I’m not sure exactly when my mom first started making ratatouille, that rustic French stew of eggplant, zucchini and bell peppers. Maybe it was after she took a trip to Paris, leaving me and my sister at home with our dad whose culinary expertise at that time was limited to tamale pieand mac n’ cheese with hot dogs and black olives (I’m actually getting hungry thinking about these meals). Or, maybe it was a recipe she got from one of the Time Life Foods of the World cook books lining the shelf in our kitchen. All I know is that at some point during my childhood, ratatouille became a regular in the meal rotation. While I didn’t love it at first (because what child in their right mind loves eggplant?!) I grew to love it because of what it represented: autumn, rainy days and my mom’s home cooking. Also, it’s really delicious. So that scene in the Pixar movie “Ratatouille”where the food critique takes one bite of the “fancy-pants” layered ratatouille and in an instant, is transported back to his childhood where his mom serves him her version of the dish -one of the best scenes in any movie, animated or not – had particular resonance for me. I mean I didn’t cry or anything. Okay, maybe I had something in my eyes that caused them to water and perhaps at the same time I found myself involuntarily emitting sob like sounds, but that’s totally normal when watching Pixar movies. Am I right?
Now as an adult, ratatouille has been a go to dish of mine for years. So far, my kids seem to like it too. Perhaps when they’re adults they’ll eat it and think fondly back to the simple eggplant stew that I, their father, made for them. Here’s the list of ingredients and watch the video below for how I do it.
1-2 lbs of eggplant
1-2 lbs of zucchini
2 red bell peppers
5-8 cloves of garlic
2-3 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 cup red wine
When I look back on my childhood I have to say it was pretty sweet. That has more to do with the love and affection of my parents rather than the presence of sugary treats or beverages in our pantry. Yeah, my mom was the type who bought carob chips instead chocolate, who baked zucchini bread instead of cookies (thankfully the carob never made it into the zucchini bread, because I actually really liked the zucchini bread). Occasionally we could have orange juice – the frozen concentrate kind that you mixed with water – but pretty much never would we get soda like Coke or 7UP. It was only at my neighbors’ house across the street (they had a swimming pool, cable TV and they had ColecoVision. would I get to drink such sweet nectar because they kept their cupboards stocked with all sorts of soda. They even had the mini cans! These were the best because they were small enough for a kid to mimic a “mug” by placing the thumb on the top of the can and the pinky on the bottom and holding the can shaka style. It’s like “Yeah, I’m drinking from a mug that’s actually my hand!” It just didn’t get much cooler when I was seven. I guess I lived a pretty sheltered life. Pardon the trip down memory lane, but all this is to say, I didn’t get soda much when I was a kid and when I did, it was a real treat. I did’t really have much of a taste for Coke, gravitating to the more “healthy” options of 7UP or ginger ale (my parents’ food indoctrination ran pretty deep). But when there was a can of Welch’s grape soda on the table – forget it. That was my jam!
All these years later, I still have a thing for grape soda. But I’m an adult now – at least age wise. And I’m a cliche. I have two young kids whose sugar intake I limit like a dictator and I’m also one of those annoying food oriented (though never mistake me for some newbie hipster foodie) DIY types who likes to make my own food stuffs and blog about it – yeah, even more annoying. So, imagine my delight when I discovered that the house we moved into a couple years ago had a grape vine growing along the fence in our front yard that borders our neighbor’s driveway.
Front yard grapes
I have no idea what kind of grapes they are but I do know that they’re delicious and as they ripen they go from tart to full bodied and sweet. Our yield this year was pretty good, so I thought, why not take the juice of these lovely grapes and make a concentrate of grapey essence that I could add to the seltzer water which I annoyingly adore (I was also an early adapter of and proselytizer for the Soda Stream). So that’s what I did. And you know what? It’s way better than Welch’s – as it should be because this was a whole lot more labor intensive than going the store and buying a can or case of Welch’s or Fanta. And less sugar? See, Mom? I’m still listening.
Hello people (or person or spambot)! Here’s a quick and easy recipe that is guaranteed to make you the toast of the town, the bell of the ball, the king of the hill, etc. And all it takes are beans – green beans. I kid you not, you make these green beans and people will think you’re the shit! in the best possible sense. These green beans are so easy to prepare- maybe taking 20 minutes out of your life – and when you serve them, people will think you’re a culinary genius! Am I selling this recipe too hard? Perhaps. All I know is that my kids love these green beans. And they have really good taste. I mean, they are my kids. In fact watching K and M attack these beans one day, gave me the idea to make the video and put this recipe up. Because who doesn’t love videos about green beans – and adorable kids? (Note to self: for the next vid book cute kittens and a Kardashian for the next vid. Scratch that. Just book the kittens. I want to keep this blog classy).
