Vintage Kitchen: Carnation’s Noodle Ring with Creamed Chicken, 1935.

Why, yes, these are noodles. Thanks for noticing.

I turned up a copy of the “Carnation Cook Book” at a used-book shop in Santa Rosa the other day, and for a measly $2, I had to rescue it. Written by Mary Blake in 1935, this promo pamphlet is chock full of product placement, bound with staples, and just under 100 pages long. I believe this little cookbook was probably a giveaway, or perhaps cheap mail-order fodder, but I’m not totally certain about how it was originally distributed. As the author, Blake is credited as being Carnation’s “Director, Home Economics Department,” which fascinates me as a chef. Corporate recipe testing, and in that era — I wonder what the kitchen looked like, and how Mary Blake had become accomplished as a cook. Or did she cook anything, and only supervise a staff?

The photograph above is what sold me. [… read more …]

The Cheesesteak Sandwich @ Marin Sun Farms Butcher Shop, Point Reyes Station

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The Cheesesteak Sandwich @ Marin Sun Farms Butcher Shop, Point Reyes.

Does a cheesesteak sandwich, by definition, always taste better in Philadelphia? I’m sure that many folks from the City of Brotherly Love would argue in the affirmative, and I’m not here to dispute this claim. But what can we say about a California cheesesteak with impeccable pedigree, one that contains grass-fed, pasture-raised beef from Marin Sun Farms? Can such a sandwich possibly compete with the heralded Philly cheesesteak? Or does the absence of Cheez Whiz — that classic staple of Philly — render this point moot? And really, would you even want to adulterate grass-fed beef with Cheez Whiz? Or is “adulterate” the wrong word in this case? Augment? Enhance? I suppose it all depends on where you’re from.

Suffice it to say, the cheesesteak sandwich from the Marin Sun Farms Butcher Shop, pictured above, represents Northern [… read more …]

Silverado Brewing Company to Shutter in November

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Get it while you can: The Fish and Chips @ Silverado Brewing Company, St. Helena.

If I could just editorialize on this latest bit of news, I think it’s shameful that the Silverado Brewing Company has to close its doors at the end of November, since Kendall Jackson has decided to cancel the restaurant’s lease. According to what I’ve heard around the valley, one possible reason for this decision is to give Freemark Abbey, which is owned by Kendall Jackson, more of a presence on Highway 29. Although unfortunate, this explanation does make some sense, since SBC certainly enjoys the best location on the lot (SBC is well-positioned along Highway 29, while Freemark Abbey is tucked into the back corner of their own property). However, this is a terrible trade-off for the Napa Valley, which will lose one of its key up-valley restaurants in favor of a very [… read more …]

Slow Food Napa Valley: The 6th Annual Bale Mill Harvest Dinner

6th Annual Bale MIll Dinner

Good Times: The 6th Annual Bale Grist Mill Harvest Dinner.

The Napa Valley State Parks Association and Slow Food Napa Valley hosted the 6th Annual Bale Grist Mill Harvest Dinner on Saturday at Bale Mill State Historic Park. The event featured a silent auction, live bluegrass, whiskey, wine and beer, and of course, plenty of locally-produced food. About 160 guests enjoyed dinner and wine under clear Calistoga skies. Here are a few snapshots from the evening. Click any image for the full-screen view.

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The menu.

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At the trail head.

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Mingling around the silent auction, and enjoying whiskey, wine and beer.

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The Pickle Creek String Band.

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Wine dominated, but honey was also a hot item at the silent auction.

[… read more …]

Why I Cannot Stand Preachy Vegetarians: A Rant

I’ve gotten a fair amount of feedback concerning my photo essay regarding the origins of great bacon, which is the post located just below this one. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, and only slightly negative. Of course, many of the positive responses include the reactions from many of the chefs whom I know (being a chef myself). Some of these chefs even have Michelin stars here in the Napa Valley. But to answer the handful of folks who bristled at the sight of a pig slaughter, I can only state the following:

• If you choose to eat meat, then you really have no right to complain about seeing where that meat originates. Bacon is not created in the lab. An animal must die in order to provide meat for the table. This fact is not negotiable, and it never has been. By the same token, it’s troubling [… read more …]

Where Does Great Bacon Come From?

For me,

It begins with a gunshot, point blank just behind the ear. The targeted Mulefoot Hog remains blissfully unaware, even until the very end. Once the pig is down, its throat is slit to let the blood. Meanwhile, the other hogs react only briefly to the sound of the gunshot, looking up for just a moment, vaguely curious, and then continuing to feed on delicious fallen fruit. As their former sibling is dragged from the pen with the aid of a wench, life goes on without incident or trauma.

I don’t like to shill too often. However, Slow Food Napa Valley is co-hosting a benefit dinner at the Bale Grist Mill this Saturday evening, in which two Mulefoot Hogs will be prepared and enjoyed in myriad fashions. As a local board member of SFNV (as well as the webmaster), I’ll be there to help out and to [… read more …]

Daytripping Mendocino County: Heirloom Apples and Warm-Weather Wines

Philo's Finest: Gravenstein Apples.

Philo’s Finest: Gravenstein Apples.

The end of Labor Day Weekend is a milestone that I anticipate every year. For one thing, it’s the last three-day weekend of the season, which is fine by me, since I don’t have normal weekends off anyway. Unlike most people in America, I derive zero joy from the almighty three-day weekend. Monday holidays make restaurant work extra difficult, as Saturday and Sunday essentially become back-to-back Saturdays (already the most difficult day of the week), and an otherwise benign Monday is subsequently transformed into a Sunday (the second-most difficult day of the week). But that’s just the perspective of a line cook, although I do admit, there’s an inherent satisfaction in pushing out an insane amount of covers over a three-day span, at least every once in a while.

Beyond my own professional gripes, the end of Labor Day also means something more important: [… read more …]

The Politics of Eating, Prop 37: What Would Michael Pollan Do?

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I don’t ever like to get too political on this blog, unless it concerns the politics of food. Even then, I rarely delve into that arena, so I intend to keep this entry short and sweet. But I do have to discuss California’s Prop 37, which is on the ballot this November. In a nutshell, Prop 37 would bring added transparency to the foods sold here in California, by forcing producers to label most products that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Rather than get into the science of GMOs — or the debate about whether or not GMOs are environmentally friendly — I think it’s important to step back and simply consider what’s really at stake: The consumer’s right to know what he or she is eating. And that’s it.

Prop 37 is simply about information, and when you look at the companies that are against this initiative, there’s [… read more …]

Movie Review: “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” Directed by David Gelb

For those moviegoers who are hopelessly food-obsessed, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” will no doubt leave some viewers yearning for a bit more, but maybe that’s to be expected. After all, with more than 75 years of experience in the kitchen, 85-year-old sushi master Jiro Ono has developed a wealth of culinary knowledge that probably exceeds that of anyone before him, and arguably exceeds that of anyone in the present day. With so much culinary expertise at the core of the film, those who cook for a living, or even those who qualify as serious home gourmets, will certainly become fixated by the ingredients and techniques in “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” (these are the same viewers, no doubt, who will instantly recognize Joël Robuchon during the film’s opening sequence).

If you’re at all like me, you’ll spend much of the movie wishing that there was more explanation from the [… read more …]

Photo Essay: Caviar Production @ Sterling Caviar, Sacramento County

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I have to admit, having grown up near the Sacramento area, I was surprised to learn this week that Sacramento County is actually the epicenter of caviar production in the United States. Really? Sacramento County and caviar? Who would’ve known that California’s heartland would be the source of such an exotic commodity? Personally, I just would’ve never suspected this connection. However, when you consider the Sacramento area in terms its various resources, it actually makes a great deal of sense: Not only does the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta supply a diverse selection of white sturgeon, but the proximity of UC Davis has also helped to pioneer and perfect the science of sustainable aquafarming.

A few days ago, I was fortunate enough to visit one of Sacramento’s top caviar producers, Sterling Caviar, located about 10 miles east of the Sacramento Airport (having flown out of Sacramento dozens of times in my [… read more …]