Tuesday, November 23, 2010

adventures with in-laws

Steve's parents, Bruce and Bonnie, were in town for a month during August and September.  I thought I'd share some of the pictures I took while they were visiting.
This year, we gave them a reprieve from the annual work on the house.  They've helped us every year since we bought the place in 2005.  That first year involved a lot of demolition, including that of our kitchen.  The 2006 visit was mostly work on Dan and Carmen's unit downstairs, 2007 was sanding and painting our living room and bathroom, 2008 was our dining room, and last year was the painting of our kitchen.  We still have the hallway to fix and paint, along with our utility room and half-bath, but that hasn't been a big priority.  Since Bruce had throat surgery a few months before their visit this year, we didn't want to expose him to all the extra dust.
Instead, Bruce and Bonnie got to enjoy their vacation with more leisure time.  They parked their RV in Pacifica as usual and spent several days walking around the beaches and the pier.  We let them stay at our house while we were in Napa, and then they went camping with Dan and Carmen and L.J. the next weekend.  They also got to borrow our car now and then for little day trips. 

Their arrival in town was just in time for my birthday in mid-August, so they joined us for my birthday dinner at Contigo.  There are pictures of the food from that meal on Flickr, but I didn't take pictures of people that night.  I didn't even hand over my camera for someone to take pictures of me opening my birthday presents, although Carmen took some with Bonnie's camera.

One of the main events of their visit was their 40th anniversary on August 29.  We all went to see Toy Story 3 in Daly City in the afternoon, and then we had dinner at Fog City Diner that evening.

anniversary dinner

They opened their anniversary cards from us while we were there.


And we all shared some truffle fries.  (More food pictures are on Flickr.)

truffle fries

Bruce and Bonnie finished by sharing a malted milkshake.  I tried some, and it was really good.

malt shop picture

On Labor Day weekend, we braved the crowds and took the parents to the Saturday morning farmers market at the Ferry Building.  I took my camera and shot some of the produce. 

I guess I wasn't the only one with that idea...

canon shooter

While we were shopping at the stall pictured above, I spotted Chef Chris Cosentino buying produce for his restaurant, Incanto.  I pointed him out to Bonnie, since we took them to Incanto for my birthday two years ago.  We've also shown them an episode or two of "Chefs vs. City," on which Cosentino competes.  He was chatting with someone about the show.  I didn't take any pictures of him; I saved those for random strangers and family members.
At one point, Bonnie wanted to take a picture of Bruce picking out some tomatoes for them.  I sniped a picture myself while Bonnie was directing her shot, and I liked how it turned out.


We filled up our bags with tomatoes, figs, almonds, nettles, assorted cheeses, butter, meat sticks from Fatted Calf, prosciutto and salami from Boccalone, and a baguette for good measure.

bonnie & steve

After fighting our way back out through the Ferry Building, we BARTed back home and set out some of our purchases for lunch.  The bread was especially good with the butter we bought—and the spreadable goat cheese too—but my favorite combination was figs and goat cheese.  Alternated with some prosciutto or almonds, it was the perfect late summer lunch—or snack.

That afternoon, Steve and I walked to Ritual for some coffee with Bonnie while Bruce napped at home.  Bonnie and I both got mochas, and Steve got a macchiato (pictured below).


On Monday, Labor Day, we all went to Lands End.  Traffic and parking were a bit of a nightmare, but it was a beautiful day.  Dan and Carmen had been hiking on the trail before, but I hadn't been to that area of the city before.  There was a lovely view of the Golden Gate Bridge, although the beach there isn't as close as some of the others.

picture time

A lot of people were out, but it wasn't unpleasantly crowded on the trail down to the beach.  Once we were down there, we took a few pictures and watched Enzo run around.

steve & me

Enzo played with his toy for a while, and then he met a dog named Atlas.  They chased each other around for quite a while at top speed, and Atlas' owner had trouble dragging him away when it was time to go.
We also saw some starfish hanging around, since it was low tide.

dan & carmen

I shot some pictures of family members again, since I've gotten negligent about that lately.
bonnie & bruce

And one last shot of the bridge from a little detour we took after climbing back up the hill from the beach.
lands end

Finally, Carmen and I made one last outing with Bonnie before they left town: tea at Lovejoy's Tea Room in Noe Valley.

tea time

We got High Tea for three with salad, tea sandwiches, scones with jam and cream, and sugar cookies.  It was all very girly and fun.
Steve didn't get to cook for his parents quite as much on this visit, but we had a few homemade dinners with them to balance out the Friday nights that we ordered pizza.  The arancini got especially good reviews, but they also enjoyed his macaroni & cheese, calzones, and a fig-stuffed pork loin.

More on the pork loin and other fig-related dishes in the next post, as I get back to September's contributions to the 52 Weeks of Food project.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

august cookery

Time to catch up with the old 52 Weeks of Food project.  I have 14 weeks worth of food to cover, and I don't even want to know how far behind Steve is with the blogging.  I'm mostly just glad that he's kept up with the cooking part each week.

When last I blogged about our cooking endeavors, I left off with the broccoli cheddar soup of week 24.  That was the very end of July.  August began with another recipe from another food blog: La Tartine Gourmand.

stuffed zucchini

I sent the link to Steve one day, because I thought the pictures were pretty.  It wasn't so much that I wanted him to try to make it.  Nevertheless, he came home from the farmers market not long after with a few globe zucchini—the very same kind that were used in this recipe.  So of course, we had to try it once we had them.  The squash were filled with a mixture of the zucchini innards, sweet potato, prosciutto, parmesan, celery, garlic, shallots, thyme, and marjoram.  We ate it with some plain white rice and opened a bottle of Kuleto Estate Chardonnay.  It was a good meal, and it was different from many of our usual recipes.

Right before our anniversary trip, we took care of week 25 in the form of a Saturday lunch: Summertime Tagliarini from Jamie Oliver's website.

summertime linguini

We strayed slightly from the website version.  First, we used linguini, which is similar but easier to find than tagliarini.  Second, I requested a change from the parsley in the original to basil, which I much prefer.  I didn't feel too badly about that, since Jamie mentions a basil version at the River Cafe in the introduction.

The recipe for this pasta is really easy, especially if you skip the step of warming the bowl of sauce over the pasta water.  Steve determined that it wasn't necessary anyway, since the sauce heats up and melts the cheese just fine when you mix it with the cooked pasta at the end.  If you heat it too much or too fast, which you risk doing with the double boiler method, the sauce tends to seize up.  Anyway, it's so easy that I've made it a couple times for lunch recently.  (A quarter recipe gives me two servings.)  And it has so many things I like: pasta, cheese, basil, lemon, and pinenuts.  Win-win.

After all of the good eating on the Napa trip, we got back to the project with another easy Jamie Oliver recipe.  This one was the creatively titled Easiest, Sexiest Salad in the World.
fig salad

It was the beginning of my fall fig obsession.  There were figs of two kinds—I now know that I prefer the black ones—along with prosciutto, mozzarella, basil, and a dressing of olive oil and lemon juice.  It was a little like the Grilled Peach Salad that we often eat in the summer, but I think I prefer the grilled peaches.  I suppose this is a good option for the post-peach season, however.

We stuck with the online sources for one more week after that, switching from Jamie Oliver to 101 Cookbooks.  I had gone through Heidi's archives and looked for recipes that looked good to bookmark, paying attention to the dates on her blog entries to keep the seasonality correct.  While the cherry tomatoes were still had the farmers market, Steve made the Red Pesto Ravioli.

red pesto ravioli

Luckily, Heidi's recipe had pinenuts as an option, because the walnuts that she used for her pesto would not have worked out so well for me.  Our result didn't have quite the rustic look of hers, but it was more important that I live.  The "optional" oven-roasted cherry tomatoes for topping were also a very good idea.  Since Steve is Steve, he insisted on making his own ravioli, rather than buying some as the recipe suggests.  His goat cheese and ricotta ravioli turned out really well; he seems to be getting better at rolling out fresh pasta.  In the end, the only change I'd make is to use less garlic in the pesto or cook it a bit first.  It was pretty intense, and I don't like tasting garlic for several hours after dinner.  But other than that, I'm looking forward to next summer so we can have it again.
The next weekend, we hit the (cook)books once more, namely David Tannis' A Platter of Figs.  We had done the Shaved Summer Squash with Squash Blossoms several weeks before, but it was time to try the rest of the "Yellow Hunger" menu.  The main course of that menu was Halibut with Indian Spices, Yogurt Sauce, and Yellow Tomatoes.

yellow fish

I've found that while I love crudo fish dishes, cooked fish isn't generally my favorite.  I enjoy a nice fillet of salmon occasionally, probably because it's a good excuse to eat the cheesy polenta that Steve serves with it, but I usually don't order cooked fish in restaurants.  I'm willing to try just about anything, though.  This halibut was yellow from an Indian spice rub and served with yogurt sauce, which sounded interesting.  The yogurt had various spices in it as well, but I think I wanted something more akin to raita, with mint actually in it and not just on top.  Lemon juice might have helped too, although the sauce was already pretty thin.  Overall, I wasn't wild about it.

For dessert, a simple pairing of peaches—yellow, of course—soaked in white wine.

peaches in wine

Steve made some whipped cream to go with it, and I suggested adding cardamom for interest.  We had had cardamom whipped cream on a plum tart at Contigo last year, and I remembered loving it.  It was a good move.  As a dessert, it wasn't as elaborate as the sauternes cake with peaches that I was craving from our dinner at Redd, but it was delicious and summery anyway.
Next up: my obsession with figs gets a workout.  Plus, the end of the late San Francisco summer.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

wineless in wine country

Contrary to the title of this post, we were not completely wineless on our last day in Napa.  However, Wednesday began without the wine tastings of the previous two days.  After checking out of our hotel, we headed to the Round Pond Olive Mill in Rutherford for a different kind of tasting.  I had come across Round Pond while looking at travel websites.  They have a winery across the street, but I was trying to find some options for things to do that didn't involve wine.  A tour and tasting at the olive mill turned out to be a nice switch, and it gave us a rest from the alcohol.

round pond
We got there around 10am for the tour, and we ended up in a group of about 10 people.  The tour itself was interesting, but it didn't travel very far.  We spent a while right outside the building, standing next to one of the olive trees.  There, we learned a little about growing olives: the main kinds they have (Spanish and Italian), the things they have to do to avoid pests (keep the ground free of dead fruit and trim the trees so that there's more space between the top part of the trunk and the branches), and how best to harvest the fruit to avoid bruising (by hand).

Having covered all that, we went back inside and examined the working part of the building.  We were told that Round Pond is one of the only olive oil producers in the area with its own mill, so they don't have to transport the olives before processing them or work around a shared mill's busy schedule.  As a result, higher quality is retained, and the oil doesn't get the bitterness that comes from bruised fruit. There was a machine with big stone wheels for crushing the olives, old school style, as well as more modern centrifuges for separating the oil from the water.  I didn't actually take any pictures of the machinery; it didn't seem particularly photogenic to me.

tasting spread
The tasting part of the tour and tasting, however, was indeed picture-worthy.  At the table, we each had two blue glasses, which contained tastes of olive oil.  The first was the Italian Varietal, and the second was the Blood Orange.  The blue glasses were used so that color would not be a factor in the tasting.  So we tried each of the olive oils, after a little instruction in the correct way to do so.  We warmed the cup in our hands a bit, took a sip, and then slurped in some air—not unlike Hannibal Lecter with the fava beans and chianti.  It was kind of silly, but it did make it easier to taste the flavors in the oil without it simply coating the tongue.
I ended up liking the Blood Orange better than the Italian.  The Italian Varietal was more assertive and spicier, while the Blood Orange was made with the more mellow Spanish olive varieties.  The blood orange flavor was also better incorporated than I might have expected.  Rather than just infusing olive oil with flavor, they actually grind the fruit peels with olives to get more of their oils thoroughly melded with the olive oil.
Next up to taste was red wine vinegar.  Round Pond makes two kinds, which makes sense, since the winery has plenty of red wine and red wine grapes.  We tried the Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot vinegar first, but I preferred the Sangiovese-Nebbiolo-Petit Verdot, which just seemed better balanced to me.  Again, the tasting involved some tricks.  For the vinegar, we were provided with two sugar cubes.  The idea is to get a drop of vinegar on a sugar cube and then suck it out.  The sugar is supposed to compensate for the acid of the vinegar and make it more palatable.  Of course, if you accidentally get too much vinegar on the sugar cube, it disintegrates into a sticky mess.  Not that one of us would ever do that... (Steve.)

ready for tasting
After the official tasting of the oil and vinegar, we were left on our own to mix and match with the various Round Pond products and the food on the table.  There were pieces of bread, salad greens, cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, strawberries, blue cheese, and pecorino cheese.  I made myself a nice salad with my favorites of the oil and vinegar and tried the two oils again, with bread this time.

In addition to the oils and vinegars, Round Pond produces meyer lemon and blood orange syrups.  (Presumably, they're using the parts of the fruits that aren't getting used in the flavored olive oils.)  They were pretty sweet, but they went well with the salty pecorino cheese.  The meyer lemon syrup was also tasty with the strawberries.

In the end, we bought a bottle each of the Blood Orange Olive Oil and the Sangiovese-Nebbiolo-Petit Verdot Vinegar.  They also had these adorable little bottles, so we got one of the Italian Varietal and one of the Meyer Lemon Olive Oil.

mini bottles

After Round Pond Olive Mill, we made a quick stop at nearby Honig to purchase a bottle of their Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc.  We had done a tasting there last year, by appointment, but we didn't bother to do one this year.  Still, I wanted to bring home a bottle of the dessert wine, so we dropped by and bought one.
By this time, it was almost noon.  Despite our little snack at the olive mill, we were hungry enough to stop for some lunch before driving back home.  We decided that Bottega would be good for that.

We ate dinner at Michael Chiarello's restaurant in Yountville at the start of our trip last year—the picture above is from that evening.  Unfortunately, we had eaten too big a snack too late that day, so didn't feel like we had really done the place justice.  Lunch was a good chance to try again and taste some more dishes.
We each ordered a glass of wine—sparkling for me and red for Steve—and started with one of the specials: a salmon tartare.

salmon tartare
I should mention that we were seated outside on the covered patio.  I was excited to sit outside, because it seemed so picturesque.  What I didn't think about beforehand was the effect that the orange canopy would have on pictures taken under it.  My camera (and Lightroom) tried its best to compensate for it, but all of the pictures ended up exceptionally red-pink.  It took all of my meager skills at using Lightroom to make them look like they weren't radioactive.  The first and third pictures of the meal still aren't quite right, but believe me, they're a whole lot better than they were.
The picture of my lunch entree fared a little better.
Swiss Chard & Ricotta Raviolo, farm fresh egg yolk & sage browned butter parmigiano

When I ordered this, our waiter made sure that I knew that it had runny egg yolk in it, which oozes out when the raviolo is cut open.  I guess they're used to tourists, many of whom are scared of anything that's not fully cooked.  I have no problem with it, as long as the chef knows what he or she is doing.  My only problem with the raviolo was that the dough was a little gluey around the edges.  Other than that, the flavors were great.

Steve also got a pasta dish:
Garganelli with tomato braised rabbit sugo, wild mushrooms & ricotta

Again, not the best picture, but Steve enjoyed the food.  It was more his style of pasta, though: braised and earthy.  I tend to prefer cheesy and/or lemony.
We didn't see Chef Chiarello at all during our lunch, but apparently, he was at work in the kitchen.  We heard our waiter talking to a table that arrived a while after us, introducing a new appetizer special that Chiarello was testing out.  It must have been really new, since it wasn't being offered when we arrived.  The other table was asking about a dish that they had seen on the Food Network show The Best Thing I Ever Ate.  They were told that that dish wasn't on the menu at the time, but they could try this new appetizer, made by Michael Chiarello himself.  Not a bad consolation prize, really.
After lunch, there was just one more stop to make: Bouchon Bakery, across the street.  I wanted to get some cookies to take home with us.  We had gotten a TKO (Thomas Keller Oreo) the year before, so I wanted to get some of those for sure.  But last year, I hadn't known if I was allergic to almonds or not, which prevented me from trying the macarons.  This year, there was no such deterrent.  We left with an assortment of French macarons, several TKOs, and a foie gras dog biscuit to give to Dan and Carmen's dog, Enzo.  Steve's parents were going on a camping trip the next weekend with Dan and Carmen, so we sent along a TKO and a vanilla macaron for each couple to share.  (They were all pretty big cookies.)
The day after we got back, I did the obligatory photo shoot with the remaining macarons.  We had eaten the caramel one already, but we still had coffee, vanilla, chocolate, and raspberry.  In case you're wondering, they tasted as good as they looked.

And thus ends the recounting of the second anniversary Napa trip.  (Finally.)  It was a lovely visit to wine country, and although we didn't experience as many wineries as last time, the food more than made up for it.  I would gladly return to any of the restaurants we tried, especially the Restaurant at Meadowood, which just earned its third Michelin star.  The French Laundry is the only other three-star Michelin restaurant in the Bay Area, so that's quite an accomplishment.