Thursday, October 25, 2012

Chutney Ties the Meal Together

Hello condiment people!

Yesterday was one of those "let's buy a roasted chicken for dinner" days. But I can never leave it at that. To me, roasted chicken always begs for a little chutney on the side -- something with a sweet/tangy kick and a slightly chunky texture to savor with each bite. Add your favorite rice (I favor  basic wild rice, Lundberg Wild Blend, or a brown or white jasmine) and roasted vegetables, and you've got a standard comfort menu with minimal effort.

I've eaten all the homemade chutneys friends have so kindly shared over the past year, and I didn't make any of my own this summer, so I'm a loser in that realm. But, here's a store-bought find I have to share. Just purchased on a whim when I bought the chicken, this may be one of my favorite  chutneys ever. Stonewall Kitchen's Old Farmhouse Chutney absolutely, positively deserves its "Outstanding Savory Condiment Winner" emblem (missing in this photo) from The Specialty Food Show. 

Just as the "Dude's" rug "tied the room together" in the Big Lebowski, the Old Farmhouse tied this meal together in its own exquisite little way. Based on apples, it also includes cranberries, peaches, and apricots. Cider and balsamic vinegar? Yes -- both. Then there are the ample mustard seeds, roasted garlic and ginger root, a little curry, a little chili pepper... all in all the blend of flavors might be likened to a modern apple-based mince pie filling that's gone around the globe and been tarted up.

I found the chutney at the downtown Salt Lake City Harmon's, but it is widely available in supermarkets, or online of course.

(P.S. no one I write about on this blog sponsors or pays me. If I tout a brand name it's because it's a personal favorite -- that's all.)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Ode to Pickapeppa

I love you in a marinade. I love you in beef stew. Splashed on fried bananas? Yes, I like that too.  But I’ll pass on pouring over cream cheese, as I’ve seen others do.

OK, enough of that. 

I was just thinking about Pickapeppa -- one of the absolute best supermarket condiments around. A blend of cane vinegar, sugar, tomatoes, onions, raisins, sea salt, ginger, peppers, garlic, cloves, black pepper, thyme, mangoes and orange peel (whew!), it’s got to be great, right? Such a terrific melange of ingredients, and it’s aged in oak barrels. Quite the bargain at around $3 a bottle.

I was awakened to the glories of this savory sauce from Shooter’s Hill Jamaica at the Balboa CafĂ©, waaaay back in the 1980s in San Francisco. There it sat, a small bottle with its classic red and green label with the bird on it, just waiting to be poured on the amazing (and still on the menu!) Balboa Burger. One taste of Pickapeppa mingling with that perfectly medium-rare, totally sexy, juicy burger on a baguette piled high with caramelized onions and I was forever hooked. It was, and remains, one of the best combinations I’ve ever tasted. I’d marry it if I could. 

That’s how much I love Pickapeppa. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Dusky Honey, Watermelon Jam, & Fig Mostarda

It’s sort of been like Christmas in October as I’ve had the opportunity to taste more extraordinary condiments from the Lake Garda region of Italy, via Laney Sachs and her online import shop, Ortensia Blu. Last week it was all about Mostarda Senepata. Here are a few more hard-to-find delicacies she's gathered. All would make great gifts. But if I were you, I'd order some to keep, too. 

Dusky (in a beautiful way) Honey

Ortensia Blu offers this romantic description for Miele del garda Bresciano also known as Melata: “Honeydew (Melata) Honey is named after the beads of nectar that glisten in the morning dew.” 

The thing is, that “morning dew” comes not from the nectar of wildflower blossoms, but from sap. This sap is a result, as one source put it, of “a splendid team effort involving bees and other insects. As they pierce the bark of fir and chestnut trees (among others) they release the essence of the tree—known as the melata,” spreading it over the surrounding flowers and leaves. The bees collect this sap with its aromatic, dusky character and high mineral content and transform it into this rare, highly prized honey. 

Dark amber, it has a lusty, molasses-y flavor profile. Enjoy it as you would enjoy any great honey. I actually like it on oatmeal, and it’s a classic with figs (roasted or not) and cheese for dessert.

A Most Unusual Jam

Conserva de Anguria Bianca is a watermelon jam. New to me, its flavor sits on the border of earthy and refreshing. Light and delicate, the jam resonates with the flavor of summer melon, but it’s not overly sweet. I found myself fantasizing about spreading it between layers of a vanilla poppyseed cake. It would also shine on biscuits or cornbread.

Beyond its flavor, what might strike you most about this shimmering, translucent green jam is the appearance of slippery red watermelon seeds suspended in the jar. I don’t suppose it would hurt you to swallow them, but I kind of like rolling them around my mouth and then letting them fly out over the deck when I’m alone. In “polite” (a rare occurrence in my world) company I would simply let them slide back onto a spoon or into my napkin. If you spread the jam on toast or whatever, you would, of course, remove the seeds. But the fact that the producer left them in the jam makes me really happy.

Mostarda de Fichi

Completely different in form and color from the firm jelly-like Mostarda Senepata in last week’s post, this spicy/sweet mostarda is what I think of when I think of the idea of “adult” sugarplums dancing in my head. Divine.

Petite white figs are suspended in a lemony yellow syrup and the flavor is a cross between spicy/hot and sweet. Traditionally, mostardas are served with “boiled meats” – something that always comes up in references but doesn’t really sound all that good. I like them with cheeses, of course – on a platter with salty cured meats, and with grilled meats of any kind. I could also see enjoying this particular fig mostarda with nicely caramelized roasted vegetables, such as carrots or Brussels sprouts. I’d drizzle a bit of the syrup on the veg’s and sprinkled chopped fig over them – not too much, just enough to get the occasional bite.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

From Italy with Love: Mostarda Senepata

Hello, dear condiment blog,

How I have neglected you over the long, sizzling summer. But now, with autumn in full flush and chestnuts about to drop from the gnarled trees outside my window, I’m back to regale you with some exquisite condiments from far away. 

The Lake Garda region of Italy, actually. 

A great friend of mine recently returned from a culinary excursion around this region with her friend, Laney Sachs of Ortensia Laney imports carefully curated collection of Italian edibles and wares to the U.S. and offers them through her web site. My friend kindly decided that a condiment lover such as I needed a taste of a few of the edibles Laney has discovered -- many of them through the Manestrini family of Azienda Agricola Manestrini

Signor Egidio Manestrini

The Manestrinis have lived on their family compound overlooking stunning Lake Garda -- with the Alps to the north and a Mediterranean microclimate at the south -- for over 150 years. They started producing olive oil from their own trees and made a huge success of it. Over the years and through the joys of relationships developed with small family businesses in the region, they expanded into private label honeys, sauces, jams and mostarda. 

Think Slow Food in action. Old food ways are preserved, new palates get to taste the results and the cycle continues. I was happy to give a few of the products a try. Here's the first, more to follow. 

From the Andrini family in Brescia, this quince mostarda is an extraordinary variation on the syrupy mostardas you may have experienced. (Mostarda is definitely not mustard, but it does combine the intense spices of mustard oil, or essence, or powder with the sweet flavors of candied fruit. Read a detailed description here.)
The Andrini version arrives in a handmade wooden box. Open it and discover a  jewel-like, firm disk, with a reddish/brown  color and a jelly-like texture. Based on an 18th century recipe, this glorious condiment is a blend of quince, candied orange, sugar and mustard. Its flavor is both subtle and complex, sweet and spicy, with the unmistakable heat of the mustard essence rising up as it melts on your tongue. 
Slice it thin and fan it out on a platter with your favorite cheeses, salumi, or other meats. I like to make a little open face sandwich of the cheese and mostarda and experience the soft heat and spice of the mostarda with the texture of the cheese, with or without a cracker. As a condiment, this mostarda compliments rather than overpowers any pairing. 
I also tried it alongside some gorgeous grass-fed lamb ham and lamb pate, both lovingly crafted by Frody Volgger at Caputo’s Butcher Shop in Salt Lake City. Let's just say the combinations were brilliant. As close to Italy as a person can hope to come while sitting in the Rocky Mountains.
You could also simply layer this mostarda on a favorite sandwich – such as roasted turkey breast with arugula on a chewy roll. Or, roll it up with prosciutto. And, apologies to sweet membrillo, a quince-based cousin, but Mostarda Senepata would make a great spicy substitute for membrillo in this recipe for a watercress, almond, manchego salad. 
Someday I hope I get to explore the region of Lake Garda myself. Until then, I treasure these authentic tastes of Italy. The quality is extraordinary and the prices are absolutely reasonable. 
Photos courtesy

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Citrus Mignonette Recipe from Grappa Restaurant

Much as I adore the unadulterated, briny liquor of a freshly shucked, perfectly chilled oyster, it’s nearly impossible for me to resist the siren call of a simple mignonette. Just a teaspoon or so splashed atop said oyster is enough to ignite some kind of sensual magic, brightening and elevating the taste of the ocean, the sharp chill and silky texture of a plump little morsel.

A couple of weeks ago, on a sultry summer evening I tasted a new (to me) mignonette variation at an Italian wine tasting event hosted by Winebow Inc. and Park City’s Grappa Restaurant. It took place on the tree house-like deck at the top of Grappa’s steep outdoor staircase (from which various intimate patios and decks may be reached). This setting is as close to a hillside town in Italy as you’ll ever get in these parts -- especially in summer or early fall when the town's little Main Street shimmers below and the hillsides are lush, all around -- so enjoy it while you can.

Photo from Hog Island Oyster Co.
But back to the oysters and mignonette. Glass of delicate Zardetto Prosecco Brut Traviso in hand, I spied them: fresh-shucked oysters on ice, calling my name. Alongside the bivalves, three mignonettes in separate bowls, each with a small spoon. One was the classic, one was a citrus version and the other boldly offered a hint of lavender.

A classic mignonette generally consists of finely minced shallots, and good vinegar – be it red wine, white wine, champagne or sherry and some cracked white or black peppercorns. Variations abound, but because I’m pretty much of a purist when it comes to my favorite things, I usually just walk away from them – though the occasional jalapeno-spiked version is fun. (But if you’re thinking balsamic vinegar…then, no, that would just be wrong.) 

Grappa’s classic mignonette was lovely -- nicely balanced and just what you would expect. The Lavender didn’t work for my taste, but the Citrus Mignonette was perfect. Laced with a bit of honey and reliant on lemon and orange zest as well as diced orange segments, it struck all the right notes. With the citrus and tropical fruit notes of the Prosecco, the bright sunshine and the chilled oysters, the perfectly balanced condiment was unforgettable. Chef Derek Gherkins was kind enough to share his recipe so I could share it with you. 

Grappa's Citrus Mignonette

1each                          Zest of an orange finely chopped
1 each                         Zest of a lemon finely chopped
2 Tablespoons            Minced Shallots
¾ Cup                        White Wine Vinegar
1 tsp                           Honey
1 each                        Orange supremes small diced ( Use the above orange with out pith)
¼ Cup                        Orange Juice
1 small pinch              Kosher Salt

Place minced orange zest, lemon zest, and minced shallots in a mixing bowl. Heat white wine vinegar and honey together in a small sauce pot and pour over zests and shallots. Let cool. Once mixture has cooled add orange juice and diced orange supremes. (To make orange supremes peel off outer pith of the zested orange with a knife, then cut individual segments out with knife from between the pith, yielding just the meat of the orange.) Add a small pinch of kosher salt to taste.

Mignonette is best prepared the day before to allow time for the flavors to come together.

Recipe by:
Chef de Cuisine Grappa Italian Restaurant, Derek Gherkins
Sous Chef Grappa Italian Restaurant, Pat Mcshea

Want to know more about oysters in general? Hog Island is an excellent source. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Harissa = Happiness

What are the odds that on the day before I planned to post something about the “Tabasco of Tunisia,” otherwise known as harissa, there would be a nice little NPR blog on the same subject? Well, there was, and here it is.
A spicy, brilliant red chili paste, harissa has been dubbed sriracha’s (aka rooster sauce) cousin as well as the mustard or ketchup of Africa, served just about everywhere on everything. The blend of red-chili-peppers, olive oil, coriander and sometimes, caraway is actually more far more nuanced than sriracha, infinitely more interesting than Tabasco, and as for ketchup? Meh. No resemblance.
Versions vary widely, of course. Some include mint and others add red bell pepper and tomato. The texture varies, too -- from a smooth paste to a chunkier version – as in Mustapha’s Moroccan Harissa, my favorite, made with dashes of red bell pepper and tomato in addition to the chili peppers. Bottom line, harissa delivers a complex heat – one that resonates rather than just knocking your tastebuds out.
I wish I could say I discovered a love of the fiery condiment while on an excursion on the back of a camel in an exotic setting, but, must admit my introduction was in the First World  setting of Williams Sonoma where the jar of Mustapha’s just looked so pretty I bought one for a gift and one for me. I proceeded to become addicted – not an unusual reaction as far as I can tell.
What to do with harissa:
Mix with mayonnaise, spread on lamb burgers or hamburgers, along with piles of arugula. Or, on a sausage sandwich.
Stir into black bean soup or chile along with mascarpone or crema.
Add to a Bloody Mary, to taste
Mix into egg salad or deviled egg filling, and of course my standard, “on eggs!”
Use to flavor curries, stews, soups
Make this Moroccan style carrot salad I found on Chowhound: 
Simmer slices of carrots in water with a bay leaf. Drain and combine with olive oil and harissa while still warm, then refrigerate. Serve at room temperature, garnished with any of the following: chopped mint, chopped cilantro, olives, feta, chopped preserved lemon
Finally, if you want to make your own, here’s Claudia Roden’s recipe from The New Book of Middle-Eastern Food.
2 ounces dried hot red chili peppers (stems and seeds removed)

4 cloves garlic, peeled

1 teaspoon ground caraway

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon salt

extra-virgin olive oil

Soak the chili peppers in water for 30 minutes, until soft. Drain and pound with the garlic, spices, and a little salt with a pestle and mortar, or blend in a food processor, adding just enough oil, by the tablespoon, to make a soft paste. Press into a jar and cover with oil. 

This famous and formidable chili paste goes into many North African, especially Tunisian, dishes. It keeps very well for many weeks in the refrigerator of covered with oil.
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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Caffe Niche Chimichurri Sauce Recipe

If you’ve tasted chef Ethan Lappe’s delectable elk burger at Salt Lake’s Caffe Niche (or as a chef’s special on the Chow Truck), you know that chimichurri sauce can make a burger sing.

The inviting bar at Caffe Niche
Some people call this condiment the “pesto of Argentina,” but that’s not quite right. It doesn’t call for cheese and the texture is on the chunky side rather than smoothed out in a food processor. Part of the appeal of this green parsley- (and, in this recipe, also basil-) based condiment is the texture of the roughly chopped herbs.

Chef Lappe uses Champagne or white wine vinegar in his recipe. “Red wine vinegar is more traditional, but gives the sauce a brown tinge. “ he notes. “In the restaurant, I use chimichurri sauce on our hanger steak, elk burger, or on top of roasted yams. I love it on just about anything. The trick is to leave it at least overnight to slightly pickle the onions and soften their heat.” To that I’d add, it’s also nice swirled into soups or stews or spooned over eggs cooked any way.

Caffe Niche Chimichurri

1          yellow onion, roughly chopped
2          cloves garlic, minced
½        cup roughly chopped parsley
1          tablespoon dried oregano
½        teaspoon red chili flakes
10-12 fresh basil leaves (or ¼ cup, chopped and packed)
¼         cup Champagne or white wine vinegar
¼         teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½        teaspoon salt
½        cup canola oil

Thoroughly combine all ingredients in a bowl, cover and refrigerate overnight to develop and soften flavors. 

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