How I Got to Cook with Chef Marcus Samuelsson

Chef Marcus Samuelsson just released his new cookbook The Red Rooster Cookbook, named after his restaurant in Harlem. With this release began his cookbook tour with the first stop in the Bay Area. I signed up to get tickets to his cooking demonstration held at Macy’s in Union Square in San Francisco. The department store has a Culinary Council made up of well known chefs throughout the United States and includes Chef Marcus.  

Sitting in the center of row two with my best friend, we had prime seats to watch Chef Marcus cook. The first item he was going to demo was a squash salad with crunchy quinoa and pumpkin seed vinaigrette. He asked for a volunteer and I hesitated. A woman in the first row was selected to come up and help. She was doing really well prepping the salad and I was regretting not raising my hand to volunteer. About halfway through the demo, the audience got to taste this salad that was obviously prepared earlier. I really enjoyed the toasted quinoa. Chef Marcus stressed the importance of crunch, texture, and using seasonal ingredients. Towards the end of the demo, the volunteer cut her finger. I imagined that would be the end of volunteering.

The next dish Chef Marcus started to make was Double Dragon Rice with Grilled Shrimp. A few minutes later, he announced there would be no cutting involved, but he needed another volunteer. My hand shot up and I was selected to cook with Chef Marcus. I felt a bit nervous at first because I felt like I was being interviewed. We discussed a fried rice dish that I make using chicken livers. Although it may have looked planned because they actually had chicken liver, I vow that it was not. My sous chef handed me a ramekin filled with chicken liver and Chef Samuelsson asked me to mix in half of it into my pan. The rice was prepared with loads of other goodies that contributed to the overall success of the dish. I especially liked the crispy pieces of golden browned rice, the fresh head-on shrimp, and the squeeze of lime that added acidity. I was given a nice portion of the Double Dragon Rice with Grilled Shrimp that Chef Marcus and I made. Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of it. But here is a photo of me cooking it.

I was still pinching myself when Chef Marcus called a third volunteer to assist him in making Uncle T’s Meatballs. The sample we received was a bit dry which is probably because it was made much earlier and may have been sitting around. 
I’m excited to try some of these recipes and others from my new personalized autographed copy of The Red Rooster Cookbook by Chef Marcus Samuelsson.  

Double Belly is Double Trouble

First came Belly and then came Sweet Belly. In Uptown Oakland, you can find this pair of playful eateries to fill your belly.
Belly is located at the corner of San Pablo Avenue and 19th Street and serves up what I consider a fusion grill. There is a focus on Mexican, Korean, and Japanese cuisine. With an ordinary menu of items like tacos, burritos, burgers, salads, and sides, it’s what they do with it that makes them interesting.  

So I grabbed lunch “to go” with a friend recently. I ordered the popular steak and egg taco which is filled with house marinated sirloin steak, French fries, chipotle aioli, garlic aioli, and topped with a fried egg. Yes, I said French fries and a fried egg. You might call this fusion on steroids. I actually found it to be quite simplistic and enjoyed the flavors and textures.
I also ordered a side of classic fries with chipotle ketchup. These fries were shoestring fries, thin and crisp. They stayed crispy even with the ten minute ride back to the office, so it passed that test. The chipotle ketchup was a great complement to the fries.  
My friend ordered the Korean fried chicken bowl which is a rice bowl topped with spicy fried chicken, slaw, pickled cucumbers, red onions, jalapeños, and of course a fried egg. The chicken had a thick gooey batter, but was somewhat soggy in texture. To me it felt like an unsuccessful bibimbap. Neither of us would recommend this dish.
I went back to Belly with another friend last week to try something else. We both wanted burgers. I ordered the Belly Burger which is a house marinated patty, red onion tempura, sautéed mushrooms, house pickled cucumbers, cheddar cheese, garlic and kimchi aioli, on a brioche bun. The burger was super juicy and tasted amazing. Every ingredient was on point and melded together perfectly. The tempura onion made my burger sing.
My friend got the West Coast Burger combo which came with fries and a drink. Her burger had bacon, avocado, tomato, cheddar cheese, mixed field greens, garlic aioli, and chipotle ketchup. She enjoyed her burger just as much as I did. No doubt Belly knows how to grill up burgers and fries. I am now tempted to try their Belly Cali Fries or their Korean Cali Fries. I’ll let you look that up yourself. 
If you travel about three blocks east on 19th Street, you can find dessert at the recently opened Sweet Belly by the same owners of Belly.  I am sure lots of people were unhappy when Lanas, a long time operating fast food Chinese take out closed, but the opening of Sweet Belly in its place is sure to fill some void.  

