Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Spare the Stinking Air

These past two weeks the Bay Area has had Spare the Air for three business days in a row!!

For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of "Spare the Air," it is a Bay Area program funded by the federal government where all public transportation is provided for free, in an effort to curb the release of noxious vehicle emissions at a time when the ground-level ozone (smog) in the atmosphere reaches unsafe and unhealthy levels.

Last Thursday, Friday, and this Monday were all "Spare the Air" days, so my best friend and I rushed to take advantage of the free public transportation with a culinary tour through North Beach (San Francisco's equivalent of "Little Italy") and Chinatown.

For North Beach, we planned on eating ridged waffle cones filled with thick, chilled, creamy, and viscous strawberry gelato and the small amaretto liqueur candies cloaked with a powdery desiccated coconut--you know, the kinds that are like a gourmet-version of a soft Tootsie Roll? Also, there are Greek places hidden in San Francisco's Little Italy, where you can get honkin' Greek pitas stuffed with grilled lamb and dressed with a fresh and cooling tzatziki (a yogurt, cucumber, and mint sauce).

At San Francisco's famed Chinatown, we planned on scarfing down crispy Portuguese-style egg tarts at the best place to have egg custards outside of Portugal (and Taiwan), a hole in the wall in San Francisco's Chinatown. There, we relished the buttered, flaky crust and the warm and soft custard centers--smooth centers that are silkier than freshly whipped cream, but with enough resistance to provide a snappy gelatinous bite. "San Francisco's Chinatown is a tourist trap," you might say. However, I disagree. Take a jaunt a mere block to the parallel streets, and you'll find where the locals hang and eat.

The main object of this post, was our dinner stop for our tour: the notoriously delicious restaurant, The Stinking Rose.

We started with the pillowy-soft garlic focaccia rolls, which we broke open and smothered with "garlic rose relish," a simple pesto made with olive oil, crushed cloves of garlic, minced parsley, and tart vinegar (vinegar which brings out the hefty, meaty, and pungent flavors of the garlic). Every three seconds, I would open the transparent plastic lid to the relish jar, repeatedly dunk the serving spoon, and retrieve heaping ladles-full of the garlic + olive oil concoction so that I could smear it over the bread.

We also dined on a monstrous mountain of creamy mashed potatoes, potatoes that were colored with a garlicky pesto that had been mixed and folded into the thickened mash.

The entreé of the evening was the sizzling iron skillet of shell-on shrimp with blackened edges, iridescent shelled mussels, and golden roasted garlic cloves. The skillet was served with an elegant drizzling of a soy sauce blend and a dipping tin teeming with melted butter. The open mussel shells beckoned my greedy fingers, and the shells acted as little bowl repositories that held pools of melted butter and briny seafood liqueur. After cracking open and slurping up all of the shellfish in the seafood skillet, my mouth emitted the most noxious emissions known to man: garlic seafood breath.

As I saw the green fumes emanating from my open mouth, I realized that in my gourmet quest, I had inadvertently defeated the purpose of "Spare the Air" day.

Monday, June 26, 2006

My Thoughts Exactly

Visit Rick James's website for an excellent post on "blogging fatigue." I love that the fatigue has set in so bad, that I don't even write my own posts anymore, but just direct you to another blog, with a post written better than I could have done.

Simply put, I feel exactly like this.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Salivating at Wedding Bells

A lot has happened since my last substantive post, the most eventful being my beautiful friend's wedding in the Alta Mira in Sausalito, California. The weather was perfect, the bride was stunning (and gorgeous and breathtaking), and most of all, the meal was decadent and absolutely irresistible. At parties and weddings, I try to pay particular attention to the meal that is being served--so that I may steal the entertaining ideas!

Now don't get me wrong, I am not getting married anytime in the remote future, but I love "borrowing" entertaining methods from the best entertainers available--wedding hosts.

I loved everything about everything, but there were two particular details that I found to be worthy of passing on:

Wedding / Entertaining Tip #1: Serve at least some portions of your meal "family-style."

In addition to the hors d'oeuvres that were continuously circulating through the crowds, the wedding guests dined on a luxurious Italian-themed dinner. We started with two sides: risotto milanese, which had been slowly simmered in a saffron-infused cheese sauce and penne alla putanesca, both served family-style. The beady caper buds and the olive tapenade in the putanesca provided a briny contrast to the powerful saffron flavor in the risotto.

I loved that only a few elements of the dinner were served family-style. It definitely started the meal on a more intimate note and it helped to break the ice between the strangers sitting at each of the individual tables.

The family-style sides were followed by an insalate caprina made of mixed greens, cubes of diced roma tomatoes, and rounds of goat cheese that were encrusted with walnut crumbles. The entire salad was delicately dressed by an artistic drizzling of light balsamic vinaigrette. It was very interesting that the chilled salad followed the hot and savory sides.

For the main entree, the non-vegetarian guests dined on chicken roulade or pollo valdostana made of a boneless chicken breast fillet which was rolled over a thinly-sliced ham and fontina cheese filling, coated in bread crumbs, and finished with a demiglace made of trebbiano wine, fried sage leaves, and dijon mustard. Baby carrots with steamed with their decorative tops, slender branches of broccollini, and roasted and herbed potatoes rounded out the main course.

The meal was both hearty and satisfying, but the dessert of the evening really "took the cake," and motivated my Tip Number Two.

Wedding / Entertaining Tip #2: Couple traditional party elements with non-traditional elements. That way, you can both impress your guests and simultaneously make them feel warm on their insides because of the familiarity of the dish--essentially, you've helped them to revisit memory lane, and that, in and of itself is very meaningful.

Here, the wedding hosts perfected the "something old, something new" wedding theme in their cake. If you think of the classic cake used at weddings, you'll immediately conjure up images of a simple white cake with the universal caulk-like frosting--it's probably the same cake at each of the weddings you've been to in the past. True, sometimes, the cake may be yellow or chocolate cake, but that runs the gamut. One thing that was delightful about this wedding, was that the cake was the non-traditional tiramisu! The tiramisu was a refreshing conclusion to the entire meal. Not that I wouldn't have enjoyed the plain white cake, but the tiramisu provided me with spunk and a little bit of caffeine to get me through the action-packed evening.

Sometimes, when something is unexpected, it makes you appreciate the original and the innovativeness of the new even more. That is exactly what happened here, and thus I thought it was worth a mention as a great wedding / entertaining tip!

I hope you'll apply these tips at one of your entertaining parties!

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Here We Are Now, Entertain Us (with Themed Dinners)

To steal a concept from my blogging friend Elmo Monster, this post is going to be a photo extravaganza! I have an abundance of backlogged photos (there are five more unfinished posts in the pipeline) and am currently experiencing writer's block, so I'll be a woman of limited words.

This is going to be another one of those "motivator" posts about easy entertaining. I know you've heard me lauding the innumerable merits of "entertaining potlucks." This post is a continuation of that theme. Specifically, I want to focus on how to bring friends together in a way that everyone can contribute: the "themed potluck." The "themed potluck" provides a outlet for each of your guests to explore and share their own unique culinary style and ingenuity. However, the "theme" provides enough guidance to restrain your guests from going too crazy. This post is for "inspiration" purposes, as it offers two successful "themed potlucks" as examples to illustrate the variety of options available for a working entertainer.

Two weeks ago, my beau and I threw a "themed potluck" party for our respective families.

Are you familiar with the age-old adage that the best way to bring warring factions together is through weeks of voracious feasting? Even though our families are on peaceful terms, bringing the two tribes together would require food (and large amounts of it) to quell our hungry appetites.

With the family of the significant other, you don't want a party to be an everyday affair. We cumulatively decided to spice the potluck up with a "lemon" theme. We were inspired to take a simple, bare ingredient, to create masterpieces worthy of an Iron Chef.

Members of my beau's family are gourmet-inclined individuals, so I was excited with what the night would bring.

I never strayed from the familiar, tried-and-true repertoire of meals that I usually make. Thus, I brought tabbouleh, again. However, I also tried my hand at making calamari (thank you
Unemployed Cook for the recipe)!

Generally, prepping seafood entails chipping, snapping, cracking, or peeling away multiple layers of the protective and calcified armor get the sweet and succulent flesh within. However, squid meat is, "in the flesh" so to speak. No extensive treasure hunting required. The meat is right there, right in front of you. However, because we bought the extra large version of squid, we had to clean the beast, by removing the teeth-rimmed suction pads on the tentacles, clipping off the sharp and pointy beak, and squeezing out juicy little orbs known as "squid eyeballs." The viscous fluid that excreted itself from the squid flesh left an itchy hive or rash-like sensation on the skin of our hands, comparable to the way one's skin wrinkles up from being soaked with salted sea water after deveining or peeling shrimp.

My beau handled the nasty stuff, whereas I just coated the squid tentacles in a dry mix of coarsely ground pepper, regular table salt, and powdery-fine cornstarch. I heated a stainless steel pot of bubbling vegetable oil and slipped in the breaded squid bits one at a time until they were deep-fried to perfection.

The other dishes of the night defied expectation--and my expectations were high. The first included angel-hair pasta teeming with lightly saut
ed roma tomatoes, pink curls of shrimp, and wilted leaves of basil. The entire pasta dish was showered with multiple squeezes from a juicy lemon.

Also at the table was a chilled wide-noodle pasta dish, with thick ribbons of pappardelle cooked al dente, doused with a creamy cheese sauce, and accompanied with a heavy serving of fava beans and purple chive blossoms (lil' flowers that packed a pungent punch).

Another of my beau's relatives brought thinly-sliced rare "USDA Choice" tri-tip steak, which had been charbroiled on the surface and sinfully rare within. Smoky flavors penetrated through the meat, as if the meat had been prepared in an outdoor smoker. Again, this dish too was accompanied by the abundant and flowing juices of a lemon.

As dessert, we enjoyed a rich citrus cake with crystallized lemon frosting, and a tropical Caribbean (and also African) fruit salad with squares of syrupy papaya, pineapple, mango, of course dressed in a tart lemon dressing.

Also, I won't forget to mention the fabulous version of crispy-skinned lemon chicken (that was a definite improvement from the
last time). The chicken was juicy and tender, with a paper-crisp skin delicately encompassing the chicken meat. The subtle lemon essence permeated the entire roast chicken, so that the meat was fragrant, moist, and heavenly.

We heartily chowed down on each of the "lemon-icious" dishes, helping ourselves to multiple servings at each round. The lemon flavors were fresh, bright, and naturally invited the feeling of spring-time. It was a delightfully wonderful follow-up to our
April Sunshine Party, because we ushered out the rain and winter and welcomed in the spring and summer.

A few weeks later, my beau's relatives invited us to their
home for a "ginger" themed potluck. The hosts took care of the majority of the dishes, and they were outstanding. We started with chicken drumsticks that had been cooked in a ginger-flavored Asian sauce, and a simple, yet refreshing clam and ginger soup.

The rest of the dishes were just as varied and delicious as our "lemon" themed potluck. They included: Marinated shitake mushrooms with shredded scallions and ginger;

A wilted spinach salad with a ginger-infused dressing;

Chilled tofu garnished with shredded carrots, scallion strings, and a cold ginger dressing;

Grilled salmon with a sweet honeyed ginger reduction;

Baked ginger sea bass;

A peach, fresh fruit, and ginger cobbler with a crumbly buttered crust;

and a moist brown cake heavily flavored with ginger and darkened by a rich molasses;

The variety of different dishes and bright and beautiful fragrances and flavors from the common ingredients (lemon and ginger) united all the dishes and the people for both of the parties. Although it may seem expensive and stressful to throw a party, a "themed potluck" is a viable alternative that substantially lessens the expense and the stress.

I hope that this post sold you on "themed potlucks!" You don't have to base the theme on a specific food like "ginger" or "lemon," but you can also have a "Thai" or "Mexican" themed party or fiesta, the possibilities are endless. Furthermore, finding recipes are easy. For instance, when I remarked at how delicious the ginger dishes were, our host told us, "I got all of these from just entering 'ginger' in the

Good luck in planning your own "themed potluck," as you can see, it is fun and will always be success.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

I'm Baaack!!

I just got back from a refreshing week-long vacation! I've been eating out a lot and also dining at plenty of fast food joints. Stay tuned for updated posts (and comments to your blogs) that will be coming soon (or later, depending on when I catch up with work). Till then, please enjoy these pictures of a fried fish sandwich from Oakland International Airport!

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