In Search of Israeli Cuisine

Jordan Wright
March 26, 2017 

In director Roger Sherman’s latest documentary In Search of Israeli Cuisine (Menemsha Films) we learn there’s a lot more to Israel’s culinary culture than just milk and honey.  Our guide is the James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Solomonov who leads us on a journey throughout Israel from an obscure mountaintop restaurant and a city-centric restaurant where Palestinian cooks work the line beside Jewish cooks to seaside cafés, where dozens of varieties of fish are found in vast outdoor markets, to discover the “true” Israeli cuisine through its people.

Roger Sherman - Producer/Writer/Director founder of Florentine Films

Roger Sherman – Producer/Writer/Director founder of Florentine Films

Best known for his two Philadelphia restaurants, Zahav and its sister restaurant, Abe Fisher, where he expresses his passion for modern Jewish cooking, the young Israeli chef shows us it’s about more than hummus or falafel and deeper than kugel or chopped liver.  The film gets at the root of a culture and its history through its cooks – both amateur and professional – revealing the complexity of a country whose traditions and customs have deep roots, many which descend from outside its borders.

Chef Michael Solomonov - James Beard Award Winner and owner of Zahav

Chef Michael Solomonov – James Beard Award Winner and owner of Zahav

We learn that Israel’s cuisine is informed by dozens of other countries and traditions over centuries of immigration – Jewish, Turkish, Arab, Muslim, Spanish, Mediterranean, Moroccan, Indian, Bulgarian, Christian, Syrian, Lebanese – in a mosaic of 150 different cuisines.  The documentary is a love story of sorts – one of the self-determination of immigrants, the rejection of the old ways by Jewish newcomers and the culinary influence of those who reached its shores with their grandmother’s recipes.  It is told primarily by chefs and local journalists – and it’s as much a tribute as it is a learning curve.  We learn that “Food is not political,” and “Food makes peace.”  May it be so.

Solomonov purchasing fresh local ingredients

Solomonov purchasing fresh local ingredients

Solomonov takes us into the hills to Rama’s Kitchen, a French-inspired restaurant that forages for sumac to flavor its dishes and sources all its ingredients locally, before traveling north to listen to chef Uri Geremias of Uri Buri in his restaurant by the sea.  And there’s a tender segment in the simple home kitchen of a woman preparing the sacred Sabbath meal for her extended family.  Noted Jewish-American chef and cookbook author, Joan Nathan, weighs in with her extensive knowledge about the changes in Jewish society where 80% of its citizens are non-religious.

Solomonov visiting country farm ingredients source.

Solomonov visiting country farm ingredients source.

To understand the inspiration for many of these chefs as well as Israel’s home cooks, Ezra Kedem of Arcadia Restaurant in Jerusalem clarifies, “I cook my memories.” From Moshe Dayan’s hybridization of the cherry tomato to the sophisticated irrigation system of stepped dams that water fruit trees, vineyards and olive groves, their gifts to our kitchens are endless.

Running time two hours.

The film will be released in the Washington, DC area this Friday, April 21st at Landmark’s Bethesda Row Cinema. For more information please visit https://www.landmarktheatres.com/washington-d-c/bethesda-row-cinema/film-info/in-search-of-israeli-cuisine

St. Patrick’s Day and Oatmeal ~ Celebrating Ireland’s Amazing Exports ~ Interview with John Flahavan – CEO of Flahavan’s

Interview with John Flahavan – CEO of Flahavan’s
March 14, 2017
Jordan Wright 

Not all of us will be guzzling Guinness or Harp while wearing shamrock beads and green Pilgrim hats on St. Patrick’s Day.  I leave that to those cookie-baking elves.  As fanciers of Irish beer, Kerrygold butter and Irish cheddar (how did we ever live without these?), there are other ways to celebrate the Auld Sod.  Recently Flavahan’s Oatmeal hit the US market.  Their non-GMO and gluten-free products are now readily available in our area and around the country. The company, based in Ireland, boasts a seven-generation provenance.  Surprisingly, this is the pre-eminent oatmeal in Ireland, and rated Ireland’s favorite food brand.  I loved hearing that it is also Ireland’s oldest family-owned company.  Another little-known fact is that Quaker Oats and John McCann’s – the so-called “Irish oatmeal” we see in our supermarkets – are completely unknown there.  Oddly enough McCann’s is processed and packaged in the US.  So if you want real Irish oatmeal, I urge you seek this product out.

Yesterday I spoke with CEO John Flavahan by phone who rang me from Waterford County, Ireland where the company is based.  Due to the blizzard, his flight to the US was cancelled and unfortunately we would not have the opportunity to meet in person.  Still I was ready to learn more about his company and hoped to seek clarification of the sometimes-confusing types of oatmeal.  John’s Irish lilt was a joy to hear as he lovingly spoke of his ancestors and the history of their centuries-old mill.  He is especially proud of the mill’s award-winning approach to sustainable production and renewable sources.  Our conversation below is followed by fantastic several recipes to try at home. 

Whisk and Quill – As the oldest mill in Ireland, your mill is a veritable anthology of the history of milling in Ireland.  How excited are you to introduce your oatmeal to America? 

Flahavan’s is the oldest grain mill that is still working in Ireland. Given my family’s long history in milling, I have a great personal interest in history and have enjoyed tracing back the history of the company to 1785. This is when my great, great, great grandfather took over the mill, and it is quite likely that the mill was operating before that. There are records in the 1656 Civil Survey showing that there were two mills in the village of Kilmacthomas, and we believe that the Flahavan’s mill could be one of those mills.

In my quest to know more, I discovered old letters from America dating back to the 1850s and 1860s from a family member (Matthew Kelly) in Chicopee Falls, MA, USA to my great grandfather, Thomas Flahavan. One of these references the political climate among the States following the election of a new US president: Abraham Lincoln, when he described with the ultimate understatement that “The South don’t like him” Matthew went on to describe the taking of Fort Sumter which was the first act of the Civil War and mentioned the rebels attacking towards Washington.

So you can see how our family has been engaged with the USA throughout our history.

We often hear stories of Irish people travelling back to the States with Flahavan’s packed into their suitcases or asking family at home to send care packages over to them in the US. Equally many American visitors to Ireland have discovered our creamy oats while visiting Ireland and contact us to find out if they can purchase our products in the States.

Today, I see great synergy between our values of wholesome, delicious wholegrain goodness and the growing foodie / health trends that America is currently valuing, perhaps more today than ever. 

Can you describe the difference between instant, steel-cut or pinhead oats, rolled oats, quick oats, and old fashioned? 

  • Steel Cut Oats are produced at one production stage back from the rolled oats. They are produced using the whole roasted groat, cut with a steel blade just two or three times to preserve a nuttier, richer texture. Steel cut would have the lowest GI.
  • Quick-to-Cook Steel Cut Oats are the same as Steel Cut Oats, but cut into smaller pieces to enable quicker cooking.
  • Rolled Oats are the Steel Cut Oats, steamed and rolled into the flat flakes with which you might be most familiar. This process also enables a quicker cooking time of just 3 minutes.

Pinhead oats are effectively the same as steel cut oats.  They are known as Pinhead oats in Ireland and as Steel Cut Oats in the US.  We do not sell “instant oats” in the US. Our rolled and quick to cook options are so wholesome, unsweetened, quick and simple to make that we believe they suit the busy but health-conscious lifestyles of American consumers well. 

What’s the difference between Scottish oats and Irish oats? 

One key difference – between not just Irish and Scottish oats, but oats from Ireland’s South East and elsewhere – is the unique microclimate of the South East of Ireland.  We use specially selected oat varieties that are perfectly suited to the exceptionally long, damp, mild growing seasons which allow for more complex flavor development.

What do you do with the bran part of the oat? 

Our oatmeal is sold as a whole grain without the bran removed.  However, we can actually separate out the bran to produce a product called oatbran, which we sell in small quantities in Ireland.  It is most commonly used in baking wholesome Irish brown bread but can also be used as a porridge. 

What are “oatlets”? 

“Oatlets” is not a term that is relevant to the US market.  In the Irish market we brand the equivalent of the Rolled Oatmeal US product as “Progress Oatlets”.  This is an historical term that dates back to 1935 when Flahavan’s were the first mill in Ireland to begin rolling the steel cut/pinhead oatmeal into flakes in order to reduce cooking times and make the product more relevant to modern living trends.  This was seen as very progressive at the time, hence the phrase “Progress Oatlets” was coined.  We have registered it as a trademark.  In the US, these rolled oats are simply called Flahavan’s Irish Oatmeal.

Most Americans are familiar with Quaker Oats and John McCann’s.  Tell us why Flahavan’s is a better choice. 

Well, Flahavan’s is still a 100% family owned company with an historic milling tradition and 235 years of experience.  We’ve been sourcing our oats from local family farms within 50 miles of the mill for generations.  Everyone knows Ireland as having a mild damp climate, particularly in the South East and our local oat growers use specially selected oat varieties that are perfectly suited to these ideal oat-growing conditions.  The oat grain therefore develops and ripens more slowly which produces a plumper grain filled with more natural starches thus enabling us to produce a distinctive naturally creamy Flahavan’s oatmeal, with a delicious wholegrain texture.

Smaller scale, sustainable production is also at the heart of Flahavan’s 230-year old milling process. Over 60% of our mill energy comes from our own renewable sources.  The millstream was originally channeled along the valley of the River Mahon and was used to power the mill wheel is still used to this day, but we are now using a water turbine installed in 1935 to generate a proportion of our electricity.  We also burn the outer shell (the husk) of the oat to generate the steam used in our cooking process and use our own large scale wind turbine to generate electricity to help power the mill.

Flahavan’s produce, package and ship Irish oats worldwide from here.  It’s also worth noting that Irish oatmeal consumers would not be very familiar with Quaker or John McCann’s.  Flahavan’s is the most popular brand of oatmeal in Ireland, where people eat more oatmeal (60 portions) per capita than in any other country.

Do you process your oats on grinding stones or with steel blades? 

Even though we’re a small company we are still relatively modern and use steel blades to produce our oat flakes.

What will I discover about the taste of your Irish oatmeal vis a vis American oatmeal? 

You’ll find Flahavan’s oats have a more wholesome texture and a naturally creamier taste than oats grown elsewhere, thanks to the unique Irish microclimate and our distinctively small-batch, slow-roasted, sustainable production methods.

What’s your favorite way to eat oatmeal? 

I would sometimes soak the oats overnight for an extra creamy bowl of porridge but I would always use some raisins pre-soaked in apple juice as a topping.

Which of your products is the most popular in Ireland? 

Our most popular product continues to be our Flahavan’s Progress Oatlets, which is the very same product that can be found in our Irish Rolled Oatmeal box in the US. 

What is baobab powder? I see it listed as an ingredient in one of your recipes online.  

Baobab powder is a superfood gaining in popularity in health food circles for its high levels of vitamin C, other vitamins and minerals and a supposed immunity-boosting value.  It comes from the raw fruit of the baobab tree, which grows in Africa and some parts of Australia.

In our recipes, we like to maintain a balance between the enjoyment of traditional oatmeal preparations and innovations that authentically reflect the globalizing popularity of our oats.  For example, Flahavan’s oats have become popular in South Korea as a healthy source of whole grains and so we have enjoyed developing recipes that honor South Korean flavors, such as Turmeric Kimchi Oatmeal with a Fried Egg.

Do you use oat groats to process your oatmeal? 

There is essentially a groat in each individual grain of oat.  We slowly kiln these groats twice, while still in their husks, to optimize their flavor and naturally creamy texture.  We then remove the husks and cut the groats using a steel blade.  To make rolled oats, we then steam and roll the cut pieces into flakes.  We power the steamer using our own renewable energy, which has been generated by burning the discarded husks.

What products are available here in the States? 

Our product range in the US consists of Flahavan’s Irish Steel Cut Oatmeal; Flahavan’s Irish Quick to Cook Steel Cut Oatmeal (cooks in 5 minutes); and Flahavan’s Irish Oatmeal – our rolled oats that cook in just 3 minutes.  In your area, we are in Harris Teeter, some Wegman’s markets and Giant in Landover, MD.  It is also available to order from Mybrands.com and amazon.com 

What else would you like our readers to know. 

We are committed to innovation and sustainability.  Flahavan’s is one of the founding members of the Irish Food Board’s Origin Green Programme, the only sustainability program in the world that operates on a national scale, uniting government, the private sector and food producers through Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board.  This independently verified program enables Ireland’s farmers and producers to set and achieve measurable sustainability targets – reducing environmental impact, serving local communities more effectively and protecting the extraordinarily rich natural resources that our country enjoys.

We are proud to say Flahavan’s has been recognized on numerous occasions by Irish green industry leaders for our sustainable approach to milling, which in February saw Flahavan’s winning 3 awards at the Green Energy Awards 2017 (Green Food & Beverage Award, Sustainable Green Energy Award and Green Medium-Sized Organisation of the Year).

For us, it’s all about wind, fire and water.  Investing in a wind turbine in December of 2015 reinforced our commitment to a sustainable future.  We also use a special technique of burning the discarded oat husks that fuel the boiler used in the steamrolling process to make rolled oats.  This eliminates the use of diesel fuel.  Also, the mill captures the power of the local River Mahon, just as it has done for over 230 years.  We are a seventh-generation family company.  I am the sixth generation, and my son James and my two daughters, Annie and Ellen, also work in the company. 

Flahavan’s St. Patrick’s Day Oatmeal
with Irish Whiskey, Honey and Cream
Serves 3-4

Ingredients

3¾ cups (900ml) of milk
1 cup (130g) of Flahavan’s Irish “Quick to Cook” Steel Cut Oatmeal
Drizzle of honey
1 tbsp. cream
1 tbsp. Irish Mist Liqueur (or any Irish Whiskey)

Method

  1. Place the oats and milk in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
  2. Reduce heat and simmer for 5-7 minutes until cooked.
  3. Place in a bowl and drizzle with honey and cream.
  4. Top with Irish Mist Liqueur.

Recipe by Chef Neven Maguire

Flahavans Overnight Irish Breakfast Shake
Serves 3-4

Ingredients

1 1/3 cups Flahavan’s Irish Oatmeal (rolled oats)
8 oz. almond milk
1 Tbsp. cocoa powder
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
Agave syrup or honey to taste
1 small banana, sliced and frozen overnight
Handful of popcorn (optional)

Method 

  1. Mix the Flahavan’s Organic Irish Porridge Oats, almond milk, cocoa powder, cinnamon and agave syrup/honey in a re-sealable bowl and leave in the fridge overnight.
  2. In the morning, add the banana to the oat mixture, then place in a blender and blend until completely smooth.
  3. If the shake is too thick, add more milk for a thinner consistency. If it’s not sweet enough, add more of your preferred sweetener.
  4. Top with popcorn for some extra-special froth.

Matcha Green Tea Oat Cake
Makes one 9-inch cake

Ingredients 

Cake Batter

1 cup coconut flour
2 cups coconut sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 ¼ cups warm water
½ cup coconut oil, melted
1 cup Flahavan’s Oatmeal
1 cup almond meal
1 ½ teaspoon baking soda
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup orange juice
½ teaspoon orange blossom extract
4 Tablespoons dried matcha (green tea) powder

Toppings

pomegranate seeds
pistachios
raspberries
powdered sugar

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F
  2. Combine the warm waters and matcha green tea. Whisk vigorously to froth the tea.
  3. Separately, in a large mixing bowl mix all dry ingredients together.
  4. Mix coconut oil, orange blossom extract, and orange juice together in a separate bowl.
  5. Mix wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir to combine.
  6. Beat the cake mixture by hand for 3 minutes. Let batter sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  7. Grease the inside of a 9-inch cake pan with coconut oil.
  8. Add batter to pan and spread evenly.
  9. Bake the cake for 30 minutes until a cake tester comes out clean.
  10. Turn cake out onto a cooling rack and cool completely for at least an hour.
  11. Dust cake with powdered sugar and fresh berries.

Blue Star Families Neighbors Organization Benefits from Top Area Chefs’ Partnership

Jordan Wright
April 18, 2016
Special to DC Metro Theater Arts 

Chefs with their military chef partners

Chefs with their military chef partners

Chefs from some of our area’s leading restaurants participated in a fundraiser last week for Blue Star Families, pairing up with military chef counterparts to prepare some scrumptious nibbles and sips.  With a view of the White House across Lafayette Park as backdrop, guests were treated to an array of fabulous food.  The splashy red carpet event was filled to capacity with the extraordinary Americans who donate their time to support military families.  Guests recorded the moment in selfie photo booths, using patriotic-colored bead necklaces to place around the necks of the chefs whose dishes they liked most.

Just to give you a little background on this amazing organization, there are over 50 chapters around the world serving military families and providing assistance through education, empowerment and employment programs in civilian communities.  Chapters partner with the general public and other services to address the challenges of military life and reach over 1.5 million military families every year.  Can I get a hooray?

Hosted by Co-Chairs Sheila Casey and General George Casey, prominent members of the organization along with high-level military and politicians and their families, gathered in the grand reception room of the U. S. Chamber of Commerce for the celebration.  The evening’s emcee, author, TV and radio host and speaker, Mary Matalin, joined in the tastings before the ceremony began.

Chef Robert Wiedmaier with military chef Jennifer Medeiros

Chef Robert Wiedmaier with military chef Jennifer Medeiros

Partnering with and representing the Air Force was TSGT Jennifer Medeiros who created a dish with Robert Wiedmaier of Marcel’s restaurant.   Wiedmaier’s father was a “Full Bird” Colonel in the U. S. Air Force.  Together they served up Chicken and Pheasant Meatballs with Creamy Polenta and Tomato Red Wine Sauce.

Cathal Armstrong (left) with military chef partner Marine Sargent Joseph Hale

Cathal Armstrong (left) with military chef partner Marine Sargent Joseph Hale

Representing the Marine Corps was Cathal Armstrong of Restaurant Eve, named a “Champion of Change” by the White House, who partnered with Marine Sgt. Joseph Hale to prepare Northern Thai Flank Steak Salad reflecting his recent attention to Asian cuisine.

Northern Thai Flank Steak Salad

Northern Thai Flank Steak Salad

From the Coast Guard, FSC Derek Johnson was paired up with Nicolas Stephanelli of Masseria to prepare Burrata with Rappahannock Oysters and Caviar, and divinely decadent combination.  Stephanelli, whose brother-in-law is a retired Ranger, noted that he enjoyed “seeing something outside our culinary community.”

Burrata with Rappahannock Oysters and Caviar

Burrata with Rappahannock Oysters and Caviar

Representing the Navy was Derrick Davenport who paired up with David Guas of Bayou Bakery.  When asked where he worked, Davenport hinted he didn’t have far to walk from his current employment, but couldn’t say more.  Hmmmm.   Could it be the White House?  Davenport, who cooked on a submarine for six years before transitioning to the Executive Dining Room of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is the 2015 American Culinary Federation USA Chef of the Year and as Team Captain for the U. S. Army Culinary Arts Team will compete at the IKA Culinary Olympics in Germany this year.

Gulf Stream Shrimp Maison

Gulf Stream Shrimp Maison

The dynamic duo made a dish of Gulf Stream Shrimp Maison to reflect Guas’ New Orleans’ roots.

Todd Gray puts the finishing touches on his dish

Todd Gray puts the finishing touches on his dish

Showing off his skills as a representative of the Army was SSG Marc Susa who along with Todd Gray of Equinox restaurant conjured up Rigatoni with Cannellini Beans, a Smoked Mushroom Bolognese, and topped it off with fermented black radish.

