Thursday, April 25, 2019

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
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1) Boston Chops and resident advance sommelier Nick Daddona invite wine lovers and wine novices alike to upcoming "Sip with a Somm" monthly wine classes at Boston Chops' South End location. Kicking off on Saturday, May 11th, the fun, informative series will focus on a different wine category each month and include eight sips, three paired bites, and conversation with Daddona for only $39.

The "Sips with a Somm" summer schedule includes:
Saturday, May 11th at 4 p.m.: California and Beyond (Cabernet & Chardonnay)
Saturday, June 8th at 4 p.m.: Sparkling South End (Champagne & Sparkling Wine)
Saturday, August 10th at 4 p.m.: Rosé Day! (Rosé around the world)
Saturday, September 14th at 4 p.m.: For the Love of Pinot
As an added bonus, wine class attendees looking to stay for dinner will receive 15% off their food bill beginning at 5 p.m.

Tickets are $39 plus tax and gratuity, and can be reserved by calling (617) 227-5011 or online at www.bostonchops.com/events.

2) On Thursday, May 9, from 6:30 PM to 9:30 PM, Puritan & Co. will host a special dinner with Channing Daughters Winery from Long Island.

Believe it or not, Long Island is celebrating 45 years of wine-growing. The first vines were planted in 1973 by Louisa and Alex Hargrave (Peter, our wine director) enjoyed his first bottle of Hargrave Chardonnay in 1984). What used to be predominantly potato and sod farms along with some orchards, is now a bustling vineyard area with its first two AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) established in 1985.

Christopher Tracey is part of the latest wave of boutique, naturally inclined winemakers finding their wines on some of the best wine lists in New York and along the east coast. First as a member of the Channing Daughters Wine Club, he became more and more involved in winemaking and is now a partner. We have served a number of his wines over the last couple of years and each has met with tremendous success…especially his rosés, making this a perfect opportunity to taste some of the most dynamic wines produced on Long Island.

The Menu is as follows:
2017 Bianco Pétillant Naturel, Long Island 
Snacks from the sea to start: local oysters, baked clams, scallop crudo, king crab
2018 Merlot Rosato, North Fork of Long Island
Chickpea-fried soft shell crabgreen chickpeas, parsnip hummus, cucumbers
2017 Sauvignon Blanc “Mudd Vineyard” North Fork of Long Island
Fava bean saladshaved artichokes, green herb dressing, serrano ham
2016 Vino Bianco, Long Island
Grilled chicken terrinepreserved lemon, parsley-fennel salad, black pepper cracker
2017 Rosso Fresco Long Island
Roasted suckling pigmorels, celery root, heirloom carrots
2014 Meditazione Long Island
Robiola, apricots, pistachio, rhubarb

Tickets cost $95, and you can purchase them on Eventbrite.

Grexico Coming To Committee For Cinco de Mayo

Most Americans probably don't understand the underlying meaning behind Cinco de Mayo in Mexico, but it has taken on a new meaning in the U.S., becoming more of a day to celebrate Mexican culture. For some, it is merely an opportunity to consume lots of tequila and tacos while for others it can be a learning experience about another culture. It is a time when Americans should be respectful of Mexican culture.

Committee, one of my favorite restaurants, is once again honoring Cinco de Mayo with a special "Grexico" menu, created by Sous Chef Luis Figueroa and his team, that fuses Greek and Mexican cuisines. This menu will only be available for a single day, on Sunday, May 5, from 11am-11pm. "Fusing the two cuisines is a new trend that is starting to pop up around the country, most recently with fast casual Souvla and Tacolicious in San Francisco teaming up to create Souvalicious Lam mole tacos earlier this month."

Last year, I dined at Committee and sampled many items from their Grexico menu, and you can read more here. As I previously wrote, "Committee's Grexico menu worked well on a number of levels, cleverly fusing the two cuisines and creating flavorful and interesting dishes. The more that you think about the combinations, the more that they make culinary sense. I was thoroughly impressed with the menu and I'd order any of these dishes again, especially those Lamb Barbacoa Tacos with the grape leaf-corn tortillas." Some of the same items from last year's menu are on this year's menu too.

The full menu is below and all items are available a la carte. This menu will be offerred in addition to the regular menus.

Brunch Additions (Served from 11am-2:30pm)
--Greek Yogurt Pancakes (Dulce de leche, Greek honey, toasted almonds) Half order $16/
Full Order $26
--Mexican Shakshouka (Eggs baked in a pan of spiced tomato sauce, poblano peppers, onions with queso fresco and pita) $24
--Chorizo Hash (Three sunny-side up eggs, chorizo, butternut squash, celery root, spinach, sourdough toast) $14
--Breakfast Gyro Burrito (Scrambled eggs, queso fresco, chorizo, refried beans, wrapped in pita, served with home fries) $14
--Huevos A La Mexicana (Chopped tomato, green chili pepper, onion, scrambled eggs, served with refried beans and tortillas) $14

Antojitos:
--Grecomole (mashed avocados and herbs, feta, pita chips) $12
--Kalamboki (Mexican street corn, spicy jalapeno mayo, grated mizithra) $8
--Spanakopita Tetela (Blue corn, spinach, kasseri) $9
--Cactus Horiatiki Salad (Kalas salt-cured cactus, tomato, onion, cilantro, avocado, Greek olive oil, queso fresco) $12
--Garides (Grilled shrimp, poblano pepper aioli, burnt lime) $14
--Bambazo (Chorizo, potato, lettuce, Grexico cream, feta, brioche) $14
--Corn Tamale (Corn husk steamed, horta cream sauce, graviera) $11
--Arctic Char Tostada (Avocado tzatziki, salsa matcha, deep-fried tortilla) $14
--Lamb Ribs (Adobo and Greek herb cooke paidakia, horta chimichurri) $14
--Octopus Carpaccio (Horiatiki, grilled avocado, cilantro, citrus oil) $18
--Tacos  (3 per order)
-----Pescado (grilled swordfish, baja skordalia, Greek olive salsa, corn tortilla) $16
-----Beef Souvlaki (avocado tzatziki, salsa verde, queso fresco, corn tortilla) $16
-----Lamb Barbacoa (braised lamb, tzatziki, FIX beer guajillo, onion, cilantro, grape leaf-corn tortilla) $18

Para La Mesa
--Cochinita Pibil (Slow cooked pork in banana leaf, toursi, gigantes, Florina pepper sauce, corn tortillas) $28
--Whole Red Snapper (Adobo marinated, achiote, onions, rigani, Mexico City salad, grape leaf tortillas, Greek olive salsa, house made hot sauce) $32
--Greek Pollo (Spanakorizo, patates tiganites, ensalada del Mercado, corn tortillas, salsa) $28

Dessert  
--Churros with Merenda $10
--Mastiha Flan $8

I highly recommend you make a reservation, by calling, 617-737-5051, and don't miss out on this special Grexico menu.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

SENA19: Eating Ogusokumushi, an Ancient Sea Creature

The Japanese refer to them as Ogusokumushi, which translates as "giant armored bug." In some places, they are also referred to as "underwater pill bugs." Their scientific name is Bathynomus giganteus, the Giant Isopod. Isopod isn't an appealing name so that's going to be an obstacle in of itself. In addition, they kind of resemble a mutant cockroach so that's another obstacle. However, despite these obstacles, this sea creature could soon be finding itself on your dinner plate.

At the Seafood Expo North America (SENA), I stopped at the Tropic Seafood booth to check out this unusual creature. Tropic Seafood is based on Nassau in the Bahamas, and was first MSC Certified lobster fishery in the Bahamas. They are also a processor and packer of seafood products native to the Bahamas and Caribbean, including Golden Crab, Olive Flounder, Spiny Lobster and Bahamian Conch.

In one of their water tanks, there were several Giant Isopods, and that blue tint was part of the tanks so you don't get to see their natural color. Yes, they look like armored bugs but also have elements common to lobsters and crabs. And if you can eat a lobster, then eating a giant isopod shouldn't be much of a stretch.

Giant isopods are a type of crustacean, like crabs and shrimp, and they are also the largest member of the isopod family, of which there are about 10,000 varieties. They are related to land-based pill bugs so it isn't too farfetched to call them underwater pill bugs. Fossils of isopods date back at least 300 million years ago, and they haven't changed much since that time. Giant isopods are also subject to "deep sea gigantism," where deep sea creatures grow to be much greater in size than if they inhabited shallower waters. They can grow to be over 16 inches long, a far greater size than any other isopod.

Despite the fact that giant isopods are easy to find and harvest in the seas, commercial fishing is still quite tiny. Most of the giant isopods that are caught by fishermen are merely bycatch. It seems that Japan, and other Asian countries, are the primary consumers of giant isopods, and even then it is still rather an uncommon and more unique food. Tropic Seafood hopes to change that, and one way is through promoting the consumption of giant isopods within the U.S. It won't be an easy sell but I'm intrigued by the idea.

I was told that giant isopods, which are commonly cooked by steaming, have meat in the legs and bodies, which is said to taste similar to blue crab. In addition, female isopods have roe, which resembles uni, but it also is said to taste like blue crab. It is most commonly found in sushi restaurants, though there isn't any reason why it wouldn't fit on the menu of any seafood restaurant in the U.S. Unfortunately, they didn't have any samples of giant isopod to taste, so I can't say whether it actually tastes like crab or not. I'll be keeping an eye out though for any restaurant that serves it so I can give it a try.

As I've said before, American consumers need to eat more different varieties of seafood, and not just the most popular top ten. 90% of the seafood species consumed in the U.S. fall within this top ten, including Shrimp, Salmon, Tuna, Tilapia, Alaska Pollock, Pangasius, Cod, Crab, Catfish, and Clams. By limiting ourselves to these ten species, we put heavy pressures on those seafood populations, causing sustainability issues. We need to ease those pressures by lowering consumption of those species, and consuming other species that don't have sustainability issues. We have to give the populations of those ten common species more time to rebound and recover.

By limiting ourselves to primarily ten species, we are also hurting the economic situation of our fishermen, driving some of them out of business. Fishermen harvest many other different seafood species but there is little market for many of those species so they can't earn much money from those catches. If Americans started consuming more of those less common species, the market for them would grow, helping fishermen make more money.

Get over your psychological barriers! Don't be afraid of something unfamiliar and take a chance on a different fish. It is time now to stop eating the same old fish all the time and experiment with less common seafood, to broaden your palate. As I wrote yesterday, more people should eat rabbit. And today, I'm asking people to eat more types of seafood, including a giant armored bug like the Giant Isopod!

Monday, April 22, 2019

Rant: Open Your Mind & Eat Rabbit!

Yesterday was Easter, and many children probably received baskets of candies and treats from the "Easter Bunny." However, when I think of rabbit, I picture it on my dinner plate. I think of its delicious, versatile and nutritious meat but that thought makes some people squirm, those who wouldn't ever eat a rabbit.

Why are so many people opposed to eating rabbit, despite the fact it is so tasty, extremely sustainable, and a healthy option?

Their main resistance to eating rabbit appears to be primarily psychological. Rabbits are seen as too cute to eat, too much like a pet. Some people may have had a cute, fuzzy bunny as a pet, keeping it in a small hutch, and thus feel squeamish about eating something they once had as a dear pet. These feelings are relative modern and that sentiment wasn't an issue for many prior generations. We need to return to those earlier sentiments as the consumption of rabbit is good on several fronts, as it is the most nutritious and sustainable meats that exists.

Around 1100 B.C., when the Phoenicians first came to Spain, they found rabbits there and it is probable that they then spread rabbits throughout the Mediterranean region. The ancient Romans enjoyed rabbit meat, and they even created leporaria, walled areas where they raised rabbits for later slaughter. There once was even a Roman law that all young women had to eat rabbit because it was thought it would make them more beautiful.

Rabbits have continued to be eaten as food throughout history, though consumption in the U.S. has apparently declined greatly at least over the last hundred years. Have you ever noticed that it seems almost every movie about the Middle Ages shows rabbit being eaten? Nowdays, Europeans are far more amenable to dining on rabbit and France is the largest producer and consumer of rabbit.  My first time eating rabbit was when I was in Spain over 20 years ago.

Why should we eat more rabbit?

First, it is an excellent sustainable choice, far more sustainable than beef, pork, lamb or poultry.  Rabbits eat grass and marginal forage, thus they do not compete for resources with people and are more easily fed than many other animals.  They will even eat food scraps, which would be a great use for all of our vast food waste. We all know how rapidly rabbits can reproduce and they are available year round.  Rabbits require little space, certainly much less than other food animals.  You could even raise rabbits at home, which is relatively easy to do. It is said that a rabbit can produce six pounds of meat for the same amount of resources which a cow needs to produce a single pound. 

The carbon footprint of raising rabbits is far lower than other common food animals, and thus much better for the environment.  As the demand for meat continues to increase, it may be impossible to meet that demand without causing significant environmental problems due to increased resource intensity. Beef may be the largest offender, requiring significant resources which could be instead used for other purposes which might better feed more people.  The increased consumption of rabbit could alleviate these issues, as rabbits require far lesser resources.  It is something that needs to be seriously considered.

Second, rabbit meat is very healthy and nutritious. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has even stated that rabbit is the most nutritious meat. Rabbit has only 795 calories per pound, compared to chicken at 810, turkey at 1190, beef at 1440 and pork at 2050. Rabbit also has the highest percentage of protein of any meat. In addition, rabbit has a lower percentage of fat and less cholesterol than chicken, turkey, beef, or pork. Rabbit is easily digested, and has very high levels of Omega-3's and other good fats. Those are all good reasons to opt for rabbit.  

Third, and a very important reason, rabbit tastes good. It has a mild and slightly sweet flavor, in some respects like chicken, though it can also remind you of veal or even pork. You won't find it to have a gamey flavor, which can be offputting to some. Plus, nearly all of the rabbit is white meat, which appeals to many people. It is generally lean meat, so be careful about overcooking it. In addition, different parts of the rabbit have different characteristics so you can get a variety of flavors within the rabbit. If you tasted rabbit blind, you would very likely enjoy the meat though you probably would not realize it was rabbit.

If you're actually concerned about the food you eat, if you want to eat healthier and more sustainable, then you should be eating rabbit. Break through your psychological barrier and try some tasty rabbit. It is good for you, good for society, and good for the environment.

Eat The Bunny!

(This is a partially modified post from the past which is still very relevant and involves a sentiment which bears repeating).

Friday, April 19, 2019

Revealed: The First American Sources About Carrot Cake

Are you a fan of Carrot Cake? I enjoy carrot cake, though I'm not crazy about the creamed cheese frosting that usually is slathered atop it. I'd like to see more versions of carrot cake that use a different type of frosting.

Carrot cake is basically a spice cake that has been flavored with carrots, which provides sweetness to the cake, as well as an element of moisture. It commonly also has chopped nuts in it, and sometimes ingredients like raisins or shredded coconut.

According to the World Carrot Museum, the origins of carrot cake extend back to the Middle Ages. As their website states, "It looks like it did evolve from the Carrot Pudding of medieval times, during the middle ages sugar and other sweeteners were difficult or expensive to come by in Britain and carrots had long been used as sugar substitutes." Actual carrot cake extends back to at least the late 18th century. However, creamed cheese frosting didn't unite with carrot cake until the 1960s.

What is the first American source to reference carrot cake? According to the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, by Gil Marks, "The term carrot cake made its first appearance in an American source in The Neighborhood Cook Book by the Council of Jewish Women (Portland, Oregon, 1912), along with a Jewish-style carrot pudding." This appears to be the most authoritative source on this issue, often quoted on other sites discussing the history of carrot cake. However, as my own research has revealed, this source is actually incorrect.

The first edition of The Neighborhood Cook Book was published in December, 1912, with a second revised and expanded edition published in 1914. Their original recipe for carrot cake stated, "One-half pound sugar, one-half pound almonds, blanched and chopped, one-half pound carrots, boiled only till they can be grated, juice and grated rind of one lemon, four eggs. Cream the yolks and sugar; whites beaten to snow, added last; add three or four bitter almonds; beat for one half hour before adding whites of eggs. Butter spring form and sprinkle with grated zweibach. Bake in a moderate oven one and one-quarter hours, till loosed from pan."

Through my research of some newspaper archives, I found several sources concerning carrot cake that predate the publication of this cookbook in December 1912. First, The Detroit Times, December 19, 1908, had an article about doctors in London living on a diet of carrots, including "carrot cake." This is indicative that American readers were at least familiar with carrot cake, though the article is discussing London.

Second, the Norwich Bulletin, November 19, 1909, has an advertisement for the Haile Club restaurant, in Connecticut, which mentions "carrot cake" on their menu. So, we then see that at least one American restaurant was serving carrot cake, and there isn't any indication that this is a unique occurrence. There isn't any explanation of "carrot cake" either, so they seem to assume that readers would understand what they meant.

Third, The San Francisco Call, February 25, 1912, has a letter from a woman seeking a recipe for a "good carrot cake."

And finally, and most significantly, there is a reference which provides a carrot cake recipe. The Honolulu Star-Bulletin, December 21, 1912, printed a recipe for "Crocus Carrot Cake," which was sourced from the Ladies Home Journal. I'm not sure why "crocus" is used in the name as that plant has nothing to do with the recipe. Though this recipe appears to be simultaneous with the The Neighborhood Cook Book, the original recipe appeared in the Ladies Home Journal, November 1912, predating the recipe from The Neighborhood Cook Book.  

It's fascinating what information you can find in newspaper and magazine archives.

What restaurant or bakery serves your favorite Carrot Cake?