Foodie Blog

Since When Does Summer Taste Like Doughnuts?

By Bonny Wolf   |   Monday, July 9, 2012
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July 8, 2012


doughnut

(iStockphoto.com)


I get saltwater taffy. You're at an ocean that is made of salt water. But doughnuts?

I'm clearly missing something, because many summer communities have doughnut shops, often open just for the season. Critical summer doughnut mass seems to be concentrated in the north and east — maybe because it's always summer in California, where they have their own different doughnut culture.

The summer shops usually are simple shacks with awnings and screen windows, no inside seating and a picnic table outside in the hot sun.

And each one has the world's best doughnuts.

In Grand Marais, Minn., near the entrance to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, there's a place that even changed its name from the Grand Marais Donut Shop to World's Best Donuts.

Like many others, World's Best is a family business — fourth generation in this case. When they opened in 1969, they used a tackle box under the counter as a cash register. The business grew and moved to a bigger building. But they're still open only in summer.

Britt's in Carolina Beach, N.C., has a fanatic following. Bloggers post the day and hour for the season opening. Since 1939, doughnut eaters have lined up for Britt's only doughnut offering: glazed. No sprinkles, jam, fruit or surprising colors.

Just the opposite is the Fractured Prune in Ocean City, Md., where you can get blueberry, creamsicle, lemonade and peanut butter cup doughnuts.

The Downyflake in Nantucket is believed to be the only one left of a chain that started in the 1930s. For years, my friend David got up early to beat the crowds and bring home a dozen doughnuts for his family. He won a family contest by eating eight at one sitting.

Much doughnut baking starts in the wee small hours of the morning, and the lines of barefoot, shorts-clad customers starts early and is always long.

At the Back Door of Martha's Vineyard Gourmet Cafe and Bakery, though, people line up between 7:30 at night and 1 a.m. for doughnuts. One regular says, yes, these are the world's best doughnuts.

I still don't quite get it. To me, summer is more snow cones and popsicles than doughnuts. But maybe Homer Simpson was right when he said, "Doughnuts. Is there anything they can't do?"

Bonny Wolf is the author of Talking with My Mouth Full and contributing editor of NPR's Kitchen Window.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Thinking Outside The Bento Box

By NPR's Michele Kayal   |   Thursday, July 5, 2012
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July 3, 2012

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Originally a convenient lunch for Japanese field workers, bentos today can be high art, with flower-petal carrots, hard-boiled eggs shaped into bunnies, broccoli sculpted into trees. But you don't have to cook Japanese food — or make cute cutouts — to reap the benefits of the bento. (Photo: Debra G. Samuels)


I'm sure you're a very good cook. But if you want to feel bad about yourself, spend five minutes cruising the Internet for photos of bento boxes.

 

They won't be hard to find. Originally just a convenient boxed lunch for Japanese field workers, bentos today can be high art, with flower-petal carrots, hard-boiled eggs shaped into bunnies, broccoli sculpted into trees. The moms who make them — because they're mostly moms, and not necessarily Japanese — are eager to share their edible masterpieces.

Confession: I have a problem with food that is cute. I even pick the buttons off gingerbread men. I'm also against expending that much effort just to coax my kid to eat. (Yes, my daughter thinks I'm "mean.") That said, I truly believe that we eat first with our eyes. And because of that, there is much to learn from the art of the bento.

Bento boxes go back to at least the 5th century A.D., when Japanese field workers, hunters and fishermen would pack dried rice into boxes. Somewhere around the 19th century, makunouchi, or "intermission," bentos emerged, packed with side dishes and treats for theatergoers to munch between acts. When the railroads arrived, ekiben — station boxes — filled with local specialties became popular. Today, many Japanese men and women carry bentos to work, and schoolchildren tote colorful arrangements of checkerboard-carved apples and rice balls shaped like Hello Kitty.

Of course, these Japanese lunches will have Japanese food: rice balls (onigiri) stuffed with pickled apricot or baked cod roe, deep-fried pork cutlets, vegetables simmered in sweet soy sauce. But you don't have to cook Japanese food — or make cute cutouts — to reap the benefits of the bento.

Cookbook author and Japan expert Debra Samuels says the five main elements of a bento are color, texture, seasonality, presentation and nutrition (and let's not forget portion control — how much can you cram into those little compartments?). She says many Japanese believe that including five colors on your plate — red, yellow, green, white and black — means you have a balanced meal.

