Tired, happy, and full in San Francisco

Rosamunde's Sausage Grill

After a day of walking up and down hills, good food, great friends, and free-flowing drinks, I’m happily exhausted. I love how that’s the way things are on visits to San Francisco.

When Jan had a bachelor party to attend in the city and suggested I drive up with him and spend time with our friend Lucy, I quickly agreed.

After arriving at Lucy’s in Haight Ashbury, our first stop, before we could do anything else, was to get Jan some serious food. We walked to Rosamunde’s Sausage Grill, where Jan ordered the nuernberger bratwurst (savory pork). We waited in the small restaurant, which had a handful of barstools lining the counters at the front windows.

Two sausages were grilled and served with sauerkraut and peppers on a toasted French roll. This was the kind of gourmet hot dog Jan had been dreaming of. But we had to get back in time to head off for the picnic Lucy planned, so we tested the to-go qualities of the bun as we walked back to get the rest of the picnic ready. Jan might have had mustard all over his face, but he could now carve the chicken Lucy had roasted earlier without dying of hunger.

While Jan headed off to meet the boys at AT&T Park for a Giants game, Lucy and I caught the bus and headed toward the Presidio.

The multi-million dollar view

We met friends at the top of the Lyon steps at Lyon and Broadway, enjoying a beautiful view on a sunny day. Then we walked into the adjacent Presidio in search of a good picnic spot. Our map hadn’t told us of all the construction projects going on where picnic tables had been listed, but we finally found a table hidden away between rows of converted army housing.

Not your average picnic

Lucy was a picnic pro, and I was so impressed that she brought tablecloths, real plates, and silverware. I thought that was what had made Lucy’s backpack so heavy on our walk through the Presidio, at least until Lucy pulled out the 32 oz. bottle of Tapatio we’d gotten for her during our last visit! (See An open mind, and mouth, for oysters).

Zesty gazpacho

We feasted on roast chicken, sausages from Rosamunde’s, guacamole, cheese, pickles, dried fruits and several bottles of Pinot Noir. Though I’m not usually a gazpacho fan, Lucy’s gazpacho topped with avocado was excellent. I thought it would have also made the most delicious bloody mary.

But we stuck to red wine, and continued stuffing ourselves on tasty two-bite brownies and chewy peanut butter cookies from Whole Foods. We rolled ourselves to the bus stop and up the last hill back to Lucy’s place.

After resting our feet and several cups of tea at Lucy’s, it was time to continue work burning off our picnic. We met up with Jan on his way back from the bachelor party and all headed to the Castro.

The Mix bar on 18th street provided the atmosphere we needed. And it was conveniently located across from Nizario’s pizza, where Jan sampled a combination slice on our way into the bar and the California (chicken, pesto, spinach, and feta) on the way out.

Beautiful breakfast

In the morning, Lucy had prepared us a real Midwestern breakfast. (She’d asked me the day before if I preferred cereal and granola for a lighter option, and I heartily declined, saying I liked to use the vacation excuse whenever I could.)

Sausage, Canadian bacon, bacon, pancakes, berries, and more

We had breakfast sausage, Canadian bacon, and bacon served on the meat platter. There were also pancakes, strawberries, blackberries, and Greek yogurt. Then there was fresh walnut bread and butter. And Lucy even heated the maple syrup on the stove and put it in a mini-pitcher, the perfect combination of West meets Midwest!

Planter at Flora Grubb
Even the coffee was artfully arranged

We headed to Flora Grubb Gardens for some backyard inspiration, and Lucy enjoyed a beautiful cup of coffee as I took in garden ideas to duplicate at home (though I won’t be copying the car-as-planter idea).

Gravad lax: a taste of Sweden
Last stop: meatballs

After saying goodbye to our gracious host, Jan and I headed across the Bay Bridge. We already had our lunch in mind: meatballs at IKEA in Emeryville. It’s become the tradition that we’ll brave Saturday IKEA crowds for, even though we realize the meatballs aren’t the best. But, we did get to stock up on a staple in our household: Lingonberry preserves.

Finally it was time to head home, for some much-needed rest after our two-day vacation.

Well that’s just peachy: Ice cream machine update

It’s official. I’ve gone overboard with the ice cream maker. Since stealing the machine from my brother-in-law, I’ve made banana ice cream, mango ice cream, vanilla ice cream, peach ice cream, and blueberry frozen yogurt within a two-week period. I feared this would happen (you can read about my attempts to postpone the inevitable in my first ice cream making experience here).  

All this ice cream making comes with some lessons learned. See this conversation between me and Jan:  

Anna: Try the fresh peach ice cream I made!  

Jan: I really like frozen yogurt (said while taking a bite of peach ice cream).  

A: What do you think?  

J: It’s good. I like sherbet too.  

A: But what about the ice cream?  

J: Do you think you could make frozen yogurt? What about sorbet?  

A: The ice cream! The ice scream!  

J: It’s good.  

A: Hmpf!  

J: How do you make frozen yogurt? I used to love TCBY yogurt. I would get vanilla with gummy bears when I was a kid.  

You can see things went downhill quickly. After I got over my bruised feelings and Jan and I were back to rational conversation mode, we determined that he was dissatisfied with the consistency of the ice cream, not the taste. In my efforts to make “healthier” ice cream with lowfat milk and half & half instead of cream, I ended up with a lighter texture ice cream. I thought it was pretty darn good, light and refreshing, in fact.  

But Jan said when he hears the term ice cream, he thinks Häagen-Dazs. But I’ll need some extra-fat-fortified cream to end up with Häagen-Dazs creamyness and texture, I tried to explain to him, quoting from the Cuisinart product manual:  

You may substitute lower fat creams (e.g. half and half) and milk (reduced fat or lowfat) for heavy cream and whole milk used in many recipes. However, keep in mind that the higher the fat content, the richer and creamier the result. Using lower fat substitutes may change the taste, consistency and texture of the dessert. When substituting, be sure to use the same volume of the substitute as you would have used of the original item. For example, if the recipe calls for two cups of cream, use a total of two cups of the substitute (such as 1 cup cream, 1 cup whole milk).  

Jan said he thought the peach ice cream was good, but hearing the word “ice cream” had set him up for different experience than what he got. I see now why those clever marketers came up with the murky sounding “frozen dessert” label for lower fat frozen treats. So it’s all about the expectations you set. This recipe has been adapted from Cuisinart’s product manual, which features the creamy, full-fat recipe.  

Peach “ice cream”  

1 pint pureed fresh peaches  

1/2 cup sugar 1 cup lowfat milk (I used 1%)  

2 cups half & half  

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract  


Peaches ready to go


Peel and slice peaches and process in a food processor, set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk the sugar into the milk until combined. Add the half & half and vanilla extract and combine thoroughly. Pour the mixture into the ice cream maker and turn on, leaving for about 20 minutes.  

Pour the peaches in during the last five minutes of processing in the ice cream machine (and don’t forget about it like I did here or it will probably overflow). Ice cream will be of soft-serve consistency, and for harder ice cream, freeze for several hours in the freezer. Note: because of the lower fat content, once the ice cream has set in the freezer, it will need to sit out on the countertop for about 10 minutes before serving to become scoopable.  


Don't forget to set a timer

Coming soon: blueberry frozen yogurt (and yes, Jan liked it!)

The tricky task of judging a rib cook-off

Aussom Aussie's ribs

Jan and I attended Fresno’s first annual rib cook-off this past Saturday, curious to witness a cooking competition outside of Iron Chef America and our own living room. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I had one thing on my mind as my stomach growled driving toward downtown Fresno: ribs!    

We arrived around lunchtime to reasonable-sized crowds and weather temperatures nearing 100 degrees. As I got out of the car, I could smell the ribs cooking, and I was anxious to see what lie ahead. As we walked closer, we could see the competitors, crowds, and massive amounts of meat being smoked and grilled. From various parts of the country and the world, serious barbecue competitors had gathered to show off their skills. Each entrant had two-story-tall displays proclaiming all their awards in various cooking competitions.    

