26 April, 2015


Langdon Cook pulling out the root of a licorice fern for us to taste

I'm biting down on a tiny piece of fern root which has an earthy yet exotic sweetness. I taste a hint of licorice and maybe some maple. I begin to chew it in earnest, and with that, it suddenly becomes very bitter. That's it--one, maybe two, bites of sweetness before the twig turns bitter.

Our guide, Langdon Cook tells us that this is the root of the licorice fern which, if processed properly (infusion, for example), can add an herbal-sweet flavoring to something such as simple syrup. This weed is the most tenacious fern I've ever seen. It grows up the base of a tree, and all the way up each branch of a tree as far as the eye can see, like prehistoric ivy.

We walk on, exploring marshy areas, hills, the sides of long fallen trees, the forest floor. The things you see when you take the time to look up, and down, are magical. The forest, from floor to tree branch, is absolutely littered with edibles. And the bounty changes hands from season to season. I decide on the spot that I must do this again in summer for the berries, and again in autumn when mushrooms abound.

The berries aren't in season, but we still stop and identify them by their leaves, blossoms, or buds. Thimbleberries, trailing blackberries, raspberries, different kinds of huckleberries, Oregon grape berries, salal, salmon berries. I'm impressed by the amount of berry bushes I didn't even know grew wild in the city.

We hike on and come across lady ferns (fiddleheads), miner's lettuce, dandelions, nettles, bittercress, and wood sorrel (oxalis), among others. I marvel that this is all just one small patch of land smack in the city. We don't even go off trail. The veritable cornucopia that must exist off the beaten path would undoubtedly blow my mind.

The symbiotic relationships free-flowing in the forest are impressive--trees sharing nutrients with the plants below it, and in return, the plants giving back to tree roots. In fact, the whole forest is some sort of life-giving-and-taking mechanism. Mushrooms grow on old, fallen trees, until they have used up all remaining nutrients from it. Nature is pure. Wild. Interconnected. Honest.

As I chew on a fruity wood sorrel leaf, I ponder the wealth of flora around us, and feel a sense of profound joy. I live in a hotbed of incredible bounty in the Pacific Northwest and other than blackberry picking, I didn't understand the joys of foraging for food, or have any sort of real understanding of the surrounding indigenous plants. I plan to change that.

Not only the wild edibles, but the fresh air, the exertion of climbing, and the cool dampness of forested Seattle lingers with me long after coming back indoors.

For more information on Langdon's tours, visit his website http://langdoncook.com.

Langdon standing in front of a Redwood in Seward Park
Showing us a huckleberry bush
This fern decided it was going to be the center of attention here, as weeds do.
The shamrock-looking oxalis leaves taste like fruit (!) and Langdon is
showing us some local leaf variety that he uses in place
of grape leaves for making dolmas
Langdon is showing us how to identify Miner's Lettuce
A Redwood! In Seattle! (Not edible, but mushrooms grow under them)
And another tree absolutely covered trunk to sky in Licorice Fern
Light hiking and lovely greenery right in the city
These may be salmonberries but don't take my word for it
Green for days
Trailing blackberries, which are native to Washington
Gorgeous trails in Seward Park (this was the Huckleberry Trail)
Not a bad way to spend part of the day.

31 December, 2014

Notable Culinary Trends and Favorite Cookbooks of 2014

Once again, I've studied culinary trends closely this year. There have been a couple of surprises, and some other trends lingering over from last year. I am not a culinary expert by any stretch of the imagination, however I tend to spot trends through food photography gigs, cookbooks, local and international chefs and restaurants, food magazines, and social media. This is my summary of the few culinary items that have enjoyed some success this year.

2014 Culinary Trends

Crispy cauliflower from Trove, Seattle
Cauliflower. Cauliflower is the new kale chip. It's one of the biggest trends of the year. This year, I've seen it roasted, mashed, in soup, baked, deep-fried, and a variety of other ways.

Unconventional meats: I've seen a big increase in duck, elk, rabbit, goose, squab, goat, and pigeon on restaurant menus this year. I won't go so far as to say that goat is the new bacon, but it's enjoying a renaissance.

Mushrooms and other foraged foods. People are foraging in greater numbers than I have ever remembered them doing in the recent past. Advantages: it's free, it's fun, and it appeals to locavores.

Farm dinners. It used to be that Outstanding in the Field was completely unique in on-location, farm-to-table dinners. Not so much anymore. Farm-hosted pop-up dinners are rapidly sprouting up (forgive the pun).

Tea. McDonalds has joined in the tea craze, and Starbucks acquired Teavana. Smaller tea shops are opening up all over the country. In particular, flowering teas were a popular gift item this year.

Food and grocery delivery. This year, I've seen edible deliveries take off like gangbusters--restaurant meal delivery, CSA boxes, and grocery delivery. Meal delivery is probably more common in urban areas, but with CSA boxes straight from the farm, and grocery delivery expanding its delivery range, rural areas are likely seeing an uptick, as well.

Gin. The increase in gin interest is notable; it's traditionally been one of the least popular hard liquors in the U.S. I learned to enjoy it, and its many varieties, at the jenever bars in Antwerp, but it's never seemed to have enjoyed such popularity on this side of the pond. However, thanks to a resurgence in interest, between tea and gin, one could reasonably suspect that we've reunited with Britain.

Single-item restaurants. There are restaurants popping up around the nation specializing in one type of food (not just pizza joints anymore). There are restaurants serving all manner of pelmeni, meatloaf, ramen, mac 'n' cheese, frites (Belgian fries), and there's even a cereal bar in Texas.

Vinegar. Whether for medicinal or nutritional use, for use in pickling, in shrubs (the new "bitter" for cocktails), hand-crafted drinking vinegars (popular in Japan), or interesting vinegar infusions for dressings, this appears to just be the next big trend.

Sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are the new potato! This tuber has appeared all over the place this year (not just in the South) in desserts, fries and fritters, stews, pureed, dumplings, and a dozen other ways. It's packed with nutrients and so it's a shining star in this year's trend list!

Marijuana edibles. With many regions legalizing marijuana, a whole new culinary trend has taken off. Many people who wouldn't normally smoke are buying edibles instead (as are those who do smoke). In my state (Washington), it's a huge new trend.

Digital menus. Ordering from digital menus is a quick and easy way to order your food which minimizes errors and shows you the total immediately. People can order (and pay for) food online, at a tablet near the cash register, or at their tables.

Non-vegetarian Shakshuka
The Fat Hen, Seattle
Shakshuka. This dish of spicy baked eggs is part of the latest surge in the popularity of Middle Eastern food. It's now offered at many (non-Middle Eastern) breakfast restaurants. It's Paleo, gluten-free, grain-free, vegetarian, and super tasty.

Edible Insects. Adventurous restaurants are experimenting with serving up bugs and touting them as the new protein. While it's not quite huge yet, it's gaining lots of traction. Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods will have to find something else to eat!

Coconut. Coconut oil is all the rage, as is coconut sugar, coconut water, and coconut cream. It's a viable alternative to other fats and sweets than is less damaging.

Grain-free cuisine. Paleo, gluten-free, and other types of low-grain or grain-free diets are still on the rise, giving way to all sorts of alternative flours. There are entire cookbooks now dedicated to modern bakers who prefer baking with non-standard flours.

Nordic cuisine. Ever since Noma in Denmark won first place in the World's 50 Best Restaurants, the world has been looking at northern Europe for inspiration. New books on Sweden, pan-Scandinavia, and Iceland this year have catapulted people's interest in Nordic cuisine.

Community seating. This trend has been growing for the last couple of years, but this year, during the times that I dined in nice restaurants with friends, I was more often seated in community-style settings than at private tables.

2014 Favorite Cookbooks

I pore over cookbooks throughout the year and eventually a select few become favorites. I tend to view cookbooks with a somewhat critical eye, looking for a very specific set of criteria which may not appeal to all home cooks.

Favorites usually have more than one of the following criteria:
  • Beautiful photographs 
  • Great writing (yes, I actually read cookbooks) 
  • Unique or specialized topic
  • Daring or interesting concept  
  • Attractive book design--functional and/or artistic
  • Recipes that compel me to want to make them
  • Authors or publishers with whom I have a high degree of trust (either renown chefs, writers or publishers of other great culinary books, or recipe developers who've previously provided flawless content before)

I link to these books on Amazon.com so you can see reviews and view inside the book. That said, I am definitely also a supporter of local bookstores, and bookstores that sell new cookbooks will likely have most of these.

Thailand. This is my favorite cookbook of the year. It's a stunning tome by the ever-awesome Phaidon publishing, replete with gorgeous photos, a wide variety of recipes, and a lovely layout. Top-notch culinary content.

North. Most of you know by now that I have an affinity for northern Europe and its cuisine, so it shouldn't be any surprise that I'm completely enamored with this book of the "New Nordic Cuisine of Iceland." Photography and content portray food, chefs, landscapes, and culture. Definite winner.

Yucatan. This is the largest and heaviest cookbook I purchased this year (which is saying a lot because there were a lot of huge cookbooks this year). This region's cuisine is unique as it was long isolated from the rest of Mexico. Flavors are part Mayan, part Caribbean, part Spanish, and a pinch of Dutch. This book is a veritable encyclopedia of the breadth and depth of those influences on the cuisine of this unique region.

My Portugal. This book has a cornucopia of fantastic photos and authentic recipes. Heavily influenced by an ex-boyfriend, and a trip around Portugal with his family in the '90s, I learned that the cuisine is really part Spanish, part French, part Moroccan. It's a truly fabulous combination of flavors and this is perhaps the best book I have on it to date.

My Paris Kitchen. If you haven't bought any books by David Lebovitz, do it. His recipes, both on his blog and in his books, are flawless. This particular book is a real in-depth look at both his life in Paris and the standard fare you'll find there.

Flour  + Water. I wasn't going to buy this cookbook--like the world needs another pasta book! But a reliable friend and fellow cookbook hoarder shoved it on me, and I completely understand why. This book, from the popular San Francisco restaurant of the same name, has a unique approach, separating dishes out by season. It also showcases old classics among high-brow, elevated, adventurous pasta creations, using exotic ingredients (such as bitter honey and squab).

Golden Chanterelle mushrooms
Shroom. I'm a huge mushroom fanatic so the focus of this book really grabbed me. It's also no secret that the author, Becky Selengut, is a personal friend. You could say I was biased, but the truth is, I've probably grabbed this book off the shelf this year, more than any other. It's also very accessible to the average home cook (more so than her last book "Good Fish").

Slanted Door. Amazon.com picked this book at their Cookbook of the Year, and it's easy to see why. This book of modern Vietnamese food is chock full of truly stunning photographs, incredible dishes, and surprisingly accessible ingredients for many of them.

Sugar Rush. I don't know how Johnny Iuzzini does it, but he is the master of sweets. Not just pastries, but everything from cakes to custards to meringues to candies. There are really interesting recipes, such as Sour Cream Sherbet, Chocolate-Sesame Seed Cake, and Banana Fritters with Tahini Caramel Cream. Great step-by-step instructions and photographs. There isn't anything in this book that I wouldn't immediately throw down my gullet.

Ikaria. The day I received this book, I read it from cover to cover. It's a very interesting culinary story (with a ton of recipes) of the people on the Greek island of Ikaria who have the world's largest population of centenarians. I wanted to know what kinds of foods promote longevity and as it turns out, there are few surprises in this book (a few typically non-Greek staples--the potato, beans, and herbal tea).

Daring and Notable

While these didn't make my "favorites" list, they did catch my eye for their interesting and daring topics.

Bitter. One would not imagine that a cookbook featuring bitter ingredients would appeal to many people. It's a brave concept and I actually really like the food. It features recipes with ingredients such as radicchio, dark chocolate, chicory, lemon peel, and hops.

The Insect Cookbook. Another daring and adventurous book with a potentially small audience. However, as I noted above, culinary insects are on an upward swing. It's a sustainable protein and available in great quantities. There were two other cookbooks on cooking with bugs this year, and my favorite book of the year (Thailand) has recipes with ants. One of my favorite comments on Amazon is: "Shut up and eat it."

Das Cookbook. German food with a heavy California twist. Surprisingly, it works. It's a lovely fusion of German cookery married with Californian ingredients. Sehr gut!

What food trends or new cookbooks have you enjoyed this year?

Happy 2015!

30 December, 2013

Notable Culinary Trends and Favorite Cookbooks of 2013

From my tiny perch in the Great Gastroverse, I've spent yet another year observing all manner of culinary prowess duke it out for dominance. While I possess no notable culinary expertise, I experience the gastronomical fluctuations as a food photographer, attending (and photographing) culinary events, collecting and reviewing cookbooks, editing culinary manuscripts, following chefs on social media, and so on. This is just my summary of the year 2013.

Some trends developed faster, some slower. Some overlap with last year, and some will carry over into the new. And then there are some trends that simply will. not. die. (Bacon and truffle oil, I'm looking at you.) While watching trends come and go, it can be hard to pinpoint why something gains dominance, as all kinds of factors can determine what makes food headlines--social media chatter, influential blogs, supply and demand, spectacular marketing, or just good ole word of mouth. Whatever the case, these trends have sprung to the top of their class this year.

2013 Culinary Trends

Cronut. For those of us who follow the food trends online, I think we can all agree to crown this year the "Year of the Cronut(tm)" which, for the uninitiated, is a croissant-donut hybrid . (Yes, that name is trademarked so that you will know the original from any impostors, such as the "croughnut" or "doissant.") There was even a Toronto Cronut Burger Crisis.

Paleo diet. This has been ramping up for a couple of years, but it truly exploded this year. Even my physical therapy doctor swears by it. Paleo is the new gluten-free.

Poutine. The sloppy country cousin to the more sophisticated Belgian steak frites, this Canadian dish is popping up everywhere in American pubs. And really? It's the perfect drinking food. What took you so long, Poutine?

Ramen. Ramen has long been revered, but ramen shops keep popping up to much fanfare. Despite the traditional ramen bowls, this versatile noodle also produced an enormous side-trend this year, the ramen burger.

Sous vide. This method of vacuum-packed, low-temperature cooking has been a steady trend with high-end restaurants, but more people are using this method at home, due to lower-cost consumer alternatives to professional sous vide equipment.

