Thursday, June 30, 2011

Gripes, Grapes and Hidden Connecticut

The lead on today's front page New York Times utterly miss-characterizes my native state:

"Think of Connecticut, and what comes to mind are the swells of Greenwich, the exurban good life of Litchfield County, the land of New England steady habits."
Volvos and Ralph Lauren, that's all we are. (sigh). The irony of this story is that the picture accompanying it undermines the lead. It's of the governor standing with mayors of three of the state's biggest cities, which are most certainly not bastions of high end Swedish cars and polo ponies.

This is the second time in less than week that I've been smacked in the face with false Connecticut stereotypes. Over the weekend, I attended a talk by the author Lisa See, and she told the audience how the first time she was going to come to Connecticut, she felt compelled to shop for an clothes specifically for her visit. The clear implication was that she needed to appear in a some sort of yachting outfit.

The joke fell flat.

Yes, parts of Connecticut do fit the image of mansions and bond traders. But much, if not most of the state is very blue collar and ethnic. Cities like New Haven, where I work, look more like Brooklyn than Brookfield. New Haven's schools, for example, enroll immigrants from more than 60 nations. Sorry, no polo ponies where I live. Just a lot of guys who speak fluent Fugitaboutit.

But in one sense this misconception is typical of the Nutmeg state. I've found over the years that most of what makes Connecticut interesting and unique is hidden or not widely known outside of its immediate area.

This is a food blog, so I'll cite as an example New Haven pizza or "apizza" as its locally called. The city has some of the best, oldest and most storied pizza restaurants in America. Ever hear of them? Probably not. It's always New York or Chicago that get all the ink.

The New Haven Register had another example earlier this week. It published an article about the a new book on the history of winemaking in Connecticut. Before Prohibition, there was a significant wine industry the state, which has revived in recent years. Some excellent wines are now produced in the state. Not a total surprise given that grapes are on the state flag.

Vineyards in Connecticut? Who would have thunk?

So the next time you think Connecticut is just people who curl their pinky when they drink tea, think again. If only we could get the Times to listen.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Gochujang: The Yeti of Asian Condiments

Being a fan of Mark Bittman, I had to try several of his recipes in the New York Times Magazine a few weeks ago.

The Beef Bolgogi was stupendous, tangy and flavorful. I pretty much followed the recipe, although I was a little short of scallions. A thunderstorm forced me to stir fry instead of a grill, but it was still excellent.

The recommended dipping sauce, gochujang, turned out to be as elusive as a live Elvis. Indeed, I can't help wondering if Bittman wasn't playing a joke on readers, like an old salt sending greenhorns in search of a left-handed monkey wrench. I scoured Asian food markets high and low without success, eventually going to one that specialized in Korean food. Even they looked at me like I had two heads.

Ah, gochujang, the Yeti of Asian condiments. It lives, so they say, but no confirmed sightings yet.

I also tried the Korean potato salad. Not successful. After blanching, the shredded potatoes and carrots were dead tasteless. It was like eating string. The dressing made the dish edible, but I wouldn't make it again.

In fairness, I may have overcooked the potatoes and carrots, but I'm skeptical of this one. Maybe the secret travels with the legendary gochujang.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Leftover Strawberry Sauce

It's strawberry season in Connecticut and the eating is stupendous. There's nothing like in season local strawberries: sweet, succulent and intensely flavorful. They put those tasteless rubber balls from Florida and California to shame.

Eating in season reminds you what makes a particular fruit or vegetable special. Corporate farming has provided us with year-round strawberries, but their taste is faint echo of the real thing. Yes, I buy them sometimes, but less and less. I'd rather wait for the real thing and savor it while it lasts.

With the season lasting three, four, at most five weeks, we gorge ourselves with strawberries this time of year. I hate to waste even a berry.

I was faced with that very prospect this weekend. I had a half basket left over from the previous week. They were on the verge, a little squishy, their favor fading. The solution: make a sauce-jam out of them.

I cleaned the berries, yielding a little under two cups, put them in a pot and crushed them lightly with fork. I added about an eighth of a cup of sugar and about a teaspoon of lemon, and put the heat on medium high. Once the berries released their juices, I turned to low for about 20 minutes.

The result was a not-to-sweet sauce with powerful strawberry flavor. My daughter and wife used most of it on the Norwegian pancakes they made for Sunday breakfast. My daughter finished the last few spoonfuls this morning at breakfast.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Better Bon Appetit

My new Bon Appetit magazine arrived in the mail the other day. I'm one of those Gourmet readers who got stuck with Bon Appetite when Gourmet closed a few years ago. The recipes were never as interesting or as good. I missed the lush photography and gauzy prose that made you want to jump in a car or hop on a plane to whatever food destination was profiled that month.

But two issues ago, the magazine suddenly got a lot better. In fact, it became more like Gourmet only more down to earth and less dreamy. The latest is especially good with some fantastic recipes I tried over the weekend.

I strongly recommend this one for a cucumber and tomato salad. A new farm I discovered had cucumbers and another farm I visit was selling pretty good Maine hothouse tomatoes. I topped it off with Greek Feta that I bought from the local Italian food shop. Bellissimo! The dressing actually came out well, which I find is rare.

I tried this pasta recipe from last month's issue. Again, very, very good. The cherry tomatoes were not the best, but they still had great flavor. I love the tip about using pasta water in the sauce. I skimped a little on the cheese, which I recommend against. The cheese is key.

What an irony. They kill off Gourmet and then a year or two later begin turning Bon Appetite into Gourmet. Another example of corporate brilliance.