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Thursday, July 28, 2005

Sandwich Week: Thursday

Oh my goodness.

I think I've just had one of the best sandwiches ever in North Beach.

I'm so glad I went to L'Osteria del Forno (LDF) instead of Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store. Mario's was my first choice and their panini are good, but damn, everyone who's anyone has waxed poetic about that place. Though I'd been to LDF before, I'd never had their focaccia sandwiches. I have had their focaccia bread as an appetizer and remember it being the best thing about LDF. And while I knew that a sandwich at LDF was hard to go wrong, I had no idea just how delish it would be.

I arrived at LDF shortly after 12 noon today, which ended up being lucky because about 10 minutes later, the place was completely full with folks waiting in line outside. I sat at a side table facing the street, with 3 young women sitting in front of me at the window seat. Before the waitress took my order, I told her that I was interested in the Focaccine and asked her which ones were popular with the public and the staff.

Her three suggestions were:
PANCETTA - Grilled Italian bacon, spicy vegetable spread, tomatoes, lettuce
NAPOLETANA - Fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, lettuce, basil, olive oil
ARROSTO - Thinly sliced roast of the day, tomatoes, lettuce.

I'd been eyeing the arrosto anyway because I had heard about the roast pork, but when she suggested it, my mind was made up.

The Arrosto it is! And I'll sit here and wait patiently while I read today's Onion.

Today's headines are:
"War On String May Be Unwinnable, Says Cat General"
"Gay Neighborhood Struggling With Transgenderfication"
and "Many U.S. Cities Losing Battles To Preserve Their Burger Kings"

After contemplating what this all means, my sandwich arrived. It looked great! It was hot, but not too hot; somewhere between warm and hot…harm?…whot? Being a food blogger extraordinaire (or slightly less of), I immediately snapped a coupla pics.

Normally, I'm pretty discrete with the photos. Trust me, I hate getting attention. But as it was, the table of girls in front of me were in dire need of something to talk about, and pretty soon I picked up on that thing you do with your friends where you're like "O-MAH-GAWD, Becky, that guy is taking pictures of his food! Quickly...turn around and look, but be cool." Soon the girl with her back to me crannnned her neck around and *pretended* like she was looking towards the back of the restaurant. I smiled.

The girl sitting sideways to me was now staring at me with that "ew, freak" look and snidely said something like "do you usually take pictures of your food?"

"I write for a food blog", I say.

"Oh, you're a critic?", she says.

"No, I do a food blog."

Then, turning to her friends, she says, "I would never date a critic."

This is better material than The Onion.

I thought about this as I took the first bite of my focaccia sandwich and then WOW, THIS IS DELICIOUS, and I took another bite and pretty soon I was MACKING on that sucker. Out of the top corner of my eye I could see the sideways girl looking back to see my reaction and I felt like saying "THIS IS FUCKING DELICIOUS!"

But, I think she could tell.

And I think the folks beside me could tell. And, hell, even that person sitting behind me, with the pizza, could tell.

Maybe it was because I began apoplectically convulsing Italian phrases like "molto bene", "mama mia" and "tutti a tavola a mangare" or whatever the hell Lidia says.

OK, that's a stretch. But had you seen the look on my face!

This was a simple sandwich, comprised only of tomatoes, lettuce, bread, and roasted pork, but oh, was it good! The roasted pork was succulent and juicy and part of that succulence was absorbed into the rosemary and salt baked focaccia. The tomatoes and lettuce weren't just filler, but were strategically placed ingredients to heighten the flavor of the pork and focaccia.

You don't want to date me, sweet thing, because this sandwich was critically divine and you can tell all of your girlfriends to go immediately to L'Osteria del Forno and get real with the Arrosto Focaccini!

Like, today. OK?

L'Osteria del Forno
Focaccini Arrosto / $7.60 (plus tip)
519 Columbus
San Francisco

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Sandwich Week: Wednesday

The Vietnam restaurant is tiny, tiny, tiny.

And the two women who work there are tiny, tiny, tiny.

And the tables and chairs are tiny, tiny, tiny.

But the Vietnamese sandwiches are big, big, big in size. And they are big, big, big on flavor.

Vietnam on Broadway is the best place in Chinatown to get the sandwiches otherwise known as Bahn Mi. At first, I preferred the bahn mi at Little Paris on Stockton Street. But after careful deliberation, and several trips to both, judgment has come down on the side of Vietnam. One of the deciding factors in awarding Vietnam with the Chinatown Bahn Mi Blue Ribbon is that they make their sandwiches fresh to order. Little Paris's bahn mi, while good, are pre-made and then reheated. At Vietnam, you can watch the cook grill your chicken or pork and French roll and then assemble the sandwich.

While you have the choice of pork or barbecue chicken, I usually choose the grilled pork sandwich, which comes with marinated slices of grilled pork, thin strands of pickled carrots and onions, cucumbers, green onions, and cilantro all stuffed into a soft, warm, grilled French roll.

What you get is a smoky grilled pork flavor that is lean, rich, earthy and fragrant; a flavor that dances beautifully with the bright clean zip of the sweet pickled carrots and onions and is lightened by the coolness of the cucumber and cilantro. All of this is lovingly embraced and absorbed by the grilled French roll, which is firm and slightly crunchy around the edges, soft and warm and pillowy on the inside.


Because the restaurant is so tiny, tiny, tiny, I usually get mine to go and either head off to Washington Square Park or back to work.

However, there is usually seating at the tiny, tiny, tiny counter, should you choose to stay.

Pork Bahn Mi / $3.00
620 Broadway
San Francisco


Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Sandwich Week: Tuesday

A lot of people like to separate their food portions when they eat.

Some people, like Bruce, are adamant that the potatoes not touch his meat nor gravy touch his salad. Other people basically pile everything on top. A lot of these people are chefs. Others are just sick and twisted. And some of these people may be reading this now. If so, I know a sandwich place you might like.

It's called Giordano Brothers and it has been around on Columbus for the past year or so. Apparently it's a regional specialty in certain hoods in Pittsburgh to pile everything, I mean everything, onto your sandwich. The sandwiches and atmosphere of Giordano Brothers attempts to capture that Pittsburgh essence with the style of these "all-in-one" sandwiches and photos of Pittsburgh Steelers football players on the walls.

The interior aesthetics of the place is modern with leather cushions, cute little (but tall) rotund black tables and their accompanying stools. The walls are rich earth tones with...who gives a fuck?! I'm here to eat a sandwich, ok!

However. (Clears throat)

Regarding interior design, I will mention this: nothing irritates me more than to walk into an eating establishment that has three (3!) televisions on, plus music playing over the speakers.

What the hell? All-in-one media blitz and sandwiches?

Thank God for TV-B-Gone! Unfortunately I was sitting at a bad angle; eventually I gave up. As it was, I just sat near the front and people-watched.

I ordered the pastrami all-in-one from a list of meats to choose from. Each sandwich includes 2 slices of thick white bread, provolone cheese, fries, shredded lettuce ("cole slaw") with an oil, vinegar, and pepper dressing, plus your choice of meat.

Before I go any further, I'd like to say that I was happy to see them actually cut the fries from *real potatoes* and then deep-fry them. I know in an age of In-N-Out Burger, cutting your own fries to order may not be so novel, but it still rates high in my book.

Here's what I thought of the sandwich.

The bread was thick and soft and pretty good sandwich bread. The fries were light and unsalted. The "cole slaw" had a good strong olive oil and pepper flavor. And the pastrami was hot and quality pastrami. In fact, each ingredient was very good…on it's own.

But in the war between the food segregationists and the food integrationists, I would have to hand this battle over to the segregators. While the ingredients tasted fine on their own, thrown together they muffled each other. The combo of the thick white bread and the fries was carb overkill, while the pastrami lay prostrate underneath the dogpile of ingredients. Eventually, the "mouth feel" of it all felt like I was gorging and literally stuffing my face. Which is weird, because just yesterday I had the hotdog that was also piled on with ingredients, so much so you couldn't really tell you were eating a hotdog at first. Yet, this sandwich was different.

Maybe I'm just not into the whole French fries on sandwiches thing. Maybe it's just that on their own, the ingredients are good, but not assertive enough to make a great sandwich.

