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spenser personalizing food & drink.


sugaring season in QUEBEC

winter at

ISLAND CREEK oyster farm

MASTERING the art of making tofu urban GARDENING made easy mar.apr 2012 |  ISSUE THREE



features: 80|GETTING DIRTY: A Los Angeles food blogger gets inspired to build a backyard vegetable garden.

by rick poon


A few dedicated folks are looking to redefine the sugar shack experience.

by mike dundas


Master Minh Tsai is remaking tofu's image, one block at a time.

by julie wolfson


Venture out onto the frigid waters of Duxbury Bay to learn what it takes to produce the perfect oyster.

by heidi murphy

departments: BUTLER'S CHOICE: the storied Biltmore


STOCKING THE PANTRY: Brussels sprout relish & Cabra Blanca


STOCKING THE BAR: Pok Pok’s drinking vinegars


MEREDITH'S PAGE: napkin rings, chubby opener & sea salt soapiness


SEASON'S SWEET: brown butter rhubarb bars


SEASON'S HARVEST: spring for some favas


BUTCHER'S BLOCK: Chef Pablo Salas’ chorizo verde


See what happens when girls carry books all the way to the next generation.

In the developing world, a girl doesn’t have a lot of options. At least not when it comes to her education. Thanks to Room to Read, more than 10,000 girls now have a future that includes the financial support and life skills needed to complete secondary school. That translates into higher wages, lower birth rates, and an end to the cycle of illiteracy. Educate yourself by visiting our website. And give girls something they’ll carry with them the rest of their lives. Read more at

Rachel and Lexie Meade Smith wearing Spring 2012 Collection. Rockaway Beach, NYC.

recipe index: crostini Fava Bean with Pecorino Fresco | 37

maple Maple Daiquiri (Martin Picard) | 76 Mini Maple Cones (Martin Picard) | 73 Omellete Soufflé with Lobster & Smoked Meat (Martin Picard) | 70 PDC Breakfast Sandwich (Martin Picard) | 74

oysters ICOB Oyster Sliders (Jeremy Sewall) | 53 ICOB Oyster Stew (Jeremy Sewall) | 52 Skip’s Patriot Oysters | 55

sausage Chorizo Verde (Pablo Salas) | 40

sweets Brown Butter Rhubarb Bars (Michelle Wojtowicz) | 34 Ravo – Parsi Semolina Pudding | 105

tofu Black Pepper Tofu (Yotam Ottolenghi) | 103 Yuba 'Noodles' with Chanterelles & Brussels Sprout Leaves (Charles Phan) | 102

10 | | mar.apr 2012 

letter from the editor:


have to say, I had my fingers crossed that the groundhog would see his shadow this year, and he didn’t disappoint. It gave us the perfect excuse to write a few stories that really needed those six additional weeks of winter to come together.

ries to highlight this wonderfully transformative time when the chill of winter begins to fade and life begins to grow again.

For one, we boated out onto the frigid waters of Duxbury Harbor in Massachusetts with Heidi Murphy to learn about true workings of an oyster farm at the peak of the winter harvesting season. And we visited with Martin Picard of Au Pied de Cochon — an acclaimed Montreal restaurant — as we went in search of maple syrup during the Quebec sugaring season.

To that end, blogger Rick Poon tracked down urban farmer and landscape designer Jimmy Williams to help guide us through the process of building out our own vegetable garden. We also traveled with writer Julie Wolfson to Hodo Soy Beanery in Oakland, where tofu master Minh Tsai is redefining the tofu experience. After reading this story, and tasting his products, we have a new found love for tofu.

Yet, while some regions of the country are still locked in the throes of winter, others are being blessed with warmer weather. So we also searched out sto-

As is tradition, you will also find stories highlighting some of our favorite seasonal dishes, including recipes for fresh fava bean crostini, brown butter rhubarb bars, and semolina pudding. We’ve also thrown in some tips and tricks from acclaimed chefs like Charles Phan, Yotam Ottolenghi, Pablo Salas and Michelle Wojtowicz. Spring is the time of year to venture to try something new. Undertake to grow your own tomatoes, or teach yourself to shuck your own oysters, or learn to cook delicious food with hand made tofu. The coming season brings with it warmth, renewal and growth. Enjoy it.

mike dundas editor-in-chief Cyril Gonzales of Société-Orignal (left) and Richard Semmelhaack of Gereli Farms (right) with editor-in-chief Mike Dundas.

mar.apr 2012 | |


spenser magazine MIKE DUNDAS

co-founder & editor-in-chief LEIGH FLORES

co-founder & executive editor JEN WHITE

design director COREY ABSHER

interactive producer MAX FOLLMER

lead copy editor HILARY KLINE

lead photo editor contributing writers

CAMILLE GRIGSBY-ROCCA, HEIDI MURPHY, RICK POON, JULIE WOLFSON We would like to give special thanks to ELISA SHYU & JENARO BATIZ ROMERO for their help with language translations in this issue.



business & media inquiries:

advertising & sales inquiries: Edman & Co. (203) 656-1000

western region advertising & sales inquiries:

editorial inquiries, general questions & comments:

cover photo: Island Creek Oyster Farm photograph by HEIDI MURPHY

spenser’s commitment:

spenser magazine commits to donating 1% of profits to charitable causes in support of ending hunger in America and abroad this commitment supports spenser magazine’s desire to help promote the need to end hunger everywhere

spenser disclaimer: Spenser Magazine is published on a bi-monthly basis by Spenser, LLC. All rights are reserved. Neither the publication, nor any portion thereof, may be reproduced in any manner or in any form without the prior written authorization and permission of Spenser, LLC. Spenser Magazine and Spenser, LLC are not responsible for the accuracy of advertiser claims or advertiser content. Notwithstanding, every effort is made to ensure the accuracy of the content contained in the publication and on the Web site.

spenser magazine | los angeles, ca



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How m a ny m e a l s ca n yo u provide ? 3 2 3 . 2 3 4 .3030 w w w. l a fo o dba nk . o rg

Three easy ways To help end childhood hunger:

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meet the team: "spring is a time of firsts, what was the first thing you learned to cook?" MIKE DUNDAS



co-founder & editor-in-chief current hometown: los angeles

co-founder & executive editor current hometown: los angeles

design director current hometown: los angeles

"When I was about 5, my mom taught me how to make tortillas from scratch using a hand tortilla press. As a kid, it was fun to use the press to squish down on the masa."

"My mom tells me that I was quite

" Pasta with pesto and chicken




interactive producer current hometown: los angeles

lead copy editor current hometown: los angeles

lead photo editor current hometown: DC

"Pancakes with blueberry syrup. Always

"Chicken sautĂŠed with lemon."

"Helping my grandmother make

cooked in the same pan right after bacon."

good with my Winnie-the-Pooh Cookbook. I don’t remember the particulars, but I do seem to remember some sort of honey muffins."

- after a summer in Italy where I learned fresh ingredients make everything so much better."

cornbread on her well-worn and perfectly cured iron skillet."

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contributors: DANA DOROBANTU | PHOTOGRAPHER Dana is a Montreal-based photographer who has had a love affair with food, people, and travel for as long as she can remember. She uses her photography to crystallize those perfect moments spent around the table and in everyday life. Her approach is simple, with an emphasis on both mouthwatering images and moving pictures that strike a responsive chord. She has been shooting both editorial and advertising work for over ten years. Her portfolio can be found at First thing I learned to cook? My mom is the most amazing cook! I always stood beside her in the kitchen and cooked by her side, from simple recipes to the most complicated desserts.

DANIELLE TSI | PHOTOGRAPHER Singapore-born, Bay Area-based photographer Danielle Tsi uses photography as a means to understand and experience other ways of looking at the world. With food as her muse, she stumbled into the magic that comes with uncovering the stories that lie beyond the delights of the plate. Her work has been featured on Food & Wine, Fine Cooking, Etsy, Design*Sponge and Saveur, and she was a finalist for Best Food Photography in Saveur magazine's 2011 Best Food Blog Awards. First thing I learned to cook? Eggs, sunny side up, with yolks intact.

RICK POON | WRITER & PHOTOGRAPHER Born in Thailand but raised in Southern California, Rick Poon is a Los Angeles-based photographer that’s had a long obsession with food. He’s been shooting it for as long as he can remember, and enjoys getting lost in a new city, immersing himself in the local culture and ducking into some good eats. Rick chronicles his culinary journeys on his blog, à la mode. First thing I learned to cook? Grilled cheese made with Wonder bread and Kraft singles. The best part was the cheese that oozed out and crisped up on the pan.

JULIE WOLFSON | WRITER Julie Wolfson’s passion for food began when she realized her father was not eating many vegetables. She headed into the kitchen to add some new dishes to her family’s menus. High school brought on an obsession with baking cheesecakes and perfecting her chocolate-chip cookie recipe. Trips to Italy, Israel, and Mexico City inspired more food adventuring wanderlust. Today she writes about ingredient driven dishes, cocktails, coffee as well as travel, pop culture, and art. She’s happy to report her father now loves swiss chard and baby spinach. First thing I learned to cook? At cocktail parties, my grandmother would serve my favorite tiny cheese puffs. I loved to help her cut thin slices of bread into circles with cookie cutters, mix the mayonnaise, parmesan cheese, and spices to scoop on top, and broil in the oven. They were a family favorite.

HEIDI MURPHY | WRITER & PHOTOGRAPHER Heidi is a wedding and lifestyle photographer, and aspiring foodie. Though her heart belongs to Martha’s Vineyard, she lives north of Boston with her husband and their three dogs in a charming seaside town. She has an affinity for simple flavors and simple pleasures, farmers markets, organic everything, s’mores, corn from the grill, and champagne. Heidi’s work, on film, has been featured stateside and abroad; and her recent musings and imagery can be found on First thing I learned to cook? Apple Fritters – a Pennsylvania Dutch recipe that can be traced back in my family into the 1800’s. My Dad grew up with this light apple pancake-like side dish and it continued to be very special in our home too. I remember standing on 5 gallon flour buckets in our kitchen just to reach the counter when I was only old enough to peel the apples.

mar.apr 2012 | |




butler’s choice: The Biltmore

photography by hilary kline

On Christmas Eve 1895, George W. Vanderbilt officially opened Biltmore House in Asheville, N.C. The Biltmore, which took six years to build, is still the largest privately owned home in the United States. Vanderbilt commissioned prominent New York architect Richard Morris Hunt to design the estate, using the French Renaissance chateau with steeply pitched roofs, towers, and turrets, as an inspiration. Notably, the palatial estate was designed to be self-supporting, and features gardens, a nursery, farms, and a dairy. The Biltmore’s chef headed up all food preparation at the estate assisted by a team of more than one dozen kitchen workers. They prepared multi-course meals multiple times each day and made full use of the kitchens and butler’s pantry. Positioned directly above the estate’s three kitchens — a main kitchen, a rotisserie kitchen and a pastry kitchen — and directly adjacent to both the banquet hall and the breakfast room, the butler’s pantry was designed as the central nervous system for all communications systems in the house. The design and construction of the pantry was typical to the rest of the servants’ working areas at Biltmore. All of the cabinets are oak, with glass front doors. The sinks are made of carved marble and the walls and floors are glazed tile. These materials were durable and provided for easy cleaning.

20 | | mar.apr 2012 

embraced at the Biltmore house slowly filtered down to everyday home construction over the next twenty-five years. These laborsaving advances helped to improve the livability and functionality of the space, but one must not forget that they can also add a beautiful aesthetic to the overall design of your home. (From top) The menu for every meal served at the Biltmore was handwritten in a notebook kept in the pantry; The 120year old cabinetry is still in place today. Opposite Page: The pantry’s upper level and metal railing.

