Happy Blogiversary!!

Turning 3 is something special.  You're old enough to enjoy your cake and end up with most of it in your mouth, not on the floor or smeared all over your face.  I'm hoping that we are civilized enough to meet up to these standards.  But really, who are we kidding?

Pickled Rose's 3rd year has been a great one, and we can't thank you enough for continuing to tune in to what we've been conjuring up in the kitchen.  So raise your forks, and celebrate another fantastic year of recipes and ramblings!  

Beautiful Possibility Tour: an ingestible travelogue

Picture this: driving cross country, windows down, trailer strapped to the back of your car, and a jug full of apples fermenting in your trunk.  This may not sound like your typical road trip, but for artist Alison Pebworth, this was her life for 3 years as she traveled around the United States and Canada in search of the histories of post-industrial cities, literally and figuratively distilling the cultures of "Lost America" into an ingestible travelogue.  During her tour across the country, Alison collected stories, surveys, and edible ingredients all culminating in what she calls her "Beautiful Possibility Elixir".       

Last week I had the opportunity to hear Alison speak about the Beautiful Possibility Tour at Southern Exposure, where the project launched back in 2010.  The event began with a slide show where Alison talked about the last twelve months of her tour. Her epic road trip began in the Dakotas, where she spent time on an Indian reservation.  Next she drove through the Midwest stopping in Minneapolis, Detroit, and Cleveland, then traveling to the East Coast where she lived with the last living Shaker Community in Maine for a month.   Alison then headed down to the very tip of Florida, through parts of the deep South, and then finally back to San Francisco where her journey began.

Most of the places on the Beautiful Possibility Tour were urban farming communities, or other groups of people that were actively engaged in their local landscape.  At each stop along the tour an infused tonic was made on site at the location where the ingredients were gathered.  All of the tonics were infused in a clear alcohol base that was either locally produced or distilled by the artist herself.  Over the course of 3 years more than 200 ingredients were used to make tonics that were blended into the Beautiful Possibility Elixir.  

At the end of the slideshow, Alison did a final and ceremonious blending of the last few tonics to be added to the elixir.   She stood behind a long table that was decorated with a collection of glass bottles filled with individual tonics, all glimmering under the gallery lights.  Each tonic had a different hue and some still had the original infused ingredients in them, acting as a reminder of the place the flavor came from.  In the center of the table there was a large glass decanter/serving apparatus that the elixir was poured in to for the tasting.  As Alison stood behind the table meticulously mixing and pouring, she transformed from an artist to an apothecary, to a shaman bartender mixing up a cure-all cocktail.

Once the elixir was mixed just right, Alison walked around the room pouring her potion from her decanter into our mouths one at a time, in a ritualistic fashion.  The elixir tasting felt almost spiritual, as if we were taking holy communion in a speakeasy, ingesting the artist's travels, filling us each with hopefulness and beautiful possibility.  

It was the ultimate moonshine, and each flavor was as distinct as the story behind it.  Notes of citrus, licorice, dirt, and flowers all flooded my tastebuds at once.  The elixir was slightly sweet at first, then bitter with a medicinal aftertaste, but surprisingly smooth.  It was the most complex, deliciously-horrible shot of booze I have ever taken in my life.  I think I'll stick with bourbon.    

More information about Alison Pebworth's project and her travelogue can be found here.


When life hands you lemons, make doughnuts!

Oh dear readers, I'm so sorry for neglecting you lately.  I hope you're still out there.  Life has just gotten away from me.  Planning a wedding (which is only 136 days away!) having a job that just won't quit, and going to the gym like it's my job leaves my plate very full these days.  Sadly I have been neglecting the things that matter to me most, like cooking and babbling into the blogosphere.  It's been over a month since I've actually cooked anything besides a salad, which requires absolutely no cooking at all.  Absolutely pathetic , I know!  Luckily John has been making delicious meals so I don't have to live off of string cheese and grapefruit.    

So in a very grandiose effort to fill this void, I decided to make doughnuts.  But not just any doughnuts, the most beautiful and delicious doughnuts my meager brain could think of.  I so desperately needed, as if I really just might die , to make the greatest doughnut known to man.  Luckily for me, I'd never made a doughnut in my life.  Sure, I'd eaten plenty, and that counts for something, right?

I will be the first to admit that there are a LOT of failures in the Pickled Rose kitchen.  For some reason, we don't talk about those nearly enough.  Now I wouldn't say my doughnut adventure was a complete failure.  They were actually pretty good for a first try at them, but definitely not what I had imagined, and could use a whole lot of work.  The size was inconsistent, you could taste the frying oil, and the vibrant purple glaze was almost untraceable against the darkness of the over-fried doughnut holes.  My blackberry doughnuts with blackberry lavender glaze were not the epitome of beauty or taste, but they were a reason to get back into the kitchen, and in the end that was all I really needed.

An Evening with Ina

Despite the fact that I need to get up at the crack of dawn to be at work to alleviate a potential art shipping emergency, there is something that I need to get off my chest.  I think Ina Garten is snooty.  There, I said it.  I know the world is in love with the Barefoot Contessa, and I've wanted to feel the same affection for her too, but I just can't foresee us being BFF's anytime soon.  

Tonight I attended a moderated interview between Ina Garten and the current CEO of Yahoo at Dominican University.  I accepted the gracious invitation from my future mother-in-law, ever so curious to see what the Barefoot Contessa was like off camera.  Turns out she is exactly as I imagined: pretentious, somewhat likable, and really has a love for cooking and entertaining.  I guess two out of three ain't bad.  I've seen her show a million times and have always liked her style of cooking, but have never felt a connection with her like I have other celebrity chefs.  Perhaps it's the way she mentions her husband Jeffrey every five seconds and prances around the Hamptons like she belongs on Gossip Girl.  Let's face it, I'm definitely more of an Anthony Bourdain or David Chang kind of gal.  

Honestly, I think that Ina has a really interesting story.  She was a former White House nuclear policy analyst who bravely decided to change careers and open up a specialty food store.  She has had no formal culinary training but is a New York Times best selling cookbook author and Food Network star.  I think it's great that she's able to do what she loves and gets paid to do it, but I so desperately wanted to be inspired by her story or have her share some words of wisdom.   Something to give me the courage to take that same leap of faith and follow my own dream, which is not that far off from the one she has realized for herself. 

Perhaps I was expecting too much.  I wanted a story and person that I could relate to, but Ina's answers were mostly shallow and left me wanting the real story.  When presented with the question "What has been your biggest failure?" she claimed that she has never really failed.  Maybe it was just her self acknowledged type A personality talking, but I found her answer to be pretentious and quite frankly, dishonest.  Everyone fails now and again, and it's these failures that help us to learn and grow.  We get it, you're highly successful, but even Kim Kardashian would have had a more honest answer for us.  

In the end I walked away with a signed copy of Ina Garten's new cookbook Barefoot Contessa Foolproof, and I hope to find more truth in her recipes than the facade she tried to fool us with.  


Sometimes, Things Don't Go Perfectly

I thought it might be interesting to write a post about one of our many failed attempts at making a dish that didn't go very well. It wasn't an unmitigated disaster, but it was definitely an object lesson in the importance of making sure that your abilities match your ambition.

I had bought some duck eggs from the farmer's market, and decided to use them to make pasta. After some discussion, Becky and I decided that a duck ravioli would be a good use of the richer-than-usual pasta that we were going to make. After doing a few searches for duck ravioli recipes, I felt that I had the gist of it, and decided to go for it, combining ingredients and techniques from a few different recipes into something that I could reasonably call my own.

The idea was to make some large ravioli with a filling of braised duck, along with trumpet mushrooms and a little bit of pork.

So far, so good

After searing the duck, I braised it for a few hours in chicken stock, a little bit of orange juice, and some fresh herbs.

After a few hours of braising, the duck was tender enough to easily separate from the bone. I set it aside to cool, along with the braising liquid, and in the same pan sauteed some trumpet mushrooms, onions, garlic, and little bit of ground pork.

The idea was to puree all of this stuff together in a food processor, turning it into a mixture that could be be manipulated in small quantities to use as a filling, and mixing in a duck egg to ensure that it all holds together.

Now doesn't that look appetizing?

That also worked reasonably well. And the pasta dough I made (from a pretty generic recipe I found online) also came together nicely. Things were looking pretty good at this point. We even had the artsy-fartsy photos ready to go.

So, what went wrong? A few things. First of all, we didn't have a pasta maker, and tried to roll out the first batch of dough by hand. It became very clear, very quickly, that this wasn't going to work. By the time this realization set in, it was getting late, so we decided to call it a night and start over the next day, which we figured wouldn't be too hard since the filling and pasta dough were already made.

The next day, we bought a pasta maker, and rolled out the dough properly.

Things didn't exactly go perfectly from there. I overworked the dough, so it turned out tough. The ravioli were too big, with too much dough for the amount of filling.

