Thursday, September 17, 2009

Now is the Time!

One of my favorite things in the world is a hot bowl of good tomato soup with a crusty piece of toasted bread, with maybe some cheese melted on it, on a cool late summer evening. Yes, it sounds idyllic and hokey but whatever.

Here is how it should be made in my opinion. Five ingredients. Yes, five, and that includes salt, pepper and olive oil. No basil and DEFINITELY no cream. Don't even think about! The key is good tomatoes. They need to be super ripe. I'm talking so red (assuming it's not a different colored heirloom tomato), so soft and so sweet it almost melts in your hand when you pick it up.
The BEST Tomato Soup

5lbs VERY, VERY ripe local tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 large onion, sliced
salt/cracked black pepper to taste
extra virgin olive oil

In a heavy bottom pot slowly sweat the onion until it's very soft and translucent in about two tablespoons of EVOO. Salt the onion while this is happening. Add the chopped tomatoes and make sure to add all the juice off the cutting board too. Season with salt and pepper. Bring the tomatoes to almost a boil and simmer for about an hour or until the tomatoes have completely broken down.

Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender and strain it through a fine mesh strainer. Discard all the seeds left in the strainer. Return the puree back to to the pot and bring back to a simmer, season it again with salt and pepper if needed. Laddle into warm bowls and enjoy!

Feel free to serve it with some crusty bread, maybe with melted cheese on it. Cheddar. Ok. Parmesan-Reggiano, better. Manchego, best! If you want to get crazy, drizzle a little good EVOO on the soup, in the bowl. Now that is summer in a bowl.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Still hot...but dead outside

The heat and humidity of summer is finally here. We complain all winter that we can't wait for summer, it finally arrives and we run inside to hide from it in the shelter of our air conditioned homes and vehicles or from the warm breeze of a fan. Well at least some people do.

On a hot and sticky night last week my wife and I headed up to Shelburne Falls to eat at The Gypsy Apple Bistro. I was looking forward to their quaint outdoor patio and the quiet streets of Shelburne. Without a tourist in sight and the streets surprisingly free of locals, who were probably home sweating in front of a fan, we parked right out front. I have been to Shelburne only a handful of times but was amazed at how quiet downtown was that night, especially for a Saturday.
We got to our table out back and ordered some white wine to fight off the heat.
We were the first table to be sat that night other than the two mischievous kids, I assumed were the kids of the owners or staff, who were lurking around and occasionally sitting at the table next to us. A fan was propped up in the window of the kitchen offering, I'm sure, little relief to Chef Michaelangelo Wescott working over the stove that night. If it was 90 degrees outside you know it was at least twenty degrees warmer in there, if not thirty or forty.
After going over the menu, and thinking to myself that I was thankful not to be the one in the kitchen that night, we made our decisions. We ordered the appetizer special a leek and smoked trout tart, crab cakes, potato gnocchi with mixed mushrooms and lemon-oregano brined pork chop. We were both starving after fasting (I didn't really fast, I just didn't eat much of a lunch) most of the day to save room for our planned meal.

The smoked trout tart and crab cakes came out first. The tart had a delicious flaky crust and was topped with salmon roe and creme fraiche. The filling was moist, a little smokey, creamy and delicious. The flavors were perfectly balanced with the buttery leeks, smokey trout, cooling creme fraiche and briny salmon roe. It was a home run. We both loved it. The crab cakes were fairly large and well seared on the outside. Filled with bell peppers, celery, herbs and clearly not lump crab meat, the texture was crispy on the outside but slightly mealy and mushy on the inside. Served with a remoulade, the cakes flavor was good but texture was a little off.

Our salads came next and were unexpected. The salads, comprised of leaf lettuce, cherry tomatoes, radish, beets, cucumber and "house dressing" were very good. All the ingredients were clearly fresh and local and the addition of roasted beets and radishes gave it more character than a standard house salad. The house dressing was light and tangy.

For our entrees my wife ordered the gnocchi and I had ordered the pork chop. My wife, always in search of good gnocchi, was excited to try theirs. I must admit I was too, I am often let down by heavy, dense and gummy gnocchi more often than not. Having formerly made gnocchi everyday for almost two straight years while working at a certain four star restaurant in Boston, I will admit I am hard to please with them but that's not to say I can't be wowed. I had fairly high hopes.

The gnocchi was served with mixed mushrooms (crimini, oyster, shitake and chanterelle), peas, parmesan reggiano and fresh herbs. The sauce was rich and delicious with a robust mushroom flavor but the gnocchi, much to both our disappointment, were dense. The flavor was good but they seemed overworked and slightly heavy, especially to be eaten on a 90 degree summer night. I will admit, from experience, that making GOOD gnocchi takes a lot of practice and can easily become overworked. The peas were fairly bland and mushy too, probably frozen over just overcooked. We were both let down, especially since the flavor of the mushrooms and sauce was so rich and packed amazing umami punch that was deep but not overwhelming.

The bone-in, thick cut, pork chop was brined in lemon and oregano and was served with green beans, potatoes and and a romesco sauce. The chop was seared with a nice crust on the outside and was cooked perfectly inside with a rosy hue. Much to my surprise you could definitely taste both the oregano and lemon from the brine giving the chop a nice citrus tang. The beans were cooked well, still crunchy and flavorful. The potatoes while good, were too few. One white and one purple. Yes, two little potatoes, each the size of a ping pong ball. Now I'm not one to complain about portions, especially too little starch since many restaurant load your plate with it whether it be potatoes, rice or pasta because its cheap, this was over the top. I wished I had more to mop up the delicious romesco sauce that was under it all. Easily one of the best romescos I've had, it was amazing with the pork.

As we rested and digested after our entrees we contemplated desert. The two kids were still scurrying around, now making faces through the fence unknown to the other couple sitting out there.

We decided to go for desert and ordered the malted-vanilla creme caramel. It was cooked perfectly. Creamy and not spongy, light yet not mushy. If not listed as "malted" neither of us would have ever known with no noticeable malt flavor. That isn't to say it wasn't good because it was delicious and the perfect ending to an amazing meal, but the malt simply was not there. Regardless we devoured the thing in seconds and quickly realized we were both incredibly full and satisfied.
As we rolled back through the dining room I was surprised that is was now packed having been empty when we arrived. Yet, when we got outside it was still a ghost town. Apparently even when the town is dead it's still alive at The Gypsy Apple Bistro which is good to see. A great little place, still putting out delicious food even in the heat of summer.
Happy eating!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

This Is Not Food: Part Three- The Tornado!

Watch out there's dark clouds brewing on the horizon. The wind is starting to pick up. Thunder rolls in the distance. I see the funnel cloud! Oh wait, no it's not, that's El Monterey Tornados! With wind speed like that I'm scared to open the freezer at 7/11.
In part three of "This Is Not Food" I present El Monterey Chicken Club Tornados!

Maybe you've never heard of El Monterey brand products but they claim to be "Americas favorite brand of frozen Mexican food". What a claim to fame. That is really something to be proud of. I personal love their sales pitch for their new flavor Tornado... "Love Tornados? Join the Chicken Club! Savory chicken breast, ranch flavored sauce and cheese in crispy, seasoned tortillas." I read that and thought, "I sure do love tornados! How do I join this chicken club?"

I'm pretty sure the chicken club is a classic Mexican dish. I think it was invented by the same guy who invented the chimichanga, John Chimichanga I beleive was his name. What a culinary hero.

For those of you not "in the know" you're probably wondering what this little delicacy is. Introduced to the convenience store market approximately five years ago, Tornados by El Monterey are credited for revitalizing the use of roller grills in convenience stores and quick-serve food outlets. Thank god for El Monterey, without them the roller grill industry might go the way of electric can opener manufacturers.

For Mexican food with a fresh twist, try Tornados from El Monterey. Soft, flour tortillas rolled in crispy seasoned batter and stuffed with delicious fillings — Tornados pack a whirlwind of flavor in every bite.

I can taste the freshness just thinking about! You know it's fresh with an ingredient list like this...



Oh boy, that is fresh. They use real fresh lime juice powder! And 2% or less imitation bacon crumbles to give it that authentic "club" flavor. And one of my personal favorites, yellow 6. Known in the "food" industry as Sunset Yellow FCF and by the "E number" E110, this product gives foods an amazingly natural yellow hue.

A synthetic coal tar, yellow 6 can be found in almost everything. Here are just a few jelly, marzipan, Swiss roll, apricot jam, citrus marmalade, lemon curd, sweets, hot chocolate mix, packet soups, trifle mix, breadcrumbs, cheese sauce mix, soft drinks, capsules of DayQuil (in high concentrations), some extra strength Tylenol, Astro peach yogurt (potentially others), fortune cookies, some red sauces, certain pound cakes, snack chips and other yellow, orange, and red food products.

Yellow 6 is also (surprise, surprise) a possible carcinogen and may be responsible for causing an allergic reaction in people with an aspirin intolerance, resulting in various symptoms including gastric upset, diarrhoea, vomiting, nettle rash (urticaria) and swelling of the skin (angioedema). The colouring has also been linked to hyperactivity in young children.

I personally believe that all these possible affects (cancer, hyperactivity) really are worth it when you see the delicious, yellow colored, creamy, cheesy interior of a Tornado. Almost like looking into the eye of a storm, it's the power of nature, lassoed into a tortilla like a Mexican charro. Make sure you grab a few off the roller grill next time your in 7/11, in fact try all six. Ranchero beef and cheese, grilled chicken and cheese, southwest chicken, cheesy pepperjack, cheesy pepperoni and the instant classic...chicken club. HAPPY EATING!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

10 Reasons To Be Careful w/ a 10inch Knife

ONE- the obvious first, a 10 inch knife is a big f#*king knife

TWO- it can cut through chicken bones with ease

THREE- my (your) fingers are not much larger than a chicken bone

FOUR- sometimes the only contents of a first aid kit are bandaids, finger cots and neosporin
FIVE- it's creepy to be the sweaty, pale-faced guy with a bloody dish towel wrapped around his hand looking for gauze and latex gloves at CVS

SIX- it's even worse when you realize afterwards that you also had blood on your chin

SEVEN- the sixty year old woman working at CVS feels bad for YOU!?

EIGHT- calling the doctor on your cell phone and trying to drive with a bandaged club hand is not considered safe by the National Highway Safety Commision

NINE- you may scare children so much they start to cry and cringe with fear at the sight of your bandaged hand, even your own daughter

TEN- do you know how big ten inches actually is?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Cheesy Days and Creamy Nights

On a sunny morning recently my wife, daughter and I decided to head to the Berkshires for a day of sun, coffee, cheese, sausages, barbecue and ice cream. While this may seem like a strange combo of items for a summer day trip, we are a food obsessed family. Anytime we go anywhere it revolves around food, this day was no different and it was well worth the drive.

Although my wife is a native western Mass(achussian?? Massichussiner? Masshole? I'm not really sure here...) she had never been to Great Barrington. So we decided to take the little one swimming at a nearby lake and had lunch on the beach. After getting her fill of sun and water we headed to downtown Great Barrington.

First stop: Fuel Coffee Shop. The place seemed hip. I ordered two iced americanos they were dark, not too bitter and good. My wife and I were both pleased to have a little caffeine after a long morning/afternoon at the beach.

Second Stop: Rubiners Cheesemongers and Grocers. This place is easily the best cheese and charcuterrie shop in New England outside of Boston. They had an amazing selection of local, domestic and international cheeses. Many of which they had out for sampling and a cheese monger offering tastes of whatever you wanted to try assuming you weren't put off by his displeased look and unfriendly demeanour. I personally love all forms of charcutterie and they had everything you could want. A great find!

Third Stop: Route 7 Grill. I had heard many good things about this place, some even claimed it to be the best barbecue in New England. While I'm not sure I would go that far it was VERY good. They use local meats and produce which I of course love, especially for barbecue. You don't see that everyday. It was a hot night and we sat outside on the patio. It was almost perfect, minus the mosquitoes which got bad right before they lit the citronella, eating outside there on a hot August night. Cold beer. Ribs. Pulled pork. Brisket. Corn bread. Coleslaw. (Good coleslaw I might add, not some mayonnaise slop like too many places serve.) We were pleased all around. HIGHLY recommended.

Last Stop: Soco Creamery. We had promised the little one all day that we would get ice cream and so we did. While I was full from a plethora of smoked meats and beer I knew I had to take one for the team and eat ice cream (possibly my favorite thing on the planet, don't tell anyone). We stopped at the factory shop because of its side of the road convenience compared to the downtown location. That was a little bit of a mistake. It looked like no one had been in there in days. The inside was a disaster. They had only a few selections on hand which confused me since that is where they make and package the ice cream. Anyways, the little one got her cone of black raspberry and I had some coffee-mocha concoction, I'm not sure what my wife had. At that point it didn't matter I was hot, full and beat but it was the perfect way to cap of a summer food adventure.

Fuel Coffee Shop
286 Main St, Great Barrington, MA 01230-1607
(413) 528-5505

Rubiner's Cheesemonger and Grocer
264 Main St, Great Barrington, MA 01230-2202
(413) 528-0488

Route 7 Grill
999 Main St, Great Barrington, MA 01230-2028
(413) 528-3235

Soco Creamery
5 Railroad St, Great Barrington (this is the downtown address, go here not to the factory!)
(413) 528-9420

Friday, July 31, 2009

Caterpillars and A Masked Chef

Trying to decide where to go out to eat, on the rare occasion that my wife and I have a babysitter, can be harder than one would imagine. I always think to myself, "Okay, the two of us only go out a few times a year, lets not squander this chance with a mediocre dinner." I can say from past experience that when you plan to go out weeks in advance, the night finally comes, you get to the chosen restaurant and the service is poor, the food is bad and you leave wondering where your money just went...that is not a good feeling. I have had this bitter reality more than once from dining in some local establishments. Fortunately, this past weekend did not leave me feeling that same way.

With out much discussion about where to eat we decided to go to Moshi Moshi in downtown Northampton. The wife and I both love Japanese and Korean food and are always searching for places to find it prepared well. I had heard good things about the place and know a few people who eat at the sushi bar regularly so we decided to give it a try.

We got there at about 6pm on a Friday and the sushi bar was already full with boisterous customers laughing at something the chef was doing. As we discussed where to sit one customer offered some unsolicited advice to us to "Try the caterpillar roll. It's AMAZING!" She explained. Feeling a little overwhelmed we decided to venture upstairs for a table. The chef was apparently doing a good job of entertaining the crowd downstairs with both his food and comedy act. After navigating the narrow spiral staircase we were both surprised with the upstairs space. It was small but had a nice view of downtown so we sat right next to the window overlooking Rt. 9.

We were both very hungry and wanted to order a lot of food, and we did. We ordered the oysters on the half shell special, vegetable gyoza, kal-bi ribs, beef yakisoba and two glasses of white wine. The gyoza came first, to my surprise, and they were delicious. They were clearly made in house and had a bright green filling that was visible through the thin and crispy wrappers. I was happy they weren't the same frozen gyoza every other place in town seems to serve. They were served with a "tempura sauce" that was made with soy and scallions. It was pretty standard but good.
Next our server brought us our miso soup and salad that came with the entrees we ordered. They were both good, the mixed greens seemed fresh and the miso was hot with plenty of wakame, tofu and scallions. It's pretty hard to go wrong with that.

While waiting for our next round of food my wife and I both realized how horrible our wine was. I don't remember what the name of the winery was or where it was from but it was the only white they had by the glass, probably a sauvignon blanc. We both agreed we were happy we hadn't decided to get a bottle, which we had discussed, because it tasted like a $4 bottle. I think we paid about $6 for the glass.

Next our entrees came out. At this point I realized we still hadn't got our oysters. I started to get a little frustrated when our server quickly sprang up the stairs with them. It seemed an odd point in the meal to eat raw oysters but I'm not one to shy from their cold, oceany goodness. They were topped with a fair amount fish roe, ponzu and scallions which slightly overpowered the oyster but was still good.

The kal-bi ribs were served on a cast iron platter with rice and broccoli. The ribs were charred nicely and had a light glaze on them that was pleasantly spicy. Not as spicy as some I've had elsewhere but they were tender, moist, fragrant and delicious. I was more than happy.

The beef yakisoba was served on egg noodles with mushrooms, carrots, scallions and broccoli. In the few bites my wife decided to part with I thought it seemed really well done. Crunchy vegetables, tender meat, sweet/spicy sauce. She apparently agreed because she inhaled the whole bowl in what seemed like seconds.
At that point we were stuffed and passed on desert. We already had other plans for desert elsewhere, good beers from the Dirty Truth. What? That's considered a desert in my book.

Overall the food was good. The prices were a little high, I thought, with the ribs costing $20 and the wine was horrid for $6/glass (which, yes, is cheap but still, come on...) but we were both very satisfied with our dinner. Next time I'd stick to the Saporo or maybe some sake. As we came down the stairs excited about our upcoming "desert" the downstairs was still full of customers and laughs. The chef made a point to ask how the food was and to wish us a goodnight while wearing some kind of creepy mask. I was a little confused but it was pretty funny, I can see the draw of sitting at the sushi bar. Good food and a little entertainment.

If you've never been, go. The Valley Bowl RECOMMENDED.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The REAL "Bitter Reality"

The Boston Globe Magazine ran a perspective piece two weeks ago (I just got around to reading it yesterday) by Tom Keane about why locavores are bad for the environment and the economy. It was easily the worst article I have ever read about the subject. I honestly think it made me angrier than watching Glen Beck or anyone else on FOX "news". It kept me up all night thinking about the blissful visions he portrayed in his piece about industrial farm complexes. For me it was nightmarish visions of futuristic feed lots with thousands of pigs stuffed in cages, the foul, overwhelming smell of sulfur from massive lakes of feces and the dark cloud of flies that darkens the sky all day. Oh wait, that was the farm I saw somewhere in Ohio while driving to Chicago last week...

Mr. Keane's main points were:
-"the local food movement is "based on bad logic and bad economics, one that, widely adopted, would actually harm the environment and potentially impoverish millions."
-local products cost more because small, local farms are not as efficient as factory farms
-that self sustaining local economies are "rediculous" and "irrational" because "the hallmark of civilization has been specialization."
-farmers in New England should specilize only in things our region is "good for" like fishing and producing cranberries, maple syrup, and cheeses
-only buying locally will hurt Columbia and African coffee growing regions
-that to "to buy merely because something is local smacks of nativism and protectionism"

and my personal favorite...
-"local food is not greener food".

This is the link to his piece..."A Bitter Reality", you should read it.

Here is what I wrote in a letter to the editor and may have possibly sent directly to his personal that appropriate?

