Friday, March 21, 2008

Two week berries.

Moistur and heat are the enemy of berries. I have been using this "technique" for about a year now and it really does make the berries last about a week longer than when left in there original container.

Remove the berries from there original package

Do NOT wash at this point, as this will add moistur

Line an over sized Tupperware container with a paper towel allowing some of the towel to overflow out of the container. The best case scenario is to have the berries in a single layer, but this can be difficult as most of us don't have extra large Tupperware. Strawberries can be especially tough because of there size, so just do your best.

Loosely attach the lid of the Tupperware to one side of the container making sure there is a gap on the other side allowing air to circulate. The overflowing paper will ensure that a seal is not created and air will be allowed to circulate.

Place container in a colder part of your refrigerator.

Berries should last for about two weeks depending on ripeness. Make sure to remove any soft or rotting fruit as mold will spread quickly.

good luck and enjoy

Thursday, February 7, 2008

ngI’m not a coffee drinker, so to me this is ridiculous

Blue Bottle Coffee Co. just got a $20,000 coffee machine. This just seems a little extreme I mean how good can a cup of coffee get. I have never been to Blue Bottle so this is all coming from a place of ignorance, but I think a cup of coffee should cost about a dollar fifty. For hundreds of year’s people have ordered a cup of joe and slapped down a nickel, a quarter, a dollar or some nice whole number and everything was just fine. Has coffee changed? Have coffee drinkers changed? Not really. But thanks in part to the devil itself, Star Bucks, the way coffee is sold has changed. It is now very expensive stuff and priced according to no real rhyme or reason.

Blue Bottles $20,000 machine works like an inverted French press, heating water from the bottom and forcing it up with the coffee into a receptacle on the top. The machine seems to infuse the coffee with great flavor and impart a very delicate texture. It looks like a lot of hype if you ask me, but, then again, no one did.

If I pay 3.50 for a drink there better be some booze in there. As far as I know Blue Bottle doesn’t have a liquor license

Slide show below

Friday, January 25, 2008

Places I Eat

Everyone thinks their restaurants are the best. The truth of the matter is that 90% of the time people eat around their houses or near work. I am no exception to this rule. Whenever anyone asks me for recommendations I usually steer them to restaurants near my house (in the Castro) or where I hang out (in the Mission). I usually eat at places I can walk to or a place I am already familiar with. I have friends that are always eating at new restaurants, but lately I have been doing a ton of cooking at home. It’s odd, I like new things but when it comes to eating I seem to be drawn towards cravings rather than novelty. This is not to say that I don't eat at new restaurants but it seems most of the time I go back to old favorites or places that have been so highly recommended that I am forced to try them or create a great rift in my social life. So here is a list of some of the places I like to eat and a few places I am yet to try but had better get to soon or be ostracized. They range from cheap and easy places to high-end eateries meant for special occasions.

DISCLAMER - This is not a “best of” list, these are just places I like. So there! They are in no particular order.

Sunflower (both) - Vietnamese - There are two restaurants that share one kitchen. The food is clean and fresh and very cheap. I like the vermicelli with imperial roles and BBQ pork (like $6.95). My wife likes the Pho, shaken beef and lemon grass tofu. They also have one of the best lunch deals in town.
Mission - 3111 16th St
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 626-5022

2223 - California Cuisine - That’s the address on Market Street and the restaurant’s name. This is a good solid restaurant. Not revolutionary cuisine, but it does recipes that you’re familiar with, really well. Recently they have had some ups and downs, but it is still one of my go-to restaurants. Great drinks and atmosphere. Market, Castro

2223 Market St
San Francisco, CA 94114
(415) 431-0692

China First - Chinese - This is great Chinese food. A lot of the specials are written in Chinese on boards on the wall, so I feel like I am missing out a little. But ask them to prepare almost anything you want and they will. This place is so cheap and has a very “authentic” atmosphere (fish tanks, crab tanks, giant clams, lazy susans and terse yet strangely accommodating waiters that would be smiling if they knew how). Great for large groups. Not classy but really good food. This and Tong Kiang are the only reason I go to the Richmond.

