Feeding Frenzy

A professional gastronaut feeds the blogosphere with tales of his culinary adventures - sometimes on-the-job, sometimes just-for-the-hell-of-it.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Rosemary Raisin Blog

On Saturday Craig and I celebrated our eleventh anniversary well and a day early with brunch at Cafe Campagne. Craig had the Omelette choisy (French-style rolled omelette flavored with herbs and filled with escarole and chèvre served with choice of Parisian ham or fruit sausage; he had the ham) and I had the Oeufs en meurette (two poached eggs served on garlic croutons with pearl onions, bacon and champignons in a red wine and foie gras sauce served with pommes frîtes). They were both as decadent and delicious as they sound, but what lit us up, aside from the Champagne and Cassis cocktails (which lit me up a good deal too much for a Saturday morning), was the rosemary raisin toast.

Now, we like rosemary a lot. We have an embarassment of rosemary growing in our front yard. You have to fight past bushes of it to get to our front door. But we use a lot of it. Witness our rosemary and garlic roasted pork loin, for instance. There's even a photograph of my rosemary cornmeal bread on the Feeding Frenzy website (go here and click on "Appetizers" and then on "Breads and Rolls"). In summer we grill over rosemary wood. We use branches of it as an air freshener in our house. But I have to admit that I was impressed by the stroke of pairing rosemary and raisins in bread.

So we ordered it. When we actually tried it the bread exceeded my expectations. Frankly, it exceeded my imagination. It was light, moist and sweet-but-not-too-sweet; warm and lightly crunchy without being chewy. It didn't need butter. It needed only to be eaten. It made wonderful breakfast toast. And it made me want to make more time in our cooking schedule to experiment with bread baking.

I don't do a lot of bread baking anymore. It's something I love to do, but, frankly, we don't sell a lot of our own bread and so I don't bake a lot of it. I am thrilled that a visionary bride has ordered our cornmeal rosemary loaves for her wedding this year, but it's the first time a bride has done so. But now this rosemary raisin bread at Cafe Campagne was an inspiration to me so I sat down tonight to work out a little plan to make some for ourselves. Perhaps for breakfast tomorrow morning, since we have our granddaughter spending the night.

I'm not much bothered about "recipe theft". There really isn't such a thing. Anybody with taste buds and experience can replicate pretty much anything anybody makes and folks who make food for a living are used to their creations inspiring cooks to try them at home. But when I have what seems to me to be a new idea, I'm always curious how new the idea is.

So I Google it. I use as keywords the basic ingredients of my idea and what basic form it takes. I confess I was a little disappointed that there was nearly a whole page of references (seven entries) to "Gorgonzola Shortbread" when I had that particular epiphany only a few hours before. And I was pleased when "Sweet Potato Pissaladiere" didn't turn up any (although "Sweet Potato Pizza" does turn up entries). I was surprised (although in retrospect unjustifiably so) when I found the huge number of hits generated by the word "torta" when combined with "gorgonzola" and "apples", as in our Torta 42nd Street (which you can find a photograph of here, if you click "Main Courses" and "Egg Dishes").

Anyway, I Googled for "rosemary raisin bread" and found that Cafe Campagne's secret (which was about to become mine) was already shared in a reported 43,000 hits. I'm still going to make the bread. I'll let you know how it goes.

Oh, and if any of you really thinks highly of the idea of seeing how new your new ideas are, check this out. Turns out there's practically nothing new. But as long as there's rosemary raisin toast things will work out just fine.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

So If Not Buffet Service, What Else Is There?

So I spoke with literally dozens of brides-to-be and mothers of brides-to-be at the 2005 Seattle Wedding Show who felt that buffet lines are a terrible way to treat one's guests. Most had buffet horror stories to tell - the Dauphine Potatoes ran out and had to be refilled a quarter of the way into the guest count; somebody's aunt sneezed right over the Baron of Beef carving station; the line of hungry guests extended out of the dining hall, into the foyer and then out into the street.

