Tuesday, August 31, 2004

WWWBW: 2002 Amaroo Merlot

Lenn Thompson of the cleverly named lenndevours concocted a spin-off of the popular Is My Blog Burning? event held every month in the food blogging community. His brain child is the more cumbersomely named "World Wide Wine Blogging Wednesday", and the idea is simple: everyone picks a wine in accordance with the theme (and a budget of $15), and writes an entry about it. The theme for this inaugral event is "New World Merlot not from the U.S."

I know little about New World merlot. Indeed, I know little about merlot in general. I am peculiarly unmoved by Bordeaux grapes, a fact which will probably cost me my wine writer cred at some point, though my love of German wines has enough snob appeal to redeem me. Well-meaning souls tell me I haven't had the right bottle yet. Gay and lesbian readers may read this familiar advice and roll their eyes, but in this case these folks might be right. At any rate, I'm not hostile to these grapes, just unimpressed as yet, except for the random anomaly.

So I went to a local wine shop (Vino! on Fourth Street in Berkeley, not my first choice, but I was in the area) and told the clerk what I wanted. He took a break from his sweeping and suggested a few options, and I settled on the bottle of Amaroo. I happily admit that this was because of the eye-catching label.

2002 Amaroo Merlot, Southeast Australia, $8

Tasting Note
Pink rose-petal edges darken to a clear garnet in the center. Alcohol overwhelms the more subtle aromas, but one can make out green bell pepper and suggestions of butter and dust. Notable acidity and nonexistent tannins allow flavors of strawberry and cherry to come forward. A medium-long finish exposes hints of barnyard, bread and smoke at the very end.

Fooled you! I don't do scores unless forced by an editor. I was tempted to write something like "Q out of *" (just as I was tempted to do a Wine X style tasting note: "Like Christina Ricci in That Darn Cat!"). I will say, however, that I remain unmoved by Bordeaux grapes.


With this wine, Melissa and I enjoyed tomato-basil bruschetta with Cantal cheese and raspberries. The wine worked well with the the bruschetta, overwhelming even the potent garlic but then allowing it to surface again as the finish dissipated. I commented that the acidity in the wine and the tomatoes mostly cancelled each other out, like stereo signals where one sound wave is low as the other is high. The acidity in the wine was somewhat stronger than the tang of the tomatoes, which is what one wants in general (when the wine is less acidic than the food, it tastes flabby). The wine also performed admirably with the cheese, though it suffered at the hands of the sugar in the raspberries, as one imagines it would.

My notes remind me that its acidity makes it relatively food friendly, but its very low tannins would make it a weak partner to strong, fatty, grilled meats. This is not the wine to pull out with pan-seared steak, but it might be okay with lightly grilled chicken.

To Make Lard, Start With Lambs' Brains

Note: Found your way here via a search engine? You'll find a much better description of this process at a more recent entry. Thanks for stopping by!
Saturday night. The hot day has relinquished its grip on us, and the night is cool, at least relatively. A summer night like any other, except for the heady aroma of warm pork fat in our apartment. In 4 hours, the odor has managed to reach every corner of our one-bedroom; we will probably be smelling it for days.

But soon I'll strain out the little chunks of pork meat and collect the golden liquid in the pot—homemade lard, the reward for the work and time.

It's an unusual way to spend a Saturday night, even for us, but fate has presented this opportunity, and I have seized it. It started on Saturday morning as we shopped at San Francisco's Ferry Building, now a glittering array of specialty food shops. I stopped by Potter Family Farms because I wanted to buy lambs' brains for a terrine to serve at an upcoming party. Potter Family Farms raises livestock correctly, from a herd that's been closed for decades, so no diseased animals have been introduced. If you want to eat brains and don't want to get some as-yet-unknown horrific disease thirty years from now, they're the folks to talk to. Except they're not. Even with these producers, inspectors won't allow brains to be sold. The young, rugged farmer behind the counter expressed his regret, but offered some solace by handing me a tub of snow-white "piggie fat" on the house to use for making my own lard. Melissa compares my reaction to that of a crying child who has just been offered a lollipop. I knew I had back fat at home, and I had just read a technique for rendering your own lard. Suddenly, I was eager to get home (but not so eager that I skipped lunch at Hog Island Oysters).

A moment's pause for new readers out there, those of you who are perhaps not used to my approach to food. Why make your own lard? Isn't it a) something you can buy in the store and b) astonishingly unhealthy? The second answer depends on the first: you can buy lard at any store, but that lard is very unhealthy, as it is preserved with trans-fatty acids, the newest bogeymen on the nutrition scene. When you render your own lard, you're making a substance that's free of trans-fatty acids, and is better for frying than vegetable oil, which breaks down at a lower temperature and penetrates the food more thoroughly than lard. You're also making something that tastes better than its commercial equivalent. All of those are good reasons, but I have always been fond of Judy Rogers's attitude about food. "Stop. Think. There must be a harder way." is a motto that hangs over her office at Zuni Café. I want to render my own lard simply because I can.

Desire to render lard is one thing, knowledge another. I got home to find I had loaned out my cookbook with the lard-rendering information. I called various co-workers to try and track down the person who had it. It is worth noting that none of my co-workers blinked when I told them I needed to get a recipe for rendering lard; they are used to me by now. The co-worker with the book was away, but an Internet search (I suspect the site I used belongs to some wacko survivalist group), a thread on eGullet and a conversation with Tom ("well, that's something I've never done") gave me an attack plan. See below for my technique, synthesized from all these sources.

After it cools overnight, the lard is a solid but still spoonable block of pure white and ready for its first trial: a pie crust. Regular lard creates pie crusts with a phenomenal flakiness, or so I've heard. I make my standard pie crust, but replace the vegetable shortening with lard. I worry as I taste the dough; it has a distinct porky flavor. But filled with a sweet pear mixture, sprinkled with sugar, and baked for an hour, the crust becomes something amazing. I have never made a pie crust to rival this, and while I can think of ways to improve my first trial, I suspect I won't ever go back to my old recipe. I want to make a flurry of pie crusts. For now, three half-pint jars of lard sit in my fridge, solid white blocks waiting for their next adventure.

Rendering Lard
Most people who do this say it's not worth doing unless you've got 5 pounds of fat or so. I tend to agree, since I did it with about two and a half pounds, and didn't get a lot of yield. Happily, fat freezes well so you can take trimmings from cuts of pork and throw them in the freezer and have a happy lard day at some point. As a number of people have mentioned, the process is akin to clarifying butter.

  1. Slice your pork fat (I used back fat, which is available from good butchers) into medium squares/dice.
  2. Put fat into a cast-iron Dutch oven (like a Le Creuset pot) or a stainless steel pot. Add about a cup of water
  3. Simmer until the water evaporates (the bubbles look different at this point). Keep the fat at a simmer until all the fat renders and you just have little crispy bits of meat floating in the golden liquid (roughly 4 hours).
  4. Pour the fat through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. Eat the crispy meat bits caught in the strainer.
  5. Let fat cool somewhat, and add some water to bowl. Maybe roughly equal amounts of water and fat.
  6. Refrigerate overnight, allowing the lard to come to the surface and harden. Remove the lard disc and pour out the water.
  7. Melt the lard over very low heat, and strain into canning jars. Put the lids on the canning jars and put in the fridge. Refrigerated lard will probably keep longer than just about anything.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Le Glossary

My glossary was one of the casualties of the site redesign. It wasn't erased entirely, however, and I've ported it over to the new design. I didn't make any content changes from the last time it existed, but now I have incentive to keep it up to date. I did make it stylistically consistent with the main part of the site.

Though you can get to it from the link on the side (just above "These Are a Few of my Favorite Links"), I set it up so that I can just link terms to it directly, as before. Try it now: mirepoix, aspic, and 1855 classification.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Stuffed Vegetables

There is something intrinsically charming about stuffed vegetables. Why is this? There seems to be a deep-rooted human love of food stuffed into other food; every culture has some variant. Perhaps it's the idea of food getting extra flavor from its edible "pot". Perhaps it's just a fascination with layers.

Stuffed vegetables appeal to us on an additional level. They speak to our love of individual servings, where each diner gets their own little package rather than pulling it from a common trough. This is a modern trend, but it is also an ancient one, a practice that every so often rides a wave of temporary popularity before we revert to "family-style" dishes, arguably more convivial than their individually plated cousins but also debatably less elegant. There is something appealing about having your own portion, prepared especially for you.

For the cook, stuffed vegetables are a boon. Like omelettes, they are an easy way to stretch a small amount of some ingredient. Top with bread crumbs or cheese, pop under the broiler, and you get a brown, crispy crust that balances against the soft filling. Presentation takes care of itself. And during summer, stuffed vegetables offer a reprieve from the kitchen's heat; they take only a small amount of oven time.

Melissa and I have enjoyed two stuffed vegetables dinner recently. One, for which we (sadly!) don't have pictures featured a small summer squash filled with squash, tomato, and cornmeal. I perched it on a slab of tomato, and served it as a light dinner. More recently (and here the tomato split, so the pictures are not very illustrative), we had tomatoes stuffed with pork rillettes, tomato, and garlic. I topped with bread crumbs and served on a bed of herbed spätzle, the Germanic dumplings.

Basic Stuffed Vegetables
Find a squat round vegetable (a tomato works nicely, a soft squash does even better). Cut off the top and scoop out the center, being careful not to pierce the sides. Mix the veggie guts with whatever other ingredients you consider appropriate. Raw meat would be a bad choice, since the vegetable won't cook long enough to cook the meat. Smoked sausage, however, would probably be excellent. Spoon the filling back into the vegetable. Either top with the "lid" you cut off earlier, or buttered bread crumbs, or cheese. Brush with oil. Bake at 350° for fifteen minutes and check to see if they're done. Serve as you like.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Breakfast of...uh...Returning Champions

(guest photographer today: Winnie Kwong, whose other food photographs are worth a look as well)

Here's something to ponder: who's crazier? Someone who wants to run a triathlon at the crack of dawn in a remote part of the Bay Area, or someone who agrees to get up just as early and cook breakfast for that person? No, wait. Don't answer.

A lot of my co-workers have unhealthy attitudes about exercise; they actually enjoy it. My manager, in fact, is a world-class triathlete. Last year, she convinced other folks in the office to race a noncompetitive "baby" triathlon. The crowd grew steadily, and I found myself surrounded by eager new triathletes, preaching zealously to the skeptics. They put on the pressure, but I refused to give in. Finally, I negotiated a compromise: I offered breakfast for the racers and their friends. Thus was born the Tri For Fun (there's an oxymoron for you) Edusoft Breakfast, which happened a second time this weekend and is therefore a tradition.

I plan food for this event that can be made ahead; the park lacks cooking facilities and it's way early in the morning. Some last-minute work is okay, and this year two of my co-workers offered to bring their own knives and help out, which meant we had everything finished and could still enjoy watching our manager seemingly stroll to the finish line, well ahead of every other racer.

When I mentioned at work prior to the race that I was going to essentially repeat last year's menu, there were murmurs of happiness. More than a year later, my co-workers remembered that menu better than I did. You made gravlax and brioche to enjoy with a triple-creme cheese? Yes. Are you doing that really good lime-ginger sauce for the fruit salad again? Yes. You're making coffee cake again? Yes (but this year it was blackberry and lemon; Scharffen Berger no longer makes the chocolate chunks which were crucial to last year's chocolate coffee cake).

Everyone was nonethless curious about my new addition: a caprese terrine. Caprese salad is that well-known combination of tomato slices, mozarella rounds, and basil. Hillel alluded to a terrine version once on tastingmenu.com, and I was intrigued. I asked him if he had photos of it, but he didn't. Instead, he sent me to an LA Times article that offered one recipe, which looked more or less as I had imagined, though theirs uses gelatin and I had to make ours vegetarian. The process is pretty simple (see below). My layers still slipped around a bit (I used Winnie's picture from before the slices started falling apart), but I was happy with the flavor.

Lest we run out of food, my assistants and I also used a camping stove to make scrambled eggs. Last year I ran out of propane and no one got any eggs except Melissa and me, who ate omelettes for dinner that night. But this time we were all set. People happily replenished the calories they had burned off, and I think everyone took naps that afternoon (except for my manager, who biked 70 miles to Berkeley and ran around Tilden Park, and her fiancé, who went along to provide support; I'm surprised she opted not to swim back to San Francisco). Everyone was happy with our breakfast, but I have seen my ambition for next year. Soon after we arrived, a group of people wheeled in a smoker made of two oil drums. I suspect they were getting set up for something that afternoon, but I was green with jealousy as the smoke and smells of cooking meat enveloped our modest table. I've got to figure out how to do something similar next year!

Caprese Terrine
Two nights before you want to serve the terrine: Buy a bunch of really juicy tomatoes, and smash them with a Kitchen-Aid and its paddle attachment. Put the tomatoes into a cheesecloth-lined colander over a container of some form. Bring up the corners of the cheesecloth, tie them into a knot, and put a wooden spoon underneath the knot. Hang the little sack over your container (you can leave the colander there if you want), and let sit overnight, massaging the cheesecloth bag periodically to get more juice out.

The night before you want to serve the terrine, line a terrine mold (or loaf pan) with plastic wrap, leaving some hanging over the edges. Heat up your tomato water with 2-3 tsp. agar agar (a vegetarian gelatin substitute) per 2 cups tomato water. Keep at a simmer for 3 minutes, and let cool. Lay basil leaves along the bottom of the terrine mold in some sort of pretty pattern. Pour a little tomato water mixture over the bottom until the basil leaves are just covered. Lay tomato slices down, then another little bit of tomato water mixture, then mozzarella slices, more tomato water, and another layer of basil leaves. Repeat until finished, and finish with a layer of tomato slices. Dump the rest of the tomato water mixture over the layers. Lay the edges of the plastic wrap over the top of the terrine, and put a board, cut to fit the terrine mold, over the plastic wrap. Put a little weight on it (a couple cans of chicken stock, perhaps).

To serve, remove the weight and board, pull the plastic wrap off the top, and flip over onto a platter so that the top of the terrine is now the bottom. Remove the terrine mold, and undo the plastic wrap. Slice (carefully!) and serve.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Make Way for Dumplings (IMBB 7)

Melissa gets credit for the pun in today's title, but Jarrett gets credit for the theme. Today is the latest round of Is My Blog Burning?, the global culinary exhibition started by Alberto, but now hosted by a different person each month.

When Jarrett suggested dumplings as the topic, I knew where to go for ideas: issue 66 of Art Culinaire. One of the articles focused on dumplings, and it featured roughly ten contributions each from three chefs. An aside: I don't really recommend this hardcover magazine for casual home cooks. Everything is aimed at a professional chef, the research for each topic is light and sometimes questionable, the recipes are probably not tested (given the corrections I've had to make), and they often have editing mistakes. On the other hand, the contributing chefs come up with fascinating ideas, the platings are intriguing, and the photography is wonderful. One should just view the recipes as rough sketches rather than finished art.

Finding ideas was easy; in fact, I decided to plan a whole dumpling dinner. Finding time for this dinner was the hard part; Melissa and I booked up August quickly. Finally, in desperation, I sent her an e-mail: "You're Invited! Join me on Saturday, August 21st, as we celebrate the wonderful world of dumplings. In preparation for Is My Blog Burning 7, Derrick (that is, me), is going to be cooking up a variety of tasty treats to enjoy. Mark your calendars now! This is not an event to miss!". Melissa wrote back that she was free, would love to attend, and wanted to know if she could bring anything (I pointed out that Derrick is such a control freak in the kitchen that she need bring nothing other than an appetite).

I decided to structure our dumpling dinner just as I would a normal dinner party, with several courses going from lighter to heavier. We normally offer bread and cured meats (along with other items) as appetizers, so the first dumpling was an Austrian "servietten knödel" accompanied by lightly fried serrano ham. The servietten knödel is essentially a poached torchon of stale bread soaked in egg and milk along with various seasonings (see pseudo-recipes, down below). When you unwrap the knödel, you slice it into rounds, which I then brushed with brown butter.

I did deviate from our normal dinner parties in one way: rather than a wine per course, we had one wine for the entire dinner. Since most of the dumplings I made were Austrian, we drank a 2002 Smaragd Grüner Veltliner bottled by Sighardt Donabaum from grapes grown near Zornberg in the Wachau, Austria's premier wine region. "Smaragd" is one of my favorite wine geek terms. It means "emerald" and refers to the wine's ripeness but is also "the name of a bright green lizard that suns itself in the [Wachau] vineyards," to quote Karen MacNeil's The Wine Bible. She says that the ripeness level is the highest in the Wachau, and that it's at least equivalent to spätlese in Germany (and the rest of Austria). The wine had aromas of minerals and dust and a flavor of Grüner's signature white pepper. The wine had a solid acidity and a long finish. Very well-balanced, and it complemented all our food wonderfully.

Our "salad" course was fried wontons stuffed with a mixture of heirloom tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and marjoram. (Another reason to choose Grüner is its ability to stand up to artichokes, which does funky things to most wines). I served the wontons on a thick slice of brandywine tomato, which was garnished with fleur de sel and an artisanal Piemontese olive oil. Simple and flavorful.

Our entrée was a "meat and potatoes" dish: potato dumplings stuffed with pork rillettes and served on a bed of thinly sliced raw fennel. This was so filling that Melissa and I only ate about half of our servings. However, the pork rillettes came out really well and made a nice counterpoint to the (deliberately) bland potato dough.

Finally, dessert. We didn't take any pictures of this, because the dumpling dough fell apart in the poaching. The dough was a mix of triple-creme cheese, sour cream, egg whites, bread crumbs, an egg yolk, butter, and various other items, which I rolled as best as I could in bread crumbs and then put on top of sliced peaches. I think I used too many egg whites, and so the dough was too liquidy. Either that, or I should have fried it. Mmmm. That might have worked nicely...

I think I'm starting a bad trend for myself with Is My Blog Burning? For the fish theme, I made two dishes, and now I'm doing a whole dinner around the theme. How long before I devote myself to an entire week of dishes around IMBB?! Thanks to Jarrett for hosting, and I can't wait to see what everyone else does!

Pseudo recipes
Servietten Knödel - adapted from issue 66 of Art Culinaire, recipe by Kurt Gutenbrunner. Dice and sauté a small onion. Cut 10 oz. day-old bread into 1-inch cubes. Bring 2/3 cup milk to boil. Combine bread, onion, milk, 4 eggs, coarsely chopped italian parsley, salt and pepper in a bowl. Mix well, and let sit for 20 minutes. Lay out a big piece of cheesecloth, and dump the contents of the bowl onto the cheesecloth, a few inches from the bottom edge. Shape the bread mixture into a long, rectangular mound. Starting from the bottom, roll up the bread mixture in the cheesecloth, keeping the roll tight. Twist the ends of the cheesecloth firmly to compact and shape the bread. Poach the bread, still in the cheesecloth, for about 15 minutes (you can use a toothpick to gauge doneness). Gently remove with a slotted spoon, and drain on a rack for a couple minutes. Unwrap, slice, brush with browned butter and serve alongside lightly pan-fried ham.

Tomato Wontons - Cut a medium tomato into small dice. Add diced artichoke heart until you have an equal mix. Mince marjoram and add that. Season to taste. Wet a wonton wrapper by dipping your fingers in water and brushing the wrapper. Put a small heap of mixing in the center and fold the wonton wrapper along the diagonal to make a little triangle (it is some cruel joke by wonton wrapper makers that they're never exactly square; do the best you can). Fry in oil heated to 350°.

Pork dumplings (loosely based on a recipe by Kurt Gutenbrunner in Art Culinaire issue 66)- Start by making pork rillettes. (adapted from Bruce Aidell's Complete Book of Pork, due out in November) Take equal parts Boston Butt and pork back fat, cut into large dice, and combine in a saucepan. Cover with water. Add seasonings (garlic cloves, thyme, bay leaves, sage leaves, a little salt). Simmer until all the water has evaporated, roughly 3-4 hours. Remove the bay leaves. Cool for twenty minutes. Use a potato masher to break down the contents of the sauce pan into a paste and store, well-wrapped. Now make your favorite gnocchi dough and roll it into a log (I think the dough was too wet in the recipe I used, so I'd say you're better off using a gnocchi dough). Cut into six medallions. Flatten each medallion into a thin disk, put a heap of pork rillettes in the center, and fold up the edges of the dough to seal. I trimmed off some of the doughier parts. Poach until done (yours may float when finished; mine did not, part of why I think his dough was too wet).

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

10 Years of The Age of Riesling

Many of you know from previous posts that I'm a huge fan of German and Austrian wines. Their rieslings (from both countries) and grüner veltliners (from Austria) are very flexible with food. Just ask any wine director worth their salt. Good German wines have an ethereal quality that makes them unlike any other wines on the planet. It wasn't until I tried a Donnhoff Spatlese that I really understood what my first wine teacher meant by a wine having balance.

I trace my passion to one event, and the three people who organized it: Debbie Zachareas, wine director of bacar; Terry Theise, who imports some of the very best samples of these wines; and Bill Mayer, who is perhaps the best retail source for these wines. Bill runs his business, The Age of Riesling, from his modest home in North Berkeley. This can make things awkward when you order wine, since you're not going to a storefront. Indeed, the wine isn't even stored at his home, so he has to schedule time to pick it up from his warehouse. It's worth the effort. Bill's a great guy (and a published poet), and his selection just can't be beat.

He recently celebrated his 10-year anniversary, and decided to have a tasting. He hasn't had a tasting in a while, and he needed to clear out his inventory for the 2003 arrivals, en route from Europe now. He held the tasting at Subterraneum, where Melissa and I store our wines. We bundled up more wine for the storage facility, and headed to the tasting.

That's me in the foreground, scribbling notes. Young wine snob, hard at work

I'm not going to give you tasting notes on all the wines: there were 55 bottles, and you'd be bored to tears by the end of it. I won't even tell you all my "plusses", since there were about 20 of those. I'll call out a few at random.

His recommended order for the wines was surprising, since he put red wines at the front. "I just think the white wines are more complex," he told me when I asked him about it. He's right; Germany and Austria aren't known for their red wines (though they do make some), and there's a reason. In general I found them only moderately interesting.

Here's a 5-second lesson about German designators. Germans (and to some extent Austrians) designate quality wines based on the ripeness of the grapes at harvest. This often but not always corresponds to sweetness in the final wine. In increasing order of ripeness, the levels are: Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese (BA), Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA). Eiswein is a separate beast usually harvested between BA and TBA. BA, TBA, and eiswein are all dessert wines. Auslese is not quite a dessert wine (I often serve it with cheese or a light dessert), and Spatlese and Kabinetts are good solid dinner-time fare. And don't start with me about non-dessert German wines being "too sweet". Some are, but the best examples balance this so nicely with acidity that you don't even notice it. It's worth remembering that in Germany, it's a struggle just to get ripe grapes, so the good ones aren't that sweet. Besides, chances are you've got some sweetness on your dinner plate: vegetables like tomatoes and cucumbers, fruit accompaniments, even caramelization all offer up some sugar.

2002 Erdener Treppchen Kabinett, Ernst Loosen (Riesling) - The Meulenhof Erdener Treppchen is one of my favorite wines, but Dr. Loosen's rendition is quite nice as well. It's a classic example of Riesling from the Mosel river, considered by many to be Germany's best wine region. Aromas of petrol and slate with pear and spice in the background. The pear and spice are more pronounced on the palate, framed by an exuberant and playful acidity. The wine has a nice long finish that really lets you enjoy it.

1997 Saarburger Rausch Auslese, Zilliken (Riesling) - German riesling ages very well, especially the wines made from riper grapes, and this was in nice shape. A nose of floral soap became Italian parsley on the finish, with a nice balance of sweetness and prickly acidity.

1998 Piri, Nigl (Grüner Veltliner) - Well-balanced aromas of dust and green forest. A sharp but short acidity gives way to melon which lingers for a medium-long finish.

Melissa and I ended up with a case, mostly of the wines that were available at reduced prices for that day only. There were plenty more we wanted to buy, but we're holding off; we still have to see how the 2003 vintage did. As in the rest of Europe, the record-breaking heat waves made this an "unusual" vintage in Germany. I expect there'll be plenty of wines at the higher end of the ripeness scale, but not a lot of dessert wines, because the heat prevented botrytis from forming.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Heritage Foods USA

I've written before about Heritage Turkeys (see Thanksgiving '02—though I note the pictures for that aren't working—and Thanksgiving '03). The heritage breeds I've tried taste notably better than the Broad-Breasted White turkey that virtually everyone eats at Thanksgiving, but these turkeys were almost extinct until Slow Food USA took action. They drew up a simple plan: use their network to create a market that would encourage farmers to raise these breeds. The plan has worked surprisingly well; I believe all the breeds are now off the critical list and are merely endangered.

Slow Food USA founder Patrick Martins extended this approach to other heritage foods, but now under the auspices of a new company, intuitively named Heritage Foods USA. Patrick stepped down as head of Slow Food USA to start Heritage Foods (and incidentally, to become a contributing editor to Gourmet), but Heritage Foods will donate money to Slow Food USA on a regular basis. One interpretation is that Heritage Foods is the business flip-side to Slow Food's educational and activist slant.

In addition to the Heritage Turkeys (I already placed my order for this coming Thanksgiving), they sell authentic wild rice and heritage breeds of lamb, pork, and goose (I convinced my mom to get a heritage goose for New Year's Eve dinner). Because they are working with the farmers directly, they can't yet send you a heritage turkey whenever you feel like it. They have fixed delivery dates right around major holidays, but I expect over time they'll build up an inventory of sorts, freezing the meat until they can ship it. It's worth checking out the company's website; prices can be steep, but there's no denying the meat is great, and by ordering from Heritage Foods, you are helping the small family farms who are trying to do things the right way.

Saturday, August 14, 2004


Most of you probably already know that Julia Child died yesterday just days from her 92nd birthday. Eulogies have appeared, and will continue to appear, in newspapers and blogs around the country and even the world. Alaina provides nice coverage of these eulogies at NYC Eats. Perhaps most touching in the blogosphere is Julie Powell's first post in nine months.

I promised Melissa that soon we'll do a meal from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, perhaps one of the most influential cookbooks to appear in America in the last forty years. Of all Julia's books, this, co-written with Simone Beck and Louisette Berthole, will be the one that people remember the most.

I also dragged some people at work to Tartine, a French bakery and sandwich place near work.

Julia Child lived a momentous and long life and died quietly in her sleep, seemingly unfettered by mental deterioration to judge from recent interviews. She had the life and death we all yearn for.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Well, There Was This Gazpacho...

Amy recently wrote a number of Bay Area food bloggers and suggested that we get together for, wait for it, a potluck! Heidi generously offered her lovely apartment, we debated about a date, and voila!

If you read other Bay Area food blogs, I'm sure you'll have a chance to see the same event through different lenses. It reminds me of the scene in Shakespeare in Love in which one character asks another to describe "the play" (Romeo and Juliet). The second character, slated to play the minor role of Juliet's nurse, says "Well, there's this nurse..." just before the camera moves away .

As we rang the doorbell, Melissa and I were a little nervous because we didn't know any of the other guests (though it turns out I know Amy's partner from a while back), but of course we knew we had something in common; we boned up on everyone's blogs that morning. We had signed up for gazpacho with garlic croutons for garnish, and of course we brought wine as well; the 2003 Tablas Creek Rosé from Western Paso Robles and a 2001 Weinrieder Gruner Veltliner from the Poysdorfer vineyard near the village of Schneider. Most people brought vegetarian food, and I figured Gruner's ability to pair with even the most wine-unfriendly vegetables would be useful. I brought the Rosé because I thought it would go well with the gazpacho, as the wine has a robust acidity to compete against the acidic soup, and a lot of flavors that I hoped would riff nicely on the tomatoes and bell peppers.

When we arrived, Heidi (who also contributed some wine; sorry Heidi, I didn't note down what they were) was finishing up her dish: cheese fondue with bread and vegetables for dipping. Her friend Jen was already there. Jen contributed charming and pleasantly tart and moist lemon scones that we all took with us as a little post-potluck treat. Other bloggers showed up in short order. Alder brought the very popular beef and herb crostini, and of course two or three bottles of wine, a Ceja Cabernet Sauvignon (Melissa and I loved their Vino de Casa), a Cinnabar, and a Storr Zinfandel. Perhaps some others. Amy and Lee arrived and she got to work making herbed toasted nuts which were warm and fragrant with rosemary; by this time Heidi's kitchen was a swarming mass of people doing last-minute prep. Heidi's friend Heather isn't a blogger but a food/restaurant critic for the North Bay Bohemian, and she and her partner brought two bottles of rosé from Toad Hollow and a salad that included figs and prosciutto and spinach and warm goat cheese. Alaina and her partner Anil (who was very popular, since he works for the company that makes MovableType) brought tomatoes stuffed with a particular kind of rice and other goodies (clearly you need to read other people's descriptions of their dishes). Because Alaina recently moved to San Francisco, I think everyone at the party asked her, "What's going to happen to NYC Eats now that you're here?" I'll let her answer that one. Anne and Ryan brought a really nice pie, as did Pim (be sure and read her full description of how she assembled this dish in seemingly record time). Someone brought a bottle of Bonny Doon's Vin de Glaciere.

Melissa and I had a great time; we loved having faces and personalities to attach to the blogs. And everyone should get to go to a potluck where all the contributors are seriously into food. A number of people noted that people's personalities matched their blogs fairly well. Pim called the evening SF Food Bloggers 1.0, and we can't wait for the next version.

Pseudo Recipes Gazpacho - I mostly followed the Cook's Illustrated recipe, but I made a number of modifications. For one, they recommend beefsteak tomatoes, which I replaced with famously flavorful Brandywines. This is a great dish for practicing knife skills: you want your main vegetables to have fairly consistent sizes, whether it's red bell pepper, tomato, or cucumber. Though the recipe had vegetable chunks and minced aromatics as textures, I added a middle texture by dicing my shallots into tiny dice. After I assembled the soup according to their instructions, the flavor didn't seem quite right so I fiddled with the seasoning. I added a bit more salt to give it a subtle undercurrent of seasoning, and added more sherry vinegar to bring out the vegetable flavors more. A final addition of pepper got the "tingle factor" correct. These adjustments may have to do with the fact that I used a different tomato juice than the one they recommend.

Garlic croutons - Buy some Acme Breads Herb Slab, and trim off the crusts. Dice the bread into large cubes. Toss cubes in oil and salt. Toast in a 350° oven until the cubes are dry and have started to color (about 15-20 minutes). Meanwhile, purée some garlic with your chef's knife or a mortar and pestle. Let the croutons cool out of the oven, then put in a container with olive oil and the garlic paste. Toss well to coat and allow them to marinate. Garnish each cup of gazpacho with a crouton or two.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Meat Good

Guys have a certain reputation in the kitchen. Or, more correctly, out of it. I'm sure you've all seen the signs that say "Danger Men Cooking" (my friend Tom has one, a joke not lost on dinner guests as they scarf down home made truffled foie gras terrine). There's a certain irony here. Men may be stereotypically horrible in the kitchen, but one could argue that when more men started cooking, it "legitimized" the activity as a serious one. Here's an exercise: name some celebrity female chefs. Now name some male ones. Society has sadly often been this way, not recognizing how valuable or difficult something is until men start doing it.

The stereotypes still dominate American culture at least; Father's Day brings ads for grilling equipment and barbecue supplies while Martha Stewart assumes her reader is female. But I like to think I've broken free of these easy pigeonholes, fretting about my inability to shape quenelles or some botched pastry decoration. But the "typical guy" instinct burbles up every now and then, and I just want to cook some chunks of meat.

Which is what happened last Friday and Saturday night. Melissa enjoys Fridays because I'll often meet her and we'll go shopping for dinner together (I don't often cook dinner on weeknights, as I've mentioned before). When we met, I said, "Let's get some steak." She agreed and we picked up some New York Strip, some small Yukon Gold Potatoes and some kale. Garnish was nothing more than garlic butter. You can see all my pseudo-recipes below, but I pan-seared the steak, roasted the potatoes, and braised the kale (except that I forgot to turn down the heat, so I actually burned most of the kale).

To go with our cave dweller's dinner, we opened a bottle of Ridge's 1999 Dynamite Hill Petite Sirah. This is an ink-black wine, with strong aromas of blackberry jam with notes of pepper and a distinct meatiness. It was heavy on the palate, with a sharp acidity, surprisingly modest tannins, and a flavor that I can only describe as blackberry must, even though I've never actually smelled such a thing. It had a noticeably hot finish. But it went wonderfully with our steak dinner.

The next night, we had big pork chops. As sides, I poached some morels in chicken stock, which I then used for a pan sauce, steamed some baby carrots which I then tossed in pumpkinseed oil, and sautéed some apples in duck fat. I garnished the pork with sautéed garlic. You know, your standard typical guy dinner.

Our wine was a 2002 Donnhoff Riesling. While this is my favorite producer of German wines, this was not one of his premier bottlings, merely the lowest level that qualifies the wine as more than table wine (to fully explain this would be to diverge into a long thing about German wines, but suffice it to say that German wines have lots of levels and this was the lowest other than the two levels for quaffing wine). It was, accordingly, not all that special, though it had a crisp acidity and finished with that classic German riesling taste. A white wine may seem a surprising choice, but actually German wine goes well with pork, and often has a slight sweetness that would work well against the carrots and apples, though not in this particular case.

