Friday, January 29, 2010

Tartine Bakery, San Francisco

Don’t you hate it when something doesn’t live up to the hype? The iPad is something that comes to mind, with the majority of press calling the much-anticipated tech product “overpriced and disappointing.” As a food lover, few things are as annoying as overhyped eats. I’ll be bold and say that local Los Angeles fave Casa Bianca falls under that category (in my opinion folks, so please keep the tomato-throwing to a minimum, thank you!) mainly for their use of canned mushrooms on their pizza. I can’t be down with canned mushrooms. Ever. On anything. I mean, it isn’t like we live in Antarctica where canned mushrooms might be your only choice. El Coyote is another L.A. landmark regularly filled to capacity, but if I wanted gloppy, overcooked Mexican food, I could just get some Taco Bell and put it on a plate (sorry Taco Bell, actually you’re not bad for the late night, post-drinking 4th meal). Although I’ve enjoyed the occasional bowl of tangy Pinkberry, the frozen concoction served in cutesy, colorful shops hardly lives up to the hype. I mean, c’mon people- it’s frozen yogurt, not the second coming of Ghandi.

That said, there are certainly places that deserve every last note of praise sung it their names by devotees the world ‘round. In N Out cheeseburgers with grilled onions are incredible and the maple bacon donuts at Nickel Diner are worth every, indulgent calorie. Ultimately, food is subjective, so it comes down to matters of taste, likes and dislikes, but these two things really do it for me. I recently found another place that does indeed live up to the hype- Tartine Bakery in San Francisco.

J and I went up at the end of last year (again, catching up on my blogging!) and I insisted we go and see what all the internet love was about. The line snaking out the door at 11:00am was a good sign, and we dutifully took our places while I craned my neck above the crowd to see what on earth smelled so ridiculously heavenly. I had to resist the urge to elbow my way up to the front and stick my face on the glass like some little kid, but my eyes darted around the room taking in all of the lovely goodies resting in front of the lucky bastards (ok, too harsh) that were already seated. Let’s take a looky-loo, shall we?

Some berry pastry that every other person seemed to be eating

Giant discs of chocolate chip goodness...

Smaller discs of equally delicious goodness...

Luscious lemon bar.....

Yummy-looking scones......

If you've never had a gougere, your life is incomplete.....

The last part of the line runs right along the glass case filled with a gorgeous array of breads, cookies, pastries, puddings, bars and other carby goodies so you have plenty of time to try and accomplish the impossible task of choosing what you will eat. It’s times like those that you wish for a larger stomach (I mean, when do we girls EVER want for a bigger tummy?!) and do the tough negotiating in your mind while the register looms closer and closer. “If I got cookies I could get a few since they’re small….but then I’d miss the bread pudding…but the lemon bars seem really popular so maybe they are the best thing…what’s that berry pastry that looks so good?” But then, you see IT. The sea of fools part (sorry, I’ve had Jeff Buckley ringing in my head all week) and you know you’ve met The One, otherwise known as the Tartine Croissant. OhMyLordWhatAThingOfBeauty. The minute I saw the pile of huge, flaky croissants I KNEW at least one (if not two) were destined to be in my mouth:

Why, hello, beautiful!

J, who feels the same way about bread pudding as I do about croissants, practically dove into the gigantic chafing dish filled to the brim with a peach and blueberry version.

Did the croissant live up to the hype? Let me just say this: Best Croissant I Ever Had. No doubt about it. The outside was shatteringly crisp and buttery, while the inside was layered with soft, nicely baked layers of the same rich pastry. One of my pet peeves is buying what seems to be a beautifully baked croissant only to find a raw, doughy middle. Ew. No raw dough to be found here, as every delicious layer led to another. Croissant heaven.


J’s bread pudding was also stellar; moist, custard-soaked brioche studded with slices of fresh peaches and dotted with blueberries was just sweet enough, letting the fruit really shine through. Our only regret was ordering a cup instead of a bowl of it since it was gone in just a few, short minutes.

J's cup 'o bread pudding...

We bought a couple of sweets to take back to our hotel, but I can’t seem to recall what they were because the only things swimming in my mind at the time were the smell and taste of that perfect croissant.

I could take that distract him while I steal those criossants!

Believe the hype.

Tartine Bakery
600 Guerrero Street
San Francisco, CA 94110-1528
(415) 487-2600

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Cooking for 40

Holy cow- I truly stink at photography- ironic, really, since my father used to be a professional photographer. Sorry Papa, even though I got your Punctuality Gene and Cooking Gene, it looks as if the Photography Gene only landed in my sister and not me. I just spent the last few minutes downloading photos from my camera only to see shot after awful, blurry shot of much of the food I cooked or ate over the last couple of months. Yes, it’s been THAT long since I last blogged, but trust me- based on those crappy photos I’m saving you, dear reader, from being exposed to my poor documentation of some really good food. I simply did it no justice!

These photos fall into that category as well, but I couldn’t NOT post about the first time I cooked for close to 40 people. Yep- forty. J and I decided to throw a party for his band/crew family to celebrate the end of the year since the guys travel so much and we hardly ever get a chance to hang out. You know what? It wasn’t so hard. I did it bit by bit over the course of five days, and although I was sweatin’ it a little on party day, it all came together fairly painlessly. After all, I did get the Planning Ahead Gene from my dad as well.

On the first day, I made the savory pastry crust for four mushroom and gruyere tarts and tossed them in the freezer. The next, I made 7 quarts of pureed butternut squash soup which also went into the freezer, and made the mushroom filling for the aforementioned tarts. They day before the party I marinated the pork tenderloin and made a big batch of caramelized onion jam for the sliders, and prepped both the carnivore and vegan version of bacon wrapped dates. All that was left to do on the actual day of the party was put it all together, and make 4 quarts of Barefoot Contessa’s famous mac ‘n cheese!

Here’s the evidence:

Two kinds of salami, purchased at Nicole's Gourmet Imports in South Pasadena:

I love savory tarts and have made this mushroom and gruyere version many times.

If you make four and then cut each into 12-15 pieces, you immediately have enough for a large party:

Two kinds of sliders: Garlic/balsamic/rosemary-marinated pork tenderloin and vegan bratwurst, both topped with sweet caramelized onion jam, arugula and spicy dijon mustard on Trader Joe's slider buns:

Little pastry cups filled with a mixture of crème fraiche, horseradish, lemon zest and chives topped with flakes of smoked salmon:

Up front: Crudités of lightly blanched green beans, asparagus and sugar snap peas served with hummus:

The Barefoot Contessa's rich, beautiful macaroni and cheese made with three cheese, a pinch of nutmeg and topped with fresh breadcrumbs. I skipped the tomatoes since they weren't (and still aren't) in season:

You can't have a party without cheese, crackers and assorted other nibbles like olives and cornichons!

I rented chafing dishes for the first time ever- along with heat lamps, tables and chairs from Dolphin Party Rentals in Pasadena- everything was awesome and they deliver and pick up. So easy. That soup chafer is filled with butternut squash soup, one of my favorites. The only real trouble making that is breaking down five squash- peeling, seeding, cutting....but worth the effort:

On the left: Bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with chorizo. On the right: veggie bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with soyrizo. Honestly, they were equally delicious and one of the most popular items at the party. Just buy seeded dates, stuff cooked sausage or soyrizo into each, wrap with your choice of bacon and secure with a toothpick. You can do this the night before, then bake them on a cookie sheet the day of the party:

Call me crazy, but cooking this much food was so love of cooking only grows by the minute, and I've started to just make most dishes based on what I personally like to eat instead of following recipes. Of course when there is a recipe as good Barefoot Contessa's mac 'n cheese, you gotta make it! There are few things in life as satisfying as seeing the smiles on friends' faces when they eat something you made for them, and I'm glad we did it!

What's your favorite party dish?

Monday, January 04, 2010


Sweet black beans (kuromame) and chestnuts

So here we are, dear reader(s)...the dawn of a new decade! The Japanese above is what my friend Sugar said to usher in the new year- it means "Ake-ome" which is short for "Akemashite Omedeotou" which is the way to say "Happy New Year" in Japanese. So あけおめ everyone!

Kamaboko- fish cake

I went back and forth on whether to open up 2010 on Tuna Toast with these fuzzy images taken on my LG cell phone camera. After all, doesn't everyone want to hit the ground running as best they can, whip out their A-game, vow to be better this year than the last? Although I'd love to do all those things (and still plan to!) I couldn't skip an entry which shows off all of the wonderful food my mom made for our yearly "osechi ryori" dinner at my parents house. Everything was delicious as usual, and my husband J looks forward to this meal ALL year long so you can imagine how good it is!

Lots of sake to wash the meal down with!

So please excuse the poor photo quality, but I figure the quality of the food will shine through my lame camera phone images and I'll make sure to bring the camera next time.

Nimono- simmered lotus root, mountain potato, burdock root, veggies

A rainbow of salmon, tuna and squid sashimi

My mom's famous shime-saba (marinated mackeral)

Sticky little sweet fish to nibble on with sake

Yaki-zakana- salt-grilled snapper (tai)

The table, all set and ready to go!

Happy 2010 to everyone!!!