World on a Plate

Exploring culture. One plate at a time.

Month: February, 2005


Pinotnoir With today being the Oscars I’m weighing in on the wine-themed film "Sideways".  Last weekend I finally had a chance to see it.  Now I really really wanted to love this movie.  And it was high time that I went since friends have been asking, "Did you see it? Did you think it was true?" 

Let me first say that I am the first to admit that I am cynical, jaded and not without an opinion on films and pop culture in general.  Marketing, a profession I enjoy, pays the bills. So that being said–enough already with Sideways.  It’s a fine little film but it’s certainly not all that everyone seems to think it is.  It’s over rated.

For those who haven’t had a chance and are feeling left out here is a brief rundown, Miles, riddled with angst over his unpublished writings and bad luck with women embarks on a bachelor week long wine and carousing binge with his best friend from college to the Santa Barbara wine country.  There are briefly funny moments at tastings.  But in between there is over consumption at dinners, stumbling drunk from bars, swillings straight from the bottle and not to forget drinking from the spit bucket.  Critics loved the movie. The public gets in line to see it, tourism increases in Santa Barbara and pinot sales rise significantly.

So my question is this, is Miles truly an oenophile or an alcoholic? All movies ask you, the viewer, to suspend belief.  However, if the film doesn’t allow for me to make a connection to the main character, or for that matter any of the characters in the film it’s going to be a chore to get me through to the end. And these characters were so loathsome.  (Read one woman’s opinion here. {Washington Post})

A.O. Scott, the New York Times film critic, offers the following insights into the characters and their dynamics in the January 2, 2005 edition of NY Times Arts & Leisure:

"The contrast between him {Miles} and his friend Jack is partly the difference between an uptight, insecure epicurean and a swinging, self-deluding hedonist, but it is more crucially the difference between a sensibility that subjects every experience to judgment and analysis and a personality happy to accept whatever the moment offers. When they taste wine, Jack is apt to say "tastes good to me," and leave it at that, whereas Miles tends not only to be more exacting in his judgment ("quaffable but not transcendent," which is about how I feel about "Sideways"), but also more prone to narrate, to interpret – to find a language for the most subtle and ephemeral sensations of his palate."

It’s mind boggling how many column inches and minutes of air time this film has wrought.  According to a recent Wine Enthusiast magazine, " Official sales figures are not due for some time, but retailers from California, new York, Ohio and elsewhere are reporting a 15 percent increase in sales of Pinot Noir in the wake of the movie.  Pinot Noir sales have been growing in this country at a rate of about 2 percent for the past several years, so this is quite a dramatic jump.  The rise has been helped, no doubt, by the introduction of $10 to $15 Pinots from California and Oregon."

Reuters has reported that while Pinot Noir sales are soaring Merlot is tanking.  Personally I prefer the French version of Merlot–Pomerol Merlot is always a crowd-pleaser. It’s soft, juicy and pleasant—and many vineyards make design it to be very drinkable for the wine-drinking consumer.

The popularity of this film and the resulting spike in wine sales says more to me about the wine-drinking public than about film making today.  Is everyone really that unsure of themselves when it comes to understanding wine?  Do we need a movie about wine to reveal the mystery of pinot noir?  Here’s a few tips, if you like wine and you want to grow that interest. Drink wine. Take notes. Drink more wine. 

In the A.O. Scott article he provides one theory into why critics enjoyed the film so much,

"In "Sideways," a good many critics see themselves, and it is only natural that we should love what we see. Not that critics are the only ones, by any means, but the affection that we have lavished on this film has the effect of emphasizing the narrowness of its vision, and perhaps our own. It both satirizes and affirms a cherished male fantasy: that however antisocial, self-absorbed and downright unattractive a man may be, he can always be rescued by the love of a good woman. "

All this tells me is that people like to be sold to whether it be wine or film.  So my prediction?  Million Dollar Baby will win for Best Picture.

Sideways Wine List  (via Chowhound)

Silly Tasting Notes Generator

Touring Santa Barbara’s ‘Sideways’ Universe (USA Today)

Another Side of ‘Sideways’ (NPR)

Best Supporting Grape (Eric Asimov, NY Times)

Friday Fry #21

Bluecd_1World on a Plate, champion of New England from here in the Northern California, has uncovered a new food novelty product, the Cool Dog Sundae an ice cream hot dog cradled in a sponge cake bun. According to the New York Times, who’s obviously as excited as I am about the product, the creator, Peter Franklin, spent years perfecting molding technology to get an authentic looking hot–complete with pleats at the end. The next innovation are the toppings–ketchup (raspberry) and mustard (mango).  Competition comes from the more established, Good Humour Choco Tacos. Distribution is limited to amusement parks, BJs Wholesale ($7.99 for 8) and of course, Fenway Park, home of the 2004 World Series Boston Red Sox.

Chiquita, the world’s largest banana producer, is purchasing pre-packaged salad producer Fresh Express.  This diversifies Chiquita’s product mix and provides a leadership position in the pre-packaged salad market.  Bananas made up 85 per cent of their annual sales. According to the news article, "Fresh Express pioneered ready-to-dress salad greens in 1989 and now dominates 40 percent of the $2.7 billion market." Fresh Express also supplies McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut with salads an d more recently with fruit. No doubt the benefit of a higher profit margin had a hand in the decision.

Happy Birthday! Epicurious is 10.  Born as a recipe database of 500 to CondeNet, a division of publishing giant Conde Nast it’s evolved into a 20,000 collection from Gourmet and Bon Appetit.  New user enhancements are expected in the coming year such as a recipe contest, "a series of 10 contests will kick off in March, inviting users to show off their creativity in the kitchen. Each contest will be based on a culinary theme." Another planned feature is  Epi to Go, "enables users to download recipes onto their mobile phones or PDAs."

New York City cheese lovers looking to expand your horizons can now take classes at The Cheese Course.  The school owned by Murray’s Cheese Shop covers subjects such as pairing beer and cheese, intro to Spanish cheese, and also the more serious matter of , ‘Can Pastuerized Taste as Good as Raw?’. Full details and schedule of classed can be found at their website.

Image credit:  Cool Dogs website

Food Fit for a Queen

Uor4_2Over the weekend I went to the annual Fancy Food Gourmet Sale, sassily called ‘Food Fit for a Queen’ sponsored by Under One Roof. The non-profit organization, based in San Francisco is focused on raising money for over 37 AIDS service organizations such as PAWS, Visual Aid and Project Inform.  Every year donated gourmet food products are donated to the organization by participants of the Fancy Food Show–over 30 pallets of food.

The event was held in an empty and small storefront in the Castro. The volunteers keep on stocking everyday.  There is excitement in the air.  One man was shopping for his wife via his cell phone–"do you need 2 liters of raspberry syrup?"  Another woman was back for day two/round two.  "Did you get to the jams yet? No? Could I help out by stocking them?" There’s cookies, oils, spices, chocolate, syrups, jams, sauces, crackers, soups and beverages. I definitely got carried away by the selection and made the mistake of not enforcing a budget on myself.  Of course knowing that all proceeds went back to the service organizations lessened the anxiety.

I’ve had a chance to taste test a few of the products.  I picked up two new dessert sauces from Charlie Trotter’s line, Bartlett pear and caramel, the other a bittersweet chocolate-Kona coffee ($2.50 each).  I served the pear sauce over a Cuban coconut almond pound cake for Sunday dinner’s dessert.  Dee-lightful.   

However the best food treasure that I found was a hand-made yellow porcelain bottle of Spanish olive oil produced by the Nuñez de Prado family ($8.00). Since the late 1700s this nectar has been Spain’s finest olive oil.  According to their distributor, it is hand-crafted in a unique process, whereby the oil is extracted from the crush before the first cold pressing to preserve the "flor del aceite" (flower of the oil). This effort results in extraordinarily low oleic acidity. The unfiltered oil carries notes of green apple, almonds, and burnt orange.  So besides the great price and beautiful bottle why was I excited?  It retails for $45.

Mark your calendars for next year’s sale. 

continue on for the CUBAN COCONUT POUND CAKE recipe

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Best Use of a Tortilla

Ifflogomed By now the whole world seems to know that the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market  is the showplace of foods to visit. What many marketgoers and non-locals don’t know is that one of the best single breakfasts to be had in the City is at Cocina Primavera.

Owned by Karen Taylor, the canopied stand with the big yellow umbrella in front is your signal to yield for good traditional Mexican flavors. And the foundation of many of these breakfasts entrees–pork punuchos, juevos rancheros, shrimp toastados de ceviche, chilaquiles–are thick, homemade, and organic corn tortillas. These tortillas are the essence of freshness, tradition and downright great eats. 

A line begins to build around 10:15 and the wait is worthwhile.  The tortillas are not pre-made. There’s someone working with a bin of fresh masa, pinching out small balls of dough and patting out the tortillas and then cooking on the electric griddle. So yes while it would certainly save time for all to have a make-ahead reserve the owner has decided that flavor and quality is first. 

Last week I had an order of pork punuchos ($8). The breakfast was made up of two lightly fried tortillas stuffed with chorizo, beans and a sliced hard-boiled egg, all topped with a citrus spiced marinated pork, onions and chopped avocado. I also grabbed a freshly made jamaica (hibiscus flower) agua fresca.  The portions are generous, the flavors bright, and overall it’s a meal that would make your grandmother smile.

