Thursday, December 6, 2012

Melt-in-Your-Mouth Macarons

Delicate, light, chewy, creamy, pretty, and oh-so flavorful, macarons make a wonderful sweet treat. With more bakeries offering them, including Starbucks and La Boulange, macarons are gaining in popularity. After trying a few, it’s obvious why more and more people are mad for these sweets. They take familiar flavors and transform them through the unique texture and burst of flavor. One of the newest macarons bakeries in Palo Alto is Chantal Guillon at 444 University Avenue, which has gotten rave reviews and legions of loyal followers spreading the word.

Inside the white bakery, different colorful macarons are displayed as beautifully as diamonds, emeralds, and sapphires at a jewelry store. Only these precious delights are a lot less expensive! I indulged and tried eight of the different flavors, with these reactions and ratings out of five stars:

Green Tea: *** A bit odd. I’d rather have green tea ice cream or green tea itself. One of the things quickly realized about macarons is that I’d compare them to other forms of delivering similar flavors. This was one that didn’t surpass my alternative flavor delivery vehicle.

Rose: *** Lovely, light pink, interesting. A little unexpected melding of flavor and texture. Rose isn’t one of my go-to flavors and it’s not easy to find otherwise, so this one’s worth trying.

Red Velvet: **** Yummy. I prefer it over red velvet cupcakes. It captured the flavor, color, and cream cheese with its filling. I’m sure purists would see this as an abomination, but I see it as American ingenuity.

Dark Chocolate: **** Wow, very flavorful with a deep chocolate bite like a brownie. It satisfied my chocolate craving. It’s a safe flavor to go with, but there are so many other ways to get a chocolate fix.

Raspberry: **** Very good, real raspberry flavor, even with a few seeds. Dark crimson color inside makes for a striking appearance.

Pistachio: **** Very pistachio-y! I appreciated this flavor for its (in my opinion) superiority over its ice cream cousin.

Lavender Poppy: **** An original flavor worth trying with little black poppy seeds on the outside and a sweet, intense, purple lavender pop of flavor on the inside. Surprising and new.

Coconut Lime: ***** Yum, this was my unexpected favorite. It had a great melding of tropical flavors and French technique. Tres delicieux. It had little bits of coconut and lime zest.

Next time you want to try a new dessert, experience some beautiful, original, flavorful macarons.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Easy Pumpkin Spice Roasted Almonds

If you’re looking for an easy pumpkin spice flavored snack that’s healthy and festive enough for entertaining, try these roasted almonds. They’re sweet, salty, cinnamony, and good for you too. If you like the flavor of maple syrup, you could substitute that for the honey. The salt brightens and highlights all the other flavors. Serve them up and share with friends for a guilt-free holiday snack. They make a great hostess gift and will fill your kitchen with a wonderfully warm and spicy autumn scent.

Pumpkin Spice Roasted Almonds
(Adapted from a recipe on Knead to Cook)

2 cups almonds
3 t cinnamon
2 ½ t pumpkin pie spice
4 T of honey or maple syrup
1 t vanilla
½ t salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with foil.
Place all ingredients in a bowl and combine evenly. Spread on the baking sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes. Cool and serve.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Fall into Autumn with Pumpkin Custards

It’s time to enjoy pumpkin dessert in its many variations. With October here, leaves and temperatures fall, Halloween approaches, and orange pumpkins start appearing everywhere you look.

This recipe attracted me right away with its pumpkin pie flavors and simplicity. Even though the recipe’s so simple, the results deliver a big bang of flavor and appeal for the effort, especially when presented in individual sized ramekins for a welcome ending to a home-cooked meal.

These precious cups of pumpkin custard smell enticing, taste like Halloween and Thanksgiving mixed together, and look round and orangey like the Jack-o-lanterns peppering front porches in our neighborhood. The custard’s creamy texture melts softly in your mouth. I like these even better than pumpkin pie since I’ve always savored the filling more than the crust. Make these for your loved ones soon and enjoy a special, spicy, autumnal treat.

Pumpkin Custard
(Adapted from a recipe printed in Coastal Living, November 2010)

1 (15 oz.) can pumpkin
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk (I used nonfat, which worked out fine)
5 large eggs
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (I like Penzey’s)
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon allspice (or you could use pumpkin pie spice)
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Combine all ingredients in a blender. Pour into lightly greased custard cups or ramekins. Place in a large roasting pan. Add hot water to the pan to a depth of 1 inch. I heated the water in the microwave in a large measuring cup, and then poured it carefully into the pan.

2. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until custard is set. Transfer ramekins to a wire rack to cool. This can be tricky with the hot ramekins and hot water. I used a flat spatula to help move the custards to a wire rack. Once cool, refrigerate until ready to serve. Top with whipping cream or ice cream, or eat as is.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Pumpkin Spice Latte Love

A favorite fall ritual for coffee lovers everywhere is drinking up pumpkin spice lattes. Coffee companies cleverly save this special seasonal flavor for the fall, and millions of coffee lovers fall for the warm, spicy flavors.

This year Starbucks has been running out of the flavor, causing many to complain and even write haikus to express their love for the drink. But fear not, I’ve got other options including a homemade version to try. 

Peet’s has a delicious pumpkin spice latte that I prefer over Starbucks’ because it isn’t as sweet and doesn’t have such a strong nutmeg flavor. If you like cinnamon, nutmeg, cocoa or sugar added, it’s easy to customize your drink. I happily received my latest at Peet’s gratis, unaware that they were offering the drink for free that week, which made it even more enjoyable.  

If you’re lucky enough to live by Philz Coffee, I strongly recommend their Gingerbread Iced Coffee offered year-round. Philz makes gourmet concoctions the slow and hand-crafted way with superior coffee and combinations. It’s worth the wait, and their out-of-this-world gingerbread flavors create a cold and satisfying coffee beverage. It’s almost a dessert but not too sweet, and packs a powerful caffeine punch. The paradoxical cold temperature surprisingly works well with the autumnal flavors. 

Lastly, consider making your own pumpkin spice latte at home, and experiment with the ingredients and spices to find the perfect combination that satisfies your coffee cravings. Here’s a recipe adapted from one originally found at Brew, blend, sip, and savor.

Pumpkin Spice Latte
1 T canned pumpkin
1 c nonfat milk
½ c hot brewed coffee (I prefer Peet’s French Roast)
1 t pumpkin pie spice
1 T sugar (or to taste)

In a small saucepan, heat pumpkin and milk until warm, mixing with whisk. Pour into blender and add remaining ingredients. Blend on high until thoroughly combined. Pour into your favorite coffee mug, and top with a dash of cinnamon. Ahhh...

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Julia Child’s Coulis de Tomates A La Provencale (Tomato Sauce with Mediterranean Flavors)

As a follow-up to my last post about Julia Child’s Blackberry Clafoutis dessert, here’s another of her recipes I tried with great success: her Coulis de Tomates A La Provencale (Tomato Sauce with Mediterranean Flavors). Both recipes were included in a New York Times article to commemorate what would have been Julia’s 100th birthday. It turned out astoundingly flavorful, transforming the tomatoes, herbs, onion and garlic into a rich red sauce, a fantastic combination of flavors that showed off the best of the vegetables.

Some adaptations and notes:

- The recipe creates enough sauce for 2 lbs. of pasta. We used fettucine.

- Instead of using cheesecloth for an herb bouquet, I used string to tie the parsley and thyme sprigs together. When the sauce was almost done, I simply removed the bundle, along with the bay leaf and orange peel, before serving.

- We added grated Parmesan on top right before eating, and would definitely do it again.

- I skipped the saffron threads.

- I used vine-ripened tomatoes. Home grown would be even better.

- It took two rounds in the Cuisinart food processor to make the tomato pulp. I placed the quartered tomatoes directly into the processor bowl instead of through the tube. I didn’t worry about removing the tomato skins or seeds.

- While most of the time on the stove top the sauce didn’t look like it was going to become rich, thick and red, near the end it all melded together, transforming into a vibrant and bright concoction.

The sauce takes 1 hour and 30 minutes to make, a worthy investment of time to create a meal that’s sure to be a big hit. Bon appetit!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Julia Child’s Blackberry Clafoutis

When the New York Times published some recipes from Julia Child’s cookbooks, I decided to try the appealing Blackberry Clafoutis. I enjoyed reading all the 100th birthday tributes to Julia in the news, remembering all she contributed to American cooking. The beautiful blackberry dessert with its in-season fruit and French sensibility made my mouth water.

As the article describes, another great thing about this recipe is its simplicity. Just whip up the batter in the blender, pour it over fresh fruit in a baking dish, and bake. It looks so elegant and colorful, and tastes sweet and comforting. It’s almost like a fruity dessert pancake and could make a great breakfast or brunch item.

The clafoutis puffs up a bit while baking, mine almost erupting like a volcano, but settles down while it cools. We served it with whipped cream instead of powdered sugar, which made a nice creamy, velvety contrast to complement the dessert. It would work just as well with blueberries, raspberries, and perhaps stone fruit like peaches. It’s so easy and good that I’m sure I’ll try it again with different fruits as they come in season. Give it a try for dessert or a weekend breakfast. Bon appetit!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Discover Homemade Yogurt

My go-to breakfast is Peet’s French Roast Coffee and Greek yogurt, usually Fage with fruit or honey. I find this gives me the nutritious energy I need to get through the next few hours, preventing me from becoming famished between meals.

We recently got a Euro Cuisine Yogurt Maker to make fresh homemade yogurt and it’s been fun to make and enjoy. The process requires boiling milk, adding in yogurt starter (either freeze dried or using previously made yogurt), pouring into glass jars, and letting sit at the correct temperature in the yogurt maker for the required amount of time (8 hours for whole milk, 10 hours for 2% milk, and 12 hours for skim milk). This means you should plan ahead, because when time is up, the yogurt needs to be transferred to the fridge for at least three hours. My husband found this out the hard way his first time, having to wake up at 2 a.m. to make the transfer!

The result? Firm, tart, creamy, fresh yogurt that differs from store-bought yogurts in taste and texture. The yogurt’s silkiness feels fundamentally distinct, with its natural flavor and unique texture coaxed from the milk, one of the products that magically transforms from its original liquid source. Eating it feels elemental, something from the original food substance we discover after birth, and the basis of our innate love of milk-based foods like butter, ice cream, and cheese.

You can customize your yogurt with add-ins of your choice: I like great jams like Bonne Maman Wild Blueberry, or honey, berries, nuts and granola. You could also add brown sugar and cinnamon, vanilla extract, or even coffee.

The yogurt maker, yogurt starter, and extra jars are available on Amazon, making it easy to get all the equipment you need to get started. If you’re a big yogurt fan like I am, check it out. The effort put into creating this creamy goodness makes for a satisfying breakfast or snack that doesn’t disappoint.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Making Monkey Bread

Monkey bread is one of those brown sugar cinnamon comfort foods, easy to make and even easier to eat. It smells intoxicating coming out of the oven, with its sweet, cinnamony, yeasty scent that could make grown men dizzy. It looks great turned upside down out of a tube pan, and the only question is how long it will last before every last sticky, buttery bite is gone.

This recipe uses regular-sized canned Pillsbury biscuits, one of those welcome shortcuts that probably tastes just as good as bread made from scratch with one tenth of the effort. It’s also a winning recipe to make with kids since it’s fun and turns out so eye-catching and yummy.

My daughter Amanda just finished 7th grade, and we’re looking forward to whipping up some fun foods in the kitchen this summer. This recipe makes a crafty cooking project with great teachable moments to share cooking concepts:

- How to use a knife properly
- The best cinnamon
- How some ingredients can be increased from the recipe amount if you really love them (I’m talking about the cinnamon, natch)
- How yeasty items can rise while baking
- How to grease a tube pan so that the bread comes out easily when inverted
- How to invert the bread properly

This makes a tasty breakfast, afternoon snack, or dessert treat. Try it- it’s so easy a kid can make it.

Monkey Bread
(adapted from a recipe found at

3 cans Pillsbury biscuits (we used Grands! Jr. Golden Layer Buttermilk)
1 T plus 1 t cinnamon (my favorite is Penzeys Vietnamese Cinnamon Extra Fancy)
3 T granulated sugar
1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar

1. Preheat over to 350 F.
2. Combine 1 T of the cinnamon and the granulated sugar in a bowl.
3. Cut each biscuit into fourths on a cutting board.
4. Roll biscuit pieces in cinnamon sugar until coated. Place them evenly in greased tube cake pan.
5. In a sauce pan, melt butter, brown sugar, and 1 t cinnamon over medium-high heat until smooth and creamy. Pour over biscuit pieces.
6. Bake for about 30 minutes or until cake is slightly crunchy on top.
7. Remove pan from oven. Place a plate on top of the pan and carefully invert so the cake releases onto the plate.

Warning: May be addictive. Enjoy!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Madeleine Raspberry Shortcakes

My daughter and I made up these yummy summery treats by starting with a traditional idea, changing it, and assembling the ingredients in the quickest, easiest way.

