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I listened to Ed Levine's Serious Eats podcast interview today with Maira Kalman and Barbara Scott-Goodman discussing their new book Cake. https://soundcloud.com/user-306003081/special-sauce-artist-and My initial reaction was that though they are interesting people "Cake? - really?". But knowing how I can be dismissive without giving things a chance, I listened and reflected, and realized I had a deep history with cakes though my cultural sweets experience is Austro-Hungarian pastries. I'll share my memories and would love to hear yours.
My first significant cake baking experience was at around age 10 when I was driven to make the Enchanted Castle cake from the Betty Crocker Boys & Girls Cookbook for my sister's birthday. Scroll past the bunny salad https://popgoesthepage.princeton.edu/tag/betty-crockers-new-boys-and-girls-cookbook/ I used a box mix and improvised on the decorating but it was essentially as shown. Suprisingly I was not pained when the first cut was made; just delighted that she and others were delighted.
The next wow cake was when my mom made a tunnel cake with dark cherry mousse for a dinner party. It seemed magical. This was in th 60's before they were a "thing". (see attached image of recipe from Good Housekeeping magazine found in mom's recipe binder)
I'd started baking in general and became the designated cake baker for the sweet my dad took to work for lunch. This was the era of bundt cakes and pudding cakes. I unearthed some of the recipe cards and came upon: the poppy seed cake from the olo can, carrot cake from Blue Ribbon Recipes, apple cake with orange juice, pistachio pudding cake, sauerkraut chocolte cake & mashed potato chocolate cake, Maid Heatter's Royal Viennese Walnut Torte- list goes on
One Christmas Austrian friends sent us a Sacher Torte complete in its adorable wooden box from the Hotel Sacher. Anticipation was high; disppointment was deep. Dry/boring! - though I did like the apricot jam under the chocolate glaze.
In the 80's a Vietnamese friend introduced me to the less sweet style of Asian cakes with light fruitiness and a whipped cream & crushed fruit filling.. Around that time I also became enamored of a roulade cake flavored with pandan from the big Chinese market (99 Ranch).
There was a big "cake lull" until I recently baked an olive oil cake with tangerine zest when the pantry was bare. In fact I think I'll make it again tomorrow
OK, I was over in the same area later this afternoon and popped back in to pick one up. I ended up with two. My husband wanted to try the shrimp quality and I wanted to try a vegan option. Not that I am a vegan or even interested in becoming one, I just find it interesting to see how appealing they can make vegan kits. I was thinking of making the Black Bean Cakes as a starter, followed by the Shrimp Scampi, but decided the Shrimp would suffice.
Here are some pics and details...
The packaging is quite good. The boxes are all the same size, a fairly long and narrow box, good for fitting into the fridge. Info on the box shows if a meal is gluten-free, vegan, etc and the shrimp was labeled as a dietitian's choice. Time to cook is given (are they all 20 mins or less?) as well as level of spiciness and whether you have to do a bit of chopping or none at all. The plastic window lets you see at least some of the ingredients.
Here's the contents of the shrimp dinner. It's only 10 oz (less than 300 gms) of shrimp and the other ingredients are very simple, so the quality of the shrimp and the cooked (!) fettuccini will be key. The onions are already diced, the garlic and parsley minced. Pats of butter included.
Here's the contents of the Black Bean cakes - instant corn grits, cooked basmati rice, black beans, diced red peppers, cumin, sriracha, salsa verde, diced squash and minced garlic.
B and I went there last year in 2016. How time flies!
We found our experience not as good as it could have been.
We arrived early, and they didn't seat us until 50 minutes later, 20 minutes past our reservation time. When I asked what was taking so long, I was told "Well, you arrived early." That's not the point -- we had a reservation time of 9 pm and it's now 9:20 -- does everyone who comes here get seated late? Strike #1. Furthermore, we were seated at the bar and no staff came by to alert us; I had to get up to go speak to the host.
On to the food...
"Thai soup" -- while it reminded me of tom kha gai and hit all the right flavor notes, I was asking myself why are we eating pseudo-Thai food in this restaurant?
Not exactly an auspicious beginning. Strike #2 was that it took nearly 5 minutes *after* being seated before we received the menus, and when they brought us the menus, they also brought us the first amuse-bouche. It felt like a weird combination of: (1) we're being rushed and (2) we're being punished.
Buckwheat blini, salmon, osetra caviar.
Well-made blini -- perfect, actually. Like butter-flavored clouds.
Seared scallops, morels, English peas, Madeira.<br style="background-color:#ffffff;color:#1d2129;font-size:14px;text-align:left;"> <br style="background-color:#ffffff;color:#1d2129;font-size:14px;text-align:left;"> Excellent flavor, from the bite or two I stole off of B's plate. Sear on the scallops poorly executed though.
Lamb loin with farroto, Medjool dates, carrots and chermoula.
The lamb was well-cooked. The plating sucked, the sauce was oversalted (basically, if you can taste it, it's too much), and the accompaniments slapdash. At this point, I was starting to become irritated. This is a restaurant that is supposed to be in the vanguard of San Francisco dining and for the prices that are being charged, everything should feel like perfection from the moment you step inside to when you depart.