Thursday, May 27, 2010

Touring the Malibu Family Wines' "Taste of the Tour"

Malibu Family Wines

I was lucky enough to attend that Taste of the Tour (that being the Amgen Tour a bike race which rides through the Conejo Valley for those who are not sure what tour they are referring to, which was me up until the time I arrived at the event…) at Malibu Family Wines last weekend. Turns out the Amgen Tour is the biggest cycling event this country, Lance Armstrong (the only name I know in cycling, hey the only name most of us know in cycling) was there riding with Team RadioShack. And that wasn't the only thing I was ignorant about.

Now I knew there were vineyards in Malibu, but truthfully I was thinking that they were little rinky-dink tasting rooms. So now I am totally eating crow. I was, definitely, a little out of the loop on this one because I was absolutely blown away by the beauty of Malibu Family Wines (not to be confused with Malibu Wines, yeah it's confusing...) breathtaking location. You definitely don’t have to go to Santa Barbara to experience wine country because believe it or not it lives in the heart of Malibu.

Malibu Family Wines hosted the Taste of the Tour at their 1,000-acre Saddlerock Ranch Estate. Along with 60,000 vines of grapes on 65 acres (with varietals including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Malbec, Grenache, Mouvedre and Viognier) this estate has extensive horse pastures and exotic animals (they’ve got Buffalo, Camels, Zebras, Llamas, and Peacocks to name a few). Let’s just say that it’s not surprising that along with making wine, and boarding horses, they do a booming (booming!) wedding business.

Malibu Family Wines 2

The Taste of the Tour featured wines from Malibu Family Wines' vineyards, Saddlerock and Semler, and a bevy of booths from restaurants in the Ventura area. I ended up making the tale end of the event so I wasn’t able to sample as much of the food offerings I was would have cared to (although the Saddle Peak Lodge sure makes a mean (and by mean I mean a refreshing light for a hot summer day) Sweet Pea and Peekytoe Crab Soup.)

Luckily a few food booths pushed through right till the end, including the wonderful Novy Ranch Grass-Fed Angus Beef. As someone who tries to avoid the corn-fed factory-farmed meat, I was in heaven. All of their beef is grass-fed free-range with no antibiotics or growth hormones. In layman’s terms: beef as it was supposed to be eaten. The lovely people of Novy Ranch were offering out samples of their New York Strip, their Pepperoni Sticks, and their Sausages.

All were great tasting, but the New York Strip was definitely the highlight. Dusted with just a tad of pepper the steak was lean (grass fed is pretty much always going to be leaner than corn fed) but still had a deliciously round flavor in my mouth. I highly recommend checking them out!

Another end of the event treat I was able to sneak in was Olive Oil Ice Cream drizzled with their Balsamic Vinegar from the people of the We Olive, Venture Store. We Olive is one of the premier retailers of California extra virgin olive oil in the US with 8 retail outlets throughout California. The Ice Cream was uber-creamy (most definitely helped by the fat molecules in the Olive Oil) which contrasted perfectly with the sweet tangy taste of the Balsamic Vinegar.

Luckily was able to get my hands on one of the last glasses of Saddlerock Rose. Crisp and cool with hints of watermelon it was the absolute perfect wine for a summer day.
Grass-fed Beef, Olive Oil Ice Cream, and a glass of Rose, it was the perfect celebration for my now absolute favorite bike tour!

Explore. Think. Eat
The Edible Skinny

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

La Cachette Bistro

Wrote an article for the SM Observer on Santa Monica's restaurant La Cachette Bistro:

La Cachette Bistro:

The Art of French Cooking in Santa Monica:

In the last couple of years everyone seems to be channeling their inner Julia Child.  All you need to do is look around Santa Monica where the classics (Melisse) are getting a run for their money from newcomers (Anisette Brasserie).  Last year an old favorite of the Los Angeles French dining scene, La Cachette, followed Horatio Alger’s example and moved westward. “We wanted to move venues for awhile.   We actually auditioned for this location and were lucky enough to get the space,” notes Fabrice, La Cachette Bistro’s manager.  Cachette means a “hiding place,” and with that in mind La Cachette’s move was more on the sly than some other dining eateries in the last couple of years (read… forget it, I’m going to be good on this one).   

Before its westward expansion La Cachette had be located in Century City for fifteen years, but years of the roadway in front of the restaurant being torn up like wrapping paper had taken a toll on their patrons.  Chef Jean Francois channeled his roadblock frustrations into a sweeping move to Santa Monica’s Ocean Ave., right across the street from the beachfront hotel alley, and right down the street from the Viceroy. The repositioning happened late in 2009, and with it a transformation into a more casual beachy atmosphere.  Thus, La Cachette became La Cachette Bistro. “It’s a great move, “ Fabrice continues, “when I sit here in the morning sipping my espresso on the outside on the patio I feel like I’m in Nice,” a compliment indeed since it’s the Francophile’s hometown.

One of the biggest changes to note is the inclusion of the word Bistro (noun: small or unpretentious restaurant) in that title.   Although the new space is more open and large than your typical dark wood French bistro, the gently priced rates are right on par.   In celebration of this change La Cachette Bistro is introducing their fifteen dollar Daily Lunch Bistro Prix Fixe Menu.   For the same price as parking on Sunset Boulevard on a Friday night partakers can enjoy a three course meal.  Starting options  
begin with either the Butternut Squash and Corn Soup or a Mixed Green Salad.  This is followed by three options for the main course including Roasted Chicken Breast with Mustard Sauce, Corn and Spinach, Zucchini and Swiss Cheese Omelette Triple Deck Turkey Meatloaf Bacon and Avocado Sandwich.   This is, naturally, followed by the requisite Sucre fix of a dessert that changes daily.    

And for those gourmands who wish for dinner dining, La Cachette Bistro does not disappoint. The French are known for their adoration of pairings: they take finding the perfect compliment to an item to an art form.  From pairing rich ingredients with simple contrasts so the dinner is not overwhelming, to the pairing of wine with a course (let’s be frank we are talking about the French, they pair wine with any and everything).  As we started with a round of appetizers Fabrice appeared with a Gewurztraminer from the Alsace region of France, the Domaine Klipfel was light and floral, with clover overtones.  It completely complemented our first selection:  Homemade Fois Gras Terrine with Rhubarb Pearls and Gelee.   The Fois Gras was rich and creamy, while the Rhubarb Pearls exploded in my mouth reminding me of a sweet version of caviar.   The Brioche was simple.  Sweet, yet strong enough to hold up against the richness of the other ingredients. 

This was followed by the appetizer special of the classic French vegetable of Leeks.   Delicate in taste, almost to the point of lace, they were prepared with only the whites of the stem along with white pepper, truffle oil, and a light dusting of chives.  The only drawback that my dining guest noted was the difficulty in cutting them since they were served in one large hard to navigate piece.  But, this issue was completely forgotten as we were presented with the Organic Beef Tartar with Baked Potato Chips.   The New York cut was soft and tender with hints of wostershire and capers.   Upon deeper inspection of La Cachette Bistro’s menu we noted the inclusion of numerous organic items on the menu.  Always a bonus these days, especially for anyone who has recently had Food Inc. in their Netflix queue (read “me”). 

While we waited for our next course the subject turned to approaches towards food and dining.  For the French dining isn’t just food, it’s a cuisine, a lifestyle.  A large majority of its offerings might be rich, but they are not overtly decadent (there is quite a difference)  (huge).  Smaller portions, and a savory approach to enjoying every bite make French dining an art of the senses. For some unfathomable reason French restaurants in America always seem to have an older clientele than other cuisines.  The young folks might think that Sushi is sexier, but a note to everyone who is at the courting stage of their relationship, this is perfect environment for great, and impressive, date.  

Fabrice appears with a Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire region,  Henri Marionnet, before we even think to ask.  This is followed moments later by my personal favorite dish, classic French dish, Moules and Frites.  Made with mussels, white wine, shallots, cream, parsley, garlic, chives, and cream.  “It’s a very traditional French dish,” notes Fabrice, “what makes ours different is we add saffron to it.”  It is heaven to me, creamy and crisp.   I take a sip of the Sauvignon Blanc and, I have to say, it is perfectly paired with my mussels and fries. 

This is then topped by appearance of Spare Ribs in a red wine sauce.   At this point Jean Francois appears from the kitchen.  “What is it?” he quizzes the two of us.   We both shrug our shoulders, tipsy on its heavenly smell, and multiple wine pairings.   “Buffalo,” he answers with a Santa Clause grin, “cooked with mire pois and rubbed with coffee.”  We take a bite and all my dining partner can say on an exhale is, “that is insane.”  The depth of the coffee taste creates a syrupy smoothness to the dish.  This course is harmonized with a side of Pot Croquettes, which are best explained as mashed potatoes shaped into the size of tater tots than fried.   Light and airy, it recalled the flavoring of Funnel cakes at a State Fair.  

