Sunday, September 28, 2008

Fall Favorite: Ferry Building Farmers Market

The Ferry Building Farmers Market usually offers a mixed (canvas tote) bag. Sometimes, like in the spring and summer, it's run amok with tourists reveling in "Northern California lifestyle" and organic goods. When they bring their screaming kids with them, it's even worse. The experience isn't a fun one - there are just too many people and you begin to wonder if it's worth paying the market's inflated prices. $5 for a bunch of strawberries in May? Really? No thanks, I'll buy them in Chinatown for $2.

But then there are the quieter seasons, when it's just locals who show up and the end of summer harvests begin to come in, that the market reveals its charms and the experience is pretty awesome. The ferry building market in the fall makes me feel like a kid in a candy store (not like the brat above, though). The colors and flavors are really something - it's as though all the activity, sun and energy of the summer has concentrated in produce that's ripe, delicious and visually appealing.

Colorful heirloom and other specialty tomatoes are wrapping up their season. Juicy peaches and plums the size of your full hand sit in huge piles, waiting to be taken home and eaten. Even the carrots show up in a fun array of shapes and colors. . .

It's still a bit too pricey to do all of your grocery shopping there, but there is a great selection of local produce and foodstuffs. And you're supporting local producers. Think of it as your charitable - and tasty - deed for the weekend. So, if you live in or near SF and you haven't been to the farmers market yet, try to make it there this fall. It's well worth the trip - and waking up before noon on a Saturday!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Dave Makes Yummy Pizza

My boyfriend has brought many wonderful things into my life. Superpoke!, a domain name, and Dave's pizza are three particular additions that come to mind. The first two aren't edible. So I'll tell you a bit about the third.

Dave makes delicious pizza. He makes it at home, it's fast and fairly foolproof, it's rectangular instead of round, and the best part is that you can mix and match whatever toppings you want.

We had a particularly delicious version of his quick-rise, quick-bake pizzas last weekend. It starred an unusual little Japanese mushroom, maitake. It's also called Hen of the Woods but that just sound strange. It doesn't really taste like chicken - although it is a bit woody. On a crispy, slightly risen pizza dough and with Gruyere, it's really delicious.

The recipe below is Dave's, and you can read more about his pizza - and other food-related escapades - on his own site. The only two things I'd note in this recipe:
1. Take care and bake the pizza on a silpat baking sheet. Don't use a metal baking tray if you can help it - it can make the dough come out soft or even soggy if you're not careful.
2. If you don't have a fancy stand dough mixer, use your hands and combine the ingredients in the same order listed below. Lightly knead the dough together, watch this for technique. Make sure your yeast is well dissolved and gets evenly distributed when you add it!

You won't get to enjoy it with Dave and Annika's hilarious company, but at least you'll get to nom some tasty pizza. . .

Dave's Maitake and Gruyere Pizza


1 lb. maitake mushrooms

1 large leek, thinly sliced

1 cup aged Gruyere cheese

1 clove garlic

2 cups bread flour

1 package active dry yeast

3/4 cup warm water

2 tsp. sugar

1 tsp. salt

2 tsp olive oil + extra


Dissolve 1 tsp. sugar in warm water. Add yeast; allow to bloom, 2-3 minutes.

In a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment place flour, salt, remaining sugar, and olive oil. Set mixer to low and allow dry ingredients to combine before adding bloomed yeast. Add slowly until the dough forms into a ball. Punch dough down into a flat disc; cover and allow to rise for 15-20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Slice mushrooms, garlic, and leek and sautee in a cast iron skillet until softly wilted. Stretch the pizza dough into a rectangle enough to fill a 9×13″ Silpat sheet. Cover with sauteed vegetables and grated Gruyere; bake directly on the Silpat (i.e., not in a baking sheet) for 7-10 minutes or until crust is crispy. Allow to cool for 2-5 minutes and serve.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Wierdest Food Experience: Zanzibar

I've done a lot of entries on some of my favorite food experiences over the last year or so. I eat and enjoy a lot of food. Rarely, there's a genuinely bad food experience too.

But I haven't shared my weirdest food moment. From my annals of memorable eats, alongside memories of beautiful ambiance and delicious flavors, what's enthralled me at the same time that it's turned my tummy a touch queasy? Bizarre and fascinating - but not quite gross?

The title goes to the open air seafood market in Stone Town, Zanzibar. Here, in one of the prettiest little spots on earth, is also one of the strangest food experiences I've had.

The festivities run almost every night during the week in a little city square. Right next to here, the island's dhows dock after early mornings at sea, where local fishermen pull up nets full of sea goodies. And at night, when some goods have been sold to local restaurants and prepared as meals at home, the remaining are curried, grilled, smoked or served raw to locals and tourists alike.

The ambiance at the market is heady. It's pitch black, the sky is full of stars, and all around the market are little kerosene and electric lamps emitting a faint golden glow onto rough wooden tables. People are everywhere, pushing and shuffling through the spaces between tables. Swahili, French, English, Italian, Arabic fly around. Some tables carry crafts and souvenirs for the foreigners. But others, the majority really, are laden with more fish, prawns, squid, crabs, octopus tentacles and fried foods than you can imagine. In the distorting light of the lanterns, it can look like the table tops are alive with creatures from the sea.

It made my stomach churn at first. Bargaining with wiry fishermen over sea carcasses, so close to where the things were just alive and swimming. But once I got past it and ordered my first bite - the sea food here is really fresh and delectable!

How does it work? You walk around and bargain with each vendor for what you'd like. And given that you probably won't speak Swahili, just accept the fact that you're going to pay double what the Zanzibari next to you will. But at least you can probably afford it. A grilled octopus tentacle, with fresh sea salt, chili powder and lime will set you back about $4. Try the fish fritters too - they're deep fried and delicious. And seasoned with some of the island's famous spices. . .

Take some strategic advice: go to the stalls near the water, with the most traffic. The guys towards the back have slow turnover and you may end up with a squid skewer leftover from the day before. Don't rush to buy everything the first time you see it either. Mosey, meander among the tables and see what you like. And if you can deal with watching an octopus get pulled from a bucket and chopped up just behind the grill - order right on the spot to guarantee the freshest piece!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Sushi Spot: Okoze

Sushi is a sacred thing in SF.

Most of my friends are fanatics for it, and they have their preferences. City natives tend to claim their favorite spots, the secret sushi joint that concocts delicious rolls and offers something new. There is certainly no shortage of restaurants to choose from, from the high-end and hard to access Kiss Sushi to hole in the wall places near the wharves.

I'm putting my own stake in the ground and proclaiming that my favorite raw fish fix comes from Okoze Sushi
in Russian Hill.

Try to get a seat at the sushi bar if you've got a small party and want some entertainment. The sushi chefs behind the bar move fast, and are fun to watch. They may bring out a live fish or two though, so be forewarned. But at least you'll know your sushi's fresh!

Have a glass of the house plum wine when you get there too - it's delicious. Their scallop rolls - spicy and not - are really tasty and usually involve two types of scallop (sea and bay). in Russian Hill. Ok, so it's only a 5 minute walk from my apartment. It's further - and better - than Sushi Groove, which is only 3 minutes. I love most things about the place, from the friendly, neighborly service, to the delicious rolls to the ambiance of this Japanese nook. The toro is rich and delicious, melts on your tongue. And order the rainbow roll too to get a good survey of the fish on order.

When you're finished, make sure to stop at Swenson's down Hyde Street for dessert!

1207 Union Street (at Hyde)
San Francisco, CA 94109