A few weeks ago, we drove up couple hours north of San Francisco to check out some new places, early-Spring scenery and eat some oysters. We came back inspired, relaxed, and rejuvenated, already drawing up the schedule for a summer visit.
We went all the way north up to Cazadero and drove our way back south, visiting Tomales Bay, Inverness, Pierce Point (hello Elks!), Point Reyes, Bolinas and Stinson Beach, taking in the beautiful pastures, crisp air and grazing cows, as Northern California showed itself off preparing for an early Spring.
Did you know that all the good “Pho” puns are taken? What the pho!
Anyway, over a year ago, we traveled to Sri Lanka through the always-amazing Black Swan Journeys based out of Pune, India. Since then we visited 3 more countries with them and I’m still working off the pounds I gained from (cooking and) eating my heart’s content in those fantastic countries (Maldives, Georgia, and Azerbaijan)! Black Swan Journeys specializes in highly customized, curated tours (culinary tours being just one of the many types), and their famous culinary tour in Vietnam entitled “Finding Pho” is coming up next month.After seeing thesevideos, I want to jump on the next flight out to join them! But considering we came back from Hawaii not 2 months ago, and the fact that our wallets and waistlines don’t always allow last-minute escapades half way across the world, we’ll have to settle for finding our “Pho” bliss here.
Luckily, we recently acquired an Instant Pot that makes “Finding Pho” both cheaper and faster than getting to Vietnam from California! But if you are anywhere near Vietnam, you have no excuse! While the folks on the culinary tour will find things much bigger than Pho in Vietnam, we’ll temporarily make our peace with the Pho concocted here, with some Vietnamese Spring rolls for company (and crunch). This will do for now, although I hope we get to find ourselves (and Pho) in Vietnam soon enough!
In an effort to formally learn some kitchen skills (and if we are being very honest, in an effort to feed myself delicious wontons any time I want), I recently took the amazing “Wonders of Wonton” class with Chef Lorraine Witte at San Francisco’s newly minted pop-up cooking school: “The Civic Kitchen“. It was my first time in a cooking school and boy was I in wonderland – state of the art equipment, cleavers so sharp you could cut yourself just looking at them, wonderful atmosphere and very helpful instructors!
I’ve been known to hightail to San Francisco’s many amazing dumpling places, and also down to Din Tai Fung in San Jose (whenever they’ll let us in, that is – typically that happens once a year) to get my Xiao Long Bao/Scallion Pancake/General Dumpling fix from time to time. Life has its way of getting in the way of my love for dumplings. Also, traffic on highway 101. So I figured a lesson on wontons would help bring them closer, and also give me an opportunity to fill them with the things I want to eat (less pork, more shrimp, some chicken), alongside other things I want to eat with them (1/4 cup chili oil, anyone?).
The “Chorizo Scramble” has been dominating my breakfast/brunch order for years now, right from the first time I had it 7 years ago at a cafe on Catalina Island. Occasionally I’ll order poached eggs with hollandaise sauce if the restaurant is particularly spectacular, like The Table in Willow Glen, but most of the times its the Chorizo Scramble. And it doesn’t photograph too well, now that I think about it. And honestly, most of the time it tastes just about okay. If you order the version with all eggs (no egg whites), then it tastes rich enough, but 3 egg yolks in one go is dangerously close to my weekly egg yellow quota. If you order the version with egg whites…well, you may as well order saw dust. The egg whites are so overcooked that they are reduced to a pile of pea-size bits. Either way, you need some cheese to bring it all together and hide the inadequacy of egg whites, but cheese is something my body stopped processing gracefully 5 years ago, so that’s not an option. “Wow, you sure are demanding!” is what I get most of the times when I describe my scrambled egg problems to people, so I decided to just make it myself going forward.
Few years ago, I used to watch Top Chef and Top Chef Masters on Bravo TV very religiously. I may or may not have bought several Top Chef Masters episodes on Amazon Instant Video. One of the finalists was Rick Bayless, an American chef who has mastered Mexican Cooking. Something about his mild demeanor, warmth and the fact that he went to Mexico as a young man and ended up living there for several years, enchanted by authentic Mexican cooking, just stayed with me. He ended up winning the Top Chef Masters title that season because he stayed true to his humble, warm self and made some delicious Mexican food. I can’t wait to eat at his restaurant, Frontera Grill, the next time I’m in Chicago!
Since then I’ve been following his recipes, and their simplicity and deliciousness can’t be beat. One of the most underrated salsas out there, “salsa verde”, is usually the “medium” in the trio of “mild, medium and hot” salsas in typical Mexican restaurants. Most of the times its watered down, pale and dull. This “medium” salsa recipe below by Rick Bayless is the highest calling of the humble tomatillo, and literally takes 15 minutes to whip up! Perfect for sprucing up a bowl of cooked quinoa, roasted vegetables, scrambled eggs or the tip of your tortilla chip, this Tomatillo Salsa will always be at the ready.