In fact, I'm just going to say what I feel: At best this is carny food trying to cross the tracks. Otherwise it's a damn good reason to go Atkins.

Giordano Bros.
Pastrami All-In-One Sandwich / $7.30
303 Columbus Ave.
San Francisco


Monday, July 25, 2005

Sandwich Week: Monday

It's sandwich week here at Bacon Press and how exciting is that?

Yeah, I thought you would think so.

As you know from a previous post, I have no shortage of love for the almighty sandwich, as provincial and proletarian as it seems. Scoff if you want, but not all sandwiches are created equal, and this week I'm going to try and find you some of the best.

However, there is a caveat: most of these sandwiches will be found in a small area of San Francisco, and while I know how limiting that is, my lunch break is only 1 hour long. Since I work near North Beach and Chinatown, that is where we are headed to.

Today, let's head over to, where else, Columbus Avenue where it's hotdogs or Bust. More precisely, we're heading to Buster's.

I've been going to Buster's off and on for the last year, mostly for their hotdogs. Even though they've let it be known that they're a cheesesteak shop, I've never found their cheesesteaks to be worth my time or hard-earned dollars.

Buster's use to make a great Polish dog, with sauerkraut, mustard, and onions. I say use because, in the last 6 months, Buster's has undergone a change. Gone are the Polish dogs. They've expanded their counter space, revamped the menu, and now seem to focus on selling the cheesesteaks. In fact, the last time I was in and asked for a hotdog, the guy said "hotdog?", as if I was speaking another language.

"Yeah. Hogdog, with everything on it".

Perhaps it was due to Van Halen's "Jump" playing loudly on the house speakers that caused the communication gap. Perhaps if I would've said "Yoooowww, Hawwt Dawwg, baby!", it would've been easily translated.

One of the reasons I like Buster's is that for the most part, no matter who has worked behind the counter, they all seem to be friendly. Scatterbrained at times, but friendly.

I also, usually, like the counter space at Buster's that faces Columbus, because it's like sitting on the sidewalk (the windows are usually open) without "sitting on the sidewalk", which I sometimes find annoying when trying to get my grub on. I say "usually" because, last time, I found myself sitting underneath the stereo speakers, which were blasting "Bad To The Bone" and "Hotel California" into my otherwise hotdog-focused frame-of-mind.

Until recently, I never would've mentioned the hotdogs at Buster's because, while they were decent, they were pretty uneventful. You know, same old bun, same old toppings; nothing special.

After the facelift, the hotdogs have improved significantly. Now they use big chucks of sourdough bread for the bun. The onions (often) are grilled. The time before last, my hotdog, in addition to being grilled and topped with freshly grilled onions, had heaps of sauerkraut, thick slices of tomatoes, relish, and mayo, mustard, and ketchup. The dogs, though buried underneath the toppings, are thick and meaty with a good crisp skin that snaps as your teeth sink through them.

But while the dogs have improved, the service is still somewhat unfocused. Today I waited 20 minutes for (1) hotdog!

Why? Because the guy forgot about my order.

But wait! Here's the catch. I was the only person in the whole joint for at least 15 minutes!

And it's not like I just sat in some hidden corner. I did get up twice to get their attention, and each time it seemed like they were busy doing something.

Anyway, once he realized his mistake, the cook sincerely apologized and comped me a basket of fries and a Coke. Not that I needed the extra calories, because the hotdog sandwiches are huge! Unfortunately, this hotdog wasn't as nice as the last, primarily because he rushed through the order. The onions weren't grilled and the tomatoes were in chunks. It was pretty sloppy looking, as you see below.

Like I said, you can barely see the dog. But it's there. Trust me.

Despite the unfocused service and the inconsistency of the orders, Buster's hotdog is a tasty value at only $3.20 and can easily be split between two people. The hotdog is served hot, piled on with whatever you want, and is made to order.

From there it can get tricky, but hey, this place is called Buster's not Chez Oui Oui.

Hotdog / $3.20
366 Columbus Ave.
San Francisco


Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Cheesy Poofs

For once, I'm going to keep this short and sweet.

Gougères ("goo-zsair", the "zs" pronounced like the "zs" in Zsa Zsa Gabor) are these awesome cheese poofs the French invented and they rock. The first time I made them, they didn't rock. In fact, they resembled rocks. Zsa Zsa would've slapped me.

Actually, gougères are a savory pâte à choux ("pat uh shoe") dough filled with gruyère ("grooyair") cheese that, once baked, are hollow and moist on the inside...and oh so cheesy. Yum ("yum").

This time, I successfully made gougères for Seth's birthday party using the recipe out of our new cookbook, The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller. Needless to say, they were quickly devoured, and my standing as a cook amongst my friends rose a notch. Thanks Tom!

Make these darn things today and you'll see what I mean!


1 cup water
7 tablespoons (3½ ounces) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon kosher salt, or more to taste
Pinch of sugar
1¼ cups (5 ounces) all-purpose flour
4 to 5 large eggs
1¼ cups grated Gruyère (5 ounces)
Freshly ground white pepper

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with Silpats or parchment paper.

In a medium saucepan, combine the water, butter, salt, and sugar and bring to a boil. Add all the flour at once, reduce the heat to medium, and stir with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes, or until the mixture forms a ball and the excess moisture has evaporated (if the ball forms more quickly, continue to cook and stir for a full 2 minutes).

Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle and beat for about 30 seconds at medium speed to cool slightly. Add 4 eggs and continue to mix until completely combined and the batter has a smooth, silky texture. Stop the machine and lift up the beater to check the consistency of the batter. The batter in the mixing bowl should form a peak with a tip that falls over. If it is too stiff, beat in the white of the remaining egg. Check again and, if necessary, add the yolk. Finally, mix in 3/4 cup of the Gruyère and adjust the seasoning with salt and white pepper.

Fill a pastry bag fitted with a 3/8-inch plain pastry tip with the gougère batter. Pipe the batter into 1-tablespoon mounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches between the gougères as the mixture will spread during baking. Sprinkle the top of each gougère with about 1/2 teaspoon of the remaining grated cheese and bake for 7 to 8 minutes, or until they puff and hold their shape. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees F. and bake for an additional 20 to 25 minutes. When the gougères are done, they should be a light golden brown color. When you break one open, it should be hollow; the inside should be cooked but still slightly moist. Remove the pans from the oven and serve the gougères while hot.


Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Smell You Later

It's not easy being cheesy.

It's also not easy to be an original food blogger in a city where everyone's been there, done that.

Many, many times.

Like, before you were ever born, ok?

It's not easy scooping an exotic ice cream shop when this town is crawling with food bloggers and food writers and the thousands who make/have made their living off of selling the city secrets to tourists for decades.

In other words, this is a city that knows itself a little too well; a victim of it's own success, yada, yada, yada. Most who've lived here for some time remember when their friends use to refer to San Francisco as "the bubble". Perhaps some still do. I don't know. I just remember watching John Travolta playing that boy in the bubble on TV and it didn't look very nice. Who knows? Maybe he was eatin' good in that little neighborhood during commercial break?

I'm not mad. I mean, it is one of those "only in San Francisco" quirks where folks treat anyone who attains a modicum of mainstream fame and fortune with disdain, while simultaneously gushing applause over a hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese/South Asian dive in the heart of skid row. And while I point this out, I admit that I am also to blame. Perhaps one who lives in an urban bubble shouldn't throw darts?

I write all of this because, where upon gushing mucho applause on a hole-in-the-wall, stank palace in Chinatown, I see someone else has beat me to it. Nevertheless, that doesn't preclude me from telling you what I think, right?

So…my co-worker Gary and I were talking about stinky tofu one day because I had expressed some interest in Taiwanese specialties. When Gary mentioned stinky tofu, I mentioned how Bill, Bruce, and Seth were at Shanghai Restaurant a week ago and were discussing the stinky tofu there. Apparently, stinky tofu is big in Taiwan (and Shanghai).

How big? Well, some would say the phrase "making a big stink" originated in Taipei. Some would say...

So then, Gary tells me that him and his wife occasionally go to this place in Chinatown for stinky tofu called Star Lunch. I asked him where it was and as he was describing it I suddenly realized, "HEY, I've been there before". In fact, I remember walking in, and then running out as quickly as I could.

Excuse me, but shouldn't the smell of stench naturally want to drive anyone away from a place that purports to serve food?

Actually when I initially walked in (without the knowledge of "stinky tofu"), I saw what looked like a Chinese beggar sitting at the counter and then smelled something which I assumed to be him. Having lived in the city and walked behind many, truly, crusty homeless guys, I know the stench of fermented mud-butt when I whiff it.

And while I could care less about the person sitting next to me at a lunch counter, that stink drove me out of that place quicker than the cologne/perfume department at Nordstroms. In hindsight, I realize it wasn't him at all, it was the stinky tofu. I'm sorry dude, wherever you are.

Gary said that, once, he and his wife went to Star Lunch and ordered the stinky tofu. Right after they began to eat, a whole family came in and ordered the same. The whole place reaked!

Afterwards, they decided to stroll around the CT. When Gary's wife, Marie, peaked her head into another restaurant, the host looked at her with that "Shoo! You stink" look, held his nose, and waved his hand in front of his face. Soon after, while they were perusing the jewelry at a local shop, a woman working there gave her a nasty look, which Marie gave back, causing both of them to engage in a deadly Staredown At The CT Corral. Now, according to Gary, Marie doesn't like shopping in Chinatown.

If it were me, I would've looked at those folks, shrugged my shoulders, and simply said "Star Lunch". I'm sure they would've understood.

Another time, Gary was walking down Grant and crossing Jackson when he heard an obviously Midwestern (read: white) tourist complaining to her friend that "they must be burning garbage down there", pointing in the direction of Star Lunch. Apparently the wind must have been just right, because Star Lunch is a full block down the hill from Grant and closer to Kearny.

Truthfully, I was too apprehensive went I visited Star Lunch last Friday to actually try the tofu. I only wanted to dip my toes in the stink pool, not dive head first. Also, I wasn't even sure they would be serving it, especially after hearing rumors that they only serve it "off hours". Of course, this begs the logical question: "why would you subject yourself to the overwhelming aroma of stinky tofu and not eat the stinky tofu?" This would assume you were asking a logical person, not me.

As I walked in, I immediately sat myself at the counter on a stool closest to the door...if you get my drift, or whiff, or, you know! Right away, I knew stinky tofu service was now in session. All preside that horrible smell. Unbeknownst to me, this is also where most of the cooking action goes on. Doh!

Before I get too far, let me describe the place for you. Star Lunch consist only of an old-school lunch counter that fits about 15 diners, and the restaurant size is roughly 9' x 20'. On the counter, at the front, sits an antique cash register (probably original), and behind that is the cooking station consisting of a stove with large cast iron pots full of grease; beside that is the stove with the cast iron wok. Over the wok is a drippy faucet , and to the left of that is another food station on which sits a variety of sauce containers and rice. Sitting near the front, one is literally 3 feet from popping grease, and within arm distance of touching the cook.

Later I learn that, upon arriving at Star Lunch, one should sit in the middle of the counter so that one isn't too close to the cook or too close to the bathrooms in the back. Make a note.

A little bit of history: Star Lunch originally was owned by a Filipino couple named Primo and Ruth who served some of the best Filipino food (especially boiled beef) in what was once a 2 square block area called Manilatown. With the ugly onlslaught of development led by that monster (my opinion) Justin Herman, most of the Filipinos were forced out of the area to make way for expansion of the Financial district, mostly notably culminating in the I-Hotel eviction and riots. Around the same time, in the late 70's/early 80's, Primo and Ruth sold the Star Lunch which was eventually transformed into a Shanghainese restaurant. Leland Wong, who is a treasure trove of information and history, shared some of his memories of Star Lunch with me and graciously allowed me to use his photo (above) of Primo and Ruth. I highly suggest you visit his site and/or contact him for information. (Note: Check out his Photojournalism page for awesome photos!)

Back to the modern-day Star Lunch:

The cook is a skinny old man with a full head of hair that is two-toned black with faded patches of red in the back. He wears a crusty apron around his waist and is constantly speaking in a loud voice (in that loud, going senile/hard of hearing way) to the young woman who is his assistant or daughter or hell, who knows, maybe wife? The young woman is nice and speaks limited English, but her eyes sort of bug out at you like maybe she saw "The Ring" and didn't die after that 7th day. Or perhaps she suffers from a degenerative disease brought on by the mysterious ingredients used to make the tofu stinky. Anything's possible.

As I sat at the counter, I realized that one perk is that you could watch the cook perform and prepare the various dishes. Five seconds later I realized that no, this was not a perk. In fact, a perk would be not to watch – at all. There is a saying that goes "where the eye seeth not, the tender heart is spared." At Star Lunch, this also applies to the stomach. In fact, try not to look at anything. Instead, face the wall, with your eyes forward, and imagine you are somewhere else. Some place exotic, yet oddly, stinky.

Picking up the greasy menu, I ordered the pork chops over rice which, interestingly enough, tasted like the stinky tofu smelled. How it could be possible to eat anything there and not taste the tofu seems incomprehensible to me.

At Star Lunch, the stinky tofu is called Spicy Bean Curd and is served Shanghai-style (in cubes) rather than Taiwanese-style (in triangles, with sauce poured over).

Stinky tofu is also traditionally served with a hot chili sauce.

No comment.

There were other dishes being served - huge mounds of fried noodles, etc. - but mainly my fascination was watching the cook pull out blocks of tofu and dip them into the hot oil.

Upon entering the deep fryer, the tofu would let off it's bouquet. Yes, the smell is truly bad. Hard to describe, really, because there's nothing I can think of off-hand to compare it to. Since I haven't eaten stinky tofu YET (the day is coming), I can't confirm if the tofu tastes like it smells, and I have heard differing opinions. Something tells me that anything that smells that strong must have some residual stinky flavor, yeah?

Sitting there scooping uneventful rice in my mouth mixed with the Star Lunch mystery sauce and watching the other diners eat, I couldn't help but notice the mannerisms of the other diners. This was not a jovial crowd. In fact, they seemed to sort of shift uneasily in their seats. I got the impression that some were indulging in a guilty pleasure and worried of what others might think. This is not, after all, Chinatown's most popular denizen. In fact, I can imagine Chinese kids playing the dozens and spitting out clever snaps like "yo mama stank so bad, her middle name is Star Lunch".

Passing through Star Lunch's narrow door to the outside world of Jackson and Kearny, I was hit with the most refreshing breath of air I have ever had in Chinatown. It was like drinking from a clear, cool, mountain spring. Perhaps this is the real euphoric phenomenon of stinky tofu; the after-breath. Not that I couldn't shake the essence of stinky tofu from my nostrils for the rest of the day, mind you. Perhaps next time I'll stick my face over a pot of boiling water and eucalyptus oil.

Or maybe I'll just immerse my whole head in it.


Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Frankie Says Relax

I've *got* to relax.

Leaning out of the passenger-side window screaming "Fuck you! Fuck you!" at yahoo drivers, while shooting the bird, so far hasn't gotten me killed.*

Even though afterwards I've never really felt great about it.**

If hindsight is 20/20, then that one incident with the cabbie and his carload of out-of-towners was pretty humorous. Yet, the flourishing of "fuck" in my everyday flabber-jabber seems less like a fabulous flagrancy of the English language and more like a frustrating fixture of growing hardened, bitter, and maybe even downright mean.

I don't like, don't need, the added stress. Lately I've discovered a good pick-me-up by dashing into the closest Walgreens, Rite Aid, etc., and heading towards the birthday card section, where upon reading the 5th goofiest card my spirits are back on track and I feel human again.

For happiness' sake, I think it's important to manage your stress and anxiety, especially if you really want to enjoy food. You know that I get so stressed sometimes that I don't even want to eat. Or if I do, the most I can muster is 415-771-1591.

However, when I'm relaxed and feeling good, I'm able to devote my imagination to "what the heck am I going to do with this fava bean", rather than "if I did happen to throw a brick through his window, could I have gotten away with it".

The other night, I happened to answer the first question rather than the second and, believe you me, it was so worth it. Besides, I can't really see myself foraging for dandelion greens on the edge of the prison yard. That, I defer to the professionals.***

*This is apparent.
**Much like "Hell's Kitchen" until last night's episode.
***Oh, puh-leeze. She spends a minute in the joint and figures she has a right to complain? She probably snitched out 5 butches for a tablespoon of pine nuts and pinch of arugula.

Pasta That Makes You Go Ohmmm

This pasta came about because Bruce and I found what could be the last great fava beans of the year at 79 cents per pound at a produce stand next to the Flying Fish Grill in Half Moon Bay. In addition, white corn is on sale everywhere and it's pretty hard to resist buying a few. In fact, most of the ingredients for this pasta dish were just things sitting pretty in the fridge, thus the stress-free nature of it. A little bit of this, a little bit of that, a little bit more of this...

½ pound of medium shell pasta
2 cups of diced ham
2 cups of shelled fava beans (I think it goes 1 pound = 1 cup peeled)
half a large yellow onion, diced
1 large handful of mint, chopped
3 ears of white corn, cut from the cob
1 teaspoon of fennel seeds
½ teaspoon of anchovy paste
½ teaspoon of cayenne
4 medium cloves garlic, chopped
¼ cup white wine (maybe a Sauvignon Blanc)
Salt and Pepper (the spice, not the 80s rap duo)
1½ cups of grated Parmigiano Regiano
Extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 juicy lime

1. Shell your fava beans and immerse in boiling water. Parboil for a few minutes and then, using a slotted spoon or something similar, remove the beans to a colander and run under cold water. Drain, peel, and then set aside. Reserve the cooking water for pasta.

2. In a medium cast iron skillet sauté the onions in 2 tablespoons of butter and a tablespoon of olive oil on medium high for a few minutes (don't brown). Then add the garlic and fry until fragrant. Add the chopped ham and fry for a minute or two more. Remove from heat.

3. To the skillet, add the fava beans, fennel seeds, cayenne, and anchovy paste. Return to the heat and fry for another minute, then add about ¼ cup of wine and reduce slightly. Remove from the heat again.

4. Next, cook the pasta in the reserved water until al dente. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

5. When the pasta is cooked and drained, return it to the pot. Add the contents of the skillet to the pasta, as well as the corn, mint, half of the cheese, and salt and pepper (ah, push it) to taste. Mix well and push it real good.

6. Add the pasta mixture back to the cast iron skillet and spread out evenly. Squeeze the lime juice over the top, then pour on about a tablespoon or two of olive oil, and then sprinkle on the last bit of cheese.

7. Place the skillet in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes has passed, turn on the broiler and lightly brown the top. Mr. T says "I pity the fool who walks away from a dish under the broiler", so stand there and watch it.

When it's done, remove from the oven and either serve immediately or take fancy-schmancy pictures of it for your blog while it sits there and gets cold.


Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Meme! The Cook Next Door

In marketing terms, I am what you may call a late adopter.

In grade school, not only was I the last one picked for the kickball team, I was the last one to know there even was a team.

It's only been in the last 5 years that, all of a sudden, I "got" the Beatles. And the whole time Kurt Cobain was alive and I was ragging on Nirvana for being "sell-outs", I never once listened to their music. Long after he died, I finally listened to "Nevermind".

Boy. Talking about feeling stupid.

It's taking these factors into consideration that I knew that if I didn't jump onto this current meme bandwagon thing in the Flogosphere, I would've regretted it. Besides, even though I made some great "rizz-zot-tow" from Gordon Ramsay's seasonal cookbook and Bruce and I took a trip to Half Moon Bay to eat fish tacos and take photos of brussels sprouts fields, I'm feeling a little dry with the word-juice right now.

Thanks a big ol' bunch to Meg Woo at I Heart Bacon for tagging me for this meme chain of love. I've got a hot piece of balut and ice-cold Stella with your name written all over 'em!

Well, apparently most people believe "assembling" is cooking, and using that criteria, I've been "cooking" since my mom gave me a key and showed me where to catch the bus. However, if by cooking you mean the art of preparing whole, raw foods into some, hopefully edible, form, then that was definitely the first, and only, time I made dinner for my Mom and Dad, which was when I was about 11 or 12.

The dish was tomatoes picked from our garden, which I filled with a ground beef mixture and baked. It wasn't half bad, especially considering it came from a Time/Life cookbook. I think that's when I first realized that if you could read and follow directions, you could cook.

Later on, I realized that you can't always believe what you read.

This question should be phrased "who had/has", because my cooking is still influenced by one person: Bruce.

Bruce is one of the best cooks I know and it was his interest in cooking that inspired me. Up until the time I moved in with him, I was lost in the wilderness of junk-food vegetarianism, and had a downright shameful attitude towards food. Not to say that corndogs, Papa Murphy's take-and-bake, and Mac and Cheese haven't ruled at one time or the other in our hizz-owws, but cooking "outside of the box" has been pretty consistent for the last 10 years.

Besides, everyone needs a friend, partner, or relative to cook for. Interdependence makes us better cooks and human beings. That is why yesterday I celebrated "Interdependence Day". America is a melting pot; is a soup; is a salad; is a buffet; is a drive-thru with shoddy speakers, yes.

We're in this together – no one is independent.


Whaaaa you talkin bout?! Of course I do!

You would call this "urban foraging". We called it Thanksgiving. No matter what you call it, it wasn't easy holding my breath for that long under water.

Before I became a sasquatch, I lived the sad life of a small wood-sprite captured by a lonely, human family, who forced me to do hard labor and other menial chores around their home. Too bad you can't see the chain around my ankle. It gave me quite a rash. Here I am washing the humans' dishes and simultaneously hatching an escape plan.

As simple as it seems, fish makes me all moist, clammy, and sticky. "Shrimps" not so much, but live, whole fish give me the willies. I've baked whole fish to success, but I still feel like a fish out of water when I run smack sand dab into a real fish market.

Do I just pick any fish? What's good? Where's that damn print out of mine from the Monterey Bay Aquarium?

Lately, I've been working myself up to buying a live fish in the CT. What's got me all freaked out is figuring out how to kill it. Do I just smother it to death? Do I smack its head against the curb? Force it to listen to "Lite Rock/Less Talk, KOIT"? And can you believe I'm apprehensive about filleting?

I'm going to conquer this fish-o-phobia, dang it!

Believe it or not, it's a can opener. Have you ever tried opening a can without one?

I have.

First, you spend hours looking like a complete ass trying to rub the top of it against the sidewalk, as you think "whittling" it down will just make the top come off. Then there is the sharp, pointy-object method of stabbing a large enough hole in the top to actually get to those beans. I call this The Death by a Thousand Cuts method. Likely, the death is your own.

When the Book of Revelations turns out to be true, much to the dismay of godless heathens such as myself who've mocked it relentlessly, I will stand to face Judgement wielding only a can opener and DAMN all who come before me!

It's not that weird. I *heart* BLT pizza. That is, pizza with bacon and tomato baked on, with mayonaisse and then shredded lettuce spread on afterwards.

This pizza got me through puberty.

Funny? Is teenage crime, drug-use, and anti-authoritarianism funny to you, buster? This pizza kept me out of the pokey, but barely. Everything may go better with bacon, but give me a side of mayo and bury me in the garden.

Excluding mayo, I've got to give props to the all-mighty onion.

Onions are the opium of the masses. Onions are the building blocks of cuisine. Onions belong on the Nasdaq along with pork.

Onions will make you cry, but I would definitely cry if I could never eat cheese again. And I would cry if I couldn't eat pasta. Obviously I know that we are well adapted to consume almost anything for food. If a cow suddenly couldn't eat grass, she couldn't just turn around and chomp on a chicken wing. What makes humans so much cooler than we appear while feeding our faces at Tony Roma's is that we could totally just walk down the street and feed off of bean sprouts.

But since you asked, leggo my pasta, onions, and cheese.

Any question you missed in this meme, that you would have loved to answer? Well then, feel free to add one!

Only one:

Pretty much anything by Phil Ochs
Oum Kolthoum, "Aghani Film Rabeah" (this also tends to be my doing-dishes soundtrack; listen and you'll know why)
Serge Gainsbourg, late 60's era
Anything and everything by Yo La Tengo
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, "En Concert A Paris"