Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 – A Year of Culinary Types

Another year of culinary adventures draws to a close. Among the characters and plots to grace our little stage were entrepreneurs, food adventurers, a new magazine, the seasonal rhythms of a farm, and a heaping spoonful of sugar. And, it seemed that I was constantly in a jam.

We met food entrepreneurs who are turning their culinary visions into reality. Nick Trastelis brought us his luscious Kalypso Greek Yogurt, inspired by his homeland.
Nick Trastelis and His Extraordinary Kalypso Greek Yogurt in Terra Cotta Pots
Paul Crosby saw potential in the elderberries that grew on his property, and created Crosby’s Elderberry Vinegar. Still ahead is Crosby’s Vermont Acorn Vinegar, made from a local staple, the White Oak acorn.
Paul Crosby Creates Craft Vinegar Products from Elderberries and Acorns
Mike Selberg turned degrees in chemistry and biology into a spirited career as Master Distiller at the Cannon Beach Distillery in Oregon.
Mike Selberg of Cannon Beach Distillery
I became a contributor for Edible Long Island, a new magazine that chronicles the food culture of Nassau and Suffolk County. 
Edible Long Island Tells the Story of Food in Nassau and Suffolk County

Traumatized by the near demise of the Twinkie, I set out to recreate the iconic snack cake in my own kitchen, and expanded my repertoire to include Hostess Cupcakes and Drakes Cakes.  
The Artisanal Twinkie
Food trucks continued to be my restaurant of choice – ranging from the terror-inducing Toast Monster, to Portland, Oregon’s comforting Grilled Cheese Grill that offers fine dining in a converted double decker bus. 
The Toast Monster Mac and Cheese Sandwich
Grilled Cheese Like Mom Used to Make
I learned the art of home preserving at Restoration Farm, and quickly became a canning fanatic, holding regular jam sessions in my kitchen. 
Caroline Fanning of Restoration Farm Teaches Home Preserving
Homemade Jam from Fresh Picked North Fork Blueberries
We followed the seasonal rhythms of the land at Restoration Farm, from the slumber of winter to the beauty of spring to the bounty of autumn.  
Spring Blossoms at Restoration Farm
And, then there were the food adventurers who by their sheer pluck, determination, and insatiable appetites, expose me to some of the finer experiences in life.

My road warrior colleague Splint McCullough made his triumphant return clucking it up at Price’s Chicken Coop in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Price's Chicken Coop - A Charlotte Institution
Dining with Splint McCullough at Price's Chicken Coop

My college roommate Ford McKenzie joined me on the food truck circuit, adding his own unique interpretation, pairing street food with exquisite attire and fine hotel dining.
Ford McKenzie Dressed for Street Food Success
And, my BFF Amanda joined the ranks of Culinary Types luminaries.  Whether it’s a business trip, a baking class, a lunch break or a vodka-infused latke marathon, the Amazing Amanda reminds me how important it is to laugh and that – first and foremost – food should be fun.  
My BFF Amanda
Good advice as we conclude 2013 and begin a fresh start.
Wishing You a Bright 2014!
Happy New Year, and delicious discoveries to all for 2014! We’ll visit again in mid-January. 

©2013 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Naughty, Nice and a Wicked Manhattan

Back in the day, whenever the winter holidays rolled around, my college roommate Ford McKenzie, our respective others and I would typically celebrate the season with a trip to Jacqueline’s for champagne. It was the kind of swanky Manhattan Upper East Side locale that made you feel like celebrating simply by crossing the threshold. The proprietress, Jacqueline, was a gallic Auntie Mame-type who kept the conversation flowing and the flutes full of bubbly, whether we could afford it or not. Naughty.

Jacqueline’s is long since gone, but we’ve never stopped reminiscing about the place. In fact, we’ve probably been in search of an ultimate Christmas hangout ever since. This year, Ford serves up a solution – a visit to the cocktail lounge Two E at the Pierre Hotel on Fifth Avenue facing Central Park. A check of the website suggests that it does seem to offer that elusive blend of Old World charm, uptown sophistication and holiday bling that we’ve been seeking for years. Nice.

I enter the lobby of Two E at the prescribed meeting time, and take in the sparkling, 15-foot Christmas tree that seems to have sprouted at the center of the lounge. There’s a nice selection of cushy seating, and jazzy Christmas tunes fill the room.  
Ford is attired in his holiday best – a trim, Thom Browne winter navy suit with chalk pinstripe, custom white shirt by Maxwell's of Hong Kong, antique gold Tiffany watch, and a skinny Charvet necktie accented with a 1960s gold Mad Men-style tie clip. It is hard to tell which is more merry and bright -- Ford, or the holiday tree?   He bemoans the fact that he has gained a few pounds this autumn eating too many “fat food truck lunches.”  What? Did you miss those adventures?  I did too. Somebody’s been sneaking out for food truck grub on his own. Naughty.

We’re joined by our friend RosemaryLesley Gore lookalike, professional de-clutterer, scourge of useless kitchen appliances and fashion forward trendsetter.  She’s swathed in black wool, adorned with a single silver brooch, and wears a furry black chapeau that is a cross between a Jackie Kennedy pillbox and a Russian Cossack hat. Nice.     

Now for an important disclaimer:  we did not … repeat … NOT bring a food truck picnic into the Pierre Hotel. What kind of slobs do you take us for? 

Two E is well appointed for the holidays, with a massive ginger bread house on the bar that is bigger than most Manhattan studio apartments and appears to be move-in ready.  
We scan the signature cocktail menu. Rosemary has had a tough week, and choses “Love at First Sight,” a mix of Bulldog Gin, St. Germain, Slim-line Simple Syrup, Lemon Juice, Sliced Strawberries and Brut Champagne. 

Ford’s peruses the menu and his eye goes directly to “Wicked Manhattan” a noveau culinary cocktail of Patron Angejo Tequilla, Crème de Casis, Kendal Jackson Grand Reserve Chardonnay, Peychauds Bitters and Chartreause.  It’s hardly traditional, but Ford is intrigued and heads to the bar to get more information from Paul the bartender who is happy to oblige. Paul also offers a no-fault guarantee. If Ford doesn’t like the drink, he can exchange it for a traditional Manhattan. Nice.

While Paul does not exactly fit the part of an over-the-top female French bon vivant, he is friendly and informative and mixes up that Wicked Manhattan with quite the holiday flair. 

Ford succumbs to the temptation. The Wicked Manhattan is a bit fruitier than it’s predecessor, but he likes the floral scent, and wonders for a moment if he should just inhale the lush aroma. In the end, he wickedly imbibes two. Naughty.
After several rounds of Wicked Manhattans, and champagne cocktails, we decide that a snack is in order. Ford declines, given his diet and all. Rosemary and I each order a serving of three Angus Beef Sliders with a side of horseradish sauce. Ford proceeds to help himself to a slider from each of our plates. Very Naughty. 

As we leave the Pierre Hotel and gaze across to Central Park, the moon on the breast of the new fallen snow, gives a luster of midday to objects below.  The glare from Ford’s Mad Men tie clip and Rosemary’s brooch is blinding, but festive nonetheless. 

Epilogue and Shameless Foreshadowing

Hours later, I arrive home, and there is a cardboard box waiting on the doorstep emblazoned with a graphic illustration of a slightly crazed pig.   

It’s an early holiday gift from Zany, Luigi and Sticky Hands in Chicago.  How exciting is this??
They’ve sent me a membership in the Bacon of the Month Club!! Naughty and Nice! 

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

©2013 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Neighborly Jam Session with NY State Apples and Vermont Maple Syrup

This is my absolute last jam session of 2013.  I mean it. I don’t have enough room on my pantry shelves for all the jam I’ve produced, and I haven’t even shared every recipe with you. You have no idea the extent of this obsession. Scary. 

I keep telling myself, “They’ll make great gifts for the holidays.” 

I must admit I’ve been enticed by the signs in the grocery stores for “New York State Apples.” Even the big supermarket chains have taken on the language of local food. So I pick up a “tote” of New York State Gala apples.  
The New York State “Apple Country” website describes the Gala as a juicy variety developed in New Zealand, that is mild and sweet in flavor with crisp, creamy yellow flesh. New Zealand, huh?  So the “local” connection may be a little spurious after all, but it’s probably a good bet they were grown in New York soil.
Many of my jam projects are predicated on what’s in the pantry – and I’ve been holding a bottle of Vermont Maple Syrup from Top Acres Farm in South Woodstock that I purchased last autumn during a visit to the Billings Farm Museum.  
The Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving completes the jam session with a recipe for Apple-Maple Jam.   It sounds like a nice way to preserve the flavors of autumn well into the cruel, cold winter.   And it’s a perfect mash up, or should we say, “jam up” of two neighboring states – the Empire State and the Green Mountain State. 
The biggest part of the job is chopping the apples, as the recipe requires 3 quarts of chopped fruit.

This is the second time I’ve tried a recipe that doesn’t call for adding pectin. You cook down the fruit until it releases its own pectin naturally.  
The mixture looks like a big apple stew.  It is rich with cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and allspice. 

I’m not sure I actually cook it long enough get to the jelling point.  Despite the use of a candy thermometer, I can’t quite seem to get the jam to the “soft ball” temperature.  I stand over the pot for what seems like an eternity, and start to feel a bit like a kitchen drudge. 
After boiling the jam within an inch of its life, I give up and decide to go ahead and process the jam. 
The kitchen smells like a Vermont Maple Syrup House on Thanksgiving Day, and the chunks of apples hang suspended like little jewels in the maple jam. 
So what if it’s a little syrupy in the end?  I can always use it on top of pancakes or waffles. Better yet – how about atop a scoop of vanilla ice cream? That would be awesome. The key thing about jamming, is you just have to be flexible. 
Here’s the recipe from the “Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving,” in case you want to try your luck at reaching the “gelling point.”  Something about that phrase sounds vaguely scandalous.  As always, be sure to follow proper canning and food safety procedures.

Apple-Maple Jam  (Yield: about 8 half pints) 

3 quarts chopped, peeled, cored apples
6 cups sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon allspice
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cloves
1 cup maple syrup

Combine ingredients in a large pot and slowly bring to boil.  Cook rapidly to gelling point. As jam thickens, stir frequently to prevent sticking. Remove from heat and skim foam if necessary.  Ladle hot jam into hot jars, leaving ¼ inch headspace. Adjust two-piece caps. Process 10 minutes in a boiling water canner. 

©2013 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Amanda’s Latkes and Vodkas

It was not yet Halloween and my BFF Amanda was already stressing over holiday preparations. Her issue? The stars and meteors had collided for the first time in 70 thousand years creating a November holiday mash-up extraordinaire – the celebration of Thanksgivukkah.   

“It’s so early!” she moaned. “Hanukkah and Thanksgiving on the same day?  I love both traditions, but this is going to get messy.”

Her solution is to adhere to the traditional Thanksgiving menu (“Forget any cutesy, Thanksgiving-themed latkes. It’s not gonna happen.”), and stage a latke marathon for the remaining hours of the long holiday weekend.  She invites me for a culinary play date on Saturday.  On the menu will be latkes with sour cream. Amanda does not buy into the whole applesauce shtick. 

“We might need a special cocktail to enjoy with our latkes,” Amanda suggests.  

“Perhaps, a cocktail made with potato vodka?” I ask.

Her eyes light up. “Latkes and vodkas!  It’s brilliant! It even rhymes!”

Note the plural in “vodkas.”   Because “latkes” and “vodka” singular just isn’t quite as poetic.

As Amanda is the Queen of Latkes (a well-deserved reputation which she enthusiastically promotes), I take on the vodka assignment. I visit at least four liquor stores, searching for infused options that will pair well with fried food. At one point I discover an interesting ginger and lemongrass vodka and text Amanda with the news.    

