Category Archives: Background and General Food Thoughts

Good-bye 2011, Hello 2012!

I don’t know about you, but for me 2011 just flew right by.  I felt like I’d barely gotten through stuffing my gullet with all the wonderful berries, stone fruit, and gorgeous green vegetables of summer when it was time to figure out what to make for Thanksgiving and come up with recipes for using sweet potatoes and pumpkin.  This year was a busy one as I launched a new site for The Experimental Gourmand with its own domain name and posted 148 times, a record.  Thirty-seven original recipes were added and 62 posts covered food events, including cook-offs, benefits, markets, and, yes, The Red Velvet Cake Debate (probably my favorite “debate” of the year).

Most popular giveaway => Memorial Day Cookout Pack

This was also a year in which I introduced Giveaways of artisan food products so that you, the readers, can also get your hands on some of the delicious items that might not have made it into your markets quite yet.  In fact, of the top ten most visited posts to the site for 2011, three of them were for giveaways.  This has also had the side benefit of letting me highlight the hard work that all of the people who make the food that we enjoy eating do to start their own businesses and to keep them going through thick and thin, snowstorms and sunshine.  I appreciate what goes into each and every delicious bite so profiling them is just a small way of saying “thanks.”

Most popular recipe => Thai Beef Noodle Stir-Fry

Recipes continue to be a fundamental part of the website and of my philosophy about exploring the food world around us.  I’m still striving to eat seasonally and mostly locally, using products found in local farmers’ markets, while re-interpreting the dishes I grew up with and adding a new ones based up my travels and culinary studies.  Hopefully, you find them useful as well in trying to do more cooking and home for your family, which I hear is still the number one concern of most people who follow food and recipe sites.

Most popular post in 2011 => Grub Street/Hester Street Fair from 2010

Another growing component of this website has been Food Events and Markets.  My most fond memories of the year involve meeting the people behind the products at the various food markets like Smorgasburg and New Amsterdam.  If you have never visited New Amsterdam Market down by the South Street Seaport, definitely add it to your usual weekend errand rotation or tourist stops when you are in town to sample some local and regional treasures.  Among the most delicious things I tasted, and there were many, the Duck Buns by Cathy Erway and the Duck Confit by Richard Pinto from the Duck Cook-off at Jimmy’s No. 43 still stick in my mind as among the tastiest.  Another mind-blowing creation I sampled in 2011 was the Sweet Mary Ice Cream by The Bent Spoon, who always seems to make one amazing flavor after another.

Most popular blogger event post => Peanut Butter Pie for Mikey

The past year has also brought with it some sadder moments, but ones which made me realize how wonderful a community the blogging one is.  When Jennifer Perillo lost her beloved husband suddenly this summer, fellow food bloggers rallied around, including me, and created one big, electronic hug for her by posting her husband’s favorite recipe: Peanut Butter Pie.  Participating in the Cookies for Kids’ Cancer this month helped me feel as though I was doing something to help my nephew fight the cancer with which he’d been diagnosed this past summer.

Paula Wolfert’s book at the Culinary Historians of New York

On the positive side, I was able to go to some inspiring and engaging lectures and conferences during the past year.  From Eat, Write, Retreat to the Fancy Food Show to The Chocolate Show, which I covered for another site for which I write Woman Around Town, I was able to interact with fellow food lovers discovering tastes and treats and making new friends.  I had a chance to cover the intersection of food and technology on the insightful and informative website Food+Tech Connect run by Danielle Gould and to explore some of the food apps at Eats + Apps that developers are hoping we’ll consult as we plan our meals.

Probably still my ideal New Year’s Day menu

These are all aspects that are moving our understanding of what we eat and influencing how we cook and consume it, which is also part of what I think makes the culinary world such a fascinating arena right now.  For 2012, I’m looking forward to learning more about our food future, celebrate its glorious history, and eat many more amazing items whether made by the dedicated artisans in our community or cobbled together in my own kitchen.

Buon capodanno e buon appetito!

It’s My Blog’s Birthday!

Happy Birthday to my Blog!!!  It turns 6 years old today, which is kind of milestone in blog-land, as my friends keep pointing out to me.  What an interesting trip it has been from that very first post in 2005.  I’ve met so many super people along the way and have eaten a vast array of great food items, many of them Local Products found in the markets here in New York.  I really enjoy getting out to meet the folks whose passion has inspired them to create something edible and to develop a business around it.  I’m also completely in awe of the great cooks who show up at every Food Event with delectable treats in hand.  For me, finding out about and trying all of these things is the essence of the Experimental and the Gourmand part of my website name.

My files are much better organized than this, I promise!

Another other key component of the website is a feature that has been there since it began. My Recipe collection continues to grow with no end in site although it is more organized that it was when I started this project, which was one of the reasons for taking up writing this in the first place.  I’ve also migrated from testing recipes to developing a lot of my own original ones, more than 100 of them to date if my numbers are correct.  I’ve definitely broadened my knowledge base as far as technique and cuisine are concerned, but I also really enjoy the basics and making revamped versions of some of the dishes with which I grew up, as tackled in my Recipe Box Project.  The blog has helped me to put on “paper” some of the incredible Italian meals that I ate when I lived in Bologna, as well as new discoveries from my more recent travels.

Last year’s Christmas Dinner from my mom’s recipe card file

I’ve often been amazed and delighted with the fabulous bounty that comes into the local Markets; it inspires me in my cooking projects and gives me so much great material with which to work.  This has helped me to frame my site around trying harder to eat locally and seasonally.  I’ve realized, too, that I learned so much of what I know from hanging around my mother as she cooked, giving me those tiny, random Kitchen Witch Tips that I enjoy sharing and which just make a recipe turn out that extra bit better.

Happy Blog-A-Versary to me! (courtesy a sale at Williams-Sonoma)

The past six years have had their ups and downs, as followers can see from my posting cycle.  There are times when I thought about closing down the blog or putting it on a long hiatus while things in my personal and/or professional life were swirling around chaotically, but what has kept me going is having a place where I can be part of a community that immerses itself in a love of food, something about which I remain incredibly passionate, as have the kind comments I’ve received from readers and friends.  I look forward to many more posts where I get to indulge in the Experimental and Gourmand sides of culinary exploration and hope that you’ll be around to share this journey with me.

Buon appetito!

Peanut Butter Pie for Mikey

This is one of those posts that no one ever wants to write.  It is about the loss of a loved one, suddenly, unexpectedly, without warning, for seemingly no reason at all.  This week, the food blogging community was called to rally around one if its own and it did in spades.  Jennifer Perillo of In Jennie’s Kitchen lost her beloved husband Mikey to a heart attack.  You can read more about what happened here at a beautiful, touching post that Shauna of Gluten Free Girl wrote about her good friends.

Ingredients

Today, to honor our fellow food blogger colleague we’ve all been asked to make Mikey’s favorite pie: Peanut Butter Cream.  Bakers and non-bakers alike are setting aside their other posts and plans to prepare this, share it with their loved ones, and put up photos of their creations on Facebook and Twitter.  Even though the context is a sad one, it’s really cool to see how everyone took one recipe and made it his/her own and how much the food writing community can come together to support someone who is a huge part of who we are.  We are basically sending a big hug and “we’re thinking of you” vibes to Jennie and her family today, which is also the day of Mikey’s memorial service.

The Chocolate Shell

What is sort of surreal to me about what happened is that Jennie and I had just been Tweeting back and forth on the Saturday before it happened.  She’d found some local strawberries at the market and was wondering about pickling them.  A few weeks back, I’d had some amazing ones created by the folks at Anarchy in A Jar, and was talking to her about them and how they made them. I meant to follow up with her about this when I saw the news on Monday about Mikey’s death.

The Peanut Butter Filling

I had the chance to meet Jennie at the Eat, Write, Retreat conference in Washington, DC in May of this year.  We met again when she spoke at TECHMunch NYC the next month.  Again, she was so warm and welcoming to someone (me) whom she barely knew but who shares the same passion as she does for food and cooking.  It is this generosity of spirit, echoed by others as well, that I hope sustains her and her family during this time and as they heal.  Making this pie is a small way to send some of what she gives out back to her when she needs it.

The Finished Pie dusted with Cocoa and dotted with White Chocolate Shavings

This recipe is such a typical American concoction to me.  It’s one of those “Ice Box Creations” as I categorize it.  A chocolate and chocolate cookie base with a top layer of peanut butter (the very concept of the latter mystifies my European friends) folded with cream cheese and whipped cream and then chocolate drizzled on top of it (or not, as I did).  It goes into in the fridge to set for a few hours or overnight.

A Piece of Peanut Butter Cream Pie

I opted to balance out the crust to filling ratio in favor of less filling than the recipe called for, so make about half of what is in the on-line link if you are a crust person like I am.  I also made it in a square pan, as that was easier to find at the store when I was shopping yesterday.  I also thought it might be easier to carry to its final destination.  The details aren’t important, however, just the fact that we could all come together to give comfort to someone in need is enough to know that despite all the bad there is still plenty of good in this world we all share.

Buon appetito!

Fairway opens on the Upper East Side!

I know, you’re like, “Seriously?  Really?  The opening of a grocery store is worthy of a blog post?”  My response is, “You betcha!”  Living in New York has its culinary benefits, no doubt, especially when it comes to being able to eat at the top, most innovative restaurants or find the latest hot whatever cuisine.  The most recent food fad either starts here or makes its way here very soon.  Turn the conversation to where folks actually go to by the food that they keep at home, however, and you’ve opened a whole other can of worms.

There isn’t anywhere else I’ve ever lived where I’ve been at a party or random gathering and folks can spend hours talking about where they buy groceries.  I’ve witnessed people engaging in the most coherent, cohesive, arguments for why to shop at X rather than Y, except if you are looking for Z, down to the most obsessive level of detail.  In some ways, it can be a more heated and vibrant discussion than say, oh, raising the debt ceiling or whatever the news item of the day is.  Fairway Market is one of those places that inspires this kind of fandom.

So, when they announced last year that they would be opening up a store about ten blocks from me, I was giddy with excitement.  As readers will know, I try to pick up as much as I can in the Greenmarkets, but there’s items that I like to use in cooking that aren’t sold there or produced locally.  Olive oil is one of these.  Citrus fruits are another and so is coconut milk.  So I top up my farmers market shopping by visiting the grocery store.  When I first moved to the city, I was introduced to Fairway on the Upper West Side and have been a big fan of theirs ever since.

The same things that are great about the west side location have traveled to the east of town.  The cheese counter is amazing and carries New York State varieties as well as those from elsewhere, including uncommon ones like burrata.  The guys who hand-slice smoked salmon are always very nice and seem to really enjoy their work.  Navigating from the front of the store to the meat and fish counter can sometimes be a bit of a challenge at 74th Street as you hug the tomato sauce and pasta aisle.  This is much easier on 86th Street, due to it being a larger store in general.  What is also really nice is that when you walk into their stores, you enter to rows of fresh, colorful produce that just begs for you to buy it and make some thing wonderful in your own kitchen.

The Upper East Side location will have some living up to do to match the experience of the Upper West Side.  I’ve had a few celebrity and minor celebrity sitings there and on occasion run into people whom I know in the neighborhood.  Ask anyone about the extra bonus of seeing some of the NYFD guys shopping for provisions.  Once, I saw someone almost literally run over an older woman while trying to get a spot on the one elevator that moves between the floors of that store.  Everyone has a story about shopping there and about their strategy for maneuvering around the tight spaces.  It’s actually kind of a New Yorker Rite of Passage to have some tale about the drama of visiting Fairway, but in a good way.

I’ve always thought that the prices for the quality of the merchandise was quite competitive at Fairway in general, especially when compared to the limited selection at the stores in my own part of town.  When I was toting my bags back home from my trip to the Upper East Side location today, that was the one thing I was asked.  Rumor had it that the people handing out flyers today to boycott the store were from some of the competing groceries.  As someone else said, having Fairway open up in the neighborhood has made a few of them concerned about having to step up their game.  I don’t necessarily know about that, but I’m really glad that I could get so many great items that I need to cook with this week by taking a ten-block bus ride rather than a two-bus, twenty-plus block trip.  Welcome to the Upper East Side, Fairway!

Buon appetito!

Summer Fancy Food Show 2011

For the past few weeks, maybe even a month or more, some of the folks I’ve seen in the NYC food world have been buzzing about the NASFT Summer Fancy Food Show taking place in Washington, DC this week. Usually, this conference has been held at the Javits Center in New York, so this geographic shift has been a bit dislocating to those based in the Big Apple who are usually accustomed to popping in and out of the show while also keeping to a regular workday schedule. For those who made the trip down to our Nation’s Capital, there were some really great products to check out and some very nice people to meet.

On my site, I try to cover the local, artisan food items created by those who live in the New York City area and which are usually found at the markets held in various spots around town. What was really thrilling was to see how many of these folks were displaying their wares here this year. For some of them, I know it was the first time that they’d been at the Fancy Food Show, which is a testament to how well-crafted and delicious their products are that they have the confidence to jump onto a larger stage.

 Nuts+Nuts Spicy Mix

For regular readers of the site, you know I’m already a big fan of Nuts+Nuts, Schoolhouse Kitchen, Rick’s Picks, and Brooklyn Salsa Company. When I arrived on Sunday at the show, I made sure to pop by each of their stands to say hello and to let them know a friendly face was in town. This also gave me a chance to catch up with everyone to find out what is going on with them. Cyrilla of Nuts+Nuts is creating some new gift packaging options for those who are looking for delicious and unique presents to give.

The Sun from Brooklyn Salsa Company (photo from their site)

Rob and Casey introduced me to their Japan-inspired The Sun salsa, which I had known about but hadn’t yet sampled. Its fragrant notes of citrus with ginger and a little spice would be perfect on grilled fish or poured over a veggies and wrapped in parchment, letting all that great flavor infuse into them. This is definitely on my shopping list to pick up back in the city.

Coconut Citrus Vinaigrette from Schoolhouse Kitchen (photo from their site)

Another couple of terrific tasting products that I sampled were Wendy’s new vinaigrettes. I am still dreaming about the Coconut Citrus one. It would be perfect to marinade pork or chicken (or both) in preparation for grilling for satay. I’d pick up fellow show exhibitor Peanut Butter & Co.‘s Smooth Operator to make a tangy peanut sauce to go along with it. I also really loved her Poppy Seed Vinaigrette for its light, delicate finish. It would be amazing drizzled over grilled fruit and served with some vanilla gelato or coconut sorbet.

Brooklyn Slate Company from Brooklyn Uncorked

What was nice about this trade show is that I also got to see a few folks that I’ve never quite managed to connect with at some of the markets. I’ve eaten off of Brooklyn Slate Company’s gorgeous trays at a few Edible magazine events. It was so nice to meet them in person and to talk to them more about what they do. Their products might end up under the tree for someone this year, I have a feeling, or maybe I’ll treat myself to one instead.

“The spread” from Brooklyn Brine Co. (photo from their site)

Shamus from Brooklyn Brine Co. had his fabulous pickles on display and seemed to be winning over quite a few new fans when I stopped by. They are working on a new tasting room, so I’m hoping to get over there and check that out when they are ready. In the meantime, I’ll just have to figure out another excuse to entertain so I can introduce my friends to his tasty nibbles.

McClure’s Pickles from “Rolling in Dough or No?

The pickle front was also represented at the show by McClure’s. Their relish is just begging to be paired up with summertime fare. Wonder how it would work with Les Trois Petits Cochons sausages or patés? I was told that the former will be available at the Edible Manhattan Good Beer Event on the 26th, so perhaps it might be possible to bring those two tastes together.

Chozen Ice Cream at Smorgasburg

Washington, DC’s infamously steamy summer weather did not fail to deliver a few muggy, scorching days to its out of town guests. Fortunately, the folks from Chozen Ice Cream were there to keep everybody cool. I first met them at Smorgasburg a few weeks back. They’ll be there for the ice cream festival this weekend, so you can have a chance sample their unique flavors there.

Sir Kensington Ketchup at Smorgasburg

Sir Kensington Ketchup, another vendor I’d met at Smorgasburg, was also at the show, mustaches and all. I’ve got a jar of their sauce on my counter that is waiting for me to open it up to slather on a burger or dip some fries into it. On my next trip, I think I’m going to grab a jar of the spicy variety. Both are great condiments sure to liven up your next cookout.

Mercer’s Wine Ice Cream (photo from their site)

There were some tasty and really intriguing products that I tried that haven’t yet made it into the markets or shops in the city. Mercer’s Wine Ice Cream, which uses milk from New York dairies, was a different taste profile from the usual frozen treats, somewhat like the red wine-chocolate gelato I tried earlier this year. The Peach and White Zinfandel had a nice creamy flavor that picked up the floral nature of the fruit and delivered a pleasant wine-tinged backnote. The Port would be fantastic with walnuts in syrup on top, perhaps the Pecans in Adirondack Honey from The Well-Dressed Food Company, another New York State exhibitor who had some wonderful-sounding products, including an herbal Rosemary-Riesling Jam made with Finger Lakes wine.

My Dad’s Cookies (photo from their site)

Gluten-free products seemed to be a growing trend that I saw this year. I don’t remember seeing quite as many at last year’s show. I tried a couple of them. Do you remember the flavor of Hydrox? That’s what the Chocolate Sandwich Cookie from My Dad’s Cookies taste like.  They have a wide range of other types and styles of treats, too, so that those who are staying away from gluten won’t have to sacrifice their sweet tooth.  I’ve been told that they also do a good slice, so I’m going to have to stop by the next time I’m around the Madison Square Park area to check it out.

Happy Baby Happy Morning breakfast pouch (photo from their site)

The folks behind the Happy Baby brand of organic baby food brought with them some new items from their Happy Family line, designed for busy folks on the go who would still like to fulfill their morning nutritional needs.  These are also gluten-free items. Wholesome-Kitchen (unfortunately their website is not yet active) was another gluten-free
vendor that I saw.  I
 think they have an interesting-sounding product line of pre-mixed quinoa varieties.  You can find some of them here, but they had far more items on display at the show.

The Ultimate Fish Sauce by The Saucey Sauce Co. from Hester Street Fair

They didn’t have a table at the show, but I also managed to connect with Ken and Toan of The Saucey Sauce Co and makers of The Ultimate Fish Sauce. I first met them at the Hester Street Fair and completely fell in love with their products.  These will perk up all sorts of dishes and make great dipping sauces for whatever you are serving.  Laurie Pauker from Lush Candy, another one of my favorites, and I hung out together a bit as well, as she was also a show attendee.  She had come into town a bit earlier to take part in a chocolatier’s event.  As a plus, she brought samples of her wonderful toffee with her.  It was great to see them all there, and I’m predicting that they’ll each have their own place on the floor next year.

Overall, it was just wonderful to see New York’s artisan food community represented by so many fantastic and varied products and people. It has been such a pleasure getting to know the people behind these brands. Seeing them with their industry peers at the Fancy Food Show is kind of a neat experience, I have to say, especially when we are usually used to hanging out shooting the breeze at some local market or other. I really hope that the show was a good experience for all of them, and I look forward to hearing about it the next time we meet up in the city.

Buon appetito!

Off to Washington, DC for the Fancy Food Show

This weekend, I’ll be joining a few hundred or thousand other folks at the Summer Fancy Food Show being held this year in Washington, DC.  It will be very interesting to see the vendors who will be displaying their products in the hopes of being picked up by distributors from national chains, small boutique stores, and other retail and wholesale outlets.  Having been for the first time last year, I can also say that it is a bit overwhelming as well to try to absorb all the information and the tastes available.

While I’m down there looking at all the different food and drink items, I thought I’d leave everyone with some links to articles that I’ve written that have been posted on other sites.  I had a chance to cover a fantastically informative day during Internet Week New York that focused on Food 2.0.  It looked at the ways that we learn about food, decide what to eat out or cook in, and how our food gets distributed to us.  That weekend, I wrote up an article about one of the panels during TECHMunch, a food blogger’s conference, that talked about how websites find their content to share with you, their readers.

Another site I’ve published some articles on is the award-winning Woman Around Town.  Here, you can read about an interview that I did with Jael McHenry the author of the entertaining and delightful book The Kitchen Daughter.  A few weeks ago, I also took part in the first public food walking tour held by the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.  If you’ve never paid a visit to it, I highly recommend it.  Even my father, who has been dragged to more sites and monuments that he can remember, said that it was probably one of the most fascinating places that he’s been.

Hitting all the museums on the Upper East Side?  Why not take a break and grab an iced coffee or a Mars bar (or both!) at The London Candy Company?  This newcomer to the neighborhood has already become a favorite with the locals, young and old alike.  Or, if you are doing a staycation and looking for some new recipes to try, you might want to check into Guy Fieri’s cookbook Guy Fieri Food.  I was at the release party hosted by The Food Network and had a chance to try out some really great nibbles from the recipes found in its pages.  It’s now sitting on my shelf waiting for me to have an excuse to make them for friends!

A New, Delicious Way to Experience the Lower East Side,” Woman Around Town (06/28/11)
Jael McHenry’s The Kitchen Daughter,” Woman Around Town (06/20/11)
Sweet Treats from the UK come to NYC,” Woman Around Town (05/21/11)
Guy Fieri Food Kick-off Party,” Woman Around Town (05/05/11)

The Social Kitchen at Food 2.0” Food+Tech Connect (06/20/11)
Future of Food Reviewing at Food 2.0” Food+Tech Connect (06/20/11)
Open Source Food at Food 2.0” Food+Tech Connect (06/16/11)
Food 2.0: Sharing & Making Use of Restaurant, Menu and Farm Data” Food+Tech Connect (06/13/11)

What’s New in Food: Understanding Trends to Enrich Your Content,” TECHMunch (06/15/11)

Buon appetito!