Monday, March 30, 2009

"Sharper" In Seattle

Fresh off a great weekend in Seattle where I was among the lucky ten people who made it into a two day food writing class at the Hugo House, an educational and writing facility located in the Capital Hill district. The class was billed as a "boot camp," and was hosted by Kathleen Flinn, author of "The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry." This wonderful book became an immediate "fave" after receiving it from my friend Wes, and I highly recommend it to all of you reading this. Exceptionally well-written story that will hit home with anyone who's ever posed the question to themself "why am I doing this job?"

Kathleen was a senior editor for Microsoft in London, and unexpectedly found herself out of work. With a little coaxing and encouragement from friends and family, she opted to move to Paris and tackle the three semester professional culinary series at Le Cordon Bleu. The book chronicles her trials and tribulations at cooking school, plus the twists and turns that life handed her during the time she was there. The end result (in addition to a diploma from the most famous cooking school in the world) was her authoring "Sharper."

Twice a year, Kathleen holds a writer's boot camp at the Hugo House in Seattle. The boot camp reference is due to the fact that the lucky attendees have many opportunities to actually produce writing examples, given limited guidance in the process. In other words, here's an idea, spend the next 15 minutes writing something about it based on what we've been talking about. I won't give her class contents away, but as an example, think of an object ... any object that comes to mind. Now, write about it in very specific terms without actually revealing what the object is called. Try it with a coffee mug or a bottle of water for a little self-test of the exercise.

Seattle is always fun to visit. I don't know if I could handle the rain and short, dark winter days, but it's a beautiful city with a lot to offer. My previous visits were a couple of business trips. One of them was actually a conference that was held at the Salish Lodge in Snoqualmie Falls, about an hour ride to the East. The main lodge and falls were the backdrop for the TV series "Twin Peaks," and it's a spectacular location. The sight and sound of the falls raging out the window of the hotel room is absolutely breathtaking.

The "Salish" visit featured a trip into Seattle, and a ferry boat ride to Tillicum Island for a traditional "potlatch," and the best salmon I've ever eaten. The ride from Pike Place Market (thank you DM for the correction!) across Puget Sound features some of the best scenery in the northwest.

My last trip to Seattle was a few year ago, and was once again a business trip, meaning I had an expense account! The I.T. managers for my company were asked to visit the branch offices once or twice a year, so I took the opportunity to drive up from the San Francisco Bay Area, and stop at three offices along the way. "Drive" is a relative term here, since I had the Corvette for this trip, and it was probably closer to "fly." But it was certainly a good justification for buying the "Vette," as it proved to be roomy and comfortable for my six-one frame, and returned 32 MPG for the 1800 mile trek to Seattle and home.

Trips to Seattle also mean dinner and reminiscing with my good friend Deborah, who I've known since fourth grade. She moved there many years ago, and as a consummate "diner," she knows the fun new spots downtown. This trip, it was a new, upscale Mexican food restaurant called Barrio, in the Capital Hill area where I was staying. Great wine selection, including an excellent Mexican meritage (mispronounced by the bartender, like many people butcher this poor word which was actually coined in California, not France). I opted for a Belvedere martini, which hit the spot. Small plates of a scallop ceviche, an amazing beef tartare on crispy mini-tortillas, and a "taco trio" were excellent. This is a bustling "happening" new spot, and they'll do well.

Our day-two lunch assignment was to break into groups and try one of several local restaurants within an easy walk from the Hugo House, take notes based on the classroom presentation that just concluded, with the expected notion that we'd be writing about the experience when we returned. So my classmate buddy Mindy and I opted for Boom Noodles, which was a block away, and sounded like a good choice.

Boom was amazing, which I'll tell you right off the bat is an "empty description" and we were specifically instructed not to use these in the class ... however, it was. Upon entering the pristine establishment you're promptly escorted to sleek "communal" style tables by friendly and informative serving staff, which perfectly capture the Japanese-Fusion theme that abounds. Water appears immediately, and a chilled liter bottle is left at the table. Nice touch. Everything is special here, from the chopsticks that come in a "logo'ized" paper enclosure with a geisha on the outside, to the unique teapots and sake-style Boden cups for tea, to the paper napkins that could pass for fine linen.

We knew we'd be writing a review on the restaurant and the food, so we opted for several small plates, which was the right choice as they were all extremely appealing and tasty. The ahi tacos consisted of perfectly seared sashimi-grade slices placed in mini wonton "tortillas" with a side of creamy chili tofu sauce. The curry potato korokke were essentially a couple of uniquely flavored potato cakes with a ginger creme fraiche dip. The sizzling toban beef consisted of sake marinated flat iron steak chunks served over shiitake mushrooms, sauteed sweet onions and garlic chips, with a yuzu pepper dipping sauce. Incredible and uniquely flavored, prepared and served, across the board. The dessert menu looked interesting, but this was in fact lunch, and we were "there." Next trip I'll start with dessert and work backward!

The weekend boot camp was so full of information, I couldn't begin to get it into my little blog which I try to limit for your sake. We wrote, we chatted, we heard the most amazing stories of Kathleen's training and life in France and the U.K., we drank wine, ate some amazing cheeses (thanks to Kat's assistant Lisa ... thanks again!), and we all came away with an exponential increase in our food writing knowledge and of course our collective desire to do more of it.

We all made friends, I'm sure we'll keep in touch, the whole class knows that they're welcome to come to California and spend some time and let me cook for them, take a trip to the wine country, whatever, and I'm hoping that all of them take me up on the offer. Great group, great weekend, truly unique in the grand scheme of things.

My thanks to Kathleen who does so many of her endeavors as a labor of love. She's the consummate hostess, from tending to our coffee needs, to the lovely quiches that she made (and accomodated individual taste requests), to the wine and cheeses, to the sharing of her experiences and in-depth knowledge on the subject of food writing. Amazing weekend.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Hall Pass and a Tuscan Sun

I don't know about you, but when I was in grammar school and high school, you needed a "hall pass" to go anywhere but your designated classrooms.  Lunch and recess time being the only notable exceptions. Get caught roaming the halls when you're supposed to be in Miss Davies' French class, and it meant a trip to see Assistant Principal Mr. Hyde (a perfect moniker for him, as he truly had a Jekell-Hyde personality). And any trip to the infamous Mr. Hyde's office would likely cost you a week of after-school "detention." No fun, and something to be avoided at all costs.

Over the years the concept has taken on a much broader meaning ... specifically, one member of a couple has some time alone, out or away, while the other is doing something alone or with their friends or work group. Long explanation for a concept that you're all undoubtedly familiar with, but I thought I'd clarify nonetheless.

This weekend's Hall Pass netted me some time to write (what you're reading, among other things), to eat a couple fantastic simple meals, and to watch one of my favorite movies for the millionth time. I spend my time alone in curious ways. I don't go out and look for trouble, but rather prefer to stay home and cook, write, maybe watch some TV (probably an old movie), maybe go for a ride or two, and sort of catch my breath. So here's a chronicle of the last couple of days ...

Thursday night ... came home from another long day at work (Telecom Manager at a large biotech firm), and kicked back with some great burritos. There's a lot to be said for real simple dinners, but I have to admit I always try to spice them up a little. Seemingly simple fare like tacos and burritos, always get a little ooomph to them. So ...

Tequila Lime Spiced Burritos
1 lb. of chicken breasts cut into small cubes
Marinate for 30 minutes in:
1/4 cup of tequila
2 tblspns of lime juice
1/2 tspn of ground cumin
1/2 tspn of chipotle flakes or powder

"Burrito size" flour or whole wheat tortillas
Small can of your favorite enchilada sauce
(or make it fresh if you must)
Fat free refried beans
Mexican rice (mix or fresh)

Garnishes of:
Chopped white onion
Chopped cilantro
White and yellow cheeses, shredded
Light sour cream (save your calories for dessert)
Guacamole, if you're so inclined
Salsa(s) and hot sauces of your choosing

Cook the rice according to the instructions (plan on 30 minutes). 
Heat the enchilada sauce and the beans, warm the tortillas in an oven or microwave.
If you have a hall pass yourself, you can do these any way you choose. For guests, fill the tortillas, roll them up, spritz the enchilada sauce across the top (criss-cross, make it fun!), add a scoop each of sour cream and guacamole on top, let them apply their own hot poisons. I'm a nutcase and love Dave's Insanity Sauce ... everyone's not as crazy.

For dessert? Linn's ollalieberry pie a' la mode was perfect!  Linn's is a mandatory destination with any trip to Cambria.  Their fresh and frozen pies (fruit and meat pies) are legendary.  When I get down to my last ollalieberry or chicken pie in the freezer, it means it's time for another Cambria visit. They're that good ...

Friday ... worked at home in the morning, as I had a business meeting in Vacaville in the afternoon, meaning a 75 mile trip north on a Friday afternoon, and totally unpredictable traffic. As luck would have it, it was a totally painless trip, and I actually arrived early.

This is one of my favorite parts of California, and the fact that my contact was late meant that I could spend an hour doing some exploring. Had I known that I'd have an hour to kill, there's no doubt that I would have driven to Williams and had lunch at my favorite deli ... Granzella's. This is a landmark in the otherwise unremarkable stretch of I-5 between Sacramento and Redding. Williams is a tiny little community next to the meandering Sacramento River, surrounded by California's rice growing real estate, and although a pleasant enough place, it's only enhanced by this wonderful deli, restaurant, bar, and gift shop.

Loyal readers know that I also have a residence in Bend, Oregon. When making the 8 hour drive south, if I'm starting to get hungry in Klamath Falls, I'll tough it out and drive another 3 hours 'til I reach Granzella's. Get a sandwich and eat it outside on a picnic bench. If it's dinner time, take advantage of the restaurant. Home style cooking, bargain priced, always great. Pick up some olives (they're fresh), bring home a pie (likewise), or give in and buy one of their signature "Kiss Me I'm Italian" t-shirts. You'll never wear it, but you know you want one!

The business meeting went well, I saved the company $23,000 by making the trip. They owe me the rest of the day, which means I'll take the long way home. As luck would have it, there was an accident in Berkeley and an hour backup ... oh darn, that means I'll have to cut across to Sonoma and Marin Counties.

It's early spring (first day, actually), but Sonoma's in bloom. The mustard is coming up, the blossoms are everywhere, and it's a good day not to have hay fever since it's sunroof and windows down the whole way! Snowy egrets and my favorite, great blue herons are abundant as I make my way past the Infineon Raceway (formerly Sears Point), along the levees, through the southernmost tip of the Sonoma / Napa wine country, and over to Highway 101.

At Highway 1 in Novato, I head south. Marin County is beautiful today. I only wish I had the time to drive out to the coast and watch the sunset at Bolinas or Bodega Bay, memorable for the great 1963 Hitchcock movie "The Birds," with Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor and Suzanne Pleshette.  Plus of course, the customary cameo by Alfred himself, which in this movie was when Tippi walked out of a San Francisco pet store with her newly purchased (nice, non-attack variety!) birds and cage.

It was early enough for me to take a very slight diversion through sleepy little Sausalito. Couldn't resist a cruise along Bridgeway, past the houseboats (always wanted to live on one!), the beautiful Casa Madrona, and all the fun little shops.

But back to reality, and a spectacular view of the City, Bay, and Pacific as I made my way back to the San Francisco side. It was still early enough, so after paying my six dollar toll, I veered right towards 25th Avenue and the Presidio.  This makes for a little bit longer ride, but provides you some of the most incredible scenery in the world. As you cruise through the nearly vacant Presidio of San Francisco, the views of the bay and GG bridge are truly breathtaking.  Stop and take pictures ... I was born here, and I still can't resist a shot of the bridge on a clear day like this one.

Cruising through upscale (make that nearly untouchable) Pacific Heights, native San Franciscans know an obscure landmark ... a fantastic house once occupied by Harry Houdini. Then it's up to Geary and out to the coast, where the world famous Cliff House and Seal Rock marks the entrance to Ocean Beach, the Great Highway, and Highway 1, which one way or another, will eventually get you to Southern California and beyond.

I briefly toyed with the idea of stopping at Joe's of Westlake, but opted to head home and make a "Larry meal" instead. After all, I'm just beginning my weekend long "hall pass."

Friday night's meal was a simple one, but awesome nonetheless:

Porterhouse steak, simply done with salt, pepper, garlic powder. Used the Lodge cast iron fry pan which always works great. Lodge cast iron pans, for any of you who don't own one, are an absolute culinary bargain.  Mine sits on a shelf next to a $125 Calphalon One pan (which is great in its own right, of course), but the Lodge is the one you use for a stovetop steak.  And it cost under $20.  

Preheat 5 minutes on high, use a couple pieces of fat trimmed from the steak to grease the hot pan ... 4 minutes per side yielded absolute perfection.  To compliment the steak I looked no further than a baked potato with butter, light sour cream, fresh chives, salt and pepper.  Simple, effective, wonderful meal. 

Saturday was a long overdue Spring cleaning. Nothing glamorous here, just lots of moving things around, out, ideally into the garbage / recycling / Goodwill bags. But dinner would be pasta, my way (I love spaghetti, my wife does not, so more often than not it's penne rigate, rigatoni, angel hair, or whatever ... I'm making spaghetti tonight!).

Saturday night pasta and cheesy garlic bread:

The Pasta:
1 lg yellow onion (sweet or regular), chopped
2-3 chopped garlic cloves
10 oz of sliced white mushrooms
Fresh or dried Italian Herbs such as rosemary, thyme, and plenty of oregano
Pinch of powdered cinnamon
1/2 cup of decent red wine (I used a Zin that I had open)
2 lg cans of diced tomatoes
1 regular can of tomato sauce
1 small can of tomato paste
2 lbs of good ground beef, browned and drained
16 oz package of good Italian spaghetti (Barilla, DiCecco, or fresh/gourmet if you feel like splurging)
Salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan and a chiffonade of basil (if you have some) to finish

Trick: You probably already know this, but if you add salt and olive oil to the pot you're going to boil the pasta in, it will (1) not stick together, and (2) boil faster.

My basic pasta sauce stays fairly constant.  I love dabbling in the fancy ones too (The Silver Spoon is of course the "bible" in this regard), but for the quick weekday variety, it's evolved into a simple formula.  I start with a little olive oil in a good-sized pot over medium heat, which sweats fastest when you cover the pot and leave it alone for a few minutes.  I'll then saute the mushrooms in the pot, add the garlic, add the wine and let it reduce some, then the herbs.  Tomatoes with their liquids go in next, and a few minutes on high heat will break them down to the consistency you're looking for.  Tomato sauce is next, with tomato paste used for thickening toward the end.  Simmering time is up to you, but "all day" is an old wives' tale, and you can have a perfectly great sauce in about 45 minutes.  

The Bread:
I live near San Francisco and we're blessed with some of the best sourdough in the world. Tonight's was a ciabatta from Acme Bakery. Split the loaf up the middle, spread butter (that should have been softening to make your life easier), sprinkle garlic powder, some grated cheddar and top with some parmesan. Spread it out on a foil lined cookie sheet, about 5 minutes under the broiler (keep an eye on it!)

Sunday was a simple day. Not for the trees and leaves however, as the wind was blowing a gale, but relaxing for yours truly. Got the car washed, went shopping, worked around the house. And dinner?

Any basic pizza recipe works for the base ... make it, roll it out from a can, use a Boboli (they're wonderful).  The point is to get close to what you'd get at a pizza parlor, but do it at home.  And avoid the frozen food variety at all costs! 

My tricks: 
Begin with a thin layer of olive oil and a sprinkle of garlic powder on the crust
Boboli or home made (or your favorite) pizza sauce
Several cheeses ... don't limit yourself to just mozzarella. I also used some cheddar and Monterey jack, and it worked great

What do you like for a topping? Mine tonight was salami and fresh sliced mushrooms
Sprinkle some olive oil before cooking in a 425 degree oven for about 13 minutes

Topped it with a few chiffonades of fresh basil, some shreds of fresh parmesan, and red pepper flakes.  Yummy, filling, and plenty of leftovers for tonight. 

And so dear readers I find myself at the end of these few days to myself, eating and doing what I pleased, attacking the Spring cleaning chores, cruising through some of my favorite scenic areas, and enjoying myself immensely.  

And my old movie choice?  I'm the oldest of six kids, and have five younger sisters who are undoubtedly somewhat to blame for my movie preferences.  This weekend's would be Diane Lane's wonderful performance in "Under The Tuscan Sun" for at least the hundredth time.  So at the end of my long weekend, I find myself with the same feeling of emotional glee as the first time I watched it, as the old man finally tips his hat to "Francis" in the final scene.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

We Built This City

Great song, great words sung by the Jefferson Starship's great duo of Mickey Thomas and the legendary Grace Slick. Along with Otis Redding's "Dock Of The Bay," it's become a song that's totally identifiable as San Francisco-centric. Amazingly, it was actually co-written by Bernie Taupin (writes Elton John's lyrics) and Peter Wolf from the J.Geils Band, and wasn't intended to be an antem to San Francisco. Regardless of the origin, the song that originally appeared on 1985's "Knee Deep In The Hoopla" album (yes album, 33 1/3 LP, not CD) was a total smash, and still gets the audience going when the 2009 version of the Starship performs.

Having grown up in the City during the birth of the hippie movement and arguably some of the best rock and roll ever, I've of course seen the Starship many times, as well as the original Jefferson Airplane. This will "date" me, but the first time I saw the Airplane was on my 16th birthday. Opening act Buffalo Springfield with Richie Furay, Steve Stills, Jim Messina, and Neil Young all in the same band, followed by the Airplane.

Grace Slick, Paul Kantner, Marty Balin, Jack Cassady, Jorma Kaukonen, and original drummer Spencer Dryden ... for $2.50 a ticket, at the University of San Francisco gym. Yikes what a show. Surrealistic Pillow had just been released, Grace Slick had recently left The Great Society and replaced original singer Signe Anderson. Today, Somebody To Love, White Rabbit, It's No Secret ... what a show. And what a way to turn 16. Being a normal California kid, I of course got my driver's license that day, so I was able to drive my mom's '62 Valiant wagon to show, along with my band's guitar player Tim, and our girlfriends.

We were spoiled rotten growing up in the City during this period. We knew it then, and never took it for granted. Where else on the planet did you have access to the music that we were so priveleged to grow up with? Free concerts in Golden Gate Park were a commonplace occurence, and a lineup with some combination of the Airplane, the Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Sons of Chaplin, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Paul Butterfield, Elvin Bishop, Blue Cheer, and more ... were not uncommon. Speedway Meadows or the Polo Field, most weekends, and occasionally even during the week. Great time to be a native!

Bill Graham was of course the father of modern concerts. I was fortunate enough to work for him for a ten year period, and can personally say he was a total professional, and a great guy ... as long as you didn't try to disrupt one of his shows. He wouldn't hesitate to pull an unruly teenager out of line and deny them entrance, if they were making someone else's life miserable. Behave or you're going home. Graham started doing concerts as a way of promoting his pet project the "San Francisco Mime Troupe." This quickly blossomed into fairly regular concerts, ultimately settling at the Fillmore Auditorium and Winterland, a couple blocks up Geary. Arguably the most important factor in making Bill Graham shows different and each one memorable in its own unique way, is the combination of acts on the bill for any given show.

You could see Miles Davis with a young Tony Williams on drums open up for The Who. Or the Staples Singers open for The Doors. Local bands like the Syndicate of Sound or Peter Wheat and the Breadmen could find themselves on a Fillmore poster with The Moody Blues. Watching musicians and bands "evolve" was also a unique treat. I recall a Winterland show that opened with The Nice (and a very young Keith Emerson, soon to be a third of Emerson, Lake and Palmer), The Vagrants with guitar player Leslie West (Mountain, Mississippi Queen), Procul Harum with both Robin Trower and Terry Reed on guitars, and headliners The Doors. I believe this was a $5.00 show.

The closing of Winterland show (pictured at right) was absolutely incredible. New Year's Eve, December 31st 1978 was the final swan song at the crumbling, long past its prime hall that once served as the Ice Follies' home base. Opening act NRPS, The Blues Brothers with most of the former "MG's" from Booker T. and the MG's as the backup band, and about four hours of the Grateful Dead. And at the end of the show, they served breakfast to the lucky 6000 attendees.

Two shows come to mind from the old Carousel Ballroom, before it was transposed into "Fillmore West." The Yardbirds, always a favorite, went through a few guitarist changes. Original lead axman Eric "Slowhand" Clapton was replaced by Jeff Beck and his unorthodox style of attacking a Fender Telecaster. Original bassist Paul Samwell-Smith was temporarily replaced by young studio guitar player Jimmy Page, to try out his hand at producing. Smith returned, and for a brief period produced the lineup we saw at Carousel, with both Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page playing twin lead guitars. Oh my.

Another show at the Carousel featured Country Joe and the Fish as the headliners, opening act Taj Mahal, and a little known band from England called Led Zeppelin. Their first album hadn't been released, but San Francisco was privvy to a few tracks on pioneer FM stations KSAN and KMPX, compliments of the great DJ Tom Donahue. From the opening chords of Communications Breakdown and young Robert Plant with his back(side) to the audience, you knew this was going to be memorable.

There have been so many memorable shows in the Bay Area over the years. Memorable, one of a kind concerts. The Last Waltz, which was The Band's first retirement party, held on Thanksgiving of 1976 at Winterland. The Who and The Grateful Dead for a weekend of "Days on the Green" in Oakland in '76. A week of Bob Dylan at the Orpheum Theater. A week of The Tubes at the Palace of Fine Arts. Two nights of Paul McCartney and Wings Over America at The Cow Palace, also in '76. The Rolling Stones (with guest Tina Turner), J. Geils, and George Thorogood and the Destroyers at Candlestick Park in '81. The Who, The Clash, and T. Bone Burnett at the Oakland Colisseum.

And the proverbial good news is that the music scene has survived in the City. Bill Graham was tragically killed on a stormy night, following a concert at the Concord Pavillion (ironically, I opted to go to a show at the Berkeley Community Theater that night - Joan Baez, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and The Indigo Girls). Bill Graham Presents has been swallowed up by the giant LiveNation concert machine, but the shows still go on. I've gotten picky about where I want to spend my concert dollars (because it takes a LOT of them to get into a show these days), but in the last few months I've seen Alanis Morissette, Matchbox 20, a fantastic Rush show (my favorite), and just last night ... The Pretenders at The Fillmore.

It felt like I'd come full circle, going to a show at The Fillmore in 2009. It had been about 20 years since I'd been there - the last show being an evening of Todd Rundgren, which I went to with my friend Lisa. Prairie Prince (from the Tubes) on drums, and most of the Utopia band - great show. But the Pretenders last night was very special. I hated the crowd and standing on the floor for several hours, but we ended up about 20 feet from Chrissie Hynde, and she was awesome.

Walking around the Fillmore is a trip through a time capsule. Virtually every poster ever produced line the walls of the up and downstairs open areas. Amazing pieces of art compliments of Randy Tuten, Rick Griffin and Kelly-Mouse. They used to give you a "big" poster for that night's concert, and a smaller handbill for upcoming shows, at each show. We took this for granted, kept them for awhile, and most people usually tossed them. Today, Wolfgang's Vault gets hundreds or even thousands of dollars for pristine examples.
So Bernie Taupin and Peter Wolf's words, even though they weren't originally intended to become an anthem to San Francisco, have certainly served as such. We Built This City On Rock And Roll means so much to those of us who grew up here, as well as transplants from around the country and the world, and five decades of shows that I defy any city in the world to top.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Simple pleasures by the Bay

It was a very pleasant weekend in our beautiful City by the Bay. The rain has at least temporarily stopped, meaning I may not have to complete the ark I was planning to construct. It's been a good news, bad news scenario lately - we need rain desperately, but why does it all have to fall in a two or three week period? But this weekend was a nice one.

Saturday began with a trip to my favorite restaurant supply store, where I managed to find a few things that I'm actually missing in my home kitchen. I picked up a new sifter (I'm beginning to get into baking, which is very scary), a nice big polyurethane cutting board that I've wanted for awhile, a dozen "mini martini glasses," which I thought would work great for amuse bouche courses, plus a couple other odds 'n ends.

We then headed down to the Embarcadero. Lunch at Sinbad's preceded our romp through the amazing array of shops in the wonderful Ferry Building Marketplace. Seated in the covered outdoor dining area, we were provided a view of the Bay that most of the world can only dream or read about. We were "between" the two bridges, so both the Bay and Golden Gate bridges were in view, as was the open expanse of bay and boats, Alcatraz, Angel Island, Sausalito, and Marin. This is a bit of scenery that's hard to imagine if you haven't been to the city and walked the Embarcadero. It's travelogue picture-perfect, and on a clear day like this one, it's breathtaking.

The Ferry Building shops are so cool, it's hard to know where to begin. I suppose the best place to start is with your wallet. These shops are the Rodeo Drive of culinary treats ... amazingly diverse in their uniqueness and desirability, like a magnet in their appeal, and capable of draining anyone with less than a Trump level pocketbook to ruins. Quickly.

Let's start with the Scharffen Berger chocolate store. Here's a tiny alcove of a store, maybe 100 square feet total. I managed to pick up 5 bars of edible / cookable chocolates, and a couple bags of "chunks" that will do double duty both in and on some cupcakes I have planned. Hang on to your wallet ...

There are organic meat and sausage stores, with fresh fare from local farms and ranches. Several general store-type markets that have endless varieties of everything from designer soaps, to rare imported Japanese noodles (had to spring for some real buckwheat udon and sobas), and real (yes, it certainly is!) prime cuts of meat. If you're in dire need of a real prime rib roast, filet, T-Bone or New York, with marbling that will encourage adult drooling on their pristine glass display cases, you've come to the right place. $34.95 per pound, and they'll wrap it up for you.

Specialty shops abound ... dedicated respectively to organic cheeses, exotic mushrooms of all shapes and forms, herbs (that you can buy and/or grow yourself), salamis, Italian delicacies, and a caviar store. Dining / snacking options range from the afore-mentioned Sinbad's, to several patio cafes specializing in American, Japanese, Mexican, and seafood cuisines, coffee shops galore, wine bars, and a gelato store that's impossible to resist on your way out of the building. We were able to escape with our wonderful lunch experience, and a waffle cone of vanilla bean gelato (plus a couple of random samples here and there).

For the ride home, I opted to take the "scenic route," vs. busy freeways. A right turn onto California, vs. crossing Market Street and getting on to 280, makes for so much better ride, particularly on a gorgeous day like this one. Out to the beach, past the newly remodeled Cliff House (doesn't compare in character with the old one), along the Great Highway that fronts San Francisco's Ocean Beach. We drove around Lake Merced which was full of runners and walkers, individuals and families, watching the little Sunfish and Flying Junior class sailboats tacking and coming about in the lake. I caught my first trout in this lake when I was about 10, and learned how to sail here while attending nearby San Francisco State University.

Heading up Skyline Boulevard (Highway 35) takes you past Fort Funston, which is a world class hang glider locale. Today's light wind and great weather brought them out for a spin off the cliffs, and packed the parking lot with onlookers. I can't imagine doing this, but it sure makes for a colorful sky, and gets lots of "ooooohs and aaaaahs" from the peanut gallery.

The decision to go "right" and down the coast, vs. the quicker freeway route, was pretty easy. Down the Coast Highway we cruised, past the surfing spots that first put knots on my knees when I was about 14 (several years ago). Sharp Park, Rockaway Beach, and Pedro Point. Pedro was our mainstay over the years, as it offered the easiest access and a pretty consistent break. Santa Cruz had better waves, but it was another hour south, and we were after all, poor teenagers with less than perfect excuses for cars.

The north break on the beach is still referred to by (us) old timers as Wander Inn, even though the restaurant namesake burned down over 30 years ago. Middle break used to be called "Wisby" after a long-defunct realty office located right off the beach. And the Point is the south break, as it's located in a little cove just in from the looming Pedro Point, to the west.

Heading south takes you past the huge project of boring a tunnel through the mountains, in an attempt to eliminate a particularly treacherous stretch of road known as Devil's Slide. See my January 18th entry titled "A Little Therapy" for more on the tunnel. Halfway over Devil's Slide is a little beach known primarily by locals as a "nude beach" and the usual collection of gawkers and photo sharp shooters were lined up along the bluff trying to catch a peek. Cheap thrills, I suppose.

Over the hill, past Montara Beach (VERY unfriendly riptide) and the little Montara Lighthouse tucked neatly and unobtrusively into the coastline, and on down to El Granada and the wonderful Moss Beach Distillery, overlooking a former "smuggler's cove." I ran into actress June Lockhart on the deck of the Distillery many years ago, and she was absolutely elegant and gracious. My friend Marie recognized her and asked if she was who she thought ... Ms. Lockhart's answer was "Yes, it is I." And I remember a big friendly smile from her. Totally "un-Hollywood" and unpretentious, and very memorable.

Continuing down the coast, we pass the sleepy little town of Princeton by the Sea, idyllic at first glance, but home to Maverick's and some of the biggest waves in the world, a quarter mile to the west. The former Shorebird, now the Princeton Brewery makes a phenomenal cheese bread (better than mine!), great calamari, authentic clam chowder (although it would lose in a showdown with Legal Seafood's) local beers on tap, and one of the better martinis in the area.

A couple miles south you pass the Miramar Restaurant, which has always been a favorite weekend destination for a snack and beverage, overlooking the Princeton Breakwater and beach. Then it's onward to Half Moon Bay, and up through the twists and turns of Highway 92. This is the home of the annual Pumpkin Festival - an event that locals stay away from, fearing the inevitable several hours spent in traffic on the single lane each way that leads you to and from the coast. Like the Garlic Festival in Gilroy, it's a good thing to stay away from unless you can walk to it.

Day two of the first clear weekend in way too long, found us at The Cow Palace for the annual Body Art show. The home of the Grand National Rodeo and countless music shows over the years was for this weekend, transformed into a huge collection of tattoo artists, piercings, and supplies. I'm on a quest for number 7 myself, and amazingly ran into the artist who did my first four. The last two were done by a different artist (Hawk) in Bend. So I guess the good and bad news is that I've located the guy who can do more etchings for (on) me. The shop where he used to work had a T-shirt that read "Of COURSE it hurts!" But they're fun, and people who get one, commonly get several. My seventh is likely to be a great blue heron, my favorite bird. Not sure where it's going to live yet, but I'll figure it out.

And to cap a perfect weekend, we just happened to be passing Joe's of Westlake right around dinner time, and of course we had to stop. A bowl of their killer minestrone and an order of half spaghetti, half raviolis for me, and pastina and the incredible filet of sole with rigatoni for Risa. My favorite restaurant. You can get fancier food, certainly pricier food, but they've delivered the goods for over 40 years and they're still packed all day every day. The downturn in the economy has not had a negative effect on Joe's.

And to add to the pleasant quality of the weekend, I didn't get bugged with anything work-related. No down systems, no problems, no issues that caused the Blackberry to go off at 3AM. An all-too-common occurrence. The weekend was wonderfully devoid of phone calls, and focuesed almost exclusively on the sights and sounds of the Bay and ocean.

