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Archive for May, 2008

I have to apologize for my lack of postings but I have been away for over a week and I actually do not have easy access to the internet without paying a fortune for regular access so I’m finding it hard to stay on a computer long enough to type anything meaningful. I have eaten plenty of comfort food during my trip home but I am sad that it is not quite mango season yet although trees growing all over the islands are sooo heavy with green mangoes. So close yet so far. Here are just a few photos of my recent wanderings:

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Robert, Margrit & Tim Mondavi with Employees (me holding the teddy bear), October 2004

Cliff May Designed this Mission Style Winery

Robert Mondavi Winery in Autumn

Christmas Party 2004

From the Napa Valley Vintners website:

On May 16, we lost an extraordinary leader in the world of wine, legendary American vintner Robert Mondavi.

One of the many important lessons Mr. Mondavi taught us was to always be there to help a neighbor, a friend, our community or beyond. He was one of the most kind and generous people we’ve ever known. One of the original founders of both the Napa Valley Vintners non-profit trade organization in 1944 and its community fundraiser, Auction Napa Valley, in 1981, Mr. Mondavi set the standard by which all Napa Valley vintners strive to operate: making wines that are among the best in the world and using their resultant status to raise money to support charitable causes.

We are all beneficiaries of Robert Mondavi’s vision, his generosity, his warmth of spirit and his joy for life, and in tribute, we invite wine lovers from anywhere in the world to share a remembrance of the man and his accomplishments as a vintner, a Napa Valley ambassador, a supporter of his community, a patron of the arts and a friend to many.

Before I left the house to catch a flight Saturday morning (Australian time), I saw a headline from Wine Spectator online that Robert Mondavi had passed away. Although it is true what James Laube said, that “we knew this was coming” (due to his ailing health), it was still very sad news for me (and countless others) to read that he had died. He was 94 years old, just a month shy of his 95th birthday. Like many people who have left comments on the various news and wine industry websites online, I have a lot nice things to say about the man that I didn’t really know very well but who influenced me greatly in my career and how I look at work.

I first met him at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco for the signing of his autobiographical book, “Harvests of Joy” in 1998. He spoke of his life and experiences and I remember being impacted by his passion and his belief that anything can be accomplished with hard work and conviction. Years later, I was a student at UC Davis where I took an Introduction to Winemaking class. It was then (particularly during the history of California wine) that I realized just how important and instrumental Mr. Mondavi was putting the Napa Valley on the map. As it happened, the Robert Mondavi Winery was hiring summer wine educators and I immediately jumped at the chance. The day I got the job was one of the best days of my life and I never took the job for granted for the nearly three years that I worked there. I even drove three to four hours a day from my Sacramento home to work in Oakville.

Margrit and Bob Mondavi was not only generous through their philanthropy (Copia, UC Davis & Oxbow School) but also opening their home to Visitor Center employees with both an Easter and Christmas lunch. They allowed us to walk around in their home as if we were all one huge family. He would always kiss ladies on both cheeks whenever we said hello and preferred us to call him Bob. I will never forget how I broke down in tears as I started my very last tour under that famous arch knowing how much I would miss the place.

I have been thinking about what to say in this blog for days and I do not have enough words to express everything that I feel. Working for the Robert Mondavi Winery was an experience that I now use as the benchmark for job excellence. In my experience, it was the only place of employment where everyone truly respected and was in awe of the founder. He was a tireless and passionate crusader of California wine with an amazingly huge heart and I and countless other former colleagues who have written tributes, are so blessed to have been part of sharing his passion. My sincere condolences go to his family.

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Even before I wrote a paper on eggs, I have always adored eggs. Eggs are truly the ultimate fast food complete with its own packaging. A single boiled egg is “cheap as chips” and has been a savior for me many times when I was running a little late to work and didn’t have time for breakfast – a dash of salt & pepper and a cup of coffee gave me instant low-GI protein and prevented me from passing out until lunch.

My lovely neighbor Sue worked with someone who owned several hundred chickens (we call them chooks in Australia) and sold them for a mere $3.00/dozen for free range eggs which is an absolute bargain considering some of the free-range eggs are up to $6.50/dozen. They were delivered to me fort-nightly and I really enjoyed knowing who my supplier was. Sadly those egg supplies have stopped as the woman sold her entire flock to someone else. 😦

Eggs for me are definitely an item that I do not skimp on. I will pay the extra money to buy the best eggs available in the market. Recently I watched a food program that featured a chicken farmer explaining the difference between caged eggs versus free range and he said that if you were blind-folded, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference and that the reason why you pay more for free range is for animal welfare. I am not sure that I believe that fully because eggs taste different depending on the feed that they are given and surely their high stress level can’t be good for the eggs they produce. Regardless, I feel happier knowing that the chooks that laid my eggs were not stressed out in a battery hen factory.

Here in SA, we have a few suppliers of free-range eggs and Fryar’s Kangaroo Island Free Range Eggs on Kangaroo Island and Rosie’s Free Range Eggs from Eudunda in the Barossa Valley (the most famous wine growing region in Australia) are a couple of producers that I purchase and we are lucky to have such a wealth of produce here. I love opening a carton of eggs and occasionally finding a small feather or even chicken poo on the egg – I don’t know, it makes it much more authentic to me. In the states, unless close to farms, so many commercially produced food products are so sterile that chicken poo or feathers would probably be totally frowned upon!

It is interesting that nearly all eggs produced here are brown in color and nearly all eggs in the USA are white. Brown eggs are more pricey in the states and often sold as fertile but the main difference in color just has to do with the variety of chickens that lays the eggs. I guess that’s another “cultural” difference that I have noticed.

My first experience of the natural “Easter” colored eggs was at Chez Panisse where I saw a large bowl full of these pastel blue, green and pink eggs. I couldn’t take my eyes off of them because I couldn’t believe that they were natural and they were so exotic to me. Since then, I have tried to learn as much as I can about chicken breeds and egg varieties (but by no means am I an expert). One of the chicken breeds that lays blue eggs is called the Araucana and can trace its bloodline from two rare South American breeds – Collonca and Quetero.

If you ever have a chance to go to England, head to either Sainsbury, ASDA or Waitrose grocery stores and look for Clarence Court Free Range Eggs that specialize in rare breeds. Their “Old Cotswold Legbar” lays eggs in a variety of beautiful pastel colors including, turquoise, blue, olive, pink, peach and eau-de-nil. They are producing doing duck, goose, pheasant, quail and Ostrich eggs as well! Just beware, if you purchase an ostrich egg, it is equivalent to 24 chicken eggs!

Eggs may seem like plain old breakfast food for some but it is pretty divine to have a truffle-scented omelet with a salad and a glass of champagne or a rich crème caramel!

Ostrich & Emu eggs for sale in Barcelona

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Every spring when I was a teenager, I remember watching Good Morning America and without fail, there was a cooking segment that introduced the asparagus season and whenever I saw the episode featuring asparagus, I knew that spring had officially arrived (since we didn’t have seasons in the tropics). I think that that morning show was where I learned how to choose the perfect spears and how to snap the woody bottom off so that only the tasty tender bit remained. Over the years I have eaten all colours – green, purple and white asparagus. As a child, my only experience with white asparagus (as with many of you) was in a can – gross and mushy, but I remember my mother revering it because it was so expensive and gourmet. Of course when I finally ate fresh white asparagus, it tasted nothing like the stuff in the can! In Barcelona’s La Bocaria market, white asparagus were piled high and so incredibly cheap that I couldn’t believe my eyes! Next time I visit Barcelona, I have vowed to stay in a serviced apartment to be able to cook those lovely beauties.

It seems like purple asparagus is even rarer to find and as it has a higher sugar content than its green relatives, it has a sweeter flavour. If you cook it quickly, it will retain most of its purple hue but if cooked for an extended period of time (like I once did), it turns green again (much like purple peppers/capsicums). When I worked as an apprentice at Chez Panisse, I remember purple asparagus on the menu a few times and I also remember that we peeled about 1/3 of the bottom of each spear to expose the tender bits and avoid the woody thicker skin at the bottom – it is one of the many images that I associate with that restaurant.

Asparagus is beautiful boiled/steamed and served with a little bit of sea salt, stir-fried with beef Asian style, accompanied with Hollandaise sauce or even used to make a chilled cream of asparagus soup topped with fresh crab. Mmmm…

Recently I have noticed beautiful bunches of green asparagus at my local greengrocers and although I wasn’t sure whether they were domestically grown or not (since it is autumn here), I couldn’t resist them and decided to use them to make easy and very tasty canapés. (I read some statistics recently that I found interesting – most of the asparagus grown in Australia is grown in Victoria and that 67% of Australia’s production is imported to Japan as opposed to 5% from California’s production.)

Digging into my Japanese repertoire, I decided to make teriyaki-marinated beef asparagus rolls. If you live in a city where you are able to get beautifully thin sukiyaki beef, by all means, use it because it’s precut and ready to roll. If however you live in a city like I do, where butchers stare at you in confusion if you ask for shabu-shabu or sukiyaki cuts of beef, then you may have to do what I did. I went to a local butcher and tried to explain what I wanted to do and then he offered me a piece of round that he butterflied and then offered to tenderise it. When I have told butchers here that I want the meat to be very THIN, NONE of them so far have understood that I want it to be PAPER thin, not 4 mm thin. Anyway, I got it home and decided to bash the meat (without pissing off my neighbours) to my desired thinness in preparation for marinating.

Preparing Beef

Bashing the beef into submission…a great stress reliever.

Looks like Oz

Odd, I didn’t try to create a map of Australia!

Beef strips ready for the marinade.

Beef strips in teriyaki marinade.

Teriyaki Marinade

1/3 c. Japanese soy sauce (Kikkoman, Yamasa)

2 Tbsp. sugar

2 Tbsp. mirin

2 Tbsp. sake

1 large clove of garlic

1 Tbsp. mince or grated fresh ginger

1 tsp. sesame oil (optional)

2 Tbsp. chopped green onion (optional)

Instructions:  Slice thin meat into 1 to 1.5 in. (2.5 to 3.5 cm) wide x 4 in. (10 cm) thin slices (long enough to wrap around the stacked asparagus).

Mix all the marinade ingredients together making sure that the sugar is dissolved before placing beef in the marinade. You may double or triple this recipe to suit a larger amount of meat. The piece of meat I used was only about 250g (about 1/2 lb). Leave in marinade for at least an hour before cooking.

To make canapés: Blanche asparagus spears whole in boiling water until nearly cooked. Place immediately under cold water to stop cooking. Cut uniformly into 2.5 in / 5 cm pieces and place three pieces of asparagus in each stack. Place marinated beef pieces on a flat surface and roll around the asparagus clusters. Pan fry the stacks with the join on the bottom to be seared initially, so that the cooked beef doesn’t start to unravel when turned over to cook the other side. Serve hot or at room temperature.

These canapés look harder than they are, are very tasty, make great conversation pieces and you may even eat them as a meal with hot rice!

This recipe is also featured at:

Asparagus Canapes

See Asparagus Canapes on Key Ingredient.

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Remember how I mentioned the perfumed fragrance of Quince? Well, guavas are even more intense – more heady and intoxicating…just like the tropics.

About a month after we moved into this house, I had noticed a tree at one end of the car park that had an abundance of yellow round fruit on the tree as well as fallen and squished ones on the ground under it. It seemed as if every car that drove by this tree squished one on its way past. Upon closer examination, I must have gasped quietly when I realized that it was a guava tree and not just any old guava tree, it was the variety that I grew up with as a child in Hawaii – yellow on the outside and pink flesh on the inside. What other types of guavas are out there? One website, www.tropicalfruitworld.com.au on the Gold Coast in Australia has a great explanation on the different types of guavas (they list a total of 11) and I didn’t even know that there was one actually called “Hawaiian” which happens to be a green skinned, pink fleshed variety. Last year, the tree produced so much that I had enough to give away to people, to puree them and enough to make two batches of guava jelly. I don’t know what’s wrong this year but either the drought caused less fruit or perhaps it rained during flowering but there are very few on the tree and I am actually quite saddened by this. Ah well, this is nature and every year can’t be the same – I will just have to cherish the few that I do get this year. One of my favorite ways of eating guavas? Waiting until ripe and very fragrant, slicing in half and devouring it with just a tiny sprinkle of sugar.

A memorable childhood memory involving fresh guavas was going to my friend Sharyl’s house and making guava milkshakes:

Peel and puree guavas and pass through a mesh sieve to remove seeds. Add desired sugar to the guava puree and set aside. Then proceed to make a vanilla milkshake with a few scoops of good-quality vanilla ice cream, a splash of milk and add 2 to 4 Tbsp. of guava puree to taste. Enjoy!

Meanwhile, I’ve added some pictures of the bumper crop of guavas I had last year (since I didn’t have a food blog then). In bakeries throughout Hawaii, a regular feature is guava chiffon cake or liliko’i (passion fruit) chiffon cake. The chiffon cake is very airy and light and the sweet thickened guava puree on top and between the layers tastes amazing. My only complaint about commercial bakeries today is that to cut corners (in cost), so many use that “fake” cream that didn’t even get remotely close to a cow! I think so many people have forgotten what real whipped cream tastes like…and I digress (more on that topic another time). Anyway…I actually replicated the cake at home with REAL cream. The recipe I used was a basic chiffon recipe from The Joy of Cooking and the guava puree was thickened with corn starch (or arrowroot works too) and sugar, cooled and used to fill and top the cake – simple! Fabulous!

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