Monday, December 18, 2006

Good Coffee

I was thinking about coffee this evening, craving a post-dinner espresso. Coffee that can make me close my eyes in pleasure when I sip the first warm taste. Not all coffee can do that... It is remarkably rare in fact. But I have been able to find places that make it just right.

It is not an addiction, my love of coffee. I can easily skip days or even weeks without any. In fact, if I'm in a spot where I haven't found any good coffee, I'd easily get a hot chocolate or another drink instead of drinking the bad stuff.

In my opinion, one of the most common problems with coffee in the U.S. is that the beans are burnt. "Dark roast" they call it, but charred to death is what it really means.

In San Francisco, there are a few places that can truly satisfy my longing: Blue Bottle is one of them, coincidentally named after something else that I'm quite fond of. Gabby took me there when I first began editing her film, after we'd discovered a common love of good food and, among other things, coffee. But now, you can find their coffee everywhere. My current favourite place to have a Blue Bottle Cappuccino is in Berkeley, at the lovely Guerilla Café, where they serve the most perfectly poached eggs and they have a waffle curator. Now that should give you an idea of how seriously they take their waffles.

Ritual Café (also in San Francisco) serves Stumptown coffee, another coffee that I love, which is shipped down from Portland, Oregon, where I drank their coffee for the first time.

And then, there was Café Organica which has mysteriously closed and left an empty place in my heart. No idea what happened, just one day, one sad saturday morning, I put a big fleece over my lounge-about-the-house-wear, and shuffled, half asleep, on over only to find the doors closed and huge metal chains keeping the door shut. And that was that. To this day the corner is the same: the remnants of the café are now strewn about the interior and it looks completely abandoned. And this came so shortly after they were written up as the number one best coffee in the city. Whatever happened to them?

*sigh* So only two places in the city right now whose coffee I love. Perhaps I simply need to explore more.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Tahoe Tday Foods

Despite the fact that I slaved over a homemade caramelized shallot and port cranberry sauce (ok, slaved may be a bit of an overstatement), I've been repeatedly informed over the years that Thanksgiving would not be Thanksgiving without the perfectly shaped canned cranberry jelly.

Naturally, we only have documentation of the canned stuff. Really, I did make the real thing! And it's all I ate, too!!

Pecan Popovers with Parsley & Thyme - These were more popunders than over. I had forgotten to bring muffin trays with me to Tahoe, so our bright, resourceful sous-chefs put together a plan that involved oven-safe mugs. It worked well enough that we ended up with tasty bread like rolls, but not quite well enough for them to work as popovers.

First thing I did when I arrived in Tahoe on wednesday night was start brining the turkey. I normally do a brine that involves some sort of sweetener (honey, maple syrup, molasses) but this was the first year that the brine was just salt water, black pepper and herbs. I then rubbed herb butter under its skin before roasting. The bird was quite tasty, very juicy and flavourful.

This recipe was originally supposed to be glazed carrot ribbons, but the baby carrots were so cute and fresh looking, I had to do that instead.

The carrots were boiled briefly then glazed with melted butter, orange juice and seasoned with salt and pepper. Some chopped parsley for garnish and they were ready to go.

In the Kitchen

standing in the kitchen
Originally uploaded by snarshad.
I had the best slew of sous-chefs a girl can ask for. And a fabulous kitchen!!

Molly, Robert, the only vaguely sous-cheffy Schleef and me.

Molly the happy sous chef
Originally uploaded by snarshad.
Molly, with the glowing halo of the perfect sous-chef.

Me wearing Robert's Slow Food apron (mine's blue and I forgot to bring it)

Sara cooking
Originally uploaded by snarshad.

Sonia, looking more glam than sous-chef, was a sous-cheffing rockstar nonetheless.
Originally uploaded by snarshad.

Endive and Beet Salad

Endive salad
Originally uploaded by snarshad.
Based on an epicurious recipe, this salad was quite simple:
I used golden and red beets, boiled then sliced. The topping was crumbled roquefort cheese, chopped parsley and a dijon lemon dressing.


Fig in a pig

Fig in a pig
Originally uploaded by snarshad.
Formerly known as Dates à la Paco, this dish does not actually contain any figs at all. A pitted date stuffed with a toasted almond and wrapped in bacon, then baked till the bacon is crisp.

Quite tasty, pretty decadent. Why we decided to go with "Figs in a Pig" or even "Figs in a Piglet" (better meter?) is a testament to the lovely champagne cocktails with which we kicked off our evening.

Thanksgiving Feast

Thanksgiving is one of my favourite holidays. Having never celebrated it all that much while growing up in Tunisia, I don't have any set traditions that I feel compelled to follow. So when I moved to the Bay Area years ago, I began hosting a strays' Thanksgiving for all my friends who weren't going home.

As long as I provided one can of the cranberry jelly (served in it's original shape), I could get away with making pretty much anything I wanted, and I began to look forward to this event as the perfect arena for me to practice a huge variety of new recipe.

So without further ado, the next series of posts will be the Tahoe Thanksgiving menu, taken from the lovely Flickr photos of Arshad the Magnificent.


Hors d'Oeuvres
Fig in a Pig (formerly known as Dates à la Paco)
Endive Beet Salad

Butternut Squash & Roasted Garlic Bisque

Main Course
Herb-brined Herb-butter Turkey
Sara’s Stuffing
Herb-Butter Gravy

Mashed Potatoes with Garlic, Mascarpone and Caramelized Leeks
Cipollini onions slow cooked in a balsamic reduction
Casserole aux Haricots Verts - An updated version of the classic, Green Bean Casserole
Pecan Popovers with Parsley &Thyme
Orange Glazed Baby Carrots

JJ's Pumpkin Cheesecake
Ms. Molly's Apple Crisp

Monday, November 27, 2006

Chipotle Bar - Byrne & Carlson

The discovery of this chocolate (a week or so ago, during my first visit to Fog City News) has led me to create this new category for Le Fabuleux Destin: Chocolate reviews. I've always loved chocolate and had already been taking lovely little trips to Bittersweet and Café Cacao with some friends, but this chocolate is the first I've had that made me want to share it with the world! (The news that the chocolate, not the chocolate itself... I want to keep that to myself.)

The Chipotle Bar is described thusly:
Garnished with Sea Salt - 70 percent cacao. A robust bittersweet Venezuelan chocolate spiced with chipotle pepper and sprinkled with Welsh sea salt.
At first bite, I wasn't so sure I'd love it: it was quite hard and seemed dry but it quickly began a perfect, smooth slow melting. The sea salt on the top is delicate, not overwhelming and completely tantalizing. The chipotle is very subtle but definitely intriguing. I've tried my fair share of spicy chocolate, and this is by far the best I've had.

I now have to figure out how to categorize these chocolates. I have difficulty giving overall grades, so I think I'll break it down into characteristics I look for.

Cacao power:
Intensity of the cacao. (I tend to like them dark and intense, so in general, higher percentage of cacao would rate higher)
Meltiness: This isn't always a factor of amount of cocoa butter used or cream... and sometimes darker chocolates can be meltier than milk chocolates.
Flavour Complexity: Not necessarily what spices are used... a lovely dark chocolate piece that has no additional spices can often be more complex than a multi-ingredient extravaganza.

So for this bar:
Cacao power: 5 beans Meltiness: 4.5 beans Flavour Complexity: 5 beans

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Beard Papa Cream Puffs

Who know I'd fall for a cream puff? Well, perhaps Ivonne is onto something... I mean, not that I ever doubted it, but I don't think I ever fully understood it.

For Big E's birthday this past weekend, instead of a cake, we got a dozen cream puffs from my new friend, Beard Papa. Yum! They're phenomenal - the pastry is light as air, the cream... *sigh* Rich, flavourful, incredibly smooth.

They come in vanilla (with little specks of vanilla bean), chocolate, chocolate covered and the special flavour du jour. This time, the flavour was caramel. Swoon.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Basteeya at Aziza

As any good Tunisian citizen, I'm stubbornly convinced that ours is the best of North African cuisine. More importantly, like many other Tunisians, I am somewhat inclined to believe that those Morroccans are just plain crazy with their sweet & savory mixtures. I prefer the intensely spiced tomato-based sauces with lots of garlic and onions.

Shattering these prejudices, I've eaten twice now at San Francisco's Aziza. Some of the best Morroccan food I've ever eaten is prepared by the somewhat amusingly named chef Mourad Lahlou (which translates to Mourad the sweet one).

There I discovered the basteeya. It arrives piping hot, a buttery phyllo pie filled with saffron braised chicken, ground spiced almonds and a sprinkling of powdered sugar and cinnamon. (The dish is typically made with pigeon, but as I haven't tried that version, I was quite content with the chicken).

The ground nuts and sweet crispy phyllo make this dish taste a lot like baklawa or other middle eastern sweet desserts. The spiced warm ground chicken is at first surprising but then incredibly satisfying and richly savory. The combination is divine.

I was told that couscous was considered by Morroccans to be the peasant food whereas basteeya showed a more elevated social status. Based on this specimen alone (and compared to Morroccan, but not to Tunisian, couscous), I would have to agree.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Argan Oil

I know, I know, the description of how this oil is obtained may frighten some of you off, but be strong, be daring - Don't let it! This oil is a miracle of flavour.

Tonight, I made one of my quick dinner standbys: green lentils cooked with a chopped onion, some herbs and red wine topped with a poached egg. That's the basic recipe, but I always include something else to embellish the dish. Tonight, I broiled some asparagus, chopped them into a bowl and topped them with the lentils and egg, a sliced half avocado on each bowl, then drizzled some balsamic vinegar and Argan oil on top.

The Argan moved this quick meal from pretty good to a culinary treat. It added a certain earthiness, or perhaps, umami. Adding the merest drizzle was enough to change the entire dish, as much as adding truffle oil or a shaving of boutargue. The nuttiness of the oil was perfectly complemented by the slightly sweet balsamic. I need to stock up on this stuff.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Around the World in a Meme

Ann, from A Chicken in Every Granny Cart, tagged me for this meme quite a while back and since I have to figure out how to answer memes properly in the Exploring blog, I've decided that this blog would be my solution. After all, most of the memes usually end up involving things that I like.

1. Please List Three Recipes You Have Recently Bookmarked From A Food Blog To Try.

2. A Food Blog In Your Vicinity.

  • Me Eats
    Discovered through the Food Bloggers Google Map, Me Eats seems to be incredibly close to me. Even more amusingly, seems to have also recently returned from a trip to Europe with luggage full of smuggled foodie bits. But I haven't done nearly as elegant a job of documenting my treats - I should take note!

3. A Food Blog Located Far From You.

  • Sal's Virtual Tapas Bar
    Always a fun read, Sal's blog is currently letting me live my dream of moving to Spain vicariously. Or making me want to move there even more. Either way, I enjoy it very much.

4. A Food Blog (Or Several) That You Have Discovered Recently (and where did you find it?)

  • Life Begins at 30
    I stumbled upon this recently when researching "Eating Locally" and enjoy it very much. I think I'll have to look into taking part in the challenge, if it isn't too late!

5 - Any People Or Bloggers You Want To Tag With This Meme?

  • Anyone I've mentioned in this post can consider themselves tagged!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Panna Cotta

Oh Panna Cotta! Lovely panna cotta, the traditional Piemontese specialty literally translated as cooked milk, was served to us after every meal in Bra. Each restaurant so pleased to introduce us to the local specialty. Each chef so proud of her recipe for this delicacy. Subtly sweetened, smooth and creamy, panna cotta is most often served with fruit or a sweet sauce, such as caramel or a fruit coulis.

This is a dessert that should be eaten oh so slowly, each spoonful savoured as the cream yields to the pressure from my tongue and dissolves in my mouth. In my opinion, the sauce is superfluous - the panna cotta is perfect in its simplest, purest form.

Miracle of miracles, a simple google search so quickly yields the recipe from the restaurant that served me the very best panna cotta I had in all of Bra, The Boccondivino.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

DJ Don Pasta - Le Macabre, Bra, Italy

Opening night of the Bra Slow Food & Short Film Festival, the afterparty at the Macabre, Bra's top night club. Bra's only nightclub.

The jazz band begins to play: an accordian, a drummer, a clarinet and a bass tackling John Coltrane's My Favourite Things. On the screen, a man's hands slice eggplant, beat an egg, hands reach into a bowl of raw ground meat and mix in herbs, bread crumbs, and other seasonings. Suddenly, a man stands up at the mic, scruffy and a bit disheveled. He reads from a sheet of white paper in Italian. He's describing what he's making, but he isn't reading a recipe, it is more like the poetry of cooking. The music plays on - chopping garlic and making a tomato sauce on the stove. The camera pans up to the cook's face and it's our poet - DJ Don Pasta. He's smiling down at the pot. Meanwhile, on the stage, he puts aside the sheet of paper and sits back down, tapping his foot to the music.

On the screen, he fries the breaded eggplant, then he begins to layer the various ingredients in a big ceramic dish: eggplant, tomato sauce, meatballs, prosciutto, grated cheese and so on. Don Pasta stands at the mic again and begins to read again. This time he speaks of the music being played and how it suits what he is making. His voice is hypnotic - I understand most of what he is saying but it is easy to get lost in the crescendo of the music, the frenzy of cooking is also building, the audience around me is rapt, swaying to the music, staring at the screen. Finally, Don Pasta sits down while his onscreen self presents the audience with a finished casserole, fresh from the oven, golden and bubbling, as the band reaches its grand finale. He calls the dish "il castello di leggerissime melanzane" - the castle of the lightest eggplant. The piece is entitled "My Favourite Parmigiana."

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Restaurant La Diligence - Montpellier

This smallish restaurant, tucked in the pedestrian downtown area of Montpellier, not far from La Comédie, was delightful. When we first walked in, I was struck by the coziness & warmth. Despite the high stone vaulted ceilings, the dining room wasn't at all austere or cold. The colours were rich and the lighting cast a softening glow on the walls.

First we sampled the house equivalent of a kir royale, where instead of kir in the champagne, they put a homemade raspberry liqueur. For my appetizer, I had the beef carpaccio, wisp thin, with shavings of parmigian.

The main course was my favourite, not only the dish I'd selected but also its presentation and side vegetables. I had chosen a Mille Feuille d'Agneau (thousand-leaves of lamb). Normally, mille feuilles are tons of layers of puff pastry filled with cream. In this case, it appears that the tender lamb was what replaced the pastry... A thousand layers of lamb - I swooned!

The mille feuille came on a large plate that ended up resembling a painter's palette: The lamb was in the center surrounded by splashes of colour - a tablespoon of carrot purée, a tiny stacked ratatouille (eggplant, tomato, and zucchini), a dab of Gratin Dauphinois (decadently rich potatoes, cream and cheese). Not one of the sides was more than a few tastes, and it was the perfect complement to the meat, just enough variety to keep tantalizing your taste buds without feeling like an overstuffed sofa.

The dessert, a tiramisu served in a parfait glass, was so light it floated onto my tongue and evaporated, leaving behind a mere hint of chocolate and cream.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Ristorante Da Cesari - Bologna

Via dei Carbonesi, 8, Bologna - Telefono: 051 237710

One of my top three* favourite restaurants in Italy, Da Cesari draws me back every year for a culinary pilgrimage. Once you are seated, the waiter will list the items that were prepared that day. A limited menu, but this is perhaps due to that fact that the chef exclusively uses produce from the "Umberto Cesari" farm.

My most recent meal:

A spring antipasti medley:
A delicate artichoke flan with a rich creamy sauce
Roasted sliced artichokes with shavings of sharp pecorino romano
Steamed asparagus topped with a hard boiled egg topping

Hand-rolled spinach pasta with the local specialty ragù
Fresh tagliatelle with a basil pesto

Beef fillet topped with prosciutto and melted cheese

Semifreddi di Zabaglione - This dessert was a masterpiece: I was not able to dicern the liqueur used in the zabaglione but the burnt caramel topping was phenomenal - bitter, creamy and sweet.

* For the curious, my other two favourites are Ombre Rosse in Parma and the recently discovered Osteria della Piazzetta in Rimini.

Thursday, April 20, 2006


I seem to forget about it while we're away, but perhaps rediscovering this cheese, every year upon our return to Rimini, is worth the small lapse. Creamy & cloudlike, squaquerone is the angel of cheeses. Our first day at the beach, we go to our Horned Melons welcoming outpost and I order a Piedina with Squaquerone, prosciutto crudo and arugula. The combination is perfectly salty, a touch of bitterness from the arugula balanced with smooth and tangy cheese. Heavenly.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Primus Olive Oil

A meandering non-productive day led me to A16 right around lunchtime. I'd never been, so I decided to grab a little lunch there. I chose a lovely salad of beets, fennel & shaved pecorino romano, but more on that later.

On the side, I was given some fresh bread with a little dipping bowl of olive oil.
It was phenomenal: fruity and nutty, very flavourful. It reminded me of Ommi, my wonderful Tunisian grandmother, who always had a vat of Tunisian olive that she would scoop out in a little tea cup and occasionally let us dip some fresh baguette into. She often told us that most ailments could be cured with some good olive oil.

Back at A16, I asked what kind of olive oil it was and was told it was Primus olive oil. It was delicious.