We live in a world of immediacy, where people are always "reachable." There's no longer a need, but more importantly an option to be out of touch with everyone who wants your attention for one reason or another. Even with my little blog entries like the one I'm writing right now ... I'll create it, edit and proof it, publish it, and it's on your Blackberry, IPhone, or computer at the speed of light. And I suppose I'd like to think that at least some of the people who I send it to, actually read it. I know this because I get emails back within minutes sometimes, telling me that it was fun, odd, contained misspellings, or whatever. But the immediacy, and our expectations surrounding the term in 2009, is boggling, and in fact is such a paradigm shift in the way many of us are forced to live our lives.

I work for a large high-tech company with 15,000 employees, 10,000 of whom are at our local headquarters. Everyplace you go ... elevators, hallways, cafeterias, meetings, and even to and from the parking lots, it seems that everyone is buried in their IPhone or Blackberry. Staying in touch. Sending and receiving who knows what, that's critical to read and respond to on the way to lunch or to their car. I think it's interesting that California had to pass a law making it illegal to "text" while driving. This is taking "ridiculous" to a whole new level. Drive the car, the message will wait.

So enough with the weekend Bay Area travelogue. Suffice it to say that my Saturday and Sunday was pleasantly devoid of phones and intrusions, and it made for a much more pleasant Monday. And with the Blackberry safely stashed in another room, I made a wonderful winter vegetable soup. The first night was great, tonight's leftovers should be even better. This recipe makes plenty for a couple meals and enough to freeze for another meal. For a single night's serving, cut it in half.

Winter Vegetable Soup

  • 1 lb each, boneless skinless chicken breasts and thighs
  • 3 small (or two large) sweet onions, chopped
  • 1 large leek, white part only, sliced thin
  • 2 ribs of celery, sliced
  • 2 carrots, sliced
  • 1/2 head of green cabbage, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 2 28 oz cans of petite diced tomatoes
  • 2 14 oz cans of cannelini beans (great northerns work too), with juice
  • 2 14 oz cans of light red kidney beans, drained
  • 1 large can of fat/salt free chicken broth
  • 2 "chicken broth cans" full of water
  • 1 tablespoon of "Better Than Bouillon" chicken broth concentrate
  • 1/2 teaspoon of celery seed
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 2 tablespoons of canola / vegetable oil
  • salt / pepper to taste
  • In a large stockpot, heat the oil over medium heat
  • Stir in the onions and leek, cover and cook for 5 minutes
  • Add the celery and carrot, cover and cook for 5 minutes more
  • Stir in the garlic, thyme, celery seed
  • Add the broth, chicken broth concentrate, water, tomatoes. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer
  • Add the chicken, cook for 10 minutes
  • Add the kidney and cannelini beans, and the cabbage. Return to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cook for at least 45 minutes
  • Adjust salt and pepper to your taste
Serve with a good sourdough like a Ciabatta, a mixed green salad, grated parmesan, a garnish of Italian parsley if you have some.

This soup probably took me 30 minutes of prep time, and total of an hour and half 'til it was on the table. I happened to have the time this night after work, so there was no rush. It's likely that this could be done in about an hour if push came to shove, or even faster if you're adept with a pressure cooker. But for a weeknight soup dinner with TONS of leftovers, what a great meal. Again, soup is a state of mind (thank you Kathleen) and you should experiment and have fun with it.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Mis En Place

Mis En Place is a French phrase that literally means "put in place," but it's used by chefs to refer to their "setup" for what they're going to cook. In other words, ingredients, spices, prepped items, and the tools needed / used to accomplish this.

For me, I've always just thought of the term as a reference to my "stuff" that I'm going to use to prepare the night's recipes. My little piles of items that are so important in producing your meal.

We had a phenomenal kitchen setup in the Bend house, and I miss it like nobody can imagine, unless you've made a similar transition. My "dream kitchen" consisted of a great 36" six burner stove with a huge convection oven. I had a second convection oven and microwave built into the wall, giving me tremendous flexibility in preparing complex meals. Big refrigerator, a huge functional center island, nice stainless sink with two deep wells, custom travertine tile everywhere, a silent dishwasher ... you get the point.

Relocating to the Bay Area meant compromises. First, a very small apartment for the first few months where I didn't even unpack most of my "stuff." Neither the cupboard or the stove would accomodate my 16 quart stock pot, let alone the 20 quart. And now we're in an older home with equally old appliances and minimal work surfaces, where I prepare all the lavish meals that I write about, and you faithful readers generally enjoy reading about.

But alas, this isn't a "woe is me" essay, but rather one about the things that we cooks need to have handy. To organize the ingredients for a meal ... places to hold the ingredients (the bowl collection), things to cut them up (the knife collection) and of course all the little spices that make them taste so good for our appreciative audiences.

Prior to my six weekends at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco (now a Le Cordon Bleu branch), I'd never used bowls. Never really thought about doing so, actually. But once you get into cutting several hundred items into neat little juliennes, chiffonades, minces, fine chops, etc., you need to "stage" them in preparation for their inclusion into the meal you're constructing. Hence ... bowls. Mine come in 3 sizes, ranging from about 4" to maybe 8. I have tiny ones for garlic, saffron, small spice combinations, etc., but the 4" variety is generally the small "workhorse" of the group. Medium bowls hold a little more, larger ones will accomodate a couple chopped onions. If I'm chopping 6 onions, it's a mad dash to the bottom drawer under the oven, where the monstrous bowls are hibernating until they're required. Which is fairly often, actually.

My jambalaya recipe (at the bottom) contains 10 different spices, a combination of celery, onions, and peppers, sausages, chicken, etc., ALL of which require bowls or some way to store them on the counter, as you're assembling the dish. I don't think I could make this without my bowls! They're absolutely indispensible to have in your kitchen. Mine ran me a buck or two or three each, and I've had them all since 1994. If you have a restaurant supply store nearby that sells to the public, this is your best bet.

Knives are obviously a chef's pride and joy. There was a time when I maintained that I could do an entire meal with one or two knives. Which ones? I could probably survive on a desert island with a small paring knife and my LamsonSharp Chinese-style cleaver (a "slicing" vs. chopping cleaver). Fortunately, I wouldn't have to, because I'm a total nutcase for knives, and have way too many of them. An unjustifiable accumulation of cutlery, for sure. And I use and appreciate every single one of them.

