Join Us for a Series of 4 Very Special Thursday Night Dinner Parties with Chef Aliza Green at Baba Olga’s Celebrating my new book, The Magic of Spice Blends
Click the link below for more details:
Tickets: $55 per person/per dinner
Limited Reserved Seating
7:00 to 10:00pm
Books are available for signing by the author.
I am happy to say that I will be guest chef in residence from January 7 to 9th at the gorgeous spa/retreat in the Poconos, The Inn at Woodloch. Follow this link for details: Aliza at the Inn at Woodloch. I’ll be doing a demo of a spice blend and a delicious vegan soup from my newest book, The Magic of Spice Blends, attending a reception and Q & A in my honor, and meeting with the chefs for a career discussion. Many thanks to my friend, Tina Breslow, of Breslow Partners for arranging this culinary get-away.
I attended the recent Philly C-CAP Gala honoring the major culinary contributions to the city of Philadelphia of Chef Jean-Marie LaCroix, longtime executive chef of the Four Seasons Hotel in Philadelphia and mentor to a generation of chefs. With him is his colleague and sometimes rival, Chef Georges Perrier. I never worked with Chef LaCroix but know him as a fellow Philly culinarian from my days at A’Propos in the 80s where I worked with his lovely wife, Vivienne. And, I almost went to work for Chef Perrier but instead chose to go work at A’Propos where I cooked Mediterranean-inspired California-style cuisine with a wood-oven and mesquite grill. Although I was torn by it, I made the right decision because three months after I started, I got pregnant. A few years later, I was honored to be asked by Chef Perrier to co-author his cookbook–a wonderful opportunity for me and an experience that I will always treasure. Vive La France!
Sharing a meal is a sacred act that brings people together, encourages conversation, and helps us relax, digest, and take pleasure in the small joys of civilized everyday life: friendship, good food, lively discussion, and maybe a bottle of wine to share. Food that calls too much attention to itself and demands quiet adulation gets in the way of lusty enjoyment.
I am inspired to cook food from places that I’ve traveled to or have had the opportunity to learn directly from local cooks. Earlier in my career, as chef of a Northern Italian restaurant, I studied Italian for five years to connect with Italian culinarians and learn their stories and culinary secrets. In my cooking, I emphasize food from the Mediterranean region, especially Greece and Turkey, where I’ve studied cooking;; from Tunisia and Morocco, cuisine that I learned by working with local chefs; from Mexico where I lived in my early teens: from Israel where I attended first grade; and from Brazil, India, and the Caribbean, all places where I’ve had the opportunity to travel and cook.
I believe food should look like what it is, not something else:
To me, presentation should showcase the essence of the food, not because of elaborate plate-painting and arranging food with surgical tweezers. Too many hands and too much fussiness get in the way of flavor and simplicity. I avoid plate painting, complex plate designs, tiny, precisely-cut vegetables, and molded food. Instead I might cook whole lamb shoulder on the bone, rub it with homemade Ras el Hanout spice then slow-roast it, pull it from the bone and serve it surrounding a whole roasted lamb shoulder on the bone.
Make it, don’t fake it:
At Baba Olga’s Cafe & Supper Club, where I serve as chef, we make all our own foods including hors d’oeuvres, desserts, sauces, stocks, even our own spice and herb blends. The vanilla in our baked goods comes from vanilla beans that we soak in rum. The flavorful butter comes from Vermont, famed for its high-quality dairy products, and our eggs are brown shell that we crack (never from a carton). We ripen our fruits and vegetables like tomatoes and peaches to increase juiciness and flavor. I avoid purchasing processed foods so, as many people comment, “our food tastes clean.” Oil is extra-virgin olive or canola for light, fruity flavor.
For our own health and the health of our planet’s environment, I aim to cook and eat deliciously healthy by serving foods that are 80 percent vegetable and legume based and 20 percent animal protein. I emphasize local vegetables, greens, legumes, and fruits. My first book, The Bean Bible published in 2000 was an early look at the amazing variety of flavors, colors, and shapes of legumes. Beans are beneficial to our health and put needed nitrogen back into the soil and we should all be eating more of them and less red meat. So, I make dishes like red lentil cakes with date-tamarind chutney, hummus with chipotle, and Moroccan white bean and tuna salad with chermoula.
I cook food with roots:
My cooking is inspired by traditional foods in many parts of the world, often the food of women who pass down their knowledge from generation to generation. I avoid arbitrary combinations and foods with too many, often unrelated components. Foods have a reason that they go together—basil and tomato, beans and greens, lamb and mint, lemon and olive oil–for the sake of the garden the palate and for ease of digestion so you won’t leave feeling uncomfortably overstuffed.
I cook seasonally and locally:
While I live in a part of the country with cold winters, so our growing season is not year-round, I work with as many local farms as possible, something I’ve been doing as a chef since 1980. We work closely with Common Market, a local aggregator of foods from farms in the Tri-State region, Green Meadow Farm in Gap, Pennsylvania, who I’ve been buying from since the late 80s, and from the closest farm of all, Heritage Farm, on the grounds of the Methodist Home for Children on Belmont Avenue. I serve only local strawberries when they are in-season so they are a late spring treat rather than more of the same commercial berries shipped unripe across-country.
I aim to be creative with trimmings and by-product:
I do my best to use every part of the food in the interest of environmental awareness and lower food costs, which allows me to buy the best quality ingredients and keep prices reasonable. We treat the food with respect and don’t waste it. So, chard leaves are cooked as greens while the stems become part of our Greek vegetable Briami; corn kernels are cut off the cob while the cobs go into the pot to make sweet, golden corn cob stock for soup; herb stems are saved for soups and stews, while the leaves flavor and add shape and color to finished dishes;; chicken trimmings become stock while its fat is rendered to make chicken schmaltz.
Leftovers are an opportunity to make new culinary delights:
One of the tests of a chef is how well he/she can turn excess of one dish or its components into a wonderful new dish. So, I roast mushrooms for a warm mushroom salad and turn leftover mushrooms into a rich filling for our hand-formed mushroom fillo turnovers. Prosciutto is sliced for salad and other appetizers, the valuable skin and fat are simmered with red beans to make Caribbean style red beans and rice or Tuscan white bean soup.
Preserving allows me to work with high-quality local ingredients out of season:
I pickle vegetables like Roma beans, okra, and mushrooms to serve on mezze and antipasto trays. To build up my stash for winter, I freeze things like corn kernels cut off the cob, raspberries and blackberries, and even local tomatoes. We use tomato juice pressed from local tomatoes and packed in glass jars throughout the year.
The uglier the produce, the better it tastes:
Lumpy produce with bad spots here and there that must be trimmed will be the best tasting, ripest produce. I buy large quantities of deliciously colorful heirloom tomato seconds to make into tomato-basil sauce which we freeze and then use in our catering menus and for other dishes where that taste of summer is so welcome in cold weather months.
I focus on environment awareness:
I cut down on waste by using every part of the product, save all our food scraps for composting, use compostable, recyclable paper goods, serve filtered rather than bottle water, buy local so shipping distances are less, and work to serve foods lower on the food chain, which require less water and other natural resources to produce.The fish I purchase is MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) certified. The meats I serve are sustainable and come from smaller local farms.
Spices are the foundation of flavor and are used in virtually every recipe in every home around the world, yet many cooks are intimidated by how to choose and use spices to enhance their cooking. My new book, The Magic of Spice Blends, is an authoritative, global overview of spice blends, including background information on individual spices and how to create and adapt classic blends to suit your personal taste without losing their essential character. Here I provide a fully-illustrated guide to spices, creating 50 spice blends and 50 recipes using flavor profiles from around the world. A pinch of this and a dash of that, and you’ll be creating distinctive and delectable flavors in every dish!
Today, more than ever, we have access to almost every spice and herb imaginable. But it’s the careful blending of herbs and spices that is the true art of the spice handler.
The Magic of Spice Blends reveals the secrets of creating and cooking with the world’s classic spice blends from seven regions: Africa, the Far East, Europe, India, the Middle East, North America and the Caribbean, Mexico, and South America.
I guide you through the principles of choosing, working with, and blending spices. Join the fun of creating personalized spice and herb blends and knowing just what goes into them—no ancient, bitter, musty dust here! Find resources on where to purchase great quality herbs and spices, even organic, non-irradiated. You can even grow your own and use them to make those wonderful spice blends.
Along with background information on the history, culture, and culinary uses of each blend, The Magic of Spice Blends includes recipes and variations for 50 spice blends and an additional 50 recipes featuring blends including: Spicy Moroccan Steamed Mussels with Charmoula (Africa); Vietnamese Chicken Bahn Mi Sandwich with Chinese Five Spice; Swedish Gingerbread Cookies (Europe); Grilled Vadouvan Salmon with Date Tamarind Chutney (India): Watermelon, Labne, and Mint Salad with Lime Advieh Dressing (the Middle East); Louisiana Spicy Boiled Crayfish (North America); and Jerk-Spiced Turkey Wings (the Caribbean).
The Magic of Spice Blends is available for pre-order on Amazon right now and will be in bookstores starting December 1st.
This spring, I had the pleasure of creating a Brazilian menu for the Painted Bride’s 46th Anniversary Celebration held at Material Culture in East FAlls. I prepared Feijoada, the iconic Brazilian dish of black beans, smoked and cured meats, sauteed kale, and sliced Navel oranges (native to Brazil). This rich and flavorful dish was accompanied by plentiful Caipirinha cocktails–like a daiquiri made with cachaca (Brazilian sugar cane spirits) that can be dangerously delicious and lead to spirited dancing. See the clip here: Painted Bride Celebrates its 46th Anniversary Brazilian Style!
I’m very excited to be hosting our first Community Seder at Baba Olga’s Cafe on the second night of Passover. Everyone is invited to this celebration of Sephardi and Ashkenazi food, freedom, and building community. Please join us for this delicious meal accompanied by the traditional (minimum!) four glasses of wine.
Please join me and a group of food lovers at my series of three international spice-based cooking classes at Baba Olga’s Cafe. The first class is coming up in just two weeks and will include cooking demo, a take-home packet of spices for each guest and lunch featuring dishes that we have made and other recipes from my forthcoming book, The Magic of Spice Blends. Please visit http://materialculture.com/cooking-classes-at-baba-olgas-cafe/ for more information and to purchase tickets.
Unique retail store and auction house Material Culture has truly become a destination that treats all five senses with the opening of its new restaurant, Baba Olga’s Café and Supper Club. The café marries global flavor with the most locally-sourced, sustainably-harvested ingredients.Aliza Green is the proud Chef Manager of Baba Olga’s Café & Supper Club at Material Culture http://materialculture.com/baba-olga-cafe/where lunch is served Wednesday through Saturday in a menu of made-from-scratch soups, salads, sandwiches, and sweets. Every Sunday, she prepares a prix-fixe Grand Seasonal Buffet with an array of seasonal, local, and international culinary creations. The store and cafe space are available for rentals for catered events and Green works directly with customers to create a custom menu.
An enthusiastic life-long traveler, Chef Green has spent time working with chefs and food artisans around the world, learning the local customs, methods and tastes to achieve mastery of her craft. Her bold and flavorful cuisine finds an apt home in Material Culture, amidst the art and home decor that was similarly imported from locations across the globe. The café’s space is decorated with custom hand-crafted furnishings and one-of-a-kind art and artifacts discovered in the field, creating an experience that enlivens and transports from the moment guests cross the threshold.
The menu at Baba Olga’s prioritizes fresh, seasonal ingredients from local farms and suppliers wherever possible. Some of our suppliers include Heritage Farm in Philadelphia, Green Meadow Farm in Gap, PA and Fruitwood Orchards in New Jersey. Our commitment to using fish that is sustainably caught and meat and poultry that is humanely raised has an impact on the environment—and an impact on the rich, succulent flavors of the dishes. At Baba Olga’s the water is filtered five times for clean, clear flavor and no wasteful plastic water bottles. Food scraps are composted by Bennett Compost, take-out containers, and paper napkins are biodegradable, and little to no processed foods are used.