Monday, September 24, 2007

Thomas Keller's Frozen Food. What the Puck?

Tyler of Dr. Vino just sent me an article about Thomas Keller’s empire that casually mentions his forthcoming frozen food line. Is Thomas Keller the Wolfgang Puck of the Noughties? Have I just ensured that I’ll never get a reservation again at The French Laundry? How would that be different than now?

Anyway, it doesn’t sound like we’ll see his face plastered throughout the frozen food section quite yet. So far there are just two products, and stores still need to buy them (because that will be a tough sell).


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Early Trials With Gelatin Filtration

Harold McGee’s recent New York Times piece on gelatin filtration, where you clarify liquid with a molecular sieve, latched onto my imagination with a steely grip. I liked the idea of a fail-safe way to make consommes — I don’t make them often enough to be very good at the technique — and gelatin filtration suggests a world in which anything can be made into a clear, intensely flavored liquid. Besides, food science is neat.

After I drained the black water from a pot of cooked beans, I decided to give the technique a try. I dissolved a sheet of gelatin in the hot liquid, froze it, and thawed the block in the refrigerator the next day.

Actually, I tried to thaw it. I had added too much gelatin, I think, and I got not one drop of consomme.

A few days later, I made rabbit broth. I looked at the sloshy soup, gray from my lazy scum-skimming but still liquid in the refrigerator, and nominated it for my next experiment. I placed the frozen, quart-sized cube onto a tamis lined with cheesecloth, and then I put that assembly over a bowl in the refrigerator.

Then I waited. And waited. Though the article suggests 24 to 48 hours of thaw time, my stock had barely dripped a drop by then. I turned my refrigerator down a notch and waited some more. Six days later, I had a dirty, ugly ice block on top, and rabbit consomme on the bottom. (Midway through the process,I brought what I did have to a boil to sterilize it.)

How was it? The gold broth was the clearest consomme I’ve ever made. It may be the clearest one I’ve ever seen, though the chicken consomme at 2nd Avenue Deli in New York City came close. I could have reduced the result a bit for more flavor — my stocks tend to start out watery — but it made a delicious lake for ravioli, sautéed carrots, and minced carrot greens.

So I’m convinced. I’ve got some interesting liquid in the freezer that I’m going to thaw soon: This time, I kept the gelatin proportions consistent with the recipe in the article. I hope it won’t take six days to melt.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Egg + Olives = Eggola

“I’d like an eggola martini, dirty.”
Photo by Melissa Schneider

Last December, Melissa and I went to a holiday party/potluck at Jack and Joanne’s house. Among many great dishes, two struck my “reproduce at home” nerve: the bacon toffee that captivated the crowd, and the pickled eggs that cookiecrumb brought. As our teeth and lips slurped off pieces of succulent, earthy eggs — the result of a 3-day soak in Kalamata olive brine — Melissa and I thought of the large jar of home-cured olives in our refrigerator. As soon as we emptied that jar, we thought, we would salvage the brine.

There was only one problem: I made a lot of olives. We ate the last one only two weeks ago. But we hadn’t forgotten about cookiecrumb’s eggs. Indeed, every few weeks, Melissa would ask me how many olives were left, by which she really meant, when could we make the eggs? We fidgeted in anticipation as I prepared the brine for the eggs, straining it through cheesecloth to get rid of the vegetal debris that fennel, garlic, and olives had left in the orange-brown liquid.

There’s no real recipe here. Make hard-cooked eggs by whichever technique you prefer. (Mine, lifted from Cook’s Illustrated: Put eggs in pot and cover with an inch of water. Bring just to a boil. Remove from heat and cover. Let sit for 10 minutes. Ice bath the eggs.) Plop the cooked and peeled eggs into the olive brine and leave the jar in the refrigerator for a few days. (Forgot to make olives last year? No problem: Just follow cookiecrumb's lead and use the brine from a can of olives.) The salt toughens the whites, so you might want to snatch the eggs from their hot water a little earlier.

My eggs — Melissa dubbed them “eggolas” — lacked the deep flavor of cookiecrumb’s, but they combined a delicate green-olive taste with rich egginess and a snack-food saltiness. Top half a pickled egg with a dollop of homemade rabbit rillettes, however, and you’ll think you’ve died and gone to heaven. (Given the fat-to-volume ratio of each bite, you just might.) We only lacked a glass of zingy Bandol Blanc to wash it down.

I made a second batch of eggs, but now I’m thinking of other uses for the salty, flavorful liquid. I've added a couple of mozzarella balls to see what happens, I could brine meat in it (once), and I might add acid to make a quick-pickle liquid. I just have to decide which route to go.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Mark Morford On The Baconator Ads

In Mark Morford’s latest opinion column for the San Francisco Chronicle, he rants about the new Wendy’s ads — and our culture of gluttony — in his typical stream-of-consciousness style. I guess everyone’s writing about food today, even if they’re not writing for a food section.


Paul Levy Opts Out Of Bad-Boy Writing

In Slate today, Paul Levy articulates the ennui that I feel about macho food writing, which is either derivative of or popularized by Anthony Bourdain. Everyone has to swear and shock. Neither of these are really problems, but do it all the time and you become tiresome. Is anyone shocked by a Bourdain tirade anymore? Good writers use any trick with care so that it doesn’t lose its effect.

Or maybe I’m just yelling “Get off the damn lawn!” to the neighborhood kids. What do you think about the “shock treatment” of modern male food writers?

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Me In Public

Shuna’s post about her California appearances reminded me to mention that I, too, will be reading during the Lit Crawl event of Litquake. Come out to the Mission and say hi. We haven’t decided which of my pieces I’ll read, but there are a few options.

And if you’re a member of the Oakland Rotary club, or if you know someone who is, you can come and hear my lunchtime talk on wine manipulation and technology on October 4.


Sour Death Balls

My friend Joe sent around a link to this charming short film from 1993 of people eating Sour Death Balls. What do you look like when you eat one of these tart candies? Find out by watching other people’s expressions.


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Batali's Blog

Some of you may recall Mario Batali’s June article about food bloggers. It caused quite a stir in our thriving community, even though he really vented about one non-fact that he wanted to clarify, changing a potentially interesting article into a portrait of misinformation.

But Regina at Gastropoda posted a note that Batali has started to blog at Serious Eats. I’m tempted to launch “snarky vituperatives from behind the smoky curtain of the web,” which is what his article suggested we all do, but I guess if he’s a food blogger now, he can do that himself. I’m sure he’ll show us veterans how it’s done, assuming he can sustain his blog for long enough.

(Note: Sorry for those who clicked on the earlier link only to find that it was an old, old blog. It just goes to show that when you snark about someone else’s misinformation, you always end up making a mistake yourself.)


Saturday, September 15, 2007

The River Cottage Meat Book

In some ways, this is one of the easiest reviews I’ve done: If you cook meat, buy The River Cottage Meat Book. Author Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall engages and entertains the reader with solid information about meat cookery, sustainable farming, and kitchen economy, all written with an oh-so-British wit and charm. My goodness, he even has pictures of meat slaughterhouses. Try finding those in other meat cookbooks.

I would stop there, save for the tiny phrase included in the marketing materials that the publishers sent me. Though this book came out in the United Kingdom 3 years ago, this edition has been, according to the leaflet, “tailored for American cooks.”

Here’s where I get twitchy. The editors at Ten Speed Press worked hard on this effort. They didn’t only drop extra u’s and adjust the recipes; they changed some of the original text.

Just not enough. Or maybe too much.

I first noticed a problem when I read Fearnley-Whittingstall’s text on rabbits. I’ve been working on a rabbit piece for a while, so my eyebrow arched when I read his advice to only buy wild rabbit from your butcher. Have fun doing that here in America, where USDA laws prevent anyone from selling wild animals: Our meat inspectors want to see the animal pre-mortem, not post. (As an aside, not all farmed rabbits are raised in conditions akin to an industrial chicken farm, as he implies.)

Want a guide to American beef cuts? No problem. Want to know the best turkey breeds to buy as an American shopper? Good luck.

I wrote the publisher and the editors referred me to the copious endnotes that, in some cases, give the correct American information. Some of the main text has been changed, but some of the new information has been placed in the endnotes. They preface the section with a note that they balanced the need to give Americans good information while retaining Fearnley-Whittingstall’s charming prose. I think I would have preferred all the new information in endnotes, and I would want the endnotes divided up and put at the ends of the chapters, rather than tucked at the back where you have to hunt them down. As it stands, the book has some relevant information where the reader expects to find it, but it also has a lot buried near the index.

I’ll return to this book over and over again, both for its prose and its recipes, but I’ll look elsewhere when I want to know my options at the store.

This book was sent to me as a review copy.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

OWF Survey: Just A Few More Days!

I’ll pull the OWF 5-Year Anniversary Reader Survey on Friday night, Pacific time. If you haven’t filled it out yet, please take a moment to do so; you’ll help me make OWF a better site for all of you.


Monday, September 10, 2007

Whence High Alcohol

Clark Smith, the head of Vinovation, has an Appellation America article about high alcohol levels in California wine. He looks at the complex array of factors that have led us to a world where every California wine has more than 14% alcohol. I see he’s listed as Appellation America’s technology columnist; it’s nice to see someone who knows all the ins and outs of wine technology across the state giving them content.

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Sunday, September 09, 2007

Weekly Wine Wrap-Up

Photo by Melissa Schneider

Call this a two-week weekly wine wrap-up: I never got up last week’s. Samples are marked with an *.

* 2004 McWilliams Hanwood Estate Merlot, Southeastern Australia - ~$9
One-dimensional jammy fruit and a raisiny character make for a decent but not memorable wine. Light tannins and a refreshing acidity make it food friendly, but there are better wines for the price.

* N/V Cameron Hughes “Lot 25” Sparkling Wine, Carneros, California - $20
I pictured green apples served with shortbread when I tasted this light sparkler, but another taster at the table said it had a bitter finish and a grapefruit flavor. I paired this wine with the appetizer platter I served at a dinner party.

2003 Josef Ehmoser “Hohenberg” Grüner Veltliner, Donauland, Austria - (bought on clearance)
You can taste the blistering heat of the 2003 vintage in this wine: more stone fruit and dried apricot flavors than normal, lower acidity, and a heavy, creamy weight. In the end, that was a good match for the Meyer lemon papparedelle, zucchini, and squash blossoms I served, but it’s odd to taste a flabby Grüner Veltliner.

2001 Bürgerspital Zum HL. Geist Würzburger Stein “Hagemann” Riesling Spätlese Trocken, Franken, Germany - (price forgotten)
I bought this wine for its packaging: Franken wines come in a unique, round-bellied bottle called a Bocksbeutel, which translates to “goat scrotum.” Once that topic exhausts itself, you’ll find a rush of older Riesling character in the wine itself: petrol and pine and wax, oh my. This bottle also had a bit of the nutty character that comes with oxidation. The wine isn’t very complex, but it went well with roasted pork belly.

* 2006 Groth Sauvignon Blanc, Napa, California - $19
One of my favorite California Sauvignon Blancs, this wine combines the grassiness and green apple flavors of Old World Sauvignon Blancs with the heavier weight and hints of butter aromas more typical of the New World. The short finish gives a flare of heat, perhaps from the 14.5% alcohol. Drink it with shellfish and other types of light seafood.

2004 Domaine Germain Pére et Fils, Burgundy, France - (gift?)
Pretty flowers and spices dominate this aromatic wine, and I couldn’t get over the idea that it smelled like Pez candy. Lovely mineral flavors wash the palate, and a bit of cheese rounds out the medium-long finish.

* 2003 Bridlewood Syrah, Santa Ynez, California - $40
I didn't like cough syrup as a kid, and I don’t like it as an adult. So I wasn’t fond of this rich, berry-flavored wine and its scorching hot finish, but I was happy to find some of the smoke and meat aromas so often lacking in California Syrah. Oddly, I also found green notes: California growers ripen these grapes almost to raisins, so maybe it came from the oak.

N/V Saison Dupont - $9/750 ml
One of Belgium’s best and most approachable beers, Saison Dupont offers a whiff of vanilla, a burst of flowery hops, and a wave of tingly citrus. The creamy beer tastes a bit like lemon juice, with a little hoppy bitterness and a pleasant maltiness at the end. Drink with just about anything: This beer has enough weight and flavor to stand up to all but the most overpowering dishes.

2005 Adegas D'Altamira “Seleccion” Albariño, Rias Baixas, Spain - $20
Transport yourself to Spain’s Atlantic coast with this refreshing and simple wine. The green apples and minerality will fit right in with a tapas meal or a light dinner.

* 2006 Gascon Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina - $10
This well-balanced wine will seduce anyone who loves meaty, earthy wine. Bacon, thyme, mushrooms and a squirt of vanilla round out the taste, and searing acidity mixed with mild tannins make this a food-friendly drink. Pair it with roasts and rich pasta sauces.

Bonny Doon Tasting
Peter at Vintage Berkeley sent me an email to tell me that Randall Grahm, owner of Bonny Doon, was stopping by the store to pour some of his new wines. He’s converting the whole winery to a biodynamic operation, and I wanted to taste the results. (Also, I had spoken with him by phone three days earlier on a separate topic, and I wanted to give him a face for my name.)

In the end, we bought three of the Ca' del Solo bottles: the weighty and rich Albariño, the floral and crisp Moscato Giallo, and the earthy and intense Sangiovese. I’ve long been a fan of Randall’s attitudes, but I can’t recall his earlier versions of these wines. At any rate, the new batch is delicious. But the star of the day was the 1990 Old Telegraph that Randall brought as “something special.” Seventeen years haven’t dented this all-Mourvedre wine, which still has lively fruit and mellow tannins.

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Saturday, September 08, 2007

Chicken Feet Make Me Dance For Joy

Photo by Melissa Schneider

When I saw that Marin Sun Farms had chickens with the feet attached, I plunged into their farmers’ market stand to buy one. Imagine how delighted I was when I got home and discovered the head as well.

