Food Riot contributors are insatiable and insatiably curious eaters, so we asked them to pick the single best things they ate this month. The collection below represents home cooking, restaurants, store-bought goodies, and all kinds of cuisine. Hope you’ll find something new to taste!
Jenn Northington: I have a new tradition at the Brooklyn Book Festival. It started by accident last year, when we sent a staff member off from the booth on a desperate food run. He came back with a sackful of empanadas and it was a struggle not to drool all over the books. This year, I was looking for it — and there it was, bright and shiny, right across the way from the North Stage: the Nuchas Empanadas food truck. I dragged a friend over (“Are you sure you want to wait in this line?” “YES.”) and about fifteen minutes later had Shiitake Curry and Apple, Cranberry & Nutella empanadas in my grabby hands. Readers, they were rilly rilly good. The turmeric dough for the Curry pocket is a stroke of genius, and the textures in the Nutella one are perfection. The fruit is magically tender and never mushy, and I think I can let the word “Nutella” describe the rest of the experience. If you can find this truck, do not hesitate: get one of everything.
Sara Bir: Chicken guts. Friends came for a rare visit, bearing the necks, hearts, livers, and gizzards of chickens they’d recently slaughtered. That is my kind of hostess gift. We borrowed a dusty bottle of sherry from a neighbor and my friends went to work making a splendid chicken liver pâté. Then we contemplated the gizzards, which contain little sacks of rocks to contended with. My friends consulted their smartphones, but I went straight to the source: the Variety Meats volume of Time-Life’s excellent Good Cook series. In lurid step-by-step photos, it informs you how to assemble haggis, prepare a calf’s head for stuffing, and peel the testicle of a lamb (called, in a classic offal euphemism, a “fry”). While it’s good fodder to pull out for shock value at the end of a boozy dinner party, Variety Meats is ultimately a fantastic source of trustworthy information. Of course it tells you how to clean gizzards. Which we will do, once we polish off the rest of that pungent, sherry-tastic pâte.
Danguole: Ransom Old Tom Gin. If I had to describe this shorthand, I’d go with “whiskey lover’s gin.” For booze nerds, though, it’s a full-on renaissance fair, for yo’ mouth. Ransom Spirits’ Old Tom is a historically accurate recreation of 1800s Old Tom gin, the predominant style in the heyday of classic American cocktails before Prohibition ruined everything (not too soon to say that, is it?) Old Tom is sometimes known as the “missing link” between London dry gin and the sweeter Dutch genever. It starts with a combination of malted barley (attn: scotch lovers!) and high-proof corn spirits infused with botanicals. For good measure, it’s barrel-aged like whiskey, so the end result is woodsy and malty, with a golden color and delightful citrus peel, coriander, cardamom, and juniper flavors. In other words… Cocktail madness around these parts.
Susie: Half a jar of Nutella. Okay, look: I know this isn’t the most interesting or exciting most delicious thing that I could have eaten this month. Truthfully, I can’t remember what I ate this month. It’s been kind of a blur. While I was thinking back on it, that Nutella shone back at me, a bright spot in a month of meh eating. (I used the other half to make these granola bars; frankly, the granola was more addictive when I used peanut butter the first time. I should have just eaten the whole jar.) My runner up: a burger with egg on it from The Hamburger Inn in Delaware, OH.
Shannon: Bone Marrow Luge, courtesy of Canon Seattle. I am a bone marrow aficionado. It is probably my favorite food. There’s nothing better than the decadent and rich flavor of roasted bone marrow, simply seasoned with sea salt, spread over butter-toasted bread. But on one fateful September day at Canon in Seattle, I learned that there is, in fact, one thing that’s better.
I was just minding my own business, chatting with the hubz, and shoveling my last bone marrow-smeared bread down my gullet, when our genius bartender (this dude) told us to WAIT. He proceeded to bring me a shot of mezcal, and the hubz a shot of scotch, for us to pour down the luge of the bone into our mouths.
DEAR SWEET BABY JESUS. As the smoky liquids ran down the luge in a race for the tongue, they collected all of the remaining bits of bone marrow, fat, butter, and sea salt, landing them all together in the mouth in a veritable explosion of the senses. This photo was taken before it ran down my chin and all over me – but don’t worry!! The bartender had already given us big black napkins to tuck into the tops of our shirts. This was the most extravagant food experience of not just September, but of my life.
Amanda Feifer: Golden Beet Kvass and Hakurei Turnip Kimchi from The Brinery. The brinery is a Michigan-based fermentation outfit dedicated to “Stimulating Your Inner Economy.” I got my hands on some of their products at Detroit’s Eastern Market (though you can get some from their online shop) and I fell in love. As an avid home fermenter, I can be picky about my ferments, but everything I tried from The Brinery greatly exceeded my expectations. If you’re the type who foregoes health in favor of flavor, you won’t have to choose! Pick any of their probiotic-rich items for a crazy delicious foray into fermented foods.
Jodi – The 22 Sandwich from Rocco Ranalli’s. So I don’t eat beef. I haven’t for like a decade and yet I still miss the hell out of cheeseburgers. Turkey burgers are a good substitute and I have grown to adore them as much as I once adored cheeseburgers. The thing is, it’s really hard to find a decent turkey burger at a restaurant.
So, imagine my delight and surprise to find one on a recent trip to Chicago. Not only was it an amazing turkey burger featuring poblano peppers, pepper jack cheese, and guacamole. It was a turkey burger that was delivered to my hotel room at one o’clock in the morning. It was hot, delicious, and not at all soggy. It was so good that I nearly wept (but that might have had something to do with near starvation and extreme exhaustion brought on by an all-day rock & roll festival). The turkey burger was so good that I ordered one each night we got back from the festival. Also, the free, warm chocolate chip cookies they included with orders over $15 didn’t hurt.
Colleen Shea: There’s a fancy hotel here in Toronto, The Windsor Arms. Last year, in collaboration with a vegan chef, they created a fancy vegan menu to complement their regular fancy non-vegan menu. It’s pretty pricy, and going to places like this generally makes me feel like Julia Roberts trying to remember how many tynes each fork should have, etc, so I hadn’t been there before. But my husband and I were celebrating fifteen years together so I left all my class anxieties behind, got dressed up, and we went. It was amazing. I had an excellent butternut squash bisque to start and then we shared the nori rolls, wild mushroom pâté with crostinis, marinated winter kale salad, and cornmeal crusted tempeh steaks. For dessert: a real lemon sorbet and a petit four plate (which included several delicious things, all made of chocolate).
Amanda Nelson: Butternut Squash Pizza with Sage Pesto, Prosciutto, and Goat Cheese from How Sweet It Is. Hellllloooo nurse! This pizza is fall on a doughy, scrumptious plate. The sage pesto will make your house smell like Thanksgiving, and the saltiness of the prosciutto and goat cheese offsets the sweetness of the squash and the deep savoriness of the pesto. Basically, if you want to eat early fall, eat this, and follow it up with some apple pie.
Elizabeth Bastos: Melomakarona aka Greek Orange-Scented Walnut Cookies. I’m working toward a more Mediterranean lifestyle and diet and for me this means a lot more olive oil, wine…and naps. Also Greek desserts, which are traditionally eaten in the afternoon, just when I need a pick-me-up. The melamakarona are a dream of cinnamon, orange, honey: the flavors that go with whitewashed houses clinging to rocks above the wine-dark sea, take a bite, and it’s almost as if you are in Santorini. Plus these cookies have olive oil and walnuts in them. Good fats! Easy to make! Opa!
Jane: Vegetable Tikka Masala from Darul Kabab. I tried this Pakistani/Indian/Bangladeshi restaurant in Cambridge, MA for the first time earlier this week. It’s a building you can’t not notice. You wonder why the kitschy architecture looks so familiar until someone tells you it used to be a KFC/Taco Bell and it all makes sense.
As I’m an unapologetic wuss when it comes to spicy food, tikka masala is just about my speed, and this was a great example of it. The sauce was complex and flavorful with just the slightest tease of heat, and stuffed with broccoli, cauliflower, and summer squash. Served up with long-grain jasmine rice cooked to perfection, (I’m perpetually in awe of well-cooked rice because I somehow just can’t do it.) this made a hearty, filling, flavor-packed bowl of awesome.
Jo Hatherly, The Cottage Cook. September, the month that is the graveyard of all my gardening hopes and dreams, in particular the dream everlasting of a real heated-by-the-sun garden tomato. Note that I use the singular term for tomato. That is the mark of my desperation for a real acidic, screaming sweet tomato. To dream of more than one is to dream too big. This September, the best thing I ate was such a tomato, but sadly, it was not from my garden. It was brought by a distant relative, along with a mittful of her other garden tomatoes. This tomato could have assuaged my grief over my own tomato failures, but it only reminded me that others have grasped what I cannot: A real tomato, from their own real garden. Nonetheless, it still was a sweet tomato.
Jeff: New Mix. I know it sounds disgusting: Squirt and tequila pre-mixed in a can. But sometimes you just have to try something because it is so random. I found New Mix in a little Mexican grocery/taco joint in my neighborhood while waiting for my order to be ready (side note: This is a not-really-any-English at all kinda joint. When we asked for clarification for something on the menu, we didn’t get very far. A few minutes later the cashier came up to us with a bottle of chocolate syrup and began pointing at it. It became clear after a few minutes of trading weird hand gestures that he was pointing to the brand symbol, which is a goat, to tell us what we almost ordered. I kinda wish we had. Anyway).
And listen: it’s good. It’s tart and refreshing and goes damn well with spicy tacos that you just ordered and aren’t really sure what’s in them. Unfortunately, it looks like New Mix is not available in the US in any sort of official way, so if you want to try it, you’ll have to come to my little Brooklyn neighborhood and get it. Maybe we can split a goat taco.
Bob Bires: The first jars of fig jam I’ve made from the tree we planted on Easter, 2012. I worried all summer that the figs would not ripen, but apparently our rainy weather was responsible for the delay. Brown Turkey Figs are not as sweet as other figs, but there is so much sugar in the recipe that it doesn’t matter. They seem to have a “spiciness” that other, sweeter figs don’t have. Here is a reliable, easy-to-follow website for making fig or any other preserves. Bake this jam on homemade flatbread with rosemary/garlic olive oil, prosciutto, and bleu cheese.
Tess Wilson: Magic Hat Séance Saison. Three years ago, celebrating my birthday at Bar Tartine, I tasted Linden Street Brewery’s Burning Oak Black Lager for the very first time…and I’ve been on the hunt for something similar ever since. It doesn’t have to be quite as exquisite, quite as remarkable, but it does have to be readily available. You can get Burning Oak on tap at quite a few fine establishments in San Francisco and Oakland, but what if you no longer live in San Francisco or even Oakland? How will you get your black lager fix? Because once you’ve had black lager, you’re going to need it again! Magic Hat’s seasonal Séance is the closest I’ve found so far, and I can buy bottles of it at the grocery store and bring it back to my very own home. It is rich and roasty while also being light and refreshing and.. Look, it’s hard to do justice to black lagers using mere words, but this beer is really, really good. Magic Hat says, “A mild tartness begins the journey, and an underlying hop bitterness sweeps the senses through a newly opened door of the mind, where you will soon find subtle hints of ripe fruit, bringing you to a place few dare to roam.” I don’t know about all that, but I know what I like.
Tasha Brandstatter: Sartori Balsamic BellaVitano. (Image Credit) BellaVitano is a unique, semi-hard cheese produced by the Sartori creamery in Wisconsin (of course Wisconsin). It has the fresh taste of a farmstead cheese and is nutty and creamy and really good. Now bathe that cheese in Modena balsamic vinegar and you have magic: a tart sweetness adds depth and layers to the flavor of the BellaVitano that hits every corner of your palate. I cannot stop eating this stuff. Would pair great with a light, tart white wine like an Asti Spumante or a chardonnay; or if you were in the mood for more savory flavor you could even pair it with a favorite Pinot noir. Highly recommended!
Cate Brown: Filet of Beef and Cavatelli di Semola with Braised Oxtail and Fontina, Costata (NYC). This month’s a tie, my friends, between two dishes from the same meal at the same restaurant. Chef Michael White’s Italian steakhouse concept is a knockout. I have literally never had a better steak, and they didn’t even have to dress up the filet (as so many places do) with bacon or compound butter. Nope, this baby (though it can hardly be called a “baby,” it was a 10 oz. filet!) was just a gorgeously seared, beautiful aged black angus steak, made even better with an occasional swipe of bordelaise sauce and a sip of red Tormaresca wine. Perfection. And then there was the house-made cavatelli… The texture was gorgeous, and who doesn’t want braised bits of melt-in-your-mouth oxtail nestled in with their fresh pasta? My next All-Day Kitchen Project is absolutely going to be an attempt to recreate this gem of a dish.
Jill Guccini: Corn and Bacon Pie. There are certain recipes that you look at and think, “Well duh, of course that would taste good.” Bacon? Corn? Pie crust? Cheese? Cream? Duh, of course that would taste good. And it did.
Gretchen: A BLT at the San Francisco Ferry Building’s Saturday Morning Farmers Market. Leon and I weren’t supposed to be in San Francisco at all. But after a giddy Thursday evening watching singer/songwriter Chuck Prophet perform for free in the backyard of the local radio station and perhaps a few beers, we impulsively decided at 10:30pm to spend the weekend in what we in the Bay Area comically call “The City.”
About 70 miles south of us, San Francisco is an easy place to visit and an even better to stay. The secret is to go in the fall, when the fog disappears and the whole shining place is warm and magical.
We went for events this time, not the food. We visited the new SF Jazz Center, went to see the America’s Cup sailing races, and took in a Giants baseball game. Usually, dinner is a matter of massive import; so, too, are breakfast and lunch. But this time we just wanted to share some experiences while not being hungry.
Staying near the Embarcadero that rings San Francisco Bay, we wandered down to the Ferry Building on Saturday morning looking for Blue Bottle coffee and something good and simple to eat. The Blue Bottle line was too long, but the wait for a BLT was manageable.
Made with local bacon, topped with just-ripe real tomatoes, slathered with homemade aioli, crunched with fresh micro-greens, and tenderly housed in that morning’s sourdough bread, the sandwiches oozed, melded, and fairly swooned into our mouths.
We sat at a picnic table with hundreds of folks streaming by, the Bay shimmering all around us, and soon we were not being hungry.
Trouble is, most of today’s commercial lard is….kind of nasty. But La Quercia, makers of highly acclaimed American Prosciutto and other cured pork products, offers this amazing thing called “White Lardo Spread”; it’s made with naturally raised pork, spices, and no crappy ingredients.
Personally, I can’t say that I’m going to be spreading it on my toast every day (no matter how killer-good that tastes). Instead, I’ll use it in baking—the way my Midwestern farm-wife grandmother used lard. While the white spread isn’t exactly lard, it can work like lard: Kathy Eckhouse, co-owner and -founder of La Quercia, says that she uses it in pie pastries and biscuits. Kari Beinert, co-owner of The Cheese Shop in Des Moines, even uses it in cookie recipes. It brings a slightly bacon-y aspect to the results, which should thrill any of those who count themselves in what I’ve come to affectionately call The Bacon Generation.
Look for it where La Quercia products are sold, or go to the La Quercia website for info on ordering.
Rebecca: Housemade Bacon Jam (and everything else) from The Brine and Bottle in Nags Head, NC. I’d been looking forward to eating at The Brine and Bottle for almost a year, and last week, on a vacation dedicated to celebrating my dear friend and fellow Rioter Laura’s wedding, I finally got to. Laura texted me about the bacon jam (and the duck pastrami, and the Granny Smith apple slaw, and the pulled pork) from her tasting last fall, and my mouth didn’t stop watering for months. Adorable little jars of bacon jam served as party favors, and what a favor it was! Surprisingly sweet, not overwhelmingly bacony, and perfect on just about any bread product (so far, I’ve enjoyed it on naan, croissants, and biscuits), this jam is my new jam. And The Bring and Bottle itself? Couldn’t be more charming. Knowledgeable staff are on point with wine and beer recommendations, a gorgeous deck puts diners right over the water and under the stars, and a chalk board instructs us to “Eat, Drink, and Get Pickled.” There’s nothing not to love.
Nikki Miller-Rose: When I moved to eastern Minnesota from the flat and dusty plains of South Dakota at eighteen, I thought I’d moved to the freakin’ Garden of Eden, all rolling hills and lakes, rivers lined with high bluffs and trees, so many trees, so many APPLE TREES. In Minnesota? Apple trees? A place where people went apple picking in the fall, and sipped cider on hayrides? Xanadu! The only autumn activity it seemed my peers participated in in my hometown was throwing rotten eggs and TP’ing trees during Homecoming. Minnesota was so wholesome and sweet! I grew up eating crabapples from our backyard – and still love the tiny, sour little things. But I adore apples produced locally in Minnesota – the tarter and crisper, the better (the Washington Reds with chemical-tinged skins I grew up eating in school lunches be damned). My new favorite is the SweeTango, an early-season hybrid of my other two favorite locally-bred apples, Honeycrisp and Zestar! (Exclamation point theirs, but gosh darn it I’m excited, too!) It’s simultaneously sweet and tart, and stays crunchy a long time, whether stored in the fridge or on my counter. Not many growers have been approved to produce this cultivar, so SweeTango apples aren’t super easy to find, especially outside of Minnesota. Here you can watch my favorite local anchor describe my favorite local apple (and see how excited we get about these things around here). (Image courtesy of umn.edu)
Derek Attig: My black beans. My fellow Rioter Amanda Feifer recently sang the praises of the slow cooker. I, too, resisted the allure of the slow cooker for a long time. But recently, faced with longer days with even less time for cooking, I relented. And thank goodness. It’s been fantastic, letting me cook beans, especially, with little to no fuss and excellent results. My favorite so far? My own recipe for black beans, which began as a seat-of-my-pants, let’s-throw-this-and-that-in-and-see-what-happens situation but has quickly become a regular in our kitchen. Two pounds of black beans, soaked overnight, are joined in the slow cooker by two medium onions, chopped; a green bell pepper, chopped; two cinnamon sticks; six big strips of orange zest (removed with a vegetable peeler); five chiles de árbol; a tablespoon of dried oregano; three bay leaves; and nine cups of water. Put it on low for 8-10 hours, then fish out the sticks, chiles, leaves, and chiles, and stir in a a couple teaspoons of salt. You’ll have surprisingly complex–cinnamon and orange!–delicious pot of beans. And all with only 10 minutes of prep.
S. Zainab: Black Tea Cloud and Coffee + Milk Boba from Flour + Tea in Pasadena, California. I practically collapsed at the entrance to Flour + Tea. It was getting late, I had a lot of work to do, and I hadn’t had a single cup of coffee all day. For the energy-deprived caffeine addict, walking into this oasis of carbs and boba tea drinks is akin to being led past the velvet rope and through the pearly gates by St. Peter himself. I’d Yelp’ed the boutique cafe while searching for late-night work spots, and read about their clouds. I’m not talking nimbus; I’m talking dessert. I’m talking light as air, pillowy, sweetened just a touch, and filled with a puff of cream. I tried their black tea cloud because I needed all the caffeine. The wrapper is a mystery and I made a huge mess of myself trying to figure out how to eat around it, but it was worth any decline in the level of grace I was desperately trying to convey in this new place full of new people. The boba-istas (I propose this as their new nickname) even ask you how you’d like your boba tea. You can get it as sweet or unsweetened as you desire without the benefit of dirty looks. I got a normal coffee boba and it was Goldilocks right.
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