Back to the beans. What makes them Asiany-ish? Well, I made them. Obviously. Also, the ingredients of the dressing: miso, rice vinegar, soy sauce and sesame oil. Basically you steam the beans and then toss them in the dressing. That’s it! The resulting flavor is a brilliant combination of textural crunch of the beans with the salty, sour, sweet and umami flavor of the dressing. Alright enough reading. Let’s get to doing. Here’s the recipe and check out the video below for how you do it.
1-2 lbs of green beans (blue lake, French, whatever variety of string bean you want to use) – stemmed, cut into 1.5 inch pieces and steamed and cooked to your liking.
1.5 tbsp of miso paste
2-3 tbsp of rice vinegar
1 tbsp of soy sauce
1 tsp of sesame oil
Hello, blog! Long time, yada, yada, yada… Anyway, anybody (I’m looking at you, wife and maybe sis), who’s read this old ass blog for a long ass time is familiar with my bread obsession. For those who aren’t, here’s a quick primer. It all started way back in ’09 with theSourdough Baby, followed a year later by Sourdough pizza dough, which was followed by the (un)fortunately titled PK’s Yeast Infection. Then came Bread Smack Down! which was followed by Baguettes!What’s obvious – along with my predilection for exclamation marks(!) – is this preoccupation with starters, flour to water ratios, yeast, fermentation, rising (or not rising) has been well documented. It’s fair to say that even major media might be trying to ride my coattails on this. Case in point: check out this recent article from the NY Times.Sheeit! Way to be late to the game, Times!
But thus far, what has been lacking is a step by step video where I guide the gentle viewer through the bread making process itself. Then, a few weeks ago, Mark and Amanda came over for dinner freshly inspired by Michael Pollen’s Netflix doc series called Cooked. The third episode is all about air and how the process of making bread has allowed humans to essential capture air in our food. It’s a really poetic and beautiful way of encapsulating the way yeast produces gas that is trapped in bubbles of wheat gluten thereby producing airy and delicious bread that demands be tasted though our olfactory sense. The show is gorgeous to look at and in it, Pollan makes a beautiful loaf during the course of the episode and at the end he says that there are few things as satisfying as baking a great loaf of bread. It was enough to inspire, Luca, Mark and Amanda’s son to make his own starter and Amanda asked if I (because I’m a stellar human being – and I’ve baked bread for them in the past) would help them make bread. So I thought “Why not? Why not help, Luca? And at the same time help EVERYBODY to make delicious bread?! Clarence, why not give the people the gift of a video with easy to follow instructions on how to make wonderful bread?” Basically, I want to to not just give people a fish, I want to teach them to fish… for bread.
Alright, all credit still goes to Chad Robertson and Tartine. I’ve been using theTartinemethod of making a rustic sourdough loaf for several years now, so I’d say I’ve gotten the hang it. When I first started making bread this way, I was pretty obsessive about following the steps as laid out by the book. Since then, I’ve gotten a bit looser so that I can make the process fit more to my schedule because as you’ll see, this bread takes a good long time to do properly. It’s a great weekend project because you’ll need time to prepare the leaven (starter+flour+water) that you’ll use in the bread. And the bread itself will take 12-18 hours from start to finish, depending on the weather, humidity, temperature and all the rest. The important thing to remember is even if it doesn’t come out the way you want, there’s really nothing as good as freshly baked bread.
Here are the actually proportions the ingredients for one loaf: leaven: 125 grams water: 350 grams bread flour: 400 grams whole wheat flour: 100 grams salt: 13 grams
That’s all the stuff. Now here’s how the bread magic happens:
Hello folks! Long time no post. By my count it’s been about six months since my last entry and this time I really don’t have a good excuse for the long gap. Ok, we did have a second kid back in April. Does that count as a huge time suck? I’d say it does. Allow me to make this a parenting blog for a minute. One kid: totally manageable – actually really fun especially as she gets older, more independent and comes into her own eccentric and goofy personality and allows each of the parents some much needed “me” time or even “us” time (date night, ya’ll!). Two kids: forget it. And an infant? Forget it even more – which you will with all the sleep you’re not getting. Gone are the days of two on one, tag-team parenting. Now it’s one-on-one all the time and it’s not even fair. The three year old now has mad trantrum skills and the baby, well she’s a freakin’ baby whose cries can shatter the strongest of wills. They. Are. Kicking. Our. Ass. So long story short, I blame the kids for the lapse in deliciousting posts. Well, it’s not all bad. After all, the new one can be pretty sweet:
We call her Momo because she’s such a little dumpling. Ok, ending parent blog now.
Back in August, our good friends from NYC, Donna and Anthony came to visit us in Oakland with their two kids. A little back story on D & A: they’re the ones I hold responsible – I mean to whom I’m forever grateful – for introducing me to Shef, my wife in life and food. I’ll try to be brief. I met Donna a long time ago through a mutual friend in California. Later, at the wedding of that mutual friend, I met Anthony, Donna’s date. This was a ten years ago. I was just about to move to NYC so I was glad to befriend Donna and Ant who proved to be welcoming and warm when I did land in NYC a month or two later. Fast forward eight or nine months. Summer in NYC. I found myself happily single. D & A (who at the time lived in Manhattan) invited me to this Hawaiian picnic in Central Park. A friend of theirs had invited them Now, Donna is somebody who always has a plan. And this occasion was no exception. She had also invited her good friend, Shefali, also single and ready to enjoy the summer, if you catch my drift. And all credit to Donna and her machinations, this is where it all started. Okay, if I was going to be 100% honest this was the second time we’d met. The first time we crossed paths was about six months prior, and let’s just say I wasn’t in the right head space to notice her charms – her charms at that point consisted of a lot of snot because she had head cold if I recall. So for the sake of a good story, let’s count that Hawaiian picnic in Central Park as the starting point. I was waiting for D & A at the entrance near Columbus circle when I spied this really cute -nay, hot young woman walk by and enter the park. Donna and Ant arrived a short time later and I walked into the park with them. As we approached the picnic, the woman whom I’d noticed earlier approached them and gave them each a hug. Stoked! “Do you remember Shefali?” asked Donna. “Um, yeah…” Though honestly, I had not recognized her from six months before, (like I said I was a little oblivious at the time and she was really snotty, so that first impression was obviously not so meaningful). On this occasion, I was checked in and checking her out. Needless to say, I was bowled over by her beauty and sparkling personality. But equally if not more importantly, I was impressed with her ability to eat. She was all about attacking the mountain of food that people had brought, going back for second helpings, thirds, fourths, etc. I was like “who is this girl?” So, I got her number, followed up and the end, as they say, is history. Don’t believe me? Here’s a photo of that fateful meeting:
Meeting and eating. Me holding up the spam musubi. Anthony in the middle and Shef looking funny.
Alright back to the original reason for this post. Donna and Ant were visiting us here in Oakland (already been two years since we moved from BK!) with their two kids. Yup, we’re all grown up now – kind of. We needed to eat dinner. I’d been hearing great things about this Burmese grocery store (?) near our house that also served really authentic Burmese food. What?! I did a little internet research, because I’m resourceful like that. I found out the place was actually a fully functional Burmese restaurant called Grocery Cafe because it occupied an old corner grocery store on a residential street in Oakland’s working class Highland neighborhood. That’s the cool thing about Oakland. Smack dab in in the middle of these unassuming and unpolished residential neighborhoods you can find these gems like Champa Gardens or Vientien Cafe. It had been well reviewed by locals and the local weekly. Good enough for us. We called and ordered about five dishes which comprised most of the small menu. Ant and I headed over to pick up the food. Sure enough, it was an old corner store with a make-shift kitchen separated from the front of the house by one of those refrigerated display cases that might have contained old macaroni salad and deli meats back in the day. Now it housed stacks of containers of homemade spicy Burmese pickles. The front of the house was a mish mash of second hand tables (like dining room tables you’d find at Goodwill) and most of the seats were old church pews. This was my kind of place. As we waited for the food we struck up a conversation with Mr. William Lue, the owner proprietor and some time chef of the Grocery Cafe. It turns out he’s been in the Burmese restaurant game for a good 30 plus years and has had a hand in running or cooking for many of the more well known and well heeled Burmese spots in the SF Bay Area. Currently, he’s running a few Burmese spots in the East and North Bay, but the Grocery Cafe is his baby. Soft spoken, but with a deep resonant voice, Mr. Lue was not shy about describing his ambitions for the restaurant. But it was when he started talking about the different dishes he wanted to serve, that his language became evocative and poetic. After over thirty years in the restaurant business, his passion for and excitement about the possibilities of Burmese food – the different ingredients, the regional specialties, the traditional preparations – and introducing it to the masses are palpable. I thought it would be great to video him making one of those dishes. A couple weeks later, I managed to carve out some time in his busy schedule to film him for about an hour before he opened for business. In the interest of time, I had him prepare the ever popular Burmese tea leaf salad. I don’t know if it’s something the lay person could necessarily throw together, unless said lay person has their own vat of seasoned and fermented green tea leaves. But it’s a great example of how simple ingredients can combine to produce really complex flavors and textures. As prepared by Mr. Lue, it’s delicious – as was all the other food we ate with D&A. Please enjoy.