Posted by: acooksca | 08/17/2015

San Francisco’s Cliff House

Cliff House Popovers

Cliff House Popovers

For the past two years San Francisco has been unusually sunny and warm. Yesterday, when the National Weather Service issued a heat advisory for The City, it was time to catch a cooling breeze at the Cliff House. Poised above the Pacific Ocean on the western headland of San Francisco, the Cliff House overlooks the ruins of Sutro Baths and out to the Farallon Islands 27 miles off shore. From inside the casual eatery, called The Bistro, a wall of windows exposes the view south down Ocean Beach. There is an even more dramatic view looking north, from Sutro’s Restaurant. Through floor to ceiling windows you watch the sea crash along cliffs at the entrance to the Golden Gate, where more then 30 ships have been pounded to pieces on the rocks. Today we are there to sip a cooling cocktail at the long zinc-topped bar and gaze at a panorama which seems to stretch all the way to Japan. Read More…

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Posted by: acooksca | 07/06/2015

Could Portland be America’s Best Cocktail Town?

Kask and bartender Erin in Portland cocktails

Kask and bartender Erin 

The craft cocktail craze of the past 15 years has advanced the sipping options through out the country. In most every town you can find a well-crafted, interesting cocktail. But Portland, Oregon could be my favorite. In a town known for off-beat locals who take conventional pre-occupations casually they are fanatically particular about their cocktails. If a millimeter larger ice cube is “best”, then they hand chip one to order even if it takes 5 minutes. Unlike San Francisco, New York or even Seattle, Portland is compact and un-crowded, making it easy to stroll between a dozen unique cocktail lounges in a few blocks of Downtown and the Pearl district. Read More…

Posted by: acooksca | 06/02/2015

Inside Tabasco

Visiting Tabasco

Visiting Tabasco

Avery Island, Louisiana is the home of one of my husband Bruce’s favorite things in the world, Tabasco Sauce. He is not the only one. Tabasco Sauce is the most asked-for-by-name hot sauce in the world and is shipped to 110 countries. It is made from a recipe that hasn’t changed since the 1880’s and has only three ingredients: peppers, salt and vinegar. There must be more to it than that, I thought. So we fly to Lafayette and drive a rural highway 34 miles south to the Tabasco Factory and Country Store. We discover that the ingredients are few but special, the process is simple but takes 3 years and each step is still watched over by the descendants of the original maker.

In 1862, Edmund McIlhenny discovered solid salt 16 feet below the surface of Avery Island in Southern Louisiana. McIlhenny established the first rock salt mine in the U.S. and sold his salt to the Confederates during the Civil War for preserving everything from vegetables and meats to cadavers. That same salt is now mined at 2,200 feet and is suspected to go down for miles.

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Posted by: acooksca | 06/02/2015

Tabasco Tequila Shrimp

Tabasco Shrimp

Tabasco Shrimp

Tabasco Sauce is a staple at our house where it fires up everything from cottage cheese to Parmesan rolled in tortillas. In this recipe it adds depth and interest to a sauce for quickly cooked shrimp.

Here’s another use for Tabasco, in a cocktail. Friends of ours recently served a pitcher of Tabasco seasoned cajun lemonade. It is a perfect accompaniment to the shrimp.  Find the recipe here:         http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/cajun-lemonade-cocktails-2009.

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Posted by: acooksca | 05/02/2015

Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone

The Lucky Penny in the Funk Zone

The Lucky Penny in the Funk Zone

Sandwiched in the few blocks between its famous beach and the Pacific Coast Highway is Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone. During the past decade this district of small, aged warehouses has been revitalized by local artists, artisans, urban wineries and hip eateries. The Zone isn’t so much funky as it is a neighborhood with a sub-culture of creativity.

Seated in a sunny courtyard made intimate by wall-art and foliage we begin our day at The Lucky Penny. Breakfast starts with carefully made espresso drinks and fresh squeezed orange juice. From the diminutive kitchen’s wood burning oven we choose one of several cast-iron casseroles: eggs, chorizo, potatoes, cotija cheese and salsa verde. Along side is crisp ciabatta toast. Read More…

Posted by: acooksca | 05/02/2015

Edamame with Miso and Chili

Edamame with miso and chili

Edamame with miso and chili

Edamame soy bean pods, often found cooked in the produce section, make a tasty vegetable accompaniment to cocktails. They are tossed with a miso based sauce, cooked quickly over high heat and served while hot. Make the cocktails first and have your serving bowl and plenty of napkins ready before cooking. You want the pods to be speckled with blackened sauce so use a non-stick pan for easy cleanup. Read More…

Posted by: acooksca | 03/12/2015

SFO to NAS, with Food Stops in Between

Flying over The Bahamas

Flying over The Bahamas

Last month we flew a small plane from San Francisco to Nassau, Bahamas and back, stopping at places we have never been before. We found memorable local foods, the top rated clam chowder in the country and a really curious spoon shortage. Here are some highlights.

Franklin’s Bar-b-q in Austin – I got an email from Robb Walsh, cookbook writer and restaurant reviewer for the Houston Press, saying if we hit one bar-b-q place it had to be Franklin’s for the best brisket you’ll ever eat. I was hoping he had a different suggestion. The lines at Franklin’s can be 3 hours long and when the kitchen runs out they just close up. But this was a good day. The man in front of us was willing to be late for his part in a State hearing because the line was shorter than he had ever seen.

After a quick hour we made it to the cutting board. And we have to say that Read More…

Posted by: acooksca | 02/10/2015

San Antonio’s Chili Queens

San Antonio River Walk

San Antonio River Walk

We are in San Antonio, the seat of one of the oldest regional cuisines in the U.S., to see if there is any remnant left of the Chili Queens. As our guide we have a copy of Robb Walshs The Tex Mex Cookbook, a history in recipes and photos. I trust Robb Walsh (three time winner of the James Beard Award, 10-year veteran as restaurant critic at the Houston Press, book writer and Texas BBQ guru) to give us the straight scoop. He makes the argument that Tex Mex is not Mexican but a cuisine of indigenous cooking techniques and ingredients of South Texas merged with those of 18th century Spanish settlers. Many dishes have been generally adopted (often miss-represented) throughout the U.S. but the first to be widely embraced was Chili con Carne. And that dish had been the domain of the Chili Queens of San Antonio since the early 1800’s. Read More…

Posted by: acooksca | 01/17/2015

A Cioppino of Her Own

Fishman's Wharf fleet

Fishman’s Wharf fleet

Last month we were invited to a cioppino dinner at the house of a close friend. Our soup bowls were piled with perfectly cooked seafood: Dungeness crab in the shell, crab meat, mussels, clams, prawns, plump scallops and fillet of white fish in a complex soup of fish stock, tomatoes, seasonings and Zinfandel. This was a contemporary version of the classic soup of San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf.

Food historians generally agree cioppino originated with Genoese fishermen in 19th century San Francisco. Felucca style sailing boats were centered in Italy Harbor (now known as Fisherman’s Wharf) and by 1882 there were 1,000 boats and a thriving trade union called The Italian Fisherman’s Association. In the early 20th century small gas engine powered Monterey-Hull boats, still seen at the old wharf today, made it possible to fish more days and go further out The Golden Gate, improving the catch. On the docks, a communal pot of the Ligurian seafood soup known as ciuppin evolved into cioppino. Required elements were tomatoes, wine and a variety of fish, (whatever the catch of the day brought) and stale bread to line the bottom of the soup bowls. Read More…

Posted by: acooksca | 12/16/2014

Furnace Creek in the Winter

 Mesquite Flat Dunes

Mesquite Flat Dunes

Summer is not the time to visit Furnace Creek (they boast a recorded  air temperature of 134 degrees on a July day, a world record.) Winter, however, offers stunningly clear days of 70+ degrees. Take a ramble around the three million acres of Death Valley National Park. Plant yourself at the pool of the historic Furnace Creek Inn and watch the sun set over the mountains. And after a good meal there, sit by the oasis and stargaze at one of the darkest skies in the U.S. Read More…

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