Thursday, December 22, 2011

WEEKEND FORAGER: Wine, Wenches & Whole Foods

Recently my mother
lost the whole notion of a yearly, holiday 'cookie party' and replaced it with something entirely different.

Instead of women from the neighborhood coming over in the late afternoon bearing shortbread and chocolate kiss peanut butter cookies in metal tins, there will be only wine. No food, just wine.

Since my father died, she hasn't been the same. After a few weeks of mourning, she moved into hyperactivity. Things were being eliminated. Old clothes, papers and now the cookie party, out the window. The idea for "Wenches and Wine" came from her sister in New York. So now, typical mom gifts such as a scarf, a nice book or a tasteful print are out the window. This year mom is getting booze for X-mas. Her favorite is "chard" of the Three Buck Chuck variety.

A trip to Whole Foods in Hadley (no wine at this Trader Joe's) to test the latest holiday samples revealed two surprises: Wine fit for a discerning wench and Veggies (some) fit for a locavore.


Marqulela Stevenson (pictured above) offered shoppers endive boats last week at Whole Foods. Parked just inside the front doors, Marqulela offered samples of the veggie with a dipping sauce. It was a rainy night. Many shoppers came by and devoured bits of endive boats that contained tofu from Connecticut, and watermelon radish from Vermont and carrots from Winter Moon farm in Hadley. Oh, holy night. I learned from Marqulela that the carrots, 500 lbs of them, are periodically hauled to the store on a bicycle from Winter Moon Farm on Bay Road to Rt. 5. Dipping sauce: peanut butter, rice vinegar, lime, soy, sesame oil, none local, delicious and might be replicated with maple syrup, rhubarb reduction, sea salt from the Cape and melted butter. But that is for purists.


In the wine department a is guy giving out samples of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot which sells for $35.88 per case. Called "Three Wishes" the wine comes from California vineyards with wine to spare. According to Don Williams, head of the wine team at Whole Foods Hadley, this is not just extra wine with a Whole Foods private label, it is quite "quaffable." Two reasons: recent years in California have produced consistently good vintages; and vineyards have made quite a bit of it. The wenches found "Three Wishes" to their liking. Responses ranged from "lighter" to "maybe just a third glass." Patsy will give a case to her sister who will share it with New York wenches.

The California wine isn't local but the negative carbon footprint carrots from Hadley are a plus.

Have I got a brisket for you!!!!

Stevie Pierson, author of "Brisket, a Love Story"

At Stone Barns in NY, a woman talking and gesturing and signing books shared her concept for happiness and love: Brisket. If you have a chart that shows what the cuts of beef are on a cow, you will see that the chest of the animal, No. 7,  is known as "Brisket." Next to the word "Brisket" on the cuts of beef chart is the explanation, "Jewish Pot Roast." If you have a meat share, ask for brisket and if you go to the grocery store, pot roast or brisket will buy you an economical cut of meat for a song.  But it is protein plus sugar that really nails it. According to Pierson, brisket + onions is the perfect combination. The book "Brisket, a Love Story," outlines many, many other ways to attack the chest of a cow. They include comment and recipes by a constellation of foodie super stars including the doyenne of Jewish Cooking, Joan Nathan, the dynamo of Italian cooking Mario Batali and many others, some just regular people.    

Brisket Recipe: via Joan Nathan, via "Brisket, a Love Story"


My Favorite Brisket (Not Too Gedempte Fleysch) Adapted from Jewish Cooking in America, by Joan Nathan
Serves 10

Basically, this is what you'd offer your future in-laws to ensure their undying affection. This is a taste-great, feel-good classic Jewish brisket, but while the recipe has been in the family for years, Joan is not averse to a new tweak or twist: Add a jar of sun-dried
tomatoes, dry or packed in oil, for a more intense flavor. Or add a 2-inch knob of ginger and a few large strips of lemon zest to the pot. Remove them before serving. Note: Not Too Gedempte Fleysch  means "Not too well stewed." I didn't know either. - Stevie Pierson, author, Brisket, a Love Story

2 teaspoons salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 (5-pound) brisket of beef
1 clove garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 onions, peeled and diced
1 (10-ounce) can tomatoes
2 cups red wine
2 stalks celery with the leaves, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme
1 sprig rosemary
1/4 cup chopped parsley
6 to 8 carrots, peeled and sliced on the diagonal

Preheat the oven to 325°F.

Sprinkle the salt and pepper to taste over the brisket and rub with
the garlic. Sear the brisket in the oil and then place, fat side up,
on top of the onions in a large casserole. Cover with the tomatoes,
red wine, celery, bay leaf, thyme, and rosemary.

Cover and bake in the oven for about 3 hours, basting often with the
pan juices.

Add the parsley and carrots and bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes more,
or until the carrots are cooked. To test for doneness, stick a fork in
the brisket. When there is a light pull on the fork as it is removed
from the meat, it is fork tender.

This dish is best prepared in advance and refrigerated so that the fat
can be easily skimmed from the surface of the gravy. When ready to
serve, preheat the oven to 350°F. Reheat the gravy in a pan on the
stove. Some people like to strain the gravy, but Joan prefers to keep
the onions because they are so delicious.

Trim off all the visible fat from the cold brisket. Then place the
brisket, on what was the fat side down, on a cutting board. Look for
the grain (that is, the muscle lines of the brisket) and with a sharp
knife, cut across the grain.

Put the sliced brisket in a roasting pan. Pour the hot gravy on the
meat, cover, and reheat in the oven for about 30 minutes.

Friday, December 16, 2011

WEEKEND FORAGER: Chocolate Under Glass

Pop-Up Heavenly Chocolate

At his permanent pop-up shop on the first floors of Thorn's, chocolate mogul Bud Stockwell is celebrating beauty, the holidays and his new digs with rows and rows of hand made chocolates festooned in crystallized ephemera. At the new pop-up (yet permanent) Heavenly Chocolate, candy resides under glass in the prow of a curved wooden counter that is manned by pretty women.  They are expensive, (the chocolate) they are sophisticated, they come wrapped in gold and they never disappoint.  Most of the chocolates are hand made, mostly by Bud, who spends lots of his time bent over a boiling vat of molten cocoa, dipping and carefully rolling -- that is just for the truffles. Other varieties of perfection include a rosemary flavored caramel and an edible little Santa Claus. Locavores will appreciate that rosemary, mint and pear flavorings come from Bud's garden. This claim can only be substantiated by tasting the stuff.

If you are in the mood to shop and nibble, check out the new Heavenly Chocolate on the first floor of Thorn's. Just walk in the front door and list to the left toward the stairwell at the back. The chocolate will be there, under glass waiting to jump ship.


Friday, December 9, 2011