Saturday, April 14, 2012

Breaking Bread, Building Thriving Communities

 With a mission of “providing access to healthy food for all by cooking and eating together,” Our Community Kitchen has an innovative twist to an age-old idea of serving good food and bringing people together. Our Community Kitchen is not your ordinary church kitchen venue, nor is there the standard food fare menu of scrambled eggs and cereal. With an emphasis on providing locally sourced, healthy, home-made foods, Our Community Kitchen has a breakfast menu that rivals that of an upscale bistro. Served every Tuesday and Thursday from 7-10 am at the Ascension Episcopal Church in Stillwater, the breakfast is donation supported. Those who can afford to give are asked to give whatever amount they see fit; everyone in the community is strongly urged to come have breakfast regardless of their financial ability. No one is ever turned away and the crowd is growing- serving an average of 80 people per week. "I love the variety of foods and the ability to try new foods I have never before experienced," said attendee, Barb Christopherson. Preschoolers from the nearby Head Start program are invited to come have breakfast each week, broadening their food-tasting experiences which could help pave the way for healthier food choices far into the future. The children are fed “family style” with plates of food set in the middle of the table to encourage peer support as well as aid the children with having more personal power and responsibility over what they choose to eat.  

Nearly one year old, the project was conceived with the idea of connecting people and providing tasty and nutritious home-made food sourced from local farms, gardens, and area grocers such as the River Market Co-op. The Washington County Department of Public Health and Environment, in partnership with the State Health Improvement Program (SHIP) provided seed monies to help launch the pilot. “The SHIP initiative to reduce obesity and increase access to fruits and vegetables was the driving force behind support of Our Community Kitchen, " explained Pat Galligher, Washington County Senior Community Health Specialist, MPH, RD, LN. “We were immediately impressed with the dedicated volunteers and the quality, high-nutrient dense food.” Ann DeLaVergne founder of ecoEnvelopes, who has recently refocused to work locally on community projects, won't let funding issues slow down the momentum of this great initiative. Armed with a knack for connecting community resources and an army of dynamic volunteers, many of whom are self-proclaimed “foodies,” DeLaVergne has secured additional funding from Bayport’s Hugh J. Andersen Foundation and is plowing ahead.  


Our Community Kitchen volunteers plan for and prepare breakfast consisting of steel-cut oats, french toast, quiche with spinach and sun-dried tomatoes, homemade bread, and apple butter. The volunteers are likely to be community leaders who are also part of the local food production scene such as Jeffrey and Kristin Klemestrud, former chef-owners of Savories, Sara Hayden, baker and owner of Rustic Pies of Stillwater, or Sara Morrison (pictured left), owner of The Backyard Grocery, which provides garden design services as well as fresh herbs and vegetables. “I believe access to healthy food is a right that all people should enjoy and that eating good food with friends, old and new, is a great way to create community, “ said Morrison. Other volunteers include area-school students, and staff from Canvas Health and State Farm Insurance. Our Community Kitchen has taken seed and now many other positive outcomes are taking root. A group of Lake Elmo teens began the Cimarron Youth Garden project and the Kitchen purchases vegetables from them which are then used in the community meals. The breakfast has also become a central point to discuss all things food. “We support economic development through projects in and around the kitchen like Harmony Learning Center Garden and the Landfall Gardens. We also look at how to support micro businesses around food and cooking related products,” remarked DeLaVergne. Growers and food artisans are able to connect and benefit, which in turn is strengthening the physical, mental, spiritual, and financial health of the Washington County community. Ready to enjoy a good meal consisting of wholesome and local ingredients while connecting with other like-minded people? Breakfast available every Tuesday and Thursday from 7-10 am at Ascension Episcopal Church, 214 North Third Street, Stillwater.Interested in volunteering in this healthy food, healthy community movement? Volunteers are needed for a variety of tasks such as: helping pick up and sort produce, meal planning, and food preparation. Donations are also welcome- contact volunteer coordinator, Diane Rollie at 651-428-0300 or community organizer, Ann DeLaVergne 651-329-0125 for more details.


Leigh Ann Ahmad was dragged kicking and screaming to the Cities by her husband; having been born and bred in Cleveland, Ohio, she just could not fathom how colder could be better. Now, five years and two kids later, she cannot imagine a better place to play and thrive. She’s a reformed carb-aholic, wannabe writer, social justice advocate, book-club geek, veggie grower and local foods connoisseur. Her last article for SGT was, Discovering my roots.


Donnici Greco di Bianco Lamezia

Fondu: Twitter + Yelp + Foursquare


Bite-sized restaurant reviews from app upstart

Fondu is for anyone who has ever grown weary of sifting through Yelpers’ novel-length rants. The app, which co-founder Gauri Manglik calls “Twitter meets Yelp,” allows users to follow a curated list of reviewers—whether friends, family or their favorite bloggers. Unlike Yelp, Fondu has a strict 175-character limit for reviews, forcing users to get to the point. Along with their concise comments, users rate their experiences on a scale of one to four petals.

Although it has been touted as “Foursquare for Foodies,” Manglik says the user experience is much closer to that of Twitter because of its emphasis on communicating through succinct messages. Like Fondu, Yelp does have an option to follow friends, but no matter whom you’re following there is no limit to the length of the review.

“Yelp has an awesome set of comprehensive reviews if you need to dig deep, but if you want to make a quick decision about where to eat based on reviews from people you know, then Fondu is much easier to use,” says Manglik.

Fondu launched this year and currently has a few thousand users who have created over 20,000 reviews—primarily in New York and San Francisco. Manglik and her team plan to roll out a website in the next couple of months as well as game-features for the app which will reward users when they're friends go to restaurants, cafes or bars they've reviewed.

For now, Fondu’s small user base means reviews are limited, but as it grows you may find its condensed advice a welcome relief from that of prolific Yelpers.

More about apps on Food Republic:


Two Paddocks Vince Neil Vineyards Koala Blue Wines

Coulibiac (Page 308)

RECIPE #1283
  • Date: Saturday, September 24, 2011 -- 6pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companions: Matty, Helen, Charles, and Clara
  • Recipe Rating: A

The Book describes this recipe as perfect for "weekend hobbyists." The description scared me off a bit. Indeed, the recipe is a bit time consuming (the 3 and a half hour active time is no joke) but worth it! That golden brown pastry shell that you see above was filled with salmon and a delicious mixture of rice and mushrooms. It was a beautiful, delicious dish! But I am getting ahead of myself. I started preparing this dish by poaching salmon steaks in a mixture of water, white wine, and salt. I refrigerated the poached salmon and reserved the poaching liquid. I then made the dough. I proofed the yeast then added melted butter, warm milk, eggs, sour cream, flour, and salt. I kneaded the dough then let it rise until it doubled in size. I then cooked rice in the reserved fish poaching liquid. I cooked onions in vegetable oil and butter, then cooked finely chopped mushrooms in a similar manner. I mixed the mushrooms, onions, and rice along with dill, parsley, sour cream, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. I then divided the dough into two pieces and rolled out one of them. I sprinkled it with bread crumbs, then spread it with rice mixture and topped the rice with the salmon. I topped the salmon with chopped hard-boiled eggs, and topped the eggs with more of the rice mixture. I then rolled out the second piece of dough and draped it over the filling. I pressed the edges to seal, cut some steam vents, and decorated with some cut-outs. I brushed the whole thing with egg wash, and baked it until it was golden brown. I then served slices of the dish drizzled with melted butter.

This dish was fantastic! The bread exterior was flavorful and texturally perfect. The salmon was also nice. What made the dish for me though was the rice mixture, which simply tasted great. It was perfectly seasoned, and the ingredients came together in a wonderful way. The dill was pronounced without being too strong. The rice itself was flavorful from being cooked in the poaching liquid. It was a wonderful complement to the fish and hard-boiled eggs. This dish claimed to serve 6, but it would easily serve 8. We froze the leftovers, and when we ate the last slice I was terribly sad to see it go. This wasn't a quick and simple dish but the effort was worth it. Yum!

This recipe isn't online.

Only 10 recipes left to go!

And suddenly, it is the middle of November. The semester is winding down (Only three and a half weeks of classes left!), the winter weather is slowly settling in, and I am left wondering, as always, where the time went! The last couple weeks, in particular, have flown by. Two weeks ago our friend John was visiting. He's a mathematician in my special gentleman's field, and he came here to give a couple talks. He stayed with us for most of a week and it was great fun. I like having mathematical visitors stay with us, but occasionally people come who are bad guests: high-maintenance, or unpleasant. John, on the other hand, is the best kind of guest: fun, easy-going, appreciative, self-sufficient, and willing to go with the flow. The three of us had a fun week: scary movies, hard work-outs, a basketball game, a dinner from The Book, etc...

This past week my special gentleman and I headed down to Virginia. We were each invited to give talks at the University of Virginia (in two different seminars) so we opted to go the same week and travel together. Our friends Mike and Tim live there, so we stayed with them, gave our talks, and worked with people in the department. I also had the opportunity to do a little cooking! Mike has participated in this project since the very beginning. The first recipe from The Book that I cooked with Mike was back in February 2006. We made Tomato Sauce. It wasn't very good, but we had a fun time making it. It was only the 39th recipe I made. Since then, the Project Index tells me that Mike has cooked and/or eaten 113 recipes from The Book with me! He has been a great supporter of this project all along, so it was wonderful to have the opportunity to cook and eat one of the last ten recipes from the project with him. As it turned out, the recipe wasn't so good. But that seemed only fitting. Mike is the only one of my friends who often says things like, "Let's cook something from The Book! Pick something that sounds gross!" It's true, he likes the culinary adventure of trying the questionable recipes. Some of them have turned out wonderfully and some of them have not (Fig Pudding comes to mind). We always have fun though! In this case, it was especially wonderful to be able to make the last seafood recipe while in a town where a variety of seafood is abundantly available (unlike here in East Lansing!). One trip to the Whole Foods a few miles from Mike's house and I found everything I needed! So my trip to Virginia was not only research productive but also productive for my project. Multi-tasking!

Now my special gentleman and I are back at home. No visitors this week. My special gentleman and I are each making short (separate) trips to Canada in the next week or so to give talks, but other than that we are in town until Thanksgiving! I'm not sure I am quite ready for the craziness of the holiday season yet, but I am starting to feel more prepared. One of my absolute favorite times of the year is the few days between when finals end and when we head to Wisconsin/Ohio for the holidays. I love going to see our families, of course, but in those few days we spend at home before we leave I work by the fireplace, bake cookies, write Christmas cards, drink hot chocolate. It is an absolutely lovely way to start the winter break. I look forward to that time every year. It's hard to believe it is only about a month away!


Barbera 2005 Shiraz 2004 Pinot Noir 2003

Radison Edwardian, Guildford – Review

Guildford has had a much needed development makeover and with it, a new civic centre (G Live) as well as a much needed luxury hotel in the shape of a contemporary Radisson Edwardian 4*. Living just a few miles from Guildford, it made sense to get in touch with the hotel and go and see what all the fuss was about.

For those who have never been to Guildford, it’s a medieval market town with a lot of character, charm and history. It’s also a town with very few quality hotels it has to be said. It’s a great place to live, work or play. In fact, Guildford is attracting a growing business community thanks to its cutting edge research and business parks and a great road, education and transport infrastructure.

The hotel opened just a few months ago and is already attracting good numbers throughout the day, every day and when you visit it’s clear to see why. The hotel has private parking below it (very handy as Guildford can be tricky to park at the best of times), a fully kitted out gym (complete with a personal trainer), conference rooms, a luxury Spa, cocktail bar and fine dining restaurant. It is appealing to so many markets, especially business travelers who can rely on the strong brand that is Radisson Edwardian.


Erie County Lancaster County Lehigh County

Wine For Normal People Radio: Episode 41 -South Africa

This week we talk about South Africa, one of my favorite countries. After going there in 2005, I became enamored of the wine and the country. Since then, I've been a big fan!

You can download the podcast here or listen to it on iTunes: DOWNLOAD

In this episode we hit on:
  • The history of South African wine and why it's a good bridge between the Old and New World
  • How South Africa's price to value ratio measures up
  • The climate, geography, and varietals of the main growing regions
  • The Wine of Origin or regional specificity pyramid
  • Detail on the most important wine regions: Stellenbosch, Paarl/Franschoek, Overberg, Robertson, and more...and why I love Swartland and think it has major potential!

I love South Africa and its wines. If you ever get a chance to visit or even look at pictures, check it out. It's a really special place!

If you like the podcast, please review it on iTunes, drop a comment below, or join the awesome conversation on Facebook (Wine For Normal People page) and Twitter @normalwine!

If you've got a question you want us to answer, post it on any of those places and we'll include it on the show!

Thanks for listening! We can't wait to hear from you!

Podcast music: "Café connection" by morgantj / CC BY 3.0, ©2009 - Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution (3.0).


1945 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild Jeroboam “Th.J” 1787 Chateau Lafitte Shipwrecked 1907 Heidsieck

Friday, April 13, 2012

Mmm ... Dessert! Come link your recipes!


Napa County Napa Valley Los Carneros AVA

Bottomless Mimosa Brunches Will Have You Bouncing Around Like The Easter Bunny


Flirtini French 75 Glogg

Fragrant Crispy Duck (Page 394)

RECIPE #1275

  • Date: Saturday, July 23, 2011 -- 5pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: A-

My special gentleman and I both love duck, so I would have made this recipe sooner, but it had a pretty intimidating look about it. The Ingredients list was short, but the Special Equipment list was long, and the recipe took up two pages. This recipe involved first marinating the duck, then steaming the duck in a wok, then blow-drying the duck with a fan, then deep-frying the duck (twice!). Madness! One Saturday in July, though, I decided it was time for a cooking extravaganza. I cooked all day, making this duck and finishing off the canning I had left to do for the project. It was fun! To make this duck I started by making the Toasted Sichuan Peppercorn Salt, which I had already made once before as a component for a different dish. Then I broke the breastbone of the duck (Truth be told, my special gentleman broke the breastbone. I tried and failed. I don't have a lot of upper body strength.). I heated the Sichuan peppercorn salt with some Chinese five spice powder. I reserved some of the spice mixture, and rubbed the rest on the inside and outside of the duck. I marinated the duck in the spice rub, refrigerated, overnight. I then put the duck in a glass pie plate and rubbed it with rice wine. I put ginger and scallions in the cavity and on the duck, then steamed the duck for 2 hours in a covered wok by putting the pie plate on a metal rack in the wok with boiling water below it. While it was steaming, I siphoned off the fat with a turkey baster every 30 minutes, and replenished the water below the rack as necessary. I then slid the duck onto a wire rack to cool, setting it in front of a fan to blow dry for two hours:

Once the duck was very dry, I brushed it with mushroom soy sauce, then dusted it with flour. I very, very carefully deep-fried it, turning once, in a wok full of oil. I increased the temperature of the oil, then deep-fried it again. I served the duck with the reserved spiced salt.

This recipe was definitely fussy, but the result may have been worth it. This duck was DELICIOUS. The meat was tender, moist, and incredibly flavorful, while the skin was crispy and seasoned perfectly. My special gentleman declared it the best duck he had ever eaten, and I couldn't really argue. It was incredibly tasty. I would have liked it even better with a sauce to accompany it, but it was pretty fantastic as it was. However, I doubt I will be making this recipe again soon -- it was a lot of hassle for a recipe which serves only a few people and is basically impossible to double (without another wok at least). But it was very, very tasty, so if you have an afternoon set aside for cooking and are looking for something to try, I would recommend this one.

The recipe is here.

Only 18 recipes left to go!

What a crazy week! We returned from Denmark a little over a week ago now. After a long 22 hours of travel to get from Aarhus, Denmark back to East Lansing, Michigan, we were pretty happy to be home. We arrived home late Saturday night, and enjoyed a couple days at home, catching up on work and sleep. On Wednesday, it was time to leave for another trip! We started by driving to Chicago to meet our adorable niece Hannah. Unfortunately we got a flat tire somewhere outside of Michigan City, Indiana, and ended up spending a decent chunk of our day at Wal-Mart getting a new one. Eventually we made it though, and Hannah is super cute! We spent the afternoon with Brad, Deniz, and Hannah, and the evening with our friends PJ and Georgia who also live in Chicago. We stayed the night in Chicago, and after a swim in Lake Michigan Thursday morning we hit the road again. Next stop: Upstate New York! We drove the 14+ hours to New York over two days, stopping for the night in the middle of a crazy storm near Ashtabula, Ohio. We arrived in Lake George, New York on Friday afternoon. The trip to Lake George was to attend our friends Mike and Tim's wedding. On Friday evening we went to a pre-wedding cocktail party before the Saturday wedding.

The wedding wasn't until Saturday evening, so on Saturday morning we went to visit our friends Paps and Katie, who happen to own a vacation home about 20 minutes from where we were staying. They just had a baby, and it was great to get a chance to meet little Peter. Later in the day we met up with Vero and Philippe (also in town for the wedding) for some lunch and shuffleboard. It was a beautiful day, and definitely one of the most vacation-like days I have had all summer. The wedding was Saturday evening. It was held right on Lake George and the setting was unbelievably beautiful. I have known Mike for almost a decade now and Tim for only slightly less. They are such a fantastic couple, and it was a great privilege to celebrate with them on their special day. The wedding was black tie, which was fun, and they served barbeque, which was delicious! There was plenty of drinking and dancing. It was a good time!

We couldn't stick around long in Lake George because I had to be back at work for a retreat on Monday. So Sunday we drove straight back home. We went through Canada on the way back, and it ended up being about a 12 hour drive. It was long, but definitely worth it for such a special weekend. Now we are home! My special gentleman announced with excitement this morning that he isn't traveling again for another two and a half weeks. Two and a half weeks at home!! He was so excited. It is exciting to be home. The semester starts soon, and I have a lot to do before I will feel ready. I should get to it! I can't believe summer is over.


Blenheim Vineyards Montagia Wines Two Paddocks

The Death of Donnici

Who knew? It was just a little impoverished corner of Southern Italy. It wasn't Tuscany or Piedmont. Suckling or Cernilli wouldn’t have noticed. Rivella never cared in the first place. But when I looked at the documents last night it was a pivotal moment in Italian wine history. Italy and the patrimony of her grapes were being assimilated with international varieties. It was as if the current US Congress had arranged it, cloak and dagger, under the cover of a moonless might. It was an insidious but overt maneuver. And nobody even noticed. A brilliant score for the soulless bureaucrats in Rome and Brussels. And it was the death of Donnici.

Who cares? It was an insignificant DOC, established in 1975, in the heady days when all sorts of wines were being awarded the DOC status. The party lasted until the end of November 2011, 36 years of excesses, and falling off the wagon. What a ride it was. But ultimately someone in Rome decided to throw Donnici from the train.

Donnici, always the lesser sibling to Cirò, which is also under attack by the Rivellistas and the Cernillistis, bent on taking Italy into a world in which they will assimilate and disappear. It’s bat-shit crazy, watching men my age tinker with 2000+ years of Italian wine history as if it they were choosing music for their iPod’s. Someone will pay, somewhere down the road. After Rivella and Cernilli and I am dead, most likely.

The maneuver that took place was to fold Donnici and several other DOC’s from Calabria into an umbrella DOC, now DOP, called Terre di Cosenza. And while the other appellations also suffered minor cuts and tucks, Donnici took a hit many times over the one Cirò took.

Donnici, along with Savuto and Pollino were the first DOC’s awarded in Calabria in 1975. Cirò showed up 15 years later, with a vengeance, in 1990.

Terre di Cosenza was the 13th Calabrian DOC, awarded in 2011 as the gate was swinging shut. It appears that the transition to the EU DOP scuttled Donnici along with Pollino, San Vito di Luzzi and Verbicaro. Admittedly, few Americans or Italian have regularly enjoyed these wines. But who decided to roll these four DOC’s into Terre di Cosenza, and while they were at it allow the use of Chardonnay (for white wine production) and Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sangiovese (for red wine production)?

Recently I lamented the addition of a mere 5% or Cabernet or Merlot to Gaglioppo in Cirò. After all,Cirò has the history of thousands of years going back to that clichéd story about an Olympian in the days of Magna Graecia. Donnici, Pollino Verbicaro and San Vito di Luzzi, what are they? Johnny-come-latelies, at the very least. No, they hold no sway; they have no clout in the political arena of Rome.

Now the DOP Terre di Cosenza can also be Chardonnay. Or Merlot. Or Cabernet. Or Sangiovese. Just like Napa Valley or any number of internationalized wine growing zones. What a giant leap. But forward? Who let this happen?

This is symptomatic of the dis-ease that infests Italian wine mentality. And the South once again, has been the refuse bin of some bureaucrat’s concession, or worse, a dream, to “compete” in the international wine market.

When, oh when, will Italy get over their paucity of confidence in their resounding strengths to deliver beautiful, indigenous, wines the world wants and needs?

We don’t need another Cirò.


Kir Kir Royale Mimosa

Edible Art: Martí Guixé, Food Designing

There is a quote from photographer Inga Knölke that appears on Martí Guixé’s home page that reads “A food designer is somebody working with food, with no idea of cooking.” It is the perfect way to introduce the viewer to Guixe’s work, which is all about enhancing the modern idea of food as a product, as opposed to a necessity. By creating objects like a hands-free lollipop, a pie chart which shows the percentage of ingredients in a cake, or a hot chocolate mug that “never gets dirty” he brings whimsy and imagination to objects that we all so often take for granted. Guixe was also the creator of the Candy Restaurant (a place for eating candies) in Tokyo, which was a unique food space where a chef served sweets to diners along with eating instructions. The childlike act of eating candy therefore transformed into a much more formal dining experience. What fun!

photo by asobi tsuchiya

You can find a collection of Guixe’s work in his book Food Designing. You can also check out some of his food-related pieces via his Web site, right here. Be sure to click on both the “food” and “tool” links.


Palisade/Grand Valley Leelanau Peninsula Old Mission Peninsula

Soupapalooza! Week Four With a Spring Minestrone with Chicken Meatballs

Who would have imagined, during the first act of Soupapalooza back in February, that the fourth act would come during a stretch of 70 degree weather and popping tulips? Never mind the weather, according to the calendar, it's still soup season. For week four of Soupapalooza, I bring you a light Spring Minestrone with Chicken Meatballs. 

I took many liberties with this recipe from Bon Appétit, but that's the beauty of soup - it pretty much begs you to take liberties. Have your way with me! it trills from the bottom of the pot. The chicken meatballs were tender and savory, bumping around like sweet little dumplings in the delicate broth. The spinach, chives, leeks and basil were meltingly soft, herbaceous and redolent of the greening that's happening outside my window. I added chopped mushrooms to the sautéing leeks and skipped the pasta. I think peas would be divine.

This easy, light and nourishing soup is perfect sustenance for these heady days when we just want to sit on the front stoop and smell the earth as it wakes all around us with warm winds and grassy sighs.

Spring Minestrone with Chicken Meatballs adapted from Bon Appétit

6 ounces ground chicken

1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs (I used panko)

6 tablespoons finely grated fresh Parmesan, divided, plus more for garnish

4 garlic cloves, 2 minced, 2 thinly sliced

2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

1large egg, whisked

Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 leek, white and pale green parts only, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds

1 cup chopped button mushrooms

5 cups low-salt chicken broth

1 cup 1/4 inch rounds peeled carrots

1 cup (packed) baby spinach

Chopped fresh basil

Mix chicken, breadcrumbs, 3 Tbsp. Parmesan, 2 minced garlic cloves, chives, egg, 3/4 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper in a medium bowl. Form into 1/2-inch-diameter meatballs.

Heat oil in a small pot over medium heat. Cook meatballs until golden all over, about 3 minutes (they will finish cooking in soup). Transfer to a plate; set aside.

Add leek and mushrooms to pot and cook, stirring often, until beginning to soften, about 3 minutes. Add 2 thinly sliced garlic cloves; cook for 1 minute. Add broth and 2 cups water; bring to a boil. Add carrots and simmer for 8-10 minutes. Add meatballs; simmer until carrots are tender, and meatballs are cooked through, about 3 minutes. Add spinach and remaining 3 Tbsp. Parmesan; stir until spinach is wilted and Parmesan is melted. Season with salt and pepper.

Ladle soup into bowls. Garnish with chopped basil and Parmesan.


Gabriela Lambert is a frequent contributor to Simple, Good and Tasty. You can also read more of her writing on her blog Her last post for SGT was: Soupapalooza, Creamy Cauliflower Soup.




Alfrocheiro Alicante Bouschet Alvaraca


I recently had an epiphany. It started at the San Francisco airport, in the new #2 terminal. We were heading back to Dallas after a memorable week of writing, work and inspiration in Napa Valley. We had arrived a little early and hadn’t had time to do anything on our drive from Napa to SFO but stop at Acme Bread in Berkeley so we could bring home some sourdough loaves to our loved ones.

Little did we know when we got to SFO that the new terminal had an Acme Bread counter. We hadn’t needed to stop in Berkeley at all. It was one more indication that the airport folks had read my mind. In fact there were all kinds of signs. A burger place that used meat from cows raised and slaughtered humanly. An organic place. A wine bar with real wines, not some bar “concept” with crappy industrial and trophy wines. A sushi place with honest sake.

Landing back in DFW, there would be none of that. Just a bunch of tired, worn-out chain restaurant concepts. Low on the totem pole of food and wine consciousness. Yuck.

Now, this isn’t just about bread. Or wine. Or sushi. But it is about something I witness, all the time, in Italy. And it has been happening more and more to us in Northern California. That is the realization that there are places and cultures and people who strive for a more refined expression in their foods, in their wines, in their lives. In Italy it is like the blood in the veins, it is something that has been downloaded into their DNA. And so it seems California has been evolving a little faster toward this than some of the places I frequent in the United States.

I know this isn’t a news flash to some folks. But it hit me on the side of my head, once again, that I have been doing missionary work in the interior of this country for so long that I have forgotten the wellspring of inspiration for which I have been proselytizing all these years. I haven’t been “home” in such a long time that I have forgotten that there are people who don’t think of a wine such as a Susumaniello or a mushroom that isn’t a standard button as oddities. That it is more in the natural course of things. I have forgotten my natural-ness in my longing to convert everyone to Chianti Rufina over Classico and Langhe Nebbiolo from Pinot Noir. I have been in battle mode for too long; I have strayed too far, wandering in this desert. I want to go home.

I want to go where I don’t have to sit in a restaurant and look at a wine list with the same Ripasso and the same Pinot Grigio and the same lazy restaurateurs telling me that they cannot put the Friuli Pinot Grigio on it because it is too expensive and besides no one has ever heard of it. Where people who call me “friend” hand me a plate of pasta with more garlic than mushrooms, with more salt than sense and with olive oil that doesn’t taste anything like the olive oil I taste regularly in Italy and California.

Maybe it was the weather, maybe it was a divine confluence of all the right energies, the nights we sat in restaurants in St. Helena with winemakers and writers and we drank great wines from California and France and Italy and we shared conversation, not as server to client, but person to person. I wasn’t some old-school fogie that some young sommelier would ignore. I actually had something to say and expertise to share and was among my peers. They, as well, had something to share with me, an exchange of ideas, of passions, of tastes.

It wasn’t, “Hey you think your Chianti is so great, look at this one I got from so and so, it’s even better!” I get that from too many servers in my local market. The wines they throw back at me are often ones I sold or introduced into the same market 30+ years ago. I am exhausted with the arrogance of some of today’s new-crop industry members, their impatience and ignorance of the history of the business they are in. I witness less of this in my Italy and in my once-upon-a-time home state, California.

People tell me it is an evolving thing and of course the coasts will always be ahead of the great middle way. I knew that; I’d just forgotten it in the fog of war. But even the other Thirty Years War (look it up) came to an end. I want to be the happy warrior, walking in the direction of home, or at least dreaming of places that know me. If nothing else, a silent acceptance, like the night we sat with the winemakers and their old wines. That was my old tribe, my people, that was belonging. That made all this struggle worthwhile.

And so, the lights once again, came on. The cymbals clashed, and the epiphany of taste once again rolled out and presented to me: “What are you waiting for? We are handing it to you. When are you going to take it?”

I reckon I’ll take it when I finally really “get” it. And I’m beginning to get it a little more clearly now.


Ciccone Vineyard and Winery Vintage 13 Marino Estates Blenheim Vineyards

Lobster Newburg (Page 340)

RECIPE #1281
  • Date: Monday, September 5, 2011 -- 12pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Fellow Chef: Matty
  • Dining Companion: Helen
  • Recipe Rating: A-

I put off making this recipe for a long time because it just didn't sound good to me. Lobster is already so rich that lobster plus heavy cream plus butter plus egg yolks just sounded excessive. But we figured that we would be decadent on Labor Day and eat super-rich lobster for lunch. As it turned out, I was wrong about this recipe. This was by FAR the best lobster recipe in The Book. And although I am not, in general, a huge lobster fan, even I agreed that it was tasty. I started by boiling some live lobsters. Then my special gentleman split them and removed the meat. I simmered some cream, then cooked sliced mushrooms in butter. I added the lobster meat, paprika, salt, pepper, sherry, and hot cream to the mushrooms. I then slowly cooked a mixture of egg yolks, more sherry, and more hot cream to 160 degrees. I added the custard sauce to the lobster mixture and spooned it into the cleaned lobster shells. I broiled the the dish until golden. In a word: Yum! Yes, it was rich, but it didn't feel as excessive as I had imagined it would. The mushrooms were excellent with the lobster, and the cream sauce had a lovely consistency and flavor. The sherry and paprika complemented one another nicely. My special gentleman always applies the Better-Than-Butter test to lobster recipes and generally they fail. Most preparations he finds to be inferior to just serving the lobster with melted butter. In the case of this recipe though, it passed his test with flying colors. He admitted that yes, this dish was Better-Than-Butter!

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Happy Halloween! Life has been so crazy lately that this holiday seriously snuck up on me. I did manage to get my shit together enough to buy candy, but that was about the extent of my Halloween effort this year. It's a shame because I love pumpkin carving and toasting pumpkin seeds, but alas, I didn't get around to it.

The busyness of late has mostly been fun stuff though. My mom was visiting last week, which was great. Then yesterday my special gentleman and I hosted what the university calls a Fireside Chat. It's a program where faculty host some college freshman from the honors college at their home for dinner. We hadn't hosted one before, and we weren't exactly sure how it would go, but it was fun. We had eight undergraduates for dinner, one of whom is in my Calc 3 class, but the other 7 I had never met before. My special gentleman and I made beef braised in red wine, mashed sweet potatoes with caramelized onions, green beans with almonds, goat cheese biscuits, salad, puff pastry cheese straws, and flourless chocolate cake with raspberry sauce. The students seemed appreciative to have some home cooked food and an evening away from campus.

It was interesting to listen to them talk about college life. I talk to undergraduates all the time of course, but I don't often get to listen to them talk to one another for several hours. After they left my special gentleman turned to me and said, "That made me feel old." I understood the sentiment. They used a lot of vocabulary I had never heard before (blinky cup?). And at one point a student said in disbelief, "Who does homework on the weekend?" I thought to myself, "Your professors," as it is rare that a weekend day goes by when I don't work. But that was true in college too. I did tons of work on the weekends. Everyone did. Apparently that is not the case any more (at least not here anyway).

College seems different now than it used to be. As an undergrad, I rarely knew anything about the professor before the first day of class, unless I happened to have had a course with him or her before. Now students are extremely well-informed. They have easy access to not only student reviews of faculty members, but often also to past exams and grade distributions from previous semesters. Some consequently have very strong opinions about which professors they want for which courses, and who they are certain to avoid. In general access to information is a good thing, but it's amazing the sort of personal attacks students will make against professors on the internet. I have been fortunate enough to never have read anything particularly offensive about myself, but I have friends who have been really affected by nasty student comments. And once those comments are out there on the internet, they are there for anyone to read.

It seems more and more that university education is viewed as a service industry. Students pay a lot of money and they expect excellent teaching, which seems reasonable enough. Some also expect high grades in exchange for their tuition. That seems less reasonable. It's very different than the way I thought of college when I was in school.

All that said, the students we had over for dinner last night were lovely, and certainly none of them were trash talking their professors (at least in front of us!). Spending time with them just got me thinking about how the culture of college has changed in the 10 years or so since I graduated. I guess I am getting old!

Happy Halloween!


Pinot Noir 2003 Syrah 2001 1992 Screaming Eagle

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Coconut Milk Rice Pudding with Fresh Mango – I Don’t Like Rice Pudding, But I Love This!

I’m not a big fan of rice pudding, but curiosity got the best of me, and I needed to find out how much better/different a version would be that used Arborio rice, and the same basic technique as a savory risotto. 

In addition to trying out a new cooking method, I also wanted to sneak in some coconut milk for a little tropical twist, and I’m happy to report great success on both fronts. The Arborio produced a wonderfully creamy texture, and unlike tradition long-grain rice pudding, the grains of rice maintained a certain textural integrity, instead of just disappearing into one big, starchy mass.

The coconut milk gave the pudding another layer of subtle sweetness, and also inspired the fresh mango garnish, which really elevated these bowls of comforting goodness. Of course the mango is optional, and you’re welcome to take your chances with raisins, preferably golden ones. If desired, those can be added at the same time as the sugar and salt.

Speaking of bowls, I generally don’t make dessert for three (except this one time, at band camp…), but I had some new porcelain ones I wanted to use, and didn’t bother to check the volume before ladling in the sweet porridge.

Despite my “odd” yield, you should get four nicely sized portions from the amounts below. And yes, if you can’t find coconut milk (which you can), simply use all milk. I hope you give this coconut milk rice pudding a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for 4 portions:
1 tbsp butter
1/3 cup Arborio rice (Note: I haven’t tested this recipe using regular rice, so no idea if that will work here. My instincts tell me, not nearly as well)
1 cup coconut milk
2 3/4 to 3 cups milk, or as needed
1/4 cup white sugar
1/8 tsp vanilla
salt to taste
1 egg yolk, beaten with 2 tbsp milk
For the garnish:
1/4 cup finely diced mango
pinch of Chinese 5-Spice


Lamezia Pollino San Vito di Luzzi

Advice For The Novice Bartender


Simple ways to improve your cocktail game

When it comes to cocktails, Simon Ford is the guy to know. After earning a Wine and Spirits Education Certificate in the UK, he went on to work for Seagrams and now holds the heady title of Global Spirits & Cocktail Brand Expert for Pernod Ricard USA. For real, it's on his business card. In Simon’s weekly column, Drink Ford Tough, he tells you everything you ever needed to know about the art of the cocktail. And how to drink better.

It’s a lot of fun to make cocktails at home, but one thing you should always remember is you’re likely never going to be as good as your favorite bartender. This is the man or woman who makes drinks every day. He is the master of all spirits. The custodian of the craft. If you were as good as him, he’d be out of a job.

With that said, the first piece of advice I have for you is don’t be disappointed in your early days of making drinks. Master some of the tips below and your cocktails will quickly improve.

1. Start with the classics
Before you start creating your own cocktails, learn some of the classics—because in these lie the foundations of all great, balanced cocktails. Learn a good sour drink, such as the margarita, or the daiquiri. Perfecting the balance between lime juice and cointreau is a formula you can apply to many of your own concoctions.

2. Keep shaking
A mistake people often make is they don’t chill, or dilute, their drinks as much as the professional bartender. Remember, when you see the bartender shake the cocktail, he is shaking for a really long time. Yes, your hand will get cold when doing this but you’ll have a newfound respect for the bartender. The longer you shake the more chilled and diluted the drink will become, which will in turn release better flavor. But be careful not to over do it. With practice you’ll find the perfect balance (try shaking 25 times to start).

3. Taste for balance
Taste your drink in the middle of shaking to make sure it is chilled and balanced enough. Same goes for stirring. Do a good 30 stirs, taste, and stir more if needed.

4. Always chill your glassware
Put your glasses in the freezer. This is only really important for drinks that you’ll serve up, because there’s no ice included.

5. Buy the best ingredients
Your professional bartender has gone to great lengths to get the best spirits, fresh juices, and fresh fruits. Just remember that your cocktail is only as good as the ingredients.

6. Add a functional garnish
A garnish isn’t there just to look pretty (but it’s nice if it does). A garnish should always add flavor. When you squeeze the oils from a lemon peel they add an essence as well as oil over the top of your martini. So keep in mind that most garnishes have a purpose. There’s no reason for a cocktail umbrella unless it’s a tiki party. But a big, fat sprig of mint on top of a mint julep not only looks great, it adds freshness. Make your cocktail look and smell good and people will want to drink it.

And remember, if you’re throwing a dinner party serve a punch. It’s a good convivial way of sharing a well-balanced drink that you can make ahead of time.

You can follow Simon Ford on Twitter: @SimonJFord.


Silverado Vineyards Winery Mike Ditka Wines Casa Dumetz