I could tell these guys were serious. Not only did they have their competition trophies lined up on tables, reflecting the light of the sun, they had giant smokers on wheels with teams of people cooking. I’d heard a little about the competitive barbecue circuit from Jan’s former neighbors and the owners of Clovis’ QN4U, (who were the local entrants in the cook-off and were recently featured on TLC’s Pitmasters), but now I could finally see for myself how competitive these things could get.   

Mountains of meat
Trying to choose

Since we were aiming for our own taste-testing, Jan and I each got in line at two different places. Swayed by their banners proclaiming “Featured on Food Network,” and “As Seen on the Travel Channel,” I chose Australian barbecue champions Aussom Aussie, while Jan went for the more traditional Johnson’s of Virginia. It was difficult to choose whose ribs to sample, since we knew we couldn’t try them all. I might have been willing to wait in line for a rib from each vendor, had I not been feeling like a barbecued pig myself on the hot asphalt.    

While the pace of the line moved just like the slow rib-smoking process, I anticipated my lunch, hoping I had chosen wisely. And as I neared the front of the line for a good look at the Aussom Aussie himself mopping ribs with barbecue sauce, The Fresno Bee captured me as I braved big gusts of smoke (link to the Bee’s gallery here). There was no way I wasn’t leaving without smelling like ribs. I felt like the girl in the Taco Bell commercial who carries around bacon in her purse in an effort to attract men. I smelled like barbecue perfume and there wasn’t anything I could do about it.    

Photo by John Walker/The Fresno Bee

Jan and I met up at the picnic tables under the trees, where we got a break from the heat. My first bite was from the Australians, followed by three more bites, one per accompanying dipping sauce. The ribs had excellent flavor, and the original sauce was a good balance of bold, sweet, and spicy flavors, and my top choice over the other two (hot! and raspberry chipotle).     

I sampled the Johnson’s rib next, which was also tasty, but I found the hickory smoke flavor  overwhelming. I know some people like the smoke, and even go to the lengths of adding artificial smoke flavoring to their own ribs to achieve it, but I find the taste of smoke distracting from the pork flavor that makes ribs such a unique treat. I was also disappointed by the sides, something I find a common problem at barbecue joints. With so much attention paid to “The Sauce” and “The Meat,” it’s sad when the simple dishes like potato salad and baked beans get ignored. I peeked into the mobile kitchens of several competitors, and saw that they were using salad from a tub and beans from a can. My take is, if you have a simple menu of basically meat and sides, everything on that menu better be a generous and delicious portion made from scratch. But I’m getting sidetracked from the ribs.  

Johnson's ribs

As we ate under the shade, Jan and I offered our own verdict. And the winner was…well, no one. We agreed that we prefered homemade ribs on the grill, not because we’re biased, but because neither of the ribs sampled delivered on the texture. Being barbecued by pros, I expected tender, fall-off-the-bone ribs, and while the ribs sampled weren’t tough, the meat certainly could have been softer.  

We stood in line once again, this time at Cowboys BBQ of Texas, so we could bring a promised plate of ribs to a friend unable to attend the cook-off. (We later got a report that those were excellent, but we didn’t taste them for ourselves.)   

We never found out who officially won the cook-off, or even the criteria for how the ribs were judged. Maybe that was for the best. After all, it seems like everyone has their own take on what makes a good rib, and even more so, a good plate of barbecue. Despite our nitpicking over the details, we had a great time, ate some good food, and would welcome a chance to attend any kind of cook-off in the future. Who knows, maybe next time in our backyard. 

Risotto without the smackdown

Gordon Ramsay had me scared silly over risotto. I’d tasted it once at a friend’s dinner party and wasn’t impressed with what I considered to be a mash-up of mushrooms and mushy rice. So why were all these fancy chefs trying to cook it, to the result of even more bleeps coming from Chef Ramsay’s mouth? On Hell’s Kitchen, one poor chef would always undercook the risotto, causing me to worry that Ramsay would have an immediate heart attack. Kitchen Nightmares (I enjoy the British version seen on BBC America far more than its US counterpart) featured another chef being berated for overcooked, soggy risotto. And I don’t even know how many contestants on Top Chef went home for not cooking the dish just right.   

