Eat Real

Summer in the Bay is all about farmers markets and street fairs, with the latter happening  somewhere just about every weekend.  Usually it’s just the standard stuff on sticks, in buns, battered and fried, foil wrapped.  Delicious, sure, but nothing that’ll make your socks roll up and down.  Until last year, when everything changed.  The bar for street fairs was raised to glorious soaring heights when the Eat Real Festival came on the scene.  Eat Real is an explosion of gourmet food trucks (a growing presence around here, and it’s about goddamn time), stands from local restaurants and vendors, music, chickens, a Wine Barn, and demonstrations of everything from cheese-making to pig butchering.  It was so good on Saturday, in fact, that we skipped Dollar Day at the racetrack to go again on Sunday.  I can hear you wondering, “Could anything be worth skipping Dollar Day??”  Oh my goodness yes.

The festival sprawls out across Jack London Square, on the Oakland harbor.  Spencer on the Go (left) has these wonderful little escargot pops – tender snails wrapped in puff pastry, drenched in garlic butter, and eaten off a toothpick.  The fact that I can eat escargot on a stick in the middle of the street makes me think mankind is going to be alright after all.  Chairman Bao (right) is the hand of God reaching down to the masses, if God drives a truck and his hand is a sweet steamed bun (bao!) full of something amazing.  More about that later.

Gerard’s staggeringly large paella, which I learned today means not only the dish but the pan it’s cooked in.  If you don’t get just a little excited or drooly looking at this picture, there’s something wrong with you, and you are hereby banished to foodnetwork.com.

Dim sum!  Though when there are 85 vendors and only three days to try them in, some of the more accessible things must be foregone.  Sorry dim sum, you’re just too everyday…

Corn from Los Cilantros, possibly the most delicious thing at the festival and definitely among the top three.  Served Mexican street food style, grilled up and slathered with mayo, lime, chili, and salty grated cheese.  Everywhere you went at Eat Real, someone was asking someone else where they got what they were eating, and this seemed to be the thing people were asking about the most.  Definitely a good sign.

Incidentally, Los Cilantros is a catering and farmers market operation that works out of La Cocina, a culinary microbusiness incubator in San Francisco.  They help people, mostly low-income and immigrant women, get started in the food business by providing commercial kitchen space and technical know-how.  In addition to being a great economic development initiative, it’s a significant step toward bringing the area’s best home cooking closer to my mouth.

On top, a sampling of bao from Chairman Bao, the truck I was gushing about before.  On the left, spicy duck confit with tangy, sweet slices of mango and onion.  On the right, chicken with scallions and greens, rich, sweet, and slightly spicy.  Naysayers about this truck may piss and moan about how long the line is or how they don’t want to pay $2.50 for a bao.  Those people need to get over themselves.  These buns are off the chain.

Below the bao, lobster rolls from Sam’s Chowdermobile.  Personally, I like my lobster roll with a touch more mayo, but otherwise these are pretty much perfect.  The lobster is sweet and tender and everything summer should taste like, especially when you eat it sitting on the ground drinking wine out of a mason jar.

Short rib Korean taco.  At least in California, the gourmet food truck movement seems to have gotten really big with the advent of Korean tacos, starting with the Kogi truck in Los Angeles.  This one was pretty good, but the Nunchuk Chicken taco from Kung Fu Tacos was better, IMHO.

Drool-worthy items not photographed include banana beignets and fried plantains from Soleil’s African Kitchen, Zilla dogs and chicharrones from 4505 Meats, and the very good selection at the aforementioned Wine Barn.  There’s no other event I know of where you can watch a steer butchering competition while eating snails on a stick, an organic hot dog covered in fried pork rinds, and a paneer tikka masala burrito.  Eat Real 2011, you cannot come soon enough!

Epic Holiday Baking Day

December is like a month-long full moon for people who like to bake. We get a little…out of hand. It’s the perfect excuse to make those cookies and candies and sundry snacks we’ve been eying since the end of summer fruit season but couldn’t quite justify.