On my first visit, the soft serve flavor being served was strawberry. I topped my strawberry soft serve with fruity crunch cereal and an earl grey Valrhona dark chocolate fudge donut. All three items were great. The soft serve was thick like custard and had a subtle strawberry flavor. The cereal was a homemade version of Fruity Pebbles and was light and crispy. The donut was warm and texturally tasted like an old fashioned.  
On another visit, Sweet Belly was serving Matcha green tea flavored soft serve. This time I chose chocolate drizzled popcorn as my topping and a Matcha green tea donut. I actually enjoyed the strawberry soft serve slightly better, but would order either of them again or some variation of them. About a five minute walk from my office, I feel an addiction coming on.

What I ate after the East Bay 510K

photo by @cwpiequeen

It was a perfect October morning in Berkeley to run the East Bay 510K. This morning, about 2,000 runners started at the Northeast end of McLaughlin Eastshore State Park in Berkeley to either run a 5K or 10K. 5K runners began at 7:35am while 10K runners began at 8:05am. I ran the 10K with two friends. We ran a loop around Cesar Chavez Park, down towards the Berkeley Marina, headed south on Frontage Road, made our way across the pedestrian overcrossing to the other side of Highway 80, down Bolivar Drive connecting to Berkeley Aquatic Park to Shellmound Street, which lead us to the finish line located at Bay Street Mall in Emeryville.

photo by @cwpiequeen

I completed this race last year for the first time and earned my very first medal. Today I have a personal record that I am ecstatic about. According to race officials, here are my stats:

  • Overall position: 366 of 1,322
  • Female position: 138 of 845
  • Total time: 59:41
  • Average time per mile: 9:37

With a medal and t-shirt showcasing the Port of Oakland with cranes and containers, designed by Oaklandish, the East Bay 510K is a cool race to participate in.
After running 6.2 miles this morning, we deserved a good brunch, right? With the help of Yelp, we walked half a mile to Doyle Street Cafe in Emeryville for pancakes. The waitress mistakenly seated another party of three ahead of us. I didn’t make it a big deal because it was only a few extra minutes that we waited and my party had passed the three women walking when we arrived. Luckily we got there when we did because the restaurant had to start putting names on a list. It seemed we weren’t the only runners that made their way to Doyle Street Cafe after the races.
I am not a huge fan of pancakes, but once in awhile I get in the mood for it. The offering of pumpkin pancakes at Doyle Street Cafe set me in the mood on this October Sunday. We all got the combination plate which also included eggs and bacon or sausage. I ordered bacon and thought it could have been cooked to a better crisp. The texture of my pumpkin pancakes were thick, fluffy, and moist. They were topped with whipped vanilla cream and powdered sugar.  The flavors were robust and gave me the sense of Fall. The combination breakfast at Doyle Street Cafe was satisfying to all of us after a successful race day.

The Longevity Peach

It’s been a long weekend. Friday night after work, I went to the San Francisco Giants Game. (Woohoo! It was the first of a three game sweep of the LA Dodgers that takes the Giants to the Postseason.) Saturday was a 14-hour fun filled day of geocaching in Yolo County. This morning, I ran 9 miles, took a quick nap, got a mani/pedi, and the evening concluded with the birthday party of the century that I have been planning, my grandma’s birthday. That means I am tired and you get a quick and dirty blog.

photo by Debbie Yee

Tonight about eighty friends and family members celebrated my grandmother’s 99th birthday with a dinner banquet at East Ocean Seafood Restaurant in Alameda. This is really one of my favorite Chinese restaurants in the East Bay. When I am asked for a recommendation for Chinese food, I have suggested East Ocean many times. They have good quality food and service. They’re also good for dim sum. 

We had an excellent nine course meal not including the three desserts. We ended the meal with the longevity peach. This is a traditional dessert served at Chinese birthday celebrations because it represents immortality. It’s shaped like a peach and filled with sweet lotus seed paste. 99 years is a long life, but we are still counting.

photo by Murphy Lau

Gunther’s: Good Old Fashioned Ice Cream

It’s so hot today that I don’t feel like doing much and all I feel like eating is ice cream. Actually, I had Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia for dinner. It was perfectly refreshing. Having this flavor reminded me of the recent road trip home from Reno with my nieces and nephew. We stopped in the Curtis Park neighborhood of Sacramento to an ice cream parlor that has been open since 1940. The long line out the door and into the streets speaks to the goodness of Gunther’s Ice Cream.
The website describes the technique they use to make their ice cream. Gunther’s Ice Cream uses a slow, hand-controlled “Batch Freezer Method” to process their ice cream. This method is similar to the hand cranked ice cream machines used in the early 1900’s. They also use a higher percentage of butterfat cream which produces a rich and creamier ice cream.
With over forty flavors to choose from, I ordered Bing cherry on a cone and was happy to bite into chunks of cherries. The kids each got something different. There was Swiss orange chip, chocolate chip, and mint chip. I ordered some additional vanilla bon bons that were a hit. I had to explain that a bon bon is a chocolate shell that covers a bite of ice cream. They understood as I told them it was a giant Nestle Dib.
Gunther’s is a great neighborhood spot for good old fashioned ice cream. I will remember to go back when I’m in the Sacramento area.

