Check out my foodie adventures at Foodspotting and Foodgawker

Monday, December 14, 2009

Product Review: So Delicious Coconut Milk products

Dairy and I have had a long standing love-hate relationship that has been on and off for about the last 5 or 6 years. I’m not really bothered by yogurt or ice cream or cheese (and boy do I love all those things), but milk and cream in its pure form consistently make my tummy unhappy (to put it politely). Like some bad news ex-boyfriend, I had a hard time cutting the chord completely due to two items: cereal and coffee. Now, I am not the type to drink milk by the glass, but it turns out I have been pretty hard wired from decades of nice white creamy milk in my cereal. So began the hunt for a good quality milk substitute to use with cereal and coffee. While brands of milk taste fairly homogenous across the board, I’ve found that the taste of soymilk varies greatly depending on the brand and type (sweetened, flavored or unsweetened). For a comparable milk substitute, I stick to unsweetened soymilk, and I am happy to report that I stopped purchasing cow’s milk altogether about 4 years ago.

Nowadays, the door on my refrigerator could stand in for a Silk commercial with neatly lined rows of plain soymilk (for cereal), vanilla soymilk (for baking), chocolate soymilk (for dessert), and eggnog soymilk (for holidays). As soymilk became a household staple (among many other soy-based products I consume), I realize just how much of my money goes to the ever-booming soy industry.

The problem with soymilk is that it lacks the creaminess and white appearance of moo milk (and if you don’t realize how important color associations are in food, try out some green ketchup). Also, many people have soy allergies or don't want to consume too much soy, so it's great to have another alternative.

That’s why I was really excited to try out the newest coconut milk product line from the exceptionally generous people at Turtle Mountain. Chances are, you’ve probably come across their Soy Delicious or Purely Decadent products by way of soymilk-based vegan ice cream.

Coconut Milk Creamer—Original, French Vanilla and Hazelnut
Price: $2.00 (on sale at Whole Foods)
Size: 1 quart
Notes: I tried them all. I loved them all. The original is the most versatile; the flavored creamers are a bit intense, which is good if you love the flavor of vanilla or hazelnut. I had long ago abandoned coffee-mate creamer due to its hydrogenated ingredients, so I am especially happy to have found a fantastic alternative. Also, I don't know how it's possible, but this creamer is fat free. YES! It is my favorite product of the whole line, and I will continue to purchase it.

Coconut Milk Beverage: Unsweetened
Price: $3.49 (on sale at Whole Foods)
Size: Half Gallon
Notes: It is a pretty good milk susbtitute--very white in color and creamy with only a faint whisper of coconut in the background, but I still didn't really like it in my cereal. However, it is very versatile for cooking and baking: I used it as I would milk to make oatmeal, corn chowder, and even to make a roux for japanese croquettes (korokke).

Cultured Coconut Milk: Passionate Mango
Price: $1.50 (on sale at Whole Foods)
Size: 6 oz.
Notes: I didn't care for this flavor, but I imagine it could add a nice tart touch to a mango smoothie, perhaps with a splash of lime juice. However, the 6 grams of fat (all 6 of which are saturated due to the coconut milk) is a bit prohibitive for a yogurt.


Soy Delicious Yogurt: Blueberry
Price: $1.49 (on sale at Whole Foods)
Size: 6 oz.
Notes: The blueberry flavor was dissapointingly artificial in this yogurt. I think soy yogurt products still have a ways to go to really provide the creamy texture of milk-based yogurt.


Coconut Milk Fudge Bar Minis
Price: $3.49 (on sale at Whole Foods)
Size: 6 bars
Notes: These little fudge bars are a perfect little snack when you just want a little sweet something. Unfortunately, I detected a hint of freezer burn so it was difficult to focus on the chocolate flavor. Next time, I would like to try the vanilla ice cream bars covered in chocolate and covered with almonds.

Coconut Milk-based Ice Cream: Mocha Almond Fudge
Price: $5.29 (on sale at Whole Foods)
Size: 1 pint
Notes: I was really pleased with this ice cream. The hint of coconut made it literally tasted like almond joy ice cream. It seemed a little on the lighter side and not quite as rich and creamy as I was hoping for, but the flavor is excellent. I wish I had also purchased the cookie dough flavor.

Soy-based Ice Cream: Chocolate Peanut Butter
Price: $4.99 (on sale at Whole Foods)
Size: 1 quart
Notes: This is a soymilk-based ice cream. I didn't really like this ice cream because the chocolate didn't taste like chocolate and the peanut butter tasted artificial. However, at 4.5 grams of fat per serving, I'd be willing to try another flavor in the future.

Overall, I think Turtle Mountain is doing excellent work in providing dairy-free products. Keep up the good work!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Caribbean Sweet Potato Soup at SF Soup Company

In all honesty, I have been feeling a little under the weather. Schlepping to work in my rain boots is not fun. Luckily, the base of my office building has Peet's coffee and SF Soup Company, so you don't even have to go out in the rain to get lunch. If I didn't diligently pack a home lunch, it would be all too easy to just run downstairs and grab a $6 or $7 container of soup served with a hunk of french bread and a pat of butter. And, if I wasn't trying to keep my lunch expenses to a minimum, I would do it too because I loooove their Caribbean Sweet Potato Soup. So, I decided to look up the ingredients on the website and make some soup.

I am sorry that I don't have a photo. Too many things were going on at once and I forgot to get a picture--I was, in fact, making a large batch of Lentil Barley Soup while creating a recipe for the Carribean Sweet Potato Soup while also cooking up some Sunday supper of oven-roasted tofu and broccoli.

The soup was a huge success! The result is a silky bisque with the delicious flavors of sweet potato and coconut milk with a last minute splash of lime juice to brighten it up. I don't often use Jamaican jerk seasoning, but for this soup, it is essential and provides a faint spicy kick. I used a blackened jerk seasoning from Cinnamon Bay Foods, which I highly recommend--its a nice blend of pepper, brown sugar, salt, cayenne, thyme, nutmeg, red pepper, cinnamon, allspice, cloves and dried green onion. You should know that a little bit goes a long way.

Oh, and it's vegan and gluten-free.

Caribbean Sweet Potato Soup

INGREDIENTS:

2 Tbsp. olive oil
3 medium sweet potatoes
1 large russet potato
1 large onion, diced
1 large carrot, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 Tbsp. ginger, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. jerk seasoning
1 can light coconut milk
2 cups vegetable stock
1 cup water
1/2 tsp. salt
3 or 4 tsp. fresh lime juice
2 Tbsp. Molasses

DIRECTIONS:

* Wash the sweet potatoes and russet potato, cut them in half and wrap in foil. Bake them in the oven at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes or until it is fork tender. Remove from the oven and let cool. Peel the skins off and discard them and dice up the sweet potato and potato.
* Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Sautee the onions for 2-3 minutes.
* Add the diced celery and cook for another 5 minutes.
* Add the garlic, ginger, jerk seasoning and carrots and continue cooking, stirring occasionally.
* Add the water and vegetable stock. Bring to a boil then simmer for about 8-10 minutes until the vegetables are soft and tender.
* Add in the diced sweet potato, potato and coconut milk and cook for another 3-4 minutes.
* Use an immersion blender or blender to puree the soup until smooth and velvety.
* Add the salt, molasses and lime juice and stir.

I think I once told my friend, Chelsea, that I dreamed of having a freezer stocked with at least ten soups to choose from--maybe some corn chowder, a tomato bisque or hearty carrot soup and definitely some french onion soup.

With a couple of fresh soups in tow neatly portioned away in my freezer, I think I am ready for the week. Good thing it's a short one, because I am headed to Vegas on Thursday!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Flourless Apple and Almond Tea Cake

It has been unusually cold and rainy. True to its moody style, SF rained and then rained some more before it opened up its blue sunny skies and within the hour grey skies swept back in and it poured again. Good thing the only plan for this rainy saturday was to rest, watch movies, make a flourless apple and almond tea cake and prepare for my friend, Ryan's, surprise party in celebration of his 30th birthday. We decided to give Ryan 30 ties for his 30th birthday.

The tea cake was essentially a gooey, sugary apple pie, but with a nicer densetexture from the almond meal.


And Ryan had a good birthday. And all was well.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Ginger-Miso Glazed Sweet Potatoes

Lately, I have been missing Hawaii. A lot. I miss the weather, the feeling I get driving around an island I know so well, the house I grew up in, my favorite restaurants, eating papayas and driving up to my uncle's house to swim in the pool and make sushi. Funny how the familiar is so synonymous with what we find to be comforting. I also miss going to my brother's house to watch his Japanese wife, Hiromi, cook authentic Japanese food. You should see her freezer--everything is neatly plastic-wrapped into single serving squares. She is a nabe magician. I am always fascinated watching her cook because she doesn't use recipes, she pours stuff out of colorful packages with no english on it and she, like any good cook, goes by taste and has an extensive palate for the salty and umami flavors of Japan.

I am not so graceful in the kitchen--When I cook Japanese food, it's always a shot in the dark as I hope to make magic out of the trusty staples of mirin, rice vinegar, miso, sake and soy. With various quantities and combinations of those five ingredients, I'm convinced, magic can be made.

For these sweet potatoes, I simmer down some miso, soy sauce, garlic, brown sugar and water until it becomes a nice, thick syrupy glaze. Then I brush the roasted sweet potatoes with the glaze, sprinkle some sesame seeds on it and put it under the broiler for just a couple of minutes to seal in all the flavor.

I like to serve it with some steamed veggies and a bowl of brown rice.

INGREDIENTS:

* 2 or 3 large sweet potatoes, washed and cut in quarters
* 1 cup water
* 2 tsp. ginger sugar (or 1 inch piece of fresh ginger, grated finely)
* 1 Tbsp. white miso
* 1 Tbsp. low-sodium soy sauce
* 1 clove garlic, crushed and minced finely
* 1 Tbsp. brown sugar
* 1/2 Tbsp. toasted sesame seeds (optional)

Note: If you like a little citrus flare with your sweet potatoes, substitute out 1/3 cup of the water for 1/3 cup of orange juice.

DIRECTIONS:

* Heat oven to 400 degrees.
* Wrap each piece of sweet potato individually in foil and bake until fork tender, usually about 30-40 minutes.
* While the sweet potatoes are roasting, combine all of the rest of the ingredients except for the sesame seeds and cook in a pot on medium heat for about 12-15 minutes or until sauce reduces by at least half.
* Unwrap the foil and place sweet potatoes in a baking tray and drizzle ginger-miso glaze over the sweet potatoes, sprinkle with sesame seeds and place under a broiler for 3-5 minutes.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Pumpkin Cheesecake with Marshmallow Sour Cream Topping

I love Thankgiving. It could be that my birthday is always peeking around the corner (and even actually falls on Thankgiving every seven years). Or it could be that I love the fall seasonal flavors and markets overflowing with big fat sweet potatoes and juicy crisp apples (be sure to get your hands on some honeycrisp apples!). But, for me, it has very little to do with turkey.

Have you ever played Cranium?! It's a game that does a little bit of trivia mixed with some charades and a healthy dose of pictionary. Anyway, the game has a challenge where a word or phrase like "Superbowl" is said aloud and then you and your team mates each secretly write down the first three words that come to mind and hope that at least 2 of you has one word in common. No big deal, right?! Not so. I can't tell you how many times I have done this with a team and failed. Miserably. And then a shouting match follows with "How could you possibly think of [insert completely off-base word here]?!! Are you kidding me! Clearly, the first word to come to mind is [insert perfectly appropriate word here]!!" My point is that if the Cranium word/phrase was "Thanksgiving," I cannot say with certainty that everyone would write down turkey. I might have written pumpkin.

Because what I really L-O-V-E is pumpkin. Did anyone get to try the pumpkin-five spice ice cream from Humphrey Slocombe?! I've been hearing some raves about the Guiness Gingerbread, which, after many, many scoops of the Russian Imperial Stout ice cream from Notoberfest, I am a true believer of the beer infused ice creams.

In honor of pumpkin, I wanted to share with you the star of the Thanksgiving show:

Pumpkin Cheesecake with a Marshmallow Sour Cream topping and studded with glazed pecans.

The pumpkin cheesecake is rich and dense, but it buckles under a thin layer of sweet sticky marshmallow creme with the tang of sour cream to balance it all out. It's incredibly indulgent. And incredibly impressive.

This recipe is from Bon Appetit, November 2008 edition. I should mention that I left out the crystallized ginger and used reduced-fat cream cheese and was completely happy with the results.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Korean Supper Club

Two years ago, after graduating from law school, my friend Lindsay and I started a little supper club as a commitment, or tradition, to explore cooking centered around vegetarian foods around the world. And maybe an excuse to make sure we saw each other fairly regularly. Occasionally, it involved a few card games along with some arguments about said card games. Sometimes, at the end of the night, we were so full of delicious food that all we could do was quietly clasp our hands around our bellies and smile and sigh.

Back in September, during what would be our last supper club, my friend, Lindsay abruptly announced (over a rather heated game of Settlers of Catan, actually) that she and her husband just bought a house in Fort Collins, Colorado and they were moving at the end of October. And just like that, as I reached for more of the raspberry wine to wash down the news, our two and a half years of supper club has come to an end.

Maybe we could call it a hiatus instead, separated only by a couple of states and some serious mountains. During that time, Jason and I managed to cook our way through the foods of Japan, Mexico, China, Hawaii, Korea, and even some Jewish cuisine. Lindsay and Patrick cooked up feasts from the South, the Mediterranean, Spain, Italy and France. It was a good run, I must say.

While I am sad to see them move so far away, I am so grateful for the friendships that have been nourished by our dear supper club. Bon voyage, friends!

Besides being exceptionally spicy, Korean food is really centered around banchan--lots of little dishes with explosive flavors. If you've ever gone to a Korean restaurant and balked at the menu prices, it's because no less than five to eight little dishes also accompany your meal. Think of it as free appetizers.

From top to bottom: Kongjaban (black beans stewed down in a sweet soy syrup; recipe here); Quick-pickled cucumber (I made this one); and boiled peanuts in a soy glaze.


Besides some jap chae, I had never cooked an entire Korean meal. Or a vegetarian Korean meal (who knew that most prepared kim chee has anchovy or shrimp powder in it?). I didn't have it in me to make nine or ten dishes in my small San Francisco apartment kitchen, so, to make things a little easier, I picked up some ready-made banchan from Woo Ri Food Market and First Korean Market. These stores have such a wide selection of prepared food, you could eat lunch or dinner at the grocery store.

Now, the banchan pictured below typically comes in one of my favorite korean dishes-Bi Bim Bap, which is a sizzling rice bowl decorated with these delicious crunchy veggies and various BBQ meats or tofu. At a restaurant, they will sometimes crack open a small raw egg (sometimes a quail egg) on top of the hot rice and the pot is so hot that it cooks as you stir it all up. The bowl is so hot that it also creates a nice crispy rice crust along the bottom.


From clockwise: boiled bean sprouts; cold seasoned spinach (sigumchi namul); spicy pickled daikon; and Kongnamul--boiled mung bean sprouts.

These dishes might not look like much, but, added to your rice or tofu dish, they are packed with flavor and add the perfect crunchy texture to balance things out. It also helps that they are all cold dishes to cool down the heat in other spicy dishes.

Another classic Korean dish is pajeon, which is typically a seafood and vegetable pancake similar to the Japanese Okonomiyaki or the Chinese Scallion Pancake. I had been wanting to make this ever since Namu, a modern Korean restaurant, started selling these tasty pancakes and other street food items at the Thursday Ferry Building Farmer's Market. Namu's pancake costs just under $10 and comes heavily adorned with Kewpie-mayo, a savory soy glaze, bonito flakes, shredded nori seeweed and a fried egg.









While this pancake can easily be made with flour, eggs and water, it is much easier and far tastier to buy a package of Korean pancake mix and save yourself the hassle. I just made some batter with the mix according to the directions on the package and added in some sauteed vegetables (I used a mixture of cabbage, carrots, onion and flat scallions). I cooked it on a hot griddle just like you would cook a pancake, then I drizzled some Asian Kewpie-mayo on top of the pancake and topped it off with shredded nori seeweed.

I also made a classic spicy tofu stew, which was gobbled up before I could take any pictures.

It was a really good meal. We followed it up with some Korean dessert treats such as banana milk and choco pies.

Oh, and I lost at Settlers of Catan.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Green Chai and Almond Smoothie from Parsley: Denver

When I was in Denver visiting my friend Chelsea (and pouring beer at the Great American Beer Festival), we had lunch at this quaint little organic cafe called Parsley.

Jason ordered a sandwich with Applegate Farms roasted turkey, Croatian fig spread, organic lettuce and brie cheese. I got myself a veggie sammie called the Tree Hugger: marinated artichokes, tomatoes (instead of the red peppers), fresh mozzarella, organic lettuce and balsamic dressing. The sammies at that place are delicious, but what I really wanted to tell you about is their smoothies.

I ordered this Green Chai smoothie made with bananas, soy milk, agave, green chai tea and organic almonds that they roast and grind to a fine powder.




I knew I would try to replicate this as soon as I got home. This smoothie is earthy with subtle chai notes of cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, ginger and allspice--a really nice change from my usual berry-laden smoothie routine...




INGREDIENTS:

* 1.5 to 2 bananas, frozen in chunks
* 2 Tbsp. pure all-natural almond butter
* 2 Tbsp. almond meal
* 3 Tbsp. agave
* 1/4 cup soymilk
* 3/4 cup cold green chai tea

In a blender, combine all ingredients and blend until smooth. You can adjust the amount of tea and bananas to alter the consistency to your liking. I would also add in a quick little shake of some of the chai spices if you really want a stronger chai flavor.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Recreating Ubuntu

In honor of Ubuntu receiving its first Michelin Star, I decided to attempt to re-create some of Jeremy Fox's brilliant dishes. Since his cookbook is not yet in print, I scoured the internet for some of his recipes and found several here and here, including his famous Cauliflower in a Cast-iron Pot. My friend Jesse had raved about this dish, but, unfortunately it was not on the menu during my visit. I also wish I could have tried the beloved strawberry sofrito pizza, because I am forever intrigued by fruit used in savory preparations. Strawberries and onions?! I don't knoooow...but I do know that I trust Jeremy Fox.

Lavender Marcona Almonds
Of course, I had to figure out how to recreate the Lavender Marcona Almonds even though you can purchase them, among other things, at the Ubuntu Annex.

Turns out, it's really more of a no-recipe recipe. To make things easier, I bought a bag of Marcona almonds from trader Joe's that are already lightly oiled and sprinkled with sea salt. In a mortar and pestle, I ground up about 1/2 tsp. of lavender and added about a tablespoon of cane sugar and ground it up a little more to mix thorough. Then, I mixed the lavender sugar with about 3/4 cup to 1 cup of almonds and added in 1 tsp. of good quality olive oil to moisten it all up. That's it! Note: Lavender in food is a bit of personal preference--it truly depends on how much you like the flavor of lavender. I use it conservatively,because I find that, if you use too much, your food might end up tasting like soap. Also, if you prefer the nuts warmed, you can lightly toast them for a couple of minutes before you mix in the lavender sugar and olive oil.


Green Bean and Plum Salad


Fruit used in another savory composition?! I would never have paired green beans and plums, but Jeremy obviously put a little thought into this pairing because it was an outstanding combination.


This salad looks extremely simple--delicately composed of simple ingredients, but I found it to be a little complicated once I added up all the individual steps. For one thing, trying to shave ripe plums on a mandoline proved to be a small disaster, so I ended up slicing them by hand. The salad was clean and fresh, bursting with intense flavors. Once again, in Ubuntu, we trust.


Grits Infused with Goat's Milk

I also tried to recreate a dish I had tried at Ubuntu: grits infused with goat's milk with domaine de la chance egg, homemade goat ricotta, green tomato jam, and autumn thinnings. In my adaptation, I cooked polenta in goat's milk whey (leftover from making some goat's milk feta) alongside some roasted tomatoes and sweet yellow peppers and topped it all off with a fried egg and a generous heap of parmigiano reggiano. While the dish looked beautiful, I didn't really like the flavor of the polenta, so I won't post the recipe here. Ubuntu is, by far, one of my favorite restaurants, and I can't wait to go back! After all, I do have a birthday coming up on November 28 (and that means fall season vegetables!!!)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Notoberfest Success

So, the BeerandNosh Notoberfest was a total success! Nearly 200 people flooded into Mars Bar and wandered around collecting various foodie treats such as Ryan Farr’s famous Chicharrones (passed around in a big bowl by someone chanting “converts all vegetarians” which really made me laugh) and some of Steve’s coveted Ollalieberry Sour by Valley Brewing.

But what I really want to tell you about is the Humphrey Slocombe ice cream treats served by yours truly and the Man Behind the Genius, affectionately known as Jake.

Photo courtesy of Jesse of BeerandNosh:

I want to point out that the ice cream pictured above was not my finest scooping moment. Can you tell how much ice cream scooping I've done in my life? Not enough, apparently. After this sad jagged little scoop, the experts reminded me that I have to rinse the scooper before EVERY scoop. Right, got it.

Jake and I feverishly served up the following goodies:

Brandy Barrel Aged “Collaborative Evil” Ice Cream

Sour Pomegranate Beer and Coconut Sherbet

Luna Blanca Ice Cream made with Orange and Coriander

Honey Ice Cream with Wort Syrup

Root Beer Ice Cream Floats with Valley Brew Skullsplitter Root Beer

Russian Imperial Stout Ice Cream Floats with Bourbon Barrel Russian Imperial Stout

Russian Imperial Stout Ice Cream Floats with Whipped Crème Fraiche and Iced Coffee

Double IPA Shortbread (the hoppiest cookie that ever hopped)

Prosciutto Ice Cream Sandwiches in Boccolone Lard Shortbread Cookies

Jake’s Chex Mix with Gruyere and Black Pepper

Jake used to be a pastry chef so he has had LOTS of experience making ice cream and the man can seriously turn anything into ice cream. Each time he brought out a new tub of his custom creations, I immediately seized a spoonful and thought "no, this is my favorite!" In the end, I think I narrowed my favorite down to either the sour pomegranate beer and coconut sherbet or the honey ice cream with swirls of sticky, sweet wort syrup (provided by Valley Brewing, of course). The sour pomegranate and coconut sherbet was amazing--it tasted like sour beer meets coconut milk, but Jake didn't even use any coconut milk to acheive such an intense flavor--he made his own by cooking down large amounts of dessicated coconut!

When I asked Jake about naming his shop, he said it was a play upon Mr. Humphrey and Mrs. Slocombe from a 1970's BBC Comedy called Are You Being Served. He is the sweetest guy you will ever meet, and man, does he mean business when it comes to ice cream. Bold, intense and complex flavors, or, as Jake likes to say, Ice Cream with Attitude. He tells me he likes to do combination flavors. I agree--who likes a one dimensional flavor of ice cream?!

I cannot quantify how much beer and ice cream I consumed while simultaneously scooping up ice cream cones and assembling floats. If you saw me behind the tiki bar, I almost always had either a spoonful of ice cream or some Ollaliberry Sour in my left hand while assembling floats with my right hand. This combo was h-e-a-v-e-n-l-y…until I discovered that there really is a limit to how much beer and ice cream one can consume before it starts creating a foamy monsoon in your tummy. Luckily, even with the plethora of meat items, I did manage to snag a delicious Mariquita Farms salad with organic greens with roasted squash, apples, and beets and a pomegranate vinaigrette.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Ubuntu: Napa, California

Today is the 2-year birthday of this blog! Two. Years. When I started this blog, I didn't really conceptualize all the effort, photography and time that would go into documenting what I am cooking, eating, and drinking. But it's worth it--it holds me accountable for what I am doing in the kitchen and giving careful thought to what I choose to consume every day. But now, I also think about what I am recommending to you to consume! Happy Birthday, morgansmenu!


I know a lot of people who have a bit of a birthday routine. My brother likes to have a celebratory dinner at Nobu. One friend of mine always throws a birthday bash, complete with birthday decorations and party hats. Another friend of mine takes menu requests from her husband on his brithday and makes him whatever his heart desires. Sadly, I have never really had a birthday tradition--mostly because it's on November 28, which is always around the Thanksgiving holidays (and sometimes on Thanksgiving day) and friends are busy with family and holiday plans. But now, after just one meal at Ubuntu, I hope to start my very own birthday tradition by celebrating at my new favorite restaurant.
Ubuntu is a collaboration between Jeremy Fox and his wife, Pastry Chef Deanie Fox. Jeremy has said in interviews that rather than being a "vegetarian restaurant" it is more of a vegetable restaurant that can also appeal to open-minded omnivores. Such careful attention is paid to the quality and versatility of vegetables that I was totally surprised to learn that Jeremy is actually a meat eater! Jeremy is meticulous about his "seed to stalk" cuisine where every single part of a vegetable is used and recreated in unique preparations. Ubuntu has its own biodynamic garden in Napa to source about 75% of its needs so instead of relying on what they can buy from farms, they have more control over their dishes based on what they choose to grow.
The dishes are served "small plates" style and my only disappointment was that the vague menu descriptions did not adequately explain what would actually come to your table (see my translated descriptions below). Above all, I am beyond impressed by Jeremy's incredible creativity and masterful technique in everything he does. The ritual of deconstructing every element of his dishes quickly becomes a relaxing routine as you settle into your seat hoping to stay awhile...

Lavender Marcona Almonds with lavender sugar and sea salt.
Crispy garden fritters made with the "nasty bits" with creme fraiche, vegetable "parts", tiny beets, "trail mix". These fritters had a very earthly complex flavor that was complemented with what I can only describe as a beet and seed paste.
Heirloom tomatoes, simply sliced, 'polka' corn pudding, burrata cheese with corn pulp crunchies, surrey arugula, assorted basil, saba. The corn "pudding" was a midly sweet puree with an intense corn flavor. The "fritters"--the most interesting component--seemed like corn pulp and husk pieces that had been compressed and dehydrated to create a crisp cracker.
Carta da Musica, with virtually the entire summer garden: barely dressed, round pond olive-oil-lemon-sea salt, truffled pecorino. I am desperately curious about why this salad comes out on a pig-shaped wooden board. Eating this salad--with your hands--was such a gratifying experience. At first, I was looking around for some dressing to moisten the greens, but I quickly realized that this was an intentional omission. I quickly yielded to the methodical ritual of scooping up the edible flowers and spicy mustard greens with thick curls of truffled pecorino cheese and using my fingers to press into a delicate and flavorful beet and hazelnut "dirt". The greens and flowers are also neatly piled onto a thin crispy disc similar to a papadum.
Organic grits from arbuckle infused with goat's milk with domaine de la chance egg, homemade goat ricotta, green tomato jam, autumn thinnings. I fell in love with these grits. The end.
Summer squash of all ages, roast-puree-condimento with stuffed blossom, scented with our vadouvan, mint. Squash was cooked with three different preparations from raw to roasted to pureed and foamed with French vadouvan spices that provide sweet curry accents. This dish captured my heart--it is one of the best dishes I have ever eaten.
At this point, I was completed enveloped in mind-blowing-divine foodie ecstacy. The time had come to order dessert, but I am so full that I can only order one dish. This is me agonizing over my choices. Do I get Deanie's signature dessert--a vanilla bean "cheesecake" in a jar with blueberry-huckleberry-sunberry and teeccino-nut crumble??
In the end, I opted for a corn cake with roasted nectarines, blackberry compote, corn pudding, beet shoots, honey ice cream and popcorn dust.
I left the restaurant feeling inspired as though I had just been to a temple where baby zucchini and heirloom tomatoes each sat on a decorated throne for all to worship and adore. The food is so clean, creative and pure that it created a sort of spiritual renewal within me--no wonder the restaurant is also attached to a yoga studio--I am starting to see the whole picture.

Because the menu changes daily according to the fruits of their garden, and because I just can't get e-n-o-u-g-h, I tried to track down a few more gorgeous photos so you can continue to oogle and swoon at these works of art.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Welcome Home Salad with Nectarines and Roasted Cipollini Onions

In the midst of drafting memos and reading discovery requests (are you yawning yet?), I often find myself thinking about food--from what I am going to make for dinner to menu planning for some event that doesn't even exist yet. I don't think you understand--I love menu planning. I think that it should be a national policy to ask every person--maybe on graduation day from high school or college--Tell us, graduate: "What do you like to talk about?" This would be the perfect steer-you-in-the-right-direction question because when people love something-when they are passionate about something, it shows. Their eyes light up. Their voice becomes animated and excited. You can just tell. Then you hand them a card with their destined profession (matched up to their passions, of course, this isn't a caste system!) and dust your hands off and send them on their way!

So, the only problem with this scenario is that, in my case, if you had asked me this profound question on the day I graduated from college, I don't know what I would have said. Maybe my love for writing. But what I liked to talk about would not have been food. Because that didn't fully develop until about my second year into law school--when I was already full speed ahead on a one way path down a certain raging river, if you catch my drift. Ha!

So there it is. The lawyer who loves to talk about food.

My form of daydreaming frequently consists of menu planning. Sexy, I know. So when two of my friends, Aja and Erin, drove up from Los Angeles to San Francisco, they arrived weary and hungry--and full of junk food and candy eaten out of boredom and/or desperation along the way. I decided to make them something light yet comforting: some polenta cakes and a simple salad of mixed greens topped with heirloom tomatoes, slices of sweet nectarine and roasted cipollini onions.
Cipollini onions are sweeter than yellow or white onions, but not quite as sweet as shallots, but they are also small and flat which makes for perfect roasting. Instead of following a recipe, I gave them a good rub of olive oil, sea salt and pepper and then a quick douse of balsamic vinegar and put them in the oven at 350 degrees until they turned soft and melted, about 20-25 minutes. For the greens, I drizzled a little bit of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice and some sea salt and pepper. Keep it simple because the "dressing" and flavor will all come from the juices from the onions, which you can drizzle over the salad after the onions are roasted. Now, I added a last minute quick grating of some Parmegiano Reggiano, but you can leave this out if you want to keep it vegan...

Welcome.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Vegenaise

Vegenaaaaaaaaise! This staple of mine is a Follow Your Heart product that I simply will not even attempt to sell you on because there is no way to do so unless you just go out and abandon your Best Foods mayo and just try some. One taste and I am certain you will be hooked.
Egg free. Dairy free. Cholesterol free. Preservative free. Vegan. DELICIOUS.


Mostly, I use it in sandwiches or as a base for dips or, if I am feeling fancy, I might make some lemon-basil aioli. If you need 50 more ideas for various uses, check out this blogger who is a vegenaise fan.

The ingredients to this yummy sandwich moistener: grapeseed oil, filtered water, brown rice syrup, apple cider vinegar, soy protein, sea salt, mustard flour, and lemon juice concentrate.

Pure and simple. Get some.
Note: They also now have a reduced-fat version, which I have yet to get my hands on.
And while I'm at it, if you need a vegetarian bacon option for your sandwich: try Baconnaise. It makes the best vegetarian BLT!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Vegan Avocado "Cream"

If you got caught doing something naughty (we won't get into the particulars, okay?), would you feel better about it if, in fact, it wasn't actually naughty--but just seemed naughty?! I would. That's kind of how I feel about some of my attempts to make "healthier" versions of things--especially vegan versions of things. Like when I make "sausage gravy" that is-get this-made with fat-free "sausage" and fat-free cannellini beans. It's like I am tricking my mind--and I'm not talking about the kind of mind trick Heintz is playing with their green ketchup. That's just wrong--I don't care if it "tastes the same". It's more like a gentle coercion of my mind and tastebuds into thinking that I am being incredibly indulgent on a Sunday morning when I scoop gravy over warm biscuits.

Same thing goes for using silken tofu to make vegan dishes creamy and rich like fettucine alfredo or even flourless chocolate cake!
This avocado "cream" blends silken tofu and avocado with a healthy dose of fresh parsley, scallions and basil to make an incredibly decadent topping. Depending on what you want to use it for, you can adjust its consistency by adding a little more water or lemon juice. Suggestions for use: sopes, salads, tacos or taquitos, sandwiches, dip for veggies, and tortilla wraps...

INGREDIENTS:

* 1 shallot, minced finely
* 1 clove garlic, minced finely
* 2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
* 4 tsp. lemon juice
* 1/2 ripe avocado
* 6 ounces silken tofu
* 1 scallion, chopped
* 1.5 Tbsp. fresh parsley leaves, chopped
* 2 Tbsp. fresh basil leaves, chopped
* 1/4 tsp. sea salt
* 1/4 tsp. freshly cracked pepper
* 2 Tbsp. water

In a blender, puree all ingredients until smooth. Add more water if necessary to thin it out.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Mango Lassi

In an effort to appease the ongoing Indian Food Mania, I've mastered making my favorite Indian beverage: the Mango Lassi. I used to drink them (read: guzzle) and think "whaaaaaaat is in that?!". Then one day, I asked the good people at Punjabi Tandoor who told me: sweetened mango puree, yogurt, milk, and sugar. That's it?! YES.

Now, I am sorry that I don't have a photo for you (I consumed it all before I even thought of taking a picture), but what is more important than a photo is the secret ingredient: canned sweetened kesar mango pulp or puree, which can mostly likely be found in Indian grocers or other ethnic shops. The mango flavor is intense (as though mangoes have been stewed down and strained until it is thick and sticky) and it is usually made with mango, sugar and citric acid so avoid anything that starts adding syrups or other unnatural substances.

INGREDIENTS:

* 1 cup plain yogurt (I used low-fat)
* 3/4 cup sweetened kesar mango pulp (I used Rani brand)
* 2 Tbsp. natural sugar
* 1/2 cup milk (I used soymilk)

Puree all ingredients in a blender until smooth and sugar has dissolved. You can add more milk if you want a thinner consistency.

Serves 2.

Yes, it really is that easy. And now it can be yours!

UPDATE:
If you are looking to make a big batch (pitcher for a dinner party?), here is what I did:

* 1 large 30 oz. can mango puree
* 4 cups plain yogurt
* 1 cup water
* 1/4 cup simple syrup

YUM. Get your lassi on.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Great American Beer Festival: Denver, Colorado

According to my last posting date, I'm just ONE day shy of a 3-month hiatus! Three. Months. That's not really "falling into a hole", is it? It's more like a deep, dark abyss. Or abandonment even. I don't know how that happened! And for that, I am sorry. I do know that there have been weddings, a 5-year college reunion, trips to Sonoma and Napa (more to come about that later), weddings, Supper Club, food festivals in the City, Sonoma County, and Oakland, sailing on the bay, hosting of the Beer and Cheese club, and friends visiting from out of town. Oh, and work. And work. And more work--it's hard being a lawyer! (I have to admit that staring at a computer screen for 8-10 hours a day at work really kills the desire to come home and write more on my computer). But, in any case, I'm back. I've missed you!

I just returned from Denver for the Great American Beer Festival. It's a huge annual festival held in the Denver Convention Center that features over 450 breweries from around the country and over 2,000 beers. One foot in the door overlooking the endless aisles of beer stands in that massive convention center and your liver should be running to hide in the closet, shaking from fear.

Since I love sour beer, I volunteered to pour for my new friend, Ron, of Cascade Brewing Company from Portland, Oregon. They make belgian-style sours that are often fruit forward and always tart and delicious--my ideal beer.


Photos courtesy of my friend, Jesse Friedman, of Beer and Nosh, Thanks, Jesse! Also, congrats to him for getting nominated for the Best Beer Blog of the 2009 Foodbuzz Blog Awards!

Cascade brought along 5 sour beers (from left to right):

1) Kriek ale--made with 4 types of cherries;
2) Sang Royale--a double kriek (or double cherry) fermented with 110 pounds of Northwest cherries and aged in port barrels for about 6 months;
3) The Vine--a blend of soured Triple, Blonde Quad and Golden ales refermented with freshly pressed white wine grapes;
4) Apricot ale--a sour with over 8 months of lactic fermentation and oak barrel aging and then the addition of perfectly ripened Northwestern apricots that ferment for an additional 3 months;
5) The unmarked bottle: Vlad the Impaler--wood aged Blonde Quadruppel with about 11% ABV and contains no fruit!
Vlad the Impaler was my favorite...but I wouldn't kick any of 'em out of bed, if you know what I mean. The festival was so much fun--I did get a chance to try a few beers and found the most amazing Cranberry Lambic from New Glarus Brewing Company. I also got to spend some quality time with my dear friend, Chelsea, which was really nice. I can't wait to go again next year! Oh, and more to come later on some Denver foodie!

Speaking of beer, next Saturday (October 10) Jesse/Beer and Nosh is hosting a Notoberfest evening at Mars Bar involving Ice cream + Beer +Meat. Indulge in custom beer-infused ice cream by Humphrey Slocombe, beers by Valley Brewing Company and specialty meats by Ryan Farr and the 4505 meats team. You know I am sold on the ice cream and beer part, so I decided to help out with serving. Get your ticket and come on down and see us!!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Justin's Nut Butters

The kind and generous people at Justins Nut Butter (JNB) sent me some samples of their all-natural nut butters. I was so excited to receive them in the mail! Way back in 2007—when I was working for Galaxy Granola at the SF Green Festival—a girl was handing out samples of Justin’s Natural Maple Almond Butter. Problem is, I was working and pouring samples of granola like a mad woman and could never get to the girl to get my hands on a sample. Fortunately, a friend snagged one and shared a small taste and I instantly fell in love with its unique flavor and rustic texture. And then I never saw it again until it arrived in my mailbox years later despite many unsuccessful grocery store searches. And, after indulging in a packet (or two) all to myself, it is here to stay and I have since found an ample supply at Whole Foods.
Honey Peanut Butter Ingredients: Organic Dry Roasted Peanuts, Honey Powder (sugar, honey), Organic Fruit Palm Oil, Sea Salt.
Maple Almond Butter Ingredients: Dry Roasted Almonds, Maple sugar, Organic Palm Fruit Oil, Sea Salt.


