Pancakes are a breakfast (or lunch or dinner) food that never gets old. Credit: Copyright 2013 Ellie Markovitch

Pancakes are everyday magic. There is something about a puff of flour rising to the occasion of an otherwise dull morning that makes me want to eat pancakes all day long.

My dad invited me into this dedication more than 40 years ago, letting me tend the griddle. Each time I hold the spatula in my hand, waiting for bubbles to break and tell me it’s time to flip, I am in that second when he surrendered the tool and the task.

An early love of pancakes

The author, Amy Halloran, makes corn crepes with her son, Felix. Credit: Copyright 2013 Ellie Markovitch

The author, Amy Halloran, makes corn crepes with her son, Felix. Credit: Copyright 2013 Ellie Markovitch

This was never about the syrup. We had the fake stuff growing up, and I didn’t develop a taste for the real. My love is for the cake. For the way something comes from almost nothing, and carries so much — butter, maybe some berries, and always a delicious, soft bite.

“My name is Amy Halloran. I am 7 years old. I have a new baby brother and I like pancakes.”

So I declared in my second-grade autobiography. My interest bloomed into a curiosity about baking, and throughout my childhood I made sure our cookie tins were full. In my 20s a blue cornmeal pancake at a restaurant, served with salsa and crème fraîche, directed my attention back to the griddle. I studied old cookbooks and baking powder pamphlets, scouting the perfect formula for corn cakes, savory and sweet.

Using locally grown grains

Cornmeal and buckwheat flour elevate the regular pancake. Credit: Copyright 2013 Ellie Markovitch

Cornmeal and buckwheat flour elevate the regular pancake. Credit: Copyright 2013 Ellie Markovitch

When I met the man I would marry, the first meal I made him was pancakes. There were ears of cooked corn in the fridge and nice cornmeal in his pantry. I debated about whether I should make them sweet, savory or both? Should I add flour? I wanted them to be perfect because I really liked him. I wanted him to know the self I made toying with recipes for oatmeal cookies and making my father’s favorite chocolate cake over and over again. The pancakes would be a tour of me.

We’ve been together 20 years, and most mornings, we have pancakes. Once I discovered freshly milled, locally grown grains, my devotion stretched over every corner of my mind. I started following these tasty flours back to the field and meeting the pioneers who are growing and using grains outside of the wheat belts. Farmers, millers and bakers let me watch them work and answered a gazillion questions. When I met the people who started the first malt house in New England in 100 years, I also met malt. Adding this sweet grain to my pancakes took them to another level.

Room for change

Cornmeal cakes made with fermented vegetables and yogurt. Credit: Copyright 2013 Ellie Markovitch

Cornmeal cakes made with fermented vegetables and yogurt. Credit: Copyright 2013 Ellie Markovitch

Pancakes are my sun rising each morning, and I want to make a constellation of them for family, friends and crowds. Occasionally, people suggest I should try theirs, and the idea makes me cringe. I know the offer is generous, and that my rejection is not, but other people’s pancakes are just that: not mine. I might as well live in someone else’s house and try to have her dreams.Yet within my reluctance, there is room for change, as baker and cookbook author Peter Reinhart showed me a couple of weeks ago in Maine, at the Kneading Conference.

“Bread has a story to tell, and we wouldn’t be here if bread didn’t touch us in some special way,” Reinhart said in his keynote speech. Part of that captivation is the transformation of grain that was once living into living dough. Another part is the oven turning that dough into a currency that feeds more than our bellies.

His words were really hitting home for me. The translation of grains from ground to loaf requires the cooperation of farmers, millers and bakers. I love being the pancake chef and delivering a piece of me through food. That stitchery of baking fascinates Reinhart as well.

While researching his book about pizza, “American Pie,” he interviewed Chris Bianco, the poster boy of the artisanal pizza movement. The man, Reinhart said, was shy as he tried to get him to discuss what made his pizza so special. The unique ingredient, he eventually admitted, was him. Although he had been approached to make products or franchises, he couldn’t bottle himself to make any replicas represent what he did. When the author asked what connection Bianco wanted to make with people, he said, “I want them to experience my soul.”

Trying others’ recipes

Peter Reinhart makes Red Fife pancakes with Brenna MacNeil and Sophrinia Smith at the Kneading Conference. Credit: Copyright 2015 Jesse Cottingham

Peter Reinhart makes Red Fife pancakes with Brenna MacNeil and Sophrinia Smith at the Kneading Conference. Credit: Copyright 2015 Jesse Cottingham

This is what made pancakes my beloved. I have been staring at the griddle forever. I’ve given little else in life the same energy. I have arrived at an expression of my ideal pancake, a fluffy whole-grain loft, and I’m reluctant to taste anyone else’s estimation of the food.

However, I so admired Peter Reinhart and his ideas that when he announced he would be making pancakes from his latest book, “Bread Revolution,” I wanted to help.

The next morning, I was excited for a pancake date, but I had to fight the urge to bring my own pancake mix as an offering. I knew such an offering would prevent me from experiencing his recipe and method, so I left my mixes in the car and had a great time working with him and a few work-study students at the griddle. Plus, I actually liked the cakes!

Mixing it up

Amy Halloran prepares to cook pancakes. Credit: Copyright 2013 Ellie Markovitch

Amy Halloran prepares to cook pancakes. Credit: Copyright 2013 Ellie Markovitch

The next day, I had another person’s pancakes, and loved them also. Father Paul Dumais spoke last year at the Kneading Conference about his family’s Acadian flatbread, and now he’s making a mix. I was still reluctant to receive pancakes I didn’t make, but I’ll never forget the wonderful feeling of biting into the soft, yellow buckwheat cake he’d curled into a roll.

This was him. His family had grown and milled the grain, and he had worked and worked to find a formula to re-create his mother and aunt’s ployes. He gave me mix to take home, and I’m serving it to my family and friends. They love these cakes, and I can’t wait for them to try the ones in their true form, made by Father Paul. He is missing from his food, but at least I get a reminder.

Making pancakes, making connections

Cornmeal pancakes get a different flavor with bits of sweet potatoes. Credit: Copyright 2013 Ellie Markovitch

Cornmeal pancakes get a different flavor with bits of sweet potatoes. Credit: Copyright 2013 Ellie Markovitch

The dish that escorted me into a five-year, book-long exploration of flour is bringing me into a new appreciation of people and food. While this is a surprise, it is also in keeping with the main thing I learned about grains. Other foods can go from ground to mouth without as much handling. Farmers, millers and bakers are collaborating with the seasons, soil and tools to feed us. I have been stunned by their work, and very appreciative of it. Now that my walls against other people’s pancakes are crumbling, I can feel connected to flour in another, equally enchanting way.

(Full disclosure: Peter Reinhart wrote a beautiful blurb for my book after he read it, but otherwise we have no connection.)

Main photo: Pancakes are a breakfast (or lunch or dinner) food that never gets old. Credit: Copyright 2013 Ellie Markovitch

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The Biryani cart offers flavor-packed kati rolls. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nicole Litvak

New York City is a prime destination for gastro-tourism. It is home to some of the greatest chefs, restaurants and culinary schools in the country. The variety, the deliciousness, the sheer volume of good food here is incredible.

There are more than 24,000 restaurants in New York City, according to the Department of Health. While the quantity is impressive, the quality is as well. I’m not sure if it’s something in the water, or if cooks in New York City are just better, but you might be hard-pressed to find a bad meal in this town.

In the spirit of pursuing good food in unconventional ways, here are 16 street eats that capture the diversity and scope of NYC cart food. I invite you to transcend the halal cart and the hot dog, and join me for homemade tamales, fresh-cut durian, hibiscus doughnuts, and yes, a hot buttered lobster roll.

More from Zester Daily:

» Food trucks that serve a better kind of justice

» Austin’s food trucks

» Rocking the food trucks

» Vietnamese street food will be a hit at your next barbecue

Main photo: The Biryani cart offers flavor-packed kati rolls. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nicole Litvak

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Cape May Brewing makes a beer with cranberries and lemonade called The Bog. “We have a hard time keeping it in stock,” lead brewer Brian Hink says. Credit: Copyright 2015 Frank Weiss Photo

Maine lobsters. Peanut butter. Graham crackers. Old Bay Seasoning. Citrus fruits. Craft brewers are dumping out-of-the ordinary ingredients into their tanks to create newfangled beers. “Anything is fair game these days because of the innovation going on among craft brewers,” says Julia Herz, craft beer program director for the Brewers Association.

What better time to try something new or offbeat than during the waning days of summer? We cast a wide geographic net to find anything unusual, surprising or particularly delicious. The results were diverse, from Choc Lobster (Maine lobsters and cocoa powder) from Delaware-based Dogfish Head, to Helluva Caucasian (based on a White Russian cocktail and using peanut butter) from Colorado’s Living the Dream Brewing Co.

These 12 beers represent new or uncommon brews. Like summer, some are fleeting and available for a limited time. Others are available in a limited geographic area, while others are more widely available.

More from Zester Daily:

»  Craft brewing revolution

»  American brewing steams along with crafts

»  Oyster stout beer is exactly that

» How local malts make beer distinctive

Main photo: Cape May Brewing Co. makes a beer with cranberries and lemonade called The Bog. “We have a hard time keeping it in stock,” lead brewer Brian Hink says. Credit: Copyright 2015 Frank Weiss Photo

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Summer recipes are a good chance for kids to learn some simple cooking techniques and help out in the kitchen. Credit: Copyright Carl Tremblay

Summer break gives kids more time to spend in the kitchen, but sometimes it’s just too hot to be near the stove. These seven no-cook recipes require no heat sources, but they still teach some kitchen skills with delicious results.

From gazpacho to watermelon sandwiches, these are recipes that celebrate the flavors of summer. Kids might need some adult help with cutting and blending, but, since there’s no cooking involved, they can do most of the work themselves.

And to make it even cooler? Eat outside, preferably with a nice summer breeze.

More Zester Daily stories on kids and cooking:

» 7 healthy on-the-go snacks kids can help make
» Kids eat smart? There’s a trick to family dinner
» 5 stone fruit dishes kick summer into high gear
» 8 dishes that taste best on a picnic blanket

Main photo: Summer recipes are a good chance for kids to learn some simple cooking techniques and help out in the kitchen. Credit: Copyright Carl Tremblay

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If indulgence is good, overindulgence is better. Or at least that’s the message at Portland’s Voodoo Doughnuts. Credit: Copyright 2015 Voodoo Doughnuts

Has the kooky doughnut fad finally gone too far? Gone off the deep end? Jumped the shark? I was recently at the taping of a Fox News episode where we tasted more than a dozen different doughnuts from Fractured Prune, a Maryland-based doughnut chain that promises numerous combinations based on its 19 glazes and 13 toppings. I expect they taste better at the store than in a Manhattan studio. But, still, how did we get to this orgiastic excess of fried dough rings?

The origins of sweet fried dough are lost to history, but it’s a good bet that we’ve had doughnuts as long as we’ve had frying. Certainly the ancient Greeks and Romans had their own version of the hot, greasy treats. Medieval Arabs dropped blobs of yeast dough into fat rendered from a special kind of fat-tailed sheep before soaking the fritters in syrup. Medieval Europeans boiled theirs in pig fat, which meant doughnuts were off limits on the many non-meat days declared by the church.

As a consequence, there were widespread fried-dough frenzies prior to the 40-day doughnut desert, otherwise known as Lent. Perhaps the greatest doughnut orgy of all occurred at the 1815 Congress of Vienna that ended the Napoleonic Wars, where 8 to 10 million jelly doughnuts reportedly were served during Mardi Gras.

Americans would have none of these papist restrictions. After all, the Pilgrims left England so they could eat doughnuts 365 days a year. And apparently they did. They arrived with an obscure English specialty called a “dough nut” (because that’s what it looked like) and soon doughnuts were synonymous with New England. They were eaten for breakfast, lunch and supper, stuffed into travelers’ pockets, much as we might carry granola bars. America being a land of equal opportunity — at least when it comes to fried dough — the fritters of the French, German, Dutch and other immigrants gave the English version a run for their money, and the hybrids of all these fritter cultures eventually resulted in the doughnut promised land dreamed of by generations of the huddled masses on Europe’s teeming shore.

Here is a short view of current variations of this sweet, deep-fried treat.

Main photo: If indulgence is good, overindulgence is better. Or at least that’s the message at Portland’s Voodoo Doughnuts. Credit: Copyright 2015 Voodoo Doughnuts

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Heaven is a summer steak sandwich with a tasty sauce. Credit: Copyright 2015 TheWeiserKitchen

It’s pretty darn easy to take even somewhat modestly priced cuts of meat from good to great by grilling — and saucing. Sure, how you prep in advance counts. A concentrated 24-hour marinade for the meat is a great bet. A long, lingering overnight rub creates a crust. I love both methods and use them often. But that requires one ingredient I don’t always have, and I bet you don’t either: time.

Having a busy life doesn’t mean compromising on taste. It’s all about finding, transforming and using great last-minute flavors. That means great sauces.

Here are some new sauces ready to take that steak into prime time. Make all of them and set up a bar. They each make about 1 cup, which leaves room for leftovers, and last up to three days if covered and refrigerated.

Amontillado Sherry Romesco Sauce

Romesco sauce is from the Catalan region of Spain. Credit: Copyright 2015 TheWeiserKitchen

Romesco sauce is from the Catalan region of Spain. Credit: Copyright 2015 TheWeiserKitchen

Looking toward Spain? How about an Amontillado Sherry Romesco from the Catalan region? Often made with roasted peppers and tomato, this version is creamy from roasted garlic, deeply flavored from the toasting of the almonds and a bit off the beaten path as a result of the balancing act of Amontillado sherry and sherry vinegar. I double this recipe and use it as a dip for all sorts of grilled vegetables, and even as a pasta sauce with crumbled sheep’s or goat’s milk cheese. By the way, this sauce is vegan and genuinely versatile

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 50 minutes

Total time: 55 minutes (if using roasted garlic and roasted peppers, total time is less than 10 minutes)

Yield: About 1 cup

Ingredients

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 heads garlic

1/2 cup blanched almonds, finely ground

3 roasted red peppers, best-quality store-bought or homemade (see Kitchen Tips), peeled, seeded, coarsely chopped

1/4 cup dry Amontillado sherry

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

1 teaspoon piment d’Espelette (see Kitchen Tips)

1 teaspoon smoked sweet paprika, pimentón de la Vera preferred (see Kitchen Tips)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with foil and coat with 1 tablespoon of the oil. Slice off and discard the root ends of the garlic heads, and place them, cut-side-down, on the prepared baking sheet. Drizzle each with 1 tablespoon oil. Wrap aluminum foil around the garlic. Roast for 30 to 40 minutes, until very soft. Let cool to the touch, and squeeze the pulp from the skins. Take the remaining oil and pulp and place in the bowl of a food processor and set aside. (If you would like to do this ahead of time, the pulp and oil will keep, covered, in the refrigerator, for 2 to 3 days.)

2. Meanwhile, set a heavy sauté pan or cast-iron pan over high heat. Add the almonds and cook, stirring, for 2 to 4 minutes, until they are pale brown in color. Reduce the heat as necessary so the almonds do not burn.