The below-depicted Epic Holiday Baking Day was suggested by my dear friend Erin, who is also a foodie and a fantastic cook. She could be an honorary asian if she wasn’t so nice and thus insufficiently prone to squabbling. Having grown up in a household that is chock full of bite size buttery temptation for the duration of the holidays, I enthusiastically agreed.

Evidence of a day well spent

Cranberry-Orange-Walnut Bread

You MUST try it. It is perhaps one of my all time favorite things to eat, ever.

Bar Nuts, courtesy of Union Square Cafe (courtesy of Saveur.com).

If you make these, which you should, skip the hazelnuts and be generous with the seasonings. Resist the urge to eat them by the fistful. The urge will be strong, but you’ll only end up with spicy sugar all over your face. Trust me on this one.

Pecan Shortbread Cookies

Chocolate-Hazelnut Truffles

Gingersnaps!

These gingersnaps are easier than falling down, and unfailingly delicious. Their ingredient list is pure americana (read: cheap!).

Gingersnaps

  • 2 c flour
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 c Crisco
  • 1 c sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 c molasses
  • extra sugar for dipping

Mix all dry ingredients in a medium bowl, set aside.

In a large bowl, cream shortening with a hand-held mixer, add sugar and mix until combined and fluffy, 20-30 seconds. Add egg and molasses, mix until color is even and ingredients are well combined.

Add dry ingredients, mix until combined, then cover and chill for a while. You want the dough to be firm enough to handle, so anywhere from a couple of hours to overnight.

Roll dough in to 1″ balls, roll each in sugar, place about 2″ apart on baking sheet(s). I like to line them with parchment paper first, for easier clean up, but these work just as well without.

Bake at 350 for 11 minutes for a softer cookie, 12 for a crispier cookie. They will be all puffed up and soft and look very underdone when you take them out of the oven, but they will flatten out and crisp up as they cool.

Crabby Hush Puppies

These hush puppies are stuffed to bursting with delicious crab, which is in season in the Bay Area starting in mid-November. They are particularly delicious when dunked in remoulade. We made them as a Thanskgiving appetizer with cornmeal my mom sends from the Graue Mill in Oak Brook, Illinois, where they grind the corn between two giant stone wheels powered by a waterwheel. Apparently it was also a stop on the Underground Railroad (you really do learn something every day). Their cornmeal is delicious, sweet with a chunky, uneven grind that only comes from doin’ it the old way.

Crab Hush Puppies

  • 6 cups, ish, vegetable oil for frying
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 c plus 2 tbsp well-shaken buttermilk
  • 3 scallions, finely chopped
  • 1 c cornmeal, preferably stone-ground
  • 3/4 c all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • indulgent fistfuls of lump crabmeat – I think we used around 3/4 lb

Heat oil to 375 in a wide, heavy 5-quart pot over medium heat. While oil heats, mince and mash garlic into a paste with a pinch of salt, then whisk together with eggs, buttermilk, and scallions.

Whisk cornmeal, flour, baking powder, 3/4 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper in a large bowl, then stir in buttermilk mixture until just combined. Stir in crabmeat – we pretty much put in as much as we thought the batter could take without falling apart.

Working in batches of 10, carefully drop tablespoonfuls of batter into the oil and fry, turning occasionally, until golden brown, about 3 minutes per batch. Transfer to a paper towel-lined baking sheet. Keep them warm in the oven if you can keep your hands off them long enough for them to get cold.

Remoulade

  • 1/2 c mayonnaise
  • 1/2 tsp capers, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1 small clove garlic, chopped coarse
  • 1 1/2 tsp sweet pickle relish
  • 1 tsp hot sauce
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp minced fresh parsley

Pulse all ingredients in mini-chopper until well combined but not yet smooth, about 10 1-second pulses. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

…..fried crab niblets….

Nothing Says Thankful Like Pumpkin Cheesecake

I’ve learned an important lesson about self restraint, dear readers, that I feel I must share with you. Self restraint is entirely overrated and should be avoided at all costs. Yes, I know, it’s a controversial point of view, but hear me out. In the planning of Thanksgiving dinner, by the time you get to the desserts you’ve got so much on the menu before it that one might be inclined to go easy or, worse yet . . . light . . . on the desserts. This year’s menu confirmed what the hedonist in me has always suspected/hoped to be true – ’tis far better to never hold back. Live your dreams! Does it seem preposterous, maybe even sinful, to round out a dessert course following twelve or thirteen other dishes with a cheesecake? Of course it does!! That’s exactly why you do it. There are only a few times of year when this sort of conduct is at all acceptable, so it would be almost criminal not to make the most of them while we can, right?? Right.

Spiced Pumpkin Cheesecake with Marshmallow Cream

Crust

  • 5 ounces graham crackers, broken into large pieces
  • 3 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 6 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Adjust rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Spray bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan evenly with nonstick cooking spray. Pulse crackers, sugar and spices in food processor until evenly and finely ground. Transfer crumbs to medium bowl, drizzle melted butter over, and mix with rubber spatula until evenly moistened.

Turn crumbs into prepared springform and spread into even layer. Using a flat-bottomed ramekin or glass, press crumbs evenly into pan bottom, then use a soup spoon to press and smooth crumbs into edges of pan. Bake until fragrant and browned around the edges about 15 minutes. Cool on wire rack.

Filling

  • 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/2 tsp table salt
  • 1 can (15 oz) pumpkin
  • 1 1/2 lbs cream cheese, cut into 1-inch chunks and softened to room temperature
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 5 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup heavy cream

Bring 4-5 quarts of water to simmer in stockpot. Whisk sugar, spices, and salt in small bowl; set aside. Line a baking sheet with a triple layer of paper towels, then spread pumpkin over towels in a roughly even 1/2-inch layer. Cover with another triple layer of paper towels, press firmly until saturated. Peel off top layer, fold dried pumpkin over itself to remove bottom layer, set pumpkin aside.

In a standing mixer fitted with flat beater, or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, beat cream cheese at medium speed to break up and soften slightly, about 1 minute. Scrape beaters and sides of bowl with rubber spatula. Add about 1/3 of the sugar mixture and beat at medium-low until well combined, about 1 minute.

Scrape bowl and add remaining sugar in two additions, scraping bowl after each. Add pumpkin, vanilla and lemon juice, beat at medium speed for about 45 seconds, scrape bowl. Add 3 eggs and beat at medium-low until incorporated, about 1 minute, scrape bowl. Add remaining 2 egs and beat at medium-low until incorporated, about 45 seconds, scrape bowl. Add heavy cream and beat at low speed until combined, about 45 seconds. Scrape bottom and sides of bowl, give it one last stir.

Set springform pan with cooled crust on an 18-inch-square double layer of heavy-duty foil and wrap bottom and sides. Set wrapped pan in roasting pan. Pour filling into springform pan and smooth surface, set roasting pan in oven and pour enough simmering water to come about halfway up the side of the springform.

Bake until center of cake is slightly wobbly when pan is shaken, and center of cake registers 150 on an instant-read thermometer, about 1 1/2 hours – but check it after 1 1/4 hours just in case. Set roasting pan on wire rack and use paring knife to loosen cake from sides of pan. Cool until water is just warm, about 45 minutes. Remove springform from water bath, discard foil, and set on wire rack. Continue to cool until barely warm, about 3 hours. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, at least 4 hours, or up to 3 days.

Topping

  • 2 cups mini marshmallows (or large, cut into 1/2-inch cubes)
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 cup sour cream

Stir marshmallows and milk in medium saucepan over low heat until marshmallows are melted. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and salt. Cool marshmallow mixture to room temperature, stirring occasionally.

Add sour cream to marshmallow mixture, fold gently to blend (whisk gently if needed to get rid of any lumps). Pour over cheesecake and spread evenly, leaving a thin border uncovered at the edge. Chill to set, at least 1 hour.