To the Editor,

I recently read Tom Keane's perspective piece in the Globe's Sunday Magazine on June 28th and I'm sure I'm not the first to email about it. Unfortunately, the "Bitter Reality" is that he doesn't know what he is talking about. If he would take the time to talk to a local farmer he would understand how much peoples renewed interest in local foods has helped them. He mentioned items like lobsters and cranberries, but here in New England we are capable of producing a lot more than that. If we do not to support local farms who grow things other than cranberries (which don't grow throughout New England, the same goes for lobster too) small farms will not exist here in the future.

With Mr. Keane's logic, why would we buy potatoes from anywhere but Idaho? Or peaches that aren't from Georgia you ask? While it may be true that some climates are ideal for certain food production, to expect our farms to survive on cranberries, lobster, corn and tomatoes is ignorant. He clearly has no understanding of how food production works. To think that mega factory farms are "greener" than most local, small farms shows his total lack of understanding of basic farming concepts. It is these monoculture farming techniques that are destroying the farm land across our country. Depleting our soils of any nutrients while pumping if full of pesticides, herbicides and insecticides that will pollute them a generation.

Mr. Keanes's coffee growing country logic can work in reverse too. To buy a potato simply because its cheaper from Idaho rather than the one grown down the road and sold at the farm stand hurts the small time, local farmer. I don't think they can afford us not to purchase their goods either. I suppose they could pack up there tractor and drive out to Falmouth and trade it in for some lobster traps or a bog.

Further, Mr.Keane's microchip factory analogy is ridiculous. Clearly he gets some hot, sexy feeling from massive industrial farming complexes but has no real understanding of their implications. His comments on the "hallmark of civilization, specialization", has proven itself really well all across our country from Detroit to Gloucester. From cars to cod and everywhere in between.

Mr. Keane's article does nothing but continue the long held beliefs in this country that trade and the "market" are always what's best for the economy and our food system. If it is than why do people continue to starve around the globe, why are small farms closing everyday, increasing our unemployment, hurting our communities, and why are we one of the unhealthiest developed countries in the world? Something is clearly wrong with our entire food system and it is NOT caused by people who eat locally.

Adam Corriveau

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

This is Not Food (Obviously): Part Two

How is it possible to create a soda with ZERO calories? As far as I know the only beverage with zero calories is water. Apparently, I'm behind the curve and old fashioned. I like water. Kind of bland, plain, wet yet still dry (as far as liquids go) and simple. Maybe if you feel like it you can add a little lemon to jazz it up. Today, for those of you who want a drink that has zero calories and "tastes great" reach for a Coke Zero and feel the refreshment!

Maybe you're like me and wonder how they pull off such an amazing zero calorie magic elexir. Here's its secret ingredient list.


Carbonated water, caramel color, phosphoric acid, aspartame, potassium benzoate, natural flavors, potassium citrate, acesulfame potassium, caffeine.

Carbonated water. Ok. Caramel color. Eh? Phophoric acid, now were getting somewhere. Also used as a rust remover and sold under the name "rust killer" (no joke). Use caution with this stuff to avoid acid burns of the skin and especially the eyes. It also has been linked to lower bone density according to American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Aspartame. Another miracle diet sweetner also known as Equal or Nutrasweet. Now, I could rant about how this ingredient causes cancer and tell you about study x, y and z but I won't. Based on government research reviews and recommendations from advisory bodies such as the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Food and the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives, aspartame has been found to be safe for human consumption by more than ninety countries worldwide. In 1999, FDA officials described the safety of aspartame as "clear cut" and stated that the product is "one of the most thoroughly tested and studied food additives the agency has ever approved."

BULLSHIT. If you want to go on and believe that, be my guest and eat and drink aspartame all day long. For me you would have to stick a fork in my eye to get me to consume it. I'm not even going to waste my time in presenting an opposing argument or research. Here's my research, the FDA stands for F*cking Drink it America. Drink coke zero, red bull, clear pepsi, pepsi max, slim fast, viagra cocktails, whatever the hell you want.

Moving on, potassium benzoate. In combination with ascorbic acid (vitamin C), sodium and potassium benzoate may form benzene, a known carcinogen. Enjoy.

Potassium citrate. This is helpful in treating gout. I'm sure it tastes delicious too!

Acesulfame potassium. Another fake sweetner that is 180-200 times sweeter than old school sucrose (table sugar). Much like aspartame it is a "suspected" carcinogen and has been shown to stimulate insulin secretions. Fun.

The Lucky Ones:

If you are lucky enough to live in Venezuela (they actually just banned its sale), Chile, Mexico and some Central American countries you get a special Coke Zero formula we don't get here in the US. Their special blend contains sodium cyclamate, a chemical whose sale has been banned in the US since 1969, when it was shown to cause bladder cancer. Since then, it has been linked to testicular atrophy, a medical condition in which the male reproductive organs diminish in size and may be accompanied by a loss of function. This does not refer to temporary changes, such as those brought on by cold.

