Thursday, October 31, 2002

A New Project

Well, with time on my hands I decided to start developing a new recipe to match a vision I have in my head. The last time this happened, Melissa got sick of chocolate truffles.

Imagine a pumpkin sorbet. Orange, right? Now picture a vibrant green swirl running through it, like caramel swirl. But this swirl is a sage syrup.

So now you're either intrigued or nauseated. But here's my theory. With pumpkin, I mean sugar pumpkin (the kind you put in pie), so it's got inherent sweetness. And pumpkins and other squashes are technically fruits, so the sorbet thing isn't a big stretch. Sage of course goes well with fall squashes, and it works surprisingly well in sweet dishes.

My first attempt was, well, edible. I tried making sage syrup in the same manner that I make herb oils, which in turn comes from The French Laundry Cookbook. It's a two-day process where you let the herbs macerate in the oil overnight (after you've run everything through a blender for six minutes), and then strain them. This gives you a vibrantly green, intensely flavored oil. I should note that Jeremiah Tower disapproves of this method in his new cookbook. So on one hand you've got the man often labelled "the father of California cuisine" and on the other you've got one of the very best chefs in the country today. Take your pick.

Anyway, I made a syrup, reduced it way down, let it cool, and treated it like oil when making the herb oil. This gave me a green (though not intensely so--sage doesn't give up as much color as other herbs) syrup. I steamed the sugar pumpkin (which means now I have pumpkin stock to use for something else; someday I'll use it in my other blog) Then I turned it into puree and turned that into sorbet.

So far so good. The problem came when I went to fold in the syrup for the swirl. It was way too thin. Now I have a pumpkin sorbet with the occasional barely visible grayish green splotch. I guess I really need to get a sage caramel or something. But there's a problem with this. I can't just throw the sage into the syrup and reduce like mad; the sage then ends up leaching a cooked, vegetal character into the syrup (I've done this with other things). Never mind that then you have sage particles. I could try doing the sage syrup, making it the same way I did, and then reducing that down to caramel. It might end up with the same problem, though. Look for future updates here.

Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Food Events at Cody's

Upcoming food book events at Cody's bookstore in Berkeley.

Friday, November 1     JUDY RODGERS talks about THE ZUNI CAFÉ COOKBOOK. Subtitled “A Compendium of Recipes and Cooking Lessons from San Francisco’s Beloved Restaurant”, chef/owner Judy Rodgers provides recipes for Zuni’s most well-known dishes, ranging from the Zuni Roast Chicken to the Espresso Granita. But Zuni’s appeal goes beyond recipes. Harold McGee concludes, “What makes The Zuni Café Cookbook a real treasure is the voice of Zuni’s Judy Rodgers, “ whose book “repeatedly sheds a fresh and revealing light on ingredients and dishes, and even on the nature of cooking itself.” Deborah Madison says the introduction alone “should be required reading for every person who might cook something someday.” It’s big, it’s gorgeous, it’s full of superb photographs, and it just might be indispensable. 7 PM at Fourth Street

Sunday, November 3     JANET MENDEL offers MY KITCHEN IN SPAIN: 225 Authentic Regional Recipes. Janet Mendel moved to southern Spain in 1966, planning to stay for one year, and never left. Was it the huge olive groves, the flower-bedecked balconies, the marrow cobblestone streets, or the views of the blue Mediterranean that kept her there? It’s likely she stayed for the gazpacho, paella, seafood, Spanish tortillas, and cured hams all imbued with a delicate blend of traditional flavors from the Mediterranean! Join us for a tapas party celebrating My Kitchen in Spain, the result of 35 years of trips to hundreds of kitchens. It’s an indispensable travel guide to Spanish cooking, and a great keepsake for re-creating the flavors of Spain in our home kitchens. Mendel understands the American home kitchen, and her recipes are eminently accessible, delicious, and they take you to the soul of Spanish Cooking. Note time: 2:30 PM at Fourth Street

Biography of a starter (day 7)

Well, some mold turned up in my starter. Nancy Silverton says it's no big deal; scoop it out and feed the starter with flour and water to strengthen the yeast. I'm getting surprisingly good at getting my tap water to 78 without a thermometer. I get it to what I think is right, temp it, and voila! it's at 77-79.

Other than that, the starter is in a holding pattern for the next few days, doing whatever magic is necessary for it to become a starter. So I spent some time today looking through the rest of the book. I've got lots of yummy bread waiting for me once this thing has gestated. It all takes a lot of time, though. Not a problem at the moment, but once I'm hired again... I'm all for food that takes aeons to make, but once I have to integrate this into a life with a full-time tech job, it might be tougher.

Sunday, October 27, 2002

Biography of a starter (day 4)

I replenished my starter on Day 4, as per Nancy Silverton's instructions. Basically I just added some more flour and water, and stirred it all in. My starter has a definite aroma, one that smells a little funky. But Silverton implies that this is normal, so I don't feel any need to worry yet. I don't have any mold (which she says sometimes happens), so I guess that's good. I'm still carefully keeping an eye on the ambient temperature in our apartment; there are definitely pockets of air that are warmer than others.

Knife Skills Class

I signed up for some classes at the California Culinary Academy. Fortunately these were all paid for before I got laid off! Anyway, yesterday was my knife skills class. Now I've been cooking for a while, and obviously know how to use a knife. So I was wondering how useful the class would be.

Quite useful, as it turned out. Mostly what I learned is that I have a lot of bad habits accumulated over the years as an autodidactic chef. We learned the proper grip, honing on a steel, and some basic cuts. Some of it was stuff I already knew, some of it was new stuff. Overall I'd say it was worth it, especially if you're not comfortable with a knife already.

The thing about the CCA weekend classes is that all the classes have to get food in the big banquet hall by 1:00pm or so (one imagines it's stricter for the full-time students), because then there's a huge buffet of all the food. That included our class, so after spending 2 1/2 hours learning knife skills, we had 1 1/2 hours to get all of our food made. Mostly our class did salads, and our chef instructor insisted that we prepare a large platter with some nice presentation, as well as a single dish that we needed to plate as if we were serving in a restaurant. My dish was a spinach salad with sliced onions and orange wedges (sliced out of the membranes to look nice) and goat cheese fritters. The recipe called for goat cheese disks to be coated with nuts and then baked, but our teacher suggested coating them in flour, egg, nuts, and then frying them. By the time the rest of the class got to taste it, the fritters had cooled down quite a bit. But I snuck a couple as soon as they were cool enough to handle, and they were way yummy. I'll be making those again sometime soon!

Thursday, October 24, 2002

Biography of a starter (day 2)

My starter is coming along, I guess. It's hard to tell what the little microorganisms are doing. There's a thin layer of a yellowish liquid on the surface, which I remember from my other starter; if memory serves it's alcohol, but whichever kind of alcohol you're not supposed to drink. The starter has a smell reminiscent of wallpaper paste, though much more mild. I find myself obsessively checking the temperature in our apartment (the radiators came on), trying to keep the starter in an area that's in the 70-75 degree range as instructed. 2 days old and I'm already a slave to it...

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

One is the Loneliest Number

Three posts in one day!? This one is short, though. My company just closed my entire division, so I find myself temporarily unemployed. I've got a fair amount of savings, but want to stretch it as long as possible. As readers of this blog know, however, I love good food. And so I'm determined to continue to eat well (if not extravagantly) for as little money as possible. I set up a blog to detail my efforts with that. Here it is. Let me know what you think.

Biography of a starter (day 1)

For the first time, I'm making a sourdough starter. I had one from a breadbaking class I took (handed down by our instructor), but I think I killed it. So I'm trying again, figuring that if I make one on my own, I'll be more inclined to properly care for it. We'll see.

I'm using the technique described in Nancy Silverton's Breads from the La Brea Bakery, which was recommended by a bread fanatic e-acquaintance. Unfortunately, her starter demands more attention than a small child. Three daily feedings once it gets going. Actually, she says you can do two, which is what I'll have to do once I'm employed again, it just won't make as spectacular a bread. My bread instructor, for the record, suggested we feed our starter (which lived in the refrigerator) every couple of weeks. Why do I think I'll be more inclined to take care of this starter, again?

