Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Mezcal Cocktails

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More often than not, when I walk into a restaurant in SF I am blown away by the mouthwatering concoctions created at the bar before I even sit down to eat. Bartenders all over the city are taking cues from chefs and focusing on whipping up cocktails with top-notch ingredients like artisanal spirits, fresh herbs, and organic fruits.

In a city obsessed with food and wine, I suppose that I shouldn't be surprised that people here take the art of making cocktails seriously. And cocktail powerhouses like Beretta, Bourbon and Branch, Rickhouse, Rye, and The Alembic keep raising the bar.

I think it is fair to say that I have become somewhat of a regular at Beretta since moving to SF. Coincidentally I met with friends at Beretta when I flew into SF for an unforgettable, life-changing trip to Napa about 3 years ago. I remember loving the place but didn't know the name or address, other than the fact that it was in the Mission. You can imagine my surprise when a dear friend took me to the very same place for drinks shortly after I moved out here! It was instant love :)

A couple months ago I took an incredible whiskey-based cocktail class at Beretta where Ryan Fitzgerald, a well-known mixologist, carefully explained how to make a series of whiskey based drinks. Ryan emphasized the importance of the quality of each component of the cocktail and how meticulously the bartenders prepare each drink. A trip to Cask to procure bartender tools and elixirs later, I was ready to make serious cocktails at home. An old fashioned with rye, anyone?

As I became more comfortable making drinks at home, I decided to experiment with my new found love, mezcal. It seems natural that I am a fan of mezcal given my affinity towards peaty, smokey scotch and smokey pinot noir. Armed with a bottle of handmade del Miguey mezcal and wisdom from the cocktail class, I made a refreshing yet intriguing cocktail with the smoky tequila-esque liquor.

Enjoy!

Askim (makes 2)
4 oz mezcal
3/4 oz lemon juice
3/4 oz lime juice
2 oz orange juice
2 barspoons of gum syrup (or simple syrup)
1/2 tsp ginger, peeled and diced
top with ginger ale
mint sprig

In a mixer, muddle ginger. Add mezcal, citrus juices, and gum syrup. Fill with ice. Shake well. Place a large cube of ice in the center of each glass. Strain and pour into each glass.  Top with ginger ale and garnish with a mint sprig.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Swiss Chard Ragu with Penne

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I am really starting to love my greens. I never thought I would love broccoli rabe, kale, chard, or dandelion greens.  But I very much do love them. I love kale chips, braised kale, sauteed broccoli rabe, and most of all, I love my Swiss chard- especially in a leek and Swiss chard galette. It is so tender and melts in your mouth but it holds up well without getting mushy. If you shy away from greens because of the bitterness, consider taking a second look at Swiss Chard. It is wonderfully tasty, earthy, mild, and slightly sweet.


I am constantly finding excuses to cook greens and this is another easy weeknight meal- penne with swiss chard ragu, green garlic (or regular garlic), parmesan, and toasted bread crumbs (of course).The ragu melts beautifully in your mouth.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Eggplant caponata

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Over cocktails at the beloved Beretta, we shared eggplant caponata with burrata and cauliflower with pangratatto, capers, and sage. While the cauliflower didn't hold a candle to my favorite roasted cauliflower with capers, pine nuts, and parsley, the eggplant caponata was wonderfully delicious. What I loved the most about Beretta's version, aside from the to-die-for-burrata, was that it was chunky and dotted with large pieces of olives and other components of the spread.

Eggplant caponata is tangy, salty, and outright delicious! It makes a wonderful bruschetta topping. I was inspired to make a chunky version at home so I left the eggplant in chunks rather than pureeing it, resulting in something similar to an eggplant salad. But no matter what you call it, it is deliciousness in a bowl! And it tastes even better if left overnight.

Roasted tender eggplant is tossed with tangy and pungent goodness like capers, green and kalamata olives, tomatoes, scallions, and red onions, drizzled with a red wine lemony vinaigrette, and finished with toasted pine nuts and parsley.  Let it sit for half an hour (or longer) before serving to let the flavors meld together beautifully.


We served this with cucumber, mint, and garlic yogurt (cacik in Turkish) and sweet roasted red peppers. We were practically licking the bowls clean!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Broccoli Rabe with Orecchiette and Bread Crumbs

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During a wonderful meal at Barbacco, I fell in love with the beautiful handmade orecchiette tossed with bitter greens (cavolo nevo- Tuscan kale), pecorino, and bread crumbs. I loved the way the little orecchiette held the delightfully light sauce. Traditionally the dish comes with fennel sausage, which I hear is a magical combination with bitter greens.

After the wonderful meal, I knew I needed to make this dish at home because I needed to be able to eat it whenever I wanted, which would be all the time. Instead of kale, I turned to another bitter green that I fell in love with last summer in Italy- broccoli raab. Sauteed with garlic and red chili flakes, this bitter green popped up on menus and topped pizzas across Rome. Since returning from my trip, I've made broccoli raab as a side dish with olive oil, lemon, and garlic but until recently I had not found a main dish to showcase the distinctive bitter green.


Pairing the broccoli raab with garlic and chili flakes seemed natural. Finish with a squeeze or two of lemon and heaps of finely grated pecorino. Add fresh bread crumbs toasted in olive oil and the crunchy texture takes the dish to a whole new level.


This time I used green garlic in place of garlic because, as you know, I am always looking for ways to incorporate green garlic into dishes during its short lived season.


I know I've said this before, but I cannot emphasize how much better a dish will taste if you make bread crumbs at home. Simple tear up day old bread into pieces and pulse in a food processor until coarse and not at all powdery. Toast bread crumbs in olive oil in a skillet over medium heat until golden brown.


To reduce the bitterness, blanche the broccoli raab until tender. The olive oil, red chili flakes, garlic, lemon, and reserved pasta water all emulsify into a delicious, light sauce. Pecorino adds depth with its saltiness and the toasted bread crumbs add texture. If you don't want to blanch the greens, you can saute them with the olive oil, garlic, red chili flakes. Just throw a tablespoon of red wine vinegar in at the end to soften the bitterness.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Shaved Asparagus Pizza with Green Garlic and Spring Onions

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I shied away from making pizza at home for years, convincing myself that homemade pizza could never be good. It is a shame because I really do love pizza. After years of searching for good thin crust pizza in Chicago, a city obsessed with deep dish and stuffed pizza, the thin crust pizzerias around SF are a welcome change. We regularly get take out pizza from Zero Zero, endure the long wait at Pizzeria Delfina for a taste of wonderful goodness, and recently we discovered cracker-thin pizza at A16, where we sat in awe-struck silence at the kitchen table watching the chef artfully stretch dough, add toppings, and slide pizza after pizza into the hot, wood burning oven without ever missing a beat.  Given how much we love pizza, it is surprising that we haven't made it yet at Plate and Pour yet!

And now I am kicking myself for not trying to make pizza at home before because it really is simple and perfectly delicious!


Given the armloads of asparagus and green garlic I recently acquired in my CSA box, I immediately decided that my first homemade pizza should be topped with shaved asparagus and green garlic. Last year I raved about a salad of shaved asparagus tossed with lemon, olive oil, salt, pepper, and pecorino. Of course this perfect way to celebrate spring goodness would taste even more amazing on top of pizza!


Even after we took on task of making the dough at home, I feared that without a pizza stone the crust would be laughable. Boy oh boy was I wrong! Mario Batali has a wonderful recipe for homemade dough that actually gets crisp at home and doesn't require a pizza stone! The pizza dough is parcooked on a hot cast iron skillet before adding the toppings and going in the oven. The result: a simply perfect thin-crust with a light, crisp bite.

The steps are simple and easy to execute with or without a processor or mixer. Activate the yeast and let it become foamy, whisk it into the flour, and knead the dough lightly until smooth and elastic. Turn the dough in a large oiled bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place for 1.5 hours. Can't find a place warm enough? Turn your oven on to 150 degrees (or the lowest temperature setting). Once the oven is preheated, turn it off and let the dough rise inside covered with a clean kitchen towel for 1 to 1.5 hours until doubled in size.Trust me, it works!



Divide the dough into balls. Stretch the dough into a 9 or 10 inch round, working quickly and taking care not to overwork the dough. Parbake the dough on a hot cast iron skillet until tan and browned in a few spots, Transfer to a wire rack or baking sheet, top each pizza with toppings, return to cast iron, and broil it for 7-8 minutes until crust is charred and blistered in spots and ingredients are cooked through. You may need to move the pizza around so it doesn't burn. The cast iron retains the heat and gets hot enough to crispen the crust.



Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Indian-spiced Cauliflower and Peas (Gobi Mutter)

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As soon as we hit a week of rain and chilly nights, I started craving spicy food like something fierce. We ordered some Thai take out and the spicy yellow curry with tofu and vegetables was really good but I wanted something more than just heat. The next day we went to one of the nearby Indian restaurants near Union Square. The curries were oily, weakly spiced, and just plain disappointing. I clearly haven't learned anything from my previous searches for good Indian food.

I had a beautiful head of cauliflower at home so I decided to make gobi mutter, cauliflower and peas. Cauliflower and peas are delicately seasoned with ground coriander and ground cumin and finished off with a touch of fragrant garam masala. The heat comes from the shredded ginger and green chili. This dish is spicy and full of flavor, but you can adjust the spiciness as needed. I love eating this with hot rotis and a bit of yogurt to balance the spiciness. 


The Indian way of cooking vegetables is surprisingly healthy and satisfying.  You take simple vegetables and transform them into flavor-packed, satisfying, finger-licking delicious dishes. And Indian food is easy to make once you have the basic set of spices at home.

Several friends of mine confessed that they are intimidated by the number of spices that go into Indian cooking (and the expense). It is an investment to buy the spices but the ingredients that go into Indian food- potatoes, onions, tomatoes, garlic, onion, ginger, green chilis, lentils, etc- are some of the most affordable and easiest to find.  I recommend starting with basic ground and whole spices. Commonly used ground spices include turmeric, red cayenne pepper, ground cumin, ground coriander, and garam masala. Commonly used whole spices include cumin seeds, black mustard seeds, dried red chilis, whole cloves, and whole cinnamon. Once you have this basic set of spices you can easily cook your favorite Indian dishes at home!


Monday, May 2, 2011

Spinach, Feta and Tomato Scrambled Eggs

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One of the best things about life after grad school is that you can actually enjoy your weekends without constantly feeling guilty about not working on research. While trying to take full advantage of free weekends, I have become more serious about brunch. I discovered two delicious frittata recipes for larger brunches- Michael Chiarello's zucchini parmesan frittata and a shiitake mushroom and scallion frittata. For a more lazy weekend brunch, some of my recent favorites included baked eggs with parmesan, rosemary, and thyme, Mediterranean scrambled eggs with kalamata olives/ feta/ red and yellow bell peppers/ thyme, dill/ scallion/ feta scrambled eggs, gruyere and mustard crouton scrambled eggs, and my absolutely favorite- spinach/ feta/ tomato scrambled eggs.

Folks, these eggs are amazing- softly scrambled eggs with baby spinach sauteed in garlicky goodness, tangy Greek feta, and tomatoes. Even my 3 year old nephew (and his parents) loves these eggs! 

I served the scrambled eggs with slices of juicy cantaloupe and, in the spirit of living in San Francisco, Acme sourdough and Blue Bottle lattes. Absolute happiness.

Spinach, feta, and tomato scrambled eggs
3 large eggs, brought to room temperature
1/3 cup feta, coarsely crumbled
1 1/2 tbsp heavy cream
1/2 tbsp unsalted butter
5 oz fresh baby spinach
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 vine ripened tomato, seeded and chopped
sea salt
fresh ground pepper

In a large bowl, combine eggs, feta, and cream. Season with salt and pepper. Whisk thoroughly and set aside.

Over medium heat, heat butter in a large skillet. When butter starts to foam, add garlic and spinach. Constantly turn the spinach until it is just wilted. Transfer the spinach and to the egg mixture.

On medium-low heat, pour combined mixture into the same skillet. Top with tomatoes. Do not stir until eggs first start to set. Using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, scrape the eggs towards the center while tilting the pan to distribute the runny parts. The spinach will release moisture as it cooks. Cook until eggs are creamy and soft, and do not overcook unless you intend to do so. Adjust seasoning as needed. Serve immediately with bread and a side of fruit.

Serves 2 to 3.
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