The Sonoma-based Primavera offers tamales on the menu that are equally remarkable in quality ranging in selection from chicken mole poblano, Oaxacan chicken red mole and roasted pumpkin with white chedar.

You can take home some tortillas, as they are also sold pre-packaged for about $4.00 with about a dozen per package for the small taco-sized ones.  There’s assorted flavored ones, such as cotija cheese and green chile, too.

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Taste Everything is dedicated to the idea that the more people share their great experiences, the more likely it is that the people who make great food will prosper and increase in number.  Taste Everything is food experiences shared.

Prima3Prima2 Prima4 

Friday Fry #20

Fivespice In 1968 the Department of Agriculture put into place a ban on the importing of Sichuan peppercorns.  The law was not actively enforced until three years ago when canker, possibly carried by the spice, began to devastate citrus crops in Florida. Due to a new heat-treatment process the ban may be lifted. The peppercorn is not a true peppercorn but rather a member of the citrus family and carries a "lovely woody-citrus-peel flavor."  According to a recent news report, "The deep, dark reddish-black dried pepper berries come from a woody ash shrub that grows in the mountainous regions of northwestern Sichuan. The peppercorns are one of the components of the classic Chinese five-spice blend, the peppercorns are so revered that they were once offered in tribute to the emperors of China, according to Sichuan cuisine authority Fuchsia Dunlop."

What happens when  you mix the 1970s energy crisis with the women’s movement?  According to Slate, the Crock-Pot whose motto"cooks all day while the cook’s away " created a small cooking revolution which quickly waned. Today, Rival, who owns 85% of the market, has experienced a 20 per cent increase in sales.  Could be because of economic times, a desire to eat healthier meals and the simplicity of preparation.   The article reviews and rates eight slow cookers.

Pduck In a urgent effort to control avian flu Vietnam has banned duck and goose farming.  The disease has killed 45 people this winter.  Many in Southeast Asia passed over making traditional New Year’s fowl-featuring dishes for the second year in a row as a precaution.  Duck plays a pretty key food role as it is cheaper than chicken and other meats and also produces income for farmers who raise the ducks for meat and eggs.  Vit Kho Gung (Braised Duck with Ginger) recipe. 

Eric Ripert of New York’s Le Bernardin puts a four-star meal together for eight in a small NYC kitchen.  True he’s Eric Ripert but it goes along way toward planning.  Tips include having the food delivered a few hours before prep; editing your pots and pans and having good knifes. Chef Ripert also likes a constitutional of Patron tequila–it "makes me happy."  Recipe for Shrimp with Coconut Milk, Tomato, Avocado.

And finally to follow up on Sugar High Fridays "Puff Pastry" there’s an article in this week’s Food section of the Los Angeles Times (registration may be required) that explores quiche technique via Thomas Keller and his recent cookbook Bouchon. 

Photo Credits: (a nifty site if you live in the UK)

Eat Cake

Eatcake "Cakes have gotten a bad rap.  People equate virtue with turning down dessert. There is always one person at the table who holds up her hand when I serve the cake. No, really, I couldn’t she says, and then gives her flat stomach a conspiratorial little pat. Everyone who is pressing a fork into that first tender layer looks at the person who declined the plate, and they all think, That person is better than I am.  That person has discipline. But that isn’t a person with discipline, that is a person who has completely lost touch with joy. A slice of cake never made anyone fat. You don’t eat the whole cake. You don’t eat a cake every day of your life. You take the cake when it is offered because the cake is delicious. You have a slice of cake and what it reminds you of is someplace that’s safe, uncomplicated, without stress. A cake is a party, a birthday, a wedding. A cake is what’s served on the happiest days of your life."

-excerpted from "Eat Cake" by Jeanne Ray


After completing the chocolate series this week I had a few odds and ends remaining that I thought merited sharing.  Although a bit late for Valentine’s Day these gifts are suitable for any time of the year:

Chocolate Smarts Game – a box of 60 question and answer cards such as ‘Which cocoa beans are the best?’; ‘What’s the best way to melt chocolate?’ and What country consumes the most chocolate?’  Guaranteed to raise your chocolate IQ.  ($16.95)

ChocoWit – each individually wrapped Belgian chocolate contains a special message. There are over a 100 different messages to collect.  (12 pieces; $19.50)

Woodhouse Chocolate – is the latest indulgence from Napa of small-batch handmade chocolates. The box reminds me of a bit of the Laduree Bonaparte macaroon box. The couple behind the nearly two year old chocolatier was inspired by the film, ‘Chocolat’ starring Juliette Binochet. A One pound-box of mixed chocolates will be sure to delight at $48.



Credit:  Paris Pastry Shop Window, 2002 by J. Brophy


I’m playing along here.  I was tagged by Jen over at Life Begins @ Thirty.  This is a learning experience for me as I know a meme as something else, but that’s a different story.

What is the total number of music files on your computer? 

All on an external hard drive, don’t be silly.  Why is this limited to music?!  I have more music on my IPOD than I know how to manage and access.  In fact right now I’m in Playlist hell.  I think it’s because I listen to music based on my mood and at times the groove I want to be in.  So that being in addition to music I also have NPR programs (Studio 360, This American Life, The Splendid Table) and several Audiobooks in progress:  CandyFreak; The Master and The Julia Child biography (the woman narrating it sounds oddly like a sister to Julia).

What is the last CD you bought?

Howto Yes. Yes. I have not moved on beyond U2’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.  I could write pages on this collection.  This band has been with me since high school (yes I’m THAT old).  I was patient during some of their artistic wanderings and they have returned more sophisticated and mature but still intact. 

What is the last song you last listened to before reading this message?

Afro Celt Sound System, Seed / The Nervous Track (Yellow Mix), Nuyorican Soul

Write down 5 songs you often listen to or that mean a lot to you.

I think I’ll have to go with the ‘listen often to’ as my IPOD doesn’t lie.

Cubafro Con Amigos, Ballistic Brothers, Hotel Costes Vol. 1

Prelude, Cello Suite No.1, Yo-Yo Ma 

The cello is one of the sexiest, intelligent and moving instruments in this man’s hands.

Ball of Confusion, Neville Brothers

American Dream, Charlie Haden & Michael Brecker

Vertigo/Miracle Drug/One Step Closer/City of Blinding Light, U2

I didn’t realize that these four particular songs from Dismantle were played more than the others. Not surprised just enlightened.

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?

Santos @ Scent of Green Bananas – as I’m very curious about Guam now.

Keiko @ Nordjus – as this is a newly (to me) discovered food blog out of the UK with great food photography and everyone should know about it.

Carolyn @ 18c Cuisine– I want to peer inside this woman’s window and see what makes her go.  Recently she wrote of sewing a lappets cap in 30 minutes.

SHF#5-Puff Pastry

Shf5_feb As usual my confusion lead me to get so focused on the task at hand that I didn’t start out making chocolate croissants. Although those were wonderfully simple and tasty all by themselves. 

First the confusion was interwoven with trying to solve a time problem.  During college, in an attempt to woo a man I made my own scratch puff pastry which were then fashioned into chocolate croissants.  The croissants were flaky.  The man turned out to be a ‘puffster’.  Fast forward today and I didn’t have the inclination nor two days to make my own croissants so I started looking for shortcuts. 

Along the way baking.911 provided me with a basic understanding of the 7 main types of pastry.  Last summer during the Olympics I had an obsession with conquering phyllo–so what was the difference between phyllo and puff pastry? Turns out the main distinction is that puff pastry is rolled in butter thus the flakiest base or wrap going.  After baking phyllo looks like puff pastry but is only flour and water which to me is even more of a culinary baking wonder.

Puffpeper One of the shortcuts I found in the refrigerated section of the supermarket, Pepperidge Farm puff pastry.  I know. I know.  It’s not made with butter but with (gasp) vegetable oil.  But my word this is delightfully easy and tasty.  I thought, "oh I have some eggs, cheese and great bacon from Fatted Calf and yes even some heavy cream I wonder how a puff pastry crust would turn out as a base for a quiche."   

Quiche Lorraine, so named for the region next door to the Alsace in northeastern France is traditionally served on May Day along with a roasted pig.  Invented in the 16th century in the the then-capital of Lorraine, Nancy.  The name derives from the German Kuchen or cake.

Funny I thought it was named after my Mom, who is named Lorraine.  This was her quiche recipe that I was following.  A whole region is baking my mom’s quiche.  I’ve taken liberties with the recipe using heavy cream instead of milk and of course puff pastry for the crust and the use of a Basque spice.  I think Mom would approve.

Quiche is a great dish to have in your kitchen apron pocket.  It’s simple elegance.  Brunch guests will be impressed.  Soon you’ll be doing variations of your own with whatever’s at the market or in your fridge–mushrooms, green chilis, olives, shrimp, spinach.  And yes, real men do eat quiche.  My Dad never turns away from Mom’s quiche although it has to be at breakfast.

So after making the quiche I realized I didn’t use sugar for this event.  I decided to wing croissants chopping up chocolate into rough pieces, plopping the bits at one end of a long 4" rectangle of puff pastry and rolling and twisting.  Voila mini-croissants.  I was on a roll I then made a half dozen chocolate with orange zest turnovers.  I began to imagine making savory and sweet turnovers. A new found shortcut to good tasting food–now that’s baking magic.

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