Monday, October 30, 2006

Happy Halloween 2006

Around this time of year, I see tons of beautiful pumpkins at the supermarket. Most of them are being purchased so they can be marked, gutted and then set on fire inside, all for the sake of Halloween. Sigh. So I say, save a pumpkin from the humiliation of a life as a jack-o-lantern. Let the pumpkin be what it is--an autumnal squash that provides a beautiful base for dishes such as my pumpkin risotto dish below. This dish celebrates fall with the added woodiness of wild mushrooms. Now, pumpkin risotto actually doesn't taste like what you might think of when you hear pumpkin. All the spices added to pumpkin pie has made everyone associate that taste with anything pumpkin. Pumpkin by itself is pretty bland, but I just love the color and texture and if picked right, a nice subtle flavor. Besides mushrooms, you can also top it with strips of prosciutto instead. Just don't set it on fire! :)

For more ideas on what to do with pumpkin, see this recent article in the Los Angeles Times. (You may need to register to read their online stories.)

Pumpkin Mushroom Risotto

Copyright 2006 by Cooking With The Single Guy


1 medium-sized sugar pumpkin
1/2 sweet onion, diced
1 cup Arborio rice
2 cups fresh mushrooms (i.e. shiitake, chantrelle, crimini)
1 small glass of dry white wine
1 (14 oz.) can of chicken broth
1 T fresh sage, minced
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese (or parmigiano reggiano)
2 T unsalted butter
olive oil
sea salt to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Cut open your pumpkin, remove the seeds and threads, and slice into wedges. Place them in a roasting pan lined with aluminum foil or a baking dish. Drizzle olive oil to coat the pumpkin and season with sea salt and pepper. Place in oven and roast for 35-40 minutes until the pumpkin meat is fork tender. Let it cool and cut it into cubes without the skin. (If it’s really tender, you should be able to use a spoon and scoop chunks of the pumpkin meat off its skin.)

In a saucepan, warm 2 tablespoon of olive oil over medium high heat and add onion. Cook for about two minutes until translucent, making sure not to brown the onions. Add rice and stir with onions, letting the heat toast the rice for about a minute. Turn heat to medium and add wine and cook until most of it evaporates. Add sage and broth, about 1/2 cup at a time. Continue cooking for about 15 minutes, adding 1/2 cup of broth along the way, until rice is al dente, or almost done. When your risotto is almost done, toss in your tender pumpkin chunks and mix well.

Remove saucepan from the fire and stir in butter and cheese. Add salt to your taste.

In saute pan, quickly cook your mushrooms in olive oil and high heat to sweat out the moisture. (Sprinkle with salt to help extract the moisture.) Top the mushrooms on a plate of pumpkin risotto. Garnish with more parmesan and crispy sage leaves.

Makes two servings. Serve with roasted asparagus or mixed green salad.

Pair with a California chardonnay.

TIPS: Roasting the pumpkin can be tricky because the size of your wedges can affect how long it takes. Cut the wedges uniformed so the pumpkin will cook at the same time. Test the tenderness by sticking in a fork and if it goes in easily like cooked yams, they’re done! Be sure not to cook it too long because it’ll turn into shreds.

CRISPY SAGE: I learned this touch from the Naked Chef Jamie Oliver. He would quickly pan fry leaves of fresh sage in extra virgin olive oil, creating these crispy sage that you can top your risotto with. Makes for a nice presentation.

In the Kitchen: Sweating Mushrooms

Here's a quick refresher on what it means when you see recipes or hear chefs on TV say you have to "sweat" your mushrooms. It's a basic technique to remove the sponginess of the mushrooms by sweating out the moisture, leaving a tender shroom to enjoy.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Scoop on Dining: Gelato Milano -- CLOSED

Hot weekend calls for cold creaminess

2170 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley
Sun-Thu, noon to 11 p.m., Fri and Sat, noon to midnight

PH: 1-510-649-1888

One of the benefits of living in a temperate location like the East Bay of San Francisco is that you get the joy of ice cream and gelato all year round. San Francisco gets the fog. We get the ice cream. Good deal.

There’s a late Indian Summer in the Bay Area this weekend, so I ventured out for some cool creaminess because if I’m going to get all hot and sweaty, I might as well be sweet.

There seems to be an explosion of hand-made ice cream in Berkeley, what with Sketch on trendy Fourth Street and the recently opened, high-end Ici Ice Cream on College Avenue in the Elmwood neighborhood. But right in the heart of Berkeley is Gelato Milano, a sleek, minimalist storefront in the frenetic, Bohemian beat of downtown Shattuck Avenue.

I don’t eat a lot of ice cream, so I can’t say I’m an expert on the best gelato in town. But the velvety-smoothness of the gelato at Gelato Milano will surely bring a lot of fans. This outpost of Italian frozen cream was created by Curtis Chin, who co-founded Mondo Gelato but had a falling out and split to open his own place. The black-and-white exterior and stark interior reminded me of a shop in SoHo in New York.

Gelato Milano offers a variety of flavors piled into fluffy pillow-like mounds behind the counter. Attempting to signal an authentic flair, all the flavors are in Italian. If you have a sweet tooth, then definitely go for flavors such as tiramisu and bacio (hazelnut-chocolate). But I like the subtle taste of the fruit sorbetti and ended up with a delightful pomelo (grapefruit) and melon (honeydew) combo.

The gelato was amazingly creamy like butter. I was sure I was eating premium ice cream. Although enjoyable, the gelato did not transport me to the sidewalks of Rome where you can discover gelato stores on every block. I remember the gorgeous gelato of unusual flavors with its sheen (probably from the raw egg) and smooth texture that I tasted again and again on a visit to Italy. That’s how I’ll always think of gelato, and it just never seems to be something that can be replicated in the United States.

Despite this, Gelato Milano is a refreshing wonder, coming pretty close. It’s a great stop after shopping at the Berkeley farmers’ market or after lunch at La Note a few blocks south.

A minor note: While the service was pleasant, the guy who was helping me (and in fact may have been owner Curtis Chin or a relative) was a bit cold (hee hee, sorry). I came in saying I had a craving for watermelon and he was quick to point out he didn't have any and that anyone selling watermelon would be lying to me because it’s not in season. Well, yeah, I know it’s not in season, but that’s the thing about cravings, they’re not something that come with the season. Also, on a warm day when people are craving for gelato, it might be a good idea to make sure the air-conditioning is working so your customers will feel welcomed and will be making a decision with a clear mind instead of thinking how quickly they want to get out of the stuffiness. Still, I just took my gelato to go and enjoyed sitting in the warm breeze watching the boarders skating by the sidewalks of Shattuck.

Single guy rating: 3 stars (perfect for foodies)

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

Liquor Up!

I know I'll probably be slammed by some of you, but I have to say Beverages & More! is my favorite place to go shopping for wine. There's no other store like it that I can think of. Aisles after aisle of fine wine from all over the country in clean surroundings and space to browse and think about your meal and what to pair it with.

Some may say the best places to shop for wines are to visit the wineries at Napa or to find the small, local wine vendor at the neighborhoods. I definitely support the local businessman, but you have to admit that sometimes those stores just don't have the space to carry a wide selection. At BevMo (that's what they call themselves online), you have long aisles of just cabernet, and just chardonnay, and so on.

What's cool also is that you get well-written descriptions of the wine that really helps you visualize the taste and then make you think about how those flavors will complement what you're eating. In fact, they usually recommend what food works best with that particular wine. They also give points for each wine, and I usually shop for any wine over 89 points and I'm always guaranteed a winner!

Many people buy their wines at Trader Joe's, but I have to say that despite the perception of lower prices at Trader Joe's (especially after all the news about the $2 Charles Shaw), I don't think many of their wines are of the highest quality. The couple of bottles I've bought there in the past have been marginal. At BevMo, you can find many good wines and sometimes at very special prices. Because of its size, BevMo can negotiate deep discounts with suppliers and passes that on to its customers.

So this weekend, go out and buy yourself some wine. As a single guy, I used to worry about having a wine bottle open for too long, but I've found that if you have it out for no more than four days, it should be fine. So don't be afraid to drink alone! :)

QUICK TIPS ON BUYING WINE: The general strength of white wine goes from the light Sauvignon Blanc to the oakey Chardonnay. For reds, you can start with a Pinot Noir and get heavy with meats with your Cabernet. But always feel free to ask a salesperson for recommendations.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Dish on Dining: 'wichcraft

Colicchio casts a spell on San Francisco

868 Mission St., San Francisco

8 a.m. to 6 p.m., 7 days a week
PH: 1-866-942-4272

I have to admit a bias, which is I love New York. And anything about New York. So whenever San Francisco gets a New York import, ooooh. I. Am. So. There.

So I had to check out the new 'wichcraft eatery at the new Westfield San Francisco Centre. OK, lets clarify something so as not to lead you all over the new mall hunting for this new sandwich spot. It is not inside the mall. I would say it's on the periphery of the mall, facing Mission Street next to the South-facing entrance to Bloomingdales. So much for mall traffic. But yes, you do get a lot of Mission Street traffic for a view.

'wichcraft is the latest incarnation of the Craft empire of celebrity chef Tom Colicchio, who made his name creating innovative dishes at Gramercy Tavern. (Colicchio can also be seen as the head judge on Bravo TV’s Top Chef.) He eventually struck out on his own with his Craft restaurant, which I had the pleasure of eating at during one of my many visits to New York. Colicchio was pushing the edge when he opened Craft, which delivered fresh, well-executed dishes sold ala carte. The concept gave the eater the chance to "create" his own meal by choosing the main meat, how it would be prepared, and a mix of sides.

Craft has expanded into a bar and now a string of these casual sandwich eateries. There are seven locations in Manhattan, one in the Hamptons, and one in Las Vegas. Now San Francisco gets treated to this mecca to the sandwich, hot and cold.

When you walk into the spacious location on Mission, you feel like you've entered the cafe at the MOMA, with its clean lines and glass walls to one side, giving the space a nice open feel (there's also a second-floor space). You line up to the counter and place your order, and sometimes you may find yourself wishing for a long line so you'll have time to mull over the menu of hot and cold sandwiches offered up by Colicchio. You'll feel like you're reading a menu at a fancy restaurant, with ingredients such as Coppa (a cured Italian pork made from the tender part of the pig), fontina, shitake mushrooms, black trumpet mushrooms, truffle fondue, and aioli.

Not knowing what Coppa was and feeling adventurous, I ordered the roasted pork sandwich with Coppa, pickled pepper relish and fontina on grilled country bread. My friend played the yin to my yang by ordering a cold sandwich, the goat cheese sandwich with avocado, celery, walnut pesto and watercress on multigrain bread. She also got the daily soup, which was tomato with parmesan cheese.

(OK, more disclosures: We were given a number to set at our table, and my friend's sandwich came and the server took our number. But I was still left waiting for my sandwich. As we waited--luckily she ordered a cold sandwich--our server eventually explained that my sandwich order never registered with the kitchen even though it was on our bill. I mention this only because my growing hunger may have affected my feelings toward my roasted pork sandwich when it eventually arrived about 10 minutes later. In fact, I devoured half the sandwich before I remembered I should photograph it for this blog.)

My friend's goat cheese sandwich was a perfect blend of cooling flavors and crunchiness. It would be the perfect sandwich to serve during high tea. The tomato soup was full of color and flavor, but could have used a bit more cream. (It was more like tomato broth.)

For my hot sandwich, I have to believe that anything grilled will be an instant hit at 'wichcraft. The roasted pork and other ingredients melded together to offer this savory comfort sandwich that was perfectly executed. The Coppa was probably overpowered by the roasted pork, but overall it was a satisfying sandwich.

Despite the fancy ingredients, which 'wichcraft promotes as farm fresh and of the highest quality, I wonder if it's worth paying an average $9 for a sandwich? (And yes, it is just the sandwich. There's no side potato salad or cole slaw. Not even a pickle.)

My answer would be yes, but not very often. 'wichcraft is a definite improvement to the Mission Street offerings (it's just a few yards from an aging Jack in the Box) but your pocketbook will feel like you've been shopping at Whole Foods every night if you eat here too often. A nice place to impress a date, but not your everyday sandwich stop.

NOTE: Supposedly this location will serve beer in the near future, which actually might be a nice complement to some of the hot sandwiches on a nice sunny day.

Single guy rating: 2-1/2 stars (perfect for new diners and emerging foodies)

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

'Wichcraft in San Francisco

Monday, October 23, 2006

Falling For Figs

This past Sunday, The Single Guy Chef went on the road to visit my friend Stella. She has a young fig tree in her backyard and it has been bearing quite a bit of fruit this season, despite being only 3 years old. So I went over to do a test kitchen coming up with fig recipes.

Now, Stella loves to bake. I do not. It's not that I have anything against baking, but I just don't eat a lot of baked goods. I'll eat it periodically, but not often because it's really not that healthy for you. So since I don't eat it that much (they're so rich in butter and sugar), I don't really bake that often. I'm actually hoping that Stella will do a guest blog in the near future with some of her favorite baking ideas since I'm not a big baker.

But in honor of Stella and figs, I decided to create something using puff pastry. I've never used puff pastry before, but anything that you can just get out of the freezer section and start using is fine by me. Again, not a baker, so I'm not going to go through all the trouble of kneading dough and such.

We had so much fun creating fig recipes, Stella's 3-year-old son joined us. I think we have the making of a future single guy chef! :)

The two recipes below are the results of our work Sunday. The first recipe is a great appetizer for times when you have a small dinner party of six people or so and you want to serve something as people arrive. (It's also a nice light dinner with a glass of pinot noir.) This is sort of a hybrid pastry and flat bread. It's shaped like flat bread but made with pastry dough. That's why I couldn't think of a better name. I love the flakey crust and the sweetness of the figs blending with the savory tastes of the cheese and prosciutto.

The last recipe is great for times when you're invited to a party (it's the party season coming soon!) and you never know what to bring. This will be a great appetizer that's bite-sized yumminess that will make you the popular single guy/gal. Everyone will want to talk to you as the fig melts in their mouths with the warm cheese and prosciutto wrapped in the bit of puff pastry.

The fall brings such beautiful fruits. I talked about the pomegranate earlier, and now the fig is so fantastic. You can get black mission figs in California till about the end of November, so jump on these seasonal recipes!

Figs with Puff Pastry

Copyright 2006 by Cooking With The Single Guy


1 puff pastry sheet, frozen
1 pint fresh figs (about a dozen)
4 oz. Gorgonzola cheese
1 oz. prosciutto (about 2 to 3 thin slices)
2 T extra virgin olive oil
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 egg
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Defrost puff pastry sheet (about 45 minutes or follow instructions on the box). Place on smooth surface with some flour. Turn up the edge of the sheet and press down with the teeth of a fork. Transfer to baking sheet lined with parchment paper or Silpat liner. Brush the border with egg wash (mixed egg thinned with some water in small bowl).

Cut fresh figs into round pieces. (Lay the fig on the side, cut off tip, and with a sharp knife cut down the body of the fig, cutting slices about 1/4 inch.) Place fig slices flat onto puff pastry. Drizzle olive oil and thyme leaves over the figs. Crumble cheese over figs. Sprinkle a pinch of salt over entire sheet (but mostly on the border). Place in oven and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.

When done, place on cooling rack. Tear bite-size pieces of the prosciutto and place sparingly on top of the figs. Cut into rectangular pieces. Serve warm.

Makes 9 servings.

Pair with a fruity Pinot Noir.

TIPS: When you have your puff pastry on the baking sheet, be sure to pierce the bottom of the puff pastry with a few tiny holes using tip of the fork. The tiny holes will let the air out of the puff pastry as it heats up so that it’ll stay flat. The only place you really want it to be puffy is along the border. (Be sure not to make the holes so big that the fig juices will run out, though.)

FALL COLORS: Figs are so beautiful and they also come in different varieties. For a beautiful canvas of fall, mix varieties of figs so you have different purple and green colors.

Fig In A Blanket

Copyright 2006 by Cooking With The Single Guy


1 puff pastry sheet, frozen
1 pint fresh figs (about 10-12)
2 oz. prosciutto (about 3 thin slices)
1 oz. Gorgonzola cheese
1 egg

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Defrost puff pastry sheet (about 45 minutes or follow instructions on the box) and place on smooth surface with some flour. Cut the sheet into thirds (lengthwise), and then cut into strips about an inch wide. (As an alternative, you can cut triangle-shaped strips with the longest width about 1.5 inches.)

Halve each figs lengthwise. For each half, place a tiny piece of cheese and then wrap the fig and cheese with a tiny strip of prosciutto. Then wrap everything with the puff pastry (almost like a belt around everything). Place on baking sheet lined with parchment paper or Silpat baking liner.

Brush the top of each assembled Fig in the Blanket with egg wash (mixed egg thinned with some water in a bowl) and then place in oven. Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden brown.

Makes about two dozen pieces.

