Hello! Welcome to Chu This, where I share my cooking and eating experiences in and around the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as occasional trips. Thanks for stopping by!

Happy Birthday. And remembering.

Happy birthday, little bro. 10 years ago, we talked about how this day would never be forgotten. Today, I remember 9/11, but even more so, I quietly remember you.

Most of the blogs today (as well as Facebook updates from friends and the news) are focused on remembering 9/11 as today marks the 10 year anniversary of one very tragic day. People are sharing their memories and experiences of the event and the aftermath. Even at work, we received an email asking for employees to submit stories or memories that they wished to share with the company. My heart breaks and weeps for all those that were killed and all of their families and friends. But, at the same time, it warms my hurting heart just a tiny bit when I see how much people come together, support one another, and truly do what they can to never forget.

Life continues on.  We hurt.  We come together. We learn to cope. We fight back. We will never forget.

I, too, remember exactly where I was and how I found out about the WTC and the Pentagon. I remember being shocked and unable to move.  I remember the struggle between gluing myself to the television and refusing to watch the updates out of horror.  All of that – but what I remember most was my conversation with my brother.  A meek “happy birthday” from me, to which he responded that there was a lot more to think about other than his birthday. And then somewhere in that conversation, he commented that he would probably never really be able to celebrate his birthday the same way ever again. Not so much in a selfish way, but more of an observant way.

That was the last birthday that he celebrated. 9/11/01. I wish we could have celebrated his life, the fact that he was living, the brotherly-sisterly love that we had that day. His life came to a crashing halt nearly a year later, just 8 days short of his 17th birthday and what was also the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. I still feel guilty that I couldn’t have made his last birthday more special.

My biggest fear is that I will forget. While I have no doubt I will never forget him as a person, I know that as we get older, our memories fade.  I’m afraid of losing the small memories – the things that in general, as people, we take for granted or don’t even really consider ‘memories.’ The day to day interactions. The sibling bickering. The basic routines we had. With each passing birthday, both his and mine, it’s another year that we grow apart – he forever etched in my memory as a 16 year old and me as a growing young adult. And so, for each birthday that passes, I resolve to highlight a memory of him. To Always Remember.

The “city” that we grew up in was pretty darn kid friendly. The neighborhoods were linked together with “greenbelts,” which were virtually bike paths that either ran separately along major streets or through the backwoods. We had so many family outings that involved the entire family biking on the greenbelts either to the duck ponds down the street (which, incidentally, had some fun fishing for my dad) or down the nearest TCBY.  While we were young kids, we always went with our parents.  We would excitedly ask them to make cool “bell shapes” out of our soft serve ice cream – a great trick to show a kid when you really just want an excuse to have an extra taste or two.  Eventually, we grew older and could take trips to TCBY on our own. Just us, brother and sister, which at the time was just about as exciting as the first time you drive solo without anyone else in the car.

And while the ice cream shop did not have candles readily available for me to light one in your memory, today, I ate ice cream in your memory (pity me, I know). We miss you and will always remember you. Happy birthday.

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Stay-at-home Gingerbread Pancakes

Gingerbread pancakes with apples

For those who weren’t aware, I’ve been training for my first triathlon recently. Really, it’s just a sprint tri (no Ironman for me…yet) and if only it weren’t…up in Tahoe, up 6,300 feet from sea level and my normal training ground, and shortly after a whirlwind trip to the East Coast (self selected red eye included), I wouldn’t be too worried. The last few weeks had felt pretty great and I felt like I was in a pretty good place. Feeling comfortable? Nonsense, says Life, let’s throw a curveball in there.

Knocked out for the past week+ with the flu/stomach flu, I’ve subsisted on a diet of gatorade and coconut water and considered it a tough workout for the day when I migrated from my bed to the couch and back or spent more than 5 minutes standing. Who’s ready for a tri now!

As I gain my strength back, I’m slowly gaining my appetite back as well. I woke up this morning with an intense craving for Zazie’s gingerbread pancakes. SF locals know Zazie always has lines out the door and hour+ long waits on the weekends, especially on a holiday weekend with the sun peeking out like today. I’d usually embrace the opportunity for a walk in the crisp morning breeze and not mind waiting around with a cup of coffee in hand, but eating in pajamas and not leaving the house certainly sounded much more appealing to this recovering girl. A few Google searches and some experimenting later, I was blissfully eating my gingerbread pancakes from the warm comfort of my own home.

This recipe only requires ingredients that you can likely find in your pantry, perfect for times when it’s either too cold outside, you’re too sick, or you just want to eat in your pj’s.

Stay-at-home Gingerbread Pancakes
Makes ~10 medium size pancakes.
Prep time: 10 minutes; Cook time: 10 minutes
Total time to first Chu: 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 egg, separated
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1 1/2 cups water (or milk)
  • 1 teaspoon lime or lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
  • 1/8 cup dark brown sugar

Instructions

Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, dried ginger, and cinnamon in a bowl; set aside.

Beat the egg yolks in a separate mixing bowl with the brown sugar (like a cake). Add the vanilla, molasses, and fresh ginger and beat until smooth. Whisk in the water until completely incorporated.

Stir the dry mixture into the wet mixture until just combined.

Beat the egg whites to soft peaks. Fold egg whites into mixture.

Heat pan or griddle to medium low. Grease pan with light oil spray or thin coat of butter. Pour ~1/4 cup of batter per pancake onto pan or griddle. When bubbles have formed and edges are dry, flip pancake. Cook on second side until slightly browned. Serve hot. Top with lemon curd, poached pears, apples, etc. to taste.

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Butternut Squash Soup - two ways

1. The lazy, five-minute-but-still-decently-tasty, way

2. The no-shortcut, local, organic, <insert buzz word here>, tastier way

9 times out of 10, I’m in the second camp.  Today, though, I’m opting for the shortcut because I found a premade soup that I actually find edible.  I’m a big fan of Trader Joe’s, especially for people that want something super quick and easy.  I always have a stash of Trader Joe’s items in my pantry for those emergency moments where I absolutely have no time to cook and it’s a better option than dropping $8-10 bucks on some so-so take out option.

I don’t really remember consuming that much soup growing up.  We had ramen or Hot and Sour soup that was glammed up with fresh vegetables and some form of protein, but the canned variety, not so much.  Except for the occassional Chicken and Stars, because having shapes in your food allowed you to play with your food.  And, as a result, although I’ve tried, I haven’t been able to bring myself to be one of those “stash-a-can-of-soup-in-your-drawer” people.  I’m quite envious because it seems so easy, but I can’t get past the slightly metallic taste that I find plague even the most premium canned soups.

Last night, I found realizing I’d need some soup to carry me through the week and to help kick this cold once and for all, but without the time or energy to cook this much needed soup.  As I wandered the aisles of TJ’s, I inevitably found myself by the food samples.  I downed the warm dixie cup of soup and waited for that processed soup flavor.

Nothing.

It was actually pretty tasty!  I’m not a fan of tomato soups, even fresh.  But, the Organic Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper soup, even in it’s boxed, pre made form, makes me rethink that perhaps boxed soups aren’t so bad after all.  I wandered down the soup aisle, picked up a box of Butternut Squash soup and Corn and Roasted Pepper soup, and headed for home.

Is it because it wasn’t heated up in the microwave? Or the boxes are that much better than cans? Regardless, I’m happy to have found a winner for those lazy, sick days and so that I can stash a box in my drawer at work for emergencies.

Plus, with a little fresh grated nutmeg, some green onions or chives, and a little creme fraiche or sour cream, it almost looks and tastes like you made it yourself.

But, I’ll still take the homemade soup any day (recipe to follow shortly)…

What’s/what’re your go-to Trader Joe’s item(s)?

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Proscuitto Arugula Fig Pizza

It’s cold and windy outside.  You have very little food in your fridge and your microwave is broken.  You have the beginning of a cold, you’re still sleep deprived from the holidays.  So, what’s for dinner?

The little voice in my head tells me that I’m suppose to want soup.  I should want to just stroll into Whole Foods, pick up some pre-made and already hot soup, and call it a night.

No, instead, I decided I’d forge on with my “resolution” to cook more, eat out less, try new recipes, and blog more.  (I am not a fan of new year’s resolutions – it seems like I’m just setting myself up for failure).

With some Trader Joe’s pizza dough in the freezer, fig jam in the pantry, and proscuitto from the holidays, I was pretty excited to stumble upon a Fig Proscuitto Pizza with Arugula recipe from the Pioneer Woman for some inspiration.  I’d recently started making my own pizza dough, but in effort to clean out the freezer, I found some extra Trader Joe’s dough (who doesn’t love a 99 cent item) just begging to be used.

Less then 30 minutes from walking in the door, I was eating this sweet-salty deliciousness straight out of the oven.  I may be sick, but my taste buds are still fully functioning!  This would work great as an appetizer or for anyone who enjoys the sweet and savory combination (toffee nuts, kettle corn, anyone?).

I added some ricotta cheese (fat free is not worth it, get the good stuff) and skipped the parmesan from the original recipe.  But, especially with pizza, I think it’s easy to improvise and use anything that you have on hand.

Proscuitto Arugula Fig Pizza

Prep Time: 5 Minutes     —     Cook Time: 15 Minutes     —     Servings: 8

Ingredients

  • Pizza dough (Trader Joes, or make your own)
  • 4 T fig jam
  • 2 balls of fresh mozzarella
  • 3 T ricotta
  • 6-8 slices of prosciutto
  • 1 handful of arugula
  • salt and pepper to taste

Cooking Instructions

Preheat oven to 450.

Line large baking sheet with parchment paper.  Stretch or roll out pizza dough on the baking sheet.  Bake in 450 oven for approximately 5 minutes or until dough is just slightly dry to touch.

Remove dough from oven.  Spread fig jam on pizza dough.  Slice mozzarella into thin slices, approximately 1/8 of an inch.  Place slices of mozzarella on pizza dough.  Drop teaspoon size scoops of ricotta cheese between slices of mozzarella.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Return to oven for 10 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly.

Remove pizza from oven.  Immediately top with slices of prosciutto.  Sprinkle arugula across pizza.   Slice to eat and serve hot.

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Corn and Tomato Risotto

Corn and Tomato Risotto

Corn and Tomato Risotto

I am officially funemployed.  And it feels great.  And while I’m quite excited about my new job starting next Wednesday (and receiving a steady paycheck again), a couple more weeks of sleeping in, cooking, relaxing, reading, and just generally not being accountable for anything would most certainly be enjoyable…especially, extra time to cook.

I took advantage of my 15 day hiatus from the workforce to attend our annual family reunion in Cape Cod where we ate, ate, and ate until there weren’t any more buttons to loosen on our pants.  Fried clams, lobster rolls, abalones, blue fin and albacore tuna (that my relatives caught!), Boston cream pie, red velvet cupcakes — the list goes on and on.  More on this to come.  It was at this family reunion that my cousin brought up the fact that she had a hard time finding my Alinea post a couple of times and that I should add a restaurant listing page to the blog.  That, combined with a few other thoughts that I’ve had in the back of my mind, made me decide to switch this blog from Blogger to WordPress, as well as to use my own hosting service.  I’m pretty excited for the changes to come (although they will probably be more time consuming than I anticipate), but please have patience with me as I make the changes.

With corn and tomatoes in season and all my new-found time on my hands, I enjoyed leisurely cooking a hot lunch.  Thanks to San Francisco Indian summers, it was still a tad breezy outside, which made the warm food all the more enjoyable.

INGREDIENTS

5 cups light chicken stock or canned low-sodium broth
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 shallots, minced
3 cups fresh corn kernels (from 5 to 6 ears)
1 1/2 cups Italian medium-grain rice, preferably Carnaroli (10 ounces)
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper

  1. Add 1 cup of the simmering stock to the rice and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until the stock has been absorbed. Continue adding stock, 1 cup at a time, stirring the risotto until the stock is absorbed before adding more; the risotto is done when the rice is just tender and the sauce is creamy, about 22 minutes. Stir in the Parmigiano-Reggiano, parsley and the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter. Season with salt and pepper and serve at once.
  2. In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken stock to a boil over moderately high heat. Lower the heat to keep the stock at a bare simmer.
  3. Meanwhile, in a large, heavy saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in the olive oil. Add the shallots and cook over moderate heat until softened, about 4 minutes. Raise the heat to high, add the corn and cook, stirring frequently, until lightly browned, about 12 minutes. Add the rice and stir until the grains are thoroughly coated with fat, 1 to 2 minutes. Pour in the wine and continue stirring until most of the wine has evaporated.
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Changes ahead

Change is a funny thing.  As a consultant, part of my job is to change the way people do their job by bringing in this newer (and hopefully better) software.  They tend to despise these change and are usually quite reluctant to learn the new software and new ways of doing their every day jobs.  Our job is to help facilitate the change, so you’d think that being a proponent of change, I’d be more open to change myself.  Yet, it seems that’s not always quite how it works.

