Fig & Hazelnut Spread from Mt. Vikos

If I’m going to buy a fig spread, I’d rather it be imported. I have yet to find a good fig spread that’s made locally, artisanally – perhaps because I live in New York. The fact is that the mighty fig is a speciality of the Mediterranean zones, and those cultures know how to handle and finesse it so much better than we Yanks do. Yes, we may know how to chop them in half, pile with ricotta and honey, or bake them in tarts, but, c’mon, let’s be honest with ourselves.

spreadpackage

I spotted the Fig & Hazelnut Spread from Mt Vikos, a Rhode Island-based importer of Greek cheeses including feta, fetiri, kasseri and halloumi, but also meze and toasts. They make no bones about the fact that their spreads are meant to accompany cheese but the spreads are also good for baking.

The ingredients of this spread consist of fig, water, hazelnuts, lemon juice, grape juice concentrate, and lemon zest. No sugar of any ilk, no preservatives. The directions say to refrigerate after opening. Mt Vikos is proud of and stands by its ingredients, and every flavor and texture has its place in the mixture. The result is tart and rich and delivers crunch through the ground hazelnuts and fig seeds. Meant to be experienced. This is no sweet and smooth little jam for scones.

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Also available in Mt Vikos spreads are Apricot & Figs, Glazed & Roasted Figs, and Apricot & Almond.

If you can’t get this locally, buy it at online retailer Salumeria Italiana for $7.

Happy hunting . . . Anne

P. S. This company also owns and distributes Ines Rosales Tortas, the classic crispy Spanish snack, thus tripling my respect for them.

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knäckebröd: traditional Swedish round crispbread

These aren’t Wasa crackers.

Fiberrikt package

During the holiday season I picked up a package of Swedish round cripsbread at my local German deli. The particular brand I located was Roslagsbröd and the product was fiberrikt knäckebröd av fullkornsråg – fibrous crisp bread or hard bread with whole grain rice. The $7.99 package was twelve inches in diameter, weighed about four pounds and held seven lp-shaped crackers.

Obviously, crisp breads from Scandanavia abound. There’s the previously mentioned Wasa cracker, which is light and porous and comes in numerous varieties so as to stay intriguing to the dieting minions. There’s the GG Bran Crispbread, which is so fibrous, it’s like nibbling a dried cow patty. The genius is that it delivers a mere 15 calories – no joke! There’s Leksands, wrapped in charming vernacular packaging; they’ll sell you pieces in wedges so you don’t have to commit to the full discs. You can always find these on the shelves at Swedish bistro AQ Kafé.

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From as far back as 500 BC, the original Swedish round knäckebröd were made to sustain long periods of storage. They’re fitted with that nifty hole in the middle so that they can be stacked on sticks and placed in a cool, dry place. The Roslagsbröd knäckebröd are dense and heavy, with a taste of nutty rye, intended to fill you up on cold winter nights. Made to be a staple at the smörgåsbord, break off a piece and top with cured fish, soft cheese, butter, or salads and schmears.

open package

If you want something light and flakey, something to which you don’t have to make much of a commitment, eat a Wasa – they’re great. But if you want to feel like a paesan, load up on gouda, grab some gravlax, and haul home a big package of knäckebröd.

If you don’t have a local resource, you can order them at igourmet.com for $9.99.

Happy hunting . . . Anne

Domaine des Terres Dorées (Jean-Paul Brun) Moulin-à-Vent 2010

This is my wine right now: Domaine des Terres Dorées (Jean-Paul Brun) Moulin-à-Vent 2010.

If you invite me to a dinner party, here’s what you’ll be getting. If you host me at your house upstate, here’s what I’ll be bringing. If you catch me at home on a weeknight, this is what I’ll be sipping with dinner. I get it at Garnet Wines in person for $22 but I don’t see it for sale from the site.

The Domaine des Terres Dorées is run by the able Jean-Paul Brun, and imported by the very selective Louis/Dressner Selections. Moulin-à-Vent is among the best of the Beaujolais appellations, all situated in the Burgundy region of France. Beaujolais wines are built on the charms of the gamay grape, an ancient and hearty varietal that produces a richly colored but light-bodied wine.

The Moulin-à-Vent 2010 feels like something you’ve been working towards, like all of those fruity wines, earthy wines, dry wines and spicy wines you’ve tasted over the years have settled down into one sensible location (sort of like when you meet the right person!). Yes, fruit is the star of the show, in both the aroma and on the palate, but that’s somehow perfectly balanced with a grounding minerality. Nod your head with a knowing ‘right,’ this is what wine is supposed to do.

I’m going to leave the professional description to someone more qualified – you can read the Vins Rare review at Snooth here.

Happy hunting . . . Anne

an obsession with spoons

Have you noticed how many people over on Pinterest seem to have a special place in their hearts for spoons?  Along with ‘old doors,’ ‘Halloween costume ideas,’ and ‘ads from vintage Vogues,’ ‘spoons,’ in and of itself, is a pretty solid category.

stainless steel grapefruit spoon, $3.95 at crate and barrel

Spoons are wholesome and useful.  Spoons rest nicely together, as do humans.  Some enthusiasts collect old spoons, wondering where they came from and whence they were used.  Some craftspeople produce beautifully rendered pieces that are meant to be used in kitchens and on tabletops for decades.  Some designers cleverly twist the intention of these utensils and make thought-provoking objects on which to gaze.

Brit Nic Webb, who lives in South East London, collects wood from all over the UK and, working in “green” timber, which is yet living, produces a plethora of cooking and serving pieces.  This is high design stuff, which is often on exhibit, no prices given on his site.

Little Freckle Designs over on ETSY will custom-design baby spoon + fork sets engraved from vintage pieces for $48.  Just really really cute.

Sidsel Dorph-Jensen is another haute designer, this time Danish.  She’s a silversmith who does mostly tabletop and decorative pieces.  This serving spoon set is made with bog oak – contemporary in design, medieval in material.  Website just for admiring.

Caroline Swift’s ceramic oeuvre is light and airy and feminine and pleasing.  Swift lives in Spain and her collection of spoons is fashioned after the classic silver varieties – then made slightly skewed – the effect is very romantic.  The smallest ones start at £12.

David Clarke calls his pieces hand-made/readymade mashups and that about sums it up. Hearty, elegant and quite subversive.  No shopping from the site.

In Los Angeles, Avesha Michael, renders these lovely spoons using ceramic and roughish wood, $48.

Tomii Takashi, sold on Mjölk, hand-carves these long spoons from oak using plum flower designs. inspired by ancient Japanese crest motifs.  $85 each.

If you just can’t get enough of spoons, The Shop at Cooper-Hewitt sells a book on them by Jasper Morrison for $23.50.

Happy hunting . . . Anne

afternoon tea at the Empress

Victoria, in British Columbia, is a nice town.  It’s a place where you can effectively avoid too much data or stimulation, like Puerto Rico or Wyoming.  People go there in droves to gaze at a pretty bay or take bus trips to Butchart Gardens or launch long bike rides or follow whales.  It also happens to be the seat of Parliament for all of British Columbia – there’s a statue of a young Queen Victoria on the lawn there – and the city so has one or two lovely buildings and a revitalized old shopping and dining district.

The Fairmont Empress Hotel, built in 1908 at the mouth of the bay, is a grand old gal.  The kind of place you can wander around looking upward.  Afternoon tea is a long-standing tradition there.  Yes, it’s touristy and high-volume, but it’s also performed with professionalism and care in an institutional but elegantly ornamented setting.  With Queen Mary staring down at you serenely.

For $59 Canadian a person, you get a tower of sandwiches, scones and cakes, and your own pot of tea.  For an extra $30, you get an artisanal cheese with honey – enthusiastically brought out by one of the chefs.  All the classic teas are there to choose from – Assam, Earl Grey, Darjeeling, Green – and the Empress’s own special blend, which has a great balance of fruit with bitter.  Not surprisingly, the light, fresh salmon rolls were superb, the scones were crumbly and sweet, and the meringues were fantastic.

The advent of tea as a meal was reportedly begun by the Duchess of Bedford in the early 1800s, who found herself needing a revitalizing thing or two to eat and drink mid-afternoon.  Still true today!  Tea, with the pouring and the numerous accoutrements and the gossip – is about process and the negative space between actions and, at the Empress, you have to assert a tempered pace on your own, but if you can drone out the bustle, concentrate on the view, and sip slowly, it’s wonderful.

We left with a complementary box of the special Empress blend, which contained ten tea bags, great for sharing with someone at home.

Happy hunting . . . Anne

Analogue Life

How is it that Japanese culture produces the most sublime images, ceremonies, food and design but is also home to the coolest, most ahead-of-the-curve people?  I don’t ask questions, I just marvel.

Case in point:  there’s a shop called Analogue Life housed in the Mizuho Ward of Nagoya, Japan, where you can get the most contemporary household objects rendered with the most traditional of techniques and materials.  Here you can find the work of artisans such as Kenji Fukui, Shoji Morinaga and Yasuko Ozeki creating designs for the kitchen, tabletop and household using wood, iron, silk and clay.  Luckily for us, the shop is also online, enabling us to access these extraordinary designs wherever we live.

In the words of the owners and founders, Ian Orgias and Mitsue Iwakoshi:

“. . . contemporary Japanese designers working sometimes in collaboration with traditional craftmen have applied the traditions of simplicity, elegance, and harmony beyond those, to a variety of household goods. Analogue Life hopes to offer international customers a range of these well crafted, well designed products that reflects what is being designed and produced today by young artists as well as established master craftsmen.”

Take a look.

Cocel rice cooker

Akebi vine bag with cloth by Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten

Nambu Tekki kettle, designed by Jurgen Lehl, produced in Nobuho Miya’s Kamasada workshop

Tall pitcher by Yasuko Ozeki

Hand-woven silk/cotton furoshiki by Tsuchiya Orimono sho

Kashiwan bowls by Kihachi

Copper scissors by Tajika Haruo Ironworks

Happy hunting . . . Anne

Nonna’s Table

From the kitchen of Ron Suhanosky, founding chef of Sfoglia, author of James Beard Award-winning Pasta Sfoglia and The Italian Table, you can buy fresh, hand-made pasta to take home and cook.

Has that sunk in?

It might take a few minutes, so in the meantime, let me tell you about Nonna’s Table, Suhanosky’s wonderfully intimate gourmet Italian grocery store at 163 E. 92nd Street off Lexington on the Upper East Side in New York City.

In a charming setting, Suhanosky serves snack-sized plates, sells pre-made pasta dishes and sauces to go, and offers a selection of Italian food stuffs curated with knowledge gleaned from years of cooking excellent Italian food – it can only result in a satisfying experience in your own kitchen!  On the grocery shelves and in the refrigerated cases you’ll find such treasures as buffalo mozzarella that’s flown in every Thursday from Italy; organic peeled roma tomatoes in glass jars from Puglia; a full selection of dried pastas from Faella, a brand he favors; jams, crackers and breadsticks; and hard-to-find items like Galil grape seed oil.  There’s a good selection of cured meats including finocchiona (fennel) salumi, porcini (mushroom) salumi, and cacciatorini (‘hunter’s’ salami, which is small, made for carrying) salumi.

Nonna’s offers a brief, daily menu of small bites that you can sit down and eat – a soup, a pizza and a sandwich, along with Italian sodas and espresso drinks.  Also available are fresh baked desserts made by Suhanosky’s mom, and you may find her – or other members of the extended family – behind the counter when you visit.  If you go to Nonna’s, do not leave without a pre-prepared dish of pasta that is, again, made fresh daily.

Although there is a definite ‘voice’ behind the offerings at Nonna’s Table, it’s really designed as a go-to spot for a customer who’s sophisticated or simply enthusiastic about great food.  When I visited, a local called to make sure a few pieces of the day’s pizza were put aside for him.  That speaks volumes to the kind of personal relationships built upon the delivery of high-quality products being nurtured at Nonna’s. It’s very local and very Italian.

Nonna’s Table is so authentic it doesn’t have a website, but if you wish to call ahead, the number is (212) 831-9200.  You can host a private event (on the smaller side) at Nonna’s, too.

Happy hunting . . . Anne