Monthly Archives: July 2013

Reflections on Big Summer Potluck 2013 – BSP4

Checking-in-for-BSP4Checking in at BSP4

Having attended last year’s Big Summer Potluck for the first time and having gained so much inspiration, motivation, and insight, I knew that this was a food blogger event that I wanted to put on my calendar for this year.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t in a position to commit to going to it back in February when the tickets were on sale as I was still in culinary school.  I put my name on the waitlist, and a ticket came up a few weeks ago.  I went on line and secured my place lickety-split.

BSP4 - Heading to the Anderson HouseHeading to Friday night’s potluck dinner – it’s kind of like summer camp!

The overall theme of the weekend, is Food, Inspiration, and Community.  Like last year, there were plenty of all of those things to go around with a group of energetic, eager food bloggers all assembled to share their experiences.  This year’s specific theme was Invest in Yourself.  As the program description put it: “When you invest in yourself, you not only move forward but you also put yourself in a position to invest in others, invest in the community.”  Having spent the past year, investing in my culinary education and getting ready to spend more time and energy moving my career from simply writing about food to making more of it, and hopefully even teaching about it, this topic had particular relevance for me.

Jessamyn Rodriguez of Hot Bread Kitchen telling their storyJessamyn Rodriguez – Founder of Hot Bread Kitchen

All of the weekend’s speakers shared their experiences with us.  They brought up their initial inspiration, their starting steps to realize their dreams, their professional setbacks, their course corrections, and their successes. From Jessamyn Rodriguez of Hot Bread Kitchen, we heard how this amazing, incredible business incubator for immigrant women came into being.  Their program has launched several new enterprises and allowed many women (and men) to support their families.  I’ve long been a fan of their delicious breads and have used them in several of my recipes.

HBK - demonstrating making tortillasTortilla-making demonstration by Hot Bread Kitchen*

“In 2006, I decided to invest in myself,” Jessamyn started off her story.  She was working fulltime when she decided she wanted to know about making bread.  She pursued a baking certificate at The New School and then took on an apprenticeship at Daniel, where she was taken under the wing of the head baker to learn the craft.  This lead her to think about using bread to create an organization that could help women to create their own businesses.  In order to get it off of the ground, she said it was about prioritizing, “about putting resources in the right places.”

Hot Bread Kitchen display Hot Bread Kitchen display

Her three key pieces of advice were:

    1. Trust your intuition – that crazy idea that you might have or that slip of the tongue
    2. Take a risk and go BIG – this isn’t necessarily logical; the best entrepreneurs are scrappiest and sneakiest
    3. Let your successes propel you – “successes have to be more powerful than failures”; “take successes at 10 times the value of failures”; you have to glom onto your successes and to believe in your idea

Jessamyn counseled us, “You’re not in it with both feet, until you are in it with both feet.”

Chris from The Peche introducing Jeni Britton-BauerChris from The Pêche introducing Jeni Britton-Bauer

Another entrepreneur who re-enforced what Jessamyn told us about being inspired, not losing sight of a vision, and about working through what might be perceived as failures to achieve success, was Jeni Britton-Bauer of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams.  She talked about her passion for making ice cream and how, initially, that drove her to produce the flavors that she wanted to, not necessarily what the customer might want to buy from her: “I had to fail miserably to find out about [that].”  In the end, though, acknowledging this fact has made her a better ice cream-maker and has made her business stronger.

J-Bar from Jeni's Ice CreamJ-Bar from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams

Jeni “thinks of every project as a train I’m on,” she told us.  Some of them have already reached their destinations, some have crashed and burned (the failures), and some have yet to arrive at their destinations.  There’s 1,000 failures for everything that works, she added.  Why did she continue? she was asked.  “Because I didn’t want to do anything else,” she replied.  I’m not sure about the times that things didn’t work, but the J-Bars that we had for our afternoon break were delicious.  That’s enough to be very inspired!

