From Fort Mason to Recipe Testing Saturday

Thursday & Friday

On Thursday we had a buddy in town for work so thought we would try out a Bay Area favorite eatery Brenda’s French Soul Food.

The food at Brenda’s rocks. Simply said, as you have seen me write before of my love of the Old Skool Cafe, Brenda’s is going to give them a run for the money for my top favorite. We went with the always standard of fried chicken with greens, smokey Shrimp & Grits. To start the meal we jumped on the garlic shrimp spread. So good it was worth not being kissable for a few hours. While stuffed, we had to try the flight of beignets with its plain, chocolate and apple options along with the special chocolate bread pudding. The food was nicely prepared, fresh and hot. Service was a bit off that night, but I heard they were running short staff. But not being in a hurry, we weren’t stressed about it. They also have a nice selection of jarred condiments and pickles for purchase. The place does get crowded and doesn’t take reservations. So be prepared to wait during prime times.

 

Friday was supposed to be a “me” day, but between getting caught up with errands, groceries, and some paperwork it sure didn’t leave me a lot of time. After running over to the grocery store, we ended up out of time for a movie. So we decided on dinner out at Eric’s for Chinese food. While usually a long wait, we scored that night with no wait.

Saturday

the hot grilled eggplant sandwich at Readers

the hot grilled eggplant sandwich at Readers

In an attempt to avoid Sunday’s annual excuse for stupidity, the Bay To Breakers madness (now its not that I don’t like the event itself, rather the entitlement that it seems to instill in its very white and male partiers) we took a ride over to Fort Mason to check out Readers Bookstore/cafe for some books and lunch with a side stop at Flax before heading home to work in more edits.

This is an orange version with the single step method crust

This is the lemon version with the two-step crust

Then I thought it would be a good time to work up a test batch of the new recipe I have been tinkering with for the Pistachio Crusted Lemon Cream Cheese/Marscapone Crunch Bars.

While the first one was cooling, I worked up another variation as an Orange Creamsicle Bar for Paul.

Of course, the Boss just got comfortable and watched hoping for me to drop something. But sorry, Dino – not today little man.

 

Sunday

Poor Dino, he is getting tired of our walks too. Since I discovered the podcast Up & Vanished, We have been extending our walk time while I listen to episodes. Which is fine except when its meal time. I think he will be glad when Paul is up and active again. 🙂

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Book Club Goes South Of The Border; So Did My Cooking This Week

After a rough week – I needed to “stress cook” with Mexican themed dishes

To balance the very healthy dinner the other might, and inspired by the book that we’ve been reading for Book Club this weekend; The Uncomfortable Dead, with its Mexican theme,  I decided to look into some older recipes and given I needed the distractions – went out to try these Mexican themed recipes.

Mexican Wedding cake/cookies

First I tried my hand at a batch of Mexican Wedding cake/cookies (aka Russian Teacakes or Snowballs); it would seem that most cultures have a version of this butter, sugar, flour & nut recipe and everyone has an opinion on what makes them authentic and the “best”. So while mine didn’t come out the way I planned with a cute little crescent or ball shape, and they looked more like “pillows” than I intended they still ended up tasty.  I think I went short on the amount of flour I was supposed to add so they spread during the bake – but from the feedback, I got – lots of folks said to keep it that way. This cookie has always been a favorite one of mine, that one of my Aunts would often make, but I tended not to eat them when out in public, because some versions (especially the Italian one) have hazelnuts. Which is one of the few foods I am strongly allergic too. But in the spirit of Book Club, I thought, “let’s go ahead and I’ll make them” and to make them my own, I did a rough toast and grind of not one nut, but three;  toasted pistachios, almonds, and pecans! Now the recipe is super old school, including the mixing, is all by hand, and I mean “hand” no mixers or spoons. So you can imagine the mess at one point.

Pickled Carrots and Jalapeños

Back in the day, when I first moved to San Francisco, I came across a tucked away Taqueria in the Mission that the owner used to make buckets of pickled carrots and jalapeños. They weren’t something I had tried before moving here. So while she is now long past, I always try to look for that perfect heat and crunch. So “hot off the presses” from the fermentation class I took in April, I decided to also whip up some of my own pickled carrots & jalapeños for Book Club.

 

Cherry tomato and Red Wine Jam

The primary dish I had planned to bring to Book Club I started the prep on Friday night so that a certain someone could sleep in and not hear me banging around the kitchen. This dish is actually one from Pati Jinich’s Cherry tomato and Red Wine jam on goat cheese covered toast. She is the lively and creative host of Pati’s Mexican Table which I have been tuning into more and more

When I first read this recipe, I had an “hmm so it’s like a warm Mexican style bruschetta” moment, but like the cookie, most cultures have some kind of combination of tomatoes, cheese, and bread as a starter. Still, the recipe looked good, and I thought I’d give it a try. I have to say I’m glad I did. It was a super easy recipe to make, the outcome was very very tasty.

Note to self: It holds up well so would be perfect for entertaining (think the annual holiday open house) by doing parts of the prep the day before, the do the simmer in the morning and spoon it out just before serving.

The only thing I felt I needed to do differently from the recipe, was adding a little squirt of lime into the tomatoes before spooning out. I think next time I could use a little extra zing with some diced jalapeño too. But overall a definite win.

Also managed a few treats for the guys!

If you follow this blog you know that over the holiday I did some fun bookmarks and “Keepers” from old jewleryWell I figured it would be fun to create some old school bookmarks to surprise the Book Club with as a companion theme to the book “The Uncomfortable Dead“.

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Eating on the Go: How to Find Healthy Options on the Road

Eating well can be challenging on its own but eating well while on the go presents its own unique set of challenges. Luckily there are easy ways to reduce the likelihood of living on convenience store burritos and slurpees while on the road. Check out these tips to keep your eating habits healthy and your journey enjoyable.

Plan Ahead

The most effective way to maintain a healthy diet or even just access to foods while traveling is to plan ahead. Sturdy fruits like apples, bananas, and oranges travel well without any prep work or refrigeration. Vegetables like snap peas and baby carrots also hold up well when packaged in zip-top bags. Other fruits, like grapes, cantaloupe, or pineapple, and vegetables like carrots, celery, or jicama can be prepared at home and carried in small containers within a soft-sided cooler or ice chest (just make sure to refreeze the ice packs in your hotel room each night). Include items like beef jerky, tuna pouches, string cheese, Greek yogurt, fruit leather, and a refillable water bottle to ensure you have a healthy snack or mini meal close by whenever hunger hits. For years I have been a huge fan of the Lock & Lock brand of food storage products. I think I have mentioned them several times including when they come back full, rare but always a nice treat or during my party prep posts.

In fact – I think its the primary food storage product I have used for the last 15 years. With a silicone seal, locking clips and shapes that fit nicely into my bags and got me back and forther to Atlanta and Washington DC during my recent commute effort. They are my go-to “travel buddy”.  While many of them came from QVC back in the day, they are now available on Amazon. These are a few of my favorite sizes; the Lock & Lock Plastic Food Storage Airtight Container Set (2300ml/78oz+1000ml/34oz+(180ml/6oz×2) is a good starter. I use whatever I don’t need for craft supplies. But at less than $20 they are a good all around set. Another good by is the  Lock & Lock Water Tight Food Containers, 14-Piece Set it is a few dollars more at $29 but fills in the packable sizes. You can still find them on QVC (no affliliate links – just a good resource) and they often offer larger custom sets, such as the Lock & Lock 18-piece Storage Set. Oh and Lock & Lock often has a wide assortment of colors and sales  – so they are the ones I will but for doggie-bags, this way I dont have to worry about getting them back.

By the way, they just aren’t for people food – Even Dino got some of the Storage Bins Food Storage Container with Flip-top that fits the medium bag of his food.

Dont forget that great recipe for the protein oakcake recipe I posted – those are perfect for travel plain or with jam and peanut butter on them. Freeze them the night before and by the time you are ready to eat them they will be thawed.

Vending Machines

Look past the candy bars and toaster pastries and you will find an assortment of healthy (or at least healthier) food options waiting in the nearest vending machine. Most vending machines offer such nutritious snacks as nuts, raisins, trail mix, beef jerky, and sugar free gum. You can also find healthy versions of normally unhealthy treats, like dark chocolate or whole grain chips and crackers. While the packaged cookies found in vending machine are full of fat, sugar, and preservatives, Fig Newton cookies can tame a sweet tooth while providing a dose of real fruit, whole grains, and fiber. Some vending machines even offer bags of microwave popcorn that can be prepared in your hotel microwave. Many places are reaching out and trying to offer a wider range of vending machine options. While in Las Vegas recently, I even saw one machine that was chilled and had fresh fruit.

Grocery Stores

Instead of relying on restaurants and convenience stores for meals, seek out the nearest grocery store to find healthy food that is much cheaper than most restaurant fare. Many large grocers have a well-stocked salad bar where you can fill up on fresh fruits and veggies. Some even offer hot soup made fresh every day. Individual servings of meats, cheeses, yogurt, boiled eggs, or fruit cups are also available. Food from the grocery store is much cheaper than restaurant food, so do not overlook this option. When I was traveling  I always checked to see where the closest Trader Joes was. While Whole Foods was a great option (but expensive) as well as the traditional grocery stores, I like Trader Joes sizes, and they often have ready to go sized meals perfect for the plane.

Eating healthy on the go requires a little forethought and preparation but can also save you both time and money. A little advance planning and finding healthy options at the vending machine and local grocery store can make your next trip a success.

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It Was A Fermentation Weekend

Fermentation you say?

Yup. I got a rare chance to take a class on it. This one was on Fermentation, but first.

OK yes. I am “one of those” that when I get a new cookbook; I read it cover to cover. So there’s nothing better than getting a cookbook that actually has some storytelling in it. I finally got my copy of DeepRunRoots from A Chefs Life’s Chef and Author, Vivan Howard. All I have to say is it’s a good thing I had a full pack of post-it tabs! Oh and by the way- the cookbook is huge and very well done and worth every penny.

So, of course, that meant a morning was spent first finishing up another batch of DeepRunRoots version of watermelon rind pickles. My first batch did well, (which I Facebooked and Instagrammed but didn’t write here about but you can find via the hashtag #BiteTheRoad) but having used those bowling ball sized watermelons which will only make 4-5 jars. Those went pretty fast, and I also wanted some of that leftover liquid to simmer down further into a syrup for other uses this weekend.

Next on my “To Do’s” before I could get myself ready for Fermentation class

Was to knock out a few quick “gestures” for a few pals recovering from surgery; my fav lemon bundt cake converted to mini loaves drying. Many of you who read this, know I am a big fan of making a heartfelt and genuine gesture or appreciations. Be it a way of saying “thank you” or recognizing someone who went the extra mile or simply to cheer up a sick friend.

In this case, in addition to having someone home laid up post surgery, I have two other friends who also went under the knife (or laser as the case may be” and wanted to prepare a little something to send over. To be precise –  my philosophy is either drop it off and go or mail it. When making a gesture like this, it isn’t supposed to be a way for you to take up the persons time with social stuff. It’s your making the effort to drop something off and not be in the person’s way by making them entertain you.

Now I keep a few recipes for precisely this. That meant a trip to the “tree” to get some lemons and I adapted my favorite lemon bundt cake into mini loaves. Now, this isn’t my recipe – it’s one of those from the folks at King Authur flour called Lemon Bliss Cake. They do it so well I don’t really screw with it. The batch recipe makes a huge bundt, two loaves or 4 mini’s. (Check out the recipe’s comments as many shared include some great tips). One lucky person is even getting a jar of the pickles.

When all that was done – it was time for fermentation!

Why Fermentation?

Well, why not? I grew up seeing my Mom occassionally can and jar fruits, pickled eggplant and such but never really learned how. Last year I started to explore more about canning and pickling and decided why not learn more. A pal who has taken classes from the UC Master Food Preserver Program mentioned they were doing one on fermentation. What I liked most was it was hands-on and you got to take stuff home and all materials and supplies were provided, you just had to bring an apron. You can read more and see whats coming up here or the more San Francisco/San Mateo centric list here.

So bright and early Saturday morning we drove down to the Elkus Ranch Environmental Education Center for the class.

I have to say it was one of the best mornings I have had in a while.  With some great volunteers and trainers from the Master Foor Preserver program and a small group of learners, we got down to business with making a huge batch of Kimchi, a jar of preserved Lemons (which I had already tried and written about last year) and a starter kit for making home-brewed Kombucha.

Oh yeah  – if you are so inclined, the next Master Food Preserver Open House/Volunteer Recruitment is May 8th. I may be leaning towards doing the Master Food Preservers Introduction to Canning next myself. They can also be found on facebook: MFP Facebook

Bringing Easter in with old favorites and a new fav of Vietnamese Coffee Cake

I got big Easter reviews at home today from the patient!

This is the text that I got while in the office, after prepping for this afternoons dinner and making sure that Paul got his coffee and Easter Ham Pie.

“The House of Dino has done it again. Chef Frank and sous-chef de cuisine, Shadow, have brought an Italian tradition into the 21st century. Their Easter Ham Pie is moist, salty, and creamy. All your favorite breakfast foods… eggs, bacon, ham…rolled up into one beautiful pie. Served warm or cold, it simply melts in your mouth. The crispy flaky crust holds the magic together. Just like your Italian grandmother made…only better.  Well done, boys!

Later today we planned a very last minute meal with just a few pals doing a potluck. But since we had a ham a few weeks ago, I decided to go super simple with some baked ricotta & herb shells, meatballs, grilled sausages, and peppers.

Then as a surprise to Paul who has been out of the action of late. I test baked one of the recipes from the October 2017 edition of Milk Street magazine for Vietnamese Coffee Cake with Espresso Cream. 

Overall a nice easy day with enough leftover for Monday and some treats the rest of the week.

 

 

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Its time for Easter Ham Pie aka Pizza Gaina

This years first batch of Italian “ham” pie aka “Pizza Gaina”is cooling. It’s a family favorite dish I have only been making for a few years, starting when my Mom stopped mailing me hers each year!

But with way to much happening here at home, it was to much to do the big batch for now. I am thinking this will work for now and get us through the holidays and then I can make a few more later this week.

See last years post on the recipe here (https://bitetheroad.com/easter-ham-pie-aka-pizza-gaina/

Sometimes a recipe just doesn’t work the first time

Let’s face it we all have done it. We’ve made that recipe either from a book or from a friend of a friend or even one we created ourselves and it just doesn’t work out as planned.

Maybe it was because we lost our concentration, the environment, the products. Sometimes we just read it wrong (because you know sometimes, you just don’t put our glasses on) or the notes we have are hard to read.

No matter the reason – the reality is there are a few givens when trying new recipes:

  • Expect to have to make it several times
  • Never plan to use it for a party or unsuspecting guests unless you’ve pre-warned them
  • Take notes as you go, especially when it comes out of the oven and when you taste it. Don’t try to rely on memory
  • And ultimately, don’t take it so hard. For most of us this is just an opportunity for laxation or feeding the people we love their expect us to nail it right every time if we make it too hard on ourselves we lose the fun and passion in the process.

Tonight I had one of mine with an attempt at a chocolate chip version of Irish soda bread. It ended up under cooked, dense and tasting at flour still. A great reminder for me to use my thermometer even with breads again😛). Yeah trying to cover it up with cherry jam didn’t help.

But the outer sides were crunchy and sweet where I wanted it to be. So just means I keep retooling it.

The Power of Home Crafted Vanilla2.0

For You More Creative Types, Make Your Own Vanilla2.0

Yup – that’s right. Well, I goofed this week – I had intended to let had my guest post from Anna go live first, but some of you might have gotten a sneak preview of this one when the “now” feature got clicked. In either case, you can read Anna’s post  “Know Your Extracts: Sniffing out the Best Vanilla for Your Baking” once it goes live late this week, then perhaps you will be inspired to go on to the next step and try making your own version of Vanilla2.0

Vanilla is one of those elements in baking that you either love or don’t. Somewhat like using good quality Tumeric is in cooking. I got started on this road myself after watching some of the baking shows on TV that were using Vanilla Bean Paste which I hadn’t seen before. After visiting the blog Superfoodly.com which had posted a December piece “The Scandal Between Vanilla Bean Paste vs. Vanilla Extract” .and served as a good place to start (I didn’t necessarily agree with everything – they shared some great content on the post).  I started following links, speaking with other folks who do more baking and came across the whole movement of making your own Vanilla Extract.

Several great recipes are available online for making your own home inspired version of vanilla extract. But to make a good quality one, you need time and the right beans. It isn’t something you want to rush. In fact, if you get them started now. They will make great Holiday gifts this season.

Choosing which beans you want to use also takes some research. Areas to take note of include the grade of bean, the type of bean, the age of them and the source ( they can be expensive) and what liquid you intend to use to extract the flavor (a variety of options exist based on flavor or non-alcohol needs).

My next plan

I will be starting a batch in April in fact with ” Tahitian Grade B beans but I also like the Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Beans (Vanilla Planifolia so may make some comparison batches. A few of the online sites that offer recipes for making your own, including purchasing recommendations include: 

Once you get ready to start making your own here are a few things you will need to have on hand.

If you are like me and tend to be more creative, plan early:

  • You will need the beans; that means deciding on the grade of the bean and the ration of beans to the liquid mix; I saw lots of variations on this from 1 whole vanilla bean for every 2 liquid ounces of alcohol. I think to keep it simple I may start with a 1:1 ratio as in 1 bean to each ounce of liquid (then depending on the jar size might top off)
  • Extracting liquid; lots of options for this the most common include Bourbon, Rum, Brandy, and Vodka. The key factor is the liquid has to be greater than 70% proof
  • Bottles/Jars; You will need to decide if you are making a large batch then decant into smaller ones or just go right to the smaller ones. I think I will be hitting the swap and flea markets for vintage and unusual decanters to use as gifts. One common theme I heard was to avoid clear jars (or keep stored in a dark place) and my preference to stay away from plastics. As a back up I found 4 ounce Amber jars on Amazon that I may order to have on hand for “extra” last minute needs.
  • Labels: start thinking what size you will need and how you plan to label them if you are gifting them

Note: this post has some affiliate links to Amazon

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Keepers; one for the journal and planner users

Art? Bookmarks? Keepers?

In December of 2017, I tackled a new art project involving recycling old broken jewelry as pieces of art.  I had seen a similar type of art years ago and it stuck with me – so once I have the image and the right person to give one too I gave it a try when I was gifted with a box of vintage jewelry from a friend.

 

One of the unanticipated outcomes of the project was the amount of extra material left over, that I still wanted to work with. So with the thought of a furlough hanging over my head and knowing I needed something other than computer time to occupy my mind coupled with not wanting to see it all go to waste or sit in a box.  I looked around and decided to make Bookmark Jewelry for the people who needed a little bling ( and yes I still have some left). But with those in place. It didn’t end…


Now what??

As folks shared the gifted ones, I got some requests for a variation for the journal and planner crowd. They wanted something with bling that would work on notebooks or even that would be suitable to put on tablet cases.

My initial prototype

So I put together some Keepers.  They are designed to be flexible and adjust with a button/loop end so that as you move through the book,  the left side could adapt in tension to hold the pages – allowing you to always open to the current page.

This is the first of the set of Keepers that was done by special request, as a gift. By the weekend I expect to have a bunch of them made for gifting.

It’s likely I will make them available for sale as a donation to some local charitable groups – so to more come on that phase. Who knows – with the tension at work – this might my new stress reduction activity.

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Meat Buns Nebraska style

For last week’s Bookclub, I needed a recipe that would be connected to the theme from the book Oh Pioneers by Willa Cather.After searching around a bit – I found several versions of a local version Runza. Similar to other regional “hand-held meat buns”,  such as the spicey one I did in a previous Bookclub. This was version seems to be popular in the books region oNebraskaka with the addition of cabbage to the ground beef and onions. I had some time so I also made a rolled loaf version using pizza dough that mimicked the Cheese Bread recipe I posted about back in November.

Here is my version of the Runza recipe;

Runza

  • Frozen Bread Dough (I used the frozen bread dough loaves from Safeway which comes in a three pack. Each loaf, thawed allowed to raise will make 6-7 buns)
  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 1 head of cabbage
  • 1 yellow onion
  • garlic salt/minced or whatever you like for garlic ( I use the Sage, Thyme & lemon seasoned salt I make)
  • 2 TBSP butter.

Instructions

Step 1

  • Brown ground beef and drain fat, season with salt and pepper ( you can do this in two pans if you like)
  • Add chopped onion, garlic, butter, and chopped cabbage. Cook until wilted (7-10 min) on med-high. Mix with meat if done separately and let cool.
  • Note: You can also brown meat, season, then set aside and in a second pan sauté cabbage, onion and garlic, season with salt and pepper at each step. Then toss together. 

Step 2

  • Follow package instructions for bread dough (or make your own); Let the dough thaw covered and raise for up to 5 hours or as directed on your dough.
  • Cut and Roll into small sections.
  • Preheat oven to 350

Step 3

When ready to make

  • Flatten each section
  • Add ¼ to ½ cup of the cooled beef mixture to rolled out sections of dough. Fold and seal in half/wrap/shape how you wish but gently compress the air out of each bun.
  • Let sit covered with plastic wrap 20 min. (Or freeze them for later)
  • Prior to baking coat with melted, salted butter, oil or an egg wash. Omit butter topping if you want a crisper bun
  • Bake uncovered middle rack for 30-35 minutes at 350 degrees.

A few hints;

  • Pizza dough works well too.
  • Mix in small cubes of cheddar cheese in the cooled mix for a different variation.
  • Update: if you have leftover stuffing it makes a great addition to a simple soup. Simmer carrots, veggie or chicken stock, a few bay leaves, parsley, a can or two of drained canned beans and pepper for 50 mins.
  • Then add the meat & cabbage stuffing, ( you can also toss in leftover rice or pasta) simmer on med for another 30 min more. Toss in some halved cherry tomatoes. Serve

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