Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Wine & Food Pairing Tools

Wine and food. You could spend a lifetime trying to understand that relationship! Lately I've been developing some recipes for a wine retailer and it's been a lot of fun. It's also been a challenge since my normal process would be to start with a dish and then figure out what to serve with it, not the other way around. Along the way I've talked to a lot of people, read a number of books and gathered up as many resources as I can to help me.

This weekend at brunch, Derrick of the food blog Obsession with Food, mentioned his basic rules for wine pairing and they are really good ones. Check out his post on the subject here.

Along with my "bible" What to Drink with What you Eat, I also like Andrea Immer's book, Everyday Dining with Wine. If you want something short and sweet and internet accessible, here are some links to sites I find useful as well.

1. Wine & Food Matcher
This is a great tool, tucked away on Natalie MacLean's web site, Nat Decants. You can start with the wine or the food and see what pops up.

2. BBC Good Food Grape Guide
Here you can sort by wine/grape or by food type. It's not comprehensive, but it does have some nice suggestions and good descriptions.

3. Food Network Food and Wine Pairing Chart
This is a fun one because it actually lists the flavors associated with wines, and makes suggestions for wines, depending upon your budget.

Wine blogger extraordinaire Alder of Vinography has put together a tasting tool and while it doesn't pair food with wine, it does help hone in on just what's going on in your glass (head to his site to download it).

Bottom line--drink what you like with whatever you like! Food and wine are about enjoyment, not about adhering to strict rules.


Monday, May 28, 2007

Sparkling Jellies: Recipe

Ok, so England isn't the home of one of the world's greatest cuisines, but it has exported a number of delicious dishes. I'm particularly fond of crumpets, Summer pudding, bangers and mash, fish and chips, the Sunday roast with Yorkshire pudding, and chicken tikka masala (while not completely English the combining of chicken tikka with a masala sauce is believed to be a British invention). On the rise in popularity are sticky toffee pudding and perhaps one day, my favorite English sausage the chipolata.

Something else I think of as decidedly English that has not gained in popularity yet here in the States, are Jellies. Not jelly like grape jelly, but jellies for eating that we call gelatin or Jell-o. But the British versions are much more sophisticated often including booze and ending up like gelatinized versions of elegant cocktails. Every Summer, British cookery magazines feature a variety of these lovelies which can be served instead of a cocktail, as a starter, a palate cleanser or a dessert.

The possibilities are endless. One package of gelatin and you are on your way! Other requirements include little glasses and tiny spoons. I have collected some shot glasses for this purpose and also use my otherwise rarely used vodka set. In fact, vodka is a good ingredient for some jellies. Look for juices, fruits and any number of liquors for inspiration. Any sparkling wine is wonderful "gelatinized". It's a great way to use up your bubbly, if you are left with some extra in the bottle. You could also add some fruit flavored syrup instead of sugar. Recipes are really more formulas than anything else. I'm working on a limoncello version at the moment...

Sparkling Jellies

1 envelope powdered gelatine (such as Knox) 1/4 ounce or about 1/2 Tablespoon
1/4 - 1/2 cup sugar, depending upon your taste
1/4 cup cold water
1 bottle of sparkling wine, if it's missing a glass or two that's ok
fruit, as desired

In a saucepan combine the gelatin, sugar and water. Let sit for 10 minutes, stir to combine. Add the wine and heat until gelatin is thoroughly dissolved. Pour into glasses and top with fruit if desired. Chill for several hours.


Friday, May 25, 2007

The Food of Love: Book

Ah Springtime! Beautiful weather necessitates the need for the perfect beach read. Not that you have to go to the beach to read it--the backyard would be fine too. The ultimate beach read in my mind is a paperback, it's light and upbeat, nothing too serious, it has a little romance and whole lot of fun. Oh, and a little food and foreign travel wouldn't hurt either.

And so I give you my choice for one heck of a great beach read. The Food of Love is a twist on the classic Cyrano de Bergerac (Roxanne) story of mistaken identity with one man courting a woman on behalf of his friend but in this case it is done though food. The main characters are Laura, an American art student living in Rome, Tommaso her paramour and Bruno, the Cyrano character who happens to be a talented chef. Bruno cooks for Laura and of course she falls in love with Tommaso who she is lead to believe is doing the cooking all along. The story is set in Trastevere and the book feels in some ways like a travelogue, you get the sights and sounds and the flavors of Rome. You'll taste the aphrodisiac tartufo, enjoy trips to view Renaissance masterpieces, learn to make Saltimbocca (recipes in the back of the book) and get caught up in the romance of Italy.

There is plenty of humor, great details of Roman and Italian cuisine and culture and even a little sex thrown in to keep things interesting. Having once been an American girl in Italy, there was a lot I could relate to in it. There was even a beach scene that reminded me of going to the beach when I was in Rome. The author really has an eye for details, and an obvious passion for all things Italian. The book is thoroughly charming and if I'm not wrong it will soon be made into a movie. But for the beach, the paperback version is the way to go. The book came out a couple of years ago and you can find used paperback copies of it on Amazon for under $1. You can also check out the book website here.

Over at SF Station is my review of the Nua a fairly new restaurant in North Beach.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Shrimp and Mango Kebabs:Recipe

How many courses could you eat that feature mangoes? Three? Four? I had five last night and I'm not sick of them yet! There was mango used in sashimi, in salad rolls, in a sauce for scallops, in a spicy salsa topping for duck and chunks of mango layered in between tapioca and mango granite. Each course was positively delicious and helped to showcase how mangoes can be used in just about every way, paired with many ingredients and with many different wines.

At dinner was famed Florida chef Allen Susser, in town to talk about mangoes and while I am a big fan of the fruit I had no idea just how many varieties there are. Over one hundred different varieties grow in Florida alone, and at least 8 - 10 are grown commercially. Susser literally wrote the book on mangoes, The Great Mango Book and is known for offering his customers a dinner for two in exchange for a wheelbarrow filled with mangoes.

Mangoes are the most popular fruit in the world, which isn't surprising when you consider how they are grown all over Latin America, Asia, the Carribean, etc. According to the Creations Dessert site, an enzyme in mangoes is not only good for digestion but comforting and "partially responsible for that feeling of contentment". Learning more about the different varieties and understanding which varieties work best with which recipes is something new for me. There are differences in texture, fiber and flavor. I do see different mangoes at stores and I look forward to experimenting with them and trying some new recipes.

Allen Susser will be at the Bristol Farms store at the Westfield Center in San Francisco today, May 23rd, from 4 - 6 pm sampling mangoes and answering questions, stop by if you are in the neighborhood.

Here's my recipe for Mango Shrimp Kebabs that I created to be paired with a Viognier which was the same wine I had with the scallop and mango dish.

Mango Shrimp Kebabs
4 servings

1 lb large shrimp (16-20/lb)
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, finely grated
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup orange juice, freshly squeezed
1/4 cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed
pinch red chili flakes
pinch of salt
2 mangoes, peeled

Soak 10-12 bamboo skewers in water for about 30 minutes to prevent burning.
Make the marinade by combining the ginger, olive oil, orange and lemon juice and a pinch of red chili flakes and salt. Peel the shrimp and place in the marinade for 5 minutes. Slice the mangoes into about 12 chunks each. Skewer the shrimp alternating with the mango on the skewers and grill or broil for 5 minutes, turning once, until completely pink.


Monday, May 21, 2007

Taste of Ratatouille

Have you heard about the latest film from Pixar ? It's called Ratatouille and I can't wait to see it. The film is about a gourmet rat who dreams of becoming a chef at a fine restaurant in Paris. The ultimate impossible dream. Or is it?

Over at Yahoo! there are not only teaser trailers but a 9 minute preview of the film to whet your appetite. There are four videos in all. Check them out here. See you at the movies on June 29th!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Candy Shop: Shopping

Take a trip to candyland this weekend. An adorable little candy shop has opened up in my neighborhood called The Candy Store and it's got something for everybody. There are lots of retro classics like Zotz, Pixie Stix and candy buttons but also hard to find treats like Valomilk, Idaho Spuds and horehound candies. My picks are the malt balls in three varieties including peanut butter and some lovely lemon drops I've taken to carrying in my purse. But from licorice to m&m's, gummies, deluxe chocolate bars and more there are treats for every budget.

My full review I Want Candy! is over at SF Station. Check it out and stop by the shop if you are in the neighborhood.

The Candy Store
1507 Vallejo Street @ Polk St.
San Francisco

Tues - Sun 10 - 7 pm

Friday, May 18, 2007

Market Madness

Did we all see this coming? Or just me? Carlo Petrini founder of the Slow Food movement, the very man who inspired so many farmers at the Ferry Plaza farmers market has dared to criticize the farmers at the very same market for their outrageous prices and their vainglorious customers. The funny thing is, it's been Petrini telling us all along that we should pay more for our food. Like a mantra he repeats the sentiment that good food costs more to produce and we should be prepared to pay for it.

The problem is, there is expensive and there is highway robbery. And now someone has dared to blow the whistle. My infrequent trips to the Ferry Plaza farmers market are much like my infrequent trips to the local supermarket--I look for what is ripe, fresh, in-season AND reasonably priced. I don't buy out of season imported raspberries at the supermarket and I certainly don't buy $3 peaches at the farmers market.

It seems some market supporters don't appreciate any dissent. A post by the Culinary Muse complaining about $8/dozen eggs resulted in a questioning of her priorities. And now Petrini is feeling the heat. His book signing opportunity at the market was abruptly cancelled after farmers and management got wind of his views.

Of course criticism of the market is justifiable when it is based in fact, but some claim Petrini's facts are more like fiction. In particular Steve Sando proprietor of Rancho Gordo claims that the villainous farmers out to cheat the land and their customers, described by Petrini in his latest book, Slow Food Nation, do not exist. Perhaps he is right. But there are people charging ridiculous prices at the market. That fact is undeniable. Now if customers want to pay, that's fine, but I and Petrini and anyone else have the right to complain if we find the prices untenable. Pay more for good food? I say yes! Pay through the nose? That's up to you. Either way, when it comes to criticizing the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, watch what you say or be prepared for the backlash.

Read a chronology of the ruckus at the San Francisco Chronicle.

For Steve Sando's take, please check out both his blog posts here and here on the subject.

Another discussion in the comments section at the Ethicurean.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Chutney Cheese Puffs: Recipe

I'm a cheater, in the kitchen anyway. While I may not be a fan of mac and cheese from a box, I positively love using gourmet specialty products. What kinds of products? Jams, mustards, chutney, tapenade, Chinese sauces, so many things! Two of my favorite secret weapons are in the freezer--phyllo dough and puff pastry.

You could easily write a book on all the things you can make out of phyllo dough and puff pastry. I suggest the title "How to Succeed in Baking Without Really Trying". Once you learn how to handle them, the possibilities are endless. They even turn something mundane into something special. For example you could make a stew into an elegant pot pie. You could turn a fruit compote into pastries. You could make fancy little appetizers to serve hot from the oven. How fancy? I suggest little napoleons or tartlets. It's really easy.

A few weeks ago I had a lot of goat cheese languishing in the fridge. I had promised my friend Alison I would develop some recipes for her fabulous chutney and it dawned on me that using puff pastry I could make a delicious pastry with nothing more than goat cheese, puff pastry and chutney.

As it turns out, I am a real chutney fanatic. I am happy to have 4 or 5 jars in the fridge at once. But I should make a distinction--there are chunky chutneys and mushy chutneys. Mushy goopy chutneys have their place; they are saucy and work great in sauces and dips. But chunky chutney is what you want for this recipe so either pick up some of McQuade's Chutney or make some yourself. Runny chutney is not going to work for this recipe.

Note: The size and number of puffs you make is entirely up to you. You can make one or 101. You can make them bite sized or larger.

Goat Cheese Puffs

Puff pastry (frozen is fine)
One jar of chunky style chutney, I recommend McQuade's
Goat cheese, one log, chevre style

Allow the puff pastry to defrost according to package instructions. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut and lay out puff pastry into squares and place equal amounts of chutney and crumbled goat cheese in the center. For large puffs, use approximately 2 teaspoons of filling per 3 inch square of puff pastry. For small puffs use approximately 1/2 teaspoon of filling per 2 inch square of puff pastry. Brush the edges of the square with water and fold over to create a triangle, pressing edges to seal. Place on a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment paper and bake for 15 minutes or until brown. Serve warm.


Monday, May 14, 2007

Free Häagen-Dazs Ice Cream Tomorrow!

When it comes to ice cream I can be pretty fussy. I like creamy versus chunky and I have a weakness for rich decadent flavors. So a few years ago when Häagen-Dazs introduced Dulce de Leche ice cream I was in heaven. I'd describe it as deliciously intense caramel, set against a backdrop of creaminess. If you check out the ingredients you'll know why it's so yummy, it's made of cream, condensed milk, egg yolks, sugar and not one artifical ingredient.

Häagen-Dazs has recently introduced Cinnamon Dulce de Leche, which has the same luscious caramel and an added hint of cinnamon. I love it! Since both dulce de leche and cinnamon are popular flavors in Latin America this combination makes perfect sense to me.

For lovers of chunky flavors, check out the other newish Häagen-Dazs flavor, Sticky Toffee Pudding, a tribute to the classic British dessert that seems to be getting more and more popular these days. You'll find it on menus coast to coast, from a New York gastropub to San Francisco's own Town Hall. It's also a favorite of food bloggers, near and far. The ice cream version is a mix of creamy vanilla ice cream, chunks of moist, brown sugary cake and swirls of toffee sauce and dates.

Tomorrow only from 4 - 8 pm you can get a free scoop of either of the two new flavors. You can find a shop near you by clicking here.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Meet Rick Rodgers

Rick Rodgers has written more cookbooks than just about anyone I know. He's also an award-winning cooking teacher and chef. At this year's IACP conference he was one of the presenters of the The Vanishing Cookbook presentation that I recapped.

He's just recently written the Kingsford Complete Grilling Cookbook where he shares his expert tips and recipe ideas. You can meet Rick and pick up a signed copy of his new book at the Mountain View Costco on Saturday May 12th from 2 - 3 pm. With grilling season kicking into high gear any minute now, this book would make a great Mother's Day or Father's Day present.

What are backyard grillers doing wrong?
Cooking everything over direct heat. Think of your grill as an outdoor oven. You don't cook everything at 300 degrees or 500 degrees. Most grillers are used to cooking directly over the coals, at very high temperatures, which is a great way to incinerate your food! Consider the 4 grilling techniques--direct heat, indirect heat, banked coals, and using pockets, where your dig empty spots in the coals so the fat will drip into the pocket instead of onto the coals.

What does every griller need at their side?
First of all, get rid of the backyard barbecue set you bought for Father's Day! Pick the tools you need individually:

* A long spring-loaded tongs with good grip
* A silicone brush for basting
* A flat turner for burgers, be sure the plate is flexible
* Dedicated oven mitts
* A second pair of tongs for the coals
* A metal thermometer with the glass dial and metal prong, drop it through the lid to get the temperature

No squirt bottle is necessary if you know how to manipulate the coals properly.

How do you spice up the sides?
Make interesting versions of what people expect to have, like coleslaw and potato salad. For instance I make coleslaw with grated granny smith apples, some apple juice concentrate and poppy seeds.

When it comes to potato salad I've been making a Spanish style one lately with sherry vinegar, roasted peppers, saffron and artichoke hearts.

Another good side is mac and cheese which works for most vegetarians and kids. And cook it on the oven, not everything everything has to be cooked on the grill.

What's your favorite recipe from the book?
The backyard barbecue ribs. The challenge is to get them juicy and tender without resorting to boiling or baking them. In this recipe you cook them on the grill wrapped in foil for an hour and 15 minutes then take them out and put them on the grill for a finishing glaze; that way they cook in their own juices.

What books are you working on now?
New additions of Thanksgiving 101 and Christmas 101 are coming out. I love being able to teach people things and make a contribution towards their peace-of-mind. New addition of my Slow Cooker book as 101. We're putting together my fondue and dips book together as Party Dips 101 and a big book called Cooking 101. I'm also doing a quartet of seasonal cookbooks.


Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Marion Nestle on What to Eat

This past weekend I was treated to a Spring Breakfast by the Bay with Marion Nestle, a benefit for CUESA (CUESA operates the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market). It was a most delicious breakfast but I'm not going tell you anything about it because the main attraction was really hearing Marion Nestle speak.

Marion Nestle is the author of What to Eat, (just now out in paperback) Food Politics, and Safe Food. She is Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She has strong links to the Bay Area having received her BA, PhD and MPH from UC Berkeley, she also spent a decade on the faculty of UC San Francisco's School of Medicine.

This past Saturday she talked about her latest book What to Eat and how it came to be written after people kept asking her, what should they be eating? She thought the answer was simple enough until she began visiting supermarkets. From the moment she walked in she saw the flowers and produce and was aware of how stores try to keep consumers shopping as long as possible and buying as much as possible. The romance begins from the minute you walk in.

Her visits to supermarkets proved to be very confusing and she described using a scale and a calculator to try to understand how much products actually cost. Romaine lettuce for example was to be found in 7 different forms in the produce section--packaged, organic, conventional, etc. She wanted simple answers to questions like was the food in the store genetically modified, and was organic worth the price difference, but answers proved impossible to find.

While most of what she talked about was not new information, the way she wove it together was very new. For example she talked about how many things are frustrating in our lives and how we feel we can do nothing about big issues like the war in Iraq or terrorism. But we can have an impact on the food we eat and what we buy. She talked about how the school food movement, the animal rights movement, the slow food movement and the organic movement are all coming together to form a new consciousness about food that seems to be sweeping the country.

How can we see an improvement in the food we eat? Many factors need to be addressed--she pointed to the fact that the FDA only inspects 1% of food coming into the US, that we produce much more food than we should be eating, and that the pressure on big food companies to sell more to please shareholders are all impacting our food choices. Her belief is that food marketing aimed at children crosses an ethical line and should be limited. She also believes that smaller portion sizes will help curb obesity in adults as well as children. But ultimately she pointed to election reform as necessary to counterbalance the influence of big companies in government. What to Eat has been on my reading list for a while now, and after hearing Dr. Nestle speak, I am even more eager to read it. You can read some exerpts from the book here. A special thanks to Alison for the invitation to breakfast.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Portabello & Sausage French Bread Pizza: Recipe

Last week on the Epicurious blog Tanya Steel wrote about serving a Proscuitto and Taleggio macaroni and cheese to a friend who it turned out, preferred the blue boxed verson. When I was little I enjoyed that mac and cheese that comes in a box too. But years later when I tried it again, I realized it wasn't very good. The sauce made from powder was artificial tasting and the macaroni was pasty. As an adult there is no question, my tastes had changed.

The other packaged food I remember liking way back when, was Stouffer's French Bread Pizza. I still remember how tasty that crunchy pizza was. Of course, if I tried it now I would probably not be as impressed, but as a 13 year old babysitter, it seemed like a very delicious treat.

I'd rather recreate what I loved about those french bread pizzas than be disappointed trying the original version. This recipe took a couple of tries to get right. It's a little messy but also savory, crisp and cheesy. In other words, delicious! Once you have the technique down, you could probably make other versions too. I developed this recipe to go with an Argentinean Malbec.

Portabello & Sausage French Bread Pizza

4 to 6 Servings

1 loaf French bread
3 Italian sausages, hot or mild
1 Tablespoon flour
1/4 cup red wine (Malbec is perfect)
2 large Portabello mushrooms
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
8 slices Provolone cheese, about 8 ounces

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Slice the bread lengthwise and in half so you have four equal portions. Place on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for about five minutes then remove while preparing the topping. Meanwhile prepare the mushrooms by wiping clean with a paper towel and removing the stem. Thinly slice the mushrooms and set aside.

Remove casing from sausages and crumble into a large skillet. Cook over medium heat until no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Add the flour and continue cooking for another minute or two. Add the wine and stir the mixture then add the mushrooms. Cook, stirring frequently and scraping up the bottom of the pan. Mushrooms will release their juices and turn brown. Cook another few minutes until mushrooms are cooked through. Take skillet off the heat and mix in the Parmesan cheese.

Spread the sausage and mushroom mixture evenly on top of the bread halves. Cut each slice of cheese in half and place on top. Bake for five to ten minutes or until cheese is melted. Cut each piece in thirds to serve.


Friday, May 4, 2007

Chocolatiers come to town

Ever since Lee's doctor told him to eat a little chocolate everyday, I've kept a stash of over 70% cocoa chocolate bars in a drawer in the kitchen. My everyday bar is Chocovic's Ocumare which uses Venezuelan criollo beans. That's probably why I am so fond of Michael Mischer's chocolate bars which also rely on the Venezuelan criollo. They aren't easy to find in San Francisco but today you can not only find them, but also find Michael Mischer of Michael Mischer Chocolates from noon until 2 at Fog City News. You just know there are going to be samples, right?

Fog City News sells one of the largest selection of chocolate bars anywhere. They sell all kinds of chocolate and are a good place to find something unusual or hard-to-find from the world over, including Valrhona’s new 2006 Vintage Estate Grown chocolate bars, Coppeneur of Germany, Rococo of London, Domori of Italy, and more. The shop is located downtown just a hop skip and a jump from the Ferry Building. If you are in the neighborhood stop by and pick up something to add to your stash. After all, variety is the spice of life and one great chocolate bar deserves another.

Next Monday, May 7th from noon to 2 you can meet Lloyd and Lindy Marin of Chocolate Visions in Scotts Valley. I know nothing about their chocolate so if you do check it out, report back! It does appear they make confections as well as bars so perhaps you'll find something for Mother's Day?

On Wednesday May 9th one of the great American chocolate innovators, Katrina Markoff of Vosge Haut Chocolate will be in the shop from noon until 2.

And finally on May 10th you can meet another local chocolatier who actually supplies the chocolate to many local confectioners like Charles Chocolates and Recchiuti. Gary Guittard of E. Guittard line of chocolates will be at the shop from 1 until 2:30.

Fog City News
455 Market Street (between First and Fremont)
San Francisco
Monday – Friday 8 am – 6 pm
First Saturday of the Month from 11 am – 5 pm


Wednesday, May 2, 2007

In Search of My Perfect Scoop...

I have ice cream on the brain. And it's not that headache you get from eating too much of the stuff, it's the feeling that everywhere I turn, there it is again. Symptoms include a combination of the publication of The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz and A Passion for Ice Cream by Emily Luchetti plus several newish places that have sprung up where you can get premium crack ice cream. I'm beginning to think ice cream is the new cupcake.

So what's a girl to do? I have no room in my packed freezer for a canister to make ice cream, I barely have room for a pint. The idea of an old-fashioned ice cream maker or even an electric version that uses rock salt and ice won't work for me. It's just not apartment friendly. I desperately want that Glace-A-Tron 6000 that Derrick keeps talking about. Speaking of which, cut it out, Derrick! Even on sale the monster costs over $200. The ice cream in David's book are really what have me itching to make it myself, especially the chic flavors like Roquefort-Honey, Prune-Armagnac and Orange-Szechuan pepper.

For now I'm stuck getting the fabulous fresh banana ice cream from the Original Swenson's (not affiliated with the Swenson's chain) just up the block from my house and ordering Bi-Rite Creamery ice cream when I happen to be somewhere that serves it like Gialina in Glen Park. When I find myself around Fourth Street in Berkeley there's a good chance I'll be at Sketch, my favorite Italian style ice cream shop. But if anyone wants to sell really top-notch ice cream in San Francisco, please come to my neighborhood. Swenson's could use the competition.

Over at Bay Area Bites is my take on a new computer game called Chocolatier.