Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sophia Garden Awakes and Spring Pea and Tarragon Soup Cocktail

I plunge my hands into my pockets and shiver as I stand at the periphery of a large, fallow vegetable patch at Sophia Garden. It has been a chilly, wet morning and there is only a smattering of volunteers milling about. The organic garden has been slumbering for many months but will shortly stir again, yielding some 35 different kinds of vegetables.

Long ago a poet wrote, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.” At this moment in time, the garden is serenely quiet, but still ripe with potential.

Cat Lavallee is the new farmer at Sophia Garden. She is 27-years-old and has come from Rhode Island where she worked for two years as an intern at Rabbit’s Dance Farm in Cumberland, RI and Grateful Farm in Franklin, MA. This is her first time as head grower on a farm. She is a petite woman, bundled in layers of work clothes to protect against the cold. Bright, expressive eyes peak out from under the rim of her thick dark cap.

I wonder how a farmer interprets the garden. Since the purpose is to grow food for cooking, does the farmer think more about the plant, or the food? What does the farmer do to influence the flavor of the vegetables we ultimately eat?

“When you pick it is very important,” says Cat, “picking it when it’s just right. We basically pick the vegetable the day we’re giving it out, so it’s at peak taste.”

This is pea staking day. There are ten pea beds at Sophia Garden. Peas are a shallow-rooted plant and thrive in cool weather. The plants will vine up tall stakes, and be ready for picking in about one-to-two months. As the summer progresses, heat-loving vegetables, like eggplant and peppers will dominate the garden.

In all, there are actually three-to-four mini-seasons that will occur over the duration of the 2009 growing season at Sophia Garden.

“You’re always planting and always harvesting,” says Cat as she heads off to supervise the pea staking. “It’s ongoing. It’s kind of like life.”

As we anticipate the first harvest of spring peas, here’s a taste of what’s to come. Simple preparation and just a few ingredients bring out the fresh, lively taste of spring peas in this soup starter course. Serve in cocktail glasses to highlight the vibrant green color.

Spring Pea and Tarragon Soup Cocktail (Yield: 6 Servings)

2 T butter
1 shallot minced
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup water
2 cups fresh peas
1 T chopped tarragon
Juice of ½ lemon
Salt and white pepper to taste
2-3 T heavy cream

Melt the butter over medium-high heat. Cook the shallot until softened.

Add chicken stock and water and bring to boil Add peas and reduce heat. Let simmer no more than 5 minutes. Peas should be crisp-tender. Add chopped tarragon and lemon juice and puree in blender.

Return soup to pot and add salt and pepper to taste. Blend in cream. Let soup cool slightly, or serve chilled. This allows the flavor of the peas and herbs to emerge.
UPDATE: Read more about the daily rythmns of Sophia Garden at the "Chez Aurora" blog.

©2009 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Mr. President – Yes We Can Enjoy Roasted Beets and Goat Cheese Gratin!

Dear President Obama,

I fear that you are about to find yourself embroiled in a controversial issue and I want to help you. You’ve got enough on your plate already.

Do you remember when the first George Bush stated unequivocally that he hated broccoli? Do you remember the uproar, the days of negative press and the scores of elementary school children who felt completely justified in turning up their nose at fresh, nutritious broccoli?

Advocates for sustainable agriculture were thrilled to learn last week that the First Lady is planting an organic garden on the White House lawn to grow fresh vegetables for your family and educate school children about local and sustainable foods. I can’t describe the feeling of satisfaction you will have when you bring those fresh vegetables to the table.

But, no beets?

Now, technically, beets are a “red” vegetable, so perhaps I understand what the issue might be. But, I see that even beleaguered broccoli has a place in the White House vegetable garden.

I do understand how you feel about beets. I was there myself once. When I was a kid, I thought they were “icky.” But then, as an adult, when I began roasting beets pulled fresh from the ground, I saw them in a whole new light. The beetroot is a sturdy, intensely-flavored, down-to-earth vegetable, much like the men and woman who made America great. Beetroot juice has been shown to reduce blood pressure and may prevent certain cardiovascular issues. Beets are also a good source of fiber and Folate, and since ancient Rome, the juice of the beetroot has been prized as an aphrodisiac. Talk about a stimulus package for good health!

There are so many delicious ways to prepare beets. I was quite excited to find some perfectly beautiful organic, local beets at the Union Square Greenmarket in New York City. Using a recipe by Mark Bittman from “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian” I roasted the beets with olive oil, salt and pepper and then sliced them thin and layered them in an oven-proof gratin dish.

I sprinkled the dish with fresh thyme leaves, and topped it with crumbled goat cheese, salt and pepper and whole wheat Panko bread crumbs. Five minutes under the broiler and the dish became an enticing, bubbling, magenta mélange of tangy fresh cheese and the sweet, rich essence of the earth. A gratin is just one idea. I’m sure Chefs Cristeta Comerford, Sam Kass and the talented White House culinary staff can create all sorts of scrumptious options.

Yes, beets might be an acquired taste, and are perhaps not for everyone, but they should not be excluded from the White House vegetable garden for that reason. What would happen if others followed this example, and people began excluding beets from backyard and community gardens across America? I, for one, would be heartbroken to learn that my beloved Long Island CSA, Sophia Garden had shunned beets for the 2009 growing season.

Mr. President, I urge you to reconsider your position on beets and allow them to be included in the White House vegetable garden. I hope you’ll be willing to reach across the table and support all vegetables in the true spirit of inclusivity. Beet advocates across America are counting on you!


T.W. Barritt

©2009 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Advice from the Kitchen GadgetGal

There’s at least one, lurking in a dark corner or recess of every kitchen – a slightly embarrassing reminder of the home cook’s irrepressible desire for miracle solutions, or proclivity for impulse-buying. They are the disappointing, the underperforming, or just-plain-dumb kitchen gadgets and appliances. We all buy them, and eventually we all toss them, or quietly donate them to junk sales. Yet, we all have those tools we can’t live without. So how do you tell a culinary workhorse from a complete dud?

In the back room at the store, “A Cook's Companion” in Brooklyn Heights, New York Jan Hazard is giving the merchandise the once-over. The store is a veritable utopia of kitchen equipment and accessories. The floor-to-ceiling shelves are stocked with coffee pots and Dutch ovens in as many hues as a Crayola Crayon box and scads of silicon tools hang like alluring holiday ornaments along every inch of wall space.

Jan Hazard has a sunny demeanor, bright eyes, a warm smile and short-cropped sandy hair. Her reading glasses are perched high atop her head, and she carries a scratch pad. A long-time food editor at Ladies Home Journal, she now dubs herself the Kitchen GadgetGal. With her partner Nancy Byal, a former food editor at Better Homes and Gardens, they dispense advice on a gaggle of gadgets and small appliances at

Jan has agreed to give me a 101-course on the ingenious, cluttered and often cacophonous world of culinary tools and appliances. She leads me down the store aisle on the hunt, with the kind of instinct and intent one usually only sees at the Barney’s mid-winter sale. She mixes experience and pragmatism with a genuine sense of excitement for a new discovery. And, for those kitchen clinkers, she offers a healthy dose of skepticism, and a “what-were-they-thinking?” bemused sense of humor.

"Coffee pots have always sold,” she tells me, inspecting a mile-high display. “Whether it’s electric or the French press or the drip, we like our Starbucks and want to get that taste at home.” So, no matter what your culinary skill, coffee is one thing we’ve all managed to master in the home kitchen.
But, if one were equipping a kitchen from scratch, what are the essential tools one should gather? “I would have a basic gadget drawer with about ten things in it,” says Hazard. “A silicon spatula, a pancake turner, a can opener, and a whisk. And, knives – you only need three knives really -- a chef, a pairing and a bread knife. I would also get tongs, and a pair of scissors to cut open all of these sealed packages that we have to deal with." She points to a collection of instant-read thermometers. With concerns about food safety, their use is increasing. “That’s in the gadget drawer. That’s one of the ten gadgets you need to have.” Hazard says the instant-read is particularly handy when checking items cooking on the barbecue.

Hazard believes it’s essential to test the weight and feel of any tool in your hand. “Every hand size is different.”
How does she evaluate the longevity or relatively short trendiness of a kitchen tool? “I think it should be multi-use. There are some things that are not multi-use. You have to consider how valuable it is to you. If you want fresh lemon juice every day, then buy the lemon juicer. It’s what you deem important.”
Hazard is an advocate of silicon utensils, although she’s not a fan of silicon baking pans - too flimsy. She points to a short plastic tube hanging on the wall. “The thing that I think is absolutely useless? The garlic peeler! I mean, what’s wrong with taking a French knife, putting it down and smashing it?”
Is she a chronic collector of kitchen gadgets? “I get a lot, just because of our business. My kitchen is organized chaos, definitely. I’m like the cobbler’s kids – barefoot and no shoes. I have the worst kitchen ever. If anyone deserves a great, gorgeous kitchen, I’m a candidate, but I don’t have it.”
If you are an obsessive gadget collector, one method is to count to ten before purchasing. “Think of its uses,” says Hazard. “Go to garage sales just to see what people are selling, because that gives you a window into what’s not working." She agrees that the constant innovation in kitchen technology causes the need to step back and purge on occasion.
The GadgetGals website came about due to the changing editorial climate. “Originally, when we started out, we wanted to have a syndicated newspaper column,” Hazard explains, “but we know what’s happening to newspapers, so we said let’s try the web instead.”
Kitchen tools and appliances often carry a personal connection. “I’ve seen people that have something of their grandmother’s or great grandmother’s. It’s something they’d like to hang on to because it’s part of the continuation of life. It’s something from the past.” She describes arguing with siblings for possession of the family box grater because it was so effective, but then the Microplane came along.

Given the state of the economy, what items might become popular as more people turn to home cooking? “I went to an eco house wares show,” says Hazard, “and they were showing a deep fat fryer that only uses one tablespoon of oil. The machine is 300 dollars, so you really have to love French Fries, but it’s kind of a better mousetrap that uses far less oil. Remember deep fried-turkey? What people failed to realize is you needed six gallons of oil. And what do you do with it after you fry the turkey?”

Time savings and convenience and important features, and Hazard acknowledges that she is a more recent convert to some devices. “I must say that I came to slow cookers kicking and screaming. I’m in love with them now. You can make chicken broth with them. I’ve talked to people who will roast a chicken and throw the bones in afterward in the slow cooker. You just put it on low and let it cook all night and get a wonderful homemade broth. So, I think things like that are going to find other uses, other than chili and split pea soup.”

We pause by a shiny, chrome pressure cooker. “Do you have one?” she asks. “Are you fearful?” I share my recollection that my mom’s pressure cooker would sometimes explode.

“Everyone has that same memory,” she agrees. “I’m with you on that. But now, they really are very safe. I’ve even used mine to make a risotto.”

As we wander the aisles, I ask if she’s ever come across a gadget where she says, I wish I’d thought of that. She gestures towards a “Tuna & Veggie Press & Strainer,” a flat, plastic disk the size of a tuna can with perforated holes. “No, I don’t wish I’d thought of that,” she murmurs. “What’s wrong with the lid?”

So what’s the worst kitchen gadget of all time – the culinary equivalent of the Edsel? Hazard mulls over several notorious candidates. Then she gives a definitive nod. “The hot dog cooker and the electric crepe maker!”

At that point, my cheeks color. “We had an electric crepe maker,” I reply sheepishly.

“I did, too,” Hazard admits. “But, it only cooked one side. You have to cook both sides of your crepes!”

How many kitchen gadgets has Hazard tested during the course of her long career? “I'd lie if I said it was the same number as the bailout package from Congress,” she laughs. “But, I'd be telling the truth if I said I have not kept track and could not begin to count. I must have stopped counting after the hot dog cooker!”
Back home, I admire my purchases from “A Cooks Companion” – all multi-use as the Kitchen GagetGal recommends. The 2-in-1 Citrus Squeezer will juice both lemons and limes. The wide-angle silicon spatula – heat resistant up to 600 degrees – will flip hamburgers, pancakes, lift a pizza, and probably come in handy if I want to fry an egg on the exterior of the Space Shuttle Discovery. And, the retro New York City tea-towel is good for drying hands, face and dishes. I am confident that all will give me years of use as I tuck them away in a cluttered kitchen drawer.

Later, it doesn’t take me long to locate the much-maligned electric crepe pan hidden away in my basement – a worn relic of the haute-cuisine, high-tech 1970s. I consider one final farewell crepe party, but decide that perhaps it’s time for a little spring cleaning instead. And, maybe even a garage sale.

©2009 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Lamb Two Ways and Cooking Like My Grandmother

At the risk of losing you, I begin with the punch line.

The dish you see pictured above is … leftovers!!! (Cue frightening organ music)

It may be nicely dressed up as a Savory Lamb Pie, but it is leftovers nonetheless. Only the pastry crust is new.

In the 80s, the contents might have been tossed. In the 90s they might have gone to the compost pile. In 2009, leftovers are now the “it” weeknight meal.

This story begins with an organic, grass-fed leg of lamb from a farm in Central Pennsylvania. I took passion when my brother -- the original owner of the leg of lamb -- moved to Tennessee. It sat in my freezer for quite a while. My Nana used to cook leg of lamb on Sundays because we never had it at home, but because we never had it at home, I lacked the confidence to cook it. Finally, I decided I’d better get cooking to prevent a lovely piece of meat from going to waste.

I should have invited company, but I didn’t know how it would come out. So I plan a pretty luxurious spread … just for me. I rub the cut of meat with olive oil, orange zest, and dried thyme and roast. That’s it. It is a feast fit for a Tudor King.

Then comes the morning after…and the real effort. I cut six cups of diced lamb from the bone and put it in the freezer. It’s exactly what my grandmother would have done. It’s enough for…well … at least a meal or two for me.

Which brings us full circle to the luscious leftovers. Food historian Francine Segan once told me that pie crust was considered “Tupperware for leftovers” in medieval times. My culinary brain goes into overdrive and I imagine an elegant savory meat pie. I pull the leftover lamb chunks, some cooked barley, and frozen peas from the refrigerator.

I sauté one chopped onion, one clove of minced garlic, one cup of chopped celery and one cup of diced carrots in two tablespoons of olive oil. I add 1 teaspoon dried oregano, ¾ teaspoon cinnamon and a pinch of ground cloves and sauté with two cups of diced lamb. Then I add about 26 ounces of chopped tomatoes from a carton, two cups of cooked barley, the zest of half an orange, ½ cup of frozen peas and a bay leaf and let it simmer until thickened. Meanwhile, I sauté sliced mini Yukon gold potatoes until crisp.

The pie is made by rolling one sheet of puff pastry into a 14 inch square and draping it in a 9 inch spring form pan. I layer half the meat mixture into the pan. Then I place a layer of sliced potatoes over that and finish with the rest of the meat mixture. A second piece of puff pastry is rolled into a 10 inch square. That square is placed on top of the pie and the edges are crimped together. I use the excess pastry to cut leaves to decorate the top. The whole thing is brushed with an egg wash and baked at 375 degrees for 45 minutes and is left to cool for 30 minutes before slicing.

The pie is absolutely delicious, and the orange zest adds a bright, fresh note to the savory flavors. Recession? What recession? Henry VIII should be so lucky.

I should have invited company, but I thought it was just a leftover night. I’ll be eating Savory Lamb Pie for a week. And, I’ve still got enough meat left to put together a spicy lamb curry next weekend.

I’m ashamed to admit that I was never exactly thrifty. But, with all the bad news out there, I guess I had to take action eventually. I’m actually starting to see the back of the freezer again. And, I suspect my cooking habits may have changed forever. My grandmother is probably smiling up there in heaven. And, with any luck, the economy is doing a little better in Paradise than it is here. Meanwhile, my mother is already talking about leaving me Grandma’s meat grinder in her will.

©2009 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Sunday, March 15, 2009

American Irish Soda Bread and Who Is Erin, Anyway?

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! Back in 1983 I kissed the Blarney Stone. Shortly after, I got my first job in public relations. That one big wet kiss has served me well in both my professional and personal life. Yet with all that loquacious luck at my disposal, I’ve always been at a loss to explain the phrase “Erin Go Bragh.” So, as I take this piping hot Irish Soda Bread out of the oven in honor of Saint Patty’s Day, I can report that I finally know the answer. We didn’t have Wikipedia back in 1983, but now I know that “Erin Go Bragh,” is a Gaelic phrase that means “Ireland Forever.”

Irish Soda Bread is one of the first “quick breads” I remember baking. I didn’t know that there are variations on the traditional recipe. I mistakenly thought that the authentic recipe contains raisins and caraway seeds. That's a bit of blarney. The recipe containing raisins and added sugar is actually called American Irish Soda Bread, which I have made here. The additional ingredients were added to satisfy the American craving for sweets. The authentic recipe, from “the old sod,” does not contain raisins or seeds – just flour, butter, salt, sour milk and soda for leavening.

Oh, well. It still tastes light, buttery and delicious. And that’s no blarney.

©2009 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Armchair Culinary Travel - Roast Pork Loin with Turkish Spice Blend

My friend Doug has a versatile approach to cooking. He is equally at home preparing a succulent, rosemary-scented roast leg of lamb, or a piping-hot pan of Rice Krispie Treats. It’s kind of a "Barefoot Contessa meets Betty Crocker" take on the kitchen.

At times, his “Three Faces of Eve” culinary personae can be confounding. “You don't have to spend a lot of money to eat well,” Doug tells me. “It’s crazy that I still save aluminum foil and zip-lock baggies but will spend $15.00 on a beautiful hunk of cheese. Oh, well. We all have our vices.”

One of his “vices” is world travel, and fortunately the last time Doug and his partner Nelson went abroad, they brought back gifts and I was the lucky recipient of a multicolored and fragrant package of Turkish Spice Blend which Doug purchased at the Istanbul Spice Bazaar.

Doug provides the back story: “Turkish blend is a traditional blend of oregano, crushed red chili peppers, cumin, dried mint, coriander, Indian saffron – not to be confused with Turkish saffron and the very expensive Persian saffron – curry (spicy!) and sumac spices. The flavors are intense, so a little rub does go a long way. It's so versatile. In Turkey they seem to put just a touch of the mix on everything, especially their lamb kabobs. I love this kind of meat with simple roasted tomatoes and roasted fennel or Vidalia onion drizzled with olive oil, a touch of salt and pepper.”

Istanbul is the cultural and financial center of Turkey. The Spice Bazaar is the center for the spice trade in Istanbul and is sometimes referred to as the Egyptian Bazaar since spices were imported through Egypt in the Ottoman period. The building was constructed in 1663. It is said that a powerful aroma of spices fills the air. In addition to his culinary achievements, Doug is a phenomenal photographer and provides some photos of his visit.

“Spices, candies, and fresh produce both indoors and outdoors and so crowded!” Doug describes. “Ahhhhh, the figs and tomatoes!!! To die for! They expect you to bargain/haggle as they treat it as a cultural sport and are almost insulted if you do not. A shopping fore-play if you will.”

“We got about $110 knocked off our total bill for the day saving almost 50 percent through bargaining with them. I needed a drink afterwards because I'm not an aggressive negotiator. Luckily there were many beautiful places right on the water to indulge my craving, relax and people watch. Amazing!”

Doug says the uses for Turkish Spice Blend are endless. “I've used it a variety of ways – rubs, marinades, soups. My favorite is my old standard using a dark beer marinade with olive oil, salt, pepper and just a touch of brown sugar first. Then I use the Turkish mix as a rub. Sear the meat then finish in the oven. It’s a perfect mix of spice with a touch of sweetness and the meat flavor really comes through. I also like a simple roasted chicken with Turkish spice rub, a halved orange or lemon in the cavity and zest on the skin with salt, pepper and butter. Delish!!”

Back here in Long Island's Casserole Corridor, I use two tablespoons of the Turkish Spice Blend as a rub – with a little olive oil to moisten – on a pork loin rib end whole, set on a bed of sweet potatoes, turnips and onions. The roast takes on a deep auburn hue and a mélange of cool, warm and exotic spices sensually transform the kitchen. It’s the next best thing to visiting the Istanbul Spice Bazaar, and what a great way for me to share in their culinary travels.

Hmm – a passionate love of food, a talent for photography and a way with words? Maybe Doug should start his own food blog? One can hope!

©2009 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Big Apple Burger Banter – The Perfect Pint

My culinary compatriots, “Ms. Zany” and “Mad Me-Shell” are at it again. One day while I’m not paying attention they concoct a scheme to visit and rate the best burger joints in our midtown office neighborhood. I’ve been on a month-long peanut butter and fluff kick for lunch, so it sounds like a good idea to me.

Our colleague “Splint McCullough” chimes in from his secret bunker somewhere in the mid-Atlantic region. He’s in a snarky mood, probably because he’s missing all the fun, and actually tells Mad Me-Shell that he thinks I’m a “burger novice.”

I immediately ping him and take issue with his rude remark. Splint is unrepentant. “Until you’ve rolled out of bed at 2 a.m. to satisfy your burger craving, I stand by my proclamation.”

Ms. Zany has to bow out of our maiden voyage since she has her nose to the grindstone. We consider rescheduling but in the end, our hunger overpowers our better judgment and we decide to forge ahead without her, our growling stomachs drowning out her words of protest. She is not happy we’ve left her behind, and it is likely we will pay for this transgression.

For some inexplicable reason, I’m craving a lamb burger. Mad Me-Shell does her Oracle imitation and pulls up the site “Menupages” on her laptop. Within seconds, she has located every lamb burger available within a 20 block radius. Ain’t the Internet grand? We choose “The Perfect Pint Public House” as our destination, for convenience, and because the tzatziki sauce on the lamb burger sounds intriguing. The thought of visiting “The 5 Napkin Burger” on 9th Avenue does grab us for a moment of messy, delirious decadence but practicality wins out. Ninth Avenue is too far away.

On the walk down 6th Avenue, I discover that Mad Me-Shell views burgers as a “functional food.”

“I do it for medicinal reasons, not because I like burgers so much,” she explains in pragmatic terms. “I have an iron deficiency.”

For just a moment, I wonder if this lunch might be covered under our employee health plan.

The Perfect Pint Public House is located at 123 W. 45th Street, and resembles a traditional pub. There is a mammoth pint of ale hanging above the front door. I’m a sucker for any establishment with a big goofy sign out front, so I’m getting good vibes already.

Inside, we take our seats in the upstairs dining room and establish our game plan. It is a clean-cut, well-groomed midtown crowd, and the staff has nice lilting Irish accents. The décor is spotless and comfortable – kind of a cross between a well-lit fern bar and a fine dining establishment. The room is decked out in green shamrocks in anticipation of St. Patty’s Day.

We place our orders. Mad Me-Shell thinks we should do a bit of sampling to experience the traditional and the adventurous. In addition to the The Incredible Lamb Burger, laced with fresh herbs and spices, pepper jack cheese and tzatziki sauce, we order The Perfect Pint Burger, a half pound of certified angus beef topped with white cheddar and apple smoked bacon. She’s also an advocate of cutting burgers in half, something she’s dubbed “the double-handed move.” Besides the obvious benefits of sharing, “It’s easier to eat, and it allows you to see how well-done the meat is so you can judge how juicy it’s going to be before you eat it.”

I get the sense I’m in the presence of a pro, so I probe further on Mad Me-Shell’s culinary views. “I would say my overall philosophy is pretty classic," she explains. "I do like to try new things, but I do enjoy a little Southern or redneck twist on things. That’s where my heavy use of bourbon, whisky and deer meat comes in handy.”

So, she’s a health nut, and a connoisseur.

We develop an iron-clad rating system on the fly. No sense putting too much energy into it. We’d rather reserve that for eating the burgers. We agree to rate the establishment on five key factors: Speed, Presentation, Originality, Flavor, and Afternoon Nap Quotient. Each will be scored 1 to 4, with a rating of 4 inspiring the ultimate in “Burger Banter.”

Meanwhile, Mad Me-Shell’s inner Iron Chef Judge is beginning to emerge. “A burger has to have the right blend of meat,” she announces. “I like to make sure, obviously, it is fresh meat, good flavoring, and cooked-well. It has to have a good meat-to-bun ratio and the toppings on it have to compliment the meat, not overpower it.”

Our food quickly arrives, beautifully plated on large rectangular white trays, each tucked within glossy buns and paired with a gorgeous stack of fries, so the Perfect Pint immediately gets high marks for Speed and Presentation.

We take a moment to admire the spread.

“I like that they paired the Lamb Burger with the tzatziki sauce,” says Mad Me-Shell. “I think it is going to be a fairly traditional pairing. I’ve got good thoughts about it.”

“Incredible” is a pretty apt description. The Lamb Burger is a towering source of iron, with lively seasonings infused throughout the meat.

“It’s incredibly flavorful and really lean,” says Mad Me-Shell. “It does have a real kick in it. Complex flavors for a burger. Given our rating system, I’m going to definitely give this one a four. It’s unique and it really punches the taste buds.”

Mad Me-Shell is struggling a bit with the architectural integrity of the Perfect Pint Burger. “It seems to be staying together well, despite the size,” she says “It’s really juicy and flavorful, I would say the only problem right now, is there’s so much bacon, it increases the size and it’s making it a little difficult to eat even two handed, so it’s gonna be a challenge. The bacon is phenomenal. It’s perfectly-cooked, really rich and smoky.” Our overall Big Apple Burger Banter results for The Perfect Pint: Speed – 4, Presentation – 3, Originality – 4, Flavor – 4, Afternoon Nap Quotient – 3.5. Total Score: 3.7

By about 3:00 p.m., the Afternoon Nap Quotient has now become dominant and we are forced to ratchet up our total score for The Perfect Pint.

Zany has already put another burger excursion on our calendar. After all, we have a public service to perform, and Mad Me-Shell needs to keep up her strength.

©2009 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Orange-Scented Olive Oil Cake and Remembering

Rarely a day goes by that I don’t think of my 2006 culinary tour of Italy. I was on sabbatical with no business pressures, and had weeks to immerse myself in the culture, history and ingredients of Bologna, Tuscany and Florence.

It was certainly a life-affirming and life-changing experience, particularly in my understanding of how history, ingredients, agriculture, locale and family all influence the nature of what we cook and eat.

Memory is also a key part of the culinary experience. When I make pasta by hand, I remember Chef Roberto’s energetic guidance, and when I taste fine balsamic vinegar, I recall Mary Beth’s exquisite attention to detail as she taught us to identify flavor notes.

Exceptional ingredients can transport me back to that time. When I pick up a bottle of imported olive oil in the market, I instantly recall that hot September afternoon when I hiked through groves of olive trees from the winery at Fattoria del Colle to the medieval town of Trequanda.

There was such an abundance of simple, wonderful ingredients that found their way into dinner and dessert as we cooked each night with a glass of wine in hand and watched a fiery sun set beyond the Tuscan hills.

This bright and sunny Orange-Scented Olive Oil Cake recalls that extraordinary journey for me. There are many recipes for olive oil cake. This recipe from “The Modern Baker,” by Nick Malgieri makes two cakes, uses pure olive oil instead of extra virgin for smooth earthy flavors of the Mediterranean, and gets its sweet, bright finish from the zest of three navel oranges. It couldn’t be simpler, and the memories it evokes for me of the people and tastes of that trip couldn’t be more delicious.

I’m bringing my Orange-Scented Olive Oil Cake to Maryann and Marie’s 2nd Annual Festa Italiana, a great opportunity to share food with good friends and remember those magical nights in Tuscany when the wine tasted fresh from the vine, the food and conversation filled the soul and the lights of Trequanda looked like fireflies against the late summer night sky.

©2009 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved