Saturday, October 29, 2011

Sweet Pulled Pork "Empanada's"

Photo Credit Katie Osgood Photography
When I first started cooking I was watching a lot of cooking television. I was always amazed by the competition shows where they would be given an ingredient and would have to just come up with something. Without a recipe. Or time to research. How could they possibly just make all these things up??? What I learned was that what it comes down to is two things: techniques and flavors. I think it was really my experience working at Pizza Antica that really helped me begin to understand those two things. Chef Gordon Drysdale has a unique gift for balancing and enhancing flavors. A salty to a sweet. An umami to an acid. Slowly as I began trying new things I've learned new cooking techniques. I usually start with something that I want to cook, research 5 or 6 recipes and compare and contrast them to see what the core process is. Once that's been determined (or at least my favorite version there of) I play with the ingredients I'm interested in using. I try my hardest to be conscientious about aiming for healthy combinations. But I have a deep love of two things- cheese and puff pastry. So screw it at least every menu I prepare has greens.

A Friend recently posted a picture of some empanadas that she made. I can't say I remember ever having eaten empanadas so I have to say this is the reason that part is in quotes for the following recipe. I'm not even sure these count. But that's what they were inspired by and essentially an empanada is a Spanish popover or any other filled pastry. All the recipes I read were chicken or beef but I wanted pork. I recently got a great pulled pork recipe and started day dreaming. What if I added golden raisins and let them plum up in the juice? What if I added chopped up dates? Imagining all that wrapped in puff pastry got my wheels turning and I couldn't help but day dream about it for two days till I could bring it to fruition. Luckily I had a couple gatherings last Sunday so I had lots of people to test drive it on!

Below is the recipe for my current favorite appetizer. I will definitely be making this for Abbie's family hors de vours party before Thanksgiving they were a huge hit at both picnic's I attended!

In a CrockPot combined:
2 Lbs Pork Butt (excess fat removed)
 With a Rub of :
1 Tbsp Liquid Smoke
1 Tbsp Sea Salt
1 tsp Garlic Powder
1 tsp Ground Ginger

Let cook on Low over night or through out the work day- minimum 10 hours. After 10 hours use forks to pull the pork apart add 1 Cup Golden Raisins and 1/2 cup of your favorite BBQ sauce (I went with Sweet Baby Ray's Sweet & Spicy) and simmer on low for 1 more hour. Follow by adding 1 Cup chopped Dates.

Depending on how big you want to make your empanadas choose an appropriate cookie cutter. I used a round about 2 1/2 inches across which made for the perfect two bite appetizer. I was able to get 48 out of two packages of pre-made puff pastry. You can adjust how much puff pastry you buy dependant on how many appetizers you need but I don't suggest lessening the pulled pork as it might not come out as well in smaller quantities. After rolling out the dough and cutting out the circles fill the center with the pulled pork mix, paint half with an egg wash and fold over. Press with a fork to secure the two sides together and add a nice texture.

Place evenly spaced on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Brush the outside with the egg wash.
Bake in a 375 degree oven for 17 - 20 minutes (I found that after prepping them all that freezing them for a few minutes helped them turn out just a little bit nicer). Remove from the oven when they have a nice golden outside. Let cool on a rack or if you must on the tray for few minutes (insides will be very hot). From there- Enjoy! These delicious and impressive little treat will please any crowd (I've fed them to some serious foodies and they FLEW off the plate) I'm excited to make more to share!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Mom's Carmel Corn for a Great Halloween Party Treat

For as long as I can remember my mom has been making the best Carmel corn you have ever eaten. Like ever. Even though the preparation is simple I have always been daunted by the task of trying to recreate it. There is a certain basic chemistry to cooking sugar that I am always scared to try. I decided however that this would make an excellent Halloween treat for the get together Tori and I were throwing this last Saturday and steeled myself to trying to make it. I had all the ingredients, I had the recipe, I was ready. I gave myself all of Friday night to put it together thinking that I could relax and concentrate. Apparently that wasn't enough.... My effort came out looking like this:
No Good. I text my mom my failure and begged her (even offered to pay her) to make a batch for me. Since she knew it was for the blog she suggested I come over the next day and help her make it. Sounded good to me! Following is the recipe and some pictures of us making it!

Carmel Corn:
3 Bags of your favorite Butter Popcorn (Movie theater butter is usually too much regular Butter flavor is best)

1 Cup (2 sticks) Butter
2 Cups (packed) Brown Sugar
1/2 Cup Light Corn Syrup

1/2 tsp Baking Soda

In a medium sauce pan over medium heat melt 1 cup butter with 2 packed cups of brown sugar and a half cup of light corn syrup. Once combined and it starts to boil DO NOT STIR for 5 minutes. Also do not be impatient like me and crank the heat up to get it to boil. That's how you burn it. And it ends up in sticky clumps on your popcorn instead of coating it.

After 5 minutes are up remove from the heat and stir in the baking soda. Your Carmel will poof up even more than it did before feel free to give it a minute before you start pouring it over the popcorn.

In a huge bowl begin to drizzle the Carmel over the popcorn turn with a large spoon or spatula gently and often to get as even a coat as possible without breaking up the pieces (this is the part I find most daunting its just so big and it takes a lot of arm strength to hold the pot up while stirring with your other hand)

Once combined spread on to baking sheets (should fill two evenly) Bake in the oven at 250 degrees for 1 hour turning every 15 minutes. This will help it coat even more along with creating a nice crunch of Carmel on the outside vs being chewy.
Voila! There you have it. Beautiful sweet crunchy Carmel corn! This batch makes 15 - 20 (depending on size and how much you fill them) individual party bags should you want to hand it out to friends or coworkers. Or if you want to enjoy a whole massive bowl to yourself....I won't judge you! In zip lock bags it usually stays pretty fresh for about a week and a half (sometimes longer if not opened regularly. My mom sent me a batch to Australia for my birthday 2 years ago and it made the almost 2 week shipping trip in great shape!). Enjoy!

Monday, October 17, 2011

So I got a Mini Fryer....

Two weeks ago I was helping a friend move out of his house, packing up his kitchen, when we came across his mini fryer he rarely ever used. "Do you want this?" ::my brain screams YES!YES!YES!:: My mouth says " I have no where to put that, no you keep it". His reply unfortunately sealed the deal. "If you don't want it I'm just going to throw it away". A perfectly good, working, barely used mini fryer. In the trash! Uuuuggghhhhh.... " Put it by the door I'll think about it". This is kind of like when I carry something around a store that I know I want but I shouldn't have or I don't really need. It's the debate with myself, trying to be reasonable, "how much are you going to use it? really? like really really?" Now usually in a store the issue is cost, but this was free. My issue was I live in a small apartment with a galley kitchen and basically nowhere to keep things. This is the sole reason I don't have a standing Kitchen aid mixer. Because I basically have to move to keep one. Needless to say by the end of the night it came home with me. Along with a sweet Puma leather bag his girlfriend had left behind. It was a really productive move.
It took about a week for me to gather my wits and my friends to take on the fryer. It's a nice little piece of Hampton Beach machinery, about a foot long , 10 or so inches tall and 6 or 7 inches wide. It has a temperature control as well as timer on the top, a vented cover and a basket with a handle to lower and raise items out of the oil. I already had a brand new 750 mL bottle of canola oil at home that I figured would be adequate. I figured wrong. After pouring in the entire bottle it barely covered the heating apparatus at the bottom. Apparently this required the big jug. I made a quick run to Lucky's for more oil and papertowls (we were gonna have a lot of absorbing to do) before the girls arrived.  On the menu: Brussel Sprout chips (a la Marlowe) , Sweet Potato Fries, Tempura battered Green Beans, and an Apple Dessert that I made up on the fly.
I have been trying for a few weeks to perfect brussel sprout chips at home with out a fryer but by baking them in the oven. I'd been having some relative success but it was hard to get an even crunch on all of them and many on the edges of the sheet pan would end up burned. I was really excited to fry them and get that great even crispness. As this was the first experiment with the fryer we were kinda winging it in terms of technique and heat. What we realized quickly with the sprout leaves was that there was enough internal water to make the oil spit for a second when they first hit the surface. On our first small batch I went with a...."tossing" method of just throwing a few at a time in the oil.... not really the most effective for avoiding spit back. Abbie was smart enough to suggest filling the basket out of the oil and lowering it in, much more successful but we still got some spit back. Finally we were able to refine the technique. Fill a layer in the basket, as soon as you lower it in put the vented lid on for a few seconds till it calms down then you can take it off. Each batch took 2- 3 minutes to fry to the right hint of golden brown and let me tell you they were delicious! Tossed with some sea salt they had the perfect crispy nutty flavor I was looking for. And they are so light it's hard, similar to popcorn, to not keep munching on handful after handful! We justified doing just that with the fact that they are a green vegetable and therefore full of good vitamins right?
Next up were the sweet potato fries. I'm embarrassed to admit that I had a confusing moment at the grocery store when picking up whole potatoes to be sliced for the fries. I have always had a fuzzy understanding that Yams and Sweet Potatoes were the same thing or if not exactly the same, pretty close. When I order sweet potato fries at a restaurant- they are orange. when I got to Lucky's they had yams, which looking like I expected, but they also had what they labelled as sweet potatoes....that were white. Uh oh. Maybe they were orange on the inside? (They were not) To err on the side of safety I bought one of each. Turns out they tasted almost the same so in the end who really knows what's right and whats wrong in the sweet potato world. In a recipe I'd read for the purpose of research they had said to boil the potatoes first the peel and slice them. That seemed a little unnecessary so we decided instead to peel and slice away but to follow another technique that I had read about when making fries which is to soak them in ice water first before frying (this way they soak up water instead of oil which helps the inside cook soft and the outside crunchy. An important technique note I learned from reading the initial recipe was that you actually have to fry them twice letting them rest in between because on the first round they will come out too soft. It seemed to work! I made a quick dipping sauce with mayo, paprika, garlic powder, and red pepper powder to enjoy with them and we set to devouring the first batch. I must say I was impressed! They had a nice crisp texture and great sweet potato flavor. I think next time I'll cut them a little thicker but for a first run they came out quite well.
Actually coating something in batter was the next adventure. I found a great easy tempura recipe that was literally just a cup of flour and a cup of beer that worked perfectly for our needs. Since the batter was wet we couldn't put them in the basket then in the oil because the basket would end up covered in cooked batter. As it was we realized after the first few that if we just dropped them straight in they would sink quickly to the bottom and get stuck in the mesh. They came out easily however and for the next few Abbie developed a "sliding' technique that keep them buoyant. As these came out we realized that salting them quickly was a must as they were a little bland however they tasted great with some more of the spicy mayo dipping sauce I whipped up earlier. The batter really poofed up (even more than i expected) and the green beans inside cooked to a nice warm but firm texture. With the batter covering them I found I couldn't eat quite as many but they were still really yummy. And you know, another green vegetable so vitamins! Yea!
After our 3 course "fried veggie" dinner we took a brief respite to have a little wine and chit chat while I started to get everything prepped for the dessert. I'd recently had a really good nilla wafer crusted Carmel apple at a friends house and I used that for inspiration. I had decided the technique most used to bread chicken might work to get a nice crust on my apples so I took each slice (skinned) and dredged it first in flour then in beaten egg then a crushed nilla wafer and cinnamon sugar coat. I lined them up in the basket out of the oil and slowly lowered them in frying them till the crust had a nice golden glow. I had picked up some butterscotch ice cream topping to use as a dipper for these since it seemed like the perfect compliment. I don't think I was fully prepared for how good this was going to be. It was like the perfect two bite apple pie. The crust had a great flavor and crunch and the apple inside was warm and juicy and still a little firm which was just what I had hoped for (I hate mushy cooked apples I like some texture) Since we used green apples they had a nice tart acidity that really balanced well with the other sweet flavors. Over all this was definitely my favorite creation of the night. I'm looking forward to making them for a treat at Thanksgiving with my family!

I was most proud of us that we didn't reach the "what else can we throw in there" point. I think had there been boys involved it might have reached that place (anything in the kitchen being fair frying game, cookies, meat, etc etc). Overall everything we tried was successful (which is rare but really nice!) and I'm looking forward to my next excuse to fry up a feast! Perhaps some fried chicken next??


Thursday, October 13, 2011

A16- oh the Marina, How I love you

I have been hearing about A16 for years. From friends, on best of SF lists, in magazines, and it always sounded like a restaurant I would really enjoy. I had been to their sister restaurant SPQR on a date a couple years ago and was completely impressed by their interesting menu and unique selection of Italian wines. When my mom asked if I would like to go out for a nice dinner in SF on her I decided this was the time! The date we chose happened to coincide with our Eat Real Festival adventure so it was quite the culinary day. Being the constant procrastinator that I am I waited till Thursday to make a Saturday reservation... there were none to be had. Thankfully they have a front portion that is seated first come first served so we were able to grab a table at just the right time! (the small bar waiting area quickly filled up behind us, the only draw back was we were right on the edge between the seating and the bar... at one point my dad had to ask a gentleman to stop leaning on our dinner table). Overall the ambiance was nice however. All of the tables our seating area (which had the feel of a large hallway- we were definitely the extra guests) were high with tall chairs which bothered me at first but I was grateful for later when the waiting area filled and my face wasn't level with every one's rear ends. The walls were covered with an interesting cork like texture and you could see that out beyond the main dining room was a romantic little patio area with plants and candles. While difficult to wait for (it's basically in the main service way to the bar) the bathroom was one of my favorite parts! Retro white and black tiling on the walls was really cute and there was a great earthy/eucalyptus smelling candle that just added something really lovely!
I had done a little online reconnaissance to check out the menu and hopefully narrow down my choices a little. I was right to expect some minor changes as the Chef, David Taylor, works with what he can get seasonally and locally and will make modifications to dishes to add some great produce or if something is no longer available. As soon as we were seated I took a quick look at the starters (I can't say no to Burrata, I just can't) and moved on to the wine list. I knew this would be the biggest feat of the night. I will admit I was initially overwhelmed. I'm usually very comfortable ordering wine and try to make a point to try things that I haven't had but know I will like and will match well with what I'm eating (see: the Muller Thurgau we had at Perbacco). A16 & SPQR Owner & Wine Director Shelley Lindgren goes out of her way to introduce more obscure varietals and growers out of Italy to compliment her restaurants unique regional Italian fare. My Pizza Antica wine knowledge (while much more in depth than you may expect) simply could not have prepared me for this. I searched for a few Italian names I recognized and asked for a sample of one (thank god I did because it was much more tart than the direction I wanted to go). I was able to pick better on the second round (the waitress even said after I had asked about it and described what I wanted that that was the same wine she was going to suggest, win one for me!). We ended up with a carafe of Il Feduccio, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, Orsogna, Chieti, Abruzzo 2006 (I recognized the Montepulciano d'Abruzzo portion.... and that was enough for me) which everyone, even my mom!, enjoyed. My one disappointment about their wine list was the higher price points. In my more recent experience the expensive wine lists are losing their popularity. Restaurateurs want people to try new wines and expand their palates but at high price points it's hard to take the risk or order more than one glass. I wish there had been more affordable options available as I really would have liked to have gotten a bottle.
Since we weren't overwhelmingly hungry (we had just eaten our lives at the festival an hour or so before) we all agreed sharing a few things was the best route. I had chosen the Burrata (fresh mozzarella cheese filled with ricotta cheese) with herb crostini to start and my Dad decided the Albacore tuna panzanella with green tomato marmellata, cannellini beans and peppercress  (basically bread "salad") sounded interesting to him. The Burrata went too quickly to photograph (I got excited and forgot) but to the right you can see the Panzanella (iPhone Photos in low lighting =... well, that). I really enjoyed this dish. The crunchy yet olive oil dressed texture of the pieces of bread, the smooth grainy texture of the cannellini beans and the flaky meaty texture from the fish all complimented each other well and the bright tangy flavor of the marmellata (similar to a marmalade a tangy jam, I found in this dish it presented more like a dressing but the flavor was great non the less!) really made the dish have some excitement. My mom who is really not a fan of tuna even enjoyed it primarily because there wasn't any fishiness to it.
Next to arrive was the pizza. This was the dish I was most looking forward to since they are known for their Naples Style wood fire thin crust pizza's. Topped with a wide array of wild mushrooms, smoked mozzarella, grana padano, and dandilion greens the pizza was larger than I anticipated but this was excellent since we were sharing. What struck me immediately was how many varieties of mushrooms there were! I can't say I have ever seen that many kinds in one place and I was excited to see how all the varied flavors and textures would mesh. The pizza was only cut into 4 slices which seemed odd but since 2 slices were much larger it stands to reason taht it is normally cut into 6 and the chef may have missed a swipe. As we set to eating the pizza with its many toppings and larger size it seemed most practical to eat it with a fork and knife. Although the crust was a little difficult to cut through it had a great really unique flavor of sourdough. While I can't back this up I have to speculate that the flavor must be attributed to the use of a local yeast in the dough. The flavors all meshed well together although other than color I couldn't really tell you what the dandilion greens contributed. In my experience they normally have a slightly bitter flavor but after having been cooked I didn't notice it on the pizza.  When really rating anything I like to judge like against like so I think for my next visit here I will have to try their Margherita to compare to others (like Pizza Antica's which is still one of my all time favorites).
As we were finishing the pizza the pasta dish we had ordered arrived. Fregula (small ball shaped pasta) with white corn, Fava Beans, & Mascarpone. This dish resembled a risotto to me and while we enjoyed it we found it kind of bland and under seasoned. The textures were nice with the crunch of the corn in combination with the soft pasta. The fava beans added a little more dimension but overall the dish was underwhelming. With the addition of some salt and pepper it came alive a bit more for me but I hate having to season things at the table I feel like it is going against how the chef intended for something to taste. We enjoyed it none the less and were ready to move on to dessert. Our waitress, who had just the right balance of friendly attitude, attentiveness, and personal space (I'm not dining out to make friends. I don't care about your life unless I eat here on a regular basis. I waited tables for 7 years and I found staff who tried to make best  friends with every table invasive and annoying. They came to enjoy each others company not hear about your day) was happy to bring over a menu for us. Even though we were full we had to share a few things. My eye went to the Creme fraiche Panna cotta with Strawberries and saba while my parents agreed the Peach Crostata with Honey Gelato sounded fabulous. Both were exceptional!
The Panna Cotta (seen left) was silky and smooth with just a hint of vanilla sweetness. The creme fraiche gave it a nice tang and contributed to it's lovely not overly sweet flavor. The strawberries were ripe and flavorful and the saba brought the whole thing together. I easily could have wolfed down this whole plate had we not been sharing. This was the perfect light compliment to a carb laden meal. Panna Cotta(which translates to cooked cream) is essentially a firm set pudding similar in some ways to a flan but without the egginess as it uses gelitan not eggs to set up.
The Crostata was a beautiful rustic looking pastry filled with juicy peaches and baked to a crispy perfection. The crust had a great flaky texture and the peaches held up well after being baked still having some firmness to them. The honey gelato added just the right creaminess to the whole thing while keeping the sweetness underlying. This is a dish I would definitely try to make at home. Both desserts really ended this meal on a  high note for me they were both beautiful as well as delicious and I couldn't ask for more. Overall I think we had a great experience at A16. One of the big selling points for me is it's location on Chestnut Street in the Marina. With it's intimate atmosphere this would be a great date spot since you can continue on to the movie theater, one of the many bars along the street, or even just take a walk window shopping or down to the water. As an FYI if it's coffee you crave post meal get it at the restaurant. They offer an array of espresso drinks and all of the coffee shops near by close by 9!
Have you ever tried to recreate a dish you had at a restaurant at home? How did it turn out?

Friday, October 7, 2011

AT&T Ball Park Series Finale

Alas the season has come to an end. For us Giants fans anyways. October plays on and it already seems inevitable that this will be another year of the underdog upset, but not for San Francisco. We'll take our broken and patched together team back to Arizona and start the rebuild. It was a rough year with just glimpses of the glory we saw in 2010. Humbled we fight on to be 100% for 2012.
I wanted to finish this series as I do most games with something sweet. Today's review features two of the most popular dessert items at the park: The Ghiradelli Sunday and Stormin' Norman's Fry Breads. I had intended to do the Emerald Cinnamon Roasted nuts as well but they were closed during the last game of the season so I'll have to save them for next year.

Ghiradelli Hot Fudge Sunday
Last season my dad got me hooked on these Sunday's and I can't seem to quit. The way the Ghiradelli chocolate hot fudge thickens against the cold vanilla ice cream and some how manages to make it all the way to the bottom it's worth the wait every time!
Locations: Club Level, View Level Section 318, Promenade level Sec 200 (out in the corner near the splash entrance)
Average Wait: 10 - 15 minutes. The lines at any location get long and be aware there is generally one line to the left to pay and a second line to the right for pick up. The staff at any location is not known for their sense of urgency so time your visit well for the wait
Price: $9 (the View Level is just a cart that takes cash only, downstairs it is a huge fixture that takes credit - line is usually longer however)
Value: This is absolutely one of the best sweet treats at the park and it is not small so I would say it is worth it. share with a friend and you won't feel as bad about the money or the calories!
Overall Satisfaction: I would say 9 times out of 10 this really hits the spot. You get the occasional one where the ice cream is too soft or they are stingy with the hot fudge but even in those instances it's still good!

Stormin' Norman's Fry Breads
This one was a pick by mom a few seasons back. She has always been a fan of the funnel cake and while this is not the same it would fall in a similar genre. The breads are for the most part pre made and then heated to order there are tons of different dessert appropriate toppings (strawberries, bananas, nutella, whipped cream, cinnamon sugar, powdered sugar, etc). We went with a combo (because we couldn't make up our minds) cinnamon sugar base with strawberries and whipped cream. The bread is soft inside with a chewy exterior, I found with the strawberries it was easiest to eat it in most part with a  fork and knife picking up some of the edge pieces. This is another great dessert to share!
Locations: Just one on the lower promenade level behind the bleachers
Average Wait: Since this is a low traffic area of the park the wait wasn't bad, not sure if there are prime times to go or not go to wait less. However they do often sell out before the late innings o don't wait too far into the game.
Price: $6 - $10 depending on the toppings you choose
Value: For over all size I think this is a great value. Considering the $9 + price points of most items in the park anything under seems great!
Overall Satisfaction: This is just an occasional buy for me. I like it OK I enjoy all the topping, I think the fresher the bread the better, I was a little disappointed that ours was "fried" to order but just reheated as this contributes to the more chewy texture. But over all it is an enjoyable and unique dish.

Over all this was a great adventure around the culinary aspects of the park. I would have to say the Pulled Pork sandwich at the Carvery was the big winner for me very closely followed by the Crazy Crab Sandwich (location and price are what gave the pulled pork the boost). I love how many options we have at our park and I think it is truely indictive of the San Francisco culture which is a testament to how much this team is intigrated into the city. Even though the season is over I am already looking forward to next season and some new Ball Park food adventures! The Sushi on club level and BBQ on the lower promenade still need to be devoured! Maybe even something exciting at spring training in March perhaps??

See you all at the park!