Sampling Szechuan

One of the cool things about living in the bay area is how diverse the cuisine is, especially when it comes to Asian foods. When someone wants to go out for Chinese food, you start by asking, “What kind?”

We’ve found great Hunan and dim sum/Cantonese places in San Francisco, and some awesome noodle places in Berkeley and Oakland. Then this weekend we realized there is actually a pan-Asian mall (suburban Chinatown?) not too far from our house that has a big grocery store and a bunch of restaurants (Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, etc.). We decided to try one that served Szechuan food, after spotting some yummy looking hot pots in the window.

I know Szechuan food is hot, but wow. We ordered a bowl of spicy fish and soft tofu, and it blew our faces off.

The fish was basically just floating in a pool of pure chili oil. It was really good though. The spice flavor is actually similar to pumpkin pie spice or something like that.

This weekend we also had dinner with a friend of Mike’s from high school. His wife tipped us of to a bakery in Chinatown that makes the tastiest sweet and savory buns. I am just totally overwhelmed by the options here, after spending my whole life in places with essentially the same menus (sweet and sour this, General Tso’s that). Which I love, don’t get me wrong. It’s just so cool to feel like I have a whole new world of food exploration.

When we got out to our car after dinner we found a paper menu stuck to the windshield for another restaurant.

It features the unfortunately named “cat ear like” dish.

And a host of other fascinating things.

I tend not to have an Andrew Zimmern-like palate, but maybe I’ll get there eventually.

After my mouth cooled off I decided that I deserved a little treat, both for surviving dinner and for putting in some tough hikes this week. We ended up trying Tara’s Organic Ice Cream, which I’d heard was really good.

Oh my, were they right.

All day long I’d been watching college basketball and seeing constant adds and sponsorship logos for Reese’s products, so I opted for a scoop of chocolate and peanut butter. Mike tried the garam masala and Mayan chocolate flavors. They were all out of salted caramel, which was what I really wanted. Next time…

It was some of the best ice cream I’ve ever had. Plus, the scoops were tiny (and of course came in tiny compostable cups), so we didn’t even feel bad about indulging. It was the perfect little treat.

We only have about 50,000 restaurants left to try…

I am thinking about putting together a travel guide of my favorites here in case you want to know what to do/eat when you come visit!

Loving: more new foods

Have you ever tried kombucha?

It’s a fermented tea, which means it’s sort of like tea combined with soda or alcohol — a little fizzy, with a definite tang. The label even has to have a warning about the alcohol content. It took me a little to get used to the taste, but I did like it. It’s very low calorie, and has probiotics, so it should be good for digestion.

At the store Mike wanted to buy some carrot chips for snacks.

At first I was like, um, do we really need that many carrot chips? But then I started eating them, and they are awesome!

This week I’ve been making mini pizzas with these honey-wheat thin buns.

The combination of leftover shrimps, provolone, and pine nuts was really good.

We ate our little pizzas with spinach-strawberry salad.

It’s just the best combination. I used to think I didn’t like spinach as salad, but I’m coming around.

And my final discovery this week: roasted edamame.

I added a little cayenne pepper to mine, and they came out so good. I’ve been hearing edamame is a good alternative to tofu (which is pretty processed) in recipes, and this preparation has me sold.

Cashew cream cheesecake

Between my farmers market experience and Joy blogging about cashew-oat milk, I decided to try my hand at making cashew cream.

At first I wasn’t sure what to make with it. Should I make a dip? Or just nut milk? But in the end I decided it would be fun to try a cheesecake.

I used this recipe. I was out of dates, so my crust was basically just a mix of almonds, pecans, and a little agave nectar. But if I had to do it over I think I would just use my recipe for fruit/nut bars instead. It’s so tasty, why mess with it?

So to make this version of non-dairy cheese, you start by soaking cashews overnight in water.

By morning they kind of plump up, just like when you soak dried beans.

Drain the cashews and put them in the food processor with lemon juice, agave and a little vanilla. I was thinking next time it might be nice to put in a little vanilla bean. Or you could blend in strawberries or blueberries for a fruity cheesecake or cacao powder for chocolate.

I think I could have gotten a creamier consistency here if I had a Vitamix, but I tried blending this in our regular blender and it basically just laughed at me. The food processor did a pretty good job.

Then you just assemble the cheesecake. Press the crust into the bottom of a glass dish.

Then spread the cashew cream on top. Put it in the freezer for a couple of hours to harden before serving.

I don’t think this resembles real cheesecake at all in taste, but it’s incredible close in texture. And since it’s basically all protein (you decide how sweet it should be), it makes a great energizing snack that you don’t have to feel guilty about.

Overall, thumbs up.

Playing tourists

To be honest, I still feel like I am a tourist when I’m wandering around San Francisco. But I usually avoid Fisherman’s Wharf and other touristy sites at all costs because the crowds make me crazy.

This weekend, though, we decided that instead of taking a road trip, we’d explore a place locally that Mike and I hadn’t seen yet — Alcatraz.

We got up early on Saturday, took the (surprisingly crowded) BART across the bay, and started our day at the Ferry Building market. If you ever visit San Francisco, I highly recommend stopping there because the building itself is full of all these great local artisan foodie shops.

My favorites? Blue Bottle Coffee, of course. I had a cafe au lait, my first coffee in a long time. I decided I’m okay with some caffeine here and there. (Just no Diet Coke…) Next time we have to try Blue Bottle’s little handheld Belgian waffles. Have to!

(Side note: I love how disposable things like cups, lids, and plastic silverware here are all compostable, and there are separate bins for compost in public spaces. Also, Mike says a lot of coffee places give discounts for bringing your own cup. It’s just easy to be green.)

Also I fell in the love with the adorable Miette bakery. Resisting sugar was almost impossible there.

For breakfast we decided to have a mini rhubarb galette and a vegan yogurt/fruit parfait. I didn’t take a photo of the parfait, but it was really good. We also tried a vegan cheesecake made with cashew cream, which inspired me to make a similar recipe at home. I’ll share that with you soon.

We also picked up some of these dried orange slices to snack on later. (Which reminds me – the tangerines I wrote about the other day? Those were actually Shasta mandarins. Oops!)

I’ve never seen so many different kinds of dried fruits (and mushrooms, and cheeses, and lavendar-infused gourmet salts…). This definitely inspired me to go to farmers markets more often.

After breakfast, we wandered down the pier and just enjoyed the beautiful day.

Coit Tower and Telegraph Hill.

We were glad we remembered the previous night to check on tickets because they were sold out by Saturday morning. Can’t imagine what it’s like in the summertime.

After a short ferry ride we got to The Rock.

It is as daunting and crumbling and creepy as you think it would be.

Our tour guide sort of looked like Drew Carey but needed a little more practice at his stand-up.

I didn’t know about the native American occupation in 1969, so I was intrigued to learn about that part.

Inside, I just couldn’t believe how small everything was. I can’t imagine spending years and years trapped inside such a small building, let alone the microscopic cells.

The ironic part is that Alcatraz probably has the best view of San Francisco you can find.

Love all the sailboats near the Golden Gate.

By the time we finished our tour, the sky had turned gray and it was starting to get colder.

We checked out the birds, including these cormorants with their whiskery feathers, and some of the cool flowers.

After we got back, we decided to keep playing tourists. We stopped at Boudin Bakery and got a sourdough bread bowl with clam chowder. Mike said, “Isn’t that pretty much everything you don’t eat anymore?”

It’s true. But I figured since we split it and ate it with a huge salad after walking all day, I could make an exception.

We’re having visitors soon, so I’m sure we’ll get to play tourists again in the near future. I still haven’t been up to Coit Tower or seen the Telegraph Hill parrots, among other things. There is just so much to explore here. So. much. I love it.

Tangerine soda and other goodies

I guess it goes without saying that we have a better selection of citrus fruits now that we live in California. Not only that but it’s quite a bit cheaper. So after I got the Meyer lemons, I decided to try some tangerines. They’re a little warped looking from the outside, but inside they are the brightest orange color, and so juicy.

Taking a cue from Kristin’s mocktail, I thought I’d try making the juice into a soda. So I mixed the juice of one tangerine with about 8 ounces of sparkling mineral water, and it turned out great.

Definitely less sweet than regular soda. It feels sort of like a grownup version of soda.

I couldn’t seem to get a decent photo of the drink, but I liked it, and I think I’ll try it with other juices. Sometimes I get sick of water and tea, yanno?

Speaking of trying new things, I had to show you this yogurt I got.

Every time I saw these cute little crocks of St. Benoit yogurt in the store I wanted to buy one, but at $2.95 I couldn’t quite justify it.

Well, it turns out you’re really just paying a deposit for the returnable container, so I bit the bullet and got one. Along with these huge strawberries and some locally made granola, I thought I’d make myself a little yogurt parfait for breakfast.

The yogurt itself is a lot like my old favorite, Cultural Revolution. It’s kind of soupy with chunks of cream mixed in. Not pretty like the Yoplaits you’re used to, but that’s how you know it’s a little closer to it’s original form.

I have to say, though, that I liked the cute crock a lot better than the yogurt itself. It was so watery it turned my granola into mush. It didn’t seem creamy or tangy or any of the things that make yogurt so good. Plus it has a lot more calories than Cultural Revolution. I can’t get that here, though, so I’ll stick to my new favorite, Clover Organic.

A couple other tips to share:

• Dates are my new pantry staple item.

Mike eats them plain as snacks, and I use them to make my fruit/nut bars. They are super sweet, and the perfect binder when blended.

I like medjool dates. Just make sure you take the pits out or buy them already pitted. Those things will mangle a food processor.

• I decided that if I was going to eat salad more often I better get good at making my own dressings. I got this cute little dressing shaker at Target.

It even has recipes on the side that show you how high to fill the ingredients so it couldn’t be any easier.

I’ve been eating the honey mustard this week. It’s a little heavy on the honey, but I can always change that next time.

What else makes a good salad dressing?

Braised red cabbage

My friend Kimberly brought this recipe to my 30th birthday fancypants potluck, and I’ve been wanting to make it ever since. For a cabbage dish it has really complex flavors, and when you add some crunchy walnuts and creamy goat cheese, it becomes even better.

Braised red cabbage with walnuts and goat cheese

4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons raw sugar
1 onion, chopped
1 head red cabbage, shredded
2 tart apples, peeled and sliced thin
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup dry red wine
1/2 cup water
salt to taste
Goat cheese and chopped walnuts (optional)

Use a saute pan with high sides or a big pot, as the cabbage starts out pretty big but cooks down.

Heat the oil and sugar over medium for two minutes, then add the onion and cook until the sugar starts to brown. Stir in the cabbage, apples, vinegar, cayenne, salt, and red wine.

Cover the pan and simmer for 10 minutes.

Reduce heat to low, add water and cook (covered) for 40-50 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle with cheese and walnuts before serving. The original recipe called for blue cheese, so feel free to substitute that if you like it better.

We ate ours with fried eggs, which just seemed like the right accompaniment. Mike said his German ancestors would be proud.