I was determined, I wasn’t going there. But as usual, Jan wanted to push me out of my comfort zone and insisted we try making risotto. After all, with my one below-average taste testing of it, he said there had to be some reason why all these people would risk reality show elimination and Ramsay-sized smackdowns to cook this dish. There had to be something about it that I was missing.   

We tried the recipe Chef Jean-Christophe Novelli shared on Chef Academy (recipe here), another cooking reality show that took wannabe chefs and put them through a sort of cooking school boot camp. Chef Novelli was tough, but nurturing. He showed his students the secrets behind risotto without using too many obscenities. (And despite my fear of him coming through my TV to personally spit out my own risotto, I like Chef Ramsay and am convinced he really is a good guy underneath his TV persona and profanity.)   

Initial saute of arborio rice

While Jan poured over the recipe and got the ingredients together, I readied myself by the stovetop. After Jan sautéed the onions and herbs, he handed me a spoon and told me to get busy. I poured in the wine and followed the instructions carefully, adding hot broth a spoonful at a time, allowing the rice to absorb the liquid before adding any more. I did not leave my post for a good 45 minutes, watching the arborio rice grains as they slowly became more puffed up with moisture.  

Red wine in, slowly adding heated broth

 I don’t think you have to be that vigilant to stir for the entire cooking process, but I didn’t want to take any chances. Besides, I was having fun with my task. I could alternate sips of red wine for me, and spoonfuls of broth for the risotto.  

Adding the cheese just before serving

I tasted and tasted, not sure when I would know that the risotto was done. For a while, I knew for sure that it needed more cooking time, and then all of a sudden, it seemed like the rice had absorbed the correct amount of broth to be done. I added cheese just before serving, stirring until thoroughly mixed.  

It was so delicious! The rice was cooked so that it was still firm when you bit down on it, creating a nutty and slightly chewy (but in a good way) texture. The cheese took the risotto to the next level. It compared to a good mac and cheese: rich, creamy, and comforting, but with more sophistication.  

Nothing compares to melty cheese

The first time we tried making risotto, we used white wine. We have since tried it with red wine, which I like because it goes even better with beef. By the time we served it with the bacon wraped filet, tiger prawns, and sautéed spinach seen at the top of this post, I felt like a risotto pro (fourth time making it).   

Would it stand up to Chef Ramsay’s standards? I don’t know. I’m glad I’ll never have to find out.

Celebrating summer with blueberry pancakes

Bueberry pancakesMy favorite blueberry memory isn’t a special dish or preparation, but eating blueberries straight from the bush. When I was growing up, we would always visit Sweden in the summer, and picking fresh blueberries was one of my favorite activities. We had these special blueberry pickers that you were supposed to use to collect the berries. Except somehow, mine would never end up full, and my face and mouth would end up blue.   

Picking blueberries in Sweden, 1986
Caught red-handed, or blue-lipped, in this case

It’s a little easier for me to contain myself when I’ve got a plastic container full of blueberries from the supermarket (sadly, too hot for them to grow here). And while I still enjoy them plain, I also love making cakes and muffins with them. Without baking, pancakes are the quickest way to enjoy them for breakfast. I’ve added them to my mom’s pancake recipe, which incorporates oat bran for pancakes that feel both simultaneously lighter and heartier than your standard buttermilk pancake. 

Basic pancake recipe 

 print recipe

1 cup flour  

1/2 cup oat bran  

1 3/4 teaspoon baking powder  

2 egg whites  

3 tablespoons cooking oil  

1 1/4 to 1 3/4 cups milk  

Bluberry pancakes cooking
Ready to flip


Mix the dry ingredients together in a medium-sized bowl. Mix together the wet ingredients in a separate bowl and add to the dry ingredients. Cook pancakes over an oiled pan or griddle on medium heat. For blueberry pancakes, drop blueberries onto the pancakes just after ladling onto the pan. Flip when bubbles cover the surface of the pancake. Serve with butter, plain or vanilla yogurt, and maple syrup.  

Attack of the Hamburball

I love homemade hamburgers for many reasons. I’ll stick with the top two. First, I can load up all my favorite toppings and sauces without someone charging me an arm and a leg for a piece of bacon, slice of cheese, or dollop of guacamole. Second, we buy beef chuck or sirloin and use our meat grinder attachment to make our own ground beef, so we have a lot better idea of what’s actually in there.   

Prepping the meat for the grinder

There’s only one problem. It’s not how they taste, they’re great in their simplicity and freshness (just salt, pepper, onion, and soy sauce), it’s forming the hamburger patties where we run into trouble. When you go out for a hamburger, the patties are perfectly shaped and evenly sized. I don’t have a problem with imperfect patties aesthetically, it’s just that our patties don’t turn out much like patties at all. They’re more like meatballs. Hence my need to come up with a more appropriate name for the hamburgers served at our house.   

I started with the name “meatball-ger,” but that didn’t roll off the tongue very easily. Next came “hamburball,” which I think is perfect. It sounds like one of the evil Bond movie villains, which encapsulates a bit of how I view the hamburball, especially after I learned that Jan was making the patties this way on purpose. Here I was this whole time, thinking, gosh, I wish Jan would just take out my rolling-pin and make those patties look gorgeous. But no, he said he wanted them that way. That the meat was juicier, or thicker in the middle, or something.

Ready for patty-making

But I had to disagree. If you’ve got something shaped like a football, it’s going to cook a lot less evenly than its flying-saucer-shaped counterpart. Besides, how was I going to load up all my toppings (even with a thin bun) and end up with a burger less than three inches tall? To me, an impossible-to-eat burger is on the same scale as a James Bond nemisis.

The whole dinner party debated this topic as we constructed our own burgers from all the fixings: Pickles, mayo, mustard, ketchup, barbecue sauce, guacamole, bacon, cheese, onions, and tomatoes. The goal had been to create an “American” feast for my friend Carina visiting from Sweden, and we might have been successful in that. After all, once we’d moved on from the burger and bun conversation, we discussed the Jerry Springer Show in great depth. And you can’t get any more American than that.

Burger construction

Danger! Ice Cream Machine in the House

For a while, people have been asking me if I would like an ice cream machine. Perhaps they were in search of finding a kitchen-gadget-gift for Jan and me that we didn’t already own, or they sensed my great love for all things sinfully sweet, frozen, and unhealthy. In any case, I always responded with a polite no. An ice cream maker was the last thing we needed, creating containers full of fresh, homemade goodness only to tempt me into overindulging. Well, all this changed when I recently watched an episode of Good Eats in which Alton Brown made the most delicious looking banana ice cream I’d ever seen. I quickly decided to throw all rules out the window and commandeer the ice cream machine of Jan’s younger brother Adam, which I determined he was using far too infrequently to miss.

For a few weeks, I stashed perfectly ripe bananas into the freezer one at a time. When I had collected about six of them, it was finally time. After letting them thaw for a while at room temperature, it was time to begin the process outlined in recipe below. The end result was an amazingly creamy and rich ice cream. While the color was more subtle than I’d expected (more the color of vanilla bean ice cream than the bright yellow I’d anticipated), the flavor was bold and delicious. With one successful ice cream experiment under my belt, now I’m ready to branch out and try some other flavors. I even purchased a half-gallon container of Half and Half at Costco in preparation, though I think my next attempt will replace some of the cream with low-fat milk for some slightly healthier varieties. I hear that the less fat added to the ice cream, the less creamy and smooth it will be, though I’ll probably make up for it with all the crumbled Oreos and marshmallows when I experiment with cookies & cream and rocky road.

Creamy Banana Ice Cream

6 ripe bananas

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 cup corn syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups heavy cream


Place bananas in the freezer ahead of time, at least overnight. Remove bananas and let thaw for about 45 minutes to an hour. Peel bananas and place into food processor, along with lemon juice. Pulse for about 15 seconds. Add corn syrup and vanilla and turn the food processor on. Slowly add the cream and process until smooth. Place in a container in the freezer and allow the temperature to get to 40 degrees F. Put the mixture into an ice cream maker and process for about 20 minutes. Place into an airtight container in the freezer and allow to harden several hours before serving.