Joe Yonan telling his storyJoe Yonan telling his story

Our last key speaker of the day was Joe Yonan of The Washington Post, my hometown paper, talking about “Reassessing the Dream.”  I always love when Joe is speaking at a conference, as he has such wonderful insights into food and the state of food writing (I mean, really, who can forget his comment about someone doing a book called “the 50 shades of grey Maldon Sea Salt” from The Cookbook Conference.).  He talked about being “in need of a major change of scenery” a few years ago, after going through layoffs at The Post, the sale by the owners of the land on which he’d had his community garden plot, and the death of his beloved dog.  He negotiated with his bosses and ended up spending a year in Maine, staying with his sister and brother-in-law on their farm, where they try to raise as much food as possible and to be as sustainable as possible.

Eat Your Vegetables by Joe YonanEat Your Vegetables by Joe Yonan

“This kind of thing isn’t just a fantasy, there are real consequences to the things that you do,” he cautioned us.  It might sound appealing just to run away for a while and to have some other life (even I feel like doing that now and again), but he had to organize his leave of absence from his job, sublet his apartment, and sort out how to make money in the meantime.  He was there to contribute to the running of the farm and to be engaged in that life, about which he had hoped to write a book.  The one he did write (shown in the photo above) covers just a small part of what happened to him while living on the farm; he also took away some valuable insights.

Kimchi Deviled Egg with Poblano Tapenade

Kimchi Deviled Egg – my new favorite food – and Poblano Tapenade from Joe Yonan’s new book with Hot Bread Kitchen Lavash Crackers

He told us, “I learned more than I ever could have imagined about growing food.”  More importantly, he said, he learned about “uni-tasking,” something that is more and more foreign to us in the fast-paced, overly-stimulated environment in which we usually function.  He shared with us that even now that he’s back working in Washington, DC at the paper, he’s still “reassessing the dream that we talked about” and learning the lessons from that year.  He doesn’t know how the experience will affect him in the long run; he’s also not sure that he really needs to know that – yet.

Mango Queen - Filipino BBQ Pork SkewerFilipino Pork BBQ Skewers by Mango Queen

As others will mention in their own write-ups, a weekend at The Big Summer Potluck is not an easy thing to summarize in a quick post.  There’s the new friendships that are made, the people whom you connect with whom you’ve only “met” previously on social media or via their blogs, the advice and insights shared by the featured presenters, the delicious food and new recipes to discover from all the dishes that everyone has contributed (yes, it really is a potluck), and the swag bag contents to explore using.  This year, in particular, with all the changes and investments that have been going on in my life, my finally pursuing a long-held dream of attending culinary school, and in changing my career to one working in food, the tidbits and life lessons from the speakers are ones that I hope to take away and incorporate as I continue to pursue my own dreams.

Buon appetito!

*According to Mexican legend – if you can get your tortillas to puff when you cook them, you are ready for marriage.  I’m so going to practice doing that before BSP5 next year!

We Have a “Great Vegan Bean Book” Giveaway Winner!!!

The-Great-Vegan-Bean-BookThe Great Vegan Bean Book

Congratulations to Angela whom the Randomizer selected as the winner for this prize!!!  A big “Thank You” to everyone who entered this giveaway!  Thank you, too, to Kathy Hester for providing me with this cookbook and for allowing me to offer it to one of my readers in this giveaway.

Rosemary-White Bean-Garlic DipRosemary-Garlic-White Bean Dip

It was very interesting to see the bean dishes that everyone listed in their responses.  Hummus seemed to be a popular dish.  One of my favorite recipes to make for parties, picnics, and gatherings is a version of this made with white beans: Rosemary-Garlic-White Bean Dip.  I use cannellini beans, but you could also substitute in Great Northern Beans, too.  This just shows again how versatile this foodstuff is and how many ways beans can be prepared, making them an ideal addition to one’s diet.

Buon appetito!

“The Great Vegan Bean Book” Cookbook Giveaway

The Great Vegan Bean Book-1The Great Vegan Bean Book

Earlier this week, I’d posted a recipe for an Indian Chickpea Yogurt Salad from the new cookbook by Kathy Hester: The Great Vegan Bean Book.  This book is full of lots of terrific recipes using different kinds of beans in innovative and delicious combinations.  When Kathy put the word out for bloggers to help her by making recipes from the book, I was sure to join in, as I’d had a chance to see how creative and interesting these are.  The recipes are vegan, with accommodation for soy-free diets and other options for adjusting them to fit more specialized tastes.

Indian Chickpea Yogurt SaladIndian Chickpea Yogurt Salad

It’s really the range of recipes and the variety of tastes that makes this book a great meat-free protein guide.  I have one copy from the publisher to give away to a reader on this site.  This is a terrific resource for anyone who would like to broaden his or her diet to include more plant-based, animal-friendly foods.

The Rules (There have to be some of these, you know.)

Eligibility: U.S. mainland residents only

To Enter: Write a comment on this post with the answer to the following question: What is your favorite bean dish?  (see this post for Chef Cesare Casella’s tips on cooking beans)

You must also have a valid screen name (NOT “Anonymous”) with a corresponding email address to enter this giveaway. I’ll need to be able to click on it in order to contact the winner. If you list “Anonymous” or do not have a valid email address with your comment, you will be disqualified. I do not share these addresses with anyone, and they are only for the purpose of entering this giveaway.

Deadline: Is Tuesday, July 23, 2013 at 12:00 p.m. EDT, based upon the date/time stamp on the comments. (I’m going to be very strict about this and make no exceptions.)

The Outcome: Only one winner will be chosen for this cookbook giveaway. I’m going to put all the entries into an online Randomizer (like this one) to come up with the winner.

Buon appetito!

Indian Chickpea Yogurt Salad from “The Great Vegan Bean Book” by Kathy Hester

Philharmonic in Central ParkThe New York Philharmonic in Central Park

Last night, I accepted the invitation from some friends to take part in one of New York City’s great summertime traditions – listing to live music al fresco.  The New York Philharmonic was doing its annual concert in Central Park (this event rotates through parks in the five boroughs).  I mulled over what I could bring as my contribution to the evening’s picnic that would go along with the music.  In general, I usually make something sweet.

Indian-Chickpea-Yogurt-SaladIndian Chickpea Yogurt Salad

Then, I realized the perfect dish for this kind of gathering was already right there under my nose.  I had received a copy of Kathy Hester‘s The Great Vegan Bean Book and was supposed to participate in her blogger book tour a few weeks back, but life kind of intervened.  I really wanted to bring something tasty and fresh to this picnic, something that didn’t take an incredible amount of prep time and a dish that would be cool and light in this oppressive heat we’ve been going through lately.  Kathy’s Indian Chickpea Yogurt Salad seemed like the ideal solution.

Salad ingredientsVegetables mixed together

To make this dish a bit more transportable and outdoor-dining friendly, I decided to mix the two main components, the vegetables and the dressing, separately.  I drained the canned chickpeas and tossed them together with the cucumber, potato, and onion.  The potatoes I used were red new potatoes, so I cooked a couple of larger ones to include in this salad.  I also seeded the cucumbers so that the other ingredients wouldn’t get mushy from any extra liquid those might add.  The ingredient list in the original recipe mentions the onion as optional, but I felt that the sharp crispness of a red onion would give a boost of flavor and texture to the dish.  All of the ingredients should be cut so that they are roughly the same size as the chickpeas, with the exception of the onion, which should be chopped smaller than that.