3. Add the toasted almonds, roasted red peppers, sherry, sherry vinegar, piment d’Espelette, smoked paprika and salt to the bowl of the food processor along with the roasted garlic pulp and process until smooth and thick.

Kitchen Tips

Want to roast or grill the peppers from scratch? Heat a grill or gas stove top. Holding the peppers with long-handled tongs, place them right on the grates of the hottest, highest flame and allow them to blacken all round, turning occasionally and working in batches as necessary. Place the warm peppers in a heat-resistant bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Cool to room temperature. When the peppers are cool to the touch, peel off the skin. Remove and discard the the stems and seeds. It’s fine if there is a little burnt skin left on the peppers; do not rinse them.

Piment d’Espelette is a mild chili pepper grown in the town of Espelette, in the south of France, in the Basque region. The whole peppers are sold dried; piment d’Espelette is also available in dried, powder form and as a paste.

Smoked paprika, or pimentón, originated in Spain. Where regular paprika is made from ground peppers, smoked paprika is made from grinding peppers that have been smoked first. Not surprisingly, this endows the spice with a smoky flavor. Its distinctive flavor is a hallmark of Spanish cooking, but it makes a delicious accent to many dishes. It is available in both sweet and hot varieties.

Smoky Tomato and Pomegranate BBQ Sauce

This sauce includes smoked paprika and pomegranate molasses. Credit: Copyright 2015 TheWeiserKitchen

This sauce includes smoked paprika and pomegranate molasses. Credit: Copyright 2015 TheWeiserKitchen

If you’re an all-around Mediterranean food lover, the Smoky Tomato and Pomegranate Sauce will be up your alley. This sauce is a mixed homage to Chef Yotam Ottolenghi’s ketchup, rich spiceways and vast talent — and my fixation with pomegranate molasses as a sweetener in barbecue sauces of every type. This sauce is complex, I will admit, and takes about half an hour. It is even better the second, third or even the fifth day — and wait until you add it to a ho-hum turkey or chicken meatloaf, serve it over a grilled halloumi cheese or slathered onto lamb skewers.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

Yield: About 1 cup

Ingredients

2 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds

1 tablespoon smoked paprika (see Kitchen Tips)

1 tablespoon Urfa pepper (see Kitchen Tips)

1 teaspoon kirmizi pepper (see Kitchen Tips)

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, dark green and spicy preferred

1/2 small onion, roughly chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 cup tomato paste, San Marzano preferred

6 cloves garlic, peeled and grated

1/4 cup pomegranate molasses

2 teaspoons brown sugar

Juice and zest of 3 limes

Directions

1. Toast and grind the spices: Heat heavy skillet or cast-iron skillet over high heat. Add the cumin and fenugreek seeds and toast for 30 seconds or until fragrant. Remove the pan from the heat. Transfer to a dedicated coffee or spice grinder and grind to a powder. Add in the smoked paprika, Urfa and kirmizi peppers and cinnamon and grind to combine. Set aside.

2. Reheat the skillet until hot. Add the olive oil and heat until it shimmers. Add the onions and salt and cook, stirring, for 3 to 4 minutes, or until translucent. Add the tomato paste, stir, and cook for 1 minute. Add the garlic and stir well. Reduce the heat to a simmer. Add the pomegranate molasses and brown sugar and stir until the sugar has dissolved. With a rubber spatula, scrape into the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade.

3. Add the toasted and ground spices, lime juice and zest and process until smooth.

Kitchen Tips

Smoked paprika, or pimentón, originated in Spain. While regular paprika is made from ground peppers, smoked paprika is made from grinding peppers that have been smoked first. Not surprisingly, this endows the spice with a smoky flavor; it has also been described as woodsy. Its distinctive flavor is a hallmark of Spanish cooking, but it makes a delicious accent to many dishes. It is available in both sweet and hot varieties.

Urfa Biber is a Turkish red pepper from the region of Urfa. It is a dark purple or maroon color and is surprisingly soft; it looks and feels like ground raisins. The peppers are available from Kalustyan’s online and at many other large spice purveyors, as well as at high-end specialty markets and health food stores.

Kirmizi pepper is a mixture of sweet and hot peppers that have been crushed, salted, dried, ground to flakes and then coated with olive oil and roasted. The mixture originated in Turkey. The flavor is a combination of fiery heat, salt and sweetness.

The seasonings might sound exotic, but fear not. Well-stocked grocery stores, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Fresh Market and spice shops will be your best bet, but they are all available online.

Cilantro and Mint Sauce

This cilantro dipping sauce can lean Indian or Latino. Credit: Copyright 2015 TheWeiserKitchen

This cilantro dipping sauce can lean Indian or Latino. Credit: Copyright 2015 TheWeiserKitchen

This dipping sauce can lean Indian or Latino; it can be tossed on hot pasta or used as a salad dressing; it can be added to miso soup or to guacamole. This is a wonderful and sprightly alternative for chimichuri sauce with grilled steak, lamb or chicken.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 5 minutes

Total time: 10 minutes

Yield: About 1 cup

Ingredients

1 large bunch fresh cilantro, stems and leaves

1 large bunch flat-leaf parsley, stems and leaves<

1/2 small bunch fresh mint, stems and leaves

1 1/2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated

Juice and zest of 2 lemons

1/2 jalapeño pepper (or more if desired), seeds, stems and ribs removed (see Kitchen Tip)

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Directions

1. Combine the cilantro, parsley, mint, ginger, lemon juice and zest, jalapeño, salt and black pepper in the bowl of a food processor or blender and pulse until the mixture forms a smooth paste.

2. While the machine is running at medium speed, slowly drizzle in the oil through the feed tube and blend until smooth and creamy.

Kitchen Tips

This will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for about 3 days, but it will separate and should be re-blended before using.

The chemicals in chili peppers that cause that wonderful feeling of heat on the tongue can cause a not-so-wonderful feeling if they get into your eyes. Avoid touching your face or eyes after cutting one.

Super Mustardy BBQ Finishing Sauce

This sauce packs a lot of flavor. Credit: 2015 TheWeiserKitchen

This sauce packs a lot of flavor. Credit: 2015 TheWeiserKitchen

This barbecue sauce is simple to make and packs a lot of flavor. It is perfect with many flavor dense proteins — beef, lamb, dark meat turkey or chicken, and tempeh. It’s also tasty on thinly sliced eggplant or thickly sliced summer squashes. Use it a dipping sauce on the side.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Total time: 20 minutes

Yield: About 1 cup

Ingredients

1 tablespoon canola oil

1 small red onion, peeled and diced

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1/2 jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped

1/4 cup cider vinegar

1/2 cup ketchup

3 tablespoons Dijon mustard, very strong preferred

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

Directions

1. Heat the canola oil in a medium saucepan over moderately high heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the pepper and vinegar and stir for 1 minute. Stir in the ketchup, mustard and brown sugar.

2. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes, or until sauce reaches the desired thickness.

3. Refrigerate, tightly covered in a bottle or jar.

Kitchen Tips

We prefer to cook the long-cooking proteins (chicken, turkey, and even eggplant) without any sauce at first, over a medium heat, with the fattiest or skin-covered side down first, to help keep the natural sugars from burning and allow time for thorough cooking. If it’s a quick-cooking item, such as beef or tempeh, you can brush the sauce on just before you start cooking. Slather on plenty of the sauce 1 to 2 minutes before you plan to remove the food from the grill.

Israeli-Style Amba Sauce

Amba sauce is made with mango and vinegar. Credit: Copyright 2015 TheWeiserKitchen

Amba sauce is made with mango and vinegar. Credit: Copyright 2015 TheWeiserKitchen

Amba is a condiment made from mango and vinegar and plenty of spices. It is a traditional topping for sabich sandwiches, a popular street food in Israel. There is a popular Indian version, which is chunky, oniony, tart from vinegar, and salty. The Israeli version is based on an Iraqi amba, which is a thin liquid made from green mangoes and plenty of lemons. Like all popular classics, amba has hundreds of variations, and many versions that cross between Indian and Iraqi style. My version is inspired by several of these (including Einat Admony’s recipe in her book, “Balaboosta,” and a wonderful version from Food52), but I did rather liberally adapt them all to create an amba with an unusually thick and creamy texture. This recipe blew us away my test kitchen chef (just sayin’). Just wait until you try it with grilled steak, lamb or chicken, or try it instead of mustard and/or mayo on any sandwich for a nice change.

Prep time: 35 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Total time: 60 minutes

Yield: About 1 cup

Ingredients

2 tablespoons honey, mild floral preferred

Juice of 1 lemon

1/4 cup white wine vinegar

1 3/4 cups water

1 package (6 ounces) dried, unsulfured and unsweetened mango slices, preferably Trader Joe’s, roughly minced

1 fresh large unripe mango, peeled and cut into rough ½-inch dice

2 tablespoons mild olive oil

2 cloves garlic, peeled, cut in half, and finely minced, green centers removed

1/2 tablespoon toasted ground coriander

2 teaspoons fenugreek leaves (see Kitchen Tips for sources)

2 teaspoons toasted ground cumin

1 tablespoon ground turmeric

2 teaspoons fine sea salt

1/4 teaspoon Urfa pepper, optional

Directions

1. Pour the honey, lemon juice, vinegar and water into a small saucepan and set over medium heat. Add the chopped dried mango and the fresh mango, stir well, and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 25 minutes, or until the all the mango pieces are soft.

2. While the mango is cooking, set a small, heavy saucepan over high heat. When it is very hot, add the oil and garlic, and stir for about 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Remove from the heat and add the coriander, fenugreek and cumin. Mix well. It will take on the consistency of a paste.

3. Add the garlic paste to the mango mixture and stir well. Add the turmeric, salt, Urfa pepper and stir well.

4. Remove the mango mixture from the heat, cover, and let stand for 15 minutes. With a rubber spatula, scrape the mixture into a food processor or high-speed blender and process until smooth. The sauce is ready to serve and will keep in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Main photo: Heaven is a summer steak sandwich with a tasty sauce. Credit: Copyright 2015 TheWeiserKitchen

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Sommelier David Speer recommends buying two to six bottles of a wine rather than a case; your tastes and menu will change over time and you want to remain flexible. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Baker

If you’re like me, you love wine but you might not have the benefit of deep pockets or space for a well-stocked cellar. And you’ve probably run into this scenario: It’s a Wednesday night and you’ve just slapped a filet on the grill or tossed some shrimp to sauté and you dash to your diminutive wine fridge to discover that you don’t have anything to pair with the meal.

Your options include settling for a mismatch, a mad dash to the supermarket to buy some mass-produced wine or maybe tapping into that fancy bottle of Barolo you smuggled back from Italy wrapped in your dirty socks and were planning to save for your anniversary. You could always skip the wine for the evening, though that really isn’t any kind of option at all.

If this has happened to you more than once, it’s a pretty good indication that you’re in need of a personal wine program. Restaurants put a lot of thought into making sure they always have the right wine at the right time. And while they manage their wine programs on a whole different level from a cash-strapped wine aficionado, the goals are the same: providing a great experience while keeping an eye on the bottom line.

So here are a few ways you can approach your personal wine supply like a savvy restaurateur.

Tap an expert

A good local wine shop will usually have some vineyard-driven, small-production choices at a range of prices. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Baker

A good local wine shop will usually have some vineyard-driven, small-production choices at a range of prices. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Baker

Restaurants that are serious about wine hire a sommelier or a wine director to help them make their wine-buying decisions. Private consultants abound, but there’s also a lot free advice out there. Your local wine shop is a great place to start. Jerry Larson, owner of Wineopolis in Corvallis, Oregon, is my go-to expert for quick advice. He is happy to suggest budget buys that still balance quality.

“Go to Europe for the $10 bottles,” says Larson, who carries wines from around the world that express the places where they are grown, rather than those that are blended and crafted to a certain style or taste. While he proudly sports an entire wall of excellent Oregon wines, he’s eager to help you work with your budget goals. “The New World isn’t as good at $10 wines that are vineyard driven.”

Larson offers free tastings every Saturday to help customers tune their palates and test-drive some of the entry-level wines he stocks.

Match your menu

Thinking ahead about your menu will change the types of wines you typically buy. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Baker

Thinking ahead about your menu will change the types of wines you typically buy. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Baker

“A wine director should be in constant communication with the chef,” says David Speer, sommelier and owner of Ambonnay, a Champagne bar in Portland. He also consults on establishing wine programs for restaurants and private collectors.

That communication might seem easy to do at home when the wine director and head chef will probably be the same person. But it’s not as easy to accomplish when storage space is at a premium and wine purchases are made with a different part of the brain from the one that plans the menu.

I’ve tended to collect and save a lot of bigger, age-worthy reds, but when I stopped to look at what we cook and eat week to week, I noticed a disconnect. Our personal menu features lots of Northwest seafood, spicy Asian-influenced dishes and fresh salads and vegetables. Mineral-driven whites with bright acidity fit the bill much better than the epic red wines. Thinking about the menu objectively totally changed my wine-buying habits.

Keeping a close eye on your grocery cart will also allow you to adapt your wine program throughout the year. If you like to cook with local produce and shop at farmers markets, your menu will probably change over time. “Base your wine on what you eat, and think seasonally,” says Larson, whose shop abuts the Saturday market, allowing him a ringside seat to a parade of local produce.

Stay flexible

Wineopolis in Corvallis, Oregon offers a range of wine options, as well as free advice and tastings. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Bake

A good wine director will always keep an eye on the trends and bargains in case there’s ever a discounted wine. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Baker

“Remembering that your tastes will most likely change over time, don’t invest too heavily into one grape, region or producer. Spread it out,” says Speer, who suggests buying two to six bottles at a time to keep your supply nimble. “A case can be a bit much.”

The evolution of your tastes and palate is part of the adventure of wine. So saving a few slots for something new is a good idea.

Flexibility could also save you money. The wine market is constantly in flux. A good wine director will always keep an eye on the trends and bargains in case there’s ever a discounted wine that can be substituted for another option on the list.

Stock some exceptions

When space in your wine fridge is limited, you have to be thoughtful about how you balance your selections. Credit: Copyright 2015  David Baker

When space in your wine fridge is limited, you have to be thoughtful about how you balance your selections. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Baker

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to find great wines, but it’s still a good idea to have a few special bottles on hand. I live in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and there are some amazing wines available, especially at higher prices. It would be a shame not to occasionally connect with the best the region has to offer.

Speer often sees restaurants making this very mistake.

Don’t forget the bubbles

Bubbles often go overlooked on both personal and restaurant wine lists. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Speer

Bubbles often go overlooked on both personal and restaurant wine lists. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Speer

Champagnes and sparkling wines aren’t only for weddings and celebrations. For Speer, whose passion for bubbles led him to open Ambonnay, it’s a no-brainer. “Your cellar should be 95 percent Champagne,” he says, only half-joking. “I think people don’t drink enough Champagne, and they forget that it’s really something you can enjoy more often, not just pop open with some friends and then move onto a ‘real’ wine.”

It’s a great time to begin exploring bubbles. There is an exciting movement away from big-production Champagnes to more single-vineyard, small-allotment vintages, and the range of options is growing. And there are sparkling wines from around the world that provide even more choices at great prices.

Speer recommends looking to Spain: “I’m most excited about Cava; there are some really cool, family-run places that are making great bubbles in the $15 to $20 range.”

Delicious, thoughtful wine and meal pairings are what make great restaurant experiences, but there’s no reason you can’t create the same synergy at home. You just need to think about the wines you buy a little more like a sommelier. So fire up the stove, pull a cork and create something special. And if you like what you taste, don’t forget to compliment the chef and tip a little extra for your somm.

Main photo: Sommelier David Speer recommends buying three to six bottles of a wine rather than a case; your tastes and menu will change over time and you want to remain flexible. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Baker

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Pimento cheese is Southern junk food at its best -- sweet and salty, with a kick. Copyright 2015 Susan Lutz

Pimento cheese is the ultimate Southern junk food. But unlike most junk food, which is highly processed and untouched by human hands, pimento cheese at its best is a homemade affair.

On a recent road trip through the Shenandoah Valley and West Virginia, I found myself on a quest for good, old-fashioned pimento cheese. It’s a Southern delicacy with deep roots — a magical mixture of cheese, fat and spice that my grandmother would make as her private stash of comfort food, but one that she would share with me when I was a child. When I saw it on the menu of a roadside diner in rural Virginia, I was delighted and told my husband he was in for a treat. But this version of pimento cheese was cold, hard and — worst of all — bland. For the rest of the trip I insisted on trying pimento cheese at every diner and restaurant where I could find it. We ate several truly terrible versions and each time I would say, “I swear this isn’t how it’s supposed to taste!”

At our last stop, we found ourselves at a tiny restaurant called The Shack in Staunton, Va. And here, at last, was pimento cheese that tasted the way it should: sweet, salty, creamy, with a bit of a kick.

It was clear that somebody at The Shack also knew the power of good pimento cheese. The Shack’s tiny size is balanced by its enormous reputation. Southern Living Magazine ranked it as one of the South’s top 10 best new restaurants in 2014. I talked to Ian Boden, chef/owner of The Shack and asked him, given the short menu and the large reputation, why this lowly homespun cheese spread was special enough to make it into regular rotation. Boden’s answer was simple: “A big part of what I try to do is connect with people. And I think pimento cheese, especially in the South, connects with everybody.”

The power of pimento cheese, whether made by a renowned Southern chef or my own Granny Willie, was connection. Now I had to connect.

Fresh sweet Italian peppers, fresh pimento peppers and jarred whole sweet peppers can all be used to make pimento cheese. Credit: Copyright 2015 Susan Lutz

Fresh sweet Italian peppers, fresh pimento peppers and jarred whole sweet peppers can all be used to make pimento cheese. Credit: Copyright 2015 Susan Lutz

 

Choose the right peppers

I had tasted the real deal.  Now I wanted to make my own.  My grandmother never wrote down her recipe, so I had to start from scratch.  Thus began my quest to create the perfect pimento cheese. What started in a series of roadside restaurants ended in my own garden. In spring I hunted down pimento pepper plants (not a small feat, as it turned out) and planted them in the small raised bed in my backyard. I figured you can’t make decent pimento cheese without fresh pimento peppers.

But then I realized that fresh pimentos were actually a break from tradition. My grandmother used pre-chopped pimento peppers preserved in vinegar. Most women of her generation did the same thing.  Even chef Boden admits the cultural importance of this lowly jarred product.  The recipe served at The Shack also comes from a grandma — the grandmother of cook Brian Cromer.  Boden admits that if Cromer had his way, they would always make pimento cheese with chopped jarred pimento peppers, just as his grandma did.

But these days, Boden and his staff use fresh pimento peppers in season and tinned piquillo peppers the rest of the time.  I figured my backyard pimentos would work.

Fresh Nardello peppers from my local farmers market make a good substitute for pimentos in “pimento” cheese. Copyright 2015 Susan Lutz

Fresh Nardello peppers from my local farmers market make a good substitute for pimentos in “pimento” cheese. Copyright 2015 Susan Lutz

 

Experiment with new ingredients

The problem now was that I only had a limited supply of homegrown peppers. If I wanted to experiment, I’d have to look beyond the walls of my raised garden bed. As it turns out, the biggest barrier to making good pimento cheese was the limited availability (and seasonality) of fresh pimento peppers.

I started looking around for substitute peppers. And if I was going to experiment, then I might as well try different fresh peppers, as well as jarred pickled peppers. One of the most interesting peppers I tried were Nardello peppers, which were recommended to me by a helpful vendor at my farmers market. Slightly sweet, but with a satisfying crunch, Nardello peppers have a little more depth of flavor than a traditional pimento. I brought home a bunch to begin my experiment.

Broiling peppers in a toaster oven keeps the kitchen cool on a hot summer day. Copyright 2015 Susan Lutz

Broiling peppers in a toaster oven keeps the kitchen cool on a hot summer day. Copyright 2015 Susan Lutz

 

Roast your own peppers

Once I had gathered my peppers — homegrown pimentos, sweet Italian, and Nardello — the next step was to roast them. Roasting the peppers is the most time-consuming part of the process. I like to roast peppers in a toaster oven, but it can be done in a full-sized oven or even over a gas burner. I broiled 5 or 6 at a time for 15 minutes on each side, until they began to shrivel and the skins began to turn black in spots. (This would take less time in a traditional oven.)

Classic pimento cheese calls for a few simple ingredients—sharp cheddar cheese, green onion, Duke’s mayonnaise, cayenne, salt and pepper.  I add sriracha hot chili sauce to the mix as well. Copyright 2015 Susan Lutz

Classic pimento cheese calls for a few simple ingredients—sharp cheddar cheese, green onion, Duke’s mayonnaise, cayenne, salt and pepper. I add sriracha hot chili sauce to the mix as well. Copyright 2015 Susan Lutz

 

Junk ingredients make great junk food

While letting my roasted peppers cool, I began working on the cheese base. I used my grandmother’s version –never written down, but clear in my taste memory — as inspiration. It begins with a great mayonnaise blended with shredded sharp cheddar and cream cheese. But I was concerned about exactly what kind of cheese I needed to get the traditional flavor. When I asked Boden, his answer surprised me: “Pimento cheese is junk food, so why not use junk food ingredients?” Boden mixes Cabot sharp cheddar cheese (a pretty good industrially produced cheese) and a style he calls “government cheese” to get the right flavor profile. “If you use a really good quality cheddar, it’s way too sharp and the texture gets chalky, and it’s just not right,” he said. “If you go to the grocery store and see the cellophane packages that say “best value” — that’s the cheese we’re talking about.”

Boden is also a big fan of Duke’s Mayo for his base — Duke’s being a tangy (and less-sweet) favorite Southern brand for nearly a hundred years.

The final step in making pimento cheese is adding the chopped peppers to the cheese base. Copyright 2015 Susan Lutz

The final step in making pimento cheese is adding the chopped peppers to the cheese base. Copyright 2015 Susan Lutz

 

Bring balance to the base

After I created the base, I scraped the skin off my cooled roasted peppers, de-seeded and diced them and tossed them into the mix. For experimental purposes I made small batches, each with a different kind of pepper.

One of the reasons I liked The Shack’s pimento cheese is that it conformed to my own ideas about how good pimento cheese should taste. Boden has similar thoughts on flavor balance in pimento cheese. “I think a lot of pimento cheeses tend to be out of whack as far as flavor goes,” Boden said. “I think ours has a good balance of sweet, and I know acidity in cheese is supposed to be a negative thing, but I think it has just enough acidity. I like a little heat in mine, so that brings it back into balance.” The Shack brings even more acidity to its spread by adding the brine from house-made spicy bread and butter pickles. It’s delicious, but too far from my grandmother’s ideal for my purposes. To add my own kick, I gave each batch a healthy dose of Sriracha sauce.

The result: perfection. At least for me. With Boden’s help, I had created a taste of my childhood and of rural Shenandoah Valley. My version is an ode to my grandmother, but it isn’t a recipe she’d recognize. I suspect she’d say it was too spicy, too oniony, and not nearly sweet enough. Time marches on and so do taste trends.

I gorged myself on the homegrown pimento pepper version and — to my surprise — my California-bred husband and my two daughters dug into the Nardello version, spreading it on crackers, French bread, celery and then fingers. It was Southern junk food at its best. And I think Granny Willie would be proud.

In the South, pimento cheese is traditionally served with Ritz crackers or celery -- sometimes both. Credit: Copyright 2015 Susan Lutz

In the South, pimento cheese is traditionally served with Ritz crackers or celery — sometimes both. Credit: Copyright 2015 Susan Lutz

 

Pimento Cheese

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes, unless using commercially jarred peppers, which require no cooking time

Total time: 50 minutes if you’re roasting your own peppers

Yield: 2 to 2 1/2 cups

Ingredients

3 or 4 large pimento or other fresh sweet peppers of similar size. You may substitute 1/3 cup jarred or canned pimento, sweet Italian or piquillo peppers, finely diced.

4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

1/3 cup Duke’s mayonnaise (or your preferred brand)

8 ounces (about 2 1/2 cups) sharp orange cheddar cheese, shredded on a box grater

3 green onions, finely chopped including greens

1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon Sriracha hot chili sauce

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper

Directions

1. Roast peppers under a hot broiler, turning at least once so they blister on both sides. I like to do this in a toaster oven, but it will take longer than in a traditional oven –up to 15 minutes on each side. When done, place peppers in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to cool. If using jarred peppers instead of fresh, drain and dice 1/3 cup of peppers and set aside.

2.  Mix cream cheese and mayonnaise in a medium bowl until smooth.

3.  Add cheddar cheese, green onions, cayenne pepper, Sriracha chili sauce, kosher salt and white pepper to mixture until thoroughly combined.

4.  Scrape the blackened skin off roasted peppers, remove seeds and stem, then dice.

5.  Add diced peppers to cheese mixture and gently stir to combine.

6.  Serve at room temperature, accompanied by celery stalks or crackers, preferably Ritz. Pimento cheese may be refrigerated for several days but should be brought back to room temperature before serving.

Main photo: Pimento cheese is Southern junk food at its best — sweet and salty, with a kick.  Credit: Copyright 2015 Susan Lutz

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