Monday, July 31, 2006

Camp Stove Cooking - Part Two: We are probably the most refined group of camper-gourmets on the planet. The Sunday dinner tradition at our annual campout is our friend Mary's super rich and creamy Penne a la Vodka.

Mary's been treating us to her special recipe for years. She brings along all the accoutrements including chaffing dishes and sternos to keep the nouveau cuisine piping hot. The Coleman Company never considered our style of "roughing it."

Whenever possible, I volunteer to stir the sauce, a painstaking process that involves combining a large quantity of vodka, butter, cream and tomotoes and reducing the mixture over a steady flame until the texture becomes buttery pink and the fumes no longer shock the nostrils. Mary insists that it must be "cheap vodka, the cheaper, the better!"

Combine the sauce with the pasta and a generous amount of Parmesan cheese, throw in salad and hot garlic bread warmed on the coals and twenty campers are destined for a blissfull food coma in front of the campfire!

© 2006 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Camp Stove Cooking - Part One: Every year one of the rituals of summer includes a camping trip to the Hudson River Valley where some twenty friends and family members convene for a weekend of outdoor activity and of course, food. Once again, as we have done for nine seasons, we descended on our favorite campground in Plattkill, New York, just south of New Paltz starting on Friday, July 28th. There were trips to local wineries, golf outings, water sports and visits to historic homes perched high atop the Hudson River.

Get a large group together, enhale some fresh air and appetites are quickly on overdrive. Breakfast is typically a communal orgy of protein, carbohydrates and cured meats. Garret, John and Ken serve as breakfast chefs frying up massive amounts of French Toast, pancakes, bacon and sausage. This year, Lauren, a high school senior, added her own creative touch to the breakfast menu, inventing pancakes studded with M&M candies. It was inspiration at the breakfast table, and the chocolate truly did melt in your mouth, not in your hands! Thanks to Lauren for adding a splash of color and sweetness to the morning ritual!

© 2006 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Devouring the New York Times - Tacos

Wednesday, July 26, 2006: The Dining In/Out Section is back this week and once again bursting with flavor as the excellent "Minimalist" Mark Bittman deconstructs a classic summer bite in, "The Taco Joint in Your Kitchen." Using straightforward, descriptive prose, Bittman conjures up images of a cantina on a steamy summer night and provides a tasty combo of taco lore and practical instruction for creating a truly authentic (e.g. not 'fast food') version of the dish at home. The beautiful step-by-step color photos will get your mouth watering, even if it's breakfast time, and Bittman provides simple recipes for each component that will allow the home chef to assemble a fiesta of fresh flavors. Bittman even clears up the mystery of the real difference between a taco, a burrito, a tostada and an enchilada. Clip this one for future reference. Culinary Types Rating: Savory Dish.

© 2006 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Culinary Dispatch - London: I've spent the last few days in the United Kingdom tending to business and had two opportunities to sample the cuisine at Terminus Bar & Brasserie. Located on Liverpool Street and right by the Liverpool Street Railroad Station, Terminus is styled like an oldtime railway diner straight out of Agatha Christie. In fact, it is attached to a rather fine hotel and somewhere I do remember reading that hotels were built close to railroad stations to create destinations for visitors to the city. Of course, there had to be food as well, and the promotional copy for Terminus takes full advantage of the intrigue and romance of such cinema classics as "Strangers On a Train" and "The Lady Vanishes" and suggests that it may be the perfect spot for two star-crossed lovers to meet for a bite to eat.

I sampled the menu, minus the drama, and quite enjoyed the cod, an update on the classic British dish. Terminus serves its cod on a plump bed of fresh spinach, with crisp pancetta, the Italian bacon of the skin side of the fish. There's a hint of smoky, savory flavor from the pancetta in the glossy fish, and it is garnished with spring vegetables and a rich reduction of red wine, balsamic vinegar and lemon juice. On the side, I had a serving of pencil thin green beans with a touch of Parmesan that tasted like they'd been brought straight from the greenmarket.

And, because it is directly adjacent to British Rail, Terminus is great for people watching. Was that, in fact, Miss Marple at the far table?

Check out Terminus at

© 2006 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Summer Garden Fantasy: I love nothing more than dining "al fresco" on the lawn on a warm summer evening. Last Thursday night was simply a garden of earthly delights. The New York Botanical Gardens is showcasing the glass sculptures of Dale Chihuly in the Victorian conservatory and throughout the gardens. Chihuly glass sculptures drift among the waterlilies of the tropical pools in the Edith A. Haupt Conservatory, looking a bit like rainbow-colored Hershey kisses that have been cast afloat.

After a hypnotic walk beside glass objects that glistened in the late afternoon sun, I picked up a piquant Southwestern Turkey wrap sandwich with roasted plum tomatoes and chipolte avocado dressing and a flowery half-bottle of 2001 George Duboeuf Beaujolais-Villages, and relaxed on the conservatory lawn listening to the Waterlily Concert presented by WQXR, the classical station of the New York Times. A musical quartet of two violins, a cello and a bass served up, in the words of WQXR host Annie Bergen, "a Rossini sandwich filled with a generous serving of Hayden" - Rossini's Sonata #3 in C Major, Haydn's Divertimento for 2 Violins, Cello and Bass, and Rossini's Sonata #6 in D Major.

Music, food, wine and art. Truly an enchanting midsummer night!

© 2006 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Devouring the New York Times - July 19, 2006: Today's "Dining In" Section has little to do with dining in at all, and more to do with "shopping outside." "Greenmarket at 30, Searching for Itself" by Kim Severson is the solid type of urban reporting that is far better suited to the Metropolitan section of the "paper of record." Severson examines whether the New York City Greenmarket system at 30 is facing a bit of an identity crisis, and whether ten new markets that opened this summer in the outer boroughs can survive. It's a particularly harsh question, when you consider that the official summer season is technically only four weeks old. Much is made of the importance of providing fresh, locally grown produce to neighborhoods in Harlem and the Bronx, which one city official actually describes as "food deserts." At the same time, there is much hand-wringing over whether lower income families will actually purchase high-priced produce such as heirloom tomatoes.

The problem with the story is that very few solutions are suggested. Yes, making fresh fruits and vegetables available to more people in the city is important, but most of the experts in the story seem to be scratching their heads about how to get people to buy. There's a brief reference to a novel food stamp program that is being tested at some locations, but otherwise, the reporter provides very little insight into what might be done to make these fledgling greenmarkets succeed. Clearly, creative approaches to nutrition education and food preparation training would help attract shoppers, but these themes are not addressed. And why are vendors like Harvest Time and Renaissance Markets succeeding in smaller neighborhoods? It's not made clear.

"Greenmarket at 30, Searching for Itself" raises some important issues but is searching for a theme. It's not a health story, and it's not a food story. And, as far as food section cover stories go ... Rating: Unappetizing

© 2006 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Monday, July 17, 2006

Heat Sizzles: It's summer time in New York, the thermometer is pushing 100 degrees and I'm sweating over Heat the new food memoir by Bill Buford, former fiction editor for The New Yorker who went to work in the kitchen of Mario Batali's restaurant Babbo.

I'm just a few chapter's into Buford's kitchen odyssey and it's enthralling. With an economy of words, he's managing to evoke all of my most disastrous moments during La Technique classes at the French Culinary Institute.

From finger slices to kitchen jargon, to the mauling of several pounds of duck breast, Buford captures the insecurities and raw shock of the talented amateur chef who is suddenly thrust into the frenetic hotbed that is the professional kitchen. And at Chapter Five, I've just finished the appetizer course! Heat is a must for any home cook who wonders what it's really like behind the doors of the three-star restaurant kitchen.

© 2006 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Devouring The New York Times: My name is T.W. Barritt and I’m an addict. I’m addicted to the Dining In/Out section of The New York Times. It’s the reason I get out of bed every Wednesday morning (with first run episodes of “Lost” a close second).

I crave the enormous high-calorie, above-the-fold color photo, which tempts the taste buds before I have a clue as to what the lead story is all about. I fixate on Florence Fabricant’s “Food Stuff,” drink up Eric Asimov’s wine recommendations and meditate on Mark Bittman’s minimalist approach to food. It’s a craving that must be satisfied and quite candidly, when I’m on the road, the online edition just won’t do, forcing me to scour hotel lobbies and airport newsstands for the real thing.

Perhaps I need dietary therapy. The restaurant reviews are often out of my price range and the recipes are extremely complicated and time consuming. Last summer I successfully recreated a sinfully luscious, peppery Gingersnap Ice Cream, but the preparation probably consumed about four hours of a summer Sunday afternoon. A trip to Ben and Jerry’s would have been far more convenient.

What is it about this Bible of food trends that has me fantasizing over Green Gazpacho or Stilton-Tomato Pizza before I’ve even poured my morning orange juice? From time to time, I’ll attempt to deconstruct this fascination with a review of the Dining In/Out lead story of the day. A rating of Savory Dish means the story provided information that’s flavorful, satisfying and practical to apply as part of an ongoing love affair with food. A rating of Empty Calories means the story may look and taste great but fails to stick to the ribs.

Today’s cover story pairs high-end restaurant critic Frank Bruni with bargain hunter Peter Meehan to give Michelin and Zagat a run for their money in, “Let’s Hear It For The Lounge Act.” Bruni, who has recently attempted to shed any reputation for food snobbery with a wild trek across America consuming massive amounts of burgers and fries, takes another stab at the common man to let those of us on a budget know that four-star restaurants are indeed within reach if we are willing to dine in the less-expensive lounge area included in many top restaurants. It’s not the bar and it’s not the dining room, but the savvy diner who frequents the lounge can get a spectacular meal at far more affordable prices.

Bruni nicely captures the relaxed atmosphere of the new lounge dining trend and makes a case that visiting the lounge is the perfect way to test-run some of the most aspirational dining experiences in Manhattan. His partner in crime, Peter Meehan of “$25 and Under” fame provides detailed factual information for the cash-conscious gourmet with descriptive menu items, décor and pricing for the lounge menus at some of New York’s top dining establishments including Del Posto, Perry St. and Daniel. Both gentlemen make the point that the lounge menu is often a better value than the more traditional chefs tasting menu.

“Let’s Hear It For The Lounge Act” is a practical handbook for anyone looking to try out the best of New York’s top dining establishments. I plan to head out and start sampling, because I expect the wait for lounge seats will increase dramatically in the next few days! Culinary Types Rating: Savory Dish

© 2006 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Monday, July 10, 2006

Culinary Dispatch - Omaha

I’ve been eating my way across America the past few weeks with my colleague “Splint McCullough” (name changed to protect privacy). Business travel can be hellish, but one can always look forward to a new dining adventure. Splint has introduced me to the best franchise restaurants in the country. Two weeks ago in Minneapolis he dragged me into an establishment he described as “a poor man’s Cracker Barrel,” and I could just sense his taste buds rejoicing as we approached Buca di Beppo (authentic Italian dishes served family style and meant to be shared) last Thursday at a strip mall in Thousand Oaks, California (the Chicken Saltimbocca really does pop on the tongue).

Tonight we’re in the Wild, Wild Midwest, and Splint has promised me that we will experience the best steaks in Omaha. We’re heading out via taxi to the Drover Restaurant and Lounge at 2121 South 73, because Splint has a recommendation from some upscale friends in Los Angeles that the beef is extraordinary. He’s confirmed the referral through a write-up in an equally upscale golfing magazine.

Splint is a formidable connoisseur of cattle. I’ve watched him consume vast quantities of protein from Minneapolis to Sao Paolo, Brazil. As Splint puts it, "I’ve been to some of New York’s greatest steakhouses, so I have a frame of reference.”

The exterior of The Drover is dubious, at best. Large wagon wheels serve as lawn art and the ivy-covered bungalow is attached to a bi-level open-air parking garage. Next-door is the Sisters of Mercy Regional Headquarters.

Inside, the restaurant is lit with garden-variety yellow light bulbs and the bar is a decoupage work of art, preserving classic wine and liquor labels, that would make Martha Stewart proud. There is the outline of a cattleman etched in gold in the mirror over the bar and quite a selection of steer horns. I feel way overdressed in my jeans and Brooks Brothers blue blazer. Despite the ambiance, and the fact that the restaurant is ridiculously crowded for a Monday night, Splint is optimistic. “I have the credentials,” he maintains. “My mother is an excellent Italian chef, and I’m a complete carnivore.”

Splint and I are seated near the all-you-can-eat salad bar. The service is certainly friendly, but Splint is a little put off by the statuette of “The Outlaw Josie Wales” that guards the lettuce bowl and the dark, grotto-like mood of the décor.

The freshly baked loaf of bread is warm and nutty, and I’m enjoying the Sonoma Pinot Noir. We order the signature dish, which would be steak. When in Rome, as they say. I select the 8-ounce whiskey fillet, and Splint requests the whisky marinated New York strip steak on the recommendation of our server, Laura. The fat in the New York strip delivers a more-subtle flavor, but the filet is robust and silky with eruptions of flint over sweet caramel.

I’m satisfied, which usually happens after two glasses of Pinot Noir, but Splint is circumspect and perhaps even a bit let down. I'm learning that Splint is a tough critic when it comes to food. “This is what happens when you’re a gambler,” he says. “Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose.”

Tomorrow night, we’ll be eating takeout at the Omaha airport.

© 2006 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Cakes and Creativity

Today was the grand finale for 10 students at the Saturday "Essentials of Pastry" session which began on January 28th at the French Culinary Institute in New York City. Each of us completed a final "Celebration Cake" and received our certificate of completion representing 100 hours of intensive training in the Essentials of Pastry.

In addition to designing an original pastry creation, the day was not without drama. We were evacuated not once, but twice when construction workers in the building tripped a fire alarm. Picture several dozen pastry and cooking students in white coats and chef hats cooling their heels on Grand Street in New York City while our two-tier cakes sat unfinished in the pastry kitchen. A serene Saturday afternoon of baking it was not.

The results of the day were as original as the members of the class. What motivates an individual to spend five hours a day over twenty Saturdays with a rolling pin in hand? Perhaps the urge to create. The celebration cakes literally leapt out of the imaginations of the students which include a teacher, a civil engineer, a healthcare worker and a member of the fashion industry. There was a Patriotic Cake, a Tiffany's box, a Harlequin Cake, a high-roller Las Vegas Cake, a Pin Cushion and a delicate Field of Daisies. Mine was a sunny yellow confection dotted with sunflowers inspired by summertime in Provence.

Congratulations to my Saturday pastry pals on completing twenty sweet weeks together. Happy baking!

© 2006 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Tempered Cuisine: On America's 230th birthday, I attended a reenactment of an 1865 Independence Day celebration at a living history restoration on Long Island. The picnic event was billed as sponsored by "The Ladies Temperance Society" and participants were directed to bring a brown bag lunch. Entertainment was of an earlier era with speeches and poems, fiddle music and brass bands.

To some culinary types, the brown bag lunch might have seemed a bit austere and the Ladies Temperance Society an odd organization to host what is a uniquely American feast day. Our Independence Day is characterized by communal indulgence in outdoor spreads of charred meat, cold beer and crisp summer salads.

But as I sat under the enormous shade tree in the heat of the afternoon observing the participants and festivities, my smoked turkey sandwich and Macintosh apple seemed to fit the time and place. The Americans of post-Civil War 1865 were agricultural families whose food was prepared with minimal fuss. Their cuisine was uncomplicated and straight from the farm. But, when shared with a diverse community that included farmers, musicians, children, laborers, veterans of war, and even ladies who choose not to drink, their simple food became a feast, a cause for celebration and a declaration of independence.

© 2006 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

"Food Historians Serve Up a Feast for the Ages" is a story I've posted on which looks at a fascinating group of time travelers who are tracking our social history one spoonful at a time.

Among the culinary types you'll meet are Dr. Alice Ross who cooks up living history at her Hearth Studios in Smithtown, Long Island. Take a world tour of historic flavors adapted for the modern kitchen with Chef Cathy Kaufman, whose popular workshops introduce students to the cuisines of medievil Persia, Tudor England and Ancient Greece. You'll also meet Lynne Olver, a research librarian from New Jersey who created and promises to meticulously research and answer questions relating to the history of food.

These and other food historians use a variety of techniques to teach us that what we eat is inextricably linked to key moments in history and fundamental to the human experience. It's a fitting story for "Independence Day." Happy Fourth of July!

© 2006 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Monday, July 03, 2006

Gateaux Fraisier

The Classic Gateaux Fraisier looks like a fancy summertime chapeau one might have purchased in a milliners shop during the Victorian era. A dreamy, romantic confection, the Fraisier is studded with a crown of fresh strawberries at the base and topped with a thin layer of pale green marzipan. Tucked between are feather-like layers of sponge cake and silky crème mousseline. My Fraisier, pictured here, was prepared last Friday and Saturday for a family gathering to celebrate the return of my brother and sister-in-law to the United States from a teaching assignment in Prague.

As I spent my day off finessing the Fraisier, I was reminded again that French pastry is indeed the confluence of art and science and requires incredible focus. Sponge cake batter must be whipped slowly, and folded ever-so-gently to avoid deflating the final product. And don’t get distracted. My first batch of crème patisserie -- a “light” lemony-yellow custard which is the base for the crème mousseline – failed spectacularly, when I lost my place and forgot to add the cornstarch which is necessary for binding. The result was something that resembled a soupy tapioca pudding.

About a dozen eggs later I was on my way, even though a bit of the custard had burned slightly at the bottom of the pan. It was nothing a quick run through the sieve wouldn’t fix. Once combined with about a half a pound of butter at exactly the right temperature, the crème mousseline was the perfect consistency and ready to be layered.

Chemistry. It’s all chemistry. Not my best subject in high school. I excelled in arts and crafts. I have yet to discover the creator or exact history of the gateaux Fraisier, but I now suspect that if my chemistry instructor had told me that the periodic table was a potential baking guide, I might have paid more attention.

© 2006 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved
Welcome to the “Culinary Types” Blog. I am a culinary enthusiast and writer based in New York who first developed a love of food when my parents presented me and my three brothers with a copy of “Betty Crocker’s New Boys and Girls Cook Book” in the mid-1960s. Since then, I’ve served as a communications advisor to top food companies, and have studied techniques of French cooking, pastry and the craft of food writing at the French Culinary Institute in New York City.

The “Culinary Types” Blog chronicles my day-to-day encounters with all things edible and the extraordinary people who grow, prepare, study, celebrate and eat food. Your comments are welcomed. Please share your own daily experiences with “Culinary Types.”

© 2006 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved