Sunday, April 25, 2010

Giants Outing

Patrick was visiting this weekend from Auburn and he and Alex went to the Giants/ Cardinals game on Friday night to watch Tim Lincecum raise his record to 4-0 on the season. Nancy, Cass and I joined Pat and Alex yesterday at AT&T for the second game of the 3-game series.

Happily the weather cooperated and it was a beautiful afternoon at 24 Willie Mays Plaza.

The Giants were giving away a Pablo Sandoval bobblehead doll to the first 20,000 fans.

We had some thought of trying to get one, until we arrived at the stadium just after 4PM for the 6PM start and found the line for the bobbleheads stretching all the way down the Embarcadero almost to the Bay Bridge!

We decided that none of us wanted a bobblehead that badly so we headed into the stadium through one of the gates where the dolls were not being given away.

We made our way to our seats in Sec. 112 in the Lower Box area and I then headed off to the Sheboygan Brats stand near the left field foul pole for one of their fully-loaded offerings. After stopping off Murph’s Clubhouse Pub for a Guinness on the way back to our seats, I was ready for game time.

Barry Zito delivered the first pitch of the game around 6:05.

Pablo played well on his day with a couple of hits and some excellent plays in the field.

However, Barry was the star of the day - he pitched one of his best games as a Giant with 10 strikeouts to record his 3rd win of the year. Worth every penny of his $126MM contract? Maybe not, but this season is certainly looking far better than the last two. It is nice to hear chats of "Barry - Barry" at the ballpark again.

We had a great time...

... and what better place in the world to watch a baseball game?

It was also a historic baseball day for the Moyle clan on the East Coast as Rob and Janet took Cece to see her first MLB game - a 3-1 Mets victory over the Braves at Citi Field in New York. As one can see from the below taken on the subway to the park, and during the game, Cece is obviously a gamer!

Now if the Giants can only overcome the 2-0 deficit they are facing this afternoon. Matt Cain just gets no support.

Continue Reading »

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Anglo-Italo Cooperation Results in St. George’s Day Success

In a post last month I mentioned how, on a recent visit to Wellington’s Wine Bar in Sausalito, we both learned of the impending celebration of St. George’s Day at Wellington's, and sampled Wells Bombardier for the first time. A most auspicious day on both counts.

Yesterday was St. George’s Day and I met up with a couple of friends, Kaz and Antonio, at Wellington’s to join the party. Wellington’s was about as full as I have ever seen it and there was a definite festive atmosphere beyond the customary TGIF buzz.

Wellington’s proprietor, Jeremy John, had arranged with Alfredo Ancona to provide the food for the event. Alfredo is the chef at Angelino in downtown Sausalito, and, with his wife, Tara, owns CIBO just across Bridgeway from Wellington’s. Jeremy and Alfredo had settled on a menu for the evening of:

~ Porchetta – the classic herb-seasoned Italian pork loin, which Alfredo prepared rolled in pork belly with the skin outside
~ Minted fresh English peas
~ Mashed potatoes

The meal would conclude with the classic, but curiously-named, English dessert – spotted dick.

I was also eagerly anticipating the event since it would mark the Wellington's premiere of the “caja China” (literally “Chinese box”) – a cooking box originally devised by Chinese immigrants to Cuba in the 1800’s, which is now being manufactured and distributed by a firm in Florida named La Caja China.

The box is made of heavy plywood lined on the inside with metal and has a removable cover with a metal tray. The food is placed on a rack inside the box, the box is covered, and hot coals are piled in the tray on top. The food is then cooked by radiant heat.

Alfredo had recently purchased a caja China and was going to fire it up to cook the porchetta. Here is an excellent video showing the preparation and cooking of a whole pig in a caja China.

When we arrived at Wellington’s, Alfredo and his CIBO colleague, Jorge, were already well along with the porchetta. We ordered some Bombadiers and joined them on the deck overlooking the Bay.

Not long after we arrived, Alfredo lifted off the caja China top and flipped the rack holding the porchetta.

The crowd began to grow a bit restive with the spreading fragrance of roasting meat, but happily the porchetta was soon done and emerged in all its glory.

