Tuesday, May 31, 2011

San Francisco Food Tour: The Gastro at 18th St and Guerrero

OMGCS (Oh My Grilled Cheese Sandwich). There it was like a bright and shiny beacon promising warm, cheesy, deliciousness on a dreary, almost rainy San Francisco day. Parked just on the outskirts of Dolores Park it was Toasty Melts, I had just stumbled upon the Grilled Cheese Sandwich food truck I'd been craving to hunt down ever since Carl Mindling and I first hit the streets of SF in search of our first food adventure five months ago!


LOL I think the sign was supposed to say Cheddar, Smoked Gouda and Jack.


But let me start at the beginning. You may recall that a mere two weeks ago I took part in the Food Blogger Bake Sale to benefit Share Our Strength. It was hosted at 18 Reasons in San Francisco's Mission District.

I had to drop off my baked goods at 10:00 AM but my one hour volunteer shift didn't begin until 4:00 PM. What's a girl to do in the big city for six hours?

For starters I meandered around the bake sale for a bit then went by to visit a sick friend and drop off some cookies I'd baked for her and her caretakers. It was noon when I headed back which would leave me four hours to fill. Hmmm what to do, what to do?

Here's how clueless I can be. I knew about the sale for months but it wasn't until the night before that I went on Google Maps to see where 18 Reasons was located. I just about fell over. Turns out it's kitty corner to one of the most well known food centric districts in all of San Francisco: The 18th Street corridor (affectionately dubbed "The Gastro" by locals) which, as far as I can tell, spans 18th Street between Dolores and Guerrero.


A. The FOOD TRUCKS WERE THERE! - B. Bi-Rite (Ice) Creamery - C. Bi-Rite Market  - D. PIzzeria Delfina & Delfina Restaurant - E. Tartine Bakery & Cafe

I'll admit I was torn. WIth four hours to kill there was no way I wasn't going to have an impromptu food tour! Sadly my fun loving foodie friend Carl Mindling wasn't able to join me. Dare I have a food adventure without him? I felt bad. I felt guilty. I felt regretful. But I had no choice. What was I going to do? Sit on a stoop and read a book with all of that fantastic food just around the corner? You understand my dilemma right?


I put out an open call on Facebook and my friend Gabriela Reid of Colorful Events said she'd love to join me! Yay. We met up at 18 Reasons and walked down to Dolores Street to begin our food adventure.


At Toasty Melts we split a 3 Cheese Sandwich ($4.00). It was really good. We both loved it. The bread had just enough butter in it and the cheese was so flavorful.


Funny, I didn't realize until I looked at the pictures after I got home that not all of the cheese was melted. I'm not sure if that's a signature approach or it was just by chance that you could see all of the shards of grated cheese. Either way it didn't effect the flavor or texture of the sandwich. It was really good and had me craving another before we were done with the first. But I resisted because we had a lot of food left to sample.


Along with Toasty Melts, Liba Falafel was there. You may recall Carl and I tried Liba's falafels back in January when we kicked off our first monthly food adventure.


Gabriela and I each ordered a small falafel ($5.00). I had great success with the toppings I chose that day: Pickled Onions, Red Cabbage with Black Sesame Seeds and Rosemary Peanuts.


The falafel are made from organic chickpeas and all come served with chimichurri, and tahini. I went light on the toppings because we had so many more stops to make.


Gabriela suggested we try the Hand-Cut Sweet Potato Fries with Cilantro, Garlic & Lime ($2.00), something Carl and I skipped the last time around. They were small shoe-string cut fries and were so tasty I would say the next time I dine at Liba I want to stuff my falafel full of the fries along with the other toppings.


And why are all of these people standing in line under this big ice cream cone?


Because that's the Bi-Rite Creamery! This place is totally famous. As a fan of artisan ice cream, so many people have recommended Bi-Rite to me over the years I can't even tell you how many.