The rack pictured to the right are some of the "most used" knives. They include a Santoku and an 8" Chef's from Henkel's, a Wustof 6", Global 8" Chef's, and an 8" Victronix slicer on the top row. The LamsonSharp cleaver, an 8" Dexter-Russell Chef's, my prized Shun Ken Onion 8" Chef's, and a small paring knife are on the bottom row. I also have a drawer full of mix 'n match knives, as well as a full knife block with a Martin Yan cleaver, my bread knife, 10" ham slicer, a boning knife, a filet knife, a couple more Globals ... you get the picture. The Shun is obviously a pleasure to use and cuts much better than the $22 Dexter-Russell, but is it TEN TIMES better? Of course not. I'm a sick puppy, and I'm seeking professional help for it.

To the right is my little collection of "stuff" (there's so much of that in this writeup!) that I keep just to the left of the stove, and use with virtually everything I create. There's a shot glass full of plastic spoons for both me and my anxious guests to "taste" what I'm making. A collection of pot holders (nothing pretty - they're in the drawer and I never use them. Note to "friends" of cooks: we don't want / need / use fancy pot holders. Just the ones that work and stave off heat from our scorching pots and pans).

A stack of plastic trays that we inherited from a dear friend who used to live on diet microwave meals, serves as a resting place for the spoons and spatulas that I'm using. Fancy spoon rests look nice, but these were free, and I've been using them daily and tossing them into the dishwasher for over 15 years. The stainless steel vessel in the front is a salt container given to me by my good friend Wes, and is indespensible for adding the inevitable "dash" or "pinch" to a dish. You can't shake a pinch from the salt shaker you see in the background.

The three utensil containers that sit in the corner contain the "most used" collection of this and that, that I, and every cook, uses on a daily basis. Specialty items can live in a nearby drawer, but you need to have these available for "right now" use; A peeler, meat thermometer, a couple of spatulas, most-used graters (two Microplanes minimum), pasta server, spoons - slotted, big, small, soup/sauce varieties, whisks, can opener, ice cream scoop, etc. These are the things that I have to have a "stretch" away. Not in a drawer buried under the designer / cutsie pot holders that I've already said we NEVER use. Handy ... easy to grab.

Cooking is akin to a dance, in my humble opinion. And this is coming from a devout "non-dancer." I've played drums since I was 14, and have no problem with two bass pedals, a hi-hat pedal, and 2 sticks flying over my five drum surfaces, but dancing's type of coordination I've never mastered. But orchestrating a collection of ingredients and creating a masterpiece with them requires a coordinated set of movements that are practiced, perfected, and applied in a very artistic fashion to create something special for family, friends, and cherished guests who truly appreciate your efforts.

Larry's Jambalaya
Adapted from a Paul Prudhomme recipe, and modified to my taste

Seasoning Mix
1 tablespoon each - Sweet paprika, onion powder, salt
2 teaspoons each - White pepper, black pepper, dry mustard, dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon each - Ground cumin, cayenne pepper
- combine and stir in a bowl

Main Ingredients
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
2 green bell peppers, chopped
4 ribs of celery, chopped
- Combine in a bowl

1 6-8 oz package of smoked ham or turkey, julienned (slice thin)
1 package of Andouille Sausage (Aidell's are great), sliced thin at an angle
Package of boneless/skinless chicken breasts (four halves or 2 full), cut into small diced pieces
3 bay leaves
2 lg (#2 cans) of diced tomatoes
Lg (49 oz) can of 99% fat free chicken broth
3 cups of uncooked white rice
1 package of frozen chopped okra (don't use fresh or whole - not the same effect)
Gumbo File (spice section at your supermarket, usually a tallish thin glass jar)
2 tablespoons of canola oil
Tabasco Sauce (red, original style)

To Prepare
  • Heat the oil in a large stockpot (10 qt or bigger) to medium high
  • Combine 2/3 of the onion/celery/peppers, 1/2 the andouille sausage, 1/2 the seasoning mix in the pot. Stir frequently, scraping the bottom when needed, for 10-12 minutes. You'll think it's going to burn - it won't if you keep stirring.
  • Stir in 1/2 the stock, 1 can of tomatoes, return to a boil, cook another 10 minutes
  • Add the chicken, smoked turkey/ham, remaining seasoning mix, cook another 10 minutes stirring occasionally
  • Stir in the second can of tomatoes, frozen okra, remaining onions/peppers/celery, andouille, and stock. Return to a boil, cook another 10 minutes
  • Stir in 1 tablespoon of gumbo file
  • Add the rice, stir well, partially cover the pot, simmer for 20 minutes.
  • The jambalaya should get thick but not dried out. Check as the rice is cooking and if it's too thick or dry, add more hot water or chicken stock.
  • Serve with Tabasco Sauce and Gumbo File, for who wants it.
  • NOTE #1: This works great with a thick noodled pasta, as a substitute to the rice.
  • NOTE #2: If you're actually IN New Orleans when you serve this, you already know that it's the LAW to use both Tabasco and File on your jambalaya ... but that's a whole other story.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

And with just a little more effort ...

I'm all for "easy" recipes and quick weeknight meals. Even simple weekend meals tend to make a cook's life easier. Anyone who does a fair amount of cooking can relate to the value of a good selection of easy prep healthy meals. It would be nice to have all day to prepare the evening meal, but most people aren't so blessed. I try to encourage readers and people I associate with to explore the possibilities with good, fresh, food creations for their everyday meals, and to not resort to frozen, canned or packaged fare. In my humble opinion, the bulk of the food products that are shoved down our throats (yes, of course the pun is intended) is simply not fit for human consumption.

So this was a special Sunday night meal that required "just a little more effort," as the title suggests.  Took me several hours, spread over the course of a rainy dreary Sunday.  A day when I'd be home anyway, as it turned out.  I'd invited my friend Howie (grammar school buddy), three of our massage school friends, and our friend Cal.  Good diversified, group, lots of possibilities for food, for the night.  

Constraints / considerations included a couple of the people being on something resembling a diet (calorie type, not necessarily a food constraint), one person doesn't eat seafood of any kind (although Cal's phenomenal ceviche provided a notable exception to this), plus I'd decided I wanted to make cupcakes for dessert.  This in itself is odd, as loyal readers have undoubtedly noticed a dearth of sweets recipes ... I bake very little, and rarely to my own satisfaction.  I also needed to keep the dishes on the semi-spicy, vs. "use the habaneros" spicy that the chicken recipe usually entails.  

