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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Tour of America's Test Kitchen in Brookline

Thanks to swapper Melissa Pocek, I had the good fortune to tag along on a tour of America's Test Kitchen in Brookline earlier this week. Assistant editor Jill Fisher took us behind the scenes to see how chefs at ATK perfect their recipes and even taste-teste a few treats!

Research starts in ATK's cookbook library, which contains over 4,000 cookbooks organized by region, diet, and style of cooking. Chefs apply the "5 recipe test" in which they find five recipes encompassing a broad range of flavors for a single dish and invite editors to try each sample and determine what works and what doesn't in each recipe. Then chefs tweak every variable possible (cooking time, resting time, type of leavening agent, etc) to find the most foolproof recipe.

We weren't allowed to take photos in the actual photo studio, but we did learn that the still photos in the magazines and cookbooks use all natural light. There's a huge props area where photographers can choose different dishes, pots, pans, placemats, and even countertops to create the perfect effect for each shoot.

Jill also told us that ATK chefs only use pots, pans, and other tools that would be available to home cooks, never industrial-sized kitchenware. They also taste test ingredients to determine which broths, milks, beans, and other items work best for cooking. (Interestingly, Charles Shaw is one of ATK's cooking wines of choice, even outperforming pricer bottles.)

Most magazine recipes are planned six months ahead of time, so that means that ATK chefs grill in the alley behind the office even during wintertime! On the day we visited, chefs were perfecting recipes for almond cake and gluten-free chocolate chip and sugar cookies. We tasted the cookies and four different variations on the almond cake (pictured above). Meanwhile, a group of chefs (pictured below) clustered around the counter discussing the cakes' density, stature, and the ratio of almond paste to sugar.

I get creative when making salads or granola, but I tend to closely follow recipes for baked goods, because messing with ratios can result in muffins or cookies that are too dry, too sweet, or too moist. Watching the ATK chefs in action gave me a deeper appreciation for the amount of time and research that goes into creating those recipes to begin with.

After the tour, we walked over to Cutty's, since Jill told us the sandwich shop is a favorite of the ATK staff. Cutty's has a giant chalkboard listing where all the ingredients come from (cheese from Cabot, flour from King Arthur, chocolate from Taza), so we could see why they love Cutty's. I also spotted this sign.

Even as a vegetarian, I was kind of intrigued. Can someone explain to me how pork fat is used in clubbing?

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Gastronomic Adventure in Vermont's North Country

Shepard Farm in Putney, VT

If you've been following this blog for a while, you might remember a post from last January 2012 where we described a day trip Tara and I took to Vermont to explore its dairies.  We were so enchanted by that 12-hour trip that we vowed to return with enough time to fully experience the New England farm life.  That vow brought us to the mountains of Northern Vermont for a week (this past October) to taste cheeses, wines, maple products, apple products, and anything else we could eat.  The trip cemented Vermont’s status in my mind as the best rural vacation spot in New England because, as most food swappers can surely relate, the locale with the best food wins!

Our Vermont adventures started before we even arrived at the resort when we stopped at the Ben and Jerry’s factory for a scoop.  On our last trip, we remembered a tiny shopping center down the street with wine, chocolate, and cheese, so we stopped there too.  Between the first shopping center and the resort, we discovered the Cold Hollow Cider Mill store (complete with yet ANOTHER wine tasting on the property) where we could watch cider pressing and buy cider jugs, donuts, fudge, and hot dogs!  So, on one road in Waterbury, Vermont (Waterbury-Stowe Rd for those of you who won’t get to the end of the sentence before your GPS is programmed) we found an ice cream factory, two wine tastings, cider heaven, a Lake Champlain Chocolate store and a Cabot cheese shop!  We even heard that the Green Mountain Coffee Company is on a different street within a mile or two from this delicious strip although we didn't make it this time.  Therefore, we renamed Waterbury, VT “Mecca” because it is the holy land for your mouth.  

Throughout the week, we visited a number of actual farms across the state.  In January, we only made it to the Fat Toad Farm after dark when we couldn’t take a tour so it was our top priority this time around.  This time, we got to meet the goats as well as their cows, pigs, chickens, and dogs!  We also witnessed the humans making epic goat’s milk caramel.  The team at the farm had the stroke of pure genius to add bourbon and salt to their caramel to make a seasonal treat that is mind bending.  We did, however, learn that their incredible chevre is no longer in production.  Thankfully, we bought several tubs from the final batch!  

The most beautiful farm, hands down, was in Shelburn.  The Shelburn Farm is actually a gilded age-era agricultural estate turned non-profit farm education center.  Besides the horses and sheep, here you can also see Olmstead designed landscapes, architecturally breathtaking farm buildings, and the Lake Champlain shoreline.

Being true urbanites, we needed a few quick breaks from the rural mountain air.  To get our city on, we enjoyed a dinner at the Farmhouse Tap & Grill in Burlington and even sampled poutine north of the border in Montreal.  At Montreal Poutine, our adorable French-speaking waiter noted that this was our poutine "baptism" and asked if our happiness was big! The highlight of the Canadian leg of the trip was waiting for the French speaking maple syrup pitchman at Les Délices de l'érable to do the English version and realizing from a single sentence that he was a native Bostonian!  Here, we learned to make “maple on snow” and bought syrup mixed with rum! 

Bragging just a little at King Arthur

The final leg of our edible pilgrimage led us on a two hour “hunting” expedition at the King Arthur Flour baker's store.  If you like to bake (and really, who among us doesn't?) King Arthur is essentially a giant toy store.  Not only did I leave with a bucket full of cool tools (literally, a bucket full – I bought a multi-gallon food-grade bucket!), but I also left with a fat list of Christmas ideas for my family and myself.  In fact, I think their multi-tiered cooling rack is the must-have accessory for every cookie swapper this holiday season.

So despite GPS giving us the choice of plunging down a ravine or driving over a wooded dirt pile, driving for hours to get to a closed farm, and a little hurricane you may have heard of, our bellies were happy.  And a happy belly makes for a memorable vacation.  

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Thursday, May 9, 2013

It's Almost Time! Boston-Area Farmer's Markets Opening Soon

We're chomping at the bit (of veg) waiting for our favorite farmers' markets to open. To celebrate, we've updated our 2011 list of Boston-Area farmers' markets by day of the week (or check out this cool map tool):

• Harvard Square Farmers' Market, 1 Bennett St/Charles Hotel, 10am-3pm, Opens 5/20
• SoWa Farmers' Market, Thayer Street off Harrison Ave, 10am-4pm, Opened 5/6

• City Hall Plaza Farmers' Market, 1 City Hall Plaza/Government Center, 11am-6pm, Opens 5/20
• Central Square Farmers' Market, Norfolk St at Bishop Allen Dr, Noon-6pm, Opens 5/20
• South Boston Farmers' Market, 446 W Broadway, Noon-6pm, Opens 5/13

• Copley Square Farmers' Market, Boylston Street & Dartmouth Street, 11am-6pm, Opens 5/14
• South Station Farmers' Market, Summer Street & Atlantic Ave, 11:30am-6:30pm, Opens 5/21
• Dorchester House Farmers' Market, 1353 Dorchester Ave, 11:30am-1:30pm, Opens 6/25
• Jamaica Plain Farmers' Market, 677 Centre Street, Noon-5pm, Opens 6/12
• Harvard University Farmers' Market, Oxford Street & Kirkland Street, Noon-6pm, Opens 6/19
• Grove Hall Farmers' Market, 461 Blue Hill Ave, 3-7pm, Opens 7/10
• Roxbury/Dudley Farmers' Market, Dudley Town Common, 3-7pm, Opens in June

• Arlington Farmers' Market, Russell Common, 2-6:30pm, Opens 6/13
• City Hall Plaza Farmers' Market, 1 City Hall Plaza/Government Center, 11am-6pm, Opens 5/20
• Cambridge Center Farmers' Market, Broadway at Main Street, 11am-6pm, Opens 5/15
• Davis Square Farmers' Market, Day St & Herbert Street, Noon-6pm, Opens 5/22
• Charlestown Farmers' Market, Austin Street & Main Street, 2-7pm, Opens 7/4
• Northeastern Farmers' Market, Ruggles MBTA stop, 11am-5pm, Opened 5/1