She responds, “Lemongrass and sour cream might not be friends? Think savory winter Hanukkah oil thoughts – what would the Maccabees do?”

So, I continue the hunt for latke-friendly vodkas.    

This is not the first time I’ve made latkes with Amanda. The first episode evolved into a bacchanalia of sizzling oil, fried potato and a sampling of hundreds of variations of the traditional Hamentashen cookie.  It was so completely over the top, so deliciously frightening, so insanely caloric, that I’ve never been able to tell the story, and it remains an infamous untold Culinary Types tale.  

Amanda is very particular about her latkes. Some might call her charmingly obsessive, but I think purist is the best description. 
“Grandmother said, Don’t mess with potatoes and onions,” Amanda explains crisply.  “The secret is no ingredients other than potato, onion, egg, salt and MAYBE a scooch of flour.  No nonsense. Potatoes grated and squeezed dry. Hot oil. Burn to a crisp!”

Amanda has spoken.  It’s as simple as that.

I arrive for Latke Fest – packing an intriguing selection of vodkas – and the ingredients are assembled on the counter – five pounds of potatoes along with onions, eggs and flour. She explains the formula in true Food Network instructional style
“For every pound of potato, I use about a quarter to half an onion 1/4-1/2 an onion, one egg, and maybe a tablespoon of flour,” she tells me and adds,  “The fact that some people make latkes from a mix breaks my heart.”

Here’s the recipe inspiration for Amanda’s less-is-better when it comes to latkes approach. 
We quickly peel the potatoes and Amanda runs the spuds through the Cuisinart.   She likes the larger grate hole, which results in a longer “ropier” potato.  
I’m assigned to incorporate the eggs, onion and seasoning into the potatoes using the most efficient kitchen tool ever created.
“Nothing beats clean hands,” declares Amanda, “But, women need to de-ring for the procedure. I once thought I’d lost a precious stone. It was panic time, and it would have really ruined the latkes.”

Next – with frightening speed and accuracy – she begins to scoop the potato mixture into the hot frying pan.  Hot oil sizzles, and the intoxicating smell of caramelized potato fills the kitchen.  
The latkes humming in the pan, they start to develop a festive, lacy edge.   As they cook, Amanda bemoans the state of latkes in America.  

“How can you put Matzoh in latkes” she demands.  “Matzohs are a food of oppression, and will ruin a perfectly good latke.”  
She removes the latkes from the pan, and allows them to drain on paper towels.  I sprinkle them with just a hint of salt and we commence with our pairing of latkes and vodkas.  
On the menu are three options:  LiV Vodka, made from Long Island Potatoes for the fan of locally-produced spirits, Skyy Vodka infused with real ginger(sans lemongrass), and a carnivorous delight called “Bakon Vodka.”  
The latkes are luscious – delicately crisp, with a creamy potato center.   The LiV Vodka pairs particularly well – fried potatoes melding with distilled potatoes. The Skyy Ginger offers a bright and bracing contrast to the potatoes.  This pairing is Amanda’s favorite, so much so, that I end up leaving her the bottle.

Amanda is not completely sold on the Bakon vodka pairing. 

“I don’t drink my bacon,” she says.

I, however, am quite enamored of the match. The Bakon Vodka has a smoky, salty flavor, and even a sort of fatty mouth feel that creates a kind of edible symphony with the latkes. At this point, I’m mixing my metaphors, but with three vodkas to sample, what would you expect? 
In the spirit of full disclosure – I must admit that I probably consume too many latkes, and enjoy the Bakon Vodka just a tad too much.  But, heck, tis the season, after all. 

Perhaps it’s not exactly how the Maccabees might have marked the occasion, but we are really quite pleased with our new holiday tradition.

Amanda smiles with satisfaction. “I’ve had worse lunches,” she sighs. 
The Queen of Latkes has spoken.  Happy Holidays!

©2013 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved