John T. Edge's fascinating New York Times piece on the Sriracha chile sauce brand Tuong Ot Sriracha details its humble roots—founder David Tran used to grind the peppers from his brother's farm in Vietnam himself—to its now seemingly ubiquitous appeal. (It's sold at Wal-Mart and can be found in all types of restaurant kitchens, from those of superstar chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten and current Best New Chef Bryan Caswell to those of national chains like Applebee's.) Clearly, the article resonates with the F&W online team: Several of us have the bright red bottles at our desks (our web designer Jinny Kim even gave online executive editor Rebecca Bauer a 28-ounce bottle as a gift recently). Here, three great recipes that call for the fiery, garlicky, slightly sweet sauce:
Spicy Sriracha Chicken Wings “We always have a couple of extra bottles at home, because my stepson blows right through the stuff,” says F&W Best New Chef 1998 Michael Symon of the chile paste.
Soy-Glazed Chicken Yakitori Chef Dean Fearing's take on the delicious skewered meats he ate in a yakitori bar in Tokyo has a hint of heat from Sriracha.
Zee Spotted Pig Bloody Mary Anna Vanderzee's Bloody Mary for New York City's Spotted Pig gets extra heat from the chile puree.
Plus, more dishes prepared with Sriracha can be found here.
At least some companies are doing well during the recession: According to a recent Financial Times piece, sales of Kraft Mac & Cheese, Jell-O and Kool-Aid are soaring. Here, F&W's stellar takes on Kraft standbys:
Mac & Cheese: Five irresistible versions of mac-and-cheese like one-bite three-cheese mini-macs.
Jell-O: Two sophisticated takes like espresso Jell-O and mojito Jell-O shots with white rum and fresh mint.
Kool-Aid: Eight great punches like the citrusy Puente punch.
Not long ago, I discovered that pecans and walnuts (two very fatty and delicate nuts) toast beautifully in the microwave. This morning, with no time to preheat the oven for a meager handful of hazelnuts, I decided to put the microwave method to the test. Well, it worked like a charm—mostly. For 1/2 cup of raw, unblanched hazelnuts, I set the timer for two minutes, which was a tiny bit long. A few of the nuts were too dark to use, but most were perfect. The nuts cooled more quickly, the skins blistered and were magically easier to remove. In the future, I think I'll do 30-second intervals (which is good for all nuts) to control the toasting.
We tasted lots of smoky foods for our June roundup—so many, in fact, that they couldn’t all fit in the magazine. Here are three bonus extras, and some delicious ideas for how to serve them.
1. Salvatore Bklyn Smoked Ricotta: About six months ago Betsy Devine and Rachel Mark started smoking their ultra-rich ricotta, made with milk from Hudson Valley Fresh, an upstate New York co-op. Thirty minutes over cherry wood imparts an amazing toasted marshmallow flavor that complements the cheese’s creaminess. Devine and Mark say: “Fold it into pasta with plenty of black pepper and chile pepper or smear it on ciabatta with slices of speck and apples. For dessert, try stirring in a little sugar and use it as a dip for chocolate-covered graham crackers for fire-less s’mores.”
2. Snake River Farms Gourmet Franks: Made from American Wagyu raised outside Boise, Idaho, these dogs spend some time over hickory and alder wood and have an all-natural beef casing. They’re only mildly smoky but have pure beef flavor and a gentle, pleasing spiciness with a super snap. They’d be great grilled, topped with a quick relish.
3. Vanns Smoked Rice: This long-grain white rice, smoked mostly over red and white oak, smells like a fire pit, but when cooked becomes more nuanced and subtle, especially prepared pilaf-style with onions and chicken stock. It would add a fabulous depth to dishes like red beans and rice, jambalaya and gumbo.
Fuego, maker of high-end outdoor grills and kitchens, has just released a more affordable model, Element by Fuego (starting at $399). Chief designer Robert Brunner, a former design director at Apple, asked a twentysomething griller what he liked about the original Fuego 01 (“the design and the performance”) and what he didn’t like (“the $3,500 price tag”), he then asked what the man paid for his iPod. “$399,” he replied, and there was Brunner's starting point. The Element is a scaled-down version of the Fuego 01 that uses the same smart design approach and modern styling as its more sophisticated $3,500 sister. Like the original, it has a stainless steel body and cast iron grilling surface, but comes in a smaller package (27 inches vs. 45 inches) to go with the smaller price tag. Optional tops like a pizza stone or griddle make the grill incredibly versatile. The round cooktop has two cooking zones, similar to a French top stove, with the highest heat in the center. It’s available now in red, white, gray and stainless steel at many national retailers.
© Courtesy of Fuego
Element by Fuego grill
Wendy G. Ramunno, a freelance writer and one of our fabulous freelance copy editors, was a finalist in Artisanal restaurant's recent grilled cheese recipe contest. Her report:
When I found out about the grilled-cheese recipe contest sponsored by Artisanal in New York City, I thought it would be fun to switch up my standard sharp-cheddar-and-tomato combo. At the last minute, I threw together a Spanish-inspired sandwich, with young Manchego cheese, chopped Marcona almonds, honey and pimentón, and sent in the recipe.
Turns out my recipe made it to the semifinals, and then the finals, after some spirited online voting. (Disclaimer: I wasn’t a ringer snuck into the contest by F&W—I’m an independent freelancer, so I work for a variety of publications.) The restaurant rep e-mailed, Would I be able to attend the finals on April 29 in person? I looked up the contest rules: The top six recipes would be judged by a panel of food-world VIPs including Artisanal chef-owner Terrance Brennan and über-chef Eric Ripert (we were later told he couldn’t make it because he had jury duty; no less of a culinary genius FCI’s Cesare Casella filled in for him). I immediately broke out in a cold sweat, wishing I’d spent more time on the recipe—after all, just watching the Top Chef judges’ table from my comfy sofa makes me nervous.
When I arrived at the restaurant, I was surprised by all of the video cameras and flashbulbs. I was seated with three other contestants at a round table facing the judges’ tribunal. The sandwiches were prepared behind-the-scenes in the Artisanal kitchen and brought out one by one. When I saw mine, I was concerned—it didn’t look like what I’d remembered making—it appeared thick and dry, and I couldn’t see any oozing cheese. The judges tallied their detailed scorecards, and I was right: For whatever reason, the gooey, salty-sweet masterpiece in my apartment didn’t quite translate to the judges' table. The winner was Eric Zawacki, with his stellar Taleggio, cherry mostarda and arugula entry (I knew the rest of us were in trouble when I saw the professional chef–cred burn marks up and down Eric’s arms). As part of his prize, Eric’s sandwich will be featured on Artisanal’s menu.
Suddenly I fully understood the pain of the reality show contestant. “Wait,” I wanted to say, “I can do better—I’m more than this sandwich, really!” But I walked out happy with my $50 Artisanal gift certificate and knowledge that I’d faced the judges and lived to cook again.
F&W called out the chefs-as-butchers trend back in January, and the New York Times just published an excellent piece on it (by former F&W staffer Jane Sigal). But in case anyone needs further proof of the trend, I just tried calling Vie in Western Springs, Illinois, to speak with Paul Virant, a Best New Chef 2007, and got this response from the host: "Is this time sensitive? He's currently butchering a cow."
The upshot of the trend is that we're introduced to delicious, unexpected and often more affordable cuts of meat we'd otherwise not know about. Aiding the cause: a new generation of butcher shops buying locally raised meat and butchering by hand.
Here, some great recipes that use lesser-known cuts of meat:
*Smoky Tomato-Braised Veal Shoulder with Potatoes
*Yucatán Pork Stew with Ancho Chiles and Lime Juice
*Cream-and-Lemon Braised Pork Shoulder
This morning I had had breakfast with writer Anna Watson. Anna used to be a peripatetic editor at the brilliant but sadly shuttered Culture + Travel magazine. These days the La Varenne–trained foodie has been spending her days in the kitchen, on a mission to try and eat extraordinarily well on a budget. She recently launched a new blog called The Recession Cookbook, where she shares her cost-saving strategies (steak dinner and a bottle of red for two for under $35), excellent recipes and genius ideas for turning leftovers into delicious meals. I know I’ll be regularly checking in for value-minded dinner party inspiration.
Our awesome kitchen assistant, Brian Malik, is also a total film buff. Here, he gives a glimpse into the best recent tag sale for food lovers:
This weekend I decided to trek down to Williamsburg because I heard there was a liquidation sale of props and set dressings for the upcoming film, Julie & Julia, starring Meryl Streep as the late, great Julia Child and Amy Adams as blogger Julie Powell. Housed in a seedy warehouse on Dobbin St., the sale consisted of clothes, copper cookware, books, chinaware and stoves, plus boxes upon boxes of whisks, measuring spoons and spatulas that were all part of the film’s many set dressings, including a recreation of Child’s home kitchen in Cambridge. (The real one is exhibited at the Smithsonian). I spoke briefly with Gay Howard, the film’s art department coordinator, who told me that the hardest part was finding the right vintage stoves to match the film’s many time periods—some were shipped from as far away as France. I made one purchase: a copper jam funnel for $10, and upon returning home I discovered it is currently retailing for $89 on Amazon.com. I’ll be clutching it with pride next year when Ms. Streep picks up her third Oscar.