But I don’t know quite what to do with it. I could toss it in the stockpot along with the gelatin-rich feet that caught my eye, but there must be some more creative use. Pim suggested Chinese five-spice soup, but I thought I’d ask if anyone out there in OWF land has other ideas.


Thursday, September 06, 2007

UCB Wine Studies: Fundamentals I Outline

I haven’t mentioned my upcoming UCB Extension wine class in a while, but today I made the final course outline. It seemed like a good time to remind any Bay Areans about the class, which starts on October 11 and gives an overview of the wines of California and Europe via lectures and lots of tasting. By the end of the class, students will be able to talk about a world of wines with confidence and aplomb. In a funny twist, this class got me hooked on wine five and a half years ago, so I’m looking forward to it. You can imagine my despair at only having eight weeks to cover the sprawling map of European wine regions — I’ve taught an entire six-week course on Eastern European wines, after all — but the short timeframe should focus me.

  1. The Loire and Bordeaux
  2. Champagne and Chablis
  3. Spain and Portugal
  4. Burgundy and Beaujolais
  5. Italy (with a splash of Slovenia and Croatia, perhaps)
  6. Alsace, Germany and Austria
  7. The Rhône and Provence (with a splash of Savoie)
  8. California

Sign up early; sign up often. Can’t make it? Fill out the OWF 5-year-anniversary Reader Survey to console yourself.


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Superflavored Liquids

Please take a moment to fill out the OWF 5-Year Anniversary Reader Survey.

Harold McGee's latest New York Times article teaches the reader how to do gelatin filtration at home. I hadn’t heard the term until I saw the article, though the technique seems to be all over the avant-garde cooking scene. It’s a way to create high-flavor consommes without the finicky and time-consuming stovetop clarification. You add a little gelatin to the liquid, freeze it, and then thaw it in the refrigerator. The gelatin becomes a molecular sieve, and the melting water washes small flavor compounds through the net while the gelatin traps fat and other impurities. There’s even a recipe for brown butter consomme to get you started. You can do it with a wide range of liquids, and you don’t need any equipment besides a refrigerator and a freezer. I’ll be trying this as soon as I get a moment.

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Sunday, September 02, 2007

This Weekend's Dinner Party

Photo by Melissa Schneider.

Only 2 percent of you have sounded off in the OWF 5-year Anniversary Reader Survey, but common threads have already begun to appear. One says, in short, “Don’t you ever cook anymore?”

I do, and I’ll renew my efforts to get more cooking posts onto this site. There’s no time like the present: We had our friends meriko and Russell over for a casual meal I threw together after the farmers’ market.

I sliced Fatted Calf Umbrian salumi and Charentais melon for a small appetizer plate, which I finished with salt-roasted pistachios and the last of our homemade olives. I always like to have snacks on the table when guests arrive — not to mention a glass of sparkling wine — and I liked the slight riff on the classic ham and melon pairing.

I had ideas about the appetizer platter before we got to the market, but I hadn’t put any thought into an opening course until I saw Phoenix Pastificio’s Meyer lemon pappardelle, wide noodles with a bit of tang from the mixed-in citrus zest. I bought zucchini and big, floppy, orange squash blossoms, and I mandolined the squash into thin planks that mimicked the noodles. I tossed the zucchini strips with salt and left them to drain before lightly sautéeing them with small onion dice and adding them to the pasta with the raw blossoms. A glass of Austrian Grüner Veltliner, relatively low in acid thanks to 2003’s soaring temperatures, washed down the light opener.

Everyone forgot about the pasta, however, when the roasted pork belly came to the table. A while ago, I purchased a share of pig meat that included two sides of belly, and I cured one in salt and herbs for a day before roasting it as described in The River Cottage Meat Book: 425° for 30 minutes and 350° for one hour. I cranked up the heat at the end to transform the scored skin into hard, brittle, crunchy bits of crackling that I could use as garnish for the layers of fat and meat on the plate. Slivers of pears roasted in canola oil and rosemary complemented the pork, and Massa rice with chiffonaded watercress added a semblance of nutrition to what is at heart a big chunk of bacon. The fatty pork and sweet pears in this dish demand a German Riesling, and far be it from me to argue with my food. I served a trocken spätlese Riesling from Germany’s Franken region.

Elise’s pretty plum galette inspired my peach and basil version, a casual dessert that allows a rustic — don’t call it sloppy — crust. Peach with basil is one of my favorite “surprise” pairings to present to guests, but meriko uses it as much as I do, so she wasn’t startled by its appearance. I topped each slice with a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream. I hadn’t chosen a dessert wine, but meriko brought us Jepson’s Viognier Mistrel as a host present, and I knew the peaches-and-cream grape would pair well with our peaches-and-cream dessert.

Photo by Melissa Schneider.

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