Tag Archives: James Beard

ASPARAGUS SOUP AND SPAGHETTI WITH PEAS

This last weekend turned out to be a good family gathering. Sarah drove from San Francisco with her two boys. We spent the days enjoying some of the attractions of Southern California even though it was cold and overcast. Sarah was disappointed that Bay Area weather followed her. The boys swam – shivering – in the unheated pool. There were walks along the seaside cliffs and among the yellow waves of flowering mustard. Everyone is on a diet. Mine is medically prescribed, Carol’s is more casual, and Sarah’s is a crash strict vegetarian regimen. For a few hours we were fairly conscientious. Our first evening’s meal was a green salad with shredded rotisserie chicken and various vegetable additions. Dessert was fruit salad, actually a mixed fruit and berry compote. On that I gained two pounds! What???

Dying eggs, filling Easter baskets, and trying out an antique Easter bunny chocolate mold that Sarah found in Petaluma were all subliminal messages to relax our diet ambitions…and so we did.

After dress-up church, Carol came home for a brief walk before she launched into preparation of a delicious feast that set back my weight-loss ambitions by several days. We enjoyed a Southern California evening with drinks and snacks on the patio. The weather had a change of heart that made it possible.. Then Carol began the cavalcade of food with tiny glass cups of chilled creamed asparagus soup topped off with a dollop of lemon cream and a bit of asparagus tip.  We sipped the delicious amuse bouche and watched for the green light as the sun dipped below the ocean horizon. As always, we did not see it.

Carol often makes a chilled mushroom soup that she serves as a first course, but because it’s spring and Easter, and because it is high season for asparagus, she changed her menu. The lemon cream was a good foil for the vegetal soup. In preparing the soup, the final step is to puree the soup mixture. Just be aware that a regular blender will not work. Carol used a Vita-Mix for several minutes to get the velvety texture. I guess you could also pass the mixture through a tamis, but that sounds like a lot of work to me.

Chilled asparagus soup with lemon cream

At Carol’s request, Sarah made “Spaghetti with Peas, Lime, Goat Cheese and Duck Fat” from Rich Table, pages 129-131. The dish was a popular favorite when the restaurant first opened. It has been off the menu for a while, but it is featured in the cookbook. Sarah brought her own supply of fresh green peas and pea tendrils from San Francisco, but I am sure that Los Angeles peas would have worked. You can probably find your own pea tendrils in a little plastic clamshell at a store like Whole Foods. Who would think that green peas and spaghetti are a delicious combination? Clearly, goat cheese and duck fat contribute to  the rush of flavors, but the finished product is both beautiful and delicious.

Sarah heads to New York City after her visit here for the James Beard writing awards. The cookbook is a finalist for best cookbook in the restaurant and professional category. Good luck, Sarah.

Spaghetti with peas, lime, goat cheese, and duck fat

Add to that  a beautiful glazed Japanese-style ham with honey-glazed carrots and hard rolls and the feast was complete…

EXCEPT

You can’t have a feast like that without dessert. And so Carol made a three-layer spice cake filled with berries, topped with cream cheese frosting along with fresh blackberries. Ice cream on request. So long to any last remnants of a diet.

Spice cake with mixed fresh berries

But there’s always Monday.

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OCTAVIA

When we’re in San Francisco, Sarah always suggests restaurants for us to try. There are so many places that one never runs out of first-time experiences, but it is always especially interesting to try out a new spot.

Sarah and Evan’s friend, Melissa Perello, has operated Frances for a number of years. When the restaurant first opened it was a sensation on the local food scene and was a nominee for James Beard Best New Restaurant. It remains a very popular place.

Now Melissa and her fiance, Robert, have embarked on a new venture, taking over the space that was once occupied by Quince when Evan worked there as chef de cuisine.

Melissa and Robert have transformed the place. It is filled with light from the floor-to-ceiling windows, and the casual tables and warm but muted colors have made the restaurant inviting and comfortable.

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Sarah wanted to take me to dinner while Susan got to babysit. That turned out to be what I consider a perfect division of labor. I got to eat – which I love to do – and Susan got to mind the grandchildren – which is one of her very favorite activities.

The service was warm and welcoming. Kim, our excellent server, had made a conscious decision to move from another San Francisco standby where she had worked for nine years. She was happy with her decision. All of the other servers seemed as happy, friendly and efficient.

Of course, surroundings and service are both essential to a good experience, but in the end it is all about the food. Octavia did not disappoint.

As with so many contemporary restaurants, the Octavia menu is designed to encourage sharing of several small plates before the main course. With Sarah’s professional guidance, we chose a half dozen or so small plates to share.

First was the “Deviled Egg” with Fresno chile relish, marash pepper and spice. The quotation marks indicated it was not a real deviled egg, and that was so. It was a perfectly peeled mollet egg (That is so hard to do – have you ever tried it?) topped with a spicy red chile sauce. The yolk ran out a golden yellow with my fork attack, mixing with the chiles to form a creamy sauce.

Chilled squid ink noodles with Cortez bottarga (salted fish roe), lemon oil, and green garlic came as a beautiful mound of black noodles dusted with gold. The chill took the edge off of the flavor that can sometimes doom a dish made with squid ink. The flavors of the ingredients came together. All I could think of was that I wanted more.

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Mushrooms “A La Grecque” were a mix of hens of the woods, trumpets, and shiitakes in a light pickle and served with thick slabs of toasted house-made levain.

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Fried artichokes were crispy on the outside and tender inside with thin shavings of Pecorino Siciliano, walnuts, and mint. If you like artichokes, you would love these.

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Beef tongue with charred broccoli, toasted garlic, and marrow broth was flavorful. The tongue was so tender and well-cooked that it literally fell apart in my mouth. Some folks are squeamish about tongue, but when it is well prepared it is a great delicacy in the same way that sweetbreads are a special treat. With both, though, you should not plan on having your cholesterol measured the next day.

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The salad was based on a local favorite lettuce, Little Gems, and tossed with Point Reyes blue cheese, grilled red onions, ramps (at the height of their too-short season right now) and buttermilk.

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Sarah ordered the quail with morel mushrooms, spinach, and English peas. The quail was perfectly cooked, one of the best signs of an accomplished chef.

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I ordered the paccheri pasta – great big rings – with olive-oil-poached bacalao (salt cod) and fennel pollen.

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We ordered three different desserts. They were all delicious, but we saved them to take back to Susan, the Dessert Queen, as our thanks for being the resident baby sitter.

After dinner, Sarah had a nice visit with a well-known local restaurant reviewer and food critic and her son, a well-known Master Sommelier, who had been sitting at the next table. Chef Melissa also came out and visited with Sarah. It was a very special evening in a new San Francisco restaurant that promises to be a big success.

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GINGERBREAD

This is definitely the time of year for gingerbread. The aroma of baking gingerbread is one of the most elemental of Christmas fragrances, and gingerbread houses and gingerbread people have been important parts of our family’s celebrations for many years.

When our children were little, we spent a full weekend every year making a gingerbread house and decorating it with gum drops, candy canes, and Christmas sweets. The plans for the house came from Cooking of Germany from the Time-Life Foods of the World series.

Sometimes, a corner of the roof would mysteriously disappear, but mostly the house stayed intact throughout December. More than once we would try to preserve the house for the next year by wrapping it tightly in plastic and putting it in a secure, cool place. That never worked, and I suspect that various varmints got their own Christmas celebration.

This year, one of our younger grandchildren announced that gingerbread would be on the menu for Santa’s visitation treat. Probably the little one was referring to gingerbread people, always fun for children’s hands to make and decorate.

This year, too, Sarah decided to make a deconstructed gingerbread dessert for Rich Table. She asked her mother for the favorite family recipe that she remembered from childhood to use as the beginning point for the dessert. The finished plate doesn’t look anything like gingerbread that I have made.

Toasted gingerbread, Meyer lemon panna cotta, lemon meringue

Toasted gingerbread, Meyer lemon panna cotta, lemon meringue

Susan pulled up her old standby, “Edith’s Gingerbread” from M.F. K. Fisher’s classic book, How to Cook a Wolf, first published in 1942 and in a revised edition in 1951.

If you have never read anything by M.F.K. Fisher, I would encourage you to do so. A contemporary of Julia Child, James Beard, Craig Claiborne, and the cookbook editor, Judith Jones, Fisher is unique as a food writer. Her first recognition came as the English translator of The Physiology of Taste or Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (Counterpoint Press, Washington, D.C.) But she ultimately became well known for her own writings, including the books, How to Cook a Wolf, Serve it Forth, Consider the Oyster, The Gastronomical Me, An Alphabet for Gourmets, and the compendium, The Art of Eating along with The Cooking of Provincial France in the Time-Life series, Foods of the World . Fisher had an unusual ability for describing eating as a sensuous activity, but she also wrote interesting anecdotes, revealed much of her own life, and included simple and excellent recipes for all sorts of food including boiled eggs and gingerbread. Try Edith’s gingerbread.

You might also want to try serving your gingerbread with lemon sauce. That was a combination my mother always used, and I loved it. You might enjoy it, too.

RECIPES

Edith’s Gingerbread

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ cup molasses
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup boiling water
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 egg, beaten

Method

  1. With an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar.
  2. Beat the baking soda into the molasses until it is light and fluffy. Add to the shortening and sugar.
  3. Sift the spices, flour, baking powder, and salt together. Set aside.
  4. Stir the remaining ¼ teaspoon of baking soda into the boiling water. Then add alternately with the dry ingredients to the shortening, sugar, molasses mixture.
  5. Fold in the beaten egg.
  6. When all is well mixed, pour into a greased and floured 8 x 8 inch baking pan. (Fisher’s notes instruct you not to be worried if the batter seems too thin and not, under any circumstances, add more flour!)
  7. Bake in the middle of an oven preheated to 325°F for about 20 minutes. Cool on cooling rack for about 5 minutes, cut into squares and serve.

Notes

  • This is not as sweet as many gingerbread recipes. I like it that way, but if you want it to be sweeter, you can always add more sugar.
  • If you are baking at high altitudes, you may want to cut back to ¾ teaspoons of baking powder to reduce the risk of the dreaded central collapse during baking.
  • Gingerbread seems to beg for whipped cream, ice cream, hard sauce, or something sweet on top. My favorite is the lemon sauce below.
Sift together the flour, ginger, cloves, baking powder, and salt

Sift together the flour, ginger, cloves, baking powder, and salt

The batter is not as thick as you might think. Don't add more flour.

The batter is not as thick as you might think. Don’t add more flour.

Fresh from the oven and cooling

Fresh from the oven and cooling

Lemon Sauce

Ingredients

  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • zest of one lemon
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • 1 tablespoon Limon cello

Method

  1. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, combine the sugar, water, corn starch and salt.
  2. Stir frequently while slowly bringing the mixture just to the boil. It should become thick and translucent.
  3. Remove from the heat. Stir in the butter, lemon zest, lemon juice, and Limon cello.
  4. Serve while still warm.
Gingerbread with lemon sauce

Gingerbread with lemon sauce

 

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