Beef Filet with Alaskan King Crab and Asparagus

Beef Filet with Alaskan King Crab and Asparagus

In the Guard + Reserve category were MSG Vilaykone Saynorath, Army, and Chris Morris of Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab whose dish precisely represented the restaurant’s luxury ingredients of Beef Filet with Alaskan King Crab with a soupcon of bearnaise sauce.

Macchu Picchu Roll

Macchu Picchu Roll

There was even a category for Military Brat that paired Chris Clime of PassionFish with CS1 Frida Karani, Navy.  Together they presented Frida’s Freedom Macchu Picchu Roll made with flounder, kampachi, chipotle and lime.

“Love Thy Neighbor” and “We Are Family” killer cocktails crafted by "Mixtress"

“Love Thy Neighbor” and “We Are Family” killer cocktails crafted by “Mixtress”

Gina Chersevani, of Buffalo & Bergen and Suburbia, who calls herself a “Mixtress”, crafted killer cocktails for the special occasion, titling them “Love Thy Neighbor” and “We Are Family”.  To echo that sentiment and cap off the evening’s award ceremony, Sister Sledge sang her chart-topper, “We Are Family” to the assembled guests.

Awards were presented for Civil Leadership to Senator Barbara Boxer and Senator Richard Burr; as well as Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Congressman Sanford D. Bishop, Jr.  Dr. Peter Long, PhD, President and CEO of Blue Shield of California Foundation, received The Connie Milstein Philanthropic Award and Joy Goulette accepted The Blue Star Neighbor Award.

For more information about the organization visit www.BlueStarFam.org

Photo credit ~ Jordan Wright

The Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show Pleases The Palate Once Again

December 6, 2013
Cary Pollak for Whisk and Quill

Held at DC’s Walter E. Washington Convention Center, the Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show has seen an annual increase in attendance since Denise Medved first introduced the event in 2001.  Featuring a vast selection of products related to both the food and entertainment industries, the show’s success has recently allowed Medved and her Tiny Kitchen, Inc. production company to expand into the Houston and Dallas markets.

Throughout the two-day run attendees enjoy face time with more than 200 local and national vendors, attend “Tasting and Entertaining” workshops, talk to cookbook authors at book signing stations, wander through countless aisles to sample tasty tidbits from some of the finest local restaurants at the “Grand Tasting Pavilion”, shop for gifts at the “Holiday Bazaar” and watch cooking demos on the “Food Lion Cooking Stage”.  This year some of the country’s leading chefs gave demonstrations featuring recipes from the National Beef Cook-off Recipe Contest.  All these activities were included in the day’s admission charge.  Additional ticketed events showcase live culinary performances by celebrity chefs.

A colorful display of smoked seafood products from the Neopole Smokery of Baltimore, MD and Washington, DC

A colorful display of smoked seafood products from the Neopole Smokery of Baltimore, MD and Washington, DC

A local luminary who has previously demonstrated at the show is Francois Dionot whose L‘Academie de Cuisine has distinguished itself over the past thirty years as the premier training ground in our area for avocational and professional chefs.  Listening to the celebrated chef’s stories about his experiences at well-known restaurants in Europe and the U.S. and about developing the distinguished cooking school, was worth the trip.

L’Academie de Cuisine founder Francois Dionot, with wife Patrice and daughter Claudine

L’Academie de Cuisine founder Francois Dionot, with wife Patrice and daughter Claudine

The ever-charming Hugh Acheson, whose easy and friendly manner seemed almost incongruent with the entrepreneurial and culinary skills that have brought him to the top of his profession, was one of the chef demonstrators. Acheson is Chef/Co-owner of the former Five & Ten and The National restaurants in Athens, GA, along with Empire State South restaurant in Atlanta.  He is also an occasional judge on Bravo’s Top Chef and holds the honor of being nominated six times for a James Beard Foundation Award.  In the past he won “Best Chef Southeast” for his work at Five & Ten.  He is the author of the James Beard Foundation Award winning cookbook, “A New Turn in The South”.  At this year’s show he dazzled the audience with his version of Frogmore Stew.

Television chef and restaurant owner Hugh Acheson

Television chef and restaurant owner Hugh Acheson

Joe Yonan, Food and Travel editor at the Washington Post, was also on board.  Yonan, who has led his paper’s food writers to two awards by the James Beard Foundation for the nation’s best food section, put his professional chef’s diploma from the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts and journalism degree from the University of Texas to good use by demonstrating a Kale and Mango Nicoise Salad recipe from his recent cookbook, Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook.  He showed us how to massage raw kale leaves so as to soften them for a salad. He pointed out that this technique avoids other harsh methods of softening, such as drenching them in oil and acidic liquids until they wilt.

Washington Post Food and Travel editor Joe Yonan

Washington Post Food and Travel editor Joe YonanWashington Post Food and Travel editor Joe Yonan

Whether you run into Chef Luigi Diotaiuti at a cooking demo or at his acclaimed DuPont Circle restaurant, Al Tiramisu, you know you will be in for good food and good fun.  The affable Italian teamed up with food historian, culinary anthropologist, cookbook author and television personality, Amy Riolo, to make pistachio nut baklava.  Off stage onlookers were so close they were asked to participate.  We all helped to pile on layers of phyllo dough and watched as the chef drenched the dessert in lemon-infused sugar syrup.

Food Writer Cary Pollak makes baklava with Chefs Amy Riolo and Luigi Diotaiuti

Food Writer Cary Pollak makes baklava with Chefs Amy Riolo and Luigi Diotaiuti

Debi Mazar and Gabriele Corcos, the husband and wife team who star on the cooking show, Extra Virgin, on The Cooking Channel, were also at the show.  Debi is an American actress who counts the iconic movie Goodfellas among her credits, and Gabriele is a musician from Tuscany.  They are both consummate entertainers who love to cook.  Together with their young daughter, Giulia, they put on a lively demonstration of Tuscan cooking, preparing seared grouper over Israeli couscous.  At one point things got a bit racy when Debi admitted that they argue when they cook.  Gabriele agreed that they resolve their disagreements by drinking wine … or by “making kids”.  Realizing that the discussion was getting off topic, seven-year old Giulia drew laughs from the audience by asking, “You guys know I’m here, don’t you?”

Debi Mazar, Gabriele Corcos and daughter Giulia on the Celebrity Stage

Debi Mazar, Gabriele Corcos and daughter Giulia on the Celebrity Stage

The Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show is great family fun for those who enjoy learning more about food and entertaining.  There are culinary delights of all types from chatting with vendors and sampling their wares, to meeting cookbook authors, to enjoying cooking demonstrations by notable American-based chefs.  Plan on visiting this exciting open-to-the-public show when it returns in the fall of 2014.

Chef Diotaiuti and his partner Amy Riolo are planning a culinary tour beginning in Istanbul and continuing to Athens and the Greek Isles next October 2014.  They have graciously consented to share their recipe for Pistachio Baklava with Whisk and Quill’s readers.

Baklava is enjoyed throughout much of the Mediterranean and Middle East thanks to the influence of the expansive Ottoman Empire that ruled much of the region for centuries. This version is most popular in Turkey. During our upcoming culinary cruise from Istanbul to Athens, we’ll experience hands-on phyllo making at Istanbul’s most legendary confectionary shop.

Pistachio baklava

Pistachio baklava

 

Pistachio Baklava/Fistik Baklava
Recipe by Amy Riolo and Luigi Diotaiuti.

Makes approximately 24 pieces
Ingredients

For the syrup:
3 cups granulated sugar
2 large strips of lemon peel
Juice of 1 small lemon

For the baklava
1 (1 pound) box phyllo dough, thawed according to package directions
1 cup clarified butter
1 pound shelled unsalted pistachios, finely ground
¼ cup granulated sugar 

 

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Butter a 13×9-inch baking pan.
  2. Make the syrup by combining sugar, 3 cups water, peel, and juice in a medium saucepan.
  3. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves.  Discontinue stirring and reduce heat to low.  Simmer for 10 minutes and set aside to cool.
  4. To assemble the baklava, remove phyllo dough from package. Trim it with a sharp knife to fit the pan you are using, if necessary.   Wrap excess dough in plastic wrap in the refrigerator.  Cover bottom of baking pan with 1 sheet of phyllo dough.  Brush clarified butter evenly over the top.  Stack another sheet over the top. Brush with more clarified butter.  Continue stacking and brushing with butter until half of the phyllo dough is used.
  5. Combine pistachios with sugar in a medium bowl. Mix well to combine.
  6. Sprinkle ground pistachio mixture evenly across the top, reserving a few tablespoons for garnish.  Continue layering remaining phyllo dough and brushing with clarified butter.  Brush top layer with clarified butter.
  7. Position the pan as if it were a rectangle.  With a long, sharp knife, cut phyllo into 6 strips vertical strips across the wide side of the pan(three-quarters of the way down).
  8. Cut 4 equally spaced vertical lines over the strips (three quarters of the way down) to create 24 squares.  Bake for 40 to 50 minutes total, or until golden.  Rotate pan every 20 minutes to ensure even browning.
  9. Remove from oven and drizzle with one ladleful of syrup at a time – allowing syrup to absorb in between ladlefuls. Once baklava has a glistening top and has absorbed syrup, discontinue adding more. Reserve additional syrup for a garnish if serving baklava at a later date. Syrup can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.
  10. Once cooled, sprinkle tops of baklava pieces with a few ground pistachios. Baklava can be covered and stored at room temperature for a day, or in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Always drizzle with additional syrup before serving.

To find out more about Amy and Luigi’s upcoming tour visit – http://www.yourcruisesource.com/two_chefs_culinary_cruise_-_istanbul_to_athens_greek_isles_cruise.htm.

Photo credits: Cary Pollak

Twelve Restaurants Will Compete at The Taste of Del Ray on June 9th

June 4, 2013
Jordan Wright
Special to DC Metro Theater ArtsBroadway Stars, and localKicks 

Jordan Wright, Publisher/Writer on Food/Spirits/Travel/Theatre Whisk and Quill, LLC

Jordan Wright, Publisher/Writer on Food/Spirits/Travel/Theatre Whisk and Quill, LLC

As the sole celebrity judge for this weekend’s Taste of Del Ray, I’m pondering how I’ll be able to select a winner from a slate of twelve very qualified competitors vying for just one trophy.  A nicely balanced three-person panel might have taken some of the heat off of me, but organizers were firm.  “One judge!” they insisted in unison.  So there you have it.  Yours Truly acceded to their demands.  The event will take place in the heart of Del Ray in the tented parking lot of the Virginia Commerce Bank on Mount Vernon Avenue on June 9th from 1 till 3pm and I’m hoping you’ll be there.

The plan is to sample everything from cheese to chocolate and pizza to BBQ.  Everyone gets to taste the dishes.  There’ll be French, Mexican, Modern American and Italian tastings that I expect to wash down with glugs of coffee from Swing’s, a century-old coffee roasting company that recently moved their operations into an historic building in the Soho-hip community.

Following in the footsteps of previous judges Rock Harper (third season winner of Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen), and Carla Hall (of Top Chef and ABC’s The Chew) will not be an easy task.  I’ll need to channel my inner Sonya Thomas aka “The Black Widow”, a Virginia native and uber competitive eater who can put away forty-five Nathan’s hotdogs in ten minutes.  I’ll have five minutes per restaurant to sample their wares.  Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

Sheriff Lawhorn Gayle will announce the Chef’s Choice Award (That’s me!) and the People’s Award Choice (That’s you!).  Let’s hope I don’t get arrested for public gluttony.

Here’s the line up and the link.  Artfully Chocolate, Cheesetique, Del Ray Café, Del Ray Cakery, Del Ray Pizzeria, Dos Amigos, Evening Star Café, Pork Barrel BBQ, Rosemarino d’Italia, Swing’s Coffees, Taqueria Poblano and The Happy Tart.

www.VisitDelRayVA.com.  Bring your discerning palates and a big appetite.