Best L'il Onion Rings, Too
Good news for barbecue lovers! The Best Lil Porkhouse now has two locations! They opened in the old Max's building in Corte Madera, and kept their wonderful, tiny spot in San Rafael, as well. I wasn't in a mood to cook, having had a session in the dentist's chair earlier in the day (all is well and minimal discomfort, but I always like to treat myself when I've been a good girl at the dentist), so I proposed a trip across the bridge to the new Porkhouse and he readily assented.
He ordered the brisket sandwich, and it was giant! Lots of thick, tender slices between a nice bun, a little dry on its own but perfect when slathered with one of their several choices of sauces. With a dish of decadent mac 'n' cheese on the side (unctuous cheese and crispy bits, too. Oh, heaven!), it was a hearty meal. No stepping on the scales after that meal - we'll wait a few days!
I was tempted by the trio of sliders, one pork, one brisket, and one chicken. Killer. Absolutely killer. I loved all three flavors, although the brisket again needed the addition of a sauce. My onion rings side came with a horseradish dipping sauce, so I poured that onto the brisket and it was perfect.
Oh, and speaking of onion rings? A must-have! My Beloved frequently orders onion rings, so I frequently taste his, usually to disappointment. The "modern" way of preparing them is with a thick batter similar to fish and chips, heavy with oil once it comes out of the fryer. But these were a revelation of rings! Crisp, yes! Greasy, no! The coating crunched between the teeth with a satisfying snap, revealing the soft onion inside - lots of sweet onion flavor, which is sadly lacking from the greasy ones. I'd go back for the onion rings alone.
The waiter was young and friendly - a nice kid. The atmosphere is very casual (they have rolls of paper towels on each table as much-needed napkins) and they play blessedly quiet music so conversation is easy and relaxed. The portions are gigantic and delicious. While we'd love to return weekly, there is no way our waistlines or our hearts would survive frequent trips there. But, as an occasional treat, I couldn't ask for better. My fingers still smelled deliciously of smoke for hours afterward.
One of the attractions of life in the San Francisco bay area is the evenness of the weather. We are buffered for the most part from extremes of heat and cold by the close proximity of the ocean. The farther away from the ocean you go, the higher and lower the temperatures range. Because we live right by the bay, we rarely get above 75 degrees F in the day, and only rarely below 40 degrees F at night, even in what passes for winter here. Oh, we have the occasional scorcher and, like this week, the occasional cold snap, but for the most part the weather is ridiculously even.
Last week, was a different story. We had a real cold snap and the overspray from the watering system in our garden actually froze on the deck! I was quite surprised - in fact, I went over to feel it for myself, just to make sure it was truly frost. It was sufficiently unusual for both My Beloved and I, independently, to decide to record it on camera.
We may actually don a coat at times like this, and even gloves. Imagine that! This is soup weather.
So, having finished the last bowl of turkey soup from Thanksgiving last week, when I got out of the dentist's chair, I went to Comforts in San Anselmo for a bowl of their wonton soup. It's very filling with fresh bok choy, thinny-thin noodles, slices of mushroom, and wonderfully tasty turkey-ginger-shrimp wontons immersed in a flavorful broth. Colorful and fragrant, a big bowl of this will warm you right down to your toes.
I imagine that those of you who are reading this in places where there is real winter are shaking your heads at this California wuss. I used to be tough like you when I lived in western New York state, but nearly 20 years here have made me soft.
I'm not sorry.
Blue Sky, Yellow Umbrellas
Oh, people, frabjous day! It's Brussels sprout season again! One of the very best parts about fall is the advent of these little round, green guys. If you are a sprout lover, you know what I mean. If not, avert your eyes and read on.
My Beloved and I are doing over our kitchen. Well, actually, we aren't doing it - an architect and a builder will - but we are the pocket book for this project. For fifteen years, we have gotten along with just two electric burners - one of which works when it feels like it - a Jennair grill, and an oven in which only one of the elements is functional. The dishwasher is also a relic, since we must actually wash the dishes ourselves before putting them in the dishwasher and, once we start it, all conversation in that room and the adjoining living room is drowned out. Only the refrigerator is newer than our house, which was built in 1979.
Not only is the kitchen less than efficient, it's also ugly, with baby poop yellow and brown ceramic counter tops with dark brown grout (is that grout or gunk?), dark Jacobean-stained cabinets, and a plaid vinyl floor. I'm sure it was state of the art in 1979 but, these days, only young hipsters admire our "cool vintage kitchen."
So, we are in the process of designing and moving the new kitchen a bit to allow a little more room in the dining area and to upgrade the kitchen. Imagine! I will even have four burners that work! Gas burners! Huzzah!
Last week, we drove in to the city to meet with our architect to hammer out some details of the design and to clarify some points. He normally comes to the house for our meetings but we always enjoy a trip to the city and, after the work part was done, we decided to try a new-to-us restaurant, Mission Rock Resort down by the ball park. When we are in that neighborhood, we normally go to The Ramp, which we love for its laid-back vibe, but we thought it was a little chilly for outdoor dining, so we went where they have indoor seating as well.
Turns out, we could have eaten at the Ramp, as the November sunshine was just warm enough to enjoy sitting outdoors. The dining area at Mission Rock is upstairs, so we had a sweeping bay view from our waterside table. And, there on the menu was a side dish of roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon bits and white raisins! My Beloved is not a fan of sprouts, so I only eat them when he's away on business or when I see them on a restaurant menu. My heart leaped!
The long, rectangular plate arrived with a flourish, holding a heaping portion of my little faves. The addition of bacon bits and white raisins was interesting and fun. I might not make this at home, but I'd definitely order it when we go to Mission Rock again. Even My Beloved gave them a try and admitted that, while they are still sprouts and he'd never choose them, they were as good as any he had ever tried. To us sprout lovers, each bite was quite delicious and the dish was a meal in itself, savory, sweet, and salty all at once.
We sat in the sunshine talking over the changes to the kitchen floor plan and marveling at the warm late November day. Anticipation of our new kitchen is exciting, even though we know the construction phase will be a royal pain in the neck. Still, when the sky is blue and the umbrellas are bright yellow, it's easy just to dream about the beautiful kitchen we are creating.
Lately, I've been on a kind of vegetable kick. If we eat out, I find myself ordering two or three "sides" rather than a meat entrée, and I'm enjoying all the different ways the chefs find to enhance their veggie offerings.
A case in point, these green beans that I ordered at The Left Bank in Larkspur. We had driven over to Marin to take Cora to the vet, both a little worried about her symptoms. She is always good at the vet, taking his kindly offered treats gently and allowing him to commit his indignities without protest. Since she's a big, black dog with an impressive set of teeth, he always seems happy that she's so easy to handle.
Somewhat reassured, we all bundled back into the car and drove to Larkspur where they have a nice, long path for walking dogs or riding bikes. We all enjoyed 20 minutes of stress relief before seeking lunch. The Left Bank allows dogs on their outdoor patio and they even bring a little paper bowl of water, which Cora greatly appreciated after her nervous panting in the vet's office and our walk.
With Cora happily settled next to my chair, we checked out the menu. I had to resist the temptations of a lamb sandwich and steak frîtes, but it was easy when I saw the list of side dishes. Specifically, these green beans with shallots. The French either grow a smaller variety of green bean or they pick them before the pods swell - these were tiny - perhaps three inches long - and very slender. Cooking them along with the shallot in some butter was simple genius; these two vegetables love each other.
This was so simple, I could easily make it at home. I tend just to steam vegetables and offer them plain. My New Year's resolution will be to dress up my veggies a little more to give them this kind of easy but happy synchrony.
As I was munching my way through the beans and My Beloved was enjoying his lamb sandwich, one of the waiters arrived at the table with a dog biscuit for Cora. We sat in the sun on a bright November day just before Thanksgiving, thinking how very fortunate we are and how grateful we were to be out of the vet's office and enjoying the sunshine.
Art museums have come a long way. During my lifetime, they have gone from rather deadly places with paintings hung on off-white walls with little description of the work beyond the name of the artist and the medium, to lively venues with artfully displayed works, recorded acoustiguides, and raisons that give interesting context for the art on view. I have loved art museums ever since I was a young woman, but I really love them now.
Of course, if one is feeling crabby, one can fault them for following every single exhibit with a themed gift shop to boost the sales and profits from the show. I hate to tell them, but those reproductions are never going to represent the real thing in any meaningful way - I prefer just to savor my memories of my favorite pieces.
But, by and large, they do a swell job and, happily, museums from far away are often willing to lend their treasures, so I get to see many, many more works than I could ever afford to see by traveling to their home countries.
A good case in point is the show currently up at the Legion, a show of Anders Zorn's work. I treated myself to a museum day last week when My Beloved was away on business and I knew I wouldn't be cooking dinner. Anders Zorn, a completely new artist to me, was a preeminent Swedish painter of the Gilded Age, and his control of watercolor and his mastery of portrait work were simply amazing. He could do it all, including marvelous landscapes. It's a gem of a show. (And, across the hall is a wonderful little show of Matisse works from SFMOMA, which is currently closed for renovation).
So, having slowly savored my way through the Zorn, I was a little foot-weary and ready for some lunch. I debated leaving the museum for a nearby coffee shop but, as it was raining cats and dogs, I decided to stay in. I was glad I had, as the menu reflected the Zorn show, offering four or five items of Swedish specialties.
This is another museum trend that I highly applaud - tying the menu in the cafeteria to the exhibits being shown. What a fun way to give living, breathing context to a show from a country I will likely never visit! I chose the Swedish meatballs because, believe it or not, I have never had those outside of the cafeteria line at school, not a good place to sample any food whatsoever.
My serving came with several tender, flavorful meatballs atop some garlic mashed potatoes and garnished with lingonberry jam and braised purple cabbage, along with a plate of dark rye bread and butter. The cabbage had a sweet-sour taste supplied at least in part by a whole, pitted apricot cooked in the sauce. The dish was savory, sour and sweet all in the same bowl. Perfect for a rainy day.
Refreshed and refilled, I was ready to enjoy the Matisse show across the hall. As I drove home through the rain, my head was full of wonderful images and my stomach was full of tasty chow. What more could I ask of a museum day?
We Thank Thee For This Crab
Talk about feeling thankful!
First Dungeness crab of the season.
My Beloved had learned about a new-to-us fish market, Tokyo Fish, in Berkeley, so we went over on the second day of the crab season to see if perhaps they had a few. I had driven past that store a thousand times but never thought to stop in. I will be stopping in on a regular basis, now! They not only had a few crabs cooked and ready for cracking, they had a huge aquarium full of lively ones awaiting a certain doom.
We asked for two of the already-cooked to be cleaned and cracked, which was done in a trice and very gently - no finding pieces of shell wedged into the sweet meat. They made a sumptuous meal paired with a nice, buttery white wine, fresh sourdough baguette with unsalted butter, and nothing else.
Normally, I serve crabs on newspapers that I spread on the table and we just dump out the crab pieces and help ourselves. This time, however, we forgot and threw away the paper so deep in the recycling bin that I couldn't reach it. So, I hauled out our two largest platters, arranged the crab on one end with implements of war, and left the other half free for shells. It worked well - maybe not as minimalist as newspapers that can be simply rolled up around the shells and thrown away, but still very few dishes to do.
Even though I'm not religious, I do love Thanksgiving as a time to reflect on all one's blessings. I think of myself as the luckiest person I know, so I always have a great deal to be thankful for. My Beloved, my Cora, my family (and this includes my Michigan family), his family, our friends, our life together and, yes, Dungeness crab.
Happy Thanksgiving to you all!
Who Knew? Bacon Bits, Take Two.
Who knew that those cute little pumpkins that I have always used as fall table decorations were edible? I learned that from a blog friend, KatieZ, who was making all kinds of lovely dishes with them a couple of weeks ago.
So, when my Hallowe'en table gave way to a Thanksgiving decoration, I cut open two of them, scooped out the seeds, and roasted the bottoms and their lids alongside the kabocha squash I talked about in my last post.
They keep their shape and their distinctive orange color, even while the oven softens them to velvet. I stuffed them with a rice stuffing I made quickly with chopped, sautéed shallots and mushrooms added to some leftover brown rice and another rasher's worth of bacon bits. Quickly stuffed, I slid them into a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes to heat them through. Next time, I will add some thyme or perhaps rosemary to the rice mixture, but they were quite tasty as they were.
Not only did they look adorable on the plate, they were quite filling. In fact, they would almost make a whole meatless meal if you were looking for such. We enjoyed them alongside some slices of grilled chicken breast and came away from the table quite full.
Tiny Pumpkins Stuffed with Rice
2 tiny pumpkins, tops sliced off, seeded, and roasted until tender in a 350 degree oven
About 1 cup brown rice, cooked
1 rasher bacon, cooked and finely chopped
5-6 crimini mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1 large shallot, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons olive oil
In a wide pan, sauté mushrooms in the olive oil until browned, then add shallot and cook until softened. Add rice and bacon bits, and mix thoroughly. Stuff rice mixture firmly into the pumpkins, cover with pumpkin lids (some rice will fall out), and bake for about 20 minutes in a 350 degree oven.
Bacon Bits, Take One
Portion control. That's the ticket. We are finding that we can eat just about anything we want and we won't gain weight if we exercise a little control over the portion sizes. We eat well, we just eat too much.
So, when you practice restraint, you end up with all kinds of interesting leftovers. For example, if you cook but don't eat the entire quarter pound of bacon that you bought (Nueske's bacon!) at Baron's Meats, you have some rashers left over for future meals.
Like soup. Kabocha squash, carrot and shallot soup.
With bacon bits as the garnish. As a garnish, bacon bits have no equal. They are the epitome of garnish, the king of garnish, the zenith.
I'm digging this portion control thing.
