Top Ten Finds at Fancy Foods, Part One

Fresh air, fine living, fabulous ideas.  That’s the Alfresco way.
So, I headed to the recent Fancy Food Show in Washington, D.C. This event showcases everything edible that upscale supermarkets, gourmet and gift shops, and culinary emporia might want to sell—and their customers might want to buy.
With my one-day pass, I knew I had to navigate through literally thousands of booths to find out what’s new with Heartland food artisans, as well as what’s new around the rest of the country.
Now for the drum roll. . . . .
Top Ten Fancy Food Finds 2011, Part One

Candy Box Cake and photo by Carey Iennecaro

1.  Chocolate. 
In Kansas City, I’m a devoted Christopher Elbow Chocolate fan But I also love Vosges Haut-Chocolat from Chicago. I got to taste several new Vosges chocolate creations, including the amazing Black Salt Caramel Bar, bathed in 70% dark chocolate, which won a Gold Award at the show.  Combining caramel, dark chocolate, and blood orange in the Blood Orange Caramel Bar?? I’m all over that too.
2. Bacon.  
In the Nueske’s booth, I talked with Tanya Nueske and Marlys Connor about their Wild Cherrywood Smoked Bacon. Okay, I talked and sampled.  Okay, I sampled. Wild Cherrywood is my new favorite bacon. I once had a wild or chokecherry tree growing along my backyard fence, but this bacon is smoked with wood from an old, untreated cherry orchard in Wisconsin that has been left to go wild again.  The bacon is made with no extra nitrates or nitrites. Dry-cured texture, smoky flavor, slight sweetness—no wonder it won a Gold Award at Fancy Food.
3. Dessert CSA—or SOS?  
What a concept!  Natasha’s Mulberry & Mott bakery in the tony Leawood area of Kansas City recently started a Dessert CSA that has turned into a huge hit. Inspired by San Francisco pastry chef William Werner’s “Tell Tale Society” dessert subscription service, pastry chef Natasha Goellner decided to create her own, playfully based on the community agriculture model.  For $35 each month, subscribers receive new flavors of her signature macarons, homemade marshmallows, and other goodies. The bakery itself looks like Marie Antoinette just left a moment ago—all baby blue, sugar rose pink, meringue white, and those fabulous clear Louis Ghost chairs.  Soon, you can order from them online.
But, back to Fancy Food. If you don’t live near such a bakery, you can still do Dessert CSA—or Dessert SOS—with goodies I tasted there. 
The Daphne Baking Company makes small to-die-for tarts that come frozen; you simply thaw and serve. I sampled the Passion Fruit and Pumpkin.  They also do Lemon, Chocolate, Chocolate Raspberry, and Macadamia Nut.

Sometimes, however, the situation calls for macarons in several flavors and colors. Through Fabrique Delices in Hayward, California, you can enjoy frozen macarons that taste darn good after thawing, in the following flavors: Chocolate, salted caramel, lemon, mango, strawberry, raspberry, pistachio, cappuccino, and vanilla. They come in sort of a clear egg carton, a dozen at a time. Ask your local retailer to get them in. The macarons are not yet up on the company's web site.


4. Mozzarella Cheesemaking Kit. 
When I was in D.C., I had a meal of simple little plates or “piatti piccolo” courses at Osteria Bibiana My favorite was simply burrata, a fresh mozzarella-and-cream cheese, with grilled zucchini, zucchini puree, and fresh mint. Heaven.
Fresh makes all the difference, and many Italian restaurants make their own mozzarella tableside, so I was intrigued by the Mozzarella Cheesemaking Kit by Roaring Brook Dairy.  You supply a gallon of full fat milk, and the kit provides the rest. Make the cheese, then grill a little zucchini, chop some mint, and you’re almost there.
5. Grenadine
When I was growing up, grownups drank whiskey sours—and later margaritas, Harvey Wallbangers, or daiquiris--not wine. Little kids got Shirley Temples or Roy Rogers versions, which are drinks made from grenadine syrup swirled into Seven-Up. Of course, pomegranates were virtually unknown in Ohio (except for one memorable year, when I found a pomegranate in the toe of my St. Nicholas stocking and ate it seed by seed). But the grenadine I remember was little more than colored sugar syrup. My, my how grenadine has changed, at least if you order yours from Sonoma Syrup Co. It actually tastes like pomegranate, as it's made with 45% pomegranate juice. Not just for cocktails, kiddie or otherwise, I could see this drizzled over fresh orange slices, then garnished with fresh pomegranate seeds. Their bottled Olive Juice for martinis is also good.  

A Tale of Fresh Peaches and Peach Leaves

“My peaches aren’t doing well this year,” my friend tells me.
“Did you spray them?” I ask.
“No,” she says, with a tinge of regret.
“Well, that’s great! Can I come over and pick some?” 
She rolls her eyes.  It's the silver lining to the cloud, as I see it. 
Heartland cooks who lived far from a grocery store (and way before you could order online) used fresh peach leaves as flavoring for custards, sauces, and syrups, and this use-what-you-have-in-your-own-backyard mentality deserves a comeback. 
The sugar-crisp almond flavor these fresh peach leaves impart is more delicate and well, natural, than bottled flavorings.
Get your unsprayed peach leaves from a neighbor's tree or order them ahead from an organic U-pick orchard or a farmer's market vendor. 
Try to get the best and ripest Midwestern regional varieties of peaches you can find, like Red Haven, Glow Haven, Briscoe, or Summer Pearl—or whatever variety is best in your area.

Tip: If, try as you might, you can’t find fresh peach leaves, you can still make the pouring custard. Simply bring the cream to a boil in Step 1. Then proceed to Step 2. Whisk in the almond extract at the end of Step 2. 

Fresh Peaches with Peach Leaf Pouring Custard
Serves 4
1 cup half and half
12 fresh peach leaves, rinsed and patted dry (or ½ teaspoon almond extract)
3/4 cup sugar
5 large egg yolks
Lemon juice to taste
4 ripe peaches, peeled and sliced

1. In a saucepan, bring the half and half and peach leaves to a boil.  Remove immediately from the heat, cover, and set aside to infuse for 30 minutes. 
2. In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until well blended.  Strain the cream onto the egg yolk mixture (discarding the peach leaves) and whisk to blend.  Pour the egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan and whisk constantly, over medium heat, until the custard coats the back of a spoon, about 5 minutes.  Do not boil or the custard will separate.  Taste the custard and add lemon juice (and almond extract) if necessary.  Remove from the heat and cool. 
3. To serve, arrange fresh peaches in bowls or glass dishes and spoon the pale yellow custard over them.

Black Raspberry Season

Best-Kept Secrets
We’re coming to the end of U-Pick time for black raspberries throughout the Heartland.  

In case you've never had the good fortune to taste one, the flavor is as you might expect--part tart blackberry, part sweet red raspberry. You can sometimes find these berries at farmer’s markets, but black raspberries seem to be one of those “best-kept secrets” that people often ascribe to many things Midwestern.   

Black raspberries grow on low, shrubby bushes and ripen from dark pink to dark purple anywhere from early June to mid-July.

From homemade to high style, black raspberries feature in eveyrthing from farmhouse pies to seasonal restaurant desserts. Pachamama's in Lawrence, Kansas, scatters black raspberries over hazelnut meringues. NAHA in Chicago makes a black raspberry and lemon balm sorbet. Patrick Fahy, pastry chef at Avec and Blackbird in Chicago has gone all out with a "brown butter cake sauteed in brown butter, served with black raspberries, borage, goat cheese, caramel goat's milk ice cream, and a tableside pour of red raspberry consomme. Superb," he comments. I guess so! 

If you can’t grow or pick them yourself, here are a few delicious mail order ways to enjoy this seasonal treat. As you'll see, Ohio is especially famous for black raspberry artisan foods.

Graeter’s Ice Cream. I grew up in Cincinnati, where a “chili fix” (a 5-way or a cheese coney to quell hunger) and a visit to Graeter’s for a signature ice cream or an oh-so-good coffee cake were weekly habits.  Taking my kids to Graeter’s in Mariemont on summer evenings for ice cream. . . I’m indulging a bit of nostalgia here. . . .

Graeter’s afficionados vote Black Raspberry Chip as their favorite flavor. Is it yours?

Sweet Corn & Black Raspberries
Sweet Corn and Black Raspberry Ice Cream
from Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams.

Dynamo pastry chef/entrepreneur Jeni Britton Bauer sources full-flavored milk from grass-fed cows and local farm-fresh goodies for her signature Ohio Sweet Corn and Black Raspberry Ice Cream. I love the look of the ice cream sandwiches made with her fabulous ice cream sandwiched between large macaron-like cookies. She also has a cool movie on her home page that just makes you smile—or crave ice cream.

Visit one of her Columbus, Ohio, ice cream shops, or check out all the summer flavors at

Mrs. Miller. She's not the Mrs. Miller who was known for her warbling "Tiny Tim-like" voice. This Mrs. Miller grew up in an Ohio Amish family of 14 kids. By 1973, Esther Miller was making and selling homemade noodles from her home kitchen. It soon turned into a bustling business. Her magic culinary touch later turned to preserves. Her Black Raspberry Jam consistently receives rave reviews from customers for its fresh-picked flavor--without being too sweet. The Millers’ large family still makes the food and runs the business from Fredericksburg, Ohio, “where traditions of hard work, love of family, good ethics, and enjoyment of life’s simple pleasures are prospering,” the Millers say.

You Say Tomato

Meet the Father of the Tomato,
Learn How to Grill-Smoke Tomatoes,
and Make Smoked Tomato and Basil Butter
I spend part of my culinary life in a “working tiara”—as a BBQ Queen with friend, bbq-er, and cookbook co-author Karen Adler.  Lucky for me, that black visor duded up with all those rhinestones also doubles as a garden hat.
Last year, I visited Kurlbaum Tomatoes in Kansas City, Kansas, for inspiration. Sky Kurlbaum and family grow heirloom tomatoes that, he swears, taste just like the ones grown 35 years ago on the family farm in Sandoval, Illinois. Today, their heirloom varieties are a roll call of famous people and places: Abraham Lincoln, Amana Orange, Black Krim (from the Crimean Sea), Russian Purple, and Pantano Romanesco.

Black Krim Heirloom Tomato

The Father of the Tomato?  Kurlbaum also makes a case for an Ohioan—Alexander Livingston—as the Father of the Tomato. In Reynoldsburg, Ohio, Livingston started working with tomatoes in 1856--ones that had “heavy ribbing, hard cores and often had hollow seed cavities,” writes Kurlbaum.  No wonder tomatoes hadn’t really caught on yet.

“Livingston's goal was to produce a strain of tomato that was smooth skinned, uniform in size, fleshy and that excelled in flavor –all the things that are loved and often taken for granted about tomatoes today,” continues Kurlbaum.   Read more about it at the end of the “Tomato Varieties” section at
For me, all that planting, weeding, and tending my garden is beginning to pay off. I just harvested my first tomato of season.
The first tomato deserves to be enjoyed al fresco—fresh from the garden, warm from the sun, maybe with a little sprinkle of sea salt.
But as the harvest revs up, as Heartland harvests do, it soon becomes time to do something more than eat tomatoes fresh.
When I have more fresh tomatoes than I want to eat, I like to smoke them on the grill. I do a little yard work at the same time and throw a few pin oak sticks on the fire, but you can use any hard wood (like apple, cherry, hickory, maple, oak, or pecan).
How to Smoke a Tomato. Prepare an indirect fire in your grill, meaning a fire on one side and no fire on another.
Stem the tomatoes or cut them in half (depending on how big they are), brush them with a little olive oil, and put them in a disposable aluminum pan, stemmed or cut side up. If you like, put fresh basil leaves in each tomato.

When the fire is hot, throw a few pieces of wood on hot coals on a charcoal grill. For a gas grill, make an aluminum foil packet to enclose ½ cup fine wood chips and poke a few holes in the packet; place the packet close to a burner. When you see the first wisp of smoke, place the pan of tomatoes on the indirect or no-heat side and close the lid of the grill. In about 20 minutes, the tomatoes will have a burnished appearance and a smoky aroma.
Freeze some, then use some more to make Smoked Tomato and Basil Butter. 

Russian Purple Heirloom Tomato
  Smoked Tomato and Basil Butter Recipe. Simply take 2 sticks of salted butter, softened, and place  in a bowl. Add about 3 smoked tomatoes, skinned and seeded, and finely chopped basil to taste and blend it all together with a fork. Use it on grilled bread or steak, baked potatoes, planked scallops or shrimp, or tossed with hot pasta or grilled vegetables.
Watch the BBQ Queens make Smoked Tomato and Basil Butter