Monthly Archives: October 2009

Julia’s Legacy (Well, One of Them)

Host Jacques Pépin Signing a Cookbook

Jacques Pépin signs a cookbook for a guest at last night's "Big Event." Photos by Tom Urell

On Wednesday night hundreds of hungry foodies gathered at the 808 Gallery on Comm Ave. for the “Big Event,” the 20th anniversary celebration of the Boston University Culinary Arts program. Founded in the spring of 1989 by Julia Child and her friends Jacques Pépin and Rebecca Alssid, the program has grown to offer a certificate in Culinary Arts and degree courses in wine and gastronomy.

Food was center stage. And food there was, with more than 60 vendors sampling small plates and pours. Restaurants from L’Espalier and No. 9 Park to Legal Sea Foods and Dunkin Donuts presented sample dishes and finger foods. Local wine shops, importers and breweries poured tastings of wine and beer, and bartenders from Eastern Standard even offered their “Evergreen,” a rosemary scented cocktail.

Guest Cindy Conroy, a 1996 graduate of the Culinary Arts program, told me about what it was like to be a student in the program. It was a thrill, Conroy said, to learn from legendary teachers like Julia and Jacques. What’s she doing now, more than ten years later?  ”Real estate.”

Lynch with guest

Noted Boston Chef Barbara Lynch served a cauliflower chaud-froid with caviar.

Cookbooks for sale

Cookbooks were offered at a discount for attendees, with extra copies of Julia Child's and Jacques Pépin's books on hand.

Steve Johnson serving merguez

Cambridge restaurant Rendezvous Chef/Owner Steve Johnson served a merguez sausage with yogurt, pomegranate and mint.

Pepin slurping and chatting

Grasping an oyster from Legal Sea Foods, Pépin posed for a photo with a guest.

Dunkin Donuts display

Coffee and doughnuts from Dunkin Donuts played counterpoint to some of the more delicate dishes offered by other vendors.

Did you go to the event Wednesday night? Have you attended a course or earned a degree from the BU food and wine program? Share your experience below.

Clay-Oven In Backyard. Stat.

CLAYOVEN2

What it Takes. Photo: Courtesy of Linsey Herman/Cake and Commerce

Have you ever dreamed of baking your own bread outdoors?  In your own clay oven?  Maybe yes, maybe no….but the truth is, you gotta admire someone who makes her own fantasy come true.  Linsey Herman from Cake and Commerce tells us her story.

Growing up in Massachusetts there was no escaping the ritual fall field trip to Plimoth Plantation, a historic replica of a 17th century English Village populated by role players. Cooling days and the making construction paper hats meant the one-hour bus ride to the coast was not far off. While most of my classmates looked forward to the time away from class, the thing I looked forward to the most wasn’t the time away from penmanship and phonics and math but the possibility of eating some so-called “Indian Pudding”, a simple corn pudding made from cornmeal, milk, and molasses, or getting to churn butter. I was always a little weird.

I hadn’t spent a fall in Massachusetts in almost 10 years after relocating to Chicago. And then a layoff, followed by another layoff, drove me back home to free lodging at the ancestral home. The sky is different here, there’s something in the air, an aroma of sweet pine and burning leaves and dew that makes me nostalgic for a time that I don’t think ever really existed except in the story books read aloud to first graders in a wooded country elementary school.

Extant or not, these memories made me think about cookery prior to the mid-20th century arrival of mass refrigeration, electricity, and convenience. Since I’d also been doing a lot of barbecuing over the summer and thinking about convection currents in dome-shaped cooking vessels, I thought that it might be fun to build an oven in the backyard. And create a Foodbuzz 24,24,24 event around it.

What was I thinking? Seriously? 

READ THE REST AND SEE THE FRUITS OF LINSEY’S LABOR HERE

Bao in Boston

Photo: SauceSupreme/flickr

Photo: SauceSupreme/flickr

My husband is a ninja.

No, seriously.

He’s been studying kung fu for almost 15 years and he is truly dedicated.  It turns out that two world-renowned teachers, both of whom have studied with one of the best masters in China, run a gym in Cambridge.

When our relationship got serious, it was obvious that I would have to give the martial art a try.  I am a yogini, a sometimes runner (treadmill only, please), and an occasional meditator.   Kung fu wasn’t at the top of my list.

My husband suggested one month of tai chi and I figured it was worth a try.  How hard could it be?  I had images of elderly people slowly moving through random motions in the middle of a desolate park.  Well, let me tell you….tai chi is NOT EASY.  It involves a lot of strength and concentration.  Nine months later, I’m still enrolled.  I find the practice very invigorating both physically and mentally.

Besides regular practice, food is a big part of this community.   Most people stay quiet during practice (except for me, of course) and dim sum in Chinatown is a setting where people feel free to chat and catch-up.   Still I have to be honest: my favorite food discovered during this foray into the kung-fu world is a round pastry called baozi, known more frequently as bao.  There are many types of bao, both savory and sweet.  One of the  Sifus (teachers) knows about my secret obsession and will often pick up an extra bun for me when he visits bakeries in Chinatown.

The relatively firm circular pastry is filled with a sweet paste (taro is my favorite).   A flaky exterior covers the firmer dough surrounding the taro filling; the dough’s salty undertones only add to the fantastic flavorful explosion.  It’s a journey to get to the middle and never have I so enjoyed the process.  Taro paste itself is quite sweet but nothing overdone.

There are some excellent bakeries in Chinatown including Bao Bao Bakery and Cafe.   Be forewarned: you don’t go to this place for the ambiance; it might be best to get some buns to go.  Then walk to nearby Boston Common and find a nice bench, pair your fresh bao with some hot green tea and poof…. you are set.

Shooting your dinner

Photo: adactio/Flickr

Restaurant photography. The new “hang up and drive?”

Do you take photos in restaurants? Are you bothered when others do? Do you drool with envy when looking at other people’s snapshots or do you avoid looking at blog posts and galleries to maintain some of the mystery of a place you’ve never been, to experience the plating and atmosphere of a restaurant for yourself?

I have wondered about this from both sides of the restaurant table, as a diner and server, even from behind the kitchen door of a restaurant. Now that almost everyone seems to have a digital camera, and many blog about food, are there too many people taking too many photos?

I don’t think there’s any question that constant flash photography can be distracting and bother other diners at the table and in the dining room. But should restaurants step in and put an outright ban on flash use, or photography in general?

To gain more insight into the question, I asked MC Slim JB, a busy Boston restaurant critic, what his take on the issue would be. Here’s part of his email response:

“It’s a matter of degree. Nobody complains if somebody snaps a few “happy birthday” pics in a restaurant, but photographers who take ten pictures of every dish throughout the meal can be intrusive. There are certain places I’ve come to expect it, like O Ya, where the beauty of the platings is a big part of the experience; even the restaurant seems to be used to it (and probably values the free marketing that photo-centric food bloggers provide). When I see the would-be food-stylist types snapping away, the thought often crosses my mind: “You know, your food’s getting cold.”

“As for photography taking the thrill and mystery out of eating out, I don’t buy it. I read a lot of heavily photo-illustrated blogs and magazines, and they’re likelier to tantalize me, fire my imagination, or satisfy a curiosity about places I’m unlikely to be able to visit myself. That kind of armchair tourism is practically the backbone of the travel and leisure writing industry. If you want to avoid dinner “spoilers”, avoid reading those sites, the same way you do with movie reviews.”

My own experience in the kitchen of a restaurant (with fairly elaborate plating) was that diners who photographed their meals, while flattering to the kitchen staff to a certain degree, diminished the primary experience of eating and sharing the meal with their companions. It’s one thing to retain a memory of the evening out, another to eat preoccupied with the next blog posting.

What’s your take, as a blogger and a diner. Do you bring your camera when you eat out? Do you use, or avoid, flash? Are you bothered by other guests who ‘shoot their dinner’? And what of the photos themselves–do you read blogs with pictures of the meal, or avoid reviews that have too much visual description? Share your thoughts.

Dairy New England

Photo: James Jordan/Flickr

Photo: James Jordan/Flickr

Lately, I’ve found a lot of posts and information about dairy projects coming out of New England.   Whether it’s milk or yogurt or butter, it’s great to know these innovators are close to home.   Many thanks to Fresh New England for keeping everyone in the know.

Milk in Vacationland

When their contract with Hood was not renewed, ten Maine Dairy Farmers launched their own organic milk line.  MOOMilk (Maine’s Own Organic Milk Co.) is set to hit stores in Maine and Massachusetts sometime in early November. 

It’s Like BUTTAH

Diane St. Clair in Orwell, VT makes her own butter….and sells it too.  You can taste it in the goodies at No. 9 Park.

Cow + Revolution = Nutritious.Delicious.

We may have missed their fundraiser, but it’s never too late to get in on the Raw Milk Revolution in Massachusetts.  See what the Northeast Organic Farming Association Raw Milk Network (NOFA) is up to.   Here’s a list of Bay State raw milk producers.

Tuesday Tidbits

An All-American Weekend at Formaggio Kitchen, Cambridge
Saturday: October 24th. Three local cheesemakers, Carlisle Goat Dairy, Jasper Hill Farm and Twig Farm, will talk with Formaggio Kitchen customers about what they do and how they make their cheese. They’ll also answer questions and sample their cheeses, and the event is free. Read more at Formaggio Kitchen.
Sunday: October 25th. Formaggio Kitchen is offering a class focusing on domestic food producers as paired with domestic brews. Tickets ($35 apiece) can be purchased through Formaggio’s online store.

Savory Pot Pie on Sunday in Maine
For those of you looking to travel a bit further afield this weekend, Cellardoor Vineyard of Lincolville, ME, is holding a cooking class on Sunday, Oct. 25, with Savory Pot Pie but one of the courses to be prepared on site and enjoyed with the Vineyard’s own wines.

Pepper Jelly, Anyone?
Jo of Amuse Bouche has posted an equal parts informative, equal parts funny ‘how to’ on canning pepper jelly (I hear you on Sunday’s weather, Jo–I ran a road race in that rain/snow/wind. Canning jellies sounds nicer).

Mama Cooks
The Kitchen has added a new blog to its blog roll, Mama Cooks by Betsy Block, a Boston area professional food writer, restaurant critic, and recipe developer. Welcome, Betsy.

Going Beyond The Flavor: The Bay Leaf

Photo: Julia Manzerova/Flickr

Photo: Julia Manzerova/Flickr

Last night, I decided to look into the refrigerator and use up as much of our fresh produce and fresh meat as possible.   I instantly thought of apricot chicken but alas only had fig preserves.  Fig Chicken it is!  I wielded my creative culinary prowess like there was no tomorrow.  Before popping my figged-out chicken into the oven, I threw in my good luck charm…a fresh bay leaf.

After I closed the door on my creation, I thought “What is it with the bay leaf? What makes it so essential to American cooking?”  This, my dear readers, began my exploration of the bay leaf and its history.

Apparently, this herb has a story like no other.  I cannot sign off on that statement but I will tell you that it does seem to have a fantastical past.  Most sources say the bay tree originated in Asia Minor.   The Romans used it quite a bit in public life and believed it even protected against thunderstorms. Legend has it that the champions of the first Olympic games were crowned with the green leaf.   While Romans considered the bay tree a symbol of glory, in Shakespeare’s time, a popular notion prevailed: the death of a bay tree would soon be followed by a devastating disaster.

In Culpepper’s Complete Herbal dated back to the 1600s, the oil of bay berries was used to cure pimples as well as “all griefs and pains proceeding from the wind….”    (Good to know).

What is the bay leaf to me?

Despite its glorious past, my personal bay leaf is an everyday constant.  I even chewed one as a child after my mother explicitly told me not to do so.  It was quite awful and since then I had new found respect for the small leaf.  Once I began cooking for myself, I dropped it into soups, meaty dishes, and culinary craft creations (such as my fig chicken).

Its flavoring powers are divine and when you get a strong waft of the bay leaf, you know you done good.

Do you have a strong relationship with an herb? Have you ever been prompted to look up its origin?  I know I’m not alone….share your stories below.

Friday Confession

Photo: JOE M500/Flickr

Photo: JOE M500/Flickr

The following contains two confessions, a disclosure and a post script.

Confession #1: I think pomegranate seeds are exquisite.
Confession #2: I rarely eat them. I like them very much in a salad, but I have never put them there myself.

Disclosure: A box from California recently landed on my desk with two bottles of juice and a note inside. POM Wonderful had sent PRK a pair of its pomegranate 100% juice blends–Pomegranate Nectarine and Pomegranate Kiwi–with an invitation to taste. Curious (see Confessions 1&2 above), I chilled the juices, tried them, and would now like to share the experience, along with a recipe and related link from one of our listeners.

The Pomegranate Nectarine juice was intense, highly flavorful and tangy. I had a ‘Wow’ moment. The Pomegranate Kiwi juice was a bit more mellow in comparison–less of an explosion in taste and texture, but only relatively speaking. It tasted somehow more grape-y, though I’d be hard put to explain why. Still curious, I began to search online for others who have tasted the juice and actually incorporated it into their cooking (though POM does that for you, if you like, offering recipe ideas on its website). Soon enough I came across Delicious Dishings, and Megan’s Arugula and Fennel Salad with an orange vinaigrette dressing she had created using POM’s 100% pomegranate juice as the departure ingredient. She incorporated pomegranate seeds and an apple, too, keeping this light salad high in antioxidants, adding texture and complimentary flavors.

If you’re curious, too, you can find POM juices at many of the major supermarket chains here in MA. Or, have you done this already? What do you do with pomegranate seeds and/or pomegranate juice?
***
Post script: I tried Via, Starbucks new instant coffee offering (see PRK post Sophisticated Sanka). I happened to be meeting my sister for coffee (we both had tea) at a Starbucks mid-point between her house and mine during the Oct. 2-5 free tasting campaign. It was the most easily-sipped instant coffee I have ever had. Not at all bitter. Even-flavored, actually. But it did lack the rich tasting ‘aaah’ you get from a brewed cup. Even if I were short on time? Short on cash? I’d have the real deal. You?

A Jack-o’-lantern for dinner?

Photo: farmerjulie/Flickr

Photo: farmerjulie/Flickr

How are you celebrating fall?

Cranberries, apples and squash are seasonal favorites, yes, but who else shares my love for pumpkin? I’m a huge fan of pumpkin risotto, with sage and a sharp cheese (piave is perfect). Sugar pumpkin is a great fall vegetable and available at the last few farmers’ markets of the season. It’s versatile, with a flavor somewhere between butternut squash and a sweet potato. There’s so much more out there than the pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks or Thanksgiving pie! Here are a few samplings:

Erin of Erin Cooks has a great-looking recipe for her mom’s Amazing Pumpkin Muffins. Janel from Dine Dish Delish lists her favorite pumpkin recipes, including wontons, a smoothie and oatmeal. There are irrestible Pumpkin Patch Cupcakes posted today by Megan of Delicious Dishings and even pumpkin fudge from Phillips Candy House.

And let’s not forget pumpkin beer. The story goes that the first European settlers to New England initially encountered some difficulty growing enough grain to make beer, so they used what they had in autumnal abundance–pumpkins. Nowadays pumpkin ales are brewed with pumpkin added either with the grain or as a flavoring and marketed as seasonal Fall beers. These ales are often loaded up with “pumpkin pie spices” as well–e.g., cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and allspice being the most common. These spices are nice, but can mask the rich yet subtle flavor that pumpkin has given the ale. New England breweries such as Smuttynose Brewery of Portsmouth, NH, and Cape Ann Brewing Company of Gloucester, MA, are making pumpkin ales this time of year, with varying proportions of pumpkin and spice.

Share your ideas with the PRK community. Do you have a favorite pumpkin recipe you come back to every year?

Ceramicize Me

Photo: sahua/Flickr

Photo: sahua/Flickr

I was recently given a beautiful new kitchen tool by a good friend.  After he handed me the wrapped, rectangular package, he gave one disclaimer: “use it very, very carefully.”   What was it? Chocolate? basil? catnip?

The secret was quickly revealed after tearing the beautiful box open.  Inside we found a very large ceramic knife.  I admit, I’ve seen these around and haven’t really been interested in dropping a lot of money for one new blade….especially a ceramic knife.  What could be so special about it?

After preparing dinner last night, I can tell you this:  they are a gift like no other.  I am in awe of any kitchen tool that so radically can change one’s life.  Slipping this blade through fish and then washing it so easily and wielding it on vegetables was, simply put, a dream.

I decided to do some research.  

Ceramic knives are indigenous to Japan and were made popular in the United States by various major television food stars, most notably Blue Ginger’s Ming Tsai on the TV Food Network.

Kyocera (one of the brands that makes ceramic knives) claims that the ceramic material, made out of zirconia, is second in hardness after the diamond.   This material is also wear resistant and chemically inert.  There is NO metal aftertaste and the knife requires sharpening every five years.

WOW.  

Do you own a ceramic knife?  If so, what do you think of it? Worth the price tag? Share your wisdom.