Wednesday, September 19, 2007

RECIPE: Southern Style Buttermilk Fried Chicken

I have a fear of frying.

You would think that I'm used to it, growing up in a Filipino household that fries EVERYTHING (lumpia, pork, ukoy, fish), but truth be told, I was scared of the flying grease that would jump out of the deep fry pot and inevitably land somewhere on my bare flesh when I hung out in the kitchen with my mom. I've come a long way in overcoming my fry-phobia, but making fried chicken is something that I've never attempted...until this evening. It actually turned out really well - my taste testers approved!

Buttermilk Fried Chicken

1/4 cup salt
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons of seasoning: your own preferred mix of garlic salt, black pepper, paprika, cayenne pepper,dried thyme, dried oregano (I like a lot of cayenne)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 quart buttermilk
1 whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces
2 cups flour
Peanut or canola oil, for frying

Combine the salt, 1/4 cup of seasoning and sugar in a large plastic container or non-reactive stockpot. Add the buttermilk and stir to completely dissolve the salt and sugar. Immerse the chicken, cover, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to 24 hours.

Combine the flour and remaining 2 tablespoons seasoning in a large resealable plastic (i.e. Ziploc) bag; shake to combine.

Heat 4 inches of oil to 375 degrees F in a large cast iron skillet or Dutch oven.

Remove the chicken from the buttermilk and shake to remove excess. Add the chicken in batches to the flour and shake to completely coat. Remove and shake to remove excess flour. Place on a wire rack set over a baking sheet to rest until ready to fry.

Fry the chicken in batches, skin-side down, until golden brown and cooked through, about 8 minutes. Turn and fry until golden brown on the second side, about 8 minutes longer. Remove and drain on paper towels.

(Note: An even oil temperature is key to the success of this recipe; a clip-on candy/deep-fry thermometer should be kept in the pot at all times. And the temperature should register at least 325 degrees F during the cooking process.)

Serve hot or at room temperature.

Monday, September 10, 2007

RECIPE: Home Cooking from The Philippines - Turon

I was going to share my lumpia recipe, but it is sort of a family secret so I am going to keep that one to myself. Instead, I am writing about another sort of "lumpia", called turon. Turon is a dessert lumpia, made primarily with banana. Often you will see a banana-jackfruit combination, but I keep it simple.


1 package frozen lumpia wrappers (30 count)
7-8 bananas, not quite ripe
granulated sugar

1. Peel lumpia wrappers apart, very carefully so you don't rip them. It's an art, and I am not very good at it, so I ask for the help of my friend who is really good and quick at it.

2. Peel bananas and cut them in half lengthwise, then crosswise, so you get four long, thin pieces from each banana.

3. Dip each banana in sugar on the wet (cut) side.

4. Wrap each banana in lumpia wrapper. I use square lumpia wrappers, and lay the wrapper down so it looks like a diamond. Put the banana in the center, fold the top half of the lumpia wrapper over it, fold the sides in, then roll from the top down. Seal with cornstarch mixture.

Cornstarch Mixture
1 tsp. cornstarch
1/2 cup of cold water

Dissolve cornstarch in water, then microwave for 45 seconds or until the mixture thickens into a paste. Do not over-microwave.

5. Fry in hot oil until golden brown, and serve alone or with vanilla ice cream.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

SF BAY AREA Spotlight: Ad Hoc (Yountville)

Ad Hoc
476 Washington St
Yountville, CA 94599
(707) 944-2487

Open for dinner Thursday through Monday, $45 prix fixe menu (not including wine).
Beginning September 18, 2007, open daily

The Ad Hoc crew listens as Chef Dave Cruz goes over the evening's menu.
Photo courtesy of John Lee Pictures,

Original visit: June 6, 2007

And to think I almost said, "Count me out!" when my friend Grace invited me out to dinner at Ad Hoc.

Anything with Thomas Keller's name attached to it pretty much guarantees good food. I learned this from my (I think he might be gay) ex-boyfriend - his family is a big fan of The French Laundry and some of the biggest food snobs you will ever meet. You've heard of the Laundry and of Bouchon, perhaps you've heard of Per Se (in NYC). Led by Executive Chef Dave Cruz,....this small restaurant is another hit for Keller with its down-home yet sophisticated take on comfort food.

Interestingly, this restaurant was meant to be temporary (to be open only six months or so), as Keller intended on opening up a place that served burgers and wine. As Ad Hoc became increasingly popular, it was decided that it would become a permanent fixture on Washington Street (next to Bouchon and The French Laundry) and the burger place would open elsewhere. (I've heard rumors that this place will be opening in Santa Rosa soon.)

Back to Ad Hoc.

Walking in, it feels like you are having dinner at a friend's house - except your friend owns a classy, cleverly-lit, hardwood floored home in Wine Country with a giant dining room. The tables have large panels of silver on them that reflect the lighting onto the ceiling - it makes for an interesting shadow dance while people are reaching for food and moving their glasses around. (Tres artsy, no?) Everyone seems to be engrossed in conversation and nonchalantly sipping wine, a must have in this part of town. Wine list - not too long, with some great choices from all over the world AND from local Napa/Sonoma wineries. Tip: If your waiter suggests a wine pairing, if you have the funds, GO FOR IT. I had my first wine pairing epiphany here at Ad Hoc - more about that later.

Ad Hoc does the prix fixe thing - no muss, no fuss, no hemming and hawing over what you'll be having for dinner. And it's family style, so going in a group is great. Plus, if you run out of your main course, they will gladly serve you a second helping. The first night we dined, we started with hearts of romaine salad topped with pickled onions, walnuts, and slices of apple with a Roquefort dressing. It was not only delicious, but pretty too - the dressing was to die for. Next came the main course - fried chicken with green bean casserole and potatoes. The fried chicken was not greasy - it was juicy and flavorful (brined to perfection); the green beans were cooked al dente (not mushy like your run-of-the-mill green bean casserole); the potatoes were just right and seasoned with roasted garlic (yum!). Then came the cheese course - a very sharp Wisconsin cheddar served with sliced peach (or maybe it was nectarine) and orange blossom honey. And to top it all off...strawberry shortcake for dessert - a light and airy version of a timeless classic.

The friend who invited Grace and I to dinner spends a lot of time here - so when we walked in, it felt like we were VIPs. We got amazing service from our server, Nessim, and the rest of the Ad Hoc crew (it's the kind of service that flows with no interruption, you barely notice as your plates are switched out or your glasses are refilled). They were super attentive, professional, and even put up with our raucous group with a smile. The manager from Bouchon and even the great Thomas Keller himself stopped in this evening. I didn't even notice that our dinner took nearly four hours - we were having such a great time being pampered by the waitstaff that we could have stayed all night.

A month after my initial visit, I made reservations for eight at Ad Hoc for my birthday. Just when I thought it couldn't get any better than last time, we made another trip to Ad Hoc for my birthday last night, and had "Mar y Montana" - a delicious dish made with poussin (that's young chicken for those of you who don't know) and white shrimp. This time, I wasn't paying as much attention to the names of the courses, I just remember it was another sublime experience. Our server, Peter, recommended a wine for our cheese course that transitioned nicely into our dessert course, where we had a Mascarpone Mousse. And this is where I had my wine pairing ephiphany - the wine made the mousse taste like a smooth, rich chocolate. I'd never experienced wine pairing in action - where the wine brings out a flavor in the food, but this time, the entire table had that experience at the same time. It was amazing.

Go to Ad Hoc. Bring friends. Take your time eating and enjoy every single course, spring for some wine, and thank your servers before you go. It's worth every penny.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

BOOK: The French Chef Cookbook by Julia Child

I inherited a well-worn copy of this book many years ago from an ex-boyfriend (the same ex who got a copy of The French Laundry Cookbook for Christmas, and never attempted to cook from it during the entire time we were together). Published in 1968, this book was the result of the TV program "The French Chef", intended to teach as much French cooking technique as could be learned in several seasons of weekly half-hour programs.

Julia Child covers so many French classics: Coq au vin, Quiches, Crepes, Boeuf Bourguignon, Pates, Aspics, Cassoulet, Duck a L'orange, Brioches, Souffle....and goes on to describe techniques such as how to debone a leg of lamb, how to roast a suckling pig, basic sauces (Hollandaise, Bearnaise), blanching bacon, wine storing, chocolate melting, and so much more. I always go back through this book when I need a reference on how to do something. I am hardly a master at French cooking, but with Julia's helpful hints, I feel much less like une imbecile in the kitchen. This is definitely a "must-have" for any aspiring cook.

