Friday, October 24, 2014

Book Review: French Bistro


"If there's one thing I love more than anything, it's food that is tied to a beautiful feeling." That's the opening line in the new cookbook, French Bistro, by Maria Zihammou, and it's an apt starting point because the photographs, hand-written notes, recipes and entertaining tips do create a "beautiful feeling" in the reader. French bistro food is, obviously, the subject of many, many books, but if you are looking for a new book that conveys the full sensory experience of enjoying what this culinary culture has to offer, it's a good choice. With recipes from A to D (appetizers to desserts), and easy-to-follow recipes for such classics as pâté, steamed mussels, onion tarts, and one-pot chicken dishes, French Bistro could well transport you to, well, a sublime French-bistro-sort-of-feeling.

A copy was provided me by Skyhorse Publishing. Would I buy it at $17.95? If I'd never been to France and was curious about the overall experience of dining there, or if I wanted to reproduce dishes I'd eaten there, yes. It's a lovely introduction.
   

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Book Review: Shroom by Becky Selengut


In general, I don't care for the common practice of shortening words in the English language. I respect language too much and many shortened words just sound infantile. "Veggies" instead of vegetables? No, thank you. "Fridge" instead of refrigerator? Sorry, don't like it, won't say it. "Apps" rather than appetizers? What people won't stoop to, to save a syllable or two!
So when a publisher sent me the new mushroom cookbook "Shroom" the other day, you can imagine my initial reaction. In addition, I was a child of the '70s so I associate the word "shroom" with psychedelic drugs, specifically, hallucinogenic Psilocybin mushrooms. Doesn't everybody? As if to prove that association, the front cover of the book announces it as containing "Mind-bendingly" good recipes. Wink-Wink. Can't wait until my Cannabis cookbook arrives.
Despite all these distractions, Shroom is a beautiful cookbook, conventional in most ways. Though I like mushrooms cooked or raw, I personally would not have been moved to buy a cookbook solely based on this one edible, even though the recipes indicate a wide-ranging use for them -- all savory, thank goodness (I was half-expecting a mushroom ice cream). Incorporating mushrooms into everything from bread pudding to grits to burgers can't be a bad idea, especially given their nutrient value, and I look forward to trying some of the dishes in this book. Who knows, maybe I'll become a "Shroomhead," or a fungi-fanatic.
With wit and skill, author Selengut shares her deep enthusiasm for the toadstool and gives us 75 recipes, including Beech Mushrooms in Phyllo with Georgian Walnut Sauce and Pomegranate, Pasta with Morels, Leeks and Oven-Roasted Tomatoes, and Roasted Chanterelles and Bacon with Sweet Corn Sauce. Beautiful photography by Clare Barboza  and wine pairings for each dish by Sommelier April Pogue complete the package. Here's her recipe for porcini salad:

Porcini Salad with Pine Nuts and Lemon Salt

SERVES: 4 as an appetizer; PAIRING: Austrian Grüner Veltliner

This is a deceptively simple composed salad that really highlights the versatility of porcini. When thinly sliced and roasted—but not overly so—porcini can be subtle, delicate, and sublime. The heat is applied lightly here, so that you can appreciate the subtlety of the dish, while the pine nuts echo the nuttiness and depth of the porcini and the lemon zings it up an octave.

Extra-virgin olive oil, as needed
1 pound fresh porcini mushrooms, sliced
¼ inch thick (cap-through-stem slices)
1¼ teaspoons fine sea salt
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon (save lemon halves for squeezing on salad)
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted (below)
1 stalk celery (see Note), shaved paper-thin into half-moons on a mandoline (leaves cut into chiffonade and reserved for garnish)
About ¼ cup shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano (use a vegetable peeler)
Fresh chervil leaves, for garnish (substitute small flat-leaf parsley leaves)

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Line 2 baking pans with parchment paper and brush with olive oil.

Lay the porcini slices on the parchment. Brush with more olive oil. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of the salt over the top. Roast until lightly browned in spots, 15 to 25 minutes, flipping once after 10 minutes.

In a spice grinder, pulse the red pepper flakes, lemon zest, pine nuts, and the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt to a chunky consistency.

Arrange the cooked porcini slices on plates. Sprinkle the celery over the mushrooms. Drizzle olive oil over the salads (1 to 2 teaspoons, but you don’t need to measure), followed by a squeeze of lemon juice. Sprinkle the pine nut mixture over the top. Garnish with cheese shavings and celery and chervil leaves.

NOTE: Try to take off as many celery strings as you can prior to shaving the stalk on the mandoline (otherwise, they get caught in the blade). Use a paring knife—starting at the top, grab the strings between your thumb and the side of the knife and pull downward, stripping them off. If you don’t have a mandoline, use a very sharp knife and cut the celery as thinly as you can manage.

TOASTING NUTS: There are a few ways to toast nuts. If you watch carefully, you can do it in a skillet on the stovetop, but I find the easiest and safest way to go is to preheat your oven to 350°F. Spread the nuts on a baking sheet and pop them into the oven. Pine nuts really enjoy burning (they’re evil), so keep a close eye on those and check after 4 to 5 minutes. Ditto for sliced almonds. For the bigger nuts (whole almonds, walnuts, and others), take a peek at them after 8 to 10 minutes.

From Shroom: Mind-bendingly Good Recipes for Cultivated and Wild Mushrooms by Becky Selengut, Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC 2014. $35.  



Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Book Review: We The Eaters

 Anybody who eats, which is everybody, and anybody who cares about what they eat, which should be everybody, needs to read this book.


 An intelligent analysis of our current food system, written by a food activist, We The Eaters takes the position that we can all be better-fed, healthier and happier if a few fundamental things change on our dinner plates.

 Founder of Food Tank, a food think tank, author Ellen Gustafson claims that Americans' consumer habits "have spread fast, cheap, fat and sweet around the world." And she asserts, "we can spread Community Supported Agriculture, more rational meat eating and heirloom grains around the world too."

 Food Tank's vision is "building a global community for safe, healthy, nourished eaters." Among recommendations Gustafson makes in the book for a better dinner plate and a better food system worldwide: buy local and regional, think fair trade and low impact when you buy global, remove hidden corn from our diets, avoid "diet" foods, cut added sugar, avoid commercially produced soda and processed foods, quit fast food, reduce waste, and grow something edible.
 
We The Eaters: If We Change Dinner, We Can Change the World by Ellen Gustafson; Rodale Books, $24.99

Monday, August 4, 2014

Hard Cider: Not a Hard Sell


Hard cider is a fast-growing segment of the beverage market these days. After little exposure to this delicious, satisfying and low-alcohol beverage, I was suddenly given the opportunity to taste it everywhere I went in the last year or so. I tasted it in Southwest Colorado at a weekend festival, in France with Bretton-style galettes (savory crepes), and in Germany at Christmas market stalls. My latest taste of hard apple cider was three bottlings of Devoto Orchards cider from Sebastopol, California, once mostly an apple and plum growing region that has undergone a big change -- nearly all the land once used for orchards is now covered in vineyards.

Handcrafted, small production ciders like those from Devoto Orchards -- where Stan Devoto grows more than 100 certified organic apple varieties on 27 acres -- really highlight the fresh taste of the quality apples used in them. Devoto's are dry and elegant with no cloying sweetness.  I enjoyed them all but my favorite was Cidre Noir, a blend of Devoto's heirloom apple varieties -- Arkansas Black and Black Twig apples -- that hang on the trees for nearly seven months, developing acid and flavors in a dry-farmed environment. 

"1976" -- Named for the year in which the founders of Devoto Orchards planted their first apple orchard in west Sonoma County is made from 17 varieties of apples, including Ashmead's Kernel, Hawaiian and Winesap.  

Some 90% of "Save the Gravenstein" is made from the centuries-old Gravenstein variety which botanist Luther Burbank once declared thrived best in Sonoma County. The remaining 10% is juiced from Pink Pearl, Burgundy and Akane varieties. 

Alcohol levels for each is 6.9 %, and prices range from $11.99 - $13.99/bottle at high-end grocery stores and bottle shops. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

Comté All the Way

Young Comté wheels starting to age
Just spent four days in France devoted to cheese --- one cheese, in fact, Comté.

What a trip: In the Jura mountains of eastern France in alpine ski country, I met Norbert, a shepherd who takes care of heifers before they are ready to give birth; in the tiny village of Villette-les-Dole, I saw how dairy farmer Jean-Francois cares for the local Montbéliarde cows, providing them a natural, quality diet that produces the raw milk that, in turn, gives Comté so much of its flavor -- which runs from milky and relatively fresh to almost crunchy in texture and nutty in taste. Also visited fruitieres (cheesemakers) and affineurs (cheese-agers) to see firsthand how it's made from beginning to end.
The cheese is a natural partner to the idiosyncratic wines of the Jura region, but complement most any wines. Comté  (pronounced "con-tay") is a cheese made in the artisanal, authentic manner that so many consumers are seeking these days. Ask your cheesemonger for a taste!

Adorable Montbéliarde cows


Only high-quality Comté wheels carry this marker  

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Variety in Geneva

Geneva, Switzerland, is home to the second largest United Nations office in the world with 193 member nations. Maybe that's why I saw such a striking variety of restaurants within only a couple of blocks of my hotel (and Lake Geneva) there last week.
No, Switzerland is not all fondue and raclette. And Chasselas.
There was a Korean pub, an Indian restaurant, a cafeteria offering an "Orientale ambiance" and a cafe featuring organic and local foods.
K Pub, 8 Rue de la Navigation
Bollywood, Place de la Navigation 6, 1201 Geneva, Switzerland Add caption



Chez Leyla, 35 Rue des Pâquis, 1201 Geneva, Switzerland





Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Vinexpo Asia-Pacific 2014

The listing of 1,300 exhibitors at Vinexpo Asia-Pacific  
I attended the three-day Vinexpo Asia-Pacific in Hong Kong May 27-29, the largest wine fair for the trade in Asia. It was a robust program of tastings, in-depth seminars and meetings between wine producers and Asian buyers designed to acquaint the Asian -- and especially the fast-growing Chinese -- market with wines from all over the world.   


The most extensive tasting of a mainland Chinese winery was a 10-year vertical of Grace Vineyard's "Chairman's Reserve." This is one of the best wineries in China and it was a privilege to taste the wines and to hear the articulate Judy Chan talk about her family's winery -- one of the first quality grape-wine producers in the country.  For more information on the meeting and what took place there, see my stories California Vintners Optimistic About Asian Market and Saint-Emilion Chateau Goes for the Gold.