Thursday, November 30, 2006

Pass the Arugula: Book Talk with David Kamp

Tonight I went to a book talk/signing/cocktail party for David Kamp, author of "The United States of Arugula: How We Became a Gourmet Nation." Kamp is a regular contributor to GQ and Vanity Fair and have written books about popular music, but this is his first attempt to bring his irreverent stylized writing to the food scene.

Not a foodie but a self-described cooker and eater, Kamp is a charming New Yorker who is genuinely interested in the ins and outs of food. And not just recipes, but why we eat the things we eat. His book has gotten the attention of people in and out of the food circles (not to mention raised some questions about his chapter on the iconic-to-be Alice Waters).

I haven't read the book yet, but I look forward to the fun ride through the history of how food is no longer just substance but style. And it sounds like it's a real look at the people behind the food movement, warts and all.

Kamp spoke, of course, at the Ferry Building at Book Passages in San Francisco. Below are highlights of some of his talk with Clark Wolf, a local restaurant consultant. Kamp spoke about food greats such as James Beard and Julia Child, clarifies his approach to Alice Waters, and why he came up with that title? (At least I don't think he was to blame for the book cover art.)

FYI, this was taken with my little digital point-and-shoot camera and uploaded to YouTube, so the quality isn't the greatest. But hey, I do this all for you for free, so please, no film critics!

Correction: In the late-night flurry to finish this on deadline (that was self-emposed), I incorrectly labeled the movie as taken place on Nov. 29, 2006 when it really should read Nov. 30, 2006. Other than that, you'll get a taste of Kamp's talk.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Cold Weather Curry

It's been oddly cold in the San Francisco Bay Area lately and that gets me wanting some comfort food. (No wonder people gain a few extra winter weight!) A quick and easy recipe I make on the weeknights that's perfect for the cold weather is chicken curry. Growing up in Hawaii, the curry is often just beef, potatoes and carrots. It comes in a golden hue and doesn't typically include coconut milk (which is fine with me because I'm not a big fan of the richness AND the fat of coconut milk). To create my own "local-style" curry, I use chicken because it's healthier than red meat, and I've spiced it up by mixing my potatoes, using sweet and regular russet potatoes. I think the sweet potato adds a nice sweetness to counter the spice of the curry. Also, eating two sweet potatoes a week can help you fight skin cancer, so I always try to work in sweet potatoes in my recipes wherever I can. What I also like about making a pot of curry is that it's easy to warm up as leftovers, so I've got dinner set for at least three nights!

Chicken Sweet Potato Curry

Copyright 2006 by Cooking With The Single Guy


1 lb. chicken breast, boneless and skinless, cut into cubes
1 sweet potato (8 oz.), rough dices
1 russet potato (8 oz.), rough dices
3 carrots, large dices
1/2 sweet onion, diced
2 T curry powder
2 T cilantro, minced*
2 T cornstarch
1 T soy sauce
1 14-oz can low-sodium chicken broth
1 clove garlic, sliced thinly
salt and pepper
2 T extra virgin olive oil

* This is optional. Some people have a strong reaction to cilantro, but I love the freshness it brings to the dish. You can replace with another fresh herb that'll add flavor (such as basil) and a nice green color.

Season chicken breast with salt, pepper and one tablespoon of oil and set aside. In large saucepan or dutch oven, warm the remaining olive oil over medium high heat and saute onion and garlic for about a minute. Add chicken and brown both sides. Add curry powder to warm spice and add soy sauce and then broth. Add carrots and bring to a boil, then set to simmer for about 10 minutes. Add potatoes (both sweet and russet) and cook until fork tender (about 20 minutes).

In small bowl, mix cornstarch with some water to create a slurry to thicken the curry. Turn up the heat to high and slowly pour in cornstarch mixture until thicken to your taste. Season with salt to taste. Remove pot from heat and mix in cilantro.

Makes 4 to 6 servings. Serve with jasmine steamed rice.

Serve with a glass of Riesling.

TIPS: The chicken tends to dry out as the potatoes are cooking to be tender. I personally don't mind the chicken being a bit dry since you have all that curry to soak it in. But if you want your chicken more tender, remove the chicken pieces from the pot after you brown them and then return them to the pot about 5 minutes before potatoes are ready.

SPICE of LIFE: Curry is a great spice and comes in a variety of degrees of heat, from red to green to yellow (or golden). You can find a nice variety from the gourmet spice store, but most grocery stores will stock the basic yellow or golden type of curry. This is a medium grade that's widely used in Hawaii and Japan.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Dish on Dining: Salt House

New hotspot needs more time to cure

545 Mission St. (near First Street), San Francisco
(SOMA/Financial District)
Lunch, M-F, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; dinner, Sun.-Mon., 5:30 p.m.-midnight, Tues.-Sat., 5:30 a.m.-1 a.m.
PH: (415) 543-8900
(Reservations/major credit cards accepted)

Sometimes it's not always best to be first.

I was so excited about the talk surrounding the arrival of Salt House--the new venture from the people behind the ridiculously popular Town Hall--that I wanted to try it right away. So I visited the hip dining spot just four weeks after it opened in what was once an old printing press warehouse from the 1930s.

In less than a month, it is already difficult to get a decent Saturday night dinner reservations. And on the Saturday night that I was there, you could tell Salt House was the place to be because also spotted dining with her own party of four was Elizabeth Falkner, executive chef and owner of Citizen Cake.

The restaurant has the typical California downtown feel with its exposed brick walls, large chalkboard to post its raw menu, and open view of the kitchen. I liked the communal table in the bar area, which has high stools to provide you with a great perspective on fellow diners.

It's still unclear from the menu what Salt House hopes to be. You'd think with a name like Salt House, it'd emphasize fresh seafood. But its self-declared contemporary California menu had an eclectic mix of fish, poultry and meat. (The restaurant has a limited menu, with about six entrees and an equal amount of appetizers. It also has a separate raw menu highlighting Pacific oysters.)

I did like its approach to the wine list, breaking its selection into categories determined by the main personality of the wine, such as medium, spicy or big for reds; and sparkling, crisp, aromatic, and rich for whites. (Although, I was a bit confused by the category “esoteric” under the reds.)

I started with the Kabocha squash and chestnut soup with braised rabbit. It was a delightful starter with tender pieces of rabbit and nice crispy nuggets of chestnut. My dining partner had the beet salad with smoked salmon and creamy horseradish dressing. It came out looking like a dragon roll because of the row of salmon on top of frisee all covering golden and red beets. While I love beets, I didn't understand the combination with the saltiness of the smoked salmon, which overpowered the beets' sweetness.

Then came the wait. A sure sign of a new restaurant is the off timing of the kitchen. It seemed almost a half an hour between our starters and our actual entrees. As I chatted with my dining partner, he commented on the many bus staff that mingled around the kitchen entrance, waiting for dishes to serve.

