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Archive for the ‘San Francisco’ Category

Home-made Sauerkraut

Last week I moved from my little cottage in San Francisco, and for two weeks before the move, our cottage stunk of rotten, moldy towels. It would be easy to imagine that the stench was due to a damp towel forgotten in a dark corner of my bathroom during the in the craziness of moving and quitting my job, but truth be told, the stench was emanating from a dish on the top of fridge. I was making sauerkraut.

I’d read that home-made ‘kraut elevated even bland, rubbery dogs and their Heinz-made, generic accompaniments to something worth craving. Clearly I love my dogs, and since I wasn’t about to attempt this forecemeat dish from start-to-finish, I settled on testing out sauerkraut.

The recipe is simple. I modified it from this site:

1. Boil utensils and crock pot (or glass dish as I used) to sterilize.Cabbage for Sauerkraut

2. Slice/chop cabbage and mix with salt at a ratio of 1 1/4lbs cabbage to 1 tbs of salt.

3. Mix thoroughly as the salt will draw water from the cabbage, creating its own brine. If there is not enough brine, mix 1 quart of water with 1 tbs of salt to made additional brine and add to the cabbage. (I needed no extra brine)

4. Once cabbage is ready and the brine has formed, lay a thick plastic bag across the surface of the kraut and then place a plate (sized to rest on top of the sauerkraut) and weights (tins of food work well) on top of the plastic. This weight will ensure the sauerkraut stays submerged in its brine, keeping it from molding.Submerged Sauerkraut

5. Ferment from 1-4 weeks depending on the temperature in your kitchen. Aim for a 65-75 degree kitchen. I fermented for two weeks at about 75 degrees.

I followed the directions, adding sliced organics carrots and two arbol peppers for some kick, yet my kitchen stank.

Two weeks later, when the smell was unbearable, we headed up to Sonoma for a weekend away and decided on grilling–the perfect chance to test the sauerkraut. As I was unsure that my ‘kraut was even edible, I found another “live” sauerkraut at Whole Foods and discovered a jar of Safeway brand in the back of my ‘fridge–enough ‘kraut for a taste test.

3 Sauerkrauts

While the stench of the fermented sauerkraut was overpowering, the flavor was divine. It struck a nice balance between, tart, funky and salty with a satisfying crunch that store-bought brands miss. In comparison, the Safeway sample tasted blandly of vinegar. You’d never have guessed that there was cabbage in the jar of lank, beige strips. The “live” Alexander Valley Gourmet Sauerkraut was so salty it could have been mistaken for seaweed–far from lust-worth. The home-made condiment was the clear winner though I’m not sure how often I can test my boyfriend’s patience with a stinky house.

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Driving by Japantown last weekend, I was seduced by the sight of a fair and by the possibility of street food I could discover. We were wandering through the Asian Heritage Street Celebration, among the suped-up cars on display and kiosks celebrating Asian food and culture, when a sign, Sukiyaki Rice Burger $2, caught my eye.

Street Food at Asian Heritage Fair

Sukiyaki is a one-pot Japanese meal with vegetables and thinly sliced meat cooked at the table in a combination of soy, sugar, sake and mirin (sweet sake). Here the Hokkeshu Buddhist Church used the sweet sukiyaki beef as the “burger” and sticky rice as the “bun”. The sweetness of the meat contrasting with plain sticky rice was perplexing as, with a western palate, I expected the white rice to be the sweeter of the two ingredients. But the “burger” was filling, cheap and flavorful. I’d go back for seconds. Rice Burger

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I’ve been in a “hot dog stage” of my eating habits since reading Ruhlman’s ode to his favorite emulsified forcemeat in Gourmet Magazine two years ago. Without fail, once a month or so, I begin craving dogs, and think of little else but that snap of the casing as you bite into a grilled hot dog, the firm, smoothness of the meat and the contrast of my favorite condiments: tangy sauerkraut, sour-sweet pickles, Dijon mustard and ketchup. My mouth waters as I write this.

I discovered Prather Ranch’s organic meat store in San Francisco’s Ferry Building when on a mission for a large hunk of meat to braise. The guys manning the store gave me great meat advice and later on their website I became enthralled with their “low-stress approach to animal handling” and the photos of the ranch nestled at the base of Mount Shasta. Happy cows producing flavorful meat. For day’s I enthused, to anyone who’d listen, about the rich and tender happy-cow meat I’d discovered.

Fast-forward a few weeks and I’m having a hot dog craving. When I lived in New York, finding a dog was easyit’s a ubiquitous street food found on most corners, not so here in San Francisco. But the Tuesday Farmer’s Market is set up across the street from my office at the Ferry Building and a smell of grilling meat wafts through the air. I see a long line of people waiting at a standPrather Ranch food stall. And there, at the top of the menu, for $5, is an all-beef, nitrate-free frank. Bliss.

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Three blocks from my office, a taco truck from the South San Francisco restaurant, Los Compadres, parks at the corner of Spear. And on sunny days, when work is quiet, I wander down with a magazine and enjoy the view—between buildings—of the bay while eating lunch. I’d only ever ordered the cheese quesadilla with extra tomatillo sauce and extra hot salsa—a mouth-numbingly smoky, spicy combination of flavor.

But, in my quest to discover street food typical to this northern-Californian city, on Tuesday I perused the menu and thought I’d branch out…5 types of meats on the menu so let’s give them a try…five taquitos for $1.50 each: al pastor, pollo asada, carne asada, carnitas, lengua.

Lengua—tongue—am I brave enough for this? Apparently tongue has the tenderness of organ meat without the over-powering flavor but, taste buds, on my lunch? I’m brave when it comes to trying food but I need moral support, so I’ll skip the tongue taco for now.

Each little taco was served on double corn tortillas, with tomatillo sauce, salsa, chopped onion, cilantro and a lime. The pollo asada was tender and richly flavored but not charred. The carne asada had an okay flavor, but the meat was minced and I didn’t like the texture. I turned the plate to the next taquito, carnitas. My first bite was dry and lacking in flavor, and I feared for my lunch, but my second bite redeemed it. The carnitas was crisply moist and tender, perfectly roasted with pockets of caramelized meat—it was a perfect complement to the spicy salsa. And then, I turned the plate to try al pastor, or bbq pork, a meat preparation I’d never tried before. The flavor was sweet, rich, and complexly spicy—I fell in love.

Al pastor is a Mexican method of bbq-ing on an up-right spit, introduced to the country by Lebanese immigrants. The pork is marinated in red chili adobo and topped with a pineapple so the sweet fruit juices drip onto the meat and caramelize as it roasts. I didn’t see a spit in the Los Compadres taco truck and, on other web sites, I’ve read that it’s uncommon to find al pastor spits in the US, but the flavor of my taco was still addictive. It’s a recipe that I think could be adapted to an easy braise. Hmmm, I guess that’s my plan for the weekend…

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Every Wednesday, a box of organic veggies is delivered to my porch from Farm Fresh to You. It’s with excitement that I open the lid and dig through the veggies and decide what to cook for dinner. Last night I settled on roasted sugar snap peas and garlic with pasta in a creamy sauce accompanied by a salad of grated carrots.

But then, as I was washing the carrots, I found two cuddling carrots nestled in the bunch–clearly I anthropomorphise my food and clearly I couldn’t eat them. So rather than add these sweetheart carrots to my salad, they became last night’s table decoration.

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Fisherman’s Wharf on a sunny San Francisco day teems with tourists and seagulls. After living in the city for more than a few months, you tend to avoid the neighborhood as tryingly kitsch but there’s a reason all the tourists flock here: spectacular views across the bay and boat-fresh seafood.

The summer fog still hasn’t arrived and I still hadn’t eaten Dungeness crab this season, so David and I took a meandering walk through Chinatown toward the wharf. At $10 a pound (most crabs are between 1-2 pounds), fresh crab wouldn’t necessarily fall into “cheap street food” category, but it’s still about half the price of eating it at a local restaurant.

When it comes to a fresh crab, I’m not sure there’s much difference in quality between the food stalls lining the corner of Jefferson and Taylor (I think the food-quality test is in the chowders), so we chose Nick’s Lighthouse. It had a steady flow of patrons but wasn’t overwhelmingly crowded.

Crabs and some Buds

Sidling up to the counter, we ordered a crab and drinks. I guess Dungeness crab is typically pared with a white wine but today Buds in brown paper bags for $2.80 were pretty hard to beat. The somewhat bland flavor of the “King of Beers” didn’t interfere with the sweet and briny taste of San Francisco’s favorite crustation. The crab was expertly cracked open and we fished out the succulent meat, squeezed lemon over it and dipped it in melted butter.

Stepping back from the counter I moved into the sun, my hands and face were smeared with crab and the Bud had given me a nice little Saturday morning buzz.

I hear the clam chowder at some of the food stalls is stellar—I guess I’ll need to plan a trip back…

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