Most important to both Hunt and Vanderbilt was that the kitchen and pantry feature the latest technological innovations. Instead of iceboxes or springhouses, the Biltmore kitchens and pantries each used the earliest forms of mechanical refrigeration to keep foods cool. Bramhall, Deane & Co., which had furnished ranges to the Union Army during the Civil War, built the warming ovens that were installed in the pantry to keep plates and other items warm. An electronic dumbwaiter, with a lifting capacity of 250 pounds at a speed of 100 feet per minute, still runs from the food prep areas in the basement up to the butler’s pantry allowing for the efficient transfer of foods from the kitchen to the table. Hunt also installed a servants’ call system, powered by glass rechargeable batteries. Ivory call buttons were placed throughout the House, making it possible to call the butler’s pantry at any time of the day or night from virtually any room in the house. The pantry was designed with an open second level where much of the fine china and crystal is stored. The catwalklike space is accessible by a retracting ladder and protected by a metal railing that runs the entire length of the floor. A large shelf slides on the top of the railing so, as the servants were selecting the china, they could place that which they were gathering on the shelf, move it around the room, and over to the dumbwaiter. The technological advances that were

mar.apr 2012 | |


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stocking the pantry:


photography by hilary kline

The Avalanche Cheese Company is a small creamery in Basalt, Colo. producing cheese with milk from goats raised and grazed on their own 130-acre farm, located just over Snowmass Mountain in Paonia. Owner and cheese maker Wendy Mitchell calls it a “backwards business model” because the farm is located 90 minutes away from the creamery. Given the real estate prices in and around Aspen, however, dislocating the farm and dairy from the creamery was the only way she could afford to keep total control over the quality of the milk. “You can’t make the cheese without the milk and the you can’t change the profile of the cheese without control over the goats,” says Wendy. While the farming aspect of the business was completely foreign to Wendy, she spent time prior to opening Avalanche studying cheesemaking in the U.K., where she was able visit, study, and intern with a number of dairy farms and creameries in England and Scotland. Her decision to produce goat milk cheese was dictated largely by the high desert climate of her farm in Paonia. The goats thrive on that terrain, whereas sheep or cows would have needed more traditional grasslands, requiring more rainfall. “When you think of the great goat milk cheese in Greece and Spain, those are produced in arid regions,” Wendy explains. “The great sheep and cow milk cheeses of France and Ireland and England, on the other hand, make you think of rich, lush grass covered hills.” In the summer, the Avalanche goats are out on pasture, grazing on native grasses and clovers plus a few legumes like sweet peas. Come winter, they are fed hay grown on the same land. Last season, the Avalanche crew milked 140

goats and this year they expect to have about 200 in their herd, which is Wendy’s perfect number. While each of the cheeses produced by Avalanche are unique expressions of the versatility of goat milk, it was the Cabra Blanca that caught our attention at a cheese tasting in San Francisco. Winner of a 2012 Good Food Award, the Cabra Blanca is an aged, semi-soft larger format cheese produced in 5 lb. wheels. It is styled on the original Ticklemore cheese, created by Robin Congdon at Ticklemore Dairy in Devon, South West England. In making the Cabra Blanca, culture is added to the milk, which is stirred only a few times before the curds are broken up by hand. The curds are salted and then thrown into ordinary colanders that Wendy purchased from City Market in Aspen. There is no pressing involved. Instead, the natural weight of the curds form the rounded shape of the finished wheel. The outer surface is also salted, and then the cheese is aged for three months. “It is almost like a cheese that some farmer invented,” Wendy says. “You make it in your kitchen using only a colander. Then you just throw it down in the basement for a few months until it’s ready to go.” The wheel itself has a beautiful chalk-colored exterior. The interior of the semi-soft cheese is filled with small holes that give it a lacy appearance when sliced. You pick up the beautiful flavors of the goat milk, grasses and clovers in tasting, but there is also a citrus note that balances out the flavor profile. Available in fine food stores and restaurants up and down Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley, plus a few shops in Denver, Des Moines, Salt Lake City and the San Francisco Bay Area.

stocking the pantry:

SAVORY BRUSSELS SPROUT RELISH Daniel and Ann Trudel, owners of Ann’s Raspberry Farm, located near Fredericktown, Ohio, specialize in growing just two crops: raspberries and Brussels sprouts. Daniel, a novice farmer who still works his day job as an economic geographer, grows and harvests the raspberries and sprouts himself and then Ann, a selftaught preserver, turns that hand harvested produce into a line of signature jams and pickles. Ann makes each jar of raspberry jam, Hungarian hot pepper mustard and savory Brussels sprout relish by hand, one small batch at a time. We first met the pair at this year’s Good Food Awards in San Francisco, where we instantly fell in love with their award-winning relish and knew it was destined to claim a permanent spot in the spenser pantry. “Part of what it means to be a farmer that also produces preserved products,” says Ann, “is that it makes a difference which variety of raspberry you grow for the jam and which peppers and onions you grow for the relish.” To us, that is what makes this product so special. Ann and Daniel go out of their way grow everything that goes into each jar, including the onions, peppers, garlic and mustard seeds. The savory relish has an earthy flavor that is perfectly balanced between the sweetness from the Brussels sprouts, the tartness from the vinegar and the gentle heat from the peppers and mustard.

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stocking the pantry: By growing their own produce, Ann and Daniel maintain total control over the finished product without having to hope that an outside vendor picked the ingredients at the right time or delivered them quickly to market. When Daniel picks the ripe Brussels sprouts in the morning, Ann preserves them that same day, at the peak of their freshness. Their farm, in the heart of Ohio’s Amish community, is certified naturally grown. While not certified organic, Ann and Daniel use organic practices to cultivate and harvest their crops. When they started their farm in 2007, the couple only planted two Brussels sprouts plants, primarily to satisfy Daniel’s craving to eat them alongside his steak. They planted more sprouts the following year, and they soon found themselves overflowing with volume. As a result of the successful crop yields, Ann created the relish recipe to preserve the season and introduce a new way for their dedicated customers to enjoy their sprouts. “One of my goals is to try to convert at least one person every day to fall in love with Brussels sprouts,” says Daniel. “A lot of people in this area don’t like Brussels sprouts. They always tell me that when they were a kid, they were given overcooked, frozen sprouts. I want educate them and, ultimately, turn them into customers.” Their message seems to be working. Last year they planted 1,000 Brussels sprouts plants on ½-acre of land. Whether fresh at the market or preserved in a jar, Ann and Daniel ended up selling every single sprout they grew. This year, their plan is to increase their production to somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 plants — wonderful news for relish lovers everywhere. “The Brussels sprout relish, much like the raspberry-based products, is taking us to a full time occupation. To be able to make a living on a farm is a tremendous reward,” Daniel says. “Hopefully we can be an inspiration to other folks in their 40’s, who are looking for a second career. If we are able to make it this far, a lot of other good people can do it too.” $10 for a 10-oz. jar. Available by retail in and around Fredericktown and Columbus, Ohio or online through FoodShed.

mar.apr 2012 | |


stocking the bar:

POK POK DRINKING VINEGARS photography by hilary kline

In its long and textured history, vinegar has served many purposes — used by some as a digestive aid, by others as a food preservative, an energizing drink, a cleaning agent, or a condiment, and most recently, as the latest trend in modern cocktail-crafting. Revered for their medicinal properties in many ancient cultures, vinegars were used by the Japanese Samurai, by soldiers of the Roman Empire, and by warriors of the Middle East for their energizing and health-promoting benefits. Colonial Americans used fruit vinegars, the natural liquid by-product of preserving their summer harvests in vinegar, as a flavorful tonic. Out of this tradition, shrubs were born: lightly sweetened, usually fruitbased vinegar beverages, which have seen a recent surge in popularity in the American craft-beverage community. Andy Ricker, chef and owner of Portland’s Pok Pok, Pok Pok Noi, and the Whiskey Soda Lounge (along with New York City’s new Pok Pok Wing), has received accolades far beyond the Pacific Northwest for his modern take on these tart, fruit-based vinegars. Far less acidic than their wine, rice, or cider-based peers, Andy’s drinking vinegars are added to mixed drinks, often with a natural sweetener like honey. This James Beard Award-winning Chef, who built his reputation on fish sauce chicken wings, now commands a huge and devoted following to his Thai street-food-inspired fare. Since 2005, visitors to Andy’s restaurants have been treated to his delicious drinking vinegars, mixed with soda water for a novel addition to the non-alcoholic beverage menu, or added undiluted to house cocktails. These drinks offer a mouth-puckeringly delicious trip off the beaten beverage path — and to the delight of fans spread far and wide, are now available retail. Pok Pok Som, Andy’s small line of house-made concentrated drinking vinegars, are made with carefully selected fruit and a base of cider, cane, or coconut vinegars. While Andy draws his inspiration from the flavor profiles and acidity of Asian drinking vinegars, he pulls his ingredients from close to home. “We use local produce as much as possible. Oregon has a great farm community, and we can source really nice berries, honey, fruit, and botanicals,” he explains. Sold in 16 oz. apothecary-style bottles, Pok Pok Som comes in Apple, Honey, Tamarind, and Pomegranate flavors. In the lengthy history of vinegars and their uses, this may be the best one yet — these vinegars simply taste really good, and for the many dedicated fans of Andy’s inspired new take on an old tradition, that’s all that matters. Pok Pok Som is available at Portland’s Pok Pok, Pok Pok Noi, Whiskey Soda Lounge, and at New York City’s Pok Pok Wing. Also available for purchase at, and at the websites for Gilt Taste and Mikuni Wild Harvest.

mar.apr 2012 | |


meredith's page: Bounty of Spring To me, spring is whimsy – things that make you & your guests or host/hostess smile. These are just a few items that get me smiling.

– Meredith

Chubby Wubby was an Owl:

My “go to” hostess gift - opens bottles, fits in your pocket & always makes you smile.

Image courtesy of Michelle Vaughan and 20x200.

High Street Market, $22

Speaking of Salty:

Oysters!!! Can’t say enough about them. With the help of these letterpress prints, it’s been said. 20 X 200, 11"x14'' and 15"x19"; prices from $60 unframed to $510 framed

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Braid My Bowl:

Love the mix of stoneware & porcelain. The bonus is it’s food, oven, and dishwasher safe. Jayson Home, $42

Preppy at th e Plate:

I’m a devotee of The Official Preppy Handbook, so these napkin rings make my inner prep so happy. Crate&Barrel, colors vary, $2.95 each

Salty Soap:

I started out using this soap in the kitchen, but it quickly moved to the shower. Topped with sea salt for a mild scrub, the soap has a great scent, is long lasting & “latherlicious.” New High Market, $6


in print.






spenser personalizing food & drink.


sugaring season in QueBeC

winter at

island creek oyster farm - martin picard

mastering the art of making tofu urban gardening made easy mar.apr 2012 | issue three


buy your printed copy of spenser on MagCloud

season's sweet:

BROWN BUTTER RHUBARB BARS photography by hilary kline

Michelle Wojtowicz, one of three co-owners of the Big Sur Bakery in Big Sur, Calif., loves rhubarb. She used to think that she was the only one who did, until she started making these bars and realized that if you surround it with brown butter, everyone loves rhubarb. There are a few homes in Big Sur with rhubarb patches, and when it comes into season, locals will bring bunches to Michelle as a treat. At this time of year, the Bakery still has blood oranges arriving at its doorstep, so Michelle combines them and makes a very grown-up bar. The blood oranges give the bars a vibrant red color, and their sweetness balances the tartness of the rhubarb, which in turn helps cut the richness of the buttery crust and filling. These bars are perfect for traveling long distances or packing in a picnic basket — the brown butter will keep them moist. And if your rhubarb is abundant, make extra filling and can it, so you can enjoy these bars all year ‘round. mar.apr 2012 | |


season's sweet:

Brown Butter Rhubarb Bars Recipe by Michelle Wojtowicz

Makes 1 dozen bars For the Rhubarb Jam 1 cup granulated sugar Grated zest and juice of 2 blood oranges ½ vanilla bean 4 rhubarb stalks, cut into ½-inch pieces For the Crust 1 cup unsalted butter ½ cup powdered sugar 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour For the Brown Butter Filling 3 eggs 1 ¼ cups granulated sugar Grated zest of 2 oranges ¾ cup + 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour ½ vanilla bean ½ cup + 2 tbsp. unsalted butter 1. To prepare the rhubarb jam: Place the sugar, blood orange zest, and juice in a medium saucepan. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise with a paring knife, scrape out the pulp with the back of the knife, put the pulp and the pod in the pan, and bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Continue cooking until the faintest bit of caramel color starts to appear around the edge of the pot. Add the rhubarb. Continue to cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the rhubarb turns into a smooth jam, 7 to 10 minutes. Transfer the jam (discarding the vanilla bean) to a separate dish to cool while you make the crust and filling. 2. Make the crust next: Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat, whisking frequently. Cook until the butter separates and the white milk solids start to brown and smell nutty, about 5 minutes. Pour the hot brown butter into a dry bowl and freeze until solid, about 30 minutes. Place the powdered sugar and flour in a bowl and mix to combine. Take out the frozen butter and cut it into small cubes. Mix the cubes into the flour mixture, using a pastry cutter to break up the butter until large crumbs start to form.