RECIPE: Vanilla Cupcakes

I've been on a cupcake quest lately, as you can tell by the previous blog posts, and sometimes I have to surrender and make my own when I don't feel like shelling out $3 a pop for these little delicious bites. This recipe is supposedly from the Magnolia Bakery in NYC.

Magnolia's Vanilla Cupcakes

1 1/2 c. self-rising flour
1 1/4 c. all purpose flour
1 c. unsalted butter, softened
2 c. sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 c. milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract

1. Line 24 muffin tins with cupcake papers.
2. In a small bowl, add the flours; stir to combine; set aside.
3. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter using an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth.
4. Add the sugar gradually and beat for 3 minutes or until fluffy.
5. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
6. Add the dry ingredient in three parts, alternating with the milk and vanilla.
7. With each addition, beat until the ingredients are incorporated but do not overmix.
8. Spoon the batter into the cupcake liners, filling about 3/4 full.
9. Bake in a preheated 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for 20-25 minutes.
10. Cool the cupcakes in the tin for 15 minutes.
11. Remove the cakes from the tins and cool on a wire rack before icing with Vanilla Buttercream.

Vanilla Buttercream

1 c. unsalted butter, softened
6-8 cups confectioners sugar
1/2 c. milk
2 tsp. vanilla extract

1. Place the butter in a large mixing bowl
2. Add in 4 cups of sugar, milk, then vanilla.
3. With an electric mixer on medium speed, beat about 3-5 minutes until smooth and creamy.
4. Add the remaining sugar gradually, 1 cup at a time, beating well after each addition, until the icing is thick enough for good spreading consistency. You may not use all the sugar.
5. Use and store the icing at room temperature because icing will set if chilled - the icing can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

SHOP: Artisanal Cheese - Abbaye de Belloc

This sheep's milk cheese from France is made in the traditional manner by Benedictine Monks at the abbey of Notre-Dame de Belloc, located in the Western Pyrenees. It is a semi-hard cheese with a strong flavor that is smooth, buttery, fruity, and nutty, and has a high fat content. I have learned, thanks to the Cowgirl Creamery website, that the milk for this cheese is brought into the monastery from the neighboring farms. After tasting several cheeses at Cowgirl, this one stood out as one of my personal favorites, just like the cheesemonger gal who sold it to me. Current price: $27.99/lb.

Available through Cowgirl Creamery Artisanal Cheeses, either online or at their store, located at the SF Ferry Building Marketplace.

TIPS: The Basic Kitchen - Part Deux

Once you have outfitted your kitchen with the proper equipment, you are not quite ready to start cooking. When I moved into my apartment, I had to think long and hard about what to buy from the grocery store because I had NOTHING in my cupboards - I'd been used to living with roommates who already had their kitchen staples, or my parents who always had way too much in the pantry ("What am I supposed to use this for?"). After having my own place for the past four years, I have finally compiled a list of what you should have at all times.

Vegetable Oil, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Non-stick cooking spray (canola) - duh.

Salt and Black pepper - if you can, try to get salt & pepper grinders and use sea salt and whole peppercorns.

Vinegar - white, balsamic, and perhaps malt varieties.

Soy sauce - very useful, and keeps for a long time.

Spices - only buy what you need, don't buy a spice rack unless you're really planning on using every single spice on there. I like to buy a bunch of containers from Cost Plus World Market and label them, and refill them with spices as needed. My personal staples are basil, oregano, parsley, cinnamon, red chili flakes, and Herbes de Provence. Anything else, I tend to buy it as I need it, like when a recipe calls for it.

Sugar, Flour, Cornstarch - always necessary for some reason or another. Flour can be used to make a roux, cornstarch can be used to thicken sauces and stews, and sugar is always handy.

Red & White Wine - I keep one bottle of red and one bottle of white on hand, not to drink, but in case I need them for cooking. Trader Joe's Charles Shaw wines are $1.99 and worth every penny.

Other Foodstuffs:

White rice, pasta, can of whole peeled tomatoes, eggs, butter, milk, yogurt, coffee/tea, wine (to drink), garlic, onions, cheese, one box of chicken broth (for when you don't have time to make your own), condiments (ketchup, mustard, mayo), and for "just in case you have guests" - a bottle of champagne.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

SF Spotlight: Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

Ferry Building Marketplace
One Ferry Building
San Francisco, California 94111
(415) 693-0996

Farmers Market is open on Tuesday and Saturday mornings

It's a beautiful, beautiful thing to be able to wake up at 7:30am on a Saturday, grab my canvas shopping bag, and drive down to the Embarcadero (praying for parking) for the Ferry Building's Farmers Market, a mere three miles from my apartment. The experience of the Ferry Building's Farmers Market is far from ordinary, as we San Franciscans are lucky to be in fairly close proximity to a mecca of agricultural bounty - the outlying cities of Petaluma, Watsonville, Santa Cruz, Healdsburg, Sebastopol, as well as the Central Valley, are full of produce, dairy farms, artisanal cheeses, wine, you name it - it is made somewhere nearby. The quality and variety of produce is unparalleled, in my book. The best part of the Ferry Plaza market is that the merchants are hand selected - operated by the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA) - all of the vendors are local and most of them are organic.

This morning, a good friend and fellow food-lover and I, wiped the sleep from our eyes and walked from our (metered) parking space straight to our first stop, Blue Bottle Coffee Co., located outside of the Marketplace. The line was already long at 8:30am, but we waited patiently for the $3.00 cup of iced coffee with vanilla soymilk that is pretty close to the nectar of the Gods where coffee is concerned. For the regular drip coffee, each cup is brewed to order - hence the wait, and the priceyness...but it is so worth it.

We decided to stroll the stands and actually made a beeline for one of our favorite vendors, Marin Gourmet. They have samples galore at their tent, and they MAKE you try them (you can get full just by standing there for a few minutes). My favorite product they have is Affi's Aubergine Pesto, a very flavorful mix of roasted eggplant and garlic, great to eat with pita chips or on bread. Luckily, if you can't make it to the Ferry Building, you can get their things at Whole Foods & Andronico's. Next door was the Della Fattoria tent, showcasing baskets and baskets of bread of all varieties, definitely worth checking out. After an amuse bouche of aubergine pesto, we were ready to get our grub on - we needed breakfast. Next stop: Hayes Street Grill.
It's pretty impressive that these guys can run a pretty organized line in a makeshift kitchen. In place of dupes on a slide (thank you, Kitchen Confidential), they use bright orange post-it notes stuck to the end of the counter. I ordered the chorizo scramble, and my friend ordered the Hobbs bacon, tomato and eggs on a baguette. The Early Girl tomatoes topping my chorizo scramble were, I kid you not, the best freaking tomatoes I have ever had in my entire life. I would say it was close to a religious experience. HSG makes pretty hearty fare, and it gave us energy to keep powering through the farmers market, which was beginning to get packed (and it was only 9am).

Here are some more photos:

left to right: A bounty of peppers, baby artichokes, and Early Girl tomatoes

See what I mean? Produce that not only looks amazing, but is absolutely fantastic. How do I know? Because most of the vendors will let you sample what they have. I ended up picking up some really robustly flavored Early Girl Tomatoes at Dirty Girl Produce based out of Santa Cruz. Their little booth was quite busy, because of the cases of dry farmed Early Girls and the selections of beans, haricots verts, carrots, and mixed greens.

I also ended up buying some more tomatoes - this time, Green Zebras and Lemon Drops, from Devoto Gardens (Sebastopol). I wanted to buy a bag of mixed greens too, but seeing as this weekend is a busy one for me, I wasn't sure when I'd get to use them, so I will probably have to come back next weekend if I have the time.

We stopped by Marin Sun Farms (Point Reyes) to check out the meat, per a recommendation from my friend AJ - they have a pretty impressive assortment of cuts. And they sold the avant garde as well....goat spare ribs, chicken heads....not my cup of tea but I'm sure someone out there eats that. A quick stop by G.L. Alfieri Farms (Escalon) yielded a sampling of nuts and almond brittle - they specialize in fruits & nuts. My friend bought some honeycomb from Marshall's Farm American Honey (American Canyon), then of course, we had to stop at Cowgirl Creamery for some cheeses to go with the honey. One final sweep around the plaza, mostly for more photo opportunities, and we decided to head home - it was starting to get hot, and some of the tents were already running out of stuff to sell (and it was barely 11:00 am). Armed with a bagful of ripe tomatoes, some goat cheese from Bodega Goat Cheese, a hunk of cheese from Cowgirl Creamery, and inspired by all of nature's bounty on display, I think I'm going to have to cook for a few people what should I make?

Here are a few more photos worth sharing:

Left to right: Della Fattoria breads, a gaggle of grapes, Dirty Girl's Early Girls, and a variety of eggplant

For additional photos, please click here.

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