Roasted Kabocha Squash, Carrot and Shallot Soup
1/2 kabocha squash, halved, seeded, and roasted in a 350 degree oven until tender, then scraped out - about 1-1/2 cups squash.
2 big shallots, chopped
2 big carrots, thickly sliced
1 Tbs olive oil
2-4 cups chicken broth, depending on how liquid you like your soup.
1 rasher of crisped bacon, finely chopped
It may seem like a lot of work for a bowl of soup, but you can do it in stages, roasting the squash a day or two before and refrigerating it until you are ready to make the soup. Also, once the soup is made, you can refrigerate it until you are ready to serve. Then, heat gently to piping hot (better not to boil it), and add the bacon bits.
In a large pot, heat the olive oil, and add the chopped shallot, cooking just until the shallot begins to brown on the edges. Add the squash and the carrots, and cover with chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes, until all the veggies are very soft.
Remove the pot from the stove and cool until it is safe to use an immersion blender or a regular blender. Purée the soup, adding more chicken broth if needed until it reaches the desired consistency.
You can do this much ahead and refrigerate for a day or two if need be, then gently reheat the soup to piping hot, sprinkle on the bacon bits, and serve.
Stylin' At School
When I was a kid, I was plunked into Catholic school whenever there was that option near our various duty stations. My parents had what was called in those days a "mixed marriage," my mother being Protestant and my father Catholic. Mom had promised to raise us as Catholics in order to marry Dad, and she kept her word. If we didn't have a Catholic school nearby, we went to catechism class. All this effort only worked on two of their four children, but if that was a baseball score, they'd be in the Hall of Fame.
Of course, I hated the regimentation, the emphasis on sin and almost certain Hell, and the fierce nuns but the thing I hated most was wearing a uniform. All Catholic schools seem to revere the uniform. At Duchesne Academy in Omaha, Nebraska, we had blazers and plaid skirts in the fall/winter, and they were donned when school started, no matter how hot was the inevitable Indian summer. We had pastel cotton dresses, always well below the knee (and measured daily by those nuns) during the brief spring and, naturally, we donned those on a chosen day, too, no matter how late the winter lingered. Any discomfort was a gift for us to "offer up to God."
Oh, and then there were the plain black dresses with celluloid collars and cuffs, and thick black stockings with black "beetle crusher" shoes that we had to wear at Most Holy Rosary School in Freshwater, near Argentia, Newfoundland. It was enough to put a teenage girl off God for life!
So, when I started tutoring second graders at a local charter school, I was somewhat dismayed to find that they are required to wear uniforms. Being California, it's a pretty easy uniform - pale blue polo shirts and navy blue chinos for both boys and girls - but it's a uniform nonetheless, and it is carefully policed by the wonderful and fearful Principal of the school.
Of course, the children find all kinds of ways to express their individuality - you've never seen such a colorful array of jackets, sweaters, backpacks, barrettes, ribbons, and shoes. The students mostly adhere to the uniform dictates, but everything else about what they wear screams personal preference.
And, every now and then, when their uniforms are dirty, or lost, or somehow missing - then their true style struts out. While I understand the reasoning behind requiring uniforms and I applaud the effort to keep fashion consciousness to a minimum in a school setting, especially among elementary school students, I must admit that I love to see the many ways the children find to show their style at school.
I guess that rebellious teen lives on in me, doesn't she?
I think I'm related to Garfield. Not the President, rather the lazy, hedonistic cartoon cat. We have similar views on life, love, and food, he and I. We are spectacularly lazy upon occasion, we don't suffer fools gladly, and we both love lasagna.
I set out last week to make some vegetable lasagna, as I have done and reported about before. I did much the same things with this batch, but the only tweak I made to the original recipe really made a difference - a delightful difference! - so I wanted to tell you about it. I'll be doing it this way from now on.
In the original recipe, I mix in a package of thawed, chopped spinach into the ricotta/parmesan filling before spreading it in layers between the noodles and the sauce. This time, I had a big bunch of fresh basil on hand from the gnocchi recipe we had made earlier, so I thought rather than use spinach, I would make a chiffonade of basil leaves to mix in instead.
I cut off about twenty five of the leaves, stacked and rolled them together, then cut them crosswise with a sharp knife. The whole kitchen was perfumed with basil scent, probably the best scent possible on earth. Fluffed, they make a nice little mound of basil, which you can chop even finer if you wish. I left mine in fine strings.
If I do say so myself, it was pure genius. Instead of just greenery, I got extra rich flavor from the basil, which you can see as little green threads on the left side of the photo. I wouldn't have thought it would make such a significant difference, but it really does.
I should really box up a serving of this and send it to Garfield. He'd love it.