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Archive for May, 2010

Photo Credit: Jeff Martinez

Close by me, on my way to and back from many things, is a new eatery called Syrup.  As the name suggests they serve breakfast and lunch and you should go in and check them out. I sat down with the Chef, Tom Willis, to talk a bit about the concept and direction of the new place, and I think you would have enjoyed talking to him as well.  Before we get into that, the space has been completely redone. There are contemporary colors of spring green, brown and white, the furniture is freshly painted, and all the natural light coming through the windows makes the whole place glow. Syrup has an open kitchen where you can see your food as it comes up, and watch the cooking dance of the chefs. The idea, say Chef Tom, is to make classic comfort food yet update it and make it exciting.

Photo Credit: Jeff Martinez

Yeah, you can have pancakes, but you can have them any way you want them, with any of the (as of now) six different infusion syrups they have.  They make all of them in-house, with flavors like apple-cinnamon, buttermilk, and honey-agave. They also do a cool little thing, they have breakfast apps!  Fruit kabob, beignets, a basket of little muffins.  Great for sharing with your friends while you wait for the rest of your meal.  Everything they make there is made from scratch, and they hope to have around 10 different syrups by the end of the summer with a line of preserves and conserves to go along with them.

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My Uncle David likes to cook. He enjoys tinkering and tweeking recipes until they taste just right to him. Best of all, he shares. And does so seemingly without a bit of jealous, guarding, MY secret recipe behavior that often accompanies a finally perfect recipe. Now me, I have to fight off my grandmother’s little devil voice encouraging me to pretend I just didn’t hear the request at all, or leave an ingredient out so it won’t taste as good as mine. I do admit that there have been a few times that I have grudgingly turned over a recipe, and once that I just flat-out refused to give it to anyone for years. Now I have this blog, where I give out all (almost) my recipes and encourage others to do so as well. Anyway, back to Uncle David. He has long been a foodie, well before the term was even coined, searching out and celebrating great cooking and food wherever it could be found. He loves the small Mom & Pop businesses that have none of the flash and splash of the big celebrity restaurants preferring the smile of the cook in the back and a plate of simple, fabulously good food. Once when visiting him, he took me to a place for lunch (I can’t remember her name) that was basically a camp. Stoves set up outside and plastic tables set up under a tarp to keep the sun off your head. The food? Pork chops and greens, skillet cornbread, gravies, sweet tea, heaven. I don’t think I had much to say that lunch, I was too busy stuffing food in my face and watching everybody else do the same. The man definitely finds the best places to eat. Like my Mom, his cooking is intuitive and fearless, substituting, adding, and combining ingredients until it all fits just right.

This is his breakfast bread recipe.  One he’s been playing with for a bit and one that’s he’s now happy with.  That doesn’t mean I won’t get a revised version at some point, but for now, this is the one. This is most certainly a sweet bread recipe, with a hearty crumb and sturdier texture than the loaf cake it resembles. There is one unusual twist, and I’m telling now so you don’t get to that part and think you can skip it. You can’t eat this right out of the oven, well, you could, but it’s better if you don’t. You let it cool and then wrap it tightly in foil and let it sit at least 6 hours, preferably overnight.  The cake kind of settles into itself. The texture improves and the flavor intensifies. Yes, I tried it both ways and he’s right. So plan ahead and do it his way. It’s a perfect vehicle for cream cheese or jam as he advises, and I think it’s perfect on its own as an afternoon snack with tea.  I had a sneaking suspicion that there was another way this would be perfect for. Now you know me, I have a compulsion to turn anything bread or baked into bread pudding. I don’t know why, but I do. I try very hard not to have leftover baked goods of any kind in my house because I know what will happen. Now, I actually didn’t think this would be good bread pudding on its own, but I thought maybe bread puddings distant cousin, French toast (come on, bread soaked in eggs and fried, bread soaked in egg custard and baked, cousins) would be perfect. I also love to make French toast out of anything other than regular bread. Oh boy, was I right! Slice thickly, let it dry out just a bit, usual french toast method, and ta da! A little bite of heaven on a plate. See if you don’t agree.

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Sure, sure, it sounds easy enough.  Truth be told, it isn’t hard. What could be difficult?  Canned, yes you heard right, canned chickpeas. Canned tomatoes (I know, again with the canned!). Some onions, some spices, and Bob’s Your Uncle, Chana Masala. What isn’t spoken of is the obsessive tweaking, the endless variations, and an order of said dish in every restaurant that makes the stuff. This isn’t a life long quest for me. I fell in love with Chana Masala several years ago at a friend of friend’s pot luck, party, fund-raiser thing. Balancing glass and plate in hand, wandering the table of offerings taking a spoonful of this and a dab of that, I almost passed it over. Very unassuming, chickpeas in tomato sauce, I thought. Pass. Well, maybe not. I like chickpeas, ok, a spoonful on the plate. A few moments later, in the middle of doing the very awkward, sip from your drink, hold your plate in the same hand as the glass so you can put of bite of food in your mouth, smile, chat a bit while trying not to spill anything on the lovely carpet it happened.  My first bite of Chana Masala slipped through my lips, seductively played with my taste buds, and slid away. Whoa, what was that? Another bite, the last one on my plate. Now I was eyeing the buffet table, and scouting a quiet corner where we could be alone. I inconspicuously made my way back to the table, took a another spoonful, ok, two, and backed into the corner by the bookcase. Sweet tomato, with an underlying smokiness, and a hit of tang.  The meatiness of the chickpeas and the spice that started at the front of your tongue and then gently filled your mouth with heat and left a slow burn. Hooked. I was totally hooked. I started collecting and making recipes from the internet. I visited every Indian restaurant I could to taste their version. I went to the bookstore and copied recipes from cookbooks. Over the last several years I’ve been refining and adjusting the same recipe over and over again. I think I have a version that works on so many levels. But of course, those levels would be the ones I define.

That is the best thing about cooking at home. You get to decide how you want your food to taste. Sure, use a recipe, but use it as a guideline. Don’t like chickpeas? Try this recipe with cut up cauliflower, or add a bunch of different veggies and create an Indian ratatouille. Hate cilantro? Leave it out. You get to be the magician and create your own magic. So make my recipe, and then stand there, hand on hip, taking bites and deciding what you like and don’t like. Scribble your thoughts on the margin so the next time you make it, it’s already your recipe. Really, you’re gonna have to trust me, it’s so much fun!

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