Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Taste of Berkeley

I went down to Berkeley yesterday with my mom to drop a few things off at my apartment and somehow managed to eat a Souffle Pancake at Bette's Oceanview Diner, a few slices of Cheeseboard pizza, and a cone of ice cream from Ici.  It's not every day that I get to eat that much good food from not one, not two, but three quality sources. I'm still savoring yesterday's meals.  Let me just say, if you're on the fence about attending UC Berkeley let the abundance of fantastic restaurants in the city shove you onto the right side.  
First stop was brunch at Bette's on Fourth Street.  My parents have been many times but yesterday was my first time actually sitting down for a meal there.  One day, after making the mistake of walking from past campus all the way to Fourth Street (note: take a bus unless you have hours to kill and some comfortable shoes), I stopped at Bette's To-Go right next door to the diner.  You can pick up bakery items there, or, in my case, a nice and refreshing organic frozen yogurt.  But never before had I stepped foot into the restaurant, which is a little surprising considering that I'm in love with breakfast/brunch.  
We had about a twenty minute wait before getting a table, but easily filled the time exploring the surrounding shops on Fourth Street.  When we were seated, I already knew what I was going to order from researching the menu, so spent my time taking in the homey, comfortable atmosphere amidst the hustle and bustle of quick but friendly waiters carrying steaming plates of blueberry pancakes and scrambled eggs.  I also observed the delicious dishes of the people around and behind me with the help of mirrors that lined the cute diner.  Yes, I was that hungry.  I had ordered a seasonal fruit Souffle Pancake, a favorite at the restaurant and which also appeared on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives on Food Network.  When it came it looked a little like the picture below.  Only better.  Ryo wasn't there to snap the photos with his nice Nikon, so I couldn't give the wonderful food I ate as much justice as it all deserved.  Also, you have to be able to smell it and, well, eat it, to get the entire experience. 

Seasonal Fruit Souffle Pancake from Bette's Oceanview Diner
If you're like me you're probably wondering what this Souffle Pancake is.  After finishing it off, I would describe it as a really light and fluffy pancake that tastes a little like a huge popover with tons of fruit.  At the diner they make it in a pan and cook it over the stove and in the oven to get it all puffy, warm, and delicious.  My mom ordered some great lox scrambled eggs but after tasting some of the Souffle Pancake decided she would have to order it next time too.  I have never eaten something for breakfast with such a fluffy texture and am now tempted to find their recipe and try it out myself.   They sell a book containing some of their recipes called The Pancake Handbook at the front of the shop.  Maybe I'll have to acquire one.

The Daily Pizza and Salad at Cheeseboard Pizza Collective

After browsing and shopping a little and stopping by my apartment, it was about dinner time so we headed down to the Cheeseboard Pizza Collective on Shattuck.  Cheeseboard deserves an entire post of its own so one day we'll get some really nice pictures, eat several slices a piece, and write one.  For now, I'll just say the pizza at Cheeseboard is incredible.  It's a favorite of many, raved about constantly, and also very affordable, especially in contrast to its neighbor across the street, the great Chez Panisse.  So, go to Berkeley and eat a few slices!  It's equally owned and operated by the Cheeseboard Collective and they make one kind of vegetarian pizza to serve all day.  My mom and I had the pizza, as described on the chalkboard in the picture above, along with a salad a piece.  I would have never even considered putting corn on pizza, but man, is it a good idea--at least if it's on a Cheeseboard pizza.  I've only been a couple times which is a shame, but I'm already dying to go back.  I just can't stop thinking about it.  I think I'll take Ryo before school starts again. 
Cheeseboard is closed for the next week I believe, but you can check out the week's daily pizzas here.  If you live in the area, you might want to bookmark the link too.
Pizza from Cheeseboard.  Go get some.

Even though eating a couple slices of amazing Cheeseboard pizza is enough to keep you in a really good mood for a long while, we just had to grab some Ici ice cream on College Avenue before we left since my mom had never been.  Usually the line is tremendously long after dinner time, but we had eaten earlier than usual and since the fall semester hasn't started we didn't have to wait long at all.  At Ici, ice cream is handmade every day from organic ingredients.  There are 11 flavors that change daily and range from your generic flavors to the more interesting and exotic.  Pay a visit for yourself to see what cool flavors they have to offer you.  
When we went, I ended up getting the oatmeal-chocolate chip in one of their crunchy and sweet hand-rolled cones with chocolate tips.  My mom got the rose vanilla flavor.  Both were great and made for the perfectly sweet end to a fun summer day trip.
Oatmeal-Chocolate Chip Ice Cream from Ici

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Blackberry Crumble Tart

Hey, it's Syd, and yes, it's blackberries again.  But this time it's not just your everyday cobbler or the garnish on a cake, it's cute mini blackberry crumble tarts!  With the help of my good friend Talia who came up with the idea and shared the recipe, we had the dough made, blackberries picked, and tarts baked in only a couple hours this afternoon.  As a recommendation from Talia, I knew they would turn out great and immediately jumped at her suggestion. Whenever I'm over at her house it is so common for someone to be pulling something warm and delicious out of the oven that if I didn't know better I would have guessed I had mistakenly entered a bakery.
We made the dough and crumb topping for the tarts first so they could cool in the fridge while we picked the berries.  Then after coming back with two colanders filled with the fruit and only a few scratches (we wore full-on rain boots for extra protection--laugh all you want, it helped!) we rolled out the dough and cut out circles.  Talia had brought adorable never before used mini tart tins so we molded the crust,
piled them high with juicy blackberries, 
sprinkled on the topping with almonds,
 and popped them in the oven!

This recipe was adapted from Gourmet's "Raspberry Crumble Tart."  We substituted blackberries for the raspberries and used the same dough and topping but baked the tarts in small individual tins rather than making one big tart that you have to cut.  When it comes to baking, I usually think smaller = cuter = better. 

2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1/4 cup cold vegetable shortening (but we just used butter)
1/2 tsp. salt
5-7 Tbsp. ice water
3/4 cups sliced almonds
3/4 cups sugar
6 cups blackberries
For the dough: Blend flour, butter, shortening (or butter), and salt together in a bowl until the mixture is crumbly with some small lumps of butter.  You could pulse it in a food processor but we just used our fingers to get it to this consistency.  If you're making one big tart, transfer two cups of the mixture to a separate bowl and reserve the rest for the topping.  However, if you're making mini tarts like we did, transfer more, maybe around 3 cups.  (We transferred two cups and had way too much topping leftover that could have instead been used to make more tart crusts.)  Stir about 3-4 tablespoons of ice water into the transferred mixture with a fork and chill for an hour or so.  During this time, make the topping and pick berries!
For the topping: Add almonds and sugar to the reserved dough mixture and mix with hands until clumps form.  We let the topping chill along with the dough mixture while we were picking.
To assemble tarts: Preheat oven to 375 F.  Roll out dough with floured rolling pin on lightly floured surface.  We actually rolled it out between 2 pieces of plastic wrap, but either way should work.  Then cut out circles to fit whatever size tart tins you are using.  The thickness should be similar to a pie crust.  Mold the dough into the tins, fill them with the berries, and sprinkle evenly with the topping.  Bake until topping and crust are golden and filling is bubbling.  Ours went for about 45 minutes but oven time can vary based on tin size, as will number of tarts produced.  Cover with a foil sheet, if crust seems to be browning too much.  Finally, when tarts are done, let them cool a little and then enjoy!

Sunday, July 25, 2010


Beautiful Blackberries

Hey guys, it's Ryo again. A while ago, I decided to get a macro lens to make my food photography a little better. I searched every nook and cranny of Ebay and Craigslist and I couldn't find anything that was within my price range. Finally, I found a Vivitar 90mm 2.8 on Ebay for a reasonable price. I'm still figuring it out, but I think it's really cool. As well as shooting pictures of food, I'm planning on taking pictures of flowers and insects, like this guy here.
It's blackberry season, which means it's time to go down to the giant blackberry bush to harvest the marvelous fruit. Blackberry picking has never been one of my favorite things to do because every twig and leaf is covered with sharp and poky thorns. Sometimes the blackberry juice on your fingers fools you into thinking that you are bleeding quite profusely from your hands. However, the displeasure of picking blackberries is often overshadowed by the tastiness of the treats that is made with them.
With the blackberries we picked today, I decided to make a blackberry-blueberry cobbler. I adapted the recipe from Ellie Krieger's "Mixed Berry Cobbler." The recipe is here. We used about 4 cups blackberries and 2 cups blueberries. Thanks to Ellie and Food Network, the cobbler turned out to be easy to make as well as delicious.
Blackberry-Blueberry Cobbler
Here are a couple more shots taken with the new lens:
Crape Myrtle Background
Cobbler Close-Up

Friday, July 23, 2010

Linguini with Everything

The Creation

Last night I risked everything and tried making dinner without a recipe.  I guess for the more experienced this might even be a pretty normal thing to do, but considering that I have only recently been spending more time in the kitchen, it was a little more of a challenge.  Fortunately the only people whose taste buds could be disappointed if the dish turned into an atrocity were my immediate family members so I didn't have to be too worried.  If I screwed up, I could live with it, and they'd still have to live with me.  Well, hopefully.  I shouldn't push my luck but I'd hope not to be kicked out of the house and sent back to Berkeley a few weeks early all because of one less than satisfactory meal.  
Anyway, none of that applies because everyone enjoyed the dish.  This is what I made: linguini with green zucchini, yellow zucchini, bell peppers, onion, garlic, basil, sungold tomatoes, thai chilis, chili pepper flakes, a cherry tomato sauce, shrimp, and goat cheese.  In other words, basically everything in our kitchen.  I wanted to use up a lot of vegetables since I knew we'd be getting a new box the next day so I just grabbed everything I saw on the counter or in the fridge that seemed like it had the potential to work in a pasta.  The baby shrimpies were added for protein and because they're just so delicious (and cute!).  To make the sauce I just sauteed everything little by little starting with a tablespoon of olive oil and the garlic and onions and gradually adding the rest of the vegetables, pureed red cherry tomatoes, and spices.  I tossed in the sungold tomatoes near the end and the shrimp last.  Then, just before pouring the mixture over the pasta, I stirred in a couple ounces of goat cheese.  This was inspired by the spinach pasta with goat cheese on the menu at Mescolanza on Clement St. in San Francisco (we went last weekend and thought it was pretty good-especially the bruschetta). The goat cheese really adds flavor and gives the pasta a nice texure, making it creamier.  The linguini was a little spicy because of the 2 thai chilis I added, leftover from the green curry, but the spicy flavor went well with all the ingredients.  We set a few hot rolls from Trader Joe's on the table, seasoned the linguini with a little salt and pepper, and the meal was complete.
This success in creating a meal more complicated than a sandwich without a recipe has given me a little more confidence and I will definitely try more dishes in the future without instructions.  It's much more exciting and gives you the chance to express some creativity at the same time.  

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Shooting Star CSA

Locally grown CCOF-certified organic produce from Shooting Star CSA Farm

Here's just a short entry to say, look what we got!  Our family signed up to receive weekly boxes of vegetables from Shooting Star CSA, a certified organic farm in Suisun.  Last Friday, we got our first box which contained sungold tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, etc... just look at all the beautiful vegetables in the above picture!  Shooting Star CSA has 8 different drop-off sites in northern CA including a very convenient location in Vacaville.  They still have a few openings left, so if you're from around here and want weekly boxes of great veggie assortments that are both locally grown and organic, go to the site here and sign up!  My mom already made some delicious homemade pesto with the basil and we used the carrots for our carrot cake.  Getting these weekly boxes is really a great way to make sure everyone in your family is eating their vegetables.  You'll be forced to serve them at meals and cook with them all the time because come the next Friday, there's going to be another awesome box!  I sense ratatouille in the next couple days and maybe some tzatziki.  Yum!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Carrot Cake

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting topped with Wild Blackberries

You can expect blackberries to be a common theme in our posts for a while.  A couple weeks ago I walked down to the side of the creek by our house where we have several wild blackberry bushes growing.  Most of the berries were still green, but I did find 5 glistening purple ones and quickly devoured all of them.  You know you would have done the same.
Well last week Ryo and I went out again in hopes of finding something to garnish our plain carrot cake with and found quite a few more than 5.  I won't elaborate too much about the berries because I foresee many more days of picking them by the basket and making cobblers and kuchen and maybe even a pudding.
I suppose the main thing to talk about is the carrot cake.  In my lifetime I've run into quite a few people who are not the biggest carrot cake fans, including Ryo.  I can't really understand why, but I guess it could have something to do with the word "carrot" and an assumption of healthiness due to the mention of a vegetable.  That's where I think carrot cake gets a little deceptive.  In the UC Berkeley dining commons they even went as far as calling it "Healthy Harvest Cake."  As if people already don't have enough trouble with the freshmen 15 without these misleading titles.  
When I dug out our old carrot cake recipe that we've used most of our lives, I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn't the cup and a half of oil it demanded.  I was a little shocked by this and also kind of disgusted by the state of the recipe scrawled out on an old index card that was more than a little worse for wear  (I really think we should digitalize our disorganized recipe drawer at some point).  Well, that's when I decided it was time to try to find someone else's version.
After looking for 2 seconds online, I found one billion other recipes.  Eventually I got a little overwhelmed and just decided to pull out our Cooking Light book.  The picture of "Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting" looked good and the 1/3 cup of oil was much more appealing.
I called Ryo over and we whipped it up in not too much time, picked (and ate) some blackberries while we waited for it to cool, slathered on the cream cheese frosting, and topped it with a few of our finest, juiciest berries.  It was a hit later that night (even with Ryo) when we celebrated our dad's birthday and we've been having leftovers for the last couple of nights.  
Last comment: don't diss healthier recipes because if you spend a little time looking for a good one, more often than not they'll taste just as, if not more delicious than your alternative.  Here's Cooking Light's recipe.  We served ours with some plain frozen yogurt from Trader Joe's along with a few more berries.  I'd recommend this combination.
Carrot Cake With Cream Cheese Frosting (from Cooking Light)
cooking spray                                                                  
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup applesauce
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup plain fat-free yogurt
2 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 large egg whites
1 large egg
2 cups finely shredded carrot
Cream Cheese Frosting:
1/2 cup fat-free cream cheese, chilled
1/4 cup butter or stick margarine, softened
1 tsp. grated lemon rind
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 375.  Coat 2 8-inch round cake pans with cooking spray and dust with flour.  Lightly spoon 2 1/4 cups flour into measuring cups, level and combine with baking powder, cinnamon, salt, baking soda, and nutmeg.  Stir well with a whisk.  
Beat sugar, brown sugar, applesauce, oil, yogurt, vanilla, egg whites, and egg at medium speed of a mixer.  Add to flour mixture, stirring just until moist.  Then stir in carrot.
Pour batter into pans, tapping to remove air bubbles.  Bake for 25 minutes or until wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool 10 minutes on wire racks, remove from pans, and cool completely.  Put one layer on a plate, spread with 3/4 of cream cheese frosting. Top with other layer and spread remaining frosting over top and sides.  Store in the fridge.
For frosting, beat cream cheese, butter, lemon, and vanilla until smooth.  Gradually add sugar to mixture and beat at a low speed just until blended.
*We didn't use a mixer so I guess that part of the recipe isn't so important.  We also made several other errors and it still turned out fine, so I'd say this recipe is fairly foolproof. 

Sunday, July 18, 2010

El Caracol

~Our 20th Anniversary of El Caracol~

           Hello dear followers. I’m Ryo, and this is my first blog post. I normally just take the pictures, but this post is a very special one. You see, 20 years ago, a year before my dear sister was born, our father was walking around downtown Vacaville when he came across a small hole-in-the-wall El Salvadorian restaurant named El Caracol. He ordered a burrito, and they made him the biggest burrito he had ever seen. He of course, being a man, ate the whole damn thing. When he trekked back home, he realized that the enormous burrito he had just devoured was actually the best pile of grub he had eaten. Needless to say, El Caracol was an instant hit. We grew up eating El Caracol on special occasions, and it became our favorite restaurant. Even when it moved from downtown Cowtown to the backstreets of Alamo, we kept eating there. 
            Usually when we were young, my sister and I ordered bean and cheese burritos because that was the only thing we liked (or cared to try). But, as we grew older, we tried other things, like sopes (a delicious El Salvadorian dish), enchiladas, chile rellenos, quesadillas, tostadas, flautas, garlic shrimp, spicy shrimp, and burritos with everything.
We were celebrating our dad’s birthday today, so we decided to eat at El Caracol. Today I ordered a large chicken burrito (large = the size of a football) and a shredded beef enchilada. Sydney got a chicken burrito with beans and rice on the side. They were both amazing. 
El Caracol is a family-owned restaurant that serves great food. The service is slow, but it's well worth the wait! If you're in the mood for a gigantic burrito or some delicious garlic shrimp, head over to 3081 Alamo Drive. Also, be prepared to bring home some leftovers!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Thai Green Curry

Spicy, cleansing, delicious.  Make this now.  It's seriously terrific.

Thai Green Curry.  It has become one of my favorite dishes in the last couple years and it is amazing.  If you love spicy dishes and Thai food (as everyone should), you should love this.  If spiciness is not your thing, still make it but just use less curry paste.  If you don't like Thai food, make this dish and you WILL start liking it.  If not, give it to a friend with higher quality taste buds.  Also, we're no longer friends.
My mom and I have made Thai green curry with chicken on multiple occasions, but last night it turned out the best.  We started out originally with a recipe from a book at the library but have since adapted it to our liking, modeling it after the green curry at our best, relatively local Thai restaurant on 1767 North Texas St. in Fairfield, California called S&L Thai Restaurant.  Whenever we go we usually get the green curry, the pad thai, the citrus prawns, some sautes, eggrolls, and the papaya salad and share all of it.  I highly recommend all of the above.  Go with your whole family, an empty stomach, and be prepared for a crazy delicious feast.  I can't think of a place I've had better Thai food and especially green curry.  So many places screw it up by adding too much coconut milk or oil.  Take my advice and give S&L a try if you're in the area.
To make the green curry as we did last night, use the following ingredients:
1 1/2 Tbs vegetable oil
3 Tbsp. Thai green curry paste (we used Mae Ploy Green Curry Paste from our local Asian market)
about a pound of boneless, skinless, chicken thighs cut into 1 inch pieces
2 lemon grass stalks with the outer layer removed and chopped finely
3 Tbsp. diced shallots 
3 Tbsp. coarsely chopped garlic
1 Tbsp. finely chopped galangal (you could also use ginger)
Several lime leaves
1 tsp. fish sauce
2 tsp. sugar
a bowl* of veggies including:
-sliced pea aubergines (we actually used Japanese eggplant this time which was fine)
-sliced red and green bell peppers
1, 14 oz. can of coconut milk (use light, it's better for you)!
some coriander leaves
Thai basil leaves (or regular basil) The more the merrier!
*Recipes always call for specific amounts of ingredients, but just use as many vegetables as you want. We ended up filling a medium sized bowl with sliced egg plant and bell peppers.  You could also throw in some green beans.

Once you have all your ingredients ready, heat a wok or a large frying pan until hot, and then add the oil and green curry paste.  Stir-fry for 2 minutes and then add the chicken pieces, mixing until they are coated in the paste. 
Next add the lemon grass, shallots, garlic, galangal, lime leaves, fish sauce, sugar, and stir-fry for a minute.  
Add the pea aubergines or whatever eggplant you used and the bell peppers and pour in the coconut milk.  Lower the heat and let it all simmer for 15 minutes or until the chicken is cooked.  Finally, add the coriander leaves and basil, stir it up, and serve nice and hot over rice!
Note: We used three tablespoons of curry paste and that was the perfect degree of spiciness for me. However, many people would consider that level of spiciness to be too spicy so if you always order mild at a restaurant, try maybe 2 tablespoons instead.  Taste the curry while you're making it and if you realize that it is too spicy you can dilute it with some more coconut milk.  Also, if you're a vegetarian, try tofu as a nice substitute for the chicken.  

Make sure you crank up the AC if it's a hot summer night because this curry will make you sweat.  The capsaicin molecule in chilis activates the same receptors as heat, known as capsaicin receptors or TRPV1 so that's why we feel hot when we eat spicy foods like this.  If you don't have air conditioning, follow this up with a session of Bikram yoga and consider your pores cleansed for the next month or so.
  Most of all, enjoy!  This really is one of my favorites so I hope you like it!

Rice Pudding

It's not uncommon for our fridge to be full of leftover rice by the end of the week.  Leftovers are wonderful and convenient but they can get a little ridiculous.  Often, I'll look in the fridge and it's like there's a little village of white bowls with matching Saran wrap roofs.  Who thought it was necessary to save the last few leaves of salad from last night's dinner?  Yes, wilted greens completely saturated in dressing are always my snack of choice, but three bowls from various meals throughout the week, really?  My family is pretty good about being practical and trying to save only what's likely to be eaten, but even still, when analyzing the fridge a little, there's bound to be something that makes you wonder what exactly the person was thinking who decided to save half a pancake.  (That person?  Probably me).  
Well anyway, yesterday I made good use of leftovers.  Rice is probably one of the better things you can save, at least in our household.  We eat enough dishes that call for rice so that having leftovers is often convenient.  Also, I'll occasionally use rice to make chazuke for lunch.  If you haven't had it, chazuke is just a really quick and easy Japanese dish that involves puring hot water or green tea over rice and then adding whatever you want to it like nori, or stirring in an egg.  We actually have these little instant packets that are pretty good.  I feel like next year in college without a meal plan, I'll be having chazuke a little more frequently than I'd normally prefer. Yesterday, however, I was thinking of other things you could do with old rice, and remembered rice pudding!  I was never really a huge fan of it when I was younger, but over the last year or so I've started to like, or at least take an interest in, pretty much anything you'd label as food.  I looked up several rice pudding recipes online and found that all of them were about the same, so I tossed the common ingredients together and it turned out pretty good!  Here's what I used:

2 cups cooked, leftover rice
3 cups soy milk
1/3 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
a bit of nutmeg
1 teaspoon of cinnamon

Add the rice, soy milk, and sugar to a pan and place over heat.  (You could use other kinds of milk, but I've been really into soy lately.  Even if you're not a fan, try it in cereal and you just might change your  mind).  Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down, add the vanilla, and simmer for about 35 minutes (could be longer or shorter so judge by consistency).  When most of the milk has been absorbed, add the spices.  You could also throw in some raisins or other yummy additions while it's cooking.  I would recommend adding more milk if it looks a little too thick or if you plan on serving it cold because it thickens a little in the fridge.  You can serve the pudding right off the stove, nice and warm, or chilled.  Either way, it's bound to be tasty.  We topped ours with a little fresh fruit.
If you want a cinnamony, delicious, cool treat for a summer afternoon, definitely try this out!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Good morning crepes

I have awesome friends.  I come over well past your typical dinner time and am welcomed with chicken tacos and homemade guacamole.  I wake up the next morning, and it's time to heat up a skillet for some crepes!  After Caltech, my next stop was UCLA to visit a few other old friends.  In the kitchen Sunday morning, Emma soon filled the air with an aroma of pure delicious.  We sliced some fresh strawberries and washed some blackberries while listening to the crepes sizzle.  I've never made crepes before and have actually only had them a few times so I asked for the recipe she used.  Since it consists of only a few ingredients and I watched her expertly fill a plate with them, hopefully I will be able to successfully recreate them later this summer.  We topped these with strawberry jam, some cinnamon and nutmeg, and a little cream cheese, rolled them up, and happily ate all of them.  

(from Better Homes and Gardens)
1 Cup flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1 tbs. cooking oil
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs (beaten)
Combine eggs, milk, flour oil and salt; beat until combined with minimal lumps.  Cook on a skillet greased with butter or cooking oil.

Best breakfast in California!

In the morning my alarm clock wakes me, but the thought of breakfast is what actually gets me out of bed. Breakfast is, hands down, the most delicious thing ever.  A steaming bowl of oatmeal with fresh berries and a drizzle of honey, a stack of warm banana pancakes...just thinking about breakfast makes me a little happier.
Anyway, I was in the Sacramento airport last week, waiting for my plane and flipping through the Food Network magazine in one of those book/magazine/overpriced souvenirs for the busy travelers who forgot about their families shops and happened upon an article titled "50 States, Fifty Breakfasts."  Naturally, the word "breakfast" caught my eye and I read on eagerly.  The article selected the best breakfast place in every state, with pictures and descriptions of what you should order.  You can check out the best breakfasts for all the states on the Food Network website here.  Under California, Marston's Restaurant was named.  I had never heard of it so I scanned the foldout U.S. map in the magazine for its location.  As soon as I saw the little red star pinpointing Marston's, I knew that it was my fate to be sampling the pictured "Fantastic French Toast" that very weekend.  For what was my destination?  Pasadena.  Location of my best friend Alison at Caltech, and location of the best breakfast in California!  Can you ask for a better combination?
Sure enough, we ended up at the restaurant a couple days later and split both the famous, featured French toast as well as the macadamia nut pancakes.  The pancakes were creamy and buttery and the added macadamia nuts gave each golden fluffy bite a bit of crunch and a lot of great flavor.  The French toast was made with sourdough bread dipped in a batter containing cornflakes, so the result was a warm crispy exterior with a tender, slightly cinnamony center.  Each plate was served with real Vermont maple syrup, automatically earning a little of my respect, and we both left very full, but very happy.  Check out the menu, here.
Now, I'm not sure I would agree that Marston's Restaurant is the best breakfast in California, but it sure made for a very satisfying and delicious brunch.  Maybe I will try all the other breakfast places in California and report back later.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


The Tomato.  Fruit? Vegetable? Love it? Hate it?  Both of us are guilty of harboring some hatred toward tomatoes as children and for me it has not been until this year that I've stopped purposefully avoiding them at all costs and carefully removing them from my plate when this just wasn't possible.  Now, I am happy to report that although I'm still not going to grab one as an afternoon snack, I enjoy them when cooked in dishes and will eat them excitedly if someone placed a few slices in my sandwich.  Well, "excitedly" might be stretching it a bit, or, a lot, but I'd sure be excited if someone gave me a sandwich. 
And really, who can hate something as beautiful as these yellow and red cherry and grape tomatoes?  Even if you're not a fan, you have to admit they're pretty adorable.  Thank you again, Aliki's.
Since I was told to cook dinner tonight I figured I should probably use some of the fresh produce overflowing in our fridge.  Right now when I swing open the metallic door, my eyes are struck by bowls and baskets of plums, peaches, melons, cherries, blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, and more.  It's almost impossible for me not to consume several different fruit species on the spot.  I never would have thought I'd die of a sugar overdose from fruit.
Anyway, baby tomatoes in hand, I went online and found a pasta recipe from Serious Eats, a food blog I consistently read until I started summer school.  This recipe was Mario Batali's Spaghetti al Pomodoro.  We didn't have quite as many tomatoes as it called for and more certainly would have been desirable, but the dish turned out to be a nice summer meal.  I also substituted parmesan for the pecorino due to ingredient limitations and added extra basil because I love it so much and also got a little carried away when I was picking some leaves.  But I don't think you can really ever go wrong with a little extra basil.
On an interesting side note, apparently the Supreme Court ruled the tomato a vegetable in the Nix v. Hedden case of 1893.  The issue arose because of a tax that applied to vegetables but not fruits.  However, botanically, the tomato is considered a fruit.  If you ask me, I'd just say eat the things.  Tomato, tomato.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Hello fresh local produce!

So it's the day after Fourth of July which means...lots of leftovers!  Portobello mushroom burgers, potato salad, berry kuchen (we'll have to post the recipe later) and more, two days straight.  Here's a picture of our delicious fruit salad from last night.  The peaches and plums are from Aliki's Finest in Vacaville and the strawberries are from the local strawberry stand on Fruitvale.  When all the fruit is this delicious, there's no reason not to buy local.

Thanks to Tastespotting we discovered a new twist on deviled eggs that made for a nice appetizer while the portobellos and burgers were on the grill.  Add some sriracha!  The recipe we used was modified from a recipe on  Click here for the recipe.  We'd prefer it with a bit more sriracha but if you can't take the heat, this recipe is probably perfect.