Yogurt DressingYogurt dressing

I mixed the ingredients for the yogurt dressing together in a separate container.  This would a. keep the salad from getting too soft and potentially slimy and b. allow the guests to combine the dressing and salad to their own tastes.  To keep this dish completely vegan, and as I was curious about cooking with vegan yogurt, I used the coconut yogurt suggested in the recipe.  For me, it added a slight sweetness and wasn’t as tangy as regular yogurt would have been, but it had a nice creamy consistency.  I decided not to use the kala namak (a black, Indian salt), as I have a prohibition about buying one-use ingredients for my pantry.  Instead, I used regular kosher salt.  This, I added to taste, which I highly recommend doing.

Indian Chickpea Yogurt Salad al frescoIndian Chickpea Yogurt Salad outdoors

The salad was a hit at the picnic as we all relaxed on the grass and took in the concert.  It had a meaty bite from the chickpeas with a crisp crunch from the cucumbers and the onions.  The dressing was cool and creamy with a backnote of heat and plenty of spice.  The cilantro gave the salad an extra freshness and lift.  It was the perfect summertime refresher and could sit alongside any kind of grilled meat or vegetables.  This would be a great dish to serve alongside an Indian food feast at any time of year.

The Great Vegan Bean BookThe Great Vegan Bean Book

This cookbook has other fantastic recipes, too, all based upon the many uses for and dishes you can make with beans.  It covers many different types and styles of these legumes.  Instructions are also included throughout to accommodate the range and variety of vegan and vegetarian diets, so it is a great resource for those who would like to include this protein as part of their culinary staples.  As a promotion for this book, I’ll also be giving away a copy of it on this website.  I’ll post the giveaway later on this week.

Buon appetito!

Bean Demonstration by Chef Cesare Casella at the International Culinary Center

Chef-Casella-explains-bean-cooking-techniquesChef Cesare Casella explains bean cooking techniques

On Tuesday, I took advantage of having a free afternoon to take in a culinary demonstration at the International Culinary Center given by Dean of Italian Studies Cesare Casella.  The topic was beans – how to cook them and some of the Italian dishes that you can make using them.  Along with tips as to how to cook beans perfectly, Chef Casella interwove his recipes with stories about growing up in Tuscany, where beans are a staple dish.  (Tuscans are sometimes referred to as mangiafagioli or “bean-eaters.”)

Plate of cooked beansPlate of cooked beans

To acclimate our tastebuds to how properly cooked beans should taste and feel, Chef Casella presented us each with a plate of cooked beans prepared without oil or salt to start the demonstration.  We had – moving counter clockwise from the right – chickpeas (ceci), fagioli toscanelli, corona beans, fagioli stregoni, fagioli del Papa (which have a chestnut-like flavor), and Italian cannellini beans.  Each of them were solid (i.e., not mushy) and tender to the bite with the skin also breaking down easily when chewed.  Bags of these beans can be found for sale on Chef Casella’s website dedicated to showcasing heirloom products from Italy.

Beans cookingBeans cooking away

“Cooking the beans is important,” he advised us.  Because of the chemicals in the water and its hardness, he prefers to use filtered or spring water when preparing beans.  Beans take time and care to cook properly, he instructed.  “The perfect way to cook the beans is for a very long time.”  Steps like soaking them, cleaning, them, and then cooking them slowly are key steps in the process.  After letting them soak in warm water for about half an hour, gently rub them together to release more dirt from them.  Then, drain them, and put them in a stockpot or Dutch oven.  Cover them with cold water, and let them soak for at least 6 hours (better overnight).  If it is warm outside, put the beans in the refrigerator to soak, so that they don’t ferment in the heat.  Drain the beans and put them in a pot and cover them with fresh, cold water.  Cook them in simmering water until they are done (times will vary depending upon the size of the beans).

