• Tuesday, September 25, 2007

    Going South, Getting Happy

    I may have mentioned my trepidation about the South once or twice before. Turns out all it takes is about three solid days of great food, wine and music and I'm magically transformed. I think I'm officially a booster for Greenville, South Carolina. Then again there were those headlines...sex slave ring exposed, lynching and the local politician caught distributing cocaine.

    But let's focus back on the positive: this town loves its food, its chefs, its music. They have a new state-of-the-art performing arts center. They welcome visitors. Platinum recording artists like Edwin McCain still live here and do good things like pulling this show together.

    Southern Exposure Greenville provided an entire weekend filled with great food, top chefs, fantastic wines, and terrific music. Guess who got to meet Thomas Keller? In the photo below, I'm telling him about eating at La Rive years ago, okay decades ago. He says "I used to work at a place called La Rive..." I say, "Yes, I know, it was you in the kitchen then, I just didn't know it..." He graciously says "You don't look old enough to have eaten there back then..." Chef, we're both lucky the years don't show!

    In addition to Keller, I got to meet Barton Seaver of Hook in D.C. Barton is a leader in sustainable seafood choices. Chef Seaver is showing a fish (photo below) he's about to prepare baked in salt. He's explaining how to ensure the fish you're buying is as advertised.

    Chefs Frank Lee, Rodney Freidank and Teryi Youngblood prepared my wine dinner and the wine-maker turned out to be a fraternity brother of my husband. Small and delicious world.

    The menu included dishes like:
    Pan Seared South Carolina Grouper with White Acre Peas, Tomato Split Creek Farms Goat Cheese Salad Micro Arugula paired with Livingston Moffett 2005 Genny's Vineyard Chardonnay.

    Roast Squab Breast with Foie Gras Mousse, Asparagus and Sherry Wine Vinegar-Shallot reduction. Paired with Livingston Moffett 2005 Willow's Red Blend.

    The desserts were amazing - just large enough to enjoy a couple of bites but not enough to induce guilt. Bourbon Chocolate Bread Pudding Souffle, Homemade Butter Pecan Ice Cream; Cornbread Pudding with Blackberry Compote; White Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding with Caramelized Bananas, Rum Caramel.

    I was also surprised to learn how many things Boston and Greenville have in common.

    Greenville Facts:
    • Keith Lockhart graduated from Furman college (where Michael Corleone was enrolled before being pulled back into the family business.)
    • The West End of Greenville is home to a beautiful park whose waterfalls are crossed by the Liberty Bridge. The unique curved and angled suspension bridge almost floats over the Reedy River and falls. The Liberty Bridge was designed by Boston Architect Miguel Rosales, who was the chief architect of the Leonard Zakim bridge.

    • Sterling Square – the corner of Main Street and Washington marks the site of one of the catalysts of the Civil Rights movement. Black students from Sterling High School took a seat at the Woolworth's lunch counter before public buildings were legally integrated. Their courage is marked with a statue commemorating the event. It also serves as a reminder of Sterling High School which was never rebuilt after burning to the ground in 1967.

    Other notables with Greenville connections:

    Tyler Florence – Food Network Chef

    Kevin Garnett – Boston Celtics

    Joanne Woodward – Actress graduated HS in Greenville

    Dorothy Allison – Author, Bastard Out of Carolina

    Peabo Bryson – Singer

    Jesse Jackson – Civil Rights Activist

    Shoeless Joe Jackson – MLB player immortalized in “Field of Dreams”

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    Saturday, September 22, 2007

    Sustainable Choices Just Got Easier

    October is National Seafood Month and I'm making it Sustainable Seafood Month. Sign up (see sidebar) for updates and an invite to the event of the month...
    Here's an amuse bouche for you:
    • The Monterey Bay Aquarium's Pocket Guide to Sustainable Seafood Choices is now available/accessible from your mobile phone.

    If you prefer, you can also get the pocket guide in paper form to tuck into your wallet or purse. Speaking of "tucking in" start thinking about your favorite sustainable seafood recipes and sign up for more info on October's event.

    Call it making a deposit in the karma bank:

    This just in from the San Jose Mercury News (skip to the second story).... making sustainable seafood choices makes good things happen. Share the news.

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    Thursday, September 13, 2007

    Vosges Ancho & Chipotle Ice Cream - "Red Fire"

    Oh my. Just when I was thinking I'd listen to the cranky cats, succumb to the sweet snuffling husband, when I discover a new blog all about chocolate. Now, sitting here pouting.

    Then it hits me! We have this new ice cream - so rich, so creamy and so chocolate-y. Just a bit of heat on the back end and some cinnamon. Happy girl.

    See how easy that was?

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    Tuesday, September 11, 2007

    Back to school - it's not just for kids anymore.

    Remember this Staples commercial? Even if you don't think it's the most wonderful time of the year, it's a great time to learn something new.

    Here are a couple of ideas for exercising the gray matter:
    • How about wine school? Jonathon Alsop runs a "snob free" wine school (he guarantees it!) I can vouch for his easy going style, humor and his comprehensive knowledge. Classes run the gamut from single sessions to four weeks on a topic. There are intro and advanced level courses, courses on pairing, tasting, writing. They even have classes for singles.

    Dubouef Beaujolais Nouveau, photo by Jonathon Alsop

    Cooking classes are another way to kick off the fall season.

    • Williams-Sonoma at Copley Place hosts a series of classes taught by staff from America's Test Kitchen and local chefs, including Rene Michelena of Domani and Saint. Good fall topics likes braises and chowders. Hard to get the information from the website but you can call the store to register: 617-262-3080. Fees are $50 per class.
    • King Arthur Flour has a pretty extensive Baking Education Center. Sure, it's a bit further than Copley (a little over 2 hours, according to Mapquest) but do take a look at what they offer. Classes, books, recipes, tips. They even have online classes - don't ask me how that works. Anyone interested in baking should check out their site, it's full of great information.

    Culinary vacations are a hot new trend in travel. If you're planning a fall trip and love to cook, consider this option.

    • New England Culinary Institute (alma mater of Alton Brown) offers a closer to home culinary vacation option. Check out their Chef Inn Training offerings.
    September 11 post-script:
    My first wine class was at the Windows on the World. I poured for the class so I got to audit Kevin Zraly's excellent introductory course. It's surreal to imagine the WTC as it was then, and the hole in the hearts and psyches of the country now that it's gone. I lift a glass to all who lost so much more.

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    Thursday, September 06, 2007

    Microwave Popcorn Danger - update

    Remember when I told you about lung damage from microwave popcorn? It seems initial information that it was "only a problem for the factory workers" not the consumer was false!

    Read this Medical Newsletter report that a consumer who was diagnosed with the same lung damage from his habit of inhaling the buttery-flavored aroma rising from his microwave popcorn.

    Remember, it's easy to pop safely.

    1. One brown paper lunch bag.
    2. About a third of a cup of popcorn kernels.
    3. One staple.

    Done. Even an FDA hack could manage that!

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    Wednesday, September 05, 2007

    Hog Heaven

    Because life is not the same without cured meats and it's getting harder and harder to find people who appreciate this.

    That is the answer to your question "Why?"

    "But Jackie" you say, "I haven't asked you why". You will. I know it.

    You will when I say to you - you must read this.

    And if you need further reasons, here they are:
    1. I've just gotten another shipment from Benton's Hams and my house is filled with yummy Hickory Pork-y smells. I've got meat on the brain.
    2. Because I happen to agree about Salami not getting it's proper due.
    3. I think McSweeney's is something everyone should read.
    4. I think this piece is written by that funny guy who recently did some really, really un-funny bad commercials for some sodapop. Life must be hard for him - we can all do our part to cheer him up. I must tell you that odds are fifty-fifty that I am mistaking the author of the very good salami prose for that actor guy. In which case, apologies are due all around.
    If you want to glory in more meaty stuff, here are some ideas:

    I got the current shipment from Benton's with the ham de-boned so as to avoid the Civil War Surgeon Scenario. Currently, the skin is in the middle of being turned into chicharron. MMMM me gusto! I'll let you know how this experiment turns out.

    Staub bouillabaise pot

    Tonight's Staub-centric dinner is Corn Chowder featuring some hickory smoked bacon. Here's how I did it:

    1. Sauteed bacon till crisp, removed from oil.
    2. Sauteed three peeled, diced Yukon gold potatoes, half an Ailsa Craig onion, one leek and a quarter of a bell pepper (all but potatoes from the market.)
    3. Deglazed with Vya vermouth.
    4. Added bay leaves, peppercorns, S&P.
    5. Added broth made by boiling 4 cobs from which corn was removed, in 1 carton of low sodium, fat-free chicken broth.
    6. Simmered until potatoes tender.
    7. Added corn.
    8. Added 2 Cups lowfat milk whisked with about 3 TBSP Wondra.
    9. Heated through. Mashed some potatoes in ricer, returned to pot.
    10. Added parsley, thyme and cayenne.
    11. Will serve momentarily with bacon bits on top.

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    Tuesday, September 04, 2007

    Ooooh Mommy or Umami

    I promised to be better at posting. Keeping the brilliant ideas simmering on the back burner seems to do little to bring decent regular reporting to fruition. So here's me striking out toward that laudable goal: consistent, good posting. It's 3 AM - better late than never...

    But first a little snack to fuel the writing.
    Toast with Marmite and butter. I suspect this is so tasty due to Umami, but I'll need to investigate that and get back to you. What, you ask is Marmite? What you ask is Umami?

    First things first: Marmite is a yeast spread that is a by-product of brewing beer. It's salty and savory and can be used to enhance many dishes. It tends to be one of those things that people love or hate and the producers of it actually based an entire ad campaign on the "love it" or "hate it" theme. More on Marmite later...now back to Umami.

    Quick: name the distinct tastes our tongues can discern. If you're like me, you grew up learning we had the following taste sensations:
    1. sweet
    2. salty
    3. sour
    4. bitter
    Umami is best described as savory. Like salt, it enhances or emphasizes other flavors.

    Even though my mother is Japanese and Umami is a Japanese word, I never heard of it until pretty recently. I do remember many interesting meal time debates when Mom would describe a flavor with a Japanese adjective. We'd refuse to believe her that there was not an English equivalent. The more well-traveled I became, the more I discovered other people describing food with adjectives in their native tongue, also insisting that there just wasn't the English equivalent.

    So, Mom, listen up: once again, you are correct. (This never gets easier to say, though you'd think I have adequate practice by now!)

    Armenian contributions

    I'm speaking, of course, of my hairdresser. No, not really. Though he is brilliant. I'm speaking of the Kasabians, the husband and wife authors of the book: The Fifth Taste: Cooking with Umami - is described in the book by that name. (Click on the title to see the book on Powell's.) This "new taste" is one that many cooks and food lovers have just begun to learn about, though many of us have a working knowledge of it acquired through years of cooking and eating.

    I've got the Fifth Taste and will report more on it shortly. Let me say it looks well-researched, well-written and comes with a great collection of recipes rich in umami contributed by a stellar array of chefs including: Daniel Boulud,
    Jody Adams, Gary Danko, Bradly Ogden, Ming Tsai, Ken "Code Violation" Oringer, and more.

    And now, umami-rich dinner tonight...

    New Golden Gate Restaurant in Chinatown.

    This is one of my new favorites in Chinatown. Right near the Gate, on 66 Beach Street. This used to be a tiny little hole-in-the-wall kind of place, which I love. Then it took over some adjacent space and spruced up. We saw one of our favorite managers (formerly of Hei La Moon and Peach Farm) at New Golden Gate so we knew it would be good. This was probably our sixth trip there. Now, a waitress from Hei La Moon has begun working there, too. Hmm...

    The first two dishes we had were Yow Soy Ha - "swimming shrimp." These are a delicate shrimp, live in the tank, then flash steamed. Served whole with dipping sauces, you have to get a little dirty but what's a meal without a head to suck or little shrimpy legs littering your frontside?

    The tsu yim yow yu - salt and pepper fried squid - were good as always, though not the star of tonight's meal.

    One of their house specialties is a rib-eye steak served on greens. We've had it over bok choy and over gai lan, as it was served tonight. The beef is in huge chunks but so tender. The sauce is a delicate gravy almost like a thickend au jus. This steak at any steak house in Boston would cost you half what our entire four course meal cost.

    A specialty available tonight was the razor clams with black bean sauce and dao miu. I think razor clams are primarily found on the West Coast/Alaska, but if they have them when you go, order them. They are sweet and ocean-y at the same time. The black bean sauce served with this dish was much lighter than the typical style you would get with clams. It had nice ginger bits and the pea tendrils were terrific complement to the clams.

    By the way, it's always a good sign when you see large families celebrating over a meal. Another good sign, Asian tourists snapping photos of each other holding the menu, and then of each other eating the food.

    We saw both tonight.

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