Monday, 10 December 2012

In Celebration of Terra Madre Day 2012

Happy Terra Madre Day! Unbeknownst to many, I'm sure, the Terra Madre project (yes, linked to the Terra Madre conference I've mentioned a few times before throughout the blog) was launched by Slow Food International in 2004. In 2009 Terra Madre Day was lifted up as an international day of celebrating local food, the celebration of which emphasizes Slow Food's philosophy of good, clean and fair: "good for our palate, clean for humans, animals and the environment, and fair for producers and consumers." In honor of Terra Madre Day, our local Slow Food chapter held a Terra Madre Day potluck last night at the home of Board Chair Bear Braumoeller whom I've been fortunate enough to meet at other Slow Food Columbus events throughout the past semester (1, 2 and 3; and he even presented at our Food and Culture Colloquium). Alongside the great local, organic and/or sustainable food that made their way onto the potluck tables, I truly appreciated the opportunity to explore another sliver of Columbus life and meet even more wonderful people (read: foodies) who, as I've claimed time and time again throughout this blog, represent diverse experiences that find common ground around something as "simple" as food.

As I explained to a handful of folks at the dinner, I have found no reason to mess with the perfection that is the Roos family (my Stellenbosch host family back in the fall of 2008) recipe for beskuit, a.k.a. South African rusk. Though admittedly the aforementioned link brings you to my slightly Americanised adaptation, I had yet to alter the recipe until this very dinner. The only "requirement for admission" as stated in the invitation was that each person brings "a homemade, sustainably-sourced dish or beverage." And so, at my typical midnight start the night prior, I took to the homemade challenge (that was the easy part) and re-adapted the recipe to create a more sustainably-sourced version. In the end, the toughest risk (or perhaps more so uncertainty) to this batch of rusk was the final consistency, altered by a variety of factors, the chief among them being the fact I replaced about 50% of the all-purpose flour with IJ Schwartz & Family's stone ground whole wheat flour (that second half is the part that offers the challenge, as explained more eloquently here). Following the typical preparation, thoroughly combine 2 c whole wheat flour, 1.25 c all-purpose flour, 1/2 c + 1 tbsp light brown sugar, 1 tbsp baking powder and 1 tsp of salt. Using your fingers, incorporate 1 stick + 2.5 tbsp room temperature butter so that, essentially, the dry ingredients coat micro-globes of butter; the consistency should resemble wet sand that should easily crumble. Finally, carefully fold in 1.75 c bran flakes.

The second uncertainty was my use of the buttermilk that had been shaken out during Saturday's In the Kitchen Practicum. Here, the issue was that the shaken buttermilk only yielded the expected cup, rather than the 1 & 1/3 c amount I needed. To account for this missing liquid, I increased the amount of vegetable oil. Into a separate mixing bowl, then, I added to the cup of rendered buttermilk (straight up, store bought buttermilk is fine, as is the substitution of 1 c regular milk + 1 tbsp white vinegar) 1/2 c vegetable oil and one very well beaten egg that I had gotten from Beth (who in turn had received it from a local family farm). Whisk these ingredients together, and stir them very well into the dry mix so that none of the batter looks dry. After half an hour in the preheated 350°F, allow the batter to rest for a few minutes, then divide it up as usual (this photo is from the original recipe batch, of which the album may be found here) between this and another baking dish, allowing for the warm air to circulate evenly. Lower the temperature to 215°F and get the baking dishes of soon to be beskuit into the oven, leaving the oven door slightly ajar.

compare this photo to the original, all-purpose flour version
Overall, the batter (despite it looking to be moister than the original recipe) would yield drier rusk, meaning a shorter second bake (here, this translated to about 5-6 hours rather than the usual 7-8 that I would give it). As noted later in this post, this version although maybe not the best for dunking in your morning coffee or tea, crumbled perfectly as a topping for one of the other dishes that was brought to the potluck.

Speaking of the potluck, I eventually made my way to Columbus yesterday evening and got a chance to meet some new and familiar faces, a new one of which just so happened to be recent Denison alum Erin (small world, no?; I'll note here that she prepared post-dinner coffee from One Line Coffee) and a familiar though not yet formally introduced one being Drew, Slow Food Columbus's Treasurer. After a quick snapshot (literally, as shared below) of the dishes, and following Bear's welcome and everyone's introduction and explanation of what had been brought, it was time to eat.

With a variety of dishes comes the requisite sampling of everything. And as you'll note in the above photo, I couldn't risk not having any dessert. Clockwise beginning with the desserts (yet somehow I restrained myself to eat those last), the following items went onto my plate (if you're reading this and you notice I haven't associated your name with a dish you brought, please let me know in the comments below so I can do so!).

Moist, light and elegant, the opera cakes (a traditional French cake made with almond flour) were layered with chocolate ganache and coffee buttercream, and is noted as a tribute to the Opéra Garnier in Paris and created by Louis Clichy and later made famous by the Parisian pâtisserie Dalloyau. Since its inception in 1682, Dalloyau has produced many a pastry, chocolate and cooked dishes; quite interestingly, Dalloyau is also known for its macarons, which makes particular sense as to why these two dishes were brought to the potluck and prepared by the same artiste, Michelle. Having trained in pâtisserie and technique over the last few summers at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, I was beyond thoroughly impressed to be tasting these two dishes in the States. Having compared macarons over the summer with my last group of high school students (shows how much more blogging I have to catch up on, eh?), I would rank Michelle's cherry macarons with dark chocolate filling among the best of them.

As if by fate, sitting next to my beskuit and tastes of my overseas life, were Bethia's candied lemon peel dipped in dark chocolate. I say "by fate" given that one of my favourite candies (again which I rarely find in the States-- I must just not be looking hard enough) is dark chocolate dipped candied orange peel. As noted in the aformentioned link, Bethia created Columbus Food Adventures and is heavily involved in Columbus's growing food scene.

Next on the plate was one of Rod's wontons which immediately caught my attention as soon as he said they contain double smoked bacon. In addition, they contained pork and sausage, all of which came from Columbus-based Thurn's Specialty Meats.

To the left, I had a bit of Valerie's al dente risotto with chestnuts and morels, as well as a serving of cheesy potatoes, many ingredients of which were locally sourced and purchased at a farmers market: Toad Hill Organic Farm potatoes and garlic, onions from Franklinton Gardens, Snowville Creamery milk, Amish butter and goat gouda. In addition to these rich dishes, I enjoyed a creamy cauliflower gratin prepared by Nathan and cooked in a cast iron skillet and layered with a smooth béchamel. To complete the veggie offerings, I also had a taste of the harvest caserole that included Blue Jacket chèvre and Snowville milk, and sage, butter, leeks and butternut squash from independent Columbus grocer Weilands Gourmet Market.

Nearly completing my tour, I had to try (and so I did) a polenta wedge served with a spicy tomato sauce and prepared by Kristen. I've cooked polenta before and had only seen polenta prepared in the above form on television. There was a slight bite to this tasting that gave way to a softer creamy interior as expected by stovetop polenta. With a serving of venison roulade, my plated course can now be called complete.

In the bowl a few paragraphs up was Bear's ancho chili stew with grass-fed beef, this meat dish a result of the fact that meat dishes aren't typically brought to a potluck. As you may know, I'm not typically one for spice or heat of any kind, and so the dried version of the Poblano pepper kicked my taste buds in a way the other items hadn't. (I'm glad I saved this one for towards the end of the gastronomic tour.) Having said that, the heat worked well with the beef and I can say my tolerance for heat has been kicked up a notch.

The other stewed dish (though, by both heritage and definition, this is technically a soup; I still found it to be thick like a stew) was one prepared and translated from an original Dutch recipe by Anne. Like all homemade dishes, this one--known as Bruine Bonensoep (Brown Bean Soup)--comes with a story. Included in Anne's translated recipe were Dutch brown beans from Bucyrus-based Pop & Judy's Garden Patch, celery root and leeks from Sippel Family Farm and potatoes from Toad Hill, as well as local bacon and carrots.

After my official go-around with the desserts, it was time to try the selections brought by the Warren of Snowville Creamery. As currently noted on its website, Snowville is gearing up to launch three new cultured dairy products, two of which I tried at last night's dinner (yes, it's as awesome as it seems to be in the know when it comes to all things food and drink). First up was the 6% butterfat / 5% protein spicebush yogurt. Recently introduced to spicebush in ice cream form at the annual Slow Food Dinner held at Flying J Farms back in September, its woody, peppery and savoury tastes complements melded harmoniously with the rich and refreshing taste of the yogurt. While seemingly familiar in taste it was (and still is) certainly something innovative and delicious, and I cannot wait to see these in grocery stores in the near future. Equally pleasing and familiar (again, bringing me back to a place far removed from the States, let alone central Ohio) was the crème fraîche. An ingredient that typically has to be substituted with sour cream, as was the case at my last residence hall food and culture program (yet another post to write), the tang and flavour of crème fraîche is much more commonplace in France and is composed of a larger percentage of butterfat (here, 36%).

I'll note here that, as it turned out, folks had caught onto adding the crumbled beskuit (as alluded to toward the start of this post) to the spicebush yogurt. Not only did the textures and flavour profiles work so well together, in my world the combination exemplified some kind of meta-harmony that brought handcrafted foods together. I don't know exactly what this means other than the fact that I enjoyed the combo so much that I started out the day celebrating this year's Terra Madre Day with spicebush yogurt, whole wheat beskuit crumbles and homemade gingerbread (again from Saturday's practicum). Also of note is the glass of eggnog in the background prepared by Drew. I've never had eggnog before but with the splices of rum, bourbon and vanilla extract to cut through the richness of the raw egg and half and half (if you didn't guess it just now, the half and half was made produced by Snowville), the balance seemed to be just right and palatable. Perhaps a truer test and testament to alchohol's preservative properties, I also tried Drew's 6-week-old version, too. And with all of this tasted and written, I sign off for this year's Terra Madre Day unquestionably full yet unsatiably hungry for more food and, of course, more learning. For these and additional photos from the beskuit-making process and the SFC Terra Madre dinner, click here.

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