Monthly Archives: July 2012

Reflections on Big Summer Potluck 2012 – BSP3

BSP 3 ProgramBig Summer Potluck 2012

I’ve been dawdling a little bit all day, trying to write this post.  It’s not that the topic is exactly difficult or challenging but that I’m not quite sure how to put all of my thoughts together after spending a fantastic weekend in the country in Pennsylvania at Big Summer Potluck.  This was my first year attending this food blogger gathering, which I’d followed on Twitter last year, reading about how much fun everyone was having and the special bonds that seemed to develop between attendees that carried over well after everyone went back home.

Tangerine KitchenAid stand mixer as flower pot

My mind is still processing all of the inputs that it was given in just a few short days. In looking at my photos from the weekend, I think that the tagline from the program is the key take-away: Food, Inspiration, and, above all, Community. Here is an all-too-brief look at how these things came together to create a special experience unlike any other conference or activity that I’ve taken part in since I started taking part in the food blogging world.

Food

Chef Max Hansen tending to the pig in the smoker

What else would a food blogger weekend be without some incredible edibles?  From the Friday night fried chicken fest hosted by the Andersons at their lovely home to the final morsel of breakfast scoffed down at the end of the weekend, we ate lots of delicious dishes, catered by Max Hansen Caterer and provided by our sponsors along with bowls of coleslaws, noodles, salads, and even some chutneys and pickles supplied by fellow attendees as part of the spirit of the potluck.

Waffles & Ham with Tart Cherries in Brandy & Spiced Syrup

I contributed my No-Mayonnaise Carrot Salad for the pig roast on Saturday night, and my Tart Cherries in Brandy and Spiced Syrup made their way on to the waffles and sliced ham that were part of Sunday morning’s farewell buffet.

Triple Chocolate Brownies by Chef Dennis

One of my favorite desserts of the weekend, and there were plenty of sweet things to try, were these Triple Chocolate Brownies by Chef Dennis, whom I’ve gotten to know through Google+.  It was so nice to have a chance to meet him in person this weekend.  His website is a treasure trove of fantastic, easy recipes as well as tidbits about how to be a better participant in the food blogging community.

Inspiration

A star on the farm

Speakers gave us tips about how to write better and how to organize and formulate our ideas as well as just how to be better observers of the world around us.  Brooke Burton-Lüttmann spoke to us about creating “mindfulness” and about becoming more in the moment, aware of what is taking place as we go through our daily lives, which can often get very cluttered and busy.  She said that we should take some time to reflect on where we are right now, where we were when we first had the idea for our blogs, and where we would like to go.  As someone who has written a website for going on seven years, this really resonated with me, especially as I figure out the next chapter of my life personally and professionally.

Molly O’Neill

Molly O’Neill shared some jewels from the treasure trove of her food writing career.  “This is a life-long sport,” she said, encouraging us to dig in there and set ourselves up to be in the game for a while.  “We’re all works in progress,” she added, “The key is to nurture life and live a life that allows you joy, growth.”  Looking around the top floor of the re-configured barn where we were meeting, she confided in us that she “couldn’t function without a strong peer group,” some of whom might be in the room right there with us.

View at Silver Buttons Farm

From one of our hosts, Pam Anderson, we heard more about the craft of writing good recipes.  She walked us through her methodology as a professional recipe tester, habits that also translate to putting together posts on her website, Three Many Cooks.  As she said, if we have a food blog, “We are first and foremost test cooks.”  Get other tastebuds’ opinions was one helpful hint, as everyone has a different idea of what works and what doesn’t.  Test a few different variables in each recipe, adding more or less flour, using a different type of chocolate, etc. to see if you really do have the right combination for the flavors for which you are looking.  These are among the skills to develop well in order to create your own style and way of coming up with recipes.

Community

Getting set up outside where it was cooler

At any conference or retreat, it is mostly about the people you meet first and foremost.  It was wonderful to get to know a whole batch of new folks who are also lovers of good food and cooking, including a bunch of people from the New York City area whom I’ve never crossed paths with before.  Then, there was also the opportunity to have some real time to talk to friends I have made at other conferences and events.  Relaxing in the country allowed us all to take time to chat, rather than running off to the next activity or meeting as is usually the case in our frantic, over-booked lives.

Table setting on the farm

I have to give a special “Thank You” to the fabulous Betty Ann (aka @Mango_Queen) and Elpi of Asian in America magazine, who let me hitch rides with them all weekend, as I needed to carpool having arrived there originally via bus.  This gave us some extra time to catch up on each others’ lives and to compare notes about writing about food.  We met last year at Eat, Write, Retreat, and it is always a pleasure to see them at other conferences to hear about their latest news.  I feel very privileged that they are part of my personal community of fellow bloggers.

Pam Anderson whipping up waffle batter

Big hugs and many, many thanks to Pam, Maggy, Erika, and all the other volunteers for a fantastic and fun weekend filled with lots of laughter, fantastic food, plenty of sangria, and energizing discussions, not to mention a few spells of rain, a Bluegrass band, ketchup chips I never got to try, and an impromptu Patsy Cline rendition by The Diva That Ate New York.  I’ve got my Sharpie at the ready to block off the weekend for next year’s Big Summer Potluck!

Buon appetito!

Tart Cherries in Brandy and Spiced Syrup for Big Summer Potluck

Tart Cherries at the Union Square Greenmarket

Wednesday afternoon, I was passing through the Union Square Greenmarket, heading back uptown after having attended a lunch meeting at WeCreate NYC that was put together by a fellow blogger friend Emily Hanhan of Nominvorous, when these beautiful, shiny crimson orbs caught my eye.  I had actually thought that cherry season had passed me by for this year, so I was a bit surprised to see them.  I picked up a pint, not even knowing yet what I was going to do with them, their deep, ruby color just calling to me to make something special.

Tart cherries washed and ready to pit

It didn’t take long for me to figure out what to fix using the cherries.  For the past week or so, in person and on line, many folks in the blogger community have been discussing what they would be bringing to contribute to this year’s Big Summer Potluck, which starts tonight.  I’ve never been to this gathering, and with so many fantastic food folks and amazing cooks as my fellow attendees, I knew I wanted to make something that showcases what my website and food philosophy are about.  After doing a little research about recipes, I decided that whipping up a batch of Tart Cherries in Brandy and Spiced Syrup would be just the thing to add to the mix.  This recipe turned out so well, in fact, that I’ve decided to enter these into the Oxo Cherry Recipe Contest.

Pitted cherries – only a tiny mess created

After pitting a pint of cherries over the sink, so as to minimize staining, I threw together a simple sugar syrup combined with a bunch of spices that I had in my kitchen that I thought might add an exotic twist to the mixture.  Then, I spiked it with brandy, added a bit of lemon peel for some freshness and kick, and dumped in the cherries to cook.  They released their gorgeous red color and cooked down to become mouth-puckeringly tart on the inside and smoothly sweet on the outside.  I have no idea how we’ll consume them during the weekend, but I can see these as an ideal garnish for refreshing summer beverages, folded into ice cream, ladled over waffles or pancakes, or as part of a cheese platter for an alfresco meal.  Now that I write this, I wonder if I should have made a few more batches just to hang onto for myself rather than giving them all away this weekend.

Brandied Spiced CherriesTart Cherries in Brandy and Spiced Syrup

Prep Time: an hour or so

Serving Size: 3/4 of a Mason jar full

Ingredients:
1 c. organic Cane Sugar
1 c. Water
6 whole Allspice Berries
8 whole Black Peppercorns
2 whole Anise Stars
3 whole Cloves
1/4 c. Brandy
1/2 tsp. Vanilla Extract
1/2 Lemon’s worth of strips of Lemon Peel
1 quart Tart Cherries, pitted*

Assembly:

Starting sugar syrup

Put first 6 ingredients into a large saucepan over low to medium heat and boil the mixture until makes a thick syrup. All the sugar should be dissolved and the liquid should reduce by 1/3. This will take about 10 minutes.

