World on a Plate

Exploring culture. One plate at a time.

Month: January, 2005

Call Me Crazy

PazzowineA few friends on Friday night migrated from our places of work to Vino Venue before we all headed into our weekends. 

Located just South of Market (SOMA) and footsteps away from the SF Museum of Modern Art this wine tasting "bar" has received quite a buzz since its opening in September.  For those outside of San Francisco it works like so–you buy a smartcard ($10-$100), receive a wine glass and visit wine stations which are arranged by varietal, insert the smartcard and select the wine choice and a tasting pour is dispensed.  Yes, a bit of a novelty.

There’s over 100 wines to choose from in this combination wine bar and retail shop.  Unlike a winery tasting room there’s no pressure to buy a bottle.  So it’s a very inviting way to try something new.  Apparently, after tasting is complete you can have Vino Venue check your smartcard to generate a list.

My sense is that the owners didn’t nearly anticpate the popularity of the concept. I’m certain they are making a lot of money on the concept.  My friend C. and I tried to calculate the number of pours per bottle and carry the math out and do a analysis of mark up to margin.  We got lost in a cloud of Rhone.  Suffice it to say that there’s money being made. 

The establishment works on several levels but you certainly can’t linger too long here as, unfortunately, this place is limited in the nibbles.  It’s minimal and tasteless and more than overprices for what you get. Ideally I would visit this spot with an out of town wine lover or as  finish to a day at SFMOMA–post lunch at the Caffe Museo. 

Aside from all the above I did taste a new wine from the "Adventurous" station–Bacio Divino Pazzo 2002 ($26/$2.40 1 oz. taste). This particular blend is unique– 66% sangiovese, 20% cabernet sauvignon, 7% zinfandel, 5% petit sirah and 2% viognier.  The wine is full, fruity and has a taste of cherry and plum but overall the taste is not too assertive.  As a French-wine drinking friend once remarked to me–you do like a big wine.  Italian wines are a favorite of mine.

Photo:  Bacio Divino

Vino Venue – 683 Mission Street @ Third, check website for hours

Caffe Museo – 151 Third Street btween Mission & Howard

open late Thurday until 9pm

Friday Fry #18

Chimap Upside and downside next week–downside, I need to be in Chicago to pay a visit to our packaging agency in Chicago next week.  It’s 18 degrees without windchill.  As some of you know I grew up during the Great Blizzard of ’78 in the Boston area.  Given that I now life in a more or less moderate climate I no longer own clothing suitable for this type of weather.  (Whine, bitch, moan.)  Upside?  Being the client and demanding that the obligatory group bonding dinner be booked out at Frontera Grill.  The menu is up.  How will I decide. Do I need to decide could I, as the client emphatically state, "I am the client. You will all order different entrees!"  The bigger looming question is how I am going to casually document the meal with the digicam?  No one knows in my professional life of my "other life" as a food blogger.  I’m extending the stay so I can also dine at Topolobampo.  That menu looks equally tasty.  Good food warms the soul–bring it on!

Speaking of Boston, on a past business trip I was roomed at the upscale Boston Harbor Hotel.  In 2005 they have featured a new drink in the bar.  February’s drink, a Chocoloate Covered Strawberry Martini is "a rich and decadently creamy balance of white chocolate and strawberry flavors."   Do people really drink cocktails like these?  A tarty martini.  No it’s just not right.

Chile peppers "warm the heart and enliven our palates."  The Idaho Mountain Express has a short and informative introduction to the different families of peppers–bells, sweet, mild, and chiles–and an easy recipe for Pepper Bruschetta Melange.

In Arizona, a new Mexican-oriented coffee chain is getting off the ground. Panaderia Taza will feature coffee drinks featuring Mexican ingredients such as cafe de la olla.  Mexican sweets such as pan dulce, tres leches cupcakes, made-to-order churros.  Quiero la Panaderia Taza en San Francisco!

Spain, as most of us know, is at the leading front of culinary innovation.  This week NPR’s Morning Edition (3 minutes 35 second audio listen) took a look at what Spanish cooking is today via the food conference Madrid Fusion.  Spanish gastronomy has been elevated due to the creativity of Ferran Adria

Related article from the New York Times on Madrid Fusion with solid insight from one of my culinary mentors Anya Von Bremzen.

How Do You Eat An Oreo?

Oreo_1 Since 1912 the Oreo Cookie has been one of America’s popular cookies. More than 7.5 billion Oreos are eaten a year.  So just how do you eat an Oreo?  My answer, #6, ‘twisted apart, the inside then the cookie.’  Note, there’s accordian music so if you’re at work…

Crabby Cakes

Crab01wDungeness crabs are unique to the west coast of North America, and reportedly take their name from a small fishing community on the Strait of Juan de Fuca in Washington state.

The coast of Northern California and on up into Washington State has been home to commercially fished Dungeness crabs since the 1800s, with the present fishing season from December through April.  This year the season opened early and coincided with the release of the new Beaujolais.  After checking to see if I could eat without guilt over at the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch  (seriously eating here in the Bay Area can get challenging) I decided it was time for crab cakes. 

One thing to understand here is that I’m a New England gal.  I can do many things with lobsters that non-New Englanders wouldn’t even consider.  I’ve been known to crack other people’s lobster with the skill of a chiropractor (payment excepted in lobster meat!).  So fresh crabmeat is somewhat of a new culinary endeavor.

After an early morning (read as ‘pre-tourist crawl’) down at San Francisco’s Pier 49 I returned home with a ‘culinary compromise’–a just-steamed crab.  I set about cracking the crab.  This was a lot of work.  I prefer tangoing with a lobster.  I was in a nasty mood after the effort.  But I was determined to make the following recipe — Calypso Crab Cakes.  The recipe is from America’s Most Amazing Brunch Host, Camilla Saulsbury.  Given that she lives in Indiana I’m pretty sure she wasn’t cracking no fresh steamed crab before guests arrived. 

Photo: Waterfront Crab Crawl, by J. Brophy (c’est moi)

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French Women Do Eat

Fwdgf Mireille Guiliano’s day job is President and CEO of Clicquot Inc.  Born and raised in France and today a Manhattanite she is doing her part to mediate the current state of US-France relations with the release of French Women Don’t Get Fat:  The Secret of Eating for Pleasure.  Un peu cookbook, un peu memoir the 263-page book reveals differences in attitudes that French and American women have about food.  In the book she states, "French women typically think of good things to eat.  American women typically worry about bad things to eat."  Hmm, would that be bad things that are good to eat or good things that are bad to eat (donuts vs. steamed broccoli).

Secrets of French women include not depriving yourself but allowing yourself small amounts of indulgences; being mindful of what you are eating–don’t eat while watching TV, driving or talking on the phone or reading the paper.  Sensible and seasonal eating for joie de vivre. 

San Francisco Book Launch La Grande Dame Dinner at Aqua Restaurant

2/6/05: NY Times Book Review of the book

Friday Fry #17

After a month long break Friday Fry is back.  Bits and bytes all featured on food news menu. Big playoff championship game this weekend, with the New England Patriots meeting up with the Pittsburgh Steelers. We held off Peyton Manning last week. Pass the microbrew and nachos this promises to be a "super" game.  GO PATS!

Ppr The presidential inauguration was held yesterday.  I think I’ve been in denial over what is ahead for America and the rest of the world.  Seymour M. Hersch’s recent essay in the New Yorker will wake you up and out of your depression into near panic.  More interesting to those of us who think about food is another piece in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that provides information on a new self-published cookbook, Politics and Pot Roast: A Flavorful Look at the Presidency.  William Henry Harrison’s inaugural featured a pound cake shaped like the U.S. Capitol building weighing in at 800 pounds.  Ulysses S. Grant’s libation of lemon sherbet, rum and Cointreau and Champagne most certainly made for a festive bunch of revelers.  The Swift Report has a hilarious take on the inaugural dinner–anyone for Coca Cola Brined Pilgrim’s Turkey with Dunkin Donuts Old-Fashioned Doughnut Sweet and Savory Stuffing?

Solar-powered cocoa from Uganda generates three times as much than their primary export, coffee.  An Italian chocolate company trained the workers to use a new technique that uses a plastic sheeting that converts the sun’s UV rays into infrared.  The beans are placed underneath after workers have rubbed them in sieves removing dust and mold.  This process improves the quality and quantity of beans and also moves the beans into standards required for exporting to the EU and North America.

Truffles Trifolau, truffle hunters, will roam the hills around Alba for a few more weeks. Due to a rainy season the 2004 truffle season continues. The 2003 season was weak due to dry and hot weather. The Bloomberg article is filled with lots of facts including:

  • White truffles can’t be cultivated as they are a type of fungus related to mushrooms so they grow randomly underground usually under oak trees.
  • If a truffle smells of ammonia or isn’t firm when pressed lightly it isn’t fresh.
  • Eat truffles within 10 days after it’s unearthed.

Forbes outlines the declining market size of truffles. Italy and France have long been the main supplier but today Croatia, China and Spain are the producers.  In the article, truffle dealers state that 50% to 60% of what France sells as French black actually come from Spain; 70% of Italian white truffles are from Croatia.  Truffles farming is now in it’s early development stages in Oregon, New Zealand and Tasmania.  In fact the town of Abejar, two and a half hours from Madrid is the home to the world’s largest truffle plantation. So why is it that we mere mammals are attracted to truffles?  As the article states, "because it can include the phermome alpha-androstenol, found in the perspiration of men and the urine of women."  Thrilled to know that.

Thomas Jefferson’s Macaroons Recipe

Truffle & Truffle Oil Recipes via What’s Cooking America

Freakin’ Flay

Imagedb How is this possible?  In a MSNBC report Bobby Flay is going to open an American brassiere.  To quote the man, "This is American food as it really is. It’s not a restaurant that takes its influence from Europe or Asia. True American food is underexplored. A lot of Americans don’t know what American food is — it’s not just macaroni and cheese and hot dogs."  So you’re opening a diner?  Are there no limits to this mans lack of knowledge on the food, history and culture of American food?  David Rosengarten would disagree–as would I but really who am I?  I’ll give him the benefit of doubt, possibly he’s opening up a Native American restaurant?

I’m not even go to comment too much on the results of last Sunday’s Iron Chef.  Flay showed no respect to Bayless nor his staff.  Watching the chefs in action spoke a thousand words.  Bayless was a picture of professionalism–even pausing to give a small lesson in chile peppers on camera. Flay was running around yelling at his staff and exhibiting only small periods of control.  And how was it that the judges had several negative comments on Flay’s dishes yet awarded him the same point level as Bayless?  eGullet serves up the commentary.

What was intriguing was the fact that the judges and Alton Brown know so little about true Mexican cooking.  America we have a lot to learn get out your chiles, comal and metate and let’s get cooking.

Jewel of the Incas

Cherimoya Periodically I work at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market.  Although the work can be at times physically demanding I like talking to San Franciscans about what they are cooking or offer simple preparation tips. This weekend I was a "helper" to the "avocado man"–as the customers call him. 

The avocado season has yielded a large crop this year so the season more or less didn’t come to an end.  In addition to Gwen avocados Brokaw offered Bearss limes, Eureka lemons, Valencia oranges, guavas and cherimoyas. 

Based on the reactions of serious cherimoya lovers at the market–including one 30-ish looking woman who literally jumped up and down as she recounted a year of feasting on cherimoyas in Chile–I had to see what the I had been missing out on.

The fruit won’t win any beauty contests.  The heart-shaped fruit is wrapped in a skin that looks a bit reptilian. Close cousins in this fruit family include U.S. native fruit paw paw; soursop from West Indies; sweetsop (sugar apple) from Latin America and a hybrid of the cherimoya and the sweetsop called atemoya.

The name cherimoya translates in the Incan language as "cold breast." Grown around the world the fruit is native to the Andes region particularly Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia.  The Incans enjoyed this fruit so much they called it the "fruit of the gods." Cherimoyas began cultivation in the area between San Francisco to Santa Barbara when  "avocado root rot" attacked local groves and an alternative crop was needed in the temperate coastal climate.

Growing this fruit is very labor intensive as the flowers need to be hand-pollinated with an artist’s brush (!), harvested-individually and stored with great care to prevent rot.  So you can expect to pay a high price at the market running anywhere from $6-$9/lb. The California growing season begins in mid-January and ends in June.  In the U.K. and Australia this fruit is  commonly referred to as custard apple, yet another reference to its texture.

Called the "tree of ice cream" for it’s flavor profile hinting at it’s custard-like texture and rich flavor.  It becomes ripe over several days at room temperature.  When the flesh gives when you lightly press it should be eaten right away or it can be tucked into the fridge for a brief holding period of two to four days.

The fruit is very digestible.  In fact in my research I found that in Japan the fruit is given as a gift to a sick person.

To eat simply cut the fruit in half and use a spoon to eat the flesh. The skin and black seeds are not edible. To prepare for use in recipes, cut the top and the bottom of the fruit off and slice off the outer skin; slice or cut into medium-sized pieces.

Mark Twain once declared the taste is "deliciousness itself".  An online guide to growing cherimoya in New Zealand suggests that cherimoyas taste like a combining of the "exotic flavours of pineapple, papaya, passionfruit, banana, mango and lemon into one luscious delight." I would say that these are apt descriptions as my first taste was something akin to eating an exquisite ambrosia.

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Buy cherimoyas online @ Melissa’s 3 pounds for $29.00

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Iron Chef America Round #1

Tv This is a big weekend.  The duel between Rick Bayless and Bobby Flay hits the mat on Sunday night, allez cuisine–Iron Chef America.  Read the resumes at these links (their names) and they speak for themselves.

My hopes are pinned on Bayless. This man has dedicated himself and his career to the cuisine of Mexico.  A man who in pursuing this effort has worked to understand the culture and the context of that country’s food within it.  If that wasn’t enough he has brought that food into the American culture.  Flay by all visible signs certainly doesn’t carry that disposition.  He’s bold and brash and full of ego–all show and no substance.

In today’s New York Times, the secret ingredient is revealed, it’s buffalo.   

According to the article Flay, who is reported to look frazzled,  produces a "cowboy breakfast" of poached egg on a grilled buffalo paillard, a curry-glazed buffalo steak, a buffalo salad and a Native American buffalo plate with fried bread.  Newsday, mentions that Flay also offers up a buffalo and goat cheese relleno.

Over in the other corner looking to "be operating in a different time zone, gliding smoothly through the intricate steps" is Bayless.  He prepares a spicy empanada, a  honey-crusted buffalo steak in fava ban sauce, buffalo steak in a huitlacoche sauce, fried guajillo pepper over buffalo tartare. There’s apparently five dishes–we’ll have to watch for the what the mystery dish will be.

It’s FoodTV vs. PBS.  Flay’s speaks to the FoodTV demographics. Bayless whose show appears on PBS speaks to its market.  FoodTV would probably never have a show such as Mexico: One Plate at a Time.  This show is one of the top rated cooking programs on public television. 

It’s Southwestern vs. Mexican cuisines.  These cu sines are often confused.  Southwestern being a blend of Native American, Mexican and European.  Mexican being one of the original world cuisines based on the trinity of corn, beans and chile peppers, influenced over time by conquering peoples.  It’s rich and full of complexities.  I enjoy both cuisines and I’m not saying one is superior.  But those of us who appreciate a mole negro and have attempted it at home stand in awe of one who can prepare it.

In the end Bayless, win or lose, will possibly gain a wider audience for the cuisine he has dedicated his life. Maybe then we, as a Food Nation, can move away from the Americanization of Mexican food allez Chevy’s and El Torito.

I won’t even begin to speak about the judges who will decide the outcome.  It’s just too much for me.

Watch it all on Sunday, Food TV, 9PM.

Cuisine at Home

Cusine The way I cook during the week is quick and easy.  With a long commute and an urban lifestyle (sounds like I’m running with rappers)–okay I dine out, go to movies, ballet you know what city folks do–cooking is not high on the list of things to do during the work week. 

The weekend is the time to relax and enjoy the process of preparing something a bit tastier and special.

Today I received in the mail a magazine I had never seen before, Cuisine at home.  Published by Iowa-based August Home Publishing they also manage Workbench, Woodsmith, Shopnotes, and Garden Gate

The preview magazine has no date–it’s a promotional run most likely.  It showcases it’s Midwestern brand personality quite well.  It’s straightforward, and practical and contains step-by-step recipes with photos, cuisine techniques and a section on a mean with five ingredients or less.  Years ago the litmus test was seven ingredients.  In 10 more years it’ll be 3.  By 2020 we’ll just take a capsule and call it a meal.  There’s also no advertising in this publication.

So if you’re obsessed with food magazines and marketing what do you start to think about?  Cooks Illustrated.  This magazine looks like it’s a direct competitor–except in color. 

Similarities run from a tips spread and a product comparisons section.  Can openers grace this sneak peek issue.  The winner is the German Rosle ($30).  My favorite isn’t even in the mix–the rubber-grip OXO ($10).  The tone of the product review is a lot more diplomatic than CI.  "Happily there’s something for everyone here." 

Recipes include a Cuisine Class on Classic Roast Beef; Parmesan crusted chicken; sesame tuna and caramel chicken ("chicken breasts ‘bronzed’ with caramel"); Japanese steak rolls and garlic lime rice–the steak rolls look appealing the pairing of the garlic lime rice is to my experience, odd.   Looking at back issues it looks like there’s classic American recipes and a mix of ethnic dishes.

The magazine is so practical there’s even a three hole punch for that kitchen binder we all keep.  Okay mine’s a big heap but it is all in folders.

This publication also reminds me of Fine Cooking.  Published by Connecticut-based Taunton Press other magazines on their shelf include Fine Woodworking, Fine Gardening, and Threads.  I stopped subscribing to this magazine–frankly it was a fine magazine but it wasn’t something I looked forward too.

So while I may enjoy a recipe or two from this publication it’s not for anyone who is a super foodie.  If you are starting out and looking for something a little bit more than Everyday Food which can be a little too breezy which I like as it allows a bit of free wheeling.  This magazine may be your magazine for cooking "Cuisine at home".  (Why do they have it as a small "h"?)

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