Pseudo Recipes (assume they all end with "Season to taste")

Steak: Season two pieces of steak well with salt. I actually rubbed the steak with the salt. Put a cast-iron skillet on a low burner for about ten minutes, and then crank the temperature up to medium-high for another five minutes. Put the steak onto the pan (carefully!). After a couple minutes, flip the steak and let the other side sear. After that, flip every couple minutes until meat is cooked but still tender (i.e., to rare). Grunt with satisfaction as you eat.

Roast potatoes: Preheat oven to 425°. Cut small Yukon Golds in half (note, these were specifically small; if you're working with normal YGs, cut them into fourths). Spread potato chunks over a cookie sheet, douse liberally with oil and salt, and toss to get the chunks well coated. Put in oven, and start checking them after ten minutes until they're tender. Stir as you deem appropriate.

Garlic butter: Bring 4 tablespoons of butter to room temperature. Purée garlic with a chef's knife (basically, mince finely, sprinkle a little salt over the pile, smush with side of chef's knife, mince some more, repeat). Mix the garlic into the butter, using your hands to integrate the garlic fully.

Pork chop: Brine pork chops for 2-4 hours in a mixture of 1/4 cup salt and 1/4 cup sugar per quart of water. Remove from brine, rinse, and dry. Heat a skillet by putting it over low heat for about ten minutes. Turn the heat up to medium-high and lay the pork chops inside. After a couple minutes, flip the chops over and sear the other side. Continue flipping the chop every few minutes until done (I checked this by cutting into the meat when I thought it was about right).

Morels: Clean fresh morels carefully. Heat some chicken stock, and poach the morels in the liquid for a few minutes. Remove the morels; reserve the stock for sauce.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

The Artful Eater

I can't give you an objective review of Edward Behr's The Artful Eater, recently reprinted with slight changes a dozen years after its first printing. I've loved The Art of Eating since I received my first issue. The essays in this book were originally printed in the magazine prior to when my subscription started, so I'm bound to enjoy them. On top of that, I have an article appearing in an imminent issue, and I'm working on at least one more for Ed and possibly another one after that. In other words, I'm reviewing a book written by one of my editors. So I love it, and you should buy it (the trade paperback should be available at good bookstores, though perhaps not quite yet; a hardbound edition is available directly from The Art of Eating).

The essays in this book focus on single ingredients or single dishes. Many good cooks now understand that with fantastic ingredients, one need do little more than show them at their best. These cooks are learning to find quality producers, to hunt out artisans doing things the old, and often more flavorful, way—and they are encouraging home cooks to do the same. Many people are still coming to this philosophy, but it's something Ed has been teaching for sixteen years in his magazine.

He emphasizes taste and sensation; when you read these pieces you feel jealous that his job is to think about food so thoroughly. He is passionate about these topics in a way that few people really are, and evokes the ingredients and dishes so powerfully that your own experiences with them seem like dim shadows of what they could have been. Reading the sorrel chapter, I thought that if we ever do install window boxes in our apartment, we should have sorrel, even though I've rarely cooked with it. After his tomato chapter, I thought that perhaps I had never done proper justice to this fruit/vegetable. My favorite chapter, on roast beef, made me feel as if I've never cooked anything worthy of the passion he conveys, channeling Richard Olney and Elizabeth David to produce text that mingles directives with exaltation.

His essays can't help but make you feel cheated to some extent. Why is it so difficult to get true cream? Why does no one make true country hams anymore? We are being deprived of these ingredients, and we are the worse for it. Since many of us have never tasted these items, their memory will fade and there will be no impetus to produce them anymore, and something precious will have been lost. This is an underlying motif in the book, and it is an important one.

Ed's guiding principle is taste and sensation, but the pieces in this book (and the magazine) are heavily researched, and this is part of their appeal. His research is so extensive that the articles could serve as primary sources for other writers. The diverse citations in these essays suggest that Ed has a sprawling research library at his farm in Vermont, the same feeling you get when reading John Thorne's essays. This knowledge gives him facts to back up his strong opinions.

Simple prose conveys all this passion and knowledge. But don't confuse "simple" with "simplistic". The text is direct, and unadorned, the result of a lot of work and a diligent editorial eye. The tone is somehow both scholarly and conversational.

The book occasionally dates itself; Ed made minor corrections to the earlier text and simply re-released it, though he thoroughly updated the list of sources in the back. A reference to West Germany in the vanilla chapter jumped out at me. In the preface he mentions that when he wrote it, Starbucks was a handful of great coffee stores in the Seattle area. The salmon chapter touches on environmental concerns with farmed salmon and doesn't say too much about the debate that has raged for the last few years. However, it's worth noting that Ed's article gives a preview of this debate, even though the original predated the public discussion by several years. For the most part, the text is still very relevant, and he touches on his updates in his preface to this edition.

This book is what food writing should be. It is about a deep understanding of where your food comes from, its history, and why the version you eat today may be different than what you would have eaten in the past. It is about respecting all that food has to offer and appreciating it at new levels of understanding. It is truly, eating as an art.