Oct 22, 2008

Recipe: Nantes Carrot Soup

Bowl of Nantes Carrot SoupJust in time for fall, a simple but tasty soup from James Boyce, award-winning chef of Studio at the ultra-luxurious Montage in Laguna Beach, California. Chef Boyce recommends seeking out organic Nantes carrots, a sweet and tender variety that is cylindrical in shape and rounded at the ends rather than tapering off like the more commonly found Imperator variety.
Nantes Carrot Soup by Chef James Boyce
  • 1 T. butter
  • 1/2 medium Spanish onion, small dice
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • 8 Nantes carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1t. turmeric
  • 5 C. chicken stock
  • 1 C. heavy cream
  • 1 T. lemon juice
  • 2 t. sherry vinegar
  • Salt and white pepper
  • French bread croutons
  • Finely grated horseradish

  1. In a medium saucepot, heat butter over medium heat. Add onions and thyme and cook for 2 minutes, allowing no color to develop. Add carrots and turmeric and cook for an additional 10 minutes. Add chicken stock and simmer for 25 to 35 minutes, then add heavy cream, cooking gently for 5 minutes longer.
  2. Remove form heat and discard sprig of thyme. Puree the soup in small batches, being careful as always with hot liquid. Add the lemon juice, sherry vinegar, salt and white pepper to taste. For a smooth finish, press the puree through a chinois or fine strainer.
  3. Serve with French bread croutons and a dusting of horseradish. Serves 6.

Oct 15, 2008

Review: Donsuemor Madeleines

Packages of Donsuemor Madeleines
Madeleines are petite, shell-shaped cakes (sometimes mistakenly called cookies). Beloved in France for centuries, they've been best known outside that country as the catalyst for the multi-volume Proustian memory-fest, Remembrance of Things Past. The narrator dips “one of those short, plump little cakes called petites madeleines” into his tea and is immediately overwhelmed by a rush of childhood memories.
Now, thanks to a company based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Americans are coming to know madeleines first-hand. When I lived in Paris years ago I loved these little treats and enjoyed them regularly. In the years since I’ve relegated madeleines to an “only-in-France” possibility; it just never occurred to me to look for them at home. So when I held a package of American-made Donsuemor madeleines in my hand last week, I was wary.
I needn’t have been. These plump little cakes were every bit the equal of the best madeleines I had in France. Rich, buttery, and first-rate delicious, they’re made with high-quality ingredients and are completely free of preservatives, additives, or trans fats (they’re certified Kosher).
Even better: they come in 5 varieties. Along with the Traditional madeleine are Lemon Zest, Chocolate, Dipped Chocolate, and Dipped Traditional. And a nice touch: they last up to 6 months in the freezer, so you don’t have to wreck your diet when you get your hands on a package. Available throughout the USA and Canada, or you can order a Donsuemor Sampler online.

Bon App├ętit!

Oct 11, 2008

Eating Fruit Bat Soup

fruit bat soup
I recently spent a week with a group of travel journalists in Palau, an island nation in Micronesia known for its sensational diving, gorgeous scenery, and bountiful adventures both soft and xtreme. You can read all about our trip here, and in a few days I’ll have a page devoted to Palau (with plenty of photos) on my travel website.

But right now, this being a culinary blog and all, I want to tell you about the xtreme food adventure I had on Palau while dining at the five-star Palau Pacific Resort. Our gracious host—having learned that we were all wildly curious about Palau’s most famous culinary delicacy—had arranged to satisfy our inquiring journalistic minds with a dish not ordinarily on the menu. After a pleasant round of drinks, the wait staff suddenly arrived en masse carrying steaming bowls of soup, which they placed gently before us.

Yeah, you got it: Fruit Bat Soup.

These little bats live in heavily-forested areas of Palau, residing at the top of trees. They eat wild fruits, nectar, and flowers, pollinating plants and widely distributing seeds in the process. Fruit bats spend most of their lives upside-down, or so it seems to us; they eat, sleep, and even give birth suspended downward from tree branches. Palau’s fruit bat, a sub-species known as the olik, lives nowhere else on earth.

fruit bat
Talk about sustainable foods! Until recent times, most Palauian residents−for that matter, most island inhabitants throughout Indonesia−fed themselves with what they grew, caught, or hunted. Fruit bats have long been a traditional food in Palau, providing needed protein and nourishment. Now that a western-oriented diet has become popular, bats have become an expensive rarity. You can find Fruit Bat Soup in a couple of local restaurants, but expect to pay a premium for it. The soup is mostly ordered by intrepid foreign tourists who learned about it on Survivor: Palau.

The soup’s history and rarity didn’t make it any less discomfitting for me to gaze down and spy a slightly-furry bat wing floating around at the top of my bowl. Nothing in my adventurous life of gourmandizing had prepared me for such a sight.

But, hey, I’m game for anything…or at least I pretend to be. I picked up my spoon and dug in. You know what? It was good. Not great, I’ll admit, but good—and before you ask, the bat meat did not taste like chicken. It didn’t taste like anything I’d had before, really. It was quite gamy and oddly fragrant.

Want to try it? Below is a well-known recipe for Fruit Bat Soup that originally appeared in The New York Times Natural Foods Cookbook (Jean Hewitt, 1971). This recipe differs from what was served to us, though, in that you get the bat meat in your soup—but not the bat.

Vive la difference!

Serves 4

• 3 fruit bats, well washed but neither skinned nor eviscerated
• Water
• 1 Tb finely sliced fresh ginger
• 1 large onion, quartered
• Sea salt to taste
• Chopped scallions
• Soy sauce and/or coconut cream

1. Place bats in a large kettle and add water to cover. Add ginger, onion, and salt. Bring to boil and simmer 45 minutes. Strain broth into second kettle.

2. Take bats, skin them, discard skin. Remove meat from bones. Return meat and any viscera fancied to the broth. Heat.

3. Serve, liberally sprinkled with scallions and seasoned with soy sauce and/or coconut cream.

Big Island, Hawaii: Culinary Tourism

vanilla beanThe Big Island Farm Bureau has teamed up with local farmers to create Hawaii AgVentures—a way to learn about and sample the diverse tastes and agricultural splendors of Hawaii Island. Visit farms that grow lavendar, vanilla, bananas, macadamia nuts, cacao beans, and more. Talk to an orchid grower, learn how to make a lei, explore cattle ranches or coffee plantations. Sample tropical fruit wines where they’re produced. Enjoy a BBQ dinner with a cattle-ranching family, or do a tea tasting of island-grown Camellia sinensis.

Group tours include Chocolate Treats & Tropical Temptations (Kona Joe coffee plantation, Original Hawaii Chocolate Factory); Pele’s Bounty (Kalapana Tropicals orchid nursery, Hilo Coffee Mill, Green Point Nursery; Mauka to Makai (Parker Ranch, Honopua Farm, Merriman's Restaurant, and the Natural Energy Lab of Hawaii, whose research includes the farming of abalone and lobsters); and Taste of Kamuela (Waimea Homestead Farmers Market, Honopua Farm, a Hawaiian lunch and hula, Kahua Ranch).

Hawaii AgVentures can also assist you in putting together an itinerary for solo visits targeted to your specific interests. Some farms and other sites are open to the public, but others are available only by appointment. Among the many interesting sites:

cacao beanThe Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory produces the only 100% Hawaiian chocolate on the planet—grown, harvested, processed, and packaged right on the Big Island. Cacao beans are grown on volcanic soil in a 6-acre, 1300-tree orchard surrounding the owner's Kona Coast home. After cacoa pods are harvested, the beans are removed, fermented, dried on racks for up to 28 days, and then roasted. From there the resultant cocoa nibs are combined with cocoa butter and other ingredients to produce chocolate.

Hawaiian Vanilla Company cultivates, hand-pollinates, and distributes Hawaiian vanilla on the Hamakua Coast (the in-depth presentation on how vanilla orchids are grown and laboriously pollinated is fascinating). A gallery and gift shop are on site, and you can indulge in various repasts, from an upcountry tea brunch to a gourmet four-course luncheon.

The Kona Coffee Belt is a must for java-lovers. This narrow stretch of land on the western slopes of Mauna Loa and Hualalai, about 2 miles wide, runs parallel to the ocean and contains more than 700 Kona coffee farms. Many are open to visitors, offering a chance to learn how coffee is hand-picked and roasted. At the Kona Coffee Living History Farm you’ll stroll through coffee and macadamia nut orchards and tour an historic farmhouse, while costumed interpreters answer questions about the daily lives of early 20th century Japanese coffee farmers. Or visit East Hawaii, which once boasted 6,000 acres of coffee. Now the area’s Hilo Coffee Mill is giving those local coffees—100% Ka'u, Hamakua, and Puna varieties—a new life.

Volcano Island HoneyThe honey produced by Volcano Island Honey Company (VIHC) has been called “a miracle” and “some of the best honey in the entire world” by celebrated figures of the culinary world. The rare Hawaiian organic white honey is derived from a unique forest of Klawe trees.

For more info on Hawaii AgVenture group and personalized tours, visit their site. To learn more about what to see and do on the Big Island, visit my honeymoon travel website.

Oct 4, 2008

Umami: the 5th Taste

umami chartHave you heard about umami? I hadn’t either until about two years ago. Umami—the word comes from the Japanese umai, which means “delicious”—is the fifth basic taste that can be sensed by specialized receptor cells on your tongue (after salty, sweet, sour, and bitter). 

Unlike the other four tastes, though, umami can’t be defined in a single word. This fifth taste is one of deep and full flavor, often described as meaty, rich, savory, or brothy. 
It wasn’t until modern times that umami was identified as a taste. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Professor Kikunae Ikeda of Tokyo Imperial University noted: “There is a taste which is common to asparagus, tomatoes, cheese and meat, but which is not one of the four well-known tastes of sweet, sour, bitter and salty.” In 1907, he began experiments to identify the source of this distinctive taste. He knew that it was present in the “broth” made from kombu (a type of seaweed) found in traditional Japanese cuisine. Starting with a tremendous quantity of kombu broth, he succeeded in extracting crystals of glutamic acid, an amino acid and a building block of protein. 100 grams of dried kombu contain about 1 gram of glutamate, the sodium salt of glutamic acid. Professor Ikeda found that glutamate had a distinctive taste, different from sweet, sour, bitter and salty. He named this taste “umami.”

A umami food contains high levels of glutamate, which is present in plant and animal tissues. According to culinary scientists, the more umami present in the food, the more flavorful it will be. When you combine umami-rich ingredients in a recipe, you create layers of nuanced flavor. 

Among the foods containing glutamate−and, thus, umami−are beef, duck, chicken, tomatoes, mushrooms, seaweed, green tea, oysters, milk, beets, soy sauce, and aged cheese. As far as cocktails go, a Bloody Mary is about as umami as it gets. If you’re going alcohol-free, try a glass of V8 or tomato juice.

The Mushroom Council has created a downloadable .PDF, Umami: Discover the Taste of Nature’s Hidden Treasure, that explains the basics and offers recipes. If you’d like to know even more, download the Council’s whitepaper, Umami: If You’ve Got It, Flaunt It, which discusses the scientific underpinnings of taste and umami in an easy-to-read way. These documents are a bit mushroom-oriented, as you’d expect, but nonetheless provide a lot of great info.

A umami-rich recipe for Salmon with Shitake Relish is available online from the Mushroom Council.

Thanks to the International Glutamate Information Service (IGIS) for the umami taste chart.