The original idea was to make a strawberry shortcake for dessert. At the store I got inspired to do a twist on the traditional when I saw these little, luscious Madeleine cakes and some beautifully ripe, red raspberries. Instead of assembling it all on a plate as I originally intended, my daughter simply picked up a Madeleine, scooped on some whipped cream, and placed raspberries on top.

What could be simpler? They’re pretty, delicious, easy to eat by hand, and a great combination of tart fruit, creamy goodness, and buttery cake. You could use blueberries too to make a festive and colorful 4th of July sweet. Bon appetit!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Foodzie: Taste Something Different

I’ve recently subscribed to the Foodzie Tasting Club, featuring monthly deliveries of new and different edibles hand-picked by foodies based in San Francisco. I heard about Foodzie from Brit Morin on Google+ and decided to try it out.

Each month Foodize sends an email to subscribers with a link to choose one of three tasting boxes. It costs $29.95 a month including shipping. Foodzie focuses on artisanal small food makers, and creates themes around the tasting boxes to tie the items together.

My first delivery was the Brooklyn Tasting Box, which featured items from urban artisan food providers in that fine city. I enjoyed trying:

- Rosemary Onion Crackers (tasty and light)
- Organic Dried Mangoes (good but I like Sigona’s better)
- The King Candy Bar (named after Elvis)
- Beer Truffles (my husband loved them)
- Bacon Fat Old Bay Peanuts (oh yeah, these were surprisingly delicious)
- Farmhand Granola (good but not great)

My second delivery was a Sweet and Savory Snack Box offering another set of new and fun edibles to try:

- Sparkling Yerba Mate Classic Gold drink (interesting- I’d been curious about yerba mate)
- Syrian Pepitas (naturally savory and crunchy, a healthy munchie)
- Organic Dried Plums (much much better than typical prunes)
- Bumble Chocolate and Peanut Sesame Candy (not so great- I like Chinese sesame candies better)
- Parmesan Rosemary Microwave Popcorn (yum, you add the flavorings after popping and shake everything in the bag)

My latest delivery was a Portland, OR Tasting Box including:

- Artisanal Spanish Salami (wow- packs an intense flavor punch with nutmeg and cloves)
- Dry Roasted Salted Hazelnuts (yum, the best hazelnuts I’ve had)
- Marionberry Pate de Fruit (delish gelled burst of berriness)
- Red Raspberry Soda (refreshing sparkling juice soda)
- Chocolate Coconut Cookie (raw vegan cookie was better than I expected, with a soft texture and date-coconut-chocolate taste)

I’ve enjoyed trying all these new artisanal food products from small producers, and look forward to discovering many more in future tasting boxes. If you want an easy way to try new, flavorful food items delivered to your door, join the Foodzie club.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Spring Dinner Grazing Menu

I recently helped organize the Stanford Parents’ Club Spring Dinner, an annual social event this year held at a home in Palo Alto. We hired the wonderful Cosmopolitan Catering to provide the meal.

Instead of a formal sit-down dinner, we designed a more casual small plate grazing menu with multiple food stations. We wanted to create a more interactive party flow (by the way, Wolfgang Puck made the same change for this year’s after-Oscar party). The caterer cooked up the following flavorful eats:

- Antipasti platter with a great assortment of Italian cheeses, cured and dried meats, grilled, pickled, and marinated vegetables, with Italian breadsticks and crostini
- Beef brisket sliders with bleu cheese sauce and caramelized onions
- Pulled pork sliders with honey mustard BBQ sauce and cheddar cheese
- Grilled vegetable sliders with provolone and roasted garlic
- Jojo potato wedges
- Chinese chicken salad in take-out boxes with chopsticks
- Thai noodle salad, also in take-out boxes
- Garden fresh crudite in shot glasses with pesto ranch and red bell pepper sauce

Many attendees contributed a variety of desserts to end the meal on a sweet note. We had plenty of red and white wine, water, iced tea, hot tea and coffee to drink.

The grazing menu offered a delicious assortment with something for everyone, and worked well in creating a casual, easy-going mood for the party. Having guests bring homemade desserts also added to the festivities with both the wonderful sweets and by allowing guests to participate with a personal touch.

To top it off, we enjoyed delightful spring weather, jazz keyboard music performed by a Stanford student, and lots of lively conversation and laughter. We even witnessed the solar eclipse which peaked during our dinner party. Several guests brought viewing glasses and pinhole papers to see this special event, and hundreds of crescents glimmered on the house as the sunlight shined through the leaves on the trees.  Magical.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Nutella Cheesecake Bars

Okay, I admit it. Sometimes it’s hard to come up with blog articles that tie in to Silicon Valley. This is one of them. I saw a gorgeous photo for these Nutella cheesecake bars on Pinterest. I clicked through to get the recipe on a blog called The Moonlight Baker.

My husband is a huge Nutella fan, so I thought it would be great to make these for his birthday. They’re not at all healthy, organic, or nutritious, but boy did we enjoy these sweet celebratory squares for his birthday dessert.

My 15-year-old daughter Valerie whipped them up using the Cuisinart. The tri-colored layers make for a visually enticing presentation, they cut up easily for serving, and the tantalizing tastes are mouthwateringly full of creamy, chocolatey flavor. The cookie-like crust on the bottom makes a nice firm foundation to support the cheesecake layers above. The bars are satisfyingly complete, surprisingly not too sweet, and need no additional garnishes or accompaniments.

If you like cheesecake and you like Nutella, try these Nutella Cheesecake Bars for something simple, satisfying, and flavorful.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Sur La Table Cooking Class: Ad Hoc At Home

One of my favorite restaurants is Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc in Napa. It combines comfort food in a casual setting with gourmet French touches. Everyone at the restaurant eats the same meal on any given night, the diners entrusting the chefs for the evening. It’s a two-way street: the chefs must live up to that trust and deliver a satisfying and delicious meal that doesn’t cater to the lowest common denominator.

When I saw that our local Sur La Table store offered a cooking class featuring recipes from Keller’s Ad Hoc At Home cookbook, I decided to sign up. Not only did it include cooking instruction and lunch, it also featured an autographed copy of the cookbook. My friend Xenia signed up too, and it was definitely more fun to take the class with her.

Our chef instructor Gale Tan clearly explained and led us through the meal. Her three sous-chefs had already started preparations since some of the components (red wine reduction, oven roasted tomatoes, and garlic confit) required more time than we had. While this class was hands-on, it was not demanding as we only did a small fraction of the work required to prepare the meal (and none of the clean-up--what a treat!).

We enjoyed:

Iceberg Lettuce Slices with Blue Cheese Dressing, Oven-Roasted Tomatoes, Bacon, and Brioche Croutons

Beef Short Ribs

Smashed Roasted Marble Potatoes

Apple Fritters

The cooking instruction room has a wonderful set-up with a U-shaped preparation area for students, a huge assortment of tools and gadgets, and all the features of a full-stocked kitchen. Everything tasted delicious, and I appreciated mini-lessons that Gale gave such as some knife skills, adding a dash of truffle oil to the potatoes, cutting the brioche croutons much larger than described in the recipe, and the wonders of a Vitamix professional blender.

The dish I enjoyed the most was the retro iceberg lettuce salad with homemade blue cheese dressing, oven-roasted tomatoes, crisp but not greasy bacon, and the large brioche croutons. Everything melded together wonderfully: taste, texture, temperature, color, and smell worked in perfect harmony. It was decidedly a lot more work than I’m used to putting into a salad, and I’m not sure I’d try recreating it at home, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and would love to have it again.

An Ad Hoc cookbook recipe I tried and enjoyed at home is the sauteed cabbage. I adapted the recipe by only including purple cabbage instead of combining with the green savoy cabbage. What makes it so nice is the addition of roasted pistachios. You can see in the photo how beautiful the colors shine through, and the healthful benefits of the dish make it that much better.

Sauteed Red Cabbage (adapted from Ad Hoc at Home)

1/4 cup shelled pistachios
Canola oil
4 cups ½-inch-wide strips purple cabbage
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
3/4 cup chicken stock
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread the nuts on the sheet and toast in the oven for 10 minutes. Let cool.

Heat canola oil in saute pan over medium-high heat. Put shredded cabbage into pan and reduce heat to medium, stirring while cooking for about 4 minutes.

Add shallots and chicken stock to pan, stirring to combine. Bring to a simmer and continue to stir the cabbage while cooking for about 5 minutes. Lower the heat and cook until the cabbage is tender. Season with salt and pepper if desired.

Stir in the pistachios. Transfer to a serving bowl.

Friday, March 23, 2012

We Like Ike's Place Sandwiches

Have you ever bitten into a sandwich and moaned? That’s what it’s like eating an Ike’s Place sandwich each and every time.  

