Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Babette's Great Food Events, 2010

So this week is often the week of lists all around the world, right? As we say good-bye to one year, welcome another, we get to look back on the highs and lows of the past 365 days...which brought me to thinking about the good things in the food world I've done--or discovered--this year. So here, in no particular order,

1. Backyard beekeepers. I met someone who has been keeping hives in his back yard for decades (first his father, then this guy), which led me to pitch a story to Edible Piedmont about the back yard beekeepers in Charlotte, NC, my new hometown. I got to taste some great honey, but more important, I got to talk to people who have incredible passion for what they are doing. In almost all cases, they are doing this as a hobby. They sell some, but mostly they lay out money so they can coax bees into filling the hives with honey. I spent a lot of hours learning about bees, even attending a "bee school" field day. I got closer to bees than I ever thought I'd get. I was looking at every space thinking, "I could put a hive there." That was a fun story.

2. Another local story that put me into the heart of the food scene in Charlotte was also for Edible Piedmont. I got to meet and interview Cassie Parsons and Natalie Veres, who own Grateful Growers Farm in Denver, NC. They've started one of the few food trucks in Charlotte (this town being a little slow, due to INCREDIBLE red tape surrounding opening such a truck), Harvest Moon Grille, which sells lunch meals made with truly local ingredients--60 miles or less (I think unless they are talking about flour, for example). While talking to Cassie at the truck, I got to meet Peter Reinhardt, whose books I own. I visited the farm. I spent an evening at the farm when they hosted a fund raiser and we dined under the stars, where we met new friends, with whom we've done a few things since. I've made mozzarella twice for the restaurant they've opened, Harvest Moon Grille in the Dunhill Hotel in Charlotte...AND I may teach a kids cooking class at the restaurant in January. I've said before I love food people and this is just one example of that.

3. I got to cook for Guy Fieri at the Super Bowl in Miami in February. A call came out of the blue in late January: was I interested in food styling for a Guy Fieri/Ritz Cracker segment on Super Bowl Sunday? Oh, yes. After a week of TV segments for Laura's Lean Beef, I spent three days doing some nonstop cooking and prep work under...hmm,  let's say not great conditions. My knives got stolen. I was on my feet for HOURS (oh, how I'd forgotten those restaurant days). I cooked Guy's recipes for Boomer Esiason, Dan Marino, Bill Cowher (go Steelers!)--and more. Can't even recall. Got a fun photo with the team (that's me, "Kleetus" and Guy). Oh, and bragging rights. [GuyBKCrop.jpg]

4. Here's a sad one: Florida Table folded. And since they changed web hosts, they DELETED the entire Florida Table website and archives. I still can't quite believe that, but there you go. It was bad enough they folded and I lost the food editor job I loved so much for the past three years, but then to delete all those beautiful photos, stories, etc...sigh. They tried hard, but for whatever reason, the magazine just couldn't keep going. I loved the people I met and the work I did.

5. I learned to make mozzarella cheese! (Inspired by Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver) I got the needed rennet and citric acid (from New England Cheesemaking Supply Company) and cheese curded my way to fabulous, warm mozzarella. Actually, I committed to TEACHING A CLASS in cheese making (at our apartment building) before I'd even made batch one. (Have I ever told you my motto: how hard can it be?...and that's why I said, Sure! I'll teach a class!)...which meant in the two weeks after I got back from the Late July vacation to California (San Luis Obispo area: loved loved loved it), I made about eight batches of mozzarella and only really ruined ONE...I taught the class, it was a huge success (sent everyone home with about a pound of mozzarella) and have made mozzarella fairly frequently since then. (And for Harvest Moon Grille at the Dunhill: see above.)
Teaching a class of 10 to make fresh mozzarella

6. I successfully completed the Blogathon. I was worried. Very worried. Daily posts for the entire month. But blogging is like so many things: the more you do it, the easier it gets. It became a habit, one I need to recommit to (is that a resolution in the making? Or just a good idea???)--I enjoyed doing it, I read new blogs, I got new readers. No down sides whatsoever.

7. I made Marcella Hazan's lasagne. This was SUCH a big hit. In fact, it may have pushed lasagne into one of my favorite meals. THIS lasagne to be exact. And then, after I'd blogged the whole event? I got a comment from Marcella. That just made my day. And I've made the lasagne again. Worth it. In fact, her book, Essentials of Italian Cooking is one I reach for more and more frequently these days.

There were, of course other highs--Alton Brown's pumpkin pie from real pumpkin was an absolute runaway favorite (we voted) at Thanksgiving.  I had the most incredible solo dinner at Blue Hill NYC.
I read A Homemade Life and the recipe for creamed cabbage changed our veggie-eating habits forever. I wrote about rules you should break in the kitchen. I returned to canning and made the BEST peach jam EVER. I bragged about my garlic bread domination.

It was a good year in food. I'll try to make 2011 even better.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Holiday Treats

Five things to make sure you eat (or make) over the holidays:

Panetone: this is an egg-y, buttery Italian bread filled with raisins and candied peel--two things I hated as a child, but love as an adult. I love coming home with a red box, with its ribbon handle on top, to slice and toast as my breakfast for many days during December. This year I am thinking about making it.

Trader Joe's Mint Joe Joes. Think Oreo with peppermint stirred into the vanilla cream center. Mmmm. Even "mmmm-ier"? Mint Joe Joes dipped in chocolate.

English Christmas Cake: I hate fruitcake. I love English Christmas cake, a rich, dense fruitcake topped with a layer of marzipan and a layer of royal icing. I use Delia Smith's recipe. Most excellent.

Martha Stewart's Chocolate Espresso Wafers. This is just a special cookie. You mix real espresso powder into the dough.

Peppermint Bark..Look, if you are reading this blog, you'd better be making your own peppermint bark...You can buy it EVERYWHERE, but what could be simpler. Melt chocolate and pour into pan in thin layer. Crush peppermint. Sprinkle peppermint candy over chocolate. Cool, break, enjoy.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Gifts for a Food Lover...

Okay, okay. I know it's not exactly romantic, but I love cooking tools. Useful, ingenious ones, not stuff like..oh, I don't know, like the avocado slicer that made me roll my eyes (what, it's too hard to scoop it out with a spoon and chop it? Or even mash it with a fork, right in the bowl??)....So here, in no particular order are a few things I'd get myself ...just because.

1. New Kitchenaid  mixer. I use my mixer often. And the little 4 1/2 quart one with a tilt head has been sorely challenged over the past year. I hear its motor protesting with a whine on some of the heavier lifting (mixing) it has to do. So I would love to upgrade to a 5-quart lift-bowl model. Price tag? Around $300. I don't think that will be in the stocking.

2. To go with the new mixer, I'd love one of these bowl scraper paddle attachments: hello genius! It's the paddle with plastic blades added to scrape the bowl as it mixes. Did I say genius already? They make them for all the models, the price tag is around $24--this could be in the stocking for that 4 1/2 quart mixer. Maybe I'll just have to live with this smaller model longer. I'll take the scraping paddle, Santa!

3. Enormous kitchen towels from Sur La Table. These look as if they could make a small woman a skirt, they are that big. But I love them. They run around $12 and as far as I am concerned, no chef can have enough cool kitchen towels. Enough said.

4. Two new Lodge cast-iron skillets. Ask my friend Michelle Marie: I bake everything in the 12-inch skillet I have, but sometimes, I could use a smaller version. At under $20 each, this is so affordable and so versatile. The bonus is that if you season it after every use (these days, the skillets come pre-seasoned--anathema to some purists, but I'm okay with it) by drying it, coating it with a thin layer of oil and placing it into a warm oven for about 20 minutes, you'll have some of the best non-stick cookware with non of the nonstick compounds.

5. Either a new Le Creuset Dutch oven (I saw one at Marshall's for about $160), which is enameled cast-iron OR a Lodge Dutch oven, which probably would run me about $50. You know I'm cheap. So Santa can bring me the Le Creuset. But since Santa doesn't read my blog, I'll probably buy myself the Lodge Dutch oven.

6. Salts. I want sel gris to use every day. I want truffle salt so I can make truffle fries. I want pink and black and smoked salt. And I want to get them all from The Meadow, run by Mark Bitterman, whom I met at The Greenbrier Writers' Symposium.

7. BOOKS. I really covet a few books this year. I want Tartine Bread and Tartine. Chad Robertson, who I worked with many many years ago, wrote the bread book, and his wife, Elisabeth Prueitt (they are James Beard Award winner, btw. And I SO know them. NAME DROP.), wrote Tartine, about their San Francisco bakery's pastries. But I've decided I ONLY want to buy it from them in their bakery, so i guess I need a ticket to San Francisco. I also really want Amanda Hesser's Essential New York Times Cookbook. I admit to being insanely jealous of Amanda. I love her website, Food52, which I wish I'd have thought of first. Oh, the sponsors wouldn't be a bad thing to have, either. But the thing is, I pretty much like everything I've read of Amanda's and I really like the website. (Check it out.)...so yes, this is one of THE cookbooks to own. I also want Salted: A Manifesto on the World's Most Essential Mineral, written by Mark Bitterman (see #6).

8. This isn't exactly a FOOD tool, but I would so use it in my kitchen: I want an iPad to work on for recipe development in the kitchen. Right now, I develop with a pencil and paper nearby, making notes that I then have to transfer to the computer page. I'd love to have the iPad on my counter, make changes right there...Of course, I'd do plenty of other things with it, but I can't help wanting it. Yes, my name is Barb, and I love Apple products. (For the record, they fixed my computer last month, honoring the warranty because it was only just expired and two days ago, they replace my son's iPhone...because they are so cool. They like happy customers and happy customers are loyal customers. No, I'm not a paid advertiser!!)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Whew--My month in food...

Last time I posted, I'd made Dorie's pumpkin flans and chicken...that seems so long ago...I've been cooking, but I'm sorry to say I haven't been writing about my cooking...or even thinking about writing about my cooking. Bummer, that. I still want to make that semolina cake, and I will certainly be catching up on December's recipes...please, it's a win-win situation.

So a recap of the past month.
I actually did keep up with Dorie one more week and put together the most awesome potato gratin. This dish is proof that simplicity is sublime. Or, as my neighbor Lauren put it: potato crack. (See how others fared here. You'll see links to other recipes, too.)

I bought a grinder attachment and played with sausage recipes, something I'd always wanted to do...and now maybe I'll be one of those people who grind their own beef for burgers.

I finally hung these fabulous little framed ....fun-ness that I bought when I had my weekend with the girls in Delaware...I love these little pieces of art. They make me smile:

That definitely sums up time with college friends. We dance. We have fun...well, the pork one? That just made me smile, because you KNOW I always say bacon makes everything better. And I should do all of the above far more often.

Before I knew it, Thanksgiving was here and I had a lot of family come into town, which I loved. But if you can believe it, I barely took any photos. (Yes, of course the Thanksgiving dinner was lovely. Best gravy EVER. A Trader Joe's Brined Turkey: FABULOUS. Cranberry sauce made with port wine, the bottle I've been lugging around for...a few years. That was certainly a good use of port wine.)The one thing I did get a shot of was the day after's Turkey and Wild Rice Soup. I'd come home from my Minnesota trip with a pound of wild rice. After eating it so many places, I wanted to eat some at home, too. So Turkey and Wild Rice Soup it would be...I will write the recipe (ahem. as I recall it) in the next post, but this was so good.

I made a bunch, but it was like we couldn't get enough of it. I savored THOSE leftovers for days. Sammy did justice to the turkey sandwich as often as he could. We made good use of that turkey.

The days since then have been filled mostly with work. I had a ton of it and my goal was to be done with it ALL so I could really enjoy the weeks around the holidays. Then in the middle of it all, I committed to heading into the Dunhill Hotel here in Charlotte to make fresh mozzarella in the new Harvest Moon Grille restaurant there. So twice now, I've shown up at 7.15 a.m., banged out 6 pounds of mozzarella and headed home. It is definitely fun being in the restaurant kitchen. It really feels like home, but at the same time, 10 hours a day might not look so appealing. One good thing coming from that is that I'll likely be teaching a kids class at the hotel in mid-January. I think the theme will be "Eat Your Science Experiment" and we'll make some mozzarella cheese, pizza dough and end with pizza. Cool, right? 2011 is the year I do more teaching, which I love to do.

For now, the tree is up, some presents are wrapped, Ian is home, Bryn will be off soon. I want to bake, to cook (our dinner will be Beef Wellington. Tenderloin already in the fridge ready to be broken down. What? It was the least expensive option. Who knows what goodness will come of it all?). Some friends will make it for dinner on Christmas Day and maybe we'll revive the tradition of Boxing Day Steak Pie Open House...that would make me happy. Then I could eat pork, have more fun and dance, baby dance. Sweet.