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.
When it’s so cold, snowy and windy as it has been for what seems like forever, I often think of a trip I took to Door County, Wisconsin, a narrow peninsula tucked between Lake Michigan and Green Bay.
I’ve been there in both summer and winter and while it’s a beautiful place at any time, it’s hard to figure out why anyone ever decided to live there year round. There’s a howling wind across the waters, the roads are narrow and swiftly curve through wooded hillsides making winter driving perilous. But the people who settled here back in the 1800s were tough Finns, Swedes and Norwegians who had lived in equally harsh conditions back home and knew how to survive the cold and make a living fishing.
When you hang around the White Gull Inn at Fish Creek, named by Forbes as one of the 15 Prettiest Towns in America (I have to agree), you get to hear stories from people who can trace their ancestry many generations to those early immigrants.
On the back roads in West Kentucky, artisan ham makers like Charles Gatton Jr. continue traditions born of necessity before the days of refrigeration.
Gatton was about five years old when he started helping his father and uncle dry rub, cure and smoke hams made from the hogs raised on the family farm. The Gatton business, Father’s Country Hams in Bremen, Ky., first opened in the 1950s, but the Gattons have been making hams much longer than that. Gatton’s great great grandparents started the farm in the 1840 at a time when putting food up for the winter was part of farm life and many families had their own special cure recipes and techniques.
Now Gatton, using his century plus old family recipe, turns out not only country style hams but also bacons, pork cracklings and sausages. The work is labor intensive and the shrinkage from curing and aging (each ham takes about a year before it’s ready to be sold) is about 30 percent, meaning an 18 pound fresh ham might end up weighing 9 to 10 pounds by the time it’s ready to be sold. Though country hams can be salty (after all most dry rubs are salt, which is the preservative preventing the hams from spoiling during the aging process, along with sugar and maybe a little pepper), Gatton says his hams have less salt than many. In comparison to many grocery store hams where water and preservatives are injected, it’s a whole different taste thing.
January is Soup Month and this January soup seems more than appropriate. To celebrate soup and the end of January, below are some great recipes to take the chill off.
Oh and speaking of chill, er..chili, my daughter Nia and I stopped at Caffe Tosi’s in downtown St. Joseph last week for her favorite lunch of the Georgia Reuben and minestrone. While we were waiting for our food, I went back to look at their take-out section and saw brightly colored rubber wristbands which read “Remembering Kelly Kuball.”
Kelly was the chef at Caffe Tosi’s forever as well as the fiancé of Anne Reitz, the owner of the caffe. Kelly was a really nice guy and when I heard that he had died unexpectedly last year, I was very sad. Now in order to make something good out of something horrible, Anne has started a culinary scholarship in his name and the wristbands, which cost a $1, are one way of contributing.
Pop-up events seem to be, well, popping up all over Southwest Michigan. Not only is noted chef Brandon Baltzley doing pop-up dinners at Soe, the restaurant in Sawyer which surprisingly and suddenly closed a few months ago, but Paula Bartholome, co-publisher of Edible Michiana magazine and writer of the blog gardenttotable.com, is partnering with Journeyman Distillery in Three Oaks to host a pop-up titled National Art Exhibit Display In Southwest Michigan: Local Food Meets Art at National Exhibit in Southwest Michigan.
According to Paula, the show explores how by working together individuals and communities strengthen local food systems and help reshape the relationships with our food, farmers and local environment. Part of the event includes photos by Douglas Gayeton, an award-winning multimedia artist, filmmaker, writer and photographer who for three years traveled the country with his wife, Laura Howard-Gayeton, creating The Lexicon of Sustainability. Doug, whose most recent documentary aired on HBO, and Laura interviewed some 200 people involved in all aspects of food from all over America on issues such as farming, animal husbandry, foraging and food production.
Sustainability is what Journeyman is all about as well says the distillery’s general manager Mike Prelaske who formerly worked for the Lettuce Entertain You restaurant powerhouse in Chicago.
We had just met Ana Elena Mendez the day we arrived in Merida, the capitol city of the Yucatan. But such is the hospitality of Mexico that the next morning my friend Lisbeth and I are sitting in the dining room of Casa Lecanda, her elegant and exquisitely restored 19th century mansion, sipping rich full bodied coffee from Chiapas, munching on barras which are like baguettes, cuernos (horn shaped rolls) and conchas or sweet rolls while marveling at, well, just everything.
“It’s so beautiful,” we say, repeatedly.
But it wasn’t always so. When Ana found this Yucatecan home several years ago, parts of the roof had fallen in, birds were nesting in the rooms and the courtyards, now so well manicured with palms, red flowered Chak Kuyché trees and ferns surrounding the swimming pool, fountain, walls covered with beautiful climbing bougainvillea, small sitting areas tucked away behind foliage and even a third courtyard with Merida made hammocks for resting, wasn’t quite what it is now.
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.”