Many cultures — including our own — carry lunch in a box. In India, children and workers take tiffins — stacked stainless steel boxes filled with rice or bread, curry and vegetables. Korean dosirak offer jubilant heaps of bibimbap or perhaps sushi-like rolls called kimbap. Many American parents pack those Buzz Lightyear lunchboxes with organic, whole grain, gluten-, antibiotic- or trans fat-free foods. But all of these lack what are perhaps the most distinctive features of the bento: organization and an appetizing aesthetic.

Face it, PB&J wrapped in plastic — whether it's organic or not — just isn't that appealing. Maybe that's why my kid-size containers — bought especially for school lunches — still come back half-full of the snap peas, blueberries or tabbouleh I put in them. What if you could make that food fun and appetizing, though? Even without the hearts and flowers?

It doesn't have to be complicated. Just think of naturally hand-held foods. A wrap filled with meat and crunchy, colorful vegetables becomes a lunch cone. Slice it sideways, and it's pinwheels. Farmers markets, supermarkets and even some big-box stores are filled with gorgeous and delicious kid-size vegetables like mini zucchini and summer squash, fingerling potatoes, clementines, bell-shaped yellow and red cherry tomatoes, slender Persian cucumbers, tiny sweet peppers, and yellow, orange and purple baby carrots (real ones — not the ones lathed into bullets at the factory). Eggs provide easy, affordable, colorful protein — "cheap and cheerful," as a British friend says. You can boil them, turn them into an omelet or an herb-stuffed patty, all of which are delicious cold. Cheese comes in single-serving sticks and rounds, with varieties from mozzarella to cheddar and even chevre.

And then there's the box itself. Like the food, the boxes in Japan can be works of art. Delicate cedar vessels and boxes of wicker and willow evolved from the simple wrapping of bamboo leaves and falconers' feed bags that are thought to be among the original bento boxes. The boxes can be slickly lacquered and painted with scenes. But today, a Japanese office worker is more likely to carry a sleek aluminum container with built-in gel packs or vacuum-insulated boxes. For children, there are boxes in the shape of frogs and pandas, boxes decorated with their favorite cartoon figures, even boxes that look like stacked Legos.

Through the miracle of the Internet, many of these items are available online. One company even makes a bento — and that's what they call it — with colorful insert containers. Sleek, clean, the ultimate green lunch.

A little color. Some crisp, beautiful vegetables. Just a few minutes of attention to feeding your eyes before your stomach, and lunch suddenly becomes a whole new experience. Just remember to say itadakimasu — "I humbly receive."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Pie-Making 101: How I Overcame My Fear Of Crumbling Crust

By NPR's Allison Aubrey   |   Monday, July 2, 2012
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July 2, 2012

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CIA Instructor George Higgins checks the slices of pie made by students. (Allison Aubrey/NPR)

If you listen to my story on Morning Edition, you'll understand the generational divide that's led to my fear of making a pie crust.

 

So when I decided to overcome my fear, I did it the right way. I hopped on a train to the Culinary Institute of America, the nation's premier cooking school, in Hyde Park, N.Y. There I learned the foolproof pie crust formula that chef George Higgins teaches his students. "It starts with 3, 2, 1" he explains.

That's 3 parts flour, 2 parts fat (butter), 1 part liquid. We've laid it out for you in pictures here, to make it easy. And we also share his family's impossible-to-resist blueberry pie recipe that's made with a flaky crust.

But it takes just a bit more than that.

Higgins says a successful baker likes precision. So be sure to measure accurately. Then, of course, there's the technique.

The biggest mistake I made — and this is a pitfall for lots of newbies — was overworking the dough. Chef Higgins made me toss out my first attempt and start over! Less is more. Higgins taught me to handle it just enough to form the dough into a ball. (Kneading is for bread, not pie crust!) It's supposed to look like it's barely holding together.

Here are some other pastry chefs' tips to avoid disaster:

Your butter should be firm, cold and chunky. Ryan Westover, the pastry chef at Poste in Washington, D.C. explains the chunks of cold butter will slowly release steam as the pie bakes. And this is important:

"By releasing steam incrementally, you give the starches and gluten time to form a lattice, or a sort of balloon" he says. And this holds the steam in.

This is how a good pie crust develops it's rich, delicate layers of of wonderful texture and flavor Westover says.

Additional temperature tips come from Theresa Souther, a pastry chef and Head of the Professional Pastry Arts Program at L'Academie de Cuisine, a culinary school in Bethesda, Md.

She recommends putting ingredients, including the flour, in the fridge or freezer for 30 to 60 minutes before you begin.

And be sure to use ice water to mix the dough. "Cold temperatures help minimize gluten development," she explains. And if you have too much gluten, you end up with a chewy, rubbery crust.

Also, she says, let the dough rest in the fridge after you mix it and before you try to roll it and shape the pie. Cold dough is usually easier to roll and handle.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

The Art Of The Snack, One Illustration At A Time

Monday, June 18, 2012
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The next time you need some help deciding what to pick for a midday munch, try Snack Data, a quirky, illustrated catalogue of foods. Part reference guide, part art project, it's the latest idiosyncratic creation of Los Angeles-based web developer Beau Johnson.

The entries are arranged by flavor, cuisine, and type of food, making it easy to find whatever kind of snack you desire. And for foods with more than one ingredient, the components are cross-listed to reveal connections between foods (e.g. Spaghetti & Meatballs – see also: Spaghetti, Meatball).

As an art project, Snack Data has a primal, throw-back feel. Accompanying the pixelated images are bits of questionable trivia and highly subjective tasting notes — kind of like a clever middle school kid's book report on foods from around the world, not an authoritative reference.

Johnson creates the illustrations using Photoshop, in the blocky style of early-1990s computer games like King's Quest. But Johnson, 27, says it wasn't meant to be retro.

"I know it has those associations," he says. It's also meant as a departure from the food photography that saturates the Internet, he adds.

For the text, Johnson pulls facts from Wikipedia or simply invents his own, like "the hot dog bun can be thought of as an edible glove" and "taco salad is something that happened when people in the United States got tired of eating regular taco."

"I try to give a little bit of real background," Johnson says, but admits, "I don't spend too long researching them." Johnson has added to the database regularly since its creation in mid-April. He's almost done with the primary entries, and he takes requests through email.

None of the entries are brand-name products, although some do resemble well-known brands. Johnson felt it was important to focus on the foods themselves. "If you're writing about an orange or an apple or a scallop, there's no one to answer for it," he says. "You're just kind of commenting on this thing that's always been there."

We've selected a few of Johnson's favorites to feature in our Snack Data slideshow above, as well as a few of our own. Naturally, we've included the entry on salt. To explore the entire collection, visit snackdata.com.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Somerville Bar Moves to Serve Only Local Brews

Tuesday, May 15, 2012
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May 15, 2012

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Some samples of "Flagraiser" and "Trekker Trippel" beers from Slumbrew. (Photo: Jeff Keating)

BOSTON — Johnny D’s Uptown Restaurant and Music Club in Somerville’s Davis Square boasts playing host to some of the best acts in the world, from jazz to rock, blues and folk. They are particularly keen on local acts, which may be why they’ve made a bold move to start offering only locally brewed beer to go with the show.

"Local beer is just better," said John Bonaccorso, general manager of Johnny D's, adding that there is definitely a growing demand for unique, well-crafted brew. "In the past, if you knew about wine you were considered well-educated and sophisticated. If you knew a lot about beer, you probably had a drinking problem. Now, I think that has changed."

But it's more than just an appeal to new trends in sophistication driving Bonaccorso's move to offer better beer. He acknowledged that the move is also a choice to do good business.

"Some [beers are expensive], but you're getting a better product." Bonaccorso said. "We are trying to run our business according to our own ethics and how we feel good about running a business. That includes things like supporting local businesses, and offering good local products, like ethically-raised meats and things like that."

In the micro-economy of starting up a local brewery, Jeff Leiter, co-founder of Slumbrew, said it's that kind of inclusive, responsible business decision that makes it possible for him to get his business off the ground. "That's a critical thing to any brewery starting up," he said.

While he's glad to have distribution partners like Johnny D's, Leiter said brewing is not as risky an enterprise as some other kinds of start-ups.

"At the end of the day, people will always buy beer, regardless of how the economy is," he said.

Why It Matters That California Teens Eat Less

By Allison Aubrey   |   Saturday, May 12, 2012
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