Saturday, September 20, 2008

3 yr anniversary = Chez Panisse Reservations

Just had to share the excitement.

In other news, I made a soufflé from Julia Child's Vol 1. The presentation was dramatic and the taste was amazing.

Do is conquering the world of stews. Found a fabulous new beef stew recipe.

Made Guinness cupcakes for an office party/potluck yesterday. 4 other (female) office mates and I got lost driving to the party in the Berkeley hills, the car gave out on the slippery (super steep) slopes, and it was super foggy. We had to continue on foot, each gal carrying a pot or tray of food, wandering the streets, in the fog, lost. Perfect setup for a horror flick. Thankfully, we made it.

Alright, enough procrastinating.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Going on Hiatus

So this isn't working out too well. Blogging has gone from being a hobby, an outlet, and a community to being a walloping big guilt trip. I feel like I have to start every post with an apology for being absent. Neither one of us has time or the energy to keep this up.

We do eat, and we do eat well, but we barely have time to cook. We cook enough during the weekend to last us all week, throwing together a salad or somesuch to round out the weekday meals. It's kind of nostalgic: whenever we have a success, I still hover over the dish and take a ton of photos, knowing fully well that they probably will never make it to the internet.

Just as important, blogging is more draining than helpful these days. Our brains are full; it's actually not satisfying to take the time to write creatively and well. It's a chore.

So please forgive us, we're going on a hiatus. I don't know for how long. Do suggested that we try blogging once a week, so we may give that a try for a bit. But yeah, don't hold your breath. The world of grad school has awful long tentacles.

Thanks for your friendship,

Neen and Do

p.s. Family: photos and pithy commentary may still surface on Neen's flickr account. Gotto put all those masterpieces somewhere.
pps. For the ludicrously curious, this weekend I made my first Julia Child recipe (fish filets poached in white wine with a mushroom cream sauce, with buttered potatoes) and Do made an astonishingly delicious beef stew from Chronicle Book's Braises and Stews in his brand new Le Creuset Dutch Oven (a belated birthday present).

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Beer-Butt Chicken

Saturdays are great. I'm sitting here in the kitchen as Do makes Veal Stew and Lentil Soup, and the smells are getting better and better. He's been getting really in to "Freezer cooking" -- making large batches of stews, curries, or pasta sauces that freeze well on the weekends, so that he doesn't have to worry about cooking during the week. So far, the convenience far outweighs any nostalgia for last year's daily kitchen dances. It's not like I have time to hit the grocery store mid-week either!

He's currently manhandling 5.5 pounds of chuck roast. Sexy.

Last weekend, I decided that it was high time to introduce Do to beer-butt chicken. Most people know it as "beer can chicken" or somesuch nonsense, but c'mon. You stuff a beer can up a Chicken's BUTT people. Five year olds dissolve into giggles. Adults, moderately intoxicated (1st step in BBQing is to souse the cook), follow suit. And then you end up with the best chicken ever. Good food and a story, what's not to like?

My Mom gave my Dad a webster grill for his 50th birthday, which he then happily dragged to Switzerland and the Dominican Republic (the movers were really disturbed that they were being paid to ship woodchips across continents), taking diplomacy to a whole new level with Southern Bar-B-Q. I don't remember when Beer-Butt Chicken first made its appearance, though I do remember thinking it a rather deliciously heathen practice. Everything else was eclipsed by the amazingly succulent meat. This is really the most luscious way to cook chicken ever. The meat is spiced by the rub, emphatically not dry, and the skin is crispy.

My parents use Real Simple's recipe, so that's what I'm giving you here. We're probably going to reduce the sugar next time. Also, "medium heat" is relative -- our grill got really hot and the chicken was perfect in 40 minutes.

We then vegged out with really good chicken and watched West Wing. True Escapism. Just think that we used to live there...

Real Simple's Beer Butt Chicken

2 whole dried chiles, such as chipotle or New Mexico
2 tablespoons sugar (Consider reducing)
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 3 1/2- to 4-pound whole chicken
1 12-ounce can of beer

In a blender, food processor, or spice grinder, combine the chiles, sugar, salt, and spices.

Remove the neck and giblets from the chicken and discard. Rub the chicken inside and out with the spice rub. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.

Light a charcoal grill and allow the coals to burn until covered with gray ash or heat a gas grill to medium. Drink half the beer; leave the other half in the can. Slide the chicken over the can and place in the center of the cooking grate, balancing the chicken on its two legs and the can, like a tripod. Cover grill.

Grill about 1 1/4 hours or until an instant-read thermometer registers 170° F inserted in the breast and 180° F in the thigh, or until the juices run clear. Carefully remove the chicken and hot can from grill. Let the chicken rest 10 minutes before lifting it from the can.

Yield: Makes 4 servings

CALORIES 528(0% from fat); FAT 28g (sat 8g); CHOLESTEROL 223mg; CALCIUM 84mg; CARBOHYDRATE 9g; SODIUM 1912mg; PROTEIN 56mg; FIBER 2g; IRON 5mg

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Norma's Peanut Sauce

When I was in high school, there was a teeny tiny (4"5 or shorter) ancient woman that attended my church. Her name was Norma. She was originally from China, but had married a Swiss gentleman ages ago and followed him back to Geneva, Switzerland. Norma was incredibly enthusiastic and energetic -- she would practically jump up and down with enthusiasm when greeting someone, and her face was enchantingly expressive. I had always found her endearing, but she progressed to "ridiculously cool" status when I learned that, before she retired, she had worked with the big Swiss grocery store chain (Migros -- a less pretentious version of Whole Foods that also sponsored cultural events, etc.) to produce a Chinese cookbook. Then, one Thanksgiving (2002?), Norma brought this dish to the church potluck, and we all fell in love. My Dad wouldn't let her leave until he had the recipe.

It's a very simple peanut sauce that takes 2 minutes to prepare, and requires only pantry staples. Kind of like Fried Rice, it goes great with any and all veggies. Perfect for the middle of the week when you can't be bothered to go to the grocery store. I've had this dish at the Thanksgiving Church potluck, at my 18th birthday party (it feeds masses of people!), at an ex-boyfriend's 21st birthday party (great for college students!), and whenever I'm caught staring at the fridge without inspiration. What with grad classes starting this past Wednesday, there was no way Do and I were going to cook anything elaborate mid-week, let along make it to the grocery store. Norma's peanut sauce it is!

