Friday, December 21, 2007

Holiday Cocktails

Hope you are in festive spirits this holiday season. Passing along a few recipes for fun and celebratory cocktails. Enjoy.

Christmas Jones
5 fresh strawberries
1 part vodka
2 teaspoons superfine sugar
5 ounces of pineapple juice
Lime-flavored soda
Mint sprigs for garnish
In a blender, whiz the vodka, strawberries, sugar and pineapple juice together. Pour the mix equally into two champagne flutes. Top with 7-Up, and garnish with a sprig of mint.

3 ounces of Midori
1/2 ounce lemon juice
1 teaspoon simple syrup (equal parts of water and sugar simmered together)
1 maraschino cherry for garnish
Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice and shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a maraschino cherry.

Mistletoe Martini
3 ounces of vodka
2 ounces of orange juice
3 ounces of cranberry tea, chilled
3/4 ounce of lemon juice
3 teaspoons of sugar
Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice and shake well. Strain into two chilled cocktail glasses.

Candy Cane
1 ounce of berry-flavored vodka
3/4 ounce of Peppermint Schnapps
3/4 ounce of white Crème de Cacao
1/4 ounce of grenadine
Half and half
Soda water
Pour the vodka, Peppermint Schnapps, white Creme de Cacao and grenadine into a cocktail shaker with ice and shake well. Pour into a cocktail glass rimmed with crushed peppermint candy (but don't let the ice get into the glasses). Fill with half and half and top with soda water.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Half-Price Wine Night at Solstice

Solstice is a great neighborhood and also sometimes destination bar and restaurant that somehow manages to combine a hip and modern ambiance with a comfortable and inviting vibe. The space, which used to house Rassella's which is now located near The Fillmore, is dimly lit with comfortable tables and chairs, an attractive bar area and lots of plants, a large palm-like tree being the centerpiece of the dining room. There also is a lounge area just slightly down from the main space which is perfect for groups of 20 or so. On Mondays all wines by the bottle are half-price, just another reason to make a visit and start the work week off on a happy note. The wine list is interesting and generally affordable, especially on Monday nights. We sampled a few bottles between the group, including a very crisp and effervescent Portuguese Vino Verde, Mia's Playground Merlot from Sonoma, and Ringbolt Cabernet from Australia. The reds were both nice - fruity with a big flavor and a lasting finish. The Merlot was especially heavy on notes of sweet, ripe berries. We snacked on a few of the food items as well. The menu is fairly short but very appealing and features items that showcase local ingredients. We had Frites Two Ways which features traditional fries made with Idaho potatoes and serves with ketchup, and sweet potato fries served with a jalapeno aioli. The sweet potato fries were especially tasty, though I thought a bit of additional salt would have been beneficial. The Prosciutto Pizzetta, which features a thin and crispy crust topped with prosciutto, smoked mozzarella and roasted tomatoes, also got good reviews. The Gorgonzola Mac N Cheese is, well, a heaping pile of goodness featuring the pasta on a base of granny smith apples with lots of gooey cheese and topped with toasted walnut dust. All in all a very enjoyable evening, and an inexpensive one at that. Enjoy.

2801 California Street in San Francisco

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Tasty Holiday Recipes for a Cozy Evening In

Hope you are enjoying the splendor of the holiday season, and have the time to step back and take a breath when you need it too. Wanted to pass along recipes for a few tasty treats that are all easy to prepare and quite tasty - enjoy.

Fig, Gorgonzola and Rosemary Bites
8 to 12 dried figs
3 to 4 ounces of Gorgonzola cheese, in crumbles
2 teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon of fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Trim the stems of the figs and make a slit in the side of each fig. Push a piece of Gorgonzola into each fig. Place in a bowl and toss gently with olive oil, rosemary, salt and pepper. Heat in a 350 degree oven for 5 to 8 minutes, or until cheese melts, and enjoy. Fabulous paired with a nice Pinot Noir.

