How To Human: Roasted Kumquats With Homemade Ricotta And Fresh Basil On Toast

I may have eaten twelve of these.

Look, I know you’re busy.

You have places to go, people to see, and lots of stuff to do.

That’s cool.

But can you stop for just one minute? Maybe two, if you read slowly?

I just saw this on the interwebs, Purveyor of Many Things Great and Terrible, and I feel like maybe you (yes, YOU), need to read this today.

You will, of course, need a snack.

It is, as you may realize, the tail end of citrus season. When I was growing up, my parents would ship my brother and I off, solo, to family in Miami over the holidays. We would leave a cold, sleety, dark place and be discharged from an airplane into balmy, breezy air and a week of (often) unchaperoned adventures in either my grandparents’ development or my cousin’s apartment complex.

There was a kumquat tree in the front yard of my grandmother’s house.

Kumquats. Even the name is exotic and unusual and complex and way sunnier than this past week has been, and I’m not just talking about the weather.

They are the strangest citrus; you eat the whole thing. Nearly every website that talks about kumquats has a click-baity title like “The one astonishing thing about kumquats,” or “The strangely counterintuitive thing to do with kumquats,” as if kumquats are somehow built into our intuition about things in general.

But I digress.

Kumquats start out mouth-puckeringly tart, with less bitterness in the peel and pith (sweetness, even), and end up with a marvelous caramelly sweetness that spreads over your tongue and completely erases the initial tart flavor. even slightly unripe or slightly over-ripe the process of flavor is pretty much the same, with minor variations in intensity.

I don’t know that we gorged ourselves on these, but I do remember eating my fill whenever I felt like it, or just mindlessly reaching up and grabbing one as I passed by the tree. Kumquats were as much a part of my childhood as any other memory I have that was good and innocent and as sweet and beautiful as the nighttime Miami breeze on my bare shoulders in December, a thousand miles away from home.

I saw kumquats again in the grocery store this week and finally grabbed a few after years of passing them by. As my birthday fell on the snow day, and I happened to have the will, the time, and the ingredients, this lovely concoction came about and emerged, damn near perfect, on the very first try. So simple and complex and utterly delicious.

Today’s assigned reading is below the recipe. For those of you in tl;dr mode, there will not be a test on the reading, and maybe you don’t want to hear some of what I have to say (beyond the food). So if you take it upon yourself to skip the reading and just make the snack, that’s cool.

I know you’re busy.

Honey-Roasted Kumquats With Homemade Ricotta on Gluten-Free Whole-Grain Bread

Note: Hell, YES, I made all of this. Not. Hard. Full disclosure: I was trying to just link to the bread recipe from America’s Test Kitchen How Can It Be Gluten-Free cookbook, but it’s not published online. Which sucks, because now, just for you, I have typed it all out. This took awhile. If you are gluten-free, you can send your appreciation in the form of good old American dollars because it was a royal PITA. If you are not gluten-free, you can skip the recipe and use any old crusty bread you like.

Unlike other recipes on this blog, each component is written out completely, and they are organized in the order in which they should be made.

Ingredients

GF-Whole Grain Bread (this takes awhile, so maybe start here)

1 1/2 cups warm water (110 degrees)

2 large eggs

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons honey

11 1/2 ounces (2 1/3 cups, plus 1/4 cup) gluten-free all-purpose flour (I used my own flour blend, but see recipe notes)

4 ounces (3/4 cup) Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Mighty Tasty Hot Cereal

1 1/2 ounces (1/2 cup) nonfat dry milk powder (in the baking aisle)

3 tablespoons powdered psyllium husk

1 tablespoon instant or rapid-rise yeast

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Optional: 2 tablespoons unsalted sunflower seeds