On that note, given our drastic reduction in free time (I'm still dumbfounded at the quantity of reading that my Profs expect! And I thought college loads were bad.), Do and I are starting a new category: "30min or less." Should be pretty self-explanatory. Also, don't expect us to be posting more than a couple times a week. Really.

I haven't seen Norma since, oh, 2005 at least. I hope she's okay. When I was the college, the church emailed all current and past members for ideas for a community cookbook, and I sent them Norma's Peanut Sauce. They really, really liked it.

Here's to you, Norma.

Norma's Peanut Sauce
(enough for 1.5 lbs of pasta)

1 cup peanut butter
3/4 cup light soy sauce
1/2 cup hot bouillon
2 Tbs lemon juice or vinegar
2 Tbs honey or sugar
2 Tbs chopped ginger
2 Tbs chopped garlic
1 Tbs Sesame oil
1 Tbs cornstarch
1/2 tsp chili paste or sambal (or simply cayenne pepper if that's all you've got)

Mix everything in a saucepan and heat for two minutes.

Serving suggestions: Sauté a ton of veggies (corn, bell peppers, broccoli, toasted sesame seeds... I like chinese cabbage) and add to the sauce, and serve over pasta or potatoes.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Brownies, Milk, and Lots of Good News

First off, our new dishwasher arrived and, after some trials and tribulations (the electrical socket you see by the sink is dead, apparently, so we had to buy an appliance extension cord), it's working! We had the same model in Chicago, but I'd forgotten how big it was because our D.C. dishwasher was teeny tiny. How luxurious to be able to load things like mixing bowls or pans! We submitted our tea pot to a renewal of its baptismal vows, and it came out cleaner than it's been in three years. All that grunge that accumulates in the spout? Yeah, all gone.

I feel like a liberated woman. Better go burn some bras in People's Park or something.

The second good news is that Orientation has been going really well. Thanks for everyone who wrote in with encouragement! Perhaps because my field attracts applicants with a few years' of post-collegiate work experience, my new classmates are a lot more friendly, mature, and socially graceful than I was expecting. (Ask Do about his classmates sometime. Shudder). The coursework sounds extremely exciting, and (halleluja!) we have amazing medical/vision/dental coverage (working in the health field last year really taught me to appreciate that). My first class starts in four hours. Exciting!

And finally, I got a job offer from the Prof of my dreams. She's the director of this (very sexy) institute that tries to bridge the gap between academia and communities in need, facilitating research projects that will bring tangible benefits to lower-income neighborhoods. I have been lusting after this institute ever since I first looked into Berkeley two years ago, so this is very, very exciting. Daunting, because I'll have plenty of opportunities to impress or disappoint this Prof (I'm also enrolled in two of her courses this semester), but exhilarating.

Just to bring this full circle back to food, I have a new "All Time Favorite" recipe to share with you. We spontaneously had our Chinatown friend over for dinner a couple days ago, and ended a raucous conversation on the State of Science Research Funding with straight-from-the-oven brownies and milk. It was a new recipe, clipped from an Nytimes article years ago but forgotten in a file somewhere. What a success! The brownies were really, really decadent. Not at all cakey, or even frudgy, these are "almost as dark and dense as a chocolate truffle," as the author of the original Nytimes article put it (the photo to the left is from the original article).

These brownies use less butter, chocolate, and eggs than my stand-by brownie recipe (ironically, clipped from the same Nytimes article but tested years ago), but they also bake for half as long and are plunged into an ice bath post-oven to prevent over-cooking.

Just what the doctor ordered. Now, off to my first day of classes!

Nytimes' New Classic Brownies
Adapted from “Alice Medrich’s Cookies and Brownies” (Warner Books, 1999)

Time: 40 minutes

8 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup lightly toasted walnuts or pecans (optional).

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line an 8-inch-square metal baking pan with foil. In top of a double boiler set over barely simmering water, or on low power in a microwave, melt butter and chocolate together. Stir often, and remove from heat when a few lumps remain. Stir until smooth.

2. Stir in sugar, vanilla and salt. Stir in eggs one at a time, followed by flour. Stir until very smooth, about 1 minute, until mixture pulls away from sides of bowl. Add nuts, if using. Scrape batter into prepared pan and bake 20 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, prepare a water bath: Pour ice water into a large roasting pan or kitchen sink to a depth of about 1 inch. Remove pan from oven and place in water bath, being careful not to splash water on brownies. Let cool completely, then lift out and cut into 1-inch squares or wrap in foil.

Yield: 16 brownies.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Panzanella: a Balm for Grad School Phobias

Grad school starts tomorrow. I'm spazzing out.

I wish I could tell why I'm spazzing. It's not the the material, it's not the return to the papers-and-problem sets rhythm of life, and surprisingly it's not concern that Do and I are going to lose our daily dinners routine. I think it's the people. I'm worried about the social networking component, which seems ever so much more important in a Masters program than in college. I'm talking about the semi-professional relationship building, not the making new friends part. Eep! My tummy is churning just thinking about it. Maybe I should crawl back into bed and read sci-fi.

I've been leaning towards comfort food recently. Surprise, surprise.

Panzanella started as a way to use up leftover Sourdough, and ended as summer's equivalent of beef stew (insert your go-to winter comfort food here). This Italian salad is fresh and flavorful and light, yet also satisfyingly filling (because of the bread). It's the perfect summer dish: it uses leftovers, it's fast, requires no heat, it's beautiful, and it's so good that Do had to restrain himself from adding it to our "All Time Favorites" list. (He's worried that we use the term too liberally. I think that we just cook damn fine food on a regular basis).

And it's addictive. Maybe we'll start a new category, a tier 2 All Time Favorites, and label it "Addictive." As in, you can't keep yourself from going back for seconds, and thirds, and fourths....

The flavor is great. You know how satisfying it is to dip your bread in oil&vinegar at an Italian restaurant, while you're waiting for the food to come? Top quality bread, dripping with yumminess but not soggy (Do feels very strongly that soggy = bad). Add the crunch of red onion and the freshness of basil, the lightness of cucumber and a whole lot of perfectly ripe summer tomatoes. It's summer in a bowl.

Panzanella from Gourmet Cookbook
Serves 4-6.

1/2 lb day old crusty sourdough bread (or another thick, dense bread), cut into 3/4" cubes (6 cups)
4 large tomatoes (1 1/4 lb total), cut into 3/4" pieces OR 2 pints of cherry tomatoes, halved
3/4 seedless cucumber, cut into 1/2" pieces.
1/2 cup diced red onion
1/2 extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbs red wine vinegar
1 clove minced garlic
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2/3 cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves.

Stir together bread, tomatoes, cucumber, and onion in a serving bowl.
Whisk together oil, vinegar, garlic, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Add to bread mixture, along with basil, and toss to combine. Let stand at room temperature, stirring occasionally, for 20 min before serving.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Fancy Corn Chowder and Homemade Sourdough

I read somewhere that you can recognize novice cooks because they overspice everything. ...Yeah, that would be me. And here I was wondering why I seem to do so much better with heavy autumn and winter dishes. Delicate herbal accents, unembellished purity of produce, not so much. More of a heavy, complicated stew kind of girl, myself.

That unwillingness to let natural bounty shine unadulterated came back and bit me in the arse with this soup. In my defense, the official name doesn't sound delicate ("Chilled Corn and Sun-dried Tomato Chowder with Goat Cheese-Chive Croutons"), and the recipe is as complicated as an Indian curry and as pretentious as one of St. Julia's gems. Which was exactly what I was looking for, with time on my hands and an itch to reestablish my alpha-dominance over the kitchen. A nice, elaborate recipe to conquer.

(Side note: the fridge still works, but Sears mucked up our dishwasher order. Delivery got pushed back from Wednesday to Saturday. sigh).

The recipe comes from SF-based Chronicle Book Publishers' The Wine Lover's Cookbook. A dear friend gave Do the book two Christmases ago to feed his wine pairing fetish. (The year before that, she gave us our copy of Silver Palate... a very dear friend. Whom I just learned is a regular reader of this blog. :) Hi MM!). The cookbook has breathtakingly beautiful photographs. The recipes are erudite and stimulating, along the lines of Gourmet or Food&Wine. The type that surprise you as you scan the ingredient lists, and generate visions of very special events at expensive restaurants. The only disappointments so far have been the few "mainstream" dishes (everyone already has a favorite version of penne with sausage and mushrooms, for example), while the erudite recipes are truly the stuff of fantasies. Or, my fantasies at least.

Really, the recipe would not have been that complicated... but why buy a sourdough baguette when I've got a neglected sourdough starter waiting in the fridge? Why spend an hour in the kitchen if you can spend twelve? I should mention that this heroic starter was a spawn of my father's, and has been very mistreated since it left his custody. Refrigerated only in the evenings during our cross-country road trip, ignored during move-in week, and then abandoned in a defective fridge while we went on vacation. When I finally fed it just before leaving, it scornfully burped starter all over the inside of the fridge. No hard feelings, it was entitled to a fit of displeasure.

It took a day's worth of coaxing, but the results were spectacular. The bread is dense, the crust is almost French, and the flavor is complex. Really, really impressive. Do consider trying this at home, either by stopping by my place to pick up some of my starter, or purchasing your own King Arthur Sourdough Starter (where my father got his). If you're brave and/or cheap and what to create your own sourdough starter, then power to you. I tried last spring and ended up with a soggy mess... but maybe I'll pawn some blame off on the quality of D.C. airborne yeast.

Anyways, the soup itself was very fancy and delicate, and it would have been exquisite if I hadn't botched it by overspicing it. The tarragon-corn combination (which, Mr. Goldstein insists, pairs wonderfully with a buttery American Chardonnay) is insightful, the sun-dried tomatoes are elegant, and the goat cheese croutons were our favorite part (credit goes to my amazing, heroic starter, whom I love very much. pet, pet.). Unfortunately, I got overenthusiastic with the tarragon and the result was somewhat overwhelming. Good, but overwhelming.

Conclusion: a potential gem for buttery Chardonnay pairings, a fancy summer dish (didn't have one for the repertoire), worth repeating if only to discover what it tastes like when I follow the instructions.

Now I've got to figure out what to do with all this leftover Tarragon. Which I'm not sure I like all that much.

Chilled Corn and Sun-dried Tomato Chowder with Goat Cheese-Chive Croutons
Serves 6

4 ears yellow sweet corn
1 1/2 Tbs olive oil
2 cups chopped sweet onions (Maui, Vidalia, or Walla Walla)
1 Tbs chopped fresh tarragon (no more)
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1 1/2 tsp minced lemon zest, separated
1 32oz carton of chicken stock
3/4 cup white wine
2 garlic cloves
3/4 Tbs fresh lemon juice
1 cup fresh sour cream
3/4 cup sun dried tomato halves (packed in oil, drained, and chopped)
Salt and Pepper
4 oz fresh goat cheese
1 Tbs minced chives
1 sourdough baguette, cut on the diagonal into twelve 1/4" slices
  1. Set the oven to 350 degrees. Set garlic cloves on an aluminum sheet, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cover in aluminum foil, leaving a hole for air to escape. Roast for 45 min.
  2. Meanwhile, remove the husks from the corn and, using a serrated knife, remove the corn from the cob by scraping down the cob. Reserve the cobs.
  3. In a large soup pot, heat olive oil. Add onions, tarragon, cumin, turmeric, and 1 tsp lemon zest and sauté for 8min. Add corn, reserverd corn cobs, stock, and wine and bring to a full rolling boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 12 min. Removed cobs with tongs and discard.
  4. Once the garlic is roasted and cool enough to handle, squeeze roasted garlic out of the skin. Add roasted garlic, lemon juice, and sour cream to the soup. Using an immersion blender, purée the soup. Add the sun-dried tomatoes and rough chop. Stir thoroughly and season to taste. If you prefer a cold soup, refrigerate it for 3 hours.
  5. Mix goat cheese, chives, and 1/2 tsp lemon zest. Refrigerate until needed.
  6. When ready to serve, spread goat cheese mixture onto sourdough slices. Put under broiler for 5 min, until goat cheese starts to color slightly. Divide soup in bowls, place two croutons in each bowl, and garnish with chopped tarragon.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Living off of Fried Rice

Do and I got back from vacation last night to our beautiful, FUNCTIONAL FRIDGE. Thank Goodness: that week without it was pretty miserable. Since daily grocery runs à la Parisienne were out of the question (no grocery stores within reasonable walking distance, and Do's schedule was too swamped to drive), we were reduced to cooking out of the pantry (ramen, anyone?) or surviving on take-out. It was pretty impressive how quickly food, in our imaginations, was reduced to fuel. In case this ever happens to you, let me recommend fried rice.

As innumerable other bloggers have pointed out, fried rice is tasty, quick, and a great way to use almost-dead veggies (read: clean out your fridge before vacation). It's more of a technique than a recipe: scramble eggs, remove. Sauté misc. veggies, add leftover rice, add soy sauce and/or oyster sauce, add scrambled eggs. Voilà!

But! Now that we are back from vacation and our fridge works, and I've still got another seven days of freedom left, expect lots of tasties in the near future. Whole Foods had fresh sardines in from Monterey today...

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Good, the Bad, and the Terrifying

The good news is that we're getting a dishwasher. Thank God. That's an hour of my day that I can spend on other things. ETA Thursday.

The bad news is that our fridge died, again. This time for real. One of my projects today will be cleaning it out. Gross. Thankfully, the landlords come back from vacation today and the fridge is on warranty, so hopefully this problem will get dealt with sooner rather than later. In the mean time, it's not dissimilar from living in a third world country. Or college, given the plethora of take-out and ramen.

The scary news is that we're hosting a party tonight. Casual, but still. With no fridge and no dishwasher. This'll be exciting.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Clam Chowder in Sourdough Bowls: Bringing the Wharf home

First, Don't Forget to Vote in Do's Poll at right! It closes Saturday at 9 a.m.

I walked around the Knob and Russian Hill neighborhoods yesterday. Wait, scratch that. I freakin' mountain-climbed up and over the tallest, steepest hills in San Francisco yesterday, and have the blisters to prove it! I mean, look at this photo (courtesy of Pam's Public Gallery). On many streets, the cars HAVE to park at a 90 degree angle, or they will roll down! Whose brilliant idea was it to build a city on Monster Hills? (Reminder, this is the girl from Chicago, the city that's flatter than a pancake).

I was duly impressed.

In addition to checking out the parks and views of Russian Hill, I found the Albert Einstein stained glass window at Grace Cathedral, slurped down a thick chocolate shake at Ghirardelli's Square, and fought off tourists at Fisherman's Wharf (it was a long walk).

It's good to be unemployed.

Poor Do.

Do visited San Francisco once as a kid, and has vivid memories of the Fisherman's Wharf. This makes sense: the place may look depressingly crowded and commercial to adults, like a tourist death-trap, but kids are entranced. The gigantic carousel! The tchochkes! The ubiquitous sourdough bread bowls filled with clam chowder! It's like Disneyland! Do has mentioned those sourdough bread bowls at least once a week since we moved to Oakland. (model at left is from

So I decided to surprise him. If Do couldn't leave work and frolic around San Francisco with me, then I would bring San Francisco to him. I would make homemade clam chowder and serve it in sourdough bread bowls.

(I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I was so excited about the idea that I had to call him up and share ... so much for the surprise part. But it did mean that he was a very happy boy for the second half of the afternoon).

The bread bowls were easy: Boudin Bakery, a company that prides itself on serving San Francisco sourdough since the '49ers showed up, has a demonstration bakery right on the Wharf. Their smallest sourdough round was half a pound, and the samples tasted quite good, sour and fluffy with a good crust. I picked up two, and sauntered to the Bart (well, limped -- remember those blisters) looking more French than the hordes of mostly-French tourists (I was carrying fresh bread; they were wearing "I escaped Alcatraz" sweatshirts and shivering in their shorts).

The Clam Chowder took more creativity. Once I got to thinking about it, I started getting less pleased with myself and more intimidated: Do's very particular about his clam chowder. He feels very strongly that it shouldn't involve any pork products, it should have almost-overwhelming clam flavor instead of veggie flavor, and it should be super thick. His family is into clam chowder in a big way: last summer his parents embarked on a Great New England Clam Chowder Roadtrip. Not to mention that we regularly stuffed ourselves on the best Clam Chowder in Washington D.C. Well, at least that gave me something to shoot for.

The cans of chowder on prominent display at the wharf were bypassed in favor of guidance from Foodie Fashionista (she adapted Barefoot Contessa's recipe) and Diannes Dishes (with a brilliant secret ingredient -- Bay Seasoning). Their recipes and comments really helped me figure out what I wanted and how to get there. I wanted caramelized veggies, so I sautéed them instead of boiling them. I wanted thick, so I made a substantial roux and leaned towards Barefoot Contessa's artery clogging quantities of butter and cream. I wanted lots of clam flavor, so I used a ton of clam juice and clams.

Finally, it was done. The consistently was right, the spicing was right (the Bay Seasoning and thyme are indispensable), but it was missing some deeper, underlying flavor. Do's suggestion of Soy Sauce sounded so weird that I wouldn't let him add it to the whole pot, but he tested it and it worked! I know it sounds crazy, but this clam chowder turned out amazing and definitely competes with our Washington D.C. favorite. Complete triumph. Since this is one of the first times that we've creating a recipe and it worked, we'd like to share this recipe with Lore and her relatively new Original Recipes event.

Do's New Favorite Clam Chowder
8 Tbs butter (1 stick), divided in half
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 large celery stalks, chopped
2 large potatoes, diced
1 1/2 teaspoons thyme leaves
1 Tbs Old Bay Seasoning
3 bay Leaves
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 cups clam juice (3 bottles)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 Half-Pint carton of heavy whipping cream
3 cups Baby Clams, drained and rinsed. (3 cans)
Half a bag of frozen corn
2 1/8 tsp Soy Sauce
Garnish: Chopped parsley

Melt 5 tablespoons (1/2 stick) of the butter in a large heavy-bottomed stockpot. Add the onions, celery, and potatoes and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, or until the onions are translucent. Be sure to stir regularly to keep the potatoes from sticking to the bottom. Add the thyme, Old Bay seasoning, salt, and pepper and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the clam juice and the bay leaves, bring to a boil, and simmer, uncovered, until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.

In a small pot, melt the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter and whisk in the flour. Whisk continuously over the lowest heat setting for 3 minutes. Gradually whisk in a cup of the hot broth from the pot and then pour this mixture back into the cooked vegetables. Carefully whisk the chowder to incorporate the roux (this is boiling chowder people!). Simmer for a few minutes until the broth is thickened.

Add the heavy cream, the corn, and clams and heat gently for a few minutes to cook the clams. Add the soy sauce and taste for salt and pepper. Garnish with parsley and serve hot in bread bowls!

Yields 6-8 servings

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Return of Do: Fighting the Recipe Backlog

Disclaimer: we forgot to break out the camera while Bar-B-Qing last Friday, so the beautiful hamburger photo that you see comes from and the brisket photo comes from

Which dish(es) would you like to hear more about? Vote at right!

From the upper right to the bottom left:
- Beef Brisket (Food&Wine June 2007 meets Cook's Illustrated American Classics 2008)
- Hamburger stuffed with Blue Cheese (Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook)
- Pasta Puttanesca (Silver Palate)
- Breakfast of Egg, Grilled Chorizo and Jalapeño Peppers, and Toast
- Himalayan Mushrooms (Hiltl Virtuoso Vegetarian)
- Grilled Chicken burrito wrap
- Malakoff -- Deep-Fried Cheese Fritters (from this blog)
- Spinach Pasta with Salmon and Cream Sauce (Silver Palate)
- Halibut with Spicy Asian Vinaigrette and Wasabi Cream (The Gourmet Cookbook).
- Fresh Fruit and Yogurt for Breakfast
- Scallop and Corn Chowder (Real Simple's Meals Made Easy)

It's been a long time since I posted, and I didn't want you all to think that I'm anti-social by choice. Since moving to California, my life has been dominated by The Graduate Student Schedule. This entails working from 10am-6pm, taking a break for dinner, and then going to bat again from 8pm-1 or 2 am. As you can imagine, Neen is tearing her hair out. We're trying to get our schedules to overlap, which leaves me trying to cram work into every waking moment that I'm not with Neen. Meanwhile, my head is becoming more and more crowded with recipes that I want to blog about.

Many of these recipes go back to my Birthday Dinner Bash last month, which I never got around to telling you about. When Neen asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday, I knew immediately: I wanted to cook a ridiculous plethora of interesting dishes. With the final dish count reaching
5 large dishes and 1 loaf of (homemade) bread, you might figure on other people being invited. Nope. My birthday fell on our last weekend together before I moved out to CA - no one else was invited. Instead, Neen and I both took that Friday off and embarked on a three day long birthday. This, of course, involved multiple renditions of happy birthday, multiple pieces of cake from CakeLove, and plenty of opportunities to use the "We are doing X, because it's my birthday" argument.

My Birthday Menu included:
Scallop and Corn Chowder
2. Halibut with Spicy Asian Vinaigrette and Wasabi Cream
3. Spinach Pasta with Salmon and Cream Sauce
4. Cheese Fritters
5. Chicken and Bok Choy Salad with Asian Vinaigrette

You will notice that Number 5 does not have a photo associated with it above - that is because it was a flop. The vinaigrette was nice, but the salad itself was rather bland and monotonous. The remainder of the dishes, however, were fantastic. I was amazed at how consistently we hit great recipes.

- The Scallop and Corn chowder came out smooth and rich, with large chucks of vegetables and whole scallops to give many
variations on texture and flavor.

- The Halibut was succulent, the flavors of the vinaigrette and wasabi cream sauce mixed perfectly to give a contrast of sour/sweet and spicy/rich. (Neen inserts: Weird, but intellectually interesting).

- The Spinach Pasta with Salmon and Cream Sauce was the Home-Run derby winner of the Birthday Celebration. The original recipe called for spinach pasta; we used regular pasta and then just added spinach. I think this was the right call. The salmon and spinach flavors work so well together that I was happy to have a lot of fresh spinach flavor mixed in. The Salmon had to be poached, which was a little intimidating at first glance but turned out to be very simple (especially since we just happened to have a dead bottle of white wine in the fridge).

- The Cheese Fritters were exactly what I had wanted - and if I am brave, I will even show you pictures of the fiasco I created in the kitchen during the cooking process. (It was another opportunity for me to try to kill myself using oil and fire). The outside was very delicate and crispy, while the inside was pure melted cheese. I used a Gruyère cheese that was th
en marinated in white wine. Simply delectable. (Oh, and did I mention that involved a lot of oil and a hot fire?)

The next set of recipes is also related to my birthday. When Neen's parents were in town helping us get our apartment in order, they gave me a large Weber grill for my birthday (Go Them!). And to go with the grill, I was also given a lesson on how to cook Bone-in Pork Butt. Well, needless to say, I love the idea of grilling - as anyone who has read about a certain addition I am proposing to the Olympic Sports Committee will understand. So, when Neen's little brother was in town last week, we broke out the grill and I made Silver Palate's version of inside out blue-cheese burgers, some sausages from our local grocery, and a Beef Brisket. All of which turned out really well.

The Beef Brisket was a combination of recipes from Food & Wine (for the rub, the prep, and the BBQ sauce) and from Cook's Illustrated (for the method of cooking a Brisket in 5 hours instead of 11). The combination worked wonderfully. The F&W recipe gave the meat a wonderful full flavor, while the cooking method delivered a fork tender meat (really it was hard to cut because it would fall apart). We took the brisket to a picnic organized by my lab, and it got rave reviews even from the Texans!

The burgers were good, with the flavors of the herbs accenting the combination of meat and blue-cheese. I was not astounded, perhaps because I have made something similar before (a recipe from the NYT minimalist inspired me to use blue-cheese and stuff it inside a burger - I should mention I also added Trader Joe's Truffle Mouse to the top of that burger... mmm, decadent).

Okay, I really must sign off. One last thing to think about - I would love to post some expanded recipes and comments for a few of these dishes, but you guys need to let me know what you're interested in. Neen was kind enough to set up a poll on the blog - if you have any preferences for which recipes I should post on more thoroughly, please let me know.

Though I do reserve the right to veto if you don't vote for the best ones! :)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Good Day: Front Stoop Visiting and Recycled Leftovers

Yesterday was a good day. An old friend called while I was making dinner: she was walking someone else's dog and wanted to swing by. A couple of beers later, some homemade tomatillo salsa, and our front stoop was used exactly as it was meant to: for impromptu visiting. Our upstairs neighbor swung by and chatted, we all petted the dog. It felt so... endearingly neighborly. Like out of a fairytale book for urban planners.

The easygoing setting fit right in with the company: B. and I met two summers ago in Ségou, Mali, where we were both doing research for our undergraduate theses. It was a very West African meeting ("Ah, you seem to be a friend of my friend! Can I sleep in your one-room house for the next 7 days?"). B was studying the Tuareg people and how their cultural identity changes as they migrate south from the Timbuktu area; I was studying Jeffrey Sachs' Millennium Village Project (ever heard of the One Campaign?). B. had been in Ségou for a while and spoke Bambara, the local dialect, so I stuck to her like glue and we became quite close. But then the summer ended and we returned to our respective Universities to write the darn theses and finish our senior year. So imagine how cool it was when, almost exactly two years later, on my very first day in Oakland, B. and I bumped into each other at an intersection!

By the time B. and I had caught up on the past two years, we'd polished off our beers and made a serious dent in the tomatillo salsa (hey, talk about a great way to use leftover Enchilada ingredients!). B. took the dog home and I went back to the less endearing activity of turning almost-dead leftovers into dinner.

As this post and this post show, I have a history of being completely inept when it comes to recycling leftovers. It doesn't help that our new fridge was not set to a sufficiently cold setting and our food spoiled faster than normal this past week (the problem is now fixed, but our compost bin is a lot fuller). A potato, three carrots, and some sour cream had survived the initial massacre, but needed to get used pronto. Remarkably, my brain clicked... how about a kugel?

My brain doesn't usually put two and two together and come up with a delicious dinner (definitely more than the sum of its parts). It's just not how I think, even though I've been wanting to try kugel for a while now and have several recipes bookmarked. No, shamefully, kugel occurred to me only because I had just spent the afternoon at San Francisco's Contemporary Jewish Museum. Side note: they have a lovely exhibit on William Steig, the guy who wrote Shrek!, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, Doctor De Soto, Amos & Boris, and who was a New Yorker cartoonist for 73 years. Does anyone else remember his books from their childhood? I now know that "Shrek" is Yiddish for "Fear."

So, improvised Potato Kugel it was. I've been wanting to make Kugel because, reading ingredient lists, I just couldn't imagine what the final product would taste like. And you know, it wasn't half bad. The texture was a cross between a casserole, mashed potatoes, and an omelet. "A very German texture, very creamy," Do adds. It could have used more mustard, maybe some paprika, and Do felt that it absolutely shouldn't be any sweeter (there go my aspirations for Apple Kugel or sweet kugel. Do other folks serve these as desserts?). But for a first try, with no Ashkenaz cooks or cookbooks in sight, I think we did just fine. In fact, we'd like to share the Kugel at Ben's new bi-weekly I love Baking event. In the mean time, anyone have any tips, stories, or insights on Kugel?

It was a good day.

Potato-Carrot Kugel (serves four as a side)

1 potato, cut into chunks
3 carrots, cut into chunks
1/3 cup milk
2 large eggs
1 cup Parmesan, grated
Half an onion, sliced
3 Tbs sour cream or plain yogurt
2 Tbs mustard (maybe more)

In a medium saucepan cook potatoes and carrots, covered, in boiling water about 12 minutes or until carrots are tender.

In a large mixer bowl, mash potatoes and carrots with a potato masher or an electric mixer on low speed. Gradually beat in the milk till mixture is creamy. Stir in eggs, the 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese, onion, mustard, and sour cream or yogurt. Transfer to a 1-quart casserole.

Bake, uncovered, in a 350F oven for 20 minutes. Sprinkle with leftover Parmesan cheese, and bake for 15 minutes more, or until center is set.

Tomatillo Salsa (makes 3 cups)
1 1/2 lb tomatillos
Half an onion, chopped
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3 Jalapeño peppers, stemmed, chopped
4 tsp ground cumin
Salt and black pepper to taste

Remove papery husks from tomatillos and rinse well. Cut in half and place cut side down on a foil-lined baking sheet. Place under a broiler for about 5-7 minutes to lightly blacken the skin.

Place tomatillos, lime juice, onions, cilantro, Jalapeño peppers, sugar, and cumin in a food processor (or blender) and pulse until all ingredients are chopped and mixed. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cool in refrigerator and serve.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Rabid Toilets and Curry Eggplant Soup

The toilet attacked me this morning.

I wish I were kidding. There I was, non-threateningly fiddling with the shower temperature before climbing in to wash my disgustingly greasy hair -- part of a daily battle against the SF smog that insistently wafts across the bay and coats every single strand with grime -- when the toilet decides to take advantage of my obvious state of under-preparedness and EXPLODES! It started burping water in giant, evil bubbles and then, when I frantically hit the flush (hoping that "flush" was ToiletSpeak for CTRL ALT DELETE), it gushed water and, er, dirtied water at a speed that made me freeze like a deer in headlights.

At which point, I reverted to Automatic Shutdown and screamed for my Beloved. Do rushed in and, seeing me with my feet covered in fecal matter and very little else, had the presence of mind to throw me a towel before my brother arrived, and then flipped out in his own right (he was barefoot). Sensing that it was outnumbered, the toilet abruptly retreated and tried to look innocent and immaculately clean.

New York City may have its Alligators, Tuscon has Cockroaches in its pipes, but Oakland apparently doesn't need living critters. Our toilets won't have anyone else stealing their show.

Special brownie points to Do for letting me cope with my trauma in a nice, warm shower and mopping the bathroom floor himself. That is what true love looks like.

Moving on.

Before my week became nutsoid with Rabid Toilets and Little Brothers and Yankees Bar-B-Queing Brisket (more on that when Do posts), we had what began as a very calm, chill encounter with Curried Eggplant Soup. I think that I got this recipe from Bon Appetit's May issue, the article where Clotilde of the Chocolate & Zucchini blog took readers around hip but unknown Paris restaurants, but I can't seem to find the article or the recipe online. My clipping says, "this recipe is from Agnès Morsain, co-owner of Zoé Bouillon," so that'll have to do in terms of ethical sourcing points.

The Curried Eggplant Soup with Parmesan Cream sounded interesting, especially as I've been abstaining from eggplants for months after discovering that out-of-season eggplants are a close relation of cardboard. Unfortunately, my first taste of this soup was disappointing: it tasted like Soupe de Spice Rack. Got the curry powder flavor, there's the turmeric, but where's the eggplant?

Plan B was, If you can't make it, fake it. In went red pepper flakes, more curry powder, a dash of red wine vinegar, salt, and maybe cumin. Because the Parmesan Cream flopped (mostly my fault: I whipped it too long so it clumped, and was more like Cream lumps with Parmesan sticks poking out of it), I hid it by dumping an entire handful of Parmesan on top. (The posted photos were taken the morning after the Parmesan Cream had a close encounter with the compost bin, so the white stuff is yogurt).

Do, despite all my efforts and warnings, liked it. He says that eggplant doesn't really taste like anything anyway, but was there for texture. He liked when the clumpy cream melted into the thick purée, he really liked the cacophony of flavors. He had seconds!

So I don't know what to think. I'm going to give you the recipe straight up, as it appears on my sourceless clipping, and you can try to muck around with it. Maybe roasting the eggplant cubes first would bring out eggplant flavor?

Curried Eggplant Soup with Parmesan Cream (6 servings).
1 1/2 Tbs olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 small garlic clove, minced (or two, or three...)
1 tsp curry powder (more, or garam masala?)
1/2 tsp ground turmeric (why be stingy?)
2 1/4 lbs eggplant (about two medium), peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces. (In a half-hearted attempt to reduce the serving size, I used one eggplant)
4 cups of water (For the one eggplant, I used 2 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup canned crushed tomatoes with added purée (what added puree?)
2 Tbs chopped fresh basil (Couldn't find fresh, got depressed, used dried)
1/2 cup chilled whipping cream
1 Tbs freshly grated Parmesan cheese
(I also added cumin, red wine vinegar, and red pepper flakes to taste)

Heat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion; cook until golden, about 8 minutes. Add garlic, curry, and turmeric; stir one minute. Add eggplant, 4 cups of water, and tomatoes; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover, and cook until eggplant is very tender, about 40 minutes. Cool soup slightly. Mix in basil. Working in batches, puree soup in blender. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Whisk cream in medium bowl to soft peaks; fold in cheese. Bring soup to simmer. Ladle into bowls, then top with dollop of Parmesan cream.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Enchiladas Verdes: Worth the Effort.

I don't know much about Mexican food. If you don't count Do's sister's scuba-diving wedding in Cozumel (I wouldn't), I've never been to Mexico. I do know something about Dominican Republic food, since my family lived there for four years and I worked there for two summers, but since I live in San Francisco and not Brooklyn, that doesn't help me much.

When my Dad and I were driving from D.C. to Berkeley, we made a big effort to eat at uniquely local places. In El Paso, after driving 570 miles in a day, we had our socks knocked off at a Mexican roadside diner, Carnitas Queretaro. It didn't look like much on the outside, a cheap diner next to a gas station on a major thoroughfare. The restaurant had been recommended by Steve, a blogger who writes extremely thorough and helpful restaurant reviews. Oh man. The food was really, really superb. Moist, flavorful, with the right degree of spice, perfectly prepared -- this wasn't trashy Tex-Mex. This was top-of-the-line Mexican food. Wow. Must repeat.

Fortuitously, this month's Cook's Illustrated has a recipe for Enchiladas Verdes (someone has posted the full recipe here) This is your cue to laugh at me for trusting a guy from New Hampshire to teach me to make Mexican home-style food. A couple thoughts:

1) Tomatillos are just plain cool. They're not actually tomatoes -- check out that husk! -- though they are of the same family. Many Latin American sauces char-grill tomatillos before turning them into pulp for sauces, and the flavor is incredible. Think smokey and tart. I am SO EXCITED to have a neighborhood grocery store that offers tomatillos (and poblanos, and varieties of plums that I've never heard of... more on how much we worship the Berkeley Bowl at another point).

2) This recipe was a lot of work. Think Madhur Jaffrey or Silver Palate or Gourmet level of work. It consists of 6 mostly-unrelated steps that have to be done in sequence, so that you can add the broth from step 1 to the salsa in step 3 and stuff the filling from step 4 into the tortillas in step 5... ack! Definitely not a project for a weeknight or for a cook who doesn't excel at multi-tasking. I actually had a lot of fun, but that's probably because my little brother and I made this together, with a couple of beers, Randy Newman on the kitchen speakers, and a leisurely evening of Battlestar Galatica reruns in front of us. With two, the complicated, inter-related steps seemed almost like a dance.

Of course, it helped that the result was absolutely spectacular. This recipe gets added to our All Time Favorites category. It was that good. The chicken was moist and flavorful, the tortillas soaked up the tomatillo salsa and the cheese to have the perfect texture, and the salsa itself was delightfully smokey. The cumin and peppers give the salsa a light, bright flavor, then cheese and chicken keep the enchiladas firmly anchored on the ground. This recipe is outrageously good. Please, if you have two hours to spare and aren't feeling stressed, make this recipe. It's really, really good.

My brother and I followed the recipe closely, with very few changes (we added more cumin to the salsa and a dash of black pepper). Our tortillas were already pliant, so we didn't bother to soften them before stuffing them. We also couldn't bear to throw away the fragrant liquid in which the chicken cooked... so we drank it. It was so, so delicious. Finally, Cook's Illustrated didn't remind readers that roasted poblanos are easier to peel if you throw them in a paper bag and let them sit for a few minutes. As my brother discovered, it makes a big difference.

Two thumbs up.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Why are We so Vehement about the America's Test Kitchen - Deborah Broide Publicity screw-up?

Over 100 people have commented on Melissa's blog post, "Illegal or Not?" Dozens of foodie blogs have posted about it, indignant conversations abound. Plenty of bloggers have dropped their subscription to the America's Test Kitchen products, or vow not to pick one up. We as a community are really, really upset.


I mean, in addition to the fact that Deborah Broide's interactions with Melissa were galling, that her claim to copyrighted material was unfounded, and that the "policy" that America's Test Kitchen's recipes can't be modified is laughably absurd. Which is reason enough to feel peeved, but plenty of us are still fuming and/or squirming uncomfortably days after.

Krysta's post, "Still Pissed Off," got me thinking. Everyone who starts a food blog and uses others' recipes has to develop a position on intellectual property. We've all thought about it: can I post this recipe, even though I got it from Gourmet/Joy/Aunt Susie? Should I credit it? Should I rewrite it? Should I modify it? Or should I just talk about the food and post photos without giving a recipe? There's no real convention in the blog world, although most people do credit the original source and link to the blog site/magazine site/cookbook site on Amazon. We love our recipes, we love the places where we found them, and we want to share our discoveries.

The America's Test Kitchen-Melissa interaction made us wonder if, maybe, we've gone too far.

We haven't, or at least Melissa didn't in this particular instance. But America's Test Kitchen's defensive position made us all look back and wonder whether we've been fucking over our favorite cookbook authors. Rationally, legally, we have every right...but there's still lingering doubt. I know I feel mildly queasy about posting on tonight's dinner (which, unhelpfully, happens to be a Cook's Illustrated recipe for enchiladas). As Mindy, a new foodie blogger, commented on Krysta's post:

"This is just depressing! I'm so new to this and have just assumed if I'm lauding (or even mildly appreciative of) another person's recipe--and announcing that it is in fact THEIR recipe that I used to create MY version--that I was acting responsibly and respectfully. I figure it's free--though well deserved--advertising for that person's books, blog, or other publication. Now I feel I have to approach with caution, and am a little concerned that I've broken the rules by not asking people if I can reference their creations."

We're also upset because recipe swapping, modifying, sharing is an inherently positive activity, both in real life and in the virtual world. The foodie blog world isn't competitive: typical feedback is friendly, over-the-top encouraging, with helpful suggestions instead of criticism. Unlike with most communities (political blogs, religious blogs, etc.), blackballers are very few and far between. So when Deborah Broide told Melissa what she could and could not do, dictating limits on Melissa's creativity, we were dumbfounded. You can't do that!, we splutter. It's my kitchen, it's my blog, it's my fucking potato salad. I'll make it however I damn well please. I don't need your permission to say that I used your recipe as a reference. Who the hell do you think you are?

It's unsettling to see how even cooking can get infected by the "mine!" attitude. Usually the kitchen is the best place to escape that.

I'm saddened by this whole episode. I really like Cook's Illustrated, pretentious testing and all. It fits with how Do and I approach cooking (which I understand doesn't work for many others and that's cool). I would really like to think that this PR fuck-up and the policy behind it is the fault of Deborah Broide Publicity.

In the mean time, I'm going to make me some enchiladas. July 2008 issue.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

America's Test Kitchen, DON'T alienate food bloggers

I really like America's Test Kitchen. My Mom got Do a subscription to their magazine, Cook's Illustrated. He adores it and cooks out of it all the time. In fact, yesterday he picked up an America's Test Kitchen product at the grocery store, and I'm planning on making an America's Test Kitchen recipe tomorrow night.

America's Test Kitchen is one of the only foodie magazines out there that doesn't offer free access to their recipes online. This makes sense, as they are much smaller than Gourmet or Bon Appetit, and need the $ much more than the free publicity.

When blogging about their recipes in the past, this website has tried to a) link to a free copy of the recipes at the America's Test Kitchen website, b) link to a verbatum copy of the original recipe on someone else's blog, or c) post only recipes of our creations that were inspired by an America's Test Kitchen recipe, such as here. We felt comfortable with this, because we were not giving out their copyrighted recipe but we were still giving them the free, positive publicity that they deserved.

Then fellow foodie blogger Melissa had this extremely off-putting run-in with America's Test Kitchen's PR firm, Deborah Broide Publicity.

America's Test Kitchen, the food blog world is your friend. We are a fount of free publicity, we laud you, we encourage others to check out your products. If you don't want us to post your copyrighted recipes without permission, that's legit. But we are real people with real kitchens -- it's absurd to think that you can prevent us from modifying your recipes. America's Test Kitchen, please don't force this fight. At best, you'll encourage a lot of food bloggers to steer clear of America's Test Kitchen all together. At worst, you'll get a backlash of angry bloggers and you'll lose a lot of customers, and you won't gain anything anyway since we'll still blog about what we're cooking. America's Test Kitchen, let's be friends. Don't piss off the foodie blog world. It's a lose-lose idea.

And you may want to rethink your internet PR policies. Unless negative PR is your game plan.

Reward for Braving the Chinatown masses: Serious Dim Sum

Did you know that San Francisco's Chinatown is the largest Chinatown outside of Asia? Or that it has the second highest population density in the country, after Manhattan? That last one definitely gave me a pause. Most buildings in the neighborhood are only four or five stories tall! That's a lot of people crammed into closets. and onto sidewalks. and into shops. In fact, that's a lot of people, period. The photo to the right must have been taken at 5 a.m., because it does not do justice to the crowds.

On Sunday, Do and I joined forces with a college friend (make that a very good college friend -- Do did crash on his floor for five weeks this summer) and this friend's childhood bud and ventured out to get us some Dim Sum.

For those who have never had Dim Sum (me, before college), wikipedia describes it as "a Chinese cuisine which involves a wide range of light dishes served alongside Chinese tea." Instead of ordering from a menu, trays of goodies are wheeled past you on carts and you simply point at whatever looks good. Pointing is the lingua franca, since you usually can recognize and name only the steamed rice or chicken feet. It costs less than ten dollars to stuff yourself silly. Dim Sum was almost a monthly habit for us when we lived in Chicago. We and a regular group of friends would drive over to the Phoenix around 9:30 a.m., before the line started but after the carts came out, and would delve into a ridiculous quantity of deep-fried rolls and dumplings and things for an equally ridiculous price.

So, map in hand, we crossed the bay and made our way to San Francisco's Chinatown. Wow. Block after block of tea houses, tourist tshatshkes, sidewalk food markets, and cheap restaurants. And it was crowded! These were no Midwestern-sized sidewalks and streets like in Chicago's Chinatown. People were jostling around each other, using the street as often as the sidewalk. It felt alive. Woe be to the car trying to inch its way along.

When we got to the Dim Sum restaurant, Dol Ho, we were the only Caucasians in sight (always a good sign). The place is a total hole in the wall, and we were seated right next to the kitchen (score!), just to the left of this photo, and therefore got to watch them make all of their dumplings by hand, including the dough. English wasn't getting us far, so the friend of our friend actually pulled out his very limited Cantonese to get water for the table. The whole thing was a total trip. The Dim Sum was excellent and plentiful, better than Chicago's Phoenix though without their variety (admittedly, it could be that the Phoenix is larger and so the carts pass through more often). For the four of us, including three male Science grad students (I don't know if they eat more than other graduate students, but it's possible), the total came to $26. We didn't eat for the rest of the day. It was glorious.

Do is very excited to go to a Chinese tea house and I'm sorely tempted by all the inexpensive groceries (79 cents for a bag of ginger the size of an onion sack!). My brother arrives tonight for a five day visit, so there are good odds that we'll be checking out another Dim Sum spot this Sunday. Exciting!

Disclaimer: I took none of the above photos. I was too busy oogling at everything and trying not to lose Do in the crowds.

Disclaimer 2: We still don't have internet at home, and Do is always crazy busy at lab, so it looks like you're stuck with me until AT&T gets its act together. I promise, he hasn't died or lost interest or anything. In fact, he's cooking Pasta Puttanesca tonight (score!).