Tayag was an nice peek into the life of one of the many artists attempting to stay Pampangan tradition in a traditionally Americanized land. Even Tony's rabid observations of poor Agosto were appreciated...
Genuine sympathy for the cherubic fan who lured NR to finally tackle PI were noted with an ethnographic tone minus any hurtful edge. Busy and informative at best, emotionally reaching and idling at worst, this episode also lacked an essential element: The bittersweet national historian, or, the ravenous ex-patriot foodie planted in the show to spar with Tony or encourage him partake the latest cultural experiment or ancient food ritual. It cried out for someone or something to add zing. Oh, what I would have paid to see Tony dancing the tinikling!

ile they respectfully avoided the Fear Factor-esque exploitation of binging on tuba wine and balut, the show simply wasn't cohesive. Tony himself seemed to apologize in voice-overs, confessing the pressure he felt from Filipino fans. And, then there's the actual possibility that something went terribly wrong... production-wise. After checking the NR site's Philippines episode summary , I noticed the list does not jive with what made it on screen.

No Reservations waited four seasons to produce a show on the Philippines. Andrew Zimmern's show beat them to the punch which is embarrassing enough. And, now that they've been, Tony admits they missed out on a lot. I spent a bewildered twenty minutes or so post-episode harassing my TV: What about American influence on cuisine and culture? (Hot dogs and spaghetti! American Cheese Ice Cream!) What about Spanish, Malay and Chinese influences? The dozen different native bananas and how to prepare them? And, if they ever do this again, I thought, they definitely need to pick better music tracks.

Despite this show, Bourdain still rocks. He's observant yet cool. He processes and intellectualizes but still aspires for wonderment. On camera in the Philippines, he knew sh*t was going sideways. And, let's face it, as a television professional, I know better than to simply blame the "pretty" face on screen. Producers, associate producers, researchers, fixers and DP's (yes, even they screw up), play a plentiful part in poor booking, footage misfires and creating messes that cannot be fixed in post-production. Several fellow foodies even noted one shakey fact that made it into the final cut...

Dear NR:

For the record, the 'adobo template' is not just soy sauce, black pepper and onions. There is one other crucial component...vinegar. Originally used to preserve meat for mountaineers and travelers, vinegar achieves the essence of adobo. The salty, sour and sometimes sweet national dish of an equally pungent yet inviting country and its people. But, don't let that put you off the Philippines.

Peace out,


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Bourdain says, "I'm a total egg slut."

There are plenty of things on food shows that we want to make at home, but every once in a while you see something so straightforward that it can go from your eyes to your brain to hands and ingredients to table with just a little sheer creativity. Such is... the Three little pigs sandwich as seen at the Silver Palm restaurant in Chicago.

I just saw this culinary beast featured on the best food show ever... No Reservations.

As you all know, Spicy is a Bourdain disciple like no other. Even though his commentary may be delusion-arily over the top at times (c'mon, was that "mother in law" tamale-dog that good?) or induced after blindly engorging salve for a mean hangover, I'm willing to trust him on this sandwich. Big? Yes. Good enough to each off a t.v. screen? You betcha! What I'm wondering is: What spices are involved in the making of the Three Little Pigs? What kind of breading on the cutlet? Smoked ham? Should I smoke it myself? Condiments?

Enter, gastro-imagination.

As described in the segment, the Three Little Pigs ("3 li'l pigs"?) is one mama fried pork cutlet, smoked ham, strips of bacon, fried eggs (two, I think, topping alternate layers of pork) and melted gruyere on a white, seedless roll. This concoction will be any pork lover's last sandwich on earth. An enormous mound of crispy, smokey, tender and faintly charred and fatty pork parts, touched with hot yolk and topped with nutty cheesy gruyere goo fresh from beneath a flaming salamander. Inspired by good onscreen t.v. etiquette or simply old age and good sense, placed before him Bourdain cut the sammy in half and marveled at its dripping cross-section. "I'm a total egg slut," he remarked at the addition of not one but multiple fried eggs to the layered wonder.

At the Silver Palm, they even have the audacity to serve the Three Little Pigs with french fries.

Here's my proposal: We all do-it-yourself this mama sammy in our own kitchens and report back...

Tell Spicy how your friends and family reacted. And, how many meals you skipped before you could eat again. Tell me where you got your pork. And, whether you braved the smoker. And, of course, my condimentia requires a full detail of the condiments engaged in this sexy act of sandwich making. (Is aioli too rich? Will mustard compromise? Fruit spread?) Trial and error is earnestly encouraged. Send pictures!

*Now that we have a little pet pork project, my friend Juls has also alerted the locals about BaconCamp...proceeds going (lovingly, with terrible irony) to the AHA. I really hope there's wild boar bacon. And, the potluck approach sounds very interesting. I can't wait until March rolls in like a lion and we're all sample-stuffing ourselves indoors without a care...satisfying deeply rooted bacon cravings and popping lipitor.

OK... Ready, set, pork... mobile pic uploads encouraged. I know some of you are standing in professional kitchens as I type, so get going!

Six more weeks of winter according to my blue-eyed groundhog.

- Spicy!

random thoughts on the NR chicago episode:

Bourdain: This is what people mean when they say fish that tastes like the ocean...

"...exactly," Ripert says.

Ripert on smoked oyster jus, "I can have like a dozen like that."

Why is Eric Ripert so cute? Like french cheffym broken english, dorky cute?

Why is Anthony Bourdain's writing so brilliant?

Friday, January 9, 2009

Taste of 2008.

This pomelo-induced smile is dedicated to home cooks everywhere—especially Chef Dad.
“…home cooking is a link, a continuum from one generation to the next, a flow of knowledge and love that strengthens and nourishes everyone it touches.” Nancy Harmon Jenkins in Gourmet. (1/08)

(please click on any photo to engage BIG photo)

30. Guinness Milk Chocolate Ice Cream poured from the cold canister. The undisputed favorite in the summer of ice cream. It’s handmade by design from David Liebovitz’ The Perfect Scoop. A creamy revelation tamed by milk chocolate and the bitter tang (and fizz?) of Ireland’s beloved stout. (Aug 08)

29. Harvest Supper. (Sept 08) Hanger Steak was the runaway hit at the inaugural Harvest Supper. Do you remember when Anthony Bourdain stepped back behind the line at Les Halles? “Onglet, onglet!!” the expediter bellowed. Onglet is the French name for this sassy, flavorful cut—the hanging tender—also called butcher’s tenderloin, a cut they kept for themselves. Thanks to Chef Dad, I’m a cheap beef aficionado. I stockpile flank and skirt as well.

Our dinner's sweet finale? Straus Family Creamery Vanilla whole milk Froyo with seasonal peaches, waffle cookies and SEVEN spoons!

28. NY Cheese Flan. NY-sister gets “epicurious” in her quest for a formidable flan. Move over NY cheesecake! (Oct 08)27. My nephew discovers pepperocini peppers! It’s "like unlimited flavor."

26. Gotham Eats. (Oct 08)
NY Pastrami from the 2nd Ave Deli And, the answer to the “Gotham Eats” eyeball bender.

Rainbow Cookies. Only in NY? If you’re in Northern California and you know where to get delicious Venetians, Tre-Colore aka Rainbow cookies, please let Spicy know!

25. Ellsworth Farm Cider Doughnuts (10.08) Made in New England and superior to the popular Atkins. Moist apple bits, cinnamon sugar and a cakey-cakey mouthfeel. Heaven.

24. Stainless Steel Central. Form, function and one happy home cook. Giant Sous Chef hangs the pots-n-pans rack! S-hooks hook it all up!

23. Salmon is the new chicken breast,
i.e. Getting-bored with a sea -food staple? Perk it up! Poach with wine, red onions, capers, lemons. Cut lemon aioli with poaching liquid for a quick sauce. And, serve with garganelli
(“quills”) over leafy greens.

Then, a classic skillet-seared wild salmon with Tyler Florence’s chili seasoning and some sexy sides: blue lake beans and mashed sweet potatoes spiked with Vermont maple syrup.

22. Anchovies! If you’re still making Caesar dressing with anchovy salt or paste, please stop now and buy a jar of oil-cured (or salt-cured) anchovy fillets from Italy. You will be happier. I promise you. I grew up in an Italian-American neighborhood when anchovy pizza was out of fashion, and it still may be, but on a hand-tossed thin crust with a little sautéed escarole…
21. Food for a Rainy Night. Oven Roasted Chicken. The Essential Knife Skills class at Sur La Table taught me to cut root veggies as a foundation for roasting. No rack needed!

20. Help in the Kitchen! Spicy parked Giant Sous Chef at the dumpling filling station...With delicious results.

9. Giant Sous Chef’s Happy Blood Orange Valentine Game Hen paired with a big fat bottle of Trefethen’s Cabernet Franc. (2.14.08)

18. The Great Cocktail Experiment: Pepperocini Martini in honor of culinary beginnings in a very Italian-American ‘hood.

17. Gambas al Ajillo (y limon meyer). Inspired by Mrs. Barre and accompanied by prosciutto-wrapped zucchini spears.

16. Brie & Beef Sliders on Ciabatta. Melts in your mouth, not in your hand.

15. Spicy’s favorite lunch from Whole Foods. Brown Rice sushi and fresh organic fruit.

14. Filipina Girlfriends who like to Eat! Bridal shower + Crispy lechon=Happy Chicas! (8.08)

13. Lentils du Puy with roasted squash and white truffle oil. Another favorite from BI-RITE.

12. Grub for Homesick New Yorkers: Onion Bagel and REAL Straus Family Creamery Euro-style butter. Thank goodness for House of Bagels in SF. (10.08)

11. Linguine Alla Vongole to christen my 3 qt Le Creuset. Transported to a kitchen by the sea, fresh littlenecks steeping and popping in the covered pot. Searching for a mother recipe led me to the thrift-minded linguine con le vongole finte that replaces the clams with fingerling potatoes cooked until falling apart. (Jan 08)

10. Strawberry Mint Julep Inspired by a springtime trip to the South. A slightly spicy gentlewoman's drink. (5.08)

9. Rebuilding New Orleans: Acme Oyster House in the French Quarter. Manning jersies on the wall. And, the best char-grilled oysters in town.

Covert picture-taking at Cochon! The city’s ubiquitous Boudin Balls with house grainy mustard. One restaurant we can say without hesitation is worthy of splurge. Try Everything!

Potato rolls at Cochon. If these are the last thing I eat, I will be happy.

Food for the Spicy Soul: Evening jazz at The Spotted Cat, Frenchman St, NOLA (April 08)

8. Alemany Market frutas. A San Francisco locals favorite.
When Chef Dad visited in Winter ’07 he became mildly obsessed with the local pomelos. There's also a flea market for cookware freaks.

7. 18th Street Gourmet Ghetto throws a post-modern Barrio Fiesta. Roast heritage pork at the summer's block party.

6. The Other White Meat:
What to do with a
pork tenderloin? Two words: Bánh Mì.

5. Fast-food for Filipino Foodies.
Pampangan Sisig—Max’s Chicken-Style.
Lumpia Shanghai takes a dip. (12.31.08)

4. Cherry Pie (11.08) Memories of gloppy, gelatinous and offensive filling (McDonald's? Hostess?) erased with one forkful of Nora’s Bakery’s (nee Geneva’s in Daly City) buttery, creamy, juicy, cherry pie. Distributed at Drewe’s Bros, SF during the holidays. (So f*ing good.)

3. Cook’s Holiday. After our Christmas feast of pristine local steaks and Maine lobster, who the hell wants to cook? Spicy turns out the Lobstah Roll. (Wicked good.)

2. Pork Love! Incanto’s Pork Ragu made with their Boccalone salumi. Known in SF as the chef’s hangover cure. Just add fried egg.

1. Panettone French Toast. Aaah! Made with Pasticceria Fraccaro’s Panettone al Cioccolato. Creamy dark chocolate nibbles compliment vanilla-rich double-risen bread, sliced thick and transformed using CI's recipe for Challah French Toast (minus ½ t of vanilla and using melted salted European-style butter). Warning: Bear-Hug-inducing.

(aka Panettone Pain Perdu, an alliterist’s delight)

Do as I eat. Eat as I do...Thanks for reading!

(pls. click any pic to enlarge)