I feel your pain, really I do. But let me review a couple of the good points of buffet service before we dispense with it altogether:

  • a much smaller staff is required than for any other style of service; literally a fraction of the labor cost
  • it is actually a pretty social way to handle food service; standing in line is an icebreaker, even if it is annoying
  • guests choose not only what foods they want but how much they want as well
  • the hot food is hot and the cold food is cold when your guests plate up

So if not buffet service, what else is there?

In most people's wedding reception experience, the alternative to buffet service is fully-plated service. The food is loaded onto plates by the kitchen staff and then distributed by the dining room staff. There are advantages here, too, obviously or else people wouldn't keep suggesting it:

  • Portions are strictly controlled, so there's not as much wasted food
  • Plates can be "composed" - arranged in decorative, even artful ways
  • The elderly, the disabled and the very young don't have to stand in long, slow-moving lines
  • it keeps people at their tables so that they don't themselves get entangled in the more complex parts of the evening's events
  • an organized, usually more rapid way to get people into the dinner hour

But there are a few downsides to fully-plated service:

  • the staffing requirements go up exponentially. You not only need more staff on the service side, but you need a lot more staff in the kitchen to plate the food up as quickly as possible
  • the food doesn't stay as hot in the delivery process as it does with any other style of service
  • your guests don't get to choose what they'd like to eat or how much they'd like to eat
  • while buffet service might be annoying, fully-plated service isn't any better than emotionally neutral

So - what are the alternatives to buffet service and fully-plated service? In fact, there are a couple.

The one I would urge hosts of dinner parties to consider first is family-style service. In this case, our staff brings and leaves large dishes of food to the table and the guests pass them. Think "Chinese Restaurant" service or "Buca di Beppo"... something like that. Advantages:

  • requires less kitchen staff than fully-plated service
  • food arrives hot and stays hotter in service dishes
  • food arrives quickly without the hassle of long buffet lines
  • all the guests are involved in a more communal, intimate dining experience


  • requires a lot more service staff than buffet service (although not more than fully-plated service)
  • a lot more dishes to rent and service pieces are a bit more expensive to rent than plates and flatware
  • a little more difficult to pull off for large groups because rental companies frankly don't carry large quantities of service pieces. It can be done, though... and we have done it.

The other alternative is called service a la russe. Most of us haven't traveled in the kinds of rarefied circles where service a la russe is common, so I'll explain it. From the first edition of the Larousse Gastronomique: "In service a la russe the guests at a party are divided up into groups of 10 or 12 people, varying according to the total number, each group being served by one waiter." The waiter brings service dishes, each with enough food for all his guests and, depending upon the formality of the event, either the guests serve themselves from these dishes or the waiter serves them. This is more than a few steps up in terms of luxury from the other kinds of service I mention. This too has some obvious advantages :

  • requires less kitchen staff than fully-plated service
  • food arrives hot and stays hotter in service dishes
  • food arrives quickly without the hassle of long buffet lines
  • the guests are treated to the kind of individual service most only rarely see

and some disadvantages:

  • requires the most service staff any of these options
  • a lot more dishes to rent and service pieces are a bit more expensive to rent than plates and flatware
  • a little more difficult to pull off for large groups, once again because of the rental situation but also because it's simply hard to find service staff experienced in this sort of service. This too, though, can be done.

There. Does that help?

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Success Into The Cheese (from a poem by James McIntyre )

Note from July 23, 2009: I see that many of the links in this post are now dead. Sometime I might revive them. Not now. Sorry about that. For much more of my writing about cheese I recommend the Cheese Library at the Big John's PFI site

The Seattle Wedding Show is coming up, provided it doesn't snow too heavily or blow too hard. The weatherman is predicting exactly that sort of weather, of course, but mine is an optimistic nature. Today I planned my cheese board.

I always like to have a cheese display for folks to sample because cheese is the one food guaranteed to get them to stop at our booth long enough to look at our other offerings. I also like it because it is an opportunity to show how useful my food knowledge might be. You love cheese? Allow me to show you ways to love it better. There are certainly worse reasons to hire a caterer than because he knows about food.

Anyway, I do these cheese displays often enough that I thought I'd start this journal with an overview of some of the cheeses we display often enough to call them regulars. There is, though, nothing regular about any of these. In fact, the thing that strikes most about the cheeses we display on our board is how unfamiliar and yet strangely how very familiar each of these is.

British Cheeses

Abbeydale: A Double Gloucester (an English orange) to which onion and chive has been added. This is essentially a brand under which Ilchester sells their Cotswold - but this is a wonderful, fragrant Cotswold; a rich and authentic cheese.

Cashel Blue Insanely yummy blue cheese from Ireland - Tipperary, in fact. Unique, really, it leans a little toward the gorgonzola end of blue cheeses if anything. Distributed by one of the most reliable British cheese exporters, Neal's Yard Dairy. Every one of the cheeses I've found with their name on it has been outstanding.

Ilchester Beer Cheese: Sometimes known as "Taverner", this white Somerset Cheddar is made with strong ale. It makes me think of my mother's Welsh Rarebit (which I recreate with almost no provocation). Bring it to your nose - the smell is intoxicating.

Pepperton: This is a white Stilton crusted in crushed black peppercorns. White Stilton is more or less the same as the Stilton we know except that it has no veins of blue mold running through it. The difference in taste is dramatic. White Stilton is creamy and rich - and slightly sweet which makes it a brilliant dessert cheese. In fact, you can find white Stiltons flavored with fruit such as lemon peel, mango and papaya. The peppery version of this cheese is popular is made by Coombe Castle, I believe (although it is no longer listed on their website.

Shropshire (or Blue Shropshire): Powerful cheese - and perhaps a bit startling for Americans when they first look at it. It's an orange blue cheese and it bites back. In a good way.

Stilton: There are a lot of Stiltons out there. This is the great white blue of England - the "King of English Cheeses". It's a strong, complicated cheese that pairs well with Port and fruit and still goes just fine by itself on a cracker, thank you very much.

Spanish Cheeses

Ibores: A wonderful goat cheese from Extremedura the rind of which is rubbed with Spanish paprika, which is smoked, by the way (I LOVE Spanish Paprika, but that's another story, probably). This would be a good time to mention that Spanish goat cheeses make believers out of people who don't think they like goat cheese (usually people whose only experience with them is of Chevre, on pizza).

Idiazabal: A buttery Basque sheep's milk cheese, often lightly smoked. Their website describes it as "intense". I'm not sure I'd describe it that way. I usually offer it up as a mild, smoky cheese. This stuff is, obviously, so subjective.

La Alberca: This is a sheep's milk cheese, actually made from the milk of the same sort of sheep as produces the milk used in Manchego (see below), that's crusted with rosemary needles before being aged. The result of this treatment is a cheese that is somehow bright and buttery all at once.

Manchego: This is a classic cheese. We see it enough in this country that not everyone familiar with it realizes that it is Spanish or that it is made from sheep's milk. It's slicable, so we put it on our sandwich platters, too. Mild to nicely aged - Manchegos are almost always the most popular cheeses on the board.

Murcia al Vino: The drunken goat! A mild goat's milk cheese that is twice bathed in Spanish red wine during its ripening. It actually is even better than it sounds.

Tetilla: A wonderful, mild cow's milk cheese from the northwest of Spain. The name, which means "nipple", refers to the shape of the cheese. At room temperature it becomes creamy enough to spread on toast.

Valdeon: Strangely, Spain's most famous blue cheese, Cabrales, is not easily available in this country. Fortunately, we have Valdeon. It is also made in the Picos de Europa region. It also is mainly made from cow's milk, but contains goat's milk. It is wrapped in chestnut leaves which make a wedge presentation quite pretty. But the important thing is that it, like Cabrales, is a big mouthful of cheese - a very strong blue that can stand up to about anything you might pair it with. Valdeon (or Cabrales, when we can get it) turns up in our Crema de Queso con Conac - Cheese Creamed with Conac and then allowed to mature. This simple preparation creates a spread for crackers that is quite simply explosive.

Dutch Cheeses

Beemsterkaas: This is Craig's favorite cheese ever. It's an incredibly ripe, sharp and firm Gouda. I've had clients tell me it's something like eating caramel. It's chewy and crystalline and dark and earthy all at once. Not slicable when it's very ripe. But it's a great cheese experience in big old shards on a cracker.

Dorothea: In the food world, sometimes the best things are the things that seem the weird when you first hear about them. The Dorothea cheeses may qualify. These are goat "goudas". The original one was made with, among other things, potato skins. The result is mild but complex. A snow-white cheese in a blood red rind. It's magic. There's a newer Dorothea variation (apparently there are a few) made with Marigolds. It's not a novelty cheese. It's also quite complex - and wonderful.

French Cheeses

Crottin de Chavignol: A happy little (very little) ball of goat cheese that tastes a bit yeasty to me. It's bitter when it's new so let it age.

Fourme d'Ambert: A classic, creamy and stinky blue. They've been making it since Roman times. It's made from cow's milk and is matured in humid cellars.

Affidelice au Chablis: Expensive. Quite expensive. Worth it. It's a soft cheese, creamy to the point of becoming liquid at room temperature, but strongly flavored. It's washed in Chablis.

Italian Cheeses

Cacio de Roma: A creamy, creamy sheep's milk cheese. Mild to the point of being completely innocent. But one keeps wanting more.

Caciotta Del Boschi: A Sheep's milk cheese, made with Porcini mushrooms, champignons and black truffle. Can you imagine? So decadent you wonder why the EU isn't sliding headlong into the most horrible depravity. But, no - it's only cheese, after all. Very good cheese.

Pecorino Crotonese: A nice, firm sheep's milk cheese from Italy. My friend at Pacific Food Importers thinks it's the new Manchego. It is fairly inexpensive and, yes, it is delicious. It's made by Sini Fulvi, the same creamery as makes Cacio de Roma.

These are just a few of the cheeses we love. The list is confined to things we often put in big, sexy chunks on our slab of butcher block we keep just for this purpose. I'll be adding other cheese as we go. Cheeses I love to cook with (where would I be without Bulgarian Feta, for instance?). Other wonderful table cheeses (have you tried Valencay?). And some brilliant American and Latin American cheeses that can not be ignored by the serious cheesehead.

So. More to come.

By the way: how does one get these cheeses? Well, we get a lot of ours by the wheel from DPI Northwest - a wonderful resource but they're a wholesale operation. If you're in Seattle you can get most of them, pound at a time, at Pacific Food Importers. You can get a lot of them online at igourmet - even at Amazon.com (on their beta food site - I think it actually works). Whole Foods, nationally, carries a lot of these cheeses, but at a somewhat inflated price. If you have a hard time sourcing them for yourself, e-mail me.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005


We've decided to join the world of food bloggery. We're doing this both to review our own food work, scholarship and pleasure and that of others. This might include menus served, cuisines/recipes/ingredients discovered, restaurants sampled, suppliers employed, blogs and cookbooks read and online resources explored.

Certainly this won't be a regular feature of our catering website. We'll contribute to it when we have time to contribute to it. This means postings more than likely will get thin in August and December.

I'm looking forward to sharing our food world view with you all. Welcome to Feeding Frenzy.

By the way, this is Craig and Daniel. Daniel, the fellow writing this, is the big furry guy on the right.


It's a frantic, hungry world.
We're feeding it -
one party at a time.

Powered by Blogger