Something's cooking in Apartment 205.

Archive for January, 2010|Monthly archive page

Chunky Lentil Soup with Parmesan

In by Katherine, The Everyday Foodie on January 30 at 9:18 pm
“Here’s the dish to serve when the mercury’s low and your mood’s down with it.  Rice, vegetables, and cheese make this lentil soup uncommonly hearty.  Add bread, and you’ll have dinner.” (Diana Shaw, Almost Vegetarian)

I’ve resolved this semester to take my foray into semi-vegetarianism up a notch.  It’s a shame that the vegetables and fruits I bring home from the fabled Berkeley Bowl, while the cheapest ones this side of Ranch 99, and certainly the freshest, are the same varities that can be found at Safeway.  Tomatoes, cucumbers and broccoli?  I need to live it up a little bit.  How about some rutabagas?  Edible salad flowers?  Brussels sprouts by the stalk?

I’m going to go for two (2) new vegetables or fruits per week.  I’ll post the results of the expansions of my culinary horizon here.

This week: Swiss chard and uncooked lentils.

Chard has a delicate flavor similar to that of spinach when cooked.  To prepare it for cooking, fold each leaf in half along the red stem and gently tear the stem away.  Young chard leaves are more tender — Amy made a delicious salad of winter greens, including chard, yesterday.

Green lentils are an excellent source of protein and iron, two nutrients I seem to be always lacking since I stopped eating meat regularly.  Lentils come in many other varieties, including brown, black, and yellow.

Last week, I used this recipe (with a few alterations) from Diana Shaw’s Almost Vegetarian, to great success.  I got compliments from several of my omnivorous friends who praised the soup for its heartiness and its delicious blend of parmesan and chard.  It can be made in advance, frozen for storage, and made excellent leftovers with a hunk of Semifreddi’s sour bâtard.

Chunky Lentil Soup with Parmesan
Cooking time: 1 hour
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large white or yellow onion, sliced
4 garlic cloves, crushed and minced
4 carrots, chopped
3 large celery stalks, including leaves, coarsely chopped, or 1 small fennel bulb, including leaves
3 cups torn washed Swiss chard
1 1/2 quarts vegetable broth or chicken broth
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 cup uncooked green lentils
1/4 cup uncooked white rice, although next time I will try orzo as a substitute instead
1/2 cup (plus extra) grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
Freshly ground pepper to taste

1.  Heat the olive oil in a large pot.  Add the onion, garlic, carrots, and celery or fennel, and saute over medium heat until everything’s very soft, about 20 minutes.
2.  Stir in the spinach or chard, and cook, stirring, until it turns bright green, about 2 minutes more.
3.  Add the vegetable broth, pureed tomatoes, and lentils.  Stir well, cover, and simmer over medium-low heat.
4.  Stir in the rice, cover again, and let the mixture simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes more, or until the rice is cooked through.
5.  Meanwhile, combine the parmesan and parsley.
6.  Stir the parmesan parsley mixture into the soup, making sure to blend it throughout.  Season with pepper.  Ladle the soup into serving bowls and serve right away.  Top with extra parmesan.

Berkeley Group Eats Around the Bay Part 1: Outerlands

In by Amy, The Traveling Foodie, This is Why John's Fat. on January 22 at 1:21 am

Last week, I came back to Berkeley early to conduct interviews for The Berkeley Group with Cindy and Michael C. (of FF Iron Chef fame). Our interviews spanned 4 days, with 2 days dedicated to San Francisco. We stopped for quick meals and uncovered quite a few hidden gems. This is part one of our food adventures.

A perfect lunch: Michael's hot open-face pastrami sandwich with a dark beer.

By the time lunch rolled around on the first day of interviews, we were in the Sunset district with access to a car. We originally planned to go to Chou Chou, a reasonably priced French bistro, but to our disappointment it was not open. I opted to phone-a-friend and call my trusty pal Chuck, a Yelp Elite, who in turn recommended we check out a sandwich place closer to Golden Gate Park.

