Friday, January 16, 2015

Get Buzzed, Do Good

SF-style bicerin. Photo via Jessica Sullivan.

Cinnamon orange mocha. Photo via Laura Cronin.
San Franciscans don't need another reason to quaff caffeine, but here's a good one:
Coffee Bar has teamed with pastry chefs Jessica Sullivan of  Delfina and Laura Cronin of Perbacco to defrost locals with two seasonal drinks. 
Choose between Cronin's winter mocha laced with orange and cinnamon or Sullivan's version of a bicerin decorated with hazelnut shavings. A bicerin is a specialty from Turin that begins with hot chocolate followed by espresso topped with whipped cream. 
For every sip, a portion of the proceeds will go toward the San Francisco chapter of  Meals on Wheels, which delivers meals to home-bound seniors.  
Visit any Coffee Bar location to get yours anytime now thru February 6th. Want it free?  Post a photo of your drink and tag it @coffeebarsf and @oakwoodroasted with the hashtag #SweetForCB,  and within 24 hours, you'll get your next coffee at no charge when you show your post to the cashier. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Merry Christmas Shortbread

Ho, Ho, cookie. Photo via Walker's Shortbread

Thanksgiving hadn't even begun when my local radio station switched to the "all Christmas channel." I'm not complaining. I like Christmas songs. They make me think of Christmas parties which makes me think of Christmas desserts which makes me think of Christmas cookies.

Walker's Shortbread has released its annual batch of yuletide shortbread. You'll find Christmas trees, stars, Santa, and bells. Still made in Scotland where Joseph Walker founded his original bakery in 1898, the ingredients remain basic: Scottish butter, flour, sugar and salt.

While you can certainly puncture a hole in the top and string them from a tree, that seems like a waste of dessert. The cookie's smooth crumb and classic buttery mouthfeel cry for a cup of eggnog, which is what you should ask your guests to bring when they come over for your impromptu holiday shindig. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Hello (Doughnut) Dolly!

Naughty Cream via Doughnut Dolly Facebook page
When it comes to doughnuts, I generally "don't nut."  Years ago, someone told me that doughnuts are the single worst for you on the planet, so I decided to swap them for hot fudge sundaes and consider myself a health nut.

For that reason, it has taken me a while to try the popular filled doughnuts from Doughnut Dolly. Hand-rolled and stuffed to-order with your choice of variable custards, jams or chocolate, they are the doughbaby of Hannah Hoffman who funded her enterprise entirely through Kickstarter.

I tried one of the staple flavors -- Naughty Cream. About the size of a tennis ball, each pastry is soft and yeasty with sweetness that doesn't come from the dough but from the stash of intense crème fraîche vanilla cream. Individual wrappers act as receptacles for any lost squiggles of cream or granules of coating sugar.

Both stores close at 4pm or until they sell out. 

482 B 49th Street
Wed-Sat, 8am-5pm
Sun, 8am-4pm

1313 9th Street, No. 120
Mon-Sun, 7am-4pm

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Scharffen Berger is Milking it

A candy manufacturer once told me that American chocolate preferences fall along geographic lines. Those on the East and West coasts prefer dark while Southerners go for milk. He was mum about Midwesterners.

Scharffen Berger is showing Bay Area chocolate snobs they ought to reconsider their alliances.  

The company has released a line of four new bars: two darks and two milks.* While the dark chocolates are as great, it’s the milks that sent me rushing to the supermarket for graham crackers and marshmallows.

There are two versions: plain milk chocolate and milk chocolate with toasted coconut and macadamia nuts. Both are 33% cacao, creamy and a little caramel-y. Because I like “stuff” in my candy, I go for the Hawaiian-inspired one. Finely chopped macadamia and toasted coconut are scattered throughout giving a little crunch and chew to each bite. The flavor is predominately toasted coconut, so if you're a Mounds fan, you'll dig it.

These new bars are part of Scharffen Berger's targeted San Francisco ad campaign Wonderfully Complicated.In it, locals explain their personalities in chocolate terms i.e. “I’m sharp, velvety, and enticing.”  

If you want to be featured, here’s what to do:

1. snap a selfie
2. Add #wonderfullycomplicated
3. Share it publicly on Instagram

If you don’t want to participate, just buy a bar. Your roasted marshmallow could use a new friend.

* New bars include the following: 
72% Signature Dark Chocolate 
33% Smooth Milk Chocolate 
72% Dark Chocolate with Pistachios and Sea Salt 
33% Milk Chocolate with Toasted Coconut and Macadamia

Friday, August 8, 2014

Chips & Popcorn With a Twist

Photo: Indianlife

We can make a meal of cheese and eat stacks of Oreos for dessert, but we cannot classify chips and popcorn as anything but snacks. Here are two brands that are reinventing these American classics: 

Indianlife Masala Chips
Air bubbles pock these puffy wheat chips speckled with whole cumin seeds. Each bite greets with curry and finishes with garlic.

Photo via Halfpops Facebook page
Think of these as corn nuts for adults. Corn kernels are popped long enough so that they inflate but not so long that they turn into popcorn. They're so good you won't mind the few unpopped brown kernels lurking at the bottom of the bag.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Dried Fruit Fantasies

Organic fruit tray from Bella Viva Orchards
Growing up, I imagined someday becoming a dried fruit farmer. By that, I meant I would be a farmer that grew fruit expressly for the purpose of drying it.  And because I don't actually like farming, what I really meant is that I would oversee a farm that grew fruit expressly for the purpose of drying it. I envisioned cloudless days when I would stroll through the fields wearing a wide straw hot, flowing skirt, and loose white blouse. I would carry a wicker basket full of chocolate chip cookies, still warm from the oven, which I would pass out to the farmhands. I think my dream took place in the 1800s.

As I got older and abandoned such ridiculous aspirations in favor of more attainable ones like being a food writer who actually earned fair compensation for her work, the fantasy shifted. I created a dried fruit kingdom, and that's where I go when I need a break from it all:

In a dusky square room, I sit upon my throne. It's not a chair but a ten foot-high pile of dried stone fruits. There are purple plums, pinky-red dandy dapple pluots, beige peaches, and sunny nectarines, all layered one on top of another creating a kaleidoscopic tower. Surrounding me are stacks of dried fruit varietals sourced from around the world -- kiwis from New Zealand, dragon fruit from Vietnam, sticky tamarind from Thailand, lychee from China, guava from South Africa, creamy alphonso mangos from India, plump figs from Turkey, and starfruit from Mexico.  Every type that's grown anywhere is there in my chamber. Each has been diligently dried in the sun so that the sugars concentrate and the texture turn chewy.  

From the window, I see my cheerful subjects roaming the orchards, happily harvesting apples, oranges, pineapples, and papaya. They snack as they work. It's encouraged. Real-life seasons, climates, and landscapes don't exist. Here, the world is only sweet and nourishing.  

Shopping tip:
If you are also a dried fruit fiend, you must check out Bella Viva Orchards. Located in the Central Valley in Hughson, CA, the farm produces a year-round slew of conventional and organic options. Find them at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market and Alemany Farmers Market on Saturdays or online.  And if you ever want to surprise me with a gift, a bag of sulfite-free dried peaches, nectarines, and persimmons will earn you my limitless adoration. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Born Right Here: All-American Snacks for July 4th Weekend

Photo via Ice Cream Bar Facebook Page

Other than twinkies, powdered macaroni and cheese, and canned spaghetti, most “all-American” foods came from somewhere else. The Germans brought pretzels, pizza arrived from Naples, and Marco Polo discovered a chilled custard in China that presaged ice cream. All these items, of course, evolved to become distinctly American as immigrants tailored them to local palates and prepared them with available ingredients. Putting a frankfurter on a bun, for instance, transformed the sausage into a portable, cheap meal that immigrant street vendors could sell to busy New Yorkers who couldn’t pause to sit down.

This holiday weekend, here’s a look at three homegrown favorites:

Ice Cream Cone
A few theories circulate about the cone’s inventor and time of invention, but here’s the most popular: Syrian immigrant Ernest Hamwi was selling thin, crisp pastries that may have been zalabia at the 1904 World Fair in St. Louis when a fellow vendor ran out of dishes for his ice cream. Hamwi curled one of his cookies into a cone shape, birthing one of the most popular food partnerships of all time.

At Eatwell Farm's Ice Box in the Second Act Marketplace, find handmade buttery cones for the company's organic soft serve.

First came the cone, then came torrents of hot fudge. Soda shops emerged in the 1870s and by the early 20th century, they raged amongst teenagers as socially acceptable places to meet and mingle. Some government leaders worried that soda shared alcohol's corruptive properties and banned it in several communities. Some religious leaders lambasted the ice cream soda and encouraged the pious to avoid drinking it on Sundays. A clever soda jerk responded by putting all the dessert's elements except the soda into a dish and naming it “sundae.”

At the Ice Cream Bar in Cole Valley, costumed soda jerks dish caramelized banana splits and cherry cornmeal shortbread sundaes.

Corn is indigenous to the New World with some evidence that populations in Peru were popping it 6700 years ago. In North America, European explorers learned about it from Native Americans. Colonists sometimes breakfasted on popcorn mixed with cream and sugar. Fame struck the kernel in the late 19th century and continued throughout the Depression offering down-and-out consumers an affordable luxury at $.05 to $.10 bag.

Check out Masala Pop at Buyer’s Best Friend in the Upper Haight and North Beach for flavors like Chai Masala and Tamarind Sesame.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Snack Alert: Sprogs Rice Scooters

Visit the Upper Haight Farmers Market to sample all the flavors
For 1000 or more years, white rice balls have satisfied Japanese snackers in search of portable, cheap sustenance. These "onigiri" became chic in San Francisco in 2012 when the restaurant Onigilly opened in the Financial District. Moving beyond traditional fillings of pickled plum and cooked salmon, Onigilly tempted the unfamiliar with spicy bacon and honey-braised ground beef.

Now we have Sprogs with its lineup of "rice scooters." Each of these hand-pressed squares relies on Haiga rice sourced from the Sacramento Valley. This Japanese-style brown rice undergoes partial milling to remove the outer bran (which makes it appear white), but it retains the vitamin-rich germ. Mild in taste and nearly creamy in texture, the rice stays soft for several days in the refrigerator, though Sprogs recommends eating the scooters at room temperature. The excellent flavors trot the globe from Jamaican jerk chicken (most popular) to peanut butter and housemade jam to kale & homemade kimchee, and the breakfast-ready bacon & egg.

The names "Sprogs" and "rice scooters" sound like they were destined for an audience of four-year-olds, which is sort of how the company started. Founder Ching-Yee Hu wanted to transform the brown rice snacks she made for her toddlers into something adults would enjoy. "Sprog" actually comes from British slang and means "child."

Check them out at select Bay Area stores as well as the Wednesday Upper Haight Farmers Market and Saturday Palo Alto Farmers Market. They're $2.50 each.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Schmacon, Seriously?

Photo courtesy of Schmaltz Products
Oh vey. Just as I thought bacon mania was beginning to subside, cows are being dragged into the smoker.  Schmacon, the newest product from (is this company begging for an SNL spoof?) is made from “whole-muscle beef.” It's doused in inventor Howard Bender’s proprietary blend of deli spies and advertises a “smoky and sweet flavor and a meaty and crisp texture” with less fat and sodium than pork bacon. It won a 2014 Food & Beverage Innovation Award (FABI) from the National Restaurant Association, which puts it in the esteemed company of pureed meats from Hormel Health Labs and vegan breaded fish fillets from Gardein.
Though the schmacon is not kosher, I wouldn’t be surprised if the company is seeking certification. Just imagine the array of holiday dishes such a move would trigger: latkes and schmacon, savory schmacon matzoh brei, potato schmacon knishes, and obviously, chocolate matzo toffee with schmacon so that Jews can finally understand  why chocolate-covered bacon bars exist and cost $7.50 each.  

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Fish Called Gefilte

Photo courtesy of Manischewitz
"Does anyone actually know what's in gefilte fish?"

Amazing. In over two decades of attending Passover seders, this was the first time I heard anyone ask the question that no one knows the answer to. During a holiday where we sing a song about Four Questions, it seems appropriate to delve into one culinary one:

Gefilte fish is one of those acquired tastes, which is a a polite way of saying it's abhorrent to anyone who didn't grow up eating it.  Most American Jews recognize it as beige football-shaped lumps that slide out of a Manischewitz jar. Packed in translucent jelly or liquid, each has the texture of finely ground meatloaf with a flavor that's unmistakably but nonspecifically fishy. You pile on as much fiery white and red horseradish as your taste buds can tolerate to mask the smell and inject a semblance of freshness.

Before gefilte fish swam through the industrial food complex to become a pantry item, it was conceived in the kitchens of poor European Jews as early as the Middle Ages. According to the Jewish Daily Forward, peasants "purchased ground scraps of bottom-feeding fish and mixed them with matzo meal or egg, oil and sometimes onion." A different article from the Forward says the Yiddish word "gefilte" means "stuffed" and refers to the early practice of cramming the ground fish mixture back into the skin of fish before being sewn and baked. That explanation contradicts the idea that shoppers were buying already ground fish and therefore wouldn't have the skin. Perhaps the latter method was preferred but reserved for wealthier families.

Modern jarred gefilte fish contains carp, mullet, whitefish, and pike.  It's prepared with a little sugar which conforms to the version favored by Western European and Polish Jews. Those living in the former USSR liked it peppery. The fish met the jar in the 1960s and parked itself in the "ethnic foods" aisle ever since.

Making it from scratch is an allegedly time-consuming and stinky process, but there are several recipes to guide fearless cooks. If there is such a thing as elegant gefilte fish, it may be this highly-rated one from Epicurious composed of halibut and salmon. See the recipe. The rest of us will spend the next week unscrewing lids

Happy Passover!