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?

(image source)

Gratitude, Day 23: Walter’s Mother’s Gremolata

NOTE: I am a fan of 30-day challenges, and November is traditionally a time of two: National Novel Writing Month, and 30 Days of Thanks. As I am not a fiction writer, this year I have chosen to publish a daily blog for the entire month, expressing my gratitude. This may not be entirely food-focused, but expect recipes aplenty. Feel free to join me in the comments below. What are you thankful for today?

A ray of sunshine.
A ray of sunshine.

Today is the day before my daughter’s ex-boyfriend’s birthday.

I know. It’s weird.

But I really liked this kid. Smart, polite, funny, clever, and a caring human and good boyfriend.

Tomorrow is Walter’s birthday, and I still think about him.

I know. That’s weird, too.

Why they broke up is none of my business, but what is my business is the fact that just three days before things ended we all went over to Walter’s parents house (me, Sicily, and Sicily’s godparents, Mark and Kerry, and their two boys) and had dinner.

And I LOVED Walter’s family.

Funny, kind, liberal, warm, welcoming, open, honest. All of them from both kids to the parents and all the way back again.

I am not the most social of people, but Walter’s family went out of their way to make me feel comfortable, or at least that’s what it felt like, which is what good hosts do.

Walter’s mom, Susan, made me feel immediately at home as I walked in with my salted caramel cheesecake pie. I told her that I break the cardinal rule of potlucks every time, which is don’t make something for the first time for a potluck, and the cheesecake pie was no exception.

“Oh,” she said, “I did the exact same thing and always do.”

#KindredSoul

After the kids broke up, Susan and I emailed a couple times, hoping to get together, but nothing came of it, and maybe that’s as it should be (or maybe not. I am still hopeful).

I did come away with the recipe for the gremolata she served on the steak that night, and I have made it several times since that dinner.

Today I am thankful for that Walter’s mother’s gremolata.

I miss Walter and his family, but we’ll always have the gremolata.

Walter’s Mother’s Gremolata

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups packed mint leaves (I used half mint, half parsley)

1/2 cup shelled, roasted pistachios

2 teaspoons minced garlic (about 2 cloves)

2 teaspoons lemon zest

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Method

Place all ingredients in a food processor and pulse to chop. You are looking for a pesto-like consistency, not a paste, so don’t overblend.

Serve on meat, chicken, crackers, toast, whatever. It’s fucking delicious.

What are you grateful for?

(image source)

Local Ingredients: Your Own Personal Hominy

You totally want this. For real.
You totally want this. For real.

Let’s talk about hominy, y’all.

My past perception of this humble little nugget was simple: a little trashy, a little low-rent, a little flavorless.

In short, I was a total douche about this particular ingredient.

Why?

Who knows?

As a quote from a long-forgotten character in a novel whose name I also forget said, “Sometimes it bees that way.”

But I digress. Point is, I was a snob about this humble little kernel of corn for no good reason.

That perception changed with a recent birthday dinner for my particular friend at Woodberry Kitchen.

My particular friend is a vegetarian who has been flirting with the idea of fish for quite some time. Although both of us believe that vegetarians can get plenty of plant-based protein, thankyouverymuch, there comes a time when it is simply easier to get animal-based protein (like, say, eating out).

Plus, fish is DELICIOUS.

So he figured that he would give fish another go at Woodberry, which, if I am being honest (as I always try to be), is potentially the best place to try anything new for the first time because Spike Gjerde and his brigade is the bees’ knees and you know whatever you order is going to be delicious.

So my particular friend ordered seared Maryland rockfish on a bed of hominy (among other things) and OH MY GOD.

Seriously.

That shit was good. Like, plate-mopping-with-homemade-bread-good. Eat-real-slow-to-make-it-last good.

Since that dinner I have become mildly obsessed with hominy. The word itself has been bumping around in my brain and, no lie, I had dreams about it once last week. I gave in and did some research then headed to the kitchen.

