Monthly Archives: April 2012

A Taste of Belgium: The Best Mussels in San Francisco

Exploring the restaurants in San Francisco is definitely one of my favorite hobbies (yeah, eating is a hobby). The best places are usually understated and slightly off the beaten path, but with superior food quality and friendly customer service.

A colleague recently recommended La Trappe, and claimed they offered the best mussels in the city. “Really??? I LOVE MUSSELS!” Naturally, I dragged my willing boyfriend to try it out for ourselves. We were completely blown away.

La Trappe specializes in belgian beer (an entire binder’s worth), delicious mussels, cheese plates, and twice-cooked belgian fries…among other delights. My colleague recommended the “Moules a la Biere” as an appetizer, served in a dark beer sauce. Seriously, they were the best mussels I have ever had, right outside of Moules Marineres served in the South of France. Add a small cheese plate to these delicious mussels, and you have the perfect late afternoon snack or appetizer combo. We will definitely add La Trappe to our rotation of favorite restaurants.

Moule a la Biere

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Weekend Brunch Guide: An Excuse to Socialize with Food

Brunch is an institution. It’s highly anticipated every Saturday and Sunday (and holiday), involves the best combinations of savory and sweet, and is a great excuse to gather with friends (and drink champagne fresh squeezed juice). Brunch is a fabulous party designed with the guest in mind. Of course, hosting is another story. Hosting is personal, memorable to your guests, and significantly cheaper than restaurant fare. It’s the best excuse to socialize with yummy food.

I recently hosted a brunch for 10 friends. Sounds daunting, but with a little advanced planning it was pretty easy. Here’s how to do it:

Step 1: Set your budget. Your budget depends on the type of event. If you’re looking to host a pot-luck family style brunch (the best kind), then it’s best to delegate dishes to guests, or agree on a per person spend (like $20 for example).

Step 2:  Is your brunch event BYOB? Since it’s the weekend after all all, your guests may enjoy a mimosa or chilled glass of wine. Most people are happy to bring wine/champagne if you make a request, and make sure to have a couple bottles on hand just in case.

Step 3: Choose your menu. This is the fun part! Select a diverse variety of foods that range from healthy to not-so-healthy (lots of options are always a hit). Be sure to choose items that can be prepared one night in advance, as you don’t want to be caught in the kitchen for more than an hour during your event. 

Weekend Brunch Menu (recipes to follow)

Savory Spinach & Sage Strata

Organic Barley Salad with Corn, Leeks, and Shredded Zucchini

Potato, Parsnip & Carrot Hash with Goat Cheese

Not-so-fancy Bacon

Zucchini Bread

Baked French Toast with Apple Compote and Whipped Cream

Fresh Pineapple

Chocolate Cake

Step 4: Create the ambiance. Don’t spend anything, except for a fresh bouquet of flowers (my friends were sweet enough to bring some). I know it sounds shocking, but you may have ideal décor lying around the house…dying to become a table scape.

The Recipes

I am a big fan of looking to other chefs for inspiration, but also like to be creative and cook dishes on the spot. The following dishes are a mix of others’ masterpieces and my own miracles (sometimes you get lucky):

Spinach Srata with Sage & Gruyere (my own modifcation: add sauteed leeks and shallots to the spinach mixture before baking….gives it a little something extra)*make the night before, store in fridge before baking

Organic Barley Salad with Corn, Leeks, and Shredded Zucchini (my own modification: add sauteed leeks and raw shredded zucchini leftover from zucchini bread; toss with dressing)*make the night before, and toss just before serving

Potato, Parsnip & Carrot Hash with Goat Cheese*

*This dish was the favorite of the day, and also a complete accident. Sometimes the best creations are made with no plan. (Control freaks should let loose once in a while)

8 large parsnips, peeled and chopped into 1″ pieces

8 large carrots, peeled and chopped into 1″ pieces

2 1/2 lbs red potatoes, chopped in half, or quartered (pieces should be uniform in size)

1 large yellow onion, diced

Sea salt + fresh ground pepper

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

5 oz fresh goat cheese (the secret ingredient, which was added at the last minute)

To be made day of, an hour in advance of guests arriving.

Preheat oven to 400°. Toss potatoes, parsnips, and carrots with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Spread onto 2 cookie sheets, and roast for 30 minutes. Remove from cookie sheet, when browned, and set aside.

Pre-heat a heavy bottomed frying pan, and olive oil. When oil starts to ripple, add onion and stir frequently. When onions begin to look translucent, add the potato/carrot/parsnip mixture. Saute for another 20 minutes. Add goat cheese 5 minutes before serving, stir, and keep warm with a lid.

Not-so-fancy bacon (super easy: you can throw this in the oven right before brunch is served)

Zucchini Bread (I ended up having leftover shredded zucchini, so I added it to the barley salad to enhance the texture) *make the night before

 Baked French Toast with Apple Compote and Whipped Cream (my modification: while blueberries are delicious, I did not include them. Instead, I created an apple compote to compliment the maple syrup. Peel and chop 6 mixed apples, add some cinnamon and sugar to taste, a squeeze of lemon juice, and saute with 1/2″ water until soft, about 20 minutes. Serve with freshly whipped cream.)

Fresh Pineapple – ask someone in produce to point out a ripe pineapple. The flavor definitely makes a difference, so be sure that it’s ripe. Chop and serve!

Chocolate Cake – one of my friends actually made this cake, and it’s her secret recipe. It was a delicious addition to the baked french toast! You can choose any cake; it’s just nice to have as the brunch centerpiece. Check out your local bakery for yummy cakes – it doesn’t necessarily have to be homemade.

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Filed under FOOD-LIFE BALANCE, VINTOGENIC