Archive for the ‘Cuisine’ Category

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What-are-you-reading-Wednesday: Entrée to Judaism: Cooking in the Diaspora

January 13, 2010

Do these chocolate chip cappuccino brownies make my butt look big? 
By Patti Freeman Dorson, recovering attorney, facilitator for the Mothers Circle of Greater Indianapolis and cooking and eating enthusiast

Who but your mother would answer that question honestly?  But that is not the essential question to ask.  The real question is what is a recipe for chocolate chip cappuccino brownies doing in a book about Jewish cooking?

In her spectacular new book Entrée to Judaism: Cooking in the Diaspora, nationally known cooking instructor, food writer and professional speaker Tina Wasserman answers that question with historical and anthropological precision:

The expulsion from Spain and Portugal at the end of the fifteenth century sent many Jews fleeing to Holland, Brazil, and the Far East.  Trade routes were set up from the Caribbean and the Far East to Holland, and Jewish immigrants were directly responsible for the brisk trade in cocoa and coffee from their newfound countries to their relatives trading on the Dutch market. 

Who knew?

Growing up Jewish in Indianapolis, Jewish cooking seemed limited to the staples of Ashkenazic (Eastern European) tradition: beef brisket, honey cake, baked chicken, noodle kugel, chicken soup and matzah balls.  Wasserman takes us on a journey around the world, explaining the literal meaning of the phrase wandering Jew. 

Mass Jewish immigration has occurred in every age and for many different reasons: at the behest of not-so-benevolent government leaders, the pursuit of economic freedom, the instinct for self-preservation, or the dream of a better life.  Wasserman as storyteller and historian explains how Jews came to live in a certain place – Spain, India, Turkey, Russia, Latin America, Africa, the Far East – and how they adapted to local conditions and created Kosher dishes incorporating the flavors and colors of their new surroundings. 

Wasserman as food writer, cookbook author, cooking instructor and Jewish woman demonstrates the breathtaking variety of Jewish cooking in the Diaspora with exceptional recipes ranging from Syrian eggplant with pomegranate molasses to dolmas (Turkish stuffed grape leaves) to Chilean pastel de choclo to Sanbat Wat (Ethiopian Sabbath Stew) and so many more.  And in each recipe, she adds “Tina’s Tidbits”, her wisdom, ideas and variations to enrich the cook’s experience.

The book is divided into three sections: a region and ingredient specific world tour, recipes connected with the celebration of Jewish holidays and iconic Jewish ingredients as interpreted in many different cultures.  Wasserman’s collection has the breadth and depth of other international cookbooks (think Mark Bitman and The Best Recipes in the World) but she writes as she cooks – with passion, with soul and with love.

Oh, and about those Chocolate Chip Cappuccino Brownies:

1 ½ sticks unsalted butter
1 pound light brown sugar
1-1 ½ teaspoons instant espresso powder
1 tablespoon water
¾ teaspoon cinnamon
2 eggs
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
6 ounces chocolate chips or white chocolate chips

1. Place the butter in a 3-quart saucepan and add the brown sugar. Stir over medium heat until the butter melts and the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and add the espresso powder, water, and cinnamon, and stir to combine. Set aside to cool while you measure the other ingredients.

2. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Line the bottom of a 9 X 9-inch pan with parchment paper, and butter or spray the sides of the pan to prevent sticking.

3. Meanwhile, using a handheld mixer, beat the eggs and the vanilla into the butter mixture (still in the saucepan). Add the flour, baking powder, and salt, and mix to combine. Using a rubber spatula, add the chocolate chips and stir by hand to thoroughly incorporate without melting the chips.

4. Spread the mixture in the prepared pan and back for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the center of the pan. The mixture should be very moist but not liquid.

5. Cool and cut into 1 ½-inch squares.

Note: This recipe may be doubled and baked in a 16 X 11 X 1-inch pan for 30 minutes.
Yield: 3-4 dozen small bars

Tina’s Tidbits

  • Do not overbake these brownies! When they’re done, a toothpick inserted into the center of the pan will come out clean.
  • Never cut brownies while they are not or the sides will mash down.
  • I keep a jar of instant espresso in the freezer to use whenever a recipe calls for some coffee flavoring.
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What-are-you-reading-Wednesday: Best Food Lit of 2009

January 6, 2010

For this week’s What-are-you-reading-Wednesday, we invite you to check out Amazon’s list of the best Food Lit from 2009 (composed of editor picks and bestsellers) here. Which ones have you read? Which ones are you planning to read for 2010?

