Monday, November 17, 2008

Uva Enoteca

Most of my friends, as well as careful readers of this blog, know that I adore wine. I'm generally more familiar with New World wines, and I know the big names in the French regions. But I've only recently begun to dabble in Italian varietals, so I was excited when Uva Enoteca opened up in the Lower Haight. It's a charming restaurant and wine bar that is both classy and cozy, with an extensive wine list, simple but flavorful food, and very friendly staff.

Our waiter really knew his stuff -- he asked me for my preferences in varietal, flavor, and body, and was able to make several recommendations based on my comments. And of course, you can have a small taste of any wine before committing to a glass.

The food was also fantastic, with a menu that included Italian appetizers, pizzas, paninis, and a drool-worthy selection of cheeses and crafted meats.

Complimentary olives

Pancetta, chicken, and gorgonzola panini ($8) -- so heavenly!

Assorted meats ($16-35)

Three cheeses with honey and fruit spreads ($12)

In keeping with the Italian theme, I'll end this entry with an excerpt from one of my favorite books, "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert:

Americans don’t know how to do nothing. This is the cause of that great sad American stereotype – the overstressed executive who goes on vacation but who cannot relax. I once asked Luca Spaghetti if Italians on vacation have that same problem. He laughed so hard he almost drove his motorbike into a fountain. “Oh no!” he said. “We are masters of il bel far niente.” This is a sweet expression. Il bel far niente means “the beauty of doing nothing.”

Now listen – Italians have traditionally always been hard workers, especially those long-suffering laborers known as braccianti (so called because they had nothing but the brute strength of their arms – braccie – to help them survive in the world). But even against that backdrop of hard work, il bel far niente has always been a cherished Italian ideal. The beauty of doing nothing is the goal of all your work, the final accomplishment for which you are most highly congratulated. The more exquisitely and delightfully you can do nothing, the higher your life’s achievement. You don’t necessarily need to be rich in order to experience this, either. There’s another wonderful Italian expression: l’arte d’arrangiarsi – the art of making something out of nothing. The art of turning a few simple ingredients into a feast, or a few gathered friends into a festival. Anyone with a talent for happiness can do this, not only the rich.

Uva Enoteca
568 Haight Street
San Francisco, CA 94117
(415) 829-2024

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Thai Cooking Class!

One of my favorite experiences in Thailand was a wonderful cooking class I took in Kanchanaburi. I was staying at a guesthouse run by two friendly women named Apple and Noi. In addition to taking care of the finances of the establishment, Noi also taught a cooking course that was popular enough to get a mention in Lonely Planet's guidebook for Thailand. So I definitely could not pass up the chance to learn how to cook from a local chef!

Luckily for us, the cooking class took place in Apple and Noi's new guesthouse location (still undergoing construction) right by the river! So gorgeous!

Our open-air kitchen area

According to Noi, this is a list of staple ingredients you should always have in your kitchen for cooking Thai food:
  • Light oil - canola, peanut, vegetable, sunflower, or corn oil are appropriate, but NOT olive oil!
  • Dark soy sauce
  • Oyster sauce
  • Fish sauce - both salty and sweet
  • Rice stick noodles
  • Egg noodles
  • Curry paste - you can rewrap the leftover portion and put it in the freezer
  • Salt and black pepper
  • Sugar
  • Crushed peanuts
  • Chili powder
  • Lime juice
Our tray of sauces and spices

To your cooking stations!

And now for the recipes I learned ... please note that these portions are good for one or two people, depending on how big an appetite you have!

The test for a good French restaurant is their creme brulee. For Italian, it's the bruschetta. For Mediterranean, it's the hummus. For Thai places, it's the pad thai. I learned that authentic pad thai should be slightly sweet with a spicy kick. Here's the recipe Noi gave us.

