Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Thanksgiving that wasn't

When my husband and I got married we started a new family tradition: taking a vacation instead of spending Thanksgiving with our families. It makes sense, we see them one month later for Christmas, and there are usually some great travel deals to be found. But boy am I missing the food this year. Last year we went to Barcelona and two weeks before I did an entire Thanksgiving meal for 5. It was hard work, but delicious. This year....well, I'm hoping there might be some stuffing and cranberry sauce leftover when we arrive at our Cancun hotel. We'll see. I may have to do a post-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving feast if my cravings don't cease.

A very Happy Thanksgiving to all domestic agenda readers, wherever and however you're celebrating.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Fresh Deer Meat

My husband's good friend is a champ at the hunting video game/bar pastime Big Buck Hunter. Little did I know he actually hunts deer AND recently bagged a big buck. The deal was if we went to pick up the meat at the deer dressing place in rural New York (he was stuck working on the West Coast), we could keep half! A culinary adventure+drive in the country+excuse to shop at the outlet mall? I was in! was a little "Green Acres." Desertos deer cutting is housed on a residential street in an unassuming building barely larger than a double-wide trailer We were greeted with the "Drop Deer Here" sign pictured above which answered the first of my many questions about the mysterious hunting and dressing process. Inside, a group of friendly Deserto ladies divvying up a Sara Lee apple pie greeted us while two silent burly men looked on. I believe if I looked close, I would have seen a fair amount of blood on their clothing. So goes the butchering of large game. Anyway. They were expecting us and thrilled that we had made it all the way from the city. We quickly received our box of packaged, frozen meat from deer #148, paid out $95 and were on our way. The classifications of meat were: Chopped, Tenderloin, Loin, Cutlet and Stew.

With very little (no) experience cooking venision, my husband and I set to researching and decided to marinate and grill pieces of the loin. All it took was a simple marinade of salt, pepper, olive oil, cider vinegar, garlic and worcester sauce (for about 8 hours) and a very quick sear to yield incredibly flavorful, tender meat. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised since it was incredibly fresh, but this venison was some of the best tasting meat I've eaten in recent memory.

So, I urge you to get out of your comfort zone and try some game yourselves. Next up, venison chili! Thank you, Big Buck Hunter....and, of course, The Big Buck!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

THE place for roasted chicken (in SF)

One of my friends says she judges a restaurant by its chicken. The idea being the joint isn't worth much if it can't master or doesn't care enough to pay attention to this 'basic' dish. I agree with this....though, who wants to order chicken each time he or she eats out?

Well, if I ever go back to Zuni Cafe, I am going to fast for a week so I can order TWO full roast chickens. Yep. It's that good. Roasted in a huge brick oven whose insides (and the roasting foodstuffs therin) is visible from many seats in one dining room, the chicken is just perfectly moist and fatty, with crisp skin enhanced by vinegar. It's served, cut up into sections (thigh and leg, breast and wing) on a platter on top of a savory tuscan bread salad that soaks up the birds juices and is, itself, delectable. It's a dish that you have to order an hour in advance, a dish that necessitates getting your hands dirty. It is fun and deceptively simple meal, elevated to its platonic ideal. The rest of our dishes (a ricotta gnocci, caesar salad, fennel and orange salad) were solid, but ordinary. The roast chicken is special. Don't waste your hunger on anything else. It's not to be missed.

Monday, November 17, 2008

In 'N Out!!!

As soon as we booked our flights to California, I started planning my pilgrimage to that temple of California cuisine -no, not Chez Panisse, In-N-Out Burger!! High-end fast food, served by squeaky clean teens, In-N-Out has a short, but sweet menu. There's a hamburger, cheeseburger, double-double (two cheesburger patties) -all served with or without onions, plus fries and drinks.

We drove our rented convertible (how very west coast!) up to the In-N-Out, Napa on our way from San Francisco to California Wine Country. It was only 11:30am, but already the place was packed. Not surprisingly, given the crowd and the quality, it wasn't the fastest of fast food, but after 10 minutes, we had our double-doubles, fries and chocolate shakes.

And it was awesome. I'm sure the taste was enhanced by eating in the sun while staring at Napa's vineyards, but it was, hands down, the best fast food I've ever tasted. The closest (Yankee) analogy I have is to NYC's Shake Shack, which also uses a premium blend of meat in their never-frozen patties (read about In 'N Out's own meat processing plant and other food quality boasts here).

The burger had the perfect thickness and juiciness of meat, a buttery bun and american cheese oozing out every side. The fries were crinkle cut, full of actual potato and not overly salted. And my shake. Ahh. Real chocolate ice cream, NOT pre-fab shake substance. The real deal: gooey, thick and sweet.

My only regret is that we didn't have time for a second trip. Needless to say, if you find yourself in the vicinity of an In 'N Out Burger, walk, don't run. Or rather, drive...quickly.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Pumpkins and Pepitas

In an attempt to detox from our vacation, I made a bunch of Heidi Swanson's easy and tasty vegetarian dishes for dinner this week. You can find her recipes and to-die-for food photography at In addition to experimenting with tofu, I found this great recipe for Pumpkin Soup. It's so homey and comforting; perfect for the cold, rainy weather we had this week. Plus, you get the benefit of a creamy soup without the cream (use lite canned coconut milk).

Thai-spiced Pumpkin Soup Recipe

by Heidi Swanson

2 acorn squash, pumpkins, or other smallish winter squash
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 14-ounce can coconut milk
1 teaspoon (or more) red Thai curry paste
2 teaspoons fine grain sea salt (or to taste)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and place the oven racks in the middle.

Carefully cut each squash/pumpkin into halves (or quarters). Slather each piece of squash with butter, sprinkle generously with salt, place on a baking sheet skin sides down, and place in the oven. Roast for about an hour or until the squash is tender throughout.

When the pumpkin/squash are cool enough to handle scoop it into a large pot over medium high heat. Add the coconut milk and curry paste and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and puree with a hand blender, you should have a very thick base at this point. Now add water a cup at a time pureeing between additions until the soup is the consistency you prefer - a light vegetable stock would work here as well. Bring up to a simmer again and add the salt (and more curry paste if you like, I used just shy of 6 teaspoons but the curry paste I use is not over-the-top spicy).

Serves six.

Wait wait wait! Don't throw away those seeds -they can be made into tasty and crunchy pepitas. Rinse them under cold water and lay them out on a tea towel (or two) to dry overnight. The next day, heat up your cast iron skillet and dry-saute the seeds until they've puffed up. Then toss them with a little bit of olive oil, salt and ground red pepper if you like a little spice.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

California Adventures

I was in California. Then I was recovering from being in California. I have so many culinary adventures to chronicle and can't wait to share them all with you. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, enjoy the new title picture featuring pumpkins from the French Laundry garden in Yountville, CA.