We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Trip to Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company and Linda's Holiday Salad with Point Reyes "Original Blue", Fuyu Persimmons and Pomegranate Seeds

My Traveling Tales by Linda

"You have to be a romantic to invest yourself, your money, and your time in cheese."
                                                                                                  ~ Anthony Bourdain


Once upon a time there were four sisters. This is exactly how the story of the Salvation Sisters begins, and so does the story of the Giacomini sisters, who, along with their parents, have built a thriving cheese business from the dairy that their family has operated for generations on pristine and fecund land that is located just above beautiful Tomales Bay in Point Reyes Station, California. It all started more than a century ago when their great-grandfather, Tobias Giacomini, landed in Northern California from Italy with a dream of raising chickens and cows.

Diana, Lynn, Jill and Karen pose for me in The Fork; the beautiful culinary center
on the farm that was custom-built for education and entertainment.
    This past October, I contacted Lynn Giacomini Stray to see about arranging a visit to the Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company for our Store Team Leaders at Whole Foods Market. Whole Foods has a wonderful tradition called Team Building. Once per year we team members get out of the store and spend a few days together outside of the work environment. It is a great opportunity to visit our vendor partners and see just where and how the food is made that we sell in our stores. Since our group is lucky enough to work in the heart of food and wine country in California, it seemed only natural to visit the Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company which is a local vendor for us.
   Lynn invited our team to take a farm tour in the morning and then do a focused cheese tasting that would be paired with beer and wine. Afterward we would have lunch. Since I last visited the farm, the Giacomini's have built a beautiful and inviting facility that they call The Fork. The Fork has a state of the art kitchen, dining room, edible garden and outdoor patio. They had set a beautiful table for our arrival.

The gardens just outside The Fork... wire mesh provides protection
from frisky raccoons that like to dig for grubs.

A beautiful Fall-themed table was set for our group in The Fork.
The California hills are dry in October, and the farm must grow enough grass and
hay for the cows to last the entire year.
Young calves, once they are strong enough, are transported to a new pasture up the hill.

   The Giacomini Dairy sold only fluid milk for 40 years before Bob Giacomini decided that he would like to keep his milk on the farm and try his hand at making cheese. Not just cheese, but great cheese. Little by little, Bob along with his wife Dean, convinced their four daughters to join into the business together and begin making cheese. In 2000, the dream became a reality when the first wheels of Point Reyes Original Blue Cheese were made. Thirteen years later, the farm now makes not only the Original Blue, but Bay Blue, Toma, Point Reyes Mozzarella and four flavors of Point Reyes Blue Cheese Dips that are just being launched in time for this holiday season.

Beautiful Tomales Bay on a sunny October day. The farm is not far from
Hog Island Oyster Company.

   Our tour began with Lynn and operations manager Jim Kehoe (who has been a dairyman his entire life) showing us around the farm. It is hard to fathom just how much work goes into operating a large dairy. Lynn explained to us that our dairy farms are in crisis in the United States. Just last year over 200 dairies went out of business, according to Lynn. The price of milk simply does not pay the operating costs of a dairy, so making value added products such a cheese, is a way for dairies to survive in these modern times.
   Aside from a milking schedule that starts at 2:00 AM (no that is not a typo), the farm must maintain its pastures, because healthy grass is key to the renowned quality and flavor of their cheese, as well as preserving the land. They must also grow grass which is cut and turned into silage to feed the cows during the months before the rains start, and the grass begins to grow again.
   Then there is the complicated issue of waste and what to do with it. Where there are many cows, there is also a great amount of cow _ _ _ _ (I'll let you fill in the blanks) to deal with. Jim has been instrumental in developing the farms methane digester, which breaks down the dangerous gas that is produced by the manure, and they harness the energy produced to run the farm. The dairy and cheese plant operations are all powered by the energy produced. Stewardship of the land and long-term sustainability are goals of the Giacomini family.

Jim explains operations in the "milking parlor" to our group.

We surprised the Cheesemaker, Kuba Hemmerling, who just happened 
to be strolling by on a day off from work. He takes a moment to greet our group.

   The rest of our farm tour was spent watching cheese being made and aged, and we visited the milking parlor where cows line up to be milked twice per day beginning with the first milking which begins in the wee hours of the morning. Then Lynn invited us back in to The Fork for our aforementioned cheese tasting and lunch. All of which did not disappoint.

Lynn cheerfully answered our many questions.
Our team watches cheese being made through a window. The cheese making
 room must be kept sterile, so no visitors are allowed within.

Bob Giacomini, the patriarch of the family, says hello to us. He and his wife convinced
their daughters to leave successful business careers in other fields to return to the
farm and help make his dream to produce cheese come true.

   An item of note. All of the acreage that belongs to the dairy and Giacomini family is now incorporated into the Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT). Thanks to MALT the land must always, no matter who might purchase or inherit it, be used for agricultural purposes. This is how many farms in the area were saved from being developed and paved over. Here is part of the story from the MALT website:

"In the early 1960s, Marin County’s plan for coastal development envisioned a dramatic change for West Marin, including plans for a city with a population of 125,000 on the shores of Tomales Bay. If implemented the planned development would have ended a 150-year-old tradition of family farming. Change seemed inevitable, and many farmers "read the writing on the wall" and agreed to put their farms up for sale. As “For Sale” signs started to line rural roadways farmers, environmentalists and other Marin citizens joined forces to do something about it.
   The coalition worked to change Marin County planning and zoning plans for large-scale development of farmland. Phyllis Faber, a biologist, and Ellen Straus, a rancher, founded MALT in 1980 to give permanent protection to family farms. The farmland trust became the first of its kind in the nation.  Since then MALT has worked with more than 70 farming families to preserve more than 45,000 acres."
So thanks to Phyllis and Ellen, some 30 years later, there are farms that produce food dotting the pristine coastline of Tomales Bay, instead of houses, hotels and industrial development.

Our team about to begin our focused cheese tasting led by Lynn. The cheeses were paired
with Hop Stoopid from Lagunitas Brewing Company, and a French Colombard.

   I personally, never wanted the day to end. After all, I fit right in with a family of all girls, and I love cheese! It seemed like a perfect match to me. Reluctantly, however, I bade my goodbye. The four sisters were kind enough to assemble for me so that I could snap a few photos of them.
   If you would like to have your own farm visit or attend dinners and events at The Fork contact the farm. An appointment is required. Point Reyes Farmstead cheeses are widely available for purchase, including from the cheese counter at your local Whole Foods Market.

The long and winding road that leads to delicious cheese!

Linda's Holiday Salad with Point Reyes "Original Blue", Persimmons and Pomegranate Seeds

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Fall Classic: Beef Bourguignon (Traditional and Gluten-Free)

by Michelle

“This is my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook- try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!” ~ Julia Child, My Life in France

“To be a good cook you have to have a love of the good, a love of hard work, and a love of creating.”
~ Julia Child, Particular Passions: Talks With Women Who Have Shaped Our Times
      After I prepared Beef Bourguignon for Christmas last year, my husband remarked that it was likely the best dinner he had ever eaten; in this life, and possibly the next. High praise from a man that is not profuse with his compliments. For a rustic stew born of French peasants, the dish has reached legendary status. Rightly so.
   I like to experiment in the kitchen, but after one or two failed starts early in my married life, I made an agreement many years ago with my husband that the first time I make a recipe, I will follow it as written. In this way I have a baseline of the flavor profile and technique. If I choose to make the recipe again, I am free to improvise to my heart's content and am able to compare and contrast and understand if my changes were favorable. So was the case with this classic recipe. Last December I followed Julia Child's recipe almost to the letter with the exception of adding a great big helping of my homemade demi-glacé. I felt Julia would surely approve of the addition, so I didn't sweat the decision to alter the recipe just a wee bit.

“You don't have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces -
just good food from fresh ingredients.” ~ Julia Child
   Not to get off track, but I am bursting at the seems to share with you that every time I think of Julia Child, I recall that Linda and I sat behind her in the Granada Theatre in Santa Barbara, California. Julia was indeed rather tall, even in old age, and her large head was in our view the entire movie. We could have reached out and touched Julia, but we politely kept our hands to ourselves. I don't know how we contained ourselves, but we did. The year was 2000. The movie: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Linda and I felt the film, even when considering the gorgeous cinematography, was overrated and that the general public loved it way more than the film deserved. We are fairly certain that Julia's date was her nephew. Julia didn't like the movie either, and at the end of it she looked at her nephew and with her famous high-pitched and quavery voice said, "Well, I didn't care for that at all, did you?"

“Always start out with a larger pot than what you think you need.” ~ Julia Child
   For round two of this recipe, I did approach it a bit differently while also endeavoring to maintain the integrity of the classic dish. This time I quadrupled the recipe so that half would be served as a special family meal during Sistercation in Southern Arizona. In a bid towards advance holiday planning, the other half is frozen and then thawed for a hassle-free special meal on Christmas Eve.
    Besides making the mother lode of Bourguignon, I also made, on the same day, a gargantuan pot of pinto bean chili con carne. Since it's that time of year, to the chili I added fresh chilies from Hatch, New Mexico that I roasted on the grill. All in all, I cut and browned twelve pounds of meat for preparing the two dishes in volume. It was a long day in the kitchen but I felt the time and effort were worthwhile to do this type of cooking in advance before heading into the hectic holiday season. I always feel pressed for time during the last two months of the year. Hopefully, this strategic preparation of meals will provide a measure of inner peace when I am feeling the most stress. I also froze a portion of chili to pair with Sonoran Hot Dogs, a specialty of Tucson, also an advance meal plan for Sistercation.

“It's so beautifully arranged on the plate - you know someone's fingers have been all over it.”
~ Julia Child, My Life in France
    To ease the preparation of both the Bourguignon and Chili, I oven-fried bacon and processed the garlic a day in advance. The pinto beans need to be soaked overnight. I also got a jump on cooking the sausage for the chili and making the Fuego spice rub for the pork. The following morning, I began by first throwing the pinto beans in a crockpot, covering with boiling water and cooking on high temperature, which reduces the cooking time to about six hours. Since the Bourguignon is prepared first on the stovetop and then baked in the oven, I prepped it next. After the Bourguignon was placed in the oven to bake for about three hours, I then began the chili.
   Both dishes were finished in time for dinner. My husband, his brother and friends arrived home from an afternoon of dove hunting to a heavily - or is that heavenly - scented kitchen and house. Our friend Ben remarked during dinner, "I sure was happy to see that big pot of chili."  They all looked longingly at the Beef Bourguignon, but as the French might remark, "C'est la vie." That's life. It is good to have something to look forward to, even if it is something as simple and elegant as Beef Bourguignon, the king of stews.

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to 
have a what-the-hell attitude.”~ Julia Child 
Beef Bourguignon (Traditional and Gluten-Free)

Michelle's Mashed Potatoes

by Michelle

"What I say is that, if a man really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow."
                                                                                                               ~A.A. Milne

   Mashed potatoes are heaven to me. I've tried to give up the humble potato at many times over the course of my life. It is a useless endeavor. There are times when I even went over a year without tasting a potato, but it was an exercise in futility. I will always return to my true love: the "carbolicious", ultimately satisfying spud. While I thought I had little to say about making mashed potatoes, I found the opposite was true while teaching my daughter the ins and outs of preparing my favorite side dish. 
   You may be surprised to learn that I am particularly fond of adding buttermilk to my mashed potatoes. In my opinion the tang provides a certain flavor note that isn't really identifiable but plays well with the butter and milk. There have been one or two times that I failed to have buttermilk on hand (a bad day at Black Rock) but I have saved the day by using plain Greek yogurt thinned with milk.

    I have found that once the potatoes are mashed and dressed there is a benefit to letting the mashed potatoes sit in a hot oven for about 15 minutes. Some people swear by keeping mashed potatoes warm by transferring them to a heat safe bowl and then placing the covered bowl over a pan of simmering water. That's fine, too. The stovetop is usually premium real estate for me and I find it is more accommodating to put the potatoes in the oven.
    Also of particular importance is the size of the pan you plan on using to cook the cubed potatoes. It needs to be large, in the category of a medium soup pot, so the potatoes can cook in a lot of water, and you have room to stir the simmering pot without sending a wave over the side, potentially burning you, and making the hot burner spit and spray.

    I am happy to report that I have successfully made delicious mashed potatoes for friends and family who abstain from dairy due to intolerance or by preference. When we have non-Dairy folks in the crowd, my plan is to divide and conquer. First, I simmer all the potatoes in one big pot. Then, I drain the potatoes and do a quick mash. Depending upon how many non-dairy folks you have, I remove about 3/4 cup of potatoes per person to a separate heat proof container. To the removed portion, season with salt, pepper, olive oil and vegetable or chicken broth. On these occasions, I may choose to also season the potatoes with garlic. If going the garlic route, in a small skillet gently sauté minced garlic in warmed olive oil until just cooked, one to two minutes. Transfer the non dairy potatoes to the oven in an oil coated, tightly sealed serving dish. Finally, dress the remaining potatoes according to the directions below. Everybody wins the mashed potatoes game.
  As an additional nice surprise for the dairy intolerant, I alter my Mushroom Sauce recipe to use olive oil and cornstarch in lieu of butter and flour (Mochiko rice flour for gluten-free cooking or all-purpose wheat flour, depending upon your leanings and the folks you are feeding). I adore receiving compliments by non-dairy folks that mine are the best mashed potatoes and gravy they've ever tasted.   
   The moral to the story is that a few simple changes can yield really great results and encourage the up most happiness during the holidays when it can be difficult, if not overwhelming, to accommodate a number of diet/eating plans - from vegetarian to gluten-free and everything in between.

Michelle's Mashed Potatoes

Michelle's Mushroom Sauce (Traditional or Vegan and Gluten-Free)

by Michelle

"I am... a mushroom; On whom the dew of heaven drops now and then." ~John Ford

     I developed this recipe over time, initially as a replacement for Campbell's Mushroom Soup, and then continued to adapt it further depending upon the dietary needs of my guests. The Campbell's Mushroom Soup was thinned and drizzled over a vegetarian patty recipe that my Mom made back in the 70's during a brief flirtation with vegetarianism that was met with resistance by we sisters. While the diet choice didn't last, our love for the vegetarian patty did. I was quite happy with the dish until one day in the early 90s I finally read the ingredients list on the soup can. I immediately felt compelled to make a sauce from scratch. I favored serving the vegetarian patties with mashed potatoes, so I wanted to create a sauce that would be ideal for garnishing both the patties and the fluffy potatoes.
   One thing led to another and I eventually began serving my homemade mushroom sauce with beef and chicken. My family also enjoys it as a delicious "ragu" for wide egg noodles. One serendipitous evening I quickly assembled an impromptu Shepard's Pie using leftovers. I started by sautéing fresh vegetables, then added cold, grilled diced steak and the mushroom sauce, and finished by topping the dish with a thick layer of two day old mashed potatoes. When I pulled the piping hot dish from the oven, no one would have guessed it was a convenient way for me to clear the refrigerator of leftovers.
   The sauce earns bonus points because it keeps well in the refrigerator and reheats beautifully over low heat. I often make a vegetarian version of the sauce during the holidays and will serve it alongside a turkey giblet gravy. It's also easy to make delicious mashed potatoes without dairy, which I will also serve next to my fully loaded buttermilk infused mashed potatoes. Having both options for a big crowd is ideal. The vegetarians and dairy intolerant will be even more grateful than the carnivores at the table to be able to enjoy favorite comfort foods of the holiday season.

Michelle's Mushroom Sauce (Traditional and Gluten-Free)

Sunday, November 10, 2013

An Updated American Classic: Grilled Steak Diane

by Michelle

"... most bereaved souls crave nourishment more tangible than prayers: they want a steak. What is more, they need a steak. Preferably they need it rare, grilled, heavily salted, for that way it is most easily digested, and most quickly turned into the glandular whip their tired adrenals cry for."
                                                                                                     ~M.F.K. Fisher

   Preparing demi-glacé at home is an all day affair. Most of the time I don't attempt the feat in one day, preferring to stretch the preparation over two days. It is not an unpleasant task for the kitchen adventurer, but a time commitment nonetheless. I prefer to make demi-glacé at my convenience and then store frozen cubes of the savory goodness in my freezer. The alternative is to purchase demi-glacé at a specialty market or retailer such as Williams-Sonoma. Either way, luxurious demi-glacé is the "secret" ingredient that makes this sauce so very special. To see my recipe and procedure click here.  
   My maternal grandfather, Earl loved this dish and would speak of Steak Diane with a certain reverence in his voice. I can picture him in my mind's eye on a cruise ship, seated at dinner sipping a Manhattan, while a tuxedoed waiter dramatically prepares the entrée tableside in a chafing-dish, blue cooking flames lapping the shallow skillet. I too love Steak Diane and prepare it frequently at home for special occasions. Whenever I do, I lovingly recall my grandfather, whom we sisters called Papa.

Homemade demi-glacé spreads beautifully with a spoon.

   The traditional recipe is prepared with steaks that are suitable for flattening, such as strip, sirloin or club that are pounded with a mallet to 1/4-inch thick. The thin steaks are quickly seared in a skillet and the sauce is prepared while the steaks are resting. It's a classic supper club entrée - one that may have been enjoyed by Bogart and Bacall - that I've updated for the grill. The steaks we choose for this preparation have included both bone-in and boneless: New York, Filet Mignon, Chateaubriand, Flat Iron, just about any cut will do. Cook the steaks to your temperature preference on a gas or charcoal grill.
   The unfussy sauce is easy to prepare on the stove and it will happily keep warm, without breaking, over low heat. (You can also make it up to a week in advance.) Therefore, you can make the sauce before the steaks are placed on the grill, so there is no second guessing over whether the steaks and sauce will be ready at the same time. Let the steaks rest for 10 minutes, loosely covered, before plating individual portions. Spoon the sauce over whole or sliced steaks and serve. Pass additional sauce at the table.

Frozen cubes of homemade demi-glacé come in handy for making deeply 
flavored sauces at a moments notice.
   When I recently made Grilled Steak Diane as the grand finale dinner for Sistercation in Southern Arizona, there was also a collective cheer from our extended family when it was learned by all present that cheesy scalloped potatoes were on the menu. Since we were planning on spending the day at the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum, I made the potatoes a day ahead and refrigerated overnight. I let the prepared potatoes rest on the counter for about 30 minutes before I began reheating. In fact, I placed the potatoes in a cold oven and then turned on the heat. I am happy to report that the potatoes heated beautifully and the cheese sauce was silky. There was no harm at all from making the potatoes in advance and letting the hefty dish rest in the refrigerator. In fact, I think the flavor deepened. The steaks and the side dishes were ready in the 90 minutes it took for the potatoes to bubble and the bread crumb topping to crisp.

For a casual family dinner, I serve baked potatoes, sautéed mushrooms 
and French carrot salad as side dishes.

Grilled Steak Diane

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Do You Know Demi-Glacé, Like I Know Demi-Glacé (Gluten-Free)

by Michelle

   "To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glacé, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living."  ~Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential

   Have you had the pleasure of dining on Steak Diane? It is one of my favorite celebration dinners to prepare and the essential ingredient in the special sauce is demi-glacé. If you are not familiar with demi-glacé, it is simply a concentrated stock made from mushrooms, veal, beef or chicken. By concentrated I mean starting with 2-1/2 quarts of homemade stock and gently simmering until the liquid thickens and is reduced to 2-1/2 cups. That's a lot of evaporation resulting in deliciousness - that cannot be adequately described in words - and all it takes is time.
   Time you say? Who has an abundance of time to wait upon a simmering stock pot? Granted, one can purchase Demi-Glacé. A tried and trusted brand that I have used over the years can be purchased at Williams-Sonoma. It's not inexpensive (about $30.00 for 9.5-ouces), however the raw ingredients will probably cost about the same amount of money. Demi-glacé could certainly be considered an artisinal product if it is made properly, and while it is not difficult to make, time is a precious commodity and it does take time to make, although not much "hands on" time.
    If you are a multi-tasker like me, I choose to make the stock on a day that I will be at home focused on other activities. It's the gestation time, when the bones are roasting in the oven and then subsequently simmering on the stove with water, that consumes all the time. If you have a dependable stove, the attention needed is minimal when making stocks. You can be concentrating on other activities while taking a break now and then to check on the progress of the simmering brew.

   I'm old enough to remember when butchers would give bones away for free, or at least one at a time, as a good will gesture for the family's pet to enjoy. You may need to shop a bit, not all stores carry beef bones because not all stores do butchering.  Instead, butchering is done at a central location and packaged beef is distributed to markets. Whole Foods is a good source for bones, as is natural beef suppliers at a local farmers market. Some natural food stores will stock bones in the frozen foods section. Of course, good bones come from healthy cows, so being a wise consumer is knowing the quality of the beef you are buying, cooking and consuming.  

   What I like to do is divide the finished and cooled demi-glacé between ice cube trays and freeze. When the cubes are solid, I pop the two tablespoon sized cubes out of the trays and into a resealable freezer bag. I can then easily defrost the specific amount required for various recipes, including fortifying stocks for risotto, magnifying the flavor in a tomato sauce or quickly adding intense flavor to a pan sauce. I also swapped demi-glacé for the beef broth to make an incredible, to die for, Beef Bourguignon.
   Linda and I used to love eating at the now defunct Masami Italian Restaurant in Los Olivos, California. Often we would order the Pollo Parmigiana and revel in the dish's depth of flavor. Linda swore that Chef Max pumped up the flavor in the tomato sauce with demi-glacé. After I prepared an excellent Bolognese sauce for the first time at home, I was able to draw the same comparison as Linda. It's all about the intense flavors derived from a reduced stock. If you taste a sauce at a restaurant and wonder why it is so much better than sauces you make at home, the answer is most likely demi-glacé.
   The demi-glacé freezes well for up to six months, so if you make it now, you'll be in a good position to prepare incredible sauces in minimal time during the busy holiday season.

The sauce is so thick, it will hold a spoon upright.
Beef Demi-Glacé (Traditional and Gluten-Free)
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