Lynda McDaniel

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Slow food can be quick

I love fast food.  Not the kind we order in our cars at cartoonish squawk boxes, but the kind we make this time of year, when it’s too nice outside and too hot in the kitchen.  The difference is in the quality of the ingredients and the philosophy behind the food.  I’m talking about fast food steeped in the traditions of Slow Food.

The Slow Food movement started in Italy in the 1980s under the leadership of Carlo Petrini, and today boasts hundreds of chapters, or convivia as the individual chapters are named to reflect the conviviality of the gatherings where people love to explore food and its traditions.  Slow Food was founded in response to fast food, which over the past three decades has drastically changed our way of eating.  Problems with fast food arise not only from the widely reported issues of health and obesity, but as Eric Schlosser writes in “Fast Food Nation,” “The basic thinking behind fast food has become the operating system of today’s retail economy, wiping out small business, obliterating regional differences, and spreading identical stores throughout the country like a self-replicating code.”  

 Slow Food, on the other hand, advocates food that is fresh and seasonal, grown by sustainable farming methods and savored with family and friends.  When I lived in Washington, D.C., I was a member of the local Slow Food convivium, and over the years we visited farms and restaurants celebrating the season and the region.  We took field trips—literally—to meet farmers who were working to get more farms in government programs designed to keep farmers on their land, another tenet of the Slow Food movement. We watched cooks magically twist and turn dough into delicate dumplings or extrude tender spaetzle from a colander-like contraption, both recreating regional specialties of their homeland. 

 While many of the chefs embraced cooking heirloom vegetables, seasonal produce and local meats, many mistakenly thought that for our group they had to prepare long-simmering stews and soups. They didn’t understand that slow food can mean a smorgasbord of delicious foods ready with only a few minutes prep time.

 Some of the most classic examples of fast slow food make a perfect picnic.  Pack a regional cheese, such as the creamy varieties made from grass-fed cows at Marshall Farm in Orange County, or try an artisanal cheese from California or France.  Artisanal simply means that it is made by hand in small quantities or in a time-honored fashion, not industrialized and churned out boringly uniform and too often tasteless.  Throw in some seasonal fresh fruit and a baguette or some crusty rolls made by any number of artisanal bakers in our area, and you’ve got the fastest meal in the East.  You can add leftover chicken or buy an old-world salami for added heartiness.

 Another fast slow idea comes by way of Barefoot Greens on Sophia Street in downtown Fredericksburg.  Call the crew at this local fish store/cafe and order steamed shrimp, little neck clams, crabs or black mussels to go.  They’ll customize the seasoning to your taste and have it ready in 90 seconds.  The difference here is this is a local small business selling regional seafood, hand selected and fresh.

 I like to pick up some steamed shrimp on my way home.  While I cook a baked potato in the toaster oven, or the microwave when it’s really hot, I let the shrimp cool a bit and make a green salad and some cocktail sauce.  Add a cold Fred Red Ale from Blue & Gray Brewing Company, Fredericksburg’s own artisanal brewery, and dinner on the deck is done. 

 One of the best fast foods I know is the applewood smoked chicken breast from the Farm at Mt. Walden in Front Royal, Virginia.  This is a good example of slow food—a small company that makes a few products well with hands-on attention to quality and results.  The chicken breasts are large and juicy and better than any rotisserie chicken I’ve bought in supermarkets.  I like to make easy sandwiches with thin slices of the breast, spreading different condiments such as herbed mayonnaise or cranberry chutney for variety.  Or you can chop the meat and add it to sautéed mushrooms and artichoke hearts for a fast pasta sauce. 

 The recipe that gets most raves, though, is another 10-minute special.  It’s something I made up when some friends were joining me for a picnic on the grounds of Montpelier, and I needed to make something quick and refreshing.  I combined the chopped chicken breast with roasted tomatoes, fresh basil and lemon zest and juice, because it was what I had on hand and it sounded good to me.  It was a hit.  A similar recipe is ready in no time with Mt. Walden smoked rainbow trout:  flake the fish, then add minced celery and parsley and seeded chopped fresh tomatoes; dress with vinaigrette, and serve over a bed of greens. 

 Many celebrity chefs are producing their own line of products, though not all are what I would call artisanal.  For that, I turn to Chef Mike Lampros, owner of Gunther’s Gourmet Groceries based in Richmond.  His products use fresh ingredients that he has personally tasted and tweaked to get the balance of heat and piquancy, creaminess or chunkiness he’s looking for.  As a result, his salsas and dressings/marinades make cooking easy while keeping the homemade taste in each dish.  He offers many quick meals on his Web site:  My favorite is his Black & White Bean Quesadillas. They’re ready in no time and taste way better than the fast-food varieties. 

 The key to cooking fast in the Slow Food style is like all good cooking: start with the best ingredients and you can’t go wrong.  To find them, slow down a bit and visit farms in our region.  Pick your own vegetables at Snead’s Farm or visit their booth and those of other farmers at regional markets.  Check out the artisanal products in our area and support the entrepreneurial spirit that made America great.  There are dozens to choose from, including baked goods and chocolates, jams and honey, meats and seafood, pickles and condiments.  While supporting our local economy, you’ll be generously rewarded with outstanding flavors and foods.

This article appeared in the Fredericksburg (Va.) Free Lance-Star on June 9, 2004.


Black and White Bean Quesadillas

Shred some Mozzarella and cheddar cheese; dice some red onions.  Grill off some chicken breast and slice into strips.  On one half of the flour tortilla layer the cheese, onions and chicken strips – not so much that it will spill out – and top with some Gunther's Black and White Bean Salsa.  Cover with a bit more cheese; fold in half to make a half moon shape.  Either grill or cook in a sauté pan with a little bit of oil until golden brown, flip and repeat.  Cut into four pie shaped wedges and top with sour cream, guacamole, and some Gunther’s Smoked Corn and Spicy Chipotle Salsa.  Serves 4 appetizers, 2 entrees.

From  Mike Lampros, Gunther’s Gourmet Groceries,

 Chicken Salad with Roasted Tomatoes and Basil

Rough chop a Mt. Walden smoked chicken breast and ½ cup roasted tomatoes in olive oil.  Tear one bunch of basil into small pieces.  Zest one lemon—then juice it.  Toss all ingredients together.  Serves 4

From Lynda McDaniel, Feast-O-Rama

 Smoked Rainbow Trout Salad

Remove the skin from one Mt. Walden Farm smoked rainbow trout.  Flake the fish into a bowl.  Finely chop one or two stalks of celery, strings removed.  Chop one medium tomato, seeds removed.  Mince enough parsley for about 2 tablespoons.  Combine with fish and toss with homemade or bottles vinaigrette.  Serve on a bed of fresh lettuce or salad greens.  Serves 4.

From Lynda McDaniel, Feast-O-Rama


What's in a Name?  Fascinating Food.

When Monty moved in next door, I was set not to like him. His family’s new house sprawled over the vacant lot that for most of my 12 years had hosted dozens of leaf forts, headquartered at least six secret clubs, and harbored an Indian burial ground (that big rock with carving on it was some kind of gravestone, I just knew it!). On the other hand, Monty’s father had the wisdom to carve out a flat driveway, the only one on our steep street, and put up a basketball net. Hard to resist, especially during a summer when old playmates were away at camp or family reunions.

Monty and I shot hoops together a few times, and I did eventually get over the loss of my childhood playground. But we never became friends. How could we when time after time Monty would suddenly go inside, leaving me dribbling on his driveway, only to return 10 minutes later with powdered sugar on his upper lip! He was such a cad that he never guessed that I knew he had gobbled a quick doughnut or cookie without offering me a crumb. Simply too rude, even by kids’ standards.

Decades later I learned that the Italians were onto the likes of Monty with a confection called Bugia or Liar’s Cookies. A thin, fried cookie, they have a powdered-sugar coating that helps Italian mothers keep a lid on the cookie jar. Even if the kids swear they hadn’t sneaked an extra cookie, mama can always tell.

There are a lot of foods with interesting names and stories, and the Italians have two others I particularly like. Puttanesca Sauce is a famous dish from Naples that literally means “prostitute sauce.” I’ve heard a couple of stories explaining how this mixture of tomatoes, anchovies, capers, and olives came by its colorful name. One version claims that prostitutes, at the end of a long night, would come round the restaurants asking for leftovers. Known for not throwing anything away, the chefs would add whatever was at hand to the marinara sauce simmering on the stove and serve it with pasta, usually linguine or spaghetti. Another take on the story comes from Clifford A. Wright, author of “A Mediterranean Feast” (William Morrow and Company, New York, 1999), who writes “that Neapolitan harlots would entice customers with plates of their favorite pasta.” All things considered, I’m going with the first one.

Strozzapreti pasta also enjoys a colorful back story. Literally, it means “priest strangler” or “priest choker,” though the true meaning is not near as violent as the translation implies. According to legend, Italian priests had a reputation for watching over their flock more closely around suppertime than the rest of the day. Strozzapreti, which measures anywhere from three to six inches long and is rolled lengthwise and lightly twisted, is thick and filling, making a little go a long way toward satisfying a priest’s more secular cravings.

The British have a number of funny names for food. Bubble and Squeak echoes the sounds the potatoes and cabbage make while cooking. This economical dish had its heyday during the Depression, but even today it’s a tasty way of using up vegetables; you can also add bits of leftover Brussels sprouts and meat to the basic recipe. As if Bubble and Squeak isn’t enough, Jane Garmey, author of “Great British Cooking: A Well Kept Secret” (Random House, New York, 1981) recommends serving it with Wow-Wow Sauce, a mixture of meat stock, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, and herbs. “Judging from its name,” she writes, “this sauce must have caused something of a sensation when it first made its appearance in the London chophouses of the early 19th century.”

Toad in the Hole is better known in America, especially in Colonial states like Virginia. It’s a yummy concoction of Yorkshire pudding and small breakfast sausages, though traditionally it was also made with any leftover meat such as lamb chops and kidneys. There are still several variations throughout Britain, and in Norfolk, England, the toad (as the recipe is affectionately nicknamed) is known as Pudding-pye-doll. Whatever it’s called, little is known about how it came by its name. There are definitely no toads in it, and there are no holes—just lots of moist and eggy pudding puffed around savory sausages that combine into the perfect comfort food for a winter’s evening.

Eton Mess pays homage to Britain’s love of strawberries and cream with a new direction provided by the addition of kirsch and crushed meringues. Jane Garmey explains that this dessert was traditionally served on June 4th when Eton College, one of England’s best-known private high schools, held its annual awards day. As the name implies, it’s a mish-mash of ingredients, but it’s especially delicious when strawberries are at the height of their season, something the British take quite seriously.

I can think of another English recipe with a fascinating name, but the translation on this side of the pond ends up a bit too rude for print. Too bad, as it’s a tasty dessert, but, as Monty hopefully has come to understand, rudeness is simply not to be entertained.

Liar’s Cookies or Bugia

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting work surface
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled briefly
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 1/2 tablespoons brandy
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon ground anise seeds
4 to 6 cups peanut or vegetable oil, for deep-frying
About 2 cups powdered sugar
Sift the flour with the baking powder, salt, and sugar and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, mix together the eggs, butter, orange juice, brandy, vanilla, and anise seeds until well blended. Add the dry ingredients all at once and mix on low speed until the dough cleans the sides of the bowl and adheres to the paddle.
Remove the dough from the bowl onto a floured board. Knead by hand until smooth. Form the dough into a ball, flatten slightly, and place in a bowl. Cover with a tea towel and chill at least 2 hours or up to overnight to allow the dough to relax.
Heat the oil in a deep fryer or deep pot to 350 degrees F.
Meanwhile, cut the dough into 4 or 6 equal pieces. Keeping the dough and work surface well floured, pass the dough through the widest setting of a pasta machine 3 or 4 times. Then pass through successively narrower settings until the dough is almost thin enough to see through; depending on your pasta machine, this will probably be the next to thinnest setting.
Cut the dough into long strips 3 inches wide, then cut the strips on the diagonal into pieces about 3 inches long. If the dough tears, cut it off and work it back into the dough. The cookies curl when they fry, so fancier shapes are not important. As the cookies are cut, transfer them to baking sheets lined with flour-dusted tea towels, and cover with tea towels so they won't dry out before frying. Fry in batches, turning once, until puffed and golden brown, about 1 minute. Transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain.
While the cookies are still hot, dust them well with powdered sugar. Wait for a few minutes while the oil and heat absorb and melt most of this first coating. Dust well a second time until the cookies are quite white. The cookies will keep for a week or so in an airtight container. You may need to re-dust them with sugar before serving.
Only a few cookies at a time will fit, even in a big pot, so frying takes time. It is best to have company in the kitchen, ready with lots of good talk to keep you amused. And there are always the warm cookies to eat along the way as a reward.

An Armchair Journey to the New York Fancy Food Show

NEW YORK--Unlike a lot of conventions today, the New York Fancy Food Show doesn’t have flashing videos or scantily clad young women to attract attention to its booths. It doesn’t need to. Its exhibitors have laid before us the world’s best chocolate and coffee, condiments and cheeses, wines and pates, and we flock like faithful pilgrims to this annual shrine. All 24,000 of us who attended this 50th anniversary trade show of the NAFST, the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, Inc.

Before my first show, I had imagined the hall would be big, but I hadn’t pictured the 294,000 square feet on both floors of the Jacob Javits Convention Center on the edge of Manhattan’s Garment District. That’s 147,000 times the size of Feast-O-Rama or seven football fields filled with 2,300 exhibiting companies from 44 countries luring us to their tables.

This is our fourth show, and the most successful one to date. We spend three days every year in late June combing the aisles for the best products we can find to bring home to Fredericksburg. Of course, we skip a fair number of the booths—either we already have plenty of good suppliers for that category or their products don’t pass muster. Like Good Wife Hors D'Oeuvres (what decade are they living in?) or strange concoctions of apples coated in chocolate and peanuts (too reminiscent of something I’ve seen in the elephant yard).

When it comes to sampling, even the good booths require some restraint. The peculiar mix of pickles and chocolate, cheeses and salsas starting at 9:00am every morning and running until 5:00 or 6:00pm each evening sends the digestive system into confusion, at best. Too many tidbits, and too soon nothing tastes good. Some people recommend spitting out after rolling the sample around in the mouth, the way they do at wine tastings, but it’s not that easy. Sure, if I bite into something unpleasant, I am quick with the paper napkin. But swallowing seems to play a role in whether or not we enjoy a food, otherwise obesity would be an obscure word in a crossword puzzle. I need to swallow something to judge the mouthfeel and the aftertaste. But I’m careful.

We also like to visit the Focused Tastings, a cluster of tables featuring selections from various exhibitors for side-by-side comparisons. This year’s themes are Non-chocolate Candy, Specialty Oils and Low & Reduced-carb Foods. In a similar vein, the Focused Exhibits showcase 1200 items in lighted cases in categories such as What’s New, Gift Avenue, Natural Foods and Fair Trade, a new category this year. Every year we discover a variety of new products in these displays that we might have missed otherwise.

In addition to all the booths, the people-watching is outstanding. Famous chefs like Paul Prudhomme, Jamie Oliver, Emeril Lagasse, Charlie Trotter and Todd English have booths for their products, though this year we only spot Paul. Men and women elegantly clad in native dress walk the aisles, where English is almost a foreign language. Cell phones have added to the drama as these people make seemingly important deals on the show floor. One Italian businessman is carrying on in such a central-casting way that at first we think it’s a staged promotion. His flamboyant pacing with arms flailing and harsh words flying draws a crowd, but he doesn’t stop until, we assume, the deal is done.

After a couple of days, our feet are complaining, so we take advantage of the brain food the show organizers are serving up. We try to attend at least one of the educational seminars—industry know-how shared through slides, lectures and networking. Gina has chosen “Exploring European Authentic Tastes: A Guided Tasting of Protected and Traditional European Foods” to add to her knowledge of the European Union’s protected foods, such as Belgian Trappist ale, Spanish Serrano ham, and Italian Parmegiano Reggiano cheese. I opt for “Gift Basket Marketing & Sales.”

We spend less time in the Wine Pavillion and the International Pavillions, because most of these exhibitors are trying to attract large-scale importers who can bring their products to America. But it’s fascinating to stroll past huge displays of Spanish olives, Turkish dates and spices, and Brazilian coffee. In the English Pavillion, we are delighted to meet Lloyd Green, who makes the English farmstead cheddar we’re so fond of. He seems equally glad to meet us once he learns that we stock his cheese, shaking our hands and inviting us to visit his farm in Somerset. The stuff dreams are made of.

By day three, everyone is talking about the winners of the annual Product Awards, the NASFT’s equivalent to the Oscars. In fact, the trophy is similar—a gold chef standing about a foot tall on a pedestal, something the winners proudly display in their booths year after year. The 20 winners this year were selected from 70,000 products by more than 100 specialty food retailers, supermarket buyers, catalogers and other resellers. We don’t always agree with the judges—some of the products are just too precious. We’re looking for more down-to-earth excellence, and found it in their choice of chocolate sorbet from Ciao Bella Gelato Company, hot chocolate from Schokinag Chocolate North America, and mint pesto from Sauces N’Love Inc.

Just before the show closes, we squeeze in one more stop: the Olive Oil Talk. This event allows us to taste premium olive oils while learning about their characteristics by using a hand-held audio device. We’re amazed at the differences we can taste, with notes of bitter and fruity, butter and pepper clearly evident. Olive oil is good for the digestion, and that’s lucky after three days hard at it. But as they say, it’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.


The Afterlife of Bread

When the staff of life goes stale, don’t toss it out. There’s plenty of life left in that loaf!
In addition to the more familiar uses—croutons, French toast, stuffing (more on that later)—cooks have being using day-old bread for centuries in inventive and practical ways. Like gazpacho. Long before explorers introduced tomatoes to Spain from the New World, pre-Columbian cooks made this traditional soup with bread. The name itself is derived from root words that mean “remainders, worthless things,” but this creamy white version chilled and garnished with peeled green grapes and slivered almonds is worth its weight in cold.

But with autumnal temperatures upon us, hot soups are more in order, like the Spanish Garlic Soup Executive Chef Salvador Del Rosario serves at his restaurant six-twenty-three in downtown Fredericksburg. “From what I’ve read, this is a Moorish dish and the Romans and Spaniards took it from there,” he explains. “Most European cultures have a similar soup. Some use cream, some do not.”

As the name implies, garlic is a key ingredient in this chicken or vegetable-stock based soup. Eggs, almonds, marjoram and sherry vinegar enrich the soup; just before serving, stale sourdough bread or baguette is torn into pieces, coated with olive oil, salt and pepper and dropped into each bowl.

“I should add that, as always, everything should be salt and peppered to taste while you are cooking,” Chef Sal says. “At the restaurant, we only use kosher salt and high quality olive oil. I believe you will find it well worth the extra cost to purchase the best quality olive oil you can afford.”
Across the Mediterranean, the Italians also use their “pane raffermo” (literally bread that has firmed up) for soup. “Pancotto,” meaning cooked bread, is a hot soup flavored with seasonal vegetables and wild herbs from the Italian countryside such as borage, wild fennel, wild chicory and arugula. If you have trouble finding them here, chop together a mixture of rosemary, thyme, basil, sage, parsley and arugula. The bread, once softened with water, adds a creaminess to the soup that makes it even more soothing and satisfying on a cold night.

April M. White, chef at the Kenmore Inn in Fredericksburg, uses leftover breads to make crostini for soups. “I cut crusts off white sliced bread; brush with olive oil, fresh garlic and grated Parmesan; and bake at 350 degrees until brown,” she explains. “I cut the squares in half crossways to make triangles that I put on top of each bowl of soup. They make a beautiful presentation and add flavor to your soups.”
Chef White also shares a bread pudding recipe with a rich, custardy texture punctuated by the tart-sweet play on the tongue of fresh pineapple. She garnishes the creamy confection with a dark rum sauce made with heavy cream, sugar, vanilla extract and rum.
Bruschetta, another Italian favorite, has become popular in America, thanks in part to celebrity chefs such as Mario Batali and Emeril Legasse. They have entire television shows dedicated to these glorified toasts, and a search on delivers at least 70 recipes ranging from pumpkin to tuna to Portabella steak bruschetta with Gorgonzola butter and red pepper vinaigrette.

Most recipes start with one-inch slices of day-old bread, which you grill or toast and rub with garlic cloves. Next come the toppings. In a recent show, Mario used cannelloni beans in one version and chopped fresh tomatoes in another. Both recipes call for basil cut in a chiffonade, which is French for narrow ribbons of the herb. It’s easy to do—simply stack as many as six basil leaves, roll like a cigar, and slice crossways in fine strips.

This time of year, stuffing is arguably the most popular use for leftover bread. White, wheat, sourdough, pumpernickel, corn—all kinds of breads can be used in favorite recipes ranging from Cornbread Sausage and Apple to Grand Marnier Apricot and Sage Lemon and Chestnut stuffing. “I take our leftover cornbread and add traditional ingredients such as celery, onion, chicken stock,” Chef White adds. “I sometimes add a little cheddar cheese—that’s really good with the cornbread.”

Chef Bryn Purser, long-time chef at Claiborne’s Restaurant in Fredericksburg’s former train depot, shares one of his recipes for a cornbread-based stuffing. QUOTE, SYNOPSIS OF RECIPE TO FOLLOW.
For something different with poultry, Chef Salvador Del Rosario recommends a savory bread pudding. “Omit the sweeteners [from a bread pudding recipe] and play with it,” he says. “Add herbs and garlic. Add Manchego cheese or blue cheese. It’s great with chicken and moister than stuffing.”
When you start with good quality bread, it’s hard to go wrong with these recipes. And don’t wait for a supply of leftover bread to make them. Why not leave a loaf out overnight so you can enjoy these pleasures the next day?

There are a lot of additional uses for leftover bread—and they’re not all culinary. Executive Chef Salvador Del Rosario of six-twenty-three in downtown Fredericksburg shares some surprising tricks of his trade—and the plumbing trade.
- Make finely grated breadcrumbs from day-old bread (fresh bread just doesn’t work as well). They make a great crust when combined with melted butter as an alternative to graham cracker crusts. For sweet crusts, add a little sugar and cinnamon.
- Toss some of those finely grated breadcrumbs with herbs and seasonings as toppings for casseroles and macaroni and cheese or to make meatballs.
- Use finely grated breadcrumbs instead of cornmeal when dusting the bottom of a baking pan or pizza pan. “Nothing sticks to them,” Chef Sal adds.
- When making pastas such as ravioli, place them on a pan dusted with bread crumbs so they won’t stick together. As the raviolis cook, the crumbs dissipate in the boiling water.
- Slice the bread as thin as possible, toss in a bowl with extra virgin olive oil and dried or fresh herbs and bake at 300 degrees until golden. Use with olive spreads and cheese.
- Wrap leftover loaves tightly and store in the freezer. Chef Sal says it will keep just fine for use later.
- When using a meat grinder, clean it with stale bread before washing.
- Mending a broken water pipe? Chef Sal says an old plumbers trick is to jam stale bread in the pipe, which absorbs the water so there is no sputtering when soldering. Turn on the water and it blows the bread on through the system.







Copyright © 2005, Lynda McDaniel. All rights reserved.