Monthly Archives: March 2009

Passover Celebration and Wine Events

Executive Chef Staffan Terje of Perbacco. (Photo courtesy of Frankie Frankeny)

Last year’s Passover celebration at Perbacco Ristorante proved so popular, the San Francisco restaurant is doing it again this year on April 10.

Chef and cookbook author Joyce Goldstein will join Perbacco Executive Chef Staffan Terje to create an Italian Jewish Passover dinner that includes antipasti, desserts, and side dishes served family-style, along with your choice of primi and secondi. Entree choices include seabass with a sauce of artichokes, and lamb shoulder braised with olives.

The four-course dinner is $49 per person. For reservations, call (415) 955-0663.

Tonight, from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., enjoy a free wine-tasting lesson at Bistro Luneta in San Mateo that will be taught by Master Sommelier Reggie Narito, one of only three Filipino-Americans to hold that prestigious title.

This will be the first in a series of wine tasting sessions this year at the modern-Filipino restaurant. To reserve a spot, call (650) 344-0041.

Tasting Pinot at last year's Pinot Paradise. (Photo courtesy of the Santa Cruz Mountains Winery Association)

If Pinot is your thing, head to the fifth annual Pinot Paradise on March 28-29 to discover the flavors and terroirs of six recently defined sub-regions in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

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Mighty Fine Monday Meatballs

Meatballs so good you might want to make them every day of the week.

Shhhhhhh.

I made “Monday Meatballs” on a Sunday.

Hopefully, the Meatball Police don’t cite me for that infraction.

But honestly, these are so succulent, so ethereal, and with just the right kick of spiciness, that you’ll want to make them any day of the week.

The recipe is, of course, from “A16 Food + Wine” (Ten Speed Press) by Nate Appleman and Shelley Lindgren. I say, of course, because the Monday-night special of meatballs is now legendary at this popular San Francisco restaurant specializing in the flavors of Campania. A16 has featured the meatballs for years. It once tried to curtail the Monday tradition, only to be bombarded with pleas from unhappy diners to bring it back. So, the restaurant did.

Although I’ve dined at A16, I’ve never managed to be there on a Monday night for the meatballs. But making them at home is a cinch, and so worth the time and effort to do so.

In the book, Chef Appleman explains that classic Italian-American meatballs tend to be denser in texture because of the preponderance of meat. But in the old country, meatballs were a way to stretch the larder. So, they were traditionally made with more bread in the mix than is used nowadays. Doing this gives them a fluffier texture that makes biting into them such an unforgettable pleasure.

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What’s Your Favorite Cookbook of 2008?

cookbooks

The International Association of Culinary Professionals will unveil its picks on April 4, handing out top honors in various categories for the best cookbooks of the past year.

You can weigh in with your opinions, too, at ProjectFoodie.com, where yours truly is an advisor.

Through April 2, that online recipe site will let you cast your own vote for top cookbook of the year.

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Take Five with Howard Bulka, A Chef Possessed By Pizza

 Chef Howard Bulka sits outside the Palo Alto site that will be transformed into his artisan pizzeria.

After six years of meticulously crafting sophisticated dishes at Marche in Menlo Park, Chef Howard Bulka turned his back on that last year. 

He walked away — for the lure of pizza. 

Bulka, 50, is still a partner in Marche. But his passion, energy, and creativity aren’t focused on high-end dining anymore. After years of working at white-table-cloth restaurants, Bulka has refocused his sights on down-home eating. It’s all about pies, Pecorino, peppers, and pancetta now. 

Howie’s Artisan Pizzeria, presently under construction, is expected to open in the Palo Alto Town & Country Village this summer. For those keeping track, it’ll be in good company next to Sur La Table and two doors down from Kara’s Cupcakes

Bulka, who lives in Redwood City with his wife and their 7-year-old son, proudly showed off the site to me, with its beamed ceiling, and tiered, 50-seat dining room. He pointed to where the gas oven will be installed to cook the pizzas that will be topped with his own housemade sausage and mozzarella, as well as Fra Mani artisan salumi, and Florida Gulf shrimp. And don’t forget the Straus soft-serve ice cream that will be swirled inside home-made waffle cones. 

We talked about why this former executive chef of Silks in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in San Francisco, who had cooking stints at La Toque in the Napa Valley, Square One in San Francisco, and Chez Panisse in Berkeley, got so seduced by flour and water. 

Q: This is too funny, but you and I share something in common. We both received economics degrees from San Francisco State University. Of course, I never ended up using mine, opting to use my journalism degree instead. 

A: Here’s something even funnier. I started as a journalism major in college. I wrote for the high school newspaper. But in college, I lasted all of three days doing it. I really can’t write. It’s a horrible chore. 

In high school, you might get two weeks to write a story. In college, they sit you down at a typewriter and tell you that you have 15 minutes to write something. It was never going to happen. 

I went from that to something really practical. (laughs) That was another huge mistake. Economics is not practical. 

Q: So in this day and age, with our generation experiencing the likes of an economy we’ve never witnessed first-hand before, you don’t ever regret you didn’t become an economist? 

A: Sometimes I regret I wasn’t a venture capitalist. (laughs) 

In my senior year in college, I just knew I wanted to be a chef. 

Q: You’re not antsy about opening a restaurant in this sickly economy? 

A: I’m not scared. Because of the location, and the type of restaurant I’m doing, I think the economy will actually work in my favor. If people are indeed trading down, I think I’d be a good trade-down option. 

Q: So we have David Chang in New York going from working at Café Boulud to doing modern Korean street food at his mini Momofuku empire. We have Dennis Leary in San Francisco leaving the elegant Rubicon to open his own little diner, Canteen, and an even teenier sandwich shop, the Sentinel. Now, you. Why are so many fine-dining chefs turning to super-casual instead? 

A: Part of it is the economy. Clearly, you’d be foolish to open a fine-dining restaurant now or next year, as these things tend to run in 10-year cycles. 

It’s also changing tastes. Someone once said to me that the more sophisticated one becomes, the simpler your tastes become. The older I get, the more enamored I am of finding that great bowl of noodles or that great pizza, not some great foam. 

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Orange You Glad To Discover This Cookie?

 A glass of OJ paired with Orange Butter Cookies.

There are dainty cookies. There are itty-bitty cookies. And there are delicate cookies you nibble while holding your pinkie finger in the air.

These Orange Butter Cookies are none of those things.

Indeed, if this cookie were on a playground, it would be the big, hulking bruiser you’d have to make way for fast.

As my husband’s co-worker Kathryn likens, “It’s a monster cookie.”

These cookies measure about 3 1/2 inches in diameter when baked. And I actually made them smaller than the recipe called for. Really!

You’re supposed to form them into balls, using a scant 1/2 cup measure. Me? I used a scant 1/4 cup measure instead, and still they came out pretty ginormous compared to most cookies I bake.

But the flavor is nothing to be afraid of. Buttery, and citrusy, these cookies are crispy on the edges and tender, cakey within. They have this old-fashioned quality about them, reminding me of cookies I ate as a kid that were so big and soft they made for the perfect after-school snack. Of course, the fact that you use your fingers to flatten the dough balls, leaving an impression of your digits after they bake, just adds to the kid-like charm.

The recipe is from “The Sweeter Side of Amy’s Bread” (Wiley). The book is by Amy Scherber, who launched Amy’s Bread bakery in New York City in 1992, and her Executive Pastry Chef Toy Kim Dupree.

Extras I added, but you don't necessarily have to.

When I tried this recipe, I took the opportunity to try three new products I had on hand. Instead of freshly grated orange zest in the dough (I lacked a fresh orange in the house, if you can believe that), I used orange peel granules from the Spice Hound, which sells at my local farmers’ markets and online. Even though the recipe didn’t call for it, I added 1 1/2 teaspoons of King Arthur’s Orange Emulsion, a concentrated orange flavoring stronger than regular extract. And instead of sprinkling the cookies with regular granulated sugar, I used Nielsen-Massey’s Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Sugar. The results were fabulous.

You don’t have to doctor the recipe with those extras like I did in order to have a soul-satisfying sweet. Indeed, in the recipe below, the only changes I made were to the size of the cookies and the baking time because I made them smaller. The original recipe makes 12 cookies; I made 15.

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