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Bite Club: Vermont's Food & Drink Blog


January 28, 2014

Alice Eats: A Busy Winter Weekend

In Good Taste, St. Albans

It used to be that January was the Vermont dining nadir. Everyone was light on both product and motivation to do much besides try to lose weight gained over the holidays.

Clearly, times have changed. I spent the weekend going to a different culinary event each night. If you missed out, keep these breaks from the winter doldrums in mind when they next appear.

Friday: In Good Taste, St. Albans

I could never have anticipated the crowd that clogged the St. Albans City Hall on Friday night. Clearly, Franklin County was starving for a good food event. The evening began at 5 p.m. By the time I got there after 6:30, 20 tasting tickets for $10 had been discounted to $5. According to the folks selling tickets, so many vendors had already sold out that it was only fair.

IMG_7151But there was still lots to learn.

I started with a sip of cucumber-flavored TreTap. The supplemented water is made from the byproducts of maple sugaring at Branon's West View Maples. Basically, it's SmartWater with a Vermont edge. It didn't taste like cucumber, but the ultra-pure liquid was a nice palate cleanser before feasting.

Nearby, students from Northwest Technical Center's culinary arts program were preparing a piquant steak tartare using meat donated by Highgate Center's Choiniere Family Farm.

I ended the evening with a flight of five different ice ciders from from Hall Home Place of Isle La Motte.

Surprisingly for this nondrinker, my favorite was the Sweet Six, which its makers describe as having a "brandy-like finish." What I liked more than the burn was the ideal blend of sweet and tart. The acid of some apples cut through the sticky sweetness of others. Too bad the six apples change each season. I may never taste a blend quite like that one again.

Saturday: Ramen Cook-Off, Shelburne

The following evening, my buddy Jack Thurston and I judged the first of three annual cooking contests held at Chef Contos Kitchen & Store, owned by another pal, Courtney Contos.

RamenSince the store is small, entries were capped at seven. To keep things fair, we tasted each bowl anonymously labeled with a number. Three were Thai curry soups, not ramens, so, while tasty, they simply couldn't win.

One soup stood out clearly from the pack. It had the lip-glossing slick of collagen I was looking for in a well-salted broth. Just as the truck drivers in Tampopo insist, the balance of broth, noodles and meat was spot-on, too. And it turned out the winner had a familiar face.

Suzanne Podhaizer of Salt in Montpelier, former Seven Days food editor, turned out to be the ramen's creator. I hadn't realized at first taste that the soup was made not from pork but from goose, including braised meat and cracklings from the animals she helped raise (and slaughter) herself at a farm called Gozzard City in Cabot.

Continue reading "Alice Eats: A Busy Winter Weekend" »

December 6, 2013

Grazing: Open-Faced Grilled Cheese Sandwich With Robie Farm Toma & Cider Jelly


The raw milk cheeses of Robie Farm are intense. In fact, the entire place is kind of intense, in its own bucolic way: a 140-year-old dairy farm on a windswept plain in Piermont, N.H. (just across from Bradford, Vt.).

The family ages and hand-turns their cheeses on white-ash-tree planks, and then sells them inside a rustic, generally unmanned farm store that's also stocked with raw milk, eggs and frozen cuts of pork and veal (including swoonworthy bacon). The dairy case holds tangy, powerful cheeses with names such as Piermont, Swaledale and Echo Hill Gervais, an herbed, spreadable, pungent and scumptious cheese made in collaboration with neighboring Bunten Farm.

Sometimes you'll run into chatty cheesemaker Mark Robie inside the shop; otherwise, you leave your cash or check on the honor system, which is still pretty common across the Upper Valley.

Continue reading "Grazing: Open-Faced Grilled Cheese Sandwich With Robie Farm Toma & Cider Jelly" »

October 11, 2013

Grazing: Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

My tomatillos came late this year. As they grew — way too slowly — I would lightly pinch their puffed-out husks to see how far the fruit had filled out. Usually, I met air pockets with a tiny orb lurking inside. Then, all of a sudden, in mid-September the fruit began breaking out of their papery husks and turning all kinds of dusky, beautiful colors.

I do one thing and one thing only with tomatillos, and it's make green salsa. Citrusy, tart, addictive green salsa that I slather on quesadillas, over broiled fish, or spoon onto an avalanche of tortilla chips with which I then stuff my face.

This year, for the first time, I decided to broil the little guys and watch them blister, then combine them with similarly blackened onions and jalapeño peppers, as well as liberal doses of cilantro and lime. The house filled with almost sweet, burnt aromas, and my efforts yielded a salsa with earthier, more savory flavors — one which I promptly loaded onto a chicken tostada topped with queso fresco and quick-pickled red onions.

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October 4, 2013

Grazing: Kale, Squash & Ricotta Salad with Cider Vinaigrette

KaleThe garden is taking its last bittersweet gasps, and they come in the form of Brussels sprouts, tomatillos, broccoli, carrots, squash, and kale.

Despite its heady cachet in Vermont, I'm not a huge fan of kale, kale chips notwithstanding. Mostly I wrestle with its chewy stems and waxy, stubborn leaves. Yet, as with all worthwhile things, if you put in the effort, you can reap huge rewards. In the case of kale, those include turbo-charged nutrition and an earthy base on which to layer other autumn morsels, such as Delicata squash, apples and fresh ricotta cheese.

I modeled this salad after one I ate recently at Popolo in Bellows Falls. That night, the kale had been massaged into submission, the dressing was delicate and gently sweet, and the ricotta cheese was so fresh that it oozed all over the bowl.

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September 20, 2013

Grazing: Fried Green Tomatoes

They're the stragglers. The slow pokes. The tomatoes that couldn't bother to turn red and sweet before fall arrives. Yet rather than cave to the unripe fruit of our short growing season, you can triumph over climate and subjugate these hard, tart orbs into something crisp and delicious: Fried green tomatoes.

Yes, a movie was named for this tried-and-true Southern specialty, and with good reason: Green tomatoes are firmer and eminently more fry-able than ripe ones, and their tartness softens slightly during frying — yet but still retains enough tang for a satisfying salty-tart-crunch. They take less than 15 minutes to make, and when you bite into one, you'll be amazed by the alchemy that frying performs on their hard little bodies.

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September 10, 2013

Alice Eats: A Food Writer's Weekend

Back in 2010, I offered Alice Eats readers a glimpse into what a weekend in my life really looks like. Three years later, it seems like time to share another wild few days of eating and drinking around Vermont.

IMG_6227The whirlwind began after I finished reporting a food news piece about the food-themed exhibit opening next week at the Fleming Museum. I ran over to Hotel Vermont where I met with New England Culinary Institute executive chef Jean-Louis Gerin just after he picked up a very special guest at the Burlington Airport.

There on the comfy couches beneath Juniper's slate walls sat Ariane Daguin, owner and co-founder of D'Artagnan, Inc. Since starting that meat-selling business in 1984, the Gascony native has established herself as the goddess of American meat, bringing foie gras, charcuterie and game meats to the masses via a network of small farms.

Why was she in Vermont? "He twisted my arm," she said, smiling conspiratorially at Gerin. The twice-knighted Montpelier-based chef has some pull after 28 years at famed Restaurant Jean-Louis in Greenwich, Conn.

Starting Saturday morning, Daguin would be sharing her expertise in a duck-filled weekend that began with a seminar on making cassoulet and culminated in a D'Artagnan-heavy brunch.

Why spend so much time with NECI students? "The students are my clients of the future. And I guess I love convincing people what I think is right. It’s always an opportunity to think about good husbandry for farms," says Daugin.

Her passionate stance on raising meat right has won her lots of chef fans, including Anthony Bourdain, who named his daughter after Daguin. Gerin is part of the pack, too. In the '80s, when most pork was pallid, white, factory-farmed mush, he marveled at the pink, marbled pig flesh produced by Daguin's small farms in Missouri.

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August 23, 2013

Grazing: Rosehip Simple Syrup

I strumbled across these gorgeous rosehips the other day. To my excited eye, they looked plump and ready for kitchen action — that is, until I picked them, took them home and made a simple syrup, which turned out to be more the rusty color of coral than the deep ruby that comes from truly ripe rosehips.

Rosehips really hit their stride after the first frost, when their tartness gives way to a citrusy sweetness. Last year, I used them to make a glaze. This year, I've decided to drink them. 

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June 21, 2013

Grazing: Rabbit, Rabbit Everywhere?

At first, I thought it was just me. Lots of places — Italian, French, 'nouveau Vermont,' whatever — seemed to suddenly have a rabbit dish on the menu. Braised rabbit. Fried rabbit. Oatmeal-crusted rabbit with mustard demi-glacé and guajillo-rosemary aïoli (at the Inn at Shelburne Farms, though I didn't get to try that).

Was rabbit creeping onto menus with stealth...and butter? I asked fellow food writer Alice Levitt if she'd noticed anything. "Juniper has it in hazelnut gastrique with a flaming sprig of juniper. El Cortijo has had a ton of it lately in salads and tacos. I had it at Hen of the Wood in the pasta dish I wrote about this week," she says.

Happily, the rabbit wave is not an illusion. I've had a long kitchen love affair with rabbits (as well as those who hunt them): a longtime boyfriend of mine used to shoot them in the English fields with his air gun, then skin them outside our door. I'd stew them with mustard, garlic, cream and rosemary, then spoon the whole thing over egg noodles. Even if he didn't tote home dinner, rabbit was easy to find at the grocery store, where the low-fat meat is something of a staple. Here in Vermont, I was thrilled when I met a woman at a party who raised and sold rabbits on the down-low. I got a steady supply from her — that is, until she moved away a few summers ago.

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November 26, 2012

I Want a Hippopotamus for Breakfast

Sweet startIf people tend to call me quirky, or wacky, I think I can blame my mom. I have clear memories of the Thanksgiving when she insisted on making blue mashed potatoes. And she's famous at the Seven Days offices for her brownie pops, made to look like whatever cute animal captures her fancy — or the season.

If everyone has a rabbit-shaped dessert, with pastel pink candy corn for ears, at their desks, it means Mom made a treat for Easter... or Monday. She was also the seamstress responsible for my Cookie Monster skirt at last spring's Sweet Start Smackdown.

Last week, she presented me with what may be her greatest creation yet: Hippo bread.


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November 23, 2012

Grazing: Mashed Potato Pancakes with Pickled Red Onion, Smoked Salmon & Dill

Turkey hash, turkey chili, turkey sandwiches. When it comes to Thanksgiving leftovers, the bird dominates.

While I definitely have plenty of turkey left, more challenging to repurpose is the surfeit of uneaten mashed potatoes. Reheated mashed potatoes are no fun; potato pancakes, however, are. Rolling mashed potatoes into sticky balls with your hands, then smashing them into discs and frying them to a crispy nut- brown, is a tactile way to spend a post-Thanksgiving brunch.

Potato pancakes — or latkes, if you prefer — are also harbingers of Hanukkah, when they're eaten as part of the celebration. Topping them with smoked salmon (or trout), sour cream, pickled red onions and dill sprigs makes for a fresh, briny, filling lunch. And with a glass of 'leftover' Prosecco, they pave the way for yet another food-induced nap.

Note: If you're an experienced latke maker, know that mashed-potato pancakes take longer to cook. They'll also shrink more during frying and become misshapen. If you used copious amounts of butter and cream in your mashed potatoes (as I did), you won't need any extra moisture. If it seems like they want to fall apart, though, add a beaten egg as a binder. And since this is a very feel-your-way-through-it kind of snack, ingredient amounts are loose and approximate.

Mashed Potato Pancakes with Pickled Red Onions, Smoked Salmon & Dill

1 red onion
Rice vinegar
Dash of salt
A bowl of leftover mashed potatoes
More salt & pepper
Cooking oil
Sour cream
Smoked salmon or trout
A few sprigs of dill

First, quick-pickle some red onion: Peel, halve and then slice a red onion into very thin slivers; pile the onion into a bowl, cover with red wine (or cider or rice vinegar) and throw a dash of salt and half a handful of sugar in and stir until sugar dissolves. Let sit for an hour.

Put a sauté pan on medium heat and pour in enough oil to cover the bottom (I used canola). While the oil heats, shape mashed potatoes into golf-ball-size orbs, then flatten between your palms and drop into the hot oil. While they cook, sprinkle the tops liberally with salt and pepper.

Cook for 4-5 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Keep cooked pancakes in a warm oven while you finish the rest.

When finished, smear each cake with sour cream, then layer on a few curls of pickled onion, a flap of salmon and a sprig of dill. Finish with coarse sea salt and pepper, if desired, and serve.


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