Monday, April 6, 2009

Only The Very Best

How is this chicken stock better?

I started reading the latest issue of Food Arts magazine this morning. It is a magazine devoted to fine dining, but, because it is free for foodservice professionals, it contains advertising that appeals to all segments of the industry. A few pages in, the ad for Knorr’s Ultimate Roasted Chicken Base caught my eye, so I read the smaller print. What I found interesting was the following claim:
“Master Chef Steve Jilleba insists on working with only the very best products. So the fact that he believes Knorr Ultimate® Roasted Chicken Base delivers the ultimate in rich, roasted chicken flavor notes is definitely worth thinking about.”
I wondered, who is this “Master” Chef and what is in this product. Well, it turns out that Steve Jilleba really is a Master Chef. Not a self proclaimed one, or recipient of a title bestowed upon him by a corporate entity, for advertising sake, but an American Culinary Federation Certified Master Chef (CMC), one of only 61, that involves passing a grueling week long exam, a Certified Culinary Educator (CCE), and a member of the American Academy of Chefs (AAC). He was recently the recipient of the Chair’s Medal Award during a formal ceremony and dinner at the 2008 ACF National Convention, presented annually to an AAC Fellow who has demonstrated exemplary dedication and made outstanding contributions to the culinary profession while maintaining the highest standards and ideals and working to ensure excellence among future culinarians. He has competed and won numerous gold medals in the International “culinary Olympics.” Jilleba is the National Culinary Committee Chairman, Team manager for the 2008 ACF Culinary Youth Team USA, graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, ACF Central Region Chef of the Year in 2000, ACF Central Region Chef Professionalism Award in 1999 and he was named his chapter’s Chef of the Year and Member of the Year in 1999. Jilleba was also honored as one of Johnson & Wales University’s Distinguished Visiting Chefs, and the list goes on.

He obviously knows how to cook and what quality food is all about. So then, what is a talented chef, who no doubt, is a stand up guy, that has dedicated his life to the culinary arts, doing flogging processed chicken base on a national platform? It turns out that Chef Jilleba is the Corporate Executive Chef for Unilever, a 50 Billion dollar per year multi-national company that is no stranger to controversy. How could a job such as that, for someone who likes cooking fine food, at the highest level, be satisfying?

I used to be a member of the American Culinary Federation and was a charter member and officer for one of their chapters. When you are a member you get the chance to enter a good number of ACF sanctioned food competitions throughout the course of the year. Think part science fair, part Beauty pageant, part art show, part Iron Chef. For a chef they are exhilarating, highly competitive and an opportunity to show your peers “what you got” Most of the large food companies have corporate chefs. They run the test kitchens and come up with new products. Stan Frankenthaler, once considered one of the best chefs in the Boston Area, left the restaurant business in 2005, to become the corporate executive chef for Dunkin Donuts. There’s the rub, forgoing the thrill of running your own restaurant, serving your own creations, for a better lifestyle with normal hours and a lucrative paycheck. So you get your jollies competing for medals at these various sanctioned competitions.

So just what is Knorr’s Ultimate Roasted Chicken Base? It’s basically boullion cubes in paste form, in a tub. Here are the list of ingredients:


Unilever claims that the product contains “No added MSG” so let’s analyze the ingredients.
We know what these are. But, do we really need sugar in chicken stock?
Hydrolyzed protein is protein that has been hydrolyzed or broken down into its component amino acids. While there are many means of achieving this, two of the most common are prolonged boiling in a strong acid or strong base or using an enzyme such as the pancreatic protease enzyme to stimulate the naturally-occurring hydrolytic process. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, hydrolyzed protein is used to enhance flavor and contains monosodium glutamate (MSG). When added this way, the labels are not required to list MSG as an ingredient.
Hard to avoid when making chicken stock.
Autolyzed yeast extract consists of concentrations of yeast cells that are allowed to die and break up, so that the yeasts' digestive enzymes break their proteins down into simpler compounds.Yeast autolysates are used in Vegemite (Australia), Marmite, Promite, Oxo (New Zealand, South Africa, United Kingdom, and Republic of Ireland), and Cenovis (Switzerland). Bovril (The United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland) switched from beef extract to yeast extract for 2005 and most of 2006, but later switched back. Autolyzed yeast extract is also the primary source of monosodium glutamate for the food industry.
The chemical compound potassium chloride (KCl) is a metal halide salt composed of potassium and chlorine. In its pure state it is odorless. It has a white or colorless vitreous crystal, with a crystal structure that cleaves easily in three directions. Potassium chloride crystals are face-centered cubic. Potassium chloride is occasionally known as "muriate of potash," particularly when used as a fertilizer. Potash varies in color from pink or red to white depending on the mining and recovery process used. White potash, sometimes referred to as soluble potash, is usually higher in analysis and is used primarily for making liquid starter fertilizers. KCl is used in medicine, scientific applications, food processing and in judicial execution through lethal injection. It occurs naturally as the mineral sylvite and in combination with sodium chloride as sylvinite.
Maltodextrin is a polysaccharide that is used as a food additive. It is produced from starch and is usually found as a creamy-white hygroscopic powder. Maltodextrin is easily digestible, being absorbed as rapidly as glucose, and might either be moderately sweet or might have hardly any flavor at all. There have been recent reports of coeliac reaction to maltodextrin in the United States. This might be a consequence of the shift of corn to ethanol production and its replacement with wheat in the formulation. Wendy's, the fast food chain footnotes maltodextrin in its list of gluten-free foods, which may be a sign of their receiving reports of these.
Maltodextrin may contain monosodium glutamate or create MSG during processing.
The exact definition of natural flavorings & flavors from Title 21, Section 101, part 22 of the Code of Federal Regulations is as follows:
"The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional."
In other words, natural flavors can be pretty much anything approved for use in food.
This comes from the boiling of chicken necks and parts, from questionably reared chickens, on a massive scale and concentrating the liquid via a vacuum evaporator.
Disodium 5'-ribonucleotides, E number E635, are flavor enhancers which are synergistic with glutamates in creating the taste of umami. It is a mixture of disodium inosinate (IMP) and disodium guanylate (GMP) and is often used where a food already contains natural glutamates (as in meat extract) or added monosodium glutamate. It is primarily used in flavored noodles, snack foods, chips, crackers, sauces and fast foods. It is produced by combining the sodium salts of guanylic acid (E626) and inosinic acid
A mixture of 98% monosodium glutamate and 2% E635 has four times the flavor enhancing power of monosodium glutamate alone. ingestion of disodium ribonucleotides has been linked with skin rash (ranging from mild to severe) up to 30 hours after ingestion.[citation needed] It is recommended that no food containing disodium ribonucleotides should be consumed by gout and asthma sufferers or people with an allergic reaction to aspirin.
A spice used for coloring the broth. It’s about the healthiest ingredient here.

Here’s what goes into homemade roasted chicken stock:
2 Roasted chicken carcasses (skin, bones, fond, meat scraps, etc.)
4 carrots, cut into 2" pieces
4 stalks celery, cut into 2" pieces, including the leaves
3 medium onion, quartered
1 medium leek, cut into 2" pieces, then sliced lengthwise and cleaned thoroughly
About 10-15 whole peppercorns
A couple of stems each of Italian (flat-leaf) parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
Enough water to cover the ingredients in the pot

Better eating through chemistry? In this case, I think not.
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Friday, April 3, 2009

Burn Your Cookbooks

The Anti Recipe Movement is Coming!

This was a new one on me. I was having my morning coffee, which I consume while checking email, wire services and blogs, when I came across a post on the Boston localvores site. It’s a great resource for those of us in the Boston area for sourcing out locally produced, minimally processed foodstuffs. Which I am all for. I appreciate their commitment and support their effort to spread information regarding our local suppliers. Many of these small producers and suppliers need our support in order to keep their businesses viable.

What caught my eye was their most recent post, causing a “What the @#%&" to escape my lips. It was these two phrases “Mark my words, the anti-recipe movement is coming.” and “Recipes are a kind of conformity and fear.” I understand the gist of the post, people are too dependent on following set recipes, which can stifle creativity and create a need to run to the store for a missing ingredient, rather than rely on what’s in the pantry.

“Recipes, especially for savory things, should simply be a quick description/how-to.” I can agree with that statement, in certain instances. Here is a good example where it does not apply. Not that Lark cookery is still popular, but you see what I mean.

When I was a fledging restaurant cook, in an establishment that served classical haute cuisine, we used books such as Herings Dictionary of Classical and Modern Cookery,The Escoffier Cookbook and Guide to the Fine Art of Cookery and Ma Gastronomie. They had quick descriptions, like the ones above. Simple if you had spent thousands of hours learning technique. These were books written by chefs, for chefs. The authors assumed that you knew technique, or you wouldn’t be cooking from tomes as complicated as these to begin with.

Marc Matsumoto’s excellent blog, “No Recipes” (he does have recipes) is technique driven. His philosophy on cooking is that it’s 50% technique, 40% inspiration and 10% ingredients. He believes that if you’re armed with some basic techniques and a little inspiration, you can make a tasty meal from even the most derelict pantry.

Technique is important but recipes are indispensable for most home cooks. A new book from Michael Ruhlman, Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking is a good example. You may know how to make a roux with butter and flour. And you may know that if you add that to hot milk, and boil it, you get a Béchamel sauce. How much flour, to how much butter, to how much milk? Cook for how long? Go ahead, take a guess. Do you like wallpaper paste?

What about the need for recipes in order to achieve authenticity? A few nights ago I made a traditional Thai dish, Jungle Curry with Prawns.
It had 16 ingredients, all in exact measurements. It was the first time I made this, and I wanted to get the flavors as authentic as possible. There are quite a few Thai dishes that I have mastered, but I always follow the recipe the first few times so I get the flavor profile down. Then I can improvise and improve.

Yes, people should be more creative. People should experiment. Maybe for some, cooking strictly from the recipe does have something to do with fear and security. But, should we take away sheet music from musicians and patterns from clothing designers? Following the recipe verbatim can appear dogmatic, promoting a movement against recipes is dogmatic too, and highly absurd.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Adrift in the O.C.

Looking beyond the Stereotypes

In Late February our friends Dawn and Ed had us transported from the New England winter doldrums to Orange County California, the O.C., the place that many only know from a mediocre nighttime soap, and a reality show that centers on vapid, whiney, tasteless, harpies and their equally clueless, credit card grubbing, over-privileged, brood. I did not meet any of these types. I spotted some but felt safer viewing them at a distance. I did meet many good, genuine people. Cockroaches and butterflies can coexist. I had a interesting discussion with a man on the beach, who happened to be a Lakers fan, regarding the stereotypes that he, and myself, (a Celtics fan) have come to fall back on when perceiving the opposition. We got on quite well. The weather was near perfect, upper 60’s, lower 70’s. It came close to overshadowing the fresh produce.

Living In New England one comes to expect a short supply of anything locally grown throughout the course of the long winter season. You learn quick enough to avoid the cardboard textured peaches from Peru, the truck ripened water bomb tomatoes from Florida and the soulless strawberries from Mexico. To spend the morning prowling a southern California farmers market in February was my equivalent of a die-hard Elvis fan eating his lunch on Elvis’ commode at Graceland. And, because we were staying with friends, rather than a hotel, I got to cook all that we procured.

In addition to some superb meals prepared and shared with friends, we had some wonderful experiences dining out. I am only going to write about one though, my favorite of the trip, a breakfast on our first morning there.
We went just a few blocks from our friends home in Laguna Hills, by car of course, to an unassuming little strip-mall, in the middle of which, sat a small café called
“The Break of Dawn”.

The café, open for only breakfast and lunch, has a tactfully refreshing Pan-Asian, natural wood themed décor and a small terrace, where we chose to sit. In America breakfast tends to be more or less straight forward, based upon meat and eggs, usually varying in regards to the quality of the meat and eggs used. I am as guilty as the next person of being totally content with 2 eggs, sausage, home fries, toast and coffee. The cuisine at the Break of Dawn might best be categorized as Global Fusion meets Hybrid American Comfort Food. Although our friend Ed, who prefers American standards when it comes to breakfast, had pancakes, the rest of us dined on items unique to the establishment. We had:

Cinnamon Sticky Bun
Baked in Cast Iron Pan, Coffee Syrup and Almond Glaze,
Whipped Cream

Sausage and Rice
Portuguese-Hawaiian Sausage, Green Papaya and
Sesame Salad, Scallion Puree, Two Fried Eggs

Smoked Salmon
Coriander Cured, Oatmeal Galette, Herb Poached Egg,
Marinated Tomato, Preserved Lemon-Caper Emulsion

Barbeque Pork
Pulled Pork, Jalapeno Corn Cake, Tropical Slaw and
Egg Tempura, Essence of Five Spices

Dee Nguyen, the owner and Chef, waited on us. He is not just a little over qualified for running a moderately priced breakfast and lunch joint. A graduate of the San Francisco-based California Culinary Academy and former Executive Sous Chef at the Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, Dee was on a fast track to Culinary success when tragedy struck. Dee’s wife Lihn, who he first met as a child, on a refugee boat fleeing Vietnam, was 18 weeks pregnant when doctors discovered their unborn son had Eagle-Barrett syndrome, in which his urinary tract and abdominal muscles were malformed, causing severe damage to his internal organs. After a series of operations during his first two years, their son, Berlin, underwent a procedure to repair the damage to his stomach. During the surgery, his breathing tube was mistakenly blocked, causing him to go without oxygen for over ten minutes. He was in a coma for a month. That was in 2003, today Berlin is slowly making progress but it is a high level of adversity to battle day after day. This is what motivated Dee to abandon his dream, owning his own fine dining restaurant, and devote his life to the care and upbringing of his son. Linh, a full time Pharmacist handles the administrative duties at the restaurant, Dee's father, once a professional studio photographer in Vietnam, busses tables and the rest of his extended family help out where they can. Laguna Hills is a tough place for a creative Chef to ply his trade. Socially conservative, it could be viewed as the vanilla in Southern Cal’s ice cream chest. Olive Garden and TGIF are local faves. Despite the fact that Dee would prefer a Frisco audience, he has carved a niche for himself in the community and has garnered much praise in the regional press, most recently being named O.C. Chef of the Year. When a highly creative person has to scale back the artistic output they thrive upon, it isn’t easy. What Dee has managed to accomplish with the Break of Dawn demonstrates much about his passion and ability as a chef. It speaks volumes about his integrity, character and soul.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Revisiting Gourmet Magazine

The first time that I looked at a food magazine was in 1977. I was 22 and had spent the better part of my time, up until then, learning how to cook traditional American home cooking. My repertoire of ethnic fare included Swedish Meatballs, Turkey Tetrazzini, Beef Stroganoff and Chicken Florentine. The actual ethnicity of these dishes was dubious, at best. I had just gotten hired as an apprentice Garde Manger at the now defunct Petroleum Club, in Evansville Indiana. The kitchen, and the club, in regards to the style of food and service, was completely old school Continental. The waiters wore tuxedos with white gloves, there were at least 10 items on the menu that were flambéed tableside and much of what we prepared was straight out of Escoffier’s “le Guide Culinaire”. My introduction to Gourmet magazine coincided with my induction into the kitchens of Haute Cuisine and helped to place me decidedly in the camp of those who live to eat.

I can’t say when the last time was that I read a current issue of Gourmet. I have been on their website on occasion, and have watched the show “Diary of a Foodie”, but I haven’t really read the print copy in years. I browsed through one at a bookstore recently and decided to pass on it based on the fact that the sheer volume of advertisements was staggering. It had the same feel as GQ, or Cosmo, where one has to plow through page after page of ads in order to stumble upon a couple of narrow columns of text. I am sure this is due to an ever-increasing reliance on that ad revenue. The Gourmet of old, at $8.00 per year subscription rate, had that as a major source of income. Considering today’s printing costs, the present rate of $12.00 per year could hardly cover production expenses.

My thoughts for this post were formed the other day when I received 6 issues of Gourmet, from 1975, that I had purchased on ebay for $10.00 including shipping. I had been rereading Patrick Kuh’s “The last Days of Haute Cuisine” and David Kamp’s “The United States of Arugula” and noticed how they both gave special emphasis to the October 1975 review of Chez Panisse by Caroline Bates. The fact that this review put Chez Panisse on the map is beside my point. It was reporting like this, that young cooks, such as myself, needed to move beyond the restraints of the classical kitchen and keep abreast of the contemporary restaurant scene in America.

The travel writing of gourmet was also an important aspect of the publication. We all take the Internet for granted when seeking new information. Need a recipe for Chicken Tika Masala? No problem, Want to watch a video demonstrating hydrocolloid sphere making procedure? You can pretty much find cooking information from the exotic to the pedestrian. My first forays into Portuguese, Brazilian and Spanish cuisines, in the seventies, were due to reading Gourmet. Access to decent ethnic cookbooks at that time was near nonexistent.

Today, most chefs look upon Gourmet and other cooking publications as being geared more towards the home cook and view them as more than just a little condescending. However, I do owe Gourmet a debt of gratitude for planting a seed, fanning a flame and ultimately assisting me in my choice of careers. Maybe I will buy another issue.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Poison Pen

When food journalism turns bitter

During a conversation regarding food journalism I had with a friend recently, the name Gina Mallet came up. Gina Mallet is an Anglo-American who grew up in post-war rural England, moved to the United States and now lives in Toronto, where she is a food writer, restaurant critic and a James Beard award winner for her book “LAST CHANCE TO EAT, The Fate of Taste in a Fast Food World” A tome dedicated to the dying art of Haute Cuisine and the taste experience missing from so much food today. Part memoir, part rant. Mallet reminisces fondly of dishes such as Coquille St. Jacques, Sole Veronique and a host of other Escoffieresque concoctions, and takes great pains in bemoaning the fate of our culinary resources. All well and good. However, why are some of her other writings so blatantly contradictory towards many of the sentiments put forth in her book? In an article published in Food Arts Magazine in May 2008 titled “Beware the Neo-Puritans!” she criticizes Michael Pollan for being a political writer who is just one of the critics that is making food a surrogate for everything they find rotten in our way of life, but claims in her book that cookery is being killed by industrialized food production. She also criticizes Alice Waters for making people think that organic food’s real mission is to protest the evils of industrial food, inorganic chemicals, toxins, genetically modified ingredients, which are a devil-driven shortcut to increasing our food supply. She believes that the treatment of animals, factory farmed chicken etc. comes second to taste, poking fun at Jamie Oliver and his campaign to improve the conditions in the chicken industry. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Meat Book is one of her favorites. Is it just the recipes and not the philosophy behind HFW’s take on meat production? A huge proponent of genetically engineered foods, synthetic pesticides and McDonalds, she also insists that farmed salmon farmed salmon is consistently better than wild. On one hand she states"I don't want to eat strawberries in January. I'd like to go back to the time when the seasons meant something", then gushes over this statement by her culinary idol:

“Hear, hear added the Queen, Delia Smith, Britain’s Julia Child, told the BBC that the taste of food mattered more than whether it was organic or environmentally friendly. She couldn’t get into the politics of food. The poor and pensioners needed cheap battery chicken. She was skeptical about food miles. She loved fresh shelled peas from Kenya in the winter".

On her blog, she recently took issue with a column by the N.Y. Times food writer Mark Bittman. Here it is Verbatim:

Stocking your kitchen may be controversial....
by Gina Mallet on Thu 08 Jan 2009 02:42 PM EST | Permanent Link | Cosmos
Mark Bittman of the NYT blogged his list of how to stock your kitchen!

He must have a very large kitchen and soooo much time and no weight problem....

Most egregious:

Use only dry beans. He claims they're more economical and better tasting.... Couldn't disagree more. Dry beans take time to cook and are rarely as reliably cooked and goodtasting than when canned. Tiny green Flageolets, chick peas, red beans, black beans.... and of course the cans are easy to keep.

Bittman nixes bouillon cubes. So easy to make your own bouillon, if you have the time. Fact is that chefs use bouillon cubes at home regularly.

OUT: Canned peas (and most other canned vegetables, come to think of it). Obviously Bittman has never tasted the great Cassegrain canned petit pois which is better than any fresh or frozen pea. Canned peaches are a lifesaver and better than fresh peaches picked unripe, their usual state.

OUT Minute Rice or boil-in-a-bag grains. Bittman says stores as many types of grains as you can - who has the space? The bagged mixed grains are a godsend, offering variety on a small and storable scale.

Canned Coconut milk? True it's good in v. small amounts. Unfortunately North Americans don't sell small cans that you find in British supermarkets. Canned coconut milk is very fattening and the lo-cal can tastes of milk of magnesia.

WALNUTS And/or other nuts: but how old are they? Once dried nuts do have a shelf life but you rarely know how old the nuts are when you buy them.

DRIED FRUIT For snacking!!! The drying process removes most of the useful vitamins and nutrients and leaves sugar and calories. Because dried fruit is condensed moreover, it also contains MORE sugar, calories and carbs per gram that its hydrated counterpart! For example, 100 grams of dried apricots contains 238 calories and 53 carbs, while 100 grams of fresh apricots weighs in at just 56 calories and 13 carbs.

Frozen shrimp is "incredibly" convenient. Tasteless too.

Why all the Snarkiness towards Mr. Bittman? Is it because Mr. Bittman, today, is perhaps one of the most respected and well-liked food writers in the business? After reading Mallet’s response to his article, one cannot help but feel a sense of jealousy on her part. She states that “Fact is that chefs use bouillon cubes at home regularly”. This statement is not a fact but comes second hand from a N.Y. Times article that she read. I found this in one of her blog posts from 2007:

“A few years ago, the NYT had a funny article - which of course I can't find now - about how many chefs make their own stock in the restaurant but at home use stock cubes. I picked up a tip - I toss a cube into the water in which I cook pasta and into the water of the vegetable steamer”.
The Irony of this is that it is an article from 1999 by, of all people, Mr. Bittman. ( It is obvious that he has changed his opinion regarding bouillon cubes and, most likely will tell you so.)

In her book she states:

“unless consumers stick up for taste, there won’t be any” (p. 218).

If she genuinely believes that, why be an an advocate for canned foods, bouillon cubes and a host of other dubious crap and bad practices? Why lash out at some of the people who do truly seem to care about taste? And why does the writing, viewpoint and attitude of this person turn my pen poisonous and my writing bitter?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Valentines Day Wine and Food Pairing Dinner

We are now offering wine and food pairing dinners at the Boston Winery. The next one is on Valentines Day this coming February 14th. As opposed to a Valentines day restaurant setting, with cramped tables of 2, serviced by harried, overworked waitstaff, the dinner will be held in a rustic winery tasting room where participants will sit at tables of 10, enjoying the conviviality of friends and wine loving strangers alike. The dinner will begin at 7:00 PM and consist of 4 courses paired with 4 of Boston Winery’s handcrafted wines. During each course Scott Dahill, the Winery’s Sommelier, will give a detailed presentation on each wine served and Chef Mark DesLauriers will explain the food and the reason why it was paired with the accompanying wine.
The menu for this dinner will consist of the following courses and wines:

Mole Poblano Soup, Turkey Tortilla Dumplings
Barbera Syrah Blend

Roasted Beet and Goat Cheese Terrine,
Pistachio Gelée
Unfiltered Sauvignon Blanc Prosecco

Raspberry Scented Roast Cornish Game Hen, Wild Rice Pecan Pancakes, Winter Greens with Bacon
Super Tuscan

Warm Chocolate Crepe, Chocolate Mousse,
Strawberry Rum Sauce
Moscotto Canelli

The cost of the dinner is $95.00 per person and includes tax and gratuity.

We are really excited about doing ArtEpicure Cooking School events with this winery. Housed in a pre Civil War stone and brick building, a former nail factory, the Boston winery is a state of the art wine making facility that, in addition to making and bottling their own wines, offers the wine enthusiast the opportunity to create their own fine wine in an authentic winemaking facility. Individuals or groups can sign on to make a barrel of wine and go through the wine making process from start to finish with award winning wine makers from California and Italy. Also, you can just select the grape varieties, participate as little or as much as you would like, or even let them do all the work. The winery offers the choice of American or French oak barrels and a wide variety of premium grapes from Napa and Sonoma.
This is what happens:

Crushing / De-stemming: Scheduled in September and October, you will learn to crush and de-stem your grapes. This is the first step in the start of fermentation.

· Pressing: Following fermentation, you will press your “crush” onsite at the Winery. Prepare and fill your barrels. Your barrels are then stored in their climate controlled cellar.

· Racking: Generally scheduled in January or February, you will learn to remove the lees (sediment), clean the barrels, and top them off.

· Finalization: The final step is usually scheduled in August. It is the filtering, bottling, corking, and labeling. The automated bottling and corking equipment makes this step simple. You will then place your personalized labels on your bottles in this final step.

Please contact the winery for pricing for the wine making program. It does vary depending on the varietal and origin of the fruit. Wines are also available by the case at the winery. To book tickets for the Valentine’s dinner please click here.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Bean Cookery

To soak or not to soak?
That is the question

While having my Sunday morning coffee I was looking through Diana Kennedy’s book “From My Mexican Kitchen, Techniques and Ingredients” and read her instructions for basic bean preparation:

“I do not agree with soaking beans over night, whether you discard the soaking water or not. To my taste the skins always develop an unpleasant flavor.”

I have always soaked dried beans overnight, so I went to the pantry and grabbed a bag of pinto beans, then followed her instructions. As always, pick through the beans for any stones or shriveled specimens. Then cover with cold water to clean and pick out any chaff. Drain and place the beans in your cooking vessel. She recommends a ceramic bean pot but any thick bottomed pot will do, I used a Le Creuset Dutch oven. Cover with hot water, making sure that it is at least 3 inches above the level of the beans. At this stage she states that some cooks like to add a little lard or maybe onion or garlic. I added nothing at this point. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and cover. Simmer for anywhere from 2 1/2 to 4 hours. Age is a factor, the older the beans, the longer the cooking time, so, with store bought beans you can’t really be sure how long they are going to take. Add water as needed during the cooking process. When the beans are just tender add salt to taste and continue cooking until done. There is controversy as to the addition of salt at the start of cooking. Some people believe that it causes the beans to be tough and emphatically avoid early salting. Others disagree and find no difference in tenderness but insist that the beans are more flavorful. Ms. Kennedy waits to add the salt because that is the traditionally preferred method in Mexican cooking but does not find any difference in texture. I have to agree with her. One observation of note that I made during the cooking process was that the unsoaked beans did not produce the gigantic layer of white foamy scum on top that one has to skim off. I emailed Harold McGee and asked him what was up with that? He replied that during the soaking process proteins are dissolved out of the beans and then coagulated during the cooking. This leads me to believe that unsoaked beans would contain more protein and therefore be more nutritious. I haven’t found an answer to that question yet; can anyone reading this provide any information? The finished beans came out with an incredibly smooth and creamy texture and seemed significantly more tender than usual. I will have to try a side by side cooking test, soaked vs. unsoaked to get an accurate opinion. However, I have been sold on the unsoaked method and will not be soaking my beans prior to cooking.

Legumes, (the family of plants which beans belong to) are the third largest family of plants in the world (behind orchids and daisies) and second only to grains in importance to the human diet. Culturally they are perhaps the most significant, as they are the backbone of so many of the heavy hitters of cuisine in nearly every gastronomic region.
Cassoulet, Frijoles Negro, Gigantes Elephantes, Boston Baked Beans, Pasta Fagioli, Bohneneintopf, Hummus, Succotash, etc. When you think about these dishes a distinct, timeless cultural identity, associated with each, comes to mind. It is possible to even buy the correct legumes to prepare these various cultural culinary icons authentically. Localvore it is not, but there is no comparison for the taste and texture of Castelluccio or Puy lentils, Giant Lima beans from Kastoria or French Tarbais beans. If you can’t get them in a local shop many online suppliers have the right bean for the right job and you can expand your global legume repertoire.

So what did I do with my beans once they were cooked? I simmered chopped leeks and garlic in a skillet, in 3 cups of olive oil with fresh thyme and rosemary. I added this to the beans, but only with a half cup of the olive oil. Leaving the remaining 2 1/2 cups in the skillet. I then finished seasoning the beans with a healthy dose of Pimenton de la Vera, chopped flat leaf parsley and a final adjustment of salt and pepper. Next I simmered peas in 2 cups of chicken stock for 1 minute, added butter, olive oil, orange zest, chopped scallions, salt, pepper and 2 cups of whole wheat couscous, stirring, covering and then set aside. I reheated the olive oil remaining in the skillet to 150 ˚ F and placed salmon fillets in the oil, poaching until medium rare to medium, about 3 or 4 minutes per side. I brushed the salmon with Citrus Beurre Blanc and squeezed on a few drops of fresh basil oil. Plate rustically, serve and enjoy. Oh, and the wine? We had this with a 100% Petit Verdot 2006 from Boston Winery, made in Boston with premium Sonoma fruit.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Nouvelle Cuisine

Why it is still relevant

How many of you know what Nouvelle Cuisine is, or for that matter have a first hand familiarity with it? Recently in an interview that the British food journalist Jay Rayner conducted with Ferran Adria, the topic of Nouvelle Cuisine briefly came up. Chef Adria stated, “In 1987 we were trying to create a Spanish version of Nouvelle Cuisine.” Mr. Rayner’s response was “Not all Nouvelle Cuisine was popular, it had its critics.” To that, Chef Adria’s response was,” Anything that’s new always has its critics.” When it comes to food, art, music or architecture that statement could arguably be considered an absolute. In general, the majority of people are not comfortable with radical change. In 1987, In Spain, 12 years after the death of Franco, Chefs such as Mr. Adria could look back at the generation of Chefs in France, who were proponents of Nouvelle Cuisine, and feel an affinity towards their revolutionary philosophy and work. At the time when these Chefs in France started their experimentation, French people ate French food, period. People desired and consumed good food, but it was a food whose main focus emphasized the stable, consistent, and homogeneous sides of the relationship between eating practices and identity. Classic Haute Cuisine had been around for a long time. Its offerings of the exotic concerned themselves more with the addition of seasonings, as herbs and spices did not predominate in any way. For instance, á la Indienne meant the addition of curry, á la Chinois referred to the addition of ginger, etc. Nouvelle Cuisine was the first style of food preparation that incorporated actual fusion cooking. People were not used to having dining experiences where everything became strange and familiar at the same time and the boundary between that strangeness and familiarity was thrown out the window. This shocked and frightened some people in the same way that the art of the Impressionists did when they burst upon the scene in the 1860’s.

In 1968 France experienced tumultuous times that, all things considered, was more of a revolution than an accident. Although law and order had been restored, new ideas were flying across Europe and parts of the world. Cinema, which was a French invention, was a part of that revolution. Young directors, specifically Jean Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Louis Malle, and Alain Resnais, had begun to shake the celluloid establishment with incendiary articles in the infamous journal Cahiers du Cinema. With their new cinematic style, known as "La Nouvelle Vague" (the new wave) they turned their back on the conventional cinema style, heavy equipment and stock scenarios, and instead focused on imagination and ingenuity. Handheld cameras were employed cinema verité style and new techniques created a more lively and realistic style of film. Cinema changed forever. The gastronomic world was soon to follow.

The term Nouvelle Cuisine has been used many times in the history of French cuisine. In the 1740s for example, the work of Vincent La Chapelle, François Marin and Menon was described as Nouvelle Cuisine, and in the 1880s and 1890s, even the cooking of Georges Auguste Escoffier was described with the term. The label “Nouvelle Cuisine” just as the label “Impressionist” was created by the press and not by its practitioners.
The modern usage can be attributed to authors Henri Gault and Christian Millau, to describe the cooking of Paul Bocuse, Alain Chapel, Jean and Pierre Troisgros, Michel Guérard, Roger Vergé, Louis Outhier and Raymond Oliver, many of who were apprentices of Fernand Point.
Point created his own spin on Haute Cuisine transporting classic French Cuisine into a style that was lighter and more individualized. He did not agree that the classical cooking of Escoffier must be followed without deviation if it did not satisfy his and his clientele’s taste. Point believed that great cuisine should not be static and that a chef cannot live in the past and not go further. One should work from the fundamental building blocks of cooking and then modify and refine upon them to suit changing tastes in changing times. By creating a new style of cuisine he broke new ground for his fellow chefs. Before Point, the chef stayed in the kitchen, but that was about to change. He came into the dining room to talk to his clients, sounded out their likes and dislikes and composed their dinner with them, creating dishes to their tastes. This style was to be adopted by the young cooks working under him who later became founders of a new cooking movement and the first “Star Chefs” in the public arena.

In March 1969 Henry Gault, Christian Millau and André Gayot founded Le Nouveau Guide, a monthly magazine devoted to food and wine, the first of its kind in France, which also included an alternative rating system to the famed Michelin guide. In 1973, in number fifty-four of their guide, Gault and Millau published the ten commandants of Nouvelle Cuisine, among which they advocated that:
One should reduce cooking time
Use best quality and fresh from the market products
Offer a shorter menu
Keep open to new developments
Do away with marinades and game hanging
Cook sauces that were less rich
Respect dietary rules
Use a simple estheticism
Be creative
Nouvelle cuisine became all the rage in the fine dining establishments of France. It was everywhere, on television, on the radio, in the newspapers; people talked about it and held controversial discussions. The chefs who started this movement were the first rock star chefs. They became rich enough to purchase their own restaurants and become their own masters. However, this inspired many less talented chefs to follow suit. Unfortunately for several of them, what ought to have been simple, original, or healthy food became ridiculous, epitomized by bad fusion and over priced, parsimonious portions. The writers and critics, who had praised the best chefs, now did the same with the wannabees, and gave their seal of approval to gastronomic mutations. As a result, by the 1980s, Nouvelle Cuisine had lost its appeal.

Today, when one reflects upon the 10 commandments of Nouvelle Cuisine, it is not difficult to see the correlation between the cooking of those chefs our contemporary kitchen. Cooking time is reduced in regards to taste and texture. Methods such as sous vide lengthen the time but produce better results. This has much to do with embracing new developments. Top quality products, purveyed from the local marketplace, have become the norm. Although lengthy, small portion, seasonal prix fixe menus have become routine for better restaurants, they no longer offer 12 page ala carte ones. Marinades are still used but the time involved is much shorter especially when used under vacuum. For the most part, starch based thickeners have all but disappeared, replace by sauces thickened with vegetable and fruit purees and hydrocolloids.
Dietary rules are much more scrutinized as chefs strive to create a balance on the plate. Today’s cuisine is esthetically pleasing while shying away from pretentious ornamentation. Food has never been more creative than it is today. And the last of these rules, friendship has never been so apparent in the culinary arts as it is today with chefs from all over the world collaborating and joining together to support various causes.

Yes, Nouvelle Cuisine had it’s critics with a fair portion of the criticism duly deserved, However, for many of us who were around at the time of it’s inception, the beauty, brilliance and freedom it offered was breathtaking. It is these precise attributes that have so affected the modern kitchen and helped thrust it into the 21st century.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Chef Endorsements

Is There a Responsibility?

A statement I had made concerning “Iron Chef Cat Cora, contained in a comment on a blog article by Bret Thorn of Nations Restaurant News, drew this response from him:

“I’m not sure why you and anonymous commenter #2 feel a need to pick on Cat Cora, who has many years’ experience working in restaurants and who told me she was working with Simplot on Upsides because she likes the product line. I think she’s doing well enough for herself that she doesn’t need to work with things she doesn’t believe in, and at any rate I don’t see a need to doubt her word out-of-hand.
And she’s enough of a celebrity that my nine-year-old nephew knows who she is. That’s pretty good.”

In my comment I had stated:
“Many, like myself, are dedicated to quality food rather than celebrity, especially if the price of fame and money means flogging processed institutional crap like Cat Cora is doing with Simplot.”

This got me thinking about chefs endorsing products. Guy Fieri and Applebee’s, why not? He has a show called Diners, drive-ins and dives, it’s not as if he’s being contradictory, and it’s not as though he’s a chef associated with quality food. But, on the other hand, it’s endorsements like his, along with Rachel Ray shilling for Dunkin’ Donuts, that send the wrong message to children in this country, who are more susceptible to obesity and diabetes than ever, that the TV Chef that Mommy likes says it’s okay to eat this stuff. Yum-o!!!

I started looking at the History of Chef endorsements and the one of the earliest I could find, with real chefs, was a book titled “How Famous Chefs Use Marshmallows” from 1930. It is produced by the Campfire Marshmallow Company in order to illustrate how diverse their product is and how these professional Chefs, all of them European, use them to create wonderful gourmet haute cuisine. Life probably wasn’t that much simpler then when it came to getting by but I think that back then, people were less concerned with any of the moral and ethical quandaries concerning their daily bread.

I have no beef with Cat Cora and didn’t mean to come across as “picking on her”. She’s not breaking any laws, stealing from the poor or drowning kittens. I am sure she has worked hard to get where she is, and does do a lot of good through the philanthropic organizations that she works with. I do think though, that someone, who is touted as an “Iron Chef”, lauded by the media, looked upon by the general public as one of the leading Chefs in the country, might try to be more representative of the ideals and ethics of the Chefs who she proudly lists on her website as her mentors. Simplot, one of the world’s largest agribusinesses, inventor of the McDonald’s frozen French fry, operator of a 50 million dollar per year cattle feedlot business, manufacturer of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, every type of processed food product imaginable, is not the type of company that one of her mentors, Larry Forgione, the father of the farm-to-table restaurant movement would care to be associated with.

Through the writing and reporting from journalists such as Eric Schlosser, Michael Pollan and Michael Ruhlman, people have formed more succinct opinions regarding huge conglomerates like Simplot. Most Chefs really don’t care all that much if their peers like them, or care if some 9 year old knows who they are. However, they generally do care whether or not their food and cooking is respected.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Butter Poached Lobster

A cooking method that has become trendy with lobster, as of late, is butter poaching. Although neither new nor groundbreaking, thanks to Thomas Keller, and numerous write-ups of his butter poached lobster at the French Laundry, this technique has become the preference of many chefs. It involves killing the lobster, breaking it down, making stock then sauce from the shells, cooking the tails, claws and knuckles, removing that meat from it’s shells, vacuum sealing the meat with butter (a zip lock bag will suffice) and reheating the meat sous vide style while the accompanying side dishes are prepared. I recently taught a class showcasing this and decided to prepare the same dish for my New Year’s Eve dinner.

Butter Poached Lobster With Butternut Squash Risotto

Using a knife, pierce the lobster’s head and split it to kill it. Tear the tail from the body and wrap it in plastic film, keeping it shaped in a ball. Tear the arms off the body leaving the claws attached to them. Place the tail and claws in a pot of simmering water. Cook the claws for 4 minutes then remove. Allow the tails to simmer for 2 more minutes, remove and allow them to cool. Using kitchen shears extract the meat from the shells, leaving the tails and claws whole, and vacuum seal or enclose in a zip lock bag, squeezing as much air out as possible, with 1 ounce butter for each portion (1 lobster per person) and set aside in the fridge. Meanwhile make the sauce.

Spiced Lobster Sauce

4 T vegetable oil
Head and shells from 6 lobsters
1 fennel bulb chopped
3 cloves garlic chopped
4 shallots chopped
8 knobs ginger sliced
4 dried red chilies
10 Tarragon leaves
4 T tomato paste
10 dried shrimp
1 star anise
2 T lemongrass paste
1 c Dry white wine
8 cups water
4 Kaffir lime leaves
8 cilantro sprigs
3 cups diced butternut squash

In a large pan cook the shells with the oil on medium high for 5 minutes. Add the other ingredients except the water, squash, coconut milk cilantro and lime leaves. Mix well, cooking for 5 more minutes, then add the water.
Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let sit 10 minutes more and strain through a fine mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer 20 minutes. Puree in a blender or with a wand mixer, pass through a fine mesh strainer, adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper and set aside, keeping warm.

Heat a large pot of water to 145˚ F (63˚ C) and place the bags of lobster meat in the water as you start preparing the risotto.

Butternut Squash Risotto

6-8 cups chicken broth (use vegetable broth for vegetarian option)
8 T unsalted butter, divided into 2 Tbsp and 6 Tbsp
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cups butternut squash, peeled, and finely diced
2 cups Arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat broth in medium sized saucepan and keep warm over low heat. Melt 2 Tbsp of butter in a large saucepan; add onion and butternut squash. Cook over medium heat until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add rice to onion and squash. Cook 1 to 2 minutes. Add wine. Cook, stirring constantly until wine has been absorbed by the rice or evaporated. Add a few ladles of broth; just enough to barely cover rice. Cook over medium heat until broth has been absorbed. Continue cooking and stirring rice, adding a little bit of broth at a time, cooking and stirring until it is absorbed, until the rice is tender, but still firm to the bite, about 15 to 20 minutes.
During the last minute of cooking, add remaining butter and Parmesan. At this point the rice should have a creamy consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Plating and Garnish

Chive Oil
1/2 cup chopped chives
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Place ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth then pass through a fine mesh strainer. Have this made ahead and ready to serve. Use a squeeze bottle to dispense.

Watercress Salad
4 ounces watercress
2 T olive oil
2 tsp rice wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix together right before plating

Radish Sprouts

Remove the bags of lobster from the waterbath, cut off the tops and slide the meat into a pre-warmed bowl or pan. Place a serving spoon of risotto in the center of the plate, using a ring mold if you prefer a more symmetrical presentation. Surround this with sauce. Place a lobster tail in the center of the risotto and put the claws on each side with the knuckle meat around each claw. Drizzle chive oil in little pools onto the sauce. Place a small pile of the watercress salad on one side of the lobster tail and a clutch of radish sprouts alongside the other, then serve.

The Wine? Since it was New Year’s Eve, we wanted something bubbly and served this with a Blason de Bourgogne, Cremant Rosé, A sparkling wine from Chablis in the Burgundy region, made with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, using the Champagne method. However, this dish would pair really well with an Alsatian Gewürztraminer or Riesling.

This might seem like a lot of work but it really isn’t much more trouble than preparing lasagna. This cooking method for the lobster will insure that the texture, moisture and flavor will not be diminished and your guests will remark that it’s the best lobster they have ever had.