I’d heard the rumors about these sandwiches before Ike’s Stanford spot opened up in the Jen-Hsun Huang octagonal engineering complex: funnily named sandwiches, dirty secret sauce, and complaints from neighbors near their original SF location. Up to 1,200 hungry customers a day sometimes line up on the sidewalk, waiting two hours to cure their cravings.

Ike’s not only has great buzz, but has won many awards including Best of Yelp! San Francisco, Best Sandwiches, Burgers, and Restaurant, and ESPN’s Fanwich of the Year. They’ve sold over 1,000,000 sandwiches from only three locations in five years. That’s a lot of dirty sauce and freshly baked bread.

The menu itself grabbed me because of the ingredients, variety, and funny names. Where else can you get sandwiches named after Stanford alumni, campus locations, SF Giants players, and Mario video game characters? Sandwiches named after alumni include Chelsea Clinton, John Elway, Sally Ride, and Ted Koppel. The names are part of the personality and charm of Ike’s.

But of course the best thing about Ike’s is how out-of-this-world delicious the sandwiches are. My latest favorite is the Spiffy Tiffy on Dutch crunch shown above: halal chicken, pesto, mushrooms, avocado, provolone, and pepper jack. The combination of freshly baked bread, meat, veggie and cheese ingredients, pesto and secret sauce make a fantastic combination. It’s the magic melding of flavors, textures, temperatures, and scents that creates culinary harmony. The usual diminishing returns don’t apply: each and every bite is fully satisfying and fabulous.

Another great thing about Ike’s is there’s something for everyone since the menu is so varied and the combinations so enticing:

My husband’s favorite is the Nacho Boy on sourdough: roast beef, mushrooms, avocado, and Swiss. He usually doesn’t speak from the first bite until he’s devoured the entire thing.

My 12-year-old daughter goes for the simple ones including the Terman-ator: vegan breaded chicken, marinara, and provolone.

My teenage daughter always goes for something with yummy meat and avocado like the Lincecum: ham, turkey, bacon, avocado, and havarti.

My college son’s latest favorite is the John Elway: turkey, bacon, and Swiss. Keep it simple, keep it delicious.

For the serious sandwich gourmand or the truly gluttonous, the Kryptonite with thirteen ingredients weighs four pounds: roast beef, corn beef, salami, pastrami, turkey, bacon, ham, mozzarella sticks, stuffed jalapeno poppers, beer battered onion rings, avocado, pesto, and pepper jack. I can’t imagine what this tastes like but maybe someday we’ll get one to share.

Besides its San Francisco and Stanford locations, Ike’s also has a spot at Redwood Shores. You can sign up for their e-club to receive coupons and updates. Check out the menu online before you go, since it’s much longer than the options displayed at the restaurants. You can also call to phone in your order to save time when you get there.

Nobody doesn’t like Ike’s. Try one and you’ll see why.

Friday, March 9, 2012

La Dolce Vita at La Biscotteria

One sniff outside the door at La Biscotteria, and you'll be hooked. Serving handmade pastries and pasta made from authentic Italian recipes, La Biscotteria has perfected the biscotti and more in an unassuming bakery shop in Redwood City on El Camino Real.
Delicious on their own or paired (even dipped) with a dessert wine or gourmet coffee, it's easy to become enamored with these biscotti. Let me count the ways:

The classic anise almond biscotti creates a magical combination of flavors and a big crunch, especially the dark chocolate dipped. 

The lemon version dipped in white chocolate is light and lemony, refreshingly sweet and crunchy, and better than I expected.

The pumpkin biscottini with cinnamon spices and brown sugar makes a great holiday flavor with no nuts, and a more simple approach. I liked them best dipped in Peet's French Roast coffee for breakfast.

My favorite flavor is the orange dark chocolate dipped, a crazily addictive combination of almond crunch, a burst of orange essential oil, and rich dark chocolate. Wow.

I also had to try the pumpkin cannoli made to order. It's like an Italian version of pumpkin pie, with a delightful crisp shell and a creamy pumpkin filling. I can see why it's another classic Italian dessert.

I haven't even made it to La Biscotteria's homemade ravioli or focaccia yet, but according to reviews on Yelp, they're all big hits with customers. The cheese ravioli is available year-round while the butternut squash and meat filled ravioli are only available at special times of the year. The focaccia must be ordered by 3 pm on Fridays and is only available for pick-up on Saturdays between 10 am- 3 pm. I have a feeling their loyal customers don't mind going through these hoops to get their favorite focaccia, especially the artichoke and pesto version, which seems to have rabid fans on Yelp.

There's much more to try and enjoy at La Biscotteria from the amaretti chocolate dipped cookies to the chocolate chip panettone and hand painted ceramic majolica pottery from Umbria, Italy. I will save those to savor and experience later. Good things come to those who wait and to those who make a stop at La Biscotteria.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Benu: A Meal to Remember

My husband and I recently had a meal to remember at Benu in San Francisco. Voted by OpenTable customers Best Overall Restaurant, Best Food and Best Service in San Francisco, Benu's also earned two Michelin stars and has been called the best restaurant in America by Chef David Chang.

It's tempting to call Benu the Asian French Laundry since head chef Corey Lee was born in Korea, moved to the U.S., and worked for nine years at The French Laundry. The food marries traditional Asian ingredients with French preparation and modernist innovation. Chef Lee has likened himself to a craftsman, although many would say he's more like an artist. For each dish he starts by creating a flavor profile, then determines cooking technique, and finally presentation.

Whatever you call it, the food's remarkable. The tasting menu included seventeen courses in addition to buckwheat seaweed crackers to start. Each dish was a new adventure: the flavors, textures, artistry, and temperatures all combined wonderfully, seemingly melting in my mouth. Nothing came out as I expected when reading the descriptions, ingredients and flavors upended and transformed, curiously new and different.

I appreciated the way the food married traditional, even ancient, Asian ingredients with Western techniques and original forms. The minimalist style gave an elegant, refined tone to the experience, one that highlighted the food and the revelations each bite brought. It's difficult to describe the dishes because each one offered something new and unexpected, more subtle and nuanced than usual, reinvented and perfected, firing neurons and awakening taste buds that had been dormant.

Benu isn't for everyone, but if you're looking for a completely original, singular modern Asian European meal, try it. You won't soon forget it.

Tasting Menu:

thousand-year-old quail egg, potage, ginger: precious, quivering egg in warm vichyssoise with a ginger kick

oyster, pork belly, kimchi: our server announced this morsel wrapped in thin pastry was time-sensitive and to be eaten in one bite; melted in my mouth, and was gone too soon

monkfish liver, caviar, pistachio, cauliflower, lemon jelly, brioche: a fantastic, complex combination of ingredients spread on buttered, warm brioche; no essence of my grandma Neiman's chopped liver to be found

eel, feuille de brick, creme fraiche, lime: like a thin eel taquito dipped in creme fraiche with lime

caramelized anchovy, lily bulb, peanut, pickles: unexpectedly spicy and crunchy, no flavor of pungent anchovies here

salt and pepper squid: little morsels served on black shrimp cracker with cilantro, crunchy and spicy

foie gras xia long bao: like a French sui mai dumpling, this was one of Brad's favorites

homemade glutinous rice cakes with pine nut, pumpkin, black truffle: chewy cylindrical bites of rice with fragrant truffle and other ingredients, this one stood out for me

Hokkaido sea cucumber stuffed with shrimp, cucumber, onion, fermented pepper: nice combination of cucumbers from sea and land, briny and savory

chicken with black moss, mountain yam, celery: I think preparation was sous-vide, with white yam and delicate tendrils of moss

chicken velvet with abalone, abalone mushroom, chrysanthemum: I loved it, and the abalone brought me back to memories of big Chinese banquets when I was growing up

Japanese deer tartare, artichoke mayonnaise, walnut bread: I was most nervous about this; more subtle and delicate than I expected with Parmesan and meat raised in Texas

beef braised in pear, beech mushroom, sunflower seeds and leaves: tender, delectable umami combination of ingredients

"shark's fin" soup, dungeness crab, Jinhua ham, black truffle custard: another standout, better than real shark's fin soup, with the black truffle custard treasure at the bottom of the dish

grapefruit, espelette, white chocolate: an outstanding sorbet with flavors of bitter, sweet, and spicy combined; I wanted to lick every last drop

acorn-cranberry custard with banana ice cream: another home run, the custard in a surprising noodle form with small and super flavorful bites of regular and freeze dried banana ice cream and small, bright, red tart cranberries; I've never had so much flavor packed in just a few bites

chocolates: sesame orange, yam marshmallow, walnut, and almond coconut, a perfectly sweet ending