Archive for January, 2017

Local Girl goes to MasterChef Junior

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

Lila

 

One young girl about to compete in this season’s Fox MasterChef Junior television series grew up among the pea tendrils, strawberry beds, and yards of chard at Appleton Farms.

Lila Deluca’s parents signed up for an Appleton Farms’ CSA share before she was born. Now ten years old, Lila has spent her whole life visiting this North Star of local foods every week, spring through fall. Kale makes Lila very happy.

“We cook kale a lot at home; we bake it, saute it, put it in smoothies; we are always looking for more recipes!” Lila says brightly, nothing kale-tired about her.

“And we cook fish a lot, too,” Lila says. “In the summer we catch fish off our boat – stripers, sometimes flounder.”

Lila grew up in Rockport. When she was only seven, Lila and her younger brother Anderson pressed their faces as closely as possible without singeing noses to the chefs’ stovetops at the Rockport Harvestfest Seafood Throwdown. Sister and brother have remained front row faces ever since.

“Every year we go to Harvestfest,” Lila says, “we watch the Seafood Throwdown because we cook fish a lot, and we are looking for ideas, and then we make them at home.”

Nurtured thus on local fare, Lila has developed a serious dedication to cooking, an excitement that has landed her sunny, bespectacled face on the Masterchef Junior promotion page with her 39 other kid competitors.

Modeled on the adult version of MasterChef (Gloucester resident Christian Collins made it to the #3 position out of 100 on MasterChef Season 2 in 2011.), Masterchef Junior takes forty talented kids between the ages of 8 and 13, and puts them through a series of whimsical challenges in which some cooks get eliminated, and the field gets more and more narrow. Ultimately one lucky child takes home the MasterChef Junior trophy and the $100,000 grand prize.

Fittingly, it was television cooking that sent Lila originally into the kitchen.

“Every summer we would go visit my mom’s college roommate on Martha’s Vineyard. She had older kids who loved watching cooking shows. That’s how my brother and I learned to love them. We started watching them at home – I liked Masterchef Junior a lot.”

“I knew something was happening,” Lila’s dad, Scott, said, “when after one evening of watching Masterchef Junior, we heard Lila down in the kitchen the next morning at 6:30. She was making croquembouche.” Croquembouche is an elaborate tower of cream-filled profiteroles held together in a crystaline web of spun sugar.

Lila now slips on an apron and turns the handle on a pasta-machine in her Rockport kitchen like a professional. She hasn’t lost that Appleton Farms good taste; when asked what some of her favorite foods are Lila says, “I really like carrots, if you mix them with butter and brown sugar and almost caramelize it. I like this with fish because the sweetness complements the fish.”

The Deluca family travel often and far, therefore Lila has picked up some favorite International cuisines; she loves the simple beans and rice from Nicaragua, enchiladas from Mexico. At home she loves to prepare with her family Chicken Tikka Masala; “We love the yogurt sauces; we marinate chicken overnight in yogurt and mint,” Lila says.

Here is one of Lila’s favorite fish preparations, a simple white fillet – Lila loves cod and striper for this – coated in a Ritz Cracker and butter crumb. What makes it a little special is the onions and lemon underneath the fish, which create a bright, fresh sauce to counter those rich crumbs.

“I love it when the lemon and onions underneath the fish make juices,” Lila says. “We pour that over the crumbs on the fish when it’s served.”

Lila recommends serving this with roasted potatoes and, of course, kale. She sautés her kale in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and garlic slices, and finishes it with lemon juice and salt.

When asked to describe her cooking style, Lila responds, “farm to table.” She’s a girl nurtured on Appleton Farms.

MasterChef Junior Season 5 starts February 9th on the Fox network.

Lila's fish and kale

Lila’s Baked Fish

Ingredients
2 pounds cod, striped bass, haddock, pollock, or substantial white fish fillets
salt
8 ounces (about 2 sleeves) Ritz crackers
6 tablespoons melted butter
2 medium onions, sliced
2 lemons, sliced
1/2 – 3/4 cup white wine

Instructions

Preheat oven to 375
Rinse the fillets under cold water and pat dry. Sprinkle lightly with salt.
In the bottom of a baking dish that will hold the fillets in one layer, lay out the onion slices, lemon slices, and pour in the white wine. Lay the fillets on top. Cover the fillets thickly in the cracker crumbs. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the fillets are cooked through and the crackers are browned. Serve with roasted potatoes and sauteed kale with garlic.

Boston Cream Pie, a history

Sunday, January 22nd, 2017

BCPMysteriously, Boston Cream Pie has triumphed over far more glamorous desserts like Isles Flottante, Baked Alaska, and Chocolate Lava Cake when it comes to food trend endurance.

There is almost nothing extreme about Boston Cream Pie: it’s two layers of a butter cake filled with custard, and a runny chocolate glaze poured over it. It has not only prevailed, but it has launched a fleet of variations from Boston Cream Ice Cream to Boston Cream French Toast to a donut that is almost more famous than the cake. People seem to cling to the idea of Boston Cream Pie, and it’s not just a weird nostalgia; there are people – SOME people – for whom this semi-drab dessert appeals in a crazy way. Some people respond completely out of proportion to this cake’s humility. With its oozing custard and dripping chocolate, it is honestly not trying to win any cake plate awards.

BCP 2

Then there is the cake’s history, which Bostonians have come to proudly, confidently, possessively tell. And then there is the REAL history, which food historians have meticulously studied, proving the Boston story completely wrong.

Many people believe that the Boston Cream Pie we all know – two layers of sponge cake pressing upon a gooey layer of custard, with a sweet chocolate topping – not quite a frosting not quite a glaze – dripping across the top and down the sides – was born in Boston’s Parker House in 1856. The hotel’s French pastry chef named Sanzian created something originally called “Chocolate Cream Pie” that year. This was, and still is to this day, layers of genoise filled with creme patisserie, and topped with chocolate fondant. White chocolate fondant is sort of rippled attractively through the chocolate.

The Parker House still claims its cake is the origins of the one we know, and I think that’s really ok. Sometimes myths are just fine. Their pastry chef, Tuoic Tran, as of 2015 had created one million Boston Cream Pies. (They make individual sized cakes for each order.) According to the Omni Parker House Website, if you laid all those cakes down side by side they would stretch for 50 miles, or from the Boston Parker House Omni Hotel to their sister hotel in Providence, RI.

The Parker House even offers a recipe for making the cake on their website, and graciously gives a simple chocolate glaze alternative in case you’re not up to kneading fondant on your marble slab. All this is really quite different from the cake most of us know, although that white chocolate in dark chocolate squiggle seems to show up around Boston. The Durgin Park version has it.

The more legitimate Boston Cream Pie lineage has been played out in American cookbooks. It’s a history that runs parallel but probably always separate to the Parker House story.

Food Historian Gil Marks has explored the cookbook history of Boston Cream Pie, and writes about it in detail on the blog by Tori Avey. Here’s what he’s found:

In the early 19th century, before our French chef at the Parker House was kneading fondant, women in American kitchens were putting two cakes – baked then in something called “pie tins” which were used for both cakes and pies, as no one had yet invented a separate shape for cakes – together with jelly or jam in between them. These desserts wouldn’t be called “layer cakes” until 1870; originally these were called “jelly cakes.” By the middle of that century, those ladies were boiling together sugar and heavy cream, whipping it, and filling the cakes with that. In 1829, an English copy of the French recipe for Creme Patisserie was published in a book called “The French Cook,” by Louis Eustache Ude. Soon this fancy lighter cream was appearing between two layers of cake, and with it these names: “Washington Pie,” “Custard Pie,” and “Cream Cake.” No Boston yet.

For the next fifty years “Cream Pies” and “Washington Pies” began appearing in the new American Cookbooks like “Buckeye Cookery,” 1877, “Mrs. Porter’s New Southern Cookery Book, (1871), and Mrs. Shaw’s Receipt Book and Housekeeper’s Assistant (1877), which included a recipe for Parker House Rolls “and something called a ‘Cream Pie,’ which was two layers of butter cake with a vanilla pastry cream filling. NO reference to either Boston or the Parker House or a chocolate topping.” So says Marks.

But here’s something. ALREADY, there had been something printed in cookbooks from New York and Philadelphia called “Boston Cream Cakes,” which were really a cream puff. They were wildly popular.

So, you get it? Chef Sanzian may have created his Chocolate Cream Pie in 1856, and it may have been very popular, but at the same time women in America were sharing recipes for something that had nothing to do with the Parker House story. Two Boston Cream pies were being born in parallel universes.

OUR Boston Cream Pie’s big breakout moment came with that chocolate glaze topping.

The first time anything was mentioned as going on TOP of these Jelly Cakes, or Washington Pie’s or Cream Pies, was in 1916, and it was only confectionary sugar. American Cookery magazine included a recipe for a dessert with all three names, in case you didn’t recognize the cake you had been making by the other operative names: “Washington Pie, Custard Filling, or Boston Cream Pie.” The recipe said “… sift confectioner’s sugar over the top.”

See? This is the stuff that gets food historians excited, finding the exact moment when Boston Cream Pie received its chocolate topping, but it hasn’t happened yet.

In 1934 The Boston Cooking School Cook Book by Fannie Farmer included a recipe for “Cream Pie (Boston Cream Pie)” – for the first time adding the Boston part. Amazing. Seemingly, this is when those delicious cream puffs were absorbed into the idea of this cake. But, according to Marks, this Fannie Farmer edition STILL didn’t have a topping!

Finally, Finally, Finally, in 1950 the first recipe – including a glamorous photo! – including the cake, the custard, and the chocolate glaze, and NAMED “Boston Cream Pie,” appeared in Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook, (New York, 1950.) There is a long list of people who remember drooling over that photo as children, and maybe even as adults. The Fannie Farmer Cookbook and The Joy of Cooking followed with their Boston Cream Pie recipes in the 1950’s.

Meanwhile, the Parker House still bakes their genoise-style, creme-patisserie filled, fondant frosted cake with toasted almonds pressed upon the sides. You can order it with your coffee today. It still looks much more like a Viennese Pastry than the cake that Gil Marks believes rose up through the ranks of American recipe-sharers.

This really simple cake lives on. In fact, I think THIS is the best story to Boston Cream Pie:

Ask your girlfriend, boyfriend or spouse how they feel about Boston Cream Pie. According to Yankee Magazine, the MOST intriguing thing about Boston Cream Pie is that it almost religiously follows the gender divide: Men love it; women just don’t get it.

BCP in kitchen

 

Betty Crocker’s Boston Cream Pie

Cream Filling
2 large egg yolks
1 1/2 cups milk
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla

Cake
Baking spray with flour to grease pan
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour or 1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup butter or margarine, room temperature
3/4 cup milk
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg

Chocolate Icing
3 tablespoons butter or margarine
3 oz unsweetened baking chocolate
3 to 4 tablespoons water
1 cup powdered sugar
3/4 teaspoon vanilla

Directions
1 In a small bowl, place the yolks. Beat the egg yolks with a fork or wire whisk until mixed. Stir in 1 1/2 cups milk; set aside.
2 In a 2-quart saucepan, stir 1/3 cup granulated sugar, the cornstarch and 1/8 teaspoon salt until mixed. Gradually stir egg mixture into sugar mixture. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils. Boil and stir 1 minute; remove from heat. Stir in 2 teaspoons vanilla. Press plastic wrap on surface of filling to prevent a tough layer from forming on top. Refrigerate at least 2 hours until set but no longer than 24 hours. While filling is chilling, continue with recipe.
3 Heat the oven to 350°F. Spray just the bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan with the baking spray.
4 In a large bowl, beat all cake ingredients with an electric mixer on low speed 30 seconds, stopping frequently to scrape batter from side and bottom of bowl with a rubber spatula. Beat on high speed 3 minutes, stopping occasionally to scrape bowl. Pour batter into the pan; use a rubber spatula to scrape batter from bowl, spread batter evenly in pan and smooth top of batter.
5 Bake about 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool cake in pan on a cooling rack 20 minutes, then remove onto cooling rack to finish cooling completely, about 1 hour.
6. In a 1-quart saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons butter and the chocolate over low heat, stirring occasionally. Remove chocolate mixture from heat. Stir in the powdered sugar and 3/4 teaspoon vanilla. Stir in 3 tablespoons hot water. Stir in additional water, 1 teaspoon at a time, until icing is smooth and thin enough to spread.
7. To split cake horizontally in half, mark middle points around side of cake with toothpicks. Using toothpicks as a guide, cut through the cake with a long, sharp knife, using a back-and-forth motion. On a serving plate, place bottom layer with the cut side up. Spread filling over bottom layer. Top with top of cake, cut side down.
8. Spread glaze over top of cake, using a metal spatula or back of a spoon, letting some glaze drizzle down side of cake. Refrigerate uncovered until serving. Store any remaining cake covered in the refrigerator.

It Might Take A Fish To Save A Village.

Friday, January 20th, 2017

fish holder

 

We all know the charms of a fishing village:  the shoreside industries that make a stroll along a harbor compelling, the boats bulging with gear tied up to the pier, nets laid out to dry.  That, and the small family fishing boat, may soon be another casualty of corporate driven fishing policies.  Fishing culture – the vision of a boat chugging into port beneath a cloud of squawking seagulls, the chapel steeple pointing from the town rooftops to the skies, signaling home to the returning vessel – all this will soon be nothing more than photos in a heritage center if more effort is not made to preserve the small family boat and the rich culture that follows, just like those seagulls.

In the Good Food movement of the last thirty years we have learned that our soil, our land, our air, and our food is all healthier when farming is done in a small, manageable scale.  Farm communities are thus healthier, diverse, more interesting places, not simply animal factories or thousands of acres of corn.  The same is true of fishing: fishing on a scale that is human, supporting the small family fishing boat and its community, will make a healthier ocean, and consequently preserve the economies of fishing communities.

The United States fisheries are regulated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a division of the Department of Commerce.  The balance of commerce and healthy oceans has seemed like a tug-of-war since the 1976 Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.  An amendment to the Magnuson-Stevens Act –  the Sustainable Fisheries Act  – was added in 1996, strengthening the mandate to protect U.S. fisheries.

The Magnuson-Stevens Act created the 200 mile limit, declaring that no foreign boats were allowed within 200 miles of U.S. coastline. The Sustainable Fisheries Act’s was enacted “with the fundamental goals of preventing overfishing, rebuilding overfished stocks, protecting essential fish habitat, minimizing bycatch, enhanced research and improved monitoring.” (From the NOAA website.)

The “days at sea” program, enacted in the mid-1990’s, was one part of many actions born from NOAA’s new sustainability mandate.  Under “days at sea,” New England groundfish boats, for example, were appointed a specific number of “days at sea” to go fishing.

In 2010, the days at sea program was replaced in the New England groundfishery (earlier in most other U.S. fisheries) under Amendment 16 to the Magnuson-Stevens Act, by the Individual Transferable Quota System – now called “Catch Shares.”

Catch Shares were a relatively new market-based strategy pushed since the mid-80s primarily by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and a few other big environmental groups.  Catch Shares would be – mythically – where sustainability and commerce got along.  The EDF and a few other environmental groups supported this big business agenda of deregulation, consolidation, and privatization.  Starting in New Zealand’s orange roughy fishery in 1986, then the Mid-Atlantic surf clam or ocean quahog fishery, and then Alaska halibut and sablefish fisheries, and now being pushed on most  U.S. fisheries, Catch Shares began to facilitate the big business take-over of the world’s fishing, not just America’s.

Some environmental groups, like the Environmental Defense Fund, believe only those with major investments – can be stewards of the ocean.   Catch Share have thus been the place where commerce and sustainability are being touted as married.  But here’s a fact to consider: some of these groups – like EDF – have received funding from the Walton family, and Koch Brothers and their various tentacles to support their Catch Shares agenda.

Catch Share have become a means by which fishing has become consolidated, privatized, and industrialized.  Many small and medium sized boats, assigned too small a quota to make a living, sold or leased their quota to the larger boats who could afford to buy it up.  The large corporate fleets are the ones left fishing.

As opposed to the industrialization of agriculture under President Nixon, this effort has been done under the cloak of “sustainability.”  It has been supported by certain environmental groups, groups that don’t equate small family boats to ecological sustainability.

We do.  The family farm movement taught us that although not perfect, the greatest potential in achieving our ecological sustainability AND food access goals is to support scale-appropriate independent family operations.

Even the term “fishing community” has been degraded by fishing policy: after the 1996 reauthorization of the Magnuson Act, in an effort to measure policy impacts on fishing communities, not just fishermen, NOAA attempted to define the term “fishing community.”  Under pressure from the northwest corporate-owned factory fleet led by the American Factory Trawlers Association (later renamed At Sea Processors Association), NOAA included in that definition “fishing vessels that process fish far from their homeports.”  An offshore factory fishing boat, therefore, is just as much a “fishing community,” and enjoys the same government considerations, as Stonington, Maine.

Just as we re-learned to accept whatever our local farmers were growing, picking up from our CSA’s or shopping at a farmers’ market, we must re-learn how to shop for local fish.  Fish markets today buy fish from all around the world pushed onto consumers by the globalized seafood companies.  There is almost no such thing as a “local catch.”  As a result, consumers have lost touch with the realities of the ocean’s ecosystems and its “seasons.” Customers are upset if there is no salmon, tuna, and swordfish in the case, no matter where they live, regardless of what fish is swimming in waters nearby.

We must support the small boats fishing out of a harbor, if only to protect that fishing community.  Otherwise all harbors zoned for maritime use will be rezoned for development – hotels, condominiums, and shopping – as fishing moves to offshore corporate trawlers.

Find a Community Supported Fishery, based on the same model as Community Supported Agriculture, in your community.  CSFs are now the best, most reliable way to source truly local seafood that will taste far fresher and sweeter, with less overall ecological impact than anything that flew around the world to get to you,  and you will be preserving the vision of that boat chugging into port trailed by a cloud of squawking seagulls.

Preserving the small family fishing boat may save the ocean’s health, for the exact same reasons saving the small family farm  – preventing farming from being entirely industrialized  – helps conserve the environment.

The fishing village stays just that, a fishing town that always knows its place in the ocean’s ecosystems.

Support local fishing boats, end of story.  Buy local fish, whatever it is.

Le Cirque’s Pasta Primavera

Friday, January 20th, 2017

pasta primavera

 

A while back I wrote a series of stories covering the history of relatively well-known recipes.  Trying out my new blog, which is not quite perfect, I am reprinting this story on the history of this 1980’s standard.  The series is called “Stories Served Here.” Watch for “Boston Cream Pie” soon!

In May, 2012, Bon Appetit Magazine invited readers to request recipes from magazine issues “pre-internet,” in other words, readers could ask for un-google-able recipes printed before there was an internet to post upon or search.

By far THE most popular recipe, the recipe that overwhelmed Bon Appetit with requests was Pasta Primavera, published in 1979. Who knew?

Pasta Primavera is a strange emblem of Italian food’s sometimes quiet, sometimes brassy, sometimes crooked march into the mainstream American kitchen.

Created in the U.S., Pasta Primavera (which means spring in Italian) isn’t Primavera at all. Half the ingredient list says spring or at least close – baby peas, asparagus, parsley – but the other half says summer – – broccoli, zucchini, and tomatoes. So, it’s name alone is an issue, but now too famous to resolve.

For centuries Italians have made an art of coupling pasta shapes with sauces, the architecture of a pasta specifically supporting a sauce with complementing elements. The engineering to a bowl of macaroni with peas, ham, and cream, for instance, is poetry, an efficient use of the exact right ingredients – the sweet peas, the salty ham. The cream is the vehicle that transports all over the pasta, the macaroni acting like hundreds of little bowls to hold the peas so they don’t roll away.

In Pasta Primavera, the vegetables are steamed, and then swirled together in a shallow skillet with cream, Parmigiana Reggiano, and fresh basil. The cooked spaghetti is added into the pan, but physics will not allow those chunks of broccoli and straight-edged zucchini to cling to a strand of spaghetti, no matter how velvety the sauce. The dish often looks like a small garden sprouting from the top of a mound of pasta, the vegetables an accessory at best, if not excluded altogether from the strands of cheesy deliciousness. And yet, there is much to adore about this dish, created by one of the world’s most charming Italians.

Pasta Primavera SAID “1979,” maybe because it was about America STILL getting everything wrong about Italian food. And yet, it was created by an Italian – an Italian immigrant who left his impoverished country, like so many southern Italian immigrants, a very young man full of hopes. Siro Maccioni worked on cruise ships which took him around the world, and then to New York in 1956. His good looks, and quickly acquired polish sent him straight up the ranks of fine NY restaurants. By 1973 he was opening his own dining room, which was, of necessity, French/Contintental. Fine dining in those years was being created by toqued chefs named Pierre and Jaques. Italian food, which was really Italian-American food, nothing like what Maccioni or any of the immigrants had eaten at home, had caught on, but mostly by bohemians and artists. Italian-American food was what was being served in tiny places with cheap red-checked tablecloths. The Chianti poured quickly; the cliche was the reality in those years.

Sirio Maccioni, the immigrant of our Primavera story, missed the beautiful basics of his home cuisine, but was sure that the rich and famous, the clientele he had befriended at The Colony Restaurant, needed veloute, foie gras and caviar. So, with French chef Jean Vergnes, Maccioni opened Le Cirque, which was to become the most famous and sought after reservation in the country. Richard Nixon, Bill Blass, Paloma Picasso, Woody Allen, Sophia Loren, Luciano Pavarotti all made Le Cirque a habit. The restaurant also launched a fleet of chef careers like Daniel Boulud to David Bouley.

Before I discuss how this great French/Continental New York Restaurant came to be synonymous with Pasta Primavera, let me give a little background on what had happened to Italian cooking when those immigrants first started arriving on U.S. shores around the turn of the 19th century. John Mariani, in his facscinating book “How Italian Food Conquered the World,” explores this in detail. Here’s a fact to start with:

When Southern Italians first started leaving their native land at the turn of the 19th century for the U.S. they were desperate. They had been required to turn over 4/5ths of the food they farmed to their landlord, and were spending 75% of their income on food. When they arrived in New York, the pay was not much better, but there were plenty of jobs. The big difference came in the price of food, which was abundant and cheap, particularly meat. Suddenly these Italians were spending only 25% of their incomes on groceries. The Italian meatball is the perfect symbol of what happened in Italian American kitchens – what in Italy had been a tiny 3/4 “ ball made with scraps of anything – chicken, fish, even tripe – called “polpetonne,” became in New York a 1/4 pound ball of beef and pork. The Italian mama went from being a scrawny mother scraping together a weak soup for her family’s dinner to the plump matron of the kitchen who suddenly took pride in having the best recipes. Foods that had in the old country been reserved only for feast days – like cream filled pastries and buttery cookies dusted in confectionary sugar – were suddenly available every day. Other Italians opened businesses to serve the needs of these Italian communities, including bakeries and restaurants. These were inexpensive places that began to attract other adventurous, but unwealthy groups, like artists and musicians. The Italian cooks in these places began to realize that the new non-Italian American customer anticipated some version of meat and potatoes in a meal: spaghetti found its purpose as a required carbohydrate beside a plate of meatballs in marinara sauce.

Here’s another fascinating fact from Mariani’s book – The marinara sauce that came to be synonymous with Italian-American food? That came from Naples, the bottom of Italy’s boot, which had been home for so many of these new immigrants. In Naples many of the men had been fishermen, or “marinari.” Their wives would see their husband’s fishing boats sailing into port, and run to prepare for them a hot meal; the wives needed something that could be put together quickly, impromptu, at the whim of a fishing boat’s landing: this became a bowl of pasta with a simple, fresh tomato sauce, appropriately named “marinara!”

Back to Maccioni, who became one of the world’s most famous restaurant owners in the U.S., and had for his friends some of the world’s most famous names, including the New York Times food writers Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey. Maccioni admitted to missing the foods from his childhood, but his had become a tuxedoed life of Dover Sole and Chateaubriand. In an interview with Saveur Magazine, Maccioni describes how the first ever Pasta Primavera came to be: In 1977, he and his wife were all on vacation with a group of friends, including chef Vergnes, Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey, at a lodge on Prince Edward Island. After too many days of wild boar and lobster somebody asked Maccioni to make pasta. Maccioni’s son described the dish his father prepared as actually being VERY Italian – “It’s called “frigidaire,” he said – when you make a pasta with all your leftovers in the refrigerator! (By the way, in another version of this story Maccioni claims that his wife made the dish that night.) Everyone loved it, Claiborne and Franey so much that they printed the recipe in the New York Times food section. Suddenly, much to Vergnes’s French dismay, the clients at Le Cirque were demanding Pasta Primavera. Vergnes loathed all pasta, and now this was becoming the symbol of his kitchen. Pasta Primavera was at first sentenced to being prepared in a hall outside the kitchen, as Vergnes couldn’t stand to see it. Then, as its inevitability became apparent, the pasta was assigned a drama to be prepared tableside, often by Maccioni himself.

Here’s another fascinating aside: Mr. Vergnes had worked at The Colony, where Siro Maccioni gilded his reputation as a suave host, but left in 1962 to run the commissary at Stop & Shop which wanted to develop a prepared-food service. He was there for 3 years before returning to the boutique fine restaurant scene rising in New York. He joined Maccioni in 1973.

Mariani explains that something happened in the early 1980’s that helped to elevate pasta away from huge portions of meatballs in marinara sauce, allowing Americans to suddenly appreciate the lighter, fresher, more artful Italian ways with pasta, for them to understand better the meal Maccioni was creating that day on Prince Edward Island.

Fed Ex. Fed Ex began flying special ingredients overnight from Italy to the U.S. Cheeses, artisanal pastas, a variety of risotto rice were suddenly available in quality and quantity, and beginning to star in cookbooks, in restaurants, in gourmet shops (Chuck Williams of Williams Sonoma began selling Balsamic Vinegar from Modena in his Beverly Hills store in 1973.) and therefore American kitchens. Whereas the Joy of Cooking in 1964 mentioned olive oil once, and Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 1968 not at all, but by the mid 1980’s Marcella Hazan’s Classic Italian Cooking series devoted four pages to olive oil. With the arrival of all these fresh new Italian ingredients, the American public began to understand the foods that had truly been made in Italian kitchens. Pasta Primavera was never one of them, but its principles – quick, economical, fresh, and delicious – are all there, and VERY Italian.

When Pasta Primavera hit the big time, with the recipe printed in the NYT, people clamored for it, but, of course, no Italian chef or cook had ever heard of it!

Le Cirque and its many sister restaurants are managed by Maccioni’s three sons now. Pasta Primavera can always be ordered. This recipe appeared in an article in The Times by Craig Claiborne with Pierre Franey.

serves 4 as a main course, 6 as an appetizer
Ingredients
1 bunch broccoli
2 small zucchini, unpeeled
4 asparagus spears
1 1/2 cups green beans
Salt
1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas
3/4 cup fresh or frozen pea pods
1 tablespoon peanut, vegetable or corn oil
2 cups thinly sliced mushrooms
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon minced hot red or green chili, or 1/2 teaspoon dried red-pepper flakes
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
3 cups 1-inch tomato cubes
6 basil leaves, chopped
1 pound spaghetti
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream, approximately
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts.

Instructions
Trim broccoli and break into florets. Trim off ends of the zucchini. Cut into quarters, then cut into 1-inch or slightly longer lengths (about 1 1/2 cups). Cut each asparagus into 2-inch pieces. Trim beans and cut into 1-inch pieces.
2. Cook each of the green vegetables separately in boiling salted water to cover until crisp but tender. Drain well, then run under cold water to chill, and drain again thoroughly. Combine the cooked vegetables in a bowl.
3. Cook the peas and pods; about 1 minute if fresh; 30 seconds if frozen. Drain, chill with cold water and drain again. Combine with the vegetables.
4. In a skillet over medium-high heat, heat the peanut oil and add the mushrooms. Season to taste. Cook about 2 minutes, shaking the skillet and stirring. Add the mushrooms, chili and parsley to the vegetables.
5. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a saucepan and add half the garlic, tomatoes, salt and pepper. Cook about 4 minutes. Add the basil.
6. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet and add the remaining garlic and the vegetable mixture. Cook, stirring gently, until heated through.
7. Cook the spaghetti in boiling salted water until almost (but not quite) tender, retaining a slight resilience in the center. Drain well.
8. In a pot large enough to hold the spaghetti and vegetables, add the butter and melt over medium-low heat. Then add the chicken broth and half a cup each of cream and cheese, stirring constantly. Cook gently until smooth. Add the spaghetti and toss quickly to blend. Add half the vegetables and pour in the liquid from the tomatoes, tossing over very low heat.
9. Add the remaining vegetables. If the sauce seems dry, add 3 to 4 tablespoons more cream. Add the pine nuts and give the mixture a final tossing.
10. Serve equal portions of the spaghetti mixture in hot soup or spaghetti bowls. Spoon equal amounts of the tomatoes over each serving. Serve immediately.

Power Bars for a Protest March

Sunday, January 8th, 2017

white_house_south_side_2011

I’m reposting this recipe in case anyone is looking for a good snack to take to a protest march.

Power Bars, nutrition bars, energy bars, fitness bars, meal bars, granola bars. They come wrapped in many packages under many names. Athletes eat them; people consider them a smart snack at work, and moms pack them in their kids’ lunches. How healthy are they, and should we just be baking our own?

Along with fish tacos and caesar salad, fitness bars (the term I’m choosing here) are perhaps one of the foods that could define the 21st century lifestyle, and were probably born in the 1970’s as muesli and granola entered our culinary vocabulary. Running, biking, workouts, fitness, and the gym became as much a part of our lives as going to the movies, and granola bars got fitter. Grocery store shelving is evidence of how healthy the industry is, at least in sales.

But what should a fitness bar be? It’s not a brownie. It should be low in fat and sugar, and high in carbohydrates, fiber, and protein. Most nutrition websites insist, like all prepared foods, we should be looking for a short list of ingredients we can pronounce. Sugar, even in the form of brown rice syrup, shouldn’t be the first ingredient. Isolates are promoted as an easy, digestible way to pack in protein, but they are controversial at best, demons at worst. Soy and whey isolates are manufactured proteins that, because of the process in which they are produced, create a highly acidic environment. Cancer loves an acidic environment; it’s an easy jump to why isolates are bad guys, but commercial fitness bars are often packed with them. Also, 90 percent of the soy in this country is genetically modified; all that soy in commercially produced fitness bars, even in the form of an isolate, is a GMO product.

There is a great site called “Fooducate,” which has an app that immediately provides nutritional information for a food. They have a long, hefty analysis of all kinds of nutrition/fitness bars. Once quick glance at these sites makes you realize homemade is a much better nutritional choice, if not a good economic one. Special K Protein Meal Bars, billed as a healthy “meal” bar,” for an example, is filled with transfats, sugar, inulin – not real fiber – BHT a possible carcinogen and TBHG which can cause nausea and delirium, artificial everything. Fooducate assigned it a D, the lowest score.

I grabbed a Cliff Bar and a Larabar off the shelves, took a bite of each without studying the ingredients, and tasted pure sugar. In fact, the Cliff Bar’s first ingredient is Brown Rice Syrup, but a further read made me think the bar was all cane syrup and soy, ingredients that repeated themselves in twenty different forms. The Larabar was nothing but cashews and dates, but it tasted like that. It was sweet, gummy, and not very satisfying.

I discovered Kate Baron and her Baron bars while working on this story. Baron is a competitive runner, an organizational psychologist, and a certified holistic health counselor. When the website “Trailblazer” published her regimen, the crowds demanded the recipe for her homemade fitness bars, something she calls Baron Bars. I’m now a fan.

Baron is loose with her recipe, but offers a scaffolding. I made my batch almost exactly as they are written here, using wheat germ instead of wheat bran, and equal parts cinnamon and nutmeg, which was absolutely delicious. Baron recommends Pumpkin Pie Spice, but I didn’t have any. I think mace might be a nice addition to the spice blend, too. She sometimes uses sunflower seeds, and recommends you be creative. These bars are definitely on the chewy side of a granola bar, but I like that. Some recipes use straight granola, which has a lot of oil in it, and some recipes have you toast the grains in oil in advance, definitely making them crunchier. The sweet, toasted taste of granola has its place, but, I eat these bars recognizing the halo of “fitness” that comes with them. I want a healthy taste, and I don’t want to feel like I’m eating candy or a brownie. These bars, extremely low in fat and sugar (1/2 cup of each distributed among 20 bars), and have the wholesome, healthy taste I want in something that nutritious. One bar contains 224 calories, 11 grams of fat, 29 grams carbohydrate, and 7 grams of protein.

My best baking test is how well something tastes with a cup of coffee; these are outrageous with a hot cup of French Roast in the afternoon. For those stronger than I, Kate’s husband, Michael, eats his bars slathered in peanut butter.

search-4

Baron Bars

Ingredients

4 cups whole oats (not quick-cooked)

1 cup wheat bran or wheat germ

1 1/2 cups chopped almonds (salted or not)

1 cup raisins or any dried fruit you like

1 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 cup honey

4 eggs

1/2 cup canola or olive oil

1 tablespoon cinnamon, nutmeg, or pumpkin pie spice

1 teaspoon salt (sea)

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, mix all ingredients together until combined.

Line a 12” x 18” cookie sheet with parchment paper. (Kate says it’s fine to use other size sheet pans here, but you want the bars to be 1/2 inches thick.) Wet your hands, and press the batter around in the pan to be even distributed.

Bake for until toasty brown on top. Mine took about 15 – 17 minutes.

Remove from oven and cut into desired size squares. (Kate is generous; hers are 3” x 5”.)

Place in a tupperware container, and freeze. This helps the bars hold together, even after they have thawed. Enjoy right from the freezer or thawed.

Power Bars for The Women’s March on Washington 2017

Sunday, January 8th, 2017

 

I’m reposting this recipe in case anyone is looking for a good snack to take to a protest march.  I’ll be packing these for my bus ride, leaving Gloucester at midnight, January 21st, heading to Washington, D.C.  https://www.womensmarch.com/

white_house_south_side_2011

Power Bars, nutrition bars, energy bars, fitness bars, meal bars, granola bars.  They come wrapped in many packages under many names.  Athletes eat them; people consider them a smart snack at work, and moms pack them in their kids’ lunches.  How healthy are they, and should we just be baking our own?

Along with fish tacos and caesar salad, fitness bars (the term I’m choosing here) are perhaps one of the foods that could define the 21st century lifestyle, and were probably born in the 1970’s as muesli and granola entered our culinary vocabulary.  Running, biking, workouts, fitness, and the gym became as much a part of our lives as going to the movies, and granola bars got fitter.  Grocery store shelving is evidence of how healthy the industry is, at least in sales.

But what should a fitness bar be?  It’s not a brownie.  It should be low in fat and sugar, and high in carbohydrates, fiber, and protein.  Most nutrition websites insist, like all prepared foods, we should be looking for a short list of ingredients we can pronounce.  Sugar, even in the form of brown rice syrup, shouldn’t be the first ingredient.  Isolates are promoted as an easy, digestible way to pack in protein, but they are controversial at best, demons at worst.  Soy and whey isolates are manufactured proteins that, because of the process in which they are produced, create a highly acidic environment.  Cancer loves an acidic environment; it’s an easy jump to why isolates are bad guys, but commercial fitness bars are often packed with them.  Also, 90 percent of the soy in this country is genetically modified; all that soy in commercially produced fitness bars, even in the form of an isolate, is a GMO product.

There is a great site called “Fooducate,” which has an app that immediately provides nutritional information for a food.  They have a long, hefty analysis of all kinds of nutrition/fitness bars.  Once quick glance at these sites makes you realize homemade is a much better nutritional choice, if not a good economic one.   Special K Protein Meal Bars, billed as a healthy “meal” bar,” for an example, is filled with transfats, sugar, inulin – not real fiber – BHT a possible carcinogen and TBHG which can cause nausea and delirium, artificial everything.  Fooducate assigned it a D, the lowest score.

I grabbed a Cliff Bar and a Larabar off the shelves, took a bite of each without studying the ingredients, and tasted pure sugar.  In fact, the Cliff Bar’s first ingredient is Brown Rice Syrup, but a further read made me think the bar was all cane syrup and soy, ingredients that repeated themselves in twenty different forms.  The Larabar was nothing but cashews and dates, but it tasted like that.  It was sweet, gummy, and not very satisfying.

I discovered Kate Baron and her Baron bars while working on this story.  Baron is a competitive runner, an organizational psychologist, and a certified holistic health counselor.  When the website “Trailblazer” published her regimen, the crowds demanded the recipe for her homemade fitness bars, something she calls Baron Bars.  I’m now a fan.

Baron is loose with her recipe, but offers a scaffolding.  I made my batch almost exactly as they are written here, using wheat germ instead of wheat bran, and equal parts cinnamon and nutmeg, which was absolutely delicious.  Baron recommends Pumpkin Pie Spice, but I didn’t have any.  I think mace might be a nice addition to the spice blend, too.  She sometimes uses sunflower seeds, and recommends you be creative.  These bars are definitely on the chewy side of a granola bar, but I like that.  Some recipes use straight granola, which has a lot of oil in it, and some recipes have you toast the grains in oil in advance, definitely making them crunchier.  The sweet, toasted taste of granola has its place, but, I eat these bars recognizing the halo of “fitness” that comes with them.  I want a healthy taste, and I don’t want to feel like I’m eating candy or a brownie.  These bars, extremely low in fat and sugar (1/2 cup of each distributed among 20 bars), and have the wholesome, healthy taste I want in something that nutritious.  One bar contains 224 calories, 11 grams of fat, 29 grams carbohydrate, and 7 grams of protein.

My best baking test is how well something tastes with a cup of coffee; these are outrageous with a hot cup of French Roast in the afternoon.  For those stronger than I, Kate’s husband, Michael, eats his bars slathered in peanut butter.

 

 

Baron Bars

 

Ingredients

 

4 cups whole oats (not quick-cooked)

1 cup wheat bran or wheat germ

1 1/2 cups chopped almonds (salted or not)

1 cup raisins or any dried fruit you like

1 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 cup honey

4 eggs

1/2 cup canola or olive oil

1 tablespoon cinnamon, nutmeg, or pumpkin pie spice

1 teaspoon salt (sea)

 

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl, mix all ingredients together until combined.

Line a 12” x 18” cookie sheet with parchment paper.  (Kate says it’s fine to use other size sheet pans here, but you want the bars to be 1/2 inches thick.)  Wet your hands, and press the batter around in the pan to be even distributed.

Bake for until toasty brown on top.  Mine took about 15 – 17 minutes.

Remove from oven and cut into desired size squares.  (Kate is generous; hers are 3” x 5”.)

Place in a tupperware container, and freeze.  This helps the bars hold together, even after they have thawed.  Enjoy right from the freezer or thawed.

 

 

Hainanese Chicken Rice – what to eat in January.

Saturday, January 7th, 2017

chicken-rice-half-bowl

#45 on the list of world’s best dishes “Chicken Rice” is #1 on the list of the world’s plainest names, but it is exactly what you want to eat right now.

Also called Hainanese Chicken Rice or the national dish of Singapore.

Poached chicken over a rich, chicken-y rice, zinged-up with lime-chili sauce, fresh scallions, sesame oil and soy sauce, freshened with cucumber slices, “Chicken Rice” is both ridiculously simple and seductive sublime. It’s southeast asian home-cooking. Every Chinese coffee shop, Singapore restaurant and street vendor sells a version of “Chicken Rice.” The fast food chain “The Chicken Rice Shop” claims to be serving “grandmother’s traditional Hainanese secret recipe chicken rice,” and is franchised all across Southeast Asia.

Pay attention to the popularity here, and don’t be deceived by the simple name. If you have never tried it, “Chicken Rice” bears no resemblance to any soup or casserole from this quadrant of the earth. Hainanese Chicken Rice has a market on deliciousness that nothing in the American repertoire can challenge. (You don’t see Ma’s Chicken Soup on the list of the world’s 50 Best Dishes.)

This is the season when so many of us retreat from figgy pudding to the fresh, bright flavors of Asian cuisine, that fluid exchange of sweet and salt, brightened by fresh. “Chicken Rice” offers all those tastes, but has the added advantage of being soulful. By soul I mean broth. This dish is all about the power of chicken broth without being soup.

The chicken is poached in water, which becomes the stuff with all that folkloric goodness. The rice is then cooked in that unstrained broth – retaining all the flu-defeating, antibiotic properties chicken fat is famous for, creating power rice – rice that glistens with chicken-y richness. The chicken is removed from the bone and laid to rest over the rice. The brightness comes next:  a lime/chili sauce covers the chicken, then fresh scallions, and then a quick shower of toasted sesame oil and soy sauce. Cool, crisp cucumber slices come in as the finisher taste.

 

chicken-rice-table

 

Many of the traditional Hainanese recipes call, (naturally – we’re talking about Southeast Asian home cooking) for an older chicken that might be tough but full of flavor. I just happened to have made my “Chicken Rice” with Seaview Farms laying hens. They were exactly that – a little tough but unbeatable flavor, which made my broth that much more delicious. If you are lucky enough to find an older chicken, skip the ice bath in the poaching part of the recipe, and simmer the chicken for at least an hour, or until it is tender. (Seaview Farms seems to have a good stock of these frozen hens.)

 

chicken-rice-whole-dish

Hainanese Chicken Rice

serves 6

Ingredients

For the chicken:

1 3-4 pound chicken
2 teaspoons salt for rubbing chicken
2” fresh ginger, smashed
3-4 scallions whole

For the Chile Sauce:

2 tablespoon lime juice
2 tablespoons poaching broth
4 tablespoons sriracha sauce
4 cloves garlic, grated
1” fresh ginger, grated
2 teaspoons sugar (optional)
For the dish:

2 cups jasmine rice (or long grain white rice)
4 cups of the broth from the cooked chicken (unstrained)
1 cucumber
1 bunch scallions
1 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
dark soy sauce or black vinegar for drizzling
toasted sesame oil

Instructions:

1. Rub the chicken liberally with salt. Put the knob of ginger and the scallions into the chicken cavity. Place the chicken in a pot large enough to poach it. Cover with cold water, and bring to a boil. Lower temperature, and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the leg joint loosens easily, and the chicken is definitely cooked through.
2. In a medium sauce pan add the rice and 4 cups of the (unstrained) broth. Simmer for 20 minutes or until the rice has absorbed all the liquid.

3. Remove the chicken from the bones as neatly as possible.

4. To make the sauce, simply whir all the ingredients in a blender.

5. Take 1-2 cups of the remaining broth and warm in a sauce pan.

5. To serve, spread the rice out on a platter. Lay the chicken over the rice. Spoon the sauce over the chicken. Spray the scallions and cilantro over the chicken. Drizzle with soy sauce and sesame oil. When serving, if the dish seems to have cooled too much, spoon some of the hot broth over each portion.