travels

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Beat the Heat
By the time August rolled around, I just couldn’t take more 90º+ days in Athens. My escape was to Provincetown, Massachusetts, at the very end of Cape Cod. P'town, as it’s known, is a funky artist colony and fishing village. The Pilgrims landed here first before heading to Plymouth. They would hardly recognize the place. Most importantly, the mercury never got to 80º.

a few days in New York

I am often asked for Big Apple dining recommendations from friends and customers. These are a few spots I enjoyed on my last visit:

Aldea
If you watched the most recent season of Top Chef Masters, you’re familiar with Aldea chef/owner George Mendes. His Iberian-inspired food (his parents are Portuguese) is at once rustic and refined. The sleek dining room is a calm and soothing respite from the city. 17th St near Union Square

The John Dory Oyster Bar
This is the latest project from April Bloomfield and Ken Friedman, of The Spotted Pig fame. We went twice for towers of pristine oysters, chorizo stuffed squid, and the best eccles cake this side of the pond. Broadway @ 29th, in the Ace Hotel

Taim
I’m always amazed at what New Yorkers create in miniscule spaces, and Taim is a classic example. If I lived in NYC, I would have one of their fabulous falafels and a smoothie everyday. There are five bar stools, but if the weather is nice order yours to-go and enjoy the bench outside. Waverly Place near 7th Ave, West Village

Café Gitane
Staying at the Jane Hotel, Café Gitane (in the lobby) was the perfect spot for leisurely breakfasts. Perfect cappuccinos, croissants and killer breakfast smoothies got the day off to a good start. If you go, make sure to say hello to one of their managers, Justin, a UGA grad and native of Dublin, GA. @ the very end of Jane Street, in the Jane Hotel, West Village

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Notes on Syria
In the fall of 2008, I had the unforgettable opportunity to travel in the Middle East. Syria was particularly striking. Lately, news of terrible violence and unrest there has been heartbreaking. I suppose Syria was never on most Americans’ must-see lists. But until recently, I would have told you to get there as quickly as possible, if for the food alone.

Syrian cuisine is far from typical Arab fare, it’s surprisingly rich and complex. The dessert landscape somehow provides a bounty for their chefs. Pomegranates, orange blossoms, peppers, eggplant, okra, mint, pistachios, rich yogurts, exotic spices, rustic breads, sticky pastries, and lamb, lamb, and more lamb abound. The city of Aleppo’s position on the old Silk Road brought culinary influences from Persia, Anatolia
and even further afield.

Contrary to my preconceptions, we found no anti-American sentiment. Instead, we were met with warmth and generosity precisely because we were American. It gave me hope that one day we will realize much more unites us than divides us. For the time being, I will hold on to my beautiful memories of Syria and hope that travel there once again
becomes possible.

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Of all the flavors I tasted in Syria, muhummara has to be a favorite. A puree of red bell peppers, walnuts, pomegranate and Aleppo chili, muhummara is at once a dish and a condiment. The earthy heat and nuttiness is balanced by the sweet pepper and tangy pomegranate. It’s just perfect with lamb, or eaten alone with warm flatbread and cooling yogurt. You’ll find muhummara is deliciously complex and addictive.

In about a month, truckloads of peppers of all varieties will arrive at the Athens Farmer’s Market. Consider using Michael McMullan’s nardello peppers to make a muhummara of your own. A recipe follows,
but adjust to your tastes.

Muhummara
2 cups roasted red peppers
1 cup toasted walnuts
1 slice bread, crusts removed, lightly toasted
½ cup olive oil
2 T pomegranate molasses
1 t Aleppo chili*, or a pinch of red chili flakes
1 t ground cumin
salt

Blend all ingredients to a rough paste in a food processor.
Season to taste with salt.

*Aleppo chili is available at Middle Eastern groceries but my favorite comes from Kalustyan’s spice shop in NYC (kalustyans.com).

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Eating locally is all about knowing whose hands produced the food on your plate. On Monday, we took a trip out to Darby Farms in Monroe to meet the man who raises chickens for The National, Dan Dover.

Dan focuses on quality over quantity on his small organic farm where he raises chickens for both meat and egg production, as well as his latest addition – three pigs! Showing us around the whole operation, Dan explained the importance of working within nature’s framework instead of against it. From holding a warm, just-laid egg to touching toes with Georgia clay-coated pigs to watching Dan’s daughter Darby (the farm’s youthful namesake) horse around with the animals she knows so well, we left Darby Farms with a feeling of real connection to one of The National’s local vendors and a tinge of regret upon departing for our regular lives.

Look out for Darby Farms chicken on our menu. Grilled D.F. chicken breast and late night D.F. chicken wings in JC’s wing sauce are regular favorites!

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YELLOW GAL CANE SYRUP, POWELL FAMILY FARM,
SWAINSBORO, GA

I have the good fortune of knowing the Powell family in Emanuel County, GA. Their daughter, Jocelyn, and I met as kids in the 4-H club and have remained good friends ever since. Jocelyn’s dad, Ruskin Powell, grows yellow gal sugar cane on his farm and makes syrup each fall. A traditional southern ingredient, cane syrup is great on pancakes and biscuits, and makes a really nice glaze for ham. I liken it to southern maple syrup.

I’ve loved using Powell cane syrup on fresh pineapple, reminiscent of a dish I had in Barcelona. More recently, it’s been the base for a vinaigrette served with a salad of beets, frisee and blue cheese.

Wormsloe Plantation, Savannah

I was recently the guest of Wormsloe Plantation, on the Skidaway River near Savannah. Among the highlights of the visit was hunting for wild Atlantic ribbed mussels in the beautiful tidal marshes. After a good rinsing, these large mussels are sweet and tasty.

The tabby ruins of the original house are the oldest structures in Savannah. If you’re in the area, do not miss the grand alley of 400 live oaks. Noble Jones, an original settler of the Georgia colony, founded Wormsloe. His descendants still live at Wormsloe and maintain a close relationship with The University of Georgia.


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Once in awhile I’m lucky enough to experience a transformative meal changing the way I think about food, cooking, everything.  One of those for me was lunch at St. John in London, back in 2003.  In addition to the bone marrow and lamb sweetbreads, I fantasize about the eccles cake.  A simple pastry really, it’s buttery flakey pastry with a dense dried currant filling.  Clearly a trip to London would be required to ever have another eccles cake…  until the day I got to work and TWO eccles cakes were waiting for me!  My dear friend Richard smuggled them in on his way home for Christmas.  Just as good as I remember!  Recipe follows:

To see this story with its related links on the guardian.co.uk site, go to http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2007/nov/27/recipes.foodanddrink


St John’s eccles cake

In the second of our week-long series of exclusive baking recipes, Fergus Henderson reveals the secrets behind the delicious eccles cakes served at the St John restaurants in London

Fergus Henderson
Tuesday November 27 2007
The Guardian


http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2007/nov/27/recipes.foodanddrink


Makes at least 12 (leftover pastry freezes well)

Pastry
125g unsalted butter (butter A), cold from the fridge
500g strong white flour
Pinch of sea salt
250ml water
375g unsalted butter (butter B), cold from the fridge
Filling
50g unsalted butter
110g dark brown sugar
220g currants
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground nutmeg

Glaze
3 egg whites, beaten with a fork
Shallow bowl of caster sugar

I stress the St John in our eccles cake, as I am sure that bakers in Eccles will not recognise them as the eccles cake they know. Oddly enough, for a restaurant with a carnivorous reputation, we serve a vegetarian eccles cake, omitting the traditional lard; we use puff pastry. This recipe’s results are delicious and particularly fine when consumed with Lancashire cheese.

To make the puff pastry, mix butter A with the flour and salt using your fingers until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, then cautiously add the water and mix until you have a firm paste. Pat into a square and wrap in clingfilm. Leave to rest in the fridge for at least an hour.

Once the pastry is rested, roll the paste into a rectangle about 8mm thick, then beat butter B between greaseproof paper into a rectangle a wee bit smaller than half the paste rectangle. Lay the butter on the paste, leaving a space at the end. Fold the unbuttered half over the butter and fold the edges over, so you now have butter in a paste package. Pat square, wrap in clingfilm, and allow to rest in the fridge for at least 15 minutes.

Roll the pastry square out into a rectangle in the opposite direction to your initial major fold. (Each time you roll out the pastry to fold, turn your pastry and roll across the previous direction you rolled. You will have to sprinkle flour on the surface of your rolling pin; and it is very important to dust the flour off the paste before folding it at every turn in the process.)

Once the pastry is approximately 1cm to 1.5cm thick, fold it like a traditional letter, with one end of the rectangle to the halfway mark, and the other end over this. Pat square and place in the fridge for at least 15 minutes to rest again. Repeat this process two more times, but no more! This is essential for successful puff. Return it to the fridge and rest for an hour or more. Do not be deterred - it seems like a more complicated process than it is in practice.

Now, to the filling. Melt the butter and sugar together, then add them to the dry ingredients, mix well, and then leave to cool before using.

We’re now ready to make the cakes. Roll the puff pastry out to 8mm thick and cut circles about 9cm in diameter. Spoon a blob of your cake mix into the centre of the disc and pull up the sides of the pastry to cover the filling, Seal it with your fingers, then turn it over and slash the top three times (for the Holy Trinity). Paint the top with the egg white, then dip it in the sugar. They are now ready to bake for 15 to 20 minutes in a hot to medium oven; keep an eye on them so that they don’t burn. They can be eaten hot or cold.

A version of this recipe appeared in the book Nose to Tail Eating, by Fergus Henderson, published by Bloomsbury.

Winter is tropical fruit season, reminding me of an amazing yet simple dessert I had at Inopia (iconic tapas bar from the brother of super-chef Ferran Adria) in Barcelona.  We use ¼ of a super ripe pineapple, sprinkle lime-sugar and pomegranate seeds, and drizzle cane syrup over the top.  At Inopia they use a cane syrup from the Canary Islands, we go a little more regional with Steen’s Cane Syrup from Abbeville, Louisiana.  It’s a delicious and refreshing way to end a meal.

Winter is tropical fruit season, reminding me of an amazing yet simple dessert I had at Inopia (iconic tapas bar from the brother of super-chef Ferran Adria) in Barcelona.  We use ¼ of a super ripe pineapple, sprinkle lime-sugar and pomegranate seeds, and drizzle cane syrup over the top.  At Inopia they use a cane syrup from the Canary Islands, we go a little more regional with Steen’s Cane Syrup from Abbeville, Louisiana.  It’s a delicious and refreshing way to end a meal.