Monday, February 25, 2013

Swan Song

Doesn't every city have one?  You know, a place that once you've been to, you want/need to go back to every time you return.

It doesn't have to be fancy;  as a matter of fact, it's better if it's not, really. Who rushes back to places that are offering 8 course meals for $250 a person; gimme a great $25 or under meal any day of the week.

Significant Eater and I recently spent our 15th anniversary in San Francisco, a city we like a lot. After all, it's got great food and drink, it's got an $11 an hour minimum wage with a booming economy (take that Boehner, you douche) and the cab drivers still understand a little English.  Also, it's got some pretty nice views...
So before we had even set foot into our rental apartment, our first stop was at one of "those" places that we need to go to every time we visit the city by the bay,  a place that has been taking care of locals (and yep, the tourists too) for, well, a really long time...
Yeah, Swan Oyster Depot is one of "those" places...there are maybe 15 seats at a counter (way before that was even a gleam in Brooklyn Fare's, Ko's or Blanca's eyes), you wait in the doorway and they're only open until 5:30 in the afternoon - so it's a late lunch or an early dinner for Sig Eater and me.

Even though it's an oyster "depot," oysters are not why we rush here. Actually, they were 86ed on oysters by the time we arrived, but the offerings go way deeper than that...
From Monterey Bay squid to tiny bay shrimp, smoked Pacific salmon to diver scallops, it's all good.  However, the reason we rush here on every trip to SF, and the reason you need to rush here when you find yourself in SF, is for the one thing they do better than anywhere else: Crab Louis.  It's a simple yet spectacular salad; the main ingredient being that large orange/red creature, Metacarcinus magister, better known as the Dungeness crab (my favorite crustacean, actually).

Yes, there are fancier salads. And yes, there are healthier salads...that Louis dressing is, after all, mostly mayo, cream and chili sauce. But, there's nothing more delicious - and here, where they top off your iceberg with almost a half-pound of delicious Dungeness...well, you'll understand why Swan Oyster Depot is this city's must-go-to every time we return...

Swan Oyster Depot
1517 Polk Street, San Francisco
(415) 673-2757

Friday, February 8, 2013

Oh You, JetBlue

15 years.  That’s a long time, isn’t it? Well, that’s precisely how long Significant Eater and I have been married. Back on February 9th, 1998, we tied the knot in a lovely ceremony in that most romantic of cities: Las Vegas.

It was a brief ceremony, attended only by our parents and the officiator, who was (possibly) a clerk of the court of Clark County, Nevada. Yes, we got married in the courthouse in downtown Las Vegas, because after all, what’s a wedding unless you’ve spent $35 on it?

We did have a blowout dinner at the fancy Vegas outpost of a Jean-Louis Palladin restaurant, arriving as we did by stretch limo.  Then we gambled; and even if we didn’t win any big bets, I sure won big by marrying the love of my life.  After a night or two in Vegas, Sig Eater and I flew off to San Francisco, probably our second favorite city in the entire country, and spent a lovely honeymoon week.

And that’s where we’re headed today, to San Francisco, because it still and will always be one of our favorite places, The great food, glorious views, old friends (many of whom we won’t get to see on this trip, sadly) and fabulous memories.

So we flew out ahead of the super super storm Nemo – and really, do we have to name every freakin’ weather event now?  Originally, we were scheduled to fly out Saturday morning, but we were lucky enough to change that to a Friday morning flight, beating Nemo out of town.

And we’re flying on JetBlue – which as airlines go, is probably one of the least heinous there is.  Although I gotta say, when you buy a snack pack on JetBlue, you’re single-handedly ensuring the destruction of the environment. For a mere $5.99 (credit cards only, your cash isn’t good up here), just imagine how many rain-forest trees it took to package this goodie-box up…
Not only that, I’ve already consumed enough sodium to send my cardiologist into spasms.  Ah well, it’s worth it when you’re with the love of your life.  As Ralph once said, “Baby, you’re the greatest.”  And Tasty says it too…Happy Anniversary, Sig Eater!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Two Ingredients? Make Soup

Leek and Potato Soup is one of the classic soups I enjoy making. But  you know as well as I do that 2 ingredients do not a soup make.  I mean, you can call it leek & potato soup, but there are gonna be some other ingredients in there - like water and salt, for instance.   As a matter of fact, that's how I used to make it, and that method came from one of my favorite Julia Child books: 1989's The Way to Cook (still a great gift for aspiring cooks). As Julia said:

Leeks and potatoes simmered in lightly salted water make a perfect soup in themselves even without the addition of a little cream (wink, wink)...

Now when I make leek and potato soup, I like to gussy it up with a few other ingredients that taste good...
Pictured above are some of those other ingredients that taste good; there's homemade chicken stock, both russet and Yukon Gold potatoes, celery, kale, the cleaned leeks, a rind of Parmigiano-Reggiano (you save those, right?), and  hidden somewhere under it all a couple of slices of good bacon and a clove or two of garlic.

Start by slowly cooking the bacon in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil until most of the fat has melted, then add the diced leeks, celery, potatoes and garlic, (minced, please) sweating all until translucent.

Now add your chicken stock/water and cheese rind, bring to a boil, taste the broth and add salt and pepper (trust me, potato soups need a shitload of salt), reduce heat, cover and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour.

Now comes the fun part. First, remove that rind. Then, I like to smash the potatoes with the back of a big wooden spoon until the soup gets nice and thick.  If it's too thick, add some water. Taste. Does it need more salt? Pepper? Then add them! Also, dice the rind and add it back.  If you're using kale or some other green (of course, you've already washed and shredded it, right?) add it to the pot and bring back to a simmer. Kale will take a good 20 minutes until it's tender.  Taste again - you don't want your guests asking for salt, do you?

And it's as simple as that.  Twelve Ingredient Leek and Potato Soup, With Kale, Bacon and Parmigiano...

12 (or 13) Ingredient Leek and Potato Soup With Kale, Bacon and Parmigiano

1 lb. baking potatoes, coarsely chopped (I use Yukon Golds and russets)
1 lb. leeks, sliced
2 stalks celery, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 slices bacon, diced
1 Parmigiano-Reggiano rind
1 small bunch kale, washed and cut up
2 T olive oil
1 qt. chicken stock, more or less
1 qt. water, more or less
Salt and pepper

Method above.