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Under the Cook’s Tree Image

What would a top chef, winemaker, distiller and cookbook author pick out for a friend this holiday?

We asked, and your friends shall receive.

Surprisingly, what these food and drink experts cherish most in their kitchens is not the $1,200 professional meat slicer (though that would be nice). For these professionals, one chef’s nearly rotten tomato is another cook’s treasure. Our six favorite recommendations are below.

Food dehydrator

Recommended by John & Robin Teldeschi of Teldeschi Family Vineyards

John and Robin Teldeschi’s Sonoma cooking philosophy is based on tenets that apply year-round, not just at the holidays: Fill your table with red wine, hearty tomato-sauced dishes and plenty of friends and family.

Dried tomato dish.And about that tomato-rich sauce. The couple treat their tomatoes (grown from seeds brought back from Italy) like wine grapes, keeping them just this side of parched for maximum flavor. Once they’ve been harvested, Robin says her food dehydrator from Cabela’s is the secret to preserving the fruits, which she dries by the jar full. She first dries the whole tomatoes on racks, stem-side down so the skin doesn’t tear. Then she slices them and pops the wedges into her dehydrator.

Starting at about $150, these units — especially the commercial version like the one Robin Teldeschi has — can get pricey. But they’re just the thing for someone near and dear who would love to turn tomatoes into tiny sweet candies and beef into road-trip worthy homemade jerky. Available online from Cabela’s.

Strega liqueur

Laurent Tourondel, executive chef at BLT

Strega LiqueurNew York-based chef Laurent Tourondel grew up in France, but at Christmas his heart longs for a little taste of Italy. Specifically, the Italian liqueur, Strega.

He uses the herb liqueur — laced with mint, fennel and saffron — to make his grandmother’s chocolate mousse cake. “It is a very French classic,” says Tourondel of the cake, really more of a chocolate tiramisu with the ladyfingers dipped in Strega rather than coffee. “I’ve been eating this cake since I was really young … and always at Christmas.”

Strega is available at BevMo! and other well-stocked liquor stores for about $33. Wrap up a bottle with a copy of Tourondel’s “New American Bistro Cooking,” a 2007 James Beard Award-winning cookbook finalist ($35 list price), and bookmark the recipe for black and white chocolate cake with creme anglaise — an updated version of his grandmother’s chocolate mousse cake recipe.

Artisan cheeses

Anne Willan, cookbook author and founder of the La Varenne cooking school

Since 1975, Anne Willan has welcomed hundreds of cooks into her kitchen in France, including Julia Child, barbecue master Steven Raichlen, Chicago pastry chef Gale Gand, and New York Times food writer Amanda Hesser. Now that Willan has left France for California, where her grandchildren reside, she spends even more time seeking her favorite gift — perfectly ripened cheese. Even at the best cheese shops stateside, she has seen prized aged goat cheeses that were “far too over the hill” and Emmental Swiss cheese “in dreadful shape, far too many holes all in one place … a crater, really.”

Mimolette Cheese.Her advice? Get to know your cheesemonger, but more important, your cheeses. When in doubt, go with a good sturdy Mimolette, a hard, bright-orange aged cow’s milk cheese made in Belgium and France that’s recognizable by its thick, pockmarked exterior. “It’s best when really quite orange for good everyday eating” she says. A large wedge is “perfectly suitable” — as the British-born Willan is wont to say — for a holiday gift.

Imported mimolette is available online at Formaggio Kitchen and at good cheese shops for about $20 a pound, a gift-worthy wedge. Throw in a copy of Willan’s two-time James Beard award-winning cookbook, “The Country Cooking of France” (available for $30 to $50) for those you really want to impress.

Compressor ice cream maker

Ann Kirk, pastry chef at Little Dom’s

Those freezer-bowl ice cream makers many of us cram in our freezer (on the days we have the space) are quick and convenient, but to get the velvety texture you’d find in fine dining restaurants and high-end ice cream shops, you’ll need a model with a built-in compressor. Until recently, commercial-quality churners have been cumbersome — they’ll hog up half your kitchen counter — and pricey at $1,000 and up.

Lello Ice cream maker.Pastry chef Ann Kirk lucked out when a girlfriend asked her what she really wanted for Christmas. “I told my best friend, half-joking, that I really wanted one of those new home gelato makers with a compressor,” she recalls. Her friend found an affordable Lello model for about $180. “You can make amazing ice creams and sarsaparilla floats all year. It’s the best gift I’ve ever gotten.” Kirk returned the favor. “I got my girlfriend a really nice pair of shoes. We both have a bit of a shoe fetish.”

Look for compressor ice cream makers at cooking stores and online. Musso, Lello and Cuisinart make good versions at various price points. Kirk has the Lello 4070 Gelato Junior.

Pasta maker

Matthew Accarrino, executive chef, SPQR

Matthew Accarrino has always worked in “Top Chef” kitchens — literally. Before taking the helm at SPQR in San Francisco this fall, Accarrino was restaurateur Tom Colicchio’s head chef at Craft restaurant in New York; Pasta maker.a few years later Accarrino landed at Craft in Los Angeles. “When I started working there [Craft New York], it was before ‘Top Chef,'” he says. “Things are a little different now.”

Accarrino’s true love is pasta. “I’ve always loved making fresh pasta and found a way to work it into every menu — now I can do it all the time.” This time of year he’s offering up maccheroni (macaroni) with braised duck leg ragu, stinging nettle torchio (torch-shaped pasta) with garlic crema, and saffron pappardelle (ribbon-shaped pasta) with braised chicken and braised peppers, all made by hand. Even the misshapen pieces, when made by your friends in everyday hand-crank machines, taste just as good.

A hand-crank pasta maker runs about $30. Duck ragu not included.

 

Antica Carpano Formula Vermouth

Michael Sherwood, owner-distiller of Sub Rosa Spirits

Antice Carpano Formula VermouthThe thought of spending $30 on a bottle of vermouth when your friends are probably perfectly content with their $5 version? Crazy, right? But Antica Carpano is not your everyday vermouth. Sherwood, an artisan distiller with a penchant for complex, herbal flavors, keeps this Italian spirit on hand to make Manhattan cocktails worthy of the big city. (Use a good rye whiskey if you’re going to pull out the Antica Carpano, Sherwood suggests.)

We also like to serve this red vermouth slightly chilled, straight up as an aperitif — just as Antonio Benedetto Carpano of the House of Carpano in Turin would have enjoyed it on the wintry night in 1786 when he came up with the perfect formula of wine and spices. Plus, the vermouth comes in a weighty 1-liter bottle with a fantastic yesteryear label (read: it looks and feels much more expensive than it is).

Antica Carpano Formula red vermouth is available online at Wally Wine and at well-stocked wine and liquor stores for about $30.

 


Jenn Garbee is a regular contributor to the Los Angeles Times’ Food and Travel sections and LA Weekly’s SquidInk. She is the author of “Secret Suppers,” an insider’s look into the underground restaurant scene nationwide.

Photos of Anne Willan and cheese by Jenn Garbee.

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A Tradition to Toast Image
Today’s women connect to an ancient female touch for creating a variety of beers.

In a quiet, virtual ceremony at the end of October, Kelly Floyd of Arvada, Colo., was crowned the 13th annual Queen of Beer. This women-only international home brew competition had fewer than 100 entrants — and is dwarfed by the annual National Homebrew Competition, which draws thousands. For women like Floyd, the smaller brewing sorority’s appeal isn’t solely about the beers produced. It also serves as a modern chapter in the story of the women’s role in the evolution of beer.

“When I got started home brewing, it was all guys,” recalls Linda Rader, the 2005 Queen of Beer winner. “But brewing is pretty much cooking, and it started out long ago in the home. Every woman brewed. It was just part of what you did.”

Beer is the oldest, and still the most widely consumed, fermented beverage. Almost without exception, home brewers in ancient cultures were women.

Beer was more likely stumbled upon than invented. It can be made from just about anything: grain, honey, even peanut brittle. If it contains sugar, it can be fermented. Unlike wine and spirits, the most rudimentary beers require only a day or two of aging before they are drinkable. Given a few coincidental circumstances — residual sugar, the correct temperature and time — the fermentation process can occur on its own.

Imagine waking up to find that the bowl of half-eaten gruel from a few days before had “magically” fermented into a lightly intoxicating breakfast. Or that the barley stashed in storage bins for the winter, soured and sprouted from the recent flooding, had turned a little frothy and tasted oddly good. It was buzz-inducing manna from heaven. It must have been as if the gods were sending message: Beer will make everything better.

Beer would soon become much more than a tasty invention that stayed conveniently fresh. When hunter-gatherers traded their nomadic lifestyle for an agrarian one, the rivers and streams that had been a prime real estate draw became susceptible to contamination by human waste. Yet beer remained a safe, drinkable form of water, and brewing in the home became a necessity. Like cooking, it was a chore most often undertaken by women.

As brewing became more advanced, cultures developed a taste for a variety of styles. In ancient Egypt, female brewers made dozens of light and dark varieties by tweaking the amount of grain or adding herbs and spices. Powdered crab claws, tree bark and hot peppers might be ingredients in ancient Mesopotamia. In pre-Inca Peru, Wari women preferred a dash of wild pepper berries in their corn-based chichi brews.

Unearthing a buzz for beer

Brewing was so pivotal, that in some early societies, it became privileged work. Archeological evidence suggests that only wealthy Wari women were allowed to gather in the central brew house to make ceremonial chichi. In ancient Egypt, middle- and upper-class homes typically contained a separate brewing room. During excavations of the pyramids, lead archeologist Zahi Hawass uncovered the tomb of a woman named Tep-em nefret, the wife of a high-level craftsman employed at Giza (circa 2550 B.C.). Her tomb stele contained extensive drawings and references to home brewing.

In ancient Mesopotamia, sabtiem (female brewers) were the only working-class citizens with their own deity, the beer goddess Ninkasi. Eventually, brewing in Mesopotamia became such a female-dominated field that the Code of Hammurabi included specific laws for commercial brewers with gender-appropriate punishments, including public dunkings in the Euphrates River. As documented in the Yale University Tell Leilan Project, a 30-year continuing excavation of the Qarni-Lim Palace in ancient Syria (2200 to 1800 B.C.), royalty often was buried with brewing equipment. At times, the women who made these magical elixirs were even sealed in royal tombs to guide their kings and queens through the brewing process in the afterlife.

Today’s home brewing risks do not include live burial, but women still navigate the predominantly male world. As club names such as the Foam Rangers (Houston), Jesse James Brew Gang (Kearney, Mo.) and Chicken City Ale Raisers (Cumming, Ga.) attest, home brewing has taken on a testosterone-laced image in the 21st century. But women like Roxanne Westendorf of Cincinnati, the chair of the American Home Brewers Association subcommittee on Homebrew Clubs, and her Queen of Beer colleagues are reconnecting women with their ancient brewing sisters by doing what comes naturally to them: brewing beer.

 

Hqt (Hekt)

This hekt (ancient Egyptian beer) recipe is made with a modern version of bappir (toasted barley and millet bread), the traditional loaf used to make Egyptian beer. Expect it to taste more like low-alcohol honey or fruit mead than a modern beer. It is unfiltered and thick, somewhere between a beverage and a gruel, as ancient beers likely would have been.

Note: The following is adapted from a recipe transcribed by Diodorus Siculus, a Roman scholar of Egyptian writings, about 50 B.C. You’ll need to be familiar with home brewing techniques to follow this recipe. Corn sugar and licorice root are available at brewing supply shops; barley and millet flour are available at specialty grocery and natural food stores.

Ingredients

Bappir (toasted barley and millet bread)
1 pound (3½ cups) barley flour
1 pound (3 cups) millet flour
2 cups corn sugar (dextrose), divided
Water to make dough
2 tablespoons dry active yeast, divided

In a bowl, combine the barley flour with 1 cup of corn sugar. Add 2 cups of water, stir well, then add 1 tablespoon of yeast. Mix well (the mixture will be very wet). Cover with plastic wrap and set aside. In a separate bowl, repeat with the millet flour and the remaining corn sugar and yeast. Allow both to rise for 6 hours.

Preheat an oven to 350 F. Grease two baking sheets. Pour the dough onto the prepared baking sheets (the dough will be very wet). Allow the dough to rest, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Bake for 40 minutes, rotating sheets from top to bottom halfway through, until golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside until cool enough to handle. Slice each loaf into 1-inch slices and arrange them on the baking sheets. Bake for an additional 15 minutes, until lightly toasted.

Brewing Instructions

1 recipe bappir
¼ cup licorice root shavings
½ ounce anise seed
4 pounds light barley malt extract
3 pounds honey
4 cups sorghum molasses syrup
Wine yeast

In a 5-gallon boil pot, bring 2 gallons of water to a boil. Crumble all of the toasted bappir into the pot. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature overnight. Strain the bread mixture from the water and return the water to the pot. Discard the bread (the mixture will still be very cloudy). Add the licorice, anise, barley malt, honey and sorghum. Boil for 45 minutes. Remove from heat and allow the wort to cool. Combine the wort with 3½ gallons of water and yeast. Pour into a 6-gallon carboy. Add the wine yeast and set it aside to ferment, covered, for 12 days or until foamy.

To serve, stir well and serve in small cups (the mixture will be thick).

 


Jenn Garbee is a regular contributor to the Los Angeles Times Food section and LA Weekly’s Squid Ink Food blog. She is currently writing a book about the role beer has played in women’s history.

 

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Sonoma’s Vintage Sour Beer Image
Barrel aging beer at Russian River Brewing.
Photo credit: Jenn Garbee

Vinnie Cilurzo recently more than doubled the size of his Russian River barrel-aging room, but he could still use more space. He needs to get started on next year’s vintage, but the syrupy currant-colored liquid filling dozens of Cabernet Sauvignon barrels in the Sonoma County production facility still requires a few more weeks of aging.

Finding enough space to house wine barrels for the duration of the aging process isn’t an uncommon bottleneck in winery production. Only Russian River Brewing Co. isn’t a winery.

“If it were up to me, I’d do all barrel-aged beers, but the IPAs are still the big seller,” Cilurzo says of the full-bodied, delicately nuanced sour ales that he makes in limited quantities at his Santa Rosa, Calif., brewery.

Those wine barrels are filled with sour ales, traditional Belgium-style ales that have been naturally fermented with brettanomyces, a wild yeast, and aged for several months in oak barrels (Cilurzo also makes nearly a dozen more classic bottle-fermented Belgium ales). Unlike the more typical IPAs (India Pale Ales) and American lagers, Belgium-style sours can be tricky to brew and require months of barrel aging. Due to that wild yeast, their success, much like wine, depends as much on environmental factors as the skill of the producer.

That production volatility and the additional time required for barrel aging means these beers are pricier than your average six-pack. A 750ml bottle can set you back as much as $15 — not exactly what American beer buyers are used to paying to fill their tailgate coolers.

“The higher price point is hard to get beer consumers used to,” Cilurzo says. “But the real problem is you’re dealing with the beer drinkers in this country who expect a beer to taste the same every time they buy it. Batch #2 of the Supplication tasted nothing like Batch #1 — it’s more like wine in that way, always different.”

Supplication, a brown ale that Cilurzo ages in Pinot Noir barrels with a generous amount of dried sour cherries, is one of four sour beers that Russian River releases each year (the wine stains inside the barrels lend a subtle fruitiness to the beer). Others include the Temptation, a blonde ale aged in Chardonnay barrels for approximately 12 months, and the Beatification, a 100% wild-yeast fermented ale housed in old barrels without any oak or wine flavor so that it can soak up more of the beer’s natural yeasty flavor. Consecration, a dark ale aged for six months in dried currant-filled Cabernet barrels, is the newest Belgian-style sour in Russian River Brewing’s lineup (it was released for the first time this year). Like wine, once the limited quantities of the 2008 vintage are gone, fans will have to wait until the next year to get their hands on more.

Challenging but worth it

Cilurzo grew up in Sonoma County, where his parents worked in the wine industry, but it wasn’t until he headed to Southern California after college that he got into professional brewing. After working as a brewer at the now-closed Blind Pig brewery in Temecula, Cilurzo returned home in 1997 to the head brewer position for Russian River Brewing Co., a small brewery that Korbel Champagne Cellars had recently opened. Although a trip to Belgium spurred his interest in Belgium-style ales — both bottled-conditioned and barrel-aged sours — even a large champagne house wasn’t interested in those more complex, wine-like styles. “They wanted IPAs like everyone else,” recalls Cilurzo, who started tinkering around with small batches of Belgium-style ales in his free time. It wasn’t until 2004, when Cilurzo and his wife, Natalie, purchased Russian River Brewing from Korbel that he was able to make sour beers — in limited quantities.

Vinnie Cilurzo

Vinnie Cilurzo in the brew room. Photo credit: Jenn Garbee

Even today, the sour beers are only 5% of the brewery’s annual production. The rest of Russian River’s lineup includes bottle-conditioned Belgian-style ales and the brewery’s popular double IPAs such as Pliny the Elder. The expense of housing the sour ales in wine barrels for months as well as the production expense for a tricky brew have limited his expansion.

But for Cilurzo, it’s worth the effort, particularly when it comes to finding just the right wine barrels. “If Natalie and I like the wine, we buy the barrels,” he says of the selection process. The more recently a barrel has been used to age a wine, the more it’ll impart a particular grape’s qualities to the beer. “For the Consecration, I went with all fresh barrels for the strongest wine character,” he says. “You’re going to get a tobacco, chocolate and currant flavor from the Cabernet Sauvignon barrels, so you want to complement that in the beer as you make it.” The result is a complex, high-alcohol (10.5% ABV) beer with a noticeably fruity tang that seems more deserving of a steak than a ballpark frank.

Unlike mass-produced American light lagers that rely on a precise production formula, “the sours are ready whenever the beer tells us it’s ready,” Cilurzo says. “One year, it’s 12 months aging, the next, it’s 18.” When the sour beers have finished aging, they are bottled conditioned an additional eight to 10 weeks. Like wine, these fruit-forward beers can even be cellared for several years (most beers begin to lose their fresh flavor after only a few months).

Brett alert

These beers get some of that wine-like flavor from the wild yeast. When properly used, brettanomyces (also known as brett) lends a complex, almost earthy, tang to an ale that defines the Belgian style of brewing. Brett also happens to have a rather sullied reputation among winemakers. In small quantities, the yeast can add desirable character to a wine, but winemakers generally avoid it because of its propensity to quickly spoil large quantities of wine.

Cilurzo is careful to sanitize the brewing equipment between batches so as not to contaminate his other beers, and he assures local winemakers there is not enough brett at his facility to cause a problem.  “You could probably open up a petri dish at a brewery in Belgium and catch the stuff, it’s so heavy in the air, but we’re too isolated in our production for that here.”

Even still, Cilurzo isn’t always a welcome guest at neighborhood winery potlucks. “One winemaker came in the brewery and told another winemaker, ‘Don’t touch anything!’ and then told him to wash his boots well afterwards,” recalls Cilurzo, grinning. “He refused to sell me wine barrels.”

Most of Cilurzo’s wine-making neighbors applaud his recycling of their wine barrels. As production has increased, he has graduated from relying solely on friends’ barrels destined for the recycle bin to purchasing many of his barrels. Those wineries that have done more than their share of barrel donating over the years get a little something in return. “There’s this one winery that has given us so many Pinot barrels over the years, I finally bought them a kegerator,” says Cilurzo, loading a keg onto his truck. “They just started picking their grapes and called to say it’s a little hot and dry over there, and could I bring over some beer?”

The beer? A Russian River India Pale Ale. “When you’re working, you just want something refreshing.” Cilurzo’s sours are meant for sipping – and savoring.

To find Russian River Brewing’s beers, visit www.russianriverbrewing.com

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A Tart Return to Basics Image

What do cupcakes and Julia Child have in common? Until recently, thankfully, not very much. But we’ve been hit hard by the cupcake craze (it is a glorified muffin with some icing slapped on top, people). And, of course, these days we are fortunate to have the “Julie & Julia” movie in full swing (Meryl Streep’s mug, rather than Julia’s, will now be on the cover of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” for who knows how many decades).

Hype may sell in food courts and movie theaters, but in our home kitchens, it’s time to get back to basics. The cookbook “Chez Panisse Fruit” (named after Alice Waters’ Berkeley, Calif., restaurant) is a good place to start. Seven years after it was published, the most recent volume in the Chez Panisse series is a venerable classic. At my house, that means hoisting the book to the kitchen counter with a delicate hand to keep the tattered pages intact. But, really, I can’t think of a better compliment for a book than a broken spine. Think of it as the recipe equivalent of all this cupcake and movie success, only without all the perky sprinkles and crying over broken hollandaise.

And what a great book it is. It’s peppered with lyrical discussions of mulberries and gorgeous watercolor paintings of figs by illustrator Patricia Curtan. But it’s the dozens of inspired recipes such as roast pork with apple-onion marmalade and tangerine sorbet-laced crepes suzette that will have you coming back for more. That, and the book’s brilliantly simple organization.

“Chez Panisse Fruit” is laid out as more of a useful glossary of ingredients rather than a politely unfolding dinner party (the typical appetizers, mains and dessert sections). You’ll find all of those recipes here, you simply start with an ingredient first. You could even do a full-out ingredient theme party, say, mango salsa for starters, mango salad with shrimp and avocado as a main, and mangos in Sauternes for the grand finale. Crazy, these fruit-obsessed cooks.

You’ll soon find that this is the only logical way to shop and cook. Spending hours culling through recipes and heading to the store with a meticulously crafted checklist is hardly the way our lives ebb and flow these days. We pick up a little of this and that in quick bursts, when and where we can. Come to think of it, the one redeeming quality of a cupcake may be its portable, instant sugar rush for those moments of waning enthusiasm for grocery shopping.

Say you spy some sour cherries for a steal at the farmers market but aren’t quite sure what to do with them. Buy them anyway. When you’re back in your kitchen, flip to the section in “Chez Panisse Fruit” about cherries. Waters describes the various types and when each is in season (but you already know that because you just bought some), as well as useful storage and preparation tips. You haven’t gotten around to picking up a cherry pitter at a garage sale? Me neither. Waters suggests using the tip of a small knife or the end of an unbent paper clip instead (note: a knife is rather laborious but works fine; the paper clip has not been tested, but do report if you give it a try).

After sharing enlightening vignettes on the second life of office supplies, Waters offers a handful of relatively simple-to-prepare recipes. Translation: If you know how to make a pie crust, the recipes will be a cinch; if you are well versed on where to find instant mashed potatoes (next to the soup mix or in the pasta aisle?), it might be wise to brush up on basic cooking techniques first.

There are just enough recipes in each section, usually four or five, to always find something you want to make. And if you don’t have quite the right type of fruit, don’t worry. Waters suggests substitutions. For instance, she notes that sweet cherries work well in a pureed cherry soup or spooned over whole roasted duck, while sour cherries are fantastic in cherry pies or pickled. But you could swap out the sweets for the sours in any recipe simply by adjusting the amount of sugar. And because many of the recipes call for pantry staples – no foie gras, live lobster or obscure cuts of beef – “Cooking at Home” with Alice is old-fashioned, cupcake-free style that’s actually fun.

Julia Child would surely approve.

Brandied Cherries

To make brandied cherries, all you need is sugar and whatever good brandy you have on hand and you’ll be spooning cherries over pork loin and ice cream all winter. “And by all means,” Waters writes, “drink the brandy, which gets better and better….”

From “Chez Panisse Fruit,” by Alice Waters

Note: Do not use soft or overripe fruit because they will lose their shape. For more of a maraschino cherry flavor, you may substitute a flavored cherry brandy such as Kirsch for standard brandy. Whole cherries will have the best flavor, but you may want to pit the cherries if you plan to use them for ice cream and desserts. Waters recommends saving the pits and placing them at the bottom of the jar for the best flavor.

Ingredients:

2 pounds firm sweet or sour cherries

1/2 cup sugar for sweet cherries, 3/4 cup if you are using sour

2 cups of brandy or kirsch

Directions:

  1. Rinse and dry the cherries. Cut the stems down to about ½-inch long if you are leaving them pitted. Alternatively, stem and pit the cherries, saving the pits.
  2. Put the cherries into a large quart-sized jar with a tight-fitting lid. If you are using pitted cherries, sprinkle the pits on the bottom of the jar first.
  3. Mix the sugar and the brandy or kirsch together well and pour over the cherries. Cover tightly.
  4. Store the cherries in a cool part of the kitchen or in a basement for 1 month before using. During the first week, shake the jar and turn it upside down daily to help dissolve the sugar.
  5. After the cherries have soaked for 1 month, refrigerate the jar. The cherries will keep for several months.

Photo: Cherries. Credit: Jenn Garbee

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