Monday, February 15, 2010

Chez Panisse Take Two

Pizza with artichokes, olives, onion and herbs

This post has taken me awhile to write. But I think it is perfect that I decided to post this on Malia's (and my) birthday. Malia is my best friend, and I hope that when she reads this she feels like we're eating dinner and celebrating our birthday together. Feliz Cumpleanos Mi Gemela! (No we're not spanish, but I do love the spanish language).

So back to the post - when Malia last came to visit, we spent a fabulous day together hiking in Muir Woods and exploring Berkeley. After a morning of hiking I knew we would be hungry and have a perfect excuse for a three-course lunch at Chez Panisse. As you may recall, I took my parents to Chez Panisse for dinner when they came to visit. I really enjoyed the meal, but there were a few things that could have been better - namely the service.

My second trip to Chez Panisse was quite different, the service was impeccable. Malia and I were seated promptly, at a cozy table, with the sun shining through the windows. The warmth of the cafe comes through much better at lunchtime. There were a number of regulars eating at the same time, but we were treated no differently. Our waiter was very conscientious, refilling our glasses with water before they could ever become empty.

We started our first course with a woodfired pizza, topped with artichokes, olives, onion, garlic, and fresh herbs. The last time I visited, I was remiss about not ordering a California pizza.
This time I ordered it and was not disappointed by the blistered crust - crispy on the edges and chewy on the inside. The toppings played together beautifully. I never would have thought of this combination myself.

The caramelized onions, garlic, and fresh rosemary and thyme really stood out. And the robust olives were not to be overshadowed. After two small slices, we both refrained from eating more so as not to ruin our appetites.

Sweet corn souffle with roasted beets, carrots, and beet greens.

For my main course, I chose the sweet corn souffle. Corn was nearing the end of the season, but boy did the corn work well in this dish. The sweet corn shone in this incredibly light souffle. This is how a souffle is made! The vegetables were tender, sweet, and buttery (I don't think I want to know how much butter was on them). A cream sauce was drizzled over top of everything. Just thinking about it takes me back to that lovely afternoon.

Malia ordered the chicken with parsnip chips and sauteed spinach. The chicken was pounded thin and was incredibly moist and tender. It was crusted with herbs and bathed au jus. The parsnip chips were salty and crisp and the spinach was incredibly garlicky (something both of us love).

Close up - corn souffle and roasted turnips, carrots and greens.

Close up - Chicken, parsnip chips, and garlic spinach.

You may be wondering if we had saved room for dessert. I don't know if "saved" is an appropriate term, but we couldn't resist ordering dessert. We split the fig tart with creme fraiche ice cream. Oh it was the perfect end to the perfect meal. I can't wait for Malia to come visit again, so we can share another wonderful meal together!

Fig Tart

Love you Malia!

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Vegan Valentine's Day - Sprinkle's New Red Velvet Cupcake

By now you all know how much I love cupcakes. When done right the red velvet is one of my favorites. If done poorly it can be rather flavorless. But a good one is not just a vehicle for cream cheese frosting, but something moist and fluffy with a subtle cocoa flavor.

"V" could stand for velvet or vegan.

Of all of the red velvets I have tried, I must say Sprinkles makes a mean red velvet. And now you can get a VEGAN red velvet! It is amazing how the food world has responded to dietary needs - vegan and gluten-free items are just popping up everywhere. Now if only they made a zero calorie version...

But back to the matter at hand - VEGAN baked goods. I tend to love my dairy products, and am very impressed by those who eliminate them from their diet completely. Now when you hear the words "vegan" and "cupcake" in the same sentence most people expect the words "disgusting" or "flavorless" to follow. But I have had some delicious vegan baked goods - particularly these awesome choco chip cookies my friend Travis made (perhaps he will share the recipe?) So while vegan goods can certainly go wrong, it just takes the right recipe. I was hoping Sprinkles would deliver.

Banana with dark chocolate frosting.

Now as soon as I heard about the Vegan red velvet at Sprinkles I knew I wanted to try it. Luckily AJ and I happened to stop by the Stanford Mall one afternoon, and I dragged him into Sprinkles for a snack. We chatted up one of the Sprinkles cashiers who told us that she actually prefers the vegan red velvet to the original (high praise indeed)! She also told us that they use coconut oil in the frosting (very interesting).

A very dark interior.

I of course ordered up a vegan red velvet and AJ went with the Banana with dark chocolate frosting. Let me start with the red velvet. First to note, the "V" is still as tasteless as those dots they put on the cupcakes. But the cake itself was extremely moist and perhaps slightly denser than the original red velvet. The frosting is where the big difference occurs - instead of the traditional cream cheese you get a fluffy coconut frosting. It was very tasty, especially if you like coconut. I myself still prefer the tangy cream cheese frosting, but this vegan cupcake is a winner in my book. The banana with dark chocolate frosting was amazing with visible flecks of banana. It was moist and fluffy and the dark chocolate frosting was the perfect accompaniment - not too sweet.

Any time you step into Sprinkles you can't go wrong. Head on out and buy your best bud or sweetie a cupcake this Valentine's Day!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A nifty way to eat your brussels sprouts

Health gurus are always pushing leafy greens on us. Although incorporating things like kale and brussel sprouts into your diet can seem intimidating, all you need is a good recipe. I never cease to find inspiration for vegetarian dishes from 101 Cookbooks. And if you don't like the recipe I post here, please check out the website, I guarantee you'll find something you like.

Now back to the brussels sprouts. I always enjoyed brussels sprouts as a kid, and maybe that makes me one of the weird ones, but I think preparation can make all the difference. If you don't like steamed or boiled brussels sprouts, try shredding them and sauteeing them. I find this gives them a sweeter flavor.

For this dish, I took inspiration from 101 Cookbooks' Shredded Brussels Sprouts and Apples. Brussels sprouts and apples are in season. The dish is really rather simple - chop up a bunch of veggies and apples and saute them with oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt, pepper and the secret ingredient - maple syrup.

I used brussels sprouts, carrots, apples, toasted cashews and tofu in my saute, but feel free to experiment. The maple syrup adds this lovely caramelization. I would also recommend using a hickory baked tofu, as it totally complements that maple flavor. To add in some whole grains serve up with some quinoa or brown rice.

Shredded Brussels Sprout Saute
Adapted from 101

1 large apple, julienned (I used a Pippin)
2 large carrots, julienned and cut into 2 in lengths
1 lemon, juiced
4 oz extra firm tofu, cut into cubes (I recommend a baked hickory)
a couple pinches of salt
2-3 tsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic
2 tablespoon maple syrup
1/3 c toasted cashews
12 oz (or 3-4 handfuls) brussels sprouts, washed and cut into 1/8 in ribbons

Cook the tofu in a large skillet over medium high heat with a bit of salt and tsp olive oil. Saute until golden, about 4-5 minutes. Add the carrots and saute until start to soften, 5 minutes. Turn heat down to medium and add apples, garlic, and maple syrup and saute 2-3 minutes. Transfer mixture into a large bow.

Turn heat up to medium high and add brussels sprouts with 1-2 tsp oil, salt. Cook for 2-3 minutes. Add 1 tbsp maple syrup. Add tofu-apple mixture back to skillet and heat for another 2 minutes. Sprinkle cashews on top.

Remove from heat and serve immediately with quinoa.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The new kid on the block recommends...

As the new blogger on the JAM, I figured it was my duty to introduce myself and start off by giving readers a clue into the best meal of my life. That's me to the right. I am so freakin cool right?! So here goes...

I guess that food has always been in the background of my life and has only come to the forefront of my interests within the past 3 years. Senior year of college ushered in a desire to have some artistic outlet from my science-driven academic career and cooking somehow drew me in with its savory wiles.

Maybe it was the first cookbook I bought after asking my mom for recipes... or maybe it was the boredom. Regardless of the reason, I still remember that first overcooked, underseasoned mound of meat and spinach on a store-bought roll. That was the sandwich that spurred the incredible culinary journey I have since undertaken.

Today, after having lived in LA, I am all about incorporating the finest, freshest and most beneficial ingredients into my cooking... and about going to the most unique and ingenuitive restaurants I can find. Now in DC, I am looking to explore that some more... especially with my JAM ladies of course.

So are you bored yet? I hope not... because here is the entertainment. What is the best meal I have ever eaten? To date, I would have to give it Bouchon in Napa Valley.

This little bistro is marketed as Thomas Keller's whimsical and modern cafe which stands sadly next to its unassuming brother, French Laundry. Being a in a lower income bracket as a graduate student, I believed I was "settling" for Bouchon. I thought wrong.

Though the seating was meager and we had to make reservations at 2pm... it was worth it! My great friends Muoi and Joao indulged me by joining me for the meal; I was the one excited about the food. It was a meal none of us will ever forget. Simple bread began the sumptuous meal. Something as ordinary bread is worth mentioning? Yes, it certainly is worth mentioning. Eating this bread alone makes the trip to Bouchon worth it, but how to describe its tantalizing perfection... crispy, moist, light and utterly enticing.

Then some foie gras? Yes, yes I believe I will enjoy the artery-clogging goodness. And Tommy Keller did not disappoint. We were given a literal pot of foie; there was no hope of finishing. After eating a seeming pound of duck liver, it was time for more.

Gluttonous, yes, but so incredibly worth it. I proceeded to order a beautiful burgundy to pair with my pan seared pork belly, served on a confit of currants and local sweet corn. When our meals came, it was love at first sight. Muoi ordered the chicken and Joao ordered the trout. Mundane you may think? Nope, not at Bouchon.

Does it look amazing? Are you envious? I am and I ate it...

All the necessary elements achieved: presentation, aroma and most importantly taste. Everything on the plate added to the texture and savory flavor.

We shared, we savored, we fell in love with lunch. For what it was, the food at Bouchon failed to disappoint. The entrees were expertly executed and served on a bed of pure happiness. Clearly this was a culinary adventure gone surprisingly right. I guess going into the meal with moderate expectations allowed those low thresholds to be easily surpassed.

The food was as beautiful as it was delicious... we were all members of the clean plate club that day. Cheers to outstanding meals and voracious foodies everywhere!

Until next time hungry readers!