Hominy is basically corn that has had a good, long soak in a bath of something lime-y. In some applications, that bath is lye, which is tremendously terrible for you to actually eat and which this blog can absolutely not get behind. Lutefisk be damned – lye is not what you should be putting in your body.

In other cases, that bath is some mixture of wood ash and lime. Still sounds pretty scary. I like local, and since dried hominy was not available IMMEDIATELY (which is when I like things to be available), I picked up a can of Manning’s Hominy from the local Giant. Since nobody really knows what hominy is (except for Spike Gjerde, bless his heart), I wandered up and down the aisles until I reached that thin sliver of overlap that is “soul food” and “Hispanic food” in Giant.

It’s a thin sliver, but it exists. I should have taken a picture.

Manning’s Hominy has a Baltimore history and remains local to this day. It also happens to be the name of the road we used to live on in Georgia. #Destiny

Plus, bonus: it is steam-peeled and no additives (like lye) are included.

So I accidentally picked up this can of local hominy because truthfully it was the first one I saw in that little sliver of an aisle, and I just wanted to get my mitts on some of it to see what was what.

The contents of the can are patently unappetizing. The hominy is ghost-white and covered with slimy mush; the contents are “congealed” as the can itself says, and no one wants to hear “congealed” in  conjunction for what they are about to eat.

Pressing on, I used a fork to separate the little kernels and proceeded to prepare it two ways: toasted and served with Maryland rockfish (thanks, Spike) and roasted fennel, tomatoes and oil-cured olives (pictured above); and in a roasted chicken and hominy stew.

The corn flavor is subtle in both dishes, but the texture of the hominy adds something that is difficult to describe. It’s chewy without being sticky, and when toasted (it actually pops in the oven, which is unfortunate as my oven ceiling is now somewhat covered in hominy) it gets a nutty flavor that deepens the longer it cooks.

Dried out, it’s like Corn-Nuts, which are far too crunchy for their own good (plus too loud, which for someone who has misophonia like me is a nightmare).

Slowly simmered in stew, hominy picks up all of the flavors of the stew while still retaining its innate corn-ness.

SOLD.

Pictured above is one of  two specials using hominy in  this week’s dinner line-up.

They are both delicious, and you should definitely order them if you live in Baltimore, but this blog is not about that even though it sounds like a straight-up advertisement.

I love you too much for that.

This blog is really about the stupid preconceived notions that we hold on to for no apparent reason. This one has to do with food, but if you think really hard I bet there are other things you believe that you can’t even identify why you believe them.

Food is a powerful belief system tied to its role in our lives growing up, but other things – politics, sex, relationships, for example – are no less powerful examples of how we cling stubbornly to something because “sometimes it bees that way.”

Something as simple as tasting hominy – this humble little kernel of corn – after dismissing it for so many years makes me think about what else I have dismissed for no reason. What else have I written off? Who else have I dismissed?

What have you cast aside for reasons you can’t name? What is your own personal hominy?

 

 

The Peace of Wild Things

Aren't we all a little crackers?
Aren’t we all a little crackers?

My particular friend sent me a love poem the other day.

I had seen it before; this poem has made the rounds of self-help books and memes for many several years, usually as a call to nature.

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
– Wendell Berry –

I don’t know why, but on this rainy day this poem, sent by my particular friend, takes me to a place of deep, abiding stillness.

That place where nothing really matters, not in a melancholy way but in the way of knowing what it means to be truly content with what simply is.

That place that has no boundaries except the sides of the universe that stretch infinitely.

That place where nothing is unforgiven, no fault is laid, there is no rush, pressure, or blame.

That place that might be called Grace in its most passive form: free and unmerited favor. Bestowal of blessings.

Obvi not a place that exists in the real world, except maybe on those rare occasions when you truly have nothing to do, all  day to do it, and a particular friend of your own with whom to do it. Then time slides through and around you like water slipping over a mossy rock.

The peace of wild things lives here, in this place.

There are other ways I can get to this place of grace…in the peaceful company of wild things.

Yoga, sometimes, when I am not beating myself up. Trikonasana, heart to the sky. Ardha chandrasana, open and balanced.

Sex, if I am being honest (which I always try to be), particularly the satisfying kind, tangled in the bedsheets afterwards, on the sleepy precipice, cells bathed in their own lovely wash of delight.

And cooking. Food.

Cooking takes me there, to grace. Even as my mind is racing through possibilities or running down a list of ingredients there is a meditative calm and stillness at the center of this work that isn’t work.

To describe myself in such terms – calm, meditative, still – is a rare and precious thing.

And yet.

When I come to the kitchen, there it is. And if it’s not there I can surely find it at the bottom of the bowl.

That place that is so quiet and still that I can hear my own voice, strong and steady in my throat and heart.

That undemanding timespace that somehow knits back together the very best parts of myself.

It doesn’t quite matter what I make.

It’s the act. The art.

Everyday Crackers

Crackers may seem an odd choice, but if it’s good enough for Jesus (grace and all), it’s good enough for me. Plus, these are easy and delicious and very nearly impossible to screw up. Very forgiving. #Grace

Ingredients
3 cups gluten free all-purpose flour blend
1 ½ tsp. salt
2 tsp. sugar
4 T. olive oil
4 T. butter, frozen and grated
1 cup water
Add-ins: 1 ½ tsp. fennel, 1 ½ tsp. sesame seeds, ½ t. salt, ¼ t. cracked black pepper, combined, toasted, and cooled

Method
Preheat oven to 400⁰. In the bowl of a food processor, combine dry ingredients (including add-ins). Pulse to mix. Add olive oil and butter, then pulse to mix (the mixture will resemble cornmeal). Add water and mix until dough comes together. The dough will be sticky.

Lightly flour two cookie sheets. Working the dough as little as possible, pinch a bit of dough out of the food processor (approximately 1” balls). Place on the cookie sheet. Pinches of dough should be an inch apart. When you have filled the cookie sheet, lightly flour the flat bottom of a glass (or a measuring cup, or anything flat), and press each pinch of dough to 1/8” thick. The thickness is not as important as evenly pressing the dough is; uneven crackers will brown on one edge and not the other. Poke each crackers three times with a toothpick (this is important!).

Place cookie sheets in the oven and bake for a total of 12 minutes, rotating the crackers halfway through for even browning. Remove immediately from cookie sheets and cool on a wire rack. These crackers will stay fresh in an airtight container for three days, but you can pop them in a hot oven for a couple minutes to re-crisp if necessary.

Recipe notes

  • Oven temperatures vary and can greatly affect your outcome. Keep a close eye on your crackers, especially towards the end, to see if modifications to the bake need to be made.
  • These crackers can also be rolled out and cut into rectangles or squares with a pizza cutter.
  • Between batches, place the dough in the refrigerator.
  • Use all olive oil instead of butter to make these vegan. They may be slightly tougher.
  • Topping options are nearly unlimited, and you can also add fresh herbs into the dough when you add the water.
  • For a most delicious variation, add the zest of two lemons, ½ cup of dried blueberries (no sugar added), and 1 T of chopped thyme. Makes a beautiful, subtle, purple cracker. Serve with soft cheese.
  • These crackers can be made in a large bowl without a food processor. Work the dough as quickly as you can, and make sure all ingredients are incorporated.
  • For easier clean up, these can also be baked on parchment paper.
  • Store crackers in an airtight container. I have had them for as long as a week with no loss of texture, but I ate them all before I could experiment further.

Hangover Sex: A Menu

leg

Coming hard on the heels of the last post about a particular vegetarian, one might be tempted to interpret this post.

Do as you like.

However.

It’s nearly Valentine’s Day, that most commercial of Hallmark holidays, and I prefer mine a little grubby.

A little gritty.

Don’t get me wrong: hearts and flowers and romance are all exquisite. Expressions of love in any form are always welcome and definitely needed in the world, at the mico- and macroscosmic levels.

#OM

But there is something…raw, vulnerable, visceral…about waking up feeling the previous night’s whiskey and then…feeling the previous night’s date next to you, warm. If you are lucky enough to be unencumbered by children or dogs or any type of responsibility for the day, the possibilities of how to spend that sharply fuzzy morning time together are…endless.

But you’re going to need some food.

When I am feeling the effects of overindulgence, my breakfast usually consists of an anti-nausea pill and some coffee, followed by a long nap and some Gatorade. This has been my MO of late also because I have not had a sleepover in, well, FUCKING FOREVER.

In theory, though, slumber party friend or no, when dinnertime rolls around, it’s on. I need fat, I need carbs, I need strong flavors and lots of them.

Lucky folks in Hampden might convince their sleepytime partner to trot up the The Corner for some kimchi fries to go. If I am being honest, which I always try to be, that place is hipster as fuck, annoyingly so, but I could take a bath in their kimchi fries. They are the perfect combination of salty, spicy, and not too greasy (but still), and one order is never enough.

If I can’t have fries, and I have very little food in the house (which is usually what happens), pasta is the business. But not just any pasta: cacio e pepe. Pasta with pepper and cheese.

Simple. Lusty. Roman peasant food.

The sauce, if you can call it that, is simple:  pecorino Romano,  freshly cracked black pepper, a little pasta water, and pasta.

In a recipe this basic, ingredients are important. The pasta is important.

Sure, you could go for dried pasta. This is a respectable option, especially when you may possibly be just a little bit drunk still. Fresh pasta from the refrigerated section of the grocery store is another way to go.

But.

FRESH PASTA.

That. Yes, there. THAT. 

Fresh pasta manages to somehow be an everyday staple food but still sexy as hell. It is simple to make, delicious, not time-consuming once you can figure out how to work the pasta machine (or eliminate that altogether by rolling out your pasta and hand cutting it), and infinitely satisfying in a recipe with such a simple sauce.

Infinitely satisfying, as in how all things should be the morning after the night before, yes?

Hmmm.

HangoverPasta

Fresh Pasta

Ingredients

10 ounces (about two cups) all-purpose gluten-free flour (regular works fine, too)

1 T xanthan gum

1/2 t. salt

4 eggs

2 T olive oil

Method

Combine dry ingredients in food processor and pulse to combine. Add eggs and olive oil and mix until dough forms. You can also use a big bowl, a fork, and some muscle. Or have your lover do this while you watch.

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until it feels a bit smooth (you aren’t developing gluten, so don’t overdo it. Just really incorporating all ingredients). Shape into a six-inch roll, then cut into six pieces.

Work with each piece individually to either hand cut, or use your pasta machine.

Pro tip #1: Dust pasta with flour before sending it through the pasta machine.

Pro tip #2: Send it through two times on each setting, starting with the widest and stopping when you can see your hand through the pasta.

Technically, cacio e pepe is for spaghetti, but I like linguine, so I use the linguine cutter on my pasta machine.

After you cut your pasta, you can freeze it in little bundles and drop into salted, boiling water for two or three minutes wheneverthefuck you want some fresh pasta, or you can let the little bundles sit around until you’re damn good and ready (about two hours before you need to make a decision about those little bundles).

Damn good and ready?

Bring a pot of salted water to boil. While you are waiting, grate about two cups of pecorino Romano. Boil your pasta for two minutes, reserving about a cup of pasta water. After you drain the pasta, add it to the cheese, and gradually add pasta water, a little at a time. If your sauce is too wet, add cheese. Too dry? Add water.

Salt to taste (even though the cheese is salty you will need more) and grate a TON of black pepper into the bowl. You can finish with a drizzle of best-quality olive oil if you like, then eat it off your fingers (or each other) when you head back to bed.

Buon appetito!

What’s your favorite hangover menu?