Earlier this month, I was invited to attend a walk-around tasting of Italian food products by the Italian Trade Commission. The goal was to introduce us to the AICIG (Italian Association of Geographical Indication), an organization that works to protect and preserve the designation of authenticity of Italian food products, as well as to let us actually sample those products, thus giving us a deeper appreciation for the quality and tradition behind these edibles. This organization represents the PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) and PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) sectors at the national, European Union, and international levels, helping them to promote their products and to raise awareness of these food certifications.
Prosciutto sliced by machine
Food certification and guarantees of authenticity in production are an area taken much more seriously in the European Community than in other areas of the world. The process to receive one of these designations is time-consuming and expensive, but the rewards of doing it and the recognition of these products at that level can be financially very important. It isn’t just about the labeling rights, however, as these designations are also a matter of preserving Italian culinary and cultural traditions, ones that have hundreds of years of history behind them, something that the Italian government and their local authorities work very hard to maintain.
Display of cheeses
Among the products that we had the opportunity to taste were cheeses, prosciutto, vinegar, and olive oil. Our host location, Osteria del Principe also served us several delicious dishes, including a deliciously creamy Risotto ai Funghi, that showcased Italian cuisine. These foods reinforce the passion and commitment that the trade commission and its members have for items that they feel deserve to carry the “Made In Italy” stamp. They have indicated that over the next year, they will be having more such events, including one just for Italian wines, to introduce us further to the quality and care with which Italian products are made.
Thank you so much to the folks at PadillaCRT for inviting me to take part in this event. For additional information about the Italian Trade Commission, please visit their website. For additional information about the AICIG, please visit their website.
On Thursday night, I dropped by Baked‘s new-ish Tribeca location for Dessert-apoolza, a cookbook signing and tasting event that raised moneys for Cookies for Kids’ Cancer and Getting Out and Staying Out. The former organization, as I’ve mentioned in the past, is one with which I have a personal connection, and, well, having dessert for dinner is just one of those perks of being a grown-up (the other is having dessert for breakfast), so this was right up my alley. If you’re looking for some cookbook ideas for this holiday season, check out these ones that were at the sweets-fest last week:
Samples of two seasonal flavors of this local ice cream company were available for tasting. The Egg Nog was a creamy, frozen version of its namesake holiday party beverage. The Drunken Thanksgiving combined pumpkin, gingersnaps, and bourbon. This can take the place of pie at my holiday feast any year.
The hosts for the evening put out this seasonal, festive mini-cakes for everyone to try. They have several cookbooks as well as a range of baking mixes. Really, though, stopping by one of their shops to pick out treats to take home (or to eat on site) is the way to go.
I’m a big, big fan of cookies, as I’ve mentioned in the past, so it was no surprise that I wanted to hang out at this table for a while. Patti Paige had several different kinds of cookies, including gluten-free ones, available for the guests to try. She even had decorating supplies for us to create our own designs. My cookie frosting M.O., however, hasn’t changed since childhood and is just to slather on a glob of icing and to pop it in my mouth, which wasn’t exactly what I think she had in mind.
Samples of the fabulous S’mores Pie and Bourbon-Ginger-Pecan pie from Butter & Scotch were available at this tasting, so I tried to limit my self to just one sample of each, along with copies of Allison Kave’s terrific book First Prize Pies. Aside from Ample Hills’ ice cream, I’d take any of these pies on my holiday dinner table, as well. Keep in touch with these ladies, as they’re opening up a brick & mortar shop in Crown Heights any week (day?) now.
No discussion of the year’s best cookbooks, or must-have baking books in general, would be complete without mentioning ones by Dorie Greenspan. I had a chance to talk to one of the women who worked on testing the recipes for her most recent volume, and she glowed as she raved about how delicious all of them were, including the Palets des Dames and Limoncello Cupcakes we could taste during the event.
Two of my favorite kinds of cookies – Salted Chocolate Chip and Peanut Butter – were on the table by the Ovenly folks on Thursday. I always enjoy seeing their baked goods around town, as I know that they’ll be something special. Fortunately, these were packed up for me to take away to save to eat later.
Friday night, between the end of work and the start of going out with friends to see The Ivory Tower at Cooper Union (if you are curious about some of the real costs of higher education, I highly recommend seeing this movie), I swung by the Union Square Greenmarket for one of their two upcoming night markets. This one called Mercato Notturno (night market in Italian), featured foods from Italy as well as a pasta-making demonstration. There was also a table at the market that had information on it about Expo Milano 2015: “Feeding the Planet. Energy for Life,” where the United States will have a pavilion. For me, it was a little trip back to Bologna, the central focus of the market, where I lived for several years. Here’s some pictures from the event:
For those who would like to find out more about Bologna and its cuisine, or just about the marketing of Italian food in general, you might consider looking into this new program put together by the University of Bologna’s Business School. To learn about Bologna, in general, you can see my photos of the pasta class that I took at La Vecchia Scuola Bologneseandread about a trip outside the city to drink wine and enjoy pasta in a vineyardnei colli (in the hills) and about my adventures traipsing around the city eating gelato.
“We were a country founded on beer,” stated John Holl, the author of The American Craft Beer Cookbook at last Thursday’s talk with Kitchen Arts & Letters at the 92nd Street Y: The Dynamic Flavors of Beer – Tasting and Pairing. The starting point of his mini-seminar was having us taste some of these beers so that we could see the range and nuances of several of the beers currently being brewed in the United States. In his book, he tries to capture the stories of these and and others being made in this country at the moment and to highlight not only their diversity but also the variety of foods that we are eating with them at this point in time. “Beer and Food have really come up together,” he told us.
Beers sampled at tasting
Before we delved into the matching up of beer and food, Holl explained to us the proper way to sample a beer. “You don’t swish and spit. You taste and swallow,” he said, pointing out the differences between a beer tasting and a wine tasting, noting that there were no dump buckets on the table for us to pour our beers into. There are who different methods of experiencing the aromas of a beer, he told us. “The Bloodhound,” where you do quick bursts of sniffing in the fragrance, and the “Drive By,” where you pass the glass back and forth across your nose, taking a deep breath as it goes by. Just as with wine, mouthfeel plays an important roll in sampling beer as do the aromas and finish.
The questions he told us to keep in mind when trying the beverages we were tasting that day were: “Would you have it again?” and “Would you have another one after that?” He also instructed us that the best way to get a beer into a glass was to pour straight down the middle. Unlike what I, and others, have been taught all of our beer-drinking and -pouring lives, you do want a bit of a head on top of the drink. It helps to build the aromas. Here’s a list of the beers that we tried and the pairings that Holl did with them:
This is a “standard American lager,” according to Holl. It tasted just like the beers of my college years, light, drinkable, best served cold. One of those beers that goes down smoothly on a hot summer’s day (possibly after mowing the lawn) or after a long shift at work. It was a doable match with the pretzel on the plate.
For me, this beer had quite a few dry cider notes, almost a cross between a lager and a cider, but not in a Snakebite kind of way. (I have memories of those from my time living in the UK just out of college.) It finished clean on the palate, which was nice with the pretzel that we tried with it, wiping up the saltiness on my tongue. I could see some really great food pairings as it might play well with dishes with a bit of spice (as well as maybe using it to cook with for a buttery roast chicken.).
This selection was a light, refreshing beverage, but I have to admit, I’m not generally a fan of wheat beers. The Manchego that we tasted with it brought out some fruity, clove, and even ripe banana notes, which was kind of intriguing to discover about it. During the Q&A at the end of the session, Holl pointed out that as it is often served with an orange or lemon wedge, it can also be a good match with briny seafood dishes, a pairing which might just change my mind about these beers.
I grew up with the lyrics to “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” so I found it interesting that someone had named a beer after that incident. This was the beer I was most looking forward to sampling all evening, just from a personal standpoint. I’ve recently gotten into milk stouts and porters, as there are just those times when you really want something more complex and deep – velvety, darkly toasted with chocolate and toffee notes, which, by the way make this a great pairing for creamy desserts, or for the aged Gouda that we had with it that night. As my friend who was with me said, its aromas reminded her of affogato al caffè.
To end the evening, we sampled an IPA with a Maytag blue cheese. For me, IPAs are intrinsically linked to Indian food. As Holl pointed out to us, IPA is style that runs the gamut and can go with everything from the aforementioned spicy food to carrot cake. It was definitely robust enough to handle the blue cheese and made me wonder how it would do with a steak in a gorgonzola sauce (a recipe for which is in his book). That might be a project to bring some friends together for dinner and a few beers some time soon. Hopefully, they wouldn’t mind my trying this pairing out on them.
Thank you to Kitchen Arts & Letters for inviting me to attend this event. If you would like to drop by their store (which I encourage all cooks and cookbook lovers to do, as their selection and expertise is amazing), please visit their website for their current hours. In addition, they are hosting several other food talks in conjunction with their neighbor, the 92nd Street Y. Those talks can be found on the Y’s website.
For the second year in a row, chefs, pig dishes in hand, and the folks who love to indulge in porcine goodness gathered in Red Hook, Brooklyn at Erie Basin Park for the fifth annual Pig Island festival organized by Jimmy Carbone of Jimmy’s No. 43. As in past years, this event featured hogs raised by upstate farmers, local wine, cider, and craft beer, and a lot of creativity, showcasing the range of culinary creations that can come from using the whole animal. Fortunately, as well, even though there had been an early threat of thunderstorms, the inclement weather held off until the very end of the day.
This year, I felt that there was definitely a broader range of dishes and concepts for using the pigs than has perhaps happened in previous years. The tortilla seemed to be the vehicle of choice for delivering pork products to hungry mouths, whereas, last year, more bites seemed to be on sliders or bread. There were so many incredible offerings that it is difficult to select just a few stand-out items. There was an esteemed panel of judges that had that heavy responsibility, so I can just talk from the point of view of my own tastebuds here.
Taking home the award for “Fearless Stomachs Only,” Chef Danny Mena of Hecho en Dumbo created Volcanes de Chorizo Casero. Two different versions of pork meats topped with tomatillo salsa: a red Mexican sausage called Longaniza and a green chorizo, where the herbs were blanched and then mixed in with the meat. The small square item at the top of the picture is a version of chicharrones made in Mexico where some of the meat is still left connected to the skin, and then they are fried together, creating a crispy, puffed, pork fritter-like morsel. I could have eaten plates and plates of these offerings, the flavors blended so well together, fatty meat, creamy cheese, hearty tortilla, and spice and acidity that just cut through all of that to bring the dish together. I’m only sorry that I didn’t get a chance to swing by at the end of the event to pack up any leftovers that they might have had.
Jesse Jones – Pulled Pork Strudel with BBQ Sauce and Pickled Cucumber
Another memorable dish that I ate on Saturday was this inspired creation by Chef Jesse Jones. For a spin on the usual pulled pork sandwich with slaw or other vinegar-based toppings, he built a strudel using slow-cooked pork. The rounds were heated up on the grill and served with a barbecue sauce from Fairway, his event sponsor, and dressed with lightly pickled cucumbers, which were still crunchy enough to provide a nice textural balance to the succulent meat and pastry. This is the kind of plate that makes me want to come back to Pig Island year after year because chefs just go for whatever they think might work to celebrate the hog, and sometimes it just comes together beautifully.
A newcomer to this food festival, Revolving Dansk went for a more traditional-with-a-spin for one of their dishes. Taking their cue from the Danish hot dog wagon (pølsevogn), which they mention is virtually the only street meat in that country, they served up the Copenhagen Street Dog complete with a tangy remoulade, crisp locally-made Scandinavian pickles, crunchy onions, and a drizzle of a Danish salty licorice sauce, upon request. It might sound like an unorthodox combination, but it worked. I’m not a huge hotdog fan, and I would have gone back for seconds on these. The hotdogs themselves were served on rolls made by Brooklyn bakery Leske’s.
Ends Meat – Pork Nugget
Those three plates were my favorites of the day. For a complete list of the participating chefs, visit the Pig Island website. Here’s what the judges decided were their best dishes:
There were lots of great dishes filled with various versions of pork and pig bits, so it wasn’t easy to narrow down the best things I ate to just three items, as many of them were really quite delicious so it feels a bit like splitting (hog) hairs. All the chefs and their teams worked in blazing hot conditions under bright sunny skies, behind smoky grills, to bring us yet another terrific event. When I got on the bus to head back over to the subway, I overheard one volunteer say to a friend, “I smell like barbecue and pork.” His companion chuckled, “As you should!”
A big “thank you” to Jimmy Carbone of Jimmy’s No. 43 and creator of Food Karma Projects for inviting me to participate in this event and to cover it this year for him. The food opinions stated here are my own.
On Sunday, a city block in the middle of a larger street fair on Madison Avenue was host to a mini festival celebrating Jewish food and culture. The Workmen’s Circle sponsored the event, which was put together by Noah Arenstein of Scharf & Zoyer. There were stalls with food stuffs inspired by traditional Jewish tastes – some classic, some a bit more modern. Folks crowded the stand selling handmade Egg Creams and picked up bialys and babka to take away with them.
A stage set up in the middle of the block featured a number of bands with singers belting out tunes and keeping the crowd entertained while they noshed on the different treats available. This gave the whole event a festive and small town-like vibe right in the heart of Midtown Manhattan. I spoke to Noah, who said that there might even be another of these gatherings in the works for later on this year, so if you missed out on this one, keep a lookout for another installment.