My lovely sister and her boyfriend recently came to visit the Bay Area and I had the privilege of hosting them for a week. My favorite thing about having guests is the excuse to join in on their vacation. Drink every night? Go out to eat again? Dessert? Of course, it’s vacation! We enjoyed long, leisurely dinners almost every night they were here. We took turns making different dishes and sipped wine between courses. It’s so nice not to rush through a meal and really enjoy the food and the company of family and friends. If I had my way, dinner would be like that every night.
Tripp and Tina are good cooks and they introduced me to a few new dishes over the course of their stay. My favorite was roasted asparagus with feta cheese. It is a simple dish that’s really satisfying. The flavors of the cheese and asparagus meld nicely and the cheese adds a subtle richness to this vegetable dish. It’s a perfect appetizer and goes really well with a glass of white wine.
Roast Asparagus with Feta Cheese:
- 1 bunch asparagus
- 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
- 1 tbs olive oil
- 1/2 – 1 tsp salt
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F
- Wash and dry asparagus, and cut off the woody ends. If the asparagus is thick, it helps to peel the stalk.
- Spread the asparagus in a single layer in a baking dish. Drizzle the olive oil over the asparagus and roll the stalks to coat.
- Sprinkle the feta cheese evenly over the dish.
- Sprinkle the salt over the asparagus. I generally add a lot of salt, this is really to taste.
- Bake in the oven for 30 minutes.
On a side note, I’ve been experimenting with my illustrations over the last two posts. They’re more hand-drawn than my usual illustrations. What do you guys think? I would love some feedback, just leave me a comment. You can see my experiments with the illustration from this post here. Thanks everyone!
1. The Berkeley Bowl: The most amazing produce section I’ve ever seen.
2. The Berkeley Bowl West
3. Tuesday Farmer’s Market: Located at Derby St. and MLK Jr. Way
4. Thrusday Farmer’s Market: All organic. Located at Vine st. and Shattuck Ave.
5. Saturday Farmer’s Market: Located at Center st. and MLK Jr. Way
6. Monterey Market
7. Chez Panisse: Founded by Alice Waters. Serves all local and organic food and started the California Cuisine Revolution.
8. Gregiore Restaurant: French-fusion take out, all organic and seasonal. Great for lunch!
9. The Cheese Board Collective: A worker owned business that is both a pizzeria and cheese store.
10. La Note: Amazing weekend brunch.
11. Thai Buddhist Temple: Thai brunch on sundays as a fundraiser for the temple.
12. Bette’s Oceanview Diner
13. The Albatross: Berkeley’s oldest pub. It’s super laid back and cozy.
14. The Missouri Lounge
15. Triple Rock Brewery: Awesome beers and tasty bites. Don’t miss Monkey Head night on Thursdays!
16. Jupiter: Handcrafted beers and wood-fired pizza. Enjoy both in their amazing beer garden.
17. Crixa Cakes
18. The Bread Garden Bakery
19. Elmwood Cafe
20. Peet’s Coffee & Tea: The first location of Peet’s coffee.
21. The Edible Schoolyard: Founded by Alice Waters and located at MLK Jr. Middle School is a one-acre organic garden and kitchen classroom.
22. Michael Pollan: Food author and professor at UC Berkeley.
I recently discovered some mint growing among the nasturtium in front of my apartment and I immediately began brainstorming all the delicious things I could concoct with fresh mint: mint tea, fruit salad with mint, and of course a variety cocktails.
As much as I enjoy a good beer, I prefer cocktails. I think it’s partially a volume thing. I just can’t drink THAT much liquid, beer or otherwise, and partially that I get bored of the the flavor of a beer about halfway through the pint. I really enjoy cocktails for the diverse flavors and manageable volume. Maybe I’m being kind of defensive about my preference but I have a lot of friends who are staunch beer drinkers and always make me feel sissy when I order a cocktail. I just like them more. Okay, guys?!
Rationale aside, I made mint juleps for the first time last night and they were so tasty! Mint juleps are a classic southern cocktail often associated with the Kentucky Derby. They are delicious without being overly sweet. The mint and sugar complement the flavor of the bourbon, without covering it up. You don’t need any fancy mixing equipment or numerous ingredients; all you need is bourbon, sugar, mint, and ice.
Step one: Make a simple syrup. Combine equal parts water and sugar and heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Stir constantly so the sugar doesn’t burn.
Step two: Bruise the mint leaves with dull edge of a knife. You will need 8 leaves per glass, reserve one for garnish.
Step three: Put the mint in a glass and cover with crushed ice. If you don’t have an ice maker that crushes ice, just wrap a few cubes in a towel and whack it with a hammer.
Step four: Give the ice and mint a stir to muddle it together and further release the essential oils of the mint leaves.
Step five: Pour 2 oz of bourbon over the ice and sweeten to taste with the simple syrup. I found 1 TBS of the syrup was perfect (it amounts to about 1/2 TBS of sugar.)
After looking back over my last several posts, I realized that you all probably think I never eat anything simple and healthy. I’ve mostly been writing about deep-fried, buttery, oh-so-delicious-but-oh-so-bad-for-you sweets, pies, and salty treats. Sure, some vegetables will show up once and awhile but they’re usually covered in cheese. It’s not that I never cook anything healthy, it’s just that it’s a lot more fun to make and write about indulgent dishes. Today, I’m going to switch it up a little and let vegetables take the lead.
I save most of my extravagant cooking adventures for the weekend. During the workweek I don’t get home until 6:30 or 7, so I usually make something quick and easy. Homemade marinara sauce is simple to make and takes only ten minutes to cook. If you want to be ambitious you could also make handmade pasta but I usually just boil whatever dried pasta I have around. The fresh sauce is thick, flavorful, and really satisfying. It really doesn’t compare to the thin, runny sauce from a jar.
Homemade Marinara Sauce:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 5 medium tomatoes diced, or about 2 cups
- 1/2 small onion diced
- 3 cloves of garlic diced
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning blend
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- Heat the oil over medium in a large sauce pan and cook the onions until fragrant.
- Add the tomatoes, cover and simmer for about 5 minutes.
- Stir and crush the tomatoes with a wooden spoon.
- Add the Italian seasoning and garlic, return the cover and cook for 3-4 more minutes.
- Stir in the salt and pepper and remove from heat.
Easy, right? This whole process can be done while you’re boiling the pasta. You really couldn’t ask for a quicker meal. I’ll usually saute zucchini for a side dish and maybe pan sear some chicken if I want some protein. All and all, it’s quick and healthy. Happy cooking!
I have a sweet tooth that is equally unpredictable and unrelenting. I can go days without wanting something sweet, but when my sweet tooth does kick in I need a dessert and I NEED IT NOW! The worst is when it hits me late in the evening, after the stores are closed. This happened the other day but luckily I had a few ingredients in the pantry and was able to whip up a batch of brownies.
What I like most about this recipe (besides from being delicious) is its simplicity and the ease with which it comes together. I bake fairly often, so all the ingredients are normal items I have in the house. So there was no running out for special ingredients or doing weird substitutions. Making the batter is straightforward, too. The whole process only took about 35 minutes, including baking. Ah… instant gratification.
Mark Bittman’s Brownies:
- 2 eggs
- 1 stick of butter (8 tablespoons)
- 1 cup of sugar
- 1/2 cup of flour
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
- pinch of salt
- optional: add nuts or dark chocolate chips, to kick it up.
*Update: I just made these brownies again and in a moment of inspiration I added at 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper and 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon. It was AWESOME. If you like a spicy-sweet combo, give this twist a try.
Step one: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease an 8 inch square baking pan.
Step two: In a sauce pan combine the chocolate and butter over low heat. Stir constantly and remove the mixture from the heat as soon as it’s melted.
Step three: Stir in the sugar and then beat in the eggs, one at a time. Stir in the flour, salt, and vanilla.
For this step you can transfer the batter to a bigger mixing bowl, but if you’re like me and want less dishes to wash, just combine all the ingredients in the pan you melted the butter and chocolate in.
Step four: Pour the batter into the greased baking pan and bake until set in the middle. Around 20-25 minutes.
Sweet, sweet success. Add a scoop of ice cream and a few slices of strawberry and you’ve got yourself one divine dish. These brownies would be perfect last minute dessert to bring to a pot-luck or if you’re like me and you get those awkwardly timed chocolate cravings. Midnight snacks never tasted so good. Enjoy!