TIPS: Because you’ll be assembling these tiny bite-sized appetizers, it’ll be easier to work with figs that are firm and not totally soft. Also, you may have some leftover puff pastry. Don’t feel like you need to use it all. You need just enough to keep all the ingredients together when baking.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Brilliant Pomegranate

I get excited when I see these big red globes at the farmers' markets and grocery stores. One of my favorite fruits of the fall, pomegranates have this brilliant color that is so ruby red, I really think of them as jewels. It's one of my favorites to photograph, and it's one of those ingredients that seem very exotic. I mean, just think of everytime you hear pomegranate on the menu of a restaurant, don't you just think it'll be such a luxurious dish? The pomegranate is such an ancient fruit, some now believe it was the fruit Eve offered up to Adam as temptation in the Garden of Eden instead of the apple. I agree because I would be so tempted by a pomegranate than an apple. Check out my recipe below for a pomegranate-glazed pork and watch my video on how to get the seeds from this beautiful fruit. Catch them while they're still in season. They're not around too long.

In the Kitchen: Seeding a Pomegranate

People think it's a pain dealing with a pomegranate. But it's really not as difficult as it seems. Check out my video as I talk about the wonders of the pomegranate (sorry if I go on and on, I just love this fruit) and show you how to get the beautiful seeds. [Oh, and my apologies about the bad lighting in my kitchen. I definitely need to renovate it to something more fitting for a single guy chef. :) ]

Pomegranate-Glazed Pork

Copyright 2006 by Cooking With The Single Guy


1 lb. pork chops (2 pieces, each about 1-inch thick)
Juice from one pomegranate (substitute with 1/4 cup of pomegranate juice in the off-season)
1 T brown sugar
1 T honey
2 t Champaign vinegar
1 T extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

Salt and pepper pork slices on both sides and place on dish.

In mortar, ground seeds from pomegranate and pour juice into a strainer over a small bowl. (If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, just press the pomegranate seeds against the side of the bowl with the back of a wooden spoon.) Save a tablespoon of seeds for garnish. Combine pomegranate juice, sugar, honey, vinegar and olive oil in small bowl. Set aside.

Heat a large skillet with olive oil and sear the pork over medium high heat. Cook the pork for about 2-3 minutes on each side to create a nice brown color, depending on the thickness of your cut. When you’ve flipped over your pork slices to cook the other side, pour enough of the marinade over the pork to create a thin layer in your pan. Transfer pork onto a dish and continue cooking your marinade on high heat until caramelized and thickened. Drizzle sauce over pork and sprinkle remaining pomegranate seeds as garnish.

Makes 2 servings. Serve with roasted potatoes and chutney.

Pair with a Syrah or Pinot Noir.

TIPS: Pomegranate is a beautiful fruit but it can be tricky to get the seeds out. All it takes is some patience and careful fingers. Most chefs recommend cutting the pomegranate in half and then turning it over above a bowl and hitting the back of the fruit with a wooden stick. Basically, it’s your S&M way of spanking out the seeds. I find this a bit messy with the seeds flying all around the dish. So I like to cut the pomegranate in half and then carefully remove the seeds by hand. This may sound like it’ll take forever, but the seeds are in beautiful clumps like honeycombs that comes out easily with just a slight nudge. Just work around the pulp, removing it as you go to unveil the clumps of red jewels. You’ll get more seeds into your dish than onto your kitchen floor.

SPECKS OF FLAVOR: The pomegranate seed can provide a nice burst of intense juice with each bite. So it’s fun to use the seeds in a variety of dishes, especially as a garnish. People have used it in a martini or sprinkled over a salad. Don’t be afraid to find new ways to use this ancient fruit.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Ultimate Cook Book

Today I took the day off from work [yes, I have a regular day job that pays the bills for this blog ;-) ] because I had to meet celebrity chef Tyler Florence. I've been a fan of Tyler since I ate at his restaurant Cafeteria in Chelsea in New York. The restaurant was chic comfort food, edgy and fun. I think that reflects Tyler's personality, although he's probably more hometown boy than urban chic.

Tyler was at the Williams-Sonoma store at Union Square in San Francisco promoting his new book, Tyler's Ultimate. This is his third cookbook for the Food Network, where Tyler also stars in a show of the same name. He definitely had a lot of charm and energy when he met fans who lined up during a weekday to meet him.

His cooking style is similar to my approach to cooking -- simple, easy, and timeless. He experiments with a few more ingredients that I usually cook with and his book definitely reflects a bold approach to cooking. My approach to reading cook books is to flip through the pretty pictures :) and then get ideas or inspiration for recipes that fits my flavors but uses the recipes from a cook book as a launching pad.

I got a lot of ideas flipping through Tyler's previous book, which includes a mix of Italian and Asian influences. This book looks like a lot of fun ideas with luscious ingredients. I'm looking forward to reading it. Tyler Florence was a very cool guy to meet in person and seems like someone who recognizes his fan base. Now that's the ultimate approach to promoting a book.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Eat Fish. Men. Women.

Fish is back in the news so it made me think about one of my favorite and easiest way to prepare fish. Now, the news is more conflicting reports about whether people get any health benefits from eating fish, especially those rich in omega-3 fatty oils like salmon and halibut. A report by Harvard says eating at least 6 ounces of fish a week can reduce the risk of heart disease and mortality. Wow, that's pretty good. But a conflicting report says more studies need to be done because the Harvard study was mostly observational. Oh well, either way, I think a healthy diet should include a mix of food, including fish, and steaming is such a healthy way to prepare it. And for those who eat responsibly, a good site to learn more about where your fish is coming from and which ones are endangered is the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch. Go fish!

Asian-Style Steamed Halibut

Copyright 2006 by Cooking With The Single Guy


6 oz. halibut fillet (1-inch thick)
1 T fresh ginger, cut into julienne strips
1 T black bean sauce
1 stalk of green onion, cut into 3-inch julienne strips
1/2 T sesame oil
2 t soy sauce
1/2 t white pepper

Place halibut onto steaming dish and season with white pepper. With a spoon, smear the black bean sauce all over the fillet. Top with ginger and green onion. Drizzle sesame oil and soy sauce over fish. Place into steamer and cook for 10-12 minutes, depending on thickness of fillet.

Makes one serving. Serve with steamed rice and Chinese vegetables such as long beans.

Pair with an Australian shiraz.

TIPS: Steaming food is a great way to eat healthy, so it’s worth the investment in buying a steamer—either bamboo or stainless steel. But if you don’t have a steamer, you can create one by using a big covered pot and a rack. In the middle of the pot, place a rack or a hollowed out can that is at least four inches tall. Fill your pot with water about two inches high, then place your plate with food to steam on top of the rack. Bring water to a boil and cover your pot, then reduce the heat to medium. If needed, leave the cover slightly tilted to let out some steam.

JUST LIKE SALMON: Salmon has gotten all the credit for bringing the healthy omega-3 fatty oil into the American diet. Omega-3 provides your body with good fat that helps reduce your bad cholesterol and prevent heart-related diseases. But halibut is a nice alternative to salmon if the wild salmon in the store is overpriced or scarce. Halibut also contains omega-3 as well as other nutrients such as vitamin B12 and magnesium.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Who's the Next Food Network Star?

You could be talking to the Next Food Network Star. This weekend I worked on my "audition tape" for the show because I want to take Cooking With The Single Guy to the masses! :) OK, if they even stop long enough from the laughing. Let's just say that doing a live show within 3 minutes blows! But at least I'm trying. We'll see what happens. Anywho, I demonstrated on my audition tape a dish I created called Korean-style Mapo Tofu. Mapo Tofu is a classic Chinese dish that's made with tofu and ground meat. It's spicy and comforting, served over rice. But I've modernized the dish by using kim chee. Who loves kim chee? It's like the national dish of Korea. Most people have tried kim chee as a side dish or condiment. But I think it's great cooked into dishes, giving you that spicy-sour taste that's so distinctive. If you're courageous, try my recipe below and send me good thoughts as I go through the application process at the Food Network. ;-)

Korean-style Mapo Tofu

Copyright 2006 by Cooking With The Single Guy


1 lb. tofu (firm or soft)
6 oz. ground turkey
3/4 cup Korean kim chee*, roughly minced
1 T black bean sauce
1 t white pepper
1 T sesame oil
1 T soy sauce
1-1/2 T cornstarch
1 T oyster sauce
2 T canola oil
1 clove garlic, smashed

In small bowl, combine ground turkey with white pepper, sesame oil, soy sauce, and garlic. Let sit for 10 minutes.

In large skillet or wok, heat canola oil and add ground turkey mixture. Brown over medium high heat, about 2 minutes. (Drain excess oil if necessary. Meat should be moist but not sitting in soup.) Add black bean sauce, mixing it thoroughly into the meat.

Cut tofu into roughly 1-inch cubes and add to turkey with kim chee. Carefully fold in all the ingredients. In small bowl, mix cornstarch with 1/2 cup of cold water to create a slurry. Turn heat on skillet to high and add slurry slowly to create a thick sauce. (If you add too much cornstarch and your dish is too thick, just add a bit of water to thin it out.) Finally, add oyster sauce to taste. Plate over rice and serve.

Makes two servings.

Pair with Pinot Grigio or Gewurztrahimer.

* Kim chee is sold in a jar in the refrigerated section of your grocery store under the specialty Asian foods, or at any Asian grocery store. If you can't find kim chee, then substitute with one or two red chilies (julienned) for heat.

TIPS: Tofu comes in a variety of textures but the basic descriptions you’ll often see at grocery stores are “silken,” “firm” and “extra firm.” “Silken” is the same as soft tofu, and this is often used for steamed dishes or for soups. Silken tofu is so soft, it’s almost like a custard. Firm or “regular” tofu is just that, firmer than soft but still with a smooth texture. Extra firm is a real hardy tofu that can stand up to stir-frying. For this dish, I generally use the firm because it has the nice soft texture while still retaining some of its shape. But if you really want your mapo tofu dish to feel like comfort food and aren’t worried about looks, then the soft tofu creates a nice creaminess to your dish because it’ll break apart and gel with the ground meat. It might look like gruel, but it’ll really feel like it’s sticking to your ribs. If you decide to use silken or soft tofu, then add the tofu last to avoid too much mixing but just enough to pick up the other flavors of the dish.

MEAT MATTERS: In this dish, I use ground turkey because it’s lean and good for you. But traditional mapo tofu is made with either ground beef or ground pork. The fat from the ground pork adds more flavor but can produce a lot of oil, which is why you may need to drain your pan of excess oil after you’ve browned the meat.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Farm Fresh: Temescal Farmers' Market

I'm a big fan of farmers' markets. I love just strolling and looking at the colorful fresh vegetables and fruits. And shopping at farmers' markets is good for you because the produce are generally ripen instead of picked for a long trip to the grocery stores across the country. Although sometimes it might seem the prices are too high, keep in mind that the money is going to local farmers, who are small so their overhead costs might be higher than big companies that can wheel and deal special prices.

The latest addition to the many farmers' markets in the Bay Area is on the East Bay in the emerging Temescal neighborhood in North Oakland. Opened this summer, the market is on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Clairemont DMV just north of Telegraph Ave. With the DMV closed, there's tons of parking, which makes it nicer than the downtown Berkeley farmers' market on Saturdays.

Unlike the Berkeley Downtown farmers' market, the Temescal market has a few more food booths serving breakfast munchies along with the regular variety of vegetable and fruit stands. The market will be open year round, and the fact that it's just a 15-minute walk from where I live makes me the happiest Single Guy Chef around. :)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Dish on Dining: Crave in The Castro (Update: Closed)

Not exactly what the Castro’s craving for
2367 Market St., San Francisco (The Castro)
Sun.–Thu., 6–11 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 6 p.m.–1:30 a.m. PH: (415) 865-0192
Major credit cards accepted.
UPDATE: This restaurant closed in 2007.

Executive Chef Matthew DuTrumble’s name is listed prominently at the bottom of the small-plates menu at The Castro’s latest dining establishment—Crave (owned by the same people behind the well-established Café on Market right next door). So I’m not the biggest foodie because I admit that I’ve never heard of DuTrumble. A quick Google search uncovered that he was named one of San Francisco’s sexiest chefs by Citysearch and that he taught at the California Culinary Academy. Hmm, after tasting some of the dishes recently, I started to wonder if DuTrumble hired some of his recent students for his kitchen.

Crave aspires to be a hot spot for bar crawlers, with its late hours, lounge feel and pulsating club music. It’s a smaller version of the equally loungey Lime down the street but has yet to catch on with the Castro’s picky-and-rightfully-so diners since it opened this summer.

And in case you’re not convinced that Crave is more a bar/lounge than a restaurant, one of its specialty drinks is called Patron Pole Dancer. Enough said.

The menu offers the common Americanization of tapas, which means you have small plates of things you’d normally order as an entrée: roast chicken, slow-cooked short ribs, pork tenderloin. The menu is pretty extensive, with a long list of choices, including a selection of street tacos (that’s the soft tacos) and flat breads.

I started off with a lychee martini. Worried that it might be overly sweet, my drink was perfectly balanced and topped off with a lychee fruit. Buoyed by my satisfaction with the bar (and probably the vodka), I decided to continue my alcholic theme and ordered three dishes: Grilled Malibu Prawns (with Malibu Rum), Drunken Mushroom Fettucine (with a white wine sauce) and the salmon special (made with tequila). Saturday night party, baby!

Being a fan of tapas while traveling in Spain, I am all too aware of the size of the dishes and the attempts to experiment. So I wasn’t shocked by the tiny morsels that came to my table. But did it have to come swimming in sauce? First came the Malibu Prawns—three nicely grilled shrimp on a skewer floating in a sauce with a light coconut scent. I was so thankful the shrimp came in a boat-shaped dish to carry all the sauce. Then came the salmon that was pepper-encrusted and cooked just partly rare, which didn’t bothered me and I actually found quite pleasing. But as I attempted to cut the large pieces of vegetables under the salmon, which again came in a boat-shaped dish filled to the rim with broth, my boat tipped over and out poured the abundance of sauce all over my table. This was when I ordered a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. I needed to drown my tears after the overly drowned dishes.

Finally, my Drunken Mushroom Fettucine came out, and I found something other than the lychee martini to make me happy. The pasta was cooked to perfection—just the right tenderness with sauce sticking to the pasta and thus warming my insides. Now this is comfort food. My only gripe is that for the price and the fancy settings, you’d think the chef would use something more than just sliced button mushrooms. What? Did they run out of shittake or even brown crimini in the kitchen?

The service at Crave was pleasant, with your typical cute young boys dressed in black. (That’s actually a requirement for opening a restaurant in the Castro, just like how you get a membership card when you come out.) And the cozy lounge fits in perfectly with the bar and club music from The Café. But Crave is more a quick-stop in between dinner and hitting the clubs than the neighborhood food haven it hopes to be. It’s a great place for a drink and snack before a night of dancing. But stay for dinner and you’ll be craving more. (How many saw this pun coming? Well, apparently not executive Chef DuTrumble.)

Single guy rating: 2 stars

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

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

What's in my frig?

Just the other day I realized I had not one, not two, but three jars of mustards in my refrigerator. Yep, I love mustards and use it often for cooking or as its main purpose as a condiment. You should always have a jar of dijon mustard in your refrigerator for cooking purposes. I often use dijon mustard as a binder for my salad vinagrettes or as a glaze. Because I'm mostly using it for cooking, I buy the generic brand at the local grocery story. I also love mustard with horseradish. I love the kick you get, and often mustard with horseradish also is combined with honey. So it's a nice sweet-spicey combo. I generally save these for sandwiches or for a fancy potato salad with a kick. And I always can't resist trying a mustard that has wasabi, the Japanese version of horseradish used for sushi. Unfortunately, I have to say that I have tried several brands (including the one currently in my frig from Napa Valley Harvest), and still am not impressed with the taste. For some reason, the wasabi doesn't hold well with mustard, and sometimes it creates a more greenish color than yellow. Hate to say it, it looks like puke. Sorry. If any of you have found a great-tasting brand of wasabi mustard, please let me know! For now, I'm sticking with the horseradish honey mustard. Yum.

Monday, October 09, 2006

In the Kitchen: How to Roast Red Bell Peppers

Here's the first of occasional quick video tips from me on how to do some basic techniques in food prepping. Here I show you how easy it is to roast red bell peppers and get that great smokey and intense flavor. In case you can't follow all the steps in the video, here's a recap of the simple steps:

1) Place red bell pepper on a roasting tray and place under broiler.
2) Char all the sides. Don't worry if it looks burned.
3) Place bell pepper in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to create air-tight seal.
4) Wait 10 minutes. Then take off wrap and remove the blackened skin of the bell pepper.
5) Cut in half, and remove the seeds inside. Cut into strips. Use in pasta or salads or keep in jar of olive oil as a snack.

Ode to the Roasted Bell Pepper

I traveled to Rome a long time ago and went into a cuccina for dinner alone. I was intimidated by the Italian names for the dishes and didn't know what I was ordering. But under the salads, I recognized red bell pepper. I love red bell peppers and thought this would be a done deal. The dish came and all I saw were these slimy, limp things that looked like red slugs. No greens, no cheese, just roasted tender red bell pepper and olive oil. It was cold and bland. But I fell in love with the texture of roasted red bell pepper ever since. The simple pepper salad made me think about how salads are being redefined. They no longer have to have lettuce or other greens. Salads can be anything with a vegetable as a starter. Below is my interpretation of a roasted red bell pepper salad, with a few more ingredients to complement the bell pepper. Buon appetito!

Roasted Red Bell Pepper, Asparagus and Anchovy Salad

Copyright 2006 by Cooking With The Single Guy


1 red bell pepper
5 asparagus spears
5 anchovy fillets
2 oz. goat cheese
3 T extra virgin olive oil
2 t sugar
1 t Ponzu sauce*
2 t lemon zest
juice from one lemon
pinch of salt

Roast bell pepper under broiler until all sides are blackened. Place it in a bowl and cover with wrap to create an air-tight seal. Let sit for 10 minutes. Then remove skin and seeds, and slice into strips.

Snap and discard ends of asparagus and blanch the asparagus in pot of boiling water for 30 seconds. Transfer to bowl of cold water. Towel dry and cut off tops and place in bowl with red bell pepper. Using a peeler, cut long thin strips of asparagus. Place strips in bowl and add anchovies.

In a small mixing bowl, combine olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, sugar, salt and ponzu sauce. Drizzle in bowl with the ingredients and lightly toss. Crumble goat cheese over ingredients. Plate and serve.

Makes one serving. Good as starter salad or appetizer.

Pair with glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

* Ponzu sauce is a Japanese citrus soy sauce. It's optional if you can’t find it in the Asian section of your grocery store.

TIPS: Some of the best anchovies come from Spain. You can buy anchovy fillets in 2 oz.-cans, but will only end up using about 5 fillets. Save the rest for another salad or ground it with some dijon mustard and olive oil to create a creamy dressing for some mixed greens.

SLICE AWAY: For the asparagus, you might get frustrated trying to peel the thin slices as you get down to the last few slices of the asparagus spears. (Your peeler’s handle will keep hitting the board and won’t let you go any further.) For easy maneuvering, place your cutting board near the edge of your sink and then place the asparagus flat near the edge of your board. With the handle of your peeler over the sink, press down and start peeling away. Having the handle in the open area of the sink gives you more room to press down—getting as many flat strips as possible.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Last Crunch of the Season

I picked up probably my last lemon cucumbers for the season. Gosh, where did the season go? I love these little buggers, filled with water and crunchiness. I discovered them about two years ago at the farmers' market and thought they were lemony flavored. I found out they just got their names because they had the shape and color of a lemon, but really were just a cucumber. But in many ways they're more than just a cucumber. They're super cucumbers! Nothing compares in crunch. I basically cut these into cubes and toss with a miso dressing and just snack away. Sigh. This is definitely something you should remember if you see them next summer at the farmers' market. You won't regret picking them up!

Friday, October 06, 2006

Go Glazy

I love creating glazes for my food because it's fun to be creative and it's so easy to do. The basics of a glaze is some thickening sugar like honey or molasses, a flavor (dijon mustard below) and olive oil. You can add more ingredients for more depth of flavor. Then you just smother something with your glaze and bake. The below salmon recipe is simple and fast and makes cooking for yourself a treat. :)

Honey Mustard-Glazed Salmon

Copyright 2006 by Cooking With The Single Guy


2 pieces of salmon fillets (about 6 oz. each, and 1” thick)
2 T honey
2 T Dijon mustard
1 T fresh sage, finely chopped
1 T extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Sprinkle salt and pepper over your salmon. Place in medium roasting pan or baking dish. Mix honey, mustard, olive oil and sage in a small bowl and then drizzle over salmon to coat. Use a brush to make sure you also get some of the marinade onto the sides of the fillets. Place in oven and cook for about 10 minutes. Then place under the broiler for another 2-3 minutes for a nice browning effect on the top.

Makes two servings. Serve with garlic mashed potatoes and seasonal greens.

Pair with a white wine like a Chardonnay or Fume Blanc.

TIPS: The nice thing about salmon is that it’s hard to dry it out because the fish has so much fatty oil. But you still don’t want to overcook it. Fish takes an average 10 minutes to cook, but you may need to add 3 to 5 minutes to your cook time if you have a thick fillet.

TASTES LIKE CHICKEN: This glaze also works great with chicken breast fillets. Follow the same instructions to make the glaze but cook in the oven for about 20 to 25 minutes, depending on the thickness of your chicken breast.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

A New Brew in San Francisco

I'm a big tea drinker. I love tea, and the whole idea of tea. Which is probably why I love London. Anywho, I've always been disappointed at how there's no tea brand in San Francisco that I can go to get consistently good and flavorful teas. I like my tea with a sweet blend because I drink most of my tea as iced tea. I brew a pot every week and have a glass for dinner every night. Does it get any better?

I've found some great places in New York, London, Paris, and even Portland, where my sister lives. But never found anything reliable in San Francisco. Until now.

In the new Westfield San Francisco Center on Market Street, an outlet of Lupicia tea stores has opened. I first discovered this import from Japan at a mall in Honolulu. They have a mix of fine classic black, green and white tea, but they also have a fun mix of flavored tea. I would always have to buy my supply when I visited my family in Hawaii and then pine for more when I would drink them too fast and I'd run out before my next visit to the islands. Now, I can just catch the BART to pick up some of my favorites.

Yes, some of Lupicia's flavored tea is a bit odd. I question sometimes the red pearl-like balls mixed in with leaves. In one odd flavor that thankfully has been discontinued, there were actually small blue-colored rocks that were supposed to be lava. They have such a large variety of tea that you can feel overwhelmed trying to figure out which to try. So to make it easier, my two recommendations are among my favorites: 1) Muscat is a black tea with the subtle sweet scent and flavor of the muscat grape, and 2) Paradise, a mix of black tea with dried fruits including cranberry, mango, and strawberry. Yes, when you drink it, you'll feel like you're in paradise.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Time for Some Comfort

It's gray, cold and about to rain in the Bay Area so I'm feeling like I need some comfort food. I love baked pasta because it's easy to make and you get a full tray of pasta you can eat for a few nights or freeze for later in the month. And what's better for comfort than a whole lotta cheese. :) For this particular recipe, I thought it might be fun to add apples to the recipes because apples are plentiful in the fall. And since I'm not a big fan of baking (I love pies, I just can't eat it all with my high cholesterol!), I still can get the taste of warm apple with this baked ziti recipe. I also used chicken-apple sausages to be healthier, so it's not like it's a combination that's unheard of. You can use any of your favorite sausages, but chicken or turkey sausages are leaner and healthier. Let me know what you think!

Baked Ziti with Sausage and Apples

Copyright 2006 by Cooking With The Single Guy


1 lb. ziti pasta
13 oz. chicken-apple sausages, cut into slices
14.5 oz. can of diced tomatoes
15 oz. can of tomato sauce
2 apples
1 T olive oil
1 t thyme
1/2 cup red wine
1-1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
15 oz. Ricotta cheese
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
2 t ground cinnamon
Juice from 1 lemon

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Boil a pot of salted water and cook the pasta. Drain and set aside.

In a large skillet or sauce pan, warm olive oil and brown sausages with garlic. After browning both sides, add wine and cook for about a minute. Add diced tomatoes, sauce and thyme and simmer covered for about three minutes. Set aside to cool.

Core and cut apples into rough cubes and lightly mix with lemon juice and cinnamon in small bowl. Add apples to sauce.

In a 9”X13” baking dish, add a third of the sauce to bottom with half of the pasta. Crumble ricotta cheese over dish. Add remaining pasta and almost all of sauce, leaving some to top the dish. Top with parmesan cheese and drizzle remaining sauce over cheese. Cover with aluminum foil and cook for 30 minutes. Remove foil and cook for another 15 minutes. (To help with browning, crumble 2 T of butter on top.)

Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Plate and serve.

Makes 6 servings. Serve with Caesar salad.

Pair with a fruity Pinot Noir.

TIPS: You can use almost any of your favorite red apples for this dish. (I think the red matches nicely with the tomatoes, so I wouldn't suggest using green Granny Smith apples.) I used gala apples because they're sweet and crispy. I wouldn't recommend Red Delicious apples because they're not always crispy and the skin is like plastic, which won't taste nice in your baked ziti.

WHERE’S THE CHEESE?: Cheesy dishes like baked ziti is real comfort food, and comfort food is generally high in fat. For this recipe, I just used two types of cheese to reduce the amount of cheese. I also use a low-fat ricotta cheese to help keep my cholesterol from going off the charts. But if your cholesterol is fine and you’re hankering for more cheese, you could add a cup of mozzarella to the dish. Add it the same time you add the ricotta.

PORTION CONTROL: A large dish of baked pasta is tempting to eat all week. But don’t stuff yourself with pasta and cheese. You could probably eat your baked ziti for two nights, but freeze half of your pasta to eat later in the month. That’s another few nights of cooking you don’t have to worry about. :)

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Quick, Easy and Light

When I don't have a lot of time to make dinner, I can always count on seafood for something quick and easy. One of my favorites is seared scallops. It's easy to make and you feel like you're eating at a fancy restaurant. In the recipe below, I pair the scallops with heirloom tomatoes, which you can still get in season. I love heirloom tomatoes because of their different colors, which makes a fun colorful dish that'll brighten up any evening. Have a glass of wine and you'll forget how busy you were. :)

Scallops and Heirloom Tomatoes

Copyright 2006 by Cooking With The Single Guy


6 scallops
2-3 heirloom tomatoes (get a variety of colors)
1 T balsamic vinegar
2 t sugar
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon
salt and pepper

Combine balsamic vinegar, sugar, olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and a pinch of salt in small bowl and mix well. Dice tomatoes and toss lightly in dressing. Stack tomatoes on two small plates. (If you have an old tuna can, take off the top and bottom and use the remaining cylinder as a mold to create a bed of diced tomatoes on your plate.)

Salt and pepper both sides of scallops. Drizzle some olive oil onto a hot, non-stick saute pan over high heat. Add scallops and sear for two minutes on each side until opaque, turning heat down to medium high if necessary. As an added twist, squeeze half a lemon over the scallops right before they’re done. (You can also add a tablespoon of butter near the end to give your scallops an extra brown color.) Place three scallops on top of each plate and serve.

Makes two servings. Perfect as an appetizer or starter salad. If you’d like to make it a meal for one, add blanched and lightly cooked fava beans with the tomatoes for protein.

Pair with a crisp Pinot Grigio.

TIPS: In this recipe you use olive oil in two ways: as a dressing and as a medium to cook the scallops. Extra virgin olive oil is very healthy and is a staple of the Mediterranean diet. It contains more of the good cholesterol than the bad, which can be found in saturated fat. But when cooking with olive oil, use a generic, basic extra virgin olive oil you get at your grocery store. The heat from cooking burns off any nice taste you’d get from your good oil so it really doesn’t matter what brand of oil you’re cooking with. For dressing, use your best olive oil because you can really appreciate any flavors from the oil.

SHOPPING FOR ONE: You can buy fresh scallops from your local fishmonger or in the fish section of your grocery store. But I always feel odd buying 2 or 3 pieces, even though that’s all I really need for a starter or salad for myself. So I buy at least half a dozen and then freeze whatever I don’t use for future meals.

Welcome to fall

The mornings have been dreary lately with the fog back in the San Francisco Bay Area. So I thought I'd brighten up the day and this new month (October) with these wonderful fall colors I saw at a grocery store. This is the season for figs (far right) so I can't wait to get some plump ones, for eating and cooking.

For people new to my blog (and you know, I started this blog last week, so everyone's new!), feel free to mark this blog for RSS feeds (live blog for you Firefox browsers) so you can have my postings summarized for you if you forget to come back often. But I hope you do because I want to hear your comments about my recipes and ramblings about food. :)