Monday, April 23, 2012

Foraging for dinner with Charlie Trotter's culinary team

Eric Lester
I’m standing in a patch of open woods in a patch of scrubby weeds with the chefs from Charlie Trotter, a Chicago restaurant, waiting for Eric Lester to lead us on a foraging trip to find morels, ramps and other wild edibles just a mile or two from downtown Buchanan.

What I didn’t realize was that I was already at a prime location.

“This is the most amazing salad bar,” Lester says gesturing around. “Look at everything here we can eat.”

Jim Lester with freshly picked goldenrod
Those of us who aren’t in the know and had never been foraging before with Lester exchange looks. The unattractive plants certainly don’t look like salad bar material to me.     

“Arisaema triphyllum,” he says holding aloft what I recognize as a jack-in-the-pulpit, a pretty spring flower with delicate streaks of white and purple. “Don’t eat the leaves, they’ll make you sick. But the root has a potato like bulb that’s edible when cooked.”

But before we can ask questions, Lester is on to the next plant – one with tiny white florets that form a ball. It’s one that I’m plucked countless times from my yard and thrown away, thinking of it as a weed. But then one person’s weed is another person’s flower – or in this case meal.

Thursday, March 08, 2012


Susan Blum, owner of  Blum'n Good Cake & Pastries, recently added two mini desserts-- cake pops and whoopie pies – to the selection of sweets that she makes to order.

“Cake pops are fun because they’re like cake on a stick,” says Blum who lives in Lawrence. “And whoopie pies are sandwich cakes and easy to eat.”

Though the term American as a whoopie pie doesn’t quite have the ring to it the apple pie does, whoopie pies – traditionally two small rounds of chocolate cake sandwiched with a butter cream filling – are an original American dessert. Said to have first been made by Amish women and called hucklebucks, the pies were packed in their husbands’ lunch boxes. When they opened them, they were so happy to see the treats that they shouted “whoopie.”   

There’s an annual Whoopie Pie Festival at the Hershey Farm and Inn in Strasburg, Pennsylvania with a whoopie pie eating contest and the coronation of the Whoopie Pie Queen. Maine, which also claims the pie hosts the Maine Whoopie Pie Festival each year too also with a whoopie pie eating contest but, to fight those bad effects, a 3K Run and Walk.

Sometimes called gobs as well, whoopie pies used to be found mostly in the eastern part of the U.S., encased in plastic and sitting next to the cash register. But over the last few years, they’ve become more upscale and even have their own cookbook “Whoopie Pies: Dozens of Mix ‘em, Match ‘em, Eat ‘em Recipes” by Sarah Billingsley and Amy Treadwell (Chronicle Books 2010;  $16.95) which not only includes instructions on how to make the classic chocolate ones but also includes carrot cake, jalapeno cornbread, vegan and gluten free whoopies and even a rosewater cream filling. 

Cake pops, also called cakesickles, are, according to Blum, smashed cake and frosting.

“There are two recipes and two methods of making cake pops that I know of” she says. “Both make a 1 to 2" ball and look about the same when done. Both can be made with a store bought cake mix ,or a cake made from scratch. But after trying both recipes out on my friends and family, I was told that there is one distinct difference  -- sweetness.” 

Blum describes the sweeter recipe as a "cake and frosting pop", since the interior contains both.

“It’s like a piece of birthday cake on a stick,” she says.

To order from Sue Blum, call 269-425-2762.

Sue Blum’s Cake and Frosting Pop

1- 9 x 13 cake made from scratch (see recipe below) or a mix
3 cups butter cream (Blum uses the Wilton brand) or cream cheese frosting (see recipe below)
Chocolate chips
White chocolate chips

Sprinkles, chopped nuts, coconut and other decorative add-ons
Food coloring (Wilton Color paste or gel recommended)

Bake a cake of any flavor in a 9x13 cake pan. Cool cake completely. Break cake in half with your clean hands. Rub" the cake halves together over a large bowl, than break cake up with your fingers until you have small crumbs.

Add three cups of butter cream or cream cheese frosting) to cake crumbs and mix with a large spoon until all of the cake is coated. Cover mixture and refrigerate until firm. Mix can be made ahead and used the next day.

Prepare two cookie sheet pans by covering with either wax paper or parchment paper. To form cake "balls" or pops so that they are all the same size, use a scoop that holds one or two tablespoons. A larger melon baller, a small cookie scoop, or a rounded table spoon will work. 

Next roll the ball in the palm of your hands to get the nice round shape. Place rolled cake pops on prepared sheets so they are not touching. Insert lollipop sticks about half way into formed cake pops, being careful not to poke all of the way through.
Put pans of pops with sticks in the freezer until hardened, about 30 minutes.
While pops are in freezers prepare coatings for outside of pops.  

Place chocolate chips or chocolate almond bark in a microwave safe bowl. Heat on high 30 seconds at a time, stirring until chocolate is melted. Chocolate will not look melted until the second or third 30 second heating, keep stirring.

When cake is hardened, take pops from freezer to dip in chocolate. (I only take a few out at a time so they don't all get too soft while I am dipping). Hold stick and dip so the whole pop is coated, but try not to keep pop in the hot chocolate too long, as it may come apart or slide off of the stick. Tap stick lightly on the side of the bowl, to remove any excess chocolate. 

Roll in nuts, cocoanuts, sprinkles, etc before chocolate hardens.
 Place dipped pop back onto cookie sheet to harden. Do not refrigerate these or the coating could weep or melt. 

After pops are dry, the ones without sprinkles can be decorated using white chocolate that’s been colored. Blum recommends using Wilton Color paste or gel because liquid food coloring will make white chocolate harden too fast to work with. 

Pour about 1/2 cup colored white chocolate into disposable decorating bags or sandwich baggies. If chocolate hardens in the bag, microwave it for about 15 seconds.  Cut a tiny hole in the tip of filled bag. Doodle, swirl and dot or add any other decorative touches you want.  

Sue Blum’s Chocolate Cake

2 cups sugar
3 cups flour
1 3/4 cups powdered cocoa
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup boiling water

Heat oven 350° F.

Grease or spray with pan spray one 9 x 13 baking pan. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl.  

Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed with mixer for 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water, making a thin batter will be thin.

Pour into prepared pans. Bake 30-35 minutes.

Sue Blum’s Cream Cheese Frosting

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter room temperature
8 oz cream cheese room temperature
2-3 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla

With electric mixer, mix butter and cream cheese together on medium, about 3 minutes until fluffy. Scrape bowl and add vanilla. Slowly add powdered sugar. Scrape sides of bowl and continue beating on high until fluffy.

 S’more Whoopie Pies 

From “Whoopie Pies” by Sarah Billingsley and Amy Treadwell

Graham Cracker Whoopie

1½ cup graham flour
¾ cup all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 tablespoons vegetable shortening
1 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
½ cup buttermilk
2 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, stir together both flours, baking powder, and salt.
In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter, shortening, and brown sugar until light and creamy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs and buttermilk and beat until combined.

In a measuring cup, combine milk, baking soda, and vinegar. Add milk mixture to batter along with flour mixture and beat on low speed until just combined. Add vanilla and beat on medium speed for about 2 minutes, until completely combined.
Using a spoon, drop about 1 tablespoon of batter onto one of the baking sheets. Repeat, spacing them at least 2 inches apart.

Bake one sheet at a time for about 10 minutes each or until the cakes begin to brown. Remove from the oven and let the cakes cool on the sheet for at least 5 minutes before transferring them to a rack to cool completely.

Spread with marshmallow cream and chocolate ganache, but if you’re in a hurry a dollop of Marshmallow Fluff and a square of chocolate will do the job.

Marshmallow Cream

1½ cup Marshmallow Fluff
1¼ cup vegetable shortening
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together Marshmallow Fluff and shortening, starting on low and increasing to medium speed until the mixture is smooth and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
Reduce mixer speed to low, add confectioner’s sugar and vanilla, and beat until incorporated. Increase mixer speed to medium and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes more.

Chocolate Ganache

8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips or 8 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped
½ cup heavy (whipping) cream

Put chocolate in a large, heat-proof bowl.

Heat cream in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat just until it bubbles. Pour cream over the chocolate in the bowl and let it sit for about 10 minutes, until the chocolate is melted.

Stir until smooth. Allow the mixture to rest until firm enough to spread, about 2 hours. You may also refrigerate the mixture for about 30 minutes, until it is firm enough to spread, stirring every 10 minutes.

Bakerella’s Signature Cake Pops

From “Cake Pops: Tips, Tricks, and Recipes for More Than 40 Irresistible Mini Treats” by Angie Dudley.

9-by-13-inch Chocolate Cake for Cupcake Pops  (see Blum’s recipe above)
2 cups Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting (see Blum’s recipe above)
1 package chocolate coating bark
1 package white coating bark or pink candy melts
Sprinkles, for garnish
Candy-coated chocolates, such as M& M's, for garnish

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. Trim about 1/2 inch from the perimeter of the cake. Working in batches, crumble cake into the bowl of a food processor; process until fine crumbs form. Transfer to a large bowl and add frosting; blend together using the back of a spoon, until well combined, 5 to 10 minutes.
Roll mixture into 1 1/4- to 1 1/2-inch balls; transfer to prepared baking sheet. Cover with parchment-paper-lined aluminum foil. Transfer to refrigerator until chilled, about 2 hours or to a freezer for about 10 minutes.

Begin to shape balls into cupcakes by rolling balls first into logs. Fit logs into a 1 1/4-by-3/4-inch flower-shaped cookie cutter. Push cake mixture into the cutter halfway so that some of the cake mixture extends beyond the top of the cutter. Shape extended cake mixture into a cupcake-shaped top. Push cake from cutter to remove. Transfer to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Transfer to freezer until chilled, 5 to 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt chocolate in heatproof bowl set over (but not touching) simmering water. Line another baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. Remove cupcakes from freezer and dip the bottom of each cupcake into the chocolate; transfer, bottom-side up, to prepared baking sheet. To make lollipops, insert a lollipop stick into the bottom of each cupcake. Let chocolate set, 15 to 20 minutes.

Melt white chocolate or pink candy melts in heatproof bowl set over (but not touching) simmering water. Dip the tops of the cupcakes into the chocolate and place right-side up on prepared baking sheet or stick lollipop sticks into a Styrofoam square. Place a candy-coated chocolate in the center of each and top with sprinkles. Let dry completely.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Road to San Sebastia de Oeste

High in the Sierra Madre, we follow the twisting road from Puerto Vallarta and the seaside on our way to San Sebastian de Oeste.

We're just an hour from Puerto Vallarta but its seaside beauty and lovely neighborhoods filled with shops and restaurants gives quickly away the higher we go into the magnificent mountains with their shades of green, ochre and dusky blue. The road is wide and smooth but our guide tells us that just a few years ago it was a narrow path and there were stops along the way at farms where freshly caught meat and distilled tequila were accompanied by hand patted tortillas and cheese made that morning. He sighs, missing what were some of the best meals he ever had and which are now no more.

As we near San Sebastian, taking a turn on a dirt road where cows,unconfined by fencing, have to be shooed out of the way, to San Sebastian. Here we stop at La Quinta Café de Altura, an organic coffee farm owned by Rafael Sanchez, his wife Rosa and Lola, Rafael’s sister. Five generations of the family have grown coffee here .

