World on a Plate

Exploring culture. One plate at a time.

Month: March, 2006

Meatrix II is Here

            M2poster2_1

It’s here. Meatrix II is loud and clear on its message. Long time readers know that nothing gets my bloomers in a bunch more than corporate dairy farms factories. Just say no to rGBH.

After viewing this animated bit think about joining Life Begins at Thirty in the second Eat Local Food Challenge.

Learn more about local food:

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Pocket Citrus

            Kumquats_avuillon

"You’ll find that one part’s sweet and one part’s tart: say where the sweetness or the sourness start."

Tony Harrison, ‘A Kumquat for John Keats, 1981

Saturday I fought the elements (hail, downpour, sideway’s rain, cold wind) working at the market. Everything’s a bit out of order as the wet winter weather is holding on longer than usual. One of the items that I was helping Will to sell were kumquats. And surprisingly, many San Franciscans had never tried one before. I found endless entertainment in daring people into trying these little berry shaped citrus fruits. Inevitably, after trying one they would end up buying a handful or two.
Native to Asia, the kumquat is said to take its name from the Chinese, chin kan, or golden orange. Although these citrus orbs are closely related to citrus species, kumquats belong to the genus Fortunella after a plant collector for the London Horticultural Society, Robert Fortune introduced them from Asia to Europe in 1846. Years later the small trees could be found presented to dinner guests in order that they could pick their dessert.

In contrast to citrus which has 8-15 sections, kumquats have only 3-6 sections; also the skin is thin, soft and edible. The fruit grows on an evergreen shrub or small tree with bright green pointed leaves and orange perfumed blossoms.  While there are four different kinds of kumquats, the one you see most often is the olive-shaped Nagami; it’s usually 1 to 2 inches long. This varitety is excellent for cooking with particularly jams as it is bitter.  The other is the egg-shaped Meiwa which is often referred to as the sweet kumquat. They have few seeds. Since they lack the tart-like quality that is ideal in cooking Meiwas are perfect for cold salads or for snacking on. It debuted in the States from Japan around 1910.

Available from December through May when buying kumquats look for a firm skin, bright color and unblemished skin. Grown in China, Southeast Asia, Japan, Europe (Corfu, Greece), and in the U.S. Southern California and Florida they are a bit of a indulgence costwise but some of you pay as much for that morning coffee.
Given its hardiness to weather conditions kumquats make for good hybirds. Mandarinquat is the marriage of mandarin orange and kumquat; it has an edible rind and a sour inside. This can be eaten as is or used as an edible garnish. And when a Mexican lime and a kumquat get together you have a limequat, often see as a a pickling or for a tasty marmalade for crumpets or grilled toast.

Aside from the simple joy you’ll discover of popping the delights into your mouth there are many ways to experiment with this fruit. Candied kumquats make an great decoration and topping for cakes or as pour a kumquat-caramel syrup over fresh vanilla bean ice cream or how about as a main course as offered by Jean Georges Vongerichten in his Spice-Rubbed Chicken with Lemongrass dressing, unexpected spicy and sweet. A homemade liqueur of infused vodka from kumquats; a riff on the tomato themed Catalan toast replaces the tomato pulp with a mash of butter and kumquats or as they do in China where the fruit is preserved in salt and then the salted kumquats along with a few teaspoons of the brine and some hot water is offered as a remedy for sore throats.

The chocolate-obsessed pastry chef Marcel Desaulniers (he’s sexy with his East Coast accent with a hint of Southern) features a Ginger Macadamia Nut Cake with a chocolate kumquat mousse filling in one of his many cookbooks. While the cake and the elegant filling are an inspired meeting the mousse can sing all on its own.

Chocolate Kumquat Mousse

from Death by Chocolate Cakes by Marcel Desaulniers

1/2 pound small fresh kumquats, washed and dried

1 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup heavy cream

4 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate, coarsely chopped and melted

Trim about 1/4 inch from each end of the kumquats. Cut each kumquat into 1/4 -inch-thick slices. (The 1/2 pound should yield about 1 1/2 cups sliced.) Pick out and discard the occasional seed from the kumquat slices. Set aside.

Heat 1/4 cup of the sugar and 1/2 cup water in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. When hot, stir to dissolve the sugar. Bring to a boil. Add the sliced kumquats and stir to incorporate. Bring to a boil again; then adjust the heat to allow the mixture to cook at a slow boil for 12 minutes until the kumquat slices are tender and sweet. Strain the kumquats and discard the cooking syrup. Transfer the kumquat slices to a baking sheet or large plate and spread evenly. Place, uncovered, in the refrigerator to cool.

Finely chop the remaining kumquats with a cook’s knife. Set aside while preparing the mousse.

Place 1 cup heavy cream and the remaining 1/4 cup sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a balloon whip. Whisk on medium-high for 2 minutes until firm, but not stiff, peaks form. Add about 3/4 cup of the whipped cream to the bowl of melted unsweetened chocolate, and use a rubber spatula to fold together until thoroughly combined. Add the combined whipped cream and chocolate to the remaining whipped cream, and use a rubber spatula until thoroughly combined. Transfer 1/4 cup of chocolate mousse to a pastry bag fitted with a medium star tip. Add the chopped kumquats to the remaining mousse, and use a spatula to fold them in together until the mixture is thoroughly combined. Refrigerate the mousse in the pastry bag. Pipe into serving dishes or champagne flutes and chill until ready to serve.

Image: A. Vuillon/Art.com

Erin Go Blah No More

Fishmenu_2

Originally posted a year ago it continues to be a popular post. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Irish ‘modern’ cuisine has come a long way from the long held stereotypes of heavy, bland and boiled dinners and other unsophisticated fare.

Climate is partly to blame for Ireland’s bad culinary rap. Aside from the pragmatic purposes that solid food offers in such a cold and damp place, the other culprit for Ireland’s lack of culinary inspiration was simply economics. Couple this with a geographic location that isn’t ideal for growing a variety of crops.  It was ideal for potatoes, as we all know.  History suggests that Sir Walter Raleigh, a native of Ireland, planted the first potato in his native land around 1580. Raleigh had carried the spud from his explorations to Peru. The conditions were perfect; the climate and soil ideal for its cultivation.

During the the1980s and 90s Ireland transitioned from an agricultural economy to a high-tech economy—skipping the industrial revolution altogether. The country, with a now-earned nickname of the Celtic Tiger, has one of the fastest growing economies in Europe. Due to this financial windfall, which has resulted in an increasingly sophisticated society the country, and in particular Dublin, has been transformed into an international city. An unknowing upside to skirting the industrial revolution was that it was necessary for everyone to rely on locally produced and home-grown foods from meat and seafood to dairy and vegetables, as there were few roads and factories to work in.

Today Ireland’s chefs are training in France and returning home with a new found respect and knowledge for food and menu preparation. The Irish Tourism Board’s has capitalized on this trend and coined the phrase ‘new Irish cuisine” defined as dishes that are lighter and more sophisticated, in other words, we’re not just talking about boiled meat and potatoes.

Modern Irish cuisine combines Irish simplicity with French training, with one of the basics of great cooking–the use of the freshest and more often than not local ingredients, which is all adds up to a culinary renaissance taking place in the Emerald Isle.

Fare includes distinctly Irish offerings such as river oysters, grass-fed lamb, cows and pigs as and fresh or smoked salmon. This fish is prized for its creamy flesh that ranges from pink to orange to deep red. A traditional Irish appetizer marries thin slices of smoked salmon atop brown bread. Unfortunately, due to over fishing and pollution, true wild Atlantic salmon is growing scarce and the  the wild salmon season is but a two month window, so farmed salmon is commonly available these days.

Despite having more cows than people, Ireland’s cheese-making tradition developed only recently. Irish farmers have been making butter for hundreds of years. In fact, Ireland produces eight times the amount of butter then they use which may be why Kerrygold butter, in its distinctive gold foil wrapper, can be found just about everywhere around the world. It does have a strong flavor but is worth trying.

In the 1980s a group of small farmhouse cheese producers began tinkering with making handmade cheese usually with milk from their own cows, goats or sheep.  Artisan cheesemakers are now all over the country with a heavier concentration in the verdant, dairy lands of the midlands, and the Atlantic coast of counties Cork and Kerry. Native cheeses include Millens, a pale, soft rind-washed cow’s cheese from South West Ireland; Gubbeen, a strongly flavored yellow cheese with a nutty aroma.  And of course, all the way from Tipperary is the award-winning Cashel Blue, made from a closed herd of Fresian cows. It is made in a similar way to Roquefort but is softer, moister and less salty than other blue cheeses. 

Today’s celebration in Ireland is a religious occasion where the Irish pay homage to St. Patrick, the country’s fifth-century patron saint. The theologian dearly loved animals and worshiped nature. Me thinks his eyes would be smilin’ today when he saw what was on for dinner.

Irish Food Finds

Bewley Irish Imports

Irish Dairy and Deli Products

Stocks Irish dairy and delicatessen products (e.g. Kerrygold cheeses and butter, some farmhouse cheeses, bacon, sausages, black and white puddings, smoked salmon), and a whole lot more!

History of Corned Beef (not what you think…)

5 or < | Chocolate Pots de Creme

          No5

I’m hopeful that Spring will appear soon.  The weather here, not to be a bore, is more than out of the ordinary.  Snow in San Francisco? It’s warmer back in Boston. The presence of Haas avocados and green spring onions  at the market yesterday are quiet hints that it’s around the corner.  Meanwhile, bowls of pho, lamb tagines and rustic pasta dishes will continue to be featured at dinner tables throughout the neighborhoods of San Francisco.

In a quest to build out the recipe repertoire for dishes with 5 ingredients or less I prepared the following for dinner at S&K’s on Sunday night.  Pot de creme is a cooked custard. It’s also the name of the special lidded container that the dessert is cooked and served in.  However you can also use an ovenproof coffee cup or ramekin. It’s very easy to prepare as it can be done days before serving making for an impressive dessert at your next dinner party. Don’t skimp on ingredients–whole milk, high-quality chocolate make a difference. Simple, easy and elegant comfort.

Chocolate Pot de Creme

Based on a recipe from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers

4 servings

3 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

3/4 cup heavy cream

3/4 cup whole milk

2 tablespoons sugar

4 egg yolks

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.  Melt the chocolate with 1/2 cup of the cream in a small pan or bowl poised over simmer water, stirring occasionally.  Remove from the heat.

Warm the remaining 1/4 cup cream, the milk, and sugar in a small saucepan, stirring just to dissolve the sugar.

In a medium bowl, whisk the yolk, then slowly stir in the warm milk mixture. Pour the mixture through a fine mesh strainer into the melted chocolate and stir to combine. 

Pour the mixture into four 4-5 ounce ramekins or custard cups and place them at least an inch apart in a baking pan.  Add hot water to come to barely 1/2 inch beneath the lip of the filled cups.  Bake until the custard is just set at the edges but sill quite soft in the center, about 45 minutes.  To check, lift a pot and tilt it, the center should bulge. The eggs will cintue to cook after you pull the custards from the oven and the chocolate will harden as it cols. If the custard is already firm when you first check it, then remove the oven and set the cups in a shallow bath of salted ice water to stop the cooking.  Cool, cover, and refrigerate.  Keeps for several days. Serve with fresh whipped cream.

Potluck Readings

Vikram’s Big Fat Indian Wedding  New York Magazine recounts the marriage of Indian playboy, hotelier (Dream and Time) and actor Vikram Chatwal to Priya Sachdev, a model and actor–a multimillion dollar, 10 days, 3 cities and 600 guests from 26 countries affair.   Guests included Deepak Chopra, Bill Clinton and Read the NY Times announcement.  I dream of attending a traditional Indian wedding.

Absolution in a Cup The real meaning of fair trade coffee. "High-end specialty coffees are the fastest growing sector of the industry, and Fair Trade is the fastest growing specialty coffee; demand for it has ballooned by around 70 percent annually for the last five years." Has the fair trade movement lost its way?

Project Runway is over.  I know. You’re surprised that I watch this show.  The attraction comes from the marriage of creativity and drama.  I’m also a huge Tim Gunn fan.  I’ve listened to the finale recap podcast twice.  It’s delicious. (This podcast is available through Itunes–search using ‘Project Runway’.)

How Oxo tools became the gold standard a downtown NYC location allowing easy access to customers and feedback, volatile meetings where "criticism is not just encouraged but venerated," and a lot of listening and watching. Recently I feel in love with the mango splitter which was devised by a minister who travels to underdeveloped countries.

Street Art  The ongoing discussion around graffiti and when it crosses over into art continues. I don’t know the answer but I’ve been a fan for years–mostly work that is illustrative vs. lettering or tags. Os Gemeos, twin brothers from São Paulo, who have shown here in SF took  Art Basel Miami Beach by storm. Their artwork is a bit Dr. Seuss mixed with a sensual and edgy attitude. So maybe it’s when a bomber sells artwork for $20,000 a piece?

Sticky Gold #3 – Organic Maple Syrup

            Pancake

Maple syrup at first glance seems to be a pretty “natural” product as many of us see it as an unprocessed food.  Contributing to this perception is that many labels often carry the word ‘pure’ inferrng no preservatives, additives or colorings. So in researching this series I began to wonder about organic maple syrup. 

We all have many reasons for seeking out organic food whether it’s for health, environmental, nutritional or to support small family farms. Understanding the value and the how behind organic maple syrup requires you to think about inputs, the steps taken in the preproduction stage of harvesting and producing this liquid sugar. Organic maple syrup falls under the "wild-crop harvesting" section of the National Organic Standards, which partly states that "a wild crop must be harvested in a manner that ensures that such harvesting or gathering will not be destructive to the environment. In an organic sugar bush, as in any organic system, additives are strictly regulated and synthetic chemicals are generally not allowed.

Organic certifiers ask producers how they control rodents, whether they spray pesticides on trees, and whether chemicals are used to keep tap holes open. The most concerning one is the use of formaldehyde.  Large producers use this chemical to keep bacteria at bay while allowing the tap hole to say open and the sap running leading to a higher grade and lighter quality syrup. Yes, it’s illegal but recent reports have found an alarming presence of it.  This may be the only reason you need to seek out the organic version.

Maple syrup is gathered by ‘tapping” or drilling small holes into maple trees adhering to best practices call for organic producers to refrain from over-tapping or overburdening trees. The hole is usually as big as a man’s thumb. One effort made by producers is to tap trees 50 years or older and only of a specific diameter or greater.  Before I get a flood of emails, as I was concerned too, these holes only last about a month and should only be tap once per season otherwise it harms the trees. According to the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association, “Proper tapping does not harm the tree, and the amount of sap taken from the tree is a mere fraction of the volume of sap in the tree on any given day. Trees must be about a foot in diameter before they can be tapped, and most trees can have one or two taps {holes} per season. Larger trees may have more. Many of the big maple trees in New England have been tapped yearly for well over 100 years.”

Another input as sap transforms into syrup over many, many hours in a boiling, foaming evaporator, organic producers, are prohibited from using certain chemicals to reduce the foaming that occurs during this stage. Vegans, take note here, many use allowable, traditional de-foaming agents instead such as butter or oil.

We all need to make our choices.  What we can’t see in the way of production and inputs is an important consideration.  Buying from a producer who is taking the time to produce a quality product while serving as a steward of the land and the environment is another evaluation point; if it says organic that’s the pure gold for me.

http://www.buffummaple.com/ (Vermont Organic)

Canadian Organic Maple Co.

Read previous posts in this serious:

The Culture Around  Maple Syrup

Maple Syrup Production Process

Best Wicked Indulgence for $4

            

            Collage_5

It’s time for the Second Annual Independent Food Awards. Five days of acknowledge of the best food in the world headed up by Hillel at Tasting Menu

Shopping as a regular routine at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market  can make the locals grow fussy. Many of us are perpetually looking to experiment with new tastes and sensations.  I know, we’re quite 2006 a spoiled bunch of folks aren’t we?  But what this usually translates into is diving deep into favorite purveyors. Della Fattoria, an artisan bakery based north of San Francisco in Sonoma county, is a good destination for such an activity.

This is an extraordinary family run operation with a client list that includes The French Laundry, and Sonoma Mission Inn, Without  hesitation their wood-fire hearth-baked artisan breads made with all organic flours– brioche, Meyer lemon rosemary, Kalamata olive, epi–are outstanding but if you can look long and quick enough (it’s a fast, furious but friendly business on Saturday mornings) you’ll find the most wicked delight, the peanut butter sandwich cookie.  It’s so simple and rich.  Two shortbread like delicate rounds with a smooth peanut butter creme holding them together.  Pair this with an iced coffee from Blue Bottle and you’ll find nirvana. Della_a_3

The name, translates from Italian for "from the farm" referring to owner Kathleen Weber’s 14-acre Petaluma ranch originally owned by her husband’s family.  Weber has come a long way from selling bread from the back of her Volvo. For those on their way to the Sonoma wine country as you head north stop in downtown Petaluma for a light bite to eat in their bakery cafe. The draw for me was their long communal farm table where locals were reading the Sunday papers.  It’s delightful respite it felt like home as I was a bit sad to leave I was so relax and well fed. Food this good is worth the drive. 

               

The Independent Food Festival and Awards are founded on a simple concept:  Food can be a wonderful part of life.  A growing legion of  people in the world think of every meal as an opportunity for a great experience.  And yet, sometimes it seems like an ever shrinking number of people actually make great food.  Taste Everything is dedicated to the idea that the More people share their great experiences, the more likely it is that people who make great food will prosper and increase in number. See more Independent Food Award winners go here. Read another SF Farmers Market favorite a 2005 winner, Best Use of a Tortilla.

Sticky Gold #2

Mapletap

Although there are about 150 species in the maple tree family throughout the world it is only in North America, specifically in the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada, that all the right elements of climate and geography come together to provide enough sap to support a syrup industry. Maple syrup is produced from sap from black and sugar maple trees. These trees are the most preferred due to their high sugar content and can be found in sugar bushes or maple-syrup producing farms. A sugar bush is a forested area that contains mostly maple trees.

Trees can be tapped after 50 years of age by boring holes in the trunks. This “opening” of the tree to gather the colorless, almost tasteless “sugar water” occurs in the late winter/early spring. Each mature tree may have as many as four taps. Each opening yields about 10 gallons of sap a year.

Buckets fill slowly, drop by drop, with a sweetish, watery liquid that is boiled down to make the flavored syrup. The tree sap is boiled in a sugar shack or cabane a sucre. During this heating process the clear sap begins in a watery form that contains about two per cent of sugar, it eventually transforms into a high concentration of sugar suspended in water.  This explains why it takes about 40 gallons of maple sap to make one gallon of pure maple syrup. It will take anywhere from 6-8 hours until the sugar content is more than 67 per cent it is officially maple syrup. 

If the sugarmaker continues the evaporation process, the result is maple honey (a thicker consistency), followed by maple butter (which is thick and spreadable), and, once almost all the water has been evaporated, maple sugar. Maple sugar is about twice as sweet as granulated white sugar. It also browns more quickly, and imparts much more flavor than white sugar.

Making maple syrup requires freezing nights and warm (but preferably not over 50 degree) days. Typically, three or four weeks in early spring, when the nights fall below freezing and the days are beginning to warm up the sap or “sweet water” flows up from the tree roots. Extended periods of either below freezing temperatures or days without freezing nights will stop the sap flow. As a result, sugarhouses often start and stop boiling at different times due to local weather factors. A sugarmaker’s life during tapping season can be unpredictable with 24 hour work days interspersed with two or three days of inactivity until the next sap run. One thing’s for sure, when the trees begin to “bud out” the harvesting of sap is over. On average the sap flows takes place for only ten to 20 days, often with up to a third of the season’s yield in a single day.

Today only weekender or boutique tappers still use tin spigots and white pine buckets. Larger operators use a gravity flow system that brings the sap from the trees to a holding tank where it goes through an osmosis unit to remove impurities and about two-thirds of the water. It’s easier and more efficient for the farmer, and has less of an impact on the trees. It allows for a shorter boiling down time, saves time and fuel costs. The next step in the flow is the evaporator, where it is reduced to a syrup, and takes on its typical rich coffee hue. Large sugarhouses can process as much as 1,700 gallons of sap an hour. The final step is a boiling in a sterile stainless steel tank.

Peter Singhofen/ PennsylvaniaMaple Syrup (photo essay)

A Sugarbush Tale 11minute documentary on of sugaring (awesome!)