Outerlands is delicious, reasonably-priced ($4-12) “new American” cuisine in the most random neighborhood. It reminds me a bit of Gregoire in Berkeley, although the food is far from “gourmet.” Located on the corner Judah Street at 45th Avenue, it is hidden in a three-block stretch of Chinese restaurants; we actually drove past it twice before finding it.  Its exterior is unassuming, but a step inside (past the tricky door) offers an entirely different experience that somewhat recalls the style of Disneyland’s Splash Mountain.

I’d never had an open-faced sandwich before, but a few tips from the friendly girl behind the counter helped make our order decisions. Michael ordered a pastrami sandwich; Cindy ordered a honey ham sandwich with cheddar and dates which had been soaked in red white; I ordered a grilled cheese with a side of their soup of the day, a carrot soup. Michael also bought a darker beer, after another staff member recommended which beers to pair with the pastrami.

When the food arrived, we were pleased by the size of the portions and quality of the food. Outerlands bakes its own sandwich bread; it is very thick, similar to the brioche/French toast served seat La Note. Consequently, the sandwiches were much more hearty and filling than expected, and all of us ended up boxing half our sandwiches for later.

Michael’s pastrami, pictured earlier, was a solid order. Michael said that the beer, which came with a hefty price tag of $6 a bottle, complemented the dish very well. He remarked that he would return in the future if in the area.

My grilled cheese was described on the menu as “brushed with garlic butter” and “seared on a cast-iron skillet.” This was the best grilled cheese sandwich I have ever had, hands down. The bread was much thicker than anticipated, but the inside was still wonderfully fluffy despite a crunchy crust; the cooks used a blend of swiss and cheddar in the center.

Grilled cheese sandwich brushed with garlic butter and seared on a cast iron skillet; side of spiced carrot soup. Dip to achieve optimal taste.

The sandwich cost $4, and I paired it with a side of their soup de jour, spiced carrot soup. I normally hate cooked carrots, but the flavor of this soup was very good; rich, spicy, and only carrot-y at the end. To make my dining experience especially tasty, the staff advised me to dip the grilled cheese into the soup. All I can say is that I’ve come to appreciate what a difference garlic and pepper can make! This was my personal favorite of the three meals, and I will definitely be coming back for more.

The best sandwich that was most unique was Cindy’s; it was a unique taste that was pleasantly surprising.

Cindy's open-face sandwich: honey ham with cheddar and dates soaked in red wine.

Normally, I’m not a fan of honey ham–I find it too sickly  sweet for my taste. However, the dates helped cut through the heaviness of the meat, making for a delightful sandwich.

One thing that I didn’t like as much was the cheese; I felt that they could have cut back to make a more balanced sandwich. Aside from this easily alterable note, Outerlands was the perfect place for a quick lunch. If you’re heading towards the Sunset, I definitely recommend you give this place a try.

Fenton’s Creamery, or: How Amy, John, and Eric Got Owned by Ice Cream

In by Amy, Foodies on the Town, This is Why John's Fat. on January 16 at 7:32 pm

There are a lot of Foodie Friday and Friends’ favorites around Berkeley that we are so used to going to, we never post about (Cheeseboard, Gregoire, and Ici are classic Foodie picks that have yet to be reviewed, for example). Fenton’s Creamery is one of them.

Fenton’s gained some attention last May when it was mentioned in Pixar’s animated feature Up:

Fenton's Creamery is also near and dear to the Pixarians of Emeryville.

That may have gained Fenton’s more recognition, but it was already a local favorite for decades. At 115 years old, you know that they’ve got to be doing something right.

If you like rich, creamy, old-fashioned ice cream, Fenton’s is the place to go. Nestled in North Oakland near Piedmont (a small village in Oakland), Fenton’s can often be identified by its bright awnings and the long lines snaking out of the door. Wait times can be long, but the place has large capacity and takes reservations for parties of 12+,  so it’s not too bad. It’s also well-known among Berkeley students for “the dive” special: finish a gigantic banana split in 15 minutes and receive an “I Survived the Dive” t-shirt and accolades from all your friends (the time limit used to be 20, but I guess it was too easy).

