The SFPFS Blog

Tasting Coffees from the Best New Devices

With at least six machines, our Members and guest had plenty of coffee to taste on Tuesday, August 5, 2014 at Williams Sonoma – Union Square. We quickly realized that the technology of great tasting coffee has dramatically changed.
Our host, Glen MacDonald, Manager for this store recruited Emily Wann from Breville and several store coffee associates, Monica and Carlos for the tasting. In addition, they provided plenty of fresh sparkling water, mini plain butter scones and palate refreshing Citrus quick bread.

New Coffee Devices - August 2014

Penni Wisner with Glen MacDonald, Williams-Sonoma Carlos and Jeff Clinton

Representing perfection in conventional drip technology, Technivorm Moccamaster Grand Coffee (and its cousin, single-serve version) are handmade brewers with unique copper core water heating elements for highly precise and ideal 200F temperature. While producing a delightful cup, the Technivorm revealed the nature of the Illy medium roast beans chosen as our standard for this comparison. Many tasters found this coffee a bit bitter to their palates: a faithful expression by the machine of the bitter flavor favored by Italian-targeting Illy.

Next we had two super automated espresso machines, the Oracle from Breville, an impressive stainless device looking right at home in a café; and the Miele CM500, a powerful espresso processor and milk steamer in a large but sleekly designed black cabinet. Both have automated and adjustable grinding, brewing and steaming. Glen MacDonald explained that these brew utilizing steam at about 12-15 bars of pressure – considered ideal for a slow steady and creamy extraction. With the Illy coffee, many tasters found these brews more bitter than they typically drink. So, while not perfect for all palates, these high end machines – faithfully capture the essence of those beans as intended by the roaster.

Coffee Devices - August 2014

Joan Cavanaugh and Alison McQuade Greg & Sophia Markoulakis and Gypsy Achong

The balance of the brewers, Nespresso Vertuo, Nespresso-Delonghi Latissima Pro and Starbucks Verismo 600 utilize the same core Nespresso technology. It’s based on using coffee pods, containing real coffee, not concentrate, and expressing the coffee out of the pods with high 19 bar pressure. That results in fast and efficient brewing. For this tasting, these machines did not use the Illy coffee, but coffee from Nespresso – with anywhere from a dozen to 20 varieties and from Starbucks with at least a half a dozen roasts. So, if you choose this Nespresso technology, you will need to appreciate the European or Starbucks roast agenda. If you like a Peet’s, Blue Bottle or something else, you’re out of luck.

But with these pods, smaller espresso ‘shots’ and larger American cups, you get coffee quickly – in only a minute or two from a dead-cold start to repeat brews in seconds…and merely pop in the next pod as the other gets dropped into a recycling bin. Yes, recycling. While there is some concern about creating more landfill, in fact, the pods can be returned by mail, to the store or via other coffee services. Pretty darn easy. For any of you considering a machine for an office staffed with colleagues who are not frequently fastidious, this is a slick “no muss” solution.

Coffee Devices - August 2014

Sleek new Vertuo

New Coffee Devices - August 2014

Emily Wann with Breville Oracle at Williams-Sonoma

Looking at each model, the Vertuo is the lastest, a most curvaceous addition to your “counter candy”. It also features a separate matching milk warmer-frother. The Latissima Pro is a cute cube-like structure with a detachable milk bottle with steamer top. This is an ingenious way for you to make a single fresh latte, with real milk, and return the bottle to your refrigerator – saving milk, storing it safely and keeping your counter clean. The Latissima also has a hot water spout attachment, neatly stored, for tea or Americano drinkers.

Finally, the Starbucks Verismo is a straight up sleek espresso and coffee brewer. To make a latte or hot milk, you need to use their own pre-portioned pods. Unlike the other Nespresso machines, here you get to use Starbucks more American roast style.

So, how did our Members score the machines?

Taste & Convenience Ruled – Our top selection (6 “favorites”) is the Nespresso DeLonghi Latissima Pro ($599). It does it all and with a minimum of cleanup and with many flavor options.

Close Second (5 votes) – The luxury automated espresso machine, Oracle from Breville ($1,999), grinds fresh beans for each cup. It’s fully adjustable with moderate pressure for that thick super flavor-saturated crema.

Tied at Third (2 and 2) – If you like drip, the Technivorm ($279) is your choice. If you want that fresh espresso, a modern design and full roast perfection, Miele CM5000 ($1,299) is a good call.

Coffee Devices - August 2014

Taste Still Rules Ratings…with convenience a requirement

On a further note, at the end of the tasting, our host replaced the Illy beans in the Oracle and Miele machines. As a regular Peet’s drinker, I was so happy to get that familiar roast with every bit of flavor from each bean – and creamy. So, I believe that there might be some alternative results if all the machines had been brewing one set of (Peet’s) beans. And that too is one of the important decisions you must make if you elect the new super convenient Nespresso systems. You have to love their European-roast beans.

– John Wiest

Members’ Only Event: Foraging

by Karen Diggs, Nutritionist + Therapeutic Chef; www.kareniscooking.com

Foraging finds from May 2014 Members Only Event

Foraging finds from May 2014 Members Only Event

Foraging for food in the wild has always fascinated and scared me. After all, I grew up gathering my food, that came in tidy sterile packages wrapped in plastic, by roaming up and down the supermarket aisles.

On May 17th, other intrepid SFPFS members and I met Kevin Feinstein in Lafayette and learned how to identify almost ten plants that can be eaten. It was literally an eye opening experience, because once Kevin pointed out the many edible fauna in the landscape, it was as though these plants magically come into my field of vision and consciousness. Now, everywhere I go, one or two of those plants pop up at me. For example, I see elderberry blossoms everywhere. And other edible flowers such as nasturtiums and wild chamomile beckon to me on my morning walks.

Kevin is the co-author of the Bay Area Forager. I was encouraged to learn that he did not grow up frolicking in the forest gathering berries and mushrooms. He confesses in the book that his childhood was filled with fast food, and TV video games. It wasn’t until his early twenties that he started to become interested in the natural world. So, there’s hope for the rest of us who may have spend their youth playing Nintendo and eating pop tarts.

Of all the wonderful plants that Kevin guided us to, my absolute favorite was
wild mustard blossoms. They appeared in an open field and stood about four feet tall with abundant sprays of golden flowers gently swaying in the wind. The flavor was definitely peppery, finishing off on the palate with a delicate tang.

Of course, not every plant is healing or edible for humans. One that stands out is hemlock. Prior to Kevin pointing out the plant to us, I had no idea that it grew so abundantly in our landscape. Indeed, there was a huge crop of it right off the trail where we were, and it looked like an innocent frilly plant with leaves that are very similar to carrots. Which brings me to the cautionary part of foraging: if you are not sure about the identity of a plant, don’t eat it. Therefore, I highly recommend that, if you are interested in foraging, take a class from someone like Kevin. In addition, one must forage with sustainability in mind. Our guide made it very clear that whenever you take plants from the wild, never take away too much because we must leave enough there for the plants to propagate for the next season and all the seasons to come.

After our foray into the wild, we gathered at a picnic table and enjoyed a bountiful feast of many delicious dishes brought by the participants. It was a perfect ending. I believe that we all walked away with a deeper respect and appreciation for Mother Nature’s gifts.

I think that Kevin expresses it best in his book,
” Foraging isn’t just about eating wild plants – it’s about understanding that food comes from living things with which we are connected. I forage for sustainability, self-reliance, health, and enjoyment.”

Kevin’s website is:
www.feralkevin.com

Wild mustard a frequently foraged item in the Bay Area

Wild mustard a frequently foraged item in the Bay Area

Program report: Getting to the Roots of mushrooms in Oakland

By Brooke Jackson

In a gritty corner of Oakland, all kinds of mushrooms were bursting out of boxes. Walking into the company headquarters of Back to the Roots mushroom kits, my eye was immediately drawn to the shelves and shelves of crazy, exotic fungi housed in shoebox-sized cardboard cartons. Signs warned “Do not touch – experiment in progress,” but it was hard not to pinch and poke the alien forms that range in color from gray to cream to various shades of beige.

Our tour on July 20 was led by Jasmine, the company’s “Community Happyness Guru” (her actual job title). Youthful and spunky, Jasmine shared her intimate knowledge of all things microbial with our SFPFS group and fielded our questions with ease. First, we got the lowdown on how the company started.

Back to the Roots is the brainchild of Alejandro Velez & Nikhil Arora, who came up with the idea of growing pearl oyster mushrooms on spent coffee grounds during a lecture their senior year at UC Berkeley. After experimenting in the kitchen of Alex’s frat house, they eventually grew a bounty of fresh mushrooms. They began a business growing the fungi on recycled coffee grounds, selling mushrooms to Whole Foods and Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley. Inspired by the urban farm movement and encouraged by the idea of turning waste into an income-producing business, the partners then came up with the idea for their mushroom garden kits, spreading the joy of growing your own food across the country.

At the company headquarters, Jasmine showed us how they get all the moisture out of the coffee grounds. Twice a day, two vans come in filled to the brim with used grounds and filters from Peet’s Coffee. The grounds are squeezed dry using a grape press from the wine industry and the filters are torn to bits through an industrial shredder. Grounds and filter shreds are then packed into a plastic bag, sized to fit into the cute handled boxes. Next we visited the spore room where there are more boxes of mushrooms growing as well as microbial spores, which are transported on the grain millet. The spores are forced down the sides of each bag of grounds with a poker-type tool. The bags are sealed and left for one month, during which time the surface of the grounds turns white with spores. Then they are packed in those cute boxes and shipped off to stores.
Finally it was our turn to get our hands dirty. Jasmine guided us through making our own kits to take home, helping as we packed our bags with grounds, poked the spores down just so and sealed the tops. In a week or two our kits will be ready to produce a mini-mushroom garden.

This little start-up has lots of potential and is already doing a vast amount of good in the Bay Area. Besides turning 3.6 million pounds of coffee grounds into mushroom kits, thereby reducing landfill waste, they help to sustain community gardens by donating the rich soil amendment from spent kits, promote healthy eating through the sustainability workshops they give in school classrooms and create local jobs in Oakland and beyond. Who knew mushrooms could have such a positive impact on our world?

Sweet Smell of Success

SFPFS visits Tcho chocolate makers
By Penni Wisner

Cacao Beans (photo by Karen Diggs)

It was a sunny but blustery morning down on the Embarcadero when SFPFS members visited Tcho for a tour and tasting organized by member Rosemary Mark. For any and all who missed the event and want to catch up with the rest of us, the tasting room and production facility is on Pier 17. Free tours are offered daily at 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m.

You can visit the facility, but you likely will not get the terrific, hour-long presentation on “The Variables that Influence Chocolate Quality” given us by Brad Kintzer, Tcho’s chief chocolate maker and new SFPFS member. He tried to apologize for being “geeky” about chocolate, but there was nothing to apologize for – we happily peppered him with question after question. And we had the right man to grill: Brad came to chocolate from his studies as a botanist specializing in tropical plants. He worked in South American chocolate plantations and later for ScharffenBerger before and after its acquisition by Hershey.

Timothy Childs, a NASA space shuttle contractor, and Karl Bittong, a 40-year chocolate industry veteran, teamed up to found Tcho in 2005, dedicated to making “obsessively good chocolate, innovation in every aspect of our business, and making a better world.” The company really got going when Wired co-founder Louis Rossetto joined Tcho as CEO in 2007, and then in 2009, Jane Metcalfe, Wired’s other co-founder, joined as president.

Winemaking and coffee growing are apt comparisons for chocolate makers. It is just that the sophisticated methods for assessing quality—such as cupping for coffee—are only just beginning in the chocolate industry. As for those variables that affect chocolate quality? Well, you have to be a chocolate geek to fully appreciate them all. It starts with the land, the people, the cacao trees and their interrelationships. Tcho, with its vision of technological innovation, has delved into cacao genetics as well as setting up mini-chocolate flavor laboratories on plantations so the farmers can better understand how what they do on the farm translates to finished chocolate quality, as well as what characteristics their customers want.

Tcho works directly with individual chocolate growers, teaching and learning at the same time. For instance, there is no simple way to calculate peak cacao ripeness. Methods vary from shaking the pods to visual inspection and just recently using Brix (a measure of sugar levels) as winemakers do. Individual cacao pods grow on a stem directly on the tree trunk. And they vary widely when ripe in color—from yellow, through orange, green, to red and brown—and size from round and smooth to oblong, and warty.

Once the pods are harvested and the slurry of sweet white pulp containing the seeds is scooped out into fermentation vats, wild yeasts go to work. Bacterial fermentations—lactic and acetic—follow the yeast fermentation. The fermentations mellow the many bitter flavor compounds in the raw beans. Then the beans are spread out to dry in the sun, a complex process in the tropics, where it rains frequently. Tcho encourages its farmers to dry their beans off the ground and to cover them with sliding roofs whenever rain threatens.

In another unusual move, Tcho contracts with local, on-site roasters in the countries of origin of the beans. Brad travels to each of those countries, including Peru, Ecuador and countries in Africa, to personally oversee each roast. The fermented and dried beans can then be converted to chocolate liquor—which is not a liquid! Chocolate liquor is solid and looks like a chocolate-colored rock. It is then shipped to San Francisco to be ground with sugar, heated until melted and smooth, blended, tempered, injected into molds, cooled, and wrapped.

Enough of talk. How did it taste? We sampled four of Tcho’s “New American Chocolate” blends from its flavor wheel of chocolate. We were encouraged to chew our samples, let them melt in our mouths, and to pay attention as the flavors worked their way up to our noses. All were dark chocolates, though we noticed some were darker colored than others. We started with “chocolatey” sourced mainly from Ghana. And it was just that, a lovely, sophisticated, soft chocolate flavor with hints of coconut. Next was “fruity” from the Amazon basin in Peru on the edge of the Andes. It had a long, clean finish, was “higher-toned,” and many of us felt it had citrus notes. But then we tried “nutty” from the northwest Andes in Ecuador. The vanilla showed itself in this one, with roasted notes and perhaps a Brazil nut flavor. Finally, we tried the “citrus” from Madagascar. Its flavor was perhaps the most controversial. I loved it. The flavor sort of sneaks up on your palate then pounces with a “pow!” of citrus high notes, perhaps tangerine-like.

And for those of us too sophisticated to like milk chocolate, Tcho has one intended to change your blinkered ways. Their “cacao” milk chocolate is 53% cacao and blends the intense chocolate flavor with the caramel notes of milk. Then we tasted the “classic” milk chocolate. It was rich and creamy with a strong caramel flavor. Brad explained that the “mouth coating” quality of classic milk chocolates comes from the superfine grinding of the chocolate. The more finely ground, the thicker the mouthfeel. Pretty amazing.

And last but not least, for the “extreme” chocolate lovers, we traveled to the dark side and tried the 99% cacao, unsweetened chocolate. Like a great espresso shot, it was intense and bitter with a nice smooth texture and clean finish.

While the smiles grew wider on our faces, Brad explained some of the intricacies of “conching,” a process that mellows and tames flavors, giving a clean, smooth profile. Some chocolate makers are known for long tempering, such as the Swiss. But long conching also drives off the citrus and fruity flavors in chocolate. These are given by acids that tend not to be very shelf stable. Tcho’s style is for gentle conching to preserve the “spike-y” acid flavors. “We are making our style of chocolates,” said Brad and by the time we left, we were believers, too.

SIG Honey Tasting

By Marie Simmons

Honey comb (Photo by Richard Helwig)

Ten members of the Tasting SIG gathered around the table at Marie Simmons’ home in Richmond on April 10 to taste single-origin honey. Marie, who is writing a honey cookbook, provided a packet with tasting guidelines and suggested descriptors for color, texture, aroma, and flavor. The two-page tasting sheet listed 20 single-origin honeys plus multiples within a few. Honey tasting, similar to wine tasting, begins with the lightest color, which is generally mild tasting, and proceeds to darker colored honeys, which are generally bolder tasting. Apple slices and plain crackers served as palate cleansers.

The first honey was a pale, almost white, star thistle from Marshall’s Farm in Napa. It was highly floral with mint and lemon notes. We compared it to a second star thistle, amber in color with a robust taste (molasses!) from California Gourmet Honey in Lemoore, CA. This began a lively exchange about terroir, plant sources, the brilliance of bees, how honey is gathered and bottled, local artisan vs. commercially processed, etc. SFPFS member Matt Bennett, who keeps hives jointly with his wife, Ashley, generously provided a tray from one of their hives with a fresh comb brimming with honey. He capped it and cut the comb into pieces for us to divide. Matt was an excellent resource about the science and mystery of the beehive.

After almost two hours of tasting and intense discussion, with honey talk swarming (sorry, couldn’t resist) in our heads, we succumbed to honey palate fatigue. Although we had only tasted a dozen or so honeys, we instead turned to the buffet of wonderful dishes members brought for the potluck. But the honey discussion did not end. Instead of rating the honeys, as is generally done at these tastings, we concentrated on educating ourselves through tasting a wide range of single-origin honeys. Everyone agreed it was an informative, worthwhile – and sweet! — experience.

Imperial Tea Court

by Rory Earnshaw

Photo by Rory Earnshaw

On a brisk Monday night in March, 18 SFPFS members and guests met up at Imperial Tea Court (1511 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley) for an evening of education from tea connoisseur Roy Fong. Having established his first tea house in San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1993 Mr. Fong has spent 20 years establishing himself as an expert in the tea business–and his enthusiasm for tea shows in everything he does.

The evening started with Mr. Fong and his assistants serving Silver Needle tea, a mild white tea, brewed and served in a traditional gaiwan. Each tea is brewed with water of a specific temperature, close to boiling being used to release the intensity of the Silver Needle.

Following the white tea was Oolong tea, served Gung Fu style. First the cups were rinsed out with hot water, traditionally to sanitize them and keep the tea hot. Next an appropriate amount of tea was placed in a pile in the pot and water was swirled over the leaves and around the pot to ensure even absorption. The pot was then agitated and the brew poured into another pot, known as a “fairness” pot, thus ensuring equal strength tea for all of the guests. The oolong tea, while brewed with cooler water, had a stronger, earthier flavor with hints of peach and chocolate.

Imperial Tea Court teas are all imported from China under direct supervision of Mr. Fong, who spends time on tea farms with growers, and oversees the importing. The oolong tea is roasted on the premises.

Having learned many tips to making a good cup of tea, several of the attendees stayed and ordered from the dinner menu, which included a large selection of noodles, seafood, meat and vegetarian dishes.

Truffle and Mushroom Foraging with the King of Mushrooms

By Tea Silvestre

Chanterelles that Todd brought along, sautéed and served up on crostini. Photo by Rodger Helwig.

There were 30 of us on the SFPFS mushroom and truffle hunt on March 3, a feisty band of fungi enthusiasts traipsing up and down the grassy hills, our eyes glued to the ground.

First there was the drive to the secret location at the foot of Mt. Hamilton. We weren’t allowed to actually meet at the location in question. (Remember, it was a secret.) So we rendezvoused with our guide, King of Mushrooms himself, Todd Spanier (chief fun guy, mushroom expert, and wholesaler of fungi far and wide) at the bottom of the hill and consolidated the group into six SUVs. (I asked if we needed to put bags over our heads so we wouldn’t know where we were going, but thankfully, they said that wasn’t necessary.)
We were to be the guests of a local family (who shall remain nameless — secret!) and tour their farmstead: the organic vegetable garden, the truffle orchard (also known as a truffière), and the surrounding hillside of trees and wild herbs.

When we arrived, we broke up into three groups, mostly because the truffière is delicate and shouldn’t have a hoard of foodies trampling around, killing off the baby truffles, but also because it made it easier for our guides to give us individual attention.
Todd led the first group to the outskirts of the property to forage for wild mushrooms. The second group was invited to self-tour the organic garden and taste anything and everything to their hearts’ delight, while the third group climbed the small hill to the orchard with truffle-hunting expert Bill Collins and his dog, Rico. (Truffle hunters these days tend to use dogs, which can be taught to drop the truffles they locate. Female pigs tend to take off fingers if you try to take a truffle away from them. Truffles apparently smell like a male pig ready for sex. Yum!)

After each group had enjoyed its activity, we switched places, and then switched again, until everyone had enjoyed the full experience of the outing.

I started in the organic garden, tasting everything from arugula (the flowers are so sweet!) to sugar snap peas to celery (salty!).
Thirty minutes or so later, we swapped places with the foragers and traipsed off with Todd to look for earthly treasures.

How many mushrooms did we find?

Sadly, not many.

The first group of foragers came up totally empty handed.

Our group (actually just Linda Yoshino, whom we later dubbed the Mushroom Queen) found two mushrooms.

One was a tiny little guy that Todd said was edible, but not worth the trouble. The other was a patch of larger mushrooms that were also edible.

Todd explained that we could tell the difference without a handy-dandy microscope by looking at the color of the spores. If they’re pink (as opposed to white), then you can keep ’em.

While we stalked the mushrooms, we also got lessons in wild herbs — milk thistle was abundant here, as were mustard greens, green almonds, regular almonds, red peppercorns, and bay leaves.

Then it was our turn to check out the truffle orchard with Bill and Rico, an adorable pup of the Lagotto Romagnolo breed. After a long, uphill hike, we came to a gated orchard of about 4 acres. This was a hazelnut orchard interspersed with oak trees, planted about 8 years ago.

Rico did his best to find us a truffle or two, but was easily distracted by the birds and other critters. His master admitted that not many truffles have been found in this little orchard. Yet.

Unfortunately, we didn’t find any. The whole mushroom hunting adventure seemed more like a snipe hunt than anything else. But I wasn’t disappointed. Far from it.

What’s more important than finding a stinky fungus? I’ll tell you: Knowledge, skills, and new friends. Plus the sheer enjoyment of being outdoors, breathing clean air and connecting with the earth. Those are true gifts.

But the real treat came at the end of the outing when we all met up to eat our sack lunches.

Gathered at the picnic tables, under the shade of an elderberry tree, Todd proceeded to show us how to properly clean and cook chanterelles (which he had brought with him). He told us their history and where they’re found.

He then had us take out our pocket knives (we were told to bring these for harvesting all those mushrooms we were going to find) and clean and chop the bunch together. As we worked, delicious homemade goodies, cooking tips, and stories were shared. Nobody went hungry.

And when we were ready to eat the mushrooms, the joy of tasting those chanterelles (sauteed with a little butter, garlic chives, salt, and olive oil, and heaped generously on homemade crostini) was evident on every smiling face.
But wait, there was more!

Todd then whipped up a batch of truffle-infused scrambled eggs for us. These were farm eggs that had been nestled inside a closed case for two days with a large truffle. The truffle’s perfume had penetrated the eggs (yes, through the shell) and gotten caught up in the fat of the yolks. He also shaved some of that truffle into the eggs, and added a few generous pinches of truffle-infused salt and a couple of BIG spoonfuls of butter.

We each only got one large bite of this special treat. (And, yes, everyone’s eyes were rolling back in their heads from the mouthgasms.)

I chewed mine very very slowly. It played with my tongue for a long moment, and then — gone!
What a day. You shoulda been there.

It was definitely a whole hog marvel if I ever saw one. (And it didn’t take a female pig to find it.)

Note: This article was adapted from Tea Silvestre’s blog, wholehogmarvels.wordpress.com.

Adventures with Abalone

AbaloneOn a sunny Sunday in late October, SFPFS members and guests gather for an in-depth abalone adventure that includes an insider’s look at aquaculture, an expert cooking demo and a classic Coastside feast.

The fun started down on the docks at Half Moon Bay’s historic Pillar Point Harbor, where Google Executive Chef Olivia Wu and California Abalone Company owner Doug Hayes teamed up to explain the ABCs of abalone – from farm to table.

Olivia praised Doug’s abalone farm as “sustainable aquaculture at its best. This is as fresh and local as you can get– and a true labor of love.”

“What I’m doing is so labor-intensive that you might question whether it’s worth it,” Doug admits. “But this is probably the only way people will be able to enjoy abalone in the future.”

Only the best is good enough for Doug’s abalone. Every Saturday, he drives down to Monterey to harvest a ton of kelp in the three tasty varieties that comprise the mollusks’ favorite menu, then hauls the fresh seaweed out to the farm to feed his “pets.”

The smallest are about the diameter of a nickel – and will take up to 14 years to reach the largest size that Doug sells off his boat (the “medium” ones are about 9 years old). As Doug pries one of the biggest abalone out of the tank and packages it in a special oxygenated bag, he laughingly advises the buyer to “take good care of Steve.”

When you’re buying something as rare and valuable as abalone (with or without a name), you want to make sure to prepare it properly – so Doug and Olivia provided all the details.

“In the Asian culinary tradition, abalone isn’t pounded,” Olivia told us. “The secret lies in the knife skills of the chef – you need to slice abalone very thinly to get the perfect texture. After that, it can be stir-fried, poached or steamed.”

“You want to keep it really simple so you don’t overpower the abalone’s delicate flavor,” Doug said. “Start by dredging the abalone in flour – then get a real hot frying pan, add butter and a little olive oil, and cook the slices for about 30 seconds each side.”

After abalone lovers have been clued on the how-tos, Jim Anderson of the Half Moon Bay Fishermen’s Association makes a surprise announcement: he’s arranged for a vintage 1920s fishing trawler to take us out to the farm for a close-up look.

The growing operation is just inside the harbor breakwater, where water conditions are perfect for abalone. We cruised by the 3,000-square-foot platform that marks the top of the farm – and used our imaginations to envision the car-sized cages below, each home to hundreds of happy abalone.

As everyone knows, ocean air is great for your appetite, so after the harbor voyage we were all ready to dig into the seaside spread at the waterfront Maverick’s Event Center. On the menu: Philly cheese steak eggrolls, homemade hummus and pita chips – and a premium mini burger trio (Kobe beef, chicken and ahi tuna sliders).

After lunch, Jim Anderson explained how Half Moon Bay fishermen have partnered with Google to create a new CSF (Community Supported Fishery) program that brings the company’s employees the freshest local seafood. “We deliver fish to the Googlers every week. Olivia developed a special pouch that keeps the fish super-fresh, so everyone is guaranteed the best quality.”

“At Google, we work directly with the Monterey Bay Aquarium to create our own green seafood list that’s more refined and local than the more general one they provide,” Olivia says. “Eating a truly local catch is much more delicious and offers incredible variety – it really showcases what being a locavore is all about.”

To crown the afternoon’s adventure, Gaston Alfaro, Executive Chef at the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company, shared his secrets for prepping, cooking and serving the ultimate abalone salad and abalone meuniere. He followed up the generous tasting sampler with a special dessert: his signature “Mavericks Beeramisu,” made with handcrafted Mavericks porter and stout.

Hungry for your own home-cooked abalone? Just stop by Doug’s boat at slip F-22 in Pillar Point Harbor – he’s there most weekends from 11 a.m.to 4 p.m. (depending on the weather and his mood). Then check out Chef Gaston’s recipes (below) – and enjoy a seafood-loving locavore’s delight!

Maverick’s Event Center: http://www.maverickslodge.com/

Half Moon Bay Brewing Co.: http://hmbbrewingco.com/

_______________________
By Laura Martin Bacon

The National Food Lab Tour

Ever wonder how that pouch of shelf-stable chicken dinner stays fresh in your cupboard, or what role oregano oil has in preserving food? These are the types of subjects covered during SFPFS’s March 25, 2011, tour of The National Food Lab (NFL) in Livermore, a center for culinary ideation where food products are formulated, produced, and packaged.

Of the lab’s 750 clients per year, most are large food manufacturers with multi-million-dollar budgets. CEO Kevin Buck says companies come to NFL for two main reasons: fresh ideas and speed. NFL can bring a product to fruition in 3 months to 2 years.

The company is divided into many departments. The kitchen is where chefs and nutritionists formulate recipes for products. In the Innovation Center, products are critiqued in consumer focus groups and trained chefs perform sensory evaluations of attributes like taste and texture.

The Tech Center is where the chemists and microbiologists clock in. “Biohazard” caution signs abound, and entry into some labs requires vaccinations and FBI fingerprinting. The scientists ensure that foods are free of pathogens and other undesirables such as pesticides and heavy metals. They also analyze products for quality attributes such as moisture, protein, and sugar content.


Housed in the Tech Center is a pilot plant where commercial operations such as canning and packaging in aseptic containers are simulated. Scientists determine which processes are most effective for food preservation, eliminating pathogens and processing foods so their packaging doesn’t rupture under pressure.

It was an educational day for SFPFS members, who had lots of questions. Thanks to Mr. Buck and his employees for being so generous with their time. Thanks also to SFPFS member Laura Stec for initiating the tour after meeting Mr. Buck at the CIA Greystone World of Flavors conference. Laura was the lucky recipient of a ticket to the conference from the SFPFS community services raffle.

 

_____________________
By Laurie Gauguin
Photos by Nader Khouri

An adventure of the senses at Blue Bottle Coffee

An adventure of the senses at Blue Bottle Coffee

Enveloped by the fragrant aroma of coffee, the loud hum of roasters and the chilly air of the former produce market, James Freeman, founder of Blue Bottle Coffee, escorted SFPFS members throughout the company’s fascinating roasting plant on Feb. 18.

While showings sacks of (mostly) organic coffee beans, James pointed out their global origins and explained that the bean is actually the pit of the fruit. (This fruit is referred to as a “cherry” by the coffee trade.) The group next made a diversion to the incredible bakery where his wife Caitlin was brushing absinthe (yes, absinthe!) onto biscotti and sprinkling them with sesame seeds, resulting in their namesake Regina’s Biscotti. In fact, all Blue Bottle pastries emanate from this flagship bakery with the exception of those at SFMOMA, where an additional selection is available.

Art meets science in the roasting process. Experienced supervising artisans evaluate the beans for appearance, taste and smell while monitoring the environmental conditions. Today’s unplanned challenge was a power outage, thankfully restored by PG&E just prior to our visit. For blending coffee beans, the surprising piece of equipment used is none other than a cement mixer.

“Cupping” ensued–a three-stage process where first we smelled a variety of ground single origin beans. Next, hot water was poured over these grounds and we inhaled the aromas of each one. Finally, spoons were provided for sipping. Here are some tasting notes about each:

Sidama – highly fruity
Yirgacheffe Peaberry – dried apricots
Sulawesi Peaberry – Molasses
Brazil Poco Fundo – pungent, excellent for espresso
Daterra Reserve – maple, almonds
Ethiopia – tangy, sour, peach acidity

Lively banter about favorites was interspersed with more information about Blue Bottle from James, including plans for a new location in Manhattan. Incredibly, after only eight and a half years, this brand is recognized as premium in the category.

A platter of Caitlin’s pastries provided the sweet finish to our visit. SFPFS members will be dreaming about Parmesan-Fennel Biscotti, Stonehouse Olive Oil-Caraway Shortbread, Saffron Snickerdoodles and Michael Recchutti Chocolate-Chocolate Cookies for months to come!

_____________________
By Kathy Lassen-Hahne
Photos courtesy Nader Khouri Photography