Strawberry Heaven: Davenport, California

I have a good friend who is probably the biggest fruit lover in the world. My weekly consumption of fruit can be eaten by her in one sitting. Growing up in Salinas, California, she is also very cognizant of the farming community. Farmers are some of the most hard working people. While wages are low, exposure to health hazards are high. As an individual consumer, it is difficult to make an impact but my friend wanted to do something. She decided to give up one of her favorite fruits, strawberries, unless they were fair wage strawberries. The employer would need to provide living wages, health benefits, and paid time off to farmers.
The only strawberry farm that I am aware of that provides their farmers with this level of protection is Swanton Berry Farm in Davenport, California, a few miles north of Santa Cruz.  I took a trip out there with a friend last weekend to check it out.  
When we first arrived, we walked into the storefront. You can buy strawberries that have already been picked or grab a box and go out to the field to pick them yourself.  
We arrived in the early afternoon and went out with a box to attempt picking our own strawberries. Unfortunately, we didn’t see too many ripe strawberries. We would find a nice ripe one here and there. It seemed that much of the strawberry patches had already been picked through.  
I was okay with this because the berries we saw earlier that the farmers had already picked looked bright and beautiful. So we headed back to the shop to take a closer look at all of the other offerings. There was a shelf filled with jars of jam for sale which had sampling. Sweet and luxurious, I definitely needed to take some home.
I was most excited by what was in the refrigerator. They had homemade strawberry shortcake and strawberry cheesecake. My friend and I decided to share one of each. These desserts were delicious and the perfect treat to make the trip down to the farm worthwhile.
Another great thing about Swanton Berry Farm is that they trust their customers. There is no cashier, but a cash box to make your own change. A business that provides honest wages and implements an honor system is something I can appreciate.  
The trip to Swanton Berry Farm was a fun experience. Next time I would arrive early to do some strawberry picking, pack a picnic, and eat more of their awesome strawberry desserts. If you don’t want to travel to Davenport, you can still purchase their fair wage strawberries at Northern California Whole Foods Markets, Monterey Market in Berkeley, and various Farmers Markets. You might have to pay a little more for your strawberries, but you are contributing to a good cause.

Ribfest: Finger Licking Good

I went to Reno, Nevada with my family this past weekend for Labor Day. Reno is known as “The Biggest Little City in the World.” A little less known neighboring city a few miles from Downtown Reno is Sparks, Nevada. Sparks has a population of about 90,000 people. Each year during Labor Day weekend, 500,000 visitors come to Sparks to attend the annual “Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-off” aka “Ribfest.” This is a competition that has been happening at the Nugget Casino Resort since 1989 to find out who cooks the best barbecue pork ribs in the Country. The top winners receive prize money, a trophy, and bragging rights. Visitors can buy barbecue ribs from any of the competitors. I’ve heard about “Ribfest” for many years, but this was my first time attending.  

There were about 24 competitors this year so how does one go about deciding which ones to try? A friend of mine gave me some recommendations and they were similar to my brother’s friends recommendations, so that was what we went with. We got a full rack of ribs from three vendors for our family of nine.  
The first one we tried was from Aussom Aussie’s, originally from Down Under. I was in rib heaven after my first bite. It had a nice taste of honey and really reminds me of “char siu” or Chinese BBQ pork. The pork was tender, juicy, and easily came off the bone. Aussom Aussie’s won best barbecue sauce in 2015.
The second one we tried was from Michigan’s Bone Daddy’s BBQ, which was quite different from Aussom Aussie’s. I definitely felt like I was a part of barbecue perfection. These ribs had a kick and a smoke to them which was very enjoyable. Bone Daddy’s won first place last year.
The final rack came from the local BJ’s BBQ from Sparks. These ribs had a hint of sweetness and spiciness. I thought to myself, if Aussom Aussie and Bone Daddy’s got married and had a baby, they could name it BJ. The last prize BJ received was 4th place in 2010.
The unanimous favorite of the Lau family was Aussom Aussie’s, which didn’t win any awards this year. This year the winners included: 

1st – Rasta Joe’s BBQ
2nd – Bone Daddy’s BBQ
3rd – Texas Thunder BBQ

All the BBQ rib cookers at “Ribfest” are masters in their art of barbecuing and I think they are all winners. I hope to be back to attend a future “Ribfest.”