Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Random Shopping @ Black Cherry Market

Most people go grocery shopping with a list.  That’s pretty basic, since it tends to help ward off the sticker shock that comes with binges of impulse shopping.  And of course it’s worse when you shop hungry. But sometimes, I go list-less anyway. Like I just did on my first visit to Black Cherry Market in Salt Lake City, a store you should know about if you love condiments and other delicious surprises.

Open for about a year, this little Mediterranean market is a clean, well-lighted place with wide aisles and a really nice vibe and, no sticker shock.

Here’s some of what I ended up with – totally random, starting with two condiments.

Ararat Rose-Petal Preserves from Armenia. The frilly pink label tied over the lid of the fat little jar was irresistible. I can’t wait to try the fragrant, sugary preserves on some old-fashioned biscuits, or a croissant. Maybe with some rosé and goat cheese. 

Coriander Chutney. A staple at Indian restaurants everywhere, this seaweed green blend of cilantro leaves, green chili, ginger, coconut, lemon juice, and cumin is a condiment staple. Great on lamb burgers or alongside roasted lamb or chicken, super with a grilled steak, or swirled into hot basmati rice or into plain Greek yogurt for a really good vegetable dip.

Hearts of Palm in a jar. I know. Don’t get too excited.  But really, they are not that easy to find. The tin-can version tastes of tin. I can’t wait to make the hearts of palm salad with blood orange from The Canal House Cookbook No. 6.

Mashti Malone’s Pistachio Saffron Ice Cream (and other flavors). From the famed Mashti Malone’s at Sunset and LaBrea in LA, this is a find in Salt Lake City. Creamy, herbal and really good. 

Two pounds of plump, preservative-free, pitted Deglet Noor dates were just $6. Perfect for a party appetizer if you wrap each date in a band of prosciutto. Sizzle under a broiler for a few minutes (watching carefully), turning once with tongs. Stick a sturdy wooden toothpick in each one while they’re hot and pass them around. Sweet, salty, simple (like Devil's on Horseback, the easy version).

In search of pomegranate molasses? Black Cherry carries several brands and that link will take you to all kinds of recipes with this staple of Mediterranean cooking.  

Black Cherry also carries Halal meats and Canyon Meadows Ranch grass-fed beef from Altamont, UT. 

Told you, this was random. 

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Slide Ridge Honey Vinegar and CaCysir Honey Wine

Yes, I live in Utah, the Beehive State. You’d think that our state symbol, the beehive, might have something to do with honey, but no. It’s all about early pioneer industry. The thing is, Utah is not really a major player in honey production – not by a long shot.

That’s not to say we don’t have some exceptional honey here in the Beehive State. In fact, we may be home to some of the finest raw honey produced anywhere if you consider Slide Ridge Honey of Mendon, Utah. It's a small family operation that has recently expanded to offer a brilliant Honey Wine Vinegar and a just-released CaCysir Honey Wine. (pronounced ka--SIGH-sir - the Ca is for Cache Valley, where Slide Ridge resides. Cysir is a unique spelling for cyser, apple and honey wine)

Last week I was lucky enough to be a part of a farm tour hosted by Talisker and its executive chef, John Murcko. We covered more than 300 miles visiting some of northern Utah’s purveyors of local goods. Along the way, Slide Ridge Honey master Martin James and his family hosted us for their “daily staff lunch,” a magical homemade interlude served next to a garden, under shade trees just a stone’s throw from pallets of honey and vats of soon-to-be  honey wine.

They dished up soft fresh rolls with a silky, runny honey butter, a salad with Slide Ridge Honey Vinegar dressing and then plates of pot roast, carrots and mashed potatoes. And for dessert, poached pears, homemade salted caramel ice cream and glasses of viscous, amber Slide Ridge CaCysir Honey Wine, just released.  Look at those gorgeous legs.

CaCysir is a 100% local blend of juices from seven select apple varieties, perfectly clean honey, and a hint of grapes. At 13.65% alcohol, it also has a crisp acidity. To me, it evokes a bit of tart tatin rather than basic apple pie - quite extraordinary. Here’s what they say on the label:

The wine, priced just under $25, has just been released in a few of Utah’s state run liquor stores, including: Snow Creek (Park City); Logan, Ogden-Wall St.; Holladay; Springville; and Hurricane. BUT, I encourage you to ask for – OK, demand it? -- it at every big state wine and liquor store you visit – if this is your sort of delight. The supply is not huge, but the demand ought to be. 
As for condiments, Slide Ridge’s Honey Wine Vinegar is more widely available. A balance of sweet and tang, it is, of course, great as salad dressing but also consider tossing a tablespoon over a bowl of oven-roasted, caramelized Brussels sprouts or  deglazing a pan after browning pork chops, or head to The Farm or Bistro at Canyons and find out what magic Talisker chefs are creating with it this summer. 

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Monday, May 14, 2012

Spicy Balsamic Blueberry Chutney Recipe

I’m a sucker for single-subject cookbooks. Writers obsessed with a subject are the best because, well, they are obsessed. They leave no stone unturned, no use of an ingredient unexplored. They have license to travel to the far reaches of the world in search of the source, to explore history, to find the best.

The Balsamic Vinegar Cookbook  (1996, Collins) by Meesha Halm is a case in point – a perfect one for condiment lovers. Like so many of my books, it’s out of print, but there seem to be plenty of used copies available online.

This pretty little book came out a couple of decades after the “discovery” of balsamic vinegar in the U.S. in the 1970s. You may know the story: Treasured, time-honored authentic Italian condiment becomes ubiquitous American condiment – often bastardized and cheapened, generally drizzled over fresh mozzarella, pizzas and salads everywhere. But there’s a lot more to cooking with a decent, affordable balsamic. Whether your tastes run to gazpacho, braised broccoli rape or savory Mediterranean stew, this book dishes up the recipes, including a great section on condiments, including chutney.

That was Then

A lot of us got very tired of the balsamic vinegar craze. We wanted the good stuff, but, back then could only afford the grocery store version, often called “Balsamic Vinegar of Modena” – a sorry blend of coloring and thickeners – and maybe a little wine vinegar but no actual grape must –the key ingredient in traditional balsamic. These blends are mass-produced, both in Italy and in the U.S.

But as the balsamic love continued, more American and Italian producers began making artisan versions that, while far from the authentic balsamic, are excellent for more everyday uses. Today, there are plenty of fine, affordable options out there. Bottom line, when buying balsamic vinegar priced around $25 - $35 or so, read the label carefully and look for grape must in the ingredient list, along with an indication of age.

If you’ve been lucky enough to taste the occasional drop of the real thing – aged aceto balsamico tradizionale di Modena, and aceto balsamico tradizionale di Reggio Emilia, you know that at its finest, it can taste of fine old port, fig and vanilla, toffee, caramel and chocolate, resinous wood and herbs.  So complex and sensually exciting, it is often sipped from a tiny cup, all by itself. (If you’re in Salt Lake City, Liberty Heights Fresh has a whole shelf dedicated to such fine vinegars and offers some for tasting – just ask.)

 Good Compromise for Cooking

If you can afford the real thing, you’ll probably want to enjoy it on its own or with a minimum of other ingredients. But if you want to spend less than $10 on balsamic vinegar for cooking, salad dressings, or drizzling on sandwiches, Antica Italia Balsamic Vinegar is a good bet. It is made with grape must and aged in chestnut barrels, which is pretty amazing for the price. At Caupto's Deli in Salt Lake City, it's the vinegar of choice for some fine sandwiches. 

Here are two things, beyond salad dressings, that I like to do with a less expensive, but non-industrial balsamic vinegar. One so simple it’s a little embarrassing, the other requiring a little time.

1. Pour about a cup of less expensive balsamic vinegar, such as Antica, into a non-reactive saucepan, warm slowly over low heat and let it reduce down to a syrupy consistency. Drizzle over grilled meats or fish, on a fresh pear, walnut and mache salad, or over a platter of sliced ripe figs and some aged Parmigiano Reggiano.  That last treatment is a classic for the very fine balsamic vinegars, as well.

2. Make Blueberry Chutney

Adapted from The Balsamic Vinegar Cookbook, this gorgeous take on chutney is spiced with jalapeno. The recipe called for frozen or fresh berries, but I’ve found that the frozen didn’t set as well. Super with grilled lamb or pork, or whatever strikes your fancy.

Makes 2 cups

2          cups fresh blueberries
2          cups golden raisins
¾         cup firmly packed light brown sugar
½        cup balsamic vinegar
½        cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
1/3      cup finely chopped yellow or white onion
1          jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1          clove garlic, crushed through a press
            grated zest of one large lemon
1          cinnamon stick
¼         teaspoon ground cloves

Combine all ingredients in a medium, heavy-bottomed, nonreactive saucepan.  Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring often to avoid scorching. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until very thick, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool completely.

The chutney can be prepared up to one week ahead, covered tightly and refrigerated.  For longer storage of up to 3 months, transfer the hot chutney to sterilized canning jars, cool completely, and store in refrigerator.

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For a thorough history and discussion of balsamic vinegars and some unbiased recommendations, visit The Nibble.com and just type in balsamic vinegar for access to a lengthy 3-part series. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

Not Your Mama’s Kimchi Paste at Zy Restaurant in Salt Lake City

Funny how you can experience a splendid multi-course meal with all its nuances and textures and then end up rhapsodizing about the tiniest dab of a condiment as the pinnacle of that meal. Or maybe it’s just me.

That’s exactly how I feel about the mere dabs of crimson kimchi puree chef Matt Lake and his crew developed for a seared tuna appetizer on Zy’s latest menu. 

The dish consists of a few medallions of delicate seared tuna and a small stack of blue crab set atop a pool of silky green chili tofu puree. Drizzled over all is a hint of lemon syrup. To the sides, the kimchi paste, or puree, adds its come-hither, deep red color. With one little taste, it delivers a spicy, tangy mélange of flavor that resonates as it makes you wonder just what’s going on here. Altogether, these ingredients make   brilliant music together. I could have eaten that appetizer twice, right then and there. Forget the cabbage that traditionally completes Korean kimchi. In this instance, the spicy paste is all you want or need. 

Long after our dinner at Zy, the impression of this truly original small plate presentation lingered. I had to have the recipe. Matt kindly shared it -- and a little background about how the idea evolved in his kitchen:  “One of my line cooks wanted to play with kimchi, so we were making a few variations. But when I tasted this paste by itself, I thought it was pretty cool. So we refined it a little. I then thought of the tuna plate. We worked on the composed dish, building it around this paste. I thought it would be interesting play off the tuna and the green chili tofu for the brightness, and the crab to help enrich the tuna.”  Yep. It worked.
And, restaurant manager Miles Broadhead’s suggestion that we pair the tuna appetizer with a glass of the floral Boutari Moschofilero, a lovely Greek white wine, was spot on.

Zy’s Kimchi Paste

Chef Matthew Lake recommends Assi brand chili flakes. I found this consumer-sized bag at the Oriental Food Market at 667 South 700 East in Salt Lake for about $4. At home, you might just enjoy this brilliant paste with your own sushi grade tuna, or as a counterpoint to some fresh crab, or both.

¼  cup coarse Korean chili flakes
2   cloves garlic
¼  small yellow onion
½  unripe pear
¼  Fuji apple
½  cup rice vinegar
Salt to taste

Combine all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Season with salt to taste, place in an airtight container and refrigerate overnight to allow flavors to develop.

Matt shared the recipe for the entire dish, but I’m just posting the paste. If you want the full recipe, including the green chili tofu puree and lemon syrup, I’d be happy to share it. Just leave a comment with your email address.  

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Cookbooks and Condiments

I’ve been collecting cookbooks for a long, long time. I read them in bed, on vacation, and usually, when I cook. They’re falling off of shelves, stacked on tables and the floor, and occasionally making themselves more useful by serving other purposes.

Photographer John McCarthy's solution
to being too tall for his monitor.

I’ve got big coffee table books and tiny tomes. Out-of-print and just-off-the-press. Some with a sprinkling of pen and ink drawings, some with photography so graphic and bold it's akin to food porn. Speaking of salacious photos, many moons ago I wrote the lengthy text for this lushly photographed, oversized cookbook with recipes by John Phillip Carroll

We had to fight the publishers to get our names on the cover of the book since it was ‘work for hire.’ But we prevailed and it turned out to be one of the most popular of the Beautiful series. Now I see it’s out of print, with "new" copies going for some pretty pennies on Amazon. Fortunately, you can also pick it up for a song. I suspect the "new" price has skyrocketed  because few publishers can afford to do this kind of photography any more. Plus, it is a terrific book. John is a brilliant, precise recipe developer and cook – as humble as he is talented. It takes him a while to get around to telling you that he was a protege of James Beard, Marion Cunningham, Flo Braker, and so many other baking luminaries -- and that he has gone on to write all kinds of award-winning books. Working with him was one of the highlights of my career. If you can find a used copy of our book, get it. And don’t be afraid to take it into the kitchen and let the splatters fall where they may. 

The book covers 12 regions of the state and ties its culinary history to the geography and the progression through Spanish ranchos and missions to the Gold Rush, the advent of transcontinental trains, the backyard barbecue craze, and on to the debut of Chez Panisse. Researching and writing the 20,000 word text (I know! Insane.) was one of the most rewarding jobs I ever had. 

As you might figure, the chapter on Condiments and Preserves was among my favorites. There are pickled peaches, grape and rhubarb conserve, honey and red wine figs and mushroom relish. Flavored vinegars, lots of jams and marmalades, too. And that just skims the surface. Here's one of the easier recipes. It takes a while, but most of that is non-active time. 

Red Pepper Marmalade 
from California the Beautiful Cookbook

This so good it will surprise you. Cardinal red and quite sweet, pepper marmalade is good with cold sliced beef and pork and also as a spread for crackers, with a soft goat cheese. This recipe yields a manageable amount that can be stored in the refrigerator for up to several weeks, so you do not have to fuss with sterilized jars and water bath processing.

2-1/2 lbs. red bell peppers (capsicums)
1  tablespoon salt
1  cup cider vinegar
2  cups sugar

Stem and seed the peppers and put them through the coarse blade of a grinder, or chop them coarsely in a food processor (take care not to puree them). Toss with the salt and let them stand for 2 hours.

Drain and discard any accumulated juices and combine the peppers in a saucepan with the vinegar and sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 1 hour, stirring now and then.

Let the marmalade cool to room temperature, then store, tightly covered in the refrigerator.

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