Monday, February 27, 2006

Market Recap: 2006: Weeks 04 - 06

A thorough-going cop out here in my "weekly" account of the Grand Lake Farmers' Market, piling up three weeks into a single post. Still it's been nearly two weeks since my last post, and some change is certainly afoot at the market.

A new stand has begun selling eggs. They arrived two Saturdays ago, and we picked up a package of quail eggs. Throw in the guy from Prather Ranch, and Lakeshore Avenue is just a fish monger away from meeting all of our shopping needs.

This past week the Lagier Ranches folks were down to Page Tangerines, looks like they may be done with Satsumas for the year.

Two weeks back, one of the guys from County Line Harvest Farms told me their chicories were pretty much gone. I took this somewhat hard, and he said people usually only got that way about their lettuces. Last week we ran into the same guy on our way to their booth. He clapped me on the back and said they had one more small box. Next week though, all bets are off.

You should still be able to get Romanesco at the Tip Top Produce stand.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

A quick note on Tamarindo Antojeria

I'm writing tonight's posts while an absolutely intoxicating aroma drifts out of my kitchen. It is the spice-heavy waft of an earthy and dark sauce brushed over a rack of ribs. These ribs were offered to my wife as we left Tamarindo Antojeria last night.

This gift may have been a nod to the occasion. One other nod to Valentine's Day was a woman behind the register wearing an
"I hella ♥ Oakland" t-shirt(1). Wrap it up, we'll take it.

If you haven't been to the antojeria yet, I really can't encourage you enough. I'd recommend that you steer clear of the dishes that you get from your favorite taqueria. Taqueria tribalism is its own reward.

Instead try the sopecitos, the empanaditas, the tostaditas, or the sopa azteca. The fresh corn tortillas alone are worth the trip.

(1) It may also have been recompense for the son of the owner obseriving that I looked like a boxer - you know, the dog breed.

Peppers: Dried: Cannard Farms

These peppers were a gift. GIven to us by a friend who manages a restaurant here in the bay area. Indicating that they were dried by the folks up at Cannard Farms in Sonoma may or may not give the identity of friend or restaurant away. I'm electing to strive for the pretense of anonymity in all posts however. When my wife brought them home she said that Bob Cannard made them. The name was not familiar, but I was more interested in the fact that I could smell the peppers through the plastic bag they were wrapped in.

This restaurant managing friend of ours recently came by for dinner and gave me some more background. Turns out that Cannard Farms had been sending the restaurant boat loads of canned tomatoes. Each time a batch arrived, she would remind them that they needed to send her an invoice. Several batches of tomatoes later, the invoice arrived along with some chantrelles and these peppers - we scored three of them.

They are intensely red, and the skin of the pepper pod seems to have a bit more moisture left in it than the arbol chile pods we usually crack over pizzas and pastas. I've only cooked with these once, using thin rounds of the pepper over a pizzetta of creme fraiche and pan fried meyer lemon slices.

Wine: Bordeaux Blend: Peter Michael 'Les Pavots' 2002

I was not familiar with the wines of Peter Michael when a friend gave us two bottles as a birthday gift. He had come into posession of the bottles as the result of a curious battle of wills between the Peter Michael winery and the wine buyer at a notable area restaurant.

Some cursory research revealed that these wines have a cult-like following among a certain crowd, that this Peter Michael fellow operates in that rareified financial strata where money is no object, and that his Knight's Valley winery is apparently cooler than all get out.

I tend to reserve my cultish impulses for Sean Thackery and David Rafanelli. Thackery as I understand it makes his wine under a tin roof in some shack out in Bolinas. That said, I fell hard for Clos Pegase the first time I visited, and I can certainly appreciate a well made wine in --for lack of a better descriptor-- the classic style.

The 2002 Les Pavots certainly feels classic. It was served to Prince Charles during his recent visit to the White House for instance. Velvet mouth feel and dark berry fruit, with the moist earth and decay scents that I appreciate in Cabernet. The most prominent fruit for me was blueberry. Very tasty.

I can't really discuss this wine in terms of relative value. I believe it to fetch well over a hundred dollars a bottle, provided you can find it. For the same price, I can say that I prefer the acidic complexity of the various La Spinetta barbarescos or the murky depths of S.Thackery's Orion.

Oh, that battle of wills... several cases of this wine were delivered to the notable restaurant I mentioned. The Peter Michael folks appear to be waiting for the restaurant to pay for it, the restaurant is waiting for them to come get it.

Beef: Prather Ranch: Beef Cheeks

I've mentioned Prather Ranch a few times recently. Once in my last Market Recap, and then again in my attempt to reproduce Mario Batali's Beef Cheek Ravioli.

They did eventually get some beef cheeks, and boy did we braised them. Braising the cheeks turns the connective tissue inside them into gelatin - an intensely-flavored beef quasi-liquid. Depending on your perspective you will find this either gross or very tempting. Personally I feel an obligation to gamely embrace less-loved hunks of the animals that are slaughtered in anticipation of my commerce. A single $10.00 pack fed the two of us for two evenings.

The sheer fall-apart tenderness of this cut of meat is something to behold. I did detect the slightest mineral tang of something like organ meat. If you like this sort of thing, know going in that it is very slight. If you are squeamish about this kind of thing, ladle some more braising liquid over it and off you go.

I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that the Prather Ranch guy won't be at the market this coming Saturday.

Beer: New Belgium Brewing Company: Special Release: La Folie

When we moved from Berkeley to Oakland, we had the good fortune to move in next door to an area sales manager for New Belgium Brewing Company. Hitting it off with a "beer guy" has some of the advantages you'd expect and, as it turns out, some that you couldn't possibly expect. Such was the case with this bottle of La Folie.

My beer tastes strike me as pretty pedestrian. I adore IPA, am a fan of Pilseners, and am always happy to have a pint of Guinness. I've never gotten the hang of Chimay however, and various bocks (double, triple...) leave me cold.

And after my first taste of La Folie I thought I was a lost cause. Here a friend had brought me one of only three thousand bottles of a a cork-stopped and barrel-aged beer that was by all accounts --or at least the account of Michael Jackson-- one of the finest beers in the world:
“The idea was to create an intentionally sour effect, though not as intense as that in the famous Belgian beer, Rodenbach. The finished beer, called La Folie, has a dark pinkish-amber color; a sustained bead; a toffee-like start; then apple and passion fruit notes. The label suggests that the beer be left to breathe for ten minutes. During that period, firmness and acidity seem to come to the fore. Quite sour in finish but a beautifully balanced beer.” — Michael Jackson, Beer Writer
It grows on you though. The sour aspect is gradually overwhelmed by the sheer complexity of the flavors and aromatics. I had this bottle with two friends, and a hanger steak. As they had their first tastes, I recognized skepticism and a willingness to give the beer the benefit of the doubt. We each had two more pours and were sad to see it go.

Sauce: Italian: Saba

Tough to know how to classify some of these pantry items. "Sauce" is not quite right for Saba, which is described on the packaging as a "dressing" - not quite right either. I was first exposed to saba in savory dishes at Dopo. I understood it to be balsamic vinegar which, it turns out, is not exactly true. Saba is the reduced must of trebbiano and lambrusco grapes that has been stored in chestnut or oak barrels for two to three years.

Historically it was used as a sweetener, in the way that folks use honey or even molasses. The taste is akin to honey, though predictably redolent of grapes. The consistency lends itself to pouring in ways that honey does not.

Saba was in use as far back as five thousand years ago, consumed by the usual mediterranean and african suspects. The variety pictured here can be found at Market Hall for about $20.00, and has been produced by the Leonardi family for more than a hundred years.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Duroc Pork in Braising Reduction with Chicories

I threw this dish together using some braising liquid we had in the fridge. Served it with thinly sliced pork, from a Duroc chop that I'd brought home from B, and chicories. It reminded me of the noodle dishes at O'Chame, only without the soba.

The pork chop had been just as described in the East Bay Express review of B,"As thick as a paperback copy of Bleak House and a rosy medium inside, was possibly the juiciest chop I've [sic] eaten in months."

Apparently Duroc hogs are one of the primary genetic contributors to contemporary factory-farm cross-breeds, adding valued lipid content to the porcine mix of pH, color, and tenderness.

I hope to post on each of these chicory varieties separately, but I'm having a difficult time tracking down the specific type shown here. It's shape resembles mache, though the color is an intense purple with bright to pale green ribs.

Beef and Chicken Liver Ravioli, in the style of Babbo

My wife spent the spring and summer on the east coast last year, taking courses in Ukrainian at Columbia and Harvard. While she was away I developed a serious Iron Chef habit. When the time for my first visit to New York arrived, I was eager to eat at Mario Batali's Babbo. We were lucky enough to get a reservation without much notice. The stand-out dish for me was the Beef Cheek and Squab Liver ravioli with Black Truffle.

Turns out I am not the only one impressed by the dish. An article showed up in the New York Times Magazine that described Babbo as one of the harder reservations to land, and those very same ravioli as one of the must eat meals in NYC - not bad for what Mario Batali describes as "a delivery system for leftovers." The article goes on to describe how you can fake the dish, substituting this for that, that kind of thing.

In general, I am opposed to faking it. One of the implied messages of this website is that you don't have to substitute ingredients if you know where to get the real thing. This past weekend though, the fates conspired against me. With no beef cheeks or squab liver to be had, I improvised. Chuck roast for beef cheeks, chicken liver for squab, and fennel pollen for truffles.

To be sure this dish requires a certain time commitment. Braising the chuck roast took nearly 4 hours, making the ravioli pasta took another hour or so. At each stage of the process I thought,"In most kitchens, this would be enough". When the ravioli reached the table though, it was all worth it. Rave reviews abounding.