  • 1 tablespoon of oil
  • 100 grams of rice noodles
  • 80 grams of beans sprouts
  • 3 tablespoons of chives
  • 2-3 tablespoons of grated carrots
  • 1 tablespoon of pickled radish
  • 1 tablespoon of finely sliced shallots or red onions
  • 150-250 grams of finely sliced meat (chicken, pork, or beef)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons of tamarind sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • Chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon of crushed peanuts
  • Lime juice
Cooking Instructions:
  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in your pan on low heat.
  2. Soak the rice noodles in cold water for 5-7 minutes.
  3. Add in the shallots and stir fry for about 5-8 seconds until you can smell them.
  4. Add the meat and cook it about 60%, then put it off to the side. Let the oil fall back into the center of your pan.
  5. Crack the egg into your pan, break the yolk with your spatula, and stir slightly so you get a mix of egg white and yolk frying together.
  6. Add the pickled radish to the egg and fry for about 30 seconds.
  7. Add the meat back into the pan. When the meat is about 80% cooked, add in the rice noodles with 1/2 a cup of water.
  8. Double the heat on your stove. Separate the noodles, and cook until they start sticking slightly to the pan. Lower the heat.
  9. Add in the tamarind sauce, fish sauce, sugar, and a dash of chili powder.
  10. Continue mixing everything together in your pan. Let the meat absorb all the flavors.
  11. Add in the veggies (bean sprouts, carrots, chives) and cook them for about one minute. Lower the heat again.
  12. Add in the crushed peanuts and 2-3 drops of lime juice. Stir everything together one final time.
I found that the trickiest part was getting the right consistency for the rice noodles. Too little water in the pan, and the noodles would stick to your pan and risk burning. Too much water, and the noodles would not retain that yummy chewy texture. Just by observing us, Noi could tell exactly how our noodles would turn out. That woman is amazing.

My finished pad thai. I still have to work on the texture of those noodles!

Massaman curry originally came from India, but this is the Thai version. This curry is special because, if made properly, it has four different tastes going at the same time -- sweet, spicy, sour, and salty.

  • 8-12 pieces of boiled, cut potatoes (Note: You can substitute squash or carrots.)
  • 5 pieces of pumpkin
  • 200-300 grams of beef (Note: You can substitute other meat.)
  • 1 onion, quartered and sliced
  • 1 tablespoon of massaman curry paste
  • 1 tablespoon of oil
  • 250 mL of coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons of tamarind sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of palm sugar, brown sugar, or cane sugar
  • 3 tablespoons of ground peanuts or cashews
  • 2 tablespoons of fish sauce
  • Salt
Cooking Instructions:
  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in your pan on low heat.
  2. Add the curry paste, onions, and a pinch of salt into your pan. Stir fry together until the onions soften. Add 1-2 tablespoons of water when the curry paste starts drying.
  3. Add in the potatoes and pumpkin. Stir together.
  4. Add in the coconut milk and let it sit -- don't stir it. Turn the heat on high.
  5. Add in the sugar, tamarind sauce, and crushed peanuts.
  6. Let the mixture cook in your pan, and only stir it once in awhile. If there's burning, add some more water.
  7. After a few minutes, add in the meat. After the coconut milk comes to a boil, add in the fish sauce.
  8. Let the mixture cook until the sauce is thick and creamy. And voila, you're done!
This dish really gave me a run for my money. I was starting to go a little crazy between watching the heat and the water and the curry sauce. Yikes!

My finished curry ... and it tasted pretty darn good too!

For our last dish, Noi taught us to make a simple vegetable stir fry with a subtle ginger flavor. Delish!

  • 1 tablespoon of oil
  • 2 baby corn, sliced diagonally
  • 1 carrot, sliced
  • A quarter of an onion
  • 2 mushrooms, sliced
  • A couple pieces of black fungus (Note: Soak for at least 30 minutes before cooking.)
  • 2 tablespoons of scallions
  • 3 tablespoons of ginger, finely sliced
  • 1 tablespoon of dark soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of soya bean paste
  • 1 tablespoon of oyster sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of light soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of fish sauce
  • 1/4 tablespoon of sugar
  • 200-300 grams of meat or tofu (we used tofu in the class)
  • 1 tablespoon of shallots, sliced
  • Black pepper
Cooking Instructions:
  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in your pan on low heat. Stir fry the ginger, then the shallots, until you can smell them.
  2. Add in the meat or tofu, with a pinch of black pepper. Stir fry together.
  3. When the meat or tofu is partially cooked, add in the dark soy sauce. Then add in the oyster sauce and soya bean paste.
  4. Lower the heat. Add 1/2 a cup of water and stir.
  5. Add the corn, onions, carrots, mushrooms, black fungus, and shallots. Stir fry together.
  6. Add in the light soy sauce, fish sauce, and sugar.
  7. Stir fry until the vegetables are cooked.
  8. Add in the scallions and stir again.
After all our hard work cooking, we sat down to lunch and sampled our dishes. Really not bad, for first-timers! I really have to thank Noi for a great class. Not only was she an amazing chef, but she was the most feminist woman I met while in Thailand. Unlike most Thai women, she didn't buy into the traditional mentality that women needed to depend on men to survive in society. And with her successful guesthouse business, cooking course, and culinary skills, I would say she's better off than a lot of men in that country.

Well, this is the last of my Thailand posts, as well as the last of my entries from my Southeast Asia trip. Next time -- some long overdue photos from Uva Enoteca, a cozy Italian wine bar that's quickly made a name for itself in San Francisco.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Strolling Through Thai Markets

A quick look at a typical marketplace in Thailand...

Rise and shine! It's shopping time!

A veggie stall

Fresh longan and grapes

Flavors galore -- cilantro, galangal, lemongrass, chilies

"Fish are friends, not food..."

Pre-packaged bags of chilies and curries

Street food! Eat while you shop?

And some desserts to finish off!

Stay tuned for my last Thailand entry, where I'll be posting recipes I learned from my cooking class in Kanchanaburi!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Meal in a Teak House

Everyone has a dream house. The one that you might be able to get after slaving away in the workforce for about half your life, or just marrying rich. My current list of dream dwellings include: (1) a well-lit house on a secluded, tourist-free beach, (2) a large mansion with a ballroom resembling the interior of San Francisco City Hall, and (3) a traditional Thai teak house.

I had the pleasure of staying in a teak house in Nonthaburi, a province in central Thailand. Teak is an extremely dense hardwood that is resistant to water, fungus, insects, and many chemical agents. The wood is also strikingly beautiful and elegant. Unfortunately, urban modernization and intense logging of teak trees mean that these houses are rarely found in Thailand now.

The teak house I stayed at had two levels. The guest rooms were on the second floor, which made me feel like I was sleeping in a fancy tree house.

Open your windows...

My guest room. I loved the color of the bedding!

Exotic but natural at the same time

The kitchen, dining, and lounging areas were on the ground floor. The open-air style of the architecture allowed for natural ventilation, so we had a nice breeze throughout the house.

A great place to eat

The host family of the house also prepared a great meal for us! Pictured below -- the best spring rolls I've ever had, amazing curry, pork broth, and stir-fried vegetables with shrimp.

I tried to ask for the spring rolls recipe, but like most great recipes, it was a family secret.

And for dessert, we had tako, a traditional Thai dessert. Pandan (screwpine) leaves are washed, dried, and folded into cute square "cases" to hold the dessert. The bottom layer is filled with a mixture consisting of green peas flour, pandan juice, and chopped water chestnuts. The "cases" are topped off with a white layer of green peas flour and coconut milk, and then chilled before serving. The result is a pudding-like snack in a neat little package.

So I guess when I have the money, I'll be in the market for a teak house, where I can make spring rolls and tako to my heart's content. And maybe I'll get that beach house too.