John, Eric, and I were bored after dinner yesterday and decided to drive out to Fenton’s. Eric had never gone before, and I haven’t personally been here since we went with a large group of friends in freshman year (via public transportation, take the 51 down Broadway and 42nd and walk for about 10 minutes), and had a craving.

Here’s the thing about Fenton’s: DO NOT BE FOOLED INTO THINKING THAT YOU CAN FINISH ONE BY YOURSELF. It is possible, but not advisable, as it will induce a considerable food coma after (not recommended). The scoops are enormous, and a single scoop should actually count for 2-3 normal-sized scoops. For some reason, John and I forgot that we couldn’t even finish a giant goblet of ice cream the first time we went to Fenton’s, and thus were overly ambitious and ordered one ice cream special per person.

John and Eric with their ice cream treats: John's "black and tan" has a scoop of toasted almond ice cream, a layer of fudge, vanilla ice cream, and caramel. Eric had a classic root beer float.

John's Black and Tan: Almond ice cream, hot fudge, vanilla, and caramel.

My dish: Fenton's "Hot Toppers": two scoops of vanilla, a banana, hot fudge, nuts, whipped cream, and a cherry on top.

That, combined with the fact that John, Eric, and I all have a smaller stomach capacity than before, and that we had just finished dinner, spelled our demise.

They look small I realize in the pictures, but believe me, these things were massive.

We tried to eat as much as we could, but ultimately only Eric could succeed in finishing (he had to break through the mound of ice cream before he could reach his root beer). In my defense, I thought mine came in a cup, not a dish. Nevertheless, while the ice cream did own us, we still love Fenton’s. Just be sure to order what you can actually eat.

Note to Apt 205: we need to get legit ice cream dishes like these.

Light Pasta with Sun-dried Tomatoes

In by Amy, Cooking for N00bs, The Everyday Foodie on January 16 at 6:57 pm

Cooking time: 20 minutes | Originally enjoyed on: 1/16/2010

A new year means it’s time to get off my lazy butt and post at least 1 of the 8 topics I have to write about. My dear brother gave me a couple of Alton Brown Good Eats DVDs for Christmas, and one particularly helpful set is on cooking from things already in your pantry. This recipe is from an episode on cooking pasta, as is a great one for beginner chefs.

Spaghetti tossed in extra virgin olive oil with sun-dried tomatoes, cheese, olives, and smoked oysters.

Watching this episode made me remember that while I love sun-dried tomatoes, I had yet to cook with them. I resolved to remedy this once I returned to Berkeley.

This pasta is pretty much as easy as you can get, short of mixing pasta with pre-made sauce. After you cook the pasta, drain it and put aside. Pour some olive oil into a bowl or plate (only a couple of tablespoons); place about a teaspoon of garlic in the center. Mix thoroughly into pasta (tongs, chopsticks, or a fork and spoon may be helpful here)–since the pasta is still very hot, it’ll cook the garlic without burning it. Lastly, add whatever other ingredients you’d like: in the original episode, Alton used cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, and nuts. We didn’t have any nuts, but we did toss in cheese (leftover packets from the Costco 3-cheese ravioli), sliced sun-dried tomatoes, olives, and smoked oysters.

Some suggestions to get you started on ingredients: parsley, pine nuts, chopped basil, sautéed mushrooms, grilled chicken.

And there you go, tasty pasta that took little to no skill to make.

P.S. According to Alton Brown, don’t rinse your pasta after draining; your sauce will stick to your pasta better.

Coffee Drinks Illustrated

In by Katherine, The Internets on January 7 at 10:29 am

This infographic by Baltimore designer Lokesh Dhakar shows the ingredient ratios of nine common coffee drinks:

Now you never have to lamely fall back on a Caramel Frappucino at Starbucks again.

Seafood Stew

In by Katherine on January 5 at 10:12 pm

For Foodie Friday’s second interview, I’m featuring my mom and the amazing seafood stew from Bon Appetit that she made a few nights ago with my sister.

Bon Appetit's Seafood Stew with tomatoes and basil

They altered a few elements of the recipe, most notably substituting fresh clams and crab for the bland canned varieties the recipe calls for.  Recall from October’s post How to Shop at the Butcher that  you can ask your fishmonger to do most of the unsavory work for you beforehand, including removing internal organs and gills, and cracking most of the legs.

Also, they substituted clam juice with half the amount of low sodium organic chicken broth and recommend using unseasoned canned tomatoes, as the recipe is already very salty.

Below, I ask for more tips.  The responses are typical of my mom:

Bon Appetit's seafood stew on Epicurious

FF: Why did you choose to use fresh seafood?
Mom: It makes a difference in taste, as well as appearance; plus, crab is season.  (Somewhat incredulously, shaking her head at the whims of American shoppers) I don’t buy crab meat in a can. Growing up on an island, it was unheard of to buy canned crab or canned clams.

FF: What else did you change?
Mom: I don’t really remember.  When I look at a recipe, I only look for inspiration, ideas; I don’t follow the exact amount — you know, three cups, blah blah blah.  Actually, I am incapable of doing that because I always like to reduce the butter, reduce the salt.

FF: You mentioned that this recipe comes out a bit salty.  In general, what are good tips to curb an already-salty dish?
Mom: You could add potatoes, celery, or other root vegetables to dilute it a bit.  But make sure the vegetables don’t get overcooked.

FF: How can college students eat seafood on a budget?
Mom: Of course, seafood has to be very fresh; you don’t want to buy seafood just because it’s on sale.  You have to go with the seasons.  Right now, crab is in season.  In Asian markets, it’s even cheaper, and it’s live, so you know it’s fresh.  My friends go to Half Moon Bay and buy seafood directly from fishermen there. But of course gas is so expensive, you probably don’t save that much money.

Thanks, Mom! <3

Christmas Roast

In by Katherine, The Classic Foodie on January 5 at 8:39 pm

For Christmas Eve this year, my family decided to go old school with a traditional rib roast.

Rib roast with twice baked potatoes and glazed carrots.

The standing rib roast cut comes from the section of rib just behind the shoulder blade.  Cut differently, meat from this section may also be known as prime rib or ribeye steak.

Beef butchering chuck rib short loin sirloin tenderloin round shank flank plate brisket

We served the roast with a side of carrots and incredibly tasty twice baked potatoes from Bon Appetit.  My sister used a mix of gouda, cheddar, and monterey jack cheeses.  She notes that you can save an hour by partially cooking the potatoes in the microwave before putting in the oven, and recommends convection bake for crispest results.

Twice baked potatoes epicurious

The glazed carrots were easy; in fact, I adapted the following recipe from a cookbook intended for children in grades 2-6.  Just cut 2-3 carrots into roughly baby carrot-sized sticks; saute them in 1 tablespoon of butter and a pinch of salt over medium heat until soft; add 1/2 cup vegetable broth to the pan; and simmer, partially covered, until the broth is mostly evaporated.

For bonus points, saute a favorite herb such as sage or thyme (I used fresh marjoram from our garden) in the butter until translucent and crispy.  Remove before cooking carrots.  It adds texture variety and packs quite a flavor punch.

Baby carrots in gentle sauce

Next year, I’m hoping to try cooking a crown roast and Yorkshire pudding for Christmas.

Burn Your Recipes

In by Katherine, The Internets on January 5 at 1:08 am

All right, don’t burn them, but get ready to free yourself from the tedium of teaspoons and half-teaspoons.  I’m on a late-night Lifehacker kick, and I just found a foodie-related article on baking ratios.

Culinary Institute of America-trained chef Michael Ruhlman postulates that if you sit down and memorize a few basic ratios (2 parts flour and liquid + 1 part egg and butter make a quickbread), you can tweak them to bake whatever you want (lemon zest for a lemon cake, sugar and vanilla for pancakes).

Intriguing.  And while Ruhlman’s book is for sale on Amazon, if you’re a poor college student like us, you can glean the basics from his Lifehacker interview or just looking at the diagram on the cover (click on the image up there for a nice large JPEG).  Heh.