Thursday, December 17, 2009

Fruitcake (Lebovitz style)


Sunday, December 6, 2009

There's A Pizza War

And lucky for us, we're living on the front line. When we first moved to North Beach, we ate at North Beach Pizza about once a week- it's a block away, has friendly service, and beautiful pizza. We soon realized that by walking an extra two or three blocks, we could also enjoy the classic, Golden Boy Pizza, or the new kid, Tony's Pizza Napoletana. Talk about hard decisions! Nikos stands by North Beach - once he finds something he likes, he's difficult to budge. I, on the other hand, although enjoying North Beach for its feel-good atmosphere and always-consistent pizza, and appreciating Golden Boy for it's no-nonsense, pizza-in-hand-with-beer-at-the-bar attitude, have a soft spot for Tony's (if we can ever get in). It's pricier than the others, but I don't mind paying for the top-quality ingredients. Tony Gemignani (a bit of a celeb in the pizza world: he's won a pizza "world-cup", has been on Food Network, etc etc) is passionate about each pie that goes out. Sitting 10 feet from the 900 degree wood burning oven (there's also a domed gas brick oven and a NY flat top gas brick oven), I've watched Tony expertly assemble ingredients imported from Napoli ("the pizza capital of the world") for his award-winning Margherita (he only makes 73 a day) and then slowly shift the pie in the oven, constantly moving it around until it's perfectly done. Another star is his Cal Italia with asiago, mozzarella, gorgonzola, sweet fig preserve, and prosciutto (almost a dessert pizza). Because they don't take reservations, it's almost impossible to get in on a Friday or Saturday night, so it's best to go for a late lunch/early dinner around 4 or 5. Or you can swing by North Beach or Golden Boy!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Yogurt Soup: Perfect!

Yes, you read it correctly, Yogurt soup.
It is one of those things that go well with cold weather, feeling happy, cozy moments, lazy Sunday afternoons, etc.

What: 2 lbs of yogurt (use at least 2%)
one clove of garlic
a pinch of rice
a tablespoon of cornstarch
some salt
dried mint

Put the yogurt through a metal strainer directly in the pot. Force it through with a spoon. Add to the pot the cornstarch that was mixed in a small cup of water. Place pot over medium heat and STIR, and STIR and STIR. After 5 minutes add the salt and the rice, and KEEP STIRRING until you see bubbles, or it has started boiling. This will take about 20 minutes (yes you need to stir this whole time). Then, you can turn to low heat and keep it on until rice is cooked.

Fill a bowl, sprinkle some crushed dried mint on top, and ENJOY!

(of course in Lebanon, you would eat this soup with many things in it - my favorite is Shish Barak or Lebanese Raviolis - which are meat filled little ''hats'' ... but that is for another day)....

Saturday, October 31, 2009

PIES, etc

So, I have been making some of the pies from David Lebovitz's blog (boy am I so jealous - living in Paris, and blogging about food there). Anyhow, I made two pies: the almond Chez Panisse Pie, and the Quince "Easy" pie. I loved both. DAvid is really good, and has a good palette.

The almond pie was my favorite. It is crusty, rich in flavor, and just delicious. It is a bit tricky to make. The texture is heavenly: The top is this crackly caramelized almonds bathed in sugar and cream (need I say more), but sitting on top of a thin film of simple pie crust which is slightly chewy. The Grand Marnier comes through, along with the pungent almond smell. I love it .

The second pie will be my every other week jam pie. It really is simple to make: just mix flour, butter and baking powder, add the almond essence (do NOT forget this!), lay the dough in the pie mold, put your favorite jam, cover with dough leaves, sprinkle with sugar, bake. Done. He also calls for adding a third of a cup of corn flour.
I like that a lot, for texture especially. I used the last remaining Quince jam I had on one half, and the other half I filled it with apricot jam (both my mother's). Wow. I eat a piece for breakfast lunch and dinner.

So, go bake a pie for halloween tonight. Trust me, it will make you smile.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Hey, it is the fall here in the Midwest. A special time with beautiful colors, and smells. The markets are full of local apples (mostly from Michigan), and all apple-centered products, like apple donuts, and apple pies, and apple cider, and apple songs, and even apple festivals (we went to the Long Grove one). I have been seeking comfort these days at our local Japanese restaurant, in love with their Udon noodles in hot aromatic broth and tempura fried vegetables. What a simple dish, yet it is so satisfying and warm with the vegetables dressed in this beautiful crackly cover. I have also picked out some fresh white beans from the market, another warm and cozy dish: boil them, cut some tomato some vinegar and oil, some onions, basil and mix. Pure comfort. Go out there and enjoy the leaves before the dark days of winter arrive!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Harvest time . . .

In Napa!

And the best part of it all. . .

We left with a bottle of Domaine Carneros 2005 Brut Vintage Cuvée- fabulous!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Fun Stuff

In the last week, I made fun little things that looked and/or sounded good. I know they would taste good. So, first, from Smitten Kitchen, I tried the breakfast bars. I used both fresh raspberries and blueberries. They were good, just exactly as I had expected though. I do like the earthy oat flavor, but for some reason, I thought they were a bit too sugary...
I also made the fabulous no-knead bread. I was a bit disappointed since I repeat the SAME recipe everytime and the bread is inconsistent: this time it looked great, but did not get the holes.... in the middle (I added 3 oz of beer to the mix for flavor, and that is definitely recommended).

On the other hand, I did some simple Macaroons (I am not sure why, I just happened to be in a coconut mood, and had just bought some flakes for my weekly homemade granola mix - thanks nytimes). So, I did these for the first time, and I was blown away. Simple, elegant, very tasty (healthy too-just egg whites - no milk of any kind, butter or oils) and looked great especially the ones dipped in chocolate and pistachios!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Say Cheese!

One of the many treats of walking through San Francisco's Ferry Building is stopping by Cowgirl Creamery cheese shop (the actual creamery is located about an hour north of the City). The staff is very helpful and very knowledgeable of the array of cheese, which they bring from over 200 producers in the U.S and Europe (Cowgirl produces just under 10 of their own). They also don't push you to overbuy, and they let you taste anything you want! We last tried a gorgeous Spanish Mahon Reserva and a Greek (of course!) Mt. Vikos feta, which was possibly the best we've ever had. I can't wait to go back and try a few of Cowgirl's signature cheeses- or maybe we'll just take a road trip up to the creamery and see how they make them as well!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

With flowers in my hair and great food in my mouth.

I'm sorry for the long long delay since my last post- there were vacations, and moving, and no internet... but all along, the happy food never stopped. I'll begin from my most recent happy foods and slowly work back in time...

Life has taken me to San Francisco. If you mentioned San Francisco to me about 10 years ago, I would think immediately of cable cars and Rice-a-Roni. To my great delight, it has ohh so much more. We settled into an overpriced, and undersized one bedroom right below the Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill. It's a couple blocks to North Beach, and a few more to Chinatown. As you can imagine, there's great food all along the way.

Most people say everyone living in North Beach has their favorite Italian restaurant, and Niko and I, though still trying things out, are already leaning towards Ideale on Grant Street. If you go on a Friday night, you'll probably be seated at the bar for about 20 minutes before getting a table. You won't mind though with the reasonable wine prices, and the upbeat atmosphere - you may even learn a word or two of Italian between the waiters and the owner running back and forth to the kitchen. It definitely beats sitting in the front of a restaurant, completely forgotten (which has happened to us at more than a few other Italian places in North Beach). Some of my favorites are the prosciutto e pera - prosciutto wrapped around bosc pears and mascarpone, and the spaghetti alla chitarra - homemade spaghetti with scallops and garlic in a white wine and tomato sauce. It's simple, tasty Roman food.

Another great little spot is Cafe Divine on Stockton. Overlooking Columbus Park, it's one of my favorite places to go to get a glass of wine (and perhaps a cup of soup on those extra chilly San Francisco summer days) and people-watch.
Their desserts are a bit pricey, but if you're really wanting something sweet, they deliver. I recently tried the "Cloud Nine Cheesecake", topped with a sour cherry drizzle. It was delicious.
They also do a great breakfast. I tried their spinach, goat cheese, and sun-dried tomato scramble. Although the eggs were good, the best part, by far, was the fresh, flaky, cheddar and scallion biscuit served along side.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Taste of MY Chicago: The GCM Annual BBQ in the Park

The annual event was yesterday, and what do you know, I learn something new about the culinary food
in my city. I have never been to this and it is the BEST food fest I have EVER attended. I will explain.
It is an outdoor bbq of sorts on behalf of Chicago's premier farmers market, the Green City Market which
is held Wednesdays and Saturdays in the Park part of Lincoln Park. So, the farmers's famous customers, i.e.,
the TOP restaurants in the city hold this all out cooking showdown with literally the top restaurants
there: rick bayless(above), naha, Vie, spring/custom house, blackbird/avec, Spiaggia, Nomi, 4 seasons,
primehouse, Eve, Hot Chocolate, Mado, North Pond, Fox and Obel, and the list goes on (check out he official list here).
It is an all-you-can-enjoy evening of elk, goat, beef, turkey (amazing turkey from Paul Virant... WOW),
wonderful TROUT, and local cheeses. It is the feast of feasts where everyone walks around with a constant
smile on their face and full hands: a beer in one, and a sample in another. The beauty of it was that EVERY dish was
prepared using ingredients from local farmers: the beef, the greens, the pork, etc,.... It was a festival honoring
our local produce, our local meats, and dairys, and our local unmatched microbrews (3 flyods from hammond, two brothers
from downstate, goose island) and of surprisingly Illinois wine (???). I loved it all. I enjoyed all of it and every dish
I had was better than the one before it (except for the cold Kohlrabi soup).
I cannot wait till next year's. p.s.: Some of these chefs are really

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Grilled Pizza? Yes, please invite me over when you throw one on

I just saw a recipe from Martha's (something) about making a pizza on the grill. Really simple, it says: 1) get dough and shape it like a pizza, 2) brush both sides with olive oil, 3) throw it on the Weber for 4-5 minutes, flip it, 4) top it with your ingredients, and Voila! We put (like the recipe suggested) fontina cheese, and then when it came out, fresh arugula with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper. It was AMAZING. I really liked the charred pieces of dough with the crispy edges, and the elegance of it. Plus, the arugula added a nice bite with its slight bitterness and the muted taste of the fontina. And of course, is there anything better than dough, salt, and cheese, all warm and gooey? No there is not. This is just another way to enjoy pizza that is simple, quick and guaranteed to beat almost all of your local delivery options (add Italian ham on top of the arugula next time).

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The STAR in (the) Lone Star STATE? It is the BRISKET!

Yes. It is. According to Wikpedia this is the part of the body that cows lie on, and it is not considered by any means a premium cut of beef (main part of what goes into corned beef). Well, inspired by an article in the latest Saveur magazine devoted to everything Texan, I decided to tackle one of these babies on a medium sized Weber kettle. You see, I have had brisket from the BEST in Texas (Kreuz, Blacks, Smitty's, Cooper's in Llano,...) and so, I know (kind of) what the brisket is supposed to look, feel, and taste like: soft, juicy, really juicy, caramelized on the outside, really lean on the bite, and boy oh so smokey. That is the taste I always remember. The smoke.
Well, I did what I am told: prepared a simple rub and laid it gently on an otherwise unattractive flat piece of meat - about 5 lbs of mangled tendon and fat. I started the next morning and followed the recipe verbatum (with major problems trying to contain the heat in the 250 range - it kept cropping to 300).

Well, it was BEAUTIFUL: Nice smoke ring, juicy and delicious (although a bit salty). I really enjoyed the whole process though. See, "cooking" a brisket is an 8-10 hour process of hands off love so to speak: peaking is not allowed, but you do it, touching, smelling, feeling the temperature are all part of the cooking. Also, just sitting outside on a beautiful day with your Weber billowing in the vicinity, a beer in hand and a nice book. This is cowboy Texan life at its best. And as they say down there, do NOT mess with Texas!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Letter from Emilia-Romagna II

Again, my journey continues in the land of olives, cheese, and wine. We did visit a local wine producer's shop today to sample some wine and perhaps buy some. I am no connoisseur of wine, but I can tell whether something is not great. We tasted many wines and all tasted great to me. What is stunning is the price. They all ranged from 2 Euros (yes TWO!) per bottle to the expensive of 8 Euros! This must be the reason they do not drink soft drinks, and beer here. Wine is good, and Wine is cheap.

On the food front, we continue to visit local small restaurants, and so far Benilde's hand made tagliatelle are my favorite. It turns out that she does not use the hand pasta machine, but actually does it the old fashioned using the wood stick (like a baseball bat). The pasta is lightly boiled, feels hard, but just the right amount, covered with ragu (my favorite topping). But amazingly the sauce does not leave a film of fat on the bottom of your plate. It is cooked
long, but somehow, its fat content, although there, is able to be concentrated in the bits of meat that get stuck on the ribbons. I like it that the ribbons are really long and you just sink your head in the plate, try and suck in the long ribbons while at the same time taking in a whiff of that aroma -tomato paste, fat of some kind, maybe bacon or mortadella, olive oil, and some parmesan cheese- and then lift your head with a large smile and a full mouth. We all become kids when we eat these pasta and digging in with your face is part of the fun. Thank you Benilde for this wonderful treat. And so, I leave you with what a satisfied customer left on the wall of the restaurant for Norma (Benilde's daughter and current chef) after what must have been a jurrassicly sacred moment eating the taglia.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Letters from Emilia-Romagna I

I am spending a week in beautiful Bertinoro, a village in Emilia-Romagna, a northern region in Italy. This "state" is known for Ferrari's, Lamborghini's, and Maserati's but it is equally famous for its hams from Parma, its world renown cheese -parmigiano reggiano- and many other delicacies. And, who can forget the mortadella.

We go out every evening to one of the small local restaurants. A background: Bertinoro is small, really small, but it sits on a high hill, relative to its surrounding. Since it is close to the coast (the adriatic - Rimini- is 40 Km alway), it tends to be a bit stuffy down below, and at night
Bertinoro is busy with sun bathers coming up to cool off over pasta and Sangiovese wine.

The local food can be summarized with: PASTA, PASTA, and PASTA. There is also a local bread, (Piadona I believe) - unleavened flat bread that looks like thick flour tortilla. It is served usually with a soft raw cheese that is slightly similar in consistency to cottage, but creamier and more delicious. The food is simple, simple, simple. But, this is why it is delicious. No pretentious sauces, no fancy ovens, or preparations. Rather, hand made pastas, all kinds, with all kinds of different sauces, some successful (like the Ragu above - amazing) and others not as much (salmon based - perhaps meant for the beach goers).

After long evening meals with the students and our generous Italian host, we end the evening with the sweet Albana wine, made from local grapes - really local- from the hills below. And don't forget to "dip your biscotti in the wine" - tiny ones with hazelnuts, meant for dipping- my Italian host yells from across the table. Ah, certain things just make the whole experience that much better.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Tellia, or Italian style "stuffed pizza"

On a lazy Saturday afternoon watching another one of Lidia's Italian shows, I noticed this interesting green pie that she was preparing. It looked intriguing: escarole cooked, stuffed in pastry bread and baked. It reminded me of the cute spinach pies that my mother and aunts prepared. Half way through this show, I was interrupted by someone wanting to watch the fire truck movie. So, I complied before catching the full recipe. I was determined to make this... immediately. Basically, the filling is escarole cooked in garlic, capers, olives and oil. And the dough, half semolina half white flour (I found-using google- someone had the measurements of the crust). And there is the Tellia, as it was called, a pie from Southern Italy, a town called Gaetta between Naples and Rome to be exact. Simple and delicious. A lot easier to make than those delicate Spinach pies the ladies back home make (the spinach needs to be mixed just perfectly, and the pies hand massaged gently into beautiful pyramid like domes - here, it is one large pizza pie). It was a big hit. I am looking forward to using all kinds of greens in this, may be tomato, may be even artichokes, ...

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Green City Market - Chicago

On a beautiful Saturday, enjoying rhubarb, honey and mint sorbet, we strolled in Lincoln Park among the crowds and between the organic stalls at Green City. So early in the season, the first days of Spring (yes, Spring in Chicago starts late), the Asparagus stole the show at the market.

Can it get better?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Garlic Lovers, rejoice: Mojo de Ajo

This is a fantastic, fantastic shrimp preparation courtesy of Rick Bayless.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

It really is that good!

Farmer's Market

With Safeway (a.k.a. Dominick's, for the Chicago contingency) a 15 minute walk from our apartment, I find myself going there at least every other day. In the beginning, I was excited when I saw tomatoes or strawberries from California - my now "home state" - they had to be fresh. I find myself expecting this now, and when I see produce from Mexico it drives me crazy! This last weekend, Niko and I decided to check out the Mountain View (home of Google) farmer's market - it was wonderful! Fresh (and locally!) grown tomatoes, asparagus, artichokes, zucchini, leeks, mushrooms, flowers, everything you could imagine! And, for the most part, everything is comparably priced to what's found at Safeway. I can't wait to check out the San Francisco markets!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Some of my favorites

Simple Guacamole. Just Delicious.

What else, Baba Ghannouj, a.k.a., the "spoiled daddy"... need I say more. One of my favorite eggplant preparations.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Knefeh: The royal breakfast of champions in Lebanon

It was my favorite Sunday morning breakfast growing up. The ritual, the walk down the hill to "sea Sweet" bakery, the way to order it "easy on the syrup," the walk back home all culminates with all of us sitting on the balcony enjoying Knefeh Bi-jibn (or knefeh with cheese). Some think that it is all in the bread. The bread, oh the bread (a picture I found on the web is on the right). I can go on and on about it: Not sweet, not chewy, with enough crust, and covered with sesame, shaped in just right way to be used as a vehicle for the knefeh. In fact, it is made for knefeh, exists only for it. It is a sort two-in-one version of the trinity. Now, on to the real part. I made knefeh this weekend (picture below). It has two parts, the cheese part and the "cake" part. I am not sure what cheese is used, sweet cheese (technically it is not sweet, it is just a cheese without salt), but mozzarella should work. I used some cheese from the Arab store here. The cake part is typically some mixture based on semolina, but I used shredded philo (which is widely available) since it easier to handle. You bake both cheese and philo together, and you add a sugary syrup infused with rose water and orange blossoms. You take a piece and slowly stuff it inside a pocket in the bread.
I dare any breakfast, anywhere, to come close to this. No. No.
I will tweak the recipe a little more before I post it.