Saveur 100: Start dinner with your spice drawer

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I am an admitted hoarder of spices. Some people amass shoe collections. I fill my pantry with all manner of enticing, fragrant spices, even—and sometimes especially—the ones I have no particular plan to use. On a recent trip to Kalustyan’s, that most wondrous taste bazaar on the east side of Manhattan, I picked out a few items I was looking for (Iranian saffron, Aleppo pepper) and a bunch I wasn’t. Who could resist a little bag of baharat, a Middle Eastern spice blend with a whisper of sweetness? Who knew when I’d need some osmanthus, flowers of an East Asian evergreen shrub?

The truth is my spice-buying habit isn’t much of a vice. Even that splurge on Iranian saffron set me back only $20. The return on investment is this: the promise of more enchanting dinners at home with my family. The mere presence in my spice drawer of a bit of powdered anardana (dried pomegranate seeds) or shichimi togarashi (typically orange peel, black and white sesame seeds, cayenne, ginger, Sichuan peppercorns, and nori) offers the chance that a mundane meal might take an interesting, transporting turn.

And so begins my contribution to the 2016 Saveur 100, the annual list of all things culinarily fabulous. In it, I explore what happens at dinner when I let my spice drawer lead: aloo bhaji, lamejun and more.

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Digging deep with Claus Meyer

Photo: Thomas Grøndal

Photo: Thomas Grøndal

There are many labels that apply to Claus Meyer: chef, philosopher, TV star, philanthropist. But the one Meyer likes best—and the one that encompasses his boundless interests—is culinary entrepreneur.

No wonder. The 51-year-old Dane is always looking for ways to use food to change the world around him. He built 10 companies in Denmark before, in 2003, co-founding the renowned Copenhagen restaurant Noma. The following year, he was the principal architect of the Manifesto for the New Nordic Cuisine that crystalized Noma’s philosophy—embrace regional and traditional foods, support transparent, sustainable sourcing, create healthy but still-delicious food—and transformed Scandinavia from a culinary backwater into a global destination.

Since 2010, Meyer has been investigating how to apply these principals around the world. His foundation, Melting Pot, opened a fine-dining restaurant Gustu in Bolivia in 2013. This fall, he arrived in New York with an ambitious project that aims to transform one of Brooklyn’s most dangerous neighborhoods through food. For my latest column for the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, I spoke to Meyer about his efforts to spur community development through food and how culinary innovation supports biodiversity.

Check it out. Let me know what you think.

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The ultimate holiday cookie plate

BN-LQ072_COOKIE_1000V_20151209113643Go ahead, call me a Grinch. I realize what I’m about to say is heresy, especially at this time of year. But here goes: I do not like baking cookies.

Are you still there? I could get you a drink to calm your nerves. (I am not at all opposed to holiday nips.) Give me a chance to explain.

I love to eat cookies. But making them is a drag. What seems at the start like a fun holiday project involves many or all of the following: mixing, chilling, rolling, shaping, baking, rotating, cooling, decorating. What’s worse is that sometimes after all that work, the cookies are just meh.

Here comes the Christmas miracle to brighten this holiday tale: After a lifetime of Grinch-ing, I recently had what you could call a Cindy Lou Who moment. (Maybe baking, she thought, could truly be fun. / If the baking, perhaps, could quickly be done!) I set out to build the ultimate cookie plate: a handful of recipes that present such a balance of flavors and textures and complement one another so well as to please most any palate—with a minimum of fuss and no need to pad the plate with a dozen or more options.

The results: four fuss-free holiday cookies that will inspire guests and leave you time for all the other things you have to do this season. Check them out in my latest story for the Wall Street Journal Off-Duty section.

  • Stars of Christmas: Add cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, ground cloves and black pepper into a basic sugar-cookie dough
  • Grandma’s Gussied Up Biscotti: To boost the nuttiness, add some toasted walnut and nocino, an Italian walnut liqueur, in place of vanilla extract
  • Chocolate Crunch Shortbread: Salty chocolate shortbread studded with dark chocolate and crunchy cocoa nibs
  • ‘The Cookie:’ An intoxicating mix of oatmeal, brown sugar, butter, dates, walnuts and coconut, this cookie features cinnamon-coffee icing

 

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Presidential politics to sink your teeth into

Foodies. It’s an awful word: precious, infantilizing and usually hurled derisively at people who care more about heritage pork than pork-barrel spending. But a new poll suggests that food is a top concern for a majority of Americans, most of whom (thankfully) would never call themselves foodies: Eighty-one percent of voters are very concerned that one-third of children are on track to develop type 2 diabetes, and 69 percent are very concerned that children today are expected to live shorter lives than their parents. A majority—53 percent—said that too many Americans can’t afford healthy food, and better food policy is needed to ensure that everyone has access to nutritious food.

Research in hand, a coalition including Food Policy Action, Union of Concerned Scientists and HEAL Food Alliance launched a campaign called “Plate of the Union” with the goal of putting food policy on the presidential agenda in 2016. “We know now, without a doubt, that people care about this issue,” Tom Colicchio, chef and co-founder of Food Policy Action, said last month at the New York Times Food for Tomorrow conference at Stone Barns Center. “We want candidates running for president to talk about the broken food system, to delve into it and come up with policies that work.”

But does a presidential food campaign make sense?

According to Food Policy Action’s Claire DiMattina, good food is just good politics. Food issues polled extremely high among all likely voters, and they tested even higher among white, suburban women—and white, suburban women often decide elections. Dig into the research in my latest story for the Stone Barns Center — and let me know what you think.

 

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The rise of mid-atlantic cuisine

Charred apple and ham salad (image courtesy of the Wall Street Journal)

Charred apple and ham salad (image courtesy of the Wall Street Journal)

If you’re not from Washington, D.C., you might raise an eyebrow at the breathless reception that’s greeted the city’s biggest restaurant opening in recent memory. Sure, the Dabney, which debuted last week, has a pedigreed chef: Jeremiah Langhorne served as chief forager and chef de cuisine under Sean Brock at the celebrated McCrady’s in Charleston, S.C. And it has a chic space: 60 seats and a rooftop garden tucked inside a charming brick alleyway downtown. But even more gratifying for Washingtonians is the concept. Mr. Langhorne calls it mid-Atlantic cuisine.

Washington’s restaurant scene has soared in recent years. It’s home to super-chef José Andrés; Aaron Silverman, whose Rose’s Luxury is widely regarded as one of the country’s best restaurants; and plenty of former reality TV “cheftestants.” But Mr. Langhorne, who grew up in and around the city, aims to do more than open a restaurant. He’s determined to give Washington, at long last, a culinary identity.

The Dabney isn’t the only restaurant to fly the mid-Atlantic flag. In my  latest story for the Wall Street Journal I write about chefs in Brooklyn, Nashville, Baltimore and Washington, DC. You can taste the new cuisine for yourself by trying one of the three amazing recipes that Langhorne shared with me: Virgina Oyster Stew, Charred Apple Salad and Sweet Potato and Sorghum rolls, which are perfect for the Thanksgiving table.

 

 

 

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Digging Deep with Mary Berry

30684Thirty-eight years after its publication, Wendell Berry’s “The Unsettling of America” is as relevant as ever. For all the talk about local food and sustainable farms, the gap between farmers and eaters remains wide, and our culture and the environment continue to be sacrificed for yield and profit.

No one knows this better than Wendell’s daughter, Mary Berry. She is his self-proclaimed biggest fan and, as the executive director of the Berry Center, a well-known advocate for the preservation of rural culture and agriculture in her own right. Founded in 2011, the Berry Center aims to put her father’s writings to work: advocating for the farmers, land conservation and healthy regional economies. I spoke to Berry about her family’s legacy and her vision to support small sustainable farms for my latest column for the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture. One of her truest insights? How urban foodies don’t understand rural life and what that means for building a truly sustainable food system.

Check it out. Let me know what you think.

 

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  • About Me

    Jane BlackI am a Washington, D.C.-based food writer who covers food politics, trends and sustainability issues. My work appears in the Washington Post, (where I was a staff writer), the New York Times, Saveur, New York magazine and other publications. On this site, you will find my blog and links to my written work and my Washington Post columns.