Jorge then quickly heated the peas...

... and Alfredo began carving the porchetta for the salivating masses.

The meal turned out very well. The porchetta was moist and the skin of the pork belly crispy. I had never had minted peas before and frankly was not looking forward to them, but the mint was not overpowering and it was a good counterpoint to the pork. Alfredo had added some sour cream to the mashed potatoes and they were fantastic.

The spotted dick, prepared by Tara Ancona (CIBO’s pastry chef), also made its appearance and was served seated on some Crème Anglais.

Although I am not sure what recipe Tara used, per Wikipedia:

“Spotted dick is a steamed suet pudding containing dried fruit (usually currants) commonly served with custard, and a standard part of English cuisine. 'Spotted' refers to the dried fruit (which resemble spots) and 'dick' may be a contraction/ corruption of the last syllable of the word 'pudding' or a corruption of the word 'dog,' since 'spotted dog' is another name for the dish.”

For any who are interested, there are some commercial versions available, although one wonders about spotted dick in a can (thankfully we did not have to "go there" last night). On the other hand, obviously someone must buy it!

The only disappointment of the day was that we had been lead to believe that Jeremy would be present in full St. George Day regalia, complete with cape.

However, such was not the case. Perhaps next year? Something to look forward to for St. George’s Day 2011!

Continue Reading »

Be Tuscan Once a Day – A Friend Returns to Cavallo Point

Last year Alex, Cass and I had a great time at a cooking class at Cavallo Point taught by Judy Witts Francini who was visiting from Toscana. A few weeks ago when I saw on Judy’s “Over a Tuscan Stove” blog that she would be returning to Cavallo Point, I immediately signed up for the class. Alex and Cass were not able to join me this time, but my friend Kaz, who also loves to cook, agreed to come along to keep me company.

Kaz and I arrived at Cavallo Point a bit early, so we decided to kick the event off with an Anchor Steam Liberty Ale at Cavallo Point's Farley Bar, one of the nicest places in Northern California to pass some time while watching the Golden Gate.

Just before the class’ 4:30PM start time, Kaz and I headed upstairs, past the Gregory Colbert display of elephants, to the cooking school’s facility on the second floor. Judy greeted us at the door together with Jayne Reichert, the cooking school’s director, and Jayne’s colleagues, Rosalyn England and Jennifer Rudd. Happily, we discovered that a couple of friends, Reidun and Angela, were also taking the class.

One of the enjoyable parts of any cooking class is to see the ingredients laid out in preparation at the start. Cooking is like many things in life – sometimes the anticipation is almost as good as – or even better than - the ultimate consummation.

After everyone got settled in the room with glasses of Col Vetoraz Prosecco, Jayne introduced Judy who made a few comments (including how she had just escaped Europe on one of the last flights out before the Eyjafjallajokull volcanic ash cloud closed things down), and away we went.

Our menu for the day was:

~ Antipasto: Tuna with White Beans
~ Primo: Ragu with Pici
~ Secondo: Sicilian Grilled Braciole (stuffed beef rolls)
~ Cortorno: Garmugia (a Spring vegetable stew from Lucca)
~ Dolce: Chocolate Salame

Antipasto: Tonno con Fagioli

While she was making her introductory comments, Judy prepared and served the antipasto course - a Tuscan favorite of tuna with white beans and red onions. Very simple and a great combination. The beans, cooked with sage and garlic, were a dish we had prepared at our earlier class with Judy, and are excellent on their own. The tuna was from the Pacific and packed in olive oil.

After that appetizer, Judy divided us up into groups to tackle the remainder of the dishes.

Primo: Pici con Ragu

Kaz and I were assigned to il primo, with Kaz on pasta and me with the ragu team.

Pici is a Tuscan pasta - about the thickness of a pencil - which had its origins in the area around Siena. Nancy and I first tried it in 2006 when it was served at a wonderful dinner at a small restaurant named Osteria La Porta in the small town of Monticchiello
in central Toscana between Montepulciano and Montalcino. We were told by the proprietor that an older woman from the village came in each morning to make it. Most recently we had it at Sociale in Presidio Heights in San Francisco. One thing which distinguishes it from many other types of Italian fresh pasta is that it uses no eggs in the dough – simply flour and warm water.

