Archive for food media

Quick and Impressive Appetizers: Blue Cheese Walnut Shortbread Crackers

Blue cheese and walnut crackers

Just don't serve them on Valentine's Day . . .

One of the few things I miss about having cable – besides all the trashy Bravo reality shows – is watching The Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network. Actually, Ina Garten is pretty much the only thing I miss about the Food Network. Since the network moved away from chef-driven shows and tried to fill its ranks with Rachel Ray wannabes, I pretty much stopped watching all together. Well, I watched Semi-Homemade with Sandra Lee, but only to gape at how disgusting everything looked.

But Ina Garten, while not a professionally trained chef, is in a class all by herself. She’s a Martha-Stewart-type, but way less fussy – she doesn’t do thing like make two-story gingerbread houses roofed in gold leaf, or top cakes with chocolate truffles molded to look like robins’ eggs. She just likes good food, with good ingredients, and she’s not afraid of a little butter. Or, well, a lot of butter.

These blue cheese walnut crackers are classic Ina. The flavor of the crackers depends on the quality and type of blue cheese you use, but the crackers themselves are quite simple and come together in minutes. Garten calls these “crackers,” but they have the crisp texture and heft of a shortbread – they’re like a cookie, minus the sugar. These crackers are decadent, savory and extremely flavorful, and everyone will think that you spent hours, not minutes, throwing them together.

I brought these to the Food Blogger Potluck last week, and they were a hit. They also made my entire apartment smell like blue cheese for a couple of days, which could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your point of view. And, um, you may not want to serve these crackers on a date night – well, unless both of you really like blue cheese.

Blue Cheese and Walnut Crackers 2

. . . Well, unless you and your partner both love blue cheese. Or aren't shy about brushing your teeth.

Recipe: Blue Cheese Walnut Crackers


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David Guas Talks About His New Cookbook, New Orleans, and Desserts With The “Granny” Factor

David Guas, Pastry Chef, author, stove-top pudding lover. Photo courtesy of simoneink.

David Guas’ new cookbook, DamGoodSweet, practically drips with sugar. The down-home, unfussy New Orleans style desserts like sweet corn cake with root beer syrup, lemon doberge cake, and pecan and brown butter ice cream are sure to satisfy any sweet tooth. But Guas’ book also overflows with memories; each recipe is accompanied by a story of his life growing up in New Orleans. The recipes don’t just give directions – they document the bakeries, stores, and local food vendors of Guas’ youth, a landscape that hurricane Katrina permanently altered.

Guas moved to the DC area from New Orleans 11 years ago, after working as a pastry chef at Windsor Court Hotel, to open DC Coast. He served as the Executive Pastry chef for Passion Food Hospitality restaurants until 2007, overseeing the desserts for Ten Penh, Ceiba, and Acadiana. Guas left to form his own consulting company, DamGoodSweet, in 2007. Faithful readers will remember that one of his consulting projects was developing the cupcakes for the Red Velvet Cupcakery. Guas is currently looking to open his own bakery – appropriately named the Bayou Bakery – although he has yet to find the perfect space.

Guas sat down with ModernDomestic last week, where we talked about nostalgia baking, desserts with the Granny factor, and what he likes to cook with his two sons.

MD: How did you end up working in pastry?
DG: I’m an “accidental” pastry chef. I applied in the kitchen at the Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans, and all they had open at the time was in the pastry department. After some persuading, the master pastry chef decided to hire me, but only if I wouldn’t make him regret his decision.

MD: Once you got your foot in the door – at any time did you think you’d move back down into the kitchen?
DG: That was my mindset in the first couple months. But the next thing you know, I started getting pushed around shift-wise to a lot of different shifts, and I was always finding something new and interesting to learn in that department. The executive chef at the time was Jeff Tonks and he took an interest in me. Before I knew it I was collaborating on the menu with the executive pastry chef and playing around with desserts at home. Jeff offered me a position to open his restaurant – DC Coast in the summer of ’98.

MD: How would you describe your approach to cooking?
DG: The way I cook in the book is the way I like to eat – you can dive into a bowl of pudding, or a not-so-sweet, nontraditional red velvet cake. It’s a pretty true marker of how I consider myself as a person – these are down home and any-day-of-the-week kind of desserts. They’re not overly fussy. It’s a break from that à la carte mentality of component desserts – where you got your main dessert with a sauce and a crisp and a tart. The style of the restaurants I came from was fussy.

But with the economy, more people are cooking at home, and they really don’t cut out desserts because they’re trying to save money. If anything you need it more so now than ever, because it tells you that everything’s going to be okay. I call it the granny factor. There’s a lot of desserts that have the “G” factor.

MD: “Nostalgia” desserts are pretty trendy these days – do you think they’re here to stay?
Nostalgia never went anywhere. It was masked by other fancy things. That’s the beautiful thing about what those type of desserts are – they’re going to stand the test of time. The restaurants that aren’t struggling as much right now are those ones with mid price points, that know where their products come from. A great example is Elevation Burger – they fry their fries in olive oil, and the burgers are delicious. You know where the beef comes from. I don’t mind paying for that.

MD: Do you ever bake with your kids?
DG: All the time. We’ll do the simple things, like cookies and brownies on the weekend. Anther thing I do is stove-top puddings. They actually adore my chocolate and banana pudding.

Banana pudding, a favorite in the Guas household, from DamGoodSweet. Photo by Ellen Silverman.

MD: How did Hurricane Katrina influence the book?
DG: That was the motivation – I wanted to get the stories [of New Orleans] down for my two sons, and to document the restaurants and the sweet shops.

MD: Are there any bakeries in the book that aren’t there anymore?
DG: Lawrence’s Bakery [also called Mr. Wedding Cake], and McKenzie’s Bakery. Mr Wedding Cake – that was right near my dad’s office, and McKenzie’s was pretty much everywhere around the city. McKenzie’s closed, but not because of the storm – but Lawrence’s did.

MD: Do you have a favorite bakery in DC? I ask this partially for my own purposes – I really want to find a good bakery in the DC area.
I don’t go to a lot of bakeries, I really don’t. If I want brownies and I don’t want to make them myself I’ll go to Artisan Confections. Saturday only he makes these Valrhona brownies that are the bomb. And he does chocolates too.

But my entire neighborhood wants me to open a place. We have Randolph’s and Heidelberg’s, and they are what they are. They’re not going to change, and they’re not going anywhere. But I bring a youthful energy to desserts.

MD: So what’s the current plan for the Bayou Bakery?
DG: Bayou Bakery plans haven’t changed, it’s just a matter of finding a space. I talk to my broker every day now. I’m looking for a turnkey operation, and those are hard to come by.

MD: Any recipes from the book you plan to sell?
DG: One hundred percent of them. We’ll have king cakes during carnival – everything. It’s my opportunity not to do the à la carte stuff.

MD: One more question – where do you like to eat in DC?
DG: I love Brasserie Becks – I love going there and getting a beer and some mussels. I love the salads. I love sitting at the bar at Ceiba or Ten Pehn. Black Salt – Jeff Black’s restaurants, is really close to our house – just across the chain bridge. Phenomenal food, great product, great menu.

Cup custard (yum), from DamGoodSweet. Photo by Ellen Silverman.

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Thanksgiving Crises Averted

Apple Pie 2

I'm really only good for pie questions. Although those of you with my cell phone number are welcome to call.

Good luck to all the cooks out there embarking on their Thanksgiving meal for the first time tomorrow. I have to say – I envy you a little. I’ve only cooked the meal once, and it took me about ten hours. But man, they were a great ten hours. Even though the timing is hard, nothing about the meal is technically difficult – besides having the turkey, a naturally dry meat, turn out juicy and flavorful (my bird was neither, by the way). And doing that much cooking, coordinating all the little elements – it was tremendous fun.

If you’re looking for a good dessert recipe from the ModernDomestic archives, here are my best bets:

If you’re looking for more hands-on help before and during the big day, then never fear- there’s help out there. Professional help. As I did last year, I’ve compiled a list of Thanksgiving hotlines to answer all your questions. For those of you who don’t have my direct line, that is (not that I’m much help in anything but the pie department. But I can try).

For all your general cooking questions:

  • The Splendid Table, Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s  wonderful NPR cooking show, will be having a two hour live call-in show starting at 11:00 am (eastern) on Thanksgiving day. Give Lynne a call at (800) 537-5252. You can also submit questions online at the show’s web site.

For turkey troubles

  • If you’re anti-Butterball, Reynolds has a Turkey Tips Hotline at 1-800-745-4000.
  • You can also call Purdue’s hotline with your turkey questions at 1-800-4PERDUE® (1-800-473-7383).
  • If your Turkey question is specific to brining, call the Spice Hunter hotline at 888-334-8977.

For a pie crisis

  • The Crisco Pie Hotline will answer your basic and advanced pie baking questions. Call them at -877-FOR PIE TIPS (1-877-367-7438). Granted, I hope they can answer questions about more than just shorting, since I dearly hope you’re using some butter in your pie crust (actually, I hope you’re using a ratio of six tbs butter and 2 tbs shortening to 1 cup of flour).

For general baking questions:

Cranberry queries:

  • Problems with the cranberry sauce? Ocean Spray can answer cranberry questions at 1-800-662-3263.

Good luck!

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Ban The Bake Sale Ban

Crack cookies

Can this ban be anything other than a media ploy?

Photo by magerleagues via Flickr, under the Creative Commons license.

I don’t live in New York City. And I don’t have kids. In many ways, I am ill-qualified to weigh in on the recent move to ban bake sales in New York City schools. But I’m so annoyed that I think it’s a threat to my health to do otherwise.

An off-topic discussion at my book club last night made it abundantly clear that I have no idea what it’s like to raise kids in this age of hyper vigilant child rearing. The constant headlines about the childhood obesity epidemic would probably cause me to experience agonizing guilt over giving my child a cupcake. But let’s just take a step back here. Childhood obesity has lots of causes – sedentary lifestyle, access to highly caloric processed foods, and even genetic factors that we don’t fully understand. But, does anyone really think that bake sales are significantly contributing to childhood obesity? Or that banning them in schools will make a difference in NYC kids’ waistlines?

Taking such an extreme stance against home-baked goods is just another sign that Americans’ relationship with food is getting more and more distorted – to the detriment of our health. The most convincing argument from The Omnivore’s Dilemma is that Americans have lost our cultural knowledge of food – what to eat, how much to eat, when we’ve eaten too much. Instead, we’re inundated with advertising, media, and government messages about what the “right” diet is – which means that our dieting patterns can shift rapidly upon hearing new information. How else to explain how Americans swore off fat in the 1980s because we were convinced that high-fat diets would kills us, only to embrace the Atkins diet in the 1990s?

Making sweets “forbidden” merely encourages a polarized view of food and diet that is inconsistent with our own traditions and history. No, I don’t think that kids should be living off cupcakes – but sweets are part of food culture. The French may have perfected the art of pastry, but ancient Romans ate dessert, the pilgrims made pumpkin pies in hollowed-out pumpkin shells, and gingerbread dates back to Medieval times. Instead of banning sweets, shouldn’t we accept that they have always had a place in our diet? And treat them as what they should be treated – as special, occasional treats with unique histories and traditions? By making desserts “forbidden” and “evil” we just encourage kids to eat more of these “forbidden” items when their parents aren’t looking.

Like I said. I don’t have kids. I don’t know what it’s like to raise kids. But I really hope that, when I have them, I can teach them that the occasional cupcake has a place in a “healthy” diet. In fact, I’d feel better about giving my kid a cupcake that I baked than giving them a scientifically engineered candy bar. In the end, I think that banning bake sales is merely a media ploy to boost Mayor Bloomberg’s “tough on fat” image, rather than a well reasoned intervention to fight childhood obesity.

There. I feel a lot better now. I may just go have a cookie.

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RIP Gourmet (The Magazine I Never Cooked From)


And the magazine industry bloodbath continues . . .

The blogosphere has already been filled with mournful odes to Gourmet, but I can’t help but add my own. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 24 hours, by now you’ve heard that Conde Nast is shuttering Gourmet, the country’s oldest food magazine, along with Modern Bride, Elegant Bride and Cookie.

Many people thought that it would be the simpler, more pedestrian Bon Appetite that would end up on Conde Nast’s chopping block. Instead, it was the upscale and historic Gourmet – even the powerful force of editor Ruth Reichl couldn’t save it from the bloody carnage that is the state of magazine ad sales.

I grew up with Gourmet; my mother has been a subscriber for decades. I remember flipping through the issues that were fanned out on our living room coffee table. I never read the articles, but headed straight for the recipes. I loved reading those recipes. I loved cataloging their exotic ingredients, wondering what I would adapt to suit my own tastes, gasping at certain recipes that looked completely ridiculous.

But I have to admit – I don’t have any memories of actually making anything from Gourmet. It was a magazine that I loved to read, but mostly I regarded it as a beautifully shot piece of food fantasy. The recipes were so complex (who will really make a ten course tapas menu for New Years Eve?), so detailed, and so extravagant, that I was never actually drawn to make one of them.

No, I preferred the more budget friendly, practical Bon Appétit. When I moved to DC four years ago, I subscribed to Bon Appétit as a symbolic act to usher in the era of my adult life. Bon Appétit taught to use cumin in my improvised Mexican dishes. Even when I use Epicurious, I usually go for the Bon Appétit recipes because they won’t require an expensive grocery run.

Gourmet was decidedly upscale. Its recipes featured ingredients I couldn’t afford, its travel pieces featured places I would never go to, and its favorite housewares were decidedly out of my price range. I can see why Conde Nast eventually had to bow to economic reality and cancel the publication that was most out of line with our current economic environment. The era of cooking with saffron and truffles is out. The era of ice cream sandwiches and roast chicken is in.

Still, it’s depressing that a publication with such a rich history and strong writing had to close. I actually recently subscribed to Gourmet on my own – for the first time ever. I’m sad to see it go – and I’m even sadder to think of what Conde Nast will replace my subscription with. I have a sneaking suspicion it’s going to be Teen Vogue, since they replaced my Domino subscription with Glamour (i.e., the magazine that makes me sad to be a woman).

But, um, Modern Bride, Elegant Bride and Cookie? Good riddance.

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A Julie and Julia Convert


Stanley Tucci, as Paul Child, and Meryl Streep, as Julia Child, celebrate the good life in Paris.

Half the crowd at the opening weekend of Julie and Julia , the new Nora Ephron movie about the life of Julia Child and blogger Julie Powell, must have been food bloggers. I mean, the movie has Julia Child, a story about a food blogger making it big, and copious food porn, all covered in a feel-good Nora Ephron glow. Come to think of it, the amazing thing is that there are food bloggers who haven’t seen this movie.

I was among the food bloggers who saw Julie and Julia this past weekend, but I was not one of the bloggers with high expectations. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I was a Julie and Julia skeptic. I didn’t like Julie Powell’s memoir, I though the movie should only be about Julia Child, and I still have a bad taste in my mouth from Ephron’s sickly sweet You’ve Got Mail.

But, after seeing Julie and Julia Saturday night, I am coming out as a convert. Maybe it’s the insomnia talking, but I loved this movie. I loved it so much I would see it again. Right now.

Meryl Streep tops the list of reasons why I loved this movie. Streep doesn’t just play Julia Child – she is Julia Child. She captures Child’s lilting, singsong voice, and her awkwardly graceful carriage — her performance is dead on. But Streep also embodies those intangible qualities that are why America fell in love with Julia Child – her warmth, her practicality, and her generous spirit. Stanley Tucci is wonderful as Paul Child – calm, supportive, and just a little wry.

The Julia Child sections of the movie are flawless. Child’s narrative – falling in love with cooking in France, finding her path as a cookbook author, struggling to get her book published, finally succeeding after years of work – brought tears to my eyes. The only problem I had with the Child section is that Streep, who is 60, plays Child at age 36 (when she attended the Cordon Blue cooking school) – and I didn’t even bat an eyelash. I think this says something about our youth-obsessed culture, but I’m not quite sure what.

To my surprise, the Julie Powell storyline was much more engaging than I thought it would be. Amy Adams did an excellent job playing Powell as a sweet, soulful, and neurotic cubicle worker and aspiring writer. This storyline could have been played for pure cheese, but Ephron doesn’t entirely sugar coat Powell – the character walks the line between identifiable twenty-something angst, and annoying self-absorption.

Ephron does a good job of drawing parallels between the Julia Child and Julie Powell story lines, although the more I think about it the less I am convinced that these parallels actually exist. Julia Child’s influence on the way Americans cook and the extensive amount of research, testing, and editing that went into writing Mastering The Art of French Cooking, can’t really compare to Powell’s blog. Powell’s blog was amusing and sparked some copy-cat blogs, but didn’t exactly change the way American’s think about food. Still, while I was watching the movie I was utterly convinced of the parallels – a testament, I think, to Ephron’s directing.

I couldn’t help but think about how the blogging landscape has changed since Powell wrote her blog. It’s quite likely that, were Powell to start blogging today, she would never land a book deal or gain the kind of attention she did. Food blogging is a crowded media space these days, with more popping up by the minute. Still, it’s nice to dream, right? Even food bloggers need our fantasies.

Besides Streep’s and Adam’s strong performances, what I loved most about this movie is that it really celebrates food, cooking, and the role that loving food can play in a life well lived. Even if it means suffering through a burned Beef Bourguignon, or having to slice through a mound of onions to perfect your knife skills – food can be a creative outlet, a way to explore something new, and a way to share something special with the people you love. Even if it won’t land you a book deal.

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Are Food Blogs Making Food Writing Trivial?

Hello Cupcake - WIndow Display 4

Cupcakes - are they really worthy of all the media scrutiny?

New York Times food critic Frank Bruni wrote what I can only describe as a very snobby article last week bemoaning the current state of “trivial” food writing. I read it this weekend and, days later, I’m still annoyed.

“Foie Gras Palates, Hot Dog Pocketbooks” responds to the widespread media coverage of Tim Hortons, a Canadian doughnut chain that recently moved into twelve NYC locations previously occupied by Dunkin’ Doughnuts. The so-called Canadian invasion promoted numerous articles, commentaries, and taste tests – including a piece from the Times’ own Diner’s Journal. But Bruni implies that mass-produced doughnuts don’t merit such attention, saying that food writers for both traditional and new media fetishize pedestrian foods like cupcakes, burgers, or pizza that, 20 years ago, would have been beneath the notice of restaurant critics.

While I understand Bruni’s point – the kind of attention that the food media pays to fast food outlets used to be reserved for upscale restaurants – I fail to see why this is a bad thing. Why should we be bemoaning a media culture that pays more attention to the things people actually eat on a regular basis? Yes, it’s fun to read a review of a new upscale restaurant; I get to live vicariously through the review. But as someone on a “hot dog” budget, I’m much more interested in a review of, say, a new Pho place in Columbia Heights.

Bruni also implies that the food media’s hyper attention to fast food joints and neighborhood restaurants is a new phenomenon. But that can’t be true – otherwise, why would New Yorkers have such heartfelt beliefs about where to get the best pizza, the best hot dog, or the best Chinese food in the city? Who doesn’t have a relative who swears that McDonald’s has better coffee than Dunkin’ Doughnuts, or vice versa?  When I lived in Seattle, everyone I knew had an opinion on which coffee shop served the best latte (it was never Starbucks). And I won’t even hazard a guess about which DC restaurant makes the best hamburger, lest I anger the vast army of Five Guys fanatics.

People have always paid attention to the food their communities have to offer – both the upscale and the cheap. The difference is that now, with the advent of blogs, people have a medium to publish these long-cherished opinions.

And I say more power to them. I find a blog post on who has the best delivery pizza in DC as valid as a review of Proof. And as someone who’s very interested in a food item that Bruni deems trivial – cupcakes – all I can say is that there’s a world of difference between what you get at Cakelove and what you get at Hello Cupcake. And that’s worthy of a blog post.

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