Who Do You Think Are The Top Influences On Food In America?

If you browse the internet for information on  Alice Waters, most likely you will find the adjectives "pioneering" and "influential" near her name. If there was a "Six Degrees Of Separation" in the restaurant world, she would be at the nexus of the connections. No wonder she has been called the "mother of American food" and was recently named in the top 10 of  "America's 50 Most Powerful People In Food" by the Daily Meal. Tireless in her advocacy for sustainable, local, organic agriculture and healthy school lunches, her influence can be traced through chefs like Wolfgang Puck and Jamie Oliver, and her influence can be seen in our changing attitude towards healthy eating. Witness Michelle Obama's White House home garden and in the recent addition of locally grown vegetables to the behemoth WalMart stores.

The top 10 entries in the Daily Meal's "America's 50 Most Powerful People In Food" are:
1. You (the consumer, who decides with your pocketbook whether local, sustainable and organic is viable or if huge agribusiness farming with immense feedlots, and genetically engineered food will profit)
2. Thomas J. Vilsack (Secretary, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture who is in charge of food safety, agricultural policies and trade, among his many duties)
3. Hugh Grant (no, not the bad boy movie star--the CEO of Monsanto, the company that brought us Roundup pesticide, genetically engineered seed and bovine growth hormone)
4. Michelle Obama (a role model for organic home gardens and healthier eating to fight against the obesity epidemic)
5. Steve Jobs (CEP of Apple whose iphone apps have changed the way we find recipes and restaurants)
6. Alice Waters (see more about her on this blog here and here)
7. Brooke Johnson (President of the Food Network with websites and TV shows Iron Chef, Chopped, Barefoot Contessa, Giada At Home, etc.)
8. Mike Duke (CEO of Walmart--the largest public company by revenue with over 8,500 stores in 15 countries--over $400 billion last year)
9. Sam Sifton (restaurant critic of the New York Times)
10. Jim Skinner (CEO McDonald's Corporation which made over $6 billion last year)

For the sake of debate, I'll list how I would rank them:
1. You (because ultimately, the people hold the power)
2. Hugh Grant (because Monsanto controls the seed corn and pesticide that produces 40% of the world's corn; corn is used for almost everything from adhesives to paper to pharmaceuticals)
3. Mike Duke (when your company represents about 3% of the total US GDP, you have some clout!)
4. Brooke Johnson (cooking has become a spectator sport for millions, but also the shows help foster interest in what goes into our meals)
5. Alice Waters (without her, would we be eating TV dinners and vegetables out of a bag?)
6. Jim Skinner (reality is, McDonald's defines "eating out" for millions of people)
7. Michelle Obama (along with the President, an inspirational reminder that America really is a remarkable country with freedom and opportunity for all)
8. Thomas J. Vilsack (governmental agencies are ham-strung by cash-rich lobbyists and special interest pressure from both sides of the aisle)
9. Steve Jobs (I love my laptop and iphone, but I don't think Apple's influence is that strong in the food world)
10. Sam Sifton (he can spell life or death to New York restaurants, but most of the country will never read his reviews)
What do you think?

I felt sorry for the rest of the country shivering under a blanket of snow and ice yesterday, while we basked under a summer-like sun and an air temperature of 71 degrees. I planted mustard, kale, snapdragons and lettuce seedlings and wondered what to do with my year-old arugula plants that have grown so long they look like mini-Dr. Seuss trees. Dig them up or keep them going for another year? Fortunately, I found this recipe for Alice Waters Pasta With Bitter Spring Greens on Chef2Chef (see it here or buy the Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook). Following her call for seasonal produce, I harvested just about everything I needed from my garden, including a lemon from my patio tree which is finally producing after three barren years, and used up the last of the Field Roast vegetarian sausage from last week's Mushroom Barley Soup to create my version of her dish. Wow, was it good! The flavor combination of the spicy Italian sausage with the slightly bitter greens was fantastic--especially with the sharp tang of lemon and the extra saltiness from the rock salt.

Alice Waters Inspired Pasta With Arugula:
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 green onions, minced
1 clove elephant garlic, minced
2 vegetarian Italian sausages, sliced into 1/4" rounds (meat eaters could use real Italian sausage)
2 handfuls of arugula, chopped
1/4 tsp. fresh thyme, minced
pinch red chili powder
1 tsp. rock salt
juice of 1/2 small lemon
2 cups homemade pasta
4 oz grated parmesan cheese
Bring 6 quarts of salted water to a rolling boil. Meanwhile, heat
olive oil in large saute pan. Add onion, garlic, and 1the sausage. Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring several times, until sausages are browned. Add
greens, thyme, chili, and salt. Cook, turning greens with tongs, for 2 to 6 minutes, or until greens are wilted. Season with lemon juice and more salt, if desired. Turn off heat and cover the pan. When the water boils, add pasta and cook until al dente (about 1 minute for homemade noodles or 10 minutes for dry). Drain pasta. Top with greens and grated cheese. Pair this with a good bold red wine, like the 2009 Agricola de Borja Borsao featured in this week's Online Grapevine.


Charlie Parker's Dry Creek Kitchen And The Buttery Soft Sheets Of Hotel Healdsburg

San Francisco architect David Baker, designer of the the Hotel Healdsburg, married art with comfort. The elegant lines and earthy palette please the eye, while one's sense of touch is pampered with the buttery soft sheets, deep pillowy couches and deep soaking tubs. Through my current and past jobs, I've been fortunate to stay at many wonderful resorts and hotels, many with lavish spas, golf courses and amenities, but this boutique hotel satisfies my craving for serenity like no other lodging. The beds are so comfortable--those buttery soft sheets!--that all I want to do is sip tea, read a book and enjoy the Zen like tranquility of the space. The architecture and the furnishings are stunning, with poured concrete floors, handwoven Tibetan rugs and contemporary art, but the hotel is without pretense or stuffiness.
They also "got it right" with their environmental sensitivity winning them a 4 Green Eco-Leaf Rating, which proves that luxurious doesn't have to mean wasteful. I've pinched a few photos from their website and included mine of the ahi tuna.
The hotel is right on the main square of Healdsburg, so you can pop out of your room into the crisp air to stroll the town and enjoy a number of good restaurants, including Charlie Parker's Dry Creek Kitchen in the hotel itself.  Included in our lodging package was a six course meal. The Chef's Menu encompassed Seared Hawaiian Ahi Tataki with local watercress, Roasted Celeriac Soup with Black Truffle Flan, Warm Dungeness Crab Fondue with Sourdough Blini, Pan Roasted Crispy Striped Bass with Lentil Ragout, American Kobe Flat Iron 'Au Poivre (a vegetable tart for me--the non-meat eater), and choice of dessert, for me, the light puff of Meyer Lemon Cheesecake with a delicate Burnt Orange Meringue. As the recipe below indicates, the detailed preparation of each dish in the Dry Creek Kitchen is astonishing.
For the adventurous pastry chefs among you, try this recipe from Dry Creek Kitchen's Pastry Chef Yulanda Santos.
Apple Pie Ice Cream, Brown Sugar-Cave Aged Wisconsin Cheddar Cheese Streusel, Vanilla Yogurt Pound Cake, Apple-Fig Cream, and Spiced Cotton Candy Paper:
For The Apple Pie Ice Cream:
1.09 kilograms whole milk
345 grams heavy cream
70 grams dry milk
2 grams salt
½ grams ground cinnamon
½ grams powdered ginger
100 grams dried apple rings
100 grams candied apples
8 grams PreGel Neutro (Stabilizer)
170 grams Sugar
30 grams trimoline
70 grams dry glucose
150 grams caramelized white chocolate
For The Brown Sugar-Cave Aged Wisconsin Cheddar Cheese Streusel:
120 grams cold, diced Butter
140 grams brown sugar
140 grams high gluten flour
160 grams cave aged Carr Valley Wisconsin shredded cheese
For The Vanilla Yogurt Pound Cake:
214 grams all-purpose flour
7 grams baking powder
3 grams salt
136 grams yogurt
194 grams Sugar
148 grams eggs
1 teaspoon Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Bean Paste
90 grams canola oil
PreGel Fig Arabeschi
Spiced Cotton Candy Paper:
2 cups PreGel Magic Sugar (Isomalt)
½ cup water
1 cinnamon sticks
1 star anise
Cinnamon oil
Cardamom oil
For The Apple-Fig Cream:
200 grams peeled and cored apples
50 grams honey
50 grams PreGel Fig Arabeschi
50 grams low acyl gellan gum
2.5 grams salt
To Assemble and Serve:
Fresh figs
Fresh slices of apples
PreGel Fig Arabeschi
How to make the Apple Pie Ice Cream:

Heat the milk, cream, dry milk, salt, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg together until just below a boil, then remove from the heat. Steep the dried apple rings and candied apples in the hot milk mixture. Meanwhile, combine the sorbet stabilizer with the sugar and set aside. Heat the milk to 86ºF, then add the inverted sugar and dry glucose. Continue heating the mixture until it reaches 104ºF, then add the egg yolks. When it reaches 113ºF, add the sugar-stabilizer mixture. Cook the mixture to 185ºF, then remove from the heat. Chill and then refrigerate. When the mixture is cool, spin it Carpigiani ice cream machine.
How to make the Brown Sugar Cave-Aged Cheddar Cheese Streusel:
Preheat the oven to 320ºF. Combine the butter, brown sugar, flour, and cheese in the bowl of a standing mixer with a paddle attachment. Paddle all the ingredients together until they are all thoroughly incorporated. Refrigerate the mixture for 30 minutes. Bake the streusel until lightly toasted, then remove from the oven and allow tocool.
How to make the Vanilla Yogurt Pound Cake:

Preheat the oven to 300ºF. Spray a loaf pan with non-stick spray and line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together. In a separate bowl combine the yogurt, sugar, eggs, and vanilla paste. Stir the yogurt mixture into the flour mixture, then fold in the oil. Pour the cake batter into the prepared loaf pan. Bake for approximately 30 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven then layer with the PreGel Fig Arabeschi.
How to make the Spiced Cotton Candy Paper:

Heat the PreGel Magic Sugar, water, cinnamon stick and star anise in a pot until the mixture reaches 310ºF. Cool the mixture on a Silpat. When the mixture has cooled, grind in a spice grinder. Seal the ground mixture in an airtight container with a drop of cinnamon and cardamom oil. Make cotton candy using Koerner cotton candy machine. Roll the cotton candy very thin using a pasta machine or rolling pin to form “paper.”
How to make the Apple-Fig Cream:

Cook the apples with the honey in a medium pot until they are tender. Blend the warm apples and purée with the fig puree, low acyl gellan gum, and salt. Strain the mixture.
To Assemble and Serve:

Slice and plate a piece of the vanilla yogurt pound cake. Top with a quenelle of the apple pie ice cream. Place a piece of the spiced cotton candy paper diagonally against the cake. Drizzle the apple-fig cream around the dish and sprinkle with the brown sugar cave-aged cheddar cheese streusel.

With most of our country under a blanket of snow, a piping hot soup is in order! Simple to make; add cheese and crackers (try Mozzarella or Provolone) for an easy meal. (recipe includes a vegetarian option)

Mushroom Barley Sausage Soup:
4 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves minced garlic
1/4 minced onion
1 cup sliced button mushrooms
2 Italian sausage, sliced (vegetarians use the Field Roast Italian*)
6 cups vegetable broth
3/4 cup barley
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. oregano
1/4 tsp. turmeric
1/8 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. salt
In a large pot, sauté the onion, garlic, mushrooms and sausage in oil until onion is transparent, stirring continuously. Add broth, spices, potato, carrots, tomato, and barley and simmer for 1/2 hour. Pair with Mozzarella or Provolone cheese and the luscious 2006 Kestrel Co-Ferment Syrah which is featured in this week's Online Grapevine.

*Field Roast vegetarian sausages can be found at most natural food stores.


A Visit To Alice Water's Chez Panisse

Alice Water's Chez Panisse is housed in a brown Craftsman bungalow that looks like it once was surrounded by lush gardens, but modern development encroached and jammed a row of stucco shops right up to its side walls. Its unpretentious exterior is easily overlooked on Shattuck Avenue, the "restaurant row" of Berkeley. The interior is soothing and casually elegant with Stickley style furniture and soft lighting that creates a glowing effect reminiscent of a chiaroscuro painting. Along most of the length of the cafe extends an open kitchen; I would have loved to stand there for hours to watch the team of chefs with their immaculate mise en place and shiny copper pots!
Blogger Julie Powell proffered a pound of butter to the memory of her idol Julia Child when she visited her kitchen at the Smithsonian in honor of the chef's love of real butter. On my first visit to Chez Panisse I should have brought some baby carrots from my garden for Alice Waters! As a champion for sustainable, organic food production and the force behind California Cuisine's emphasis on fresh, local ingredients, Alice Waters promotes the highest quality ingredients sourced locally crafted into dishes that are beautiful to behold and a pleasure on the palate. Hers is not fussy, overworked cuisine. Simple and delicious are the descriptors that Chez Panisse food invokes. The main dining room was booked, so we managed an early reservation at the upstairs cafe. The menu changes daily according to the fresh foodstuffs at hand (you can view today's menu here). 

We shared local halibut tartare, lightly dressed with quality olive oil and bit of Meyer lemon zest and rind, nestled in  Belgian endive. It was delicately flavored and reminiscent of the Carpaccio di Pesce I relished in Italy. (I created my own recipe, below, for the dish based on information on the Chez Panisse preparation gleaned from our waiter.) Plus we shared the Baked Andante Dairy goat cheese with garden lettuces--an herbed patty of melt-in-your-mouth goat cheese that had been gently crisped on the outside, served with the tenderest of tiny baby lettuce and a hint of vinaigrette. The meat eater of our party enjoyed the House-made rigatoni with grass-fed beef ragù while I savored the Winter vegetable stew with Indian spices, spicy potato fritters (I wish I had the Chez Panisse recipe for these) and yogurt-mint sauce. Replete, we could not eat dessert at the restaurant but took a Pink Lady apple tart to go. On tender crust, the apple slices still retained the freshness of a Pink Lady without being overwhelmed with sugar or spice.

The success of this dish lies in having fresh ingredients and a light hand in finding the balance between the taste of olive oil, lemon and salt. The proportions of these may vary according to your taste and the strength of the lemon and salt flavor (yes! different salts have different levels of saltiness and lemons are not equally tart and sweet). Being in California, I have parsley still growing in my garden in January and I like the flavor so much, I minced it to capture the freshness, instead of using it just as a garnish as Chez Panisse Cafe had. (read here to read about Alice Waters and a recipe for an Avocado, Grapefruit and Fennel Salad or here for a recipe for Alice Waters beef stew)

per serving:
2 oz. very fresh halibut
1/2 Meyer lemon--for zest, juice and rind
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
5 coriander seeds, ground fine
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
4 leaves of Belgian endive
1 watermelon radish
2 sprigs fresh parsley
With a very sharp knife, slice the halibut as thin as possible into bite sized pieces, then place into a glass mixing bowl. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Zest about 1/4 tsp. of the Meyer lemon and add it to the bowl along with 2 Tbsp. of the juice. Add the olive oil and ground coriander to the fish and turn gently with a spoon until well mixed. Let the fish marinate for ten minutes while you mince the parsley and sliver the watermelon radish. Take a tiny piece of rind--about 1/2 inch square--that wasn't grated for zest and mince it. Place the Belgian endive leaves on your plate with the insides facing up so they make "boats". Spoon the halibut onto the endive, sprinkle with freshly grated pepper and salt, if needed to your taste. Garnish with the slivered radish, parsley and minced rind. Pair with a crisp Riesling, like the 2009 Poet's Leap Riesling from Columbia Valley in this week's Touring & Tasting Online Grapevine. I had it with a Chardonnay, but the richness of the olive oil needed a wine with more acidity.


Lights, Camera, Food and Wine!

We nibbled on tasty treats last night at the "Film Feast" preview reception hosted at the Wine Cask by affable owner Mitchell Sjerven (also proprietor of bouchon santa barbara, read more). The event is a preview of the joint venture between the Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau and Film Commission (yes, that's a long title!) and the Santa Barbara Downtown Organization to provide prix fixe bargains at a large number of downtown restaurants during the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
Top among the food choices: Hotel Mar Monte (now a Hyatt hotel) put out a fabulous butternut squash risotto, The Four Seasons Biltmore offered wild mushroom risotto (their brunch is the best in the Central Coast!), and John Downey from Downey's restaurant composed a beautiful raspberry tart. Carr Vineyards & Winery and Kunin Wines poured samples, the latter pouring a terrific Rhone blend called "Pape Star", which garnered 89 Points in Steven Tanzer's International Wine Cellar,: "Light, vivid red. Musky aromas of red berries, cherry and fresh-turned soil. Juicy, faintly bitter redcurrant and cherry flavors are framed by silky tannins and brightened by a note of blood orange. Very pinot-like in weight and fruit expression, with good finishing cut and repeating bitterness.” Visit our beautiful city, and take advantage of wine tasting and hotel discounts through Film Feast, plus enjoy the International Film Festival with 12 days of intriguing films and filmmaker and actor panels!


San Francisco On the Cheap and Free

When the sun shines on San Francisco, it is one of the most beautiful places in the world. Surrounded on three sides by the bay, the watery expanses reach out from her hilly vistas in shimmering plains of blue. But, when the fog sweeps a shroud across the sky, the row houses look dingy and the whole place seems clammy. The damp cold chills one to the bone, hence the famous comment attributed to Mark Twain: "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco". I was back in SF this weekend, with my daughter this time and on my own dime. When I'm here with Touring & Tasting, we stay at the deluxe Omni Hotel or the glittering Intercontinental, but on my budget, I had to find something under $100 where we could park our car (not easy to find nor cheap in SF) and be able to walk or take the cable car.
The Columbus Motor Inn was perfect, not luxury as their website touts, but clean despite being old-fashioned, well-maintained, with decent beds, quiet and with a terrific location within easy walking distance to Fisherman's Wharf, North Beach Italian restaurants, and Coit Tower--plus it is next to the cable car line, where for $13 one can get an all-day pass and zip downtown, transfer to the Ferry Building and Embarcadero or go up to Ghiradelli Square and walk the few blocks back to the motel. We found many free or low-cost things to recommend: Get your cardiovascular workout puffing up the steep steps to Coit Tower where normally one can see a spectacular 360 degree view--the elevator to the top is closed for repair for two weeks--and admire the New Deal murals on the first floor.
Take the cable car to the free Cable Car Museum to see the massive wheels that power the 10+ miles of cables through the streets. (Cable cars have a mechanical gripper that grabs the moving cable to be propelled forward, the brakeman releases the cable when he wants to stop the cable car.) Mull around Union Square and take innumerable photos, like all the other tourists. Walk to the Main Library at 100 Larkin Street across from the San Francisco Civic Center and peruse the free exhibit on historic menus and cookbooks from San Francisco restaurants and writers "San Francisco Eats". And of course, if it is the weekend, you must have dim sum at the Great Eastern at 649 Jackson Street. We had a shrimp extravaganza with steamed shrimp dumplings, crispy crab (a crab and shrimp mixture formed around a little crab leg, deep-fried tofu skins stuffed with shrimp and cilantro, and orange chicken for my daughter. We stuffed ourselves, plus had enough left-overs for another meal and the bill was just $30. On past visits, the garlic wilted greens and fresh lobster with ginger were stand-outs. All seafood is fresh--kept in enormous aquariums which line one wall of the main floor. (see menu here)

The "San Francisco Eats" exhibit would appeal to foodies and cultural historians. Many menu items common to restaurants at the turn of the century are rarely found today: consommé, frog legs, boiled fish, Madeira and fino porto were ordinary fare back then. One could trace bygone food fads: Hawaiian tiki themes, martinis, and souvenir matchboxes, and discover immigrant settlements like the "Polkstrausse" or lower Polk Street enclave of German immigrants serving sausage and sauerkraut. The "Bill Of Fare" pictured to the left offers "Curlew, roast or boiled, to order"for $3.00--curlew being the pretty brown-and-white speckled shore birds with the long beaks we see running back and forth in the tidal zone. Inflation is evident, but fortunately, also a changed attitude toward eating wild birds and game.

Years ago, I had an authentic San Francisco sourdough bread starter, said to be over 120 years old. Sadly, it died an ignominious death from lack of use. Here's a recipe which won't have the same strain of Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis but will be tasty and tangy with sourdough flavor:
1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
1-1/2 cups lukewarm milk
1 teaspoon honey
2 cups unbleached white flour
1/4 cup warm distilled water
Sprinkle the yeast over the warm (not hot) milk in a large ceramic mixing bowl and let sit for a minute to proof the yeast. It should start to expand--if nothing happens, the yeast is dead and you need fresh yeast. Stir in the honey, then 1 1/2 cups of flour.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in a warm area. Let sit for three days. Add 1/4 cup warm water and 1/2 cup flour. Stir well. Re-cover the bowl and let sit another 2 hours. Put into a clean glass jar with a tight fitting lid and store for up to a month in the refrigerator. 


Join Us On A Mediterranean Wine Cruise

I'm excited/nervous about our upcoming Touring & Tasting wine cruise--I tend to turn green and my stomach has a fit on boats, but I'm hoping cruising on a large modern cruiseship will not have the same effect. Researching this online, I'm reading that stabilizers plus the weight of the cruiseship keep it steady. Anyway, the lure of seeing my beloved Italy again, and to visit Spain, Montenegro and Croatia for the first time, is strong enough to overcome my reluctance to board anything that floats. In looking into the ship and the cruiseline, it looks like it's going to be very comfortable (each cabin has its own veranda), with nice linens and many extras such as daily hors d'oeuvres--and of course, wine tastings, wine tour, wine pairing luncheon and the chance to meet other people who love good wine and food!
Its looks like a great experience, so join us! Read more.