Thursday, March 31, 2005

Bog Standard English Breakfast

The Bath Arms Hotel Bath Street Cheddar Somerset BS27 3AA United Kingdom
Telephone: 00 44 (0) 1934 742425

How I would love to be able to sit here and write about the wonderful English Breakfast I ate in the quaint little pub at the foot of the Mendip Hills. Unfortunately, that's not how it happened. Instead you are going to have to learn about the classic bog-standard English Breakfast that we found in a bog-standard English pub in a small West-Country village.

The bath Arms Cheddar pub bar

Last week, on my return to England from Dublin at some unearthly hour of the morning, my Mum and Dad picked me up at Bristol Airport and drove me straight to Somerset, about 30 minutes away. I fancied a day out at Cheddar Gorge. None of us had been for several years and so we were all looking forward to it. We hadn't been smart enough or had enough time to do research into places where a good breakfast might be had, so instead we settled for the first place we saw advertising it, a pub in Cheddar village called The Bath Arms.

The first thing a Californian might notice upon walking into a pub before 9 in the morning is that not only does the building reek of stale cigarette smoke, people are actually puffing away over their breakfasts. We chose a table in another room and perused the menu.

eggs, bacon, sausage, black pudding, beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, fried bread.
5 items £3.25 8 items £4.25
Tea or coffee included
Toast with butter and jam/marmalade an extra £1.50

Dad and I both went for the 5 item special, whilst mum settled for an off-the-menu scrambled eggs on toast with mushrooms.

The bath Arms Cheddar example of a bad english breakfast fry-up
egg, bacon, sausage, tomato, mushrooms

The tastiest thing on my plate was the sausage. This doesn't mean to say it was a good sausage. In fact, it was undoubtedly a horrible, mass-produced, un-meaty, cheap sausage most probably fashioned from the most gruesome of ground-up body parts. The thing is, when I was a kid, I was the pickiest, fussiest eater imagineable and according to my mother, the only thing I would eat was sausages. As I grew up during a bleak period for British food, the kind of sausages I ate and loved in those days were undoubtedly not the wholesome kind I prefer today. Despite being aware of their bad reputation I still have a soft spot for them to this day.

Everything else on my plate was under par. The bacon was too salty, I was never a huge lover of bacon anyway. The egg was overcooked. I eyed dad's less-fried egg enviously as his yolk spread across his plate whilst my own upheld its hemispherical shape, solid, in the centre of the white. The tomatoes were hard and not grilled enough, the mushrooms, apparently deep fried, were downright awful. The poor things had been rendered totally inedible in a vat of tasteless oil.

The bath Arms Cheddar scrambeled eggs on toast
I was almost coveting my mum's simpler scrambled egg breakfast dish, although her mushrooms were just as abused.

All was not lost, I filled myself up on some simple white sliced toast with butter and marmalade and a large pot of strong black tea. Next time I have an English breakfast I am going to make it myself, here, in California and despite the lack of English-style sausages and the right kind of bacon in these parts, I can guarantee that it will taste one hundred times better than the sorry Bath Arms version.

As this post contains both egg and toast, I hereby declare it to be an entry for this month's edition of EOMEOTE, End of the Month Egg on Toast Eggstravagnza which was started as a joke by Spiceblog and Jeanne at Cook Sister and this month is being hosted by The Passionate Cook.

Disclaimer: Not all sausages or breakfasts in England are this bad. To the contrary there are some truly amazing and delicious sausages to be found in the UK and many places that actually know how to cook quite a decent English breakfast.
Bog Standard English Breakfast

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Ant Rant

This morning I opened a box of Sugar Puffs that I had recently carted all the way across the atlantic ocean. I poured them into a bowl and splashed them with ice cold milk. I dug in a spoon, licked my lips and took a delicious journey back to my childhood.

Then along came the ***bleep*** ants to spoil my guilty pleasure. On returning home from work this evening I looked in my pantry only to discover that instead of hanging out in the little anti-ant houses I had kindly left there to accommodate them, a gazillion ants from the hood had discovered what I knew all along. Sugar Puffs taste flippin' gorgeous. Drat. One almost whole, nearly new, scarce in the US, box of little puffed wheats coated in honey, ending their short but very sweet life in the trash.
Ant Rant

Il Davide - San Rafael - Marin

901 A St San Rafael, CA 94901 (415) 454-8080

Il Davide Italian Restaurant San Rafael

When I think about it, it's odd that, until now, I have never blogged about Il Davide. When I first met Fred almost two years ago, Il Davide was probably the first place we went to lunch together. He would take me there at least twice a week. I am sure I have eaten in this classic Italian at least one hundred times. Unlike Fred who is a creature of habit, I am far more fickle, always in need of new experiences, change and variety. After a while I had to limit our visits to once a week. Once I had eaten my way around the entire menu several times I had to limit our visits even further and now we only pop in for lunch once every three weeks or so.

Il Davide Italian Restaurant San Rafael Orrechietti

The result of dining here less often is that I am much better disposed in my feelings towards Il Davide now. Although nothing they have on their menu is ever likely to suprise me, I now look forward to our less regular visits.

Fred rarely detracts from an order of Il Davide's Orrechietti served with a ragu of veal, prosciutto and herbs in a light tomato cream sauce (pictured above). Although this dish is usually too rich for me to consume at lunch time, I can vouch for the fact it is delicious. I can see why he loves it so much. Fred hastens to add, however, that this dish is not always consistent. He can tell if it is a freshly made batch or not. For the record, Fred told me he prefers it when it arrives a little older, after it's had time to develop its flavours, when it's been reheated and is a little more crispy and well cooked.

Other dishes I am fond of at Il Davide include their fresh seafood pastas specials, their tuna sandwich on foccacia, their crab ravioli and their lamb salad.

At lunch, all of the pastas are a set price of $11.95 including a soup or a salad.
Il Davide - San Rafael - Marin

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Bristol Farmer's Market, England

Corn Street, Bristol (0117 922 4017) Wednesdays 9.30-2.30

Bristol Farmers Market

On Wednesdays, in an old and historic part of English west country city, Bristol, a farmer's market is held. The setting is in a central part of town called the Corn Exchange. In the old days this is where merchants would come to make deals. To this day, you can still see what are called the nails. These are flat-topped large bronze pillars. It was on the top of these nails that money exchanges used to take place. The nails are smooth and worn on their surface, from hundreds of years of use. These days you might find them being utilized as a resting spot for a box of apples on market day. Over a dozen stalls are set up on the pedestrian-only cobbled street between a maze of ancient buildings. There is even one of those clocks that you always imagine in European town Squares, which once a day make a song and dance about telling the time.

The Bristol Farmer's market is quite a departure from what I have become used to in San Francisco. It's more down-to-earth, much smaller and certainly less touristy. Take a look at the English vegetables and fruit. In contrast to California's current Spring bounty, all that is on offer at this time of year are apples, pears, cauliflower, leeks, carrots, purple sprouting, cabbages, swedes and a few sprouts.

Burma Superstar

Despite not having the range and variety of our Californian market, Bristol's still has a good heart. Bristol is the home of the The Soil Association, the UK's leading campaigning and certification organisation for organic food and farming, and about 20% of the food sold at the market is indeed organic. All the stall holders are friendly and helpful. This market isn't a fad or a new enterprise. It has been here for years and was last year voted Second Best Market in the UK.

Bristol Farmers Market
Beautiful fresh fish caught off of the English coast are on offer.

Bristol Farmer's Market Organic Meats
Organic meats

home made cheeses
Hand Made Cheeses

English Bread
White breads with blackened crusts are piled high
Granary is a popular loaf here too. Not something you see in the States, the Granary loaf is the most common cause of unplanned trips to the dentist in the UK. The bread contains nibbly, whole pieces of grain which have the reputation of damaging fillings. The brown bread is soft and chewy with a yeasty flavour and a crispy crust.

yoghurt and hummous
The most delicious hummous and Lebane with herbs and olive oil

It's a shame you can't carry fresh foodstuffs on board an International aircraft!
Bristol Farmer's Market, England

Monday, March 28, 2005

The Battle Continues...

SMS exchange between Europe and the USA:
24-March-05 02:34 From: Sam
I have been really ill with food poisoning. I was throwing up all night. Feel better now. I am in Ireland. x

To: Sam From: Fred
See! English food! Bisous

Burma Superstar

Regular readers of this blog might remember that Fred and I sometimes have disagreements about English Food. I am always having to fight to stick up for it. But we don't seriously argue, its only good humoured banter. Having just arrived back from a week in the UK and Ireland, I have lots of posts ready to write about my food experiences over the last week. I hope you'll join me over the next few days whilst I try to unravel some of the differences between American and British food culture.

Maybe you'll even be able to help me work out exactly what it was that gave me food poisoning..?
The Battle Continues...

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Bay Food Blogger of the Week #2 WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE

I don't suppose that many of readers will be able to understand the food blog I am going to point you in the direction of this week. I don't have a clue myself - because it's written in Japanese. But the author is such a prolific poster of interesting photographs of all manner of food places in San Francisco, many of which locals will recognise, that I wanted to give the Where the Wild Things Are blog a nod.

Some of the pictures, titles and restaurant names are written in English which will give you a hint as to what is being talked about. Other than that, you'll just have to go and enjoy the lovely pictures which can be found here. Check back often, updates are regular.
Bay Food Blogger of the Week #2 WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE

Fairy Cakes

*NEWS FLASH* new to Becks & Posh 2006, a recipe for fairy cakes can be found here.

I wanted to make Fairy Cakes for last Wednesday's Is My Blog Burning, which had a cupcake and muffin theme. As I was travelling, I wasn't able to do so, but my little Irish niece, Mollie made some for me instead. She is only eight years old and she made them almost entirely by herself. Mum just helped her divide the mixture into the cases. She actually baked them on Wednesday. I was recovering from food poisoning and they were the only thing I was able to eat on my lightning trip to Ireland. Thanks Mollie!

Burma Superstar

My friend Del over at Non Dairy Diary has asked for us to post March Fairys on our blogs, so I hope Mollie's fairy cakes will be a slightly unusual entry for that too.

I loved these cakes. They tasted fairy fairy fine indeed!
Fairy Cakes

Friday, March 25, 2005

Hot Cross Buns...

...Hot Cross Buns. One-a-penny, two-a-penny, Hot Cross Buns.

Burma Superstar

Today is Good Friday. The tradition in Britain, is to eat Hot Cross Buns this morning. The spiced buns, containing currants are delicious toasted and then topped with salty butter. The mark on the top of the bun is a symbol of Easter and the time Christ spent on the cross.

When I was a kid the boy scouts used to come and knock on your front door and take hot cross bun orders. They would then deliver them fresh to you on Good Friday morning. Unfortuntely, this doesn't happen any more and instead, you buy them from the baker, the supermarket or the farmer's market.
Hot Cross Buns...

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

I am sitting at Bristol Airport waiting for a delayed flight to Dublin. Here is a picture I took earlier of some delicious Dorset Blue Cheese we bought at the Bristol Farmer's Market this morning.

The white part of the cheese is milky and crumbly almost like a Wensleydale. But, of course, the blue veins give it a much stronger punch.

Burma Superstar - Clement Street - San Francisco

Read my review of Burma Superstar over at SFist today.

Burma Superstar

309 Clement St.
San Francisco, CA 94117
Inner Richmond
Cross street 4th Ave
(415) 387-2147
Burma Superstar - Clement Street - San Francisco

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Maria Manso World Cuisine

1613 Fourth Street San Rafael CA 94901 (415) 453-7877

I am not going to blow Maria Manso's trumpet. She does a pretty good job of blowing it herself. The ex-chef of the Clift hotel's Asia de Cuba restaurant has opened up her own place in Marin. The other day, when the weather was a glorious temperature somewhere in the 80s, we decided to try it out. We knew about the cute little wooden deck at the back of the restaurant, where the leafy trees dapple the light from the hot sun, creating a glorious setting for lunch on a balmy day.

A representative of Maria Manso World Cuisine in San Rafael has told me she does not want me to use the beautiful pictures I took of her food, so I have decided to remove them from this site

The Lunch Menu is brief, consisting mainly of sandwiches including peanut butter and jelly with a glass of milk.

The Cubano is touted as a traditional cuban sandwich, oven roasted pork, honey roasted ham, swiss cheese, dill pickles, mayo and mustard, hot pressed on a baguette $9. If this sandwich is truly traditional, then I implore, forget about tradition and make something that tastes good instead. Fred described the sandwich as "awful, awful, awful". Vinny didn't care for it much, either. Neither did I. Tasteless bread, bland fillings, flavourless cheese, barely any pickle, mustard with no spice and meat with no presence. Never again.

The Vegetarian Wrap is advertised as a soft spinach flour tortilla filled with grilled portobello mushrooms, roasted red bell peppers, arugula and balsamic dressing $8. Although this was better executed and much tastier than the cubano, it was still quite plain and unastounding. The veggies were nicely done and fresh tasting. They were incredibly juicy, though, making the wrap messy to eat.

There was a choice of plantain or potato chips with each sandwich. The plantains (not pictured) were much tastier than the potato chips which appeared to be nothing more than an entire family-sized bag of Lays dumped on the side of each plate.

A $40+ bill is steep for three sandwich lunches without much appeal. We don't think we'll be going back, despite the lure of the lovely deck setting. Friends have told me dinner is much better. Maybe Chef Manso is more vested in the evening meals, there certainly didn't seem to be a culinary anyone around at lunch time.
Maria Manso World Cuisine

Bahn Mi in San Rafael

Did you know you can buy Bahn Mi in San Rafael? Of course, San Rafael is not so hip as to call them Bahn Mi. A simple French Roll Sandwich is all the clue you have to their existance. It's mainly a take out shop but there are a couple of small tables for eating in.
Bahn Mi with BBQ pork pickles mayo cilantro in San Rafael CA
On our last visit we tried the BBQ pork with pickles, mayo, soya sauce and cilantro for $3.50. The sandwiches are served with the bread warm and crispy. The meat is heated too. The vegetables, in contrast, are cold.

The French-style bread is a mass-produced industrial-type bread. The kind where the crust flakes off in sharp little pieces that stick to the roof of our mouth. The pork is fairly sweet, but moist and tasty. The veggies are fresh and crunchy. I could handle a lot more chile, what they do put in is barely discernible.

This bahn mi is just ok - I can live with it, but as Fred said on the way back from lunch, "I wouldn't get up in the middle of the night to eat one."

This little sandwich shop without a name can be found on Grand Avenue, San Rafael, between 3rd and 4th Streets.

Bahn Mi sanwich shop location Grand Avenue San Rafael CA
Bahn Mi in San Rafael

Look at this Beauty

It's a Saucisson Sec from The Fatted Calf. I bought this at the Berkeley Farmer's Market just over a week ago. Fred is crazy for saucisson sec. When I first met him, he talked about it for a whole year until we eventually went to Paris together so I could actually see what all the fuss was about.

Hand Made saucisson from the fatted calf at Berkeley Farmers Market

To no avail, we have been trying to source Le Saucisson Sec in California for the longest time. Imports of the sausage are banned, so it's not easy to find. The first time we saw it listed as one of the weekly specials, on Meathenge at the end of 2004, we rushed to Berkeley only to find that the Fatted Calf had already sold out.

I immediately signed up for the Fatted Calf newsletter and have been scanning it religiously ever since. As soon as I saw the Saucisson Sec back on their product list I rushed over to Berkeley to buy one for Fred. Why then, a week later, the Saucisson is still lying there unopened, you might be wondering? Well Sec translates as dry. Fred and every Frenchman who has dropped by our place in the last week, has prodded the sausage and declared it to not be sec enough, yet.

I assume it will miraculously attain the correct level of dryness in the following week, whilst I am away in England so that by the time I return, next Sunday, there will be no Saucisson Sec left to try. All bets are on - do you think Fred is going to save me any of his special sausage to enjoy and savour on my return?

I also discovered that Trois Petits Cochons, a company in New York, make saucisson sec. Unfortunately they only sell it online as part of their Backpack Through Provence. I don't know about Fred, but I don't want to amass a collection of little purple backpacks, just for the sake of a saucisson sec. When I met with the 3 Little Pig people at the Fancy Food show recently, I asked if they sold any locally. They were a bit hazy but they told me they thought that the Cheese Shop on 24th might sell it. I haven't had a chance to check this out yet. If anyone out there has seen it in the Bay Area, anywhere at all, please let us know.

