Monday, May 31, 2010

Tour de France

Time to start prepping. With a month lead time it should be saner this time. Suggestions more than welcome.

P Prologue Saturday 3 July Rotterdam > Rotterdam 8.9 km
1 Plain Sunday 4 July Rotterdam > Bruxelles 223.5 km
2 Hilly Monday 5 July Bruxelles > Spa 201 km
3 Plain Tuesday 6 July Wanze > Arenberg Porte du Hainaut 213 km
4 Plain Wednesday 7 July Cambrai > Reims 153.5 km
5 Plain Thursday 8 July Épernay > Montargis 187.5 km
6 Plain Friday 9 July Montargis > Gueugnon 227.5 km
7 Medium mountains Saturday 10 July Tournus > Station des Rousses 165.5 km
8 High Mountains Sunday 11 July Station des Rousses > Morzine-Avoriaz 189 km
R Rest Day Monday 12 July Morzine-Avoriaz
9 High Mountains Tuesday 13 July Morzine-Avoriaz > Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne 204.5 km
10 Medium mountains Wednesday 14 July Chambéry > Gap 179 km
11 Plain Thursday 15 July Sisteron > Bourg-lès-Valence 184.5 km
12 Hilly Friday 16 July Bourg-de-Péage > Mende 210.5 km
13 Plain Saturday 17 July Rodez > Revel 196 km
14 High Mountains Sunday 18 July Revel > Ax-3 Domaines 184.5 km
15 High Mountains Monday 19 July Pamiers > Bagnères-de-Luchon 187 km
16 High Mountains Tuesday 20 July Bagnères-de-Luchon > Pau 199.5 km
R Rest Day Wednesday 21 July Pau
17 High Mountains Thursday 22 July Pau > Col du Tourmalet 174 km
18 Plain Friday 23 July Salies-de-Béarn > Bordeaux 198 km
19 Individual time-trial Saturday 24 July Bordeaux > Pauillac 52 km
20 Plain Sunday 25 July Longjumeau > Paris Champs-Élysées 102.5 km

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Brandied or Bourboned Cherries

It is a good thing that the brandied cherries we made last year were so good. Because, to be honest, it was one of my most exhausting days in the kitchen. The results were great but I highly suggest you do not drive out to Brentwood, pick 40 + pounds of apricots and 20 pounds of cherries and then head back to Oakland to brandy both, make two different kinds of apricot jam, and make both cherry and apricot chutney in one day. Oh, and there was some apricot syrup as a by-product as well. I am not exaggerating when I say I could not even look at cherries for weeks. The apricots, probably because they were easier to work with, somehow got a pass.

This year we planned ahead. First off, we decided that there was absolutely no reason to do both on one day. Second, we decided to pick one day and can the next. This past Saturday while I headed up to Napa to taste wine, Lisa went out to Brentwood and picked 12+ pounds of cherries. We met up for wine later that day and Sunday we canned. Even smarter, we limited ourselves to just brandied cherries, at least until we ran out of brandy and substituted bourbon for one batch.

The recipe below is really simple and from the comments I've gotten on twitter, guaranteed to impress your friends. The key is starting with good cherries. They have been late in the Bay Area this year and should continue to be available for a few weeks. We are actually hoping to try making homemade maraschinos in early June. The hardest part is pitting the cherries, which I admit is not really very much fun. After experimenting with several pitters, I decided that I preferred the old fashioned metal hand pitter. Of course, I also prefer a waiter's corkscrew. Feel free to experiment, as your hands may vary.

A note on the brandy and/or bourbon in the recipe below. When we ran out of brandy we substituted bourbon which has the same 40% alcohol content. Much like in cooking with wine I would not use a brandy you would not be willing to drink. On the other hand, no need to use your finest. I'd aim for mid range. Of course, as with wine, mid range varies by person. I'll also mention that I have enjoyed using the words bourboned and bourboning this week.

adapted from The Art of the Bar: Cocktails Inspired by the Classics by Jeff Hollinger, Rob Schwartz, Frankie Frankeny, and Georgeanne Brennan, Chronicle Books 2006

Brandied or Bourboned Cherries
12 pounds cherries
3 cups water
4 cinnamon sticks
3/4 cup lemon juice
2 1/4 cups sugar
3 3/4 cups brandy or bourbon

Pit cherries and pack into jars. Meanwhile heat water, cinnamon sticks, lemon and sugar over high heat until it reaches a boil. Allow to simmer 5-10 minutes until the spices infuse. Allow to cool slightly and add brandy. Remove cinnamon sticks. Ladle over packed cherries, finger seal and process for 10 minutes in a hot water bath for 1/2 pint jars, 15 minutes for pint jars.

For us this recipe yielded 24 1/2 pint jars and 2 pint jars. I generally let sit at least 2 weeks before consuming, but have heard rumor they are good right away.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Frances & Randall Grahm

This past week was difficult. By Wednesday, it felt like it has been a month long. After a long and painful meeting that night, I was quite possibly speaking in tongues. Apologies to anyone I communicated with on Thursday or Friday. But, sometimes, when you've had a rough week, something pops up to make you feel a lot better about life. For me, it was dinner last night at Frances in San Francisco with Randall Grahm and our wine book acquisitions editor, Blake.

As most of you probably know, we published Randall's Been Doon So Long: A Randall Grahm Vinthology last fall. The book is "a compendium of the choicest bits of Dooniana from the newsletters over the last twenty years, as well as some work that has been published in sundry journals, magazines, reviews and revistas, in addition to some new bespoke pieces." As I've mentioned here before, I have a long and sentimental attachment to Randall's wines, having started drinking them at an age that was not quite legal. I've also been a wine club member since I first moved to California in the early 90s. Clearly, I'm a fan. Earlier this spring Randall won a James Beard Award for the book!!) As Randall had a book signing in SF last night, I suggested that we head out to celebrate. To my delight, he was able to get us a reservation at Frances.

I arrived early, to find that Blake was already there. While waiting I tried the market shot of the day, which featured meyer lemon, orange, and Randall's pommeau. It was refreshing and perfect after my hike there. Note, as many places seem to be in SF, Frances is uphill both ways for me. I also tried their second pommeau inspired cocktail: Apples & Honey with Villarnau Cava, house White Wine, Bonny Doon Pommeau, Martin Gold. Unlike the straightforward fruitiness of the shot, this was dryer and a really nice pairing with the warm almonds we were nibbling on.

For wine, and lets face it, when you have dinner with a winemaker everyone wants to know about wine, Randall took the charge of the list. We started with a half bottle of Maximin Grunhaus Riesling Herrenberg Kabinett. Randall suggested that drinking it now was a bit of infanticide, but we enjoyed anyway. Our second wine was the 2007 COS Frappato, a wine I have enjoyed before and was served more chilled than I had expected. To finish we enjoyed a glass of the fortified muscat that they are working on.

As for food, I can say that we ate most of the menu. We even ate things not on the menu. In fact, I may have the order of items served confused as the conversation was too much fun to allow for note taking. Twitter, we spoke about you. I apologize for the burning ears of many. We also spoke quite a bit about possible UC Press authors. On that, Blake took notes.

To start we had the beet salad, grilled calamari, brioche and two orders of the chickpea frites. Yes, I ordered my own as well as some to share. I will point out that once Blake and Randall tasted them, they understood. The kitchen also sent out crispy pork trotters which were another highlight.

We then moved on to the crab salad, gnocchi and a special smoked trout salad. For mains Randall and Blake seemed to enjoy the lamb, which I did not taste. (Yes, I know. It is a long story.) We also had the chicken which was almost a perfect dish and the canneloni. The kitchen also sent out grilled asparagus with aioli. For dessert we shared the Pot de Creme and the Semifreddo.

This is a rare meal for me where it is hard to pick out favorites, as nothing we had disappointed. Highlights for me were the frites, brioche, trout salad, chicken and the Semifreddo. Frances has gotten rave reviews from almost everyone and, according to Jonathan Kauffman's review in the SF Weekly, requires 3 months for a reservation. Three months is crazy, but it won't stop me from heading to heading to OpenTable to see when I can next get in. The company was charming and the service perfect. It is hard to imagine a better way to end a long week.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Giro Wines

As many of you know, I have spent the last couple of weeks rambling about my need for wines for the Giro. As the race began last weekend, thankfully in Holland where all I needed was some Gouda, I began to get concerned that my laziness would destroy this project before it even began. I had even gone so far as to email a few friends, but perhaps in an effort to make me do some research myself, they were not their usual helpful selves. By Sunday, the pressure had set in. I stared forlornly at my wine racks seeing many bottles from France, from Austria, from Germany and California. But, excluding a few bottles from Sicily where the race is not even heading, my Italian wine larder was rather bare.

It was then that I had the idea that saved me. I have said for many years that rather than attempting to reinvent the wheel, one can often just ask an expert. One of the advantages of my job is that I happen to interact with a lot of wine experts. In this case, I needed someone local who could tell me where to acquire Italian wine asap. The author of our The Finest Wines of Tuscany and Central Italy, Nicholas Belfrage would have been a great choice to suggest wines in general, but was probably not going to be very helpful on what I could find locally. Lisa Shara Hall and Alice Feiring have both been very helpful with other suggestions, but my clock was ticking and neither is local. Lo and behold (a phrase I use as often as possible), I happened to have the email address of the Chronicle's wine editor in my inbox. So, fingers crossed, I sent an email asking for help. Luckily, it turns out that I am not the only one who checks my work email on weekends. 30 or so minutes later K and I were on our way to his suggestion: Biondivino

15 or so minutes later we were on our way home with our Giro wines plus a couple of bottles of Occhipinti I just could not resist. Note to non parents, shopping for wine with an 8 year old who desperately wants to climb all the library ladders in the store forces one to be very efficient. Also, the level of service they provided is one that all shops should aim for. I handed over my iPhone with my list and was offered multiple options for each region. I had asked for an under $20 price point, but a willingness to go over for something special. So what did I end up with? See the list below. Note that as some regions are repeated, there is not a new bottle for each stage, a fact that my liver will undoubtedly appreciate. I've also listed them below not in stage order, but in the order that I just pulled them out of the box. Tonight I will order them and start to think about possible food pairings.

Edi Kante Vitovska 2006
Torre QuartoUva di Troia Bottaccia 2006
Monte TondoSoave Classico 2008
Heinrich Mayr Nusserhof Blaterle 2008
Agostino Pavia Barbera d'Asti Blina 2007
Francesco Montagna Bonarda 2008
Coenobium Bianco 2007
Castello di Cacchiano Chianti Classico 2004
Camillo Donati Malvasia 2008

Saturday, May 8, 2010

May Can Jam Rhubarb!

Rhubarb always makes me think of my maternal grandmother, Mimi. Mimi lived in the house my mother grew up in, just a bit up the hill from the farm where she had been raised. Although she did not farm, she had a large garden and did a lot of canning. She also was one of the best home cooks I have ever met. I have memories of her sending me out in the garden to pick asparagus while she whipped up hollandaise sauce back in the house's small kitchen. Small because when you have 7 kids (6 boys and my mother) on a limited budget, living space takes a priority over cooking space. One of my favorite dishes Mimi would make was her strawberry rhubarb pie, with both berries and rhubarb from her garden. This post is for her. You are missed by many.

When I mentioned to friends that this month's assignment was either rhubarb or asparagus, everyone assumed I would make strawberry rhubarb jam. We had pickled asparagus earlier this year, so that was not an option. However, we made 4 kinds of strawberry jam last year and are waiting to remake our favorite, flavored with balsamic and a smidgen of black pepper. So that off the table, I thought about the pickled rhubarb I had enjoyed at Baker and Banker, a marvelous restaurant here in San Francisco. I asked for the recipe, but it turned out not be be appropriate for the can jam as it was for a refrigerator pickle. So in our usual way, we ended up with a variant on this pickle, raw packed, in brine, as well as some rhubarb syrup that I know I will want more of and a few jars of pickled mangoes just because they were on sale when Lisa went to the store. I'll share the pickled rhubarb recipe, but be sure to let me know if you are interested in either of the others.

Pickled Rhubarb Two Ways (sliced and batons)

Like many of our canning projects, this is a combination of many we have seen in books, begged from chefs and discussed with people at the farmer's market.

2.5 pounds of rhubarb, cleaned. 1/2 sliced into "coins", 1/2 into batons the height of your jars
2 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups cider vinegar
1 1/2 inch piece of ginger peeled and thinly sliced
1-2 tsp whole cloves
4 small dried chile peppers
2 Tbsp salt

Combine vinegar and spices in a pan and bring to a boil. Simmer. In the meantime slice rhubarb and fill cans. When done, ladle brine into jars, taking care to filter out spices.
Process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes. Let sit one month before trying.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


As cycling fans know, spring brings not just showers and flowers, but the return of professional cycling. I've been a cycling fan since the day in the mid 90s when I randomly happened to be in Paris for the final day of the Tour de France. Roads were closed. Crowds gathered. We watched the cyclists fly by through the windows at the Louvre.

Of course, when we returned to the US it was hard to follow along. But then came Lance and everything changed. Cycling was televised, if often at odd hours on obscure channels. And with the explosion of the internet it became even easier to follow, as one could watch streaming video of races early on a West Coast morning, audio often in Italian or French, while following fans chatting online. I was lucky in the fact that my coworker at the desk next to me is also a fan and we have conversations about pelotons and echelons and breaks while others listen to us and wonder what we could be talking about. In recent years we have even had the opportunity to see some of our favorites on American soil as the Tour of California has brought the pro tour riders to my city or at least one near by. It still amazes me how close fans can get to the cyclists, how even well meaning folks like myself can almost be run over by Mark Cavendish while attempting to photograph George Hincapie. Or how one can get incredibly clear and up close shots of Thor or Fabian or Basso while the majority swarm in an attempt to see Lance or Levi.

So this year, in the spirit of our ABC wine challenge, I have decided to do both a Giro and Tour de France food and wine challenge. Food and wine combined because I am fairly confident that just wine would be against doctor's orders. Like everything this year though, I've left it to the last minute. So I am asking for advice on wines or foods to coincide with each Giro stage. I'll post the list below. All suggestions appreciated in comments. Thanks!

Confession for opening weekend, I'm cheating and eating Gouda. Honestly Amsterdam does not really make me think of wine.

Date Location

Stage 1 May 8 Amsterdam - Amsterdam (ITT)

Stage 2 May 9 Amsterdam - Utrecht

Stage 3 May 10 Amsterdam - Middelburg

Rest day May 11 Savigliano

Stage 4 May 12 Savigliano - Cuneo (TTT)

Stage 5 May 13 Novara - Novi Ligure

Stage 6 May 14 Fidenza - Marina di Carrara

Stage 7 May 15 Carrara - Montalcino

Stage 8 May 16 Chianciano - Monte Terminillo

Stage 9 May 17 Frosinone - Cava de' Tirreni

Stage 10 May 18 Avellino - Bitonto

Stage 11 May 19 Lucera - L'Aquila

Stage 12 May 20 Città Sant'Angelo - Porto Recanti

Stage 13 May 21 Porto Recanti - Cesenatico

Stage 14 May 22 Ferrara - Asolo (Monte Grappa)

Stage 15 May 23 Mestre - Zoncolan

Rest day May 24 Friuli

Stage 16 May 25 San Vigilio di Marebbe - Plan de Corones (TT)

Stage 17 May 26 Brunico - Pejo Terme

Stage 18 May 27 Levico Terme - Brescia

Stage 19 May 28 Brescia - Aprica

Stage 20 May 29 Bormio - Passa del Tonale

Stage 21 May 30 Verona - Verona (TT)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

An Apple Tree for K

K has been asking for an apple tree for months. At first I was resistant because I did not realize that apple trees could grow successfully in containers. But after talks with her urban gardening teacher, farmers at the Ferry Plaza market, and my main gardening guide, my mom, it became clear that it really was possible. In fact, given the full sun in my backyard, it was probable that a tree could succeed.

Next up was the question of what variety to grow. K lobbied strongly for gala or fuji whereas I had fantasies of something a bit more exotic. Last Saturday, after swimming lessons, we found our answer at the oasis that is Flora Grubb Gardens here in the city. Standing, almost posed before an old orange truck was one of the most interesting apple trees I have ever seen. Espaliered, it features branches with 6 different varieties: Gala, Fuji, Gravenstein, Jonathan, Braeburn and one tagged as Red M that I have been assuming is a McIntosh (or must we spell it MacIntosh in honor of the iphone?) Today, our tree was delivered. I'd love any advice you might have, because as I said at work, it is my first tree.

K, by the way, thinks we should call it YumYumYum. Uncertain as to why 3 and not six yums.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Whoopie Pies

Alternate titles either Giving in to the Inevitable or Sweet Baking from my Pantry. As soon as I saw the new Whoopie Pies book by Sarah Billinglsey and Amy Treadwell (Chronicle Books 2010) at Omnivore Books, I knew that at some point K would spot it and it would end up coming home with us. I even went so far as to ask Celia to hide it on one occasion. But, last week, after her fine class play performance, K chose the book as her congratulations present. Silly, I know, but somehow spoiling my child with baking books has become a tradition.

What followed was K's usual pattern with baking books. The book is read from cover to cover and then on the second go round, pages are turned to indicate favorite recipes. We then "pretend" to bake after spending quite a bit of time debating the optimal combinations. Often, we disagree. In the case of whoopie pies, we disagreed. K will always, if given the chance, opt for the sweeter the better. I tend to prefer a little bit of savory or salt with my sugar. She wanted vanilla with classic marshmallow or malted butter cream filling. I wanted pumpkin with cream cheese filling.

After several days of debate (I'm not exaggerating by the way, those who know K will understand), we compromised on oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. Filling was still up for debate. K was pushing for marshmallow but I used the old "don't have the ingredients in the house" excuse to push for cream cheese. Just for fun, we flavored the cream cheese with some of our homemade strawberry balsamic jam. The balsamic in the jam is fairly subtle.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Whoopie Pies with Strawberry Balsamic Cream Cheese
(based on recipes from Whoopie Pies )
Recipe states that this will make 24 completed pies, we ended up with 10 larger pies)

4 T unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 t vanilla extract (they call for 1 but I like a lot of vanilla)
1 1/2 cups rolled oats (not fast cooking)
1/2 t baking soda
1 t Cinnamon (they call for 1/2, we also like Cinnamon)
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 t salt
1 cup chocolate chips (they suggest 1/2 cup raisins or nuts)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In your stand mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy and smooth. Beat in the eggs (thanks Celia) one at a time. Add vanilla and continue to beat until creamy.

They suggest then processing the oatmeal in a blender of food processor until it resembles whole grain flour. I skipped this step and we ended up with crunchier cooks. Again, your tastes may vary, but I like the slight crunch and chewiness. I'm also a lazy baker so I tend to add my dry ingredients directly to the mixer without combining first. I probably would not do that with something complicated but with cookies, I skip steps.

Add oatmeal, flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt to mixer. Beat until combined. Add chocolate chips and beat to incorporate.

Using a spoon drop about 1 T of batter onto the parchment covered baking sheet, about 2 inches apart. Bake 11-15 minutes or until the cookies begin to brown. Remove from oven and cool.

We let them sit overnight as we had dinner plans at the always wonderful Woodward's Garden If you have not been--go. K adored the bread, liked her pasta (how have I raised a child who does not know how to twirl pasta?) and was delighted by her rhubarb, lemon, vanilla ice cream bombe. I thought my beet raviolo to start was really lovely and am planning to replicate as best as I can at home soon. For my entree, I had steak with both a wonderful tapenade and a great gratin of (I think) cardoon. I finished with strawberry rhubarb shortcake because one can never have too much strawberry rhubarb. Service was lovely even though K was in a mood. Someday she will be able to eat in a non pizza restaurant, right?

For frosting
4 oz cream cheese at room temperature
4 T butter unsalted at room temperature
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar (1 16 oz box)
2 t vanilla (they call for one)
3 T strawberry balsamic jam (optional, feel free to omit or use a jam of your choice)

In the bowl of your stand mixer combine cream cheese and butter and beat until smooth. Add sugar and beat until combined. Add vanilla and jam and beat until incorporated.

The construction of the pies is fairly simple. Spread frosting on flat side of one cookie and create a sandwich with second cookie. Fend off child until finished and enjoy.