Posted in Nerd Adventures

June 22 is National Chocolate Eclair Day

Love an excuse to eat an eclair!!

Foodimentary - National Food Holidays

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It is the perfect time to indulge in this creamy and yummy treat!

Today’s 5 facts about the Chocolate Eclair:

  1. An éclair is an oblong pastry made with choux dough filled with a cream and topped with icing.
  2.  In French, “éclair” the dessert may have gotten its name from the “flash” of frosting that glistens across its top.
  3. When baking the perfect chocolate éclair, sufficient steam is essential to the construction of the inner cavern that will be filled with vanilla cream.
  4. MasterChef India pastry experts spent three days constructing a 26 foot tall chocolate éclair pyramid in 2010, taking the world record, according to Limca.
  5. The éclair originated during the 19th century in France. It was called “pain à la duchesse” or “petite duchesse” until 1850.

Today’s Food History

  • 1633 Galileo was forced by the Inquisition in Rome to renounce his theory that the Earth revolved around the Sun.
  • 1847 Supposedly, Hanson Crockett Gregory, of Rockport…

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Posted in Food Facts, Nerd Adventures

3 “Exotic” Ingredients to Jazz Up Your Kitchen

Falling into that same ole’ cooking funk? Or just intimidated or too lazy to try new things? Sounds about right. In cooking, just as in life, we tend to find our comfort zone and stick to it.  But just as hearing a new song or trying a new activity refreshes our world, new ingredients can make you all the more excited to get busy in your kitchen.

So, without further a do, three ingredients that will add a new thrill to your cooking:

Colatura: Italian fermented Anchovy liquid. Sounds a bit odd perhaps, but think of it as fancy fish sauce, though calling it such would be doing it an injustice.  Several years ago, at a food show in Parma, Italy, I discovered colatura. I had heard of it on occasion in the States. Lidia Bastianich famously called it her secret ingredient, but I never quite understood it’s appeal. But then, at Cibus, in a small booth, I tasted it.  Simply tossed with some pasta, crushed garlic and chili flakes, the colatura came to life and it all became so clear.  Just one drop of this amber liquid completely transformed the pasta before me into a bowl of umami, salty goodness. And just like that I was hooked.

A few months later, I made my way down to Cetara, a small town on the Amalfi coast, where colatura is produced to see how it was made. Cetara, not surprisingly, is known for it’s anchovies.  During the summer, at night, the fishermen go out and catch baskets full of anchovies. While some are used fresh-( I love fresh anchovies! Fried or tossed into pasta, they are delicious and a rarity!) Others are salted and packed either in oil or salt to be consumed whole, but the lucky ones are salted and packed into wooden barrels and then pressed. After months pass, usually in December, they make a whole in the barrel and the beautiful amber liquid that is colatura slowly drips out.

Colatura can now be pretty commonly found in specialty food stores and higher end supermarkets. It’s not cheap, but a tiny drop goes a LONG way and it lasts forever. The two main brands you can find in the States from Cetara are Delfino and Nettuno (of the two I prefer Nettuno, but it’s harder to find.) You can find Nettuno at TheGastroStore.

I mainly use colatura in pasta dishes, just as Gennaro did: a little spaghetti, colatura, olive oil, crushed garlic and some chili flakes and it is magnificent and SO easy. Colatura elevates many pasta sauces, obviously ones that go with seafood, but also works wonders on lighter, vegetable based ones. It really helps make all those flavors pop. It also works great in certain salad dressings, fish or meat marinades or even with mayo as a dip. If I’m ever making something and think, this could use a little umami with a salty, slightly fishy kick, I just add some colatura.  And like I said, a little goes a long way!

Yuzu: Asian citrus. A cross between a mandarin orange and a grapefruit.  An ugly fruit,but yields the most incredible juice. It’s difficult to explain other than saying it’s like a lemon-lime explosion of otherworldliness. I would say it’s umami, but I can’t verify that it is.  (Yes I’ve been using that word a lot because adding umami rich foods lead to better resulting dishes- Umami means mouthfeel and makes a dish better balanced.)

Unlike other citrus, you do not eat the flesh of yuzu.  The juice, however, can be used pretty much anywhere you might use a lemon or lime. I love yuzu in salad dressings, marinades for meat and especially fish, and in drinks & cocktails. It is especially exquisite over raw fish. Buy some super fresh fluke, slice it thin and drizzle a little yuzu with honey and salt. Oo baby now we are talking!

Yuzu also takes other forms, notably yuzu kosho, a spicy Japanese sauce made from green or yellow yuzu zest, green or red chili peppers, and salt.  Use yuzu kosho with some fresh herbs or miso and it makes for a great sauce or “pesto” for grilled seafood and fish. Yuzu and yuzu kosho is found in Asian specialty stores, but also online at TheGastroStore.

Ginger: Root. Fresh. Here’s one you might be familiar with but intimidated to use. First of all, ginger is not exclusively for Asian dishes. It thrives in them, but is not limited to them. I love putting ginger in my salad dressings, smoothies, tea, sauces and stir fries.  Ginger has a big distinct, spicy flavor and is very versatile: you can grate it, slice it, chop it, eat it raw or cooked, sauteed or steamed.  You can find ginger in most supermarkets or at TheGastroStore.  I generally peel ginger with a regular vegetable peeler. Some people say to use a spoon or pairing knife, but I find the peeler easiest and most convenient. Your call.

Smoothies & tea: Ginger is so good for, especially your tummy. Eating it raw is best for its nutritional benefits. When I throw ginger into a smoothie, the flavor is intense enough that I can throw in all the kale and spinach I want and not even taste it. (Sorry kids I don’t like the taste of liquid greens.) As for tea, throw a knob of ginger with some lemon rind and rosemary or just by itself and voilia tasty and caffeine free!

Salad Dressings: grate some ginger to spice up any ole salad dressing. Naturally the ginger lends itself well to Asian dressings: garlic, ginger, honey, soy, rice wine vinegar and oil and of course my favorite: Orange Carrot Ginger. Recipes to come but just know it’s orange juice, carrot, ginger, shallot, rice wine vinegar, and oil.

Sauces: Yes almost all Asian sauces apply, but have you ever made bbq sauce with ginger? Wow. Big flavor and it really adds a lil’ something else. It’s as simple as adding ginger to an existing bbq sauce or making your own.  I love sauces that feature orange and grated ginger and lots of garlic. The combinations are endless.

Steaming or Poaching: For fish especially, add some ginger to your cooking liquid to add a wonderful aromatic element or put some ginger on top of a piece of fish (you can add other aromatics here too i.e. garlic, scallions, thyme, cilantro ecc) and wrap it in foil and bake or steam. Just a few ideas to start!

Happy Cooking!

Posted in Nerd Adventures

Anguila: Snapper for Everyone!

“Snapper for Everyone!”  That was the motto of this past family vacation. And what more could a girl ask for on her 27th birthday? Like a pregnant woman craving chocolate and pickles, during my week in Anguila, I wanted nothing but snapper! The trip to Anguila was a beloved birthday gift from my parents.  And together, with my little brother (mind you he’s 23 and single ladies) we spent a glorious week on its Caribbean beaches.

Often times beach vacations come at a cost: crappy food. But this was far from the case on this small island. In addition to the most beautiful beaches (I still dream about that white silky sand), Anguila offers a diverse and delicious array of culinary treats. The culinary arena is split between the high-end mainly hotel based restaurants and low-key local spots.

wpid-20150404_143532.jpgOn the low key end of the gastronomical spectrum, Caribbean cuisine reigns supreme. If you don’t like seafood, well, don’t bother.  With the exception of the local goat, which wasn’t a real favorite to be honest, local fish and crustaceans dominate, especially snapper and crayfish. Crayfish, not to be confused with crawfish, is like a small lobster or I suppose a Caribbean langoustine.  It is sweet and tender and unique to Anguila (at least that’s what they told me!)  This past week, in honor of Easter, there was a big seafood festival on the island.  Reggae music blasted as locals cooked up Caribbean lobsters, mahi-mahi, parrot fish, crayfish, snapper, conch and more.

Me eating the crab
Me eating the crab

It was like the Little Mermaid’s nightmare, but oh so delicious for us land folk.  I saw one happy woman go to town on what was easily the largest lobster I have even seen.  She was also not shy on the garlic butter sauce. Oh dear.  My favorite find was an unassuming stuffed crab. Inside the hollowed out body was a rich, spicy warm crab salad. It was so good, I had to go back for a second.

Mahi Mahi Skewer
Mahi Skewers

On the other end of Anguila’s culinary offerings are the high-end, predominately hotel based restaurants. For such a small island, a surprising amount of star-studded chefs have made it down and set up shop.  Veterans of Le Bernadin, Jean-Georges and more have taken over the hotel restaurants.  Normally my family and I avoid eating at hotels because they are usually rip offs with mediocre food at best. But this was not the case at the four restaurants we tried. At the Malliouhana Resort we had perfectly cooked skewers of Mahi-Mahi over quinoa with apricots, almonds and peppers, finished with a mint and yogurt sauce.

Spring Rolls
Spring Rolls

At the Straw Hat at Frangipane, we shared caribbean lobster and crayfish spring rolls and perfectly grilled crayfish. (We LOVE CRAYFISH). Our favorite of our meals were the last two at our hotel Cuisinart.  The first was at Italia, where Chef Massimo (who barely spoke a word of English) put out classic Italian fare. There was nothing new or innovative about any of the dishes.  They were just simply well executed, a relative rarity among Italian restaurants.

Gyoza
Gyoza

Our second and last night was at Tokyo Bay. Tokyo Bay was as good as any Asian Fusion restaurant I’ve been to in New York. The eggplant gyoza were unexpectedly delightful. The tuna with crispy rice- perfect.

Culinary talent aside, Cuisinart had one major factor that enabled it to up it’s game: a hydroponic farm. Yep, Cuisinart has it’s own hydroponic farm.  It is incredible! And that farm produces some of the best cherry tomatoes I have ever had in my life! O the things I could do with those tomatoes.  Needless to say, I consumed a quart of them each day and may have smuggled a pint or two back with me the US.

Overall I highly recommend Anguila as a vacation destination. The beaches and the food certainly make it a dream trip. I hope to make it back next year!

Posted in Nerd Adventures

2015 GastroResolutions:

New Year’s Resolutions often are full of restrictive or unpleasant goals. Cut out the carbs, eat less fried food, exercise more and so on.

This year, let’s focus less on your waist line and more on some good ole’ hedonism to feed the soul. Ok maybe not hedonism, but a grand scavenger hunt to make you a better, happier you. And maybe, just maybe you might help a few others out in the process.

Here it is, your top ten 2015 GastroResolutions:

1. Master a dish you’ve always found intimidating

For me: 2013 Paella. 2014 Duck Confit. Pick something you love and want to add to your repertoire. The “ooo’ing” and “ahh-ing” at dinner parties never hurts as a result. 2015 what shall you bring?

Seafood Paella
Seafood Paella

2. Create a signature dish

Of course mastering a classic or well established dish is a must, but take it from someone with little to no inherited dishes, it’s nice to create something you can own as yours and then, sigh, pass it down to future generations.  It could be a muffin or pasta or whatever you find yourself making all time. It helps to use recipes as references or for inspiration (and it’s not cheating.) For example, in 2014, inspired by Ottolenghi’s “Chicken with Clementines,” I devised my own “Rosemary, Orange & Current Chicken”. Recipe to come…

3. Take advantage of happy hours

Mermaid Inn Happy Hour

Perhaps you already do this. But many of us do not. This is not to say you should be an alcoholic earlier on in the day, but try out new bars and even better restaurants featuring happy hour deals. Often times this is a great way to get a non-committal taste of a restaurant with a delightful cocktail to boot! I went to the well-known Mermaid Inn this week. Shrimp & Avocado sliders and $7 drinks? Yes please.

4. Go to hip craft beer and whisky bars that feature trivia that could end up paying for your tab

This one might sound very specific because it is, but there are lot’s of bars out there with trivia nights and rewarding ones. I went to Fool’s Gold a few weeks ago and my friends and I won trivia and a whopping $50 towards our bill! Not too shabby, no? The point, however, is more that trivia is fun and you should hit some places that feature them more often and if you get to try an array of craft beers and very tasty whisky as well, then you’re just winning all around.

5. Go to more farmer’s markets

I know it’s cold now, but farmers are still setting up shop. Don’t wait till the spring and summer like everyone else, and start supporting your local farmers now! Union Square Market is open all winter long. I got some great horseradish mustard and eggs on Monday. You can too!

Union Square
Union Square

6. Bond with a supplier or farmer at a local farmer’s market

This task requires dedication, but when accomplished you become part of a beautifully community. Totally worth it.

7. Throw more dinner parties or potlucks (and feature your newly mastered dish and signature dish)

If you like to cook and are good at it great. If not don’t worry! You don’t have to be a cook to throw a fun dinner party, I’m pretty sure it’s why they invented potlucks. Eating out is fun, but dinner parties are always more intimate and warm. I also find they are becoming a relic of the past, so keep up the tradition! And you can try out your new dishes on your guests…

8. Create a signature cocktail and try to make it a thing

My 2014 was the Lexington Leigh. Tequila, grapefruit juice, lime juice & simple syrup.  Every time I’m out I order it and then refer to it as the Lexington Leigh. I’m pretty sure the name is sticking.

9. Throw a cocktail party and feature your new signature cocktail

Great way to promote that new drink? Have a party and serve it to everyone.

10. Get your GastroNerd on more hard core and join our book club!

Along with all of the above, my GastroResolution is to start a book club featuring enlightening and engaging works about food. You have seen a few reviews in the past. I am always looking for new suggestions and feedback, so let me know! My next read is rereading 97 Orchard. Stay tuned and Happy New Year!