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

June Tasting SIG: Mango Chutney Madness

by John Wiest

Always, the hardest part is getting started. Tasting SIG leaders Micki Weinberg and Sophia Markoulakis had done all the legwork in pre-shopping and selecting the most interesting Mango Chutneys in the Bay Area for this Tuesday evening June 10 event . Their criteria for inclusion were twofold: the chutneys had to be primarily comprised of Mango and that they must be available in retail stores.

Tasting SIG event June 2014

Mango Chutney savory and sweet

Thanks to host, Micki Weinberg

Delicious dining following Mango Chutney tasting SIG June 2014

With nine chutneys chosen, the SFPFS Tasting SIG set about with its usual relish, or I mean chutney. In fact, we were delighted to have a special guest and new Member, Lawrence Dass, Founder of Akka’s Handcrafted Foods. His mango chutney, one of nearly a dozen of his firm’s relishes, sauces and chutneys, earned a high ranking among the range tasted anonymously. He explained that chutney comes from a Sanskrit word meaning ‘to lick’ and ultimately from Hindi to connote ‘seasoning’ or a condiment.

There are a huge variety of chutneys, with their common denominator that they are typically made of fruit or vegetable with vinegar, citrus, tamarind, or lemon juice added as natural preservatives, or possibly fermented in the presence of salt to create acid. Thus, we discovered that while most of us know chutneys as sweet, authentic chutneys have quite a range of sweet, salty, a bit sour (acid) and even musty-smoky.

All tasters completed the tasting in one fixed sequence, yet, what we found was that no two tasters had the same preference, no matter the order. However two of the favored products were tasted first: one that was very mango-y and balanced salty-sweet, based on a mango paste with a ginger finish; the other a bit non-traditional chutney with sweet peppers, raisins, hot chile (chili) and good bits of fruit.

Tying at the next level were two quite different products: Akka’s quite yellow, lots of mango pieces with a real cumin seed kick; and Deep (of India) Mango & Green Chili a soft almost eggplant textured, curry influenced pickle.

The evening’s top pick might surprise: a market leader, Major Greys (Cross & Blackwell, produced by Smuckers). This almost mango jam had complex layers of mango intensity with lemon-lime high notes and, as later revealed, aromatically pumped with plump cardamom pods.

Tasters envisioned using Mango Chutneys on many foods: often with a cream cheese or sour cream to spread on breads (we enjoyed Indian naans), topped on meats at table service or in a savory fashion to enhance vegetables. Each chutney evoked different accents, and not so much pairings.

Finally, as pictured in our Facebook page, after the formal tasting Members rewarded each other with a variety salad, fermented delights, chilled Mango soup and finished with several sweets.

Mango Chutney Tasting Results (click on table for clearer image)


Members’ Only Event: Foraging

by Karen Diggs, Nutritionist + Therapeutic Chef;

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:

Wild mustard a frequently foraged item in the Bay Area

Wild mustard a frequently foraged item in the Bay Area

Sassy Salsa SIG recap by Rodger Helwig



1093797_599659063390763_184341601_oLast eve at Micki Weinberg’s we tasted nine fresh tomato salsas from stores around the Bay Area, followed by a prodigious potluck.

The winners:
Coming in at #1 and a real bargain, Trader Joe’s Fresh-Packed Mild Salsa, 24 oz. for $2.99

#2 Whole Foods “Made Right Here” Mild Salsa, 16 oz. at $4.99

#3 Casa Sanchez Mild Salsa Roja, 15 oz., $4.99, at Safeway and other area stores.


A Culinary Break-Through: Grape Skin and Grape Seed Flours and Oils

by Jane Bonacci

In February SFPFS had the opportunity to experience a line of unique new food products that are naturally gluten-free, SUPER nutritious, add shelf-life to baked goods AND are environmentally friendly, in that they are leftovers from the winemaking process, which would otherwise be discarded.

The folks behind Kendall-Jackson Family Wines and Chalk Hill Vineyards wanted to reduce the wine industry’s environmental footprint by creating new uses for normally discarded grape skins and seeds (known as pomace). They founded WholeVine Products and hired a team of experts to create the new flours and oils.

They have created 16 varietal flours (eight each from the skins and seeds) and eight culinary grapeseed oils including Syrah, Merlot, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. The seeds are pressed to extract the oils, and then, along with the grape skins, are dried and milled into flours. These flours have all the flavor profiles of the wine varietals they come from, producing an unmistakable nuanced quality that is hard to describe, but delicious and earthy. When you open the bag, it smells a lot like the inside of a winery with the wine-soaked wood barrels, one of my favorite scents in the world.

The WholeVine grapeseed oils are truly remarkable. I would categorize them as finishing oils as opposed to everyday cooking oils. They are full bodied and rich, with distinctive flavors reminiscent of the wines they originate from. In the same way that wines carry the flavor profiles of the soils the vines are grown in, the oils will vary depending on where the grapes were grown and harvested. The same concept of terroir that is discussed in wine tasting, applies to the oils as well.

The event was held at Ketchum Public Relations’ award winning, beautifully appointed Culinary Center in San Francisco. We were welcomed with glasses of Kendall-Jackson chardonnay wine and sat down to learn about how these new flours and oils are made. It was exciting to hear about the high levels of anti-oxidants, fiber, amino acids, and protein that the flours naturally have, knowing that adding even small amounts will boost the health-quotient of my baked goods. Another benefit is that adding these ingredients to baked goods extends the shelf life for days and weeks longer than other flours.

Right now WholeVine products are sold primarily in Marin and Sonoma county stores, (also at Rainbow in San Francisco and Draeger’s) but are rapidly expanding throughout the Bay Area and are also available online.

For recipes and more information on this article go to

Lifetime Achievement Award goes to…Joyce Jue!

The SFPFS 2012 Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Joyce Jue by Lili Rollins, last year’s Award Recipient, at the 2013 AGM in January.
Joyce’s energy and commitment to SFPFS (she has been an SFPFS member since our organization’s inception in 1978 and was President 2009) has truly made our group more memorable and delicious!

Over the years Joyce has shared her valuable knowledge, time and endless support, whether it be helping fellow members or working behind the scenes at just about every BBQ. Joyce is an idea person and has always been available to lend her creative ideas and expertise to help us grow as an organization.

This was a timely award, because, we learned at the AGM that Joyce is moving to Oregon! We are delighted to send Joyce off to her next adventure with this award. We can think of no one more deserving. Thank you, Joyce, for giving so much to us all.

The Lifetime Achievement Award is given each year, below is the criteria for eligibility:
• SFPFS Member for at least 10 years – not necessarily consecutive
• Shared with the culinary world
• Active in community service
• Excels in their field
• Possesses mentor qualities
• Dedication to the SFPFS

Traveling Table at Hakka San Francisco

by Amy Sherman
On March 19th SFPFS members enjoyed the year’s first Traveling Table dinner at Hakka Restaurant in San Francisco, with Linda Lau Anusasananan, member and author of the award-winning The Hakka Cookbook. In the book Anusasananan traces her roots and shares stories from the people she meets on her journey into her past.

Since Hakka people moved all over the world, there are stories about the cuisine from places like Peru, Hawaii and certain cities in the US and Canada. There are classic recipes for Fried Pork Hash Wontons, Salt Baked Chicken (which Anusasananan thinks may have been the creation of a crafty salt salesman) and lots and lots of vegetable dishes including Braised Mountain Mushrooms, Pickled Carrots and Radishes and Stir Fried Iceberg Lettuce and Garlic. Anusasananan was previously a recipe editor at Sunset magazine, so needless to say you won’t have trouble with her recipes.

According to Anusasananan, the Hakka are like the “Jews of China,” nomads, who migrated from North-Central China to the South in the fourth century. They have their own language, and the name Hakka literally means “guest family.” Their cuisine is the food of the working person, robust and sometimes fatty. They use a lot of salt-preserved ingredients such as preserved vegetables, cured meats and soy sauce. The food is related to Cantonese, but more rustic. Famous Hakka classic dishes include Steamed Pork Belly with Preserved Mustard Greens, Stuffed Tofu, and Salt-baked Chicken.

Some highlights of the meal we enjoyed at Hakka Restaurant
Hakka Restaurant
4401 Cabrillo St @ 45th Ave
San Francisco

Chinese Bacon with Preserved Greens
Chinese Bacon
This is a very rich dish of pork belly which are somewhat sweet, served with luscious preserved vegetables.

House Special Pan-Fried Tofu This was one of everyone's favorite dishes. Lighter and with a delicate sauce. Inside the tofu was a mild ground pork filling.

House Special Pan-Fried Tofu
This was one of everyone’s favorite dishes. Lighter and with a delicate sauce. Inside the tofu was a mild ground pork filling.

Fried Pumpkin Strips with Salted Egg Yolk If you've never had salted egg yolk before, I'd describe it as tasting a bit like cheese. It has a strong umami flavor.

Fried Pumpkin Strips with Salted Egg Yolk
If you’ve never had salted egg yolk before, I’d describe it as tasting a bit like cheese. It has a strong umami flavor.

Chicken Stuffed with Preserved Greens The chicken was good, but the gingery preserved green stuffing was particularly delicious/

Chicken Stuffed with Preserved Greens
The chicken was good, but the gingery preserved green stuffing was particularly delicious/

Clams with Spicy Salt and Black Beans I'd say the garlic and green onions were the predominant flavors in this dish.

Clams with Spicy Salt and Black Beans
I’d say the garlic and green onions were the predominant flavors in this dish.

Stir-fried Chinese Broccoli with Rice Wine Another unusual dish, this one had a sweet wine sauce.

Stir-fried Chinese Broccoli with Rice Wine
Another unusual dish, this one had a sweet wine sauce.

Home-Style Steamed Sea Bass Another knockout dish, this one had a thin sauce but was loaded with shredded pork, and sour, crunchy and juicy sliced preserved mustard greens.

Home-Style Steamed Sea Bass
Another knockout dish, this one had a thin sauce but was loaded with shredded pork, and sour, crunchy and juicy sliced preserved mustard greens.

Traveling Table: A warm, dry night at Frantoio Ristorante

By Rory Earnshaw

On Tuesday night, December 4, 20 San Francisco Professional Food Society members braved high winds and heavy rain to attend a delightful dinner at Mill Valley’s Frantoio Ristorante.

Early arrivals were treated to a small plate of appetizers, house-cured olives, prosciutto and house-made focaccia, thinly sliced and wonderfully salted. By the time everyone arrived, the group was comfortably sitting at one long table at the back of the large dining room, next to the in-house olive press.

Chef Duilio Valenti described the upcoming meal to the group, and the dinner began. The starters were small green salads with Star Route Farm young lettuce, gorgonzola, house-made truffle oil and potato chips. Following the salad was spinach potato gnocchi with rabbit ragu and porcini. Finishing the savory potion of the evening was black cod in olive crust with braised chard, capers, lemon and olive oil. Dessert was a substantial portion of grappa-infused panettone with gelato.
All in all, it was a warm evening of good food and company, a relief from the storm outside.

Book club report: Yes, Chef

by Kathy Lassen-Hahne

On November 14, at the lovely home of Barbara Shenson in Foster City, the San Francisco Professional Food Society Book Club embarked on a worldwide voyage of far-reaching destinations, social introspection and amazing tastes — inspired by Marcus Samuelsson’s Memoir Yes, Chef.

The discussion opened with Kara Nielsen’s canvassing those members who were originally reticent to read the selected title due to an overload of Marcus Samuelsson in the media and his well-known personal history. Were their minds changed? The answer was a resounding “yes,” with unanimous agreement from all present that this is a very compelling memoir (as opposed to the other suggested mystery story, Nightwatch; all thumbs down). Some noted that the skillful editing/co-writing by Veronica Chambers really contributed to making Yes, Chef so engrossing.

The story begins in Ethiopia where the author was born into poverty, afflicted with tuberculosis and then adopted, along with his older sister, by a Swedish family from Goteborg, Sweden, following the death of his mother. With his innate culinary talent and teachings by his Swedish grandmother, Marcus studied culinary arts at a vocational high school and climbed the professional chef ladder by cooking at restaurants and hotels in Sweden, Switzerland and Austria. He made several journeys as culinary staff on cruise ships that opened his eyes and palates to the flavors of the world.

He eventually landed in Manhattan at Aquavit, owned by a fellow Swede. His hard work, passion, experimentation to create signature dishes and continuous search for excellence were rewarded when he became the youngest chef ever to receive a three-star rating from The New York Times at Aquavit.

His success continued as he went on to open other restaurants, compete on Top Chef Masters and even prepare President Obama’s first state dinner for the prime minister of India. After a harrowing episode where he had to “buy back” his name from the owner of Aquavit, he now owns and runs the Red Rooster in Harlem, where he celebrates the roots of American cuisine and diverse culinary traditions of the neighborhood.

Not until arriving in New York did he confront true racial discrimination. Like Barak Obama, Marcus Samuelsson was too black for some, too white for others. “A hundred years ago black men and women had to fight to get out of the kitchen. These days, we have to fight to get in.”

Besides Samuelsson’s professional story, equally fascinating is his personal story, which includes his lifelong issues with race, including being taunted as a school child in Sweden, being refused work in kitchens in Europe and integrating as a black, but not African-American, chef in New York City. There is also the story of his relationship with Ethiopia and Africa, and his reunion with his birth father and siblings there. Samuelsson also fathered a daughter with a young woman in Austria at 20 and then waited years to meet her. The interesting social note here: his Swedish mother immediately embraced and supported his daughter Zoe, even though Marcus did not meet her until she was a teenager. We also learned about his glamorous Ethiopian-born, European-raised wife Maya Haile and their nuptials in their native country.

A recent Wall Street Journal article featured a story on Marcus Samuelsson and potluck dinners.

Our discussion was of course accompanied by an array of delicious dishes, including Scandi breads, Smorrebrod, Gravlaks with sweet Mustard Sauce, Parsley Root Soup with apples and walnuts, Lentil Stew with Berbere spices, Red Lentil Hummus with Berbere spices, Swedish Meatballs, Lingonberry Sauce, Roasted Vegetables, a Swedish Aunt’s Dream Cookies and the classic Swedish Princess Cake from San Francisco’s Schubert’s Bakery. (N.B. Berbere is a key ingredient in the cuisines of Ethiopia and Eritrea, and includes chili peppers, garlic, ginger, dried basil, korarima, rue, white and black pepper and fenugreek.) It was a perfect feast over which to discuss a fascinating, human and compelling memoir.

Nona Visits True Grass Farms!

By Nona Lim

I was really happy to had the opportunity to visit True Grass Farms recently on a beautiful Saturday morning with the San Francisco Professional Food Society.
True Grass Farms is unique in many ways. Located in Marin County, California, it is a family-owned farm that has been there for four generations – the farm’s history goes all the way back to 1867! They value sustainability (embracing only eco-friendly farming practices), and it is in their utmost priority to provide the best that nature can offer. They grow Black Angus cows as well as California Kobe cows along with American Guinea and Blackworth hogs and heritage chicken breeds: all pasture-raised and USDA-certified organic meats.

While at True Grass Farms, not only did I learn more about cows, pigs, and chickens, I was pleasantly surprised to find that pigs, when given the space and raised properly, don’t smell at all. And I certainly had a great time cuddling Iris, the hen (as you can see above).

It was inspiring to see the four young farmers – Guido, Holly, Matt and Evan – absolutely passionate about their beliefs and willing to work to fulfill their dream of creating a sustainable farm.

It is also such a wonderful thing to be able to connect with our food, and with those who have made it. We shared a farm-to-table lunch from ingredients farmed or foraged from the area.

Hope you enjoyed some of the pictures from the visit. True Grass Farms does regular lunches and I thoroughly recommend you to go up for a visit. Just as we would go to a winery for wine-tasting, this is a great way to connect with your food, and to meet those who have grown it.

Bon Apetit.