Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Gourmet Bargains and Cheap Apologies

I certainly live the city life, don't I? The public transportation--here in SF a moderately terrifying mix of Louis Vuitton bags and bag ladies--overwhelming trips to the grocery store, intimate knowledge of the stomps and sexcapades of the apartment above, shopping trips that cost more in parking than the clothes themselves, and lot's and lot's of take out. Which is why I'm so grateful for the 2007 release of The Chronicle's Bargains Bites. An entire publication devoted to cheap, good eats in the Bay Area, Napa to San Jose, oh my.

The BF and I carry the damn Bites guide with us everywhere we go, often reading out loud to each other the different restaurant descriptions, discussing the merits of PHO while we sit in rush hour traffic on Howard. The best part is that now we can start our manic attempt at eating our way through. We get about 1/8 of the way before we tap out and simply start making second and third, and hell, even fourth trips to the same places. The good news is that we've already hit up all the places listed for San Rafael (in fact, The BF has been laying some bold claims lately, like the Bargain Bite's food writers and editors have some how tapped into his brain and uncovered his own personal treasure trove of cheap, good food...he has a point we HAVE been eating at those places for the past few years), and then of course, there are the places that we did actually make it to last year. I think that puts us somewhere around the 1/4 mark. Perhaps we'll make it through another 10 this year before our desire to eat great, new food, is waylaid by laziness, and a stronger desire to eat good food that we know we already like, perhaps our greatest flaw.

But we're staying optimistic. We've already knocked one off of our list, Gourmet Carousel on Franklin and Pine. Now, why should this Chinese restaurant in "Pacific Heights" be our first choice? It's rather anecdotal really. The Franklin to Lombard route is the fastest route from the downtown or SOMA areas to the Marina, and so, we frequent it often. (The joy of timed lights). And perhaps nearly every time that The BF and I, and often Shirley as well, drive that route we comment on the dive that is Gourmet Carousel. At the bottom of some ramshackle Victorian (isn't everything in this city), with it's bright green sign, from the Franklin side things just look, well, bad. And so, for months it's been the running joke that we'll grab Gourmet Carousel on the way home, if we're in the mood for stomach and intestinal ailments. It's not right I know. So prejudice, so not following the cardinal rule of not reading a book by it's cover. When we saw it on the Bargain Bites we felt ashamed and also fascinated.

Needless to say, on Monday night we placed an order for take out. Barbecued pork wonton soup, two orders of rice, and eggplant with ground pork. Ready in six minutes, or so they said, only it actually was. And though, from the Pine side where there was actually an open curb for me to pull up to as The BF ran in to pay (a mere $12.00+), the place wasn't stunning, but it certainly wasn't awful either. When we slurped up the hot, flavorful soup literally brimming full with tender won tons and sweet pork, and coated our sticky rice bowls with soft eggplant dripping in it's salty pork syrup, we knew next time we'd be trying the seafood and perhaps their broccoli with beef or maybe we'd just stick with the soup and eggplant. Patting our massively full bellies later that night we knew we had some apologizing to do. So, I'm sorry Gourmet Carousel for judging you without just cause. It wasn't you, it was the city. Every time I think I have it pegged, it throws me for a loop.

No, it's certainly not an easy life we city goers lead.

Monday, September 24, 2007

When In Need of Some Serious Comfort

It's been far too long since I last wrote, but it's not that I haven't been thinking. In fact, all I've wanted to do is sit down and write something thoughtful and entertaining. I'd even take slightly witty at this point or "good writing, but dull." But I literally have not had a moment until just now. And even now there are things that I should be doing instead of this, things that I HAVE to do.

But sometimes you wake up from a month of just going and going, after a week that leaves you feeling deflated?--disappointed? frustrated? down and out? I'm not exactly sure how it left me feeling, but I know it's not good--on a Friday when you know you deserve a break, and you just have to not do the things you need to do. It's the only way to survive another four weeks.

And, yes, for the record, I'm officially hanging in there, making it through, if you were thinking you might offer me those words of comfort, please don't bother. It's not that I don't appreciate sympathy. I'm just not sure I can handle another "hang in there." Because I am in fact hanging in, and anyone who knows anything about hanging in, knows there is only so much a person can take before the rope begins unravel and there's nothing left to grasp.

But enough dramatics. The fact is that I am okay, will be okay, have been okay. And there have been some serious highlights lately.

Enjoying amazing music on Treasure Island and watching the sun set over the city. A gourmet BBQ. Seeing one of my closest friends all awash in that pregnancy glow. And of course, cooking with The BF. Our culinary delight this last week was from a non-recipe that his sister had passed on, and so I shall share it with you. I must say, if you want a really good enchilada that's not meat, but also not plain old
cheese then you should try this. And if you are currently working full-time and doing something else that takes up the majority of your life and need something you can cook in an evening but will last all week then you must make this. And if you like sour cream, avocado, and salsa then I demand that you eat this.

Vegetable Enchiladas Suiza

20oz jar red enchilada sauce
regular jar of roasty tomato salsa (we used Arriba)
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp Mexican oregano
2 tbsp sugar
2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
3 medium zucchini, small cubes
5 regular red potatoes, small cubes
3 regular carrots, peeled, small cubes
2 Pasilla chiles
regular block of pepper jack cheese, grated
10 fajita-size flour tortillas
olive oil

1. Prep the oven to 350F. Turn on a burner if you're using a gas stove or the grill if you only have electric and roast the pasillas until blackened on all sides. ou'll want to place them in a bag (paper or plastic) as soon as their off the heat, in order to help steam the skin off.

2. Pour a couple of tbsp of olive oil in a large, hot skillet. Add onions and cook until softened and golden, about 15 minutes. Set aside. Meanwhile spread the potatoes and carrots on two sheet pans in one layer. Coat with oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, cumin, and oregano. Roast in the onion until tender, but not overly soft, about 15 minutes.

3. Combine the enchilada sauce and the salsa in a saucepan and heat over medium heat. Add the sugar and salt to taste. Add 1/4 cup sour cream and blend.

4. Remove the pasilla's from the brown bag and peel off all of the skin. It should be easy to pull of at this point. Once completely removed, slice open and remove the seeds and stem. Cut into a small dice.

4. Combine onions, pasilla, and roasted veggies in a large bowl. Add 1/4 cup sour cream and 1/4 cup cheese to the hot veggie mixture and blend.

5. In an 11x13 sheet pan, pour a thick layer of the enchilada sauce. Dip a tortilla into the warmed enchilada sauce. (This helps make the tortilla more pliable, but be careful for your fingers). Lay the tortilla on a plate and place a thick mound of the vegetable mixture in the middle, pushing it out towards the ends. Top with a sprinkle of cheese and roll up. Place seem side down in the pan. Repeat with the remaining nine tortillas. Top with the remaining enchilada sauce until they are "swimming in it." Sprinkle a final layer of cheese.

6. Bake uncovered for twenty minutes or until the cheese is browned and the sauce is bubbling.

7. Top with an abundance of sour cream, avocado, & hot sauce.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Coastal Cooking for City Palates

I really do love holiday weekend barbeques in NorCal; I’ve never experienced them anywhere else, but still, they seem exceptional. Lot’s of unhealthy variations on salads, meats and fish covered in delicious carcinogens, buckets of alcohol. Group drunken debauchery, multiple embarrassing moments to recount during the week. What’s not to love? But my god, it’s good to get away. Like really away: Cows-farms-500 population town-no internet-access away. I left coworkers playing beer pong on Thursday without batting an eye; I refused a Jello shot and was ridiculed because I was going that far away.

It’s really less than three hours from the city, but it feels like a lifetime away once we’re there, The BF and I. It’s our third consecutive time going on Labor Day, which I’m pretty sure makes it officially a tradition. Sea Ranch is not for those that need to be constantly busy, unless your idea of busy is similar to mine: lounging around the house all day, unshowered, only leaving for walks by the water or pastries and coffee.

Truth be told, a lot of planning goes into these very short but sweet weekends. The BF is diligent when it comes to entertainment and cuisine for me. He rents a bunch of movies, buys me ice cream and gummies, and blesses me with the most amazing meals, all cooked (with my assistance, of course—if I am nothing else, I am a brilliant souz-chef) just as the sun is beginning to set.

In the past we’ve enjoyed red snapper tacos, piquillo pepper crab dip, chorizo and shrimp flat breads, corn chowder, tuna burgers with marinated cucumbers. Nothing has been bad, ever. And this trip was no exception. We still can’t decide what we liked the best. The lamb burgers with hummus and yogurt? The most decadent nachos we might ever enjoy? Roasted shrimp with garlic oil and caramelized lemons? Oh, and we splurged with salads too. A corn, arugula, and bacon chopped salad and a butter bean and chorizo salad with tomatoes and parsley.

In case you’re wondering, I did gain a pound. But, dammit, it was worth it. I also had the best time ever with the best guy ever. And I’m not just saying that.