Friday, August 29, 2014



IF YOU GET to San Francisco anytime soon, you may want to step into Hotel Vitale's Americano Restaurant & Bar for a bite of something fresh and fun, courtesy the restaurant's brand new executive chef, Josh Perez. Like the previous chef Kory Stewart, Perez's focus is on fresh ingredients, but he prefers more simple presentations.
Above is a watermelon and heirloom tomato salad topped with fresh feta cheese and dressed with a barley sweet poppyseed vinaigrette. It is standout, especially with a hunk of the house bread. Below is what I'd call a great second course -- fried green tomatoes with a killer aioli.
Perez has actually been cooking at the restaurant for several years. Before that, he spent considerable time cooking alongside the late Chef Judy Rodgers at Zuni Cafe, also in San Francisco. 
Americano is located at 8 Market, directly across the street from the Embarcadero. Parking is tricky, but if you're visiting the Wharf, just leave your car in a garage and hike toward the Bay Bridge. Prices vary, but expect to pay $10-$14 for an appetizer; $10 and up for wine unless you hit happy hour from 3-6 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, when prices drop to $5 for wine, $3 for beer.  For reservations, call (415) 278-3777.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


A day after attempting to pick the bush clean...
I USED TO wonder why people let their green beans get so mature before they picked them. Younger beans are so much more tender and delicious. It just didn't make sense... until I started growing -- and picking -- my own beans.
What I have learned this summer is that harvesting green beans is no easy task. If you ask me, it's a lot like hunting for a dropped contact lens -- you know it's there, but you just can't see it. You stare at the plant, lift leaves and vine branches this way and that, discovering surprise beans here and there, never where you think they might be. AND THEN, just when you think you got them all, you glance back in the very same area, and there they are, two more beans that have been on the plant so long that they're ready to have babies. Return 10 hours later and there's a handful more. Exactly where they were the day before is anyone's guess. Upshot: Green beans are a tough pick.


Monday, August 25, 2014


JUST IN CASE you missed my column on fun mustards that was in print a few weeks back, here's an excerpt of what I found out -- after eating LOTS of mustard. I tasted all of these with a spoon. I started out dunking hunks of cheese in them, but that did not work. Smearing each mustard onto a turkey sandwich would have been optimum. But please. Picture one woman sitting in front of 15 sandwiches in need of eating. Too much.
Here's the excerpt, including some of the best and the worst:
Mustard is nothing short of culinary magic. It adds zip to a sandwich, punch to a sauce, and life to a marinade. In short, it provides exactly the right bright note to everything from cheese fondue to a soft, warm pretzel. Here are details on the new, the unusual, the tasty and the inedible mustards available both online and in local markets. Sodium details refer to 1 tablespoon.
Terrapin Ridge Farms Caesar Dijon MustardA complex, yet natural marriage of parmesan, garlic and wine in this inspired mustard blend make for a creamy, balanced spread. A serving has 120 mg. sodium. An 8.75-ounce jar is $5.49 at Whole Foods. (4 stars)
Lou’s Famous Organic Horseradish MustardThis pungent, eye-watering mustard packs a huge horseradish punch that will make fans of big flavors smile. A serving has 55 mg. sodium. A 9.5-ounce jar is $3.99 in the refrigerator case at Whole Foods. (4 stars)
El Diablo Hot & Spicy Mustard Jalapeno Fresh bits of jalapeno make for a fun twist, and deliver a spread that packs serious heat. A serving has 95 mg. sodium. A 9-ounce jar is$5.99 online. (4 stars)
Inglehoffer Creamy Dill Mustard with Lemon and Capers
This super-creamy mustard gets points for being one of the most unusual mustards on the shelf. The salty, acidic flavors of lemon and capers work well with the dill, even though the result tastes more like a sauce than a mustard. A serving has 50 mg. sodium. A 9.75-ounce bottle is $2.99 at Sprouts Market. (3½ stars)
Green Mountain Golden Grain Maple Wholegrain Mustard
Tender mustard seeds that pop when you chew them make this slightly sweet mustard a memorable scoop that begs for a re-taste. A serving has 10-mg. sodium. A 9-ounce jar is $6.99 online. (3½ stars)
Restaurant LuLu Mustard With Herbes De Provence
Remove some of the salt from this fresh, creamy, herb-forward mustard and it would get top marks. A serving has 240 mg. of sodium. An 8-ounce jar is $7 at Zibibbo in Palo Alto. (3 stars)
Green Mountain Atomic Booster Sriracha Mustard
This mouth-burning mustard is so wickedly hot that it should only be served to those who can take serious heat. Likewise, lovers of garlic may love the over-the-top punch of raw garlic in the company’s fresh, creamy Clove Encounter mustard. A serving has 10 mg. sodium. A 9-ounce jar is $6.99 online. (2 stars)
Annie’s Naturals Organic Horseradish Mustard
It looks like mustard, but this funky tasting blend basically tastes old and salty. A serving has 60 mg. sodium. A 9-ounce jar is $3.49 at Sprouts Market. (no stars)

Sunday, August 24, 2014


Those who may have missed my TASTE-OFF column featured in Bay Area News Group newspapers on the topic of frozen chicken wings may want to double-back on this info before stocking the freezer:
FEW PARTY FOODS disappear as quickly as spicy chicken wings. They’re tangy, sweet, crispy,  and so unctuous that it’s hard to eat just one. The ultimate messy food, wings come in flavors ranging from kid-friendly to Asian-style, but the reigning flavor is spicy and hot, with a touch of vinegar.
Nearly every bar and restaurant makes their own version, but frozen contenders are worth considering.
After tasting through the options, it's clear that you better know what's what before you buy -- wings range from slippery, slimy bites to crispy, seasoned nuggets of goodness.Here are my notes on some of the best  and worst frozen wings I found. All nutritional information is based on a 3-ounce serving, or two to three pieces..
Hip Chick Farms Sweet and Spicy Wings
So much better than any other contender, these mildly hot wings have layers of flavor thanks to an authentic blend of pepper, salt, garlic, paprika and more. A serving has 140 calories, 7 grams fat, 574 mg. sodium. A 12-ounce package is $7.99; $5.49 on sale at Whole Foods. (4 stars)
Tyson Any’Tizers Hot Wings Buffalo StyleA nice balance of flavors and just the right percentage of coating to protein make these a big win. A serving has 190 calories, 13 grams fat, 760 mg. sodium. A 1.75-pound package is $10.99 at Safeway; $6 on sale at Target. (3 stars)
T.G.I. Friday’s Chicken Wings with Buffalo Style SauceCooked as per the package directions, these are soggy and sticky. But extra oven-time turns the extra-thick coating into crispy goodness. The sauce, which comes in a pouch, is super hot and vinegar-forward. A serving has 230 calories, 15 grams fat, 690 mg. sodium. A 15-ounce package is $6.49 at Safeway. (2½ stars)
Market Pantry Buffalo-Style Chicken WingsThese minimally coated bites have pleasant heat and a serious hit of vinegar. These require lots of extra cooking time to become edible. A serving has 190 calories, 13 grams fat, 760 mg. sodium. A 28-ounce bag is $6.49 at Target. (2 stars)
Safeway Select Honey Garlic Glazed Chicken Wings
It would be wrong not to applaud the sweet, garlicky flavor that permeates the meat on these wings, but the flabby skin is unpleasant. A serving has 230 calories, 14 grams fat, 560 mg. sodium. A 24-ounce package is $8.99 at Safeway. (2 stars)
Foster Farms Hot ‘n Spicy WingsBigger isn’t always better. These extra-spicy, giant-sized wings are like balls of battered chicken fat with a bit of chicken in the middle. A serving has 180 calories, 13 grams fat, 350 mg. sodium. A 1.75-pound package is $10.99 at Safeway. (½ star)
Banquet Hot & Spicy Buffalo WingsIf you like frozen-dinner chicken with a dash of spice, this is it. A serving has 240 calories, 15 grams fat, 690 mg. sodium. A 22-ounce package is $9.29 at Safeway.(no stars)

Friday, August 22, 2014


IF YOU'RE LIKE me, you know that most non-stick pans can't take the heat. Nor should they. As it turns out, Teflon, the most popular non-stick pan treatment, will disappear very soon due to consumer safety issues.
In anticipation of the ban, the pan industry is scrambling for alternatives. The jury is still out on exactly what surface will perform best for things like omelettes and searing meats. After testing two candidates for about a month, I must say that my money is on Kyocera.
The company, known for it's ceramic knives and peelers, has introduced a line of cookware that shows great promise. Kyocera Ceramic Coated Cookware starts at $44.95 for an 8-inch pan.

Monday, August 18, 2014


Photo by Jolene Thym
 COCONUT IS THE NEW miracle ingredient. Not only is it a hair mask and a skin treatment, it's also believed to be an antidepressant, an allergy treatment, and a treatment for Alzheimer's. But honestly, I don't think much about health when I'm sinking my teeth into coconut. What I'm seeking is deliciousness.
That said, my inbox had me smiling this week, as I opened packages of two new coconut treats hitting local markets: Wonderfully Raw Coco-Roons and Anastasia's Coconut Patties.
Anastasia's Coconut Patties, which just introduced a new rum flavor, are very sweet, chewy bites that are dunked in dark chocolate. They taste like candy and come in a range of flavors, including key lime, pina colada, almond, orange and the newest -- rum. Personally, I liked the classic best, as it tastes like a Mounds Bar, but with less sugar and better chocolate. A single patty has 150 calories. A 12-ounce package of 9 patties is $5.99. They're sold widely in Florida where they are made and can be found at some retailers.
Second up are the cookie-like Wonderfully Raw Coco-Roons, organic, kosher, gluten-free, vegan and really delicious bites made with raw coconut. Made with almond flour and sweetened with maple syrup, they're sweet enough to qualify as dessert without resorting to refined sugar or sugar alcohols. They come in a range of flavors, including brownie, cacao nib, lemon pie and almond-strawberry. One "cookie" has about 80 calories. Coco-Roons, made in Watsonville, are available at select Whole Foods, Costco, and other stores. A 6.2-ounce bag is $7.99. The company also makes mini-bites in single-serving bags.