Recipe: Campfire Baklava

Campfire Baklava

Campfire Baklava

Sick of s’mores? Try this change of pace on your next camping trip. From Cooking with Fire by Paula Marcoux, and used with her permission.

Ingredients:

Dough:
7 oz all purpose flour
1/2 t Kosher salt
2/3 c lukewarm water

Stretching borek dough

Stretching the dough

Filling:
3/4 c walnuts, finely chopped
1 1/2 T sugar
1/2 t cinnamon

Syrup:
1/4 c honey
1/4 c water

Oil for pan-frying

Method: Mix the dough ingredients with a fork or your fingers, adding a tiny bit more water if necessary. Knead until very smooth and divide into 4 balls. Wrap each ball in plastic wrap and rest at least one hour and as long as overnight.

Folding Baklava

Folding dough for baklava

Baklava Cooking

Baklava cooking (the misshapen one is mine)

On bake day, combine the walnuts, sugar and cinnamon. Unwrap the dough balls and flatten each of them into a uniform circle with a rolling pin or the heel of your hand. Expand by turning the dough disk in your hands and kneading the edge; gravity will cause the dough to become thinner and wider. Keep doing this until the dough is very thin, stopping if it starts to tear. Place the dough on a lightly floured work table and place 1/4 of the walnut/sugar/cinnamon mix in the middle. Fold in from bottom then again from top like a business letter, then fold in the sides. Transfer to an oiled skillet over medium heat and fry until browned on each side, perhaps 5 minutes. Cut into serving size pieces and transfer to a serving plate; drizzle the syrup on top and allow the baklava to soak it in for a few minutes before serving.

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“Cooking with Fire” with Paula Marcoux

Paula Marcoux

Paula Marcoux in the Healthy Living demo kitchen

Paula Marcoux is an archeologist and food historian who has studied ancient food preparation at remote sites in the middle east and the Nordic countries. She visited Healthy Living Market a few weeks ago and talked about fire roasting and fire baking—the latter possible wherever there were three rocks of even size and a flat surface to place over them such as a sheet of metal or improvised skillet. (On digs, you can recognize the ancient fire pits by the presence of rocks which have been cracked by heat.) Paula was here to promote her new book, Cooking with Fire, which I recommend. It’s a historical journey as much as a cookbook, and it progresses from very simple fire-starting and roasting food on a stick at the beginning to baking in a clay oven you can build in your back yard. There are excellent photos, both of the finished dishes and step-by-step techniques.

Stretching borek dough

Marcoux’ technique for stretching borek dough

Several of the attendees at the demo had family traditions (from grandmothers and the like) of fire-cooked flatbreads and it was interesting to discuss how the universal techniques and cooking vessels translate to Scandinavia (where flatbreads were hung from the rafters to keep them from molding in the moist air) to eastern Europe and Asia. We made a Chinese-style chive pancake which was rolled and re-formed many times to give it a phyllo-like flakiness, and then a borek which made its appearance in several guises including a “campfire baklava” for which she was kind enough to share the recipe.

Paula’s book is available on Amazon… or, if you’re lucky enough to live near Healthy Living Market in Saratoga or Burlington, you can pick it up in their book section.

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Recipe: Shrimp and Grits after Ric Orlando

Orlando Shrimp Grits

Shrimp and Grits at the demo (after a few folks had tucked into it)

Celebrity Chef Ric Orlando, currently of New World Catering and formerly of “Chopped”, demo’d this recipe at the 2014 Saratoga Wine & Food Festival. I asked him if I could share the recipe and he gave me a list of ingredients on a card. It’s somewhat different than what I saw prepared and I’ve modified to my best recollection, which is why it’s “after” Ric Orlando. The ingredient list is long, but this is a very improvisational dish so feel to add or leave out ingredients depending on what you have on hand. Serves 8.

Ingredients:

Grits:
1/2 c polenta or grits
1/2 c heavy cream (optional)
2 c water
Butter, a couple pats

Shrimp:
1 lb raw shrimp with shells on

Gravy:
2 T olive oil
1/2 c chopped celery
1/2 c chopped onion
1/2 c chopped bell pepper
1 t cracked red pepper
A little chopped andouille, Spanish chorizo or other spicy dry sausage, maybe 1/4 lb
Pernod or other anise liqueur, a couple of capfuls
3 T “Cajun seasoning” (a prepared spice blend Ric says is optional, or can be replaced by another blend of your choice)
2 T chopped parsley
1 t dried thyme or 1 T fresh thyme leaves
Dash of Crystal or Tabasco
1 T Worcestershire sauce
1 c tomato juice
1/2 c scallions, green and white parts, cut lengthwise into shreds
1 c heavy cream (optional)
Salt to taste

Shrimp Whipped Cream:
Reserved shrimp shells (see Method)
1/4 c Pernod or dry white wine
1 T butter
1 T minced shallots
1/4 c tomato paste
2 c heavy cream
Pinch cayenne

Ric Orlando

Ric Orlando at his demo station

Method: First, make the grits/polenta. Bring 2 c water to boil and slowly add 1/2 c grits. Turn down heat to simmer and cook, stirring frequently, till grits have absorbed most of the water. Taste and add salt and pepper as you like; add cream (or leave it out) and butter; continue cooking till all liquid has absorbed and grits have cooked to a stiff paste, about 15 minutes total.

Meanwhile, peel and devein the shrimp (if necessary; many of today’s unpeeled shrimp come deveined), leaving on the tails. Discard veins and place the shells in a small saucepan with 1/4 c white wine or Pernod and 1 T minced shallots. Simmer 10 minutes until shrimp shells turn bright pink.

Meanwhile, make a “Cajun mirepoix” of chopped green pepper, celery and onion, about 1/3 c of each, never carrots. Saute in a little olive oil in a small saucepan until vegetables lose their crispness. Add the dried ingredients then the tomato sauce and simmer for a few minutes to blend the flavors, adding other ingredients as you go but reserving the scallions. Finish with the cream, if using it. The goal is to create a rich, flavorful sauce for the shrimp.

Meanwhile, lightly sauté the shrimp in a little olive oil and butter mixed until they just become pink. Pour the gravy over them and mix, taste again and add salt and pepper as desired. Garnish with a few strands of scallion.

To make the shrimp whipped cream: strain out the shrimp shells shallots and mix the wine/Pernod with tomato paste and cream. (At our demo, Ric also poured in a bit of strained gravy as I recall.) Whip by hand or use a siphon if you have one.

To assemble the dish: spoon out a bed of grits on individual plates or a shared serving dish; add shrimp in their sauce; put a dollop of whipped cream on the top of each serving. Serve immediately.

NOTE: if you’re counting, that’s 1/2 c cream for each person. This is one reason people think the food in restaurants is better than what they eat at home. I feel like the cream in the whipped cream is ample and if people want an extra rich taste they can just stir it into their gravy.

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Saratoga Wine & Food Festival leaves satisfactory aftertaste

Dinosaur pulled pork slider

Pulled pork slider and some tasty beans from Dinosaur BBQ

Last weekend’s Saratoga Wine and Food Festival seemed a bit more laid back than in prior years. The crowds were just a bit lighter and as a result the lines were short and there was plenty of room for standing around and savoring the food and beverages.

Connoisseur Tent

Connoisseur Tent buffet, from Healthy Living Market

I did dip into the Connoisseur’s Tent which was almost like cheating: a magnificent buffet from Healthy Living Market that left the festival goer near satiation before the real tasting ever began. So if you didn’t make the extra investment and stayed with the Grand Tasting, don’t feel left out.

I have a couple of really, really good tips for festivalgoers to make the most of the occasion, but I am going to save them for next year when they will be of more use. Why is it that newspaper food and entertainment sections always report on these events after they’re over, so all you can do is regret what you missed or feel bad somebody tasted a treat you didn’t? Maybe it’s to share the recipes, and I’ve got a good one from New World Catering’s Ric Orlando coming up.

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Weird science for wine with Le Clef du Vin

by Otis Maxwell
I’ve been experimenting with Le Clef du Vin, a device manufactured by Peugeot (possibly from recycled car parts?) that predicts how a wine will taste after it’s aged a few years.

The active component in Le Clef du Vin is a small disc embedded in its tip, composed of an amalgam of copper, gold and silver. Dip one second in a standard glass of wine, and it in effect ages the wine one year. This can help you two ways: to decide if a wine is worth investing in to store for the long haul, or to improve the taste of a very young wine.

Does it work? Yes and no. I first tried it on a bottle of Two Buck Chuck (Charles Shaw Merlot) and it had no perceptible effect even at 10 years/10 seconds. But a $15 bottle of 2012 Beaujolais Village noticeably improved. It became mellower and more enjoyable.

A 2009 New York Times article by food scientist Frank McGee suggests what is actually happening: the metals remove sulfites from the wine. Sulfur is associated with sharp, unpleasant tastes, and smells as well. That article reveals a couple of other tricks: you can remove the skunky properties of a wine that has reacted with a contaminated cork by pouring it into a bowl lined with plastic wrap. The plastic captures the molecule that is causing the cork contamination. And, if you want to accelerate the aging of a bottle so you can drink it sooner… store it on top of the refrigerator where it’s warm but not so hot it cooks the wine.

I also found a conversation on chowhound.com on Le Clef that became so vitriolic the hosts removed many of the posts and shut it down. What’s left is well worth a read both for the writing and for the opposing points of view.

The “travel” size of Le Clef du Vin sells for $50 on Amazon. It’s a stick shaped somewhat like a shoehorn, with an asymmetrical jog at the end, and comes with a plastic sleeve so you can slip it into a purse or lapel pocket. I highly recommend it as a gift for the oenophile who has everything, if only for the entertainment value and possible fisticuffs that might ensue.

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The 2014 Saratoga Wine & Food Festival is THIS WEEKEND

Saratoga Wine & Food Festival

Inside the Grand Tasting tent. Tom Stock photo.

Yesterday I found a parking spot in downtown Saratoga Springs, New York. That means two things: the track season is over. And the annual Saratoga Wine & Food Festival is coming up fast.

This year’s event snuck up on us because of the early Labor Day—which hopefully will mean warm, beautiful weather for the weekend. The complete schedule and tickets are available here.

I have in the past written about my strategy to focus on the Grand Tasting on Saturday afternoon, where you can enjoy a seemingly endless assortment of foods from local purveyors and restaurants and wines and spirits from around the world. Arrive early (it opens at 1 pm this year) and do your own grand tour then double back on the tables that interest you. (It definitely is not possible to taste everything.) Take a break for local celebrity chef Ric Orlando’s demo of shrimp and grits, then return to the tasting for yet another round.

That’s lunch, dinner and entertainment in beautiful Spa Park for $85, not a bad price. Or you can pony up an additional $90 and go big with the Connoisseur’s Tent, which gives you an extra hour of tasting, even more gourmet delicacies, and wines from the private cellar of Kevin Zraly provided in a tasting seminar.

Last year there was a cooking competition during the Grand Tasting, which was almost too much. This year if you want to see such a contest you’ll have to buy a ticket for Friday night’s “BBQ, Brews & Blue” event. But the contest is a doozie, featuring 4 local chefs and 4 Manhattan grillmasters who will battle it out as you enjoy good food, drink craft beer and listen to live music.

There’s also a classic car road tour and luncheon on Friday and a Jazz Brunch on Sunday at the magnificent Saratoga National Golf Course. See the website for details and to buy tickets.

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Why I love Crystal Hot Sauce

Crystal Hot Sauce

Do the math: 12 oz of Crystal for $2.49…

Do a web search for “Crystal vs Tabasco” and you’ll find lots of Louisiana stories about how one po-boy restaurant uses one, another the other as a matter of personal preference. Buy two bottles and try them side by side and I predict you will prefer Crystal. It’s got a more complex taste that starts with smokiness and proceeds to vinegar, and it’s not as fiery so you can douse your food with more of it.

Tabasco Hot Sauce

… vs $1.99 for 2 oz. of Tabasco

But the #1 reason I love Crystal is its price—not that it’s cheap per se, but what that cheapness stands for. In my local supermarket, 2 oz. of Tabasco was $1.99 this week and 12 oz. of Crystal was $2.49. That’s SIX TIMES as much product, people, for hardly any more money. (Crystal does make a 3 oz. size but I’ve never seen it except on their website where it sells for 74 cents.)

Its price, plus the fact it’s sold in a much bigger bottle, says Crystal is for people who plan to use a LOT of hot sauce—you and me, gentle reader. We’re not like that couple in the classic (or maybe apocryphal) New Yorker cartoon who have been married for so long they’re on their second bottle of Tabasco. When we buy Tabasco, if we do, we actually go for a larger bottle. And the 12 oz. of Crystal is obviously cheaper by comparison.

The folks at Tabasco are very sophisticated marketers and brand-extenders. Baumer Foods, which makes Crystal, seems to be satisfied getting its product into as many people’s hands as possible. They also make no secret of the fact they do private-labeling; I happen to have access to a pricy little bottle from a well known fried chicken place in my town and it tastes identical to my big boy with the Crystal name.

Crystal’s been around since the 1920s, so I have to believe that Baumer is not losing money in spite of its generosity. Do yourself, and them, a favor. Go out and buy some Crystal right now. Don’t wait till your Tabasco is used up, because when you have them both side by side you can do your own taste test. I predict the Tabasco will find itself at the back of your condiment shelf, like a high-and-mighty prom queen who’s grown long in the tooth.

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Durkee’s Dressing used to be manufactured by a paint company!

Everywhere on Everything

Yum!

Reader Harry posted a comment that really got me going this week: Durkee’s Fine Foods used to be a part of the Glidden Paint Company, and (says he) bottles of Durkee’s were handed out as a souvenir to people who toured Glidden’s paint factory in Jacksonville FL.

I had to check it out for myself and found this page which is an unpublished article, complete with authors’ notes to themselves, by Shurtleff and Aoyagi who are much better known for “The Book of Tofu” and other health food classics. Their cites establish that Glidden did indeed purchase Durkee Fine Foods in the 1920s and owned it until the 1950s. There is no suggestion that paint was used in the sauce, or vice versa, but Glidden seemed to believe there was a natural synergy among all coatings, whether on wood or bread, and during the 1930s they operated under the slogan: “Glidden: Everywhere on Everything”.

It was part of the can-do spirit of America in the first half of the 20th century, maybe continuing to the 60s, to think that science trumps all and if it’s ingenious it’s got to be good for you. Some readers may be old enough (I’m not) to remember the shoe store devices that would take an x-ray of your foot with no worry about the risk to you or the woeful shoe store clerk. Another example is Elmer’s Glue, which was proudly made from milk and that’s why there was a cow (actually bull) on the label (and still is, though the product no longer contains casein). Nothing queasy about the back connection that if you can make glue of it, must be some powerful chemicals in there.

With food coatings, the desirable traits are the same as with paint: spread smoothly and evenly with a thick, consistent layer of product. Why would anybody have a problem with that? Today we’re worried about GMOs, cross contamination, and mouse feces in everything. To which Great Grandpa might have snorted: mouse feces? What do you expect? If it’s good to eat, why wouldn’t there be mouse feces?

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Recipe: The Redneck Within

The Redneck Within

A soft cooked egg inside a savory muffin.

A complete country breakfast in a muffin. Inspired by The Rebel Within, a much more frou-frou concoction from Craftsman and Wolves in San Francisco. Makes 6 large muffins.

Ingredients:
6 soft boiled eggs, carefully peeled then thoroughly chilled (see *NOTE)
1 ½ c all purpose flour
1 ½ c buttermilk
1 large egg, beaten
4 T melted butter (or more if you feel like it)
2 scallions, finely chopped
¾ c country sausage (I use Jones Dairy Farm), cooked then crumbled
½ c cheddar cheese, grated
¼ c Parmesan cheese, grated
¾ t salt
¼ t ground pepper
¾ t baking powder
1 ½ T sugar

Redneck Muffins

A brace of rednecks. The muffin in the feature photo is upper right.

Method: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix dry ingredients including flour, salt, sugar, pepper and baking powder. Add the buttermilk to the beaten egg in a bowl then stir in melted butter. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in wet ingredients; stir until just combined. Add cheese, chopped scallions and crumbled sausage and mix thoroughly.

Butter the interior cups of a popover pan (you could use a regular muffin pan, I guess, but the bigger pan is much better) and spread the batter over the bottom and the sides of each cup, leaving a well in the middle. Place one soft boiled egg in the well of each cup. Cover the egg with remaining batter. Cook 40 minutes or until tops are browning and the butter is sizzling in the cups. Cook slightly before serving.

Eggsperiments

Eggsperiments. See text for explanation of the #1, #2 and #3 preps.

*NOTE: Craftsman and Wolves somehow manages to get the yolk to remain liquid inside the muffin; a lot of people wonder how they do this, now including me. I experimented with three different egg preps. #1 was cooked at 146.5 degrees in a sous vide bath for 45 minutes, then immediately plunged into ice water. #2 was cooked 13 minutes at 167 degrees, then immediately plunged into ice water. #3 was cooked in a more mainstream method: chilled eggs were placed in boiling water, cooked 3 minutes, then plunged into ice water.

All of my eggs had set, not runny yolks after cooking the muffins, though none was fully hard boiled. The most free-form of my eggs, the #1 prep, set up pretty well inside the muffin (it’s my feature picture), making me wonder if you might just shape a well in the muffin batter using an egg in its shell then pour a raw egg into the hole. However, that’s not what they do at Craftsman and Wolves, where the smooth surface of the egg inside the muffin proves it was definitely cooked in the shell.

Maybe they partially freeze the eggs? Maybe they cook at a much higher temperature, with or without convection, so the outside cooks faster than the inside? I’ll do some more experimentation, but the current recipe is too good to hold back (I definitely prefer it to C&W’s aristocratic version, which includes crème fraiche). Anyway, I’m not sure a self-respecting redneck would eat an egg that wasn’t cooked all the way through.

ADDENDUM: after I wrote up my recipe I ran across a very detailed report of Rebel Within experimentation by Follow Me Foodie. Mijune has several very good ideas like warming up the buttermilk so the batter temperature is higher when it goes in the oven, and using more leavening which will make an airier batter that cooks faster. She also succeeded in getting a runny yolk in the finished product through a technique that would take a lot of practice. (On my first run I ended up with 2 usable eggs out of 5.) Her article gives me motivation to continue playing with this. For now, however, the recipe above is quite delicious and if it were not for those damn Craftsman and Wolves bakers we would never worry about the runniness of the yolk….

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What’s the first recipe in your cookbook?

I’ve been reading a lot of cookbooks recently. Some for research, some through authors I’ve met, some through random chance. And without naming names, I find that many miss out on the opportunity to sell the casual reader by making your first recipe absolutely irresistible.

I work as an advertising copywriter in my day job. Marketers know that regardless how good an ad is (or how good the product you’re selling), if the headline or email subject line or direct mail envelope doesn’t pull them in nobody’s going to read it. Well, “nobody” is a little harsh. Hopefully you have devoted fans who hang on your every word. But those folks are going to read you regardless. What you want is to convert the on-the-fence people who could become fans given the right motivation. That’s where your big sales potential lies.

Does your cookbook you start with a recitation of ingredients and core preparations? That’s preaching to the choir. What’s in it for the casual reader who has not decided to come on board with you?

Do you start with a section on appetizers? That’s the most common organizational strategy I’ve been seeing: let’s cover the meal from beginning to end. The problem is that many appetizers are not that interesting and the execution is more important than the ingredients, so you lose readers (potential fans) right away.

My proposal is this: open the book with 5 or 10 recipes that make your approach unique and exciting. The recipes should also be non-daunting; not necessarily cuisine 101, but without special techniques that require practice to avoid failure. Explain why you’re including the recipe, how you developed it, what it means to you. Repeat it in its appropriate section within the book if you like; initially you’ll think this is a must but your editor will eventually talk you out of it. Try that and see if it doesn’t get you some new attention.

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