San Francisco Craft Beer Festival

San Francisco craft beer festival

San Francisco craft beer festival

San Francisco Craft Beer Festival

Writing a food blog is hard work. There is all that cooking once you get done with all that shopping. Then there is the food styling and photography. When that is finished there is the writing and posting. So it is nice when a perk comes your way to reward you for all the hard work. That was the case last week when my editor (thank you, Paul) and I were invited to attend the San Francisco Craft Beer Festival at Fort Mason last Sunday. We enjoyed four hours of tasting over 150 craft beers, meads and ciders from over 75 breweries. It was a pleasure to taste the diverse brews from both local and national breweries as well as indulging in food from some of ‘Off The Grid’s’ local food vendors. Good beer is big in the Bay Area and judging by the enthusiastic and substantial crowd that showed up on Sunday it is getting even bigger!

San Francisco craft beer festival

Here are some pictures from the festival along with some practical tips.

Dress appropriately…casual is the order of the day. Try not to feel guilty that March in San Francisco can look like this:

Plan your order of attack. It is possible that you will get around to trying 150 different brews, but if you can’t, try to seek out the ones that you never tried before or are not as readily available.

On the other hand, sometimes there is nothing like indulging in your old favorite standby.

Observe the cards that describe what you are tasting. Take notes so you can remember what you liked (or didn’t like). You are on your way to becoming a Cicerone!

Stop and have a bite to eat then push on!

San Francisco craft beer festival

Take a break for a little music and games.

Ask questions, mingle, make a new friend and have a good time.

 

We attended the San Francisco Beer Festival as guests of Mad Dog Presents but the views and opinions we shared are as always, our own. You can visit www.handcraftedtasting.com for more information on other festivals.

Baby Spinach Date and Almond Salad

baby spinach date almond salad ottolenghi

Is it just me, or is the dinner party on its way to becoming extinct? Since we do so much entertaining at our house, it was a pleasure to be invited over to some friend’s house recently for a meal. Frank and John treated us to prime rib, a cauliflower gratin, and (the star of the show for me) a spinach salad with dates and almonds. I was most delighted that our hosts were all too happy to supply us with this marvelous salad recipe (and the leftovers). I was not surprised that the recipe came from Yotam Ottolenghi’s recent cookbook, “Jerusalem”. I should have known: his name was practically written all over it. I love his style of cooking and I love this salad. It was too good not to share.

I am a bit ashamed to say that this cookbook has been out for a few years, but has been sitting on my shelf for some time (I’ve been known to binge on buying cookbooks, and they sometimes end up on the shelf for a while before I can dive into them). I discovered Ottolenghi a few years ago. His restaurants and shops are extremely popular across the pond, but he is not as familiar on the west coast of America as he should be. His food is fresh and modern with an emphasis on fresh vegetables and grains. His food is healthy as well as tasty. Yotam Ottolenghi and his business partner Sami Tamimi were both born in Jerusalem. Yotam is from the Jewish west side and Sami is from the Arab east side. Jerusalem is a melting pot, and the diversity of this fascinating city is evident in its cuisine. At the risk of this post sounding like a book review (which it isn’t) if you haven’t picked up any of Ottolenghi’s books you need to have a look. With all that said let’s get back to the salad.

One of the things I like about this salad is that it is very light and refreshing. There isn’t any dressing on it except for a little olive oil and lemon, and that is all it needs! I have made it a couple time using dates, but I have also substituted golden raisins (I love dates, but raisins work well if you can’t find any fresh firm dates). This salad is easy to make, and you can do most of the work ahead of time. Since there is not much dressing to speak of, the spinach doesn’t wilt, and the salad is almost as good the next day (if you don’t mind chewy replacing crunchy in the fried pita chips). In making this salad, I discovered two new tastes: Aleppo chile and sumac. Although the book did not specify what kind of chile to use, I know that Aleppo chilies are Sami Tamimi’s favorite and I can see why. They are not as hot as red chili flakes and contain no seeds. The color and flavor are striking. Since you will probably need to go to the Middle Eastern store for some sumac, you might as well pick up some Aleppo chili while you are there. I also fell in love with sumac. Sumac has a delightful tart lemony flavor. It is good on anything that you would use lemon on which, in my book, is almost anything. You can find sumac in some high-end grocery stores, but it will cost you more than it should. I got a one-pound bag at the Middle Eastern grocery store for $3.99. One other tip/variation I have tried is substituting sliced almonds (that I almost always have on hand) for the chopped whole unsalted almonds that are in the original recipe. If you do substitute make sure to cut out some salt somewhere else to make up for the added salt from the sliced almonds.

baby spinach date almond salad ottolenghi

 Baby Spinach Date and Almond Salad

(Adapted from the book Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi)

Baby Spinach Date and Almond Salad

Baby Spinach Date and Almond Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 medium red onion, sliced thinly
  • 3 1/2 oz. pitted dates, quartered lengthwise (or substitute golden raisins)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 pitas roughly torn into bite size pieces
  • 1/2 cup whole unsalted almonds, roughly chopped
  • 2 teaspoons sumac
  • 1/2-teaspoon Aleppo chili flakes
  • 5 ounces Baby spinach leaves
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon
  • Salt

Instructions

Put the onions and dates (or raisins) in a bowl with the wine vinegar and a pinch of salt and set aside. Heat the butter and one tablespoon of olive oil in the pan and begin browning the pita pieces. Stir constantly so they do not burn. After about a minute, add the almonds to the pitas to toast for about 5 minutes. Once the pitas and almonds are browned and crisp, remove from the heat and add the sumac and the Aleppo chili. Toss well and place the pita mixture in a bowl to cool. When you are ready to serve, place the spinach, pita chips, and onion and dates together in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle with the other tablespoon of olive oil and the lemon juice and toss. Add salt to taste. Serve immediately.

I know I said I wasn’t going to be reviewing the book, but I went on a roll last week and made 3 other dishes from the cookbook. All of them were great! Here are a few pictures from our Jerusalem dinner.

If you like this salad (and I think you will) look for “Jerusalem” by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi or pick up one of their other books, “Ottolenghi”, “Plenty”, and “Plenty More”.

ottolenghi

The Pizza Bible

pizzabibble (1 of 1)

Respect the Craft

“Craft is the difference between good and great. It takes a few extra steps, the right equipment, a little more time, and a fair amount of practice. But if you’re up for it, the payoff is golden.”

Tony Gemignani

If anyone ever wanted to master the art or ‘craft’ of making a quality pizza pie at home, “The Pizza Bible” by Tony Gemignani is the book for you. If you have ever been to ‘Tony’s Pizza Napoletana’ or ‘Capo’s’ in San Francisco, then you have sampled his credentials. In The Pizza Bible, Tony shows us how to make the same outstanding pizza he is famous for at home. The aptly named ‘Pizza Bible’ is the ultimate guide to the craft of making pizza.

Tony Gemignani is a San Francisco Bay area native who started out making pizza in his brother’s restaurant in Castro Valley, California. It wasn’t long before he was wowing the patrons with his amazing ‘throwing’ skills. Tony’s talent for throwing pizza lead him to the Las Vegas pizza throwing championships where he became the top pizza thrower in the world. He went on from there to win numerous other accolades such as the Triple Crown for baking at the International Pizza Championships in Lecce, Italy. Perhaps his greatest honor is winning the 2007 World Champion Pizza Maker at the World Pizza Cup in Naples, Italy, the first American and non-Neapolitan to win this honor. His master credentials from the Scuola Italiana Pizzaioli more than qualify him to run The International School of Pizza where he certifies chefs from all over the world. Who better to write the holy grail of pizza cookbooks than Tony?

Tony’s motto is “respect the craft” but it might have been “go big or go home”. In that spirit, this book is for the serious pizza devotee. It may be named the Pizza Bible, but it is more like a textbook. The book begins with a section called The Master Class. Readers are urged to read all the way through these 19 pages before even attempting any recipes. In this section, the reader will learn about many topics such as theory, baking percentages and equipment as well as a primer on ingredients. After that section there is a three-day practice course in making pizza and mastering two kinds of dough. You might want to think of this section as ‘homework’, but in the end (as Tony points out in the book) “you get to eat the final exam.” The Master Class section is crammed with information and tips and ends with “The Theory of Pizza Relativity”. Here the reader is encouraged go with the visual cues instead of relying on recipes alone. As with any baking, there are so many factors from the weather to the age of the flour that affect the end product. If making great pizza were easy, everyone would be making it. There is a reason people are lined up to get a table a Tony’s ‘Napoletana’!

