Archive for the ‘market’Category

Relicatessen: heavenly products for earthly delights

Relicatessen stall at La Boqueria in Barcelona

Relicatessen in Barcelona solved a problem for us. When we’re in Spain for any extended period, we enjoy seeking out the cookies, sweets, and other foodstuffs from the country’s 38 monasteries and convents that make products for sale. Often that means placing money on a revolving window (called a retorno) and getting a box of cookies, a jar of jam, or a pot of honey in return.

Francisco Vera of Relicatessen in La Boqueria in BarcelonaBut we’re not always in a town with a cloistered order that makes products for sale. Thank god (so to speak) that Francisco Vera opened Relicatessen (www.relicatessen.com) three years ago in stall 988 in the Mercat Sant Josep, better known as La Boqueria. Located right on La Rambla in a Modernista-style iron frame shed, the Boqueria is one of Barcelona’s most popular attractions. Vera sells the edible products of 11 of the country’s monasteries and nunneries along with some other gourmet items, such as olive oil and saffron.

To get to Vera’s stall, you’ll walk past heaping pyramids of fresh fruits and vegetables, refrigerated cases of big cuts of meat, cured mountain hams hanging from above, and vast swathes of crushed ice with fish so fresh that their eyes gleam clear and bright.

Temptations from on high


Marmalades at Relicatessen in La Boqueria in BarcelonaVera sells 36 different marmalades, including the signature Spanish bitter orange. The religious order at Monastario de Santa María de Huerta in Soría crafts some of the more sophisticated flavors, such as pear, cinnamon, and cardamom or the combination of kiwi, lemon, and tequila.

There are honeys from the mountains and honeys from fields of anise or groves of madroño trees (strawberry trees). There is dulce de leche “bottled in silence.” The Convento Purísima Concepción makes dulce de membrillo (a quince preserve that’s delicious with Manchego cheese) and Turrón de la Abuela (nougat studded with roasted almonds) that claims to be just like Spanish grandmothers make it. The Monjas Jerónimas Constantina infuse their vinegars with a range of flavors, not least among them mint, rosemary, and garlic.

Yemas at Relicatessen in La Boqueria in BarcelonaThe most popular treats, Vera says, are polvorones, almond shortbread sables made by the Carmelitas Descalzas and Yemas de Santa Clara, candied egg yolks. Legend says that the nuns invented this way of preserving yolks in the late medieval period, when the egg whites were used to clarify wine. The products are so heartfelt that they make nice gifts that also help preserve the vanishing religious vocations. Pressed for his favorite among the many temptations, Vera admits to being most fond of the really good chocolates made by the Monjas Jerónimas.

01

10 2017

Cradle of Mexican cuisine, Oaxaca relishes mole negro

Onion seller at Oaxaca market
No one escapes untouched by Oaxaca. This lyrical, magical city has been a powerful cultural and trade center for millennia. It is also arguably the cradle of Mexican cuisine. You can always eat well in Veracruz, Mexico City, and Puebla. But in Oaxaca, you feast. Every dish is a taste revelation.

Tomatoes and chile peppers were domesticated in northern Oaxaca around 4500 BC—presumably to spice up all those meals based on beans and corn, which the ancient Oaxacans had domesticated 3,000 years earlier. And Oaxaca continued to expand its larder.

ruins of Monte Alban outside OaxacaBy the time the high culture of Monte Alban (right) arose around 500 BC, the Oaxaca Valley was a crossroads of trade between South and North America. Foodstuffs poured in from as far north as Mexico’s Central Valley and from as far south as the Andes. A millennium later–nearly a thousand years before the rise of either the Aztecs or the Incas–the Zapotec people of Oaxaca were processing peanuts and cacao. They had all the ingredients to make mole, the chile-nut-spice sauce that distinguishes the Oaxacan mother cuisine.

Oaxaca cathedralThe Spanish also influenced the complex cuisine of Oaxaca. Monte Alban had been abandoned for at least seven centuries when Hernán Cortes took the Oaxaca Valley by force in 1521. He soon built a city where he would live out his life as the self-styled Marquéz de Valle de Oaxaca. Despite their cathedral (above), the Spaniards never fully succeeded in conquering the native Zapotec and Mixtec cultures of the surrounding countryside. As a result, Oaxaca is really native Mexico.

But it’s native Mexico with sesame seeds, saffron, pigs, cows, and chickens—thanks to the Spaniards.

Timeless Oaxaca comes to the market


selling tomatoes and fruits at Oaxaca market The ancient face of Oaxaca persists in the Mercado de Benito Juarez, the fresh food market named for the local son who was president of Mexico when Lincoln was president of the U.S. The market occupies two entire city blocks south of the zócalo. (One block farther south is the 20 de Noviembre market, which has amazing food stalls, including a section devoted to grilled meat.)

People start arriving from the countryside before dawn. Some come by truck, some by pack animal, and some on foot. They bring the food they have grown and lay it out for all to see. One seller might have big bunches of onions and herbs, like the woman at the top of this post. Others might display tomatoes, garlic, cucumbers and little limes. Another vendor might lay out rows of delicate squash blossoms, fleshy and yellow. It’s hard to speak with anyone, since most of the country people have Zapotec or Mixtec as their first language. But the beaming pride in their wares really needs no translation.

apple seller in OaxacaA few might even walk in with baskets on their heads, like the woman at right, who was selling the apples she had picked from her trees. To an American or a European foodie, the market looks like a cornucopia of plenty. The Oaxaca Valley is a fruitful land.

The corner of the market where dried chiles, cacao, and nuts are sold also has several mills. Shoppers who know what they are doing will bring a mixture of chiles, cacao, nuts, and spices to be milled into a paste. You can also buy pre-ground pastes to serve as the basis for making mole. In most cases, you simply dilute the paste with some meat broth and simmer long enough to smooth out the raw flavors. Mexican chocolate available in the U.S. replicates the chocolate of the market. It consists of ground cacao nibs, sugar, ground nuts, cinnamon, and often some other spices.

Most people prefer to make their moles from scratch. We’ve written previously about mole amarillo, which is traditional for the Day of the Dead. But one of the deepest flavored moles of all is mole negro, or black mole. There are many recipes for the dish, including some that deliberately burn the chile seeds and then steep them in water for some of the liquid. Traditionally, the dish is made with chilhuacles negros, a black chile grown in the Oaxaca region but not widely exported. Even cooks in other parts of Mexico use a combination of guajillo and mulato chiles to get a similar flavor.

Like many moles, the sauce is fried because water boils at 200° F in Oaxaca due to the altitude. The sauce needs to get up to about 240° F to cook through. Note that our recipe below calls for lard, which is traditional. Peanut or corn oil will work, but the flavor is less authentic. Bacon drippings are a better substitute.

MOLE NEGRO OF OAXACA


Oaxaca style mole negro with pumpkin risottoThis mole is often eaten plain over tortillas that have been dipped in the sauce and then rolled. A sprinkling of queso fresco or crumbled feta complements the flavors.

Ingredients

3 ounces dried mulato chiles (about 5), stems and tops removed
3 ounces dried guajillo chiles (about 8), stems and tops removed
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1/3 cup sesame seeds
6 whole cloves
3-inch stick of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon whole anise seeds
1/2 cup lard
1/2 cup whole, unblanched almonds
1/2 cup raisins
1 cup coarsely chopped white onion
6 cloves garlic
6-ounce can tomato paste
4 teaspoons salt or bouillon powder
6 ounces Mexican chocolate (two tablets Ibarra or La Abuelita), grated
up to 2 cups chicken stock

Directions

Toast chiles in hot frying pan or griddle until softened. Remove seeds, stems, and at least some of the veins. (The veins and seeds contain most of the heat.) Place in medium bowl with boiling water and soak one hour.

Toast sesame seeds in dry skillet over medium heat until golden—about two minutes. Remove from skillet and set aside to cool. Combine cloves, cinnamon, coriander, and anise seeds in skillet. Toast until fragrant (20-30 seconds) and remove to cool.

Heat lard in large cast-iron frying pan over medium heat. Add almonds and cook and stir until brown. Remove with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Add raisins to pan and cook and stir until they puff up—about 30 seconds. Remove with slotted spoon.

Process raisins in blender until finely ground. Coarsely chop almonds and add to blender and process until finely ground. Add raw onion and raw garlic and process until finely ground.

Grind sesame seeds in spice grinder. Add to blender. Grind clove and spice blend in spice grinder and add to blender.

Add chiles, about a cup of soaking water, tomato paste, and salt to blender. Process until smooth.

Reheat lard in deep, heavy saucepan or Dutch oven. Add mole mixture. Stir to cook through and sweeten the raw flavor of onion and garlic. Add chocolate to melt. Stir in chicken stock to reach desired consistency. Cover pan and place in 325° oven for one hour. Remove, stir sauce, and place back in oven for an additional hour. This allows thorough cooking without burning the mole onto the bottom of the pan.

Roll soft corn tortillas in mole and serve with sprinkling of crumbled queso fresco or feta cheese. Pumpkin risotto makes a nice side dish. If drinking wine, choose an assertive and somewhat acidic white, like a young Chilean sauvignon blanc.

03

02 2017

St. George’s Market in Belfast shows what’s fresh

Baker at St. George's Market in Belfast
We always advise friends who want to eat well while traveling to spend some time in the local fresh food market. It’s the best way to see first-hand what’s in season and fresh so that you can make good choices when perusing a restaurant menu. In Belfast, Northern Ireland, the best place to head is St. George’s Market at 12-20 East Bridge Street. It’s open Fridays from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Fishmonger cuts salmon steaks at St. George's Market in Belfast. The handsome red brick market building opened in 1890 to sell butter, chicken, and eggs. Its offerings have multiplied since then and recent refurbishments have made it one of the leading fresh food markets in the United Kingdom. You’ll find freshly dug potatoes, beets, and carrots with rich soil still clinging to them. The ice flats of the fish mongers overflow with everything from majestic whole salmon to nightmarish monkfish to vast heaps of oysters and langoustines. Butcher stalls carry every variation of Irish bacon, sausages nearly bursting their casings, beautifully trimmed lamb roasts, and richly marbled steaks. The heady aroma of fresh bread rises from every baker’s stall.

All that good food will certainly make you hungry. Fortunately, St. George’s is also a fine place for a casual bite to eat. Cooks serve up everything from burgers and curries to paella and barbecue. The hit TV series “Game of Thrones” is mostly filmed in and around Belfast so it’s not surprising that one vendor also serves a Game of Thrones Special. It consists of two 4-ounce wild venison burgers, bacon, cheese, and fried onions. Numerous vendors sell variants on the Ulster fry breakfast of fried eggs, pork sausage, bacon, patties of black and white pudding, potato and soda breads, and a tomato.

Breakfast in a bite


Jenny Holland with a tray of fry pies from Bia RebelOur favorite version, elegant in its simplicity, is the “fry pie” created by Brian Donnelly. A chef with serious credentials, including a stint in London taking abuse from Gordon Ramsay, Donnelly is happy to be home in Belfast. He and his wife, Jenny Holland, recently launched Bia Rebel. The name means “food rebel.” Essentially a catering operation, they do do lunch deliveries and pop-up dinners. They also sell a few select dishes at the market that buyers can take home to reheat.

To hear Brian tell it, the fry pie was a no brainer. “I like fries and I like pies,” he says. “But you can’t eat a fry walking down the street.”

His solution was to encase sausage, bacon, egg, and brown gravy in a rich pie shell. “Sometimes I add soda bread or bread pudding,” he says. Baked in muffin tins, the fry pies are just the right size to grasp in one hand and enjoy while perusing the market stalls.

21

11 2016

Strolling through Madrid’s food culture

Mercado Anton Martin in Huertas neighborhood of Madrid
A quick scan of guidebooks and the web usually reveals the most famous and trendy eating places in any city. But it’s much harder to get a handle on how people shop and eat every day. Providing such a peek at daily life was just what Lauren Aloise had in mind when she introduced her tour of the Huertas neighborhood that Pat described in her new book 100 Places in Spain Every Woman Should Go from Travelers’ Tales Press (travelerstales.com/100-places-spain-every-woman-go/).

Lauren Aloise of Devour Madrid Food ToursAn American married to a Spaniard, Aloise launched Devour Madrid Food Tours (madridfoodtour.com) in 2012. The tour of the Huertas neighborhood is one of several options led by Aloise and her small band of guides, all of whom are devoted foodies. Located just off Puerta del Sol, Huertas is one of Madrid’s oldest and most historic neighborhoods. Walking the narrow, somewhat hilly streets “is like a day in the life of a Madrileña,” says Aloise. The eating and shopping are “not that far off from what someone would do in a couple of days.” So are the tastes.

One of the highlights of the tour is a stop at the recently revitalized Mercado Antón Martín (above), one of Madrid’s traditional neighborhood food markets. “When I moved to Madrid, the market was half empty,” says Aloise. “Now it’s filled with a lot of new vendors.”

Pleasures of the Huertas streets


Huertas street scene The tour group also hits a number of smaller places off the beaten path in colorful Huertas. They might taste hot chocolate and freshly made churros, Spain’s famous mountain hams, the just-fried potato chips that Spaniards are so fond of, and a variety of Spanish cheeses. A stop at one of the oldest grocery stores in the city is a chance to taste jams, honeys, and olive oils and perhaps even select some to take home. “It’s everything a Spaniard would have in her pantry,” says Aloise.

07

11 2016

Peameal bacon shows the salty side of Hogtown

Carousel Bakery in St. Lawrence Market in Toronto
“The peameal bacon sandwich is Toronto’s most unique food,” says Robert Biancolin, who runs Carousel Bakery at the St. Lawrence Market with his brother Maurice. “It’s like what the Philly cheesesteak is to Philadelphia.”

The Biancolin brothers’ bakery is one of the busiest spots in the bustling market. Most customers wait patiently in line to place their orders and then walk away with peameal bacon sandwiches wrapped in shiny silver foil. Those with big appetites might also order one of Carousel’s melt-in-your mouth butter tarts, another Toronto specialty.

peameal-bacon-robert-biancolin Robert and Maurice have been serving peameal bacon sandwiches in the market for 40 years. During a lull in business, Robert (at right) enthusiastically relates some of the history of Toronto’s signature style of back bacon. He draws a rough diagram of a pig, then shows us where the loin is cut. The entire loin is immersed in a sweet pickle brine. That’s a mix of brown sugar, spices, and a very concentrated salt solution. After curing, the loin is rolled in cornmeal.

It wasn’t always done that way. English immigrant William Davies invented the treatment back in the days when the market was held in the open air. Brining the bacon preserved it. So successful was the sweet and salty back bacon that Davies grew his operation into one of the largest pork processors in Canada. He made “Hogtown” a nickname for Toronto that persists to this day. Davies’ contribution to Torontonian cuisine has also had staying power, but with a few modifications. Davies rolled his pork loins in crushed dried yellow peas. But peas go rancid, so cornmeal replaced the original peameal by the end of the 19th century.

Not just for breakfast


Peameal bacon is known in the U.S. as “Canadian bacon.” When both English and Canadian back bacon was being shipped to the U.S. in the 19th century, an importer of the English variety (which is cured differently) insisted on calling the other product “Canadian bacon.” It was supposed to be an insult, but it’s actually stuck as a badge of honor.

Peameal bacon sandwich from Carousel Bakery in Toronto Far less fatty than strip bacon (made from pork belly), peameal bacon satisfies the urge for sweet and salty meat. Although it sometimes appears on breakfast menus, most Torontonians devour it as a sandwich of several grilled slices on a naked soft bun. It’s intensely salty and full of umami — sort of like getting a bacon rush.

Robert declines to comment on how much bacon the bakery goes through in a day. “It’s a popular sandwich,” he concedes, smiling.

Best of all, the peameal bacon sandwich is a Toronto original in a city that has enthusiastically embraced food from all over the rest of the world.

For more about Carousel Bakery, see the vendor description at St. Lawrence Market.

15

10 2016

Toronto fills its larder at St. Lawrence Market

Banner outside St. Lawrence Market in Toronto
Toronto is like the grandmother who always wants to feed you. In fact, banners hanging from Old Town light poles actually exhort visitors to bring their appetites. After a whirlwind visit to Canada’s biggest city just before Canadian Thanksgiving, we have to conclude that Toronto is a good place to “come on an empty stomach.” Torontonians have cultivated a sophisticated contemporary gastronomic scene that draws on foodways from all over Europe and Asia. Great little ethnic restaurants dot the streets of the neighborhoods. At the same time, many of the best restaurants feature market-driven contemporary cuisine that showcases the best products from Canadian farms and orchards.

Historic market continues to thrive


exterior of St. Lawrence Market in Toronto Toronto has had a permanent central food market since 1830—four years before the town was even called Toronto. Today’s St. Lawrence Market was built around Old City Hall and opened in 1902. The facade of Old City Hall is still visible inside the market, and the former offices were converted into meeting and display space in the 1970s.

The bustling food market, with its main entrance on Front Street at the corner of Jarvis, continues to flourish. The busiest day is Saturday, when both the main market and the adjacent farmers’ market open at 5 a.m. Closed on Sunday and Monday, St. Lawrence Market opens at 8 a.m. Tuesday through Friday, and closes late in the afternoon. (For full details on hours and special events, see www.stlawrencemarket.com.)

Interior of St. Lawrence Market in Toronto We always like to check out fresh food markets wherever we visit. It tells us volumes about local specialties and about what might be in season. We visited on our first afternoon in town to get a preview of what might be on the menus during our stay. A quick perusal of the butcher stalls suggests that Torontonians are keen on “tomahawk” steaks (a very large ribeye), filet mignon wrapped in bacon (on sale at six for $35), racks of Ontario beef back ribs, Ontario lamb, and (of course) peameal bacon. (More about that in the next post.)

market-eaters-300 The produce aisles had plenty of exotic vegetables from South America, California, and Asia. But even in October, Ontario growers were still harvesting strawberries and currants along with seasonal apples. Bakeries also abound in the market, and some of them make sandwiches. Many shoppers were also diners, sitting on stools at narrow shelves to enjoy their meals. Some take their food outdoors to the picnic tables outside the market’s lower level.

Farmers’ market dominates Saturday


apples at Farmers Market at St. Lawrence Market in Toronto Nothing beats the Saturday farmers’ market for getting a reading on local products. With the old North Market building torn down and the site under construction, a voluminous white tent south of St. Lawrence Market on Esplanade houses the farmers’ market. When the weather cooperates, many vendors set up on surrounding sidewalks, and fall offerings included big bouquets of flowers and heaps of pumpkins, squashes, and gourds. Growers come to the market from a considerable distance. Shop for chicken or duck eggs, and you’ll likely buy from a woman wearing the long print dress and simple lace bonnet associated with some of the Mennonite and Amish sects.

12

10 2016

Sweet tastes at Waikiki farmers’ market

Waikiki farmers' marker
As on the mainland, farmers’ markets are thriving in Honolulu as more and more people embrace fresh, local foods. The best market for visitors—who don’t have to gather all the ingredients for dinner—may be in the pretty atrium at the Hyatt Regency in Waikiki (2424 Kalakaua Avenue). It’s held on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5 to 8 p.m. and has a nice array of exotic fruits, such as the spiny red and slightly acidic rambutan or the sweeter lychee. There are also plenty of options for a quick snack, such as bowls of diced mixed fruit or coconut juice straight from the shell. The market is also a great place to pick up food gifts for the folks back home. You’ll find local coffee and coffee jelly, green tea, ginger chips, sea salt, and an array of fruit butters, including guava, mango, lilikoi, and haupia.

Waikiki farmers' market fruit Several bakers also set up tables offering everything from malasadas, or “Portuguese donuts,” to loaves of guava bread and pineapple-macadamia nut muffins. I was most intrigued with the muffins, though no one was willing to share their recipe. Those that I sampled were very tasty but quite dense and perhaps a little too moist. I’m guessing that the bakers used canned crushed pineapple, since the enzyme in raw pineapple breaks up protein chains and messes up the way baked goods rise. But I liked the flavor combination and the textural contrasts of the pineapple and nuts, so I decided to come up with my own version once I got back home.

I started with a classic muffin recipe that can be altered to add fruit and nuts, and crossed it with an unusual recipe for dried fig muffins from The Williams-Sonoma Baking Book. I thought I would like to use dried pineapple, but those pineapple tidbits can be tough compared to the soft crumb of a muffin. The fig muffin recipe called for soaking the figs in hot apple juice. I thought orange might go better with pineapple, so I grated the peel, squeezed the juice, heated it, and added the pineapple bits. They soaked for 10 minutes, and voila!, I had pineapple with the right texture for muffins and without the sogginess of crushed fruit.

PINEAPPLE MACADAMIA NUT MUFFINS

Makes 12 muffins

Ingredients

Wakiki farmers' market pineapple mac muffins2 juice oranges
1 cup dried pineapple cut in raisin-sized pieces
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 large eggs
1/2 cup tart yogurt
1/2 cup milk
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup chopped macadamia nuts

Directions

Grate peel from the oranges, then cut and squeeze for juice. Heat juice and peel to near boiling. Add pineapple pieces and soak 10 minutes. Remove pineapple and grated peel from juice with slotted spoon and reserve.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Grease 12 muffin cups,

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, ground nutmeg, and baking soda. Whisk to mix thoroughly

In another bowl, beat together eggs, yogurt, and milk. Beat in brown sugar, melted butter, and vanilla.

Add the egg-sugar mix to the flour mixture and stir just enough to moisten all the ingredients. Batter will be lumpy. Fold in the reserved pineapple and orange peel and add the macadamia nuts.

Fill muffin cups 2/3 full (a rounded quarter cup of batter). Place in oven and bake 14–16 minutes—until tops begin to brown and toothpick or cake tester inserted in the middle of a muffin comes out clean.

Cool on rack.

28

03 2016

San Antón: Madrid’s best market makeover

slicing ham at San Anton market in Madrid
Madrid has been renovating and updating its historic fresh food markets in recent years, starting with the transformation of Mercado San Miguel next to Plaza Mayor into a jewel box full of tapas bars and high-end deli food. But we’re even more impressed with Mercado San Antón in Chueca. The market is a symbol of how that neighborhood—once the part of town where you went to buy sex or drugs—has become one of the hippest and most gentrified parts of the central old city. FYI, about the nastiest stuff you’ll find on Chueca streets these days are some shoes with 15-centimeter spike heels in the shops on calle Augusto Figueroa.

entrance to Mercado San Anton market in Madrid The Mercado San Antón isn’t exactly a temple of food like La Boqueria in Barcelona or the Mercado Central in Valencia. We think of it as the parish church of food for the fairly hip, fairly young crowd in Chueca. The basement has a small SuperCor supemarket for the essentials—laundry detergent, canned white asparagus, cheap wine, Coca-Cola in 1.5 liter bottles, etc. The real food is on the first level, where the market stalls have everything from perfectly selected fresh fruit in season to one of the best curated fish stalls we’ve ever seen. Madrid is in the middle of the country far from the fishing ports, but Madrileños so love their fish that the wholesalers overnight the catch to the capital. There wasn’t a cloudy eye to be seen on the mackerel, cod, hake, or grotesque whole monkfish. As befits a great market in Spain, all the ham is cut fresh, as in the photo above.

The second level is even more amazing than the fresh food. It consists entirely of tapas stalls, a wine bar, a pastry/ice cream/coffee stall, and a few tables around the edges. At mid-morning when people are shopping for food, it’s placid. From 2 p.m. until 5 p.m., it’s a madhouse as people come for a cheap lunch. Some tapas cost as little as €1, as indicated in the image below. You can also get a tuna or an eggplant empanada, a small pork steak and fries, or—at the stall of creative tapas, a fancy burger topped with foie gras for less than €6.

The top level is a restaurant operated by the Jabugo ham group Cinco Jotas. It’s not all thin, precious slices of Iberian ham served with Manchego and sherry. The menu includes a wide range of meat and fish dishes. Half the restaurant is on an outdoor terrace, which solves the Spanish need to smoke all through the meal now that indoor dining is smokefree by law.

Mercado San Antón is at calle de Augusto Figueroa, 24; tel: 913-30-07-30; www.mercadosananton.com. The market is open daily from 10 a.m. until midnight.

tapas at Mercado San Anton in Madrid

18

10 2015

In Lexington, Kentucky, no one eats alone

sweet corn at Lexington Farmers Market
Plutarch would have loved central Kentucky. In his first-century A.D. treatise on food in Moralia, he astutely observed, “We do not sit at the table only to eat, but to eat together.”

Coles Dining Room in Lexington In Bluegrass Country, mealtime is just a phase in the ongoing party that begins with drinks and appetizers and is followed up with after-dinner drinks, snacks, and definitely lots of conversation. We spent a week in Lexington and the surrounding countryside at the end of June, and never did we taste alone. Food and drink in this corner of America are the currency of social exchange. If a Lexingtonian has anything to say about it, no visitor ever goes hungry. Or lonely.

peaches at Lexington Farmers Market The Lexington area is justly famed for thoroughbred horses and fine Kentucky bourbon, both of which owe their strong bones and muscular beauty to the limestone bedrock of the aquifer and the rich loam that grows both the grass that the horses graze on and the corn that bourbon makers mash and distill.

The conversations start even before the food is ready. The Saturday Lexington Farmers Market on West Main Street was established in 1975, and has roughly 75 members who come into the city from the surrounding counties. (There are smaller markets on several other days of the week in the growing season.) Even before you start talking to one of the farmers, you’ll know exactly where the food for sale was grown. Each vendor labels his or her produce with the county of origin. This is a byproduct of the “Kentucky Proud” program run by the state Department of Agriculture, which uses cash from the 1998 Master Tobacco Settlement to promote Kentucky’s healthier agriculture.

Brandywine tomatoes at Lexington Farmers Market In fact, you’ll find the Kentucky Proud logo all over Lexington, from the menus of the most casual breakfast joints to the front door of some of the city’s toniest restaurants. Don’t even wonder if the local folks really believe they have some of the best food in the world, just ask them. It’s not just hype—they truly are Kentucky Proud.

Stay tuned over the next few weeks for some of the signature tastes of Lexington.

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01

08 2015

What to buy in a Dublin grocery store

Dublin grocery store 1
Whenever we visit Dublin, we make sure to enjoy lots of incredible butter and cream since we can’t bring any home. (U.S. Customs frowns on such dairy products.) Fortunately there are lots of other good Irish foodstuffs that we can pack in the suitcase. For cheeses, we make our purchases at Sheridans Cheesemongers (see earlier post), but here are some of the things that caught our eye in a neighborhood Dunnes grocery store:

Irish soda farls

Pat’s mother still remembers her own mother, who hailed from Northern Ireland, making soda bread farls in a round pan on the top of the stove. First she would shape the dough into a circle and then cut it crosswise into four pieces, the so-called farls. This style of soda bread is flatter and more moist than the more common cake-style. Most grocery stores sell the farls already packaged in plastic bags. They remain fresh if we put them into the freezer as soon as we get home.

Odlums mixes

Odlums began milling and selling flour in 1845 and the company remained in the family until 1991. Its flour has been a staple in Irish kitchens for generations and the Odlums web site (odlums.ie) is full of recipes. But we generally just pick up a couple of mixes for brown bread or for brown, white, or fruit scones.

Flahavan’s Porridge Oats

The Flahavan family has been milling oats for more than 200 years, uses only local oats, and has perfected a technique to produce a fine flake that cooks up more quickly. Even if the oats weren’t so good, we would probably buy them anyway because we can’t resist the old-style packaging.

more food from a Dublin grocery store

Erin Meal Mixes

This Dublin-based company’s seasoning mixes for meats and vegetables include a number with a French accent, but for an easy to prepare flavor of the Emerald Isle, we opt for Shepherd’s Pie or Country Stew.

Lakeshore Duck Fat

We almost hate to admit how good French fries taste when they are cooked in duck fat. We don’t do any frying at home, but we agree with the Irish that a bit of duck fat gives roast potatoes or roast vegetables a richness that belies their humble origins. The manufacturer advises adding one tablespoon of duck fat per pound of vegetables, which means that a 200g jar will last for a couple of weeks in the winter. Better get two.

Marrowfat peas

mushy peas with fish and chipsThese green peas left on the vine until they have dried are the primary ingredient in mushy peas – the classic accompaniment to fish and chips (see photo at right). They’re available canned, but it’s easier to throw a bag of the dried peas into the suitcase.

Lemon’s sweets

You can find just about every type of Cadbury chocolate bar in Dublin, but for a treat with local roots, we look for Lemon’s. The company started out as a confectionery shop on what is now Lower O’Connell Street in 1842 and even made its way into James Joyce’s Ulysses. It has changed hands several times and experimented with a number of products. Our favorites are the Mint Iced Caramels, with a smooth center and a crisp coating. The company claims that it takes two days to make them from a secret recipe dating back to 1926.

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20

02 2015