Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009 – A Year of Culinary Types

Food provides nourishment and is central to our lives. But the people who grow, cook and share food are those who give it context and relevance for our sustenance and our celebrations. During 2009, the stories of “Culinary Types” reinforced how important individuals are to our understanding, enjoyment and collective appreciation of food.

We started the year shopping for the Perfect Pantry item at Dean & Deluca with blogger Lydia Walshin. The quintessential community organizer and nurturer, Lydia’s Drop In & Decorate Cookies for Donation will soon mark the donation of a total of 10,000 cookies to local nonprofit organizations serving basic human needs.
Community is key in Lydia’s Perfect Pantry

Cousin Meg created a cake for Valentine’s Day that was as big as her generous heart.
Jan Hazard, the Kitchen GadgetGal offered a primer on the best culinary tools on the market.
We sampled burgers in the Big Apple and then joined Zany and Mad Me-Shell as we chased the food trucks of Manhattan. The sidewalk feast was extraordinary - waffles, dumplings, sweets, burgers and the ultimate schnitzel.
Pursuit of the Schnitzel Truck was - at last - rewarded

The urban gluttony continued as we went “dawging” with Ford McKenzie. And, a continent away in the Pacific Northwest blogger Brett Burmeister took us on a lively lunchtime tour of the famous food carts of Portland.

Brett Burmiester is Portland’s food cart ambassador
We sampled homemade bread made from local grain with writer Eric Steinman as he began to chronicle the stories of Edible Hudson Valley.
Chef John MacPherson published the elegant Foster Harris House Cookbook and we observed Chef John’s creative process during a visit to the Foster Harris House.
We met Casey Blankenship, an outstanding New Jersey teenager who showed us how a passion for cookies can actually help the community.

Casey Blankenship sells his homemade cookies and donates profits to charity
We explored the local food of Long Island. Karen Catapano shared how outstanding animal care results in the extraordinary goat cheese available at the Catapano Dairy in Peconic, Long Island.

Karen Catapano and her husband produce award-winning goat cheese on the North Fork
Entrepreneur Rich Stabile took us on a tour of Long Island Spirits in Baiting Hollow, and talked about how Long Island potatoes had inspired the creation of LiV Vodka.

Long Island potatoes inspired Rich Stabile’s creation of LiV Vodka
And, we spent a glorious season at Restoration Farm.

Greens, carrots, snap peas, sweet potatoes, beans and luscious berries were just part of the stunning bounty, and we learned from head growers Dan Holmes and Caroline Fanning about the challenges and rewards of producing sustainable food.

Restoration Farm’s head growers Caroline Fanning and Dan Holmes were collaborators in my kitchen
Indeed, the farm, the sense of place, the soil, the elements and the standard of care all contribute to the pleasures of the table.

Thanks for reading, and Happy New Year to all!
©2009 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas – Wishing you Holly and Red Velvet Cake!

What could be merrier for the celebration of Christmas than a bright red layer cake decked out in snowy white icing?

Red Velvet Cake is a classic Southern Retro Cake – equal parts gentility and bodacious attitude. It’s a fine finish to a day of Southern-style holiday feasting. Oddly enough, despite its popularity in the South, some sources trace the origin of the Red Velvet Cake to New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel in the 1920s, and there is a recipe for “Velvet Cake” contained in the 1896 edition of the Boston Cooking-School Cookbook.

The cake just barely manages to upstage my Paula Deen “Old Fashioned Holiday Glazed Ham” studded with festive bling – glittering pineapple slices and maraschino cherries – which I served as the main course for Christmas dinner.

The recipe for Red Velvet Cake comes from the Lee Bros. – Matt and Ted Lee – who I got to meet at the International Chefs Congress in New York in September. They are two super nice guys who have truly written the book on Southern cooking. As expected, the ruby-red batter is velvety-smooth, and the addition of orange zest and buttermilk gives the cake a nice Southern “twang.”

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night, y’all!

©2009 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Classic Hershey Kiss Cookies and the Perils of Dreaming of a White Christmas

What happens when too many people are dreaming of a White Christmas? We get the Big One – the Nor’easter that dumps nearly 20 inches of snow across the region, cancelling flights, postponing parties and shopping plans and generally creating a frosty mess. Winter doesn’t even arrive until the 21st. Maybe we should all be dreaming of an end to climate change or the fulfillment of peace on earth, good will toward people, huh?

I’ve actually been dreaming of classic Christmas cookies. It’s odd because I’m not really an avid cookie baker (although the invention of the KitchenAid mixer did a lot to alleviate what is often a long and laborious effort). Yet, for some reason I’ve been reminiscing about Grandma’s Christmas cookies, especially those peanut butter Hershey Kiss cookies she would make. It’s one of those childhood memories that’s etched in my mind and tastebuds.

So housebound, with all previous plans cancelled I make like a Christmas elf and whip up a few kisses. The recipe has long since entered the realm of cookie lore, and can be found in all sorts of places. And, if you've already been stocking up on Christmas candy, you've probably got a few kisses squirreled away in the pantry.

If you’re cookie-baking challenged, or your fingers are frostbitten from the bruising temperatures, Hershey Kiss Cookies are actually not that hard to make. Just roll the dough into little walnut-sized balls, and bake for 10 minutes. Then press a kiss into each cookie and let cool. Don't forget to leave a few chocolate smooches for the chef.

I’m submitting my classic Hershey Kiss Cookies to Susan at Food Blogga’s annual “Eat Christmas Cookies” event (just under the wire). It’s the biggest holiday cookie swap in the blogosphere, and about the only thing that ever motivates me to bake cookies.

As for the real peril of dreaming of a White Christmas?

You have to shovel the snow, and disposing of 20 inches is no easy feat. I’ll bet Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye never thought of that.
©2009 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christmas Time in the City

Well, I’m not doing much cooking, and at times, not even doing much eating. Things are moving faster than a sleigh drawn by eight reindeer. And, the signs of the season are everywhere in Manhattan…

Walk carefully to dodge the giant Toy Soliders from outer space...

As the temperature plunges, there's time for a little tapas with an old friend at Meson Sevilla on West 46th Street. The garlic shrimp and chorizo warms the bones, as does the Red Sangria ...

Dropping in at home, there are still lots of preparation to be done, and this Sweet Potato Black Bean Chili from the blog "eat me, delicious" makes for a hearty holiday supper.

Just be sure to leave time to hang the holiday lights!

©2009 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Merry, Merry Wafflemas!

What kind of chef would buy a waffle maker at an office supply store?

Well, uh, that would be me …

I’ve been inclined towards impulse purchases this season. After six sweaters, three DVD collections, four pairs of sox and a partridge in a pear tree, how bad is one little waffle maker, really? The price is great and one must be ready to deck the halls for that most festive season of Wafflemas.

You’ve heard of Wafflemas, haven’t you? That most wonderful time of the year? Jingle bells, Ho-Ho-Ho, chestnuts roasting on an open fire and golden waffles on the griddle?

For the celebration of Wafflemas, I choose a recipe for Nutty Whole Wheat Waffles from the manufacturer’s instruction booklet. I can almost hear the choirs of angels as the tawny batter spreads across the griddle.

Within minutes, I’ve got a stack of golden waffles with lots of nooks and crannies to hold the melted butter, drizzled with maple syrup and raspberry fruit syrup made from berries picked at Restoration Farm. Joy to the World!

Breakfast for dinner is holiday bliss, and I’ve consumed just enough carbs to send me happily waddling towards the winter solstice.

Nutty Whole Wheat Waffles
(Adapted from Cuisinart Classic Waffle Maker Instruction Booklet ©2007)

¾ cup all purpose flour
¼ cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon sugar
½ tablespoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup low fat milk
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large egg
¼ cup chopped pecans
Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and blend until smooth. Let batter sit 5 minutes while griddle preheats.

Pour ½ cup batter onto the center of the griddle and use a heat proof spatula to spread evenly. Cook several minutes until golden. Serve with maple syrup and fruit.
May your days be merry and bright, and may all your waffles be light!
©2009 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Remembering Nana's Apple Sour Cream Kuchen

A while back I picked up some pristine, perfectly-rounded small apples at the farmers market -- Ginger Gold, if memory serves. They shimmered with flecks of green and gold, and just a dab of pink blush.

For some reason, I immediately thought of Nana's Sour Cream Apple Kuchen. I hadn't tasted it in years, but the sweet memory was still vivid - buttery apples, dusted with cinnamon and arranged in a mosaic atop molten yellow cake.

Perhaps it was their perfect shape, but I could easily picture those apples sliced into perfect half moons, radiantly adorning the top of one of Nana's celestial kuchens.

Now I'm certain Nana – who passed eight years ago – probably never tasted a Ginger Gold apple. But she had an eye for perfect slices, and her Apple Kuchen, neatly arranged in a 9-by-13 baking pan, was present at many family gatherings. Ask my brothers or cousins – they’re certain to remember it.

Returning to my desk, I call Mom. Do you have the recipe for Nana’s Apple Kuchen? No?? Astonishing, since hoarding recipes has proven to be a genetic trait.

I search the Internet for kuchen recipes, but they seem complicated and some even require yeast. Not likely - Nana was good, but scratch baking was usually reserved for cookies. And, I didn’t remember yeast in the kuchen. It was more a homey, easy-to-prepare recipe, with love as the main ingredient.

Then Mom calls me back – she’s located a recipe in one of her newer cookbooks that might come close. It sounds right, so I give it a try. My little mandolin slices those Ginger Gold apples into paper-thin crescents. And the aroma? I am ten years old again.

I take the Apple Sour Cream Kuchen to the office, where Zany, Mad Me-Shell and the boss dig in. It’s a little like sharing the vivacious spirit of Nana, even today.

Here’s the recipe if you’d like to give it a try. Don’t judge me for using a box cake mix. The taste is absolutely what I remember, and I think Nana would have approved. Overall, I think she was a believer in the end result of baking, and not a stickler about the process.

Apple Sour Cream Kuchen
(Adapted from The Cake Mix Doctor by Anne Byrn ©1999)
Butter for the pan
1 package (18.25) plain yellow cake mix
1 cup sour cream
8 tablespoon butter (1 stick) melted
1 large egg
3 cups peeled, sliced cooking apples
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13 by 9 inch baking pan with butter.
Place cake mix, sour cream, 4 tablespoons melted butter and the egg in a large mixing bowl. Blend with mixer on low until the dough just comes together. Press dough evenly over the bottom of the pan, pressing up the sides. Bake in oven for 10 minutes.
Toss apples with lemon juice in a large mixing bowl. Place sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl and stir until combined. Remove cake from oven, but leave oven on.

Arrange apple slices in rows across the top of the warm cake. Sprinkle sugar mixture over apples. Drizzle remaining 4 tablespoons of melted butter over the sugar mixture. Return the pan to the oven and bake until golden brown, about 30 to 32 minutes. Cool on wire rack for 20 minutes.

©2009 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Braising Season Opens - Braised Red Cabbage, Apples and Smoked Sausage

Forget Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. For me, the most lyrical of the seasons is the braising season.

Each year, I can’t wait to start using the Dutch oven. From the first hint of a chill in the air, until the summer temperature is absolutely unbearable, the fire engine red pot holds an honored place on top of my stove.

This year, the opening of braising season is marked with brilliant color and subtle hints of smoke, sweet and sour. I start with a basic braising recipe for cabbage from the book Martha Stewart’s Cooking School. Two Granny Smith apples (peeled and cored) and one large onion are sliced into one inch chunks and combined with 6 tablespoons of melted butter, ½ cup of sugar and 1 and 1/4 teaspoons of coarse salt. The mixture caramelizes for about 10 minutes.

Then, the last red cabbage from Restoration Farm is cut into wedges and added along with ¾ cup of apple cider vinegar and ¾ cup of water. I add two inch chunks of smoked sausage to the top, bring to a boil, and then cover and simmer on low for a mere 30 minutes. The apples melt into a sweet caramelized sauce of rich purple, and the cabbage is still crisp, but meltingly tender.

Like the scent of autumn leaves, the tangy aroma and the bright magenta color signal that indeed braising season has arrived. I welcome and relish the season of foods cooked low and slow.

©2009 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Giving Thanks …

…for “Great Pumpkins” from Restoration Farm …

… that roast into deep orange pulp …

… and transform into Pumpkin Bread with Streusel Topping for Thanksgiving breakfast.

Giving Thanks for an extra, Thanksgiving CSA share distribution from Restoration Farm for members who’ve already signed up for next year …

There is red and green cabbage, onions, potatoes, beautiful carrots, sweet potatoes, still more Swiss Chard and kale, garlic and butternut squash. The excitement at the distribution tent is palpable as members gather their vegetables and marvel at the bounty. Head Growers Caroline and Dan promise that this is really it, until next season!

Giving Thanks for two kinds of pie for the Thanksgiving feast, because two pies are always better than one. The Pecan Pie is sweetened with dark maple syrup from Vermont and dark brown sugar, and the Sweet Potato Pie is made with sweet potatoes harvested at Restoration Farm. There is something to be said for enjoying a dessert on Thanksgiving Day that comes from that extraordinary place.

Happy Thanksgiving 2009!

©2009 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved