Thursday, May 29, 2008

4 pints of frozen goodness

Some friends were down in Columbus recently and brought back ice creams from Jeni's Ice Cream shop. More accurately, my friends went to Columbus specifically to go to Jeni's and bring back a cooler filled with pints of ice cream and dry ice. I was fortunate enough to be on the receiving end of a few of those pints.

I've made a few ice creams in my day, and am rather particular about flavor and texture. I'm rarely impressed. But tonight I just dipped my spoon into four different pints and all were beautiful examples of how good it can be.

I started with the lime cardamom yoghurt sorbet. A ton of flavor- sweet lime up front, balanced by the tang of yoghurt and the cardamom like a silver lining, tying it all together. I had to stop myself. Most impressive was the fact that it had a smooth texture straight out of the freezer- a balance that can be precarious with yoghurt as a base.

Next was the cherry lambic, their featured flavor of the month. The cherry flavor was a bit sweeter than I had hoped (I think they may be using Boiron fruit puree, but I can't be certain) but there was a nice lingering sourness, which I attribute to the lambic. It had a great intensity to it- a little bite had a lot of flavor. Again, the texture was spot on- no iciness at all. It was almost fluffy, which again makes me think that they're using Boiron as a base because it tends to take on more air than other fruit puree flavors while it's spinning.

The butterscotch & coconib ice cream was arguably my second favorite- rich & smooth studded with crunchy bits of nib. This, scooped into a cocoanib nougatine cone, would be fantastic.

I was really excited to see that they had a salty caramel and it is just that- verging right on the edge of savory. Good balances of sweet and salty are so satisfying. I'm curious to know what kind of salt they used. I'm afraid it might be iodized, but I can't say for sure. It's definitely a salty salt. This ice cream would be fantastic on with a dense, dark chocolate cake.

Jeni's is the second place in Columbus that I know of that is worth the 2+ hour drive just to eat. It's also the home of Zen Cha, one of the best tea shops I've seen in the midwest.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Cuidad Real Grocery

A trip to the local grocery store here in Cuidad Real has provided me with a bag of Lay's 'Grandes Sabores Ibericos Jamon'. Crunchy, meaty, slightly sweet and not oversalted. I'm suprised I like them as much as I do. We also got a little tin of tuna pate, which we ate with olive oil potato chips. And I got some tortas de aceite- olive oil tortas with anise seed, dusted with sugar, which only cost 1.5 euros.

The photo below is from inside the grocery- it's awesome to see their passion for ham here.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Madrid, oh Madrid

I've been swept up by the tide of Madrid for the past 24 hours and I've been loving every minute of it. I truely mean swept because between the jetlag, an allergy induced sinus headache, wine, and orientating myself in a city whose language I barely speak, it's been a very 'come what may' experience.

I met up with some people that I knew through work- we wandered around city central and had tapas at a place called Vinoteca Barbechera. In the photo above, from left to right: duck foie gras with candied apple; a variety of forest mushrooms with ham; and blood sausage with candied apple. The mushrooms were the stand out favorite- sauteed with ham and glistening with sauce- fantastic! We also ate croquettas (the spinach, with raisins and pine nuts were great) and a plate of Iberico ham and sheeps milk cheeses. I don't know why the rest of the world doesn't do food this way- each tapas ranges from 2-7 euros (with the iberico platter being more like 20 euros) and everyone shares. It's a very social eating experience.

Down the street from my hotel was the newly inaugurated CaixaForum Madrid museum. The architecture of the building was beautiful- an old brick structure (formerly Central Electric) with a rusted metal addition on top that has a pattern cut into it, designed by Herzog & de Meuron. The adjacent wall was a living sculptural instilation (aka 'green wall') by Patrick Blanc, whose work I've always wanted to see.
The pairing of the metal, brick and verdant wall was fantastic.

There's a couple of stores called Museo de Jambon around town- each contained more cured ham than I've ever seen. The decor is cured ham, hanging in tight rows. It's a sight to behold. I didn't have time to fully explore their cases but plan on doing so when I pass back through Madrid on my way home. Currently I'm in Cuidad Real, the capitol of La Mancha, about an hour South of my starting point. Tomorrow marks the begining of Espana Original, a food expo of Spanish producers.

Friday, May 9, 2008

addendum to yesterday's post

Cornman farms in the news today...

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Cornman Farms

Tuesday morning I headed out to Cornman Farms, Chef Alex Young's ever-growing farming operation out in Dexter, Michigan. During producing months it supplies the Roadhouse Restaurant with mouthwatering heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes and a whole host of other bounty. It was a year ago this month that I first went out there, to help plant tomatoes and peppers with a few friends. He's expanded his farming area this year (his fourth in operation), and built a hoop garden to get a head start.

The 'hoop' is a metal frame with a plastic covering that can be raised or lowered on each side. It keeps plants a bit warmer and protects them from the wind, so you can put your young plants in the ground a few weeks earlier and not have to worry about them being damaged from early spring frosts. It also means that he'll have tomatoes ready to eat about 2-4 weeks earlier this year.

My friend Jess Piskor from the Deli has been working with Alex on the farm on a part time basis- he helped install the hoop structure (which wasn't as easy as it seems), and by the end of the day on Tuesday helped get several hundred tomato plants in the ground.

Talking with Mark and Alex is always facinating in that they're so knowledgable about how it all ties together. For example, they started the season by putting down a 'green manure' which has several different plant seeds mixed in. Two of which are legumes (but no the bean producing type), which draw nitrogen up from the soil. The nitrogen stays attached to the plants root structure, and after tilling and preping the lot for planting, provides essential nutrients that the plants will need. In most commercial farming operations, nitrogen and other nutrients are applied topically, since the soil is so stripped from lack of plant diversity.

The Oprah Effect

Tomorrow will be the first airing of the Oprah episode in which Zingerman's will be featured. We're all bracing for the "Oprah Effect"- our site has been upgraded to a larger server and we'll be 'all-hands-on-deck' for the next couple of days, most likely tackling a ton of phone calls and questions about a certain sandwich that has never received much attention before.

The whole ordeal ititally sprung from an article about great sandwiches in America in Esquire Magazine. Not long after, we got a call from Oprah's offices and her best friend Gayle came (with camera crew) to film a segment in the Deli, featuring the #97 Lisa C's Boisterous Brisket. The story behind the sandwich is totally in line with the sense of humor that prevails at the deli.

"Lisa C = Lisa Cyrocki (pronounced 'sir-rock-y), worked in the Sales & Service department at Zingerman's Deli for a few years, and even put in a couple of years with Zingerman's Mail Order. Lisa is actually a vegetarian, so when the sandwich was invented by former Deli Chef Thad Gillis, it was sort of a joke to name it after Lisa...not only did she not eat the sandwich, she is rather quiet and reserved and not exactly "boisterous."

It's beef brisket that has been dry rubbed with a bunch of spices and then marinated in a red wine vinegar & water mix for 24 hours, then braised and slathered with BBQ sauce. It's served (1/2# per order) on a challah bun with a side of baked beans. As of today I've never tried one, since bbq on challah in the middle of the day=food coma, which is not condusive to getting much done.

I'm very curious to see how it affects business. There have been a few articles about what happens to businesses after being mentioned on her show:

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Kentucky Derby

The famous horse races in Kentucky occured yesterday afternoon, and once again Mr. Ferrel's yearly party featuring big hats and mint juleps filled his small apartment to it's maximum capacity. The mint juleps were great but dangerous- muddled mint with sugar and copious amounts of Jim Beam, poured over ice. Thomas commented that 'the more you drink, the less strong they seem' and he was dead on, but what put me over the edge was the champagne that followed. The photos say it all...

And who knew that cured ham rolled around peanuts could be so delicious!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Pad Thai dinner (and recipe!)

Last night I had some friends over for dinner. We had-

Vietnamese vegetable rolls, which we made at the table
Pad Thai
Magic Hat #9, an 'almost pale ale'
Ciao Bella's Blood Orange Sorbet.

Peanuts have been my muse lately. I thought of pad thai and how it's the one dish that tells me more than any other in a new thai restaurant- it's always a good gague of how good the kitchen is. I also have been craving fresh Vietnamese-style vegetable rolls, since we're just approaching warmer weather and better produce. Stewing season is offically over until November!

I found several You-Tube videos showing the process of making the rolls, the best of which is here:
We ended up using thinly shaved carrots, purple basil, spinach, cilantro, thin rice noodles, shrimp (well, everyone but me), hoisin sauce and peanuts. I think I may have a new obession with those rolls- so fresh and simple, and the flavor lingers nicely on the palate.

For the Pad Thai, several months ago I stumbled upon a really solid recipe and the results were quite satisfying. I love the tangy flavor of tamarind so I increased it a bit, and used a bit less garlic than the recipe called for but you wouldn't have known it was missing. The beer had a nice fruity-ness that worked well with the heat of the noodles. I suspect there could be a better pairing out there, but this one was unique and delicious.

And of course, Ciao Bella's blood orange sorbet is the best I've come across- not too sweet, not too acidic and a perfectly refreshing close to the night.

Pad Thai (vegetarian)
Y: 4-6 servings

12oz dried flat rice noodles, 1/4" wide, called 'pad thai' or 'banh pho'
3T tamarind from a pliable block
1c boiling hot water
1/2c soy sauce
1/4c brown sugar (packed)
2T Sriracha (southeast asian chili sauce)
1t garam marsala (anchovy oil)
4 lg. shallots, cut crosswise into very thin slices
1 pkg firm tofu (14-16 oz), cut into cubes and rest on paper towels to remove excess moisture.
1 1/2c peanut or vegetable oil
6 eggs, lightly beaten with a 1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 bunch scallions, cut into 2" piecces and halved
1 garlic clove finely chopped (or more, if you'd like- the original recipe called for 4)
2c thick bean sprouts (1/4 lb)

For the garnish:
-1/2 cup or more of roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped- if you can find 'em, spanish peanuts are the best, but be sure to remove the skins after roasting
-lime wedges

Soak the noodles in a large bowl of warm water until softened, about 25-30 minutes. Drain them well and leave them in the colander and cover them up with a dampened paper towel.

Meanwhile, make your saucce by soaking the tamarind pulp in the boiling-hot water in a small bowl. Stir it occasionally until softened, which should take about 5 minutes.

Force the tamarind pulp and water through a sieve and discard the seeds and fibers. To this, add your soy sauce, brown sugar and Sriracha and stir until the sugar is disolved.

Heat the oil in a wok over medium heat until hot- be sure to have a plate with a papertowel on it nearby. Fry half of the shallots over medium-low heat, stirring frequently until golden brown. This will take about 8-12 minutes, with most of the browning occuring in the last minute or two. Using a slotted spoon, transfer them onto the paper towel and allow them to cool- they will get nice and crispy as they cool.

Carefully strain the hot oil to remove any extra bits and set it aside. Give your wok a good wipe with a paper towel, and pour the shallot-infused oil back in. Return the heat to medium.

The next step is frying the tofu, which should be done in two batches to ensure even browning. When the oil is hot- test it with a stray cube of tofu- if it rises back to the surface within 5 seconds, then you're ready- add half of the tofu and fry it, occasionally turning it gently, until golden, which should take about 5-8 minutes. Transfer the fried tofu to paper towels using a slotted spoon, and repeat the process until it's all done.

Carefull strain the hot oil again, and give the wok a good wipe.

To fry the eggs, add 2T of the shallot-infused oil back to the wok and heat it over high heat until it shimmers. Carefully pour in the eggs and swirl to coat the sides of the wok. Then allow them to cook, stirring gently with a spatula, until cooked through. Break them into chunks with a spatula and transfer them to a plate.

Again, give your wok a good wipe, and set the heat to high. When it's hot enough to instantly evaporate a drop of water, add 6T of the shallot-infused oil and swirl it around to coat the sides of the wok. Stir-fry the scallions, garlic, and remaning uncooked shallots until softened, which should take about 1 minute.

Add the noodles and stir-fry, lowering the heat to medium. It helps to use two spatulas at this point to move the noodles around. After 3 minutes, add the tofu, bean sprouts and 1 1/2cups of the sauce. Redue the heat to a simmer and turn the noodles over to absorb the sauce evenly. After about 2 minutes they should be tender and ready. Stir in additional sauce if desired. Add the eggs. Transfer the whole lot to a large, shallow serving dish.

Sprinkle with peanuts and fried shallots, and serve it with lime wedges, cilantro sprigs and Sriracha.