food finale

February 9, 2014 § 1 Comment

I don’t know about you, but I can’t ever reduce my food love to a sweet, a savory, a salty, a carb thing, etc.  I love it all.  I want my cheese, my bread, and all things delicious from fruit to chocolate, and when I am done with my meal, I want a little something sweet. It does not have to be large, just a little sweet bite to complete the cycle of nourishment–yes, as much of the soul as of the body.  Recently, at dinner at Stoneacre Pantry in Newport RI  (run, don’t walk), I was reminded of one (and yes, there are many) of the delightful ways to satisfy the culmination of the meal: the Parisian Macaron.

It is sweet, but delicately so, and rich, though with remarkable lightness.  In a word, satisfying.  As I popped that little button of yumminess into my mouth and chewed slowly as to defer the end of this capstone meal moment, I was dreaming of the Place de Vosges and of shared macarons with my girl friend, Cyndie, with whom I had embarked on a macaron journey through Paris last year. Our journey ended there with a coffee and a small box of perfect macarons.  You know these beautiful cookies, they resemble tiny burgers, with two rounded crisp shelled cookies and a butter cream or ganache filling.

Enchanted by the Proustian moment, I asked Christopher, co-owner and pastry chef at Stoneacre Pantry, if he would be willing to share the recipe and technique at a cooking class at my shop.  “That would be neat,” he said without hesitation, “let’s do it.”  It is precisely that kind of open and eager willingness to share food and a love of it that makes the restaurant such a wonderful place to be.

The following are his instructions:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Some initial tips:

  • This recipe makes 110 macarons, so your friends will be very happy with you:)
  • use precision with this recipe
  • use fresh eggs at room temperature
  1. combine 1 cup of granulated sugar in 2-3 oz of water in a small sauce pan, and heat to dissolve the sugar.  You will see small bubbles form, about the size of dimes.  Remove from heat.
  2. You need 8 eggs, fresh and room temp, separate the whites (hold on to the yolks and make creme brulee later) add a pinch of kosher salt and beat on high with whisk attachment until peaks just barely begin to form
  3. sift 4 cups of confectioners sugar with 3 cups of almond flour, whisk to even distribute
  4. add hot sugar liquid VERY slowly to the egg whites and continue to beat until the peaks are medium stiffness (still some movement but not falling down completely) and a glossy texture
  5. fold egg whites into flour mixture and incorporate well (be careful not to take the loft out of your egg whites, but also to mix ingredients well)
  6. You can add things for color at this point, we used matcha, which is a green tea powder, but you could use food coloring, cocao powder, or dehydrated vegetables like beets or mango blended into a powder–be creative!
  7. Place the batter into a piping bag and pipe small buttons onto a parchment lined cookie sheet, leaving a little room between for the cookies to grow, as they will rise. Once the sheet is full lift it about 6 inches above the counter and drop it to allow the pressure to spread and shape your cookies into perfect little burger buns
  8. allow the cookies to sit uncooked on the tray for 15- 20 minutes before baking
  9. reduce heat to 325 degrees and bake 8-9 minutes until lightly browned, cool and remove from pan.
  10. To fill: match your bottoms and tops for best sizing, then pipe in butter cream or chocolate ganache, place the top on and pop immediately in your mouth!

Buttercream frosting:

cream together 2/3 butter, 1/2tsp vanilla, 1 TBSP milk, and 3 cups confectioners sugar, should be thick enough to hold its form.  Do this a day ahead and add any flavorings you like, Christopher added pistachios ground and the taste and texture were delicious!

This recipe was shared with love, so you should share your macarons!

as always, eat, drink, and think,

 

cheers, Maria

 

 

History of Food, part 2

January 31, 2014 § Leave a comment

On Saturday, I had the opportunity to prepare the second meal on my journey of the History of Food in 100 Recipes (Thank you Sitwell for taking me on this trek.) So far this has been a lot of fun.

Thsi recipe was a simple one, “Fish Baked in Fig Leaves,” from Archestratus’s Life of Luxury, 350 BC. Archestratus, according to Sitwell, had one aim, to visit as many lands a possible and sample the good things that place offered to eat.  I feel akin to this man in both his purpose in life and his heritage, as he is also Sicilian, so I was very excited to make this recipe.

The recipe does not offer much direction other than wrapping the fish in the fig leaves and baking it, so I had a lot of freedom, which is how I work best in the kitchen (and, for that matter, in all areas of my life).  I set out the farmer’s market to see what I had to work with.

To begin, no fig leaves in January. Okay, a minor set back, what else is out there?  From a local vendor, I got banana leaves, great option, which actually imparts a little flavor to the fish, so I am ready to get fish.  I am trying to stay with local ingredients, and clearly banana leaves are not, so for the fish, I am staying with something fresh and local.  Today, the cod looks exceptionally good, so I go for that.

But, what else?  I started around the farmer’s market, fully aware that it is the dead of winter.  I spied a butternut squash, some yellow onions, parsnip, and turnip, a perfect combination of flavors for a caramelized hash for under the fish, but now I needed aromatics.  I remembered that I have a pesto in the fridge, so I grab some additional fresh parsley. Now, I needed a way to present it.  I grabbed a lobster and some little necks for a broth and garnish, as well as some fingerling, purple, and sweet potatoes for roasting.

This is coming together quite well, I thought to myself, and  so, I headed home to assemble and serve.

The banana leaves were easy to work with, so I loaded them up with the veg hash, the fish and a little pistou, wrapped and baked at 350 for about 35 minutes until the fish felt firm to the touch and the bundles looked full.  I boiled the lobster with some aromatic herbs and onion and garlic, sauteed the little necks in wine and garlic, them combined them to make the stock.  (Take note, I have not said butter yet, and won’t…this is a healthy one!)

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I ladled  the stock into pasta bowls and added the fish packets, just cutting the top for presentation, they looked so pretty on the plate, and the result was pretty delicious. We had a few different wines on the table, but the best pairing, I thought, was the Roussane from Kunin, a small Santa Barbara Winery that I am working on getting here in Rhode Island…always a project.

I think Archestratus would have been pleased with Rhode Island’s offering!

Next, you ask? Well, I am skipping curing ham, there are people who are very good at this, and jumping right into roast goat! Stay tuned, and eat, drink, and think.

January 3, 2014 § 1 Comment

It has been a little while since I have written, partly due to busy life, busy shops, and general procrastination, but also, I need to be inspired to write.  Today, I was inspired.  I was viewing a Schwartzberg TED talk on Youtube about gratitude.  He is an artist who records images of flowers in super slow motion, and they are stunning. You should check it out, (Gratitude: Louie Schwartberg at TEDxSF”) very cool, but for my purposes, I was inspired by his central message; simply put, be grateful for that which nature gives us. Nature gives us gifts freely, but to be sure, some are more fortunate than others. As we are hit with a blizzard in the northeast, it is hard to feel blessed, but we are so fortunate and need only walk on Rhode Island’s coastline to see that.

I thought about food and wine in a way that I had not before, they too are the gifts of the earth, and I am fortunate to enjoy them in abundance.For starters, I am fortunate for the beauty of these gifts in both their natural state, which appeals to the eye and the touch, and in their prepared state that appeals to smell, taste, and perhaps a sizzle satisfies our sense of hearing.  We can look around a grocer or a farm stand and witness the glory and gorgeousness of vegetables. Then, we take them into our hands, we smell them, clean them, chop, plan, dice, blanche, or what have you, and then begin the poetic process of composing a meal, a dish, an experience, a ritual…

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Preparing and sharing a meal is the way that we express our gratitude for the gifts the earth provides for us, with recognition that not everyone is as fortunate.  So, I must share my blessings, right?  (yes, I am getting to that part) All of this is done in communion with others.  

I am beginning a new book, William Sitwell’s “A HIstory of Food in 100 Recipes.”  My Dad kindly bought it for me in a moment of excitement (okay, I wont go on that tangent, but thanks Dad!).  The book traces a history of food by way of one hundred recipes tracing a historic line from nearly 2000 years before the Christian era to today.  I like the narrative that Sitwell draws out, so I decided that I need to follow his journey, and let me own develop from it.

Tonight was the first of many, making dinner for my friends from the history of food. (sounds so dramatic, doesn’t it?)  I am going to go in order, for now (rules are so flexible, I find), and so I began with Ancient Egyptian Bread and a Babylonian Stew, the two first recipes.  I will not write out the recipes: one, because you should buy the book and check it our for yourself; and two, this is my journey, so I am going to share that experience with hopes that I can pass on to you a little inspiration to go out on your own food and wine journey. I will tell you that both of these recipes are very simple and entirely impossible to recreate, so I did what any decent cook would do, I made it up!

The first recipe was for Ancient Egyptian Bread, and the instructions began with something about grinding the whole grain with two sticks in a wooden bowl.  I took some liberties, thanks to Bob’s Red Mill Spelt flour, a “grain of antiquity” the label assured me, seemed like a good substitute for hours of rubbing two sticks together in an effort to produce a product that a reasonably good company had already done for me. I added water and yeast, as the instructions that had been left on the tomb walls of Senet indicated.  I did mix it by hand, though I wanted to use my Kitchen Aid.  The texture was dry and when I saw the dough, I immediately texted Louise to stop at the shop and pick up a loaf of bread, surely this was not going to go well.

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While the dough was rising (and Louise arrived with a stunning loaf of sourdough), I prepared the stew.  I will admit I took a lot of poetic license with this one, but what I liked about this recipe was the labor involved in recording it onto a cement tile.  As Sitwell reminds us, we communicate recipes with great ease by text, email, etc, imagine writing it out in a tile with a stick. Again, get this book and read the detail of his research, it is so cool. What I learned is that this culture appreciated the ingredients available from their fertile ground, just as I do, so I decided that a stew made from local ingredients, inspired from the narrative of an ancient Egyptian tablet was what the menu called for.

I started with some leeks, onions, celery and carrots, a bit of olive oil and a couple table sppons of butter and from there, every few minutes added small cubed pieces of beets, potatoes, winter squash, parsnips, and Brussels’s sprouts,  to which I added sauteed broccoli, mushrooms, and garlic. I cooked the broccoli, mushrooms, and garlic separate because I wanted to layer in flavor, a surprising burst, rather than a flavor bended in.  I also cooked the vegetables a little longer than I typically would because I recently heard that you need to cook broccoli at least fifteen minutes to get the full flavor from it, and this worked in my favor.  I did the first cooking off with chardonnay, and then added water to cover and finished in the oven.  It was so beautiful, bright green, red, and yellow all smeared like a Impressionist dinner table.

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The girls said it tasted pretty good, so I was happy. The bread, surprisingly, turned out all right. The texture was very satisfying, like a thick Naan, though the French Sourdough would have been better…leave some things to the professionals! I learned something tonight about my meal: trust local seasonal things to blend in flavor and take some chances.  It is food after all, so make it up as you go!

I am only 2 recipes in, so you will surely hear more about this.  By the way, I asked the girls to bring red wine to pair with the dinner, thinking the blizzard conditions and our winter stew would be better suited to a red wine, but we ended up, driven by our own impulse to drink white, and Louise’s pinot blanc was the best pairing of the night.  The little caramelization that happened on the veggies while roasting with the ripe stone fruit of the Alsatian white were so lovely, richness to them both but the dance nicely together.

Next week, fish wrapped in figs and sweet nuts…I will let you know how it goes.  I love to hear about your cooking adventure, so please share.  When we can’t travel, we should go places in our kitchens with our friends.

 

Be grateful and may your table be abundant in 2014, cheers, Maria

 

The Fat Radish Delivers

August 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

Last night, I had the pleasure of dinning with a couple of old friends, who appreciate food as much as I do, so I let Paige drive our dinner choice. Her pick? The Fat Radish, and it was not disappointing.

The restaurant is in the lower east side, but you would never find it just strolling around. It resides on a street with no other open restaurants or shops. It is for the outsider, a bit uncomfortable to walk down a dark street that is totally closed up, but Paige and Christopher have been living in this neighborhood for several years, and they move comfortably and confidently down the block to the restaurant. I love it from the entrance, which is dimly lit and yet not at all dark feeling because of the light white washed feel and the rustic decor that bespeaks its farm to table approach to food and wine. We were welcomed by the comforting and inviting smell of roasted summer vegetables, as if ratatouille was the latest fragrance from Pottery Barn Home.

We start at the bar. The wines by the glass are interesting, and this makes me happy as I order a glass of Gavi di Gavi, a crisp minerally white from the Piedmont. This is a popular choice these days, I often have customers request it, so I am always glad to try a new one that may find its way onto my shelves.

It is surprising to me that they actually have two Gavi’s on what is a short though good list by the glass. I take this as a good sign that they are thoughtful about their choices because it is a great choice for food. It is a white that is interesting despite its seemingly simple appearance. On first tasting it, it seems relatively easy, nice but not noteworthy, but as it comes up to temperature a bit, it releases some interesting floral aromatics and shows the complexity of both a toasted nutty note on the finish along with a briny mineral flavor that makes my mouth water and my stomach call out for food.

We ordered a couple starters, Dukkah on naan, which I had never even heard of before. I quickly grab my iphone and look it up. Thanks to technology, I learned that dukka is a Buddhist term loosely translated into “life is suffering,” but it is tied to understanding the four noble truths and understanding that all things are temporary. Most translators resist translating the word because of the impossibility of doing justice in English, and this linguistic difficulty is telling when I try to describe to you the dish, which I think shares the name. I should say that dukkah, spelled with an h at the end is an Egyptian spice blend of seeds, nuts, and spices that are ground into a rough powder….nothing at all to do with the Buddhist term, but We really tried to create some interesting connections….maybe it was the Gavi, but that was the thread of my thoughts. At any rate, the dukkah on naan was innovative and flavorful, and it was surprising.

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The best plate of the night was the zucchini and tomato starter, simple but perfectly cooked and so satisfying. That is the thing about summer vegetables, sourced locally, they are so fresh that they taste alive.

All of the main courses were delicious, too, each one with a variety of vegetables, greens, and fresh herbs. The meals are simple, but they shine because the ingredients are of the very best quality.

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back in the city

August 19, 2013 § Leave a comment

I wish it were easier to keep up with this blog, but I am going to skip the self-criticism and move directly to a description of my brief food journey to New York City.

It has been a series of mishaps that have brought me here, beginning with a food show, that was last month, (don’t ask, it is too embarrassing), then I was early for my 9.45 am train that actually departed at 9.12 am (again, don’t ask), safely arriving in Penn Station, I left my papers and sun glasses on the seat before I navigated the subway (and, yes, my sense of city savvy was diminished considerably when I realized that I left the sunglasses behind). Okay, but here I am in New York, so my mission is to eat at as many restaurants as possible, seeking new combinations, inspiration for new menu ideas, new products, and fabulous wine pairings. It is a tough job, but I will do my best for you.

Before strapping on the feedbag, I ventured on a short run to build up am appetite. Have you been on the Highline? Up till now, I had only heard about how great it was, and now I know.

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From the crowded Highline, I headed to the Hudson River Park, which is aptly named winding along the Hudson, so cool. Having burned sufficient calories, I am ready for some food and wine!

Pastis is not new, and it is one of many brasserie style restaurants in New York. I am not alone in my love of all things French, and it is conveniently located across from my hotel in the Meat Packing District. It has a welcoming atmosphere, and the moment you walk through the door you are transported to Paris…I wish I were being adventuresome, but I go for the favorite…

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That is right, and I challenge you to find a better choice! Their salad niçoise has a nice balance of arugula for crispness and peppery flavors with the salad’s other salty and sweet combinations, like the shaved fennel and olives, or the seared tuna, with its char and salt with the sweet bell peppers roasted in olive oil. Yes, I admit, fresh tuna is taking the salad to a different level, fancier than the canned tuna that traditionally adorns the plate, but simply put, it tastes good, particularly when the chef gets that charred bit on the outside, which compliments the other flavors so well. With my salad, I am enjoying a simple cotes du provence rosé, which I have said enough about before, but will just add that the freshness of this simple refreshing wine paired with the acidity of the salad makes me feel nourished and cleansed in equal parts. A satisfying, if simple, meal. The surprising thing about the is combination is the fennel and the rosé, these two flavors make me want to roast up some fennel, gratin style, and just smear it on some crusty french bread, thickly cut, and smothered with French butter with Fleur de sel and a glass of rosé….maybe that will be on the menu at LPG next week….

more later from the Chelsea Food Market!

a night out

April 30, 2013 § Leave a comment

As much as I adore Newport,it is so nice to go adventuring beyond the bridge when the Gestapo is not watching. As luck would have it, I was able to sneak out without detection and head to Boston. Have you heard of this town? It is fantastic, to put it plainly.

You may detect a little sarcasm in my voice, but that is directed at myself. I grew up in Massachusetts, in a small nearly rural town called Oxford. We went to Boston on rare occasion for one of two things: a Red Sox game and/or a meal in the North End. Now, in my parents defense, both are a worthy day trip, by themselves, and when done in tandem, well that is a damn good day. That said, I grew up thinking of Boston as a sport’s town with a damn good plate of pasta….but there is much more to this dynamic city, and I am beginning what I think will be a long love affair with its culture, history, beauty, food, and people.

Today, I returned to the city after a brief hiatus, and I felt the energy and strength of a city aware of its recent events and defiant of the possibility that such an event would slow it down. The sun shone lavishly on the Commons, where the trees are in bloom, the street buskers are playing music, the children are playing sports that involve a wide variety of balls and wheels and an abundance of shrieks of pleasure (yes, for those that know me, I found that part mildly annoying, but I was trying to move through the world in a spirit of love and peace), and the dogs were….well, it is spring, enough said.

So, I walked, as this city calls one to do. From the far reaches of the North End to the Urban Outfitters on Newbury…meandered through Beacon Hill, and who would not want to live there with its comforting brick brownstones, and narrow passages, sweet boutiques, oh, and that sandwich at the Paramount piled high with fresh roasted turkey and avocado…yes, I am inspired, which is why I do this, so I will add this sandwich to the menu for summer! mostly because I want to eat it! Did I mention the sweet potato fries? yeah, that good, and it gave me the energy
to complete my French homework (okay, I was close to done…but I did not skip!).

After walking till the blisters were unbearable, I found a stool at Drink, a lively bar with a small but interesting wine list, a ver accommodating staff, and a delicious menu of bar-bites.

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To borrow from Fletch, if this phot were at all legible….you would see a fabulous glass of languedoc white, yes I will find it, and a plate of smoked salmon pierogies….yummmmm… a great day in beantown…

just a quick update

March 18, 2013 § Leave a comment

The truth is that I installed a kitchen in the gourmet shop because I thought that I could relieve myself of the stress, expense, and hassle of finding decent prepared foods for my customers, but what I did, in reality, was create a third job for myself.  Okay, we live and learn.  Good news is that people seem to like it, but ( and, of course, there is always the other part, right?) I am seriously overwhelmed by how much work this is.  I am just barely getting the stuff cooked in time for the afternoon lunch, so I will have to take a hall pass temporarily on the posts that I promised.  I am going to get there, but for now I better just get the food cooked, and try to do that well.  Always new challenges that keep me striving to do all of this better for you and for myself….all for the love of food and wine, it is my mission;)

 

I am about to revise the menu for spring veggies…send me your favorite soup recipes.  Please, keep it simple!  I won’t make anything with more than 7 ingredients( two of which are salt & pepper), and if making it requires that I hunt for days for some esoteric ingredient only found in the underbelly of the dragon, save that one for someone more courageous than me!

 

cheers, m

 

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