baking, burgers & sandwiches

red carpet brown bag

pan bagnat

Whilst packing for an all-day whale-watching excursion, I had a moment where I thought I’d slap together a good ol’ PB&J and call it a lunch. There is nothing dishonorable about this traditional option, but I decided on this day to honor the sea by treasuring one of it’s finest offerings, the humble tuna.

pan bagnat

On the Mediterranean coastline of France, the clever and life-affirming residents of Nice created the best tunafish sandwich known to mankind, and it is the pan bagnat. The best quality tuna is simply dressed in fruity olive oil and acidic champagne vinegar or lemon juice. Leave the gloppy mayo to your tuna melts. Then you add in some vegetables for crunch and flavor (artichoke hearts, peppers, red onion), some nice salty olives, aromatic fresh basil, and hearty hard boiled eggs. Add it all in loving layers to the partially hollowed out casing of a crisp baguette or boule. I used a mish-mash of this recipe from Food 52 and this one from Martha Stewart.

pan bagnat

The beauty of this sandwich is that you can use up a lot of stuff laying around your fridge, pantry, and condiments shelf. No, the beauty of this sandwich is that you can make it entirely ahead of time, press it down in your fridge under a heavy skillet or a baking tray weighed down with heavy books overnight. No, no, no the beauty of this sandwich is that you need to make it ahead of time, because the multitude of bright flavors really come together and then soak into the bread to make it taste even better after a night being pressed.

bourbon dark chocolate blondies

While you sit back and admire your work on a lunch well-packed, might I suggest adding these supremely easy one-bowl bourbon dark chocolate blondies? Whales will be watched, seas will be sailed, and tummies will be satisfied, fortified, and nourished to forge forward into the wild blue yonder.


German’s American cake

German chocolate cake
German chocolate cake is not German. The consummately American cake was created in the U.S. and named after an American chocolatier who worked at the oldest chocolate company in the U.S. In summary, German chocolate cake is named after German’s chocolate bar who created chocolate for bakers at Baker’s. Got it? More precisely, the cake was named after Sam German, who created a more sweetened version of dark baking chocolate at Baker’s, the chocolate company founded in part and owned by Dr. James Baker. Phew! Can we eat it now?

German chocolate cake

This beautiful version of German’s American Chocolate Bar for Bakers by Baker’s Chocolate Cake (which is a more accurate name for this confection, in my opinion) is brought to you by the Gramercy Tavern Cookbook. The cake layers are wafer-thin and deeply chocolatey. The filling substitutes the typical gooey sugar-bomb caramel with a more subtle, coconut milk-infused caramel that is chunky and crunchy. Double the recipe to achieve the height in the photo above to impress your guests visually, then barrage them with trivia about the cake as I have done to dazzle them with your knowledge. Or, as I should, just pipe down and serve it already.


a sip (or bite) to celebrate

guiness brownies with bailey's cream cheese swirl

Here’s to drinking, and to eating your drink. Not necessarily just for St. Patrick’s Day, the celebration of over-exuberant liver owners worldwide, these Guinness stout brownies with Bailey’s Irish Cream and cream cheese swirls should be part of any March celebration. (Especially if you double the amount of Irish cream in the recipe.) Completing your U.S. taxes early? Drink a brownie. Survived the ides of March? Drink a brownie. You value pi, but are not a pie-lover? Drink a brownie. So indeed, raise your adult chocolatey baked good to toast the good taste of our Irish friends all month long (and should the brownie-celebratory mood hit you during April through February, cheers to your own good taste!)


that’s a morel

When I received dried morels as a gift, I set them aside for some time and consideration. I adore mushrooms and these fungi, with their clean-dirt aroma and nutty flavor, deserved proper celebration. On a winter night during a particularly damp weather week, we found ourselves craving these jewels of the wet earth and I brought them out from hibernation.

