Check out my foodie adventures at Foodspotting and Foodgawker

Friday, October 29, 2010

New Foodie Market!

My best friend, Elianna, is a go-getter. A Master of all things. When you say "But I don't know how to doooo that", she calmly responds with "Well, we will figure it out". I am positive that she is the kind of person everyone needs in their life. She works at the San Francisco Food Bank and teaches food safety classes and cooking classes how to use local produce in new and exciting recipes. I know, I am in awe of her too. Her latest conquer-the-world project is organizing a community-based market to raise funds for a local food pantry. Here's where you come in: She is looking for vendors to come sell their delicious homemade artisan goodies at the first markets in November and December!

If you just wanna come by and check out the goodies and say hello, I will be a vendor at the December 18 market. Remember when I sold pickled grapes at the Underground Market?! I'm not sure what I will make this time, but I promise it will be yummy and unique.

For more details, see her press release details below:

New Taste Marketplace Wants You As A Vendor

Foodies, makers, picklers, & chefs: you are invited to be part of an amazing new community food event. New Taste Marketplace is a community market and a fundraiser for The Food Pantry and St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church. The Food Pantry gives away tons of fresh food to more than 600 families every Friday. The church is a center for the neighborhood, a beautiful space for people to gather, and a home for artists, iconographers and musicians.

The first two markets will be Saturday, November 27th Noon-5pm and Saturday, December 18th 4pm - 9pm at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church, 500 DeHaro at Mariposa in Potrero Hill.

New Taste Marketplace is currently seeking vendors who make local, homemade, or foraged products. Your grandmother’s famous fig bars or your pickled creations that cause your friends to exclaim, “you should sell this!” Here is your chance. Be creative, have fun and make it delicious. Vendor space is still available please email to share your creations with the world.

Contact Elianna Friedman @ for more information.


New Taste Marketplace
Market Director

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Plum: Oakland

I’m pretty sure the San Francisco foodie culture is boosting the chef profession to celebrity status. In this city, people ooh-and-ahh about who is cooking their meals, they read blogs and articles about their backgrounds, tattoos and philosophies and they stalk restaurants hoping for a glimpse (or even better, a conversation) with the chef, much in the same way paparazzi stalk celebrity homes. We know when chefs migrate from one place to another and we study up on when they grow executive chef wings and ditch the close kitchen supervision to take off on their own projects. And when we see a flashy name like Daniel Patterson being waived around, we know we are in good hands and there is good food ahead. It’s like reassuring freeway signs that point you in the direction of good food so you don’t miss any critical exits and you can see and taste all there is on the great highway of food.

On Monday night, I went to see Sufjan Stevens at the Paramount Theater in Oakland (brilliant show), so I seized on an impromptu opportunity to stop by Plum for some dinner before the show. The hostess apologized for only having room at the “kitchen bar” not knowing that it was exactly where I was hoping to be seated. After all, the food begins way before it is plopped down on your table by the hand of a waiter—it begins in the kitchen with creative minds and many hands finessing every detail and tastings and seasoning every element that you will encounter. So why not watch it?! Kitchens all around are transforming because diners are slowly coming around to being interested in this step in the process. These transparent kitchens are windows into foodie entertainment where the aesthetics and lighting match the restaurant décor, everything is clean and tidy, the cooks are busy cooking and quietly concentrating on assembling dishes (sometimes with tweezers!) and no one is getting yelled at. Imagine that.

While I did not have my camera, you can see some online photos of the food and I will do my best to describe my dishes on the menu. Let’s see how well I can describe the food without the easy comfort of relying on a photo—it’s a good exercise because restaurant lighting is generally terrible for photos anyway and without smell-ivision, you’re gonna have to rely on my descriptions. And I don’t want to disappoint.

We started with chickpea fritters and potato “chicharrones”. The chickpea fritters (3 on a plate) were gussied up falafel balls with a dense hearty texture that caved in on a small pocket of gooey cheese in the middle. They tasted earthy and were complemented by a little pool of yogurty sheeps’ milk cheese with flecks of fresh herbs. The potato chicharrones were crunchy sticks of a potato substance that had been pressed into strips and deep fried. It wasn’t magical, but I appreciated the effort behind the concept of taking an ordinary vegetable and altering its shape, texture and flavor to bring something totally new to the table. That is what innovative dining is all about and it’s a sure fire way to excite a Foodie. If you can magically change the familiar into something complex and totally baffling such that the Foodie says “how in the world did they do that?”, then i think you’ve got yourself a firm stake in the ground.

Next came a very unique and stunningly delicious soup made with turnips, apples and miso. It was a creamy beige-colored poor of earthy soup that was topped with thin ribbons of shiso leaves and a pepper cream that melted into a frothy puddle. I think the hint of sweetness from the apples really complemented the distinct slightly spicy flavor of turnips while the miso went around like a janitor polishing it up and smoothing over any rough edges.

The chicory salad was one of my highlights. It had various colorful chicory greens tossed in a very light date-yogurt vinaigrette. I couldn't taste any date (I really wanted to taste dates), but the yogurt dressing was light and creamy. The bitter chicories were delicately tempered with sweet snappy bites of matchsticks of asian pear, mint and pomegranate seeds. It was such a perfect union of flavors that I could have eaten three bowls and called it a night.

The artichoke terrine was a well-thought out dish comprised of many intricate elements. It started with a swipe of tapenade of olives crushed into a bright and vibrant olive oil. A slender block of forest green artichoke jello (for lack of a better description) was nestled into the tapenade and topped with a stripe of creamy goat cheese mousse. Then wedges of tender artichoke hearts sunk into the mousse and the whole thing was topped off with some shaved artichoke and shaved baby fennel that had been lightly dressed in olive oil. It was novel and delicious and watching the salad guy carefully garnish the dish with a delicate lacing of chervil only made my excitement grow as I squirmed in my seat waiting for it to arrive in front of me.

The braised cauliflower with bulgur, almonds and dandelion salsa verde was a slight disappointment for me. I had been hoping for a more robust flavor, but the bland cauliflower, clearly depending on the dandelion salsa to jazz it up, was only left with an odd tangy and acidic flavor that was pretty unpleasant.

I quickly moved on to the colorful pile of carrots. The carrots were perfectly cooked to be sweet and tender and then mixed up with some softened slightly-pickled green garlic stalks and sauced up with the most gorgeous brown butter and tooped with toasted breadcrumbs and purslane. It was not even the slightest bit greasy despite the distinct buttery taste and I attempted to drink the brown butter with my spoon. It tasted light and silky like it had a splash of white wine.

My companions shared a beef cheek and oxtail burger on a griddled bun. I opted for a slow-cooked farm egg over savory farro with veggies and sprouts. This dish was the major disappointment and I deeply regretted ordering it. While everything was perfectly cooked, I just did not care for the flavor combination and, to be honest, the chicken really derailed everything. It was a train wreck and I passed the dish off to my friends (who seemed happy to eat it) and I sauntered back to my lovely bread-crumb dusted carrots.

Beyond the food, what I want to speak about is the service. I don’t usually comment on service because really good food can get me to easily overlook things like shabby décor, snotty hostesses and poor service. But, I do acknowledge that these little details do enhance the overall dining experience, and I found Plum to be no exception. The kitchen team was calmly lead by Daniel Patterson himself, who had the most charming quiet and soothing demeanor. I tried my best not to act like a crazed fan or paparazzi, but I did ask him a couple of questions about his preparations. I even boldly asked him if he would be offended if I asked him about Jeremy Fox’s departure from the Plum project (to which he politely responded “No, not at all…but I think you’ll have to ask Jeremy Fox about his reasons). When we ordered some toasted brioche ice cream, he gently said “ah, yes, but you must try the white chocolate parfait”. When I confirmed that the parfait was, indeed, the winning dessert, the Chef softly reminded me that the desserts have feelings and it’s not a competition. Oh, but it is.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Monkey Bread

I’m kind of fascinated by 1950’s cookbooks. My mom gave me a collection and I always look for more so I can browse through the delicate pages when in a thrift store or an antique shop with vintage housewares (which, incidentally, is also the best place to buy pre-seasoned and well-loved cast iron pans). I get a little queasy when I get to the jello mold section or the tuna casserole or chicken salad heaped onto a bed of lettuce. Or anything made with the canned cornstarch goop called creamed corn. Yikes! But still, there is just something about them that says home. I imagine that food in that time came to be closely associated with the comfort of home.

One day, my boyfriend’s father was pouring over some coveted recipes he had collected while in the military. If you’ve seen popular military recipes before, then you know that they involve obscene amounts of meat, salt, fat and carbs. And sometimes they have “dirty language” names. One of his recipes that caught my eye was for Monkey Bread—a seemingly harmless pull-apart bread made with bits of dough baked in butter, cinnamon and brown sugar. I had seen this dish in plenty of old cookbooks, but I had never actually had it and, these days, I think you could even call it a bit of a dying art. Sometimes Monkey Bread was made with a homemade sweet yeasted dough, but once refrigerated biscuit dough rolled out onto the scene, you couldn’t pay housewives to stop serving it. Apparently, even Nancy Reagan served Monkey Bread at the White House. Now, that’s a dish that says A-m-e-r-i-c-a.

There are a few naughty, naughty recipes that I feel completely guilty making, usually due to the high fat content or artificial/hydrogenated ingredients. Like buffalo chicken dip. Or anything else that calls for a whole block of cream cheese or butter. It’s like I have to close my eyes and hold my breath while making it just like I would do when trying to hold my breath and swim a lap or drive through a tunnel. I just wait to get to the end and then declare that the dish has been made and there is nothing I can do about it, except eat it or share it. That's when I a) whisk it away to a picnic or party before I eat it all, b) invite friends over impromtu, or c) leave it on a neighbor's doorstep, knock and then run away.
Monkey bread is one of those kind of recipes. I find it really satisfying to pick off the nub that calls out to me. You bite into a soft dense pillow-like biscuit enrobed in a sweet carmelized sugar glaze. Plus, you would not believe how easy it is to make in comparison to how delicious it tastes. You cut up some biscuit dough and toss it in a bag with some cinnamon and sugar. Then you melt a ballsy two sticks of butter and some brown sugar. Dump the coated dough bits into a bundt pan (shape is totally irrelevant). Pour over the butter-sugar glaze and bake. That's it. The ratio of work to pleasure is so disproportionate, it's shocking.

You should also take comfort in the fact that any (and possibly all) potential guilt about making this dish will be quickly soothed over by an overwhelming cascade of compliments and oh-my-god-I-need-that-recipe praise. And with good reason. It is down right addicting in some magical way that couldn’t possibly just be broken down into dough, cinnamon, sugar and butter. The sum of these parts transcend this dish to a whole other ethereal galaxy. Just make it. You’ll see what I’m talking about. And then people will ask you for the recipe. And you can share it. And so on and so forth. And, together, we can revive this dying culinary art from 1950’s called Monkey Bread.


* 1 cup white sugar
* 3 tsp. cinnamon
* 3 cans of refrigerated biscuit dough (buttermilk is good, but I don't recommend using the artificial butter flavor)
* 2 sticks of butter
* 1/2 cup brown sugar
* 1/2 cup pecans (optional)


* Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
* Cut the rounds of dough in half and then cut in half once more (so you have 4 pieces of the same size)
* In a resealable bag, mix the white sugar and cinnamon together and add the wedges of dough.
* Close the bag and gently toss the dough to coat all pieces.
* If you are going to use nuts, sprinkle them around the bottom of the pan--be sure to use a bundt pan or angel food cake tin (do not use a springform pan because the sugar syrup will leak out and create a big burnt mess in your oven!).
* Pour the dough pieces and any extra sugar mixture into the pan.
* Over medium heat, melt the butter in a saucepan and add the brown sugar.
* Continue stirring until the sugar melts into the butter to create a syrupy glaze.
* Pour the butter glaze over the biscuit pieces (try to evenly coat all of it).
* Bake for about 35-40 minutes until top is golden brown.
* Allow to cool for 15-20 minutes and then invert onto a serving platter.

Note: I try my best to avoid hydrogenated products, so I look for an all-natural version of biscuit dough (yes, it does exist). Or you can make your own dough.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Food Stamped: A Documentary

Lastnight, I saw a great documentary called Food Stamped: A Documentary by Shira & Yoav Potash. It is a short film about a married couple in Berkeley who decide to follow the footsteps of some US Senators who took the Food Stamp Challenge. That involves eating $1 meals for 3 meals a day, per person--the typical American food stamp allotment. Except, they decided to try to do it eating healthy food (as much whole grains, protein, and organic produce they could afford) instead of eating cheap ramen, processed foods, pesticide-sprayed produce, etc.

They went to an excellent grocery store called the Berkeley Bowl and purchased bulk grains, lentils and beans and organic produce and spent about $48. Then, they planned out 7 days of meals with the food they had purchased. To measure their healthy eating decisions, they took their food journal to a nutritionist at the end of the week to see how well they did on get caloric needs, vitamins, food groups, etc.

Photo courtesy of Shira & Yoav Potash:
It was a very interesting and educational film and I dearly wish it could reach a wider audience. I plan to purchase the DVD and host some informal screenings for friends & family, but I thought maybe you would like to check it out as well and hopefully you can buy the DVD and share it with others.

Update: As part of the SF Indie Film Festival, Food Stamped is going to be playing in San Francisco on February 13 and 15, 2011.

Monday, October 11, 2010

S'mores Pie

On Monday morning, I had woken up early for work and went to email my Office Manager about something and she responded with “Morgan, today is a firm holiday—Columbus Day”. WHAT?! This was news to me. Where have I been? I squealed, I was so excited. So you’re telling me that not only can I go back to sleep, but I don’t have to go to work?? AND! I had already done the "responsible adult" weekend chores like grocery shopping and laundry. I had even washed all of the dishes and cleaned. I had a whole free day—unplanned and unexpected. This is the best feeling ever.

What to do with myself?! I packed up a picnic lunch and headed to Stinson Beach and then went for a little hike on the Hillside Trail in Muir Woods. The weather was perfect—just slightly cooler than body temperature and you can breathe in cool air and the smell of the redwood trees is down-right invigorating. We saw a mule deer grazing along the boardwalk fence. He was unimpressed with the crowd that was gathering to take his photo.

It was such a lovely afternoon. The kind that leaves you feeling relaxed. And inspired. I wanted to set up camp amidst the trees and make a fire and eat s’mores. Of course, you can’t have a campfire in Muir Woods. But, you know what you can do when you have newly discovered extra time on your hands? You can make S’mores Pie.

In Marin (right by Muir Woods), S’mores Pie is a flagship dessert at the Buckeye Roadhouse. It has a thick graham cracker crust with a thin layer of rich chocolate sauce that pools at the bottom. Because this is s’mores for grown-ups, this particular chocolate sauce is spiked with just a little liquor for a subtle boozy flavor. You could use use brandy, grand marnier, Maker’s Mark, bourbon or rum. Then the whole thing is filled with a marshmallow crème that gets torched to a golden brown right at the end to really seal the deal. I’m sure you’ve figured out by now that this kind of gluttony is not for the weak.
Don’t be intimidated by the steps. You essentially press together a crust and melt some chocolate and liquor to make a sauce. The hardest part is making the marshmallow topping, but afterwards you will be so impressed with yourself for making marshmallow from scratch! Then you don’t even really bake this pie—you just lightly brown it in the oven for 5 minutes or so. Voila!

S’mores Pie
Adapted from Robert Price, executive chef of Buckeye Roadhouse.

Ingredients for chocolate sauce:
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
3 Tablespoons butter
1 Tablespoon dark rum (or rum liqueur, if you have it)
1 Tablespoon bourbon (or Grand Marnier, if you prefer)
2.5 Tablespoons corn syrup
2.5 Tablespoons whole milk or heavy cream

Ingredients for graham cracker crust:
1.5 cups graham cracker crumbs
3 Tablespoons sugar
½ tsp. salt (kosher or sea salt)
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
2 Tablespoons honey

Ingredients for the Marshmallow topping:
1/2 Tablespoon vanilla extract
2 packets of Knox powdered gelatin
2.5 Tablespoons corn syrup
1.25 cups sugar
4 egg whites
1 pinch of cream of tartar
1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips


For the chocolate sauce: Put an inch or two of water in small saucepan over medium-high heat and fit a glass bowl over it. When the water comes to a boil, turn the heat down to a simmer. In the glass bowl, combine chocolate, butter, liquor of choice (2 Tablespoons in total) and corn syrup. Stir frequently until the ingredients are melted. Remove bowl from heat and stir in whole milk or heavy cream and set aside.

For the graham cracker crust: In a large bowl, mix the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, salt, melted butter and honey until well combined. Press the mixture evenly into a 10-inch pie tin. Pour about a 1/2 cup of the chocolate sauce over the crust and set aside.

For the marshmallow topping: Combine 1/2 tablespoon of cold water with the vanilla extract in a small bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin over the vanilla mixture and set aside. This will create a firm disc of weirdness—do not be alarmed. It will work itself out. Combine 1/2 cup of water, corn syrup and sugar in a heavy bottomed pot and bring to a boil. Place a candy thermometer in the sugar mixture and cook until the temperature reaches 240° degrees. While the sugar mixture is cooking, whip the egg whites and cream of tartar in an electric mixer until they form soft peaks. When the sugar reaches 240°, remove from the heat and carefully pour over whipped egg whites while the mixer is on low speed. Add the disc of gelatin mixture and mix on medium high speed until dissolved and well incorporated. It should be fairly firm enough to hold soft peaks.

Preheat oven to 450°.

Assemble the pie: Sprinkle the semisweet chocolate chips over the crust and chocolate sauce. Pour about 1/3 of the marshmallow over the chocolate chips. Drizzle remaining chocolate sauce across the marshmallow. Finish off with remaining marshmallow, mounding it toward the center to create a domed effect. If you lightly press a fork or spatula into the marshmallow and then quickly pull upwards, you will create nice little spikes that look pretty professional.

Bake in the over for 5-7 minutes until the marshmallow is golden brown. Remove and let cool. If you cannot wait, you can eat some warm, but it will be a warm spoonable gooey mess. If you somehow find inordinate amounts of patience to refrigerate the pie overnight to allow the marshmallow to set, you will be able to slice yourself a nice pie wedge. You can brown each slice in the oven (or with a kitchen torch) before serving. You could also brown it under a broiler, but be very careful because sugar burns quickly!

You will NOT regret this.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Dining in the Dark

Years ago, someone had given me a copy of The Miracle of Mindfulness written by a Zen Buddhist monk named Thich Nhat Hanh, who is famous for a metaphoric passage that speaks about the act of washing dishes as a meditation practice. Consciously living in the moment. He walks you through each step as you take your time with each dish, being fully aware of the dish, the water, and movement of your hands. He says that if you are already thinking of what you will do next after you’ve washed these dreadful dishes, then you will always be dragged into the future, never able to live in the present moment. The metaphor of striving to live fully in the present really resonated with me and when I am rushing through something or want to be sure that I pay close attention to something, someone or some moment, I always think about washing the dishes. So to speak.

Fast forward about five years to find out that James the Doctor has been practicing mindfulness meditation for a few years now. Admirable, for sure. I had once mentioned to James the Doctor that San Francisco has a dark dining restaurant called Opaque, which is, apparently, modeled after a similar European sensation. When he suggested hosting a similar dinner for his fellow psychiatry residents, I was excited to partake.
Mindful of various textures, flavors and smells, he planned out a unique 5-course menu. I had helped with cooking and preparation so I knew the menu in advance. Still, I decided to join the table and see how it felt anyway.

That's me sitting in the black leather chair while James the Doctor is being a gracious host to my right (with the help from his brother, Jason). It wasn't feasible to create a pitch-black dining environment, so we had the next best thing: eye masks. While the experience was slightly different for me in comparison to my fellow diners, it was still a new and interesting experience eating each course while blindfolded and listening to others guess the ingredients.

Like any classy dinner, it started with hot hand towels that had been soaking in lavender-scented water. Then out came a plate of scattered arugula and tear-drop shaped tomatoes that had been injected with a balsamic glaze. The scent of the argugula and its bitter taste was instantly recognizable, but it was the pop of the tomato bursting with sweet vinegar that surprised many.

Next came a little appetizer trio with a small wedge of smoked gouda, a slice of ripe kiwi fruit with its fuzzy skin, and prunes split open and filled with a smoked almond butter and smoked sea salt.At first, it felt a little uneasy being in the dark. I kept my left hand anchored on the edge of the plate in front of me as a sort of compass and used my right hand to feel and touch my nearby surroundings. I was grateful for the mini water bottle that had been thoughtfully provided because it eliminated the fear that I might knock something over. I took comfort in knowing the shape of the water bottle and that I knew how to close it while blindfolded.
Each dish was a new sensation in taste and smell. We all loved the feel of the silky ribbons of cabbage gratin. But I was most excited about the main course: smoked chicken (from the tuesday/saturday special at Memphis Minnies) that was griddled right into a light waffle batter and served with a thin lacing of a spicy bbq maple syrup. I touched the edges of the waffles slowly and reached my fingers into its comforting grooves as I bit into it with the unshared confidence of knowing what was in it since I had prepared them just minutes before the guests had arrived. But still, the flavor and texture was still pronounced to me. The edges were crisp and warm on my tongue, but it quickly gave way to the soft custardy webbing of the interior of the waffle.
I tasted just a hint of spice from the maple bbq syrup and concentrated on the smoky chicken bits hiding around the waffle like a treasure trove of flavor. The other diners were guessing it contained bacon, pork, and even Indian curry spices. None of the above, actually, but I could see where they were coming from.

Dessert was a baked butter mochi with blueberries. I developed this recipe because I love mochi desserts, which are popular in Hawaii. The butter creates a delicate flaky crust, which gives way to a dense and chewy interior made with rice flour, coconut milk and vanilla.
Afterwards, James the Doctor revealed each dish that we had eaten and confirmed or denied our wild guesses. It was really a unique dining experience. Even though we hadn't consumed a large quantity of food, we felt full because we ate very slowly, taking the time to contemplate each bite using our senses. We ate with mindfulness.