After you have completed The Master Class, you are ready to move on to the mouthwatering recipes. The chapters that follow are broken down into regional styles. Regional American pizza is well represented from California to New York, with stops in between in Detroit and Chicago. From there he has an entire chapter devoted to Napoletana and another on other regions of Italy. In a chapter on globally themed pizzas such as the ‘Barcelona’ and ‘München’, Tony treats us to some recipes inspired from his travels across Europe. One of my personal favorites, Calzone, is included in a chapter entitled ’Wrapped and Rolled’. A chapter on Focaccia and bread (in this case, Ciabatta) rounds things out. The pictures look so great you will want to get started right away…just don’t forget to do your homework first.

This book is the most definitive resource on pizza I have ever seen and a must-have for anyone aspiring to make world-class pizza at home. The information, pictures, and tips are precise, to the point and easy to follow. As long as you are not expecting instant results I think you will love this book. After having completed the Master Class myself I am ready to get started. The first effort for me will be “a cross between Chicago deep-dish and a Sicilian with a touch of Detroit”. It sounds like an old flame of mine, but in reality it is a deep-dish style pizza cooked in a cast iron skillet with a crispy white cheddar crust. It features provolone, mozzarella and ricotta cheeses in addition to ‘Sweet Fennel Sausage’ and roasted red peppers. If you think that sounds good just have a look at page 95. School is out; I’m going in!

9781607746058

“I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.”

Spaghetti Sauce

spaghetti sauce

Tim’s Spaghetti Sauce

I never gave my ’S’ghetti Sauce’ much thought. It certainly has evolved over the years and since I make it to suit my taste it goes without saying that I like it. Paul likes it. He even told me he thought it was the best he ever had (blush). When I make lasagna with it (which is what I use it for nine times out of ten) I get rave reviews. If you are thinking they are just saying that because they are my friends you obviously haven’t met my friends. Since I have wanted to post my Lasagna recipe for a long time and since I couldn’t do that without posting the sauce recipe first, I decided to break it down into two posts. Here is my two cents about spaghetti sauce.

Spaghetti sauce is about as American as apple pie. Most of us know that a heavy meat-laden tomato sauce with some pasta drowning in it is about as far as you can get from real Italian food. I don’t care. I’ve been to Italy and I know what a plate of real Italian spaghetti looks like (and for the record I love that too). But I’m talking about the spaghetti that you find in a dark American ‘Italian’ eatery, the kind with red-checkered tablecloths, lots of garlic bread and a candle burning in an empty Chianti bottle. That’s my idea of a spaghetti dinner! It’s the kind of comfort food that always takes me back to my childhood, the one that I’m serving up here.

Before we get browning our beef let me give you a little background on Timmy’s S’ghetti sauce. I remember making spaghetti dinner for the family in my teens. Mom worked so making dinner was my job. ‘Chef Boyardee Complete Spaghetti Dinner’ was a staple. If it just occurred to you that my family might not be Italian, then you would be correct. ‘Chef Boyardee Complete Spaghetti Dinner’ consisted of a can of sauce and box of dry spaghetti plus a can of Kraft cheese. All that you needed was a pound of ground beef and you were on your way. As my weekly s’ghetti dinners progressed, I began adding various things to kick it up a notch. Some of it worked and some of it didn’t, but no one complained (much). Fast forward to adulthood and I am still making s’ghetti dinners, only now no one is complaining. I’ve picked up a few tips and techniques from friends that I’ve met along the way and made up a few of my own. It was difficult writing it all down since I have never measured or made it exactly the same, but over the years it has gotten fairly consistent. This basic recipe is a great starting point and will provide you with great results, but feel free to veer off course all you want. Mine is seldom the same every time either.

The key to great sauce is browning the meat thoroughly. I start my sauce by browning the meat (ground beef and mild Italian pork sausage) along with the onions. I carry out this step in my wok. I seem to get the best results in my iron wok and I like that there is plenty of room, but any heavy skillet will do. Now when I say brown, I mean brown! You want some real good sizzle and color, and it’s ok if it sticks to the bottom (that is the goal). You don’t want it to burn, but sauté it until you have a rich deep color. That crusty brown layer (AKA fond) is where a lot of that great flavor for your sauce is going to come from. All you need to do is add some red wine (deglaze) to loosen all that up, and you have a flavorful base component for your sauce. I add the garlic at the end of this step so I get some browning on the garlic without burning it and ruining the sauce. The other thing I do that is out of the ordinary is that I finish and simmer the sauce in a crock-pot. The reason I use the crockpot is so that I can simmer it for a long time without getting up to stir. A more traditional approach is to simmer for a long time in a pot with no lid in order to reduce and thicken the sauce. I used to do this until I burned the bottom of the pot and ruined a large pot of sauce. This recipe makes a sauce that is very thick without the need to reduce. I use canned chopped or stewed tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato paste. I might use fresh tomatoes in the summer, but I never dream of it any other time of the year because they have no flavor. I also never use a green bell pepper but instead prefer roasted green chilies because I like the flavor better. Dry porcini mushrooms reconstituted in red wine add some extra mushroom flavor. If I have a ‘secret ingredient’ at all, it has to be ‘Better Than Bouillon” beef bouillon paste. I love this product! For the record they did not pay me or even give me a free jar to say this…I just love the stuff! Since I am making a meat sauce, I want it to be meaty and this bouillon kicks it up a notch.

spaghetti sauce

This recipe makes about 6 quarts of sauce, enough to feed an army (as my grandmother would say) and easily enough for a lasagna and a large plate of pasta. I usually use half of the sauce and freeze the rest. The seasoning is conservative and you may want to add more. I use dried herbs as they are available all the time, but using some or all fresh herbs dramatically improves the sauce. The general rule of thumb is to use 2-3 times the portion that is called for when substituting fresh herbs for dried. Listening to Italian opera and drinking a nice red while preparing this sauce will greatly improve your results. Prego!

Spaghetti Sauce

Spaghetti Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 29 oz. can tomato sauce
  • 1 14 oz. can tomato sauce
  • 1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 12 oz. can tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 lbs. ground beef
  • 3/4 lbs. mild Italian sausage
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 8 oz. white or brown mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
  • 2-3 cups red wine
  • 4 oz. can green chilies, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/8 teaspoon red chili flakes
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 rounded tablespoon beef bouillon paste

Instructions

Because the crock-pot takes a while to heat up, begin by plugging it in and setting it to the highest setting. Add all the tomatoes, sauce, and paste and cover while you brown the meat. In a large skillet, add a couple teaspoons olive oil and when it is hot add the beef, sausage, and onions. Use a wooden spoon to stir and break up the ground meat as you brown off the meat and onions. Continue cooking until the meat has started to brown well. Add the chopped garlic and continue to brown. It should start sticking to the bottom of the pan which is good, just do not let it burn. After you have browned the meat, add the two cups of wine to deglaze the pan and loosen all the tasty brown bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Add the meat and onions to the crock-pot. Remove the reconstituted porcini from the wine and give them a rough chop, reserving the wine that they soaked in. If necessary, add a little olive oil to the skillet and sauté the fresh mushrooms and porcini. Sauté until cooked soft and browned, using the reserved wine to deglaze and loosen any stuck-on bits. When finished with the mushrooms, add them to the crock-pot. Add all remaining ingredients and stir. The sauce will be ready in about two hours from the time it starts to boil. Do not lift the lid unless necessary and allow the sauce to simmer.

After a couple hours, taste and adjust the seasoning to suit your taste. This recipe makes about 6 quarts.

Nutri Ninja Blender (Sponsored Post)

As a participant of the 2014 IFBC (International Food Bloggers Conference) I was invited by the folks at Ninja to review their blender. They provided me with a blender, and I was happy to test it out. I received no compensation and as always, the opinions expressed here are my own.

nutri ninja blender

The Nutri Ninja® | Ninja® Blender DUO™ With Auto-iQ™

When I contemplate adding another appliance to my already overstocked kitchen, many thoughts go through my mind. Will I have the room for it? Will it make my life easier? Will I use it enough to justify the real estate it will occupy in my cupboard or on my counter? Since I already had a blender that I don’t use that much, I wasn’t sure that I needed another one. It wasn’t until I unboxed my Nutri Ninja Blender that I realized that this is no ordinary blender. After a month of use, I am happy to share my thoughts and experiences with you.

My first impression was that it is a beautiful machine. That shouldn’t matter as long as it does a good job, but if it is going to sit on the counter, it should look good too. It’s also heavy! That’s probably due to the 1300-watt motor that powers it. This hefty motor drives the unique Total Crushing® blades in this blender that are the reason the Nutri Ninja is go good at what it does. The Ninja felt solid and well made. I was impressed that not only did it come with a large 72-ounce capacity pitcher for big jobs, but it also included two smaller cups (24 and 32 ounce). These smaller cups (for preparing individual or small servings) come with a separate blade and include two snap-on lids. The snap-on lids make it possible to blend a drink, pop on the lid and be on your way. Since my workday starts early, this feature is very welcome. Within minutes I can blend up a delicious smoothie and have no mess to clean up (or have one waiting for me when I get home).

To put the Ninja to its first test, I decided to revive an old favorite ‘Butternut Squash and Chipotle Soup’ recipe. I make this soup frequently when the weather gets cold, and I wanted to see if I could simplify the recipe and still get great results (if not better). In the original recipe, I used a whole butternut squash. It had to be cut, roasted, scooped and simmered with other vegetables, and then blended with a hand blender or in two batches using a conventional blender. After a bit of tinkering, I tried out my modified recipe using the Ninja. I was very impressed! The soup came out much better in the Ninja, incredibly smooth and silky and thicker. The large 74-ounce pitcher did a fantastic job, and it was big enough to do the entire pot of soup at once. I include the recipe here. You can have a look at the old recipe here, but I will be making the new improved version in the future.

Butternut squash chipotle soup

Cream of Butternut Squash and Chipotle Soup

Cream of Butternut Squash and Chipotle Soup

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 russet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubed
  • 1 20 oz package pre-cut fresh butternut squash
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 28-32 oz. stock (chicken or vegetable)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1-teaspoon salt
  • 1 chipotle chili in adobo sauce
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup sour cream, and another 1/2 cup for garnish
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

Over a medium high heat sauté the celery, carrots and onions in a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a large stock pot or Dutch oven. Cook for about 5 minutes stirring frequently until the vegetables start to soften, but do not brown. Add the potatoes and garlic and sauté a few more minutes. Add the butternut squash and enough stock to just barely cover the contents of the pot. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer until the squash is very soft (about 40-45 minutes). Remove from heat and allow to cool (about 30 minutes at least). When the soup has cooled, pour it into the Ninja 72 ounce pitcher, place the lid on, and press the ‘Auto IQ Puree’ button. The Ninja will blend the soup and shut off automatically. Return the soup the pot. You can finish the soup by bringing it to just under a boil and add the sour cream and heavy cream. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with a dollop of sour cream on top.

After trying out the large pitcher, I was eager to check out the small cups. For a while now I have wanted to start my day with a smoothie, but because I start so early there never seemed to be enough time. The Nutri Ninja inspired me to give it a shot. I got in the habit of preparing the ingredients for my smoothie right in the cup the night before and putting it in the fridge. In the morning all I had to do was put in a little ice and blend them. Very simple! The cup would come off the machine; the blade would go in the dishwasher, the cap went on the cup and I was out the door. I tried out a few different recipes in the book, but lately I have enjoyed experimenting with my own combinations. Usually, regardless of what I put in, the results are tasty, with some combinations working better than others. The book that came with the Ninja was a great place to start. In addition to numerous recipes, there was also a lot of great information plus a flavor chart of tasty suggested combinations. I was impressed with the cookbook. The largest portion was expectedly devoted to juice drinks. There were also chapters on ‘Infused Waters and Teas’, ‘Breakfast’, ‘Soups Sauces and Entree’s’, ‘Entertaining’, and ‘Desert Treats’. In addition to all the great recipes, there was lots of great advice and tips for healthier eating, maximizing nutrition and much more.

Another great aspect of the Nutri Ninja is the Auto-iQ™ feature. I thought at first this sounded a little gimmicky but it truly is a great feature. This feature essentially is multiple automated programs built into the blender that takes all the guesswork out of how long you need to blend a recipe. At the push of a button, the Ninja will select the speed and time needed to blend everything perfectly. It will also stop and start again to allow the contents to fall back down for even and thorough blending. It is scary that this blender might be smarter than me at 5AM! In addition to being smart, it is a great time saver! All you need to do is push a button and walk away.

nutri ninja blender

Other great features include:

  • Suction cups to keep it firmly in place on the counter
  • Intelligent Auto-iQ™ feature
  • Safety features like locking cup/pitcher and caps.
  • Easy pour feature on the pitcher cap.
  • Total Crushing® Technology for the best blending I’ve ever seen
  • All the parts are dishwasher safe
  • BPA free

Pros In addition to all the great features I have already mentioned, this is a great all-purpose blender. It does a great job on anything you want to put in there from ice to cooked vegetables. I love the large 72-ounce pitcher plus the smaller cups are great for lesser jobs and to make individual servings.

Cons It’s large! If you are planning on keeping it on the counter under a cabinet, you might want to measure it first. It fits great with the smaller cup but not with the 72-ouncer. This wasn’t even an issue for me because I don’t keep any appliances on the counter anyway. I can honestly say that I couldn’t find anything else with this machine that I would change.