Monday, August 31, 2009

Eat Real(ly Good Food) Fest

This weekend I made my first visit to Oakland, and it wasn't scary! Apparently we were in the one "touristy" part of Oakland (Jack London Square), so maybe that explains it.

John and I went with our friends Natalie and Mitch to the Eat Real Fest. It was so up my alley I can't even tell you. Tons of street food vendors, a beautiful farmers market, live music - and everything right on the water. It wasn't street food in the traditional way though. There were lots of food trucks, but it was more like a gourmet twist on street food. Let me explain...

Here is something Mitch got - I couldn't tell you the name of it though, because it was something I had never heard of. A spicy rice-like mixture with Indian flavors out of a cute little newspaper cup.

John and I split an ear of grilled corn that had fresh grated cheese on it, some red pepper, and possibly garlic aioli. The corn was really sweet and fresh and I am a total sucker for cheese on my corn. I need to start doing this at home.

Everything was in smallish portions and I didn't see anything that was more than $5. Those prices definitely encourage you to try all kinds of different things. And try things we did.

One thing Natalie was especially looking forward to were the creme brulees. I told you this was not ordinary street food! She said it was delicious and I witnessed the crunchy sugar topping that is required of any creme brulee.

Here John is eating his favorite item of the day - spicy barbeque chicken sandwich with cole slaw. There was a lot a barbeque there actually. I had an awesome pulled pork sandwich. I definitely love barbeque and know it's something I'm not going to be making at home (unless I get really daring). Natalie is eating a mini steak pie with Gruyere. Yum!

What am I doing, you ask? Sadly, I am pulling everything out of my purse and scooping out handfuls of water. Somehow my Sigg water bottle ended up only partially closed in my purse and spilled all of the remaining water into the bottom of my purse. So currently, I am sans phone and camera. Both are completely broken. Ugh. I'm not really sure what I'm going to do.

I seem to raise my eyebrows whenever people take pictures of me eating nowadays. It looks hideous. And I look about 100 years old with those wrinkles.

This is what I was eating and it was amazing. I'm surprised I was willing to stop chowing down for long enough to allow Mitch to get this picture. It was the best empanda I've ever had and was filled with organic dry-aged beef, beans, and onions. The outside was made with fluffy pastry as opposed to the hard deep-fried crust I'm used to. It came with an amazing chimichurri sauce that complimented it perfectly. It was a bit hard to walk and dip, but I tried my best.

These pictures are courtesy of Natalie's awesome camera, since obviously my photos may never be recovered inside my fried camera. Thanks, Natalie!

Precision With Language

So I have this thing. John says it's an obsession...with "precision with language." It rears its (ugly) head in all types of ways.

This precision thing manifests itself in my desire to know the exact time when I ask someone what time it is. I do not like estimations. 10 til? Well, it sure as heck better be! I've been like this since high school when I first started wearing a watch. People would ask me what time it was and I'd say 9:47. They are lucky I didn't say how many seconds had passed!

Additionally, I have a major pet peeve with adding an "s" to the end of a store/restaurant name. I don't know how people don't realize the real name of stores and such. It isn't Nordstroms, it is Nordstrom. It isn't Barnes and Nobles. It is Barnes and Noble. It isn't Paneras, it is Panera. I do understand that the occasional store does have an "s" on the end of it. McDonald's. Kohls. Dillards. Macy's. Bloomingdales. But an "s" isn't on the end of every store/restaurant, people!

When John sings lyrics to a song and misses a word or two, I find it hard to hold myself back from correcting him. Usually I don't hold myself back. I don't know how he puts up with me.

I also strongly believe that the words "couple," "few," and "several" have specific definitions. Well, "couple" is the word I have the most issue with. A "couple" means two. Plain and simple. Just like two people are a couple, "couple" means two - no more, no less. I also believe "few" means 3-5 and "several" means 5-7.

Am I alone on all this or are there people out there with the same preoccupation with precision with language?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Garden Envy

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor'

Just down the block from us there is a family with one heck of a garden. I'm not sure I've ever seen anyone grow corn in their yard before this, and clearly, this is the type of thing that impresses me.

Alongside the corn are some beans, tomatoes, and possibly pumpkins. I'm not really all that great at identifying things in the garden when they don't have the actual edible part growing right out in the open. Watching My Life on the D-List the other night I saw Suzanne Somers pull a cauliflower out of her garden and thought how huge the leaves on the cauliflower were. Anyone else see this episode and think the same thing?

Right now we have a few herbs growing on our porch, and that is quite an accomplishment for me. Maybe one day we'll have a yard and a real garden. But until then, I'll just be here coveting my neighbor's garden.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Secret to Saving Your Berries

After reading this article in the NYTimes, I figured it was time to share with you my trick (which I definitely read about somewhere, but now I forget where) for getting your berries to last without spoiling. I buy a lot of berries - mostly raspberries and blueberries, though sometimes strawberries too (blackberries are too tart for me). Blueberries haven't given me the same trouble as raspberries, so I rarely do this trick for them. If you buy raspberries though, I'm sure you've had them spoil on you...and quick. How heartbreaking. Since I've started doing this trick, though, they will last a week in the fridge! Unheard of! I like to put them in my oatmeal in the morning, so I need the suckers to last that long. All you have to do is put them unwashed on a paper towel atop a large plate. Spread them out as much as possible, but having a few double-layered will not ruin anything. Now just wrap the plate in plastic wrap and place it in the fridge and you're good to go. Now you don't have to be afraid of buying that big pack of raspberries at Costco anymore. I mention Costco a lot on this blog. They should start paying me.

Friday, August 28, 2009


No trip to the Stanford Shopping Center is complete without a trip to Sprinkles. Okay, maybe not for everyone, but for me. The first time I went to Sprinkles was when Eve and I visited Heather in LA about 4 years ago. I think we drove at least an hour for these cupcakes. Thankfully, I live about 15 minutes from the one in Palo Alto. Not that I wouldn't drive an hour for cupcakes - you all know I would.

Check out these beauties! Who could resist? Not me. Or you.

I got cinnamon sugar. This one actually doesn't have icing, and it doesn't need it. That's how you know the cake is really good. It is rich with cinnamon (and other spices?) embedded in it.

It was really bright sitting near the window, hence the sunglasses inside. I promise I don't do this often!

Natalie got banana with chocolate frosting. I snuck a bite and it was awesome. Like a banana muffin gone delicious.

So after grabbing this snack, we went shopping...and then came back for more! Ha. Welcome to my world.

Everything about Sprinkles is just adorable - down to the to-go box they give you. With a name like Sprinkles, it's no surprise they go for cute.

I got two cupcakes to go. One for me and one for John to have when he gets back from his trip (today). My second cupcake of the day was key lime - you guys know I love key lime pie. This one was delicious too - especially the icing with lime zest - but not quite as good as the cinnamon sugar one. Hopefully John will enjoy his dark chocolate one. If not, I'll definitely finish it for him.

She Knows Me So Well

Yesterday I met up with my friend, Natalie, to go shopping. We didn't buy anything other than cupcakes (you can't go to the Stanford Shopping Center and not get cupcakes, right?). Natalie went home with her belated birthday present, and I went home with some homegrown tomatoes she snagged from her coworker. I was in heaven! I ate them straight out of the Tupperware for dinner. Alongside my cupcake(s) of course. John needs to come home from his business trip so I can start eating normally again.

Flourless Chocolate Cookies

Anika and I made Francois Payard's flourless chocolate cookies this weekend in an attempt to make a gluten-free dessert. If you have any need to make a gluten-free dessert, you should definitely try these. The texture is definitely different than regular cookies, but the flavor is awesome. They taste as chocolatey as brownies and have a faint nuttiness from the walnuts.

The great part about these cookies is that they require no bizarre flours - just normal ingredients. You need 3 cups powdered sugar, 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons cocoa powder, 1 tablespoon vanilla, 4 egg whites, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.

You also need some walnut halves. The recipe calls for 2 3/4 cups, but somehow we ended up with a lot less - perhaps 1 1/2 cups. To start this recipe you need to place your walnuts on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 9 minutes. This will enhance their flavor a lot.

Now add 3 cups powdered sugar and 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons cocoa powder to your electric mixer.

Separate your four eggs, using separate bowls for your yolks and whites.

Just like this. I always find a bunch of yolks sitting by themselves to be kind of funny. Not sure why.

Now toss in those toasted walnuts (ideally 2 3/4 cups) and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Mix on low speed with paddle attachment for 1 minute. This will break up the walnuts a lot and by the end of the mixing process the walnuts will be as small as pebbles.

Now, with the mixer running, slowly add the four egg whites.

Add 1 tablespoon of vanilla and then mix on medium speed for 3 minutes.

You can see little specks of walnut on the paddle. Yum - this batter was delicious and very chocolatey. Now spoon it out onto a nonstick baking sheet. This batter is pretty loose, so space your cookies far apart. Trust me. We made six cookies per sheet.

Now bake them in a 350 degree oven for 16 minutes and they get nice and crispy. You want to have one rack at the top of the oven and one rack on the bottom. Halfway through the 16 minutes (that's 8 minutes, folks) you want to switch the cookie sheet from the top rack to the bottom. I'm not sure what that's about, but I'll ask Francois next time I see him.

The only problem is that it's a bit difficult to get these cookies off the pan. We used a silicon baking mat for one batch and it didn't help. Maybe parchment paper would do the trick, but we didn't have any. Still, the cookies tasted great, and with no flour, that's an accomplishment! Here is the recipe for the next time you want to make something easy and gluten-free for dessert.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Graham Elliot - Foodiebia in Heaven

Yes, that's Anika and I standing in the kitchen of Graham Elliot. I'll get to that soon, but for now, let me start at the beginning of an amazing night. You can read Anika's account here.

Look at me, grinning already, when we were staring at the menus. That's the face I give when I see salmon on the menu.

I bet you've never had this at a restaurant before - unless you've been to Graham Elliot of course. They serve gourmet popcorn instead of bread and they keep it comin'. We had three baskets worth. One for each of us (Anika's hubby, Justin, was there too).

Here I am chowing down on the popcorn. The variety we had (they rotate it) was popcorn with truffle oil, Parmesan, and chives. This was by far the best popcorn I have ever had. I think I can safely claim it is better than any popcorn you've had too. So there.

The slogan/tag line/something of Graham Elliot is "fine dining redefined." This was Justin's lobster corn dog. He was pretty blown away by how good it was. This lobster corn dog is the perfect example of a lot of the food here - kind of a whimsical take on a mix of gourmet food and comfort food. Anika and I had a sweet corn bisque with corn nuts in it. I'm not sure I've even had corn nuts before, but I loved the crunch in the soup. They always flavor their soups with an infused marshmallow, and we had a garlic marshmallow in ours. You swirl the marshmallow around and it imparts the flavor throughout your soup. Genius.

Anika had been to Graham Elliot a few times already, and every time she's gone, Graham Elliot Bowles has been MIA. You might remember him from Top Chef Masters, where he was awesome and adorable. He also plays Sufjan Stevens on his website and fabulous music in the restaurant (Jeff Buckley, etc.). Clearly this is my kind of chef. Let's just say Anika didn't hide her disappointment when we were told GEB was gone again (subtlety is not her forte). Our waitress was so sweet and felt horrible about it! As a consolation prize she gave us an amazing extra dessert (sesame shortbread) AND invited us to tour the kitchen. Yes, please!

I was told this helpful fellow was responsible for my salmon.

Thank you, kind sir, for that deliciousness! I also really loved the potato pancake that came with it. I love potato pancakes. I need to start making them.

I would have sworn there were no women in the kitchen had this woman not ended up in a picture. When we walked back there the words that popped into my head were: small, clean, and organized. It was so small - at least half the size I imagined it. I guess they don't give you tours of the disgusting kitchens, but this one was immaculate and so orderly. Everyone was incredibly busy of course, but each item had its place and every person back there knew what was going on.

And they were all so friendly and gracious to us. It probably helped that Anika and I were beaming with excitement. I felt like a groupie or something.

Speaking of orderly, I loved all the labeled spices lined up. I need to do this in my kitchen. I also need to buy some fresher spices. Bad foodie.

Here is our tour guide, John, showing us how they made beer foam (for a specific dish). To his left are the garlic infused marshmallows. I asked someone how they became infused and during his explanation I realized "Duh. They make them from scratch, that helps infusing them." I was totally imagining them getting garlic flavor into Jet-Puffed marshmallows from Safeway. Pathetic.

Do we look giddy? Because we are giddy. I'm not sure if everyone reading this will understand why this was so exciting to me, but it was.

And this is the lovely little package we were sent home with - homemade caramel corn. I pretty much ate this the second we got home. Not that I needed dessert since I already had deconstructed strawberry shortcake and part of the sesame shortbread. That didn't stop me though!

Corn Casserole

One of the side dishes Anika and I made for our roast chicken was this delicious corn casserole. Like the potatoes gratin that I often make, this is a stand-by for me as well. I love love love corn on the cob, and because this recipe is made from fresh corn, it tastes like yummy corn on the cob on your fork. John is a huge fan of this too, and he gets really excited every time I make it.

First, you need to de-husk (you know what I mean) four ears of corn. Then take a big knife and cut the kernels off each cob. You don't want to use too tall of a bowl for this task because you will end up ramming your knife into the side of it a lot. Don't worry about getting all the kernels off in one slice.

Then take a butter knife and using the "sharp" end run it up and down multiple times of the whole cob. This will get all the leftover juice and corn pieces from the cob.

Then you just add 1/3 cup of heavy cream, kosher salt, pepper, and 1.5 tablespoons of butter. Just mix it up, and don't stress about chunks of butter. You weren't stressed about that, right?

Here's what it looks like placed in our Pyrex baking dish. When I'm in my own kitchen I use a small Corningware casserole dish. You just want it to have a couple of inches worth of corn, not spread out too thin. Bake it in a 350 degree oven for 40-45 minutes until it isn't too loose anymore.

And now it's all ready! If you like corn, then you will LOVE this dish. It tastes nice and buttery, but isn't greasy at all.

So here is the recipe from Pioneer Woman (my fave). Now go make this before corn goes out of season!
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