Jimmy Jamms Sweet Potato Pies

I don’t even need to think of a snazzy title full of alliteration for this post, it’s already done for me. Thank goodness, because while this day ended up great, it did not start that way.

I started out the day on the wrong side of the bed last Tuesday. The neighbor’s dog started its incessant barking way too early and our lulu cat decided to chime in and howl/scream/just plain annoy me. It was cold and rainy, not a good start to a day off at all. I dragged myself out of bed, complaining the whole time. At that point, Laurent made a quick exit to work with a “sorry, gotta run, hon” Probably just glad to make it out alive, as my grumpiness would most likely be directed at him, poor guy.

I sucked it up and put on my bright yellow rain boots and got in the car to head to Beverly to buy bottles for the syrups I am making. (Syrup company to launch sometime in the fall! More about that some other time.) Of course there was traffic.  After this drive into unchartered territory, I was hoping for some type of fun discovery to brighten my day. I got my wish. As I was driving west on 95th, I passed Jimmy Jamms Sweet Potato Pies. Oh ya, my kind of discovery! I had heard about this café that serves everything sweet potato on the Hungry Hound or read about it in the paper, or something, but it wasn’t on my radar or my excel list at all, and then I just came upon it.  Time for a U-Turn.

I parked and walked in and was greeted with a sample of sweet potato ice cream. How could that not turn my day around? Yum. I love sweet potatoes, savory or sweet. And they had it all here. I wanted to hold off on my blog post to go back and try one more item, but I just couldn’t wait to tell you about it. I did try quite a few items, so I am not lacking material, by any means. Now you know I am not good at making decisions. This was torture! I asked the friendly woman behind the counter what I should have. I couldn’t decide between  the Jimmy Jamm Loaded Yam, a loaded sweet potato with filled with sautéed onions, green peppers, brown sugar, shredded cheese, chicken or steak and mushrooms,  or the Sweet Potato Stew or a deli sandwich on sweet potato bread.  The stew just sounded perfect for this cold rainy day. She threw me for a loop when she said that her favorite was the chicken and sweet potato waffle.  She said the chicken was so perfectly spiced that she didn’t even need hot sauce on it. Where was that on the menu?  I didn’t see it anywhere. I can’t forgo a server’s recommendation, as they have hardly ever steered me wrong. Even though I had my heart set on a loaded sweet potato, I gave in to the recommendation.  I placed my order and she reminded the kitchen staff that she had told me how perfectly it was spiced, so “do it right” she told them.

While I was waiting for my chicken and waffles to cook, I went a little crazy in the dessert department! I ordered a piece of sweet potato pound cake, ‘for Laurent “, (yes I meant to put those quotation marks there!)  a piece of sweet potato bread, these donut looking pastries filled with sweet potato and a piece of sweet potato pie.  That decision was hard enough, as there were about four or five varieties of sweet potato pie, with pecans and pralines or with honey cream cheese topping. I went for the classic. I also had to leave the cupcakes, cookies and ice cream there. Next time. Next time.

So, I took a seat on one of the big comfy chairs to wait for my chicken and waffles. It arrived and I let out an “oh my!” and immediately started taking pictures of it. I took one with my camera phone and sent it to Laurent, who immediately responded with “where’s mine?” Let me tell you, I took him leftovers. There was no way I could finish that. The dish had four huge meaty wings and sweet potato waffle the size of the 10” plate. First, the chicken. The server was right, this chicken was perfectly spiced. I have never had fried chicken this good.  It was not spicy by any means, but  spiced or seasoned with herbs, maybe a little chile, all mysteriously infusing the batter and chicken with great flavor, but not apparent to the naked eye at all. The batter was flaky but not falling off. The chicken was juicy and piping hot. This waffle was the perfect complement to the chicken. It was a little tart, ( buttermilk?) but sweet at the same time. You could definitely taste the sweet potato, but it wasn’t dense or heavy at all. It was served with butter and syrup, which I used a little of, but it really didn’t need it. It is so rare for me not to pour any kind of sauce that is given to me over my food. I’m just a saucy girl! These chicken and waffles did not need it at all. I am not a chicken and waffle expert by any means. In fact, I think I have only had it one other time, but this was good stuff and I think it may have ruined me for all other chicken and waffles in my future.

I packed up the rest of my feast for Laurent, and dug into the sweet potato pie, which comes with a warning saying “These pies are very addictive and may cause you to buy more” . Heed this warning, as it is true.  While I resisted this time, as I had a bagful of other goodies to try, I was very tempted. The sweet potato pie was very tasty, creamy, sweet, spiced, but not too much of any of these, except tasty. Great balance, texture, flavor. I have heard that you have to order whole pies for the holidays early, as they sell out fast. At $10 a pie, a full size pie, I can see why.

Jimmy Jamms Sweet Potato Pies made my day. The staff was super friendly, the food was tasty and it was super inexpensive. Lunch big enough for two and all these yummy sweets added up to only $20! $20! This place is a bargain and a half with friendly service and excellent food.  I can’t wait to go back and try that loaded yam and the stew and more of those chicken and waffles and top it all off with some sweet potato ice cream, of course. Get yourself to Beverly soon.  It is well worth the drive!

Jimmy Jamm Sweet Potato Pies, 1844 W. 95th St. , 773-779-9105, Closed Sundays



Filed under Cafes

Fabulous Floriole

I like to write about places and food that I am crazy passionate about. I usually don’t write about the latest hottest newest foodie place to go to. That is what The Hungry Hound and Time Out does; and they do it well. I can’t compete with them with my rambling not always grammatically correct tangent filled blog posts. But I am so crazy passionate about this latest hottest foodie temple of fabulousness, that I have to gush about it. Floriole. You know the whole background already, Sandra had/has a stand at the Green City Market and now she has a much anticipated beautiful two story café. That’s the short version. Here comes my long version.

My last stop before being tested for Celiac Disease recently was Floriole. If I could never again have wheat/gluten, Floriole was going to be my “Last Supper” and “Last Dessert”!  The good news is that I do not have Celiac and I can continue to gorge myself on Sandra’s pastries. I will try to control myself next time, as on my last trip I had a sandwich, an almond crème croissant, a sticky bun, and a chocolate croissant, plus an iced coffee. No joke! I thought I was going to be handed down a death sentence, so I was going to live it up while I could.

Floriole recently started offering sandwiches, a few choices a day. Perfect. Why do you need ten million sandwich choices, where the only difference between one sandwich and the next is the condiment? You don’t. Why do you need tasteless bread piled a mile high with gloppy sauces and tasteless tomatoes? You don’t. What you do need is one of Floriole’s perfect sandwiches. They are very “French”, with a shmear of condiment, a few slices of meat and a slice of cheese.Simple, yet with such fresh complex flavors. These ingredients were meant to show off the baguette, that lovely baguette, which was the star of the show. You know how sometimes you will take half the bread off to get to the good stuff inside a sandwich? You wouldn’t even dream of doing that at Floriole. In fact, you will probably buy whole loaf on your way out the door, for later. It probably won’t even make it to the car without you stealing a bite.

The other ingredients such as the Otter Creek spring raw milk cheddar, the ramp pesto made from Bare Knuckle Creek Farms ramps, the Black earth Meats ham were top notch, but the bread…..ohhhh the bread. You have not tasted a baguette until you have had Floriole’s. I never knew this is what a baguette should taste like. I didn’t know baguettes had flavor and texture. I thought they were tasteless neutral vehicles for stinky cheeses. This baguette had chew, it had crust, and it tasted clean and yeasty. It was nothing at all like its cardboard cousin, “that baguette imposter”. Hence, this ham and cheese sandwich was what sandwich dreams are made of. And bonus, it was only about $7.00, maybe less, I don’t remember. All I know is I would pay double for it and still be happy! It didn’t come with greasy chips, or tasteless slaw or anything else. It didn’t need to. It was all about the sandwich.

Onto the pastries….yum. Just like the baguette was the perfect example of what a baguette should be, a picture, or better yet, a taste of Floriole’s croissants should be in the dictionary next to the definition of croissant. I have never been a croissant freak, again, probably because I have never had a good one in Chicago.  I have had an amazing croissant at a tiny little bakery with one table in Toronto, and in Paris, but never in Chicago. I have only had “fake” croissants in Chicago. You can tell by looking at them, these crescent shaped pastries masquerading as croissants, that they were not real. That they were made by some other method other than laboriously layering paton dough with butter over and over again and letting them rest and rise and do their thing. Floriole does it the right, time consuming way, as they do everything. Thank goodness. I have had three of the croissants at Floriole. Not all on one trip! Come on, that would just be gluttonous. Oh, wait….I did have two of them on one trip! Let me defend myself here by saying that the almond crème croissant made for a better picture, but I really wanted a chocolate one, because chocolate IS my middle name (after caramel). I did take the chocolate one to go and I did share it. So there. I also had a ham and cheese croissant on a separate trip. Lesson: Good ham plus good sharp cheese plus great technique and attention to detail equals a perfect croissant. No matter which croissant, or two, that you get, you will be very happy. Number one, you can taste the butter. Number two, you can taste the butter! And this makes for a super flaky, do not eat in your car, crispy, yet tender, perfect example of that classic French pastry.

Onto that sticky bun… I will confess that this was my second sticky bun. No not on this trip! I do have some self control. Not much, but some. I had no self control on my last trip, when I got that amazing croissant. I also got a sticky bun to share with my husband, as he loves them. Well…needless to say, he still has not had even a bite of Floriole’s sticky bun. Oops. I meant to only eat half, because, do you really need a whole sticky bun, after eating a ham and cheese croissant? Don’t answer that. Well, I ate a bite, then another, then my half was gone, just another little bite, well, by that time, I told myself it wasn’t worth saving him the one little bite that was left, so I destroyed the evidence. Now he is going to read this and I am totally busted! Those sticky buns are addictive. They are gooey and chewy on the outside, but the inside stays tender somehow. You know how with most sticky buns you can’t wait to get to that one center bite, as it is the most tender and perfect? Well, Floriole’s entire sticky bun is tender and perfect. No need to wait to get to the middle, you can enjoy every single bite. (even your husband’s half)  It is not too sweet, but still covered in lovely caramelized sugar. How she does it I don’t know, but I’m glad she does.

One last bonus, they cold brew iced coffee at Floriole. It makes sense. They do everything else the right way there, of course they would make iced coffee so it is rich and complex and full of flavor.

I just want to leave you with this (mental) picture, as I didn’t capture it on film. As I sat at Floriole, eating, enjoying, observing, musing…I saw person after person literally picking the crumbs off their plates, wanting to savor that very last morsel of their Floriole pastry.. I won’t lie, I found myself doing the same thing. It was that good.


Filed under Cafes

Tacolicious deliciousness…..

One more San Fran post…This is the real stuff, into the city for some serious adult eating (No offense Aaron.) This post is part lucky stumbled upon, but found out it was on “my list” deliciousness, part deliberate  top of “my list” we must eat here hip, chef hangout tastiness, and part oh, how did that slip past my radar and not get on “my list” amazingness.

On Sunday, after an afternoon of family brunch where we made ricotta blackberry crepes and endive, crème fraiche, frizzled prosciutto hors d’ oeuvres, we headed into the city to shop/eat/explore.  We drove straight to the Marina District, where we had success on our last trip in the shopping/eating category. I never thought I would say “I love this neighborhood”, but I do. It is so civilized. Told you, I’m getting old! It is clean. There are great boutiques, lots of food choices and we can find parking. How can a neighborhood be “boring” if the amazingly tasty top of “my list”A16 is in it? As good as A16 was, you know me; I want to try something new and exciting, or at least different.

We actually weren’t even planning to eat, we were just in search of a cool place to imbibe, but stumbled across Tacolicious. The place was rockin’, so of course we wanted to go in.  We had a drinks at the location when it was Laiola and were wondering what was up. When we looked at the sign, I knew the name sounded familiar and fun. I pulled out my handy dandy list and there it was but listed as a stand at the Thursday Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.  They had closed Laiola in 2009 to grow their farmers market taco stand. YES! I could cross coca cola braised beef tacos off my list.

Problem was…we weren’t really hungry. Oh well, minor problem. Just one little taco wouldn’t hurt. Oh, but, you could choose four tacos for $12.00. Ok, twist our arms.  Here was the line up….Fried local cod with cabbage and tangy crema, house made chorizo potato, guajillo braised beef short ribs, and shot and a beer braised Petaluma chicken. Plus the tacos came with a salsa sampler. Laurent was in heaven and boy were they pretty colors. The green was a creamy tomatillo and jalapeño; the creaminess had to come from a touch of avocado blended in. That’s my guess. The beautiful yellow was habanero and was not going to get near my tongue. The smoky red was smoky in flavor, too, from, you guessed it, chipotles. Mmmm. I love smokiness.

Ok, tacos. Fried cod – yes, yum, thank you.  Chorizo potato – good.  Chicken – surprisingly above the house made chorizo in our very scientific ranking system. Short ribs – chewy, tender, sticky, smoky, slightly spicy, wish I could eat three more of these tacolicious deliciousnesses.

After Tacolicious, it was onto Tornado, the Haight dive beer bar for a beer, as Tacolicious’ beer list left a lot to be desired. Plus we had to digest before heading to……drum roll please….Nopa.  I knew I only had one day and one restaurant to choose from on “my list”, my entire excel spread sheet of choices culled from Food and Wine, blogs, and foodie friends. Talk about a hard decision, especially for someone who is notoriously bad at making decisions (I just want it ALL!) Actually, I lied, it was an easy decision. Hands down, Nopa won, recommended by Alex Lopez, the Food Diva and Food and Wine magazine and touted as a chef hangout. If the chef’s are eating there, then I am eating there.  Nopa stands for North of the Panhandle, where the restaurant is located.  Sounds hip.  That’s what counts, right?  Nopa was delicious. That simple. You knew the moment you stepped inside that it was going to be good. Actually, I knew a few blocks away that it was going to be good, as we smelled the wood burning oven belching out its sweet smoky, meaty smells. Mmmmmmmm.

There were two seats at the bar, lucky for us, as we walked in with no resos and not a chance in hell at getting a table. We prefer to sit at the bar anyways, less commitment, if it’s not good, which was not going to be a problem at Nopa. Plus, if you order a full meal at the bar, that makes the bartender happy as his check, and tip, just went way up. If you order just appetizers at a table, pricey real estate at busy restaurants, you make for an angry waiter, which equals bad service. It is hard enough getting good service these days.  I much rather have a happy bartender wait on me.

This happy bartender was a pleasure. He was well versed and knew what he was talking about and took the time to explain white whiskeys to us, which caught our eye on the drink menu, and the drinks that were made with them. He suggested a white Manhattan for Laurent so we could compare it to the white buck that I ordered, which, by the way, is a cocktail made with ginger beer and lemon. White whiskeys are whiskeys made with no barrel ageing, hence they are white, as they do not pick up any color from the barrel they are aged in. I am just getting into whiskies, and love tasting them and learning about them. I don’t think I like white whiskeys, though, as I love the taste that the barrel imparts on the booze. It tasted a little too much like tequila to me. (Tequila and I go way back and do not really agree with each other, if you know what I mean.) It was a fun experiment, though; he white whiskey, NOT the tequila.

We weren’t starving. Not a good position to be in here. We managed to eat an entrée, a side and a dessert, though, “for the sake of research”. You know how at some restaurants you can find a million appetizers you want to try and no entrees. Well, it was the opposite at Nopa. While the appetizers looked great, Laurent and I both eyed at least three entrees we wanted to try.  Time to call in the bartender for advice. I always go with waiter recommendations, as they have the inside scoop. I was in the biz for years, trust me, I know. We were leaning towards the milk braised goat with English peas, spring onions and tarragon, just because, well, when else do we eat goat? The bartender, though, said that the grilled country pork chop was the best pork chop we would ever have. Plus I was much more interested in the fried baby favas and kumquats on the side, than the English peas. The pork chop won. The bartender was right, it was the best pork chop we have ever had, cooked perfectly to medium rare, as promised. Yes medium rare. We are out of the dark ages of trichinosis and these pigs had lived a happy life on a local farm and were not going to make us sick if not cooked to a leathery death, like our moms used to do. Oops, sorry, I mean my mom! This was the second time we had fried baby favas on this trip.  I could move to Cali just to be able to eat those in early May every year.  The thin slices of kumquats were the perfect foil to the lightly fried favas and the juicy smoky, slightly fatty, in a good way, pork.

The polenta side dish we ordered was so much more than merely a “side”.  Cubes of polenta, I expected it to be a creamy soft polenta for some reason, but who am I to argue with this deliciousness, I would not have changed a thing.  So, cubes of polenta, with a creamy, sauce of blue cheese and honey and chunks of walnuts in a crock, raised to the roof of the wood burning oven to crisp and caramelize. I think I danced when I ate it. No, I KNOW, I danced when I ate it. I think know we sopped up every last bit of that salty/sweet sauce with a piece of crusty bread. Don’t worry, little polenta side, you are a main course in my eyes.

How we had room for dessert, I don’t know. Oh, I remember, we didn’t. Did that stop us from ordering it? No. Let me tell you, the portions here are a nice size, and dessert was no different. Dessert had my friend Stacy’s name all over it. Lavender pot de crème with dark chocolate pudding cake and cocoa nib caramel. You know that I can’t pass up anything with the word caramel in it. This was literally two desserts. Told you they weren’t shy with their portions.  The lavender pot de crème had chocolate on top of it…bonus….and was silky, creamy and smooth and did not taste like soap at all! Some lavender desserts do, you know. The dark chocolate pudding cake was delicious as well, and I managed to get every last bit of that cocoa nib caramel off the plate without actually licking it. I am very talented that way. Very happy. Full belly. Good night.

Good morning. Time for one last San Fran meal, on the way to the airport. Scott suggested Out the Door, the infamous Slanted Door’s casual restaurant.  This was a great idea, as we have never been to The Slanted Door, and we could now try the food without breaking the bank. Well…sort of. $50 for lunch was a bit of a stretch to be called “cheap”, in my book, but let me tell you, I would rather pay $9 for a bowl of soup and have it be a damn good smaller bowl of soup. You know, now that I think about it, $50 wasn’t crazy for lunch. $9 for soup, $12 for entrée, $5 for side, that is totally reasonable. It was the fancy beer Laurent ordered just for the cool bottle, $10, and the $4.50 fancy blooming jasmine tea that sent us over the “cheap” mark. It was all worth it, though, including the fancy beer bottle and blooming tea. It made for great pics, as you will see. (Hey, that rhymes :))  Plus I was one happy camper after eating at OTD (as us insiders call in. JK. That is what is actually on their business card.) And that is how Laurent likes me!

First the room is light and airy and modern and casual and comfortable.  We sat at the bar, as usual, but had no trouble committing to a great lunch. We were pretty “fooded out” by this point and welcomed the clean, light Vietnamese flavors on the menu.  I ordered chicken pho and Laurent ordered grilled lemongrass pork over vermicelli noodles with a crispy imperial roll. We also ordered a side of snap peas and shitake mushrooms. I love pho, the Vietnamese beef noodle soup, but have never ordered chicken pho, thinking it was the wimpy way out. And I am no wimp! Hands down, this was the best pho I have ever had and the best chicken soup I have ever had.  It tasted like quality. It tasted of good, clean ingredients, excellent technique and of pure chicken. Now we make our own damn good chicken stock at home and think it is essential to a good soup. We do cheat and use the crock pot and it works. But this is the real deal. You could tell this stock was made by a trained professional. It was clean and clear, but none of the flavor had been filtered out. I will make an educated guess and say that the chicken bones were roasted, as they should be, before they made their way into the stock pot. The chicken was juicy, both the white meat and dark meat. Rare occurrence, indeed.

Laurent’s lemongrass pork was excellent. Classic  Vietnamese fare, but better. The cha goi, or imperial roll, was light and crispy and not the least bit greasy at all. And the snap peas were plump and crunchy and tasted like Spring, balanced by the earthy shitake mushrooms. I don’t think shitakes should even be called mushrooms. I take that back, button mushrooms, should not be called mushrooms. These are two different animals, or I guess I should say vegetables. The texture of shitakes is not at all slimy, like those insidious button mushrooms. I don’t even like those things fried with ranch dressing on them, which will make almost anything taste good. They just don’t taste like anything.  Shitakes are meaty, yet delicate, chewy (I would say “toothsome” but I DESPISE that word and its overuse!) with the most amazing burst of pure flavor umami. I could eat this kind of food all day long.

Since it was raining and we had a little time to spare before saying goodbye to San Fran, I ordered the Thousand Days Red Jasmine Xian Tao art tea. Green tea leaves are wrapped around the clover type flower and formed, dried, reshaped,  scented with jasmine and hand tied with a silk thread. If that is not worth $4.50, I don’t know what is! The tea had the most amazing bouquet and was so soothing to sip. We were mesmerized by the flowering of the tea and how it floated and danced and sunk in the glass.

It was a very pleasant way to pass a half hour on a rainy day and a beautiful image to take with us as a memory of our amazing trip. A trip that was full of pleasant surprises, unfolding in ways we hadn’t imagined, delighting us in its simple pleasures and exciting us with new discoveries.

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Tacos, ice cream and mochi =good times (and a little bit of a tummy ache)

San Fran part two. This is the part when I get into the city. Pt. Reyes, Sonoma and Petaluma were amazing, serene, relaxing, but now it was time for a little excitement. I was itching to get into San Fran proper. Saturday was the day to do this, with my sixteen year old nephew, Aaron, in tow. (It helps to be known as the cool aunt.) While the three brothers ,Laurent, Scott and Albert, were at Rachel’s graduation , I got out my excel spread sheet, popped the GPS on the rental car and told Aaron he had to be co-pilot, because I was nervous about driving in San Fran. Getting out of Scott’s 90 degree angle of a driveway was hard enough, but I did it.

First stop, El Tonayense Taco Truck, recommended by my friend Alex Lopez, the Food Diva. Unlike LA, trucks in San Fran seem to stay parked in one spot for the most part. This was very civilized for street food, as there were tables belonging to the adjacent restaurant, also owned by El Tonayense, that we were able to enjoy our tacos on. This was a welcome luxury. I’m getting old, what can I say. Tacos al pastor and carnitas taco were wolfed down in a second and hit the spot, nothing fancy, but damn good. So was the horchata. I forgot how good horchata could be, full of cinnamon vanilla creaminess. I might as well fess up now, as you will see from the picture I am about to post of the taco truck, that we went back after dinner so Laurent could have a taco. I swear I didn’t have another. I know when to call it quits….sort of!

Speaking of creaminess, it was onto Humphrey Slocombe for the crazy ice cream flavors I have been hearing about in Food and Wine, Gourmet and Bon Appetit.  How convenient, it was right up the street, even though I passed it up three times. The GPS chick kept saying “You have arrived” in her robotic choppy voice and I was talking back to her, saying “Where? Where? ”   I am used to Chicago/New York grid style address, so I figured that 2790 Harrison would be at 27th street, not 23rd. Right? After driving around the block three times and calling we finally spotted the line out the door of this tiny shop. Then we circled for a parking spot. You need a Smart Car to be able to park in San Fran. Driveways keep breaking up the sidewalk and create a million places you can NOT park. We should have left the car by the El Tonayense Taco Truck as we had only gone about five blocks.  Let me tell you, this ice cream was worth all the parking headaches in the world. Oh man. I dropped about $12 on two ice cream cones and would do it again. You know me and decisions, not such a good combo. How was I supposed to decide between Szechuan Strawberry, Secret Breakfast (bourbon and cornflakes), Blue Bottle Vietnamese Coffee, Honey Thyme, Thai Chili Lime, Peanut Butter Curry, and Caramel Balsamic? Ohhh the pressure. I tried two flavors and then committed to two others…..Peanut Butter Curry and Caramel Balsamic. I can’t pass up anything with caramel in its title. Aaron got Peanut Butter Curry and Tahitian Vanilla.  I will excuse him for ordering Vanilla, even though it was Tahitian, and for ordering the same flavor as me, as I have not properly trained him, YET! Laurent should have warned him that the proper stance to take would be “What two flavors would you like me to try Auntie Melissa?”  It would be good training for his dating life…girls love that. Believe me.

Ok, I was so full by now, it wasn’t even funny….or comfortable. But I had to forge on. While driving to find the taco truck, we passed Japan Town. Mochi!!!!!!! How could I forget that San Fran has the best mochi I have ever had?  The best mochi are from Benkyodo, which also has a counter and sells hot dogs that spin around in that hot dog warmer thing with rollers. Don’t ask; just look the other way and head to the mochi counter. They must know what they are doing. They have been around since 1906.

Here is where my friend, Keiko, would correct me. Mochi is the pounded rice cake, with no filling at all. Manju, she tells me, is the filled rice cake.  I don’t care what you call them, they are good. (I need to insert here that my damn spell check kept trying to auto correct “mochi” to mocha”. So if I didn’t re-correct them all, you know what happened.) Mochi/maju might be a little bit weird to you at first, if you are not used to weird Asiany desserts. (I got used to them very fast, let me tell you. Don’t get me started on grass jelly.) They are basically chewy rice cakes stuffed with sweetened red bean paste.  Don’t confuse them with mochi ice cream. It’s just not the same. You can get them here at Chicago Foods, the Korean grocery store, but they are just ok. Mitsuwa in Arlington Heights has much better ones, but none seems to be as soft and chewy and heavenly as the ones from Benkyodo. I don’t know if you can call something chewy tender, but these are amazingly tender. I am a texture freak, and this texture makes me very happy.  We bought eight of them to share with the family. I was so full; I couldn’t even eat one on the spot. How I resisted I don’t know. That $5.oo ice cream cone had sent me over the edge!

What a great day this had been. Who knew that hanging out with your sixteen year old nephew could be so much fun? We had a blast. At least I did. I guess we should ask him if he did. Aaron was a great sport, being dragged around San Fran with not a one complaint. He was polite, considerate, funny, a great conversationalist. Was he really a teenager? There was a lot of good food, but most importantly lots of laughs, inside jokes (I will never be able to say Van Ness without adding an “A” on the end of it.) and quality time spent with family, and a little bit of a tummy ache (well worth it, though).  Thanks Aaron! This was shaping up to be an excellent trip.

Bye Bye…drive Safe 🙂

More San Fran eating adventures next week.


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Family, food, friends, fun …this is life…..

We just got back from an amazing trip to San Francisco. It was different from most of our trips to San Fran, where we run around the city, looking for tacos in the Mission or stuffing ourselves with dim sum in the Richmond District. We would be staying in Mill Valley with Laurent’s brother, Scott.  Other family would be joining us later for our niece’s graduation. Scott was taking two days off work and had planned some day trips to Sonoma and the Coast. Hmmm…could I survive not heading straight into the city to shop and eat until I dropped? Could I handle the mellow pace of life outside the city?  I decided to open my mind to it and just “go with the flow”, not so easy for me, who usually takes control and plans the entire vacation’s worth of eating and then some.

When we arrived on Thursday it was off the plane and then hit the ground running…or should I say eating?  So much for that mellow pace.  I was gonna like this.  After dropping off our luggage we headed over to Fish in Sausalito. Talk about California Cuisine, this was it. Fish is known for its commitment to sustainable fish.  Scott, and his girlfriend, Kit, gave us the scoop on Fish’s very simple, but do not read inexpensive, menu. There are about five fish of the day. You just pick one and the preparation you want. We followed Scott and Kit’s lead and chose one of the five fish, grilled and served over a salad.  I chose calamari and Laurent chose fresh sardines.

I didn’t think I liked sardines, but these were great; a stronger flavored fish, but not fishy by any means, just a little bony, actually a lot of little bones.  We also ordered tempura baby fava beans served with an aioli. I have never had anything fried that tasted so fresh and spring like. These baby fava beans SCREAMED fresh…as did our entire lunch.

Your food is brought out to picnic tables in the marina. It was a sunny beautiful day…it seemed that all the customers were regulars as all the ladies had their big floppy, yet fashionable, hats to shade themselves from the sun. We just soaked it all in and enjoyed. Great food, great company, great conversation, great atmosphere. What a fabulous welcome to California.

Ok, bellies comfortably full, we headed out to Sonoma, where Scott’s office is.  If I had an office in Sonoma, don’t think I would mind going to work every day.  It’s right next door to a winery. That seems like it would make for a very dangerous lunch hour! Yes, we were smack dab in the middle of wine country, but we went straight for the beer.  I tend to be a little rebellious. There are actually quite a few breweries in this area of California, hence lots of amazing beer, which we preceded to drink at Mondo where  we met some of Scott’s employees for happy hour. Oh boy was this something to be happy about, for hours! There were $3.oo drafts offered and we are not talking Budweiser here. Scott ordered a Lagunitas IPA, Laurent a Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA and I ordered a Russian River Brewing Company Double Imperial “Pliny the Elder” IPA. (Yes, we are bitter hoppy IPA fans!)Here are my reason on why we were so happy this hour;  #1, all these beers were made in Sonoma County, # 2, all these local beers  were all $3.00, #3, all these local $3.00 beers were amazing. My new favorite is the Russian River brew. Hoppy and bitter, yes, but floral, citrusy and piney, also. It was amazingly smooth and well-balanced, unlike me, after we left hours and many beers later.

But not before we ate some damn good bar food, that I did not even think to take a picture of, as I didn’t expect it to be this tasty, and once we found out it was this tasty, we inhaled it. But I can tell you about it. These objects of my affection were simply called Jambalaya Fritters. They were basically rice balls mixed with chicken and andouille sausage, spiced with Cajun spices, breaded and deep-fried. How could they be bad, you ask? They couldn’t, really. But how could they be this good? Spicy, moist, crunchy, flavorful, served with mustardy remoulade with a Creole kick.  When we raved about them, the owner told us that they came about by pure accident, as a lot of good things do. They had made tons of jambalaya for a Mardi Gras party and the next day, they still had tons left, the next day also. They had to figure out what to do with it (admitting defeat and throwing it out would not be good for food costs!) Someone in the kitchen decided to fry some up and wah-lah…an amazing appetizer is born. He assured us that this was not from that same Mardi Gras batch of jambalaya!

We had a great time talking with our new friends, Alex and Laura. This night was what life is all about to me; hanging out, with new friends, or old, laughing, talking, eating, drinking,  nothing earth shattering, just REAL.

Earth shattering. That was what my head was the next day! This was all too real!  I swear I only had two beers. Oh ya, and “tastes” of two others we just had to try.  Oh well, it was worth it. After picking up some coffee and tea, Laurent, Scott, Kit and I headed to the coast. On the agenda was Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes.  The drive from Mill Valley to Pt. Reyes was beautiful. Rolling hills, mountains, redwoods, cows, goats, tons of farmland. Nice and calming. Just what vacation should be all about.  Point Reyes is a great little town,  mellow, but not sleepy.  I could have stayed there forever.   It’s funny how small towns in California are so much more progressive than small towns in the Midwest. Not a chain in sight, just great local businesses, beautiful produce, fresh food, and active people. No wonder it’s so expensive, everyone wants to live here.

Well, we didn’t make it up early enough to see cheese being made, but we managed to buy a ton of it for a picnic on the lawn behind the creamery. We chose St. Pats, their seasonal springtime cheese wrapped in stinging nettles leaves,  Inverness, a tangy creamy cheese,  and Wagon Wheel, a harder mild cheese that was a nice contrast to the two soft cheeses. We also picked up some blue cheese from Point Reyes Creamery, which was nice and mild and creamy.

We, of course, got a bottle of wine, some chewy sourdough, local honey, and the most amazing grassy olive oil from Toby’s Feed Barn. Toby’s was an incredible  market with local produce, healthy foods, nursery,  an art gallery and coffee shop. It seemed like the local hangout.  The sun was shining.  We had great company, easy conversation and  good food, yet again. What else could you ask for? Nada.

Even though we were full, we continued our local food tour! We continued up the coast with oysters right out of the bay on our mind. I was so excited to see the oyster beds, we couldn’t even make it to Hog Island, which is famous for its oysters. We pulled over and stopped at Tomales Bay. How to describe it. This was so not my reality. It was  basically a big parking lot on the beach with picnic tables , grills, some  portable hand sinks (good thing!), and a place to buy oysters, hot sauce, and limes! That’s it. Talk about a genius low overhead business. This was it. Oysters are sold by the dozen, by size, for about $13 a dozen. Yes, I said, $13 a dozen! Ok, I will admit, I am was not a huge oyster fan, but I was game to eat a few, or eight! This is the ONLY way to eat oysters, right out of the bay. We got a dozen small oysters to start and then moved on to the extra smalls, which we all preferred.

I was a little nervous, since I usually drown my oysters in cocktail sauce pumped up with tons of horseradish. Oh boy, had I been going about this all the wrong way.  These oysters  tasted of nothing but the bay. Sweet, briny, clean and delicious. All I needed was a squeeze of lime.  People brought entire picnics, wine, beer, and chicken to grill, etc, etc. We showed up with a towel, for shucking, and that’s it!

I will say, I am usually a planner. This was so liberating, though. So much better than stressing over making sure we had a cooler full of ice, did we have enough food, who brought the silverware. What else did we need? Nothing…again, great company, good simple food, great environment, you can’t get any better than this. We were on the bay eating fresh oysters with a squeeze of lime. This was life!

How can this day get even better? A trip to Lagunitas Brewery is how! My favorite beer is Lagunitas IPA. When I saw the signs for Petaluma-18 miles, a detour was in order.  We were going straight to the source. Lagunitas was not at all what I would have imagined. It is off the highway, in a sort of strip mall industrial park in a larger not so quaint city. That’s ok. Just a wakeup from the bucolic bay we had just come from. They had a huge beer garden with a band playing and tons of kids running around. What did I get us into? A very enjoyable few hours, that’s what. Somehow the kids were not annoying, maybe the IPA took the edge off. The band was very pleasant, rockin’, but in a mellow California kind of way. The sun was shining, there was good company and great conversation and a few Lagunitas beer samplers. All this and our bill was only $20 for two samplers and two pints. Who knew a great afternoon in California could be so cheap!

Our day was not over yet. We met up with Kit, back in Sausalito at a little Italian Bistro where Scott’s friend was playing jazz. This set up is not usually in our repertoire, jazz, tourist town, Italian food. Hmm….this was gonna be interesting. Would our idyllic day end on a sour note? Nope. The restaurant, Davino, was very quaint in a modern, but not too modern type of way. The glass pours were gigantic, the waitress charming and the food amazing, text-book examples of great Italian food with that fresh California flair. The jazz was not too jazzy and the older, tanned, slightly tipsy, wealthy Marin County clientele dancing on the nonexistent dance floor were entertaining!

This was the perfect ending to an amazing two days of family, friends, fresh food and fun.

Thanks Scott and Kit for taking time out of your busy schedules to enjoy life with us!


Filed under road trips

Quinoa Kick…..

Yes, I am on a quinoa kick. It started with having the breakfast quinoa in LA at Huckleberry Café. Then it moved onto my formulating a breakfast quinoa recipe. I have made Bruce Sherman’s bacon quinoa recipe from the November 2009 issue of Food and Wine. I am officially quinoa obsessed!  I have to make up for the years and years I lived without it.

Once we finally rolled out of bed this past weekend about 10:30, Laurent and I spent a good hour drinking tea and coffee on the couch before I realized I was starving… I was craving breakfast, even though it was noon. So…I racked my brain. We didn’t have any potatoes, but we had eggs. I had a “eureka moment” and thought we could have eggs over quinoa, similar to the dish I had at Huckleberry Café in LA in January. Oh, I was excited now. We barely had any food in the fridge, except for an eggplant that was at the end of its life, that for some odd reason I refused to make anything with, some green beans, a few leaves of chard hanging on in a big bowl of water, some lovely shiitake and  four eggs. Ok, I told Laurent let’s get busy making breakfast. I made quinoa; Laurent started chopping, dicing and julienning.

We heated up the cast iron skillet and we were in business. First ingredient into the sizzling skillet was some prosciutto we found in the back of the fridge that we had forgotten about. It’s cured. It lasts forever, right? Prosciutto is instant flavor. You just need a little bit and it wakens up any dish. It is bacon’s subtle cousin.

Then in went the shiitake mushrooms. Oh how I love shiitake. They are just so elegant and sophisticated, so much more nuanced than cremini. We threw in some garlic and green beans and then the chard.

That poor little eggplant still didn’t get used. I’m sorry little eggplant. Nothing personal. Oh boy was I excited now. I think I already said that, but the feeling was overwhelming once those veggies hit the skillet. This mix of a little bit of this and a little bit of that looked so good sizzling in the skillet. We stirred in some quinoa and we were in business.

Time to cook the eggs. I never thought cooking over easy eggs was that hard, until Laurent told me that it was so difficult to make them. Power of suggestion. I froze up and messed them up for the longest time. I also tend to play with them and poke and prod them before it is time to flip them, so they get mangled and stuck to the spatula. I just blocked out his little voice in my head. (Laurent also tends to mean “in a restaurant” when he says something. He just forgets to add that phrase.  I reminded him that I was making four eggs, not enough to feed a Sunday brunch crowd with an hour wait!) My eggs turned out just fine thank you.

Time to eat.

Oh boy…..it was good! It was full of an array of textures;  grainy quinoa, crunchy green beans, crackly prosciutto, tender cremini, ribbon-y chard, plus the runny yolk of the eggs. We of course said how great it was and then went on to pick it apart. A lovely game we play of how to make it better next time. Number one, the quinoa should be cooked with chicken stock to give it more flavor, or ok vegetarians, even vegetable stock would make it better, especially if you add some bacon to the pot! J The veggie mélange (oh how I love that word) needed some shallots added to the mix and some more garlic. The dish in LA used roasted garlic, which would be lovely, but who ever has that lying around the house for a lazy last-minute Sunday breakfast? This mélange also needed some fresh herbs, such as thyme, which is my all time favorite herb. This refined herb would go perfect with the sophisticated shiitake and the subtle prosciutto. So….you probably want the recipe now, right? Let’s call it quinoa scramble.  Use whatever you have in your fridge. Think of it as a delightful way to get rid of a few mushrooms, that knub of zucchini, or even a lonely little eggplant!

Quinoa Scramble

Serves 2

1 cup quinoa, rinsed

2 cups liquid, preferably chicken or vegetable stock (water in a pinch)

Handful of green beans, chopped into bite sized pieces

2 pieces of prosciutto or bacon, julienned

Handful of mushrooms, sliced

1 small shallot, sliced

2 garlic cloves, sliced

3 chard or kale leaves sliced into ribbons

Cook the quinoa in the stock for about 15 minutes or until absorbed and you see the tails.

Heat a cast iron skillet, or whatever kind of skillet you have, over medium heat . (Do not preheat Teflon too long, it’s toxic!)

Add a little olive oil to the pan.

Sauté prosciutto until almost crispy.

Add the mushrooms and sauté until starting to wilt, about 5 minutes.

Add the garlic and green beans and sauté about 5 minutes until green beans lose some of their crunch. And they are almost the texture that you like them.

Add the chard and sauté until wilted, about 3-4 minutes.

Mix in as much quinoa as you wish (You will have leftover quinoa)

Cook eggs to your liking.

Put the scramble on the plate, top it with the eggs.

Wah-lah…breakfast is served!


Filed under Recipes

Just for the halibut…….

Ok, I just had the most amazing dinner….at home. And boy was it easy, especially easy, since I didn’t make it! You know, we are always looking for quick, easy, healthy things to make for dinner, but we get stuck in a rut. For awhile, when I wasn’t working, I would go through magazines and cut out recipes I wanted to try and put them in a binder. I did this because I knew that once I looked through that Cooking Light or Eating Well, I was not going to remember what was in it and what looked so exciting to me. Also, leafing through six to ten magazines sounds romantic, but does not make for a quick dinner at all. I only did this for two months, though, so we were back in the same “what’s for dinner” boat.

We had just bought a ton of veggies, but I had no inspiration, so I asked Laurent to bring home some fish. He came home with the most beautiful halibut I have ever seen. It was pristine white, smelling of nothing but clean. The halibut cost $20 at Whole Foods, but was well worth it. That breaks down to $10 a person for a restaurant quality dinner.  We leisurely leafed through some magazines for inspiration, since Laurent had gotten off of work early. We came up with Broiled Tilapia with Frisee-Apple Salad and Mustard Parsley Sauce from the April issue of Cooking Light. Well, we had no tilapia, no parsley, no frisee, or any mint or sour cream, like the recipe called for, but that didn’t stop us!

It was time to get cooking.  Laurent brushed the halibut with olive oil and then salt and peppered it. He seared it and then broiled it for seven minutes. He said when he took it out, it still felt a little loose, and he was tempted to cook it a little longer, but resisted and just let it rest. Smart move.  He was probably remembering when he put the ribeye back in the oven “for just a minute more” and then kissed the perfect medium rare goodbye and the evil eye from me hello! The halibut was cooked perfectly. I don’t know if I have ever had a better piece of fish in my life. The halibut was moist and flaky. The taste was mild and pure ocean, clean, clean, clean.

The side veggie was choy, some sort of choy. Not bok choy, some other choy. The best choy I’ve ever tasted. I don’t even have a picture to show you because I was not planning this blog. And all I wanted to do was have a nice dinner. Once we took a bite, I said “I need to go get my camera, this is amazing.” My blog isn’t known for its amazing photos unfortunately, although I would love to change that. So, you got one picture, before I devoured my dinner!

Anyways….Laurent had gotten this choy at H Mart in Niles. You have to go there. It is a huge Asian Market with a mind-boggling array of beautiful exotic veggies, fish, seafood, a dozen kinds of kim chee, a food court, rice cookers, etc.  Laurent said the veggie choices were amazing. He wants to get fresh bamboo next time and some semi dried sliced octopus. So this member of the choy family had smaller, greener more texture-y leaves than bok choy and greener smaller stems, which I like. I don’t love the watery cabbage-y stems of bok choy. Give me green and leafy any day. So Laurent just sautéed the choy with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. That was it. That is all this whole dinner took, was olive oil, salt and pepper.  Really. The choy had great, complex flavor and texture. It was almost fennel-y in taste, but, at the same time still had a deep green kale like flavor.

The only other accompaniment was some arugula and green apple tossed in; you guessed it, olive oil, salt and pepper. The fish, when plated, was dolloped with a mixture of yogurt, Dijon mustard, lemon juice, salt and pepper and a sprinkle of Thai basil. I haven’t used Thai basil in a while. I forgot how fragrant and distinct it was, fennel-y, peppery, biting. Not at all mellow like Italian basil.  It added so much to the dinner even in such a tiny dose.  The yogurt sauce added just a hint of flavor to the perfect fish without being overwhelming. I can’t imagine having used the sour cream, like it called for. The yogurt was light and creamy and tangy. The mustard added a little bite to enhance the mild fish.

After dinner we said, “We need to cook fish more often.” It is quick, easy, light and healthy. Dinner was literally done in ten minutes. How much faster can you get than that?

So, what a great dinner and inspiration for a  blog post, all impromptu, passionate and straight from the heart;  just like I like it. Because you never know when you are going to be inspired.

Here is the link to the inspiration for our halibut dinner in the April issue of Cooking Light. The recipe is actually written quite complicated, whereas it was a very easy preparation. Here is my interpretation!

Brush fish with olive oil, salt and pepper.

Broil for seven minutes or until done. It will be a little loose, just let it rest. You can always pop it back in the oven if it isn’t cooked enough.

Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Throw in a little olive oil & then the choy variety of your choice. Add salt and pepper. Sautee briefly, until wilted.

Toss some arugula and sliced apple with olive oil and salt and pepper.

Mix 2 Tbl yogurt, 1 Tbl mustard (any kind you like), a squeeze of lemon juice and 1 tsp of chopped herbs (whatever kind you have on hand). Dollop this on the fish. Use the leftover on a salad the next day like I did. Yum!


Filed under Recipes