3. Work the crumbs together into a crumbly dough with both hands, and place it in a 9 X 13-inch baking dish. Press the dough firmly with the bottom of a glass to make sure that the crust evenly covers the entire bottom of the dish. Chill the crust in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. While the crust is chilling, adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 375°F. Bake the crust for 15 to 18 minutes until golden brown. Let it cool before assembling the bars. (Leave the oven on.) 4. While the crust is cooling, make the brown butter filling: Whisk together the eggs, sugar, orange zest, and flour in a medium bowl. Split and scrape the vanilla bean just as you did for the rhubarb jam, and put the pulp and the pod in a medium saucepan. Add the butter and melt over medium-high heat. Cook until the butter separates and the white milk solids start to brown and smell nutty. (Discard the vanilla bean.) Carefully add the warm brown butter to the egg mixture, whisking constantly until all the butter is incorporated. 5. To assemble the bars, spread half of the brown butter filling over the cooled baked crust. Spoon large dollops of the rhubarb jam over the filling, reserving a quarter of the jam. Spread the remaining brown butter filling of the rhubarb, and finish by spooning smaller dollops of the reserved jam randomly over the top. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the filling is deep golden brown. Remove the dish from the oven and let it cool completely. Cut into 3-inch squares and serve. NOTE: As the jam cooks it will splatter — we recommend wearing long sleeves to prevent burns. Reprinted with permission from The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook by Michelle Wojtowicz, Phillip Wojtowicz, Michael Gilson, & Catherine Price. Copyright © 2009. Published by William Morrow.

season's sweet:

mar.apr 2012 | |


season’s harvest: Fava Beans

photography by hilary kline

Fava beans are a classic indicator that spring has arrived. These shell beans aren’t as flashy as some spring vegetables like morels or ramps. And they aren’t as traditional as fresh peas or asparagus. But there is no denying that favas are delicious and loaded with fiber, protein, and very little fat. According to the Small Farm Center at the University of California-Davis, fava beans are one of the oldest cultivated plants known, extending back to prehistoric times. When shopping for favas, you should look for bean pods that are firm, fat and green. Because the season for farm fresh favas is short, we focus on tried and true preparations with classic ingredient pairings. That means taking a cue from acclaimed San Francisco chef Judy Rodgers, owner of Zuni Cafe. Judy mixes a traditional Tuscan pairing (favas and sheep’s milk) with a traditional Catalan pairing (favas and mint) when she serves favas in a simple Zuni appetizer salad with salami, manchego cheese and mint. We took Judy’s flavor combination and made it our own by melting pecorino fresco over a slice of toasted baguette and then topping it with fava bean purée and fresh mint.

Fava Bean Purée with Pecorino Fresco on Toast Serves 6 as an hors d’oeurvre 2 ½ pounds fresh fava beans, still in the pod ½ cup + ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil 1 clove garlic, thinly sliced 3 sprigs fresh thyme Zest and juice from 1 lemon Kosher salt Fresh ground black pepper 1 baguette ½ lb. pecorino fresco, cut into very thin slices 10 mint leaves, thinly sliced 1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. While the water is heating, remove the fava beans from their green pods and fill a large bowl with ice water. Add the beans to the boiling water and cook for 1 minute. Remove the beans from the pot and immediately place them in the prepared ice water. Once the beans are cool, drain them and remove the dark green inner beans from the pale shells. 2. Warm the olive oil in a medium sauté pan over low heat. Add the garlic, thyme and lemon zest to the pan and allow to infuse the warm oil for 1 minute. Add the fava beans and remove the pan from the heat. Stir the beans to coat them in the flavored oil. Pour the entire contents of the pan into a food processor and purée. The mixture should be completely smooth. If not, add more olive oil 1 tbsp. at a time until the mixture purées smooth. Add the lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. Taste the purée to check your seasoning. Set aside at room temperature. 3. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Slice the baguette into ¼-inch slices. Brush the slices with the remaining olive oil. Arrange the slices in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 5 minutes. Remove the sheet pan from the oven and preheat the broiler. Cover each slice of baguette with a slice of pecorino fresco. Return the sheet pan to the oven to melt the cheese under the broiler. 4. To serve, spoon a serving of the fava bean purée over each of the baguette slices. Garnish each fava bean toast with a few of the thin slices of mint. Serve while the bread is still warm.

season's harvest:

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butcher's block: Chorizo Verde

photography by hilary kline

It wasn’t until street food writer Bill Esparza turned us onto the authentic version of this fresh Mexican sausage more than two years ago that we learned chorizo verde could be more than industrial grade ground pork and green food coloring. We’ve seen plastic tubes of the imitation chorizo verde in markets in Los Angeles from time to time, but their coloring was so unnaturally green as to be instantly off putting. The real chorizo verde is a fresh sausage that comes from the Mexican city of Toluca, about an hour’s drive west of Mexico City on Carretera Federal 15. While there are as many recipes are there are chorizo makers, the sausage is typically made with some combination of serrano and poblano chiles, fresh spinach or chard, herbs, vinegar, and almonds or pumpkin seeds. Esparza notes that while the industrial versions lean too heavily on the salt and vinegar, hand made renditions find a balance between the pure taste of the meat and the vegetal notes of the herb and green chile mixture. "Chorizo is to Toluca what mole is to Oaxaca or Puebla, and chorizo verde represents a Mexican stamp on the sausage making tradition brought over from Spain,” Esparza says. “It's not well known outside of Mexico and some culinary circles, but within its borders it's a verdigris banner of Mexican gastronomy." Esparza helped us track down what has quickly become our favorite recipe for chorizo verde from Pablo Salas, chef and owner of Amaranta Restaurante in Toluca. Chef Salas, a native Toluqeno, is known for elevating scratch made ingredients that are more often found in street food, like chorizo or another traditional sausage called obispo, and presenting them in a refined setting with masterful technique. "Chef Salas has a unique and privileged place in the Mexican culinary scene as the leading advocate for the State of Mexico's formidable cuisine,” says Esparza. “There's substantial coverage on what's going on in Mexico City, but surrounding the capitol is one of the deepest cuisines in Mexico, that of Toluca, and the State of Mexico. Salas has translated the foods of the famous bus stop fondas of La Marquesa, and the stalls and stands of Toluca and Metepec through modern cuisine, while retaining a firmly rooted Mexican spirit and practice.”

Chorizo Verde in the Style of Toluca Adapted from a recipe by Pablo Salas Chef Salas’ recipe is unique in that it mixes beef with the more traditional pork filling. When preparing it for our own kitchen we use a high quality grass fed beef, finding that the grassy flavor of the meat marries perfectly with the rest of the greens in the sausage. Diana Kennedy, master of all things Mexican food, suggests that this type of chorizo should be eaten alone, with little adornment, in a taco or with white rice, to appreciate the entire flavor.

1 lb. ground beef 1 lb. ground pork shoulder ½ lb. ground pork fat ¼ cup black peppercorns ¼ cup allspice 2 whole cloves 2 tbsp. ground cumin 2 serrano peppers, stemmed and seeded 1 poblano pepper, stemmed and seeded 1 tightly packed cup Italian parsley 1 tightly packed cup cilantro 1 tightly packed cup fresh spinach ½ cup raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas) 2 tbsp. dried Mexican oregano 10 garlic cloves, peeled ½ cup distilled white vinegar 1 cup raw almonds, thinly sliced 1 ½ tbsp. kosher salt 7 feet of natural pork casings, approx, cut into 3 lengths 1. Using your hands, mix the ground beef, pork and pork fat together in a chilled bowl. Store meat in the refrigerator while you prepare the other ingredients. Set a dry sauté pan over medium heat and toast the peppercorns, allspice, and cloves. Shake the pan occasionally to ensure the spices toast evenly. Remove the spices from the pan, allow to cool to room temperature and then grind thoroughly. Mix in the ground cumin. 2. In a food processor, add the serrano and poblano peppers, parsley, cilantro, spinach, pumpkin seeds, oregano, garlic, vinegar and the toasted spice mixture. Pulse until a smooth puree is achieved. Add additional vinegar, one tbsp. at a time, if the mixture is too thick to purée. 3. Add the puréed herb mixture to the chilled meat, using your hands to mix until the meat reaches a uniform color. Add the sliced almonds and the salt and mix to incorporate. Pinch off a small piece of the prepared sausage mixture and fry the sausage in a small sauté pan. Taste and adjust the seasonings accordingly. Prepare and stuff the casings according to the instructions from the manufacturer of your sausage stuffer, making sure to tie both ends every 3 to 4 inches. Refrigerate until you are ready to use. NOTE: If you prefer a leaner sausage, substitute 1 lb. ground beef (85/15 blend) and 1½ lb. ground pork shoulder for the beef, pork and pork fat listed in the recipe.

butcher's block:

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Harvesting Oysters on the Winter Waters of Duxbury Bay STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY: HEIDI MURPHY


t was an atypical New England winter’s day with the thermometer just north of 40 degrees as I arrived at Island Creek Oysters (ICO) in Duxbury Harbor. The salt air was heavy and there was just enough of a sea breeze to sting the nose as I took in the stillness of the bay. I was met by their farm manager, Gardner Loring, born and bred in the seaside town of Duxbury, Mass. Like many members of the Island Creek family, Gardner chose a life of farming on the water after trying his hand in the corporate world. The allure of the ocean is strong and she has romanced many on the ICO team, Gardner included.

We walked to a shingled building that bordered the bay, across a blanket of crushed shells. The quietness of it all was interrupted as the door to the ICO offices opened and I was met with the cheer of a small army — the air was abuzz and their energy was infectious as they finished their lunch, family style. Within moments of my arrival, they disappeared back into the stillness. As I scanned the now empty space, my eyes fell upon “live a life worthy of respect and honor” printed on a sign that hangs on their walls. “The saying is what we aspire to culturally at Island Creek and is, believe it or not, official policy” says Chris Sherman, the company’s marketing director. Skip Bennett, the company’s founder, notes that Island Creek Oysters, one of the largest oyster growers in the U.S., was born of very humble beginnings and established on the principal that you can grow a world-class oyster and “have a damn good time doing it.” Having learned early on that life behind a desk was not for him, Skip was one of a core group of growers that created new lives for themselves working the bay fulltime as lobstermen or clam diggers, before turning to oyster farming in the early '90's. Oysters were, after all, one of Skip's favorite foods. "Like lighting a fire or driving a stick shift, shucking is a life skill that everyone should have,” says Skip, citing his personal philosophy on the business of oysters. “There's nothing better than standing over the kitchen sink opening oysters for a few good friends." In a day when farm-to-table has been become a gourmet cliché, ICO truly embodies, in this case, an oceanto-table experience. Oysters farmed today will eventually land on the tables of some of the best restaurants in the country, including the French Laundry. Responding to the demand, Island Creek now supplies upwards of 100,000 oysters per week to customers from coast-tocoast, and as far north as Canada. Their oysters have even graced the plates of the White House. In light of their monstrous growth within this niche market, ICO has still managed to maintain the feel of a family, from office staff, to drivers, to their growers. They eat two meals a day together, everyday, prepared by Legaya, who is also known as “Mummy”. This “family meal” is a way to build culture and community within ICO, organization-wide, says Chris. “It also provides a great opportunity to sample new oysters or mussels or any new product that comes in. We love it.” There is one species of oyster that grows naturally on the east coast, the crassostrea virginica, simply known as the East Coast Oyster. ICO’s “perfect” version of this oyster measures 3 inches with a deep round cup, has a briny start leading to buttery flavors with a sweet finish.

But not all oysters are created equally and just like a wine grape, the area from where an oyster is farmed dictates the nuance of flavor. “It's important to know your oyster farmer because what an oyster is, is totally determined by the specific spot on the earth on which it grows and by the person who grows it. It is an expression of that place and that person — change either one and you have a completely different product,” says Chris. Aside from each farmer’s technique, the flavors in these slow-growing bivalves are influenced by many factors including the salinity, the temperature, and the nutrients present in the water — also known as merroir, the “essence of the sea”. In addition to selling their own yield, ICO sells product from their close friends around Cape Cod and elsewhere, both through the website and directly to chefs. “Other farmers like selling to us because we're growers too, we get it — like one artist buying another's work. It works out for everyone — us, farmers, and chefs,” Chris says.

(From top) Gardner Loring (multi-colored hat) Mark Bouthillier (blue hat) & Will Heward (red hat) out on the oyster grounds at low tide; Will Heward in his Island Creek sweatshirt. Opposite Page (From top): Island Creek’s logo is modeled after the 3” ring used to size the “perfect” oyster; The inside of the Oysterplex, which is a small barge used to sort and size the oysters right on the water.

(From left) Mark Bouthillier stops to smile for the camera; Will, Mark, & Gardner motoring out to ICO’s oyster grounds. Opposite Page (Clockwise from top left): ICO’s oyster grounds are marked off by buoys that float on Duxbury Bay; Young oysters being moved from the nursery to the bottom of the bay floor; Younger oysters are stored in mesh bags that sit in cages organized in a staggered pattern of rows, allowing for maximum water and air flow.

By acting as the middlemen, ICO is able to offer an oyster flavor profile for every palate while supporting the local aquaculture. Not only is ICO producing a delicacy, but farming these oysters supports the local ecosystem. Oysters are what a marine scientist would refer to as a “keystone species,” an oceanic powerhouse that provides a natural habitat for small fish, crabs, and eels. Oysters are filter feeders and they clean the water as they feed, upwards of 30 gallons per day. Couple this with the fact that the methods used in farming have little or no bycatch and it becomes clear that ICO’s oyster operation helps keep Duxbury Bay a healthy one. ICO farms and harvests their oysters year round and this day was no exception. Unless the temperatures drop below 20 degrees, they’re out on the water daily. As the tide recedes, we head out on a skiff to the nursery —

me in waders and laden with photography equipment while rubbing shoulders with ICO veterans with 20 years of oyster farming experience between them along with a boatload of personal grit. “Oyster farming is a lifestyle, and very easy to fall in love with” says Erin Byers Murray, a hip thirty-something Bostonian, who was at a very successful point in her career but ready to escape her desk and the feeling of being “plugged in” at all times. All it took was one farm tour and Erin was hooked. “I was hungry for something that would allow me to work with my hands and get me out of my own head. The Farm was the perfect anecdote,” she says. She thought “how would my life be if I could do this, could I find my way if I left this corporate life?”

mar.apr 2012 | |


“There's nothing better than standing over the kitchen sink opening oysters for a few good friends."

(Clockwise from left, across both pages) Sets of waders hang on the wall, ready to go; About 1200 oyster seeds go into each mesh bag, the ends of which are secured with PVC pipe; ICO’s “perfect” oyster, freshly cleaned; The signature yellow plastic mesh sacks used to bag the oysters for sale.

Well, not only did Erin manage to find her way, her excursion as an oyster farmer led her to write Shucked: Life on a New England Oyster Farm, her memoir of the 18 months spent in and around water farming with ICO on Duxbury Bay. Erin’s story hits close to home for one of my boat mates, Will Heward. Will left a career in the sciences and has a dozen or so peer-reviewed publications under his belt along with a patent. But now, his job of choice is getting his hands dirty out on the tide along with the rest of the ICO crowd. And dirty is right. I tailed the guys with my lens as they trudged along the muddy bottom of the bay, pulling the boat through waist-high 45° waters as they went from cage to cage with the camaraderie of childhood friends.

In the summer months, the bay is filled with more than 1,000 of these cages which keep the adolescent oysters contained until they are about 6 months old. The young oysters are then scattered on the bay floor to live free-range until they are harvested, either by rake or handpicked at the lowest of tides. In the winter months, ICO uses a select number of cages to farm their oysters for easier access — New England winters don’t often provide the kindest conditions for dragging or harvesting by hand. The cages are staggered on acres of the bay floor for optimal water flow. Each cage is held afloat and houses 6 bags horizontally. They work as a team as the heavy bags of oysters are pulled from each cage, passed along between them, and then carefully layered in the boat. Broken shells are no good so the oysters are always handled with care. After their boat ride, the oysters are sorted, cleaned, and bagged and off to their final destination. Because the oysters are sealed in their own liquor, they will keep for a couple of weeks in a cool place, but most hit the dining table within 24 to 48 hours. Standing room only, and chilled to the bone and with tired legs, we head back across the bay with the skiff full of their day's harvest. The light was fading, the air now still, and the water like glass. I looked over at Will and asked him his favorite way to enjoy an oyster. He smiled and replied, “on the half shell, right out of the water, on a day just like today."

(From left, across both pages) The commercial dock on Duxbury Harbor, where ICO is located; Gardner Loring sorting oysters on the barge.

Island Creek Oyster Stew Recipe by Jeremy Sewall Serves 4 Sauce: 2 large shallots, sliced thin 1 clove garlic, smashed 2 sprigs thyme ½ cup dry white wine 2 cups heavy cream 2 tsp. lemon juice Salt and pepper to taste 1 tbsp. of canola oil Stew: ½ cup diced slab bacon 2 tbsp. water 1 small Spanish onion, diced small 1 leek, washed and sliced, white only 1 small celery root, peeled and diced small 1 medium carrot, peeled and diced small 1 medium Yukon gold potato, peeled diced and blanched 16 Island Creek oysters (or any good oyster), shucked and liquid saved 16 Italian parsley leaves Zest of 1 lemon Salt and pepper to taste 4 slices of brioche, 3 inches thick, lightly toasted 1. To make the broth: Heat the canola oil in a medium sauce pan. Add the shallots and garlic and sweat for three minutes but do not let brown. Add the wine and bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer until the wine is cooked down by half. Add the cream and thyme; continue to simmer until reduced by half. Remove from heat, strain through a fine mesh strainer, add lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper. 2. Add the water and bacon to a large sauté pan set over medium heat. Cook until the bacon is golden brown and crisp. Remove the bacon from the pan but leave 2 tbsps. of the bacon fat in the pan. Add the onion, leek, celery root, carrot and potato to the pan and sauté until they begin to lightly color, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from heat. Pour the broth into the pan with vegetable mixture, slowly raise the heat and let simmer for two minutes. Do not allow the broth to come to a full boil.

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3. Remove the stew from the heat and add the oysters with their liquid, lemon zest, parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper. Place the toasted brioche in four bowls and carefully spoon the oyster stew over the brioche and serve immediately.

Island Creek Oyster Sliders with Lime Aioli Recipe by Jeremy Sewall Makes 4 Sliders Pickled Onions: 1 red onion, sliced very thin ¼ cup white wine vinegar ¼ cup sugar Lime Aioli: 1 egg yolk 1 small clove garlic 1 tsp. Dijon mustard 2 tbsp. fresh lime juice ½ tsp. paprika 1 tbsp. kosher salt ¼ cup olive oil ½ cup canola oil Oysters: 4 Island Creek oysters (or any good oyster), large in size 1 egg, beaten ¼ cup flour ¼ cup bread crumbs 1 cup canola oil Salt and pepper to taste 4 very small brioche or similar rolls 2 tbsp. soft butter ¼ cup baby arugula or similar lettuce greens 1. To pickle the onions: Mix the sliced red onion with the sugar and vinegar and let sit at room temperature for about two hours until they change color and begin to wilt. Drain the onions from the liquid and keep cold until ready to use. 2. To make the lime aioli: Place the first six ingredients in a food processor and puree to combine. While the machine is on, slowly drizzle in both of the oils, until the mixture becomes emulsified. If the aioli becomes too thick add a little cold water to thin out the mixture and then continue with the rest of the oil. This can be made a day ahead. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use. 3. To fry the oysters: Shuck the oysters, being careful to keep from puncturing the oyster with your knife. Dredge each oyster in flour, shaking off any excess, then coat in the egg and then dredge in bread crumbs. Set aside on a cold plate while you bread the remaining oysters. Keep these breaded oysters cold until ready to use. 4. To finish the sliders: Heat the canola oil in a medium sauce pan until it reaches 325°F. Fry the bread-

ed oyster on both sides until golden brown. Carefully remove from the pan to a paper towel and immediately season with salt and pepper. In a sauté pan set over medium heat, melt the butter and lightly toast the inside of the rolls. On the bottom of each roll spread a layer of the aioli, then layer a few pickled onions, a few arugula leaves, the fried oyster and top with the brioche roll. Serve while the oyster is still warm.

Chef Jeremy Sewall at the Island Creek Oyster Bar in Boston.

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Skip’s Patriot Oysters Editor’s Note: Island Creek Oysters’ founder and owner Skip Bennett has spent his entire life in Duxbury (he grew up catching fish and bullfrogs in Island Creek). Although his oysters are served in intricate preparations at some of the best restaurants in the world (think the famous Oysters & Pearls at the French Laundry), his preference for the way to eat oysters remains true to his upbringing. If pressed, Skip will let you in on his secret that his favorite way to eat an Island Creek oyster is on the half shell with a few drops of green Tabasco and a splash of ice cold vodka.

Makes 36 oysters 3 dozen Island Creek oysters (or any good oyster), shucked and left on the half-shell 1 bottle of green Tabasco sauce 1 bottle of high quality vodka, ice cold 1. Plate 1 dozen oysters on the half shell, on platter with a bed of crushed ice. Add three drops of green Tabasco sauce and ¼ tsp. of the chilled vodka to each oyster. Repeat with the remaining oysters. Serve ice cold.


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A 150-year-old sugar maple tree is tapped at Gereli Farm.

Rethinking What it Means to Make Maple Syrup BY: MIKE DUNDAS PHOTOGRAPHY BY: DANA DOROBANTU


n 2009, The New York Times compared maple syrup production in Quebec to the production of oil by OPEC. With the region responsible for the production of 7.2 million gallons of the sweet syrup in 2010 alone — about 75 percent of the world’s supply — it was easy to see why.

The large federations that control the marketplace set price caps, manage marketing and regulate access to the world’s lucrative export market. Like OPEC, the federations even use a quota system to cap production levels in accordance with demand so that prices can be maintained at a fixed level. These actions have resulted in financial success, with an annual production of

more than $200 million dollars in each of the past few years. What wasn’t clear from the Times story is the fact that those same federations, in their effort to maximize the profitability of the sale of maple syrup, have commoditized the production of one of the world’s most extraordinary natural food products.

In economic terms, they have shifted the market from small, independent and differentiated producers — whose maple syrup was distinguishable based on sugar content, taste and flavor — to a commodity, sold in 55-gallon stainless steel barrels, and differentiated primarily by price at the marketplace. And they have done this despite having a virtual monopoly on worldwide production. There is a specific set of environmental conditions that must be present in order to actually produce maple syrup. First, you need sugar maple trees, which require a specific climate zone and a specific soil type to grow to the requisite size. Then you need consistent spring weather patterns that produce both freezing nights and warm days. The reality is that maple syrup can only be produced in a discrete corner of the world and Quebec just happens to be ground zero. Despite this competitive advantage, many local producers are forced to compete against each other on price and volume, with little effort made to highlight the historical intimacy of the finished product. Some small maple syrup producers have started to rebel. They are choosing not to sell their inventory to the federations and are, instead, selling direct to end users or discerning wholesalers. One such producer is Richard Semmelhaack, owner of Gereli Farm in Shefford, a 200-acre family farm purchased by his father in 1973 and located about an hour’s drive east of Montreal. Richard has made a name for himself in the local food community in recent years as a gentleman farmer who produces humanely raised, organic beef, lamb, and veal. If you take the snow covered road that runs between his property’s two old wooden barns, and turn past the snow covered fields where Richard’s cattle graze in summer, you will soon approach what appears to be a relatively new structure standing alone near the tree line. This is Richard’s sugar shack, a simple wooden building with a modest kitchen and living space heated only by a small wood stove. The shack houses a modern evaporator set over a wood-burning furnace, stores of seasoned firewood, large stainless tanks for holding the raw maple sap and little else. Richard has eschewed the guaranteed revenue that comes from selling his inventory to a federation and, instead, has partnered in this endeavor with Alex Cruz and Cyril Gonzales of Société-Orignal, a new distributor focusing on foods that highlight the pure expression of the region’s unique “boreal territory.” “By working with us, Richard is saying, ‘No! I am going to be a small farmer and I am going to take the responsibility on myself,’” says Alex. “It is a very tough decision to make by not selling to the guaranteed buyer when you have made investments in land and equipment. But this guy isn’t scared of anything.”

(Clockwise from left, across both pages) A snow covered road leads from the sugar shack to the farm’s natural forest filled with sugar maples; Richard Semmelhaack, the second-generation owner of Gereli Farm; Sunny, Gereli Farm’s official mascot.

Richard produces an average of only 200 gallons of syrup each season using sap drawn from 100- to 200-year old sugar maple trees that grow in a natural forest all over his property. Because maple leaves are very acidic, Richard says syrup produced from sugar maples that grow in natural forests filled with multiple tree varieties, including jack pines, balsam firs, birch trees and mountain ash, has less acidity than syrup produced on land intentionally planted only with maple trees. When the leaves fall from the trees, the acidity leaches into the soil as they decompose. This acidity eventually ends up back in the tree as it drinks in water from the soil. During sugaring season, when the sap is running, warmer temperatures during the daylight hours cause carbon dioxide stores in the sapwood to expand, creating pressure inside the tree. This pressure forces the maple sap to flow out of the tree through a tap hole. At night, when temperatures fall below freezing, the carbon dioxide contracts and a natural suction develops, drawing water and nutrients from the soil up into the tree. This new water replenishes the tree, allowing the sap to flow again when the temperatures warm the next day. Unlike most modern producers, which use vast networks of plastic vacuum tubing attached to suction pumps to the pull the sap out of the trees, Richard hangs metal buckets from his taps to collect the naturally flowing maple sap. This is a crucial decision for any maple syrup producer as the substantial increases in sap from using vacuum pressure directly benefits the bottom line. The collection of sap is typically considered the most costly and least profitable aspect of making syrup and suction systems can greatly increase yields.

“It is more work to use the more traditional buckets,” Richard says. “But I think it results in a better maple syrup. The tubes pull the sap out of the tree too quickly, before its ready.” Alex chimes in and questions whether those who use vacuum tubing systems remove too much of the trees’ carbohydrate reserves. To date, no published study has quantified the total amount of stored sugar in mature maples, but he believes that farmers shouldn’t be taking any risks. As a company, Société-Orignal, endeavors to have as light an impact on the land as possible. They spend a great deal of time searching out farmers who work with the terroir, instead of against it. Like Richard, they believe that natural agriculture is letting Mother Nature do its work, which is why, together, they went back to the old way of how maple syrup was originally produced. “Whenever we make any product, we ask ourselves, what is the human savoir faire,” Alex says. “A maple syrup should be an expression of its location, like Champagne. You should taste the difference between a syrup produced on Richard’s farm and a syrup produced down the road.” Société-Orignal’s maple cuvee, which they brand as “Remonte-Pente” or “Ski Lift,” comes from a selection of the season’s five best lots, based on blind taste testing. Their composition features darker syrup produced with near-end-of-season sap, which is higher in the natural flavor compounds, like magnesium, calcium and silica, responsible for that unique maple flavor. It is, quite plainly, maple syrup at its best. There is the obvious natural sweetness that is associated with maple. But that sugar is secondary to the flavors of caramel, vanilla, toffee, brown butter, toasted almond and the occasional wisp of maple smoke that comes from the open wood fire.

(Clockwise from left, across both pages) Richard raises HerefordAngus crossbred cattle without the use of hormones or antibiotics; A llama is kept on the farm to protect the lamb from predators; Richard’s organically raised lamb is sold to restaurants and at farmers markets in Montreal; Some of Richard’s farm equipment lies dormant in the winter.

Remonte-Pente is absolutely delicious on its own, and often poured, by Richard, from a re-purposed rum bottle right into the cupped hands of visiting guests. If you happen by the farm during lunchtime, expect to be treated to a heaping bowl spaghetti with meat sauce that has been hit with a good dose of syrup pulled right off of the fire. To make the syrup, the collected sap is pumped into large metal pans that line the inside of the wood-fired evaporator. Sitting directly on top of the fire, these pans allow the boiling syrup to circulate through the system until the desired density is achieved. This slow boil is more energy intensive, but Richard believes it concentrates the sugars without the use of reverse osmosis systems that strip out the flavor compounds unique to the specific property where the syrup is being produced. Focused on a “holistic approach” to the sugaring process, Richard fires his furnace using only dead wood from the same forest that provides his maple sap. As the sap is boiled off, the shack fills with a fog of fragrant steam that rises off of the pans and envelops the room. To make Remonte-Pente, the syrup is boiled until its reaches a sugar level of 70° brix, well beyond the industry standard for Quebec maple syrup, which is typically bottled at 66° brix. This extended evaporation allows the naturally occurring flavor compounds to concentrate without the use of synthetic additives or the need for aging in oak barrels.

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(Clockwise from left, across both pages) Richard uses more traditional taps and buckets to collect the maple sap, eschewing modern vacuum tubing systems; Maple wood, collected from fallen trees in the nearby forest, is destined for the furnace; Richard hand signs every bottle of Société-Orignal’s “Remonte Pente” maple syrup; Wood must be routinely added to the furnace to keep the maple evaporator up to temperature.

“A maple syrup should be an expression of its location, like Champagne. You should taste the difference between a syrup produced on Richard’s farm and a syrup produced down the road.”

To reach this higher brix level, Richard needs 56 gallons of maple sap to produce one gallon of his syrup. Compare that to the traditional ratio of 40 gallons of sap to 1 gallon of syrup and you can begin to see how special this product is and why it has won over the hearts and minds of some of the country’s best chefs. Remonte-Pente syrup is used in the kitchens at Daniel Boulud’s Daniel in New York, Matt Jennings’ Farmstead in Providence, and Michael Tusk’s Quince and Chris Cosentino’s Incanto, both in San Francisco. Back home in Montreal, however, not everybody is convinced. “Many people in Quebec don’t think it’s possible,” says Alex. “They see this as being an idea, a gimmick. When we go to Toronto or New York, people embrace us. When comparing two products they are considering for their restaurants, the chefs ask very specific questions about provenance and handling and sustainability. Here, in Quebec, too many chose between two products by simply comparing the price.” But that doesn’t mean Alex and Cyril aren’t fiercely loyal to their home and its potential for the future. They are so passionate about the work their local farmers and foragers are doing, they have even gone so far as to publish a manifesto, stating: We will accept nothing less than a fundamental shift in current agricultural norms. We aspire to participate in the vitality of a complete, North American nutrition that is close to nature and to farming families. Without dramatizing the strategic issues of our way of living, we don’t hesitate to show our colours. We collectively affirm our freedom of expression, the greatest wealth of Québécois society. Ultimately, whether Richard and Société-Orignal can affect change upon the way maple syrup is produced and sold in Quebec remains to be seen. They estimate that Quebec is 20 to 30 years behind the United States with respect to the widespread adoption of organic practices and focused sustainability. But they also recognize that sea change starts with a single wave. By letting a natural product like Remonte-Pente maple syrup speak for itself, they are willing to let people come to their own realization that the best product, the most natural product can be quintessentially Québécois.

SUGAR SHACK CULTURE Sugar shacks are to the Quebec countryside what clam shacks are to the New England coastline, seasonal, food-bound bastions of locality. They are rustic, family run eateries filled with locals and tourists alike who make once-yearly pilgrimages to satisfy both present day hungers and wistful memories of childhood. Decades ago, the life of a sugaring crew was filled with hard labor and little pay. The subsistence workers were rewarded for their efforts with nightly feasts comprised of simple Québécois dishes, like lentil soup with salt pork or syrup-soaked bread called maple trempette. Enterprising sugar shack operators eventually opened their dining rooms to the public and a springtime tradition was born. Most shack owners hew close to the line of tradition even today. Diners are often served the same dishes year in and year out, focusing on classics like pea soup, pork and baked beans, pancakes and, of course, maple syrup. These operators are, after all, maple syrup producers, not chefs, and they pay little attention to modern food trends. That changed in 2008 when Montreal chef Martin Picard purchased a sugar shack in the small village of Saint-Benoit de Mirabel. Having been born and raised in Quebec, Picard, owner of the highly acclaimed Au Pied de Cochon, espouses a deep and abiding love of the traditions of the sugar shack. But he also saw an opportunity to elevate the level of dining to restaurant quality. His idea was to take the traditional dishes and “raise them to the next level,” pushing the boundaries of tradition to provide new flavor combinations and taste experiences. This year, Picard’s fourth season running Cabane à sucre Au Pied de cochon, also marks the release of his new cookbook focused entirely on the production of maple syrup with recipes from his sugar shack. While food lovers and critics agree that Picard has elevated the experience of dining at a sugar shack, Picard himself is quick to point out that the shack has actually improved his own cooking. The shack provides the perfect laboratory in which to experiment with his “excessive tendencies.” “We bought the shack to work the maple syrup. If I did the same menu each season, it wouldn’t make sense,” says Picard. “I want to try. I want to make mistakes, you know. That’s why people are paying, why they are coming here to eat and if they don’t like something that is their problem. We want to please, but we also want to see how far we can push maple syrup as an ingredient.”

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(From top) Slicing the “smoked meat” that is to be served on top of an omelette souffle; A prep cook breads fresh water sturgeon for use in Martin Picard’s “sturgeon sushi” dish. Opposite Page: Chef Martin Picard, owner of Cabane à sucre Au Pied de cochon, takes a moment to enjoy a beer before the 2012 season’s first dinner service.

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(From top) House-cured hams hang in the sugar shack’s curing room; Whole pork bellies are smoked using maple wood. Opposite Page: Pickled and cured herring will be served this season with a potato pancake and maple crème fraiche.

Picard has created something special out in the woods west of Montreal. His sugar shack is redefining the entire tradition. He has elevated the cuisine while still maintaining the camaraderie that is essential to the authentic sugar shack experience, which explains why reservations for the entire 2012 season booked up in just a few hours. “Canadians, when they come here, its not like when they come to a restaurant, its more familiar, its genetic, they have no reservations about making themselves at home,” Picard says, standing in his sugar shack kitchen. “Here in Quebec, it is a different spirit. There is Christmas, Easter and St. Valentine’s and then there is the Sugar Shack. It is once a year and it is a very special time for people.” Cabane à sucre Au Pied de cochon, the cookbook, is printed in both English and French versions and is self-published. The 386page book offers more than 100 recipes by Martin Picard accompanied by 2,000 color photographs. It was released in Canada on March 1, 2012 and will be available in the United States in the Fall of 2012.

This season, his menu pairs proteins like pickled herring, freshwater sturgeon, foie gras, sweetbreads, pork belly and Montreal smoked meat with maple syrup that is produced in-house. And each meal served this season will be finished with a presentation of a half dozen different desserts created by pastry chef Gabrielle Rivard-Hiller meant to showcase the versatility of the maple. “Cooking with maple syrup, like we do in the book, is totally different because maple syrup does not react like white sugar. It’s like speaking French and speaking English. You cannot think in one language and speak the other. If you grew up speaking French, it takes time before you can think in English, speak in English and dream in English. Maple syrup needs that period of time to master.”

1. In a saucepan over medium-low heat, melt 4 tsp. of butter. Mix in the flour and cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Cook until the flour is light gold in color. Remove from the heat and gradually add the milk in a thin stream, whisking constantly. Add the nutmeg and season with salt and pepper to taste. Slowly bring to a boil and then cook over low heat for 1 minute. Set aside this béchemel to cool. 2. Cut the lobster meat into six equally sized pieces and set aside. Heat the chicken stock and 6 ½ tbsp. maple syrup over medium heat. Once the mixture is simmering, add the two reserved lobster claws. Spoon the liquid over the lobster claws continually until the liquid has almost evaporated and the lobster is well glazed, about 5 minutes. Set aside and keep warm. 3. In a saucepan set over medium-high heat, melt 6 tbsp. of butter and cook it until it starts to brown. Keep cooking until the butter takes on a hazelnut color and aroma. Remove from the heat and strain through a fine-mesh strainer. Whisk the remaining 2 tbsp. of maple syrup into the brown butter until emulsified. Set aside and keep warm.

Omelet Soufflé with Lobster & Smoked Meat Adapted from a Recipe by Martin Picard Serves 4 4 tsp. + 6 tbsp. unsalted butter 3 tbsp. flour 1 cup whole milk 1 pinch fresh grated nutmeg Salt Freshly ground black pepper ½ lb. cooked lobster meat (From one 1 ¾ lb. lobster, cooked 7 minutes in a large pot of salted boiling water and shelled; reserve the 2 shelled claws and the head for the final presentation) 6 ½ tbsp. chicken stock 6 ½ tbsp. + 2 tbsp. maple syrup 12 eggs, yolks and whites separated 1 tbsp. duck fat 1 lb. thinly sliced Montreal smoked meat, warmed (for recipe, go to

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4. Add enough of the béchemel sauce to the egg yolks to obtain the same volume as the egg whites. (The whites and the yolks with the béchemel should end up being about two cups each). Using a stand mixture on high speed, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. In a separate bowl, mix the egg yolks and béchemel until thoroughly incorporated. Gently fold the egg yolk mixture into the whipped egg whites. 5. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat and melt the duck fat. Pour two-thirds of the egg mixture into the hot skillet and scatter in the pieces of lobster meat. Pour on the remaining egg mixture and continue cooking over high heat for 15 to 30 seconds to sear the bottom of the omelet. 6. Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake until the omelet is golden and puffy, 10 to 15 minutes. When the omelet has risen completely, remove from the oven. Garnish with the lobster claws and the sliced smoked meat. Drizzle with the maple brown butter and decorate with the lobster head. Serve immediately or the omelet will start to fall.

Tourtière du Shack Adapted from a Recipe by Martin Picard Serves 6 to 8 ½ lb. cold unsalted butter 1 ²/³ cups all-purpose flour 1 pinch kosher salt ¹/³ cup cold water 2 tbsp. unsalted butter 1 medium yellow onion, chopped 1 clove garlic, chopped ¾ cup white button mushrooms, chopped ½ cup dry white wine 1 lb. ground pork 2 whole cloves, toasted and ground 1 pinch cinnamon 1 pig’s trotter, braised and deboned (See Note) 1 small potato, peeled and grated Salt and freshly ground black pepper ½ lb. braised pork shank meat, shredded (See Note) 1 egg yolk 1. Cut the ½ lb. of cold butter into ¾ inch cubes. Mix the butter, flour, and salt together with a pastry cutter or food processor. Some small pieces of butter about the size of a small green pea should remain in the flour mixture. They will help the pastry become flaky. Mix in the water and form a ball of dough, being careful not to overwork the pastry. Let it rest in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. 2. In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and sweat the onion and garlic. Cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook until the water released by the vegetables evaporates completely. Add the white wine and reduce until almost completely evaporated. 3. Add the ground pork and spices. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring to break up the meat. Add the trotter meat and grated potato. Cook another 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, taste, adjust the seasoning and set aside to cool. 4. Roll the pie dough into two 10-inch rounds and line an 8-inch pie plate with one of them. Fill with the ground meat mixture and the shredded pork shank meat. Cover with the other pasty round, crimping the edges. Brush the crust with the egg yolk. Cut steam holes in the top and refrigerate while the oven preheats to 400°F. 5. Bake the tourtière for 30 minutes. Then reduce the oven temperature to 350°F and bake for another 30 minutes. Remove the tourtière from the oven and allow to slightly cool for a few minutes and enjoy. The tourtière tastes great hot out of the oven or at room temperature. Note: Place the trotter and pork shank in a large pot with 1 head of garlic that has been sliced in half, 2 bay leaves, 10 whole black peppercorns, 1 cup dry white wine, and 1 quart of salted chicken stock. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a gentle simmer and cook for 3 hours until the meat is very tender. Remove the trotter and shank from the pot. Strain the braising liquid and freeze for another use. When the meat is cool enough to handle, removed the bones and shred the meat, reserving for use as directed in the recipe.

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Mini Maple Cones Adapted from a Recipe by Martin Picard Makes 24 cones Mini Cones 24 store-bought mini ice cream cones 1 ½ cups maple syrup 5 tsp. glucose syrup ¼ cup maple butter 1 Maple Marshmallow recipe (see below) ¾ lb. bittersweet chocolate (70% cacao) 1. Place the ice cream cones in an ice cream cone holder (or, in the alternative, a deep sided tray filled with rock salt). In a sauce pan over high heat, heat the maple and glucose syrups until the mixture reaches 240°F (116°C). Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool at room temperature. 2. While the taffy mixture is still pourable liquid, transfer to a container with a pour spout and then add about 1 scant tbsp. into each cone. Leave enough room in the cones for the taffy to be covered with maple butter. Let the taffy cool to room temperature. Top each cone with ½ tsp. maple butter. 3. Fill a pastry bag (with a No. 4 plain tip) with the maple marshmallow. Pipe 2 mounds of marshmallow onto each cone, so that the cones look like they’re filled with soft-serve ice cream. Let the marshmallow set at room temperature, about 30 minutes. 4. Melt the chocolate in a glass bowl using a microwave and then allow to cool slightly. Dip the tops of ½ of the cones in the chocolate, completely covering the marshmallow. Let any excess chocolate drip back into the bowl. Return the cones to the rack (or rock salt) until the chocolate hardens. The cones are best on the day they are made, but they will keep for 1 week at room temperature in an airtight container. Note: The remaining marshmallow can be set in a small pan lined with parchment paper. Let cool for at least 1 hour at room temperature until firm enough to unmold. Sprinkle the marshmallow with equal parts icing sugar and cornstarch, making it easier to handle and cut. Cut the marshmallow into 1 ¾-inch squares, then roll them in the icing sugar and cornstarch mixture, shaking off the excess.

Maple Marshmallow 4 egg whites 2 ¾ cups maple syrup 10 sheets gelatin, softened in cold water and drained well 1. Pour ¾ cup of the maple syrup into a medium saucepan and the remaining 2 cups into another. In the first saucepan (with ¾ cup syrup), bring the syrup to a boil, then remove it from the burner. Drop the gelatin sheets into the syrup and stir with a heatproof spatula until they are dissolved. Set aside. 2. In the second saucepan (with 2 cups syrup), heat the syrup until it reaches 266°F (130°C). As the syrup passes 257°F (125°C), pour the egg whites into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat until they form soft peaks. When the syrup comes to temperature, remove the saucepan from the heat. With the stand mixer running at medium speed, add the syrup in a thin stream into the whipped egg whites being very careful as the hot syrup can cause dangerous burns. 3. Once the syrup is fully incorporated into the egg whites, add the maple gelatin mixture in a thin stream. Continue running the mixer at medium speed until the meringue increases in volume and again forms soft peaks, about 5 or 10 minutes. Set aside until the mixture is cool enough for handling in a pastry bag. Work quickly from here, before the marshmallow sets.

PDC Breakfast Sandwich Adapted from a Recipe by Martin Picard Serves 4 Sandwich 4 tsp. vegetable oil 4 Breakfast Sausage Patties 8 slices Oka cheese (or Port Salut or Emmentaler) 4 English Muffins 4 tsp. unsalted butter 4 Eggs Cooked in Maple Syrup Salt and pepper Breakfast Sausage Patties ¾ lb. pork shoulder, cut into 1 inch cubes ¾ lb. fresh pork belly, cut into 1 inch cubes 2 ½ tbsp. maple syrup ½ tsp. sea salt ½ tsp. fresh ground black pepper 1 tsp. finely chopped fresh sage 1 tsp. finely chopped fresh thyme 1 tsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary Pinch of grated nutmeg Pinch of cayenne pepper Pinch of crushed red chile flakes English Muffins 1 ½ tsp. dry yeast 1 ½ cups whole milk, warmed to 100°F (38°C) 2 cups all-purpose flour 1 tbsp. salt 1 tbsp. granulated sugar 1 tbsp. melted unsalted butter 1 cup cornmeal + four 4-inch metal cookie cutters Eggs Cooked in Maple Syrup 4 eggs ½ cup maple syrup Salt and pepper to taste 1. For the breakfast sausage patties: In a bowl, mix together all of the ingredients so that they are evenly distributed around the meat. Transfer the meat mixture to a large plastic freezer bag, pressing out all of the air before sealing. Refrigerate overnight. 2. About 30 minutes before you are ready to grind the sausage, add the ¼-inch dye and blades from your meat grinder to the freezer to insure that they are well chilled. Run the chilled meat mixture through the grinder two times. Cover and refrigerate the meat for 2 hours. Shape four 5 oz. patties using a 4.5 inch ring mold (or using your hands). Lay the formed patties on a sheet of parchment paper. Refrigerate while you make the muffins.

3. For the English muffins: In a bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm milk and let proof, undisturbed, for 2 minutes. Combine the flour, salt and sugar in a bowl. And the milk and the yeast mixture to the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until a soft dough forms. Cover the bowl with a clean dish towel and let rise for 30 to 40 minutes at room temperature (should be in a warm place in your house). 4. Brush a sheet of parchment paper with half of the melted butter. Shape four 3 oz. balls of dough by hand. To make it easier to shape the sticky dough, lightly coat your hands with a neutral oil, like grapeseed or canola. Set the shaped muffin dough on the parchment paper. Brush the tops of the dough with the remaining melted butter. 5. Heat a skillet over low heat. Cover the bottom of the skillet with the cornmeal and place four 4-inch round metal cookie cutters in the skillet. Place a ball of dough in the center of each cookie cutter and press down gently to fill the mold. Cook for 10 minutes then carefully turn each of the English muffins and cookie cutters as units. Cook for another 10 minutes. When the English muffins are cooked, they will be puffed up and airy and the interior should be full of holes. Set aside. 6. For the eggs cooked in maple syrup: Bring the syrup to a simmer in a small non-stick or cast iron skillet. Reduce the heat to low, carefully crack 1 egg, and add to the simmering syrup. When the white has set, but the yolk is still runny, use a slotted spatula to move the egg onto a warm plate. Season the top of the egg lightly with salt and pepper. Repeat with the remaining eggs. Set aside in a warm place. 7. For the final assembly: In a skillet or on a griddle, fry the sausage patties for 5 minutes over medium heat. Turn the patties and top each with 2 slices of cheese. Let the cheese melt while cooking 5 minutes more, until nicely browned. While the sausage patties are cooking, slice the English muffins in half, toast and butter them. Top the toasted English muffin bottoms with the cheesy sausage patties and then the eggs. Top the sandwiches with the remaining muffin pieces and enjoy.

Image courtesy of Marie-Claude St-Pierre

Maple Daiquiri Adapted from a Recipe by Martin Picard Editor’s Note: This recipe may read like there is too much maple and lime, but the two ingredients balance each other out perfectly, creating a delicious cocktail that works with or without the espuma. Although written to make one drink, Martin suggests quadrupling the recipe and sharing with friends.

Makes 1 Cocktail ½ cup ice cubes (to chill the glass) 1 cup crushed ice (for the cocktail) 2 dashes Angostura bitters 1 ¾ oz. fresh squeezed lime juice 1 ¾ oz. maple syrup 2 oz. dark rum 1 oz. maple espuma (recipe below) 1. Place the ice cubes and a splash of water into a daiquiri glass and let chill while you make the cocktail. In a blender, combine the crushed ice, bitters, lime juice, and maple syrup. Blend for 15 seconds on medium speed. Add the dark rum and continue blending on medium for another 30 seconds.

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2. To finish, blend at high speed for 10 seconds to make the daiquiri frothy before serving. Do not mix at high speed for any longer or you will melt the ice and make the cocktail too watery. Discard the ice chilling in the glass and pour in the cocktail. Garnish with a layer of the maple espuma and serve immediately. Maple Espuma Makes enough for 10 cocktails 6 egg whites ¼ cup maple syrup 1 tbsp. fresh squeezed lime juice Pour the espuma ingredients into a whipped cream canister. Close the cover and pressurize the dispenser by inserting 2 chargers. Refrigerate the dispenser for 30 minutes before preparing the daiquiri.

Daiquiri images courtesy of Marie-Claude St-Pierre


socializing. @spensermag


ave a conversation with Jimmy Williams, and the

talk will inevitably lead toward the same subject. “It’s all about the soil!” Jimmy exclaimed in front of his stall at the Hollywood Farmers’ Market, as I casually mentioned on a past visit some of the toils I’ve had growing cilantro in my backyard garden.

“Feed the soil, not the plants,” Williams said, repeating advice he often gives to clients of his burgeoning family business, HayGround Organic Gardening, which he runs with son Logan. “Take good care of the soil, and the soil will take care of everything.” 80 | | mar.apr 2012 

TAKING ROOT a Los Angeles urban farmer and garden designer shares his secrets on growing your own vegetables. STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY: RICK POON

Scenes from the HayGround nursery in Los Angeles, CA.

If you’ve ever taken a bite of an heirloom tomato still warm from the summer sun, nibbled on candy-sweet snow peas pinched straight from the vine, or taken mere steps to your backyard for a few sprigs of basil or thyme, you already know the allure of growing your own produce at home. I’ve long dabbled with a semi-green thumb, at times tasting the sweet rewards of a bountiful season but more often than not, deterred by failure or lackluster results. With Jimmy’s words still resonating and the peak growing season quickly approaching, I decided to see if he could help improve my odds this time around. I caught up with Williams at his nursery, a small urban lot tucked into the maze-like hills of Los Angeles’ Silverlake neighborhood. On this unseasonably warm winter afternoon, it’s just another typical day for Williams, which is to say, not very typical. Every day is different he claims, and today Jimmy has just returned from servicing one of his many client gardens — he and his crew are now preparing for the next of three farmers’

markets where HayGround sells their organic seedlings. The younger Williams, Logan, is loading flats destined for the Santa Monica Saturday market into the spruce-green van parked out front as I squeeze through the entrance into the nursery. “Busy!” Jimmy answers when I ask him how things are. Williams has the hose on and is passing a gentle shower of water over each and every plant in the sun-drenched side of the lot. “There is no set schedule,” Jimmy explains when asked if this was the usual activity this time of day. “The plants will tell you when you they need water. If it’s dry, give it water it. If it’s damp, don’t. Simple as that.” It’s this matter-of-fact approach to gardening that not only makes Jimmy instantly approachable, but so convincing as well. Williams earned his green thumb at the early age of four, helping his grandmother Eloise in the garden.

“We didn’t have a choice back then. You either worked in the garden or slept in the compost pile,” chuckles Jimmy. Unlike most of his twelve siblings, young Jimmy instantly took to the garden and enjoyed the hard work, empowerment, and sense of accomplishment that came with the fruits of his labor. After a successful stint in the sportswear fashion industry, Williams returned to his first true love and began cultivating a new career growing vegetables. His company quickly took off, and has since become a mainstay of the Hollywood and Santa Monica farmers markets. Many of his loyal customers have also tapped Williams to design their own gardens, including many area chefs that frequent the markets for ingredients to use in their restaurants.

SOIL BOOSTERS AND WHAT THEY DO Alfalfa Meal: adds small amounts of needed nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, and trace minerals; conditions soil; and stimulates beneficial soil organisms. Fishbone Meal: great source of the phosphorus and calcium plants need. Greensand: this is sand mined from marine deposits millions of years old. Rich in trace elements and minerals, especially slow-release potassium, it's a good soil conditioner and stimulates beneficial soil microbes that make nutrients available to plants. Low-nitrogen bat guano: very effective organic fertilizer; fast acting; natural source of nutrients. Oyster shell lime: adjusts soil pH; conditions and loosens soil; add micronutrients; promotes strong root growth. Soft rock phosphate: adds phosphorus, calcium trace minerals.

Jimmy mixes up a blend of these soil boosters and digs them into the soil of his planting beds. The formula he uses (4 cups of fishbone meal; 2 cups of greensand; and 6 cups each of oyster shell lime, soft rock phosphate, alfalfa meal, and low-nitrogen bat guano) makes enough for a 4'-by-6' backyard space or planting box. Working this mixture into your soil will draw hungry creatures - including aerating, oxygenating earthworms - who will get to work making plant food. If you can't find these boosters locally, try Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply. Soil Booster image courtesy of Eric Staudenmaier

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(Clockwise from left, across both pages) Jimmy Williams, with his son Logan, at the HayGround nursery; Bins scattered around the nursery are used to make worm & compost “tea”; At HayGround, all gardening starts with the soil; Jimmy working at his nursery; Raised potting beds are used to grow vegetables around the property; Planting rainbow chard at a client’s home.

In the wake of renewed interest in sustainability and peoples’ desire to get in touch with the food they eat, Jimmy has also recently released his first book, From Seed to Skillet, which lays down the steps to a successful garden and shares some timehonored family recipes to boot. As I strolled down the narrow pathways between rows crammed full of delicate seedlings, I was overwhelmed by the selection Williams is readying for market. The mild Southern California climate allows us to grow many things year round, and right now the nursery is dominated with romaine, arugula, collards, chard, spinach, and kale, a wide variety of herbs, and the first of the season’s tomatoes. When I fish for ideas on what to grow, Jimmy tells me, “Try not to make it too complicated — a lot of people do. First figure what you like to eat and start with that. For example, most people eat salad, so start with lettuce. Lettuce is easy: they’re fast and germinate in 10 days.” Williams suggests planting a mix of fast growing vegetables like carrots and beets

and longer producing ones like tomatoes and peppers. His other favorites are eggplant, okra, kale, and squash, and mentions that oft-used herbs are good choices as well. Beans and peas are great for those with limited space, as they can be grown vertically and are quite prolific. “You don’t want to fail doing it, so start with something simple that you know you can do and that you’re going to eat,” Jimmy adds. The subject quickly turns to composting and Jimmy eagerly beckons me to follow him to a shady corner of the nursery.

“You’ve got to see this. It’s the best thing you can do for your plants,” Williams says as he pries open the lid to his worm bin, a barrel-shaped stack of round trays full of discarded plant matter and scraps from the yard. The top compartment is rich and dark — most of the material has already been broken down and processed by the worms, leaving behind valuable castings. According to Jimmy, the worm castings are chock full of nutrients, beneficial bacteria, and microbes, and are great additives to the soil. “The best thing from worm composting is that you get the tea,” he says. Williams opens the spigot attached to the bottom tub, releasing the ‘black gold’ into the bucket below. Diluted with water 5 to 1, the worm tea is great for ‘foliar feeding’ or spraying directly on the leaves, as nutrients are often absorbed more efficiently through the leaves than the roots. Another benefit from this method of feeding is the increased resistance to pests and diseases.

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(Clockwise from top) Jimmy helped Heirloom LA, a Los Angeles-based caterer, build planting boxes in the driveway outside their kitchen; Heirloom LA will use a new open pit compost bin to turn kitchen scraps into new soil; Matthew Poley, chef and co-owner of Heirloom LA, checks his new garden. Opposite Page: Potting beds that Jimmy built for a client’s garden in Pasadena, CA.

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“It also increases the brix or sugar levels in the plant, making edibles sweeter,” Jimmy reveals. A few days later I tag along as Jimmy and his assistant Ruth head out to put the finishing touches to a recent project for a new client. As owners of the widely popular farm-to-plate catering company Heirloom LA, Matt Poley and Tara Maxey commissioned HayGround to help them build a vegetable garden in the back parking lot of their commercial kitchen in nearby Eagle Rock. Since they don’t own the property, the only option was to build self-contained planting boxes that sit on top of the asphalt. Their landlord was kind enough to let them dig up a portion of the perimeter to plant additional items like tomatoes, blueberries, collard green trees, and citrus trees. Taller growing plants and passion-fruit vines were strategically placed against the unsightly chain-link fence, with the hopes of providing a natural ‘green’ screen from their neighbors in the near future. There’s even a large open pit built into the ground for composting, a vital addition in helping Heirloom divert a substantial amount of kitchen scraps that would otherwise go to the landfill. Since their business relies on close relationships with local farmers and suppliers, it just made sense for Matt and Tara to learn more about the produce they were using.

“We’re really excited,” Matt tells me. “The garden obviously won’t be able to supply us with enough produce for our everyday catering needs, but it allows us to grow fun and unique varieties to supplement our business, and we’ll also be using the stuff we grow in the weekly dinners at our tasting room, the Salon.” As if I’m not already convinced from seeing Heirloom LA’s urban garden, Jimmy reiterates the point of how accessible having your own garden can be. “You see, you can grow anywhere, if you pay attention to the number one thing, and that’s soil,” says Williams. “You really have to put your focus on the soil. It makes an amazing difference.” Whether it’s a raised bed, half wine barrel, or a large pot, soil is key. For containers and raised beds, Williams recommends a good quality, organic potting soil. “Buy the most expensive soil, don’t buy the cheap soil. There’s a reason why it’s more money,” he says. He also likes to mix in alfalfa meal and bone meal, which adds vital nutrients to the new potting soil. For a garden in the ground, Jimmy suggests mixing planting compost with the existing dirt or soil in a 50-50 ratio, and enriching the bed with his soil booster, HayGround fertilizer blend (see pg 83). To keep the plants happy and well fed, it’s important to amend the soil with the same fertilizer after a month, or when switching from one crop to the next. After a hop on the freeway and a quick tenminute drive, we arrive at the Pasadena residence of Sharon Kelly so Jimmy can take a few measurements for a new planting box. I tag along to I get a peek of one of his more elaborate projects. “You’re going to love this garden, it’s just amazing,” Williams remarks as we pass through the gates that leads down to the oneacre property. Nestled within towering eucalyptus and mature black oak is a spectacular formal garden brimming with towers of fava beans, bushy black kale, collard greens, Brussels sprouts, fennel, and a variety of lettuces. The verdant displays are punctuated by blushing ornamental cabbage and flowering broccoli. Towards the back of the yard, flanked by rows of citrus, work is underway on an industrial-size

Each of its sides is two boards high; each board is bolted at the end to a thick, square corner post; each long side is further stabilized at its midpoint with an additional lumberyard for supplies.

~ Jimmy Williams

F O U R 2 ” X 1 2 ” X 6 ’ B OA R D S

T WO 2 ” X 6 ” X 5 2 ” B OA R D S

F O U R 2 ” X 1 2 ” X 4 ’ B OA R D S

T WO 2 ” X 6 ” X 7 3 ” B OA R D S

F O U R 4 ” X 4 ” X 2 4 ” CO R N E R P O S TS

S I X T E E N 4 1 ⁄ 2 ” G A LVA N I Z E D D E C K S C R E W S ( F O R CO R N E R S )

T WO 2 ” X 4 ” X 2 4 ” S TA B I L I Z I N G S I D E P O S TS , C U T TO A P O I N T

F O U R 3 1 ⁄ 2 ” G A LVA N I Z E D D E C K S C R E W S ( F O R LO N G S I D E S )

F O RT Y- E I G H T 4 1 ⁄ 2 ” G A LVA N I Z E D D E C K S C R E W S ( F O R CO R N E R S ) T E N 3 1 ⁄ 2 ” G A LVA N I Z E D D E C K S C R E W S ( F O R LO N G S I D E S )

STEP 1. PREPPING THE GROUND Even a raised bed, which you will initially load with excellent potting soil, requires some ground-level preparation. Because the roots of many edibles run deep, you want to make sure they meet good, loose soil even below the bed. Still, since the will travel through at least 18 inches of the potting soil to get there, you only need to dig down an additional foot (which gives roots 21⁄2 feet of total depth) to break up your ground, using a shovel or pickax. When the soil is loose, add 5 pounds of granular gypsum, a mineral compound that further opens up the soil, and 5 bags (about 11⁄2 cubic feet, and about 20 pounds each, depending on the brand) of organiz compost. Shovel and mix these together evenly, then soak the whole mixture thoroughly with a hose.

STEP 2. BUILDING YOUR FRAME Pick an outdoor spot, separate from where you’ve prepped your bed, where you have room to spread out. Measure and mark each board end to indicate where 3 evenly spaced screws will attach the board to a corner post, and pre-drill the holes. Line up the boards with the posts, one by one, and attach them with the screws until your frame is complete.

STEP 3. PLACING THE BED Fit the garden bed frame over the prepared plot, then work a shovel gently around it from both sides, so that the frame settles firmly into the soil, leaving about 18 inches above the ground. Add the trabilizing posts at the midway point on each long side (on the inside of the frame), use a mallet to pound them in (to about 3 inches below the top of the frame), and attache the side boards to them, using 5 screws per post.

STEP 4. CAPPING IT OFF After using a level to make sure all sides are the same height, top the bed off with your flat, 2-inch-thick seating cap, and scre its mitered corners from the top into the corner posts. Secure each side with an additional screw.

STEP 5. FINISHING UP Fill the frame to the top with potting soil and plants. If you plan to use drip irrigation, leave 4 to 6 inches of space between the soil and the top of the bed, so you can lay in drip tubes before the bed is full.

Pgs. 88-90 reprinted from From Seed to Skillet by Jimmy Williams and Susan Heeger. Copyright © 2010. Published by Chronicle Books.

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(Clockwise from top left) Flowering broccoli grows in the garden; Sharon Kelly, one of Jimmy’s clients, cans whole heirloom tomatoes that she grows in her garden; Sharon tastes a broccoli flower while standing in her Pasadena garden.

tomato plot that will supply the household with an endless amount of summer fruit. “We rarely ever buy anything from the grocery store, most of everything we eat comes from the garden,” Sharon tells me. She’s also an avid canner; a lot of the surplus goes into her pantry to be enjoyed throughout the year. “I have watermelon rind pickles, pickled peaches, jars of Jimmy’s tomato sauce that’s from his book,” she says with a grin. The rest of the bounty Sharon shares with family and friends. “That’s exactly how it used to be,” Jimmy says. “People used to grow their own vegetables and they shared them with their neighbors. There was community.” Community indeed. My inspiration now increased tenfold, I’m already tasting the tomatoes from my own garden and wondering who I should share them with first.

mar.apr 2012 | |


Rent or Food? In San Francisco and Marin, 1 in 5 people are forced to choose daily.

Give them another choice.



Tofu Master

The dried, organic soybeans that will soon be turned into tofu.

Behind the Scenes at Hodo Soy Beanery

by julie wolfson

94 | | mar.apr 2012 

路 photography by danielle tsi


rom a young age growing up in Ho Chi Minh City, Minh Tsai remembers venturing out in the early morning with his grandfather. They would often stop at his grandfather’s favorite roadside tofu hut to buy cubes of freshly made tofu and steaming hot soymilk. By lunchtime, he would be off to the street markets with his grandmother, absorbing everything she was telling him about how to shop for the best fruits, vegetables, and proteins. Occasionally able to get outside the big city, Tsai fondly recalls the time he spent visiting family friends’ orchards in Tay Ninh and Chau Doc. This passion for the natural world and desire to source out the best ingredients has stuck with him to this day. It’s what eventually led him to leave his job in finance to create a haven for tofu called Hodo Soy Beanery in Oakland, Calif. Tsai’s childhood love of tofu has blossomed into a thriving craft tofu business. His factory sits among the many organic food sellers, chocolatiers, and handmade-food entrepreneurs that are doing a brisk business in the East Bay. “Oakland is amazing,” Tsai says. “There is a whole food trail. There’s a map that the Oakland development group has put together.”

HODO PRODUCTS Hodo: The name comes from the Mandarin word hao de meaning “good” or “noble” and do from dofu meaning “bean.” Tofu: Hodo makes silken with a custard texture made with only organic soybeans, filtered water, and calcium sulfate. Their medium firm blocks are best for stir-fries, scrambles, and adding cubes to soup. The flavorful firm tofu comes with braised and tea-infused options. Soymilk: Hodo soymilk is made from only fresh soybeans and filtered water and is offered unsweetened, or sweetened with agave nectar. Yuba: Also known as tofu skin, this delicately textured tofu is handmade from the solids that form at the top of heated soymilk in the yuba pans. Hodo also makes creamy rich nama yuba —young yuba — that has a texture similar to burrata cheese. Hodo tofu products are currently available in more than 75 Northern California grocery stores, as well as seven farmers markets and more than 20 restaurants.

(Bottom Center Photo) Minh Tsai, the owner and tofu master at Hodo Soy Beanery. (Other photos across both pages) Yuba noodles being made.

Remembering all that his grandparents taught him, Tsai makes a point of offering factory tours and tofu making classes. He participates in countless food events around the state all in pursuit of his goal of teaching people how good quality tofu should look and taste. At the end of a long workday, Tsai heads home to his own family to share his passion for food with the next generation. His young sons Mateo, 5, and Hugo, 4, watch him help a friend clean 10 pounds of fresh herring or sell Hodo tofu at one of seven farmers markets throughout Northern California. They may be too young to understand that their father has become one of the leaders of the thriving local food community in the Bay Area, but they have shown they love to eat and spend time with their dad at the market. Eight years ago when Tsai began making tofu, he thought of it not only as an artistic endeavor but also a scientific one. He carefully controls the ingredients, equipment, and temperature; he buys soybeans directly from an organic farm and a farmers’ cooperative in the Dakotas and Illinois; at one point, Tsai even tried to grow soybeans in California. “You can grow pretty much anything here, but to grow organic soybeans, you need a lot of land,” Tsai says. “Organic soybeans attract a ton of pests here, and the yield is low.” So the Hodo beans travel to Northern California by train, which is why Tsai and many of his staff wear their signature Hodo train cap. The tofu making process starts by soaking glistening, golden, non-GMO, organically grown soybeans overnight. The beans are then ground into a slurry and pumped into the cooking tank, and heated to almost 300°F. This cooking method breaks up the proteins to make them more easily digestible. The cooked slurry transfers through two separators to pull the pulp from the soymilk. Tsai gives the leftover pulp — certified organic okara — to organic hog and goat farmers for feed. At Hodo, their pharmaceutical-grade steam system ensures that the soymilk that comes out is creamy, buttery, and above all clean. The delicate nutty smell of the steam induces an almost dream-like state. “The milk is the foundation for everything we make at Hodo,” Tsai says, pointing to the tank. The soymilk gets pumped into a coagulation unit where calcium sulfate is added to get the milk to curd. The curd is then broken up and poured

(From top) A Hodo worker wraps fresh bean curd in cloth so that it can be pressed into the more familiar tofu block shape; Sheets of tofu skin are hung to cool on racks above the heated soy milk. Opposite Page: Each sheet of tofu skin, or yuba noodle, is hand folded after cooling.

“I was at a point in my life where I was seeking change,” Tsai says.“It’s a leap of faith. I’ve learned to produce a food that I believe in.”

mar.apr 2012 | |


(Across both pages) Hodo workers in the process of forming and cutting blocks of soft and firm tofu at Hodo Soy Beanery.

“This is truly a labor of love,” Tsai says. “Rolando will do this all day long. It is so Zen to do that. It’s repetitive. And the steam is good for your complexion.” At Hodo, they hand-make yuba with the same set of steps that have been used for thousands of years. In Japan and China they have spent millions of dollars trying to mechanize the process, but have not succeeded.

into molds, shaped, and pressed to the desired texture. Weights are added to achieve the correct firmness, and the finished tofu is then carefully cut into cubes. In addition to silken tofu, medium and firm cubes, Hodo has become known for their fresh yuba, also known as tofu skin. The Hodo team makes fresh yuba everyday by hand. Thin, transparent sheets of the tofu skin are gently picked up from pans of hot soymilk and laid across a rack to cool. Each one is then carefully hand-folded like a tiny bed sheet. The yuba can be cut into noodle-like strips, used as a wrap, or incorporated into a myriad of recipes. Tsai also recommends enjoying yuba in its original form, something he likes to refer to as “yuba sashimi.” Though the equipment takes about half of the beanery’s floor space, only five percent of Hodo’s production yields yuba.

“It’s kind of like the cream of Straus milk — you cannot mechanize that. You just have to wait for it to cool.” says Tsai. “For yuba, it’s heated at the bottom and cooler at the top. We just wait for the fat and the protein rise to the top. Each sheet takes about two to three minutes. You don’t have any choice but to wait for it.” Tsai suggests a way to enjoy their other premium yuba product, nama yuba, or young yuba. It tastes like burrata. After sampling he smiles, “Imagine that with some yuzu sauce with a piece of uni on top. That is like gold.” “We make hundreds of pounds of yuba a day and thousands of pounds of tofu. That’s just one shift. We have the capacity to do two shifts here. We have room to grow,” Tsai proclaims. “We do a lot of cross-training so people can take vacations. I trained six people to make yuba and three people can run the milk machine. Everybody knows how to run the tofu machine.”

Phan buys hundreds of pounds of tofu and yuba each week for his restaurants. Hodo products have caught the attention of more chefs and can be also found on the menus at Coi and Mission Chinese in San Francisco, and Short Order in Los Angeles. Tsai reflects on how he originally developed a following for Hodo. “We started at the farmers markets. It’s our soul,” he says. “The farmers market in Berkeley is one of the toughest markets in the country. People will tell it like it is. It’s a litmus test.” When asked about his family’s influence on his career choice, Tsai gets lost in thought for a moment. “It’s funny, when I think about the question ‘why am I in the food business?’ because I didn’t realize how much of my childhood influenced it. Growing up in Vietnam, there is so much fresh street food and local food. That was how everybody shopped. My grandmother would teach me how to pick fruit, how to pick meats, how to buy everything. I find myself teaching my kids the same thing now. They love it. When I think back I think, wow, there are so many food memories.” Tsai says giving up his job in finance eight years ago was the easy part. “I was at a point in my life where I was seeking change,” he says. “It’s a leap of faith. I’ve learned to produce a food that I believe in.” The relationships Tsai has developed with fellow craft food makers and business leaders, restaurateurs, and the media provide validation for his decision to leave the corporate world. “That’s the best reward,” Tsai says. “I have done collaborations with June Taylor in Berkeley as well as with Michael Recchiuti Confections. Next door to Hodo is Kaia Foods. Two doors down is a couple of college kids called BTTR Ventures — they build mushroom kits. I know James Free-

man from Blue Bottle and Steven Sullivan of Acme Bread. There is a community here.” At The Slanted Door, an acclaimed Vietnamese restaurant in San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza building, Chef Charles Phan makes all of the tofu and yuba dishes with Hodo products. Right now, diners can find Hodo tofu in their vegetarian roll, a seaweed and yuba salad, broccoli with tofu, yuba with glass noodles, Brussels sprouts and mushrooms, and tofu with lemongrass and roasted chilies.

Leaving Tsai’s steamy soymilkfilled cloud of his magical beanery, pillowy tofu dreams are sure to follow. Tsai will head home to his sons soon and perhaps tell them a fairytale about a man who traded his suits for a train cap and learned to make the best tofu in the world for all his friends.

Yuba “Noodles” with Chanterelles and Brussels Sprout Leaves Recipe by Charles Phan Serves 2-4 as part of a multi-course meal 2 oz. Lungkow green bean thread vermicelli noodles ¼ cup canola oil 3 medium sized chanterelle (or hedgehog) mushrooms, sliced 2 whole Brussels sprouts, cored and picked into leaves ¼ cup rice wine ¼ cup water 4 oz. yuba, cut into ½ inch strips Stir-fry sauce: ½ tsp. minced garlic 1 pinch fresh ground black pepper ½ tsp. Golden Mountain seasoning sauce ¼ tsp. granulated sugar 1½ tbsp. roasted chili paste 2 tbsp. Lee Kum Kee vegetarian stir-fry sauce 1 tsp. sesame oil 1. Cover the rice noodles with hot water out of the faucet and soak for 5 minutes or until the noodles are pliable and “al dente.” Stir the noodles occasionally while they are soaking to be sure they don’t clump together. Strain the noodles in a colander and rinse them under cold water. Lay the noodles out onto a cutting board and cut them into smaller strands. You want them to be no longer than 8 inches in length for this dish. 2. Combine all the ingredients for the stir-fry sauce in a bowl. Heat the canola oil in a large wok or sauté pan until the oil begins to shimmer and nearly smoke. Sauté the mushrooms and Brussels’ sprout leaves until they begin to caramelize on the edges and wilt. Turn the flame down to medium and add the stir-fry sauce, rice wine, and water to the pan. Stir quickly until everything is well combined in the pan. 3. Add the yuba “noodles” and glass noodles to the pan. Use tongs to stir everything together and make sure the sauce evenly coats the noodles and the yuba is evenly distributed throughout the dish. Stir continuously so the noodles don’t stick to the pan. The dish is finished when the noodles absorb all of the sauce and begin to pull together. Serve immediately.

Black Pepper Tofu Recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi You will definitely surprise yourself with this one. It is an extremely delicious dish that’s quick and straightforward to make, but looks as if it’s been prepared at a top Chinese restaurant. It is fiery, both from the chiles and the black pepper; you can moderate this by reducing their quantity a little. However, the whole point is spiciness so don’t go too far.

Serves 4 1 ¾ lbs. firm tofu Vegetable oil for frying Cornstarch to dust the tofu 11 tbsp. unsalted butter 12 small shallots (12 oz. in total), thinly sliced 8 fresh red chiles (fairly mild ones), thinly sliced 12 garlic cloves, crushed 3 tbsp. chopped fresh ginger 3 tbsp. sweet soy sauce (kecap manis) 3 tbsp. light soy sauce 4 tsp. dark soy sauce 2 tbsp. granulated sugar 5 tbsp. coarsely crushed black peppercorns (use a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder) 16 small and thin green onions, cut into 1¼inch segments 1. Start with the tofu. Pour enough oil into a large frying pan to come ¼ inch up the sides and heat. Cut the tofu into large cubes, about 1 x 1 inch. Toss them in some cornstarch and shake off the excess, then add to the hot oil. (You’ll need to fry the tofu pieces in a few batches so they don’t stew in the pan.) Fry, turning them around as you go, until they are golden all over and have a thin crust. As they are cooked, transfer them onto paper towels. 2. Remove the oil and any sediment from the pan, then put the butter inside and melt it. Add the shallots, chiles, garlic and ginger. Sauté on low to medium heat for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the ingredients have turned shiny and are totally soft. Next, add the soy sauces and sugar and stir, then add the crushed black pepper. 3. Add the tofu to warm it up in the sauce for about a minute. Finally, stir in the green onions. Serve hot, with steamed rice. Reprinted with permission from Plenty: Vibrant Recipes from London's Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi Copyright © 2011. Published by Chronicle Books.

Image courtesy of Jonathan Lovekin

b.y.o.b. - fork spoon knife

We hate to admit it, but we are a little jealous of Asha Pagdiwalla. Indian by birth, culture and childhood memories, Asha moved to New York from India, by way of Tokyo, right around four years ago. In just that short time, with no formal training, she has taught herself how to bake exquisite cakes, pies and other pastries simply from trial, error and creative experimentation — all while finding the time to showcase her family’s traditional Indian cooking. We recently had the chance to talk to Asha about her blog, Fork Spoon Knife, her inspirations and her favorite pantry items. SPENSER MAGAZINE: You have said that baking is intuitive to you. But many people are intimidated by baking because they consider it such a scientific process. What would you say to encourage them? ASHA PAGDIWALLA: The flavor combinations are really the intuitive part of the process. As far as the technique goes, even if it is just a tart crust, I will follow original recipes the first few times. Once I feel comfortable with it, I will start to play around. Although baking is more of a science than cooking is, there is still leeway and once I am comfortable with the base recipe, I start experimenting, changing a few of the ratios to see where it goes. It just takes some trial and error. SM: What baking ingredients are you always sure to keep in your pantry?

AP: I always have nutmeg. I always have dried fruits, like raisins and figs, because they’re an easy way to elevate flavor. Being Indian, I always have cardamom at home. It brings a lot of warmth and additional sweetness. If you’ve had a baked good with cardamom in it you realize that if you use the standard amount of sugar, it tastes very sweet. If you are conscious about the amount of sugar you are using, instead of using nutmeg or cinnamon which add spiciness that needs to be balanced with sugar, you can use cardamom and enhance the sweetness of the baked good. SM: You mentioned that your mother and grandmother were great cooks. Did they bake, too? AP: Indian cooking involves no baking, but they were both great cooks. The intuitive sense of how much of what spices, et cetera to use in dishes. Knowing how to make good food comes from having tasted and seen my mother cook. SM: Have you put up any of your family recipes on your blog? AP: My family and my husband’s family come from two different parts of India, with two very distinctive cuisines. As a result, I actually have quite a few recipes from both sides of the family. Semolina pudding, interestingly, exists in every culture in India. I come from South India and there is a South Indian version. The Parsi version of the pudding [at the right] is my favorite, and is actually my mother-in-law’s recipe. You also asked about pantry items. We make our own garam masala. The spice mixture for the masala varies with the recipe. Sometimes we mix coconut into it. Other times we use roasted and ground lentils to add flavor to the spice mixture. We also make a paste from dried chilies, a dried Kashmiri chili, which is really red, mild and very flavorful. The chilies are soaked in vinegar and water and ground into a fresh paste. It goes really well with meat, like in Vindaloo. SM: And, finally, something we’re asking all of our contributors this month, what was the first thing that you ever learned to cook? AP: The first thing I learned was how to make rotis, an Indian flat bread, around the age of 10. My mother understood that I would be very happy to eat rotis hot-off-the-tava for every meal.

Ravo (Parsi Semolina Pudding) Recipe by Asha Pagdiwalla

1 cup super fine semolina ž cup sugar 2 cups hot milk pinch of saffron 5 tbsp. + 2 tbsp. ghee (clarified brown butter) Ÿ cup assorted nuts and raisins for garnish 1. Add the saffron to the hot milk and set aside to steep. In a wide, heavy bottomed vessel, melt 4 tbsp. of ghee over low heat. Slowly pour the semolina and gently toast until the raw smell dissipates, about 3 minutes. Add the sugar and toss for another 3-4 minutes. 2. Pour the milk into the mixture, whisking continuously to prevent lumps. Stir until the mixture thickens to a consistency of grits. Remove from heat and stir in the remaining tablespoon of ghee. 3. As the semolina cooks, heat a heavy bottomed frying pan on low heat and melt 2 tbsp. of ghee. Add the nuts and lightly toast them and set aside. 4. To serve, ladle out the pudding in bowls and top with the toasted nuts and raisins.

s "That our heritage may endure Passing from time on into time For there is pleasure in living Comfort in memory And the abiding prospect of desire fulfilled." - martin picard

spenser magazine: issue three  

mar.apr 2012

spenser magazine: issue three  

mar.apr 2012