When our meals arrived, I got a big whiff of the pan-roasted skate wing I ordered. And it wasn't a pleasant whiff. It was one of those smells that hit you in the face to remind you that you're eating fish. I couldn't help but think that our dishes may have rested too long because they looked tired and slightly dry. My skate wing tasted fine and the Brussels sprouts on the side were excellent. But I wasn't thrilled with my choice. My friend loved his duck confit, which was tender (what wouldn't be tender after sitting in your own fat for hours?), but I felt the accompanying seasonal persimmon sauce was crudely executed with bits of persimmons.

We ended the night with the warm pineapple upside down cake for dessert, with whipping cream served in a separate pour. My friend enjoyed the cake, which wasn't too sweet or tart. But I couldn't get past the odd texture of cornmeal I felt in certain parts of it. (I think there were also bits of coconut to contend with.)

A minor note: Salt House serves Acme bread at its tables. And while Acme is one of the brand name breads in town, it still would have been a nice starter to have warm bread freshly made on the premises.

With a limited menu, you'd expect Salt House's dishes to be a winner at every bite. But there were only some things good while other elements were OK or unsatisfying. The inconsistency from the kitchen to the front room can reflect Salt House's fledgling steps, but with San Francisco's fickle crowd, the “jackasses” (their term, not mines) behind Salt House had better snap everything into place or find itself just another pile of salt.

Single guy rating: 3 stars (perfect for foodies who like to take risks)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Salt House in San Francisco

Sunday, November 26, 2006

What's Popping Up This Season?

The fall and winter season, which signals the start of the cold and rain, is a miserable time. I'm not a big fan of the cold. But the soggy, wet environment is great for the fungi. (That's fungus, not a fun guy. :) Today I dropped by the weekend Fungus Festival at the Ferry Building in San Francisco. The festival turned out to be a bust. There weren't much activity, except for a few mushroom promotions by a few of the stores. Still, I saw some great mushrooms in the cultivation exhibit and it inspired me to make a mushroom fettuccine for dinner. The recipe below is your basic mushroom pasta with a cream sauce. What I did to make it special was used some interesting mushrooms. I used baby shittake mushrooms and what I found in the mushroom market at the Ferry Building. They were these soft, furry mushrooms that looked like puppies. OK, I'm not promoting eating puppies, but the fungus looked so cute. They were called lion's mane because the mushroom's furriness looks like the lion's mane. The guy said it has the same texture of crab when cooked, so that inspired me to use another great food in season--Dungeness crab! So throw in some spinach and you have a tasty, colorful dish that takes less than 20 minutes to prepare. Now go out and get yourself some shrooms!

Crab Mushroom Spinach Fettuccine

Copyright 2006 by Cooking With The Single Guy


1 cooked Dungeness crab (remove meat from shell)
2 cups fresh mushrooms
2 cups fresh spinach
1 lb. fettuccine
1 cup Parmesan reggiano cheese
1 cup heavy cream *
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 t lemon zest
salt and pepper

Boil pot of water and cook fettuccine in salted water. Drain and set aside.

In large skillet, heat oil over high flame and add garlic. Then add chopped mushrooms to sweat out the moisture. (Add a pinch of salt to assist in the sweating.) Add heavy cream and bring to a boil, then simmer with cover over medium heat for about 3 minutes. Add crab meat, spinach and lemon zest and cook until spinach is wilted. Add salt and pepper to taste. Then toss in pasta with some of the pasta water and mix in parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

Makes two to three servings.

Pair with a glass of Chardonnay.

* Some heavy cream these days are flavored with sweetness. I only found that option at my grocery store, and when I tried it, the sweetness in the cream made this dish nice. It was giving the crab an extra sweetness. You might want to try a flavored cream, but avoid it if you're not into the subtle sweetness that comes out.

TIPS: You can do a mix of mushrooms that are in season. Think of mushrooms that will match nicely with the crab, both in taste and color contrast. Or just use what's available or your favorites. For this recipe, I used a combination of baby shittake and what's called lion's mane. The lion's mane mushroom is like a furry puppy in texture and white in color, but some think when cooked it has the same texture of crab meat.

LIKE BUTTER: If you're cracking open a freshly cooked crab for this dish, be sure to save the "crab butter," which is the gooey, yellowish part of the crab near the head and in the center of the crab. Some people love this to cook with. I generally don't like to eat it because of its texture and because it's high in cholesterol. But for this dish, I use a tablespoon of it and mixed it in with the cream sauce to give the sauce a bit more creaminess and crab flavor.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Bring on The Stuffing!

The Single Guy Chef is taking a break for a few days while I travel to Portland to spend Thanksgiving with my sister and to meet my new baby niece. Hope you all have a nice Thanksgiving celebration and that you're spending it with family or friends, or both. I'll be back in a few days and posting new tips and recipes. For now, check out my archives!

COMING UP THIS WEEKEND: Something to do after you're all done with turkey, think about the shrooms. The Ferry Building in San Francisco will be hosting a weekend dedicated to the fabulous fungi. This is the first year they're doing this, so it'll be interesting to see how substantive the activities will be. Check the Web site for more information. I'll be there on Sunday and will report back later that day!

Save Those Turkey Bones!

OK, after you've carved up that big bird of yours this Thursday, don't throw out all those bones and leftover pieces of meat that nobody wants. Make jook! This is the classic Chinese porridge that's comfort food for anyone. What's great about making jook is that it's easy and it lets you get every morsel of meat from the bones. The slow-cook process of making jook lets the difficult-to-get meat of any poultry just soften and fall off the bone. So it's great for turkey pieces, but you can also make it throughout the year with leftover chicken after a roast or leftover duck from your Chinese dinner. Although jook is easy to make because you just let it stew for a couple of hours, you still have to watch the pot to make sure the rice doesn't stick to the bottom and burn. So stir occasionally during commercial breaks of your favorite TV program. :)

Jook with Turkey and Preserved Eggs

Copyright 2006 by Cooking With The Single Guy


1 cup short-grain Japanese white rice
2 cup cooked turkey pieces with bone (or chicken pieces)
2 cans of chicken broth (14 oz. can)
1/2 cup unsalted, shelled peanuts (no skin)
2 preserved duck eggs
1 T peanut oil
1 T soy sauce
2 stalks green onion

In a medium saucepan, warm oil over medium high heat. Add rice and toast for about a minute. Add soy sauce, followed by chicken broth, turkey meat with bones, and peanuts. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a medium simmer. Slow cook for about an hour until the rice has a creamy soup texture. Stir often during cooking process, adding about a 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of water whenever the jook looks thick or dry. When jook is done, remove any big bones where the meat has fallen off. Salt to taste. Cut duck eggs into quarters and add to jook. Garnish with julienned strips of green onion.