Pop-up restaurants. Pop-up restaurants are the new supper club. They've been around for about a decade, but they seemed to gain a lot of speed this year. For the uninitiated, they are a temporary restaurant with a limited menu, for a limited time. This can be an effective way for chefs to practice their craft without investing in a restaurant, or to test the waters and develop a social buzz before going full-tilt with a permanent one.

Pretzel buns. It was bound to happen that we got sick of traditional sandwich bread and bland hamburger and slider buns. And what better way to enhance a sandwich than with a good salty, crunchy pretzel bun? (My new favorite: thinly shaved ham, Gruyere and hot mustard on a warm pretzel bun.)

Coconut. We are no longer using coconut simply as an ingredient in sweet recipes, or coconut milk when cooking Thai recipes. The craze--emphasized by the surge in Paleo cooking--has introduced coconut cream, coconut oil, and coconut sugar to everyday households. Restaurants and coffee shops are even selling coconut water.

Homebrewing. According to the American Homebrewers Association, there are an estimated 1.2 million American homebrewers. Not only that, but craft beer breweries are estimated at 2,400 and rapidly rising. Anheuser-Busch probably won't need to beg for bailout anytime soon, and European brewers can likely remain calm, but the tides have certainly turned toward American DIY and local craft brewing.

Wild poultry. Chicken, move over. The spotlight is now on duck, goose, quail, and turkey. New books like "Duck, Duck, Goose" from hunter-angler Hank Shaw certainly helped this trend in its upward trajectory.

Cocktails. I honestly didn't think the cocktail culture could get any bigger, but it has. Cocktails are getting extra-fancified with special, hand-crafted, often barrel-aged spirits giving unique twists to old favorites and creating new super-cocktails.

Sriracha Rooster Sauce. There are a lot of hot sauces in the world, but this one brand has a loyal and rabid following. It has also been popularized by artists, such as The Oatmeal. Supply and demand has also caused the Sriracalypse as the production plant was ordered to suspend operations, causing restaurants and consumers to hoard bottles of it.

Superfruits. Acai, gogi, mangosteen, and wild berries of all ilk are nature's high-powered antioxidants providing all kinds of health benefits. Consumers add them to myriad juices and smoothies, and into health food bars and granola mixes, among other things.

Cookie butter. Also called Biscoff Spread, this "butter" made from spiced Dutch or Belgian cookies (called Speculaas or Speculoos, respectively) has been around in gourmet shops, but the proliferation of this into mainstream popularity was likely encouraged by Trader Joe's grocery chain stocking it as a regular staple. Cookie butter is the new Nutella.

Roasted root vegetables. This seems to have recently become all the rage, and I can see why. For starters, roasted root veggies are extremely tasty. But they are also easy to make, and a medley of various kinds makes for a very colorful and appealing side dish. A popular cookbook came out last year ("Roots" by Diane Morgan) which likely nudged this trend along.

2013 Favorite Cookbooks

I didn't call this "Best Cookbooks of 2013" because I judge books by a very specific set of criteria which won't appeal to all home cooks. I beg, borrow, or buy cookbooks all year long and suss them out using the following criteria:

  • Beautiful photographs (not just of the chefs, the kitchen, the farm, but real plates of food)
  • Good writing (I actually read cookbooks)
  • Unique and specialized content (that said, I fancy a few "generalist" cookbooks)
  • Recipes I wouldn't normally find in a standard Good Housekeeping (anything exotic, regional, fusion, spicy, etc.)
  • Nicely bound, designed, and presented (I admit to judging a book by its cover as well as the contents; if I don't like the feel of it in my hands, or if the pages are too thin, I've already docked points)
  • Cookbooks that now, or at some point in the future, I'm very likely to use (that said, I do buy some books simply for their aesthetic qualities, and not necessarily as culinary inspiration)
I link these to Amazon.com so you can see reviews and view inside the book (and their prices are often the cheapest). That said, I am definitely a supporter of local bookstores, and bookstores that sell new cookbooks will likely have most of these.

The Food of Vietnam by Luke Nguyen. This is, hands down, my favorite book of the year. It's gorgeous, absolutely epic--an enormous tome--and the recipes and stories are exotic yet approachable.

Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book by Emily and Melissa Elsen. What a stunning pie book from a pair of Brooklyn pie shop owners. There is all manner of pie here. The only thing you won't find is Humble Pie. These recipes are exquisite. (Maple Buttermilk Custard Pie or Bourbon Pear Crumble Pie, anyone?)

Aphrodisiacs With a Twist by Mark Sexauer. (I love when names and works collide.) A fantastic drink book. Every single drink sounds tantalizing. And the photos (by the lovely Charity Lynne Burggraaf) are outstanding.

Roast by Marcus Verberne. This might be my favorite British cookbook; I truly love everything about this book. This book, named for Roast Restaurant, located in London's Borough Market, shines a favorable spotlight on hearty regional gastronomy. Disclaimer: Some ingredients will be hard to source in the U.S. (I would love to make the Roast Mallard with Gamekeepers Pie and Elderberry Sauce.)

Le Pigeon by Gabriel Rucker, Meredith Erickson, and Lauren and Andrew Fortgang. This Portland, Oregon restaurant has gotten rave reviews, so I checked out its recent cookbook and I totally understand why. So much decadence without pretension. Standouts are the Elk Filet and the Bone Marrow and Caramelized Onion Sandwich.

Wild Rosemary & Lemon Cake by Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi. This book of recipes and photographs from Italy's Amalfi coast is truly lovely. Besides the scrumptious recipes, this is one book where I didn't mind extra photos of the region, the food purveyors, and the cooks. The book offered me a vicarious trip to southern Italy.

Ivan Ramen by Ivan Orkin. With the proliferation of ramen shops around the world, this one has received a ton of attention. Ivan Orkin--a Jewish guy from Long Island, NY--has become the world's ramen master and genius. He opened up shop in Tokyo, and has been in high demand ever since. He's opening a second restaurant in NYC soon.

Classico e Moderno by Michael White. This book has over 200 recipes of gussied-up Italian fare--modern twists using classic ingredients. The presentation is gorgeous, and this will undoubtedly be used repeatedly in my kitchen.

The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart. This book is two parts botany encyclopedia and one part recipe book. The layout is nostalgic--the style of book from a bygone era--with illustrations, cool fonts, and small flourishes. The content is equally charming, such as "Yeast: A Love Story" and "Grow Your Own: Hops."

Manresa by David Kinch. I almost didn't buy this book; some of it will be completely above my culinary skill set. Although it's not a book I'll likely make much from, it's one of the most beautiful books in my collection, from the northern California restaurant of the same name. And the recipes are still inspirational; the flavor pairings alone are brilliant.

Pickles, Pigs & Whiskey by John Currence. This Mississippi award-winning chef put together this truly gorgeous southern-fried cookbook organized by technique (Boiling and Simmering, Pickling and Canning, Brining and Smoking, etc.). If you buy only one Southern cookbook, I'd recommend this stunner.

That wraps up this year. Any interesting food trends or cookbooks you've seen in your area? I'd love to hear about it.

Happy 2014!

11 November, 2013

Bivalves, Drams, and a Pinch of Wit.

A friend of mine--the delightful Carrie Brown--posted on Facebook that she was invited to a private whisky tasting put on by AQUA by El Gaucho on the Seattle waterfront. But since she was not a whisky drinker, she felt the experience would be lost on her, and wanted to know if anyone wanted to go in her stead. I was the first to raise my hand, and so the invitation, which sounded quite austere, went to me.

"The native oyster season coincides with the 30th birthday of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society... Join Georgie Bell, Global Ambassador for The Society, for a swashbuckling maritime experience as she debunks the myth of pairing brown spirits with this crustacean delicacy in spectacular fashion."

My interest was piqued.

Namely because I'd never paired any food with whisky before. Whisky is an after-meal drink, at least in my experience. And oysters, I usually don't pair with anything either, but if I did, it'd be some variety of white wine, nothing heavier. The concept of a Scotch-oyster pairing sounded like a curious, but not entirely unfathomable, combination.

Whisky flight with oyster pairings
Georgie Bell hails from Edinburgh, Scotland and, man, does she know her Scotch. She's also got a biting wit, and appears to be perfect as the face of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWC), which names their whiskies after tasting notes. Things like "Snorkeling in the Bathtub" and "Heather Honey and Burnt Toast" and "Buttery Waffles on Polished Wood." My personal favorite name, which makes it just sound cozy like a warm blanket is "Hugs from Your Mum."

This whisky club has a membership fee but it gives you access to single-cask Scotches from distillers across the country. Some are quite old, some are not. Georgie is of the (very strong) opinion that, at least for such high-quality, single-cask whiskies, age is not important. The character of a whisky can be superb and only six years old. (Granted, they do have many that are up to even 40 years old, but she said that her favorites are both young and old.)

The varieties are always changing because once a cask whisky is gone, it's gone. Georgie said that she's actually cried when a particular glorious favorite went dry. Their whiskies are, however, labelled by distiller number and cask number, so if you like a particular scotch, you can follow a distillery to try their other offerings (or, if there is still the one you like, you can reorder). Distilleries are not touted but you can found out which ones belong to which numbers. The SMWC picks only the best of the best, and some of them are no names, and some are known the world over.

As you might imagine, these single-cask Scotches are not cheap. They also aren't completely outrageous, either. They are affordable to those who are true connoisseurs and have been known to splurge for high-quality drinks.

The Scotch was tasted opposite of how you taste wine: sweetest to driest. Some were light and fruity, others peaty and smoky. I liked all but the last, which was too smoky for my taste.

Now, the oysters!

AQUA (El Gaucho's apparent seafood sister), according to its menu, sources its oysters from Taylor Shellfish Farms (a personal favorite of mine). The oysters were indeed complementary to the Scotch, especially if you abstained from using any of the oyster sauces and swallowed all of the oyster juice with it. The oysters, paired with the Scotches from sweetest to driest, were: Kumamoto, Shigoku, Virginica, and Kushi. All were tasty and paired quite beautifully. Many thanks to AQUA, SMWC, and Carrie Brown for the experience.

Side Note: I think it's important to note that it is spelled "whisky" in the UK and Canada, but "whiskey" in Ireland and the United States. This makes Internet searches a bit of a slog, although Google is getting smarter at determining perceived "misspellings."

(Click any photo to view larger)

09 April, 2013

Hot Cakes ~ A Molten Chocolate Cakery

Dreamy molten chocolate cakes. Boozy, frothy shakes. Big buttery cookies. Velvety sipping chocolate. These are just some of the offerings at Hot Cakes in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, owned by Autumn Martin (former pastry chef for Canlis, and former Head Chocolatier for Theo Chocolate). While still working for Theo, Autumn first started selling the molten chocolate cakes at the local market in 2008 and using her award-winning Theo's chocolate in them. She soon had such a devoted following, that opening this shop was clearly the next step.

The space is quite small, fairly sparce but cozy, and smells decadent. She offers other tasty items besides chocolate—sweet and savory pies, shakes and malts, a full coffee bar, and handmade salted caramel sauce, to name a few—but, in my opinion, the chocolate is really the draw.

About a month ago, on a cold, quiet Saturday morning, just after she opened, Autumn gave my friend and me a private tour of the tiny facility. We got to sample various types of chocolate in the various stages of making. (The cold-smoked chocolate chips were surprisingly mouth-watering.) In addition to serving food and drinks in the shop, she gives classes on truffle making, and distributes some of her organic products to specialty shops around the nation.

Autumn is doing something she’s immensely passionate about, but also something she’s clearly gifted at. She sources high-end ingredients for the innovative desserts she creates, and it shows in the flavor and quality of her products. We got to take home a bag full of other goodies, such as apple butter and take-n-bake peanut butter cookies. I have yet to taste anything there that didn’t meet or exceed my expectations. Everything is made from organic ingredients and a few of her items are vegan.

Most of you know that I hoard (er, collect) cookbooks. And I'm happy to say that today, Autumn’s new book “Malts & Milkshakes” goes on the market. (You can order from Amazon. She might also sell it in the shop.) It contains 60 recipes for boozy shakes, soda fountain classics, and gourmet syrups and herbal-infusions for shakes and malts.

All photos by Jackie Donnelly Baisa

30 December, 2012

20 Notable Culinary Trends in 2012

This year, much like last year, had some pretty specific culinary trends. Last year was all about microdistilleries, street food, foraging, and pie. This year, for a variety of reasons, we've seen a rise in cake pops, ceviche, bitters, and fried eggs atop our meals. Some items overlapped years (bacon-in-everything is the trend that won't die), some fads have already quickly come and gone (Twinkies) and some trends have sparked a new craze among food bloggers and home cooks (do-it-yourself marshmallows).

As I feel the need to state every year, I am in no way a culinary expert. As a food photographer, cookbook collector, and social media junkie, I do however routinely observe culinary trends through photography, various food blogs, gastrojournalists, chefs, local and regional restaurants, and food purveyors and manufacturers.

These are the biggest trends I've noticed in 2012, from my tiny perch in the great gastroverse. I've also made a few culinary predictions for 2013 and have added a brand-new section: my top five cookbooks of 2012.


2012 Trends

Cake pops. I, personally, have not had one, but I've seen them around for about 2-3 years. However, this year the trend exploded with the availability of some new cookbooks and cake pop makers to make them in.

Peruvian food. Particularly ceviche. While I've eaten it here and there over the years, it has gained popularity exponentially in the last year. Peruvian is the new Italian.

Riesling, rosé, and chardonnay. These wines are all making remarkable comebacks, and dry rieslings are trending anew. Whites and rosés seem to be enjoying almost as much time in the spotlight these days as their ever-popular red counterparts.

Side towels/tea towels. They are the new pot holder, dish rag, or table napkin these days. Culinary author Michael Ruhlman even hawked them this year. 
Refrigerator pickles. People are pickling anything these days, including fruit. Refrigerator pickling is essentially small-batch, short-term pickling that does away with steamers or vacuum-tight lids.

Mason jars. Jars with lids were all the rage this year, particularly with regard to the aforementioned refrigerator pickling, but also for sauces, icebox jam, and drinks.

Food blogger cookbooks. An enormous amount of cookbooks came out this year by food bloggers across the globe, many just in my own city alone. Those with a strong culinary web presence, a lot of followers, and especially those who develop recipes, have a strong chance of publishing a cookbook these days.

Frozen pops. A lot of people, including myself, have made their own frozen popsicles this year, using both traditional and non-traditional ingredients. There were also quite a number of recipe books on frozen pops that came out this year.

Gin. So, I'm not sure if it is because of Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee this year (the Queen is a gin fan), the admission of spirits into grocery stores in my state, or all of the new micro-distilleries popping up, but gin seems to be enjoying a resurgence, at least in my area. Since it was the first hard liquor I ever tried, and since I was a fan of the gin bars while living in Belgium, I'm enthusiastic, despite my lack of royal title.

Salted caramel. This one has really been hit for a couple of years now, but it's popularity is not waning in any way, and in fact, quite steady. And I can see why; sugar, cream, and salt remains an outstanding flavor combination and pairs well with all sorts of other sweets, such as dark chocolate, chocolate or vanilla-based cakes, and ice cream.

Watermelon. This sweet summertime fruit has received a savory makeover. A hugely popular recipe currently is a watermelon and feta salad. Also popular is watermelon salsa, pickled watermelon, and throwing watermelon into stir fries.

Bitters. Cocktails have been on the upswing for a couple of years now, and mixologists are using bitters to create signature drinks. Some people are even making their own concoctions. There is just about every bitter you can possibly think of these days, such as sriracha, baked apple, and tomato.

Speculoos. This Belgian spiced cookie (also popular in the Netherlands, called Speculaas) has won the hearts of food bloggers everywhere. From making the cookies themselves, to using them as pie crust or in a spreadable form, this is quite popular right now. A local grocery store chain here even sells Speculoos-filled dark chocolate bars.

Fried egg. This was the year that people put a fried egg on top of everything--sandwiches, oatmeal, soups, stir fries, pizza, you name it. If it's food, chances are you can put an egg on it.

Chicken and waffles. I have seen this on several restaurant menus this year, and friends of mine (both online and off) order it enthusiastically. All I have to say about this one is... What the fig?!? This is a flavor pairing that I'd never imagine. Until I try it, though, I am trying to keep an open mind. For now, I'll just sit here and bask in my befuddlement.

DIY marshmallows. People are making their own, homemade versions of these sweets, infusing various flavors such as lavender and peppermint. I've received a couple of packages from people as gifts this year.

Hydroponics. Now this technology--growing plants outside of soil--has been around at least since the 15th century. Lately, however, it is being used in much greater capacities. It is thought to yield bigger crops, allow plants to grow in non-native or harsh environments, use less water, and avoid most pests (and thereby, pesticides).

Poutine. This French-Canadian dish of essentially fries, cheese curds, and gravy is simple, but it can also have many variations. (If you are not a poutine purist, read on.) I've seen restaurants add meat or foie gras, substitute different cheese (blue for curds), use bolognese instead of gravy, or add hot sauce. I am a long-time fan of gravy over fries, so this trend is a great one for me (despite it being something of a heart attack in a bowl).

Twinkies. I'd love to skip right over this one, but I can't. Not only did America go completely mental and buy up every twinkie in the store when Hostess announced it was shuttering, but food bloggers and sweets shops have developed their own (albeit healthier) versions now. It's already on the downward trend again, but it might not fade completely away if Hostess gets bought.

Fictional food. Strangely, there have been all kinds of cookbooks written based on fictional shows or films: Downton Abbey, Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and so on. (I can't quite imagine what would be in the Hunger Games cookbook.) Apparently, cookbooks are the new action figures, to sell on the side to fans.

2013 Predictions

Non-traditionally boozy drinks. Spiked coffee and boozy shakes are on an upward trend right now.

"Green" foods. With marijuana now legal in two states (including my own), and undoubtedly more to follow, I predict a wave of herb-friendly foods, not just brownies.

Popcorn. Yes. Again. Pimped-out popcorn is growing in popularity again--spicy, crunchy, sweet, salty, you name it.

Aussie yoghurt. Greek yogurt has had its day. Time to move over and try the creamy, velvety Aussie-style yoghurt (spelled with an "h"), which is traditionally sweetened with honey. It tastes very caloric, but isn't. My favorite brand is Noosa, but Wallaby is also very tasty.

Touch-screens. Ordering and/or paying via touch-screen iPads (or other tablets) in restaurants, bars, and cafes is becoming more common. I imagine this will be the norm in another year or so.

My Top Five Cookbooks of 2012

I am a self-professed cookbook hoarder. Since this is the only thing I collect, and my bookshelves are not yet encroaching on the neighbors', I constantly enjoy new recipes and reading material. While I'm still very selective with my cookbook shopping, I've bought dozens of them this year, from various food styles, regions, and skill levels. While I do love to cook from these books, I also happen to simply love reading about recipes, the chefs and authors who created (or added their own twist) to them, and the familiar or completely exotic places they hail from. I also love brilliant food photography, and spend more quality time reading through a cookbook full of great images than one without.

It was hard to pick my top five, because there wasn't one book this year that I didn't love, and I actually have too many "favorites," including those written by friends. These five, however, were the ones that I repeatedly went back to, poured over, and bookmarked. Ergo, I present the Fabulous Five.

Jerusalem. A stunning cookbook from co-authored by London's renown chef Ottolenghi. The recipes are flavorful and accessible to home cooks. So far, I've made the roasted cauliflower with hazelnuts, Balilah, and Mejadra, all exquisite. There is also a pistachio soup I'm dying to try.

Homemade: Winter. After the popularity of "Homemade", this Dutch couple have put together yet another two volumes (Winter and Summer) and the Winter edition is a new favorite of mine. It was inspired by Yvette's childhood in Ireland. But it's not an Irish cookbook, rather a gastronomic infusion of Ireland, the Netherlands, and France. The drawings and photography are simply stunning, not to mention the recipes themselves. And there's an entire chapter called "Cake." Need I say more?

The Complete Bocuse. Chef Paul Bocuse is legendary in France and beyond. He's has three Michelin stars since the mid-60s, and he is really the face of modern French cuisine. This is an unlikely book for me to pick as a favorite because it's an enormous tome (with 500 recipes) and I find French cuisine sometimes inaccessible. But au contraire! The recipes in this book are both lovely and not overly hoity-toity. In fact, some are so simple that there are only a couple of ingredients, such as eggs with tomatoes and herbs. The book itself, while very heavy, is absolutely gorgeous with an enormous amount of photos and the recipes are true winners.

What Katie Ate. As a food blogger/photographer, Katie has made an international name for herself. her book is just as stunning (if not more so) than her blog. The book itself feels like a culinary travel journal. The only recipe I've made from it so far is the mini beef with bacon meat pies, but there are so many recipes bookmarked for future experimentation, that I ran out of book flags. Every recipe sounds brilliant. I've never read a cookbook so many times.

Fäviken. This is, simply put, my Cookbook of the Year. Without a doubt, I will own this book until someone puts me in a nursing home. Chef Magnus Nilsson is phenomenal and heads the restaurant that this book hails from, in northern Sweden. Its recipes are not particularly accessible to the average home cook (although not entirely esoteric, either), but despite that, it's a testament to the sheer uniqueness and quality of the book itself that I consider it my current favorite. The recipes are mostly tiny courses (French-style in that regard) but oh, so brilliant. One part of the vinegars section is called "Vinegar matured in the burnt-out trunk of a spruce tree". It isn't for everyone, but my goodness, is it for me.


Are there food trends, or cookbooks, that really leapt out at you this year?

19 August, 2012

Strawberry-Balsamic Ice Pops

When summer temperatures soar, I can't seem to get enough Popsicles, ice cream, and frozen fruit pops. I rarely indulge in a lot of sweets anymore, but I admit that I'm a sucker for frozen desserts. When I saw the book People's Pops, I immediately ordered it with some ice pop trays, and made my own. I've played around with making lots of ice creams in the past but these are a bit different, are incredibly simple to make, and take almost no time to throw together (but then you have to wait 5 or 6 hours to indulge, so you need to plan ahead).

I adapted this recipe from the book by adding cream and not using lemon juice; the balsamic is definitely enough "sour" to brighten the flavor of the strawberries. I've enjoyed strawberry-balsamic ice cream the last couple of years, so felt the cream would give it a great consistency. There are 64 other fantastic and unique ice pop recipes in this book, many using herbs, some have booze, and many have unconventional fruits for ice pops, such as apples, canteloupe, and figs. I will definitely be using this book well into fall, as there are seasonal varieties, depending on what's in season.

People's Pops is an ice pop shop in New York City that is going like gangbusters. With recipes like this, I can totally see why.


1 lb. strawberries, hulled
3/4 cup simple syrup (recipe below)
1/4 cup cream
3 TB balsamic, or to taste (the average supermarket variety is fine in this recipe)


Make the simple syrup several hours ahead by combining 2/3 cup water with 2/3 cup sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir until sugar is completely dissolved and liquid is transparent. Remove from heat and cool.

Put the strawberries, syrup, cream, and balsamic in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. (If you like bigger fruit chunks, don't completely puree.)

Pour the strawberry mixture into your fruit pop molds; leave a half-inch of room at the top for expansion. Insert the sticks and freeze for about 5 or 6 hours, or until solid.

To unmold, run some warm water over the outside edges of the molds for a few seconds and then lightly tug at the sticks until they release. Serve immediately, or put into freezer bags and freeze for later.

Makes 10 normal-sized frozen fruit pops.