World on a Plate

Exploring culture. One plate at a time.

Month: December, 2004

ON HOLIDAY

Happynewyear I’m going on a short break.  To be honest with the few of you who I know are regularly readers, I’m not sure when I’ll be back to World on a Plate–for a number of reasons, primarily because I don’t think my style of writing fits the blog style.

The New Year brings about all kinds of beginnings, endings and evaluations.  So it is time for me to reconsider why I started this endeavor.  For those of you who don’t know I started this blog in order to integrate the discipline of writing into my creative life. The longer term and larger goal is to write professionally about food.  For the past six months I have seen an improvement in my writing, editing and research efforts. So the personal creative goal has been accomplished. I now have a portfolio of essays that I can potentially market.

However, part of the creative process is being acknowledged for the work and effort that is put forth.  We live in the Western world and validation is what makes us show up everyday.  I’ve come to realize after closer examination of many successful food blogs, that in the world of food blogging what appears to succeed is being a food diarist. This is great, if that’s what you are and that’s unfortunately, not what I am.   

I put a lot of research and time into my writing pieces and I’m not entirely sure that that’s what blog readers are looking for due to a myriad of time commitments and competing interests.  I think to be successful at food blogging one might have to have more time to devote to engage in the larger food blogging world.  This is tough for me after a 14-16 hour day job and commute.  In the new year I need to better manage a balance between work and personal so that I can put food on my plate.

Needless to say, I’ve had great fun learning and creating and that’s made the last six months worthwhile.

I’ll decide after the New Year where, if anywhere World on the Plate fits on to my plate.

Happy New Year!

Jeanne

PS:  Since I’m being more of diarist (and I’m not!) I will share with you my other website of photography.

Friday Fry #16

Cookiemstr2 Sweet on Cookies   Cookie Monster is a daze at this time of year.  What with cookie swaps and cookie baskets how could he not be?  According to editor and writer, P.J. Hamel of The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion, of those who bake at home 98% bake cookies.  The interview captures a short history and regional aspects to cookie consumption.  For example, molasses cookies are popular in the New England.  The number one question that King Arthur Flour receives?  ‘Why are my cookies burning on the bottom?"  {answer: old pan} Lots of tips, too.  The cookbook is going on my wish list.  For more cookies The Seattle Times Magazine offers a cookie swap.

Alton Brown on NPR   Chocolate mousse saves the day!  All Things Considered offers kitchen wisdom from Alton Brown.  Interviewer Jennifer Ludden talks with her grandmother, Marion Otte, about baking–sweet and solid baking tips.  Link has a picture of Alton Brown as a young boy baking.  CUTE! The series, with Alton Brown, archived online, takes the mystery out of pie and cake- making. Recipes include Chocolate Pound Cake, Pie Dough and Chocolate Mousse.

Drugstore Shopping   I’ve often wondered who heads out to the drugstore for non-drugstore related items.  I think they’ve become the last minute catch all for Americans.  Late night errands of nylons, half and half and Brach’s candy cravings.  A recent article highlights the gap they and supermarkets are fillling for last minute holiday shoppers.  Deep in the article is this statistic from Sears which "found that 37 percent of the men it surveyed would rather bake cookies than spend the afternoon shopping in a crowded mall."  Where are these men who bake?!

Pear-a-dise #2

Redbart_1 Cultivated since before the time of the Greeks, there are now over 5,000 varieties of pears. Three common types of pears are grown throughout the U.S.–the “Common” or European pear (pyrus communis), the Oriental pear (pyrus serotina), and the Asian pear (pyrus pyrifolia). Throughout the U.S. we find Asian varieties called 20th Century, Shinseiki, Korean Giant, Shinko, Chojuro, Niitaka and European varieties such as Bartlett, Bosc, D’Anjou, Seckel, Magness, Maxine, Moonglow, Comice. US production comes from states in the Northwest, plus New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and California. Imports come from South America, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa. The European category tends to have a buttery smooth and sweet flavor; Asian varieties tend to be crisp and depending on the particular variety can range in flavor from mild to tart to all types in between.

Originally grown in Russia’s Caucasus Mountains, pears spread over time to locales as diverse as China, Chile, South Africa, France, Australia, and the United States. By the Dark Ages, the fruit had become a delicacy mainly reserved for aristocrats and clergy. According to the The Great Book of Pears the Rousselet de Reims was Louis XIV’s favored variety and the court at Versailles delighted in pears.

According to Whole Health MD, Bartlett pears (called Williams outside of the U.S.) comprise 65% of all U.S. commercial production. The Bartlett pear came into existence in Berkshire, England in the 17th century, and pear seedlings came to America with the early colonists. Pears were later brought west in the California Gold Rush.

Bartletts are a summer occurrence with Anjou readily available during the winter. According to a Aug/Sept 2002 issue of Mother Earth News, “Almost all pears sold in grocery stores today are heirlooms, with their origins in 15th- through. 19th-century England, France and Germany. Bartlett, Comice, Bosc, Seckel and Anjou are still popular because they have terrific flavor and melting flesh. A buttery feel on the tongue and yielding tissue combine to create this sensation.

Determining ripeness can be a tricky thing. Bosc, Anjou and Comice pears don’t change color when ripe. Bartletts turn from green to yellow to announce its readiness. The Pear Bureau Northwest suggests that you apply gentle thumb pressure near the base of the stem. If it gives slightly, it’s ready to eat. If you’re not ready to eat that pear, put it in the refrigerator. If it isn’t ripe, leave at room temperature checking on it frequently. The fruit will also exude a fragrance when ripe. Pears are available year-round but best from September through February.

Brown-skinned Bosc pears are terrific for roasting due to their low moisture content. The end result is a pear that reduces and caramelizes in its juices. Asian pears also cook well, retaining their crunchy fresh texture when you cook them. There are many ways to serve a pear from drinks, dinner and dessert.

One of my favorite salads is a combination of spinach, sliced pear, blue cheese and toasted walnuts. The subtle sweetness of the pear contrasts perfect with the sharp tang of the blue cheese. However, the pear with young pecorino, black walnuts and honey I had in the hills south of Sienna–a dish so straightforward and too simple s to stand as strong as it does in my mind.

New York’s Craft serves up a ‘Craft Cocktail’—freshly diced pear macerated in Belle de Brillet, a blend of Brillet Cognac and the essence of Williams pears (Poires Williams) grown in the Alsace region of France. Twenty-two pears go into the making of each bottle.

One of my favorite jellies is Napa Valley’s A Perfect Pear’s Cinnamon Pear Jelly. A family recipe the jelly is made with Bartlett pears and has a note of cinnamon. Other products from this specialty food producer include a pear balsamic vinegar and a pear chipolte grill sauce. Pears and cheese are good companions.

Caprial Pence recommends pairing Comice, a creamy-textured, very sweet pear, with Stilton cheese and ruby port; the mellow and juicy Anjou with a soft mild goat cheese and Sauvignon Blanc; and Bosc, a hard, almost crispy pear, with aged white cheddar and Cabernet Sauvignon.

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Pear-a-dise

Woowoo It is, in my view, the duty of an to be crisp and crunchable, but a pear should have such a texture as leads to silent consumption. Edward Bunyard, ‘The Anatomy of Dessert’

My paternal grandfather is in his mid-90s. While at this age he unequivocally states every year that all he needs for Christmas is his health, family, grandkids, and great grandkids it seems to me that everyone deserves something a bit special.

This year I am gifting him with a box of the ultimate in pear pear-adise–Royal Riviera Pears from Harry &; David. This pear is one of the finer delights in life—it’s also the signature fruit from the 80-year-old gourmet food and gift basket company based in Oregon. The catalog states that they are "so big and juicy, you eat them with a spoon. Today the cataloger ships over 10,000 tons of pears from their network of family farms.

The company began in the middle of the Great Depression in an effort to save the family orchard. The brothers packaged the pears into gift boxes, got into the truck and drove south to the City by the bay to sell to business leaders. The first catalog was mailed in 1934 and shortly after they began the first ‘fruit of the month’ subscription program. Now, according to Catalog Age roughly 42 million catalogs a year are mailed and each order averages $130 due to a focus on business gifts and fruit-of-the-month programs; Today the company is forging ahead in using sustainable agriculture in its Oregon orchards, from water conservation to composting to natural pest control.

Image: Harry & David; Royal Riviera Pears

Friday Fry #15

12days PNC Bank has released the "Christmas Price Index" which measures the cost of all the gifts in the song "The 12 Days of Christmas." This annually updated study shows a 2.4% increase in the price of Christmas from 2003 to 2004 by traditional measures, but a 10.5% increase if you are shopping via Internet (shipping!)

Jonesing for a Java Machine   The research and evaluation process for a home espresso machine overwhelms me.  A recent Slate article takes the task on.  We all know the ‘latte factor’,–"$4 a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year amounts to $1,456 per annum."

Who Moved My Cheese?   Award-winning cheesemaker Cypress Grove is celebrating it’s 20th anniversary by doubling it’s creamery size with the recent move in to a custom made-to-order facility. These fine folks produce the ever sublime Humboldt Fog.

Brand Marketing Blunders  The year-end brings it’s usual round-up of "best of" and "top 10" lists. As some of you know that’s how I make my bread to eat my cheese.  I thought that the recent Top Ten Branding Blunders. The list includes the Barbie Break Up, American athletes as brands, and the failed "Mr. Wendy" campaign. 

Hardee’s Strikes Again   As if the Monster Thickburger release wasn’t enough. This week they launched the 46-grams of fat Breakfast Burger.  The ‘burger’ features a fresh, fried egg, crisp bacon, hash brown nuggets, cheese, ketchup and a charbroiled all-beef patty, all on a sesame-seed bun all for $2.39 (US). The company press release, in an effort to rationalize their new product launch provided interesting statistics, "the most frequently consumed "non-traditional" breakfast foods are: Pizza: 51 percent Sandwiches: 41 percent Chicken: 23 percent Other meats: 19 percent Mexican food: 19 percent Burgers: 17 percent".  Thank gawd the gap has been filled.

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Material Wealth

Schiap Eating is not merely a material pleasure. Eating well gives a spectacular joy to life and contributes immensely to goodwill and happy companionship. It is of great importance to the morale.”


                           
Elsa Schiaparelli Italian designer (1890-1973)

SHF #3- Jolly Good

Teacup I had a photo of these breakfast pastries but my digicamera is not cooperating.  They look like drop scones–nothing too sexy–but certainly tasty. The replacement image was "borrowed" from a groovy "tea shirt" shop online that has a number of worthwhile items. 

Scotland is home to heather, haggis, bagpipes, and scones. Pronounced “skon” in Scotland and throughout Northern England; or as “skoan” in the South of England. According to the Oxford Food Companion scones are a close cousin to bannock. In the beginning the tea cakes were leavened rounds of barley or oat flour cut into wedges and baked on a cast iron griddle or pan over an open tire. Some say the name scone comes from the place where the Kings of Scotland were crowned—the Stone (Scone) of Destiny.

Although a less sweet version was brought to the states by the English over 200 years ago they have now evolved into something between a biscuit and a muffin—the more sophisticated and sweeter cousin—and now start many an American’s morning or afternoon ‘cuppa’ tea break. Throughout England scones are often served with clotted cream, lemon curd or preserves–a welcome break in the afteroon.

Scones consist of flour, butter, eggs, leavening and a liquid usually milk, cream or yogurt. It is a quick bread that is simple and as Jamie Oliver quips “easy peasy”. Just don’t handle it too much or it’ll turn out tough and dry. If done correctly the interior should be light, flaky and soft.

In the cookbook Once Upon a Tart, bakeshop and café owners Frank Mentesana and Jerome Audureau share their secret to making good, flaky scones as “quick” and “cold”. Keep the butter from melting until it gets into the oven where the heat causes the dough to separate into little layers. They also stress not overworking the dough. This instruction is critical—did I mention that?

Note: If you want scones with crusty tops and bottoms place the scones close together on the baking sheet. For a softer consistency leave the scones on the baking sheet and lightly cover with a clean tea towel.

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Friday Fry #14

Maoam Frisky Fruit Wrappers Students at a Catholic high school in Germany complained about new Bonn-based Haribo sweet wrappers which they claim portray fruit being frisky.  Turns out to have been a hoax initiated by pupils at the school who admitted writing it and posting it on the Internet as a joke. The candy images (pictured above) are however, real packaging. Great publicity.

