Everything tastes betta with pancetta

January 7th, 2008 § One comment § permalink

Brace yourself, Internet, for I’m about to reveal a deep, dark secret.

For the past few years, several of my friends and I have periodically assembled, both in the light of day and the gloom of night, at various fancy pizza places. With gleams in our eyes and growling in our bellies, we gaze eagerly upon their menus, searching for the perfect marriage of crust and topping—one that will set our limbic systems alight with bliss.

Our name is Team Pizza. And our quest is neverending.

Last night, Team Pizza journeyed to the wilds of Glen Park, in San Francisco, to visit Gialina. People: It was excellent. I’d say it’s one of the top five pizzerias in the Bay Area. We ordered four different pizzas, and they were all great. Don’t miss the Atomica, which has possibly the best tomato sauce I’ve ever had on a pizza. I also recommend any of the pizzas that include various pork-related products.

To the Bay Area’s other upscale pizza-oriented restaurants, I say this: Ready your ovens. Proof your dough. You cannot know when Team Pizza will strike, but rest assured that we will. If your pizza is inferior, our scorn will be merciless. But if you delight us with a superior meal, you may be semi-coherently praised by one man with a seldom-updated weblog.

Tabbouleh a la Jefe

July 16th, 2006 § Comments off § permalink

At what point in the modification of a tabbouleh recipe does the result cease to be tabbouleh and become, instead, an anonymous bulgur salad? It’s a tricky ontological question, and I don’t claim to have an answer. All I know is that I started with the tabbouleh recipe from The Joy of Cooking and arrived at the following, and that it makes an excellent light supper for four on a warm summer night.

  • 1 cup medium bulgur
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 1 yellow, red, or orange bell pepper, finely diced
  • 1 small cucumber, seeds removed, finely diced
  • 1 bunch fresh parsley sprigs (about 2 cups), finely chopped
  • 1 bunch fresh mint sprigs (about 1 packed cup), finely chopped
  • 1 medium red onion, finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground sumac (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 pound feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1 head romaine lettuce, outer leaves discarded, separated into leaves, washed, and dried

Combine the bulgur and boiling water in a large bowl. Cover with a plate and let stand for 30 minutes. Drain in a sieve, then rinse under cool water. Press the bulgur with the back of a spoon to remove the excess moisture. Return the bulgur to the bowl, then add the bell pepper, cucumber, parsley, mint, and onion.

Combine the lemon juice, olive oil, sumac, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Whisk them together, then add them to the bulgur and toss to coat. Add the feta and stir gently. Serve the salad with romaine lettuce leaves; use the leaves to scoop up the salad.

I learned this at the uni-versity

January 11th, 2006 § Comments off § permalink

One of my coworkers sent an instant message to my office this evening, asking if anyone wanted to join her at the sushi place down the street for a “Rock ‘n’ Roll roll.” I promptly diagnosed her with a severe case of sushi stutter. It’s usually caused by eating raw fish in combination with cream cheese or avocados.

The spreading decline

January 9th, 2006 § One comment § permalink

From Oranges, by John McPhee:

Some foes [of orange trees] attack underground, most notably the burrowing nematode, a small worm that is the author of a disease called the spreading decline. The nematode feeds on small roots and increasingly cuts off the food supply of the tree, which dies slowly, from the top down, as more and more skeletal branches appear each year and the amount of fruit steadily decreases. When people in Florida are feeling depressed and miserable with some unspecific malady, they sometimes tell one another that they have the spreading decline. Since no one has yet found a way to kill the nematodes without killing the tree, decline brings economic disaster. Whole groves of affected trees and a surrounding margin of healthy trees often have to be bulldozed into a great pyre and burned; after the land they stood on is fumigated, it must be left empty for three years. As we drove along, [the orange grower] Mathias would now and again point to areas full of half-dead trees and say, “Decline.” Some were all but leafless, and looked like Northern apple trees in February. Once, we were on a secondary road, moving along between healthy, thick-foliaged orange groves, when perhaps fifty acres of treeless land suddenly came into view, covered with new houses, all of which looked alike. “Decline,” Mathias explained.

Corn syrup is the new opiate of the masses

January 9th, 2006 § Comments off § permalink

For anyone who’s not reading the New York Timesseries about diabetes in New York City, here’s a typically distressing excerpt from Tuesday’s article:

Mr. De La Vega said: “People ultimately feel powerless about a lot of things. People think about bigger things. They think about survival. Kids grow up fighting in the streets, so you want to raise big, strong kids. So you give them three pork chops, a nice tall glass of soda to make them strong.”

Learning to love fruits and veggies

September 9th, 2005 § Comments off § permalink

Today’s most promising culinary trend isn’t raw food, small plates, or sous vide. It’s the growing number of school lunch programs that feature healthy but delicious meals, locally-grown produce, and, on occasion, schoolyard gardens. The New York Times has an article today about a particularly deluxe version at a private charter school in Harlem:

Ebony Richards, a confirmed hamburger and Tater Tots girl, knows the rules of the lunch line at her school, the Promise Academy in Harlem.

When confronted with whole-wheat penne covered with sautéed peppers and local squash, she does not blurt out “That’s nasty.” If she does, she goes to the end of the line.

Although seconds on main courses are not allowed—someone has to show children what a reasonable portion is—Ebony can fill her tray with a dozen helpings of vegetables or bowls of Romaine lettuce from the salad bar. Any time in the school day, she can wander into the cafeteria for a New York apple.

Free, locally-grown apples all day long! Brilliant. Every school should be doing that. And although this school’s lunch program is more expensive than most, other groups, including Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard, are working to put similar programs in public schools.

In England, there was recently a documentary series in which Jamie Oliver overhauled a British school’s terrible lunches. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like it’s going to be released in the US anytime soon.

Budget organic

August 24th, 2005 § Comments off § permalink

UC Berkeley NewsCenter, the campus’ unusually journalistic publicity site, just published an interview with the owner of Caffe Strada, whose location (across the street from hundreds of architecture students) would guarantee its success even if its espresso drinks weren’t as good and reasonably priced as they are. The owner, Daryl Ross, also runs several cafés and restaurants near campus that are all much better than they need to be, including Adagia, the only restaurant on the south side of campus that might conceivably qualify as fine dining. Ross’ businesses use lots of organic and sustainably-grown ingredients, and apparently he’s planning to open an über-sustainable café in the MLK Student Union next year. Good stuff, sir, and thanks for helping me stay well caffeinated for the past couple of years.

How Jefe got his groove back

August 18th, 2005 § Five comments § permalink

I should have mentioned sooner that my cooking troubles are behind me, and that I ended them not with a sure thing but a gamble: a rosemary sorbet, the recipe for which I found in The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook. My anemic little Cuisinart ice cream maker (on loan from a friend) even yielded somewhat better textural results than usual, though not nearly good enough to stop me from lusting after a much fancier machine.

Anyhow, the rosemary sorbet is easy to make: Put 2 1/4 cups of water and 1/2 cup sugar in a small saucepan and bring them to a boil, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves. Stir in 1/2 cup chopped fresh rosemary and remove from the heat. Steep the mixture until the rosemary flavor is fairly strong, 20 to 40 minutes. (Remember, it will taste less strong after you freeze it; just don’t let it get too piney-tasting.) Strain the mixture and discard the rosemary. Put the liquid in the fridge for a few hours, then run it through the ice cream maker and put it in the freezer until it’s firm.

I suspect this would be lovely with some buttery, bready thing like pound cake. Jack Bishop suggested pairing it with strawberries and pineapple, or with a warm apple tart.

My cooking woes continue

August 11th, 2005 § 10 comments § permalink

At the time, last week’s failed pickling attempt seemed like a minor setback. It has since grown into a full-blown New Recipe Slump. Yesterday, I attempted to make hummus, but I was doomed from the start by my lack of a food processor. After a great deal of effort spent on breaking up chickpeas with a fork and mashing them with an improvised mortar and pestle, I created a beige substance with decent flavor and a revoltingly chunky texture. This morning’s cooking experiment was a recipe for quick pickled carrots, which turned out to be edible but rather dull.

Now I need to get my confidence back up, so I think I’ll look through my recipe binder tonight and see if I can find a sure thing—perhaps a refreshing summer beverage of some sort. I can still toast bagels and boil pasta without difficulty, so at least I won’t starve.

Peter Franus, you’ve done it again

August 5th, 2005 § Seven comments § permalink

As if to compensate for the recent margarita-swilling escapades, my leisure activities this week have been distressingly wholesome. For example, I bought Kirby cucumbers at the farmers’ market and tried, but failed, to make fresh pickles; alas, my brine proved insufficiently briny. I’ll try again next week, possibly with green beans rather than cucumbers. (This experiment was the first in a new series, in which I will try to stop being lazy about purchasing things at the store that can just as well be made at home. Next up: hummus. And there might be some canning before I’m through. Look out, people.)

Oh, but the virtue doesn’t stop there. I also got a card for the Oakland Public Library; sold a few unneeded possessions on eBay; attended a going-away party for an old friend; and cleared away the piles of paper in my office. What’s going on here? I’m a young, city-dwelling, single male who can pass as a hipster in dim light, and yet I’m sitting at home on a Friday night, updating my weblog and sipping a minerally Sauvignon Blanc with a pronounced note of grapefruit. Shouldn’t I be drinking Jack Daniels and trashing a hotel room somewhere instead?

Well, I suppose that wild abandon has never really been my métier, as evidenced by my use of the word “métier.” For this week, at least, I’ll have to settle for the simpler pleasures of responsible adulthood.

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