Mise en place for demoSet up for the demonstration

Aside from the tip about the kind of water that he uses to cook his beans, another tidbit Chef Casella imparted to us is that he always makes a vegetable sachet to put into the cooking pot with the beans, just as his grandmother and mother did.  He puts together carrots, celery, onion, garlic, rosemary, and sage into a cheesecloth and includes it with the cooking liquid.  (The cheesecloth makes it easier to remove everything at the end of the cooking time without have to fish around for bits of vegetables and herbs.)  All the items should be cleaned, trimmed, and peeled in the case of the carrots and onions so that no dirt gets onto the beans and into the cooking liquid.  This combination of ingredients is based upon his own personal preference, he added, so you need to discover the mix that works best for your tastes.  The base, however, should be neutrally-flavored, not over-powering, which is why pepper isn’t usually included in the sachet.  He did also toss in a couple of pinches of salt, which he said is fine to do at the cooking stage.

Bean cooking liquidBean cooking liquid aka “Liquid Gold”

Never throw away the liquid in which the beans have been cooked, he told us.  This is “liquid gold,” and can be added to dishes for cooking or finishing them, as in the case of making farro risotto-style (farrotto) as he did during the demonstration (photo below).  He also said that it isn’t necessary to skim the top of the beans to remove the bubbling residue as they cook, as that also affects the final flavors.  One student in the audience asked about how to reduce gassiness that some folks have from eating beans.  Chef Casella said one method is to change the cooking water, but this has consequences for achieving their full flavor: “Less farty, you change the water; you want more flavor, you keep the water.”

Seven Bean SaladSeven Bean Salad

When it came time to taste the results of Chef Casella’s cooking, it was clear how this attention to detail and precise cooking methodology produced delicious and intensely flavorful results.  The Seven Bean Salad had the beans that we tasted in the opening exercise plus the addition of Tuscan lentils, which added a meaty, hearty note to the dish.  Beans are very starchy, he told us, so when making a salad like this one that uses olive oil with the beans, be prepared to add a lot of oil to the salad.  As we watched him pour a steady, green stream of oil over the beans, I wondered if it would taste really greasy at the end.  It didn’t at all.  As he promised, the oil was mostly absorbed into the beans, given them a lush texture.  The salad had a lightness and freshness that called out for a slab of grilled, freshly-baked Tuscan bread and a glass of local wine to round it out.

FarrottoFarrotto with cannellini beans

The next dish we tried, was a clear example of how using the bean cooking water helps to build the layers of flavor, taste, and texture on a plate.  Farro is a wonderful, nutty grain that can be used in many recipes.  In this one for farrotto, Chef Casella took the liquid in which the cannellini beans were cooked and added ladlefuls of it to the farro to develop a creamy, risotto-like texture.  The final dish, which we were given to taste, had a rich depth and levels of flavor to it with the al dente grains, tender beans, chunks of smoky bacon, and a sprinkle of fresh herbs.

Stewed Beans in Tomato SauceStewed Beans with Tomatoes

A traditional Tuscan dish of Stewed Beans with Tomatoes was the third plate that Chef Casella gave to us to try at the demonstration.  During the part of the talk about cooking methods, the chef had cautioned us about adding acidity to the water, as it would make the beans tough.  In this dish, the tomatoes are combined with the beans only after they are finished cooking, along with some of the liquid from the beans.

Chef Casella cooks beansChef Casella tending to a pot of beans

As I polished off my plate, sopping up the last of the tomatoe-y broth with a bit of bread, I was transported for a moment back to my travels in Italy.  I could almost have been at a long, communal table in an historic trattoria in Florence after having wandered around the cities tourist attractions, enjoying a meal with my friends, instead of sitting in a chair in the auditorium at the International Culinary Center.  This demonstration was very informative about the variety not just of the beans themselves but also their flexibility in preparation, which is what has made them such a staple in many cultures and cuisines.  It made me realize that I need to consider using them more often in my own cooking projects.

Buon appetito!

Summer Fancy Food Show 2013

On-line-to-enter1The show gets started

Today, the Summer Fancy Food Show, the largest trade show for the specialty food association, wrapped up.  Wonder how those products get onto your grocery store shelves or end up in the high-end gourmet shops that you might pop into every once in a while?  Some of them start off here as display items on a booth where the item’s creator tries to get a distributor or store owner to sample the product to see if might be a fit for them and their customers.

Taste NY bannerNew York products pavilion

After being held in Washington, DC the past couple of years, while updates were being made to the Javits Center, the show returned to its home in New York.  As I write about New York City local food producers and the items they make, I like to see what they present at this event.   It’s kind of a big step to tackle this trade show for a start-up.  Many manufacturers go to “walk the show” the year or so before they exhibit to get an idea of the scale of this massive spectacle (it’s huge – 2,400 exhibitors showcasing around 180,000 products) and to get some insights as to how to present their product amidst all the others in their specific category, where there’s usually lots of attention for our eyeballs and tastebuds.

Specialty Food sign 2Tidbits of information about the industry were around the event

My methodology for exploring the show was to get around to try as many local-area producers as possible to see what new items they had on display.  One product that I’m looking forward to trying in the kitchen is The Saucey Sauce Co.‘s tangy-sweet-caramel-y Brown Sugar Ginger Glaze, which they were debuting at the show, along with revamped bottles of their fantastic flavored fish sauces.  Eli’s Manhattan, I discovered, has thin, crispy crackers in several varieties, which would be perfect for a cheese tray or to hold appetizers.  Another delicious item I’d throw into my shopping cart would be Goodie Girl Tribeca‘s gluten free Crunchy Chaos cookies.  Marshmallow, corn flakes, and chocolate chips all melded together in one sweet treat.  They were one of the best gluten-free sweets I ate all show, which seemed to feature many GF products.

There were also several things that I tried that had a real kick to them – another food trend I picked up on at the show.  Many product lines added items that had some kind of spice or heat to them.  The Jam Stand‘s Not Just Peachy, Sriracha Jam, made with JoJo’s Sriracha had a lovely sweet-hot hit that would be perfect as a glaze or as an accompaniment to a cheese platter.  The Heat is On by Peanut Butter & Co., which I sampled at the show, was a creamy, peanut butter-spicy blend.  This would be a terrific ingredient to use in dips on noodles or to give a pop of heat to any dish.  I also tried Kings County Jerky‘s richly-flavorful Mole Jerky with a depth of spice and chocolate.  I can’t wait until packages of this are on sale; it’s definitely on my gift list for this year.

Sofi Awards signSofi Award

Each year, too, the Sofi Awards are given out for the best product in several categories, as voted on by the members of the association.  There were a few New York-based companies that saw their hard work rewarded.  I was really pleased to see fellow Smorgasburg vendor We Rub You‘s Spicy Korean BBQ Marinade win for Cooking Sauce or Flavor Enhancer – Korean Delights.  Their marinades and sauces enhance their sandwiches and lend to their popularity at the area food markets.  Chocolat Moderne won for their Avant-Garde Bar Blood Orange Bergamot Flavor in the Chocolate category.  The fruit flavors were smoothly blended and delivered a light perfume to the palate.  I also enjoyed their Kashmir Spice Dark Chocolate Bar with its exotic aromas and delicate spice notes.  In the Soup, Stew, Bean or Chili category, Sarabeth’s Kitchen, a local restauranteur, won for her Legendary Velvety Cream of Tomato Soup, which was, really, velvety and smooth and full of creamy, tomatoey richness.

Specialty Food sign 1The specialty food industry continues to grow

After walking around the Javits Center for the past three days, looking at, tasting, smelling, and seeing lots and lots of different food products, I found quite a few delicious items that I hope find their way into my neighborhood grocery store.  I had a chance to catch up with some of the folks who make some of the terrific food products that I enjoy eating at the local markets in the city, and I made a few new friends and contacts in the industry, as well.  The next conference is this winter in San Francisco, but I think I might just do well to rest up until next summer’s event to see what other fantastic new food creations exhibitors decide to display.

Buon appetito!

Packaged food items left from the trade show were collected by and donated to City Harvest, an organization dedicated to rescuing food to feed New York City’s hungry.