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Wednesday, April 27, 2011


The picture above? It's chocolate covered foie gras. That pretty much says it all, and sums up my experience at fit-for-foodies Mission spot Commonwealth.

It was the opening number of the $60 6-course tasting menu ($10 goes to charity) which critics deem one of the best deals in town. I love chocolate and I love foie gras, but wasn’t won over by this rich combination (MFM was a fan), which was served with bits of apple, parmesan crostini and vanilla in a powdered form.

But it made a very interesting statement and set an exciting tone of things to come.

I was already quite taken by my drink - a cocktail of Floc de Gascogne (a fruity fortified wine), pomegranate, kaffir lime and liquid nitrogen that resembled a pale pink shaved ice (and was just as refreshing). It went nicely with the seaweed-sprinkled housemade potato chips that came with a light vinegar mousse.

Also tasty was a salad of radishes “in various forms” – artfully presented and offering a nice array of flavors and textures. And maybe it’s because I’m partial to uni, but my favorite dish was a light, delicate asparagus custard with uni, beech mushrooms, jalapenos and chorizo. It was delicious and not quite like anything I've had before.

In between, a few bites fell into limbo. I didn’t not like it, but didn’t love it either. Including the young hen with artichokes, pistachios and hedgehog mushrooms and the palate-cleansing blood orange sorbet with fennel soda (not shown). And for me, the Snicker Bar-like dessert (a chocolate ganache covered peanut butter semifreddo) bordered on too sweet, though the frozen "popcorn" and smear of caramel made it a lot more intriguing.

Food memories are kind of a funny bunch. Sometimes I'll leave a restaurant holding on to the lingering taste of a singular spectacular dish, and sometimes I’ll leave excited knowing that I’ve tasted something special in the one and only place that could serve it. My experience at Commonwealth falls into that second group, and for that I can say it was a $60 that was worth every penny, and then some.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sticky Lemon Rolls with Lemon Cream Cheese Glaze

makes 8 rolls
recipe adapted from the kitchn
prep time: 1 hr / cook time: 35 min

1 envelope yeast (0.25 oz. or 2 1/2 tsp)
* I used active yeast
3/4 c milk, warmed to about 100˚ F or warm but not hot on your wrist
1/2 c (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 c sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 1/2 c flour
* I used 4 cups
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 lemons, zested
2 eggs, room temperature

1 c sugar
1/4 tsp freshly-ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp powdered ginger
2 lemons, zested
l lemon, juiced
3 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
* I used 4 tbsp

4 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1 lemon, zested and juiced
* I just used lemon juice
1 c powdered sugar

• In the bowl of a stand mixer, sprinkle the yeast over the warmed milk and let it sit for a couple minutes.
• With the paddle attachment, stir in the softened butter, sugar, vanila and 1 cup of flour.
• Stir in the salt, nutmeg and lemon zest.
• Stir in the eggs and enough of the remaining flour to make a soft yet sticky dough.
• Switch to the dough hook and knead for about 5 minutes or until the dough is elastic and pliable.
* If you do not have a stand mixer, stir together the ingredients by hand, then turn the soft dough out onto a lightly floured countertop. Knead the dough by hand for 5-7 minutes or until the dough is smooth, pliable and stretchy.
• Spray the top of the dough with vegetable oil and turn the dough over so it is coated in oil.
• Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a towel and let the dough rise until nearly doubled, about an hour.
* I let my dough rise for 2 hours, but it never doubled in size.

• In a small bowl, mix the sugar with the nutmeg and ginger, then work in the lemon zest with the tips of your fingers until the sugar resembles wet, soft sand.
• Stir in the juice of 1 lemon. Reserve the juice of the second lemon for the glaze.
• Lightly grease a 13x9" baking dish with baking spray or butter.
• On a floured surface pat the dough out into a large yet thick rectangle, about 10x15".
• Spread the butter evenly, then pour and spread the lemon-sugar mixture over top.
* I found spreading the butter with my fingers worked best.
• Roll the dough up tightly, starting from the top long end.
• Cut the long dough roll into 12 even rolls and place them cut side up in the prepared baking dish.
• Cover the rolls with a towel and let them rise for an hour or until puffy and nearly doubled.
* You can also refrigerate the rolls at this point. Cover the pan tightly with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. When you are ready to bake the rolls, remove the pan from the fridge and let them rise for an hour.
• Preheat oven to 350˚ F. Place the risen rolls in the oven and bake for 35 minutes or until a thermometer inserted into a center roll reads 190˚ F.
• While the rolls are baking, prepare the glaze.

• In a small food processor, or with a mixer or sturdy whisk, whip the cream cheese until light and fluffy.
• Add the lemon juice and blend until well combined.
• Add the powdered sugar and blend until smooth and creamy.
• When the rolls are done, smear them with the cream cheese glaze and sprinkle the zest of 1 additional lemon over top to garnish. Serve while warm.

• I cut out 8 rolls, but I recommend sticking to the original recipe which calls for 12. I found the rolls to be too much to eat when cut into 8 pieces.
• I like the flavor of lemon, but I found it to be a bit much in this recipe. You might want to cut down on some of the juice and zest in both the filling and glaze.
• The juice from the filing will bubble as it starts to bake. To avoid having to clean the oven, place the baking dish on top of a baking sheet.



Wednesday, April 20, 2011

LA Getaway

My friend M is, in a word, lovely. She’s tall, gracious and wittily smart, and the best part of all is this layer of happiness that’s radiated from her since she met her husband-to-be, E. So when the occasion arose to celebrate with the bride-to-be and some So. Cal pals, I jumped on a plane and headed south.

Of course I had a few foodie fixes in mind.

Starting with - Umami Burger. I read a lot about this Burger of the Year winning restaurant (that’s coming to the Bay Area soon, yay!) named for the fifth taste. I was never good in science, but apparently along with sweet, sour, salty and bitter, umami is one of five tastes that the human tongue can identify.

A Truffle Burger (with housemade truffle cheese & glaze) for me, and my pal Whangers & Mash got the Umami burger, which has umani-laden toppings like shiitakes and parmesan cheese. Both were juicy, meaty, and the umami (which hopefully I'm correctly recognizing as a savory richness) was surprisingly pronounced. It wasn’t a huge burger and didn’t include the usual lettuce & tomato, but the flavors, textures and slight richness of the bun made it one of the most satisfying burgers I’ve ever had.

Malt liquor tempura onion rings and sweet potato fries were also quite tasty, and served with a trio of homemade sauces. We made sure to try the housemade umami ketchup, which was zingy, vibrant and a lot less sweet than what I’m used to, making me wonder just what exactly is in the ketchup in my fridge.

Also on the list was recommended Studio City noodle joint, Jinya Ramen. The last couple of bowls of ramen I’ve had were all pork-based, so it was a nice change to try Jinya’s lighter, but still tasty chicken-based broth. I loved it, especially with their slightly toothsome, al-dente-style noodles.

To accompany the ramen, we also ordered delightfully thin-skinned gyoza and spicy tuna rolls. A few of us also ordered a delicious soft-boiled egg which the waiter attempted to furtively tell through his teeth would be free if we checked-in on Yelp (we all pulled out our smart phones immediately).

It was a great trip, surrounded by the great company of great friends, coupled with great food. Most of all it was great to be there and see my shining friend M, as she begins this wonderful, magical chapter of her life with the one person I know she’s meant to grow old with. Congratulations, and love you, M!


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Coconut Guava Filled Cupcakes

makes 16 cupcakes
recipe adapted from Ina Garten
prep time: 45 min / cook time: 22-32 min

1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
* I omitted the salt since I used salted butter
1 c sugar
3/4 c unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), room temperature
* I used salted butter
3 large eggs, room temperature
3/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
3/4 tsp pure almond extract
1/2 c buttermilk
1 1/2 c flaked sweetened coconut


8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 c unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 c powdered sugar, sifted
* I used 2 cups
3 tbsp guava fruit spread

• Preheat oven to 325˚ F.
• In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
• With the mixer on low speed, add the eggs, 1 at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition.
• Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix well.
• In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
• In 3 parts, alternately add the dry ingredients and the buttermil to the batter, beginning and ending with the dry. Mix until just combined.
• Fold in coconut.
• Line a muffin pan with paper liners. Fill each linter to the top with batter.
• Bake for 22-32 minutes, until the tops are brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan for 15 minutes.
• Remove to a baking rack and cool completely.

• In a bowl, mix guava fruit spread and guava nectar.
* Add more guava nectar if you want a looser consistency.

• In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, on low speed, cream together the cream cheese, butter and vanilla extract.
• Add the confectioners' sugar.
• Add the guava fruit spread and mix until smooth.

• Using a paring knife, carve a small hole in the middle of the cupcake. Be sure not to cut too deep.
* You can use a spoon to gently remove more of the cupcake if needed.
• Spoon in a bit of the guava filling into the cupcake.
• Put the top back onto the cupcake and frost the top.

• These cupcakes will rise quite a bit and will stick to the cupcake pan. I recommend filling it no more than 3/4 full.
• If you do not like a heavy almond flavor, add less almond extract to the cupcake mixture.
• The texture of the cupcake is more like a dense teacake.



Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Star Stream

When I am forced to go to Best Buy here in SF (by MFM, who loves the place), my one saving grace is that afterwards I can feast on tacos al pastor from the El Tonanyese taco truck that is usually parked outside.

But now I have TWO saving graces - thanks to Star Stream, a charming cafe across the street that serves Liege waffles. (Alternately, when I am coerced to go to Fry's, another one of MFM's beloved destinations, there's no redemption AT ALL.)

Here, it's waffles to the rescue. Voted #80 on SF Weekly's 92 Best Dishes, these waffles made famous by the Belgian city are made with turbinado sugar, which carmelizes when pressed in the waffler, resulting in a crunchy, heavenly, sugary bliss. No syrup, whipped cream or toppings necessary. Just pair it with a rich cup of Blue Bottle coffee and you have the perfect post geek-shopping treat.

I also loved their Verde pizza. The crust was light, thin and a nice bit salty and was topped with an argula pesto, roasted fingerling potatoes, pine nuts and a gorgeous, runny egg. A salad made with argula, pickled carrots, tangy vinagrette and served with homemade focaccia was also a winner.

I was too busy filling up on the waffle and pizza and didn't have room to try their baked treats (from same-run bakery Goody Goodie), for which they are also quite famous. With such intriguing-sounding goodies like peanut butter & kettle corn cookies and olive cocoa nib wafers on their menu, I know I'll definitely be back.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Spiced Apple & Pear Pie

makes one 9" pie
recipe adapted from Food Network
filling prep time: 45 min / cook time: 1 hr 5 min

1 box store bought pie crust
* I used Trader Joe's brand
ingredients from the original recipe here

1/2 lemon
3 lbs. baking apples, such as Golden Delicious, Cortland or Mutsu (about 6 apples)
* I used 2 apples
1 1/2 lbs. baking pears, such as Bosc or firm Bartletts (about 3 pears)
* I used 6 pears
2/3 c sugar, plus more for sprinkling on the pie
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp fine salt
* I omitted the salt since I used salted butter
Generous pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 c unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
* I used salted butter
1/4 c all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 large egg, beaten

If making your own pie crust, following the instructions from the original recipe here.

• Finely grate the lemon zest and set aside.
• Peel, core and slice both the apple and pear into 1/2" slices.
• Squeeze the lemon juice over the fruit, then toss fruit with the sugar, cinnamon, ginger, salt and nutmeg.
• Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
• Add fruit and cook, stirring until the sugar dissolves and juices simmer, about 2 minutes.
• REduce heat to medium, and cook, uncovered, until the fruit softens and the juices evaporate some,a bout 10 minutes.
• Evenly mix the flour into the fruit; then cook about a minute more to thicken the juices slightly.
• Stir in the vanilla and lemon zest; and remove from the heat.
* The filling should resemble a tight compote.
• Cool completely.

• If making your own pie crust, follow the instructions under "form the pie" here.
• Transfer the dough to a 9" glass pan, trimming the hangs about 1/2" over the edge of the pan.
• Fill the crust with the prepared fruit so it mounds slightly in the center.
• Brush the rim of the crust with some of the egg.
• Roll the remaining dough into a 12" circle OR cut into long strips if doing a lattice pattern.
• Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.
• Meanwhile, place a rack in the lower third of the oven and heat to 425˚ F.
• Brush pie with egg and sprinkle with sugar.
• If you are laying a full pie sheet on top of the pie, cut 6-9 small steam vents into the top of the dough.
• Place pie on a baking sheet and cook for 15 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 375˚ F.
• Bake until the crust (both top and bottom) is golden brown, about 50 minutes more.
* If the edges brown too quickly, make a pie shield out of a piece of aluminum foil and cover the edges.
• Cool on a rack.

• I ended up receiving a fruit basket and wanted to use the fruit. Unfortunately, the fruit was a bit too ripe. To keep the fruit from breaking down too much, cut the fruit into larger pieces.
• I found the filling to be a bit too sweet, so add less than what is asked for and add more sugar for taste.
• The filling can be made up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated.
• The pie can be fully formed, except for the brushing with egg and dusting with sugar, and frozen. Place the pie in the freezer for 30 minutes, to harden it slightly, and then double wrap it with plastic wrap. Freeze for up to 2 months. When ready to bake, unwrap the pie and brush it with egg and sprinkle with sugar. If baking from the frozen state, following baking temperatures above, the pie may need to bake slightly longer at 375˚ F, about 1 hour 25 minutes.



Wednesday, April 06, 2011


Usually, I’m not one for theme restaurants. Most of the time they feel gimmicky, forced and destined for failure (in fact, a recent brainstorming exercise at work was inventing the most doomed theme restaurant concept ever, and my co-worker and I came up with an animal trotters-themed establishment called: Sole Food. Ha!).

But carnival themed Straw made me reconsider. Everything – from the Step Right Up welcome mat to the booth made from an old Tilt-A-Whirl car to the funhouse-style mirrors in the bathroom was thoughtful, deliberate and whimsically executed. This is a place that really works.

This Hayes Valley spot is small, but cozy. Dark, but intimate. Expected, but with a few surprises thrown in. Yes, there’s items on the menu like funnel cakes and tater tots, but the former is served with three decidedly un-lowbrow dipping sauces (chocolate, strawberry and a crème anglaise-like vanilla) and the latter is made from sweet potatoes and served with a tangy blackberry bbq sauce on the side.

There's a nice variety on the menu (including salads) but if you’re like me, you’ll want to try all the fun, familiar, and deep-fried fare like a fried chicken & waffle Monte Cristo, or mini corn dogs made from Niman Ranch pork. Even their root beer float has been re-invented – a root beer-flavored gelato is paired with cream soda for an “inverted” treat (the end result is still yummy), while the cotton candy was familiar but with an exotic, tropical flair (I think it was passionfruit?)

One thing you won’t find on the menu? Simply-named food. Instead of a cheeseburger, you’ll find The Ringmaster (served on a housemade glazed donut), and my pork belly sandwich with peanut sauce was called Boxcar Children (completely bewildered, I later looked it up and discovered it’s a children’s book about orphans that sounds absolutely fascinating). And both my sister and Pat-strami ordered the Bearded Lady - a pulled pork sandwich with blackberry coulis.

Thinking back, I can’t say it’s the best-tasting food I’ve had. But I still left this restaurant smiling. It was everything going to a carnival as an adult should be - happy, a tad nostalgic, and most of all, fun.


Sunday, April 03, 2011

Red Velvet Cake Balls

makes 3 dozen cake balls
recipe adapted from Domino Sugar
prep time: 35 min / cook time: 12-15 min

4 eggs, room temperature
3/4 c sugar
1 tbsp oil
* I used vegetable oil
2 tbsp butermilk
1 tsp vinegar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 oz. red food coloring
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 c unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 c cake flour

8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 c unsalted butter, room temperature
3 c confectioners' sugar
* I used 2 cups
1 tsp vanilla extract

• Preheat oven to 350˚ F.
• Coat jelly roll pan with cooking spray or line with waxed paper and coat with cooking spray.
• Beat the eggs for 5 minutes.
• Slowly add sugar and oil. Beat well.
• Add buttermilk, vinegar, vanilla and red food coloring.
• Sift together dry iBoldngredients. Add slowly to liquid ingredients. Beat for 2 minutes, until well combined.
• Pour batter into pan.
• Bake on middle rack for 12-15 minutes, until the cake springs back when touched in center.
• Let cake cool.

• Combine filling ingredients. Beat well.

• Line a cookie pan with wax paper; set aside.
• In a large bowl, crumble the red velvet cake.
• Add the filling to the crumbled cake.
• Using your hands, mix the cake and filling until well combined.
• Roll 1 inch balls and place on the prepared cookie pan.
• When all the red velvet balls have been rolled, place cookie pan in the freezer for about half an hour to set or chill in the refrigerator for a few hours.
• When the cake balls are set, melt chocolate bark or temper some chopped chocolate.
* I tempered bittersweet chocolate.
• Roll the cake balls in the melted chocolate and place back on the cookie sheet until firm.

• I did not intend on making cake balls when I used this recipe. The original recipe was for a red velvet roll and it was a TERRIBLE recipe, but came out great when everything was mashed together.
• You can use a boxed cake mix and a can of frosting for this if you don't want to make this from scratch.
• If you want to temper the chocolate, be sure to read the link and temper your chocolate properly. There have been many occasions where I have improperly melted chocolate and the end result wasn't pretty. The consistency was thick and when refrigerated it didn't have a nice shine to it.


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