Category Archives: Book & Product Reviews

Southern Pies by Nancie McDermott — Review

Note from Chef Gwen: Just in time for pie-baking season (who am I kidding…every season is pie-baking season) Linda Avery returns with a review of the new Southern Pies cookbook, from the same author of Southern Cakes.

Southern Pies: A Gracious Plenty of Pie Recipes from Lemon Chess to Chocolate Pecan

by Nancie McDermott

photos by Leigh Beisch

Facts: Chronicle, 168 pages, $22.95 (or Amazon at $15.61)
Photos: 26 photos
Recipes: 69
Give to: Southern Belles, baker friends, pie lovers

Reviewed by Linda Avery:

After conquering the world of pastas and noodles, curries and mu shu, Nancie McDermott turned to sweets. Nancie authored seven or eight books on the cuisines of Asia, so I was surprised when, in 2007, she came out with Southern Cakes: Sweet and Irresistible Recipes for Everyday Celebrations.

There was no surprised in the quality – or the high YUM factor – of those cakes. I specifically remember Cornelia Walker Bailey’s Pear Bread, a versatile, spice-infused batter that turned out tea breads when made in loaf pans or presented as a cake when made in a Bundt pan.

And I wasn’t surprised to see another Bailey recipe in McDermott’s new book Southern Pies: A Gracious Plenty of Pie Recipes from Lemon Chess to Chocolate Pecan. This time, Bailey’s recipe is Sapelo Island Pear Pie – that lady loved the pears from Sapelo Island, Georgia.

McDermott’s recipes are user friendly; she’s okay with store-bought pastry. Her research is evident and her headnotes span mini-biographies to historical accounts to Southern travelogue – all of which are intriguing.

The book has a concise glossary for those who don’t know what a sonker is (the abbreviated definition is a deep dish cobbler with ties to Surry County, North Carolina) as well as a listing of sources for authentic Southern ingredients (mostly located below the Mason-Dixon line).

I wrote to Nancie when I was having a difficult time narrowing which pie to make – too many temptations, diverse flavors (should I make the Vinegar Pie just because I’d never heard of it?). Perhaps it should be the sweet potato pie, based solely on the time of year? McDermott wrote:

“I came across Dr. Carver’s recipe several years back, during my research for “Southern Cakes.”. I was looking for Southern cakes using peanuts and was delighted to find that Dr. Carver’s writings included recipes using peanuts and sweet potatoes to use in the kitchen. Sweet potato pie is one of my favorites — if I’d had room for it in the book, I would have given sweet potato pies their very own chapter.

I love this particular pie because Dr. Carver calls for slicing par-boiled sweet potatoes lengthwise and layering them into the piecrust, rather than mashing them up into a custard. He also cuts loose with the spices, calling for allspice, cloves, ginger and nutmeg, and includes molasses and cream, all giving this pie an antique aspect that makes me feel like I’m flipping the calendar backwards and carrying on good kitchen customs that got left behind over time.

Even by old-time standards, this pie takes more effort than such everyday pies as egg custard, buttermilk and chess pies, and more than even peach or apple pies, using uncooked fruit piled up in a heap. But there’s a time to take a little time in the kitchen, and as Leigh Beisch’s gorgeously understated photograph conveys, this one is a beauty and a keeper.”

So take the time, enjoy the process and share with friends and family.

— Linda Avery

 

photo © Leigh Beisch

 

 

From Southern Pies: A Gracious Pleanty of Pie Recipes from Lemon Chess to Chocolate Pecan

Dr. George Washington Carver’s Sliced Sweet Potato Pie

Makes one 9-inch pie

When Dr. George Washington Carver wrote his Agricultural Bulletin #38 in 1936, his goal was to provide African American farmers with much more than just guidance for raising sweet potatoes as a cash crop and food source.

Already in his seventies, and more than four decades into his work as a research chemist, botanist, educator, and author, he tirelessly presented practical, focused information on agriculture, nutrition, and business practices, so that his readers could choose crops that might bring them financial benefits as well as nutritional ones.

His bulletins began with notes on agricultural varieties and how to plant them with success, then moved on to dozens of recipes, including several for sweet potato pies. This one is my favorite.

Carver liked spices as much as I do, but if you don’t have all these in your pantry, you can simply season your pie with cinnamon, or a combination of your choosing. You could prepare this in advance by cooking the sweet potatoes and slicing them in one session, and then assembling and baking the pie the next day.

Pastry for a 9-inch double-crust pie (store-bought or recipe below)

4 medium sweet potatoes (about 3 pounds)
1/4 cups sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 tablespoons cream, evaporated milk, or half-and-half
1/3 cup molasses, sorghum, pure cane syrup, or honey
1/2 cup hot water, reserved from the sweet potatoes* cooking liquid
3 tablespoons cold butter, chopped into small bits

1. Line a 9-inch deep-dish pie pan with dough, draping it over the edge of the pie pan with a 1 1/2-inch border of pastry extending beyond the rim. Refrigerate until needed.

2. Place the whole, unpeeled sweet potatoes in a large pot with water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to maintain a gentle boil, and cook until the sweet potatoes are tender enough to be sliced, but not so tender that they fall apart. Depending on their size and shape, this should take between 15 and 30 minutes. Remove any smaller sweet potatoes as they reach the right texture and let larger ones cook until they reach the correct texture.

3. While the sweet potatoes are cooking, prepare the seasonings. In a small bowl, combine the sugar, flour, allspice, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. Stir with a fork to mix them together well.

4. In a medium bowl or a heatproof measuring cup, combine the cream and molasses. When the sweet potatoes are cooked, measure out 1/2 cup of their cooking water. Add this to the molasses and cream and stir to mix these liquids well.

5. Drain the sweet potatoes and set them out on a platter to cool enough to be handled. Peel and trim the sweet potatoes. Slice them lengthwise into slabs about 1/4 inch thick (see Note). You will need about 4 cups; enough slices to generously fill the piecrust.

6. Heat the oven to 350°F. Roll out the top crust to about 11 inches in diameter.

Have the spice mixture, molasses mixture, and butter all ready. Place two layers of sweet potato slices in the bottom of the piecrust. Sprinkle about one third of the spice mixture over this first layer. Add another two layers of sweet potato slices, another third of the spice mixture, and finish up with a final two layers of sweet potato slices, filling the piecrust almost to the very top. Add a few slices of sweet potatoes to the center, to build it up a little higher. Sprinkle all the remaining spices over this third layer.

7. Pour the molasses mixture evenly over the filling (you may have extra, just use what you need), and place the bits of cold butter around the top of the pie. Cover the pie with the top crust. Fold the edges of the bottom crust up and over the top crust and press to seal them together well. Using the tines of a fork, work your way around the piecrust, pressing to make a handsome parallel design on the crust as you seal it. Use a sharp knife to cut eight slits in the top of the pie, so that steam can escape and the filling can bubble up through the crust.

8. Place the pie on a baking sheet on the center rack of the oven. Bake until the crust is nicely brown, the filling is bubbling, and the sweet potatoes are tender all the way through, 45 to 55 minutes.

9. Place the pie on a cooling rack or a folded kitchen towel and let cool to room temperature.

Note: You’ll slice the sweet potatoes lengthwise into “planks,” not crosswise into rounds.

Sandra Gutierrez’s Butter Piecrust

Makes two 9-inch single piecrusts or one 9-inch double pie crust

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup very cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 to 6 tablespoons ice water
1 teaspoon white vinegar

1. In the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine the flour and salt; pulse for 10 seconds. Add the butter cubes and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse sand with some small lumps, 30 to 40 seconds.

2. Add 3 tablespoons of the ice water and the vinegar and pulse 5 to 7 times, until the dough just barely holds together in the work bowl. Add another tablespoon or two of ice water if needed just to bring the ingredients together. Turn it out onto plastic wrap and pat the dough into two separate disks; refrigerate them for a least 1 hour. Set one or two disks out at room temperature for 10 minutes before rolling.

3. Roll out one of the dough disks on a lightly floured surface, to a circle about 1/8 inch thick and 10 inches wide. Carefully transfer it into a 9-inch pie plate. Press the dough gently into the pan and trim away any excess dough, leaving about 1/2 inch beyond the edge of the pie pan. Fold the edges up and over, and then crimp the edges decoratively. Or press the back of a fork into the pastry rim, working around the pie to make a flat edge marked with the tines of the fork. If not filling the crust soon, refrigerate it until needed.

4. To make the crust in advance, wrap it well in plastic and refrigerate it for up to 3 days, or freeze it for up to 2 months.

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Steak with Friends: At Home with Rick Tramonto – Review

Note from Chef Gwen: Linda Avery ponders “chef ink” before diving into the newest cookbook from celebrated Chicago Chef Rick Tramanto. Read on, and then head to the kitchen to make the “to-live-for” melon & tomato gazpacho with grilled shrimp.

Linda Avery Reviews Steak with FriendsSteak with Friends:
At Home with Rick Tramonto

By Rick Tramonto with Mary Goodbody

photos by Ben Fink






Facts: Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC, 290 pages, $35.00 (or Amazon at $23.10)

Photos: 240 photos plus illustrations

Recipes: 150

Give to: Meat lovers, Rick Tramanto fans, budding chefs, that friend who throws dinner parties

Reviewed by Linda Avery:

What is it with chefs and artwork? Not what they hang on the walls of their restaurants but body art.

Have you noticed? Some of the most colorful, creative art now graces the limbs of star chefs.

Is it a necessary outlet for all of those overflowing creative juices? (The subject didn’t escape Melissa Lavrinc Smith, who actually wrote a book that targets the constantly growing group of “Inked Rogue Chefs).

Rick Tramonto’s latest cookbook Steak with Friends: At Home with Rick Tramonto has a lovely cover photo of his family in their home with an array of food spread before them. But, your eyes immediately go to the words Chef and Faith written in a medieval script on the chef’s forearms.

(Yes, I’ll review the book in a minute but bear with me; it’s fascinating and gives insight to this James Beard Award winning chef).

Tramonto has 24 tattoos, those on the left side of his body are about his faith, and those decorating his right side are about cooking.

He likens the restaurant kitchen to the military i.e. strict and regimented: this is a release. Beside that he likes the art.

Last summer, I attended the 10-year anniversary celebration of his restaurant Tru (from which he recently departed). His wife Eileen was at our table and we had had a brief chat about tattoos, so when he stopped by the table she had him rolled up his pant legs to show off the new knife images which took a couple years to finish. Wow – ‘nuf said.

Okay, now the book! And it is a fine one with far more than steak recipes and while instructive, it’s not a how-to-grill book. Tramonto chose steak as the centerpiece because it’s a hallmark of Chicago and it represents an indulgence.

He wants you to know how to cook it perfectly to your taste because “if you overcook it, there’s no going back.” The grilled steak section includes numerous cuts with tomahawk (aka Cowboy cut – a bone-on ribeye), flatiron, skirt and hanger among the lot, and then he moves to classics like Steak Diane, Beef Wellington, and Filet Oscar.

There are 150 recipes and the variety beyond beef is superb (fewer than 30 recipes are actually “steak”) including Peekytoe crab salad, cioppino, garlic sausage, lemongrass duck, even the ubiquitous mac & cheese.

Desserts like Killer Chocolate Pudding and Key Lime Brûlées are mouthwatering. The headnotes are charming, informative, and insightful and you’ll find the sidebars and tips useful. Don’t overlook the Sources section to learn where the pros buy when local isn’t available.

Not to be outdone by fellow Chicagoan Rick Bayless’ inclusion of music, Tramonto recommends Aerosmith, U2, The Rolling Stone, The Beatles and Santana for high energy when grilling up steaks.

Since farmer’s markets are brimming with tomatoes and melons, I decided to try this fabulous gazpacho. Although Tramonto calls it a perfect little appetizer, I think of it as a light dinner or great summer lunch.

Pen and Fork Review Steak with Friends

photo © Ben Fink

From Steak with Friends: At Home with Rick Tramanto

Melon and Tomato Gazpacho with Grilled Shrimp

Serves 4

I must have made a hundred different gazpachos during my career and never tire of the fresh, uncooked vegetable soup. When I decided to make a version I knew everyone in the household would like, I turned to perfectly ripe melons and tomatoes for the basis of the soup and then garnished it with grilled shrimp. What a perfect little appetizer before a grilled chicken or steak dinner!

1 pound medium shrimp, deveined with shells on (20 to 25 shrimp)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 ripe heirloom or other tomatoes, seeded and cut into large cubes
2 ripe red beefsteak tomatoes or 4 yellow tomatoes, cut into large cubes
2 ripe yellow beefsteak tomatoes, cut Into large cubes
2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and cut into large cubes
1 small red onion, diced
1 rib celery, chopped
1/2 ripe cantaloupe, seeds removed, flesh scooped from rind and diced
1/2 ripe honeydew melon, seeds removed, flesh scooped from rind and diced
1 teaspoon minced jalapeno pepper
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives, divided
Pinch of smoked paprika
Sugar
1 red tomato, finely diced, for garnish
1 yellow tomato, finely diced, for garnish

1. Prepare a clean, well-oiled charcoal or gas grill so that the coals or heating element are at medium-high heat. Alternatively, you can use a stovetop grill. Soak 4 bamboo skewers in cool tap water for about 20 minutes. This will prevent them from charring.

2. In a mixing bowl, toss the shrimp with enough oil to coat lightly. Season with salt and pepper. Thread the shrimp equally on the skewers. Grill, turning once, for 2 to 3 minutes total, until the shrimp turn pink and are cooked through. Remove 4 shrimp from the skewers and set all the shrimp aside to cool.

3. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, mix the 3 types of cubed tomatoes with the cucumbers, onion, celery, cantaloupe and honeydew melons, and jalapeno and pulse until nearly smooth but with some chunks remaining.

4. Transfer the soup to a bowl and add the lemon juice and vinegar. Stir in 1 tablespoon of the chives and the paprika and stir well. Season to taste with salt and pepper and a little sugar, if needed. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or until well chilled.

5. Ladle the soup into chilled bowls. Chop the 4 reserved shrimp and sprinkle over the top of each bowl. Garnish each bowl with the diced red and yellow tomatoes, remaining 1 tablespoon chives, and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve, with a full skewer of shrimp next to or balanced on top of each bowl.

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Trend Spotter: Black Garlic

The first time I heard about Korean black garlic was back in October of 2008, in a NYT story by Florence Fabricant, but avant garde chefs, like Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin, had already started playing with it in early 2008.

It didn’t make any trend lists that year, but by the end of 2009, it was on several “hot new food trend” lists.

The fermented garlic started turning up on more restaurant menus like Blackbird in Chicago, David Paul’s in Lahaina (Maui), wd~50 in New York throughout 2009.

And in January 2010, it landed at Crudo, in Phoenix.

Now, home cooks can buy black garlic at Whole Foods ($12.99, 5.47 oz.), from a company called — straightforward enough — Black Garlic.

What exactly is black garlic? It’s real garlic that’s been through a 3-week fermentation process, and 1-week drying process, using a variety of temperatures and humidity levels.

Is it really safe to eat? I assume so, since I’ve been snacking on the tasty orbs for the past few months.

The sticky, black cloves taste sweet, almost raisiny, with the faintest hint of garlic flavor.

You can slice or chop them to use as a garnish on any number of dishes from pasta to risotto to bruschetta.

The Black Garlic website has a handful of recipes, but if you google “black garlic recipes,” you’ll find more and more chefs and bloggers experimenting with this new “toy.”

You can make a paste by mashing the cloves with some olive oil in a mortal and pestle, and use the paste to boost the flavor of soups and sauces.

I used the paste as a spread on a turkey and brie sandwich, with thinly sliced Granny Smith apples.

So, go ahead. Splurge. A little goes a long way, and since it’s fermented, once opened, it will keep in the refrigerator for months.

Have you used black garlic in your kitchen?

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Fiesta at Rick’s – Cookbook Review

Note from Chef Gwen: Linda Avery takes us for a spin through the newest cookbook from Rick Bayless. Read on, and then head to the kitchen to make the scrumptious chocolate pecan pie bars.

Fiesta At Rick’s:

Fabulous Food for Great Times with Friends

by Rick Bayless with Deann Groen Bayless






Facts: W.W. Norton, 350 pages, $35.00 (or Amazon at $21.95)

Photos: Over 140 pics of food, people, settings, fun

Recipes: 150

Give to: Rick Bayless fans, Mexican food lovers, a host in need of a party planner

Reviewed by Linda Avery:

Top Chef Master Rick Bayless has added another cookbook to his arsenal, Fiesta At Rick’s: Fabulous Food for Great Times with Friends – just released July 5th. This is a how-to guide for the best Mexican party you’d ever want to throw.

Don’t know where to start?  Bayless suggests themes like a pozole party or a mole fiesta. He lays out “game plans” which begin about a week ahead of your party, and timelines (to make sure your plantains are perfectly ripened).

There is no disputing the fact that Rick Bayless brought Mexican food to a new level across the country over the past few decades. He has a talent for ramping up flavors with exquisite balance. I must say that this book is akin to having a Vulcan mind meld with him. He tells all.

Even the most accomplished host could pick up a pointer from the serving strategies. Decide your number of guests and choose from eight mouthwatering guacamoles like Tomato and Bacon, Mango or Toasted Pumpkin Seed (one of his suggested parties happens to be a Luxury Guacamole Bar Cocktail Party for 12).

If you don’t want to hire mariachis who might steal your show, you can rely on the playlists included for consideration – think Tito Puente, Bebel Gilberto, Lila Downs, and Buena Vista Social Club among others. And, he peppers the book with how-to guides for everything from “How to Have a Tequila Tasting” to “How to Build a Temporary Brick Fire Pit (Hornillo).”

And then there’s the food. In the words of the author “while there are dishes in this new book that don’t require a lot of time to make, a good number of them do involve forethought or dedication.”

If that’s intimidating, recruit a friend or two and cook together (probably best to have wine while cooking and save the tequila for prime time).

I don’t allow myself Mexican food very often because that “everything in moderation” rule flies out the window. This was an opportunity to let ‘er rip. Until now, flan was my go-to Mexican dessert recipe so I knew exactly what I wanted to test from this book: the chocolate pecan pie bars.

The golden rule of testing is to follow the recipe exactly, i.e., no substitutions, no halfsies. The result: this is a 5-star additively rich, delicious dessert and it is HUGE. Don’t hesitate to cut this recipe in half – I hope it freezes well.

Photo © by Paul Elledge

From Fiesta At Rick’s: Fabulous Food for Great Times with Friends by Rick Bayless

Frontera Grill’s Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars

Makes thirty-two 2-inch bars

This recipe is a bar version of the Chocolate Pecan Pie that’s been the sig­nature dessert at Frontera Grill for well over two decades. We’ve replaced that flaky crust with a sweet-salty-buttery pretzel crust that I think is perfect for these luscious bars. Come to think of it, with these bars being so gooey-rich you may want to cut the squares crosswise into triangles, so people can enjoy just a biteful at a time.

9 ounces (about 2 cups) pecan halves
One 9-ounce bag pretzel rods
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, plus extra for buttering the pan
1/2 cup granulated sugar
8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped into pieces not larger than 1/4 inch
3/4 cup (about 4 1/2 ounces) finely chopped Mexican chocolate (such as the widely available Ibarra brand)
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
6 large eggs
1 1/2 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cups corn syrup, preferably dark (or use a mixture of corn syrup and molasses, sorghum, Steen’s cane syrup or most any of the other rich-flavored syrups)
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract, preferably Mexican vanilla
Powdered sugar, for garnish

1. Toast the pecans and prepare the crumb crust. In a 325° oven, toast the pecans on a rimmed baking sheet until noticeably darker and toasty smelling, about 10 minutes. Let the pecans cool to lukewarm (but keep the oven heated), then coarsely chop them by hand — 1/4to 1/2-inch pieces make luxurious-looking bars. Scrape into a large bowl.

2. Use a food processor to chop the pretzels into fairly fine crumbs. (You should have 2 cups of crumbs.) In a small saucepan over medium heat or in a microwave at 50% power, melt 2 sticks of the butter. Scrape into the processor, along with the 1/2 cup granulated sugar. Pulse until everything is combined.

3. Butter the bottoms and sides of two 8 x 8-inch baking pans. Cut a piece of parchment to fit the bottom of each pan, then press firmly in place. Butter the parchment paper. Divide the crumb mixture between the two pans and pat into an even layer covering the bottom completely.

4. Make the filling. To the pecans, add the two chocolates and the flour. Stir to combine, then divide evenly between the two pans. In the small saucepan or microwave at 50% power, melt the remaining 2 sticks of the butter. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the eggs, brown sugar, corn syrup or corn syrup mixture and vanilla, and beat at medium-low speed (if your mixer has a choice, use the flat beater). Slowly add the melted butter, mixing until the batter looks smooth. Divide the batter between the two pans, pouring it slowly and evenly over the surface to ensure even distribution of the chocolate and pecans through the batter.

5. Bake, cool and serve the bars. Slide the pans into the oven and bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until the center is almost firm. Let cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate until firm for easy cutting. Use a small knife to loosen the sides, then turn out. Cut into 2-inch squares. Keep your Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars stored in the refrigerator until just before serving. Transfer to a serving platter, dust with powdered sugar, carry to your guests and await the moans of pleasure.

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Charentais – The French Melon

I grew up thinking a cantaloupe was a cantaloupe.

In West Texas, July brought a windfall of Pecos cantaloupes, surely the sweetest melons I’ve ever tasted.

Until now.

Shopping at the Scottsdale farmers market, I stopped at Seacat Gardens, and Carl Seacat asked me if I’d ever tasted a true cantaloupe.

Seacat, who farms an acre on the west side of Phoenix, says the netted melons we grew up with, and see in all the grocery stores this time of year, are really muskmelons — not true cantaloupes.

Front and center of his display, a bunch of orbs — some barely bigger than a softball — looked rather dwarfish, certainly nothing like the melons I thought of as cantaloupes.

Some were grayish green and others were marked with swaths of yellow streaks. The skins were smooth, unlike the webbed muskmelon-formerly-known-as-the-cantaloupe.

“These are Charentais,” he said, “a true cantaloupe — also called a French melon.”

And then he told me about the aroma, the taste, and before you know it, I’m handing over my wallet.

Seacat says Charentais (pronounced sha-rhan-tay, or in my best West Texas accent: Sharon-taze) emit heady floral fragrances and show pronounced yellowing when ripe. He told me to leave green ones on the counter a few days.

Back home, I sliced open the ripest one and immediately caught a whiff of honeysuckle — or was it jasmine or some blurred zephyr of the two?

The French wrap prosciutto around slices of Charentais. Seems rather Italian, doesn’t it?

My first inclination was to stand over the cutting board, which I did, biting into juicy slice after slice, sweet nectar dripping down my chin.

In my brain, the taste registered as cantaloupe, yet there was something marginally different about this melon.

The taste of honey filled my mouth. I swallowed and what lingered was sweet and floral.

At $3.75 a pound, perhaps it’s best to enjoy this melon alone, unadorned.

But I couldn’t help think of all the things I wanted to make with it.

Charentais salsa, with bits of red onion, jalapeno, mint and a spritz of lime.

Or a chilled Charentais soup, like the cantaloupe soup I submitted to Food 52.

Seacat told me that local pastry chef Tracy Dempsey was busy whipping up a Charantais sorbet as we spoke.

In the end, I decided to make a frothy Charentais frappé.

Still, I’m not sure anything beats eating Charentais straight from the cutting board.

Charentais Frappé

(printable recipe)

Look for Charentais melons at farmers markets. In the Phoenix area, Seacat Garden’s will have Charentais at the Scottsdale Stadium Farmers Market through the end of the summer. You can substitute 2-1/4 cups of cubed cantaloupe or honeydew for the Charentais. And by “cantaloupe” I mean muskmelon — which I swear I thought was a cantaloupe until I met the Charentais.

Serves 2

1 (1-1/4 pound) Charentais melon
1 cup lowfat vanilla yogurt
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom*

Peel and seed melon. Chop into large chunks. Place in the freezer for 10-15 minutes (don’t freeze completely).

Place the yogurt in a blender. Place the chilled melon chunks on top of the yogurt. Add lemon juice and cardamom.

Blend until frothy. Chill until ready to serve.

*Cardamom adds an exotic note, but you can use cinnamon, or a dash of nutmeg instead.

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Edible: A Celebration of Local Foods

Four years ago, I began writing for a new, local publication called Edible Phoenix.

Although the magazine is locally owned and published, Edible Phoenix belongs to a network of other edible publications across the country, started by Tracey Ryder and Carole Topalian.

It started with one magazine in 2002, Edible Ojai, dedicated to celebrating the local bounty of the central California farm valley.

Tracey and Carole realized they had something special — and portable — on their hands, and soon developed a strategy to expand the Edible brand.

Today, there are more than 63 Edible magazines, from Seattle to South Florida.

More than 15 million people read these vibrant, Edible publications.

Now, Tracey and Carole have compiled a brand new book called Edible: A Celebration of Local Foods.

The book is divided into two parts. Part one is a collection of essays, honoring local heroes in the Edible communities. Part two is a collection of recipes, organized by season, reflecting the regional diversity of the Edible communities.

I’m so honored to be included in this very special book.

I have two essays in the book, one featuring Janos Wilder, chef owner of Janos and J Bar, and an early pioneer of the local foods movement in Tucson, Arizona, and another essay on Native Seeds/SEARCH, a nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to the preservation of the plants and seeds of the American Southwest.

I also have a recipe in the book, a pineapple gazpacho, that does indeed, taste as good as it sounds.

The book also features the Downtown Phoenix Public Market and Chef Greg LaPrad of Quiessence, a Phoenix restaurant located on a working farm, both essays written by Sharon Salomon, MS, RD.

No matter where you live in the U.S., there is probably a story in the book about local heroes near you.

Maybe it’s the story about the blueberry farmer in Tennessee, or the story about Allandale Farm, Boston’s last working farm.

Or maybe it’s the story about Sprouting Healthy Kids, a program developed by the Sustainable Food Center in Austin that’s introducing locally grown, seasonal produce to the middle-school curriculum.

This book is a love story for people who believe that eating local is vital to the sustainability of their communities.

It’s for people who want to cook with seasonal produce.

It’s for people who want to celebrate the successes and understand the challenges that all communities face as they work toward building better local food systems.

It’s a celebration of local foods and local heroes.

I hope you get a chance to read it.

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The SoNo Baking Company Cookbook – Review

Note from Chef Gwen: Linda Avery’s back with another review. And all of a sudden, I’m adding another book to my wish list.

The SoNo Baking Company Cookbook:

The Best Sweet and Savory Recipes for Every Occasion

by John Barricelli





Facts: Clarkson Potter, 288 pages, $35.00 (or Amazon at $19.95)

Photos: Over 90 as only Ben Fink can shoot

Recipes: 125 not counting variations

Give to: A new homeowner as a housewarming gift (bake something from the book to accompany the gift) or as a shower gift for the bride or groom.

Reviewed by Linda Avery:

Acronyms abound! NOMI… TRIBECA… SOBE… and the great grandfather SOHO are just some of the “geographic” abbreviations we’ve come to recognize.

(I have to interject here that one of the most curious t-shirts I’ve seen read “Ride the SLUT”. Hmmmm… Turns out that one of Seattle’s streetcars was named South Lake Union Trolley – it has since been changed to South Lake Union Streetcar but the acronym stuck.)

SoNo of The SoNo Baking Company Cookbook by John Barricelli is short for South Norwalk, the town in Connecticut where he opened his bakery in 2005. He is a third generation baker with experience at River Café, Le Bernardin, and the Four Seasons Restaurant. He is now a regular on Martha Stewart Living and hosts Everyday Baking on PBS.

I’d give his book four stars. Flipping through the pages of sweet and savory items, it was easy to envision an old fashioned bakery where the aromas melt together… morning smells of bread, coffeecakes and scones, then transitioning to the aromatics of focaccia, quiche and tarts. Remarkably, his recipes are written for the home baker – nary an intimidating one.

Maybe it’s my left-brain approach to life but I like it when the steps are numbered. He includes some variations on recipes and some technique tips like “blueberries in this are tossed with flour to keep them from sinking to the bottom” (that one never really worked for me but some people live by it.)

I had a difficult time choosing recipes to test. Choosing a recipe should be about more than the appeal of the photograph, but when Ben Fink is the photographer, it’s difficult to not be swayed. Plus, having a goal to shoot for – i.e., can I make this look as appealing? – is a nice thing.

When summer fruits are abundant, this book will have plenty of sticky splashes on the pages, but for now, I was able to talk my husband – Mr. Cereal & Bananas – out of a couple bananas to make Banana Streusel Muffins. Wow! Wow tender and wow tasty. Next I had to make Apple Spice Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting. I hesitated when the direction plainly stated that the buttercream “mixture will break but become smooth again as you continue to beat.” Oh, me of little faith – but it worked.

Watch this MSNBC.com clip showing the affable Barricelli making Blueberry Nectarine Buckle with Al Roker, and at the end, there’s a money shot of the gorgeous SONO cheesecake.

Photo © 2009 Ben Fink

From The SoNo Baking Company Cookbook by John Barricelli

Apple Spice Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting

We put this dense, moist spice cake on our menu at SoNo Baking Company in late August, when local Connecticut apples are just starting to come into season. It’s an ideal choice to bring to a picnic or potluck meal, as it can easily be transported in its pan. Here the cake is frosted with a brown sugar buttercream frosting. For more intense flavor, you can use dark brown sugar, rather than light brown as written here. This cake can also be removed from the pan and then iced on the top and sides with the buttercream, and decorated with Apple Chips.

Makes one 8-inch square cake; 16 servings

Ingredients

For the apple cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/3 cups light brown sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups grated peeled and cored apples (from any red baking apple, such as Cortland or Rome), about 1 pound
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup toasted walnuts, chopped (optional)

For the buttercream

2 large egg whites
1/2 cup light brown sugar
Pinch of coarse salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, firm but not chilled, cut into cubes
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Set the oven rack in the middle position. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Spray an 8-inch square cake pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick silicone baking mat.

2. To make the cake: In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg; set aside.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, oil, eggs, grated apples, and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and fold with a rubber spatula until the flour has been absorbed. Fold in the walnuts, if using.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan. Bake on the prepared baking sheet, rotating the sheet about two-thirds of the way through the baking time, until a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out with just a few crumbs adhering to the bottom, 50 to 55 minutes. Let cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.

5. To make the buttercream: Bring 1 inch of water to a boil in the bottom of a double boiler. In the top of the double boiler, whisk the egg whites with the brown sugar and the salt over (not in) the simmering water until warm to the touch, 1 to 2 minutes. (Be careful to not let the bottom of the top of the double boiler touch the water.) Transfer to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat until stiff peaks form. With the machine running, gradually beat in the butter, piece by piece. By the time all the butter is added, the mixture will break, but it will become smooth again as you continue to beat. Beat in the vanilla.

6. Spread the buttercream over the top of the cake. Cut into squares.

Bonus recipe:

Banana Streusel Muffins

Makes 12 muffins

Ingredients

For the streusel

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

For the muffins

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 very ripe bananas
1/2 cup buttermilk, sour cream, or whole-milk yogurt
1 1/2 cups whole walnuts, chopped (optional)

1. To make the streusel topping: In a medium bowl, use a fork to stir together the flour, brown sugar, salt, and cinnamon. Add the cubes of butter, and using your fingertips, work it into the dry ingredients until pea-size crumbs form; set aside in the refrigerator.

2.Set the oven rack in the middle position. Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Spray a standard 12-cup muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray, or generously butter with softened butter; set aside.

3. To make the muffins: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and baking soda; set aside.

4. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, sugar, and salt on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl halfway through. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Then add in and beat the vanilla and the bananas.

5. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients, beating until the flour is absorbed. Beat in the buttermilk. Fold in the walnuts, if using.

6. Use a 2-inch (1/4 cup) ice cream scoop to divide the batter evenly among the prepared muffin cups. Sprinkle the streusel topping over the muffins, pressing some of the mixture into pea-size clumps with your fingertips, for added texture.

7. Bake, rotating the pan about two-thirds of the way through the baking time, until the tops of the muffins spring back when touched and a cake tester inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean, 18 to 22 minutes.

8. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Use a small offset spatula or a table knife to gently lift and turn the muffins on their sides in the muffin cups. Let cool completely in the pan.

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