 The family, in a building dating back more than 120 years, tend 11 acres of coffee trees, some as old as the house, handpick 30 tons of beans each year, dry, roast and grind them, making blends such as a mixture of ground beans with cinnamon and sugar for the traditional, and now often hard to find, Mexican coffee. Tastings are available and so are Rosa’s homemade candies such as guava rolls and sweets made from sweet goat’s milk. In an interesting aside, we learn that the Sanchez’s parents married early (the Don was 15), a 68-year union that produced 21 children. Their grandfather did even better, having 28 children, though that took both a wife and several mistresses. 

Walking along the cobblestone road, past a massive 300 year plus ash tree and cascading white frizzes of el manto de la virgin, we enter Comedor Lupita. Here terra cotta platters loaded with chicken mole, fresh handmade tortillas (in America they’d be called artisan tortillas), refried beans and something I’ve never tasted before – machaca, a dish of dried beef mixed with spices and eggs, are heaped in front of us. As we eat, we watch the family busy behind the tiled counter, making even more food. 

Through the windows we see splashes of bright purple from the masses of bougainvillea that drape the stone exterior walls and here the sounds of caballeros, their horses’ hooves striking the centuries old street. We sip our sweet agua de Jamaica water and feel time passing seemingly in reverse. 


1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
Juice of 4 limes
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 tablespoon salt
1/2 tablespoon black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil


2 lbs. skirt steak, cut into strips
1 large sweet onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped
1 14 ounce can diced tomatoes with green chilies
1/2 cup beef broth
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon hot pepper sauce (Tabasco or a Mexican brand, such a Valencia)
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons oil

Whisk all the marinade ingredients together, and then add the skirt steak. Marinate at least 6 hours or overnight tablespoon Remove meat from marinade, drain, and pat dry. Bring to room temperature. Discard marinade.
In a large heavy pot, heat oil. Sear the meat well on both sides, in batches so as not to crowd them. Remove the meat as it is browned and set aside.

Drain fat. Add in the onion, peppers, and garlic, cook until tender, then add tomatoes, broth, pepper sauce and spices. Bring to a boil, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot. Return beef and simmer, covered, for two hours, stirring from time to time until tender. Cool and shred.

Lay meat on a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 250º for 20 minutes or until meat is dry.

Machaca con Huevos

2 chopped scallions (white part only)
1 hot green chili
2 tomatoes
1 cup dried machaca
2 eggs
Chopped cilantro

Sauté scallions and peppers in oil until tender, add tomatoes and beef until heated. Remove from pan, add eggs and cumin. Scramble, then stir machata mixture. Garnish with cilantro and serve with hot tortillas.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Baking Sisters of Monastery Immaculate Conception

A special holiday tradition is a trip to the Monastery Immaculate Conception, a wonderful Romanesque building sitting high on a hill overlooking Ferdinand in Dubois County, Indiana. For it is here that the sisters make wonderful cookies in their Simply Divine Bakery which they sell at the monastery’s For Heaven’s Sake Gift Shop and online ( the sisters are very modern these days). Their big selling Christmas cookie is the springerle and they make and sell about 2700 dozen during their peak months – October through February. That may not sound like a lot, but the cookies are handmade by a group of the sisters using presses brought by one of the Benedictine order from Germany over a century ago.

“It’s a very time consuming process,” Sister Jean Marie Ballard told me. “They take a long time to make and five of us often work on them at a time.”

Traditionally, springerles are made with anise oil but for those who don’t  like the licorice flavor, the sisters created  almerles using the same recipe but substituting almond oil for the anise.”
Leading the baking of the springerles is Sister Barbara Jean who grew up in the predominantly German area of Ferdinand and nearby Jasper who has been making them since she was young.

The baking sisters grow their own peppermint on the extensive monastery grounds and use that for their buttermint cookies.  And they also bake a cookie they call the Hildegard after Saint Hildegard who lived in the 1100s and besides being saint sounds like a most remarkable woman.

A Benedictine abbess, she was a scholar who corresponded with popes and royalty and wrote books on natural science, medicine, theology, metaphysics and music.  Besides that, as a composer and lyricist, Hildegard created the earliest recorded music by a woman. All this in a time when most women – and men – didn’t even know how to read.  And when she wasn’t doing all that, Hildegard practiced natural medicine and in one of her writings, “Physica: Liber Simplicis Medicine,” she recommended the frequent consumption of a health cookie. It has long been a tradition in the monastery to make these cookies using Hildegard’s recipe which was recorded in 1157.

A Google search quickly led me to the recipe which calls for spelt flour, often available at health food stores, but whole wheat flour can be substituted. Besides that, all of the ingredients except for kelp, which is optional, are probably already in your pantry.

Saint Hildegard’s Cookie

Cream together:

1/2 cup softened butter
1/2 cup honey
1 egg

In separate bowl, mix together:

2 cups flour (spelt, whole wheat, or 1/2 cup garbanzo flour plus 1 1/2 cups wheat)
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 tsp dulse or kelp (optional, but this adds valuable trace minerals)
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 tablespoon ground fenugreek (optional)
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped almonds or walnuts (optional)

Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients. Pour liquid ingredients in well and mix into dry ingredients.

Chill in refrigerator to cool, to make it easier to work with (optional). Form into walnut sized balls.
Place on greased and floured cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes.

To order cookies, call 812 367-1411 or visit

Monday, July 04, 2011

My new blog

South of Puerto Vallarta Where the "Predator" Once Roamed

On the second day in Puerto Vallarta, we drove south on Carretera a Mismaloya, a coastal road that follows the contours of the bay and then turned onto a rutted mountain track which wound its way through the jungle along the Mismaloya River. It was at the summit here, in an area known as El Eden, that Arnold Schwarzenegger filmed the movie “Predator.”
But even before Arnold arrived, this pretty spot was popular because of its large smooth boulders where the river spills over creating a natural water slide. The water collects into deep pools of cool water perfect for swimming. 

For more than 30 years, people visiting El Eden could eat at the thatched topped restaurant that edges the river and many of the people working here, including the man playing accordion have been here almost since the restaurant first opened. Now there are also zip line tours above the jungle canopy and for those not afraid of heights, the sights include remains from the movie set including a large metal predator and a helicopter. Remote as this place is, Arnold was not the only movie star to visit. Eric Roberts was here recently filming “Sharktopus.”

But my interest is the food and El Eden’s specialty is fresh seafood prepared in the large open air kitchen filled with busy cooks including a woman making corn tortillas by patting balls of masa into flat rounds and then placing them on a hot comal or griddle.

The restaurant’s long time menu items now have names from the movie including their specialties – large shrimp stuffed with cheese and wrapped with bacon called Camarones Depredator or Predator Shrimp and La Mariscada del Depredator -- huge platters of grilled red snapper, lobster, shrimp, beef, crabs and skewered chicken.  The fish seasoning is a traditional one typically found along the coast here and we tasted it again when eating the red snapper dish called Pescado Zarandeado at Mariscos Tinos Puerto Vallarta. This second floor restaurant in the city’s Centro or Central district near the water so impressed Mexican food authority and restaurateur Rick Bayless that he featured their recipe on his TV food show “One Plate at a Time.”

Tino’s Pescado Zarandeado as adapted by Rick Bayless
(Fish Zarandeado)

4 ancho chiles or 8 guajillo chiles, stemmed, seeded and torn into flat pieces
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
2 garlic cloves, peeled
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons Worcestershire
1 3-pound fish (round fish like snapper, grouper or striped bass work really well)—ask to have it filleted
Oil for brushing or spraying the basket and fish
12 warm corn tortillas
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced, for serving
2 limes, cut into wedges, for serving
Chinese toasted chiles in oil (or your favorite salsa or hot sauce), for serving (optional)

In a dry skillet over medium heat, toast the chile pieces a few at a time, pressing them firmly against the hot surface with a metal spatula until they are aromatic, about 10 seconds per side. In a bowl, rehydrate the chiles for 20 minutes in hot tap water to cover; place a plate on top to keep them submerged.

Use a pair of tongs to transfer the rehydrated chiles to a food processor or blender. Add 1⁄2 cup of the soaking liquid, along with the tomato sauce, garlic, soy and Worcestershire. Blend to a smooth puree.  Press through a medium-mesh sieve into a bowl.  Taste and season highly with salt, usually about 2 teaspoons.

Cut 1⁄2-inch-deep diagonal slashes along the flesh side of the fish (to promote even cooking and aide in marinade penetration). Sprinkle with both sides with salt. Spread or brush about 3 tablespoons of the marinade over both sides of the fish. You’ll probably have marinade leftover for another round of fish which will keep for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator.

Grill and serve.  Turn on a gas grill to medium or light a charcoal fire and let it burn to until the coals are covered with white ash. Lay a grill basket over the fire. When quite hot, brush or spray the basket generously with oil. Spray or lightly brush the fish with oil, then lay the oiled-side down on the basket; spray or brush the other side. Close the basket and cook lay over the fire. Cook, turning every 3 or 4 minutes until the fish is cooked through but still juicy.  A 3-pound snapper typically takes 10 to 15 minutes.

Gently and carefully open the basket and remove the fish to a platter. Serve with warm tortillas, red onion, lime and toasted chiles for making very tasty soft tacos.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Puerto Vallarta Restaurant Week: Trio

Who could turn down an invitation to Puerto Vallarta during Vallarta Restaurant Week, a 17-day event held every May 15-31 and the chance to try so many of their great restaurants. During restaurant week many of the city’s dining establishments – and they have a ton -- offer innovative three-course menus, with three options available for each courses at prices that are often discounted  up to 50% (tips and beverages not included).  

At Restaurant Trio, I met chef/owner Bernhard Güth who fixed a wonderful meal for all of us. Trio, which is located on Guerrero, the oldest street in Puerto Vallarta dating back to the 1840s when the city was a trading port where salt was shipped in and taken by mules up into the mountains.  And though now Puerto Vallarta is a sophisticated city,  Güth, who moved here from New York in 1994, told us that they didn’t get electricity until 1971 – the same year that the first road was paved.

Güth changes his menu five to six times a year and some of his special dishes the night we were there relied upon what was in season (though in this part of Mexico there’s always something wonderful ripening). We tasted chile and roasted red snapper over ratatouille with a lime-cilantro sauce, a Lebanese salda –baked beet slices with parsley and marinated goat cheese and young goat from Tuito – a Colonial town about an hour from Puerto Vallarta –cooked in the traditional Jalisco style called birria which is a thick stew. It was served with a ragout of sweet corn and huitlecoche (corn fungus) and a cabbage salad. 

We also tasted (okay it was more than taste) several Mexican wines and I learned that the oldest winery in the Western hemisphere is Casa Madera, established in 1597 in Parras de la Fuente, one of the Pueblos Magicos – pretty and enchanting towns in Mexico featuring symbolism, legends, history, important events and charming day-to-day life.

Bernhard Güth’s Fish & Shrimp 

4 red snapper fillets, 7 oz each, seasoned with salt, pepper and fresh thyme
16 - 20 peeled shrimp
4 oz butter
1 clove garlic, chopped

Sauté the fresh fish fillets and shrimp in frying pan with the butter and garlic. Finish off in oven 5 - 6 minutes, until cooked through. Strain and reserve the butter for the lime-ginger sauce.

Lime-Ginger Sauce

16 oz fish stock
8 oz cream
1 tsp grated ginger
2 tsp lime juice
Habanero sauce
Reserved butter from fish & shrimp

Combine the fish stock with cream and reduce by half. Add the ginger and lime juice. Season with salt, pepper and habanero sauce. Add the butter.

Pumpkin & Sweet Potato Mash

24 oz pumpkin, peeled and cut in chunks
24 oz sweet potatoes, peeled and cut in wedges
1 sprig rosemary
1 - 2 tbsp maple syrup

Toss the pumpkin and sweet potatoes with the other ingredients and bake about 30 minutes, until tender.  Stir and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Blood, Bones and Butter

I just finished listening to Gabrielle Hamilton's book on CD in time to ask her some rather okay questions (I hate when I interview someone and haven't read their book, seen their movie or whatever and end up asking a question that even a five year old would know the answer to) and she took the time to really give me some great answers, ones I hadn't seen written in 25 other places.

She is totally compelling, seemingly frank and honest and not really into the glamour of being a top chef who owns one of New York's best restaurants but instead focused on cooking, her family and friends. Listening to her made me want to get in my kitchen and cook fried sweetbreads with capers which are on her menu at Prune though I refuse to kill my own chickens, pigs and lambs which Hamilton has no problem doing.  Alas, I had a deadline so instead of cooking I had to write. Here's one of the articles I wrote about the book which ran in the Northwest Indiana Times -- or  read it on their Website:

Chef Gabrielle Hamilton: Finding the end of a journey in food

Gabrielle Hamilton knows what she's hungry for and what she isn't, and this fierce chef, owner of Prune, a very popular New York City restaurant, won't let anything stop her. Her honesty for life translates well in her newly released memoir, "Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef" (Random House $26).

"Being extremely honest is my nature and also a family trait - we all were raised with such candor in the household," says Hamilton, who will be at the Publican in Chicago on Sunday for a reception and book signing.
"That said, I exerted terrific effort to take good care of everyone I had to include in the book and wrote about people and places and events as I experienced them and with as much gentleness as I possessed. I also did not exempt myself from such honesty. I frequently am unlikeable in this book, as in life."
The book is, in some ways, about her search to recreate a family like the one she had when young. It was a childhood ranging from her parents' wonderful parties, sometimes for over 100 people, of pit-cooked lamb and fresh root beer, to breakfasts of homemade Italian sausage and fresh bread made by her father.
This dream existence, at least for Hamilton, ended one morning when her mother, cooking over a six burner stove in the family's rural kitchen, swept the New York Times off the table and away from her father and he retaliated by throwing dishes and food to the floor before walking out.
"It probably took over a year, or almost two, to dismantle the family," writes Hamilton. "But I was eleven turning twelve, and I felt as if I fell asleep by the lamb pit one day and woke up the next morning to an empty house, a bare cupboard, the leftover debris of a wild and brilliant party, and only half an inch of Herbal Essence left in the bottle on the ledge in the shower."
Hamilton and her older brother were pretty much abandoned by both parents - often for weeks at a time. Or they'd be isolated in a remote area of Vermont with their mother and then back to a distracted father who set no limits and had no money.
Next came jobs in restaurants starting at age 13, as Hamilton tried to make money, and also often "borrowing" cars from a local repair shop when they left the keys in the ignition. It was on to more stealing, inventive illegal schemes, drugs, affairs and that continuing achy hunger for what no longer existed.
"I wrote a book in a way that I would like more people to write books," says Hamilton, noting that she isn't afraid of the real truth. "There is nothing you can tell me about yourself that is going to make me clutch my pearls."
Her honesty is legendary. Asked during an audition why she wanted to become "The Next Iron Chef," she pondered and then replied that she really didn't, removed her microphone and left the room.
Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
At times she has even said that she isn't a real chef by society's standards, looking down on the celebrity chef phenomenon.
"I was commenting that I must not be a real chef if I am still in my kitchen cooking," says Hamilton, "while my peers all seemed to be out golfing at charity events or cooking in their Tuscan summer villas for an elite group of wine enthusiasts or buddying around at the Aspen Food and Wine Festival."
But despite all this, there is still more of Hamilton that we don't yet know.
"I realize the book feels intimate and deeply personal to the reader," she says. "But I withheld significantly and aimed to write with a larger or greater point of view than simply my own little personal story."
It will be interesting to learn what Hamilton held back, if she ever decides to write another book.