Grand Opening: Read It and Eat

So many books, so little time

So many books, so little time


Last night, I attended the grand opening of a new bookstore in Chicago — a bookstore dedicated to food. It is named, appropriately, Read It & Eat. The handsome, bright venue is dominated by pristinely white shelves crammed with cookbooks, food histories, food literature, volumes on food and culture, works on food and science (have to get Harold McGee in there) food fiction–thousands of books — but there is also a spiffy kitchen along one wall, for doing demos and teaching classes. So definitely food-centric — and deliriously fun for those who love food and books.
Test and demo kitchen

Test and demo kitchen


For the opening, Mindy Segal was on hand, signing copies of her new book, Cookie Love. The bonus here was that she also supplied some of the cookies featured in the book. Impressively elegant sweets. Saw a lot of friends there, including Patty Erd of The Spice House, Catherine Lambrecht, creator of LTHforum.com and the Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance and guiding spirit of Culinary Historian of Chicago, and Scott Warner, president of Culinary Historians. But all those who crowded the new shop were clearly enthusiasts. It looked as though as many were buying books as were enjoying the cookies, wine, and chatting with other book lovers. A highlight among many highlights for me was, of course, seeing my own book–Midwest Maize–on the shelf.

The bookstore is the brainchild of Esther Dairiam, who was inspired by a splendid culinary bookstore in Paris. She hoped that Chicago, among the country’s most food-centric locations, would be a good place to try to create something similar, but with the addition of the kitchen facilities, to create a more complete food experience.

Read It & Eat is located at 2142 N. Halstead, in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago. If you’re in the area, it is definitely worth visiting.

Well-labeled shelves

Well-labeled shelves


It’s a great concept well executed. I hope they do splendidly well.

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Tips From the World of Spice

A few posts ago, I mentioned an event in Philadelphia called The Life of Spice. There was a lot of interesting information shared by the other two speakers, but the most useful was from the representative from McCormick Spice. Here are the highlights from her presentation.
• Mexican oregano is a completely different plant than Mediterranean oregano. Mexican oregano is mustier than Mediterranean. It’s great in chili and Mexican dishes, but don’t use it in spaghetti sauce.
• Oregano is the most commonly adulterated herb. That means if you see an off brand that seems to be too cheap, it’s probably not all oregano.
• “Cinnamon” coming out of China can be as much as 50% adulterated with the bark of trees other than cinnamon.
• Red pepper makes you feel more satisfied with your meal.
• Smoked paprika can help people who are trying to reduce their salt intake–adds big flavor so salt isn’t missed.
• California bay leaves are not the same as Mediterranean bay leaves — and are not necessarily completely safe, at least in large quantities.
• McCormick has developed tests to show what emotions spices trigger. For cinnamon, it’s love.

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Midwest History Conference

I’m posting this as something of a public service announcement. All who are interested in U.S. history are invited to the first conference of the new Midwestern History Association. The conference runs April 30-May 1, and it is being held in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The conference itself is free, so the only expense is getting there and spending the night.

The speaker lineup looks amazing. I’m really looking forward to this event. Here is a full description, with speakers, topics, and links where you can register. http://hauensteincenter.org/common-ground-summit-on-the-midwest-2/

The Midwest is a region that has long been snubbed by those who are into U.S. regions — and that’s a pity, because the region has had a major impact on U.S. history, not to mention continuing to feed everyone. So hope you’ll come out for this event, which looks to be fairly remarkable.

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Garlic and Almond Soup with Grapes

When I visited Spain, I found that garlic is a mainstay of Spanish cooking, and is often used with great abandon. I was surprised and delighted to find a variety of garlic soups and garlic sauces. Ajo Blanco is a cold soup–particularly welcome in warm weather–that combines garlic and almonds. The recipe comes from Málaga, in southern Spain. Málaga was founded by the Phoenicians in the 12th century BC, was controlled at various times by the Romans and Visigoths, and was among the first cities to fall to the Moors in 711 AD, when they began their invasion of Spain. Almonds remain one of the main exports from the port of Málaga, and remain an important part of the local cuisine.

A couple of notes about this recipe. I love garlic, and usually look for the fattest cloves I can find, or add more than a recipe requires. However, in this recipe, since the garlic is not cooked, it’s pretty potent, even with three average cloves, so don’t get carried away. Traditionally, this would be made using a mortar and pestle, but a food processor or blender makes the process significantly easier.

And finally, some really good news. Almonds have been shown to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and may cut the risk of lung cancer, even if you smoke. Throw in the garlic and olive oil that this recipe contains, and this delightful and unusual recipe is almost frighteningly good for you. Enjoy.

Ajo Blanco con Uvas
(Garlic and Almond Soup with Grapes)

5 oz. blanched almonds
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 tsp. salt
4 Tbs. olive oil
3 Tbs. red wine vinegar
3 cups ice water
3 dozen seedless green grapes

Place the almonds and garlic in a food processor and process until they are finely chopped. (Do not over-process, or the oil will separate out of the almonds. Stop while almonds look like crumbs, and not peanut butter.) Add the bread crumbs, salt, and 1 cup of water, and process until mixture is a fine paste. With the food processor running, add the oil in a thin stream. Next, gradually add the vinegar and as much of the remaining ice water as your food processor can comfortably accommodate. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and stir in any remaining ice water.

Adjust salt to taste. Cover and refrigerate for several hours or (even better) overnight. Peel grapes (not absolutely required, but they float more easily if peeled). Float the grapes in the soup just before serving, or serve soup and float grapes in the individual bowls. Alternatively to using grapes, you could substitute 1 cup of chopped apple. Serves 4–6.

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Almonds

Though Prunus amygdalus is, as its name hints, a close relative of plums, as well as peaches, you’ll never eat this tree’s fruit. For this drupe (the technical name for fruit with stones, such as plums and cherries), life is the pits. Literally. The fruit of this native of southwestern Asia becomes leathery as it matures, and splits open when ripe, exposing the world’s most popular nut, the almond.

Actually, there are two types of almond—sweet and bitter. The bitter almond is used primarily for flavoring, but it is the sweet almond that we eat. The sweet almond, which is almost as famous for its beautiful white flowers as for its nuts, closely resembles the related peach.

The almond probably started in Asia Minor, but it was on the move so early that it is hard to be precise about where its roots truly lie. It is believed that almonds, along with dates, were among the earliest cultivated foods. Almonds have been found on the island of Crete, at the Neolithic level under the palace of Knossos and in Bronze Age storerooms at Hagia Triada. The almond was written of by the Babylonians, Anatolians (who used it largely for oil), and Hittites, and, along with the pistachio, is one of only two nuts mentioned in the Bible.

The Greeks were the first to grow almonds in Europe. The Greek scholar, Theophrastus, mentions in his history of plants, written about 300 BC, that almond trees were the only trees in Greece that produced blossoms before leaves. The Romans, who referred to almonds as “the Greek nut,” brought almonds to Italy around 200 BC The Romans used almonds primarily in the form of sweets, but also used ground almonds to thicken and flavor sauces. Actually, ground almonds have never lost their popularity as a thickener. Continue reading

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Philadelphia Spice Event

For any of my readers who are in the Philadelphia area, I’ll be speaking on April 16, 2015, at an event put on by the Geographical Society of Philadelphia: The Life of Spice.

Here’s the description from the Geographical Society website:

The Chemical Heritage Foundation, The Monell Chemical Senses Center and the Geographical Society are presenting this very spicy event!

Food Historian, Cynthia Clampitt will present the travelogue of spices… where they are grown and how they travel the world.

Monell Scientist Gary Beauchamp will illuminate the science behind spices. Marianne Gillette of McCormick Spice Company will describe the delicious roles of spices in cuisine.

After the presentations, enjoy a reception to taste and smell spices. Feastivities is preparing a delicious menu infused with the tastes and smells of ginger, cardamom, pepper, cinnamon, turmeric and more. Scientists will demonstrate the science behind the spice and effects on your senses.

A night to SPICE up your life…see, smell, and taste them! Take home a flavorful gift bag. For $75 enjoy general admission to the presentation and reception. For $100, enjoy reserved seating and recognition in the program.

You can find out more about the event, and buy tickets if you’re interested in attending, at the Geographical Society website: http://www.geographicalsociety.org/the-world-of-spices/

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Armenian Nutmeg Cake

Nutmeg

Nutmeg


As noted in the previous post, the Latin name for nutmeg is Nux muscatus, and in the name of the recipe below, you can almost make out the Latin muscatus in the Aremenian meshgengouz.

This cake is really delicious. It has been a huge hit wherever I’ve taken it. It has a somewhat crunchy base and a moist, tender, fragrant top. The two parts really work together. Enjoy.

Meshgengouz Gargantag
(Armenian Nutmeg Cake)

2 cups white flour, sifted
1 tsp. baking powder
1 pinch salt
1/2 cup butter
2 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sour cream
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Grease a 9-inch-square baking pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Put the flour, baking powder, and salt a bowl and stir to combine. Rub in the butter until the mixture looks like fine bread crumbs. (This is easily accomplished with your fingers, but you can use a food processor, if you don’t enjoy “hands-in” cooking.) Add the brown sugar and stir to combine thoroughly. Press half of the flour and sugar mixture into the bottom of the cake pan.

Beat the sour cream into the cream until mixture is smooth. Dissolve the baking soda in the cream mixture. Stir in the beaten egg and nutmeg. Add this to the remaining half of the flour and sugar mixture, stirring until the cream mixture and flour mixture are thoroughly combined. Pour this batter into the cake pan, smoothing so that it covers the base evenly. Sprinkle the walnuts evenly over the batter. Continue reading

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