Monday, November 26, 2007


I was very disappointed when I learned that I would not have the priveledge of cooking for Thanksgiving this year. Generally my family comes together for the day, and everyone is assigned a certain dish to cook. This year, however, my family went to spend the evening at a friend's house where the cooking was done for us.

I will not say anything against the meal. Every last dish was flavorful and heart-warming. The turkey was moist, juicy, and had a salty, smoky, flavor. There were vegetarian, and non-vegetarian stuffings. While I tried both, the non-vegetarian was clearly my favorite. No surprise there! It was a great blend of flavors and textures. It was crunchy and chewy, salty and spicy and sweet. All the things you could ask for from a great stuffing. The mashed potatoes were fluffy, creamy and chunky, and the roasted vegetables were all soft, yet firm enough to stand up to a fork. Like I said, it was one of the better Thanksgiving meals that I have ever had.

I was still very upset that I didn't get to cook anything myself. In honor of one of my favorite parts of the Thanksgiving meal, I would like to share my recipe for mashed potatoes. I have been working to perfect this recipe for a while now, and I think it has gotten pretty good. It's a great part of the Thanksgiving tradition, even when the tradition is broken. Hopefully it will be a part of my Thanksgiving dinner next year.

Happy Thanksgiving, and Happy Holidays.

Mashed Potatoes

2 pounds Yukon Gold or russet potatoes - make sure they are unpeeled! This keeps the potatoes from absorbing too much water.
1/2 cup half and half
1/4 cup - about a half of a stick - butter
salt and pepper to taste

1) Put potatoes in a large pot or dutch oven. Cover with cold water, and bring to a boil. Once boiling reduce the heat to medium and simmer until potatoes are very tender. This should take about 20-25 minutes.
2) Drain the potatoes.
3) Let potatoes cool for 5-10 minutes.
4) Peel off the skins of the potatoes. This should be easy after cooking.
5) Over medium heat let the potatoes dry for about 2 minutes. Stir every so often.
6) Heat the half and half in a small saucepan briefly. Make sure it is warm, but not too hot.
7) Stir butter into the potatoes directly in the pot.
8) Add the half and half while it is still warm and stir until everything is absorbed.
9) Add salt and pepper to taste.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


In order to continue my addictive relationship with the highly esteemed Mission Beach Café I feel that it is finally time for me to return to the restaurant, both for a meal, and in my blog. It has been several weeks since I have stopped by the café, and I have heard that the menus have changed, and new pies have been added. I absolutely must get there to try the pumpkin pie before it goes out of season!

A huge part of my attraction to this restaurant, besides the food, atmosphere, and personnel, is that the philosophies of the owner, Bill Clarke, are so dead on with my own ideas about food. It was almost a month ago already since I sat down and met with Bill to discuss what it was that he was trying to do at Mission Beach Café, and his thoughts have stuck strong to me ever since. I am even more impressed by this place to see how well thought through the entire production is.

There were two main ideas that Bill touched on that made lasting impressions on me. His words were so meaningful to me because they reiterated many of the ideas I had been discovering on my own at the same time. It was almost as if Bill had read my blog and my mind before our meeting because he seemed to agree with all of my beliefs. I can’t tell you how wonderfully reassuring it was for me to realize that people who were successful in the restaurant business shared my ideas. Maybe I can make it in that world as well.

He talked a lot about how not only food, but also the atmosphere, and the experience in a restaurant affect the meal greatly. The ideas he spoke of reminded me of my post about service. Bill said that there are many different ways that we are “fed” by a restaurant. Food is clearly one of these ways. The meal itself is definitely important, but there is also the ambience of the restaurant, the presentation of the food, the comfort that the patron feels in the restaurant, even the person’s company all greatly determine a diner’s opinion of a restaurant and the dining experience. The customer’s sense of taste must be pleased by the restaurant, but their sense of smell, sight, sound, and touch must also be tended to.

It is for this reason that Bill put so much time, effort, and money into making Mission Beach Café as delightful as it is. He spent almost an entire year picking out the perfect wood for the tables and chairs. Because of this, all of the furniture is gorgeous, and comfortable. He tested hundreds of restaurants in San Francisco to find which level of noise is the most suitable to having a calm conversation. He also chose to use very mellow and warm colors to paint the interior of the restaurant, and he picked some beautiful pieces of art that complement the colors of the walls. To set the mood, the lights are kept just above a flicker so that the dining experience seems very classy and elegant. I can’t say enough about how satisfying and relaxing a meal is at Mission Beach Café.

