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Archive for March, 2012

Since we’re on a YouTube kick…

Check this out! Om nom nom nom nom.

*Thanks to Soyeon K. for sending this my way!*

Find Your Inner Gourmet, Episode 2: AP Salt

Learn more about nature’s most important seasoning as we go well beyond the basics in the second video in our new online cooking course! These online classes will help you go from wherever you are on your culinary journey to being the best cook you know. We may be starting with the fundamentals, but trust us, everyone has something to learn from these classes. Check out the video here!

 

Grain of Salt: All Bark and No Bite

Thing number one: my computer’s back! Thank you for keeping me in your thoughts and prayers. They worked, and everything is more or less in working order after several hours worth of file transfers, two trips to the Apple store and a whole bunch of inconvenience. I know what you’re thinking, and the answer is I don’t know how I even survived. But I did, so I’m back and so are the posts, like this one, which starts…. now.

I have this thing at home where I only compliment the things I make. Think, “the milk was so perfectly stirred into this soup,” and “this Thanksgiving dinner would be absolutely nothing without the cucumbers in this salad.” Petty? For sure. Ask anyone, I’m extremely egocentric. So you can only imagine how good these chocolate bark recipes must be for me to compliment them, even though mom undeniably came up with these recipes (although I did make the three you see below, and you have to admit, they’re freaking gorgeous).

 

 

When we started planning our table for Taste of the Nation 2012, and decided to do our school theme, Chocolate Bark representing EnviSci was the absolute first thing we thought of, and the flavor combinations just kept rolling off our tongues. We eventually settled on making our Christmas Bark, with Cranberries, Candied Ginger and Pistachios, a French-Flavored Bark, with Lavender, Almonds, Dried Apricots and Sea Salt (my favorite), and finally, the ultimate snack food indulgence, featuring Potato Chips, Pretzels and Dulce de Leche. This is too easy to make, so I’m not going to even dignify it by putting it in recipe form. So if anybody is skimming this post looking for the recipe, this is the recipe. All you have to do is melt chocolate gently in a non-stick skillet or double boiler, and spread it over a sheet pan covered with wax paper or parchment paper.  Then you put stuff on it (first chunky, then drizzles) and then put it in the fridge until it hardens, about an hour. Then you break it up, and you eat it. And that’s literally it.

 

 

We used 56% dark chocolate for all of ours, but you can go darker or lighter based on what you like (though white chocolate does not count, because I don’t like it). You’ll want it to be pretty thin, so we recommend about a pound of chocolate for a full pan, or 8 oz. to a half pan, if you don’t want to make chocolate bark for the whole world. Then see below for our topping recommendations. All chunky toppings should be 4-5 tablespoons for a half pan or 9-10 for a full pan, unless otherwise noted. The real reason I didn’t put this in recipe form is that that would imply that there are rules to this. There aren’t. Have lots and lots of fun with this. Try our combos (see above), or come up with your own. I promise they’ll be good… even if I didn’t make them.

Chunky Toppings

Dried Fruit (raisins, craisins, apricots, peaches, mango, cherries, pineapple etc.)
Toasted, chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans, pistachios, almonds, peanuts, cashews, macademia nuts, etc.)
Chopped up Candy (Reese’s Cups, M&Ms, Candy Canes, Kit Kats, Peppermint Patties, etc.)
Cookie Crumbles (shortbread, chocolate chip, Oreo, Girl Scout, etc.)
Chocolate Chips (or peanut butter chips, butterscotch chips, etc.)
Snack food (potato chips, pretzels, etc.)
Coconut Shavings
Crystalized Ginger
Sea salt (sparing: 1/2 tsp half, 1 full, or to taste)
Lavender (1.5 tsp half, 3 full)

Drizzles

More chocolate (Not the same kind you used before. Note that white chocolate is permissible in this context).
Caramel/Dulce de Leche

{I gave in. You can see the official recipes written up here on Food52.}

Grain of Salt: Things You Should Know About

My computer died-ish the other morning, which is why I made a lot of promises about upcoming posts I didn’t end up keeping (and you know from experience I’d never do that otherwise). But it turns out there’s an only slightly limiting WordPress app for my phone. And I just had to share these with you, even if it means eternal thumb cramps. I care about you way too much for my own good.

Ok, imagine you are eating the fluffiest, most buttery biscuit in the whole world. And imagine if it was a perfect marriage of blissfully sweet and decadently cheesy. And imagine that even though you made it from a mix (secret recipe!) it still sort of required enough culinary steps for you to tell your friends and family you made it. If that doesn’t sound like heaven food to you, then stop paying attention to me, try Jim n Nick’s Cheese Biscuits and come up with a better description yourself. Odds are you can’t- they render most people speechless. They’re incredible. We ate them alongside fried eggs, sausage and orange juice but they’re meant to be eaten by the millions with whipped butter and a side of barbecue. Or just alone. In all seriousness my roommate ate nine.

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Make them with mild cheddar, not sharp, and remember that cutting in butter means rubbing it into the flour with your. Now you know everything you need to know. If you don’t live with anyone from Alabama, you can, and should, order a bag here.

You may or may not have noticed…

…but we’ve begun posting reviews of our favorite restaurants! We’re far from done but we’ve begun adding restaurants to the Connecticut and New York pages of our new Where to Eat section. We’re working on them day and night, and we’ll let you know whenever we add more. These are only our absolute favorites, so if you want to know our opinion of a restaurant that is not on the list, email me at gabrielle {at} figcookingschool.com and (if I’ve been there) I will send you an honest assessment. And if you feel that there is a blaring omission, also send me an email and I will be sure to check it out!

A Grain of Salt: School Days

I know it’s been almost a week since Taste of the Nation, but I had to wait until now to post so I could calm down and organize my thoughts just a tad. And yes, it really did take that long. For such a small city, New Haven has a scarily good food scene – in my thoroughly unbiased opinion, it’s way better per capita than New York’s. So a night of running wildly between tables and tables of the city’s best food? You can’t even begin to comprehend what that kind of thing does to my mind.

 

Our table in setup mode. When we had such noble intentions of keeping things organized ;)

 

It’s a little sick, I know, but we started planning this year’s table at Taste of the Nation 2011. We decided to play up the fact that we’re a school, so we divided the table up into three sections: Chemistry, complete with beakers, dry ice, and Turkish Mint Lemonade…

 

I tried to capture a full rack but we just couldn't keep it on the shelves. Though a scary number of people refused it because it wasn't alcoholic. Oy vey.

 

European History, featuring the many cookbooks of Europe and Penne with Saffron Cream, Peas and Pancetta…

 

Pasta teaches you about Europe, no question about it

 

And Environmental Science, for which we made three kinds of Chocolate Bark – Zingiber Cranbaca (Cranberries, Pistachios and Crystalized Ginger), Lavandula Salis (Lavender, Almond, Apricot and Sea Salt) and Potatochipus Dulcis (Potato Chip, Pretzel and Dulce de Leche).

 

Clockwise from Left: little wooden cones for our bark samples; envi sci bird with eggs made out of gum (yes, since you asked, somebody did ask if they could eat one eat one), and a sampling of chocolate barks

 

I know, right? We’re just too clever for our own good. Anyway, last year, we were a bit disorganized and unwittingly overambitious and we got to Woolsey Hall, where the event is held, about a minute before it started. This year we were determined not to let that happen again. So instead we were the first people there! As mom went to get the food and Isabella, I set up our table and spied on everyone else setting up theirs. And I got to make friends with all the other chefs. Everyone had way too much fun.

 

Volunteers putting bags together for us fancy shmancy chefs. Free extra large t-shirt :D You know you're jealous.

 

From Plan B Burger Bar. Can you even believe how beautiful? Fun fact – Plan B was going to throw all this away, but we saved it and gave it to one of the volunteers who took it to feed her goat ;)

 

I love love LOVE the guys of Box 63 :D

 

Flowers from Thali & Oaxaca (by which I mean flowers and a watermelon, but really what's the dif?)

 

Then everybody arrived, and the highlight of my year began. Duff went on stage to greet everyone (yes sir, that’s a name drop) and told everyone to donate money and also “get wasted” (classy). And then we set about giving out food, as dad brought us a steady supply of the best of the room (before things quieted down and we got to go exploring later). Highlights included Foie Gras with Milk-Honey Cream and Cranberries, and also an incredible Duck Pastrami Ruben from Bella Bella Gourmet, Biscotti from Sono Baking Company, Donuts with Chocolate-Bacon Glaze from Box 63 and Bailey Hazen Blue Cheese with Dried Figs from Caseus. Oh and this Butterscotch Pudding with Dulce de Leche, Homemade Marshmallows and Sea Salt from Heirloom. I don’t even like Butterscotch and this was amazing.

 

You don't even understand how much I don't like butterscotch. But seriously, so amazing.

 

Sadly all good things must come to an end. Nine o’clock came and it was time to pack up. Though naturally, Isabella and I pounced on Duff (I did it again!) at the last minute to make sure he tried our test tube lemonade, which said was “really, really good.” Which is not quite up to last year’s “Damn…” but it was the end of the night, so it’ll do ;) We’re still devouring the leftovers, and while we’d love to share them with you in person, we can’t because you’re not here. So instead we’re going to spend the next week showering you with recipes, starting now with the Mint Lemonade. Also please read below to learn more about Share our Strength, and make a donation if you can!

 

 

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Share our Strength, an amazing organization dedicated to ending childhood hunger in America. Through programs like Cooking Matters, the Great American Bake Sale and, of course, Taste of the Nation, Share our Strength raises awareness (and, more importantly, money) to feed children in local communities. We’re lucky enough to cook at High School in the Community, a school in one of New Haven’s more impoverished areas, where Chef Cheryl Barbara told us that many of her kids only eat the lunch they get at school, because there’s not enough food for them at home for breakfast or dinner. (Cheryl herself makes sure the kids get balanced, nutritious meals at school, sends kids home with non-perishables if she knows they don’t have enough to eat at school, and sets up a food distribution center from her van to make sure her kids get enough to eat during the summer. Isn’t that so cool? Don’t you wish you were more like her?)

Anyway, Taste of the Nation events are held all over the country, and feature the best chefs and mixologists of the area. 100% of money raised from ticket sales and donations stays right in the area it’s raised, so local chefs are helping local kids. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – if there’s an event in your area, go to it. And click on the picture below to make a donation!

 

Click to go to the donation page!

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Click for Printable Version!

 

Find your Inner Gourmet, Episode 1: Salt

Welcome to our new video series, Find your Inner Gourmet! We are bringing our New Haven-famous cooking classes to the world, starting with the basics and getting more and more advanced so that you too can become a gourmet cook. Follow our free, comprehensive cooking course right here on the Fig Test Kitchen, starting with today’s first video on salt. Every week we will update with several more videos, which will help experienced cooks and beginners alike to Find their Inner Gourmet. Enjoy!

 

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The Ace of Cakes Likes our Lemonade

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A HUGE thank you to everyone who came out to Taste of the Nation, New Haven tonight! We can’t wait to share our recipes with you, along with pictures of the fabulous displays from all of the best area restaurants. If you’re not from the New Haven area, find out if there’s a Taste of the Nation event coming up near you. And if not, please consider donating time or money to Share our Strength, a national organization committed to ending childhood hunger by 2015. It’s probably our favorite charity, and supports such an important cause that’s so easy to forget.

 

Seriously, donate. Do it. This organization is the best.

 

But if you can go to an event, do. You won’t regret it. Your waistline will, but you won’t. We had so much fun tonight with our friends from the farmers market and (way) beyond: John from SoNo Baking Company, Jason from Caseus, Stephen Fries from the New Haven Register, Cheryl from High School in the Community (Chopped winner/high school chef/worlds most amazing person), and so many others. And yes, Duff (the Ace of Cakes), who loved our Turkish Mint Lemonade. Which is kind of a big deal.

Stay tuned for so much more!

A Grain of Salt: Forbidden Love

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We elite, educated, vastly superior Manhattan types are allowed to feel one of two ways about Williamsburg, Brooklyn. We are first and foremost allowed to really really hate it. If you fall into that category you get to say things like “I don’t do Brooklyn” and roll your eyes and dismiss it as hipster hell, and that makes you look nice and discerning, and that means you just can’t lose. But we are also allowed to like it ironically, which means that we can peruse the sandwich shops and Moleskine vendors to our hearts’ content… as long as we remind ourselves constantly that we are ridiculous and that no matter what we may think, we do not want to move there after college. This method is super risky. Liking something ironically teeters ever so precariously on the edge of liking something for real, and to my knowledge there is no New York crime more heinous than liking Williamsburg for real, except for maybe not liking the color black.. or actually being a Hipster.

 

For those of you who don't know, this is a hipster.

 

 

But I’m going to make the sweeping generalization now, that 99% of us educated, elite, vastly superior Manhattan-types are bluffing. Because, like it or not, unironically, through all its superficiality, Williamsburg is kind of the best.

 

 

This is from the bedford cheese shop. Don't go there, you'll want to buy absolutely everything.

 

 

If you’ve ever enjoyed food in your life, I’m going to make you agree with me. Because Brooklyn is a culinary paradise. Just because I’m the last person to say this doesn’t make it less true. When Isabella came to visit me for a much needed sister weekend, we had an eating adventure that would pretty much blow your mind. For that day, she liked food as much as I did. And I almost felt normal.

 

 

Clockwise from top righ: sandwiches that will blow your mind, fashion sketches that will blow your mind, curtains that will blow your mind

 

 

We began our adventure somewhere around lunchtime, and we used a very scholarly method to choose a restaurant. By which I mean we picked the prettiest. At Fabiane’s on Bedford Avenue, Isabella (who is actually kind of a hipster but don’t tell her I said that) sketched while I obsessively took pictures. I think it’s safe to say we were so happy with the atmosphere that we didn’t really care how the food was. That is, until the food came. I could go on for a bit about the Prosciutto, Mozzarella, Pesto Sandwich that came out first, but I’m not going to because the second sandwich was Smoked Duck with Brie and Fig Jam and I bet that will impress you a whole lot more. And well it should. I can’t even remember the last time I had a sandwich that good. Even if you can’t get smoked duck (and I don’t even know where you would) make your next grilled cheese with brie and then put fig jam on it. It will probably change your life.

 

 

Clockwise from left: whisk sign, ball made out of cupcake wrappers (legit), elephant

 

 

With no agenda whatsoever in mind, we set off to wander the streets of Brooklyn. After a brief stint hipster-watching at bookstore Spoonbill and Sugartown (see stalker pic, above), we headed up the street to Whisk, the most kick-a** kitchen supply store you will ever come across. I know you’re really not supposed to use the word “unique” in Brooklyn, but have you ever seen a ball made of cupcake wrappers hanging from a ceiling? No you haven’t.

 

 

Clockwise from left: Bottles, Bottles, Bottles

 

 

We bought mom a pie dish, and then raced out before we could do any more damage. Luckily for me, Isabella’s nose was stuffed up, so we headed next to the Bedford Cheese Shop, where we looked at spectacular packaging and beautiful window displays. We did not buy anything because we couldn’t afford anything. But that was alright.

 

 

 

 

Next we went to a clothing store. Did you know that in Brooklyn it’s illegal to sell gloves with fingers?

 

 

Not really, but pretty much

 

 

While we were in the Bedford Cheese Shop, we had seen this beautiful display of Mast Brothers Chocolate, and I realized that I had read something about their factory being in Williamsburg. And since everyone knows that factory means free chocolate, we decided to head there next.

 

 

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Lo and behold there were about 10 different kinds of chocolate to try, in their beautiful open factory. And Isabella and I received our masters degrees in chocolate tasting from Hershey University over winter break, so we were ridiculously qualified to taste test every single one of them. The chocolates were varying degrees of good, but for the first time in my experience, the chocolate actually tasted like the things it was supposed to have notes of. According to the folks at Hershey, that means the cocoa plants were grown near, say, hibiscus trees, vanilla flowers or cherry trees. (Things you didn’t know!) And while I have no idea what that means in the context of Special Dark, it was ridiculously apparent in the Mast Brothers selection. It was like they weren’t even making it up.

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They also sell art supplies, vintage flashcards, and ironic books there, like "All My Friends are Dead"

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Note – When you go to the Mast Brothers Chocolate Factory, Isabella and I command you to go next door and look at the Brooklyn Art Library, an international sketchbook collection for the public to peruse. It’s totally irrelevant to this blog, but it’s my civil duty to let you know. This was our favorite sketchbook.

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The Meatball Shop

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With very little time left, very little appetite (so much sandwich) and a contra dance in Chinatown to get to (not a joke), it was time to grab a light dinner before heading back to Manhattan. And since mom has been on a meatball making kick lately, we felt it was only appropriate to make her jealous by visiting The Meatball Shop. Also, $3 meatball sliders. And you get to check off what you want on the menu with dry erase markers, and then they get your order right! And there was exactly one racy-joke-item on the menu, which is the requisite amount for a place that only serves meatballs. And it’s pretty, and the food was great. The following recipe is from their cookbook, but they give it out on little promo cards, so I don’t think they’ll mind us sharing. Make them, and buy the book. These people are very talented.

And while I’m pretty sure I’m the last person in the New York area to visit Williamsburg, take a visit if you haven’t and decide for yourself what you think. Don’t worry if you like it. Your secret’s safe with me.

Click for pdf!

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