Monday, March 30, 2009
Thursday, March 19, 2009
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.
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.
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.
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!).
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
2 lg cans of diced tomatoes
1 regular can of tomato sauce
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)
Parmesan and a chiffonade of basil (if you have some) to finish
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!)
Saturday, March 14, 2009
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.
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.
Friday, March 6, 2009
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.
- 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
Monday, March 2, 2009
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.
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.
- 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
- 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.
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