Thursday, March 30, 2006

Herb/ Vegetable Garden

I thought I would give an update on our garden- last time I wrote we had just put in the tomato seedlings, the herb plants and sown the basil seeds. San Diego has experience a great deal of rain reecently- well when I say a great deal I mean a great deal for San Diego, and that combined with the daily sunshine has been just awesome for the plants. The tomato plants have shot right up- one in particular having grown to almost a foot in hieght. The basil seeds are poking out thier heads- purple and green and are looking healthy and promising, the rosemary is bushing out and the chives are mulitplying. All in all we should have soem great produce in a few months- in fact things are going so well that I have ordered some chili seeds to add extra variety. I'll keep updating the progress!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Pastry Chef?

I've recently been informed that my hands are just too warm for me to ever become a pastry chef. This is a shame- but then again having hands like ice des not make for the most appealing and welcoming personality. Being a pastry chef is a kind of dream i think a lot of food lovers hold in the back of their mind- it's such a great mix between art and cooking- allowing one to be creative, individual and produce something really to be proud of. I've always thought making wedding cakes would be awesome - working out of my own home and charging $1000 a time- Masie Fantasie is a site that always fills me with inspiration. Still the chances are I'd end up working in a bakery- getting up at 3 a.m. in the morning and becoming increasingly antisocial.

Ah well- it's probably something best to keep as a hobby- bring out some flair for birthdays and what not. At least I will always have my fail safe recipe for Black Forest Gateau- which I am happy to say is indifferent to my warm hands. Try it out and see!

Black Forest Gateau

Ingredients


6 eggs

1 cup sugar, scant

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup best quality cocoa powder

1/2 butter, melted

For the filling and topping

2 1/2 cups whipping cream

2 tablespoons icing sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

(1.5 lbs) jar of pitted morello cherries, well drained (You can get these from Trader joes!)

To decorate
icing sugar, for dusting

grated chocolate

chocolate curls

morello cherries (fresh or drained canned)

Method

1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Butter and line three 8 inch in diameter cake pans.
3. Combine the eggs with the vanilla and sugar in a bowl and beat until pale and very thick, about 5-7 minutes.
4. Sift the flour and cocoa powder over the mixture and fold in lightly and evenly with a spatual. Stir in the melted butter.
5. Divide the mixture among the prepared cake pans.
6. Bake for 15-18 minutes, until the cakes have risen and are springy to the touch.
7. Leave them to cool in the pans, on a rack, for about 5 minutes, then turn out and leave to cool completely.
8. Remove the lining paper from each cake layer.

9. Using a hand-held electric mixer, whip the cream in a bowl until it starts to thicken, then gradually beat in the icing sugar and vanilla until it forms stiff peaks.
10. To assemble: spread one cake layer with just under a 1/3 of the cream and top with about half the cherries.
11. Spread a second cake layer with a little less than 1/2 the remaining cream, top with the remaining cherries, then place it on top of the first layer.
12. Top with the final cake layer.
13. Spread the remaining cream all over the cake.
14. Dust a plate with icing sugar, and position the cake carefully in the centre.
15. Press grated chocolate over the sides and decorate the cake with the chocolate curls and fresh or drained cherries. (This is the only hard part and takes a bit of skill and lots of patience!)

Monday, March 27, 2006

Vegetarian Chili

One of the things I have been trying to do recently is cook big batches of dishes on the weekend and them freeze them, so that we don't have to spend the entire week cooking. Chili is one of the very best recipes for such a task- it is easy to prepare in huge quantities, and is also very versitile- eat with tortillas, with rice, even with a baked potato- always add some guacamole, and sour cream or yoghurt.

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion (roughly chopped)
2 green chili peppers (finely chopped)
1 tsp salt
2 sticks celery (diced)
1 red pepper (diced)
½ eggplant (diced)
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tin crushed tomatoes
1 tin red kidney beans
1 tin black beans
1 tin black eyed beans
1 tin pinto beans
½ tin sweetcorn
1 tsp red chili pepper
1 tsp cumin
1tbsp Oregano
1 cup red wine
½ bottle beer

Method

1, Heat the oil in a large pan. Add the onions, chilies and salt. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally over a high heat. Add the celery and pepper and cook for a further 5 mins. Add the eggplant, cook for a further 3 mins.

2, Add the tins of tomatoes, tins of beans and the sweetcorn. Mix well together and bring to the boil. Now add the spices and herbs, mix well. Keep stirring occasionally and gradually add the wine and and beer.

3, Reduce the heat, cover the pan, and keep simmering for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Bombay Takeout

Got Indian take out last night from Bombay. I was a little disconcerted when I went into pick up our food that all the girls working their were wearing bhindis- it seemed a little odd and pretentious- however the restaurant smelt just amazing- a god sign for the food which was there ready and waiting for me.
We got the Chef's specialty Malai Kofta- (vegetarian meatballs in a southern curry sauce) and Dal Makhani. This time- due to previous mistakes we opted for medium spicy and the level was just perfect. We cooked up some brown rice with turmeric and fennel seeds, as well as an Indian tomato soup to accompany our dishes. Everything turned out pretty well- the Malai Kofta was delicious- although we would have hoped for more than 3 "meatballs" in a $12 take out dish. The Dal Makhani was also very good. Our own additions were fabulous, especially the brown rice which we will definitely make again.
All in all very good- not as good as some of the Indian food we have had in the UK- but for US Indian food it was certainly above par- the most convenient place we have found for take out around here.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Soltan Banoo

Last night we tried out a new restaurant in University Heights- Soltan Banoo , which is billed as serving "Eclectic Persian Cuisine". Intrigued we arrived to find a rather inelegant location with half indoor/outdoor seating that reminded me of a beach shack or burger bar. The indoor seating looked decidedly shabby so we chose to eat outside under the canopy, which thankfully was heated by a small gas fire. Nonetheless we had to keep our coats on and never really relaxed throughout the meal.
I'm sad to say that the staff at Soltan Banoo were distinctly unfriendly- somewhat superior with their raw-vegan, herbal tea airs. Being served by a waitress in grungy clothes and a shaved head, whose mind is clearly elsewhere on bigger and better things, does not exactly make for a "special" dining experience.
The menu was certainly interesting- I'm not quite sure it qualifies as eclectic, but there were certainly dishes we had never seen or heard of before in our lives. We started with a cup of Ash Anar- the specialty of the restaurant - a pomegranate soup
with beans, lentils and barley. This was interesting, a refreshing change to find a very new flavor. The soup was very sweet and although we enjoyed it we were very glad to have only ordered cups- a bowl would have been much to much.
For the main course my wife got a raw vegan salad- a mixture of raw vegetables nuts and seeds which she enjoyed- although could have made just as easily, (and perhaps better) at home. I opted for the Chicken Kabob. This was tasty grilled chicken accompanied with a rice dish of cranberries, caramelized orange & carrot rinds, almonds, onions and saffron. The food was good but certainly nothing extraordinary and we were much dismayed when the check came back costing almost as much as we had spent on our fabulous meal at Vagabond. Going out to dinner should be a real treat, you should feel happy and relaxed at the end of the evening- yesterday we felt nothing except slightly disgruntled that we had not had the evening we had hoped for.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Anniversary Dinner

In celebration of having known each other for 5 years my wife cooked me a surprise Mediterranean dinner last night. I thought I would share this beautiful culinary display with everyone.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Tortilla Espanola

The sun is shining today in San Diego and it feels like the picnic season is really upon us. Hopefully we will have time to head out for one this weekend. One of my favorite things to take on a picnic is a Spanish tortilla. These are so easy to transport, taste great, easy to make in advance and are just all in all great picnic fare. Here is my recipe:

4 Large Potatoes (thinly sliced, ½ cm thick)
2 Large Onions (thinly sliced)
7 Eggs
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper


Method


1, Place the potatoes in a large frying pan or wok, submerge in olive oil. After 5 minutes add the onions. Season with plenty of salt. Keep cooking until the potatoes are soft.

2, Remove the potatoes and onion with a slotted spoon, drain off the oil and set aside for future use.

3, In a large bowl beat the eggs well. Add in the potatoes and onions. Use a fork to gently combine the potato mixture with the egg. Be careful not to over blend the mixture.

4, Heat a small amount of oil in a large frying pan. When the oil is hot pour in the egg mixture. Allow to cook for 10/15 minutes or until the bottom of the omlette is golden brown. Use a plate to turn the omlette over and then cook the other side. Remove from the pan and serve. Best served at room temperature with bread and other Tapas.



Tortillas can also be dressed up a bit as a great addition to a buffet - especially due to the fact they can be easily be prepare a couple of days before, giving you less to do on the day. Here is one we made for my Mom's surprise 60th Birthday Party.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Meal Maker Express

I'd just like to take this opportunity to write a glowing review of the Hamilton Beach's Meal Maker Express. It is basically a substitute for a George Foreman Grill--the difference being that its plates come out for much easier cleaning. Really this isn't so much adolation of Hamilton Beach's version though as it is for indoor grills in general. All I really need now to make a relatively quick meal in a relatively short time is cooking spray (Trader Joe's Canola spray works great), various vegetables (onions, peppers, mushrooms, zucchini, asparagus, etc.) and/or meats and some homemade spice mix made ahead of time in big batches (right now we're going through some Mexican). I just plop everything in a mixing bowl, spray it with oil, mix in some spices and then plop it on the grill. 5-7 minutes later its a great meal--I add some sour cream, guacamole and/or salsa on the side. Delish!

Monday, March 20, 2006

India Princess

I am having to catch up a bit- being a bit lax in posting over the weekend.
Saturday night being incredibly dumb we headed to the Mall to watch V for Vendetta- a very bad idea, not only was the showing we were heading for sold out, but also the one after that with the only remaining showing being on at about 9.30pm at night. The mall was also packed, and not a pleasant place to stroll- we decided therefore to head out to dinner instead. After a brief debate we both expressed an ardent desire for Indian Food and settled on India Princess in Hillcrest- based on its moderate prices and generally favorable reviews.
As we walked into the restaurant the host welcomed us back - which was slightly bizarre seeing as we had never been there before- he realized his mistake and was profusely apologetic. The restaurant looked very much like a British Indian restaurant- this was reassuring as there is nothing quite as good as Indian food from a good UK restaurant. We were giving a nice booth and the very dim lighting provided a slightly romantic setting. The decor of the place was somewhat interesting with some fine ornate pipes mounted on the wall behind us- however they had made a big mistake in choosing their china- this was cafeteria style- white with a red rim - and worst of all the Indian princess logo mounted onto each and every piece.
Overlooking this extremely tacky touch we were pleased to be greeted with a basket of pappadams and assorted chutneys. These were not the greatest tasting chutneys I have encountered, however it did make a nice change to be treated to pappadams and not charged a few dollars extra for the pleasure. We ordered our food and in a bit to be healthy skipped over the pakoras and bhajees starting instead with soup. My wife got an Indian tomato soup which was absolutely delicious- mine was the "chef's specialty" spinach and lentil and was just okay. Moving on to our main course my wife chose Paneer Khadir- a paneer dish with green bell peppers, onions and tomatoes. I myself was brave enough to stay away from my beloved Chicen Tikka Massala and instead got a chicken and spinach dish which turned out to be fabulous. The Paneer Khadir was pleasant but certainly nothing to rave about.

All in all we had a relaxing evening, with courteous attentive wait staff and a good meal for a very reasonable price- will we go back- maybe.......... but not for some time, there are certainly much better places to eat in this great city.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Vagabond

It has happened- on Wednesday night my wife and I finally found what we believe to be our favorite neighborhood restaurant- the newly opened Vagabond in South Park. I had mentioned on a previous post our failed attempt to dine at the restaurant- this time we went ahead and made reservations and headed out for a late night evening meal.
The first thing I noticed about the restaurant upon entry was how warm it was- and warm in fact can be applied to nearly all aspects of Vagabond. Firstly, of course, the comfortable temperature, which was very welcoming on the distinctly chilly spring evening. Then the d├ęcor – shades of red and orange and terracotta form the backdrop of the eclectic collection of artifacts and objects from around the globe. Wonderfully soft lighting adds the finishing touch to create a cozy, intimate and somewhat unique atmosphere. Ultimately however the warmth of Vagabond comes from the wonderful people who make up the staff and management, every person we came into contact with from the guy who filled up our water glasses to the proprietor himself were genial, highly attentive, and sincerely amiable. They showed interest in our comments and suggestions for an extended vegetarian menu and we felt like valued customers and a part of this local neighborhood business.
I have to say we had almost chosen this restaurant as one of our favorites before any food even arrived at the table- but I am happy to report that it lived right up to expectations. The menu at Vagabond is International with favorite dishes from around the world such as Coq au Vin and Paella Valenciana. At the start of the meal a small bread basket was brought out with a saffron aioli which I truly believe was one of the best things I have ever tasted. True a combination of mayonnaise, garlic and saffron is going to be hard to go wrong with, but this was perfection itself. For an appetizer we ordered the “Piatto Italiano” a selection of Caprese salad and heavenly bruschetta topped with pancetta that simply melted in your mouth. For our main course I got the Paella Valenciana whilst my wife got a Moroccan couscous dish which came with 7 different vegetables- a symbol of luck. The Paella came served in a traditional paelleria which was a nice touch and was really very good- not quite as good as the paella I had in Valencia itself, but then let’s not get too picky. The couscous was also reported to be very tasty, and we greatly enjoyed the bottle of house wine.
All in all another evening extremely well spent- and at very reasonable prices. I can well see why Vagabond has lines out the door on the weekends, and we will certainly be making it our top choice of restaurants to take guests.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Secret Tomato Salad Recipe

I've talked a lot about tomatoes lately so I thought it might be nice to share with you what has been dubbed the "secret family recipe for tomato salad" Well not so secret anymore! I hope you all enjoy it- be sure to use nice hierloom tomatoes, preferably in varied colors and shades.

Fresh tomatoes (sliced)

Fresh Basil (finely minced)

Fresh Oregano (finely minced)

Fresh mint (finely minced)

3 Tbsp good quality extra virgen olive oil

1 Tbsp Balsamic vinegar

½ Tbsp Lemon juice

1 tsp pesto

4 cloves garlic (finely chopped)

¼ red onion (finely sliced)

Mozzarella di buffalo (thickly sliced)

3 oz blue cheese (crumbled)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

1, Arrange the sliced tomatoes on a large platter, a little overlapping with each other. Arrange the slices of mozzarella on top, dispersed amongst the tomatoes.

2, Sprinkle the herbs over the tomatoes and mozzarella.

3, Combine the oil, lemon juice, vinegar, pesto and garlic in a bowl. Sprinkle over the tomatoes.

4, Sprinkle the red onion and crumbled blue cheese over the salad. Season to taste.

5, Leave for a couple of hours so that the tomatoes can take up the juices.


For an extra delicious Tricolor salad add some avocado as we did here:




Sunday, March 12, 2006

Quail Botanical Gardens

I promised this blog would be about all aspects of food - so far we have covered restaurant reviews, places to buy good food, recipe books and the recipes themselves. Today I would like to add one of my other interests- growing food, something I believe all those involved in the culinary arts should consider.
Today we headed up to Quail Botanical Gardens for their annual Herb Festival and TomatoMania
Tomatoes are by far and above one of my favorite foods, is there anything to beat a god caprese salad made of ripe heirloom tomatoes? So as we finally have our own place to grow some plants now we headed up to the festival to learn all the tricks of the trade. We started the day with a great lecture on tomato growing- 2 interesting things I learned were that a) over watering tomatoes dilutes their flavor- you should water less and less as the season advances, b) you should leave it as late as possible to harvest your tomatoes- ripening them on the windowsill is not as successful as leaving them on the vine until the last possible moment- they should almost drop off into your hand when they are ready to be eaten. We were also given some tips as to how to grow tomatoes in pots- having no garden of our own currently we have to use our balcony. After the lecture we browsed the aisles of the tomato seedlings and left with a red pear tomato and one called "Sweet Millions"- a cherry variety that produces tons of fruit. So fingers crossed!

Next we moved onto my other great culinary love- fresh herbs. We attended a very interesting lecture on how to grow herbs hydroponically. I find the whole idea fascinating- really stretching the bounds of nature- however I wasn't quite sold on the advantages of hydroponic growing in a place like San Diego where we can pretty much grow plants outdoors year round. Maybe one day when we have our dream kitchen I will set up a hydroponic herb garden in a corner of it, and we can harvest at our leisure.

We ended up buying some herb seedlings and indeed seeds also, to add to our collection - although these going to be planted in the old fashioned way! We got a very interesting variety of basil along with some more usual chives, rosemary and oregano. If everything goes to plan we should have some delicious meals come the summer time!

Friday, March 10, 2006

Ranoosh

We decided to go out for dinner tonight- and first thought we would check out the new South Park restaurant Vagabond. We figured we would just take a look at the menu and see if it looked fun- well we turned up there saw the menu and whilst it looks absolutely the perfect place for us to eat out- it was also fully booked with an hour and a half wait for a table.

So we headed to plan B- Ranoosh a Lebanese restaurant we had been planning on going to for a while. I should probably first explain about our first Lebanese experience- we were in London, spending a few days there with friends, i had never really visited London before and my wife was showing me the sites. Anyhow, we ended up one incredibly hot day wandering around hungry, thirsty, tired and in need of a place to rest our weary feet. We were i must confess at that moment in Knightsbridge- for those of you who don't know London, this is where Harrods’s is located. We had nipped down to Harrods just for the experience, and after declining the $700 caviar I was just exhausted and needed to find a place to eat right away- well a few doors down was a Lebanese restaurant- the prices looked high but we were at breaking point and anywhere at all that had food and water and chairs looked wonderful. We were taken to our table and after being seated were presented with a bowl of vegetables- to I suppose nibble on; in the bowl there was a whole pepper, a whole tomato, sticks of celery, carrots and all other manner of un-cut-up vegetables. My wife thought this was just wonderful, and although we could only afford to order a couple of appetizers to share, it remains one of our most memorable dining experiences. the place was truly from its roots with many Lebanese families celebrating there, old men sitting drinking tea and women gossiping whilst snacking on olives- all chattering away in a language quite foreign to our Germanic/Romantic ears.

Well Ranoosh- although located in the enviable district of 5th and university is not quite on par with Knightsbridge London. The first mistake was made by our waitress- we entered the restaurant and asked for a table for 2, the place was pretty much empty but for some unfathomable reason she decided to place us on a tiny little table right next to one of the only two other parties in the building- we were maybe a foot away, if that. This forced intimacy being not the greatest start was compounded further when we took a look at the menu- very pricey for Lebanese/ Mediterranean food. Still we sat put and our order was taken, with the option of a soup or salad to start. This made my spirits rise a little- I love long dinners where we can sit and chat whilst sipping on a nice glass of wine, so i looked forward to a long relaxing meal, celebrating the fact that it was Friday and planning ahead for the weekend. This was foolish to say the least; there was perhaps 30 seconds between the arrival of our soup and the arrival of our entree- barely time for me to declare that the Lentil soup was actually quite tasty and we should think about making some at home. My entree - chicken and garlic sauce was also pretty good, my wife got the vegetarian platter which looked impressive although none of the various Lebanese and Mediterranean samples where worth much of a mention- they were okay..
What really made the night uncomfortable was the appearance of a young, and i mean young, belly dancer. She could not have been more than 16 years old and there she was showing off her whatever, in a way which made you want to call child protection services. Worse than this were the male diners in the restaurant who were acting in a way which can be described in no other fashion than leering. All this served to make our meal rather distasteful and we left as hurriedly as we could- vowing next time not to stay from the Mediterranean grill when we fancy some hummus and baba gannosh.

All in all Rannosh is over priced, cramped, kind of tacky, with pretty good food that doesn't make up for its detracting factors- I doubt we will be returning any time soon.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Trader Joes

Along with the farmer's market Trader Joes is probably the place where I buy most of our food- (additional items coming from Whole Foods, Henry's, Albertsons and occasiona specialty places.)
As all of us on the West Coast know Trader Joes rocks!

Here are a few of the items I love to buy at TJs:

Artichchoke Hearts
Sprouted Wheat Paparadelle Pasta
Sun Dried Tomtatoes- (julienne style)
Cheddar Cheese with Onions
Blue Cheese and Pecan Dip
Free Range Eggs
Mixed Leaf/ Herb mix
Prepeeled garlic (when i m feeling exceptionally lazy)
Chocolate covered pecans
Guacamole
Roasted Tomatillo Salsa
Whole Wheat Tortillas
Frozen Shrimp
And of course when we're felling very poor who could forget Two Buck Chuck!

Things that are not so good:
Frozen avocados
Tader Joe's Hummus
Vegetables/ Fruit (too much packaging)


Anyway today I was reading a very interesting and exciting article about how our East Cost friends might soon have the joy of Tader Joes on thier shores. This article in the New York Times gives some really good insight into the whole process- the "tasters" involved and reveals the mystery of why some of our favorie products often disappear only to reappear again weeks later.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Minestrone with Home Made Pesto

It seems about time to post my first recipe. So here goes- the recipe we came up with last night for dinner- Minestrone with home made pesto. It turned out very well so I though I would share.
This makes enough for a week- so tone down the quantities if you like.

1 Tbsp Olive Oil
2 Large Leeks- Thoroughly washed, quartered and chopped
2 White Onions- Diced
4 Sticks Celery- Diced
28 oz Tin of Chopped Tomatoes
8 cups Vegetable Stock
14 oz Tin of Kidney Beans
2 cups frozen peas
2 zucchini- diced

For the Pesto

2 large handfuls fresh basil
1/3 cup pine nuts
1 tbsp olive oil

3 cloves garlic roughly chopped
1/2 tsp salt

Heat the oil in a large soup pot- through in the onions and leeks and cook for 8 minutes, add the celery and cook for a further 5 minutes. Through in the tomatoes and stock bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Add in kidney beans, peas and zucchini and cook for a further 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and prepare the pesto.
For the pesto throw all ingredients in a blender and blend until fairly smooth.

Ladle the soup into bowls- stir in 2 Tbsps of pesto and top with a sprinkling of grated cheese.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Linkery

Yesterday after much complaining, self pity and unwarranted despair listing her attributes as a "failure" my wife sent me a text message to say she had been offered her dream job. She is now the community organizer for a great local environmental non-profit. This warranted real celebration- after graduating in July (2 days before our wedding incidentally), the poor thing has had to wait until now for her United States work permit and has spent the past few months volunteering her time for free.

In a return payment for their generosity last week we decided to the mark the occasion by taking our friends out for a nice meal. After endless deliberation we finally settled on The Linkery- a great local North Park restaurant specializing in, well, links. Our choice for this locale came after a quick review of their menu showed that they had almost tripled their vegetarian menu since the last time we visited.

Well I can tell you that The Linkery is certain to become one of our regular haunts- we were all very impressed and had a really great time. Jay the manager/ owner has done a fantastic job- combining just he right level of individuality with neighborhood comfort. The feeling in the restaurant is nothing but friendly and respectful. The staff- and Jay in particular come across in a way that makes you feel they would like nothing better than to help you have a good evening.
We ordered a bottle of Chardonnay- the 1st year anniversary special- which we all found to be impressive and will definitely be reordered at a later date. As for food; the vegetarian options being extensive my wife struggled to choose, but finally settled on a grilled portabella mushroom with a rosemary polenta cake and broccoli topped in a hazelnut sauce. The two men shared a mixed grill of duck breast, pork ribs, and homemade links. This came with some grilled asparagus, mashed potatoes and some highly interesting dipping sauces. Of the homemade links the Cuban was the most tasty- filled with spices, pineapple and even a hint of mint.

We had a great night- the food was homely, comforting and great value. We’ll definitely be back for more sometime soon!

Monday, March 06, 2006

Red Fox Steakhouse

This weekend was spent for the large part at home working on certain chores- household, studying, money making etc. Friday night we spent a relaxing evening at home eating mexican food and watching T.V. By the time saturday night came however we felt the need to get out of the house for a little while. I looked around for places to go- and came across the Red Fox Lounge - just a stone's through from our house.

Well- What an experience- nothing you read about this place is in anyway an exaggeration. The first thing you will notice is how dark te plce is- once your eyes become accustomed to the lack of light you will take in the kitschy red booths, the ornate bar and general 50s decor. But this place is no 50s take- off or sham- this is the real thing.

We were greeted by an incredibly mouthy bar maid- I have never seen someone complain so much about having to make a drink- especially in light of the fact that she probably had been tipped well for it. However it was all good humored - and the type of banter you could listen to for hours. The other customers at the bar were incredibly friendly- inviting us to sit and join them. Everyone seemed immensely happy- and although this might seem normal for an establishment that serves alcohol, in my experience it is not always the case.

Finally the piano began to play in the corner - a great jazz pianist accompained in turns by a trumpeter, and then an old man who crooned away in a voice that started off being charming and ended by us having to leave the bar for fear of our sanity. The mix of customers was most extrodinary- much more what ones sees in Europe than here in the US. An old man delighted himself by dancing around with all the stunning young women- but somehoe nothing seemed too creepy.

Before we had embarked on our expedition to the Red Fox Lounge I had as usual trawled my way through the world wide web in search of reviews. One of the comments was exceptionally well put -

"No matter your age, sex, taste in music or socio-economic class, you're going to feel weird here -- but in a really good way."

Nothing could sum the place up better than this.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Hillcrest Farmers' Market

Today for dinner we are cooking up some roasted vegetables (onions, garlic, peppers and cauliflower) along with some delicious green beans - steamed then mixed with olive oil balsamic vinegar and lots of garlic!
Thinking about the green beans I thought tonight would be a good time to sing the praises of the Hillcrest Farmer's market. This is truely one of my favorite things about living where we do, and it makes for such a wonderful Sunday morning tradition. Every week my wife and I will don our tote shopping bags and walk up the hill to Normal Street, the sun is always shining of course, which adds to the jauntiness of the occasion. As you approach the farmers' market you hear the playful sounds of the local musicians, taste the scent of the roasting shish kebab and are overwhelemed by the mirage of colors beaming up at you from the myriad of fruit and vegetable stalls. It is truely and all encompassing experience. Recommended to anyone- but especially budding young culinary students who can find the most interesting and best tasting ingredients in town to whip up some master piece and impress thier friends!
We have some favorite stalls which we visit each week- my wife being an environmental scientist she is very concious about food miles- so getting locally grown produce is a big deal. It is also nice to support the local farmers, not to mention eat fresh organic produce..... With these thoughts in mind we manage to keep our minds off the rather inflated prices tags and fill our bags until we struggle to lug them back down the road and up the stairs to our apartment.
One of our favorite things to buy are the freshly picked strawberries from Oceanside- which some days are sent straight from heaven. We also love the organic greens, the curly letteuce, baby spinach and watercress. Although most of our trip is spent choosing vegetables we sometimes get other items- there used to be an especially good free range chicken stand- I would buy a whole chicken each week and we would roast it that night and then use it in sandwiches as the week went along. We also absolutely love the middle eastern stand- if you ever are at the market make sure not to miss the cilantro avocado hummus- and thats one not to miss EVEN if you don't generally like cilantro- this one will turn you around.

Well- dinner looks like it is lmost ready, so I had better sign off and get started with those green beans..................

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

America's Best Recipe

Well, I must say our culinary experiences today were less than fantastic. My wife and I both came home feeling rather peckish and so quickly made up a burger and salad for dinner- not very exciting, but it did serve the purpose.

In lieu of a review of restaurant/ recipe I would like to talk this evening about our new favorite recipe book America's test kitchen. The book really should be bought by everyone reading this blog it is just fantastic. What is best about the book is the way it can work for so many different levels of chef. I count my self as fairly proficient in the kitchen- I have worked in the culinary industry professionally and have more than a little flair and imagination. However this book still serves as an awesome guide to all your traditional dishes- making each and every one of them just perfect. The book is therefore superb for beginner chefs, as so long as you follow the instructions laid down absolutely word for word you cannot go wrong and you will produce a perfect dish to stun all those who generally mock your attempts in the kitchen.

The premise of the book coming from America's Test Kitchen - is to find the perfect recipe for all tradition dishes- such things as the perfect chocolate chip cookie, the best ever roast turkey and the ideal macaroni cheese. What I like best about the book however is the way in which it explains exactly why each step needs to be taken in that particular way. This helps the chef who has a tendency to rush and skip over things to really understand why the time must be taken and why details are of such utmost importance.

Everything we have made from this book has been fantastic- the tomato soup recipe was probably our favorite- words cannot express the degree of perfection that this recipe acquired, the chicken with 40 cloves of garlic (lovingly butchered by my vegetarian wife) was also divine, as was the cobb salad, and the strawberry tart.