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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.
If Mario liked it, who was I to argue?
I was there for the custard puffs and such Italian cookies as Anise Biscotti, Almond Frollini, Chocolate Hazelnut Spumenti, Buccalati and chocolate dipped macaroons. But after loading up on those treats, I saw the sign quoting a story in USAToday where Mario Batali proclaimed "Corbo's Bakery has the best cassata [cake] I have tried in the USA."
It seems that Mario, the famed chef, restaurateur, cookbook author and Food Network star had visited the fourth generation bakery in Cleveland’s Little Italy on the sly buying a piece (or maybe more – who knows – Mario’s not exactly a skinny guy) and loving it.
Built in 1816, the three-story gristmill at Spring Mill Pioneer Village in Spring Mill State Park in Mitchell, Indiana continues to grind, the river flowing down the mill race making the wheel turn corn into meal for making breads. In this delightful collection of historic restored buildings from the early 1800s when the Hamer family founded the village in 1814. Once a popular stage coach stop, the village, founded in 1814, had a distillery, tavern, apothecary, mercantile store and at one time the corn, pork and whiskey they produced were shipped down river on flatboats from trees felled from the forest and cut at the village’s sawmill all the way to New Orleans. The historic gardens have been immaculately restored.
One of the log cabins – a rather fancy affair with a middle area open for wagons to pull in -- belonged to a true pioneer, Sally Cummins White, known in later years as Granny White. She was the type of woman who took in orphans and fed the poor. She lived to a great age even for now but was ancient back then, dying at 94. And what she survived during those 94 years is amazing. American born, she moved to Canada and then made her way back here at age 35. On the journey to Indiana, her husband died leaving her with six small children. Granny White continued on, burying him along the way and making her way to the middle of Indiana where she met and married David White. According to the commemorative sign in the two story log house that her husband built in 1824, they rode to Canada on horseback for their honeymoon.
Three more children came along and White, the mother of nine now, also tended to the destitute and ill as well as inviting the Native Americans who made their way along the Indian trail nearby into her home.
Dinner was at Orchids at Palm Court, the exquisite French Art Deco restaurant in the historic Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza — a swank room filled with gilt, six foot palms rising from oversized urns, elaborate murals, ornate lighting fixtures, super high ceilings and even a waterfall. It’s the kind of place where if I had a white mink coat I would let it fall behind me sweeping the marble floor as I walked through the entrance just like a star in a 1930s movie.
In other words, it’s not the type of hotel where you expect to find colonies of bees living. But they do. And they have their own floor.
That’s what Todd Kelly, executive chef at Orchids, tells me when I compliment him on the exquisite appetizer I started off with — Blue Cheese Beignets with Local Honey, Frisée, Belgian Endive, and Almond Brittle.
Does what you eat and where you eat it matter I ask Roger Chapman as we eat lunch at the Grand Mere Inn in Stevensville last week.
“I’m not normally superstitious,” Roger replies as he sips a glass of red wine.
When someone phrases a sentence like that, you know there’s a “but” coming up soon. And sure enough, there was.
I can’t decide whether this is totally in bad taste or rather fun in a macabre sort of way. But someone sent me The Dead Celebrity Cookbook: A Resurrection of Recipes from More Than 145 Stars of Stage and Screen and its follow-up The Dead Celebrity Cookbook Presents Christmas in Tinseltown: Celebrity Recipes and Hollywood Memories from Six Feet Under the Mistletoe both by Frank DeCaro. The covers are rather maniacal with the Tinseltown book showing a vintage black and white photo of Joan Crawford, one of my favorite actresses, with a rather crazed smile holding a bright shiny carving knife as she dissects a roast turkey. Inside both books are less campy with the first offering vignettes of stars and their recipes such as Lucille Ball’s Persimmon Cake, Yvonne De Carlo’s Exotic Chicken Ecstasy, Alfred Hitchcock’s Quiche Lorraine, Frank Sinatra’s Barbecued Lamb and, fittingly enough, Dean Martin’s Burgers and Bourbon. The second is pretty much the same format but with actors and actresses who are often seen around Christmastime. For the Christmas classic, It’s a Wonderful Life we get Jimmy Stewart’s Spareribs with Barbecue Sauce and Donna Reed’s Lemon Bundt Cake, while in the chapter titled Miracle Whip on 34th Street there’s Natalie Wood’s Beef Stroganoff director Darryl F. Zanuck’s Chicken Curry.
DeCaro took his search for these vintage recipes seriously, spending a lot of time trying to hunt them down. Because many of the stars date back before the Internet, he couldn’t just Google a name and hit search but that didn’t detour him from his mission.
"I would buy everything, manuals that came with microwave ovens or flyers handed out in supermarkets in the 60s with recipes attributed to specific celebrities, eBay, old cookbooks,” says DeCaro who spent 15 years collecting recipes. “I like to believe that they were in fact truly their recipes.”
A few posts ago, I mentioned that I would be traveling, as I have done for the last four years now, to Medora, a hamlet in Southern Indiana to be a judge at the National Maple Syrup Festival, held at Burton’s Maplewood Farms each year on the first two weekends of March. This year was even more special as I stayed at the Story Inn in Story, Indiana (even tinier than Medora) and was invited to dinner along with 36 Chicago area food professionals including chefs, bloggers, photographers, culinary instructors and Food Network host who were also participating in the festival. One of the people sitting next to me was David Posey, chef de cuisine at Blackbird Restaurant in Chicago, and now one of five finalists for the James Beard Foundation Awards for Rising Star Chef of the Year.
Also at the dinner was Tim Burton, who with his wife Angie, own Maplewood Farm as was Jeremy Turner, a Native American who each year with his wife (she was back at the hotel sewing some buckskin fringe, I kid you not) and family re-enact how the Delaware tribe would have made maple syrup once they lived in the forests around Medora. Jeremy also hunts and traps critters and cooks them up during the festival.
The contest, sponsored by King Arthur Flour, was divided into Adult and Youth Divisions, each with three categories — Savory Main Dish, Dessert and Breakfast. Below are two winning recipes from Sally Sibthorpe of Shelby Township, Michigan in the adult savory category and Jessie Grearson of Falmouth, Maine in the adult dessert category.
Food crafted in small batches, small farms growing lush vegetables, fruits and pastured animals feasting on grass and grain, these are all the hallmarks of artisanal foods. And in Michigan, with its bounteous harvests, artisan food crafters and farmers abound.
“Michigan is second only to California in terms of agricultural production, “ says Jaye Beeler, author of "Tasting and Touring Michigan’s Homegrown Food: A Culinary Road Trip" with photographer Dianne Carroll Burdick (Arbutus Press 2012; $29.95). “Think about it – Michigan cold and snowy, California warm and sunny. We can grow all this because of the lake.”
File it under tough job but someone’s got to do it, but Beeler and Burdick spent a year touring the state at the request of their publisher with the goal of finding the “best in deliciousness.” The trip took the two of the Upper Peninsula where they foraged with gatherers for wild fruit such as thimbleberries, strawberries and blueberries which were then naturally sweetened and thickened without artificial pectin into jam.
Soft, chewy and studded with currents and sometimes pieces of dried fruit, their taste sweet and citrusy, hot cross buns are an Easter tradition stretching back centuries and though the white cross made from drizzled frosting would seem to indicate a connection to Christianity, their history goes back to remote pagan times. According to an article published on March 31, 1912 in The New York Times, ancient Egyptians made offerings of similarly decorated cakes to their moon goddess and the Greeks to Astarte, goddess of war and sexual love (now there’s an interesting combination). These cakes were decorated with four horns and then later with a cross thought to be an allusion to the four quarters of the moon.
Whatever their pagan beginnings, in 1361 a monk named Father Thomas Rockcliffe provided the poor of St Albans with hot cross buns on Good Friday. But with the outlawing of Catholicism during Queen Elizabeth’s time, consumption of hot cross buns was forbidden except at burials, on Good Friday or at Christmas. By the 1700s, they were being sold in the street with the cry of the bun sellers becoming a favorite nursery rhyme with several variations including “Good Friday comes this month, the old woman runs.”
“If I had time to make them every day, I’d be able to sell them all,” says Sandra Schlutt, owner of Sandra Kay’s Bakery and Cafe in Stevensville who has been making the buns and selling them at Easter time since she first opened 16 years ago. “I make them using a very traditional recipe and they’re very popular.”
It was spring several weekends ago when I was down in Madison, Indiana, a river port city on the Ohio River, known for its large historic district. The city dates back to the early 1800s and for some reason escaped the architectural nightmare of the 1960s and 1970s that overtook many other cities resulting in beautiful Second Empire, Victorian and Federal style buildings being torn down and replaced by concrete eyesores.
And so I found myself eating dinner at an old button factory (making buttons from the fresh water mollusk shells found in the Ohio River was a major business back in the 19th century in Madison) which 45 years ago morphed into a restaurant with the somewhat unlikely name – this is Southern Indiana after all – Key West Shrimp House. Sure, it’s steps from the Ohio with wonderful views of the broad river with its day and night traffic, but still. And even more interesting, Key West Shrimp House was one of a small chain, the first one which opened in 1950 in Indianapolis and was rather a jazzy sort of place where men wore suits and hats and women wore heels and dresses to come and dine on shrimp cocktail, French Fried Frog Legs, Shrimp Scampi and Whiskey Pudding, the last a particular favorite.
Of all the Key West Shrimp House restaurants, only this one survives and is owned by the son of the original owners. The others were located in Bloomington, Franklin, Kokomo and Gas City. Back in the 1940s and 1950s there was a real trend for restaurants evoking the ambience of southern waters. I remember a restaurant my parents took me to as a kid called the Palm Grove. It had neon palm trees outside and pink leather banquettes inside and women came in wearing fur coats. Thinking back, it was rather odd as it was on an industrial street in Gary near the boundary separating that city and East Chicago – surely few more unglamorous places can be imagined.
I just had a chat with Chef Matthew Millar, who was recently named as a semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation’s 2013 Best Chef: Great Lakes award. Matt is one of 20 semifinalists who made the list. Beard judges (total disclosure here – I am one of the nominating Beard nominating judges for the Great Lakes region which includes Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois) will then winnow the list down to five final nominations to be announced on March 18th.
Matt, who owned the Journeyman Restaurant in Fennville and most recently worked at Reserve in Grand Rapids before leaving at the end of this January, is now embarking on another culinary project – opening St. Anthony’s, a restaurant with his business partner Brandon Joldersma.
“St. Anthony is a small, progressive yet traditionally grounded restaurant opening for service in Douglas, Michigan in the spring of 2014,” says their Website, restaurantstanthony.com. “The restaurant will include small-scale facilities for the production of charcuterie — with the possibility of limited wholesale — which will be an important aspect of menu formation. The restaurant’s culinary philosophy will take root in the character of West Michigan agriculture and local food history and culture. The wine program will extend out of the same philosophy as the culinary.”