Thursday, March 30, 2006
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
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
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!)
icing sugar, for dusting
morello cherries (fresh or drained canned)
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
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
1 cup red wine
½ bottle beer
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
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
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
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
4 Large Potatoes (thinly sliced, ½ cm thick)
2 Large Onions (thinly sliced)
Salt and Pepper
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
Monday, March 20, 2006
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
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 décor – 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
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
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
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
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
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
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/
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
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:
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
Roasted Tomatillo Salsa
Whole Wheat Tortillas
And of course when we're felling very poor who could forget Two Buck Chuck!
Things that are not so good:
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
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.
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.