Ok, I am off to Europe. Have a good week. My posts (if any) will likely be sporadic over the next seven days. After that I'll be back to normal. Well, perhaps not quite normal, maybe you'll have to put up with pictures and descriptions of English food for a few days after that...
Look at this Beauty

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Bay Food Blogger of the Week #1 Eggbeater

There has been such an explosion of Bay Area food blogs recently. I try and list them all on my blog roll. It's hard to keep up these days. There are some really good sites out there, each one a little different or unique in some way. In this new weekly feature, I thought it would be a good idea to point you in the direction of another local food blogger. We're not talking about the blogs that were already mentioned in The Chronicle. I want to highlight some of the blogs that you might not have heard of already, blogs that deserve some of your attention too.

Shuna Lydon's San Francisco Bay Area Food Blog is called Eggbeater

Shuna Lydon is a pastry chef who has worked quite some big gigs in the Bay area. (Think French Laundry.) I first became aware of her posts on the Bay Area Chowhound Message Boards before finally meeting her at the Chowhound Picnic last Fall.

Since then, Shuna has started teaching some classes in San Francisco. I took her first one, recently, a knife class, graciously hosted by Jen.

Shuna is an excellent teacher. She is particularly articulate and precise in the way she speaks. She is a pleasure to listen to and watch at work. She adds little stories and anecdotes about kitchens and places she's worked, which serve to make the classes extra intriguing.

Shuna taught me quite a few things about types of knives to use, taking care of knives, knife safety and, of course, how to chop things up. My favourite technique of the day was how to supreme a grapefruit. I have long loved grapefruit but never really enjoyed eating them halved, with a spoon. Now I can cut them into beautiful pithless little segments, I can't get enough of having a grapefruit for my breakfast. See Shuna in "Supreme" action oven on the Meathenge site. It looks like Dr Biggles was inspired by Shuna's supreme technique too!

Quietly and without any ceremony, Shuna has started a blog. She didn't tell me about it, I just stumbled across a link to it on Meathenge. Do check it out, it's a beautifully written, fascinating perspective on food.
So, off you go then, go read her Eggbeater, Just don't forget to come back and see me some time, eh?
Bay Food Blogger of the Week #1 Eggbeater

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Chevre Cheesecake Pots with Caramel and Fleur de Sel

Chevre Cheesecake Pots with Caramel and Fleur de Sel Recipe

Sugar High Fridays are a monthly online food blogging event started by Jennifer at Domestic Goddess. Each one is hosted by a different Food Blogger who chooses a sweet theme around which participants create something delicious, then blog about it. This month's theme, chosen by Debbie at Words to Eat By is Caramel.

A recipe for Salted Caramel Cheesecake in the October issue of Food & Wine magazine had long been playing on my mind. Debbie's challenge gave me the perfect excuse to try it out. When I dug out the appropriate issue and checked the recipe, I was horrified. The caramel was make with corn syrup. It wasn't what I had in mind at all. I had imagined using natural ingredients, butter, sugar and cream. I decided, there and then, that their recipe would be my inspiration, but the creation of it would be my own.

Chevre Cheesecake Pots with Caramel and Fleur de Sel Recipe

For the cheesecake portion I decided to use some local products. I wanted it to have a little bit of a kick, so I decided to experiment with chevre. Whilst my recipe uses locally sourced ingredients which I will highlight in this post, you should be able to substitute with similar products.

Chevre Cheesecake Pot Ingredients
8oz Redwood Hill Chevre
1/2 cup soft brown sugar
1/2 cup Cowgirl Creamery Creme Fraiche
3 eggs
All ingredients should be at room temperature

Chevre Cheesecake Pot Method
The oven should be preheated to 350F
First, beat together the sugar and the chevre until the mixture is completely smooth. One at a time, add the eggs. Continue beating. The mixture will become more and more runny. Finally beat in the creme fraiche. The result should be a batter-like liquid.

Divide the cream and cheese mixture equally between six small ramekins.
Make a bain-marie by taking a roasting pan large enough to house all six ramekins. Carefully add boiling water to the pan until it reaches half way up the sides of the pots and put them in the centre of the oven.

Bake for just 10 minutes. The edges will have started to firm up, but the centres will still be soft. Leave them in the oven, as it cools, for at least another hour. Remove from the oven after that time and to cool down completely on a wire rack.

Chevre Cheesecake Pots with Caramel and Fleur de Sel Recipe

Caramel Sauce

For the caramel sauce recipe, I looked to one of my favourite online English recipe sources. I knew I'd made caramel as a kid without the slightest hint of corn syrup. I guessed that Waitrose (a high-end supermarket chain in the UK) would have what I was looking for. Their caramel recipe instructions are indeed fabulous. They take you through the whole process step by step. I was really patient, and followed their method exactly and precisely, even brushing sugar crystals off the side of the pan with a wet pastry brush as they suggested. Once my caramel had turned a deep golden colour I took it off the heat and quickly beat in 2oz of diced Spring Hill Farm Hand Made butter, and half a cup of Cowgirl Creamery Creme Fraiche. The caramel started to harden too quickly at this stage so I returned the pan to a gentle heat and beat like crazy with a wooden spoon until all of the ingredients were blended.

Once everything was completely cool, I stirred a teaspoon of fleur de sel into the caramel sauce. I then carefully poured the sauce to cover the surface of each cheesecake. I then left the cheesecakes in the fridge overnight to chill. Just before serving I sprinkled each one with more fleur de sel.

Woah! D E L I C I O U S
Chevre Cheesecake Pots with Caramel and Fleur de Sel

Berkeley Farmer's Market

Three good reasons to forget the Ferry Building Farmers' Market this weekend and buy in Berkeley instead. It's only a 20 minute drive across the bridge. Parking is easy and free close by. Products are cheaper and you are less likely to splurge on those fancy, less necessary, items that flaunt themselves and tempt you in San Francisco. I am not suggesting you ditch the Ferry Building altogether, just suggesting that once in a while a change might be good. Here are the three good reasons why...

Fatted Calf Crepinette Berkeley Farmers Market

My main reason to make the journey to Berkeley is to visit The Fatted Calf who make their own charcuterie and unique meat products. It's wonderful. Arrive early, at 10am, they sell out quickly. Last week we tried their Duck Crepinettes with Picholine Olives. Absolutely delicious, flavourful moist and juicy rounds of meat. Their range of products is different every week. It's a good idea to sign up for their weekly newsletter here or check out the Meathenge blog where Dr Biggles posts their menu weekly, so you can have an idea what's on offer before you make the journey to Berkeley.

Loulou's garden marmalade and jams Berkeley Farmers Market

Last week I bought a beautiful jar of Blood Orange and Rosemary Marmalade from Loulou's Garden. It's a curious mix of bitter and sweet, blessed with just a breath of rosemary. It's such a glorious deep, red colour too. My breakfast never looked prettier. Imagine a snow-white bowl of yoghurt topped with this glistening, exotic conserve. Check out the Loulou's garden website here to see what other treats she has in store.

tierra firma farm purple asparagus Berkeley Farmers Market

I couldn't resist a bunch of the pretty, purple asparagus from Terra Firma Farm either. The flavour doesn't differ much from green and it loses it's colour after cooking, but it sure looked pretty sitting in my fridge. I also loved their Yellow Fin potatoes. Once cooked, these yellow-fleshed spuds had a sweet, creamy texture. They almost tasted like parsnips.

Check out the times and location of the Berkeley Farmers' Market here
Berkeley Farmer's Market

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

MADE IN FRANCE / VILLAGE IMPORTS European Gourmet Food Warehouse Sale

Talking about buying local products is all the rage these days. I've been trying to wean Fred off the imported Creme Fraiche and onto the Cowgirl creamery version instead. My plan worked well enough on his tastebuds. It was when he went to put the pot away, and discovered that the local version is, how shall we put it, a little more sloppy than the French version, that my efforts were damned. A sweater needed washing, a floor needed mopping, cupboards needed rinsing. Hmmmm. Nevertheless, I will soldier on, taking small steps, one week at a time, to try and introduce more and more local products into my fridge and pantry. My inspiration, recently, has come mainly from fellow blogger Jen at Life Begins at Thirty who strives hard to eat locally and follow the seasons.

Until someone in the Bay Area is brave enough to open a Marmite Factory, however, I know I, personally, will never be able to commit 100% to local food. Other Californian immigrants craving for food items from their Motherlands will sympathize and realise this whole issue requires some give and take. I am sure even virtuous champions of local food can't resist, sometimes, exotic products and spices from different parts of the world.

Fans of French food, in particular, might be interested in this coming Saturday's Made in France and Village Imports Warehouse sale. Many products are actually from overseas, but because of rigorous import laws, some of the meats and dairy are more likely to be American replicas of their French versions. If you have never been, it's worth a visit from time to time. Just be prepared, perhaps, to queue for a very long time.

Next Event:
Friday, March 18, 2005
3:00pm - 7:00pm
Saturday March 19, 2005
8:30am - 3:30pm

Directions and mailing list details can be found here

211 South Hill Drive
Brisbane, CA 94005

Our recommended buys:
Olive Oil and Lavender soap, Petit Suisse, Ground Almonds, Couverture, Chocolate and Badoit Mineral Water.

Take a cool bag and a book to read in case you end up in a long line.
(Or just forget about it and go to one of the local farmers markets instead?!)

Check previous posts for more info here and here and here

And Talking of the French...
Our favourite local French foodish blogger, Ced, is miffed that he wasn't mentioned in The Chronicle's recent article about food bloggers. I always look forward to Wednesdays. It's the day that Ced usually launches a blistering attack on Meredith Brody, food critic for the SF Weekly. Whether you agree with him or not, it's always a funny read. Check out his blog later today for the latest assault.
MADE IN FRANCE / VILLAGE IMPORTS European Gourmet Food Warehouse Sale

Monday, March 14, 2005

Acme's Citrus and Almond "Brioche"

Acme has established itself as one of the Bay area's favourite bakeries. At their new home in food paradise, The Ferry Building, there is always the longest queue of people snaking through the main thoroughfare, every one anxious to get their hands on some of Acme's respected baked goods. This location is the only one, other than the Berkeley original, that sells their entire range of baked goods. I waited in the line on Saturday to buy croissants. Their version of the classic French pastry is deliciously crunchy with a soft inside. Acme's croissant is one of the few in the area that Fred has good things to say about.

review Acme bread citrus almond brioche the ferry building San Francisco

When it was my turn to shop, a little brioche caught my eye. In general, I am not a big fan of brioche, but the words "Citrus and Almond" stopped me in my tracks. I was sold. As I recall it cost $3.25. There was a larger version available too. I chose to eat it for breakfast, sliced and toasted with pats of cold, creamy butter. The candied orange and lemon peel infused a pleasantly marmalade-like flavour to counteract the sweetness of this light, eggy, cakey, sweet bread. The almonds imparted a crunchy texture. It was a delicious change from more traditional bread. The flavours reminded me of Easter. I must remember to pick up another one in time to celebrate.
Acme's Citrus and Almond "Brioche"

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store - North Beach - San Francisco

Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store 566 Columbus Ave San Francisco CA 94133 415 362-0536

When I first moved to San Francisco I lived in North Beach for a year and a half. Although I think I must have visited almost every eating spot in the area, I've never written about any of them on my blog. A few weeks ago I had a hankering for my old haunts and I dragged Fred over to San Francisco's version of Italy for a leisurely afternoon brunch.

review Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store North Beach San Francisco
A rare moment: Mario's bar is empty. Two minutes later it was jam-packed full.

Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store no longer has anything to do with cigars and everything to do with people watching, toasted sandwiches, coffees and tumblers of cheap wine. It's the kind of place you can dine alone and still feel comfortable. I used to come here by myself with a magazine or a book, prop myself up at the bar, linger over a latte and watch the world go by.

Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store North Beach San Francisco

Fred tried one of the famous meatball, swiss cheese, onions, marinara sandwiches on toasted focaccia $8.25.

Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store North Beach San Francisco

I was yearning for my old favourite. Grilled Chicken #1 with dijon mustard, pepper jack cheese and onions, $8.50.

Our sandwiches were a little bit dry and overcooked, on this visit. The mustard was just as good and spicy as I remembered. The pickled green pepper garnish, always my favourite thing on the plate, was just as addictive as ever.

We were drinking a cheap red wine. They served it in glass tumblers. In a surprise move, the waiter came over and topped up our glasses for free. Thanks Mario's!

Chouquets is a new French restaurant in Pacific heights. Read my Chowhound review here.
Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store - North Beach - San Francisco

Teaching Tim - Tips on Cooking Vinny's Chicken Scarpelli.

Tim, my office mate, is the reason I have this blog. One, otherwise uneventful, day in May 2004 he suggested I set up a blog and write restaurant reviews. Maybe he was fed up with hearing me talk about food and suggested the blogging mularky as a way to shut me up. I didn't even know what a blog was back then. Boy, do I know what a blog is now! Even though I blame Tim for heading me down this crazy path, when he recently asked me if I could help learn to cook, how could I refuse?

Tim fancied learning a chicken and pasta dish, so we started off by teaching him Vinny's Chicken Scarpelli.
Vinny is a friend, of Italian parentage. The Scarpelli is one of our favourite of his dishes. Vinny gave me the tips on how to put this dish together and even came over on the night to help supervise.

teaching tim recipe for chicken scarpelli
First, Tim sliced 3 small chicken breasts. He gently coated the chicken pieces in flour that had been seasoned with salt and pepper. One piece at a time he then dipped the chicken in a beaten egg before generously coating them in Italian Style Bread Crumbs.
If the egg starts to run out before you have coated all of your chicken, thin it out with a little water.
teaching tim recipe for chicken scarpelli
Next Tim heated up a generous amount of olive oil in a large frying pan. He prepared and roughly crushed and sliced some cloves of garlic. Once the oil was hot enough to quickly 'sizzle' a piece of garlic, Tim then carefully added as many of the breaded chicken pieces as he could fit in the pan, together with a generous handful of garlic. He fried the pieces until they were golden brown, turned them over and continued cooking them until crispy on the other side. Once cooked, Tim removed the slices to rest in a bowl whilst he went through the same procedure for the remaining batch of chicken.

teaching tim recipe for chicken scarpelli
Meanwhile, a jar of Sweet Cherry Peppers, had been drained, with the vinegar being kept to one side. The seed cores were removed from the peppers which were then roughly torn into pieces. Once the chicken was cooked, the peppers and at least half of the vinegar, more garlic, salt and pepper, were stirred into the olive oil. Tim stirred it well, to mix in all the little left behind bits of fried chicken, garlic and breadcrumbs.
On this occasion we used sweet cherry peppers. I think it has a lot more kick and tastes even better with hot cherry peppers instead.
teaching tim recipe for chicken scarpelli

When we asked Tim to put two thirds of the spaghetti in the pan of boiling water, we didn't really intend for him to just let the remaining third drop all over the side.
At the point Fred, the Pasta King, stepped in to supervise Tim's noodle cooking technique..

teaching tim recipe for chicken scarpelli

Tim serves up. After draining the pasta, a little juice from the pepper pan was stirred into the spaghetti to keep it moist whilst serving. The chicken pieces were stirred into the pepper mixture. Season generously, to taste at this stage. A pile of the spaghetti was then topped with the chicken and pepper mixture and sprinkled with grated Parmesan, if desired.

I perked up a stale garlic loaf Tim had bought along by cutting it into slices which placed in a large roasting pan. I dribbled the bread with olive oil and New Maldon sea salt, then left in a hot oven for about 5 minutes.
Teaching Tim - Tips on Cooking Vinny's Chicken Scarpelli.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Marin Sun Farm Eggs

Marin Sun Farm Eggs come from Rhode Island Red and White Leghorn Crossbred chickens who spend their days in grassy pastures and eat a varied diet. You can buy them at the San Francisco Ferry Building Farmer's Market, $6 for a dozen. Recently I have been having a craving for fresher eggs. First, the eggs they use at Tabla, who make a habit of buying their ingredients fresh from local farmers, piqued my interest for that old-fashioned eggy, eggy taste. Next I became smittten by the two eggs on my Pizza at Pizzetta 211. They use Rosie's Farm eggs and, wow, did they taste good. After that, I decided, no more lazily picking up a carton of eggs at Wholefoods, I had to get to the market and find the freshest eggs available instead.

beautiful fresh eggs from Marin Sun Farms

Marin Sun Farm's eggs included a blue one in their carton. The romantic in me finds the idea of a blue-shelled egg quite exciting. It's like finding a piece of hidden treasure. The colour of the shell makes no difference to the taste, however. All of the eggs had the most intense, gorgeous, deep, golden yellow yolks.

recipe leeks vinaigrette with hard boiled eggs

Leeks Vinaigrette
First clean and trim a bunch of leeks. We used the tiny, baby, end-of-season leeks we picked up at the farmer's market last weekend. Fred specifically asked me to cook them well. He's not always into California-style crunchy vegetables. When it comes to leeks I agree with him. When I ate a version in Paris last summer, they were a little undercooked and I got a string of leek caught in my throat. I thought I was going to die.
Simmer the leeks until soft, drain under cold water and then pat dry on kitchen paper. Place eggs in cold water, bring to boil and then leave in a rolling simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the pan, run under cold water, peel and quarter. Serve with your favourite vinaigrette. A really hot, mustardy one would be our choice. Made with a big dessert spoon dollop of Dijon, 1/4 cup vinegar and 1/2 cup of oil, sea salt, black pepper and, if you remember to buy it, a finely minced shallot.

Pricey at $6 a dozen. But the quality, the colour and the taste were very, very good. Yum!
Marin Sun Farm Eggs

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Thieving from Town Hall

*Please note, I have since corrected it, but when I orignally published this post I mistakenly wrote that 6 tbsp butter = 6oz. In fact, the correct amount is 3oz. Apologies for any confusion my typo may have caused.*

No, no, no, I didn't help myself to one of their pepper-grinders, I just nicked one of their recipe ideas, that's all. Think of it as being inspired.

ham scone pepper jam

From Town Hall's Warm Bakewell Biscuits with Smithfield Ham and Pepper Jam $12.50
I created a recipe for:
Sam's San Francisco-Style Cowgirl Creme Scones with Serrano Ham and Smoky Chile Jam

ham scone pepper jam

For the Scones, Ingredients:
(makes about 20)
2 cups of flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon of kosher salt
3 oz butter (6 tablespoons)
1/3rd cup of Cowgirl Creamery Creme Fraiche
1/3rd cup of water
1 egg, beaten

Recipe Method

Preheat the oven to 450 F
Sieve the flour, baking powder and soda into a large bowl. Add salt.
Slice cold butter into small cubes. Add to the flour.
Crumb the ingredients together using the tips of your fingers until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
Mix the water and cream together and then add to the flour mixture.
Mix together until a dough forms.
Knead gently.
Roll dough out to a thickness of about 1/2 an inch.
Using a small cookie-cutter, cut out rounds and place on an ungreased baking-tray.
Brush the tops with beaten egg.
Cook for 13-15 minutes until firm and golden.
Remove scones to a wire rack. Eat as soon as possible, the fresher the better.

ham scone pepper jam

Serve the scones butter, ham and chile jam.
Scones need butter. We used a cold, unsalted European butter.
You can use whichever butter is your favourite.
Our ham of choice would be a cured salty ham like serrano or prosciutto.
If you can get the Smithfield ham then great, but it's difficult to source here in San Francisco which is why chose the Serrano.
We were intending to make some homemade chili jam but changed our minds when we discovered Tierra's range of chili jams at the San Francisco Ferry Building Farmer's Market. The jams are $8.50 a jar. There are several options, we like the Smoky with Rojo and Chipotle chiles best.
If you want to make your own chile pepper jam, the recipe I am keen to try my hand at soon can be found here at Zarah Maria's Food & Thoughts blog.

I have made a few different scone recipes recently. This one, which I developed myself, makes really light, delicious scones. I served the scones as a mid-afternoon snack with a rose cava when some friends dropped by to check out our new pad. My friend Del requested the recipe, so this post is dedicated to her.

Read my Town Hall reviews here and here
Visit the Town Hall website here

Filed under Home Cooking and San Francisco Dining
Thieving from Town Hall

A16 Review on SFist

I would like to extend a warm welcome to all the new readers who have arrived at Becks & Posh via yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle article about food bloggers in the Bay area. Congratulations to all the local bloggers who got a mention, or even their picture printed in the rag. But those of us with our newly found and fleeting fame, aren't the only bloggers in these parts. If you are more seriously interested in food in the Bay Area, stop here a while and check further down the index column on the right of this page where I try and keep an up to date, comprehensive list of all the local food bloggers I know about. In particular do try and find time to visit Life Begins at 30, who reminds us of the importance of sourcing localy grown and made products, Spicetart who is always a giggle and World on a Plate whose pieces are well-written and often thought-provoking.

Yesterday, I also had my first guest article published on local news digest, SFist. For the bi-weekly restaurant review feature they have asked me to do, I will be eating my way around San Francisco using the alphabet as a device for selecting the restaurants I am going to try. For my first piece, starting with the letter A, I visited the much talked about Marina District Italian, A16. Check out my review, written in typical SFist Style, here.
A16 Review on SFist

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The Most Beautiful Lunch Eats in the Bay Area?

At least once a month, I just can't help myself. It's time for another one of my raves about the little, hidden away, Larkspur Cafe, Tabla, who make my absolute favourite lunches in Marin. Their food is always seasonal, fresh, organic and healthy, but oh so delicious. I usually run a mile from anything that is too good for me, but Tabla is a glorious exception to that rule.

I just can't resist vegetables when they are presented like this.

More than just a pretty face, Tabla's food always tastes as good as it looks, too.
Pictured below, a seasonal nettle soup with lemon creme fraiche.

Tabla can be found at 1167 Magnolia Avenue, Larkspur, (415) 461-6787

I recommend their specials, salads and soups over their signature dosas but Fred actually prefers the Indian-style lacy sourdough pancake filled with scrambled farm eggs, curry spiced poatoes and spinach. Check out my previous Tabla posts for more information here, here, here and here

Coming up Soon on Becks & Posh

A16 - a review of my visit to the popular Marina Italian

Teaching Tim - Young, free and single, my colleague, Tim, wants to learn to cook so he can impress the girls and we're going to try and teach him. Ladies - stop by again soon to see how hot Tim is in the kitchen. First recipe on the menu - Vinny's Chicken Scarpelli.

Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store
- people watching in North Beach

Creating Restaurant Food at Home - how I copied Townhall and made a (kind of) version of their delicious Bakewell Cream Biscuits with Smithfield Ham and Red Pepper Jam, at home.
The Most Beautiful Lunch Eats in the Bay Area?

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Paper Chef - Announcing The March Winner

After winning the February Edition of Owen's monthly online recipe-inventing competition for my Very Posh Cheese & Biscuits recipe, I was delighted to have the opportunity to judge the March edition.

For those of you don't know how it works, 4 ingredients are chosen (almost) randomly from a list of those suggested by potential participants. Entrants then have a whole weekend to invent a recipe, shop for ingredients, cook their masterpiece, photograph it and then write up their entry on their blog.

The four ingredients chosen for the March edition were

pomegranate - chocolate - eggplant - stale bread

What a relief it was for me to have an excuse not to take part this month. This particular combination proved to be the most challenging to date. Difficulty doesn't deter a bunch of industrious foodbloggers, however, and the standard of entries was again high, making my job all the more difficult. To check out all the entries head over to hostess Jennifer's blog Domestic Goddess where she rounded up all the imaginative entries.

After much deliberation, uhmming and ahhing, and a points system based on imagination, combination, eatability and simplicity, I have decided to present this month's award to Fatemeh of Gastronomie for her Cocoa-Pomegranate Roast Chicken with Eggplant Stuffing. There were a couple of amazing dessert recipes that almost pipped Fatemeh at the post, but in the end I decided her chicken recipe was one that most people would be able to relate to in terms of actually cooking and eating.

Photograph by Fatemeh at Gastronomie

Congratulations to Fatemeh and all the other entrants. Good job all round!
Paper Chef - Announcing The March Winner

Monday, March 07, 2005

Fritz Vintage 2002 Mendocino County Carignane

Just over a year has passed since Barbie dumped Ken. Ever wondered how our single girl is doing these days? Here at Becks & Posh we can reveal, exclusively, that Barbie has recently found her match with new man Fritz.

Fritz's Carignane is made from an unusual grape. Normally he would blend in with the rest of the crowd, but on occasion, he stands on his own, proud to be a Carignane. So just what is it about him that appeals to our doll?

For starters, he's a beautiful colour, a really deep, pinkish, magenta red. As we all know Barbie loves the colour pink. A glass of Fritz Carignane reflects the wine, like a pair of rose-coloured spectacles, projecting the same colours you'd find in Barbie's wardrobe and decorating her fleet of automobiles.

And what young lady doesn't like the smell of raspberry milkshake, candy and marshmallow? Barbie feels giddy when surrounded with Fritz's sweet perfume. It reminds her of all the things she'd like to eat, but can't, because she doesn't want to gain another millimetre of plastic unless, of course, she can guarantee it would end up on her already ample breasts.

Fritz looks good, he smells good and he tastes good too. His perfume is an honest one. Barbie enjoys the same raspberry milkshake flavours she detects in his aroma, every time she guzzles him down.

But what is that one extra, special, something spark that really sets this perfect relationship aside from all the others? I'm going to let you into the secret of their new romance. The real reason Barbie and Fritz Carignane are a match made in heaven is because

Neither of them has any real body!

This observation was born of an Obscure Red Grape Varieties wine tasting for World Wine Blogging Wednesday, this month being hosted by Spittoon.

We paired the wine with a beef, green garlic, carrot and artichoke stew, horseradish mashed potatoes and garlic stir-fried arugula rabe. Although we really quite liked the taste of this unusual grape, the Carignane was too thin to stand up to our more robust dinner. The wine opened up, a lot, losing some of it's sweeter aromas, after being left to breathe. Half of the bottle was consumed a day later, by which time it was tasting pretty good. It was a shame, though, that it didn't display any roundness.

$15 a bottle from the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchants
Visit the Fritz winery here
Fritz Vintage 2002 Mendocino County Carignane

Mr Ribs Real Deal BBQ - Corte Madera Town Center - Marin

Mr Ribs Real Deal BBQ - Corte Madera Town Center(at Bryan's Fine Foods) - Marin
Open 7 days, 11.30 to 7. Phone (415) 519 7420

As you amble through Corte Madera's genteel Town Centre with its array of oh so nice, Marinish, middle-class stores, you might detect a change in the air. You frown, you ponder, you turn to your companion and ask, "Can you smell BBQ?" You can, of course, because Mr Ribs, with his own on the premises smoker, has set up shop in town.

Is Marin ready for something so stinky?

Is Marin ready to eat out of takeout boxes, using their fingers, without a bib?

Baby Back Pork Snack, $3.99

The two small ribs were the best part of the meal, lightly smoked, served warm, although wrapped in clingfilm (remember to remove before eating). This meal is difficult to consume and messy. I could still smell the smoke on my hands hours after lunch, despite the lemon wipe they provided for cleaning up afterwards.

The corn bread was something I didn't like. I am take it or leave it with cornbread. Some I prefer more than others. This version was too "steamy" for my tastes.

The sauce - was cold. Very cold. Too cold. It was a bit of nothing sauce, with meager personalitiy.

Next time we visit Mr Ribs, Fred and I will give the multi meal option a miss. Instead we'll share a half slab of the baby back ribs for $9.49 and buy a tub of the old fashioned potato salad from Bryan's Fine Foods, as a side, instead.
Mr Ribs Real Deal BBQ - Corte Madera Town Center - Marin