Daniel Boulud's cod with morels and asparagus

Morels go particularly well with the richness of butter or cream, so this cod recipe from Daniel Boulud was an obvious choice. Paired with fresh asparagus and sweet pearl onions, the delicate cod is not overpowered by any one flavor and the result is elegant and harmonious.

mise en place at B's (with beer)

Initially, I was nervous that a recipe from the renowned chef would require intricate technique and specialty ingredients that would be too overwhelming for me on a weeknight, but this delightful recipe was not too challenging and in fact was a joy to make. A good sign of fun in the kitchen: the enjoyment of an Anchor Steam while preparing the mise en place.

Using dried morels in place of fresh is quite easy (and just as flavorful), and I just reconstituted them in the cream called for in the recipe. From Wild About Mushrooms, The Cookbook of the Mycological Society of San Francisco by Louise Freedman:

“The intensity and character of the morel flavor is not lost in drying. We have used them after three years of storage and found them to be just as aromatic, if not more so, as when fresh.

Reconstitute them in hot water for 5 minutes or simmer them in cream until soft, about 15 minutes, not allowing the cream to boil. Always add the rehydrating liquid to the dish for which your morels are intended. A great deal of the flavor remains in the liquid.

When incorporating dried morels in a recipe calling for fresh specimens, use 3 ounces as the equivalent of 1 pound of mushrooms. Once reconstituted, they should be equal in volume.”

IMAroasted cauliflower with lemon-parsley dressing

To round out the meal, roasted cauliflower with lemon-parsley dressing  added some sweetness and zest to offset the creaminess of the cod’s sauce. This side would be a bold compliment to any other fish dish or Mediterranean style meal, or even the holiday table.


travel treats

This past year was scrumptious, spicy, piquant, a little saucy, and plenty delectable. Some of my favorite eats on the road:

_1198613Perfectly proper tea at Chocolate Maven in Santa Fe for a refined bachelorette party.

2013-01-27%252013.39.28What’s better than birthday cake? How about adorable, precious, and simply sweet tiny pies shared with birthday celebrants under the California sun, at I Like Pie in Claremont.

2013-04-17%252016.05.12The freshest fish taco, plucked from the Caribbean shores off the Virgin Islands with a bright seaweed salad and a cool Presidente.

2013-04-18%252011.30.38Island breakfast: fresh fruit smoothie, homemade yogurt with toasty oats and tropical fruits. Building a foundation for hours of snorkeling.

2013-04-18%252015.51.21My first johnnycake: kind of like a biscuit top (crumbly and soft) with melty cheese in the middle. Island-style grilled cheese that I can get behind.

2013-04-18%252015.52.23Crispy on the outside, hot and fluffy on the inside, this homemade conch fritter is like a subtly sweet hushpuppy. Served just steps from clear blue waters with sea turtles sunning themselves at Vie’s Snack Shack in St. John.

The fresh crab salad at the Olde Port Inn at Avila Beach is so fresh and succulent, you might forget to look through your glass table into the waters below.

IMG_20130525_133855_146Why bother getting fresh grilled tacos at a hot rod car show in Southern California if you don’t add the caramelized onions from the gigantic pan? Oh the aroma of smoky onions calls you closer…

_6170695Pennsylvania Dutch food can be simple, comforting, homey. It can also be brilliant like this apple and gouda grilled cheese with a smear of sweet apple butter.

_6170714But please don’t event think of leaving Lancaster without a slice (or 8) of the sticky molasses bottomed and crumbly struesel-like topped  shoofly pie.

_7060799Strawberries and cream from America’s oldest ice cream shop, Bassetts in Philadelphia. There’s a reason this classic ice cream flavor is favored by many: when it’s simply made with the best ingredients, you taste summer down to the last melted drop in the cone.

Pre-partying for BFF wedding duties with fantastic cocktails at the Red Owl Tavern in Philadelphia: Tom Traubert’s Blues and Of Two Minds.

Tackling a wood-oven baked pizza with plump shrimp, sweet corn and avocado while devouring and arugula and strawberry salad with creamy burrata at Revolution Brewing in Chicago. Paired perfectly with the Coup d’Etat.

Parson’s Chicken and Fish is a summertime DO for the Negroni slushy best consumed while making friends at the outdoor picnic tables on a warm Chicago day. Nevermind that it’s not legitimately a Negroni without the Campari, but it is legitimately delicious.

The stuff sugar-dreams are made of: the ooiest gooiest cinnamoniest sticky bun at Little Goat in Chicago.

Can’t decide on breaky? Have eggs-in-a-hole French Toast with strawberries and fried chicken.

Or an Indian-Latin American-Californian hodge-podge like a paratha egg burrito with avocado and beans.

The best part of my entire meal, without a doubt, was that 10AM Vietnamese iced coffee spiked generously with single barrel bourbon: thank you for this revelation.


chocolate whats-its, cranberry whatnots and lemon thinglings

Well, there’s no snow here but there’s a Christmas tree – and where there’s a Christmas tree, there must be Christmas cookies. I think it’s one of the laws of physics (maybe number 25?)

In the middle are luxurious Argentinean alfajores, or hockey pucks as Pat calls them. The crumbly cookies sandwich golden dulce de leche and then are dipped in chocolate ganache like these. You can also cover them in coconut and marvel at your fine fancy hockey pucks.

On the left are incredibly easy but richly rewarding cranberry shortbread which are buttery and punchy with bits of tart cranberry. These are convenient to make the dough ahead of time and slice and bake as you need them. And they look festive, too.

Lastly, these lemon almond cookies are fantastic and highly addictive little bites of bright lemon, which are especially refreshing if you’re over all the pumpkin spice blah-de-blah and cinnamon whatevers and peppermint who-cares. No judgement, just consider de-Grinching yourself instantly with a tin of these cookies (and if you feel like it, even share them.)


Take out tasties and delivery diamonds

One thing I have learned from living in the Bay area, is that no matter how much you may enjoy or dread cooking, you always have the option of OK, great, and amazing takeout and delivery. Why leave your neighborhood or sometimes house for delicious good food? Unnecessary. Here are some of my faves:

tofu banh mi, saigon sandwichThe tofu banh mi at Saigon Sandwich is less than a fiver and the bread is perfectly shattering in crispness.

little saigon phoPho is right up the street in Little Saigon, but you can even get delivery if you refuse to change out of pajamas.

salmon and goat cheese omelet, broken recordOver by B’s place, we frequently lumber over to the dive bar Broken Record, where you can just as easily find a stellar goat cheese, salmon and asparagus omelet with caramelized potatoes and onions as you can get a pint of beer and a game of pool.

salvadorean cookieNearby are wonderful bakeries, like a Salvadorean place with all sorts of cakes and cookies.

custard cookiePick your filling: guava, pineapple, custard within a not-too-sweet crumbly cookie.

morning bun, la boulangeOh La Boulange, how I love thee. Yeah, you can now find the Bay area’s favorite local bakery chain in Starbucks, but you can’t replicate the charm of each location. I am completely addicted to the morning bun, with its layers of pastry wisps holding a bit of orange sweetness within each swirl.

tartes, la boulangeAnd don’t forget after-dinner (or after-breakfast?) dessert – the chocolate ganache tart is deep and dark…

nectarine berry tart, la boulange…and this seasonal nectarine and berry tart is  bright and cheerful.

apricot brioche doughnut, arlequinWhy, hello sweet little apricot brioche doughnut from Arlequin – I’ll be grabbing you in a sleepy stupor and stumbling back home.

kaka udonFor those cold an foggy days, nothing beats a savory broth stuffed with noodles, veggies and pickles from Kaka Udon.

tofu arepa and plantains, pica picaAnd thank goodness for delivery services, because I can munch on my  corn arepas stuffed with tofu and avocado with a side of sweet plantains from Pica Pica while doing some heavy duty couch-surfing.

knish and tea cake, 20th century cafeHere’s some pocket sized treats from newcomer 20th Century Cafe.

potato knish, 20th century cafeA delicate potato knish will soothe your savory snack craving.

tea cake,  20th century cafeWhile the tea cake is hiding a fruit treasure, so go ahead and take a big bite.

tofu banh mi, dragon eatsI really love the tofu banh mi from DragonEats as well, because the tofu is so flavorful and the veggies so crisp that it could be the last sandwich on earth for all I care.

tofu banh mi, dragon eatsMore, please.

smittenOver at Smitten, have your ice cream made to order with a shot of liquid nitrogen.

strawberry white balsamic with pistachio brittle, smittenThe smoothest strawberry white balsamic ice cream with a crumble of pistachio brittle.

brioche bread pudding, boxing roomBread pudding at the Boxing Room is crisp caramelized brioche doused with salty sweet butterscotch and tangy buttermilk ice cream.

tofu temptation, izakaya kouBut some things you can’t take out for the full experience, like the tofu temptation at Izakaya Kou with its pungent sauce against wobbly cold tofu.

smuggler's coveAnd alas, Smuggler’s Cove has yet to allow takeout tiki cocktails. I guess some things, like the cozy Goonies/pirate ship ambiance at SC, are worth putting on pants for.


welcome to Austin, where it’s hotter than Cambodia

Recently, I was in Austin, TX, celebrating the birthdays of a few of my favorite Librans (my life is full of Librans that are close to my heart) at the Austin City Limits music festival. I got to spend much needed face time with my pals Niti and Josh in their old/new home state and spend some much needed downtime with birthday boy, and fellow Austin first-timer, B. The good news is that although I didn’t hit up even a tiny percent of the places I wanted to eat at, it was only because I kept getting diverted by other interesting eats (and drinks) along the way. The bad news is that the festival got rained out the last day, so we missed some amazing music. The good news is that we had a free day to spend around the city gorging ourselves with breakfast tacos. The bad news is that despite the rain, its only a few degrees cooler than the temperature on the sun’s surface. I’ll be be back, Austin (when you chill out just a touch more.) You can listen along to these pairings with a (free) Spotify account.

IMAG0062What better way to take your mind off the unobstructed blazing sun, grass sticking to your sweat soaked  ankles, and general feeling of listlessness that overpowers every muscle in your body than the breezy, waves-crashing-ashore harmonies of Local Natives?

Avocado bahn mi from Second Bar + KitchenThe first day was all about acclimation to the sun against our bodies, so there wasn’t a lot of food ingested. There was a lot of snow cones, and beers, and juices, and beers, and water, and beers. One of the few things I ate was the avocado banh mi from Second Bar + Kitchen with a cell-quenching strawberry lemonade. Verdict: too much toppings and not enough avocado, but the real offense was that the sandwich was served on a squishy sweet roll, so it should have been advertised as an avocado-ish HOAGIE. The lemonade was divine, though.  This sandwich was only OK, but what was truly spectacular was that after 30 years, DM still puts on a new wave synth-pop show to shame younger bands. Niti and I sang along to our favorite songs, arm-in-arm, gasping to keep up with their dazzling showmanship and energy.

Breakfast tacos and Tito's VodkaBreakfast tacos and Tito’s vodka, part of your well balanced Austin breakfast. I can eat these every day (and not just for breakfast). Soft tortillas filled with gooey cheese, soft scrambled eggs, picante sauce and meat or potatoes as you wish. These provided the ballast we needed to soldier through the heat for the long day ahead.  We needed that fortitude to hold our own amongst the sea of fans, by far the biggest crowd for a non-headlining act, for the inimitably smooth flow of the unaffectedly cool Kendrick Lamar. Bottles up.

The Mighty Cone hot and crunchy avocadoA full 24 hours after setting foot on Austin soil, my blood finally got acclimated to the heat and my hunger started up again full force. Niti pointed me in the direction of The Mighty Cone for a hot and crunchy avocado. It never, ever occurred to me to deep fry avocado, nature’s most perfect food, but *because* of its perfection it goes without saying that a fried avocado is a mighty tasty avocado.  After spiking the next strawberry lemonade with the contents of our flasks, we enjoyed the sharp but soulful stylings of English rockers Arctic Monkeys.

spinach and mushroom empanada from MmmpanadasAnd then it rained (and rained, and rained, and washed the next day’s concert away.) The last thing I ate at the festival before ducking under an umbrella to watch The Cure serenade a football field of drenched fans is the fantastic spinach and mushroom empanada from Mmmpanadas. The pastry parcel was tender and flaky, and the flavorful filling warmed my cold, wet heart. Hand in hand with B, grinning in the rain as the music washed over us, I was pretty sure this is just the moment that the complex, lush melodies of The Cure’s music is made for.

midnight tacos : fish, shrimp, carnitas, and egg and potatoOh, but the rain didn’t stop us. We headed out to the flooded streets of Austin and started our evening, at midnight, with another round of tacos. From the upper left: fish, shrimp, carnitas, and egg & potato. We pushed forward into the rainy night, raising another glass to future tacos. We compared notes of the festival so far, and I delighted in the fierce edginess of Savages, who played a brilliant set (despite blistering away in the sun) as if they were born to play these songs.

Real grits for a real brunch at Blue Star CafeteriaAlas, the next day of music was not meant to be, so we used our bonus day to eat and also to eat. We started at the Blue Star Cafeteria where I was allowed to indulge in my enduring love for grits. The grits were buttery and smooth, with the perfect tang of cheddar. They were soul-comforting and rewarding on an unexpected level, like the heart-and-brain-engaging country-ish jams of Wilco.

all the brunch cocktails and pecan french toast at Blue Star CafeteriaSince we didn’t have anywhere to be, we shared a stack of pecan French toast and a round of all the sparkling breakfast drinks. Crisp, sparkling and sweet can describe the Smith Westerns’ music as well. Like their show at Austin, our brunch was meandering and left us overstuffed. I might stick to them on headphones.

tomato tart and all the cheeses at Hopfields in AustinAll the drinks, then all the cheeses. That’s what we ordered at Hopfields, a small gastropub bursting with charm and Austin hospitality. After a few beer tastings to choose the perfect accompaniment to our meal, we settled on Belgian style brews to compliment the selection of hand made savory tarts. This place is a little modern, a little rustic, a whole lotta thoughtful and and a whole lotta smart – very much like breakout star singer/songwriter Jake Bugg.

Belgian chocolate and  peanut butter cups from Amy'sLeaving Austin on a sweet note, and obtaining sweet release indeed from the unyielding heat, we waited in line next to the historic Continental Club for Amy’s ice cream. Although I loathe waiting in line for food, the queue gave us time to tailor our ice cream concoction wish list down to a personal signature creation. In addition to their famous Mexican Vanilla flavor, the have some boozy choices like Honeyed Brandy and Guiness Stout. I walked away with a cup of intensely smooth Belgian chocolate ice cream, with a a free topping of peanut butter cups because I knew the answer to the trivia question that day, hooray! And with Amy’s in town I now I see an upside to the constant heat. Good one, Austin. Let’s celebrate with the garage-rock exuberance of the precocious The Orwells, shall we?


thank you for being a food….I mean, friend.

It’s been a *ahem* number of months hiatus for the blog, folks, but not for my tastebuds. I’ve cooked a bit, and eaten a lot. These past few months have been packed with family and friends, because of which I am renewed and recharged. These next few blog posts are a bunch of my favorite taste memories, quite often recalling laughter, relaxation, and joy. First up, some fun meals out with lovely people involving silly stories, dorky jokes, and plenty of munchies.

IMG_20130626_194957_961The cheese board at Fat Angel has all of the perfect pairings for your cheeses, just add beer from their mile deep selection.

IMG_20130626_195436_390But if you don’t order their piping hot, super creamy polenta fries you consider your evening ruined.

IMG_20130704_110422_425Why have one popover when you can have three? Apples with salted caramel, berries and mascarpone, and egg and cheese makes a well-rounded brunch (with the bottomless mimosas, of course) at Luna Park.

IMG_20130707_115539_505Ridiculous brioche French toast with caramel and ice cream at Farmicia.

IMG_20130710_191651_996Reliving Istanbul at Bursa with tangy haydari and bread and creamy feta prawns.

IMG_20130802_240239_822The ice cream waffle at Kowloon Tong Dessert Cafe is literally that. These ain’t no Eggos, the waffles are chewy and the vanilla and egg flavors really come through.

IMG_20130804_155853_358An SF picnic would not be complete without the Kentucky from the Creme Brulee Cart: candied pecans swimming in bourbon caramel.

2012-04-28%252019.32.53sometimes amazing people will make amazing food, likethis neverending italian meal of homemade pasta, grilled lamb and cioppino. feel the love!


and for parties, having friends with excellent taste and talent means black bean and shrimp tostones.

IMG_20130810_141229_866Smoky grilled squid at Majikku Ramen.

IMG_20130810_141255_038You can’t beat their ramen. Don’t even try.

IMG_20130916_150854_886Digging into the last of the heirloom tomatoes of the season at Mateo’s Cocina Latina; and even though this is wine country, it is fitting to indulge in a fresh margarita on a sultry summer day.

IMG_20130916_184608_322They don’t take kindly to cake-ists at the Petaluma Pie Company. Here, their nectarine-blueberry hand pie (if you have giant hands).

IMG_20130921_121037_472Golden poached eggs over rice with fried shallots and nori at 903; a perfect breakfast today to inspire me to share more, and more often.


eating hong kong

Our eating trip….er, I mean sightseeing trip…ended in the other “Asia Lite” of Hong Kong. It was a short stay here, but we managed to cram in a few great meals. You can’t go to Hong Kong and miss out on dim sum:

_2210062The best meal of all, dim sum at Maxim’s in city hall. Grab a table right when it opens and then give yourself a pat on the back as the line to get in wraps around and around….

_2210060B’s favorite dish of the entire trip: the best shu mai he’d ever had. Piping hot and direct from the kitchen’s steamers, these plump little dumplings are filled with minced pork and shrimp then tipped off with crab roe for a punch for saltiness.

_2210056I always order cheong fun at dim sum. Sometimes I’ll even share these slippery shrimp-stuffed rice crepes with other patrons at the table. Or I’ll get myself an extra plate. Or two….

_2210075You can’t go to Hong Kong and not have an egg tart. You can get them in fancy dim sum parlors, or stop in any bakery while traipsing through town for a quick warm, sweet, eggy fix.

_2219825Of course, we went to Din Tai Fung again. The menu here was totally different than the one in Singapore, so we had more to explore.

_2219838And of course, we also had to compare the xiao long bao in Singi to the ones in HK. Yup, those soup dumplings never broke until they reached your mouth and then watch out for that delicious explosion. Maybe we should’ve ordered another steamer to make sure….

_2219833Shredded greens with tofu was a stunner, with the nuttiness of sesame oil and chewy bits of tofu.

_2219835Bean curd with black mushrooms and soybeans had great chewy texture and even greater savory flavor.

_2219841The menu was like a catalog, pages and pages and pages of options. We did our our best to navigate it until our stomachs pleaded for mercy.

P2210020Walking around Kowloon in the Temple Street night market area, you’ll be surrounded by crowds of people chowing down on all corners.

_2220149We barely had to pause our stride to pick up some fresh baked goods.

_2220340When in HK, make sure to stop by a traditional dessert cafe. Baked sago pudding looks like mac and cheese.

_2220344Under the pearls of tapioca is a layer of sweet taro pudding.

_2220350Don’t think pudding has to end with chocolate or vanilla, here is a silky tofu pudding that is just barely sweet and topped with ripe fruit.

_2210021Or top your tofu pudding with fruit jelly, like the mango one here.

_2210025Or a parfait with cake crumbs and mascarpone-like creamy pudding.

You can get a hundred kinds of dessert soups, hot or cold. Here, a cold sweet almond milk soup with mochi-like ice cream dumplings. Accompany your sweet with milk tea, a sweet condensed milk tea that was traditionally strained through silk stockings.