Archive for September, 2009


Tuna Noodle Casserole

As I pointed out in my recipe for the B.E.L.T., canned tuna has long had a negative stigma connected to it.  This was not the case growing up in my family where I was routinely fed tuna melts, tuna salad and one of my all-time childhood favorites, tuna noodle casserole.

This recipe comes from my family’s most cherished cookbooks, San Francisco à la Carte, compiled by the Junior League of San Francisco.  Not only does it contain the recipe for my family’s go-to celebration dessert, Sour Cream Chocolate Cake, but also this unique Bay Area twist on the classic, tuna noodle casserole.

Creamy and comforting, this dish has a surprisingly sophisticated flavor that comes from the addition of a toasted almond topping in place of the customary bread crumbs.  With cold weather around the corner, keep this easy-to-make casserole in mind when you’re looking for something to fill you up and warm your belly.

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Alsatian Onion Tart

I don’t do a lot of baking, but sometimes I come across a recipe that inspires me to go outside of my culinary comfort zone.  Such was the case when I saw Hubert Keller make this dish on his PBS television show, Secrets of a Chef.

Having made pies and tarts in the past, I came to realize that I’d never baked anything savory using homemade pastry dough and thought it might be a good time to try.  While I’ve eaten the pizza-like rendition of the French favorite, pisaladière on a few occasions, I’d never seen a version like this before.  Definitely a bit more substantial than it’s flatbread cousin, the salty, pungent flavors of niçoise olive and anchovies are offset by a creamy, custardy filling of caramelized onions and smokey bacon.  While it was great served warm for dinner, a slice of this pie would be perfect at room temperature served alongside a lightly dressed, mixed green salad for lunch.

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Agua de Horchata

When it comes to taquerías, the only thing more dependable than the requisite plastic container of pico de gallo is the dispenser of horchata lurking just behind the counter. Since I’m usually eating my way through a two pound super burrito–that’s rice, beans, sour cream, guacamole, salsa, and chorizo, for me–a gulp of cool, sweet horchata is exactly what I need to cut through the grease and cool the fire.

For those of you who don’t know, horchata is essentially a rice milk with the addition of sugar and cinnamon. There are about as many of variations of this sweet drink as there are taquerías in California, and they’re not all created equal. I find myself drawn to those versions that taste more custardy–a lot like melted ice cream–usually with the inclusion of vanilla and milk (whole, sweetened condensed, or evaporated).  After purchasing an instant commercial mix at a local Mexican grocery store, which only left me with a pitcher of flavorless chalk water and a bad taste in my mouth, I set out to make a version modeled after one of my favorite taquerías. The result was everything I had hoped it would be: creamy, refreshing and just sweet enough. This stuff is great by itself, but even better when served with good Mexican, like tacos de cochinita pibil.

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Tacos De Cochinita Pibil

On a recent trip down to Cabo San Lucas, Lauren and I had dinner at a restaurant serving the largest margaritas I’d ever seen and some pretty decent Mexican food, as well. We were told this is where we would find the most authentic cuisine in town. After paying off the Mariachi band to stop harassing us and shrugging off the guy selling roses, “authentic” is not the word that came to mind.  Still, the food was good.  That night I ordered Tacos de Cochinita Pibil for the first time, and while I’m sure they’re better in the Yucatan, I thought this was a great alternative to your run-of-the-mill taco plate.

Not your crispy, sometimes greasy carnitas or dried out carne asada, this meat was juicy beyond belief and delicately flavored with achiote and garlic.  Served on handmade tortillas and topped with housemade salsa and tart pickled red onions, this might have been the best food I had on the entire trip.

When I got back home, I set out to recreate the dish and picked up a copy of Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen for $6.00 at a used bookstore.  The tacos were met with rave reviews from friends, even without the influence of ginormous maragaritas.

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Roast Beef Sandwich

I have a confession to make — I make roast beef specifically for the sandwiches. As good as it is warm, dripping with juices and fresh from the oven, roast beef takes on an entirely different identity when it’s cold, thinly sliced and piled high on top of good bread. Another reason I love making roast beef sandwiches? Horseradish. I can’t get enough of the stuff and truthfully, can’t find a better application (outside of prime rib) than when its teamed up with creamy mayonnaise inside of a sandwich.

Curious about what type of cheese people typically ask for on their roast beef sandwiches, I asked the checkout guy at the supermarket what he would choose. After a momentary pause he looked at me with a puzzled expression and responded sheepishly with,”Cheddar?” After asking several more of my friends and family the same question, I came away with similar, unsure responses. Realizing that sandwiches, like ones favorite pizza toppings, are very much tied to individual tastes, I figured there was no use trying to produce an archetypical version and decided to experiment. So, with some leftover dill from my Turkish stuffed grape leaves and what was left of a container of cream cheese in the fridge, I put together this piquant spread that adds a flavorful twist to an old favorite.

I’ve gone with something less traditional here, but what do you think belongs on a roast beef sandwich?

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