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Wine Country Cheese Explorations

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Written by foodie pam   
Monday, 21 May 2012

ImageSonoma County is well known for wine and has great restaurants, but did you know it has cheese treasures? The rolling hills and mild climate are also ideal for raising goats, cows and sheep from which amazing cheese is produced. Perhaps best known is Laura Chenel goat cheese along with the homes of Cow Girl Creamery and Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company in nearby Pt. Reyes Station.  But many more small production cheeses are also born in this region.   So much so that cheese lover's can explore firsthand farms and dairies tours along with tasting countless cheese varieties along a "cheese trail" (See cheesetrail.org for a great map of tour options).

For cheese lovers who want even more, the annual California Artisan Cheese festival is a great activity.  The three day festival held each March offers farm tours, cheese centric dinners, cheese lectures and cheese making classes.  

ImageDuring this year's festival, I attended a fresh mozzarella and ricotta making class by The Beverage People.  Before the class I was skeptical about making cheese at home.  I thought that it's easy enough to buy cheese at the store, why would I want to spend time making it myself? I already knew the answer; it is very similar to why I make my own bread and other homemade items. By making it myself I know that the freshest ingredients are used and, with a bit of practice, it will taste better than store bought. Plus, combined with my homemade pasta and vegetable garden, entire meals can now be homemade.  

Granted, some cheeses are more difficult to make than others and investing the many months needed for aged cheeses may not be on my horizon. But, fresh cheeses, the focus of the class I took, are easy make.  Making ricotta really only requires milk, acid and heat.  Sure, you need to keep an eye on the milk as it heats, but active time is pretty low.  Mozzarella requires a bit more work since the cheese needs stretching, but really that's part if the fun! I learned how to make both of these at the class which was, as with the rest of the cheese festival, fun, informative and a tasty treasure for cheese lovers.

If you're interested in making your own cheese: The Beverage People have some cheese recipes on their website  and below are links to some cheese recipes available here on Project Foodie.

Disclosure: Samples of products discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or manufacturers.

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Last Updated ( Sunday, 20 May 2012 )
 

Tasty Bites for Spring

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Written by foodie pam   
Thursday, 29 March 2012

ImageEven before the change to daylight savings time had us "spring forward", this year was simply flying by.   Somehow, though, I always find time to relax in the kitchen and find new things to share with foodies.  This month's pick includes some great kitchen staples, addictive snacks, pick-me-up snacks and, of course, libations…. 

Great additions to the Kitchen Arsenal

ImageI've lost count of how many balsamic vinegars and olive oils I've tasted.  Most often the balsamic vinegars are too sweet or artificial tasting, whereas the olive oils are either bitter or bland.  Surprisingly, my latest tastings found well balanced balsamic and olive oil both from the same company: The Artisanal Kitchen.  Plus, they won't bust your wallet. The Aceto Balsamico Di Modena -- Purple Label ($14.99 for 500 ml) is smooth and full-bodied with just the right amount of sweetness.  The Three Olives Extra Virgin olive oil ($19.99 for 500 ml) is unfiltered and low in acid for a mellow fruity flavor. -- picked by Foodie Pam

Snackin' it up

ImageIf you are looking for a snack bar that is soft and sweet rather than the typical hard and crunchy granola bars, then give Kraft's Milk Bite a try. The Milk Bites are available in either Chocolate, Strawberry, Mixed Berry, Oatmeal or Peanut Butter and use real milk to create a soft and creamy granola bar (I found Chocolate and Strawberry equally tasty and addictive!).  They need to be kept refrigerated, so be aware that this isn't something that will sit in the bottom of your travel bag for that emergency fix. -- picked by Foodie Pam  

Italian Brew at Home

ImageI tend to be a creature of habit when it comes to my morning cup of Joe.  It's not that I'm against trying out new coffee beans, most simply don't get my attention for very long.  Well at least they didn't.  A recent tasting of Caffe Bomard from Italy not only got my attention for its great flavor and aroma, but more importantly this 100% Arabica Italian Roast continues to get my attention every morning.  It is a lighter roast than some Italian roasts though, so if you are looking for an Espresso bean this may not be it.  But for my French press it is perfect.  Available on Amazon.com with a buy one get one free special it is currently $49 for 4.4 lbs. -- picked by Foodie Pam

The Dried Fruit Formerly Known as Prune

ImageWhen fresh fruit is scarce, it used to be a challenge to add sex appeal to my morning oatmeal. Sure, there are plenty of packaged dried fruit varieties available, but reading their nutritional content on the bag made me think twice before shaking a liberal dose onto my cereal. The folks at Sunsweet have now solved this dilemma with Plum Amazins. Compared to the same size serving as raisins or dried cranberries, the Plum Amazins are less expensive, have 50% more fiber, 45% less sugar, 19% fewer calories, and a lower glycemic index. And then there are the antioxidants, potassium, plus the lack of added sugar and preservatives.

Because they are sold already pitted and diced, they are ready-to-eat for snacking, and a convenient substitute for any other dried fruit in your favorite recipes. Having them in my cupboard, I seem to find new uses every day. Adding them to salads or yogurt is a current passion. And do try them sprinkled over soft cheese, or with vegetables. (Kids adore that unexpected touch of sweetness.) Or in Moroccan-style dishes. Or tossed with salted nuts for a quick appetizer. See what I mean? The possibilities are endless.  Plum Amazins are sold in an easy-to-pour 9-ounce canister in the dried fruit or produce section of most supermarkets, for a suggested retail price of $2.49. Amazin, indeed. -- picked by Peggy Fallon

Libations

While cooking is relaxation, nothing beats enjoying some champagne or wine after a long day at work.  Champagne is a particular favorite of mine for a girl's evening of chit chat and nibbles (something I wish I had more time for).  When I'm up for the splurge Taittinger Brut La Francaise ($45) is currently at the top of my list.  Rated 91 Points by Wine Spectator, I couldn't agree more with their assessment: "A fine, very pure style of Champagne. Has hints of toast and citrus fruits that come together in a style that is almost the essence of Champagne. Crisp, rich and complex.".  And it goes great with cheese!   -- picked by Foodie Pam

Disclosure: Samples of products discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or manufacturers.

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Last Updated ( Tuesday, 03 April 2012 )
 

You Say En-dive; Those-in-the-Know Say On-deev

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Written by Peggy Fallon   
Thursday, 22 March 2012

ImageCurious about that pleasantly bitter crunch you recently enjoyed in a salad? Chances are it was endive, as it is beginning to show up everywhere. With good reason. Once available only as an import from Belgium, compact little heads of greenish-white or red endive now originate from dark growing rooms at California Vegetable Specialties (CVS) in the agricultural Sacramento River Delta area, thanks to mastermind Richard Collins. CVS is the only producer of endive in the U.S., selling over 4 million pounds per year.

Endive is not just another pretty face, nor is it simply the latest food fad. Its presence has withstood the test of time, for it is definitely the most versatile of the chicory family: a natural-born scooper for dips; an edible container for appetizers; and a must for chic salads. And as of late the European tradition of serving endive warm in soups, sides, and entrees is finally catching on. (Type "endive" in the Recipe Search box here on Project Foodie, or just click here, and you'll come up with plenty of ways to incorporate it into your everyday meals.)

As if tasting great and being "in season" all year long is not enough, endive is believed to have some significant health benefits: Dr. Oz named endive as the #1 vegetable to cut the risk of ovarian cancer. (In a study of 62,000 women, those who consumed 1 head--a mere 1 cup sliced or chopped, raw--per week reduced their chances of contracting this form of cancer by a whopping 75%.)

Look for endive the next time you're in the produce section. And don't balk at the price: on a per-pound basis, endive is less expensive than that bag of pre-washed lettuce you just threw in your shopping cart.

Go to endive.com for serving tips…and just about everything else you could possibly want to know about endive.

Disclosure: Samples of products discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or manufacturers.

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Last Updated ( Thursday, 22 March 2012 )
 

A Jewel in the Suburbs

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Written by Peggy Fallon   
Monday, 19 March 2012

ImageFine dining atop an upscale market? You betcha. I dare say everyone in the San Francisco Bay Area is familiar with Draeger's, a mini-chain of 4 dazzling supermarkets renowned for their extensive selection of fine foods, specializing in hard-to-find treasures from local boutique producers as well as impressive imports from around the world. Their extensive wine department is staffed by knowledgeable experts; their collection of exquisite gifts and cookware can't be beat; and a stellar cooking school (where I happen to teach occasionally) attracts celebrity chefs from around the country.

It's no wonder Draeger's has become a must-see tourist destination for visiting foodies. Their landmark store in San Mateo, California has one big extra: arguably the best restaurant on the Peninsula. Really. Enter the doors of Viognier and you leave behind all the hubbub of the serious shopping going on downstairs. The restaurant is as serene as it is elegant.
I recently attended the "Half Moon Bay Crab Celebration" at Draeger's Cooking School in San Mateo, where we feasted on the bounty of our local coastline. The class began with an incredibly informative primer on Dungeness crab from our local Harbor Master, Captain Pietro Parravano. He was followed by Executive Chef Preston Dishman, fresh from overseeing dinner service at Viognier, to teach some of his favorite ways to prepare crab. I guess it's all in a night's work.

Chef Dishman carries an enviable resumé, even before he landed at Viognier. His wealth of culinary knowledge, some of which was simply dropped as "asides" during his presentation, left me scribbling notes madly. In short, he is best known for blending classic French techniques with California's bounty of fresh food. He believes it is part of the ethical duty of a chef to support local farmers and uses seasonal, local, organic and sustainable products whenever possible. In a time when it has become almost a cliché for chefs to claim they use only the finest ingredients, Dishman truly walks the walk. (Or woks the wok, as the case might be.)

As the filled-to-capacity class sipped wine, the aptly-named Dishman cranked out some of the best crab dishes I've tasted in a long time. Quite possibly ever. In less than 2 hours he effortlessly prepared his riff on Crab Louis, made with avocado cream, julienne slices of apple, and thinly sliced fennel and radishes; a Creamy Dungeness Crab Soup with sherry and celery root; and by far the most utterly delicate Dungeness Crab Cakes, served with Spicy Harissa Aioli. Just when we thought we couldn't eat another bite, Dishman rounded off the evening with his homemade Blood Orange Sorbet. Perfection.

To keep it all in the family, Dishman's wife, Nicole, heads up the beverage program at the restaurant. With over 1,700 bottles on the wine list, Wine Spectator has recognized it with a Best of Award of Excellence every year since 2002.  
If you're visiting the San Francisco bay area, make time for dinner at Viognier. It's the best of Big City Dining, right here in the 'burbs.

Disclosure: Samples of products discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or manufacturers.

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Last Updated ( Monday, 19 March 2012 )
 

Green with Nostalgia

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Written by Peggy Doherty Fallon   
Wednesday, 14 March 2012
List of viewable recipes from "The Lodge Cast Iron Cookbook" by The Lodge Company

ImageMy parents were already adults when they emigrated to the U.S. from Ireland, so their culinary preferences pretty much always reflected “the old country.” We’ve all heard the jokes about bland Irish cooking, with its overcooked meats and vegetables. When I was growing up, unfortunately most of those tales were true.

Let’s just say meals at our house weren’t terribly innovative. But my mother managed to feed 3 squares a day to a family of 8—which is certainly an accomplishment none of her children can match.

Her real claim to fame, however, was her Irish soda bread. This “scon,” as she called it, was something she learned to make as a girl in Donegal. In her own American kitchen, she tweaked and fussed with her mother’s recipe—adding a bit more sugar in deference to my father’s sweet tooth, and an egg to lighten the texture. You know how cooks are.

As a testament to this, several of my relatives have slightly different versions of essentially the same recipe—each written in my mother’s distinctive hand. But fine-tuning aside, scon was always the best part of our breakfast table, served with steaming cups of hot tea made kid-friendly with milk and sugar.

This soda bread bears no resemblance to those dry and crumbly loaves being sold at supermarkets this week. And I see no point in debating the pros and cons of using currants over raisins; or the merits of adding caraway seeds. This is what I grew up with, and I wouldn’t change a thing. Even now, 83 years after she first landed at Ellis Island, my mother’s scon remains part of every Doherty family gathering. And we’ve picked up plenty of converts along the way.

So when the folks at Lodge asked if I had a favorite recipe to contribute to their new cast iron cookbook, my mother’s soda bread immediately came to mind. You see, for as long as I can remember she baked it in a well-seasoned cast iron skillet. I never asked why—it’s possible she simply didn’t own a 9-inch cake pan back in those early years. Many of us have since tried baking it every possible way, but nothing compares to the crisp crust and happy memories associated with soda bread baked in a cast iron skillet.

Maggie Doherty's Irish Soda Bread

Recipe from The Lodge Cast Iron Cookbook by The Lodge Company (Oxmoor House, 2012)


Maggie Doherty was cookbook author Peggy Fallon's mother, who swore by cast iron when it came to her soda bread. 

Makes one (9-inch) round loaf

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups raisins (preferably 1 cup
  • each golden and dark raisins)
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten

1. Preheat the oven to 375°. Generously grease a 9-inch cast iron skillet with vegetable shortening.

2. Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl; whisk gently to blend. Stir in the raisins to coat with the flour mixture. Make a well in the center and add the buttermilk and egg; stir until a stiff dough forms. (Use a wooden spoon if you must, but the most efficient way to mix this soft, sticky dough is with floured hands. Alternatively, the dough can be mixed in a heavy-duty stand mixer fitted with the dough hook.)

3. Remove the dough from the bowl and mound it into the prepared skillet, roughly forming a round loaf. (Don't be concerned that it won't hold its shape; it will be corrected during baking.) Lightly moisten your hands with water to smooth the top. Using a serrated knife dipped in flour, score the top with a large X, about 1/2-inch deep. (This will ensure even baking, and it will also scare away the devil, according to Peggy's mother.) Bake until the loaf is golden brown with a firm crust and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped with a knife, about 1 hour.

4. Remove the bread from the skillet and let cool on a wire rack at least 30 minutes before cutting into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Serve warm, at room temperature, or toasted, with or without butter.


Disclosure: Samples of products discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or manufacturers.

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 14 March 2012 )
 
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