Think about it, you could drink this delicious calorie free beverage while sitting on the beach in Cabo San Lucas. Laying in the sun getting a tan, keeping away that pot belly with your no calorie soda (it's not diet soda - that's for chicks; it's cool, it's Coke Zero), get bladder cancer and have your genitals shrink. That would make a good ad to run during spring break. Drink Corona not Coke Zero or your penis will shrink.

If you where lucky enough to google Coke Zero when it first came out a few years ago you might have found a really great blog named The Zero Movement. On it, a guy rants about why life is so full of stuff to do and how it would be so much nicer if there was, well, zero to do. Luckily, there is now, we have COKE ZERO! Well it turns out that guy actually was the Coca-Cola Corporation posing as a 20-something cool guy. No joke, they set up a fake blog. When it was discovered that Coca-Cola set up this fake site, someone decided to start their own blog called The Zero Movement Sucks. Hilarious. Both are no longer up and running but their memory will live on like a Celion Dion song. Top of the world!

Happy drinking!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Food in the Valley: Part 1

For the my first post on food in the Valley I had to write about this place. It makes hands down the best bread I have ever had. Ever. No comparison. Before this place I would have said Semifreddis in Berkeley, CA but there is a new #1 in my book. And it is...

Hungry Ghost Bread!

Or as my wife often refers to it, Ghost Whisperer Bread, because she loves "TV's sexiest leading lady" Jennifer Love Hewitt (no, I did not come up with that tittle some magazine named her that).
I don't throw around the term "best" lightly. This place is the real deal. Wood-fired oven. Small batches. Sourdough culture. Amazing.

There are a few things that set them way ahead of the pack for bread bakers around here. To start, I love that they focus almost all of there attention on bread. Many bakeries often sell a myriad of offerings, maybe some coffee or espresso, sandwiches, pastries, etc. Here it's bread. That's about it. Yes, they do sell a few other options, which I will get to in a minute because they definitely deserve praise, but it's all about the bread.

Next, they cook the bread till it is dark, crispy and delicious and it picks up a smokey character from the oven you simply can't get with a gas oven. Not just lightly browned on the outside. I'm talking dark. You may even thinks it's burned it's so dark. Then you bite into it and it's soooo good. Moist, aromatic and flavorful. Eating it is a revelation in what bread should and can be.

The building looks small from the outside and when you get in you realize it really is tiny. You walk in and there is some Grateful Dead or Coltrane blasting from the cd player and all you see is the wood oven, a rolling/kneading station and the counter. That's it. Nothing else. Plain and simple. Sometimes it may be a little smokey in there, yes, from the oven.

My personal favorite is the olive-semolina fougasse. I'm not normally an olive or semolina bread fan but this stuff is magical. Crusty, salty, moist, tangy from the sourdough. Perfection. They also make french, 8-grain, spelt, rye, annadama (it's savory but has molasses and cornmeal in it, delicious) rosemary, country, double wheat, raisin and on Fridays after 3:30pm they make Challah (call ahead for this stuff because it sells out quick).

As for the rest of their edibles, they make cookies, brownies, local wheat crackers, granola and a few other assorted items as the oven allows. I HIGHLY reccommend the mocha cookies. The smoke from the oven turns it from a good cookie into something amazing.

The breads cost $5. Now, I have heard some people complain about that being expensive for a loaf of bread. I always tell them if they think so than go buy a loaf at Big Y and they can save themselves $2 and eat glorified Wonderbread from their bakery. I would pay whatever they asked for those heavenly loaves...

Go and eat one today. And tommorrow.

Happy eatting.

TELEPHONE: 413-582-9009

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Strawberry too way

There is possibly nothing better than a fresh, local, strawberry. Local strawberries are a good exmple of why local produce is always better than out of season, wherever in the world grown, "food". Most strawberries grown today, that are meant for shipment elsewhere (i.e. Big Y or any other supermarket), have been bred to have a longer shelf life so they can grow them in California and ship them across the globe without them spoiling. Now we can eat strawberries year round instead of just June and July. While this sounds like a nice idea, it has it draw backs. My biggest complaint, aside from all the obvious environmental problems that come with cross country shipping, is the texture. A fresh, local, native strawberry that has never been refidgerated is so soft, sweet yet tart and melts in your mouth. It simply can't be beat.

The problem with these local berries is how to consume them all before they turn to mush. Not that I mind eating a quart a day unadorned but sometimes you need to do something with them.

Two ideas...

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

2 lbs rhubarb, sliced about 1/2 inch thick
1 cup sugar (this depends on how sweet those berries are, adjust as needed, may need more)
1 lb strawberries, quartered
3 tbsp cornstrach
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla

4 oz unsalted butter, slightly softened
1 1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cup quick cook oats
3 tbsp grapeseed oil (or vegetable, canola, etc, just not olive oil)
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Toss the sliced rhubarb with 3/4 of the sugar and the strawberries with the other 1/4 cup. Let the berries macerate for about 10 minutes. Combine the berries and rhubard and mix with the cornstarch, lemon juice and vanilla. Stir to combine. Put in a 9x13 baking pan.

For the topping combine all the ingredients and using either a pastry cutter or your fingers mix until it looks like large crumbs. Cover the filling evenly, not being shy with all the topping. (it looks like a lot but it won't be too much) Bake for about 1 hour or until well browned. Let cool for 20 minutes before eating. Serve with fresh whipped cream. Feel free to eat this for dessert or maybe the next morning with some coffee. Oh man. Did I just say that.

Strawberry Ice Cream

1 1⁄2 cups whole milk
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup plus 1⁄4 cup sugar
1 1⁄4 cup heavy cream
1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and thinly sliced
Juice of 1⁄2 lemon

Place milk in the top of a double boiler and bring just to a simmer, about 170 degrees, over gently boiling water over medium heat. Meanwhile, whisk together eggs, egg yolks, and 1/2 cup sugar in a mixing bowl. Lightly whisk 1/4 cup of the hot milk into egg mixture, then whisk egg mixture into remaining milk in top of double boiler. Cook slowly, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until mixture is thick enough to coat back of a spoon (170 degrees again). Transfer mixture to a mixing bowl; stir in heavy cream; refrigerate until cold. Preferably overnight, it will be worth the wait.
Combine strawberries, 1/4 cup sugar, and lemon juice in a mixing bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours. Mash strawberries really well for a smoother texture or less for a chunkier ice cream, then stir into cream base and pour into an ice cream maker. Process according to manufacturer's directions.Happy eating!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

This Is Not Food, Part One: The Bologna Sandwich

Americans love processed foods. For full disclosure, I do too. Some things though are just plain wrong and should not be done. I present to you...the bologna sandwich!

The classic. Wonderbread, bologna and american cheese. Maybe a little yellow mustard or mayo if you want but the trinity for this classic is "cheese", "meat" and "bread". No lettuce. No tomato. That would throw off this culinary trifecta. Salty, meaty and soft. Um hmm. Now why isn't this food you ask?

Bologna: the star of this show

Beef, Water, Contains Less than 2% of Salt, Corn Syrup, Sodium Lactate, Flavor, Dextrose, Hydrolyzed Beef Stock, Autolyzed Yeast, Sodium Phosphates, Sodium Diacetate, Sodium Ascorbate, Sodium Nitrite, Extractives of Paprika

An amazing creation. A processed meat product that is pretending to be a world class sausage from Italy. I'm not sure who came up with the idea to create a cheap, heavily processed, floor scrap "sausage" and then name it after a town in Italy. I think maybe a town somewhere off the Jersey turnpike might be a little more appropriate.

One of the ingredients is "flavor". Does anyone know what that is? I wish I had some "flavor" in my pantry. I don't know what half of those ingredients are. If you don't know what more than half the ingredients are, it is not food.

American Cheese: U.S.A! U.S.A! U.S.A!!

Use of the name "American Cheese" in this country has a legal definition under the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations as a processed cheese. It is not a type of cheese, it means processed cheese food. When a product has the word "food" in it's legal name you can be sure it is not a food. When a product is also referred to as factory cheese, government cheese, rattrap cheese, apple pie cheese, and yellow cheese it is not food. Sorry. It's not. It might taste good on a grilled cheese but it's not food.

Wonderbread: so white, so soft

Enriched Wheat Flour [Flour, Barley Malt, Ferrous Sulfate (Iron), B Vitamins (Niacin, Thiamine Mononitrate (B1), Riboflavin (B2), Folic Acid)], Water, Sweetener (High Fructose Corn Syrup or Sugar), Yeast. Contains 2% or Less of: Calcium Sulfate (Ingredient in Excess of Amount Present in Regular Enriched White Bread), Wheat Gluten, Soybean Oil, Salt, Dough Conditioners (May Contain: Mono and Diglycerides, Sodium Stearoyl, Lactylate, Dicalcium Phosphate, Datem, Sorbic Acid and/or Calcium Dioxide), Vinegar, Soy Flour, Tricalcium Phosphate (Ingredient in Excess of Amount Present in Regular Enriched White Bread), Yeast Nutrients (May Contain: Ammonium Phosphate, Monocalcium Phosphate, Calcium Carbonate, Ammonium Sulfate, Ammonium chloride and/or Diammonium Phosphate), Whey, Cornstarch, Wheat Starch, Enzymes, Calcium Propionate (to Retain Freshness), Soy Lecithin.

Did you read all of that? When did bread become this frankenbread product? Flour, yeast, salt and water. That is bread, or at least that's what I thought. I'm going to pick just one of the dozen (I tried counting them all but got confused) or so ingredients listed there and fill you in on some of it's other applications. The mystery ingredient is...ammonium chloride!

Here are its other uses: Ammonium chloride is sold in blocks at hardware stores for use in cleaning the tip of a soldering iron and can also be included in solder as flux.

Other uses include a feed supplement for cattle, in hair shampoo, in textile printing, in the glue that bonds plywood, as an ingredient in nutritive media for yeast, in cleaning products, and as cough medicine. Its expectorant action is caused by irritative action on the bronchial mucosa. This causes the production of excess respiratory tract fluid which presumably is easier to cough up. It is also used in an oral acid loading test to diagnose distal renal tubular acidosis.

Oh no, that's not all for this "wonder" ingredient. Ammonium chloride is also used for contact explosives, diuretic and systemic acidifying agent. It is used in the treatment of severe metabolic alkalosis, to maintain the urine at an acid pH in the treatment of some urinary-tract disorders or in forced acid diuresis. It is used to luster cotton, in fertilizers, in safety explosions and in dying and tanning.

What the hell? I don't even know what to say about all of that. I'm actually speechless. Safety explosions? At least it's not used in unsafety explosions. Glue? Cleaning soldering irons? Wow.

To conclude, while Wonderbread may not be a food it is helpful in treating urinary-tract disorders and in forced acid diuresis. I'm going to try an remember that next time I'm in CVS and have a UTI.

A bologna sandwich is not food.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


I wrote this first entry after having a change of plans. Originally I was going to have my first post be about our (wife, daughter and I) first farm share pick-up and the subsequent amazing meal. I would come home that night and make some completely local and organic meal that was so delicious my wife would fall off her chair and the little one would tell me again, "you're a great Daddy". I would take beautiful farm to table photos for a great first impression on my newly minted blog. Sounds idyllic. Sometimes things don't go as planned.

This past weekend we went to the in-laws and had some of my father-in-laws amazing pulled pork. Since they don't eat leftovers (something I am still confused by) I took home all the leftover pork, including the bone that they tried to throw away (normally I would rant about why I think wasting pieces of food like this is sac religious for a whole host of reasons but I will save that for a later date and entry all its own).

This morning I had about a pound of smoky pulled pork crying out to me from inside our fridge begging to be made into something good. I kept picturing a scene from Ghostbusters and that creature inside Sigourney Weaver's fridge. In my world there is nothing more magical than a piece of pork being smoked for 14 hours so its dark and crispy on the outside and unctuous and tender on the inside, so to not use those leftovers would have been akin to killing a unicorn. I generally keep some canned beans in the pantry for quick weeknight meals, usually involving leftover meat, and some type of canned tomato product for a myriad of uses. Black-eyed peas where in there along with roasted diced tomatoes. Perfect. Leftover chicken stock in the freezer. Check. Beer in the fridge. Check. Here's what I came up with...

1/2 # pulled pork

2 can black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
1 can roasted tomatoes
1/2 bottle of beer
1 qt chicken stock
1/2 red bell pepper
1/2 yellow onion
2 cloves garlic
1T ancho chile powder
1T ground cumin
1T corriander
1/2 cinnamon stick
salt and black pepper to taste
1 lime and 1/2 avocado for serving

In a heavy bottom pot sweat the onions and garlic till soft over medium-low. Add the red bell pepper, ancho, cumin, corriander and cinnamon and saute for a minute. Turn the heat to high. Deglaze with the beer, bring to a boil, simmer for 1 minute. Add the chicken stock, pulled pork and season with salt and black pepper. Let simmer for about 45 minutes uncovered so the liquid reduces slightly. Skim off excess fat as needed. Serve with sliced avocado, lime wedges and maybe tortillas. (I happened to have fresh corn and chive polenta in my freezer which I served with it, yes that is the type of stuff I have in my freezer...)

I want to finish this first post by saying that while most of my recipes won't generally contain canned beans because making them yourself tastes better, is easy and cans have a BPA lining in them now that has been linked to cancer (although garden of eden brand doesn't) I still want to say 'don't be afraid to use leftovers'! Be creative. IMPROVISE. Make something out of nothing. Pulled pork was created out of necessity. People figured out if you smoke cheap, tough cuts of meat for 14 hours it taste pretty darn good. Some of the best food was created through necessity. Making due. Using what you have and finding a way to make it delicious. I could have wasted that pork butt and made some fancy dinner from the vegetables (arugula, spinach, green garlic, bok choy, spring mix and strawberries) I got from my farm share today but I'm glad I didn't. I'll find a use for them tomorrow...