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Tasting New Orleans

Fitting my spoils into my suitcase for the trip home was a feat. A similar phenomenon occurred in the wardrobe department. We were both bringing home a flavor of New Orleans, one of my favorite food towns in the world. Eating in New Orleans is eating history - and a story never tasted so good.

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Book Lust: The Homesick Texan Cookbook

The Homesick Texan Cookbook 
Lisa Fain (author)
Hyperion, $29.99, 357 pgs. 

Why I'm squeezing it onto my overloaded bookshelf:  As a native Oklahoman sharing a border with the great state of Texas, I grew up eating many of the same foods Lisa Fain chronicles in The Homesick Texan Cookbook. Now living New York, she celebrates the flavors and experiences of the state's traditions with authentic dishes, but has modernized recipes by omitting many processed ingredients that are frequent players in old-school community and church cookbooks from the region. This means I can tuck into a nostalgic platter of Tex-Mex or meltingly tender brisket without sacrificing my preference for made-from-scratch cooking.

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Mead & Mead’s Maple Syrup

These waning weeks of winter with their slowly rising daytime temperatures mean spring is truly on its way, but folks around the country who love real maple syrup are crossing their fingers for a few more weeks of coat-and-scarf weather. In order for sap to flow for harvesting, maple trees need both mild days and freezing nights, and too-high temps can mean a shorter harvest season. The team behind one of our favorite syrups—Mead & Mead’s Maple Syrup based in Canaan Valley, Connecticut—is has been busy in the sugarhouse making sure this season is a successful one, no matter what the thermometer reads.

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5 Things to Do with Maple Syrup

Maple syrup is one of the stars of our American pantry, and maple sugar and syrup production was well under way long before the arrival of Europeans to the continent. When it comes to this tasty topping, we like to think beyond breakfast to maximize the flavor potential of one of our favorite native ingredients. Everyone knows real maple syrup is liquid gold when it comes to pancakes, waffles, and bacon, but there are plenty of ways to use the sweet stuff for the othermost important meals of the day.

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Maple Syrup, America's Liquid Gold

Sugaring is sticky business. Just like any other agricultural endeavor, there are no guarantees - no exacting seasonal metric nor promise of abundance. But when that tap's running, there's fever in the air, and the sugar bush is flowing with activity. It's been this way since the early 1600's, when Native Americans first gashed a sugar maple with their tomahawk and discovered New England's liquid gold. During Maple Moon, they'd relocate their camps to the sugar bush and set up sugar huts to boil and evaporate the collected sap into syrup and sugar. Sugaring is one of America's earliest agricultural traditions. I made a recent trip to Vermont and Massachusetts with maple on my mind and here's what I brought back:

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Introduction to Whole Grains

We’ll be the first to admit that whole grains can be a little intimidating. With so many varieties available, it’s nearly impossible to remember how much liquid to use, how long to cook the grains, and which ingredients to add to the mix. Before you default to microwavable brown rice, check out our handy cheat sheet for whole grain improvisation. You'll be a whole grain professional in no time!

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Bluebird Grain Farms

A signature role of the American culinary artisan is the revival of age-old techniques and ingredients for a modern audience. Small-production food producers are the vanguard of our national (and international) edible traditions, and thanks to many of these hardworking men and women time-honored foods and drinks have been saved from cultural extinction. Bluebird Grain Farms is an amazing example of the power of individuals in our modern food economy. This family-owned and operated grain farm and mill in the Methow Valley of north-central Washington is largely responsible for the revival of emmer wheat—also known as farro—here in America.

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The History of American Citrus Labels

Classic citrus labels provide some of the most iconic images of American agriculture, depicting a veritable Eden occupied by dew-flecked roses, pink-cheeked women, and sun-drenched trees heavy with fruit. For most of the twentieth century, these bright, graphic paintings decked the sides of wooden crates filled with oranges, grapefruits, and lemons from California to Florida, and their allure continues today.

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Pancake Day

The day before Ash Wednesday goes by many names among Catholic and Protestant countries as different cultures and denominations have a final hurrah before the fasting season of Lent. Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Fastnacht Day, Pączki Day, Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day...whatever the name, the crux is the same. A day of indulgence and revelry before entering a phase of self-denial and repenting.

For many traditions, eating rich, buttery pancakes on the day before Lent became a way to use up the flour, fat, eggs, and sugar that were customarily off-limits while fasting. But in Liberal, Kansas, Pancake Day is much more than a meal of griddled batter. For women in this Midwestern town of 20,000, International Pancake Day means tying on their running shoes.

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Fat Tuesday's Deep-Fried Delights

Fat Tuesday—also known as Mardi Gras or Shrove Tuesday—is traditionally the last hurrah before Lent, a time of penance and prayer. In recent times, it has also become a mid-winter party that reminds us all that we don’t have to wait until the glory days of summer to have a blast. In addition to the music, costumes, and all around revelry of the Carnival spirit, Fat Tuesday is a great excuse to load on some fat of the culinary kind—whether you observe the holiday’s religious connotations or not. The fried foods of Fat Tuesday—plump dumplings and doughnuts doused in sugar when they’re hot from the oil—are the epitome of decadence, and international variations on the doughy delights can be found in every corner of the country.

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5 Things To Do With NW Elixirs Hott Sauce #1

We've spent the week reaching for a glass of water while we experiment with some of our favorite lip-tingling, sinus-clearing recipes. But the self-inflicted burning sensation on our tongues was invigorating and frankly, we think 5 spicy recipes barely lifts the lid on this Pandora's box. So keep that bottle of hot sauce within reach; we have even more tips for heating up your kitchen.

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Portland Pepper Sauce Company

When most Americans think of spicy food, they think hot sauce. Adam Welcher, the man behind Portland Pepper Sauce Company—producer of 100% fresh chili pepper hot sauces in Portland, Oregon—is happy to make the most of this demand for hot condiments, but he’s going to do it his way. For each batch of sauce he uses fresh, local peppers that add a little something more than screaming heat.

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Spice Up Your Life: The Psychology of Heat

We all know a few spice addicts—those die-hard heat extremists who pride themselves in their five-alarm hot sauce collection and spend their vacations tracking down the hottest peppers known to man and eating them whole. So what’s behind their cravings for culinary pain? It turns out there’s plenty of reasons why people are driven to indulge in extra-hot foods, and some of them are healthier—and sexier—than you’d think.

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Five Tips for a Fool-Proof Flame

Want a perfect, never-fail flame that will grill your foods fast with little to no effort? Go find yourself a gas grill. All kidding aside, charcoal grills impart a smoky, mesquite flavor that’s hard to duplicate with their gas-fueled cousins, and for very high heat cooking, a real fire is the way to go. While they’re not as fool-proof as turning a nob attached to a gas tank, here are some easy tips to get you from cold grill to hot meal in no time.

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A Brief History of the Portable Grill

Though Americans had been cooking over outdoor flames since pre-colonial times, the history of portable grills as we now know them begins in our own era.

Until the 1940s, portable grilling was limited for the most part to campsites and picnics. In earlier times, campers would use pits in the ground lined with rocks, filled with coal or wood, with a wire grate placed on top as a cooking surface. This pit-grilling method was eventually translated to a small, flat, and rectangular portable metal box called the brazier grill. This grill could be placed on a tabletop for cooking that didn’t require bending over to tend a fire in the ground.

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Book Lust: Homemade Soda

Homemade Soda 
Andrew Schloss (author)
Storey Publishing, $18.95, 329 pgs. 

Why I'm squeezing it onto my overloaded bookshelf: I avoid sickly saccharine soda, but I love all things effervescent, so Andrew Schloss's Homemade Soda is the perfect manual for enjoying bubbly beverages without ingesting a laundry list of mystery ingredients. Divided into: Fruit Sodas and Fizzy Juices, Sparkling Waters, Root Beers and Cola Brews, Herbal and Healing Waters, Sparkling Teas and Coffees, Shrubs and Switchels, and Cream Sodas and Floats, I can tailor my soda to fit seasonal ingredients, my mood, cravings, and precisely control the sugar content. Whether you're imbibing for medicinal benefits, mixing pop with alcohol, cooking, baking, setting up your own soda fountain, interested in brewing with yeast, or simply quenching a thirst, these recipes provide beverages far beyond our basic need for water. As Schloss explains, elaborate drinks satisfy our sensual desire for flavor and color.

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The History of American Soda Fountains

From retro camera effects on our iPhones to old-fashioned glasses frames, nostalgia is definitely in vogue these days—and it’s taking over the food world, too. All around the country, folks are featuring macaroni and cheese on upscale menus, opening up throw-back diners, and restoring old soda fountains fit for a post-sock hop date—chocolate egg cream with two straws, anyone?

Soda fountains and ice cream shops are quintessential Americana. From their rise at the turn of the 20th century through their slow fade into obscurity in the 1970’s and their recent resurgence, the history of the American soda fountain is intertwined with our changing attitudes about food and drink more than you might think.

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Jacobsen Salt Co.

When Ben Jacobsen moved to Scandinavia to complete his MBA, he quickly fell in love with the earthy, large-crystal sea salts that were used in local kitchens and restaurants. On his monthly visits back to the states, he’d pack his suitcase with bags of salt to give as gifts and fill up his stockpile of the good stuff.

When his job brought him back to America full-time, he had to find a way to source high-quality sea salt without the international airfare. When he discovered that hand-harvested American sea salt is relatively nonexistent, he set out to learn traditional European and Asian methods of salt harvesting in order to make the most of the clean waters off the coast of Oregon.

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5 Things To Do With Smoked Salt

Smoked salt will always remind me of campfire cooking because it imparts a flame-grilled, earthy essence to everything it touches. There’s something wonderful about using salt as a vehicle for flavor, and transforming an everyday seasoning into a sprinkle of exotic, woodsy smoke opens up a world of opportunities for home cooks.

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The History of American Salt Production

Though most of us think little of the seasoning we sprinkle on almost everything we eat, salt has played several important roles throughout American history. It was used as currency to pay soldiers in the War of 1812, and it has been an impetus to explore and expand: Speculation about a mountain of salt near the Missouri River was one of the reasons for the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and the Erie Canal was built to transport large quantities of salt from Syracuse.

From the west coast to the east, salt has been a vital part of American life, and its production is intertwined with the development of the industrialization—not to mention the food history—of America.

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Our Newest Recipes
Index

Fried Okra
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Index

Strawberry Saba Sorbet
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Index

Carolina-Style Deviled Crab
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