Method

  1. Spray 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ (or 8″ x 4″) loaf pan with cooking spray. Tear off a sheet of aluminum foil that will fit around the loaf pan. Fold it so it is double, lengthwise, then forma  collar around the top of the loaf pan so that a double thickness of aluminum foil rises at least one inch above the top of the loaf pan. Staple to keep collar in place and set aside.
  2. Whisk water, eggs, oil, and honey together in a bowl.
  3. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, mix flour, hot cereal mix, milk powder, psyllium, yeast, baking powder, and salt until combined.
  4. Slowly add water and mix on low until dough comes together, about one minute. Increase speed to medium and beat until sticky and uniform, about six minutes. If using sunflower seeds, reduce speed to low and add them now, mixing until combined.
  5. Scrape dough into prepared pan and use wet fingertips to smooth dough into pan. Smooth the top of dough and spray with water. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and set aside to rise at least 90 minutes in a warm, non-drafty place.
  6. Adjust rack in oven to middle position and preheat oven to 325 degrees. Remove plastic wrap and spray loaf with water. Bake until top is golden brown, crust is firm, and sounds hollow when tapped (Side Note: I cannot tell when bread is done by tapping it. If you can, more power to you. But that’s the direction America’s Test Kitchen gives, so I am reporting for you. #YoureWelcome), about 1 1/2 hours, rotating pan halfway through (Side Note the Second: I forgot to rotate. Bread still fabulous.).
  7. Transfer to wire rack and let cool in pan for ten minutes. Remove from pan and cool completely for another two hours.
  8. Bread can be double-wrapped in plastic and stored at room temperature for 3 days, or you can slice it all up, wrap in plastic and store in a freezer bag in the freezer.

Recipe Notes

  • Flour substitutions America’s Test Kitchen recommends (but that I did not test myself) include King Arthur’s Gluten-Free Multi-Purpose Flour and Bob’s Red Mill GF All-Purpose Baking Flour, but King Arthur’s makes the crumb of the bread denser and Bob’s Red Mill is drier with a bean taste. Seriously, people. Just send me a note on the Let Me Cook For You page and I will give you a price for some of my flour.
  • Please, if you are a gluten-free baker, buy a scale. The best $20 you’ll spend.

Homemade Ricotta

1 cup whole milk (see Recipe Notes)

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 tablespoons champagne vinegar (or any white vinegar)

Method

Bring milk, heavy cream, and salt to a rolling boil. Remove from heat and stir in vinegar. Let sit until it begins to curdle, about 2 minutes, then pour into a strainer lined with cheesecloth. Strain at room temperature for at least 20 minutes. For thicker cheese, twist the cheesecloth into a tight ball to get even more water out.

Recipe Notes

  • Milk can be pasteurized, but not ultra-pasteurized. Ultra-pasteurized milk doesn’t work. #AskMeHowIKnow
  • You can discard the whey (the liquid that drains from the solid ricotta), use it to bake bread with, or give it to your dogs or chickens.

Honey-Roasted Kumquats

Kumquats, sliced in 1/4″ rounds, seeds removed (see Recipe Notes)

4 tablespoons champagne vinegar

2 tablespoons honey

Method

Slice kumquats and place in a bowl with vinegar and honey. Macerate for at least 30 minutes and up to four hours.

When you are ready to eat, preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spray with cooking spray.

Place kumquats on cooking spray and roast for about 20 minutes until honey begins to caramelize. I didn’t flip them over, but I suppose you could if you like.

Recipe Notes

  • I used  kumquats that are approximately the size of a ping-pong ball if that ping-pong ball was more of an oval. There are also smaller varieties with different variations of flavor. For this, I used about six kumquats, but honestly? I could have eaten eleventy million more. So there’s that.

ASSEMBLY

You need bread, ricotta, kumquats, fresh basil, freshly cracked black pepper, and maybe honey and fleur de sel.

Slice bread and toast lightly.

Slather ricotta on toast.

Place fresh basil leaves on ricotta, then top with roasted kumquats. Add a few grinds of freshly cracked black pepper, and if you want a little more sweetness, just a wee drizzle of honey and a flake or two of salt.

Assemble your toasts, have a seat, and get to reading.

RULES FOR BEING HUMAN

1. You will receive a body. You may like it or hate it, but it will be yours for the entire period.

2. You will learn lessons. You are enrolled in a full-time informal school, called life. Each day in this school you will have the opportunity to learn lessons. You may like the lessons or think them irrelevant or stupid.

3. There are no mistakes, only lessons. Growth is a process of trial and error – experimentation. The “failed” experiments are as much a part of the process as the experiment that ultimately “works.”

4. A lesson is repeated until learned. A lesson will be presented to you in various forms until you have learned it. When you have learned it, you can then go on to the next lesson.

5. Learning lessons does not end. There is no part of life that does not contain its lessons. If you are alive, there are lessons to be learned.

6. “There” is no better than “Here”. When your “There” has become a “Here”, you will simply obtain another “There” that will, again, look better than “Here.”

7. Others are merely mirrors of you. You cannot love or hate something about another person unless it reflects something you love or hate about yourself.

8. What you make of your life is up to you. You have all the tools and resources you need. What you do with them is up to you. The choice is yours.

9. Your answer to life’s questions lie inside you. All you need to do is look, listen, and trust.

10. You will forget all this.

11. You can remember it whenever you want to.

These are not my rules; I am just reporting on them. What would you add?

Tater. Tot. Pizza: Pretty Much As Good As It Gets

We ate this all, and could’ve had another.

This is how relationships go.

You spend the first little while – six months, maybe – trying to be impressive as hell, your sparklingly best version of yourself. Even if you are a real, down-to-earth, no artifice kind of person, this is just how humans roll. We want to be loved and accepted for who we are, but it’s much easier to reveal the best parts first, the parts that are easy to love.

You and your new particular friend may do new and interesting things.

Maybe you try exciting new hobbies or go on long walks or eat at interesting places you have always wanted to try. Maybe you sit through the boring lecture or sporting event because it lights them up. Maybe they do the same for you.

Whatever happens, you don’t fart out loud, and if you fart at all you keep a dog handy.

#KeepinItReal

And then, somewhere around the six month or one-year mark, things begin to shift.

Contrary to popular cultural belief, this is where things start to get good.

Because it’s not the new adventures and the new food and the no-farting that make human relationships deep and wonderful (although all of those things definitely enhance life together).

It’s that part where you can exist in a space with another human and just be 100% who you are, the best and worst parts of yourself all at once without any effort or any need to go or do or be anything.

It’s when you allow yourself to relax enough to read at opposite ends of the couch together, and that’s the night without guilt or remorse or a shred of FOMO, even on Fridays and Saturdays where you start to feel hella old if you are in jammies by 9 but are secretly proud you made it even that late because you really wanted to put jammies back on around 5.

It’s sitting on the back porch in unseasonably warm weather, watching the earth spin as a planet moves across the sky. And that’s it.

It’s all of those nights where there is no pressure, no plan, a weekend off from running from thing to thing, a night in after being pulled in a million different directions, dealing with the slings and arrows of this mortal coil.

Maybe not every night. You don’t want things to get boring.

But just enough nights so that you can see how spending more time with your particular friend might just unwind into a whole new lifetime of love and adventure, even on nights when there is not much happening.

And this realization needs an appropriate snack: tater tot pizza.

You heard me: Tater. Motherfucking. Tot. Pizza.

I am not scared of salty language, but I will tell you that I am holding myself back from unleashing a torrent of curse words.

It’s just that fucking good.

Seriously. Tater tots + pizza sauce + cheese = perfection. Sheer, utter perfection.

This Saturday night, after a long walk and some bad news about a car (not mine, but still), this is the kind of easy, early night in food we needed.

Full disclosure: we ate the entire cast iron pan full of it. Zero scraps left.

And even more full disclosure: I won’t say this recipe is perfected as a pizza.

In fact, it’s still just a little bit messy and not quite the same all three times we have made it. The tots aren’t quite accepting of their role as a crust, and sometimes when you can’t wait for it to cool it ends up looking nothing like pizza and more like a bowl of deliciously crispy bits of potatoes slathered in tomato sauce and dripping with fresh mozzarella.

It’s kind of like how real life is with a new person after the new starts to wear off, just a bit if you’re lucky: comforting and warm, infinitely adaptable, and pretty good no matter how things turn out.

Tater Tot Pizza

Ingredients

One bag of tots

One jar of pizza sauce

8 ounces of fresh mozzarella

Whateverthefuck you like, toppings-wise

Method

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. You can use a cast iron skillet, a pizza stone, or a baking sheet – stick that in the oven while it’s preheating.

Meanwhile, shred your cheese and get your toppings ready. No rush, and you’ll see why.

When the oven is hot, take out whatever you are heating (it will cool a little; that’s okay) and dump about 1/2 a bag of tots to cover the bottom. Get fancy, or don’t, but make one even layer. If you are using a pizza stone, allow a two-inch gap between tots and the edge of the stone.

Pop back in the oven and cook for about 10 minutes.

Pull the pan out and smash the tots into an even layer that climbs a bit up the sides of the pan or reaches out to the edge of the pizza stone.

Place back in the oven and cook until the tots are done and crispy on the top and sides.

When Khristian makes it on a pizza stone, he uses the edge of a spatula to press the tots towards the center, forming a sauce-containing structure.

Add your toppings, and put back in the oven until the cheese is bubbly and brown and delicious-looking.

Here’s the dumb part: after you take your pizza out of the oven you have to wait for at least ten minutes, probably more like 20.

It SUCKS. Truly.  I am one of the least patient people, especially when it comes to tater tots and/or pizza.

However, waiting allows everything to firm up a bit and allows you at least the chance of picking this up like a pizza.

For me, I don’t give a crap if it looks like a pizza or not. At this point, I will put it in a bowl and be perfectly happy. When Khristian made it last night, though, it was more pizza-like than any of my creations, and he cooked for me, which made it taste EVEN BETTER.

However it turns out, it’s pretty much the most delicious thing ever.

Recipe Notes

  • Tater tot “crowns” by Ore Ida may work better for a pizza stone (no rolling), and all Ore Ida fries are gluten-free.
  • Why they give you two full cups of pizza sauce when you only need less than 1/4 cup for most pizza-making endeavors is beyond me. I portion the leftover out into 1/4-cup servings in ziplocs and freeze them flat until I need them.

 

 

 

Reading Snacks – Warm Olives With Lemon And Rosemary

Warm olives = heaven.

Until this recent political debacle, I didn’t realize how much I missed reading.

Growing up, I was a voracious reader of all types of printed materials – comics, cereal boxes, advertisements, poetry, novels – whatever was available. I read myself sick in the car and nearly blind in the dim light of the evening when I should have been sleeping (true story. I have been wearing glasses since second grade, with seriously and rapidly deteriorating eyesight in the years that followed. As I enter my dotage – mid-40s – insult has been unceremoniously added to injury in the form of readers, a new necessity for reading. But I digress).

One of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon was in the stacks of Wonder Books, a small used bookstore in Frederick, Maryland. My brother, father, and I would spend Sunday afternoons reading in our separate corners among the dusty comics and paperbacks. Sometimes we’d buy one; sometimes we would just read there and go home empty-handed. I imagine this was a break for my mom, but I can vividly recall the warmth and comfort of those days spent hunched in the aisle, reading. When it came time to apply for my first job, that’s where I went (only it was Wonder Book and Video by then).

I like the smell and feel of a book, new or used, in my hands. Recognizing that it’s difficult to travel light with a  library of well over 2,000 books, I attempted to use a digital book for a time but quickly abandoned that. There is no sensory beauty for me in a digital book.

When Dane died in 2013, a switch flipped, and I found no comfort in books. I quickly realized that fiction was dead to me in many ways (with notable exceptions made for my favorite author, TC Boyle, and a new favorite, Jhumpa Lahiri); there was nothing that seemed to hold my attention. Magazines were okay, but they were quickly read and then just became dust-catchers.

The Facebook stepped in to fill the void.

For several years now, I have been ritually (compulsively?) reading Facebook, many times a day. What started as an interesting place to catch up with people and see pictures of family or look at cat videos quickly became fraught with arguments. I whittled my friends and family down, blocking or unfriending those who were racist, xenophobic, or homophobic. I saw Facebook as the digital equivalent of going out for coffee with a friend, and who wants to spend that time deflecting racial slurs and arguing about immigration? Not me.

But I have noticed something in the past few years. Facebook and Twitter and Instagram have become more of an addiction than a minor passing interesting that I can dip in and out of. When I felt lonely or needed a connection, I spent more time online, which seems to be the story of most everyone’s life these days.

In addition, the pace of news delivered through these sites has become so frenetic that a person can hear about events nearly the instant they happen (or instantly, as with live-streaming Facebook video that has captured everything from birth to beatings to suicide, all in front of unsuspecting viewers who maybe just logged on to see a cat in a shark costume on a Roomba.).

The past 18 months in politics have been particularly brutal. The depth of ignorance and hate being spewed and the constant hammering of executive orders that seemed aimed at delivering us back to Nazi Germany has been overwhelming to me. My anxiety, already challenging during this particular time of year, has been through the roof.

Even the dog is having anxiety attacks, and he is medicated (and to be honest, which I always try to be, as am I at times. It has not helped).

So two days ago I did the logical thing: I pulled the plug on Facebook.

I didn’t give up my Charm City Edibles page (go join! It’s awesome!), and I am still on Instagram, which seems much more innocuous and for me features only food and the occasional travel picture, but I have completely checked out of Facebook for the near future.

I have also stopped listening to NPR and watching news. In essence, I have imposed upon myself a near-total media blackout.

Yes, news still trickles in, but it’s a trickle instead of drinking from a firehose.

This media blackout has left me with considerable free time, time I have begun to fill with books. In January I read seven books, and three days into February I am finishing up my first book, with one on the way in the mail and two more on hold at the library.

I have spent long, leisurely afternoons on the couch, listening to the wind howl outside my window and the dogs snoring on the floor beside me as I read.

I have stuck mainly to non-fiction trending towards cookbooks and food writing, but at the library a copy of The Tin Drum and The Yearling are waiting for me.

Maybe it’s the slower pace of reading and allowing myself to settle in for a few hours instead of reading in 140 characters or skimming the first sentence of a TL:DR article on The Facebook. Maybe it’s the fact that I am not constantly reminded of how badly we are fucking up this country right now and how powerless it seems we are to stop it.

Whatever it is, it’s lovely. It’s lovely to come back to the sensual pleasures of language and reading and cozy blankets and sleeping dogs and maybe a nap that happens later in the afternoon.

Or quite possibly it’s the snacks.

Reading requires a beverage and a snack; it’s very easy to get hungry and dehydrated doing nothing. #GiveItATry #YoullLoveIt

I could eat my weight in salt and vinegar potato chips and chocolate candy, but those snacks when combined with lounging are not conducive to overall good health. So moderation is required, and this means something nibbly but not too much of any one thing – nothing too sweet, too fatty, too salty, etc.

These olives are perfect for that. They don’t directly fulfill a sweet-tooth craving, but the lingering lemon and rosemary somehow seem to attend to it enough so that more snacks aren’t necessary.

You also need a snack that doesn’t require utensils. This fits that bill neatly as well.

I use the rosemary that continues to cling to life in a pot on my back porch (so luxurious!) and organic lemon.

Warm Olives With Rosemary And Lemon

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 six- to eight-ounce jar of mixed olives in brine, drained

1 teaspoon minced garlic

zest from one lemon

1 or 3 sprigs of rosemary

Freshly cracked black pepper to taste

Optional: red pepper flakes

Method

Heat olive oil gently over medium-low heat. Add garlic and cook for a couple minutes until it releases its fragrance. Add the lemon and rosemary and cook for about 30 seconds, keeping the heat medium-low and stirring as you cook.

Add the olives and cook until warmed through (not hot). Remove from heat and add freshly ground black pepper to taste. For a little heat, add some red pepper flakes.

Recipe notes:

  • Pitted olives are easiest, but feel free to use whichever olives you prefer.
  • I love rosemary and like to cook it a little bit longer to release its flavor, but this is a personal preference.
  • You could also use orange zest to add a touch more sweetness.

What are your favorite reading snacks?

 

Making Dinner Work: Harissa Spiced Pork Shoulder

Get up. Pee. Brush teeth. Drink water, take supplements.

Go downstairs. Start coffee. Let dogs out. Let cat in. Sip coffee. Let dogs in. Feed dogs. Sit down to the computer.

Sip coffee. Check email. Sip coffee. Check work email. Sip coffee. Visit The Facebook. Make more coffee. Get down to writing/recipe research/yoga class design/etc.

It takes a lot to get us out of our routines. From dogs to children to adults, we are all of us creatures of habit. When I was a horse owner, even the horses knew what to do and when; it got so that I didn’t have to put halters on to move them from pasture to pasture, and they stood in the same spot every day for dinner.

The dog knows when it is 5 p.m. just as if he had a watch strapped to his wrist. And could tell time. And had any understanding of the concept of “time.”

But I digress.

Routines provide a sense of structure that can be comforting and predictable. “Predictable” is often used as an epithet, but predictability is what our lives are based on. This keeps the trains running and makes sure that the grocery store has enough toilet paper on any given day (or your own personal bathroom at home, which is why most people in the U.S. go shopping every week).

Sometimes, though, routines call to be busted up. Routine-busting can be because you are compelled to do something differently because whatever is going on forces you to make a change.

And you know it’s bad if an introvert comes off the couch. #HearMeRoar

If something is gone awry, it might be because whatever routine we have fallen into no longer works, or our routine is suddenly disrupted. We might call it something else, but it’s that transition period between the old and the new – not the the old or the new itself – that causes us such turmoil. Once that period of transition is over, we fall into a new routine until the next thing happens.

This transition is both full of promise and scary as hell, simultaneously. Parents know that the first night with a new baby is joyful and nerve-wracking. Travelers know that coming into a new country for the first time is anxiety-producing and thrilling, often in equal measure.

On a daily, more microcosmic level, this idea of routine versus no routine (or a shook-up routine) is the difference between cooking and making dinner.

Making dinner is that thing that happens between 5 and 7 p.m. every night where you have the gaping maws of your family staring at you, opening and closing like baby birds who have forgotten that they possess opposable thumbs and can get their own damn snack before dinner.

Making dinner is why there is food in boxes that you add milk and butter to in order to get something resembling macaroni and cheese. It’s why there are rotisserie chicken soldiers, hot and ready, when you walk into the store at 5 pm, desperate because it’s Monday and you know everybody at home is hangry and you just need to shove something in their face so there is no arguing.

Cooking is something altogether different.

Cooking is wandering through the farmer’s market and seeing what looks good.

Cooking shops for each meal separately, not all at once, once a week.

Cooking has a sip of wine and is often alone with music playing and maybe a snoring dog (because it’s not necessarily 5 pm yet so the dog isn’t drooling and staring at you).

This recipe is in between making dinner and cooking. There is some leisure to it, but it doesn’t actually require much hands-on attention. There is only one ingredient in this that might require a leisurely trip to a store, but everything else can be thrown into the cart with all of the other groceries.

Leftovers are just as good as the day before and so make excellent brown-bag lunches that will make all of your co-workers drool. I imagine you could also make a ridiculous sandwich with this on some crusty bread with arugula.

Harissa And Orange Spiced Pork Shoulder

Just the delicious beginning.

Full disclosure: as much as I would like to say it’s mine, this idea is taken from another recipe and adapted with amounts added. The other recipe is a video and doesn’t really specify anything but cooking times, so I made some adjustments to that and also the ingredients based on what was available.

Ingredients

4-5 pounds pork shoulder

1/2 cup Mina harissa sauce (or 2 tablespoons harissa paste)

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon agave, maple syrup, or honey

2 teaspoons minced garlic

2 cups orange juice

6-8 sprigs fresh thyme

1 can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

Optional: lime wedges and fresh flat-leaf parsley, rough chopped

Method

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Combine harissa, tomato paste, vinegar, agave, and garlic in a small bowl. Season pork shoulder with salt and pepper, then rub the harissa mixture all over the pork shoulder (hands work best here). At this point, you could let the pork shoulder sit for a few hours (or overnight), or you can proceed.

Place pork shoulder fat-side-up in a Dutch oven or similar oven-safe, heavy cooking pan with a lid. Pour orange juice around the pork shoulder and throw in the thyme.

Cover pork shoulder and let it roast, covered, for 2 1/2 hours (or so).

Increase heat to 400 degrees and add cannellini beans to the pot. Cover and return to the oven for another 45 minutes to an hour.

When ready to serve, remove pork shoulder and slice. Return pork shoulder to the pot, or arrange on a platter and serve with sauce poured over.

If desired, squeeze fresh lime over the pork shoulder and garnish with fresh chopped flat-leaf parsley.

 

Five Food Trends To Watch in 2017

A food trend for 2017 I can get behind.

Okay, so I am no food prognosticator; I don’t claim to be able to predict what’s going to be The Next Big Kale. I am okay with this. I don’t want to be an influencer or any of that. Mostly I want to cook for people, eat good food, and develop recipes that make sense in the grand scheme of my life.

So it’s quite a lovely happenstance when ingredients I have started to work with suddenly become The Next Big Thing.

For 2017, here are five of those ingredients.

Harissa

Harissa is having a moment. And for good reason – this shizz is delicious, subtly spicy and versatile for preparations both savory and sweet.

Found most often as a paste, harissa is a pantry staple in North Africa and Middle Eastern cuisines. It is made by combining some form of chile pepper, olive oil, spices like coriander, cumin, and caraway. Tomatoes round out this complex flavor profile which can be quite spicy and sometimes a little sweet.

I had a hell of a time finding harissa and ended up finding one jar tucked away in the mustard section of the local Whole Foods. I expect this will change as the year progresses, especially since The Splendid Table just did a story on harissa this weekend on NPR (just FTR, I started this blog post on Thursday. So there). You can also make your own harissa if you are so inclined. I am, and will make it after I finish the jar I have on hand.

I love harissa for an absurd number of applications, from roasting sweet potatoes to spicy salad dressings to harissa cauliflower, baked in the oven and served with a yogurt and garlic dip that features, unsurprisingly, one of the other food trends to watch in 2017.

Za’atar

Contrary to what is sold on shelves, za’atar is less a spice blend and more a family of spices that are frequently used together, with many regions in the Middle East having a region-specific combination.

Think of za’atar as the bouquet garni of Middle Eastern spices in that once you have your particular combination it is as ubiquitous in Middle Eastern cooking as the famous French bundle of herbs.

Spices that make up za’atar can included oregano, cumin, savory, thyme, and sumac. Sold as a blend, za’atar also often includes sesame seeds, fennel, and salt.

Families guard their particular blends with their lives, passing them down orally and only to those who might deserve it.

My experience with za’atar is rather limited at this juncture, but I have added it to roasted cauliflower (Vegetable of the Year, 2017) and soups. Khristian says he has had it spread with olive oil as a paste on naan, something that I might actually eat my weight in, were I able to consume gluten. Plans in 2017 include making either gluten-free naan or gluten-free focaccia so that I can, in fact, test this theory.

I would also like to make my own za’atar, but sumac is a pain in the ass to find locally. I am sure that Amazon can help me out with that. I also think it would be great to come up with my own blend – a food project that only requires excellent record-keeping.

Honey – Specifically, Hot Honey

No matter where you live, it seems you can no longer swing a dead cat without hitting a hot chicken joint.

Full disclosure: I did contribute to Carla Hall’s hot chicken joint in Brooklyn and was honored with not only my name on a plaque in the restaurant but also recipe cards for the chicken itself and a treat card that is good for life. As I don’t live in Brooklyn, I will not be redeeming that last item, and that makes me a little sad.

If I can’t travel up to New York for my monthly dose of hot chicken, then I can at least stay down here in Charm City and spread hot honey over errthang. Paulie Gee’s down the street from me uses hot honey on their pizza pies but are less than welcoming to the gluten-free set, so I will go ahead and just steal that idea thankyouverymuch and load up my own pizza with some. Think sausage and thin lemon slices with a drizzle of hot honey.

Or a hot honey yogurt dip.

Or hot honey on biscuits with bacon.

Hot honey popcorn.

Hot honey roasted carrots.

Hot honey stir fry with tofu and broccoli (I got you, vegetarians).

You get the idea.

Make your own, or buy some of Mike’s Hot Honey, one of the brands that made this ingredient famous.

Amaro

Technically not a food, amaro falls under the category “Food/Drink” and thus counts as in the running for a food trend to watch in 2017.

I won’t lie or pretend to be an expert; my first real foray into amaro (other than accidentally in a cocktail) was in writing about the Black Manhattan. Research on that and my general love of the bitter, sweetish, herby flavor profile, plus the distinct undercurrent of flavors and the complexity from amaro to amaro, makes me want to use this more in various applications.

Brad Thomas Parsons literally wrote the book on amaro, and it’s on my winter reading list.

Turmeric

Also not a food but rather a spice, turmeric is experiencing a renaissance in food culture that has been going on for at least a couple of years already, with no signs of slowing down.

At first glance, the bright yellow color of powdered turmeric is mildly alarming. Yes, it’s beautiful, but it’s also bright and intimidating. That shit gets everywhere and stains everything (#LearnedTheHardWay), so dedicate a side towel to use when you are working with this spice.

Turmeric can be found in a powder, a paste, or a ginger-looking root. I recently experimented with turmeric in golden milk and realized quickly that although powdered turmeric is easy to come by, fresh turmeric is the way to go in liquid applications.

Regardless of form, the taste of turmeric is deeply earthy and soulful; there is really no other way to describe it. I would imagine that turmeric, as a root, has a distinct terroir, just as other foods do, but I am certainly not close to being that sensitive to subtle variations in flavor.

When you eat something with turmeric you get a deep sense of doing something very good for you, and not just in the standard way of low-fat, low-calorie, no-sugar bullshit. Turmeric is a warming spice, so perfect for long, dark winters. It is also a natural anti-inflammatory and antiseptic spice. Practitioners of ayurveda believe that it balances intestinal fire and can help with digestion, joint pain, and many other ills (including lowering blood pressure and fighting cancer).

Go far beyond curry and use turmeric in tea, scrambled eggs, sprinkled on popcorn, and more.

Runners-up on my food trends to watch include cauliflower and a resurgence of snacking before dinner, what my kid calls a “French nibbler” (cheese, nuts, olives, etc). I think snacking before dinner will become the new dinner (or maybe that’s just going to happen in my house). I am looking at you, bleu cheese with a hot honey drizzle!

What food trends do you want to see gone forever? What would you like to see more of in 2017?

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