Syrup ready for cherries

Remove the pan from the heat and turn off the flame. Pour in the brandy and the vanilla extract. Add the strips of lemon peel. Stir to combine.

Cherries added to the syrup

Then, add the cherries, making sure to immerse them as best as you can in the syrup. At first, there will be some of them bobbing up on top of the liquid, but as they cook down and release their juices, all of the cherries will slowly melt into the syrup.

Cherries cooked down in syrup

Place over a low flame to boil for at least 45-50 minutes, until cherries start to break down and the sauce reduces by almost 2/3 to become a very thick liquid.

Jarring the cherries

Ladle the cherries into a jar and then pour the syrup over top of the cherries. Close the jar and keep it refrigerated until being used. These are not preserved cherries, so they should be eaten within a week or so.  I also removed the lemon peel and the whole spices from the syrup as I found them as I didn’t want the syrup to become overly-dominated by those tastes.

Tart Cherries in Brandy and Spiced Syrup

Buon appetito!

*Kitchen Witch Tip:

This Oxo cherry pitter was in our goodie bags at Eat, Write, Retreat this year. I hung onto it thinking I that maybe, possibly, I might use it if I made a pie or something. It is fantastic! It made pitting the cherries so neat and only minorly messy, as you can see from the photo of the pitted cherries further above. If you are looking for a hand-held pitter, I recommend trying this one out to see if you like it.  

Midnight Brunch and Cook for the Cure with KitchenAid

Kitchen Aid Cook for the Cure productsKitchenAid Pink Products Collection

Last Thursday, I was invited to take part in the launch of KitchenAid‘s Cook for the Cure campaign at a special edition of Midnight Brunch, put together by Emily Cavalier of Mouth of the BorderI’ve been curious about these late-evening gatherings for a while, but they are generally held past my bedtime so this was a wonderful chance to experience Emily’s hospitality and taste her culinary creations.  KitchenAid has been a mainstay in my current household and the one where I grew up, so it is a pleasure to support their fundraiser for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure.  KitchenAid is hoping to sign up 1,000 cooks to host a dinner or a party to be held July 20-29, 2012 and raise funds for this initiative. Over the past 10 years, they have raised $9 million dollars through this project.

Limited-edition plate with artwork by Jacques Pepin

There is also a special feature for this year.  A limited-edition plate with artwork by culinary legend Jacques Pepin is available for purchase to be used at these events, or for you to cook up something to pass along to a friend.  There is also an option on the website to have a plate passed to you to keep the chain going.  Each time a plate changes hands and is registered on the website, KitchenAid will donate $5.00 to Susan G. Komen for the Cure.  This is a great way to bring folks together to enjoy some delicious treats and to support a good cause in the fight against breast cancer.  I had posted about it on Twitter and Facebook but wanted to add the information to this website to let more people know about it as well.  Thanks so much to KitchenAid and to Midnight Brunch for supporting this effort.  Here’s a few of the things that we sampled on Thursday.  As Emily said in her toast, maybe some of these will be ideas for hosting your own party (click here for recipes).

Low Tide with Hibiscus-infused Tito’s Vodka

Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese Deviled Eggs

Pissaladière Niçoise Tarts

Mini Yogurt Parfaits

Shake Rattle & Roll with Avion Blanco Tequila, St. Germain Liqueur and Strawberry

Strawberry-Spinach Salad with Pomegranate Vinaigrette and French Toast Bread Pudding with Spiced Pear Sauce

Lemon Thyme Bars

Buon appetito!

Donut Crawl with Nicole Taylor aka the Food Culturist

Nicole Taylor - Food CulturistNicole Taylor – host of “Dive Into the Donut Renaissance”

A few months ago, early on a Saturday morning, I joined Nicole Taylor (aka Food Culturist) and other sweets-focused folks on a walk-about of donut places in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn.  Nicole is also the creator of the radio program “Hot Greaseon Heritage Radio Network.  Her shows, which are downloadable for listening via podcast, cover a range of topics related to current topics in food and sustainability.  We’ve known each other for a while, but I’d had no idea that she was a such a donut connoisseur until I saw her boards on Pinterest.

Dough

We started our walk off at one of my favorite places Dough.  Their stand at Smorgasburg is on my usual must-visit list (their Hibiscus is my favorite, in case you are buying).  When I was growing up, there were two types of donuts in my world: dense, solid Entenmann’s and airy, light Krispy Kreme (yes, from the actual store that was the next town over).  Now, with shops like Dough, Doughnut Plant, and other smaller bakers around the U.S. there’s more choice in texture and in flavors.  It’s made me re-visit this childhood treat and I’ve become hooked on it all over again.

Dough – Blood Orange Glazed Donuts

The light-as-air creations from Dough (“We Fry in Bed-Stuy”) come in dozens of flavors, put together by an amazing culinary talent, Fany Gerson (aka La Newyorkina).  The Blood Orange glazed version is what some folks would call the best starter flavor, and is their most popular aside from the plain glazed one, with the tart-tangy, not-too-sweet topping working in perfect harmony with the pillowy, soft donut.

Dough – Lemon-Ginger Glazed Donuts

We also sampled the citrusy-spicy Lemon-Ginger glazed one which blended a mouth-puckering wallop of lemon (the perfect amount, in my opinion) with a hefty zing of candied ginger.  One of these for breakfast would definitely get me up and going in the morning.

Dough – Pink Peppercorn-topped Glazed Donuts

Not all of the flavors that we tried at Dough on our tour are currently available in their rotation.  We had a sneak peak at a few upcoming releases.  This Pink Peppercorn-topped one was definitely interesting, contrasting savory and sweet.  It wasn’t, however, my favorite of the day.

Dough – Olive Oil-Thyme-Sea Salt Glazed Donuts

That accolade goes to this phenomenal-tasting Olive Oil-Thyme-Sea Salt glazed donut.  These were the last to arrive at our tasting, so they came to us still a bit warm from the oven with the fragrant, sweet-salty glaze just barely set, dripping over the sides.  I picked up woodsy thyme notes as well as a hint of freshness from the fragrant lemon peel embedded in the dough.  Topped with the silky perfume of the oil, greenness from the thyme and brought together with a pop from the salt, this was the perfect savory-sweet, herbacious treat.  If you could capture the flavors of Italy in donut form, this is it.  I’m definitely going to be on the look out for this one the next time I see Dough selling at the markets.

Brooklyn Kolache Co.

In some ways, I think it was unfair of all the other things that we tried during our exploration that we started off at Dough.  On the other hand, having their treats as a benchmark for donut styles, gave us a baseline for our further sampling.  Not too far away from our first stop, we visited a newcomer to the neighborhood, Brooklyn Kolache Co.

Brooklyn Kolache Co.– Trays of Kolache

Loosely related to a Central European confection that has the same name, these hand-held creations are a rich, doughy, slightly sweet puffs.  They have arrived here by way of Texas courtesy an ex-pat from the Lone Star State and can be found at this shop filled either with savory items or more sugary fare, like jams and preserves.

Brooklyn Kolache Co. – Cheese, Smoked Beef Kielbasa, & Jalapeno

A couple of these with one of their coffees, and you would be completely set to start your day.  I enjoyed the taste and texture of the pastry as a base for the rich, hearty, spiced meat, cheese, and peppers.  Unfortunately, they were clean out of the sweet version by the time I went back to the counter that day.  I’d definitely be up for another trip to explore some of their other flavors, especially if I could grab a table on their back patio while eating them.

Clementine Bakery

Our last stop of the day was at Clementine Bakery, a vegan-organic spot that also offers gluten-free creations.  At this homey-feeling cafe, we gathered around the table to try out their regular donuts topped with chocolate and coconut or sprinkles, which will change your mind about how delicious vegan baked goods can be.  They certainly won over a few skeptics in our group.  These donuts are on the more dense side of the fence without being heavy and were super moist and cake-like.

Clementine Bakery – Raspberry Jam-filled donut & Chocolate-Coconut donut

The jam-filled donuts came in red or black raspberry versions.  These cakey confections had a lovely lemony lift to them whose tartness contrasted perfectly with the light dusting of powdered sugar and the sweetness of the jam.  If my errands take me close by this spot in the future, I’ll make a point of dropping by here again for an afternoon break to see what other wonderful treats they’ve baked.

Donut Case at Dough

The next “Dive Into the Donut Renaissance” is actually scheduled for tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m.  After going through all of my photos from this tour, I’m tempted to sign up for it all over again.  Note that we did share donuts on several of our stops so that we could maximize our sampling options without becoming overly full.  There was also an opportunity to take home the leftovers that we been offered and couldn’t finish on the spot.  This was a great way to find out more about the terrific culinary options in Bed-Stuy, which is a part of Brooklyn I don’t usually get to on my other jaunts.  For more opportunities to explore this neighborhood through the culinary lens of the folks who live there, please follow @BedStuyCrawl on Twitter or Bed-Stuy Crawl on Facebook.

Buon appetito!

Spicy Chicken Salad Banh Mi Sandwich

Chicken Salad Banh MiSpicy Chicken Salad Banh Mi Sandwich

A couple of weeks ago when I was at the lunch with Kitchensurfing, I had an open-faced, spicy chicken salad sandwich as the main part of the meal.  I was so inspired by this dish that I decided to try to re-create it at home, adding a few extra things that bring it closer to what I really like in a classic Banh Mi.  This combination really grabbed my tastebuds for a few reasons.  One of them, I think, is I’ve been increasingly drawn to more Asian-influenced tangy-spicy-fresh flavors lately, especially with this summer’s lingering hot spells.  Another might have been that this was just a great way to bring together a bunch of different textures, ones that vary from what I usually fix for myself.

Ingredients for Sandwiches

Spicy Chicken Salad Banh Mi Sandwich

Prep Time: under 30 minutes if you use already-cooked chicken

Serving Size: 4 sandwiches

Ingredients:

1/3 c. Mayonnaise

1 to 1 1/2 Tbsp. Sriracha

2 c. shredded Chicken (if you poach it yourself, add 30 minutes to the prep time for this recipe)

1/2 Lime, juiced

1/4 tsp. Salt

1 Tbsp. Cilantro, finely chopped

4 Mini-Baguettes (I used the Pan Bagnat from Hot Bread Kitchen) or other Vietnamese bread

1/4 oz. Country Pâté cut into strips or slices (I used the one from Brooklyn Cured)

1/4 c. Pickled Carrots and Radishes (see below*)

1 Cucumber, peeled in long strips with no seeds

20-30 Cilantro leaves

Assembly:
If you decide to poach the chicken, rather than using leftovers or buying it ready made, you can follow the directions here, and start off by preparing the chicken, as it will need to cool while you prepare the other ingredients.  You’ll use 1/2 of the chicken for this recipe.  If you already have cooked, shredded chicken on hand, start off by making the spicy mayonnaise.

Sriracha Mayonnaise

Add 1 tsp. of the Sriracha to the mayonnaise and then mix them together.  Taste to see if it is your desired spiciness level, remembering that some of the heat will be diminished when it the mayonnaise is combined with the chicken.  Add each additional tsp. until the mayonnaise is as spicy as you’d like it to be.  Mine reached a sort of light pumpkin color, which was at about the 4 tsp. point.

Spicy Chicken Salad

For the Spicy Chicken Salad, place the chicken in a bowl.  Pour over the lime juice and add the salt and cilantro to the chicken.  Toss gently to combine the ingredients.  Then, add about 1/3 c. of the spicy mayonnaise, leaving some to spread on the sandwiches.  Fold the mayonnaise into the seasoned chicken.  Taste.  Add more salt and a touch more lime juice, if desired.  The flavors should be creamy, with a hint of heat, and a lift of freshness from the citrus and the cilantro.

Spicy mayonnaise and pâté on sandwich

Cut the bread in half and toast each side.  Spread some of the spicy mayonnaise on each half of the toasted bread, and place the strips of pâté on the bottom half of the bread.  Pile 1/4 of the spicy chicken salad on top of the pâté.

Building the sandwich

Place a nice-sized pile of the pickled carrots and radishes on top of the chicken.  Put the sliced cucumber on top half of the bread and sprinkle several whole cilantro leaves on top that.  Put both halves together for the complete sandwich.  This bread also holds up well when the sandwich is prepared a bit in advance and kept wrapped in the refrigerator, which makes it ideal for packed lunches or picnics.

Spicy Chicken Salad Banh Mi Sandwich

Buon appetito!

*Kitchen Witch Tip:

Carrots and Radishes

I took the long way with this recipe, poaching the chicken myself and making the mayonnaise from scratch.  I also pickled the carrots and radishes about 24 hours in advance of making this dish.

Pickling Spices

After looking around on line, I just whipped up a quick pickling solution, put it in a jar, added the vegetables, and let it sit in the fridge.

Pickled Carrots and Radishes

I’m sure that it isn’t entirely the exact right way to make this, but the finished results were a slightly crunchy, tangy product that added some other spice notes and texture to the final sandwich.

Pickled Carrots and Radishes

Prep Time: 15 minutes, plus overnight to sit in refrigerator

Ingredients:

3 Radishes (preferably Daikon, but here I used what I had, which were the red ones)

2 Carrots

4-5 Allspice Berries

10 Black Peppercorns

10-12 Coriander Seeds

1 Star Anise

1 Tbsp. Sugar

1 Tbsp. Salt

1/4 c. Rice Wine Vinegar

1/2-3/4 c. boiling Water

Assembly:

Slice radishes into long, thin strips about 1/4 cm wide.  Peel the carrots and cut them in the same size.  In a glass jar with a tight lid, combine the spices with the sugar and salt.  Pour over the boiling water and then add the vinegar.  Stir to mix together and to make sure that the sugar and salt have dissolved completely.  Put the carrots and the radishes into the liquid and seal the jar tightly.  Let the jar cool for 10-15 minutes before placing it in the refrigerator to sit at least overnight.  This mixture should be consumed within a week, as it is not meant to be kept for long-term preservation.

Bastille Day Festival 2012

2012 Festival for Bastille DayIt’s been a few years since I’ve ventured into the Bastille Day Festival, sponsored each year by the Alliance Française, held on East 60th Street.  Francophiles gather each year to nibble on French foods, listen to live music, and learn more about the Alliance’s programs.  This year, it seemed like macarons were the popular treat of the day, with lots of tables of colorful displays in an array of enticing flavors.  There were also several crêpe stands making sweet and savory creations on the spot.  Spicy merguez sausages and whole sardines were being served from grills set up on the streets, and trays of couscous and other Francophone North African dishes were dished out to hungry customers.  This is a food-lovers street fair with French flare.

Marché du Sud – Sardines and Merguez on the grill

Le Souk – Merguez on the grill

Ponty Bistro – Tagine

Ponty Bistro – Couscous and Spring Rolls

Bec Fin – pâtés

Yorkville Crêperie – Ham & Cheese Crêpe

The Crêpe Escape – preparing crêpes

Canelé by Céline – Pistachio Canelé

Bel Ami Cafe – Patriotic Cookies

Financier – Sablée Breton Apricot

Payard – eclairs and fruit tarts

MacarOn Café display

Mad Mac – macaron sets

Mille-feuille macarons

Richart – macarons

Can Can dancers

For more photos of the festival, the foods and activities that were taking place there, please visit The Experimental Gourmand on Flickr.

Buon appetito!