Thursday, March 23, 2006

Spring Salad

When Spring officially arrives it rarely feels like there's been a seasonal shift. In Boston, I learned that folks mark the unofficial start of Spring when crocuses pop up, but this always seems to happen much later than you'd want or expect. And in college, Spring Breaks were spent in relatively chilly Rosarito Beach, where we'd desperately seek poolside tans under overcast skies. New to the Bay Area, I'm learning about the local indications of the vernal equinox, and thus far can report a giant increase in thunderstorms, accompanied by blankets of wildflowers that coat the hillsides and median strips. Meanwhile, I'm still wearing sweaters and have the heater cranked at night. The supermarket tells a different story (but this is also the case midwinter, so go figure). I picked up some great looking produce that my husband whipped into a lovely spring salad that's simple and tastes of a warmer place.

Fresh Mint, finely chopped
Balsamic Vinegar

Task: Chop the mandarins and cucumber into bite-size pieces, and toss in a bowl. Toss in the fresh mint. In a separate bowl, mix the oil, balsamic, and salt into a dressing and toss into the salad.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Sweet Basil's Chicken Cacciatore

Sweet Basil, located in Needham (about 15 miles from Boston) is one of my all time favorite restaurants in the Boston area. This tiny little open kitchen restaurant seats about 22, is one of the few BYOB joints around, only takes cash, doesn't take reservations, and always has a line out the door. But once you're lucky enough to snag a table, you're indulged with a complimentary bowl of garlicky homemade pesto and a generous basket of chewy Italian bread, especially thrilling if you've been waiting outside in the snow for 45 minutes. The food is always flavorful and the portions huge. We usually remember to bring a favorite wine to accompany our repeat order the Sauteed Scallop Salad, Steamed Mussels, and Chicken Cacciatore with Farfalle Noodles. The Chicken Cacciatore is like no other. The chicken is shredded, and it's drowned in a balsamic-wine tomato sauce that's incredibly addicting. I feel lucky to have come upon a rendition of this recipe, courtesy of Food Down Under , that takes me back to Sweet Basil. It takes a little time, but I think well worth it. And for me, it's an easy trip to Boston.

Sweet Basil's Chicken Cacciatore
Yield: 4 -6 servings


2 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
2 tsp olive oil
2 med carrots, diced
1 onion, diced
1/2 cup minced garlic
2 stalk celery, diced
10 med mushrooms, diced
3 red bell peppers, sliced
4 Roma tomatoes, diced
2 cup chicken stock
1 1/2 cup port wine
1 1/2 cup red wine
1 cup Balsamic vinegar
1 bay leaf
1 2 lb. uncooked pasta
2 tsp asiago or Parmesan cheese
1 bn chopped fresh basil

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Sprinkle the chicken with generous amounts of salt and pepper. Place in a large, oven-proof casserole and roast for about 20 minutes, until they are fairly well cooked but still juicy.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in the bottom of a stock pot. Saute the carrots, onions, garlic, celery, mushrooms and peppers until they are well browned but not black. Add the tomatoes, chicken stock, two types of wine and Balsamic vinegar. Bring to a boil and pour over the chicken.

Add the bay leaf and return the casserole to the oven. Bake for 20 minutes.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta until it is barely cooked. Drain, but don't rinse the pasta, reserving some of the pasta cooking water. Add the pasta to the casserole and let it finish cooking (out of the oven) in the sauce, about 2-3 minutes, depending on how you like your pasta. If the sauce is a little dry, add some of the pasta cooking water. If it is too watery, let the pasta sit and sop up some of the liquid.

To serve, garnish with cheese and basil.

Monday, March 20, 2006


This adds a very different twist to international dining. Those of you who follow this site know that I'll venture off into the dark alleys of cuisine to try the untried, but this really takes the cake and I'm grateful that Guo-li-zhuang is many miles away. To read all about it, go to this China Daily article for more!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

International Night

One of the many joys of living on a college campus is having access to culturally rich (and oftentimes free) cultural events and activities. This past weekend, for example, we found ourselves at a hilarious and totally professional student improv-musical ($3!!) and the next night at a free staging/workshop of Stew's (of "The Negro Problem) Passing Strange. Sometimes these events come in the form of food, the focus of this lively blog, and I feel it's my duty to share the inside scoop on what some of you might be missing.

International Night, sponsored by Stanford's Graduate Student Association, pulled in a crew of polo shirt, tie-dye, and sari-sporting students and happy, hungry tag-alongs. After waiting in a loooong line (hey, we're talking free food and college students!), each of us received 4 coupons, redeemable for four food samples. Waiting in line was one thing, but real challenges to spend 4 coupons in a sea of twenty countries?! I ended up in India, partly because I love the food, but mostly because their portions were far larger than the rest. A friend of mine, who was sorely nibbling at a tiny French pastry mused that the overarching philosophies of nations could be sensed through the culture of their foods. Your thoughts?

Sunday, March 05, 2006


A friend from my husband's grad program, Deepak, invited us for a traditional Northern Indian meal in his home, and we were honored to join him. Before dinner, his roommate, Abhigit, did an amazing show-and-tell of Indian spices and pantry goods. Some of the spices he shared were hand-blended by his mom in India, and rightfully used with some serious discretion. On the left is her Sambar Masala and that's Goda Masala on the right. Both had rich, intense smells and flavors that couldn't be found in store-bought spices. Behind the spices is Gur, unrefined sugar that has more intensity and nuance than the grainy white stuff.

All that sniffing and tasting revved up the stomach acids, and we were ready to eat! The simple meal of potato and red bean masala with basmati rice was so delicious I had three servings! The ginger pickle you see in the background is a great complement to the meal, and can be picked up at any Indian Market for under 2 bucks.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Fried Spam Sushi

I've always loved sushi for its light and healthy qualities, but when I saw fried spam sushi ($2.00) on the menu at Hukilau in Palo Alto I thought there must be something to it. Now SPAM isn't a favorite food of mine. In fact, I was a pretty devout vegetarian for 10 years, and have only been eating fish and poultry in my more recent past. Every now and then I'll dip into the more meaty territories, but almost exclusively for the sake of trying something amazingly unique or super-gourmet. I had sweetbread at my father-in-law's retirement party and tried caracoles in a Seville cafe that specialized in little snails, but SPAM???? Well, proof that I ordered it is in the photo, and proof that I tried'll just have to trust me on this one. And it was really good!!

We washed down the surprisingly heavy Hawaiian meal that followed with a really great mango mojito (the bartender actually muddled the mint!) and a refreshing and way-too drinkable lychee martini.