Monday, July 6, 2009

Sweet and sticky

When it comes to honey appreciation, I am a late bloomer. Sure, I've always liked the taste of honey. But I never realized how many varieties there are, or that even the simple clover honey could actually taste of clover when not mass produced.

When I was in Turkey a few months ago, I had my first encounter with honey comb. There it lay in a beautiful golden 8x11 block, next to the many jam varieties. I was clueless as to what I was to do with it. My breakfast companion told me to put a little bit in my mouth and chew it like gum while extracting the honey. The instant I started chewing the taste of clover filled my mouth. Transporting me back to my childhood when we would sometimes suck on the purple clover flowers in the fields. Never had I tried honey that actually tasted of it's source. It was summer trapped in the sticky combs.

Last week, Honey Ridge Farms came and gave a honey tasting at Family Circle (where I am currently interning) and took honey to a whole other level. Not only do they boast a delicious and wonderful array of products ranging from pumpkin blossom to spiced honey cream and my favorite: honey balsamic vinegar (which goes great over a salad mixed with radicchio, romaine, blue cheese and pine nuts.)

Honey Ridge and Molly Fowler prepared for us a small feast including cocktails made with honey, a mixed green salad with balsamic honey dressing, pork tenderloin with balsamic honey sauce and strawberries, and berry cream tiramisu. The food items showcased the versatility of honey.

No longer will honey be relegated to my Greek yogurt or drizzled on top of an English muffins. With all these varieties available, honey will find a more prominent place in my cupboard. Who needs high fructose corn syrup when nature has perfected it's own natural sweetener.

Spicy Sanguine Sling
Molly Fowler, Dinning Diva on behalf of Honey Ridge Farms
1 1-2 oz vodka
1 Tbsp Grand Marnier
2 oz blood orange juice
1/2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 -1/2 Tbsp spiced honey

Shake all ingredients on ice and strain over crushed ice in a high ball glass.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Fancy Food Show. What's Hot in the World of Food.

Feeling like a kid with a sack of Halloween loot, I emptied two bags worth of food items on my apartment floor. Screaming with delight as I found a bottle of fig and walnut savory balsamic salad dressing from Lucini, chocolates from Aequare and Antoine Amrani, olive oil and balsamic vinegar spritzer bottles from Gourme Mist and countless other goodies.

Did I rob a Food Emporium? No. I just returned from Food Fete. Kind of like the Fancy Food Show after party. Over two thousand vendors jockeyed for attention of over 20,000 attendees at the Javits Center in New York, from June 28-30. But the few vendors that were willing to throw down $3000 could have the sole attention of magazine editors on June 29, 2009.

I had the priveledge of accompanying the Food Director of Family Circle. Some of the trends popping up were yerba matte in iced tea form, lots of chocolates but I was particularly taken with Cholives, which is chocolate shaped like an olive, with a smooth chocolate ganache that can be skewered and served over a delicously alcholic martini. Think espresso liqour and vodka.

Watermelon was popping up all over the place, in beers and as a part of appetizers. Prunes were in juice form and strawberries a la Neil Armstorng, a.k.a freeze dried.

When I actually went to the Fancy Food Show on Tuesday, it was very overwhelming. So much food, it was gustatory overload. However, I did manage to find a few things that stood out. I loved Charlie's Truffled Popcorn, marshmellows made by Butter, particularly the pumpkin spice and mint, and the Indonesian cashews by Nuts Plus Nuts, with a spicy lemongrass flavor.

Among the hot trends this year were; yuzu (Asian citrus closesly resembling grapefruit and mandarain orange), blood orange (juice and products), black garlic (fermented garlic and used as topper on things like pizza), and caramel sea salt brownies.

After wandering around for three hours sampling anything that caught my eye, I was happy that I chose the last day to visit. The crowds were smaller and less agressive (if that's possible in New York). I thought because it was the last day I could score some more free food (yes, I am that greedy. But most vendors were still not willing to give up samples. Apparently you aren't allowed to leave the show with any food. I managed to slip by with my popcorn, apple cider, swizzle sticks,yogurt and nuts.

One woman was not so lucky. A bag packed full of goodies was taken away by security. I had already made up my mind that if so forced, I would down that bag of truffle popcorn. Even if it meant dealing with post-gorging remorse. It would have been worth every kernel.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Chocolate and Beer, a toast to Fathers.

Celebrating Fathers Day this year was bitter sweet. Literally. An event hosted by Slow Food NYC at Jimmy's No 43 was event that paired chocolate with beer. The former is my favorite, the later is usually avoided.

At first I thought this ad hoc combination was an attempt to please the mothers and children of the celebrated father. Instead, I was informed that beer and chocolate pairing actually makes more sense than wine and chocolate pairing, since chocolate can over power wine.

The event wasn't just about gobbling up chocolate. We were lucky enough to have Nate Bletter, who has studied and made chocolate for five years, explain the history of chocolate. Bletter plans to open a chocolate bar company soon with two partners called Pure Origins and they will source their ingredients from local farmers. Besides having the knowledge and ample experience, he showed us how simple it was to make chocolate using a double boiler, Cuisinart, and raw ingredients. One bar was made with roasted cocoa nibs, the other bar with "raw" nibs. Although, Bletter loathes to use the term raw because technically the nibs must undergo fermentation for about a week, meaning the temperature exceeds the qualifications of "raw".

The trickiest part he warned us, is tempering the chocolate. Having a thermometer is imperative, better still, one that beeps when temperature is reached.

Dark Chocolate Bar
(makes 4 bars)
Source: Nate Bletter

1/4 cup cocoa butter
5 oz ground raw or roasted cocoa beans or nibs
1.9 oz or 6 TBSP of ground sugar (take regular sugar for a spin the food processor)
1 tsp of lecithin ground
1/4 tsp vanilla or 1 bean
1 square of existing dark chocolate
optional flavorings: a few drops of essential oils (nothing water based!), dried chili peppers, spices (all spice is traditional), chopped fruit or nuts.

1)Over a double boiler add cocoa butter and melt. Put in food processor and then add cocoa nibs, sugar, lecithin, and vanilla.
2)Let your food processor spin for 1hr (yes, 1 hr) the chocolate with be liquid at the end of the hour.
3)Take temperature of the mixture, it should be around 116F-120F otherwise heat it up until it reaches that temperature range. Pour chocolate into a bowl and throw in your 1 square of existing chocolate and whatever optional ingredient you decide to use, unless your a chocolate purist, and stir. Don't worry if the added chocolate doesn't melt all the way, its only purpose is to help with crystallization.
4)Place your chocolate mixture on top of the ice bath and cool the mixture down to 80F. Be careful not to get any water on the chocolate, it will seize up.
5)Then, using a double boiler, re-heat the chocolate mixture to 85F-91F.
6)Pour chocolate into molds or use ramekins and place in the fridge to cool, about 1hr.

Don't expect that smooth creamy mouth feel you get from store bought chocolate, there is still a bit of crunchiness and grittiness leftover from the nibs. However, this is probably the closet you will get to a real bar of chocolate, the kind the Mayans and Aztecs would be proud of, and a far cry from the crap you find in stores.

Thanks to Bletter, I was also explained the whole concept of percentages. When a bar of chocolate says 70% dark chocolate, it's not really saying how much of cocoa is in there. Because that 70% is made up of cocoa butter and cocoa. Meaning lower end chocolate bar manufactureres A.K.A Hersheys "dark" 70% could be totally different from Lindt 70% in respect to actual cocoa content and that is why no two 70% dark chocolate bars taste the same.

Clearly, I have a penchant for chocolate, but what about the beer? Well I have to say that the five glasses I tried were not bad, and they really did go well with the chocolate. Especially the last beer, the stout, was very smoky and complimented the chocolate well. The raspberry beer was my favorite. A beer truly meant for people like me, who want nothing to do with the bitter after taste. I think my dad would have enjoyed this. Cheers men!

Jimmy's No 43
Beer List
Avril Saisson Dupont, Bier de garde, subtle spicing 3.5%

Mahris, Weissboch 7% Dark chocolate and nutty

Lindemans Framboise, Raspberry Lambic (Whole foods)

Green Flash, Triple Beligium style

Nogne O Imperial Stout ,smoky

Sunday, June 7, 2009

I Heart my Local CSA

After stuffing my face with the most scrumptious rhubarb and strawberry cake, which looks like a plain white pound cake with a river of molten red running through it- I can't help but feel satiated. There is something else- besides my newly expanded gut and labored breathing- feeling the effects of my meal, it's as though my conscious feels full too.

We got our first delivery from our local Consumer Supported Agriculture (CSA) last Thursday, and boy were we excited. After months of abstaining from eating salads that belong on life support or mushy grainy tasteless tomatoes in the winter, the time time has come for fresh local produce. It's not like I have become puritanical about eating locally, but I do see benefits both from a foodie and an environmentalist perspective. First, they just taste better when they are grown locally. Why? Because they are usually picked when they're ripe, they're not stored for long periods of time and carted across the country, and because they don't need to be bread for hardiness, they can be bred for, gasp, taste. And of course local usually means less fuel needed to get those veggies to you.

A CSA works by purchasing a share before the growing season starts -thereby becoming a shareholder- and when the season begins, you get a weekly share of the bounty. You are asked to pay upfront because it allows the farmer to buy his/her supplies, pay for labor, or anything else needed to get going, thus negating the need for high interest loans. There is of course one little catch, if the whether sucks, or pests ravage the crops, there are no refunds. You are in for the good times or bad times. Either way, you usually come out ahead, and will always get something for your money.

Having said this, it is only our second time signing up with a CSA. The first time was in Quebec three years ago, which was a really great experience. At first we would get these vegetables I had never cooked or eaten before and it would be slightly intimidating. But, I just started browsing for recipes in books and on the web. I was making stuff with my kholarbhi and celeriac in no time. When we moved to New York two years ago we desperately wanted to get a plot in the community garden. That was pretty darn impossible to do since there was a wait list of a few years. We didn't know of any CSAs in the area so in the end with stuck with the Union Square Market and the local market on our island on Saturdays.

This year, we have signed up with Astoria CSA and from June until November we will receive a share of vegetables for only $550. After elaborate and fancy calculations with the help of my husbands brain, it turns out to be $20/week which is absolutely nothing (talking New York City here) for fresh, local, and organic produce.

It's only the first week of June and we received lettuce, beets, French breakfast radish, Japanese white salad turnip, rhubarb, strawberries and bok choi.

After I unpacked our goodies, I started searching for a way to use the rhubarb and found Rhubarb and Strawberry Pudding at Darien, my husband, usually does not like any dessert with fruit and don't even mention custard. The desert was more like a cake then a custard, and he could not resist helping me finish off a whole 8x8 pan of fruity goodness, in one night.

Tonight I made us some home made pita bread to go with a nice big salad made up of mescaline, arugula, butter lettuce, roasted beets and thinly sliced radish. For dessert, I just had to make the rhubarb and strawberry pudding.

Somewhere in North Fork, Long Island, a farmer is working hard to provide me with fresh quality produce, and I am working hard to enjoy every bit of it. His labor need not be in vain.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Picnic Time!

My favorite summer past-time is having my meals alfresco. Regardless if the star of the meal is a hunk of grilled meat or a simple salad made from locally grown lettuce. I just love any excuse to eat doors. I come from a place where as soon as the snow begins to melt away (around April or May) us Quebecers are out in tank tops and shorts; and the temperature hasn't even reached 50F yet. Just as quickly as we shed our winter layers, restaurants and cafes are setting up both elaborate terraces, or even one or two tables, on the sidewalks. We appreciate what little sun and warmth we can get in the summer months and want nothing more than to sit outside and drink our sangria (or Labatt) with some aged cheddar (or poutine).

Living in New York, I am longer afforded the luxury of sitting out on my deck and drinking and eating with mes amis (my friends). Because the police look down upon conspicuous containers of liquor in public, my outdoor eating has become somewhat more tame.

Alas, I have come across a product that is brilliant in more ways than one. Alice White, an Australian wine brand, has both affordable and good quality wines. Has recently introduced three of it's award winning varietals -Chardonnay, Lexia, and Shiraz- in 1/2L Tetra Pak cartons. The price? only $4.99. So, now instead of toting around a bottle and bottle opener and trying to slyly conceal your bottle of wine, you can throw in your Tetra Pak carton with it's easy twist off cap and drink to your hearts content. The cops will not be the wiser for it, unless they read my blog of course.
My favorite of the three was Lexia, which is sweeter than a Riesling and a bit fruity. Perfect for a nice refreshing drink on it's own. The containers hold about three glasses of wine, and you can easily store it open in the fridge for a week.

When it comes to glassware for your wine, forget those crappy beer cups and check out govino glasses. They are washable, reusable (up to a certain point, then you must replace them), cheap and stylish. Most importantly, there is a little thumb groove, so you will never accidentally drop your glass when your motor skills start lapsing.

Happy Eating!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Istanbul-Deep Fried Love

I am a firm believer that eggplant should be deep fried. For those of you nodding your head that this makes perfect sense, you must realize what a Dr. Phil breakthrough that is for me. You see, I battle daily with the nutritionist on one shoulder and the foodie on the other. One telling me everything that is remotely tasty is laden with calories and I will become obese and die of a heart attack, or worse, from sex deprivation. The other tells me that enjoying my food is as vital to life as the air we breathe. Some days the nutritionist wins, other days the nutritionist loses. However, there are certain foods or processes I deem unworthy of a fat ass. French fries, potato chips, hot dogs, hamburgers, soda with sugar are not worthy, chocolate on the other hand is perfectly OK.

So imagine my surprise, while in Istanbul for work, I had this deep fried eggplant stuffed with a meat tomato sauce called karniyarik. It was melt-in-your-mouth good with smoky flavor and rich mouth feel. Finally, I knew what I had been doing wrong all along. I was trying to prepare eggplant in low-fat way and I often failed miserably. Eggplant is temperamental, and I have wasted a couple of very nice and plump purple behemoths in my attempts to make eggplant Parmesan. They always ended up tasting bitter and waterlogged.

Eggplant reminds me of celebrity in and out of rehab. Great when it's high (or, rather deep fried) but tasteless and bitter when its sober.

Besides being forever grateful to Turkish people for opening my eyes to the rewards of using a deep fryer, I was also introduced to a few new spices. Two different types of hot pepper called maras and urfus. Maras is the same deep red like paprika color but the flakes are larger, similar to the size of Kosher salt grains. Initially it's not spicy. But it slowly sneaks up on you, almost like when you take a taxi in Turkey, one minute your fare is 14 Turkish Liras the next it's past 31 YTL.

My trip to Istanbul would not be complete without a visit to the Spice Market. My favorite part about travelling, is heading to the nearest market. Moving from stall to stall, I bought apple tea, Turkish coffee, Turkish saffron, maras, urfu, rose petal jam, and some pomegranate Turkish delight. I get so excited when I see spices, like a kid in the candy shop, because they offer an opportunity for me to experiement-and of course show off my worldy foodie knowledge.
Bins of dried peppers in the Spice Market, Istanbul

The cuisine shares many similarities with other Mediterranean countries, namely Greece. However, there are obvious differences. To name a few; the use of pistachio in baklava, the donar, use of chili peppers, and their yogurt with cucumber is thin and almost watery.

Baklava with pistachio, the center one is also filled with a sweet semolina mix. Not as sweet as Greek Baklava.

Just to be certain that my eggplant epiphany wasn't a one time deal, I also tried a cold appetizer with fried eggplant and stuffed with rice. Again, it confirmed that this was a veg meant for the deep fryer and I have happily added two new eggplant dishes to my recipe Rolodex.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Take me to China Town, via the 7 train.

I have never ventured into Flushing before, call it snobbish or lazy, but Queens never held any real appeal to me. Why would I spend over 40 minutes on two trains to get food, when I could be in Mid-town chowing down in under 30 minutes.

It turns out there are two good reasons why I should. First, the ability to sample some pretty authentic Chinese cuisine, from all over China without fake Louis V's shoved in your face every two seconds. The second reason is the value for money.

Immediately after getting off the 7 train on Roosevelt street and Main street is this tiny shack serving up crispy Peking duck with hoisin sauce and shallots in a soft and fluffy rice pancake. The price? $1.00! I did a walking/eating tour of Flushing with a group of girls from NYU. We all pitched in $15 into a collective pot and went from shop to shop sharing our goodies. Our first stop included the duck wraps and also rice pancakes with either pork, shrimp or beef topping, and scrambled eggs. To best describe the later dish, it was like a lazy version of dumplings. You had the slick and gummy texture from the rice pancake and the beef or shrimp on top of the pancake had the same flavor you would expect in a dumpling.

We found a whole in the wall food court, and sampled some food from Western China. Due to Muslim influence, there was no pork, but delicious cumin spiced lamb in a flat bread. The vegetarian cold noodles called Liana-pi were spicy and the combination of mung beans and fat noodles was great. We washed it down with a plastic container filled with warm soy milk, fresh and slightly sweet.

Across from our stall we watched a man making hand pulled noodles. I admired how he could take a mass of dough and transform it into long thin strands of noodles.

Our last two stops on the eating tour were bakeries. I got my mandatory bun filled with red bean paste at Sun Mary Bakery (133-57 41 Road, Flushing). I love how it's savory with a hint of sweetness. We also bought some sugar seaweed cookies. Interesting flavor, but one is definitely enough.
Next we went to Paris Bakery (38-19B Union Street, Flushing), a Korean take on French pastries. The dough is perfectly flaky and golden, only the fillings are more Asian inspired. I tried a sweet potato and a sweet pea filling. I wouldn't say that it was my favorite filling, but I always like trying something once. I would definitely give the chocolate filling a try next time.

In the end, we had only spent a total of $5 dollars each. Unbelievable. We were so stuffed and had such a variety of food. I may be heading to Flushing more often than I thought.