Friday, December 31, 2010

under the wire: 2010 year in review

Only a few hours left in 2010, and I might as well use some of that time on a retrospective post.

new day

Let's break this into bite-sized chunks, shall we?
Since 2010 started with a trip, this seems a good place to begin.  We did our annual holiday visit to MI and IL for 2009 (a little late), leaving home on January 1.  After a few days in each state to see our families, we flew to New York City.  It was a lovely, though freezing, few days of good food, shows, and getting to see Riley perform in Bye Bye Birdie on Broadway.  In June, we traveled to Seattle for Chrissy and Kevin's wedding and spent another several days walking a whole lot, eating well, and exploring neighborhoods.  Last, we drove up to Napa for a few days to celebrate our second wedding anniversary.  Again, we ate at many exciting restaurants and did some wine tasting as well.  And throughout each of those vacations, I took thousands of photos.

Which brings me to the subject of pictures...  I finished 2009's Project 365 during the NYC trip, and then I faced the dilemma of whether or not to keep going for another year.  I decided not to stick to the stringent picture-a-day rules and instead just try to take one picture a week or more, collecting the representative photos from those days in a 2010 set on Flickr.  But by February, I was looking for another project to give me some direction.  Valentine's Day dinner, made by Steve, inspired me to start a 52 Weeks of Food project, wherein Steve would cook something new each week and I would photograph it.  (Since that project won't be finished until February, I'll save the reflective post for that until then.)

I also got a new camera body for my birthday in August, upgrading from my Digital Rebel to a shiny new 7d.  I don't think there's been a huge shift in quality of photos, but the new camera makes it easier to take pictures in darker places.

Most of my photos for 2010 have been from our vacations, the food project or dinners out, but there have been a few other outings that turned out to be good photo ops.  I went to see some baby goats outside Bi-Rite market; I took a few photo walks to Bernal Heights, around the Mission, and to Noe Valley; we went "lobster golfing" with Rob and Traci (lobster rolls, then mini golf); I did a stairway walk to the area between the Castro and Noe Valley; we took Steve's parents to the Ferry Building farmers market; we went for a hike at Lands End; we explored Hayes Valley; and we took a trip to Santa's Tree Farm and Village to cut down a Christmas tree for Dan and Carmen's place.  As a mini photo job, I took pictures of the lovely Marion and her spa for her website.  And I shot some pictures of the YTC fundraising cabaret show, featuring several Beach Blanket Babylon alumni.

Since so many of my pictures in 2010 were of food, it seems only fair to mention the good food that we ate that wasn't at home.  Sometime in the last year, Steve and I started a Google map with all of the restaurants that we'd like to try in the Bay Area.  It was a big year for restaurant openings around here, so we didn't even come close to making a dent in our list.  We went to Farallon in February (good seafood, amazing desserts), Chez Papa Resto in July (interesting small plates), revisited Gitane in September (still good, still too dark for great pictures), Una Pizza Napoletana (a little overrated), and Zero Zero in November and December (fabulous cocktails, tasty pastas, and pizzas done well).  There were also the regular restaurants, the most notable being Contigo, which we visited six times in 2010.  Everything is consistently awesome there, but my favorites tend to be the calamars with arros negre, the creative salads, and the seasonal fruit desserts.

And those are just the restaurants in SF.  In New York, we ate at Le Bernardin, Cafe Boulud, Bar Americain, and DB Bistro Moderne.  Seattle's visit included Restaurant Zoe, Lola, Poppy, Pintxo, and our favorite, Delancey.  In Napa, we visited Ubuntu, Morimoto Napa, Redd, Bottega, and the Restaurant at Meadowood (now with three Michelin stars).

I kept busy with the usual teaching in the spring: Broadway Bound and the cabaret class.  I music directed the older kids' summer show, 13, and played piano in the pit.  The composer, Jason Robert Brown, came for a visit and a masterclass—for which I also played—about halfway through the rehearsal process.  That was both exciting and just a little nerve-wracking.  (The concert he performed at the end of those two days was just plain exciting, since my performing was done for the weekend.)  Once the summer show was over, I had two weeks off, and then I started rehearsals for The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at SMHS.  While the rehearsal process seemed really long, the show itself was quite enjoyable.  It was nice to play (and teach) challenging and well written music, work with a small ensemble of actors, and play/conduct a small pit of musicians.  On Sundays in the fall, I taught Broadway Bound again, but I left the cabaret class to someone else so I wouldn't overextend myself while doing Spelling Bee.  It's back to teaching both in the new year, though.

