DIY: Red Hawk Potato Gratin

Who doesn’t like potatoes, cream, and cheese? If you are willing to fork out some cash for some Cowgirl Creamery cheese, I promise that you can produce a delicious potato gratin.  
Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes, California makes some of my favorite cheeses. The Marin County artisan business started in the 1990’s and has expanded to include a cheese shop in San Francisco’s Ferry Building. Although you can get their cheese at many Bay Area grocers including Whole Foods, they still make their rounds to Farmer’s Markets around the Bay Area including the Saturday market at Grand Lake in Oakland.  

Red Hawk is one of their most winningest cheeses and is the featured ingredient for this potato gratin recipe. Made from organic cow’s milk, Red Hawk is a triple-cream cheese that has been aged for four weeks and washed with a brine solution.  
This recipe for Red Hawk Potato Gratin is adapted from Cowgirl Creamery Cooks:
Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium sized onion, julienned
  • 3 cloves garlic, diced
  • 3 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, sliced thin
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 10 ounces Red Hawk, cut into wedges (including rind)

 

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium heat and add butter and olive oil to pan. Add onions and garlic and sauté until soft (about ten minutes).

 
Turn off heat and add heavy whipping cream and half of the grated parmesan cheese.  Mix well.
 
Transfer half of the onion-cream mixture into a casserole dish, and layer half of the potatoes to the pan. Add half of the Red Hawk cheese wedges. 
 
Layer on the remaining potatoes, Red Hawk wedges, and the onion-cream mixture. Sprinkle with the rest of the Parmesan cheese.
 
Cover the casserole dish with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another half hour or until the top is brown and bubbly.

  

The results are amazing.

Featuring Lithuanian Cuisine in Alameda

Mama Papa Lithuania claims to be the only restaurant serving Lithuanian food on the West Coast. If this is true, I am feeling very fortunate that it happens to be located in the 510. Located on Park Street in Alameda, Mama Papa Lithuania is a destination to explore Northern European cuisine.  

I had lunch there with a group of friends so we sampled quite a few dishes. We started the meal with some fried Lithuanian rye bread. This black bread is fried in oil and rubbed with a garlicky paste. Apparently it is a best selling snack in Lithuania. The rye bread is very dense and it was the flavor of the garlic that made it shine for me.
  
I really enjoyed the cucumber salad which is mixed in a yogurt dill sauce and tossed with green onions. I found it to be very refreshing and loved the dill flavor.
 We each had our own soup. Some of us got the cream of mushroom soup and others got the borscht with mushroom. The mushroom soup was the perfect balance of broth and cream. The flavors brought on by the mushrooms and onions made it heavenly and I loved it.

 The borscht was a mix of beet and chicken broth and contained vegetables. This soup was topped with a dollop of sour cream. I have had Russian borscht before and thought this version was superior. 
 We ordered some potato pancakes with and without meat. These were probably my least favorite items which was a surprise since I really like potato pancakes in general. I didn’t like the consistency of the potatoes and it felt a little greasy.  
 The flour dumplings were pretty awesome. These traditional Lithuanian dumplings are handmade and stuffed with various fillings. We got the flour dumplings with potato and cheese filling which were soft pillows of goodness.  
Our waitress recommended their best seller, the stuffed cabbage rolls. The outside of the roll is cabbage and the inside is stuffed with seasoned ground pork and rice. The dish is served with boiled potatoes and dill pickles and made complete with their homemade sauce. It was nice to include this in our variety so we could have some additional protein.
  The flavors of Lithuanian cuisine is fairly mild. Some commonalities in the dishes I found are potatoes, dill, and sour cream. I pretty much enjoy those ingredients so I will be back. Next time it should be dinner so I can wash the food down with some Lithuanian beer.

Dol Ho(le in the wall)

Dol Ho in San Francisco Chinatown is the epitome of a hole in the wall. Every table could potentially become a community table, as I watched customers squeeze themselves in. My friend sat next to me, but strangers sat across from us.

Dol Ho is probably one of the last few dim sum restaurants that still have push carts. The majority of the customers at Dol Ho are at least 80 years old.  
  The most popular dish at Dol Ho is their spareribs over rice. Almost every table will order at least one of them. The spareribs are steamed with a black bean sauce and then a sweet soy sauce is poured over the ribs and rice. I often get an order to go so that I can have it for lunch the next day.
 
 My friend introduced me to a new dish at Dol Ho. It was a rice roll cooked with dried shrimp and chives. A sweet soy sauce is poured over these noodles and topped with cilantro. This dish is made to order which is nice because it comes out fresh and hot. I really enjoyed the consistency of the noodles and the flavors that the chives brought out.
 Those are the highlights of Dol Ho for me. We ordered a couple of other dim sum dishes that weren’t that interesting. It really only takes a few things to bring in customers to a restaurant. I will continue to get my spareribs over rice as take out, but it’s quite interesting to sit down at Dol Ho. You get a sense of Old Chinatown when you see the clients coming here on fixed incomes. They will come in using canes, walkers, and I even saw one in a wheelchair. Nothing will come between them and their spareribs over rice. The food at Dol Ho is authentic and cheap.  
  

DIY: Strawberries and Whipped Cream filled Cream Puffs

Last Sunday afternoon, I hung out with my two youngest nieces, ages 7 and 9. They wanted to bake. I was inspired to make cream puffs having recently eaten the Italian version, bigne alla crema from Ca’ momi in Napa. If you are in the area, you must visit Oxbow Market and pick up some of these delicious pastries.  

  Never having made cream puffs before, I searched for a simple recipe. I found a recipe online from King Arthur Flour. I use King Arthur flour and have been successful in the past using their recipes. I already had most of the ingredients. Fresh whipped cream would fill these pastry shells. I picked up some of the sweetest organic strawberries from the farmer’s market earlier in the morning so I would add that to the recipe. This recipe makes a dozen cream puffs.
Ingredients for pastry:

  • 1 cup water
  • 8 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/4 all purpose flour
  • 4 large eggs

Ingredients for filling:

  • 1 pint heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 basket of strawberries, washed and sliced

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 425°F. Place water, butter, and salt in a medium-sized saucepan over medium high heat. Let the butter melt. When the butter reaches boiling point, remove the pan from heat. Quickly add the flour and stir vigorously.

 Return the pan to the burner and cook over medium heat, stirring all the while, until the mixture smooths out and follows the spoon around the pan; this should take less than a minute.
 Remove the pan from the heat, and transfer dough to a mixing bowl and let the cool for 10 minutes. Beat eggs one at a time. Once last egg is in, beat for an additional 2 minutes.
 Measure out the dough into 3-4 tablespoons rounds and place them on a parchment paper lined baking sheet about 3 inches apart.
 Bake the pastries for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 350°F and bake for another 20 minutes. The pastries should be a medium golden brown. Do not open the oven door while the pastries are baking.
Remove the pastries from the oven. Make a small slit in the top of each, and return them to the oven for 5 minutes, to allow the steam to escape. Place them on a rack to cool. 
 To make the whipped cream, pour the heavy whipping cream into a mixing bowl, and begin to whip on high speed. Add sugar gradually as you whip. Continue to whip until stiff and smooth. 
  
The cream puffs are now ready for assembling.  
 Slice the cream puffs in half and fill the bottom halves of the puffs with whipped cream, add sliced strawberries, replace their tops, and dust with confectioners’ sugar.

 The nieces loved helping to make them and eat them. They especially loved the whipped cream.  

Celebrating La Borinquena Mex-icatessen

  
When I first heard that La Borinquena Mex-icatessen was closing after 71 years of business in Oakland, I felt a kind of sadness. La Borinquena is a Mexican restaurant with a cafeteria style setting. Tucked in the back of the restaurant, they have a little shop selling supplies such as spices and tortillas. In general, it’s usually not good news when a business has to close down in Oakland. I view it as a retirement and became happy and excited for them. Four generations of a family have operated the business for seven decades and have earned this awesome status. I call it success.  Friday, July 31, 2015 was their final day of operation. I went over for lunch the day before with a couple of colleagues to be one of the last patrons to enjoy the food of La Borinquena. There may have been about 25 customers ahead of us. I observed a family leaving with two huge buckets of masa. Others were leaving with bags of goodies. The party ahead of us have been regulars at La Borinquena all their lives. There was definitely a sense of history and celebration as I awaited.
 After about a thirty minute wait and changing my order in my head a few times, I made a last minute decision to order what one of the people ahead of me ordered. I got the carnitas plate which came with rice, beans, and tortillas. I enjoyed it very much. It probably tasted exactly like it tasted 71 years ago. There is something to be said about good tasting, classic food with no frills.

  
A friend of mine who grew up in Oakland and now living in the South Bay was sad about this closure. She requested some tamales from La Borinquena, so I ended up with half a dozen tamales to go.  
I froze my tamale. In the weeks to come when I crave a “Tina Tamale”, I can pull mine out and celebrate again. Congratulations La Borinquena Mex-icatessen on your retirement! 

If I were a Vegetarian…Encuentro

I started my food blog about five and a half years ago and my very first post was a recipe for farro salad. It was influenced by a dish I had at the vegan/vegetarian restaurant, Encuentro in Jack London Square. A lot has changed since then, including the restaurant moving to a new location less than a mile away from the old location. I was super excited to try Encuentro again because of their social media presence, particularly Instagram followers posting and raving about dishes there.

I met a friend on a weekday evening after work. It was after 5pm, so we started with some hard cider. I had apple and my friend had pear. It was light and refreshing for this warm summer night.  
There were a lot of dishes that were recommended to me, but unfortunately with only two of us we were somewhat limited. We started with a vegan appetizer of marinated mushroom and smoked pecan pate which came with crostini, cornichon, house made fig chutney, and mustard. This dish was spectacular. The flavor of the vegan pate was wonderful and very satisfying to my palette. 
 The macadamia ricotta with heirloom tomato, summer herbs, grilled corn, and balsamic was highly recommended to me. The ricotta is a vegan option, so I chose to replace it with burrata cheese so I could get a little fat. The dish amazed me with its beautiful color. My mind is actually blown because I am now realizing the balsamic on top was freeze dried. I don’t recall a crunch from the balsamic, but I also don’t remember dressing spilling on my hand while eating this. How interesting! This appetizer is served on a toasted baguette and was fresh and delicious. I felt like I was eating pizza bread.  
 We were getting quite full already so we shared one entree. I was curious to try the Korean BBQ tempeh. It came with sautéed bok choy, sesame roasted white turnips, kimchee, and rice. Tempeh is a soy product that is used as a meat substitute. This dish reinforced to me that I don’t like meat substitutes. I really enjoyed the flavors of the dish and all the vegetables that came with it. Instead of tempeh, I would have preferred the use of tofu. Another idea I would present to Encuentro would be a vegetarian bibimbap.  

 We couldn’t leave Encuentro without trying a vegan dessert. Our waiter told us that people in the surrounding Bay Area come to Encuentro specifically for their desserts. We were both intrigued by the chocolate zucchini brownie with vanilla and chocolate coconut ice cream, caramel and chocolate sauce, coconut whipped cream, and candied walnuts. The brownie was delicious, but it was everything else on top that I could not get enough of. This was a light version of a brownie sundae that was rich in flavor.  
 I left Encuentro very pleased. The kitchen does a great job using vegetables to create unique and innovative dishes that make you feel happy and satisfied. One of the best vegetarian meals I have had, I highly recommend Encuentro.  

 

DIY: Dirty Rice

Exactly one year ago today, I was invited to attend an Ottolenghi dinner party. At this party, attendees cooked recipes from Chef Yotam Ottolenghi. We have been meeting regularly ever since. For me, it has evolved into a type of exclusive club where I feel honored to be able to participate. I have met great friends here and feel I have challenged myself by cooking foods that I have never made before. As of now, we are called Foodies by the Bay.
I am about a month behind as this post is about the party last month where we gorged on Cajun/Southern food. I made two dishes, but one is worth writing about and sharing the recipe.  
I found a recipe for Dirty Rice on a website called simplyrecipes.com. At the first moment that I saw the picture of the recipe, I was sold on it. It looked that delicious!

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cup long-grain rice
  • 1 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 1 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 1/2 cup chicken livers, chopped
  • 3 slices of bacon, chopped
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 3 jalapeños, seeded and chopped
  • 1 tbsp Cajun seasoning
  • 2 green onions, chopped

Instructions:

Wash the rice a few times through. Cook the rice as you normally do with 1 1/2 cup of chicken stock and 1 1/2 cup of water. While the rice is cooking, chop everything including the bacon, chicken livers, onions, celery, jalapeños, and green onions.

Heat up a large pan or wok at medium heat with 1 tbsp of olive oil. Add the chopped bacon and cook until crispy. Add the ground pork and increase the heat to medium high. 

 Mix in the celery, jalapeños, and onions.

 Add the minced liver (I know this looks weird, but trust me) and cook for a few minutes more. Flavor with the Cajun seasoning.  

 Combine the cooked rice and mix thoroughly.

   

Remove from heat, add the green onions, and serve.

 This version of dirty rice tastes fantastic. It is like a fried rice with bold Cajun flavors. Although it’s been about a month since I made it, I’m still thinking about it. It’s also quite easy to make so I can’t wait to make it again. I think this dish can be served as a side or even stand alone.
Here’s a collage of other dishes we had that evening.

  
Happy Anniversary , Foodies by the Bay!