Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010 – A Year of Culinary Types

As the year 2010 draws to a close, I am grateful for the people who taught me the artistry, the importance and the history of food, those who showed me the simple pleasures of growing and cooking food, and those who remind me time and again of the ultimate adventure afforded us by eating.

To all the Culinary Types of 2010, I celebrate them with a hefty slice of Dorie Greenspan’s “Perfect Party Cake,” a fetching confection of butter cream, raspberry jam and coconut.

At the start of the New Year, we learned a lifetime of culinary lessons from the grit and wisdom of my French Culinary Institute instructor, Chef Candy.

Andrew Kaplan of Yum-o! talked about teaching kids to appreciate food.

Mary D shared her long-coveted recipe for the classic covered dish – a notoriously good rice pudding.

Lynne Olver, the oracle of food history and creator of The Food Timeline, shared how food is our common experience through the ages.

The creators of Gourmet Prep launched a new business in Houston designed to teach foster teens job skills.

Spring finally arrived and with it, another season at Restoration Farm. We relished the first tart of summer.

George Garbarini, the gentleman farmer of Restoration Farm shared his recipe for Iowa City Coffee Cake.

We experienced the joy of Saturday berry picking …

... And, the guilt that comes with CSA membership.

As the record season drew to a close – all too quickly -- we celebrated the farmers and the simple gifts of Restoration Farm.

My college roommate Ford McKenzie lured me on a series of culinary and mixology misadventures, including the voracious incident of the Brooklyn Beefsteak.

And, I couldn’t let the year pass without a nod and a wink to inimitable Mad Me-Shell, dear Zany, and Marie Antoinette, who have made it their mission in life to keep me from eating green beans. You make me laugh, and you make weekdays worthwhile. The search for Mr. Pink, the Chowder Fest, the stop at Frites’ N’ Meats and The Lunch Before Christmas were indeed some of my most memorable dining experiences!

Thanks again for reading, and Happy New Year to All!

©2010 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Bread in the Morning

Rise and shine – it’s Christmas Day! To welcome the much anticipated feast, I’ve baked two traditional European Christmas breads, which were the precursor of many of our holiday baking traditions. These festive yeast breads resemble cakes and are enriched with butter, eggs, dried fruit and nuts.

Stollen is a German specialty and is often associated with the city of Dresden. My late Aunt Greta would always bake stollen at Christmas to recall the holiday traditions of her German heritage. She taught me how to make stollen and passed along her original recipe, which can be found here. My results are improving. It’s nice to evoke her memory with a thick, buttery slice of stollen on Christmas morning.

Commercially-baked Panettone from Italy is a fixture in the department store food halls this time of year. Panettone means “great big bread loaf” and my first homemade attempt yielded respectable results. I used the panettone recipe from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook, although there are plenty of versions to be found online. Sam at My Carolina Kitchen also offers some interesting tales on the origins of panettone.

In my research, I was intrigued to learn that panettone keeps so well that some households in Milan reserve a quarter of the loaf to be eaten on February 3rd which is the feast of San Biagio, a saint who watches over those with ear aches and sore throats. The panettone is supposed to prevent winter maladies. Truth be told, I don’t think we’ll have any left by February, so I’ll have to rely on my flu shot!
Wishing you a merry day, Peace on Earth and an abundance of fresh bread!
©2010 T.W. Barritt all Rights Reserved

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Lunch before Christmas – A Yuletide Food Truck Adventure

‘Twas the season of Merry and throughout the city,
The food trucks were parked and all looking quite pretty.

My lunchtime pals Zany and Marie Antoinette,
Were getting real hungry and starting to fret.

A holiday luncheon is what they proposed,
The heck with reservations, we prefer frozen toes.
“Let’s try something different,” dear Zany insisted.
M-A had been scouting, she had her thoughts listed.

“Let’s go South of the Border,” said M-A with a wink,
“The Mexicue truck would be festive, I think.”

So we bundled ourselves from our heads to our feet,
We abandoned the office and went out to the street.

The lane was quite crowded with holiday revelers,
And we elbowed our way through a pack of hungry carolers.

Just near the curb, Mexicue glistened, how jolly!
Its bright orange hue had no resemblance to holly!

The chap at the window was a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him in spite of myself.

The girls stepped to the curb, and put in their requests.
They bickered a bit. It’s what they do best.

As I drew in my head and was turning around,
Out the window our order came with a bound.

We scooped up the bundles and got right to the doing,
The lunch hour was waning and we needed to start chewing.

The miniature tacos were both merry and yummy.
Smoked Short Ribs, Smoky Pinto Bean and BBQ Beets all tickled the tummy!

The cute little sliders had us in awe.
BBQ Brisket, Smoked Chicken and Pulled Pork Shoulder left us asking for more.

We ate quite a lot, which is often our habit.
And we’ll likely spend future days dining on carrot.

We got reminiscing about our pal Mad Me-Shell.
She’s probably starving out there under the L.

Zany took her last bite with a satisfied sigh.
“I think I’ll die happy,” she said by and by.

We gathered the trash with a smile and a whistle,
And away it all flew like the down of a thistle.

To those magical food trucks who fill us up with good cheer,
We wish you a traffic-free, Happy New Year!

©2010 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Season of Soup

It is a frigid time in the city. The avenues are packed with boisterous revelers. People on the street move in sluggish pods, just to stay warm. The nose is cold and the tips of the ears are numb. As the song says, “I’ve grown a little leaner, grown a little colder, grown a little sadder, grown a little older.”

Soup is the antidote - simple, rustic soup with just a few ingredients. Soup that simmers on the stove, filling the nostrils with comfort and joy. White Bean and Butternut Squash Soup.

The source is Alice Water’s “The Art Simple Food.” The ingredients are mostly in the pantry starting with one cup of dried cannellini beans soaked overnight. The beans are drained and combined in a pot with 3 cups of chicken broth and 4 cups of water, brought to a boil and then simmered until tender, about 45 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a Dutch oven and add two onions sliced thin, 4 sage leaves and one bay leaf. Cook over medium heat until the onions are tender for about 15 minutes.

The butternut squash comes from Restoration Farm – still bright, sweet and bursting with color and energy. The autumn produce is like a tonic as we sit at the edge of winter. Peel the squash and cut into ½ inch cubes and add with coarse salt to the pot with the onions. Cook the mixture for 5 minutes. Drain the beans and add six cups of the cooking liquid to the squash and onions. Add additional water if there is not enough cooking liquid. Simmer until the squash becomes tender and then add the beans and keep cooking until the squash is soft. Blend the soup slightly with an immersion blender, but leave chunks of squash and beans. Season with salt and pepper.

Drizzle a thick slice of homemade bread with olive oil and toast in the oven until crispy. Place the bread at the center of a shallow bowl and pour the hot soup over the bread. Warmth and sanity restored. Joy to the World!

©2010 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Monday, December 13, 2010

A White Bread Kind of Guy

I make no apologies. I favor navy blue sweaters, button downs and khakis. I grew up watching June and Ward on TV, and spent most of my formative years in the “Casserole Corridor” of Long Island. I’d probably get a flat top if my head wasn’t shaped so funny.

It’s no surprise that lately I’ve had this craving for white bread. There’s something about white bread - the golden exterior crust and the snowy white interior. Soft, airy and squishy.

Oh, I know it’s déclassé and unhealthy, but I’ve done whole wheat bread a lot, so I just had to see if I could master that bastion of suburban uniformity, the perfect loaf of white bread.

But, don’t think I defaulted to that red, yellow and blue balloon package.

I like my white bread the old fashioned way. The Joy of Cooking way. I knead. I used elbow grease. I earn it.

The end result is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Now that I’ve mastered white bread (does that sound like an oxymoron?) I might just whip up some tuna casserole and a few Mai Tais (garnished with maraschino cherries).
No doubt about it. I’m a white bread kind of guy. But, I bake bread from scratch, so don’t you ever call me boring.

©2010 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Monday, December 06, 2010

A Culinary Adventure in the Mysterious Far East

OK, perhaps I’m exaggerating. When I say Far East, I mean 10 miles east of Manhattan. The borough of Queens. Not that I think New York is the center of the universe or anything.

The story goes like this. It is a chilly December afternoon and I find myself trailing after my college roommate “Ford McKenzie” on Main Street in Flushing, Queens. Ford was once a radical underground journalist and is now a respected member of the financial community and a connoisseur of the Manhattan Cocktail. We must navigate a crush of people. I’m not sure I’ve actually been to Flushing since the World’s Fair (the second one). Flushing was one of the first Dutch settlements established on Long Island in 1644. The intersection of Main Street and Roosevelt Avenue has a high concentration of Asian businesses and residents – and, street food. A mind-boggling choice of street food. It is said that Flushing’s Chinatown is the second-largest Chinatown outside Asia.

I’ve pressured Ford to take me on a tour, since he had visited Flushing’s Chinatown earlier this year. You may recall our incredible Beefsteak Adventure. Or the time we were bitten by the White Dog. Ford is my gateway to culinary excess. He gets me out of my comfort zone, or at least out of Nassau County.
The air is frigid, but we are engulfed in steam and cooking aromas. “It’s just like Hong Kong,” says Ford, and I must admit it seems as though we have entered another world. It is nearly three in the afternoon and there is an ongoing urban banquet underway. Everywhere we look, people are chopping, cooking, frying, steaming and eating. It is as if our only reason to exist is to cook and eat, and eat some more. We gladly succumb.

Near the Number 7 train station, we happen upon a takeout window where scallion pancakes are sizzling on a griddle.   The air is thick with the smell of frying oil and steam.   The steam rises from the feathery-light, savory pancake as Ford tears it in two.

All along the street there are stalls, or what might be described as a collection of mini-malls.   The options for merchandise and food are endless.   I follow Ford as he enters a door off the street and descends to a basement collection of food stalls squeezed into a cramped space.   It is a cacophony of food, cooking smells, and people perched on folding chairs consuming gizzards, pork buns and slurping deep bowls of noodles submerged in broth.  We quickly find a place to sit and order a serving of hot noodles drenched in chili sauce and a bowl of cold noodles topped with crispy pork.   While we have already agreed we will pace ourselves and only sample, the combination of the cold outdoor air and the heat of the spicy noodles is overwhelming.  We practically devour both servings of noodles. 

We stop to watch as a man rolls noodles by hand.

Down the street, we enter another collection of stalls where one can purchase street food, electronics, hand bags, wool hats or brassieres.  The smell is a fusion of new leather and soy sauce.   Three women are preparing steamed pork buns.  They work in a rhythmic fashion.  Two of them are chopping mountains of cabbage and pork for filling.  The third breaks off circular pieces of dough, places some filling at the center, works the dough up around the filling and twists it into a neat round bundle. 

At another stall, the pork buns are monstrous white pillows so we decide to indulge.  The buns are prepared in a tall multi-tiered steamer.   The proprietor suggests that we eat the buns with a touch of soy and chili sauce.  The steaming-warm, pure-white dough and hot savory meat is a carnal delight. 

We are momentarily distracted by the abundant selection of businesses in the area offering a one-hour foot massage.

“Why do you think it takes an hour?” asks Ford.

“Use your imagination,” I tell him, and I have to be fairly asserting in preventing Ford from adding a foot massage to our afternoon menu.

By this time, we have worked up quite a thirst and decide to make the journey to Union Turnpike in Fresh Meadows to check out the legendary cocktails at the restaurant King Yum. Ford is obsessed with the TV show Mad Men. He suspects that King Yum is exactly the kind of place where Don and Betty would have gone for a classy night out back in 1963. He’s probably right.  Dramatic gray clouds have gathered on the skyline, suggesting a dining experience of mystic proportions. 

We are greeted at the door by Helen, the enchanting and energetic hostess. “Have you been to King Yum before?” she asks. We tell her no.

“What took you so long? We’ve been here 57 years,” is her snappy reply.

King Yum consists of three distinct areas, a Polynesian Room, a traditional Chinese Dining Room, and a bar.   Helen seats us in the Chinese dining room where George is our waiter.  He is dressed in a maroon waist coat and black bow tie and is quite attentive.   We are hypnotized by the elaborate Chinese chandeliers and tiles that decorate the ceiling.   The first order of business is the exotic cocktails.   Ford chooses the King Yum special, a smooth concoction of rum and cognac.
I select the Mona Loa, which is about a quart of rum punch – on fire – and contained in a vessel the size of a large flower pot.   Paradise!   I lean in carefully with my straw, being careful not to singe my nose hairs.  

We have a bit of a friendly debate with George.   He wants us to try the calamari, but we’re leaning towards a few classic Chinese American dishes made popular in the fabulous fifties.   George consents to our wishes and brings King Yum’s classic Chicken Chow Mein and Egg Foo Yong with a side of white rice.

I’m not sure I’ve ever had Chow Mein freshly prepared. It is silky, crisp and delicious. The Egg Foo Yong is a satisfying and rich egg omelet filled with bean sprouts, water chestnuts and roasted pork. Helen says the recipes are exactly what they’ve followed since 1953.

Ford throws in a Mai Tai for good measure, but I’m now suffering from culinary jet lag. George packs up the leftovers for us in cardboard takeout boxes and places it all in a white plastic bag with a yellow Smiley Face on it.

We promise Helen that we will not wait 57 years to return. King Yum is everything we hoped it would be.

My white cardboard boxes tucked under my arm, Ford drops me at the Atlantic Terminal station in Brooklyn and soon I am making my way via high speed train back to the relative quiet and casseroles of suburbia.

©2010 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved