turkey croquettes

I deliberately haven't written here about Thanksgiving. In some ways that seems odd–a food freak ignoring the biggest cooking day of the year. But I just felt I had nothing to say that hasn't been covered a million times over. Every year it seems like all the food writers are just rehashing the same old topics–all the different theories on the best way to cook the turkey (slow or fast, brine or not,  breast up or breast down etc. etc. etc.), stuffing vs. dressing and all the permutations thereof, updated twists on the traditional side dishes (curry flavor in the squash soup!) blah blah blah. Yeah,I've got nothing to add to any of that.

And of course there are also all the articles about what to do with the leftovers–turkey chilis, turkey curries, turkey burritos. Not much new to add there either. BUT I have to say I was pretty pleased with my quick and tasty leftover creation this afternoon for snacks for the kids. I ground up some of the leftover turkey breast and combined it with about an equal part of leftover mashed potatoes (and a few carrots). I added a couple eggs, salt, pepper and a little fresh thyme. Then I rolled balls and coated in panko and fried. Yum! The kids loved them–crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. I was happy they were gobbling down veggies and protein so rapidly. Of course the frying wasn't the healthiest but we do it so rarely I don't feel too bad about it.

And for the record, I cook my turkey the same way every year–I brine it over night (about 12 hours), then I cook it very rapidly at 500 degrees. I've found this a really winning formula for very moist, delicious and evenly cooked meat. I don't stuff the bird (think it inteferes with the cooking of both the turkey and the stuffing) but do a three mushroom (porcini, shiitake and cremini) and challah dressing on the side. The rest of the side dishes vary and I usually leave a lot of this up to guests to contribute so that we always have some variety mixed in with our traditions.

coconut heaven at the slanted door

Every time I eat at the Slanted Door, I wonder why it is I'm not eating there every month (or week!) It's always an experience that delights all the senses. Even back in the day when the restaurant was in it's original funky location on Valencia Street, it was such a treat to have a meal there–the fresh, innovative combination of ingredients always cooked to perfection (my mouth is actually watering now just thinking of their crispy imperial rolls.)

But when they moved to the Ferry Building, they reached another level of perfection. It's so rare for a stylish waterfront restaurant with spectacular views to actually have decent food, let alone great food. So when you're eating your delectable grilled Hamachi collar or five-spiced duck confit, and find yourself staring out at a sparkling postcard view of the San Francisco Bay Bridge with ferry boats passing by, it's hard not to feel like you've achieved nirvana.

A few days ago I met two of my Slow Food Nation compatriots for a post-event catch-up lunch and as always was wowed by the meal. The show stopper though was the dessert: a creamy coconut sorbet with a young Thai Coconut tapioca, topped with a slice of persimmon. It was not only visually stunning (also in its sexy color combination of Heath Ceramics) but the combination of flavors, textures and mouth-feel was unbeatable.

Part of its elegance was its simplicity which inspired me to see if I could try it out at home. After doing some research online, I found several different recipes for coconut sorbet but ended up modifying this one by not using the shredded coconut. So basically just coconut milk and sugar–simple and delicious.

Then I found this recipe for a pudding with young coconut. I made several modification here: I used young Thai coconut juice instead of coconut milk (and substantially more than the 1/3 cup called for); I used large pearl tapioca instead of small; and I didn't use the pieces of young coconut. I think I got pretty close with this as well. I wonder if Charles Phan has published the actual recipe anywhere. Anyone know?

new yorker food issue

Everywhere I went this week I had the latest "Food Issue" of the New Yorker stuck in my bag, trying to find spare moments to read. My favorite article was Jane Kramer's profile of the food writers, Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. I've enjoyed their books over the years but really liked this depiction of their life at home and the way they shop, cook and entertain. I'm always inspired and encouraged by people who create lives uniquely suited to themselves.

field of wheat

This morning I took my cup of hot chocolate almond milk out to the yard and sat next to my lush micro wheat field. It was foggy and cold, but beautiful to sit out there in the stillness listening to hawks circling overhead. I have been trying to start each morning with fifteen minutes of quiet observation and reflection in the garden, regardless of the weather. It's a good way to begin the day with peace and gratitude.

orange peel dilemma

Growing up with a Depression-era father and a first-generation Italian mother, I definitely had the “waste not want not” maxim well-ingrained at an early age. Nothing edible was ever thrown away in our house and the end of the line for many items was either soup or stock. After that, vegetable food wastes (and eggshells and coffee grounds) had only one other destination–the compost bin (and then back into the garden to feed the next crop).

I still live this way as an adult (earning me the nickname of “Nifty Thrifty” among friends). I get a lot of satisfaction every time I find a secondary (or tertiary or…) use for something that would otherwise be refuse. (I’m also a big freecycler.)

But citrus is one of the few plants I don’t put in my compost because it takes too long to decompose. So what then, to do with the peels? Candied? No thanks, way too sweet for me. Infusing olive oil? I guess so, but it’s not really the taste I’m looking for in oil. I used to dry them for kindling for the fireplace (very flammable and great smell!) but I’m not burning wood anymore because of the air quality issues.

I’ve heard that orange oil is supposed to have beneficial properties for the skin, stimulating¬†circulation and softening rough areas, so I decided to see if there wasn’t some topical aplication for these peels. I ground up a handful in the blender and tossed them into my bath tonight. Of course there was the great smell (that’s got to be some kind of aromatherapy) but it’s hard to say whether there was any real effect on my skin.

Bottom line: I still don’t think I’ve come up with the perfect use for these. Any good ideas out there?

mangalitsa pork and more

Started my day today by making homemade almond milk. So much nuttier and tastier than the usual stuff in the box. It made a satisfying (if non-traditional) Latte Macchiato to accompany my scrambled eggs and flax seed toast.

Then a friend and I took our kids on a great bike ride through Golden Gate Park with a picnic lunch at Stow Lake. It was such a perfect fall day in the city–sunny, blue skies, but quite crisp and breezy too.

After many hours of biking and being in the fresh air, I was in the mood for a hearty autumn meal. This week a friend sent us samples of the special lard-type Mangalitsa pork from his company Wooly Pigs in Seattle. Perfect. When I started thinking about what to serve with it, I got an idea from the audio CD we were listening to in the car on our way home.

For the last few months we’ve been reading (and listening to) the whole Laura Ingalls Wilder “Little House”¬†series of books. I really love all the detailed descriptions of the pioneer lifestyle (though that sometimes includes delicate topics like “Injuns” that have to be talked through!).

We’re currently in the middle of “Farmer Boy”(about Almanzo Wilder) which has lots of wonderful details about food and cooking. One of Almanzo’s favorite things to eat was fried apples and onions. That sounded like an ideal compliment to pork. (BTW, I recently learned there is also a “Little House Cookbook” with recipes for all the frontier foods described in the books. I’m very curious to check that out soon.)

Then looking through my pantry, my eyes focused right in on the box of hominy grits. After searing the pork chops I braised them in a bottle of Hefeweizen, and grits would be the ideal absorption medium for that yummy pork-wheat beer reduction!

I’m surprised I even have the energy to be writing this post after such a hearty meal. It was unbearably good. If you can get your hands on some Mangalitsa pork, I definitely recommend it. The meat has a rich, woodsy flavor and the fat–ah, the fat–is frankly, a reason for living.


yes we did!

Wow. What an amazing night. A friend and I went to watch the election returns at one of my usual SF hangouts, Farmer Brown. That place just always seems to feel "right" whenever I'm there, but tonight it felt especially perfect. There were a lot of big election night parties going on all over the city (of couple of which I had considered going to) but ultimately I just wanted to be somewhere a little smaller, funkier, more down-to-earth. Not to mention that Farmer Brown had promised fried chicken on the house if Obama won!

Even though they had the big screen TV going, the scene was still homey and very folksy. From the start of the evening we were already in conversations with people at the tables on either side of us. Everyone seemed to want to be connected to each other on this hopeful night of promise. But I don't think anyone expected such a swift outcome. When the exciting news flashed on screen I let out an unconscious scream of joy. I wasn't the only one. Within minutes everyone was up from their seats, hugging and kissing each other. All around me were faces streaked with tears and stunned, joyous incredulity.

As the evening went on the DJ turned up the music and the fried chicken started pouring out of the kitchen. There's no shortage of things to say about the importance of this night. But beyond all the significant historic and global impact of this election, it also means a lot to me personally.

For one, it gives me hope that maybe I can raise my children in a fairer, more decent world than I had expected for them. The other is that volunteering for Obama's campaign, especially in this last month, has also been a kind of personal salvation. Because of some difficult relationship issues, I've had a hard time keeping a positive and optimistic view of humanity lately. But being part of the campaign really helped me to focus on the bigger picture and see how good people, working together really can make wonderful things happen. Tomorrow is a brand new day. Hallelujah!