It’s been over 7 years since I completely abandoned the American classic peanut butters like Jif and Skippy because they are made with hydrogenated oils, so now I am always on the lookout for companies that produce affordable all-natural nut butters made without hydrogenated oils. For the past few years, my main almond butter staple has been Trader Joe’s Raw Almond Butter because it has but just one ingredient: almonds. Once I made the switch, I have never been tempted to go back because those peanut butters don’t even taste like peanuts to me anymore—just preservatives and sugar--now that I am accustomed to the flavor of the nut in its natural form. I have to admit that I was a little disappointed that these nut butters had any added sugar, but they avoid using refined sugars and they do offer classic flavors which only contain the dry roasted nuts and organic palm fruit oil. Moreover, I am particularly impressed by JNB’s green-conscious business practices to search out natural and organic ingredients that are grown locally and sustainably harvested and then contribute back to the community through donations and volunteer efforts to a local outreach organization. As movies like Food, Inc. come out, I think we are slowly starting to think about our food in a new way—not just where it comes from, how it is made and manufactured and ultimately transported to you, but also the way in which the profits made from the food we produce can be put back into the community in ways that lead to lasting sustainability, development and improvement. Food has always been—in my opinion—the most effective way to bring people together.

JNB’s come in various flavors from Classic and Honey versions of Peanut and Almond Butter as well as Cinnamon Peanut Butter and Maple Almond Butter—but I have only tried the Honey Peanut Butter and Maple Almond Butter. The Maple Almond flavor is my favorite because it has a unique taste with a subtle maple undertone, a bit gritty in texture and just a faint hint of sweetness. I have to say that the best part of their marketing strategy is C-O-N-V-E-N-I-E-N-C-E! The nut butters come in meticulously-sealed little 1.15-ounce single serving packs that do not require refrigeration and can be easily transported anywhere. They also make smaller 0.6-ounce 100-calorie packs! Since my favorite snack while at the office is a banana with some almond butter, I used to put a few spoonfuls in a little container and cart it to the office, stick it in the refrigerator for later and then wash the container out in the evening when I got home and repeat the process the next day. Now, I can just take a pack with me with less hassle and fuss!

Now, my favorite use for nut butter is as a base for a superhero breakfast. But I also take these handy little packets to the movie theaters, on hikes, and even when on a long run for some quick protein fuel. And if you pack lunches for your kids, throw one in there—we all know kids love individual servings!

Thank you, JNB!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Grilled Nectarines with Black Pepper

The produce available in Hawaii is so different from what I can easily obtain in San Francisco. As far as fruit goes in Hawaii, you can get big fat papayas (grown locally), sweet sticky mangoes that drip with juice (sometimes these are still from Mexico or Chile—shocking, I know!), and perfect pineapple (usually grown locally). Maui is famous for its Kula strawberries and Sweet Kula Onions—the high elevation (up to about 4,000 feet!) up on the slope of the Haleakala volcano provides the harmonious combo of warm days and cool nights and the conditions are just right for this kind of produce. (There’s also plenty of other theories like the fact that the soil is low in sulfur, which apparently makes things more bitter and starchy). Some claim that Kula onions are so sweet that you can eat them like an apple!

But, papayas and strawberries aside, you still have to give up the desire for tender nectarines, amazing peaches, blackberries, blueberries, plums and apricots. For the most part those sorts of fruits do not make it to the islands in their best condition. Now, I have never lived in peach, nectarine and berry heaven also known as Oregon or Washington, but I always imagined that, if I did, I would constantly stuff my face with ripe nectarines, berry jams, and peach pies. If push came to shove, nectarines might just be my favorite fruit—especially white nectarines that are perfectly ripe and supple to the touch and so juicy that you have to stand over the sink to eat them. I would eat four or five a day if I could. Luckily, summer season brings these fruits right to my local farmers market in the city.

Most days, I don’t fuss with fruit—I eat it straight as nature intended. I don’t mix it in with flour and sugar and bake pies or blend it up with yogurt in smoothies. But since summer also coincides with “grilling season,” I thought I would keep it simple and grill some nectarines to get just the slightest touch of roasted flavor. It’s so simple that this can’t even qualify as a recipe really, but more of a gentle reminder to throw some peaches or nectarines on the grill! Slice them in half, gently remove the seed with the edge of a knife, brush them with a little neutral or flavored oil—such as grapeseed, canola, walnut, or olive oil—sprinkle a tiny amount of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper and place them face down on the grill for just a minute or two or until slightly charred.
Serving suggestion: These are also delicious with a balsamic reduction or fruit vinegar glaze.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Vegan Hijiki Barley Salad

I have a childhood friend named Jamie. When we were young, Jamie and I spent many of our afternoons playing in a sandbox at her grandmother's house. We would stay in that sandbox for hours (creating all sorts of elaborate stories and role-playing adventures) until her grandma called us in for lunch. Being from Japan, her grandmother would make up lots of little dishes that, all together, would create a total sum of delicious. Maybe some broiled fish, some steamed rice, some sushi, some sunomono or namasu (pickled vegetables salads), some pickled daikon, a handful of sliced tangerines in a cute little flower shaped cup, some hard-boiled egg maybe. All arranged in dainty little ceramic plates and cups.

I love this style of eating (same prinicple goes for Spanish tapas!). Luckily, California--and San Francisco especially--has also cropped up with lots of "small plates" restaurants like Andalu and Cortez and Alembic.

I am lucky to work in the San Francisco financial district, which has a plethora of lunch options to cater to all sorts of clientele. And one of the best spots is grabbing some lunch at one of the vendors at the Ferry Building. I got the idea for this cold barley salad from the Japanese "deli" called Delica rf-1. Why you would name your restaurant Delica rf-1 escapes me, but I eat some potato korroke and forget all about the name.Barley really is an ideal grain--its nutty in flavor with a toothsome chewiness that is quite endearing. This salad is also packed with nutrients--hijiki is naturally rich in calcium, iron and fiber (for food safety reasons, be sure to buy the best quality you can find from a natural food store)!

INGREDIENTS FOR SALAD:

* 3 or 4 radishes, shaved thin
* 1 cup pearl barley
* 1 cup shelled edamame
* 2-3 Tbsp. dried hijiki or arame (or mixture of both)
* Other optional additions: grated carrot, daikon, lotus root, arugula or mizuna lettuces, or cubed tofu

INGREDIENTS FOR THE MARINADE:

* 1 Tbsp. walnut oil (or other neutral oil)
* 1 tsp. sesame oil
* 3 tsp. miso paste
* 2 Tsbp. rice vinegar
* 1 Tbsp. soy sauce
* 2 Tbsp. Braggs (liquid aminos)
* 1 tsp. agave (or honey if you'd prefer)
* 3 Tbsp. mirin
* 1 Tbsp. toasted sesame seeds

DIRECTIONS:

* Whisk togther all marinade ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
* Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. When cooked, barley expands to 4 times its size so you want the grains to have plenty of space to roll around! Cook the barley in boiling water for 35-40 minutes or until tender and chewy. Drain, rinse and place in a large mixing bowl.
* In a small dish, soak the dried seaweed for 10-15 minutes in warm water. Then boil in a small pot for about 2-3 minutes. Drain, rinse and roughly chop.
* Grab your bowl of barley and add in the shelled edamame, shaved radishes, and chopped seaweed (and any other ingredients you may want to add).
* Pour the marinade mixture over the salad and stir until mixed.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Indian Food Mania

It’s not even 10 am yet and all I can think about is Indian food. There. I said it. For the past couple of months, I have been on a no-holds-barred Indian food R-A-M-P-A-G-E. Which involves sometimes eating out two or three times a week at my favorite spots around the city. Okay, maybe even four if I'm really feeling saucy. Really, I wouldn’t be surprised if my friends were all starting to laugh about it because all I want to discuss nowadays are fresh piping hot naan breads or creamy curries and fried samosas filled with onions and potatoes delicately spiced with cumin. I don’t know what’s gotten in to me. The thing is—I never used to like Indian food at all because I am very sensitive to spicy food. But then I got brave enough to forge ahead and discover that there is a whole realm of mild creamy dishes that suit my taste buds perfectly. And now! Now I am hooked.

Of course, it’s pretty difficult to deny the power of the double-carb cuisine—rice and naan?! I mean, Italian food has its pasta and breads and I am totally helpless to deny its sexy ways. The thing about Indian food, I have learned, is that it is nearly impossible to find consistency—region-to-region, restaurant-to-restaurant, and even dish-to-dish might vary dramatically. One tikka masala dish might be the warmest, creamiest dish with a hint of tomato and cinnamon, but at another place the tikka masala might be a bold, spicy tomato and onion gravy. The second thing I have come to accept about Indian food is that it's difficult, for me at least, to cook an authentic tasting dish on my own at home. Although I do sometimes sink hours looking through the many foodie blogs dedicated to Indian cuisine. And I do make some chicken tikka masala and some garlic naan on occassion, but I will be the first to admit that it is NOT the same. Not even close. So now that I have my handful of go-to places with my favorite reliable dishes, I thought I might share with you what I order and see if any of you have any recommendations for your favorite Indian food spots—or, if your bold and daring, any recipes for making such delicacies at home!

And I know exactly where to start--the paneer korma and murgh makhani at Indian Oven (to be accompanied by expertly prepared garlic naan or lamb naan). For the record, the korma at Indian Oven is what everyone raves about—and for good reason. It’s thin, salmon-colored cream sauce flecked with herbs and it is, by far, the best Indian dish I have ever had, but I can’t even attempt to describe its complex flavor for fear of doing it a tremendous injustice. It’s that good.

And then there’s the ever humble Rotee. The menu is filled with humorous descriptions such as “Mixed Sabzi—If we can build the world’s finest operating systems, imagine what we can do with fresh garden vegetables.” After you stop laughing at the menu descriptions and get past the bright orange walls and techno music, go ahead and order the paneer tikka masala. It’s cubes of homemade cheese in a thick creamy tomato and herb sauce with a delightful note of cinnamon. It’s down right irresistible and sure to win over anyone who claims that they don’t care for Indian food. And if you work downtown in SF and, like me, find yourself day dreaming about Indian food, you can get your fix at the Rotee Express lunch counter. Or you could have a lunch buffet at Amber India.

On rare occasion, I might be in the mood for the greasy spoon. Then I go to Pakwan or Shalimar. But I have to admit that the food is a bit spicier at these restaurants and not quite as good. But still, you cannot deny the allure of cheap prices--curries for $5.50-$7.00. Oh, and I have yet to try Lahore Karahi.

But really, on a Sunday afternoon when I find myself craving a snack—something warm and unique and full of flavor—I want an Indian burrito—also known as a “kati roll” from Kasa. They make these flaky, buttery roti breads from scratch, grill them up until they are hot and blistery and then wrap them around various curries and other dishes. Totally genius, I know.My favorite is the Aloo Gobi—cumin-spiced cauliflower and potatoes with a splash of tomato-cumin sauce and a nice smear of coconut-cilantro chutney wrapped up in the roti and served alongside a cool pool of raita and more tomato-cumin sauce. And if you are feeling fancy, you can get the roti dipped in egg, Unda style. I desperately want one right now, as I type this. They also make their own Mango Lassi blended with mangoes, yogurt, cardamom and a hint of cumin. Yum. And if there can be Indian burritos, then there can also be Indian pizza.

I’ve also been told that, if I can muster the courage to forego the curries typical of Northern India, I should give Southern Indian cuisine a try—with its crepe-like dosas and uthappam with various fillings of vegetables, cheese, lentils, etc. I have, for some time now, been wanting to try the ever fancy Dosa. But for the more affordable $6 range, my friend, Mags, recommends Udupi Palace.

It takes all of my will power to supress the urge to eat Indian food 3-4 times a week--I usually try to limit it to once a week, as a treat. And, naturally, I seek it out when traveling too (don't even get me started on London!). If you're in Seattle, be sure to eat Annapurna Cafe for the best Nepali, Tibetan and Indian food around--order the veggie kofta, which are these delicate cheese/vegetable balls in a creamy tomato and herb sauce (are you seeing a theme here?). This weekend, while in San Diego for a family wedding, I am going to try Punjabi Tandoor.

Inquiring minds (mostly mine, but there might be others out there) want to know—where do you eat Indian food?

Update: Punjabi Tandoor in San Diego was AMAZING. The Chicken Makhani has a bewitching smokey flavor that will have you hooked in 2 bites. It's also the best deal ever--$7.99 for 2 curries, rice, naan, and kheer (a sort of rice pudding dessert) and its enough to feed two people or one really hungry (or greedy) person like me.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Vegan Flourless Chocolate Cake

Right around my second year of law school, I developed a deep obsession with flourless chocolate cake. I would get a slice from Whole Foods, pop it in the fridge and have a fork standing by to just take a forkful (or three) every few hours or whenever the mood strikes. I think part of the obsession had more to do with my confidence in the food-as-positive-reinforcement-rewards-program I implemented while studying 12-15+ hours a day. Flourless chocolate cake is really quite sexy when you think about it—its dense in texture, and incredibly rich, silky, and chocolatey. I was pretty surprised when I found out that it only contained four simple ingredients: chocolate, butter, sugar and eggs.

Only problem with that scenario was the “butter, sugar, and eggs” part if I wanted to keep eating it as frequently as I honestly did want to keep eating it without such a grave catastrophy to my health. Since beans have become quite trendy in desserts (think black bean brownies), I figured I would set out to make a vegan flourless chocolate cake. With black-eyed peas. Yes! It can be done! First, you must accept—in your heart of hearts—that you do, in fact, LOVE the texture and flavor of beans. Because if you do not, there is no amount of flavor or ingredient masking that could save you from the cold hard truth that there are beans mixed with your chocolate. I understand-I feel strange about it, too.
At first, I thought there was no way this cake would rise even a millimeter—it was so thick and heavy. But ah, the power of baking powder and soda. (Speaking of baking soda, I hope you aren’t reaching for that 7-month—or even 1-year-old (gasp!) stale box of baking soda you have sitting in the back of your fridge to “absorb odors” thinking you can do double duty by absorbing nasty refrigerator odors and for use in baking…because, guess what, that baking soda will be lifeless and yes, full of your refrigerator odors which cannot be a good flavor for your baked goods! I have to admit that I was guilty of doing this until the light-bulb went on making my mistake was painfully obvious). In the oven, the cake lifted itself up just like a souffle, and then, when slightly cooled, it gave way to gorgeous cracks around its edges with rugged valleys and ridges.

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups dried black eyed peas (soaked overnight, rinsed then boiled till soft)
1 12-oz. package silken tofu (I like Mori-Nu brand)
1 cup cane sugar (all natural)
1.5 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup cocoa powder (natural, unsweetened)
2 tsp. instant espresso powder (or 3 if you really like a little coffee flavor)
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 cup soymilk (chocolate soymilk, if you have it)

DIRECTIONS:

Heat oven to 350 degrees.
In a blender or food processor, blend together the black-eyed peas with the tofu until smooth. You may have to do this in batches, but it is critical that you get it as smooth as possible. If you need to, you can use some of the soymilk to help loosen it up and blend better.
Add the sugar and blend again.
Over a double boiler (or pot with a small amount of water and a glass bowl sitting in it), melt down the chocolate chips until smooth.
Add the melted chocolate to the bean mixture and blend again.
Add in the cocoa, espresso, baking powder and soda and blend again until smooth.
Add in the soymilk to loosen up the batter. You can use a little bit less if you want to—Ideally, the batter should be smooth and slightly runny when pouring but this depends on the quality of your blender or food processor. My beans stayed a little chunky so I had to resort to a hand mixer to really smooth it out--the soymilk really helps this process.
Lightly spray a 9-inch spring form pan (or larger if you like a thinner cake) with cooking/baking spray.
Bake in oven for 70-80 minutes (or a little less if your cake is thinner) or until done. You can check it with a toothpick or knife to see if the center is still runny. Even when cooked and a toothpick comes out clean, it might still wiggle a little bit because the warm cake needs to settle into itself once cooled.

Serving Suggestion: Lightly dust with confectioners sugar.

Note: If you make this cake and, like me, find yourself oddly enamoured by the beguiling duo of beans and cake, you could also try my vegan friend Lindsay's White Bean Strawberry Blondie's.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

That Takes The Cake: Cupcakes in SF

My mother is Catholic, so we have always celebrated Easter. And when it came time for The Easter Basket, she was always a big fan of that colored, shredded cellophane--gool ol' easter grass that you could buy at K-Mart for 99 cents a bag. (Nowadays, its more earth-friendly and green to use shredded recycled paper as easter grass) Besides the purple or blue or green or pink colored grass, the basket was always filled with the usual suspects: marshmallow peeps, M&M's, Whopper Robin Eggs, chocolate-shaped bunnies (I never understood the allure of those), jelly beans and whatever egg-shaped candy had been on clearance sale.

Now, please don't judge me, but I believe I was about eleven or twelve years old when I announced that I no longer wanted a basket full of cheap candy and started asking for pricey fruit baskets from Harry & David. I think I had first come across some fruit shipped from Harry & David from a gift basket one of my parents had received and I remember thinking "this is the best pear I have ever tasted!" In fact, I became so enamoured with these fruit baskets that I promised myself that, when I got married, I would register for or request the Fruit of the Month Club where a box of seasonal fruit would be delivered monthly to my home for an entire year! I still feel starry-eyed about such a thing and I hope I do get it someday, even if it requires ordering it for myself!

My Saturday was filled with errands. Not necessarily in preparation for Easter Brunch, but more because being a working girl doesn't leave much time for anything else so all errands get pushed to the weekend. I purchased some fancy Saucony running shoes from this awesome Noe Valley store called See Jane Run (and one of these nifty gadgets for rolling over tight calf muscles). I was long overdue for proper new shoes. In fact, the girl helping me with my fitting was unmistakably angry at me for even showing her my 6-year-old New Balance shoes. I got a good scolding, nodded my head, swiped my credit card and promised I would never insult her by doing such a horrific thing again. I then went to Trader Joe's to get groceries for the week so I can take yummy lunches with me to 1) motivate me to get through the day and 2) help me avoid eating out for lunch.

And then I treated myself to a red velvet cupcake (aka Gentlemen Prefer Reds) from That Takes The Cake in the Marina.I am a big fan of red velvet cupcakes-and might even go so far as saying I am a red velvet cupcake conoisseur (so far, no cake has outshined the red velvet cake this woman made on special order for my brother's wedding). But, this one, at $2.95 a piece, was absolutely delicious. The cake was incredibly moist (the tricky part with this kind of cake) with a buttery, deep red crumb that sticks to your fingertips. The cream cheese frosting was amazing--not too sweet and very smooth and creamy. They also sold a tiny mini version for $1.50 that constitutes about half of one bite, which, to be honest, would just make me plain mad. I want to savor multiple bites--lots of delicious cupcake bites in rapid succession. Oh, and if you aren't familiar with this cake flavor, the secret is in the cocoa powder...

All in all, it was a lovely Saturday to welcome the arrival of Spring (which, incidentally, is also asparagus and artichoke season!!!).

Happy Easter! Happy Spring!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Healthy Green Goddess Dressing

My uncle Lee owns a 30-some-odd acre farm in Haiku, Maui. He is what I like to call an all-around guru. He knows something about everything. Everything. He can stretch out your spine and tell you how your nerves in your feet are connected to other parts of your body (my friend Pete can attest to this). He can prepare a Hawaiian fish like you have never seen or tasted before (which is how he introduced me to Herbamare). Years and years ago, I came across his huge 5-gallon glass containers with a 3-inch thick mushroom molded to the shape of the glass for making homemade kombucha tea (this was waaaaay before kombucha tea became trendy and companies started selling commercial versions with pretty labels and fruity flavorings). He can whip up an all-natural elixir to cure any ailment you might have. He can build a house. With a pool. He even built a traditional Hawaiian hale (pronounced ha-lay), which are gorgeous, traditional structures from old Hawaii and you can rent them if you find yourself on the beautiful island of Maui. The hales are built by hand using all natural materials from the land-no nails, no screws. Amazing, right?! I know.
My uncle Lee also serves these amazing salads in giant gorgeous wooden bowls. And, somehow, I am always lured away from other meal items to take seconds (or thirds) from the never-ending-giant-bowl-of-salad. I don't know why I am perpetually surprised by his salads. I mean, the man also grows his own mangosteen and hearts of palm. And sweet white pineapples. And apple bananas that look like this, which, in my opinion, if you have never tried an apple banana, is worth the entire trip out to the islands. You gotta love the man. He is...amazing and wholesome. Going to his house, even if it is just for dinner, is like a little retreat to a healthy land of feeling good and full of energy and life.

I wish I had a more exciting post to go with this story of my uncle. But it is about salads. Well, about a salad dressing that kind of reminds me of his magical salads.

I wonder, since when did the "garden salad" get such a bad rap?! I like lettuce. I love cucumbers and tomatoes. I dunno. Is it because it seems a little boring?! Maybe. I love salads (especially chunky, chopped ones) that have all sorts of neat ingredients. But if you are gonna go the simple garden salad route, I think you need a snazzy dressing to get things going.

So I gave some thought to some of my favorite salad dressings and, while I love a good balsamic vinaigrette, I have always been a fan of Annie's Green Goddess dressing. So, I thought I would try my hand at making Green Goddess Dressing using the good natural fats of olive oil and tofu rather than the more traditional sour cream and mayonnaise. It turned out great and I am so glad I can make it at home now!

INGREDIENTS:

* 1 shallot, minced finely
* 1 clove garlic, minced finely
* 2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
* 3 tsp. lemon juice
* 3 Tbsp. olive oil
* 6 ounces of silken tofu
* 1/4 tsp. anchovy paste (optional)
* 1 scallion, chopped
* 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley leaves
* 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil leaves
* 1/4 tsp. sea salt (or more to taste)
* 1/4 tsp. freshly ground cracked pepper

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. I like to put it into a squeeze bottle so I can drizzle it on salads...