RSSWill Travel For Food With Jane Ammeson
Will Travel For Food with Jane Ammeson
Food correspondent-at-large Jane Ammeson will travel far and near to write about her latest foodie finds. From tastings to chef profiles, Jane will whet your appetite.
Years of fame from authoring best selling cookbooks, hosting TV cooking shows, opening restaurants and gourmet food stores, including the 63,000-square-foot Eataly which opens in Chicago on December 2, and creating her own line of pastas, sauces and readymade foods hasn’t even slightly dimmed Lidia Matticchio Bastianich’s enthusiasm for spreading the word about the glories of Italian cuisine. Indeed, if she had her way, we’d all be experts in Italian cooking.
“Italian food is very simple,” Bastianich tells me as we chat about her latest cookbook, Lidia's Commonsense Italian Cooking: 150 Delicious and Simple Recipes Anyone Can Master (Knopf 2013; $35), which she co-authored with her daughter Tanya Bastianich Manuali. “It’s all about good ingredients and not fretting about the recipes.”
Passing on the traditions learned from helping her mother and grandmother cook, Bastianich revels in the email and comments she gets from fans crediting her with teaching them how to cook Italian.
I’ve spent a lot of time in Cleveland lately and really have learned about their food scene. One of my favorite restaurants in the city are Lola’s and Lolita which are owned by restaurateur Michael Symon, author of several cookbooks including Michael Symon’s Carnivore which is the perfect name for a chef who describes his cooking as “meat-centric.” He also earned The James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef Great Lakes and Gourmet magazine chose Lola as one of “America’s Best Restaurants.”
So when I saw that one of Symon’s Food Network shows was dedicated to Eastern European cookery with recipes just like the ones I used to cook with my Grandma Simon when I was young, it really hit a memory chord. In particular, the recipe for mamaliga, a cornmeal mush like polenta, brought back a lot of great memories. It not only was fun to make and eat but my brother Tim and I used to make a pun (a very feeble one, I might add) about it by saying “your mama will never leave you if you eat your mamalega.” But give us a break, we were very young.
Mamaliga with Smoked Ham
“This is how we started,” Joe Dickman tells me as I study an old black and white photo showing his father and a teen-aged Joe stirring a large copper cauldron over an open fire.
“Over there is the wooden stirrer my grandfather used to make apple butter,” he says pointing to a long wood pole with a flat paddle on the end that hangs over the desk where his wife Paula is sitting. “And that one we’re using to hang drapes was my father’s.”
Dickman’s family (he’s one of seven siblings) raised sugar beets and chickens—over 11,000 of them--on their Northern Ohio farm.
I first met Emeril Lagasse at Heaven on Seven, Jimmy Banos’s New Orleans style restaurant in the Garland Building on Wabash Avenue in Chicago’s Loop. The Garland Building had a special affinity for me because I used to accompany my mom there to a salon which had been on the 7th floor to get her hair done. Emeril had come to Chicago to promote his first cookbook, Emeril's New New Orleans Cooking (yes, it was a while back) and was cooking recipes from the book for a group of food writers and editors. I didn’t know at the time how successful he was going to be (cooking shows, multiple restaurants, cook wear, etc.) but his enthusiastic personality and great food certainly showcased his potential.
Now, in his 18th cookbook, Emeril’s Cooking with Power: 100 Delicious Recipes Starring Your Slow Cooker, Multi Cooker, Pressure Cooker, and Deep Fryer (William Morrow Cookbooks; $25.99, Emeril shows us how to use four countertop appliances—Slow Cooker, Multi Cooker, Pressure Cooker, and Fryer to make over 100 recipes. It’s not only geared towards the harried home chef who wants something delicious waiting at the end of a long day but also for those who are looking for more unique recipes.
"Slow cookers make wonderful kitchen helpers in that you can 'set in and forget it' and return hours later to a slowly cooked meal just waiting to be served up," says Lagasse in his usual exuberant way. "The problem is that everyone knows how to do a pot roast in a slow cooker, but what about Pot Roast Dianne? Or Artichokes a la Barigoule? Even risotto."
“These might seem totally unrelated,” Bridgett Blough tells me as we stand in the kitchen of her parents’ Southwest Michigan home where she has a jar of her homemade kimchi, a spicy and sometimes pungent condiment served with almost every Korean meal and bruschetta topped with layers of cream cheese, chopped dried figs and sautéed butternut squash.
They’re certainly representative of international cuisine and Blough says they’re perfect as appetizers for fall meals and holiday parties. But more importantly says Blough, a personal chef, caterer, workshop leader, and retreat host who has a professional kitchen in Kalamazoo and is owner of The Organic Gypsy food truck, both dishes are not only healthy but use end-of-the season local ingredients.
“I got the squash and cabbage from Molter Family Orchards in Benton Harbor, the red radishes from Eater’s Guild in South Haven,” says Blough listing the places she sources her food. “The the 7-grain bread is from Stone House Bakery in Traverse City. If you call in advance, you can pick it up in South Haven. And the chèvre is from Mattawan Artisan Creamery in Mattawan. I call this my personal supply chain and it’s kind of a pain in the rear but worth it for getting good food.”
The only thing I know about harvesting honey is from reading Winnie the Pooh and that always seemed to end with Pooh’s head stuck in a honey jar.
And so when my friend Tracey Yeager asked if I wanted to learn how to collect honey from her hives, I said yes.
“Wear white and bring gloves,” she told me. “And we’ll see how you handle bee stings.”
Outside of Chichen Itza, a once thriving metropolis (back about a millennium ago) of 50,000 people and now one of the most significant archaeological sites in Mexico, I’ve just shoveled dirt over my dinner and am waiting for the Shaman to come give it a final blessing, when I realize I’ve gone full Mayan.
It hadn’t started out that way. I had arrived here at Mayaland earlier in the day with some trepidation. After all, the name sounded to me like a somewhat tacky amusement park. But this Colonial style hotel (think arched colonnades and tiled roofs) set amidst acres of immaculately tended gardens surrounded by the dense forests of a Yucatan jungle and just short steps away from Chichen Itza, immediately charmed instead. Built in the early 1920s by Fernando Barbachano Peon who also convinced the first tourists to visit Chichen Itza, I find that Jennifer Lopez was here just a while before I arrived.
Whether Jennifer made her own pollo pibil under the shade of a gnarled Copal tree, also known as the Tree of Life, I didn’t find out. But here in the gardens, I copy the chef, placing chicken marinated in a paste made of achiote seeds, charred garlic, toasted herbs and spices including oregano, cloves, cumin, black peppercorns, allspice, coriander seeds as well as with the juice of the naranja agria, a small pale bitter orange often used in the foods of the Yucatan, in the bright green leaves of a banana tree. The leaves, folded around the chicken, are thick and sturdy and, somewhat similar to corn husks when used to make a tamale, keep the meat moist and tasty while cooking.
Even today most of us are omnivores, consuming both meats and vegetables. And back in the early part of the last century, vegetarianism was rare. But it was practiced in Southwest Michigan which starting from 1908 had several vegetarian restaurants that thrived until the mid 1970s. The premise, like the current focus on sustainable local agriculture – eating what is grown near home, contributed to the popularity of these restaurants which included the Eden Springs Park Restaurant (opened in 1908 and closed in 1932), Mary’s Vegetarian Restaurant which opened in 1932 and closed 34 years later and Mary’s Café, in business from 1931 to 1975 in downtown Benton Harbor.
Produce served in these establishments was grown on the grounds of the Israelite House of David in Benton Harbor, founded in 1903 and reorganized by Mary Purnell in 1930 as Mary’s City of David.
According to Ron Taylor, of Mary’s City of David, one of the nation’s oldest continuing communes, the freshness of the ingredients used was one of the reasons for the long time popularity of the restaurants. Taylor, who worked at Mary’s Café for the last four years of its existence, has long been an archivist of the colony’s history. Several years ago he reprinted a limited edition of the 1912 cookbook titled “Vegetarian Cookbook” with recipes from the Eden Springs Restaurant.
My grandmother shopped at the poultry market on Main Street in Indiana Harbor, selecting the live chickens she thought would be a tasty meal that night. The butcher took them in the back and did whatever had to be done before returning with the packaged meat.
By the time I was a little girl, there were no longer live chickens at the shop, everything came already processed and after we ordered the parts we wanted, wrapped in white paper tied with twine. I knew little about butchering beyond the stories I was told.
And so when Matt Pietsch, executive chef at Salt of the Earth, a farm to table restaurant in Fennville, Michigan that’s been getting lots of buzz, invited me to a visit his kitchen on the day he would be butchering freshly processed two Berkshire pigs he’d gotten from Coach Stop Farms in nearby Zeeland, I grabbed my notebook and camera and headed north. When I arrived, a little late as usual, there were four men including Pietsch with pork splitters, saws and very sharp knives removing the heads and pig tails from two smallish pigs.
The search for where to open their new restaurant took Pat and Tim Foley almost five years and they even went as afield as South Bend. But the perfect spot was a lot closer as Pat discovered driving along the St. Joseph River in downtown Benton Harbor.
“I looked and saw this place and it was just right,” says Foley who with her husband owns Bit of Swiss Bakery in Stevensville. “I showed it to Tim and we fell in love with the building and the land.”
Formerly Jerry Albert’s Insurance Agency, with its sleek Mid-Century Modern style look of straight lines, brick exterior and windows made of large sheets of glass as well as an expansive interior space, the structure was perfect for what the Foleys planned to create – a small restaurant featuring Midwest American rustic food paired with classical French techniques using ingredients locally sourced farmers, bakers, food producers, vintners, brewers and spice merchants.