Sunday, on a glorious, bright sunshiny day, the New Amsterdam Market held a celebration for May Day called Floralia, complete with Maypole (above). I’ve never been much for recognizing this pagan feast day or the communist-era counterpart. I’ve always been envious, however, of my European friends when they had this day off, as it seemed a bit random. Of course, we have our Labor Day in September instead, so I guess that counts.
Ah, what to do on a gorgeous, sunny, crisp early spring Saturday in New York City? Head to the East Village to a food-related fundraiser, of course. Yesterday at Jimmy’s No. 43, Jimmy Carbone hosted a Brisket Cook-off, the proceeds of which went to support the New Amsterdam Market. Several local chefs came together along with some other special guests to show what they could do with this cut of meat.
Well, it’s getting down to the wire, so hopefully, you have all of your holiday gifts bought and maybe even wrapped. I have an ever-growing pile of things to take with me to Virginia that I have to figure out how to pack. So, really, when I was at the New Amsterdam Market’s last market of 2010 yesterday, I shouldn’t have bought anything, right?
Alas, I couldn’t resist. Even thought I was heading to brunch only a little while later, I had to pick up a few things. There were just so much great stuff. It started at the beginning, at the info table. There, Nils Wessell had these gorgeous, handmade butcher’s block cutting boards. Made in Brooklyn of materials from Pennsylvania and glue from Ohio, these were just stunning, but practical, works of art. The waste from production is composted at a local center. Good thing I hadn’t seen these earlier, otherwise they would have been at the top of my Christmas list. Well, there’s always my birthday next year.
In mystroll through the market, I chatted with Jen from LiddabitSweets (glad to hear the shipping is done!), Vince at Cellars at Jasper Hill, and Grace at TableTales (who was doing a brisk business in the cold weather). Weswung by NordicBreads to stock up on their wonderful ruis bread. I also had a nice talk about Italy and their possible cooking school plans with the people behind Fresh Flavors Catering, who had this greatdisplay of New York-made Italian food items.
One of the things that I really love about the New Amsterdam Market is that it features different kinds of food events and showcases the variety of the things that we eat in this city. This was really evident in the Ice Cream Festival this summer and the Hudson Valley Harvest in October. Today, we had a chance to dip into another part of the New York’s culinary heritage with the Smørrebrød Festival. This was part food festival, part competition, as the participants were pitted against each other in a variety of categories.
With Chef Trina Hahnemann’s assistance and with bread baked by Nordic Breads using locally-grown wheat and rye from Cayuga Pure Organics, NYC chefs created thousands of pieces of this Danish specialty layered with regionally-sourced meats, cheeses, fish, and other products. The beers were sourced by Jimmy Carbone of Jimmy’s No. 43 and featured several from Denmark, which paired beautifully with the array of smørrebrød that participants could select for their meal.
A $20.00 ticket allowed you a choice of three of the sandwiches and a beer. As you can see from the photos below, it wasn’t simple for me to choose from all the great-looking options which ones to put on my plate (seen above). As Robert LaValva of New Amsterdam Market said, it wasn’t easy for the judges to decide either, so I felt better about my selections. After today’s event, I can see very clearly why these delicious bites are worth keeping close as part of the Danish heritage. Perhaps we can find some room to export them to the U.S, as well, so that we can enjoy them more often.
Smoked Venison with Onion Marmalade, Apple and Celery Root
Chefs Simo and Tuomas Kuusisto of Nordic Breads
I’m already a huge fan of their Finnish Ruis Bread (rye bread made with 100% rye flour), which has been on my breakfast table for a couple of weeks now, so I had no doubts as to how delicious things would be today from the start. I had to make tough choices to pick my three sandwiches, so I didn’t get to sample this one. If I’d had been able to make a fourth selection, or if my friends had come with me today, this would have been the one that I would have tried. I’m going to put in a plug for them to have this as a sample to try with the wonderful bread that they normally have for sale at the market so that I can have another chance to taste it.
Winner: Most Interesting Flavor Combination
Braised Pork with Caramelized Onion and Caraway
Marlow & Daughters
I had a great time talking to the chef from Marlow & Daughters before everything kicked into gear. He seemed really happy to be participating in this event and to see how it would all unfold. This was another of the selections that really made me wish I had an extra ticket to try it out. Again, my solution is just to try to track it down at another available opportunity.
Winner: Most Beautifully Simple Combination
Chicken Liver, Pork Shoulder, and Parsley; Yogurt, Crosnes, Sunchokes, and Currants; and CB & J (autumn berry)
Chef Patrick Connolly of Bobo
This trio of sandwiches would have made an interesting meal in and of itself with the different combinations and textures working with the bread. I didn’t see any of these on the table to try when I made it to the head of the line to make my selections. I suspect that he may have already sold out of them when it was my turn to eat. What I really liked was that in his acceptance speech for his prize, he admitted that the ringer was his staff member who has a relative who works as a chef in Denmark.
Winner: Most Traditional Combination with a Twist (for the chicken liver one)
Beef Loin, Shaved Fennel, Sweet Onions, Yogurt Lemon Sauce
Chef Alejandro Alcocer of GreenBrownOrange
I’m not sure that any photo can do justice to how wonderful-tasting this was. Succulent, tender beef on top of a creamy yogurt sauce with just the right tang from the lemon and the sourdough of the bread combined with the crunch and bite from the onions and the fennel, this was amazing and a worthy use of one of my precious tickets. I would definitely have gone back for seconds and maybe even thirds.
Winner: Dairy and Meat Combination
“The Peck Slip” (Egg, Butter, Pickled Beets, Arugula, Herbs, Capers, and Feta)
Sweet, salty, creamy, tart, this hit all the notes in every bite. As one of the folks helping hand out sandwiches said, “I want one of these, and I’m not even a vegetarian!” He was totally correct. In visual presentation alone, this one made my short list of those to try. On first bite, it was obvious I’d made the right decision. As the judges put it, it had many different flavors going on at the same time, but each one came across distinctively and in complement to the others. Not seeing it on the website as yet, I recommend that they add this one to their menu.
Winner: Most Beautifully Complicated Combination
Long Island Scrod Brandade, Shaved Carrot Salad with Beets, and Narragansett Ricotta
Chefs Nathan Foot and Christophe Hille of Northern Spy Food Co.
This seemed like an interesting combination to me with the fish and cheese, but I didn’t get to try it, as by this time, I’d run out of tickets. It looked lovely, and I can imagine that the beets and carrots would have given a hearty, earthy crunch to the sandwich, rounding out the other flavors on the bread.
Winner: Combination Using Seasonal Vegetables (beets)
My third selection was a sandwich by Chef Trina Hahnemann. She made several of the smørrebrød, so it was hard to pick from just one of them. The beet was very popular I was told, and the potato with leeks and cheese and walnut samples looked really good. I opted, however, for the one which to me seemed very traditional: small, sweet shrimp wrapped in a dill sauce. The salty shrimp and peppery herbs just melded together with the tang of the robust bread into the most wonderful flavors that seemed so appropriate with the waterside location of the market. This was something that just fit with the tone of the day.
I also had a chance to try a couple of the Danish beers that were available. On the advice of Jimmy Carbone, I tried the Mikkeller Pilsner, from a craft brewery in Denmark. Light and refreshing, this is one that I can definitely see as a good pairing for many of the smørrebrød. The second drink I had, though, was the IPA from the same brewer. Stronger and more complex in flavor, this was what I really wanted to go with the sandwiches that I had picked for my meal. I see from their site, that they also have a bar in Copenhagen, which would be someplace to visit the next time I can make it over there.
As Robert LaValva said in closing out the food festival, maybe this is the beginning of more events to feature cuisine from other countries that factor into the foodscape of the city. With the support of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and District 1 – City Council Member Margaret Chin (both of whom were there today) for the market and its activities, I hope that can become a reality. This was a great event for the perfect, sunny fall day that we had this afternoon. It brought lots of people to downtown and the wonderful food and drink created the perfect atmosphere in celebration of the market.
I first encountered their products at the New Amsterdam Market during the Hudson Valley Harvest event, where I was able to taste several of them (one of the great perks of the market is that the vendors allow you to try before you buy). The flavor and complexity of the Cherry Blackberry Sage & Clove spreadable fruit and Horseradish-Dill Mustard lingered happily on my palate and remained in the foodie sensors of my brain the entire way through our market tour. Unfortunately, I neglected to pick up a couple of jars to enjoy at home. The next Sunday, I went downtown as soon as I could break free from my errands and bought some as one of my first vendor stops.
For the past week or so, these two products have formed the base around which I’ve been organizing my breakfast. I’m completely hooked on them. Much like a great wine, the Cherry Blackberry Sage & Clove spreadable fruit hits your senses with its rich berry aromas and builds upon its notes of herb and spice to create a complex taste experience and round, full flavors that wrap around your tongue. This is a graduate-school level treat. I can see this as a new cupboard staple whether it is spread on bread with butter, slathered on a sandwich, whisked with oil into dressing, or swirled into yogurt. The Horseradish-Dill Mustard is bold and daring, not for the faint of heart. I’ve been using it as a spicy counterpoint to some smoked salmon, which is a great morning wake-up. I have also been envisioning it stirred into mashed potatoes for a creamy kick at the Thanksgiving table or used to dress up a holiday ham.
Wanting to know more about these products, I gave my card to the person who was working at New Amsterdam and asked if I could talk to them. Wendy W. Smith, President of Schoolhouse Kitchen kindly offered to meet with me to talk to me about her company and its philosophy. Yesterday, I traveled from Manhattan out to the Old American Can Factory in Gowanus, Brooklyn, where she keeps her office. Started in upstate New York in a kitchen, her mother, an avid cook who is still involved in developing new ideas for flavors, began by making these products to sell at local fairs and fundraisers, the profits going to educational causes, as they still do today.
With the encouragement of her friends and family and armed with recipes that they’d shared with her over the years, Patsy Smith launched Schoolhouse Kitchen as a business. Her daughter, Wendy, now runs the company, and the labels on the jars are designed by her son, Christopher. This is a not only a family business but also a real community enterprise, something Wendy continues to promote through her involvement in their with their charitable work with The Farm-Based Education Association as well as her participation in local food-oriented projects.
The quality and attention to detail in developing these food items is something that is apparent from the moment you open the jar. The vibrant colors and aromas that waft up your nasal passages indicate that you are about to taste something special. Wendy and I talked about this and about how that is the goal, to develop products that are unique and that awaken a whole new world of possibilities for enjoying food. We went back to the idea of these products as being similar to good wines that build upon the taste points on your tongue with each sip (or in this case bite) to bring out the best of whatever you decide to eat with or on it. If I had had these items in my parents’ fridge when I was younger, I wouldn’t have battled to keep them off of my sandwiches.
As we wrapped up our meeting, Wendy asked me if I would be interested in developing some recipes for their site and offered to let me have a sample of two of their chutneys: Squadrilla and Bardshar. I had already thought about what else I could do with the flavors that I’d tried previously, so I jumped at the chance to play with something new. As I walked back to the subway, my mind was just exploding with all kinds of great ideas for what I could do with these food items. My train on the way back home got stuck (why do people unnecessarily pull the emergency break?), so I had ample opportunity to write down mini-recipes and combinations for the chutneys. Stopping by Union Square to hit the Monday Greenmarket on my way back uptown, I unfolded my plan.
Topped with slices of tart Granny Smith apple, peppery arugula, and smoked cheddar cheese, the Squadrilla Chutney, named after a much-loved babysitter, allows all the sandwich components to shine with a citrusy pop and delicate spice. Although completely vegetarian, this is a hearty meal similar to having that leftover Thanksgiving sandwich with all the fixings, only slightly healthier. I paired the Bardshar Chutney, the recipe for which was shared by a family friend, with a creamy regular cheddar cheese and some applewood-smoked bacon to showcase its robust, dark flavor and deep sweet-spicy undertones. Both of these would make amazing glazes for meats or for vegetables (check out the website for some recipes), but I’m really hoping just to instill some lunchbox envy at the next few brownbag meetings I have to attend.
Where to find it:
Schoolhouse Kitchen’s products are available at many stores and specialty shops. There is a helpful map on the website to locate them in your area. You can also visit their stand at the New Amsterdam Market to try some samples and to pick up your favorites or order from them on line. If you can’t decide on what to buy, they also offer gift packs of several flavors, which I’d recommend so that you can get a chance to experiment with as many of these wonderful items as possible. I’ve definitely got these products on my gift list for this year, whether to receive them (hint, hint) or to give them to the other food lovers in my life.