This artful dinner is capped with two contrasting desserts.   The first is the light and airy Ile Flottante, Floating Island for us anglophiles, a soft meringue served with crème anglais, almonds, and pistachios.  This is contrasted with a denser Cheesecake made with crème cheese, orange zest, honeycomb, and orange sauce.  Incredibly rich, there was a Smokey flavoring to this dish that made just one bite enough.   Naturally Fabrice showed with a Muscadet to pair with our sweets, Eric Chevalier Cotes du Grand Lieu Loire Valley. The sweet orange flavorings complimented the Ile Flottante to a T.

As we sipped our last drops of our dessert wine we reflected on how although we both felt enjoyably satiated we did not feel heavy.   But when food is approached as an art form that is never a dilemma.  All I could think with the onset of La Cachette Bistro to our beach town is Viva the Santa Monica French cuisine.     

Kat Thomas writes on a variety of subjects.  She is very lucky one of them is good food.  

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Grapefruits, Lemons, and Volunteering, Oh My!

On Sunday I was lucky enough to spend some time helping out one of my favorite LA do-gooder organizations: Food Forward. If you haven’t heard about them, Food Forward is an all-volunteer grassroots group who convene at properties they have been in invited to and glean the excess fruit on their trees, donating 100% to local food pantries.

Food Forward Pick - Kat

This organization has an energizing spirit, allowing Angelenos to feel awesomely great about helping out someone else while enjoying the great outdoors. It’s an absolutely wonderful group because it’s a win-win for everyone: the people who allow their trees to be picked get a charitable tax deduction and a clean tree (it’s actually healthier for it to get picked like this) and the food banks get some fresh fruits or vegetables (something that they are usually very short on). This spirit is so contagious that Food Forward now knows people who are planting fruit trees in their backyards so they will be able to donate in about 5 years (the standard time it takes to get good fruit off a tree).

Food Forward Pick - Tree

On Sunday I traveled to a backyard in Sylmar and attacked a grapefruit and lemon tree with vengeance. The result: 14 boxes of citrus that were donated to the SOVA Community Food and Resource Program. Along with SOVA, Food Forward also partners with Mend Poverty to distribute the produce they glean to a total of over 30,000 clients a month across Southern California.

Food Forward Pick

Truthfully I volunteer for this organization for selfish reasons, it quenches my insatiable thirst to climb trees and pick fruit. The fact that we are helping people reconnect to their food system and combat urban hunger is icing on the cake.

Food Forward is always looking for trees and/or volunteers so check them out if you want to spend an inspiring weekend afternoon outdoors (tree climbing not necessarily a requirement).

Explore. Think. Eat
The Edible Skinny
Food Forward Pick - Grapefruit

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Menu Minuet - Restaurants and Farmers at the SMPL

Menu Minuet
Last Thursday Santa Monica held its Farmers Markets 2010 Quarterly Library Panel Series. This panel, entitled “Menu Minuet,” focused on how chefs and farmers keep seasonal produce on the plate while maintaining consistency on the menu. As always there were some heavy hitters of the panel:
  • Mark Peel- Chef of Campanile, Tar Pit, and the Point
  • Akasha Richmond- Chef of Akasha
  • Romeo Coleman- Farmer of Coleman Family Farm
  • Alex Weiser- Farmer of Weiser Family Farms
The event was moderated by Pulitzer Prize winning writer Jonathan Gold, who had just returned from New York after receiving the Craig Clairborne award in restaurant reporting from the James Beard Society (just think of it as the Oscars of the food world). Gold began by celebrating the clout of the famers noting that Weiser Family Farms’ potatoes were “the Rock Stars of the plate, that with one bite you know it’s a Weiser potato,” and of Coleman’s herbs “that they make my editor’s weak in the knees.”

When looking at the philosophy of a seasonal menu Mark Peel, who was the dominant force on the panel noted “I’m lazy. It’s easier dealing with food in season. It’s easier to take something that’s beautiful from the Farmers Market because it tells you what to do. “ That being said, today’s culture holds certain expectations for getting any food year round. Melons, tomatoes, and basil all have a specific season, but that doesn’t stop restaurant customers from demanding them. Everyone had their limits, Coleman noted how if you asked for Basil in February “you’d better be wearing a bikini.” But other items were a necessary evil. “You’re not going to get Heirloom Tomatoes in the winter, but people expect tomatoes,” explained Akasha, “I’m pretty freaky with my produce, but tomatoes are tough. In the winter I use Cherry Tomatoes for the burgers. I use canned organic tomatoes for the pizza. But I would never serve Mozzarella and tomatoes in February.”

The panel talked about their early approaches to growing, selling, and creating food. Weiser explained how his father bought their farm as a tax shelter. “In the beginning we just jumped in and lost a lot of money,” he noted of their 160 acres, which was originally an apple orchard. “The entire crop was Golden Delicious that we sold to a baby food company. There were no Farmers Markets. We did a roadside stand and U-Pick to help survive, but it was lean. “ In the early 80s a friend knocked on the door and suggested Farmers Markets. “More than anything else it allowed us to diversify. “ And that made all the difference in the world. “We came to the Farmers Market where people appreciated us. It was a great place where they didn’t care if the apple was pink instead of red, where they didn’t have to be waxy like they were in the supermarket.” Akasha, who’s namesake is known as great restaurant that just happens to have vegetarian food, noted that after being a vegetarian, macrobiotic, and private chef for many years that she very specifically chose to create a restaurant that wasn’t “healthy food.” That it would offer vegan food but also where you could get a pork chop. Peel noted how after doing a year in New York, he planned to open up a restaurant there but instead chose to come to Southern California after reexamining the dismal vegetables offering of an East Coast climate.

Diversification was the buzzword of the night. Both Weiser and Coleman noted its importance for their farms, in allowing them to create segmented profit throughout through the year versus one single payday from a large agri-business company (Weiser noted that sometimes it would take more than a year to get paid when they were growing for the baby food). Coleman noted how their farm had just lost their pea tendrils to mildew last week (now a tasty Amuse Bouché for their sheep), but the hit could be managed because of all their other crops. Along with diversification being a survival tactic for the farmers, it also allows the farmers to experiment with different vegetables. Coleman noted how his father started growing Persian mint because a customer brought it to them. Weiser’s father did the same thing in the 80s with the Jerusalem artichoke.

The panel did note how sometimes the customers at the market have grumbled about how some restaurants “buy all the best stuff.” “Sure we buy a lot, but we also get their early,” stated Akasha. “I’ve gotten shut out at Coleman before, that’s why I have a standing order now. Peel noted how it also leads to discovery of unknown. “People want to learn the story about things. If you can sell the waiters and get them enthused about cabbage, then they’ll get the guest excited, who’ll then go to the market and buy it, and then cook it at home for themselves.”

The next free event in the Santa Monica Farmers Market 2010 Quarterly Library Panel Series will be held Thursday August 12, 2010 from 7pm to 9pm. For more info go to

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Wonderful World of Brewing Kombucha

Kombucha Scoby
So if you are a resident of the West Coast (the land of the crunchy granola people as my Dad likes to call it) you’ve probably heard a little bit about Kombucha. For everyone else who doesn’t live or die by their Bio-Diesel car and Vision Board, Kombucha is a fermented tea that us crunchy granola people drink for its multiple health benefits.

Kombucha, like beer and wine, is brewed. The Kombucha culture (SCOBY) ferments sweet tea turning it into a slightly to somewhat acidic drink (depending on brewing time). The culture, sometimes erroneously know as a mushroom, is best know as a SCOBY, "symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.” It’s not pretty thing, but if we learned anything from the Beauty and the Beast it is that even ugly things are beautiful underneath.

Truthfully the SCOBY, best described as a Blob-y grayish pancake object, looks pretty suspect. For this reason most people who drink Kombucha buy it in brightly colored bottles from health food stores. Synergy and other brands sold at Whole Foods are pretty and nice, but they are not cheap either, especially if you want to sip this tea everyday, as is recommended for its benefits.

So with this in mind, and to learn more about Kombucha as a whole, I invited Dave “Kombucha” Lindenbaum to give me the skinny. Since this whole process ended up being a little bit more expansive than I was expecting it to be (hence the super big post) I have decided to break the wonderful world of Kombucha into 3 separate posts: how to Brew, how to Bottle, and a more extensive interview with Dave about the ins and outs of this world.

Dave is an ex New York finance guy who magically transformed into a Kombucha guy in Los Angeles, CA (all you east coasters can make some joke about SoCal frying your brain… like we’ve never heard that one before). His company Get Kombucha sells bottled Kombucha, but more importantly it also sells all the things you need to brew organic Kombucha at home by yourself.

When I ask Dave about why does this for a living he explains, “When you brew Kombucha you are the one who made it. It might not seem like a big difference, but it is. It’s about taking ownership.”

The best way to think of Kombucha is as a probiotic tea. Probiotic, now there’s a word that is being thrown around a lot these days. You might have seen Jamie Curtis talking about it to sell yogurt, but what exactly does probiotic mean?

Probiotic adj 1. A live microorganism which when administered in adequate amount confers a health benefit on the host.

In any bottle or brew jug of unfiltered Kombucha these strands and strains float (live yeast for anyone who is asking), but what are these health benefits they might confer on us (the host)?
Well on the simplest of levels, we all know that toxins are bad for the body, and when we get rid of them the body gets better.

Now anyone who sells you Kombucha related paraphernalia will become uneasy about it’s specific health selling points (since the FDA gets all weasely eyed about such things without very specific, and expensive, studies backing it up). That being said, Kombucha has been recommended as a remedy against acne, intestinal issues, kidney stones, gout, arthritis, and cancer, the last one being the biggest elephant in the room when it comes to talking about this acidic drink. Whether these claims are all valid or not probably won’t be proven for a very long time, but what is known scientifically is that many of Kombucha’s components have antibiotic and detoxifying characteristics. Whether this is because of the acidity of the drink influencing the GI tract or something more hasn’t been completely mapped out yet. But regardless, in detoxifying the body you’re helping to cleanse it so the possibility of disease is lessened.

But, let’s swing away from this digression and return to how to brew the K-tea.

So in the beginning there’s sugar, lots and lots of sugar. But don’t get thrown by this, the sugar will be eaten by the yeast of the SCOBY and converted into acids that are beneficial to your gut, and other parts of your body. Along with sugar there should also be cleanliness, lots and lots of cleanliness (I am hoping this is a given, but just in case…)

Like anything you cook, bake, or brew you’ll need some ingredients. These include: • A suitable brewing container with a 2-gallon capacity or more (some people use glass jars, Dave actually sells this and all the other kombucha items). • A piece of muslin, kitchen towel, cloth napkin, or some other piece of clean porous material. Whatever you use it needs to be a size that will cover the top of the brewing container with some overlap. • A large elastic band to hold the material on the container. • 1.5 gallons of water (boiled and cooled or filtered). • 2-3 teaspoons loose tea in a reusable muslin filter bag. You use a loose bag because this allows the tea to breath more. The tea can be Black, Green or a mixture of both. Please note: it must be tea and not a tea-like substance Herba Mate. • 1-2 cups Sugar (organic is preferred, but ordinary household sugar will do if you must). • A SCOBY (if you have a friend who brews they can cut you one off, otherwise you can buy one from Dave). • 32 ounces of already brewed Kombucha (Dave also sells this (shocker) or you can buy a bottle of premade bottle tea, just make sure to buy plain tea, not flavored).

Note (again): Cleanliness is very important in every aspect: hands, equipment etc. The first thing you should do is to clean everything that you are going to use (please be wary to soap as it can hurt your SCOBY, just wash with water and rinse with white vinegar.)

This is the liquid that feeds the Kombucha culture which is then transformed into Kombucha tea by your sugar chomping SCOBY.

Place your water in a pot (a stainless steel, enamel covered, or heat-resistant glass household cooking pot) and turn on the burner. The water should either be filtered or should already have been boiled for at least 5 minutes.

After boiling for the necessary time, add the tea. Allow it to boil for 5 minutes before stirring in the sugar till it dissolves. Allow the mixture to boil for 15 minutes (creating a super saturated solution for all those chemistry buffs). When finished fish out the muslin bag and allow this solution to cool to room temperature.

Don’t put add your culture yet as it is too hot for your SCOBY! (They are sensitive creatures)

Once the solution is at room temperature pour the solution into your brewing container. Then plop the SCOBY on top. Whether it sinks or floats it doesn't matter, it will work either way. To finish it off, pour the Starter Tea on top.

C’est ca; that’s it.

Just cover the top of the container with your kitchen towel, using the elastic band to hold it in place and protect it (your tea needs air, but definitely not flies).

Move the container to a good real estate location. Somewhere that it can be left undisturbed for about a week. You should try and have the temperature somewhere between 68 – 86 Fahrenheit. Since it’s a living thing keep it away from tobacco smoke, strong smells, and fried food (more specifically the grease that gets in the air from frying food).

After 5 days, it is time to taste the Kombucha. When you pull off the cloth the first thing you will notice is that the container will probably smell like you’re dying Easter eggs (vinegary).

The best way to tell if it is done is by tasting it. The Kombucha should have a slightly acidic (read: sharp – definitely not sweet) taste. If it isn’t quite there yet, put the cover back on and leave it for another day before tasting again.

The length of brewing time can vary quite a lot depending on location, temperature, and time of year (faster in the summer, slower in the winter), normally it takes between 5 days to 2 weeks.
Once the “kick” kicks in you’re ready to start reaping the K-tea rewards. It’s simple, good for you, and fun (especially for everyone who ever wanted to be a Mad Scientist… Oh wait, maybe that’s just me).