Another idea that Bill spoke to was that the best part of his work at the Café is to see all of the people in the community have a special place to get to meet, relax, eat, and enjoy themselves. I have always felt that one of my favorite parts about cooking is to see the reactions of the people I’m serving. It is a great feeling to see how happy someone can be when they taste something truly delicious. I fully understand how Bill feels. When I see the great interactions between the community and the restaurant, I know that I love being a part of something that can make many people so joyful.

Once again, I love Mission Beach Café.

Monday, November 19, 2007


Considering that this blog is called "The Grill" I figure that it is finally time for me to write a post about my experience with one of God's greatest creations... meat. Meat plays a very important role in both my life, and my young culinary career. Let me start by stating that I love eating meat. All different kinds. Beef, steak, pork, lamb, ground meats, ribs, it doesn't matter. If it comes from an animal, I will try it. If it's cooked well, I'll like it. It's as simple as that. I am a carnivore.

When it comes to cooking meat I have tried many different styles. I often braise, roast or pan-sear a nice roast or a steak, but for the most part I seem to be connected at the hip to a good grill.

I am still searching, however, for my favorite type of grill. At home I have a gas grill, not necessarily to my liking. I do enjoy the control that a gas grill offers, but I don't always like the way that the meat is cooked. I feel like it loses some of its flavor, and that a lot of the juices are sucked out of the meat from the flame. I find that if I'm not careful I can end up with a piece of leather for dinner on a gas grill.

At school I am the head of MEAT club. We meet as a community to grill different kinds of meat together every other Friday. At school we use charcoal, which I tend to like much more than gas. The flavor of the meat is generally kept intact. I find that when charcoal is used the meat sears better, with a crisper outer layer. This crispness seals in many of the juices and smoky, salty flavors that the meat has on its own. It also helps to keep in whatever flavors may be added to the meat through a marinade. There are two problems with this method, however. One problem is that it takes a very long time to get the charcoal fully fired up. At school there is only so much time during lunch, and I need to get as much meat cooked as possible. Because of this I sadly turn to the help of a slightly lesser evil... lighter fluid. I know, I know, lighter fluid is the marijuana of cooking. It is the gateway to other culinary blasphemies, but there are times when it comes in handy. School lunches are one of those times. I am trying to cut out the use of lighter fluid by using a cone for my coals, but until I get it fully figured out I may continue to use the terrible substance. Hopefully this changes soon.

My favorite way to cook meat on a grill would have to be by using wood to fire the grill. The biggest problem with this method is controlling the flame, but overall it gives the best overall taste to the meat, and is not too much harder than using coals. I hope that I will get to cook using this method more often in the future.

I’m not sure what the solution to my grilling needs will be. I am going to continue experimenting with many different cooking methods until I find my favorite way to make my favorite food. I want to be able to find an answer to the issues that I have with my current barbeques so that I can continue enjoying meat to the fullest.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


I went to Brenda's on Monday! I had a lunch that tingled, surprised, pleased and disappointed my tongue. I finally got to try my beloved Po' Boy. I am still undecided, however, as to how I felt about this sandwich. The fried oyster Po' Boy was definitely exciting, but I can't tell how it compared to those I had in New Orleans.

The oysters were soft and chewy with a thin but crispy fried batter around the edges. The sandwich was filled with these tasty little morsels. The oysters were stuffed into a soft, grilled French roll. My favorite part must have been the remoulade sauce. This is a very creamy topping, similar to an aioli, but with more of a kick to it. It's creamy, tangy, spicy flavors complement fried seafood far better than tartar sauce in my opinion. These essential ingredients of a Po' Boy were very well done and helped to impress my taste buds.

Still, I'm not sure what it was, but it just didn't feel like it lived up to the memory. Maybe it's just been too long since New Orleans for the comparison, maybe the necessary ingredients aren't as available outside of the Big Easy. Whatever the reason is, I wasn't as thrilled by my lunch as I had been hoping to be. I spent the entire meal comparing it to the flavors of Po' Boys of the past. The flavors and tastes just didn't match up. To tell you the truth, I think that the reason for this may actually be that the ingredients here are of higher quality. Don't get me wrong, everything in New Orleans tasted fresh and local, but it just wasn't like the California Po' Boy. At Brenda's the French Roll tasted like it may have actually been baked earlier that day, and it was toasted so that it was golden brown on the inside. In New Orleans the bread was generally slightly harder and chewier, and rarely toasted. Here the oysters were succulent and juicy, there they were often drier and smaller. Even the remoulade sauce here seemed to have more of a prominent bite. All of the veggies seemed more organic here. For example, the pickles here seemed like they were fresh, crunchy, sour, and slightly bitter dill pickles. In my Po' Boys in New Orleans they were generally filled with the sweet and sour, yellowish-green sandwich pickles general found in supermarkets. It seemed that the majority of the ingredients in the Po' Boy here simply had more of a "California" organic feel.

I don't say this to take anything away from either sandwich. I only say it because after trying my first Bay Area Po' Boy I have developed the theory that a "California Po' Boy" will never resemble a New Orleans creation. This is due to the growing emphasis on the freshest and most organic ingredients here. In New Orleans this is different because this is not nearly as much of a priority in Louisiana. While attempts will be made to replicate the famous lunchtime meal, I'm not sure I will find anything that reminds me of the original Po' Boy. We shall see.

My next stop, Jesso's in Oakland...

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Po' Boys

I went to Brenda's for breakfast on Monday morning and I was pleasantly surprised find a very good New Orleans style restaurant. The breakfast was wonderful: buttery, creamy grits, flaky, crusty biscuits, sweet beignets that were crispy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside, plus great eggs filled with chewy, briny oysters. While this was very stimulating, all I could think about was going back to try the fried oyster Po' Boy. The place strongly reminded me of my time in New Orleans this past summer. I spent two weeks in New Orleans volunteering with Habitat for Humanity back in July. This was my first, but certainly not last, visit to New Orleans. It was a great city. Besides the friendly people and beautiful parts of the city, my favorite part had to be the food. What an unbelievable food city! There are flavors and dishes there that don't exist in any other part of the world. I loved getting coffee and beignets from Café Du Mond in the French Quarter for breakfast and snacks, Po' Boys for lunch, and fried seafood, gumbo, jambalaya, and red beans and rice for dinner. The most exciting of these however had to be the Po' Boys.

During my lunch breaks while working at Habitat I would explore the city for great Po' Boys. For those who are unfamiliar, these are unbelievable sandwiches that originated in New Orleans. They start with long French rolls that are supposed to be crisp and flaky on the outside but very soft on the inside. Then they are topped with mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, pickles, and gravy if you get it dressed. The final topping will be your choice of meat, seafood, poultry, or vegetables. While in New Orleans I tried Po' Boys of all sorts. I had everything from innovative creations like rabbit, slow roasted duck, fried green tomatoes with grilled shrimp and a remoulade sauce, to the normal sandwiches like fried oysters, fried shrimp, soft shell crab, and even alligator sausage. Each and every sandwich was unique, and each sandwich was gave me a new way to look at the average lunch.

I have wanted a Po' Boy since the day I returned from the Big Easy. I have not been able to find one anywhere except for Popeye’s, and let's face it, it's not the same. I will not rest until I find something that might be able to take me back to my days in New Orleans. Hopefully Brenda's might be able to do it.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Pleasure Cooking

While there are times when I most certainly love the hectic, fast-paced, crazy lifestyle of cooking in a professional or semi-professional kitchen I spent my Sunday cooking a meal for some family and friends at a slow, leisurely pace. It was remarkable how pleasant the whole experience was. I was cooking with a very good friend that I met through my uncle. He is great cook and very knowledgeable in the kitchen. He also has a talent for planning out the cooking process so that all goes well.

Together we made a crispy, juicy, perfectly succulent, and magnificently cooked standing rib roast served along with carrots, celery, and pearl onions roasted until they were just soft around the edges and aromatic, creamy and buttery mashed potatoes, and soft yet durable miniature Yorkshire puddings that held it all together. To top it all off I made merlot reduction gravy that gave the dish a sweet and tangy finish. To end the meal my friend taught me to make a sachertorte. This is something like a chocolate cake except that it is superior in that the cake portion of it is light, fluffy, and chocolaty without being overly dense or overwhelming. The chocolate glaze that it is then covered with is creamy and thick and after spending several hours in the refrigerator it hardens just slightly so that the texture is similar to a soft candy bar. I have to say, this may have been the best chocolate cake I have ever had!

What was most incredible about my afternoon was that everything went so smoothly. I make big dinners similar to this often, and yet even with more than one person it can be a rush in the kitchen over the course of the afternoon which, in my family, has led to screaming, fighting, and the occasional small-scale kitchen fire. This meal however, was different from Thanksgivings, Christmas, Hanukkah, Easter, and Passover in the past (yes, I realize I just mentioned days celebrated by two different religions, but I was raised in Jewish and Italian families and therefore Judaism and Catholicism was often mixed). The difference was that the entire day went without flaw, without chaos and without any stress or anxiety. How wonderful it is to cook without stress! This was the way to cook when it comes to family dinners and special occasions. While the idea of cooking professionally is still a thrill, this was a major draw to cook for pleasure. While a little bit of la Vida Loca can always be fun, in the long run cooking when it's convenient, and in a manner that suits the chef, is never a bad way to enjoy a meal!