Eating Right According to a recent Food Marketing Institute survey more than 600 of 1000 Americans surveyed said a barrier to better nutrition is that it costs more to eat healthy foods. The solution lies within your perspective. The Boston Globe article points out that we think nothing of spending $3.00 for a latte but balk at $3.00 for quality fruit. The challenge is that to eat cheaply you have to spend some time in the kitchen and planning meals.

Spice It Up Pepsi Holiday Spice is here. The Sacramento Bee has a few tips, not to mention commentary on the limited time cola offering. The soda is a combination of ginger and cinnamon (and perhaps clove me thinks) is available through December.

Martini on the Rocks If martinis are more your style how about the $10,000 martini being offered at the Algonquin Hotel.  What’s so special about this martini?  Why there’s a diamond at the bottom.

A Durable Tortilla  A food scientist has found that by mixing the right proportions of ingredients and altering the structure of the tortilla while it’s baking, its shelf life can be extended from about two weeks to more than a month.  Appears that astronauts could be the benefactors of this innovation. In 2003, according to the Tortilla Industry Association, tortillas cornered 32 percent of the sales for the U.S. bread industry, making them the second most popular bread type in America with sales that far surpass those of whole wheat bread, bagels and rolls. Sales are expected to hit $6.1 billion next year doubling the size of the industry since 1996. According to the association, tortillas have 32 per cent of the market for all types of bread, compared with 34 per cent for white bread.

Food Sense

Yogi_3"You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I’m not hungry enough to eat six."

                                                                              –Yogi Berra

Fuyu For You

Fuyu

When I tell friends that I’ve never eaten a persimmon they looked at me in shock. How is that possible. Well I’ve had REPUBLIC OF TEA Persimmon White Tea–does this count? My lack of exposure to “the apple of the Orient” has now been corrected.

The persimmon (Diospyros kaki) is a native of China, and is widely cultivated throughout Asia. Japan, where it is very popular, it is called kaki. Aside from being very tasty, persimmons are also nutritious as they are a good source of fiber, vitamin C and beta carotene. The trick is NOT to eat unripe fruit. I made that mistake and it’s what I can only call bitter and well, fuzzy, furry even. Turns out I ate a Hachiya variety. After some research I found that this variety is rich in tannins, which are also found in red wine and tea. I persevered through this first taste and I have been rewarded.

China is the largest producer of persimmons, followed by Brazil, Japan, and Korea. The United States grows a comparatively smaller crop with most of the domestic persimmon crop coming from California. In Japan, New Year’s celebration food includes dried persimmons used as ritual decoration for the making of mochi, bun-shaped rice cakes made from steamed glutinous rice.

The acorn-shaped Hachiya (pronounced ‘hi-CHEE-ah’) is good for baking cookies and cakes. Keep in mind that it can take a few weeks for the large fruit to reach full sweetness. When they feel soft and squishy they are ready for use. To use in recipes place the Hachiya persimmons stem end down on a cutting board. Slice them in half, then scoop out the pulp. If your recipe calls for puree, place the pulp in a blender or food processor and pulse the blade until the pulp is smooth. I have used my potato masher with great success.

Tony Tantillo has a great tip for speeding up the ripening and eliminating most of the tannins: Place the fruit in the freezer for twenty-four hours. Remove from the freezer and defrost. The fruit will soften so that you can use much as you would a perfectly ripe persimmon. So keeping this trick in mind storing persimmons at room temperature is best.

The smaller, squatter Fuyu (pronounced ‘FOO-you’) it is crisp, lightly sweet and crunchy, like a Fuji apple. According to Alice Waters in Chez Panisse Fruit Hachiya production has been in decline and Fuyu has been on the rise, mostly due to demand from Southeast Asian immigrants. This variety can be eaten as soon as it is picked. There’s a rocket salad with persimmons, pine nuts and pecorino on the café menu this week that sounds delicious. If one was to pair this starter with the grilled Hoffman Farm chicken breast with butternut squash, artichokes and potato has and pancetta–all would be right.

While you can just eat them fresh, pureed persimmon mixed with yogurt and honey for breakfast will brighten your morning.

The best thing about persimmons is that they have a unique flavor. Peak persimmon season runs from mid-October through January. So you have another month for fresh tastes. But remember for eating out of hand and in raw form—it’s Fuyu for you–and me.

Persimmon Wine Recipe

Persimmon Products (dried and frozen persimmons)

Photo:  GardenAdventures.com

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