Tastebud: Use Your Lemon

lemons

 

“If you’re not cooking with lemons, you’re not really cooking.” This proclamation, uttered by JBF Award winner Sean Brock during his Taste America: Washington, D.C. demo, cast some existential doubts over my own culinary chops. Was I using lemons enough? When had I last bought one to simply to have on hand, without a specific use in mind? If my food hasn’t been seasoned with lemon, is it even food?

 

Well, sure it is, but with unmet potential. Lemons are high in acid, and, like salt, acid triggers your saliva glands. The dissolving power of saliva helps our taste buds derive more flavor (in other words, greater enjoyment) from our food. Zippy lemon also energizes heavier ingredients, transforms texture, and is a great value. Lemon perks up my pancakes, massages my kale salad, and lends a backbone to my cocktail. Whoever coined the phrase, “Now you’re cooking with gas!” had it wrong. They should have invoked the omnipotent lemon... Read more >

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Tastebud: Foraging from State to State

 

At one of our recent sustainability salons, we gained new insight into restrictions that farmers, chefs, and suppliers face when it comes to foraged food. Foraging regulations shift from state to state, creating gaps in access to local resources. In South Carolina, for example, wild mushroom regulations are more strict than in other parts of the country. While the FDA simply requires that wild mushrooms are to be inspected and approved by identification experts in order to qualify as commodities in the marketplace, South Carolina restricts any mushrooms harvested in the wild from being sold as merchandise or served in restaurants. For some members of the local community, this is a troubling waste of natural resources... Read more >

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Tastebud: Another Round

More than a decade ago I saw the cocktail future while vacationing with friends in Tokyo. I was led through back alleys of Ginza and into unmarked elevators in Shibuya to swank bars where tuxedoed bartenders—they weren’t called mixologists yet—shook, swizzled, and stirred delicious drinks into the wee hours of the morning. Most memorable among them was Bar Tokyo, where four white-jacketed bartenders serviced six stools and the free snacks included transcendent sashimi and other beautifully plated amuse-bouches fitting of our $600-plus tab. And then there was the subterranean Alcohall, where I first saw blocks of ice chipped by hand into the perfect crystalline spheres that rotated in our glasses as we drank.

 

The origin of the Japanese ice ball, as it has come to be known, was based on the logic that minimizing the surface area of ice in a drink will minimize melting and therefore dilution. It’s also totally cool. There are inexpensive molds that help you achieve an icy orb, but most have the problems of trapping air in the water as it freezes, which increases melting, and/or produces an unsightly seam. That explains the gadget every cocktailian covets: the... Read more >

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Tastebud: The ABCs of CSAs

The concept of community-supported agriculture—purchasing a share from a local farm in exchange for weekly hauls of fruits and veggies—arrived in this country over 20 years ago, but lately we've noticed that specialty CSAs have sprouted up to feed the appetites of every kind of food enthusiast.

Cheese lovers in Warwick, Massachusetts, flock to the CSA at Chase Hill Farm for sweet raw milk cheeses; fromage fans in eastern Kansas head to Gasper Family Farm, where they can also fill their totes with non-homogenized milk, butter, and yogurt. In upstate New York, the 8 O’clock Ranch ships cuts of 100 percent grass-fed lamb, beef, and pork to its members, while JBF nominee Craig Deihl’s Artisan Meat Share is going strong in Charleston.

Local wines and beer have spilled into CSA boxes, too. Enlightenment Wines in Brooklyn sponsors a “Community Supported Alcohol” program that supplies seasonal offerings like sparkling apple meads and oaked blackcurrant wines, while those looking for something sudsy can opt for the

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Tastebud: Ancona Duck

ancona duck
Few people have heard of the Ancona duck, a rare heritage breed of bird whose numbers had until recently become critically low. Only ten years ago, there were just 128 breeding Ancona remaining in North America. Left behind by industrial agriculture—which prefers the fatty Pekin duck that accounts for 95 percent of domesticated duck production in the country—the mottled Ancona was inching closer to extinction. Fortunately for this, ahem, lucky duck, waterfowl expert David Holderread of Corvallis, Oregon, intervened. He found a pair of genetically clean Ancona that became the Adam and Eve of the breed. The majority of Holderread’s prized stock now resides at Willamette Valley’s Boondockers Farm, which is run by two former restaurant professionals who are passionate about raising heritage animals. One of the farm’s regular customers is chef Gabriel Gill of the Rabbit Bistro in Eugene, who served the lean, flavorful fowl with cherries and

