Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Daily Special (Potato Roesti with Broiled Caprese)

Sometimes, I can't help but snap pictures of food before I sit down and eat. The pictures are never as good as the food, since I'm unwilling to let my meal get cold (or wilted, or soggy, or whatever) while I angle for the best shot. (This pictures looks a bit too much like a starfish for my taste, but maybe that's because I was recently at an aquarium, so I've got sea life on the brain.) In any case, I thought I'd add a little series to my blog featuring what's coming out of my kitchen on occasion.

I cook a lot differently than I used to. I used to have a vision and then do anything and everything to get what I needed to make it happen. Since I've starting getting CSA shares rather than shopping at a grocery, I see things differently. Now I look at what's in my kitchen and try to find interesting (or quick, or healthy, or gluttonous or... depending on my mood) ways to prepare it. It's a bit of a logic puzzle, and while I miss the "other way" from time to time, this method is a bit more natural, and results in far fewer trips to the grocery. Today my objective was to make a potato and a tomato feel like a meal. I think I'm pretty clever to have come up with this dish, which couldn't have taken more than 30 minutes to prepare (if that.) Next time I hope I'll have better mozzarella on hand. That's the downside of the "cook with what you've got" philosophy, I guess.

A funny story about potato roesti came to mind as I was cooking. The summer of 2007 was the summer of the potato. A very large sack of potatoes (so big I could hardly drag it) mysteriously appeared in the grass outside of our apartment. The potatoes seeming fine (hey, we were in northern UT, practically ID!, they had to be good, right?), and our budgets not, the entire orchestra nourished themselves from that burlap bag for the better part of the summer. One evening, I made potato roesti after potato roesti, running them upstairs to a party. I bet I used 30 lbs. that night. It's a shame the potatoes didn't come a few pounds of butter, too.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Change of Plans

It was supposed to be a dream motorcycle trip across the Sierra Nevadas, a gig in Napa, and dinner at Thomas Keller's The French Laundry. It was a plane trip, a different gig, and dinner at Alice Waters' Chez Panisse. Although the mode of transportation wasn't what I had hoped for, I was not disappointed with my dinner. Chef Alice Waters saw all that is good in fresh, local, organic foodstuffs long before it became hip with the masses. Her restaurant features different offerings each day, based on what's hot at farms in the area. You won't find off-the-wall ingredients or particularly innovative recipes, but you won't miss either of these things. You'll find delicious fresh ingredients prepared simply and flawlessly.

I enjoyed (and shared):
Cannard Farm avocados and grapefruit with citrus vinaigrette
Tomales Bay clams baked in a the wood oven with sweet red chiles, almonds, garlic and greens toast
Crimson rhubarb tart with vanilla ice cream

My good friend and dining partner enjoyed (and shared):
Carrot soup with ginger
House-made spaghetti with morel mushroom ragu and peas
Hazelnut praline cream puffs with bittersweet chocolate sauce and caramel cream

We both washed it down with Chez Panisse Zinfandel from Green and Red Vineyards (not the most logical wine choice with our menu, but I happen to love Green and Red Zin and I wasn't passing it up)

There wasn't second rate bite in the lot. Most notably, the citrus salad had the most perfect avocado and some bonus, unadvertised blood oranges in the mix. Spaghetti sounds so unglamorous, but ah! - it was perfect! Just the right amount of chew, with the morels and spring peas light enough to let the pasta shine through.

I have to give honorable mentions to two other meals I had while in the San Francisco area last weekend. Magnolia Gastropub and Brewery not only has the expected interesting and delicious selection of beers, but good food too! It's the first brewpub I've ever been to with decent food, really. The menu is definitely hearty, and made to go with beer, but goes above and beyond the call of duty by offering such things as buttermilk fried spring onions, an interesting selection of sausages (lamb merquez! rabbit crepinette!) and scotch quail eggs, to name a few. Someone at the Allied Arts Guild, the site of the gig that partially subsidized this trip, also knows his or her way around the kitchen. (Note to self: the husband of the cellist on this gig is a partner at Au Coeur des Chocolats. Check it out next time, it's surely better than the big scam called Ghiradelli.) Although I missed the hors d'oeuvres while working, the main course of chicken and roasted sweet potatoes, roasted vegetable quiche and salad was completely satisfying. I give them extra points for serving boneless dark meat chicken, which has so much more flavor than the ever popular (why?) boneless chicken breast. The only disappointment here was the chocolate/chocolate mousse birthday cake, which was only mediocre. Perhaps even more impressive is the gardener at Allied Arts. The grounds are spectacular, and (lucky me!), were in perfect bloom. By then I'd had more than my share of good eats - little did I know there was more to come. I can thank the guest of honor at this lunch for grilling us all steaks later that day for dinner.

I narrowly missed a day of wine tasting in Napa, and dinner at Brix Restaurant. I was bumped off my flight (darn!), and had the necessary arrangements almost complete when the airline rep informed me of their error. I guess all good things must come to an end.

You know how most cafes have pastries that look pretty, but taste like sawdust? Not so for the few things I tasted while in San Francisco. The cherry turnover at the Java Beach Cafe was a pleasant surprise. Not earth shattering, but perfectly edible and even tasty. The Simple Pleasures Cafe served up a wonderful ham and cheese croissant, and I can't stop thinking about their tea cakes. So buttery! The sandwich I took away for the plane trip home was, alas, not toasted despite my request.

Reading up, I see my weekend was a gastronomic success!