Since most of Steve and my family members live in various Midwestern states, we only get to see them once in a while.  We're fortunate that his parents are able to travel to SF once a year and stay for a while, so we got to see them both in January when we were in MI and in October when they came to visit us.  We saw my parents, along with most of my sister Christine's family, in January when we spent a couple days in IL.

Meanwhile, both of my sisters were pregnant and gave birth in 2010.  Sheri had Philip in February, and Christine had Aaron in August.  Then, just last week, our sister-in-law Carmen announced that she and Dan (Steve's brother) are expecting a baby in June.  We're unbelievably happy for them, and we're looking forward to meeting the little "monkey" in 2011.  Since they live below us, we'll get to see that niece or nephew more frequently than Christine and Sheri's kids.

Well, that about covers it!  As a whole, 2010 was good to us.  Since the 365 project ended, I didn't do as well with taking everyday pictures as I would have hoped, but maybe I'll be able to do a better job of it in 2011.  In the meantime, here is the blogging meme that I do every year, even though it reminds me of how far behind I get in blogging each month.
Go to your archives and find the first entry for each month of 2010. Post the first line of it, and that's your "Year In Review."

January: I'm feeling a little conflicted about not having taken any pictures yet today.

February: It may be February already, but it's still a good time for new beginnings as far as I'm concerned.  I've been considering a new blog for a while, and tonight I impulsively did it.

March: Sunday, January 10 was our last day in New York.

April: Around the time that Steve and I returned from New York in January, I had a decision to make.  My Project 365 had ended on January 7; and the trip, which was keeping me shooting each day after that, was over too.

May: It's been a few weeks since my last post, which means more food in the backlog of things to write about.

June: The time has come to talk of many things: of trips and transit and trolls.  Of coffee and cupcakes.  Of food and flowers and aching feet.  I speak, of course, of the Seattle trip.

July: We continue our review of the Seattle trip with Friday night's dinner in Capitol Hill.  Yes, this would be Friday, June 4.  And yes, I realize this was over a month ago.

August: Two months later, we reach the main event and raison d'etre for the Seattle trip: Chrissy and Kevin's wedding.

September: And finally, it's time to leave Seattle.

October: Our first full day of wine-tivities in Napa began with a walk down to Bouchon Bakery for breakfast.

November: 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.

December: It's time to work on catching up with the 52 Weeks of Food project again.  Even though the chilly, rainy weather of S.F. winter is upon us—and I'm starting to think about Christmas cookies—I'm still recapping summer food.

december dish roundup

It looks like this weekend's recipe for the food project will be executed in the new year, so the recapping of December's food can now commence. 

The first dish of the month was one that I had bookmarked on 101 Cookbooks in November and was saving for our usual Christmas trip to MI.  I figured it would be relatively easy to find the necessary ingredients for it at Horrocks or even Meijer.  But since we ended up deciding to stay in San Francisco for the holidays this year, that meant that we had no more reason to wait.

winter pasta

This winter pasta recipe uses kale rather than the more predictable spinach in an almost pesto-like sauce.  The combination of garlic, shallots, goat cheese, and lemon with pasta was one that I knew I'd like.  And because of the dark green kale, it felt like it was relatively healthy.  The one thing that Steve forgot to get at the store was some thyme to go on top.  The exclusion certainly didn't make our lunch inedible, but I was a little disappointed that we had to leave it out.  I'm eager to try it again as it was meant to be, since I really like thyme.

Next, a fennel, leek and arugula risotto from the blog Cannelle et Vanille.
fennel, leek and arugula risotto

Steve had sent me this particular link—he got to it first in his feed reader—earlier that week, and it looked good to me.  I wouldn't expect fennel, leeks, and arugula to go in a risotto together, but it worked quite nicely with the help of parmesan cheese and some lemon to tie it together.  The recipe didn't include lemon juice—just zest—but the juice we added gave it a nice zing.
On December 18, Steve and I finally got around to tracking down some colored carrots for the winter Roast Carrot & Avocado Salad with Orange and Lemon Dressing that we had been wanting to try from Jamie at Home.  That involved a trip to the Ferry Building farmers market on a drizzly Saturday morning, but we found our pretty carrots.
roast carrot & avocado salad

They were the obvious star of this dish, too.  Besides being multicolored and pretty, those carrots were delicious, coated with a mixture of cumin seeds, chilies, garlic, thyme, oil, and vinegar while they roasted.  To round out the salad, there were pieces of avocado, some croutons, various greens including some little gem lettuce and carrot tops, a dollop of sour cream, and toasted seeds.  I didn't really find the avocado to be a vital part of the salad, but it didn't detract from the whole either.

While we were at the farmers market, Steve and I also noticed some small Lady Apples, which had been featured in a coconut rice pudding recipe on Cannelle et Vanille in November.  We got some, on a whim, and Steve made the rice pudding as a dessert/snack on Sunday.
coconut rice pudding

The rice pudding itself was rather rich and not as subtle as the Indian version with cardamom that Steve makes occasionally.  This one really needed the apples to provide a little acid for contrast to the pudding.  Good thing they were so cute.

You might notice that I used the same dish towel as a prop in the last three photos...  I was getting tired of using only our white napkins and found the dish towel in our cupboard—one of the few that's not stained beyond belief.  I have since claimed it for my own use, but clearly, I need to branch out to others soon.  A trip to IKEA for cheap dish towels may be in our future.

The last official dish of the calendar year was a side dish from our Christmas feast: Roast Vegetable Mega Mix from a Jamie Oliver Christmas series that we caught on the Cooking Channel.
roast veg mega mix

The centerpiece of our Christmas dinner was a roast of prime rib, since it's become traditional for us to have "roast beast" for Christmas.  However, that meant it was not new and therefore did not qualify for inclusion in the 52 Weeks of Food project.  Luckily, I was pretty excited about the roast veg recipe, so it was a good candidate for the weekend's new dish.  We had just had the roast carrot salad the week before, and this promised to be good (and pretty) as well.

Our sheet pan was loaded with rows of colorful beets, carrots, parsnips, turnips, and fennel, each with their own herbs and dressings.  Although the carrots with rosemary and clementine juice sounded good, Steve and I decided that he would make the carrots from the salad instead, with cumin and thyme instead of rosemary.  It was a good move; they still rocked.  My other favorites were the fennel and the parsnips, but the beets were tasty too.  I'd leave out the turnips next time, though.  We concluded that maybe we just don't like turnips all that much.

In addition to the prime rib and roast veg, Steve made roast potatoes (with olive oil and rosemary), garlic butter roasted mushrooms (with thyme instead of parsley), the macaroni gratin (fancy mac & cheese) from the Bouchon Cookbook, and chicken & pork roulade for Rob and Traci, since they don't eat red meat.  I ended up with a little bit of everything and a nice full plate.  For dessert, we had Indian rice pudding and lots of the cookies that I had made in the week leading up to the big event.

Monday, December 20, 2010

november eats

More food from this fall...  First up for the somewhat eclectic month of November: Baked Mushrooms Stuffed with Ricotta from Jamie's Italy.
baked stuffed mushrooms

That's right, it's yet another Jamie Oliver recipe.  We've done several during this project, and it probably has something to do with the fact that so many of his recipes are on his website.  Sure, we have several of his books, and Jamie at Home is really pretty, but the website wins for convenience.  It really helps to be able to search, bookmark things that look good, and then just go through my Firefox bookmarks when we need to decide on a new dish for the week.

Anyway, I was still in mushroom mode during the first weekend of November, so we selected this for lunch that Saturday.  The results were a'ight, but they weren't quite as pretty as the picture on Jamie's website.  The cheese spread out quite a bit.  As for flavor, I wasn't wild about the oregano in this context.  If we were to make these again, I would probably use thyme instead.  The filling also needed a little lemon juice or something to brighten it up.  The zest alone wasn't doing it.

The next week, Steve and I went back to the ever expanding cookbook shelf and pulled out the London River Cafe cookbooks, Italian Easy and Italian Two Easy.  Steve has had these for years, and our go-to carbonara recipe originally came from one of them, although it has evolved quite a bit since.  Another look was definitely overdue, so we went through and put colored tabs on the pages of anything that caught our eye.  That Saturday, we decided on Ditaloni, Mussels, White Wine from Italian Two Easy.
ditaloni, mussels, white wine
It was pretty similar to the classic moules mariniere—mussels in white wine with a little cream—that Steve often made about 3-4 years ago, so we decided to use riesling and basil here too.  The recipe didn't specify what kind of white wine to use, but it did call for parsley.  (meh.)  Our version was better, I'm sure.  It was also even better than moules mariniere, since it had pasta to pick up the sauce.  Steve made it again for dinner last Monday, and I quite enjoyed it.

The lunchtime light was working well for me by then, so we tried our next new dish as a Saturday lunch as well.  The plan was to make Gnudi Spinaci from Italian Easy, but I wasn't really enthused with the results.  Gnudi are supposed to be a little like gnocchi, except that they're made from ricotta cheese instead of potato.  Steve and I didn't really know what we were doing, however; so there was some guesswork involved in deciding how much semolina should coat the cheese mixture, how big they should be, etc.  They turned out okay, but they were nothing special.  I was also being picky about the picture of them, so I switched it out of the food project when another option came along at dinner that night.

Steve had bought some sunchokes (also called Jerusalem artichokes) kind of randomly, as he is wont to do.  That prompted our Saturday dinner.  We waffled between a Jamie Oliver sunchoke salad and Steve's idea for squab with sunchoke puree.  Sometime that afternoon, in the course of our trip to the Ferry Building for ingredients, Steve decided to make both.  The salad won the honor of dish of the week, though.

sunchoke salad
From the book Cook with Jamie, the Warm Salad of Crispy Smoked Bacon and Jerusalem Artichokes was curiously good.  We had only really had sunchokes once before, glazed and in a salad at the French Laundry, and I really didn't remember what they tasted like.  They're a little potato-y, but the flavor is kind of earthy and more complex.  My one addition to the salad in the future would be something fruity, like currants.

The tricky part about the meal was trying to take pictures after dark.  Steve wanted pictures of the food, so I was obliged to at least try.  I used two lamps in an effort to get as much light into one little corner of the living room as possible without shining the light directly onto the plates.  The salad shot turned out better and more colorful than the squab.  The light still wasn't quite as diffuse as I would have liked—points of glittery, bright white on the food makes it look less appetizing—but it was passable.


The squab dish itself turned out really tasty too.  I hadn't had Steve's squab before, because he had been making it while I was away at rehearsals.  It was perfectly cooked, and way more flavorful than chicken.  (Squab is young pigeon, but don't worry: we didn't go out and shoot it ourselves or anything.)  To go with it, Steve made some sauteed mushrooms and the aforementioned sunchoke puree.  The puree was a little sweeter and perhaps creamier than potatoes, but it worked just as well.

Last, we come to the weekend following Thanksgiving.  Nothing Steve made for Thanksgiving dinner was new; he makes mashed potatoes, gravy, and butternut squash with brussels sprout leaves almost every year.  (Our sister-in-law, Carmen, makes the turkey.)  After a day or two off from serious cooking, Steve made our official dish for the week on that Sunday for lunch. 

spicy squash salad

A friend of mine had just posted the link on Facebook for Spicy Squash Salad with Lentils and Goat Cheese from Smitten Kitchen, and it reminded me that I had recently bookmarked it too.  It might have been better suited for Halloween, with the black lentils and orange butternut squash, but it tasted just as good in late November.  Steve wasn't able to find more black lentils at the stores anyway, so he ended up using green ones.  Along with the spicy butternut squash and green lentils, the salad had goat cheese for creaminess and tang, butternut squash seeds for salt and crunch, and mint for greenery and slight cooling.  It was one of those salads in which the perfect bite was just that: perfect.  (Not all bites were perfect, but it's always good to have goals.)

And that's all for November.  I'm catching up!  Since Christmas is at the end of this week, it won't be long until I'll be recapping December's dishes

Saturday, December 11, 2010

fall in the air

It's funny how fast the new seasons arrive sometimes.  Rather than a gradual slide from summer into fall, one day suddenly feels—or smells—subtly different than the ones before.  Sure, there are still holdouts, days that are trying to be summery, but there's no mistaking the fact that those days don't quite feel like actual summer (or Indian Summer, as the case is here).  Once October hit this year, it just felt like time for fall food.
In our case, that meant lots of new dishes with mushrooms.  We had figured out prior to one of our trips earlier in the year that I, unlike my sister Bethany, am not allergic to mushrooms.  So I had to make up for some lost time and get to know them properly.

On October 2, we began our streak of mushroom dishes with a Jamie Oliver Mushroom Risotto from Jamie at Home.

mushroom risotto

Steve got to use some of the dried porcinis that we had purchased at the Fatted Calf during our Napa trip in August, as well as some assorted fresh mushrooms from Far West Fungi in the Ferry Building.  The results were quite good, but even the little bit of parsley on top wasn't for me.  Next time, we use thyme.  (It's better for puns anyway.)

The following week, we selected a recipe from the French Laundry Cookbook: Roulade of Pekin Duck Breast with Creamed Sweet White Corn and Morel Mushroom Sauce.

duck roulade

I think Steve had a little trouble wrapping the swiss chard around the duck breast without it falling apart, but it came out well enough that I was able to find an angle that worked for the picture.  I liked the duck/corn/mushroom combination a lot, although I preferred the lobster/foie/fig from the previous month.

Moving on to week 35, we did one more mushroom dish, this one also with corn.  It was from Michael Symon's book, Live to Cook: Sweet Corn and Wild Mushroom Soup.
sweet corn & mushroom soup

In this case, the herb used was thyme, so it worked just fine for me.  And since Michael Symon is all about the pork, there was some bacon on top to complement the corn and mushrooms.  Again, it was a very good dish, but I didn't go wild over it.  Maybe it was the lack of cheese...

That was not a problem the next week.  We chose a Michael Symon recipe from the Wisconsin cheese website.

bacon mac

Bacon Mac & Cheese sounded like a winner, and it was.  Steve did not use Wisconsin gruyere, but it was just as good with the Swiss(?) gruyere that our neighborhood store carries.  I'm not usually one for adulterating my macaroni & cheese with anything meaty; however, the bacon, rosemary, and chives really worked for me.
The downside of the recipe was that the cheese sauce separated when reheated for lunch the next day.  I got stringy cheese with my macaroni and a whole lot of oil at the bottom of the bowl, most of which I poured off.  Steve, being the smart guy that he is, has fixed that problem the last couple times we've had this by making a bechamel sauce instead.  Not only does the cheese sauce stay together better in the leftovers, it's also healthier since it substitutes regular milk for some of the heavy cream.  Maybe Steve will post the revised recipe on his blog one day.  (hint hint.)

Rounding out October was Halloween.  It wasn't terribly cold, but it still seemed a good day for a dinner of soup.  Steve and I looked at our bookmarked recipes and landed on Jamie Oliver's Superb Squash Soup with the Best Parmesan Croutons.  We found it on his website, but it also happens to be from the Jamie at Home cookbook.
squash soup

As it turned out, I thought the butternut squash soup was indeed superb.  Steve considered putting in a splash of cream, but it didn't really need it.  I remembered the butternut squash soup we had had at DB Bistro Moderne in NY last January, and that had been almost all puree, according to our server.  This was pretty similar, and it was great with just the drizzle of olive oil we put on top.  Still, if/when we make it again, I might like to try some of the garnishes that were on the DB Bistro version: caramelized onions, pumpkin seeds, a little Italian parsley, cherries or a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.  It might not even need special croutons with a few of those garnishes to break up the sameness of the soup.  I imagine a little bread would still be good on the side, though.
Well, that takes care of another month!  It also takes care of the last vestiges of natural light in the evenings.  By the last two weeks of October, it was getting rather difficult to get pictures of dinner before the light was gone—and that was before daylight savings time ended.  Since I don't have a set-up for artificial lighting, we've now shifted to weekend lunches for most of our food project photos.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

the last of summer

It's time to work on catching up with the 52 Weeks of Food project again.  Even though the chilly, rainy weather of S.F. winter is upon us—and I'm starting to think about Christmas cookies—I'm still recapping summer food.

In San Francisco, some of the nicest days of the year usually come in September or October, once the fog is out of the way for the summer.  There are a few ridiculously hot days, but by the official beginning of fall, the hot days have the influence of a cool breeze to make them pleasant.  Sadly, although October may still feel summery once in a while, the local food is turning definitively toward fall by then.  As a result, September feels like the last gasp for summer produce.

Once the peaches and nectarines of the summer months are gone, the focus can shift to figs.  And this was the summer/fall that I fell for figs.  They seemed to be everywhere in September, but it may have just been that I was looking for them.  We did the Jamie Oliver fig salad in late August; that was a bit of an outlier, though.  The real fig obsession began around Labor Day, after our trip to the farmers market and the resulting lunch of figs, goat cheese, and other stuff.

Some of the many figs that we had purchased were used in our dinner on Labor Day with Dan, Carmen, and Steve's parents: Fig-Stuffed Roast Pork Loin from the Ad Hoc Cookbook.
fig-stuffed tenderloin

Through a combination of factors—no pictures of the dish on Labor Day, leftover fig jam for inside, and a general tastiness the first time—we ended up making it again a few days later and counted it as our new dish for the week after Labor Day.  This time, Steve used a pork tenderloin so that it would be enough for just the two of us, and he made some macaroni gratin (fancy mac & cheese) to accompany it.  The mac & cheese didn't make it into the final picture, but some of the fennel and preserved lemon that Steve roasted with the pork did.  Personally, I was a bigger fan of the former, but that's no surprise.

The next week, Steve put figs with something else I like: lobster.  This dish was from the French Laundry Cookbook, so it was a more involved Thomas Keller recipe than the previous week's.

figgy foie lobster

The Figgy Foie Lobster, as like to call it, was amazing.  The real name is Five-Spiced Roasted Lobster with Port-Poached Figs and Sautéed Foie Gras.  There's a sauce or two, a flattened fig, a lobster tail and claw, and a piece of foie gras on top of it all.  It's not the kind of recipe one makes every day; it's a little excessive.  But it was oh so good.  Thomas Keller knows his lobster.  All of the flavors balanced each other beautifully, and the dish didn't feel heavy, despite the foie gras on top.
The biggest challenge for Steve seemed to be stacking it all in such a way that it wouldn't fall and mess up the plate before I could take the picture.  The plate that made it into the photo was actually a do-over, which involved washing off the plate completely and building it again with a fresh spoonful of sauce.  Happily, it worked out that time.

For dessert, we had... more figs!

goat cheese custard with figs

The recipe was from Tartlette: a goat cheese custard, much like cheesecake, with figs and a sweet balsamic syrup on top.  Steve improvised with cooking containers on this one.  The smaller custards cooked in ring molds worked out pretty well, but the ones he did in ramekins and one that he did in a larger tart pan didn't cook quite right.  He ended up buying some small tart pans and rings after that, so we'll be ready next time.

Finally, at the end of September—on Dan's birthday, actually—Steve made our last summery dish of the year: Cheesy Heirloom Panini Batons from 101 Cookbooks.

panini batons

Steve even went a step further than Heidi and made his own rosemary focaccia from the bread book that I had given him for his birthday.  The panini batons ended up being a little bigger than the suggested size, but they were a good size for our lunch.  We used some of the last heirloom tomatoes of the season, mozzarella, and the green spread from the recipe—ricotta, garlic, basil, chives, and olive oil.

Then I got creative with the leftovers.  I was in rehearsals for my fall show at the time, so I had to eat lunches and dinners without Steve most days.  We had leftover focaccia, green spread, and mozzarella; so instead of firing up the stove for paninis, I got some sliced turkey breast and put it all on the focaccia to make a nice cold sandwich.  The downside of the focaccia was that it was pretty oily, which made it messy to hold.  A little parchment solved that problem, and kept the sandwich from falling apart too.

leftovers sandwich
In the next installment, we move from September into October.  In other words, from figs to mushrooms.