Brussel Sprouts with Bacon
2 pounds small-medium Brussel sprouts
6 slices bacon
1 teaspoon butter
Kosher or sea salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Rinse Brussel sprouts in a large colander and drain. Trim off the small stem on the bottom of each sprout and cut into halves. Cook bacon in medium frying pan until fat is rendered and the bacon is browned but not quite crispy. Drain on a paper towel lined plate. Once the bacon has cooled a bit, cut the bacon into bite-sized pieces. Pour off all but 2 teaspoons of the bacon fat. Return pan to medium high heat and add butter to the bacon fat. Add the halved Brussel sprouts to the frying pan and toss to coat in the oil. Add the bacon to the Brussel sprouts and season with salt and pepper to taste. Continue to toss and cook on the stove for another 2-3 minutes until the sprouts start taking on a bit of a golden brown color. Transfer into a 400 degree oven for about 12-15 minutes or until sprouts are golden brown and slightly soft. Delicious with an unoaked Chardonnay or a lighter-body red wine.
Pork Tenderloin with Apples and Cinnamon and Cardamom
1 to 1 1/2 pounds pork tenderloin
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cardamom spice
2 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
2 cooking apples (such as Granny Smith), peeled, cored and sliced
2 tablespoons dried cranberries or raisins
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the pork tenderloin in a roasting pan or casserole dish. Combine the remaining ingredients in a bowl and stir. Spoon the apple mixture around the pork tenderloin. Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and spoon the apple mixture over the tenderloin. Return to the oven and bake without a cover for 15 to 20 minutes longer, or until pork tenderloin is browned and cooked through.

Grilled Peaches
4 peaches
4 tablespoons of lemon juice
1/4 cup of white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon of brown sugar
Peel and halve peaches, and place in a plastic bag with one tablespoon of lemon juice and set aside. Boil remaining lemon juice with vinegar and sugar on medium high, until reduced by about half. Place peaches cut side down on a grill pan or rack which is lightly coated with cooking oil spray. Cook for about 2 minutes, then turn over and baste with lemon mixture. Cook 3 minutes on second side and serve. Great with ice cream or frozen yogurt.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Hotel Biron

Hotel Biron is a quite small but very cozy wine bar and art gallery that lends touches of Paris to its comfortable and appealing ambiance. Very dim lighting, modern yet comfy decor, a handful of copper tables, wrought-iron bistro chairs and zinc-green walls decked with a revolving exhibition of local add to the mood, and form the perfect setting for an after-work get-together or romantic rendezvous. The staff is friendly and knowledgeable, and the wine list is interesting and not expensive. If you can, it makes sense to buy by the bottle as for the most part bottle prices are only 3 times that of the glass prices when offered. A brief food menu including cheeses, seasonal fruits, charcuterie, and olives is designed to complement the wines.
I arrived a bit earlier than my friend and luckily was able to snag a table near the bar area, and ordered a glass of 2006 Sur "de los Andes" Torrontes. It was light and refreshing, but lacked a fruity quality that I had hoped it would have. Once my friend arrived we tasted a few red varietals, and decided to go with a bottle of Jenke Vineyards Shiraz from the Barossa Valley. It needed to breathe just a bit, but notes of berries and a strong earthy quality made it really delicious and interesting. We also tried a couple of the cheeses. Old Quebec, a Canadian raw cow's milk cheddar aged for 3 years was rich and creamy, and Serra da Estrela, a Portugese washed rind raw sheep's milk cheese, was also decadent and delicious. Hotel Biron is really an adorable spot I hope you get a chance to check out if you haven't already done so. It's just off Market Street on Rose just behind Zuni Cafe.

Hotel Biron
45 Rose Street in San Francisco

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Happy Hour at Citizen Thai and the Monkey Bar

Located in the heart of North Beach and just up the street from The Saloon, Citizen Thai and the Monkey Bar is a fun and festive spot with good drinks, tasty food and happy hour from 5 to 7pm seven days a week. During happy hour there are no drink specials, but you receive a complimentary appetizer of the day. We were there on Sunday and the appetizer was fried corn balls served with a sweet and sour dipping sauce loaded with fresh ginger, cilantro and sliced red onion. I am not much of one for fried food, so it was just another plate for my friends to enjoy. The wine list is short but well-thought-out given the strong flavors and sometimes very spicy food items on the menu. For wine, I chose to ahve Dr. von Basserman-Jordan Estate Gruner Veltliner from Germany. I thought all Gruner Veltliner's came from Austria, but apparently there are a few producers in Germany as well. The wine was light and refreshing and had a silky finish on the palate - perfect for the evening. Most folks ordered other food items as the evening went on. Favorites included the Fresh Garden Noodle Roll with chicken and shrimp served with spicy lime sauce, Chicken or Beef Satay with peanut sauce, Salt & Pepper Calamari served with sweet & sour sauce, Duck Salad tossed with red onion, chili flakes parched rice and spicy lime dressing, Lath Nah Rice Noodle in rich gravy sauce with broccoli, and various Wok Dishes whereby you choose chicken, beef or tofu as well as a sauce, the favorite for me being Broccoli with Oyster Sauce. The dish was hearty but not huge, the sauce was savory and delicious and the vegetables were all fresh and bright and nicely julienned for presentation. The group really enjoyed the evening, and I would pop back into the Monkey Bar again for any fun and casual occasion.

Citizen Thai and the Monkey Bar
1268 Grant Avenue in San Francisco

Friday, December 7, 2007

Tasty Dinner for a Cold Day

Since the weather is cooling off a bit, thought I would pass along a couple of really simply but totally delicious recipes. Cozy up inside your kitchen, perhaps open a nice bottle of a rich red wine and enjoy.

Rosemary Steak with Mushrooms
4 boneless beef loins or New York Strip Steaks, sliced into 1-inch thick strips
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces of white button or cremini mushrooms, sliced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
Kosher or sea salt
Coursly ground black pepper
Fresh rosemary sprigs
Mix the fresh rosemary, garlic, 1 tablespoon of oil, lemon peel, 1 teaspoon of salt and black pepper in a small bowl. Sliced the steaks. Rub the mixture onto the surface of the steaks. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour. Bring a large griddle or cast-iron skillet to high heat, add the steaks and cook for about 8 minutes per side, (or to desired doneness). Remove the steaks and let cool. Keep the pan on the heat and add the other tablespoon of oil to the remaining steak juices. Season with salt and pepper to taste and sautee until mushrooms are softened a bit and slightly browned. Serve the steaks topped with the mushroom mixture on a platter garnished with fresh rosemary sprigs and enjoy.

Broccoli Almondine
1 1/2 pounds broccoli, stems peeled, then head cut into 2-inch-wide spears
4 tablespoons of good olive oil
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Microwave the broccoli for 3 to 4 minutes on high heat. Cool broccoli 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat olive oil in pot over medium heat, add the almonds, and stir until oil and nuts are golden and have a nutty aroma, about 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and 1/2 teaspoon of kosher or sea salt. Add broccoli and toss.

Cheesy Sweet Potato Crisps
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled
1 1/2 cups finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese
2 egg whites
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
1/3 teaspoon sage
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
3/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
Parchment paper (or a Silpat liner)
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Finely grate sweet potatoes into a bowl. Squeeze grated sweet potatoes in batches to release as much moisture as possible and place in another bowl, and fluff with a fork. Stir in cheese, egg whites, rosemary, sage and pepper. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper. Spoon 1 rounded tablespoon batter onto cookie sheet and flatten into a thin, 2- to 2 1/2-inch round. Repeat with remaining batter, leaving 1 inch between rounds. Bake until edges and underside are crisp and browned, 13 to 15 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle with salt, let cool slightly and remove from parchment. If it suits you, serve with a small bowl of sour cream topped with a few teaspoons of balsamic vinegar and a sprig of rosemary.

Happy Hour at John Colins

If you find yourself South of Market toward the end of a workday, check out happy hour at Jon Colins just across the street from Zebulon on Natoma. The vibe is casual and funky and the folks crowd the smallish space and are generally a really amiable group. Lighting is dim and decor is minimal, but the fun globe lights, bright Christmas-type lights near the high ceiling, upstairs DJ and lounge area and hip bartenders add a lot to the ambiance. Happy hour runs from 5 to 7pm and features $4 well drinks, Guiness and Boddington's, $3 imports and draft beers, $2 domestic bottled beers, and $1 off all other drinks. Wine by the glass runs around $6 for happy hour and the list is short but I imagine you'll find something you enjoy. The Pinot Grigio was refreshing and light. There aren't any food offerings but there are many tasty spots nearby. Enjoy.

John Colins
90 Natoma Street in San Francisco