In contrast to the pretensions of some cookbooks and the missionary sense of purpose of others, an offering occasionally comes along that is relaxed, refreshing and just plain fun. I'm happy to report that the "Fog City Diner Cookbook" (Ten Speed Press, $24.95) is such a book.
The format is more or less a menu with recipes, which makes sense because the author, Cindy Pawlcyn, is the chef of the Fog City Diner in San Francisco. The Diner is a place you may have seen in credit card commercials.
In the book's introduction, Ms. Pawlcyn's partner Bill Higgins writes the Diner opened in 1985 with the aim of providing "everything you could want from a diner plus what's happening today." That meant burgers and fries and apple pie plus an extensive wine list, Kumomoto oysters and a selection of single-malt Scotch. That's San Francisco elan.
The book has elan, too -- a stylish look enhanced by the use of red and black as design elements along with grainy photographs and retro graphics. It's cozy and unthreatening. Ms. Pawlcyn, a no-nonsense pro in the kitchen, turns out to be a no-nonsense author, too. She keeps things moving, neatly sidestepping cuteness and parody in her chapter introductions and recipe notes.
The recipes are straightforward and, with the exception of some fancy California groceries, most of the ingredients are in your kitchen or at the supermarket. The old and the new share space, with more given to the former, in chapters such as Bowls (soups, from split pea and apple-smoked bacon to lobster gazpacho), Small Plates (from Buffalo chicken wings and onion rings to seared rare tuna, Japanese-style) and desserts (from brownies and gingerbread to creme brulee). To underline the lack of snobbery, there's even a ketchup-based cocktail sauce to serve with oysters.
"Fog City Diner Cookbook" is a book for family meals or for a gathering of friends when the aim is serious relaxation. Here are four of Cindy Pawlcyn's recipes as they appear in the book.
Pork loin satay with mango salsa
Serves 6 to 8
2 pork tenderloins, 12 ounces to 1 pound each
1 tablespoon peeled and grated ginger
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon sambal oleck or black bean chili paste
3 tablespoons ketjap manis or 2 tablespoons dark soy or tamari plus 1 tablespoon molasses
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 bunch cilantro
Trim the tenderloins of all fat and sinew, and cut them on a bias into 1/4 -inch-thick slices. Combine the marinade ingredients in a large mixing bowl, and marinate the pork slices at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.
Grill the pork slices. Put 3 slices of meat on each plate, spoon mango salsa (recipe follows) in a line down the center and garnish with sprigs of cilantro.
Note: Hoisin sauce, sambal oleck and ketjap manis are available in Asian markets that carry Indonesian products.
1 mango, peeled, seeded and diced
2 jalapenos, grilled, peeled and minced
zest and juice of 2 limes
pinch each of sea salt and pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Gently mix all the ingredients together in a bowl.
Don't prepare this in advance as it doesn't keep well. This salsa is also good with chicken or pork chops.
1/2 head each red and green cabbage, shredded
PTC 1/4 cup red onion sliced very thin
1 carrot, peeled and shredded
cole slaw dressing
2 egg yolks
1 1/2 teaspoons mustard powder
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon flour
pinch of cayenne
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
1 tablespoon finely grated horseradish
Combine the cabbage, onion and carrot in a large bowl and refrigerate.
In the top of a double boiler off the heat, combine the yolks with the mustard, sugar, flour, cayenne and salt. Whisk in the vinegar slowly to avoid lumps. Cook over simmering water, stirring, for 30 seconds. Stir in the cream and continue cooking over simmering water until thick, about 2 to 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Cool and add the poppy seeds and horseradish.
Using about half the dressing, dress the cabbage. Add more if needed.
Peanut butter chocolate chip cookies
Makes 4 dozen
2 cups unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup water
2 cups peanut butter
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups chocolate chips
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Cream together the butter, sugars and salt. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Blend in the vanilla, water and peanut butter; incorporate thoroughly but do not over-mix. Stir in the flour and baking soda until just mixed, and fold in the chocolate chips.
If you want giant cookies, use an ice cream scoop to measure out the dough. Drop the dough onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, allowing 4 inches between the cookies, as the dough will spread quite a bit. For smaller cookies, 2 tablespoons of dough is about right, and space the cookies about 2 inches apart. Bake for 8 to 12 minutes, or until lightly browned and crisp at the edges.