Even the changes that I am proud of making, looking back, I realize I may have also been slow and reluctant to make the change, just like our clients.  Ten years ago, I couldn’t have imagined caring where or how my food was grown.  Eating seasonally and locally wasn’t even a blip on my radar.  Heck, I would have been happy eating cheesecake 24/7 (and with a high schooler’s metabolism, could probably have gotten away with it).  Fast forward to today and these things influence not only my grocery shopping habits, but also my restaurant choices.  It was a slow, gradual process, but ultimately, I’m happy with where I am now in this regard.
Today, I made, a change that I hope will bring about a happier, healthier me.  I’ll be off the road (for the most part) and able to live and work in the City, something I have missed out on for the past four years.  The past has provided me opportunities to eat at some amazing restaurants while limiting the amount I could cook at home, so this blog has mainly (unintentionally) revolved around fine dining experiences.  With this change, I hope to be able to cook healthy, seasonal meals most days…which should also re-focus this blog on the same.
And while some things change, other things don’t.  Today marks the 7th year since my brother’s death.  I miss him just as much today, if not more, than I did then.  It’s funny because often times the happiest moments bring about the saddest feelings when I realize he isn’t here to share in the excitement.  Perhaps a big bowl of pho is in order…I miss you lil’ bro.
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The "new project" 15

Knock knock. Are you still there?

Just checking.

It’s been a while, a long while, since I’ve actually posted anything. But, lo-and-behold, I am still alive and kicking, er, eating.

I just started a new project in LA, not too far from my alma mater. The downtown hotel I am now staying at is less than a five minute walk from my old apartment, so I find myself oddly comforted by somewhat familiar surroundings…the Coffee Bean next to the bus stop that I would frantically try and grab some morning caffeine at before the bus pulled away from the stop, the gym that I belonged to but walked by more than I walked in, the McCormicks whose happy hour seemed to be such a steal, and the IHOP that we’d visit when we had one too many drinks at happy hour and needed some (cheap) grub. Yet, it’s a whole new place in some regards. For years, people talked (and currently talk) about the downtown revival, focusing around the Staples Center complex and the Walt Disney concert hall…and now projects like LA Live and Grand Avenue. New luxury apartments, condos and lofts were planned and built. There were promises of a downtown Ralphs opening, yet I never saw during my time as a student. Coming back to LA, I expected it’d be the same as when I left – not a soul in sight after 5pm.

Now I find myself in a “urban boutique” hotel where once stood a historic (read: run-down) 1920s building when I left. Think a smaller version of the W hotel chain. Across the street is that long promised Ralphs – and it’s one of the nicest grocery stores I’ve ever encountered. There are restaurants galore and wine bars to boot. The room service menu here lists truffle parmesan tots, heirloom tomato salad, swiss chard and barley soup, wagyu burger, and a chocolate lava cake…and that’s just a sample. I woudln’t say downtown LA is done revitalizing itself, but it’s astonishing to really notice the difference what a couple years have made.

On to the food – there are foodies on my project team! I couldn’t be happier! While talking to my fellow foodies, I realized I had experienced very little of the upscale dining LA has to offer – being a penny pinching college student inevitably does that to you. And that makes the upcoming weeks exciting with all the potential dining. I think my lists of places to try far exceeds the numbers of days I will be in town. I stand to gain a “new project 15″ if I lose the workout reigm I managed to start recently.

And today’s little venture certainly doesn’t help my case – at the request of a friend, I ventured out to the Baklava Factory. He brings baklava back to the Bay Area with every trip he makes to LA. I may or may not have devoured an entire container in a few days. As in a pound of baklava. And so it is my turn to return the favor, so up to Glendale I went. Located in a small strip mall, the view through the windows made me blink a few times, rub my eyes, blink a few more times, and wonder to myself “Is that really all baklava? Or is there a big mirror in the store that makes it appear to be twice as much?” No mirror. Trays, and I mean GIANT trays, of baklava more or less line two walls of the store. I’m not good with decisions, so “three sampler containers with three of each kind please” resulted in me walking out the door with THREE AND A HALF POUNDS of baklava. And that’s leaving out a good handful of the types. No worries – I’m sharing at work and home. :)

As I walk out the door, I noticed a Zankou Chicken next door. The Hollywood location was one of my first LA eats (we’ll forget about my real first LA meal at Sizzler across the street from campus because there was nothing else open at the time and we were too scared to accidently venture the wrong way in South Central). All I remember is the garlic sauce and that was enough to have me in the door despite the heavy weight of the baklava reminding me that I didn’t need more food. As I waited for my chicken wrap (extra garlic sauce please!), I noticed little ketchup packets and wondered who on earth would need ketchup at a Mediterranean place. Upon closer examination, I was tickled to discover they were not ketchup packets, but packets of Tapatio hot sauce! The silliest little things make me entirely too happy…

(Forgive the mirror image – photo booth was the only camera I have on me)
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Where do we go from here?

Shall we continue?

Scottish Grouse “Cuit en Cocotte” – French Laundry Garden Tokyo Turnips, Hobbs’ Bacon, Brussel Sprouts and Prune “Jus” (1/2). The first of two meat courses with the choice of the above pictured Grouse or the Rabbit shown below. As mentioned by our service captain when taking our orders, the grouse did have a strong game flavor, but I tend to prefer that myself. Apparently, grouse is also one of the ten rarest and most expensive things to eat.

Sauteed sirloin of Devil’s Gulch Ranch Rabbit – Cipollini Onions, Sweet Carrots, Artichoke Puree and Dijon Mustard Sauce (2/2). While flavorful and moist, I preferred the grouse with it’s stronger flavor.

Elysian Fields Farm “Selle D’agneau Rotie Entiere” – Black Rice, Cauliflower, Sultanas, Cilantro Shoots and Curry Sauce. This lamb was amazingly juicy and tender. While we were eating this dish, all of us agreed that the dish was delicious, but we couldn’t quite identify that taste that made it unique. Sure, the servers had previously described all the elements of the dish, but I was too preoccupied trying to find the right angle for my picture. Eventually, we identified the curry sauce. Lamb and curry. Delicious.


As we waited for the next course, we took a couple moments to really sit back and absorb the environment. Above my head, I noticed that engraved onto the lamp shades were symbols that resembled hieroglyphics. Looking closer, turns out they are the same symbols that you see on the tag of your clothes…the symbols for laundry.

The ever growing bread plate after yet another bread service.

Hello blog world! I am hiding my face like this in the picture because (a) I like to keep semi-anonymous on the internet, (b) sad because the meal is coming to an end, (c) so overwhelmed with happiness, (d) frustrated because someone took pictures with flash in a nice restaurant, (e) absolutely stuffed and overwhelmed that I have more to eat, or (f) all of the above.
“Tomme Du Berger” – Jacobsen’s Farm Beans, Chorizo, Piquillo Peppers and Arugula. All cheese courses should be like this. At the high end restaurants I’ve been to thus far, I’ve usually seen the waiter wheel out a large cheese cart with a wide variety of cheese. They dutifully cut small slices of cheese and spoon out crackers, jams, honeys and nuts onto the plate. Not so at the French Laundry where this was an actual, plated course. This semi-soft, semi smelly (mmm, smelly cheese are the best) cheese is a mix of sheep and goat’s milk and paired beautifully with the spicy chorizo, peppers and arugula. This is a combination I’d love to try at home.
At this point, we were stuffed beyond belief…enough so that we asked to take a small break. We wandered outside to the balcony and enjoyed the crisp, cool air along side another party. I hadn’t ever taken a break in the middle of a meal at a restaurant before, but it was incredibly refreshing. Meanwhile, we managed to snap a few pictures of the group as well as the picture above from the upstairs balcony looking at our table inside the restaurant.

Diane St. Clair Buttermilk Sherbet – “Pain Perdu” and Huckleberries. We returned to our table to being the dessert courses. I’ll admit, when I saw this on the menu, I just couldn’t get excited for this course. Thomas Keller of course proved me wrong. I loved the subtlety of the flavors and the mix of textures.

Sesame Seed and Chocolate Gateau – Tahini Ganache, Domori Sambriano Chocolate Creme and Shiso Sorbet (1 of 2). For a chocolate dish, I liked this. Don’t get me wrong, chocolate is good stuff. Really good stuff. But I can only eat it in limited amounts and I’m not too much of a fan of those chocolate desserts served at most restaurants that are super rich. This one had a nice balance and the sesame/shiso combination worked surprisingly well with the chocolate.

Genoise De Pignons De Pin Grilles – Honey-Poached Cranberries, Marscapone-Pine Nut Ice Cream and Aged Balsamic Vinegar (2 of 2). Wonderful combination of not overly sweet flavors that blended flawlessly. I’d like a bottle of the aged balsamic vinegar and a pint of the ice cream to go.

Thankfully, the sommelier was kind enough to list the wines we had enjoyed throughout the night.

Although we had reached the last course, there was still more to come. Dual plates were set before us and we all sat in our seats, excited to see what came next.

This canistar looks a little spage age-ish.

But inside was a heavenly assortment of chocolates, nougats and candies. While one of each would have been excessive, it would have been nice to have multiples for sharing purposes.
A rather large container of chocolate covered macadamia nuts. I’ll take a canister of these to go as well.

At this point, we were hurting from the fullness. And yet there was more! Truffles of all sorts..and of course we asked for one of each! Passion fruit, peanut butter, mixed berry, coconut, hazelnut, and banana. I think the group favorite was the hazelut.

Finally, along with the check, we received a parting gift of shortbreads. 9 plus courses and many glasses of wine later, we were quite content, to say the least.

So what did we think of this ultimate foodie destination now that we finally dined there? Everything was perfectly cooked. Everything tasted great. A handful of dishes blew us away while others were simply good.

That said – would we go back? Perhaps sometime in the future to see how things change at the restaurant. But on any given day? I think I’d rather dine twice at Michael Mina/Gary Danko/top tier SF restaurant/etc. in exchange for one dinner at French Laundry. Or go to Alinea.

So where does this leave us? I certainly never imagined actually dining here until much later in life and having finally reached a goal that you didn’t expect to meet, it makes your life a little tispy turvy. It makes me re-examine my defintion of success in life and my goals in life. All this over one dinner is kinda crazy, huh? Overall, it’s made me realize I’m one lucky girl. I’ve been privileged to not only dine at one of the world’s premiere restaurants, but to have dined there with some unbelievely great friends who appreciated it as much as I did (and who can put up with the crazy picture taking and blog talking). Yup, I’m pretty damn lucky.


Chu These:
Beautiful photos and descriptions of the French Laundry from No Salad as a Meal
French Laundry from the blogger that’s cooked all the recipes in the French Laundry cookbook – French Laundry at Home
Experiences at the French Laundry through the years by Refined Palate, who has been to FL 100+ times

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May I replace your brioche?

Do you remember that boy/girl that you had a crush on for years and years? The one that you were pretty certain that you’d never ask out or would ask you out, so you sighed and then life went on, but always in the back of your mind, there was this little crush. Then one day, out of nowhere, said boy/girl asks you out! Oh, the excitement! And then after some of that excitement sinks in, the nervousness of not knowing really what to expect while at the same time, already knowing all these little details about said person since you’ve crushed on them for years (and you’ve probably facebook/myspace stalked them if we’re talking about a recent crush).

Ok, I’m a little overdramatic. And just to clarify, I’m not really speaking from personal experience. But, I FINALLY got a reservation and dined at The French Laundry and that’s the very best way I can describe the excitement, anxiety and fabulousness that I felt. Out of the blue. On Open Table.

Since I’ve moved to the Bay Area, I’ve been dying to go to The French Laundry. Reservations are two months to the calendar date, and rather hard to come by. I’ve tried on and off to call/reserve on Open Table, but it’s always been one of those elusive dinners that until just recently have been on this pedestal in my mind. Managing to find the right people who would appreciate the food just as much as me, who would tolerate my obsessive picture taking, who wouldn’t stress about how much of the paycheck the dinner was costing, and who would actually be available on any particular day, PLUS getting the reservation on a day I’m actually in town….it finally all fell into place.

My good friend and fellow food appreciator, K, recently decided to go vegetarian for a month. Or in his words “in a test of endurance/bout of masochism/desire to score hot hippy girls.” Me being the ever supportive friend that I am, started brainstorming ways to make him break his meat-free vow. And boy, am I glad I did because it all went down something like this -

“Would a reservation at The French Laundry make him break? Hmmm, let’s check out Open Table for fun. Whoa…a reservation for four? I bet it’s on a day I’m out of town. WHAT? I’m in town? It’s late on Friday? OMG!!!! Quick, rally the troops! You guys can all go? Wow, I can’t sit still! OK, it’s official, we’re going to THE FRENCH LAUNDRY!”

Three days (and three sleepless nights due to excitement), we were on our way. I’m a bit surprised my friends didn’t throw me out of the car since I was just downright giddy like a kid going to Disneyland for the first half hour and must have stammered, “I can’t believe we’re finally going to The French Laundry” at least 6 times. Then, the giddiness must have worn me out because I fell asleep only to awake once we arrived in Napa.

It’s such a quaint little building; you’d never know what great things were going on inside those walls. I think I made cooing noises when I saw the building. Sickening, I know.

Since we arrived a little early, we wandered around the garden that is immediately across the street from the restaurant. Here, The French Laundry grows its own produce for use in the restaurant. Instead of cooing, I plotted ways to steal vegetables from the garden for use in my own cooking. I abandoned all those plans so that I’d be able to eat dinner at the restaurant instead of in some jail cell.


I nearly got run over while trying to take a picture of this sign. The things I do for the sake of food memories.

With a 5:30 reservation, we wandered into the restaurant to check in around 5:20.

We were politely informed that we could wait in the garden and they would find us when we were ready to be seated. Perfect – some time to relax and enjoy the nice evening outside in the backyard. Promptly at 5:30, we were led upstairs to our seats.

“Whoa! Look, it’s like the cover of the cookbook!” (Which, by the way, I finally broke down and ordered. If I can throw down all the money on the meal, surely I can afford a souveneir and culinary schooling.) Our service captain introduced himself and walked us through the menu format. As if everyone who walks in doesn’t know, but it was still exciting. The menu consists of 9 courses, some courses offering a choice between two dishes. With four diners, we decided to go with 2 of each where given a choice. Shortly after, our sommelier came by to help with wine selection. While they don’t have a pre-fixe wine pairing for each course, the sommelier designed wine pairings to go with multiple courses within the $X that we wanted to spend on wine. And then it all began…

Gruyere Cheese Gougeres. You know those cheesy breads at Red Lobster? Those have nothing on Thomas Keller’s gougeres. These savory cheese puffs are made with the same dough that makes eclairs. These bite-sized starters were melt in your mouth cheesy goodness. Since they are in the French Laundry cookbook, we made them for Friendsgiving and Thanksgiving. Yum!

Cornets: Salmon Tartare with Sweet Red Onion Creme Fraiche. This might have been the single dish I looked forward to most. There have been numerous write-ups and deviations of this dish and even a video with Thomas Keller demonstrating how to create these delightful treats. It was a perfectly fun way to start the meal and to banish any thoughts that this could be too “stuffy” of a dinner. I took the teeniest nibble off the top at first, wanting to savor this as long as possible, but found myself devouring these and wanting another. Or two. Or three. I could have eaten at least a dozen. The cones were light and crunchy with a sprinkling of black sesame seeds, and everything blended together seamlessly. When this dish lived up to, and then exceeded, all my expectations that I had, I knew we were in good hands for the rest of the evening. This is the first recipe in the cookbook for good reason, and I can’t wait for an opportunity to try these too.

“Oysters and Pearls” – Sabayon of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar. This is the one dish I probably actually dream about today. They bring the dish out covered with a tiny white dome. At this point in the service, the servers’ actions were still perfectly in sync so they uniformally lifted the dome lids to reveal this little marvel of a dish. Even if you don’t like oysters, you will like this dish. I promise. The rich sabayon versus the salty caviar, the combinations of textures…I would go back just for this dish. I stopped JUST short of licking the bowl.

Salad of Hawaiian Hearts of Peach Palm – English Cucumber, Red Radish and Yuzu-Apple Coulis. Here was our first split course with salads being placed in front of two of us, and the following fois gras dish to the other two. While the salad was beautifully plated, making me think of a miniature playground or garden, the flavors were relatively bland. This dish was probably the biggest let down of the night, seeing that the fois gras was the alternative, which is certainly worth the extra $30 surcharge.

Moulard Duck “Foie Gras en Terraine”- Flowering Quince Relish, Frisee Lettuce and Spice Bread Puree. Where do I even start? Silky smooth fois gras. Flavors that compliment one another beautifully. Warm brioche baked daily down the street at Bouchon Bakery. Approximately five minutes had gone by after the salads and fois gras was served. A waiter shows up with a plate of brioche. “May I replace your brioche?” We looked baffled. He explains that they offer to replace the brioche so that the brioche is warm through the end of the dish. Yes, you read correctly, they wanted to REPLACE OUR BRIOCHE. Just wow. Not to mention this was served with three types of salts, each adding a unique touch to the foie gras.

Bread was served through out the meal, each time offering a different selection of mini-breads. Served along side the bread was our choice of salted and unsalted butter, but this had to be the best butter I’ve ever tasted. Too bad it’s not so easy to get.

Sauteed Fillet of Pacific Kahala – Hen-of-the-Woods Mushrooms, Broccolini, Lilly Bulbs and Ginger Emulsion (1 of 2). What a delightfully golden brown crust with a tender, moist yet flaky fish.. The sauce was light, but flavorful and paired well with the vegetables. Speaking of the mushrooms, when my dad was in town for Thanksgiving, he brought along some of these Maitake mushrooms, otherwise known as hen-of-the-woods mushrooms served in this dish. While my potato gratin with maitake mushrooms won’t be served at a three Michelin star restaurant any time soon, it was mighty tasty.

“Tartare” of Japanese Bluefin Tuna – Charred Fuyu Persimmons, Cutting Celery and K&J Orchard Chestnuts (2 of 2). The other half of the table was presented with this raw dish. Initially, I wasn’t very excited about persimmons and chestnuts (perhaps two foods I should add to my “to like” list), but the combination of the slightly tart persimmon and creamy chestnut sauce was a great compliment to the butter-like tuna. This tuna reminded me slightly of the tuna from Tru in Chicago.

“Beets and Leeks” – Maine Lobster Tail “Pochee au Beurre Doux” with King Richard Leeks, “Pommes Maxim’s” and Red Beet Essence. One of the WOW dishes of the night. After all, this lobster tail is poached in butter. And after this dish, I firmly believe that all lobster tails should be poached in butter always. Without exception.

And with the clearing of the heavenly lobster dish came another bread service. Time for more bread.

Like I’m sure many of you males out there think, my dad is not a fan of restaurants that have tiny little portions that leave you driving through the In ‘n Out on the way home for dinner #2 after spending your entire rainy day reserves. So while I’ve been blogging about many of these meals over the past year, in the back of my head, I hear my dad thinking to himself that sure, that food looks pretty and maybe while it’s tasty, is it really worth it? Aren’t you hungry aferwards? I’ll admit, before I’d been to any tasting menu meal, I wondered the exact same thing. But by the time we reached this bread service, I politely declined any bread because the pants were starting to feel a little tight and the tummy a little full. And let me tell you, I eat a lot.

So to answer the question in your head now, no, that’s not the entire bread tray that they offered the table on this dish nor is it my own bread plate (since those that know me know how indecisive I can be). Instead its a sampling of breads for another indecisive diner at the table who decided to take one of each. And why not? We’re at the French Laundry.

Coming up: The second half of the meal!

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Brussel Sprouts – no, really, they’re delicious!


I promised recipes and other food related posts…and I’ve sorta, kinda upheld my promise. As in, I have been cooking a little bit more and even remembered to take pictures, but the blog posts just haven’t quite magically appeared. Thus the sorta, kinda.

I’m back to doing the traveling thing and with traveling comes the regiment of eating out constantly. “Eating out every day…and having it paid for? That’s great!” Almost. Unfortunately, eating out usually consists of the same 4 or 5 restaurants day in and day out. While I’d be content dining at some SF restaurants consistently, when the airport eatery employees know your order and the Starbucks barista knows more about your weekend than any of your friends, it suddenly feels a little old. Luckily, it’s managed to give me a deeper appreciation of how much Bay Area restaurants are focused on local, seasonal ingredients and the abundance of those types of establishments.

And so, my Saturday mornings have been filled with visits to the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market to ooh and aah over the fresh produce and completely over-buy for the couple of days that I’m in town. On those weekend days home, I wind up eating vegetarian just due to the overwhelming desire to consume as many fresh vegetables as humanely possible. Most recently, I’ve been indulging in this delicious brussel sprout recipe from 101 Cookbooks. It’s quick, easy, and filling, giving me plenty of fresh vegetable satisfaction/nutrition and time to reconnect with friends in the few days that I’m home.

I like cooking these in my cast iron using a little bit of bacon fat, although I suppose that throws the vegetarian claim out the door. I keep both a spare package of bacon in the freezer as well as a jar of bacon fat in the fridge from previously cooking on hand almost all the time. Especially when I’m home at random intervals, it’s an easy way to add flavor to an otherwise average dish. Usually, I use just enough bacon fat to cover the bottom of the cast iron to prevent sticking. If you’re using regular bacon out of your fridge or freezer, you could cut up small pieces and cook before throwing in the brussel sprouts. Either way, this dish is hearty (and satisfying) enough to stand alone as a meal or an easy side dish.

When buying brussel sprouts, be sure to choose ones that are approximately the same size so they will cook evenly. Look for ones that are tightly closed, without raggedy leaves. After they are washed, you can also trim off the bottom. For one meal, I bought 1 1/2 big-ish handfuls – once cut in half and covered in cheese, it’s much more filling than you’d think.

And for the brussel skeptics out there, because I know you are. I think you could roast just about anything, add some bacon, salt and pepper and it would be delicious. So, just that alone should make this worthy of trying. :)



Brussel Sprouts

20-30 brussel sprouts – washed, trimmed and cut in halves
1 tsp bacon fat (or olive oil)
1/4 c grated cheese (parmesan, gruyere, romano, etc.)
salt
pepper

Heat skillet over medium heat. Add bacon fat/oil. Place brussel sprout halves face down in pan. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook for approximately 5-7 minutes. When the bottoms are brown, turn up the heat. Flip brussel sprouts over and cook just long enough to brown the other side of the vegetables. Remove from pan and place into serving dish. Quickly, sprinkle cheese and allow to melt. Best served hot.

Chu these:
Golden Crusted Brussel Sprouts from 101 Cookbooks
Roasted Brussel Sprouts from My Husband Cooks
Balsamic Brussel Sprouts from Dena’s Recipe Exchange
Pan Roasted Brussel Sprouts from Dessert Candy

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