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Thursday, July 31, 2008

About Umami

Umami was discovered by a Japanese researcher one hundred years ago. Dr. Kikunae Ikeda of Tokyo Imperial University recognized that certain foods like asparagus, tomatoes, meat and cheese all shared a common taste. It's a bit hard to put your finger on, though it's often described as "savory." I think it's easier to think of it as the taste that makes your mouth water. It also has a distinctive mouth feel, it lends a fullness or roundness. One of the first things I learned at a recent Umami Symposium is that while taste and flavor are often used interchangeably, they are not the same thing. Flavor is determined by taste and smell. There are only five tastes--sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. Just as sweetness is imparted by sugar, umami is imparted by glutamate, a type of amino acid, and ribonucleotides, including inosinate and guanylate, which occur naturally in many foods. It is also manufactured in monosodium glutamate. It is added or occurs naturally i...
Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Umami Symposium

I've never understood how there could be only four tastes--sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. It just didn't and still doesn't make sense. But there is a fifth taste which is particularly intriguing, it's called umami. I recently attended an Umami Symposium called New Frontiers of Taste and learned even more about this mysterious flavor. The following was the menu served at the symposium after a panel discussion. It was an event sponsored by the Umami Information Center which is funded by a variety of food and ingredient companies. And yes, the first course was served by candlelight that came from a daikon wrapped tea light! Chef Kunio Tokuoka Appetizers Kombu Broth-Simmered Beef Shabu-shabu with Red Pepper Dipping Sauce Seared Japanese Spiny Lobster with Tosa Vinegar Gelée, Fried Rice Grains, Ginger and Bonito Broth-Simmered Onions with Chicken and Pickled Plum Gelée, Seaweed, Shiso and Sesame Cubed Potato Frites with Salt-pickled Vegetables Steamed Savory Eg...
Monday, July 21, 2008

It's July and I'm Freezing

First let me say this is not a post about the weather in San Francisco. I am currently working on a new recipe development project that involves freezing. My assignment is to create recipes that can be prepared in multiple individual portions, then frozen and cooked before serving. Each recipe is like a fun little puzzle to try and solve. The real challenge is finding things that actually benefit from this treatment. If you read the widely circulated recipe for chocolate chip cookies in the New York Times recently, then you know that letting cookie dough rest, makes for a better cookie. I have it on good authority that freezing gnocchi dough also improves the final product. In the past I've frozen things like crepes and dumplings very successfully. So far my list of completed recipes consists of chicken apple sausage patties, chocolate chip cookies, jerk-rubbed chicken wings, and sesame ginger beef and I plan to try using ice cube trays and muffin tins to make individual p...
Monday, July 14, 2008

San Francisco Food Blogger Meet Up

This year the BlogHer conference is being held in San Francisco and many food bloggers will be coming to town. I'm excited to attend and get a chance to meet other bloggers. But attending the conference isn't the only way to meet up with food bloggers. Local food bloggers and food blogger conference attendees are invited to meet at the Americano patio at the Hotel Vitale this coming Sunday July 20th at 1 pm. It's just a block or so from the Ferry Plaza at the foot of Market street along the Embarcadero. No RSVP necessary and you can order a drink or food , as you wish. Since it's attached to a hotel you can also check your bags or get a cab to the airport. I hope to see you there! What: San Francisco Food Blogger Meet Up Where: Patio at Americano @ the Hotel Vitale , 8 Mission St, San Francisco When: Sunday July 20th, from 1 pm till whenever See photos and more from this event: Cookie Madness Bunrabs Kitchen gadget Girl Kalyn's Kitchen L...
Friday, July 11, 2008

A Sneak Peek at the Clock Bar

It hasn't opened yet, but I'm already excited about the Clock Bar at the Westin St. Francis . Union Square could use a cool rendezvous and I love the romantic tradition of couples meeting under the circa 1907 clock tower in the lobby. I like that the bar is looking to focus on traditional cocktails such as the Pisco Sour and Pimm's Cup and I get a kick out of the coasters printed up with old fashioned bar tricks. Speaking with Marco Dionysos, the head bartender, I learned that they'll avoid molecular gastronomy but utilize the restaurant kitchen to make fruit purees, homemade grenadine with hibiscus and more. Of course I'm curious about the food. I do know they'll be doing nibbles like charcuterie, truffled popcorn and steamed mussels. As soon as I get a chance to try it I'll report back. The Clock Bar officially opens Tuesday, July 15th. Clock Bar in the lobby of The Westin St. Francis hotel 335 Powell Street @ Geary San Francisco...
Wednesday, July 09, 2008

New Flavors for Appetizers: My First Cookbook

I've hinted at it for a long time but finally I can tell you about writing my first cookbook, New Flavors for Appetizers . Since it is now up on Amazon.com it's feels more real than ever. Here's how it all happened. The end of August last year I met with one of the senior editors at Weldon Owen , a publishing house that does lots of branded books. I learned about a new line of Williams-Sonoma cookbooks that was going to be launched in November of this year. They were looking to work with new writers and recipe developers, people who were comfortable with a variety of specialty ingredients and could develop fairly easy to execute recipes. Not long after my first meeting I was offered a work-for-hire contract. So that means I got paid for developing the recipes and some headnotes (the little description that goes with the recipe title). This is unusual since most writers get an advance and then make more money based on how many books are sold. I was confident the book w...
Monday, July 07, 2008

Spaghetti with Walnuts and Anchovies: Recipe

Conventional wisdom says a good cookbook is one that allows you to reproduce a given recipe with consistently successful results. Another opinion is that the recipes should be really special, not run-of-the-mill or the best versions of classics. I may be in the minority, but I most appreciate a cookbook that inspires me, gives me good ideas, and points the way. Adventures of an Italian Food Lover is such a cookbook. Italian food is probably my favorite cuisine. I learned to cook Italian food when I lived in Italy but I've never stopped learning. What I understand best is that Italian cuisine is about balance. It's about just the right amount of sauce and just the right texture to the pasta. It's about high quality ingredients combined, often simply, to create something magical. It's this elegant simplicity and balance of flavors and textures that appeals to me. The perfect combination of ripe tomatoes, luscious mozzarella and basil leaves. No balsamic vinegar, no e...
Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Reading up on Campania & Italy

Not to rub it in or anything, but I recently spent 10 glorious days in Italy discovering the charms of the Campania region, home of Naples and the Amalfi coast. But there is so much more to the region than that. I already had a soft spot for Sorrento, but this time around I got to visit the area around Mount Vesuvius, Benevento and the Cilento. I learned a fair amount about the less well-known areas before I ever left home. I took a lot of books out of the library, but these are the ones I kept by my side and treasure. If you are going to Italy, and you care about food, you must get Osterie & Locande D'Italia A guide to traditional place to eat and stay in Italy. I can't speak for the places to stay, but some of the best meals I had were places described in amazing detail in this Slow Food book. I yanked out the section on Campania and took it with me. It is by no means comprehensive, but the places it designates are winners and the detail on what to order the storie...