When the Flavorful Gather

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Food expos seem to be popping up like spring daffodils in the Upper Valley.  OTK went outtathekitchen last weekend to one food fair where  local culinary and pure food artisans introduced the public to their wares.  Locavores and the food curious swarmed the hall and sampled their way through the 40 or so booths. The event, sponsored by Vital Communities, a nonprofit serving the Upper Connecticut River Valley of NH and VT,  champions the Valley Food and Farm effort of the region. From the valley’s fancy inns to the small home kitchen canners, food lovers gathered for the meet, greet, and eat.

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Whole grain boules made just hours ago from Bee and The Baker

Near the long ticket line at the entrance, visitors enjoyed the attractive mobile museum of the National  Fish and Wildlife Refuge, an educational exhibit on wheels all about the Connecticut River Valley watershed. Its interior, part museum and part fun-mobile for kids, contained educational displays about the natural habitat which thrives in the waters and on the shores of the river.

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And this gathering of hungry humans at the expo depends on the watershed, too, as this year’s Flavors of the Valley event proved.

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Navigating the crowded gymnasium was tough, but given the amount of  free food being served up, visitors managed just fine.  Many brought their own utensils for the samples and bellied-up to crowded tables where they were served tidbits of sausages, fresh whole grain breads, jams, jellies, and salsas; goat cheeses galore, unpasteurized milk and yogurts, and hot dishes from caterers; caramels and chocolates, too.  Dairy and meat products seemed to dominate– all-natural, organic purity was the theme. Squeezed between the food booths were local associations fighting pollution and land abuse, and plentiful information was available at booths promoting the expo’s business sponsors, such as the Hanover Coop.  Flower and vegetable farmers reminded the public that planting was only a few weeks away, their mini-nurseries featuring seedlings along with purple and yellow happy-faced pansies. An earthy odor of their fresh loam mingled with the perfume of grilled spicy chorizo sausage.

I had the pleasure of talking with one very creative home canner.  John Snell, a Moretown,VT chef and owner of  Marsh Hollow artisan jams, jellies, and condiments, simply blew the competition out of the water. He describes his products as “non-traditional,” and the flavor combinations he designs are truly original in both concept and execution. Sweet and savory, his freshly crafted and seasonally preserved jams and jellies are uncommon and produced in small batches.

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I strongly suggest the Blueberry Almond, especially added to yogurt.  But then again, straight out of the jar rocks, too. Fig and Apple, devoid of that cloyingly sweet fig aftertaste common to many fig jams, brings together Italy and New England. There’s Irish Beer Jelly, Bruschetta, and my hands down favorite– Roasted Pepper Lime Jam. He plays around with rhubarb and carrots and pumpkins, too. Sampling these condiments sent my own creative recipe juices flowing, and I am looking forward to using them in fruited tangy sauces for venison, duck, and turkey this fall as well as filling my delicate cupcake confections with frostings and creams incorporating Marsh Hollow artisan jams, jellies, and condiments.

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You can also order up delivery of a Jam of the Month. If you join this condiment club, the shipping is free, and the featured flavors include his regular line along with whatever is seasonal– or  better yet, John’s latest inventive combination of seasonal produce– which is exactly what inspires a truly fine chef like John.

Perched at the end of Bee and The Baker’s table of organic breads (all baked in a hand built oven), was newcomer nurse-turned-home-canner, Barbara Badgley of Fairlee, VT, who offered a finely crafted line of hot pepper jelly called Radiant Heat.   This was her debut, and boy, what an entrance.

000_0146These hot pepper jellies are composed of serano and jalepeno peppers from her own garden. Unlike most pepper jellies that feature a sweet viscous base with pepper flakes, her jellies are packed with garden fresh miniature peppers in a tangy jelly and a generous level of heat. Sampling this product was like walking into a garden of flavor as the peppers were so very fresh and kept their integrity.  The product is somewhere between a salsa and a jam and a pickle.  I went home with the Sonoran Sunrise Jalapeño Pepper with Apricot and Ginger and Radiant Heat’s Irresistable  Hot Pepper Jam.  No joke!  Barbara is looking forward to planting some heirloom variety peppers this year.  I think it was a great day for Barbara, and I loved her aspirations for the upcoming season.

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Attending this sort of expo is dangerous for I am once again seriously contemplating raising chickens in my backyard. Having gorged on beer cheese, home made pastas, artisan organic butters, honey and maple syrup-based candies, I left Flavors of the Upper Valley with quite a few dreams of my own– for my garden, for my cooking, and for the continued success of these local farmers and chefs.  And the parallel efforts of conservationists of the region make for a wonderful marriage with the creative culinary dreams of the people in this region.  The continued environmental health of the surrounding Connecticut River Valley must never be taken for granted as it remains the foundation of the bounty enjoyed by all in the region.  The alliance of  foodies, farmers, environmentalists, and local business will keep important issues and sustainable agriculture on the front burner.

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by MELorden

Spinach-Pancetta Quiche

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Maggie is at it again. Yum. Real hungry people eat quiche, especially when it is full of sweet and salty panchetta and wholesome spinach.

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Spinach-Pancetta Quiche

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preheat oven to 350 degrees

Crust

1 cup chilled butter, cut into cubes

3 1/2 cups flour

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup white wine

1 egg

1/4 cup olive oil

Filling

6 eggs

2 cups heavy cream

salt and pepper , to taste

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

2 cups yellow onion, chopped

1/2 lb. pancetta, chopped

1/4 cup grated parmesan

1/4 lb. Gruyere cheese, grated

1/2 lb. fresh baby spinach

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with metal blade add flour, salt, and butter cut into cubes. Pulse until it resembles cornmeal. Add the wine , olive oil and egg. Blend until dough comes together. Remove from bowl and divide in half. Place one half wrapped in plastic in freezer for later use. With the other half, wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes. Roll dough out to fit a 10 pie…

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The Possibilities of Pizza

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by Martha Esersky Lorden

Doesn’t every city in America have a Tony’s Pizza Parlor? Mine did. I have no idea if the proprietor was actually named Tony, but the restaurant was a fixture in my home town for decades. The pies were big and chewy rubber platters sporting a layer of glistening grease atop industrial mozzarella cheese. Heavy tomato sauce and dried oregano were also applied liberally. And I loved every bite. Frankly, everything at Tony’s tasted the same— the gummy spaghetti and meatballs, the soggy fried eggplant parmesan, and each variety of pizza. A favorite family restaurant, Tony’s was the only game in town when it came to pizza.

My pizza IQ rose significantly when I moved to Italy. The neighborhood pizzeria had a large glass window through which a tiled wood-fired oven glowed. The pizzaiolo put on a show while preparing the dough every morning. I watched him through the restaurant window regularly, and it was love at first sight. Our eyes met over clouds of flour as I watched him knead the soft spheres of fresh dough for their numerous rises. It’s difficult to say whether I was moony-eyed over the adorable Enzo or if it was the yeasty perfume that had simply gone to my head. His pizza was delicious, as was most all pizza I ate in Italy. I was particularly touched when one evening he brought a heart-shaped pizza to my table. I have a photo of it somewhere.

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Pizza Margherita:  Classic Simplicity

The Appeal of Pizza

Romance aside, pizza is an iconic Italian dish, but today pizza pie is as American as apple pie. The statistical evidence is overwhelming: on average, individuals in the US eat about 46 slices per year—that’s 23 pounds of the stuff. Americans are piggy for pizza. With nearly 65,000 pizzerias in the nation, Americans are gulping down 350 pieces of ‘za every second. The national pizza market, according to Ezine, is a $30 billion industry. Americans are simply obsessed with pizza, which is no surprise. It fits in nicely with that popular American idea of food as fun and fast, as road food or weekend take-out party grub that goes down perfectly with beer or coke. It’s the ideal accompaniment to sports television and makes for easy clean-up in the dorm or man cave.

Culinarily speaking, however, pizza’s place in the American diet has been elevated from this stereotype. While the first pizza parlor opened in America in New York City in 1905, pizza today is no longer just a specialty food made by dough-tossing dudes in classic pizza joints. Fashioned by professionally trained chefs, stylish bistros, and home cooks, pizza is currently a highly adaptable food style, a culinary foundation for very good eats. On careful examination, pizza can be the perfect vehicle for nutrition, creativity, and artisanal quality dining.

Vince Guiffire Makes a Pizza

Pizzaiolo at work in NYC Pizza Parlor Circa 1950

Culinary History

pizza_historyIn its most basic form, pizza is a flatbread made of flour and water with Mediterranean origins. Bronze Age people ate pizza in the Veneto region of Italy. While on military campaigns in Phoenicia and Greece, Roman soldiers consumed a simple seasoned flatbread. 3215391860_0de82f93ac_oDuring the Middle Ages, peasants topped yeasted dough with herbs and olive oil, and Renaissance pizza eaters experimented with the newly arrived tomatoes from the Mondo Nuovo and cheese made from the milk of the imported Indian water buffalo. By the 18th century, peasants in Naples incorporated the tomato on their flatbread base, selling pizza as street food and eventually in shops along the streets. In time, the dish made its way to the Italian aristocracy when, 120 years ago, a pizza vendor by the name of Rafaele Esposito of Naples created the popular pizza Margherita for Italy’s Queen with its tri-colori of the nation’s flag in green basil, white cheese, and red tomatoes. Soon the various regions of Italy created their own signature versions of pizza celebrating local ingredients.

                                                                                                                                                                                


Queen-Margherita

With the return of American GI’s after World War II, their penchant for pizza led to parlors in most every Italian-American neighborhood. Styles of pizza reflected a multitude of American regional preferences. So, who is to say what “real” pizza is? With so many genres, it is difficult to know. East coast cities like Boston boast a pizza that rivals the thin-crusted New York style. Many prefer Greek-style pizza with its thick, puffy, and chewy crust served in rectangles or as pies topped with feta, olives, green pepper, and onions. Sicilian style pizza, or sfincione, a doughy square-cut bread pizza topped with cheese and tomato, is baked on a sheet and requires two rises, not the one typical of most American pizzas. Then there is Chicago’s Deep Dish casserole pizza layered between a top and bottom crust and stuffed with pounds of sliced ham, sausage, several cheeses, vegetables, pepperoni, and a rich tomato sauce. Today, nearly every restaurant has a pizza or flatbread selection on the menu. Modern Italian restaurants in America have exquisite pizza ovens that reach 800 degrees Fahrenheit and are fired by carefully selected hardwoods that deliver the charcoal-flavored, thin and crunchy crust desired by today’s gourmet pizza diners. Rustic at heart, pizza is now a culinary tour de force.

Pizza has a global fan base that is growing, too. Many nations have adopted their cuisine to include pizza. International variations feature a Mochi-crusted Japanese pizza, a Turkish pizza on a round shell with meat sauce called lahm bi’ajin, and a Korean adaptation with kimchi and bolgogi toppings. In Europe there is the French Provencal pissaladiere with cooked onions, anchovies, and olive oil, along with a popular German flammkueche, a thick circular dough topped with crème fraiche, onions, and bacon.

Build Your Own Pizza at Home

The potential combinations of bread-based crusts and toppings is stupefying. And home cooks can now leap right into the fun. No need to rely on pre-made frozen pizza, delivery, or take-out. The resources to make a quality pizza in tune with individual dietary preferences and tastes is infinite. There are really just three parts to pizza creation— crust, toppings, and heat source.

Crust

If you don’t care to make a pizza dough from scratch (see recipe below), there are fabulous options in the grocery store. Consider the potential of the following items as the base of a quality home-cooked pizza:

  • Fresh made pizza doughs (whole wheat and white flour) are found in the prepared foods section
  • Numerous flavors and sizes of pre-baked, fresh-frozen, and gluten-free pizza shells from artisanal bakeries in Vermont and New Hampshire such as Stonefire, Little Red Hen, Green Mt. Flour, and Mama Mary’s
  • Naan flatbreads
  • Tortillas and wraps of every variety
  • French bread and baguettes
  • Frozen puff pastry
  • Pita bread
  • Broad, crunchy crackers like lavash or Torte de Aciete by Ines Rosales from Spain

Naan-Pizza

Pre-packaged Naan Indian bread  makes a fine option for a quick home-crafted pizza

Toppings

In selecting toppings, consider the meal. Are you making an entrée or an appetizer? Or perhaps you want to stretch a meal of salad or soup with a crusty slice. And how about breakfast? Not the usual cold leftover slice, but a fresh pizza adorned with scrambled eggs, sausage, ham, bacon, and some crispy potatoes. The leftovers from last night’s BBQ chicken work well, too. Go vegan and make seasonal vegetables like asparagus, leeks, and snap peas the stars. Take your inspiration from international cuisines and think Mexican with taco-themed toppings or Indian Tandoori curried chicken and paneer pizza. For a dessert pizza, top a pate brisé crust with sweet pastry cream, seasonal berries, kiwis, and powdered sugar. If you love cheese, combine feta and lamb, a local goat cheese with baby spinach and arugula, or fontina with mushrooms. Smear shells with pesto, truffle or chile oil, anchovy paste, or a spicy salsa.

Heat Source

Bake fresh pizza at home at the highest temperature your oven can go. Commercial ovens bake at well over 500 degrees, and wood-fired ones crank at nearly 800 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the pizza in the top of the oven on a pre-heated pizza stone, and it will cook in 10-12 minutes.

An excellent way to enjoy pizza is to use the outdoor grill for the best direct heat delivery. Bake dough directly on the rack for 5-10 minutes, then flip. Fill the shell with toppings. Close the lid and grill another 5 minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbling. Pizza also cooks well in a cast iron skillet on the stovetop or inside the oven, and if using pre-baked crusts, just stick the pizza under the broiler for 2 minutes.

Pizza is a perfect food with universal appeal. It is an attractive and creative option for home cooks who want to prepare a convenient meal. Sink your teeth into a great crust loaded with flavor, texture, and nutrition. Bring the elegance of pizza into your own kitchen—without the box.

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Classic Pizza Dough Recipe

(from the Cooks’ Illustrated Cookbook, America’s Test Kitchen, 2011 )

This is an easy, shortcut pizza dough that produces a crispy crust when made on a pizza stone and can “practically be made in the time it takes to heat the oven.” Bread flour works extremely well, but you can substitute all-purpose flour if you wish. The bread flour, however, promises a somewhat chewier texture.

This recipe makes 2 pounds of dough, enough for two 14-inch pizzas.

4 to 4 1/4 cups bread flour
2 1/4 teaspoons instant or rapid-rise yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups water, heated to 110 degrees

Pulse 4 cups flour, yeast, and salt together in food processor (fitted with dough blade if possible) until combined, about 5 pulses. With food processor running, slowly add oil, then water; process until rough ball forms, 30 to 40 seconds. Let dough rest for 2 minutes, then process for 30 seconds longer. (If, after 30 seconds dough is sticky and clings to blade, add remaining ¼ cup flour 1 tablespoon at a time, as needed.)

Transfer dough to lightly floured counter and knead by hand into smooth, round ball. Place dough in a large, lightly greased bowl; cover bowl tightly with greased plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours, before using.

Fontina, Caramelized-Onion, and Pancetta Pizza

(from Cooking Light, October 1998 )

For a mellow and melt-in-your-mouth cheese pizza with a sweet and salty bite, try this simply prepared topping. It’s bursting with flavor.

1 1/2 ounces pancetta (Italian-style bacon) or Canadian bacon, chopped
8 cups sliced onion (about 3 large)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
3/4 cup (3 ounces) shredded fontina cheese, divided
Thyme sprigs (optional)
Cracked black pepper (optional)

Preheat oven to 475°F.

Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat; add pancetta, and sauté for 2 minutes. Add onions, thyme, salt, and white pepper; cook 25 minutes or until onions are browned, stirring frequently.

Brush each prepared pizza crust with 1½ teaspoons oil; top each with half of onion mixture. Sprinkle half of cheese over each pizza. Bake at 475° for 9 minutes or until crusts are crisp. Cut each pizza into 8 wedges. Garnish with thyme sprigs and sprinkle with black pepper, if desired.

Atomic Cake: An Explosive Confection

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From the 1950’s, here’s a birthday cake that mom can make even while the family is cowering in the fallout shelter. Bless her heart.

301968_10150899306145051_668891930_nPhoto by ME Lorden

Evaporated milk, crisco oil, powdered eggs, and 3 boxed cake mixes are used to make this  chocolate and vanilla pudding-filled cake with canned fruit layers. Slather the pudding between the  triple golden, vanilla, and chocolate cake layers with maraschino cherries and canned pineapple. Wrap the entire chemical wonder with Dream Whip and then—KABOOM! Atomic cake.

Heat source to bake the cake? Gas stove or electric if generator is running. Candle power won’t do.

Nothing like eating a sculpture of a hydrogen bomb.  It was all the rage.

e70063f96dc9e413ab94d30dd62a4b20 Who knew that this horrific technology which gave the United States an atomic monopoly would also inspire new culinary tastes?

Better living through chemistry, I suppose.


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Light-as-a-(radiation)cloud Confection.

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New fad of celebratory cake among the military elite.

Enjoying atomic pastry along with their atomic cocktails.

The Soviets were offended by this publicity photo and the idea of an Atomic Cake altogether.  US clergymen found it obscene. The newspaper headlines of the day reported on the indignation.  The atomic bomb was clearly best kept off the list of fun food themes with the great cake controversy that began in 1946.

Check out the following link:

Atomic Cake Media Controversy

Soviet Cake


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These creamy sweet layers are pretty luscious.

 You can substitute sliced bananas in one of the layers for the pineapple if you aren’t stuck in the bomb shelter.

This clever cake explodes with flavor.  Might as well eat up before you kiss your fanny good-bye.