This semester opened with a bang and I am already behind. Between classes (first exam already tomorrow!), Bloom (met deadlines by the skin of my teeth), Home Grown Indiana (missed deadline, had to beg extension), and planning for KTR revisions (those deadlines stretch well into 2008) I haven’t even paid the September 1 bills – at least those that aren’t on autopay. Note to creditors: I am not broke (yet), just insanely busy. Please don’t sue.
But, despite the hectic pace I’ve had some fabulous food experiences lately. Here are some highlights.
Market Tour with Dave Tallent
Yesterday I took a group of seniors from the Honors College on a “Market Tour with Chef Dave.” The theme was “If You Are What You Eat, Who Are You?” and we talked to farmers about alternative, less-toxic ways to produce our food. As we walked and talked and sampled cheese and yogurt and chocolate milk (!) we planned a lunch menu with Dave based on what was fresh and delicious, shopped for the ingredients and then headed back to Restaurant Tallent to cook a Slow Food lunch.
really think we had all 15 students in the kitchen at once, plus Dave and
Heidi, his sous chef, and Jason, the pastry chef. The Tallent crew made splendid teachers –
they had the kids making pasta from scratch, chopping vegetables, grating
cheese, making vinaigrette, stirring sauce, and producing a dynamite
lunch. We started with a salad of
arugula, apples, cherry tomatoes, and Traders Point Creamery Fleur de la Terre cheese. Then we had
two pasta dishes – a spicy one with Fielder Farms Italian sausage and a
vegetarian version with Capriole cheese, summer and winter squash, tomatoes,
eggplant, potatoes, onions and garlic, with lots and lots of basil. The pasta was tender and perfect, the sauces
exploded with all the flavors of this late summer/early fall weekend. For dessert we had picked up a cantaloupe that
turned out not to be sweet enough. Jason
to the rescue – he drizzled it with a bit of basil oil, balsamic reduction, and
honey and scattered it with sea salt and it was unexpectedly fabulous.
Then we scooted out of there and let the professionals have their kitchen back so they could prep for a busy Saturday night. If I haven’t said it enough here before, let me shout this from the rooftops: DAVE TALLENT IS MY HERO! Thanks, guys!
Made a quick trip to Chicago at the beginning of the month for our annual political science conference. Good dinner at Aigre Doux (though I ended up with a 35 dollar water bill – I may be swearing off bottled water as well as wine before too long), great dinner at Coco Pazzo, and such a wonderful dinner at Salpicon that we went back for brunch on Sunday before driving home. Had the best chilaquiles ever – rich and chewy tortillas, spicy and complex sauce, and OUTSTANDING guacamole. After living here in the land of mediocre Mexican food, it was a total indulgence.
Bloomington Food News: Truffles @ Tallent, the BLU Boys are Open; FARM is Coming
Fortunately, the non-Mexican food in this town just keeps getting better and better. Have had some excellent meals (what else?) at Tallent lately – including a terrific steak frites with Fischer Farms beef and, just Friday night, that baked ricotta that sent me over the moon a couple of months back. The new fall menu starts Wednesday. I had a peek and it all looks super but, get ready, Dave plans to have white truffles on hand in late October for grating on pasta. Did I mention that that man is my hero?
Other good local food news -- the BLU Boy Chocolate Café and Cakery is up and running and oh boy, oh boy, is it wonderful!!! I love being able to pick up a great dessert without ordering it in advance – we last-minute planners have desperately needed that in this town! I got a plum cake last weekend for a dinner party that was superb! But all David Fletcher’s stuff is lovely: the fat little cupcakes are sassy, the chocolates are decadent, and the cookies are truly fabulous. And the iced tea, which is all Weight Watchers wants me to have, is pretty darn good too.
And it just keeps getting better. I am working on a couple of stories about a new chef in town, Daniel Orr, who is going to be opening FARM bloomington this fall in the Oddfellows Building next to the Uptown Cafe. I’ve been dogging his footsteps as he plans the business, overseas the renovation of the old building, organizes the menu, the wines, the staff, etc. I’ve done these “behind the scenes” pieces on several restaurants now -- Tallent, when it opened as Flora, Du Soleil at the Indy Conrad (recently reincarnated as the Capital Grille), and now FARM. I have a deep fascination with the details behind restaurant-opening, and an enormous respect for those who take it on (even though it always reinforces the chief lesson which is that I will never, ever do it myself.)
FARM will be a treat. Daniel has cooked around the world, including some pretty serious stints in NY (La Grenouille, Gustavinos) and Anguilla (CuisinArt), and now the Columbus native is coming home to open a casual restaurant that will bring his international flair to local ingredients. Very local -- Daniel hasn’t named his place FARM for nothing. He will even have a FARM market in the front of the restaurant that will sell selected local delicacies (and a window opening onto the alley that will sell crepes and thick, hot waffles!) The food in the back will be eclectic – from small plates and wood oven pizzas to raw fish dishes and heartier fare. I’ve gotten to try his cooking on a couple of occasions and it’s damn good. Standouts have been the marinated salmon belly with fresh herbs, coconut water and white balsamic; paneer cheese in green coconut curry with basmati rice and crispy shallots; a grilled sirloin salad with cucumbers and cilantro, spiced up with one of Daniel’s own spice blends (also for sale in the market), and a cantaloupe ice with candied grapefruit. Unexpected flavors, light, tantalizing and fun. Stay tuned!
In My Kitchen
What else? I have promised a bacon posting and I am still promising it. I made the bacon I talked about – one with a wet cure, one with a dry and carted the pork bellies over to Dave who smoked them for me. They were pretty salty and the one with the dry cure had enough sugar around the edges that when I fry it up the edges caramelize and burn. But they are delicious, if intense, and I made spaghetti carbonara with them last weekend and oh my! I used a variation of Sarah Leah Chases’s recipe which is not traditional, as it has lots of caramelized onions and mushrooms in it but it’s really, really good. So sautéed onions, and mushrooms, cooked down with some white wine, and tossed with hot pasta, beaten eggs, cream and grated parmesan. Season with lots of pepper (due to the bacon, mine didn’t need any added salt this time.) More on bacon to come, sometime soon.
Got some of the last of the tomatoes at market last week and made some yummy panzanella – an Italian bread salad full of fresh vegetables. I am not sure how you are supposed to make it, but I make mine by chopping up tomatoes and cucumbers and salting and peppering them and letting them give up lots of their sweet juices. Add chopped onion and peppers and a bit of garlic. I dress it with the best possible vinegar and olive oil, and then toss in cubed stale bread. Some people sauté the bread in olive oil to crisp it which is delicious, but rich; some soak it in water and squeeze it dry first. I just dice it up and throw it in there. When it has absorbed the juices but it still toothsome, I add a good handful of chopped basil and adjust the salt and pepper.
And the other day I got to craving smoked salmon. Stopped at the Butcher’s Block and invested a small fortune is wild caught salmon, brined it (too much, I think), coated it with brown sugar, dried it and stuck it in the smoker. It was pretty good but not great – I had to use mostly hickory and the smell of that seems to strong for fish. Also it was a little too salty. Still, I think it will be great mixed into a spread with some cream cheese. While I was at it, I threw a block of Monterey Jack into the smoker too and I have been sneaking surreptitious snacks of smoked cheese and Triscuits whenever I feel the need of a delicious little something.
That’s all for now, folks (though I am guessing that I am the only folk who has made it to the end of this post.) I’ll try not to be such a stranger….