Here is a collection of pictures illustrating the steps in the preparation (at least a couple of those hands belong to Kaz!). Notwithstanding the good work of the solitary matron of Monticchiello, it is the sort of dish where it certainly helps to have a team effort.

Jayne took the prize for the longest pici of the day – such a showoff. Accordingly to Judy the ability to make long pici is a highly-prized trait among young women (and hopefully today young men too) in the Siena area.

While Kaz was working on the pici, I was over with the group preparing the ragu. If we were in Toscana, the only proper meat sauce for pici would be one with cinghiale – the Italian wild boar which is found throughout Toscana.

However, for our dish, we used ground sirloin with a bit of prosciutto and porcini mushrooms. Not bad, but I always prefer a pork-based sauce. One tip Judy gave us when preparing the soffritto (the minced carrot, onion, celery mixture that forms the base of the ragu) was to let it almost burn in order to caramelize it fully and thereby enhance the flavor.

Secondo: Braciole Siciliane alla Griglia

The braciole were thin slices of beef rolled around a filling of breadcrumbs, garlic, chili flakes, parsley and lemon zest. Another Italian name for braciole is involtini, which is the name for this dish that I had heard before. Once the individuals pieces had been rolled up, we then took three rolls, put three skewers through them, and then cut between the skewers to form individual pieces - a nice trick.

Patrick and I learned to make a similar dish a couple of years back at one of our Sicilian cooking classes at Mezzo Mezzo in San Rafael (in that case named Involtini alla Palermitana) although that version used veal and a much richer filling (including ham, mortadella, cacciocavallo cheese, and pine nuts) and was sauteed in butter and white wine.

I also came across a wonderful post (with excellent photos) on the Lucy’s Kitchen Notebook blog about a class that Judy had taught at the Becchina Estate in western Sicily at which they had prepared an Involtini di Manzo (Stuffed Beef Rolls) dish that was similar to our Mezzo Mezzo dish, although it incorporated a tomato sauce. As Judy pointed out with virtually every dish, once you have the basic concept down there are many directions in which you can take it.

Contorno: Garmugia

Judy explained that this Spring vegetable dish – or at least its name - originated from the beautiful walled city of Lucca a bit west of Firenze in Toscana.

The group working on it was at the far end of the room so I did not see much of the preparation. However, the ingredients included sliced baby artichokes, fava beans, asparagus, peas, young garlic and pancetta.

Dolce: Salame Dolce

This was an interesting dish – one I had never heard of before but which is apparently well-known to every Italian child. Despite its name it is meat-less. Its ingredients included pieces of cookies to imitate chunks of fat (Petit Beurre cookies), sugar, butter, egg yolks, cocoa and grappa.

After forming a salame shaped log, the dish was wrapped in foil and put in the freezer to firm up.
Once all the prep work was done the cooking proceed pretty quickly.

The pici were boiled in salted water (per Judy, add the salt AFTER the water is boiling to avoid staining your pot) in batches, then added with ladles of the ragu to a separate pot until all were done.

Once everything was ready, the dishes were turned out, the salame dolce was sliced, we took our seats and were served.

In addition to the Prosecco we were served at the beginning of the class, during our meal we enjoyed a white 2008 Falanghina dei Feudi di San Gregorio and a red 2007 Langhe Nebbiolo from Parusso. Both excellent pairs.

Judy also had with her some copies of her new cookbook – “Secrets From My Tuscan Kitchen” – which includes recipes for the dishes we prepared, and which I was happy to see carries the "Tuscan Husband Seal of Approval" - è buono! = it is good! I picked up a copy.

It was another fun day at Cavallo Point thanks to Judy and the hard working Cavallo Point staff (from the left in the below photo: Judy with Jayne, Rosalyn, and Jen), and Kaz and I certainly had a good time.

Plus, where else can you walk out of class and be able to see night falling over one of the world’s most beautiful bridges?

I am looking forward to our next visit to Cavallo Point, not to mention Toscana!

Continue Reading »