Once inside you immediately see this huge wall of ice cream toppings, syrups and cookies as you wait in line.


The moment of truth, choosing a flavor. Though I knew the Salted Caramel was a sure thing, I wanted to try the most unusual flavor on the menu so I ordered a kids scoop ($2.25) of the Balsamic Strawberry while Gabriela ordered a kids scoop of Roasted Banana ice cream.


While my scoop was a very excellent strawberry ice cream the one thing missing was the flavor of the balsamic vinegar. This disappointed me just a bit. I mean how sad could I be eating a perfect scoop of strawberry ice cream? But I wished the balsamic had been included as a swirling stripe of balsamic reduction.


And there were all kinds of flavors pre-packed and ready to go in a tall freezer right by the checkout register.


Next we headed across the street to the Bi-Rite Market. I was so busy shopping I forgot to take pictures! I purchased a small piece of Cabot, vintage, extra sharp, waxed, cheddar cheese, half a round of The Cowgirl Creamery's Mt. Tam triple cream cheese and a loaf of Italian bread by Acme Bread Company so that I could make grilled cheese sandwiches at home.

We also ran into our colleague Elley Ho who had come to the bakesale to purchase some baked goods but sensed at that moment that she would find me in Bi-Rite Market. And she did! LOL Hilarious!


Our final dining stop was Pizzeria Delfina. I'd been there once before with my friend Andy Mark. In fact that night was my first introduction to dining in the Mission District.

Gabriela Reid
Photo by Nancy Rothstein
On Saturday afternoon Delfina restaurant, to the right above, was closed for lunch but the pizzeria, to the left where everyone is sitting on the sidewalk, was open. Our wait for a table wasn't too long and Gabby and I chatted as we waited.

Gabriela and I do share a common interest in supporting The Womens' Initiative. An organization that helps women become entrepreneurs owning and managing their own businesses. They also offer micro-loans to their members that, along with their guidance, has spelled success for many of their graduates.

After 15 years of working in the hospitality industry, Gabriela enrolled in their program in 2007 and is now the proud owner of Colorful Events, a floral design, wedding coordination and event styling company.

I was really grateful for the opportunity get to know Gabriela better. She is such a warm and authentic person and normally we only get to chat for minutes at a time at networking events.


Our table was ready and Gabriela left ordering up to me so we started by sharing the "Fresh Stretched Mozzarella / Belfiore Burrata" cheese that came with a toasted piece of bread and small side salad ($8.50).


I'd had burrata cheese only once before at A16 restaurant down on Chestnut Street in SF and had wanted it again ever since. It was so good. Light, fresh and creamy in the middle, drizzled with olive oil and dusted with ground black pepper. It's a winner and I'd recommend it if you ever have the chance to dine at Pizzeria Delfina.


But this was our favorite dish we shared that day. The "Peas and Peas w/ guanciale and cipolinne" ($9.00) at Pizzeria Delfina. The peas were fresh garden peas and pea shoots combined with the guaniale bacon and cipolinne onions. It was fresh, bright and so tasty! I am now officially addicted to fresh peas and am amazed at the difference between them and the canned and frozen varieties.

At that point we did go down around the corner to Tartine Bakery and Cafe and I did get a pastry to go but including it as an afterthought doesn't do justice to Tartine so I'll be writing a future post only about the bakery. You can't miss it. Just like Bakesale Betty in Oakland, there was a line out the door the entire day I was there. To say they're popular is an understatement.

The reason we didn't stop and sit at Tartine was because it was 3:55 PM and I had to get back for my shift at the bake sale.

I gave Gabriela a big hug and thanked her for coming and spending her afternoon with me :) It was so much more fun with her than if I'd spent it alone.


But don't forget, I still had my cheese and bread from the Bi-Rite Market.

After attending the Maker Faire and missing out on the Brick Grilled Cheese Sandwiches there, my friend Gordon Garb sent me the recipe.

Normally I make my grilled sandwiches by popping two pieces of Acme bread into my toaster oven and laying the cheese on before they finish toasting. So really they aren't even grilled at all. They're toaster oven melted cheese sandwiches.

But this was the real deal. This time I weighted the sandwich as the bread was simultaneously soaking in the gobs of melted butter, browning and the cheese was melting. And it was out of this world.


I didn't have a brick so instead I tried two different methods to weight my sandwiches. First I used my 10" All Clad Frying Pan, with my enameled, cast iron, Le Creuset French Oven sitting on top of it to create my own improvised panini maker.


The second time I put the Le Creuset French Oven directly on the sandwich. Turns out with the 10" fry pan actually worked better at more evenly distributing the weight.

The recipe said to cut your bread at least 1" to 1.5" thick because it would flatten down. Boy did it!


When I began the Le Creuset pot was above the top edge of the fry pan.


By the time I was done it had sunk deeply into the pan.

This was a slice of white Italian Bread by the Acme Bread Company.

The trick, I learned, is to use 1 Tablespoon of butter per side as you grill the sandwich over medium low heat. First you melt the butter in the pan then use the bread to sop up the butter as evenly as possible across the bread before weighting it.

The bread browned to perfection, the butter was addictive and the cheddar was oh so cheesy! I went to bed that night thinking about making another sandwich the next day.


Obviously not healthy but what a great comfort food on a cold and rainy day. Fortunately we don't have that many rainy days here in San Jose or this could become a serious problem.

If you enjoyed this food adventure post you'll probably like these too:

• A Palo Alto, Epicurean Food Tour

• Our May, East Bay, Berkeley and Oakland Food Adventure

• Meet the Kids on The Harley Farms Goat Dairy Tour

• Beyond Sushi: A South Bay Japanese Food Adventure

• Beyond the Beach: A Santa Cruz Food Adventure

• Gourmet Meat Street Food & Vegetarian Food Truck Favorites

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Be The Match Opens Their Online Gift Shop

Guess what? There's another great way to support Be The Match, the National Bone Marrow and Adult Stem Cell Donor Program.

Be The Match has introduced a new, online, public retail store that offers a wide range of their gear that includes apparel, jewelry, hats, water bottles, blankets and more. 100% of the net proceeds from purchases at Shop Be The Match directly support the Be The Match mission to save lives through bone marrow transplants.


Just a few of the products you can find in the Be The Match Gift Shop

Every year, thousands of patients are diagnosed with disease like leukemia, lymphoma, myelodysplasia, aplastic and sickle cell anemia and they depend on Be The Match to give them a second chance at life. Your purchase will help to support the program in three crucial ways:
  1. Add more potential donors to the Be The Match Registry
  2. Provide financial assistance for patients with uninsured transplant costs
  3. Fund research to help patients live longer, healthier lives
Click on the links below to:
Learn more about the need for volunteer minority and mixed ethnicity donors
Learn how to join the registry - It's pain free!
Learn about the stem cell and marrow donation methods

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Summer Pasta Salad for Your Weekend Picnic

Photo by Carl Mindling

For the holiday weekend Carl has added a zesty, light, delicious and totally addictive pasta salad to his "Carl Cooks" cooking column over on The Flirty Guide with his "Killer Confetti Croni – The Salad That Says Summer."

Photo by Carl Mindling

Just boil some Rustichella Anellini Pasta (Carl swears this shape of pasta is needed for best results), chop up the ingredients and you're almost done! There's no mayo in this recipe but you don't even miss it. It's so flavorful! Carl brought me a small container so I could sample it. WOWSA! I only wish he'd brought me a huge container because I wanted MORE!


Love this photo Carl's friend Howard Friedenberg took of him. The picture says it all :)

If you want to make this super yummy, macaroni salad just CLICK HERE for the recipe and a photo tutorial over on The Flirty Guide.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The May Daring Bakers' Challenge: Chocolate, Tequila and a Blow Torch!

The May 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Emma of CookCraftGrow and Jenny of Purple House Dirt. They chose to challenge everyone to make a Chocolate Marquise. The inspiration for this recipe comes from a dessert they prepared at a restaurant in Seattle.

The Daring Bakers' Challenge is a group of novice bakers who take on a challenge each month by making an unusual or complicated recipe supplied to the members of the Daring Kitchen website. We then post and share our results, success and flops, on the 27th of each month.

You can download the recipe PDF by CLICKING HERE. The original recipe is a fairly large quantity so Audax Artifex one of the, if not the, most helpful members of the The Daring Kitchen split the recipe into a 1/2 and 1/4 batch for the rest of us. Just scroll to the end of the PDF for the smaller portions. I made the 1/4 batch.

Petite Bon Bons of Frozen Chocolate Marquise and Burnt Meringue

It took three tries to get my finishing steps and plating right. The finished desert was a cocoa powder covered (frozen) chocolate marquise, topped with a tequila caramel sauce, dusted with cayenne pepper powder, flakes of sea salt and topped with a petite burnt meringue. The flavors together were incredible! I will definitely be making this dessert again.


This was my first attempt. It was cute enough and tasty but I'd expected the flavor of cayenne pepper to be more pronounced and I needed to experiment more at burning the meringue with my new blow torch. Yes, I said blow torch!

And talking about hot, the caramel here is a different color than in my second and third attempts because it was warm to keep it liquified. It looks pretty but the warmth caused the marquise to begin melting so on subsequent attempts I used it chilled from the fridge and it was perfect.


My second attempt brought me closer. This is when I added a couple of shakes of cayenne powder and the crumbled flakes of finishing sea salt. WOW what a difference they made! That's cayenne powder dusted on the dessert and plate.


And because you're probably wondering what the marquise is like inside here's a split view. It's frozen but not hard frozen, more soft frozen like what a block of frozen mousse would be like. And it's so creamy!

The recipe says you can keep this in your freezer for up to six months making it a perfect dessert to serve to last minute guests. Just quickly whip up a small batch of meringue and caramel. I found day five to be the best. The marquise had both thickened and become more creamy and smooth by day five.


Now here's the funny thing. When I saw the recipe I read through it and thought it looked time consuming but pretty easy. And it was. The hard part turned out to be finding all of the necessary ingredients and equipment.

For instance, the recipe called for Dutch Process Cocoa (it should be unsweetened). It's different than other cocoas because it's treated with an alkali which neutralizes its acids.


It's important to make sure the package says "Dutch Process." The easiest to find might be the Hershey Special Dark Dutch Process Cocoa Powder. For a high grade cocoa you can order 8 ounces of Valrhona Dutch Process online. I finally found E. Guittard, another great brand, at Whole Foods after trying several other stores.


Next I needed a blow torch! No kidding. The recipe called for a burnt meringue like the way meringue is prepared on top of a lemon meringue pie. Friends immediately told me to go straight to the hardware store to buy one. They're more powerful and less expensive than the cute ones sold at culinary stores.

I purchased this Bernzomatic 2 Piece Fat Boy at Orchard Supply Hardware for around $25.


See that red button? It's a trigger, self igniter. It made the 2 PC kit of the torch head with cylinder cost a few dollars more but it seemed worth it for the convenience to not need a manual friction lighter.


Next I needed a Tablespoon of tequila. Not being a drinker or margarita lover I didn't want to buy a whole bottle. So I put out a plea on Facebook asking if any of my friends would give me a TBS in a Ziploc bag. LOL hubby said nobody would give me tequila in a Ziploc bag. He was so sure he bet me $5 and he almost never bets anyone anything. So I went back on Facebook and offered the $5 to anyone who would give me the tequila.


Turned out two of my friends, Elley and Loretta, both offered to give me some tequila. Because she offered first I ended up trading Elley a piece of chocolate cake leftover from the one I baked for the SF Food Blogger Bake Sale then bought back. She gave me 3 TBS which allowed me to also add the tequila to my caramel sauce.


Then I needed to get a candy thermometer. A quick trip to Sur la Table and I was set!

The ingredients for the Chocolate Base

The recipe is broken down into parts:

1. The Marquise
2. The Chocolate Base for the Marquise
3. Burnt Meringue
4. The Caramel Sauce (optional)
5. Spiced Nuts (optional)


Heating the Cream in a Double Boiler


The six steps to make the chocolate base:

  1. Add the chocolate to the warmed cream and allow to sit for 1-2 minutes
  2. Whisk until melted chocolate begins to blend into the cream
  3. Whisk until the cream is blended in and the chocolate is smooth
  4. Add in the rest of the ingredients
  5. I added the sugar last, a little at a time
  6. Whisk until smooth and set aside to cool but do not refrigerate
Egg Mixture Ingredients

Next I made the egg mixture for the marquise.

marquis-cream 2

7. Beat the eggs
8. Keep beating the eggs until fluffy (10-15 minutes)
9. Make a sugar syrup
10. I let my sugar syrup get a bit too dark, it happened so quickly, but it tasted just fine. Turned out a 1/4 batch is so small I couldn't use my new candy thermometer.
11. Mix the sugar syrup into the whipped egg mixture and beat for 10 more minutes

When the egg mixture has cooled mix in the chocolate base.


12. Make the whipped cream
13. Fold 1/3 of the whipped cream into the now combined chocolate base and egg mixture
14. Whisk until incorporated
15.  Add in the remaining whipped cream and mix until incorporated


Line a baking pan with parchment.


Pour your marquise mixture into the pan.


Cover the chocolate mixture with Saran Wrap so that it is touching the mixture and place in freezer for a minimum of three hours. Six is even better and overnight is best.


Once your dessert is frozen lift it out of the cake pan with the parchment paper.


Mine looked like this. It was slightly soft to the touch but firm.

You can cut the marquise into square or other shapes. My best advice is not to make the portions too large. This dessert is so rich that just a few spoonfuls are enough. I used a small round biscuit cutter that made small two bite servings.

how-to-make-caramel-sauce 2

I passed on making the spiced nuts but was eager to try making the caramel sauce. It was so easy and really delicious! Just three steps:

  • Make sugar syrup allowing it to darken
  • Whisk in some heavy cream
  • Add flavors like the salt and tequila.

And that was it!


You can refrigerate the caramel and it tastes just fine!

Want to make it? I'll loan you my blow torch if you don't have one!

I love how the cayenne powder looks mixed on the caramel. The final step was piping the meringue mixture onto a cookie sheet and torching it. Once torched I lifted it up with a tiny spatula and placed it on top of the finished marquise and caramel sauce.

And here's my monthly  montage of creations by many of the other Daring Bakers. As always I post this to show you the range of creativity and interpretation that takes place when different people use the same recipe and take on the same challenge. Amazing right?


Row 1
Bake in Paris
Dolcetto Confections
Cocoa and Quinoa

Row 2
Fruits and Vegetables
Munchie Monkey
That skinny chick can bake!!!

Row 3
Testado, Provado e Aprovado!
Simply Cooking 101

Row 4
Korena in the Kitchen
Cherry Tea Cakes
cuisine à 4 mains

Thank you to Emma and Jenny! I really loved this challenge and the dessert. I will be purchasing a bottle of tequila for future batches.

If you would like to learn to make/bake things like this you should join the Daring Bakers too!

If you liked this post you'll enjoy these Bakers' Challenges too:

• January 2011: Fancy Joconde Imprime Entremet
• February 2011: Panna Cotta and Florentine Cookies
• March 2011: Meringue Coffee Cakes
• April 2011: Maple Mousse in an Edible Container