Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Tastespotting = A Visual Filtration of Great Taste = Image + Link + Thought
Tastespotting is a website full of foodblog eye candy. Anyone can register and submit an "image + link + thought." The collection of pictures captures a piece of what's happening in the food blogosphere at the moment, and you can click through from the pictures that attract your attention to read the full posts that inspired them. Or you can just look (and drool) at all the pretty pictures. Foodporn at its finest!

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Tortilla Soup for 30

This is one of the most popular meals that I make for my cohousing community, and one I get frequent requests for. It's adapted from a Cook's Illustrated recipe, and all their meticulous testing really shows in the result. Thanks to an initial "enrichment" step, the broth has a deep complex flavor, even though it starts with purchased stock. If you have 40 cups of homemade stock lying around the house, by all means use it - it will be even better. But you really don't have to.

Tortilla Soup for 30

Tortilla Strips

6 dozen corn tortillas
vegetable oil

40 cups water [1]
1 jar Better Than Bouillon Chicken [1]
7.5 lbs bone-in chicken breasts and/or thighs, skin removed and trimmed of fat
5 large white onions, ends trimmed, quartered and peeled
1 head of garlic, cloves separated and peeled
1 bunch cilantro
5 sprigs oregano
10 medium tomatoes, cored and quartered
2 jalapeño chiles (optional) [2]
2-5 chipotle chiles in adobo (depending how hot you want it) [2]
3-4 tbsp vegetable oil (depending on the size of your pan)
1/2 tsp salt

4 limes, cut into wedges
6-8 avocados, diced fine
2 lbs of cheese (Cotija is traditional, but you can substitute shredded Monterey Jack or - better yet - put out some of each)
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
2 jalapeños, chopped fine
32 oz sour cream
rest of the can of chipotle en adobe, pureed into a sauce

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cut the tortillas into 1/3 to 1/2 inch strips. Working in batches, spread them on sheet pans, drizzle with vegetable oil and toss to coat, then bake for 7 minutes. Rotate pan and shake or stir strips to redistribute and cook for another 6-7 minutes or until golden brown and crisped. Sprinkle with salt to season.

In a large pot, combine 40 cups of water with the Better than Bouillon. Add chicken pieces, half of the onion quarters, half of the garlic, and the whole sprigs of cilantro and oregano to the pot. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until chicken is just cooked through, about 20 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a platter to cool, and strain the broth into another large pot, discarding the remaining solids.

In a food processor, puree the tomatoes, remaining onions and garlic, jalapeño (if using), and chipotles until smooth. Depending on the size of your food processor, you will probably need to work in batches. Heat the oil in a large frying pan (or two) until shimmering, then add the tomato mixture and salt. Be careful - it will splatter! Cook, stirring frequently, until mixture darkens in color and starts to dry out - about 15-20 minutes (the smaller amount if you're using multiple pans, the larger amount if it's all in one).

Add tomato puree to stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes to blend flavors. Meanwhile, shred or pull the chicken into bite size pieces. Add it to the simmered stock and cook for 5 minutes to heat through.

Serve buffet style. At the start of the line, put the big bowl of tortilla strips. Follow that with the soup, then all of the garnishes.

[1] You could use canned or carton stock, but the Better Than Bouillon a) weights less, b) cost less and c) was the second place winner of the Cook's Illustrated canned stock taste test.

[2] When I make this, I use just 2 chipotle chiles for the whole batch, and no jalapeños, because I have to cater to a wide range of spice tolerance. Use the larger amounts below if you have a spice loving crowd!

Friday, January 26, 2007

Moonbase ConFusion - pictures from the weekend

I spent last weekend running the hospitality suite for a science fiction convention. I meant to take pictures of the crazy amount of supplies we bought for it, but I totally forgot. I'll post my shopping list later - it's pretty amazing. To give you a preview, on our first trip to Costco, we had 5 flat bed carts and 5 or 6 large shoppping carts.

For now, here's a couple of pictures:
This is our main food service area, just before we opened the doors on Friday. Our theme for this year's convention was Moonbase ConFusion. Thus the tablecloths made of mylar blankets for a space age/futuristic feel. They actually made the best tablecloths, because they didn't show stains and spills just slid right off. The video monitors on the right (there were 3 of them) showed a series of over 300 stills, a mix of moon exploration pictures and artists renderings of moons and moon bases. The windows are blacked out with Kraft paper so people could use chalk to draw their own moonscape - what you'd see looking out the window of the moon base. Unfortunately, we only got one window started, and the others just got used as an opportunity for graffiti - but people had fun with that, so it's okay.

Friday night we hosted a Mardi Gras party. We handed out over 200 strings of beads, played Zydeco music and served cornbread and jambalaya. We were also supposed to serve the fabulous Mardi Gras astronaut cake pictured above (thanks Sue!), but I totally forgot about him until Saturday. When he was slightly less in-theme, but still very tasty and appreciated.

This was my second year doing this, and I had a total blast. I'm still recovering from the lack of sleep, though!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

PrimeTime Tables

From eater.com:

Yesterday, the fine gentlemen of Urbandaddy wrote about a shady operation known as PrimeTimeTables, which is, essentially, the first-ever online reservation scalping service.(You didn't think of it first, friend. We've all had the notion, butnot been crazy enough to try it.) The membership service requires noinitial fee at sign-up, for the base level membership, at least, andcharges $40 a reservation, give or take, depending on how far out youbook your tables. It is a seemingly Utopian service for the high-endeater, but also one that is immediately sketchy, if you've spent anytime at all trying to book tables in New York.
Basically, they call restaurants far in advance, book up prime time tables, then sell them for a fee to their members. The tables aren't available after noon the day of the reservation, which is when restaurants usually make their confirmation calls and unclaimed table are released back to the general inventory.

PrimeTime Tables is - of course - presenting this as an excellent service that restaurants should be grateful for, since:
The PrimeTimeTable client is well-heeled. It's the type of client restaurants should want. These are tables that are going to be ordering expensive wine and not worrying about the bill; real diners, business executives with real income.
And obviously, if you're someone who likes to book at the last minute and can afford to pay $40 on top of your regular dining bill, then this is a great boon to you. It's a problem for someone like me, who plans restaurant trips far in advance and may find that there are now less prime time tables available to be booked because PrimeTime has gotten there first.

And it just feels shady. Diners have to eat under an assumed name and mentioning PrimeTime Tables to the restaurant is absolutely verboten. Which would seem to put the lie to this quote from Karine Bakhoum, wife of PrimeTime Tables owner Pascal Riffaud: "The bottom line is that the restaurateurs he's spoken to don't mind at all."

You can read the rest of the interview with Karine Bakhoum (who is a frequent guest judge on Iron Chef and owner of restaurant public relations firm KB Network News) here. For more backstory, a summary of the Eater.com posts so far is at the bottom of that page.

Unsurprisingly, there's lots of commentary - both positive and negative - on eGullet. Fat Guy sees this as the final straw that will get restaurants to change their unworkable reservation policies:
What I think it does do is expose, in a more obvious way than the no-show problem, the idiocy of the current system high-end restaurants use for offering reservations. It's just unsustainable to offer reservations with a cost-free cancellation policy, a weak confirmation policy and no means of policing. It's no way to run a business. Hotels, airlines and many other services have all come up with superior models. Because hotels are part of the hospitality industry, they probably provide the best models. If restaurants don't improve the system, they'll just leave open opportunities for others to benefit from their foolishness.
While Nathan insists that this may be a boon for those who like to make really last minute decisions:
If anything, this service will increase the number of last-minute tables. As I noted above, its no secret that the best method of garnering a good table at an in-demand restaurant is to call the afternoon of the day you want to dine. This service may well increase the number of such tables available.
Definitely lots of interesting discussion happening. It's all pretty abstract to me, as I can count the number of NYC restaurant reservations I've made with 2 fingers. I do get to Chicago a little more frequently, and should such a service spring up there I might have to start caring more.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Valentine's Day Truffle Sale

As I'm mentioned here from time to time, I'm starting my own business, and one of the things I'll be doing is making and selling chocolates. I'm offering four flavors for Valentine's Day: caramel, passionfruit, strawberry-balsamic, and hazelnut praline (L to R above). You can download an order form from www.tammystastings.com. And yes, I do ship!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Defining the Artisanal Movement

From anthropologist Grant McCracken comes this really insightful blog article about why the artisanal food movement is being so strongly embraced. He identifies and elaborates on the following 10 cultural components:

1. a preference for things that are human scale.
2. a preference for things that are hand made.
3. a preference for things that are relatively raw and untransformed.
4. a preference for things that are unbranded.
5. a preference for things that are personalized.
6. a preference for a new transparency
7. a preference for things that are "authentic"
8. a preference for things that have been marked by locality
9. a preference for the new connoisseurship
10. a preference for the simplified
The explanations of each of these components are well worth a read. For example:

4. a preference for things that are unbranded.

This is really an odd one for we are still a culture that treats brands as navigational devices in a turbulent culture. But now cheese from a farmer's market is better for the fact that it is not branded. This too takes as full circle, for in 18th and 19th century America, consumers were buying from barrels. Brands came in as a welcome innovation.

It turns out that Marx was right. (Finally.) The meaning of the object comes from the act of manufacture, not the act of marketing and consumption. And now I have a lovely bridge I'd like to sell you. For the artisinal movement is yet another act of meaning manufacture, driven perhaps by new enthusiasms but shaped at every step by marketing. For starters, this thing we call artisanal production almost certainly relies on mechanics, scale, and artifice. The "artisanal" is yet another cultural meaning that marketers assign to goods.

And later on, in #8, he points out that locality has essentially become the new branding. Which, if you've ever seen a high end restaurant menu, should come as no big surprise.

(Thanks to Solomon at Dry Goods Notes for the link.)

Saturday, January 13, 2007

White Bean and Butternut Squash Gratin for 32

I can't claim to have been at all creative or unique in making this recipe. Adapting it to feed a crowd didn't really require much more than multiplication. But it is a tasty and cheap meal that feeds a lot of people. I used almost entirely organic ingredients and it cost about $4/person (which included a mixed green salad with goat cheese and blood oranges). If you're less particular about organics or downgrade the salad, it would be really cheap!

White Bean and Butternut Squash Gratin
(adapted from Russ Parson's recipe as seen at Wednesday Chef)

1 1/3 lbs thick-sliced bacon
2 large onions, chopped
1 head garlic, minced or pressed, divided into two equal portions
4 pounds dried cannellini or Great Northern beans
18 cups water
4 teaspoon salt
4 (28-ounce) cans diced tomatoes, drained
1/4 c chopped sage
12 pounds butternut squash
2 loaves day-old good quality French or Italian style bread
1 cup olive oil, plus additional for pans

Chop the bacon into rough squares. Combine the bacon, onions, half of the garlic, beans, water and salt in a large pot. Bring to a simmer, cover tightly, and cook for 2 - 2.5 hours, stirring occasionally. Add additional water if necessary.

When the beans are tender, stir in the tomatoes and sage. Stir roughly to break up some of the beans, which will thicken the liquid.

Meanwhile, peel the squash and cut it into 1/2 inch cubes. I like to use gloves for this step, as I find that cutting butternut squash does something nasty to my skin, and you have to cut a LOT of squash. Working in batches, steam the squash over a pot of rapidly boiling water for about 7-10 minutes or until tender. Set aside.

Cut the crusts off the bread and cut or tear it into rough cubes. Working in batches, process in the food processor with the remaining garlic until you have coarse crumbs. Set aside.

Prepare four 3-3.5 qt casserole dishes by brushing each with with 2 tsp of olive oil. (I only had smaller casseroles, so I just used more pans. You could use a couple of large pyrex pans instead - but don't try to go too deep - you want a good ratio of bread crumbs to filling, and for that you need lots of surface area!) Divide the butternut squash across the pans. Divide the bean mixture on top of that, using a slotted spoon. Add just enough of the liquid to cover the bottom of the pan. Stir a little to combine (the squash is fairly delicate, so be gentle). Divide the bread crumbs across all the pans. Drizzle with olive oil, about 1/4 c for each pan.

Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 40 minutes or until bread crumbs are nicely browned. Be sure to rotate pans from top to bottom shelf to ensure even browning. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Wine Tastings Loosen Up

Great New York Times article about new trends in wine tasting.

Andrew Sia wanted to find a sommelier who would lecture to his wine tasting club, but was not sure he could afford it. Then there was the matter of the ice cream.

In addition to enjoying wine, Mr. Sia, 34, fancies making his own frozen sorbets and ice creams. Though it seemed to him a natural fit to pair the two, he suspected a wine consultant might not agree.

“Our first concern was that it was going to be stuffy,” Mr. Sia said. “We wanted this to be more of a party.”

This is exactly the approach I'm taking with the Tastings part of my Tammy's Tastings business. It's not about being a food snob, it's about having fun. One idea I can't wait to try with someone is to do a bunch of blind taste-offs. Like the old Pepsi challenge. At one table, it's Coke vs Pepsi. At another, it's Jif vs Skippy. Hershey's vs Ghiradelli. Etc. This is the kind of idea that would scale really easily to any size of group and doesn't come off as at all "high-brow." Although it could certainly be as upscale as a client wanted it to be (white truffles vs black? foie gras vs chicken liver?).

Friday, January 12, 2007

The 30 Second Wine Advisor

I highly recommend this email newsletter to all wine lovers. Robin Garr hosts the WineLovers Page ("the oldest, largest and most popular independent wine-appreciation site on the World Wide Web"), with articles, columns and the WineLovers Discussion Group. Several times each week he puts out the 30-Second Wine Advisor (on Thursday it's replaced by the Wine Advisor FoodLetter).

As the title implies, this is a nice quick read on a wine topic. Today, he's rethinking Chardonnay. First, a brief history:
Then, as the '80s moved into the '90s and more people started getting serious about wine, the American and Australian wine industries in particular took a turn that seemed to satisfy a lot of people's tastes but not mine: The standard style for New World Chardonnay became soft, overtly oaky, slightly sweet (or even more than slightly so), and run through a process called malolactic fermentation that turns the tart, cleansing green-apple flavor of malic acid into the soft, creamy and more gentle acidity of lactic acid.

The sad result, all too often, was a wine that gave the sensory impression of guzzling a pineapple milkshake in a new house with freshly sanded oak floors.
He then he goes on to talk about some of the new breed of New World Chardonnay. The issue ends with a tasting note that includes a suggested food match.

Garr's specialty is in identifying wines that have great quality-to-price ratio (QPR). Most often the wine he features are in the $20-or-less category, although he occasionally highlights a particularly good but more expensive bottle.

If you're not already a subscriber, you should definitely check it out! The forums are also great. WineLovers Discussion group was where I cut my "wine teeth" and I learned a lot reading there!

Monday, January 08, 2007

It's like this...

Despite making a New Year's Resolution to get back to updating my blog several times a week, I've not managed it. And it's not because I haven't been cooking or eating or thinking about food. In fact, I've been doing lots of that. But I've realized that I mostly don't post about things to this blog until they are done, and I've got lots of things in the works, but not completed.

One of the things I have in the works is also something that's taking the place of a lot of my blogging time and energy. I'm starting my own business. I've been toying with this idea for months and months now, and have even had a business website mocked up for a while, although I hadn't been doing any real dissemination. This week things started to come together. I found a commercial kitchen that's willing to let me use their space during their off hours for truffle and chocolate making, so that will enable me to legitimize that part of Tammy's Tastings. (Michigan requires the use of a commercial kitchen for food that will be sold to the public.) And I made some revisions to the website to better explain what the Tastings part of the biz is like, and have started conversations with a couple of coworkers about doing events for them for free for practice and advertising purposes. I'm setting up an appointment to talk to the Small Business Development Center and get help identifying the rest of the steps I need to take and finding out everything I need to know.

Amidst all of this, I've been working on testing flavors for my Valentine's Day collection. One big change from my previous productions is that I'll be doing more molded chocolates and fewer hand formed. The picture that heads up this post shows the results of my practice with making the molded chocolates have that "showroom finish." I'm very pleased with how these ones turned out.

So, lots of exciting stuff going on around here, but just not much of it making it's way into the blog as content!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Blogs of Note

A couple of new-to-me blogs have caught my interest in the last few days, so I thought I would share them with you too!

Brownie Points
Subtitled "a good girl's notebook of her culinary world," there's a lot of neat stuff here that I'm just starting to explore. I'd already been thinking about making my own marshmallows, but seeing her creations has made me even more interested. And her photography is beautiful, and makes me realize just how much I need to learn in order to take better pictures.

Dry Goods Notes
This blog is written by Solomon from Zingerman's Deli. He's one of the dry goods gurus there, and knows an incredible amount about olive oils and vinegars. It was from a tasting he ran that I learned of the beautiful thing that is olive oil and honey with bread. (Really. You have to try it. Put some honey in the middle of the plate, and some olive oil around it. Swipe your piece of baguette through both the honey and the olive oil, then eat. Be warned - it's hard to stop once you start. In my experiments, this seems to work on a basic level with almost any oil and honey, but you can also come up with some really awesome combinations.) Right now the blog features an extensive series on how olive oil is made. Very cool.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

2006 - My Year in Food

I ran the hospitality suite for a science fiction convention called ConFusion. About 700 people attend the convention, and the hospitality suite runs continuously for most of 3 days. How much food do 700 people eat? Check out my shopping list. I'll be doing it again this year.

In February, I took cooking common meal for my cohousing community to the next level, by collaborating with a foodie friend (plus 2 assistant cooks) to make a plated meal for 63 people. The main dish was seared duck breast served on grilled polenta, with a wild mushroom ragu, port wine reduction, and truffle oil. Considerably more elaborate than my usual common meal offerings (tagged here as cooking for a crowd). Read about the rest of the menu and how we pulled it off for less than $6/person!

March wasn't a very exciting food month, apparently. But I did make an excellent brown butter almond cake.

In April, my wine club celebrated its 1 year anniversary by having an elaborate multi-course dinner with paired wines. I was the main menu planner, but had an army of sous chefs who helped pull it all off. I also attended a chocolate making class at Zingerman's, which I mention because of what it means for May...

In May, I took my newly learned truffle making skills and turned them into a little microenterprise, making five flavors of truffles and selling them to friends and neighbors for Mother's Day. This was a huge success, and led to me offering several other sales through the year. See the flavors here, and sign up for my mailing list if you'd like to get an email announcement of the next sale (coming up for Valentine's Day).

In June, I attended a great wine dinner at Zingerman's Roadhouse, featuring wines from Quady Winery/Vya Vermouth. The wines are more what you'd think of as dessert wines rather than table wines, but they were paired beautifully with a five course meal. And Andy Quady regaled us with hysterical stories about the early days of the California wine industry.

Starting in July, I was blessed with the opportunity to shop at not one, not two, but THREE farmer's markets every week. All that seasonal cooking and eating got me thinking about restaurant menus, and I explored the connections between menu change frequency and restaurant quality.

In August, I hosted the third eGullet Heartland Gathering. Foodies from all over the Midwest (and a few from beyond) gathered to eat, drink, and make merry. Friday we toured the Longone Culinary Archive, had a great dinner at Bella Ciao thanks to eGullet member/ Bella Ciao chef Josh Taylor, and followed it up with a just-before-closing trip to Zingerman's Deli that saw us all going home with tons of free day-old bagels and baguettes. Saturday we shopped for dinner at the Farmer's Market. Before we started cooking, Ric Jewell (my favorite sommelier, formerly of Tribute and Zingerman's Roadhouse - I can't wait to see where he ends up next!) led us through an amazing tasting of 21 wines in an hour and a half. How we managed to cook an 8-plus course dinner after that is beyond me, but we did.

Oh, and I can't let August slip by without mentioning that I started writing this foodblog. My first post was titled Butter is Exactly What Steak Needs.

In September, I started getting serious about this foodblog thing. I wrote the first 3 parts of my buying cookware series that month. Part 4 has been on my to-do list ever since. I also experimented with making vegan truffles, and got my first taste of the famed Iberico, aka pata negra.

Vacation! I spent 4 nights and 5 days happily eating my way through Chicago, with meals at Hannah's Bretzel, Sticky Rice, "Little" Three Happiness, Alinea, Hot Doug's, Schwa, Nuevo Leon, Hot Chocolate, and Prairie Grass Cafe.

I spent November on the road for work, traveling to a different place every week. In Colorado, I toured a meatpacking house, and found it a fascinating experience. In Minneapolis, I spent most of three days eating mediocre hotel food, but did manage to have a couple of nice dinners with friends and ride a roller coaster at the mall of America. Los Angeles was okay, but certainly not all it could have been, foodwise. And in El Paso, I had amazing chile rellenos at a car wash.

One more trip for work, this time to the fertile agricultural region outside of Miami. My tour of the Fruit and Spice Park, visit to Robert is Here, and subsequent tropical fruit tasting definitely stand out as some of the highest points of my entire year.

I hope you all had a tasty 2006, and I wish an even tastier 2007 for all of us!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007


Over on eGullet, Fat Guy asks "Are we too matchy?"

In the restaurant world, of course, the notion of "wine pairings" -- where, for example, you get a different wine by the glass with every course of a tasting menu -- has become very popular. There is also, of course, a lot of attention devoted to pairings in the literature: long lists of what wines go best with what foods. And I was recently at a preview dinner for an international competition where the victor will be the team that creates the best match of food and sherry.

Now, don't get me wrong. I enjoy a great wine pairing as much as the next guy. But have we perhaps gotten a bit carried away here? What ever happened to just drinking a bottle or two of wine with a meal? I mean, back in the day, you just chose a bottle of wine to drink with your meal. End of story. For a bigger deal meal, you chose a white and a red and at some point in the meal you switched from white to red.
As someone who really admires a perfect pairing, I'm finding the conversation is spurring me to think about my own wine drinking habits. I like wine pairings because I'm still learning about wine and they give me an opportunity to try a lot of different wines. But, as later conversation in the thread points out, with the amount some of these pairings cost, I could be buying a single bottle of something very good that I wouldn't otherwise have access to. And gain the opportunity to see how a wine develops over the course of a couple of hours and in conjunction with different foods.

Like others on the thread, I think places like Alinea are a special case. The wine service there is so good, and the pairings so exceptional, that I think the pairing option adds significantly to the experience.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year!

I hope everyone had a festive time and drank lots of excellent champagne or other beverage of choice. I celebrated the new year with a dinner party for my friends with children, then - after my 2 year old was asleep - went to a party at a neighbors. (Sadly my hubby had a headache and opted to stay home and sleep.)

It was quite the dinner - 8 adults, 7 children (ages 8, 3, 3, 2, 2, 1 and 8 months), 5 courses, and 3 wines! The menu was inspired by my recent find of some fun plates at the local dollar store. I covet square plates and other cool shapes, but haven't been able to justify spending the money since I don't have dinner parties very often. But at a dollar apiece, I couldn't resist these little rectangular and oval plates. They're too small for an entree, but are the perfect size for small courses!

Scallops with leeks, trout roe caviar and champagne cream sauce
Wine: Jaillance Cremant de Bordeaux Cuvee de L'Abbaye Brut
Non-scallop alternative for Sue
Butternut squash ravioli with rosemary oil
Wine: Bonny Doon Pacific Rim Dry Riesling
Mushroom stuffed quail with risotto, haricots verts, black poplar mushroom garnish
Wine: 2001 Colognole Chianti Rufina
I forgot to photograph the cheese board. We had three Italian cheeses - a Pecorino Tuscano (sheep), Maccagno (cow), Robiola Fia (goat) - and a loaf of no-knead bread, which we used for sopping up sauces in the earlier courses as well.

Caramel-hazelnut-chocolate tart with creme fraiche whipped cream
The kids were pretty good about letting us eat in relative peace. They had hotdogs, macaroni and cheese, and peas as their dinner. The house was an absolute wreck this morning though - toys strewn everywhere! Which is a relatively small price to pay for a grown-up dinner, I guess!