World on a Plate

Exploring culture. One plate at a time.

Category: Regional – West

On the Road: Chicago

               Lobby_renaissancechicago

No not another tribute to the "man", Jack Kerouac whose 50th anniversary of On the Road has been sufficiently covered elsewhere.  I’m in the middle of a two week run of business travel, Seattle, Chicago and Greensboro, North Carolina. (Fret not there’s BBQ to be had!). I also have a bit of down time planned with the Carters in Denver at the end of all of this shuttling around; we’ll be dining well, that’s a guarantee–even if it is the Denver/Boulder area.

As many of you know by day I am a marketing professional.  I’ve worked in many industries.  For the past couple of years my time has been spent within the travel industry.  Believe me when I say that this line of work is not one big consideration of which vacation to take next.  However the product is a lot more interesting than semi-conductor chips or anti-virus software where I’ve previously put my attentions. The business of travel is a curiosity for me: big ships, big tours, and big  or small wanderings. 

This is all a way of saying that I just returned from Chicago.  The city was the location for our annual national marketing conference.  This is the time when we sit with many of our partners and talk marketing and sales.  After numbers and plans we also talked about the next travel destinations that we’ll be held sway over: Italy and Spain (even if you’ve been there many times!). We also talk about trends such as volunteering vacations or staying on a working farm.  And we also consider the new edge of travel, Dubai and the fascination many, including myself, are having with South America.

So before you think ‘gee whiz doesn’t sound too bad’, understand that this business is as competitive as the next.  Isn’t it all, eh? The longest day began with a 7am breakfast meeting in the Renaissance Hotel’s Great Street restaurant and ended over stone crab at 10pm.  The night before was a long one with the time zone shift and well, the effects of more than a few glasses of wine at a reception and dinner were very present. So it felt right to indulge with a proper breakfast for the long day ahead.  The pancakes offered were from the hotel’s sister, The San Francisco Renaissance Stanford Court.  I’ve re-created my interpretation of the breakfast as it would make a great brunch menu item.

And if your curious about who the breakfast was with and what the banter was and you are a Harry Potter fan mark your calendars to be in Florida in late 2009!  This opening promises to be full of all kinds of wizardry.

Lemon Souffle Pancakes with Raspberry Syrup

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons lemon zest (or more for those "tart" lovers)

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 egg yolk

1/4 cup butter, melted

3/4 cup milk

3 egg whites

Raspberry Sauce (recipe below)

Pine Nuts (optional)

Butter (optional)

Fresh raspberries (optional)

In a medium mixing bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, lemon zest, and salt. Make a well in the center of flour mixture; set aside. In a small mixing bowl, beat egg yolk slightly. Stir in melted butter and milk. Add egg yolk mixture to dry ingredients. Stir just until moistened (batter should be lumpy). In another medium mixing bowl, beat egg whites with an electric mixer at medium speed until stiff peaks form (peaks stand straight). Gently fold egg whites into flour mixture, leaving a few fluffs of egg white. Do not over mix.

For pancakes, pour 1/4 cup batter onto hot, lightly greased griddle or heavy skillet. Cook over medium heat 2 minutes per side or until pancakes are golden brown. Turn to second side when pancakes have bubbly surfaces and edges are slightly dry. Repeat with remaining batter. Serve with raspberry syrup, pine nuts, butter, and fresh raspberries, if desired.

Raspberry syrup:

2 cups frozen or fresh red raspberries

1 cup maple syrup

If using frozen berries, thaw but do not drain. Place the berries in a blender container or food processor bowl. Cover and blend or process until berries are smooth. Press berries through a fine mesh sieve into a small saucepan. Discard seeds in sieve. Cook and stir juice over medium heat until just heated through. Stir in maple syrup; set aside.

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Bouchon Photos

                                          Collage

                                          A.’s Birthday Lunch at Bouchon, Yountville, CA

More of a, hmmm, Picassa can do that to…I’ve said it before Picassa’s great.  A birthday lunch of a half dozen oysters, a Dungeness crab and Maine lobster cake topped with mache in a lemon vinagrette, moules au safran et a la moutarde avec pomme frites, sauteed spinach with garlic, followed by mousse au chocolate noir at Bouchon was indulgent, divine and special.  All for A.s special day.

Clint, Make my BLT

                                        Hierloom

Gary Ibsen is a long-time advocate of certified organic, sustainable farming and the practice of seed saving. He has grown heirloom tomatoes for more than 30 years and is currently growing more than 500 heirloom tomato varieties from seeds he has personally harvested. Heirloom seeds are originally sourced from family farms around the world and typically over many generations.

Now Ibsen has announced a new variety called ‘Clint Eastwood’s Rowdy Red’ all in honor of Carmel’s most famous resident. This new heirloom tomato possesses a deep-red color, with a beefsteak fruit that has the kind of robust, tomatoey flavor that many prefer. He chose to name it ‘Clint Eastwood’s Rowdy Red,’ after the actor’s character named Rowdy Yates in the Rawhide television series."   

For the past 14 years Ibsen has celebrated the love apple with his Carmel TomatoFest. The festival offers a tomato “tasting” of 350 varieties, including the recently released “Julia Child”, an extravagant country BBQ and a sampling of exemplary gourmet tomato entrees created by top chefs from 60 of America’s finest restaurants. The festival also includes a tasting of more than 100 Monterey County and California premium wines, a savory salsa showcase featuring 90 of the nation’s best tomato salsas, and an international olive oil tasting featuring extra-virgin oils from eight countries and California. Attendees can also purchase hard-to-find heirloom tomato seeds. 

Monterey is 115-miles from San Francisco. Reservations are required in advance by ticket purchase. General admission tickets are $85. Special VIP/Hosted Entrance tickets are $150, and a Deluxe Package ticket including a dinner-dance on September 10 at Carmel Valley Ranch Resort is $220. Tickets may be purchased through the Website at www.tomatofest.com or by calling 1-800-965-4827. Net proceeds are donated to local youth charities. The event is a sellout every year, so interested persons are encouraged to buy their tickets early.

Image: Poster by Gary Ibsen

Stage 13 – SHF in Provence

Brulee Stage 13: Miramas to Montpellier; 173.5km/108mi

There’s mountains ahead and mountains behind but today it was flat. Starting out in Provence the race winds into the Languedoc Roussillon region with strong Catalan and Roman influences. The Pyrénées are ahead.  My only sorry today comes in seeing my young Spainard drop. Sigh. Valverde.  So many cyclists; so little time.  Girls if you aren’t watching by now you may want to check your pulse. 

The timing of this month’s SHF, hosted by Nic at Baking Sheet conincides with my Tour de French Food. My challenge was two-fold as not only did I need to use honey but the entry needed to also be centered on Provence due to the TdF. One of my favorite wine country eating spots is the girl and the fig.  This place is not only relaxing but the food is exceptional.  Sondra Bernstein has got to be one of the hardest working chef and cookbook authors out there.  Her food is very reminiscent of the Provence region as it mirrors the flavors of the Mediterranean or as they say, "country food with a French passion." 

Yesterday the riders ended up in Digne-Les Baines a center for lavender cultivation. I have a certain degree of confidence that the riders no doubt rolled by fields of lavender. So my entry works on manyy levels including a delightful dessert.

First, I know that cooking with lavender makes some wrinkle their nose.  ‘It’s like eating perfume.’ Mon dieu! C’est deliciuex! If used correctly it should lend a mysterious, almost citrusy flavor note. Please, only use lavender labeled as culinary lavender, which means it has been grown without chemical sprays and has no additives–think organic here!

The French seasoning blend herbes de Provence traditionally includes lavender, along with basil, fennel, marjoram, rosemary, sage, summer savory and thyme. The blend is great on poultry, fish or vegetables. Greek rubs for lamb often use combinations of lavender and oregano. Crème brulee translates as "burnt cream" in France.  It’s a custard, just like creme caramel or flan. Much like ice cream it has a custard base, but unlike ice cream, creme brulee falls into the "baked custard" category.  Although records suggest a 400 hundred year history throughout England, Spain and France, Americans are newcomers. We have Julia Child to thank for the introduction. Half the fun of eating this custard is in shattering the carmelized surface. Learning to prepare this dessert that presents itself as complex elegance is worthwhile as it is very simple to prepare at home.

Girlandthefigcookbook

Lavender and Wildflower Honey Creme Brulee

excerpted from the girl & the fig cookbook by Sondra Bernstein

2 1/4 cups heavy cream

3/4 cup milk

3 or 4 lavender springs or 1 1/2 tablespoons dried lavender plus lavender blossoms for garnish

8 egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar plus about 4 tablespoons sugar for sprinkling

2 tablespoons wildflower honey

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Place the cream and milk in a saucepan and add the lavender. Bring to a boil and turn off the heat. Let the lavender stems steep for about 15 minutes or until the milk has a lavender flavor. Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks, the 1/2 cup sugar, and the honey until smooth. Whisk into the lavender-cream mixture. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve and skim off any foam. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Pour the mixture into 6 ramekins. Set the ramekins in a baking pan and add enough hot water to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the baking pan with foil and place in the oven. Bake for 40 minutes or until set. (test for doneness by jiggling the ramekins.)

Remove the baking pan from the oven and allow the ramekins to cool in the water bath for 5 minutes. Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight. Before serving, sprinkle the tops with a thick layer of sugar and caramelize with a small torch or under a broiler set on high. Garnish each creme brulee with lavender blossoms.

COOK’S TIP:  Place the water bath in the oven first then place the ramekins in to the water bath.  This will help prevent water from sloshing into the ramekins potentially causing sogginess.

American Food Fights

Cookoff_1 Every year, thousands of amateur cooks enter their masterpieces in hundreds of cooking competitions across America. In food journalist Amy Sutherland’s 2004-IACP nominated Cookoff: Recipe Fever in America, this sub-culture is avidly explored to the point where the author gets the competition bug herself.

In the world of competitive cooking there are hundreds of contests. There are cook-offs for everything from chili, barbecue, and cornbread to mustard, oysters, and mandarin oranges. According to Sutherland, “the triple crown” is the National Chicken Cooking Contest, The National Beef Cook Off and the grandma of them all, The Pillsbury Bake-off.

Cookoffs typically have commercial sponsors that require contestants to use one or more of their products. In other words they are marketing outreach effort. However, more than anything these contests reveal who we are, how we cook and how far we’ll take our hobbies. If you read enough of the recipe submissions some similarities start to appear—recipes are simple using everyday ingredients, are convenient and have a definite orientation toward the home cook.

Last year Sutherland was asked in a Salon interview what makes these contests so particularly American.  She replied, "We think of competition as a good thing and also a very democratic way to test yourself, to prove yourself by your own wit."  She later added, "It also encourages our faith in the ordinary man or in this case, the ordinary cook.  They affirm our general faith that an everyday person can be just as creative as an expert."

The National Chicken Contest was first held in 1949 and is sponsored by the National Chicken Council and the U.S. Poultry and & Egg Association. according to the official website, the objective of the competition is in “uncovering new trends in chicken cookery and encouraging the development of new recipes for chicken.”

Held ever other year the rules for the competition require the use of chicken in any form—whole, part, ground; the recipe must be original and take no longer than 1 ½ hours to prepare.

The most recent chicken champ in 2003, Kristine Snyder, of Hawaii won $25,000 for her Pacific Rim Chicken Burgers with ginger mayonnaise. The Maui resident and wedding harpist by day was also a finalist at the 2000 Pillsbury competition, and was the winner in the 2003 One-Dish category at the National Beef Cook Off.

Chicken is an incredibly adaptable and easy dinner. It can get dull quick. The competition submissions are varied and include, Moroccan Chicken and Squash Tagine, Maple-Encrusted Chicken with Creamy Nectarine-Brandy Sauce, Chicken Tikka Strips with Ginger Plum Sauce and Honey Mango Relish and Pulled Jerk Chicken Thighs on Sweet Potato Pancake Stacks. Every two years finalist recipes are collected into The Chicken Cookbook, and is published and sold for a mere $2.95 postage paid.

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Sunday Dinner

Dinner

   "Why waste an open bottle on a closed mind?"

                                —Sean Thackrey, Winemaker

I celebrated my birthday a few weeks ago with S & K by having lunch at the girl and the fig in Sonoma.  After a great lunch, a gift presentation of their cookbook, we strolled around the plaza poking into the original Williams-Sonoma, a bookstore and a few wine shops. 

And there at the Wine Exchange of Sonoma sitting demurely on the shelf were four bottles of non vintage Sean Thackrey Pleiades XIII {RP: 90 / 2004}($18).  What a find.  This exceptional wine is a blend of Syrah, Barbera, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Mourvedre, and Grenache. Southern Rhone in style with a taste of pepper,spice, and berry fruit contains this medium to full-bodied, complex red.

If you aren’t familiar with this renegade winemaker well that’s okay.  Those of us that are have a hard enough time tracking where to buy it. He’s not widely distributed in the States. He sells more overseas at a higher price point. I’ve been into shops where you need to ask if they have it and they go in to the back room and pull out one or two. 

His wines are named after stars and constellations–Pleiades, Orion, Sirius. The Pleiades, considered the entry wine of the constellation,  were the seven daughters of Atlas and Pleione and is loosely translated as flock of doves. This is the more easily found–which keep in mind is a relative statement.

Sean Thackrey is a real artisan winemaker, someone who makes wine by "feel," not by recipe.  Wine critic Robert Parker, gave the 2001 Sirius Mendocino County Eaglepoint Ranch Petite Sirah 96 points and the 2002 Orion Rossi Ranch St. Helena California Native Red Wine 94-plus points.

About twice a month S, K and I gather and make Sunday dinner.  Sometimes there’s others and at other times there’s not.  The fare can be elaborate or comforting.  Last night I created a dinner menu around this wine.

Grilled Pork Chops with Apple Cider Sauce

Pumpkin Gnocchi with Walnut-Sage Pesto

Greens with Dressing 

Dessert: Vanilla Tea with Alfajores

Dinner was so good we were chewing on the bones!

SF Chronicle Thackrey Wine Section Profile

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Secretos de Salsa

Salsa

Anderson Valley, in Mendocino County about 100 miles north and almost 3 hours from San Francisco, depending on the weight of your foot, is a world onto itself. A true escape, with hills covered with thick groves of redwood and live oak. It’s a great place to drive in the fall as it’s the closest I come to New England without getting on a plane. There are quant inns, wineries and picnic spots to build an entire weekend around.

Fog creeps through the valley and cools the climate making it ideal for the ripening process of cool-weather northern European grape varieties such as Pinot Noir, Gewürztraminer, and Chardonnay. The area’s population is full of ex-hippies, loggers, farmers and upscale vintners such as the Navarro Winery. The county pops up on the local news often when hippies who farm have their crop confiscated.

In a 2003 Travel & Leisure article Guy Trebay captured the local values in an article on the valley.

Along with this willed separation has come a preservation of the communitarian values that in much of America today seem about as vital as the dodo.

At some point, any conversation with an Anderson Valley local will turn to talk of potluck dinners for the rancher whose house burned down, of fund-raisers for a sick kid in need of chemotherapy. People speak with passion of pulling together to hold off the forces of monoculture and thus preserve the integrity of this extraordinarily unspoiled locale.

In California the backbone that keeps our agricultural economy going are the Mexican laborers. This area is no different. In the town of Boonville, population 975, the Anderson Valley Adult School teaches English twice a week to those new to the area from Mexico. During the three-hour class students bring snacks usually with salsa.

A few years ago the teacher Kira Brennan was looking for ways to make the school’s teaching methods more useful to the area’s large Spanish-speaking population. She came upon the idea of putting the various recipes into writing as a way to teach English as well as preserve some regional Mexican recipes. What she ended up with was a 25-recipe book titled, “Secrets of Salsa: A Bilingual Cookbook by the Mexican Women of Anderson Valley.”

According to a SF Chronicle article the monies raisesd from the sale of this collection go toward the annual cost to run the English program, which is supplemented by state money as well as grants and countless hours of volunteer work.

This collection is so endearing. The salsa recipes are given in English and Spanish, and include the sauce’s flavor profile, heat rating and serving suggestions. There are also instructions for the roasting of chiles, tomatoes and tomatillos, and for blending and grinding ingredients.

I tracked down the book through the publisher, Chelsea Green if you are interested in purchasing the book.


…continue on for Salsa Verde de Miel recipe

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Community Cookbooks

Bigbook

“Everyone feels nourished and replenished, body and soul, no matter what else is going on in their lives. And in these moments they are reminded that food has always been–and will continue to be–the tie that binds people to the past, to the future and to each other.”

—pg. 308 Celebration Cookbook
Nancy Butcher, Saratoga Springs, NY

It’s not as intense as the annual wedding dress sale at Filene’s Boston. It does reach it’s own level of intensity. Be assured that here’s always someone looking in your cart or peering over your shoulder to see if you hold something that they desire at the annual book sale fundraiser for the Friends of the SF Public Libary. Readers can be an idiosyncratic bunch. My annual outing is primarily for one reason–the ongoing expansion of my personal cookbook library, which has been at about 300 assorted volumes.

As I walked the rows of old cookbooks I started to give some consideration to my collection and wondered if I could benefit with specialization. I need to be honest with myself; in this lifetime I am not going to collect every recipe and cookbook out there. Right?

Many serious collectors have bents to their efforts. Building libraries around Pillsbury Bake-Off cookbooks, corporate public relations cookbooklets, single subject cookbooks or cooking method like baking or braising or children’s cookbooks, just to name a few possibilities.

Another area, which seems vast, is the category of community cookbooks. Several of my new weekend additions included these fundraising recipe collections. The style of these bound recipes range from spiral bound and folksy looking to the more polished and professionally published and edited Junior League editions.

The cookbook fundraiser dates back to the Civil War, when the Ladies’ Aid Societies came together to raise money for military casualties and their families. After the war ended the beneficiaries of these efforts moved to hospitals, churches, orphanages and veterans’ groups. Compiled by nonprofit organizations such as Junior Leagues, art museums, religious groups, historical societies, service and charity leagues they reveal entertaining styles of the time and a living history of the community the fundraiser serves.

Today the princesses of community cookbook land are the numerous Junior League editions. Since their initial publication in the 1950s, more than 18 million copies of local chapter cookbooks have been sold, with proceeds supporting programs that further the organizational mission of improving social conditions, promoting volunteerism and developing the potential of women.

The Junior League founded in 1901 celebrated their 100th anniversary and 50 years of community cookbook leadership with The Junior League: Celebration Cookbook a collection of recipes from its 295 local chapters around the country. More than just a best of the best it is a strong presentation of the act of preserving regional food traditions and a recipe for community strength and growth through the many stories of how proceeds have literally changed the quality of life in each community.

The all time best-selling book in the collection is River Road Recipes produced by the Baton Rouge chapter. The most recent in the series called River Road Recipes IV, Warm Welcomes. The series, according to their website has sold more than 1.8 million books since late 1959.

What I particularly like about community collections is that the pages reflect the way people cook and eat regionally and stylistically rather than the way professionals think the home chef should actually cook. The recipes reflect simplicity and no fuss. That’s not to say that there’s not complexity. The older books reflect many recipes such as Bear Pot Roast and Veal Kidneys Flambé. The recipe below Thai Spicy Prawn Soup is not exactly up Rachel Ray’s alley either!

The recipes often lack number of servings, tips on technique and occasionally references such as ‘cook in the moderate heat of an oven.’ The more comfortable and experienced home chef can easily work through these small hurdles. A small price to pay in exchange for a treasured family recipe that is often the first time it has been written down.

This week I’m going to share recipes and stories from these new additions to my library that chronicle and preserve local culinary traditions–American Regional cooking at it’s best.

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Green Goddess

Garliss

Regional food specialties pique my interest as they are window into local lore. San Francisco has given birth to several, one of those being the creamy, herby dressing known as Green Goddess. In the 1920’s the chef at the historic Palace Hotel was inspired to create this signature dressing in honor of William Archer’s hit play The Green Goddess.

The lead of the play, an English actor and a legend of the silver screen, George Arliss, later starred and was nominated for an Academy award for his role as the Rajah in the film version of the play. He didn’t win for this role. He did win and was the first British actor ever to win an Academy Award for his role in the sound version of the play, Disraeli. He certainly commanded a presence didn’t he. No wonder the dressing was dedicated to him.

There are lots of versions of this dressing out there but the classic recipe typically includes, in one form or another: anchovies, mayonnaise, vinegar, green onion, garlic, parsley, tarragon and chives. Sometimes the anchovies are in the form of anchovy paste, and often the tarragon flavor comes is delivered in the form of tarragon vinegar.

It’s great with steamed artichokes, over fish or hard-boiled eggs. I’ve chosen Fanny Singer’s version. You may be more familiar with her as Alice Waters’ daughter.

Image: autogramy.slansko.cz

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