Posted by: on Aug 1, 2014 | No Comments

The Lucky Pig

Posted by: on Nov 18, 2012 | One Comment

If you ever find yourself up in Calistoga, get thee to Solbar and order the Lucky Pig post-haste! You’ll be rewarded with slow-cooked pork shoulder accompanied by all manner of toppings and accoutrements. You can use a butter lettuce leaf or black sesame crepe to wrap everything up into one delicious package.

The recipe is posted online, but alas, it’s for 16 servings! Below is my adaptation that will serve 4-6.

Photo by Monica Renner

The Lucky Pig, Adapted from chef Brandon Sharp of Solbar – Calistoga, CA

6 lbs pork shoulder
Salt and black pepper
1/4 cup canola oil
6 cloves unpeeled garlic
bunch fresh thyme

Sesame Crepes: 
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup bread flour
3/4 teaspoons salt
5 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1 tablespoon sesame oil
5 eggs
1 1/4 cups milk
1 teaspoon black sesame seeds

Pickled Pineapple:
3 cups water
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
5 cups brown sugar
1/8 cup salt
1/8 cup cloves
1/8 cup Szechuan peppercorns
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
Juice of 3 limes
2 pineapples, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

Mongolian Peanuts:
6 pods star anise, in a sachet
2 pounds raw red-skin peanuts
Kosher salt to season
Korean red pepper to season
Enough water to cover peanuts

Butter lettuce leaves
Sesame crepes

Chopped scallions
Lime wedges
Jalapeño slices
Fresh basil, cilantro, and mint leaves
Peanut Sauce


Pork shoulder prep: 

  1. Cut into 2-pound rectangular pieces.
  2. Score the fat in a crosshatch manner.
  3. Season liberally with salt and black pepper.
  4. Refrigerate, uncovered, for 5-8 hours.

Cooking the pork shoulder: 

  1. Preheat the oven to 300ºF.
  2. Sear the roasts, fat-side first, until well-browned on all sides.
  3. Place pork in large roasting pan, fat-side up.
  4. Add the garlic and thyme, and cover with foil or a metal lid.
  5. Transfer to the oven and roast for 5 hours or more.
  6. Pork should be super tender and pull apart easily with a fork.

Black sesame crepes: 

  1. Combine the flours, salt, butter, sesame oil, eggs, and milk.
  2. Blend until smooth.
  3. Stir in the sesame seeds.
  4. Let batter rest for about 8 hours before making crepes.

Pickled pineapple: 

  1. Put the water, rice wine vinegar, brown sugar, salt, cloves, Szechuan peppercorns, and vanilla seeds in a pot and bring to a boil.
  2. Reduce heat to a low simmer and cook for 10 minutes.
  3. Place pineapple in large container, and pour pickling liquid over pineapple.
  4. Add lime juice.
  5. Pineapple slices should be completely submerged in the pickling liquid.
  6. Refrigerate for about 8 hours.

Mongolian peanuts: 

  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF.
  2. Bring the water and star anise to a boil and cook for five minutes.
  3. Add the peanuts, cover, and boil for 7 minutes.
  4. Turn off heat and let steep for 10 minutes.
  5. Drain peanuts and spread on parchment-lined baking sheet.
  6. Roast, turning twice, for 30 minutes,
  7. Let cool.
  8. Fry the peanuts for 4 to 5 minutes or until crunchy.
  9. Season with salt and Korean red pepper.
  10. Set aside to cool.

Last steps:

  1. Cook crepes.
  2. Garnish pork with scallions.

Lucky Pig: Assemble!

Take a butter lettuce leaf or crepe and add pork, pineapple, peanuts, and any other topping you desire. C’est délicieux!

Strawberry Pretzel Dreams

Posted by: on Aug 24, 2012 | No Comments

Courtesy of the Garden Creamery food truck at Soma StrEat Food Park.

Summer salad

Posted by: on Apr 30, 2012 | No Comments

  • Butter lettuce
  • Chicken
  • Strawberries
  • Apples
  • Tomatoes 
  • Pine nuts 
  • Kale
  • Cucumber
  • Avocado


Cocktailing 101: Pegu Club Cocktail

Posted by: on Apr 2, 2011 | One Comment

As if there weren’t enough great summer drinks available already (I’m talking to you, Gin and Tonic), here comes the Pegu Club Cocktail. It seems fussy (two types of bitters??) but it’s really pretty forgiving. Don’t have any fancy orange curaçao? Triple sec will do the trick. And if you don’t have any bourgeois orange bitters just double up on the angostura (although, really, orange bitters are amazing).

