GRAVLAX

This past Sunday, I set out to put together the mother of all Mother’s Day brunches for the woman who is largely responsible for my undying passion for food.  In an effort to pull out all the stops for this year’s celebration, I decided to cure my own gravlax for an over-the-top meal that would show my appreciation for all that she has done for me. Convinced my offering would exhibit a bit of advanced culinary know-how and finesse, I was certain that such a meal would surely outdo any boring old Benedict.

Having never cured salmon before, I was completely caught off guard by how simple and hands-off the whole curing process was going to be.  Here I was planning an elaborate, intricate and involved meal, and I was nearly done with all of the “advanced” prep work three days before the big event.  Flash forward to Sunday and a few careful, paper-thin slices later and we were sitting down to an elegant brunch that went down as “one of the best in years.”  Placed atop a toasted bagel with rich cream cheese, crisp red onions, juicy tomato and briny capers, the lox stood out as a true hero with its subtle essence of dill and lemon on a delicate backdrop of sweet, salty salmon.   There might not have been pillowy poached eggs and velvety hollandaise this time around, but served alongside fresh seasonal fruit, soft scrambled eggs and refreshing mimosas, it was as elegant a meal as any.

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CINCO DE MAYO RECIPES

If you celebrate Cinco de Mayo the way folks around here do, you’re going to need some serious grub to soak up the booze. The following recipes will not only satisfy any Mexican cravings, they’ll also lay down a base coat before your night gets going. Best of all? They can pretty much all be scaled up to feed a crowd. So enjoy responsibly and leave other Cinco de Mayo menu ideas in the comments.

TACOS, TOSTADAS, APPETIZERS

Tacos de Barbacoa

Chile-Braised Pork Tacos

Tacos de Cochinita Pibil

Red Chile Beef Tostadas

Taquitos

SALSAS & DIPS

Avocado-Tomatillo Salsa

Guacamole

Habanero Hot Sauce

Chipotle Bean Dip

Crema Mexicana

ON THE SIDE

Smoky Chipotle Black Beans

NICE & REFRESHING

Agua de Horchata

TAQUITOS

Cinco de Mayo is around the corner, and there are few hors d’œuvre in the Mexican repertoire better suited for munching on with a nice cold cerveza or margarita in hand than a crunchy, rolled taquito.  If the only kind of taquito you’re familiar with comes in a box from the frozen food aisle, then you’re in for a serious treat.  These are the real deal.  No microwaves, no ovens and no mystery meat here;  just the ear shattering crunch and savory interior of a freshly fried, homemade beef taquito.

Truth be told, I happily ate my healthy share of frozen taquitos for years. In fact, growing up I didn’t know many households that didn’t have a case buried somewhere in their freezer for snack emergencies. Throw them on plate, pop them in the microwave for a minute or so and go to town.  Let’s face it: they’re quick, convenient and the perfect vessel for your favorite condiment.  As a kid, I’d go as far as to dip mine in ketchup! It wasn’t until I decided to try a homemade version that I realized what this Mexican fingerfood could be. Where the frozen lack any serious depth of flavor and always end up being somewhere between chewy and soggy on the texture scale, the homemade is a knockout crispy treat.

These taquitos are the perfect way to use up leftover barbacoa.  In fact, I’ll even make an entire batch for the sole purpose of rolling up a few dozen of these bad boys.  If you really like them (which you will), go ahead and make a double batch and stash them in your freezer for the ultimate late night snack.  Like the kind from the box, but oh-so-much better.

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PESTO PIZZA WITH ROASTED GARLIC & POTATO

Mention potatoes on pizza and you’ll get one of two responses. From the folks who’ve tried it, you can expect an enthusiastic thumbs up. From everyonce else: a resounding “huh?” That’s the thing about pizza with potato – it sounds strange, until you try it, and then you just get it.

Tasting the ‘You Say Potato’ slice for the first time at Escape from New York Pizza on Haight Street in San Francisco was this moment for me.  Still in high school at the time, far out pizza toppings went about far as bacon and clams as in my Dad’s favorite New Haven-style pie from Pepe’s in New Haven, Connecticut.  A diehard pepperoni fan, I was blown away by the idea of putting a potato on a pizza.  Actually I probably wouldn’t have tried it had my vegetarian buddy not touted it as being “the best” slice of pizza he’d ever eaten.  He was right. Tender yet toothsome potatoes and savory whole-roasted garlic cloves come together in a one of a kind pesto pizza experience.

Over a decade later, I finally got around to trying it at home.  Don’t wait as long as I did; add this unbeatable flavor combination to your pizza-making repertoire now.  Then when someone mentions potatoes on a pizza, you’ll know. Read more

BANH MI SANDWICH

If you haven’t tried Vietnamese banh mi by now, you’ve been missing out on a truly remarkable sandwich. At once exotic, but at the same time decidedly familiar, these guys are unlike anything in the American lunchtime lineup.  No cheese or mustard here, just the perfect marriage of sour, salty and savory Vietnamese flavors on a sweet, light-as-air, French baguette all harmoniously coming together in one killer snack.

Topped with crunchy pickled carrots and daikon, cool sliced cucumber, aromatic cilantro and spicy chilies, a good banh mi is a melange of flavors and textures. Not unlike a BLT, banh mi are salty, crunchy and juicy with a nice counterpoint of warm meats. Packed with savory roast pork or my version with grilled five-spice chicken shown above, the real beauty of this sandwich is its variety of delicious proteins.  From grilled lemongrass beef or sardine, to the deli combo loaded with roast pork, mortadella and paté there are plenty of options out there to satisfy any hankering. Here in San Francisco, Saigon Sandwich on Larkin Street is home to some of the finest banh mi around.  At $3.50 apiece, I defy you to find a better quality, more filling sandwich for cheaper anywhere in the city.  This is the Asian sandwich.

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