Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Say Cheese!

When you're on the road for days at a time, you sometimes have to take a moment to pull over and smell the cheddar.

Heading North on Interstate 94 in Kenosha, Wisconsin, I can hear Mars Cheese Castle calling my name. What cheese lover could resist this Camelot dedicated to Wisconsin's best since 1947?

The cases are filled with every variety of aged cheese ...

I even discover tasty Wisconsin Cheese curd, an excellent snack for the journey ahead.

Just dub me Sir Extra Sharp.

©2010 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Portland's New Culinary Order

At the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) annual conference in Portland, Oregon the conversation is all about "The New Culinary Order" - how food is grown, who grows it, where it comes from, how we cook it, share it and talk about it.

At the Portland Farmers Market, the New Culinary Order comes to life. It is a garden of earthly delights, fresh, baked, green and foraged ...

Between workshops, I have great fun meeting up with "Food Blogga" Susan and her husband Jeff for a magical early morning breakfast at Voodoo Doughnuts.

Let's not forget creativity in the New Culinary Order. We grab the signature Voodoo Doughnut (little guy stuck with pretzel pin), the luscious Bacon Maple Doughnut and the classic Neapolitan. With a good slug of Stumptown Coffee in hand - we revel in the sights, sounds and smells of Portland as it welcomes another day.

©2010 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Warm Bread Rising

I remember the first time I got hot over warm bread.

I was an elementary school student and we were camping during summer vacation in the White Mountains in New Hampshire. The family had piled into the station wagon and driven into the town of Conway to purchase groceries at the local IGA.

We walked into the store and collided with the intoxicating aroma – fresh, fragrant, sunny and malty. The store had a bakery and there were burgeoning loaves of rustic white bread rising in the oven. We snapped up a warm loaf and ate it with our camp stove dinner that night. Immediately we boys began pressuring our parents to return to the IGA for more fresh baked bread.

Was it there in Conway, New Hampshire that I experienced my first craving? Until that time, my bread had come in white plastic wrappers sealed with twist ties, and often with red, yellow and blue balloons on the package.

That day in the IGA remains a pivotal moment. The yeasty aroma of freshly baking bread was a revelation. I had to have more, and I needed to learn more. Today, the Old Man in the Mountains is gone from New Hampshire, but the craving for fresh bread that began in Conway remains – not just to buy it, or eat it, but to bake it. I have a deep knead to experience that ancient alchemy that conjures up plump, bronze loaves of flaky bread.

I’ve had some successes. I even took a full-month of training in European Breads with excellent results – in the classroom. At home, I could never get the bread to rise. The house was always too drafty, or too warm, or too cold. Until now.

Presenting the latest feature in the suburban Long Island kitchen makeover – the Warming Drawer – complete with a setting for proofing bread!

Note the sleek exterior and aerodynamic styling.

As soon as it is connected, I move into action, and select a recipe full of good things from the Martha Stewart Baking Handbook, “Honey Whole-Wheat Bread.” There’s nothing really complicated about a bread recipe – just flour, water, salt and yeast – but just for fun, Martha adds honey and wheat germ for a nice flavor boost.
I knead the bread by hand into a smooth and elastic disk. It’s therapeutic.

The dough goes into the pre-heated warming drawer and within an hour it has doubled in size.

The dough is punched down and divided into two loaves. At this point I am taking every step with extreme caution. I really want this to work. No need to worry. With another thirty minutes inside the drawer, these are really beginning to look like loaves of bread.

A little egg wash gives each loaf a golden lacquer, and with one hour in the oven, we’ve got bread – two heavenly loaves!

It’s so easy it almost feels like witchcraft, or like one of those magic boxes used by a Las Vegas magician.

I’m not even sure I care exactly how the warming drawer works its magic. I’m just glad I don’t have to make the six hour drive to Conway, New Hampshire to satisfy my craving.
©2010 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Going Rogue in Chicago Foodie Land

I am fortunate to have colleagues in a number of cities who appreciate food and enjoy eating out. If I breeze into town, there’s a good chance of a nice dinner with friends. That means I’m usually not forced to watch “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” alone in my hotel room, and for that I am truly grateful.

My colleagues in Chicago are a particularly hospitable bunch, but there’s also a friendly competition simmering there. A while back, they established a smart, sophisticated dining out club. And, they were just a little peeved when my colleague, Hal2010 and I established a competing club in New York. The result is that every time I pass through Chicago, they try to lure me to the dark side. Fortunately, the dark side in Chicago is truly delicious. Our recent culinary adventure is a good example.

No sooner have I arrived in the Windy City when I get an email from my friend Miss Tera. “Dinner plans?” she asked. Miss Tera has this kind of uncanny radar. I hadn’t even announced my arrival. I am amazed that all of this transpires via Blackberry and ESP and it takes me mere seconds to confirm. I am feeling virtuous and request a vegetarian menu. I have been going through withdrawal since Restoration Farm began hibernating in November.

Crazy Cook Liz Barrett (not a blood relation, although perhaps we are related by gastronomy) suggests the spot – Uncommon Ground at 1401 West Devon in Chicago. Here, locally grown is indeed on the menu, as Uncommon Ground boasts Chicago’s first certified organic rooftop garden. They’ve even got a collection of beehives and salad greens grown in the parking lot. Now, those greens are local.

With minimal preparation we are on our way. Apparently, it doesn’t take much for a group of hungry Chicago foodies to organize a dinner brigade.

Our cast includes Miss Tera, (right) a goat cheese guru and queen of the buckles and Hope (left) who favors underground dinners and is always ready to photograph food and share it on Facebook. Hope is a dyed-in-the-wool Chicago foodie and keeps pushing me to make a formal declaration of war against all New York gourmands.

Here I am with Crazy Cook Chef Liz who stars in a tasty vlog with a lazy, but brainy colleague who hates to cook. You should check it out. Someday I want to do a guest appearance.
We start with the Sweet Potato Fries and Goat Cheese Fondue …

And, then I move onto the White Bean and Butternut Squash Ragout …

Liz is crazy over the calamari, and Hope’s mussels are hot and spicy …

When it comes time for the entree, my carnivorous instincts kick in and I brazenly select the bacon-wrapped meatloaf, slathered with caramelized onions. So much for my virtue. Well, there are carrots on the plate. “Nobody’s judging you,” Miss Tera assures me.

Miss Tera’s fish and risotto dish is decorated with tender green asparagus and sprouts and signals Spring …

And, as if we haven’t eaten enough already, there’s still room for shortbread cobbler and s’mores pie. The charred marshmallow topping is sublime.

Miss Tera can’t resist texting Hal2010 and letting him know where I am. She even sends a taunting photo. My cover is blown and his surly response is unprintable.
But, going rogue never tasted so good.

©2010 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Easter Chic

Sometimes, when you’re hopping down that Bunny Trail, you just need to take a shortcut.

My sister-in-law Pam always asks me to bring dessert to family gatherings, and I am usually happy to comply. But, about a week ago, I was speaking to my older brother Jim in Tennessee, and said, “I hope Pam doesn’t ask me to bring dessert for Easter. I’m on the road this week, and I don’t think I’ll have much time to make something.”

“Why don’t you contact her now, and offer to bring the wine?” he suggested. Jim has a good handle on pre-emptive strategies.

Of course, I promptly forgot and by Tuesday night when I checked into my hotel in Chicago, I received the anticipated email from Pam requesting that I bring dessert.

What to do? Ice cream? Store-bought crumb cake? I was perplexed. None of those options seemed quite in the spirit of the occasion.

Then, I happened upon this recipe for Easter Chicks Cupcakes. It’s perhaps less a recipe, and more a craft project. The recipe calls for artful arrangement of colored coconut and candy bits and the preparation is faster than a jack rabbit. There’s nothing too deep here. No profound food history or mysterious French pastry techniques. And, no apologies, either. (I used a boxed cake mix - GASP!!)

For someone who grew up on Peter Cottontail, paper mache Easter eggs, neon-colored hard boiled eggs dunked in PAAS dye and Marshmallow Peeps (and still craves M&M’s “Bunny Mix”) Easter Chicks Cupcakes seems a most festive holiday treat. And, they’re a lot easier to tend to than the barnyard variety.

For those of you hoping for a somewhat more nature expression of the season of renewal, feast your eyes on these shots of Manhattan all decked out in Spring finery on the day before Easter.

Now, what are you waiting for? Put on that Easter bonnet and head out to the parade!
Happy Easter~Happy Spring!
©2010 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved