Here’s a link to an article about my long and varied culinary career, Dinner Party series at Material Culture, and my newest book, The Magic of Spice Blends: Palate Pioneer. Lots of opinions and stories here!
I had the pleasure of appearing on WMCN with Dawn Stensland to promote Making Artisan Pasta. See the video for a chance to see some of the brightly colored veggie pastas I love to make, including parsley, spinach, asparagus, beet, red pepper, and even chocolate pasta. I serve it for dessert with a sauce of crushed cocoa nibs, toasted hazelnuts, brown butter, a little brandy and honey. I top the pasta with grated “cheese”–actually white chocolate.
Any questions about fresh pasta, please send them to me on the Ask Aliza Tab and I’ll be sure to answer.
Happy Pasta Making!
Click on this link Making Artisan Pasta at Fante’s to see me preparing fresh pasta at Fante’s Kitchenware in the Ninth Street Italian Market, Philadelphia. Please send me your comments and pasta questions by clicking on the Ask Aliza tab on my website.
“FIGHT THE CHAINS!” FUNDRAISING DRIVE
SUPPORTS INDEPENDENT FOOD & DRINK BUSINESSES
(Portland, Oregon, USA 25 February 2012) – Today FoodTrekker.com announced the launch of “Fight the Chains!” – calling all foodies to support a crowdsourced fundraising drive to develop key technology tools in support of its effort to preserve and promote culinary cultures, food and drink businesses, culinarian people and groups, and foodie destinations. “Nobody we know wants to be eating and drinking the same global burgers and coffees for the rest of their lives. We must fight back and support independent businesses.” says Erik Wolf, Founder and CEO of the International Culinary tourism Association and FoodTrekker.com. Interested parties can support the campaign directly at www.indiegogo.com/foodtrekker.
Funds raised from this campaign will help build key technology tools like FoodTrekker’s Tasting Team module, which enables its Tasting Team – independent food/drink journalists and chefs like Aliza Green and Harry Pagancoss (two of FoodTrekker’s advisors) – to maintain an online portfolio, write about food & drink businesses, connect with their audiences, and showcase their original food/drink editorial, photo and video content in multiple languages. This is just one of the ways FoodTrekker helps support independent food and drink businesses.
WHY CHAINS ACTUALLY HURT LOCAL ECONOMIES
Multinational chains swallow customers from independent food and drink businesses. Since 2008, according to leading market research firm The NPD Group, a shocking 87% of restaurant industry traffic lost has been at independent restaurants. In other words, people are eating more at chains, and less at independent food and drink establishments. “The independents don’t have the same deep pockets as the chains. It’s harder for us to survive,” says Tommy Klauber, a serial entrepreneur and owner of Pattigeorge’s Restaurant, Polo Grill & Bar and other independent foodservice businesses in Florida. Chains tend to export profits to corporate headquarters, leaving a smaller local economic impact than residents realize.
CELEBRITY CHEFS & AUTHORS FURNISH REWARDS
Campaign donors can choose cool rewards like cookbooks by James Beard-award winning author Aliza Green or celebrity chef & Association spokesperson Harry Pagancoss; a customized culinary tour in the US city of your choice; or even a personal celebrity chef cooking lesson in Portland, Oregon –home to the hottest culinary scene in the USA.
FoodTrekker.com is new kind of sales and marketing platform for all kinds of independent food and drink businesses and people. It covers a lot more than just restaurants – think the long tail of the food industry, including cooking schools, wineries & breweries, small food producers, farms & farmers’ markets, culinary magazines, chefs, food writers and much more. Big chains are banned. Unique to the site is proprietary matchmaking technology, which pairs foodies perfectly to the kinds of culinary experiences they’ll truly love. FoodTrekker just soft launched in its hometown of Portland, Oregon, with more cities and features coming soon.
WHY CROWDSOURCING WORKS
Crowdsourcing projects are a new way for new projects to raise the money they need to grow. Crowdsourced projects are all the rage now – with some garnering over US$1 million in a single campaign. Crowdsourcing works because it is funded by billions of raving fans,
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Erik Wolf, CEO and Founder, email@example.com, (+1) 503-213-3700
About International Culinary Tourism Association (ICTA) and FoodTrekker The ICTA is the world’s leading authority on culinary travel, with 16,000 members in 120 countries. The Association offers education and product development solutions to the world’s food and travel industries. FoodTrekker is a consumer-facing site that focuses on the preservation and promotion of the world’s culinary cultures. Visit www.culinarytourism.org and www.foodtrekker.com for more information.
A dynamic one-day educational event highlighting local food, wine, and spirits in the Delaware Valley, open to everyone who wants to learn more from an array of lively experts.
Date: Saturday, June 11, 2011, 8:00 am to 5:30 pm
Location: The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College
4207 Walnut St., Phila., 19104; www.walnuthillcollege.edu
Cost: Registration $85, includes breakfast, lunch and dessert provided by Dame restaurateurs and caterers, choice of four sessions, and reception (limited to 100 attendees)
Contact: Chapter President Aliza Green: firstname.lastname@example.org
Registration: Download registration brochure at www.lesdamesphiladelphia.com. Pay with Paypal, credit card, or check
This unique event features workshops, panel discussions, demonstrations, hands-on classes and tastings. Highlights include: keynote talk by Judy Wicks, international leader in the local living economies movement; talk by William Woys Weaver (Culinary Ephemera); cooking class with renowned chef/restaurateur Susanna Foo; and talk and tasting by Stephen Fried (Appetite for America.
- Meet farmers, bakers, chefs, and artisan food producers. Taste international and local sheep’s milk cheeses, locally-distilled spirits, baked goods made by Dame Pastry Chefs and Bakers, local meats including Linda Geren (HighView Farm), and Michel Cluizel’s bean-to-bar chocolate.
- Participate in panel discussions about food writing for print and electronic media. Learn how to get your artisanal food product to market in a valuable special double-session workshop.
- Explore African-American culinary history with Toni Martin (A Taste of Heritage: The New African-American Cuisine). Learn how local chefs keep their seafood sustainable and best ways of working with local meats in a panel led by local food systems activist Marilyn Anthony.
- Discover kitchen secrets of top culinarians like Cici Williamson (The Best of Virginia Farms), Rozanne Gold (Radically Simple: Brilliant Flavors with Breathtaking Ease), and Ellie Krieger (So Easy: Luscious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Week).
- Cook Bangkok street snacks with Moon Krapugthong (Chabaa Thai Bistro, Turkish regional food with Sheilah Kaufman (The Turkish Cookbook), and bread made from local wheat from Pete’s Produce Farm with Chef John Gallagher (The Restaurant School) in these hands-on classes.
- Chat with cookbook authors like Lari Robling (Endangered Recipes), Aliza Green (The Fishmonger’s Apprentice), Tara Desmond (Almost Meatless), Jennifer Linder McGlinn (Gingerbread), and Andy Schloss (Mastering the Grill). Buy personalized signed books. Bring home a special goodie bag.
Les Dames d’Escoffier International is a worldwide, invitation-only, philanthropic society of professional women leaders in the fields of food, fine beverage and hospitality in 28 chapters across the United States, Canada and Europe. We are a 501(c)3 non-profit organization and contributions are tax-deductible according to US tax law. For more information, visit www.lesdamesphiladelphia.com.
Have you ever wondered how the pros learn to take a fish from the boat to the table? Aliza Green studied with the masters to write her new book, “The Fishmonger’s Apprentice” to be published in January 2011 by Quarry Books. She will go inside Samuel D’Angelo’s Samuels and Son Seafood Company to learn how to clean and prepare a variety of seafood species. During the program, Green will demonstrate how to purchase and prepare the lesser-known species of fish. Joe Lasprogata, Samuel’s director of purchasing and a marine biologist, will take you on a tour of their new state-of-the-art facility and discuss the wholesaler’s investment in the future of fisheries, oceans and waterways. According to Green, Lasprogata and D’Angelo sustainability requires a commitment from both the suppliers and the consumers. Knowledge is the key.
Friday Arts, a 30-minute monthly arts, culture and entertainment magazine with a strong online component, will spotlight Greater Philadelphia’s arts on WHYY-TV at 8:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 3.
“Friday Arts gives us the opportunity to cast a light on some of Philadelphia’s best-kept secrets in the arts,” said Trudi Brown, executive producer. “We’re looking at paying appropriate homage to the established arts in our region, but most important, we want to bring to our audiences arts, culture and entertainment stories that are off the beaten path. This region is bustling with a vibrant and sometimes even quirky art scene in the visual and performing arts. Our challenge is to present the best stories in the most artistic way possible.”
Friday Arts features three segments — “Art”, “Art of Life” and “Art of Food” — and a rotation of Creative Campus and Experience video segments. WHYY produces all five segments.
“Art” features local visual performing artists along with pieces on museum and gallery exhibits. “Art of Life” profiles everyday people accomplishing extraordinary social goals through art. “Art of Food” highlights innovative local food entrepreneurs who are environmentally conscious about food preparation and consumption.
Friday Arts is broadcast on WHYY-TV the first Friday of each month at 8:30 p.m. Each episode is rebroadcast the following Saturday at 11:30 p.m., Monday at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. and Thursday at 7:30 p.m. on WHYY-TV. Each episode of the program is also rebroadcast on WHYY’s Y Arts channel the following Monday at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday at 8:30 p.m., Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. and Thursday at 10:30 p.m. Episodes may also be viewed at WHYY.org/video. Additionally, regularly updated complementary and supplementary content to the program are available at WHYY.org/fridayarts.
Pierre Wolfe, host of the nationally syndicated show, America’s Dining and Travel Guide for more than twenty years, interviewed me about my international baking book, Starting with Ingredients: Baking and my exciting upcoming small group Culinary Tour of Chios, Greece, Aegean Turkey and Istanbul. (Note new dates, May 25th to June 9th 2011). Wolfe shares with listeners his choices for the best lodging, finest dining, and most exciting tourist sites in the country–and around the world. Authors, chefs, travel planners, hotel concierges, and cruise directors are among the guests on the show.
I was honored to be a guest on this popular show and happy to talk about some of the stories behind the making of the book and my extensive travels to gather the recipes. This big fat book is organized by ingredient. Each chapter covers background, history, and culture along with more than 350 international recipes from Apples to Alcohol and Walnuts to Wheat.
If you’re looking to expand your repertoire beyond chocolate chip cookies and brownies, this book is crammed with exciting recipes for savory and sweet baked goods. Mr. Wolfe, a native of Alsace, France was especially taken by some of the Alsatian specialties like Black Kugelhopf and Alsatian Plum Muerbeteig. Some of my personal favorites are Torta Sbrisolona alla Lombarda (Lombardian Crumbly Cake), Spanish Orange and Olive Oil Cake, Lor Kurabiyesi (Turkish Ricotta Cheese Cookies Scented with Mastic), Brazil Nut Cake with Espresso, Spanish Tuna Empanadas with Sofrito, and Sardinian Potato Torta with Sheep’s Milk Cheese and Mint.
The notorious asafetida (Ferula assafoetida) is the strong smelling, even stinking, dried yellow-brownish resin extracted from the root of a plant that grows wild from the Eastern Mediterranean to Central Asia. Related to fennel, asafetida gets its name from assa, a Farsi word meaning “resin”, and the Latin foetidus meaning “stinky.”
Fresh asafetida resin is powerful and can be highly unpleasant to the uninitiated, yet intriguing and stimulating to its fans. Asafetida is used as a savory substitute for onion and garlic in the Jain religion.
For strongest flavor, buy asafetida resin.
For milder flavor in an easier to use form, buy powdered asafetida called hing from Indian groceries.
Yellow asafetida is milder than the gray powder.
Australian lemon myrtle
Lemon Myrtle (Backhousia citriodora) has dark green, highly aromatic, lemon-scented leaves resembling bay leaves with a fragrance and flavor that combines lemon verbena, lemongrass, wild lime and a hint of eucalyptus. It grows in the subtropical and tropical coastal rainforest areas of Australia.
Lemon myrtle leaves are used fresh or dried and have the ability to hold their flavor and aroma considerably longer than other lemon-flavored herbs.
Steep powdered lemon myrtle in liquid and then strain to remove the coarse powder. Lemon myrtle leaf is sold whole or powered.
Stored in a cool, dark place, the coarse, pale green powder maintains all the character of the green leaf.
Purchase whole or ground lemon myrtle from Herbie’s Spices (www.herbies.com.au).
Black cardamom (Amomum subulatum) is the seed of a cardamom relative, which grows in the eastern Himalayas. The seeds are enclosed in large, oblong, dark brown pods that have wavy ribs along the edges (the ribs are sometimes called wings).
Black cardamom is much stronger than green cardamom, with a bold, resinous, and smoky flavor.
Much of the crop is smoked-dried and the seeds are rich in penetrating aromatics. Black cardamom is used in India in spicy and rustic dishes and in western Asia in savory dishes.
Purchase whole black cardamom because the seeds lose their flavor quickly when ground.
Even whole, cardamom loses about 40 percent of its essential oil per year.
Purchase black cardamom from Indian markets.
Black cumin (kala jeera or shahi jeera)
Black cumin (Bunium persicum) is a rare dark variety of cumin that grows wild in Iran and the Northern Indian region of Kashmir and called royal cumin in India.
The small, dark brown, curved seeds of black cumin are highly aromatic with a sweet, yet resinous and astringent flavor. It is preferred for Northern Indian kormas and in many savory dishes of Northern India, North Africa, and the Middle East.
Look for whole black cumin seeds in Indian groceries and expect to pay a high price.
Cinnamon, cassia, cassia buds
Cinnamon (Cinamomum zeylanicum), AKA softstick or true cinnamon (canela in Mexico), is the sweetly scented inner bark of the cinnamon tree related to the bay laurel.
Cassia (C. aromaticum), or Chinese cinnamon, is similar but bolder in flavor to true cinnamon bark, though thicker and tougher with a dark brown, rough outer surface.
Vietnamese cinnamon or cassia (C. loureirii) resembles Chinese cassia, but it is smaller and thinner.
Cassia buds are the dried unripe fruits of the cassia tree.
Indonesian cinnamon (C. burmannii) is much thicker than and not as breakable as Vietnamese cinnamon.
Cinnamon bark is hand rolled into friable light reddish-brown quills that have a warm, spicy yet sweet and delicate flavor. Cassia bark chunks are thick and strong but brittle, and are often sold in small irregular shapes.
Reddish brown when powdered, cassia has a pronounced, slightly bitter aroma.
Prized in China and Japan, Vietnamese cinnamon is highest in essential oil and has a sweet, rich pungent flavor.
Indonesian cinnamon quills are reddish-brown outside, but the inner side of the bark is much darker gray-brown.
Much of the “cinnamon” used in the United States is actually Indonesian cassia.
Paler true cinnamon is of better quality, because it comes from young cultivated shoots.
Ground cinnamon quickly loses its subtle nuances of aroma. True cinnamon is easy to crush and grind at home and will yield the most complex and subtle flavor.
For cassia, look for whole reddish brown rather than dark brown quills. Unlike in the U.S., in Europe, cassia may not be sold as cinnamon.
Purchase true cinnamon (called canela) at Mexican groceries or from specialty spice merchants.
Purchase cassia buds, Ceylon “True” Cinnamon, prized China Tung Hing cassia, Indonesian ground and whole cinnamon, and Vietnamese cinnamon from The Spice House (www.thespicehouse.com).
These resemble black peppercorns with small stalks protruding from one end almost like a tiny “bomb”
Cubeb pepper has a peppery, juniper berry-like aroma and hot, pungent flavor. Native to Java, Cubeb pepper was valued by the Romans; today it is used mostly in India and North Africa.
Buy whole cubeb pepper from specialty spice purveyors.
East Indian bottle Masala
A complex mixture of spices with recipes closely held family secrets, handed down from mother to daughter within the East Indian community.
Based on toasted ground deep red Kashmiri chiles bottle Masala has a full, rounded flavor combining star anise, black cumin, fenugreek, fennel seed and sweet Indian bay leaf. In India, bottle Masala is made before monsoon season every year. Bottle Masala is not available commercially to my knowledge.
Epazote (Chenopodium ambroisioides) is a strong-tasting resinous herb related to beets and spinach with large, matte, spiky, dark green leaves and a turpentine-like smell that is off-putting at first, but intriguing and stimulating to the appetite with familiarity.
Epazote is native to Mexico and the tropical regions of Central and South America, where it is commonly found wild. It is also widely naturalized in the U.S., especially California. In Mexican cooking, epazote is added to the pot when cooking black beans for its natural carminative (gas-preventing) properties and to cut the heaviness of beans.
Epazote is commonly available fresh in supermarkets in Texas and other parts of the Southwest, but is more often found dried in Mexican markets.
Fresh epazote dries easily and will keep quite well. Dry in a low (200°F) oven for several hours, or until brittle, then store in a glass jar or tin in a cool dark place.
Wild fennel pollen
Fennel pollen (Foeniculum vulgare) is an expensive spice with a potent yet ethereal fennel scent much used in Italy.
Fennel pollen should be sprinkled on to foods like vegetables, beans, salads, tomato sauces, poultry, fish and seafood just before serving.
Fennel pollen is in season in the late summer after the flowers open. Purchase fennel pollen from specialty producers in Italy.
Grains of paradise
The small reddish-brown seeds of grains of paradise (Aframomum melegueta) have a flavor like spicy, nutty black pepper, cardamom, and lemon with woody and evergreen notes, a numbing quality and a lingering camphor flavor.
The seeds are about the size and shape of cardamom and both are in the Zingiberaceae (ginger) family. Most grains of paradise are imported from Ghana where the seeds are chewed on cold days to warm the body. The spice is well-known in North Africa and appears in the Moroccan spice mixture ras el hanout
Buy whole grains of paradise from specialty spice merchants. Add to the poaching liquid for fruits.
Sumac (Rhus coriaria) is a dried burgundy-red fruit that is quite tart with resinous, woody, and citrus notes. Small sumac berries have a thin outer skin and flesh surrounding an extremely hard seed and grow in large elongated clumps.
The best sumac will have deep brick-red to burgundy color and coarse uniform texture with a high ratio of flesh to pulverized stem and seed.
Sumac is a popular condiment in Turkey and Iran, where it is liberally sprinkled on kebabs and rice or mixed with onions and parsley as a salad.
Sumac trees grow wild in the Mediterranean and are found in much of the Middle East. Dried sumac is usually sold ground into a coarse textured deep purplish-red powder that is and moist with a fruity, tangy aroma and a salty aftertaste from the salt added as a preservative.
Purchase dried ground sumac from Middle Eastern markets and from Whole Spice (www.wholespice.com).
The stones of St. Lucy’s cherries (Prunus mahaleb) contain small beige kernels called mahlab, which are about the size of a large oval peppercorn. Native to southern Europe, the small tree grows wild in the Mediterranean region.
Mahlab has an aroma reminiscent of cherry, almond flowers, and rosewater with a nutty yet surprisingly bitter aftertaste.
In Middle Eastern and Eastern Mediterranean cooking, mahlab lends its flavor to sweet pastries, confectionery, and cheese.
Iran is the most important grower of mahlab, followed by Turkey and Syria. Purchase mahlab seeds from a Middle Eastern grocery.
Grind just before using as mahlab quickly loses its aroma.
Mastic is a resin hand-harvested from Pistacia lentiscus var. Chia, a wild pistachio tree also known as the lentisk that grows on Chios, a Greek island in the Aegean Sea. Although it grows elsewhere, the immeasurably ancient mastic tree only gives off its resin on Chios.
When tapped or “hurt,” as the process is called, the trunk yields a clear resin that hardens into brittle, crystalline pieces referred to as tears.
If broken, the tears have a shiny quartz-like surface with a faint piney aroma and a bitter mineral-like flavor. After a few minutes of chewing, mastic takes on the texture of chewing gum and a beige color.
Mastic production on Chios occurs between June and September and is finished in December. The crystals may be purchased any time of year and are sold by size, the largest, clearest crystals costing the most. I find powdered mastic to be overly bitter.
To guarantee purity, purchase mastic crystals produced by the Chios Gum Mastic Grower’s Association at Mastica Shop New York, (www.masticashopny.com). Mastic may also be found at Greek groceries.
Orange blossom water
Fragrant orange blossom water is distilled from the flowers of the bitter orange tree, Citrus aurantium, also known as Seville orange, sour orange, or Bigarade orange.
Orange blossom water is lighter and less intensely perfumed than rosewater, although that varies greatly by brands and country of origin. Some are sweeter, others more floral.
The A. Monteux orange flower water from France has a very floral perfume-like fragrance.
Middle Eastern orange flower water is from Lebanon and has a more orange and citrusy nose with an earthy character and no sweetness to the palate. Cortas is the most commonly found brand of orange blossom water (and rosewater) in the United States.
Classically, rosewater is made using the many-petaled, fragrant damask rose, Rosa damascena, first grown in Persia and Bulgaria, but now also found in Spain, Italy, and France. Because of the perfume industry’s immense demand for rose oil, rosewater, a byproduct, is inexpensive. Rosewater was first produced by chemists in medieval times in Persia. Today, the Middle East is the largest producer of rosewater, because of demand and the availability of damask roses. In the south of France and North Africa, rose oil is obtained from Rosa centifolia.
In the famed Bulgarian Rose Valley, also known as the Kazanluk Valley, rosewater is distilled from damask roses cultivated in the region for over 300 years and producing blossoms with an extraordinarily high percentage of essential oil.
Indian rose essence is extracted from small doubled-petaled deep-red roses grown specifically for their inimitable fragrance.
Rosewater has a distinctive flavor and is used heavily in South Asian, West Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine—especially in sweets. For the uninitiated, especially in America, the first reaction is usually “it tastes like soap,” because that is our association in the West.
In the Middle East, Indian, Turkey, and North Africa, rose is as common a culinary flavoring as is vanilla and cinnamon. My absolute favorite rosewater comes from Dubai and is available from Kalustyans (www.kalustyans.com).
Turkish Urfa pepper
Urfa biber (also known as Isot pepper) is a dried Turkish pepper, a variety of Capsicum annum cultivated in the Urfa region of Eastern Turkey. It is often described as having a smoky, raisiny taste. Urfa peppers ripen to a dark maroon on the plant but after curing turn deep purple to dark, purplish black.
Traditionally used in Turkey in meat and savory foods, because of its fruity overtones, American chefs are now incorporating Urfa into sweet dishes as well.
For curing, the peppers are sun-dried during the day and wrapped tightly at night. The night process is called ‘sweating’, and works to infuse the dried flesh with the remaining moisture of the pepper.
Urfa biber is less spicy than many other chile peppers, but provides a more lasting build of heat.
Buy high-quality freshly ground Urfa Pepper from Whole Spice in California. (www.wholespice.com).
Wattleseed (Acacia victoriae and A. murrayana) comes from several of the more than seven hundred species of Acacia–most of which are poisonous–that grow over much of central Australia.
Wattleseed is relatively expensive because it is mostly gathered from the wild and requires time-consuming processing. Buy small amounts of whole wattleseed. It is best used within 2 years; ground wattleseed is more perishable.
Wattleseed’s flavor combines roasted coffee, chocolate, and hazelnut.
The tiny brown seeds are in high demand in Australia for their deep, complex flavor, and they appear in pastries, breads, and desserts as well as in a coffee-like beverage.
Wattleseed is roasted in a process similar to roasting coffee and then ground to a dark brown, grainy powder that resembles coffee grounds.
Purchase whole or ground wattleseed from Herbie’s Spices (www.herbies.com.au) from Australia. Service is fast though shipping is pricy.
The curry-like spice mixture, Hawaij, is essential to the cuisine of Yemen and is also very popular in Israel, due to its large Yemenite community.
Hawaij is used liberally as a rub for grilled meats, poultry, seafood and vegetables and may also be sprinkled into soups, stews, sauces, and rice.
There is also a version of hawaij used to spice coffee (also tea and desserts) made from ginger, cinnamon, clove, and cardamom similar to the idea of Indian tea Masala.
Purchase Hawaij from Whole Spice (www.wholespice.com) or from kosher markets that carry Pereg spices from Israel.
To make your own hawaij, in a dry skillet, combine 6 tablespoons black peppercorns, 4 tablespoons cumin seed, 2 tablespoons coriander seed, 1 tablespoon green cardamom pods, and 1 teaspoon whole cloves. Toast over medium heat, shaking often, until fragrant.
Cool and then grind. Stir in 3 tablespoons ground turmeric. Makes about 1 cup.
- These days, restaurants are hungry for business, especially those in the higher price brackets, even in New York and other major cities. As a customers, you have the right to be greeted cordially, shown to the table promptly, and served graciously with food that meets your (reasonable) expectations. Anything less than that is cause to let the management know why you’re not satisfied.
- Almost all restaurants treat their “regular’s” better, so it pays to become a habitué of a place that you enjoy. It’s a good idea to recommend a favorite restaurant to friends and have them mention your name when making the reservation or when they arrive at the podium.
- If the server doesn’t mention the price of the specials, don’t order them or you might get a real surprise. This happened to me recently while dining with a friend in a well-known restaurant. The price of the special (a small portion of suckling pig and a few roasted potatoes) turned out to be $35.
- Order “local water” and you’ll save money and help the environment. Bottled water is a big money-maker in restaurants going for $6.50 and up per bottle. I’d rather spend my money on food and wine.
- To really learn about a restaurant, check out the trash area around back. If the staff cares enough to keep the trash area clean and organized, where no one usually sees it, they probably have enough pride to keep the kitchen (and bathroom) clean too. Also, if you see lots of processed food boxes (like frozen french fry boxes), avoid the place. On the other hand, boxes left from fresh vegetables, and, even better, from local growers, are an excellent sign.
- The standard tip these days is 20 percent, which is a lot easier to compute than 15 (take off a zero from the total and double the amount). If the service is less than adequate, by all means leave 15 percent. Even better, ask for the manager and tell that person why you’re not satisfied (being reasonable of course). If the service has been exceptional, make sure to tell that to the manager also.
- When eating lunch or breakfast, leave a bigger tip if possible, because prices are much lower so that these servers don’t make much money and will really appreciate your generosity.
- To help save the planet, avoid ordering critically endangered fish like Chilean sea bass and bluefin tuna, orange roughy, swordfish and shark, letting the restaurant know why. If you’re not sure, ask the server. In good restaurants, environmental awareness and menu knowledge is part of their training.
- Restaurants that are open on Monday may be selling fish that arrived last Thursday (the markets are open on Friday but stocks are low so most restaurants get their biggest order on Thursday). So, that special of the day could either be the freshest fish or the leftovers that need to be moved out quickly. (I know because I used to sell those less-than-fresh fish myself when necessary.)
- Choose a chef-owned restaurant over one that features a well-known chef who is an employee. With today’s merry-go-round kitchens, the chef may well be gone the next time you dine at the restaurant and your experience may be completely different (not in a good way). When the chef is the owner, even if they happen to be off the night you’re dining, with their personal investment in maintaining standards, you’ll still enjoy your meal. In my chef years, the newspaper restaurant reviewer deliberately came in on my day off to make sure that my staff was well-trained enough to prepare the food up to my standard even when I wasn’t there. (We got four stars.)
Cast-Aluminum Bundt Pans
I have two plain cast-aluminum Bundt pans, which I much prefer to the newer dark nonstick coated pans, which tend to yield cakes with an overly dark crust. My pans are at least 20 years old and show no sign of wear at all. Go to www.nordicware.com to see all their offerings. I use their Original Bundt Pan in the 12-cup size.
A 9-inch cast-iron skillet or (for a splurge) I prefer Wagner for cast-iron ware, simply because I find their shapes to be more elegant and useful. Go to www.wagnerware.com for more information and to order. I sometimes find good, seasoned (though usually slightly rusty) cast-iron skillets at yard sales and flea markets. After using a cast-iron skillet, rinse it out and then immediately wipe it dry. In the beginning, you’ll need to rub the pan with a thin coating of oil to protect it. After you’ve used it awhile, the pan will begin to get seasoned and won’t need this step.
Chicago Metallic Loaf and Muffins Tins
For loaf pans and muffin tins, I prefer the heavy-duty ones made by Chicago Metallic in many sizes. These pans never wear out, they don’t warp, and are an all-around pleasure to use. I mostly use a standard, medium, or 1-pound loaf pan, 81/2 x 41/2-inches and prefer one that is light aluminum not dark. This company’s 13 x 9-inch baking pans are also excellent. Go to www.cmbakeware.com for a complete listing. Their products are available online from www.amazon.com and from www.chefscatalogue.com.
Culinary Butane Torch
It’s a whole lot easier to brown a meringue topping or glaze a crème brûlée with a culinary butane torch. I used to use a larger propane torch of the type found at hardware stores. Now, I go for the smaller, easier to use and control torch that uses the same can of butane fuel made for the portable burner called a Cassette Feu. Buy the top, which fits on to a standard can from www.surfasonline.com.
Disher or Ice Cream Scoop
I use several sizes of universal stainless steel dishers, available at many good cookware stores, to quickly scoop even-sized portions of cookie batter. Look for a complete line of beautifully made Vollrath universal dishers at www.surfasonline.com, which lists the size (based on the number of scoops per quart) and the actual contents of each scoop by the ounce. Because I am left-handed, I avoid the type of disher where you must use a tab built for righties to squeeze the scoop. There are knock-off inexpensive scoops for sale that I’ve found break much too quickly to be worth their lower price.
Disposable Pastry Bags
I have a 100-bag roll of plastic disposable pastry bags that I find quite useful. In Europe, for good reason, it is illegal to use cloth reusable pastry bags, because they are almost impossible to clean thoroughly. You can buy a roll of 100 (12-inch) disposable bags from www.surfasonline.com for about $15.00. An alternative is to use a quart or gallon-sized ziplock freezer bag (heavier than the storage bags) and cut out the corner to the correct size.
Enameled Cast-Iron Dutch Oven
An enameled cast-iron pot, such as a 51/2-quart Le Creuset casserole, is really useful for baking crusty bread. I love the 6-quart Italian Essentials pot made by Copco for Mario Batali. For product information go to at www.italiankitchenstore.com. It is available at www.chefsresource.com for about $100, quite a bit less than the equivalent made by Le Creuset. I found the persimmon color irresistible as I’m a sucker for all things orange (also Batali’s signature color, although I’d been wearing orange clogs for years before I saw his). See the recipe for Greek Country Barley Bread on page 000.
Foley Food Mill
For straining fruit purees, I use a 20-year-old Foley food mill that never seems to wear out. For finer straining, such as removing the seeds from a raspberry puree, I put the purée through a fine metal China cap (of a kind and quality that is hard to find nowadays) or a fine wire sieve.
The larger the capacity, the better. I have both an older commercial R2 model and a smaller home Kitchen Aid food processor. I’ve seen the R2 for sale on E-Bay for about $800, which is admittedly a lot of money. With its powerful motor, it will, however, last a lifetime. I find the food processor to be indispensable in baking, for making doughs, grinding nuts, chopping chocolate to fine bits for easier melting, smoothing out pastry creams, mixing fillings like frangipane almond filling, and for chopping praline chunks into small bits.
French Composite Plastic Cutters
I have switched from the old-time tinned cookie cutters, which tend to rust, stainless cutters, which tend to stick, and copper cutters, which are great but high-priced, to the newer Exoglass cutters from France. These strong, sharp, and rigid composite plastic cutters produce even cuts and prevent rust and bacteria growth. They are also heat resistant and dishwasher safe. Buy the cutters from Previn in Philadelphia, a great resource for serious chefs looking for the best in European and American cookware and bakeware (www.previninc.com)
This is a handy tool for smoothing out lumpy pastry cream and pureeing fruits to sauce. Buy the largest one you can find. Mine is a Kitchen Aid model that also comes with a handy whisk attachment, useful for beating small amounts of heavy cream or egg whites.
Also known as bun pans, these heavy-duty 18 x 13-inch pans are a standard in my kitchen. They bake evenly, don’t warp, have a bigger yield, and hold a standard silicone baking mat. I couldn’t bake without them. Buy them at any restaurant supply store or from many online suppliers. Note that some older ovens may not be large enough for this pan. Frustratingly for this baker, my old ovens were too small for this size pan. Luckily, my newer standard American oven is fine, as are most ovens produced today for the home.
For mixing, I use my trusty 5-quart Kitchen-Aid mixer, the NSF-approved Pro Model, which has a somewhat more heavy-duty motor. For back-up and for my wonderful assistant, Betty Kaplan, we worked with my 25-year old Kitchen-Aid K5A mixer, which takes a licking and keeps on ticking. I also invested in an extra bowl, making it much easier and faster for separated egg cake batters. I use the meat grinder attachment to grind the fruit and nut filling for cookies like the Cuccidati (page 000) and for chunky salsas. It is a better choice than the food processor, which tends to chop things into a paste. Instead, the mixture grinds into small, evenly-sized chunks.
I use my heavy-duty (that word again) red scissors for all sorts of tasks in the kitchen, from cutting parchment paper to fit to trimming off the ends of disposable pastry bags or ziplock bags to fit a pastry tip.
Although many professional chefs prefer using an old-fashioned three-sided stone for sharpening, I’ve found that I’m not particularly skilled at doing this, so I’ve become a big fan of the knife sharpener made by Chef’s Choice. Go to www.chefschoice.com to see their different models. I have the top-of-the-line electric pro model, but then I sharpen a lot of knives. The smaller, electric home model 120 that comes in different colors will probably work fine for you.
Magic Line Cake Pans
For cake pans, I prefer the removable-bottom spun aluminum pans made by Magic Line rather than springform pans, because there is nothing to break or lose here. I mostly use 9-inch cake pans though there are a few recipes that call for 8- or 10-inch pans. The pans are nice and heavy-duty so they bake cakes evenly and never wear out. They are available from many online retailers, including Amazon and Target.
This is an indispensable tool for me, because I use aromatic citrus zests in so much of my baking. See page 000 for more information.
Natural Bristle Brushes
It is best to have a few sturdy brushes. While those made with silicone bristles are easier to clean and don’t break, they don’t work nearly as well as the old-fashioned brushes made with natural bristles. Avoid brushes with nylon bristles, which will melt instantly if they get too hot. I find that a 11/2-inch brush size is the most useful.
Parchment and Wax Paper
Both these baker’s aids are useful in the kitchen, although now that I’ve been using my Silpat silicone mats, I don’t use nearly as much parchment paper. It is useful for baking things like bar cookies that you’ll want to cut into individual portions, because you can’t cut on the silicone mats. Wax paper is an old stalwart that works for many of the same applications.
Ring or Tube Pan
Some dense cakes bake up better in a ring or tube pan that is 10-inches in diameter. If you use a standard round pan, the outer portion will get overdone before the inner portion is ready. As always, I recommend buying the heaviest, best-made pan you can find. Cheap pans, especially those with spring clips will break all too quickly. Because it seems that plain tube pans are not that common anymore, you may substitute a 10-inch Bundt pan, an angel food pan, or a Turk’s head mold traditionally used to make Kugelhopf cakes.
Make rolling doughs easier and more effective by choosing a heavy rolling pin. I prefer my well-seasoned straight French wooden rolling pin to the standard American ball-bearing rolling pin with handles on the ends, because I get a better feel of the dough being worked. This is purely a matter of taste. Use whatever works best for you. For an inexpensive 201/2-inch French pin similar to the one I use made from hard birch or maple, go to www.fantes.com, which has a large selection of rolling pins with useful explanations of the different types.
To roll out dough, I invested in a 24 x 18-inch Roul-Pat, a large fiberglass-strengthened silicone mat perfect for rolling as absolutely nothing sticks to it. It is the same material in a larger size as the Silpat silicone baking mats so popular among professional pastry chefs and now available in half sheet pan size for home use. The only drawback here is that you can’t cut the dough on the mat.
Sharp Chef’s Knife
I use several different knives, all about 8-inches in length, although probably my favorite is made by the Japanese company, Mac Knives (www.macknife.com) and has an 81/2-inch blade. It is perfectly balanced, easy to sharpen, and not overly heavy. I find that for smaller hands, it’s easier to control a knife of this size than a standard 10-inch chef’s knife.
A sharp paring knife for paring fruits and vegetables with a 2- to 3-inch blade is most useful.
The rubber spatula is on the short list of indispensable tools invented in America (another is the swivel peeler). Note that rubber spatulas will melt when immersed in hot liquids, while those made from silicone will not. I have at least half a dozen in both the smaller and the larger size, which are perfect for delicate folding and to scrape every last bit of batter out of the bowl (although dedicated bowl-lickers may not be too happy about this).
Silpat Silicone Mats
These are the original silicone mats from France that fit a standard half sheet pan. You’ll never need to butter and flour a pan again! There are other companies making silicone mats but I haven’t liked any of the other ones I’ve used nearly as much. Buy the half sheet pan size mat from Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Buy one that fits a 15 x 10-inch jelly roll pan at www.surlatable.com. Just be careful never to cut on the mat (as I found out the hard way the first time I used mine).
I prefer using stainless steel bowls, again, the heavier the better, and they’ll last forever. You can place a stainless steel bowl on top of a pot full of boiling water when making heated egg batters for sponge cakes. You can quickly cool hot fillings over a second bowl filled with ice and water. I have at least a dozen different sizes of bowls, though you can probably make do with three of four. My favorite is an old (at least 30 years) 13-quart rolled edge stainless steel bowl made by Vollrath, which is the perfect size and shape for folding together light cake batters like angel food cake. There are many cheap, light stainless steel bowls now coming in from China and India, which will tend to quickly get dented and warped, so I would avoid them. Go to www.vollrathco.com to see their listing of American-made heavy-duty stainless steel bowls. Buy a good selection of the bowls online from www.surfasonline.com.
Thermapen Instant-Read Thermometer
The Thermapen, a wonderful instant-read thermometer, can be used for custards, caramel, and deep-frying and to test whether bread is done. (See page 000 for more information or go to www.thermoworks.com).
I use whisks for many tasks when baking: whisking together the dry ingredients so they are evenly combined (this works as well as sifting unless you are combining very light cake flour, starches, or cocoa, which tends to form lumps); lightly beating eggs and sugar when making custards and pastry creams, where you don’t need to incorporate air but just need to combine them evenly; combining melted and unmelted chocolate bits so the hard bits melt evenly; beating air into sponge cake batter as it is heating over steaming water; and many other tasks. Invest in several different sizes of sturdy, well-made whisks. It is worthwhile to buy one large balloon whisk to incorporate as much air as possible when making sponge cakes.
Wire Cooking Racks
It’s best to buy several stainless steel wire racks for cooling pans of cookies and cakes. If you get the heavy-duty type, they will last a lifetime. I also use the racks to drain deep-fried foods, placing the rack over a pan to catch the drips. This way I can put the pan containing the drained foods right into a low (200°F) oven to keep warm while I fry up the rest of the batch. Because there is air circulation all around, the fried bits don’t get soggy as the bottoms do if they are drained on paper.