Baking TM_BK_PEARS_FI_001

It’s easy to get swarmed by the flavors of fall. From baked goods and main dishes to coffee and even beer, it seems like everywhere you turn is apple-cinnamon this or pumpkin-spice that. Fall is my favorite season, so I’ll admit that I’m guilty of embracing all of it (as I sit here in my room with my cinnamon pumpkin wall plug-in). And the amount of apple pies, tarts, butters, and strudels I make can get a little obsessive.

It’s important to remember that the season brings so much more than just apples and pumpkins. Take pears, for example. They’re in season beginning in late August, meaning that right now they are hitting their peak. I myself, being an equal opportunist, am putting a hold on my apple-fest and shifting my dessert focus to pears.

Why have pears become fall’s forgotten fruit? In many ways, a pear can be used in the same ways apples are. Like an apple, pears have a thin, but tough outer skin with a crisp and juicy center. These tender, yet firm fruits lend themselves to a variety of uses. You can enjoy them whole, diced into a salad, juiced, pureed, and even baked. That’s one of pears’ little secrets: They are just as wonderful for baked goods such as pies, tarts, and cakes as the fall favorite, apples. MORE

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What does the word “hazelnut” bring to mind? Do you automatically recall the famed stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth chocolate and hazelnut spread?

You’re not alone. Most people think of Nutella — the popular chocolate and hazelnut spread — when hazelnuts are mentioned. That, or in my case, the Ferrero Rocher chocolate candies my mother always received in her Christmas stocking from my grandmother, despite not caring for the confection. This treat consists of a whole roasted hazelnut with a hazelnut cream, dipped in milk chocolate and chopped hazelnuts and wrapped individually in gold paper. Decadent much? MORE

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It’s not exactly groundbreaking to use mushrooms as a meat substitute. By now, most restaurants offer vegetarian options that include mushrooms in place of prized proteins — like Shake Shack’s ‘Shroom Burger, made of a deep-fried portobello cap fully stuffed with cheese. But it’s rare to see them being used creatively. And I think it’s about time for a mushroom transformation.

You most often see portobellos being used as a meat replacer, and for good reason: these oversized mushrooms are thick and meaty. But simply swapping out a piece of meat for a portobello cap can hardly be called creative. And filling them with cheese and deep-frying them is just repulsive. The portobello deserves more than to be grilled, buried in a dish, topped on some other cut of meat, or stuck between two buns. We should be giving them as much attention as we do meat, not just as a lackluster swap-out. So why not slowly braise a mushroom? Or roast a mushroom? You can even marinate them like you would a steak. MORE

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As summer begins to make way for the cooler months ahead, many bakers aren’t just looking forward to autumn, the time of all things pumpkin and cinnamon-sprinkled. We also know that precious figs are in their prime in September, finding their way to farmers markets and into our kitchens.

For those of us who can summon the willpower to not devour each and every fig we bring home — and truly, eating a fresh fig in the peak of the season is possibly best way to taste the warm, sweet days of summer — we can reward ourselves with the next best thing: baking with figs. MORE

Dispatches TM_DP_MUSHR_AP_001

On the weekend after Labor Day in the hilly town of Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, a group that totaled 80,000 people gathered to celebrate. Many drove across state lines to get there. They weren’t commemorating a monumental day in history or an important win at the Little League World Series. No, these people had arrived to celebrate the humble little mushroom at the town’s 29th annual Mushroom Festival.

Located about 30 miles outside Philadelphia, Kennett Square isn’t that unusual of a place to host such a quirky event. After all, it is renowned for being the “Mushroom Capital of the World,” an area where half of America’s mushrooms are grown. As you drive through it, you’ll occasionally catch a mildly unpleasant whiff of the nearby farms and the compost used to grow their prized product. You’ll also see Kennett Square’s nickname branded on the town’s water tower. If there’s anywhere that deserves the rights to a funky fungi festival, it’s here.

But what is it about mushrooms, exactly, that draws such an enormous crowd year after year? I was curious. So I went to find out. MORE

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When you think of the famous, history-changing Supreme Court cases, what comes to mind? Brown v. Board of Education? Roe v. Wade? Miranda v. Arizona? How about Nix v. Hedden? Instead of debating over segregation, freeedom of choice, or the due process of law, this particular case was over the issue of tomatoes being a vegetable or fruit. The Nix v. Hedden case, the most heated battle of the Supreme Court in 1883, was between a tomato importer — Nix — and the New York Import Authority, Hedden. Nix was suing Hedden for taxing his tomatoes as vegetables. He argued that they were really fruits (which were, conveniently, tariff-free), and, therefore, were exempt from taxation.

Of course, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably already been told that tomatoes are actually fruits. But what makes the tomato a fruit and not a vegetable? Botanically speaking, fruits are the mature ovary (flowering structure) of plants. Fruits are designed to house and protect the seeds of the plant. Vegetables, on the other hand, are the edible portion of a plant. They are classified into different groups based on their structure like roots (carrots), bulbs (onions), or leaves (lettuce). Therefore, a plump, seedy tomato is really a fruit, but technically, so are pumpkins, peppers, and squash. MORE

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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

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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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

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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