Wednesday, October 22

Yam Fries: Not as suave, but just as tasty

I splurged on a garden burger for my study snack yesterday (instead of my usual cafe-fare Italian soda), and made the healthy choice of salad over fries. Naturally I regretted this as soon as the young woman two tables down from me received her Rueben with fries (and ample ketchup -- I'm a sucker for ketchup).

As I wandered home that evening, my brain quickly turned from reviewing the functions of the Large Intestine Meridian to recalling a conversation at work (the bar, not the spa) about where to get the best sweet potato fries in San Francisco. Since my brain cells are occupied with Chinese characters and Latin terminology these days, I'm afraid I can't pass on the local secrets, since I forgot them nearly as soon as I heard them. But I can tell you that I made a lovely batch of yam fries with achiote powder and coriander last night. I know, I know -- "yam fries" just doesn't have the zesty charm of "sweet potato fries", but I was working with what I had on hand.

These are baked, not fried, but if you leave them in a hot oven long enough they still get nice crisp edges. Serve with sweet chili sauce, and/or plain ol' ketchup.

2 Yams, cut into short fry-like chunks, or any shape you prefer
A small handful of achiote powder (made from annatto seeds, red and delicious, available at Mexican markets and elsewhere if you're lucky)
An ample shake of paprika
A few dashes of coriander powder
Cayenne, chili powder, or tabasco (I used the latter, but would have preferred the former)
Liberal pinches of sea salt
A tablespoon or two of olive oil

Toss to coat, spread out on a baking sheet (perhaps lined with foil if you're smarter than me), and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until edges are crisp and cooked through. Resist the urge to keep peeking and stirring -- one flip once they start to crisp is all you get. Remove and let cool! If you're smarter than me...

And, if you're like me, enjoy with beer. I'm still enjoying the last of summer's wheat beers, but I think an appropriately autumnal pumpkin ale would do as well, not to mention a classic pale ale or more gutsy IPA. If it's made from barley, it will go well.

Sunday, October 19

Winter Soup for a Summer Day

Every now and then I make something so good I surprise myself. Take, for example, this simple lentil soup I whipped up out of desperation when the cupboards were essentially completely bare (see previous post) and I was looking ahead to three days of nonstop work.

I don't particularly like lentils, and I don't especially enjoy making soups, but inspired by Vegan YumYum's post on making vegetable stock, I decided to brave the world of stockpots and slow simmers.

This soup is terribly wintery, which would be wonderful if it weren't 78 degrees and sunny in San Francisco! Still, soups are nourishing, and that just doesn't go out of season. You can choose to omit the wine, but a) then you're really missing out, and b) make sure you add an extra 1/2 cup of broth or water, and finish the soup with a few tablespoons of rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar.

1 red onion, chopped
2 carrots, halved and thinly sliced
6 cloves garlic, crushed
2 cups dry lentils
7 1/2 cups water or broth
1/2 cup white wine
1 acorn squash
Seasonings: I used cumin, oregano, chili paste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Heat a nice dollop of oil in a large stockpot. Add onions and carrots, cook part way, then add garlic and cook until everything is tender and fragrant. Add the lentils and a healthy spoonful of chili paste, stir to coat, then add cooking liquid, wine, and seasoning to taste (I did about 2 T crushed oregano and a whole lot of sea salt and cracked pepper). Let simmer about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, halve acorn squash, scrape out seeds, rub with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and cumin, and roast for about half an hour. When tender, remove, peel, and chop.

When lentils are nearly tender (and liquid is nearly gone) scoop out a cup or two and puree with a bit of water. Add back to stockpot along with acorn squash and maybe 1 more cup of water/broth. Heat through and dish up.

Serve with parmesan toasts, a smooth and full white wine, and a good novel.

Saturday, October 18


No more Mother's Cookies?!

Check the link -- that includes Circus Animal Cookies. You know, the kind that were pink or white and covered with little round jimmies? A sad, sad day indeed.

Friday, October 17

As Halloween Approaches...

...Maybe You Should Clean Out the Refrigerator

I think most of you will agree that this is a universally daunting task. Today, I took it on. Not only did I scrub out months (years?) of food scraps and questionable green stains, but I also discarded a healthy bagful of expired jarred foods: store-bought tomato sauce, with a friendly fuzzy grey substance crawling across the inside of the lid; tubs of non-blue cheese marbled with unwelcome streaks of blue and green; half an onion, half-heartedly swaddled in plastic, as brown and slimy as any Halloween fright you could come up with.

I moved into this apartment in August, and rumor has it nine (9!) human beings inhabited my little abode before the three of us became residents. Furthermore, my current room was most recently vacated by a couple who both took off for the corners of the world, leaving an array of condiments at our disposal. We have THREE JARS of mayonnaise. We have two (large) bottles of sriracha, and something else that looks similar but a tad thinner. There are four kinds of mustard in my refrigerator, as well as five types of jam (techinically two are preserves, but you get the idea). Two jars of capers stand pillared next to two jars of olives, and there is a host of unidentifiable sauces labeled in Asian characters waiting patiently to spice up my next stir-fry.

I bet at this point you think I am going to post about how I used my culinary prowess to concoct a gastronomic miracle out of pickled ginger, a two-week-old cucumber, and three kinds of hot sauce.

You are (thankfully) wrong. But I am going to show you the very nice lunch I put together with sprouting potatoes, summer squash, and the dregs of a package of soy chorizo. There is ample garlic and oregano, a hint of mustard, and a generous dusting of parmesan on top for a proper finishing touch.

The real point of this post: do you know what's in your refrigerator?

Wednesday, October 8

Trouble Brewing

If you've been keeping any kind of tabs on the brewing world you know that hop prices have skyrocketed -- not to mention grain prices -- and consequently brewers everywhere are spiking the price of a pint. This is particularly true of the All-American super-hoppy beers, which obviously call for even more hops (money) per batch. However, this Wall Street Journal article on "The Future of Beer" points out that beer sales are nonetheless on the rise. This might, in part, be due to the appeal of a pricey pilsner or pale ale in our current downtrodden economy: "Craft beer is still one of cheaper luxury items people can buy". Good beer is a splurge, but an affordable luxury even in the midst of our crisis. So go on, shell out the extra few dollars and support craft brewers -- and enjoy doing it.

Check out this WSJ video on the hop shortage, and the brewers who are still coming out on top:

Chauvinism or Chivalry?

A friend passed on this New York Times article on gender roles in fine dining atmospheres. Author Frank Bruni notes, "Although the goal in many public places and in much of public life is to treat men and women equally, most upscale restaurants haven’t reached that point. Then again they haven’t really tried all that hard. They’ve learned that ignoring gender is risky, and often foolish, because men and women approach and respond to restaurants in different ways, looking for different things." What are your thoughts on this? Ladies, do you expect to be served first? If you were serving a group of people, who would you expect to order the wine? Does observing gender roles in a dining room enforce an unnecessary binary, or does it simply cater to the different needs already in place?

What do you want when you dine out -- and why do you want that?

Thursday, October 2

Tuesday Omelette

My friend Megan and I have a standing coffee to speak. We do in fact regularly get together, but usually neither of us actually drinks coffee, and we always at least tentatively plan the next round by the end of each rendez-vous. It's a nice way to explore the city, particularly under the pretense of studying (which, again, rarely actually takes place).

San Francisco is nice, but only nice so far. I hoped to fall hard and fast and it turns out we are still uncertain whether our flirtations will lead to a hot and heavy romance or simply a polite and casual acquaintance. However, I must give credit where due and proclaim the cafes of San Francisco the best I have experienced in the wide world (NB: This means SF beats out the likes of Paris, Venice, Rome, Prague, London, Wellington, Sarajevo, Melbourne, Portland -- Oregon as well as Maine, New York, and Nice; but I'm holding out for various locations throughout Austria, Turkey, Morocco, and Spain).

We most recently met at Cafe Du Soleil in Lower Haight, a charming boulangerie-style establishment with enchanting almond croissants and a decent hazelnut iced coffee. We split a bowl of almond granola with yogurt and chopped fruit, but when Megan departed and I tried to attack my overflowing inbox I kept getting distracted by the vegetable quiches lurking invitingly a few feet from my table. Round, puffy, and crammed full of unidentifiable verdure, they seemed an ideal afternoon companion.

However, the owners of this lovely locale, like so many others in San Francisco, decided to board up the various electric outlets scattered around the walls, presumably in a move to "encourage" patrons to move on once their (my) sparse battery power expired. Yes, I could have stayed and gobbled down the coveted quiche, but on principle if for nothing else ("nothing else" being a stand in for "my starving-student bank account") I vacated Cafe Du Soleil and headed home in search of a comparable (superior?) egg dish.

And now we're getting to it -- what a prologue for this little Tuesday omelette. However, I assure you this omelette warrants the prologue and perhaps a thoughtful after-word as well. Walking home I realized that in addition to craving eggs, I really, really needed sun-dried tomatoes. Immediately. There were other unmet needs I identified as well, and the bus ride home was quite nearly excruciating (we see that someone has let her hunger go a tad too long unattended). When I arrived home I set right to work:

1/4 onion, chopped, fried (ok, I meant to sweetly saute, but in my impatience I let the oil get just a little too hot and I can't say I'm sorry). 2 Tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes, nicely lubed up in their packing oil, sliced and given just enough time to flirt with those with those sizzling onions and let things heat up a bit. A shake of dried oregano and a few nice dashes of powdered coriander for some subtle spice, then in go two eggs beaten (aggressively) with a healthy spoonful of grated parmesan and generous pinches of sea salt and cracked pepper. Cook; flip; serve on sourdough toast with a rim of sriracha.

It was a hot kind of day.


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