As I mentioned, Cal brought a ceviche appetizer, as well as an amazing crab dip.  I was off the hook for appetizers!  For the main meal, I opted for a "real" Jamaican jerk chicken recipe, a pesto with a slight twist, my cole slaw, which has evolved for years, and the afore-mentioned cupcakes for dessert. 

The jerk chicken was started early in the morning.  The recipe recommends overnight marinating, but I never marinate chicken or fish for more than a few hours.  I let this batch marinate for about 6 hours, which was perfect.  Next time (and if you decide to attempt the recipe), put some of the marinate aside for topping the chicken after it's cooked.  You obviously shouldn't use the same sauce you've been soaking uncooked chicken in, which is what the recipe said to do.   

For the pesto, I used an entire bunch of fresh basil, a half cup of toasted pine nuts (makes a big difference if you toast them briefly), parmesan and dry jack cheeses, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper, and a handful of arugula, which added just the flavor I was looking for.   I served it over whole wheat angel hair pasta, and it was awesome.  

The cole slaw has been modified over the years to the way I like it.  I've spent quite a bit of time in both Atlanta and North Carolina, and once you've had real cole slaw, there's no turning back.  Mayo and sour cream in the dressing, along with celery seed, white vinegar, brown sugar, cayenne and red pepper flakes.  Two kinds of cabbage add color and taste variety, diced carrots and celery, a white onion, and a handful of peanuts complete this great slaw.  

The lemon cupcakes came from a "lemon lemon cupcake" recipe I saw posted, and they turned out very tasty, although a little heavier than they should have been due to the fact that I didn't sift the flour.  I told you ... I don't bake (but need to do more of it).  The frosting was to die for, and I served them with two scoops of different kinds of Haagen-Dazs gelato, and sprinkled a few Scharffenberger chocolate espresso bits on the top.  Even your "non sweets eater" author enjoyed this decadent little dessert.  


Jamaican Jerk Chicken:

Originally from "The Sugar Reef Carribean Cookbook," by Devra Dedeaux (available from, and modified somewhat.
  • 1 Tblspn ground allspice
  • 1 Tblspn dried thyme
  • 1 1/2 tspns cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 tspns ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tspns ground sage
  • 3/4 tspn ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 tspn ground cinnamon
  • 2 Tblspns garlic powder
  • 1 Tblspn sugar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 3/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 2 Thai / serrano peppers (or 1 habanero or 1 large jalapeno), chopped fine
  • 3 scallions, chopped fine
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped fine
  • boneless skinless chicken breasts (makes enough for up to 12, I found)


  • In a large bowl, combine the spice ingredients
  • Whisk in the olive oil, soy sauce, vinegar, orange juice, and lime juice
  • Add the chopped pepper(s), scallions, onions, stir well
  • Add the chicken breasts, cover and marinate for at least several hours
  • Cook over a medium flame grill about 6 minutes per side (and it's raining today so I can attest to the fact that the oven works perfectly well - 20-25 minutes at 325 degrees).

Arugula Pesto Pasta:

  • 1/2 cup of toasted pine nuts (small skillet, medium heat, shake them around for about 8 minutes)
  • 1 bunch of fresh basil
  • small handful of fresh arugula
  • 2 cloves of fresh garlic, or 1 tablespoon of jar/chopped (works fine)
  • 1/2 cup each of grated parmesan and dry jack cheeses (all parmesan works, the dry jack adds an interesting taste)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup of olive oil (approximately)


Combine all the ingredients in a food processor, drizzle the olive oil, pulse to the consistency you like. I like mine on the moist side, not totally dry. The amount of olive oil you use will vary accordingly.

Serve over your favorite pasta. Today's was a whole wheat angel hair pasta, which was perfect.  Garnish with a few pieces of chiffonade-cut basil, have fresh parmesan available for grating. 

Best Cole Slaw:

I love cole slaw, and I'm picky about it. Too much mayonnaise, too much vinegar, too much anything, just doesn't cut it. I've done a lot of experimenting, stolen liberally from all the best chefs and cookbooks, and here's how I do it:


  • 3 Tblspns light sour cream
  • 2 Tblspns light mayo (which should say Best Foods on it!)
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 2 Tblspns light brown sugar
  • 1 tspn celery seed
  • 1/2 tspn salt
  • 1/2 tspn crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tspn cayenne pepper
  • fresh ground pepper to taste


  • 1/2 head each of red and green cabbage, shredded
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 1/2 white onion, chopped
  • 3 celery ribs, chopped
  • 1/2 cup lightly salted peanuts


Whisk together all the dressing ingredients, "toss" the slaw to combine all the ingredients, pour about 3/4 of the dressing and mix, add more if necessary.

Note: You'll likely have leftover dressing. You can always add more, but you can't subtract if you put too much on it initially.

Lemon Cupcakes:

I commonly tell people that a stand mixer (meaning a Kitchen Aid) is an imperative ingredient. I'll leave that up to the reader, but it sure helps to have a good mixer.

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 3/4 tspn baking powder
  • 1/4 tspn salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter @ room temperature
  • 2 large eggs
  • 6 Tbspns whole or buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 Tbspns grated lemon zest


  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
  • Line a 10 or 12 cupcake pan with liners (medium sized ones worked great)
  • SIFT the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl (I neglected to sift these, and and my friend Nicole the pastry chef pointed out that it makes for a somewhat heavier cupcake. Not the ideal end result)
  • Beat sugar, butter in a mixing bowl
  • Beat in eggs one at a time
  • Add the dry ingredients and milk in batches, alternating
  • Beat in the lemon juice and zest
  • Divide among the cupcake liners, bake 15-18 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean
  • Allow to cool before frosting

Awesome Lemon Frosting

  • 2/3 cup of softened butter
  • 4 cups of powdered sugar
  • 1 tspn of grated lemon zest
  • 4 Tblspns of lemon juice


    In a mixing bowl, beat the butter until light and fluffy. Gradually add powdered sugar, then the grated lemon peel, and enough lemon juice for the consitency you're looking for.  Served with Haagen-Dasz gelatos and some chocolate espresso bits.  Yummy.  
Some of these are a little more complicated than people generally like to tackle, but well worth the effort.  Your guests will appreciate your time and trouble, and you can rest assured that these types of dishes aren't everyday fare for any of them.  Plus when they turn out great, you can pat yourself on the back and be totally proud that you pulled it off!