a san francisco treat

A long long time ago, like practically right around the time I started writing this little blog, I posted a recipe about meatballs and a story about music, and how those things tie Chris and I together pretty succinctly. Coincidentally enough, I wrote that post right before we were about to head to California to do a little wine tasting, which is pretty much where we meet in the middle.

He usually picks the music, I pick the food, and we both pick the wine. Love it like that.

But a weekend or so ago, all we had to do was worry about the wine, which was easy because, well, we have a lot of it.

It’s one of those ideas that felt like it should have been something we thought of on our own, but we just aren’t the entrepreneurial type, as it turns out. We are certainly glad someone did. A San Francisco-based couple has a blog they call “Turntable Kitchen” where they pair food with music, and eventually they decided to take it another step and sell a monthly subscription to a dinner with music pairings. They send a record with a couple of songs, a link to a mixed CD they’ve made, and three recipes with a featured ingredient as well.

It’s genius. And again, why didn’t we think of the damn thing?!

For our first month’s dinner, we picked our ingredients on the way home from a hike around Mt Tam. It had been a nice, sunny day and we were ready for taking it easy. We grabbed our goods, grabbed showers, grabbed a bottle of wine from the cooler, and got our music listening/cook on.

For those of you who didn’t know, cioppino is a fish stew that originated in San Francisco. It has a subtle fennel flavor, and is loaded with tomatoes and practically overflowing with any kind of seafood you can imagine and truthfully, you can put whatever you damn well please into it.

It’s the perfect dish for taking it easy – you dump all of the sauce ingredients into the pot and let it simmer, you add your seafood, and you slurp it up over a nice glass or two of white wine. Meanwhile you can have some melt-in-your-mouth burrata on crostini and prepare the components for your dessert. Cioppino night is a laid-back, California type of night.

And the best part? you do it all while hanging out with the one you love – a day spent in the sun and amidst nature, and a night spent together in the kitchen, checking out some California tunes, which if I remember correctly, was a band called “NO”. But again, the music’s his deal, remember?

Adapted from Turntable Kitchen & Bon Appetit, December 2011; serves 4

time commitment: 1 hour, 30 minutes (45 active)

printable version

3 T olive oil
1 fennel bulb, diced
1 1/2 medium onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 green bell pepper, diced
2 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes with juices
1 15 oz can of fish stock
1 c white wine (we adore Vermentino)
2 bay leaves
1 T fresh oregano
1 T fresh thyme
1 t crushed red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper (start with 1/2 t each and adjust as you see fit)
12 littleneck clams
12 mussels, cleaned and debearded
1/2 lb halibut, cut into 1″ pieces
1/2 lb bay scallops
1 lb large uncooked shrimp, peeled and deveined
sourdough bread, for serving

Heat oil in a large heavy pot (Dutch oven, if you have it) over medium-high heat. Add fennel, onion, garlic, and green pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add diced tomatoes and juice, fish stock, wine, and spices (through salt). Mix together, and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for about 45 minutes.
After the stew has simmered for about 45 minutes, add in the scallops, halibut, and shrimp. Once these start to turn opaque (3 minutes or so), stir in the clams and cover. Cook for a couple of minutes, then add the mussels. Cook for 3-4 more minutes. Remove and discard of any clams/mussels that haven’t opened up at that point. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Ladle into 4 bowls and serve with nice crusty sourdough bread to carry that San Francisco treat all the way home.

Hushpuppies, Halibut, + Holy crap I’m almost 30

Oink Express package

Yesterday was my birthday (and William Shakespeare’s, if you’re into that). Yup – a day full of celebrating the day that I was hatched. Seems a little silly huh – celebrating your own coming into the world? the miracle that is life – you?! But it’s a tradition I’ve been taking part in for 29 years now, and I have yet to see any negative effect from engaging in a day of “it’s all about me”.

The thing is, as you age, your birthdays become less about you and more about the tragedy of becoming a year older. The closer you are to 30. To 40. and then the big 5-0. Yikes! They become less fun and more of a regular ol’ day. You’re lucky to get phone calls from anyone other than your parents, you might get a couple of cards, you are likely to get a few e-cards, probably a text or two, and undoubtedly, facebook messages galore. All very much appreciated, by the way. I love every bit of it. I’m just saying – it’s different now than oh… 10 years ago or something.

Nonetheless, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed each and every annual celebration. Some, of course, are more memorable than others – but all have been good. I definitely remember my 15th – camping out in the field behind my house with the girls (What time is it? It’s hot in here! – phrases only those there will understand or appreciate). The 20th – on Easter, the last one spent with two close family members and one birthday that no birthday can ever top – ever. And my 21st – Goldschlager down the pipe and right back up. 24 – the last year in NC – a weekend of beach fun with some of my favorite people – AND Chris making me a strawberry cake all by his little self. 🙂

This one – #29 – I had suspected it was going to be one of the less memorable ones. I had to work all day, and it was a day full of work – if truth be told. I didn’t even get to read my blogroll like I usually do over breakfast. We had dinner reservations at a place I’d been wanting to check out for a while. That was it – until lunchtime. Then it got a little bit more exciting.

This here box showed up in our suite:

Oink Express box

Oink express?! That has nothing to do with genetic testing, I thought. What is this? Then I remembered it was my birthday – it’s easy to forget when you’re at work doing normal things. Normal things like getting ready to eat my Lean Cuisine. A special pita sandwich that had been sitting in the freezer all week waiting to be eaten. I just smiled and like a kid at Christmas, I ripped open the box – I knew right away that someone, some dear soul, had sent me a box full of BARBEQUE PORK from NORTH CAROLINA!! And without a thought, I knew the culprit.

Oink Express bbq

You see, my best friend, she reads the blog faithfully. Good thing, as she is mentioned often! She knew from this entry that I had a hankering for pork. And those of you who read regularly know from this entry how near and dear to my heart she is. What you don’t know is that we aren’t big on birthdays, usually. I was even the most horrible of best friends one year and forgot to call her….I blame it on the Wolfpack winning the Gator Bowl, because I was there. But I will never ever ever forget another one because of it. Generally, we might get each other a gift that day (or months later), we might send a card (but not usually), and we (if I didn’t forget) always call each other, just to say it (she usually sings it, and did again this time). So do we ship each other packages? Especially packages of pork? No way! But she did this time, and it was the best present EVER. Not because it was bbq pork, but because it was unexpected, because it was thoughtful, because it came from her, and because she is something else. She IS the bestest friend you’ll ever find. Hands down. (and Kris, as you read this, don’t you eva eva forget it!)

Oink Express info card

My package o’ pork came complete with all the fixin’s too, as if 3 POUNDs of hand pulled NC pork wasn’t enough, it came with 2 pints of coleslaw, 2 dozen hushpuppies, and last but certainly not least – the mother of all sauces – vinegar-based NC BBQ sauce. The box also came with paraphernalia – two T shirts (1 for the hubby; they say “Oink if you love BBQ”), bumper stickers, magnets, NC BBQ FAQ, reheating instructions, and a menu. All courtesy of the Oink Express, which is part of Kings BBQ. You have to watch the video about their business on their website. And if you haven’t ever tasted eastern NC BBQ, order it. (the owner quotes, “it’s a great gift for a misplaced Southerner” – boy is that accurate). They ship fresh, so you can even freeze the rest. If there are leftovers, that is….

Despite an otherwise typical post-clinic day at work, that box made my day, and it filled me up until dinner (it was even tastier for lunch today). I’ve had a restaurant list since we’ve lived in Bucktown, and we’ve slowly wittled it down bit by bit, only for new restaurants to open and the list to regenerate starfish style. Not that it’s a problem – I love to eat, and what’s not to like about having a plethora of choices within blocks? I’ve wanted to go to Takashi for a while now. Chef owner Takashi Yagihashi is decently well-known chef and is best known for his award winning Detroit restaurant, Tribute. He opened Takashi here in December 2007; the cuisine is French+American cuisine with Japanese influence.

Takashi appetizer

Boy was it tasty -minus the snooty chick beside me and the pompous group of businessmen (& woman) behind us, it was just what I’d imagined. They offer a 7 course tasting menu, but we weren’t up for it last night so we went the typical app, entree, dessert. Since Napa, I’ve taken a liking to beef carpaccio, so that was my choice. It was served atop napa cabbage with a ginger soy dipping sauce. Chris went for the scallops with soba noodle gnocchi and celeriac foam. I recently realized that I didn’t like celeriac, so I can’t say what his tasted like. He seemed to enjoy it.

Takashi appetizer

For dinner, Chris went for salmon, which is unusual for him, but if he didn’t I was gonna. It had a ginger-Moroccan glaze, served with baby artichokes and a green salad. I’m always drawn to anything halibut, and this dish was no different. You can tell from the picture that it was perfectly seared unilaterally, with a light tomato-based sauce, wild mushrooms, and a small amount of tossed vermicelli noodles, served with a lettuce spring roll with veggies. It was amazing. The salmon was good, but the halibut … mmmm… that was somethin.

IMG_0137Takashi dinner

We didn’t think we were gonna do dessert, but it’s hard to resist the menu. All of a sudden a stop at Dairy Queen didn’t sound very appetizing. I had the milk chocolate dessert with a rice crunch base, passion fruit curd, and raspberry sorbet. Oh yummers. One of my all-time faves, fo sho. There were so many things to eat and every bite was as good as the one before it. Chris had the dark chocolate dessert with candied kumquats and a pistachio crumb. Also with a sorbet but I can’t remember the flavor.

Takashi dessert

Overall, Takashi was a hit. I will definitely head back to check out the tasting menu, and probably the prix fixe menu on Tuesday/Wednesday. They do have some seasonal dishes, so head there and get that halibut before Summer comes! I’d like to try to upstairs too – we didn’t go up there but I bet it’s a little more intimate and less busy than downstairs (although I enjoy seeing the kitchen and chefs at work!).

Just like all the 28 life celebrations before it, #29 has come and gone. It’s definitely true – birthdays aren’t what they used to be, and nor should they be. But there are always the ones that stand out for various reasons – perhaps a party, a milestone, a final moment, or for this one – a normal day with a great surprise that truly touched my heart. Watch out 30 – 364 days and not counting!