336 Clement St
San Francisco, CA 94118
(415) 387-8370

Ton Kiang - Dim Sum - Clean, diverse Dim Sum, accessible to gringo novices and sophisticated authentic palates. It’s great for Dim Sum, the regular food is passable. Other Dim Sum places have a better selection, but for some reason this place just does it right. No matter how many people you have in your party it will cost you between $20-$22 a person including tip.

5821 Geary Blvd
San Francisco, CA 94121
(415) 221-2121
(415) 752-4440 - Delivery

Caffé Macaroni - Italian - I ate here for the first time about two weeks ago. I thought it was good solid Italian food. My chicken was overcooked but the sauce it came with was really fresh and tasted great. It is owned by a father/daughter team and with native Italians in the kitchen, you can’t complain about authenticity. They also own the one across the street (temporarily closed). I haven’t found great Italian food in S.F, so this will have to do.

North Beach
124 Columbus Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94133
Telefono: (415) 217-8400

St. Frances Soda Fountain - Indie-Rock Diner. The service is good, the food is O.K and a little pricy for a diner, but it seems that all diners in this town are pricy. You will wait for a table if you come here for brunch on the weekends and during peak lunch hours during the week. If you’re lucky you may see the Mythbusters team in here. Worth checking out. My brother swears by the burger. I eat the Reuben. Salad dressings leave a lot to be desired.

24th ST mission
The Mission
2801 24th St
between Bryant St & York St
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 826-4200

RNM - California Cuisine - I hear this place good, very highly recommended. Definitely pricey, but has, possibly, the best maitre d’ in town. Check it out.

Lower Haight
598 Haight Street
San Francisco, CA 94117
(415) 551-7900

Firefly - California Cuisine - This is a staple restaurant for a date or dinner with the parents. It is cozy and has a great warm atmosphere. All the food is great; I have never had a bad meal there. Sometimes they have prix-fix menu that is also a very good deal. One of the quieter restaurants in San Francisco.

Noe Valley
4288 24th Street
San Francisco, CA 94114
(415) 821-7652

Hog Island (Farm and Ferry Building) - Oysters & limited food menu - If you like oysters just go. You will leave the Ferry Building hungry, but damn those oysters are good. The farm is a great way to spend the day but call first and get reservations.

(Embarcadero, Marshall)

1 Ferry Building
Shop #111
San Francisco, CA 94111
(415) 391-7117

20215, Highway 1, in Marshall, CA.
49 miles north of San Francisco,
(415) 663-9218 ext. 208

Manora’s Thai Cuisine - Thai Food - One of the best lunch specials town. You get your choice of two dishes plus soup and seasoned rice. I’ve actually never been there for dinner.

1600 Folsom Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 861-6224

Osha - Thai Food - great food, smaller portions, but the dishes are really good.

819 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 826-7738

Old Jerusalem - Middle Eastern - best Middle Eastern food I have eaten in S.F. Atmosphere is O.K but the food shines. I mean this is the real deal; I’m not talking about that lightweight Truly Med stuff. The portions are perfect for eating family style. Expect to leave very full.

Mission near Cesar Chavez
2976 Mission St
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 642-5958

Zeitgeist - Grill Food - Great burgers! I am sick of the home fries but the burgers are awesome. Other than that, the grilled cheese is the only thing worth getting. Unfortunately the burgers only come well done, but for some reason they taste great.

Neighborhood: The Mission
199 Valencia St
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 255-7505

Vallarta Taqueria - Full Mexican Menu - I think this is some of the best Mexican around. It’s the real deal. The clientele is mostly Hispanic which to me is a good sign. The other day I was in for lunch and saw them boiling an entire cow’s head. It was a sight to behold. Don’t miss the great tacos served at a little separate stand in the front of the restaurant!

24th ST, Mission
Neighborhood: The Mission
3033 24th Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 826-8116

Na'an and anything (Chutney, Curry and so on) – Indian - I have eaten at the one in the Inner Sunset and the one downtown as well as the one in North Beach. I can’t tell any of them apart menu-wise, even though the names are different. Most of them are good. The one in North Beach is the best. They skimp a little on the meat but the sauces are enough over basmati rice. The prawns at the downtown location are spicy and delicious. (All over the city)

Chow & Park Chow - Comfort Food - Food is B-, but there is something for everyone. If you can’t make up your mind, go to Chow, you’ll leave satisfied. That’s all I’m going to say.

Church and Market and Inner Sunset
215 Church St
San Francisco, CA 94114
(415) 552-2469

1240 9th Ave
San Francisco, CA 94122
(415) 665-9912

Blue - Comfort Food - Good food, great portions, but needs better décor. I don’t need to say more than the comfort food is comforting. Try the mac n'cheese.

2337 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94114
(415) 863-2583

Boulevard - I still think this one of the best restaurants in San Francisco. I have eaten at most of the high-end restaurants in town and this one still holds up. They went through a spell about two years ago of putting two or three small entrée’s on a plate, like short ribs and monkfish on one plate. It just didn’t work but they have remedied it since. I have never had a bad meal there.

1 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94105
(415) 543-6084

This isn’t a complete list of all the places I eat but it is a good start. If you ever find yourself in any of these neighborhoods, I highly recommend checking them out. Hey, by the way, send us your recommendations!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Lambfest Supported by NEW GOLDEN NATURAL FOODS

Sunday surprised some of us at Cult Table with a spontaneous dinner centered around an excuse to play Assassin's Creed. I called Mike to see if I could get an hour in on his XBOX 360 only to discover that his twin brother, Andy, was already occupying the couch and the game AND that my own brother, Vadan, AKA BigMouth, was on his way over to do the same. They were planning a dinner for four (Andy's boyfriend David was holding fort in the kitchen, as well) and Mike already had a lamb tagine and a delectable citrus and fennel salad in the works. Vadan was bringing a version of the sausage and lentil stew that he and his wife, Stacey, had served Meghan and me a week earlier. Naturally I had to invite myself over and decided to bring a couple lamb loin chops over to augment the meal.

As I'm sure you're aware, GOLDEN PRODUCE, the awesome little inexpensive, organic produce market across the street from the Market Street Safeway, has opened a new store a few shops down called GOLDEN NATURAL FOOD. It has a full meat and fish counter as well as a selection of wine, dairy, gourmet and dry goods. I have been waiting for this place to open forever so I was super psyched to get my first purchase in the joint. On my way over, Mike called to let me know that all the ladies were joining us, having just emerged from a showing of that new Katherine Heigle vehicle, the legendary 27 Dresses (I have nothing to say on that), so I got 6 thick organic lamb loin chops at $12 a pound which more than fed the 8 of us. This is a store that is just getting going, but once it hits its stride, between the produce market and the new market, I will never have to go to Safeway again! Check it out. The meal was awesome and wee all got drunk on a selection of Malbec brought over by David and Andy as well as half a bottle of my current favorite cab under $25: Est. 1975 from Amber Knolls Vineyard.

Check out's awesome little list of good meat markets in San Francisco

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Just opening in San francisco

New and Notable Restaurants

By Gina Goff, City Editor- CitySearch

The Cravery

829 Mission St, San Francisco, CA
Easily portable, handheld pot pies are freshly baked and served to-go from this all-natural SoMa takeout spot.

Kabuki Kitchen

1865 Post St, San Francisco, CA
Despite its Japantown location inside the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, this contemporary restaurant offers eclectic dinner options like pizza and braised oxtail.


280 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA
Just-opened New American restaurant showcases artfully presented organic produce in a sleek, industrial-inspired space along the Valencia corridor.

Local Kitchen & Wine Merchant

330 First St, San Francisco, CA
Rincon Hill's new one-stop shop serves as a casual daytime cafe, an elegant dinner destination and a rare-wine retail shop.

Yoshi's Jazz House & Restaurant

1330 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA
San Francisco location of this world-class jazz venue showcasing legends at their zenith and young Turks on their way up.

Pot de Pho

3300 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA
An upscale establishment offering homemade fancy pho with organic and free-range ingredients.

Bar Jules

609 Hayes St, San Francisco, CA
Intimate Hayes Valley cafe serves market-driven dinners to boutique shoppers and gallery gawkers.

Blue Barn Gourmet

2105 Chestnut St, San Francisco, CA
"Slow food on the go" is the mantra at this gourmet deli offering seasonal salads, specialty sandwiches and artisanal meats and cheeses.

3234 22nd St, San Francisco, CA
Recently debuted restaurant in the Mission serves Latin-Turkish fusion cuisine in a romantic, colorful setting.

O Izakaya Lounge

1625 Post St, San Francisco, CA
Located in the newly renovated Hotel Kabuki, this Japanese-baseball-themed restaurant and lounge offers izakaya-style share plates, sake cocktails and regional Japanese drinks.

1300 on Fillmore

1300 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA
New restaurant-lounge in the historic Fillmore district serves "North-meets-South" soul food made with fresh California ingredients and French technique in a jazz-club-style setting.

Bin 38

3232 Scott St, San Francisco, CA
New Marina wine bar and merchant boasts an unpretentious atmosphere for sampling rare varietals, international beers and a complementary menu of seasonal share plates.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Where to 'wich 2: Vadan's Take

While I have to agree with my brother on the lack of great sandwich places in San Francisco I can’t fully agree with the glowing review of The Sandwich Shop. I take my sandwiches very seriously and it is a grim day when a supermarket serves up the best sandwich in town (Safeway has one of the best, and that’s not saying much). One of the two other sammie shops that I think are worth mentioning is Tortas El Primo (2499 Folsom St). This is a Mexican style sandwich shop, so don’t go looking for great pastrami or succulent salami, but the sandwiches are big and full of the wonderful marinated meat you would find in a burrito (but no burritos here). The other sandwich place is Mae’s and my brother gave a pretty accurate assessment of that place. Just to reinforce his point, order bread first or face the wrath. There is a third shop which I have not been to but has gotten good reviews online, so next time I am in North Beach I will give it a try. The name is Petite Deli (752 Columbus Ave). I don’t know much about it other than there is a very sweet lady behind the counter and the sandwiches are supposed to be great. I take this with a grain of salt, however, because everyone who lives in North Beach always thinks their shit is the best, despite the fact that it’s frequently disappointing.

The Sandwich Shop in the Dogpatch in my opinion was just all right. I think they have some hits, like the tuna, two huge scoops. If nothing else the sandwich will fill you up. And then there are some misses, the roast beef, I didn’t eat it because the meat looked processed and totally fake, reminiscent of Arby's. I ordered pastrami, which was very nice, but I did have to jump over the cuonter and tackle the nice lady when she tried to put it in the microwave to heat it up. Microwave cold cuts are a big no-no in my book. I would say this place is closer to Subway than that great sandwich shop you wish was there. This place is not worth the trip to the Dogpatch, but if find yourself craving a sandwich on that side of town, “The Sandwich shop” will fill you up. By the way, anyone have strong feelings about Wich Craft? Post a comment, please, we’d like to know.

P.S. No seating at The Sandwich Shop so be prepared to eat in your car or find one of the parks on that side of town. Mae’s has tables.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Where to 'wich in San Francisco

Mortadella and Salami Classic from The Sandwich Shop

Some days, nothing will satisfy like a sandwich. I think it's sort of like beans and rice, a perfect combination of protein and starch. It's savory in nature, with complex salt flavors and lubricating condiments and a mixture of textures that is deeply satisfying. In my view, San Francisco does not provide this staple of the American diet as readily as some other cities and regions, but that is not to say we don't have our gems. There is a particular school of sandwich craft that I celebrate in, as of this past lunch, two locations: The cheap hero or sub. To rate highly in this genre of lunch foods, a cheap hero must be presented with a variety of choices in meats, cheeses, condiments (go jalapeno over pepperoncini) and salads (of the egg, tuna and chicken group). It must be made to order, by someone who enjoys doing it, not on a bogus Dutch crunch roll, and hover somewhere around 5 bucks. It must be enormous.

Previously I have found a couple places satisfactory and most frequently have chosen Mae's or M and L market in the Castro (691 14th Street). It's been there forever and is run by 3 generations of women, each with their own character and style. It's only open during the week and only for lunch, but I think it sets the bar for this town. You'll get more meat on your sandwich than you'll expect so consider their half sandwich option if you're not a power eater (it's not really half a sandwich, just half as thick). Be sure to order your bread selection first as the young woman, who cranks out most of the sandwiches, is a little particular about how you order. You must order your bread first. If you're nice, you'll get a cookie as you check out.

Today's lunchtime venture was over in Dogpatch at a sandwich joint called, positively and seriously: The Sandwich Shop (635 19th Street). Only its humble reality and monster sandwiches could justify that name, but they pull it off nicely. It's just a lunch counter and one nice lady making the sandwiches while her man runs the till smiles encouragingly as you try to decipher their so-simple-I-can't-quite-figure-it-out menu. I had the mortadella/salami classic and Vadan (my brother) had the pastrami (cold!). Our friend, Bill, had the tuna salad and we were all impressed. Good meat/condiment/bread ratio and serious weight for your $5. Check it out when you're looking for some straight ahead, old-school eats. -Sirr Less

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

interesting list of best reasturants in San francisco

For complete artical go to link below
sf station

This list is published on

Top 10 Restaurants of 2007

SF Station's Best of

By Tracie Broom (Dec 27, 2007 )

  • Gialina
    2842 Diamond Street, San Francisco, CA 94131
  • Spruce
    3640 Sacramento Street, San Francisco, CA 94118
  • Metro Kathmandu
    311 Divisadero Street, San Francisco, CA 94117
  • Seasons Steak & Seafood Restaurant
    757 Market St., San Francisco, CA 94103
    (415) 633-3838
  • Café Majestic
    1500 Sutter Street, San Francisco, CA 94109
  • Brenda’s French Soul Food
    652 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94102
  • Salt House
    545 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94104
  • Weird Fish
    2193 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94110
  • Two
    22 Hawthorne Street, San Francisco, CA 94105
  • Namu
    439 Balboa St, San Francisco, CA 94118 Map
    415 386 8332

Monday, January 14, 2008

A Sardine Dish That Looks Great but Tastes… “Interesting”

Over the holidays I saw a pic of a great looking sardine dish. And, while I was in Whole Foods the other day I saw some great looking large sardines. These were the Arnold Schwarzeneggers of Sardineifornia, not your mama’s fishies. They were a good 8’ inches long. The size scared me a little but I bought them any way. I was not convinced that my wife would chow on monster sardines, but she doesn’t cook much so faced with starvation, she chose to eat. My wife is my lab rat and critic but she only

has two reviews:

  1. “This is awesome! Write down the recipe, I want to eat this all the time.”
  2. “Interesting, are there capers in there?”

She thinks there are capers in everything, I don’t know why. Any way, this dish was a total experiment and visually

it turned out really nice but the flavors weren’t quite there. The fish was a little too tangy and, oddly enough, they tasted a lot like sardines. If I did it again I wouldn’t marinade them and I would make a richer celeriac mash (heavy cream). The dish wasn’t bad, I

wanted the fish to be light and the mash to be rich and the carrot salad to be the acid with a hint of sweet. I probably would skip the mushrooms next time. Anyway, try it if you like and get back to me with changes or improvements.

I marinated the four fish overnight in some olive oil, rice vinegar, lemon zest, Salt, Pepper and a few dried shitake mushrooms.

  • Boil water and once boiling add salt. Slice celeriac into small chunks and add to boiling water and cook until soft (like boiled potato). It cooks quicker than you think.
  • Chop up some bacon and cook it off till it’s crisp. I places the bacon bits on a paper towel to drain. I had about a teaspoon and a half of fat left in the pan.
  • Add fish to pan and let cook fully on one side, 3 minutes
  • Meanwhile, in a mixing bowel, combine salt and pepper, a little rice vinegar, good honey, some capers and dry herbs (I used this great shallot pepper from Penzey's Spices, but any herb mix will do). Fresh tarragon would be really nice also.
  • Slice a carrot thin with a mandolin or a vegetable peeler.
  • Once fish is crispy flip over and cook on other side, 2 minutes
  • I like sardines cooked all the way through so I let them go a little long.
  • Pull celeriac out of water and mash in a bowl with truffle butter (if you have it, regular butter will do otherwise), whole milk, salt and white pepper until they look like mashed potatoes
  • Pull fish out of pan and set on paper towels to drain
  • Deglaze with a small amount o f white wine add a small portion of the left over oil and wine reduction to the honey rice vinegar mixture. Add the carrot strips and toss this mixture should be just slightly sweet. The purpose of this is to cut through the rich mash and the oily fish so keep it tangy.
  • Put a small scoop of the celeriac mash in the center of a plate, Place a small pile of the carrot salad n ext to it and then lay out two fish on the plate. Garnish with lemon.

p.s. I had some shrimp that neede

d cooking, so I tossed them in th

e left over marinade, chopped up some shallots, crushed some garlic and threw in some red pepper flakes into the dirty pan and cooked the shrimp as shown. Oh, there was a little butter in there as well.

Edible Chemicals

If you watched Top Chef on Bravo two seasons ago and where taken with Marcel’s hair… and cooking, than I have a great site for you, This site offers the home chef a real chance to play around. Not since my grade school chemistry set have I had such fun mixing chemicals and eating the results. This site offers a plethora of edible chemicals (at least I think there edible) to help your cooking repertoire. Have you ever wanted to make those oh so trendy foams, then you want to pick up some Lecithin powder and get mixing. How about high class Jell-O, then Agar Agar is the product for you.

Image from

Not only does this site offer great products but it also offers really good recipes and
explanations for product uses. I know this is a little late for the holidays, but the products on this site are a perfect gift for that home chef who already has everything, because I can guarantee he or she does not have Tapioca Maltodextrin (used to transform food into powder). Believe me you haven’t had this much fun since you blew up that model volcano in 5th grade. Sorry, no advice on how to achieve Marcel’s hair.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Holidays Recovery Regimen

When you come from my family, both sides, the holidays can be an overwhelming experience of gluttony. We are cooks and eaters. This year, like every one past, the season was rapidly punctuated by meals of grand scale interspersed with a massive quantity of holiday snacks laden with fats that stay solid at room temperature, even with the heat cranked against the winter rains. So I was relieved, in a way, when New Year's Day passed and a modicum of relative normalcy returned to my diet. In retreat from the indulgence of the holiday's baked goods and complexly sauced red meats, I like to turn to a week or two of simple one pot dishes and basic plates of lean white meats and vegetables. Here is one that soothed my gut. It's a lot of ingredients but trust me, it's fun to make, un-fuckupable and delicious.

This is something like a fast chicken noodle soup done in a dutch oven. I believe that chicken soup can heal everything, even overeating, but I also wanted to make it quickly and with a little more substance than broth. So in a way this recipe could also be called "easy braised chicken thighs and the vegetables that make them sexy".

I call for about a pound of chicken thigh fillets. These boneless, skinless cuts have a little more flavor than the breast so they stand up to their eventual boiling with more fortitude, even without any help from bones. We're going to use pre-made or purchased stock to reinforce that flavor in the broth. They also produce a very clean fat for flavoring the vegetables.

The Actors:

A pound of chicken thigh fillets
2 large leeks (cut into 2 inch strips lengthwise or diagonally cut into rounds)
1 Medium yellow onion (medium diced)
1 Large carrot (diced in small cubes)
1 Rib of celery (sliced into small crescents)
1 Pasilla or other large mild chili pepper (stemmed, seeded and coarsely chopped)
1 Large bunch of spinach
1 Small handful of barley, quinoa, or Israeli couscous, that's the kind with real big kernals. (Don't worry low carbers, this is only to impart a little starch for thickening. There won't be enough in there to make you feel guilty)
1 bunch of fresh dill or dry dillweed if you don't have fresh (but I would seriously reccommend fresh)
1 can of fat free, low sodium chicken broth (unless you've got some stock you made yourself, in which case I love you)
A splash of white wine, preferably an un-oaked, not super dry one. Even something slightly sweet will do.
Salt n' peppa
A good herbs de provence

The Action:

Rinse and thoroughly dry your thighs. Season the hell out of 'em with good salt n' peppa and herbs de provence. In a dutch oven or thick bottomed deep braising pan, over a high flame, heat just enough olive oil to keep your thighs from sticking in the heat and to impart a little flavor. Lightly brown your thighs. Not more than a minute or two per side, depending on the thickness of the meat. You're just rendering some of the chicken fat into the pan and making flavor from some good browned bits on the meat and the pan surface. Without reducing the heat, remove the meat and set aside to rest. Add onion, celery, carrots and pasilla pepper to the pot and season them again, including more herbs de provence with the salt n' peppa. Stir occasionally to keep anything from burning and cook until onions often a bit. About two minutes after you add the mire poix (onions, celery, carrots) add the leeks and cook for a minute or two more. Again, don't let anything burn, keep stirring. Once the veggies are softened, seasoned and smelling good, throw your thighs in again and add a splash of white wine. Err on the conservative side with the wine, a couple tablespoons will do. After the wine has surrendered its alcohol, add the barley or other starch, remember, just a small handful. Add your broth or stock and just enough water to cover everything. Bring to the edge of a boil and reduce heat to simmer. Let it simmer, partially covered (but letting the steam escape) for 20 minutes. Now you have two choices to make. You can choose the thickness of your meal here. It can be a soup by adding more water or stock at this juncture or a light stew in it's current reduced state. You also can choose to remove the chicken thighs, shred them traditionally and return them to the pot, or you can leave them whole. *See Note Below

After you've made your choices about the consistency of your dish and whether or not to shred, add the spinach and give a stir. Let simmer for one more minute then turn off the heat and, finally, add the dill (my favorite moment, what a smell). Let the soup rest for 5 minutes. Then, taste it. Add salt and pepper and more dry herbs if needed but know that it will get saltier and the flavors will emerge further as it cools. Now I know this recipe was long and unnecessarily detailed, but here's the beauty of it: you can forget almost any step in the process and almost any ingredient but as long as you start out with good vegetables and chicken thighs, it will be awesome. Just doctor it at the end with whatever you have in the way of dry herbs and and you can do a hundred variations on it that will never fail to make something good.

*With both of these decisions, I choose to have my thigh and eat it too. I leave the soup reduced for the first serving then thin it out with water when I reheat it and eat it again the next day as a soup. I also shred half of the meat but leave half of the thighs solid for a rustic braised presentation, sometimes eating them separately over a bed of winter veggies with some broth further reduced for sauce.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Disney Cruise Food

Well, I did the unthinkable! I spent the New Year’s celebration aboard a Disney Cruise ship, The Wonder. I was with my wife and 31 of her family members! As you can guess, for most people the main focus of the trip was the kids. My main focus was the feeding frenzy that accompanies cruising. There where 2700 cruise ship guests (meaning our group made up more than 1% of the total guests aboard).

First off, I would like to commend Disney on doing a good job in designating adult only sections of the ship and not making them overly Disney, no Goofy-brew or Donald Daiquiri’s. Just Stella and Jameson on the rocks for me.

In deference to vacation slide show nightmares of the past, I will not bore you with the details of the cruise itself. Just know that my wife and I enjoy spending time with family but cruising of any sort is not my or my wife’s ideal vacation. But being fun loving people who like to drink, we can enjoy most situations with adequate liquid provisions.

First I want to make a general statement on the food: It was really, really good wedding food. What I mean is that you can tell it was mass-produced and cooked in steam trays and ovens but all in all it was satisfying and had decent flavor. I am not talking three star dining, but I have had worse food right here in San Francisco. I would dare say that the food was better than the food at Chow. There where two distinct food services on the boat, day and night. The cruise had all the normal fare during the day, pizza, hot dogs, burgers and so on. Disney did a good job of providing healthy alternatives to fried foods; they had wraps (of course, uggh) and many different types of salad. The night was taken up with a sit down 3-course dinner (well actually you could order as many courses as you wanted) at a set time in a fine dining setting. I will mainly focus on the dinner course as there was nothing exceptional (I use that term loosely) served during the day, with the exception of the mid-day buffet that was over-flowing with steamed shrimp, clam chowder, rare roast beef and piles of sushi. The shear quantity and variety of food being served is worth noting.
We have to approach discussion of dinner with a handicapping system, meaning, the highest rated food on the ship, a lobster bisque, will get an “A+” but on dry land the same dish would earn a solid “B”. By the way, halfway through the cruise I took a tour of the main kitchen, an impressive spectacle, but the two main things I learned are: First, there is no gas on the ship, so everything is done in either, an electrical oven, deep fryer or in a steam table. They do have a flat top and an electric grill to finish food but most of the cooking is done through those three methods. The amazing thing is that they managed to cook most dishes properly, the tuna was pink in the middle and the beef was medium. I mean I could have used things rarer, especially the duck, but hey, at least they’re trying to do it right. Secondly, they have a dish washing machine that can clean 1200 or 12,000 (I can’t remember which, but it was enough) dishes in 10 minutes. That caused massive kitchen envy in my wife and I.

The presentation of the food was nothing short of spectacular, which made a number of mediocre dishes somehow palatable, and the dining room did have some interesting features.

Here are a few of the dishes we ate at sea;

∑ Gruyere souffle with a tarragon and roasted pepper sauce- this was a good dish but the souffle was too cakey - B-
∑ Tempura- Bad batter, no panko. - C
∑ An aspic with calamata olives, sun dried tomatoes and feta cheese- Surprise of the trip, this was great, sweet and tangy, nice texture too - A
∑ Beef consume’ with beef “ravioli”- Not really a ravioli more like a wanton, the broth was great, the Ravioli was okay - A-
∑ Lobster bisque- Smooth, full of lobster flavor, nice mix of cream and alcohol - A+
∑ Pan fried tuna with Paella- Fish cooked well, but the Paella was a little dry- A
∑ Beef Wellington- beef cooked well and mushroom paste was very flavorful, pastry could have been a little flakier but still good-A
∑ Lobster tail on creamed celery root- lobster a little dry but they came around and pored butter over it. I guess here I’m grading the butter. - A
∑ Shrimp cocktail- shrimp frozen- B-
∑ Escargot - Not enough garlic but texture was good- A
∑ Vichyssoise – Needed one more straining and a little more cream- B
∑ Scallops in scalloped potato - This was an odd dish. It was sort of like shepherd’s pie with scallops, needed less potato but good flavor overall. - A-
∑ Duck sort of a l’orange - Great sauce and roasted cabbage, duck was a little over cooked - A-
∑ Various desserts - Cakes were no good but everything else was great (see pics). Again, nice presentation.

The chefs were not re-inventing the wheel here; they wanted to give a broad group of people solid food that they could relate to. I think they succeeded. I mean let’s face it the woman wearing the puffy-paint Mickey sweat shirt and speaking with a thicker twang than Kenny Rodgers isn’t going to be wolfing down the escargot (alright, them’s fighting words, but I calls it like I sees it). When you serve 2700 people a night you make the food for the 1500 in the middle and let the people on the ends of the food appreciation spectrum work it out. Even a food snob like me appreciated the effort and I feel relieved that I can honestly say to the hard working cooks on the Disney cruise-ship Wonder that the food was pretty good.

P.S. The best dish we had the entire time we were on the boat was something my sister-in law’s Filipino parents got from the Filipino head chief they befriended. It was chicken adobo. It was spicy and full of great flavors. Wish they’d put it on the menu.