New Food Trends 2015

17 Dec
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Vegetable-flavored ice cream

At the end of every year, platoons of food professionals — consultants, chefs, writers and research firms — race to predict the trends that will influence foodies all over America and ergo the world. According to Carol Tice from Forbes, the forecast released in mid-November by Baum+ Whiteman international restaurant consultants, was “one of the most fascinating.” You can check out their full report of 11 dining trends plus 22 hot restaurant buzzwords for 2015 here.

Although I am married to Mr. Whiteman, his prognostications were unknown to me until they were released on Nov. 11th. The trends sit in telling categories: how the importance of technology will profoundly change the way restaurants function; how the notion of authenticity has less relevance, and how our lust for new and different has resulted in “restless palate syndrome” — meaning that we can’t leave simple food alone. One upon a time we liked salty, sweet, spicy, smoky, fatty and bitter flavors — but now we want them all at once. In other words, “too much ain’t enough.”

The report, picked up by an Arabic newspaper, focuses on the importance of hummus, which Whiteman says, is probably the most mispronounced word in our country’s food vocabulary. It gobbles up shelf space in our supermarkets because of a profusion of flavors added to what simply is a chickpea dip eaten in Israel and Arab countries. It now comes in dizzying variations including red pepper, chimichurri, lemongrass-chili and even chocolate mousse! (I’ve recently discovered a hummus ice cream in Tel Aviv).

Or take beer. Cocktails with beer are finding favor in trendy bars. Meanwhile, Micheladas are creeping up on us. Micheladas are Mexican beer concoctions that invite you to dump in all manner of spices — bloody Mary mix, chipotle-tomato juice, soy sauce, beef broth and tequila …you get the idea: beer for restless palate people who’ve become blase about just a pint of IPA.

They also note in their predictions that honey is being “enhanced” with ghost peppers; that bourbon is being flavored with honey and chili pepper or with pumpkin pie spices; that while the fixation of everything-bacon may be abating, now there’s ‘ndjua, a light-up-your-mouth spreadable sausage from Calabria that’s finding its way onto pasta, melted over pork chops, even blended into vinaigrettes as sauces for fish. “If bold flavors are a trend” they say, “this eye-stinging, red-peppered mushy salami is next year’s bold flavor.”

Do strawberries taste sweeter on a black plate or a white plate? On a square plate or a round plate? Their forecast about “neurogastronomy” — how your mind and body can be manipulated to enhance how you sense and taste food –is required reading. So is their comical rant about overpriced avocado.

Among their predictions: The death of tipping, and a reduction in the vast earnings gap between tipped waiters and low-paid cooks and dishwashers; fine dining chefs ditching flowers, linens, reservation systems and expensive china, instead going downscale to develop fast-casual restaurants; insects as food as we search for renewable sources of proteins; savory ice creams and yogurts as consumers realize how much sugar they’re getting in sweetened cold treats; the war on waste is gaining traction; pistachios will be the nut of the year; authentic Jewish delis and also Jewish-ethnic mashups; savory waffles and waffle sandwiches; matcha (green tea powder) in fancy beverages and even seafood stocks and sauces; night markets, building on food truck rodeos, growing around the country with multi-ethnic festivals that bring thousands to riverfronts and public squares.

In their trend called “Soda Fountain Crashes the Bar,” Baum+Whiteman sees childhood treats boozed up as adult shakes and smoothies with bourbon, gin, Frangelico, Galliano, Chartreuse.

Even coconut and cucumber waters, promoted as somehow being “purer,” are being overlaid (or adulterated) with flavors like coffee and mango and with energy-boosting ingredients. Now maple water and birch sap are being tested.

Finally, clever computer programs now allow high-end restaurants to sell tickets for dinner rather than take reservations. Eating out could become as hateful as dealing with the airlines, the consultants say, with cancellation penalties and price shifting based upon demand for seats or time of day.

My adds? Cabbage. Food as medicine. Page oranges from Florida. Tahina is the new mayonnaise. It will come in as many colors (and flavors) as a box of crayons. See you in 2015.

You can also check out the National Restaurant Association’s list for the coming year, Carol Tice’s report from Forbes, and this article from Cosmopolitan.

More Holiday Books 2014

11 Dec

During the next few weeks, I will be cooking from and reviewing some of the year’s best books for gift-giving. They mostly are personal selections from chefs whose work I know well plus a few I don’t know at all. I always am enamored of cookbooks from Phaidon, Artisan, Chronicle and Ten Speed Press, but am impressed this year with the quality and variety of cookbooks published by smaller presses; Monkfish and Interlink among them.

In addition to their more obvious purpose, cookbooks are great sources of inspiration and bedtime reading. They are often the gifts we don’t give ourselves but, like a good box of chocolates, we’re thrilled to be the recipient. Happy Holidays!

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Fresh Cooking by Shelley Boris
Monkfish Book Publishing, New York , 2014, ISBN: 978-1-939681-15-7

The subtitle of this compelling book – a year of recipes from the Garrison Institute Kitchen — tells the tale of a talented chef cooking for hundreds of guests in a beautiful monastery on the Hudson. Garrison Institute, created by inspired thinkers, Jonathan and Diana Rose, has served as a beacon for the world’s great spiritual and educational leaders, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama who has dined there on several occasions. Shelley Boris, the chef at Garrison for more than ten years, has wowed me with her intelligent, countrified sensibility since my first visit a decade ago. There have been many visits since and I was honored when asked to write the foreword to her book. Shelley’s compassionate approach to cooking, deeply rooted in the seasons, is always mindful of the communal table – which is literally how one eats in the Institute’s massive sun-lit dining room. From her large gracious kitchen, Shelley delights in the daily planning of her menus, each a short story revealing something immediate in nature. January brings her comforting Onion Soup with Sprout Creek Cheese and Sour Rye Toast, baked white beans, and crimson quince blanketed in phyllo. May is more spontaneous and carefree – braised lamb and rhubarb chutney, rice with sorrel, garlic chives and mustard greens, and strawberry shortcakes. The book’s recipes range from simple creations – pan-quiche with cauliflower and cheddar, savory chickpea cakes with tahini sauce; winter root vegetable salad with sherry-hazelnut dressing – to dishes that require slow seduction to coalesce their flavors — Thai-style eggplant curry with coconut milk, lemongrass and shiitakes, and braised spicy lamb with apples. Other standouts are Shelley’s breakfast scones – the best I’ve ever had — and her dizzying array of addictive vinaigrettes — carrot-lime, ginger-grapefruit, pear-beet, creamy shallot.

Personal and idealistic, she calls her repertoire friendly-to-meat eaters: rich in vegetables, yet not strictly vegetarian. “We flip the typical equation,” she purports. “Rather than cutting back on meat, these recipes help you think about where you want to add meat and fish to your diet.” Nice. Family-style and deeply practical, she rids her recipes of extra steps and superfluous ingredients in order to focus on the essence of each dish. Working within a limited budget became a driving force of creativity and resulted in recipes that are inexpensive to produce. This is exactly what a home cook desires and why she decided to write the book in the first place. Perhaps it will sit nestled next to like-minded tomes such as the Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook, Perla Meyers’ The Seasonal Kitchen, and Moosewood cookbooks – older iconic examples serving as game-changers in the way that people think about, and connect to food and cooking in a larger context – where taste and ethics need not be at odds.

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Mexico, The Cookbook by Margarita Carrillo Arronte
Phaidon Press, New York, 2014, ISBN: 978-07148-6752-6

When authors such as Arronte compile cookbooks about a national cuisine as vast as Mexico’s, the goal is to produce a well-rounded exploration that evokes and authenticates, the inherent spirit of a nation’s cultural foodways. Margarita Carrillo Arronte, Mexico’s global ambassador for all things culinary, has certainly accomplished this along with the remarkable design team at Phaidon Press, headquartered in London with offices in New York City. This massive tome, feeling like a work of art or runway fashion statement, is undoubtedly among the most beautiful books this year. Replete with 650 recipes and 200 photos, the book draws inspiration from various sources, some from which have been altered to the author’s own taste by adjusting ingredients, measurements or methods. Ms. Arronte wants the dishes of her homeland, and its many regions, to be cooked and experienced by audiences who have not yet plunged into the depths of mole (mole-lay) making – including an intriguing beet mole – to the more familiar tamales, enchiladas, and fresh fish Veracruz-style, to the less familiar rabbit with prunes and chili, ox tongue in pecan sauce, and birria, a fragrant lamb soup from Jalisco. Much admired in Mexico for the last 35 years, Ms. Arronte has owned restaurants and food companies, hosted television food shows, researched and taught all over the world. She is a formally trained teacher, turned chef and activist, involved in the decade-long effort to have traditional Mexican cuisine recognized with a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity designation.

Although I wish that head notes were included with each recipe, I understand how daunting a task this would be. The recipes, both classic and traditional, with a swath of contemporary recipes from restaurant chefs, feel mostly accessible – but some ingredients – specific chilies, epazote, avocado leaves — may be hard to find. This does not diminish the book’s pleasures. Part of Ms. Arronte’s research is to delve into other references and oral traditions for inspiration and to re-create recipes that are considered seminal in the development of the cuisine. This is the true nature of recipe transmission and the way that dishes evolve and national cuisines are created. There is an extensive bibliography that includes the important work of Mexican culinary guru, Diana Kennedy. It is a great gift to go hand in hand with a cup of Mexican hot chocolate, in bed if not in your kitchen.

Two Great Cookbooks for Hanukkah 2014

2 Dec

My private cookbook collection can’t compare to that of many of my colleagues — my 500 or so seem paltry next to collections in the thousands. But at this stage of life, I carefully curate the books I want around forever. Here are two of them — both recently published and perfect gifts for Hanukkah.

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Jewish Soul Food: From Minsk to Marrakesh
by Janna Gur
Schocken Books, New York NY 2014 $35.00 ISBN 978-0- 8052-4308-6

This is a rave. With striking photos and vibrant spirit, here is a cookbook that reads like a luscious travelogue built around the culinary narrative of the Jewish diaspora. The book’s author, Janna Gur, is among the most knowledgeable representatives of Israeli cuisine (her first book, The Book of New Israeli Food, 2007 is already a classic) and of Jewish food and identity around the globe. Her new book, Jewish Soul Food: from Minsk to Marrakesh, is both prequel and sequel to Jerusalem by Ottolenghi. In a world cluttered with cookbooks, hers is a standout, a poignant journey of enforced migration and authenticity cast in a contemporary light. There is much to learn. I have never seen, eaten, or made many of these dishes: Her sabich (an egg and eggplant sandwich often eaten for breakfast) is gorgeous, as is hamim macaroni, mafroum (meat and potato “sandwiches”), Bulgarian feta-stuffed pepper “cutlets,” and tantalizing fluden, made with poppy seeds, walnuts and apples, for dessert. Its diverse recipes paint much of Israel’s culinary landscape, where Ms. Gur resides and publishes, with her husband, Israel’s most prominent food and wine magazine called Al Hashulchan (At the Table). Born in the former Soviet Union, Ms. Gur emigrated to Israel in 1974 and since that time has scholarly untangled the global threads woven into the Israeli kitchen.

Some of my favorite dishes include sabzi polo, rice pilaf made with equal amounts of basmati rice and fragrant fresh herbs, and addictive ijeh b’lahmeh which are herb and meat latkes perfect for Hanukkah. Also appropriate for the holiday are bimuelos, a Sephardic dessert of fried dough, drizzled with cinnamon-scented honey syrup and garnished with walnuts. I look forward to making her orange flower butter cookies studded with almonds for gift-giving this season.

This book is important because of Janna’s strongly held belief: The only way to preserve traditional cuisine for future generations is to cook it. Without her careful attention to this repertoire of priceless artifacts — recipes from vanquished times and cultures — these hand-me-downs would be all but lost. Jewish cuisine is unique because it reflects the histories of so many nationalities, wars and displacements. How Ms. Gur captures its essence in 100 recipes is the magic of this book.

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Eating Delancey: A Celebration of Jewish Food
by Aaron Rezny and Jordan Schaps

powerHouse Books, Brooklyn, NY 2014 $35.00 ISBN 978-1-57687-722-7

I don’t know exactly where my grandparents lived as Hungarian immigrants in the early part of the last century, but they certainly climbed tenement steps and shopped on Delancey Street, as depicted in this sumptuous book with lovely essays by famous fressers (eaters) — Calvin Trillin, Paul Goldberger (architecture critic of the New York Times), food maven Arthur Schwartz, legendary graphic designer, Milton Glaser — and mouth-watering recipes. There are spectacular images of food, people, storefronts, and culinary ephemera, and an unexpected black-and-white photo of Janis Joplin smoking a cigarette at Ratner’s, which is fabulous.

Eating Delancey, is Mr. Rezny’s personal homage to the vanishing flavors of his youth. Similarly, Mr. Schaps waxes nostalgic about his bubbe Ethel Raben and the meals he consumed in her Russian-Yiddish-American kitchen. Mr. Rezny photographs the semaphores of their combined history — bagels, halvah, knishes, seltzer bottles — with the same intention. The photographs of iconic quaffs — a bottle of Cherry Heering, Slivovitz, a bottle top of Cel-ray soda, tea in a glass are stunning in their simplicity. And the luster of the finished dishes — a slice of creamy cheesecake, Schwartz’s sweet and sour flanken, even matzo brei, a monochrome dish if there ever was one, here looks sensuous.

Joan Rivers would have kvelled from this book. Her poignant introduction, which in itself is poignant, is brilliantly alive with affection for Jewish food. She describes her mother, “a chic woman, very well read, a great hostess, and a horrible cook” and goes on to confess her love of singed chicken feet and gefilte fish with freshly grated horseradish.

Many books have delved into the psyche of Jewish people through their food — but this book succeeds as a true work of art. I, for one, regret not knowing more about my grandparents’ path, that of Joseph and Louise (Goldstein) Gold, who walked and ate with the best of them. More nostalgia: My best friend threw me a surprise wedding shower at Sammy’s Roumanian on Chrystie Street — imagine how classy that was — a place where chicken fat is poured from a pitcher, garlic fills the air, and where time, for a moment, stands still.

Good Stock Farm: A Great New Cooking School

18 Oct

Photo by Kevin J. Miyazaki

Here’s why my husband and I raced up to Good Stock Farm two weeks ago. Michael, who was the founding editor of Nation’s Restaurant News, had decades earlier met Sandy D’Amato, a multi-starred chef from Milwaukee. When we learned that Sandy and his wife sold his eponymous restaurant Sanford and moved to Hatfield, Massachusetts — to open a cooking school — we immediately packed an overnight bag!

En route, we passed farm stands selling butter + sugar corn, honor-system butternut squash, the season’s last few tomatoes, and fresh-picked flowers, all tres charming. But nothing prepared us for the lush expanse of land behind their house-cum-cooking school on sleepy Main Street, replete with an experimental garden, trellised vines, herbs and artichokes, and a blanket of grass that led down to the Connecticut River flowing with an equally sleepy calm. You could hear an apple drop.

The house, designed with pencil and paper by Sandy’s wife Angie, is built around an elegantly professional and capacious kitchen. Large marble work table, pizza oven, convection oven, industrial refrigerator and sinks, with no separation between the living/dining area — all merged into interior landscape that felt more like a SoHo loft than a rural dwelling. The weather was warm and, settled on their screened porch, we shared tales about famous chefs and their legendary foibles, about restaurant life in New York in the 1970s, about Sandy’s and Angie’s myriad reasons for leaving their revered restaurant but not actually retiring. With my first sip of Vouvray, to accompany one of Sandy’s fantastic homemade breadsticks, I uttered the word “Provence.” I could have just as well said “Paradise” or “Providence.” But Provence it was, for I recalled author Patricia Wells’ well-known cooking school and home there, known as Chanteduc, and declared Good Stock Farm its worthy counterpart. No passport needed.

Sandy has top-of-the-line credentials, decades of experience, and a newly acquired desire to share it all. A student, literally, of Le Repetoire de la Cuisine – Sandy went to the Culinary Institute of America, housed at the time in one cramped building in New Haven, CT — but he grew up “eating Italian.” One sensibility informed the other, coalescing into his uniquely own style. His food is stunningly contemporary and yet reminiscent of the culinary pedagogy one used to find at Lutece or La Grenouille or perhaps the more rarified Italian kitchen of San Domenico in Imola, Italy. I will never forget his sweet corn soup, served at room temperature, made that morning with a mysterious touch of mace (does anyone use mace anymore?). Nor a spot-on Italian plum tart with its toasty brown sugar-almond crust.

Sandy opened restaurant Sanford in 1989 to rave reviews – Bon Appetit, Gourmet, Esquire, Wine Spectator all called it among the country’s best – ran it with Angie until 2012, and sold it to his longtime chef de cuisine. Three signature dishes – Provencale fish soup, grilled marinated tuna with cumin wafers, and grilled pear and Roquefort tart (which he made for Julia Child’s 80th birthday party), remained on his menu from day one. When he teaches these beloved recipes at Good Stock Farm, we’ll be there!

Speaking of Julia, Bob Spitz, author of best-selling Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child, says this about Sandy’s contribution to American gastronomy: “What sets Sandy apart is his full experience of having worked with the French masters. He is a serious chef who cares deeply about each dish he makes. While everyone seems to be talking about local and indigenous ingredients, Sandy is literally growing the recipes he’s teaching at his school.”

Good Stock Farm in Hatfield, Massachusetts. Photo by Kevin J. Miyazaki

Good Stock Farm is open all year long for demos, learning, eating and meeting new people. Hands-on classes, with a maximum of 8 students, include lunch or dinner spread over a generous time frame of 4-1/2 to 5 hours. Demonstration classes are 2-1/2 hours. October’s line-up includes a hands-on lunch called “A Nip in the Air” – roasted beet and garlic soup, juniper-braised shortribs, cranberry walnut tart; and a demo-dinner from Sicily featuring shrimp and green pea arancini, grilled escarole salad, beef spedini, and crispy dessert cassata.

Students either drive or fly to Bradley International Airport, only 50 minutes away, and stay at the Old Mill Inn, a charming B&B less than a mile down the road, or at the Hotel Northampton, five miles away. With five colleges nearby, including Smith and Mount Holyoke, the area sizzles with cultural activities, so you can indulge in a long weekend full of things to do.

Before a visit — or just on its own — you will enjoy Sandy’s wonderful new memoir, Good Stock, Life on a Low Simmer (Midway Books, 2013). Cook your way through the book and you will be schooled indeed. On its cover is a quote from Esquire: “D’Amato has proved not only that you can go home again but that you can continue a tradition of making people very happy through your talents.” Check out the schedule at www.goodstockfarm.com. For reservations call 413-247-6090.

Food and Fireworks

3 Jul

tumblr_mp43muLq3t1rsdtszo1_1280While these sparkling recipes are designed for July 4th fireworks, they are perfect for entertaining all summer long. Three cheers for the red, white, and blue! Hope you have a festive holiday weekend.

 

WATERMELON, FETA & SLIVERED BASIL SALAD
This is the essence of summer entertaining. It is a marriage of sweet and salty delights. Nice to mix red and yellow watermelon if you can find it.

- 6 thin slices of ripe watermelon, plus 3 cups of cubed watermelon, chilled
– 8 ounces feta cheese
– 1 cup slivered basil
– 24 oil-cured black olives
– ¼ cup olive oil

On a large platter, place overlapping slices of watermelon and scatter cubed watermelon on top. Crumble cheese and scatter on top.  Scatter basil on cheese and garnish with olives. Drizzle a little olive oil over fruit and cheese. Add a grinding of black pepper. SERVES 6.

 

tumblr_mp3yc4OIpy1rsdtszo1_1280SUN-DRIED TOMATO-BEEF SLIDERS with PESTO

These will surely become a family favorite – whether big or small. If making large burgers, they are sublime cooked on an outdoor grill.

- 1 pound ground beef (chuck or sirloin)
– 7-ounce jar sun-dried tomato in oil
– 1 cup finely diced yellow onion
– 1 tablespoon olive oil
– 12 little dinner rolls, split and toasted
– ½ cup prepared pesto
– 3 tablespoons Greek yogurt
– Handful of mesclun or baby arugula

Drain oil from the sun-dried tomatoes and set aside. Finely dice enough tomatoes to get ½ cup. Cut remaining tomatoes into slivers and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat reserved oil. Add onions and cook over medium-high heat until onions are soft and golden, about 10 minutes. In a large bowl, combine beef, diced sundried tomatoes, cooked onion with all the pan juices, ½ teaspoon salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add ¼ cup ice water and mix well. Form into 12 small patties. Heat oil in large skillet and cook burgers on each side for several minutes until desired doneness. Stir together pesto and yogurt. Place the burgers on the buns and top with pesto mixture. Garnish with a few leaves of mesclun or arugula, and the remaining slivered sun-dried tomatoes. MAKES 12 SLIDERS.

 

tumblr_mp2it2CMwI1rsdtszo1_1280BOMBAY TURKEY SLIDERS with HURRY-CURRY SAUCE

These are a cinch to put together and both the sauce and the sliders can be prepped early in the day.

HURRY-CURRY SAUCE

- ½ cup light mayonnaise
– ⅔ cup plain yogurt
– 4 teaspoons curry powder
– 2 tablespoons ketchup
– 1 small clove garlic, finely minced

BOMBAY TURKEY SLIDERS

- 1¼ pounds ground turkey
– 2 teaspoons curry powder
– 1 teaspoons ground cumin
– Large pinch chipotle chili powder
– 3 tablespoons finely minced scallions
– 4 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro or basil
– 1 tablespoon finely minced fresh ginger
– 3 tablespoons light mayonnaise
– 1 tablespoon olive oil
– 12 little dinner rolls, split and toasted
– 12 thin slices Kirby cucumber
– 12 thin slices plum tomato

Stir together ingredients for sauce. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Put turkey in a large bowl. Add the curry, cumin, chili powder, scallions, cilantro or basil, ginger and mayonnaise, plus 1 teaspoon salt. Mix until blended. Form into 12 small (2 ounce) burgers. Heat the oil in a large skillet and cook burgers over medium-high heat for 2 minutes, turn over and cook 2 minutes longer. Place the burgers on the buns and slather with curry sauce. Top with a slice of cucumber and tomato. MAKES 12 SLIDERS.

 

tumblr_mp4dvrL0St1rsdtszo1_1280RED, WHITE AND BLUEBERRY SHORTCAKES

This luxurious dessert is worthy of fireworks. Wonderful if you can get tiny ripe strawberries from your local farmer’s market. The light touch of lemon zest in the biscuits and thin layer of lemon curd makes these truly memorable. Garnish with edible flowers.

LEMON-BUTTERMILK BISCUITS

- 1½ cups flour
– ½ teaspoon salt
– 2 teaspoons baking powder
– ½ teaspoon baking soda
– 2 tablespoons sugar
– 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
– Grated rind of 1 lemon
– ⅔ cup buttermilk

SHORTCAKES

- 1½ cups heavy cream
– 3 tablespoons confectioners sugar
– 1 teaspoon vanilla
– ½ cup lemon curd
– 3 cups fresh berries: raspberries, tiny strawberries, blueberries
– Edible flowers for garnishing

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Sift together flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and 1 tablespoon sugar. Cut butter into small pieces and incorporate into flour mixture. Add lemon zest and buttermilk and mix lightly. Turn dough out onto floured board. Roll out to 1-inch thickness. Cut out 3-inch round and place on ungreased baking sheet. Sprinkle lightly with sugar. Bake 16 to 18 minutes until golden. Let cool.

Whip heavy cream with confectioners sugar and vanilla until very thick.

Cut biscuits in half. Spread lemon curd on bottom half of each biscuit. Spoon whipped on top and add fruit. Top with biscuit “hat” and add more berries and whipped cream. Garnish with edible flowers. SERVES 6.

Olives, Lemons & Za’atar

19 Jun

2014-06-15-4b18f811676713e51f4f40443c6ce38d_full_size-thumbI’ve been writing about za’atar for decades. The haunting spice mixture, which looks like marijuana and smells like Jerusalem, has had a home in my pantry since my first trip to Israel in 1980. I use it as an earthy rub for chicken with blackened lemons; as a zippy dip mixed with good olive oil and grated parmesan; as a coating for grilled swordfish, or tossed with heirloom tomatoes and feta cheese. So I was thrilled to see its place on a banner headline for this year’s standout cookbook: Olives, Lemons & Za’atar: The Best Middle Eastern Home Cooking by Rawia Bishara (Kyle Books).

Everything about Ms. Bishara’s evocative new book made me want to run to the kitchen or get on a plane and wander in the Old City. Instead, my family and I hopped in our car and drove to Ms. Bishara’s acclaimed restaurant, Tanoreen, located in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. All praise bestowed upon it by my colleagues rang true about the excellent food Ms. Bishara serves. But no one warned me about her exotic warmth and hypnotic intelligence.

Ms. Bishara’s first name, Rawia, means storyteller in Arabic. She uses her imaginative food as her words to share an intimate bond between her mother’s recipes and her personal narrative, which illuminates the history of her homeland, Nazareth, in southern Galilee. I have been there: It is beautiful.

Born into a food-obsessed Palestinian family, Rawia grew up eating food that has recently become trendy currency: the flavors and spirit of the Arabic kitchen found along the Eastern Mediterranean and in Israel, or Palestine, depending on your point of view. Ms. Bishara, once head of an organization that helped new immigrants settle in New York, became a grand hostess and entertained often. Friends encouraged her to open a restaurant which she did in 1998. Named for the majestic Lebanese town, Tanoreen, Rawia said it is a name far easier to pronounce than her own. The tiny storefront restaurant with only 12 tables has grown into someplace quite spacious, but it retains Rawia’s aura of personal attention. .

Clearly there are dishes not to be missed. Brussels sprouts with a tahini-yogurt sauce and crunch of panko; mouthwatering eggplant napoleon brightened with a “salata” of tomatoes and basil and layered with baba ghanouj; and lamb shank marinated in herbs and rosebuds, are signature examples of redefined authenticity. Thankfully instructions for making these delectables can be found in her new book.

Allspice, cardamom, lentils, sumac, freekah (smoked green what berries), maftool (a traditional tiny pasta), pomegranate molasses, cumin and ghee, lentils and, of course, za’atar, lemons and olives – are part and parcel of this vibrant cuisine. In Nazareth, baba ghanouj is called mutabal (and I have recently seen this word on restaurant menus in the city.) Rawia adds tomatoes, chilies and cumin to her rendition. And I can’t wait to try her recipe for cauliflower salad. In Nazareth it is simply fried and tucked into Arabic bread, sprinkled with lemon juice and sea salt. At Tanoreen, Rawia dresses nuggets of caramelized cauliflower with thick tahini laced with pomegranate molasses, served as a mezze. We couldn’t get enough. This was also true of makdous — tiny pickled eggplants stuffed with walnuts and red pepper, which my brother and sister-in-law loved when they visited Syria. Also of note was the baked kibbeh and sayadiyya, or fisherman’s meal, which Rawia said her family ate every Friday night. I would run back for musakhan, a homemade flatbread topped with sumac-spiced shredded chicken with slow-cooked onions and toasted almonds.

For dessert, I would order her supernal knafeh, the best we’ve had, where layers of shredded phyllo are filled with warm homemade cheese and anointed with orange blossom water and crushed pistachios.

It’s all in Rawia’s book, complete with beautiful photographs and arresting design. It is a heartfelt documentation of the mystical wind gently blowing these flavors from the Levant. But if you don’t feel like cooking, make a reservation at Tanoreen. Rawia will be there, waiting.

Techno-Gastronomy in the Big Apple

17 Mar

logoImagine lots of food for thought by inspired thinkers who inspire others to probe both the virtual and the tangible corners of the edible realm. This is the food + technology conference taking place in New York City on April 3 through April 5th, and I can’t wait to go.

More auspiciously called The 2014 Roger Smith Conference on Food/ From Flint Knives to Cloned Meat, the line-up includes more than 100 presenters, 31 panels, workshops and receptions but, most importantly, the event promises an extensive three-day flirtation with culinary luminaries and like-minded scholars – more than 250 of them. From Modernist Cuisine to The Brave New World of 3-D Printing, there is something here to satisfy anyone’s taste for knowledge and thirst for the unknown.

Last year, the conference, held at the Roger Smith Hotel, was devoted to the erudition of cookbooks and featured a tantalizing array of speakers – from Mollie Katzen to Amanda Hesser. This year, Andrew Smith, the conference founder and driving force (along with organizers Roger Horowitz, Cathy Kaufman, and Anne Mendelson), imbues today’s food vortex with “ambiguity.” The sympathetic tag to the event’s flinty name is, after all, “Our ambiguous love, hate, and fear of food technologies.” I’m there.

The conference’s leaders describe food technology as “any imaginable means of using and manipulating food, from cracking nuts with a rock to molecular gastronomy. The very act of deciding what is or isn’t food is intrinsically bound with up technology.” Wylie Dufresne, a leader of the movement to integrate science with food preparation and presentation will be there. So, too, will be experts in milling, flour and bread baking techniques, sensory profiling, wine and terroir, and biotechnology. Other compelling subjects include “The Eight Minute Egg” and “The Technology of Cake.” A lecture on coffee would go nicely right here.

And there are workshops in social media for food writers, on the history of chocolate, and the truth about olive oil, led by Nancy Harmon Jenkins, the author of The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook.

Andrew Smith, a prolific writer and assistant professor of food studies at The New School, is particularly excited this year to have panelists coming from all over the United States and from six countries to participate. His latest book is New York City: A Food Encyclopedia (AltaMira, 2014); and his 3-volume Food and Drink in American History: A “Full Course” Encyclopedia was released by ABC-CLIO in November 2013. This is a man who can clearly handle a lot of information and knows a heck of a lot about New York City. If you already live in New York, this conference is a must. If you live out of town, it is an excellent reason to visit. For more information, to register, or book a room at the Roger Smith Hotel, go to foodconferences@gmail.com or http://thefoodconference.com/workshops.php.

And why does this conference matter? We are a nation obsessed with food and technology. The flow of one has always influenced the outcome of the other. Now we need to find out how they go together on one plate.

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