Green Goddess dressing

Green Goddess dressing

I've had something of a fascination lately with the idea of San Francisco food. I mean, everyone knows our fair city to be a major foodie destination, and most people can rattle off a list of restaurant names of varying degrees of prestige in the current-day food scene. But what of the classics, the dishes that emerged from restaurants past and present that have made it into the American culinary vernacular?

Many of these dishes have appeared on menus for so long, they've been fallen out of fashion and are now associated with lunching matrons in chi-chi hotel restaurants: Crab Louie, Celery Victor and the grandmother of all creamy salad dressings, Green Goddess.

It's small wonder these dishes have become culinary dinosaurs. In the monotony of preparing them on so many menus over so many years, they've surely slid into mediocrity or worse at the hands of indifferent chefs. Just recently, I dined locally at an otherwise perfectly good establishment (that shall remain nameless). I was actually excited to see a salad with Green Goddess on the menu, and ordered it with glee. Sadly, I was presented a lackluster pile of greens thickly coated with what as far as I could tell was just straight-up mayonnaise. No green, and far from godly.

But I maintain that when prepared with love and integrity, these foods must be excellent in their own right. How else could they have become such culinary icons?

And the goddess is an icon indeed. It was created at the Palace Hotel in 1923 by Executive Chef Phillip Roemer at an event to honor actor George Arliss, who was then the lead in the play "The Green Goddess" by William Archer. Cool, creamy and fresh with herbs, it must have struck quite a chord with the diners that evening, for it went on to become one of the most popular dressings in the West for decades, eventually dethroned by ranch dressing (with which it has a more than passing resemblance.)

Its fame peaked in the 1970s when Seven Seas sold a bottled version of it, and today Annie's Naturals produces a version as well, but for the last three decades or so, the goddess has largely lost her followers. 

Well, consider me a member of the Cult of the Green Goddess, then. And I aim to convert you, too.

You see, Green Goddess is much more than a dressing. Since I've started making it, it's made its way into a variety of applications. It makes a fantastic dip for just about anything on its own, but toss it into a blender with some white beans and you've got something rather special indeed. Our friend Jim's mother used to use it as a dressing for cold pasta, and served with grilled jumbo shrimp; I think scallops would be at least as delightful.

In researching the dressing, I came across a lot of different recipes with a surprising amount of variation: Different proportions of mayonnaise, sour cream and vinegar; with or without anchovy; and while nearly all call for parsley and chives, others called for basil, tarragon and even chervil. Despite Martha's greatest efforts to market it, however, chervil remains an elusive ingredient for most of us.

The Palace Hotel thoughtfully has published the original, and that is what I used. Well, sort of. While they call for parsley and chives, the original evidently did not include tarragon; this will not stand. For reasons I cannot justify, in my mind Green Goddess must have tarragon. Must. So I added it. And I stand by that decision. Fact is, you could tweak this recipe ten times till Tuesday, and you'd still end up with a delicious, refreshing dressing, so have at it. 

What other San Francisco classics do you love? And what current dishes do you think will stand the test of time?

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White pizza

White Pizza ©DPaul Brown

Recently, Sara Rosso posted her series on 101 American Foods, and Kalyn opened the discussion further, asking us all to ponder on what foods we consider to be American. A quick Twitter straw poll netted many of the most immediately identifiable American edibles — apple pie, burgers, Thanksgiving turkey — but she closes with a note that, “being from Utah, Kalyn would have to add fry sauce to Sara’s list!”

Truly, all food is American food, since America is inclusive of populations from every corner of the globe. But if you want to get down to what is uniquely American, you need to talk about regional foods. After all, what would New England be without clam chowder or lobster rolls? New Orleans brought us jambalaya, gumbo, and the muffuletta, among other delectably rich fare. And tomes have been written on barbecue alone.

Yet, where I come from in upstate New York, there are precious few things I can think of that distinguish it from anyplace else. Buffalo has its wings, Syracuse has salt potatoes, but Schenectady has no culinary claim to fame. So that got me thinking: What did I used to eat back home that I can’t get here?

Meanwhile, DPaul, the yeast whisperer, has been on a pizza kick. Our preferred neighborhood pizza joint went out of business recently, and so he has thrown himself into the pursuit of perfecting pizza in the home. To up his game, he got a copy of Peter Reinhart’s American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza, which is half travelogue and half cookbook. Within the book, Reinhart outlines recipes for a myriad of kinds of pizza, from the classic Napoletana to Romana to Chicago and, of course, the fluffy Americana that most of us here in the USA know and love. Truly, a quintessentially American food.

It was then that I remembered that we used to get a white pizza in Schenectady, typically topped with broccoli. Here, at last, was something I could never recall finding anywhere else, something utterly unique to my hometown. Some cursory research online (and in Reinhart’s book) turned up recipes for “New York-style white pizza” that had some kind of béchamel-like or cream-based sauce on it, but that’s not how I remembered it. So I reached out to my friend Kristen back home to ask her what kind of sauce is on our version. “Silly boy,” she replied, “white pizza doesn’t have any sauce!” It’s just ricotta, garlic (fresh or powdered; I prefer fresh), mozzarella and broccoli — though some people opt for no broccoli. I am not one of them.

For all its simplicity, it has a wonderful balance of richness and lightness and is surprisingly delicious. Enjoy a taste of my corner of America!

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The even greater tomato canning of 2009

Canned tomatoes ©DPaul Brown

Gluttons for punishment, we are. As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, we undertook our greatest processing and canning feat to date, dispatching with 200 pounds of tomatoes across two weeks. Thanks to our experiences over the past couple years, we’ve learned a few things that help speed the process and move things along.

For our purposes, as we were looking to get as much sauce out of the fruit as possible, two extremely large stock pots were of the essence. In addition, 23-quart pressure canners*
were required so we could process multiple batches in parallel. A 36″ range helped, but was not strictly necessary. Snacks and wine, however, were.

Whereas last year we merely scored the bottoms of the tomatoes and then blanched and cored them, this year we had an epiphany: If we cored the tomatoes first, then blanched them, the skins came away more easily, and we didn’t need to handle the slippery devils with a paring knife in one hand. Good-quality rubber gloves prevented our skin from cracking from the constant exposure to acid. Our ducks were in a row.

Our first day of canning by the numbers:

  • 100 lbs of tomatoes
  • 2 large stockpots and 2 23-quart pressure canners
  • 42 quart jars, lids and rings
  • 12 hours
  • 4 grown men
  • 3 underfoot dogs
  • 2 flaming kitchen towels

On the second Saturday, at our friends Nick & Russ‘s place in the East Bay, Nick mused on how we all enjoy this activity, and wondered how we as a society moved away from such labors. The answer, of course, is World War II.

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Misty Meadows Farm

Misty Meadows Farm

Meet Ralph and Kathy Packard.

Ralph and Kathy run the Misty Meadows Farm in Payneville, KY, about 50 miles southwest of Louisville. They grow “everything but okra” on their bucolic 28-acre parcel of land; on our visit, broccoli, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers and blackberries were just beginning to come up. Heavy rains delayed the start of their planting season, and only now in late May are they getting a start in earnest on their crops.

Roosters cockily patrolled the chicken coop. Happy, inquisitive pigs came up to us in the barn to check us out. The two most recent were born on inauguration day, a male and a female inevitably named Barack and Michelle. The pigs come in black, red (with hair that shines fiery like copper filament in the sun) and one spotted pig that instantly became my favorite. Cattle are kept at a nearby Mennonite farm. The Packards’ two dogs, Maggie and Timmy, keep watch over it all.


Misty Meadows has the longest-running CSA in the state of Kentucky (ten years strong); started the local farmer’s market in nearby Brandenburg, KY; and were among the first farms to do organic gardening in the state (albeit not certified). As well as their produce, they sell farm-fresh eggs, various cuts of pork, beef and lamb, and homemade sausages including chorizo, sweet and hot Italian, and Kentucky-style breakfast links, redolent with sage. Their efforts have stood in defiance of the indefatigable encroachment of corporate and fast food that has all but crushed any semblance of local, indigenous foodways in this part of the country and others. It’s a glimmer of hope of a food renaissance, a return to the old ways of raising and eating honest food.

But their way of farming is at risk.

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Mini Hot Browns

Mini Hot Browns

Happy Derby Day, y’all!

Like most non-veg*ans, I like bacon. A lot. Certainly at least as much as the next guy. But like some others, I am a bit over the baconization of the foodie Internets. Bacon is strong mojo. Like a psychedelic drug, it should be used with great care and respect. You can’t just use bacon for bacon’s sake. Mark my words, the day the Bacon Explosion exploded all over the web was the day bacon jumped the shark.

But bacon still has and will forever have its time and place. It is, after all, one of the high holy trinity that is B, L and T. It is also a seminal ingredient in the most quintessential Kentuckian sandwich, the Hot Brown.

This open-faced sandwich, created by chef Fred Schmidt at Louisville’s Brown Hotel in 1928, is not diet food. By modern standards, the Hot Brown’s combination of bread, turkey, cheese sauce and bacon is a total hot mess. But hey, all things in moderation, right? If you miniaturize them down to passed hors d’oeuvre size, each wee morsel is just a palpitation compared to the full-on heart stopper of a whole one.

And yes, they do taste just a little better when you’re wearing your big ol’ floppy Holly Golightly hat and a sundress, washed down with a mint julep. But doesn’t everything?

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Drink me: Pliny the Elder

Pliny the Elder

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Despite my name, I am comprised of at best 1/16 Irish blood, perhaps significantly less than that, but that doesn't deter me from enjoying the holiday. If you're planning to partake this St. Paddy's Day, please do not debase yourself with weak beer tainted with green food coloring. You'll respect yourself more in the morning if you opt for a lovely Guinness. Or, if like me you live in the Bay Area and want to go a bit more local, quaff a pint of my new favorite beer, Russian River Brewing Company's Pliny the Elder.

Like a lot of Northern California microbrews, Pliny is heady and hoppy; but unlike too many other hop-headed beers that offer nothing beyond one-noted bitterness or, worse, a metallic tinge, Pliny is rich and complex. Sure, it's hoppy, but it's layered with bright, refreshing notes of citrus, delicate sweetness of orange flower blossoms and elderflowers, and a healthy waft of the evening breeze in Humboldt County. Or so I'm told. At any rate, it's balanced and utterly drinkable.

My friend Julie has been waxing rhapsodic about this beer for a while now, but I only recently had the pleasure of partaking at a recent installment of Book Club at Toronado. Suffice to say, it was love at first sip.

As for the name? While Pliny is best known for having witnessed, and died during, the eruption at Vesuvius, Pliny wrote a significant work titled simply, Naturalis Historiae (Natural History), an encyclopedia cataloging a mangificent array of understanding of the natural world. Among his achievements in his work as a natural scientist was to give hops its botanical name, or so sayeth the brewers themselves. And this beer's hoppy application is as fitting a tribute as any.

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Chez Panisse

Despite both DPaul and I having lived in the Bay Area more or less 20 years apiece, and despite being avid diners, neither of us had ever eaten at the world-famous Chez Panisse. This is something we have long wanted to remedy, and have discussed doing so with various folks. At long last, our dear friends Nick and Russ made it happen, and better yet as a very thoughtful wedding gift. After one abortive attempt where we languished on the waitlist, they were finally able to land us a reservation last week, at 6 pm on Friday, February 13. Our excitement mounted as the date drew nearer.

On the big day, I planned to leave my Redwood City office sometime shortly after four, a time that normally allows for easy commuting all around the area. But the best laid plans of mice and men, and all that. I ended up having to give a presentation, which delayed my departure to slightly after 4:30. I had to drop my colleague off back in the city. It was raining and the Friday before a holiday weekend, and traffic was unusually bad for that time of day.

Crawling up the 101, my blood pressure rose as the time slipped inexorably by. By the time of our 6 pm dinner reservation, I was still in downtown San Francisco, stuck in dead-stop traffic waiting to get on the bridge. Veins throbbed in my temples as I screamed expletives at the top of my lungs. I sent DPaul a one-word text message: "Hopeless." I was on the verge of tears. The evening was ruined, and I would not be dining at Chez Panisse that night. The disappointment was crushing.

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Better than the real thing

Chicken Parmesan
Having been mostly vegetarian for some 15 years, I am well versed in the ways of substitution. Non-meat eaters often have to go to great lengths to satisfy their protein cravings. Many meat substitute products are frighteningly bad (vegetarian bacon? No thank you …), but sometimes, these products actually excel: To this day DPaul and I still purchase veggie dogs (Yves brand are a particular favorite), and I am here to tell you that vanilla Tofutti Cuties truly are better than the real thing.

Giving up meat was one thing, but most recipes that eschew natural fats or sugars leave me utterly cold. It's not that I don't appreciate the desire to reduce calories and cholesterol (having, as I do, hereditary hypercholesteremia), but all too often these sacrifices are made at too high a price.

But once in a while, a recipe comes along that changes the way I think about low-whatever foods. It is, after all, possible to rethink a recipe totally, deconstruct it and rethink its elements, and return a newly engineered product that surpasses its predecessor. And thanks to America's Test Kitchen, chicken parmesan has been born again.

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Daiquiri days and tiki nights


Food and drink bloggers tend to be a merry lot; DPaul and I are certainly not alone in our pursuits of things hedonistic. It generally takes little provocation to get a group of local bloggers to assemble to consume something of interest, in groups large or small.

Last year, Jen organized a come-as-you-are series of outings to case out the various bars and beverages featured in the 2008 edition of Food & Wine Cocktails, 17 of which were from Bay Area locales. A schedule was built, and week after week a cadre of bloggers and booze enthusiasts traipsed to watering holes in San Francisco and beyond in search of these rarefied concoctions. So regular and assiduously attended were these events, they became referred to as our "book club."

Sadly, as it turned out, relatively few of the cocktails in the book were available for the tasting. It stands to reason in an artisanal cocktail center like San Francisco that menus change with the moods and seasons, but some instances were just outright silly. At one location, the cocktail was on the menu, but is apparently never actually served, since they don't stock one key ingredient, a Belgian Trappist ale, that is both perishable and expensive. In one other case, the cocktail was not — and had actually never been — on the menu. Of the comparatively few cocktails featured in the book that were of offer, some were simply disappointing, though often there were superior drinks available at those locations. Ultimately, only a few stood out; my personal favorite was the Tommy Gun at Bar Drake.

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Lobster rolls

Lobster roll © DPaul Brown

Happy Labor Day!

I often tell people that my hometown in Upstate New York is a lovely place to be from. I love living in San Francisco, and in California in general, and I have little desire to return back to the Northeast. However, there are a handful of things I do miss.

When I was young, I spent a fair amount of time on and around the New England shores. My father lived in Massachusetts and New Hampshire for most of my life, and my mother and I would often take summer trips to Cape Cod or Rhode Island. I loved those pebbly beaches, the balmy days and, above all else, lobster rolls.

I have been pining for years — years — for lobster rolls. There’s really nothing all that remarkable about them: Just lobster meat barely dressed, served in a bun with a side of potato chips and a pickle spear. But two things have thwarted me in fulfilling my craving. First, lobster is not particularly common out here, and when it’s available it’s insanely expensive. But second and more importantly, I could never find the right kind of bun.

You see, lobster rolls are served in hot dog buns, but they must be top-cut buns. That way, you have the most important feature: Sides that have exposed crumb, which you then brush with butter and broil or griddle. Cuz, you know, the lobster and mayonnaise just aren’t rich enough. Lo and behold, Whole Foods stocks hot dog buns that have not been sliced in either direction, so at long last I was able to achieve lobster roll nirvana.

The contrast of the warm, toasted sides of the bun and the cool, creamy lobster salad are the perfect taste of summer, and a flash of nostalgia from my childhood. My craving has been sated for at least another year.

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