The Pegu Club Cocktail

  • 1 and a half ounces gin
  • 1 ounce orange liquor (triple sec or orange curaçao will work)
  • 3/4 ounces lime juice
  • 2 dashes angostura bitters
  • 2 dashes orange bitters

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with a few ice cubes and shake for about 20-30 seconds. Strain into a fancy glass and drink somewhere relaxing, preferably outdoors. On a patio.

Cocktailing 101: The Dirty Martini

Posted by: on Mar 19, 2011 | One Comment

Right off the bat, I should probably say that there are many, many different approaches to this drink. These happen to be my favorite proportions, but they are by no means martini gospel. Part of the fun of martini-making is concocting your own signature combination. This dirty martini is a little, well, dirty. I prefer gin to vodka since it’s so clearly superior, but go for whatever tickles your taste buds.

The Dirty Martini

  • 2 ounces gin
  • .3 ounces dry vermouth
  • .3 ounces olive juice
  • 2 olives
  • Lots of ice

Combine all ingredients (except olives) in a shaker and shake until your fingers start to stick. Strain into a glass and garnish with olives. If you’re using gin, spring for the good stuff (Tanqueray, Hendrick’s, Bombay Sapphire), and leave the well brands for mixed drinks.

Dinner and an Album:Lamb with Mint Pesto and Elis Regina’s Como & Porque

Posted by: on Mar 4, 2011 | One Comment

Last week I found myself in possession of a very fancy bottle of zinfandel, and wanted to make something that would serve as a nice pairing. Most foodie experts recommend dark meat to go with zin, and being the lamb fanatic that I am, I decided to expand my repertoire beyond the Moroccan slow-cooked approach.

If you’re not a lamb person (or don’t think you are), this dish might just turn you around. I ended up adapting an Emeril Lagasse recipe for grilled lamb chops with mint pesto, and they were d-e-v-i-n-e. The marinade and pesto managed to transform the chops from a mediocre weeknight dinner into a savory, delectable heap of lamby deliciousness, the likes of which you could find in only the finest of Michelin rated eateries. OK maybe that’s a strength, but if you’re trying to impress someone, this is the recipe that will do it.

Though the ingredients in the marinade and pesto are robust, they weren’t overpowering and definitely did not detract from the subtler flavor of the lamb. In fact, the biggest takeaway I got from this dish was that buying a decent, often pricier cut of meat (from an actual butcher or a Whole Foods-esque establishment) makes a huge difference in tenderness and flavor, especially if you’re grilling rather than slow-cooking. Just bite the bullet and go for the high-end stuff. You’re worth it.

Jump over to Another Freaking Cooking Blog for the recipe.

If you want to push this meal to its full potential and create a real dinner experience, you should pop in Elis Regina’s Como & Porque (Here and Now) whilst savoring your lamb and zinfandel. The compliments from your guests will be ceaseless. “This lamb, it’s positively heavenly! And this music! How can one man/women have such good taste in food AND music?” They’ll be in the palm of your hand.

For the uninitiated, Elis Regina was part of the Brazilian Tropicália movement in music during the 60s and 70s, a stylized mixture of traditional African and Brazilian rhythms with rock and roll and bossa nova. Released in 1969, Como & Porque was Regina’s 12th album, full of light arrangements, smooth rhythms and her clear, at times breathtaking, voice.

The horn, percussion and string arrangements by Roberto Menescal are breezy and joyful, and have a soft stream of consciousness quality that perfectly compliments Regina’s vocals. The malleability of Regina’s sound is striking on this album. In “Casa Forte”, her voice is layered over itself again and again to create a powerful, wordless harmony that connotes a beautiful sadness and longing. In “Canto de Ossanda”, it slithers quietly at first, only to build to a loud, fantastic finish. In “Vera Cruz” it ebbs and flows between a quavering fragility and a powerful intensity.

Aside from her music, Regina was an influential cultural and political figure as well, openly critical of the Brazilian military government and its incarceration of other musicians and leaders of Tropicalismo.

Check out “Canto de Ossanda”:

Cocktailing 101: Ramos Gin Fizz

Posted by: on Mar 4, 2011 | 2 Comments

Next Tuesday is Mardi Gras, and what better way to celebrate than with an authentic New Orleans cocktail!

Last week when I attempted to make this drink the results were… interesting. I suppose the lesson learned was that with certain drinks (or recipes in general, for that matter), if you don’t follow the ingredients, proportions and instructions very carefully, you’ll end up with a concoction that must be drowned in Arancia soda.

The Ramos Gin Fizz (a.k.a. the Ramos Fizz or New Orleans Fizz) was invented by Henry C. Ramos in 1888 at his bar in New Orleans. It was a time of growth for America: we’d just received the Statue of Liberty from France, the telephone and light bulb were still relatively new inventions, and the first “skyscraper” was erected in Chicago at 10 stories. But perhaps most importantly, at least for the purposes of this post, the Temperance movement had begun in earnest, with Kansas being the first state to go dry. The Ramon Gin Fizz obviously survived prohibition, and is still one of New Orleans’ best known cocktails.

Ramos Gin Fizz 

  • 1.5 ounces gin
  • 1 ounce cream
  • 1 egg white
  • 3/4 ounce lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon superfine sugar
  • 2-3 dashes orange flower water
  • Club Soda

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with a few ice cubes, and go at it. This is a great drink to make when friends are over… because you can hand it to them to shake for a while. As with all egg drinks, the longer you shake the more you’ll emulsify your egg and the better your drink will be. Once you’re done shaking, strain into a tall glass with club soda and toast to Fat Tuesday and the Big Easy.

Dinner and an Album: Chili-Glazed Pork and Destroyer’s Kaputt

Posted by: on Feb 16, 2011 | No Comments

I consider myself a fan and connoisseur of pork in just about any formation, be it loins, ribs, roast, chops, or the king of pork products, BACON, so it’s always fun to try out a new approach to cooking this most appetizing of meats. This recipe for chili-glazed pork was relatively simple, and goes exceedingly well with the side dish of savory sweet potato hash.

You can do a lot of things with pork tenderloin since its shape gives it a propensity for being stuffed with any number of hearty delectables, but in this case we’re taking the easy route by simply coating the outside with salt, pepper, olive oil, chili powder and maple syrup. (Who wants to bother with kitchen twine anyway?) Admittedly, I did go a bit heavier on the “glazed” part of this recipe than the “chili” part, but the proportions are pretty malleable depending on your preference for spiciness/sweetness. The end result is an aromatic, mouthwatering main course that is also quick and filling.

If the pork is the famous, high-paid star of this dinner production, the hash is the underrated character actor who ultimately steals the show. Deepak Chopra has this thing about “the flavors of life,” which describes the benefits of a diet that includes a wide range of color and texture. This idea appeals to both the artist and foodie in me, and the dark oranges and greens of the potato hash are definitely as attractive as they are delicious. Though the ingredients may seem sparse (it’s literally sweet potatoes, shallots and spinach), the mélange is comforting and savory and packs a nutritional punch to boot. Let’s hear it for unintentionally eating healthy!

Jump over to Another Freaking Cooking Blog for both recipes.

Kaputt is the ninth studio album from Destroyer, a Canadian band fronted by singer Dan Bejar. Destroyer has been recording and performing for the last ten years, and has been compared to artists like David Bowie and Pavement. Bejar describes Destroyer’s sound as “European Blues”, which, though apt, seems a less applicable classification for Kaputt than previous albums. Kaputt feels less bluesy and more like romantic pop meets 80s synth meets smooth jazz meets beat poetry. How’s that for categorization?

Bejar’s lyrics are something die-hard Destroyer aficionados take great pride in dissecting and analyzing, and Kaputt does not disappoint in this regard. As a big Kara Walker fan, I was delighted to learn of her lyrical collaboration with Bejar. The beginning of “Suicide Demo for Kara Walker” is moody and atmospheric, but soon launches into a patchwork of free-form images and ideas which feels at times like listening to a smoothly crafted word association game. Lines like “Flesh and blood, my death close at hand! Sister, this is not about me and it’s not about you, I swear!” seem like private glimpses into how intimate their collaboration must have been.

That Kaputt’s overall sound works so well is surprising to me, given the unusual mixture of synthesizers, New Order-esque basslines, and soft horns. Working in the sax or trumpet when your sound is neither funk nor soul can be a tricky proposition, yet here it’s done delicately and thoughtfully, never lapsing into a place that sounds inauthentic or overly produced. Trying to imagine this album without them is impossible since they’ve been so carefully woven into the texture of tracks such as “Song for America” and “Chinatown”.

One last bit to mention is that the backup vocals on this album are astounding. They’re provided by singer Sibel Thrasher, who, like the aforementioned sweet potato hash, manages to steal the show on songs like “Downtown” and “Blue Eyes”.

Check out the official video for “Kaputt” below:

Dinner and an Album: Chickpea Bajane and El Guincho’s Pop Negro

Posted by: on Jan 18, 2011 | One Comment

If you ever get “voluntold” to make dinner, and the recipe at hand looks like something Clarissa’s mom would have made, just go with it. Appearances can be deceiving.

Chickpea Bajane did not pique my interest at first glance. By that I mean, upon looking at the ingredients list, my face dissolved into gaping maw. A fennel bulb… and leeks? With quinoa? Uh-huh. Maybe I’ll just have cereal for dinner instead. However, as I continued reading, things started to look up. A CUP of wine. Indeed. 5 cloves of garlic. Go on. Thyme and chickpeas. Maybe this will work.

Sometimes you just need a little faith that everything will come together in the end. Despite a very healthy ingredient list, this dish is incredibly flavorful and filling! Shocking, I know. The combination of fennel, garlic, wine and thyme creates a very unusual flavor and consistency that is buttery, moist and, well, fennel-y. Although “Bajane” is a Provençal word for “midday meal”, it’s perfectly suited for a weeknight dinner as it is light and reheats well for lunch the next day.

On an effort scale of 1 to 10 (1 being dinner through a feeding tube and 10 being a nice Coq au Vin or Baked Alaska), I’d give this a 4.5, due to all the chopping. Otherwise it is a very straightforward, bullet-proof dish. Jump over to Another Freaking Cooking Blog for the recipe. Maybe make a nice Clover Club or Airmail to go with.

As for the album…

If you’re making Chickpea Bajane, you really should be listening to Pop Negro. Just pretend you’re the host of the new TBS show, Dinner and an Album.  In my case, I played the part of both the female eye candy and snappy comedian.

Pop Negro is the fourth album from El Guincho, the solo project of Spanish musician Pablo Díaz-Reixa.  Don’t be confused by the title – “Pop” means Octopus in Catalan, so what we’re dealing with here is a “Black Octopus”. Obviously. The sound has a colorful, exotic texture that feels like a blend of Animal Collective, Os Mutantes, afrobeat and tropicália, which Díaz-Reixa describes as  “space-age exotica”.  I like to describe it as “organic electronica”, but because that could not sound more pretentious, I’ll just call it “the perfect soundtrack to Chickpea Bajane”.

I like my music layered, and this is layered. Between the vocals, keyboards and steel drums, the sound is a fluttering, vivid, colorful PARTY for your ears.  If you didn’t have synesthesia before listening to Pop Negro, you definitely will afterwards.  “Bombay”, “Lycra Mistral” and “Ghetto Facil” are the standout dance tracks, although the slower tempo of “Danzo Invinto” and “Muerte Midi” are welcome transitions into a smoother, beachier sound.

Díaz-Reixa was interviewed by the NYTimes last October, and had some interesting thoughts on music and style.  Of his musical influences, he says, “My grandma. She’s a music teacher and used to be a singer, and also one of my best friends. She always gives me the best advice. The producer that I admire the most these days is Humberto Gatica. Digging his work with Celine Dion’s ‘Falling Into You’”. That’s right – “Falling Into You”. On his current style obsessions: “I love old Mistral equipment, shirts and beach towels. I wish they’d be easier to find. And I really love girls in their dresses in the summer in Gran Canaria.” Of course he does.

Check out (the slightly NSFW) video for “Bombay”:

“FM Tan Sexy”: