Monday, September 29, 2008

Enjoying Autumn's Bounty

My favorite kind of cooking happens when I notice something on the counter that's on the verge. And there's too much to finish before it goes bad, and so you transform it into something that will keep. Something delicious, with ingredients already in the kitchen.

I had such an opportunity this weekend while visiting my dad. He had a bucket of pears from a church friend's tree. The pears were perfectly shaped with a greenish brown skin yielding only occasionally to brown spots. To the touch however they were squishy and far past crisp. Pears just so happen to be my favorite food. And I wasn't about to let these pears go to waste. So I made pear butter.

When tasted fresh the mealy brown parts of pears lack texture, are overly sweet, and hint at rotten. In butter, these are perfect, their highly developed sugars adding flavor and complexity. Fortunately Dad's pears were full of these types of spots. After careful peeling and coring so as not to lose these mushy nuggets of flavor, the pears went on the stove. I added cinnamon, nutmeg, and some maple syrup then reduced it. After an hour or so, reduced to about and eighth of what it had been the pear butter was ready. Sweet, flavorful, with a subtle richness. What better for a fall breakfast?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Inspiration at the Table

Slow Food Nation's Eat-In was the perfect culmination to the weekend. Bringing together youth from all over the country to listen to movement leaders speak and then break bread together. The symbolism is both obvious yet meaningful.

In order to participate you either had to bring something or sign up for a cooking team. I signed up for a team. Our team had boxes and boxes of beautiful produce donated from the Ferry Building Farmer's Market. A whole box of beautiful black mission figs, a palette of heirloom cherry tomatoes, and a big box of beets and cauliflower. Our prized creation was a tomato soup made with the heirloom cherry tomatoes, onions, and garlic and slowly cooked. We then pressed it through a strainer. The flavor was wonderful, though the consistency slightly thin. Actually I preferred the pulpy left-overs which had all the flavor and texture times twenty. I then spearheaded the campaign to get that out of the compost and into jars for us to take home.

Cooking with strangers equally excited and caring about the food they eat was moving enough. Then to arrive at a public park, set with a white linen table for 300, and tables of food artfully prepared...well, I think it speaks for itself.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Noodles, do they get any better than this?

Thanks to Auntie Tan Li, I know the answer to the above question; no. These noodles are made by hand upon order by Auntie Tan Li's friend's husband. The restaurant is Mandarin Garden in Concord, California. The noodles are a secret recipe, no one but the husband knows. He wanted to pass the recipe on to his son, who is disinterested, and so the recipe will go with him to his grave. A tragedy for food lovers. These are the noodles I wish I could eat every time I'm sad or upset. With just the right amount of bite, and yards of length one cannot help but feel satisfied. And the sauce is rich, savory, thoroughly satiating, and unique. This sauce is Chinese-Korean fusion thanks to the Korean origins of the noodle-maker's wife, making the Mandarin Garden a truly uniqe experience not to be missed.

The noodles are served separate from the sauce, and the two must be combined at the table, as the pictures show.

For those wishing to partake let me fill you in on some insider information. A lot of Chinese superstition surrounds noodles. Every birthday, noodles are eaten as a symbol of long life. The noodles therefore cannot be cut, it is bad luck. Similarly I made the mistake of standing my chop sticks up in the noodles. This also is a no-no and means bad luck. Noodles must be treated with the uptmost respect according to Chinese tradition. And if you taste these noodles you'll understand why.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Social Justice and...Pie!

Ever since taking Child Development and Public Policy as an undergraduate I've been preoccupied with an idea that I had; a non-profit which combines my love of pastries with my desire for social justice. Mission Pie is just the sort of place I had in mind.

I have been admiring it via internet for months, and made it a priority for my visit to San Francisco. Located in the Mission district of San Francisco, Mission Pie is a clever double entendre, referring both to its location and its intention; working with youth from a local high school to teach them about sustainability, food quality, and business. Mission Pie's web site along with that of its sister organization, Pie Ranch, will better describe what it is they're doing. Needless to say the mission is successful. Each pie I tasted was wonderful, the crusts thick and flaky with a warm buttery note. Just like my aunt's crust that I never seem to get quite right.

Mission Pie, however, gets it right time and time again. The mixed berry was fresh and slightly jammy, sun lingering in the berries. My honey fig gallette was all figs, allowing the world's most perfect fruit to speak for itself. I left the banana cream for last because it is truly transcendental. I'm usually not one for cream pies. But this one--with its creamy pudding layer, whole banana chunks, and vanilla beans--was WONDERFULl. On top was a cloud of simple, perfectly whipped cream. If you're ever in San Francisco, Mission Pie is not to be missed. And if you make it to Mission Pie, the Banana Cream is a must.

And don't forget it's all in support of local students; the sweet just got sweeter.