Anyway, the technique is pretty simple. Starters exist based on the yeast flying through the air, so all you really need is flour and water. However, Silverton suggests using organic, unsprayed grapes in the starter, since the skins of the fruit are covered in wild yeast (this is in fact where the fermentation in wine came from way back when; now it's commercial cultures).

So today is my starter's birthday. I mixed up the flour and water (1 lb. 3 oz) and the water (4 cups at 78 degrees), mushed the grapes slightly, and shoved them all together in an airtight container. Airtight might seem a little weird, since this relies on yeasts flying through the air, but there's already a boatload in their from the air that's left in the container and the grapes, and she says the lid traps the gasses. It's sitting on my counter, and is decidedly uninteresting as of yet. Mostly it looks as if I started to make something but then forgot about it.

more cody's reminders

Two food book events coming up at Cody's in the next week. Here are the write-ups from my previous entry:

Note: I think Melissa told me this event is sold out. Call and make sure if you want to go, but you might be out of luck if you didn't already sign up Friday, October 25    JAMIE OLIVER - HAPPY DAYS WITH THE NAKED CHEF LIVE! Britain’s culinary boy wonder, Jamie Oliver, is 27, stars in three cooking shows, has written three cookbooks, plays drums in a band, and oversees the menu at Monte’s, a restaurant in London. He grew up in the restaurant business and heard his calling to food at a very young age. Joining his previous books, The Naked Chef and The Naked Chef Takes Off, is the new HAPPY DAYS WITH THE NAKED CHEF, filled with fantastic salads, pastas, meat, fish, breads, and desserts for all occasions – great food and good fun. Jamie will present a 30-minute live cooking show, featuring demonstrations, music and special effects. Seating will be available at 6 PM and is limited to ticket holders only; tickets are free with the purchase of any of Jamie’s three cookbooks and will be available beginning October 14. 7 PM at Fourth Street

Saturday, October 26    DAVID DOWNIE shows COOKING THE ROMAN WAY: Authentic Recipes from the Home Cooks and Trattorias of Rome. Easy to make, good for you, gutsy, flavorful and fun to eat – that’s author David Downie’s one-line definition of Roman food today. His is the first major cookbook on Rome to be published in the U.S. in decades, and it brings the luscious food and rich culinary culture of the Eternal City, a continuum spanning centuries that’s fresh and vibrant today. Downie, a San Francisco native and UC Berkeley graduate, has lived, studied and worked in Rome, Perugia, Padua and Milan. His food and travel articles appear in many publications, and he is the author of Enchanted Liguria: A Celebration of the Culture, Lifestyle and Food of the Italian Riviera, a collection of essays on Paris, and a thriller. Downie and his wife Alison Harris, food and travel photograph extraordinaire, divide their time between Italy, France and California.
“Cooking the Roman Way captures the ethereal essence of great Roman cooking…simple, beautiful and definitely authentic recipes. This is without a doubt the indispensable tome of Eternal City cooking.” – Mario Batali
“This is the book I’ve been waiting for. Who can resist the fascinations of Rome: its history and culture and of course its remarkable food. Bravo David and bravo again for such a lively and delicious gift to us all.” – Carol Field.
With little tastes from the book’s recipes, and with slides of photographs by Alison Harris. Note time: 4 PM at Fourth Street

Tuesday, October 22, 2002

Tom & Carol & Tim & Mitch & Amanda & Garry

Tom and Carol throw great parties. Their summer and winter parties are so amazing that we do everything possible to keep our calendars free. Thanks to Carol's organizing and decorating and Tom's CIA-trained cooking, the parties never fail to be events we talk about months later. Melissa and I have been fortunate enough to go to two of their parties, and we felt it was time to thank them for their hospitality. Plus we like them and don't get to see them often enough. We also invited our mutual friends Tim and Mitch (who introduced us), and Melissa's best friend Amanda, as well as my dad, both of whom were in town at the time.

So I decided to go crazy. Or at least as much as one can in my tiny kitchen. Though my dad volunteered to help, which was tremendously helpful. I can see why Tom has a small cadre of friends he's trained as sous chefs for his parties. So with all three of us working, we managed to fit everyone in the apartment through some clever arrangements by Melissa and get dinner on the table more or less on time.


Homemade Italian country loaves with Pumpkinseed Oil

Butternut squash soup with sage oil

Parmesan crisps with warm goat cheese, frisee, and traditional balsamic vinegar

Wine: Prosecco di Valdobbiademe

It figures that Tom & Carol, serious food lovers, would be the only other people we've ever had over who already knew about pumpkinseed oil. Carol even mentioned that it goes well with squash soups. Ten minutes earlier, and I might have changed the garnish on the soup. The prosecco is an Italian sparkling wine, made in the same manner as Champagne except of course they can't call it that. I learned about it from Gambero Rosso, the well-known Italian food and wine magazine. I had had it a couple of times, so decided to share some with our guests.


Salad of pickled mushrooms and artichoke hearts

Wine: Gruner Veltliner Schmetz Federspiel 2001, Wachau-Osterreich

I was unable to get Gruner from my normal source for German and Austrian wines, so I asked the folks at K & L for their crispest Gruner. I knew it had to stand up to pickled mushrooms, so I wanted something very sharp. To my mind, the Gruner wasn't acidic enough, growing flat when paired with the mushrooms. But it was still decent. Not my beloved Salomon Gruners, but good nonetheless.

Main Course

Tuscan-style pork roast with a pear and jicama saute and apple cider sauce

Wine: Ridge 2000 Zinfandel, Sonoma Station

I haven't done much meat cookery. Melissa doesn't eat mammals, so I've always only ever made fish and chicken. But I've gotten bored with roast chicken and Cornish game hens. So while Melissa got a pan-seared chicken breast, the rest of us got the pork roast. I had done a trial run last week, and it came out pretty well. I toned down the garlic in the recipe, however, because of all the fruit on the plate. I didn't know what I was going to serve it with until I went to the farmer's market and saw apple cider. I used that for a pan sauce, and it worked pretty well. Melissa's friend Amanda fell in love with the Ridge, and Tom and Carol were fans of it from back before the winery was owned by Ridge.


Toasted pain de mie with Vacherin Mont d'Or and Reblochon

Wine: J.u. H.A. Strub 1996 Niersteiner Orbel, Riesling Spatlese

Vacherin Mont d'Or is Melissa's and my engagement cheese; it was served as the cheese course at the French Laundry, where I proposed. It's a great cheese. I had asked at the Cheese Board for a few different softer cheeses, since I was trying to figure out what to serve. After going through some epoisses, the person behind the counter gave me a bit of the Vacherin. That was all it took for me to decide. As with the Gruner, my normal source for German wines was unavailable, so I picked up the Riesling from K & L. I hadn't had it before, but my memory was that it was a good producer. It was quite yummy, and I'd certainly buy some again (and for those who don't think whites age well, you need to drink more German rieslings).


Hungarian Hazelnut Torte

Wine: Tokaji Aszu (5 puttanyos), Disznoko, 1995

In this case the wine and food pairing happened in reverse. We were at Solano Cellars, and I saw the Tokaji. I've had Tokaji before and really liked it, so I decided to get some for the party. But this changed my plans for a chocolate dessert. So I was flipping through recent magazines, just looking for some ideas, when I saw that Bon Appetit had done a little article on Tokaji, along with the torte described above. So for the first time in a while now, I followed a Bon Appetit recipe (normally I just use them for ideas). Well, more or less. The recipe calls for apricot preserves, but I poached dried apricots in an anise and cinnamon syrup and then pureed them. It came out quite well, and the tokaji did complement it well.


Ginger truffles

Coffee, peach tea

Monday, October 14, 2002

Food News

Another big meat recall, this time poultry-based sandwich meat. Here's the link, which will require a free account on the New York Times website

It may seem like a frivolous thing to worry about the olive harvest in Palestine, but the descriptions of the problems they're having underlines all the tensions in the West Bank. Pickers are being murdered, shot, and otherwise attacked as the fruit comes dangerously close to rotting on the vine and depriving the Palestinians of their income for the next year. Here's the full article

Friday, October 11, 2002

Jeremiah Tower Reminder

Just a quick reminder that Jeremiah Tower will be at Cody's next Friday night. I've been lucky enough to flip through the cookbook a bit, and it looks great. Lots of recipes I wanted to try, and an interesting glimpse into the history of California cuisine. I noticed in passing a line which said something like "When I introduced roasted garlic to the chefs..." Pretty amazing to think of a time when that wasn't fairly commonplace. He goes a little bit too far in simplifying cooking terminology; I think it is appropriate to explain what bouquet garni means rather then always write it as "mixed herb bundle." But it doesn't change the fact that it looks like a great book. Here's the original blurb about the event. Note that it's at the Fourth Street store, not the Telegraph store.

Friday, October 18 JEREMIAH TOWER on JEREMIAH TOWER COOKS: 250 Recipes from an American Master. At last, a long-awaited new cookbook from the father of California cuisine and one of the most inventive and influential cooks in America. When Jeremiah Tower started cooking in California in the 1970s, fine food in America was typically a pale imitation of French haute cuisine. With the extraordinary fresh ingredients available locally, Tower experimented and invented and changed the face of American cooking. His new book is more than a cookbook to return to repeatedly. It reveals the author’s gift as a writer and storyteller, and is almost as rewarding to read as to cook from. Donald Sultan’s elegant still lifes further make this an exceptional book. Jeremiah Tower was chef at Chez Panisse, and opened Stars in San Francisco in 1984. His first book, New American Classics, won a James Beard Award in 1986 for best American regional cookbook; he also won the James Beard Award for best chef in 1996. He’s opened branches of Stars in the Far East and is the writer and host of the PBS series American’s Best Chefs. 7 PM at Fourth Street

Wednesday, October 09, 2002

Robert Parker

Melissa pointed me at this link on the New York Times about Robert Parker, Jr, the famous wine critic. Whether you like him or not, and there are plenty of folks on either side of that issue, no one denies how influential he is.

Tuesday, October 08, 2002

Neal's Yard Dairy and shipping to the U.S.

No such luck. After my last post about the British Cheese Awards, I wrote to Neal's Yard Dairy in Covent Garden to see if they shipped to consumers in the U.S. They do not, but they do ship to well-known cheese establishments. The rep I spoke with reccommended the Cheese Board in Berkeley (of course), and The Pasta Shop, with locations near Rockridge BART in Oakland and on 4th Street in Berkeley.

Personally I prefer the Cheese Board. I have been disappointed with some of the cheese I got at The Pasta Shop, though it's definitely a good runner-up if you can't make it to the Cheese Board (which is likely, since they seem to not be open at convenient times).

Friday, October 04, 2002

2002 British Cheese Awards

The Winners of the 2002 British Cheese Awards have been announced.

Find a good cheese store and see if you can get some. If you can't, check out or Zingermans or possibly Neal's Yard Dairy. I would list them first if I knew they shipped to the U.S. Neal's Yard Dairy is the definitive source of British cheeses. If anyone in the U.S. successfully orders from them, let me know.

Thursday, October 03, 2002

The 3-glass winners

For Italian wine lovers, Slow Food has posted their list of the 3-glass wines in the 2003 Vini d'Italia.

Vini d'Italia, which is produced by Slow Food in cooperation with the Italian magazine Gambero Rosso, is the most respected opinion on Italian wine. Their 3-glass designation is highly coveted among Italian vintners. Not surprisingly, there are a host of 1997 Brunello di Montalcinos, a vintage that Wine Spectator can't say enough good things about.

The guide gets published in October in Italian, in March in English (if you're lucky; it is often delayed).

Here's the link to the list.

Wednesday, October 02, 2002

News from around the Web

Australian and New Zealand cheese lovers are gaining some support for raw-milk cheeses.

The Food Standards Australia New Zealand is proposing new regulations which would allow raw-milk imports on very hard cheeses, as well as the production of raw-milk cheeses within the country.

Compared to the former very restrictive regulations, this is at least progress.

The full article.

The SF Chronicle has released its list of the <best California wines of 2002, for those interested

And while I have written before of the harvest problems in Barolo, Austria, and the Languedoc, there is good news from other parts of the world. The Pacific Northwest looks to be having a good year, as does Alsace.