• Contact
  • Archive | March, 2005

    James Beard Foundation Restructures…again

    Remember last year, when the James Beard Foundation was found to have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars without being able to actually account for it? As a charitable institution, this is a BIG no-no. Even Anthony Bourdain said that the charity took him for a chump.

    Since that time, they have restructured…twice. Once back last September longtime President Leonard Pickell resigned before Board of Trustees meeting. And this past Tuesday, three new trustees were elected to its Board and, upon the acceptance of these new trustees, the previous Board of Trustees stepped down. These were the Trustees put in place to help get their house in order. They conducted an investigation, and introduced an action plan. This current reorganization is “intended to strengthen the Foundation’s professionalism and commitment to financial discipline, transparency, ethics and good governance”.

    This is a good thing it seems, and they are showing a level of transparency which had not existed under Pickell’s reign. Have they gotten the trust of their core participants back? Probably not, but it’s a step in the right direction. Now if they foundation can face the realities of the restaurant industry, rather than only showing the romantic side, I’d be truly impressed.

    Latest Seattlest

    For those of you interested in all things Accidental Hedonist, my latest post is up at Seattlest (It compares two cheeseburgers in step one of the search for the best foods in Seattle)

    Wine 101 – A Syllabus

    I have opened up the proverbial Pandora’s Box. The amount of information available on wine is immeasurable, and makes it difficult to approach this topic without adding to the already voluminous din. For me to say “Wine is this!” or “To understand wine, do that!” essentially gets me nowhere in my search. It would also provide you folks who read this site on a regular basis nothing of substance.

    But feh.. I’m probably going to do it anyway.

    First things first…let me state for the record that my knowledge of wine is almost non-existent. But I want to learn, so let’s put that as item 1 that you need to have – A strong desire for learning about wine.

    I think then you need to determine whether you want to learn about wine either because you like the taste and the variety it provides you, either when drunk alone or when paired with food, or if you want to do wine as an investment. For me, the choice here is simple: I have neither the time, patience, space nor money to collect wines. Me? I’m in it for the taste…and the comfortable buzz that a glass or two provides, but I suppose that’s a bit politically incorrect for me to admit to. Then again, there’s a reason why the lady in the upper right corner of this site is drinking absinthe.

    So taste it is.

    If I’m in this for taste, then the goal is to drink good wine. How do I find out what makes a good wine or not? By drinking of course. So here’s another task… drink wine, and note which wines you like.

    Using my process engineering background, I think it’s necessary (if you’re new to wine) to establish a baseline. By that I mean choosing one wine as where you will stick your flag and always come back to. It’s the one wine against which all future wines will be judged.

    For me, that wine is Riesling. I loves my Riesling. In my mind, there are wines which are better than Riesling and others which are worse. But I first found wine bliss with a little German import, and I’m not bound to forget it.

    Using your baseline wine, you can do one of several things. I suggest doing the following in order:

    • - Dissect the hows and whys on why you like your specific wine
    • - Compare the winery that produced your baseline wine against other wineries.
    • - Compare the varietal of your baseline wine against other varietals.

    I like the first option, because it allows you to determine why you specifically like that wine. As you drink the wine, ask yourself many questions – Is this wine sweet? Besides grapes, what flavors can I distinguish? Is the aroma of the wine pleasant? What happens when I drink this wine with entrees, desserts or by itself? If this wine tastes better with food, which foods work best with it? There are no wrong answers to these questions, but they will help determine your own preferences.

    Now that I know I like Rieslings, I can compare it against other Rieslings made by other wineries. I determine if I like the new wine or the baseline wine. If I like the new wine, I ask the same questions I have previously, and then ask “Why do I like this new wine better?” If I keep on trying Rieslings from different wineries, and keep mental or physical notes, I will soon develop an educated palate surrounding Rieslings. I may not have the extended vocabulary to express the tastes, but I will know what I like.

    The final item in the list should be done within the confines of the winery, in order to determine the quality of the winery of your baseline wine. For example, say I really enjoy Brand X Winery’s Riesling, but I want to look for a different varietal. I should then try Brand X Winery’s Pinot Noir (as an example). Regardless of whether I like the wine or not, I should answer questions to myself once again. Why did I or did I not like that wine. What properties did it have that made me come to my conclusion? Regardless of whether I like the Pinot Noir, I now have a baseline to which I can compare all future Pinot Noir tastings.

    If I like the Pinot Noir, I may explore other wines that Brand X winery and expand my knowledge base of wines.

    Now if I can back up for a moment here, you’ll discover a basic syllabus when it comes to learning about wines:

    • I. Introduction – Why do you like Wine?
    • II. To Collect or Taste?
    • III. Baseline wine
    • IV. Understanding Your Preferences
    • V. Tasting Wine
    • VI. Wineries
    • VII. Varietals and Regions

    In my brief look at wines, I think that most any other topics surrounding wine can be placed under these initial categories. How does one read a Wine Label? Put that under “Wineries”. The difference between Reds and Whites? File under “Varietals and Regions”. A bit simplistic, perhaps, but a good enough place to start.

    I’ll be covering V-VII at some point in the future, hopefully elaborating on each section.

    Or perhaps I’ll just keep on drinking Rieslings. For me, it’s a win-win.

    How to rate a Cheeseburger

    In the course of my new duties at Seattlest, I now am in search for the best cheeseburger, pizza, phad thai and Chicken teriyaki found in Seattle. This is no small task and promises to give me stuff to write about when I’m too lazy to make a recipe, or to intimidated to call up a local chef for an interview.

    Below are the criteria in which I am rating cheeseburgers, on a 1-10 scale.

    Bun: Is fresh or stale? Dry or Moist? Does it have a decent crust? Has it been toasted?? I can’t stress the toasted part enough.

    Meat: Does it have a taste? Or has it been compromised by other items on the bun? Is it sweet? Is the meat graining or smooth? Fatty or lean? Has it been fried or grilled?

    Bun/Meat Ratio: There should be equilibrium between meat and the bun. I shouldn’t taste all bun, nor should I be overwhelmed with meat.

    Cheese: Does the cheese overwhelm the burger or compliment it? Can one taste the cheese? Does the cheese provide anything beside texture?

    Misc: What comes on the burger? Does the wait staff ask how you would like it cooked? What kind of fries are served with it (if any)?

    I tally the score, and divide the total by five. Ties will be determined by restaurant ambience and/or server.

    Seattle – you have been warned.

    ADDENDUM: I have discovered a new Law when it comes to ordering burgers…Let’s call the Kate’s Law of the Bacon Cheeseburger, which states: If a restaurant provides a bacon cheeseburger, but not a plain cheeseburger, odds are good that the bacon is used to mask the fact that the burger has little or no taste.

    Why American Cuisine is Looked Down Upon – Pt. 1

    Let me submit prosecution evidence Labeled A: The Burger King 730-calorie breakfast product that slaps two omelet eggs, a sausage patty, three strips of bacon and two slices of cheese into a bun.

    So much for the “We promise to develop healthy alternatives” plan, eh?

    For the record, 47g of fat is equivalent to any one of the following:

    • - 1/2 stick of butter
    • - 1 Denny’s Grand Slam Breakfast
    • - 2 McDonalds Sausage McMuffin with Eggs
    • - 3 Au Bon Pain Chocolate Croissants
    • - 4 Krispey Kreme Glazed Donuts
    • - 5 Tablespoons of Mayo
    • - 9 Hostess Twinkies
    • - 24 cups of plain oatmeal

    (Thanks Newsday!)

    Umbria: Hidden Italy

    One of the many problems with being a virtual tourist is trying to find that one thread of connection between what I’ve experienced versus what I imagine. As I read site after site, book after book about Italy, I can usually get a good idea of what the writer is talking about,even if only roughly.

    Not so with Umbria.

    Part of that is due to the fact that Umbria is the only landlocked region on the Italian peninsula. There are no coastlines for me to imagine. Instead, it’s full of peaks and valleys, meadows and pastures, woods and streams. With all of these different environments, I can imagine many different foods.

    Olive oil is plentiful here, as well as wheat (which means plenty of pasta, cakes and cookies). The farms in the region mean beef, pork and lamb.

    But really, when it comes to Umbria, think mushrooms. More specifically, think truffles. Black truffles (as the white ones are found in the Piedmont area, which I’ll get to later). Also available in Umbria are porcini, sanguinacci, ovoli and many others. Fungus is definitely dominant in the area.

    There are many dishes that can be talked about as almost explicitly Umbrian; Porchetta for one, which I won’t be making as a spit-roasted suckling pig is hard to pull off in a studio apartment. I will be looking for Sausages done in an Umbrian style norcino, which means that the pigs used in the sausages were fattened almost exclusively on acorns. This will lead to a simple dish called Rigatoni alla Norcino, which I think I will make.

    Wait a second…Hills and valleys, wheat, pork and beef, crayfish and trout, and mushrooms? This almost sounds like…Western Pennsylvania!

    Okay, maybe not.

    Expect several recipes in the next few weeks based on Umbrian cuisine. If you have any recommendations, feel free to let me know. I think I’m gonna enjoy this.

    Penne al Cognac

    Penne al cognac

    Tomato Sauce + Cognac = bliss

    I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it before…Afer all – Tomato Sauce + Vodka = bliss and Tomato Sauce + Red Wine = bliss. It should have occurred to me.

    But it took a recipe from A Cook’s Tour of Italy to make me see the proverbial light. If you’re looking for a new sauce to put on pasta, this is the perfect place to start. The cognac blends ever so well with the tomato sauce, giving a depth to the sauce that’s atypical of most tomato bases sauces out there.

    This here recipe is my first recipe from the Umbria region of Italy. Yes, yes, I know. I haven’t talked about Umbria as of yet. I’m getting to it…really.

    • 2 cups of your favorite tomato sauce
    • 2 Tablespoons Tomato Paste
    • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
    • 1/4 cup Cognac
    • 2 lbs penne pasta
    • 1/2 cup half & half
    • salt and pepper (to taste)
    • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
    • Chopped Italian Parsley (fresh)
    • Grated pecorino cheese

    In a sauce pan, heat tomato sauce and tomato paste over medium low heat. Add pepper flakes and allow to get to a warm temperature. Whisk in the cognac and bring to a simmer. Cook at said simmer for 15 minutes, give or take.

    In a separate pan, bring pasta water to a boil over medium heat. While boiling, add penne and cook for 12-15 minutes (or according to directions on the box).

    While pasta is cooking, add half & half to the tomato sauce and continue to simmer (185 degrees F). Add salt and pepper to taste.

    Drain pasta and pour into a serving bowl. Dress with olive oil and allow to sit. Pour in half of the tomato sauce and coat the pasta. Spoon in a small bowl or plate. Top with a ladle-ful or two of the unused sauce. Top with parsley and cheese…although be careful with the amount of cheese used, as it may overwhelm the taste of the sauce.

    Serves 8-12