TIPS: Japanese white rice sold for sushi is the best choice to make jook because of the creamy texture when slow cooked. Do not rinse the rice to avoid washing away too much of its creaminess. It’s easy to burn the bottom of your pan with the rice mixture so stir often and add water to maintain moisture in your jook during the cooking process. If you like, you can use additional broth instead of water.

PRESERVED FOR 1,000 YEARS: The preserved duck eggs served with jook in Chinese restaurants are called pei dan (pronounced PAY-dahn in Cantonese). I told my friends in college when I made jook with these eggs that they were known as 1,000-year-old eggs. They teased me, of course, because they thought I was eating a really old, bad-smelling egg. The fermenting of the eggs (more like 100 days instead of 1,000 years) creates, to me, this beautiful amber-colored gel around a green marble-like yolk. The taste is distinctive that’s hard to described. Pei dan is definitely an acquired taste. It’s typically sold in packets of six individually wrapped eggs at Chinatown grocery stores or Asian markets.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Impress Your Thanksgiving Host/Hostess

You'll be the favorite single guest when you make the following mango-cranberry chutney for Thanksgiving this year.

As a single guy, I get invited to "orphan" Thanksgiving dinners quite often. I always wonder what to bring, and I discovered this recipe a couple of years ago from Food and Wine magazine. I'm a big fan of cranberry and it was neat to make a fresh cranberry dish that's different than what most people will see at the Thanksgiving table.

What's great about this recipe is that it's a chutney, with the slight curry taste giving it a real exotic feel. And what dish isn't great when there are mangoes included? :)

I like making this recipe every year and I think it's also a fun host/hostess gift to make. Throughout the year, I save my salsa jars or jam jars and keep them for when this time of year comes around so I can make this mango-cranberry chutney and give them out as gifts. (Unfortunately, this recipe only yields maybe two salsa jars worth of chutney. So if you plan to pass out more gifts, you'll need to double the recipe.)

This recipe is easy to make, but I have to warn you that it does take some time. The nice thing is that it can be done ahead of time and refrigerated for up to two weeks. (A minor note: The recipe calls for mustard seeds. I sometimes don't like recipes that have too many odd ingredients, and I classify mustard seeds as one of those things I don't have often in my pantry and aren't willing to buy just for this one recipe. I feel like the chutney tastes great as is, but if you're a big mustard seed fan, maybe it'll make a big difference for you to add it.)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Mango-Cranberry Chutney

The following recipe is copyrighted by Food and Wine Magazine's Web site. Originally published in the November 2001 edition.


1 T peanut oil
1 small Vidalia or other sweet onion, chopped
pinch of salt
1 t curry powder
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup cider vinegar
2 large underripe mangoes, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 lb. fresh cranberries
1 t mustard seeds

1. Heat 1 teaspoon of oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion and salt and cook over moderately low heat, stirring, until the onion softens, about 8 minutes. Add the curry and cinnamon stick and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the sugars and vinegar and bring to a boil. Add the mangoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 35 to 40 minutes. Add the cranberries and cook over moderate heat for 40 minutes, crushing them against the sides of the pan.

2. Heat the remaining 2 teaspoons of oil in a small skillet. Add the mustard seeds and cook until they begin to pop, then stir them into the chutney. Transfer to a bowl and let cool.

Servings: Makes about 4.5 cups.

The chutney can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

I Love Scones from Betty

I know what you're thinking. For someone who's not really into baked goods, I sure am blogging a lot about them lately. I think it's winter and the holidays. Something about the cool air that makes you feel like cuddling up with a nice cup of tea and a scrumptious scone.

I feel lucky that one of the best places to find scones is just a 10-minute walk from my home. Bakesale Betty is this cool corner bakery in Oakland's Temescal neighborhood, right at where Telegraph Avenue meets 51st Street.
I say it's cool because it's one of those places that can attract a crowd even though it doesn't have its name visibly plastered outside it's chic black wood-framed shop. When it first opened more than a year ago, I kept wondering what it was because it hardly seemed opened. Then I realized it wasn't opened because it kept selling out their goods so quickly.

Bakesale Betty follows the simple rule of using seasonal ingredients and focusing on what they do well. So when you go in, you won't find glass counters filled with an assortment of baked goods. Instead, you just find the few items people crave for. During the summer, it was the shortbread with fresh summer strawberries. Then it was the fantastic banana bread with crumbling brown sugar top. Of course, right now it's everything pumpkin, from bread to pies.

Still, I feel Bakesale Betty is best with its scones. And again, they just focus on maybe three varieties. My favorite is the pear and ginger scone, but you also have lemon and apricot or whatever is in season (right now you can get cranberry).

Unfortunately, Bakesale Betty is only open Tuesdays through Saturdays. So when you want a nice scone with your morning coffee and Sunday New York Times, you have to plan ahead. Or make the trek to the farmers' markets. Bakesale Betty started by selling at the market in Walnut Creek, and they continue to go out to the farmers markets on Sundays. You'll find them at the Walnut Creek market and the new market at Temescal.

If you go to the shop, you also want to go early before all the selection runs out by early afternoon. One warning, though, some people find their products heavy on the sugar toppings. Their scones are topped with a glaze and the banana bread, for example, has a crumbled brown sugar top. I think this makes it special, but if you eat all of it at once, you'll feel it in your stomach. So like everything that's addictive, take it in moderation! But really, you'll only need one scone and you'll be satisfied. Slightly crunchy top and the moist center will keep you happy this winter, and the rest of the year!

Friday, November 17, 2006

Dish on Dining: King of King

The working man's (or woman's) dim sum joint

1139 E. 12 St., Oakland
(at 11th Avenue)
10 a.m.-10 p.m., daily; dim sum from 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
PH: (510) 663-9318

Growing up in Hawaii, my family would go and get dim sum at least once every weekend, sometimes both Saturday and Sunday. There were maybe three regular dim sum restaurants we would go to and they typically broke down as follows: fancy and crowded, decent and cheap, or lousy but we couldn't get into the first two.

In the Bay Area, we're lucky that we have a variety of Chinese tea houses serving the favorite family meal of dim sum. Whether you're in San Francisco, on the Peninsula, in San Jose or on the East Bay, you can find a decent dim sum place within a 20-minute drive, oftentimes less.

In Oakland, there are several regular restaurants that continue to attract families and adventurous foodies looking for their favorite steamed dumplings or deep-fried anything. Recently, I decided to try King of King Restaurant on E. 12th Street--a neighborhood often neglected by most Oakland residents but starting to attract more and more Asian restaurants.

The headline of this review pretty much gives away my thoughts on this restaurant. And going back to my family's division of regular dim sum places, King of King would fall in the category of "decent and cheap." Let me explain why.

The dim sum is rolled out in the traditional carts and is definitely served fresh. There's a nice taste to some, especially the pan-fried turnip cakes and har gaw (steamed shrimp dumplings). But it lacked in presentation, at times, and in diversity of offerings. It had all the basics and a few others (especially when it came to the deep-fried selection), but nothing that opened my eyes to something new.

There were also some missteps. The mushrooms stuffed with ground pork lacked flavor, and the mushrooms didn't taste like they had been cooked all the way. The sticky rice wrapped with lotus leaf (one of my favorite dim sum choices) had minimal ingredients stuffed inside and the rice was slightly undercooked. And the dahn tat (custard tarts) were cold.

Still, what King of King has going for it is its pricing (there were three of us at our table and our tab only came up to about $40) and lack of crowds (we were there on a Sunday, arriving at about 11:30 a.m. and were easily seated).

Minor note: For some reason, the restaurant's frying cart was unusually slow in prepping its offerings. Frying carts allow the server to pan-fry certain dishes, typically the turnip or chestnut cakes or wor teep (also known as half moons or gyoza). But on this particular day, it seemed forever for us to get our orders from the portable frying cart lady. My tip would be to order your pan-fried favorites right away because it'll probably arrive after you've already eaten four to five other dim sum dishes.

King of King isn't as grand as its name implies. (They didn't even bother to decorate their stark white walls with the traditional Chinese paintings of koi, running horses, or peonies.) So King of King is more like a prince (and not even a crown prince for that matter). Still, it offers your traditional dim sum fare without the fuss and for a decent price. Keep it in your rotation for times when you're on a budget.

Single guy rating: 2 stars (good for first-time dim sum diners and people on a budget)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Dim Sum Primer

OK, all you dim sum virgins out there! I thought it’d be fun to give you a primer about enjoying this traditional brunch meal of Chinese families all over the world. (This primer is also a good refresher for some of you regular dim sum hounds.) You can find dim sum, which roughly translates to “little bits of heart,” in any major city. Growing up in Honolulu, my family went to get dim sum every weekend. And in the San Francisco Bay Area, there are several excellent Chinese restaurants specializing in dim sum (the most notable is Koi Palace in Daly City).

As the Single Guy Chef, I actually rarely go out for dim sum. I eat dim sum only when my mom comes to visit me. Dim sum is best enjoyed with a big group, so it’s not something I do often by myself. So if you’re hankering for some dim sum, then call up your friends. A nice size group, in my opinion, is four to six people. That way you all can try a nice assortment of dishes but it’s not that big of a group that you end up waiting for a long time for a table.

Getting a table
The first challenge of dim sum is getting seated. If you go to a popular tea house, you’ll be greeted by a mass of hungry people waiting at the door and kids chasing each other around the corner. The peak times for dim sum is between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. My mom always say never go too early because the kitchen may not have geared up with all the varieties and you end up with just the basic choices. When you arrive, make a beeline to the host stand. Tell him or her the number of people in your party and be sure to get a number. Then get comfortable because you may end up waiting between 20 to 45 minutes, depending on how popular your dim sum spot is. Listen carefully because the host will often only announce the number once or twice before going to the next guests. (They’ll also say the number in both Cantonese and English.)

Pick a tea
When you get your table, the very first thing your host will ask you is the type of tea you’d like to drink. He’ll often ask you this even before you’re seated, so you should have an idea before hand so that your host doesn’t get frustrated waiting for you to decide. Tea is an integral part of your meal because the theory of dim sum is to enjoy small dishes with a soothing pot of tea. It’s a time when you talk with friends and relax with tea and tasty morsels.

The most common tea available is bo lay, a black tea that has a mix of oolong. This is often dark so it’s only best if you’re a big coffee drinker/caffeine freak. I often go with jasmine tea, which doesn’t get as dark during the course of your meal and has a nice fragrance. Another tea I often get is chrysanthemum (pronounced gook fa in Cantonese) because it’s a white tea that’s very light.

How it works
Ordering dim sum is a real contact sport. The best dim sum diners are the ones who can flag down a server and get the dishes they want. At most dim sum tea houses, dim sum is served in one of three ways: 1) from carts that servers push around the dining room, 2) from trays that servers carry around from table to table, or 3) from a menu at your table where you check the items you’d like to eat.

You’ll be charged per plate and the price is determined by the size of your plate. If you’re ordering from carts or trays, the server will mark your tab at the table. At the end of your meal, your host will tally the marks to give you a grand total.

Here’s a rundown of some of the common dim sum dishes so you’ll have a better idea of what you’re eating! I’ve grouped them by preparation styles.

The carts with the bamboo steamers stacked high like towers hold a variety of dishes, most of them meat and pork. One cart typically has siu mai (pork and shrimp wrapped with egg-like skin), har gow (diced shrimp wrapped in a translucent, white sticky rice skin), meat balls (typically resting on spinach or tofu sheets), spare ribs (tiny chops of ribs marinated with black beans, sometimes slightly spicy), and other dumplings like Shanghai style dumplings. Another cart will typically have a lot of the steamed buns, typically char siu (roasted sweet pork) or chicken. One cart will have more the specialty steamed items, such as chicken feet (yes, some people like chewing on the sauce and marrow of the feet) and seafood wrapped in tofu sheets.

Siu mai, one of the more common steamed dim sum dish.

Har gow or steamed shrimp dumplings.

One of my favorite steamed dish is called lo mai gai, a sticky rice creation filled with minced chicken and other ingredients steamed in a lotus leaf. Some restaurants will have two version, the traditional steam version and the dryer sticky rice version where it’s served covered by an upside down clear bowl. (That’s called lo mai fan, and looks like fried rice.)

My favorite, lo mai gai, or sticky rice with minced chicken steamed in lotus leaf.

Fry it up
One cart will offer up a lot of fried goodies. This may include wu gok (deep-fried taro with minced filling, this is usually two oblong shaped balls with flaky crumb shells), deep-fried crab meat on a claw, or jin dui. Jin dui is made with glutinous rice and is deep fried into a ball shape. Inside can be either sweet filling with red bean paste or savory with a minced mixture of mushrooms, Chinese sausages and herbs. The savory jin dui is typically bigger and flatter, while the sweet jin dui is smaller and keeps its round shape better. This cart will also often have baked goods like the dahn tat, which is the miniature custard tarts for dessert, and the baked char siu buns (similar to the steamed version except it’s baked and comes with a golden brown skin).

Jin dui, glutinous rice balls. Above, the sweet version stuffed with red bean paste.

Mini custard tarts for dessert.

Golden brown baked char siu buns.

Fried at your spot
There’s a funny cart that looks like a street vendor. Here the server offers dishes that are pan-fried right there and then placed at your table. The most common items pan-fried are turnip cake (ground turnip with bits of pork and dried baby shrimp), chestnut cake (a translucent gel looking slice with bits of water chestnut), and wor teep (also known as gyoza).

Pan-fried turnip cakes, warmed at your table.

Comfort soup
Another funny cart will have the server scooping out soup. But it’s not soup. It’s jook, or the Chinese porridge made from rice that’s a popular breakfast dish. The most popular and common type of jook served is pork with preserved eggs. Yummy. The server will serve the jook with a sprinkle of chopped green onions and sometimes peanuts, if you like.

Keep it frying
You’ll see an assortment of fried dishes, including sometimes fried calamari or fried shrimp. I typically avoid these just because they’re so fried, but if you like fried food, then go for the fried calamari, which is often good if fresh.

Stuff it
One cart may be filled with a lot of dishes that look almost like appetizers. These are often stuffed green bell pepper or mushrooms, or an eggplant dish.

Stuffed mushrooms.

May be an entrée
There’ll be a cart with clear windows so you can see a variety of dishes that look almost like a full meal. Often times these are the roasted dishes, including roasted duck, char siu (the sweet pork), and roasted suckling pig. These are all popular for their crunchiness. Then there’s typically a chicken dish (either soy sauce-marinated chicken or a white chicken with ginger and green onion sauce), a plate of tripe (chewy for my taste), and some pickled dish such as seaweed salad (nice and crunchy) or pickled vegetables (used to love this as a kid).

Fun with cheong fun
The cart with small oval shaped plates, often enclosed by a tin cover, are the cheong fun, which is wide rice noodle that’s stuffed with either shrimp, char siu (roasted sweet pork), or ground beef. Because it’s primarily rice noodle, it can taste bland, which is why the server will douse the plate with a soy sauce and sesame oil sauce. If you don’t like it too salty, ask the server to use just a little bit of sauce.

Cheong fun in soy and sesame oil sauce. Above, the shrimp version.

What’s for dessert
One cart will have the cold desserts, often almond float (cubes of almond jelly with fruit cocktail), or mango pudding (that’s the orange colored jelly). More sophisticated dim sum places will serve coconut jelly squares that are often creamy if enough coconut milk is used. Some will also offer miniature cakes.

A separate dessert-like dish is called do-fu fa (translated mean tofu flower) and that’s just basically the finest, silkiest fresh tofu you’ve ever tasted. The tofu is so soft and light, and it’s served with a tablespoon of ginger sugar water. This is best eaten warm. (This dessert takes a lot of work so not every dim sum house will offer this.)

Some people believe that since you don’t really have one waiter serving you, it’s not as important to tip as high. But I believe that all the servers deserve something, so if they’ve been generally nice, I will still tip them between 18 to 20 percent like what I would do at other restaurants. Imagine how much fun it is pushing those steaming carts all day? :)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Mixing It Up With Miso

One of the classic Japanese dish in American restaurants is the miso-glazed fish. I've seen it done with sea bass, halibut, mahi mahi or salmon. So here's my take on miso-glazed fish, with my recipe for miso salmon. I think the taste of salmon holds up to the strong taste of miso. This sweet and tart glaze is simple to create and, again, fish is so fast to cook. And even if you don't have time to let the fish sit in the marinade (for at least 30 minutes), it doesn't matter. Because once you warm up the sauce and drizzle it over, that's enough for you to get the taste of the dish. This is another elegant dish that you can make easily for yourself to let yourself feel special, or to put together for a nice intimate dinner for two.

Miso Salmon

Copyright 2006 by Cooking With The Single Guy


6-8 oz. salmon fillets (1-inch thick)
1/4 cup miso paste
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup sake
2 T light brown sugar
2 T sugar
1 T soy sauce
1 t freshly grated ginger
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

In shallow dish, combine miso, rice vinegar, sake, light brown sugar, sugar, soy sauce and ginger to create marinade. Place salmon skin up into dish and marinade for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.

Remove salmon and shake off excess marinade. Place fish meat up on baking dish or roasting pan lined with aluminum foil and bake for about 10-12 minutes. Toast bread crumbs in non-stick pan for about 2 minutes till golden brown and then sprinkle on top of salmon about 2 minutes before fish is done. In small saucepan, warm the leftover marinade into a condensed sauce and drizzle on or around your salmon.

Makes two servings. Serve with mashed potatoes and greens.

Pair with a glass of Sauvingnon Blanc.

TIPS: If you don't want to bother with toasting the bread crumbs, you can sprinkle it on top of the salmon and then place your salmon under the broiler until the bread crumbs are golden brown.

MANY MISO: There are a variety of miso, ranging from white (or mild) to red (medium) or dark. The white miso is sweeter and holds less punch in cooking. Medium or red miso is the most versatile for cooking. Dark miso is stronger and is often used for soups or stews. My personal preference is to buy a blend of the white and red. The blend I have has a nice caramel color whose taste holds up well in marinade but isn't overpowering.

Assortment of miso paste in the refrigerated section at Nijiya Supermarket in San Francisco's Japantown.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Make Room for Meyer Lemons

With winter fast approaching, it's time for citrus to start popping up at the markets. And one of my favorites is the enticing Meyer lemon. Used by many restauranteurs and chefs, the Meyer lemon has a sweeter smell and taste than regular lemons. To me, it's almost like a fresh tangerine scent, less tart and really beautiful. Lemons, in general, are pretty expensive at the markets already. So why not take the time to hunt down these local beauties and use them in your cooking. The Meyer lemon season is just starting and should last into mid-January. I got these lemons at the Ferry Building Farmers' Market in San Francisco this weekend from the farmer stand from Fresno. They had this incredibly dark yellow color that was slightly yellow-orange, signaling that it was kissed by the Central Valley sun.

Now, Meyer lemon can be a nice substitute to anything where you're using lemon. Of course, when I think of lemon, I think of dessert. I've said before that I'm not a big dessert maker, being a single guy and all. Once you make dessert (unless you're planning a dinner party), then you have tons of sweet leftovers. Well, at least at my home. So I typically go out and buy desserts from my favorite bakeries. But I have a soft spot for certain desserts (such as tiramisu). One of them is any kind of custard. I found this recipe for Lemon Custard Cakes from the Martha Stewart Web site. (All recipes on my site are by me and copyrighted by me, unless I specifically note otherwise, like right now.) :) They were incredibly easy to make, and the custard was silky smooth and topped off by a cake-like covering. And even though the recipe makes 6 servings, the Meyer lemon gave the cakes such an incredible taste that I easily ate them all myself. I altered Martha's recipe by adding a teaspoon of vanilla extract to give the dessert a more full-bodied taste. And again, the Meyer lemons made it exquisite. I'm sure this will be fine with just regular lemons, but since I had these Meyer lemons, I figured why not. Try it!

Meyer Lemon Custard Cakes

This recipe is reprinted from the Martha Stewart Living Web site. Text in orange are changes to the recipe by the Single Guy Chef.


Unsalted butter, room temperature, for custard cups
3 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 T all-purpose flour
2-3 t grated Meyer lemon zest (1 lemon)
1/4 cup fresh Meyer lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
1 cup milk
1 t vanilla extract
1/4 t salt
Confectioner's sugar for dusting

Serves 6; Prep Time: 20 minutes; Total Time: 45 minutes

Preheat oven to 350°. Set a kettle of water to boil. Butter six 6-ounce custard cups and place in a dish towel-lined baking dish or roasting pan.
In a large bowl, whisk egg yolks and sugar until light; whisk in flour. Gradually whisk in lemon juice, then milk, vanilla extract and zest.
With an electric mixer, beat egg whites and salt until soft peaks form. Add to lemon batter and fold in gently with a whisk (batter will be quite liquid).
Divide batter among prepared custard cups; place baking dish in oven and fill with boiling water to reach halfway up sides of cups. Bake until puffed and lightly browned (but pudding is still visible in bottom), 20 to 25 minutes. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature, dusted with confectioners’ sugar.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

What's in my frig?

One thing that is always in my refrigerator is a bottle of oyster sauce. Like fish sauce, I always wonder how they get a taste of the fish. Same here with oyster sauce: how exactly do they get the taste of the oyster? Well, it actually doesn't have a strong oyster taste. Instead, to me, it's like a creamy soy sauce. The ingredients include oyster extract, whatever that means, and your basic sugar, wheat flour for the caramel color, and MSG. Yes, it includes MSG so you probably don't want to use that much of it if you're allergic to MSG.

For me, you actually don't need much of oyster sauce in your Chinese cooking. Oyster sauce is a dish enhancer that you use to finish off your stir-fry or other dishes. It has a full-body taste and gives great flavoring, but all you need is maybe a tablespoon.

My mom always had two types of oyster sauce in her refrigerator: a cheap brand and premium. The cheap brand was used for dishes where she needed a lot of oyster sauce for taste early in the cooking process. The premium bottle was used almost like ketchup to top off a dish. (It's a similar approach to extra virgin olive oil: cheap brand for cooking and premium oil for finishing a dish.) Since I don't use a lot of oyster sauce in my cooking because of the sodium, I basically just use the premium brand in all my cooking. (When you shop for your oyster sauce in the Asian grocery store, you'll know the premium brand just by the higher price that's charged. At grocery stores like Safeway, they usually stock just the premium brand.)

The classic brand from Hong Kong is Lee Kum Kee that has been around for years. I always go for this brand when I shop. A competing brand that is also OK is Panda. Either one, you can't go wrong in your dishes by using this thick, flavorful sauce. Above, you see I even drizzle it on steamed brussel sprouts that are in season right now. Oyster sauce holds up well against any dark greens like brussel sprouts, broccoli and gai lan (also known as Chinese broccoli).

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Mini Dish: Coriander Gourmet Thai

Fast-Food Thai Fills You Up

This is a quick review of Coriander Gourmet Thai, one of the lower-level eatery stands in the food court for the Westfield San Francisco Centre. I was at the downtown mall today and decided to taste my first lunch there. I first thought about Korean but the Korean stand looked like the typical Korean barbeque of chicken, pork, and ribs. So I looked over at the Thai stand and saw there wasn't much of a line.

Coriander Gourmet definitely offers more selection, with a couple of interesting curries and a variety of chicken, shrimp, and pork dishes. I, of course, had a craving for Pad Thai, the classic Thai noodle dish. So I decided to go ala carte, ordering my choices instead of going for the fixed one item or two items plates (that comes with either fried rice or jasmine rice... I wanted my Pad Thai!).

Along with my Pad Thai, I ordered the special, Sweet Chicken with Basil. I love how Southeast Asian cooking uses fresh basil in many dishes, and I was curious at how they got the chicken to look so caramelly good.

The total was $8.50 for my two choices, which is a bit more than the one item plate ($5.95) or two items plate ($6.95). Next time I probably wouldn't stray from the menu, but today I thought I'd give myself a treat.

The Pad Thai was interestingly mild. It may have needed more fish sauce and it would have been nice to be warm instead of fast-food lukewarm, but it was decent. The sweet chicken was nice bite-size nuggets of caramelized chicken with a mix of shoyu and sugar. The taste was great with the basil, but the chicken was a bit overdone and nearly dry. It was a poor execution of what was a fantastic idea for chicken.

For mall eating, it was decent. Next time I might try the curries, so at least I'm still willing to give Coriander Thai another try. And there's something about eating at a food court that serves their dishes with real dinnerware instead of plastic that makes the dining experience more comfortable. I also ate near 11:30 a.m. before noon and the real shopping mob arrived.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Dish on Dining: Limon Revisited

Mission spot gets Peruvian right

524 Valencia St., San Francisco
(The Mission)
Lunch, M-F, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; dinner M-F, 5-10:30 p.m. (till 11 p.m. Fri) and Sat.-Sun., noon to 10 p.m.
PH: (415) 252-0918
(Reservations OK; major credit cards accepted)

Limon is one of my favorite restaurants, reflecting a fresh and sophisticated approach to Latin cuisine right in the heart of the Mission. You sense it in everything from the clean lines of the decor to the fresh ingredients and careful execution of the dishes.

This time I wanted to see how authentic Limon's Peruvian dishes really are. I brought as a dinner guest a friend who grew up in the Bay Area but lived the last few years in Lima, Peru. Our night got off to a rough start when my friend found out that the restaurant's bar only served beer and wine, and not the pisco sour (the white grape brandy that's Peru's national drink). (It was also confusing that Limon served a small selection of sake. Well, maybe not that confusing because Peru does have a large population of Peruvians of Japanese descent.)

With a California red in hand, my friend marveled at the selection of ceviches (citrus-marinated raw seafood). It's not just raw fish, but Limon offers ceviche with shrimp, clams, or a seafood medley. We ordered the Ceviche en Crema de Aji Amarillo. I've never had a ceviche with cream, and it was a new experience. The creaminess and slight chili kick were a perfect complement to the slices of fish (my guess was halibut). My friend said the taste took him back to his Peruvian days and I dreamed of being there as well if I could eat this all day. (A side note: my friend mentioned that ceviche is never eaten at dinner in Peru because it's made fresh early in the day and the locals would eat it all for lunch to avoid letting it sit out and spoil later.)

For our main courses, my friend ordered the traditional Peruvian dish lomo saltado--a meat-and-potatoes-kind of dish with slices of sirloin sauteed with onions, tomatoes and french fries. The meat was cooked to the right tenderness, and my friend was impressed at the presentation. "It's exactly how they serve it in Peru," he said.

I ate the Pargo Rojo, or red snapper. Earlier, when I was waiting at the bar for my friend to arrive, I had seen this dish drift by from one table to another and was intriqued by the presentation. The fish is deep fried but allowed to curl naturally instead of scored to stay flat. So what you see on your plate is this fried fish with its curled tail providing an interesting sculptural element to your meal.

Now, I generally stay away from deep-fried dishes. But like I said, I was intriqued watching other diners order this. And when I tried it, I felt like a bird rather than a fish. The fish fillet was perfectly fried with a light batter that felt like I was biting into pillows of air. It was served with an earthy curry dipping sauce, but it really didn't need it. It was just so good by itself.

We ended the dinner with two scoops of these Peruvian-flavored ice cream, bypassing the rich but traditional tres leches cake. I don't remember the name of the flavors, but that's OK because they weren't that memorable. Next time I would stick with the tres leches.

I've heard people complain about Limon's greeters at front and wait staff, but in the times I've been there I haven't had any problems with getting seated in a timely manner. And I especially like how our table staff--from the waiter to the bus boy--would be sure to describe each dish on the plate when brought to our table.

I think my friend was impressed at Limon's authenticity and attention to classic Peruvian cuisine. I was just simply impressed.

Single guy rating: 4 stars (expense it!)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Limon in San Francisco

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Reminiscing of Barcelona

This week my local Safeway was selling white asparagus for just $2 a pound! I first noticed white asparagus during a trip to Barcelona, where it's pretty common at markets when in season. Then all of a sudden I started seeing them in California. Cool. White asparagus is milder and slightly sweeter than the regular green version. But I never knew what to do with them. In Barcelona, I had a wonderful dinner at a fine restaurant called Sauc and as an appetizer, I ordered a white asparagus dish that had this incredibly tender beef cube on top. It was simple and lucious. I decided to try to duplicate that dish this week, using the white asparagus (these were from Peru) as a nice contrast to the rich brown sauce I made by braising some beef. Braising is very simple to do and you're rewarded by this great tender meat; the longer you cook, the richer the reward. This definitely isn't a recipe you can make quickly, but it is simple. So it's a good dish to make on the weekend when you have more time. You'll feel like you're eating at a fine restaurant!

Braised Beef and White Asparagus

Copyright 2006 by Cooking With The Single Guy


1 lb. white asparagus
6 oz. lean beef (chuck or round cuts), cut into 1-inch cubes
1 cup shiitake mushrooms (stem removed)
2 bulbs shallots (diced finely)
1 can low-sodium beef broth (14 oz.)
1 T Worcestershire sauce
3 T Marsala wine
2 t ground star anise (or two whole star anise)
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T flour
1 t thyme
2 t oyster sauce
2 t sea salt
1 t pepper

Season meat with salt, pepper, and star anise powder. Add olive oil to hot large saucepan or dutch oven and cook shallots over medium high heat for about 2 minutes. Then add meat and brown on both sides. Add Marsala wine to deglaze your saucepan. Cook away the alcohol (about 2 minutes). Then add broth and season with worcestershire sauce and thyme. Simmer for 2 hours.

Half-way through the cooking (about an hour), prepare your mushrooms by removing the stems and sweating them in a saute pan. Then add to meat and continue cooking for another hour.

Cut off bottom 2 inches of asparagus (or snap at the end) and peel stalk with vegetable peeler. Boil in salted water for 2 to 5 minutes. Drain and let cool.

Mix flour with some water in a small bowl to create a slurry. Add this to finish off your meat and thicken the sauce. Add oyster sauce for taste.

Plate your asparagus and place meat and mushroom with sauce over.

Makes four to six servings as an appetizer/starter or two to three servings as an entree. (As an entree, serve it with polenta and dark green vegetables like chard for added color to your plate.)

Serve with glass of Zinfandel or Cabernet Sauvignon.

TIPS: Unlike green asparagus, you must peel the stalk of the white asparagus. Don't be lazy! Also, you want your asparagus tender but if you cook them longer than five minutes they'll get stringy.

CUTS OF MEAT: I find that braising meat makes them incredibly tender and tasty. So you don't really need to buy the best cuts of meat because you'll really just be wasting your money braising a rib eye or sirloin cut. Use meats you'd typically use for stews but leaner cuts are healthier for you.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Travel Market: Vancouver, B.C.

I was cleaning out the files on my computer and ran across these photos from a trip awhile back to Vancouver, British Columbia, in Canada. I love visiting farmers' markets in other countries, because you get to see fresh produce of the region, some I've never seen before. The most famous market in Vancouver is the Granville Island Public Market, open seven days a week in a cute island in the center of the city. You have to cross a bridge to get to the island and basically the main attraction is the market. (By the way, Vancouver is one of the most fun destination for a vacation, with beautiful sights and a young hip vibe.)

The Public Market had a variety of vendors selling all sorts of cooked foods, including this bakery with some Italian-influenced items.

There was this vendor who had a whole wall, it seemed, of fresh pasta. They had all sorts of amazing ingredients stuffed into their pasta. Yum.
Some of the most amazing cherries were at the produce stands, which were at the center of the indoor market. They looked so perfect! They almost looked like chocolate covered cherries, but they weren't. They were all fresh.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Welcome to Another Work Week

Hey everyone, lately I've been posting a lot of recipes using seasonal ingredients. And I know some of them may not be food you typically cook, but I think it's fun to try new things. Still, to stay with the theme of cooking quick and easy meals especially when you come home after work, I thought I'd post one of my standby recipes I make that's quick and easy and you can make any time of the year. Stir-fry is also an easy way to prepare a quick dinner. And the ingredients in this pork dish can all be found at your local Safeway. It's a dish I used to make often when I first started cooking. The pineapples would always make me think of home in Hawaii, and it creates a nice sweet and sour taste to this dish. But if you're not a fan of pineapples, you can leave it out and still enjoy the tastes of the tomatoes.

Pork Tomato

Copyright 2006 by Cooking With The Single Guy


6 oz. pork, thinly sliced into strips
2 tomatoes, firm
1 8-oz. can pineapple chunks (optional)
1 cup celery (about 3 stalks) cut diagonally into strips
1/2 cup carrots (about 2 carrots) cut diagonallly into strips
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 stalk green onion
1 T fresh ginger, julienned
1 T soy sauce
1 T sesame oil
1 T oyster sauce
1 T Mirin (sweet cooking rice wine)
2 T sugar
2 T cornstarch
2 T canola oil

In small bowl, combine pork with soy sauce, sesame oil, oyster sauce and Mirin. Let sit for 10 minutes.

Add canola oil to hot wok or large skillet. Then add pork, browning both sides for about 1 minute. (Don’t add all the marinade, you just want enough to create a sizzle but not turn your stir-fry to soup.) Remove from wok and set aside. In wok, add ginger, carrots, bell pepper and celery and stir-fry for about 1 to 2 minutes over high heat. Season vegetables with about 1 teaspoon salt. Add what’s left over of marinade if you need to avoid drying out your ingredients. Cut your tomatoes into slices (cutting some in half if they’re too big) and toss in the wok with green onions that you cut into 3-inch long strips. Blend well, letting the tomatoes soften over medium high heat. About 2 minutes. Return pork to the wok and add pineapple (drain juice from can) and sugar, and mix well.

In small mixing bowl, add about 1/4 cup of water to the cornstarch to create a slurry to help thicken the sauce. Turn heat to high and slowly add cornstarch mixture a little at a time until you get a nice glaze.

Makes 2-3 servings. Serve with steamed rice.

Pair with a crisp glass of Pinot Grigio.

TIPS: The tomatoes and pineapples are added near the end because you don’t want them to become mushy when overcooked. For your tomatoes, you want it to get soft and the juice will add to your sauce, but you also want it to keep some of its shape. When they start to break apart, you know you’ve cooked them too long.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

More Fall Cooking

I have to say, fall seems to be my favorite time for some of the more exotic ingredients in season. I've raved about the pomegranate, pumpkin and fig, and there are still items popping up at the grocery stores getting me excited. Today I'm focusing on the persimmon, another one of those beautiful, uniquely colored fruit that signals the cooler fall weather. Popular in Japan, persimmons have fascinated but perplexed a lot of Americans. I mean, I rather photograph them than figure out what to do with them other than to eat it as is. (And even then, people get confused about when to eat it.) In many restaurants, I've seen them used as an accent to a salad, the sweet fruit and bright color making it a nice touch. Once I was eating at Universal Cafe in Potrero Hill and they had on the menu a Chicken Salad with Persimmons. I love chicken salad and would make chicken salad after roasting a whole chicken for dinner. So my mouth was already watering at the prospect of chicken salad with beautiful persimmons. But when my order came out, I was disappointed to see a green salad with chicken slices and pieces of persimmons (again as an accent). It tasted great because the persimmons were ripen just right. But I was so used to seeing persimmons in green salads, I had hoped this would be different. Well, that memory inspired me to come up with the recipe below--what I thought I would have received when I ordered chicken salad with persimmons. Enjoy!

Chicken Persimmons Salad

Copyright 2006 by Cooking With The Single Guy


1.5 lb. chicken breasts (2 pieces with skin and bones)
2 persimmons (skin peeled and diced)
1 cup celery, diced (about 3 stalks)
1 cup roasted walnuts, unsalted and unglazed
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 t dijon mustard
1 t kosher salt
1 t lemon zest
1 t lemon juice
1 t pepper
2-3 T extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Salt and pepper chicken breasts (be sure to season both sides and under the skin) and coat with olive oil. Place breasts on roasting pan and bake for about 25 minutes until cooked. Remove from oven and let cool.

In large bowl, tear strips of the chicken meat. Add celery, walnuts and persimmons. In small bowl, mix mayonnaise, mustard, salt, lemon juice and zest. Fold mixture into bowl with chicken and other ingredients, folding in as much of the mayonnaise mixture per your taste. (The juice from the persimmons will make your dish moist so you may not need as much mayonnaise.) Add pepper for taste and chill in refrigerator for about an hour.

Makes two to three servings. Serve as a sandwich or on a bed of romaine lettuce as a salad.

Pair with a glass of Chardonnay.

TIPS: I use chicken breasts with the skin and bones still on because the meat won’t dry out as fast when baked. But only use the meat in the recipe. You can substitute with thighs if you prefer dark meat or a mix of chicken pieces.

FUYU OR HACHIYA?: There are two varieties of persimmons commonly found in the United States. The fuyu is shaped like a tiny pumpkin and is best eaten when crisp like an apple. The hachiya is shaped like an acorn and is ripe when it’s soft to the touch. (Some people even like to eat it really soft, almost gelatinous.) In this recipe, I use hachiyas that are almost ripen (feels like pressing on a pin cushion instead of a ripe tomato). This way, it’s firm enough to peel the skin off with a peeler and then dice into small cubes. But unripen hachiya has an odd texture against your teeth. That’s why you should let your chicken persimmon salad refrigerate for about an hour. This allows the salt to extract some moisture and soften your persimmons so they’ll be sweet and enjoyable to eat. If you prefer the fuyu, go for it!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Dish on Dining: Somerset

Miss Millie's takes new form in the East Bay

5912 College Ave., Oakland
(Rockridge neighborhood)
Lunch, M-F, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner nightly, 5:30-9:30 p.m. (Fri. & Sat. till 10 p.m.); brunch, Sat.-Sun., 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
PH: (510) 428-1823
(Reservations accepted; Visa/MC, soon to accept American Express)

A Noe Valley favorite, Miss Millie's attracted a regular crowd of brunch devotees. People were drawn to the restaurant's comfort food and large portions. But owner Gary Rizzo closed Miss Millie's (supposedly because of the high cost of running a restaurant in San Francisco) and headed east to Oakland's family-oriented Rockridge neighborhood.

But if you're looking for Miss Millie's, you'd get lost among the stores of baby outfits and antique furniture. Rizzo re-opened his restaurant in October as Somerset just two blocks north of the Rockridge BART station. In a larger space, Somerset is a full-fledged restaurant with dark wood and pressed linens. But Rizzo still conjures up the cozy feel for his comfort food with outdoor seating in the back garden (with grape vines for shade) and an extensive, seasonal menu.

The hodge-podge of dishes on the menu goes beyond the typical brunch faire of omelets and pancakes. It's almost like Somerset is trying to find one good dish for every person's taste. You definitely need a few good minutes to study the selection to decide what to get.

A sure bet, however, is anything with the words "lemon" and "ricotta." There has been much talk about Somerset's lemon ricotta pancakes, and they definitely sounded delightful and enticing when I visited recently. But among the "starter" items, the Meyer Lemon Ricotta Crepes caught my eye.

When my order came to the table, the crepes were more than I expected.
They looked almost like two huge cannellonies. The thin crepes were filled with a creamy ricotta that was as smooth as the finest custard. They were topped with crystalized Meyer lemon zests that were define. To me, this dish is inappropriately classified as a starter because if you order this, you don't want to eat anything else.

My brunchmate went the savory route with another dish that caught my eye: a tart with artichokes, spinach, feta cheese and black olives. These are all of my favorite savory ingredients! When his order came, he got a nice large slice of the tart with a mixed green salad and fruits. It was definitely a meal, and the tart crust was well done with just the right amount of flakiness. I wasn't too jealous, though, because I still felt I made a better decision with my lemon ricotta crepes.

Service was very attentive and brunching in the outdoor garden area on a perfect California Sunday just made Somerset another excellent find on the East Bay. Miss Millie's devotees now must make the reverse trek to Oakland to get their comfort-food brunch, but it will be a trip worth taking.

Single guy rating: 3-1/2 stars (perfect for foodies who like to indulge)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Somerset in Oakland