Archive for the ‘Spirits’Category

What to buy in a Cajun grocery store

grocery2 Usually Pat and I write about buying specialty foods in overseas grocery stores, but Cajun cooking stands so far apart from most other American regional food that the grocers have developed lines of goods we can rarely find anywhere else.

The pickled tabasco peppers, gumbo file powder, and various hot pepper sauces shown above are cases in point. In fact, I was once told by a northern grocer that file powder was illegal. (Not true, but it is allegedly mildly carcinogenic. If you eat three pounds at a time, you might develop a tumor in 20 years.) Needless to say, file powder can be hard to find up here in the chilly north.

grocery1 The ingredients immediately above are even more local. Dried shrimp might be a worldwide commodity, but Louisiana dried shrimp has a distinctive flavor of the Gulf of Mexico. It’s great in a shrimp cream sauce or a soup. The garlic sauce from Poche’s is an essential ingredient in some quarters for dousing boiled crawfish tails. The instant roux mix, while not so different from Wondra flour, makes a great tan roux.

grocery3 The last item is a latecomer, at least to legitimate grocery stores. At 100 proof, this colored corn likker has the requisite kick to be called moonshine — minus the chemicals to make you go blind.

Cherry tomatoes and the Killer Tomato cocktail

The last tomatoes hanging in the garden are assorted cherry types–some Sweet 100s, some Sungolds, and mostly some mongrel crosses that volunteered last spring. During our August visit to the Okanagan Valley, we had many good inspirations for using tomatoes (see the last three posts). But only mixologist Gerry Jobe at RauDZ Restaurant in Kelowna turned turned tomatoes into a terrific mixed drink.

RauDZ (a great locavore restaurant that’s a collaboration between Rod Butters and Audrey Surrao) focuses on local-grown food whenever possible, which means that Kelowna tomato guru Milan Djordjevich of Stoney Paradise Farm brings in boxes and boxes of Sungold tomatoes. When chef Butters challenged Jobe to make an Okanagan Bloody Mary, he created the Killer Tomato.

It’s fairly simple. Here are the ingredients:

KILLER TOMATO COCKTAIL
4 muddled Sungold cherry tomatoes
0.25 ounce balsamic vinegar
1 oz. vodka
1 oz. Cointreau
3 ounces of lemonade

Jobe muddles the Sungold tomatoes, adds a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, an ounce of local Spirit Bear vodka, an ounce of Cointreau, and three ounces of lemonade. He shakes over ice and double strains into a coupe rimmed with crushed Szechuan peppercorns and gray salt.

It’s a real wake-up for the appetite.

30

09 2012

Six things to bring home from New Hampshire

In our last post, we mentioned six items we like to bring home from trips to Vermont. Since Food Lovers’ Guide to Vermont & New Hampshire has about the same number of entries from each state, it seems only fair to mention some of our favorite foods to bring back from the Granite State.

Flag Hill Winery & Distillery (297 North River Rd., Lee, N.H.; 603-659-2949; flaghill.com) doesn’t need our imprimatur to sell their immensely popular, often sweet wines made from berries and apples as well as first-generation French-American hybrid grapes. Our preference goes to products from the artisanal distillery. The barrel-aged apple brandy is a classic American applejack, and the neutral spirit, a vodka triple-distilled from apples, is smooth and sultry. It’s named for Revolutionary War hero General John Stark. Deeply chilled, it is excellent to sip neat.

Doug Erb’s family has operated Springvale Farm since the mid-20th century, but the dairy herd really rose to greatness in 2009 when Erb launched Landaff Creamery (546 Mill Brook Rd., Landaff, N.H.; 603-838-5560; landaffcreamery.com). We’re fond of his original Caerphilly style cheese, but the French-style, washed-rind tomme is even more evocative for its taste of terroir. Many stores sell the original Landaff, but we’ve only found the tomme at the farm.

The Littleton Grist Mill (18 Mill St., Littleton, N.H.; 603-259-3205; littletongristmillonline.com) started grinding flour and meal in 1798 and continued into the 1930s. Restored in the 1990s, it produces a prodigious variety of stone-ground flours from organic grains. We’re partial to the buckwheat flour to use in making pancakes and crepes.

We like bacon with our pancakes, and some of the most subtle New Hampshire bacon comes from the chambers of Fox Country Smoke House (164 Brier Bush Rd., Canterbury, N.H.; 603- 339-4409; foxcountrysmokehouse.com). Located on a backwoods road, the facility looks like something from the opening minutes of the Loretta Lynn biopic Coal Miner’s Daughter. Many stores sell Fox Country bacon in sliced form, but we like to pick out our own packages of unsliced bacon, opting for smoky pieces with good streaking for the breakfast table, more lightly smoked extra-lean chunks for dicing into seasoning for risottos.

Even with the great salumerias of Boston’s North End, we finding ourselves stopping in Manchester, N.H., so we can shop at Angela’s Pasta and Cheese Shop (815 Chestnut St., Manchester, N.H.; 603-625-9544; angelaspastaandcheese.com). The homemade sauces are Italian-American heaven, but what suckers us in every time are the handmade gnocchi that we buy from the freezer case. These are the best frozen gnocchi we have ever found.

If we’re anywhere in the upper Connecticut River Valley, we make sure we visit the Robie Farm & Store (25 Rte. 10, Piermont, N.H.; 603-272-4872; www.robiefarm.com). The honor-system store has organic beef and sausages from the family’s own cattle and pigs. They also sell raw milk, cream, and a couple of farmhouse cheeses. The Italian-style alpine Toma (also available smoked) has a rich creaminess that conjures up the valley’s green pastures when you bite into a piece and close your eyes.

29

06 2012

Six things to bring home from Vermont

It’s official. The Food Lovers’ Guide to Vermont & New Hampshire has shipped to stores and is available online from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Thanks to our efficient editors, we beat the technical publication date of July 3.

In addition to restaurants, the book highlights great shops and local food producers. Vermont may be best known for maple syrup and cheddar cheese, but there’s a whole lot more. Here are some of our favorite things to bring home from the Green Mountain State.

The Red Bar from Middlebury Chocolates (2377 Route 7 South, Middlebury, VT; 802-989-1610; www.middleburychocolates.com) is the hardcore chocolate lovers’ chocolate. Stephanie and Andy Jackson make all their chocolates straight from the bean. The Red Bar, says Andy, is “a throwback to the earliest known recipes.” It has a wild mix of sour, mellow, toasted, and sweet notes. While the book was at press, the couple moved into spacious new quarters south of town. They re-open for business on Friday (June 15).

Who would expect wine—let alone good wine—in Vermont? But Snow Farm Vineyard (190 West Shore Rd., South Hero, VT; (802) 372-9463; www.snowfarm.com) produces some outstanding estate-grown varietal wines. Many are available all over Vermont, but you have to go to the winery to buy the limited-edition Pinot Noir, American Riesling, and (our favorite), the Late Harvest Vignobles, a lush dessert wine with pronounced apricot notes.

We love the controlled smoke flavor imparted at Green Mountain Smokehouse (341 Route 5 South, Windsor, VT; (802) 674-6653; www.greenmountainsmokehouse.com). Koreen and Jake Henne smoke all their meats on the premises and sell to individuals only at their factory. We like to stop for the bargain-priced bacon ends, which we dice up to use in chowders, stews, and in place of guanciale in amatriciana. (See here for our recipe.)

When we go to the farm or catch them at a farmers’ market, we’ll often buy a young, soft-rind cheese made by Consider Bardwell Farm (1333 Route 153, West Pawlet, VT; (802) 645-9928; www.considerbardwellfarm.com) to eat right away. To take home, we’re partial to the creamy Pawlet aged raw milk cheese from Jersey cows. It’s an Italian-style Toma and multiple award winner from the American Cheese Society and World Cheese championships.

Mark Simakaski and Nichole Wolfgang taught beekeeping when they were in the Peace Corps; now they make mead (honey wine) that ranks among some of the world’s best. Artesano Meadery (1334 Scott Highway (Route 302), Groton, VT; (802) 584-9000; www.artesanomead.com) produces about 1,000 cases a year. We prefer the dry traditional mead without fruit infusions.

Sheep are always grazing on the hillside when you approach Vermont Shepherd Cheese (281 Patch Farm Road, Putney, VT; (802) 387-4473; www.vermontshepherd.com), and the little sales building looks like something out of a fairy tale. You can buy yarn spun from the herd’s wool as well as local honey. But we make a beeline for the refrigerator and pre-cut wedges of the best aged ewe’s milk cheese in North America.

