World on a Plate

Exploring culture. One plate at a time.

Cranberry Bog.

Back in October, while in Massachusetts for business, I toured a cranberry farm. This outing was one that had long been on my list of adventures since I was a girl growing up in New England. The bonus was that I was able to see an in-progress bog harvest. I also think that I was luck due to the patience and knowledgeable guide who was also the assistant operations manger. Unfortunately, his name is not in my notes.

A.D. Makepeace, the “Cranberry King”, has been in the business of growing cranberries in southeastern Massachusetts since the 1800s. In 1930 the family joined two other cranberry companies in creating what would become Ocean Spray Cranberries, an ag cooperative that has become synonymous with the fruit.

A few highlights I did salvage from my scribblings:

  • The name for the fruit, comes from the Pilgrims” lexicon”crane berry,” as the vine blossoms resembled the neck, head and bill of a crane.
  • Massachusetts was the first site of the first documented cranberry cultivation in 1816.
  • Costs $25-30 to grow a barrel of cranberries. Makepeace, delivered 370,000 barrels in 2011.
  • Massachusetts is second to Wisconsin in production.
  • Cranberries float due to an air sac within the berry.
  • Along with Concord grapes and blueberries, cranberries are are one of only three native fruits grown commercially in North America.
  • Thanksgiving trivia bonus:  440 cranberries in one pound; 4,400 cranberries per gallon of juice; 440,000 cranberries in a 100-pound barrel

A common misperception is that the cranberries grow in water.  They are grown in sandy bogs or marshes. If the fruit is to be processed for juice or other use the bog is flooded and corralled (as shown above). What I didn’t know was that these bogs are more than watery fields.  They are classified as state wetlands requiring environmental controls and allows for protected designation for the grower.  And the other challenges are long, springs in Massachusetts have become increasingly warmer meaning it is getting tougher to grow cranberries due to higher incidences of pests and fungus.  Come autumn, which have been warmer the berries need a few consecutive evenings of cooler temperatures to turn from white to red.  All of these factors add to cost and yield. Makepeace takes this sustainability responsibility seriously. It is also extended beyond the bogs to the community.

Cranberry Sauce

1 12-oz. package fresh (about 3 cups), picked over and rinsed

3/4 cup real, pure maple syrup, Grade B (if possible)

1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 medium orange, finely grated to yield 1 tsp. zest, squeezed to yield 1/3 cup juice

Combine the cranberries, maple syrup, and orange juice in a 3-quart saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Lower the heat to medium low to a simmer while stirring every now and then. After five minutes in the cranberries will begin to burst. Let this happen for about 1-2 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the zest, and cinnamon. Allow to cool to room temperature, at least an hour, as this will allow the sauce to thicken up.

Leftover sauce?  Serve over a chicken breast poached in lemon water or by mixing with butter and spread over sourdough toast. 

Recipes from Ocean Spray

Recipes from Epicurious

Brussels Sprouts.

Curious thing about our palates, they change.  As an example, take Brussel sprouts, a vegetable that because it looks and smells funny I never appreciated. And why? Most likely, they were not properly prepared or they were frozen.  It’s best to seek them out fresh, and seemingly they are everywhere.  In fact, Trader Joe’s sells fresh stalks–all 2 1/2′-3′ feet.  Think of the Brussels sprouts plant as one really tall stemmed cabbage with  many sprouts along the stalk. Pluck a handful off for a serving, keep the stalk in a vase on the counter and they will last  for a week.  Kids will think they are absolutely prehistoric. Historically we can credit statesman and omnivore Thomas Jefferson, for introducing the plant to the United States from Paris in 1821. Large scale cultivation began sometime in the 16th century in (wait for it…) Brussels, Belgium. The following recipe is my go-to kitchen standard.  I often have this alongside a roast chicken or with a poached egg for Sunday breakfast.  It also has become a standard at Thanksgiving dinner as a side where someone will state “I don’t like those.” I simply smile and say, “Is that right?”

Extra Extra!     Brussels sprouts renaissance in Bay Area is a quick read on the flip in the market from mostly frozen to fresh and it’s all happening in Half Moon Bay.

Brussel Sprouts Braised in Cider with Bacon

1 lb. Brussel sprouts

3 pieces bacon, diced (pancetta can also be used)

1 cup chicken brother (or water)

1/2 cup apple cider (if you don’t have cider, orange juice will work)


Remove bottoms of Brussels sprouts along with any outer raggedy-looking leaves.  Quarter each sprout. Over medium heat in a skillet sauté the bacon pieces.  Cook until the bacon is nearly done, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Push the bacon toward the edges of the pan and arrange the Brussels sprouts in the pan in a single layer, with the cut side down. Leave them in the pan without stirring, letting them brown slightly, about 5 minutes. Now add the chicken broth and turn heat up to med-high.  When it appears the Brussels sprouts have caramelized, and most of the chicken brother is gone, add the cider. Turn heat to med-high and bring the mixture to a medium boil. Cook until the liquid has reduced to a glaze and the Brussels sprouts are cooked. If too much liquid boils away before brussels sprouts are tender, add additional liquid.

Note: if you prefer, cook the bacon separately, or ahead and crumble it.  Toss with finished vegetables before serving.

Variation:  Instead of bacon toast pecans or walnuts and mix into cooked sprouts.

Pork Stewed in Guajillo Chile Molé

We started this dish mid-afternoon and two hours in the kitchen was a heady and heavenly mix of spices and stew.  A perfect autumn meal served with warm cornbread and black beans to make for a complete meal.  If there are leftovers serve the pork and molé over warm tortillas or over think cut pasta ribbons. 

Pork Stewed in Guajillo Chile Molé

adapted from the Canal House Cooks every day

Note: begin 4 hours ahead of meal time; 1 hour prep; 3 hours unattended

12 whole guajillo chiles, wiped with a damp paper towel

3 cups of warm water (bring a kettle to a boil turn off)

2 cups of chicken stock

2/3 cup blanched almonds, toasted

1 tbspn ground cumin

1 tbspn dried oregano

2 tspns ground cinnamon

10 black peppercorns


1 cup raisins

4 tbspns vegetable oil

6 pounds boneless pork butt or Boston butt, cut into 1″ cubes

3 medium onions, sliced thinly


1/2 bunch scallions, chopped (optional


Tear off the stems of the dried chiles and shake out the seeds.  Heat a large cast iron skillet (or a comal if you have one). Toast the chiles in the skillet, pressing them down with tongs and turning one or twice until they are fragrant and turn a bit dakrer in color–about 30-60 seconds.  It’s helpful if you open a window or turn on the oven fan as the fumes can overwhelm. Transfer the chiles to a medium bowl.  Pour 2 cups of the warm water over the chiles and and set them aide to soak until soft and pliable about 30 minutes. If the chiles don’t stay submerged cover the bowl with a plate.

Next grind the spices in a coffee blender or by hand in a mortar with a pestle. Toast the spices in this same skillet until fragrant. Place the soaked chiles and 2 cups of the water into a food processor or blender with the toasted spices and raisins, puree.

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in skillet over medium heat.  Add the blended spice paste and fry, stirring to keep it from burning, until it comes a shade darker and is very fragrant, about 5 minutes.  Turn off heat.

Prepare the pork

 Heat remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a heavy large pot over medium heat.  Working in batches, bown the pork all over about 5 minutes.  Transfer the meat to a bowl as it browns.  Add the sliced onions to the pot and cook, stirring often until tender about 4-5 minutes.

Return the pork cubes and juices to the pot.  Stir in the spice paste, add 2 cups of chicken stock and season with salt and pepper.  Stir to blend.  Bring to a simmer, cover and allow to cook over medium-low heat, stirring from time to time until the pork is fork tender, about 2-3 hours.  If the stew begins to dry out add a little more stock to the stew.  Serve garnished with scallions, if desired.

Gastronomic Tour de France: Stage 5 | Épernay > Montargis

Regions: Start of Race in Champagne > Finish in Loire

Here we are again! Barbara over at Winos & Foodies has wrapped up everything that's great about wine, food and cycling and France into one big Gastronomic Tour de France. Here's the full list of participants, their blogs and links to keep your own pace by.

Every year the course for the Tour de France changes some stages ever so slightly.  In 2005, Stage 6 began in Troyes.  Fast forward 5 years and today's stage begins in the commercial capital of the Champagne region, Épernay just 88 miles east-northeast of Paris.  Stage 5 is made for sprinters and for champagne drinkers.

Cork_small_2007  Built on a chalk foundation the town is the key commercial center for the production of champagne.   Most visitors will find themselves on the L'Avenue de  Champagne where many well-known champagne producers including Moet Chandon, Perrier-Jouet and Champagne Mercier can be found. Most tourist information you will come across will say that this avenue is the most valuable–more so than Fifth Avenue or Champs Elysees due to the many bottles of champagne stored in the chalk cellar caves below.
 (I’m happy to house sit!)

Specialties of this region include andouillette de Troyes, a savory tripe sausage  made from  pork chitterlings and tripe, seasoned with fresh onion, salt, pepper and stuffed by hand into natural casings it is highly sought out. Another regional specialty is potee champenoise–a pot-au-feu consisting of jambon des Ardennes (smoked ham), cabbage and sausage.  

And if you are looking for something new and different for your everyday salad dressings keep an eye out for Vinaigre de Reims or the more commonly named, champagne vinegar. It is an elegant way to mix things up as it is  milder than most vinegars, you can use it with just a bit of oil and a pinch of sugar to create a tasty vinaigrette.

The boys of the Tour will dash across the plains and end up in Montargis, the second largest town in the Loire region. Medieval in looks with several canals and bridges it is sought out for it’s charm, honey, saffron and pralines.  There is also a rubber factory where, as a young boy, the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping made shoes–but that is an entirely another story.  

TDF_image_B Most will want to locate the the shop from where these pralines were originally sold, Maison de la Praline, that visitors seeking to taste the original crunch confectionery made from almonds, and dissolved in sugar back during the rule of Louis XIII.  The story goes they were created at the chateau the French soldier, diplomat, and sugar baron, Marshal du Plessis-Praslin.   Pralines from New Orleans are made from the more readily-found pecan.  

There is a piece of folklore found on the Southern CandyMakers site that, if not entirely factual is slightly plausible:

A more playful account paints du Plessis-Praslin as a notorious ladies man, who asked his chef to come up with an irresistible treat he could present to the women he would court. He would put the sweet sugary nuts into little parcels marked with his name, so people began to call the sweets after him.”

The two recipes that follow make for a perfect Saturday lunch in the garden with a  friend. You may want to pair with a glass or two of bubbles.


Salad au Lard (Potato, Bacon & Greens) (commonly found salad in Épernay)

Almond Praline (this is great broken up into bits and served over vanilla ice cream)

Because you may want to know more:

History of Pralines | Southern CandyMakers

Splurge on the original from the source! Praslines of Montargis "Amandas"

And you want to move along to Stage 6 with Amanda over at EyeCandy Carousel

Giro di Italia Stage 4 & 5: Piedmont Region

I am working on reconnecting with writing and finding a place where I can create and learn all at the same time. I have had this site for nearly five years. At times more productive than lately. I thought the discipline of an event such as the Giro would help to getting me closer to understanding what it is that, or why it is that I feel the need to keep this very site going. So there may be some fits and starts along with some bumps along the way as I get my rhythm back.


Stage 4: Time Trial; 32.5 km | Savigliano to Cuneo
Stage 5: 168 km | Novara to Novi Ligure

Today marks the first of series of posts focused on Italian regional cuisine as measured by the progress of one of the epic cycling events of the year, the Giro d’Italia. Although there is no “Lance factor” with the Giro it is still a great challenge to watch and yes, it goes on for weeks–that’s the fun of it. The other two big races take place in France (July) and Spain (August).

Today and tomorrow find us at Stage 4 and 5 and through the Northwest corner of Italy through the region of Piedmont, an area surrounded on three sides by mountains.


What many don’t know is that this region is home to grissini (gruh-SEE-nee). Not those bland, ubiquitous sticks found at standard bearer Italian restaurants. A true grissini is made by hand, pencil thin and crispy. At times it can be up to nearly a yard long (or one meter for those non American readers). Thought to have been created in 17th century Turin they can be found virtually everywhere in Italy (and around the world!) nowadays.

A great bit of folklore imparts that it was created in 17th century Turin to cure the digestive problems of a duke whose had a court baker who devised a recipe leading which healed the duke’s tummy woes so well that he went on to be king. Legend has it that today the ghost of the king haunts his old castle, with a grissino in hand. It is also said that Napoleon had a mad obsession for grissini or what he called “little sticks of Turin” and would have them shipments follow him where ever he marched.

Stirato (straight) grissini are crisp and light in taste and are no bigger than 3/8″ in diameter; Rubata are hand-rolled producing a thicker and more like an ordinary breadlike taste.

A former colleague of mine often made a lunch of grissini bought at the local bakery. He’d wrap anchovies and prosciutto around each and stare out his window. Maybe he was thinking of his next vacation. It did, however, keep people out of his office long after the meal was complete.

Often you will see breadsticks served alongside the region’s signature dish, Bagna Caoda, a hot bath made of olive oil, garlic (often at a ratio of 1 garlic head to a person), chopped into a fine paste, and milk or cream. The breadstick, along with raw vegetables and sometimes cooked potatoes are used as a vehicle making for quite a satisfying meal. Often when the bagna caoda is nearly gone, an egg is added to the persons “bath,” scrambled and eaten.


Best if made and eaten on the same day as you want them crisp.

Quick light supper, wrap proscuitto around grissini, slices of Parmesan and nuts.

Piedmont References: World on a Plate

Gusto de Piedmont
Bicerin: coffee specialty
Cheese of Piedmont

Other recipes

Smitten Kitchen Cheese Straws
King Arthur Sesame Grissini
Cooking Light Parmesan & Cracked Pepper Grissini

Azteca Torta: Hot Sauces

Best pork sandwich lunch for $4.50 (with great thick chips!).
Azteca Torta: Hot Sauces


Cranberry Sauce Making

Cranberry sauce making with friends: 1 pound fresh cranberries, 1 1\2 cups sugar, 1/2 cup cider. Combine in pot on low-med heat. Stir. Cranberries will burst takes about 12-15 minutes. Makes about a pint.

Cranberry Sauce Making

Napa B&B Tour & Taste Event

Napa B&B Tour & Taste Event

Cookies & Cocoa


October in the Bay Area is, in most years, the best month to enjoy Mediterranean-like weather.  However, this weekend skies were gray and reports of heavy rains are forecasted for the days ahead. It's hot chocolate weather.  However I wanted something sweet alongside that treat.

So while it may come as a surprise to some, that for two years I have tried to replicate a pumpkin-chocolate chip cookie offered at the coffee shop in the little hamlet where I live with no success, I decided to try again.  The taste of this cookie: pumpkin with the hint of allspice, nutmeg and cinnamon  makes it a "seasonal" cookie in that I only eat it in the autumn.

I tried many recipes but they weren't of the cake-like consistency that this version turns out.  It's like a firmer pumpkin muffin.  Perfect for a fall afternoon tea break.

Pumpkin Nut & Chip Cookies

4 oz unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup canned organic pumpkin
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups flour, all purpose
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt

3 tspns pumpkin pie spice
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cream softened butter and sugar with an electric hand mixer. Beat in, one at a time, pumpkin, egg and vanilla and beat until smooth.

In another bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, pumpkin pie spice
and cinnamon together; combine this bowl of ingredients into the into bowl containing pumpkin
batter. Stir in the nuts and chocolate chips.

Drop by tablespoons onto parchment lined cookie sheets and bake on center rack for 15-17 minutes.

Makes about 36 cookies.

Adapted from a recipe from the California Milk Advisory Board.

India Pale Ale


Last week, a friend and I found ourselves at the weekly microbrew tasting at the Jug Shop.  We tasted 7 releases that were special collaborations.  As the beer poured several guys kept were espousing about the history of I.P.A. (India Pale Ale).  No one seemed to know the full story. So I did some digging.

Imagine, if you will, a country, England, filled with people who love to drink fine ale. That country establishes one of the great naval forces of all time, and in so doing its leaders encounter many challenges. Not the least of which is the importance of keeping beer on hand for the navy sailors,  soldiers and colonists in settlements around the world.  Soon realizing that the porter ales didn't   travel well across the great ocean blue arriving sour and flat after time and shifts in temperature.

Enter, at the end of the 18th century, an enterprising brewer named George Hodgson, brewer at the Bow Brewery in East London, who was motivated to solve the problem. In doing so he invented a new style of beer–India Pale Ale–which is where it was its key destination for the Royal Empire.  His  approach included brewing it to a high alcohol level and using more hops than any previous beers. High hop levels can preserve a beer’s flavor in two ways: they have a limited ability to protect beer from spoilage by some microorganisms, and, more importantly, theirbitterness can mask stale flavors. While there is not enough alcohol in any beer to offer serious protection from microorganisms, having more of it will certainly not hurt.  So really the magic is the is in the hops.

According to Real Beer:

High hop levels can preserve a beer’s flavor in
two ways: they have a limited ability to protect beer from spoilage by
some microorganisms, and, more importantly, their bitterness can mask
stale flavors. While the beer arriving in India would certainly have
suffered from oxidative staling during the long voyage, it could still
taste acceptable because of the masking effect of alcohol and hops.  Original English I.P.A.s were strong, very hoppy beers  weighing in at about 7-10% ABV. 

This new brew recipe began shipping during the 1790s as  Hodgson's India Ale. The drink is called pale ale because they were lighter in color than the popular brown ales, porters and stouts. These copper-colored, reddish-bronze beers were some of the the first beers in the world paler than the more commonly found black or brown.

Hodgson’s export beer was a success, and he worked hard to maintain his monopoly on the Indian beer trade. Eventually, other brewers, notably Bass and Allsop, managed to begin trading their own versions of I.P.A. in India, and some brewers began producing a somewhat more subtle version of I.P.A. for the domestic market. 

Today, in America, most I.P.A.s are dry-hopped adding a fresh aroma while removing the bitterness. It averages about 5-10% ABV

The brew tasting that brought this all up was the Schneider & Brooklyn Hopfen-Weisse collaboration, that tasted hoppy, zesty and well very refreshing. (Alc/Vol: 8.2%; IBU: 40) .  Very drinkable.