Monday, June 30, 2008

Ga Ga Over Ginger Limeade

I really enjoy drinking an occasional cocktail; I do it about once a month, maybe every two months. It almost always happens on a special occasion and always with friends. I'm particularly fond of those big full-bodied over priced cabernets from theNapa valley. And I love Cosmopolitans; a straight martini is too hard for me to get down - unless it's dirty! But my new love is the Ginger Limeade.

Something you should know is I only drink the good stuff; I don't want to spend a single moment feeling awful after a couple of drinks. Since I rarely imbibe the cost is not a big problem. In fact I have a large bottle of Ketel One in my cupboard; I bought it over a year ago and it's still over half full!

A few months ago I had lunch with my good friend Carol at the Slanted Door in San Francisco.It's located in the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero, which is a very cool place to go if you're a foodie. There is a farmer's market outside and inside there are restaurants, food stores, including a chocolate store, as well as a mushroom store and much more. It's really fun and only one block from the BART train station. So - the Slanted Door is Pan-Asian, trendy, busy (reservations are a must) and the food is very good and not ridiculously expensive. Ah, and the bar... I had a ginger limeade and was wowed! Ginger and lime go incredibly well together, and already being a fan of that flavor combination, I was immediately hooked. Nothing less than two more would do, and Carol and I had lots of fun being happy silly drunks (I didn't fall down or drop a single thing, and I didn't drive until much later in the day).

We asked the bartender how to make this elixir of the asian gods and she graciously shared. She also garnished our drinks with crystallized ginger candy, a very tasty tidbit.

1 oz fresh lime juice (equiv one lime)
1/4 oz Cointreau
3/4 oz ginger syrup
1 1/2 oz Hangarone lime vodka

Use only excellent ingredients. You'll thank me. You will need a martini shaker, plus a glass mini shot measure is way helpful. Cointreau is an orange liqueur; I'm sure Gran Marnier, an equally quality liqueur would be fine.

Ginger syrup is simple syrup infused with fresh ginger: simmer equal parts organic sugar and pure water, ie. 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water, with at least 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh ginger. Simmer 5 minutes, remove from heat. Let cool completely, strain into a container such as a squeeze bottle or anything suitable for pouring. You can make it the day before. Hangarone is a fine vodka; however I have oodles of Ketel One. So I poured vodka (no I didn't measure, about 2 cups I guess) into a quart jar and added the zest (just the "green" not the bitter "white") of two limes and covered. Make this a couple days in advance to get the lime essence into the spirits.

Finally, agave nectar is becoming a popular syrup for mixed drinks. I've been reading up on infusing it with herbs, ginger, etc. so I'm going to play around with it. Using agave nectar could bring down the calorie count a bit as well as the glycemic index, but still not acceptable for diabetics.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Like many of us I enjoy watching cooking shows; I often pick up some great info. Recently I was watching America's Test Kitchen on PBS and they had a program on Lightening Up Chocolate Desserts. Being intrigued by their fudgy low-fat brownies, the decision was made to do them one better (or two?). They really did a nice job of reducing the fat, but I wanted to ditch the butter first off. Substituting Ztrim for the butter was a no brainer (see my blarticle). Next, while shopping for ingredients I read the label for chocolate syrup, and recoiled in horror! Up front and center is the first ingredient - high fructose corn syrup!

In changing a couple of other things I was really taking a leap. No chocolate syrup for fudginess; ok add agave nectar instead for moisture, and add a half teaspoon of instant espresso powder for richness. Coffee intensifies chocolate flavor and is a great addition to choco desserts. Subbing in a little
Hi-Maize for flour adds fiber, and lowers the calorie and glycemic index a little.

Unfortunately, there's no getting away from real sugar. I've experimented with agave nectar and it's no substitute for sugar in baking. It's the texture of the baked good that's at stake here. I'm not at all impressed with sugar substitutes so far so I'm sticking with organic sugar. What resulted was an intensely fudgy, soft brownie. No one who tried it could tell it was a really low fat recipe! I'm thinking about trying it out with chopped walnuts for those beneficial oils; meanwhile, give it a try.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Incanto Good!

First off, this is not about healthy cooking; indeed it's so far opposite that, well, you can't go much further. However, once in a while, what the heck!

I used to watch Check Please! Bay Area (basically restaurant reviews by real people, not critics) on public television and over a year ago there was an episode where Incanto was featured. The opinions were so uniformly good that I put it in my Palm and resolved to go one day. Since Paul and I were celebrating our 21st anniversary this weekend and as he suggested we wander around San Francisco before dinner, I put in for dining at Incanto.

Incanto is a restaurant in the Noe Valley area of San Francisco, a tidy looking residentially neighborhood with a certain charm. My husband Paul couldn't get over how clean the streets and buildings looked. Inside the joint is clean and comfortable, with a beer and wine bar, which is fitting, because the menu is rustic. In fact, when over dinner I mentioned that the food is rustic,
Paul thought I was being insulting, but I wasn't. There is no fussy plating, this is real food, from fresh ingredients, well prepared. And no fat is spared!

When looking at the menu, Paul went for the marinated olives as a starter (delicious), although he won't eat olives at home. Maybe I should marinate some!? I was drawn to the appetizer of pig's trotter and foie gras on a piece of very special toast with a little sweet jam. (Honestly, I didn't record everything so I'm relying on memory from yesterday.) For those who don't know, foie gras is literally, fat liver. Here it's almost always from ducks who have been happily (I hear) fattened up. They love to get fat, and in the wild it's imperative to their survival. So here is this large appetizer with sauteed bits from a pig's trotter, a good sized piece of seared foie gras, all draped over toast and jam, and a slice of bacon laid over, with lots of sauce all round. Unbelievably decadent, kind of messy looking and really really delicious. I enlisted Paul's help in eating it and had to leave some on the plate. My recommendation: if you order it, get it to share with at least 3 or 4 of you. It's so darned rich you don't need much to be satisfied.

Let me explain something about Incanto before going on; the chef, Chris Cosentino, is really into offal. Just go to his website and read all about it. Offal is not only organs but trotters, heads, etc. You can get a nice piece of fish there, as well as other "safe" options, but why would you do that when braised lamb's neck is on the menu? After a little deliberation I went straight for the neck, and after finding out they don't always have it, well what else could I do? The meat on the bones was beautifully caramelized and tender. There was horseradish aioli (mayonnaise) on the side along with spring vegetables. The veggies were chewy and a little hard to eat. I normally eat my veggies first to make sure I get them in, and I dutifully ate some of these but I can only eat so much food and it came down to choosing between lamb and veges. The lamb won. I can't help but mention that necks are fairly round, and when the server set my plate down in front of me, well, my neck rolled around on the plate. Entertaining, really.

Paul had bucatini, a pasta dish, which he enjoyed. He was surprised by the raw egg yolk sitting on top, but I'm sure it added wonderful richness. I didn't bother to try his pasta, as even though I kept sharing my lamb with him, I had plenty on my plate.

Against my better judgment we had dessert. Paul's taste buds were set on the flourless chocolate cake, which was indeed fudgy and scrumptious. I went for the stonefruit (peach/nectarine?) and blueberry fool, which was whipped cream with the above mentioned fruit in it and a shortbread cookie on the side. I couldn't eat all of that either, but it was delish, washed down with
a cappuccino which I hoped would keep me awake on the way home (no dice).

Ok, do I recommend Incanto? Absolutely, and go with friends so you can share impossibly decadent appetizers and desserts. Arrive with an appetite and an open mind. Try something new - pig's trotters were new to me. So were necks. The service was wonderful, the atmosphere comfortable. Price wise, expect to spend about $50 per person plus alcohol. I did get to say hi
to the chef - he competed a few months ago on The Next Iron Chef. I talked with him about it and he was very friendly and a pleasure to meet. And of course, I liked his food! P.S. visit Incanto's website for more info.