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Archive for the ‘brunch’ Category

Dim Sum belly

Our last day in LA, Jason took us to Monterey Park (where he grew up) for dim sum. The neighborhood boasts the largest population of people of Chinese descent in the US. I was excited. On Jason’s recommendation, we decided on Ocean Star.

I had just taken a killer yoga class and was starving, as were the boys. As soon as we were seated, we began selecting dish after dish from the passing carts. We should have been more patient, waiting for favorite dishes, but our stomachs got the best of us.

Above are the dishes we ordered (click on any photo for a larger view). I know the proper names for some of them, for others I’m going to bastardize the names, I apologize in advance.

Top row: fish balls, Chinese doughnut (the main mistake of the afternoon), cart with a carved watermelon.

Middle row: char siu bao (barbecued pork buns), large flat rice noodle with soy sauce, red bean desserts (my favorite).

Bottom row: har gao (shrimp dumplings), shiu mai (pork and shrimp dumplings), egg custard buns (Jason’s favorite)

I ate too fast, and the grease factor didn’t help. By the end of the meal I was full but still hadn’t eaten everything I wanted to, having filled up too quickly on whatever came by first. The doughnut was a big mistake, but the red bean paste-filled desserts (much like Japanese mochi desserts, but greasier) were delicious.

Dim sum (much like cheap Indian food) is often a good idea beforehand, and a very bad one afterwards. We all got hit with a case of dim sum belly, that I-swallowed-a-grease-coated-bowling-ball feeling that doesn’t go away, no matter how much water you drink. We drove home and all passed out for afternoon naps.

If your stomach is up for it, Ocean Star is the real deal.

Ocean Star on Urbanspoon
Ocean Star in Los Angeles

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Morro Bay is a bit of a one horse town. As soon as we pulled in I wrote off any potential for culinary goodness. After an uninspired dinner near our hotel, my suspicions were confirmed. I woke up starving after a great night of sleep. We decided to check out Dorn’s. I walked in and was fully expecting some sub-par fare. Boy was I wrong. Dave’s buckwheat pancakes were delicious, made with blueberries in the batter as well as on top.

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I had the Flutter’s scramble and was equally impressed. The vegetables were fresh and delicious and the potatoes were crispy on the outside and soft within. I loved that it came with housemade salsa, a great touch. Lastly, my breakfast came with muffins (a choice of bran or blueberry), yes muffins, as in plural. I was quite surprised when two muffins arrived at the table. Needless to say, I took away leftovers that fed me for lunch as well. Dorn’s breakfast is a true winner.

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Dorn's Original Breakers Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Slow Club

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For our first brunch in SF, we went with Christina’s recommendation and met up with Jenn and her sister, Sam, at Slow Club. Perhaps it is obvious from the name (a reference to the slow food movement), but the restaurant focuses on local, seasonal ingredients, cooked in a way that really makes them shine.

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Looking over the menu it was hard to choose just one thing. As I sipped my huge glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice, I wanted to order everything, but eventually settled on just one thing. First I’ll show you what everyone else had before I focus in on my own dish.

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Christina had the slow basic: two eggs, home fries, zoe’s (bacon or) sausage & a biscuit.

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Rich and Jenn went with the eggs benedict: grilled levain, applewood smoked ham, sauteed spinach, two poached eggs, hollandaise & home fries.

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Sam ordered the fried egg sandwich: zoe’s bacon, greens, tomato & aioli on sliced sourdough, with home fries.

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Dave had the turkey sausage hash: grilled corn, red & poblano peppers, yukon gold potatoes, caramelized onions, baby arugula, two poached eggs & cheddar cheese, with grilled bread. I had a bite and it was delicious. When ordering, I was torn between the hash and what I wound up getting; after one bite of hash I realized that I had made the wrong decision.

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I ordered the frittata: white corn, summer squash, baby spinach, onion & provolone with home fries & greens. The frittata itself was huge. Dave definitely got a large section of it. I thought that the vegetables were delicious but the egg itself wasn’t anything special, in fact it was a bit too greasy and browned. The home fries were great, as was most of the salad, but the part of it that got trapped under the frittata had wilted. Along with my frittata I also ordered a biscuit, which tasted fine but the texture was off; it was a bit too mushy and not quite flaky enough.

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Next time, I want to try the French toast.

Slow Club on Urbanspoon
Slow Club in San Francisco

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I decided to make a nice weekday brunch for my parents. I knew I wanted to use up some of my CSA produce, mainly apricots and summer squash. After some digging around the Internet, I settled on two recipes, one sweet, one savory (I can never choose between the two at brunch so I tend to make both). Both recipes called for tart pans with removable bottoms, one in a 9-inch and the other in a 10-inch. I only have a 9-inch and an 11-inch, but they worked out just fine.

For savory, I went with this recipe for yellow squash and mozzarella quiche with fresh thyme. It was perfect because I had gotten the squash and thyme in my farm share, and only had to buy the mozzarella.

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Making crust from scratch is so satisfying and it is a dying art. Let me just say here and now that it’s easier than you think and the pay-off is enormous. Not only will it taste better than a store-bought one, but most people will find it quite impressive.

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This was a nice and simple quiche. While the crust is blind baking, you saute the zucchini with the thyme, and the hard work is done.

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Lastly, you whisk together a simple custard made of eggs, cream, salt, pepper, and a dash of hot sauce, and assemble your quiche.

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35 minutes in the oven and voilà:

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What you see in the background of the photo above is my sweet choice: an apricot brioche tart. I found a Dorie Greenspan recipe for a brioche plum tart which I modified for use with apricots.

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I had never made brioche dough before and was very excited at the challenge. It was much easier than I expected, it just needs a lot of time to rest. Some time soon I want to try to make a simple brioche loaf (and then I can use the left overs for french toast!).

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Once the dough has rested overnight (the same went for the quiche dough), the assembly is simple (just like the quiche). You simply spread the bottom with your favorite jam, arrange the stone fruits of your choice on top, and sprinkle with a mixture of sugar and the chopped nuts of your choice.

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The potential combinations are endless. I will definitely make this again and I’m already imagining the possibilities: cherry/pistachio, peach/pecan, nectarine/hazelnut, I could go on forever…

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The brioche puffed up something fierce and looked so good that I really had to restrain myself from digging in before I got to my parents’.

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I managed to get them both into my rectangular cake caddy by placing a cooling rack inside and putting one on top and one on the bottom. It’s amazing how many people talk to you and/or stop and stare when you’re carrying homemade baked goods on the subway. One woman even asked, “did you make that crust from scratch?” See what I mean.

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I was worried that it would be too much with two tart/pie-type things in one meal, but it was fine. They were both delicious and much-appreciated. I had to try really hard not to eat the entire brioche tart.

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Apricot Brioche Tart
Adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

Ingredients:
For the crust
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/3 cup whole milk, just warm to the touch
2 cups all purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the tart
8-10 apricots, quartered (or stone fruit of your choice)
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped almonds (or nut of your choice)
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup fruit jam (I used blackberry because I had it in my fridge, but next time I will likely use apricot)

Procedure:
Make the brioche crust
Put the yeast and warm milk in the bowl of a stand mixer and stir until the yeast is dissolved.  Add the rest of the crust ingredients to the bowl and fit the mixer with the dough hook.  Working on low speed, mix for a minute or two, just to get the ingredients together.  Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat for 7 – 10 minutes, stopping a few times to scrape down the bowl and the hook, until the dough is stretchy and fairly smooth.  The dough will seem fairly thin, more like a batter than a dough, and it may not be perfectly smooth.

Transfer the dough to a clean bowl, cover with plastic wrap and leave it in a warm place until nearly doubled in size, 30 – 40 minutes.

Deflate the dough by lifting it up around the edges and letting it fall with a slap into the bowl.  Cover the bowl again with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator.  Slap the dough down in the bowl every 30 minutes until it stops rising, about 2 hours.  If you’ve got the time, leave the dough in the refrigerator overnight, it will be tastier for the wait.

Assemble the tart
This tart looks prettiest when it’s made in a fluted pan.  You can use either a 9-inch metal tart pan with a removable base or a porcelain baking dish, the kind sometimes called a quiche pan.  Generously grease the pan.

Press the chilled dough into the bottom of the pan and up the sides, don’t worry if it’s not even.  Cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

While the dough is in the refrigerator, prepare the filling.  Pit and quarter the apricots. Toss the chopped nuts with the sugar and set aside.

Remove the tart pan from the fridge and press the dough up the sides of the pan.  Spoon the jam onto the dough and spread it over the bottom.  Arrange the apricots, cut side down, in concentric circles covering the jam.  Scatter over the nut sugar mixture, and cover the tart lightly with a piece of plastic wrap.  Place the tart on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat and let it rest in a warm place for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Uncover the tart and bake for 15 minutes.  Cover it loosely with a foil tent to prevent the crust from getting too dark, and continue baking for another 10 minutes, or until the fruit juices are bubbling and the crust is firm and beautifully browned, it will sound hollow when tapped.

Transfer the tart to a rack to cool for at least 45 minutes before serving.

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Sunday morning, before bidding Saskatoon farewell, Dave, Nancy and I had one more thing we needed to do: visit the Berry Barn.

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Famous for its Saskatoon berry patches and its brunch, the Berry Barn is a must visit on any trip to Saskatoon. We arrived shortly after they opened, but still had to wait a while for a table since we didn’t have a reservation. Once seated, looking around at the other diners, it became clear the most people come to the Berry Barn for one thing: waffles. You can order a whole or half waffle, both of which come with one trip to the topping bar. By the time our waffles arrived, we were all pretty hungry, so we rushed up to see what the bar had to offer. There were several types of syrups, different stewed fruit toppings, as well as whipped cream and pudding.

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I decided to keep it simple, going Saskatoon berry all the way. I topped my half waffle with Saskatoon berry syrup, which was just a little bit tart and very pleasing. I wanted to buy some and bring it home, but since I wasn’t checking any bags, liquids were a no go. I also had some of the whole berry topping, but it was a bit too thickened for my taste. Nancy and Dave were more adventurous, trying various fruits and syrups. Nancy tried some of the chokecherry syrup, a fruit I’d never heard of before. She gave me a bite, but the flavor was very mellow and hard to distinguish from the waffle itself.

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After brunch, we walked around the well-kept property and got to see some berries on the bush.

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For the first time, we all tasted some raw berries, which were less sweet than I was expecting. As I mentioned in an earlier post, they taste similar to blueberries, but meatier, with a slightly grassy aftertaste.

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We ended our time in Canada with an appropriate sight: endless yellow fields of rapeseed, used to make Canola oil. Canola is a made up name since marketers thought “rapeseed oil” would not sell. Yes, the “Can” in Canola come from “Canada.” (Canola stands for Canadian oil, low acid.)

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Saturday morning–the day of the wedding–I overslept and missed having breakfast with my friends. Dave was to arrive in the afternoon, so I set out on my own for some brunch. I knew that I wanted a real local experience, so I went with the Park Cafe and Diner, which many on Urbanspoon agreed serves the best brunch in Saskatoon.

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What I didn’t know (and found out after I’d been there) was that the street that the diner is on is considered to be a not-so-nice part of town. I was there during the day, so all was fine, and I actually found it to be the most interesting part of my Saskatoon exploration.

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On the way to the diner I saw many international markets, I went inside the Chinese grocery and was pleasantly surprised at the inventory. I also saw this meat store, proudly advertising sausage makers’ supplies.

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The diner was everything I’d hoped it would be and more. It was fashioned like an old school diner with booths and a counter with small circular stools. The walls were covered in old tin advertisements, as well as blow-up photos of Saskatoon in its prairie days. I ordered the Bridge Party: two slices of french toast with hash browns and your choice of meat (bacon, ham, or sausage) or a fruit cup.

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I was very happy with the fruit cup option, as most diners just offer a meat side and I simply have to omit it. Furthermore, when the fruit actually arrived I was doubly pleased to find strawberries, bananas, and even a sweet, ripe cherry; a stark contrast to your usual diner mix of a few slices of orange and apple atop a mountain of melon. The french toast was nice and thick, and cooked perfectly so as to render each bite light on the inside and crisp on the outside. The hash browns were also spot on, nice and salty, and not at all greasy. All this for just under ten (Canadian) dollars.

I left Park Cafe stuffed to the brim, but had a nice walk back to the hotel to digest. Along the way I happened upon a flea market, so I stepped inside. The best booth was manned by the sweetest old, gray-haired lady from whom I purchased two things that I have been wanting for a long time: a Crock-Pot and a glass cake stand with cover.

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Both were ten (Canadian) dollars each, a steal. Yes, there was the question of lugging them home on the plane (the first thing Dave asked when he saw them), but luckily I came with some empty room in my cary-on suitcase, and both made it home just fine. I can’t wait to put them to work.

Park Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Markt

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This past weekend we had brunch with my parents at Markt, and lovely (and somewhat trendy) Belgian spot in Chelsea. I had just done a recipe demo at the Union Square Greenmarket on behalf of the Natural Gourmet (where I went to school). Since I had to drop some things off at the school after the demo, Markt was the perfect place to meet as it is half a block away. Dave and I had been once before with friends and were excited to go back for another delicious brunch.

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Dave and my dad ordered some Belgian beers, while my mom and I sipped sparkling water. We kicked off the meal by ordering the bread basket, which was a bit of a disappointment. The croissants were tasty (especially the chocolate one) but the breadsticks weren’t that great, and I thought that the basket in general should have been more diverse. But, the good news was that the basket proved to be the only blip in an otherwise delectable brunch experience.

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Dave ordered the homemade waffle with assorted fruit and whipped cream. While the fruit choice was somewhat suspect (strawberries are the only fruit in season; melon is an odd choice for a waffle topping), Dave seemed happy with his dish. He said it was, “light and crispy and not too sweet.”

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My parents both ordered omelets and were quite pleased. My dad had an egg white one with ham, peppers and onion, and my mother had one with crab and asparagus. While I didn’t taste my dad’s (I don’t eat ham, and think that egg white omelets are silly), he was ooing and ahhing over it. I did try my mother’s and it was nice. She especially enjoyed the crispy potatoes that accompany all the eggs dishes.

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I had mussels, as did at least one diner at each table, it seemed. Their menu has six different mussel dishes, ranging from clean and simple (with tomato and fresh basil) to drunken (steamed in Hoegaarden beer). I ordered the steamed mussels with fresh garden vegetables. I don’t know about any garden (the vegetable were mostly just onions), but the mussels were a tasty treat, and something that I hadn’t had in a long while. Added bonus: all mussel dishes come with a side of fries.

Brunch is my favorite meal. And, as far as brunches go, this weekend’s was a pretty good one.

Markt on Urbanspoon
Markt in New York

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