World on a Plate

Exploring culture. One plate at a time.

Month: June, 2005

American Cheese Pagent



"The new American cheese signifies a shift in how we produce food and how we eat it."    Laura Werlin, author and cheese expert

As a child of the 70s and an offspring of a very activist-oriented mother I’m not one for beauty pageants.  But here’s one I know you’ll want to participate in.

The good folks over at have generously gathered cheese and dairy showings from every state in the Grand Ole US of A.  Pulling together cheeses and butters from our fifty great states for us to learn and of course, purchase.

And what a selection!  The personality of the cheesemakers’ personalities shine in many of them:  Hawaii’s Surfing Goat and their "Diabolic" (8 oz, $24.99) a disk of "aged chevre marinated in olive oil flavored with exotic ingredients like jalapeños, Thai dragon chilies, Bhudda Hand citron, Malabar peppercorns, and garlic."  Or, Florida’s Queso d’Hoja by Sanchelima Dairy a farmer’s cheese very similar to one found in Puerto Rico or Cuba, (10 oz; $5.99).  My home state of Massachusetts shows us a Berkshire Blue from (1 lb., $17.99) made by one person who does it all "hand-stirred, hand-ladled and manually turned, resulting in an exceptionally creamy, smooth blue" much like blue made by the Willet Farm Dairy in Somerset, England where they borrowed the recipe. From Alaska, is Windsong Farm producers of Great Bear Cheddar (8oz, $13.99) where they cure them in vats of beer crafted by another Alaskan producer, the Great Bear Brewing Company of Wasilla (the northernmost brew pub in America)."

The choices are tough but what I don’t understand is the California choice of a Brie en Croute.  We have many high-quality artisan cheesemakers and this is our showing?  And why does Wisconsin have 22 entries–I need to speak to the judges! Yes, yes so you are located in Wisconsin. Well, I do have to say that the Cocoa Cardona, 100% Goat milk, aged and rubbed with cocoa looks delightful. Oh really, you don’t say, Cocoa Cardona won 2003 1st Best of Class in the US cheese Contest. Well she’s certainly a flirt.

So take a look for yourself and cast your ballot for this pagent’s queen, it’s a  perfect celebration of America.


Orange Chiffon Cake- IMBB #16

Chiffon2 This month’s Is My Blog Burning, hosted by Viv at Seattle Bon Vivant, is all about the egg. I tried to use 12 but came short at 8 eggs for this cake! Read a past post on farm fresh eggs, which explores egg production.

In 1948 Betty Crocker introduced the chiffon cake to America where it was hailed as "the cake discovery of the century!" Up to this point in cake history there were either light sponge cakes or the heavier butter or shortening cake. Chiffon cakes were a wonder to all home bakers as they mysteriously combined the richness of the butter cake with the light spring of an angel food or sponge cakes resulting in a more moist cake.

A California insurance salesman, Harry Baker invented the recipe in 1927. He baked his cakes in the Los Angeles area and for Hollywood restaurants such as the Brown Derby. Although many asked for it he never divulged the secret recipe. Mr. Baker (how appropriate is the name!) decided that Betty Crocker should share the recipe with the women of America. The recipe first appeared in the May 1948 Better Homes and Garden Magazine.

The secret? Chiffon cake owes its unique texture to the use of vegetable oil instead of butter which has an effect on the oil on the foam structure of the beaten egg whites used in this cake.

Foam cakes have a high proportion of eggs to flour, contain very little, if any, fat and have a spongy, light and airy texture. The result is an elegant, light as a cloud cake. There are three categories of foam cakes those that contain fat–genoises and chiffons–the fat comes from melted butter or oil plus egg yolks. Second are cakes with no fat such as angel food cakes (Rockefeller Chocolate Angel Cake), meringues (Lemon Meringue Pie-Texas Style) and dacquoises. And lastly those where the fat is present by egg yolks only such as sponge cakes (my Limoncello Torta) and some biscuits and roulades.

As with angel food cakes, this cake should be cooled upside down to maintain its full height. You can use a tube pan with raised tabs on the side or a tube pan with a raised center column that is higher than the sides. This recipe makes a large cake, enough for 16 to 20 slices. It also freezes well, and although I haven’t tried this I imagine it would also be a good base for Baked Alaska or as a filled cake that need to be served cold. This cake keeps it’s texture in the fridge–due to the lack of butter or shortening.

A final note, during the last Sugar High Friday I had experienced an egg white collapse. In this recipe whipped stiff peaks of egg whites are a key to success I noted that cream of tartar was called for. This powder is a tartaric acid and is a fine white crystalline acid salt is a natural by-product of the wine-making industry. It is used in the whipping of egg whites to stabilize and allow them to reach maximum volume. And boy did they! Oh the joy of baking science.  I now feel confident enough to move on to a very dramatic lemon meringue pie.

Note: If you are beating eggs whites and don’t have cream of tartar, you can substitute white vinegar (in the same ratio as cream of tartar, generally 1/8 teaspoon per egg white.

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Grilling vs. BBQ-ing

"You’re a griller if you need only one napkin, if you cook boneless skinless chicken breasts and portobello mushrooms marinated in extra virgin olive oil and sea salt, and if you can have dinner on the table in 30 minutes or less."

"You’re a barbecuer if you need a stack of napkins and a moist towelette, if you cook a hurkin’ brisket rubbed with a secret formula of dried herbs and spices, and if you don’t plan to have dinner ready until the next day."

Hsiao-Ching Chou, Food Editor Seattle Post Intelligencer

Kitchen Wisdom


photo: J.Brophy, 2004, London

Willy Wonka

Charlie_4 Now that I’ve seen Batman Begins–and if you haven’t yet–don’t wait, go…the next movie I’m anxiously awaiting release of is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  I have mixed feelings on this remake but there’s the Johnny Depp-Tim Burton factor and that’s what will get me into the theater.  But really, the first one was pretty perfect.   

So I was hoping the promotion folks over at Nestle would do the smart thing and build a program around the whole hook contained in the movie.  And well, they have–I know it’s not exactly original but how many of us wanted to be one of those kids?

NESTLE WONKA is bringing the magic of the movie to life, with a real nationwide search to find five Golden Tickets! Beginning in June 2005, kids everywhere will be racing to their local candy aisles in hopes of finding a shiny Golden Ticket inside specially marked packages of WONKA® candy, like the five lucky children in Roald Dahl’s classic story, to win five movie-themed grand prizes worth $10,000 EACH!  Naturally there’s a complex prize structure and gobs of other prizes. The five unique grand prizes are one-of-a-kind experiences themed around characters from the film and tied to specific WONKA® candies– the official Wonka website can fill you in.

The Art of Palmer

Artaureo One of the most highly regarded chefs in America today, Charlie Palmer has received critical acclaim for his signature "Progressive American" cuisine, a style which reinterprets classic European cooking using American artisanal products and small farm producers.

Chef Palmer has also hired, trained and inspired a flank cooks who have gone on to be some of America’s leading chefs, including Gerry Hayden, Diane Forley of Verbena, and Michael Mina of Aqua in San Francisco.

Chef Palmer’s other business ventures include a full-service luxury hotel in Sonoma County, various food and beverage contracts with outlets such as the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles, and a partnership with Seabourn Cruise Lines where Palmer designed more than 200 featured recipes for their dining rooms. In Las Vegas, Palmer is no stranger to the restaurant business, as he has presence in two of the city’s premier hotels with Charlie Palmer Steak at the Four Seasons Hotel and Aureole at Mandalay Bay (this is the place with the glassed in wine tower).

Now he’s venturing into a market shop in a Las Vegas condominium project.  It will feature fresh meats, seafood, fruits, cheeses and other gourmet grocery items including prepared meals that residents can conveniently pick up and enjoy in the on their way home from the work at the casino.

Champers dahling, Champers

KorbelOffering recipes and serving suggestions for a multitude of flavorful champagne creations, from fun fruit drinks and cool champagne cocktails to unique holiday quaffs the new "Korbel Drink Guide" is a good addition to any libation shelf.  And best of all?  It’s free!

Naturally there are recipes that bear the producer’s name such as — Korbel South Peach, Kor bel Bellinisimo and Korbel Spell, but I know you could easily improvise.

Established in 1882 in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley, Korbel Champagne Cellars produces one of the United States’ most popular methode champenoise champagnes. Owned and managed by the Heck family since 1954, Korbel currently makes 10 champagnes and a limited amount of still wine. Korbel also produces a well-respected brandy.

If you don’t feel like putting down your glass dear, the booklet can be found in liquor stores–or like I did at a liquor store on display.  I’m sure you’ll be near one in the very near future.

To receive a copy by mail, simply send a self-addressed stamped legal-size envelope to: Korbel Drink Guide, Attention: Tina Lomax, 13250 River Road, Guerneville, CA 95446.

Table Talk

The whole Wal-Mart issue keeps presenting itself in my life.  In the latest issue of Gourmet there’s an article on organics and Wal-Mart that made my head spin and my heart race. Over the weekend their was a family email thread that discussed the politics of the owners of Curves and Wal-Mart.  The Boston Globe has a huge article in the Sunday edition. The dialogue was spirited and would not surprise anyone raised in the Kennedy tradition.

By 2007 Wal-Mart is expected to control 35 per cent of food and drug sales in the U.S..  If for some strange reason this doesn’t freak you right the hell out you may not be breathing.  As a result of this relationship, the major corporate food companies are streamlining their product lines based on what sells and doesn’t sell at the shelves at WalMart. Sure you  might say that’s great we only get what we like. No we only actually get what the majority likes. How many of us like some small region food or microbrew.  What about a prescription or OTC drug that works for you but not for the other 80% of the Wal-Mart customer base. 

Homogenization is not my cup o’ tea. I appreciate Mom & Pops, regional products and local products.  It’s a tightrope act to act responsibly while keeping an eye on the checkbook.  As my brother articulated we vote with our wallets. And this can have a positive or negative impact.  We need to think about the long-term implications of our consumer behavior.  What we do today has a direct impact on tomorrow.

Politics aside here, there’s two blogs that I’ve been reading for the past few weeks that are focused on Independent America.  Two journalists, who are married to each other, set out from B.C. to travel America’s backroads–no interstates allowed–and produce a documentary on the issue.  The site is well-written given that the author has good cred having worked for NBC and CBC News for the last ten years.

Viva Epicurea is written by his partner in the effort and life.  The focus of her blog is local food in and around Thompson Okanagan.  Another one of their road rules is to eat at Mom & Pop or independent establishments.  There’s a post up now on a BBQ rib joint they ate at.   

SHF #9 – Tart Tarts

Shf_lemontartBaking is a great stress reliever for me.  Lately I haven’t been doing a lot of it because I’m making every effort to be more considered about my eating. Let’s just say it involves points but I’m trying not to be manic about it all. With me if there’s sugar around it’s not around for too long. Last night after spending 2 1/2 hours in a rainy commute I decided it was time for some immediate kitchen therapy. 

I’ve been reading a lot of Caribbean and Nuevo Latino cookbooks lately so the idea of a lime or lemon tart sound luscious and tropical. The idea was to make a coconut macaroon tartlet with a lemon filling.  And never one to stop at one idea I thought that a lime tart would also be good.  Well, suffice it to say that in a short time the kitchen looked like a tropical storm passed through it. 

The lime filing recipe that I was loosely basing my idea on called for egg whites whipped to soft peaks. I couldn’t find one of the beaters so I thought, oh why not one. After 30 minutes of spattered egg whites I had to admit defeat and begin again.  Very defeating–it’s never happened to me before. I’m here to tell you one will not do it.  So after the egg and ego collapse I picked myself up and shortly I had one successful (lemon) and the other (lime) overdone but holding great future promise. 

As you can see in this picture I accidentally cooked a tart at 425 degrees. Yikes, Limetart_1 mama, that’s not a gentle temperature for an egg-white based filling!  It killed any height but the flavor was still very present. 

The lemon filling provided nice but overly tart taste and was a good contrast with the coconut.

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Sustainable Food

Sustainabilecityrank_2 Without sounding like a cliche I love my city.  I’ve lived in and loved other cities, also. However, San Francisco reflects who I am and what I value today.  While there are certainly things that irk me and sometimes think I live in a large theme adult theme park. But I dig where I live–great ethnic diversity, a green city and a socially progressive agenda.  It’s a smart, savvy city.

Recently, the Bay Area green group SustainLane, ranked 25 U.S. cities based on sustainability practices.  San Francisco, Portland, Berkeley and Seattle took the top four spots (in that listed order). Each burg was examined and evaluated on 12 criteria, including air quality, transportation, green building, and land use. 

While the entire report is fascinating (if you are into the big overall picture of sustainability) I was naturally drawn to the food-related aspects of the report: 

"Another exciting trend is the national explosion of farmers markets, which according to the US Dept. of Agriculture grew at a clip of 106% from 1994 through 2004. Farmers markets generate $888 million in yearly revenue across the United States (USDA 2005 estimate), and work to bring the consumer in direct contact with those that grow their food. This trend quickens the movement to understanding the complex connections between our daily lifestyles and consumptive habits (the food we prepare and eat every day). As communities become more knowledgeable about sustainability issues, daily individual practices change, and this citizen engagement in turn helps cities move closer to becoming cleaner and more productive environments."

And then in the San Francisco recap: 

San Francisco’s Ferry Building Marketplace has become a major attraction for tourists and locals. At the Marketplace’s Ferry Plaza, about 100 local and regional food producers operate year round. It’s one of the nation’s most influential urban food markets, showcasing a $100 million dollar privately financed urban redevelopment project on the Bay waterfront (the city ranks a #11 in overall local food). Community gardens do flourish in San Francisco, and it ranks #5 in this per capita measure.

So, what does this all mean?  Frankly, I was surprised that overall SF is only #11 in overall local food.  Heck, my home town of Boston did better and they have a brutal winter.  Berkeley ranks #3. And #1 came as a big surprise to me–Pittsburg.  There are seven farmers’ markets, or about 2 for every 100,000 people, and all of them accept food stamps. An incredible 188 community gardens means that there is one for every 3,097 people.

The report also shows intent and possibility. Imagine the impact of collective power if we all asked where our food came from, how that meal in the restaurant was sourced.  While eating organic is good for health reasons, you can do one better by eating local organics.  It’s better for the local economy, better for the environment and it tastes better.

Asking and seeking out local and organic is important put preserving our environment is actually the answer to "why."  Yeah, it’s hard–I like imported artisan chocolate hazelnut spread from Italy and French butter, too.  It’s not a wholesale change–it’s a consideration to decrease your overall footprint on the bigger problem.  Small steps, taken by many, will not go unanswered.

By the way, I’ve also got to taste that Mt. Hood water–as it’s ranked as tops in tap water.

SustainLane Full Report