Comfort Foods

hautedogsbookcoverAs I was reading the introduction to Russell Van Kraayenburg’s cookbook, Haute Dogs: Recipes for Delicious Hot Dogs, Buns, and Condiments, I found myself questioning his ardor for the humble encased meat. I mean, really, who could say, without his tongue inserted into his cheek, that he found hotdogs “alive with possibilities”?

I kept reading and quickly surmised that Kraayenburg is the real deal: He is an honest-to-goodness hot dog evangelist.

Having “explored the vast, varied world of weinerdom,” Kraayenburg has compiled over 100 recipes for homemade hot dogs, buns, and condiments. You’ll learn how to make from scratch dogs and sausages including bratwurst and kielbasa. You’ll also discover how to make your very own classic hot dog buns, plus a few other glutenous vessels such as flat bread and corn dog batter. As for sauces and condiments, you’ll find a hearty variety of BBQ sauces, mustards, ketchups, relishes, salsas, slaws, and more.

The recipes include all-American classics such as the Chicago Dog, an all-beef weiner overwhelmed with neon-green relish, tomato wedges, sport peppers, a dill pickle spear, and celery salt served on a poppy seed bun and the Coney Island dog, an all-beef weiner smothered with Coney Island sauce (recipe included!), yellow mustard, and diced white onions. Of course, the quintessential summertime favorite, the corn dog, is included, as is its rival the waffle dog.

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tasterussiaI love exploring the Russian grocery stores out on Geary Street in San Francisco and often purchase luscious sour cream, delicate blini and caviar, sweet cheese pancakes, frozen pelmeni and vareniki dumplings and different varieties of smoked fish. So I was very excited to see that A Taste of Russia by Darra Goldstein was being reprinted on the occasion of it's 30th anniversary.

It's filled with all kinds of dishes I want to make such as Piroskhi, Cabbage with Noodles and Poppy Seeds, Radishes in Sour Cream, Cranberry Kvass and Circassian chicken. It's my first Russian cookbook and while lacking photos, it does cover all the basics with recipes that are easy to follow and helpful and enlightening notes from the author who spent time living in the former Soviet Union.

irishfamilyMaybe it's just my love for potatoes, but another cuisine I associate with comfort is Irish food. Cooking teacher Rachel Allen's latest book is Rachel's Irish Family Food and it has loads of dishes that while nothing fancy are particularly appealing this time of year. I've bookmarked Ham and Egg Pie, Oatcakes, Beef and Red Wine Pot Pie and Whole Grain Shortbread.

Many of the recipes are very simple and for things I'm not sure I really need a recipe for like Salmon with Capers and Dill, Slow Roasted Shoulder of Pork and Creamy Mashed Potatoes, but if you are just starting out cooking, are firmly in the meat and potatoes camp or are just looking for more options on St Patrick's day, this book is a good pick.

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house-for-blog-300x300I’ll spare you the tale of Work, because that would seem like I’m complaining. I am not. Lots and lots of things have changed in the past few months, all great things that are keeping us really busy. Perhaps the biggest thing is that we bought a house. A lovely beautiful California Spanish-style home built in 1928, and it could not be more California if it tried. It’s sweet, quaint, and I’ll share some before-and-after photos just as soon as we’re done with decorating, which at this rate should be by 2037.

Although we moved in 3 months ago, we’ve had no time to enjoy the new digs. In fact, these past two weeks have been the first time we’ve been home together with a somewhat regular schedule, and all those things one does are starting to happen again: cooking dinner, sitting on the couch, grabbing a book and sitting next to a window and reading, organizing a garage. I am loving these life activities, and with the way things have been they are just like mini-vacations to me. I never thought I’d say that but it’s true. And considering what’s happening to a huge chunk of the country right now, to have a regular life with a roof over one’s head and working utilities is a blessing. A huge blessing.

This morning I’ll be able to do something I’ve wanted to for a long time: I will make breakfast. In my new kitchen. For us. Novel, ain’t it? But this breakfast will be the first that doesn’t involve two slices of bread and a razor thin smear of Marmite. It will be leisurely, satisfying, and made from The Picky Palate Cookbook: 133 Recipes for Even Your Pickiest Eaters by Jenny Flake.

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alicecookbook.jpgAre you young, busy, and socially active? If so, Alice Hart wants you in the kitchen, with her cookbook, named simply Alice's Cookbook. Hart realizes that although most 20- and 30-somethings are in a constant buzz, they love to slow down and socialize with friends, preferably over good, honest food and drink. Therefore, she has divided her chapters by meal type then by occasion so users don't have to create their own menus.

Under "Breakfast and Brunch" she includes "spring breakfast for 6 on the weekend," with recipes for Maple and Blueberry Sticky Rolls, Tropical Fruit Platter with Kaffir Lime and Sunshine Juice. Under "Party" she includes "hot summer barbecue" with recipes for Skirt Steaks with Red Chimichurri Sauce, Charred Corn Salsa, Avocado Salsa and Best Brownies. She also provides "hands-on" time for each recipe and advice for scaling quantities up or down to feed a crowd or a few.

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ImageMy first visit to Nepenthe Restaurant in Big Sur, California was in the fall of 1983. It was a hot day and we sat outside on the massive terrace with a cold drink – in those days white wine, or possibly beer – and looked down at the unbelievable view. A view of the Monterey coast that went on forever. I've never forgotten that first visit. Or that first view. Yes, the parking lot was full of rental cars, and yes, there were crowds of tourists snapping photos but none of that mattered. I didn't know what to expect as we climbed the winding stone steps up through a canopy of oak trees to the restaurant.

But once I stepped foot onto the large terrace and saw the view, I understood the magic of Nepenthe. No matter where you are at Nepenthe, the Phoneix Shop, the Café Kevah or the restaurant itself, the view is there. Always and forever. In my memory there were hawks floating on thermals almost at eye level. That is how high up Nepenthe is. In the clouds. At the end of our drinks it was very hard to pull myself away. Over the years I have gone back to Nepenthe each time I visited the area. How can one not visit such a spectacular place?

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