Coming in at Number 1 is Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking by Michael Ruhlman

Here’s the rest of the best:

Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-time Eater byFrank Bruni

A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenberg

Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen by David Sax

Sex, Death and Oysters: A Half-Shell Lover’s World Tour by Robb Walsh

Far Flung and Well Fed: The Food Writing of R.W. Apple, Jr. by R. W. Apple

In-N-Out Burger: A Behind-the-Counter Look at the Fast-Food Chain That Breaks All the Rules by Stacy Perman

Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession by Julie Powell

Appetite City: A Culinary History of New York by William Grimes

Gourmet Rhapsody byMuriel Barbery

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Meandering Indiana 18 – Lawrence County

November 30, 2009

It was about this time of year, many years ago, when I took my first trip to southern Indiana. The occasion was a visit to my new husband’s hometown of Bedford, Indiana, where he had graduated from the old Bedford High School (before Bedford North Lawrence). A Hoosier boyhood among the quarries was his experience, as in the movie “Breaking Away.” Known as the Land of Limestone, this area of Indiana was the source of building material for the Empire State Building, the Pentagon, and most of Indiana University. Generations of stone cutters and carvers, some from the craft traditions of Italy, worked in that industry.

As the Indiana Humanities Council gears up for its theme program, Food for Thought, let me pause here to note that the Lawrence County Tourism Commission has provided a Dining Guide to the county, as well as other useful information.

Persimmon Pulp

Persimmon Pulp

Speaking of food, Mitchell, another notable town in Lawrence County, has a few claims to fame of its own. First, it’s the home of the Mitchell Persimmon Festival, held annually in September since 1947. My mother-in-law first introduced me to persimmon pudding, a Hoosier treat described as “a baked dessert with a taste similar to pumpkin pie filling but with the texture of gingerbread.” Sure enough, we had some for Thanksgiving this year.

I didn’t get to see much of Lawrence County on my first visit, which we spent hanging out with my husband’s old pals, but since then I’ve enjoyed a number of area attractions. Spring Mill State Park, a popular facility with a delightful inn, a pioneer village, and a memorial to Astronaut Gus Grissom, is a destination near Mitchell. And I have yet to visit Oolitic, but it’s one of my favorite Indiana town names.

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What-are-you-reading-Wednesday – Dying for Chocolate

September 30, 2009

Last weekend I read a mystery novel by Diane Mott Davidson, Dying for Chocolate. I was going through the Indiana Humanities Council’s collection of books for reading and discussion groups, looking for novels related to food. This book was one of several titles containing the word “chocolate” (Like Water for Chocolate, Chocolat), so I decided to give it a try.

First of all, it was a lot of fun. But I also discovered that Dying for Chocolate is a prime example of a subgenre that has become very popular in the last few decades – the culinary mystery. Like all detective fiction, it offers the satisfaction of an intellectual puzzle, on the one hand, and a morality play, on the other. The master detective solves the crime, and the wicked are caught and punished.

CookingThe culinary mystery, however, adds some delightful and delicious ingredients to the basic mix. Like other “cozy” mysteries, it often takes place in an idyllic setting, such as a small town or village, populated by easily recognizable characters, whether eccentric, endearing, or just ordinary. The detective is usually a woman who is a caterer, innkeeper, or other purveyor of food. In Dying for Chocolate, the heroine is a caterer and single mother who has to track down her boyfriend’s killer while coping with demanding clients and gourmet menus. Culinary mysteries often include recipes for the dishes described, and it’s hard to imagine the book group that could discuss this novel without at least a package of store-bought frosted brownies on hand.

The setting for Dying for Chocolate is Aspen Meadow, Colorado, but the Council’s collection also has culinary mysteries from other regions of the country. Joanne Fluke’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder is set at the Cookie Jar Bakery in Lake Eden, Minnesota, owned by Hannah Swenson. Tamar Myers’ No Use Dying Over Spilled Milk features Magdalena Yoder, Mennonite proprietor of the Pennsylvania Dutch Inn. Nancy Pickard’s The 27-Ingredient Chili Con Carne Murders takes sleuth Eugenia Potter from her New England base to her ranch in Arizona. As small business owners, these women have a lot on their plates.

For those who can’t consume just one, most culinary mysteries are part of a series of novels. Like Agatha Christie herself, these writers are very prolific. They also have a penchant for puns in their titles. My favorites: Tamar Myers’ The Crepes of Wrath and the next book by Diane Mott Davidson, The Cereal Murders.

Also recommended (by Keira Amstutz): Julie Hyzy’s State of the Onion (White House Chef Mystery series).

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What-are-you-reading-Wednesday: Eat, Pray, Love

September 16, 2009

I finally picked up Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love” — a book I’d been begging my sister to borrow, but she kept lending it out to someone else before I could get my hands on it. Now, I feel like I’m the last person (or at least woman) to read it — especially because Gilbert’s sequel will hit the shelves in January.

Just from the jacket’s description, I knew this was a book for me — and not just because my sister told me so. “Liz” is everything I love in a great fictional character –s trong, funny, passionate, and of course, an avid traveler — but she’s not fictional. Even better. Knowing a little about Gilbert, I was also looking forward to exceptional writing.

So I woke up early one morning over Labor Day weekend just to crack open the book before anyone else stirred. I crashed through the first 75 pages before I even realized it, intermittently laughing out loud and getting a bit teary-eyed. As much as I hated to be pulled out of Liz’s world, when I got interrupted, it was just as well. The book was so delicious that I didn’t want to waste my enjoyment in one setting. Now, I get to live vicariously through Liz’s world a few nights a week. And maybe more. Like my sister, I may read this one twice.

By Kristen Fuhs Wells, communications director at the Indiana Humanities Council

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Food for Thought: Indiana’s Food Culture

August 18, 2009

If you stopped by our booth at the Indiana State Fair during Hoosier Heritage Day and added your hometown’s food treasures to our map of Indiana–thanks! We’ve compiled some of the data into a map of Indiana’s food culture and identified things like food festivals and agribusinesses, as well as livestock and agricultural hot spots. Take a look, here.

Then, add your feedback below. We couldn’t fit everything on the map–and for that, we apologize. But, please continue to help us out by identifying what’s missing in your neck of the woods.

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How does your garden grow?

June 23, 2009
We have one, little, purple pepper sprouting!

A tiny, purple pepper from the Indiana Humanities Council's victory garden.

It’s amazing how much better fresh vegetables taste when you’ve grown them in your own backyard.  You understand the work that went into planting and tending them; you’ve tracked their growth and development like you would a small child, counting down the days until you can pluck them from the Earth and place them in a salad bowl.

I haven’t always felt that way. When I was younger, I was my dad’s designated garden helper. I loved working outside, but not in the weedy, hot, buggy garden. I despised weeding around bean plants and hated breaking them and taking the ends off even more. I convinced myself not to like green beans so that I wouldn’t have to pick them. It didn’t work. But I still went through childhood hating plenty of veggies.

Then, in my twenties, something radical happened. I started to try vegetables I gave up on years ago, and—walla!—I actually liked them. It turned out that I loved spinach, I could tolerate broccoli, and, yes, I even found out how to enjoy steamed green beans.

I became a gardener at home (by my own free will), and this year, a gardener at work (check out pictures of our garden, here), which exposed me to an even larger assortment of vegetables. I had gone 26 years without eating a fresh radish and I spent 26 years removing radishes from salads and avoiding them on assorted vegetable trays. I had never eaten kale, or swiss chard; never picked snap peas off a plant and ate them while standing in the garden. And in one month, I’ve know done them all.

Gardening has provided me with delicious and healthy food, but also a way to connect with my dad, my co-workers, and my fellow gardeners at the Mayor’s Garden Plots. It spurs conversation, reduces my reliance on commercialized vegetables and makes me feel better about myself and my community.

How does your garden contribute to your own personal growth?

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Hoosier Cabinets “freed the housewife”

June 11, 2009

 By Molly Armstrong Head, producer and development director of Hoosier History Live!

Hoosier Cabinet

An example of a Hoosier Cabinet. Photo courtest of Wikipedia.

I never knew people could get in such a tizzy about Hoosier Cabinets. After I heard Nancy Hiller, author of The Hoosier Cabinet in Kitchen History (IU Press) and a Bloomington cabinetmaker, talk about the social history of the Hoosier Cabinet with Nelson Price on Hoosier History Live! radio show this week, I called my friend Glynis, who has a “Sellers” in her 1920s era kitchen. Her kitchen is so crammed with stuff that you can hardly realize that there is a valuable antique in there. Glynis had listened to the show sticking her radio out the back window; she lives in the country about 50 miles from WICR’s radio tower. (Modern humans can hear the show online anywhere it airs, but Glynis is no-tech.)

As I learned on the show, these marvelous inventions were marketed in the early part of the 20th century as “a boon to women.” And they sold like hot cakes. They had spice racks, storage bins, a built-in flour sifter, a pull-out counter. And you could sit down in front of them to do your work. They centralized the food storage and preparation area, saving many steps.

More than two million Hoosier cabinets had been sold by 1920, meaning that they could be found in one in ten American homes. One old ad exclaimed, “Lincoln had freed the slaves, and now the Hoosier has freed the housewife from unnecessary drudgery!” 

Now, I reflect that, for the last fifteen years or so, designer kitchens, food prep, gardening, kitchen gadgets, and haute cuisine seem to be absolutely the yuppie, upscale thing. 

Although the Hoosier kitchen sure has changed, I think our society will always believe that having all the right stuff in your kitchen tells people that you have “arrived.” (Where, exactly, I’m not quite sure.)  

Next week (June 13), join Hoosier History Live! at 11:30 a.m. on WICR FM (88.7) to hear 90-year-old P.E. MacAllister reflect on civic history.