Just Launched – Raw Spice Bar

Standard

spicejar2-v1

Just wanted to give you guys a heads up about a cool new website called the Raw Spice Bar, that delivers fresh spices to your door and helps you use them in authentic international recipes. According to the website, this is what you get with each delivery:

  • 3-4 freshly ground spice blends from one geography or region, enough to create 3 dishes serving 8-12 people
  • 3 kitchen-tested recipe cards, plus additional recipes online
  • Spice blend tasting notes, origin & history
  • Free shipping to both the US & Canada
  • Surprises like bonus spices, toasting tips, discounts and other fun stuff

No more using old, dull spices or not knowing what to do with the ones you buy. And I love the idea of exploring a new region every month. I’m looking forward to trying this! Check it out at: https://rawspicebar.com

Heirloom Restaurant

Standard

On New Years Day, I went to the restaurant Heirloom, owned by 27 year old chef Clark Barlowe. It’s located in north west Charlotte, and housed in a building that looks like it might have been a Cracker Barrel in a previous life. Well, in a way that is fitting, since what we had at the New Year’s Day fixed price dinner was something like what Cracker Barrel might serve if it was taken hostage by Alice Waters…or Chef Barlowe, as the case may be. We had a family style dinner of roast chicken, black-eyed peas (they are said to bring good luck when eaten on New Years in the South), collard greens, cornbread, and crispy pork slices. They were not fancy, foamy takes on these dishes, mind you, but the dishes themselves, in their old-timey, homestyle glory. This was pure nostalgia- and when the chef came out to greet us, he confirmed that in fact this meal came straight from his grandma’s kitchen. There were traces of high-end cuisine, however, such as when fragrant woodland herbs were finely chopped table-side and worked into homemade butter for our cornbread. Another highlight was the mixed drinks, all made with house-macerated spirits and fresh fruits and herbs.

I know that this menu is not necessarily typical of the dishes on the regular menu, so I look forward to going back and seeing what else they have to offer. I’m happy to see this kind of restaurant thriving in Charlotte, all while supporting North Carolina producers. For an affordably priced, delicious farm-to-table meal in a very casual setting, check it out.

Heirloom, 8470 Bellhaven Boulevard, Charlotte, NC 28216, (704) 595-7710

Happy Chanukah!

Standard
Happy Chanukah!

Just wanted to wish everyone a happy Chanukah, and share with you a picture of my pinterest-fueled first night treats. I made marshmallow hershey kiss dreidels that came out very cute.

photo 2

I also found a recipe in a fantastic Jewish cookbook called Gefilte Variations by Jayne Cohen, for Fish in Potato Latke Crust with Horseradish Cream. While I didn’t actually follow the recipe, I was inspired to use latke box mix to crust fish and then fry.  I thought this was such a brilliant idea and I can say it came out really delicious. I’m not sure I’ve got it down to a science yet (the crust fell off in areas) and I plan to work on the recipe a bit more, but I highly recommend trying it. All I did was get a box of low-sodium latke mix, prepare as the instructions suggest, (adding just a bit of fresh ground pepper and garlic powder) and then use the mixture to coat filets of fish. You then fry them in vegetable oil until nice and golden. Gives you all the crispy deliciousness of latkes while being a bit more balanced than a whole dinner of latkes. Try it!

Happy Chanukah!

The Global Bakery

Standard
The Global Bakery

I recently got my hands on a new book called The Global Bakery: Amazing cakes from the world’s kitchens by Anna Weston. The book runs the gamut from simple to elaborate cakes, and is divided into different regions of the world. I really enjoyed taking the world tour of cakes, and I think that the recipes seem authentically sourced. I saw some I knew and discovered quite a few that I had never heard of, such as Cornmeal Cake from Zimbabwe, and Melaxrini, an eggy cake from Greece. There are a few I was interested to try, one of which was Castagnaccio, a beautiful tart from Italy that combines chestnut flour, sweet wine and olive oil. As much as I wanted to try this one, I could not find chestnut flour, and so I’ll have to wait until I can order some online for that one. A Palestinian Almond and Citrus Olive Oil Cake also sounded divine and very simple.

But I finally settled on the Spiced Coffee Sponge Cake from Colombia, and I was not disappointed. This coffee cake is not only for eating alongside coffee- it features coffee in both the cake and the icing. The combination of fresh nutmeg, cinnamon, clove and coffee makes a wonderfully fragrant cake with a rich, roasty flavor. Using coffee instead of other liquid in icing is also a great trick; I love the way it preserves the roasted coffee flavor that sadly dissipates so quickly in brewed coffee. I modified the icing quite a bit, however, both because of my kitchen constraints and because I wanted to lighten it up just a bit. I simply mixed coffee, confectioner’s sugar, a small amount of butter and vanilla extract. The result was more of a glaze, which suited me just fine. For a richer cake, try the full recipe. I also only used one pan, instead of the two layers recommended in the recipe. My cake came out a bit denser than what I would call a sponge cake, but then again, I am baking with a toaster oven, and without electric beaters, which are packed away until the new kitchen is done.

Here is Anna Weston’s delicious recipe for Spiced Coffee Sponge Cake, which is an adaptation of one from the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia:

  • 4 tbsp ground 100% Colombian coffee
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup caster (superfine) sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup warm melted butter

Frosting:

  • 1/2 cup brewed hot 100% Colombian coffee
  • 1/3 cup caster sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  1. Grease and flour 2 8-inch round cake pans. Heat the oven to 355 F.
  2. Combine the coffee and milk in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Then allow the liquid to stand on a low hear for 10 min.
  3. Strain the mixture through cheesecloth or clean tea towel (or tea strainer) into a small bowl. Return the coffee flavored milk to the saucepan and keep in warm over low heat.
  4. In a bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Set aside.
  5. In a large bowl, beat eggs until they thicken.
  6. Slowly add the sugar, continuing to beat well after each addition.
  7. Add the coffee-flavored milk and vanilla, stirring until just blended.
  8. Fold the flour and spices into the mixture until just blended, taking care not to overheat.
  9. Fold the melted butter in carefully.
  10. Pour the batter into the pans. Bake for 20-25 min or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  11. Allow the sponges to cool for 10 min, then turn them onto racks so they can cool completely.
  12. To make the frosting, combine the coffee, sugar, salt and egg yolks in a heat-proof bowl.
  13. Over simmering water, beat the ingredients until the mixture has thickened.
  14. Remove from the heat and continue to beat until the mixture has cooled.
  15. Add the butter one tablespoon at a time, beating well after each addition.
  16. Add the vanilla and continue to beat until the mixture is thick enough to spread.
  17. When the cake has completely cooled, spread the frosting over one layer and place the other layer on top. Cover the cake with the remaining frosting.

Coffeecake4

CoffeeCake2

If you are looking for historical background on world cakes, this is not really it. The explanations are brief and it seems that Weston’s goal was mainly one of searching for deliciousness in every corner of the world. (A noble pursuit if you ask me!) I also appreciated the occasional blunt assessment of an exotic recipe, such as her admission that the Chinese Sweet Potato Cake, “kindly” shown to Weston by a couple of Taiwanese students, “didn’t meet with universal acclaim from my colleagues when I brought it into the office.” Ha! Poor kids.

But if you are curious about how different cultures celebrate with cake, Global Bakery is a really nice introduction, with great photos and lots of good recipes to try.

The Global Bakery by Anna Weston, New Internationalist Publications, 2014.

Chickpeas for your chickpea

Standard

Hi! I am resurfacing after a long hiatus in which, among other things, I moved cross country. I am now a North Carolinian! Unfortunately, my kitchen for the last few months has consisted of a temperamental hot plate and a toaster oven, while we remodel the kitchen of our new home, and this has also thrown a wrench in my blogging. But I am the proud soon-to-be owner of a beautiful new kitchen and I am eager to get back to it my cooking and writing!

Recently I picked up the book The Sneaky Chef by Missy Chase Lapine, in an attempt to get more ideas to feed my son, who has become a very picky eater. She spelled out what is actually already my m.o., which is trying to incorporate easy-to-love foods into more suspect ones and vice versa- incorporating nutritious foods into snacks and desserts.  Putting an extra egg in pancakes, adding hot chocolate powder to a fruit and veggie smoothie or sprinkling cinnamon sugar on whole wheat bread, etc… Some may find this tactic objectionable, but Lapine advocates for it, saying that avoiding a power struggle, while still nourishing a picky child, is the way to go.  (You can push this too far, however. I bought a green powder at whole foods that tastes something like freshly cut grass and he slurped it right up at first and then wised up and stopped.)

This got me thinking about other ways, as she says, to use ‘yummy’ foods to sell ‘yucky’ foods, and I came up with a great one. My idea was to make roasted chickpeas, which I know are delicious, and can be eaten like popcorn, but glaze them with honey or sugar. So this morning, I put a can of chickpeas in a bowl, tossed them with sugar, cinnamon and a dash of oil, and roasted them until sticky and golden. This is what I did:

  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and dried with paper towels
  • 1 1/2 tbsp sugar (or however much you choose)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp oil
  • dash of salt

Preheat oven to 375. Drain the chickpeas and dry thoroughly. Mix all of the ingredients in a small bowl and toss. Line a cookie sheet with tin foil and spread the chickpeas on the sheet. Bake until well-browned.

_MG_3325

 

They taste great this way, but after discussing the recipe with my friend Sarah, we agreed that it could be tweaked even further. I became stuck on the idea that I wanted them crunchy with a little sugar crust on them, like candied nuts. But the moisture from the chickpeas makes this very difficult to achieve and the sugar tends to just get absorbed.

So I came up with another option, but one that might require a trip to a grocery store that stocks Middle Eastern products. If you look in the Middle Eastern bulk snack area (dried fruits, etc) you might just find roasted chickpeas- not to be confused with uncooked dried chickpeas. Roasted chickpeas are already baked and dehydrated, and they deliver a delicious crunch. Once you have these, you can eat them as is, coat in a sugar coating, (recipe follows) or flavor them any way you wish. Cocoa powder or cinnamon would be great additions. If you cannot find roasted chickpeas, you could try dry roasting the chickpeas on a low temperature in the oven for 30 or 40 minutes until crunchy. The trick is getting them to turn crunchy without burning.

Candied Chickpeas

chickpeas

  • 3/4 cup dry roasted chickpeas
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp water

Add sugar and water to a pan and put over medium heat. When the sugar boils, stir to dissolve and then allow the solution to boil until it begins to thicken. As soon as this happens, add the chickpeas and stir until coated. Very quickly, the sugar will begin to crystallize. You can take it off at this point or wait another moment or two until further browning occurs. Transfer chickpeas to parchment paper or aluminum foil sprayed with nonstick stray. While still hot, break up the chickpeas with a wooden spoon and then allow to cool. The chickpeas will crisp up as they cool.

For a salty option, this is a new take on my grandma Betty’s Ranch oyster crackers that are one of my favorite snacks. (Stay tuned for a post devoted to Ranch seasoning, which I LOVE)

Ranch Chickpeas

  • 1 tsp Ranch salad dressing & seasoning mix
  •  1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon freshly chopped dill (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
  • 3/4 cup roasted chickpeas

Preheat the oven to 300°F. In a small bowl, add the oil, Ranch Seasoning Mix, and dill. Stir until mixed through. Add the chickpeas and toss until coated. Arrange the chickpeas on an ungreased half-sheet pan in a single layer. Bake the ‘crackers’ for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden.

(Note: The proportions of this recipe might depend on whether the chickpeas are salted. Experiment and adapt to your tastes.)

 

 

La cuisine du souvenir

Standard

Movie Review: Les saveurs du palais (Haute Cuisine in English)

This charming movie is based on the true story of a woman who served as personal chef to the French president Francois Mitterrand. As Danièle Laborie arrives at the Elysee palace accompanied by suited men in a limousine, she thinks there must be some mistake. Why has she, an untrained cook from the countryside who runs a small French cooking school for foreigners, been chosen for such a formal position? Her insecurities quickly dissipate, however, as we see signs of the polite but unwavering self-assuredness that she will bring to the job. First she requests an unorthodox meeting with the president in order to discuss what he “likes to eat,” a curious question for these men in suits, with their concern for protocol and palace procedure. As she leaves her first seated lunch with her colleagues from the “main kitchen,” (the large area where chefs trained in the fanciest schools prepare the formal state meals) she says to her assistant, “that’s the first and last time I eat with those machos.”

As time goes on, she learns that Mitterrand shares her passion for the traditional regional foods of France, and wants nothing more than to be served simple food that his grandmother would have cooked. He reveals to her that as a child, he read cookbooks with great passion, even committing some pages to heart as one might poetry. At that moment, Danièle understands perfectly what the president wants from her and proceeds to disregard palace norms trying to deliver it- calling up aging farmers instead of the regular suppliers, overspending on artisanal products, and ruffling the feathers of those in the main kitchen. Through the meals she sends to the dining room, the two form an affectionate relationship that lies completely outside the world of politics.

One of the things I loved about the movie was the way that it shows different ways of conceiving of the act of culinary creation. On one side is the masculine-dominated world of professional chefs, with well-crafted and intellectualized dishes suitable for fine restaurant tables. On the other is a woman trying to come into that world with something very different- home-style dishes that will recall childhood, jog memories, and honor the loving labor of family cooks past. In an interview with France Culture, the woman whose life the film is based on calls this “la cuisine du souvenir,” or the cooking of memory.

Yet she is a woman who stands her ground, and who would rather work on her own terms in anonymity than be controlled by others. In the end, the palace becomes too confining. The beginning of the end comes when yet another set of suit-clad bureaucrats arrives out of the blue and dictates to Danièle a rigid new dietary regime for the president, a response no doubt to his failing health. Having won against palace protocol and haute cuisine pomp, she finally loses to the medicalization of food in the 1980s, which, perhaps naively (or even arrogantly), recommended abandoning traditional cooking wisdom.

A film about a political figure and yet devoid of politics, it is mostly a portrait of a woman with a passion for the tastes and traditions of rural France, and a president who broke with tradition in order to bring her into the inner sanctum of political power. We might think of her as an early disciple of the food movement that promotes a closer relationship to the land and a return to a more intimate and meaningful relationship to the food we eat. When she is asked for the rundown of her first menu, she announces, under the glaring pressure of the President’s social secretary, “Chou farci au saumon d’ecosse; et carottes du val de Loire. J’aime bien quand les choses viennent de quelque part.” (“Cabbage stuffed with Scottish salmon, and carrots from the Loire valley. I prefer when things come from someplace.”)

In that spirit, I offer you a meal that pulls on some of my personal favorite traditional French country recipes. The first is a salad that can be found in almost every restaurant in Lyon, and it one of my all time favorite salads. It is a play of contrasts between the bitter greens, the sharp, mustardy dressing, the smoky bacon and smooth, creamy egg yolks. Second is a take on coq au vin from my mother-in-law, and it’s a cinch to put together any night of the week. The chicken is stewed for a short time in white wine, and green olives give a briny punch at the end. Last, I give you one of my all time favorite desserts, which I often make for holidays and when entertaining. It is simple, magnificently beautiful, and wonderfully delicious. I guarantee shock and awe from your guests when you put it on the table.

Salade Lyonnaise (recipe adapted from Lucy Schnucks for the Eat-In Ethnic)

Serves 4

  • 1 lb frisée, mixed greens, or baby kale
  • 3/4 lb thick sliced bacon, cut into 1/2 inch crosswise strips
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 large shallots, chopped finely
  • 5 tbsp wine vinegar
  • 1 heaping tbsp Dijon mustard
  • pinch of granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • White vinegar
  • Salt and freshly cracked pepper
  • Croutons (homemade or store-bought)

Put mixed greens in large salad bowl. Cook bacon in a skillet until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Add the olive oil to the pan and reduce heat to medium low. Add shallots and cook until softened, 1 to 2 minutes. Add vinegar and mustard to the skillet and bring just to a boil, stirring, then turn off heat.

Meanwhile, bring about 2 inches of water to a boil in a small sauce pan and add about a tablespoon of white vinegar. One at a time, break eggs into a shallow bowl and slip them into the boiling water. Cover the pot and remove from heat. Cook eggs for 3 to 4 minutes, just until the white is set and the yolk has filmed over. Remove each egg with a slotted spoon and drain briefly on a paper towel.

Add the bacon to the greens. If necessary, gently reheat dressing, then pour over greens (they should wilt just a bit), toss and season with salt and pepper to taste. Top each portion with a poached egg, croutons, and pepper and serve.

Poulet au vin blanc et aux olives vertes (Chicken with white wine and green olives)

  • 1.5- 2 lbs boneless chicken meat, cut into chunks
  • all purpose flour
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 tbsp oil or butter
  • 1/2 cup pitted, canned green olives
  • 6-8 button mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1/4 cup light cream
  • pinch of dried thyme
  • salt and pepper

Toss chicken in flour and shake to remove excess.  In a large skillet, brown chicken in oil or butter over high heat and remove. Add sliced onion and fry for 2-3 minutes in the pan. Next add wine and chicken broth to cover and stir with a wooden spoon to remove brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Add mushrooms and thyme. Simmer on low, covered, until chicken is cooked through, about 15-20 minutes. Add green olives, cream, salt and pepper to taste, and cook for an addition 2-3 minutes.

Tarte aux pommes alsacienne 

  • 1 recipe pâte sablée
  • 3 large fuji or gala apples
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • pinch of cinnamon

Preheat oven to 425. Roll the pastry out and place into an 11 inch tart pan. The dough is very forgiving so feel free to patch up as needed. Punch several holes in the bottom with a fork. Lay sliced apples into tart in whatever design you wish, overlapping each slice so that more fit in. Bake until crust just begins to firm, about 8-10 minutes. This pre- baking allows the crust to brown on the bottom and ensures that shrinkage will not occur after liquid has been added, leading to filling seeping out. This is especially important if you are using a 2 piece tart pan. While the tart is baking, mix next 5 ingredients in a mixing bowl.

Next remove the tart from the oven, and pour filling evenly over the apples. Return to the oven, reduce heat to 400, and bake until the whole tart is golden brown. If the top seems to be browning too fast, reduce heat.

tarte 1 tarte 2

 

 

Auntie Char’s Cinnamon Soft Pretzel

Standard

There are certain things that you love to eat as a kid and never stop loving. This is one for me. If I could, I would eat a cinnamon pretzel every day. To me, it has everything you need to feel good: warm bread, cinnamon sugar, and butter. A warm pretzel makes a great breakfast treat or after school snack, and can be made easily at home if you buy ready-made pizza dough. If you are so inclined, it is also a great use for homemade bread dough – you could use a basic bread dough recipe or something like the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day technique which allows you to store the dough in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

I don’t give quantities here, just use the amount you need!

Cinnamon Soft Pretzel

  • bread dough of your choice – I use whole wheat
  • salted butter
  • cinnamon sugar

Roll bread dough into a snake and twist into a pretzel shape, or into a ring for quicker baking time. Place on a greased cookie sheet. Allow to rest for 15-20 minutes on the pan if you have the time, but this is not necessary.

Bake at 400 until golden brown, around 15-20 minutes, depending on thickness. When it comes out of the oven, brush on both sides with butter and sprinkle generously with cinnamon sugar. The more the better…duh!

pretzel2

pretzel