Monday, November 24, 2008

I Left My Heart

I recently took a trip down to the SF Bay Area to meet up with some friends. I hooked a visit with my family onto each end and had a good time with my mom and sisters. There was a lot of eating out on this trip, so I'll be doing some restaurant reviews here!

I flew Alaska; they're one of my favorite airlines. I've never had a bad flight with them. My sister picked me up on Saturday afternoon and we stopped by their house (she and her family live with my mom), dropped off my luggage, admired her Halloween decorations (the house looked great), and then headed to the movies with her kids, Sawyer and Tristyn. Her husband, Chris, was already there saving us seats. Cuz you know how many people were just dying to see Beverly Hills Chihuahua! It actually wasn't too bad. And the gardener—excuse me, I mean landscaper, was easy on the eyes. We ate dinner at home that night; Jan made Chinese chicken salad and we ordered egg rolls, rice, and crab puffs to go along with it. Yummy! After we got the kids settled in bed, Jan and I watched 27 Dresses on dvd. I like that movie a lot, but I think it gets really too silly at the end when she runs on the boat and takes over the mic at someone else's wedding. It's embarrassing really. I wish they had figured out something else for the ending.

Sunday we took the kids over to the Pumpkin Farm in Half Moon Bay. It hasn't changed much over the years, except it gets more crowded every year. Sunday night Jan, my mom, and I went out to dinner at Kingfish, a restaurant in San Mateo. I had a filet, and it was okay. Not great but not bad either. Sunday's movie was Hitch. I love Will Smith and he's great in this one.

Monday mom and I did some errands, and then after the kids got out of school, we all went out to Half Moon Bay for their swim lessons. They are both great little swimmers. I don't know too many 7-year-olds who can do the butterfly! We had reservations at Pasta Moon, on the other end of Main Street, so I walked down while the kids got dried off and dressed. I had enough time to browse in a great little bookstore next door which I read this morning is for sale! It's one of the better small-town bookstores I've been in. I picked up The Good Thief as I had recently read some good reviews. I'm a few chapters in and enjoying it very much.

Dinner at Pasta Moon was a mix. If you are a party of 6 or more, you have to reserve in advance with a credit card. That was a new one for me. Also, they automatically include an 18% tip. The service was terrible. I guess they figure they already have the tip. They didn't even come to take a drink order. They never checked back to see if you needed anything, and since they don't put salt and pepper on any of their dining tables, it's a sure bet at least one person at the table is going to want that! I was definitely not impressed with the service. The food was a little better. My butternut squash raviolis were very good with the exception of being too oily. Or maybe it was butter. At any rate, they were swimming in it, and I noticed that every single plate ordered at our table had an excess of oil. Too bad because the raviolis would have been perfect without that. They were topped with amaretti. Amaretti what I have no idea, but it was sweet and a nice addition to the raviolis.

Monday night's movie was Casino Royale. Daniel Craig—need I say more?

On Tuesday afternoon, Jan and I worked a shift at the Dickens House in Hillsborough, a holiday house which benefits St. Matthew's Episcopal Day School, where Sawyer is in 2nd grade. Each family has to contribute 30 hours toward that project, so my 3 hours helped out a little.

Tuesday night I was in charge of dinner, and I made my 'harvest medley' meal, which everyone enjoyed even though the snowpeas were quite overdone. Jan and I watched My Fellow Americans, with Jack Lemmon and James Garner, which I had never seen. It's a very funny movie and I highly recommend it.

On Wednesday I went down to Stanford Mall and met up with Jena, one of my friends coming in for the SF trip. Jena's from Nebraska and came in early to stay with her sister in San Jose. We shopped around the mall a bit (it changes every time I go there, but I still think it's the prettiest mall I've ever seen), and then met Jan back at the house so she could take Jena and I up to SF.

We checked into our hotel, The Handlery, and after a snafu on the room type (I had only made the reservations 6 months or more in advance and called them easily 8 times to confirm things, so one can understand how they could make a mistake so easily), we got situated in our room and then headed out to North Beach to see Beach Blanket Babylon. I've seen it before, but because they constantly update the show with current affairs, it's always fun to see again. It was nonstop laughing from beginning to end, and we just loved it. We ate at Calzone's in North Beach afterward and had a nice outdoor dinner under some heat lamps. My lasagna was so-so. It was very meaty. I think they mix beef and sausage because it tasted 'heavier' than just beef. But we had fun and the service is great there.

Thursday morning Jena and I walked around Union Square. I was disappointed to see that Gump's had moved and in the process changed quite a bit from when I used to go there. Very high end now and they really didn't have anything I couldn't live without. I hate it when that happens.

Around noontime Jenny (Ohio) and Paula (Texas) arrived from the airport. We went out to Kuleto's for lunch, on Powell just around the corner from our hotel. Jan had given us a lot of restaurant recommendations. They lived in the City for quite a while before moving in with my mom. I had soup and it was excellent. At the end of our trip, we all agreed that that meal was the best we had in the City. I wished I had gotten something more substantial than soup!

We took a cable car out to Fisherman's Wharf and hung out at Pier 39 for a bit.

Then we headed off for the Alcatraz night tour. I had never been to Alcatraz before (it's amazing how you can live somewhere for 45 years and never do any of the touristy things!), and it was great. The tour itself is very well done, beginning with interesting tour guides and then moving into a self-paced tour with headphones. The only thing we didn't like is that the narration has a lot of background noises to make it seem realistic—like gun shots, fighting sounds, cell doors clanging—and we all thought that was a bit much. The views looking back at the City with all the lights was just stunning. It was pretty late when we got back so we dashed over to Calzone's again, since we knew it would still be open at 10pm. This time I had shrimp and tomatoes over pasta and it was not really very flavorful. But again the service was great, as was the pinot grigio I had. And of course the company was divine.

Friday was our much-anticipated limo tour to Napa to go wine tasting. It did not disappoint. We took the Bay Bridge route, stopping at Starbucks along the way for coffee. Our first stop was Domaine Chandon. I did not personally care for any of their wines. but the other girls liked them. I also didn't care for the fact that they really push their wine club on you.

Our next stop was recommended by our limo driver, and it was Peju Winery. This was our favorite of the day, not only because their wines were delish, but also because we had a great tasting guide, Allen.

After pouring the second wine, Allen broke out in quite a long rap song about the wine, complete with motions and sound effects. Highly entertaining. He had a poem ready to go with the third wine, which he energetically recited. It was great fun.

The tasting rooms are housed in a beautiful building, and their gift shop is the best one I've seen in any winery I've been in – great selection of pottery and cookbooks. I exercised great control and escaped with only two cookbooks.

We picked up sandwiches at a deli our limo driver recommended, and I wish I could remember the name of the place. It was a grocery store and was really an excellent high-end store with wonderful picnic choices. We ate our sandwiches in the limo as we drove so as not to waste valuable drinking time.

Next we headed to St. Clement as I am very fond of their wines and needed to pick up a few to bring home. They were delicious as usual.

Our next and final stop was Sterling. Beautiful views from the top of the tram and consistent good quality wines.

Now it was time to head back to the City. Our driver raced back hoping we would get to Cline Winery before it closed, but alas it was not to be. We drove back to the City over Golden Gate Bridge and enjoyed the views.

For dinner we decided to go out to Ghirardelli Square, to McCormick and Kuleto's. I think this must be somehow connected with the Kuleto's we had lunch at on Union Square. We had a wonderful window table with great views. I had parmesan-crusted sole, which was a bit overcooked. Plus the coating was too heavy for the sole. But since I don't find sole on too many menus, I enjoyed it. My green beans were way undercooked and unfortunately I only had a few slivers of some excellent carrots, by far the tastiest thing on the plate.

The taxi ride home was hands down the wildest taxi ride I've ever taken. Jena had remarked on one of the hills as we went down it. The driver said, "Oh, are you from someplace flat?" Jena said, "You can't get much flatter than Nebraska." So I guess he decided to give us a thrill. There were two more hills in succession with a flat cross-street in between. He gunned it down the first hill, bottomed out on the flat portion, and flew down the second hill. I was laughing so hard, my stomach was in extreme pain. We all were. This only egged him on to drive faster. We arrived back at the hotel in record time. He told us we were the most fun he'd had all night!

Saturday morning I got up and walked down to the Farmer's Market at the Ferry Building. It was amazing. Hundreds of stalls with every kind of food imaginable. I found some Italian Bombolini and I could be happy just eating bombolinis the rest of my life and nothing else. A little sugar donuty kind of ball with custard in the center. It was heaven.

I then met the rest of the girls and we took a bus out to Chrissy Field. It just happened to be Fleet Week. Hey sailor. We sat on the wall there and watched the Blue Angels perform. It was a beautiful day. In fact, the entire trip was graced with gorgeous fall weather. I couldn't have asked for anything better.

We took the bus back to Union Square and had a late lunch/early dinner at The Cheesecake Factory at the top of Macy's. I had a Kobe burger and don't understand what the big thrill about kobe beef is. It tasted just like any other good burger I've ever had. It was good though. We spent the rest of the evening sitting around the pool yakking.

Sunday we didn't really do too much. We hung around the hotel, walked around Union Square, went into Barney's, bought some souvenirs (not in Barney's!), etc. We went out to Fuzio's on Castro Street for dinner and were befriended by two very funny guys at the table next to us, drank way too many watermelon martinis and discovered Jenny could tie a cherry stem into a knot with her tongue in under 10 seconds! Jena could also perform this amazing feat but it took her considerably longer (10 minutes).

It was a memorable meal. I had chicken marsala, not very good at all. Jena had mac and cheese, which was more like a pasta dish than plain mac and cheese, and it was really good. I should have gotten that. My garlic and parmesan focaccia bread was really good. I could go for an order of that bread and one of those watermelon martinis right now, in fact.

Monday we ate breakfast at Lefty O'Doul's at Union Square and then headed back to the airport. The girls flew back to their (flat) states and Chris picked me up to take me back to mom's for one more night. Jan made a delicious pasta dish and even more yummy margarita's. The best meals on the trip were the homemade ones. Jan should open a restaurant.

All in all, the trip was great fun. It had been a long time in the planning and flew by. It's hard to believe it's behind us now and not something we're still looking forward to. Oh, well, guess it's time to start planning the next trip!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Gordon Gets Cooking

Yesterday I had the good fortune to attend a cooking class at Gordon's on Blueberry Hill in Freeland.  I had read in the paper a few weeks ago that there was to be a class and when I called to reserve a spot, they were full and I had to get on the waiting list.  Friday I got a call asking if I was still interested – YES!  So at a few minutes before 11, I walked in the door looking forward to some good food served up with a helping of fun.

I've attended many cooking classes in my lifetime, so I had a preconceived notion of how this would work – and was way off.  This was more like a long lunch while you watched the chef cook.  Tables were set up as normal in the restaurant except that the center was cleared out and a long table for the cooking demo was along one side.  The restaurant is small enough that every table had a good view of Gordon's cooking station.

We started off with Ginger Chili Marinated Prawns (which also included Deer Creek oysters).  While the food we would be served was being prepared and plated in the kitchen (there seemed to be about 40 of us), Gordon demonstrated making a small portion.  He is quite the showman and very entertaining, with a great sense of humor.  Oh, he is also a fabulous cook.  His restaurant is one of my favorite restaurants in the world and I'm lucky enough to live 15 minutes away!

We learned how to shuck oysters and also not to wash or rinse them as the flavor of the brine is what oysters are all about.

The presentation for this first dish was stunning – a cantaloupe cut in half, scooped out, filled with a sauce, the oysters arranged on the cut edges of the cantaloupe and the prawns around the outside, garnished with cilantro, lemon and lime wedges, and a pepper flower.  I had taken a camera with me, but alas, the batteries were dead.  Gordon's presentations are outstanding.

Gordon had teamed up with a wine salesman for this class and so we got some wine education along with the cooking demos.  This first course was paired with Whidbey Island Winery Siegerrebe, a spicy white wine that was 'crisp and cleansing, not bone dry, with a whiff of sweetness," and an excellent pairing with oysters. 

Our next course was comprised of Peppercorn Encrusted Sirloin and Parsnip Potato Mash – yummy!  The steak featured a blueberry sauce that was to die for; the veggie included roasted garlic and was drizzled with maple syrup.  Unlike most cooking classes/demos, we did not get small portions to taste – each person was served full-size portions that included large steaks.  And it was delicious.

The wine paired with this course, which was also used in the sauce, was a 2007 Doña Paula Malbec from Argentina – a big wine with a smooth finish that does not linger in the mouth which would interfere with the flavor of the steak.

Finally, our dessert, while titled Drunken Apple Sorbet with Cinnamon Crisp, is more accurately described as an apple sorbet served in a hollowed-out apple on a plate napped with pecan brandy caramel sauce (so tempting to lick the plate) with a cinnamon and sugar puff pastry alongside.  The sorbet, which can be made from any fruit, also included Muscat wine, which was the wine served with this final course.  I am not a fan at all of sweet dessert wines, but I loved this one – Marchesi Di Gresy La Serra Muscato D'Asti from Italy.  It's just the kind of wine you want to linger over at the table, (while you wait until no one is looking so you can lick the plate).

All in all, a very fun way to spend three hours on a Saturday, and I can't wait until Gordon's next class.

Ginger Chili Marinated Prawns
18 large prawns peeled and deveined
1 cup Mapeloy chili sauce
lime juice from 2 limes
1/4 cup pickled ginger, chopped
1/2 cup green onions, chopped
2 T minded garlic
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
1 cup rice wine vinegar or mirin
1/4 cup sesame oil
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 cup orange juice
Sesame seeds for garnish

Put all the ingredient except for the prawns in a bowl.  Set aside 1/2 cup of the marinade for dipping when you serve.

Add the peeled and deveined prawns to the rest of the mixture and marinate the prawns overnight in this.

The next day, heat a large empty saucepot to high heat.  Add the marinade and prawns, bring it to a boil, and cook until the prawns have turned pink, approximately 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat and mix in 2 quarts of ice.  Cool in the fridge until ready to serve.  This is a great do-ahead recipe.  Serves 6.  See above description for presentation in the cantelope.

Peppercorn Encrusted Sirloin
6 six oz sirloin steaks
3/4 oz olive oil
generous amount of cracked black pepper
truffle salt or steak seasoning
2 sprigs rosemary
1/4 cup of huckleberry jam or blueberry jam
1 sliced red onion
1 T minced garlic
1/2 cup malbec or port wine
1/4 cup strong beef bouillon or beef stock
3 T room temp butter to finish
Mix the pepper and seasonings and press them lightly onto the steaks.  Don't press so much that it's going to overwhelm the wine.

Heat oil in a pan and add the sirloin.  Sear for two to three minutes on each side.  Remove the steaks.

Lower the heat to medium.  Add more oil if needed.  Add sliced onion and garlic to the pan and saute until the onions are slightly carmelized.

Deglaze the pan with the wine.  Add jam, rosemary and bouillon and reduce by half.  Remove the rosemary sprigs, add a few whole berries if you wish, and finish with the butter.  Drizzle over the steaks and serve the remainder alongside the steaks.

Parsnip Potato Mash
5 - 6 peeled russet potatoes, cut up
6 medium peeled parsnips, cut up
5 T roasted garlic puree
1 cup heavy cream
6 - 8 T butter
salt and pepper to taste
maple syrup

Boil the potatoes and parsnips until tender.

In a separate pan, add the garlic, cream and butter and bring to a boil.  Season with salt and pepper.

Drain the potatoes and parsnips and put them back into the pot.  Add the cream  mixture and whip it with a wire whisk until you reach your desired consistency.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The early bird gets the worm

I decorated my first tree of the season today, at a decorating workshop I went to. This went in the master bath. Those of you who have been here might remember there are birdcages in there and it has sort of a 'bird' motif. Still needs the 'skirt' which will be some cool twiggy stuff I brought home and to tweak things a bit. Notice the brick holding it from falling over. The front is so heavily decorated and the back is empty since it's up against the wall. It stood up until I put that last little white bird you can see peaking out under the other bird's tail. Then it promptly pitched forward. The workshop was a lot of fun. It was an auction item I purchased last December and was donated by a local floral/interior designer, who is extremely talented. There were six of us decorating trees and wreaths and we all had a super fun time.