Ham and Potato Chowder

Every year around this time I spend an afternoon hunting for my chowder recipe so that I can use up our Christmas leftovers, because I am bad at organizing information consistently. So I’m going to share it here because I probably won’t forget I did that.

I don’t remember where this recipe came from, but it’s really good for a winter evening — rich and warming and luscious.

4 slices thick-cut bacon, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
2 medium carrots, sliced into quarter-inch rounds
3 tbsp flour
3 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups water
2 tsp bouillon paste
3 medium russet potatoes, diced
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
2 cups diced ham
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Add the bacon to a cold Dutch oven or heavy pot and cook over medium heat; remove the bacon when crispy.

Cook the onion and carrots in the bacon drippings over medium heat until softened. Add 3 tablespoons of flour and stir to coat the vegetables, then cook for about 1 minute.

Slowly add milk and water, stirring. Add the bouillon paste, potatoes, pepper and garlic powder. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer until the potatoes are soft, about 15-20 minutes. Add ham and cheddar, and stir until the ham is warmed through and the cheese melts. Serve sprinkled with reserved bacon.


One weekend morning when my sons were in preschool, I thought it would be fun to make homemade pancakes. I did not realize that this would be one of those times, as happens with children, that I was Setting A Precedent. Thousands and thousands of pancakes later, my pancakes are pretty good. And so I share them with you.

1 cup flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 scant cup milk
1 tablespoon butter
1 egg

Begin by setting a large heavy pan over medium-low heat. You want to cook over a relatively gentle heat so the cakes don’t burn, but if the pan’s not hot when you begin cooking, the first couple rounds will be a sad anemic blonde.

In a large bowl, whisk together 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda. (The baking soda is optional, but it gives a little extra color and a little extra fluffiness. If you want something with more of a crepe vibe, leave it out.)

In a medium bowl, melt 1 tablespoon butter. Pour a scant cup of milk (for the unfamiliar, a scant cup is a cup but err on the side of less than a cup). Slowly whisk in a few tablespoons of milk; you want to cool the butter, but not so much that it starts to clump. Add one egg when the butter-milk mixture is cool enough to not scramble the egg, and whisk to combine. Whisk in the remainder of the milk.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and whisk to combine until the batter is pourable and there are no large clumps.

Grease your pan, which should now be nice and hot. I use cooking spray; butter works, but sometimes the pancakes come out a little greasy. (Which has its own appeal.) Add batter to the pan in 1/4 cup pools. My pan holds three at a time, four if I’m feeling aggressive.

After the cakes have cooked a couple minutes, bubbles will form on the top surface. You want the top to be very bubbly before you flip; you want the batter to still be soft, but not runny. When it’s ready, the surface will look moist but no longer wet. Then you flip.

If everything has gone well, the cooked side will be a nice uniform brown like an IKEA bookcase. Cook on the other side for a minute or two, then peek under the edge. It will not be a nice uniform brown on account of all those bubbles we waited for, but when the color is about the same, the cake should be finished and you can move it to a plate.

Repeat until you have used all the batter; one recipe makes 9-10 pancakes. The batter will keep in the fridge overnight if you don’t want the whole batch at once, but the next day’s pancakes will not be as fluffy. On the other hand, when they’re not very fluffy you can roll them up with jam or Nutella or whatever filling you like and that’s pretty delicious in its own way.

Tournedos: A User’s Guide

From 2005 to 2008, I kept a food review blog called Tournedos, mostly about the places I had lunch during law school.  (It was called Tournedos because I started law school at UC Hastings, so I was mostly reviewing restaurants in the Tenderloin.)  I’m now consolidating those reviews with the rest of my food writing here at Plausibly Deniable.

Tournedos was a little more systematic than the rest of my food reviews, so I want to explain the things I put in the header of each post.

Types of Post: There are two types of post — Impressions and Reviews. Impressions are exactly that: a reaction based on a single meal. They consist basically of where I went, what I ate, what I thought about it, and what it cost. Reviews, on the other hand, follow what I’m given to understand is the New York Times model; I only write one after I’ve been somewhere at least three times and eaten three different things. In a review, I try to cover a restaurant’s strengths and weaknesses more broadly.

Ratings: Like Homeland Security, I have a five-level rating system. Also like Homeland Security, only two of them get used much. It’s important to bear in mind that these ratings are calibrated to the assumption that you’re in the Tenderloin and need lunch nearby; I’d probably shift the ratings down a level if I were judging them on an absolute scale. The ratings are:

Strongly Recommended: This rating goes to restaurants that I think are worth experiencing of their own right, and I would even recommend a trip to eat at them.

Recommended: This rating goes to places I like, and will eat at again. If you asked for a restaurant in a given food genre, these are the ones I’d mention.

OK: This rating goes to places that were fine, but I’m in no hurry to return to.

Not Recommended: This rating goes to places that I probably won’t go back to. Not disgusting; just not good. These are restaurants that aren’t worth your time.

Avoid: This rating is reserved for places so bad that I had to abandon my meal.

Impression: Hunan Chili: OK

102 Castro Street
Mountain View

I’ve relocated again, and now I’m working on Castro Street, where restaurants are like optimistic lemmings, cheerfully poinging toward swift oblivion. Thus, more reviews which will likely soon be moot. (Incidentally, KoKo Express┬áhas now been replaced by Toust. I never went.)

Anyway, I had a yen for Chinese today at lunch, and I got the broccoli beef lunch special at Hunan Chili*. Because I got it to go, I missed out on the soup and ice cream. However, it did come with an egg roll and steamed rice.

The egg roll was really unremarkable. I have nothing bad to say about it, but I wouldn’t have missed it. Similarly, they make a perfectly serviceable heap of steamed rice. The broccoli beef, meanwhile, was OK. The beef was fine — not rubbery or chewy, but I’m not rhapsodic over its quality. The broccoli was maybe a tad overdone. The sauce had that sort of dark taste that suggests a little much soy sauce for my taste. Overall, I wouldn’t refuse to eat there again, but I won’t be in a hurry to return.

*I had a typo here that said Human Chili. I really hope never to write that review.

(Editor’s Note: Hunan Chili survived until 2013, so I guess I didn’t give it enough credit.)

Originally published on Tournedos

Impression: Le Petit Cheval: Recommended

corner of Bancroft and Bowditch
Berkeley, CA

Not far from Boalt is a Vietnamese place that I’m told is an outpost of a famed Oakland
eatery to which I have never been. I eat there often when I don’t want to walk far and don’t want a sandwich. They have a steam table three-item combo ($5.08 plus tax, which comes out to $5.50), which is my subject today.

Today I opted for the curry chicken, the beef with asparagus, and the sauteed vegetables; the combo also comes with a scoop of steamed rice. I often get the curry chicken; they make a good yellow curry (if mild), with big chunks of potato and carrot and chicken thigh. The beef with asparagus is new. I got it because I read in the paper today that asparagus season is upon us. It was good, with surprisingly tasty beef for a steam table, but the lady behind the counter stiffed me a bit on the portion. She may have been concerned about running out; it seemed like everyone was ordering it. The sauteed vegetables were fine, but unexciting. They came with tofu chunks, and were good with some leftover rice and curry sauce.

Originally published on Tournedos

Impression: Bristol Farms Breakfast Bar: Recommended

Westfield Food Concourse
off Powell St. BART Station, San Francisco

So I found myself in the Powell St. BART at 10.30 am, with no particular place to be, melancholy in my heart, and an inexplicable hunger in my gut. There is a traditional prescription for moments like these, and it is called brunch. However, I didn’t know any good places in the area other than the perplexingly classy Denny’s on Mission, and I didn’t really want to take the time for a proper brunch, so I decided to just hit the food court in the Westfield, grab some upscale snacks, and head on my way.

However, the food court — excuse me, concourse — in the Westfield is not really that great a place for a snack, unless you want a pretzel, which is fine but not really what I was in the mood for. So I thought I would try the Bristol Farms, which I find sort of charming because it’s sort of like Whole Foods without any pretensions of being anything other than a place whether rich people get groceries.

Well, it turns out that they have a breakfast bar, which they label “American Comfort Food”. I loaded up my salad bar takeout tray with scrambled eggs, ham, hash browns, oatmeal, and a biscuit, and I went to find a table. (Incidentally, the Westfield is very clever by using tiny little tables that have room for your food but nothing else. It probably discourages cafe-style squatters.)

I didn’t have particularly high hopes, because, well, steam table food. I was, however, pleasantly surprised. The ham was a touch on the dry side, but not to the point of leatheriness; more of a “picking leftovers off the Christmas ham” kind of dryness. It was really good, too. I’d guess honey-cured. The hash browns were well-seasoned, and neither crunchy nor mushy. The biscuit was fresh and tasty, if a touch salty. And the eggs shocked me; they looked like they’d be dry and rubbery like steam table eggs tend to be, but they were surprisingly…like scrambled eggs ought to be. Moist but not runny, eggy but not overpowering. They could have used a touch of salt, maybe. The oatmeal was the main disappointment; it was bland and soupy. I didn’t finish.

My biggest problem with the breakfast bar is the price tag – $8.95 per pound. The food is good, but it’s not a bargain. If I were go again, I’d probably go easier on the hash browns and eggs, skip the oatmeal entirely, and snag some fruit from the salad bar.

Originally published on Tournedos

Impression: Gypsy’s Trattoria: Recommended

2519 Durant Ave
Berkeley, CA

I’ve wanted to try this place for a while, but it’s always been packed to bursting with undergraduates, and my lunch hour is too short to spend standing in line. This week, however, the undergrads are not back from break yet, and Telegraph belongs to the natives and the graduate students (and panhandlers who have a vague “why did I even show up to work today?” air about them). So I went to Gypsy’s.

I’ve long wanted a pasta equivalent of the burrito joint — a place that dishes out decent-quality pasta fast at a low price. I suspect Gypsy’s may be as close as I’ll get (which may explain the aforementioned “packed with undergrads” quality).

I ordered the Victor’s Spaghetti ($5.99), which the menu describes as basically spaghetti with a beef-and-red-pepper sauce. They move fast; my food was ready in maybe five minutes. It turns out the menu is misleading. I expected an ordinary meat sauce with pieces of red pepper in it, but what I got was a tomato sauce with strips of steak and red pepper — a different and far more delicious proposition. The tomato sauce itself was maybe a little canned-tasting, but the combination of meat and peppers and sauce is really tasty. The pasta was good too. I prefer my spaghetti a bit more al dente, but I expect that they must reheat their pasta to keep up with the pace of orders, and it’s pretty damn good considering that. The meal also came with a piece of toasted Italian bread with a clove of roasted garlic on it, which is a nice touch, and far better than the garlic bread you often get with inexpensive Italian food.

Impression: Taqueria Can-Cun: Recommended

3211 Mission Street
San Francisco

Taqueria Can-Cun is basically across the street from my new apartment; as a result, it has become my default quick restaurant. If I don’t want to cook, I can always nip across the street for a burrito. My usual choice is a regular burrito with grilled chicken ($3.80) on a wheat tortilla (80 cents extra). I think the wheat tortilla is worth it, both because I like to eat whole wheat when I can and because Can-Cun grills their tortillas, which renders a white tortilla a bit dry and flaky for my tastes. The wheat tortilla retains more chew through the grilling process. As I’ve mentioned before, I like a relatively dry burrito, and Can-Cun’s are very much to my taste. The burrito is hefty, and holds together well through the last bite. The meat is spicy and tasty — just on the edge of being a bit too rich for me. The meal comes with a big handful of pretty tasty chips, and two salsas. One is a nice pico de gallo-type salsa which I eat with the chips; the other is a hot green salsa which I leave be.

I’ve also had the plain quesadilla ($2.50), which is good but unremarkable. I should try some more of the meats. Plus, they have the dread alambres.

Originally published on Tournedos

Impression: Julie’s Healthy Cafe: OK

2562 Bancroft Ave.
Berkeley, CA

Julie’s is one of the Berkeley restaurants that boggles me a little bit, because I’ve never been even though I lived in the area for many years. I think it’s because the restaurant is set back from the street, past an outdoor seating area, and it’s not especially inviting. However, this week I went in to give it a try.

Julie’s serves breakfast, sandwiches (hot and cold), and stir-fry. It strikes me as an odd assortment, but I’ve seen a bunch of burgers-and-stir-fry places lately, so perhaps it’s a trend. I had the chicken broccoli stir-fry ($6.95), a soda ($1.00), and a cookie ($1.00). The stir-fry was pretty good, though I would have called it a chicken mushroom stir-fry; there were a whole bunch of mushrooms, and only a few sprigs of broccoli. The chicken was tasty, and the seasoning was fine, though maybe a little one-dimensionally soy-based. The cookies are apparently low-fat. I can’t recommend them; my cookie was bland and boring. Sometimes a low-fat dessert is less worth the calories than a full-fat one would be.

Originally published on Tournedos

Impression: CU Sushi: Recommended

2152 Center Street, Berkeley

I stayed late at school the other night, and on the way home I decided that I was in the mood for sushi. I pass CU Sushi every day on the way to and from school, so I thought I’d give it a try. It’s a cute little space, and the staff is friendly. I ordered four orders of sushi: tuna nigiri ($2.75), albacore nigiri ($2.25), tuna roll ($2.98), and cucumber roll ($2.25). (As you can see, my taste in sushi runs simple.) I also got an order of gyoza ($4,25), because I was hungry. And a can of soda ($1.25).

CU makes a big deal of all its sushi being 50% off; that seems a little weird, seeing as you never pay full price. I guess it’s a way to be reasonably priced without coming off as a place for cheap sushi. They do make a fine piece of sushi, too. The nigiri were nice and hefty, with a hint of wasabi. The rolls held together well, but I’m thinking I need to move on from tuna rolls; they’re sort of boring. The gyoza were good, but not exceptional.

I also appreciated the little extras; I got a complimentary bowl of edamame, which was nice. There was also a cute little ritual where my server put a little tablet that looked like an earplug on a dish in front of me, then poured hot water over it. It promptly expanded into a tightly wrapped hot towelette, which I thought was pretty darn cool.

Originally published on Tournedos