Check out my foodie adventures at Foodspotting and Foodgawker

Friday, March 26, 2010

Vegan Thai Red Lentil Soup with Lemongrass

I don’t make a lot of Thai food at home. Despite my fantastic success with the occasional pad thai and summer spring rolls with peanut sauce (I should really tell you about that sauce later), I’ve failed miserably at tom kha soup and a few other Thai dishes. So I would never go out of my way to just make up a Thai recipe on the fly and hope for the best. Except for this past Monday night. I was with my friend Eli, who always inspires cooking confidence. Maybe it’s because she went to culinary school; maybe it’s because she is a good friend that cheers you along no matter what your goal is.

Eli and I listened to a little Nina Simone, and within minutes of dancing around the kitchen, I was on my way to making a Thai red lentil soup. This soup is a bit unconventional in its method. A rebel to authenticity even. It starts with a flavorful “soup base” made with garlic, ginger, lemongrass and spices. And then develops that fragrant base in to a silky soup with the addition of onions, red lentils, coconut milk and a hint of cinnamon. Trust me (I say that a lot, huh), once you taste the final product, you will understand the method to the madness.


* 1 shallot, chopped
* 1 stalk lemongrass, bruised and minced (only use up to 2/3 of the stalk from the white bottom up towards the green tops)
* 1/4 or 1/2 of a small Thai red chili (cut in half and remove seeds and then quarter; use more or less for desired heat level)
* 4 cloves garlic, chopped
* 1 two-inch piece ginger (or galangal if you can find it), sliced
* 2 Tbsp. tomato ketchup (told you this wasn’t authentic)
* 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
* 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
* 1/4 tsp. ground white pepper (or black pepper)
* 3 Tbsp. soy sauce (omnivore option: you can use fish sauce)
* 1.5 tsp. sugar
* 1 tsp. chili powder
* 1/4 can good-quality coconut milk (reserve remaining liquid for the soup)
* Juice from 1/2 lime


* Puree all ingredients in a food processor or blender (it won’t be completely smooth—it will have a more gritty texture).

Note: This will make about 3 portions of soup base so divide it into thirds and the remaining base will keep in the refrigerator for up to one week or you can freeze it. I imagine the base would work nicely with curries or just a thinned out simple sauce for stir fry with tofu and veggies!


* 3-4 Tbsp. oil (light extra virgin or vegetable oil)
* 1 large onion, sliced finely
* 1 cinnamon stick
* 2 stalks of lemongrass, gently bruised to open up flavors
* 2 kaffir lime leaves (optional)
* 4 tbsp. of soup base (about 1/3 of what you made for the soup base; see above)
* 2 cups vegetable broth (omnivore option: chicken broth)
* 6 cups water
* 3 cups red lentils (rinsed and picked over for debris)
* 3/4 can of coconut milk (using the rest of the unused can from making the soup base)
* Juice from 1 lime
* 1/2 tsp kosher salt (or to taste)
* 2-4 tsp. soy sauce (to taste)
* Cilantro or fried shallots (optional garnish)


* In a large heavy-bottomed pot or dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat until glossy.
* Add onions and sautee for up to 10 minutes or until softened.
* Add in the cinnamon stick, lime leaves, lemongrass stalks and soup base and cook for another 3-5 minutes to release all the flavors from the soup base.
* Add the broth, water and lentils and turn the heat up to medium high to bring to a boil.
* Carefully remove and discard the cinnamon stick, lime leaves and lemongrass stalks.
* Cover and turn the heat down to a medium simmer for 15 minutes or until lentils are soft.
* Using an immersion blender (or food processor in batches), puree the soup until silky smooth.
* Add in the coconut milk, lime juice, salt and soy sauce and adjust seasoning if necessary.
* You can add more water to achieve desired consistency—the soup will thicken considerably when cooled so you would want to add a little more water when reheating.
* Garnish with cilantro and/or fried shallots if desired.

Note: This recipe makes about 8 servings. If refrigerated, the soup will thicken considerably so you can just thin it out to desired consistency before re-heating.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Croissant Bread Pudding with Strawberries & White Chocolate

Is it just me or did your heart skip a beat reading that title?! To be honest, bread pudding doesn’t usually excite me. Until you start talking about croissants, which changes the game entirely.

When I was in law school, I used to host a Holiday dinner or an Easter Brunch for friends who couldn’t be with their families during holidays. I liked hosting it because many generous friends had taken me in over various holidays during college (since I couldn’t afford to fly back to Hawaii) and I remember how good it felt to take part in another family for a holiday meal. On one such Easter Brunch, my friend, Claire, wowed the crowd with a chocolate croissant bread pudding.

Then, one night, I was lying in bed thinking about using up the contents of my fridge (this is kind of a menu planning ritual for me) when I remembered I had a couple of weary croissants moping about. I figured I might make a vanilla-based adaptation of that beloved chocolate croissant bread pudding.

Sometimes you just need a naughty treat. Or maybe you’re part of the sneaky folk who likes to bring the full-fat outrageously unhealthy crowd pleasers to potlucks so you can win best-in-show despite the fact that you may only have a bite or two. (I’ve been known to save up some of those recipes that I could never eat all by myself at home, so I wait for a willing group to try it out!)


* 3 croissants (preferably 1-2 days old), cut into 1-inch cubes
* 1 Tbsp. butter
* 1 cup fat-free half and half (or half & half if you prefer)
* 3 oz. white chocolate (chopped or chips)
* 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract OR seeds from 1 vanilla bean pod
* 1 egg
* 1/3 cup sugar
* 1 cup roughly chopped strawberries (fresh or frozen; other berries would be great too!)


* Heat oven to 350 degrees.
* Toast croissant cubes on an ungreased cookie sheet for 5-8 minutes or until lightly toasted. When cool, place cubes in an ungreased 8 x 8 pan or small casserole dish.
* In a saucepan on medium-high heat, bring the butter and half & half to a slow boil. Turn down the heat to a simmer and whisk in the white chocolate and vanilla.
* Once melted, remove pan from heat and let cool for 10 minutes.
* In a small bowl, mix the sugar with the egg. Slowly whisk this mixture into the half & half mixture.
* Gently mix the strawberries in with the croissant cubes.
* Pour custard mixture over the croissant and strawberries and place in refrigerator for up to 1 hour (to soak up all the goodness).
* Bake at 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes or until top is lightly toasted and custard has set (no longer too wet or jiggly).

You're going to love this. Yep.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Gricia Pizza: Pizzeria Delfina of SF

Remember when I mentioned Spring poking its head around the corner in the shape of a cheese? And how the word fresh starts to have meaning again after the winter starts to fade into a memory?

In San Francisco, the restaurants all have a close ear to the ground, carefully listening for the latest, freshest seasonal produce pushing its way through the earth. The seasonal menus change so fast that your best bet is to read the daily menu or twitter feed and then frantically rush over there like eating there is part of the Amazing Race and hope that you get there before they sell out of whatever magic they produced that day. Yup, that just about sums up the typical dinner plan of an SF foodie. Or me, at least.

I should mention that I have since revisited my signs of Spring’s arrival after eating a pizza that highlighted the delicate flavor of fresh spring onions on the "Gricia" pizza at Pizzeria Delfina. Not the young green onions or scallions, but the more mature stalks with fat round bulbs like these. The second I stepped out the door after paying the check (and after scribbling an embarrassingly crazy note on the back professing my love for Craig Stoll’s superb pizza genius), I vowed I would drop all plans and leave my typing mid-sentence to get over there if I ever saw it again on the special's list.

It’s a humble pie, really—the unassuming kind that sneaks up on you as your dinner company catches you staring out at the wall with glossy eyes as you concentrate on its sneaky flavors dancing around in your mouth. Now, there is no tomato--it's a white pie. But, here is the real shocker--there is no cheese, people. No cheese!

Photo courtesy of nosaladasameal.(I had no camera with me when I had bolted out of the office to get my hands on this pizza, so I am so thankful for those who came more prepared than I did.)

Like all good pizza, it starts with the perfect wood-fired crust that bubbles around the edges—the kind that screams “we know what we are doing, here. And we mean business”. They scatter small shavings of salty guanciale and a noticeable amount of freshly cracked black pepper for a little kick and then cover it with long, thinly shaved ribbons of spring onions that roast in the high heat until they curl up and tuck into themselves. Then—get this—just as it comes out of the searing hot oven, they pour a small drizzle of cream over the whole thing, which melts into the sweet onions creating a delicate lacy sauce. Ping!

It's true, i like to replicate a restaurant dish when I can to save money, in the event that an oven that burns above 500 degrees isn't required. Despite my mom saying "quit spending you're money eating out" (we obviously have different priorities), I'd sell my personal belongings to shell out $16 to have this pizza if it came down to it.

That is all I can say about that. I just noticed it is on the menu today at the Mission location. I’m out.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Underground Market: The March Results

THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU for coming out to support our foodie community at the underground market! It was a total success. We sold out of the fresh home brewed ginger beer, the hawaiian coconut mochi and about 75% of the pickled grapes and green garlic that we had made.

Photo courtesy of Jesse of beerandnosh

I handed out samples of pickled grapes to many people who were excited to try something new and I convinced quite a few people to venture out into the unfamiliar and try the Hawaiian adaptation of mochi. Some may have wiggled their noses in doubt, but, wouldn't you know, you all had such nice things to say and I'm so proud of you for having a go.

I won't lie--it was still crowded (over 1,200 people came!) and there were still lines, but people came out with smiling faces and generally seemed pretty happy and interested in trying what everyone had to offer. And, boy, was there plenty to choose from! Gluten-free items, raw food, laotian Nam Khao, granola, jams and jellies, fermented and pickled goodies, local honey, foraged mushrooms, all sorts of baked goods, sasparilla, fresh homemade salsas, dips, cheeses and charcuterie, kombucha, spices, breads and drinks...But I have to admit that it was, above all, the sense of community that made it all worthwhile. Let's face it, most of these vendors are not in it for the money as they operate on a small scale and have small profits margins of maybe $75 - $300 -- and that's only if you just consider the material costs and assume free labor and time. Instead, they do it for the love of food and for the love of sharing their work, passion and talent with you. So, thank YOU, for making it possible by supporting all of their hard work! It really means a lot.

It was my first time as a vendor and I had a great time. I even got to meet some of my readers, including the founder of Foodgawker.

I believe these markets will continue in monthly installments so look out for the next one!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Sir Francis Drake Cheese: Cowgirl Creamery

When I was in high school, my friend, Jolene, used to frequently profess how much she loved cheese. Cheese?! I thought. With my limited exposure to artisan cheese, I imagined simple images of cheese--big wedges of cheddar cheese or mozzarella or maybe even heaps of string cheese. It sure didn’t seem all that exciting to me.
Fast forward almost ten years (omg, my 10-year high school reunion is this summer!), and now I love artisan cheese and living in San Francisco provides me with daily access to arguably some of the best cheese in the world from Cowgirl Creamery.

The announcement of Spring comes in many forms. For some, it’s the datebook’s announcement that that Daylight Saving Time begins on March 14 and that the first official day of Spring is March 20. Maybe you’ve noticed the asparagus standing tall and colorful beets showing their pretty faces around the market. Or maybe you live where it snows and you spot the first speck of green and can actually start to feel your toes again. But for me, it happens when I am wandering around the ferry building and, hold up!, I spot the spring’s first rounds of St. Pat’s. It’s a cow’s milk cheese covered in mossy green nettle leaves that lend a really earthy flavor and aroma. It is so highly celebrated in this community that you can even come on down to 18 Reasons for the Saint Pat’s release party on March 11.

But, if you want to know the real cheese secret, when late March or Early April rolls around, keep your eyes peeled for a sneaky little triple cream cow’s milk cheese called the Sir Francis Drake (or “SF Drake”, if you’re among the cult following). It’s exceptionally creamy and buttery with a hint of sea salt brine flavor. In fact, sometimes Whole Foods even carries it in early-March...

People go crazy over this stuff because, as it is explained to me when I question its limited supply, it has something to do with their signature Mt. Tam production going awry, which produces “just the right kind of bacteria” needed to produce this cheese. So they bathe the rind in a French fortified wine called Beaume de Venise and press in a few currants and BAM! Magic. If you let it ripen a little, the edges will melt into a rich, buttery goo leaving a thicker cakey consistency in the middle. And, I hear, it's salty ocean flavor is really prominent with the right beer pairing.

Get some. If you’re lucky.