12

06 2012

Off to the races at Keeneland


I was a little surprised when my friend Patti told me that I should wear a skirt or dress, or at least a nice pantsuit, when we went to the thoroughbred races at Keeneland (www.keeneland.com). But Patti knows that my travel wardrobe consists mainly of black jeans and white blouses – not a bad look if I do say so myself, but definitely not the right thing for Lexington, Kentucky’s National Historic Landmark track. (Hats, by the way, are optional.) Keeneland, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, was founded in 1936 to serve as an elegant showcase for the Bluegrass thoroughbred horse industry. Live races are held only twice a year (this year April 8-29 and October 7-29) and are quite an event. Keeneland is especially stunning in the spring when the dogwood, magnolia and redbud trees are in bloom.

We could have gone more casual if we opted for general admission, but we wanted to make a day of it with a buffet lunch in one of the rooms overlooking the grandstand. Between visits to the buffet line for cheeses and salads, roast beef, roast chicken, and several pasta dishes, we pondered our bets and then rushed out to an open balcony to cheer on our horses as they sped around the 1 1/16-mile oval track. We also wandered out to the paddock area where horses warm up and seasoned handicappers can make a final assessment of horse and jockey before placing their bets. “Bet on the horse that finishes first,” someone told me with a laugh. I didn’t have much luck with my $2 bets, but I did secure the recipe for Keeneland’s signature Bread Pudding with Bourbon Sauce. And that’s a winner.

KEENELAND BREAD PUDDING WITH MAKER’S MARK BOURBON SAUCE

This recipe is included in Keeneland Entertains: Traditional Bluegrass Hospitality and Favorite Recipes, Fran Taylor’s cookbook tribute to Keeneland’s 75th anniversary. I have kept Fran’s original format and size—big enough to serve a race weekend party.

Serves: 10 to 12

BREAD PUDDING

2 quarts milk
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
8 eggs beaten
2-3 quarts cubed white bread (or Sister Schubert rolls)
1 cup golden raisins
1 tablespoon cinnamon

Whisk sugar into milk until dissolved. Add eggs, vanilla and stir. Soak bread in mixture for several hours or overnight. Pour into Pyrex or stainless pan. Sprinkle with raisins and cinnamon and “push” into mix. Bake at 250 degrees for approximately 1 1/2 hours or until firm.

MAKER’S MARK BOURBON SAUCE

1 lb. butter
2 lb. powdered sugar
1 cup Maker’s Mark Bourbon

Let butter become soft at room temperature and add powdered sugar. Whip bourbon into mix until it makes a frosting consistency. Ladle sauce over hot bread pudding and it will melt on its own.

02

04 2011

Tips for packing food and wine in a suitcase

bubble wrap packing for wineWhen we posted What to buy in an Italian grocery store and What to buy in a Spanish grocery store, we neglected to mention how to get those delicacies home. International airline security restrictions limiting liquids, gels, and pastes (including most soft foods) to 3 ounces in carry-on luggage means entrusting your goodies to the gorillas who slam around checked luggage.

Leaving home, we try to fill our checked bags only halfway, taking up the extra space with bubble wrap and really large plastic bags. (A friend once suggested we have a bag fetish.) Hefty One-Zip 2 1/2 gallon bags are ideal. A few 1-gallon sliding zipper plastic bags are also handy. Small items like jars of anchovies, truffle oil, or pistachio butter from Sicily can go in the gallon bags after each is padded with some bubble wrap (the smaller the bubbles the better).

Bottles of wine and olive oil are a little trickier, since they’re bigger and make an unholy mess if they break. We haven’t had a suitcase ruined, but we did manage to saturate a Spanish rental car trunk with two liters of Núñez del Prado olive oil.

We tend to wrap each bottle in a plastic laundry bag (thank you, hotel), then in bubble wrap before inserting into a Hefty. Each of these mummy-wrapped bottles is packed strategically in the suitcase padded by lots of dirty clothes. Practically speaking, this means no more than 3-4 big bottles per suitcase to stay under the airlines’ increasingly strict weight limitations.

If you’re flying an airline that allows two pieces of checked baggage, you can also ship wine in its own box. Ideally, that would be a box with styrofoam shipping inserts (sometimes called a “wine shipper”), but we’ve had good success with a standard wine case and lots of bubble wrap (limiting you to about 8 bottles per 12-bottle case). Attach a secure handle, which can be made from strapping tape, and pray you’re not flying Alitalia, which requires you to sign a waiver before they will accept the box as checked luggage. (They won’t guarantee safe arrival–or even arrival at all.)

30

12 2009