Questionable Tastes TM_QT_RISOTTO_AP_004

During late summers, I become almost fruitarian. Sometimes, nearing the dinner hour, I suddenly realize that the only things I’ve eaten all day have been fresh melon, berries, nectarines, and plums.

The root of this fruity love affair is clearly my childhood summers, which I spent at my family’s open-air, roadside produce stand in southern New Jersey. My cousins and I sold fruit and vegetables in a makeshift wooden structure with hand-written signs at the edge of property owned by my father and uncle’s packing house. I worked there pretty much from the first grade, when I had a little corner where I sold little containers of bruised and overripe “seconds” under a sign that read “Bargain Table. Everything 50 cents.”

By the time I was about 12, I awoke before sunrise and — before eating breakfast — pedaled my bike a few miles over to the packing house, where we kept our produce in huge refrigeration rooms. I enjoyed whizzing down the loading dock on an electric pallet jack, and I loved the sensation of zipping into the cold and then back out into the warm summer air. I mostly worked alone, unless an onion truck had just arrived, and then one of my dad’s employees might decide he needed to “help” me, instead of unloading 50-pound bags of onions. My job was to get the pallets ready on the loading dock before my cousin arrived in his pickup truck, back from a daily run to the farms or from the produce terminal in the city. MORE

Coffee TM_CO_BREWING_FI_001

Not long ago, the coffee-brewing industry revolved around convenience. It was all about where you could you grab a hot cup of joe on the go, finding the fastest way to extract the caffeine out of those magical beans and inject it into your bloodstream.

Fortunately for all coffee lovers, the coffee culture has greatly evolved since then. Now, some coffee geeks are bravely roasting their own beans at home. The nerdiest are buzzing about the most-expensive beans — like civet coffee (known as “cat poop coffee”), or the newest strange coffee to join the scene, Black Ivory Coffee, which is similarly made using elephants. And others attend regulated coffee cupping rituals to evaluate and discover certain flavors, aromas, and nuances of different coffees.

But it doesn’t matter how fancy, refined, or perfectly-roasted your coffee beans are if you aren’t giving them a proper brew. By not focusing on how your coffee is made, you could be missing out on the beautiful flavors and aromas your specialty beans possess. I recently discovered the difference it makes at a home brewing class at Joe, a rapidly expanding small chain of coffee shops, where I learned of the many kinds of brewing gadgets and devices you can buy in order to make a better cup of coffee at home. Surely you’ve seen them before. They fill counters of high-end coffee shops across the country — various pour-over options and a range of different presses.
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Bookshelf

Saving the Salad

Hearty (and vegan) salads go way beyond rabbit food

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TM_BK_SALADS_AP_001_1We’re living in a golden age of salad. But for too many people, the thought of salad for dinner still conjures up ideas of rabbit food – and doubly so when it’s vegan. Terry Hope Romero’s new book, Salad Samurai: 100 Cutting-Edge, Ultra-Hearty, Easy-to-Make Salads You Don’t Have to Be Vegan to Love is here to help. The book is available now on Amazon and at your local bookstore.

“But there’s always the salad!”

If you don’t eat meat (or any animal-derived food), ordering a meal in a nice, if not necessarily accommodating to a vegan palate, restaurant usually drifts to the inevitable rendezvous with a salad. Everyone tucks into steak and potato-flavored mounds of butter. You, however, poke your fork into a morose pile of limp leaves. As a teen vegetarian (and later, adult vegan), countless experiences like this one soured me on ever loving salad. Or actively seeking it out as a meal. Salads just sucked. MORE

Breakfast TM_BF_ONTHEGO_FI_001

Like most people, I wake up in the morning with just enough time to scramble some eggs or make a bowl of oatmeal, taking my coffee to-go in a thermos. Maybe the scrambled eggs and oatmeal go beyond what most people eat in the morning, if they even eat anything at all. But I can tell you that it’s been a decent number of years that I’ve sat down at the breakfast table for a bowl of cereal.

After stumbling out of bed every morning for school, it was an unconscious movement through kitchen cupboards for the familiar box, bowl, and spoon. Through the years, I ate all types of brands — from the sugary kid stuff like Count Chocula to grown up Great Grains — but eventually I switched to foods like fruit and yogurt well before I earned my diploma. As my mornings became more rushed and my stomach started growling earlier and earlier, I started to pick more balanced breakfasts that weren’t so carb-heavy, but were still convenient.

And according to Kellogg’s most recent earnings report, many Americans are making a similar switch. With a dip of 16% and a reduced outlook for the rest of year, Kellogg’s is feeling the effects of Americans ditching the cereal bowl. According to the Wall Street Journal’s report, Kellogg’s isn’t alone – on the whole, the cereal industry is down 5% and dropping. But at the same time, statistics show that more Americans are eating breakfast – about 44% do, compared to 34% back in 2011 as reported by a Kellogg’s survey.
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The Brew TM_BR_AMCIDER_FI_002

In a recent e-mail conversation with Bruce Wright, co-owner of the popular J.K.’s brand of organic cider, the existence of a new product was brought to my attention. “…just read in consumer reports that there is gluten free window cleaner..sigh,” said Wright. Now unless people are drinking window cleaner or rubbing it all over their hands before eating lunch I think there’s been some sort of public misinformation about gluten. Me, however, I’m striving to look at this whole misunderstanding of gluten from a positive angle and I think I’ve found my hook. See, Bruce’s ciders, like all real ciders, are naturally gluten free being that they’re made from just yeast and apple juice. I’d argue that the gluten-free trend has actually helped bring about something very positive to the world of fermented beverages in America (read: not gluten-free beer): a bump in the amount of shelf-space and tap-lines dedicated to cider. MORE

Baking TM_BK_PEACHCON_FI_002

Friends and family know me as the friendly baker. I bring cupcakes to graduation parties, bake miniature cakes for birthdays, and send cookies across the country for Christmas every year. But the people at the Collingswood Farmer’s Market know me as someone else: a highly competitive baker, a woman who has a stash of first, second and third place ribbons in her kitchen work table drawer.

Last October, at the annual Apple Pie Baking Contest, I had a market coordinator come up to me after I set my caramel apple pecan praline pie, topped with a handcut squirrel top crust, on the judging table.

“I hear you’re the baker to beat.”
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The Larder

Tomato Time Capsule

It’s easier than you to think to take the taste of summer produce into fall

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Every year, I single-handedly preserve 100 pounds of tomatoes at the height of the season. I buy them from a local farmer and spend a week packing them in jars, moving them through my dehydrator, and cooking them in various ways to concentrate their sweetness and essential summer flavor.

When I first started this yearly preserving madness, my favorite way to condense the tomatoes was a slow-cooked Italian-style conserva. The finished product looked like grocery store tomato paste but tasted like pure sunny pleasure. That recipe’s one drawback was its need to be touched and tended regularly. I’d devote a weekend to a single batch, simmering, straining and finally cooking ten or fifteen pounds down to just two or three pints of brick-colored, tomato concentrate.

A few years ago, while I was working on my first cookbook, I found that I didn’t have the time or mental energy to make a product that needed to be stirred and smoothed every hour and went searching for a less intensive treatment. The winning technique was a long, slow roasted tomato. MORE

Cooking TM_CO_PESTO_FI_001

Basil, like most herbs, is at its peak during summer months. Growing up, my family had a basil plant in the backyard that would grow like crazy once summer rolled around. The best way, we found, to keep it under control was to pick the leaves and use them to make large batches of pesto.

My first memory of making pesto is in my kitchen at age 5, helping my mom make it to put into her family-famous white lasagna. After combining all the ingredients in a food processor, including handfuls of basil from our backyard, I was allowed to lick the bowl as if it were the beaters from mixing cake batter. I always loved making pesto at home, not only for the taste, but also because the whole house would smell like basil for the next several days. MORE

Issues TM_FC_DISHES_FI_001

Imagine yourself as a child, frolicking through your parents’ backyard and digging up worms. Your mother calls you in from the kitchen for dinner and you bound in through the back door, smelling the roast she’s been tending to for the past few hours. At the table your father sits reading the newspaper, your sister fidgeting with a bow in her hair. Before you is the same familiar spread: off-white plates, clear glasses, spotless silverware, uniform serving utensils, and of course, the butter dish. You think nothing of the materials off of which you shovel food into your mouth, moving as quickly as possible to resume your outdoor activities. For hours your mother slaved over the stove to prepare your meal, but that won’t cross your mind until present day when, as an adult, you prepare meals for yourself and maybe even your own children. Now is a time when you’ve come to understand the worth of quality Tupperware, the importance of a sturdy teakettle.

On display this summer at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is an exhibition which allows you to take your newfound appreciation for kitchenware to another level. “The Main Dish” is composed of display cases plainly contrived so as to draw focus on the objects within them, like original Tupperware or decades old decanters. The arrangements evoke a strange feeling of appreciation for kitchenware as art, as many of the items are expertly crafted yet have obvious functionality. The show centers around the notion that the gadgets, cutlery, and dishware in today’s kitchens mirror the qualities of ideal homemakers: “polished, efficient, organized/contained, decorative/entertaining, and clean/tidy.” MORE

Questionable Tastes TM_QT_ODDPASTA_FI_005

In the town of Crema, less than an hour east of Milan, they make a stuffed pasta that goes by the straightforward name of tortelli cremaschi. The name, however, is about the only straightforward aspect of this local specialty. Federico Fellini may have famously said, “life is a combination of magic and pasta.” But even the great filmmaker himself could not have dreamed up tortelli cremaschi, which must be the most Felliniesque pasta in Italy.

While the pasta itself follows a basic egg-and-flour recipe, the ingredient list for the ripieno (or filling) reads as follows: amaretto cookies (nearly a pound); candied citrus; raisins; mint candies; grated lemon zest; grated Grana Padano cheese; nutmeg; Marsala wine; mostaccino, a local cookie that is sort of like a ginger snap.

Allow me to address a few of your questions: No, I am not making this recipe up. No, this is not a child’s fantasy creation. Yes, this being Italy, there is an Accademia del Tortello Cremasco, a self-appointed organization, with officers, that governs the recipe’s correct preparation. Yes, tortelli cremaschi tastes as bizarre as you’d imagine.

How do I know all this? Because once, about a decade ago, I made the mistake of preparing tortelli cremaschi for people who were not citizens of Crema.
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Cooking TM_CK_SEAFOOD_AP_003

“Dave, I don’t know if I can do this. It’s moving around on the cutting board right now.”

“Then just throw it in the pot, it’ll be dead soon enough.”

“No, throwing them in alive is cruel. I just have to do it.”

And there I was standing next to my kitchen counter in front of a beautiful and very much alive Maine lobster. With my brother on speaker phone coaching me through the process, my will to “humanely” sever the lobster’s main ganglion with the knife I held in my hand waivered. Although I was an avid cook, before this particular weekend, I had never actually killed my own meal.

Like most of my kitchen escapades, this meal began with the thought of recreating a homemade dish. Growing up in New England, summer meant seafood season. Our annual Fourth of July barbecue always had a big pot of steamers along with burgers. My mother and I would usually swap out grilled salmon for steak. And on nights when we were too tired to cook, it was an unspoken agreement that we all piled into the car and drove off to the Clam Box for fritters and chowder.
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The Brew TM_BR_GOSE_FI_001

There’s no contending the trend: salt is hip. To be more exact, the addition of saltiness to typically unsalty food items is hip. Falling victim to it is almost unavoidable. Within a recent one-week span, I sampled chocolate sea salt donuts, ordered a cone of salted Oreo ice cream, noticed a salted caramel latte on a café menu, and was tempted to buy salted caramel chocolate squares from a convenience store. To be fair, salting the unsalty isn’t a groundbreaking new idea. There have always been things like melons wrapped in cured pork, or a dash of salt on a breakfast grapefruit, or, perhaps the oldest salted unsalty treat of them all, a beer called gose.

Mentioned in the history books over a millennia ago, this funky beer is brewed with wheat and spiced with coriander and salt. Just like salted caramel ice cream is gracing the menu of every corner ice cream shop, variations on the until now unheard-of gose style are popping up on brewpub tap lists across America. Refreshingly tart, low-in-alcohol, and salty enough to keep you drinking more, gose has become a go-to summer style for craft beer drinkers. But the style didn’t exactly take on easy path to widespread popularity.
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Baking TM_BK_CUPCAK_FI_001

Yes, I bake cupcakes. Lots of them.

Until a few years ago, this wasn’t a controversial hobby. I’ve been a baker for as long as I can remember, graduating from watching my Grandma Betty make chocolate chip cookies in her sunny upstate New York kitchen to writing my own cake recipes and starting a baking blog.

Before becoming the dessert to hunt after — or sneer at, depending on your tastes — cupcakes were the kind of thing your mom threw together the night before you needed to bring a treat to share at kindergarten. A box of mix, a plastic tub of frosting, and maybe even some rainbow sprinkles. Cupcakes were made for church bake sales and baby showers, or really any event where it makes life easier when you can simply hand someone their portion in a tidy wrapper.

But my, how times have changed. Ever since Sprinkles Cupcakes opened in Beverly Hills in 2005, and we all watched Carrie lovingly bite into a Magnolia cupcake on Sex in the City, cupcakes have watched their star rise high. And for many, it has risen too high.
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Forgotten Foods TM_FF_LOCBKS_FI_002

Like many of the pieces I write for Forgotten Foods, this is a combined story of love and revulsion.* But unlike those pieces, this doesn’t reach back into history to pluck out Victorian funeral cookies or pre-microwave bachelor foods. No, this month I’m writing about recipes that are much more recent, but still forgotten – the recipes that fill locally produced cookbooks of the 70s and 80s.

I own a small collection of these cookbooks; I purposefully keep it small, because for every good recipe I find in them, there are usually three more that simply amount to mixing a canned soup with something else from a can and putting cheese on top. You’ve probably seen the cookbooks I’m talking about – you might even own one. Produced as fundraising projects or to celebrate a particular town’s “cuisine,” these typewritten or dot-matrix printed, spiral-bound collections have traditionally served as a great way to discover that your neighbors have terrible taste in food.

Or, at least, many of mine did. Two of the cookbooks in my collection are specific to Northern New Hampshire – the Shelburne Sampler II and Our Favorite Recipes: North Country Senior Meals. Well, the infractions in the Shelburne Sampler are relatively benign (except for the off-color drawing associated with the “Ethnic” recipe section), but the fine folks who submitted recipes to North Country Senior Meals provided some absolutely baffling entries.
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