More Wisdom from Joan Nathan – Review: King Solomon’s Table

In her last book, Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France, Joan Nathan discovered the breadth of international influences on the cooking of one ethnic group in one country.  Now, she has expanded her range to include the entire world.

Joni Sesma Assists Joan Nathan with a Demo at the Gaithersburg Book Festival

Joni Sesma Assists Joan Nathan with a Demo at the Gaithersburg Book Festival

Joan Poses with a Fan at a Signing at Moti's Market

Joan Poses with a Fan at a Signing at Moti’s Market

In King Solomon’s Table: A Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World, she searches out dishes that have been cooked by members of the Diaspora for hundreds (even thousands) of years, many using ingredients that could have been brought to ancient Israel by the bevy of wives that famous monarch married to cement alliances – by some counts, seven hundred wives and three hundred mistresses!

Not only did the spices come in by marriage, but the king fed his other appetites by sending traders to the ends of the known world, bringing materials to build his great Temple and enriching the lives of his subjects with the imported products.

And, centuries later, after the Babylonian exile and return, when the Romans forced the Jews to disperse, they took those foodways with them.  Across the miles and years, the exiles adapted their food to local ingredients, always constrained by the rules of kashrut: one may eat only cloven-hoofed animals that chew their cud; no shellfish allowed; and cooks must separate milk-based dishes from meat.

Before we reach the wide-ranging treasury of recipes, there is a fascinating history of the Jews and their food, beginning with Babylonian cuneiform tablets from 1700 BCE, the earliest known recorded recipes.  Alas, Joan does not transcribe any of these for us, but she does include a reference in the book’s extensive bibliography.

And those recipes, how cookable are they?  Very, for she has adapted them for modern methods, and includes suggestions for substitutions.  Each one includes a story about its source and a description of how she has changed it, if necessary.  As they are grouped by conventional categories (Morning, Starters, Salads, Soups, etc.), the temporal and geographic threads of history are obscured, and dishes from various continents and centuries are bunched up together.  Still, each sounds tastier than the next.  It was hard to decide what to try, but my method devolved to the following: I went with what I happened to have on hand.

I had a little sample bottle of argan oil, and the recipe for “Green Salad with Baby Lettuce, Flowers, and an Argan Oil Dressing with Shallots” was just the thing.  I discovered that argan oil has a delicious, nutty taste that come through in the dressing, even mixed with olive oil, rice vinegar, and garlic; and, bonus, it emulsifies immediately and doesn’t separate (at least for the short while between mixing and dressing).

“Tunisian Carrot Salad with Cumin, Coriander, and Caraway” was delicious up until the addition of the harissa, which made it hot, hot, hot!  So, caveat eater.

Carrots, Harissa on the Side

Carrots, Harissa on the Side

No such warning need be given for the “Couscous con le Sarde: Sardines with Fennel, Onions, Currents and Pine Nuts over Couscous,” which I made with flounder, following Joan’s suggestion to substitute whitefish for the sardines.  I found this made the dish a little bland, but adding more lemon juice and salt perked it up.

Couscous Sans le Sarde

Couscous Sans le Sarde

The best dish I tried was the “Indian Chicken with Cardamom, Cumin, and Cilantro.”  I was delighted to discover that I had all of the 14 herbs and spices called for in my pantry, refrigerator or garden, and here’s a picture of some of them:

Indian Chicken Spices

Indian Chicken Spices

Ready the Condiments!

Ready the Condiments!

It was delicious, and well worth the trouble to get them all together.

And now for the quibble: the book weights 3 1/2 pounds. You need a cookbook holder to prop it up, and some of the recipes suffer from DOT (Dreaded Overleaf Transgression), which would make it No Fun to try to cook them while flipping the pages.

But this is a small price to pay for the stories, recipes and vision of a people surviving, deliciously, for thousands of years.

King Solomon’s Table: A Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World, by Joan Nathan, Knopf, New York, 2017.

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Into the Wild Garlic Yonder

Way out on the outskirts of Olney, behind an unassuming, suburban house, lurks a vampire’s worst nightmare: the backyard garden of Jim and Mary Nupp, the demon garlic-growers of Brookeville.

Debbie Amster, one of our favorite farmers market demo chefs, and a holistic health counselor, introduced me to her friends and suppliers.  Is there a healthier food than garlic?   I was invited out to the farm for a tour during scape season.  When the new crop of heads is harvested (September 3), there will be a garlic cooking demo at OFAM.

We went out there on the one rare clear day during a week of Spring rain.  Going though the house, we were greeted with the unmistakable odor of the stinking rose.  Mary had warmed up some garlic butter for us to sample.  To say that she chops up garlic and melts a stick of butter would be to oversimplify the process by which she arrived at the ideal mix of garlic varieties for this recipe.

Jim with Pictures of his Garlic Process

Jim with Pictures of his Garlic Process

Mary Bashing Garlic with the Twist

Mary Bashing Garlic with the Twist

Jim and Mary have done a lot of work to determine the best varieties, from the 10-12 Jim grows, for each of the applications they have developed.  They sell many products at two garlic shows they attend each year.  Raw dried granulated garlic is their most popular item, but Mary has developed a line of jewelry using dried cloves that is essential for the garlic enthusiast on your holiday gift list.  Also, garlic turkeys, angels, and pumpkins.

Mary's Garlic Handicrafts

Mary’s Garlic Handicrafts

They also sell a nifty gadget called the Garlic Twist, essential for the chef who wants to keep that smell off his/her fingers.  It will produce perfectly minced garlic without the touch of human hands.

Jim is versed in garlic’s history and cultivation.  A milestone in the modern American garlic era occurred in the early 1990’s, with the opening of the Iron Curtain and the release of hundreds of Soviet-cultivated varieties to the West.  The US Department of Agriculture checked the DNA of many varieties, and now Jim is raising garlic labeled Romanian Red and (my personal favorite name) Transylvanian, in addition to Xi’an, Kettle River Giant, Red Janice, and Bull.

The Garlic, Seen From the Porch

The Garlic, Seen From the Porch

And In Closeup

And In Closeup

Transylvanian: Vampires Beware!

Transylvanian: Vampires Beware!

A Box of Scapes

A Box of Scapes

His garlic plot was green with new shoots and scapes.  The scapes are the flower stalks, which must be trimmed off so the plant will concentrate its energy in growing the bulbs.  Farmers used to throw them on the compost heap or keep them for themselves, but lately they have been recognized as a tasty Spring vegetable in their own right.  They have a mild garlic flavor, and can be cooked or eaten raw, wherever you would use bulb garlic or another allium.

Chives, Just a Sideline

Chives, Just a Sideline

And speaking of alliums, a patch of chives near the house yields chive vinegar from Mary’s versatile kitchen.  What else might be in store on September 3?  I can’t wait to find out!

 

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Two Queens, The Governor, and Soft-Shelled Crabs: The 2016 Governor’s Maryland Buy-Local Cookout

Once again, the 2016 Governor’s Cookout was the place to be for the finest interpretations of our amazing local ingredients.  Even the July evening was temperate for the time of year.

There were opportunities to schmooze with interesting characters and eat really good food.  This event is held annually to promote our terrific Chesapeake-area products.  There are old friends, and surprises, every time.

Eating and Schmoozing

Eating and Schmoozing

Governor Hogan took the occasion to issue a Proclamation.

The Secretary of Agriculture, Joe Bartenfelder, and Gov. Hogan Proclaim

The Secretary of Agriculture, Joe Bartenfelder, and Gov. Hogan Proclaim

With Yumi Hogan

With Yumi Hogan

Afterwards, there were selfies.

Smile, Governor!

Smile, Governor!

I saw two Queens in the crowd – Miss Maryland Agriculture and the Mar-Del Watermelon Queen.  The MDWQ had an appropriate fashion accessory.

Two Queens Pose

Two Queens Pose

I heard a rumor that the Maryland Dairy Princess was also there, but I didn’t see her.  There were many other interesting folks, however.  Foremost among them was the Bee Lady.

Talking About Bees,and Offering Tastes of Honey

Talking About Bees,and Offering Tastes of Honey

Sue Langley, a member of the Maryland State Beekeepers Association, cares for the hives sited on the Government House grounds.  The honey produced was used in a dessert served at the tent hosted by none other than the Governor’s wife, Yumi.  Also featured: her famous bulgogi.

Yumi Hogan (r) at Government House Tent

Yumi Hogan (r) at Government House Tent

Dessert with Government House Honey

Dessert with Government House Honey

Ms. Langley had a good view of the action.

View From the Bee Table

View From the Bee Table

For other local color, the Naval Academy was represented by Ensign Wiechec.

Mr. Wiechec Represents

Ensign Wiechec Represents

There was a guy with a tea towel on his back – and not one of Maryland, either!

Where's His Maryland Pride?

Where’s His Maryland Pride?

Luckily, the other patrons and vendors had plenty of Maryland spirit to go around – for instance,  Chad Sargent and his helper, of Chad’s BBQ in Edgewater.  His motto: “Good barbecue comes from experience, and experience, well, that comes from poor barbecue.”

State Pride on Display

State Pride on Display

There were tables full of Maryland wine, and tables full of Maryland spirits (the alcoholic kind).  In fact, there has been explosive growth in local distilleries lately (there’s a post coming about that – stay tuned).

Also, there was watermelon art.

Watermelon With State Pride

Watermelon With State Pride

As for the food on offer, it was the usual excellent use of local products.  My favorites were the oysters and the soft-shell crabs, although everything else was so good, it was hard to choose.

Shucking Oysters

Galway Bay Crew Shucking Oysters

Oyster Still Life

Oyster Still Life

Pat Mahoney of Wild Country Seafood and George Betz of Boatyard Bar and Grill

Pat Mahoney of Wild Country Seafood and George Betz of Boatyard Bar and Grill

Close-Up on the Soft Shell BLT

Close-Up on the Soft Shell BLT

Black Bottom Farms, of Galena (where is that? in Kent County, on the Eastern Shore), had a display of beautiful exotic mushrooms.

Totally Photogenic Mushrooms

Totally Photogenic Mushrooms

Each year, the Maryland Department of Agriculture produces a cookbook with the recipes featured at this event.  You can find it here.

 

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Old Friends and New at the 2016 Summer Fancy Food Show, Part 3: Party Hardy

And for the last word on the Summer Fancy Food Show, a report on the fabulous cruise party thrown for Urbani Truffles’ Annual Celebration.  It topped last year’s party, and that’s saying a lot!

We Ubered down to the pier where the boat was docked and were welcomed aboard.  An array of appetizer stations greeted us.  A roast was being carved, which we were invited to enjoy with an array of Urbani’s truffle-incorporating condiments.

Urbani Truffle Condiments

Urbani Truffle Condiments

There was truffle-scented radiatore.

Radiatore Station

Radiatore Station

There was a mozzarella bar, and a porchetta bar (the buffalo was involved, but the pig was committed).

Porchetta, Please!

Porchetta, Please!

There was a truffled pizza station, but best of all was the risotto, being freshly cooked as we watched and topped with shaved truffles.  The line there was long, so we decided to wait for awhile.

Truffles Over Risotto

Truffles Over Risotto

And were glad that we did, because after the ceremonial opening of the Calvisius caviar tin, we indulged in possibly the most decadent plate imaginable: truffle risotto garnished with caviar.

Cracking the Caviar Tin

Cracking the Caviar Tin

 

Also, there was sparkling wine. Ca’ del Bosco’s Franciacorta stood in nicely for that French stuff.

Italian Bubbly

Italian Bubbly

All the while, there was music, dancing, and the New York harbor passing by for our delectation.  Also, very attractive people enjoying themselves, many of them Italian.

The Seats on the Stern

The Seats on the Stern

The Crowd Inside

The Crowd Outside

And Inside

And Inside

Selfies on Deck

Selfies on Deck

And With Miss Liberty

And With Miss Liberty

Even a little rain did not deter those who would dance in it.

In the Rain

In the Rain

At the photo booth, I found Olga Urbani mugging in a very fetching new hat.

Olga on the Left, With Besties

Olga on the Left, With Besties

And a wonderful jazz band playing for those who wished to stay dry.

Mellow and Dry

Mellow and Dry

The Urbani truffle company is the oldest in the world, founded in 1852.  It is still family owned, and continues to produce innovative products using truffles, perhaps the fanciest of foods.  And they do know how to throw a party!

 

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Old Friends and New at the 2016 Summer Fancy Food Show, Part 2: Ham Obsession

This year, I decided to undertake a photo-essay of the many legs of cured pork being carefully slivered in the cause of delicious.  I didn’t come close to capturing them all, but I made a dent.

Here was a Jamon de Bellota,

Have a Taste? Sure!

Have a Taste? Sure!

There was a ham from France,

Tres Bien!

Tres Bien!

Here was Jamón Ibérico,

Nicely Carved

Nicely Carved

And another from Spain.

Pride of Place

Pride of Place

And another from France.

Just a Small Taste

Just a Small Taste

And another from Spain!

Ole!

Ole!

And, for a change, one from Portugal.

(I Don't Know any Portuguese)

(I Don’t Know any Portuguese)

And Spanish COVAP Iberico de Bellota, proving you don’t have to be a man to slice a ham.

Equal Opportunity Pork

Equal Opportunity Pig

And … wait… really?  Porky Barbie?

Take That, Lady Gaga!

Take That, Lady Gaga!

Well, it does get your attention.  But, still, it’s a bit much – or maybe I had had enough ham by then?  Is there such a thing?

Next: Part 3: Fabulous Party Cruise

 

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Old Friends and New at the 2016 Summer Fancy Food Show, Part 1: Tunisia and Other Countries

Another terrific tour of the world’s food and drink in New York!  Unfortunately, we could only stay for two days this year.  It was enough to get a smattering of the best goods on offer. Tunisia was the partner country for the 2016 show, and they were delighted to show us what great food (and other things) they produce.

At the opening press reception, we learned that Tunisia is second in the world in olive oil production, and the first in export quantity.  They have great chefs, too!

A Trio of Tunisian Chefs

A Trio of Tunisian Chefs

Chef Franco Lania and Delicious Bites Made With Olive Oil

Chef Franco Lania and Delicious Bites Made With Olive Oil

Tunisian Native Dress on the Exhibit Floor

Tunisian Native Dress on the Exhibit Floor

A Fragrant Spice Display

A Fragrant Spice Display

And they have exported at least one very tall person.  He is Salah Mejri, a basketball player, a member of the Dallas Mavericks.

Musicians and Salah Mejri

Musicians and Salah Mejri

 

He was introduced to great applause.  I guess if you follow basketball, you know who he is.

On the exhibit floor, the Italian pavilion was endless, as it is every year.  There was pasta being cooked,

Italian Chef

and seemingly falling from the sky.

Raining Pasta!

Raining Pasta!

Scotland’s pavilion exhibited products from the sublime

Scottish Sublime Salmon

Scottish Sublime Salmon

to what a non-Scot might call ridiculous.

Haggis Flavored Crisps

Haggis Flavored Crisps

Honestly, haggis-flavored chips? But they made up for it with the excellent Thistly Cross brand hard cider.  The elderflower flavor is especially nice.

There was a chocolatier demonstrating his technique at Casa Luker

A Delicious Craft

A Delicious Craft

and Bob Moore of Bob’s Red Mill was doing his thing, signing books and posing with fans.  Count me as one!

Bob and Fan

Bob and Fan

The Moroccan pavilion introduced a video feed of their chefs from a unique vantage point: top down.

Moroccan Chefs at Floor Level

Moroccan Chefs at Floor Level

And Top Down

And Top Down

Along with their delicious food, the tea server was there to dispense traditional hospitality.

Tea? Yes, Please!

Tea? Yes, Please!

And at the Urbani Truffles booth, the Italian cookbook author Francine Segan extolled a line of truffled sauces.  I was flattered that she remembered the last time we met.   The pasta dish was a little preview of the fabulous party cruise Urbani sponsored that night.  Stay tuned for my post on that!

Francine Segan Stirs Pasta

Francine Segan Stirs Pasta

Next: Part 2: Ham Obsession

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Is There Such A Thing As Too Much Chocolate? Part 3: Far Afield

And the final outstanding chocolate event of 2016 was our visit to the Askinosie chocolate factory in Springfield, MO, on the way to Kansas City.  If you look up “artisan chocolate maker” in the dictionary, Shawn Askinosie’s picture should be there.  An erstwhile lawyer, he reinvented himself after schooling in the Amazon rain forest and an Ecuadorian chocolate factory.

Housed in a repurposed commercial building in the old downtown area (with a Little Free Library outside), the factory had shut down production for the day when we arrived for our tour.  The retail sales area held a display of all of Askinosie’s products, with detailed tasting notes and the promise of samples after the tour.

Outside Askinosie

Outside Askinosie

Bars On Display

Bars On Display

But first, even though there was no chocolate being manufactured at the moment (a big disappointment for yours truly), hairnets were required to enter the factory area.  Some of us were unsure about that at first.

"What IS That, Mommy?"

“What IS That, Mommy?”

But then, the opportunity to look silly on social media overcame all qualms.

Hairnet Selfies

Hairnet Selfies

During the tour, a peek into an inner room revealed that the staff took net-wearing seriously.

Beardnet

Beardnet

And our guide, Megan, made sure we were versed in all aspects of chocolate manufacture.  She explained what happened in each area of the factory.

Megan In The Factory

Megan In The Factory

She passed out chocolate nibs, so we could sample the raw material.

Nibs On Tour

Nibs On Tour

And yes, we indulged in much tasting and some purchasing at the end of the tour.  We also were schooled in the good deeds we were helping to support.  Askinosie as a company is dedicated to the welfare of its suppliers and the planet – it buys direct from growers and pays them above fair trade prices.  It uses environmentally correct packaging, “home compostable and biodegradable.”

And my, does it taste good!  We indulged in the Single Origin Dark Chocolate Bar 4 Pack.  Between the chocolate and the barbecue, Missouri was one tasty state.

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Is There Such A Thing As Too Much Chocolate? Part 2: Where The Pros Go

Chocolate event the second: Elevate Chocolate, a semiannual gathering for chocolate professionals held the day before the Fancy Food Show, by the Fine Chocolate Industry Association.  In the summer of 2016, at a hotel off Times Square, an afternoon and evening were packed with smaller table talks, a large general education session, and much tasting.

It bore a superficial resemblance to the DC Chocolate Show, but the audience was full of chefs, chocolatiers and other professionals.  The exhibits included box printers, tempering machine sellers, mold makers, puree purveyors, and source chocolate growers.

The Heirloom Tasting Crowd

The Heirloom Tasting Crowd

EC Perfect Pureejpg28

Perfect Puree Table Samples

With Tequila Infusers!

With Tequila Infusers!

There were also chances to taste the full range of a company’s single-origin products.

Oro Maya Line

Oro Maya Line

The programs? A deep dive into the factors of a successful chocolate business; the genetics of structural groups; and heirloom cacao tree preservation.  But there was plenty to fascinate a humble food writer, including two sessions on flavor profiles with cacao liquors and cacao beans.  There is a serious effort to remove the subjectivity in rating these two vital precursors to finished chocolate products.

Table Talk Leader Emily Stone (Left)

Table Talk Leader Emily Stone (Left)

Serious Cacao Rating Sheets

Serious Cacao Rating Sheets

It was interesting to contrast the approach of these professionals to the tasting session at the DC Chocolate Show.  There are dollars and careers riding on flavor nuances, affected by many variables in the varietals, cultivation, processing, storage, and transport of cacao, ergo, much more precision involved in the rating of flavor profiles.

Which brings us to the presentation from the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund.  This organization was formed to preserve endangered varieties of cacao by pushing back against environmental change, deforestation, and economic forces threatening the livelihoods of farmers and the diminishing of genetic diversity.  They conducted a sampling of chocolate made from rare and exotic heirloom trees.

Heirloom Tasting Sample

Heirloom Tasting Sample

The speakers also included Fran Bigelow of Fran’s Chocolates, founded in Seattle in 1982, and now a world-class company.   President Obama has a well-known fondness for her salted caramels.  She was one of the earliest producers of the treat in this country, and “couldn’t be more surprised” when they became wildly popular.

Fran Bigelow

Fran Bigelow

Another speaker, Clark Guittard, of the eponymous company, could be the industry’s rock star.  He’s the current FCIA president.  His badge bore 4 ribbons, the most of any: Exhibitor, Presenter, Board Member, Sponsor.

Clark Guittard (Left) At His Exhibition Table

Clark Guittard (Left) At His Exhibition Table

And then there was this guy: Brian Wallace, Founder, Maker, and Alchemist of Endorfin Foods, the archetype of an artisan chocolate maker, gave me a sample of his “Passion” – Dark Coconut-Mylk Chocolate with Ginger and Rose bar.  It was excellent: smooth, complex, changing from moment to moment as it melted in the mouth.

Bruce Wallace, Endorfin Guy

Brian Wallace, Endorfin Guy

He was attending the Elevate event, but without participating in the formal tasting.  He promised me a whole bar if I visited him at the Fancy Food Show the next day – so I did.

Two Excellent Chocolate Bars

Two Excellent Chocolate Bars

And bonus – I scored a bar of his “Turkish Coffee” – Dark Coconut-Mylk Chocolate with Coffee and Cardamon.  It’s almost as good as the Ginger and Rose bar.  I recommend them both!

Next: Is There Such A Thing As Too Much Chocolate?  Part 3: Far Afield

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Is There Such A Thing As Too Much Chocolate? Part 1: The Local Show

The short answer: No.  I have about 1,400 words around the long answer.

In 2016, three events stood out as potential chocolate overloads.  Fortunately, none managed to quell my love of the dark stuff, but not through lack of trying.

In April, the first DC Chocolate Festival took place in the Westin City Center Hotel.  (The second one is planned for April 29, 2017.)  It was organized by Marisol Slater, owner of The Chocolate House, a chocolate boutique in downtown D.C.

The day-long event held six classes, and a large ballroom filled with twenty-eight chocolate vendors.  And two features for the benefit of two excellent causes: a silent auction for D.C. Central Kitchen, and a raffle for the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund.  I hadn’t heard of the Fund before, but I became better acquainted with them at the next event (and so will you).

I sat in on two classes.  For the first, Lowe Bibby led us in a tasting of six different bars with distinct origins and styles.  Mr. Bibby has reviewed almost 1,000 chocolate bars on his site, Chocofiles, so was uniquely qualified to guide us through the subtle differences in taste.

Mr. Bibby Educates Our Palates

Mr. Bibby Educates Our Palates

He provided a score sheet to rate bars from 1 to 10 based on a long list of descriptive terms, resulting in an “enjoyment rating.”  The rating ranged from inedible through average, delightful, and heavenly, to favorite.  I wonder if any were ever rated “inedible”?  Of samples originating in places from Ecuador to Papua New Guinea, the top-rated bar on my scale was Manoa, from Hawai’i.

My second class was a chef demo: “Using Chocolate in Savory Recipes.”  Co.Co. Sala  is one of the best places in D.C. for innovative chocolate dishes, both sweet and savory.  Executive Chef Santosh Tiptur whipped up some chipotle chocolate dipping sauce, served over cheese fritters.  And, lagniappe – he supplied the recipe!

But First, A Selfie

But First, A Selfie

Sampling The Sauce

Sampling The Sauce

 

The exhibit floor presented a vista of taste possibilities.  There were big, multinational corporations (Valhrona), tiny two-person artisans (Steven Howard Chocolates, our friends from the Olney Farmers Market), and every size in between.  Many companies emphasized the unique qualities of their chocolate, and used some showmanship to stand out from the crowd.  Others just relied on taste.

Of course, the former made for better photo ops.

The View From Valhrona

The View From Valhrona

And More Sampling

And More Sampling

DC Cluziel Sardinesjpg13

Cluziel’s Chocolate Sardines

Arty Cacao Prieto

Arty Cacao Prieto

Italian Amedei

Italian Amedei

Charm School - Charming

Charm School – Charming

Steven Howard's Display

Steven Howard’s Display

 

And my purely subjective vote for the best mouthful goes to John & Kira’s whiskey ganache-stuffed figs.

Excellent Stuffed Figs

Excellent Stuffed Figs

Not only do these folks make fine chocolate (in Philadelphia, my home town), but their line includes bars and filled pieces made with flavorings grown in urban gardens, in partnership with schools and communities. They include information about their sources in their boxes and on their bars.

John & Kira's Boxed Chocolates

John & Kira’s Boxed Chocolates

They are the model of a socially and environmentally-responsible company, and they do mail order.

Next: Is There Such A Thing As Too Much Chocolate?  Part 2: Where The Pros Go

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Cookbook Review: Dinner: Changing the Game by Melissa Clark

Melissa Clark dropped by Politics and Prose last week in honor of her latest cookbook, Dinner: Changing the Game. It’s the 38th book she’s written or collaborated on.  Since her last book tour, in 2011, she’s been making videos with the New York Times, so she was relaxed and engaging in her conversation with Bonnie Benwick of the Post.

Melissa Clark and Bonnie Benwick in Conversation

Melissa Clark and Bonnie Benwick in Conversation

Melissa’s had a lot of practice putting books together, and the new one is nothing less than expected: lucid  exposition of her theme; creative combinations of protein and complementary vegetables, seasonings and condiments; beautiful illustrations (by photographer Eric Wolfinger); and no, I repeat NO, dreaded overleaf transgressions.

And there’s a reason for that:  all the recipes are intended to be simple and easy enough to throw together after the family’s busy wage-earners return from a day’s work, or after a weekend day outside the house, while remaining delicious.  And for the most part, they succeed.

There’s a little more than the collection of recipes: instructions on roasting a chicken, and a list of pantry staples to not be without.  These run to the fairly exotic for those without access to ethnic food resources (think Aleppo pepper, preserved lemons, sambal oelek), but she does give substitutions and work-arounds for many of them.

As she said during the book event, She’s not worried about “harissa in the heartland.”  Times have changed since her mother had to save up and freeze chicken livers one by one to make pate.

Many of the recipes will be familiar to those of us who have followed her column in the New York Times.  She makes the magic look easy with her offhand mastery of ingredients and methods, not to mention the ease with which she produces a new idea, or reworking of an old idea, every week.  But at the event she burst that bubble with tales of video outtakes and rushes to meet deadlines.  No, no, Melissa, let me keep believing!  And you’re still thin and pretty, too!

That said, she is guilty of a sin many Times and other cookery writers commit: she calculates the “total time” for many of the recipes to be far shorter than even an experienced cook (me) can execute, without a sous chef at their beck.  Beware, reader, if you try to produce Shrimp Banh Mi in 25 minutes, unless you start counting after you have shredded the carrots, sliced the radishes, seeded and diced the peppers (two kinds), peeled and grated the ginger, peeled the garlic, peeled, smashed and chopped the lemongrass, peeled and deveined the shrimp, and split and toasted the baguette.

And to be fair, she had a plausible explanation when I asked her about this very peeve.  “It’s the Times‘ convention to start timing the recipe after all the mise [en place] is done.” Well, OK then, but shouldn’t the home cook be warned?

As for the recipes, I cooked four: Roasted Sausage and Cauliflower (excellent, but you’ll want to double the quantity of white sauce), Fusilli and Roasted Cauliflower with Capers (you have to love capers; fortunately, we do), Winter Vegetable Hash (did not assume the promised cake-like aspect, and the quantity made was far too little to feed 4 to 6 as a main), and Butternut Squash and Red Lentil Soup (very similar to Melissa’s Times recipe subbing carrots for squash; that one said to puree only half the soup, which would IMHO improve the book’s recipe).  On the whole, minor tweaks needed to achieve perfection are not that big a problem.

Sausage and Caulifolwerjpg4

Roasted Sausage and Cauliflower

One last comment: all those pictures and heavy, glossy paper result in a book that weighs in at three and a half pounds.  If you don’t already have one, I recommend investing in a cookbook holder.

Dinner: Changing the Game

Dinner: Changing the Game

Dinner: Changing the Game, by Melissa Clark, Clarkson Potter, New York, 2017.

 

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