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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First Person TM_FP_BKSWEET_FI_003

The Turkish delight was, in retrospect, a pretty big mistake. We were browsing a Middle Eastern market near our home in upstate New York, a festive, mom-and-pop place where I tend to buy way more than I need. It was winter — cars plowing down Genesee Street beyond the front window throwing plumes of brown slurry — and I needed a pick-me-up in the worst way. When I saw that box of candy, I was basically powerless to resist. It was obscenely large, the size of a cookie sheet or a generous end table, and it was on sale. For reasons that seem a little sad to me now, that candy felt like an opportunity.

My husband looked anxious when I approached the checkout line, box tucked up under my arm like a surfboard. Over the years, Rog has watched me eat a lot of things saner adults revile — like circus peanuts, or those pumpkin “mellocreme” things that taste like candy corn but are somehow worse. I’ve eaten marshmallows so old they’ve fused together in the bag and become indistinguishable. I’ve eaten gummi worms and gummi sharks and ancient, ossified Jujyfruits that threatened to yank the fillings from my head. My lust for sugar is disabling, literally self-destructive.

“I’m not helping you with that,” Rog pointed out. “You’re on your own here.”

“Did I say I needed your help? I’m perfectly capable, thanks,” I smiled.

I was already feeling better about my day.
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Ingredient TM_CK_BLUBRRY_FI_002

I like to think that most grandmothers spend their free time playing bingo or Mah Jong with their friends, but not mine. My grandmother’s idea of a good time was meeting her girlfriends at the local blueberry farm to sit and pick berries while chatting under the summer sun. After a few good hours of blueberry-picking, my grandmother would swing by our house to drop off some extra pounds of blueberries she managed to pick while getting lost in conversation. Her donations, combined with our own family trips to the blueberry farm and my father’s all-day hiking trips through our wooded backyard to pick wild berries eventually led to a blueberry overload summer after summer.

Come mid-summer, both fridge and freezer would be bursting at the seams with blueberries, though no one ever complained. July was always an uncomfortably hot month, but its saving grace was that it ushered in blueberry season. I would get excited after Independence Day rolled by, knowing that, soon, the house would be littered with the small indigo berries. In no time, our blueberry stockpile would grow, and then the rest of the summer was marked by us trying to find ways to eat them all. We would dump them into our morning cereal, make smoothies, pies, muffins, turnovers, or just eat them plain — fresh or frozen (which to me, tastes almost as good as ice cream). Our kitchen has gone through its fair share of blue-stained wooden spoons, and the freezer always had a ready-to-bake pie tucked in the back for a special occasion later in the year.
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Questionable Tastes TM_QT_VIOGNIER_AP_004

Whatever happened to viognier becoming “the next chardonnay”?

That’s what they told us back in the 1990s, when I was a young man first stumbling into wine. I drank a lot of viognier back then. You couldn’t avoid it. Viognier was found on nearly every wine list you’d encounter. Now? I almost never see it, and I don’t know a single person that says, “Boy, I’d really love me some viognier tonight.” Viognier feels like a vestige of an era when Microsoft might hire Matthew Perry and Jennifer Aniston to show people how to use Windows 95.

Sometimes, no matter how hard the marketing people and the sommeliers and the wine writers push, a grape just never catches fire. Remember in the not-so-distant past, when torrontés was going to be “the next pinot grigio”? Last year, I heard a lot of chatter about chenin blanc being “the next riesling.” I guess we’ll see about that one.

By the way, how’s that whole sherry renaissance thing working out?
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DIY TM_DY_BRAN_FI_002

Seventh-day Adventists are historically known for their interesting — if not always tasty — food experiments. Thus it was Seventh-day Adventists who brought us the Choplet Burger, a canned fake meat product; it was Seventh-day Adventists who created Postum, a grain-based beverage intended to replace coffee (and the related evils of caffeine); and it was two Seventh-day Adventist brothers who, in 1894, rolled stale wheat and discovered that instead of breaking apart, it created flakes. One of those brothers, W.K. Kellogg, continued experimenting and learned how to flake corn as well. In 1906, he went into production, and Kellogg’s became the first company to market that all-American convenience food: cold cereal.

Kellogg’s is also known for another food first: in 1984, it became the first company to include a health claim on its packaging. At the time, the practice was forbidden by the FDA. But instead of telling Kellogg’s to remove the claim — which suggested that eating All-Bran could possibly reduce the occurrence of some cancers — the Regan Administration’s FDA reconsidered their stance. In 1986, Marian Burros wrote about the change in The New York Times: MORE

Superfoods TM_SF_WCRESS_FI_002_1

I’ve willfully never jumped on the kale bandwagon. I haven’t added the leafy green to my morning smoothies. I’ve yet to bake my own kale chips and I don’t find it an attractive green for salads. Yes, I know, it’s one of the most fashionable vegetables of the last 50 years and touts even trendier health benefits. But the closest kale has ever gotten to my heart was after I sautéed it in enough bacon fat to strip it of all its superfood qualities.

So I was happy when a study revealed last month that kale was actually nowhere near being the most nutrient-dense food. Not even close. In fact, it ranked number 15, far behind its nemesis, spinach, and less-popular greens like beet, collard, chard, and chicory. To everyone’s surprise, another vegetable came out on top: watercress.

A close relative to mustard greens and arugula, watercress is a delicate but feisty green. As its name implies, it grows partially submerged in water. According to researchers, watercress is the ultimate superfood — full of essential vitamins and minerals, with a higher percentage of nutrients than any other vegetable. It’s long been known for its copious amounts of calcium and iron, and it’s just as good for you in its raw state as it is cooked. MORE

Cooking TM_CK_BBQSIDE_FI_002

Growing up in a household that grilled most summer nights, there’s nothing that says “it’s summer” to me like perfectly charred food coming off the grill. But you won’t find me manning the barbecue. I have an accident-filled past with grills, so I happily stick to making the side dishes. However, the sides I’ve been making — like mayonnaise-y macaroni salads or brown-sugary baked beans — haven’t changed much in the years that I have kept my distance from the grill.

That’s not to say that these classic side dishes aren’t delicious. In fact, they might be a little too delicious — and addictive – for me. I tend to find myself gorging on sides as I’m waiting for the main course to be brought off the grill.

My problem with the usual assortment of macaroni salads, potato salads, cornbreads, potato chips, coleslaws, or baked beans is that they are all just too heavy. Coated in mayo, laced with sugar, or just plain greasy, these side dishes tend to fill me up before I can make a decent dent in my steak or chicken. Loading up on these rich and filling sides along with whatever was actually made on the grill always leads to the post-barbecue bloat. And dealing with a stomach full of grease and sugar while baking in the summer sun is really unpleasant, to say the least.
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Kitchen Rookie TM_KR_CWURST_FI_001

Hot dogs. Although questionable in wholesomeness, they are sold everywhere, whether on the kid’s menu of a “fancy” restaurant, or simply from a street vendor. You can’t go three blocks in a city without finding a place to buy a hot dog! But these dogs were not always so artificial, and have roots all the way back in Germany, 1313 B.C.E.

The year 1313 B.C.E was one of the first times people found evidence of wurst, better known as sausages, being eaten. Since then, the wurst has become a common street food throughout Germany, but it can be found in other countries as well. In fact, the sausage’s origins lie in Austria, and the word “wiener” actually means “of Vienna.” In both countries, it can be found slathered in spicy curry sauce, have cheese right at the center, and many other ways. These wursts are mainly not eaten as meals, but as a quick snack.

One of the many variations of how the wurst is served is the currywurst. This is a sausage that is cut up into pieces, and then is slathered with a curry sauce made from tomatoes, onions and curry powder. For a final touch, curry powder is then sprinkled on top. The curry powder gives it a little extra spice, and also makes it look better. MORE