Eating Every Day

Friday, March 27, 2015

Buttered barley

Eastside Road, March 27, 2015—
NO PHOTO TONIGHT : just a quick report : barley pilaf, buttered of course, with asparagus again because, really, how long can this last; green salad afterward.
Cheap Nero d'Avola

Bruckner 'n' burger

San Francisco, March 26, 2015—
YUP : WE'RE BACK at Zuni, on a musical afternoon and evening. Bruckner's Eighth Symphony in Davies Hall ; Bob Carrau at the piano at Zuni. I enjoy them just about equally, and I enjoy them a lot.

We left the concert hall a little hungry, so stopped off first at another favorite locale, where I had a knish and a bacon scone and my companion had that fabulous Russian Honey Cake — and we both had a glass of that wonderful Croatian Terzolo Malvasia I told you about a while back.

• 20th Century Cafe, 198 Gough Street, San Francisco; 415-621-2380

Then we hit Zuni, still in time for the hamburger, served only until six o'clock; with a very nice salad of arugula and thinly sliced Belgian endive, shallots, and chopped almonds, in a supple vinaigrette. And a Martini.

And Bob played the piano. What more do you want?

• Zuni Café, 1658 Market Street, San Francisco; 415-552-2522
Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Bread pudding

bread pudding.jpg
Eastside Road, March 25, 2015—
BREAD, EGGS, MILK, onion, good salt, good black pepper, rosemary. Olive oil, I suppose. Baked in a gratin dish in the oven.

More than that I cannot tell you. I saw Cook cutting bread into cubes, say an inch on a side; I bet she soaked them in milk with beaten eggs, then squeezed it out, laid it into the pan, etc., etc.

Rather like pain perdu, or what we call French toast, no?

With nice (organic, of course) asparagus, delicious. We'd had a Pernod as an apéritif. Green salad afterward, and then an apple. The simple life is the best life.
Cheap white, Grifone(Italy), nv
Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants

Chicken; pot roast

Eastside Road, March 24, 2015—
YOU CAN'T ASK FOR a plainer, more conventionally middle-American pair of plates than these : Chicken breast; Pot roast. In both cases, with mashed potatoes. My Missouri-born grandmother would be pleased. My Indiana-born one, too.

The chicken breast, which you see here on the left, was a ridiculously big, meaty thing, nearly a pound I think. I smashed it flat with the black iron skillet, and then Cook fried it in a little olive oil I think, and deglazed the pan to make a nice glaze for the chicken, and served it with the thinnest, freshest possible garden asparagus and the mashed potatoes, delicious with butter.

But you know what? I've decided the hell with chicken. Roast chicken is okay, of course: it has time to stew in its own juices, and you can flavor it — herbs ; garlic ; lemon : take your pick. But even with the bone in — as was the case with this chicken breast (because I think boned chicken loses a lot of flavor and probably nutrition as well, and avoid buying it, and besides it's absurdly expensive) — the white meat of a chicken breast seems to me bland in flavor and unfortunately grainy in texture, and I'm not gonna eat it any more. Unless I have to.
pot roast.jpg
THAT WAS SUNDAY. Yesterday we took a little drive — it just felt like that kind of day — and wound up eating dinner out. I began with this very nice green salad with a few sliced radishes. The cozy restaurant was next to a creek, and it seemed appropriate that there was watercress in the salad, along with the obligatory "baby" lettuces; and the vinaigrette was nicely done.

My pot roast was an honest plain hunk of beef, absolutely devoid of fat, a little stringy, cooked in the sensible no-nonsense manner my grandmothers knew, flavored with a bit of clove, I think. Those are caramelized cipollini on the meat, and braised spinach I do love spinach on the side, and mashed potatoes flavored with garlic and horseradish. Suddenly the whole think looks like a gorilla's portrait : I'm sorry about that ; it's just the way things turned out.

Dessert: Ice cream sundae. This was vanilla ice cream, and quite good ice cream at that, with salt caramel sauce, and whipped cream, and brandied cherries, with a discreet dusting of powdered sugar. I must say, I think the combination of vanilla ice cream and unflavored whipped cream — particularly when it is good cream, as was the case here — is a wonderful thing. Elective affinities, for sure.
Marsanne, Wellington Vineyards, 2011; Mourvèdre, Cline Cellars, 2011 ;
both Sonoma county ; both true to varietal but the red a little sweet
• The Fig Cafe, 13690 Arnold Drive, Glen Ellen, California; 707-938-2130
Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants

Monday, March 23, 2015

Parsi New Year at Chez Panisse

Eastside Road, March 22, 2015—
IMG_8686.jpgSO, THEN, Spring is officially here, and with it Parsi New Year. Outside Chez Panisse David has stenciled the symbols of good fortune in chalk, as he has so many times before: this is the nineteenth dinner Niloufer has prepared here to honor Kore's return from the underworld.

We've been lucky enough to attend many of these dinners over the years. The cuisine is of course Parsi, which is to say roughly Bombay Indian with ancient Persian undertones, reminding one of the ultimately unified source in Asia Minor of all that is good in cuisine as well as philosophy.

Niloufer Ichaporia King is an artist of cuisine; you can perhaps best understand her sources, instincts, and intelligence through her invaluable book My Bombay Kitchen (Berkeley : Univ. of California Press, 2007), as beautiful a book to read as it is to look at or to cook from.

This year's dinner seemed to us the best ever, a succession of courses whose flavors, aromas, textures, and visual appeal were beautifully conceived and skillfully executed — and accompanied by wines which seemed calculated to complement them. I apologize for the photos, which of course do not do justice.
To begin:
Passion fruit apéritif with spiced cashews, pickles, and Krishna's breakfast

This is what you do to put together Krishna's breakfast. You need Creamy Panir, Yogurt Cheese,… the ultra-simple Fresh Turmeric and Ginger Pickles; and chapatis…
My Bombay Kitchen, 65-66
Everything's in the book, so you can reconstruct this wonderful opener quite readily at home. Krishna, it should be said, "is not the Hindu deity but Krishna Riboud, a brilliant epicurean friend," as Niloufer explains in the recipe ; and it's typical of her generosity that she credits her.

Passion fruit apéritif : delightfully refreshing, this immediately took me back to a table in Fare, on Huahine, in the French Leeward Islands… another story…
Spring sprout chat with tamarind vinaigrette
"Chat" does not appear in the admirable index of My Bombay Kitchen, so must not appear in the text either. But Wikipedia tells me that " Chaat is a term describing savory snacks" throughout South Asia, and that the word ultimately derives from the Prakrit cattei (dots under the T's, please), which means "to devour with relish, eat noisily".

By now it seemed the entire dining room was eating somewhat noisily — you could sense people were excited with pleasure. I can't tell you what was in this salad, beyond portulaca, and fried crisp threads of something, and were those tiny little Mung beans?, and are these cross-sections of some kind of stems, perhaps?

The vinaigrette seemed unctuous, fruity, and very light; the dish was savory, but cleansed the palate of the very spicy pickled turmeric that had gone before…

Grüner Veltliner: Tatomer (Santa Barbara county), 2014, as delicious as any I've had from Austria.

Ritual dal with wild nettle swirl

This is the dish I always think of as typifying Niloufer's festive dinners. Sometimes it even incorporates gold leaf: this time I believe there were tiny fragments of silver leaf, a subtle promise of modest good fortune appropriate to the times.

You're supposed to have [dal] for births, birthdays, engagements, wedding days…, days of good fortune of any sort, and also, alas, when there has been a death in the household. The underlying lesson is that life cannot be led without experiencing both joy and sorrow in some measure, and we mustn't make too much of either, for both are fleeting. The second lesson is the beauty and value of simplicity.
ibid., p. 176
A painting, I exclaimed when it was set down — specifically, a Motherwell : I think he'd have been as happy as I was to see it, then smell it, then taste it.
Riesling, Domaine Ostertag, 2012 : another perfect complement
halibut.jpgOn, next, to
Northern halibut grilled in banana leaves with green chutney

Another painting. Isn't it beautiful? The package had been carefully tied with what looked like raffia; inside it, a filet of halibut, very soft and fragrant, very nicely poached, and spread with a chutney-paste very piquant with green chillies.

Would the wine stand up to this, we wondered…
Chablis, Terroir de Chablis, Patrick Piuze, 2013
halibut cu.jpgOh yes indeed, what a splendid wine, what a splendid course…
What could reasonably follow?
Parsi-style fried quail with mashed rutabaga, braised collards, and chicories salad

Such a difficult dish to capture in a quick photograph. The mashed rutabagas are hiding behind one of the quail quarters, I'm afraid: they were snowy white, smooth as butter — which had in fact been an important part of the preparation. The quail was breaded, as you see, and deep-fried, very crisp indeed on the outside, and perfectly cooked inside; and the greens complemented the dish splendidly.

As did the wine:
Mâcon-Cruzille "Les Vignes du Maynes, Cuvée 910, 2013:
light, yet deeply flavored, nicely balanced, fresh and refreshing yet lingering

And then the desserts…
Strawberry ice…

The intense strawberry red was almost shocking. First strawberries I've had since Nancy died, I said aloud without thinking; Nancy Skall was a wonderful gardener, an unforgettable presence at the Healdsburg farmers market, and her strawberries were always the best. So death did quietly flit through this ritual dinner, just as the dal had reminded us; Kore's here but half the year, the other half Persephone's away — but it was a bittersweet moment, not a sad one.

And what a fine granita!
…falooda, jalebis, and other favourite sweets

Faluda in Bombay is a glorious milk-shakey affair in a tall glass. At the bottom, there's a layer of soaked basil… with a slippery-crunchy texture that's like nothing else. On top … is a layer of translucent noodles made of wheat starch. … Milk appears to float over this foundation without disturbing it…
ibid., 278
Niloufer's recipe, in My Bombay Kitchen, involves basil seeds (which are soaked in water), three cups of chilled milk, about half a cup of rose syrup, and half a cup or so of ice milk. The seeds have a tapioca-like quality while escaping tapioca. The pastries, of course…

jalebis.jpg…included these incomparable jalebis, wheat-flour batter, first deep-fried in errant squiggles, then soaked in sugar syrup and sprinkled with chopped pistachios and perhaps a chiffonade of rose petalsand, tonight, yes, definitely, silver leaf.

Prosperous Spring to us all, and especially, dear Niloufer and David, to you, and many thanks for a thoughtful, delicious, ethical, splendid feast!

(And thanks to the unbelievable Chez Panisse crew for once again adapting, apparently effortlessly, to an exotic cuisine.)

• Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510-548-5525
Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Eating last week.

Eastside Road, March 21, 2015—
ANOTHER EDITION of My Weekly Feeder : maybe I should re-title this blog. The week began on the 14th with a group dinner — that's part of the crew in the photo: l-r, Lindsey (Cook; Companion) seeming to supervise; Kees sweating the artichokes; Mary Jo tossing the potatoes in oil; one of The Neighbors Down the Hill making a vinaigrette for the salad, and Patient Blogger bent over a couple of shallots. (The photo was taken by Other Neighbor Down the Hill.) And what did we have? Well, you already have a good idea: but the principle protein source was Franco's good sausages, which Curt is grilling, out of sight, over a wood fire, whose smoke is billowing past the left-hand window.

I thought Kees's handling of the little artichokes was brilliant: peeled down quite far, sliced very thin, then "cooked" in nothing but good Eastside Zinfandel vinegar.

Many delicious red wines
Old chinese knife
How I mince shallots: the old Chinese knife
I want to show you what I use to mince shallots: this magnificent Chinese knife, which we found on the workbench in the original, dilapidated, detached garage when we bought our Berkeley house, down in the flats, in Berkeley. It was wrapped in a piece of Chinese newspaper dated, I think, 1923, tied with jute cord. When I unwrapped the package I found the knife completely covered with rust. I soaked it a couple of days in used motor oil, then took kerosene to it, and it cleaned up completely, with only a little pitting here and there.

The steel is hand-hammered, and takes and holds an edge beautifully. We have quite a few knives in our kitchen, but when I want solid control over a meticulous chore this is the one I reach for: the heel of my hand on its wooden handle, thumb and fingers gripping the sides of the blade, my palm pressing the smooth strong back of the blade, I need only pay careful attention the the fingers of that other hand…

Tarte d'Alsace

Sunday, March 15, we were too busy with one thing and another to make much of a dinner, and anyway it was my turn — so I did something that may surprise you: I bought one of those "tartes d'Alsace" in the frozen-food chest at Trader Joe's. Not only that: I bought a package of frozen chopped spinach, too. Organic, of course.

The tarte is a flatbread, in fact, garnished with a bit of ham cut into strips and Gruyère cheese. Nothing wrong with ham and cheese, one of the few exceptions to my rule forbidding the combination of meat and cheese.

And I have to confess once again my fondness for spinach in virtually any (cooked) form. This time I simply warmed it up with a little salt — not enough, as it turned out — and a a tiny hint of nutmeg. If I'd had a hard-boiled egg, I'd have sieved it on top for garnish.
Cheap bianco

3.16Corned beef.jpg

March 16: Since we're eating out tomorrow, let's have our annual Corned beef and cabbage tonight! St. Patrick's Day has a sad component in our household; it's the day my father-in-law died, ninety-four years old, in 1999. Corned beef was a favorite dish of his, though he was a full-blooded Piemontese, and we always have it partly in his honor.

This time Cook made a true colcannon, chopping the cabbage and cooking it with the mashed potatoes. The carrots are a traditional adjunct, bringing together the colors of North and South in an uneasy truce. Mustard on the side, of course, and no green salad tonight!
Cheap Nero d'Avola


March 17: Dinner in the Café tonight, with the same crew we'd made dinner with at the top of this page. I began with these delicious, soft, buttery, ricotta-filled ravioli, with beautiful new fava beans and chopped chervil, as I recall; and then went on to a duck leg en confit, with spring asparagus and celery root and potato purée, with just enough citrus in the duck-glaze to weld the whole plate into a marvelously integrated dish.

For dessert, an apple galette — Pink Lady apples, as I believe, though it's been a few days now — with dried sour cherries pointing up the flavor; and a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side.
Arbois Pupillin, Ploussard "Point barre", 2011:
lots of character, completely expressive of its terroir

• Café Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510-548-5525

The next day was fast day, and high time; and the day after that we finished what was left of our corned beef and colcannon, even better for having waited for us.

This brings us up to yesterday, as I write this on Saturday afternoon. We had company again, and dined with them chez the neighbors down the hill, where chorizo was cooked over a wood fire, and a delicious potato salad was served, and Cook had carried down her blood orange-and-onion salad, and then we had this magnificent dessert: simply a perfect lemon curd, supple and pointed, fruity, smooth; served with softly whipped cream and garnished with orange gel candies. Things don't get much better than this.

Zinfandel, Green and Red, Chiles Canyon Vineyards, 2011: smooth, deep, lingering finish
Red blend (Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Carignane, Alicante Bouschet), Ridge (Sonoma county), 2012: nicely blended and integrated

Restaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants

Monday, March 16, 2015

Home again

Eastside Road, March 13, 2015—
HOME AGAIN, and content so to be, as always. Not that we don't enjoy the outings — in this case, to Ashland, there to see two Shakespeare plays and dine in two favorite establishments. But there's much to be said for one's own kitchen, especially when one's constant companion is an excellent cook.

Last night she made this farmer's hash at the left: a fairly quick sauté of bacon, potatoes, and onion, topped with an egg, served with buttered toast. A perfect conclusion to a day's drive.
Cheap Nero d'Avila
TONIGHT we had a three-course meal: first, thin green asparagus, quickly steamed and lightly buttered; then Jeff's shell pasta with peas and Pecorino, which you'll be familiar with by now; then green salad, of course.
Cheap bianco d'Italia
IMG_8633.jpgRestaurants visited in 2015 are listed at Eatingday's Restaurants