Cauliflower is not yet played.

I ignored cauliflower for a long, long time. Raw, it was oddly numbing and tasteless. Steamed was worse. Even with butter, it would be a non-entity on the plate, pushed aside for more tasty veggies that offered even a hint of color or flavor. To describe the taste of cauliflower seemed like a pathetic venture at best.

But then I read a recipe last year for roasted cauliflower. Said that just a dash of salt, some olive oil and some high, prolonged heat made the florets into what they called “cauliflower candy.” Interesting. I like candy. I gave it a shot.

And I’ve been converted. Roasted cauliflower is ridiculous. Crazy tasty. I went further.

I started making cauliflower soup. Added some crispy shallots and shallot oil. A little prociutto. I found chedder cauliflower. Purple cauliflower. Green too. I experimented with romanesco. At one point in August I probably had at least three assorted cauliflowers in my fridge at one time I was cauliflower mad.

But I learned I wasn’t alone. Other people had joined the floret bandwagon and then I read that somehow, somewhere cauliflower had become the hip vegetable of 2007. And that killed me. I didn’t realize I’d been riding the same trend, that I had fallen victim of produce fashion. I crossed off cauliflower from my CSA order.

But something happened. I craved it. I read about something called cauliflower steaks. And if there’s one thing I like more than candy, it’s steaks.

So I put them back on the list. I cut the head cross-wise into 1” steaks, salt and peppered them and cooked ‘em in a pan for 4 minutes a side. Then into the oven to bake at 250° for 10 minutes. The result? Magic. Cauliflower candy gives way to a cauliflower main course. Cauliflower is back on my plate and I’m not looking back, damn it.


Cookin' with Crazy

Cookin’, a vintage cookware store on Divisadero is all kinds of crazy. Honestly, I think they specialize in it. Well, that and an astounding collection of mainly vintage cooking and servingware. It starts when you walk in, winding past stacks upon stacks of china and dishware and you see the staggering array of stuff in front of you. It seems like a total mess, and by and large it is, but soon enough an order comes into focus from the chaos. Like items are grouped around the store in abundant collections, ranging from the quaint to the quasi-absurd. Copper pans and meat grinders. Egg cups and martini shakers. No matter what you might be looking for, they have it. In fact, odds are, they have at least five.

High quality Le Creuset is stacked on a table with an abundance bordering on grotesque.

There are tin molds by the gross and ramekins apparently breeding like bunnies.

There’s something a more than a little packratty about the place, to be certain. And the prices are such that make you think the seller isn’t too eager to let any of the collection head out the door. There’s a vintage French offal sign I’ve been eyeing for months. With an asking price of $160, it hasn’t moved further than the few inches needed to check the tag and, eyes wide, put it back down again. Once you meet the owner, you see where the crazy stems from. Engage her in a chat and it’ll continue long after you’ve left the store, whether there’s anyone there or not.

Still, it’s a place worth a visit, if not a purchase or two. There’s something to be said for an original shopping experience, and I know that the Madeline pans I picked up there have a more interesting patina and character than what I might find at sur le table.

339 Divisadero
SF 94117



Though it's fashionable to hate tourists in this town, I have a secret love for them. They make me feel better just knowing they're around. They wear incredibly ugly clothes, making me feel fashionable. They're usually really fat, making me feel healthy. And as evident from what I overhear from my office window, they're pretty unhappy. The chorus of regular complaints including, but not limited to: "I'm hungry," "I'm cold," and the timeless "I don't want to walk anymore."

What's even better about San Francisco tourists is that, if you live here, you don't have to interact with them much. They're confined to the Wharf and Union Square and Chinatown. They have all that space to eat up the sidewalk, take pictures in front of chain restaurants and spend $50 on San Francisco sweatshirts. They boost the economy and stay out of the way. We get the rest of the city, which is pretty damn nice, unless you're in the market for a souvenir mug with your name on it or anything that references the existence of Alcatraz.

But after a year of living in San Francisco and a good two months after starting work near Fisherman's Wharf, I finally decided to venture into hostile territory to get a bowl of clam chowder in a sourdough bowl. I did it in the name of craving. In the spirit of kitch. I did it because my office is just 100 ft from Pier 39 and it seems almost ridiculous not to.

So I went. I made the unprecedented right turn out of the office building, was soon wading through a sea of pre-teens making their way back to their tour bus, nearly got hip-checked by some gull-gazing German tourists and had my image captured for eternity in the background of a number of vacation photos before I made it to Boudin, the birthplace of the clam chowder bread bowl.

I don't know the history of the bread as bowl phenomenon. I like to imagine that there was some devastating war-time crockery shortage, and the people were at a loss at how to enjoy their soup. Plates were out of the question and there were untold number of palms burned as people attempted to ladle soup directly into their hands. Then there would be the one genius who, spying a round loaf of bread, quietly began carving in, tunneling to create a vessel that seemed almost made for soup. Thus, in my head at least, the bread bowl was born.

Stepping up to the counter, I feel an urge to set myself apart from the tourist population. I remember that there's a discount for people who work in the area, and with the slickness of passing along a secret code, I get my 10% off. Before I have a chance to claim my table with a copy of 7x7 my number is called. My bread bowl is ready.

I was prepared to hate it. I was in a chain restaurant eating tourist fare off a black plastic tray. But I didn't. The bread is good and the chowder, besides being a fun word to say, is comforting and tasty. As someone in the office said before I headed out, "There's a reason it's famous." The bread to soup ratio is way, way off and I feel a bit guilty throwing away almost an entire loaf of perfectly good bread.

Heading out from the cafe into the belly of Pier 39, I considered hitting the taffy shop or picking up an Oyster With a Real Pearl Inside, but I resisted. I made my pilgrimage to the tourist mecca and I could leave in peace, my only souvenir a nice lunch and a moderate stomachache.


coffee tragedy

So in a perfect storm last week of logistics and a very clear lack of attending to priorities, I was without coffee. I didn't have time to make it to Ritual, I still haven't picked up a grinder (nor do I have the counter-space for one) and on, and on and on.

Finally. Sunday I go. I bike down to the Mission, pick out my coffee of the week and even treat myself to a Clover-brewed cup of the El Yalu, the same coffee I've been enjoying by French Press at home. I wanted to see if how I've been doing it even comes close to how the Clover machine can extract a cup. What I make is damn good. But the Clover makes a perfect cup. No tang, no smacks of acidity. Just sweet, clean awesome coffee.

Bean-wise, I opt for the Bella Vista (El Salvador, COE #9). It's a new one for them (and thus, for me). I can't wait to have it the next morning.

Monday. Back from the gym. So excited to start a lazy day off with a leisurely breakfast. I put the water on, the eggs to cook, the toast to, um, toast. My timing is dead on. Just as the water comes to a boil, I remember that I want to write about the coffee and quickly snap a pic of the bag before I even open it (hence the lack of sharpness).

WIth Belle and Sebastian singing sweetly from the speakers I hum along and open the bag to measure out the perfectly ground coffee to find that-fuck- they didn't grind the coffee. I was left staring, frowning, into a half-pound of whole beans I couldn't do a damn thing with.

I made crappy Irish Breakfast stupid tea instead.

I biked down to Ritual again yesterday and garnered a little sympathy while I waited patiently for them to grind my beans for French Press. I had a cup this morning. Two, in fact. It was really, really good. And not just because I'd waited over a week for a cup.


A side of greens

Though it seems a strange thing to say, I've always been compelled by collard greens. I think it's because they were always wrapped up in that Southern BBQ mystique. Big oil-drum grills manned by gigantic men in fields and on the sides of roads in the timeless South. I haven't spent much time there, if at all, and being from California, I know that any opinion I have on BBQ is immediatly dismissed. Rightly so. In CA, we don't BBQ. We grill. But I still like the art behind slow-cooked meats, and the sides that come with it. Creamy mac and cheese, sweet cornbread and smoky beans. But then there are the greens. I've never liked them, though I've really wanted to. I usually find them a sad, dishwater green with a tough consistency and drab taste to match.

Still, I know there's good there. There has to be. I think that with any traditional food gone bad that there's a great recipe back in the day that made it outstanding. And over the years corners are cut and less-than-stellar ingredients make it into the dish until you're left with the sad food in front of you. Like boring collard greens. So when my CSA listed collard greens as an option for the week, I decided to see if I could make them magic.

And magic they became. I went simple. Just bacon, onions and greens. That's it. No cider vinegar, no sugar, no broth. Recently a friend noted to me that starting a dish with bacon is cheating. Well, if using bacon is cheating, then I'm not inclined to play fair.

Simple Collard Greens:
2-3 slices thick-cut bacon
1 onion
1 bunch collard greens

In a large saucepan, cook the bacon over medium heat. While the bacon cooks, wash and dry the greens, ripping off the woody stems, rolling the leaves into a cigar and cutting them into 1" strips. Dice the onion.

Remove bacon from the pan, reserving the rendered fat (this would be the cheating part). Add onion to the pan and cook over medium heat until it's translucent. Maybe begins to brown around the edges.

Add greens and 1/3 cup water and cover. Simmer greens over medium-low heat. About 5-7 minutes. So they're nicely wilted but still really green. Cut the bacon into 1/4" strips and stir back in with the greens. Serve.

And that's it. Simple, good greens. All that's missing is some kick-ass BBQ to go with it.


CSA: mid-february

Though it was a bit of a runaround to pick up my produce this week, there was a lot of goodness in that unassuming brown paper bag. Sadly, the farm-fresh eggs were auspiciously missing. Looks like I'll be turning to the Batter Blaster in the fridge for breakfast this week.

The bounty this week includes: Broccoli, German butterball potatoes, fuji apples, heirloom carrots, beets, cilantro, collard greens and purple kohlrabi.

This is my third attempt at kohlrabi. The first time I was short on time and on ideas and let the poor little bulbs wither to nothing in the fridge. The second time I made soup, which, beefed up with some ham and black pepper made a fine lunch. I'm not sure what's going to come of this bunch.

Collard greens are the other challenge. New to me, the only experience I have them has been as uninteresting, cooked-to-death sides at otherwise standout BBQ joints. Something good will come of them, I'm sure.


A little help

Ok, so I’m having a bit of a math problem here. Cancer = bad. Gummy candy = good. But somehow, this just doesn’t seem to add up. Gummy Ribbons of Hope = bad, right?


my funny valentine

pictured: Michael Recchiuti's Ginger Heart, slightly damaged.


sweet somethings

We Love Jam is a very small micro-jammery not far from San Francisco. They make their exceptional product in insanely limited supplies. Their Blenheim Apricot Jam became something of a cult following late summer last year. The only way to get their product is to get on a mailing list, to stay close to your in-box and act fast. It’s how I got in on their Mariposa plum jam a few months ago and their most recent release, Fukushku kumquat marmalade.

It isn’t cheap. $14 runs you an 8 oz jar, with shipping. But it’s totally worth it. The marmalade is run thick with deft pieces of rind and pith off-set by a sweet jelly that just kills on a piece of crusty bread with butter. A little jam goes a long way.

I’m on the list for two jars of their famed Apricot jam, coming out this summer. I have just enough time to perfect the scone recipe for it.

CSA: The Results

So what became of the produce? Read on.

Green Chard: taking a cue from The Art of Simple Food, I did a quick blanch of the leafy bits, then tossed them with melted butter and parmigian. My initial response to the recipe was, “No shit, Alice. Add some butter and parm and my dishtowel will taste good too.” But, she knows what she’s talking about. The simple combination of the fats and the greens did something I didn’t expect. There was a depth of flavor I didn’t see coming.

Chard stems/fennel/leeks: This little accident turned out well. I had grand plans to make fennel gratin for tomorrow’s lunch, but in reading the recipe, it was going to take far too long (40 min total?) for a simple side dish. Instead, I added the blanching fennel bulb segments to another dish already in progress. Chard stalks plus leeks happily simmering in a dash of butter and a splash of chicken broth. I left the trio to their business a little too long and got an unexpectedly nice char on the dish. It worked. A little carmelizing goes a long way. Buttery leeks plus hearty chard and bright fennel. What it lacks in color contrast it makes up for in flavor.

Cauliflower: Sauteed with prociutto and thyme over fettucinne with breadcrumbs. Magic.

Parsnips/carrots/onions: Took a three-hour long soak with some chuck roast in stock and wine to make a perfect pot roast.

Apples: make my afternoon snack.

Lemons: I can’t remember for the life of me why I ordered lemons. Seemed like a smart idea at the time. I don’t know what to do with them. I’m considering making lemon curd.

Next week: Collard Greens and Purple Kolhrabi. Two challenges in one week!

on cardamom

Somewhere between sweet and savory, a little aromatic and earthy at the same time. It looks like sand and it smells like nothing else. A little lavender, a little lemon. It comes out of nowhere. And I’m starting to see it everywhere.

I picked up this Richard Donnelly dark chocolate bar at Fog City News last week. The packaging was arresting in and of itself and the chocolate wrapped inside is outstanding. Go on. Judge a chocolate bar by its cover.

Rich and dark and made so much more intruiging with a dash of cardamom. Brought the heavy dark chocolate notes even more down to earth. Took that slightly cherry quality you’ll taste in fine, dark chocolate and rounded it out. And if you hadn’t read the package, you’d be stumped by the secret ingredient.

But there’s a light side to cardamom too. I added a teaspoon to a batch of banana bread and the loaves took on an unexpected floral quality. Echoes of Indian chai and the bread became a true tea cake.

I have more ideas for this fun spice. Introduce it to dessert. Maybe a cardamom panna cotta or semifreddo? Or play on the savory side and do a nice lamb marinade. This could be good.


CSA: First of the Year

First CSA box picked up last week. Very, very exciting. It’s been a good two months since I made the drive to the outer Richmond to pick up my green goods. And I dropped by Wednesday night to find everything I asked for.

Green Chard
Fuji Apples
Red Potatoes

The cooking pressure is back on. With a fridge full of organic produce and a freezer stocked with grass-fed beef, it’s harder and harder to justify a trip to Giorgio’s or a call to the Wok Shop CafĂ© (bad name, great Moo Goo Gai Pan).