Ana Mandara

San Francisco held this event the past two weeks called Dine About Town where upscale restaurants offer limited three-course menus for only $34.95.

Friday was the last day of Dine About Town (and it was also the day that a certain someone was coming IN to town to visit me) so I made sure to make reservations at one of the participating restaurant

I chose Ana Mandara, an upscale Vietnamese restaurant in Fisherman’s Wharf. Neither Dan nor I had ever been to a fancy Vietnamese restaurant before so it was a first for both of us. We felt kind of like impostors since the dining room was full of rich looking businessmen and families! When I arrived, the host said that usually they only offer the Dine About Town menu Sunday through Thursday but since I asked so nicely (and probably look so poor) they said we could do it eve though it was Friday.

The first course was an appetizer sampler that came with steamed Vietnamese chicken and shrimp Dumplings, fried wontons filled with Dungeness crab, cream cheese and sweet chili and an organic local baby greens salad with a ginger dressing.

Lucky Dan got a double helping of dumplings and wontons and I got two salads! Dan said that the dumplings and wontons were out of this world; he even said it was probably the best restaurant food he had ever eaten! I really liked the salad, the dressing was delicious but not overpowering and the lettuce was so fresh!

We got to choose a main course out of four options. I chose the Curry Tofu and my shrimp loving man ordered the Barbecue Jumbo Prawns.

This picture’s not great but my dish was, the curry was flavorful and the tofu was well cooked. I find often when I order tofu in restaurants it is either very plain and mushy or over fried, this wasn’t.

For dessert I had mango and passion fruit sorbet. They were delicious but if it was a contest, mango won. The sorbet came garnished with a cute (and tasty) little tuile!

Dan ordered the Flourless Coconut Rum Cake, which he said was only okay since it tasted too eggy.

Overall we had a good experience at Ana Mandara and would probably go back again if we could afford it. For now, it’s a little out of our price range…

  • Appetizer: 5/5
  • Entrée: 4/5
  • Dessert: 3/5
  • Service: 4/5
  • Atmosphere: 5/5
  • Total: 21/25
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5 reasons this weekend was so great!

  1. On Friday morning I found a stray kitten on the street outside my apartment. He is pure white, has blue eyes and he’s deaf. Did you know 60-80% of white cats with blue eyes are deaf? And if a white cat has one blue eye and one green or brown they are often deaf in the ear closest to the blue eye? Anyway he is very cute and I love him already and want to take him home to New York to be Henry’s little brother.

2. My boyfriend came to visit me. Wheeeeeee! I missed him so much and I’m so happy he’s here for a whole week!

3. The weather was so great this weekend! Fog shmog, it was beautiful and sunny and warm.

4. We went to Golden Gate Park and Haight Ashbury, the hippie capital of the country.

This clock always reads 4:20, you know why.

5. There is a lemon tree in the back yard!

It was just one of many ingredients in dinner Saturday night.

a la carte

Hmm… I’ve been kinda lagging with my blog posts haven’t I? It was so easy in the beginning when we were learning specific topics every day like Soy Foods or Sea Vegetables. Now that we’re starting our final month of the program (HOLY SHITAKES HOW DID IT GO SO FAST?!) our classes have been more focused on our Friday Night Dinner and nutrition.

The last two Friday classes were A La Carte 1 and 2, where we prepared the “mis en place” for a few recipes and then prepared them to order. I really liked these classes because it was fun taking a dish from a mish-mash of ingredients to complete in a short amount of time. I also had more practice in preparing fish and chicken, which was a nice change of pace since I don’t do much (or any) of that at home.

We made a Tempeh Bolognese with roasted broccoli, capers and olives. This dish was actually amazing and I think I am going to make this at home this week, it was that good.

Salmon with black and white rice and grilled squash.

Sauteed apples in a phyllo cup topped with (melted) vanilla (soy) ice cream.

Tempeh in Curry Coconut Sauce, served with grilled pineapple salsa. This dish was also so good that I made it for Dan and I last night. I guess I just really love tempeh right now!

Chicken in a mushroom sauce.

And Teriyaki Tofu

The goal of this exercise is to simulate what goes on in the kitchens of real restaurants and to prepare us for our internships. Speaking of which, I am super excited for my internship! I am going to be working at a restaurant in San Francisco!

I have always wanted to visit (and move to) the West Coast so I am beyond thrilled to be going for the month of June. Maybe I will love it so much that I won’t come back? It was a pain in the butternut squash finding a subletter for my NYC apartment but I finally figured it out and am going to be starting my internship in just 5 weeks! I can’t believe culinary school is almost over, I’m feeling quite depressed about this…

In other news, I’ve been running again! Taking it slow but my knees have been holding up! More on that later, I’m off to watch my new favorite show, Girls.

pizza party

When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie…

Do you remember when Congress classified pizza as a vegetable? Apparently the sauce counts as a daily serving of veggies but in my book, pizza is hardly considered a health food. It can be made healthier by using fresh dough and lots of veggie toppings though!It was really fun making the pizza dough from scratch, rolling it out and personalizing our pizzas with toppings. I think homemade pizza is such an easy dinner that can be so delicious and satisfying. Just whip up some dough and freeze the extra, it defrosts great for a quick weeknight meal!

In class we explored different doughs and methods of cooking.

Margherita pizza on our chef’s secret recipe crust.

Grilled pizza topped with bruschetta.

My vegan pizza #1

#2

Pissaladière: A traditional pizza from the South of France with a flaky crust, caramelized onions, olives and anchovies.

An assortment of pizzas from my classmates!

Gluten-free mini pizzas!

Focaccia! This was my absolute favorite of the day, did you know that it contains a baked potato? Mmmm

I hope everyone has a bella noche and perhaps a slice of pizza or two!

pasta party

Today was my favorite day so far at the Natural Gourmet for one reason and that reason starts with “P” and ends with “asta.”

The day started out with a lecture where the Chef entertained us with the history of pasta and then demonstrated how to make fresh pasta using flour and either egg or water. It’s actually really easy to make pasta even though it’s kind of messy to do from scratch, it would be especially difficult in my tiny apartment with negative counter space, but fresh pasta is 10000000000000x better than boxed stuff so I think it would be totally worth it once in a while.

After the demo we got to make out own pasta and had the option of using different types of flours or coloring ingredients like spinach, beet puree or tomato paste. Check out the pretty colors of all the pasta we made!

Once our pasta dough was made we rolled it out into shapes. First we made long lasagna noodles to be used for making filled pasta like tortellini and ravioli, and then we used an attachment on the pasta machine to make fettuccini and spaghetti. This is what a happy pasta maker looks like…

And this is what it looks like when things go terribly wrong… (the crank fell off mid-fettucini)

Purdy corn fettuccini made by replacing ½ cup flour with cornmeal.

Beet pasta!

I barely got any pictures of the finished products but I managed to snap a few.

 

Cannelloni filled with butternut squash and tofu ricotta (I made the tomato sauce!)

 

Tomato spaghetti with basil walnut pesto

Chef also showed us how to make gnocchi. Here are the little gnocchi before…

And after they were cooked in a browned butter sage sauce. I’ve been staying away from dairy recently but gnocchi has a special place in my heart and this dish was calling to me so I had to have a bite. It was divine!

I took some pasta home to cook for dinner but by the time I got home it had turned into this…

It was originally fettucini… I still ate it though and it tasted pretty good even if it was kind of dense.

Tomorrow is our first day of the baking unit and I am pumped! So is Henry, he has his paw on tomorrow because he likes to think ahead and contemplate the future.

Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?

These two made an appearance in class today:

Today was another day I went hungry because it was seafood day at the Natural Gourmet Institute. I’ve never eaten seafood before (except lobster ravioli once when I was 8) and I wasn’t too keen on trying it today. The thing that skeeves me out about seafood is that it’s all alive when you cook it (and some you eat raw/alive like clams and oysters). People go crazy over seafood though, so it really must be amazing and I’m probably missing out.

Steamed muscles in a white wine butter sauce with red peppers and onion.

Has anyone read Hunter S. Thompson’s “Consider the Lobster”? (you can read it here.) I had to read it for class when I was in undergrad and I found the history and anatomy of lobster really interesting. Did you know that lobster was originally considered “poor man’s food” and served to prisoners? Today it’s a very expensive delicacy! The article also goes into detail about the argument over whether or not lobsters can feel pain. The article basically concludes that while lobsters do not have the same type of cerebral cortex that feels pain as we do, they have a different anatomy that gives them the ability to suffer living in captivity and to feel pain when boiled alive or killed. Here is a picture of the lobster we had in class today posing with my classmate Rachel!

Another fun lobster fact, did you know that they are in the same family as spiders? You can tell by their eight legs! If you put your finger in between it’s toes (NOT CLAWS), the lobster will kind of pinch your finger in a cute way. I got a little too familair with Mr. Krabs here to be okay with what happened next…

The Chef unceremoniously ripped off the lobster’s claws, chopped it’s back in half while it was still alive and then decapitated it. Even if lobsters don’t feel pain (which I don’t necessarily believe) that is not a nice way to go. The claws were boiled separately and the rest of the body was pan-seared in olive oil and then flambeed with brandy before cold butter was added. It’s so interesting how the lobster is mostly black/green but turns red when cooked.

Seared scallops in browned butter sauce with capers and lemon juice.

 

Raw oyster and clam bar.

Scallop ceviche

Fried calamari

Sicialian-style stuffed squid

Blackened Shrimp

Finally done with meats! Tomorrow and Friday are all about eggs (or as some might say aygs).

pollo pollo

Today was poultry day at the Natural Gourmet Institute. As a vegetarian of seven years, I was feeling apprehensive about participating in the preparation of chicken but I also wanted to learn the proper techniques in cooking poultry so that I would be able to do it in a future job if necessary.

Watching the instructor clean and “dress” the chicken by cutting it up into pieces was a little nauseating. I kept picturing the little chicken running around… Did you know the average chicken only lives 3-5 months? If they are allowed to mature the meat become less tender. Worse than watching the chef hack through bones with his knife was doing it myself. I had no idea chicken carcasses were still so bloody when you bought them from the store, and that when you purchase whole chickens they come with a little baggie filled with their organs. My chicken had three hearts, that’s genetic modification at it’s best (actually it was organic chicken and probably only had one heart in reality but somehow 3 ended up in my organ bag). I never want to have to work with chicken, or any meat again! At least now I can say that I have the ability to de-bone a chicken, even if I would prefer not to.

We made roast chicken

Broiled Pesto Chicken (I made the pesto!)

Chicken Biryani

Chicken Tenders in Peanut Sauce

Pan-Roasted Chicken with a Mushroom and White Wine Sauce

Chicken Piccata

and Chicken Salad

I did not taste any of the fruits of todays labors but I brought home a doggy bag for Dan. He loves meat and always complains about my vegan food! He said the chicken tender was the best because of the peanut sauce. I did try that peanut sauce and it was AMAZING! I think I’m going to recreate it this weekend and put it on top of some noodles and tofu.

While today was not my favorite class of my culinary program so far, I learned a lot from the experience. I had wondered if I was ready to add more animal protein into my diet again but now I realize that I can’t emotionally handle it and probably never will. The chef commented how I had such great willpower to resist the food today, but honestly I think it would have taken more willpower to eat it. I’m still on the fence about fish but I will get a chance to revisit it tomorrow when we have our Fin Fish Practicum!

I’m on a (sushi) roll.

Wednesday’s class was all about sea vegetables! You may be thinking, “What’s so exciting about seaweed?” but let me tell you… EVERYTHING!

Sea vegetables are very high in minerals and essential micronutrients that are very beneficial to us. They can help to detoxify the body, stabilize blood sugar, strengthen hair and nails and reduce bloat, as well as having the potential to do many other great things for our bodies. Seaweed is very versatile and is used in salads, soups, main dishes and even desserts. Did you know that seaweed is one of the main ingredients in ice cream? Next time you take that pint of choco choco chip out the freezer check if the ingredient caragheen is listed. IT’S SEAWEED, FOOLS!

While Japan is the country most commonly associated with seaweed, sea vegetables can be found along coastlines around the world, including the Pacific Northwest and Maine. Dulse is red seaweed commonly found in Ireland and my ancestral homeland of Scotland!

If fun facts about seaweed don’t keep you riveted to your seat, check out these pictures of what we did with seaweed! (Hint: it starts with an “S” and ends with “ushi”)

Our sushi assembly line!

The Chef's beautiful sushi creation.

My sushi!

My sushi that didn't quite make it...

My classmate Kara's awesome sushi!

Miso soup with wakame seaweed.

Coconut lime "custard" made with agar agar and kuzu! (and maple coated pecans) SO GOOD!

That custard was so good I couldn’t believe it. No one would ever know it was made with seaweed! I saved my sushi and ate it for dinner and it was really tasty even if it wasn’t rolled perfectly… Making sushi was much easier than I thought and something I would really like to do more of at home. I gotta run to class but stay tuned for tomorrow’s post which will be all about SOY!

spicy sox

Hey guys, I got a job!

Sox in the City is a pop-up shop in a restaurant that shut down on St. Marks in the East Village. While the landlords are waiting to sign a lease with a new restaurant they are selling handmade slipper-socks, wool hats and mitten0gloves, all crafted by a tribe in Afghanistan. The socks are actually the most comfortable thing in the world, I don’t want to leave my house because that means I have to take them off!

Ever pair of socks is different and they are all so beautifully made. They are actually knitted out of old sweaters imported from the U.S.! My job is pretty sweet but the doors are always open so it’s freezing cold.

Like my hat? Another perk of the job. Since I’m always so cold, and there is a Thai restaurant right across the street, all I want when I leave work is hot, spicy, greasy Thai food. Unfortunately, take-out is not friendly for my wallet or my waistline so I set out to create my own Thai-inspired meal. This recipe is by no means authentic Thai food and I hesitate to even call it that, but it contains the aspects of Thai that I crave: spicy, creamy, peanut-y and noodle-y.

Lazy “Thai” Noodles

serves 2

  • 2 servings of rice noodles (I used pho noodles)
  • 2 tsp sriracha sauce
  • 1 tbsp peanut butter
  • 1/2 tbsp tamari
  • 2 tbsp ketchup
  • 1/4 cup hot water (it’s easy to take this from the boiling pasta water)
  • 1/4 cup coconut milk
  • 1/2 package tempeh cut into triangles
  • 2 carrots, peeled into thin strips
  • scallions, crushed peanuts and more sriracha for garnish

Put a pot of water on to boil. Mix the sriracha, pb, tamari and ketchup in a bowl. Once the water is hot, add 1/4 cup to the sauce mixture along with the coconut milk, stir until combined and set aside. Get the noodles going in the boiling water. Put a little olive oil in frying pan and once it’s hot, add the tempeh triangles. Once they are browned, flip them over and add the carrot. When the noodles are done, drain them and add them to the frying pan (turn off the heat) along with the sauce and scallions. Toss everything together with tongs until the noodles are sufficiently coated and serve it. I dare you not to enjoy this healthier-alternative to Thai takeout!

 

I pronounce “eggs” like “aygs.”

Yesterday was National Carrot Cake Day!

I celebrated this important national holiday by partaking in a Babycakes carrot cake cupcake. I had been craving Babycakes ever since I got back to NYC and this cupper really hit the spot… I’m still dreaming about it! Yesterday’s “holiday” prompted me to look up other national food celebrations and I discovered that there’s pretty much a holiday for everything! Today was National Homemade Soup Day and I just so happened to have some leftover Broccoli Cheeze soup in my freezer that I reheated for the occasion. Tomorrow is Stuffed Mushroom Day but I think I’m going to pass on that one. I’m excited for FRENCH FRY DAY but that’s all the way in July.

Have you ever heard of an Ameraucana chicken? They are a heritage breed of chicken that naturally lay blue-green eggs! If you look closely you’ll notice that one of mine is kind of pink, which means it must have come from a very special hen. 😉

I saw these beauties at the farmer’s market yesterday for a steal (ONLY $3!!!) and had to pick them up.  The farmer told me that in a few weeks these eggs will double in price since the hens that layed them are fairly young and will produce fewer eggs as they mature, making their value increase. I found that really interesting! Last night I scrambled some for dinner and they were awesome! One of the eggs had a double yolk! My next purchase at the market was not so pretty…

On a whim, I picked up a rutabaga at the farmer’s market yesterday. I have never had rutabaga before but I love all starchy veg so I figured I would give it a try. Luckily, I was given this book on my first day of culinary school on Monday, which gave me some insight into the ugly root vegetable. In The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia, Rebecca Wood informs us that Rutabagas are also known as “Swedish Turnips” and are actually a cross between a turnip and a cabbage developed by Swiss botanist Gaspard Bauhin in the 1600s. “Like other root vegetables, rutabagas are a warming food that strengthen digestion, especially the stomach and spleen; they also detoxify the liver.” Rutabagas also contain antioxidant properties and vitamin A. Pretty healthy for such an ugly little fella, huh?

I decided to roast my rutabaga and practiced my French knife skills by julienning (roughly) the tuber and tossing it with olive oil, salt and pepper before roasting at 425° for about 40 minutes. I expected them to turn out a bit sweeter but they definitely had the texture of a tough potato. Maybe next time I would par-boil them first so they would be softer on the inside?

I’m having a lazy Saturday night because I stayed out way to late last night. I hope everyone has a great weekend and I look forward to sharing more kitchen experiments with you guys in the future!