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every dish has a story

Vietnamese WaffleJul 30, 2011

While my foolproof carnitas and salsa verde recipes are in progress, things have been rather busy lately, so cooking and writing has fallen on the backburner.  In the meantime, I figured I would share a few foodie inspirations that I have encountered over the last few weeks. Who knows? They could inspire some upcoming recipes . . .

After having a lunch of dduk bokki and jjeol myun at Shin Toe Bul Yi on Taraval, we popped across the street to grab coffee at a shop quite unassumingly titled SW Coffee Station. On our way to lunch, we noticed the sandwich board out front advertising banh mi and "Vietnamese waffles," so I made sure to save a little room for dessert. And I'm sure glad I did. What is a Vietnamese waffle? you ask. As did I. According to the gal behind the counter, it's made with condensed milk and coconut. "It's quite delicious, and not just because I make it," she added. Well, you speak the truth, Miss SW Coffee Station Agent. Especially hot off the iron, the waffle was soft and chewy, almost the consistency of mochi which I'm clearly obsessed with, and not too sweet. Plus, you can grab and go without making a syrupy mess.

Now, Why is it green? you wonder. As do I. But I'll save that question for the next visit.

Shrimp and Cheesy Grits With Poached Eggs and Glazed BaconMay 13, 2011

I'm not too familiar with how to make grits; in fact, before today my only instructions came from My Cousin Vinny. Despite being a California kid, I have eaten grits several times. These days, they aren't too hard to find on brunch menus even out here on the West Coast, but even as a child I managed to get my hands on a few bowls, though I had to travel far.

The first time I tried grits was on the backside of a racetrack. In a past life, I was obsessed with horses, and when I was thirteen, my dad arranged every little horse-loving girl's dream vacation. On the way to a business trip in Washington, D.C., we stopped in Kentucky where we got a private tour of Claiborne Farms (where racehorses like Secretariat, Ferdinand, and Easy Goer were retired) and the granddaddy of all racetracks, Churchill Downs. Of course, it was late July, so racing season was over, and the Kentucky Derby was a distant memory. But that afforded us the opportunity to get a real behind-the-scenes look at daily operations.

We arrived at 6am, and our guide led us behind those famous twin-spired grandstands and out to the dining hall where we rubbed shoulders with jockeys and trainers while they fueled up after the morning workouts. The menu was short — there may have been only one option, for all I know. But that first bite of hominy goodness was like unwrapping the first gift on Christmas morning. The biggest surprise: they weren't at all gritty. Just buttery, creamy, and the perfect accompaniment to my fried eggs and bacon.

As it turns out, San Francisco grocery stores aren't too familiar with grits, either, because they only seem to carry the quick-cooking kind. According to My Cousin Vinny, "No self-respecting Southerner uses instant grits." But I'm a California kid, and given my lack of experience, this may have been a fortunate turn of events. And in the end, we cleaned our plates! For the recipe, read on.

Poached EggsMay 12, 2011

I often believe that I can take a recipe or technique and make it better. In this case, Alton Brown: you have me beat. His are hands down the best instructions for poached eggs that I have come across, so rather than recreate the wheel, I share it with you in its pure and original form:

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Hawaiian BreakfastApr 16, 2011

When I was a kid, we would go to Hawaii just about every summer because for us fogged-in San Franciscans, it was our opportunity to get consistent (warm) sunshine for more than one day. Most of the time, we stayed in condos because they were more economical, and I looked forward to breakfast because it meant one thing: Apple Jacks. Or Corn Pops. Or Cocoa Puffs, for that matter. I was never allowed sugary cereal at home, and vacations (or trips to Grandma and Grandpa's house) were the only chance I had to infuse my diet with more sugar than you'd find in the nearby cane fields. These days, the only time I eat that stuff is for dessert (and I do admit picking up a box at the grocery store from time to time just for that purpose), but I still have fond memories of the excitement I experienced waking up that first morning in Hawaii thanks to the Capt'n Crunch awaiting me in the kitchen.

It probably wasn't until I was about 10 that I discovered the other Hawaiian breakfast. You know, the kind that real Hawaiians invented and eat. Really, Hawaiian breakfast foods are quite diverse because of the richness of cultures that infuse the islands. In some households, kimchi may be a constant condiment. In others, a piece of raw or cooked fish is a fixture. Other folks can't do without some Portuguese sausage. In my heart, Hawaiian breakfast will always mean rice, fried eggs, and Spam.

My family has never had an aversion to Spam. Sure, we buy the low sodium variety (which is still off-the-charts high in salt...that's why it's so GOOD!!). But I guess having parents who are from the generation born around World War II means that we have never been afraid to eat mystery meat out of a can. I remember eating Spam, rice, and vegetables for dinner which usually meant finding Spam and mustard sandwiches packed in my lunch bag the next day. These days, we eat Spam in our kimchi jjigae or kimchi bokkeumbap (thank goodness I found a partner who shares my love for this delicacy). But the simplicity of a few slices of Spam alongside a scoop of rice and a couple of runny-yolk eggs is heavenly. I'm not providing a recipe, for as long as you can cook rice and open a pull-top can, you can have a hearty breakfast like this one in 10 minutes.

DoughnutsJan 18, 2011

Long before Krispy Kreme made its Northern California debut in Union City, I used to take walks with my dad up to the Winchell's on Clement Street for chocolate-dipped doughnuts. It was that kind of special outing that only fathers and daughters do, and I don't know if the best treat was the one wrapped in wax paper or the few minutes we shared, munching our doughnuts in the window seats and watching all the little old Asian ladies hurrying past with their pink plastic shopping bags. Winchell's packed up and left a long time ago, and while its successor All Star Doughnuts is apparently quite good, it doesn't hold the nostalgic charm that Dad and I remember.

Fast forward to sometime in the late 90s when the aforementioned Krispy Kreme had its grand opening at the Union Landing shopping center. It was a zoo. The drive-thru line wrapped around the parking lot, out the exit, and clear back to the freeway offramp. The poor, overwhelmed Krispy Kreme employees removed all tables and chairs from the interior of the shop and set up switchbacks for the restless mob, and the line still went clear out the door and around the corner. And this was at 2am...which was when Dave and I decided the coast would be clear to snag some warm delights right off the line. But we had just driven down from Berkeley, and there was no turning back. We had braved the Stormtroopers and light saber-armed fanatics outside the theater at the opening of the remastered Star Wars Episode IV, so we could weather this crowd, no problem. Or not: it's one thing to be surrounded by several hundred people reciting Yoda's greatest hits ("Away put your weapons! I mean you no harm!"), but it's simply medieval torture to be stuck in a slow-moving queue, inhaling the aroma of frying doughnuts and watching them glide past, glistening with glaze, on an endless conveyor belt. Biting into one at last was like that first breath above water after being a little too confident about how quickly you can resurface on one lungful of air. Gratitude, relief, satiation, all in one doughy, sugary mouthful. I have to say that each subsequent Krispy Kreme I have eaten since then has been somewhat of a disappointment without the hour-long wait.

So lately I have been surprised and delighted to see so many restaurants with doughnuts on their brunch menus. This weekend, my girlfriends and I shared a plate of cinnamon-sugar dredged doughnuts at Maverick (as pictured). They were warm and sweet, but not quite as soft as I had hoped. The weekend prior, a friend and I tried doughnut holes at Plow in Potrero Hill, and those were excellent -- just crisp on the outside (also sprinkled with cinnamon-sugar) but so light and fluffy in the middle, I could have eaten a bucket-full. And although not technically a "doughnut" but certainly a close relation, Tacubaya's churros are the perfect ending to a hearty, spicy huevos y chorizo, but you'll need the walk up and down 4th Street to burn it off. Keep those doughnuts a-comin', my friends, and perhaps they will inspire Dad and I to take a long overdue walk up to Clement Street for some chocolate-glazed ones.

ChilaquilesAug 26, 2010

I love breakfast for dinner. And I love Mexican food. So Mexican breakfasts for dinner? Simply heaven. Chilaquiles aren't always eaten at breakfast, but top it with an egg, and it makes for a really luxurious way to wake up on a Sunday ... and perhaps the perfect way to top off a busy day.

Read on for the recipe.

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