After cooking the ravioli, and sauteeing them in a little bit of butter, garlic, and sage, they tasted decent enough, though a few of them broke open while cooking, and ended up full of water.

Would I try making ravioli again? Of course, and there will probably be a real recipe for it on this blog sooner or later. 

When it comes to cooking, or anything you're passionate about, you can't be afraid to fail. In fact, letting a fear of failure dictate your actions pretty much guarantees failure. Just go in knowing that not everything will work, and chalk up the failures as a learning experience. 

If You Like Pina Coladas...

Now that I've officially gotten that classic Rupert Holmes song stuck in your head, I'd like to tell you about my recent trip to Costa Rica.  Yes, there were pina coladas involved.  Far too many to count, I might add, and lots of those brightly colored umbrella thingys that scream girly fruity drink from a mile away.  But when in Rome...

I spent two weeks traveling around the country with friends, eating, drinking, and hiking our way through the rain forest of La Fortuna, the cloud forest of Monteverde, and the picturesque beaches of Tamarindo.  While we saw monkeys, macaws, toucans, frogs, sloths, bats, and bugs bigger than your head, I'm mostly going to focus on the food we ate.

I like to follow the Anthony Bourdain method of traveling- learning about a culture through their food.  Now I'm not talking about the westernized chains catering to American tourists, I'm talking about the hole-in-the-wall spots that you won't find in your travel guides.  The places recommended by your taxi driver, the place that they are going to eat after their shift is finished.  I want to go where the locals go.

Sodas are inexpensive restaurants all over town where you can get the typical, or "tipico", food of Costa Rica.  The most common dishes are called Casados; larger food platters that include some sort of meat, fried plantains, rice, beans, and salad or vegetables.  This might sound like nothing extraordinary, but let me tell you, there was something magical-yes MAGICAL, about this combination of food and flavors.  Notes of cumin, garlic, onion, and coriander permeate the meat and beans providing a natural compliment to the rice and slightly sweet plantains.  

And no tipico meal would be complete without the Costa Rican condiment of choice, Lizano.  I am regretting not bringing home vats of this stuff!  Lizano can be found on every restaurant table in Costa Rica, and is very similar to A1 steak sauce, but much, much better.  The flavor is smoky, savory, tangy, and sweet all at the same time.  Lizano is the perfect accompaniment to cosados, or any meal for that matter.  Check out your local latin market to see if they carry this, and if not it can be purchased online here.  

Some of the other popular food options in Costa Rica were fish tacos, gallo pinto (beans and rice which are refried and then served with eggs or meat), and an interesting dish called chifrito.  I referred to chifrito as meat salsa, well, because that's what it looked like.  Chifrito is a combination of rice and pinto beans, topped with pico de gallo and fried chunks of pork, served with tortilla chips.  This was definitely one of my favorite dishes.

Not only did we get to taste some amazing food, we also learned about it too.  In Monteverde we did a coffee tour at Don Juan's coffee plantation and a tour of the Monteverde cheese factory.  During the coffee tour we learned how coffee is made, starting from seedling and how it is turned into the roasted beans you put in your coffee maker.  Surprisingly, the fruit from the coffee plant is actually quite sweet when ripe and ready to pick.  The plantation put us to work having us pick beans, grind them by hand, and then setting them out to dry.  Not only did we learn how coffee is processed, but we also learned how cocoa is made.  I definitely geeked out, to say the least.  

The Monteverde cheese factory was founded in 1953 by American Quakers, and makes 17 different kinds of cheese that are distributed all throughout Costa Rica.  I was quite surprised to learn that they made so many different varieties since the factory was so small.  Monte Rico is the locally preferred type, which is a very mild white cheese, much like monterey jack.  The factory works with over 250 dairy farms in the area and all of the milk they use is hormone and antibiotic free.  To top off the tour we got to sample a different variety of cheeses as well as caramel that they make with the leftover whey from the cheese.  If you ever find yourself in Monteverde and you are a food nerd like me, I highly recommend taking some time out of your adrenaline filled activities to come to the cheese factory.  And did I mention they give you cheese samples????  LOTS of cheese samples!!!

Words really can't describe how amazing Costa Rica is, so I'm going to let the pictures do all the talking.

Pickled Rose Does a Thing

It's been a while, I know. If you were waiting with bated breath for our next post, I apologize. 

In our last few posts, we mentioned that we were rehersing for a big event we were putting on. Namely, preparing dinner for John's mom's 60th birthday party - with about 25 guests. Well, the party has come and gone, and I'm pleased to say that it went off without a hitch. It turns out that we're somewhat competent at this stuff, after all!

We've already written about most of the dishes you'll see in this post, so I won't spend much time describing them. However, we did get quite a few decent pictures. This won't be a particularly informative post, but rest assures that we'll be getting back into the regular swing of things soon enough, hopefully once the holidays are over.

Anyway, here are the pictures:

Olive oil-poached salmon.

Mushroom Pate

Butternut Squash Gnocchi

Balsamic vinegar braised short ribs

Salted double-chocolate tart

Tomato Canning at Eatwell Farm

Last weekend, Becky and I went to a farm in Dixon, California, for a tomato canning party. Our friends are members of a CSA through Eatwell Farm, which holds free events for its members. One of them is a day of tomato canning.

The farm provided a basically unlimited supply of some of the best tomatoes I've ever tasted, along with fresh basil, garlic, onions, and bell peppers.

The farm is on a beautiful piece of land in California's Central Velley, and we couldn't have asked for a better day for this outing. I really should let the pictures speak for themselves.

Tomatoes, ye be warned

Off The Grid

Don’t come here if you’re looking for a light snack. You could, in theory, get one here, but you probably won’t.

Off The Grid is a weekly gathering of food trucks in the Fort Mason area of San Francisco. I’m sure you’ve heard about the food truck craze, and probably think it’s either the greatest thing to happen to food in history, or this week’s stupid hipster gimmick. I wouldn’t go to either extreme – the craze does have many of the makings of a fad, but there’s no denying that the young chefs running these businesses are doing some amazing things with food.

 Filipino banh mi, Korean tacos, empanadas, and just about any other cuisine/mash-up you can imagine are available there.

The trend of fusing Korean, Chinese, Indian Filipino, and other world cuisine with Mexican food (Korean Tacos, Indian burritos, etc.) is actually a pretty natural fit, especially for something like a food truck. After all, all they’re really adding is a tortilla, which has a fairly neutral flavor that goes with just about anything.  It’s also a convenient, edible container, which is pretty useful when there’s no seating, which is usually the case with food trucks. It also happens to be absolutely delicious.

Becky and I have been meaning to go for months, and last Friday, we finally got around to it.

We ended up sampling the food from several different vendors, and we probably could have gone to several more. Shockingly, we were able to exercise a bit of restraint.

I guess this post isn't about much else...if you're in San Francisco, check out Off The Grid. And next time you see a food truck, give it a chance. You'll probably be pleasantly surprised.

You’ll have to forgive the quality of the photos. All we had was a cellphone camera.

Fort Mason, San Francisco

Adobo Chicken banh mi from Hapa SF

Pork and duck tacos from Kung-Fu Tacos

Onion pancakes from Happy Dumpling

Pork and cabbage/shrimp and chive dumplings from Happy Dumpling

Chai banana fritters from Azalina's

We Built this City...

25 lbs of chocolate, 8 batches of Rice Krispie Treats, 4 batches of royal icing, 4 tubs of clear piping gel, 3 cans of spray on edible gold, luster dust, disco dust, 5 pounds of chocolate gold nuggets, 500 chocolate gold coins, 3 ship shaped apple pies, and 2 months of labor later, I FINALLY finished my edible sculpture for The Armada of Golden Dreams opening at the Old Ship Saloon.  When I first started this project back in March, I felt like I was in way over my head, wondering just what the hell I was thinking diving into something like this.  But after a little bit of chocolate molding advice, a few experiments, and several years of sculpture making under my belt, I managed to complete this monstrosity of golden, sugary, goodness.  Now if only I could have found a way to make Rice Krispie Treats defy gravity, my Transamerica Pyramid building wouldn't have had limp you know what.

We Built this City side view

Over the last week of construction I could even smell the vanilla and marshmallow coming out of my pores. Seriously gross, but seriously worth it.  This piece is definitely one of the craziest things I have ever made, and definitely the artwork to date that I am most proud of.  

And none of this would have been possible without the funding and support of the lovely people at Invisible City Audio Tours.  I can't even begin to express how great it was to be a part of such an amazing project and work with such fantastic and passionate people.  We Built this City... was just a very small contribution to the Armada of Golden Dreams tour, and I'd like to say thank you and congratulations to everyone involved.  The opening was a huge success!  

We Built this City arial view
Pies and gold
Pirate Ship Pies
Frame and City
Ship Close up

I couldn't have done this project without the love and support of my family and friends, and an extra big thanks to John for putting up with the massive amounts of chocolate hogging the refrigerator, the late nights, and for all the edible glitter that will be popping up on our faces for eternity.