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Tastebud: Potlikker

collard greens

A popular Southern treat, potlikker is the tasty green liquid that remains in the pot after boiling collard, mustard, or turnip greens. As the leaves simmer, vitamins and minerals seep into the cooking water, creating a fortified sipper that could fetch a fortune at a juice bar for the Yankee elite. (But the health food–phobic need not fret: Southern cooks commonly season their potlikker with bacon or pork fat.) Like many Southern staples, potlikker was once the slave owner’s refuse and the slave’s riches: after serving cooked greens to their masters, slave cooks would bottle the leftover, nutrient-rich liquid for their own families’ meals.

Today potlikker is a source of pride for all Southerners: when the New York Times mistakenly misspelled the food as “pot likker” in 1982, Georgia’s Lieutenant Governor Zell Miller mailed in an indignant response. Potlikker also inspired the name of the... Read more >

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Tastebud: Southern Pies

The James Beard Foundation reports on pies from the American South

Sometime between Prohibition and World War II, apple pie became a token of homespun America, and it has since been trotted out in support of a political score as often as it has been pulled from an oven. We can’t help but feel a bit slighted on behalf of all the other wonderful pies that have a place in our country’s history, particularly those of the American South.

Chess pie, a traditional dessert with a custardy, cornmeal-thickened filling, is often served with tea to keep its sweetness in check. According to The Encyclopedia of Cajun & Creole Cuisine, chess pie was invented to use up extra butter, eggs, and molasses in plantation kitchens. James Beard claimed that the chess pie recalls English cheese tarts, and the lineage suggests that the name “chess” is a corruption of the word cheese. Others argue that the name refers to the chests or safes in which the pies

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Tastebud: Panna Cotta

panna cotta
Hailing from the Northern Italian regions of Val d’Aosta and Piedmont, classic panna cotta is a combination of sugar and cream or milk (or both!). True to its name (which is Italian for “cooked cream”), the dessert is made by heating the ivory base, adding gelatin (we prefer sheets over powder for the satiny texture they produce), pouring the mixture into round containers to set, and releasing the jelled result. Panna cotta pulls off a miraculous texture that’s both effortlessly light and mouth-caressingly rich.

In Gastronomy of Italy, Anna del Conte writes that while the dessert is occasionally flavored with peach eau-de-vie or paired with fresh fruit, the traditional, unadulterated version prevails throughout the boot. But Beard House chefs have broken the panna cotta mold: Dean James Max

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Tastebud: Chowchow Down


A pickled, relish-like spread that’s served cold, chowchow is popular in Pennsylvania, Appalachia, the American Southwest, and the South—and with gardeners who have leftover vegetables from summer’s harvest on their hands. The indiscriminate condiment employs almost anything from the ground, from tomatoes and onions to peas and cabbage, and is slathered on biscuits, beans, and burgers or eaten alone. Whatever its contents and purposes, chowchow is almost always flavored with mustard seed and vinegar. The origins of chowchow are disputed: some argue that chou, the French word for cabbage, is the root of the American name. (Other historians trace chowchow to reported sightings of the chow chow breed of dog listed on 19th-century restaurant menus in China; word got back to America, and when China began shipping pickles to the West Coast, the name stuck.)

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Tastebud: Venerable, Imitable, Spreadable Camembert

camembert
 

Presented to Napoleon III on the inaugural day of the 1855 World’s Fair, Camembert first appeared during the late 19th century in the Norman village of the same name. Bloomy, fruity, and prone to spoilage, Brie-like Camembert stayed a local favorite for decades, until the invention of its signature wooden box and the advent of the railroad could carry the downy wheels to Paris and beyond. So en vogue was the cheese that it became the most copied in the world, prompting the French government to award Normandy-produced Camembert its Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée in 1983.


Aside from inspiring imitations, the cheese has also been an unlikely muse for the arts: a limp, sun-melted wheel of Camembert moved Salvador Dali to paint the famously languid timepieces in his Surrealist masterpiece, The Persistence of Memory. According to the MoMA Highlights catalog, the artist went on... Read more >

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