Friday, January 31, 2014

Discovery Weekend: Searching for Michael Chiarello – Parte Seconda at Bottega


Happy Birthday CardOur search for Michael Chiarello did not end at Coqueta. My husband actually surprised me and said “why don’t we go out of town on your birthday weekend?” Since I did not want to cancel our reservations at Coqueta and wanted to be at home on Monday (so I can pick up my birthday gift), we compromised and decided on going out of town on Sunday only.

The first thing that came to mind was the Wine Country – perhaps to Napa. The plan was to go wine tasting in the morning(!) then lunch. I have been obsessing over going to Bottega after having dinner at Yountville last year – so this presented the perfect opportunity.

We had a late start that day and skipped the wine tasting. Yountville was only about an hours drive away from home (without the wine country peak season traffic), so it was a relatively easy drive.

Pomegranate Sicilian Soda
Pomegranate Sicilian Soda: It's almost like a smoothie.
Bottega had a very romantic atmosphere and very classy. On our table, we had a birthday card from the Bottega team. Since I was eating my alcohol again (maybe avoiding it altogether this meal). I had a Sicilian Soda with Pomegranate, and my husband had his usual Pinot Grigio. While waiting for our shared appetizer, we enjoyed warm bread served with garlic, parmesian and perhaps basil. Love warm bread

We started with a shaved Brussels sprout salad with Meyer Lemon Dressing, Marcona Almonds and sieved egg. I have made Brussels sprout salad last winter, but this should be what I should aim for. Finely shaved Brussel sprouts with really lemony and cheesy dressing. The Marcona Almonds added a crunchy texture, and the egg was so delicate, one can mistake it for cheese. Delicious.

Bottega Brussel Sprout Salad
Brussels Sprout Salad... elevated!

My husband had the Pork Loin with potato pancake. My husband said it was the best he ever had. It was so tender it almost fell off the bone.

Pork Loin
Irresistible Tender Pork Loin

I have been in a duck-mode lately and cannot resist ordering confit. I believe this is one of the things that I cannot really do justice at home, so I always order it when I find it in the menu. The duck came two ways: a confit leg (of course) and a beautifully roasted breast. This was a huge entrée, served with black rice, berry sauce and watercress.  I had some left-over for dinner that night (The confit is GONE! gone at lunch!).

Duck two ways: Confit and Roasted Breast
Duck!
 
For dessert, I couldn’t decide between the Tiramisu or Zeppole. My husband believes that Tiramisu is my all-time favorite dessert. Although he is right, I really like exploring and I haven’t had Zeppole before. Again, it did not disappoint: warm Zeppole filled with Hazelnut Crema with a Berry Sauce: It’s like an elevated peanut butter and jelly doughnut hole. It’s a great sweet, but with a cappucino, it was the perfect light ending to a great meal.

Elevated Hazelnut Butter and Jelly Zeppoles...YUM!!!!

Bottega is becoming, if not already, our favorite Napa Valley Restaurant. Bottega featured fantastic food with friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable service. My husband said that it was one of the best, if not the best, dining experience that he's had. It was unforgettable. A visit to Bottega is a must for any Napa Valley Wine Country trip.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Discovery Weekends: Searching for Michael Chiarello (or “What I did for my Birthday Weekend?”) – Coqueta SF


Ever since I saw “The Next Iron Chef” a couple of seasons ago, I’ve always wanted to try one of Michael Chiarello’s restaurants.  The judges loved his food and the description was very scrumptious: made me hungry every time. I was really disappointed that he did not win.

I had to find where his restaurant (or restaurants) is. So, I researched and was delighted to find that his restaurant, Bottega is so close to where we are, so close, but a world away. With the variety of activities in the San Francisco Bay Area, we rarely find ourselves in the Napa Valley – we’re probably there once a year.

Fast forward a few years, I heard the Chef Chiarello is opening a restaurant in San Francisco, near the Financial District. I decided that this is the perfect opportunity to visit. Plus, I have a birthday coming up.

I also happened to check my twitter and found that Chef Chiarello was going to be on The Late Show with Jimmy Fallon. I knew had to stay up. That segment was so funny (check it out on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon) – I knew it was a sign that this was going to be a great weekend.


The Big Day finally came. We went to "The City" via BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) and took a comfortable stroll from the Ferry Building to Pier 5 at the Embarcadero, where Coqueta is located.  Coqueta features modernized Spanish tapas “with a touch of California.” Atmosphere was casual, but very classy, which complemented the the beautiful views of the San Francisco Bay.

Of course, tapas are not complete without drinking (or was it just wine), so Coquetta also features a very innovative bar, er… “cocktail program.” Since I tend to eat my alcohol these days, I stuck to non-alcoholic beverages and had a ginger beer and a J&T (Juniper and Tonic?). My husband, of course, had to try the sangria. Both were quite potent. The ginger beer was made in-house and was very gingery (loved it). I thought it would burn my palette but it actually enhanced my appetite. We sat at the bar for a while while we wait for our table, and admired the gorgeous drinks and fresh ingredients and spices used in the bar.

When dining out, my husband and I usually share an appetizer and an entrée. We made an exception this time. We really wanted to get the paella – one of my favorites. However, even knowing that it may be more than enough food, I was hungry enough to order a couple of tapas. My husband had me order (since it's my birthday weekend), so I chose the Chicken and English Peas Croquettes and the Albondigas – Duck and Pork Meatballs with a delicious cherry sauce and crispy shallots. I think we chose wisely.



The paella came and it did not disappoint. It had the key components of a paella: chorizo, huge prawns, clams, some root veggies.  Served with some spicy Spanish pickled peppers and lemon aioli, it was perfect and yes, we finished the whole thing and saved room for dessert, at least one of us did.



For dessert, I could not decide between the Churro “Fantasia” or the Machego Cheesecake Bites. My husband loves cheesecake, but said he did not want dessert. Although I wanted to get both, I opted to get only the churros (and have an excuse to return).

The churros were the perfect ending to the meal. It was just the right size and delicious: light, sweet, had that fried deliciousness, and can still have a touch of chocolate or a lot. After all, one can never get enough TCHO chocolate. Even my husband had half (two of the churros)– we both wanted to lick the chocolate bowl! This will definitely be one of my weekend experiments.

I also love the gold chocolate leaf with "Feliz Cumpleanos" - really nice touch. Too bad someone had a hard touch (one guess).

We will come back to Coqueta, even if it is just a quick bite at the bar after my weekend trips to the Ferry Building, shopping at the Embarcadero Center, watching the Giants games at AT&T park, etc….  I think we found a new San Francisco favorite. Besides, I got to have my ginger beer!
 
By the way, this was not the end of our search… stay tuned for next post.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Quinoa Caldo con Pollo


quinoa caldo serving
One of my favorite Filipino dishes is called Arroz Caldo. It is a Filipino dish made of glutinous rice and chicken with lots of garlic. This dish brings up so many childhood memories. This is our go-to soup whenever I am sick (Mom made it) and my favorite breakfast after my long Sunday runs. Since it’s winter (more winter in certain parts of the country), I am getting a craving for this childhood favorite.

By the way, I don’t think glutinous means that it is filled with gluten. It refers to it being glue-like or sticky. As far as the gluten content, you will need to check your dietician.

I have been meaning to make Arroz Caldo for a long time. However, I cannot find glutinous white rice anywhere. I was able to find black glutinous rice, but not white rice. I think the dish would look very different if I used black rice.

However, quite by accident when making garlic chicken soup for my then sick hubby, I put about 1/2 cup of white quinoa in the yummy broth. The result was very similar to Arroz Caldo: a nice thick broth with a similar consistency. I think I found the replacement.

For this recipe, I used chicken thighs to get that fatty chicken goodness. However, if you are watching your animal fat intake, you may want to opt for skinless thighs or even a chicken breast (cubed or probably shredded). Alternatively, you can just reduce the amount of fat before adding water. I probably left about 3-4 tablespoons in the pot and got rid of the rest.

Although sometimes I am tempted to add the usual gang of veggies, I try to resist. Ginger is the star of this dish. Also, although adding potatoes, carrots, and other stuff that you may have in your fridge is tempting – resist! That is not Arroz Caldo… or in this case, Quinoa Caldo.

Here’s what I have so far. Let me know what you think.

Quinoa Caldo con Pollo
Based on many childhood memories and the Arroz Caldo from Panlasang Pinoy
Serves 3

Ingredients

  • 3 chicken thighs, skins on
  • 1/2 cup of quinoa
  • 2.5 cups of water
  • 2 thumbs ginger
  • 1/4 medium onion
  • 2 TBSP of olive oil
  • Roasted garlic, optional
  • Lime wedges, optional
  • Green onion, optional

Directions

  1. Pat the chicken dry and season with salt, pepper, and if desired, some ginger powder.
  2. In a pot, heat the cooking oil then sweat the onion and ginger.
  3. Add some salt (maybe a dash or two) and some ground black pepper.
  4. Add the chicken thighs, skin side down, until both sides are seared. At this point, you can skim out some, if not all of the fat. (Sometimes) I prefer to keep it in to get that chicken fat flavor.
  5. Pour in the water and let the chicken par-boil (I have not timed it, but I usually let it cook until the water is just about to boil).
  6. Add the quinoa until the quinoa is cooked (about 15 minutes). It should still be “soupy”.
  7. Serve hot with roasted garlic, green onions, and lime (This adds a layer of flavor; I did not have green onion this time).

Verdict

This is delicious and hits the spot. Using quinoa instead of rice actually adds to the fiber and protein. Also, I think quinoa is naturally gluten-free (but I am not a nutritionist, so please check first with your friendly dietician).

Cooking Quinoa CaldoIf you prefer, you can add fish sauce if you want that extra Filipino flavor (and not watching your sodium), but this is great as it is. Ironically, if I do use fish sauce, I use Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce because it is a bit mellower.

Traditional Arroz Caldo also calls for safflower for to get that distinct yellow “Arroz Caldo” color and aroma. I did not use it because I am not sure how it will react with the quinoa.

Ideally, you should use white quinoa only to get the Arroz Caldo look.  I suppose you can use red or black quinoa, but again, like the black rice thing, it won’t look like Arroz Caldo.

For the original recipe and how to make Roasted Garlic, go to Panlasang Pinoy (literally translates to “Filipino Taste”).

Mabuhay!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Discovery Weekends: Duarte’s Tavern - Come for the Cioppino, Stay for the Pie

Duarte's Exterior

Over the holidays, we spent some time along the coast and enjoyed some dining adventures. The one stop that we needed to be sure to make was at Duarte’s Tavern. It was crab season, and Momma needs some cioppino.

Duarte’s is located in the small town of Pescadero, about 30 minutes south of Half Moon Bay on Highway 1 (that is, 30 minutes if you do not make any stops). Duarte’s has been there and family-run since 1894, and was a recipient of the 2003 James Beard Foundation America’s Classic Award, and a local favorite!

We usually trek to Duarte’s to enjoy some of their cioppino whenever we’re in Half Moon Bay. We think that they have the best crab cioppino in the Bay Area – maybe anywhere, and is well worth the trip.

 We may need to wait for a spot especially during the weekends, but we’ve always had good luck in the bar area. If we do need to wait, we can take a nice stroll on Pescadero’s main drag, check out the local merchants, and maybe buy local jams, honey, breads, or some excellent produce.

Duarte's Cioppino
The place may look a bit run-down, but that is part of the charm. It is after all over a hundred years old and I think the only thing that changed (in the bar at least) is the TV. Do not expect a fancy restaurant – expect rustic and lots of local color. The service is very friendly, and the food is well worth it – trust us!

As always, this trip did not disappoint: the cioppino was filled with fresh crab and enough for my Hubby and I. Your meal is served with WARM bread – WARM! And the bread is baked in their own kitchen each morning. I was a bit hungry, so I also ordered a calamari appetizer. It was a big portion and I did my best to finish it. With the cioppino, it was a very big lunch!

Duarte's Ollalieberry pie with whipped cream
At Duarte’s, locals usually get soup, but stay for the pie. The pies at Duarte’s are all made in house and are as famous as the cioppino. They have different types of pie: apple, cherry, pumpkin, key lime, strawberry-rhubarb, and of course my favorite Ollalieberry pie. I have had a love affair with ollalieberry for almost twenty years - I love it!

So of course, I had to get some pie for dessert. Our long drive back home was my ‘justification’ - of course, I really did not need one. Although the strawberry-rhubarb was tempting, I did opt for ollalieberry AGAIN. Next time, I will have to try some variety.

By the way, if you have a craving for one of their pies, you can get them at your local Whole Foods (at least here in the San Francisco Bay Area) or at New Leaf Market.

Duarte's Pie for sale

For more info, check out the Duarte's Tavern website or drop by for a visit.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Images of the Holidays - 2013


Since I did not blog (too much) between Christmas and New Year, I thought my first post should be images from our holiday season. I am sneaking in some from Thanksgiving too (I could not resist). Hope you enjoy!!!

Our almost Charlie Brown Christmas Tree: We have a small place, so we get a small tree. Our ornaments are things we have collected from our trips, cute stuff, and cats (We have lots of cat ornaments - since we have a cat).
Charlie Brown Christmas Tree

My Thanksgiving Minis. Vanilla Cupcake with sprinkles, Pumpkin Cheesecake, Pumpkin Pie, and Chocolate Cupcake with powdered sugar. Still working on a couple of this... but they are so yummy!


First-time Latkes. In a true Mad-Gourmet fashion, I used spaghetti squash and a touch of kale. It came out yummy, but not quite latkes (more like winter squash patties). At least it bound.  
Attempted Latke


Enjoying the Fruits (and Veggies) of the Season: Brussels Sprouts Slaw fresh from the Farmer's Market. Recipe from Michael Symon's "5 in 5" (Page 139)
Brussel Sprout Salad


Potluck time: I wanted to make things easy for me this year, so I just brought my semi-healthy brownie recipe. I used mashed bananas instead of butter and a small amount of coconut oil. I was going for a tropical theme, so I added rum extract (Think choco-banana colada). I think I need more rum extract (or real rum) though. The white chocolate chips also added texture. I avoided adding nuts or toffee for the kidzies (who may have nut allergies).
Brownie Batter


Giant Brownie! What I did with the excess batter.... and it's all mine!!! I added toffee and nuts in this, since I know I do not have allergies. Obviously, I baked this in a ramekin (my larger one).
Giant Brownie


Typical December Lunch: Tomato Soup with Holiday Colors. This one is Tomato-Red Pepper with Wasabi Peas (believe me, it's great together) and pomegranate arils. I could title this "Thanks Trader Joe's."
Holiday Tomato Soup


Christmas Minis: Regular Cheesecake, Apple Crumble, Bread Pudding, (Attempted) Pecan Pie. Expect some of these in a blog post soon (other recipes are still in progress). I did miss out on the Panettone this year.
Christmas Minis


Christmas Haul: This is actually just part of my haul. Finally a Food Processor and a Spice Grinder. I can't wait to make pesto.
 
 
New Year's Day: Wanted to have an easy breakfast: Green tea, Vanilla Cream Puff from Beard Papa, and the Rose Parade. Hits the spot (Yay! No hangovers).

Happy New Year! Looking forward to a great blogging year ahead.