• Kendall Square Farmers' Market, 500 Kendall Street, 11am-2pm, Opens 5/31
• Prudential Center Farmers' Market, 800 Boylston Street, 11am-6pm, Opens 5/16
• Medford Farmers' Market, Behind City Hall, 3-7pm, Opens 6/6
• South Station Farmers' Market, Summer Street & Atlantic Ave, 11:30am-6:30pm, Opens 5/21
• JP/Loring-Greenough Farmers' Market, 12 South St, Noon-dusk, Opens 6/6
• Codman Square Farmers' Market, 367 Washington Street, 1-6pm, Opens 6/20
• Coolidge Corner Farmers' Market, Beacon Street & Centre Street, 1:30pm-dusk, Opens 6/14
• Dorchester-Bowdoin Farmers' Market, 230 Bowdoin Street, 2:30-6:30pm, Opens 6/20
• East Boston Farmers' Market, Bennington St & Meridian St, 3-7pm, Opens 7/5
Mission Hill Farmers' Market, Huntington Ave & Tremont Street, 11am-6pm, Opens in June
Roxbury/Dudley Farmers' Market, Dudley Town Common, 3-7pm, Opens in June
• Mystic Market Farmers' Market, 530 Mystic Ave, 11am-4pm, Opens in June

• Copley Square Farmers' Market, Boylston Street & Dartmouth Street, 11am-6pm, Opens 5/14
• Boston Medical Center Farmers' Market, 840 Harrison Ave, 11:30am-2:30pm, Opens 6/14
• Harvard Square Farmers' Market, 1 Bennett St/Charles Hotel, Noon-6pm, Opens 5/25
• Allston Farmers' Market, North Harvard Street & Western Ave, 3-7pm, Opens 6/14
• Dorchester-Ashmont Farmers' Market, 1943 Dorchester Ave, 3-7pm, Opens 7/6

• Chelsea Farmers' Market, 500 Broadway, 9am-1pm, Opens in July
• Fields Corner Farmers' Market, Dorchester Ave & Park Street, 9am-Noon, Opens in July
• Everett Farmers' Market, 410 Broadway, 9am-1pm
• Union Square Farmers' Market, Washington Street & Prospect St, 9am-1pm, Opens 6/1
• Cambridgeport Farmers' Market, Magazine Street & Memorial Drive, 10am-2pm, Opens in June
• Mystic Market Farmers' Market, 530 Mystic Ave, 11am-4pm, Opens in June
• Frederick Douglas Square Farmers' Market, Tremont Street & Hammond Street, 11am-5pm
• Jamaica Plain Farmers' Market, 677 Centre Street, Noon-3pm, Opens 6/12
• Allston Village Farmers' Market, 500 Cambridge Street, 11am-3pm, Opens 5/18
• Roslindale Village Farmers' Market, Adams Park, 9am-1pm, Opens 6/1
• Egleston Farmers' Market, 45 Brookside Ave, Jamaica Plain, 10am-2pm, Opens 6/1

What is your favorite farmers' market?

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Dear Boston Globe, "Veggie-Induced Stress" Is Why We Swap!

Dear Boston Globe,

Your article in the Lifestyle section this morning,  "Farm-share programs, and angst, on the rise," is something we know all too well. At the Boston Food Swap, we believe it's important to support local farms, and we choose to by raising funds, shopping farmers markets, and joining CSAs (and not just veggie — Lyn and I even split a grain share).

Yes, CSAs are a commitment, and can sometimes be too much of a good thing if you're unprepared for the volume. But it doesn't have to be another thing to worry about. There are ways to keep your sanity and kitchen stocked.

As single people, we split shares amongst friends (Lyn and I just also signed up for Red Fire Farm's veggie and fruit shares), or use Boston Organics for a more manageable, delivered-to-your-door ease.

But the biggest way we reduce this veggie-induced stress you speak of is by holding our monthly food swaps. When it's July and you have more zucchini than you could eat in a lifetime, pickle it, grate it into patties, bake it into bread, or just plain bring it whole and raw, and swap it for something else. Like jam, or sourdough, or eggs, or cookies. Yes, your zucchini can get you cookies. We promise, someone will want it.

We want everyone to enjoy local produce, even if you sometimes get sick of it (spoiler: even we do). So come check out a swap. Our next one is on May 19. We hope to see you there!

The Boston Food Swap