The cornbread experiment

I’ve never really thought much of cornbread. Mainly because when I eat sugar and wheat, I like it to be something really indulgent. Then I went to Magnolia for a friend’s birthday on the second day of a pre-cleanse and decided to just try a tiny bit since it seemed almost healthy. It was wonderful. Perhaps it was the fact that I’d cut out all sugar and wheat for a few months beforehand, but the sweet richness won me over straight away.

Fast forward a few weeks to my food-fuelled holiday in California where I tried it as an accompaniment to scrambled egg with truffles and asparagus. This particular version was about 3 inches thick, a lovely warm yellow colour, and made with large quantities of honey and butter.

A few days ago I decided to have a go at making a batch. It was quite a struggle to find cornmeal but ended up buying a bag at city’super that was stone ground and organic. I looked up several recipes and settled on one of the easier ones that literally involved chucking everything in a bowl and mixing it just a couple of times.

This didn’t work out so well. I had replaced the plain flour with wholemeal, so it was quite dry even though I added a little extra liquid, plus the cornmeal was incredibly hard, like eating something made from gravel. After braving a couple of mouthfuls, I decided to give it another go. Round 2 was a little bit better – I had bought some millet flour I wanted to try out so I used that instead of wheat flour, I ground up the cornmeal for a couple of minutes in the coffee bean grinder, and also substituted the sugar for agave nectar. It didn’t rise much obviously, but it was much lighter and much softer than the first attempt.

The first attempt, drizzled with agave nectar and topped with lots of butter

My baking techniques could obviously benefit from a more consistent methodology and perhaps my third attempt will be more successful (and less experimental). I think for now I’ll stick to trying other people’s cornbread.

The second attempt - doesn't look as good but tasted much better!

Just out of the oven

The best meal of the day

Breakfast is my favourite meal of the day. There’s something incredibly satisfying about a big hearty meal in the morning, accompanied by lots of tea. I can’t understand why so many people just skip it.

Now, shrimp tacos were my breakfast of choice in Mexico, but now that we’re travelling around California, I’ve found a few more dishes that make my mornings so much better.

On our first morning in San Francisco, we walked 40 minutes across the city to a little cafe called Bar Tartine – their sister establishment is a block away and is a hugely popular bakery, so we knew that all the bread would be good!

We shared an incredible dish of french toast, eggy brioche, strawberries with candied almonds. The bread didn’t disappoint – it was light and fluffy and beautifully buttery. Perfection.

French toast and brioche at Bar Tartine

The next morning, we discovered a cafe around the corner from our hotel called Blue Bottle Coffee – there are a few around San Francisco but this was their very first shop. There was a queue snaking around the block even on a Monday morning (who has time to queue for coffee on a Monday?) and being from HK, we had to of course join it to find out what it was all about.

I guess most people were there for the coffee, which was meant to be outstanding (I had a sip of one and it was smooth and mellow) but not being a coffee drinker, I ordered a herbal tea. I was pleasantly surprised when it arrived in a lovely glass pot full of fresh lemon verbena leaves. The tea itself was amazing so I’m on a mission to find these leaves fresh in HK now!

Pot of fresh lemon verbena tea

Simon ordered me Pecan Granola, which came with natural yoghurt, macerated strawberries and peaches, grapefruit juice and blueberries. The juice was poured over the top of the fruit and could probably have been used a bit more sparingly as I really dislike soggy cereal, but despite this, it was a great combination. The granola was home-made and lovely and crunchy, not too sweet, and packed with pecans.

We shared an order of Belgian style waffles which came with the same macerated fruit, whipped butter and maple syrup. The waffles were perfectly crisp yet soft and spongy on the inside and the fruit was a great accompaniment until it started to seep in and make everything a bit too soft. Also not crazy about soggy waffles.

Simon also had poached eggs with a catalan style tomato sauce, braised greens and shaved cheeseĀ  – I had a bite and it was a really unusual combination, especially for a breakfast dish. The toast was especially good, how I miss having decent bread!

Homemade granola at Blue Bottle

Waffles with macerated fruit at Blue Bottle

Poached eggs at Blue Bottle

So the next day we considered lining up again at Blue Bottle (the wait by the way, was around 20 minutes), but I found another place through Foursquare (yes it has its uses!) that was actually started by two ex-Blue Bottlers that was on the same street as our hotel.

It was a tiny little place with just one square table that wasn’t even that big. Luckily there was only two other people there so we got a seat. They only offered 4 dishes for breakfast and we decided to order 3 of them, cos that’s how we roll (literally roll, must go on serious diet once we get back home).

I ordered the cereal of the day with organic yoghurt, blackberries and blueberries. The cereal was a mix of bran flakes, puffed rice and something else equally brown and cardboard. The yoghurt was amazing, thick, incredibly creamy and heavy.

Cereal of the day at farm:table

Simon had hard-boiled eggs on toasted baguette with teeny tiny sungold tomatoes, padrone peppers and caramelised red onions. He was a bit wary about ordering it at first but once he took a bite, it was a different story altogether. I think he may have eaten it with his eyes shut as he enjoyed it so much. I had a bite too – the bread was super thick and liberally coated in olive oil, but the combination of the all the flavors worked incredibly well. And in such a small space too, with limited cooking tools, it was a brilliant concoction.

Hard-boiled eggs on baguette at farm:table

After this we had toast covered in goats cheese and strawberries marinated in beet syrup. Seriously I think this was a stroke of genius, the goats cheese was the perfect companion to the lovely sweet, perfectly ripe strawberries and the beet syrup added just a slight bit of tartness. The bread was a little bit sweet too, and quite buttery. A relatively simple dish but amazing. Going to try to try to recreate this once I’m home. I’m going to be busy.

Goats cheese. Strawberries marinated in beet syrup. Toast.

Bar Tartine
561 Valencia Street
San Francisco
www.bartartine.com

Blue Bottle Coffee – Mint Plaza
66 Mint Street
San Francisco
www.bluebottlecoffee.net

farm:table
754 Post St
San Francisco
www.farmtablesf.com