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Friday, February 18, 2011

SF Beer Week 2011

Well. Despite a diligent regimen of daily Emergen-C vitamins, green juice and avoiding anyone who looked even remotely sneezy on the train, I got a cold right smack dab in the middle of SF Beer Week. Last year was excellent fun, and I had really been looking forward to this. Jason has been busy writing extensive beer coverage of the events around the city. I have been busy parking it on a couch for the last four days.

Things started off well. I made it to the Opening Gala. Between events at Triple Rock and The Jug Shop, I sampled over 30 sour beers. In. A. Single. Day. I even made it to a beer dinner on Valentine's Day.

And then. Sick! And I have been feverishly shivering and coughing since. Unless you count scrambled eggs, a batch of soup and some infamous no-knead bread, I have cooked absolutely nothing in the past week. On the upside, however, I think things are on the mend and I expect to be better by the weekend. Three-day weekend.

With all this beer talk going on, I was motivated to round up my "beer cellar". It's kind of funny to even call it a cellar; it's more of a small collection that I inevitably gathered in the last six years of dating the beer geek, whose real cellar actually contains over 500 bottles. I have come around to really appreciating beer in those six years. And i've learned a lot about various styles and flavor profiles. Unsurprisingly, it turns out that I like 1) really rare beer, 2) sour beer (with heavy fruit content), 3) beer that is never going to be bottled and can only be found on tap in one spot on one day, 4) beer with really high alcohol or 5) really expensive beer. And so, my collection reflects just that: ten highly-coveted sour beers!

So, in honor of SF Beer Week, here it is. My cellar, from left to right.

Russian River Consecration (10% abv)
Russian River Toronado 20th Anniversary (10.4% abv)
Alpine Chez Monieux Belgian Kriek (5.8% abv)
Lost Abbey Framboise de Ambrosa (7% abv)
New Glarus Cran-bic (6% abv)
Russian River Framboise for a Cure (5.9%)
Lost Abbey Veritas 006 (8% abv)
Cascade Vlad the Impaler (8% abv)
Lost Abbey Cable Car (7% abv)
Russian River Supplication (7% abv)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Vegetarian French Onion Soup

You don't need me to tell you its cold out. And it's been raining for days. I don't know how I feel about this winter thing. Actually, I do know. I feel like eating soup. I want to stock my freezer with eight different kinds that I can choose from on a whim. I'd even make nice labels for the tupperware containers.

The way I see it, everyone should have soup to choose from. Ready at your beckoning. February might sneak on by in four short weeks, but you might notice that you've made good use of your ladles, bowls and soup spoons. Carry on, carry on, soup spoons!

I have always loved french onion soup and have really wanted to make a vegetarian version that still carried some heft and dignity. Some people like to add soy sauce or a dash of Worcestershire to offer some "meaty" flavor and darker color, but I like to bolster my broth with a solid dose of red wine. And, between you and me, if you happen to have an open bottle of red wine, you could use it here even if it is a little bit oxidized. I mean, ahem, I don't find myself in this situation because I finish the bottle right away, but I hear that leftover wine can add a little vinegary tang here.

The thing about this soup is that it takes time. You want to start up some onions in a pot in the mid-Sunday afternoon and then forget about them while you are folding laundry and mailing out bills. Since the onions are the true base and foundation of the soup, You have to give these onions some love and let them slip into a nice coma submerged in the depths of butter and olive oil. It just can't be rushed.

But, rest assured, love and tenderness always pays out handsomely in the end. After the onions melt down and you build up a rich stock base, you add in some flecks of thyme for an earthy boost. Toss a hunk of bread on the top with some grated gruyere cheese and pop it under the broiler for just a minute or two until the cheese bubbles and browns lightly.


* 5 cups good-quality vegetable broth (homemade if you have it, or I used Trader Joe's organic vegetable broth)
* 2 cubes of vegetable boullion (or "not beef" bouillion if you have it)
* 1 cup red wine
* 4 onions, sliced thinly
* 4 Tbsp. butter
* 2 Tbsp. olive oil
* 1/2 tsp. salt
* 1 tsp. sugar
* 1/2 tsp. dried thyme (or 1 Tbsp. fresh thyme)
* 1 bay leaf
* bread (ciabatta or country bread is best; day old is even better)
* gruyere cheese for topping


Heat a large dutch oven on medium heat. Add the butter and olive oil. Add in the sliced onions and lower the heat a little to medium-low. You can stir occasionally, but give them lots and lots of time to melt down. About 20-30 minutes. They will begin to relax and soft into a sticky mess, but you don't want them to brown so resist cranking up the heat.

After the onions have softened, you can deglaze the pan with the wine and stir. Add in the salt, sugar, thyme and bay leaf. And then the stock--I like to heat my stock and melt in the bouillion cubes and then add it all to the pot. Let this simmer uncovered for another 15 minutes.

Ladle the soup into oven proof bowls. Top with a slice of bread and shredded cheese and pop under the broiler for just a couple of minutes until the cheese is melted and lightly browned.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Nem Khao: Laotian Crispy Rice Salad

You know what I miss about the cities I have traveled to? The. Food.

I've often dreamed about flying back to Sydney (where I lived for nearly a year) for a plate of hand-pulled noodles from Chinese Noodle Restaurant. Perhaps flying home to Maui for some Sam Sato's Dry Mein Noodles would be a lot cheaper. But, believe you me, not a day goes by when I don't crave my San Diego comfort food of choice: a thali plate complete with rice, perfectly bubbled naan smeared with ghee, smoky murgh makhani and mushroom masala from Punjabi Tandoor. Most of these dishes sink into my memory and become the elusive stuff that dreams are made of. But, occasionally, I work up the nerve to trust my palate, memory and photographs and re-create a dish. And sometimes, it actually works.

And, tonight, a wonderful Laotian classic called Nem Khao made its way to the dinner table.

Some time ago, my dear friends and trustworthy foodies, Ali and John, recommended a tiny little Laotian mom-and-pop place in San Diego called Asia Cafe. You might notice that all the yelpers said to order the one thing that is inexplicably not on the menu: Nem Khao. I love secret menus!

Nem Khao is essentially a salad composed of fried rice balls that have been mashed up and tossed with generous amounts of scallions, cilantro, and peanuts. Like any regional specialty, the recipes vary widely. Some might have lemongrass and ginger; some use seasoned patties with spices and egg. This dish generally contains some sort of pork and is almost always served with red chili peppers (as noted in photo above) and doused with fish sauce and lime juice.

I omitted the pork and chillies because I wanted to focus on recreating the foundation of the dish, which is the rice salad. Now, this is all speculation, but I believe Asia cafe keeps it simple. Besides some key ingredients, this dish is all about texture. You use cooked jasmine rice that has been chilled to get rid of excess moisture. You could use broken jasmine rice (cheaper) or regular jasmine rice. Or you could gently pulse some jasmine rice in your food processor to break up the grains just a little bit, but I don't think this step is necessary. You fry up some rice patties until they form a nice, crispy golden brown crust, but still maintain a fluffy interior.

Then you chop it up into rugged chunks and toss it with lots of scallions, cilantro, shallots and peanuts. A winning combination, really. Kind of like the Asian version of Panzanella, but rice replaces bread and cilantro steps in for basil.

A dose of salty fish sauce is the cornerstone of this dish, but it livens up into something so nice and bright when it tag teams with fresh cilantro, lime and scallions. Some peanuts join the green party for some added crunch.


2 cups jasmine rice (cooked and chilled)
1.5 to 2 Tbsp. fish sauce
4 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
1/4 tsp. lime zest
pinch of sugar
* 2 tsp. garlic, crushed
1/4 cup roasted peanuts, roughly chopped
1 small shallot, thinly sliced
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
3/4 cup scallions, thinly sliced
small pinch of kosher salt (optional)
canola oil for frying


* Cook the rice as directed and let it cool and then chill. You do not want to fry wet hot rice, so this step is important.
* Form the rice into 6 large patties (at least one-inch thick).
* In a large cast iron skillet or dutch oven, pour about 2 cups of oil for the shallow fry and heat on medium-high.
* Fry the patties for about 5-7 minutes on each side. You want to allow it to become golden brown before flipping the patties, but be careful not to burn them.
* Place patties on a paper towel to drain excess oil and cool for a few minutes.
* Roughly chop up the patties and place in large mixing bowl.
* In a small bowl, mix the fish sauce, garlic, sugar, lime juice and zest and add this mixture to the rice.
* Add in the scallions, peanuts, shallot and cilantro and mix everything together.
* If necessary, add a pinch of kosher salt to adjust seasoning to taste.

Veggie note: If you want to make this vegetarian/vegan, you can make some Fishless Fish Sauce. I'd love to know how it turns out!